Word Count: 7,012
Characters: EdxWinry eventually
Summary: The members of the Abuse of Alchemy Division of the Investigations Bureau take their show on the road.
Warnings: Spoilers for whole series
Notes: This is the first chapter of my monster!fic. I've got a total of 143 pages on my 'puter. This is post series and ignores the movie. In subsequent chapters, expect action and violence and sex and all those things that make adult life so rewarding.
The Metaphysicist’s Club
Because Nobody Knows for Certain
I. The Double-A
A series of very loud, dull thuds called Edward’s attention away from the morning paper and from his cereal. He checked his watch. It was only eight-fifteen on a Monday. If Edward’s memory served him correctly, there should be no thudding until he had already left for work.
Holding the banister in one hand, Alphonse swung himself from the carpeted stairs into the hardwood foyer, where he skated out the remainder of his inertia and came to stop in the kitchen. The uneven texture of the linoleum made for more friction in his cotton socks, and Alphonse swayed his arms to gain enough momentum to put him in front of the refrigerator.
“What’re you doing up?” Edward asked, checking the date at the top of his paper. It was indeed Monday. Alphonse’s first class was not until noon.
“Good morning, brother,” Alphonse replied before his upper half disappeared behind the beige door of the fridge. “I’ve plans this morning.”
“Plans? Like what?” Edward heard a juicy crunch, and when Alphonse reappeared, he had an apple in his mouth and a bottle of milk in his hand. Alphonse said something as he hurried to pour himself a glass of milk, but the words did not quite make it around the apple. “What?” Edward asked.
Alphonse removed the apple and said, “I’m meeting Winry here in few minutes. She and I are going down to that new church.”
Edward was not expecting that. “What church?” he asked, wrinkling his nose. Alphonse may have been less cynical toward religion than he, but they were both professed atheists.
“You haven’t seen?” Alphonse asked after a long swig of milk that had Edward grimacing and shaking his head. Alphonse tugged the newspaper from his brother’s hands and pulled the pages apart to reveal the local news section. He then neatly refolded the paper and handed the individual section to Edward.
“Letoist church dated to open May?” Edward read out loud. He turned a very skeptical look on his brother. “Tell me you’re joking.”
Alphonse rolled his eyes. “I’m not attending, brother,” he said. Alphonse leaned over his brother, apple in one hand and milk in the other. With a knuckle, Alphonse pointed out a subheading in smaller print beneath the headline. “They’re asking for volunteers to help get the church into shape before the grand opening.”
That he would believe even if he did think it was a waste of a morning. “You’re giving up your only morning off to support an institution you don’t even believe in?”
Alphonse frowned. “Yes, I am. And it’s not a waste, brother. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.”
Edward did not have to hear his brother’s invitation to know it was there. “I’m going to pass, thanks,” Edward replied, putting down the article and pulling the rest of the paper closer.
“I bet you could get time off for a little community service,” Alphonse suggested as he turned the article on the church around so he could see it. Most of the page was taken up by a rectangular, color photo of the skeleton of a round building being assembled around a towering statue of an austere looking man in a toga. “I’ve heard the statue is very impressive.” Alphonse took a large bite from his apple and continued eyeing the picture.
“I’ve seen one,” Edward said absently. “Big, stone guy with a beard in a dress. It’s not all that impressive.” Edward grinned when he saw his brother’s full-mouthed frown.
“I think a Letoist might find that offensive,” Alphonse crunched. “And they’re robes, brother.”
Edward glanced around. “Unless you’ve converted without telling me, Al, I don’t see any Letoists in here.”
Alphonse opened his mouth to argue but the sound of a quick, light knocking at the door stopped him. Launching himself into another swaying, skating gate, Alphonse slid into the foyer and disappeared from Edward’s view. Skidding to a halt at the front door, Alphonse saw a familiar, rosy face peeking in through the oval-shaped window in the door. The beveled texture of the glass made her face appear wavy and distorted, but Winry’s grin was clear.
Alphonse opened the door quickly and gestured Winry inside. “Right on time. Lemme get my coat,” he said excitedly.
Winry put her hand on the back of her wooly hat and tugged on it, pulling up the front and revealing the pale skin of her forehead. “Okay. Did you manage to talk Ed into coming?”
Alphonse snorted. “Did I even try?” he asked from inside the hall closet.
“I’ll take that as a no, then,” Winry said, putting her hands on her hips. She leaned around the staircase and peeked down the foyer. She could see Edward’s feet twitching agitatedly at the kitchen table. “Honestly,” she said, loud enough for Edward to hear. “A little volunteering wouldn’t kill him. Might make him look a little better in the public eye.”
She heard Edward sigh. “I’m in the military not the senate,” Edward drawled.
“I could be your PR representative, Edward. You know, make you look good. How about it?” Winry called down the foyer as she left Alphonse who was hunting through the hall closet for his coat.
“How about you stay away from my political agenda?” Edward replied. Winry could now see his blue clad legs stretching out under the table and two mismatched hands holding the edges of the newspaper behind which the rest of him hid.
“What political agenda?” asked Winry as she came to a stop in front of the table, her hands on her hips.
“My secret political agenda. The one I don’t tell snooping civilians.”
“Oh, that one.”
“Yes, that one.”
Winry watched Edward jerk the paper straight when it started to sag. “You need to run for senate,” she declared.
“No, I don’t,” he replied on the tail of her sentence.
That was their tradition. While Edward found it exasperating, Winry seemed to think that badgering him at least once a day would make him reconsider a campaign. Edward was grateful to get it out of the way early. When this time, like so many times before, proved fruitless, Winry stepped forward, hooked her finger over the top edge of the newspaper and pulled it down. Edward was waiting behind with a peeved glare.
“Good morning, Edward,” Winry said grinning.
“Morning,” he grumbled.
“Is this a newspaper you’re reading?” she asked, pulling it from his hands. “You mean you knew that there was a world outside of yourself this whole time, and you never told me?” Winry scanned the front page and leafed over to the next.
“Aren’t you clever?” Edward asked, standing up sharply and walking over to the sink.
“I think so,” she replied sweetly, absently fingering the ragged edge of the paper.
After setting his bowl down loudly, Edward said, “Don’t you have a house of god to be desecrating?”
“I think I’m going to be whitewashing it, actually.” Winry glanced over at Edward, who was now sipping a mug of very black coffee with a rather stygian look on his face. Through the open front of his uniform coat, Winry could see that the collar of his shirt was crooked.
Winry sighed and folded down the newspaper. She set it aside with a soft rustle before walking over to where Edward was glaring at the floor and gloomily mouthing the edge of the mug.
“Move your arm,” Winry said. When Edward did not comply, she pushed his arm with mug in tow aside and began fixing the buttons of his shirt.
He looked down at her hands and rolled his eyes. “I can button my own shirt, thanks.”
“This is the kind of stuff a PR person would do,” Winry said, ignoring his commentary. “I’d make sure you don’t look silly in public.” She untucked his shirt brusquely and fixed the last button.
“I’m not running for senate.”
“Not today at least.”
Winry heard Alphonse call her name from the front door. Before stepping back, Winry pulled Edward’s coffee mug to her mouth and took a quick sip. “Are we still on for dinner tonight?” she asked.
“Seven-thirty sharp,” Edward replied.
“You think Al can make it this time?” Winry asked
“You’ll have to ask him; it’s his homework.”
Winry smiled. “All right, see you later.” She swatted his arm affectionately.
Edward watched Winry wave over her shoulder before disappearing down the foyer. He listened to her exchange a few cheerful words with his brother before the front door opened, four feet plodded heavily over the threshold, and the door closed.
And his house was quiet once more. The dense fog outside the kitchen window blocked the morning sun from stretching its usual yellow square across the linoleum, and Edward reminded himself that he liked having the house to himself. He looked down at his rumpled shirt, now buttoned straight but partially untucked. With a snort, Edward set down his mug and began fixing himself, all the while frowning as though he were being terribly inconvenienced. Winry knew he did not take off his coat at work; his automail was dark enough to show through his shirt, and he would rather skip the stares if at all possible. If she cared so much, Edward thought, why could she not give him a free tune up once in a while? Now that he could use.
After straightening his shirt and buttoning up his coat, Edward checked his pocket watch. It was just after eight-thirty and nearing the time he loaded the files he had been looking over the night before into his brief case, tossed it and himself in the car, and left for work.
At eight-forty, Edward lumbered down his stairs, grimacing at the feeling of his tall boots snug around his calf. Edward paused at the hall closet and donned his overcoat. Keys and brief case in hand, he stepped out in the brume. Under the low, steely sky, the street looked especially grey and tenebrous, and Edward turned up his collar – more for the security than for physical comfort.
His car, a heavy, black machine of Amestrisian make, waited for him in the drive adjacent to his house. He was glad to see that it was all in one piece but knew that that did not necessarily mean that it would start. The car had been more of a gift to Winry than anything else; Edward had given it to her with the promise that she could disassemble and reassemble it on his days off as long as it was able to run when he needed it. Edward also made her promise that she would never drive it. Winry had been insulted, calling him sexist and a bigot; Edward had replied that the ban had nothing to do with her gender.
After scraping the windows clean, Edward climbed into the driver seat and tried the ignition. The engine rumbled to life, and Edward sighed with relief – not that he really had reason to expect the car not to start; Winry always put it back together in better shape than it had been before.
In a smoother, quieter vehicle than he had had the morning prior, Edward pulled into the road and drove resignedly to Central Head Quarters.
The Abuse of Alchemy Division of the military’s Investigations Bureau was infamous. Renowned for bringing down the country’s most dangerous men, legendary for muzzling fusions of anthropophagic animals squeezed together into the same skin, notorious for saving humanity at least once or twice a year, the Double-A was rarely dull. Why was it then, Edward wondered, was his position as de facto spearhead of the Double-A officially called a “desk job?”
He had a desk. He even sat at his desk occasionally, typically less than three times a week. So then, presumably, Edward did his job from a desk at least once a day for less than three days a week. Did that constitute a desk job? It did if you were the first subordinate, administrative assistant, and General office bitch to the official Director of Alchemic Investigations. Who, it appeared, had opted out of coming to work on time for the fifth time in two weeks.
Edward walked through the door to his office minutes after Lieutenant Ross.
“Good morning, Edward,” Ross said as she straightened a short stack of papers in the middle of her desk.
“Morning,” he said flatly. He heard Ross give him a disapproving snort.
“How’d it go, Friday?” she asked.
Edward threw back the chair to his desk and sat heavily. “Don’t ever leave me alone with him again, especially not on a slow day. I got to sit here and listen to him listen to himself for eight hours!” Ross smiled. “You may think it’s funny, but it’s not.”
“I’m sure it was a good experience at heart, Ed. The General is a fascinating man in his methodology.”
“Yeah, if you’re female,” Edward muttered. Ross cleared her throat very loudly. “Speaking of General I’m-Too-Good-To-Come-To-Work-On-Time.
“I haven’t seen him. He’s probably in transit.”
Edward rolled his eyes and heaved himself up to his feet. “My ass, he’s in transit. He’s probably asleep.” Edward approached the General’s desk then threw a mischievous smirk over his shoulder to Ross. “While we’re waiting, I suppose I’ll make myself comfortable.”
Before Ross could protest, Edward fell with a sigh to the General’s chair. He then helped himself to the paperwork waiting in the inbox. “Let’s see what I have to do today.”
Ross stood up brusquely. “That’s not your-“
“Pipe down. I’m going to tell you what it says,” Edward reassured her. “You don’t actually expect him to do anything with this but delegate, do you?” Edward asked skeptically, gesturing to the first page.
Ross looked wary, but there was no denying the truth. She started and frowned when Edward dropped his feet loudly on the desk. As Ross opened her mouth to reprimand Edward, the sound of leisurely footfalls in the hallway interrupted her. Both Ross and Edward looked toward the entrance, and Ross gestured quickly behind her back for Edward to get out of the General’s chair. Edward, of course, ignored this.
“Good morning, inmates,” a jovial voice called before First Lieutenant Havoc filled the doorway with himself and cigarette smoke. “Open the windows, I’m here,” he announced as he sauntered in and set a cardboard cup tray on the corner of the General’s desk.
“Coffee?” Ross asked, eyeing the cups as Havoc distributed them, leaving the fourth cup steaming in its slot.
“Who are you, and what have you done with Havoc?” Edward asked after accepting his cup.
“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” Havoc replied smugly. He sipped his cup contentedly and took a short step back. For a moment, he and Edward eyed each other. “Why, General. You’ve done something different this morning.” Edward rolled his eyes. “Did you change your hair? Your uniform?” Havoc rubbed his chin. “Oh, I know. It’s your height.”
Ross snorted into her coffee inelegantly. “Har har har,” Edward grumbled. “Never gets old, does it?”
“Nope.” Havoc grinned, knowing that, at least in that avenue of teasing, he was completely immune. He pulled a paper napkin out of his pocket and handed it to Ross who was trying to wipe at the coffee spilled down her front. “Picked these up just for you.”
“Thanks,” Ross mumbled, turning slightly red.
“So,” Havoc sighed, leaning casually against the General’s desk. “What’s he got in for us today?”
Edward, holding coffee in one gloved hand and papers in the other, sipped as he scanned the first page. “Looks like… a couple of things for Senator Perry.”
“I’ll take that one,” Havoc interjected.
“I bet you will,” Edward muttered. Havoc’s wife worked as Perry’s clerk on Mondays. Since she was hired, Mondays had been rather Havoc-free, which, as far as Ed could tell, was not necessarily a bad thing.
“What is it?” Ross asked, ignoring the exchange.
“I’m guessing further research for the Agricultural Alchemy bill.” Edward flipped the first page forward with his index finger and scanned the second. “No surprises. It works better. It grows faster. Blah blah blah.”
“It’s more expensive,” Havoc said over the lip of his paper cup. “Therefore, it will never pass,” he concluded.
“How’s that?” Edward asked.
“Alchemists work by the hour. Illegal immigrant labor and cow manure do not.” Havoc shrugged.
“Moving on,” Ross said firmly, before Havoc and Edward could get into a debate. Edward snorted and looked back to the papers.
“It’s our favorite: reports from the weekend,” said Edward as he lay down and spread out the remainder of the stack. Both Havoc and Ross rolled their eyes. “Crime doesn’t sleep,” Edward drawled.
“But alchemists do,” Ross said. “Those are all police reports?”
“Unfortunately.” Edward picked up the first one. “Someone put another hole in Fifth Avenue. I’m surprised anyone noticed.”
Ross brought the next report up to her eyes. “Something big and winged was spotted on the south end.”
“A bird, maybe?” Havoc asked sarcastically.
With a frown, Ross replied, “The woman who filed the report said it had hooves. Do you know of any hoofed birds?” She looked back down and flipped to the second page. “Sounds like Selby’s MO.”
“Good ol’ Farmer Selby,” Havoc drawled wearily.
“Let’s hope he’s only combining farm animals, this time,” Edward said. He leafed through the remaining reports. “Looks like another complaint about noises coming from the lab, a missing person, a handful of strange animals, and another guy violating his TRO.”
Havoc stalked over to Edward’s chair and sank down loudly. “Aren’t there police in this town? I mean, a temporary restraining order? Is that really our jurisdiction?”
“If it’s alchemy, they won’t touch it,” Edward said dully. “We’ll be saving kittens from trees any day now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ross said, scolding them both. Edward and Havoc looked at her morosely. “We’ll be saving chimera-kittens from man-eating trees.”
“All for the greater good,” Havoc said, raising his coffee. Ross smirked and raised her coffee back. “To the alchemy police. May we be remembered for more noble things than slapping the wrists of every schizophrenic alchemist to violate his writ of injunction.” Havoc rolled his eyes and downed the last of his coffee.
“I’ll drink to that,” Ross muttered, raising her cup to her lips as well. She paused, the edge of her cup hovering just before her mouth. A veil of gloom settled on her face. “You know, I’m not an alchemist.” She looked at Havoc and said matter-of-factly, “I don’t know a thing about alchemy. What the hell am I doing here?”
“Yes, get it out of your system early, Lieutenant Ross,” a voice sighed from the hall. Despite their expressed apathy, both Ross and Havoc snapped to attention, their right hands held in knifelike rigidity to their brows. Edward showed his obeisance by sliding his feet to the corner of the desk and off the General’s calendar.
General Roy Mustang strolled into the office, looking rather like he had been meandering the hall and happened to swing into that one particular office. He saluted back to Ross and Havoc before giving Edward a one-eyed glance blander than milk. “Good to see you all hard at work without my instruction.”
“We were just dividing up the cases. Not like we need you for that,” Edward replied. Taking his coffee in one hand, Mustang came to loom over Edward, who was still lounging comfortably in the General’s chair.
“Technically, you need me to open the covers of those files marked classified, but you’ve apparently,” Mustang punctuated by sweeping Edward’s feet off his desk brusquely, “helped yourself, Fullmetal. You’ve your own desk. Go warm it up.” Edward scowled but stood up anyway. “Anything exciting this morning?” Mustang asked as he sank to his chair and flipped through the spread on his desk.
“’Nother hole in Fifth,” Edward said flatly.
“Really? I’m surprised anyone noticed,” Mustang replied. Both Havoc and Ross laughed at that. “We’ve a deranged, potholing alchemist on our hands. Fetch the arsenal,” he said dryly.
Since Havoc appeared reluctant to give his seat back, Edward leaned against the side of the desk he shared with Ross. He crossed one ankle over the other and finished the gritty dregs of his coffee with a sigh.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot,” Mustang said in his off-hand casual cadence that he used for just about anything. “This was waiting in my inbox downstairs this morning.” Brandishing a smudged white enveloped, Mustang waved it at Edward. “Why it came to me, I’m not certain.”
“Maybe it’s because you’re supposed to be in charge,” Havoc muttered to Ross, who snorted then gave him a look of censure.
“It’s for me?” Edward asked, standing up.
“Yes, it was sent here, attention to you, though I didn’t notice that until I had opened it. It was written to you.” Mustang held the envelope between his gloved index and middle fingers, and when Edward reached to take it, Mustang flicked it away. “Interesting correspondences you have, Fullmetal.”
Edward glared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What was it?’ Havoc asked, grinning. “Naked pictures and love letters with little hearts over the i’s?” Havoc drew a heart in the air with his index finger as he spoke. Ross let out a long-suffering sigh.
“Not quite,” Mustang said flatly. “You didn’t mention your were in communication with the Tringhams.”
“I’m not. And how do you know the Tringhams?” Edward asked, snatching the letter from Mustang’s hand.
“The name Tringham has had more alchemic mud slung at it than the name Elric,” Mustang explained before smirking at Edward’s deepening glare. He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair as Edward returned to his perch on his desk and slipped his fingers into the torn envelope. “I suppose it’s only fitting that you and Nash’s sons are in cahoots.”
“Nobody’s in cahoots,” Edward muttered rather distractedly as he read the letter.
“Cahoots, you say?” Havoc asked, exaggerated interest in his voice.
“There are no cahoots being had!” Edward snapped, glaring over the top edge of the tri-folded letter. The room fell quiet as they waited for Edward to finish reading. Mustang watched Edward’s eyes as they danced across the lines from one side of the paper to the other. When Edward had fed the entire letter through his grip and was holding the bottom corners, he started again at the top and reread.
“Well,” Ross said, breaking the silence. “What does it say?”
Edward exchanged a quick but heavy glance with Mustang over the top of the page. “Nothing important,” Edward said casually. “It’s an invite.”
Havoc’s face dropped. “That’s it?”
“What were you expecting?” Ross asked, leaning her elbow against her desk leisurely.
“I don’t know,” Havoc replied, shrugging. “A tip on another alchemic threat to humanity or something.” Ross snorted and rolled her eyes.
“Looks like Russell Tringham just got himself engaged. He’s throwing a party. Why he’d think I’d want to come is beyond me,” Edward said, refolding the letter and slipping it into his pocket.
“Are you acquainted with the Tringhams?” Ross asked. She looked at Edward with a veiled expression. Something behind her dark eyes hid, and though Edward could not entirely read it, he thought he could see the silhouette of doubt there.
“I had the misfortune of meeting Russell Tringham and his little brother Fletcher in Xenotime a few years ago. They were impersonating us to infiltrate a lab there,” Edward said noncommittally as he walked behind Havoc and took the free chair at Havoc’s desk.
“Us?” Ross asked.
“Alphonse and me.”
“Really? What were they up to in the lab important enough to risk something like that?”
Edward shrugged before leaning his chair back and plopping his boots down on the desk. “Never found out. It was something local, I heard.”
There was moment of silence through which Ross’s incredulity was almost audible. “Well, as fascinating as I’m sure this must be,” Mustang said as he held up a police report, “I think one of you had better find your way down to the home of one Mister Jacob Selby and ask him what the hell he’s doing now.”
“What do you recommend?” Ross asked.
“Bring your night stick and hand cuffs,” Mustang said, tossing down the file. “Better yet, take a sheriff or two.”
Ross stood up and pulled her overcoat off the back of her chair. “Do you really think that is necessary, sir?”
Mustang was already leafing through another file. “Apparently, he’s unleashing flying goats on the suburbs of Central. I’m scared for my life. Check out that pothole in Fifth while you’re out there. That is, of course, if you can tell the alchemic ones from all the regular ones.”
Edward stood resignedly and followed behind Ross, donning his overcoat as he left.
A landscape of bleak, black, pockmarked earth yawned before them. Years of cracks from grueling weather and weathering stretched into the forlorn distance and out of view. A few feet away and to the right, the bones for some poor, dead animal shone grey and brittle in the diffused light. Edward toed a chunk of dry, crumbling stone gloomily. He let out a saturnine sigh.
“Doesn’t this town have a DOT?” Ross asked as she scanned the battlefield that was Fifth Avenue.
“Apparently not,” Edward replied flatly.
“You know,” Ross said as she began to walk the faded, uneven yellow line down the middle of the barren street. “I joined the military just after the lift of the Dracmese embargo, right before the Ishballan conflict. I thought there would be so much meaning.”
“Save it, Ross,” Edward replied, strolling next to her.
“I told my mother I would be serving such a noble purpose. My father and I took a picture together in our uniforms. I was just a private then, but I had such incredible hopes,” she continued wistfully.
After leaving Central Command Center, Edward and Ross drove nearly an hour to the south end, where the suburbs bled into the rural stretches of nothing. They found the location where a chimera had alleged been spotted the evening before. After interviewing the woman who made the report, they headed less than a block away to Selby’s farm to find the old man pleasantly demented and harmlessly adhering to the writ of injunction barring him from performing any more alchemy. With some very shrewd deduction on Ross’s part, they plotted out the exact path that the wingless, unaltered goat took from the hole in Selby’s fence to the woman’s roof the night before.
“How did you end up here, anyway?” Edward asked. “In the Double-A, I mean.”
“Well,” Ross began, slipping her hands into her pockets. “I was under Brigadier Hughes, and he headed up Court Marshall Affairs. That left my name floating around the Investigations Bureau, what was then just the Investigations Department, and I suppose, when it came time for the reformation…” she looked skyward for a moment. “I don’t think the reformation was handled as well as it could have been.”
Edward snorted. “You and the rest of the military.”
“You’re disappointed, then?” Ross asked.
Shrugging, Edward replied, “I just think it would be more humane to do laboratory testing on politicians and lawyers instead of white rats.” Ross laughed. “I’m not disappointed. I didn’t have many expectations for this country, and the few I did have were really low.”
“That’s painless, I suppose.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I think there are a lot of things that need fixing. But my life is complicated enough as it is without losing sleep over something as inexorable as the failings of Senate.” Edward paused, then continued, “Plus, I’ve seen places in worse shit than disorganization and the tail end of an economic recession.” Nothing Edward could image could beat Germany teething on another World War.
“Is that so?” Ross asked, snagging Edward’s sleeve and guiding him toward the crumbling sidewalk as a car approached joltingly. “I didn’t know you traveled.”
“If you want to call it that,” Ed replied as he switched places with Ross, putting himself closer to the street. Ross smiled at him, reminding Edward that what he had just done was gentlemanly; he had not even noticed.
“You’ve always been this covert, haven’t you?” Ross asked suddenly.
Ed flinched away from her slightly. “Your point?”
Ross laughed. “That’s funny. You asking me to be explicit.”
“Did it occur to you that if I don’t disclose something, it’s because I don’t want to?” Edward asked, rather defensively.
Turning sharply on her heel, Ross stopped and faced Edward. “I’ve only your best interest in mind, sir.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Don’t pull rank on me,” he drawled and continued walking.
“You’re my superior!” Ross stood her ground and spread her hands.
“I know!” Edward snapped. “Thanks for reminding me.”
Jogging a few steps forward, Ross came to Edward’s side and picked up his pace. “What was in that letter that you think Havoc and I are safer not knowing?”
“Don’t take it personally. I’d rather Mustang didn’t know either.”
“That’s irrelevant, Edward.”
Edward did not feel like giving a reply, and Ross was too frustrated to continue arguing, so they rounded the corner in silence. Somewhere in the low hanging sky, thunder grumbled its disgruntled opinion. Ross watched through her peripheral vision as Edward cast his gaze downward and flipped up the collar of his coat against a rising gust.
When the dust from a nearby construction site began to choke her, Ross covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve and turned her squinted gaze toward Edward. “We should find the car,” she suggested.
Edward, who was likewise shielding his face, nodded. They darted into an alley to wait out the clogged wind.
“Yuck,” Ross said, dusting her sleeves roughly. “Where did all this come from?”
Edward’s brow suddenly furrowed and he leaned out of the alley to look down the road. “What street are we on?” he asked.
“South Main now. Why?” Ross replied as she attempted to shake the red powder from her uniform pants.
Edward thought for a moment. “I’ve got something to do out here before we can head back,” he said before stepping back into the now dying wind and ignoring Ross’s protests.
He could not deny that he was a little curious. Truly the last religion Edward expected to find popularity in Central was Letoism. He had believed the practice itself had been forgotten, ground to a fine powder under the heel of obloquy and war, a powder too similar to sand to be distinguished. A few years back, while on a book binge for a case, Edward had stumbled upon a religious text, the Book of the Sun, it was called, misplaced in the periodicals. As it did now, Edward’s curiosity overtook him, and he eventually abandoned his original intention and settled down to read two hundred pages of the first religious writings he had touched since his very young childhood. From the first pages – absurdly fatuous myths about creation and humanity’s dubious roots – Edward thought Letoism to be nothing more than a medley of blatant hypocrisy and misogyny. He wondered how a person could swallow such sanctimonious insincerities, spoon-fed to him by liars like Cornello.
Now, standing outside the pristine, stone and plaster shell of a House of Lies, Edward considered taking Winry and Alphonse to that library and showing them just what they were condoning. He pictured Winry in the shawls and hoods the twenty-first canto of the Book of the Sun said women should demurely don, and he laughed.
Edward heard Ross jogging up behind him now that the wind and dust had settled. “Edward?” she asked as she came to a stop at his left. Edward could hear an assortment of questions in her voice and opted to ignore them all. Instead, he put his hands to the heavy, oaken door and leaned. The door creaked open with some effort, and Edward entered as casually as he could.
The first room upon entry was the cornerless, yawning sanctuary, topped with a high ceiling fitted over a square frame of heavy-looking wooden beams. Spaces for six arched windows interrupted the curve of the wall high above the partially finished, tiled floor. The grandest aspect of the sanctuary, towering high above the polished pews set in expanding circles from the center, was the statue of Leto himself. Now Edward could see why a person might be impressed, though he was quick to reassure himself that he was entirely not. Were it simply a massive, east facing statue of a bearded man, Edward would have scoffed; however, this statue, marked with a plaque intimating the exact location in the desert from where the statue had been taken, was a three-sided monstrosity, depicting the same man at three different ages: innocent yet determine youth; confident and bearded adult; and stooped and wise elder.
“Look who decided to show up!” a familiar voice announced from Edward’s left. He jumped and spun around. Crouching on the floor, screwdriver in hand, Winry beamed up at him.
“Gimme a coronary,” Edward sighed, feeling his heart fluttering.
“Sorry,” Winry said as she rose to her feet, dusted off her knees, and slipped the screwdriver into her pocket. “I wasn’t expecting you to wander in here voluntarily. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“Technically, I am,” Edward said. He gestured behind him where Ross was just entering the church and eyeing the cathedral ceiling. “We had to check something out down here, and I thought I’d drop in.”
Winry smiled. “Oh, thanks. Well, you’re just in time. My shift ended,” Winry checked her wristwatch, “three minutes ago.”
“Where’s Al?” Edward asked.
“He’s—hi Miss Ross,” Winry said when Ross noticed her and waved. “He left at eleven for class. I’m getting ready to head out, too, but I wanted to finish this up.” She pointed to the hinges on the door. “They had me mortising all morning.”
“Wow, sounds like fun,” Edward said sarcastically. “Sorry I missed it.”
“Well, there’s still plenty of work left to be done and character to be built if you want to show up tomorrow,” Winry said hopefully.
“If Edward can’t stand working for a salary, I doubt he would intentionally work for free,” Ross interjected, eyeing the tarps draped over the incomplete stained glass windows. Winry chuckled, and Edward glared. “How do you plan on getting home?” Ross asked quickly before Edward could offer his rebuttal.
“I was going to walk, but since I forgot to bring my lunch, I thought I’d get a cab.” Winry said. Edward snorted at her carelessness, earning himself a swat to the gut. “Shut up,” Winry snapped at him.
Ross smiled at the exchange. “We could drive you, if you like.”
“What? She lives on Memorial; her house is entirely out of the way!” Edward interrupted. Winry swatted him again, harder.
“Your chivalry moves me, Edward,” Winry growled. She then turned to Ross and said more gently, “If it’s not too far out of your way, I’d really appreciate it.”
“Certainly,” Ross said. “We’re heading for the car now.”
“Lemme talk to the foreman. I’ll be right back,” Winry said. She swatted Edward again as she jogged away.
After announcing her departure, Winry left the church flanked by Edward and Lieutenant Ross. They swapped a handful of complaints about the weather and headed for the car, parked along the sparsely populated curb of Fifth Avenue. Judging by the look Edward threw at Ross as he opened the car door for Winry and hesitated before sliding in after her, he would brook no teasing or mention of the fact that they had driven down with Edward at the wheel and Ross in passenger seat.
Winry took her seat on the driver side and tucked her feet up on the seat next to her. She was marginally surprised to see Edward fall into the seat next to her, and the rather evasive expression he was giving his knees told Winry that he was a little surprised, too. So, just to make him uncomfortable, Winry slid a little closer and, with a wide, unabashed yawn, leaned against his shoulder.
Ross glanced at the two in the rearview mirror, Ed looking rather pink and Winry looking rather content. With an inward smile, Ross turned the ignition. The engine rumbled like a protest but started smoothly. With what Edward thought were overly cautious glances in the mirrors and blind spot, Ross pulled into the road. Winry’s eyes shot open and she sat up as soon that tires hit the first gully in the pavement.
“When was the last time someone checked this car’s shocks?” Winry whined, bouncing gently in her seat.
“It’s not the car,” Edward drawled.
Once they turned off Fifth and onto smoother terrain, Winry settled back against Edward, leaning her temple against his flesh shoulder. Ross heard Edward sigh loudly and smiled, careful to keep her expression out of Edward’s view.
The ride to Winry’s apartment was not a terribly long one, but Ross could understand why it would not be a welcomed walk on an empty stomach. They traveled in a comfortable hush, filled with the purr of the engine, Winry’s sleepy grumbles and easy breathing. Ross heard Edward clear his throat with what sounded like anxiety, and she looked in her mirror instinctively. Edward, slouching as he always did, was looking sheepishly to his left at Winry – specifically, Ross imagined, at the revealed pale skin above the scoop neck of Winry’s shirt. In the hemoglobin high tide, Edward quickly looked out his window and cleared his throat again. Ross had to keep herself from chuckling. Edward would certainly have himself a paroxysm if he knew she had seen him do something so uncharacteristically boyish.
The car pulled up to the curb of Memorial Parkway, just below the large, concrete steps leading up to Sullivan and Rockbell’s Prosthetics and Winry’s flat above. The hanging sign over the door, creaking loudly in the wind, was new, which Winry usually pointed out when with an audience. She had been promoted to partner within the last month, and the sign had only been displayed for two weeks; however, Winry was too busy rubbing her eyes and yawning to indicate the shiny sign to Edward for the umpteenth time.
Edward opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. He held the door for Winry before making impatient gestures to make her hurry up.
“Gimme a second, Ed,” Winry said as she swung her legs out of the car. “Jeez, where’s the fire?”
Though he would never admit it, Edward did not want to be accused of lingering with her. Instead he said, “I told you it was out of the way. We’ve only got the car for so long.”
“Right, right,” Winry said, giving him a dismissive wave as she climbed out of the car. She smiled at Edward’s frown. “Thanks for the ride, Ed.”
He snorted and looked away. “Don’t get used to it.”
“Gimme a call when you get off work. Al said he was good for dinner tonight, so you better be there. Got it?” Winry stuck an accusatory finger in Edward’s face and scowled dramatically.
“What’re you pointing at me for? I’m not the one who missed last week,” Edward said, putting up his hands.
“”Cause Al’s not here for me to point at,” Winry responded bluntly. A warm smile quickly replaced her feigned frown. “Even though I seriously doubt you’ll remember to call me, call me.”
“Sure,” Ed drawled.
Winry sighed and shook her head wearily before jogging up her stairs. She paused at the door and turned back. “Thanks again for the ride!” she called and waved at Ed.
“You owe me one,” Edward called back before getting into the front seat. As soon as he closed the door, Edward felt Ross eyeing him. Edward whipped his head around and gave her a glare. “Shut up,” he hissed before slouching and scowling forward.
Ross let out a long laugh before sighing, “Okay.” With that, she started the car and set off for Central Command Center, Edward sulking as loudly and largely as he could.