"Have I mentioned recently that I hate Mustang?" The young man speaking dumped a plain brown suitcase on the cement at his feet and glowered at nothing in particular. Pulling his hooded red coat tighter around him, he hunched his shoulders.
"Brother," came the soft reply, a boy's voice echoing as though lost in the suit of armor lurking behind the first young man. "I think that's—"
"Edward Elric!" A woman came striding across the train platform, heading straight for the imposing suit of armor, which shrank back in a very non-imposing way. "It's such a pleasure to finally meet the Fullmetal—"
"Ah, ah," the suit of armor said, waving his hands. Beside him, the young man was scowling, his white-gloved hands forming fists. The suit of armor put a hand to the back of its helmet, much like a child would, and stepped behind the young man. "I'm Alphonse Elric. My older brother's the Fullmetal Alchemist."
The woman blinked, studying the two figures. The young man had blond hair, pulled back in a short braid, and his golden eyes were regarding her balefully, but with some weariness. The suit of armor—Alphonse—was nearly twice Edward's size, and obviously made of metal. She caught sight of the silver chain hanging from the young man's belt, looping down before disappearing into his pocket. Only National Alchemists carried those watches.
"Second Lieutenant Corina Holt," she said, introducing herself formally with a quick salute. "I'm to escort you to the scene."
Edward looked like he was about to say something, then sighed and nodded absently. The woman pursed her lips, then seemed to come to a decision, turning quickly on her heel.
"Come with me, then, and I'll take you straight to the property," she called over her shoulder. The Fullmetal Alchemist might be shorter than her youngest brother, but between his commanding officer's assurances and the boy's own steady stare, it seemed reasonable to guess that he had at least some knowledge of what he was doing.
The three stepped out of the train station, and a blast of sleet hit them with a furious wind, pushing the woman sideways a half step before she caught herself. Waving them to the car, she made sure they'd both climbed in before she moved around to the front and slipped behind the wheel.
Edward leaned back against the seat, watching the freezing rain drive in sheets across the empty roads. The woman handled the car deftly in the treacherous weather, but he'd hoped for at least the chance for a hot shower and some sleep in a bed that didn't consist of a badly padded train bench. Edward stifled a yawn and tried to focus his eyes, and mentally chalked up the arrival as one more reason to punch his commanding officer. Someday, he promised himself, and enjoyed the momentary flash of warmth that always came from the image of wiping that smirk off the Lieutenant Colonel's face. It faded too quickly, and even with the car's heater on full blast, he was soon shivering.
He'd called in his report from the Western town, planning on heading after signs of the Philosopher's Stone just southeast of Central. But Mustang had other ideas, urgent ones, and Edward had reluctantly accepted the orders, knowing if he didn't, Mustang wouldn't hesitate to jerk his chain and turn him in. Edward clenched his jaw, remembering the caramel tones insinuate, yet again, what would happen to Alphonse if anyone found out he was soul-bound, and not just some kid with an obsession for wearing an antique suit of armor. But it had only taken two words to make Edward change his mind about arguing, slam the phone down on Mustang, and grab the next train to Duiran, not more than twenty miles from the border of Drachma.
"Human alchemy," Roy had said. He was probably going to say more, Edward knew. Damn Mustang. He loved to talk, but he loved to threaten more. Edward could recite Mustang's lectures in his sleep; he didn't need to waste his coins when he had a train to catch.
"Magic words," Edward whispered under his breath, and shook his head when Alphonse turned to look at him. "Nothing," he muttered, and wriggled down farther into the seat, wrapping his arms tightly around him. Alphonse watched him for a second, then nodded with a soft clanging sound, and returned his attention to the window.
The car rolled to a stop in front of a large building, and Holt got out, opening the door for Edward as Alphonse got out on the other side. She said nothing, but waved them up to the building, not intending on joining them. Edward hefted the suitcase in his hand, and trotted up the flagstone steps, already soaked to the bone by the time he'd made it to the front door. He was about to bang on the door with his fist when the door opened to reveal a haggard-looking policeman. The man looked right over Edward's head, at Alphonse.
"Edward Elric?" The man's voice was deep, and hoarse with sleep, or something else.
Edward fumed. "I'm right HERE, damn it!" He glared up at the man, and merely grunted when the man stepped back in surprise. Stomping past him, Edward found himself in the front foyer of a house not even half as impressive on the inside as it was on the outside. The lights were dim with dust, and books lay scattered everywhere.
"Ah, you can leave your belongings there," the man said. "Everything is in the basement...and if you need any assistance determining how to pack it to travel, let us know." Despite his bulk, he shifted nervously from foot to foot, waiting until Edward nodded. The man cleared his throat. "There are a few more officers downstairs...with Doctor Kaufkorn."
Before Edward could say more, the man was gone, slamming the front door shut behind him. Edward raised his eyebrows at the door, a bit startled, and set down the suitcase. Pulling off his soaked coat, he draped it over the suitcase and shook out his black jacket. His black jeans were soaked, too, but a quick slap of the hands and the minor alchemical reaction had the water evaporating in a second. Edward dropped his hands from his chest with a grunt of satisfaction.
"Brother?" Alphonse looked at the door, and then back at Edward. "I don't like this."
Edward spared a glance for his younger brother, and started to sigh, then caught himself. Pulling himself to his full height, he smirked and headed down the main hallway towards the door under the stairs. "Whatever it is, it's nothing I can't handle! Come on, let's see what they've got and then..." He paused, catching sight of the living room on his right. Edward's eyes went wide. There were books, stacked on tables, on the floor, piled on the shelves with more squeezed in above them. His fingers itched to investigate, but he was brought back by Alphonse's soft cough, reminding him. Edward made a mental note to review the library, and pulled the door open.
There were lights moving at the bottom, and he trotted down the stairs, curious. At their foot was a short hallway, and through the open door, he stepped into a cavernous workspace. Alphonse came to a halt at his side, and both brothers stared in shock.
The array was painted in lurid colors across the floor, scuffed and beaten by a number of footsteps, but the intricacy was hard to miss. Edward's gaze ran across the patterns, noting the six additional arrays around the room, measuring the symbols and patterns weaving the main array together, circles within circles. He'd seen something similar in Coriswell, a year earlier, in the general shape, but the six additional arrays were a new twist. He moved closer to study one of the arrays on the wall, puzzled. It wasn't a mirror of the main array, but an individual symbol, curved and arching like brushwork, caught in a single border.
Unusual, Edward thought. Now I definitely want to see that library. Who the hell is this guy, to come up with this adaptation?
He stepped closer, then stopped as someone moved in his way. Edward looked up, surprised, and the man gave him a polite, if exhausted, smile.
"Edward Elric," the man said. "I spoke with your commanding officer."
Edward couldn't manage to wipe the frown off his face in time.
The man chuckled. "You can tell him for me that I'd guess you're at least five-three, not four-eleven."
"I'm going to p—" Edward cut off the rest of his wish, with a huge amount of effort. The array on the wall was tinting red from the flush of anger, and it took some effort to realize the man had not actually called him short. Edward's eyes went wide, and he nearly smiled. That was a first. The man didn't actually call him short.
"But you're still pretty short for a National Alchemist," the man went on.
"WHO'RE you calling MICROSCOPIC?" Edward exploded, his arms waved wildly as he got in the man's face. "WHO'S so damn SHORT you need a MAGNIFYING GLASS?"
"Ah, let's try again," the man said, backpedaling rapidly. "I'm Officer Hecht. Doctor Kaufkorn was our city's top Alchemist, but kept to himself when he didn't have appointments. Town's had rumors for years about what he was up to, but he's never done anything to give us reason..." Hecht glanced at Alphonse, and back at Edward. "Kaufkorn missed two appointments, and his last customer asked us to come check on him. I don't know if you—"
"Just show us," Edward said, crossing his arms. He looked around the room, seeing only the painted arrays, and nothing else. Where was the man hiding his research lab? This room was obviously set aside for only the actual operations. Edward noticed, then, the wooden door set in the stone wall, just as Hecht turned towards it. Following the officer, Edward could hear Alphonse's armor clanking behind him as they entered the second cellar chamber, only half as large as the first.
The first impression was of a cacophony of noise. Cages flanked the walls, stacked two and three high, with the bottom ones as high as Edward's chest. There was a man kneeling over a body, lying facedown. Near the body was a second one, which looked like an oversized dog...until Edward saw the rudimentary wings curving outwards from the dog's shoulders. Chimera, he thought, a bit darkly. A dark pool of blood spread outwards from both bodies, and Edward frowned.
The man kneeling stood up, then, and scruffed at his blond hair before giving Edward a tired nod in greeting. "Fullmetal," he said, without preamble. "Franz. The doctor was gored to death, probably by this...thing." He nudged the chimera's body with a toe.
Edward nodded, then frowned. "How did the chimera die?"
"Gunshot," Franz said.
There was a clatter of chains from somewhere behind Edward, just barely audible over the howls, barks, and screeching coming from the cages. Edward stopped, stared at the chimera's dead body, and then lifted his gaze to the second officer. "Wait...the chimera was shot?"
"I'm guessing a forty-five caliber," the officer said. "One round, straight in the chest. Died on impact. Clean, neat."
"Shot," Edward repeated, confused. He stared at the chimera's body, noticing it was pointing towards him, its legs outstretched as though it'd fallen in the midst of leaping. Slowly, and cautiously, he turned, following the direction of the chimera's sightless gaze, to study the corner to the right of the door he'd just come through. The chains rattled again, and Edward hissed through his teeth. There was something there, moving, and it wasn't in a cage.
"We figure the doctor defended himself, but we can't find a weapon. Far as we're concerned, that makes this the jurisdiction of a National Alchemist," Franz said, raising his voice a bit over the caged chimeras yowling their protests. "Our job's dealing with thieves and drunks...not things like these...and we've no idea what to do about that."
Edward nodded, not listening completely, his attention focused on the dark shape that was slowly pushing itself upright. He realized he was holding his breath, not even paying attention as he grabbed one of the lamps and lifted it over his head, moving closer. The circle of light edged towards the back wall, catching two booted feet, then black cloth that resolved into slim legs, up to a black shirt, and higher, to a pale face with large eyes. There was a flash of white at the figure's neck, and the chains rattled again. Edward almost dropped the lamp.
"Human alchemy," he whispered under his breath. It was human...was it a homunculus? Was that even possible? Edward raised the lamp a bit higher, noting the chains keeping the figure close to the wall. It was then he noticed the long braid, draped over the figure's shoulder, hanging down far enough that the tip was against the figure's hip. "A female," he added, stunned. Edward stepped closer, noting the wary expression on the homunculus' face as it watched him approach. Behind Edward, one of the officers chuckled.
"Hell, damn short, ain't it," Franz said.
Edward whirled. "Who the hell are you calling..." His words stuttered to a halt as he saw where the man was pointing. "...short?"
"Brother," Alphonse said, joining Edward, "she's...shorter than you are."
"Ah," was all Edward could manage to say. "She's a girl. Girls are shorter." Alphonse gave him a look, and Edward scowled. Fine, so Winly's not short, but she's a gear head, Edward thought, a bit darkly. She doesn't count. Besides, childhood friends aren't in the same category, anyway. He shoved that complaint out of his head and lowered the lamp to look at the shackles around the figure's wrists.
"We can't get them undone," Franz explained. "There's no lock. It's like they're soldered on. To be honest, with all the other crazy things down here, not sure we wanted to go near it. Especially if it had anything to do with that." He jerked his head towards the dead chimera. "Figured we'd leave that to you."
Edward rolled his eyes and handed the lamp to Alphonse. Raising his hands in an open gesture, he studied the figure's lean build, but unable to see too much due to the figure's dark clothing and the way it seemed to be able to blend in with the shadow, even with the light directly on it. The figure's blue eyes watched him, wary, but without fear. Edward remembered Tucker's chimera, and paused, uncertain.
"Hello," he said, very quietly.
The figure frowned, and pursed its lips, then shrugged and gave him a grin. It said something, and Edward was startled at the depth of the voice, almost a baritone. Was it a male, instead? Edward pondered that, and decided 'male' probably fit better. Not like he was one to say a braid made one a girl, anyway. The figure said something else, then, that sounded almost like a complaint, and raised its hands. The chains clattered, then caught, too short for the figure to raise its hands farther than waist-level. Sighing, the figure slid down the wall, almost crumpling, and put its hands to its mouth, saying something else in that strange, liquid language. The words were lilting, but the tone was almost a nasal drawl, with some sounds chopped off unexpectedly. It was like nothing Edward had ever heard before.
"Just hold on," Edward said, about to clap his hands together when he realized the figure was pointing to its mouth again. Edward paused, and glanced over his shoulder. "You said it'd been two or three days since the Doctor met someone for appointments?"
"At least. Why?" Franz shrugged.
"Means this...boy," Edward finally decided that would fit. It was close enough. "...This boy's been without food for that long. Maybe longer. Is there anything to eat, upstairs?"
"Don't know," Hecht said. "I can go look."
"I've done all I can here," Franz said. "We just have to wrap the Doctor's body and remove it. What do you want us to do with the thing's body, or are you going to take that with you, too?"
Take it with me, Edward thought, and grunted at the idiocy of small city police officers. "Burn it," he said over his shoulder, then returned his attention to the figure, still watching him closely.
Edward knelt down, only a foot away, and gave the boy a bright smile. Bringing his hands together sharply, the clap echoed in the basement, and then Edward reached out, grabbing a hold of the shackles. A blue light flared up at the alchemical reaction, and the shackles deconstructed, reconstructing just as quickly into two blocks of iron on the cellar floor. Edward sat back on his haunches, and tried to figure out what to do next. Food, he decided, then realized the boy was speaking rapidly, almost as if in shock.
"Brother," Alphonse whispered, coming close. "We need to get him upstairs, out of here."
The boy stopped whatever he was saying, staring at Alphonse with an open mouth. Catching Edward's scowl, the boy closed his mouth and smirked, pushing himself up the wall with obvious effort. Edward started to reach out a hand to help, but the boy laughed as though Edward's gesture were a joke, not a serious offer. One hand still on the wall to steady himself, the boy stretched out a hand to Alphonse, his gaze traveling up to the helmet, and then back down again. Behind them, Edward could hear the zipping sound of the body bag, then the heavy shuffling feet as the two officers removed the body.
"Hello," Alphonse told him, as politely as he could manage. "I'm Alphonse Elric."
"Hmm," the boy said, or that's what it sounded like, and he cocked his head as his fingers touched the suit of armor's chest. The boy tapped it with his fingertips, gently, then tapped the armor a second time. Edward exchanged a look with Alphonse, who raised a hand to forestall Edward's response. The boy had begun stroking the armor lightly, then dropped his hand, laughing brightly. He said something, at first quick, followed by a final word drawn out in that strange drawl.
"Food?" Alphonse raised his hand to his mouth, then patted his stomach. "Hungry?"
The boy watched for a second, then his eyes brightened and he nodded. Stepping away from the wall, he grinned up at Alphonse, and then at Edward. A split second later, his eyes rolled back in his head and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
Alphonse caught the boy just before he hit the ground. "Brother, he's so skinny," Alphonse murmured, lifting the boy and cradling him gently.
"No food for two, three days," Edward replied. He turned to lead the way out, but Alphonse didn't follow him. Edward turned with a sigh. "What?"
"There's something..." Alphonse shifted in place. "I'm not sure. There's...maybe he is a chimera?"
"What are you talking about?" Edward came around beside Alphonse, who juggled the boy's unconscious figure so Edward could run his hand down the boy's spine. Where the shirt ended and the black pants began, there was a definite lump. Edward chewed on his lower lip for a second, then pulled up the shirt. The move revealed a swath of pale white flesh, and a black shape that Edward definitely recognized. He dropped the shirt in a hurry, uncertain.
"What is it?" Alphonse leaned over, as though he could see past the boy. "Brother?"
"It's a gun," Edward said. "Since when do chimera come with guns? Or know how to use them?"
"Do you think...homunculus?" Alphonse's voice was reverent, but a bit terrified.
"Can't be." Edward shook his head. "That's not possible. No...I think he's a kidnap victim."
"But he has a gun," Alphonse pointed out. "Someone who carries a gun isn't going to be kidnapped. And why would the Doctor let him keep the gun?"
"I don't know, but we're not going to figure it out down here." Edward cast a dark look around the room, at the rows of cages with baying, screeching chimeras. "Besides, this place is giving me a headache."
"There's a hotel about ten minutes from here," Franz said, setting out bowls. The broth was bubbling in the pan. "I can have one of my men drive you."
"No," Edward replied, already preoccupied thanks to the fact that he could see into the living room, piled high with books. "I think I'd rather stay here, and take a look at the Doctor's research materials, before I decide what to do with his...findings." He could see Alphonse arranging the unconscious boy on the sofa.
"There are bedrooms upstairs, I think," Franz told him. "And plenty of food. I think the Doctor had a maid. I'll have Hecht find out who she is and send her by in the morning. She might know where things are, too."
"Good." Edward leaned against the wall, his hands in his pockets, and suppressed a yawn.
Franz continued to rifle through the cabinets, finding spoons and napkins, and pointing out more food in the pantry if they got hungry. Edward glanced to the side, noticing Alphonse was building a fire in the front room's fireplace. A few minutes later the broth was ready, and Franz helped Edward carry three bowls into the living room. Franz said a few things Edward only nodded to, and the officer was soon gone with a quick slam of the door. Edward didn't look up, already perusing the titles closet to him.
"Brother, I think we should wake him up," Alphonse said. He was kneeling by the fire, nudging another log on top, and Edward glanced over at the boy. The braid had slithered across the sofa to drape down onto the floor, where it had caught some dust in its tip. Alphonse sat back, his gloved hands resting on his metal knees. "I didn't know hair could grow that long," he said, very quietly.
"It'd take years," Edward replied, only half-thinking. He picked up the second bowl and a spoon. Leaving the side chair by the fire, he knelt down next to the sofa, and set down the bowl and spoon at his side. Reaching out, he shook the boy gently. A second later he was scrambling backwards, away from the gun barrel pressed against his nose.
"Brother!" Alphonse started to get to his feet, but froze when the boy swung the gun to aim at him. "No," Alphonse said, waving his hands in a calming motion. "Please...put that down. If you shoot me, you'll get hurt."
"Al, he doesn't understand," Edward griped, but didn't move when the gun was pointed back at him. The boy's grip on the gun was steady, even as he rubbed his eyes with the back of his other hand. When neither Edward nor Alphonse moved, the boy raised the gun until the barrel was pointing upwards, and glanced down at the bowl by his feet. "That's for you," Edward said, jerking his head in the direction of the bowl. Feeling a bit stupid, he moved away a few feet. He reached for his own bowl, and the spoon, and made a motion of eating.
The boy rolled his eyes, and with a single swift move, the gun was gone, tucked away. Leaning over, the boy raised the bowl to his mouth, ignoring the spoon, and drank the broth straight down. A minute later, he lowered the bowl with a satisfied gasp, then stared at it for a second. His eyes wandered to the third bowl, untouched by Alphonse's side, and Alphonse giggled.
"Want this?" Alphonse pointed to the bowl, and the boy raised his eyebrows, responding with a quiet laugh in that unfamiliar language. Alphonse picked up the bowl, reaching easily across the several feet, and the boy took it.
"Hey!" Edward sat up, scowling. "That was mine."
"He can have it," Alphonse replied amiably. "I'll make more. Besides, you ate lunch."
"But there's no way broth is going to be enough," Edward grumbled. He finished off his own bowl, and headed into the kitchen to scrounge for more. Al's voice trailed behind him.
"Bring whatever you find, because I think he's really hungry," Alphonse called.
"Yeah, yeah," Edward muttered to himself. "He'd just better not eat everything. I'm hungry, too." Ten minutes later he'd located every edible item in the pantry, and his arms were piled high as he returned to the living room. Dumping the food out on the carpet, he began sorting through it, only half-listening to Alphonse. It seemed as though his little brother and the strange boy were carrying on a conversation, even if it was one in two different languages.
"...And then my brother became a National Alchemist," Alphonse was saying. He mimed clapping his hands together, and placed them against the floor, raising his hands slowly as he wiggled his fingers. "Alchemists are scientists who follow a three-step process of reaction, destruction, and creation." Al scratched his head when the boy said something, his tone going up on the last note. "Ah, I don't know...maybe there's a way to draw it."
"There's paper and pens in the dining room, in the desk," Edward said, ripping open a package of bread and shoving a roll in his mouth. Seeing the boy look his way, Edward tossed a roll to the boy and waited while Alphonse trundled off to look through the desk.
"Edward," Edward said then, pointing to himself. He pointed to the boy with his eyebrows raised. The boy just chuckled around the roll and repeated the name, but with too many syllables. Edward shook his head. "Edward," he repeated.
"Edward," the boy said, and laughed. He slid down off the sofa, pulling his braid up and staring at the end. With a twist of his lips, he wiped the dust off the braid's tip, and threw his braid over his shoulder, grabbing another roll as he pointed at himself. "Duo."
"Due-oh," Edward said.
The boy shook his head. "Duo," he said again, softer and slower. When Alphonse reentered the room, the boy pointed at Alphonse, and said something that was close to Alphonse, but not quite. Edward corrected him, and the boy paused, considering that, before saying, "Alphonse."
"Al," Alphonse said, then whispered loudly to Edward. "Al is probably easier."
"Al," Duo said. "Al. Edward..."
"Ed," Edward told him, with a sigh. He grabbed another roll.
"Ed," Duo replied. "Al. Ed...Alchemy."
"What?" Edward's eyes went wide. "Where'd you hear that?"
Duo rattled off some response, but clearly understood Edward's question, even if his tone and motions indicated that he wasn't sure what the word meant. Edward caught a few more words that sounded familiar, but in Duo's peculiar accent, it was hard to tell. Beside him, Alphonse was drawing carefully on several sheets of paper. When Duo stopped talking with a shrug, Alphonse pushed the first paper towards him.
"This is me, and this is my brother. Al. Ed. And this is our mother." He pointed to the three figures, two short, one tall. "Brothers," Alphonse added, pointing back and forth between himself and Edward.
"Ah," Duo replied, and his shoulders slumped, just a little. He ran his fingers across the drawing, and Edward was puzzled to see the stranger's face reflect such sadness. Duo glanced up, then, with a small smile, and said something quickly. The fact that they didn't understand seemed to amuse him, and he nodded at the next picture in Alphonse's hands.
"Alchemy," Alphonse said. The drawing showed a person holding two pieces of a broken bowl, then the broken pieces sitting in a circle. The third image showed lines radiating from the circle and the person kneeling by it, and the fourth image showed the person holding the bowl, now in one piece. Alphonse handed it to Duo, who stared the picture suspiciously for several long seconds.
"Alchemy," Duo said, then shook his head, making a skeptical gesture. He dropped the picture, muttering something rapidly, but Edward could hear 'alchemy' repeated several times.
Frustrated, Edward took the picture and ripped it in four pieces, and set them down on the carpet. His eyes fixed on Duo, he clapped his hands together, feeling the shift as he focused his imagination into the reaction. Placing his hands on the paper, he noticed Duo's eyes go wide at the bright flare of blue light. Edward pulled his hands away. The picture was in one piece.
"Alchemy," Edward said, pointing at the picture. He sat back, surprised when Duo only nodded, and turned to Alphonse, a hand out for the next picture.
"Map," Alphonse said.
Edward caught sight of it, and gave Alphonse a surprised look. "You drew him a map? What for?"
"So he'd know where he is," Alphonse replied in a reasonable voice. He leaned forward, pointing at the picture in Duo's hands. "Mountains, desert." His finger stabbed at a picture of three people, two short, one tall. "Ed, Al...Duo."
Duo grinned, and nodded, but the grin faded quickly as he scanned the picture. Setting it down with a sigh, he grabbed another roll and leaned back against the sofa, chewing noisily as he looked around the room. After a second, he pointed at the fire.
"Fire," Alphonse said. "Or...maybe...do you think he means fireplace? Or warm? Heat?"
"You're confusing him," Edward said, his eyes wandering towards the nearest stack of books. Ooh, there was one he'd not seen before. Idly he snagged it, opening it across his lap and bending over it, his eyes scanning the text quickly. Distillation of human spirits, it said, and Edward's eyes went wide. Definitely not a text he'd seen before. The voices in the background faded, with only a few laughs here and there intruding on his concentration.
"What's this?" Alphonse was asking. He said it again, two more times, while pointing.
"What's this," Duo repeated, confused. "Map, fire, fireplace, means, think..."
"No, the question." Alphonse said it slower. "What's this?" He emphasized the rising tone at the end.
"Ah...What's this?" Duo pointed to the sofa.
"Sofa, carpet, book, brothers." Duo nodded, then yawned, a jaw-cracking movement. Throwing his arms over his head, he stretched lazily, like a small cat, and gave Alphonse a sleepy grin as he pointed rapidly. "What's this?"
"Bowl. Spoon. Pen. Boot. Coat. Picture. Frame. Fire. Fireplace."
Duo recited them back at Alphonse, and Edward distantly noted that Duo did so completely out of order, pointing accurately. Edward was a bit startled. If the boy really was a homunculus, then something was really wrong with the old texts. A homunculus was supposed to be like an automaton, no more intelligent than a car, or a desk, until the alchemist had been able to educate it. Edward glanced down at the book in his lap. Unless, of course, the not-so-good Doctor had found a way to distill a spirit into the homunculus...Edward raised his head to watch Duo more closely, the quick movements alternating with lazy shifts, the way the legs were tucked under, the slight curl of Duo's body. Edward pursed his lips. If the doctor had used a cat, in a homunculus...no, that still didn't answer the question of the gun.
Edward set the book aside and reached for another one. He wondered what Mustang would say if Edward showed up in Central with sixteen cases of books, along with all the chimera, and made Mustang pay the shipping costs. Edward groaned, remembering the creatures in the basement. There were Alchemists assigned to continuing Tucker's work, and they'd probably be glad to have some of the creatures brought to them. And Mustang, of course, would be glad of anything Edward could manage that would gain Mustang points. Edward grinned to himself, a little wickedly, because if Mustang gained points, that meant that he'd be in Edward's debt. It didn't happen that often, but it was highly satisfactory when Edward could manage it.
Still doesn't answer what I should do with Duo, Edward thought. He noticed Alphonse had moved on to drawing little pictures, and saying the words out loud, with Duo repeating them. The accent was still there, but Duo's ability at mimicry was amazing, Edward thought.
"Hello," Alphonse was saying. "How do you do?" He pointed to the other figure, his voice changing a little, as though telling a story. "Fine. Thank you."
"Thank you," Duo said. He frowned, and took the bowl, handing it to Alphonse, then taking it back. "Thank you?"
Alphonse paused, and glanced at Edward, who had just grabbed another roll. "You eat all those, you're going to have a stomachache."
"Naw," Edward said around a bite. "I never get upset stomachs. Not me!"
"We need blankets," Alphonse said, changing the topic at Edward's smug expression.
"We need blankets," Duo repeated. "We?"
"All three of us," Alphonse told him, waving his hand in a gesture that encompassed all of them. "I," he added, pointing to himself. "You, him."
"I, you, him, we." Duo grinned, and collapsed backwards against the sofa, shaking his head. "I, you, we..." He switched, suddenly, back to his own language, rattling off a series of quick lilting words, but the tone was frustrated and angry. He broke off suddenly with a deep sigh, and shrugged, scratching his head as he glanced between Alphonse and Edward. "Thank you," he said, looking at Edward directly. Duo rubbed his wrists, and patted his stomach. "Thank you," he repeated.
"You're welcome," Edward told him, a bit embarrassed. "It was nothing."
"It was nothing," Duo said, one eyebrow raised. "It..."
He glanced at Alphonse, who sighed and began trying to figure out a way to explain the gender-neutral concept of things. Edward bent his head back over the book, not even looking up when Alphonse headed upstairs to find blankets, trailed by Duo, still repeating everything Alphonse said.