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IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Summary: Edward is "a dog of the military", and he will be sent on a new mission by Fuhrer Mustang; Alphonse is a college student, and Winry is - just Winry. Together and apart, the brothers find adventure and mystery in the country of New Britain.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist, nor any of the characters created by the honorable Hiromu Arakawa. Just any OCs I might come up with in the course of writing this story. However, FMA does own ME!

WARNING: May contain later episode and movie spoilers for those who haven't seen them yet. Some bad language, mostly relating to the amusing mispronunciation of a dog's name.

PROLOGUE: Set four years after the invasion of the Thule Society. After decades of war with one country or another, ambitions have been realized. Roy has been inaugurated as Fuhrer and he has brought peace to Amestris. He can now justify "taking his next breath." Edward and Alphonse Elric have successfully completed their mission of the Affair of the Wayward Nuclear Bomb, and used it's power to open a Gate and return home. The country, and it's inhabitants are lurching towards "normal" - whatever that is.

HAVOC'S LAW: If any thing can go wrong, it will; and when you least expect it. Especially if it involves your girlfriend, and Roy Mustang.

Chapter One: In which Roy does some delegating...

"Man, you are looking sharp today"

Roy Mustang, former Colonel of the Armed Forces of Amestris; now Fuhrer Roy Mustang, leader of the country of Amestris (oh, sure, he had an Amestrisan parliament to deal with, but they were politicians, and all politicians were pussies), stood in front of three full length mirrors, admiring himsefl from every angle.

He normally wasn't so narcissistic - ok, just a little narcissistic - but today the new uniforms had arrived, and they had turned out better than expected.

Roy had long threatened to make female recruits wear "tiny miniskirts" if ever he became Fuhrer, but now he actually WAS invested as Fuhrer, all the women - even his loyal aide, Riza Hawkeye, had threatened to revolt.
Roy still set to work redesigning the uniforms. He hated the color, the boxy cut, the layers, the blousy fabric (it didn't "breathe", and smelled bad when it got wet); hell, he even hated the clumsy thick-soled boots.

When not working on that, he was in endless meetings with advisors on matters of state policy: negotiating ends to the various wars Amestris was embroiled in (most started by machinations of the homunculi who wanted "ingredients" for the Philosopher's Stone), signing treaties and trade pacts with far away lands, bringing most of the troops home, and making up to the Ishbalans.

That was going to be the hardest thing to do. Roy's guilt at his actions in the Eastern War, and the fall of Ishbal made the handling of this situation especailly tricky. If he overdid it, the Ishbalans would see it as a clumsy attempt to salve his conscience - but underdoing it would be seen as a lack of remorse.

And the Ishbalans were so touchy about religion - sure, it was important to many Amestrisans - Roy had bullied the parliament into adding a total religious freedom clause into the new constitution - but not enough to kill other people over it. Mustang had begun this work by reviewing all the cases of all the Ishbalan detainees in Amestrisan prisons. Theose who had been merely P.O.W.s were released; when investigations turned up true criminals, they were were held until they could be turned over to Ishbalan justice.

When the case of an Ishbalan holy man came up, Roy asked for a face-to-face meeting. He explained now he was Fuhrer, he was ending all persecution of Ishbalans, and he wanted to make amends for the excesses of his predecessor, King Bradley. (Oh, Fuhrer Bradley, Dante's homunculus masterpiece; Roy had flambed him like charcoal. And he wished he could do it one hundred times over, he'd come to hate the bastard so much.)

"You can start by ending the torture of Ishbalan prisoners" the holy man had countered. Roy was shocked by the accusation, but when investigations by Lt. Colonel Armstrong backed the man up; Roy ordered the emptying of all prisons which used torture. Then he arrested and tossed into the same prisons all members of the military who had condoned the use of, or participated in, or turned a blind eye to torture.

Some had been languishing there for months, but Roy justified the treatment by telling himself "Most of those Ishbalans had been held for YEARS." Although he wanted to, he didn't order them tortured as well; that would have made him as petty and cruel as they were. So their trials could wait, he had a lot on his plate right now.

Roy then asked the holy man how he could best atone for the wrongs Amestris had done to the Ishbalan people. A few weeks later, a special train arrived at the displaced persons camp, and the residents were surprised to see a tall, straight-backed dark haired man in the uniform of the "infidels" disembark.
They were totally shocked a few moments later when he and his aides fell to their knees in front of the headsman and performed the ancient Rite of Contrition. And letter perfect too. By the end, the headsman and most of the Ishbalans were convinced the Fuhrer's apologies were genuine.

He'd also brought back all the Ishbalan P.O.W.s - in comfortable passenger cars; along with the true criminals chained together in cattle cars (considering what was waiting for them, discomfort would be the least of their worries); he raised memorial stelae at the former site of their capitol city, razed so long ago in the Eastern War; and finally Roy gave back all the land which had been taken from them.

When they asked for the materials needed to build a new city, Mustang ruefully looked into the State Treasury, which he was sure had been emptied by Bradley's endless war mongering. To his delighted surprise, he discovered the Treasury was far from empty, indeed it was stuffed to the gills - and then some. He didn't know where all this money had come from, but he would put it to good use.

There was more than enough to give the Ishbalans the materials they needed; provide for the needs of injured veterans; rebuild the shattered infrastructure of Amestris - and pay for the design of those damned uniforms. Which is why Roy was admiring himself in his new dress blues. Not only would the formerly bloated military be lean and mean - it would be stylin'!

By happy coincidence, Amestris had recently signed a trade pact with the country of Bourbon; and a few weeks after that, the new ambassador had come to pay the first official visit. Wait. Scratch that. She walked right past First Lt. Ross, without waiting to be announced, and burst into his office while he was in his small personal washroom.

He came out drying his hands, to see this unbelieveably chic-looking woman examing his drawings. When he coughed politely, she started slightly, then looked up, her eyes shining. "Did you do zese?" she cried.

"Uh, yes, I did draw zem - er - them" Roy stammered, then shook his head. "Excuse me, but, who are you?"

Her high heels clacked on the wooden floor as she approached Mustang, "Oh, I am manners forgetting, I zink." She blushed, then extended her hand. "I am Piaf le Arouet, Bourbon ambassador to Amestris."

Putting aside the sudden urge to grab this woman and ravish her on his desk - right now; Roy gently pressed his hand over his fingers, bowed, and clicked his heels. It turned out, she was a graduate from Bourbon's diplomatic college, with a minor in fashion design. She didn't suggest too many alterations to his drawings, but Piaf was helpful in the selection of fabrics. The intrusion of this odd woman turned out to be quite a blessing in disguise.

Everyday uniforms would be of comfortable cotton, while the combat gear was to be of this newly developed fabric which would "wick" sweat away from the skin. From experience, Roy knew how smelly an army on the march was. In the field, their personal hygeine was appalling, and table manners non existent.
They belched, farted, scratched their private parts in public, hawked loogies, flicked boogers - and let's fact it, just plain STUNK. And that was just the men, the women were almost as bad.
O.K. His new Armed Forces of Amestris would be lean, mean, stylish - and it would no longer be possible to smell them coming a mile away.

One of the most intriguing fabrics Piaf had shown him, however, was something she called "kevvylar". "It will stop any bullet" she enthused. Once a vest of it was delivered, Roy just had to try it out - on somebody else, of course; so he naturally picked the hapless, bespectacled Kain Fuery as his guinea pig. He could have picked Major Edward Elric as a test subject, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) Elric was on leave back in Risembool.

Out on the parade ground at the Central barracks, Fuery sweated and fidgeted while Riza tried to get a bead on him. Roy had assured him the "kevvylar" would do it's job - but Fuery was born to be skeptical.

"Dammit, Fuery!" she growled "Hold still! Just in case Mustang is wrong, I'll make sure I don't hit any vital spots."

"Oh, like that makes me feel any better" retorted the visibly trembling Master Sergeant.

"Why, Fuery," Mustang smirked, Piaf on his arm "I never knew you had sarcasm in you."

Fuery's reply was drowned out by three loud reports from Riza's pistol; he flew backwards one way, his glasses the other, before landing hard in the dirt with a grunt. Havoc, Bloch, and Falman ran over to see how he was; after a few tense moments, Havoc turned and gave a thumbs up. They pulled Fuery to his feet, and Bloch gave him his glasses. All three walked the shaken young soldier over to Mustang.

He was breathing funny, but he managed a smart salute before he was helped to the hospital wing. Piaf was right, the "kevvylar" had stopped the bullets, but they'd left three nasty bruises on Fuery's mid section. Later that night in the mess hall, Kain picked at his dinner while he was complaining to the others how badly the bruises hurt. Havoc rolled his cigarette to one corner of his mouth before drawling "Oh, kwitcher bitchin', would you rather be a little bruised - or a lot dead?"

But for sheer looks, the dress uniform took the cake. It made a statement without shouting. A darker blue than before, it was cut slimmer, with black leg-skimming pants, accented with narrow red stripes down the outside of each leg. The women had a choice of the pants, or a slim, slightly above the knee skirt. Not the miniskirts the men had hoped for, but short enough to show man-pleasing legs off. Mollified they wouldn't have to wear the minis, Riza and the other women had also called off their rebellion. Another crisis averted by the brilliant Roy Mustang.

That afternoon, the ambassador had just left him after an impromptu fitting - and snogging session. She'd also given him the best news of all - the Bourbonais were setting up new factories to produce the uniforms - and other clothing in Amestris. It looked like a win-win situation to Roy. His army got new uniforms (take that, Drachma!), the people got jobs, and he, Roy Mustang, got a little lovin'. It was good to be the Fuhrer.
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As Piaf walked away from the Central government building, she happened to encounter the newly arrived Edward Elric - and what Mustang referred to as 'the usual gang of idiots' - Havoc, Fuery, Valman, Bloch, and Breda - they all had shown up to meet him at the train station. The others - knowing what Piaf's visits were mostly about - stood and leered, but Ed bowed slightly and stepped aside for the lady to pass.
She favored the young alchemist with a gleaming smile; he was rather good looking, she thought. His blond hair was combed (Mustang had said, "When you return to duty, Full Metal, groom your hair with a comb, not your fist"), but the bangs still flopped over into his eyes. At the back, it had been pulled into a neatly braided ponytail.

After returning home, Ed had gradually gone back to his old style of dress: black sleeveless shirt, overlaid with a black wool tunic trimmed in white, and black leather pants, cinched in with a wide brown belt. It was warm for fall, so he wasn't wearing his familiar red coat, nor the ubiquitous white gloves; so a silver chain running from a belt loop to his right pocket was visible. In the pocket was a new watch with the seal of Amestris - a rampant mer - dragon - symbol of his status as a State Alchemist.
Piaf noted with approval his clothes were clean and pressed, but his road worn boots were rather unfortunate. "Sheet keekers" is Monsieur Roy had called them. She was too polite to stare at his right hand, which was of gleaming metal.

He was now of roughly medium height - Ed could now stand eye-to-eye with the Fuhrer - but he obviously had better manners than the louts who slouched along in his wake. There wore the new everyday unforms, but poor posture of the quintet made them look like potato sacks. Disgusting. Even Fifi - the little dog which traveled in her oversize bag - seemed to agree, emitting a snippy little bark.

"Hello, doggy". Ed bent down and offered it his left hand to sniff, then drew back quickly when it snapped at him, making a bloody scratch on one finger.
Ed ruefully looked at the tiny wound, what had he been thinking? He should have offered the ugly little mutt his right hand - the automail one. It would have served the beady - eyed mop right if it had broken a fang.

The men behind him finally realized there was a pretty lady in their midst, and they straightened up. Havoc, ever the loser with women (like in the old days, Roy was still stealing every girlfriend he'd ever had), tried to ingratiate himself with her. "Pretty doggie - what's your name?" he crooned, foolishly extending a friendly hand - hadn't he seen what just happened?

"Yipe!" Havoc cried a nanosecond later after, the dog had nipped his digits hard enough to draw blood. "Her name is Fifi!" snapped the ambassador - who was way out of Havoc's league anyways - "and she is a Bichon Frise!!"

Breda - who'd never met a foreign word he couldn't butcher, blurted out. "A 'bitchin' frizzy'? What's a 'bitchin' frizzy'?"

Ed and the others tried hard to hold back grins as the ambassador began to get rather irritated. "No! You plebian barbarian! A BEE-CHON FRE-ZAY!!"

Unfortunately for Piaf, the angrier she got, the worse she mangled the Amestrisan language - it really did sound like 'bitchin' frizzy'!

"Pah!" she finally cried, "let me pass!" Ed bowed again, his face impassive, something told him it would be a good idea to be polite to this woman. Central was crawling with foreign dignitaries recently, any rudeness on his part could lead to a 'diplomatic incident'. He longed for the old days when not only could he be rude to everyone, he was expected to be rude. The people at Central HQ used to think something was wrong with Ed if there was any lapse in his inherent rudeness.

"C'mon, you mongrels" he drawled to the others. No one took offense, they were 'dogs of the military'; mongrels, mutts, curs, stray dogs. It was someting to be proud of. Bow-wow! The group, led by Elric, continued up the street, then up the steps into the same building the ambassador had just exited.

Inside the main foyer, Ed felt they were finally out of earshot of the angry Bourbonais woman, and he could let his guard down. Havoc heard him make an odd snorting sound; he paused from sucking his wounded finger, to ask with an innocent voice, "Excuse me, Major Elric, but are you strangling a duck?"

That did it. Edward burst out laughing, and when he bent down to slap his knee (the left one with his flesh hand), the flood gates opened and the sweet sounds of hilarity filled the air. When Riza came out to investigate the commotion, it was to find the Fullmetal Alchemist, along with Roy's inner circle, laughing uproarously.

Most of them lay on the floor rolling around like hyper ten year olds who'd just heard an especially good poop joke. Falman was older than all of them, and supposedly more dignified, was doubled over in one wooden chair, stamping his foot on the floor. While Ed was rocking back and forth in another chair, holding his sides, laughing as hard as the rest, tears rolling down his face.

Riza was touched. She couldn't remember Ed laughing in the old, grim days of the struggle against the homunculi. He'd been always sullen - sometimes snarky - especially when Roy was around to bait him with jibes about his short stature. Then a door banged open on the floor above, derailing her train of thought. "What's all that racket?!"

The men sobered up at once. By the time Roy had made it down the stairs to them, they were standing at attention and saluting. Much better. Now they stood up straight, the uniforms looked more like, well - uniforms.

Edward was still giggling, and Roy left him for the moment.

"Havoc, what's with your finger?" he barked, then waved off his explanation. "Never mind,you idiots - don't you have work to do?" Valman, Fuery, Havoc, Bloch, and Breda obediently filed out - with mostly straight faces - though an occasional 'hee-hee' was heard. Once the story of the 'bitchin' frizzy' spread around HQ, the barracks would be a laugh riot tonight.

Roy turned to Ed and regarded him, somewhat fondly. He glowered with his eyes, but his lips were curved in a smile. After another minute, he gave Ed a hanky to wipe his streaming eyes with; and waited till he got the last gurgle of amusement out of his system. "Upstairs, Major Chuckles, I've got a job for you."


Author's note: This chapter was revised once since it's initial posting on FF.net; but some parts still seem a bit clunky. But give this little mongrel time - like athlete's foot - it will grow on you. (Yeah, I know, bad joke.) The alchemic world's version of adages is something I came up with on a whim - and I enjoy the challenge of coming up with a new one each month. (New submissions gratefully accepted)
Regarding Piaf le Arouet: It was not my intention to insult the French people, she just has a rather thick accent. I truly like the French, and I admire them for not signing up for Bush's war, so I continue to call French fries, "French" (not Freedom) fries.
Emerald Alchemist
Good Job so far, very indepth; Keep it up! laugh.gif
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Keep your friends near - but your enemies nearer - old Armed Forces of Amestria saying

Disclaimer: With the exception of my OCs, I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist, it owns ME!

Warning: If you have not seen the entire series and/or the movie yet, this contains spoilers for episodes 44 ("Stray Dog Runs Away"), 45 ("Hohenheim of Light"), 49 ("Goodbye") and 50 ("Death"); plus the movie ("Conqueror of Shambala"). Read if you must, but you have been warned!

Summary: Roy is busy healing old wounds and setting the groundwork for Amestris's future, including new uniforms for the military, but sadly, they don't include miniskirts.

Chapter Two : In which Roy reminisces about the past, and sends Edward out on a new mission.

Roy appraised the silent young man who sat on the other side of his desk. As much as he couldn't believe he was now Fuhrer, neither could he believe Ed had turned 22 this year. It seemed only yesterday when a plaintive letter begging for information about the wherabouts of Hohenheim Elric had crossed his desk. Roy's first sight of the letter's author was of a maimed eleven year old, missing his right arm and part of his left leg, and crying in his sleep from pain and fever.

The next time they met, Ed was a sarcastic twelve year old, giving military protocol only lip service. Major Hughes used to joke Ed was 14 and a half feet tall - only four and a half feet was Ed, the rest was that gigantic chip on his shoulder.
By his fifteenth birthday, Ed was a feisty little punk with an explosive "Who are you calling short?!" attitude. Even after three years in the military, he still acted like saluting Roy was a fate worse than death - a model soldier he was not.

When he came back from Dublith with all those bruises, explaining they came courtesy of his alchemy teacher, Izumi Curtis; Roy considered taking up beating Ed himself - Izumi apparently had no trouble keeping the little smart-ass in line. It was also Roy's considered opinion Izumi didn't beat the brat nearly enough because he was still defiant, and still disobeying direct orders.

Roy had no trouble recalling the day he and his men had to hunt Ed and Al down near Risembool a year later. The then sixteen year old snarled like a feral dog, his golden eyes flashing defiance, and fighting like an Ishbalan sand tiger for his and Al's freedom. After Roy yelled at Fullmetal for not asking him for help before running away, he'd eventually gotten the fiery teen calmed down; only to see him go off like a bomb when he saw his father. Roy hadn't intervened then, the pair obviously had 'issues' they had to work out themselves.

Then there was the truly awful day - the day Amestris nearly went to hell. He was on his way to kill the homuculus Pride, who was masquerading as Fuhrer King Bradley. Ed was off on his own path, the path he'd chosen - both were trying to avoid a military which had declared them 'traitors'. Little did Roy know that was the last time he'd see Ed for two whole years. When it was all over Roy had lost his left eye, and his confidence in himself. He took the demotion to Corporal, and his exile to a northern outpost as his personal punishment. He'd never dreamed he'd return to Central.

The military had labeled the Fullmetal Alchemist a deserter, but Roy was sure Edward Elric was dead, his personal dream of restoring Alphonse unfullfilled.

Then one day he thought he'd seen him walking down the streets of East City; but when he called "Ed!" it was Alphonse who'd spun around. Al - so he wouldn't forget him - had taken to dressing like his vanished brother; wearing Ed's trademark red coat over black clothing, and growing his caramel-colored hair long and wearing it in a long ponytail (did he realize how much he resembled Hohenheim?). Al was the only one with the faith his brother was still alive, in the machine world beyond the Gate.

Al had just come back from Dublith, where he'd been studying alchemy with Izumi; she had recently passed away and Al had set out on his personal mission to find his brother. And he was glad the boy had been there to help him fight invading troops sent through the Gate by the Thule Society; for ironically, the fight helped Al find proof Edward was still alive, and trying to find his way home.

Dear, sweet, gentle Alphonse, the voice of reason to Edward's flaming temper. Al who loved animals and wanted to use his alchemic skills to help them. Almost to the minute Amestris had signed a trade pact/peace treaty with New Britain; Al had traveled to it's capitol, Londonium, so he could apply to study at it's famous college of veterinary medicine.

The trade pacts and treaties Amestris had signed with other countries - former enemies Creta and Ishbal - and unknown entities like New Britain, Bourbon, and Meso-America were the cause of both excitement - and some anxiety for Roy. And therein lay the job he had for Ed.

"An old saying of the Armed Forces of Amestris goes 'keep your friends near, but your enemies nearer'" said Roy.

Ed nodded, "I've heard it, Granny Pinako quotes it all the time. I think it's a subtle hint of some kind."

"What I want you to do, Ed, is form a new office of military intelligence."

One blond eyebrow raised. "Aren't 'military' and 'intelligence' mutually exclusive terms?"

Damn! In his two years spent in the machine world, Ed had learned too much cynicism.

"O.K., that's it." snapped Roy, "I want to know who you are, and what you've done with the real Edward Elric!"

Ed gave him a look of wounded innocence.

"Fuh, er - Roy." he protested, "I'm twenty-two now, I'm not that cranky little brat you used to fight with." He paused to draw a breath before continuing. "Besides, literally growing up has helped."

Yes, he had. In the other world, Ed had put on an incredible growth spurt, shooting up to 5' 9"; over a foot in those two and a half years. Now, no longer so sensitive about his height, he had finally shed that enormous chip.
And Roy realized he now enjoyed talking to Ed; prior talks had been nerve-shredding exercises in hostility - some from the surly boy, but also some from the frustrated (then) Colonel, who had no patience with children.

Or, maybe it was just Edward who rubbed him the wrong way. Alphonse - when not pestering him after losing his memory, and insisting his brother was still alive - had always been relatively easy to get along with.

"As I was saying," Roy continued, "we need to know what not just our ennemies are doing, but what our new friends are up to as well."

"But - ", Ed began, "isn't spying on our friends being a bit disengenious"?

"Nonsense, you're being naive. Espionage - even among allies - is not only common - but expected."

"I want to know, Ed, who is greeting me with his right hand, while hiding a knife with his left."

"Hmmm, who do you have in mind?"

"I want you to go to New Britain, Ed. Their ambassador was telling me about her country's intelligence operation, MI7." He paused to let the words sink in.

Ed made a 'get on with it' motion. Roy was smirking again, with a 'cat that ate the parrot' expression on his face.

"She suggested we co-ordinate with the New British agency in the setting up of a similar intelligence operation in Amestris; and I immediately thought of you as the perfect man for the job."

Ed was a bright boy, and he had figured out the reason for Roy's smirk; he bet Roy had been thinking of only how to best keep Amestris safe. So he smirked back.

"What happened to the innocent boy I used to know?" asked Roy. Ed responded with a knowing chuckle. Wouldn't you like to know Fuhrer Mustang?

Too damn cynical.
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After his meeting with Roy, Ed walked around Central for some fresh air. Being inside government buildings - heck, any buildings - for too long made him feel like wanting to jump out of his skin. Which was perfectly natural - as a child in Risembool, he and Al were outside 99% of the time.

When school was not in session, he and Al would have been exploring the valley and woods from just after breakfast until dusk. They sometimes would be having so much fun, they would forget to eat the sandwiches Mother had packed for lunch.

Mother.

There was a hitch in Edward's stride. His throat tightened, and tears pricked at his eyes. He loved his mother more than anything or anyone (other than his little brother), and he would mourn her for the rest of his life. He had stopped regretting trying to resurrect her with the forbidden Human Transmutation ritual; he and Al were just dumb kids who didn't know what else to do.

They had no close relatives; Mother had been an only child, and her parents had died long ago (Ed had a misty memory of being picked up and held eye-to-eye with an old man who's hair grew in the same unruly style, right down to the one wayward bit which stubbornly stuck straight up like an antenna - his grandfather?).

After Mother's death, an official letter had come by messenger. The contents informed them Hohenheim's parental rights had been terminated (by order of Fuhrer Bradley), and they were now 'wards of the state'. So every day after that, both feared Amestrisan Children's Services would come knocking, and take them away to the forbidding Central Orphanage.

He made a mental note: Suggest to Roy he reform the system of caring for Amestrisan orphans, and have that house of horrors torn down. After decades of wars, there were still many orphans around.
Ed saw too many children living on the streets; whenever they saw an adult watching them too closely, they fled into derelict buildings, or skulked down twisty alleys. Too afraid of the grim-faced 'child minders' to ask for help: warm clothing, a soft bed, and nourishing food.

Just thinking of how close he and Al had come to that place made him shudder. Good thing that strange woman, Izumi Curtis had shown up that rainy night in Risembool to save the village from flooding. He and Al had badgered her incessently until she agreed to train them in alchemy. After returning to Risembool from their training in Dublith, Edward's best friend, Asimov Hodgeson told him they'd missed the arrival of the official ACS car by mere hours.

A sudden commotion dragged him out of his reverie. Ed looked up to see himself near the new Import/Export Terminal by the river. The trade pacts signed by Roy had increased the terminal's business tenfold; and the docks were almost always full of ships loading, or unloading goods. Ed walked closer to see what was going on.

A crowd of people had gathered by one of the truck loading docks, shouting about something. Once in earshot, Ed realized they were all auto mail engineers - a picture of an angry blonde shaking a wrench popped up in his mind's eye - and they were clearly excited about something.

Of course, a new shipment of 'Titania metal' had just come in from Bourbon. At first, this shiny metal had drawn only scorn from auto mail artisans - what did those snail eaters know about metal anyways? Until it was tested for strength and found to rival, even surpass Rush Valley steel. After the initial shock, they now fell upon any new shipment like a pack of starving dogs.

After listening to Winry spend almost every hour of a weekend visit to Risembool raving about this darned Titania metal, Ed had used his leverage with Roy to snag a few pounds of it, and had it sent to Risembool.
He'd told Winry to go create what she liked with it; but he hadn't expected her to go right to work and produce a new set of limbs for him.

After another weekend visit spent with exhaustive measuring, remeasuring - and even more measuring - she had phoned him a month later and told him to come home for a fitting.
The leg didn't look too different - except for a shiny new covering - which he thought was a waste, as it was usually hidden under his pants leg. But the arm - that was a thing of beauty. It was lighter, and stronger than before, with the latest in hydraulics and ball bearings; it's Titania metal skin gleaming in the sun.

He'd taken along Lt. Colonel Armstrong - Pinako liked him - and his strength would be needed to hold Ed down during the painful process of nerve connection. Ed had to be conscious for that so Winry could be sure all neural pathways were properly hooked up. This time, it seemed to hurt more than usual - Winry's hypothesis was the Titania metal was a better conductor of nerve impulses - and he suddenly passed out from the pain.

When he came to an hour later, he experimentally flexed his shoulder, and the arm obediently shot up. Too fast - it smacked him in the face, bloodying his nose. His new arm took less effort to move - but to Ed's relief, handled the conduction of alchemical energy just fine - but the lessening of weight took a little time to get used to.

The first time he saluted Roy with it, he'd opened a small gash over his right eye and darn near concussed himself too. As he used alchemy to repair the injury so not even a scar showed, Edward made a mental note not to do that again - Roy might never recover from the shock of the Fullmetal Alchemist regularly saluting him!

Ed turned at the corner and left the yelling engineers behind, directing his feet towards the train station. He had to first book a train to the Bourbon port of L'Escargot, then a ship across the Jersey channel to Londonium. And finally, back to his dorm room to pack. He made another mental note: he didn't know how long he would be in Londonium; he'd better give his house plants away, and arrange for his mail to be held at the headquarters post office.

Time to get busy in his new job as spymaster.

End Chapter Two.

Author's note: At the time I'd originally written this, there were 3, maybe 4-5 episodes left, so the chapter was riddled with errors. Which is why I've revised it to make the story cleave closer to the series canon, streamline some clunky writing, and correct spelling/spacing errors.






IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

It is unwise to consume revenge hot - Ishbalian proverb

Chapter Three - In which we skip back a few months. Beware of flying wrenches!


On a beautiful summer's day in Risembool, Alphonse Elric sat at a small table in the backyard of the Rockbell house, doing what he'd come to love best: using his alchemical skills to help animals. Al had had a knack with animals from little on, even during those years his soul was bound to that suit of armor.
Dogs came wagging their tails, cats rubbed against his legs, even birds came and perched on his head when he whistled. Sometimes, they had "accidents" on his head too (which an annoyed Ed pointed out was most unsanitary), so he was glad to be back in his physical body, and the birds settled for perching on his index finger.

His "patient" that day was a feral tabby kitten with an eye infection; it sat quietly in his lap, perfectly trusting in this human not to hurt it. With his left hand, Al gently tipped the kitten's head back, then he used the thumb and index finger of that hand to hold it's left eye open. In his right hand was an eye dropper filled with a yellowish liquid; knowing kittens don't like to sit still for long, Al quickly brought it over and administered two drops of medicine.

"Good kitty", he crooned, and rubbed it's ears. Already purring, the kitten actually raised the volume of it's 'motor'. This was the third dose he'd given the kitten, and the infection was nearly gone. Since tthe signing of the Amestris/New Britain trade pact, Al had been in contact with a professor at the Highgate School of Veterinary Medicine in Londonium; he gave Al advice on the ingredients, and Al finished the medicine using alchemy.

Alchemy was rare in New Britain and the new flow of ideas between that country and Amestris had sparked great interest in 'complimentary medicine' - using traditional Hippocratic healing, along with alchemy to cure maladies, and heal wounds. Al idly wondered if he would be allowed to take the kitten along when he left to begin his college studies. He knew Pinako wasn't a fan of cats, because they used her garden as a litter box. She loved Alphonse like he was her natural - born grandson, but that love had it's limits........

Al's thoughts were interrupted with a crash - a tremendous one which sounded inside the yellow house behind him. It was immediately followed by an angry, incoherent yell - brother's voice. The yell was answered by a high - pitched female scream - Winry's.

Not good.

The kitten's tiny body tensed up, it first growled, then spat, and Al released it before he got scratched. It had bolted up a nearby tree by the time another tremendous crash sounded and the back door banged open. Out the door and down the porch steps hurtled a black and yelllow streak - Edward Elric had pissed Winry Rockbell off again - which is why he was running hard, ducking to avoid a flying wrench.

"Broth - ?" Al began

"Shut up and run!" roared Edward.

When Winry was angry, it was best to stay out of her throwing range. Capping the eye dropper, Al leapt out of his chair and pelted after his older brother.

"Don't forget to duck!" Ed yelled. Al did so, and a good thing he did too, as a wrench skimmed right over his head, damn near putting a new part in his hair.

Edward zigged and zagged; avoiding all but the last thrown wrench: at the last minute, he zagged when he should have zigged and the wrench bounced hard off the back of his head. The jolt caused him to lose his balance and plow face first through a small pond of storm water at the end of the yard.
But he was up on his feet almost instantly, and the brothers scrambled together up a steep bank to the road. Both plopped down, gasping, and looked back at the pretty blond woman raging in the doorway.

"I'M AT WAR WITH ALL MEN - AND THE ELRIC BROTHERS ARE ENEMY NUMBER ONE!!!" screamed Winry Rockbell.

Al was stunned. "What ever have I done to you?!" he shouted back.

"You're the brother of Edward Elric!" bellowed Winry, "That's a good enough reason!"

He looked over at Ed, who was spitting mud and bits of grass out of his mouth, his golden eyes looking like beacons in his mud covered face.

"Brother, what did you do to her?"

Edward snapped, "Hell, I don't know, she just started yelling and then she beaned me with a wrench." He kept on, "I swear Al - that woman is crazy. All women are crazy, l - I'd advise you to steer clear of the lot of them."

His little brother chuckled: Ed's hate-love-hate relationship with Winry was a running joke in Risembool. Most of the villagers felt it meant they were made for each other - but Ed was useless at courting Winry - any attempts to make 'nice' on his part tended to end badly. An argument invariably ensured, with yelling, and wrench throwing close behind.

Clapping his hands together, Al lightly set his fingers on the mud, dirty water and vegetation clinging to his brother. A bright flash, and a crackle of alchemic energy later, then Ed and his clothes were clean and dry again.

"Thanks, Al, that was my last clean shirt"

"No problem, brother"

Cautiously circling around to the main road, Ed hoisted himself onto the low stone wall which bordered one side. It made Al realize how much taller he'd grown. Four years ago, he would have to jump up for a handhold, then climb the rest of the way.

Al sat down next to him, and for a time, neither said anything, both lost in their own thoughts. This road held so many memories for both of them. When younger, both raced down it on the way to the river to fish, or to go swimming; they walked back and forth on this road on the way to school; they left their home for the last time on this road; and followed it on visits to the Rockbell's.

And, and - and....

Their mother's funeral cortege - plus those of Winry's parents - and so many local war dead - had taken this road on the way to the cemetary for their final rest. Now it ws the turn of Al's eyes to mist over.
He felt the pull of generations of people who lived in the valley; their mother had been a Crawford - her ancestors had first settled her over 1,000 years ago. On mother's side at least, Ed and Al's roots ran deep in Risembool. Al slyly brought his hand up to surreptitiously brush away a tear.

"Al?"

He looked over at Ed, who was smiling at him. Al blushed and ducked his head, and he tried to sniff back the tears, but some escaped to roll down his cheeks. Ed handed him a hankerchief, and Al dabbed quickly, then he just sat there with it crushed in his hand.

"Brother, I - "

"Thinking about mother too?"

'How did you - ?"

"She crosses my thoughts almost every day, at least once a week."

"Me too, brother, me too."

"We will never forget her Al, never." Ed sighed. "She was our rock, our strength, our shield. She helped us feel safe and secure, even when it seemed the whole country was going to hell in a handbasket."

"Helena Handbasket?"

Ed flopped his metal hand in an offhanded gesture. "It was a term I heard during my time in the machine world. They are big on slang terms over there, sometimes it was difficult to understand them."

Al had nothing to add at first, so he just nodded.

"Brother, we haven't visited her grave for a while, I think it's time we went into the village and got some fresh flowers for her. I think she would like that."

Now it was Ed's turn to nod in agreement. "You were always the voice of reason Al. Maybe Winry will have cooled down by the time we get back."

As one, they jumped down from the wall and headed in the direction of Risembool village; Ed's metal arm draped over Al's shoulder as they talked about mundane things: Al's fear he would forget to take his identity papers along, or wether he would get seasick in the Jersey channel, could he handle more formal schooling than he was used to, were cats allowed in student housing, would the New British food be edible, or how he would cope with homesickness.

Down in the village, they were recognized and greeted by virtually everyone. Everybody knew everyone else in a small village, and during their childhood, should Ed or Al misbehave on one end of the valley, they could be certain their mother had heard about it before he got home. As sweet and loving as Trisha Elric was - she wasn't afraid to mete out punishment when they behaved badly.

Parents pointed them out to their children - look kids! - it's the Fullmetal Alchemist, and his brother, the Soul Alchemist. It was very rare for a village the size of Risembool to produce even one State Alchemist, so two was a huge honor. The Elric brothers didn't know it, but the entire village was very proud of them - especially of Ed's feats of insubordination. He may be a 'dog of the military', yet he wasn't very obedient.

After a quick visit to the flower seller, they headed back up the road, to the village cemetary high on a green hill. Drawing close to their destination, both fell silent, lost in personal memories again. The cemetary was quiet and peaceful, studded with trees from which occasional birdsong could be heard. But the only sound now was the drowsy humming of bees attracted by flowering bushes which marked family plots. In sight of Trisha Elric's grave, the brothers stopped dead in their tracks.

Someone was kneeling in front of her grave, digging up the ground! Stealthily laying aside their rose bouquets, both Ed and Al lifted up their hands, palms facing, ready to clap them together.
A moment before they acted, the intruder looked back, then swiftly stood up. It was Winry!

"Winry!" exclaimed Al, "how did you know we would come here?"

One side of Ed's mouth quirked up, it didn't take a rocket scientist (did he really just think that? Another machine world term) to figure out where they would go. Winry smiled and stepped aside to give them an unobstructed view of the grave. They saw a small round bush, covered with glossy dark green foliage, with tiny white roses scattered amongst the leaves. A gentle breeze struck up, and a faint tinkling sound was heard coming from the bush.

Al exclaimed again, this time with delight. "Oh, Winry! A wind rose bush!"

Winry blushed and ducked her head. "A customer short on cash traded three of these bushes for repair work I did on his arm; I only needed two for my parent's graves, so I decided to plant the other in front of Trisha's."

"It's beautiful, Winry, that was very thoughtful of you."

"I know it would have been best to ask you two first, but wind roses are tricky, they don't like to be out of the ground for too long."

Ed's throat tightened, he had a sudden, strong urge to go up and hug the stuffing out of Winry; but suspicious she had a wrench hidden somewhere on her person, he hung back. Al had no such hesitation, and he hugged without fear. Winry knew what Ed was afraid of - so she decided to mess with his head a bit by flashing him an evil grin over Al's shoulder - and she got the satisfaction of seeing him flinch.

"I hope it grows here O.K."

"As long as the hole is filled with water and some rose food before planting, Al, it actually is quite hardy. I think the story of it being finicky is an urban legend, designed to boost it's mystique - and the price." Wind rose bushes were incredibly expensive - the equivalent of a months' pay for a State Alchemist.

Ed picked up the rose bouquet he'd brought and ruefully said, "I guess these can't hold a candle to that."

"Nonsense, Ed; you have red roses, and Al brought blue. They'll go very well with these white ones."

Touche, Winry, touche. (yet another machine world term, what was with him today?)

Admiring the effect later, Ed had to admit WInry was right.

The sun was going down as the trio walked back to the Rockbell house; the brothers close enough to Winry between them she would be unable to swing any wrenches. Ed carried her water bucket, and Al her gardening tools - a sudden flashback came up in Ed's mind - walking to school along this road, he and his best friend Asimov Hodgeson used to fight over who would carry Winry's books.

What ever had happened to him? Oh yeah, he'd been killed on the Northern Front, fighting against the Drachmans, his body laying somewhere in the Briggs Mountains. Poor Asimov, who would never touch the soil of Risembool again.

There were too many bad memories in Risembool: the valley looked idyllic, but the endless decades of war had deeply scarred it's people. So many maimed veterans, so many families with father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, brother, & sister - shaped holes in their hearts.

Wait a minute. Why was he thinking like this? He, Edward Elric had nothing to kick about. Sure both their parents were dead, the family home a pile of ashes; and reduced to a handful of photographs, but he was home again. Al restored both physically and mentally, Scar and all the homunculi (he hoped) were dead, and peace - such a rare commodity - was in the air.

What were a few wrench induced contusions compared to that?

End Chapter Three.

















IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

"No positive actions come without negative consequences" - Drachmean adage

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist (only any OCs I've created), it owns ME!

Warning: Some bad language; also implied sex between RoyxOC

Summary: Ed gets a new mission to complete: Go to the country of New Britain and get ideas on setting up a new military intelligence operation on the lines of that country's MI7. He makes one last visit to Risembool before his departure and Winry sees him off with another wrench to the head.

Chapter Four: In which Roy and Ed have a 'heart-to-heart' talk, and Ed is shaken, not stirred; or: No yaoi please, we're New British!

Flashback over: Ed was back in Central, waiting outside Roy's office in the government building for his final orders before taking the train to Bourbon.
'Hurry up and wait', was the military's motto, thought Ed. He'd been there for almost two hours and was starting to fall asleep in his chair when the inner door finally opened and the New British ambassador emerged, followed by Roy. They appeared to be just winding up a conversation.

'It's showtime!' he thought again. Edward finger combed his hair out of his face and sat up straighter, best to look alive. He didn't really followe what the ambassodor was saying, because it was the usual empty diplomatic platitudes. Ed vaguely wondered how Roy could stand it - back when they first met, Mustang had been a soldier's solider, who preferred action to ass kissing.

After some more useless nattering, she finally extended her hand. Roy gently took her fingers, inclinded his head ('wait! did he just brush them with his lips?!'), and clicked his heels. The action made Edward feel slightly queasy - the Nazis in the machine world bowed, and clicked heels like that.
'It might be a good idea to stand up', he thought; then he bowed when the ambassador turned and looked quizzically at him.

"Ah, Ambassador Pankhurst, may I introduce you to Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist?"

He hesitated when she extended her hand to him (oh, great, the same one Mustang just kissed!), then gently (very gently) took the same fingers in his right hand and bowed again, murmuring something uselessly polite.

"Colonel Elric, I am charmed to meet you." (Colonel? When was I promoted?) He looked up in surprise and found himself facing a pair of frank and appraising grey eyes. Ed blushed slightly, but resisted the urge to bow again, a third time would have been overdoing it.
After Roy had seen the ambassador to her car, Edward and the Fuhrer once again faced each other over the latter's desk. Something about the room bothered Ed, there was an odd odor in the air he couldn't seem to identify; each time he thought he could put a name to it, the answer slipped away.

An image popped into his head, in the outer office, Roy and Ambassador Pankhurst smiling at one another with - satisfied expressions on their faces; smiles which had nothing to do with trade pacts or tariff rates. A really horrible thought suddenly occurred to him.

It must have shown on his face because Roy took on a look of concern.

"Fullmetal, are you all right?"

"I'm - I'm; fine, um - my stomach's been hurting me - a bit."

"Are you sure, Fullmetal? You looked like you were about to 'toss your cookies'". Roy frowned, then went on "I suggest you go to the hospital wing and see the HQ doctor for a check-up before you leave for Bourbon."

Another digital prostate exam? Ed gritted his teeth, and hoped his disgust showed on his face. Yeah, like I fucking just live for those! Thanks, but no thanks!

"Uhhh," Ed rubbed the back of his head in embarassment, wondering if Roy could read his thoughts.

"Roy, can I ask you a question?"

Mustang waited patiently, with a 'get on with it' expression.

"Roy, - um, - - ummmm,"

"Yessss, Fullmetal?" Mustang started drumming his fingers; Edward finally got it out.

"Have you been - erm - 'schtupping' the ambassadors of Bourbon, and New Britain?"

Roy looked confused. "'Schtupping'? What kind of a word is that?

"Uhhh," Ed tried to buy time for his thoughts, "it's a piece of machine world slang, I - uh - heard."

"And it means....?" Roy's face split into a wicked grin Ed didn't like. And he was smiling because Edward Elric - from his collarbone to the roots of his hair - had just blushed an intriguing shade of crimson.

Edward opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again. His blush deepened, he couldn't look at Roy, who was leaning back in his chair and clearly enjoying every second of the younger man's discomfiture.

"Roy?" he finally croaked. "Have you been having, um - sex - with these women?"

Mustang shrugged, "Hey, I can't help it if they keep sending me women; and I can't help it if they find me irresistable. Besides, I'm a man, and I have needs." He paused to throw Ed a sharp look. "Don't look at me like that Fullmetal, I was born to be sexy as hell."

Leaning forward again, he fixed Edward with a mock leer. "Would you like to join in next time, Colonel Elric?" Edward leapt up from his chair, his face white, eyes wide, and holding up his hands in horror.

There was a familiar smirk on Mustang's face.

'Bastard', thought Ed as he returned to his seat, 'he got me again'.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Roy clapped his hands together, "Right!" Ed flinched. "Let's get down to business!" He tossed a small pile of envelopes over the desk to Edward. "These are letters of introduction to people you will need to contact in New Britain, they will help you set up your new intelligence operation."

There were six envelopes, each bearing a single name, none of which were familiar to Edward. "The first one is the most important."

Ed scanned it: Colonel Ian Bond.

"He's your counterpart in MI7, so he'll be the first to contact once you land in Londonium." Roy kept on "The ambassador tells me the guy has a reputaiton for being suave, very sophisticated, kind of like a ladie's man, like me." Ed slapped his forehead with his flesh hand, Oh, man, from the frying pan into the fire! Just what I needed, another Roy Mustang! His mind's eye pictured a gigantic smirk with a New British accent.

"I'm not finished, Fullmetal" said Roy in a dangerous don't-ignore-me kind of voice - he'd seen Elric's golden eyes start to glaze over - so Edward looked up quickly.

"Like I was saying, Bond is an upper class New Brit; old family, the best schools and all that. His country has had decades of relative peace, while Amestris had been wasting it's time squabbling with the neighbors; we've fallen behind socially." Roy paused to consider his next words, "He will probably try and get away with treating you like a rube; but you're a bright boy, don't let him intimidate you."

He didn't need to add "And watch your ass", but he did so anyway. The interview seemed to be over, so Ed stowed the envelopes in an inner coat pocket (it was getting chilly again in Central), and prepared to take his leave. He bowed to his superior, then headed for the door with the most military like walk he could muster.

"Elric!" He stopped and spun around. Roy was grinning as he tossed an object, something golden flashed in the air and Ed caught it in his metal hand: colonel's bars.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Fullmetal". Roy saluted and Ed snapped one of his own - careful to do it with his flesh hand this time.

End Chapter Four~






And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

"No positive actions come without negative consequences" - Drachmean adage

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist (only any OCs I've created), it owns ME!

Warning: Some bad language; also implied sex between RoyxOC

Summary: Ed got a new mission to complete: Go to the country of New Britain and get ideas on setting up a new military intelligence operation on the lines of that country's MI7. He makes one last visit to Risembool before his departure and Winry sees him off with another wrench to the head.

Chapter Four: In which Roy and Ed have a 'heart-to-heart' talk, and Ed is shaken, not stirred; or: No yaoi please, we're New British!

Flashback over: Ed was back in Central, waiting outside Roy's office in the government building for his final orders before taking the train to Bourbon.
'Hurry up and wait', was the military's motto, thought Ed. He'd been there for almost two hours and was starting to fall asleep in his chair when the inner door finally opened and the New British ambassador emerged, followed by Roy. They appeared to be just winding up a conversation.

'It's showtime!' he thought again. Edward finger combed his hair out of his face and sat up straighter, best to look alive. He didn't really followe what the ambassodor was saying, it was the usual empty diplomatic platitudes. Ed vaguely wondered how Roy could stand it - back when they first met, Mustang had been a soldier's solider, who preferred action to ass kissing.

After some more useless nattering, she finally extended her hand. Roy gently took her fingers, inclinded his head ('wait! did he just brush them with his lips?!'), and clicked his heels. The action made Edward feel slightly queasy - the Nazis in the machine world bowed, and clicked heels like that. It might be a good idea to stand up', he thought; then he bowed when the ambassador turned and looked quizzically at him.

"Ah, Ambassador Pankhurst, may I introduce you to Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist?"

He hesitated when she extended her hand to him (oh, great, the same one Mustang just kissed!), then gently (very gently) took the same fingers in his right hand and bowed again, murmuring something uselessly polite.

"Colonel Elric, I am charmed to meet you." (Colonel? When was I promoted?) He looked up in surprise and found himself facing a pair of frank and appraising grey eyes. Ed blushed slightly, but resisted the urge to bow again, a third time would have been overdoing it.
After Roy had seen the ambassador to her car, Edward and the Fuhrer once again faced each other over the latter's desk. Something about the room bothered Ed, there was an odd odor in the air he couldn't seem to identify; each time he thought he could put a name to it, the answer slipped away.

An image popped into his head, in the outer office, Roy and Ambassador Pankhurst smiling at one another with - satisfied expressions on their faces; smiles which had nothing to do with trade pacts or tariff rates. A really horrible thought suddenly occurred to him.

It must have shown on his face because Roy took on a look of concern.

"Fullmetal, are you all right?"

"I'm - I'm; fine, um - my stomach's been hurting me - a bit."

"Are you sure, Fullmetal? You looked like you were about to 'toss your cookies'". Roy frowned, then went on "I suggest you go to the hospital wing and see the HQ doctor for a check-up before you leave for Bourbon."

Another digital prostate exam? Ed gritted his teeth, and hoped his disgust showed on his face. Yeah, like I fucking just live for those! Thanks, but no thanks!

"Uhhh," Ed rubbed the back of his head in embarassment, wondering if Roy could read his thoughts.

"Roy, can I ask you a question?"

Mustang waited patiently, with a 'get on with it' expression.

"Roy, - um, - - ummmm,"

"Yessss, Fullmetal?" Mustang started drumming his fingers; Edward finally got it out.

"Have you been - erm - 'schtupping' the ambassadors of Bourbon, and New Britain?"

Roy looked confused. "'Schtupping'? What kind of a word is that?

"Uhhh," Ed tried to buy time for his thoughts, "it's a piece of machine world slang, I - uh - heard."

"And it means....?" Roy's face split into a wicked grin Ed didn't like. And he was smiling because Edward Elric - from his collarbone to the roots of his hair - had just blushed an intriguing shade of crimson.

Edward opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again. His blush deepened, he couldn't look at Roy, who was leaning back in his chair and clearly enjoying every second of the younger man's discomfiture.

"Roy?" he finally croaked. "Have you been having, um - sex - with these women?"

Mustang shrugged, "Hey, I can't help it if they keep sending me women; and I can't help it if they find me irresistable. Besides, I'm a man, and I have needs." He paused to throw Ed a sharp look. "Don't look at me like that Fullmetal, I was born to be sexy as hell."

Leaning forward again, he fixed Edward with a mock leer. "Would you like to join in next time, Colonel Elric?" Edward leapt up from his chair, his face white, eyes wide, and holding up his hands in horror.

There was a familiar smirk on Mustang's face.

'Bastard', thought Ed as he returned to his seat, 'he got me again'.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Roy clapped his hands together, "Right!" Ed flinched. "Let's get down to business!" He tossed a small pile of envelopes over the desk to Edward.
"These are letters of introduction to people you will need to contact in New Britain, they will help you set up your new intelligence operation."

There were six envelopes, each bearing a single name, none of which were familiar to Edward. "The first one is the most important."

Ed scanned it: Colonel Ian Bond.

"He's your counterpart in MI7, so he'll be the first to contact once you land in Londonium." Roy kept on "The ambassador tells me the guy has a reputaiton for being suave, very sophisticated, kind of like a ladie's man, like me."

Ed slapped his forehead with his flesh hand, Oh, man, from the frying pan into the fire! Just what I needed, another Roy Mustang! His mind's eye pictured a gigantic smirk with a New British accent.

"I'm not finished, Fullmetal" said Roy in a dangerous don't-ignore-me kind of voice - he'd seen Elric's golden eyes start to glaze over - so Edward looked up quickly.

"Like I was saying, Bond is an upper class New Brit; old family, the best schools and all that. His country has had decades of relative peace, while Amestris had been wasting it's time squabbling with the neighbors; we've fallen behind socially." Roy paused to consider his next words, "He will probably try and get away with treating you like a rube; but you're a bright boy, don't let him intimidate you."

He didn't need to add "And watch your ass", but he did so anyway. The interview seemed to be over, so Ed stowed the envelopes in an inner coat pocket (it was getting chilly again in Central), and prepared to take his leave. He bowed to his superior, then headed for the door with the most military like walk he could muster.

"Elric!" He stopped and spun around. Roy was grinning as he tossed an object, something golden flashed in the air and Ed caught it in his metal hand: colonel's bars.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Fullmetal". Roy saluted and Ed snapped one of his own - careful to do it with his flesh hand this time.

End Chapter Four~




IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well[

"Whatever does not cause my destruction will empower me" - Xingan proverb

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist (except any OCs I've created), it owns ME!

Chapter Five: In which Edward and Alphonse go for an unexpected swim

Five minutes after the ferry left the protection of the L'Escargot breakwater, Edward Elric realized one important fact: He was prone to seasickness. Once the ferry hit the rougher waters of the Jersey Channel, he was violently ill over the railing, losing the dinner he'd eaten in a L'Escargot bistro only a few hours before. While his fellow passengers took the air on the fantail, socialized in the lounge, or gathered for a late buffet supper on the main deck, Ed lay in his bunk, a puddle of queasy misery; moving off it only to retch into a basin. He ate nothing and drank little, for even a few sips of water caused him to vomit.

So it was with great relief the ferry entered the estuary of the Thamar River and it's pitching and roiling - plus the roiling of Ed's stomach - finally ceased. By the time it tied up at the dock, Ed felt well enough to shrug on his coat, grab his valise, and come out to lean over the railing for his first view of Londonium.

Now he really did feel like a rube, a hick, a country bumpkin - size-wise, Central was Lior as compared with the metropolis of Londonium. The city stretched in every directions - buildings as far as Edward's eyes could see - no, not wall to wall buildings - he noticed patches of bare tree branches scattered among them. Now he recalled Alphonse's last letter, raving about Londonium's park system: parks of every size, from the hundreds of acres, to little neighborhood "pocket parks".

Green space was something Central - and other Amestrisan cities lacked he recalled Roy saying he wanted to do something about that once he got more pressing matters cleared away.

The sounds of a ship docking brought Edward's attention back to the here and now, and he watched with interest as tug boats pushed the ferry up against it's dock. Chains rattled as gigantic anchors plunged into the river, and the crew tossed thick hawsers down to equally massive dock workers. The gangplank came down and was secured, and now his fellow travellers were surging towards it, eager to touch dry land again.

Edward hung back to avoid the crush - he listened to the babble of voices - some in languages he didn't recognize - and generally just 'people watched'. Some wore unusual - to him - modes of dress, and Edward briefly wondered if his clothing marked him as an Amestrisan (while he was standing at the railing before the ship left port - and his seasickness drove him to his cabin - he'd heard excited whispering "Ohhh, see that odd symbol on his coat? And that silver chain? He must be a State Alchemist from Amestris!"); did he really dress that oddly?

And if he stuck out like a sore thumb; did Alphonse stick out too? He'd never mentioned it in his letters home, but the 16 year old would have been too modest to admit he was having difficulties. For the most part, his letters were mostly descriptions of what he'd seen, heard, smelled, and tasted. Alphonese Elric didn't like to talk about himself, he preferred to listen, which is probably what made him so easy for Izumi to teach in those last few years she'd had left.

(If only Edward had known how close to death she was, he would have taken her frequent beatings with more grace.}

The only time Alphonse complained was to say he missed Pinako's cooking, (Pinako's cooking? Was he serious? That was like waxing nostalgic about the food at Central HQ's commissary) and asked for a box of her traditional Risembool cookies.

Edward mused on this and other things while he continued to watch passengers disembark. The dock below was a boil of people; most of them were there to greet arriving passengers, but he also noticed a group of stevedores starting to unload cargo. Speaking of greetings: where was Alphonse?

Oopsy, spoke too soon. There was a small group of people running onto the dock from the street, then pushing their way through the mob below. At the lead of the figures, he saw a familiar moss green coat with a mop of caramel-colored hair above; the figure didn't look up until it was close to the gangplank, then it tilted to show him a much beloved face.

"BRO - THER!!" Alphonse Elric, the Soul Alchemist, raised both arms and waved madly while grinning hugely. An answering grin split Edward's face and he raised a hand in greeting.
Now he could see Al was surrounded by four young men who were also grinning and waving up at him. Must be his college friends, Al had mentioned he'd made a few, all described in amusing thumbnail sketches in his letters home. Thanks to those, Ed actually recognized all of them.

Unable to wait for the trickle of passengers to clear the gangplank, Alphonse came bounding up to meet his brother, eyes and face bright with anticipation. The least Ed could do was meet him halfway - pulling the long strap of his valise over his head - Edward started down just in time to see the unthinkable.
There was only one other passenger Alphonse needed to clear, a small bald man struggling with a heavy portmanteux - at the back of his mind, Ed thought that was strange. - Most passengers, including himself - had pre-arranged for their luggage to be delivered to their destinations.

It seemed like Alphonse - with a couple of his friends close behind - would pass by with plenty of room to spare - when the man suddenly (an accident, or on purpose?) tripped, and stumbled to his left, slamming hard into Alphonse, and knocking the boy off his feet.

Al staggered, and tried hard to keep his balance, he very nearly stayed on his feet before he rolled over the canvas side of the gangplank and into space, then down, down to the cold waters of the River Thamar.
Alphonse knew how to swim, but he was wearing a long, heavy coat, the water here was far colder than the Rain River back home, and in his brother's flailing fall, Edward saw his wasn't wearing his gloves - the one with the arrays sewn into the palms.

Edward didn't think twice - shedding his valise and coat, he leapt over the low side of the gangplank, aiming close for the white splash which marked Al's enry point into the river.

He gasped despite himself - the water felt like he'd just jumped into a bathtub filled with ice - after it closed over his head, Ed realized it also was extremely murky - where was his brother? Ed needed air, so he kicked hard for the surface, and came up just in time to see one of Al's hands, waving frantically. Ed dove again, in the general direction of the hand - he could barely see his own hand in front of his face. He reached out, and touched cloth - taking a tight hold, he kicked for the surface again. Once there, he pulled upwards - hard, and Al's face, choking and coughing, broke the river's surface.

Edward had his brother up where he could breathe, but they were still in trouble. There was no place to climb out, people above them were shouting and running about, but he didn't know how they could help.
Alphonse's wet coat was starting to drag him back under, and worse yet; Ed could feel his human muscles start to cramp. His treading movements became weaker.

Only one thing to to do, Ed thought. He really didn't want to flash his alchemic powers in public, but he felt he had no choice. Placing one arm around Alphonse's neck, then the other under the shoulders of the struggling teen, Ed clapped his hands together.

There was a bang, a flash; and a sizzling ball of alchemical energy appeared between his palms. Carefully holding them just a few inches apart kept the energy in one place. The water immediately around them started to steam, then bubble lightly as it warmed to body temperature.
The warmth seemed to give Alphonse fresh energy, his water treading became surer, less jerky, and Ed's cramps eased. That was a little better, now they had a stronger chance of getting out of this alive.

A 'whoop-whoop-whoop' sounded to their right; Edward turned and saw a small boat with a flashing red light on top, marked 'River Patrol' edging into the space between ferry and dock. Two men at the bow were reacing a long pole towards them, with one shouting "Grab 'old, mate!"

Edward broke contact and let the energy ball fade, grabbed the pole with his right hand and brought it towards Alphonse, who gratefully clutched it. With the men of the Londonium River Patrol pulling, and Ed pushing, they got Alphonse onto the boat's deck. Ed slowly climbed up until two brawny arms grabbed him and hauled him in like he weighed nothing.

He sat, gasping, against the bow railing. Al was on his hands and knees, helplessly retching up what appeared to be a few gallons of dirty water. One of the boat mean enthusiastically thumped him on the back, crooning "Let it all out, laddie, let it all out." He did it so hard, Ed was surprised his brother wasn't flattened by each "pat". A shadow fell across him, "Here chap, you need this"; the voice's owner then knelt down and wrapped an old blanket around Ed's shoulders. He didn't want it at first because he was more concerned about his little brother. Then the boat cleared the ferry's bulk and a breeze kicked up; Ed began to shiver, and he pulled the blanket tighter about his shoulders.

Alphonse had ceased his puking, so the same two men who had rescued them wrapped him head to toe in blankets, then picked him up like he was a roll of carpeting, and carried him off. Edward felt an arm under his left one, hoisting him up, then helping him to walk in the same direction.

Their destination turned out to be a small room just behind the pilot house - heated by a black, pot-bellied stove, it was blessedly warm. His helper parked him in a chair next to the stove - he saw Al lying on a cot nearby - and Edward suddenly realized his teeth were chattering. Another brawny arm handed him a hot cup of coffee, and still another began plucking at his shirt, saying he had to get out of his wet clothes - making it impossible for him to drink it.

"Ere, Bill, leave off for a bit."

So Bill 'left off' and allowed Edward time to savor the heat of the cup thawing the fingers of his left hand - he blew over the coffee's surface and took a sip. And he promptly began coughing as something burned down his throat and up his nose.

Brandy!

He could hear chuckling at his reaction to the liquor, "Poor wee laddie!" Bill's droll voice, "He must only drink milk!"

Ed smirked - if only they knew.

He took another, more cautious sip. It still wasn't any easier to drink, but he could feel a comforting warmth in the pit of his stomach. He had to be careful though, he hadn't eaten anything which would soak up the brandy since he'd left L'Escargot.

"Feel better, laddie?"

"Yes, thank you - thank you for coming so quickly, you saved my brother's life."

Both men beamed - even their teeth looked brawny!

"Now, my lad," said his first rescuer, "Let's have those wet clothes off before you catch your death!"

Ed hesitated. What would they say when they saw his automail?

He found out soon enough, the men of the River Patrol were very efficient. In less than a minute, his sodden shirt and gloves were on the floor, Bill and the other men quietly appraising his metal arm.

"uhhhh...." Ed stammered, he raised his arm and a thin stream of water issued from his elbow joint. "It's called automail." These men were too professional to gawk; "You get a bit of water in that arm, laddie, might not something short out?" Ed's stomach sank. If water had damaged arm's innards, that beautiful arm of Titania metal, Winry would KILL him! At the very least, more wrenches would find their marks.

Fortuately, he had an extra arm and leg packed in his baggagge - which probably had been delivered to his new lodgings by now. Great. He had no choice now. "I'll have to remove it and dry it out," he explained "But I'll need help."

He carefully explained to Bill the way to detach him arm, by gently pulling sideways, tilting, then pulling back; Ed gritting his teeth as the neural connections were severed; then holding it upside down by the hand so the water dripped out. Winry was a mechanical genius, all vulnerable parts were enclosed, and she'd carved special channels for water to quickly run off. Once most of the water was shaken off, Bill buffed the outside with a towel, then reversed his actions to snap the arm back into place.

Edward hissed through his teeth and clutched his shoulder so hard the knuckles turned white. "You all right, laddie?"

"Yeah, it's just that," Ed grinmaced, "it hurts as the nerve re-connect."
Ed then remembered he'd passed out when this new arm was first installed, and it would be embarrassing to faint in front of strangers.

"Guys, I'll be fine, don't worry about me, please. Please see to my brother."

Bill and the others accepted that explanation, and they went over to the cot to remove Alphonse's wet clothes and dry him off. Which gave Ed time to gracefully slip to the floor and quietly black out.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

When he woke, he was lying on a stretcher and a man in a white jacket was covering him with a blanket. The boat had docked somewhere downriver, and he could see the ferry in the distance. When Ed turned his head to the right, he saw Alphonse, also on a stretcher, being loaded into an ambulance.

"Um, I - I'm O.K! Really I am" he protested weakly.

When Ed tried to get up, Bill suddenly appeared in his field of vision and shoved him back down with one enormous paw. "Nay, lay down laddie. You gave us quite a turn there, to see you a-laying on the floor."

In some way, he seemed to be disappointed in Ed, who answered with a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, but - I - I just get embarassed at the thought of passing out in front of strangers." It wasn't much of an explanation, but it seemed to mollify Bill. He patted Ed's shoulder, "Dinna fash yourself, laddie, but everyone we pull from the Thamar gets looked at by a doctor."

Defeated, Edward lay back and allowed himself to be carried into the ambulance and set down next to his brother.
Welcome to New Britain.

End Chapter Five.





IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well[u]

"All people must be allowed to come to a personal plateau of inadequecy" - Meso-American saying



Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, nor any of it's characters. Until I get it out of my system, this darn anime owns ME! But, I do own any OCs created for this story.

Chapter summary: Edward has been promoted to Colonel by Fuhrer Mustang, who has also sent him to the country of New Britain to study their military intelligence system. After a long journey west, topped by a sea-sickness marred ferry ride, Edward has barely arrived in New Britain's capitol, Londonium, when he has to jump into the icy-cold Thamar River to rescue Alphonse who may or may not have been pushed in.

Rating: T, for brief full frontal nudity (Edward's)

Chapter Six: In which Edward has female troubles

Sighing through his nose, Edward Elric sat up in his bed in "C" ward and quietly fumed. His original plan - now shot to hell - had been to lunch with Alphonse, then enjoy a long, hot bath at his lodgings. Instead, he and his brother had gone swimming in a freezing cold river, topped by a nice visit to St. Pixil's Hospital. Smashing, just smashing. And that was not even what was making him mad. Upon arrival at the hospital's emergency room, Ed insisted the doctors fist tend to Al, who'd swallowed more than a few mouthfuls of river; he also insisted he felt fine and didn't want to lay down. After patiently enduring his pulse being taken, and his temperature recorded, Ed had hopped off the table in the examinng room and gone to the waiting room, where he nervously paced

This defiance brought Edward face-to-face with a species of human he'd never encountered before: the New British hospital matron. Mrs. Deadlocke was a tall hatchet-faced woman wearning a no nonsense grey dress and rubber-soled white shoes; she glided about as if on wheels, making Ed wonder if she had feet. The matron was also an uncommonly fierce woman who had the special knack of making full-grown men feel like naughty children. What the Armed Forces of Amestris could do with a few hundred women like her! She made Pinako Rockbell look positively gentle in comparison. She first ordered Edward to return to the examining room. After he sulkily complied, she further demanded he divest himself of the rest of his wet clothing - including his undershorts. Not surprisingly, Edward naturally refused and walked away up the corridor, squelching along in his sodden boots. As a result, Edward was then met with the second most dangerous creature to be found in New British hospitals: nurses.

Harmless on their own, but absolutely terriflying in packs! Edward hadn't gotten more than a half dozen strides away when Mrs. Deadlocked barked in a voice which made his blood run cold: "Nurses! Seize him!" A group of perhaps a dozen pretty girls in identical blue dresses and starched white aprons swarmed around him. Several pairs of hands suddenly grabbed hold of his arms, and half dragged - half carried him back to the examining room; where to his horror, they pulled off his boots, pants - and - and - his boxer shorts!

"HEY!" he yelled in outrage, "Was that really necessary??!!" "Now, now, ducks" replied the matron, "Your mummy probably saw you naked as a jaybird lots of times." "Yeah - but," Ed sputtered "but that was when I was little!"

His protests made no headway, and when he tried to pull the old blanket he'd gotten on the patrol boat over his nakedness, "that filthy rag" was promptly snatched away. Then the nurses insisted on drying him off and rubbing his body down with alchohol - the sight of his metal leg hardly slowing them down - and then they added insult to embarassment by replacing his clothes with a thin cotton hospital gown which only came to mid-thigh. Ed grumbled so much about his state of near nudity, one of the nurses took pity - of a sort - and gave him a scratchy wool blanket to wrap around his waist. Then they half pulled - half pushed him to ward "C" and into a bed. He still refused to lay down until Mrs. Deadlocke fixed him with a stern look, and merely pointed at the pillow. Tired of fighting, Ed meekly ran up the white flag.

To his great surprise, he actually fell asleep.

He was woken some time later by a man he recognized as the same doctor who had examined Al earlier. He opened his mouth to ask about his brother, only to have an oral thermometer shoved under his tongue. The doctor - "Dr. Luthor" was typed on his identity badge - was a large cheery man who had the maddening habit of refusing to let Edward get a word in edgewise. He ended each little check with a loud "There's a good lad!" until Ed wanted to scream! He took his pulse, listened to his heart and lungs, made him say "Ah!", shone a light in his eyes, and flexed his automail. If he tells me "turn your head and cough", he thought mutinously, I'm leaving, and I don't care how I look!

Ed speculated that "flex test" was merely to satisfy the good doctor's curiosity - and he was right. The man had all kinds of questions about automail, from selection of the steel (I don't know, it depends on the mechanic) to how the nerve ports were installed (as painfully as possible) When the questions got too technical for Ed to answer, he got Dr. Luthor to write (more like illegibly scrawl) his address, and Ed promised to have Winry contact him. Which led back to Ed sitting up in bed and fuming. Dr. Luthor had given him a clean bill of health and escaped without telling him how Alphonse was.

Ed had no spare clothes - most of which were packed in his baggage - which had by now been delivered to his lodgings. He had an emergency change of clothing in his valise - but he'd dropped that on the gangplank before jumping into the river. So Edward sighed through his nose again. He could hardly go walking barefoot and half naked thorough Londonium, nor did he have the money for cab fare. He wondered where the front desk was, he was anxious about Al, and wanted to find out about his condition. He put his head back on the pillow, laid his flesh hand over his eyes, and blew another sigh in melodramatic fashion.

"Excuse me - sir?" A tentative New British voice.

Ed uncovered and opened his eyes. Two men - wait - two of Alphonse's college friends, one stood at the side, the other at the foot of the bed. The man holding his coat was of medium height, with a thick thatch of unruly hair generally called 'ginger'. He had a clean shaven ruddy face, a square chin and greenish eyes. The other man, bearing Ed's valise was much taller, over six feet, gangly, and also clean shaven, but with a more pointed chin. His eyes were brown, matching the hair, which was wavy on top, but cropped short at the back and sides. His rather large ears stuck out to the sides, and they were bright red with embarassment. Perhaps he feared he was the cause of Ed's mulish expression.

The melodrama vanished in an instant, and to put them at their ease, Ed favored them with his warmest smile, one usually only Al got to see. "Uh, hullo", said the valise bearer, "I'm Alphonse's roommate, Pratchett Wodehouse; and this fellow is Prince Charles"; a wave indicated the coat bearer.

Edward raised one eyebrow in polite inquiry. "Well, uh, I know it sounds odd, but my family name is Charles, and uh...." the man flushed and trailed off.

Ed continued to smile, and he also extended his metal hand to be shaken - Pratchett hesitated briefly, then reddening; he snatched the hand and gave it one strong pump and Prince did the same. Pratchett's voice had a sort of 'plummy' upper class accent, while Prince's sounded more like that of Bill, the river patroller. He could see both were dying to ask the same sort of questions Dr. Luthor had; it was obvious auto mail wasn't commom in New Britain.

"Thank you, I needed fresh clothes, the darn nurses took the ones I was wearing!" "Well, Mr. (he was a Colonel, but he let it pass) Elric; after a dip in our river, you wouldn't want to wear those clothes again." Pratchett had a point there, Ed's hair was all matted and smelly; and his skin felt oily - no telling how badly the stench had clung to his clothes.

It gave him the strongest urge to shower for an hour - scrubbing with steel wool - then take the longest, hottest bath he could, not coming out until his hand and foot had pruned. Now he was getting off the track, perhaps they could tell him how Alphonse was. "Um - have you seen my brother?" The sad looks on their faces scared him for a moment - had something happened?

"We're not family, Mr. Elric, so they won't let us see him. The matron (Mrs. Deadlocke again?) said he was 'resting'." They looked so downtrodden, Ed gave them another warm smile. "Let me get dressed, and we'll see about a visit." Ed grabbed the valise in one hand - the other keeping that blanket in place - as he slid out of bed and ducked behind a nearby privacy screen.

Author's note: Yesh, these chapters have been rather short, but I always fear a tendency to meander. The last thing I want to do is bore the reader to death. Chapter slightly re-written, I've added a little more detail in some places, plus descriptions of Pratchett, and Prince.
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

"One is lesser for never having loved another, yet one is greater if they haved loved, even if that love is lost - Ishbalan proverb (props to tv.com FMA forum poster, reachums for the quote)

Warning: Mild movie spoilers.

Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, it is the property of the wonderfully talented (more talented than moi? Certainemont!) Hiromu Arakawa; all I own are any OCs I created for this story. OTOH: FMA owns ME!


Chapter Seven: In which Edward escapes.

Padding through the hospital corridors in his stocking feet and getting lost - twice - Edward and his new companions finally locatd the main desk. A suspiciously (after what had already occurred, Ed now regarded nurses with extreme wariness) friendly nurse gave him back his boots (could be salvaged), and his State Alchemist watch (totally wrecked). Then she dug into the lost and found bin and gave him a pair of cast-off slippers; and finally, directions to the Casualty Ward where his brother was. They still got lost - twice.

Ed's heart was in his mouth when he finally saw Al, pale and still in the hospital bed. A tube ran from a hissing oxygen tank to a mask over his face, and an intravenous tube was plugged into his right hand. The boy stirred and opened his eyes soon after Ed picked up his left hand and held it. He pulled down the mask and smiled back. "Brother, I'm alright" he whispered. "I see that, but there are some people here who want to hear it for themselves." He stepped back and gestured towards the foot of Al's bed.

Right on cue, the grinning faces of Pratchett and Prince appeared, and Al flashed a twin to Ed's warm smile right back at them. While they bantered back and forth, and traded genial insults, Edward began to notice something odd about Al. "Al? You spent as much time in that river as I did - you definately swallowed more river - so why don't you smell of the Thamar?"

Alphonse had the grace to blush. "The nurses gave me a sponge bath and washed my hair - they were quite nice about it, and kept apologizing for taking all my clothes."

NICE? Ed felt a twinge of jealousy. "The nurses were nice to you?!"

Al looked confused. "Brother, you're raising your voice, remember this is a hospital!"

Ed tried to keep his tone neutral. "The nurses here ganged up and attacked me! Just before they threw me on an examing table and ripped my pants - heck, everything off! Then they laughed at me when I protested!"

Al's face reddened - then he giggled. What a mental picture. He'd forgotten his older brother held nurses with the same regard he gave to milk. "Brother, you must have done something!"

Ed stuck his lower lip out. "Well, I did refuse to removed them myself, and I also refused to get into bed and lay down..." He trailed off.

"I say, Mr. Elric!" Both brothers looked over at Prince, who had suddenly gone rather pale. "Was the matron you met a Mrs. Deadlocke?"

Ed nodded dourly, and Prince looked horror-struck. "You've, you've encountered her then?" One blonde eyebrow rose in inquiry. Just what was going on here?

"She's the Patient Crusher, Mr. Elric! She's evil incarnate, she brings brave men to their knees, sir!" Only a few years ago, Edward had confronted the supremely evil woman known as Dante; someone who made Mrs. Deadlocke look positively sweet, so he couldn't quite believe that statement.

But then...Prince's soliloquy brought a certain blond mechanic to Edward's mind - she also brought strong men - and a certain childhood friend - to their knees. Alphonse's smirk told him he was thinking the same thing. Once things settled down here, he would have to arrange a trip for Winry to New Britain; then Al's friends would know the true meaning of 'fear'.

"Excuse me!" A dark shadow fell over Ed and his spine prickled, both Pratchett and Prince appeared to cower with fear, and Al somehow turned even paler. Ed turned his head slightly and slid his left eye the rest of the way. Mrs. Deadlocke.

"Young man!" she seethed "Why are you disturbing this patient? He nearly drowned today, and he needs to rest!" This gained a sheepish smile from Ed. "Yeah, I know, I fell in with him." Al leaned back against his pillow and flashed his most charming smile at the dragonish matron. "It's all right, Mrs. Deadlocke, he's my brother!"

Her fierce expression never wavered, and finally, even Al - who'd faced down homunculi, the Gate of Truth, the troops of the Thule society, his Sensei, and a dangerous journey to another world - turned ashen again. He was brave, but not that brave!

"This patient will be held overnight for observation, and now he needs to rest. You can come back and pester him tomorrow!"

Ed sighed. Like fate, he couldn't fight New British hospital matrons. They said a quick goodbye to Al before Ed grabbed his coat and valise, then the trio carefully edged past Mrs. Deadlocke. Turning in the doorway to take one last look, he saw Alphonse mumbling around a thermometer in his mouth while Mrs. Deadlocke took his pulse. Poor Al - lucky Ed.

Edward, Pratchett, and Prince walked quietly through seemingly endless hospital corridors until they saw the 'Exit' sign, then they couldn't get out of there into the fresh air soon enough. Once outside, Ed gratefully sucked in oxygen which didn't reek of antiseptic and sickness; the slightly sooty smell reminded him of Central. His companions began to walk south, "Come this way, Mr. Elric! We'll give you a lift, you can't walk far in those slippers!"

Not to mention Edward had no idea where to go in this strange city. Next to the hospital was a small public parking lot where Prince kept his car, a canary yellow Humber-mobile with bright red leather seats. It was only a 2-door roadster, so the obliging Pratchett good-naturedly shoehorned himself into the backseat with the valise. Prince started the car and turned on the heater, which blew welcome warm air over Ed's chilled and slippered feet.

"Where to, Mr. Elric?"

"Ummmm - " Ed dug into an inner hidden pocket of his coat. "12 Paddington Gardens" he read from the paper he'd found in there.

Prince's eyes widened and Pratchett whistled in admiration.

"Huh? What?"

"Paddington Gardens" Prince was very enthusiastic. "That's diplomat territory, it's just off Embassy Row." Ed groaned. Of course, Roy would have put him near the Amestrisan Embassy. He hoped he wouldn't have to waste his time here being polite to useless government flunkys. "Uh, you know where that is then?"

"Oh, yes!" Prince was being insufferably chirpy now. "My father works in the Caledonian Embassy - our country won independence from New Britain last year!" Edward never paid much attention to politics - within or without Amestris - so he hadn't known that. He'd had his fill of politics during his time in the machine world in general; Germany in particular where backing the wrong party could get one killed.

"Well, Mr. Elric, you must be dying for a good wash, I'll have you home in a tick!" Prince put the car in gear, backed out of the lot, and into Londonium's afternoon traffic.

After a few minutes, Ed reflected Prince wasn't a bad driver - certainly he was better at it than Ed had been - Prince was just - creative. After a few near misses with oncoming busses and honking trucks, Ed added another word: 'reckless'. It was all right for Prince to risk his own neck - and his pretty car - but those of his passengers too?

Well, Prince was as good as his word, and a few hair raising minutes later, the car pulled up before a handsome stucco building; a brass nameplate announcing '12 Paddington Gardens' attached to the iron fence out front. Ed dug in the hidden pocket again to locate and produce a small ring with three keys. Long, hot shower, here I come! he thought while climbing out. Pratchett handed out the valise before climbing out and repositioning himself in the front seat. His knees were probably grateful for the extra few inches.

"We've got studying to do, Mr. Elric, but we'll swing by St. Pixil's tomorrow and fetch Alphonse". Trisha Elric had raised her boys to have manners, Edward bowed and thanked them for the ride home, also for taking tomorrow's task off his mind. Al was lucky to have friends like these. They drove off with calls of "Bye!" and "Cheerio!" , and their waving hands out the car windows. Ed waved back until they were out of sight.

He would have stood there for awhile to admire the handsome court his new home was in, as well as explore the fenced in park - he supposed the third key was to open it's gate - but dusk was falling, and it was getting too dim to see clearly. He would try to find the time tomorrow in better light, with rested eyes. The other two keys fit easily, the large brass one into the front door, then the smaller silver one into the lock of his apartment.

Short entry way/hallway, kitchen on the left, the next door up from it led to a comfortable - looking drawing room with wood already set out in the fireplace. A single door on his right opened on to a small sitting room - his two small trunks were already there, set smack in the middle. He edged around them to a connecting bedroom - just off that was a large, white tile bathroom/lavatory; opposite that room was a small dressing room. Edward was impressed, after years of living out of suitcases in single rooms which combined kitchen, bedroom, and a living room - this apartment was like a palace. He dumped his coat and valise on the bed, then headed for the tub, shedding clothes as he went.

Edward used up all the hot water. He washed his hair three times before slathering on some conditioner (it snarled horribly if he didn't) before scrubbing his skin until it was red. He'd just started to rinse off when the water suddenly turned ice cold, and the rest of the shower became a race with hypothermia. Teeth chattering, Ed had switched off the taps and he was reaching towards the sink vanity for a towel when a loud "OH!" made him duck back into the shower enclosure.

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Colonel Elric!" came a flustered female voice from just outside the bathroom door. Ed peeked curiously around the corner at a heavy set, middle-aged woman. She was wearing a shapeless dress, a blue hankerchief on her head and stood holding a small stack of his clothing. He raised one blonde eyebrow in a 'who are you?' query. Both blushed at the same time.

"I'm Mrs. Ravensworth, Colonel Elric."

"Ohhh?"

"The agency sent me, sir, to be your housekeeper. I thought I'd come in a little early and unpack your baggagge - sir."

"What agency?"

"It was arranged through the Amestrisan Embassy, Colonel."

Ed made a face, then nodded. "I hadn't considered they would do that, I apologize for doubting you."

"It's my fault, Colonel." Mrs. Ravensworth was a humble woman, and she was used to abasing herself to mollify her employers. "I should have announced myself first."

"I wouldn't have heard you over the noise of the shower anyway, Mrs. Ravensworth, there's no need to worry yourself."

Silence for a moment as neither had anything else to add to that. Edward finally broke it; how was he going to get dressed with her near by?

"Ummm, Mrs. Ravensworth?"

"Yes, Colonel?"

"I threw my clothes all over; could you just toss them on the sink vanity here? Ummm, sorry for making such a mess." Mrs. Ravensworth was very understanding. "I've seen worse, Colonel Elric, no need to worry."

Once he was sure she wouldn't see him naked, Ed reached out again and grabbed that towel before spending several minutes ensuring all the water was out of his automail limbs. His leg was designed so any water which got into it collected in a special reservoir in the heel. Pushing a hidden button on the knee opened this reservoir and allowed all the water to drain out at once.

He shook the leg for a few minutes to get the last drops of water out, and carefully dried all the interior parts he could reach. As for the arm, simply bending his elbow opened the joint and did essentially the same thing. He should really remove the arm and turn it upside down, but he really couldn't do it with just one hand. Besides, he really didn't feel like stressing his nervous system like that twice in one day. Ed also dried the interior of this arm as thoroughly as possible, and he promised to oil the moving parts later. Now he was thousands of miles away from his mechanic, he couldn't afford to put off basic maintenance like he did in his tearaway teenage days.

Once that task was done, he reached out for two more towels. Wrapping the first one around his waist, he bend over and scraped all his hair in front of him. After giving it a gentle twist into a long ponytail to force out excess water, he wrapped the second towel around his head like a turban. Mrs. Ravensworth had set his boxers and black cotton pants on the door knob; when he emerged from the shower, he dried off the area below his waist and quickly slipped the clothes on before padding, barefoot into his bedroom.

There he found his shirt on the bedroom door knob; careful not to disturb the towel around his hair, he shrugged it on over his head. That was better. Previously, Edward had before worried about parading around half naked in front of the opposite sex; he used to wander around the Rockbell house with his shirt off all the time. When Winry was working on his automail, he often wore just his boxers, so he was puzzled by his sudden shyness.

Both trunks had been unpacked and the contents stored away, Mrs. Ravensworth had set out his brush and comb at a table in the dressing room. Ed sat down and carefully combed out his damp hair. He was so used to it long, he couldn't imagine wearing it short anymore, despite freshly washed hair being such a pain to maintain.

Snarls were unavoidable unless he first used conditioner, then combed and brushed it to remove any inevitable knots. He was so absorbed in this task he didn't realize his housekeeper had come to the doorway until she cleared her throat.

"Excuse me, Colonel Elric?" She jumped when he leapt up, dropping the comb, and coming down in a defensive stance.

"I - I'm dreadfully sorry, Colonel" she stammered "That's the second time I've startled you!"

An awkward silence again ensued between them; Edward had just opened his mouth to say something when a loud grumbling filled the air. He looked down in surprise when his stomach rumbled again, and he felt his face getting hot. "Ah, Colonel" his housekeeper smiled, "That is what I was meaning to ask you - I have prepared a bite of supper for you and it's just about ready."

His stomach telegraphed it's approval with another loud rumble. With all the things which had happened today, Ed suddenly realized no food had passed his lips in almost 24 hours and he was very hungry indeed. His last meal had been a plate of something called 'baked ziti', eaten just before the ferry sailed from L'Escargot. It had been delicious, but he'd thrown it up once the ferry entered the Jersey channel's choppy waters. Other than that, there was the cup of brandy-laced coffee, but that didn't count as food.

Ed slowly became aware Mrs. Ravensworth was still standing there, waiting for an answer. Apparently, the growling of his innards wasn't enough. "That would be fine, I'll finish this and be right out."

The 'bite of supper' - turtle soup (a new experience, but Ed discovered he liked it), roast beef, and little red potatoes - plus a selection of fruit for dessert was delicious and most appreciated. Utterly sated, Edward sprawled in an overstuffed chair in front of a crackling fire in the drawing room. He couldn't have eaten another bite.

Mrs. Ravensworth had opened the liquor cabinet - bottles of port, brandy, whiskey, and cognac above - a confusing selection of glassware below - and set out an open box of cigars. This was apparently what New British gentlemen imbibed in after dinner; so Ed could forgive her for assuming. It's not her fault for not knowing I neither drink nor smoke was his drowsy thought bubble. He was so relaxed he could easily fall asleep in this chair.

Ed could hear faint sounds in the kitchen of Mrs. Ravensworth clearing up, she'd already discussed tomorrow's breakfast with him before withdrawing. Oh joy, more food. Ed had always had a healthy appetite as a chlld - Pinako used to make jokes about his 'bottomless stomach'. During his teen years, he could stuff himself senseless, then take a long nap, and never gain an ounce. The exception had been the two years he'd spent trapped in the machine world. When not ill from one ailment or another (he had no immunities to machine world illnesses like pneumonia), or in constant pain from poorly fitted prosthetics, he was too busy angrily lashing out at his father to eat.

Oh, he had issues - abandonment issues, trust issues, issues about information he felt Hohenheim had kept from him, guilt issues (most Alphonse, but also Mother). Guilt and anger left no time for food - not that there was much money for it. Germany went through a severe depression after losing the war, humiliating concessions paired with inflation so rampant the mark was worth little more than wallpaper - which some people used it for. Those many factors, added to worry about Hedreich's illness - plus his major growth spurt made him thin to the point of gauntness.

After his return to the alchemical world, everyone acted as if they'd seen a ghost. They stood and stared, except for Alphonse who promptly embraced him and wouldn't let go, all the while he murmured "Brother" over and over, the word mixed with sobs of relief. When he reluctantly returned to the machine world to destroy the array on that side - and track down that damn nuclear bomb, Edward was almost positive he'd never see Risembool again. Discovering Alphonse had disobeyed his order to forget him had annoyed Ed at first, but he was later to be glad his little brother had proven to be equally as stubborn.

Without any homunculi in the machine world to act as catalysts to open a Gate, Edward had told Al to accept they'd never find their way home. But it was Alphonse who suggested the energy from destroying that bomb could be utilized to trigger the opening of a new Gate, and his theory had been proven correct. It still had been a very close thing, the Gate had spat them out a few feet above the ground - Al had suffered minor injuries, and Ed's automail leg had been damaged. Still, he could have wept for joy once he saw the road sign: 'Central - 50 km'.

Edward knew the exact day he stopped feeling anxious, stopped being afraid he was only dreaming - it was the day, six or seven months after their return when his appetite was rekindled, his metabolism revved as high as ever.

He was dozing off with these pleasant memories when the distant sound of a door bell brought him back to almost full wakefulness. A moment later, Mrs. Ravensworth soft-footed into the room.

"Sorry to bother you, Colonel, but you have a visitor."



IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, it owns ME!

"If you have two left feet, stop making a public spectacle on the dance floor" - Cretan proverb

Chapter Eight: In which the plot thickens


By the time Mrs. Ravensworth had returned with his guest, Edward had had time to tuck his shirt back in, sit up straight, and look halfway presentable.

"Colonel Elric, I presume?""

"Colonel Bond, you presume correctly."

They shook hands while golden eyes appraised grey-green ones. Colonel Ian Bond looked as suave as Fuhrer Mustang had warned. Fully a head taller than Edward, he was athletic and slim in full evening dress. A fleeting thought of what would he be like to spar with? flashed through his mind. Next to Bond's beautifully pressed black pants and jacket, white shirt and scarf, but bare headed, with closely cropped black hair, Edward felt like an underdressed hick.

But he did his best to be a good host in offering Bond the liquor and cigars. "Only a small whiskey and soda for me, I'm just stopping briefly before going to dine at my club."


Edward opened the doors of the cabinet beneath the sideboard and puzzled over the selection of glasses, different glasses for each type of drink? It doesn't make sense! He didn't know which one to pick.

"You don't indulge, do you?" Bond had him pegged.

"Hmm, no" The glass conundrum still puzzled him. "I used to, briefly, a few years ago, but I haven't a head for alchohol."

Bond nodded in approval, it took a strong man to admit he didn't drink, and an even stronger man to deliberately turn his back on it despite the social pressure to fit in. He paused in his ruminations long enough to point out the correct glass, and then show Edward how to make the whiskey and soda.

"You keep 'country hours', I see" Bond said while sipping his drink - Edward had put in too much soda, but Bond didn't mind, he needed to keep a clear head tonight. "Pardon?"

"You dined early"

Edward had the distinct feeling he was way in over his head where local customs were concerned. "Oh that", he waved his metal hand. "Mrs. Ravensworth had dinner ready early, and I hadn't eaten all day."

He would have explained further, but Bond made a dismissive wave of his own. "It's quite all right, I know all the details. I wouldn't be a proper spymaster if I didn't."

Again Edward had the uncomfortable realization he was feeling his way around in pitch darkness. "I guess the letter of introduction Ambassador Pankhurst wrote won't be necessary now."

"She did? What a sweet woman! May I see it anyway?"

Edward went to his coat and fetched the stack of six letters; back in the drawing room, he sorted out the one with Bond's name on it, and passed it over, along with a letter opener.

"Hmph, has she ever met you?"

"Very briefly, just long enough to say 'hello'".

Bond shook his head in wonderment, "She speaks in glowing terms of a man she barely knows." Edward's fingers itched to grab the letter back and read with Ambassador Pankhurst had said; he had an anxious feeling about what exactly Roy had told her. But to his dismay, Bond folded the letter and stuck inside an inner breast pocket.

He started an instant later when Bond leaned forward and tapped the remaining five letters. "What are the names on those?"

Edward had to struggle to focus his eyes on the first name. "F.F. Machus." The lack of sleep - he hadn't slept - more like dozed on the ferry and in the hospital - was beginning to catch up to him.

"Poor bugger's dead."

"HUH?!" Edward was fully awake now. "Dead?!"

"He was found a week ago, hanging by the neck from a bell rope over at the church of St. Emma's. There was a suicide note nearby, but it all looks a little too neat. Personally, I suspect murder!"

Edward sucked in his breath and considered his next question. "Is he connected to you?"

"Him? No, he was an assistant to the Queen's social secretary, very minor functionary."

Now Edward recognized the Queen of New Britain was a ruler similar to the Fuhrer of Amestris; the only difference being her power was constrained by a Parliament, which had more say than the Parliament of his country.

Bond interrupted his wool gathering. "What's the next name?"

Another effort to focus his eyes: "Remigius Youngbeck."

"Dead too."

Edward said nothing and waited for Bond to elaborate. "He was thrown from his horse while riding, and he had the bad luck to be impaled on the sharp point of an ornamental sculpture. He was a member of Parliament, and ironically, he represented this district." Still a coincidence, but a small suspicion was growing. Edward turned to the third name.

"Dorothy Woolfe".

"Oh, her death was particularly nasty. She was knocked down by a car while crossing the street - with the light, mind you - and she was dragged along under the bumper till a lorry in the opposite lane ran over her head. The unfortunate woman was a secretary to the Secretary of the Minister of Transportation."

"Edmund Ameche?" Edward was already dreading the reply.

"Dead as well. He was at the opening of a new metal fabricating shop, and he was having the safety features of a massive punch press demonstrated." Bond paused and sipped his drink, his throat was getting dry with all the talking.

"It worked perfectly when the shop foreman demonstrated it by putting his head underneath the punch head - it stopped like a clock - but when Mr. Ameche did so....." The mental picture made Edward wince. This was looking less and less like simple coincidence.

"Was he involved with the government too?"

"He was a manufacturing executive, under contract to supply tanks to our army."

Edward held up the final envelope: "Oliver Comstock?"

"He was found the day your arrived, someone had put him in cement overshoes and dropped the poor man into the river." Bond smiled gently at Edward's confused glance. "A batch of cement is mixed in a metal tub, and the ah - 'victim' is forced to stand in it until it hardens. Generally, the tub is then tossed off a pier, or overboard off a boat deck into deep water."

He paused for another sip of his drink. "But Comstock was killed in a particularly cruel way. He was placed near the river's edge just as the tide was coming in, so he drowned by degrees."

"No one heard his cries for help?"

Bond shook his head. "He was in an isolated industrial area, plus he'd been bound and gagged. It was an awful way to die, and he wasn't found until the tide had gone back out."

Edward suddenly felt like a drink himself. After selecting a small glass from the cabinet, he poured in a very small measure of brandy. He didn't drink it right way, but just sat rolling the glass between his hands while trying to make sense of what he'd just heard. Five untimely and rather bloody deaths: three could be chalked up as tragic accidents; one murder made to look like suicide, the other murder was particularly vicious. A question occured to him.

"What was Comstock's connection?"

"To the government, none at all actually, he was an apothecary's assistant."

Edward silently worked his jaw. Five people, four connected with the government, two in minor posts - he thought of another question. "Was Youngbeck an important member of Parliament?"

"Actually, not at all. In twenty years sitting, his only contribution was once shouting 'shut that window!' at a Parliamentary page." Curiouser and curiouser. An MP for an integral district who never did anything of consequence; a manufacturer who did do important business; and the last, a man who didn't even have nodding acquaintence with the government. And yet his death showed the most malice aforethought.

And what, if anything, did these people have to do with the events of this morning? Thinking hard, he put the glass up to his mouth and took a cautious sip.

Through the tears of the resultant coughing fit, he saw Bond get up, and felt him thump him between his shoulder blades, then taking Edward's glass before he dropped it. Like that morning, fire burned down this throat and up his nose while he coughed.

"You all right, Colonel?"

Ed coughed a few more times before straightening up, clearing his throat, and pulling out a hankerchief to wipe his streaming eyes.

"Bond, there's one missing."

The spymaster raised two carefully groomed eyebrows at this statment.

"You."


Author's note: Hmmm, my little plot bunny has turned off the main "slice of life" trail, and started hopping down the "murder mystery" trail. O.K. bunny, I'll follow along for a while, but if this turns out to be a dead end, you're hasenpfeffer! [n. a high seasoned stew of marinated rabbit meat]

IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist, nor any of the characters. (Except my OCs - Colonel Ian Bond, Mrs. Ravensworth, Pratchett Wodehouse, Prince Charles, and Miss Chievous, the Wonder Kitten); in fact, this darn anime owns ME!

Chapter Nine: In which some dots are connected


Dead silence for a moment, as Ian did his best impersonation of a fish (eyes staring, mouth open in an "O"), while he continued to goggle at Elric. Edward could almost hear Bond's mind clicking, clicking, clicking as it's gears spun madly and helplessly. So Bond thought he had no connection with these people?

He was one of six names on letters of introduction Ed had carried all the way from Amestris; five of them had died horrifying deaths before his arrival. Perhaps, Edward himself had been a target. And he wanted to know, had Ian been a target as well?

"Bond!" Ed leaned forward, while looking intently at him. "You mean to say you haven't had any 'accidents', nor even 'near misses' in the past few weeks? He's like Roy, refuses to admit he has weaknesses!
Ian drained his glass, still thinking furiously. Should he be honest with this man? Until a year ago, his country had still been at odds with Amestris. He was at least ten years older than Elric, and had been at this spy game for nearly a decade. In that time, a man could make enemies, some who nursed enough hatred to kill. The attacks on him could have absolutely nothing to do with Elric's dead contacts.

"I know what you're thinking," the younger man sing-songed, and the corners of Bond's mouth quirked up. "I joined the military at the age of 12 when I got my license as a State Alchemist; and Mustang sent me on my first mission a week later. I've seen things, horrible things, things which would drive most people insane. And I've had nightmares about them ever since. Not even the worst you've seen can scare me."

So, Bond decided to deal with this strange Amestrisan who could very well turn out to be the devil. "Make me another whiskey and soda, and I'll tell you everything."

Most of the incidents Bond had dismissed as 'coincidence' could have been that - cars careening around corners just as he crossed the street, a clumsy worker 'accidentally' dropping a sharp edged tool just as he walked past a construction site, drinks from 'secret admirers' in pubs (which he didn't drink), unexpectedly loose treads on staircases, shoves on train station platforms, loitering thugs in alleyways - but then he remembered some of the deaths he had just related looked like accidents too, little more than tragic, tragic accidents.

A truly paranoid person could chalk the incident at the ferry dock that moning down as an attempt on Elric's life. If someone both knew he had prosthetic metal limbs, and about the strong bond of devotion between the brothers.... On the surface, it looked very suspicious, but without corroborating evidence; suspicions were all they had. Something that serous ought better to be looked at in the light of day, when he had a clearer head.

Ed's burst of heightened awareness had been brief, he stifled a yawn, then another one. He suddenly realized he was struggling very hard to keep his head upright. Ian noticed too - it was past time for him to go and the poor fellow get some rest.

"You've had a rough day, Colonel Elric..." he began.

Edward protested he was still wide awake, but his drooping eyelids told the true tale. "Stop interrupting me!"

"First, call me Edward, 'Colonel Elric' is too formal."

"Very well, but only if you call me Ian in return."

"All right, Ian." Edward smirked as he said it, he was getting punch-drunk with weariness.

"Let's try again, Edward. You've had a rough day, and I haven't dined yet; it's better we examine these mysteries in the light of day, and with clear heads. Thank you for the drinks, but I must be off." Ian was getting up as he said this, and Edward jumped up too, but a sudden wave of dizziness caused him to sit down hard in his chair.

"Dear chap, I can see myself out, and your housekeeper is still here to lock up after, go to bed before you pass out." Edward so wanted to prove to the suave spymaster he was a big boy, but his eyelids were fluttering wildly. He was losing his battle to stay awake, so Edward just hung his head in surrender. He still played the good host by accompanying Ian to the door, respectfully inclining his head, and wishing Bond 'goodnight'. He didn't dare attempt a more formal bow, Ed feared he would wind up face-down on the floor.

Bond and Mrs. Ravensworth left together; Ian was going to walk her to the bus stop. What a gentleman. Unless.. Edward half suspected he wants my housekeeper around to ward off any potential assassins? The mental picture was briefly amusing, but he was too tired to think overmuch on it. Shuffling to the sitting room, he checked to make sure the fire was well screened, and turned off lights as he went. Edward began stripping off clothes at the entrance to his bed room, he also tried to kick off his shoes before realizing he didn't have any on. A thought about his water soaked boots (can they be salvaged?) briefly passed - and was gone - from his weary mind.

Oh shit! I should brush my teeth first. He stumbled into the bathroom, flicked on the light, and squinted. Ed quickly flossed and brushed; he was about to switch the light off again when he suddenly realized he had to pee.

With a start, he came to while fumbling for the nonexistent zipper to his pants; that's right, he'd already stripped to his boxers. Plus, he'd dozed off while standing in front of the toilet. How embarassing. What if I fell asleep here and Mrs. Ravenworth came in the next morning to find me like this, with my manhood sticking out?

Once finished, he closed the lid and flushed; flailed and missed at the light switch - oh, forget it - it would make a handy night light in case he had to get up during the night. And so to bed. He found his pajamas laid out on his already turned-down bed. Oh, what handy people housekeepers were! He pulled them on while still on autopilot and climbed into bed - only to feel something warm and metallic with his right foot. He pulled it out to see a circular device with perforations on it's top and sides, a hinged lid, and a long wooden pole to protect fingers from the hot contents, which proved to be coals. A warming pan. He hadn't seen one of those for years. How quaint.

He reluctantly got up and placed the pan on the marble top of his dresser. Turning back to the bed, he had to pause again, to bend down and turn off the bedside lamp. The oval face of the small clock next to it on the bedside table glowed: 9:00 PM. Gratefully, Ed slid between the covers again. The bed was soft and warm, the sheets and blankets smelled fresh, like they'd been line dried. For the next few months, this bed was his. He stretched, feeling the tightness ease from the muscles of his neck and back; sighed once, and as the old saying goes 'he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.'
_________________________________________________________________________

At the junction of Paddington Gardens with Paddington High Street, Bond waited with Mrs. Ravensworth at the bus stop. When the red 9:00 PM bus came trundling up, he not only helped her up the steps to the upper deck, he sat down next to her. They paid their fare to the bus conductor; but neither spoke until the man had gone back down the steps. They were alone up there. Bond reached into his breast pocket and took out a silver case engraved with his initials (I.A.B. - Ian Arthur Bond); he opened the case and took two cigarettes out before reclosing and replacing it. He stuck both in his mouth and lit them with a slim silver lighter, also engraved, before passing one to Mrs. Ravensworth. "Ta!" she said in pleasure, she'd been dying for a smoke all day.

As the bus roared up the high street, they sat and smoked in companionable silence, the chilly air a refreshing change from Edward's warm and stuffy lodgings. A stranger might be forgiven for wondering what the spymaster was doing sitting next to a mere housekeeper, but Mrs. Ravensworth was more than just a "daily" - she was also one of Bond's best operatives.

"Report, Hetty!"

Hetty paused briefly to collect her thoughts before she began speaking. In a somewhat bolder and brighter voice than she'd used in her housekeeping guise, she replied "He's quite a bit younger than I'd imagined, rather handsome, despite being too thin, and his hair too long. Looks like an innocent babe, but I think there is steel underneath that soft looking exterior. And I don't mean his automail prosthetics!" She looked over at Ian, the corners of his mouth were quirking up again; because he'd noticed the same things. Hetty wasn't telling him anything new.

"So, Hetty, you fancy Amestrisan State Alchemists now?" Snarky bugger!

She chuckled, "Oh, yes, if I was 25 years younger, and a couple stone lighter." For a bare moment, Bond is on the verge of taking her seriously; until he sees the mischievous light in her eyes, and the playful curl of her lips. Hetty Ravensworth may have been on the wrong side of 50, but she still knew how to be a little minx. Like she'd been some 30 years ago when she trod the boards of vaudeville stages the length and breadth of New Britain, Caledonia, and Cymru.

She'd even been the toast of the Continent, and played at the best halls in Bourbon, Creta, Aurego, Roma, Alhambra - even Drachma - everywhere except Amestris. A few days before a planned tour kicked off in Central, the company she worked with had gotten word of a coup in Amestris. A mysterious man named King Bradley had toppled the government, dissolved Parliament, and even had the Prime Minister executed. Rumor was, Bradley had beheaded the man himself, before closing the borders and declaring war on all the neighboring countries.

Dashed inconvenient! had been Hetty's resentful thought, couldn't the wretched man have waited just one bloody month, until our tour had finished? Hetty loved to travel, to see new sights, meet new people (she had been looking forward to seeing the dark-skinned, red-eyed Ishbalans), taste new foods, or hear odd accents. As a result, the cancellation of their tour of Amestris had been a bitter pill to swallow.
When Bond showed up at her door, 10 years after she'd retired, a week after her beloved Sidney had died; she at first dismissed him as little more than another star-struck schoolboy. One now all grown up and slumming in his nostalgia for Saturday night vaudeville, and Sunday afternoon pantomime. But no, he wanted more than that. He offered her a job, to take on a familiar role, the clever spy posing as a humble housekeeper. She'd played this role so often in vaudeville, she could have done it in her sleep.

Keep your friends near, but your enemies nearer.

Just in case, Bond wanted her to keep an eye on the friends of New Britain. Hetty always came armed with excellent (if forged) references, and she did her job impeccably - her mother had been a housekeeper. So she looked after stuffy colonels - large, florid men with walrus mustaches, and monocles which kept falling out of place when they were astonished. Man who rode to hounds, or slaughtered farm-raised birds on country house weekends; who declared "What?! What?!", and "Pip! Pip!", and "Jolly good! Jolly good!". Men who endlessly reminisced about their public school days with friends known only by their nicknames - Cat's Meat, Dog's Breath, Pig's Arse, Chicken Foot, Rat Tail - pulling pranks on the headmaster, or giving 'what for' to 'fags' after 'lights out.'

Stuffy, oblivious, fat, gouty, and stupid New British colonels seemed to be her speciality. I'm bloody typecast! her internal Hetty griped when Bond phoned 'round with her latest assignment; she'd flipped open the file he'd sent over with an aggrieved 'fwap' - but her bad mood evaporated when she saw the picture. He's much too young! The photo was a candid shot of Elric in casual dress, taken somewhere outdoors because the sun lit up his blond hair like a nimbus. Not knowing his picture was being secretly taken, his golden eyes were open and unguarded. He must have been a beautiful baby.

Her next sight of him had been just a few hours before, as he peered around the corner of the shower enclosure - he'd looked like a child with his hair plastered down, his mouth and eyes round with surprise. His voice had been the only jarring note - colored with a definate Amestrisan accent - it sounded far too cynical coming from that face.

Hetty started when a hand waved in front of her face. "Any other impressions?" "Well, he must have holllow legs becuase he was able to put away quite a bit at dinner - and he neither smokes nor drinks. The liquor was barely touched, and the cigars not at all."

"There's quite a bit we do know about Elric" Bond took up the thread of conversation; "healthy appetite, he must have one hell of a metabolism, but no head for alchohol, devoted to his little brother, tougher than he looks, prone to seasickness, hates milk, prefers his coffee with two sugars, he became a State Alchemist at the age of 12 - the youngest in the history of his country - and he's an extremely talented one at that."

"Yet - there's quite a bit we don't know. Was he really sent here to coordinate the formation of a new office of military intelligence? His brother, Alphonse is also here - is learning veterinary medicine his true reason for coming to Londonium? Five of the people Elric was supposed to meet are dead - one in a clumsily concealed murder, another was murdered in a particularly blatant manner - were the other three deaths just accidents - or murder as well? Was Elric himself targeted this morning - and why?"

Hetty finished her cigarette, dropped it on the floor of the deck and ground it out under the heel of her shoe. I'm back in harness, and I couldn't be happier! The bus slid to a halt. "This is my stop." Hetty stood up and smoothed out her skirt. "I'm ready, sir, I can't promise anything, but I'll do my best and find out what I can."

Bond merely nodded, he had faith in his Hetty Ravensworth. Ever the gentleman, he carried her bags for her while she descended the stairs from the upper deck to the street, before handing them back. He held on to the stair railing as the bus pulled away, and watched her walk to her home. "Take care, Hetty."
________________________________________________________________________

Another two pairs of eyes - less kindly disposed - also watched Hetty, then swung back to Ian. An unimportant housekeeper, Bond was just picking her brains about that damned Amestrine, she wasn't anyone to worry about. If she got in their way, they would kill her too.

The black car had been following the bus for the past mile; once it began moving again, the auto slid smoothly after it. The two men - one in back, the other in front, next to the driver - were the killers responsible for the deaths of Edward's would-be contacts; responsible for the attempts on Ian's life; and also responsible for the incident at the ferry dock that morning.
They hadn't exactly succeeded in their last two missions - yet - but they were persistant.

Comstock had been exceptionally hard to track down; even harder to subdue and kill - but they'd ultimately succeeded - and they made an example of him by ensuring his death was drawn out and painful. They felt confident in their ability to complete their set tasks - soon, very soon, both Ian Bond, and Edward Elric would join the other five in Hell.

Author's note: Things are starting to get really serious as the foes of peace raise their ugly heads. They will make themselves known to Elric and Bond very soon. Next chapter: Ian loses some talking points, but wins the argument, and Edward has too much coffee, man.
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well



Disclaimer: I don't own Full Metal Alchemist, nor any of it's characters (except my OC ones). In fact, this darn anime owns ME! .

Warning: Mild movie spoilers

"Decaff is for sissies" - Cymru Roast motto




Chapter Ten: In which Ian loses some talking points - but wins the argument. And Edward has too much coffee, man.


Sunk in the deep sleep of the truly exhausted, Edward Elric slumbered like a log, a rock, a baby. A bomb going off in the street outside wouldn't have woken him; so deeply was he nestled in the velvet arms of Morpheus. If he had any dreams, they must have been pleasant ones, for no nightmares disturbed him.

Precisely at 7:30 AM, Mrs. Ravensworth's key turned in the lock. She placed her bundles of shopping on the kitchen counter - despite the lure of the new-fangled stores which offered "one stop shopping", Hetty preferred to patronize the shops on Paddington High Street. The service was better, the shopkeepers friendlier (most were personal friends), and the food was fresher.

She turned on the stove and put a pan with a sheen of cooking oil in it on the element. While that warmed, she made a circuit through the apartment and picked up. In the drawing room, she collected the used glasses and closed the liquor cabinet. The dining room was clean, and already set for breakfast; but in the hall, she picked up discarded clothing from the floor and turned off the bathroom light. After tossing the clothes in a hamper, she looked into his bedroom - a soft snore issued from a tangled pile of blankets on the bed.

Hetty noticed the warming pan on the dresser, she picked it up and turned around to observe Edward sleeping. Laying on his stomach, with unbound hair scattered over his face, and his right arm clutching the pillow, the Colonel looked even more like a child. She hated to wake him, so Hetty walked very softly out of the room and back to the kitchen. The pan on the stove was good and hot, so she unpacked the food she'd bought for breakfast and got busy.
_________________________________________________________________________

The smell of something delicious cooking wafted up the hall to Edward's bedroom, and under the covers of his bed. Ed had turned over, and he was sleeping on his right side now, totally buried under the blankets. His nose twitched, then one cheek. He cracked one eye open, then the other when his stomach grumbled to life. Edward didn't want to get up, the bed was so comfortable, and it would be so easy to go right back to sleep for another few hours - but his hungry innards were having none of that nonsense. Feed us! You haven't eaten for over 12 hours!

Edward groaned inwardly and raised himself to a kneeling position; then yawned and stretched, before looking at the bedside clock: 8:00 AM. Eleven hours - I think I set a new record! He stretched again, then sat on the edge of the bed, yawning so widely his jaw cracked. He finally stood up and looked at his reflection in the dresser mirror. Is bed hair genetic? he wondered. His stuck out at every conceiveable angle, his eyes were half plastered shut with sleep, and he could feel dried drool on his chin. Edward couldn't remember ever waking up during the night, what dreams he'd had, or even if he'd dreamed at all.

His body must have been making up for the sleep he missed on the ferry journey; he hadn't slept a wink once the ship started rocking, and nausea expanded to become his whole, miserable world. He scratched his head and yawned some more. Puttting his hands behind his head, Ed stretched, arching his back as far as he could, feeling the pull of his muscles, and hearing the creak of his automail joints. Time to wake up, he had a feeling Mrs. Ravensworth would be calling him for breakfast soon. He quickly washed up at the bathroom sink - sticking his face into a sink full of icy cold water worked wonders.

A visit to the Amestrisan embassy might be on today's agenda, so Ed dressed in more formal clothing: dark green (almost black) pants, a snowy white shirt, a vest which matched the pants, and his one decent pair of black shoes. He had a dark green coat which matched, and he took that out of the closet, laying it out on the bed. Once dressed, he sat at the small table in his dressing room, trying to brush his hair into some semblence of order. It was knotted from sleeping, and the dry air caused it to crackle with static; so he finally gave up after detangling most of the knots. Holding a black hair tie in his mouth, he reached back and nimbly used his fingers to divide his hair into three sections before braiding it.

After doing it for so many years, Edward found the action of braiding soothing; he'd stopped doing it only during his years trapped in the machine world on the other side of the Gate. Mostly due to the fact the substandard, jury rigged machine world version of automail didn't allow him the dexterity needed for such precise work. He could have let his father do it, but he could barely stand to be in the same room with the man. Now he was an adult, Edward regretted being so verbally combative with Hohenheim - because it never worked. Whenever a frustrated Ed blew his stack - which was most of the time - Hohenheim usually walked away from his raging teenage son. On the rare occasions he didn't, Hohenheim Elric would merely grab Edward by the hair, lean in eye-to-eye; and just by changing the tone and pitch of his voice, make it clear who was 'boss'. Sometimes, Edward could hurt his father - cut him to the quick with his angry words, but despite all the fights he picked with Hohenheim, he never, ever won - not once.

After Alphonse followed him back across the Gate, he'd occasionally let his little brother braid it - but not Noa, never Noa. (Her strange ability to steal memories - she had taken his - made him feel betrayed, and more than a little creeped out.) The exercise forced both to slow down and pay attention to what they were doing. It was useful for those days they'd despaired of ever completing their mission, when on the run from the Thule Society (especially after the day Hess shot Noa in the head right in front of them); or once they'd destroyed Eckart's array, of ever finding their way home. After they succeeded in returning, Edward began braiding his ponytail soon after Winry installed a new automail arm. It was a sort of act of defiance, a rude gesture, a 'military cheer' in the face of fate.

It had been less than a year since his life had returned what passed for "normal"; it hadn't been like this since he'd been a young boy, so it was hard to believe he'd actually been getting bored with his quiet life in Risembool. The 'M' word had come up between him and Winry - oh, and the 'C' word too - that is what caused that argument during his last visit home.

In the past, Mustang would give him tough missions to carry out, but he and Al had been granted considerable latitude as to how they accomplished the tasks set them. This job dumped far more responsibility into his lap than he'd ever had before, and Edward had been apprehensive at first. Now he had to deal with many short sighted and small minded government lackeys. More idiots to get in his way - the officiousness and ignorance were chafing, but now he had a mystery - no FIVE mysteries to deal with. Puzzles were something tangible which he could sink his teeth into, and wrap his mind around - the prospect made Edward start to get excited about this new mission.

Hetty mused to herself, What was he thinking of? For the past three minutes, she'd been standing in the doorway of his bedroom, watching him stare with unfocused eyes at his hairbrush. This young man had a mysterious and troubled past, but it was the key to understanding his country's motives in general - and his motives in particular. The trick would be getting Colonel Edward Elric to confide in her; fortunately, she was an expert at this. But first, she had to feed him breakfast before it got cold. Hetty cleared her throat, and Edward jumped again, but not as high as last night. He's getting used to me. Ed's stomach rumbled loudly, as if glad to see an old friend. "Your breakfast is ready, Colonel, please come and eat before it gets cold."

Barely 20 minutes later, a sated Edward sat back in his chair, groaning lightly. He glared down at his stomach - I hope you are happy now! The stomach gurgled back with glee. It seemed to especially like the small, salted fish Mrs. Ravensworth called 'kippers'; plus the orange marmalade on slices of freshly baked, toasted bread. Not as successful was the New British version of breakfast sausages. They looked dried out, and tasted tough to one used to fat, greasy Amestrisan sausages. Even less appetizing were the baked beans - if he had to pay a visit to the Amestrisan Embassy later - it wouldn't do to 'pass wind' unexpectedly.

Edward liked the coffee best. Now what had Mrs. Ravensworth called it? Cymru Roast, that was it. It came from another country - Cymru - which used to be a colony of New Britain's. It was rich and dark, with an assertive attitude - like a caffienated slap in the face. He usually took his coffee with two sugars, but considering the caffeine buzz he was already feeling, Ed decided against topping up with a sugar rush to boot. As it stood now, just one more cup, and he would start to vibrate.

He leaned further back in his chair, blowing on, and carefully sipping the steaming brew while briefly allowing guilt to shoot through him as he watched Mrs. Ravensworth clear away the serving plates. Instead, he smiled his thanks at her and continued to let the coffee fill any air pockets which might still be lurking in his stomach. She had just carried the last of the dishes into the kitchen when he heard a faint [/i]'briiinnggg!' coming from the direction of the front door. Ed sat up straight and looked questioningly in it's direction as Hetty crosed the entrance hall to answer the summons.

His visiter turned out to be Bond, who was looking much the worse for wear. His left arm was in a sling; a bandage encircled his brow; plus a small line of stitches, and a shiner decorated his left eye; and various bruises marred his regular features. "Ah, Elric! Coffee! Food of the gods! Any chance of a cup? Hettty had left the pot on the table, so Ed turned to ask her to bring another cup, but she had already set it down in front of him. Being the good host, Edward poured, and carefully slid the cup and it's saucer across the table towards Ian, offering the cream and sugar with a slight wave of his hand.

Bond forwent the sugar, but he added a generous dollop of cream and stirred it in. He didn't drink right away, but just held the hot cup in his hand, sighing with pleasure. He sniffed the fragrant fumes carefully - his nose looked like it had been broken - or at least badly bent. "Cymru Roast" [i]Was Bond moaning?
"Like a knee to the groin each morning."

"I thought it felt more like a slap in the face, myself"

"My face is too sore for a slap."

Recklessly, Edward poured himself another cup, this was a story he wanted to pay the strictest attention to.

"What happened to your face, Ian? Lose an argument with a brick wall?"

Bond twitched an eyebrow and promptly winced. My, you're chatty this morning, I smell a caffeine buzz!

"Give me that cup, Elric, you've had enough caffeine for one day!" But Ed pulled back suddenly, chuckling. He crossed his flesh leg over the automail one, flashed Ian a caffeind smile and impatiently waiting, his left foot jiggling, for Bond to tell him what had happened.

Ian gave him an owlish look, sighed, and took a proper New British sip of his coffee. "Actually, I lost a few talking points, but won the argument with two thoroughly unpleasant thugs who liked to play dirty."

Ed slurped his coffee when Ian paused, before resuming a stance of intent listening. "They came at me from two different directions, each with a pair of brass knuckles." Bond paused again, and fished something of a dull yellow color from the pocket of his coat. "Here's a souvenir of the seedier side of Londonium." He slid it across the table.

Edward put down his cup - out of Ian's reach - cheeky bugger - and picked up the brass knuckles. A misnomer, as they felt too heavy to be made of brass. His golden eyes carefully scanned them - roughly rectangular in shape, straight on one side, with four undulations on the other; sized to fit over the fingers. Experimenting, Edward slipped them on to his left hand, and clenched it into a fist. He twisted and pivoted his wrist, closely looking at this unusual weapon from every angle. Bond revised his earlier opinion: he'd thought the caffeine was handling Edward, but maybe he was wrong. Elric seemed to have almost completely shaken off it's effects, so intensely was his focus.

Ed essayed a few mock punches, thinking hard. Hmmm. In a fight, with these 'brass knuckles' on his left hand, and a blade transmuted onto his automail arm, he could do an awful lot of damage to an attacker. He had a sudden and strong urge to change into his exercise clothes and spar with Ian - with the help of the caffeine bubbling through his system - he felt good for a few hours of intense exercise.

"You can keep that one, Edward. I've got lots of them."

Ed used one finger to twirl it in a circle. "So you collect these?"

"Only from mindless louts who dare to attack me." Ed had no answer, so he simply grunted his appreciation and slipped the knuckles into a the left pocket of his pants. Ian blew on, and sipped his coffee, and Ed followed suit. All his lights are on, Elric really has had too much coffee. Bond narrowed his eyes and and looked over at Hetty, who was pretending to wash up the breakfast dishes; silently willing her to come over and take the pot before Edward got even more hopped up. But she was deliberately avoiding his eyes.

Ed was back to his insouciant pose - now automail leg over flesh, the right foot in motion, like he was waiting for something.

"Right!" Ian set down his now empty cup and grabbed the pot. After refilling the cup, he set the pot back down, out of Edward's reach. The younger man put on a vague look of dismay, but Ian ignored it. Holding his cup in both hands, and allowing the heat of the hot liquid to warm his fingers, Bond resumed talking.

"I didn't notice them following me until I'd turned off onto the street I live on, that's my fault. My life - and the lives of my colleagues - depend on my noticing things like this." He stopped briefly to take a bracing sip of coffee. A quick glance at Edward told Bond his right foot had stopped jiggling, he was listening quietly. "I led them down an alley I know well. It was too narrow for their car, so they came after me on foot. They were clearly professionals, but not quite good enough. The bastards came at me from two different directions, brass knuckles swinging. As you can see, they connected a few times."

Ed snorted and raised his eyebrows. "A FEW??!!"

"I'll admit it, it looked a bit dicey, I was spending more time on the ground than they were, so I played hurt. One pulled a gun, he thought he had me, the bastard. They let their guard down, and that was their fatal mistake."

"Fatal? You killed them?"

"Well, I killed one for sure, and winged the other. He left a trail of blood back to his car, and it roared off once he got inside. They were typical bullies, ran like cowards when bested. I got a good look at their faces, they're the types who like to hurt people, so I have a strong suspicion they are the ones who murdered Machus and Comstock; perhaps even the others."

He took another sip of coffee. "Queerest thing though, about the man I killed. He didn't look like the typical sort of 'muscle' one encounters. Do you remember any of the passengers on the gangplank when your brother fell into the river?"

Ed collected his thoughts for a moment. "Hmm, yes, a short, balding man, dragging an large, heavy portmanteaux. I thought it was odd, most passengers would have their heavy luggage transported to their lodgings But I noticed him for only for a moment, I was too busy looking at my brother. Just as Al came abreast of the man, he seemed to stumble to his left, and then slam hard into him."

"Short, and balding, you say?" Ed nodded.

"That is the man I killed. But I'm going to need you - and Alphonse to make a firm identification."

"Hmmm, Al is still in the hospital, but he's going to be released later today. I don't know if he can help you, though; I think he noticed the man even less than I did."

Ian finished his coffee, and set the cup down with an emphatic clatter. "Well, then, until Alphonse can view the body, I'll start with you. My motor is outside, let's take a little trip to the morgue."


Author's note: 'Military cheer' is the alchemical world's term for 'Bronx cheer' aka 'raspberry'. Just stick your tongue out of your mouth, put your lips together and go 'phhbbtttt!'
Will Edward be able to prevent losing his breakfast at the morgue? Can Alphonse stand the sight of blood? Stay tuned!
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well



Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, nor any of the characters originally created by the honorable Hiromu Arakawa. But I do claim ownership of any OCs I've created in the writing of this story. Other than that, FMA owns ME!

Summary: Now promoted to Colonel, Edward Elric arrives in New Britain to meet with Colonel Ian Bond, spymaster of MI7. After an unexpected dunk (along with Alphonse) into the River Thamar and a short hospital stay; Edward finally makes it to his new lodgings. He meets his housekeeper, Hetty Ravensworth (who is actually one of Bond's operatives), and discovers the rather grisly fates of the five people he was supposed to meet. Edward begins his the second day of his mission already hyper-caffienated.

Warning: A bit of bad language towards the end of this chapter.

Chapter Eleven: In which Edward sees dead people and gets the "heebie jeebies."


Ian's car - a Maurice Major V6 - proved to be a lot more comfortable than Prince's little Humber-mobile; and Bond was as adroit a navigator of Londonium's traffic. Which still didn't ease Edward's mind - despite wearing a seatbelt - he kept tapping his foot on an imaginary brake pedal. Still, better Bond than him behind the wheel.

Ed had learned one important fact during his first time in the machine world - he was a terrible driver. This had made his and Alphonse's time there very difficult, because Al was too young to get behind the wheel, and Noah refused to drive at all. Something about Romany distrust for technology, which Ed could relate to. He had two strong legs, the train system of Amestris, and alchemy - who needed technology?

Meanwhile, he was hurtling through morning rush hour traffic on the way to a morgue. If traffic got any heavier, Edward felt they stood a good chance of becoming customers of the morgue, rather than just visitors. After what seemed to be an eternity of dodging dangerous traffic, Ian pulled up before a large, colorless building mde of grey Portlandian stone - the central Londonium Morgue.

After they passed through the building's pneumatic glass doors, it was like they entered another world. It reminded Ed of his least favorite place - a hospital, any hospital. The morgue smelled of disinfectant, cold, a faint coppery tang of blood, but above all, it was unnaturally quiet. Standing there in the reception hall, Ed culd hear only the faintest of sounds: the rustle of papers at the main desk, the squeak of rubber-soled shoes, the 'gara-gara-gara' of gurney wheels, and finally, the muffled sobs of those who had just identified their loved one's corpse.

Ian had gone over to the desk, and after a few words with the receptionist, he came back with two rectangles of laminated cardboard attached to clips. After attaching one to the lapel of his coat, he handed the other one to Ed: one side was blank, the other read "VISITOR" in tall black letters. Ian touched Edward's left shoulder and motioned with his head 'this way', and Edward followed while simultaneously clipping the card to the lapel of his coat. The air grew chillier after they passed through a set of swinging wooden doors and found themselves in a long corridor painted an ugly shade of green.

Ed was totally sobered up by now, his earlier caffeine-fueled manic phase a distant memory. Had I really asked him 'Did you lose an argument with a brick wall?' Such flippancy seemed so inappropiate here. The corridor was mostly blank, but it was punctuated with occasional brown painted doors, some had windows of frosted glass, but most were plain wood. A faint sound of sobbing grew louder as they approached another set of swinging doors - metal instead of wood this time. The final brown door before they got there was open, and Ed looked over as they passed by to see a woman in a glittery, short sleeved long gown sitting, doubled over, in a chair. All he could see was her fashionably marceled hair, and it shook violently as she cried. He threw an inquiring look at Ian who shook his head. "Nothing to do with us, her boyfriend was killed in a motor smash early this morning." Bond pushed through the doors, and into the morgue.
______________________________________________________________________



In the casualty ward of St. Pixil's Hospital, Alphonse Elric sat on the end of his bed and impatiently waited for his friends. He'd spend a peaceful night at the hospital, but now he was tired of sleeping, and Al couldn't wait to get out into the fresh air. The door oppped open and Dr. Luthor bustled in. "Ah! Mr. Elric! Ready to go home!?" He looked at the clipboard in his hand. "Hello, this is queer, it says you are - a Major?"

"All state alchemists are equivalent to the rank of Major," Al not-so-patiently explained. "The Fuhrer has given me indefinate leave to attend university here." His right food started jiggling. Get on with it! Dr. Luthor kept lookng at his arms. "So, only your brother has prosthetic limbs?" He seemed disappointed Al wasn't similarly maimed. You should have seen me five years ago!

Dr. Luthor seemed to shake himself. "Right! Let's have a little look at you, then you can go home!" So Al had to scoot back to the head of the bed and sit against the pillow, to submit to another examination. Temperature taken, pulse checked, eyes peered into, heart and lungs listened to. It seemed to take forever, until Alphonse was ready to scream Get away from me! A large, square hand paternally ruffled his hair. "You're all right, lad!" Dr. Luthor scribbled on the clip board, gave Al another brisk smile, and a nod, then off he went; probably to annoy another patient. Mrs. Deadlocke came in as he went out, loking like she was wearing the same severe grey dress she had on yesterday. Perhaps, Al surmised, she had a closet full of plain grey dresses.

She glided up to Al - Does she even have feet? - and smiled at him. Al swallowed hard before throwing a nervous smile back. Yesterday, that smile had preceded a spoonful of castor oil down his throat, so he had a reason to be apprehensive. "Young man, are you planning to leave the hospital dressed like that?" Al's face turned bright red as he looked down and regarded the skimpy hospital gown he had on. "Um, a couople of my friends are coming with a change of clothes" he mumbled.

He'd asked a nurse about clothes he'd been wearing when the ambulance brought him in; and she informed him (to his shock), after anything valuable had been removed for safe keeping, his clothes had been taken to the basement incinerator and burned. "The river is so polluted, your clothes are full of bacteria, so there'd be no way to get them completely clean."

Al mourned the loss of his coat. He'd found it in a second hand clothing store in Rush Valley while visiting Winry soon after their return to this world. It was of the same cut as Brother's coat, but of a soft green color. It had fit like a glove, and been so comfortable. The moment he got his hands on some black fabric paint, he'd applied a design of the Flamel Snake - the symbol of Perfection in Alchemy to it's back. If it was possible to love a mere piece of clothing, Al had loved that coat. He'd looked so unhappy, the nurse had felt bad about telling him. Whenever he'd looked up that evening, two or three were bound to be gathered close by, gossiping, and looking over their shoulders at him.

The nurses of St. Pixil's were all of a sort - chirpy, with fresh-scrubbed faces, and clean-smelling hair, tied back into either tight braids, or Bourbon knots, not one hair out of place. The clothing helped in the perception of the nurses as a single entity. They all wore the the same thing: knee length dresses of a plain blue material, topped with starched white aprons. They also wore pert white caps and squeaked about in white rubber-soled shoes; all completely spotless. The nurses reminded Al of flocks of chattering birds - except when directed by Mrs. Deadlocke to get tough on a problem patient (like Brother). Then they changed, morphing into a pack of wolves.

Alphonse had seen this first hand a few hours ago when a protesting man, who said he didn't want to undergo an enema (he could be heard all over the ward), was seized and dragged into an examining room, where he gave voice to an astonishing series of shrieks and yells which made Al's blood run like ice water. He hid under the bedsheets, and trembled when they came out, the patient sat and moaned in a wheelchair while the nurses chattered away like it was nothing. He couldn't exactly hear wheat they were saying, but he would have died of embarrasment if he had:

"Oh, La! Look at that! The poor, frightened dear is hiding! What a handsome boy, I would love to pinch those cheeks of his!"

"Forget those! Look at his hair, it looks like warm caramel, I wonder if it feels as soft as it looks!"

"I don't know about you, but I could just drown in those eyes, they look like pools of milk chocolate!"

"And did you see his eyelashes? I never saw a boy with such long lashes!"


Yes, it's a good thing Al couldn't hear what they said, it might have scared him even more!

So, it was with great relief on Al's part when the main door to the ward opened again to reveal Pratchett, and Prince; Pratchett carrying a small rucksack. Both smiled broadly at the sight of their friend - then just as promptly paled, the smiles fading into grimaces when they beheld the form of Mrs. Deadlocke. Their greetings frozen upon terrified lips, both cautiously tiptoed past the woman Prince had dubbed 'The Patient Crusher'. The matron smiled frostily at them before she glided silently away to bedevil some other poor soul.

"I tell you Alphonse, she's a demon! When she's near, babies turn colicky, milk curdles, sunny days turns cloudy, dogs slink away with their tails between their legs, flowers wilt, and beer goes flat!"

"Oh, c'mon Prince! There's no such thing as demons!"

Prince made a face at him. Placing his hands upon his hips, he retorted, "And next thing you'll be teling me is she fed you on lemon fizzes and Bosphurus Delight!"

"Um, no, she gave me a spoonful of castor oil, but that's all."

Pratchett shuddered. "Just be glad that's all she did to you!" And Al looked at him strangely for a moment before Pratchett shoved the rucksack in his face. "Here's your clothes, get dressed, and let's get out of here before she comes back with something worse!"
__________________________________________________________________________


If it was possible, the authopsy room was even colder than the corridor had been. Large, and poorly lit, the cavernous room was lined on nearly every well with ranks of drawers which stretched nearly to the ceiling. The floor was wet, and Ed walked cautiously. In the middle of the room were several - each seperated by 3 or 4 feet - stone tables. There was a low, curved stone block on one end of each table; along both edges of each table were carved deep grooves - to carry away blood and other body fluids - leading to drain plugs connected to metal pipes. A coppery tang of blod was strong in this room, overlaying other, even less savory scents Ed couldn't identify. Bond's destination was one of the last tables in a row of them on their left.

This table was the only occupied one - a sheet draped shape hulked in it's center. A morgue attendant soft footed from the shadows and stood at the head of the table, and gave Ian an inquiring look. Once Edward caught up, Bond nodded to the man, who took hold of the sheet at the body's head and pulled it back. The man revealed was roughtly middle age, well nourished, with a slight paunch, weak-chinned, balding, and with slightly potrubent blue eyes the lids couldn't quite cover. There was a small, neat, and bloodless hole in the middle of the body's narrow chest. Ed had never seen the man before in his life. Still, he leaned forward to commit the facial details to memory, if he could thoroughly describe it to Al, it might spare his little brother a trip to the morgue. He was so intent on his task, his right hand inadvertantly touched the body, and he was rudely brought back to reality when the body suddenly sat up while emitting a loud groaning sound.

Edward leaped up and back with a loud yelp of surprise, until he slammed into the table behind him. Brought up short, he stared wide-eyed at the 'corpse' which had apparently come back to life. He looked over at Bond - the spymaster hadn't reacted as violently as the alchemist had, but he still looked quite pale. Ed's heart was pounding like a trip hammer as he gasped for breath - then he looked at the morgue attendent. The man didn't seem surprised in the least by what had just occured, in fact - he was smirking! Now Bond fixed him with a sharp look too. "It actually happens quite a bit, sirs. Something to do with gasses and fluids building up in decomposing bodies," the quiet fellow explained.

Well, now the phenomenon was made clear, both Ed and Ian began to feel a bit embarassed. I can't subject Al to this, he'll die of fright! Ed put his hand over his chest, the heart inside was gradually slowing down from it's mad gallop. He closed his eyes and thought back to yesterday morning, but he could recall seeing only the back of the man's bald head, and the heavy suitcase he was struggling with. When Al went over the side of the gangplank, Ed had totally forgotten about him.

"Colonel Elric?" He felt a hand on his left shoulder and looked up to see Bond's concerned gray-green eyes upon him. "I'm sorry, Ian, but I only saw the back of him. Al might have seen - wait, Al had some of his college friends with him - they might be able to help you more."

Bond looked at his watch, "It's 9:30, think he's out of hospital by now?" Ed shrugged. "I don't know, but it's worth a shot." He inclined his head towards the morgue attendant. "Thank you for helping us." From the corner of his eye, he saw Ian toss a gold coin to the man, but Ed didn't wait to see if he caught it - he had to get out of there before another body reared up and groaned at him. He walked quickly back up the corridor, not even glancing at the crying woman; his heart rate was slowing back towards 'normal', but it was still pounding hard, and he felt like the walls of the morgue were closing in on him. Bond would have identified Ed's feeling as claustrophobia, Al's college friends would have called it the 'heebie jeebies.'

Ed was just feeling very unfomfortable and he couldn't spend another minute there. He felt like he would start bouncing off the walls soon, if he didn't begin screaming first. He - he had - he had to - he had to pee. Very badly. When he re-entered the reception area, the woman at the desk was busy with a visitor, and a line of six people were behind him. She also seemed to be taking her own sweet time helping this man. He couldn't wait for his turn to ask her where the men's room was. This is my fault for drinking all that coffee! Ed pulled off his visitor badge and tossed it into a basket near the desk, then, under a full head of steam, he headed for the outer doors.

He was so impatient, he stood jigging in place, because they were taking forever to open! Before he knew it, he was out on the busy Londonium street. Ah! This is better! The fresh air calmed his nerves, and he took a big, cleansing breath of it. But his full bladder still ached. Maybe he could find a nice, dark alley close by.

"Edward! Are you all right?" Bond had caught up with him.

"I - um - have to go - Bond. Soon."

Ian pointed up the road, at a spot on a long brick wall which joined up to the morgue. "See that sign? There's a public restroom."

Ed muttered "Thanks" as he quickly walked away. The sign said 'Gents' and an arrow on the sign pointed to a nearly invisible gap in the wall, which led down a few stops to a clean, and spacious restroom. A public bathroom! Ed smiled. What a marvelous invention!


Three minutes later, he was breathing a sigh of relief while washing his hands. Ed had just started to dry them on a paper towel when he heard a shoe scrape concrete behind him, and he looked back in time to catch a flash of swift movement out the corner of his right eye. His right hand reflexively shot up and the blackjack, which had been meant to put a dent in his skull, instead split open upon contact with Edward's automail fist.

He pivoted on his right foot and slammed the palm of his left hand into the would-be assailant's face, followed by a right palm heel strike to the chest. The man staggered back, but not far, he was built like a brick wall and absorbed some of the force of Edward's blows. Now there was space between them, Ed got a better look at him and realized his attacker was easily the ugliest man he'd ever seen.

Taller by a few inches, and heavier, by at least 25 pounds - than Edward, the man had a crew cut of graying hair - original color indeterminate - over a small forehead creased with heavy frown lines, and a bushy unibrow. And it just got worse from there. His eyes were so small, Ed couldn't tell what color they were. His nose was wide and lumpy, like it had been broken several times - a narrow trickle of blood ran from one nostril. A livid scar ran across this nose and under his left eye, stopping just short of a large, and oddly shaped ear.

The right cheek was a mass of scar tissue, is if it had been rubbed bloody with high-grit sand paper, and his mouth was a lipless slash, which pulled back to reveal the brown stumps of rotting teeth. He wore a nondescript brown trenchcoat, which covered him from high button neck to his ankles, the muddy toes of a pair of brown shoes peeped from underneath.

"Clever lad" he hissed, clearly in pain from the strike to his face, "but not clever enough!"

Ed put the left sleeve of his coat over his nose, the man's breath was unbelieveably foul.

"What're you gonna do, kill me with your halitosis?" The man frowned at this, and if it was possible, the action made his face even more hideous. His right hand dipped into a pocket, and pulled out a snub-nosed revolver.

"Come quietly now, ya little bastard, or I'll use this on ya!"

Author's note: Holy cliffhanger! Looks like our hero has gotten himself into quite a pickle here!



IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, nor any of it's wonderful characters, who are the creation of the honorable Hiromu Arakawa. I do claim ownership of any OCs I have created. Other than that, FMA owns ME!

Warning: violence, bad language, and poor dental hygeine in this chapter

Summary: Colonel Edward Elric has been sent to the country of New Britain, to learn about starting a new branch of military intelligence. He meets with Colonel Ian Bond, spymaster of New Britian's MI7, and learns the grily fate of the other five people he was supposed to contact. After Bond is attacked by two thugs, they go to the Central Londonium Morgue to view the body of the one Ian killed. After discovering decomposing bodies do odd things, Ed needs to offload all that coffee he drank earlier.

Chapter Twelve: In which Edward discovers he's already made enemies



The second the gun had cleared his pocket, Ed clapped his hands and the thug jumped back in surprise when he saw the flash of green light - as well as the long, sharp blade Ed had transmuted on his automail arm. But, he recovered quickly, thrusting the gun towards Ed's face. "Ya think your little butter knife is gon - yiiii!" He shrank back again, gawking at the remains of his gun - which Ed had sliced in half, right through the chamber.

"You need to have a talk with the person who sold you that gun, the metal is very weak." Ed chuckled, but he kept still in a defensive posture. No telling what else was in this creep's bag of tricks. Running footsteps sounded behind him. "Elric! Elric! Are you all right?!"

Edward kept his full attention on his attacker, but he sidestepped so Bond could see him. "Bond, is this one of the two men who attacked you last night?" Ed's eyes were narrowed, showing thin slits of gold. He wanted that man to come at him again; he was angry and felt like a good fight. A click told him Ian had pulled his own gun, Ed spared it a brief glance; a sleek, silver automataic, it looked puny compared to the heat Riza Hawkeye packed.

The brief lapse in concentration was all the thug needed, he tossed what was left of his gun at Ed, who parried it with his arm blade. It shot into one of the mirrors over the sinks, shattering it, and causing Ed to flinch. For such a huge man, the attacker was remarkably light on his feet, he spun around and tried to flee. Ian fired once, and the bullet found it's mark in the fleshy part of his left calf. That one fell howling in pain, and clutching the leg. "Damn you, copper!"


Ian handed the gun to Edward. "If he moves, shoot him between the eyes!" With his now free right hand, he pulled out a leather wallet and flipped it open to flash some sort of official I.D. "I am Bond, of the New British Secret Service, and you are under arrest!" The man scowled and put his hands up, glared first at Ian, then at Edward.

"And who the f*!@ are you?!" Ed considered that a highly personal question from someone who'd just tried to kill him.

"I'm Elric, of the Armed Forces of Amestris, and I'm - well, I'm getting rather pissed off!"



A shrill whistle sounded outside, followed by shouts, then more running footsteps could be heard. "Keep your eyes on him, I'll go sort this out with the constables." Bond swung away and hurried out the entrance. The thug sat on the floor, trying to stanch his bleeding leg with his huge hands, thick and square ones, covered with ropy blue veins. Ed noticed the nails were bittten to the quick. "I told you who I am, now, who are you?"

The man grinned slyly at him, and tried to change the subject. "How did you do that, with your arm, I mean?"

Ed gave him a suspicius look, "Never you mind! What's your name? Who do you work for? Why did you attack me?"

"Sheesh, you're inquisitive!" He continued flashing that same shit eating grin, and Edward could feel his temper beginning to flare. With a tremendous effort, he gritted his teeth and tamped it down. Ian wouldn't thank him if he shot the man. He also recognized his tactics - Ed himself had used it many a time on Alphonse - distract the questioner from what he wanted to know.

"That won't work on me, asshole. So you have a choice, either answer me, or answer to Colonel Bond's torturers." Ed didn't think for one minute the New British Secret Service used torture, he was just trying to psych him out. Bad move, the bastard just laughed at him.

"Pain doesn't scare me, but I'll give you some answers, the rest though, you'll just have to guess."

Edward said nothing, he just waited. "But in return, you have to answer a few of mine, fair enough?" Where the hell was Bond? The man's offer was tempting, very tempting. Once Bond came back, the man would probably clam up; alone, Ed might learn something.

Reluctantly, he nodded. "What's your name?"

"Carpenter, Joseph Carpenter."

"Where are you from?"

"Bethlehem, Meso-America."

Edward idly chewed his lip; because of his country's long isolation, he knew very little about Meso-America. Carpenter appeared to be counting on that, because he started grinning again. Time to change the subject.

"Why did you try to kill me just now?"

Carpenter frowned slightly, and Ed wished he wouldn't do that. "My orders were to subdue and capture you, not kill. My people want you alive."

"Were you involved in the incident at the Blue Star ferry dock yesterday morning?"

Now Carpenter looked clearly confused. "WHAT incident!?"

Once he had Carpenter off balance, Ed pressed his advantage. "Did you kill Oliver Comstock?"

"Who? What? WHAT!? What the f*!@ are you talking about?!"

"Did you kill F.F. Machus?"

Carpenter just gaped at him now; so Edward decided to continue playing 'bad cop'. "You killed him a very sloppy manner, even a child could have seen through that false suicide note you left!"

"Now, what just a damned minute here!" Carpenter had clearly gone past 'confused' to 'angry'. "I'm a Christian! When we put someone to death, it's only within the dictates of our Holy Book!"

"And your Holy Book tells you to kill people?!" Since Carpenter had already raised his voice, Edward happily joined in and yelled too. "Did you hear voices telling you to kill Machus and Comstock?! Did these voices tell you to attack me? Do voices in your head tell you who to kill!? ANSWER ME!!"

"NO!!" screamed Carpenter, and he tried to leap to his feet. Edward pulled the trigger of the automatic and one slug buried itself in the concrete floor, just a few inches shy of his 'family jewels'.

Edward answered Carpenter's dirty look with a curl of his lip. The young alchemist felt sick with disgust. Carpenter was just another self righteous hypocrite, who used his religious beliefs to justify breaking his own moral code. He felt Carpenter's small eyes were boring holes in him, but Edward was trading glare for glare.

The noise of the gunshot finally brought Bond - and the Londonium police running. Ian sighed with relief to see their prisoner was still alive, if furious. Ed's own face was a dark mask of anger, from which his gold eyes glittered. "Dammit! I tried to hard to keep from being distracted - and we managed to distract each other!"

Ian put his right hand on Ed's left arm, it was trembling. "Edward, give me the gun." Ed sighed through his nose, as much as it would have please him to shoot Carpenter somewhere tender, he wasn't going to stoop to his level. He relaxed his fingers and returned Bond's gun.

As a constable cuffed Carpenter and supported him as he limped away, Ian asked, "Did you get anything before the fireworks started?"

"Yeah." Ed paused to collect his thoughts. "His name is Carpenter, Joseph Carpenter, from Bethlehem, in Meso-America."

"So, he's a Christian then."

Ed nodded. "So he claims to be, which doesn't make sense to me. I thought Meso-America was ruled by the Inca Empire."

"It largely is, but there are some small Christian enclaves scattered about, Meso-America is an amazingly huge country, lots of room for all sorts of religious sects. Most of them are quite peaceful, but there are a few rabble rousers among them who have stated they want to overthrow the ruling family and install a theocracy of one sort or another."

Ed was still angry. "Could he be one of them? He was saying something about their Holy Book dictating the manner in which they put someone to death." He suppposed his feelings must have been showing clearly on his face, because Bond gave him a sympathetic nod and briefly squeezed his left shoulder.

Ed sighed. "About 7 years ago, we had a rash of killings in Amestris. Someone was targeting State Alchemists, killing them by literally causing their heads to explode from the inside out." He said it matter of factly, like he faced killers like this every day, but Ian looked slightly horrified.

"He eventually came after me - damn near got me too - but only succeeded in destroying my automail arm. Mostly because I was too stubborn to run away when I had the chance to flee; partly because I refused to leave Al at his 'mercy'."

"The short version of the story is we finally were able to put a face and a name to this bastard. He was an Ishbalan. We called him Scar - sounded better than 'State Alchemist Killer' - due to a huge scar which covered his face."

"Ishbal, wasn't that one of the countries Amestris was at war with?"

"Actually, it was more like Amestris invaded and conquered Ishbal, in a particularly cruel manner. Fuhrer Mustang was a Major then, and he says his actions still haunt him. He was promoted to Colonel,and treated like a hero for what he did; but he told me he never felt like one."

Ed gave a rueful smile. "Shit, I said I'd give you the short version, and here I am making a novella out of it.! The Ishbalans are a monotheistic society, they worship a female deity called Ishbala, and their religion forbids alchemy as being against God. Anyway, Scar claimed to be an 'instrument of divine justice', but he used alchemy to commit his murders."

"So, you were shouting at Carpenter because he reminded you of this Scar fellow?"

Ed blew another sigh, and ran a hand through his hair. "That's about the size of it. I asked him if he was responsible for the incident at the ferry dock; plus the murders of Machus and Comstock. He denied those, but told me something even stranger: his real aim was to kidnap me!"

"Eh!? What for?"

"That's just it, we started yelling before getting to his reason. And even if he had succeeded in knocking me out, there is only one way out of here. How could he have transported an unconscious person unobserved?"

"Like this, Edward." Ian walked to the far end of the restroom, which looked like an ordinary blank wall formed of slabs of grey marble. "You have to know where to press - just so - and - " Ed goggled when one of the slabs Bond has pressed in an upper corner quietly slid back, then to one side. "It's a service entrance, supplies of extra paper, soap, toweling, and hand lotion are brought this way. The cleaning crews come in this way too."

Ian stepped into the space and moved out of sight. Suddenly, he voice went silent. In a moment, he popped back through the opening. "Sergeant!" he cried, gesturing to a constable at the main entrace. "Call an ambulance! We have an injured man in here!" Edward followed him back in and found Ian bent over a man in an orange jumpsuit who was slumped against an interior wall.

Bond was gently holding the man by his jaw, and turning his head back and forth. But the cause of the man's tate was no mystery, there was a bruise on his left temple - a thin trickle of blood was coming from it. A nearby trolley, loaded with restroom supplies stood a few feet away. The space wasn't well lit, and Ed noticed the shadows in one corner would have been deep enough to conceal Carpenter.

"Colonel Bond?! The ambulance is here!" A young constable poked his head through the doorway, and paled when he saw the wounded man.

"Crikey! Will he be all right?"

"I think so, constable," Bond's face showed no emotion. "but he will need medical attention just to be on the safe side."

Then the constable asked an important question. "Where's his partner?"

"Partner?"

"Oh, yes, sir! Maintenance, and cleaning crews always in pairs! They'd never get enough done going solo!"

Bond lept to his feet. "Constable! Direct the paramedics here! Elric - you're with me!"

He ran towards the other entrance of the service tunnel, with Edward close behind. After the darkness of the tunnel, the sunlight shining off the surface of the River Speed was dazzling; Ed tried to shield his eyes with one hand while squinting, but his eyes still watered. If he'd never seen it, Ed would never had suspected the river, and a wide concrete walkway was there.

The walkway was defined on the river side with an ornamental wrought iron railing, punctuated at intervals by concrete steps leading down to landing stages. The boat for the maintenance crew was tied up there - now Ed's eyes had gotten used to the brightness, his vision had cleared enough for him to see a huddle figure laying prone on the fore deck, with two other men standing over him. Ian flashed his badge again, and shouted "HALT in the name of the Queen! Get on your knees and put your hands on your heads!"

The two men hesitated, then one whirled and ran to the left hand railing of the boat and lept over it. The other man reached into a pocket of his trenchcoat and pulled out a round object. Pulling a small piece out of it, he tossed the object at them before turning to follow his partner. Ed recognized it from his years in the machine world - a hand grenade!

Clapping his hands, he shouted "Bond! Get down!" before kneeling, and applying them to the walkway. A six feet high wall instantly shot up between them and the grenade.

It bounced off the wall and fell back to the landing stage as Ed reached out and dragged Ian into it's shelter. A loud explosion followed wheile the pair huddled behind it, and they could hear a rattling sound. The wall swayed slightly from the force of the blast, but it held. Bond drew his gun and Ed clapped his hands again as they emerged to the sound of an outboard motor starting up. Then they saw a small open boat come roaring from it's hiding place on the opposite side of the larger vessel. One man sat at the stern, operating the motor, the other at the bow - both were smiling and waving.

"Bastard!" snapped Bond, he could have fired, but he probably would have missed. It looked like they were going to get away, but not if Edward had anything to say about it! Quickly dropping to his knees again, Ed touched his hands to the vertical surface of the walkway. A sheen of ice appeared and raced down to the river, then spread across it's surface with lightning speed. Ian doubted it would catch the speeding motor boat, but catch it, it did; freezing the boat in place before it had gone 100 yards. Ed smiled grimly, Carpenter's partners looked rather dismayed by what just had happened.

"Blimey!" He looked back at Ian, who was examining the other side of the wall he'd raised. There was a trench in front of it, because Edward had used the walkway itself to transmute their shelter, but that isn't what Ian was goggling at. The river side of the wall was pockmarked with holes, and whatever wasn't holed was studded with small bits of metal. "A shrapnel grenade!" Ian breathed in wonder at what they'd narrowly escaped. "Quite nasty!" He looked over at Ed, and opened his mouth as if to say something, but something else caught his eye. "Oy! Edward!"

Ed looked back towards the river - his quarry was escaping across the ice towards a landing stage on the opposite side of the River Speed. "Oh, no you don't!" he growled. He clapped his hands again and touched the wall a second time. Now a crack was racing across the ice towards the escapees. "C'mon! C'mon!" he muttered under his breath. Just before they reached safety, the crack caught them, and into the drink they went. Keeping his hands in place, Ed concentrated hard and the crack instantly refroze, trapping the men at their waists. "Gotcha!" Edward said with satisfaction, and he sat back to wipe sweat from his forehead.

"Um, Edward?" He frowned and looked over at Ian. "You've trapped them good and proper, but this ice will play havoc with river traffic!"

Amost two hours later, Ed sat in the passenger seat of Ian's car, chin in left hand, just staring at the passing pedestrian traffic out the window. The capture of Carpenter's accomplices had turned out to be fairly easy after all the trouble they had caused. Ed and Ian came from one side, a squad of Londonium constables from the other, slip sliding across the ice. When they met by the 2 men struggling to get free, Edward clapped and applied just enough alchemic energy to melt only the ice holding them.

Not that they thanked him. Both men were shivering, yet they both glared, while one periodically hissed "Blasphemer! God will strike you dead for this, warlock!"

Ed didn't help the man's temper by laughing at him, and replying - between chuckles - "I'm an alchemist, not a magician!"

Until the younger man snapped "Your metal hand is God's punishment for your sins!" did Edward suddenly stop chuckling, and start to lose his cool. The constables took over once they were free, putting their hands behind their backs and cuffing them.

Ed admired the sleek metal handcuffs they used, much better than the bulky and awkward wooden cuffs still being used in Amestris. Both men resembled each other enough to be brothers - perhaps father and son. Both had crew cuts like Carpenter's, their brown hair cropped so short their scalps shone through in spots. Their clothes were covered by non-descript trenchcoats of the same type worn by Carpenter. Their shoes were quite plain, Ed couldn't tell the exact color as they were water-soaked.

No one would have noticed anything extraordinary about them - regular features - the older man had a few more lines and wrinkles - brown eyes, clean shaven, no emotions. Except when they looked at Edward; when their faces contorted with anger, then it was evident they shared Carpenter's disregard for proper dental hygeine. But the ice began booming ominously just then, the alchemic energy which sustained it beginning to ebb. The constables took their prisoners one way, Ian and Edward returned to their original position.

The ice slowly melted away, leaving behind only a chill mist over the water. Ian went to the maintenance boat to check on the unconscious man, while Edward fixed the damage he'd caused to the walkway - after first collecting a few pieces of the shrapnel as evidence. The poor fellow was also concussed, but he looked as though he'd pull through. Constables escorted a couple of paramedics out to care for him. Ian and Edward passed back through the tunnel and the restroom to the street outside. The constables had already crossed back over the river via a nearby bridge, and they were waiting for Bond to have a few words with their prisoners before transporting them to the main Londonium gaol.

When questioned, they gave their names as Jonah Whale (elder), and Joseph Coat (younger); obviously fake ones. And therein lay the nub of Edward's discontent. As a foreign national from a country which was hostile to New Britain until a year or so ago, he wouldn't be allowed to question them. Which was just as well, he'd probably wind up in another shouting match with them as well. But he dearly wanted to find out why they wanted to kidnap him. Ransom? A political statement? To pressure Amestris for some kind of concession?

"Edward."

Someone poked his shoulder.

"Edward?"

Another poke.

"Earth to Edward!"

"Huh?" He looked to his right, to see Ian looking back at him. "You have an extraordinary ability to focus and shut out all outside distractions Elric, so it's a good thing you aren't driving."

"Bond, are you going somewhere with this?" Ed slowly turned his head fully to the right, and gave the spymaster his full attention.

"I can hear your mental gears turning, Elric, tell me what's on your mind."

A loud honk from behind informed Ian the light had turned green, and he put the car into gear before driving forwards again.

"Why kidnapping?" Edward began. "I've made enough people mad enough to want to beat me up, even to kill me - I've had my share of close calls - but kidnap me? I just want to know why."

"I know you are frustrated," Bond was sympathetic, but he kept his eyes on the road, "but Button is a very able interrogator, I've never seen a better cajoler than him."

"Unless he winds up blowing a gasket and yelling, like I did." Ed was pessimistic about this Button person's chances.

Author's note #1: It gets stranger and stranger, Ed finds not one, but three new enemies. What do they have to do with the murders of his contacts, if any?

Author's note #2: When typing up this chapter, I was assailed by the worry I would be accused of "Christian bashing". Nothing could be further from the truth. IMHO: 99.9/10ths% of Christians are thoroughly delightful people. But then there are the small percentage of extremists (I'm not naming names, they know who they are), who make the rest look bad. That is probably why I made Carpenter so over the top, so he couldn't possibly be mistaken for the average Christian.
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, nor any of the characters created by the honorable Hiromu Arakawa. I do own any OC's I've created in the course of writing this story; and as always, FMA owns ME!

Summary: It's been a busy 2nd day in Londonium for Edward. He's been over caffienated, startled by a corpse, terrified by Londonium traffic, attacked by a profanity spouting Christian, nearly perforated by a shrapnel grenade, gone ice skating, and been called names. What's next?


Chapter Thirteen (oo! spooky!): In which Joseph Carpenter makes a startling confession


Deep in the bowels of the Londonium Constabulary's main precinct house are the Inquiry Rooms where prisoners and other "people of interest" are interrogated. Chief Inspector James Button switched on the tape recorder and spoke into the microphone "Chief Inspector Button conductiong interview #1 of Joseph Carpenter." He flipped open a manila folder in front of him and looked at the contents for a bit before shutting it again. Now Button turned his attention to Carpenter, who sat ramrod straight in a chair on the opposite side of the table. The only other person in the room, a very large police constable, stood at attention behind Button.

"Mr. Carpenter, are you aware of the reason you are here?"

Dead silence. Button sighed. Ah, one of those strong, silent types. He'd met them so many times before. The secret was pretend they were completely unimportant. Sooner or later, being ignored would get to them, and they'd talk. They'd spill their guts in an attempt to convince Button they were important, what they had to say was the truth, the only truth, and the need to get this so-called "truth" out justified their actions. Give them enough rope, and they would hang themselves on their delusions.

"Are you aware, Mr. Carpenter, of a series of five rather mysterious deaths during the last sennight? No answer. "Two of them were obvious cases of murder - one quite brutal. The rest tragic, if suspicious accidents. Still no answer. He opened the manila folder and began setting a series of photographs on the table, facing them towards Carpenter.

"Perhaps you know these people by sight rather than name."

Csrpenter still said nothing, but now a smirk curved his lips. He doesn't know who he is dealing with. Button smiled, but he was careful to do it inwardly. He indicated the first photo: A long -faced man of middle years, with graying mutton-chop whiskers.

"F.F. Machus - found dead in St. Emma's, hanging from a bell rope. An apparent suicide, but it was murder, the killer made certain - mistakes." Carpenter sneered at the picture, but didn't add anything.

"Remigius Youngbeck." An aristocratic looking man with heavy lidded eyes, black hair cut short on back and sides, but left long on top, a few grey hairs. "Impaled by the sharp point of an ornamental sculpture, after his horse threw him." The information appeared to please Carpener, as he smiled and nodded.

"Dorothy Woolf." A woman past the first blush of youth, wide eyed, with fashionably bobbed hair. "Knocked down and dragged by a car, until a lorry going the opposite direction ran over and killed her." Carpenter gave her a look of disgust.

"Edmund Ameche." A red faced man of middle years with a large shock of white hair. "His head was crushed by a malfunctioning punch press." Carpenter looked greatly amused.

"Oliver Comstock." The youngest of the lot, early thirties, with an open, honest face under intelligent eyes, and short brown hair. "He was put into 'cement overshoes', then left to drown when the Thamar hit high tide." For a moment there, Button thought Carpenter would burst out laughing.

But as he had expected, Carpenter couldn't resist the change to show off his cleverness. First, he erupted into some forced laughter. Then came the sermon: "I did not strike these sinners down, 'twas the hand of God who chose some other poor vessel as the instrument of His judgement! My brothers and myself strove mightily to reach them, to turn them from their wicked ways and onto the path of righteousness. But they would not listen, and it was God's decision to cast them into the fiery lake of Hell!"

Button massaged the bridge of his nose, as if he was exasperated; but it was another of his blinds. He was actually watching Carpenter from beneath the lashes of his nearly closed eyes. Smug little bugger, he was sitting back in his chair, with a silly smile upon his face. The self righteous may piss Elric off; and in reality, they annoy the hell out of most people, but Button found their sociopathic tendencies instructive. From their reactions, he took his cues on how to proceed with the interrogation.

"Now, Mr. Carpenter." Button conintued in his calm voice (his subordinates would joke, "Button speaks NBBC, he ought to be a news reader - he drones on and on too!" Yeah, ha-ha, really funny) "Let's move on to the incident at the Blue Star ferry docks yesterday morning.

No answer. Carpenter was back to being the Great Stone Face again. "A teenage boy was knocked off a ferry gangplank and into the River Thamar, obbliging his older brother to jump in and rescue him. Both nearly drowned, but the River Patrol got there in time." Carpenter didn't reply for a moment, but his tiny eyes widened - they were blue, much to Button's surprise.

"So, you do recall this incident, were you responsible?"

"NO! I was not! But now I remember the blasphemer, the foreign alchemist asking be about it, thought I don't understand why he showed such interest."

"The boy who was knocked in was his brother, this alchemist jumped in after him."

Carpenter was briefly taken aback. He went in to rescue his brother? That didn't jibe with the picture he'd internalized of the alchemist as a selfish sinner. Carpenter's lips tightened, this was another trick of Satan's; so he dismissed Edward's altruistic motive.

"Is this younger brother a blasphemer too?" he demanded.

To his annoyance, Button shrugged. "He's a university student here, that's all I know."

Carpenther thought furiously. Things had to be found out about this younger brother - his name and age, wether he blasphemed too, perhaps he would be easier to turn from the Path of Darkness. Once he was released from the Servants of the Beast - and he was sure God would not forsake him - he would check this out personally.

Button waited while Carpenter schemed, not until the man in the shapeless brown suit - they'd made him give up his trench coat - returned his full attention would the Chief Inspector proceed.

"Now then, a few last things I wish to ask you. For what reason did you attempt to kidnap Colonel Elric this morning?" Carpenter stared daggers at him, was the Beast's servant so blind?

"To save his soul, of course!"

Button steepled his fingers and regarded Carptenter like he was an intriguing new species of maggot.

"My, my, I had no idea you could save a person's soul simpky by bashing him on the head with a cosh!"

For the first time, Carpenter's face turned red with anger, and Button could sense the massive constable standing behind him tense. Button wasn't afraid - he was quicker, both physically and mentally - than he looked. Even if Carpenter managed to grab him, Constable Deane would sort him out.

"Mr. Carpenter, I have two burning questions: how did you know Elric was coming, and how did you know exactly where he would be?"

"One of our number infiltrated a meeting of the Society of Blasphemers, yea, they aren't content to go against God on their own, they formed a society to ensnare more innocent souls in their web of moral corruption!"

Button nodded, "I see, now what is the name of this society?"

Carpenter appeared to have a hard time controlling himself. "The Ancient and Noble Society of Amateur Alchemists!"

Hmm. Bond had mentioned the lack of an apparent link between those five - other than all of them named as contacts for Colonel Elric. A very large puzzle piece had just been slotted into place.

"And how did you find out about Elric?"

"From that stupid Woolf woman." Carpenter sneared in derision. "Our plant cultivated a friendship with that unnatural creature who bragged of her blood ties to a family of alchemists. She was all excited over a letter she'd gotten - she was brandishing it at the Society's last monthly meeting."

"Who was it from"

"The so-called Ambassador Pankhurst - another unnatural creature! I tell you, New Britain is doomed to fail if you allow authority over men! Our Holy Book gives men dominion over God's creation, for only we are made in His image! Women are just weaker vessels, put here to obey and bear children!"

Carpenter had raised his voice and was gestulating wildly as he worked himself into full-on 'Sermon Mode." Button raised his hands, palms forward. "Please calm yourself, Mr. Carpenter!" And Carpenter finally quieted, but he looked quite put-out at having to cut his lecture short.

"What was written in the letter?""

"Woof was informed she would be contacted by this foreign alchemist named Elric"

"For what purpose?"

"When she was younger, Woolf was an expect in coding and decoding messages; she was very proud of her skill in inventing some codes of her own. No wonder she couldn't attract a husband. Godly men are repelled by women who intrude into areas which should properly be left to men!"

Button ignored the second half of that statement? "How did you know where Elric would be today?"

"We began following him when he left his lodgings this morning, in the company of the sinner Bond. When they went to the morgue, we decided to capture him there. The ones who followed him contacted us via two-way radio, so we traveled by boat to the landing stage behind the building."

Button, his chin in the palm of his right hand, smiled encouragingly. "Please do go on Mr. Carpenter."

"My brothers and I were just about to effect our entrance through the service door when we were informed they'd left the morgue, and Elric was walking towards the public restroom. We changed our plans accordingly. A maintenance crew had just tied up there, we neutralized them and I took up a position in the shadows. The power of Satan must have been strong within him because he resisted by efforts with great force. I struggled mightily, but the evil one sent reinforcements and I was defeated! May God have mercy upon me, for I have failed!"

The man's eyes glistened and he looked ready to burst into tears as he bowed his head. So Button asked his final questions. "Mr. Carpenter, if you had succeeded, what was your purpose in kidnapping Colonel Elric? Would you have held him for ransom?"

Carpenter's head shot up, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. "Only for the ransom of his immortal soul! We would have tried to redeem that poor blasphemer, to drive the Devil out of him!"

"And how would you have accomplished that?"

By denying sleep, food, and drink to the demons which possess him. We would replace the earthly pleasures by feeding him the good soul food of our Holy Book!"

Read: Brain wash the poor man! Button's thoughts were suspicous.

"And if you had not succeeded, what then?

Carpenter slumped back in his chair as if he truly had been defeated. "Then we would have had no choice." he said slowly. "Our Holy Book says that 'thou shalt not suffer a witch, nor a warlock to live.' As alchemy is akin to witchcraft, our task would have been clear. The only way to purify his soul would have been to burn him at the stake."


Author's note: Holy flambe! That's a nasty fate Carpenter ahd his cohorts had planned for our hero. And worse yet, Carpenter knows about Alphonse!

To clarify some (New) British slang: Sennight: three weeks Cosh: a blackjack NBBC: New British Broadcasting Corporation. News reader: like a news anchor.

IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, which is the property of the honorable Hiromu Arakawa. I do claim ownership of all OCs I've created for this story. On the other hand, FMA still owns ME!

My pledge to you, the reader: Neither Edward, or Alphonse will fall in love with any of said OCs!

Author's note: After all the excitement of the last couple of chapters, Edward and Ian have a little down time as they visit Alphonse at his college lodgings. If they can ever find them, that is! It's more banter amongst friends, and an audience with Miss Chievous, the wonder kitten!

Chapter Fourteen: In which Ed and Ian get lost - really lost.


During the same time as Button's interview with Carpenter was starting, Bond's car entered the campus of Highgate University. Ancient - chartered over 700 years ago by King Hotspur - and massive - even third year students still got lost. Bond the spymaster, the suave overseer of New Britain's M17, was also lost - helplessly so. He'd followed the the signs to Hotspur Hall, the lodgings where Alphonse and Pratchett lived, but he couldn't find it.

But how was he to know the signs were turned the wrong way at least once a week? He innocently asked students walking by for directions, but that turned out to be a bad move as well. All students considered the work of getting visitors thoroughly lost to be a fine art, so each one pointed the pair of adults in the wrong direction. If you were to ask a group of four students directions to a particular building, each of them would give you a different set of directions.

Edward was getting so frustrated, he was realy to get out of the car right now, then stand in the middle of campus, and just scream Alphonse's name until he showed up. Sooner of later, his little brother would get word of a crazy blond man screaming "ALPHONSE!" at the top of his lungs. After what seemed to be the thousandth circuit of what appeared to be the same quad - they all looked alike to Ian; Edward spied the welcome sight of Pratchett, Prince, and a girl he didn't recognize walking by them.

He scrabbled for the handle which rolled down the car window, but couldn't find one; then lept back in surprise when it smoothly rolled down with a faint buzzing sound. He looked over at Ian who was smirking at him. "Power windows, Elric, one of the perks of being a spymaster." He looked back at the sidewalk, the trio were already past him. After opening his seat belt, Ed stuck his head and shoulders out of the window and bellowed "HEY! PRATCHETT!"

They turned to look curiously while Ed frantically waved both hands. Prince snickered "I bet he's lost", waved back, and made as if to walk away.

"Oh, Prince!" the girl whined, hauling on his jacket, "don't be so mean!"

"Oh, all right, Lilith! But you know we are going against the unofficial student code!" Lilith, a pretty girl with long black hair, and brown eyes, who was wearning a long blue skirt, a long-sleeved purple shirt, and a short denim jacket, rewarded Prince with a dazzling smile.

Pratchett was already walking to the car, and greeting Edward. He turned slightly and said over his shoulder. "Visitor related to one's roommate don't count, Prince!"

Once he got to the car, he stuck his upper body to the shoulders in through the window, forcing Ed to shrink back against his seat. "Smashing motor, Mr. Elric, any chance of a lift?"

"Uhhhh...." Ed looked at Ian, who was smiling broadly; so he just shrugged. "I guess it's O.K."

"Utterly smashing!" Pratchett yanked the back door open and bowed to Lilith. "Ladies first." Lilith gracefully slid onto the seat and Pratchett made to follow her in, but he was blocked by Prince.\

Mincing on his toes and speaking in a falsetto, Prince playfully slapped Pratchett's hand. "Egad! You Cad! Remember: ladies first!" Then he scrambled in after Lilith.

Pratchett grinned, then shook his head. "You've got to stop doing that, Prince, you'll give some lads ideas!" Ed bit his lip - hard. Otherwise, he was going to burst out laughing. He looked over at Ian again; his shoulders were shaking. Don't catch his eye! Don't do it! Grey/green met gold, Ian tried to suppress a chuckle, but only succeeded in turning it into snort, which finally set Edward off.

"Eh?" Prince scratched his cheek in confusion. "Am I really that funny?" Lilith kissed his right cheek. "Yes, you are, you goofball." Prince smiled, a rather sloppy grin.

Then Pratchett bussed his other cheek. "You big goofball, you!"

Prince was mock offended. "OY! I don't swing like that!"

Edward was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. Why didn't I go to college? He was closer in age to the trio in the backseat than Al was - if he only could have decided what subjects he wanted to take. When the Rockbell's mailbox began filling up with thick college brochures, and catalogs of course offerings, Edward's mind had just boggled with the possibilities for study. He admired Alphonse for choosing a major - veterinary medicine - and a minor - history of alchemy in New Britain - and sticking to them. He mentally shook himself. Get serious now - I have a job to do - once everyone stops laughing!

It turned out Edward and Ian had been really lost; Hotspur Hall was on the other side of the sprawling Highgate campus. They had come to an agreement with Pratchett, Prince, and Lilith, a ride over in exchange for a promise never to breathe a word of the breaking of the unofficial student code. Hotspur Student Residence Hall (it's official name) was a grand old red brick Lancastrian pile, one of the oldest buildings on campus.

Six stories high, the walls were pierced with tall, narrow windows, and pockmarked with what looked like marks from cannonballs. With a crenalated roofline, it looked like a fortress. After Edward mentioned this impression to Pratchett, he got a semester's worth of history lectures on Hotspur Hall. Ed tuned him out shortly after "Well, Mr. Elric, it was a fortress, in fact, one of the major battles of the Wars of the Roses was fought in front of it, and....."

Ian leaned against his car and listened politely - or just pretended to listen politely. Prince and Lilith leaned next to him, and exchanged smirks and eye rolls. When Pratchett finally paused for breath, Ed grabbed his chance to get a word in edgewise: "How is my brother?"

Pratchett seemed dumbfounded at the sudden change in subject, being as he was still in "tour guide" mode. "Oh, um - Al? He was taking a nap when we left." With that, Pratchett took up right where he left off. "If you stand on this corner, lean to your right, and squint very hard, you can just make out the scars left by Royallist musket balls during a minor skirmish fought during the New British Civil War...."

Edward sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. As a rule of thumb, he had no trouble being rude to annoying people, but he genuinely liked Pratchett. The boy was genial and good natured, but oblivious to hints he was long winded at times. Still......

The next time Pratchett paused to take in air, Ed slapped his hands on the hood of the Morris Major, making Prince and Lilith jump, and Ian frown. Ed ignored him. Time to be firm. "Pratchett, I would like to see my brother. Now." Then he leavened his sharp gaze with a smile. "Please."

They had left Al napping on the couch, but he was studying furiously by the time the group entered. He now sat at a plain table in the middle of the sitting room, said table piled high with textbooks which surrounded him like baby mountains. Ed's first sight of Alphonse was the top inch of his unruly mop of caramel-colored hair. Al was intently bent over his work, alternately flipping throught the pages of a textbook, scribbling in a notepad, and occasionally muttering softly to himself before running a hand through his hair. Edward couldn't help smiling, this brought back old memories, because he used to study alchemy books the same way.

Edward walked up to the table, and propping his elbows on a stack of textbooks, he put his chin in the palm of his automail hand, cocked his head, and waited for Al to notice. But Al never noticed his brother's presence. Ed looked back at the others - Prince and Pratchett were grinning like maniacs, Lilith had sat down on a comfortable chair nearby, her legs crossed at the ankle, she was shaking her head, but smiling just as broadly. Ian stood behind and a bit to the side of the two young men, left hand in pocket, and his expression unreadable. But he was mentally remarking on the on the physical, and the physiological resemblences between Edward and Alphonse. Both have that remarkable ability to focus!

Not until Al attempted to pull a book from the stack Ed was leaning on did he realize he wasn't alone. He looked up and gawked, his chocolate brown eyes wide, and mouth open, looking like a rumpled goldfish at Ed, who flashed him a seraphic smie.

"All work and no play makes Alphonse a dull boy."

"Huh?"

Ed's smile widened into it's familiar, toothy grin. "Al, shouldn't you be resting?"

Alphonse finally shut his mouth, and then blinked owlishly. "I've got a major test coming up next week, so I need every spare moment to study!"

"WHAT!?" Ed drew back, astonished. "The fall term began only a month ago, I thought you wouldn't have any big tests until just before winter break?!"

Al shook his head in response. "Not my feline studies professor, brother. He popped a quiz on us the first day! Good thing I'd read most of my textbooks on the trip from Central."

"You READ your textbooks?!"

Al shrugged. "I was bored. You know what a drag train rides are. I tried, but I couldn't nap like you used to; you could drop straight off and sleep for hours, then wake up in an instant. I tried a couple of times, but train seats aren't very comfortable, & I would wake up with a crick in my neck!"

"Did you read on the ferry too?" Ed was curious to know wether Alphonse also suffered from seasickness.

"I did while we were in port, but once we passed the breakwater, the rolling of the ship made me feel a bit queasy. But I was fine once I put the books away and went out on deck for fresh air." Edward made a face. Wether on deck or in his cabin, it had made no difference to him, he still retched on that ferry. So he could sleep like the dead on trains, and Al didn't get seasick. Ah well, equivalent exchange.

Suddenly, Ed felt something scratching on his left leg. He looked down to see a small grey tabby kitten busily working it's claws on his one decent pair of dress pants. Just about to flex the leg and send the little beast flying, he hesitated, that kitten looked familiar. Al followed his gaze downwards and he smiled indulgently. After capping his pen, he swooped down and grabbed it by the nape of it's neck before gently lifting it into the air, and putting his other hand under the kitten's hindquarters to support it.

"Miss Chievous!" He cooed at it, "come here you naughty little girl!" Ed threw a look back, Pratchett, Prince and Lilith were all rolling their eyes. Obviously they were all well acquainted with Al's ailurophilia. Ian gave him two raised eyebrows and a smirk - he had a maiden aunt who was cat-mad.

"Al?" Ed began, incredulous. "Did you bring that kitten all the way from Risembool?"

"Yessss!" Al had cradled the kitten against his chest, and he was smiling rapturously while Miss Chievous alternately licked and nibbled his rounded chin. "She was a good little traveller, even when I took her out of the carrier." She would curl up in my lap, or sit on the window ledge. It was like she'd done this before in another life."

Al still had that silly grin on his face, and Edward began to wonder if his little brother wasn't somehow "touched" in the head. Was there something about cats which made usually sane people lose their common sense? Very gingerly, Ed reached over and scratched Miss Chievous behind one ear. It mewed once, then leaned it's tiny head into his touch. "Nice kitty," Ed crooned, but he took the sentiment back a nanosecond later when Missy sunk her little needle sharp fangs into his index finger. "OW!"

The little brat wouldn't let go, Ed could have just yannked his hand away, but he resisted the temptation because he knew it would upset Al. To Ed's anoyance, his little brother chuckled. "She's teething, Brother, and she likes to chew a bit." A bit!? After Missy let go, Ed examined the finger. It still tingled with pain, but the skin wasn't broken. He wondered if the kitten had had it's shots yet and it was as if Alphonse could read his mind. "Yes, brother, she has."

Al held Miss Chievous over his head and grinned at her. Missy didn't grin back, but she purred so loudly she could probably be heard all over the building. She's got him well-trained!

"We call her 'Miss Chievous the Wonder Kitten'," Pratchett quipped drily, because it's a wonder anyone but Alphonse puts up with her!"

Al spun around in his chair to retort. "You're just jealous!"

"JEALOUS!? Pratchett's response came in a squeak of mock outrage, "She peed in my shoes!"

"Because you were kept on pulling her tail when you knew it hurt her. That was her way of getting revenge."

"Oh, so she wants revenge, does she? How would she like it if I peed in her..her...." he suddenly trailed off in embarassment when he realized he'd been drawn into an argument about a kitten. Prince stifled a laugh behind him, so Pratchett shot him a sharp look before gently cuffing the back of his head. "OI!"

Edward sensed these two were probably childhood friends and used to bantering like this. To any outsiders, their exchanges sounded like an argument, but that impression was misleading.

"Can we be serious now?" Everyone looked curiously at Bond, Al throwing Ed a questioning glance, so his brother introduced them.

"Alphonse, I would like you to meet Colonel Ian Bond of MI7; Ian, this is my little brother, Major Alphonse Elric." Both Pratchett and Prince, who had been mock wrestling promptly stopped before standing up straight, first saluting Ian, and then Alphonse while both chorused "Sir! Yes, sir!"

Lilith didn't say a thing, she just used her expressive face to make her opinions known: amusement at Pratchett and Prince, impressed at Ian's rank, and surprised at Alphonse's.

It took Ian to cut through the clutter of general silliness. "Alphonse, you brother came mostly to see how you are." Al flashed Ed a warm smile at this news, "but partically to task you and your friends an important question." Caramel - colored brows rose in query. "What do you and your friends recall about a man who was on the gangplank when you fell into the river yesterday morning?"

"Sorry," Alphonse ruefully replied, "but I didn't really pay attention to him - until he hit me with that suitcase of his!"

Ian's eyes narrowed. "He hit you?"

"Oh, yes!, I can't say for sure if it was deliberate, but it definately hit me hard, here, it left a bruise!" Al pulled up his shirt with one hand, and pulled down the waistband of his sweatpants with the other, showing Ed and Ian a definate dark mark on his left hip.

"Here, Al!" Pratchett huffed, "there's a lady present!"

Lilith laughed at his concern. "Pratchett, I have three brothers at home, and they all run about in their unmentionables, so I'm hard to shock."

"Al, listen closely," Ian fixed him with a fierce stare, "would you know this man if you saw him again?" As if to speak, Al opened his mouth, thought for a moment, then snapped it shut again before his face fell.

"Sorry, Colonel Bond, but like I said, I didn't pay him much mind until his suitcase hit me, and then I was falling over the edge of the gangplank. He ended with an apologetic mumber. After that, everything was pretty much a blur."

Ed put a consoling hand on the shoulder of his crestfallen brother. "Al, what about the people who came with you? Might they remember him?

Al looked uncertainly over at Pratchett and Prince. "You two were right behind me, did you get a better look at him?" Both young men hung their heads, stuck their hands in their pockets, and shuffled their feet.

"Sorry, mate," Pratchett began "I was looking at your brother, you'd been talking so much about him (Edward's face felt hot - what had Al been telling them?) the only thing I noticed was how fast he dropped his things and jumped in after you."

Ian's grey/green eyes locked on Prince. "I looked at him longer, but he kept his head down and his eyes on the ground, like he didn't want to be noticed."

"I saw the bastard's face." Lilith had spoken up. Five pairs of male eyes (and one pair feline) swung around to look curiously at her. "There were plenty of people watching the drama in the river, so I kept my eyes on him. When he thought no one was paying attention to him, he looked up, then back towards the ferry, and smiled. Ian's eyes narrowed again, and Ed's face darkened.

"And then he said 'For what you've done to my family, I hope both of you drown, Amestrine!'"

Al and his friends all wore confused looks upon their faces, but Ed plain looked shocked. He'd heard that word before, a whole world away....


Author's note: A first clue to the identity of the killers of Edward's contacts, and those who attacked Ian. But, will Edward enlighten Bond as to why that word so affected him?

Author's note #2: OK, I give; Miss Chievous COULD be considered a "Mary Sue"; but I don't think she is because Al's love of cats is canon in both anime and manga.





IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well



Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, only the OCs I have created in the writing of this story, which I swear neither Edward nor Alphonse will fall in love with.

Warning: non-consenual drug use

Author's note: Just so you don't get confused, this is a flashback chapter to the two and half years (post movie) that Edward and Alphonse spent in the machine (our) world on The Affair of the Wayward Nuclear Bomb. What occurs then has some bearing on what is happening in New Britain; plus I wanted to add a plausible explanation on HOW the brothers got back home. I've estimated our world is seven years faster than the alchemic world, but I changed it to five years. So if it's 1917 in Amestris, it's 1922 in London. Please LMK if I have erred, and I can fix it. Edward is 19 and Alphonse is 13 in this chapter.

Chapter Fifteen: In which we go back long ago - and far, far away.

London, England, mid September,1922

After a long day of research in the London library, Edward often went to the Bull And Crown, a pub near to the small flat he and Alphonse rented, to unwind. Here he would relax with a glass of decent Reisling and indulge in his favorite spectator sport of "people watching". Near to the Wapping Docks, and neighborhoods of recent immigrants, the pub catered to an exotic mix of patrons: locals, visitors, and sailors on leave. Ever the curious type, Edward found he enjoyed experiencing the mix of skin colors, facial types, clothing styles, accents, and languages he encountered.

He was even getting used to "pub grub". The publican of the Bull and Crown served a tolerable shepherd's pie, which was tasty and filling, plus it had the added advantage of being very cheap. And this was it's main attraction to Ed, he could afford to order a whole one. Not that he ate the whole thing himself, Ed's portion was usually just a quarter of the size, as Alphonse tended to eat the rest. Now 13, his little brother was growing like a weed, and consequently, he was almost continually hungry. Usually for food, but also for knowledge in general, and knowledge about the machine world in particular. Which is why Edward had bowed to convention and enrolled Al in school.

Alphonse hadn't wanted to go to school, but the truant officer who saw him one day had insisted, and Ed had concurred. After a rough patch of perhaps a week, Al had settled into his new life and even made a few friends. But he complained every day about how boring it was; Ed could have transferred him to a more challenging school, but he couldn't afford it. Research, and tuturing weren't high paying occupations, and frankly, Edward felt the lower a profile they kept, the better. They'd escaped from the Nazis by the skins of their teeth, but Edward held onto the thought in the back of his mind the Thule Society wouldn't give up so easily. Now their father, Hohenheim of Light was dead, he and Al were their only key to Shambala. And they wanted their prisoners back quite badly.

So Ed sat in his booth at the pub, sipped his decent Reisling, and took in the sights and sounds of his corner of cosmopolitan London. Small groups of people sat nearby - either at other booths, or the tables scattered around the spacious pub. Ed let the hum of their conversations wash over him, he didn't really pay attention to what anyone said as he couldn't understand any languages other than English and German. Until one word swam out of the general hum and smacked him upside the head: "alchemy."

Ed cautiously slid one golden eye to his left: a group of four men, and one woman in a booth next to his corner sanctuary. He slid the eye back after a moment, until they said another word, one which caused him to jerk slightly in his seat: "Amestris." He looked back with the same eye, only to meet the blue orbs of the woman there. She was looking right at him, so Ed blushed and averted both of his eyes, and stared down at his table. She must think I'm flirting with her!

Now he could feel all of them looking at him, and he reddened even more. After only, perhaps 30 seconds, but it felt like an hour to Edward - they went back to their conversation. When they said "Shambala" soon after, he buried his face in his hands. When he heard "Hohenheim of Light", Ed grabbed his glass of Reisling and downed it in three quick gulps. As if on cue, the pub waitress brought him his food: the shepherd's pie, and she took his glass away for a refill. Pulling over the plate she'd brought right next to the pie, he cut a small sliver of the fragrant, steaming delight and carefully lifted it up, over, and down onto the plate.

Still too hot to eat, so he put the tines of the fork between his lips and smiled ruefully. The bit of gravy on them was delicious - and he'd just burned the tip of his tongue. The outer door opened, bringing in a burst of crisp fall air, which temporarily banished the fug of cigarettes and cigars, which hung like a blue fog in the pub. A book bag slammed onto the seat, next to his bag full of research notes, followed an instant later by a grinning Alphonse. "Brother!" he explaimed with delight, as if he hadn't seen him for a month. He looked down at the shepherd's pie, then up at Ed, and finally back to the pie. Al didn't need to spell it out: he was hungry.

Edward smiled paternally as he slid the plate and fork over to his starving little brother. "Thank you, brother." Al grinned again as he forked up a piece of pie, blew on it, then gobbled it down. The sliver was gone in an instant, so Ed cut him another piece - larger this time.

Right on time, the waitress brought him another glass of Reisling and she smiled fondly at Alphonse. "And what would your little brother like to drink?"

"Ginger beer, please." Ed shot her an apologetic look. "And another plate and fork if you please." The pie had cooled down to Ed's liking by the time the ginger beer and extra utensils arrived, and he managed to cut another small sliver for himself before Al scarfed the lot. Al drained half the glass of ginger beer in one gulp, "Thank you brother" he said again, wiping his mouth with the right sleeve of his school uniform.

Ed chided, "Al, where's your manners?!" Al had the grace to blush and duck his head. "What does the headmaster say about the state of your clothes?" Al didn't answer at first, he was finishing off the ginger beer.

"Most boys are worse than me!"

"Than I, Al, not me." Ed felt like a fussy old aunt at times, but he didn't begrudge Al his inherent "boyness." At least for a while, Al was able to be himself, which was a normal teenage boy. It kind of made up for those four years Al had just been a soul attached to a suit of armor, and largely unable to express himself.

Ed hadn't a normal teen life either - State Alchemist at 12, then he was fighting for his life in dangerous missions for the next 3 and a half years; then dead - and resurrected at 16, before being thrust into another desperate battle at 18. Now turned 19 about 6 months ago, he had been searching for a uranium bomb while stranded - probably forever - in an alien world without alchemy. The worse part was, they'd been getting close to finding it's location when forced to suspend the search after the Thule Society came after, and briefly captured them. They had escaped and fled across Europe to relative safety in London, but he was sure that damn bomb was probably somewhere on the continent of Europe. And the Society was sniffing around like bloodhounds for their trail.

Other than that niggling worry, Al seemed fairly happy, so Edward had to be content with that. He was fulfilling his promise to their mother, taking care of Al and protecting him. Stil - he missed home terribly; he missed the friends he'd made; he missed Winry and Granny Pinako; he even missed that bastard Mustang. Thinking of Winry brought a lump to his throat, he'd never gotten to say 'goodbye' to her, and only now did he realize he loved her....

"Brother! Are you listening?" Al looked at him, bright-eyed, but with slight 'worry furrows' appearing on his forehead. While Edward took care of Al's physical needs for food and shelter, Al, in his turn, saw it as his job to take care of Ed's needs for emotional food and shelter. He tried to keep his big brother from sinking too deeply into meloncholy, and Al knew the signs: the faraway look in those golden eyes, the blank expression, the lips pressed hard together. Brother is trying to take the weight of two worlds on his shoulders. So Edward shook off his mental funk and tried to pay attention to Al's cheerful prattling about school: his teachers, the subject he studied, his friends, the pranks they pulled....

Ed looked at his watch as Al wound down, the golden half hour was almost up, the after school ritual nearly over. When Edward was researching at the library, he got done early enough for Al to join him at the pub, 'fuel up' on whatever food Ed had ordered, then run home to change into his everyday clothes before heading out to play an impromptu game of 'footie' with his friends until it got dark. By then, Edward would be home and preparing supper, usually something simple, like eggs and chips, or chops and potatoes. After supper, Ed would read the morning paper which he didn't have time to do until evening, while Al did his homework. Al would help him wash up the supper dishes, after which he would read whatever work of fiction caught his fancy, usually those 'Boy's Own Adventure' stories.

If Edward read, it was science fiction - which he thought was funny, and stories about alternate worlds were downright hilarious. But more often he had sewing to do - darning socks, or the fraying cuffs of his shirts, but most often letting out and re-hemming Al's clothes. Both would turn in early. After breakfast the next morning, Al was off to school, while Edward went to the employment agency to troll for work. He usually ended up with a piece of research to do for someone too busy - or too lazy to do it himself; less often he got a job tutoring someone's dunderheaded offspring. Occasionally, he would get work translating documents from German to English, or vice versa. That tended to pay the best, so Ed hoped to get more translation work soon. Al was outgrowing his clothes - fast, too fast for Ed's flying sewing needle to keep up.

He could get away with re-hemming the uniform for another year, but Al badly needed new shoes, and some new shirts. Decent clothes were expensive, and Ed tried to find the best quality he could afford at the used clothing stores he haunted - better made clothes lasted longer. Edward was growing too - not as fast as Al, but fast enough, and his shoes were beginning to pinch his toes.

Al jumped to his feet and grabbed his book bag, ready to go, and Ed automatically handed him the bag he used to haul research materials around in. "Be sure you change before going out to play, I need to let down the hems on your unform again. Do you have a clean shirt for school tomorrow?"

"Yes, mother!" Al rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. Some of Al's classmates came from affluent families, and a few kids even tried poking fun at Al for his second hand clothing, and domesticated brother. Al was resiliant, and could take care of himself, but Edward keenly felt the bite of poverty. He'd never worried about money before, especially not as a young child - he had plenty of clothes, and there was always enough to eat. Once he psssed the alchemy exam, he drew a generous research grant to pay for travel expenses, food, lodging, clothes and automail repair (or rebuilding). During his first time in the mahcine world, money had been tight in Germany, but everyone had been poor back then, he and Hohenheim lived frugally and somehow, they'd gotten by.

England was doing all right, but London was expensive to live in. Between rent, utilities, license fees for the radio, food, and clothing, it was a wonder Edward was able to save any money each month. He couldn't afford health insurance, so each morning Ed fervently wished neither would get hurt, or seriously ill. If work was sparse, Ed would give up half his portion at dinner so Al would have enough to eat. As a result, for the last few days of each month, Edward was often hungry enough to eat his own left arm.

Now Al chimed "Bye, brother, see you later!" in a bright voice as he raced out the door. He would stop at the flat to dump the books (usually right by the door where Edward could trip on them) and (hopefully) change into his every day clothes before going back out. Sighing, Ed reached down into a hidden pocket in his coat and drew out a small notebook, and a stub of pencil. This served as his combination date book/household ledger/shopping list, in which he kept track of all his upcoming jobs, daily, and monthly expenses. Edward had set a strict budget for each month, and if he could keep within that budget, then they would have a bit left over for something 'fun' - usually an afternoon at the cinema.


Now he thumbed the pages to his jobs for the week. Tomorrow, he would start tutoring the youngest son of a viscount, the boy (ironically, the same age as Edward) needed to cram for his university exams. He'd failed twice before and the disgusted father wasn't going to throw money away again. So he went to the agency and chose a poor church mouse of a tutor like Edward, because they would charge only a pittance compared to a more reputable firm. Edward idly chewed his lower lip, he just hoped the wretched man paid his bill - and on time too. If the agency didn't get paid, he didn't get paid either. Rent would be coming due soon, and they would shortly need another delivery of coal. Maybe there would be enough left to buy some cheap cuts of meat, two growing boys needed protein.

Ed could use the protein too, because he was still growing, but he didn't know how long the spurt would last. He accepted the fact he wouldn't make 6 feet, but he'd just topped 5' 8", and the sleeves of his shirts barely reached his wrists. Every inch helped, but he was occasionally called 'shorty' yet. He, Edward Elric, who used to blow up in an eruption worthy of Krakatoa when his height was impugned now could barely summon a twinge of annoyance.

Paging back to the household ledger, he added 'metal leg plate' to the 'upcoming expenses' page. Due to the growth spurt, his right leg was once again longer than his left and he was starting to limp. In the next few days, he would need to visit a blacksmith and have a new plate made, to extend the automail leg. Fortunately, he found one who would do the work without asking too many questions, plus his price would be reasonable. He could borrow a screwdriver and wrench from his landlady, and Al would help him with removing the leg, adding the plate, then re-attaching the limb. They could do it Sunday morning, when his nervous system would have all day to get over the shock.

More flipping of the pages brought him to his work history - and it was getting impressively long. Each successfully completed project raised his profile at the agency, and improved his chances of finding yet more work. Edward was thorough and diligent in whatever he did, and he kept his temper in check, no matter the provocation. As a result, he was considered 'aimiable' and 'easy to work with.' It had it's unintended consequences; because he showed no interest in women, some of his female employers had attempted to flirt with the handsome young blond, but had gotten absolutely nowhere. Which strangely made him even more appealing to those who liked a challenge. The ignorant had labeled him 'queer', but those who knew him better noticed he had shown absolutely no interest in men either.

What the pub regulars saw was a young man who worked hard to provide a good home for his little brother, who occasionally bantered with them, but was mostly quiet and reserved, and never complained about his lot in life. "A good doer, if a bit odd" they said, and accepted him unconditionally, eccentricities and all.

On the surface, Edward was totally indifferent to sex - and romance.

The only time he'd shown even a passing intrest in 'the fair sex' had been back in Germany when he briefly 'walked out' with a pretty seamstress. But only so she would teach him how to sew. After some lessons in hemming and darning, she eventually realized Edward wanted only friendship, for he would never offer marriage. She dumped him first, which came as a relief to both of them.

So far, Ed had done very well at keeping his secrets. He closed the notebook and put it and the pencil away in the hidden pocket, then picked up the glass of Reisling and idly sipped it. The woman from the adjoining booth got up and walked slowly past him, a bit of her perfume wafting over. Ed sniffed appreciatively, it was a delicate floral scent, lightly applied. So the effect was subtle, rather than overpowering. Edward smiled to himself in approval, but the woman misinterpreted the gesture and smiled back. She was petite and very pretty, with black hair cut in a fashionable bob, and blue eyes, her dark blue dress was of simple lines, but well made.

"Excuse me?" Ed jerked his head to the left. "Do you have the time?" One of the four men in the booth next to him was addressing Edward. He was soft spoken and well dressed, his black hair was neatly combed, and his eyes were the same shade of blue. A brother to that woman?

"Um." Edward looked at his watch. "It's 4.28" The stranger nodded and smiled, said "Thank you", and turned back to his companions. The distraction had been neatly done. Edward had never noticed the woman turn back to him, flip open the top of a silver ring she wore and tip a miniscule amount of white powder into the glass of Reisling. For his part, Edward felt disturbed by the exchange he'd just had with the man, and he couldn't figure out why. Picking up his glass, he absent - mindedly swirled the wine around in the glass before tipping it back and taking a mouthful. He held it for a moment in his mouth before swallowing, upon noticing the faintest of aftertastes, he didn't think much of it, and assumed must be close to the bottom of the barrel.

He looked at his watch again, 4.30, time to head for home. Ed usually stayed until 5 PM , but he needed to visit the shops - some dark blue thread, and a packet of buttons from the milliner's, the butcher's for marked down cuts of unsold meat, and lastly the greengrocer's, to look for almost-too-ripe fruit which could be had for free, or almost free. They closed at 5, so he had better get moving now. He tipped the glass again and drained the last swallow. Ed was about to set it back down when he noticed a faint white residue on it's inside. Strange. Then he mentally shrugged. Must be dregs.

Ed dug into his pants pocket and extracted the correct amount of coins to pay his bill, plus a few extra coppers for a tip. For some odd reason, he was feeling rather cheerful - giddy, even. He stood up quickly - and sat right back down again when a sudden wave of vertigo washed over him. Am I drunk? he thought a bit muzzily. Can't be, off only two glasses of wine. He tried to stand up again, but more slowly this time; he still felt dizzy, but not as bad as before. Edward started to walk - cautiously - towards the outer door, maybe some of the crisp fall air would revive him. He never got there.

After only a few strides, he stumbled hard into another man. "Dreadfully sorry, pardon me, please." he gasped. The floor seemed to be moving up and down under his feet, his vision had begun to blur, and his head felt like it was stuffed with buzzing bees. Two pairs of hands roughly grabbed him by the arms just as he began to pitch forward.

"It's all right lad, we'll help you get 'ome!" a voice belonging to one of the pair assured. From far away, he distantly heard the publican's voice asking in concern, "Edward? Are you all right?" Edward tried to tell him he didn't feel at all well, but his tongue seemed to have stopped working and what he intended to say came out as gibberish. Oh great! Now I sound drunk!

This distressed Edward greatly, and too late, he remembered the white residue in the wineglass. The thought bubble I've been slipped a 'mickey'! would have crossed his brain, but he suddenly blacked out before it could register.
____________________________________________________________

Author's note: I apologize if I sound meandering here, this chapter could probably be better. It had been worse, but I proof read it twice and did some "tweaking"; but I always worry it still doesn't flow well enough.



IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


"I shall not mourn others do not recognize me, but I shall mourn if I do not recognize others" - Xingian proverb



Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just any OCs I've created in the writing of this story.

Warnings: mild violence, and use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Summary: After Joseph Carpenter admits his true motive for attacking Edward, and Lilith recounts what happened at the ferry dock, Edward recalls an incident which occurred while he and Alphonse were stranded in the machine (our) world. Going by the basis of 5:1 - machine:alchemic world, it's only 1917 in Amestris, but 1922 in England.

Chapter Sixteen: In which Edward falls prey to womanly charms.



Edward came to and found himself out on the sidewalk, still held tightly in the grip of his mysterious companions. He drew in great gulps of the chill air, but it didn't make his head any clearer. His knees were trembling like there were about to buckle, and he blacked out again soon after a dark colored car purred to the curb. When Edward woke up a second time, he was being half carried, half dragged down a dim hallway, his shoes dragging on a thin carpet. The walls spun around him, so he groaned, and closed his eyes again, but this time he stayed conscious. The voice had told him it would help him get home, but he didn't recognize the hallway. It also smelled wrong, of dust and disuse, not the cabbage one of his neighbors cooked nearly every night.

They stopped abruptly, and Edward heard a rapping sound, like someone was knocking on wood. Footsteps sounded from the other side, and he heard hinges squeaking, then another voice, higher pitched than the first spoke. "You have him?" Another voice grumbled something inaudible "Oh, good work!" continued the voice. "Lay him on the bed, I have the needle ready." Edward was hauled another few feet before he was set down on a soft surface, where hands roughly tugged his coat off, followed by his shoes, and finally his white gloves. One pair of hands grabbed his feet, lifting them up and to his left, while another pair pulled and lifted his shoulders first to his right, and then back.

Edward sighed with relief at finally laying prone, the mattress was a little lumpy, but the bed was otherwise comfortable. When he opened his eyes - cautiously at first - the walls were no longer spinning around him. Someone was holding his left wrist while unbuttoning the cuff of his shirt, and pushing the sleeve up past the elbow. His eyes still wouldn't focus properly and he saw a fuzzy figure whose head was bent over his arm, rubbing something cold and wet over the tender skin inside the elbow. Edward tried to speak, to ask the figure what it thought it was doing, but his tongue was still offline, and he spouted only gibberish.

"It's all right, this won't hurt a bit" soothed the voice; and something about it screamed "doctor!" to his muddled brain. Edward winced when he felt a sharp pinch, and as the figure leaned back, his vision began to clear into sharper focus. He saw a tall, thin man with a receding hairline, a large, high-bridged nose, a somewhat small chin, and blue eyes. Like the woman, like the man who'd spoken to him in the pub. As the Balding Man (the label just sprang into Ed's mind) sat further back, he saw the empty syringe in his hand, and he also saw two other people, the man and woman with the matching eyes, standing at the foot of the bed and staring at him. What drug did you give me? Edward wanted to ask the question aloud, but a heavy weight had suddenly settled on his mind. His vision darkened, and the three people seemed to recede into the distance.

He looked to his right, he could sense someone was standing there, but Ed couldn't see him. More heavy weights had pulled his eyelids closed, and in the distance, he heard the Balding Man ask "What is your name?" And to his horror, Edward heard himself reply: "My - name? My - my name - is - Edward - Edward Elric." That was the last thing he clearly remembered.

the next day:

The loud noises of traffic in the street below woke Edward up. Bright sunlight pouring onto his closed eyelids told him it was daytime. What time is it? Just as the thought crossed his mind, a bell tolled so loudly he literally jumped an inch off the bed. Ed recognized the tone as that of Big Ben. So he was close to the Houses of Parliament. After it's opening carillion, the bell tolled ten more times. Ten o'clock in the morning. How long had he been asleep? Edward felt lethargic, his internal rhythms were all messed up by the drug he'd been injected with. Then he remembered, and he said it aloud: "I've told them my real name!" He put his hand over his mouth in horror. His memory was hazy, but the voice of the Balding Man had asked him many questions, and he'd answered all of them. It had been an awful feeling, like his conscious mind was trapped behind an invisible wall, powerless to stop his mouth from moving, forming words, and telling all.

Ed tried to open his eyes, but they felt glued shut. He moved his flesh hand up and cautiously felt around, and his probing fingers found a crust of 'sleep' had welded the lids closed. Then he tried to swallow, but his mouth, tongue, and throat felt like they were coated with cotton. He tried to swallow again, but not only was his throat constricted, his dry moutn was unable to summon up any saliva.

Peh.

He stopped trying and just lay still. Now that his mind was working agian, a preposterous thought had just popped up. No, it was silly, like something out of those juvenile adventure stories Al read. But it was the truth:

I've been kidnapped.

But why? It couldn't be for ransom, he had barely any money, the employment agency wasn't rich, and it wasn't like any of the wealthy families whose sons he tutored would pay a hefty ransom for him. Getting them to pay up just so he could pay his rent was enough of a struggle. When his captors came back, maybe they could enlighten him. In the meantime, he would rest and try to regain his strength. But after a few minutes, a new urge made itself known. His bladder was fulll to aching, and unless he really wanted to piss his pants, he needed to find a lavatory.

Rubbing at his eyes with his left hand, he was able to flake off enough of the crust to first crack, then open them. BIG mistake! The headache which had been lurking in ambush felt like a red-hot icepick jabbed between his eyes. Great. Just great. Now he was completely miserable. Groaning, he closed his eyes again and waited for the pain to abate. When it finally did, he opened his eyes just a crack and quickly scanned the room before shutting them again. Two doors in the wall to his right. One led to the hall outside, and he fervently hoped the other didn't lead to a closet.

Carefully, very carefully, Ed sat up on the bed, no vertigo, that was good. He pivoted, and put his feet on the side of the bed. Still nothing. Then Ed slid forwards and placed his socked feet on the floor. He dared to open his eyes again, just long enough to note the door's location, and his route to it. Ed stood up, and moved one foot forwards - his knees promptly buckled and he fell to the floor with a crash. "OW!" Fine. He would crawl then. After a few feet, he bumped up against a door, and cracked his eyes open a third time to be sure he had the right one.

He reached up and grabbed the knob, it turned with a squeak, and he swung it open. The space inside was small, barely large enough for a toilet and a sink. Ed nearly cried with relief; hauling himself up by the door molding, he stumbled to the sink and twisted the 'cold' tap. The pipes juddered before a spurt of reddish water shot out. They shook some more, then out came a stream of cold, clear water. Ed cupped his hands under it before he scrubbed gently at his eyes. He splashed more water over his face and neck, before filling his cupped hands again. Sucking water into his mouth, he swished it around, savoring the feel of the water washing away the cottony coating that glued down his tongue.

He spat it out into the sink, then gathered some more water into his hands before drinking it thirstily, then he slurped for a few more minutes until his outraged bladder screamed HEY! What about ME! Ed turned off the tap and looked for a towel. There was none, so he wiped his mouth with his right shirt sleeve, then he pulled his shirttails out, using them to dry off his face and hands. That done, he lifted the toilet lid and looked in; there was water in the bowl, but the wooden seat was old and cracked, probably full of splinters. Fortunately, Ed didn't need it in that way. A few minutes of blissful relief later, he closed the lid and pulled the chain. There wasn't any soap either, so he sluiced his hands in the sink, and re-dried them on his shirt. He tucked it back into his pants before zipping them up, but he didn't re-button his waistcoat. Edward sat down on the toilet lid, elbows resting on his legs, and gripped his bangs in his hands. He had to think. Now that he'd washed up, he felt better, and even the headache was just a dull throb between his eyes. So Edward began entertaining thoughts of escape.

Ed first investigated the lavatory. No way out there, so he came back out into the room and went over to the window. Counting the ground floor, he was five stories up, but there wasn't a handy ledge underneath the window, nor even a downspout he could climb down. And he was too high up to jump. What if he opened the window and yelled "FIRE!"? Edward grabbed the sash and grunted with the effort, but it was no go, the window was painted shut. He then tried hammering on the glass with his metal fist, but it just bounced back harmlessly. Tough glass!

Next, he explored all the walls of the room - nothing. He knocked on the walls hopefully, but they all sounded solid. No secret passageways. Ed lifted all the rugs on the floor and looked underneath, but no trapdoors. Lastly, he tried the door leading out into the hall. Locked. It opened inwards, so ramming it with his shoulder was out of the question. So he tried tugging hard, hoping the knob would come off. No luck. Finally defeated, Ed sprawled on the bed and laced his fingers behind his head. Hmph. They'd even taken off his hair tie, it lay on a rickety bedside table next to his gloves, a couple blond strands caught in it. He put his brain to thinking of other scenarios.

If he was quick, he could possibly push them out the way when the door opened, and run for it. The woman, and The Balding Man could be overpowered, but the other two men, the one who'd distracted him in the pub, and the man he had sensed, but never saw were unknown qualities. After another hour of so of running possible scenarios in his head, Edward began to doze off, and he eventually began to dream - of home,of Risembool, of a certain blonde mechanic he was quite fond of.

He was lying on a wool blanket, Edward could feel the itchy fibers on his arms, on a green hill overlooking the Rain River. Idly riffling the grass with his right, flesh hand [now he was sure he was dreaming], Edward watched the river lazily meandering it's way past him. After a while of this, he felt someone kneeling on the blanket behind him, then a soft hand touched his shoulder, and a familiar voiced breathed his name. "Winry." he murmured quietly. When Ed rolled over to his left, she was there, smiling down at him. He said her name again, "Winry." It was the most beautiful name in the world, sounding almost musical when he said it aloud. Edward reached for Winry and took her into his arms, he was about to kiss her when she took the initiative and kissed him first.

She moaned when he kissed back, a sweet "mmm" sound, so Ed answered her with an orgasmic growl from deep in his own throat. Spurred on by his response, Winry reached up buried her fingers in his hair, messing up his braid, not that Edward minded. Now he could feel her tongue against his teeth, shyly requesting entry. Why not? he thought and opened up, before reciprocating the gesture with his tongue. She tightened her grip on his hair and deepened the kiss, and Edward responded by sinking his fingers into her hair. He loved Winry's hair - it was long and silky - he ran his fingers down through it, and it was - short?

Ed woke up and realized he was still kissing - someone. He opened his eyes and found himself nose to nose with the woman he'd seen in the pub, who had stood at the foot of the bed while he was being drugged against his will. Edward was kissing one of his kidnappers. Ugh! He blushed, withdrew his tongue, and stopped kissing her back, then put his hands on her shoulders, preparing to push her away. She broke the kiss with a loud 'smack', opened her eyes, and looked at him with something like confusion in those blue orbs.

"Please!" she whined. "Please kiss me!" Ed shook his head and pushed her away roughly, before scooting back on the bed. He wiped his mouth on the right sleeve of his shirt and looked at her with disgust tinged with horror at what he'd done.

"Please!" she held out her hands to him, pleading. "Please love me! I'm so lonely, I miss my sweetheart, and you look like him, please!"

This made Edward narrow his gold eyes and look at her suspiciously. This is getting really - creepy. "I - look like - him?"

"Yes!" she cried, scrabbling at the neck of her dress, green today. Edward backed up a little more, was she going to start taking her clothes off? Instead, she pulled up a silver locket on a chain, opened it, and showed him the pictures inside. One picture was of her, the other of a man who looked eerily familiar. His hair was cropped very short, but he could see enough to see it - and a goatee - were caramel-colored. Gold eyes stared back in a familiar challenge, Ed had seen that same look whenever he looked in a mirror. The man's face was very thin, with high cheekbones, but otherwise, it was like looking at his father, Hohenheim. Another half-brother. Damn you old man, where else did you spread your seed?

Now the woman was crying, great round tears spilling from her eyes. "We'd only been married a few months, I thought he was the most brilliant alchemist in Drachma, and he- he wanted to open a portal to the world beyond the Gate. He wanted to reach the alchemists here, to share knowledge and wisdom with them." Ed held up one hand to stop her.

"Wait, did you say DRACHMA??!"

"Yes, Drachma! He was a State Alchemist, charged with finding a way to invade Amestris, so he did this work in secret. But the goverment found out - they always find out; I was terrified the triumvirate would order his execution...." She paused for breath, and gulped back tears.

"Instead, they told him to send a team to this world, to find a unique weapon which would help Drachma destroy Amestris. To ensure his cooperation, they made him send me, his bride. I was joined by my brother, and my uncle. To mind us, the triumvirate added one of their 'enforcers'."

Ed could only stare at her in wonder. "Are you aware I'm an Amestrisan?" She answered with a dumbfounded stare of her own. "No, no! I didn't know that until the truth serum forced it out of you, but - I don't care if you are the enemy. All I know is, when I saw you yesterday, I saw my sweetheart, my Rudolfus. You are also a son of Hohenheim, even if your hair is a different color, you have his eyes, and your face is the same shape."

She continued with her story. "The dimensional transfer worked, and Rudolfus successfully opened a transdimensional gate and sent us through." The woman hung her head, tears dripping onto the bed cover. "Then everything went wrong. We couldn't find any alchemists here, nor the unique weapon the trimvirate assured us was here. They lied to us. We know some alchemy, but it doesn't seem to work here. Without a way home, we are trapped." She put her hands over her face and the tears came faster, her shoulders shaking hard in time with her sobs.

I'm too softhearted, that's my problem. Now Edward felt guilty for pushing her away. "I'm sorry, but you deserve to know the truth - there is no way back. My brother and I were stranded here too. There used to be a physical portal back, but we destroyed it."

She gaped at Edward for a moment before lunging forward and pounding her small fists on his chest while crying. "Why? Why would you do such a thing? Stupid Amestrisan!" She shot him a look of pure hatred after Ed grabbed her by the wrists.

"Call me what you want, but it was to protect our world from this one. A group called the Thule Society invaded Central a year ago, and they caused much death and destruction. I destroyed the portal because slamming the door was the only way to keep the alchemic world safe. Now we are here to track down a nuclear bomb made in our world and sent here. Once we find it, we will destroy it to protect this world also."

Tears were still rolling down her cheeks, but at least she'd stopped trying to hit him. "And once you do this, you will go back to your world?"

"No." Ed sighed with exasperation at this woman. "Alchemy never advanced beyond a primitive level here, so without a way to open a portal, we will never find our way home. My brother and I are just as trapped as - "

Just then, a key scraped in the door's lock. The woman leaped up and stood at the foot of the bed, her head bowed, and her hands folded - a submissive posture. The door began to open and Edward braced himself. Here was his chance! Now it swung wider to reveal two men - the brother, and The Balding Man. "Tola!, whatever -?"

Her brother didn't get the chance to finish as Edward launched himself off the bed, and barrelled into him, knocking him back and to his left, straight into the uncle. Pivoting on his right heel, Ed made a sharp right turn and hurtled dowsn the hall at top speed, his socked feet pounding on the thin carpet. Up ahead was a T-shaped intersection, with an elevator just beyond. Calling the elevator would take too long, his captors would have time to recover from their surprise. Right, or left? To his left was the 'enforcer', a veritable wall of a man with iron grey hair and a broad, impassive face, and dead black eyes. That must have been the man Edward had sensed standing by the bed.

The man grinned, opened his arms, and reached for Ed. Right it was. Edward took off like a shot down the longer hallway. At it's far end, he could see a lighted sign announcing 'stairs', and he made straight for it. Thudding footsteps behind told him two people were in hot pursuit. Ed hit the door at a dead run, and shoved it open before plunging down the steps, taking two at a time. He still wasn't fast enough, Tola's brother caught up at the second landing, and there occurred a short, but fierce fight.

He swung a fist at Ed, but he ducked the blow before coming up with a palm heel strike to the other man's jaw which sent him reeling backwards. Ed spun around and continued his mad flight down two more landings where the other man grabbed his hair. Ed elbowed the brother - hard, in the ribs; the dark haired man let go, cursing, then he swung again. But Ed wasn't there. He'd gone down on one knee, sweeping the other leg in a circle to send his erstwhile kidnapper sprawling. The larger man had caught up by then, and he reached for Edward again, but tripped over his companion and went down with a loud thud.

Edward wasn't going to wait around for them to get up; and whirling, he raced down the last flight of steps. He didn't pay attention to the deep shadows behind the staircase, he only saw the lighted sign which read "Ground floor." With escape the only thing on his mind, he reached out to pull the door open. He was halfway out when a hand grabbed hold of his hair, and slammed his forehead very hard into the metal door jamb. Edward's world exploded in a shower of sparks and pain before he lost consciousness.


Author's note: Out of the frying pan, and into - another frying pan. Tola has answered a lot of Edward's questions about who his kidnappers are, but not exactly why they dosed him with 'truth serum'. It all seems to be wrapped up with his father, and the chilly relationship between Amestris and Drachma.

IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, which is the property of the wickedly talented Hiromu Arakawa, to whom this dishonorable amateur bows in respect. I only own the OCs who I have invented for the purposes of this story.

Author's note: Just so you know, this is a flashback episode, which will go a bit towards explaining events in the alchemic world. Only 1917 in the alchemic world, but 1922 in the machine (our) world

Summary: Edward flashes back to the roughly two and a half years he and Alphonse spent wandering in Europe in their search for the Wayward Nuclear Bomb. In particular, his and Alphonse's tenuous existence in London as they struggled to get by while hiding (from the Thule Society) under assumed names. Edward has been kidnapped by a myserious gang who take him to an unknown location and dose him with 'truth serum'. After a disturbing episode with one of his captors, Edward makes a bold bid for freedom.

Chapter Seventeen: In which Edward makes another break.


Edward came to just as he was dragged back through the same stairwell door he'd bolted through a few minutes ago. The Balding Man was waiting for them at the junction of the two corridors.

"Ah, you've caught him, good work!" he nodded in approval as he said it, and a strong desire to punch him surged in Edward's chest. He held a large black zippered case in one hand, and Edward could guess what it contained.

Digging in his heels, he began struggling, pulling back, twisting left and right, trying to wrench his arms free. But his captors had him in too strong of a grip - one was the 'enforcer', the other a brown-haired man he didn't recognize. Brown hair, brown eyes, sallow-face, totally unremarkable, nine out of ten people wouldn't have noticed him in a crowd, but Ed suddenly remembered. FOUR men sat at that booth in the pub; this man must have been waiting in the shadows of the stairwell - in ambush.

Ed continued to struggle, even if his effots were in vain, he had to keep trying. But far too soon, they were back in his prison, where he was roughly thrown on to the bed. Edward bolted right back up, but the 'enforcer' grabbed him by his shoulders and forced him back into a prone position. Then he reinforced his hold by ramming his right knee right onto Ed's midsection, knocking all the wind out of the teen with a loud "Oof!"

Struggling for breath, Edward could only take in shallow gasps for air. He heard the sound of a zipper being pulled open and looked over to see The Balding Man open the black case and lay it on the bed near to his left side, while the brown-haired man pulled Edward's sleeve up past the elbow. The Balding Man extracted a small bottle of clear liquid, and a square of cotton from the case, the latter of which he handed to the now christianed Brown Haired Man, after first soaking it with the contents of the bottle.

"No!" Ed protested loudly, he'd gotten his second wind and he began twisting his arm back and forth, trying to pull it out of their grip. The liquid was alchohol, which the Brown Haired Man was swabbing on the tender skin inside Ed's elbow.

"Hold his arm still, Cavanaugh," muttered the Balding Man while he fitted the needle of a syringe through the rubber neck of another, slightly larger bottle. It squeaked as it went in, and Edward stared, feeling like a bird hypnotized by a poisonous snake, he couldn't seem to look away as what seemed to be an extraordinarily large dose of the drug was drawn into the syringe.

"Isn't that a bit much?" asked Cavanaugh, who was still swabbing Ed's arm.

"Hmmm? No, it's actually a cc less than yesterday. Now there is nothing in his system to interact, the smaller dose will actually be more effective." The Balding Man withdrew the needle with another squeak, and set the bottle down before pushing the plunger, making a small amount spurt out of the needle's end. "Now, Conner, Cavanaugh - both of you, hold him still!" He took a crushing grip on Ed's wrist, and Cavanaugh dug his fingers into Ed's upper arm, while Conner bore down on his shoulders.

Something cold and sharp was set against the vein in the crook of his elbow, before it slid into the tender skin.

"NO! DAMMIT! NO!!" Edward kicked out hard, trying to hit The Balding Man, jog his arm, maybe make him drop the syringe, but it was no good.

"Stop that!" he barked at Edward "struggling will only cause you unnecessary pain."

Now he pushed the plunger, and Ed yelled "No!" again, he winced and clenched his teeth, and continued to thrash and kick against his restraints.

"There, now " soothed The Balding Man, but Edward didn't feel particularly soothed. "It's all over, very soon you will start to feel a bit sleepy." To Conner and Cavanaugh he ordered "Let him go." Edward could almost feel the drug racing through his system, warring with the adrenaline which also was also surging through his veins.

He gripped the bed sheet tightly, his entire body on alert. "Why are you doing this to me?" he ground out.

"First of all, there is your resemblence to Rudolfus, which we considered quite startling; secondly there was your reaction to our code words at the pub. One too many coincidences made us suspicious, which is why we decided to subdue you."

No longer held down, Ed levered himself up on his elbows and he gave the Balding Man the most venemous glare he could muster. "Subdue?! Is that what drugging someone against their will is called nowadays?!"

"And lastly," calmly continued The Balding Man, as if he'd never been interrupted, "under the effects of the truth serum, you told us you aren't who your identity card claimed you were, and in a few minutes, you will tell us more." The now familar weight settled on Ed's mind and he dropped his shoulders back onto the bed, gritting his teeth so hard he was surprised they didn't break. "Don't try to fight the serum, it is quite impossible, resistance is futile. Today, you will tell us what we need to know." The calm voice was maddening, but Edward's teeth and hands unclenched as his vision again darkened, and his captors receded into that darkness.

Despite his best efforts to stay awake, Edward's eyes slid closed and his breathing steadied. A voice reached his ears as if from far away, and it was asking him a question: "What is your name?"
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The Balding Man finished questioning the drugged blonde two hours later. "The effects are wearing off, but I think we've learned all we can from him." Conner looked dubious, but then he always looked that way. "Should we shackle the Amestrine [he used the archaic Drachman term for their long-term enemy] to the bed?"

"That won't be necessary Conner, he will sleep deeply until morning. In the meantime," he slipped two items from his pocket: Edward's identity card, and a small key. "This card says he lives at Number 12 Court Street, flat number 8; and here is the key." He handed it to Conner.

"Cavanaugh, go with him and collect Elric's brother."
_____________________________________________________________________________

Morning sunlight, and the tolling of Big Ben woke Edward. He counted the rings - seven o'clock a.m. Then he swallowed experimentally - no cotton-like coating in his mouth, now Ed's eyelids fluttered open - no crust gluing the lids shut, no headache. Those must have been aftereffects of the 'mickey' Brianne had slipped into his wine. It had happened less than 24 hours ago, but it felt like a lifetime to Ed. He cautiously sat up in the bed, and he felt a little dizzy, but not enough to make him lie down again.

Ed rubbed at his eyes before dropping his hands back into his lap - and he suddenly winced. There was a dark mark on his left wrist, so Ed pulled back the undone cuff of his shirt, and he was horrified to find a large bruise there. Roughly the size of The Balding Man's hand. Edward pivoted the hand to see the bruises on the inner side of his wrist were perfectly finger shaped. He pulled the sleeve up past his elbow - there were two tiny, round needle tracks set next to each other in the crook of the elbow; and four small bruises just above the elbow.

Ed's shoulders also felt a little sore, and if he were to look in the lavatory mirror, he was certain there would be a bruise on each shoulder from the force of Conner's hands pushing him down. Just thinking of yesterday, and the fear and desperation he'd felt made his stomach clench; he would vomit if there was anything in his stomach to throw up.

I have to get out of here!

After sliding off the bed, Edward investigated his prison all over again: but the door remained stubbornly locked, the walls and floors stubbornly solid. He went to the window again, his only escape lay this way. Morning rush hour was still going on, and if he could somehow smash the glass and call for help, someone would hear him and summon the police.

But if the police got involved, there would go his and Al's carefully built facade. Like police in his world, the Greater London Police were naturally suspicious, Edward would have to come up with a highly plausible story to fool them. And if they managed to catch one of his kidnappers, and that person talked, and the press got involved: the Thule Society would be certain to get wind of it. If the authorities got involved, it would be a cascading series of diastrous events. He was dammed if he did, and damned if he didn't.

He tapped on the glass, testing it's strength. He would have to use a lot of force to break it. His metal arm would do the job nicely, but would it make enough noise for the people in the street below to hear? He needed to make a bigger racket, so Ed's eyes scanned the room. The bed was far too big, there were no chairs, now he remembered The Balding Man had sat on the edge of the bed to do his dirty work. The bedside table it had to be. Ed walked over and reached out a hand, and pushed on it. It was old and wiggly, but it would have to do.

If glass fell back into the room, he would need to protect his feet. Where were his shoes? After Ed kneeled down and searched, he found them set just underneath the bed. His coat was folded on top of the table, after putting on and tying the shoes, Ed donned his coat, it would also protect him from flying glass. He found his gloves balled up and stuffed into the pockets, and he put them on too. Finally, he grabbed up the hair tie and stuck it between his teeth before he reached back and roughly scraped his now dirty hair into a ponytail, and secured it.

Edward hefted the table, it was heavier than he expected, which was good. Must be made of oak, and just gone rickety with age.

After carrying the table closer to the window, Ed briefly set it down and closed his eyes. He took a few deep, cleansing breaths, and composed his jittery nerves. Then he picked up the table again, set his feet, and pushed off, hard from the floor, his plan was to hit the window at a dead run....

Edward had taken maybe three steps, three and a half when he was roughly grabbed from behind, one hand seizing hold of his hair, the other grabbing the neck of his coat. The hands yanked back - hard.

Both Edward and the table fell to the floor with a crash, the wind knocked out of the blonde, and his vision blurred by the shock. The hands let go of his hair and his coat before grabbbing his arms and yanking them painfully behind his back. Ed's vision cleared and he saw Cavanaugh smiling at him. "You've been a bad boy, Eddie," he said as he took a firm hold of Ed's hair with his left hand, and with his right hand, put a damp rag over the teen's nose and mouth.

The rag had come down just as Edward took a breath - the smell was sweet, and he instantly felt a little muzzy. Chloroform. Edward began to struggle, but it was too late, after only a couple of breaths, his eyes fluttered closed....

"OI! What the bloody 'ell do you think you're doing?"

The grips of both Conner and Cavanaugh loosened, and the chloroformed rag fell away, enabling Edward to take a deep breath. His vision and mind quickly cleared. Ed saw a small man in rough workman's clothing standing in the doorway. He looked quite cross. He also looked small enough for Conner to snap in two. The same thought must have crossed Conner's mind, for the large man abruptly let go of Edward's arms, then stood up before walking slowly towards the stranger. The workman's facial expression changed from anger to concern, then apprehension, and finally, downright fear.

"Stay back you! I'm warning ya, I'll shout for the police if you take one more step!"

Edward filled his lungs and screamed, "He'll kill you before then, shut up and run, you fool! RUN!" The workman took a few stumbling steps backwards, before tripping over the hall carpet and falling down. Ed had to do something, and fast. Cavanaugh's attention was on the drama going on in the hallway, and he was grinning evilly as the workman screamed in terror,

"Mother of Gawd, somebody 'elp me!"

Edward would have to be that somebody. After scooting backwards a few feet, he solidly planted his hands and his right foot before lashing out and kicking Cavanaugh, as hard as he could, in the face. The brown haired man grunted in surprise at the sharp crack of a shoe clad metal foot meeting bone, his head flew back, then just as suddenly snapped back down. One hand came up to massage his jaw, then Cavanaugh's eyes narrowed and glared in rage at Edward - before they suddenly rolled back in their sockets, and the big man flopped backwards with a thud.

Edward couldn't believe his luck - he'd hit Cavanaugh just right. Just then, a loud, wordless scream of mortal terror sounded from the hallway. After scrambling to his feet, Edward dashed headlong through the open doorway. Conner had the workman in a headlock, his right hand about covered the man's face, his left hand was on his shoulder, holding the body still.

He's going to break his neck!

Only one thing to do. Bending his left knee, and going down on his hands, Edward swung his right leg in a right - to - left arc as hard and fast as he could. Conner wasn't prepared for the move, and he went down backwards, then landed with a thundering crash which shook the walls.

The 'enforcer's' head connected so hard with the floor, it raised up a small plume of dust, but Ed heard the loud crack and saw Conner's head bounce up and down twice from the contact. The workman had gone down with Conner, and he lay there, moaning, and tossing his head (his cloth cap had fallen off) back and forth. Ed crawled up and lightly slapped the man on his cheeks "Hey, you! Wake up! C'mon, we've got to get out of here!"

The workman's eyes snapped open, they rolled around in fear before settling on Edward. Then they narrowed before he spoke. "Oy, you! This building is condemed, no tramps allowed!"

"I'm not a tramp!" Ed snarled, "I'm a - ..." His voice trailed off when he suddenly heard shuffling noises come from inside the room. "Forget that, I'll tell you later, let's be gone before these two wake up!" He hauled the workman to his feet and tried to pull him down the hallway, but the man resisted.

"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me 'oo you are!"

Footsteps came from the room and Ed turned to see Cavanaugh standing there and glaring while a trickle of blood came from his lower lip. "You've been a bad boy, Eddie, a very bad boy." he rasped.

Edward gritted his teeth, he hated to be called "Eddie".

And now I'm going to be even badder!

He set his feet, then charged at Cavanaugh, a feral growl of rage coming from his throat. The surprise wiped the grin off Cavanaugh's face, and he had the grace to look rather shocked when Edward's right shoe made violent contact with his chest and sent him flying backwards. A sickening crack! followed the contact of Cavanaugh's head with the door jamb, and the man slid bonelessly to the floor.

Edward stood over him, panting. Cavanaugh had gone down too fast, and Edward felt cheated, somehow. He'd wanted more of a fight with the man - then Conner groaned, and Edward froze. As much as he hated Cavanaugh, Edward both hated and feared Conner. He backed up quickly, and turned back to the workman, whose face constricted in terror becaused Edward was still growling.

"Stay back, you! Stay back!" Edward ignored him and kept walking.

"These bastards kidnapped and drugged me," Edward jerked his head in their direction "and now I'm escaping. You can do what you like, but I'm getting out of here!" Conner moaned loudly, and Edward took to his heels, the workman just in front of him. When the man stopped at the elevator and pressed the call button, Edward snapped "Forget that! It takes too long!" He turned to his right and pelted down the hallway to the stairs, he could hear someone running behind him, but Edward didn't look to see who it was.

Down the stairs he went, two at a time. Only once did he look up, but the footsteps behind him belonged to the workman, and Edward relaxed for a moment. When he got to the last flight of steps, he slowed slightly, and looked suspiciously into the shadows, but no one was hiding there this time. He yanked the "Lobby" door open with rather more force than he needed to and raced out onto the ground floor of the building. But he'd taken only one step towards the front entrance doors when the workman called out "They're locked from the outside!"

When Edward glared back, the man blanched, but jerked his thumb towards another set of doors.

"We're comin' in the back to do our work, I just came early to unlock and clear out any tramps squattin' 'ere." So, that explained why Conner and Cavanaugh had also come early, it was to secure their prisoner and move him. With a mumbled "thank you", Edward raced past the startled workman and to the back door. He ran down a short corridor, and there was the door, chocked open. He bolted through it, and out into the fresh air and sunlight. Edward was finally free.
_____________________________________________________________________

A large, dark-colored car, it's trunk, and right rear door open, idled in the small courtyard behind the building, and Edward saw a scuffle going on next to it. Two figures were struggling, a young woman and a boy. The woman was Tola, and she was fighting to hang on to the boy, who was fighting just as hard to get loose from her grasp.

"Let me go!" the male cried and just as he said it, he turned his head and their eyes met. It was Alphonse.

"BROTHER!" he yelled, and with one hard jerk, yanked his arm out of Tolas's hands.

She just stood there for a moment, with a look of shock on her beautiful face, before crying out "Mathun! The Amestrine has escaped!" Edward was shocked too.

Who is Mathun?

He got his answer a heartbeat after that when strong arms, like steel bands suddenly wrapped around him, and a familiar voice whispered in his ear "Why are you in such a hurry? Stay with us awhile." The voice belonged to Tolas's brother, the man who had distracted him in the pub while she slipped a tranquilizing drug into his wine.

A growl began deep in Edward's throat.

"Let go of me!" he snarled.

The black haired man chuckled in his ear, then called out "Hurry up, Mathun! This one is still very spirited!" To Edward's horror, a pair of legs slid into view out the open back door of the car, followed by the rest of The Balding Man.

So that is Mathun.

He was smiling - Edward didn't know at who - but frankly, Mathun's smile made his skin crawl. In Mathun's right hand was a filled hypodermic needle, the needle tipped up, and a clear lliquid dripping off it's tip. In his left, was a small piece of cotton, probably soaked with alchohol. "Tola, why aren't you holding on to that boy?"

The thought flashed through Edward's mind:

That needle is meant for Alphonse!

He started struggling in earnest, and at the same time he yelled "ALPHONSE! RUN!" But Alphonse froze, his brother was in danger, and he didn't want to leave him.

Mathun's smile slipped just for an instant. "Where are Conner and Cavanaugh, Edward. What did you do to them?"

"I killed the bastards!" spat Edward, he was seething with rage and fear because he couldn't seem to shift the Black Haired man's grip. Mathun laughed and the sound turned Edward's blood to ice.

"I don't believe you, but no matter, both are quite hard to kill. In the meantime, there is enough sedative here to calm both of you down. Ryos, can you pull his left sleeve up a bit? Ah, here comes Conner, he will give you a hand."

Edward's whole body trembled and images raced through his head: Alphonse in the grip of these bastards, Alphonse thrown onto a bed and held down, Alphonse injected with truth serum and forced to tell all....

Something deep inside Edward went snap!

A loud and incoherent scream of rage burst from his lips, and Edward went, well, slightly insane. As hard as he could, he stomped on the toes of Ryos's right foot, and viciously kicked his left shin. The man grunted, and loosened his hold. Pivoting slightly, Edward rammed his left elbow into his captor's ribs, making him grunt again - and let go. Edward grabbed both of Ryos's hands, rammed him with his left hip, hunched forwards, then pulled forwards and down.

Edward's angry yell blended with the surprised one of Ryos as he flew over the blonde's head - straight into Mathun - who went down with a startled cry, the needle flying one way, the cotton the other. Edward spun around to face Conner, who was coming at him with both arms spread out, ready to grab and pin. Edward backed up, and he felt something move under his right foot, and he stumbled slightly before looking down. It was that damn needle.

Conner's hand brushed Edward's left shoulder, and he quickly ducked, and scooped up the syringe with his right hand.

No time to be graceful.

Edward looked up in time to ram the needle into Conner's left palm. The man roared in dismay, as Edward gave the plunger a little push. Conner then backhanded him with enough force to send him flying backwards, and make his ears ring.

The 'enforcer' fell to his knees before pulling the needle out of his palm, and then crushing it in his enormous fist. Big mistake on his part, which Conner realized too late. He had enough time to utter one profanity before his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell, face-first, with a loud crash.
Edward stared in abject surprise - he had beaten Conner - he felt like performing a little victory dance right there. But now wasn't the time, Ryos was getting back up, he was helping Mathun to his feet, before turning an angry blue-eyed glare over at Edward.

Another yell drew his attention back to the door, Cavanaugh was coming out, and he was making straight for Edward, his face red with rage.

What do I have to do to keep that bastard down? was Edward's wild thought. But now someone was tugging at his right arm, and he looked up to see the anxious and tear-stained face of Alphonse.

"Brother! Are you all right?!"

Edward nodded his assent and scrambled to his feet. "Al, can you run?" Alphonse nodded, his eyes wide with fear. "Then let's get out of here!" As one, they turned and fled up the alley, away from their kidnappers.






IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, but I do own any OCs I 've created for this story. Which I swear Edward and Alphonse will never fall in love with! I just like to play around in it's world for awhile.

Summary: After Edward recalls a painful moment from his and Al's time in the machine world, he sees a connection between the murders of his contacts, the ferry incident, and the attacks on Colonel Bond. He badly wants to be honest and tell Ian about this, but Alphonse has issues about opening old wounds and he won't hear of it.

Warning: Descriptions of dead bodies, a bit of bad language.

Chapter Nineteen: In which Edward and Ian speak of many things: of secrets and lasers, of empires and forensics. My longest chapter yet could also be called "C.S.I. - Londonium, part one."


At the Sciences building, Edward followed Alphonse out of the car the moment the doors opened. Putting a hand on his little brother's shoulder, Ed bent his head slightly and whispered urgently, softer this time, so not even Ian could hear. Both looked back at Bond, then at each other before walking several paces away to the shade of a small patch of trees and continuing their disagreement. Ian could see it wasn't going well: Edward had his hands up as he made subtle gestures, but he was slightly turned away from the car, so Ian couldn't read his lips.

But despite him shaking his head alot, he could read Alphonse's. He was speaking essentially the same words over and over: No brother, no! I can't do it, it hurts too much to even think about, don't tell him, please!

A bell rang from the Sciences building, then Alphonse turned and looked anxiously at the clock affixed above the main door, in the distance, he could hear Pratchett calling "You're going to be late, Alphonse!"

Brother, I've got to go to class!

Edward looked up finally, and now Ian could read his lips Please think about it, we'll talk more later.

Alphonse shook his head again. I won't change my mind, brother, even if there are connections, just thinking about what happened to you, to me, makes me sick.

Ian saw when Edward finally threw in the towel, his head and shoulders drooped, and his whole body slumped in defeat. His lips moved one final time All right, Al, you win. I will keep this secret for now. Have a good day in class.

Alphonse had been moving away from Edward, but now he hesitated, then after stealing another glance at the clock, he ran back to Edward and hugged him. Thank you, brother. Edward hugged Alphonse back, and gave him a warm smile while platonically ruffling his hair; then the brotherly moment was over. Alphonse turned back again and ran to class, his bookbag bouncing off his right hip with every stride.
________________________________________________________________________

Edward was his usual silent self in the car, brooding out the window with his chin cupped in his right hand. Ian had to watch traffic, but his mind was racing with the questions he wanted to ask, because the curiosity was driving him crazy. If he hadn't been driving, he'd have been shaking Elric like a rag doll, and demanding he talk. But Edward didn't utter a syllable until they got to Bond's office, and then they were there just long enough to pick up six buff expanding folders.

Because their final destination was Edward's lodgings. On the way there, Ian explained his logic: "If we stay in my office, we're sure to be interrupted by every government flunky with every frivolous bit of whatever fluff and nonsense these paper pushers can invent to waste my time."

"And you think they won't find you at my apartment?" Edward was dubious Ian wouldn't be found, he knew how persistant government functionaries could be.

"I know they won't, Edward. Which is perfect because we've got a lot on our plates."

Edward's lodgings were dark and silent, but also spotlessly clean, smelling faiintly of bleach, and beeswax. After they pulled off their shoes by the front door, the pair went into the dining room where they proceeded to cover the surface of the gleaming, waxed table with papers. The first folder Ian opened contained a transcript of Button's interview with Carpenter, plus preliminary reports on his accomplices: Whale and Coat.

The transcript he gave to Edward to read, and Ian just watched the emotions march across the blonde's face: disgust, bewilderment, amusement, annoyance, and finally outright astonishment. "Where the hell do these crazy people come from?!" He threw the transcript down with enough force to ruffle the pages of the other reports. "I really wish Button hadn't mentioned Al, I have a bad feeling Carpenter might try to go after him."

"You are quite fond of your little brother." Bond said it as a simple statement of fact. The Elric brothers had a very tight bond.

"Al's the only family I have, and we've been through a lot to gether, what with our weird childhood and all. Now Amestris is at peace, I want the rest of his teen years to be as normal as possible." Edward paused as his face quirked in a toothy grin. "As if anyone can remember what 'normal' means."

"You said your childhood was weird?" Ian's childhood had been utterly normal, he mostly remembered being bored out of his mind, except when devouring spy novels, which he read surreptitiously with the aid of a torch under his bedcovers.

"Hmmm," Edward seemed to be considering the implications of what he was going to say "mostly because of our father. His name was Hohenheim - Hohenheim Elric. He was also known as Hohenheim of Light, and he was quite a powerful alchemist."

"You must have been very proud to be known as his son."

"Um," now Edward looked very pained, "actually, I hated the bastard's guts."

It was Ian's turn to look astonished. "Eh? Whatever for?"

"He abandoned us. I was very young, no more than 4 years old. Al was just starting to toddle, so he barely remembers him. Our mother lasted only a few more years before she died, and I've always blamed him for her death."

Ian felt a bit embarassed for coaxing Elric to talk about his parents, so he didn't say anything for a few awkward moments. Until Edward took up the conversational slack.

"There was some sort of sickness going around the village when she died, and everyone thought that was the cause. But, you know what? I really think she actually died of a broken heart."

Ian still said nothing, but he was filled with an intense sadness for Edward. Both of Ian's parents were still alive, and happily married to each other. Plus, he had two brothers, and three sisters as well. And this strange young man had only his brother to serve has his family. He knew life was rarely fair, but this seemed especially cruel.

"I didn't see the bastard for over ten years, and you want to know what I did when he finally showed his face in Risembool again?"

"Surprise me."

"I raced across the room and I slugged him - with my automail hand."

"Did you feel better after?"

"Yeah," Edward smiled that toothy grin again, "I did. For a while. But now I regret lashing out at him the way I did. When circumstances threw us together again, and forced me to depend on him, we came to an understanding, of a sort. He explained a lot of things to me - about why he left - but I think he would have told me a lot more if I hadn't been so hostile."

Edward suddenly seemed intensely interested in the state of his cuticles for an awkward period of perhaps 90 seconds before he spoke again. "O.K., Ian, I've told you a little bit, now it's your turn."

Ian drew breath, as if to speak. He would start with his parents, Arthur and Emma. They were his origins, after all.

"Tell me about - Meso-America."

Ian snapped his mouth shut again. That was quite an abrupt about face.

"I don't know much about it, Ian, other than what school textbooks said when I was a kid. Meso-America was referred to as a huge country ruled by a bloodthirsty race called the Incas. And one fine day, Fuhrer Bradley would the brave Armed Forces of Amestris into the country to liberate it."

"Good heavens! What sort of textbooks did you have?"

Edward grinned again, ruefully this time. "Apparently, really f*****-up ones. I can tell by the look on your face they were rather, um - inaccurate."

"How ever did you survive your upbringing?"

"I never gave up, and never gave in." came the grim reply. "Now, tell me the real story."

"The real story of Meso-America is really quite simple, the southern half of the continent was ruled by the Inca Empire, and about 500 years ago, they clashed with the Alhambran Empire, who had a foothold in the northern half. The Alhambrans had horses, guns, and cannons - modern weapons for the time against the Inca's spears and arrows."

Ian paused briefly to make sure he still had Edward's attention. The last thing he wanted to do was be pretentiously boring like Pratchett had been.

"But the Incas had one important advanage - their main god, Quetzelcoatl, was quite real. And he gave the Incas a super-weapon = a sort of gun which shot a bean of highly concentrated light. During a furious, deciding battle on the Plains of Kokopelli, nearly the entire Alhambran Army was reduced to a smoking hole in the ground, in the space of only a few hours."

"Concentrated light, huh? Sounds like a sort of alchemy to me. Have you even seen this weapon?"

"No, not personally, but scientists from the Londonium Institute of Technology got to inspect it a few years ago. The Incans kindly demonstrated it - quite impressive. The Incan name for it translated as Lightning Bolt From the Eyes of the Mighty God Quetlcoatl, but the L.I.T. scientists simply christined it a laser."

"Laser?" Edward was stubborn, and he still considered this a form of alchemy, and not technology.

"No. L.A.S.E.R. - it stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The Incas used it to destroy the Alhambran presence and conquer most of the northern half of the continent. Only the far north escaped their grasp, too cold for their liking."

Edward mentally filed this information away for later reference, before he asked his next question:

"What is the connection between the Incas, Meso-America, and Christianity?"

"There's not a lot of solid fact, so I'll start with the myth. The legend says a charismatic preacher named Jesus crossed the Gate from a parallel Earth just over 1,000 years ago, and he converted much of our world to this religion named for him before he disappeared. Some day he went to heaven, while others say he returned to the world beyond the Gate. Unfortunately for Jesus, he didn't have very able disciples and Christianity died out in many countries."

"And the fact?"

"His early followers claimed Jesus worked many miracles in his time here: healing the sick, turning grass into bread, and leaves into fish, and even raising the dead (here Edward thought of Father Cornello, the phony priest he and Al had exposed in Lior). Except for that last one, Jesus sounds like an alchemist."

Edward nodded in agreement. "When Al and I trained with a woman named Izumi Curtis, she used to tell us stories about an alternate world beyond the Gate, about alchemists in that world crossing over to share knowledge with the alchemists here. But she swore up and down they were just stories."

"Well, that is the myth. The facts are the early Christians in Meso-America lived quite amiably with the native tribes, and then the Incas, but about 100 years ago, a new sect - Church of the One Holy Light - arose. This one is rather more aggressive, and it's stated it's intention of overthrowing the ruling family and replacing it with a strict Holy Book-based theocracy. Roughly 25 years ago, they began sending small groups of what they called Pioneers to several countries, including New Britain. These groups started to cause trouble almost immediately."

"What kind of trouble?" At the back of Edward's mind niggled this thought - with Amestris's borders now open, would this sect send missionaries? Missionaries who would eventually clash with the Ishbalans?

"It usually consists of harassing alchemists with petty vandalism, hate mail, obscene phone calls, criminal trespass, killing pets, that sort of thing. They seem to have it in for alchemy, which they equate with witchcraft; and yes, they are harassing the witches and wizards of New Britain too."

"These characters we encountered today - Carpenter, Whale, and Coat - all have extensive rap sheets, and what is most troubling is the second generation of troublemakers, who were born here, such as Joseph Coat. They seem to be willing to go further, and have escalated to outright violence - assault, rape, burglary, arson, kidnapping...."

"Kidnapping!?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Just before you came here, we cracked a sensational case of the kidnapping of a young woman from an alchemic family. They held her for ten days in an underground room, where they tried to 'deprogram' her. But all they succeeded in doing was very nearly driving the poor girl insane! These people were in way over their heads, but they refused to admit it. Instead, they decided the 'demons' had too secure a hold on her, and when we moved in, they were in the process of preparing to burn her at the stake. Oh, they tried to call it a 'May Pole', but it's September - plus they were piling cords of wood around it."

Edward felt a chill pass through him, If he hadn't been quick enough this morning, he could have ended up a prisoner somewhere in a dark underground room. The conviction grew he needed to put Alphonse on his guard.

"The really ironic part of this is, this sect is actually going against the teachings of this Jesus fellow. One of his main tenets was to show love, tolerance, and compassions towards others, even if they hate you."

Edward grunted in agreement. "Sometimes, it's convenient to ignore things which get in one's way." This was reminding him far too much of the Scar incident, and he knew Ian was planning to ask more questions about it. He had to act fast to nip this conversation in the bud. Reaching out his metal right hand (Bond had seen his prosthetics last night, so Edward felt comfortable removing his gloves), he tapped the remaining pile of expanding folders.

"I take it these folders concern my murdered contacts?"

He was trying to distract Ian - and Ian knew it. For the time being, he let Edward have his way. He'd found patience was really a virtue, and eventually, Edward would tell him the whole backstory, despite Alphonse's opposition.

Edward held the same hand out, palm upward, and fingers curving slightly. "Let's have them then."

Ian hesitated. "Edward, these folders contain some rather grisly photos - crime scene, and autopsy; and graphic reports - they might sicken you."

Edward answered by repeating his gimme hand motion. "I've got an iron stomach, so I think I can stand the sight of a little blood."

Ian sighed and pulled the top folder off the pile before pushing it over towards Edward. The name: F.F. Machus was written on the flap in bold, black letters.

Edward pulled off the elastic holding the folder shut and pulled out a handful of papers underneath a stack of glossy color photographs. The top photo was of Machus in life: a long-faced, balding man in his 50s, with grey eyes and luxurious, but greying mutton-chop whiskers. Quite a good looking fellow Edward thought, Machus's thick whiskers balanced the shape of his face nicely.

The next photo made him blanch. It was a crime scene photo of Machus hanging at the end of a bell rope, that face was swollen to twice it's normal width, and dark purple in color. The nearly black tongue stuck out the left side of his mouth, and the eye presented to the camera was thankfully closed.

But the third photo, that was worse - much worse. It was a close up of Machus on a morgue slab, and now the purple of his face looked two-toned - a blotch on his left cheek seemed to be much darker,and his tongue was so black, it looked like it had been burnt. The left eye was still closed, but the right was partially open, as if he was winking. Edward noticed odd red spots on the white scelera of the eye, so he showed the photo to Ian. "What is that?"

"Read the autopsy report, Edward." Ian had seen the photos and read the reports, he neither needed, nor wanted to see them again.

Edward riffled through the papers and found the forensic, and autopsy reports. After scanning the first one, he read a line "the use of luminescence indicated the presence of blood spatter on the walls of, and a rug on the floor of the sacristy."

"Luminescence is a sprayable liquid which binds to blood and shows it up under ultraviolet light, even under a layer of paint."

Edward couldn't help but gape in astonishment. "I feel like a caveman who has just discovered fire." He went back to reading for a moment before pausing again. "And I'm a terrible host too. Can I get you something to drink?"

"You keep reading, Edward. It's too early for liquor, so I'll just investigate your fridge, if you don't mind."

While Ian did that - Edward could hear the clinking of glassware, and he hoped Ian didn't make a mess. He had a niggling suspicious Mrs. Ravensworth wouldn't approve. Once finished with the forensics report, he picked up the autopsy report and started reading.

As Ian came back with a pitcher of red juice and 2 glasses, Edward read a line to him, "...further examination found the presence of deep tissue damage to the left side of the face, roughly equidistant between the nose and the ear."

He accepted the filled glass Ian handing to him with a muttered 'Thanks' while he moved on to a paragaraph about the state of Machus's eyes. "Piticial hemorrhaging was discovered in the scelera of both eyes." "What does that word mean?"

Ian took a sip from his glass Mmm, strawberry juice. "Um, this sort of hemorrhaging happens when small blood vessels in the eye rupture as the result of strangulation."

"You mean, the act of hanging didn't break his neck?"

"Read to the end of the report."

Edward did so, and once he was done, he flipped all the pages back to the front page of the report, then he folded his hands over them and was silent for a long time thereafter. And I thought Comstock's death was cruel! Machus had been stunned with a hard blow to the left side of his face - probably with a punch from a closed fist. Then a noose made from one of the bell ropes had been placed around his neck, and he'd been hoisted up into the belfry and left to slowly strangle to death.

He picked up the reports, and the photos (which included more crime scene shots from every angle), before shoving them back into the folder and replacing the elastic band. Without another word, Ian gave him the next one. This one had 'Remigius Youngbeck' written in the same black, block letters on the flap. As with the Machus folder, Edward found a candid shot on the top of the pile. Youngbeck was clearly a member of what was referred to as 'The Quality', an aristocratic-looking man in his 40s, with a few grey hairs in thick black hair, his brown eyes were hooded, and even though he was staring straight into the camera, he had an air of looking down his nose at the viewer.

There was a slight quirk to his lips, and Edward had the feeling, despite his record of non-participation in Parliament, Youngbeck has - HAD a lively sense of humor. The next shot was from his death scene. The same face, but slack and grayish, the eyes cast downwards, but opened fully, yet flat and dull as compared to the previous photograph. Remigius looked rather astonished, like he'd had a moment to look at his fatal wound before he died. Other than a trickle of blood coming from a corner of that now-slack mouth, he looked more alive than Machus had.

The third photo showed Youngbeck's torso, with a large, bloody hole just under the breastbone. Now Edward really did feel rather sick. The size and location of the fatal wound was almost exactly the same as the one he had suffered at the hands - er, hand - of Envy. He looked over at the kitchen where a wall calendar hung. September 26, and Edward also felt cold inside. He'd 'died' six years ago to the day.

"Edward? You look ill, are you all right?" Ian hadn't missed the sudden paleness and the expression of dismay on his young colleague's face. Edward started suddenly when Ian's fingers touched his hand, and he gave the spymaster a guilty look before recovering.

"Ummmm... someone very dear to me was killed - no, murdered on this very date." Ian Bond solved cases by reading the faces and emotions of people, and he instantly knew Edward wasn't telling him the whole truth. He was skating close to the edge, but shying away from something - something painful.

Edward quickly flipped to the next photo before he lost his compoure altogether, and this one was of the ornamental sculture. Immediately, Edward knew something was wrong with this picture. The sculpture was in the shape of a styalized globe, made from bent wrought iron, and surmounted by an arrow sticking from it's top. Youngbeck's body was still in place, impaled halfway down the arrow's length. A policeman holding a yardstick was also in the photo, standing next to the globe for size comparison. Edward grabbed the sheaf of reports, shuffling through them until he found the crime scene report. He began reading, occasionally looking from it to the photo.

The globe stood on a low plinth, connected by an iron shaft running from it to the globe's base. The globe stood 8 feet above the ground, and the arrow added another 4 feet. This made the tip of the arrow 12 feet above the ground, and unless Youngbeck's horse had catapulted him that high, it was impossible for him to have been impaled upon that arrow. Edward fished out the forensic report. Hoof prints and marks of torn grass indicated Youngeck's horse had been cantering on a trajectory which would have taken him to the right of the globe. Something had spooked the horse which caused it to bolt to the left prior to reaching the globe.

The bolt had been so sudden, Youngbeck had been flung to the ground at the foot of the plinth. Edward looked at the autopsy photo, Youngbeck's face had scrapes and bruises on it, which hadn't shown up until a few hours after death. Now Edward read the autopsy report. The cause of death was obvious, but something confused him. "Ian, it says here a 'subdural hematoma' was found in the back quadrant of the skull', what is that?"

"It's a depressive injury to the skull which causes bleeding between the dura - the membrane protecting the brain from friction with the skull - and the brain itself."

"That doesn't make sense, Ian! If the impaling was the cause of death, how did he get those facial bruises and a subdural hematoma at the back of his skull?"

"It sounds like you are working on a theory, Edward."

"Yeah! I have a theory! I think someone spooked Youngbeck's horse badly enough to make him fall. He was probably an expert horseman, correct?" Ian nodded, Youngbeck had been on the back of one equine or another since before he could walk. "So, it would have to have been something which took him totally by surprise - unless he had 'help' in getting unseated. Youngbeck was most likely stunned by the force of the fall, which accounts for the scrapes and bruise on his face. The question is, was he struck on the back of the head before or after the fall?"

"This wasn't some tragic accident, Ian, Youngbeck was murdered - and as cruelly as Machus and Comstock were. The expression on his face tells me he regained conscousness for a brief time after he was stuck. Someone wanted him to know he was going to die."

Edward then narrowed his golden eyes and he looked suspiciously at Ian. "You came to the same conclusion already, didn't you?"

"Yes, Edward, I did. But the police have already closed the case and labled it 'death by misadventure'. I tried telling them they were mistaken, but they didn't want to listen to me, and I don't have the authority to interfere in Londonium Police investigations."

"You couldn't throw your weight around?"

Ian hissed through his teeth. "Intrude on their patch? No, thanks. The police are very territorial sorts, and they don't like us government types stepping on their toes."

It was occuring to Edward how much simpler things were in Amestris. If Mustang had ever wanted to to stick his nose into any police investigation, even one run by the notoriously territorial Central Police, he would. And woe to anyone who got into the Colonel's way, only the toughest dared go toe-to-toe with Roy Mustang. A temperamental teenager from Risembool was one of the few people who did - and lived to tell the tale.

He sighed and pulled over the third folder. In the familiar, bold black lettering was 'Dorothy Woolfe'. The standard candid shot was on top, and Edward's mind stopped in it's tracks. She was a mature woman in her late 30s - perhaps early 40s. Her hair - her caramel colored hair was cut in a fashionable bob; and her eyes - her wide, golden eyes stared back in challenge to the camera. Edward felt hot and cold at the same time; the shape of her face was very familiar, he saw it every time he looked in a mirror.

Damn you old man!
__________________________________________________________________________________

Author's note: Hope you have strong stomachs, it gets worse in part two!
IttyBittyPretty
Um, sorry. Sorry for probably confusing the heck out of you. It occured to me - in the middle of the night - 'natch - that I forgot to upload chapter 18. Here it is:

And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well



Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just the OCs I've created during the writing of this story. I just like to play around in it's world for awhile.

Summar: After Edward fights off a mysterious man attempts who is attempting to kidnap him, he and Ian foil the escape attempt of his accomplices. While Carpenter is being interviewed by Button, Ed and Ian go to visit Alphonse at his college lodgings.. The chance repeating of a certain word causes Ed to delve into his memories of the time he and Al really were kidnapped while they were stranded in the machine world. Part one of the flashback is over, and we return to the present day in Londonium.


Chapter Eighteen: In which a return trip is made


Ian noticed Edward's surprised look, but he mentally filed that information away for later. "Lilith, can you describe him?" A small line appeared between her perfectly arched brows - Lilith's indication of hard thought.

"Only medium height, 5 feet, 5 inches, portruding blue eyes, thin lips, a rather pasty complexion, narrow nose, and a weak chin."

Ian smiled warmly at Lilith. "That is very thorough, Miss - ?"

"Lancaster, Lilith Lancaster, Colonel Bond."

Ian was astonished, flabbergasted, gobsmacked even; should he bow, pull his forelock, drop to his knees and put his forehead on the floor? This girl was no ordinary coed, for she was the Queen's granddaughter, the Princess Lilith of the House of Lancaster, 8th in line to the throne of New Britain.

Those delicately arched browns drew together in a glare. "Don't you DARE bow, Colonel Bond! I don't want to be treated any differently from other students."

Ian couldn't believe what he was hearing. The Secret Service, of which MI7 was just a small arm, was in charge of protecting the Royal family. Lilith could read his mind.

"The agent in charge of 'minding' me is floating about outside somewhere, but I'm quite safe here with all these young men to protect me. So please don't call her on the carpet!"

How could Bond resist the pleading in those big, brown eyes? He reddened and stepped back, disguising a murmured "Yes, your majesty" as a cough. Both Pratchett and Prince were back to grinning like maniacs, but the Elric brothers looked utterly mystified. Only Miss Chievous acted like she knew the truth all along.

"Besides, being born a princess is nothing to compared to a 16 year old boy already being a major in his country's armed forces." Lilith smiled upon Alphonse and it was his turn to blush.

"Um, actually, Pr - " she shot him a dangerous look, so Alphonse gulped and fought back the sudden urge to hide behind his brother before continuing. "Anyone who passes the alchemy exam and attains the State Alchemist license is automatically commissioned to the rank of Major."

"Now, Brother here," he patted Edward's right arm, "passed the exam at the age of 12, the youngest in the history of Amestris.!"

Edward flushed crimson and looked down at the floor, all the eyes on him made him wish it would magically open and swallow him up. His days as an attention-seeking teen hothead were long over.

"Really, Alphonse?" Lilith turned to Edward and practically sparkled at him. "That's quite an impressive accomplishment, Colonel Elric!" Edward's already flushed face turned an even darker shade of red.

"Well, you see, um - our mother had died when we were very young, and then there was an accident, see - and er, I lost my right arm and part of my left leg." He paused and thought hard about what to say next. "So, erm - our father had disapppeared, and as the older brother, it was my job to take care of Alphonse. We'd been studying the alchemy books our father had, and we'd heard of the Philosopher's Stone, which enables the user to bypass all the laws of alchemy."

Edward had been speaking while still staring at the floor. Now he looked up and met the eyes of Lilith, who was looking at him with frank curiosity. It made him extremely uncomfortable.

"Er, - but only State Alchemists are allowed to access the Central Library, where rare books on alchemy are kept. So, I traveled to Central to take the alchemy exam - aanndddd - I passed. End of story." Edward put his hands behind his back and stared up at the ceiling, wishing everyone would just stop staring at him. When he looked back down, it was to catch Ian's clinical gaze dissecting him. "Um, Ian, don't we have a morgue to visit?"

"Yes, Edward," his reply was dry "we do have a morgue to visit." Edward's cheeks had finally returned to their normal pale hue, but now two spots of color appeared in them. Shit! He doesn't believe me!

"A morgue!!??" chorused Alphonse, Pratchett, and Prince "what's this man have to do with a morgue?!"

"A morgue?" echoed Lilith.

"Well, - erm - " Edward stuttered "there's a body in the Central Londonium Morgue we think is him, but we need someone to make a positive identification."

"How did he die?" Lilith looked suspiciously at Edward as she said it.

"I shot him." Ian looked and sounded almost apologetic for what he'd done. The threee younger males looked back and forth from Ian to Lilith, like spectators at a tennis match.

"Why did you shoot him?"

"He was attacking me."

"Is that why you are all banged up?"

"Yes."

"He must have hit you quite hard."

"Yes, well, he had a set of brass knuckles - and a partner."

"Did you shoot him too?"

"Yes, but I only winged him."

"Horrid little man! I hope he's suffering." Lilith patted Ian's arm as if to comfort him. "Take me to this morgue." He bowed his head and murmured something.

"Ah!" she held up one beautifully manicured finger. "What did I tell you, Colonel?"
_____________________________________________________________________________

Ten minutes later, Prince's little Humber-mobile, followed by Ian's Morris Major 6 nosed it's way out of the labyrinth which was the campus of Highgate University. Prince drove, with Pratchett seated next to him, and Alphonse wedged into the backseat. Edward and Ian were in the front of his car, with the Princess Lilith in solitary splendor in back. Somewhere behind, the agent assigned to guard Lilith was shadowing them - they would never see her unless danger threatened.

Edward didn't know if either Lilith or his brother were wearing their seat belts, but considering the way certain people drove.... He needn't have worried overmuch about his little brother. Alphonse was a veteran passenger of Prince's car. As they whizzed through Londonium traffic (late morning traffic was said to be light, but Alphonse couldn't see any difference between it and rush hour traffic), both Prince and Pratchett were razzing him about the state of his hair.

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's getting a bit 'scruffy', mate" Prince interjected over his shoulder, only one eye on the massive HGV which seemed to be making for a head-on collision with the little car.

"It's not 'scruffy'!" Alphonse protested "I just want a change from short hair!"

Back in Ian's car, the spymaster frowned at the speeding and swerving Humber-mobile. "Doesn't that boy keep his eyes on the road!?" A brooding Edward replied before Lilith could.

"Um, in a word? No."

Lilith giggled before leaning forward and slapping Edward's shoulder. "Here now! Prince always keeps at least one eye on the road! The other is too busy looking for pretty girls on the sidewalk."
______________________________________________________________________

Back at the Central Londonium Morgue, Edward didn't accompany Lilith to the autopsy room. Instead, he sat in a waiting area near the reception desk with Prince and Alphonse. Ian escorted Lilith through the swinging wooden doors, accompanied by Pratchett who insisted on going along as 'protection'.

"Protection from what?!" demanded a cranky Prince.

"Well, you know, a morgue attendant could have gone mad down there - you know they could are breathing formaldehyde fumes all day - and what if he goes after Lilith with a bone saw, or something?!" He reddened when Alphonse laughed at him.

"She's got Colonel Bond to protect her, Pratchett, and he's probably armed."

"Yeah, well," Pratchett huffed in annoyance "what if he gets knocked out, who's going to protect her!?" Alphonse gave up trying to reason with Pratchett. His roommate was quite keen on Lilith and he didn't want to miss up any chance to show up Prince - who was also keen on Lilith - around her. What was it about love that drove normal people to act so insane? he mused.

He saw it far too often with Brother and Winry, who circled each other like a pair of spinning magnets, alternately repelling and attracting one another. One of them would make an advance, and the other, not certain of how to react would freeze up. And the advancer, already nervous, would back off, invariably confusing the advancee. It all ended up - not in tears - but in hurt feelings, yelling, and wrench throwing; then finally a frosty silence which could last for days.

Eventually, it would thaw enough for sibling-like bantering before the whole cycle began again. When not studying, Alphonse would sit and try to puzzle out how to get them to communicate. The thorniest problem was hoe to get them past their stubborn prides and admit their feelings. Brother, in particular, was one of the most obstinate persons Alphonse had ever known. He could point out (till he was blue in the face) that Brother and Winry were meant to be together, for why else would they fight like an old married couple?

Not that he got any thanks for shining a light on the truth. From Winry, he'd get a cold "butt out, Alphonse!", and threats of a 'wrenching'. Brother wouldfrequently erupted into a screaming tirade full of obscenities, and often give Alphonse a whap on the head. But he hadn't speaken to Edward for almost six weeks about Winry, so it was time he tackled him again on the subject of his love life.

But not now.

Brother is brooding again.

While stopped at a red light on the way over, Alphonse had looked out the back window of the Humber-mobile at Colonel Bond's car. Ian had slightly nodded his head, while Lilith playfully waggled her fingers. But Brother hadn't acknowledged him at all, instead he had just sat with his chin propped in his left hand while he stared, blank-faced, out the side window. Alphonse could wonder what it was all about until the cows came home; Brother kept a lot locked up inside him.

For all his courage in the face of extreme danger, Edward was deathly afraid of opening up and speaking about what he felt. Sometimes, Alphonse could coax it out of him, but not here, and especially not in front of Prince. No way would he speak in front of strangers, so Alphonse relaxed (or tried to) in the uncomfortable chair and pretended to read a six month old copy of 'Medical Examiner's Monthly'. Secretly, he eyed Edward who sat opposite him, legs crossed (flesh leg uppermost), right elbow on the armrest, and chin propped in the right hand this time, while he stared sightlessly into the distance.

Al turned his head to his left and caught Prince's eye. He shrugged an answer to his friend's eyebrow lifted in inquiry and mouthed 'I'll tell you later.'

With a sudden 'whoosh!', the wooden doors popped open, and Pratchett, his hand over his mouth rushed out, his eyes wide and frantic as his head swiveled left and right, like he was searching for something. The receptionist seemed to know what he was looking for.

"To your left past the desk, sir, and then another left." Pratchett rushed off in the direction her pointing finger had indicated, his cheeks puffed out like a squirrel with it's mouth full of acorns. Prince shot Alphonse an evil grin before he lept up and dashed off after his friend.

Edward had finally come out of his trance and he looked curiously at Alphonse, before turning back to the doors which opened again to reveal Ian with his arm around Lilith, who was walking slowly, her face pale.

Her first visit to a morgue, Edward felt a surge of pity I hope the body didn't jump at her too!

Ian knew what he was thinking. "No, it wasn't the body - and yes, she positively identified him - just one of the morgue attendants having a kip under a sheet on the next table. Miss Lilith was a a rock, and she took it in stride, but Pratchett screamed like a little girl."

Edward stood up and offered Lilith his chair, she sat down with a grateful smile at him. "You are in shock, Miss Lancaster. I suggest a hot drink and some food as soon as possible."

Alphonse brightened at the suggestion of food, teenage boys like him were almost always hungry. "It is close to noon, Brother, maybe we could still get 'elevenses' somewhere!"

"What do you mean we, Al?"

"But - I'm starving Brother Studying takes a lot out of me!"

Alphonse's stomach growled loudly, as if to underscore his point.

"And what are 'elevenses'?" Edward was curious about the word.

"It's sort of a pre-lunch tea, like appetizers." Alphonse explained, ticking off the elements on his fingers. "You have tea, of course, then there's scones with clotted cream, buns, cream buns, usually, and little frosted cakes!"

Al's stomach growled again,and Edward swallowed because his mouth had suddenly begun to produce rather too much saliva. Lilith smiled at the brother's verbal sparring, the morgue had been a shock to this sheltered girl and she couldn't think of food. But a 'cuppa' sounded nice.

Edward and Alphonse had moved on to physical sparring by now, and the elder had the younger in a headlock with his left arm, and he was rubbing the knuckles of his right over Alphonse's scalp. "Before you stuff yourself silly, I think you should get a little exercise first!"

"OW! Stop it, Brother! I don't want to spar now!" Together, they swayed back and forth, Alphonse tried to twist free, but Edward's grip was unbreakable. Then Al tried to kick him, but Edward adroitly trapped Al's legs with his own. Unfortunately, in doing this, Edward had slackened the grip of his left arm and Al took full advantage of his lapse in concentration.

Taking hold of Edward's left hand with both of his, Al shifted the stance of his legs, pushed his left hip against his brother's right, then hunched his shoulders before he pulled forwards and down. With a yelp of surprise, Edward suddenly found himself being flipped upside down in the air over Alphonse before he hit the floor with a loud crash.

"Do I have to seperate you two?!" Edward looked up from his position on the floor to see a scowling Ian, hands on hips and glaring at both of the brothers. Edward grinned weakly and explained.

"See, it's our pre-lunch workout." His suddenly growling stomach seconded the motion.
________________________________________________________________________

Which is why twenty minutes later found the group at a nearby teashop, enjoying a sort of hybrid cream tea/lunch. Recovered from his experience at the morgue, Pratchett was being a good trencherman, gobbling scones, buns, and a large slice and steak-and-kidney pie, between bites he was washing them down with cup after cup of tea. Prince was matching his friend bite for bite, so an appalled Lilith had moved to sit next to Ian. Both sipped their tea and decorously ate their scones, and waited for the two friends to explode.

On the opposite side of the table, the Elric brothers were almost as bad. Between their work of demolishing another pie, and plate of scones and buns, they consulted in hushed whispers, and every so often, would pause and sneak glances at Ian. They appeared to be trying to decide something, but couldn't seem to concur. Alphonse didn't like the idea apparently, he kept shaking his head and hissing "No, Brother! we can't!"

And Edward would hiss back "We have no choice, Al! If that man in the morgue is connected, it could explain a lot of things. I have to be honest with Bond."

"But Brother! That was such a painful time; I don't even want to think about it! Besides, the fewer people who know about the machine world, the better!" Alphonse finished with an emphatic nod of his head before resuming the attack on his lunch.

They need to whisper more quietly, Ian mused just what is this 'machine world' they are talking about? He could see Edward wanted to tell all, as the elder brother, it was his decision to make, but he wouldn't if Alphonse disapproved. Here is where the strong bond between the brothers got rather inconvenient, the decision to talk would have to be mutual - or not at all.
___________________________________________________________________________

After lunch, they drove back to campus - Alphonse, Pratchett, Prince, and Lilith all had afternoon classes to attend. While the first three disappeared into Hotspur Hall to fetch their books; Lilith ran in the opposite direction, to Lady Jane Women's Residence Hall for her's. Of course, all these classes were on the far end of campus, miles away, the first beginning at one o'clock sharp.

If they walked (there wasn't any parking for students - only teachers and TAs - around the Sciences buildings) no way would they make it in time. so Ian had agreed to drive all of them. Five minutes later, everyone was back - Prince, Pratchett, and Lilith scrambled in the back, and Edward sat in the middle of the front seat, so Alphonse could sit next to him, a heavy bookbag stowed at his feet.

The trio in back chatered away animatedly, with Alphonse tossing back random comments. While he was taking Veterinary Science, Pratchett was studying Business, Prince was taking Law Studies, and Lilith's chosen field was Technology Studies. She was telling the others about a new invention from L.I.T. (Londonium Institute of Technology), an electronic computing machine. Part of her course work involved testing it with possible new uses.

Lilith was going on about an epiphay she'd had the the other night, which involved somehow linking a worldwide network of these machines.

"For what purpose, what would it be good for?" Pratchett was laughing.

"People worldwide could communicate instantaneously with each other," Lilith argued back "mostly for business, but I think there would be other commercial uses for it."

Alphonse entered the argument with "But Lilith, we have a thing called a telephone for that!"

"Alphonse," Lilith leaned forward, her big brown eyes shining, "Can telephones send documents, or pictures?"

He had to back down then, she had a point there. It was a pity Lilith wouldn't be able to go any further with this after college. As an heir to the throne, she would be expected to marry well and produce more heirs.

He looked over at Edward and sighed - quietly. Communication was key - if only he could communicate with his brother.





Dont ask
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k

ah

ok
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, only the OC's I've created for this story. I just like to play around in it's world for awhile.

Warning: Descriptions of horrible, bloody murders in the chapter.

Author's note: It's going to get worse before it gets better. What sort of ruthless people are Edward and Ian dealing with?

Chapter Twenty: In which Edward learns just how many bad things happen to good people Or: Part two of "C.S.I. - Londonium".


He could feel Ian looking at him with concern. "Ian, she - she looks like me - like she could be my sister." Edward's head shot up, his golden eyes blazing. "You BASTARD! You KNEW, you've known all along!" Ian was patient and rode out the storm as Edward ran his fingers through his hair and messed up his braid. Once Edward learned the truth, he would feel a bit silly for blowing up just now.

"Knew what, Edward?"

"The resemblence is so strong, she - she has to be a half-sister. My father used to tell me my mother was the only woman he ever loved. But after he abandoned us, I guess he fell in like with other women." Edward's voice was low and bitter.

"Sorry to burst you angry little bubble, Edward." Ian was careful to keep his tone even and non-gloating. "But Miss Woolfe was almost 20 years your senior, so even if your father sired her, it would have been before he met your mother. But that is neither here nor there, Hohenheim is quite innocent of this." Edward still wouldn't look at Ian, but a reddish flush could be seen spreading up from his shirt collar, because he had just realized he'd said something very foolish.

"Plus, a search of public records revealed her birth certificate, and an interview with her poor mother proves Miss Woolfe's looks came entirely from her side of the family." Ian paused and waited for Edward to look back up, and when he did, the spymaster continued.

"Her mother was an Eldritch. Remember the kidnapped girl from that alchemic family?" Edward nodded. "That was Trinity Eldritch, granddaughter of the current head of the family, Roderic Eldritch."

"How is she doing? You said her confinement nearly drove her insane."

"Her family reports she's recovering nicely, but she's now quite afraid of the dark, and insists on a bright night light turned on before she goes to bed."

Edward worried the corner of the late Dorothy's photograph with a metal finger tip for a few moments before mumbling Sorry, Ian under his breath.

"No offense taken, but - you might not want to look at the next photograph."

Unfortunately, Ian's warning didn't reach Edward's right hand in time, which out of habit, flipped over the candid shot. The image he saw burned into his brain so fast, he couldn't flip the top photo back quickly enough, but the damage was already done. Edward's stomach roiled, and he could feel his lunch trying to come up for air. He clapped his flesh hand over his mouth, then closed his eyes, and tried breathe shallowly, to force everything back down.

When he again opened his eyes, he could still see the afterimage of the crime scene photo. Everything which made Dorothy distinctive - hair, eyes, expression, lips, smile - everything from above the lower jaw had been obliterated in a red mass of pulped flesh and hair. One eyeball had partially escaped the carnage and it peered out from a lake of blood. The lower jaw stood up crookedly from this viscuous mess, most of the teeth either broken in half, or badly cracked.

In a desperate bid to distract his mind, Edward scrabbled for the forensic report, and he forced to himself to carefully read every paragraph from start to finish. Once he had digested (d'oh! bad choice of words there!) all the information, Edward flipped the report closed, and he crossed his arms over it before he fixed Ian with a level gaze.

"She was murdered too."

Ian could only nod in agreement. Certain snippets of information he had gleaned from the report ran through Edward's mind.

"Initial examination of the body revealed the presence of a major laceration extending from the left side of the abdomen, around the left hip, and into the left quadrant of the buttocks. Smaller transverse rips in the skin extended above and below this main tear.'

Early on in the investigation, the police had been puzzled by this damage to her body until the 'death car' had been found, abandoned and on fire, a mile away from the scene. The car had been 'modified' by a person, or persons unknown, who had welded a large hook - a meat hook, to be exact - to the left hand side of the front bumper. Although the metal was badly scorched, the use of luminescence had deteected the presence of blood, enough had been recovered to match the victim's blood type.

Edward next read the crime scene report. The statements of several witnesses reported this car, a Vauxhall Super Eight Multiple Passenger Taxicab had been idling at a taxi stand for several minutes. One witness, a doorman of a nearby hotel had placed the time at three quarters of an hour; with it's 'not in service' light on. The man remembered because a large party had exited the hotel dining room and they were quite put out when the driver refused their patronage.

When Miss Woolfe began crossing the street (with the light, the report noted), the car abruptly drove away from the stand, (cutting off several other cars) quickly accelerated, and made straight for the unfortunate woman. At the last moment, the driver had leaned on the horn and she had turned to look - then froze. The high bumper of the large car came close enough for the hook to do it's work, piercing the left side of her abdomen; meaning she didn't have time to try to move out of the car's path before she was struck.

She'd been partially carried, and partially dragged by the car (the forensic report had noted her left leg had been denuded of flesh from the knee downwards from friction caused by contact with the macadam surface of Chelsea High Street), for about 150 yards before the cab suddenly swerved further to it's left, and partially into the path of an HGV in the opposite lane. Contact of this vehicle's wheels with Miss Woolfe's head caused the hook to shear completely through the flesh, and the madly swerving cab vanished into traffic.

When found, a check of the cab's badge number said it was registered to Gerald Thompkinson - who hadn't been seen for a week. After the smoldering cab had been towed to the police garage, the techs had taken it to pieces, and the unfortunate Mr. Thompkinson's decomposing body had been found in the trunk; his face nearly obliterated by a gunshot wound. The autopsy report on Miss Woolfe stated she had been alive when the HGV's wheels ended her life, but she had suffered such an extensive list of injuries prior to that, she probably would have died even if she had escaped the head trauma.

Head trauma, Edward snorted. Such innocuous words for what happened to her!

The cab driver's autopsy report contained fresh horrors. He had been tortured before he died, his body badly bruised and covered with shallow cuts from head to toe, the cause of death was listed as discharge of a large bore handgun at extremely close range. Again, the medical examiner was of the opinion Thompkinson had been alive - barely - at the moment of his death. Edward didn't feel the need to look at the photos of the cab driver, so he just gathered everything up and inelegantly crammed it all back into the folder, then snapped the elastic band around it.

Two more to go. "Edmund Ameche" was written in the same bold black letters as the others, but Edward also noticed "Case Closed" stamped in red letters on the body of the folder.

"Ian, what is this?" Edward was curious, but also half relieved he wouldn't have to look at the crime scene photos of Ameche, who he remembered had his skull crushed by a malfunctioning punch press.

"We have determined Mr. Ameche's death was not murder, but truly an unfortunate accident. It turns out that particular model of the 450 tonne straight side punch press has been getting a reputation as 'unreliable'. Ian took the Ameche file from Edward, and tossed it on top of the Woolfe file.

The final folder, marked "Oliver Comstock". Both Edward and Ian stared at it. The folder stared back at them. It wasn't going to read itself, so Edward broke first. "What the hell am I afraid of?" he muttered under his breath as he grabbed the folder, undid the elastic band, and slid it's contents out.

Comstock was quite a good looking fellow. His brown eyes, and short brown hair looked non-descript, but his face was his saving grace. It was open and honest, the gaze direct and full of intelligence. Edward half wished the man hadn't been murdered, Comstock looked like he would have had interesting things to say on the subject of alchemy. In a small way, he reminded Edward of Mustang - if the guiless mug of Kaine Feury had been grafted on under his black eyes.

Ian had said Comstock was an apothecary's assistant. In Amestris, all apothecaries were also alchemists, and they had to show proficiency in alchemy before they were granted their licenses to practice. And that was only after years of study, usually as an apprentice to an established apothecary. He would have to ask if New Britain's licensing regulations for apothecaries were the same.

As usual, the next photo was from the crime scene. Comstock's face was barely recognizable, as it was now much paler, almost pure white, with a bluish tinge about the lips. His hair was plastered down and strewn with seaweed, his eyes were open, but the eyes were gone, and only the empty sockets remained. A rag of an indeterminate color was was stretched between Comstock's lips, which were open in a sort of silent scream. Edward could see the gleam of his teeth, and an odd lump of something which looked torn and bloody.

By now, Edward knew better than to ask Ian what it was, and he automatically flipped past the other crime scene photos to the one taken on the morgue slab. With the seaweed and river borne dirt cleared away, Comstock's face looked even worse. The blue tinge of cyanosis had faded, to be replaced by a gray white pallor, which clearly showed the bruises on his face. The eye lids were closed, but they looked strangely sunken in, and his mouth was still open.

After a moment of closer study, Edward realized that torn and bloody thing in Comstock's mouth was his TONGUE. Knowing he wouldn't get anywhere by quizzing Ian, he consulted the reports, and it was the forensic report which answered his question. [i]When the tide came in, it brings numerous sea creatures, some of which nibbled away the victim's eye, and part of his tongue.

NIBBLED?!

Edward's brain sent his stomach an urgent message: Abandon ship!

His stomach roiled in response, and finally flipped over.

Edward dropped the report and clamped both hands over his mouth, but shallow breathing wouldn't work this time, he couldn't force it all back. Ian quickly stood up and looked round for something to catch what was coming up. Edward made a frantic sound in his throat to get Ian's attention, then he peeled away one hand, and pointed to his left. There! Next to the nearby phone table, a small metal wastebasket. Ian dashed over and grabbed it, before he shoved it under Edward's face.

Just in time too. The younger man transferred his hands to the side of the basket as his stomach convulsed. Edward shuddered and unclenched his jaw, then gave his all.

That was the scene which met Hetty Ravensworth's eyes when she came into the kitchen with her shopping for her putative employer's supper. There was young Colonel Elric, apparently throwing up a lung into a metal wastebasket while Colonel Bond gently patted his back and urged him to 'let it all out.'

Ten minutes later, Edward lay on a sofa in the drawing room, a cool, damp cloth on his forehead, and a glass of lukewarm white soda in one hand; Mrs. Ravensworth had put a straw into the glass so he could drink without having to raise his head too far off the pillow. Noises of disapproval came from the kitchen, where she was chewing out Ian for causing Edward's upset stomach. It's not his fault, I looked at the photos and read the forensic report!

He took another swallow of the soda and grimaced, his throat burned and his stomach muscles ached; despite this housekeeper's claim the white soda would ease his nausea, Edward didn't feel like supper at the moment. This isn't helping! he growled to himself after another sip, what I need is some fresh air! He set the glass down on a side table next to the sofa, then cautiously sat up, grunting as his muscles protested even the subtle movement.

No nausea, so far, so good. The little private park in the middle of Paddington Square popped up in his mind's eye, he would take a walk around there. It occurred to Edward death had been all around him today, and he'd quite honestly had had enough of it, it would feel good to surround himself with living, growing things.

Edward stood up slowly and he was relieved to discover his stomach stayed in one place. Digging in his right pants pocket, he found and extracted the ring of three keys which had come with his official orders from the Fuhrer's office. The largest one, of shining steel opened the outer door of his apartment building, a slightly smaller key, also of steel fitted the door to his flat. And the third, a tiny, delicate filigreed thing of brass would open the gate and grant him access to the little park in the center of the square.

"Colonel Elric!" Edward jerked reflexively and dropped the keys. He scowled at Mrs. Ravensworth and held one hand to his chest before he bent down to retrieve them. The housekeeper didn't flinch from his glare as she scolded. "You need to lay back down Colonel, and give your stomach more time to settle!" Edward made an exasperated sound deep in his throat.

"I'm feeling much better now, Mrs. Ravensworth," he threw her a dazzling smile to assure her he felt fine. "I just want a little fresh air before supper." He nearly added stop treating me like a baby!, but realized in time it sounded rather childish, so he bit it back.

The commotion attracted Ian who drawled, "Going somewheres Edward?" The spymaster sounded relieved Hetty was now yelling at someone else. Edward edged past him to retrieve his coat, which was hanging over a dining room chair.

"Just to that little fenced in park for a pre-prandial walk, care to join me?" Ian could have kissed him, but instead he grabbed his coat with his free hand and tossed it over his shoulders in one continuous move, then bowed his head to Hetty. She was still giving both of them a sour look, so Edward gave her another bright smile before assuring her, "Just one hour Mrs. Ravensworth!"

Then he bolted out the door.


Author's note: Whoa! Intense chapter there! Next chapter, Edward and Ian have a strange encounter in the park. (no! not THAT kind of encounter!)

Author's note #2: To "celebrate" the publishing of chapter twenty, I am looking for a person who would like to be an "after beta" for this story and give me suggestions on how to improve the earlier chapters in particular, and my writing of this story in general. Chapters 22 & 23 also need to be betaed; dialogue is my personal Kryptonite, and both are very dialogue heavy.

IttyBittyPretty
AND ALL MANNER OF THINGS SHALL BE WELL


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just any OCs I created for this story. It's just fun to play in their world for awhile.

Summary: Fuhrer Roy Mustang has promoted Edward to Colonel, and given him a new mission: go to the country of New Britain and work with their spymaster, Colonel Ian Bond on setting up a similar military intelligence/Secret Service operation in Amestris. After only two days in New Britain, Edward has found adventure and mystery, spiced with five brutal murders, an attempted kidnapping, a capture of dangerous miscreants, and a sampling of New Britain's forensic technology. Now Edward just wants a simple walk in the park so he can clear his head - but of course, nothing is simple here.

Warnings: bad language

Chapter Twenty-one: In which Edward has a family reunion - of a sort


Edward's heartbeat thudded rapidly in his ears as he approached the locked gateway to the park. It was heavily wooded, like a little forest in the middle of Londonium. Just inside the gate, a narrow path paved with crushed limestone, and carpeted with fallen leaves led between a small swath of lawn bordered with late fall flowers, for a few yards until it disappeared among the trees.

The gate, like the fence was a sturdy wrought iron, decorated with fancy curlicues between the straight pickets, and arrow shaped finials at the top, which were picked out in gold paint. A large metal sign was attached to the gate which read:

"This park is reserved solely for the use of residents of this square. Trespassing is forbidden."

Edward's little brass key fit smoothly into the lock, he turned it to the right, there was a faint 'click' and the gate opened silently, on well-oiled hinges. Edward looked to the left and right before he took a deep breath and, and then one big step inside.

He walked slowly up the path, with a big smile on his face; the limestone pebbles crunched loudly under their feet until they got underneath the trees, where their fallen leaves muffled the noise. Edward and Ian kept walking to the center of the park, wherer the parth ran through a small clearing, next to it was a narrow strip of lawn with a bench on it.

Edward sat on one end, and Ian on the other; then both leaned back at nearly the same time, Edward with a sigh, and still smiling. Here in the middle of the park, the bustle of the city seemed a million miles away, and Edward realized he missed the peace and quiet of his little village of Risembool. Silently, he thanked whatever nameless clerk in the Amestrisan embassy had arranged his lodgings in Paddington Square. As long as he had this quiet place to retreat to, whenever he needed to recharge his inner 'batteries', life here would be made more bearable.

Ian liked the park too, but he was a city boy, born and bred; the country was some place one went to for long weekends - garden parties in the spring and summer, fox hunting in the fall, skating/sledding parties in the winter - but to live in it? No thanks.

"Edward, does this park remind you of someplace?" Ian still noticed the look of contentment, and the smile on Edward's face. He couldn't completely relax like the younger man did, danger was always around the corner in his world.

"Yeah...." Edward crossed his ankles, and laced the fingers of his hands behind his head. He wasn't wearing his gloves, and the sight of one real, one metal hand clasping one another was still a bit jarring to Ian. "Robin's Wood, it was a five mile long patch of woods near my home in Risembool. It was crisscrossed with hiking trails, and full of hidden places to explore. Sometmes families came out to picnic in the Fern Clearing, but it mostly was a playground for generations of kids. On hot days, it felt just like heaven to sit at the base of a large tree and watch the grass in the fields riffle in the wind."

"What is Risembool like?"

"Almost non-existant, it's what we in Amestris like to call 'a wide spot in the road'. Risembool proper is a small village in the south east of the country, about a three day's train ride from Central. It's got a few houses, an inn/restaurant, flower seller, apothecary, general/hardware store, and a platform/ticket booth/waiting room which serves as the train station. Cars are extremely rare here, most people get around by horseback, maybe horse and cart, or by foot."

Edward had begun waving his automail hand around, as if trying to paint a mental picture of Risembool for Ian. "It serves a wide scattering of farms, the Rain River occasionally floods in the spring and fall, makes for rich cropland. There's a few non-farm houses around, when I was growing up, my next door neighbor was an automail mechanic. It was very quiet, but we felt the impact of war, it was on the main route to the Eastern front. Lots of local kids left the village to join the military, and too many came back in pine boxes."

Edward paused, his face darkening, and he said more slowly. "Some never came back at all. When I was young, I remember my mother making huge pots of soup, and baking bread - lots of bread to take to bereaved families. Everybody knows everyone else in villages as small as Risembool, and we took care of our own when there was tragedy."

It was the most Edward had said at one time since he landed in Londonium, and now he fell silent.

"I guess we're lucky here," remarked Ian. "We haven't had any wars since the Wars of the Roses 300 years ago; umm... and - well, there were those skirmishes we had with our eastern colonies in Meso America some 140 years ago. And problems with New Caledonian, Eireian, and Cymruian nationalists, but that died down once they got their independence. Other than that, we've largely been at peace."

Edward pulled out his silver pocket watch and looked at it. "It's been nearly an hour, Ian, guess it's time to rejoin civilization before it gets too dark to find our way out of here." A wind kicked up high in the trees as he started to rise to his feet, and Ian made as if to follow, but he suddenly felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck prickle.

He started to leap to his feet, but a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders and slammed him back onto the bench. Ian looked to his right to see Edward, sitting very still and glaring at nothing in particular. Because the business end of a silencer screwed onto a dark colored revolver was pressed against his neck. Now Ian felt something cold and metallic against his neck too, and he relaxed back against the hard wooden back of the bench.

Idiot! his ego scolded. Nothing to do but wait.

Footsteps crunched on the path and a tall, thin man with caramel colored hair, cut very short, and a goatee approached Ian. A brief ghost of a smile flitted across his hollow cheeks. "Please sit still, Colonel Bond, this will take only a few minutes."

He turned to his left and walked the few steps over to Edward, then knelt in front of him and smiled again, a genuine smile this time. Edward looked plainly astonished, his eyes wide and lips parted in a gape of surprise. His jaw dropped even lower when the man said to him, "Greetings, little brother."
__________________________________________________________________________

"Rudolfus!" Edward gasped in reply, and it was the turn of the older man to be surprised. He rocked back onto his heels and narrowed his golden eyes in a match for Edward's previous glare. "You know who I am? How? Tell me!" His right hand shot out and it took Edward's jaw in a hard grip, the younger man growled in pain and tried to yank his face away.

Rudolfus growled back. "If we were in Drachma little brother, I would have the right to beat you for your insolence!"

"And I'd kick your ass if you tried." Edward bared his teeth and spat back, and the man behind cuffed him sharply on the back of his head. When Edward tried to twist around and see, the man grabbed his right shoulder and yanked him back against the bench.

Rudolfus had released his hold, and he chuckled, a low, dark sound which showed he was still somewhat displeased. "Amestrines, and New British coddle their children, no wonder they grow up to be so willful. I had warned Roderic, if he'd not been so lenient with Trinity, she would not have been taken by those damn christians!"

Rubbing his sore jaw, Edward peeled one golden eye back to the men behind, who still held guns to his and Ian's necks. "Call off your dogs, and I'll tell you." Rudolfus seemed to consider his request for a moment before he nodded, a silent order snapped in his eyes, and the men stepped back.

"I met your wife, Tola, in the other world, the machine world," Edward muttered. "It's a horrible place, because there is no alchemy, no way to get back home - unless you are lucky."

"When was this?"

"In a city called London, because time moves faster on the other side of the Gate, it was 1922 there, but only 1917 here. Our meeting, was not - how you say - friendly."

For a moment, Ian couldn't understand why Edward looked so uncomfortable as he said this, instead of looking directly at Rudolfus, he was staring at the ground, his eyes narrowed. Then Ian remembered the argument the brothers had back at the science building: No, brother, NO! It's too painful!

Rudolfus swallowed hard, and he asked "Was - was she well?"

Edward shrugged. "She was the last time I saw her, her brother was holding her - protecting her."

"Ryos was always very watchful over Tola, but he was the older brother and sworn to protect her from the day of her birth. The night before they went to the other world, he came to me and swore to not only protect Tola with his very life, but also to try and bring her back safely. He'd even drawn up his promise in writing, and in my presence, he sliced his finger and put his blood seal upon the document."

Blood.

It then ocurred to Edward blood had played a prominent part in his life. His blood spilled on the floor of his father's study during the failed transmutation, his blood on the seal used to keep Alphonse's soul bound to this plane; the blood of so many innocent people spilled - Nina Tucker, Maes Hughes, the chimeras, those prisoners in Lab 5, the Ishbalans, the citizens of Lior, soldiers who were only following orders issued by their superiors, Alfons Heidreich, Noa.... And finally, his blood again, spreading on the floor of the opera house of the underground city. Even the homunculi, in some small way, the red stones which sustained them were a type of blood.

Blood. Sweat. Tears.

"You brood like our father did." Rudolfus still sat back upon his heels, and his expression had softened somewhat. Not exactly a smile, but not really a frown either. His face strongly resembled Hohenheim's, who would look at him with a similar expression of loving exasperation on his face in those difficult early days after Edward's first physical trip through the Gate. Hohenheim was trying to make amends for his abandoning of them, and trying to be a father, but Edward, who was in physical pain, often ill, and otherwise homesick didn't want any part of it.

We made each other miserable. Father, I - I'm sorry. His throat tightened and his eyes prickled.

"Rudolfus, now I've answered your question, now I need you to answer one of mine, is that fair enough? His half brother considered for a moment, then his eyes flickered to the men still standing a few feet behind the bench. He nodded another silent signal and both men holstered their guns, Edward could hear the sound of metal sliding into leather, a familiar sound from the old days. He often heard it after Riza Hawkeye had made some kind of ballistic point, usually at the bastard Colonel who needed extra prodding to do his paperwork.

Only after he heard that sound did Edward realize he'd been holding his body, and he released the breath he had been holding in with a 'woosh'. "Rudolfus, before I left Amestris, I'd been given letters of introduction to six people. Last night, I discovered five of them are now dead, and today we...," he indcated Ian with a wave of his left hand. "Narrowed the causes to one tragic accident, but four rather brutal murders. Were you responsible for those?"

Rudolfus made a small 'moue' and shook his head. "Neither I, nor those loyal to me have killed anyone here, except in self defense. But I would like to know, how did they die?"

"The first was stunned with a blow to the head, then strung up and allowed to strangle to death. The second was knocked off his horse before he was impaled on the sharp point of an ornamental sculpture; the third was struck and dragged by a hook welded to a car, until her head was crushed by an oncoming lorry, and the last, he was beaten, then left to drown in the River Thamar when the tide came in. Someone arranged it so all four were alive at the times of their deaths so they would suffer as much as possible."

Rudolfus bowed his head and stared at the ground, and he suddenly looked very old. Edward could see a few strands of grey at his temples when he whispered "Eothen, and Bersan."

"Pardon?"

"Eothen, the younger brother of Mathun, he was another uncle to Ryos and Tola. Bersan is the nephew of Conner, the 'enforcer' who the triumvirate sent to the other - the machine - world. Eothen is the brains, Bersan is the brawn."

"Can you describe them?" A ball of ice started to form in Edward's stomach, if his description matched, he knew where Eothen was: on a slab in the Central Londonium Morgue.

"Eothen resembled Mathun only superficially, he was the elder brother, but not quite as tall, he was weak of chin, and a bit paunchy after he reached adulthood. Although he was older, he was less robust than Mathun, and less - stable."

The ball of ice grew larger. "Define 'less stable', Rufolfus."

He sighed. "How can I say this best? Eothen - enjoyed - hurting other living beings. As a child, he pulled the wings off flies, and burning ants with a magnifying glass. When he got a little older, he killed birds with a homemade electric fence, strangled rabbits with a snare made of barbed wire, and roasted puppies and kittens alive. On one occasion, his father caught him branding a mentally handicapped child who lived down the lane. Once he reached the age of 'reason' - 16 - the triumvirate came calling, they wanted to make use of his particular 'skills'. For then, he moved on to people, and for a while, our father was one of his captives, he was the only one I know of who got away. Those killings you describe sound like his work."

Edward blew a long, shaky sigh, and trembled. Mistaking his sigh of relief for fear, Rudolfus put one hand on the younger man's knee. "He is extremely dangeous, Edward, he is filled with hatred - for our father, for me, and for you in particular, and all Amestrines in general. Be very cautious."

Edward flashed him a weak smile in return. That bastard touched my little brother! "Rudolfus, Eothen was on the ferry from Bourbon yesterday." The older man gasped in horror. "I don't know why he didn't attack me there, maybe he didn't have an opportunity. After the ferry docked, he made one final attempt, while going down the gangplank, he knocked my little brother into the Thamar."

He had the satisfaction of seeing Rudolfus's severe expression pale a bit. "You have a brother?" Edward stared back in surprise. If Rudolfus knows about me, how could he not know about Alphonse?

"Yes, I do. His name is Alphonse, he is six years younger than I, and he's going to college here in Londonium. I jumped in after him and held his head above water until we both were rescued. Eothen disappeared in all the commotion, but last night, he and another man - probably Bersan - attacked Colonel Bond and tried to kill him."

"I see they failed to do so" Rodulfus commented dryly.

And Ian drawled back, just as drily. "But I didn't fail to kill him."

Rudolfus managed another brief look of astonishment before his normal features reasserted themselves, but Ian heard a light gasp from the man a few feet behind him.

"He's laying on a slab in the Central Londonium Morgue right now, would you like to go see? I can pull some strings if you would really like to."

Rudolfus shook his head. "Thank you, but no. Just thinking of seeing his face gives me the cold shivers. But, what of Bersan?"

"Wounded, but not fatally, but I think badly enough to put him out of commission for a few days." Ian was back in control of the situation, and he deftly began to question Rudolfus without appearing to do so. "Now, Mr. Rufofus, how did you manage to get here, and what is your purpose?"

"The trimvirate usually keeps it's state alchemists on very tight leashes, but I managed to slip mine and flee Drachma two years ago. We made a false trail over the Briggs Mountains in order to fool the triumvirate's dogs into believing we'd gone south - to Amestris. My two half-brothers, Rhadamanthus, and Sysonby came with me, they are completely loyal and they loathe Eothen just as much as I do. As regards a purpose, I have none - but to finally live free."

Ian asked his next question. "What do you believe was the purpose of Eothen and Bersan?"

"The triumvirate probably doesn't like the idea of Amestris being at peace and making allies, I think they preferred it when the country was beset by enemies on all sides. Eothen, and Bersan - and I am sure others as well were sent here to cause trouble, to re-open the rift between your country and Amestris."

Far in the distance, a banging sound of metal on metal was heard, followed by running footsteps, crunching on the limestone path, then the beans of flashlights could be seen.

"We must be away, farewell little brother, I will contact you again - soon."

In one fluid motion, Rudolfus rose back to his feet, and crossed behind the bench, both Ian and Edward twisted around just in time to see the trio melt away into the trees.

An instant later, six men in trenchcoats burst into the clearing, each one held a flashlight in one hand, and a pistol in the other.

"Colonel Bond!" called their leader. "Are you all right? Mother Hen became concerned when you didn't check in!"

Ian cursed under his breath. 'Mother Hen' was the service's code word for Herry, and she'd called 'the cavalry' when the hour was up, and her 'boys' hadn't come home for dinner. All he'd needed was a few more minutes with Rudolfus, the man seemed eager to talk to someone. A Drachman deserter from the secretive country's state alchemist program in their country, and hiding so thoroughly not even the Secret Service knew about it? That was not only big news - but also a little embarassing. He would have to go to headquarters and report this to 'X', and....

A mild commotion to his right jarred him out of his thoughts, four of the agents had surrounded Edward and they were pointing their pistols at him. Edward was glaring again, but slowly raising his hands.

"Stand down!" Ian barked. "Colonel Elric is with me!" The pistols disappeared like smoke and the agents briskly backed up, like it had been their idea all along. His face flushed red in a flashlight beam, Edward dropped his hands before shoving them into the pockets of his coat. He wasn't wearing his white gloves, and a couple of the agents had been staring, with fascinated glances at his automail hand.

"Ian?" he asked very quietly, making the question sound like a threat. "What the hell is going on here?"

"Sorry, Edward." Ian was apolegetic, and nearly apoplectic. Oh, once he got to headquarters, he was going to have someone's guts for garters. "Some sort of a communications cock-up and the 'cavalry' was called out."

Wait a minute. What am I apologizing to Edward for?! How did he know this man's name? Or met his wife? More to the point, what was this 'machine world' he was talking about? Elric had a lot of explaining to do, objections from Alphonse, or not, he had a right to know if this was important. But right now, he was too tired and hungry to interrogate him. "Listen you lot, go back to headquarters and I'll debrief you later."

The lead agent - Peel was his name - saluted, then shook his head. "Sorry sir, we can't do that. Once the cavalry is activated, our duty is to stay with you and and accompany you back to headquarters."

Not for the first time did Ian regret being so important to the running of the Secret Service, it was like being wrapped in endless layers of cotton wool. As simply Agent Bond, an eager 19 year old recruit, he'd gotten into all sorts os scrapes and had been expected to get himself out of them without any expectation of rescue. It had made him the agent he was today - tough, 'street wise', calculating, and able to think fast under pressure.

Nothing he could do to fight it, Agent Peel and the rest would stick to him like glue until he came back to headquarters. Bur first, he would see what Hetty had made for dinner - he was starving.
____________________________________________________________________________

Dinner was a spinach salad with balsamic vinegar dressing, followed by pot roast and fluffy mashed potatoes covered in a rich gravy, and a medley of peas with sliced carrots. Hetty gave the six extra agents sandwiches made from the left over roast beef from last night.

After the events of the past hour, a gun pressed against his neck, a half-brother he thought he'd never see, and a recitation of Eothen's 'accomplishments', Edward shouldn't have any appetite at all. His stomach had stayed quiet until the group entered his flat when delicious food odors reached his nose and made it twitch, which caused his innards to rumble to hungry life.

At the corners of his vision, Edward could see Bond's agents exchange shocked glances at the amount of food he put away; as he 'inhaled' his third full plate, Ian leaned over and whispered loudly "Edward, you're going to make yourself sick again!"

"It's O.K., Ian! I've got an iron stomach!"

"I've got to go back to headquarters tonight, but I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning, we have to talk."

Edward shook his head while still actively chewing. "Na widdout Ah!"

"Don't talk with your mouth full, didn't your mother teach you that?" Ian grumbled sourly in reply. He was still on his first plate, but was only half way done, and just morosely pushing his food around, piling it into pyramids, circles, and squares. Knowing his attackers were Drachmans explained a lot, but still too many questions were left. Were Edwards contacts murdered because they had something Eothen wanted, or did they refuse to do something for him, or was it simply because Edward was from Amestris, their long sworn enemy?
_____________________________________________________________________________

A few hours later, the apartment was quiet, even Hetty had gone home, after first discussing tomorrow's breakfast with him. Changed to a long-sleeved sweater and linen drawstring pants, Edward lounged on the sofa in the drawing rooms, hands laced behind his head. Tomorrow, he would definately visit his country's embassy, plus drop in on that group of amateur alchemists. Ian wasn't an alchemist, so he doubted they had opened up to him, but maybe, just maybe, they would talk to another alchemist. He would also need to make a phone call to Roy and bring him up to speed on the activities of their 'neighbors' up to the north, the Fuhrer should know the Drachmans were secretly acting in bad faith again. Perhaps Edward could find a secure line at the embassy, he didn't have faith in his phone here at the apartment, because in the back of his mind was a niggling little thought suggesting he not entirely trust Colonel Ian Bond.

Author's note: Props to anyone who can spot the obscure sports references in this chapter. Next chapter, we go back to 1922 London to explore what happened after the brothers escaped their kidnappers.













InsaneFangirl
Your fanfics are AMAZING. You certiantly don't let me down. wink.gif I love this!
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Sep 6 2006, 11:41 PM) [snapback]442815[/snapback]

Your fanfics are AMAZING. You certiantly don't let me down. wink.gif I love this!


<Blushes madly?
Such kind words for a fic which badly needs both a beta and an after beta. The latter to read what has already been published and suggests areas for improvement (I misuse both punctuation and connecting words), and the former to read what hasn't been published yet. The next three chapters are very dialog heavy, which is my personal Kryptonite.
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well


Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, but I do own any OCs I've created for this story. I just like to play around in this world for awhile.

Chapter Twenty-two - In which Alphonse tells a story


"Fear lent wings to his feet" may sound like a cliche, but Edward fervently believed in it's truth in this instance. For once he took to his heels in the courtyard behind the abandoned building, he didn't stop running and neither did Alphonse, and they pounded up the alley for all they were worth. Only Ryos bothered to take up the chase, but the brothers had such a head start, he soon gave up. Or maybe Mathun called him back, because they had a car and would be able to catch up to them. The knowledge of this made the fine hairs on the back of Edward's neck prickle, and he ran even faster.

Edward paused at the alley's mouth only long enough to check for oncoming traffic before he plunged across the street, and into the mouth of another alley. He didn't yell back to Alphonse - better to save his breath for flight - nor did Alphonse call back to him because he'd probably reached the same conclusion. The only sounds were their loud breathing, and their pounding footsteps, which were sometimes sloshing through water puddles, or squelching in mud. Occasionally, the yowls of disturbed cats, and the rattles of ash can lids as the animals skittered away, hissing, would startle the boys.

The alleys gradually became more twisted, and foul smelling from the stench of garbage overflowing ash cans, or simply dumped in haphazard piles. Even the mud began to smell so bad Edward doubted it was simply wet dirt they were stepping in; the cobblestones of these older alleys were paved with became ankle twisting treacherous, they shone wet with water, or something less salubrious. So once they reached the end of - Edward had lost count of how many alleys they'd run down - the latest alley, he made a sharp right turn and raced up the sidewalk of some street.

He didn't know it's name, and he didn't care, for all he knew, they could have been running in circles and could even be back in the neighborhood where he had been held in that locked room of that abandoned building.

Edward's breath wheezed in his ears, his lungs burned, and so did his leg muscles, particularly those of his left leg. The thigh was getting extremely sore from the pounding it was taking from his metal prosthetic, which was slightly shorter than his right leg. The sidewalk was also uneven, he tripped on one tilted slab and madly pinwheeled his arms to stay on his feet, Edward succeeded in staying up, but Alphonse wasn't so lucky. A strangled cry and a loud thud told him his little brother had fallen, and fallen hard.

He had to stop and help Al, but his momentum carried him several yards away, where he leaned over, gasping in great lungfuls of the foul London air. It smelled of salt, dirty water, coal, and tar, they must be very close to the Thames, perhaps only a block away. Edward's legs trembled from his exertions, he hadn't had to run so far and so fast for a few years now, not since the day he and Al had fled from Lior back to Risembool.

He was also sweating profusely, it ran down his face and he could feel more sweat drops rolling down his spine. Edward was sure after two days of wearing the same clothes, and unable to bathe, he probably smelled, and possibly even stunk. Once he got home, he had a strong urge to strip off his clothes and take a long - possibly for a few hours - hot bath.

Home, he thought in despair. We can't go home, they must know where we live, they will be waiting for us. The thought of being held down and stuck with a needle again made his stomach twist into knots. Despite his struggles, Edward had been almost completely helpless, and he hated that feeling.

Halting footsteps approached him, Edward turned left to see Alphonse limping closer. He was also breathing heavily, his face red with sweat and exertion. Although fitter from endless games of soccer with his friends, he hadn't run so far at one stretch. Al leaned against the same building Edward leaned against, slightly bent over, hands on his thighs.

"Brother," he whined. "I can't - can't run any - more, can we stop?"

"Su - sure." Edward gasped back.

The street they found themselves on was unfamiliar, because there was so much of London the brothers hadn't explored yet, and they were completely lost. It was an ancient street, narrow, and slightly twisted; and lined by old soot-stained buildings, with the odd stuccoed front speckled in between. The street was quiet, it's silence broken only by the occasional car rattling by.

Edward's breathing was finally slowing down when he heard a sound which made his skin prickle anew with 'goose flesh': the smooth purring of a well-tuned car motor. Edward had first heard that sound on the night he was kidnapped; it was on the next street over, so Mathun and his gang must be searching for them. Panic gripped him, which made his heart rate and respiration speed up again.

"Al!" He grabbed his little brother's arm and spoke urgently. "They're looking for us, we have to find someplace to hide!"

Dragging a limping and protesting Alphonse behind him, Edward started walking fast up the street, looking for a good hiding place. But all the doorways were either flush with the building facades, or too shallow for concealment. He started to jog, while he frantically looked left and right. The motor sound had faded briefly, but it wouldn't be long before it made the turn into this street. Edward was starting to feel a little hysterical with desperation when he finally saw the 'cafe' sign straight ahead, the door was up a short flight of three stone steps and he pulled so hard, Al was practically carried up the three stairs behind him.

Edward yanked the door open with great force and he tugged Al over the threshold so fast, they were in the middle of the dining area before the door shut with a jangle. The room was long and narrow, the linoleum floor, and the papered walls looked a bit shabby, but clean and smelling faintly of bleach. The few tables scattered about were covered with brilliantly white and starched cloths, topped by white linen napkins which were held down by gleaming silverware.

"Brother!" Al protested again. "You're hurting me! Stop pulling so hard!"

But Edward didn't stop until he was nearly to the rear wall of the cafe, where there were some high-backed booths which were tucked along the back wall. There he bundled Al into one seat before gratefully slipping into the one opposite him. His view of the front show window of the cafe was obscured by the tables, which meant - he hoped - any passerby on the street outside wouldn't be able to see deeply into the cafe. The purr of a car motor came closer and Edward pressed himself into the back of his seat and closed his eyes.

He blew a large sigh of relief and smiled when the sound faded; but his smile was instantly wiped away when he opened his eyes and looked over at Al. His dark brown eyes seemed even darker than usual, and so wide with fear they seemed to take up most of his face. He leaned over the table and clutched Edward's left hand with both of his.

"Brother! You look scared, who were those people, what were you doing with -?"

"SHHH!" Edward ordered, holding up his right hand for silence, a waitress was approaching with two menus in her hand.

"'Allo, ducks!" she sang. "You two 'ere for tea?"

Edward smiled and nodded gratefully. "Yes, please."

She handed them the menus anyways, and Edward anxiously scanned his before slumping with relief. This was obviously a workingman's cafe, and the reasonable prices reflected this, they would be able to afford to eat here - unless....

He dropped the menu on the table and dug into one of the hidden pockets he'd sewn inside his oversize brown coat where he felt a familiar lump, small but still there. He took out his wallet and scanned the contents.
As an agnostic, he didn't thank God - nor any gods - but he silently breathed a prayer of thanks anyways to whichever deity watched over hungry teenagers. He would have enough money to pay for whatever they ate - and leave a decent tip. But his blonde brows knit when he looked at the one pocket which had a cellophane front - they had taken his identity card!

Bastards!

Edward replaced the wallet, then dug into the other hidden pocket - his notebook was still there, but the pages had been flipped back to the last entry. For some unknown reason, the knowledge his household accounts and job history had been looked at perturbed him. He put the notebook back, and finally looked into a small, deep pocket he had made to hold his apartment key. It was gone. Someone - probably Mathun - had searched his pockets while he was unconscious and taken it.

"Brother!" Alphonse whined again, he was still upset by the morning's events, nor did he like being ignored while Edward rummaged through his stupid coat. But he couldn't say anything else because the waitress was approaching again with a square silver tray containing a round brown pot which had a blue quilted cover over it, two cups with saucers and spoons, a small pot of cream, and a silver bowl mounded high with lumps of sugar.

"Thank you." Edward smiled as tshe unloaded the contents of the tray onto the table between him and his brother, before pulling an order pad and a pencil from a pocket of her uniform. With a guilty start, Edward realized he hadn't looked at the menu, neither of them had. He snatched up one of the pieces of laminated pasteboard up and scanned it quickly.

The first item was bangers and mash - sausages and mashed potatoes. Simple, cheap, greasy, and filling fare. Comfort food for two boys who'd had a unpleasant morning.

"Two bangers and mash, please, thanks. That's all." The waitress made some shorthand notations on the pad, retrieved the menus Edward handed her, then turned away and went through a pair of swinging doors to the kitchen to put their orders in.

"Brother." Alphonse said again, and Edward jerked slightly. His little brother sounded calmer now, and Edward felt guilty for ordering for him. Perhaps Al would have preferred something else. Shepherd's pie maybe? No. Just the thought of it made him feel a bit nauseous.

"Sorry Al, I hope you like bangers and mash."

"I like it fine, brother, but how can you think of eating at a time -?"

At the mention of the word "eating", Edward's stomach rumbled loudly. Without looking at Al, he began fumbling with the tea things.

"Because I haven't eaten since Tuesday afternoon, Al. I had only a little water" - he removed the cozy from the teapot and began pouring into the cups - "and I had to get that myself. Now, one lump, or two? I suggest three, maybe even four, we've both had a shock to our systems."

Al took his heavily sugared cup and set it down quickly because it was rattling on the saucer, before he picked up the creamer and added a generous dollop to his tea. Edward made a face at that, he still despised any and all dairy products. He put three lumps of sugar into his tea, and stopped to think a moment before plopping two more in and stirring it several times.

They both sipped at the same time, Al sighed quietly with pleasure for the tea was hot and fragrant, but Edward made a face at the taste of his. Overdid it on the sugar. He still forced himself to take another sip because the heat of the tea was soothing to his parched throat. When he set the cup down on it's saucer, it barely shook.

"You first, Al. Tell me what happened after you left me at the pub."

Al put his own cup down, he felt a little calmer now, brother was right about the sugar. "Well, I was concerned when I came back when it got dark and you weren't there; but I guessed you had been delayed for some reason. Maybe you'd met someone you knew from your first time in London, and you'd lost track of time."

Edward chuckled darkly. "I don't know anyone in London I'd want to speak to badly enough I'd lose track of time. None of our father's old friends would recognize the last name we are using now."

Alphonse picked up his cup and took another sip, and Edward noticed he was smiling at him. "What's so funny, Al?"

"What if you'd met someone who wanted to talk about alchemy, brother? You'd happily jabber away for an entire week!"

"No Al, I wouldn't."

"Yes brother, you WOULD!"

"Wouldn't."

"Would."

"Wouldn't!"

"Am I interrupting something, ducks?"

"Uh....." Edward stammered, Al was blushing, and he was sure his face was red too. "Sorry...nothing important - um, is that our food? It smells wonderful."

The waitress smiled fondly at both of them as she set the two steaming plates heaped with food in front of each boy. Both were acting oddly, but as long as they paid their bill, and didn't stiff her on the tip, she stayed out of the customer's business.

"Thank you." Both muttered softly, so she gave them another tired smile before turning away to go back into the kitchen. The bangers and mash were too hot to eat yet, so Edward gave Al his full attention. "Go on Al, what happened?"

"Lessee, um - I waited an hour and when you still weren't home, I went down and talked to our landlady."

"And what did Mrs. Doyle say?"

"She told me you were a big boy and could look after yourself. She was of the opinion you had met a pretty girl at the pub and were probably with her, having something called a 'slap and tickle', whatever that means."

Edward smiled to himself. Mrs. Doyle would say something like that. She never missed a change to tell Edward he was too thin, his hair was too long, and he was too solitary, plus he ought to visit a brothel once a week because he was old enough to be having sex on a regular basis. "It tisn't healthy for a man to live like a monk, Mr. Smith-Jones!" was the standard lecture. And to Edward's shock, Mrs. Doyle went go on to actually recommend one - she was acquainted with the owner - "a grand lady, simply grand" who ran a "clean" house.

"Brother?" Al had a question to ask, and Edward was the best person to go to, because he usually answered them, no matter how strange. Edward tested his food - still too hot, but almost cool enough.

"What is it?"


"Um, what's a 'slap and tickle'? Edward blushed to the tips of his ears. Al was only 13, oh, a precocious 13 because his mind was really 18; but Edward still thought of him as too young to know about sex.

"I'll tell you when you're older", he teased.

"It's about sex, isn't it?" Edward started, then relaxing, he smiled and nodded. But Al wouldn't be put off. "How much older, brother?"

It was time for him to distract Al from a subject which would just lead Edward into more verbal quicksand, and more difficult (and potentially embarassing) questions. Despite growing up so fast, Edward had next to no knowledge about sex, and even less experience than that. The closest he had been was that night in Aquaroya when he accidentally groped Psiren's left breast. Just thinking about it gave him the cold shivers for some years. If things had turned out differently, he suspected the Bastard Colonel would have given him and Al "the talk", or he would have ordered someone else to do it.

He doubted Falman or Breda could have done it - one would be too dignified, the other too crude. Feury or Havoc? Kain was in his 20s, but he looked too innocent to even know the meaning of the word "sex", and Havoc - he was probably a virgin too. Armstrong? Horrors! Edward could just imagine the Strong Arm Alchemist bragging something on the lines of "the sexual prowess of the men of this line has been passed down through the Armstrong family for generations!" A soft snicker escaped his lips at the thought.

How about Hawkeye? No, she would shoot Mustang first if he even dared to suggest it, heck, he would most likely make history as the first man to gelded by a 9mm pistol. Which left Brosh and Ross as the best candidates for the job. They had been Al and his bodyguards - oh let's be honest, our babysitters during the Scar incident, and it had been the maternal Maria Ross who had fearlessly gone up to embrace him in Lab 5 when he suffered that alchemic rebound. He wondered if those two had ever advanced beyond partnered to married, Brosh was slightly scatterbrained, which made the more clearheaded Ross a good match for him. Still, a talk from them on "the birds and the bees" would have been just short of a disaster because the fifteen year old Edward had been, to put it bluntly - prudish.

Alphonse smirked at the silly grin on Edward's face. He waved his right hand, "Brotherrrr? Helloooo?" Edward jerked back to the present day he felt rather out of sync going suddenly to fantasizing from what might have been back to reality. What had he been doing? Oh, right, distracting Alphonse.

"Al, what did you do next?"

"What could I do brother? I went back upstairs and did my homework while I waited another hour. When you weren't home by then, I fixed myself a bread and cheese sandwich, then sat up and read until I feel asleep on the sofa."

Al tested the pototoes, and finding them cool enough to eat, he grabbed a bottle of ketchup which stood sentinel next to smaller bottles of salt and pepper on the table. After uncapping the bottle, he proceeded to drown his food in the red sauce. Edward first grimaced at that sight, and then again when his little brother began to tuck into his unusual breakfast. After a few forkfuls, Al looked up, ketchup smeared on and around his mouth as he masticated vigorously.

He swallowed, then picked up his teacup and guzzled noisily almost to the dregs. Without a word, Edward first pointed to his own face, then to the linen napkin next to Al's plate. Al obediently wiped his mouth, then he grinned at Edward, the napkin crumpled in his left hand. "Brother, if you keep pulling faces like that, it'll freeze in that position."

You little brat.

Al pointed at Edward's plate of cooling food, and gave him an innocent smile. "You gonna eat that, brother?"

Edward responded with a mock growl, grabbed his fork and stuffed a large portion of potatoes into his mouth. They were still hot - but also tasteless. He grimaced again, then chewed and swallowed hastily. "Al, pass the salt and pepper please?"

Edward lightly salted, but liberally peppered the potatoes, which resulted in some getting up his nose and causing him to sneeze several times. He patted the pockets of his coat laying next to him, until he located his handkerchief and blew his nose. After replacing it, he said "I hope you didn't skip school to look for me."

"I wanted to brother, I planned to leave during the lunch break, but the damned truant officer caught me just as I turned onto our street!"

"Language, Al." Edward warned. The waitress had come back with a fresh pot of tea and she was frowning at Alphonse, she must have heard his outburst. Edward gave her a rueful smile, and she reponded with a smile of her own, but it slipped when she looked at Alphonse, who had the grace to finally paste on an abashed expression. She took the almost empty pot away, and once they were alone again, Edward stretched out one hand, palm uppermost, and wiggled his fingers. "OK, Al, go on."

"I got away with claiming you were ill and in bed and I was going to check on you; he nearly didn't believe me, but your employer came by just then."

Edward worked for the Tucker Employment Bureau, which was owned by one Stanley Tucker, this world's alter of the insane alchemist Shou Tucker. His resemblence to the latter man had unnerved Edward at first, for not only was Stanley the spitting image of Shou, the timbre and pitch of his voice were exactly the same. The resemblence stretched even to mannerisms, a daughter named Nina, and his dog, also named Alexander. The only differences being Stanley wasn't insane - and his wife was quite alive. Edward had barely become adapted to Stanley when Alphonse met the man and was thoroughly spooked by the genial and somewhat paternal fellow. But it had never occured to Edward that Tucker's concern for his employees extended to visiting sick ones.

"And what did he say?"

"You were supposed to start a job tutoring someone's son yesterday?"

"Yeah." Edward muttered and nodded as he stabbed some pototoes and a piece of sausage in a desultory manner. "I've probably lost that one."

His appetite ebbed away and Edward looked at the greasy mass on his fork without enthusiasm, but he opened his mouth and ate it anyways. He was still hungry and would be able to think better on a full stomach.

"Actually brother, when I said you were ill, he said the job would still be open. He would explain the situation to the viscount, and if you don't mind travelling...."

"Travelling? Where to?"

"This client, ummm..." Alphonse scrunched his eyes as he searched his memory. "What's his name, Viscount - Something - Or - Other...?"

"Viscount Burnlae."

"Yessss, well, he has an estate near Oxford and he wants you to come there and do the tutoring. You would receive room and board, plus a salary for three or four months."

Three or four months! Edward had not known what to do after they left the cafe. Mathun and his gang knew where they lived, and if his key was gone, they probably had that too. His biggest worry - besides being recaptured by the Drachmans - was losing out on more work due to missing one job assignment. They already lived from paycheck to paycheck, but a few months away from London could be just what they needed to throw the Drachmans off their trail; plus basic living expenses would be covered. There was only one problem....

"I can't leave you here all alone for four months, Al, mo matter how well I'm paid." Edward said this with his mouth full as his briefly lifted spirits had caused him to quickly shovel in anothe forkful of food.

"Mr. Tucker said the Viscount had agreed you could bring me along; there is a school in the village near to the estate I can attend." The rather sour look which flitted across Al's face told more than words ever could what he thought of that.

"Finish eating Al, before it gets cold." Edward urged. The bangers and mash were cooling, the grease congealing, and it was becoming less appetizing as a result. He topped up their cups with fresh hot tea before he went back to eating. Once his plate was empty, he pushed it to the side and pulled his cup in front of him, holding it so the warmth of the tea penetrated through the glove to his left hand.

"Did Tucker ask to see me?"

"No brother, and neither did the truant officer. He was suspicious, but he let me off with a warning to go right back to school after lunch." All this talking had made Al thirsty, and he slurped his cup almost to the dregs again. Edward picked up the pot and refilled it, then set the pot down and out of the way, and waited for his little brother to continue.

"So I went upstairs and fixed myself a cheese and pickle sandwich." This statement drew a slight moue and raised eyebrows from Edward. "I stayed long enough - in case Truant Officer Pertwee was still watching - to make him believe I was making lunch for you. After cleaning up in the kitchen, I headed back for school."

The waitres came back to collect their plates, and for the first time, Edward actually noticed her. Her nameplate said "Marie", and close up, she was much older than he'd first thought. Deep furrows ran from the side of her nose to her mouth, and from the corners of her eyes to her hairline; plus deep horizontal lines scored her forehead, and vertical lines ran between her eyes. Her red lipstick was gnawed away in spots, and bled into innumerable fine lines around her mouth, and her limp brown hair was streaked with grey and smelled of tobacco.

She obviously was a smoker, perhaps a heavy one. Her teeth and even the tips of her fingers were yellowed, smoke had dulled her complexion to a pasty white and her breath smelled of - Dunhills - he guessed. Her hands were small, with long, ringless fingers, but the delicate effect was spoiled by the nails being bitten short, and rather raggedly too. Marie looked tired, as if she'd been on her feet too long and on too little sleep too. Edward decided to tip her more generously than he'd planned. Like him, she was just another soul struggling to get by.

"More tea, ducks?" Edward looked over at Al, who shook his head.

"We're fine, thank you." He said it with a false bright smile and she gave the smile back to him in spades. Every word she spoke fouled the air and Edward had to steel himself not to screw up his face in reaction to her bad "smoker's breath". Marie seemed to sense they were impatient for her to leave, so much for her chance of overhearing some juicy gossip... She took the plates and silverware Edward handed to her and disappeared back to the kitchen, and the nice "natter" she'd been having with the cook.

"O.K. Al, you headed back to school, and then what?"

"Um, well, a couple blocks from school, I saw a big black car idling at the curb, and there was a black-haired man leaning against it and smoking a cigarette. He was looking in the window of a shop as if waiting for someone who was in there."

To while away the long tense hours of their flight from Germany, Edward had taught Alphonse how to observe details of everything he saw. Now he put his little brother to the test. "What was he wearing?"

Alphonse narrowed his dark brown eyes to slits and compressed his lips, his facial language for deep thought. "Umm, a dark charcoal single breasted suit and matching trousers, black shoes, well shined, a watch with a black leather band."

"His hair? How long was it?"

"Shorter than yours." Edward gave him a look which translated to don't get smart, but Alphonse ignored it. "About as long as mine, neatly trimmed, no dandruff."

Ryos.

"What brand of cigarette was he smoking?"

"Bro - therrrr!"

"You don't know? Tsk." Edward grinned to show Al he was just kidding.

"What sort of shop was he waiting outside of?"

"A lady's dress shop, um - it was called Mrs Pumphrey's."

Hmmm...Edward passed by this shop every morning on his way to the employment bureau. It was on Bank Street, about halfway between their flat on Court Street, and Alponse's school on Earl Street. Mrs Pumphrey's specialized in knock offs of last season's Paris fashions, and it catered generally to women who's budgets didn't stretch to haute couture.

All this Edward had discovered one morning just by chance when he happened to meet the lady herself unwinding the awning over the front entrance to her shop. A brief chat had yielded all that information and Edward suspected she'd told him solely in hopes he had a mother or sisters. Or maybe she was sizing him up as husband material, she was yet another war widow whose husband had been killed in the trenches over in France. Edward shook his head, he was getting off topic again. After topping off their cups of tea, he lipped once while considering his next questions.

"Was he wearing a coat?"

"No, so I assumed he'd left it in the motorcar."

"Did you see anyone else in the car?"

"No, not clearly. The front windscreen was tinted too darkly for me to see more than an outline of two men sitting in the front seat. But as I passed by the car, the right rear window was rolled down and a man asked me directions to Court Street, to our building."

"Describe him."

Al compressed his lips again. "Older than the other fellow, his hair was receding, and cut very short, what was left was also black with some grey mixed in. He had a medium complexion, small nose, a large chin, and blue eyes. He was sitting down so I couldn't tell exactly how tall he was."

Mathun.

"So, you gave him directions, then what happened?"

"He asked me if I needed a ride to school, because the lunch break was almost over. Just as he said it, the black-haired man tossed his cigarette into the gutter and walked up to stand next to me. It made my scalp prickle, so I said 'no thank you' and took off running."

"Very good Al, you listened to your instincts."

"I looked back after a few yards, both men were staring at me, and they'd been joined by a woman who was also staring. I didn't understand why at the time brother, but I suddenly felt very scared."

"What did the woman look like?"

"Um, smaller than the fellow leaning against the car. She had black hair, but I'm not sure of the length because she was wearing a dark brown coat with a grey fur collar which she'd pulled up. The coat was buttoned, so I don't know the color of her dress, but she also wore short, ankle length black boots. She was too far away for me to tell the color of her eyes."

Tola.

"Did you make it back to school in time?"

"Noooo - " Al groaned and rolled his eyes skywards. "I almost made it back to my classroom when the headmaster himself caught me, and gave me an hour's detention after school. I had to collect all the chalkboard erasers and calp the dust off them in the courtyard."

Edward grinned at the mental picture. "That must have been fun."

"Yeah.." Al grimaced. "My hair and clothes were white with chalk dust by the time I was done, my eyes were gritty and my throat was sore. I missed the after school football game, and I was starving."

"Is your stomach all you ever think of?" Edward snorted.

"At the time, yeah!" Al shrugged, but he gave Edward a wounded look. "But I missed you most of all, brother."

"I'm touched." Edward almost snorted again, but he thought better of it, and smirked instead.

"It's true, brother! I ran over to the Bull & Crown to see if you were there, and when the publican told me two men had helped you out because you seemed drunk, I got really worried."

Edward's smirk disappeared. "Did you go to the police?"

"No, brother. You told me we had to lay low, but I was so worried about you, I nearly did." Here Al lowered his head and look ashamed. "I started to walk up the steps of the police station nearest to Court Street, but - but I lost my nerve. Plus I thought they would just tell me the same thing Mrs. Doyle did, so I went home instead."

Al's voice had become very small and quiet on those last three words, so with a sinking feeling in his stomach, Edward asked three words of his own. "What happened next?"

"A light was on in our sitting room, and I thought - I hoped you had finally come home, so I ran up the stairs - the door to our flat was ajar - so I burst in without thinking, but - but the man sitting at the table wasn't you."

Edward had suddenly become so cold, his scalp prickled. "De - describe him, Al."

"Medium height, brown eyes, short brown hair, he wore a tan trenchcoat, and there was a brown felt fedora on the table by his hand. He'd brewed up tea, and he just sat there and drank it like he - like he owned the place!" Al finished on a note of indignation, his small hands balled into fists.

"Al, I know this is painful, I can see it in your face, but try to tell me what exactly happened then."

"He said 'We've been waiting for you, Alphonse Elric.'" Edward jerked, and he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomarch when he heard this. They had made up a false surname - Edward liked Smith, but Alphonse had insisted Jones was better, so they compromised on Smith-Jones. The same sense of horror he'd felt when recalling his questioning while under the influence of the truth serum came back with full force.

"Then he drained his cup, picked up his hat and said 'It's time we were off.' I was so astonished, I just froze, brother. He then nodded, as if to someone behind me. The next thing I knew, an arm had come around my body from the left and that someone lifted me off my feet, and - "

Edward had put his head in his hands, and he swiveled it back and forth slowly as if he had an awful headache which he was trying to ease away.

"Brother? You look as if you 're going to be si - "

Edward held up his right hand. "Don't say it Al, don't say it. Let's get out of here first, suddenly I need some fresh air."


Author's note: I really struggled with this chapter because dialogue is my personal Kryptonite. Did my hard work pay off? It's up to you, the reader to decide. This is why I need to face the facts and find a beta.







InsaneFangirl
Poor, poor Alphonse. ;_;

You discribe the emotions the brothers are feeling so beautifully. I really admire your work, and this chapter was no exception. Excellence, and nothing less.

I throughly enjoyed reading, more then usual on this chapter.

Please update soon!
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Summary: We're still in flashback mode to the machine world, London, 1922. Edward and Alphonse have escaped from their kidnappers and are temporarily hiding in a cafe while Al relates his story of what happened while Edward was missing. Both are starving, so they enjoy some "bangers and mash", plus endless cups of tea. Edward frets about the Drachmans having his key and his identity card, but he gets some welcome news on the job front. Things can't be all bad....can they?

Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just like to play around in it's world for awhile. I do own any OCs I've created for this story

Warning: Some mild cursing, mostly from Ed.


Chapter Twenty-three: In which Alphonse wraps up his story and Ed catches some "Z's.

As if on cue, Marie showed up with their bill, and Edward dug out his wallet and fished out a few pound notes to pay it, before he dropped a handful of shillings on the table as a tip. Both brothers mumbled something like "the food was good" as they scrambled out of the booth, then Al was trailing in confusion behind his older brother who walked swiftly towards the door as if on some sort of mission.

Edward stopped abruptly at the door before he opened it slowly and cautiously poked his head out. He first looked right, then swiveled his blond head to his left. From her spot by the table where she was counting her tip, Marie thought their behavior a bit strange, but Al knew what his brother was looking for.

Edward's heart hammered so hard he could almost feel his rib cage vibrate, but the street was clear. He jumped down the steps and stood, indecisively on the sidewalk. Al came out next to his brother, and at this close range, he could see Edward trembling from a mixture of apprehension and excitement.

Because he was scared, close to terrified even.

"Al? If worst comes to worst, and they corner us - run - don't worry about me - just run as fast as you can. I'll meet you in an hour at - " he thought hard for a moment. "At - Tucker's Employment Bureau, O.K.?"

Al nodded, then whispered. "Yes, brother." And then he asked, "Brother? Where are we?"

"Your guess is as good as mine Al, 'cause I'm lost."
_____________________________________________________________________________

The brothers found their way back to Court Street two hours later by following the sound of Big Ben's bells and using those to orient themselves as to the right direction. Along the way, they stopped after an hour of walking to rest in one of London's many parks, and while they sat on a bench, Al related the rest of his story.

Frankly, Edward wasn't sure he wanted to hear it because the thought of Conner putting his hands on Al almost made him feel physically ill, but he needed to know. For his part, Al swallowed hard, he had been terrified at that moment, and just thinking about it dredged up that feeling.

"A left arm came around my body, it pinned both my arms down, and then lifted me off my feet. Then the right hand put this rag over my face, it was soaked in something which smelled very odd, and I started to feel sleepy after a few breaths of it. I was still in shock, I think, because I didn't think to fight it until it was too late."

"Was that the last thing you remembered?"

"Yeah. The next thing I know, I was sitting in the back of a car, I still felt a little woozy and my vision was blurry. I felt chilly, someone had taken my school blazer off, and the left sleeve of my shirt was rolled up, something that smelled strong was being rubbed on it."

Alphonse felt rather than saw his brother tense up.

"I blinked several times and my eyes cleared up, so I looked over and that man who had spoken to me earlier was sticking a needle in my arm! I - I froze brother, and he was so fast, he had given me the injection and was withdrawing the syringe before I knew it. He smiled at me in a way which scared me before he patted my shoulder and said 'you're a good boy because you didn't fight like your brother did.'. I wanted to ask him what he'd done with you, but my vision got all blurry again and I fell asleep."

With his left hand, Edward squeezed Al's shoulder gently in a comforting manner. "Where did you wake up? In the car?"

"No, on a bed in a house somewhere, I don't know where. The room was rather dark, the shades were down, and there was a lamp on a table next to the bed, but it didn't throw a lot of light. That man with the brown hair was sitting on a chair next to the bed and watching me. Once I was fully awake, he tossed a bundle at me and ordered me to change out of my school clothes."

Alphonse indicated the clothes he was wearing - a dark blue button down shirt, dark gray slacks, black shoes, and a short black wool jacket.

"Your school uniform would have been too conspicuous, people would have wondered why you weren't in school, and started asking questions, maybe even called a truant officer." It was a smart if underhanded strategy, Edward wondered who had thought of it.

"I just stared at him, brother, I was awake, but my brain wasn't working yet. He knocked on the door and someone outside unlocked and opened it. As he went out, I heard him say 'the brat is awake, should we give him something to eat?' Someone answered him after the door closed, but I couldn't catch the words."

"Did they give you any food?" Edward recalled he had been hungry before his first attempt to escape, but subsequent stress and fear had driven it out of his mind until later.

"After a while, I don't know how long it was, I changed my clothes and sat on the edge of the bed for maybe, I estimated half an hour, but I could have been wrong when the door opened again and this woman came in with a tray."

"Did she talk to you?" Edward remembered his odd conversation with Tola about her husband and his half brother Rudolfus.

"No, I think she wanted to, but this huge man stood by the door and he ordered her not to speak. He seemed to be rather cross with her, and after she set the tray down she turned to face me, and I could see she had been crying."

Some other park goers had sat down on nearby benches and one or two seemed rather too intereted in what Al had to say. So Edward touched his shoulder and murmured "come on." They continued their interrupted walk towards Court Street and once the sidewalks had cleared of people, he asked Al to continue his story.

"She left right after, and I was alone again for a while. The tray didn't contain much - a small glass of milk, and two pieces of toast spread with marmalade. It tasted alright, and I was hungry, so I ate it rather quickly. That gave me a bit of a stomachache, so I lay face down on the bed for a while and fell asleep. I don't know for how long, I don't think the food was drugged because I woke up right away when the door was unlocked a third time.

That huge man came in, but he didn't say anything, he just grabbed me by one arm and dragged me out of the room, down a flight of stairs and outside. The sun was up, but still in the east so I could tell it was early morning. He shoved me into the backseat of the car, the balding man was already in there, then the black haired man got in behind me, and the woman next to him. The brown haired man drove, while the huge man got in next to him, and he took up most of the front seat."

Not wanting to interrupt Al's train of thought, Edward said nothing and he just walked along, matching his stride to his little brother's.

"It seemed to me we didn't drive very far, less than a mile, but the traffic was quite heavy, so it took longer than expected. No one spoke to me, and I was too scared to ask any questions. We finally turned into an alley and stopped in a courtyard behind a building. The driver and the huge man got out of the car and they stopped briefly by the left hand window. The balding man rolled down his window and gave them a key, and the black haired man asked 'Should I go along with them, in case he refuses to cooperate?' But the driver said 'That's all right Ryos, I have a little persuader right here' and he patted his right coat pocket. I thought he had a gun, and wondered if they were talking about you."

"They were Al, but his 'persuader' wasn't a gun, just a rag soaked in chloroform, probably the same one used on you."

"Before they entered the building, the driver opened the trunk of the car, and the balding man said 'I'm sorry Alphonse, but you and Edward will have to ride in the trunk of the car; not to worry though, we've drilled air holes so you won't suffocate.'"

Alphonse blanched. "Brother, I can't stand tight spaces, and I started to feel claustrophobic right there!

Then he told the other two - Ryos - and that woman - he called her Tola to take me out, he needed room to 'work'. I tried to run just as soon as I was out, but Ryos grabbed me by the collar of the collar of my jacket and said 'Don't try to run little Amestrine, for I will catch you.' Why did he call me that?"

"Because Amestrine is the ancient term used in Drachma for Amestrians."

"Brother." Alphonse's dark brown eyes were wide, like ocular 'O's. "What are Drachmans doing here in the machine world?"

"I'll tell you later Al, finish your story."

"Well, Ryos kept a tight hold on me till we heard a faint yell, both of us looked up and it seemed to come from a broken window on the third floor. I recognized your voice brother, and I think Ryos did too because he let go of me and ran towards the door. Then he suddenly stopped and flattened himself against the wall next to it. That was when I tried to run again, but Tola grabbed me, she wasn't as strong as Ryos, but I couldn't shake her grip! And not long after that, I saw you standing there." Al cocked his head and looked at Edward with bright, inquiring eyes. "So brother, what were you doing with Drachmans?"

Alphonse gasped at Edward's words. "I didn't go with them willingly Al. They drugged and kidnapped me, I was held prisoner in that place."
_____________________________________________________________________________


They made it back to their flat sometime in mid afternoon, Edward wasn't sure of the time and frankly he didn't really care. He'd spent the rest of their walk home telling of his kidnapping and imprisonment to Al; at one point stopping and taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeve to show him the bruise on his wrist, and the needle tracks in the crook of his elbow.

Now they were finally back on Court Street, Edward nervously scanned the street for black cars, and the window of their flat for movement, but he saw none. He was footsore - even his legs hurt - and weary; all he wanted to go was get inside the flat, pull down the murphy bed they shared then drop onto the bed and sleep until doomsday. Or for at least a few hours he could sink into oblivion and forget everything.

He yawned hugely and stumbled over the outer threshold of number twelve Court Street, Edward was suddenly so bone tired he could have dropped off right there in the cabbage smelling hallway, an odor which warred with the bleach Mrs. Doyle scrubbed the worn lino floor with in vain hopes of making the hall smell "fresh". Any one of her tenants could have told her she would never succeed, but she kept trying anyways.

The old, squeaky, and thin mattress of the murphy bed had assumed nirvana-like proportions in Edward's mind and he anticipated a very long nap with pleasure, but - no such luck. Just as they came abreast of Mrs. Doyle's door, stepping as quickly and quietly as they could, the loud rattling of the door's chain, plus the three deadbolts which secured it were heard before it popped open.

Brenda Doyle was a war widow from Londonderry, red haired and green eyed, she barely shaded five feet in height, but her outsize and pugnacious personality more than made up for her lack of inches. In that respect, she greatly reminded the brothers of Pinako Rockbell, the only differences being she didn't smoke, and she was fond of pretending to be helpless.

But Mrs. Doyle was far from weak. She was a tough-as-nails businesswomen who knew all her tenants on a first name basis, kept her rental properties in good trim - but was hardnosed about collecting rent when it was due, or evicting troublesome tenants. Edward rather liked her, but he had the feeling she wasn't as much passing the time of day during a conversation as she was also sizing him up as a prospective husband to replace the late, lamented (rumor was she kept one room in her flat as a shrine to him) Bruce Doyle, who had been killed in action on the Somme.

Maybe Edward was just paranoid. Then again, perhaps not. Mrs. Doyle was from a large family, and she had many maiden nieces of marriageable age, which she was trying to match up with eligable men. So her general attitude reminded Edward greatly of Maes Hughes who was always encouraging Roy to "find yourself a wife." In one sense, Edward was flattered, but he wasn't interested in finding a wife right now.

She usually had a friendly smile for them, but not this afternoon. Brenda Doyle did not look pleased, and her full mouth was pulled down in a frown while her green eyes looked as hard as pebbles.

"Young Master Smith-Jones!" she barked, meaning Alphonse. "You left your key in the door lock last night. That was very careless of you - I tell you, the younger generation -"

Al had the wit to blush and duck his head. "Sorry, Mrs. Doyle, I was so worried about brother, I quite forgot. It shan't happen again."

That seem to satisfy Mrs. Doyle because she didn't lecture Al about interrupting her lecture. Instead, she turned to beam at Edward. "And here 'tis your brother, all safe and sound like I told you he would be." Edward started, then remembering what she had told Al Tuesday night, blushed crimson from collar to hair roots.

"You look tired, Mr. Smith-Jones." Brenda's smile was knowing and Edward gave her a weak grin while he blushed even redder. He wondered helplessly: Do all women have such dirty minds? Now I'll have her expression stuck in my mind and I'll NEVER get to sleep!

"A message came for you," she stepped back into her flat and rummaged in a basket set on a low table next to the door before she returned and handed Edward a small envelope. He looked curiously at it, his name 'Edward Smith-Jones' and address '12 Court Street, London, W1' were written on the face of the envelope in a near copperplate script. The envelope was thin, like it didn't contain much, but at the bottom, he could feel a hard, flat object. Edward pressed down on the paper and the outline of a familiar object came through.

My key!

Now suddenly wide awake, Edward felt a cold, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. His key, and perhaps his identity card were in this envelope. Mrs. Doyle's face took on a worried look. "Bad news, Mr. Smith-Jones?"

"Um, uhhh..." His expression probably looked stricken. "Er, it's from my employer. It might be a new job order." Brenda seemed eager to find out what it was, but she was doomed to disappointment as he stuck it in the left pocket of his coat instead of opening it.

The burst of adrenalin had been brief, and Edward sagged against the wall, rubbing his left hand over his face.

I'm so tired!

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Doyle, but I'm exhausted and I need to get some sleep, thank you for the message."

He inclined his head to her before turning towards the stairs, but paused when she said "Excuse me, young Master Smith-Jones, but aren't you forgetting something?"

Edward put his right foot on the first tread and slowly began to mount the flight of steps. Including the ground floor they were on, (they lived on the third) this meant it was going to be a long climb of four flights of stairs.

"Be glad you have honest neighbors!" Mrs. Doyle used 'young master' as an address for boys like Alphonse. He dimly heard his little brother say a quick 'thank you' to her for his key, then he was racing up the stairs after Edward.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Edward took off his coat once they reached the third floor landing, and dragged it along behind him down the hall. The smell of cooking cabbage - and also beets - was very strong here, but Edward's brain was so fogged he barely noticed it, or Alphonse telling him he would unlock the door.

The nape of Edward's neck prickled briefly when he entered the cold and silent flat, but no hands reached out to grab him, and the feeling went away. He crossed the small combination kitchen/dining room - dropping the coat on the floor by the table - in three steps and entered the almost as small sitting/bed room. Al had darted ahead to pull down the murphy bed and lock it in place. Then he opened a nearby chest and extracted four pillows which he threw on the bed in a haphazard manner.

Edward was swaying with weariness, so before he fell down, he sat down on the edge of the bed, his arms resting on his legs, and closed his eyes. For a moment, just for a moment.

"Brother!"

Al's shout made Edward awake with a start, he was still sitting in the same position. Summoning the last of his energy, he bent down to untie and pull off his shoes before he turned and crawled to the right side of the bed and collapsed, his head fortunately landing right on a pilllow. He sighed once in relief, then Edward was dead to the world.

Alphonse returned to the dining area and hung Edward's coat, and his jacket on the wooden coat tree by the door. Edward was already snoring, he laid on his stomach, almost completely face-first on a pillow, left arm flung out over the bed, right arm handing off the side. Al suddenly felt tired too, but something bothered him - he didn't feel secure. He looked over at the door, and it looked weak to him, so Al walked over to it and threw the deadbolt and chain.

He still didn't feel completely safe, so after a moment of thought he took one of the three mismatched kitchen chairs by the table and jammed it underneath the door knob. Al shuffled back to the bed - and tripped over Ed's shoes. Stifling a swear word, he picked them up and carried them back to the mat by the door, before he bent over to untie and remove his own shoes.

Back at the bed, Al scowled at his snoring brother, whose left arm was taking up the space Al wanted to occupy. He climbed onto the bed anyways and poked Edward's left shoulder "Move your arm, brother." After ninety seconds of this, Edward made a vague grumbling noise deep in his throat, but he did retract his arm, shoving it underneath another pillow. Before he lay down, Al had one more task, he leaned over to Edward and pulled off his hair tie. Edward would eventually roll over onto his back, and if the tie were left in, he would wake up with a headache.

It took Al a few minutes longer to fall asleep.......
_____________________________________________________________________________

When Al woke up, the flat was dark as well as cold and silent. He was disoriented and didn't know where he was for a moment, then he heard a soft snore behind him. Reaching back with one hand, Al felt the comforting warmth of Edward's body, Edward who was so deeply asleep he wouldn't wake up even if Al were to jump on the bed - a concept he had successfully tested one night.

He sighed and turned over, ready to go back to sleep, then he suddenly sat bold upright with the the realization his bladder was sending his brain an urgent message.

Dammit!

With great reluctance, Alphonse rolled out of bed and put his feet on the floor. It was freezing cold, and of course the fire - unattended since yesterday - had gone out. Al blew a loud sigh and padded in his socked feet across the floor towards a doorway roughly 'kitty corner' from the dining area. He was so accustomed to the layout of the room, he easily avoided bumping into furniture in the darkness.

Once past the doorway, Al swiftly negotiated a short hallway, past one closed door, and to a lavatory which had been carved out of a room at the end of the hall. A few minutes later, Al lowered the toilet lid, pullled the chain, and then turned on the 'cold' sink tap and washed his hands. As he walked back up the hall, Al paused and looked at the closed door he'd passed before.

After they'd reached London and rented this flat, he had originally slept in that room, but he'd never liked it. It was always cold in there, the air felt stuffy, and he slept fitfully, his slumber troubled by strange noises and the feeling 'something' was 'watching' him.

Alphonse's nerve finally broke the night he woke up to see the closet door open and a black murmuring shadow rush out, then shoot under the bed which 'it' proceeded to rap on the wooden legs of. He grabbed his pillow and the top blanket before he fled into the sitting room and curled up on the floor in front of the fireplace. Al somehow fell asleep only to be woken in early in the morning by a string of obscenities after Edward tripped over him.

At breakfast a few hours later, Edward made light of Al's experiences. "There's no such thing as ghosts, Al," he argued, and Al argued back. "Yeah? We used to think there was no such thing as homunculi either, but they existed!"

Edward sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his flesh hand. "Like ghosts, homunculi don't exist here either. In this world, they are just scary stories. But if it makes you feel better, I'll sleep in there tonight."

Al had to admit his brother was tough, as he stuck it out for two nights in the haunted bedroom. The next morning, Edward was bleary eyed and yawning at breakfast. "Didn't you sleep well, brother?" Al asked with a smug grin on his face.

But Edward just shrugged and slurped his tea. "That mattress is lumpy, and it smells musty, that's all." But Al didn't believe his excuses for even a minute as Edward seemed strangely reluctant to go to bed that evening, and sometime during the night, Al awoke with a startled gasp to se a dark figure standing next to the murphy bed. "It's just me," Edward growled. "Move over."

So Al moved and Edward crawled in and rammed a pillow over his head before he burrowed completely under the covers. "Brother? What happened?"

Al was alarmed because he could feel Edward trembling, as if he'd been badly frightened. Had he seen the same shadow come from the closet?

"I don't wanna talk about it" came the muffled reply. Al could sense a dangerous edge to his older brother's voice, so he gave up and went back to sleep. The morning after was a Saturday, so Edward slept very late, and didn't stir until early afternoon. The first words out of his mouth were "The murphy bed is big enough for the two of us."

The bedroom was demoted to the staus of storage room where they kept their suitcases, and the few pieces of out-of-season clothes they owned, the bed was stripped of it's covers and the frame shoved over to a far wall. The door was kept firmly closed, but when passing it during a nighttime visit to the lavatory, Al thought he could hear the bed springs squeaking, plus low mutterings at the keyhole of the door.

No sounds came from the room this time, but Al quickened his pace anyway, re-entering first the sitting room, and then the kitchen. He looked up at the clock mounted on the wall above the stove, the radium-tipped numbers and hands glowed, the positions of the latter informed Al it was nearly seven o'clock. He had forgotten to look at the clock before going to sleep, but he'd assumed it had been somewhere between three and four o'clock in the afternoon.

His stomach growled, telling him it was time for dinner. Al opened the fire box of the stove and was amazed to feel a little heat coming from the small mound of banked coals inside. After getting a poker from the wooden box of stove tools set beside it, he cautiously stirred the pile, then added a few more coals from the bucket next to the box. Al smiled as they caught and began burning briskly. So it wouldn't slam, he eased the door shut before standing up. Al took a kettle from it's home on a back burner of the stove, and re-filled it with water at the sink before he placed it on a front burner.

It would take a while to get hot enough, and while he waited, Al went back to the fireplace in the sitting room and hopefully stirered the banked coals with another poker. Nothing. He sighed and picked up the ash bucket and shovel, then started scooping ashes out, before he would lay a fresh bed of coals.

Al was almost done when Edward cleared his throat. "What are you doing?"

"The fire's gone out, brother, so I've -"

"I can see that," Edward snapped testily. "You woke me up!"

"It's after seven brother, it's time you got up. Otherwise, your internal clock will be all messed up."

"My internal clock is fine the way it is," came the growled reply. "Where do you hear such nonsense?"

"From Mr. Krump, my Latin instructor. It's my first class after lunch and he always says it to my classmates who have fallen asleep at their desks."

"I still say it's nonsense. I've slept all day before without problems. This is the first good sleep I've had in two days which wasn't drug-induced, furthermo -" Edward's stomach chose that moment to interrupt with a plaintive gurgle.

"You stomach doesn't agree with you." Al smiled and put a hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle. Edward glared at his little brother and uttered very nasty obscenity He'd woken up in a bad mood and he was spoiling for a good argument, but his stomach growled even louder than his anger. He was hungry.

"DAMMIT!" he snapped, and got out of the bed. He landed with a thump, and stomped off in the direction of the hallway.

Al sighed and went back to scooping ashes out of the fireplace. Now brother was up, he could make all the noise he wanted. He dimly head the toilet flush, but he paid it no mind as he was so engrossed in this work. So Al jumped a few inches when the lamp next to Edward's chair snapped on and flooded the room with a harsh light.

Edward threw himself into the overstuffed chair with his arms crossed and pouted for a few minutes before he got up and went to the dining table where Mrs. Doyle had put the mail and the papers. He took the chair from under the doorknob and sat down, then hooked the wastebasket over with his left foot before he sorted the mail while muttering "junk, junk, junk, bill," (he didn't toss that one)"junk, junk", "are they serious?", (that one went into the wastebasket also), "junk, bill, junk - - BOLLOCKS!"

His face still tight with anger, Edward kicked the wastebasket back to it's spot against the wall, picked up the newspapers and stomped back to his chair with them. Alphonse looked sideways at his brother, but said nothing. He had finished scraping out all the ashes, and now he laid a fresh bed of coals down before he plucked a long wooden match from a holder next to the coal bucket. After he twisted a piece of old newspaper into a "spill", he struck the match on the rough side of the holder and used it to light the paper. This was pushed next to the bottom of the coals, ahd Al tossed the match on top.

Edward had picked up Tuesday's London Times - he'd brought it in that morning, intending to read it after work but that was the day he'd been kidnapped. He angrily rattled the paper as he paged through it without really reading the articles, and before he was halfway through he muttered "Dammit!" again and crumpled the paper up before tossing it to the floor in a fit of pique. Still annoyed with Alphonse for waking him up, Edward could have happily gone back to bed, but now he felt too restless to do so.

The kettle began to whistle, so Edward lurched up and stomped off to the kitchen. He got two mugs from one cupboard, and a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits from another before grabbing a canister of tea from it's home next to the stove. It felt light, so Edward pried off the lid before he muttered another curse word upon discovering it was almost empty.

Going back to the counter, he opened a roll top bread box which was next to the icebox, and withdrew a small loaf which he experimentally banged on the counter top. Hard as a rock. Edward opened the icebox and looked inside, the milk was almost gone too, and when he picked up the bottle, he could see it was starting to curdle. The cream next to it had already turned and was smelling. Next, he investigated the small wedge of Stilton, it had mold on it, which he could cut off, but what to have with it?

The pickle jar contained more brine than pickles, and a pot of mustard had been inexplicably been put back empty and with a knife still in it. He then opened the fruit drawer to find one lonely apple, which he took out.

So this is supper.

Edward got a sharp knife from the silverware drawer and peeled the apple before he cut it into thin slices, then turned back to the stove to take the loudly whistling kettle off the burner. He took a teaspoon from the drawer to measure the remaining tea into the two mugs, then filled them with hot water and stirred. Edward then returned to the knife and attacked the cheese with it, once the mold was off, he also cut the cheese into thin slices. Next came the turn of the two remaining pickles.

He put a slice of cheese, and another of pickle between two slices of apple, then bit into it. It wasn't roast beef, or a pork chop, but the combination of cheese and apple, with the crunchy pickle tasted all right. Before drinking his tea, Edward dumped two heaping teaspoon fulls of sugar in and stirred it thoroughly. He was still hungry, but now the edge had been taken off, he no longer felt like screaming obscenities and throwing things.

Al had a good fire going and the small flat was beginning to warm up now even the electric light didn't seem to glare so much. When Al dared to look back and smile at Edward, he returned the smile. "Come and have a cheese, apple,and pickle sandwich. I know it's not much, but the nearest shops are closed by now. And I'm not ashamed to say this Al, but I'm afraid to go out, even if I could get us some cheap sandwiches at The Bull and Crown. In the dark, I won't be able to see those bastards coming."

Al came over and took the 'sandwich' his brother offered, but he had nothing to add, so the brothers kept eating their impromptu supper. Al made a face at the tea, and he added THREE teaspoons of sugar before looking at the icebox. "Sorry Al, both the milk and the cream have gone bad, you'll have to make do with sugar. I'll go out early tomorrow for some bread, milk, tea, and apples. In the meantime..." he raised one arm and sniffed. "I really need to take a bath, but they also have my k - "

Edward stopped in mid sentence and set down his mug of now lukewarm tea. He'd forgotten the envelope Mrs. Doyle had given him. Where had he put it?

In his coat pocket.

Where was his coat?

He'd let go of it sometime after he'd entered the flat, because he'd gone straight for the bed and lain down. Al slurped his tea and muttered "Brother", then pointed at the wooden coat rack near the door and on the other side of the table. Edward crossed the space in three strides and reached into the left pocket. His fingers closed on paper and he drew it out. Edward had lied when he told Mrs. Doyle it was from Tucker. The neat script on the front of the envelope wasn't his handwriting - it was too neat, too cursive, too - feminine.

The paper crackled as Edward tore the envelope open with his right index finger and shook the contents out onto the table. His key bounced out first and Edward caught it with a dull 'clank' in his right hand. Next, he drew out a thick piece of pasteboard, about the size of a calling card. His identity card. It listed his name (last name false), date and place of birth (also false), height and weight (no longer applicable), eye color (well, that at least was true), and his current address, plus a small black and white photo of himself which was glued to the card.

Edward swalowed hard, there was a small piece of paper still inside the envelope and he withdrew it with trembling fingers. It was folded over once and contained just a few words:

"We'll be in touch." - M.

The penmanship of the note wasn't very good, and he compared it with the writing on the envelope. That script was more cursive and written with a lighter hand than the heavy printing of the note. He suspected Tola had penned the address, while Mathun had authored the latter.

Edward wondered while he was bothering with such minutae until he realized he was doing so to avoid the invevitable truth. "They will come back for us Al; that job offer is a gift, hopefully we'll be gone when they do return, and if luck is on our side, they will never find us."

"Unless they ask Tucker." Al's voice was gloomy and he'd lost his appetite.

"Tucker knows what a solitary person I am, so he'll know they aren't friends inquiring after me. He won't tell them."

"My school friends might, so I'd better not tell them exactly where we are going, only that you've taken a job doing something in - um......"

"Catalouging a private library in - um, Ireland!" Edward's mood began to lighten as Alphonse pasted on a small brave smile. When still a state alchemist, he used to spend the hours on long train rides making up whoppers to tell Mustang. When he felt the need to, Edward could lie with a straight face better than anyone. "Some country house near, er - Belfast. Tell 'em you'll write when you can."

Alphonse's face fell again. "I won't be able to write to them, will I brother?"

"We'll work something out, Al. Someone from the estate is bound to go to Ireland for some reason and we can give that person the letters to mail there. If not, we can figure out another way. Your friends will hear from you, and our kidnappers will waste time chasing their tails."

This brought a chuckle from Al, which made Edward smile. It pleased him to make his little brother happy, and now they had made plans to outwit the gang of Drachmans, Edward felt he was fulfilling his mother's final request to take care of and protect Al with everything he had.

It was with a light heart he reached over to the cutting board and assembled another cheese, apple, and pickle 'sandwich'. It now looked like everything was going to turn out okay, another bullet dodged by the brilliant Elric brothers. Unknown to Edward, Alphonse was thinking roughly the same thing. He'd been taken by surprise once, but he wouldn't let that happen again, and now they were together, he would protect Brother with every fiber of his being.

Al's right hand shot out and grabbed the 'sandwich' Edward had just made, throwing a bright smile in the direction of his brother's scowl. Just about to take a bite, he paused and wrinkled his nose.

"Brother, you smell!"


Author's note: Guess it's bath time for Ed. Sorry fan girls, you'll just have to use your imagination!








InsaneFangirl
Yet another great chapter. ^^ I'm not able to keep up longer chapters like that. You have alot to be admired for. I can't wait for your next update!

IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Sep 30 2006, 03:18 AM) [snapback]453152[/snapback]

Yet another great chapter. ^^ I'm not able to keep up longer chapters like that. You have alot to be admired for. I can't wait for your next update!


A new plot bunny has been chowing down on my brain and I'm working on a drabble series called The Waters of Lethe and the chapters should be easier to write because I'm trying to limit each one to just a page. Done is a oneshot called Dr. Gregory House Vs Edward Elric. It needs to be beta-ed to ensure House is in character (House fans, anyone?), and I need to change Ed's parting shot. It probably needs a better title too. Also a mini fic called Lordy! Lordy! Look Whose Forty!, and last but not least, my attempt at a lemon Poor Little Fool.
InsaneFangirl
-bites lip- Does that mean you're not going to finish this? Oh, I hope not. While I look forward to your other work, I check up for chapters on this one just about every day. (Not to sound bossy or anything!)
IttyBittyPretty
Oh, I'll finish it, it's just that my typing needs to catch up- I've lacked motivation lately - my muse runs in cycles. Chapter 24 needs to be typed to Word Pad, and chapter 25 is half written. Think it's time to send Ed off on another life risking adventure? Suurreee.....
BTW: Over on ff.net, I generally update once a week, this is the first week I've missed doing that since February. In the meantime, please also enjoy Sable's story "fire and light". It's bo-day-shus! biggrin.gif
InsaneFangirl
Okay, thank you! ^^

If you need motivation or tips, I'm here for you. Anything, just ask.
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Oct 4 2006, 09:51 AM) [snapback]454908[/snapback]

Okay, thank you! ^^

If you need motivation or tips, I'm here for you. Anything, just ask.


Want to beta the "House vs Elric" mini fic, or another Ed/Win mini fic I've written? It's called "Home Again Home Again."
InsaneFangirl
QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Oct 5 2006, 07:39 AM) [snapback]455245[/snapback]

QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Oct 4 2006, 09:51 AM) [snapback]454908[/snapback]

Okay, thank you! ^^

If you need motivation or tips, I'm here for you. Anything, just ask.


Want to beta the "House vs Elric" mini fic, or another Ed/Win mini fic I've written? It's called "Home Again Home Again."


I'm not too into EdWin, but I love just about everything you write...so sure. ^^ Do you want to send it to me by PM or email?
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Oct 5 2006, 05:33 PM) [snapback]455380[/snapback]

QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Oct 5 2006, 07:39 AM) [snapback]455245[/snapback]

QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Oct 4 2006, 09:51 AM) [snapback]454908[/snapback]

Okay, thank you! ^^

If you need motivation or tips, I'm here for you. Anything, just ask.


Want to beta the "House vs Elric" mini fic, or another Ed/Win mini fic I've written? It's called "Home Again Home Again."


I'm not too into EdWin, but I love just about everything you write...so sure. ^^ Do you want to send it to me by PM or email?



I can send an attachment via email.

GAAHHH!!! Just spent an hour this morning finishing the typing up of chapter 24. Printed it out, then decided to type up what I had written of chapter 25. I chose "new document" from file and when the prompt box came up, I saved changes to chapter 24. Then Word Pad froze. I clicked "end task", then re-opened Word Pad and then the floppy. Chapter 24 is GONE! ARGH! I can re-type from the printed copy and save to a new disk (the old one might be getting full) but it can be so tedious. I said some VERY bad words to the computer when it happened. Grrr....... mad.gif
InsaneFangirl
[quote name='IttyBittyPretty' date='Oct 6 2006, 07:00 PM' post='455984']
[quote name='InsaneFangirl' post='455380' date='Oct 5 2006, 05:33 PM']
[quote name='IttyBittyPretty' post='455245' date='Oct 5 2006, 07:39 AM']
[quote]



GAAHHH!!! Just spent an hour this morning finishing the typing up of chapter 24. Printed it out, then decided to type up what I had written of chapter 25. I chose "new document" from file and when the prompt box came up, I saved changes to chapter 24. Then Word Pad froze. I clicked "end task", then re-opened Word Pad and then the floppy. Chapter 24 is GONE! ARGH! I can re-type from the printed copy and save to a new disk (the old one might be getting full) but it can be so tedious. I said some VERY bad words to the computer when it happened. Grrr....... mad.gif
[/quote]

Oh no. ;_; You poor thing, that's terrible. I completly under where you're coming from. ;_; Losing work is the most #^%*%&! thing in the world. -hugs-
IttyBittyPretty
Well IF, now you've wet your feet with a oneshot, care to take on a drabble series I've started? It's called "The Waters of Lethe" and imagines the movie events happening quite differently. Each chapter is only a page long and so they write faster, forcing me to tell the story in bite-sized chunks.
InsaneFangirl
I fell in love with the first chapter, and I can't wait for the rest. How does it go differently, storyline wise?

Um...will you be continuing on this any time soon?
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(InsaneFangirl @ Oct 16 2006, 12:06 AM) [snapback]460484[/snapback]

I fell in love with the first chapter, and I can't wait for the rest. How does it go differently, storyline wise?

Um...will you be continuing on this any time soon?


First I have to get my ya-yas out on this "Lethe" puppy, then I'll go back to posting more chapters of "And All Manner", which is good because this will give my writing a chance to pull ahead of the weekly updating schedule I've set for myself.
IttyBittyPretty
It seems like forever, but it was only two months since I last updated this on ff.net. Here is chapter 24 comin' at'cha!
======================================
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist, I just like to play around in it's world for awhile and annoy the characters - usually Edward. But I do own any OCs I've created for this story.

Chapter Twenty-four: In which it's discovered some can come to a decision on their own, while others have to be pushed.

Londonium, 1920

Precisely at nine am the next morning, Hetty Ravensworth came to the entrance of Colonel Elric's bedroom and rapped on the doorframe. The huddled form on the bed stirred briefly, but when it didn't move again, Hetty rapped harder before she loudly cleared her throat.

This time, the figure turned over to face her and mumbled something like "Huh? Wudjawakemeupfur?"

One bleary golden eye cracked open and balefully regarded her from behind tangled strands of blond hair. Colonel Edward Elric was awake - barely.

Hetty had faced worse 'hairy eyeballs' in her years so she didn't quail now. "Your breakfast is ready, Colonel, come and eat before it gets cold."

Very, very reluctantly, Edward sat up in his bed and opened his other eye. Then he closed both and fluttered them before opening each eye at the same time. Heavily crusted with sleep, they slipped closed again as Edward's mouth gaped in a huge yawn. He stuck both his arms out to the sides and stretched, he could feel his shoulder joints crack and muscles protest.

Yesterday had been even busier than the day before and he'd gone to bed sometime between nine and ten pm, but his overstimulated brain had refused to stop whirling on a cen. He'd lain awake for an hour - maybe three - while madly firing neurons attempted to make sense of it all, to compartmentalize all he'd experienced that day.

They failed miserably.

Edward would have a lot of work to do tomorrow and keeping mental track was impossible, and he wished he'd written it all down. He eventually fell asleep when his higher functions finally exhausted themselves and gave up on the task, but his sleep was troubled by a horrible nightmare, the first he'd had in some time.


Tola merged into Dorothy Woolfe and she crossed Paddington High Street with excruciating slowness as a monstrous truck bore down on her. Edward tried to scream a warning, but his voice was too soft, he couldn't shout "Watch out!" loudly enough. Just bfore the truck hit Tola/Dorothy, it's front grille opened to reveal long, sharp fangs dripping with saliva, and it ATE her.

While the truck was chewing Tola/Dorothy with disgustingly wet crunching and slurping sounds, it "saw" Edward and began to chase him. So Edward ran, but in frustratingly slow motion as if through deep and. He could hear a high-pitched screaming plus a wet grinding noise, and when he looked back the truck's grille was still moving as it chewed it's victim. "Kiss me, my darling!" shrieked Tola/Dorothy but Edward didn't dare stop running.

He ducked behind buildings and around sharp corners, but the truck just smashed right on through. Once he tried to hide behind the Central Londonium Morgue, but the truck simply CHEWED a hole through the building and continued to pursue him. So Edward had to run again, this time along the frozen Speed River, the truck so close behind him he could feel it's hot breath upon his back, the whine of it's many wheels bringing it closer and closer until it's long tongue reached out and flicked against his neck.

As Edward ran, he passed beneath many bridges and at each one, people he knew - Alphonse, Winry, Ian, Pratchett, Prince, Lilith, Hetty, Mustang, Hawkeye, Havoc, Lust, Dante, Envy - and others looked casually over the railings at him. Edward pleased for help each time, but no one moved to aid him. The truck had now grown too big to pass under the bridges, so each span exploded into a shower of metal, or bricks, or stone blocks when the truck smashed into them.

Whoever had been on the bridge would go flying impossibly high until long black arms shot out from the truck's body and dragged them while they screamed shrilly to the cab's front, and stuffed them into the grille/mouth. When Edward looked back again, he saw nothing but a blank whiteness behind the track, as if it was erasing everything it passed through and obliterating his world.....

There was just one figure on the last bridge, his half brother Rudolfus. Edward held up his hands and cried "Bruder! Konen sie mir helfen, bitte!" And his older brother helped him. As Rudolfus flung out his right hand, a rope uncoiled from the palm and Edward grabbed it without breaking his stride. He began to climb as fast as he could, but the rope was made of glass and so very slippery.

Suddenly, the truck's long tongue wrapped around his waist and it started to drag him backwards. Edward screamed "Brother!" and looked up to Rudolfus, but he was gone - the end of the rope was merely hanging in midair. The truck tongue tightened it's grip and the rope shattered, sending long shards of glass deep into his hands and Edward was falling.......

He looked back one last time and the truck's mouth, lined with hundreds - no, thousands of fangs was gaped wide to swallow him whole. It's windshield has turned into two red glaring eyes and it was laughing at him, exhaling great gusts of hot and stinking carrion-scented breath with each spasm. Edward screamed again and again but his voice had finally failed and he made not a sound.


He woke up just before the teeth closed on him, a scream echoing in his ears........

For several minutes, Edward just sat there and drew in stuffy air, then exhaled it in gasping sobs. He was soaked in sweat, hair and pajamas plastered to his skin. What had felt like the truck's tongue was really a flannel sheet which had become twisted upon itself and then around his midsection by his thrashing. Too spooked to sleep, he untangled himself with difficulty from the scattered sheets and stumbled to the bathroom. After Edward used the toilet, he closed the lid and flushed before he sat down upon it, arms resting on his legs and head hanging low. He silently promised himself, I will never sleep again!

Edward sat and trembled in this position for some time, but after he heard a distant clock tower chime three, and then four a.m., he suddenly got up while muttering "this is useless" under his breath.

He stripped off his now cold and wet pajamas, then reached into the tub enclosure and turned on the shower. After he fiddled with the taps for a bit, he stepped under it's stream. The warm water soothed his tense muscles and after a few minutes of sluicing off the sweat, Edward grabbed a bar of soap from it's built-in dish and throughly laved himself before he washed his hair.

He had forgotten to first get out some towels, Edward dripped all over the floor after he shut off the water and climbed out to search the linen closet built into one wall of the bathroom. After roughly drying himself with one towel, he used a second one to more throughly dry off his automail limbs, then wrapped and tied the first one around his waist. After pulling out a third towel, he sat down on the toilet seat to work on his hair.

It was only half dry when a wave of weariness suddenly washed over him and Edward thought I'll fall asleep if I stay here! Which brought on a mental image of his housekeeper entering the bathroom to find him slumbering in this positon. Dressed only in a towel which barely covered his knees. The thought made him blush.

After giving his hair one last rub, Edward dropped the towel on the side of the tub, but it slid off and fell to the floor. He was too tired to pick it up and after slowly levering himself to his feet, he kicked the second towel and his damp pajamas out of the way before stumbling back to his bedroom. The towels around his head and waist fell off somewhere along the way but he didn't notice. Edward cringed when he crawled between the sheets - they were slightly damp and felt clammy - but he didn't have the energy to search out fresh ones and he laid down anyway. The last thing he remembered was twitching the blankets up around his shoulders before he plunged off the deep end into the blackness of sleep...



Burdened with her purchases for today's meals, Hetty Ravensworth entered the flat at eight a.m. and she set straight to work after relieving her arms of the parcels. Hetty struck a match and lit one of the burners of the gas stove, then set a cast iron skillet on top and put in a few squirts of cooking oil. Then the did her usual circuit through the flat - the dining room was clean and the table was already set for breakfast. The sitting room was also clean, except for the glass of now flat white soda Edward had been sipping at. Next to this was the formerly damp cloth she had laid on his forehead, She took them back into the kitchen, rinsed the glass and put it into the sink and put the cloth back into the 'rag bag'.

The pan was hot by now, so Hetty put off her check of the rest of the flat and returned to the counter. She got a sharp knife from the silverware drawer and reached into one of the carrier bags to remove a couple of potatoes, a large onion and two peppers - one red, one green. The potatoes went into the sink where they were scrubbed and dried before she placed them on a cutting board and cubed them.

Once Hetty finished with the potatoes, she opened the cuprboard and got out a small bowl into which she swept the potato cubes, then transferred them to the pan and dumped them into the hot oil. While they began to cook she returned to the cutting board where she cut and chopped the onion and peppers into small pieces. She stopped only once, to wipe tears from her eyes and go to another drawer to get out a spatula and a cheese grater.

She used the spatula to turn the potatoes so they would brown evenly before returning to the cutting board and filled the bowl with the onion and pepper pieces. After they were added to the pan, the air began to fill with the redolent smells of the new additions, and Hetty spent a few minutes at the stove, stirring and seasoning from two small containers of salt and pepper which stood sentinel next to the stove.

Once the mixture in the pan was done, she pushed it to the side with the spatula and from another carrier bag she produced three rashers of bacon which were placed into the pan. While they began to cook, Hetty walked across the kitchen to the coffe maker which she had prepared last night with a new filter and fresh grounds in the basket. She took out the glass carafe and filled it with water then the machine almost full. The inch of water left over was used to soak the grounds.

Hetty replaced the carafe and turned on the machine to start it perking before she opened a roll top metal box on the counter next to it and withdrew a half loaf of bread from it, then a serrated knife from the silverware drawer. She cut four thin slices from the loaf and popped them into a silver toaster which was on the opposite side of the coffee maker, and slammed the sides shut.

The bacon was ready to be turned, which Hetty did before she removed the rest of her purchases from the carrier bags and put them into the refrigerator. Before closing the door, she retrieved the glassbutter dish, a jar of grape jam, a carton of eggs, a square of Cheddared cheese, and a pot of mustard. The first two items she carried over to the dining room table and set next to the breakfast dishes. Before she returned to the kitchen, Hetty opened the wooden blinds on the two windows, so the morning sun poured into the room and pooled on the floor.

The bacon was done and Hetty took it out of the pan and set it onto some paper towelling torn from a roll held by a marble holder opposite the salt and pepper containers. She moved the pan from the burner and replaced it with another cast-iron skillet from the cupboard under the stove. While it heated up, she rummaged in the counter below the cutting board and eventually coming up with a small earthernware bowl.

Hetty cracked three eggs into it and whisked them together with a teaspoon of mustard and half a cup of water. The toaster popped open while she whisked, so she briefly paused to extract the hot bread and placed it on a silver tray, then put a cover over it and took it into the dining room. After she came back, Hetty grated the Cheddared cheese over the bowl and whisked the shredded cheese in. The pan was hot and Hetty took the bowl over and poured in the egg and cheese mixture into it, using the spatula to scrape out any egg residue. She set the bowl aside and picked up the warm bacon to crumble it into the potato/onion/pepper mixture in the other pan.

After they were stirred together with the spatula, Hetty scraped them on top of the cooking eggs and went to check on the progress of the coffee. It was alomost done so she opened another cupboard door to retrieve the silver coffee pot. A 'ding' announced the end of the perk cycle and she decanted most of the hot coffee into the pot, but left just enough of the Cymru Roast to fill a mug. She would need the caffeine to cope with the task of waking Colonel Elric.

After she carried the pot into the dining room and placed it on the table with it's handle facing the empty coffee cup, Hetty returned to the utility drawer to get out a large metal pancake turner and used that and the spatula to flip the cooking eggs over. Now she had a little time on her hands, she went out into the hall and entered the Colonel's suite. His private sitting room was pristine, if a little dusty - she would have to see to that later - but the bathroom was a mess. A wet towel and a pair of damp pajamas littered the floor, the taps in the tub were still dripping and there were damp spots on the bathroom rug.

The pajamas smelt strongly of male sweat, so she picked them and the towel up and bundled them together before she bent down to turn off the taps. The bundle was shoved into the laundry hamper in the hall and she continued into the bedroom to find two more damp towels on the floor, plus a sleeping Colonel Elric almost entirely covered by blankets.

Once Edward was sitting up in bed, Hetty turned smartly on her heel and returned to her work of making his breakfast. She paused only briefly to toss the other two towels into the hamper. The omelet was done to a turn, so Hetty slid it out of the pan and onto another silver tray, placed a cover over it and placed it to the left of Edward's plate.


The odors of cooking food had finally reached the bedroom and Edward's nose twitched before he sniffed appreciatively and his mouth started to water. But he was so tired, maybe too tired to eat, was it really almost nine a.m. already? Without noticing he was stark naked, Edward moved to the side of the bed and idly scratched his balls while his mouth gaped in yawn after yawn. He must have slept deeply after his shower although it felt like he hadn't gotten a wink after bolting awake from that nightmare. Edward wondered if his screams had been loud enough to bother the other tenants.

His left hand stopped what it was doing when Edward looked into the dresser mirror and realized he was utterly, completely and totally - nude. As in the day he had been born, as in a jaybird. Edward slapped himself on the forehead when he remembered - his pajamas had been soaked through with sweat, they had been damp and clammy so he had left them lying on the floor of the bathroom after his shower. Mrs. Ravensworth must think I'm a pig!

Now mostly awake, Edward got up and rummaged in his underwear drawer for a clean pair of boxers and pulled them on. He couldn't decide what to wear for the day so from the bottom drawer he got a pair of gray flannel drawstring pants. Lounging pants the clerk at the menswear store in Central had called them, but Edward just referred to the pants as 'incredibly comfortable' and they were the first things he reached for after a long day at Central HQ. To cover his automail and scarred chest, he pulled a black flannel crewneck sweatshirt over his head before he sat down at the dressing table and began working on the rat's nest called his hair.

After five minutes, and much cursing, yanking, tugging and eye watering, Edward hadn't made much progress. He was getting very hot and angry and for a few insane moments Edward considered grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting his hair as short as possible, then shearing off the stubble so he'd be as bald as Lt. Colonel Armstrong. He shuddered at a mental picture of himself with one little blonde forelock and pink sparkles circling his head. Edward stuck out his tongue at his reflection in the mirror and said "yuck!" aloud before he set back to work on the snarls.

And that was the state Hetty found him in, his hairbrush was hopelessly stuck in one knot while a string of curse words tumbled from his lips. And once again, she was struck by the dichotomy, such foul words coming from such an innocent looking face. She bustled into the room and scolded "Language, Colonel! Language! Here now, let go of that brush!"

Edward's watering eyes glared golden doom at her because said brush was stuck in place and couldn't be shifted. To his astonishment, she slapped his hand away and took hold of the brush. "Allow me, Colonel."

She freed the brush with a few deft flicks of her wrist. "Colonel, give me your comb." He growled softly, but did as she asked, and Hetty began to work on gently teasing open the hair knots.

While she worked, Hetty said "My youngest, Liam, had long black hair, even longer than yours. Well it was long until the chemo for the cancer made it all fall out. The treatment was worse than the disease and it nearly killed him, plus his hair never grew back. He used to joke about being relieved because he would never again have to worry about his hair snarling up after it was washed."

She sighed, half happy and half sad. "Like most men, he used the wrong tools and went about unsnarling his hair in the wrong way. With a hair brush he would try to tear the knots apart with brute force. It's really best to use a comb and use gentle flicks like this. It pays off with less pain - and fewer bad words."

Edward flushed and kept his eyes averted to the floor, he now felt embarassed for showing off the dark side of his vocabulary. His housekeeper's touch was soothing as she sorted through his hair for knots and gently picked each one out. "Put your head back, Colonel." Hetty ordered and Edward did so, realizing too late a silly smile had crawled over his face because he'd been daydreaming Winry was unknotting his hair.

He kept his eyes closed for fear he would look right into hers should he open them. Had she lived, his mother would be close to the same age as Mrs. Ravensworth. His housekeeper had the same kind eyes and Edward wondered how many other children she had, and if Liam was still alive.

Edward's mind wandered onto that particular train of thought which took it far away from a chair at a dressing table in the ground floor flat of a house on Paddington Square in the city of Londonium back to the vllage of Steamy yaoi and a large house on a hill. Into its kitchen to a slim brunette woman who was humming a lullaby as she sliced carrots. Finally the woman stopped what she was doing and smiled down at him - he must have been very young - with kind blue eyes. The term mother's eyes came unbidden to Edward's mind and time stopped.

Edward gasped softly and opened his eyes. Mrs. Ravensworth was still working on a knot and all her attention was fixed on it, the tip of her tongue sticking out from between her lips as she concentrated. Because the knot was right at his hairline, she was being extra careful but it eventually yielded like all the rest had and silken strands flopped down into Edward's eyes. "All done Colonel, but next time remember to use that 'Snarls No More' conditioner."



His scalp still tingling, Edward sat at his chair in the dining room and sipped his coffee twenty minutes later. The potato/onion/pepper/bacon/cheese omelet had been delicious and he'd polished it off to the last shred, similarly only a few crumbs remained of the toast. And if Mrs. Ravensworth let him get away with it he would also empty the pot of Cymru Roast to the dregs too.

Oh caffeine! How I love thee! sang his jangling nerves. He would probably regret it later, but Edward had a lot of work facing him today and the buzz he was already feeling would help him wake up and get through it. Will my automail rattle if I drink all this coffee? his brain idly wondered before he set down the cup and slapped himself on the cheek to get it back on track.

He needed to write all today's tasks down and after casting his gaze around Edward spied a memo pad and a pen next to the telephone. He couldn't quite reach them from a sitting position so he had to get up off his chair and walk a few steps. Once there, Edward looked down and smiled ruefully at the metal wastebasket he'd retched into last night. Now it was not only clean, but it evne looked 'polished' and he felt a stab of guilt knowing what Mrs. Ravensworth had been compelled to do.

After grabbing the pad and pen, Edward sat back in his chair and uncapped the latter. But before he began to write, he paused to take another sip of coffee. At the top of the sheet he wrote:

Dumb Things I Have To Do Today

Below that, he jotted the numeral 'one' and his first task:
1 - Visit Amestrian Embassy and Call Mustang viz Drachma

Edward went down a space and wrote 'two':
2 - Visit Alchemist Society viz contacts and C. harassment

Another space down and 'three' was written:
3 - Warn Alphonse viz threats to alchemists, plus get him to talk to B.

Edward sat and stared at the pad while thinking hard, then apparently satisfied with what he'd written, he tore off the top page and folded it in half before placing the sheet next to his plate. He recapped the pen and poured the last of the coffee into his cup and while he did so it suddenly occured to him Bond had not made good on his threat to come early.

He remembered Ian had been very perturbed by the appearance of Rudolfus and his two companions. The New British Secret Service had known when he arrived and they even knew about Alphonse. So how had they failed to note the presence of a Drachman State Alchemist? Edward closed his eyes and smiled at nothing in particular while he savored the aroma of the coffee and sipped it. He recalled the many times Mustang had called him on the carpet for infractions of one military rule or another - Edward not giving a hang about whatever protocol he had broken - or at least badly bent. It had been worth it to see Mustang's face turn red and his eyebrows twitch.

When Roy Mustang got angry, really angry he forgot to be sarcastic or make snide comments about Edward's height. The first time he had returned from the 'machine world' Edward had taken great pleasure in making fun of Roy's eye patch, but nothing topped his second return. The day he and Al, footsore and weary had stumbled into Central HQ and Roy's intended sardonic comment had been stopped dead in it's tracks when Edward had pulled himself up and looked Roy straight in the eye...........

Edward slowly drained the cup and said softly to the empty air. "Somebody is in BIG trouble."

He didn't know the half of it.


Across Londonium and in a secret bunker located deep underneath the Houses of Parliament sat an unshaven and bleary-eyed Colonel Ian Bond. He'd been rousted from the comfort of his warm bed by 'X' just after 6 a.m., but he'd been laying awake for some time as he mentally listed the questions he planned to ask Elric. Ian had not welcomed the intrusion of his superior officer in the Secret Service, although he hadn't been surprised by the woman's sudden appearance in his bedroom. Most people wouldn't have heard her coming - staffers at HQ blieved she could make herself invisible - but nearly ten years had made Ian's senses painfully acute. And speaking of painful....

He was now starting to feel the bruises inflicted nearly forty eight houirs before by Eothan and Bersan. His arm ached particularly fierce, but 'X' hadn't given him time to take any of the pain pills the doctor had prescribed for him. Ian had tried to order 'X' to leave the room before he threw on some clothes, but she had just smirked and replied "I promise not to laugh." At least she had given him time to shake some pills from the bottle into a little plasticine baggie. Once they reached HQ an anonymous staffer had given him a cup of nasty office tea to wash a couple of them down.

After a couple hours of waiting, designed to shred the nerves of field agents called in, Ian sat in a lone chair in the middle of a mostly bare room while one bare lightbulb dangled above him. This produced the only, albeit glaring, light. But the area illuminated by the bulb was very small and the room behond it was either too dim to see clearly or too dark to see at all. Yet Ian knew a curved table - almost but not quite horseshoe-shaped - lurked in that darkness, a table with seven chairs at it.

If not already occupied, they would soon be sat in by the mysterious group known as the "Higher-ups" who ran new Britain's Secret Service and the Home Island Defense Forces, all under the umbrella of MI-7. All seven members of the group were experts with years of experience in their particular fields of espionage. No one knew their true identities, but while still a cocky 'probie' (probationary agent) Ian had once asked 'X' if she knew their names and would she tell him who they were.

She replied, "Yes, I could, but I would have to kill you immediately after doing so. " She had looked Ian straight in the eye all the while she delivered her statement without a trace of irony. That was when Ian had realized 'X' had not been joking - this was a deadly serious business.

The pain pills began to kick in just as shuffling noises in the area of the table told him the 'Higher-ups' were taking their seats. Ian relaxed - just a little - as the stiffness and soreness ebbed away. The area behind the table began to brighten - in order to keep their faces hidden, the 'Higher ups' were backlit. As well as making them hard to see, this lighting trick also served to intimidate people called before them.

Well, color me 'intimidated' then, he thought.

Now the light was bright enough, Ian could distinguish seven silhouettes at the table. Known within MI-& only by their code names: Brother and Sister were the alpha pair with the most authority, then came Aunt and Uncle, followed by First, Second, and Third Cousin. To further mix things up, Brother and Uncle were women, while Sister and Aunt were men. Ian wasn't quite sure about the Cousins, but two looked to be men, while the third was a woman. Maybe. MI-7 thrived on illusion and no where was illusion more paramount than with the 'Higher-ups'.

First to speak was Sister. He cleared his thrat and began in his chesty rumble. "Colonel Bond! We have your reports on the events of the past twenty four hours; the activities of the Christians and of the Drachman spies are worrisome, but what distresses Brother and I most," he inclined his head to Brother on his right. "Is the discovery of a former Drachman State Alchemist in our country. How did this happen without the knowledge of the Secret Service?"

Ian swallowed hard. "Unknown, sir. From what I ahve gathered, the alchemist and two companions found their own way to New Britain, but are now being sheltered by a third party."

Brother spoke up, her voice thin and sour as if she'd been sucking on a lemon. "There seems to be quite a bit you do not know Colonel Bond, your performance is most disappointing."

Ian hung his head when Third Cousin piped up in a falsetto voice. "This is not what we expected when we hired you."

"I realize that, Third Cousin. I am currently attempting to gain certain - ah, confidences from the Amestrian Colonel, Elric regarding some background information regarding the Drachman known as Rudolfus."

"So what is the delay, Colonel Bond?" This was spoken in the deep grumble of Aunt.

"Colonel Elric has a younger brother attending Highgate University and he apparently shares this background. Said background appears to be too painful for the younger brother to recall, so he has asked his elder not to speak of it."

"Funny, Colonel Bond," Sister spoke again, but he didn't sound amused. "I never knew you to be so sensitive to anothers feelings."

Ian winced, Sister was only exercising his sarcasm muscles, but he was right. In the pursuit of information vital to his country, Ian had been utterly ruthless in the past and he had physically threatened, and even hurt people. When circumstances called for it, Ian Bond could drop his veneer of civility and become a very unpleasant man indeed.

He swallowed hard again and wished for something to drink, even that nasty office tea would do. Sister nodded at someone behind him and within seconds a man was at his side and offering a glass of water. Ian took it with thanks and drained half the glass in one gulp. After a few more quick swallows, he returned the now empty glass to the man who returned to his position in the shadows.

"Colonel Bond!" Sister snapped out. "This Amestrian had information which can answer many questions, so I don't have to spell out where your duty lies. Your first priority is to your country, not someone's 'feelings'. We will give you one week to try it your way. If you fail, we wil take over and do it our way, is that understood?"

Ian had no choice but to comply. "Yes, Sister! Understood, sir!" He snapped out his answer in stacatto military rhythm, the way he'd been taught.

"Do not fail us, Colonel Bond! Dismissed!"

There would be no appealing the decision of the 'Higher-ups'. Ian stood and bowed to the seven before he turned sharply and walked towards the door in the wall behind him. As he passed through it, he could hear Brother declare "Next order of business is..." but he didn't pause to listen.

Bond's mind was in a whirl because he felt trapped between a very large rock and a very hard place. If circumstances had been different, he and Edward Elric could have become great friends. He genuinely liked the younger man, but now he would have to betray him....

All is fair in love, war and espionage.
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Disclaimer: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist, I just like to play in it's world for awhile and occasionally torture the characters - usually Edward. But I do own any OCs I've created for this story.
Summary: After a horrible dream, Edward sets off to get some work done while Ian catches heck for not leaning on Ed hard enough.

Warning: Minor spoilers scattered thoroughout this story.

Chapter Twenty-five: In which some secrets are revealed while others are simply pried loose.

Lost in thought, Ian drove reflexively through the morning Londonium traffic towards Paddington Gardens. Best to tackle Elric before he got it in his head to go haring off on his own. He really hoped Hetty hadn't let him have too much coffee, Edward had been ready to go bouncing off the walls when in the grip of yesterday's caffeine buzz. But when he turned into the pleasant square Edward called 'home' and saw Hetty standing by the gate, a curse tumbled from his lips.

Elric had already breakfasted, dressed and left. Yet from the smile on the lips of his best operative, Ian knew she had 'information' which came in the form of a folded over piece of note paper. When Edward had gone back to his bedroom, Hetty had hoped he would leave the note next to his plate long enough for her to scan and memorize it. But he took it with him and dashed those hopes, yet all was not lost. Once she heard the bedroom door shut, Hetty approached the note pad which had carelessly been left lying on the table.

She took a pencil from her apron pocket andcarefully rubbed the long end over the top page. Fortunately, Colonel Elric had a heavy hand and he had pressed hard while writing, so his memo showed up clearly. When Edward passed through the dining room again, his mind was busy with the tasks he had set himself, he barely registered the cleared table, much less the note pad back at it's place by the phone with one sheet less than he'd left it with.

Ian quickly scanned the note and his lips quirked at the title:

Dumb Things I Have To Do Today

1) Visit Amestrian Embassy viz Drachma and Call Mustang viz Drachma
2) Visit Alchemist Society viz contacts and C. harassment
3) Warn Alphonse viz threats to alchemists, plus talk to B.


Damn and blast! Ian swore softly to himself. There was no way he would be allowed into the Amestrian embassy without a prior appointment, which meant there was only one thing for it then. "Good job, Mother Hen!" he called to Hetty and put his car into gear. When he drove past the embassy a few moments later, Elric wasn't in sight, this meant he was probably inside the 'secure room' now and on a hotline that ran directly to the Fuhrer's desk.

Ian drove past 'Embassy Row', each building a small plot of sovereign nation with each country's flag flying proudly over it's entrance: Amestris, Meso-America, Alhambra, Caledonia, Eira, Cymru, Roma, Creta, Aurego, Drachma, Redland, Bourbon, Samovar-Troika, Xing, and so on. He turned the corner and drove two more blocks then stopped and parked in front of a non-descript looking office building of faded red brick. But that was just it's front. In the lobby Ian showed his MI-7 warrant card to a pretty receptionist and said "Mr. Graves to see Mr. Steele, please."

"Just one moment sir, I'll ring and tell him you are coming."

She picked up a black phone receiver, dialed two numbers and spoke a code. "Mr Steele? Mr. Graves is here to see you sir."

The answer on the other end must have been in the affirmative for she replied, "I'll send him over directly, sir."

She hung up the receiver and beamed at Ian. "Mr. Steele is waiting for you Mr. Graves. Take elevator five, please."

A bank of three elevators was a few feet behind the reception desk, Ian entered elevator two, punched a button marked with the numeral 'eight' and spun around to face the lobby as the doors closed and the elevator rose smoothly to the top floor of the building. Thirty seconds later, a bell softly sounded when the elevator arrived on the seventh floor but opening doors revealed the car was empty. A man waiting for the elevator got on and punched a button to go back down to the lobby. He too faced the front so he never noticed the back wall of the elevator was actually a set of cleverly concealed doors.

After the front doors of elevator two had closed, these second doors had opened and Ian stepped through into elevator five, a secret high-speed car which whisked him directly to the nerve center of MI-7's foreign surveillance operation. What the staff of each embassy didn't know was, their secure phone lines weren't really secure - not only were they tapped, but software had been secretly installed to disable scrambling devices, and all the codes had been broken.

Keep your friends near.

The room was large and round, encircled with banks of desks mimicking the circular pattern, each desk had a person wearing headphones sitting at it. The headphones were attached to large black metal boxes, their faces covered with dials and blinking lights, these were the recording machines. Each operator also had a pad of lined yellow paper in front of them in which they were scribbling summaries of each call. The air was cool and the lighting low, the only sounds were the scratchings of pens overlaying the faint hum of many voices in different languages.

A middle aged woman dressed in a nut brown houndstooth skirt suit came forward to greet Ian. "Ah, Mr. Graves, what can I do for you?"

"Hello Mr. Steele, I need to hear what is being said by the Amestrians."

"The Amestrians?" 'Mr. Steele' cocked a well plucked eyebrow. "What ever for? They are really quite boring, they hardly ever keep their scramblers up to date or change their code words, not worth bothering with in my opinion."

Ian smiled and shook his head. What would Elric say to the charge his country was boring? "No, Mr. Steele, the Amestrian embassy, I need to listen to a phone call which was recently placed."

'Mr. Steele' looked disappointed. "A waste of your time, Mr. Graves - now the Drachmans," she said, brigthening to her subject. "They are a challenge, they change their code words and scramblers once a week, sneaky little beggars."

"Thank you for the offer, but no Mr. Steele."

Knowing she was defeated, 'Mr. Steele' sighed. "All right dearie, what do you need?"

"A phone call was placed this morning from an Edward Elric at the Amestrian embassy to Roy Mustang in Central, Amestris."

'Mr. Steele's' face lit up, "You want to listen to the Fuhrer? My, you don't play about, do you Mr. Graves?"

At Ian's unchanging expression, she sighed again and flapped her hand in the air. "Oh, you're no fun anymore Mr. Graves. Come this way please."

She turned and led Ian past the banks of desks, the operators still scribbling away, the sound still underlain by the hum of hundreds of supposedly private conservations being eavesdropped upon. The sound faded away after 'Mr. Steele' opened a nondescript metal door and ushered Ian through. They walked down a short hallway painted in what Ian privately called 'Government Green', and he stopped when she did before another ordinary door, wooden this time. After pulling a ring of keys from one pocket, she unlocked the door, leaned in to flip on a light switch and said crisply "Just put on the headphones and when the operator comes on, tell her which phone call you wish to listen to. There's pens and a pad of paper on the table."

Then she turned on her heel and left, closing the door behind her. Ian looked around the room, it was small and perfectly square, the walls painted in 'Bureaucrat Brown'. It contained a small square wooden table and an uncomfortable-looking chair of the same dark brown wood. Upon the table sat a rectangular black metal box, a twin to the recorders in the other room, it's faced covered with dials, switches, and lights. A set of headphones was plugged into a jack in the middle of it and to one side of the machine was a black metal tray with a half dozen pads of lined yellow paper on it. A slot beneath the tray held several blue pens.

He sat down at the table and slipped the headphones on over his ears, then flipped a switch on the metal box to the 'on' position. A light above it glowed green and a pleasant female voice came throught the headphones. "Which call please?"

"Amestrian Embassy, Elric to Mustang, thank you."

"One moment please"

While he waited, Ian pulled over one of the pads and a pen. His headphones crackled loudly and a recorded female voice came on "Phone call began at 10:45 A.M. and ended at 11:20 AM GMT."

Ian next heard a dial tone, followed by a bright female voice saying "Central Headquarters, how may I direct your call?"

Sounding a bit odd over the phone line, Edward's voice came on "This is Colonel Edward Elric, the Fullmetal. May I speak to Fuhrer Mustang, please?"

_____________________________________________________________________________

Almost two hours later, Ian white-knuckled the steering wheel of his car while he drove with one eye on the traffic and kept the other one peeled for Edward along the route to the building housing the Ancient And Noble Society of Amateur Alchemists. He has listened to the recording of the call three times and after the third repetition, Ian had been forced to admit defeat.

The pad of paper remained pristinely unwritten on because Elric and Mustang had spoken in codes, their personal codes of traveloge and women's names which they used for their alchemy research notes. Codes MI-7 had never before encountered and therefore hadn't broken. Ian was so frustrated he could have wept.
________________________________________________________________________

For his part, Edward was enjoying himself immensely. After his phone call with Mustang, he had asked one of the embassy receptionists the location of the Ancient and Noble Society of Alchemists' headquarters and directions on how to get there.

It was a bit warmer this morning than yesterday and the walk was pleasant if long. The receptionist had offered to call a cab for him, but unsure of New Britain's monetary system, and how much to tip, Edward had declined the offer. It would be a two mile hike, but he had walked many times further than that in one day, both in Amestris, and in Europe. After he strolled down Paddington High Street, Edward turned right and crossed the street at the junction with Regent's Gallop. He admired Londonium's system of traffic control, one of lights flashing either red, orange or green made for a smooth flow of pedestrians and motorized traffic.

Edward still looked warily at the heavy trucks as he crossed, and he walked a little faster because the front grilles of a couple looked similar to that of the truck in his nightmare. After a mile, he turned off onto Soho Row and eventually left again onto Kitten Mews, and about 100 yards down was the building housing the ANSAA. It was hidden behind a perfectly ordinary red brick wall, and the entrance was a perfectly ordinary heavy wooden door studded with strips of brass and iron strap hinges. Set flush into the brickwork, it had a simple bell pull next to it. Edward gave the pull one hard yank, then let go and listened to the bell peal behind the wall.

A small rectangular slot about eye level opened so suddenly in one of the brass strips Edward was startled and he stepped back a bit. A pair of suspicious blue eyes regarded him warily from the other side behind a narrow grille, and a brusque male voice with a pronounced burr demanded "State your business!"

"Good morning," Edward began. "I wish to speak to - "

The slot slammed shut and a muffled voice shouted from within. "Go away!"

Edward's eyes narrowed with just slight irritation and he gave the bell pull another yank. When the slot opened a second time, he stuck his broken state alchemist watch right up to it. "I am Amestrian State Alchemist Colonel Edward Elric, also called The Fullmetal. I wish to speak to - "

The slot slammed shut a second time before he could finish.

Edward growled, ground his teeth and fought back the urge to scream curse words in fhis rustration. His temper already rising, he pounded on the door with his metal fist (denting some of the brass work) and yelled "Open this door or I'll transmute it into kindling!"

The slot opened a third time and a new pair of eyes, gray this time, glared out at him. "Sir, please step away from this door or I'll have the police on you."

Edward set his jaw and growled again, more audibly this time. "I have business here and I want to talk to someone in charge!"

"About what, may I ask?"

Before I came here, I was given letters of introduction to six people. Five of them were members of this society and all of them are now dead, four of them murdered."

The eyes moved away and the slot closed, but not all the way and Edward could hear a muffled conversation between several people before the slot re-opened and the gray eyes looked out at him again.

"What were their names, please?"

"F.F.Machus, Remigius Jungbeck, Dorothy Woolfe, Edmund Ameche, and Oliver Comstock." Edward's temper was wearing thin and he didn't bother to leave the steel out of his voice.

A faint gasp was heard from inside, but the eyes didn't waver. "And what was the nature of your business with them?"

Edward's left eyebrow twitched and his voice was pitched low and dangerous. "That is what I'm trying to find out."

The voice became more conciliatory. "Please understand, sir, because of some - ah - 'trouble' - we have to check the bonafides of all visitors. How can we be sure that watch is authentic?"

Edward stuck it up right against the grille of the slot so the eyes got a good look at the rearing horses set against the background of a simple alchemy array. He tried, but couldn't keep the snark out of his voice. "Fuhrer Mustang doesn't just hand these watches out to any one. I have to pass written and practical assesments every year to keep my license as a State Alchemist."

The eyes disappeared a second time and more frantic whispering was heard before a third set of eyes - brown ones - came to the slot. "Ex - excuse me sir, wha -what did you say your name was again?"

Edward delivered his answer from betweeen gritted teeth. "Colonel Edward Elric, Amestrian State Alchemist, the Fullmetal!"

Several loud clicks and clacks were heard from within. There was one last clunk! and the door swung open to a most curious sight. Five people - three men and two women - were bowing deeply in his direction. All five wore floor length robes of deep jewel-like colors which were decorated around the edges of the hoods, sleeves and along the hems with silver studs in the shapes of moons, hearts, and stars.

It gave Edward a jolt of recognition and also made him feel very uneasy. The members of the Thule Society in the machine world had had donned similar robes, though of darker colors and not decorated. But they made the same fuss over alchemy with convoluted rituals - and - Edward's brows knit together in annoyance because the five had been on the verge of finally standing straight when they bowed a second time.

"Please," he said. "Please stop bowing. I'm just an alchemist, not anyone special."

They reluctantly straightened up after their second bow - they seemed to be set on another one and rather disappointed by Edward's protest. A black-haired man wearing a robe in a rich ruby-red color - Edward noticed he was the owner of the gray eyes, protested. "Oh, but you are special Colonel Elric! Even before diplomatic relations with Amestris were restored we have been in awe of your country's State Alchemist programme in general, and the reputation of the Fullmetal Alchemist in particular!"

Edward gulped. Is it getting hot in here, or is my head just swelling? Never before had he wished so ardently for one of Winry's wrenches updside his skull to bring him back to earth. To hide his embarrassment, he reached back and tightened his unbraided ponytail, but his cheeks felt heated and he was sure they were flaming red.

"Um, that's very nice of you to say that, but I came here on a specific mission, to find out why five members of your society were designated by Ambassador Pankhurst as my contacts."

One of the women, a tall lady in a green robe who had rich chestnut hair done up in intricate braids on each side of her head said, "Maurice, I suggest wer escort our guest to an inner chamber where he can be more comfortable and we can discuss these matters in private."

Maurice bowed to her. "As always, Clarissa, I can count upon you to have the priorities straight." He smiled as he said it, but Edward noted the smile didn't reach Maurice's eyes, and there was a note of falseness in the brittle tone of his voice.

Maurice turned to Edward, bowed and said, "Will you please walk this way, Colonel Elric? Our cook shall be serving luncheon soon and she would be honored to have such a great alchemist at her table."

Edward was hungry, it was getting on for noon, but his feeling of discomfort grew with the discovery of another parallel with the Thule Society. He still inclined his head and murmured something about how he'd be happy to lunch with them. He had come for information and a few twinges of unease weren't going to make him leave without what he wanted to know. But he wasn't going to mimic Maurice's mincing pigeon-toed walk. Despite all of the flattery, Edward still had some standards...

Luncheon was served in a cozy dining room paneled in oak,after everyone was seated at a large round table. The first course was cream of asparagus soup, followed by a peppered loin of beef and garlic mashed potatoes. It was delicious and was followed by dessert, a warm apple tart drizzled with white cream cheese icing and it shared the plate with a scoop of Bourbon vanilla ice cream. For the sake of being a good guest, Edward put aside his dislike of dairy products and ate all of it.

After the meal, Edward was introduced to the cook, a Mrs. DeLine who seemed to melt under his kind words. He got the impresssion the woman's efforts didn't get much praise from the society members. After she retreated, smiling and blushing back into the kitche, Maurice wanted to give him a tour of society headquarters. But he first insisted Edward don one of the colored robes - 'a courtesy we extend only to other alchemists'. So he removed his coat and pulled one the one given to him - midnight blue - with good grace. Although it made his feelings of unease grow.

Once Edward was ready, Maurice led him, with the other four tagging behind from the dining hall through a high ceiling hallway made in the half-timbered style. After roughly fifty yards, the party made a right turn and came to a set of heavily carved doors of black walnut. The doors were huge - easily ten feet high - and the carvings brought Edward up short with an unpleasant jolt. They were so alike the ones he'd seen upon the Gates of Alchemy, the shocked look must have shown on his face.

Maurice smirked and said, "These doors were carved centuries ago by a member of the Eldritch family, a man who claimed to have seen the true Gate of Alchemy, impressive, are they not?"

Edward just gave him a sideways glance through his bangs. He really doubted Maurice could endure seeing the Gate without wetting his pants. His host continued grandiosely.

" 'The Gate of Alchemy' are also known as 'The Gate of Truth', so we thought it was most appropiate they guard the entrance to our library - behold!" After Maurice pushed down on black wrought iron handles, both doors swung open silently on oiled hinges.

The library of the Ancient And Noble Society of Amateur Alchemists was a massive room with a vaulted ceiling even higher than that of the hallway. A few people were studying at wooden tables under green-shaded lamps.They looked up curiously and Edward badly wanted to join them, for he loved libraries. Back in Amestris he had spent many happy hours exploring the stacks of the great Central Library.

Built in the grand fashion of private estate libraries, this one's walls were lined with bookcases of time-darkened oak and walnut which covered nearly every available inch, and were seperated every ten feet by tall, narrow clerestory windows. The top of each bookcase was surmounted by a metal rail with a ladder attached to the top edge and Edward saw a couple of people balanced precariously at the tops of those ladders either removing or replacing books.

Near to Edward, and also at the far end of the room were graceful iron spiral staircases leading to a second floor full of more bookcases. Comfortable looking armchairs, which invited sitting and reading were set along a curlicued iron railing which guarded the edge of the balcony. The whole place smelled of old leather, paper, wood, dust and silence. Silence broken only by whispers of sound, pages being turned and pens scratching over paper. The only other movement was of a middle-aged man pushing a wooden cart full of books, he would stop as each occupied table and either hand out books or pick up books to add to his cart. It looked like a perfect heaven to Edward. If not for the circumstances, he would have begun browsing the shelves already.

Maurice led the way through the library - slowly - because Edward was craning his neck to look right and left with awe. The library was like a shrine to knowledge and deeper inside, any blank wall spaces were white washed and hung with an assortment of time-darkened portraits. Edward assumed they were of famous New British alchemists, and one full-length study caught his eye, a man with golden eyes and hair the color of warm caramel.

The man depicted looked very much like his father, except he was wearing clothes of several centuries ago. A blood red doublet with slashed sleeves showing yellow undersleeves, a snowy white ruff about his neck and on his legs were pale yellow hose secured with red ribbons tied at the knees. His shoes were shiny black and topped with large silver buckles and he stood flanked by a large wooden globe of the alchemic world to his left. On his right was a small round wooden table with a stack of books upon it.

The figure held a book upright in his left hand, which was supported by the table, one finger was stuck between the pages as if he had been reading when the painted arrived, and he was saving his place until the portrait was finsihed. His right hand was upon his waist, be-ringed fingers splayed out, and a small smile played about his lips as if he was saying 'I know something that you don't' to the viewer.

A small brass plaque at the bottom of the ornate frame the picture was in identified the subject, but the writing was so tiny Edward was unable to read it. Clarissa leaned over and whispered in his left ear, "That is Hohenheim Eldritch, and this portrait was painted over 400 years ago in this very library, for this building was once the Eldritch family's town home."

Not to be outdone, Maurice whispered in Edward's right ear, "Hohenheim was known as 'The Prodigal'. He was such a brilliant alchemist, no one could match his knowledge. He abruptly left took ship from New Britain one day, and it's said he was going east to learn from the alchemists there. People assumed he meant Xing, but he was never heard from again and it is thought he died enroute for long journeys were fraught with hazards from pirates on the sea, and bandits on the land."

Edward thought to himself, Or he never got any further than Amestris after he met Dante. He bent down to more closely examine the portrait, so he didn't see the superior look Maurice threw at Clarissa nor the icy smile she gave in return.

"Shhhh!" An austere looking man with a lined face, a tonsure of nearly-white hair, dressed in a faded black (and un-studded) robe shushed from a high desk nearby. Edward looked rather askance at the old fellow's temerity until he realized, of course, he's the librarian! His hooded pale green eyes, a large hooked nose, and hollowed out cheeks made him look a suitably fierce defender of silence. Maurice smiled maliciously at the man, then mouthed this way please at Edward, and the little party was off again, exiting the library via another set of large wooden doors.

Once back in the high-ceiled hallway, Maurice could speak freely - and he did. "Our librarians are appointed for life and old Tom Dragonera takes his duties very seriously. Sometimes too seriously, but no book has ever gone missing on his watch!"

The little party of six were passing a series of closed doors and Edward could both see light through frosted glass transoms and hear voices chanting from behind them.

"When the Eldritch family owned this building, they ran a small boarding school where they tutored the children of alchemic families.Pplus they held daily salons where important alchemic, social, and political subjects could be discussed in a pure and unfettered manner. Today, the society strives to live up to their shining example."

Maurice said this so smoothly, Edwasrd suspected he had memorized this little speech to regurgitate on cue to any visitors.

After a few more yards of walking, the hall ended in a pair of enourmous bronze doors, the faces decorated with a pair of sinuous dragons twining about one another, done in high relief. They surmounted a saying in Latium incised onto a banner beneath them etched in low relief.

"The crest of the Eldritch family!" beamed Maurice, but the dragons greatly resembled Envy in his true form and Edward shivered underneath his robe. Whoever had worked these dragons had been an artist of great skill, for each scale, claw, and tooth were so lifelike Edward had the feeling he could reach out and touch real dragons. The eyes in particular were so lifelike - the cat-like pupils somehow colored red - they made Edward uneasily recall his confrontation with the Envy-dragon in Munich.

Maurice burbled on, "...the crest is translated as 'Do Not Meddle In The Affairs of Dragons' andit was a warning to the families warring for the throne of New Britain 500 years ago not to involve the Eldritches in their squabbles, nor try to utilize their alchemy in them."

Then Maurice leaned forwards and pushed down on one of the door handles - also bronze - there was a soft click and they swung open silently on well-oiled hinges. The space immediately beyond was poorly lit, but Edward could see great iron pillars supporting a circular balcony. Without a further word, Mauric walked past the doors and into the room, with the expectation Edward would follow. The room was a bit cooler than the hall outside and now Edward was glad he had put on the woolen robe.

The only light underneath the balcony came from a series of lamps bolted to each pillar. Once past the balcony however, the light became brighter and Edward could see they were in a huge open space and he shuddered again. This was too much like the Thule Society's headquarters where he had found that massive array Noa had made from his stolen memories.

He looked up and he could see the walls rose to a staggering height, then slowly tapered to a stained glass sky light made of brilliantly colored panes. It must look spectacular when the sun is right above it, was his thought. Despite his imagined fears, there was no coiled dragon suspended by cables high above, with a pony-tailed man clenched in his jaws.

"Comes this way, Colonel Elric" Maurice urged, his right foot on the bottom tread of a wood and iron spiral staircase. "I think you will like the view."

Curious, Edward followed him up the stairs, their footsteps thudded on the wooden treads. He snuck one look back and their original party of six had more than tripled in size. Word must have spread about the foreign alchemist and every society member was eager for a look at him. They had reached the level of the balcony now, and Edward saw there were threee more levels above him.

"Take a look at that, Colonel, and tell me what you think. Do you have anything half as impressive in Amestris?" Maurice's voice was a mixture of pride and challlenge, and when Edward looked over the railing, he had to admit that it was breathtaking.

Down below him was an alchemic array made on a massive scale. Incised into the slate floor, it had circles within circles, and bore runes he'd never seen before and the whole glowed softly with a faint white light.

As transmutation circles go, it was beautiful.

Author's note This chapter is not beta-ed, and it probably shows through in awkward prose, misuse of punctuation and innumerable grammatical errors. If any one wants to take on the thankless task of of being an "after beta", drop me a note.
Edsrhimp
Damn, that was some good read, awesome, keep up the good work! I'm loving it! biggrin.gif
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just the OCs I've created for this story. I just like to play around in it's world and annoy the characters for awhile.
Warning: This chapter contains violence and some blood-letting

Chapter Twenty-six: In which some background tensions are revealed.

Edward had forgotten about his surroundings, about his hosts, and even about all the curious faces staring at him. He was so enthralled by this array. His golden eyes moved back and forth and up and down, and he tried to do his best to memorize every curve, every circle and every rune for later sketching. He wished he could call Al and bring him over to look at it, and - oh, damn!

Edward came back to the here and now with a gasp, "Does anyone have the time?" he whispered.

"1.35 PM," Clarissa whispered back. "Is something the matter, Colonel Elric?"

"I need to phone my little brother and warn him. I was attacked by a Christian yesterday and I forgot to tell him they have it in for alchemists!"

Gasps of shock and surprise, and sotto voce whispers of "that poor man!" rippled through the crowd. As if he was a born leader, Maurice took over again. "Of course, Colonel Elric. Our offices are just the other side of the Great Circle and we are at your disposal if you wish to make a phone call."

A brief traffic jam then ensued between Edward's party needing to get back down the steps while late-arriving society members were still trying to climb up. The sight of so many robed bodies doing the the 'you're in my way' shuffle would have been funny to Edward if he hadn't been so anxious. But he side-stepped the problem by nimblly leaping over the staircase raiing and landing on his feet upon the slate floor with a crash.

He looked up at Maurice and Clarissa who were still trapped upon the stairway and threw a silent question to them with his eyes. And for once, Maurice was speechless. He simply pointed to a doorway on the far end of the circular hall. Edward looked first at the door, then at the huge array he stood next to, then finally at Maurice.

"The circle is incised deeply into the floor and the glow is created by phospherescent paint."

Edward nodded and turned smartly on one heel, then he marched straight across the circle to the society offices. Several gasps sounding behind his back told Edward that walking across the array was probably akin to sacrilage and it did bother him slightly. But contacting Alphonse was of greater importance.

On the other side of the room, Edward opened a metal door and enterd a short hallway with an arched ceiling which ended at a plain wooden door. He opened this door and found himself in a more brightly lit hallway which was painted a plain ulitarian off-white. Apparently the private offices area of the Ancient and Noble Society of Amateur Alchemists didn't require carved woodwork or incised brass to be efficient.

Edward walked up a floor of grey tile and passed more plain wooden doors topped with frosted glass transoms. Through the half open transoms, he could hear typewriters busily clacking away, or droning voices dictating letters. Most of the doors simply had numbers painted in black upon their faces, so he kept walking until he found one marked 'Office.'

He rapped his knuckles on the wood before he turned the knob and entered. The only occupant was a pretty girl with marceled blonde hair and a heavily made up face. She was busily painting her fingernails with a bright red polish while a half-written document awaited finishing in the typewriter. A sky-blue robe hung over the back of her chair and Edward guessed she preferred to show off her fashionable green velvet dress with it's snowy white collar and cuffs. He didn't really blame her, the society robes hung like burlap sacks from the shoulders, and the silver studs made the wearer look ridiculous.

"Just a moment, ducks!" she said, as she concentrated on applying a coat of polish to one last nail. "Just one more stroke, aannnddd..."

She looked up at Edward while she capped her bottle of polish and her face burst out into a huge smile. "OOH!" she squealed with what sounded like school-girlish delight. "You look like a manly sort, and I can tell you we don't get many of those here. What can I do for you?"

Edward blushed while he wondered what she meant by that. "Err...yes, I need to make a phone call and Maurice said I should come here."

The girl was batting her eyes - Edward noticed they were bright green - at him while puckering her mouth which had been covered with rather too much lipstick into a 'Cupid's bow.' She reminded him very much of a gigantic version of the Kewpie dolls he used to see offered at carnivals back in the machine world.

She finally stopped trying to flirt with him and picked up the receiver of a large black telephone in one hand, and a pencil in the other, eraser end down. She was just about to dial when she looked up at Edward and batted her lashes again. "Number, please?" she asked.

Edward hesitated. He didn't know Alphonse's phone number, nor even if he had a phone in his college lodgings. He bit his lip in indecision, which was a mistake because the receptionist's face instantly brightened and she squealed "Ooh!" again.

"Umm..." he began. "Do you have a phone book? I don't know my brother's phone number. He attends Highgate University and lives in Hotspur Hall."

"Hmm..." she muttered. "Phone numbers of students aren't publicly listed for security concerns, but I know someone who works in the university office. Maybe she can help."

She dialed a series of numbers, and the dial seemed to take impssibly long to click back after each one. Edward suddenly realized he was shifting from one foot to the other with impatients. Or maybe it was just a full bladder. The receptionist pointed him in the direction of the bathroom without missing a beat.

When Edward came back five minutes later, and wiping his hands on his robes because hd'd been too impatient to wait for the autmatic hand dryer to finish it's work, the receptionst had the phone receiver to her ear and she was humming some tune. She looked at Edward and mouthed 'they've got me on hold!'

Edward had just sat down in an uncomfortable wooden chair when she suddenly said "Oh, hi, Mavis! This is Deirdre. I've got a fellow here who needs a phone number for his brother who goes to University. Where? Um, Hotspur Hall, he said."

Edward could hear a faint matching squeal come over the phone line and Deirdre replied "That's right, 'Hot Man Hall'." She listened a bit, then said, "Hang on, I'll ask."

Deirdre covered the mouthpiece and whispered sotto voice to Edward, "What's your brother's name?"

"Alphonse. Alphonse Elric."

Deirdre repeated the name to Mavis and after she said "Uh huh" a couple of times, took the receiver from her ear again and said "She's patching you through." Then she handed the reciever to Edward.

He heard nothing but interminable ringing, then a click, and finally a serious sounding voice he at first didn't recognize as Alphonse intoned, "Hello, you have reached the Terran Embassy of the People's Republic of Uranus. If you wish to speak to the co-ambassadors - "

In the space between the brief pause, Edward could hear hysterical giggling. " - Elric or Pratchett, please leave your name, number and a brief message after the beep. Thank you. Live long and prosper."

Someone howled with laughter in the background and was indignantly hushed. Then came a loud 'beep!' right in his ear and Edward wasn't prepared, so he stammered a few times before his mouth could force out, "Alphonse, Edward here, your brother - I mean. Listen, we've got a slight problem here. A man calling himself a Christian attacked my yesterday..."

Edward paused to take a breath. "...I forgot to tell you because - oh, I dunno - the Drachman affair pushed it all to the back of my mind. Anyways, um - they don't like alchemists and now they've found out about you."

He made another pause for breath. "So I'm calling to warn you, keep aware of the people around you and be watchful of any stranger who acts like he knows you. Er - that's all. I hope you had a good day at school, um - study hard, but not too hard. Love you, little brother."

Edward returned the receiver to Deirdre who hung up the phone. He wished he could re-record his message. I sounded like an idiot!

Deirdre was giving him a sympathetic look and when Edward caught her eye, she smiled and said "That's why we had to put a guard at the door, the Christians would come at all hours of the day and try to force their way inside."

"One time, they got as far as the library." Deirdre shuddered as she said this. "When we caught up with them, they were splashing petrol around the stacks and it was quite a struggle to prevent them from setting fire to the place."

Edward was interested in this story. And without realizing it, he had put his elbows on Deirdre's desk and cupped his hin in both hands. "What happened to them?"

"They all ran into the Great Hall and some of the members were all for triggering the array and letting 'Gate Justice' take it's course. But Mr. Machus and Mr. Comstock disagreed. They transmuted the petrol cans into a cage of red hot metal and held the Christians there until the police arrived."

Interesting, thought Edward. Machus and Comstock voted for mercy. "Who wanted the Christians dead?"

"Oh, nearly everyone else. Mr.Maurice, Miss Clarissa, Mr Youngbeck, Miss Woolfe, and Mr. Ameche were the loudest voices for that end. There was a terrific row about it but eventually Mr. Machus and Mr. Comstick argued enough people over to their side."

"What did the Christians think of this?" Edward asked, but Deirdre's reply only confirmed what he had suspected.

"Oh, the whole lot wanted to die, I'd never seen people who were so set on ending their lives. There was one fellow who seemed to be their leader and he told us were were all blasphemers and God had commanded him to commit us to the fires of Hell. And if they were to die trying, well so much the better because they would all be sent directly to Heaven."

Struck by an idea, Edward asked Dierdre. "This group leader, can you remember enough to describe him?"

"Ugh." Deirdre raised her bright green eye towards the ceiling. "I'll never forget HIM. He ws easily the ugliest man I've seen in my entire life, and some of the society members here would finish last in a beauty contest against a pig and goat, if you get my meaning."

Edward smiled to let her know she had, but he wanted her to get on with it.

"Oh, taller and heaver than you, tiny eyes, very short brown hair, squashed nose, cauliflower ears, and rotted teeth. His smile was positively scary and that drab trenchcoat he wore buttoned up to his chin didn't help."

Carpenter.

Edward transferred his grip and rubbed his chin with his flesh hand as he recalled Carptenter's final words in his statement to Button:

We will have no choice but to burn him at the stake.

Soon after he became a State Alchemist, Edward had found an ancient book about the Amestrian witch hunts at the Central library. It had been a heavy folio-sized volume, too heavy for him to carry and Al hauled it to a table for him. Together the brothers had squinted at the spidery faded handwriting on delicate sheets of vellum and marveled at the depths of inhumanity adults could sink to.

As they left the library at closing time that day, Al had said in his hollow voice, "Well, brother, at least people are more civilized now, right?"

Edward had given him a big grin and agreed, but that had been before they'd learned more about what had happened in Ishbal, and in Lab 5. And Scar had began killing State Alchemists.

How foolish both of us were!

They had seen far too much inhumanity in the last ten years and Edward hoped he'd seen the last of it once they had returned home.
____________________________________________________________________________

He had just opened his mouth to tell Deirdre 'thank you' for the trouble she'd gone to when a klaxon sounded loudly and a red light in the ceiling of the office began to flash.

"Excuse me!" Deirdre squeaked as she ran over to a console and began to push buttons. She picked up a microphone in one dainty hand and spoke into it. "Warning! Warning! We are under attack! Lock all doors and take up your positions! This is not a drill, I repeat, this is NOT a drill!"

She flashed a grim smile at Edward's shocked stare. "Speak of the devil!" she said as the formerly silly girl was now all no nonsense. She flicked a toggle switch, and formerly blank wall flipped over to reveal a row of eight video screens. Deirdre flicked another toggle switch and all eight hummed to life.

"There!" she pointed to a screen which showed the main reception hall with trench coated figures running through it. Deirdre picked up the microphone again and pushed another button. "Intruders in the main reception hall, Mr. Maurice. They are heading for the small dining hall."

She put down the microphone and smirked at Edward. "Creatures of habit, these Christians. They are heading for the library again."

Edward was still trying to gather his scattered thoughts. "Which is the quickest way back to the main reception hall?"

"Back the way you came, I'm afraid, but..." Deirdre nevre got to finish because Edward had already ripped the office door open and he was racing back the way he'd come, towards the Great Hall. Edward burst through the second door and he hurtled across the array without hestitation. The Hall was empty and silent, it's great bronze entrance doors ajar.

The hall he emerged into was almost as quiet, but he could hear a faint commotion at the far end, so Edward broke back into a dead run.

There was a massive scrum going on at the exit of the small dining hall. At first, Edward could only see a boil of robed bodies and hear a confused babble of angry yells. But as he drew closer, someone shouted, "Watch out! He's got a sword!"

Edward saw something gleam above everyone's heads at the top of its swing, then it came down. Screams were heard as robed bodies staggered back, and a couple of them fell. A bald man wearing a tan trenchcoat which was spattered and smeared with blood, and carrying a bloody sword stepped out into the hall.

Edward bared his teeth and growled under this breath. His instincts told him he was facing a man who was trained to fight, perhaps a former soldier. He was nearly a foot taller than Edward, so his reach with the long sword he carried would be tremendous. Edward would somehow have to get inside his swing.

The man had already noticed Edward. He narrowed his ice-blue eyes and started walking with long strides towards the alchemist. Edward didn't think even once, but clapped his hands and alchemised the top of his automail arm into a blade. His mind barely registered regret at the destruction of yet another right hand glove before the bald man was upon him.

Edward parried the first blow, which knocked him back several feet, but he was instantly on the attack. He shouted a wordless battle cry and charged forward, then leapt high in the air, and slashed. Then he came down on his toes and slashed again on the backswing. Now it was the turn of the bald man to growl because Edward's first swipe had opned a cut just above his left eye and blood began to trickle down. The second swipe had cut the two lowest buttons off the man's trench coat and it flapped opened to reveal threadbare pants legs of a faded blue material.

The other man aimed the point of his sword at Edward's throat and the speed of his assult took the younger man by surprise. Point on attacks are extremely hard to parry, so Edward dodged and tried to come up behind his opponent. But the man's spin was blindingly fast and Edward had just enough time to bring his arm up to parry the backswing. Metal clanged on metal and both men grunted from the shock. Two pairs of feet scrabbled for purchase upon the polished marble floor and Edward found himself being forced back.

The bald man used his superior size and weight to shove Edward back for several more feet before he suddenly slackened the pressure. Edward flailed his arms for balance and the bald man used the opening to hit him in the face with the pommel of his sword. The blow stunned Edward and he landed hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him. When Edward's vision cleared, he could taste the copper tang of blood in his mouth. Worse yet, his opponent was straddling him, the sword raised over his head in both hands and ready to strike a fatal blow.

"No, Solomon! Don't strike that blasphemer down! Our prophet wants him alive!" The sword stopped in mid-descent and Solomon gasped. Edward looked towards the source of the ringing command and he saw a man of medium height, with long brown hair and a mustache, but dressed in the same style of high buttoned trenchcoat. He was being restrained by two robed Society members who had his arms wrenched behind his back.

Solomon roared in rage and he adandoned his fight with Edward to take on this new threat.

"Infidels!" he screamed. "Take you filthy mitts off him!" He raised his sword to shoulder height and advanced on his friend's captors, who were unarmed. The two men gasped in fear and pulled back across the threshold into the small dining hall. As Solomon charged, an array glowed and alchemic energy crackled just before a set of iron bars slammed down from the top of the door frame to cut him off.

The action made Solomon go berzerk. He screamed a challenge again as his eyes flashed and spittle flew from his lips. He clashed his sword with tremendous force against the bars. But they held as multi-colored sparks flared from the contact and the edge of the sword became pitted and bent, then the blade snapped in two with a loud crack!

Time to end this! thought Edward. As he curled his left hand into a fist, it brushed against something hard in the pants pocket. Edward suddenly remembered the brass knuckles Ian had given him, a souvenir from the Drachmans who had attacked him two nights ago. Edward slipped his hand into the pocket and his fingers quickly found the metal weapon.

The formerly pitched battle was winding down as the Society members gained the upper hand. Most of the Christians had been pushed back towards the main reception hall, and Solomon was the only remaining danger. The man with the mustache recognized he and his companions had lost the battle, for he said in a resigned voice, "I am lost Solomon, cease struggling to rescue me."

He had been forced into a chair and he was being bound to it with a rope. "Subdue the blasphemer Elric, Solomon. Then flee with him and save yourself!"

"Oh, no you don't!" Edward yelled as he charged Solomon. His larger adversary had fought dirty, and Edward could still taste blood, plus he felt his left cheek beginning to swell. This time, he was determined to prove he was tougher. "Let's go, muscles-for-brains!"

He leapt and slashed with his arm blade and Solomon parried before he made a thrust of his own, which Edward parried in turn. "You're not so - ugh! - tough when you - grunt! - don't have your - grrr! - big toothpick - meh! anymore, huh?" he panted.

He could tell Solomon was starting to get tired because his slashes and parries were becoming rough and uncoordinated. He even tried to slug Edward a few times, only to yelp with pain when Edward used the brass knuckles to block Solomon's massive fist. But Edward was beginning to tire too, and eager to end the fight, he got reckless. He charged in under another of Solomon's wild swings, pushed the sword away with his automail blade and lined up his left fist for a final punch to the man's midsection.

Edward was at the point of no return in his swing, when he realized too late Solomon's mad slash had just been a feint. With both hands on the sword grip, Solomon brought the pommel crashing down on the back of Edward's skull. He felt a tremendous burst of pain and saw a shower of white sparks just before darkness claimed him.
___________________________________________________________________________

"He's starting to come 'round."

Edward heard the words as if they came from a long distance.

He mumbled something in reply and his right cheek twitched as he fought to wake up. He shook his head and muttered again before he cracked one eye open.

Only to promptly groan and close both eyes tightly. Edward wished he could go back to the blank void his mind has been floating in, because returning consciousness reminded him of the throbbing pain in his head.

"Edward? Can you hear me?"

Edward slowly turned his head to his right and opened his right eye to the narrowest of slits, just enough to see Ian sitting in a chair next to the hospital bed Edward lay in. The spymaster flashed him a grin, but it didn't completely erase the worried look from his eyes.

"Hullo there, Edward. You gave me quite a turn there when I saw you layilng face down in a pool of blood."

"You shoulda seen the other guy," Edward smiled, and mumbled softly. "Solomon is his name and he put up quite a fight."

"Mmmm, yes. Solomon," Ian mused. "He was kneeling on the floor beside you and all done in. He didn't resist when I put him under arrest. The fellow said you were the toughest blasphemer he'd ever tangled with."

Edward opened his other eye, then dared to open both wider, but he groaned and squeezed them shut again when pain lanced through his skull. Ian winched in sympathy then he said "Dr. Luthor thinks you have a mild concussion, so they want you to stay overnight for observation."

A familiar voice interrupted Ian. "You can go home tomorrow, but I want you to stay in bed for at least two more days." It was Dr. Luthor, and he stood opposite Ian with a small metal dish in one hand.

"In the meantime, I'm just going to pop this painkiller into your IV line and your poor head will feel better in a jiffy."

Edward hated needles, so he was relieved the syringe went in to the port of the IV line, and not his arm. He also hated to be inactive, but he lay back on his pillow and tried to relax. His pounding headache began to fade after a few minutes and Edward could feel sleep creeping up on him.

But what Ian said next brought him back to full alertness. "Edward, I have good news and I hae bad news. The good news is, you helped to foil the attack on the society headquarters. The ruddy Christians were trying to have another go at the libary."

"And the bad news?" Despite his best efforts to stay awake, Edward's eyelids began to droop again.

"The attack was just a feint," Ian solemnly replied. "The Christians real objective was to kidnap alchemists while we were otherwise engaged."

Edward's scalp began to prickle and his mouth went dry. He had a very bad feeling which settled in his stomach like a stone. "And - ?"

"One of those taken was your little brother. Alphonse was kidnapped right out of his lodgings at the college."

Ian was nearly deafened by Edward's outraged squawk of "WHAT?!" which was followed by an obscenity-filled tirade.

"Edward!" Ian protested when the young alchemist tossed his bedsheets into the spymaster's face.

"No, Edward! Don't!" He shouted after he pulled the sheets out of his face in time to see Edward clawing the IV needle out of his left arm. Ian lunged for him, but missed. Blood was trickling from Edward's arm, and his bare backside showed between the gaps of his hospital gown as he stormed from his bed and down the ward towards the exit doors. Ian could only stand there and gape at him.

"COLONEL ELRIC!" barked an angry female voice, Edward's stride hitched and he peeked back briefly before he was full steam ahead again. Mrs. Deadlocke was coming fast and bearing down like grim death upon the elusive alchemist. She scowled at Ian as she glided past, as if to say A fat lot of good YOU are!

Edward's feet beat a mismatched tattoo of slap! clank!, slap! clank! as he shoved the ward doors open. He stopped just long enough to note the direction the exit arrow pointed in before he was off down the hall. Mrs. Deadlocke emerged soon after and glided in pursuit. She shouted, "Colonel Elric! Come back here at once! You are not fit to leave this hospital!"

Edward muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath and kept walking, but as he passed a group of six nurses, Mrs. Deadlocked bellowed the words which turned his blood to ice: "Nurses! Seize him!"

His previous encounter with the wolf-nurses of St. Pixil's still fresh in his mind, Edward bolted into a dead run down the hallway. He had just burst through another set of swinging doors when he collided with something large and soft. Edward looked up into the grinning face of a hospital orderly who was the approximate size and shape of a small wall. Before Edward could react, the man swept his arms around him and hoisted him off his feet.

"Let go of me." Edward growled and he tried to clap his hands together. But the orderly had clamped them flat against Edward's sides, and without another word, the orderly calmly carried him back the way he'd come. This caused Edward to begin to struggle in earnest.

Ian heard Edward yelling before he'd reached the ward and the sound was magnified a hundred times when the doors popped open. First came Mrs. Deadlocke who glided along like a ship under full sail, her face radiating dignified disapproval of Edward's immature behavior.

Next came six giggling nurses who ran in and took positions around Edward's bed. Lastly came the biggest man Ian had ever seen and he was carrying a struggling, shouting, and cursing Edward Elric.

"Put me down! Leggo, dammit!"

It was all very well coordinated. The orderly threw Edward on the bed and held him down with one hand in the middle of his chest. The nurses then moved in to first strap padded leather cuffs around Edward's wrists and ankles, followed by leather belts across his chest and legs. Edward was trussed up tight and he didn't like it one bit to judge by the increased volume of his swearing.

The feel of the leather restraints awakened painful memories of the times Edward had been held down and drugged. First when he and Al had been captured by the Thule Society in Germany, then by the Drachmans in London. When Dr. Luthor approached him with a filled syringe and crooned, "Easy, easy, Colonel Elric. Calm down now." Edward screamed and flailed wildly.

He looked at Ian and cried, "Help me, Bond! I've got to get out of here and save my brother!"

Ian bent down and hope surged briefly in Edward's chest. "We are on the case, Edward. We know where they've probably taken him and the others..."

"That's not the help I meant, Ian!" Edward snarled, "I want these restraints taken - OW!"

While Edward been distracted, Dr. Luthor had crept closer and administered whatever had been in the syringe.

"There, there now Colonel," he said while he hooked Edward back up to his IV line. "It's just a little something to help you relax and get a good nights sleep."

Relaxing was the last thing Edward wanted to do, so he pulled very hard with his right arm. There was a loud snap! as the leather parted. Edward promptly reached over to free his left arm.

But the sedative beat him to it. Edward's hand closed on empty air, then it flailed around in an uncoordinated manner before it fell back to his side. "Damn..." he muttered just before he spiraled into darkness.

[b]Author's note{/b]: A little more action this time, after the talk-fest of the last chapter. I welcome constructive criticism of my writing, so don't be gentle, 'k?





InsaneFangirl
You've continued! O_____________O I better gather my emotions and read...I've finally found a way to work around this glitch and post again....
IttyBittyPretty
And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well

Disclaimer: I don't own FMA, just the OCs I've created for this story. I just like to play around in it's world and annoy the characters.

Author's note: This is another flashback chapter to Edward and Alphonse's adventures in the "machine (our) world". This one is gonna be brutal, folks. Sensitive types should NOT read this!

Warning: violence, sexual violence, blood, and character death.

Chapter 27: In which a painful anniversary is observed

Near Stuttgart, Janurary 1925

The Thulists came just before dawn...

It had been bitterly cold all week, and Edward, Alphonse, and Noa each wore several layers of clothing to bed, plus as their coats. They all hudddled together underneath all the blankets they could scrounge, but they were still barely enough to keep them warm. Edward lay closest to the caravan window while he molded himself to Alphonse's back, and his little brother did the same for Noa. All three would shiver for an hour or so before their combined body warmth won out and they could fall asleep. As usual, Edward was the last to enter the Sandman's realm at bedtime, and the first to leave it in the morning.

The wind had died down sometime after midnight, and the clouds had cleared away only an hour ago. Outside the air was still and extremely cold, so sound carried a long way. A barking dog somewhere in Stuttgart had woken Edward up. He lay very still and tried to fall back to sleep. When that didn't happen right away, he wondered how far away the dog really was while he listened to the soft and even breathing of Al and Noa.

Then his mind left the question of the dog entirely and Edward wondered who would be found frozen to death today. The latest victim of the killing cold had been an elderly Gypsy woman, and the day before that, the two small sons of the man who ran one of the carnival game booths. Only last week, Ed and Al had been startled by the keening wail of a young woman. Her week-old baby had died, despite her wrapping it in blankets and holding it close to her. She had wandered off after a hasty burial in the woods - and right into the path of an oncoming freight train. The grave was re-opened and what was left of her joined her baby.

Edward was just dozing off again when the slam of a car door brought him awake - this sound was very close. His searching ears caught the thumps of booted feet crunching gravel, then frozen grass. Al stirred and muttered something, then he went back to sleep. Noa turned her head and laid large, dark and frightened eyes upon Edward's.

"I'll see what it is," he whispered urgently to her. "If its trouble, I'll hold them off while you and Al escape into the woods."

Noa's only reply was a nod as she silently sat up in bed. Edward cautiously crawled out from under his blnakets and gritted his teeth as the cold snaked it's coils around his body. He stepped out over Al's sleeping form and felt around on the floor for his boots. After he slipped them on, Edward tiptoed to a window and pulled back the blanket "drape" which kept the cold at bay. His insides turned to ice at what he saw.

Two cars, and a truck marked with Thule Society insignia stood in the road which the carnival caravan had been parked just off of. Edward guessed they had shut off their engines and coasted in. Bodies were piling out of the truck and forming into short ranks. Edward counted twenty, perhaps twenty-five of them. Not a lot of men, but if they had guns, the bastards wouldn't need many men to hold twice as many gypsies and carnies at bay. A man with a swagger stick stood before them and gestured, and when he pointed in the direction of Edward's caravan, he let go of the curtain and stepped back.

DAMN!

This wasn't the usual "harass the non-Aryans" pogrom, he was sure they were really after him and Al. Edward cursed again. He should have known this would happen. The Thulists captured in the raid, the raid which came too late to save poor Alfons Heidreich had seen that the 'Shambalan' had come back. And he'd brought his brother with him.

Noa had her boots on and she was hurridly making a small bundle with the little food they had: bread, cheese, a tiny jar of peanut butter...

Then a gun shot made both of them jump and it woke Al up. "Brother?!" he rubbed his eys and sat up. "What is going on?"

"Trouble, Al. Get your boots on! Hurry!" Noa urged. She didn't have to tell Al twice. He slid out of bed while saying "Brrrr!", then pulled on his boots and then began to fold the blankets.

"Bring just three, that's all you have time to fold!" hissed Noa.

Screams and shouts were heard outside, then running footsteps. Other carnival employees were already heading for the woods. The noise level increased when soldiers began kicking in doors and yelling "Come out! Come out, now!"

Some more gunshots sounded, then a woman began to wail. A gruff voice shouted "Shut up, b*tch!" and another gunshot cut the scream off like a knife.

Al gasped and Noa screamed when a booted foot smashed in the door of the caravan and Edward acted without hesitation. He batted the soldier's rifle away with one hand before he punched the soldier hard with his automail fist. Another soldier charged in and Edward kicked him in the stomach so the former folded in the middle like a piece of wet cardboard.

When Edward yelled, "Come on!" Noa leapt like a deer over the fallen men and Al followed close behind. Edwaard brought up the rear after he picked up one of the rifles. He didn't know much about guns and probably couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, but the sight of the weapon would have a good deterrent value.

Luck was with them, the lingering darkness, plus confusion caused by gun smoke and people screaming and running every which way made it difficult for the soldiers to pick them out. They twisted and turned between the caravans before they burst out in to the open.

Only fifty yards of bare ground lay between them and the safety of the woods. Three pairs of booted feet pounded fast and hard over frozen ground - 40, 30, 20, 15, 10 - they were so close.

Then, another gunshot rang out.

Everything happened at once. Something liquid blossomed from Noa's back just below her right shoulder and she cried out. Time froze as Noa seemed suspended just above the ground for an instant. Then it jerked forwards again as she slammed hard into the ground, the fall knocking the wind out of her.

"NOA!" Both brothers screamed at the same time. Edward tossed the rifle aside and raced over to her. She'd taken the bullet smack in the middle of her shoulder blade, and her hand clutched spasmodically at the area which was already soaked with blood. Her collarbone was probably broken too. She wouldn't be able to stand, much less run.

She was telling Edward to leave her, but he'd already scooped her into his arms. He saw Al grab the food bundle and he shouted, "Keep your head down!"

Al ducked his head just before a bullet smacked into a tree trunk over it. With Noa's added weight, Edward couldn't go any faster than a rapid trot, and even that motion caused her pain. But they made the woods without further incident.

Not knowing where he was going, Edward simply followed Alphonse who blindly crashed through the underbrush. Branches whipped him in the face, roots caught at his feet, and thorns tore at his clothing. After he stumbled badly enough to nearly drop Noa, Edward called to Al, "Stop! We have to stop!"

Red faced and panting, Al juddered to a halt. His face was criss-crossed with scratches, there were small twigs stuck in his sleep-mussed hair, and his chocolate brown eyes were wide with fear. Shouts, and gunshots could still be heard, but they sounded far away. Perhaps, they could still escape.

"Al, Noa's been shot and she's bleeding badly. We have to find a hiding place. Maybe I can extract the bullet. Or at least bandage the wound and stop the bleeding."

Al nodded and gasped out, "This way, brother! I know a good hiding place!"

He would know. When he wasn't helping Edward maintain the carnival rides, Al and other kids his age would spend hours exploring nearby woods. Noa wasn't crying out so much now, but she was trembling uncontrollably and was unresponsive. 's going into shock, Edward thought.

Alphonse led the way deeper into the woods, he walked slowly so Edward could keep up.

"Here, brother." he finally said. They were next to a small chuckling creek, one bank of which rose steeply. This was undercut in some places and one bit underneath a tree was hollowed out into a small cave. Edward smiled at Al to let him know he approved. The space was deep enough to shelter them from the wind, and the creek came almost to the lip of the cave. This would make it easier to defend. He had to duck to get inside, but the wind was cut off after just a few steps. Al spread one of the blankets on the floor of the cave, and Edward gently set Noa down in a sitting position. His arm muscles screamed in protest as blood pushed back into them, but he dare not take any time to massage the pain away.

He took a switchblade knife from his left pants pocket and clicked it open. Noa's eyes widened as Edward cut her bloody clothing away, she knew he would use the knife blade to dig the bullet out if he had to. But he sighed with relief once the shoulder was exposed. Blood was oozing from an exit hole just below her collar bone. "It's a through and through, Al. But we have to stop the bleeding."

Al just grunted in reply, he had already pulled off his coat and now he removing layer after layer of shirts. Edward followed suit until he got to the last layer, a white undershirt which had been softened by many washings. He hissed as the frigid air stung his bare skin, but he set to work with the knife and cut a slit in the material before he ripped the shirt into two pieces.

He gave the knife to Al who used it to cut his own undershirt into strips, while Edward folded his two pieces into square pads. He handed one to Al and pressed the other against the exit hole. One hand on a square and the other on a strip, the brothers quickly and efficiently bandanged Noa.

Edward took back the knife and he used it to cut another shirt down one side. Then he folded it to make a sling to support Noa's right arm. Al quickly tied it behind her neck, his teeth were already chattering from the intense cold. While his brother redressed, Edward gently urged Noa back into a prone position, then he covered her with the other two blankets.

All was silent outside their cave, and a light snow began to fall in the weak light of dawn. Edward re-buttoned his coat and blew on the frozen fingers of his left hand before he dug in his pockets for his fur-lined gloves. The brothers huddled close on either side of Noa and tried to stay warm.

"Brother?" Al asked anxiously. "What do we do now?"

"I dunno, Al. We can stay here for a little while, but I don't think we can return to the carnival. Those Thulists came for us, so we'll have to make our own way."

Alphonse nodded in agreement. "We have to find a doctor for Noa. She's being very brave, but I can tell she's in a lot of pain. She needs proper shelter too."

Edward idly chewed his lower lip. Finding a German doctor who would treat a Gypsy would be difficult, and even if they succeeded, he wasn't sure they could afford it. He shivered and huddled deeper into his coat. The few marks he had were safe in a hidden inside pocket, but they would be needed to buy food.

The light outside strengthened. Al and Noa fell off into fitful dozes, but Edward stayed awake and watched the creek flow. He tried to formulate a plan of escape, but his eyelids were so heavy, he hadn't gotten enough sleep. They had barely dropped closed when a shout rudely jerked him awake.

"Open your eyes, you maggots! Find them!"

Booted feet thumped nearby and Edward held his breath. He sent a silent plea up to a deity he didn't believe in. Please don't let them find us! The footfalls moved away and he quietly blew out stale air and relaxed.

Then Noa cried out - loudly. Edward whirled and clapped a hand over her mouth, but he nearly let go when he felt how hot her face was. Noa was burning with fever - and the damage had been done. He roughly shook Al awake as several pairs of booted feet thumped closer to their hiding place.

"I heard a cry!" someone called out. "Was it you?"

"No," a gruff voice replied. "It's them, they are hiding nearby. Jump down to the creek and search the bank!"

Edward mumbled a string of obscentities under his breath, then he got up to creep closer to the mouth of the small cave. He crouched there while the nimble fingers of his left hand toyed with the switchblade in his coat pocket. Something moved above him and a head popped upside down into his field of view. Edward clicked the swtichblade open, but the head went back up before he could stab it.

"Down here, sir! They're down here!"

There would be no escape now, but Edward Elric resolved to go down fighting. He looked back and hissed "Protect Noa!" to Al, then forwards again when a group of four soldiers jumped down and approached the cave. He bared his teeth and growled when he heard the gruff voice shout a question from above.

"What do you see? Report!"

"Just one person," responded one of the soldiers. "He looks like a boy, long blond hair and yellow eyes...um - he's got a knife!"

"Hess wants him and his brother alive, so try not to kill him," came the deadpan reply. "Do you think you can handle one little man?"

The soldier, a tall, blue-eyed blond who reminded Edward of a grown-up Fletcher Tringham cautiously advanced on the snarling Edward. "C'mon now, little Shambalan, give me the knife," he walked alowly and crooned quietly as if he was trying to calm a skittish horse. "It's all right, little Shambalan, no one's gonna hurt you. C'mon now, give me the knife."

That was the second time he had called Edward "little", so - he let him have it.

An instant later, the blond soldier was staggering backwards and cursing because his left hand was bleeding fiercely from a deep cut to the palm. "He's a devil!" the man cried out as another soldier tried his luck.

He approached Edward with his hands held wide while he said, "Take it easy. Take it easy. Take it easy", over and over again. Believing three repetitions were enough, he suddenly dashed forward and attempted to wrap his arms around Edward. But the 'little Shambalan' had already ducked, spun, and kicked the soldier's legs out from under him.

A third soldier then rushed forwards, but he tripped over the legs of his fallen comrade and received a vicious kick in the face for his trouble. Edward spun again and slashed the fourth soldier in the arm, forcing him into a hasty retreat.

He grinned and waved the knife in the air as he taunted the Thule soldiers. "Does anyone else want a piece of me?"

The sound of skittering pebbles above his head warned Edward to look up, but he was a little too late. An instant later, his knees buckled and he went down under the weight of another soldier who had jumped on him from the top of the bank. Edward was swiftly borne to the ground, but he was able to twist around quickly enough to stab the man in the leg.

But the gesture was too little and too late. More soldiers grabbed him, the knife was twisted out of his grasp and his arms were forced behind his back.

Edward kicked out vigorously and he heard a curse when he connected with someone's shin, but his feet were stilled when heavy weights landed on his legs. Then he heard Al cry out from the cave and the sound was followed by a high-pitched scream of pain from Noa. Edward struggled even harder as he yelled, "Let go of me you bastards!"

He turned and raised his head slightly in time to see a kicking and struggling Al dragged past by two soldiers. Two others came close behind with tight grips on Noa's arms. She stumbled and fell, then screamed again when her captors continued to haul her along. Edward almost howled in his frustration, "Stop it, you bastards! Stop it! You're hurting her!"

"Shut him up!" the gruff voice ordered, and white sparks spattered across a black background in Edward's vision when a rifle butt slammed into the side of his head. Noa continued to scream even after he lost consciousness.
________________________________________________________________________________________

Edward groaned deeply when he came to. His head felt like it was splitting wide open. He tried to rub his temples, to ease the lancing pain away, but his hands seemed to be stuck behind his back.

"Brother?"

Edward's ears pricked up at the sobbing note in Alphonse's voice and he blinked rapidly before he opened his eyes. Edward became gradually aware he was laying on his right side, and he couldn't move his hands because they'd been bound together at the wrists. Alphonse knelt in an unnatural crouched position at his left, his wrists also bound. Similarly trussed were several other carnival workers.

Most of them were Gypsies, but Edward also saw some pale faces mixed in and he recognized a few as the handful of Jewish employees of the carnival. So the bastards were already targeting those they considered to be at fault for Germany's loss in the Great War. Edward gritted his teeth and grunted with the effort, it took him three tries, but he finally rolled on to his knees.

A woman was weeping with low-pitched sobs and the sound twisted a knife in Edward's chest. He hated to hear women cry, and he turned his head and opened his mouth, prepared to speak words of comfort. But the sight which met his eyes when he looked to his right stopped the words in their tracks.

It was Noa. Although she also crouched on her knees, she wasn't bound like the rest. She supported herself on her left hand while her right was clutched protectively close to her chest.

"N - Noa?" Edward gasped. Noa's left eye was swollen shut, the skin around it bruised purple. Her lips were also swollen, blood trickled from splits in those lips and also from one corner of her mouth. There were more bruises on her face and she had a shallow cut on her left cheek. Her dress had been ripped and her breasts exposed, as well as the jury-rigged bandage, which had bled through. But what shocked Edward most was the large pool of very red blood directly underneath her body.

"They raped her, brother," Alphonse gasped between his sobs. "Almost all of them took their turn, and they hit her too. She's bled so much, brother, I didn't know humans could lose so much blood."

"She miscarried, that's why," responded a gruff voice. "But it's to be expected, Gypsies are no better than rutting barnyard animals. The slut probably opened her legs for every man here. It's best the next generation of this scum dies in the womb."

Edward raised his head higher and glared at the owner of the voice, an older man with a long, angular face, iron-grey hair cut in a crew cut, and cold blue eyes. He had come up behind Noa and he stood regarding her as if she was something he'd just scraped off his shoe. "Poor thing, I think it should be put out of it's misery," he cocked his head at Edward and gave him a knowing, icy smile.

"What do you think?"

Edward never had a chance to answer. With one smooth motion, the gruff-voiced Thule officer un-snapped his pistol holster, drew the weapon out and flipped off the safety. He then stuck the automatic behind Noa's left ear and pulled the trigger three times.

Edward flinched with each report as Noa's skull seemed to explode outward with tremendous force. Blood, bone, and brain matter flew every which way. A thin mist of red splashed onto Edward's face, clothes, and into his hair. He winced and jerked his head back when a tiny piece of bone stung his cheek.

The suddenness of Noa's execution had sucked away all sound but the gunshots, but now it suddenly rushed back into the vacuum. Women were screaming, and men were shouting in outrage and horror. Alphonse was shrieking Noa's name again and again as her body fell sideways and hit the ground with a soft thump. The wind kicked up and snowflakes began to drift down again, they landed in Nia's hair and sparkled like stars among the bloody strands before they melted.

Alphonse was crying openly, and huge tears slid down his face. He was trying to speak, but he couldn't form words, which caused Edward's own throat to close up. His own tears welled in his eyes, hot and thick ones of many emotions: hopelessness, sorrow, anger, and fear. Not for the first time he wished Mustang had done a better job of preventing Al from stowing away. Now his little brother was suffering, and a woman he cared for was dead because he had been unable to protect them.

"Take these two to Hess." the Thule officer ordered, and Alphonse cried out in panic as a burlap bag was thrown over his head. The same was done to Edward just before rough hands yanked him to his feet. He was half dragged, and half pushed for several yards before he was bodily picked up and tossed onto a hard surface. Edward grunted once when he landed, then again when a soft body collided with him. He flinched when a loud thump sounded just above his head. The soft body which lay next to him was sobbing, and Edward realized it was Al.

"Al?" Edward struggled forwards until he could rest his forehead on Al's hair. "Al, I -" Edward fell silent, he didn't know what to say.

"It's all right."? Things certainly weren't 'all right'.

"It'll be okay."? It was obvious things were not 'okay'.

The space they were in rocked several times, and a car engine rumbled to life, then he could feel movement. They were in terrible trouble, tied up and tossed into the trunk of a car and being taken who knows where.

Edward tried to will himself to relax, he couldn't do anything now. But maybe once they were taken out of the trunk and un-tied, they could seize a chance to escape.

Just maybe...
________________________________________

Near Oxford, January, 1926

Al's screams were what jerked Edward away from a plesant dream of home. Then a loud thump broke him fully awake and he fumbled for the light switch. The sickly yelow glow revealed Al had fallen out of his bed and he was thrashing wildly in a tight cocoon of blankets.

"Al!" Edward hissed. "Al, wake up!" He kicked away his own blankets, and two steps brought him to his brother who wsa still crying out and thrashing on the floor. He knelt down and cradled Al with one arm while he tried to unwrap the twisted blankets with the other. All the while he did this, Edward crooned softly "Al, it's okey, you're just having a bad dream. Wake up Al, wake up."

Thumping footsteps came from the hall outside and the bedroom door burst open. "What happened!?"

It was Simpkins, one of the valets. Around his legs peered the anxious face of Lincoln, the boot boy. "It's all right, Simpkins," Edward whispered. "Al just had a bad dream, so go back to bed."

Lincoln looked dubious, but he allowed Simpkins to chivvy him out of the room. The servants at Burnlae Hall didn't meddle in the affairs of others. Alphonse had quieted down by now and he was awake, but still sobbing. Edward stroked his little brother's hair and whispered soothing words to him. He knew just what had brought on this night terror - in two days it would be the anniversary of the Thule raid, and Noa's murder. He looked over at the alarm clock on his nightstand - just a few minutes to five a.m. - roughly the same time the raid had begun.

"Get your pillow Al, you can sleep with me for a few hours."

Alphonse sniffed a few times before he pulled himself out of his blanket next and fetched his pillow. Edward settled himself at the opposite edge of his bed in order to make room for Al, who snuggled next to him. With his face buried in his big brother's chest, there was a little squirming around to get comfortable, then Al sighed quietly and went back to sleep. The tracks of tears still visible on his face. Edward stayed awake for a while longer, he could hear faint noises from the next room and in the hall outside. Most of the other servants had to get up earlier, some as soon as four a.m. to start their duties.

Edward's position as tutor was unique. Although he slept in the servant's quarters, and ate his meals down in the servant's dining hall, he was considered above most of the servants. Yet he wasn't quite family. The status of a tutor was akin to that of governess, between worlds and rather lonely.

Edward was still musing over this dichotomy when sleep finally claimed him.

The alarm jerked him awake at seven, and for a moment he couldn't recall why Al was in bed with him. He shook his little brother's shoulder, "Al! Wake up! C'mon, it's time to get up!"

Al mumbled and buried his face deeper into the bedclothes, which obliged Edward to be stern, "Alphonse Phillipus Elric! GET UP NOW!"

He tossed all the blankets to the foot of the bed and shook Al's shoulder harder.

"BRO-THER!!" Al protested. "Stop it! Lemme sleep!"

Edward grumbled and clambered over Al to get out of the bed. He could stay in a while longer and return to consciousness gradually, but Edward had to get ready for work. Their bedroom was on the fourth floor and rather chilly, yet still more bearable than that carnival caravan had been. A maid had brought a jug of hot water while they had been sleeping and set it on the washstand opposite their beds. Although cooled off some, it was still warm enough.

Edward stripped to the waist and poured some of the water into a large porcelain bowl before he washed his face and shaved. After he rinsed off the soap and dried his face, he went to the wardrobe which stood next to the washstand and riffled through the hangers. His employer had given him a new suit for Christmas and Edward has purchased some shirts for Alphonse and himself in the village of Burnlae Halt. His wardrobe was tiny compared to that of the young man he tutored, but some servants had fewer clothes than he and Al did.

He dressed with care: snowy white shirt, tan pants and waistcoat, brown ascot tie, and shoes. Edward frowned at his reflection in a mirror set inside the wardrobe door as he folded down his collar and slipped elastic gaiters onto his sleeves. He had to go to the viscount's study after breakfast and discuss Edward's lesson plans for the next month. The university entrance exams were set for early March and Viscount Burnlae wanted Edward to bear down hard on his lone student. This would be the boy's final chance to get into Oxford, so a lot of pressure was being placed upon his tutor to deliver results.

Edward finished tying his shoes and he looked back at the bed. Even without the blankets, Alphonse was still deep asleep. He lay on his stomach, hands underneath him, head was turned towards the room and he was snoring softly. Edward stuck an elastic tie between his teeth and ran a brush through his hair before he put down the brush and reached back to gather the thick blond strands into a neat pony tail.

At the same time, he walked over to the bed and gave it a series of hard kicks. "It's 7.20 Alphonse." kick "Get." kick "Up." kick "Now!" kick, he loudly enunciated between the tie in his mouth.

The last kick had done the trick as Alphonse jerked awake, and then glared at Edward. "It's 7.20," he repeated as he fastened his pony tail in place. "Get washed up before the water turns stone cold."

Alphonse grumbled loudly as he crawled out of bed, grumbled while he poured the water Edward had left in the pitcher out into the basin, and he continued to grumble up until the moment he splashed water onto his face. Then he shrieked, "Brother! This is freezing!"

But he said it to an empty room because Edward was already out the door and heading down the back stairs on the way to the servant's dining hall for breakfast.
____________________________________________________________________

When Edward came into the basement kitchen area, the head butler, Mr. Hudson had already been up for an hour and he was sorting the morning post in his office. He usually just nodded and grunted "Good morning", but Mr. Hudson called to him today. "A letter came for you, Mr. Smith-Jones."

Edward took the envelope and looked at it curiously. The envelope was small and square, on heavy cream-colored paper, quality stuff. The writing was small and round, distinctly feminine, and it smelled faintly of lavender toilet water. This scent was favored by several of the maids and Edward assumed it was another of that species of anonymous letter called a mash note. He had received one or two a month from female staff members who had developed a crush on him. The one before this had taken a distinctly erotic tilt and Edward had discreetly burned it as soon as he possibly could.

Aware Mr. Hudson was looking at him with an odd, lopsided smile, Edward mumbled an abstracted "thank you" in the butler's direction before he resumed walking towards the servant's dining hall.

His post sorting job done, Mr. Hudson crossed the hall to the wine cellar and began taking inventory. He was keeping a running mental tally of the number of bottles of port he would need to purchase when a loud crash, a heavy thud, and a female scream ruined his concentration. Running footsteps sounded past the open door and shouts sounded down the hall. Hudson came out when Lincoln the boot boy called for him in his squeaky voice.

"Lincoln? What's going on?"

"Oh, Mr. Hudson, sir!" the boy cried. "It's Mr. Smith-Jones! He was reading a letter he'd gotten and the lads were ribbing him about it when his face went chalk-white and he fainted dead away!"
_________________________________________________________________________

Stuttgart, January 1925

Alphonse wept quietly while the brothers were jostled in the trunk of the car. He said to Edward behind him, "Brother, the man called Noa a slut. That's not true, it can't be true - right, brother?"

Edward didn't answer immediately because he'd just pulled his knees up to his chest in an attempt to bring his arms around to the front. Because he'd still been unconscious when his wrists were tied, his captors hadn't bound him quite so tightly. But the layers of clothes he wore and the tight confines of the trunk made it a difficult task to accomplish. He stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth and grunted with the effort. Just a few...more...inches...THERE!

Edward's left foot slipped through the loop and he gratefully straightened the leg out. His right foot was still caught, but now he had enough slack to untie Al. "Al, can you move down and back a few inches? Yeah, that's good."

His clever fingers felt the knots and began to work then loose, and Al was free within two minutes. After he massaged his sore wrists for a bit, Al returned the favor and untied the ropes around Edward's wrists. Now they were free, each pulled the burlap sack off his head.

Edward could just see his brother's large dark brown eyes, mostly because they still glinted with unshed tears. A few were snaking slowly down Al's cheeks and Edward impulsively reached out and wiped them away with his still-gloved hands.

When Al sniffed and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat, Edward finally responded, "He was wrong Al. Noa wasn't a slut, because she slept with only one man. I - I," suddenly Edward couldn't seem to get the words out. "I...was the father of her baby."

Author's note: I finally got my own copy of the "Conqueror of Shambala" DVD and I realize now that I have been dating the flashback chapters wrong. I thought the movie had taken place in the fall of 1921, but it really had been late 1923! (Which makes a 3:1 - Europe:Amestris time gap - three years passes in our world for every year in the alchemic world) So I've done some adjusting to this chapter and a subsequent one. Plus I will go back and correct the earlier flashback chapters. I probably will also have to add a year to the amount of time (I originally said "roughly two and one half years") the brothers spent in our world. So the brothers reunited and returned to our world in November of 1923 and they left Munich soon after the funeral of Alfons Heidreich. The movie didn't make it clear, but I think Noa traveled with them and they eventually hooked up with this carnival in early 1924. Noa became pregnant in the late fall or early winter of 1924 because she still wasn't showing by the events of this chapter.
InsaneFangirl
I've noticed that I'm more excited about reading when Al's in it. xD -reads current chapter eagerly-

Edit//

What a chapter...I think this is the most drama I've ever read in an hour or so...

If I weren't nearly emotionless lately, I'd be crying for certain. Once again, a masterpiece. I'll read this again and again later on.
IttyBittyPretty
Aww. You're just saying that. happy.gif (secretly pleased) I tried to send your chapter fiften of "Waters of Lethe" but the system says your inbox is full.
InsaneFangirl
Just fixed it. I can't wait!
IttyBittyPretty
Ugh. I just spent an hour and a half typing up most of chapter twenty nine of "And All Manner..." My butt hurts! sad.gif
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