yuuo: (Pandora's Box)
Yuuo ([personal profile] yuuo) wrote in [community profile] pandorasuniverse2017-04-29 07:48 pm

[Edward Elric, Cast; MA] Pandora's Box: Chapter 14

Character/Series: Edward Elric, Cast; AU to the original series
Rating: MA
Notes: Written based on the 'what if' idea that Ed had never been able to bind Al's soul to the armor. Please heed all warnings. All chapters can be found here.
Title: Pandora's Box: Chapter 14: The Angry Morning
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 8565
Summary: The next night started late; we waited until long after sunset and being winter, that came early, so once nine hit, Teacher and I headed out, leaving Mom and Teacher's husband to worry, but hopefully to get some sleep rather than trying to follow us.

and now the angry morning
gives the early signs of warning
you must face alone the plans you make
decisions they will try to break
-Sarah McLachlan

The next night started late; we waited until long after sunset, and being winter, that came early. So once nine hit, Teacher and I headed out, leaving Mom and Teacher's husband to worry, but hopefully to get some sleep rather than trying to follow us. I didn't know if Teacher's husband would, but I had a horrible feeling Mom might try.

When we got to the Fifth Lab, we found it locked up tight. Barbed wire on the top of a very high wall, the front gate double locked with chains. Beyond that, the front door was locked and boarded up. We looked at each other, then circled the building until we found a secluded spot hidden by trees in the back. I wanted to just make a door with alchemy, but Teacher made me remember her lessons about only using alchemy when necessary.

She made me remember with a smack upside the head.

I rubbed the spot she hit- sick or not, that woman had a mean arm -and glared. "How do you think I've survived all these years?"

"I'd hope with the lessons I taught you," she said. "All of them."

I want to make it very clear right now- there is not a single man in the world who would get away with hitting me like that, my brother aside. I never considered Teacher's love taps abuse, but coming from anyone else, and I might've flipped and fought back until whoever had hit me was no longer going to move ever again.

I let Teacher get away with it, and would my mother, but that's because not only are they in positions of being smarter than me, they're female. I'd probably let any woman in the world hit me if I was being dumb, but a man raises his hand to me and he'll find himself picking out a gravestone.

So don't bother.

"Fine," I said, dropping my hand and looking up at the wall. "I can get up there easy enough. I'll make sure I land on my automail. I don't mind my clothes getting a bit snagged." Then I eyed her. "I'll lower the wire to you, but I will transmute it into something that's not gonna shred your hands."

"That's a necessary use for alchemy," Teacher said, agreeing to it.

I normally wasn't grateful for my abnormal body parts, but since it made my teacher feel better about not entirely 'cheating', I took it for an asset.

"Now the building itself. Without tripping any possible alarms," Teacher said once we were both inside the compound, examining the building.

I looked at her. "We could just make a door, but we might open up into nothing but supports and the wiring and pipe system."

"Yes, that's the problem," she said, examining the walls. She stopped. "There's a vent up there, but I suspect we're both far too big to fit into it."

I eyed the vent. "I know I am," I said. I was pretty sure there wasn't a vent invented that could fit me, actually. "There's a prison next door that would've supplied ample ingredients, maybe there's a connecting pathway?"

"Too risky. You really want to break into an active prison?"

I shook my head. "You're right, too risky. Looks like we make a door and hope it goes into a room," I said, taking the glove off my flesh hand and pressing to the wall. Concrete, steel, and beyond that, nothing. I didn't know if that was because it was a room beyond that wall, or if there was something that just wasn't touching the wall.

"Have you found something, Ed?" Teacher walked over at me.

"Hopefully an empty room," I whispered, feeling along the wall until I wasn't picking up steel anymore. No need to collapse a structural support beam. I clapped my hands and transmuted a hole in the wall. It opened up into darkness. I stuck an arm in, feeling for anything like furniture or wires or pipes. Nothing. Just open air.

"Looks like the way's clear," Teacher said quiet, cautiously stepping in, feeling around for a floor. "It's a room. Let's go." She stepped in, leading the way, arms in front of her in the darkness.

I glanced back around briefly, then stepped in after Teacher, who had finally located a door. The hallway beyond was lit up with small lights along the ground. I looked at her. "Abandoned, my ass," I said.

"It does seem suspicious to keep lights on in an abandoned lab," Teacher agreed. "So. Which way?"

I nearly shrugged and suggested a direction on a whim, then I stopped and made myself think. "Let's look for a way down to an underground part of the facility," I said. "With an array like that, it'd take a huge part of the facility, and in all the other labs, the bigger experiments are underground."

She nodded. "Very well then. Relative to our position, I'd say left leads back towards the front of the facility. So we'll go right."

The Fifth Lab wasn't particularly huge on the first floor, we discovered, but as the floor sloped downward towards the basement, it seemed enormous. Eventually, we came to a set of large doors that led into an equally enormous room.

"Welcome," a male's voice up ahead said to us before we even had chance to take stock of the room. I squinted into the darkness, my hands slowly moving to clap in case this voice turned out to be hostile, or just block my way. Beside me, Teacher eased down into a ready stance.

"Who's there?" she called.

The owner of the voice stepped out into closer light, proving to be a man in full armor with a katana in his hands. "I am Number Forty-Eight. I am the guardian of this place."

Teacher and I exchanged a glance out of the corner of our eyes. "Number Forty-Eight?" Teacher said. "Interesting name."

"It's my work name," he admitted. "I'm glad to see worthy opponents after all this time. You seem like fighters. Shall we test that?"

I transmuted my blade from my automail. "Glad to," I murmured softly.

"Easy, Ed, don't go ballistic," Teacher warned in a quiet tone. "He's just one man against two of us. This shouldn't require whatever training the military gave you."

"They taught me to shoot," I told her. "I wouldn't use a gun on this guy, ricochet would kill us."

Teacher and I crept forward, moving to opposite sides of Forty-Eight. He watched us both, then ran at me, swinging his blade. I raised my arm and blocked the slice with my blade, then pushed back against his. He kept his balance, swinging back the other way just as Teacher approached him. She ducked, her leg kicking out to his knee.

His left knee buckled, but he remained upright, as he stabbed downward at her.

She jumped back, as I swung my arm out, stabbing it through the leather glove holding his sword. He dropped the sword as I pulled back. I paused, looking at my blade. No blood. I looked at his hand as he picked up his sword back up. No blood. His hand was hollow. Empty.

On his other side, Teacher spun, kicking him square in the ribs. There was a hollow thud as she did, but he didn't flail, didn't move back, simply turned to her and swung his sword out.

He was empty. He was an empty suit of armor. I know my teacher warned me not to go ballistic, but I did. Someone else had the same idea I had, someone else was successful. I felt my shoulder ache and my throat burned. I smelled burned ozone.

I transmuted away my blade, and lunged at Forty-Eight even as he swung at Teacher again. I clapped my hands and grabbed his sword arm, stopping the transmutation at the deconstruction stage, sending pieces of armor flying everywhere and the sword skittering across the floor.

Teacher backed away. I ignored her as I knocked Forty-Eight to the floor with a swing of my leg, then pinned him and yanked off his helmet.

There was a blood seal just below the neckline. That fear-driven rage that I'd been carrying around like a security blanket ever since Tucker flared up and I was punching the blood seal with my steel hand with all the force I could get out of my automail. The iron where the blood seal was began to crack and splinter. Forty-Eight cried out in pain, even as the helmet said something that didn't register until I'd completely shattered the blood seal.

"Edward, that's enough!" Teacher barked, grabbing my shoulder.

I swung back towards her in a stupefied rage. She caught my fist with a grunt and kept a stern gaze on me, forcing eye contact. I relaxed, shaking from head to toe and breathing unsteadily with the fear and anger and regret that hadn't abated yet.

"That's enough, Ed," Teacher said in a quieter voice. "I know, it doesn't seem fair. But life isn't fair. And you'll get him back soon enough."

"You're here about the Philosopher's Stone?" The helmet asked.

I looked at him, then down at the shattered remains of the blood seal that had been in the body. "There were two of you in here?" I said.

"My younger brother and I," the helmet replied. "We were the mass murdering brothers known as Slicer in life. We lost, death is what we get for such a loss. That is our way."

"Condemned prisoners," Teacher said, walking over to the helmet and picking it up before I could do anything to it. She looked at me. "You were right about the government using them in experiments here."

I stood up, leaving the body of the younger Slicer brother on the ground, and stepped over to her. I looked at what was left of Forty-Eight. "What do you know about the Philosopher's Stone?

"I cannot say. Destroy me."

I glared and snatched him out of Teacher's hand, giving him a shake. "Not until you tell me what you know," I snarled as loudly as I could. Which didn't sound terribly threatening, come to think of it.

The elder Slicer brother was silent for a long moment. "Keep following this hallway, you will find the room where the Stone was being made. Now. Destroy me."

"With pleasure," I whispered, grabbing the helmet with my automail hand, and snapping the blood seal off and crushing it. I tossed the pieces aside.

I could smell Teacher's disapproval, but this time, she wisely refrained from smacking the back of my head to express it. "You've become brutal, Edward," she finally said about it as we started down the hall.

"Drachmans would string up prisoner Amestrian soldiers with barbed wire, booby trap the body, then slit open their stomachs and let their guts fall to the forest floor where wolves and bears would eat them. While the soldiers were still alive," I replied. "You tell me why."

Teacher held her placid expression securely in place. She was good at withholding her thoughts when it was needed. If I didn't already well know that it was Archer who'd trained that into me, I'd almost wonder if I'd actually learned from Teacher. "How old were you?"


Her hand made contact with my shoulder, a touch that I dipped my shoulder out from under. She let me get away with it. "That's in the past now, Ed. I'm sure it haunts your nightmares and probably always will, but you have the future to think about now."

"Yeah." A future of nothing, but I didn't say it.

We walked for awhile in silence, until we came to a room with the door cracked open and a red glow coming out of that opening. We looked at each other.

"This looks like the place, " Teacher said, grabbing the door and opening it.

I stepped in, my jaw dropping as I stared around the room. The very walls were filled with red water, with seven large tanks full in the middle of the room. A very elaborate array was drawn along the walls, and I paused, studying them.

"My god," Teacher said, following me in. "How many people must've been sacrificed for this?"

"No idea, but I've seen this circle before. Same with the array for the Stone, now that I think about it. Scar's arm. The sonuvabitch has a Stone."

Teacher glanced at me as she stepped into the room. "Scar?"

"A serial killer that targets State Alchemists. We're not sure why, but it's suspected he's an Ishbalan."

"And you've encountered him?" Teacher gave me one of those looks that women like to give men when the male is being stupid. "You're lucky to be alive."

I knew that, but I wasn't going to show a lot of fuss over it. "I had a bodyguard that helped." I studied the tanks, then clapped my hands, changing the six point array on the floor to a seven point. "Help me push these things to the points," I said, moving to push one into position.

"Whatever happened to 'please'?" she demanded, even as she started helping me.

"I forgot," I said, doubting I was heard over the scraping of the tanks against the floor.

It took us several minutes to move all those heavy tanks into position. After we were done, Teacher looked around. "There's a transmutation circle on the ceiling".

I glanced up where she was looking. "I wonder what's up above that," I said. "If more red water, we could collide the two transmutations into one and get a bigger Stone."

"I'll go check," Teacher said. "Don't do anything rash while I'm gone."

I gave her retreating back a tired look. Like I would do anything that would potentially endanger her! I was an asshole, but I wasn't going to endanger an innocent person, much less one that actually meant something to me. I bit back a yawn as I started studying the walls again, waiting for my teacher to return.

It didn't take her long, and I jumped when she reentered and started to talk, drawing my gun instinctively. She looked at me flatly. "I see battlefield instincts take awhile to die. You can put that away."

I let out an explosive breath as I reholstered my weapon. "Don't do that," I grumped at her.

Her lips twitched as if she wanted to smile but wasn't letting herself. "What, sneak up on you?"

"Yes. What'd you find?"

She glanced at the ceiling. "There's another container of this water up there. You were right, we can collide the two transmutations."

"Good. Shall we?"

We took up positions between the containers of red water. "This is repugnant, Edward," Teacher said.

"Just remember, the lives are already lost, we can at least make their deaths worth something," I told her. She grunted, then pressed her hands together after a further prodding that specifically, those deaths would save Al.

I clapped my hands, and we both hit the transmutation circle.

The red glow in the room turned blinding as red sparks of energy flew around the room. For a brief moment, I was back in that tiny lab back home when the transmutation went horribly wrong. I grit my teeth together against the sounds of Al screaming, and kept my hands in place, directing the energy into a solid Stone.

Finding that flow of energy was easier to slip into than I would have thought, and Teacher's energy melted in with mine, joined the transmutation; older, wiser than my brother, with a grimmer sort of determination than had haunted that first transmutation six years ago. I held onto that, onto Teacher's strength, letting that dim the noise of the lives that were melting into the Philosopher's Stone.

I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating it at the time, but I caught a glimpse of the Gate as the Stone formed out of the red water, and then it was gone, and the room was dim except a shiny red stone in the center of the floor.

I was shaking and breathless from the energy the transmutation took, and Teacher didn't seem in any better shape. Actually, she seemed in worse shape as she coughed, spitting up blood. I crawled over to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, rubbing her arm with my other hand. "Easy, easy," I said quietly as she trembled, leaning against me for support. "I've got you, Teacher."

After a minute, she pulled away, looking towards the Stone. "We did it." She got up carefully, walking over to the Stone and picking it up. "This is about the size of a fist," she said. "Is that enough to get Al back?"

"Possibly," I said, standing up and walking over to her. "But I want Scar's Stone to be sure. I can add this one to his." To be truthful, I knew that would be enough, but I couldn't justify what I was going to do to eliminate Dante's threat, not to mention Scar's, if I just used that. Besides, I had too much work to do yet for it to be safe for Al here.

She handed it over. "I saw that thing again when we transmuted this," she said. "Be very careful with this, Ed."

I nodded, tucking the Stone in my inside coat pocket. "I will," I promised. That thing was more precious than anything I'd ever held in my hands. My key to getting Al back, just as soon as I was done with my work. "Come on, we should get back."

Mom and Teacher's husband were both still up when we got home. Teacher's husband began to immediately fuss over Teacher. She waved him off. "It was a taxing transmutation, that's all. Ed took care of me." She gave him a reassuring smile.

Mom frowned. "So where's the Stone?"

"I have it," I said, grateful to be able to switch to sign after talking so much with Teacher. Then I dug into my coat pocket and pulled it out. Mom gasped, and I'm pretty sure it even got a reaction out of Teacher's husband.

"My god, Edward, that thing is huge." Mom got up and walked over to me, staring at the Stone. "This should be enough to get Alphonse back, right?"

I shrugged, putting it back in my pocket. "Maybe," I said. "I want to combine it with Scar's Stone to be certain."

"Scar? That lunatic?" Mom glanced at Teacher.

"The markings in the laboratory match the markings on Scar's arm, according to Ed," she told Mom.

Mom frowned, looking at me. "You'd better take help for taking on Scar. He's killed several high profile state alchemists already. Between your reputation and your new job, he'd be all too happy to go after you."

"He's already been after me once before, Mom, and I was fine. I can handle him. I have a plan to trap him anyway. Don't worry so much. Besides, Bradley said taking care of him is one of my jobs now."

Mom sighed, putting a hand over her eyes. "I'm going to slap that man."

"Don't worry about it, Mom," I told her. "Let's just get some sleep and enjoy a day off tomorrow."


We mostly lazed around the next day. I idly poked at my notes, resisting the urge to use that Stone right away to get Al back. I had too much to do before I could do that, things I had to do to make the world safe for Al to be back in it. I kept repeating that to myself as I read over my notes for what felt like the millionth time.

"What are you doing, Ed?" Teacher asked, walking over to me. "Was there something we missed in the notes?"

I shook my head. "I'm just looking for something to do," I said. "I don't handle days off very well."

She sat down next to me at the table. "And how many have you given yourself?"

I shrugged. "Only when I was sick or injured. Reveled in them up north, meant I got time off from that miserable work. Hate it now. I got too much to do to rest."

"But if you don't rest, you'll slip up eventually," she said, brushing back hair from my face.

I tilted my head away. "Haven't yet," I said, conveniently glossing over the time I got shot by a shotgun because I was stupid.

Teacher smacked me on the back of the head. "You idiot," she scolded.

Mom approached, a mug of coffee in hand that she set down in front of me. "What'd he do this time?"

"He refuses to take a break," Teacher said. "Our boy is getting restless."

Mom made a thoughtful noise, looking at me. "Hm. How about a walk, after you finish that coffee? That's nice and relaxing and still doing something."

"I think that's a good idea, unless he wants to spar with me," Teacher said.

I choked on a gulp of coffee. "Rather not get my ass kicked, thanks."

She grinned. "My boy still knows me, I see."

I scowled. Two could play that game. "I also don't want to hurt you with my automail. I tend to favor it in a fight because I know it's stronger." She frowned, and I took that as a victory.

"Okay, you two," Mom scolded. Teacher knew how to be a gracious guest, and probably to defer to a student's mother when said mother gave an order, so we settled back to get some warm coffee in us before we went out.

Once my mug was empty, Mom set aside her knitting. "Get your coats on, it's chilly out." She grabbed her purse. "There's a specific area I wish to show you, but it's about a twenty minute drive from here. So we'll have to take cabs." She handed Teacher some money. "We'll meet you there."

Teacher looked at her. "We'll have our cab follow yours. Why are we going so far out?"

Mom had an enigmatic look on her face. "There's something very specific I should show you, particularly Edward, and I think you might want to see it as well."

That made Teacher and I both raise an eyebrow, but we put on our coats without question, Teacher taking the offered money and calling to her husband to get ready to go. Mom called the cab company and asked for two cabs to be sent to our address.

Mom wasn't kidding when she said it was out there a ways. We actually ended up driving for about a half an hour, due to traffic. I noticed the area was getting a bit shady, buildings run down and the like.

Mom paid the cabby when we were a few blocks into the bad part of town. Teacher's cab stopped behind us, and we piled out.

"This way," Mom said when we were all together again. I exchanged looks with Teacher and her husband, then shrugged and followed Mom. She led us around the ghetto, past people impoverished and living in the streets. I wished I could do something, but even with my generous income as a colonel and a state alchemist, I couldn't possibly help them all.

Finally, Mom stopped in front of an old, rundown church. "In here," she said, pushing open the rotting door. Once again, we exchanged looks, but followed her anyway.

"Juliet, what's so special about this church?" Teacher asked.

"It looks like someone couldn't even remember it was here long enough to knock the place down and pave over it," I commented.

Mom looked around. "Yes. It's been purposefully left alone, though. By Dante's orders." I noticed she'd dropped the honorific from Dante's name. "Can one of you alchemists come here?" she said, walking over to the altar, which was rather tall for an altar and made from thick stone. I walked over, wondering if my mother had lost her mind or something.

She pointed to an area on the front of the altar. "Transmute a hole right here, please."

Now I knew my mother had lost her damn mind. But I did it anyway, and immediately jumped back as if bit when the hole opened to a set of stairs going down. "Holy shit!" I squeaked.

Teacher approached. "What is i-" She cut herself off and looked at Mom. "The underground city you mentioned?"

Mom nodded. "I felt you should both know where it is, in case of emergency. Come, I'll show you around." She ducked into the doorway I made, which made me worry that Teacher's husband may not fit at all, if Mom had to duck. I followed her, Teacher right behind me, and miraculously, her husband managed to squeeze in behind her.

"Be careful," Mom warned. "Some of these steps are crumbling." We stepped carefully, and I was personally amazed that the walls were lit by some sort of bioluminescent algae or... something, because what should've been a pitch dark underground passage was lit up like torches lined the way.

"Look at these statues." Teacher touched one, then had to wipe luminescence off her fingers. "These must date back to the Christian calendar."

"They do," Mom said, glancing back at her. "This city was sunk four hundred years ago when the Stone was first made. It unseated the Church's power. I am not certain if it was Dante or possibly Hohenheim that created the Stone."

Teacher looked away from the statues. "The city was sacrificed?"

Mom nodded, then resumed walking. "There are no records of what city this used to be, but it was vast, and had a very different culture from what we have in Central now."

Eventually, the stairway opened up to a landing overlooking the city. I couldn't help but stare, forced to break my gaze only by the fact that I had to move over to let Teacher and her husband out of the stairwell.

"Oh my god." Teacher looked out over the city with the most bewildered look I'd ever seen on her face.

If I weren't too busy being impressed by the city, I might've been amused.

I probably was looking for it, knowing that the city had been sacrificed for a Stone, but I noticed that hiding in the layout of the city was a seven point array. "Teacher, look. The city, it's still an array for the Stone."

Teacher squinted, staring out over the city, the nodded. "You're right. That could be useful, or it could be a terrible thing."

I looked down at Mom, which I was still getting used to. "Anything we need to see in this city?"

"This way. Hopefully nobody is there yet." She led us down some more stairs to our left, taking us down into the city proper. She walked as if she'd been born in that city, leading us down streets to a central building that looked in better shape than the rest of the city. "This is the opera house. Dante uses it as her safe house when she comes to Central. If you need to, Edward, you can use the entrance you made up in the church to get here. She comes here by another way."

She pointed upwards. "If you look carefully, you can see some chain link fencing. That's the shaft for an elevator that goes between here and Bradley's office. She uses that to get down here. Do you wish to tour the opera house?"

I was staring up at the ceiling of this great underground tomb. She said my name to get my attention again, and I blinked. "Huh?" Then my brain caught up with the rest of me and I shook my head. "No, that's fine. We should get out of here before someone finds us."

Teacher nodded. "I agree. We know about this place now, and how to find it. We should leave before we're discovered."

We hurried out, not quite at a run, although I was impressed with the speed Mom was able to put on when she had to. Back on the surface, it was like stepping into a whole different world. The light was harsher, there was background noise that underground tomb had lacked, and the smell of civilization. It was almost as if the city had been a lost holy place, with light that came from nowhere, and sacrifice written into its very streets.

I had use for that city. Ugly, ugly use.


I had work the next day, but I didn't get proper rest for it, which I'm told is a common ailment. I waited until Mom had gone to bed at about three-thirty, then I headed out. The cabs were out of commission for the night, so I stole a car that someone had left the keys in.

Someone remind me to never drive again. I suck at it. Fucker stalled out three times before I got there.

I didn't have a lot of time- Mom didn't sleep long and I did have to get up early for work. I returned to the church, quickly reopening the doorway down the stairs. Once I was down onto the level of the city, I studied the ceiling for a few minutes before clapping my hands.

Alchemical energy traveled up the walls to the ceiling, carving out the phoenix-array of the Stone. I studied it for a moment, making sure the array was perfect, then headed back up the stairs as fast I dared.

I was back in bed by five-thirty, with my alarm going off an hour later. I sat on the edge of my bed, dressed for work, staring at the alarm clock as it rang at me. After about thirty seconds of that obnoxious noise, I worked up the energy to turn it off and leave my room, heading into the kitchen.

"Morning, Mom," I greeted with a tired yawn and sloppy sign.

She gave me a concerned look. "Didn't sleep well, dear?"

I waved it off. "Never do." The last time I had was the last night I was not alone in my bed. I didn't say that, though. Mom didn't need to know anything about my sex life or current lack thereof.

She stepped over and kissed my cheek. "Maybe a nice breakfast will wake you up," she said. "There's eggs, pancakes, sausage, and toast on the table. Have a seat and eat up."

That sounded insanely good to me, especially since I'd been up half the night and demanding energy for my automail and the rest of me. My body was starved for food.

Teacher and her husband joined us just before I finished my breakfast. There was still plenty of food left for them; Mom had really gone all out. I looked at them. "I'll leave some money with you two so you can do whatever you want today. Mom and I get home about five-thirty and Mom starts dinner immediately after we get home."

"You don't need to leave money, Edward," Teacher said. "We have our own."

"I also have a bigger income than you do," I said. "Let me spoil you a little. You're doing a huge favor for me."

Teacher sighed. "Equivalent exchange? All right, Edward, go ahead and leave us some money. We'll accept it."

I had a feeling they'd secretly leave the money back where I could get it and use their own money, but I'd give them some anyway, in case they needed more than they had. I left them the money, then headed to work with Mom, calling for a cab to get us there.

I dozed on the trip there, jerking awake when the car stopped outside of Central Headquarters. I yawned, paid the driver, and got out, heading up the stairs to my office with 'Captain Douglas' in tow. The only one in the office yet was Mustang, who was surprisingly early.

I glanced at my watch. "Aren't you known to be the procrastinator?" I demanded upon seeing him. "What're you doing here early?"

"There's work to be done," he said simply, taking a cup of coffee from the percolator and settling at his desk. "There's a file on your desk." He paused, then frowned. "Sir."

"That's going to kill you, isn't it?" I asked.

"I'll get used to it," he said dismissively. "Good morning, Captain Douglas."

"Good morning, Colonel Mustang," Mom said, settling in at her desk.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for my inner office, still not used to this whole routine. I hadn't had a proper chance to settle into it before shipping off to Dublith, and it still struck me as strange.

The file waiting for me turned out to be Riza's medical records. I set aside my coffee and ripped into them, reading it over. Most of it was what Mustang had already told me; miscarriage triggered a nervous breakdown exacerbated by battle fatigue. Probably from being back out in the field with me after Ishbal had theoretically been left behind, I imagined.

What I was looking for, however, was her treatment. Thankfully, she hadn't been institutionalized, but she was on several medicines, a hormone regulator to rebalance everything after the miscarriage, sedatives, painkillers, and another medicine I didn't recognize. I wrote down the chemical formula based on the chemical name- nice thing about organic chemistry, names are assigned based on the chemical composition, so if you understand naming patterns for it, you can hear any compound by name and immediately write down its composition.

It won't necessarily tell you what it's doing, but you can at least get how much hydrogen is in it.

I wrote down the formula, then wrote a few equations based on what I knew about brain chemistry from making Mom. One advantage to building a live human being, you tend to understand how everything in them works.

Whatever kind of medicine it was, it was fucking with her dopamine receptors, and not in a good way. She had anxiety and battle fatigue, not schizophrenia, for god's sake. That medicine was going to permanently damage the way her brain functioned.

My pen snapped in my hand and spilled ink all over the file as I ground my teeth together, baring them in a snarl. Those doctors were going to turn her into a nigh-vegetable, no more coherent or capable than Rose had been. After taking a number of seconds ticked off in my head to try to wipe the ink off my glove and only serving to smear it on the other, I cleaned both with a quick transmutation, then stepped out into the outer office.

Havoc and Breda had shown up by then, Fuery just coming in the door. "Colonel, sir," I said as loudly as I could.

Mustang was already looking my direction from my door opening. I crooked a finger at him. "My office. Now." I'd been deferring to him a great deal and still treating this as his office before I'd left, but I was pissed. And deeply, deeply scared. I'd hurt Riza enough by letting her into my world, I didn't want to see her turn into another Rose.

Mustang looked worried, following me back into my office. "Shut the door," I said, taking a seat behind my desk. I could see worry in his eyes, although he kept his face carefully neutral. I couldn't think of a single time I'd acted authoritatively at him, and the change in the status quo, however brief, made him nervous. It probably would've made me nervous if I weren't too busy being pissed off.

He shut the door and stood at attention in front of my desk. "Yes, sir?"

I handed him Riza's file, ink stain and all. "What's this, Colonel?"

He took the file, looking at it. "It appears to be an ink stain, sir."

I didn't rise to the bait, sitting still and staring at him hard with an unamused expression on my face. I hated myself for it, but I was taking a page out of Archer's book with that expression.

He looked like he wanted to sigh before turning back to the file. After a moment, he frowned. "This is Riza's medical file. Why do you have this, Fullmetal?"

"Concern," I answered. "It didn't tell me much more that you hadn't already, so relax. What it did tell me that you hadn't, however, was the names of her medication."

He set the file down. "And what do those matter?"

"The sedatives and pain killers are too strong of a dose," I said. "For starters. For another, there's one medicine on there I don't recognize. The last one. But I played around with the chemical composition of it. Care to guess what I discovered?"

"You mean her neuroleptic." It wasn't really a question.

"Oh, is that what it is?" I reached for the paper I'd been scribbling chemical equations on. "This is what it's doing to her. It's shutting down her dopamine receptors."

Mustang took the paper, looking it over. "This is a terrible reaction," he said, then he looked up at me. "I don't understand. Dopamine receptors? How can you get that out of this?"

"I studied to build a human body, remember? I know how the brain works. She needs off that medicine or she's going to be non-functional for the rest of her life. Call General Grumann and get her off that shit."

Mustang's expression turned hostile. "The doctors said it's helping calm her down. And I have no legal rights to take her off what her doctor put her on."

Oh, if he wanted to get hostile, I could beat him at that game. I stood up and walked around my desk, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him right into my face. "Get. Her. Off. Those. Now." I snarled. "It doesn't matter what I did to her, she can't be on that shit, unless you want a vegetable for a girlfriend."

I can't even express now how scared I'd been in that moment, that Mustang might not listen to me and Riza would become brain damaged and mentally crippled for the rest of her life. Mustang had to listen to me, or the consequences were something I couldn't handle thinking about.

For a moment, Mustang looked genuinely scared. My reputation of violence was not lost to him, and I was clearly in a murderous mood.

The he pulled out of my grip, frowning deeply. "I'll call the general," he said. "I can't guarantee anything."

"If you married her, you'd have the legal authority," I pointed out with irritation.

"Don't you start, I get enough of that from Hughes," Mustang snapped. Then he took in a deep breath. "Edward, are you sure about this?"

"I know what I'm looking at with brain chemistry," I said. Then I switched to sign. "You see that woman out there? Looks like my mother's twin?" I waited while he glanced towards the door, before signing once he was looking at me again. "That's the homunculus I built of my mother. I can't tell you details of how, but she's what I made that night. You tell me how much I know of brain chemistry, if she's perfectly functional."

Mustang stared, wide-eyed at me. "She- what?" He set down the sheet of paper I'd handed him and started to sign. "Edward, are you saying that Captain Douglas is your dead mother resurrected? I thought human transmutation was impossible."

"It needs another ingredient I didn't have at the time," I said vaguely. "I can't tell you details, not yet. You'll find out eventually, that much I can promise you. But only if you get Riza off that shit before it fries her brain." I'd already decided to trust Mustang to take care of Mom and Al for me when it was all over, though I hadn't realized it until I gave that promise. It was only fair he knew who she was before I asked him.

He gave me a hard stare for several seconds. "I'll do my best, sir," he said, then stepped out of the office.

I sank down into my desk chair, staring at the paperwork in front of me. It all seemed so inconsequential, especially in face of the fact that if I had my way, Central HQ wasn't going to be there anymore soon. But it had to be done, to buy me some sense of normalcy before anyone knew what was about to happen. And I needed a little time to think how I was going to get certain people out of town before disaster stuck.

The others I could just order away. Hughes would take his family and go if I said just enough to make him feel like they were in danger. Mustang would be a problem though. From all indications from the years serving under him, he was determined to try to help me in every way possible. Which meant he might try to stick around and help me with Scar, which would be disastrous for me. I'd have to order him away somewhere before he knew what was going on.

The answer didn't come to me until that afternoon. Mustang wanted the name of who'd abused me up north. I could distract him with that. I sent Mom on the errand of finding out if Archer was still at Acheron or if he'd been moved somewhere else. Meanwhile, I had something else to do.

I went to Bradley's office. I waited several minutes out in the outer office until Bradley was ready for me. Hakuro walked by me from the inner office and gave me a dirty look when I refused to salute. He didn't say anything though; it wasn't unknown that the führer had said I answered to no one but him. Most of the generals were not happy about that, either.

I was admitted into Bradley's office finally and I snapped a sharp salute. He smiled. "At ease, Fullmetal. What can I do for you today?"

"Two things, sir, if you would. First, we have a mutual friend out in Dublith that's supposed to be coming to Central soon. Would you please tell her it's safe to come out? I almost have what we're looking for, and she'll want to be here as soon as it's ready."

Bradley's smile didn't waver. "Is that so? I'll certainly tell her that, then. What's the second thing?"

"It's related. I have discovered that Scar has what we're looking for. Permission to leave my office for a few days while I flush him out of hiding?"

"Permission granted. I trust your office will function fine without you?"

"It has this last week, sir," I pointed out. "Captain Douglas and the others know what to do without me."

"Excellent." Bradley sat back. "By all means, go have fun, Colonel. I'm sure this job will be more to your suiting than paperwork."

"Yes, sir," I said, saluting.

I made my way back through the halls of Central HQ to my own office, where Mom was waiting for me. "Sir?" she said as I entered. "Here is the information you requested." She handed me a small personnel folder.

"Thank you, Captain," I said, then took the folder and disappeared back into my office. I opened the personnel file and grimaced, Archer's picture staring harshly back at me. There was a face I'd hoped to never see again. I could hear him scolding me, the click of the gun, the sound of a zipper, an order to count lashes.

I stopped my line of thinking there. I couldn't afford to get distracted and worked up into a tizzy, and I was already halfway there. I hadn't noticed how fast that flashback snuck up on me until my hands were trembling.

After taking a minute to settle down, I flipped through the file, looking at deployments and transfers. There was no record of him being transferred to Acheron, of course, but there were no records of him going anywhere else, either. So either he was still there, or he'd just fallen off the radar completely. Which was possible, I supposed. The führer had been pretty angry at Grand when I'd disappeared, but Archer had simply been doing what he'd been ordered to do by a superior officer.

But, on the other hand, he had deployed me to a firebase, which had pissed Bradley off almost more than Grand destroying the paperwork of my transfer and the denying it. (Or rather, Envy doing it behind everyone's back, which still pushed me past all sense of reason, and made me very glad that I was catching him up into what I was planning.) I was a precious state alchemist, and a child to boot, never mind that I was quite certain that Dante had a hand in me being in the military in the first place, lined up to get the Stone for her, since I was my father's son. I doubted that the homunculii did much to piss her off, Envy aside.

So basically, the personnel file wasn't telling me a damn thing I wanted to know. I took it back out to Mom's desk. "Hate to send you on another errand, but this can go back to Personnel," I said. "Can you put in a call to the Acheron supply station and ask the receptionist there who's the commanding officer there?"

"Of course, Colonel," Mom said, in perfect form of a soldier answering to a commanding officer, not a mother forced to accept her son's commands.

Fucking weird.

I waited patiently while she put in the call. She wrote something down as she spoke, then hung up with the receptionist. "Here you are, sir. The name you wanted." I loved how discreet she was being around the others . It was perfect for my needs.

I took the paper, looking at the name. So the bastard was still up there. Good. I turned to Mustang and motioned for him to follow me into my office. He looked wary, which I didn't blame him after the last time I'd called him in.

He came in. "You wanted to see me?" Another pause, then he grit his teeth. "Sir?" He was clearly not used to that yet. I resisted the urge to laugh.

Instead, I sat back. "I have a name for you, Colonel," I said. "And an assignment, but it depends on you."

Mustang frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You get Riza off those drugs, and I give you the name you've been wanting for the last four years, and an assignment to where he is to do whatever you want to him," I answered.

He narrowed his eyes. "I already called the General, and explained the situation, Edward. He's agreed to pull the neuroleptic and start weaning her off the sedatives and pain killers."

"Then, here you are," I said, handing over the slip of paper Mom gave me.

Mustang looked at the name. "Never heard of him. He worked under Grand?"

I nodded. "He taught me everything I know about how the military works. He's currently commanding officer at Acheron Supply Station. I'm sending you there on a routine inspection."

Mustang studied me for a long moment, then a dark smile crept along his lips and he saluted. "I accept this assignment, sir. I'll pack immediately, if you'll put it in."

"Consider it done, Colonel. Have fun, and we'll see you when you return in two weeks. It's a long train ride up. Oh, and Colonel?" He looked at me questioningly. "Make sure to say hi to him for me, would you?" I broke my normal stony mask to flash a brief, unpleasant smile.

He saluted, then headed out to prepare for his trip. There. One gone, now to get Scar out of hiding and send the others running. I couldn't do that though, until after Dante and her other homunculii were all cozy underground. I could start luring Scar out, but Dante and Bradley would become suspicious if all my friends started heading for the hills.

I grabbed my coat I still wore over my uniform, at least for while it was cold, and pulled it on. It looked weird over the military blues, but I wasn't going for fashion, I was going for function. Besides, that coat held the Stone. Couldn't leave that at home and there was definitely no place on the uniform to hide it.

I looked at Mom. "Captain, take over. I've got work from the führer to take care of."

"Yes, Colonel," she said, hardly looking up from her work. "Be careful, please."

I waved at her as I left, not really answering that. Which was probably enough answer to worry her, but at the time, I was too focused on figuring out the how of what I needed to do. I needed Scar to crawl out from underneath whatever rock he'd gone into hiding under. But short of taking out a newspaper ad, I wasn't sure how to find him. That trail had long since gone cold.

As the Stone bounced against my chest inside my pocket, I started to get an awful idea. A really awful idea. But if Scar was an Ishbalan, as we suspected, it'd draw him like flies to shit.

Well, if I had the stomach for what I planned later, I had the stomach for this.