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miss_arel
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[Fic] Changed For Good - Chapter 10

Finally! Better late than never, right? ^^; Hopefully this is a sign that things will be changing for the better.

Title: Changed For Good - Chapter 10: Long Time Gone
Author: miss_arel
Rating: Overall, NC-17. This chapter is PG-13 for violence and language.
Summary: Four years after the funeral, Ed, Al, and Roy still have their goals to reach and journeys to finish. But they're not the only ones with big plans...
Spoilers? Hell yes.

What is Changed For Good? Changed For Good is aproejct I started last August, based on a very simple idea: What if, back in episode 7, Ed and Al hadn't arrived too late? What if they had saved Nina, but at a price?

Missed a chapter? All previous chapters of Changed for Good are archived on Skyehawke.

Enjoy!


Changed For Good

Chapter 10 – Long Time Gone


It was a chilly January afternoon, the sun bright and clear and the air biting through the many layers Nina wore. She quickened her steps, the snow crunching under her feet, knowing she had move quickly: those dark clouds gathering in the east didn't look promising.

She should just go home, she knew. Gracia tended to worry when she stayed out late, and it would be dark soon. And she'd already lingered to long at school, curled up on a bench, totally absorbed in the old primer she'd found at the back of the library. She promised herself she wouldn't take long, and stepped off the main road, up the hill through the snow.

It didn't take her long to find the right one: she'd been here so often in the past four years she could probably find her way blind. She set down her school bag and knelt on the ground, resting her hands on her knees. “Hi,” she said. “Sorry it's been such a long time... I meant to come by last week, but we had this big test in arithmetic. But I'm here now. And we're all going to come by on Saturday. Do you know that's the four year anniversary? Four years...” She shook her head, auburn hair waving and tumbling over her shoulders. She sighed and pulled a small band out of her pocket, and reached up to bind her hair back as she spoke. “I still can't believe it's been four years. It's all gone by so fast... School's been really interesting lately, they're finally starting to teach us things worth knowing.” She lowered her arms and reached for her pack, pulling out a scrap of paper and laying it on the ground carefully. “I'm still awful at essay writing, though. I just can't concentrate enough to sit down and write something, not if it's about something I'm not interested in. And I'm just not interested in writing about old poems or plays or stories... I like reading them, I just don't see why we have to be obsessed with them. But I'm doing well in science, though, and math. I'm really good at those.”

She sighed, repositioning her paper. “It can't go on much longer, though... at the end of next year I'll be thirteen, and after that there's no more public school. After that, kids either go to private schools and academies; or they join one of those Early Start programs, to get them ready to join the military when they turn eighteen; or they go find a job or an apprenticeship. Now, I don't want to be a soldier, and I know Gracia-mama just can't afford to send me to a private school. So I'm gonna be an apprentice.” She smiled and reached into her coat, pulling out the red stone on a chain, the necklace she'd been wearing for the past four years. She rubbed it between her fingers and squeezed it, for luck, before slipping it back under her clothes. Then she put both hands flat on the ground, to either side of the paper she'd laid on the snow. “Do you like it? I've been really careful, trying to draw it exactly right... but now it's all wet. I hope it still works.” She closed her eyes in concentration. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, there was a flash of blue light, emanating from the transmutation circle painstakingly drawn on the page.

When Nina opened her eyes again, she saw something that made her smile. In a patch about a foot in diameter, the snow had melted away, revealing the dark earth beneath; and from the earth now were sprouting half a dozen small, pink flowers. Still smiling, Nina tucked the transmutation circle away, and stood. She reached out and laid a hand on the smooth, cool gravestone. “See you on Saturday, Maes-papa,” she whispered, before turning and walking back down the hill.

*****

“It looks like it's going to rain.”

Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye glanced up from her clipboard and out the window. “Yes. Or snow.”

“Could be. It's certainly cold enough,” Colonel Roy Mustang mused, shrugging on his overcoat and still looking out the window. He sighed. “Too bad Havoc's gone home. I could use a ride... that's what I get for working overtime, I suppose.”

Hawkeye's lips quirked in the faintest of smiles. “A little snow won't kill you,” she pointed out calmly, flipping to the next page.

“You know I hate getting wet,” Roy said, rolling his eyes and running a hand through his sable-black hair before putting on his cap.

“You're such a cat,” Hawkeye says, making Roy blink at her. Hawkeye never joked. He recovered smoothly, and smirked.

“What, you mean I'm cute, charming, and utterly irresistible?” he asked.

“More like lazy, hydrophobic, and a freeloader,” Hawkeye said levelly, then sighed in exasperation. “Are you sure you haven't seen the Morris report?”

“Lieutenant, you've been looking for that for hours,” Roy said soothingly. “Probably one of the secretaries misfiled it. We can look for it tomorrow. You should go home and get some sleep.”

“I'll be fine,” Hawkeye said, not looking up from her clipboard. “You go on ahead, sir. I'm sure I'll find it soon. Besides, tomorrow's Sunday. It won't matter if I sleep in.”

Roy opened his mouth, then closed it again. She may have been his subordinate, but he knew better than to order Hawkeye around when it came to matters like these. “All right,” he sighs. “I'm getting out of here, I've got to meet someone.”

“Another date?” Hawkeye asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, actually,” Roy says, turning and smiling sardonically at her on the way to the door. “It's anything but a date. See you on Monday, Lieutenant.”

“Take care, sir,” she says, sounding vaguely distracted. Already her attention is focused on the Morris report, with the single-minded determination of a bird of prey.

Roy smiles to himself, shaking his head faintly, and steps out of the office, shutting the door lightly behind him.

*****

“You're late.”

“Good to see you, too,” Roy said, smirking. “I see you've returned safely from Ankara.”

“No thanks to you,” Edward Elric grumbled, pulling his collar up around his ears and glaring over the tops of his glasses. “Why didn't you tell us about all those traps?”

“I didn't know about them,” Roy said smoothly. “The temple's very existence was unconfirmed; your rediscovering it will make Amestris's archeology scholars deliriously happy. Anyway, I did tell you the ancient Drachmans were paranoid. Why do you think their descendants still like to keep a giant mountain range between them and their nearest neighbors? Hello, Al, how have you been doing?”

“All right,” Alphonse piped up, raising a hand to wave at Roy. “It's good to be back in Central, though.”

“Pah, says you,” Ed grumbled, stuffing his gloved hands in his pockets and shivering. “I thought we'd be leaving the ice and the snow behind us. Why couldn't you have stayed in East City, you stupid Colonel? The worst they ever got was rain.”

“Now, Full Metal,” Roy said, smiling as he started walking down the sidewalk, snow crunching under his boots, “You and I both know you didn't come back just to see me.”

Edward harrumphed, hunching his shoulders higher. He didn't seem to want to give any further answer.

“Anyway,” the Colonel went on, “How did things go in Ankara? Did you see... them?”

“Homunculi, Flame,” Edward supplied, raising a coppery eyebrow. “They're homunculi.”

“You don't know that,” Roy said, shaking his head. “No one's ever seen one before. We don't know what they are.”

“Oh, get your head out of the past, old man! They've got purple eyes and red lines and Ouroboroses on their skin, and they don't stay dead when we kill them, and they can do things no human can do. If they're not homunculi, then what are they, huh?”

“Old man?” Roy snorted. “That's rich, coming from a guy who just turned forty this month.”

“Twenty!” Ed snapped, blue eyes flashing. “I'm twenty. I can't help it if this body's getting old...”

“I was just teasing,” Roy said, shaking his head and smiling. Alphonse laid a comforting hand on his brother's shoulder, and the Full Metal Alchemist relaxed slightly. “All right, say they are Homunculi. We still don't know who made them, who they're working for, or how to kill them.”

Edward sighed. “No, we don't. We know they're after the Philosopher's Stone, same as we are. We know there are at least three of them.” The man made a face, narrowing his eyes and drawing back his lips. “And we know Tucker's working for them.”

“You saw him?”

“Yes,” Al clanked as he nodded. “At the Temple. He didn't do any actual fighting; he was working on writing down some of the carvings on the wall, I think. But he got away.


“They all got away,” Ed snarled.

“And with all the fighting, the temple started to collapse,” Al finished, sighing. “We barely got out of there alive. We didn't even find out what Tucker was looking at.”

“All for nothing,” Ed grumbled. Then he grinned. “I did manage to kill that bastard Envy, though,” he said. “Didn't take, but it makes me feel better about all those bruises he gave me.”

“Now, which one's Envy, again? The shape shifter?”

“That's right,” Ed said, nodding. “The skinny one that looks like a girl. He can take any shape he wants. And there's Lust, the woman with the claws... and the fat one. Gluttony. He...” he cast a look at Al, wondering how best to describe it.

“...He eats things,” Al supplied, with a little shrug.

“Right, right,” Roy said, nodding. “I was asking because I found out something interesting while you were away... Envy, Lust, and Gluttony are all associated with an ancient religion. The words, I mean. The concepts, not the people.”

“Really?” Al asked, intrigued. “How so?”

“They were three of the 'Seven Deadly Sins',” Roy explains, looking over at the giant suit of armor and meeting its gaze. “Seven core sins back to which it was believed all the world's evil could be traced. Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Greed...” he cocked his head to the side, “Pride... Sloth... and Wrath.” He nodded. “Yes, that's all of them.”

“What does that have to do with these homunculi?” Ed asked in a dismissive tone.

“Possibly nothing,” Roy admitted. “But it could mean that there are four more of them out there--”

“Oh, joy,” Ed groaned, covering his face with one gloved hand.

“-- and that whoever's controlling them – or at least, naming them – is familiar with a dead religion that most people outside of the universities don't even know existed.”

“Well, whoop-de-doo,” Ed grumbled, rolling his eyes. “Still doesn't help us, though.”

Roy shrugged. “I just thought you might want to know.”

“It's all right, Colonel,” Al said, a smile in his voice. “We appreciate the information. Brother just always gets cranky when it's cold out.”

“Well, can you blame me?” Ed snapped. “I'm freezing my ass off here! You're lucky, Al, you don't have to worry about being cold...”

“No, I don't,” Al agreed, but from his tone it sounded as if he would have been happier feeling too cold than feeling nothing at all. Edward fell silent, looking down. Roy could almost swear he felt the temperature drop a few degrees.

It was Alphonse who finally broke the silence, speaking to Roy. “Have you found out anything interesting in you investigation? You know...” he lowered his voice, “The one you're not doing?”

Roy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Not as much as I'd like, no. But what I am finding is... is worrisome.”

“Worrisome? Worrisome how?”

“...” Roy's expression was dark as he answered. “Remember that man I talked to, up in Forein, where Dr. Marco used to live? The one who claims to have seen a woman matching Lust's description and an unidentified military man walking around town the day Marco and Hughes.”

“Yes,” Ed replies at once. “I remember.”

“Well, it turns out he wasn't the only one. Other townspeople remember seeing them as well. No one seems to have seen them going into Marco's house, but there is one woman who says she saw them coming out. Only...”

“Only what?” Al asked, sounding worried.

Roy cleared his throat. “...Only, when I showed her a picture of Brigadier General Hughes, she identified him as being the man with Lust when they came out.”

“But how could...” Ed began to ask, and then his blue eyes widened. “Envy...”

Roy nodded, looking straight ahead as they walked. “That was my guess as well.”

“Those bastards,” Ed whispered harshly, and Roy could almost feel the rage flowing off of him. His voice rose with every word. “Those bastards -- why!? Why were they there? Why did they kill -- “

“Brother! Hush.”

“Don't you tell me what to do, Al – I'll kill every last one of them, they -- “

“Brother, please, you need to calm down...”

Ed fell silent. Roy looked back and saw that Alphonse was facing Edward, his hands resting on his big brother's shoulders. Edward was looking shaken and upset, but his mouth was closed.

“Please, Brother,” Al said softly.. “We can't argue about this here.”

Roy saw Edward tense, then go limp,his shoulders sagging and his head falling forward. “..Sorry, Al,” he murmured. “Sorry. They just... it makes me so angry...”

“I know,” Al said softly, smoothing a gauntleted hand over Ed's red-haired head. “I know.”

All in all, Roy was very grateful indeed when a familiar yellow house came into view.

“Almost there,” he said, nodding toward the house and half-smiling. “Now, I told Gracia we were coming, but I asked her not to tell the girls. So I'd prepare myself for a warm welcome, if I were you.”

That brought a smile to Ed's face, and made Al perk up visibly. “It'll be good to see them,” the younger Elric said happily.

“Yeah...” Ed agreed softly. “...It will be.”

*****

“Son of a bitch!

Shou Tucker ducked, putting his hands up over his head. Rubble rained down around him, pattering on the floor like dirty hailstones.

“Envy, calm down,” came Lust's soothing voice.

“The hell I will!” Envy snarled. “That bastard killed me!”

“Yes, yes,” Lust sighed, “We all saw.” Shou thought she sounded bored. He didn't blame her; Envy had been ranting about the Full Metal Alchemist all the way back from that godforsaken temple near the Drachman border. But Lust could afford to be bored with Envy's behavior. She wasn't the one Envy would be taking it out on, soon as he was alone with Shou. She didn't have to worry about a thing.

Tucker curled up tight in the corner as Envy carried on, and wished for the millionth time that he could simply disappear.

“Gonna make him pay,” Envy hissed, driving his fist into the wall again. “God damned fucking bastard -- rip his fucking head off --”

“I'm sure you will,” Sloth said coolly, speaking up for the first time since Shou, Envy, Lust and Gluttony had returned to the rundown, abandoned hotel they'd been using as a base of operations for the last three years. “But right now, you're making a racket.” He held up a battered envelope in one gloved hand. “And we have new orders.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Envy snapped, stalking over to the moth-eaten sofa on which Sloth sat. He snatched the envelope from her fingers and ripped it open with a disdainful look on his face. “Doesn't that bitch know the meaning of the word 'vacation'?” Shou watched the homunculus' expression as he looked over the piece of paper inside.”Assassination? Why do we have to take care of some military runt?”

“Not assassination,” Sloth said calmly, rising and peering over Envy's shoulder. Lust also came over to look, Gluttony trailing in her wake (more to be part of the group than anything else.) “Sabotage. This Colonel is such a problem because he won't stop investigating what happened the last time you 'assassinated' someone. Pride has everything worked out. All you have to do is do what you're told.”

Envy bristled visibly, but didn't say anything. Lust reached over and plucked a small square of paper from Envy's hand; to Shou, it looked like a photograph. “Who is he? Why is he important?”

“He's nosy,” Envy says, flipping through the papers in his hands. “Asks too many questions. Looking under too many stones. Pride doesn't want him finding anything he ought not to.” He raised an eyebrow at Sloth. “Am I right?”

Sloth just nodded demurely. “He wants you to make sure that doesn't happen. Are you up to it?”

“Sure,” Envy shrugged with one shoulder, strolling away from the couch and snatching the photo out of Lust's hand. Tucker tensed: Envy was coming straight towards him. “You know I love fucking with the military.” As he spoke, he dropped into a crouch right in front of Shou, how pressed himself back into the corner as far as he could go, without actually melting into the wall. Envy smiled and held the photograph out. Tucker saw short black hair and intense black eyes and pale features. A handsome face. A familiar face.

“What do you think, Shorty? Friend of yours?”

*****

Nina's reaction, though predictable, was still entirely delightful. She squealed with delight and leapt at Edward, throwing her arms around his neck. Ed stumbled backward, because Nina wasn't a bouncy little four-year-old anymore, but a growing twelve-year-old girl. The old dog Alexander had passed away the summer before, and now Nina seemed to be trying to surpass him in pouncing power. But Edward stayed standing and held her tight, laughing as Elysia ran and threw her arms around his waist. And once Gracia came out of the kitchen and welcomed them all, it was a long time before all the hugging and squeezing and greeting was finished.

But despite all the hugging and loud voices and carrying on, Edward liked visiting the Hughes family. Liked it a lot more than he was willing to admit, really. In truth, he adored Nina and Elysia, and respected Gracia more and more every time he saw her. She had lost her husband, she had been left to raise two young children on her own, she worked with all her heart and soul; and yet, every time Ed saw her, she was smiling. What he was unwilling to admit, even to himself, was how much she reminded him of his own mother. From her kind green eyes to her warm, gentle smile, Gracia (though she cold never replace Trisha Elric) had become a second mother to Ed and Al. It was something both brothers needed... even if they themselves hadn't realized it.

And Elysia, well, she seemed more like her father every day. Though her hair and and eyes were still identical to her mother's, she had her father's bad eyesight: she'd been wearing glasses since she was six. Now, at eight, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her shoes all scuffed up from playing outside all day, and her nice cream-colored sweater splattered with paint from her latest 'creation', she seemed to be exhibiting more and more of Maes' quirky, adventurous spirit with each passing day.

Nina, on the other hand, seemed less and less like her father, which made Ed intensely happy. With her wavy auburn hair and large blue-green eyes, Ed could see that she was growing up into a beautiful young woman. But more important than that, she was also becoming braver, sweeter, and kinder than Ed had ever known her father to be. Nina's mother must have been one hell of a woman, he had decided, because Nina sure as hell didn't get this from Tucker.

Eventually Gracia sat them all down and began serving dinner, as Elysia and Nina took turns telling Ed, Al, and Roy everything they'd been up to since the last time they were together. Ed smiled, listened, offered commentary where he could. He normally didn't have much patience for chatting, or for children in general; Nina and Elysia, however, would always be exceptions.

“So, Nina,” he said, once his plate had been more or less cleaned, “You've only got one more year of school left, right?”

The girl nodded, her brown plait bobbing. “That's right.”

“Any idea what you're going to do after?”

Nina nodded again. “Yep. And I wanted to talk to you about that. See, well, I've been learning alchemy lately...”

“Alchemy?” Ed blinked. “Since when?”

“Since last year,” Al supplies. “Right, Nina?”

She nods again. “Right. I didn't tell you, Ed-papa, because I wanted to surprise you.”

Ed grinned. “Well, consider me surprised,” he said, although he wasn't, really. The daughter of a state alchemist, and raised around people like Al, Roy Mustang, and Ed himself, he would have been surprised if she hadn't taken an interest in the craft. “Will you show me what you've learned?”

Nina was already way ahead of him; she'd taken a piece of chalk out of her pocket, along with a rumpled, stained scrap of paper, and was busily copying the array on the page directly onto the tabletop. Gracia looked about to protest alchemy being done on her kitchen table, but Al patted her arm reassuringly. “It's all right. We can fix it, if she makes a mistake.”

“But I won't,” Nina assured them, brow furrowed with concentration. “I've been practicing and practicing. There!” She sat back, smiling triumphantly. “Now, watch this!” She pulled a necklace out of her collar, on which hung something red and shining. But she held it only briefly; before Ed could ask about it, she'd slipped it back into her dress. Then she placed both hands flat on the table and concentrated, just as she had done earlier that same day. Slowly the array lines began to glow, casting blue light over the faces of everyone gathered around the table. The light brightened to the point where it was almost painful to look at, and a rushing sound filled the room – and then it was gone, and now growing out of the wood of the table were several small pink flowers. Nina smiled widely, looking around at them all.

Edward's eyes had widened, and a smile was spreading across his face. “Nina, that's wonderful!” Al exclaimed, and even Roy was nodding his agreement. Gracia was smiling and stroking Elysia's hair, for the younger girl was looking a bit grumpy; Nina had cut her off in the middle of telling Ed and Al about the stray kitten she'd made friends with.

“Good work, Nina,” Edward said, smiling, and thinking of the little toy animals he and Al had once shown their mother with such pride. “Very good work.”

Nina beamed. “I hoped you'd think so! That's why I want to be your apprentice!”

Suddenly the room went deathly silent. The smile slid off of Ed's face. “Wait, you... what now?”

“Your apprentice!” Nina says. “Can I? Please? I know this is what I want to do, and Mama says you became a state alchemist when you were my age.. can't I learn from you, Ed-papa? I could go adventuring with you and Uncle Al, and I wouldn't be any trouble, and I could help you out and watch you and learn from you --”

“No,” Ed said abruptly, forcefully, so much so that Nina went quiet at once. “Out of the question.”

“But why not?” Nina asked, anger and hurt flashing in her blue-green eyes. “You did it! Why can't I?”

“That was different!” Ed snapped, sitting up straighter and giving the girl a fierce look. “I did a lot of foolish things and made a lot of foolish mistakes, I don't want to see you go through the same thing!”

“But I wouldn't, if you'd just help me!” Nina shot back, rising from her seat.

“I won't put you in danger!”

“Let me come with you! I'm not a little kid anymore, I can do this!”

No! No you can't, Nina!”

Now Nina's little body was trembling with fury. “How would you know!?” she shouted. “You're never around to find out anyway!” And then she slammed both hands down on the tabletop, rage contorting her pretty face into a lion cub snarl.

But when the transmutation circle flared to life, the anger turned to shock – in fact, varying degrees of surprise could be seen all around the table. Static electricity was building up all over the room, making hair stand on end and clothing spark. There was a rushing sound, as of blowing wind, and the light became brighter – and then the vase on the counter shattered with a loud crash, water spilling everywhere, carnations and roses and baby's breath falling to the floor amidst shards of blue and white pottery. Elysia cried out at the noise, and her mother put an arm around her, looking rather affrighted herself.

Nina's own eyes wee wide and fearful, and her breath was coming quick and sharp. But her hands were stuck the the table as if glued there, and she seemed unable to tear them away. The electricity was building, the circle growing brighter.

Edward was the first to move, the first to break the spell: He lunged forward, grabbing Nina around the middle and pulling her back. As soon as she'd broken contact with the table, the light died and the atmosphere returned to normal. Ed let go of Nina, and looked around at the others with wide eyes.

“Nina...” he began, looking down at her, but she pulled away. Her eyes were wide and scared.

“I'm sorry!” she cried, backing away and looking around in terror at them all. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! I'm sorry!” And then she turned and ran, slipping and sliding on the wet floor, thumping up the stairs and slamming into her bedroom. In the utter silence of the kitchen Ed could hear her start to cry.

On the tabletop, still smoking slightly, were the outlines of two small hands, each made not of wood, but of solid gold.

*****

It was a decidedly subdued group that departed the Hughes house a few minutes later. Gracia had asked them quietly to leave, so that she could put Elysia to bed and go try to comfort Nina,. Ed and Al and Roy could come back in the morning, when Nina would be calmer, and they could talk things out then.

It was just as well. They all had a lot to think about. The three of them parted in silence, Roy walking off toward his apartment and Ed and Al heading for the dorms on base. None of them spoke. Ed was so distracted he didn't even bother to try to manage his hair as they walked. (The static from Nina's little stunt had caused varying degrees of frizziness in the hair off all who had it, for Elysia being the worst affected; with her frizzed and poofy little ponytail,she looked like a big dandelion. It had led a rather surreal air to their somber departure.) Ed had more important things on his mind as he and Al walked into their room. How had Nina managed to transmute something by accident? How had she managed wood into gold, one of the most difficult chemical transmutations because it involved pulling the necessary metal out of the air, the ground, even the alchemist's own body? Bluntly put, how could she have that much power, when her mother was not an alchemist at all and her father, though decent, and rather inventive, was still no prodigy?

It wasn't until Ed had been in bed for several minutes,lying down but not sleeping, that he remembered the red stone around Nina's neck.

*****

A long while after even Edward Elric had fallen asleep, three dark figures crept around Roy Mustang's office. It had been easier to get in than Tucker had expected. Sloth had been able to waltz right through the front doors (not that she was the kind to ever waltz anywhere) because no one wanted to be the guard who refused to let the Fuhrer's secretary collect important documents. The door to Mustang's office had not been locked; Sloth had walked in and opened the wide window behind the desk, allowing Envy and Tucker to slip in.

Tucker had asked once on the way over why he had to come along. Once had been enough. Now he hung back, near the window, watching for guard patrols and rubbing his swollen lip gingerly. Human shield indeed, he thought to himself, darkly, as Envy and Sloth moved silently around the office. That's a laugh, coming from a guy who's fucking bulletproof. He just wants me here so he can blame me if anything goes wrong. To which another part of him replied, You're surprised by this... why?

Tucker sighed softly and shifted his weight onto his right knee, wincing. His automail ports hurt, in that familiar way that told him he was growing too big for them again. It had been only a year and a half since his last automail replacement, and that had been with room to grow; it seemed that his body was finally starting to grow, at long last. But where he knew Edward Elric would have been delighted and triumphant to be clearing five foot five, Tucker himself was quietly terrified. The last time replacing his automail had been such a hassle (finding a willing mechanic, keeping him quiet while he worked, and finally silencing him completely) that Envy had made it pretty clear that if this happened again, Shou would be paying for it, in more ways than one. Even when he was in a good mood, Envy loved to prey on his pet alchemist. The idea of Envy in a bad mood was enough to wake Shou in the night, sweaty and fearful. The times when it had happened were each burned into Shou's memory, and he was in no way eager to to have it happen again.

But what was the alternative? What would happen if his automail limbs broke down entirely? He'd be crippled, unable to stand, or walk, or, most important to his survival, do alchemy. He swallowed hard, his eyes traveling around the empty parade ground outside, heart thumping in his chest, as he tried not to think about the pain.

*****

“So what are these, exactly?” Envy asked Sloth, holding up an enveloped and looking at it dubiously.

“Documents,” Sloth said smoothly. “Incriminating evidence that indicate Roy Mustang is in league with Drachman insurgents to assassinate the Fuhrer and overthrow the government. People will be believe it,” she adds, slipping a piece of paper into a desk drawer. “Pride's known Mustang's wanted to overthrow him for years.”

“Then why bring in the Drachmans?” Envy asks, removing a small book from the bag Sloth told them to bring with them. “Sounds like you could incriminate him plenty already without them.”

“Because it will make the people feel more at ease to think that it was a foreign influence that turned a powerful military officer against his own country, and not that he chose to do it on his own.” She takes the book from Envy (it's a title Envy recognizes – he remembers reading it back when it wasn't banned – and carefully places it on the bookshelf. “Besides, this incident will help bolster Pride's position and increase public support for another war.”

“Ah yes,” Envy sighs, straightening and cracking his spine, “Another war... been a while since we had one of those, isn't it?”

“Ten years,” Sloth nods, “Since the last one ended.”

“Before you were born,” Envy agrees. “Well, you're in for a treat when the next one starts, I can tell you.”

Over in the corner, by the window, Tucker shuddered quietly.

For a while, it seemed that things would go off all right. Tucker didn't see so much as a night watchman pass by the window, and Sloth and Envy deposited their evidence without incident. They were just getting ready to make a discreet exit, when the door to Mustang's office opened. Tucker looked around and froze as a blond woman came into the room. It took him a moment to recognize her as Mustang's second-in-command – Hawkeye. She hadn't noticed them yet, because the lights were off and her attention was focused on a stack of papers in her hand. She was smiling to herself, triumphantly.

Then she looked up, and saw them.

All in all, it was over in about five seconds, but to Shou, it seemed an eternity. Hawkeye dropped the report in her hands and whipped out a pistol. The papers fell to the floor and scattered everywhere. She said something – probably something along the lines of 'freeze', or 'hold it right there', or 'who the hell are you' – Tucker was too panicked to take note. And what happened next pushed everything else out of his mind, anyway.

Envy just smiled as Hawkeye leveled her gun at him. Then he started to change. He became taller, more muscular, more adult in face and body – his eyes turned blue, his hair shoulder length and copper red. Shou felt a chill as he recognized Envy's new shape as Shou's own; or rather, how his own body looked now, after eight years of being Edward's.

Hawkeye's surprise was no doubt even greater than Shou's, but she handled it remarkably well. Her eyes widened in shock, but only briefly – then she fired her gun in the same moment Envy lunged. The first bullet grazed Envy's arm, the second passed right through his shoulder, but the third went wild as the Homunculus barreled into her, knocking her to the ground and tearing her gun out of her hands. In a flash, Envy pointed it at her, and opened fire.

*****

The next morning, Edward and Alphonse arrived at the Hughes residence to find Roy already there. He was sitting at the kitchen table when Gracia led the brothers in, and he looked relieved to see them.

“Good,” he said, “You're here.”

“Yeah,” Ed agreed, “We're here.” He sat down across from Roy, while Al and Gracia filled the remaining seats. “So. About last night...”

“You saw her necklace,” Roy said simply, “Didn't you?”

Ed and Al both nodded, but Gracia looked puzzled. “What about it? She's had that thing for years. I thought you gave it to her, Edward.”

Edward blinked in surprise and shook his head. “No, definitely not. I never gave her that . And that's no ordinary jewel, either. That's Red Stone.”

“Red stone?” Gracia repeated blankly. “What's so special about it?”

“It's a piece of incomplete Philosopher's Stone,” Roy explained. “It's what they gave us at the end of the Ishvar War. It amplifies alchemical output by several orders of magnitude. If Nina's necklace has a piece of Red Stone on it, it would certainly explain her outburst last night – the gold, the shattered vase, all that wind and static.” His fingers traced idly over the smooth wood, where Al had repaired the damage Nina did last night, while Ed had to explain to Gracia why it was better that way. “She knows enough about alchemy to tap into the Stone's power, but not enough to control it all the time. Dangerous combination.”

“How is Nina doing since last night?” Al asked, before Gracia could say anything. “I'm sorry to interrupt, but I want to know if she's okay.”

“We all want to know that, Al,” Ed pointed out, before looking at Gracia.

“She's still asleep,” Gracia said, “But she seems to be all right. But she was very upset. I think she really had her heart set on learning from you, Edward.”

Ed frowned. “Well, I'm not going to take her with us. It's too dangerous.”

“Oh, I agree,” Gracia said, nodding. “I know you two do dangerous work. But perhaps if you just taught Nina when you were in town, or gave her some of your old books, perhaps that would make her feel better... she misses you so much when you're away. I think perhaps if you spent more time with her, it would help.”

Edward nodded. “See, that I can do. But none of this full-time apprentice business. I don't want her to get hurt.”

“I don't think any of us want her to get hurt,” Al pointed out gently.

Ed laughed slightly, bowing his head in assent. “Right. I know. Anyway, I'll talk to her when she wakes up, if that's all right.”

“That's fine,” Gracia agreed. “But I'd like to let her sleep for now.”

“Of course,” Ed said, nodding. “A transmutation like she did last night, turning wood into gold, would have taken a lot out of her. She'll be fine, she just needs to rest.” He chuckles. “Actually, I'm pretty proud of her.”

“Speaking of,” Gracia said, half-smiling, “Remind me why it's better to fix the gold table than just sell it and buy, I don't know, a thousand new ones? Hmm?”

They all laughed loudly at that. Loud enough to wake Elysia, in fact, who came downstairs, rubbing her eyes and wanting to know what all the fuss was about. But it wasn't until almost lunchtime that Nina came downstairs, and lingered hesitantly in the doorway until Edward beckoned her forward. She did so, looking cautious and sulky, standing at his knee.

“Nina, don't be like that,” he chided gently, petting her hair affectionately. “I'm not mad at you. I just want to talk.”

“You're not mad?” Nina asked nervously, looking up and meeting his eyes.

Ed smiled and pulled her into a hug. “No, of course not,” he murmured, nuzzling her cheek. “I'm proud of you, actually.”

“Really?” she asked, surprised, pulling back to look him in the eyes. “I did good?”

Edward nodded and smiled. “Oh yeah. You've got talent, Nina, you just need to control it.” He took a deep breath and then said, “May I see your necklace, Nina?”

Nina blinked at him as if surprised. She hesitated, then slowly pulled the thin silver chain out of her nightgown, and held the stone that hung from it out towards Ed.

Ed took it carefully, running it between his fingers. He shivered at the little current of warmth that flowed into him when he touched it. He suddenly became aware that everyone at the table was watching him; even Elysia had broken off talking to Al and was looking at him, as if waiting to see what would happen next. Ed looked back at the little scarlet gem in his hand. Oh yes: this was Red Stone, all right. “Where did you get this, Nina?” he asked quietly.

Nina squirmed a little, looking down. “M'not s'posed to tell you,” she mumbled.

“Nina,” Ed said softly, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Who gave it to you?”

Nina shook her head, her lips clamped tightly together.

“Nina... please. Tell me.” Ed squeezed her shoulder, gently. “It's important.”

Slowly, the girl looked up at him, her eyes troubled and worried. “...Papa did.”

Before Ed could even phrase his next words, there was a shattering crash, and then another, and another, as of splintering wood and shattering glass, and Ed hadn't even risen to his feet before at least a dozen black uniformed soldiers streamed into the kitchen.

“There they are!” one of them shouted, pointing at Ed, “Right there!” Instantly all the guns in the room were leveled at the group huddled around the kitchen table, and several soldiers ran forward. Half of them went for Ed, the rest for Roy. Ed stepped back, his heart racing, and tried to ready an attack, but they were on him before he could even manage to bring his hands together. Edward was a strong man, but he wasn't as young as he used to be, and he was no match for the four fit young soldiers who wrestled him, struggling and cursing and spitting, to the ground. He heard a crash and twisted his head around, saw Al stepping back to lunge at the next nearest batch of soldiers.

“Don't try it, son,” one of the soldiers snapped, and Ed's heart went cold to see all the guns pointed straight at Gracia and the girls, who stood there, pale and petrified. “Just get against the wall.” The man then looked at Ed. “You too, Full Metal, Flame. Just stay where you are, or we'll put a bullet in each and every one of you.”

Ed stopped fighting. He had to. Looking to his left, he saw Roy, too, was going still, unresisting as the soldiers tore the flint gloves off his hands. Ed met his eyes briefly, and saw mirrored there his own desperation, fury, and confusion.

Then there was a sharp pain in his right arm, and Ed cried out in surprise, twisting to see a soldier, emptying a syringe into his bicep. As soon as it was empty, the solider produced another and gave Ed's left arm the same treatment. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw another man in black doing the same to Roy.

“What's this – ahh – all about!?” Roy snapped, looking up at the leader of the group, disheveled and angry and, just like Ed, disgustingly helpless.

“Silence!” the man snapped, and produced an official looking document from his pocket. “Major Edward Elric and Colonel Roy Mustang, you are under arrest, for conspiracy against the Amestrian government, for treason against the state of Amestris, and for the murders of Brigadier General Maes Hughes --”

What!?” Ed, Al and Roy both shouted in unison, as at least one of the women gasped.

“ -- and of First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye.”

End of Chapter Ten


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