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Paper in Fire

chapter 22.

It was a beautiful late summer day in East City. Sunshine streamed through the window, highlighting the stack of signed forms in the outbox. Sitting at his desk, Roy Mustang was actually doing his paper work for a change. He needed the distraction. All his soul searching and the resulting revelations he experienced after the phone conversation with Maes were on the backburner right now, replaced by more pressing concerns. In typical, infuriating Edward Elric fashion, the young alchemist had suddenly vanished clean off the map, taking Kain Fuery along with him. Focusing on paper work prevented the Flame Alchemist from constantly checking the time and staring at the phone, willing it to ring. Which it finally did.

"Brigadier General Mustang."

"Nothing new Roy, just checking in." Maes sounded as tense as Roy felt. "Most of my contacts in the area are based in New Optain, and everyone over there is just as confused as we are."

"Give me everything we know, one more time."

"Ed and Kain left the train at Youswell in the late afternoon on the twenty—fifth, we know that for sure. The conductor knows Ed by sight, and his description of the man with Ed matches Kain. He does not recall seeing anyone on the platform at the time. Our boys did not get a room at the Inn, did not check in with their contact, and no one in Youswell has seen them. The locals have searched the area and turned up nothing. New Optain's man on the scene, Colonel Brand, conducted a search as well, and also came up empty handed. He is currently handling the investigation on site."

"They couldn't have vanished into thin air Maes. Someone has to have seen them. Don't you think it's about time we got out there? I'd really like to talk to this Colonel Brand and find out just what . . ."

"Okay, I can tell you're getting all worked up again. We already talked about why it would be a bad idea for you to go off half cocked right now. This is Edward. He's not some damsel in distress that needs rescuing. Have a little faith."

"I agreed to waiting five days. We're on day four. Tomorrow New Optain's time is up, and I'm taking a squad out there whether the Brass likes it or not."

"I'm following up a few leads, but all I have so far are some wild rumors. Probably a goose chase, but I'm up for chasing any kind of poultry necessary if it might yield results. I don't want to rule anything out until I've followed it up no matter how farfetched, and I'm not taking anything for granted. Just bear with me for a little longer, Roy."

"Tomorrow is as much longer as you have Maes."

"Alphonse Elric on line two, Sir," Breda called from the outer office.

"I have to let you go, Maes," Roy told his friend. "I have Alphonse on the other line again."

"Don't take it personally Roy. He's worried about his brother."

"I know. Let me know if you hear anything."

"You're the first call I'll make."

Hanging up the phone, Roy ran a hand through his hair. He had spoken to Alphonse a number of times since Ed had gone missing, and those conversations had not gone well. Four days since Edward and Kain had disappeared, with no idea what could have happened, and Alphonse was greatly displeased with what he perceived as Mustang's lack of action on the matter. Talking with the boy on the phone, it wasn't hard to imagine he was still talking to seven feet of armor, though that armored boy had never been as daunting as this flesh one. Where Edward's evolving maturity included somewhat better control of his temper, it seemed that Alphonse' included less timidity about offending others when he deemed the situation to warrant it. And apparently, this situation did.

He picked up the phone and jabbed his finger reluctantly for line two. "Alphonse. I was just on the phone with Colonel Hughes and . . ."

"I'm on my way to Central Station. I'll be in East City in two days."

"I see."

"When I get there, I will want to see everything you have, including the original case file and all current intelligence. Then I will be moving on to Youswell. Is that clear?"

"Quite," Mustang answered dryly.

"I'm tired of waiting for you to stop sitting on your hands and get out there and find them. If it was you, brother would have been out there searching the same day."

It had been Roy's first impulse as well, and if not for Maes strong admonition against assembling a team and charging out there, Roy would have acted on it. Not hearing from Edward was normal, but he had instructed Kain to call in when they reached their destination, and it was unimaginable that the timid Sergeant would not. They should have reached the small mining town after two days of travel. When he hadn't heard from Kain by day three, Roy had called Youswell to discover the pair had not arrived.

"I realize that, Alphonse, however there are matters of protocol to follow before my office can take part in this investigation." The problem was that the Brigadier General's hands were tied by regulations. While the team was part of Mustang's command, the assignment was officially under New Optain's authority. Unless there was evidence that the other command was failing to carry out a proper investigation, it had to be left to them. East Headquarters had requested permission to assist in the search. Their help had been refused.

"All just excuses to keep doing nothing. Brother and Sergeant Fuery don't need your excuses. They need someone to get up off their ass and go find them. You are obviously not that someone. That leaves me."

"Do you think your brother would want you to put yourself in danger by running blindly into whatever it is that happened to him?"

"Don't you dare use my brother to try to manipulate me," Alphonse snapped. Roy couldn't recall ever being on hand when the younger Elric lost his temper, let alone be the cause.

"Be patient for a little longer Alphonse. The investigation is not complete from New Optains' . . ."

Alphonse snorted his derision. "It's been almost a week, and what have you got? Two people get off a train in a small town and promptly disappear into thin air. Impossible. Someone is covering something up. And you are allowing them to get away with it."

"I understand how you feel, Alphonse, however . . ."

"Oh, I seriously doubt that. You'd actually have to have feelings to understand them." The young man's voice was cold.

Roy refused to be baited. "Alphonse. Please. You don't honestly intend to go out there on your own."

"It wouldn't be necessary if the military was doing whatever it took to find them. But they obviously don't give a damn about two lower ranked officers gone missing! I guess since brother broke it off with you, you couldn't care less either!"

The older man clamped down hard on his anger. "That was uncalled for Alphonse," he said, jaw tight. "What happened between your brother and I is a personal matter. It has nothing to do with the situation at hand."

"Really?" was Alphonse' skeptical response. "My brother's done some stupid things, but falling for someone as cold and selfish as you has to be one of the stupidest. I spent four years haunting hollow armor, but I was never as empty as you. You want to run this country, and think that anything beyond a physical relationship would be a distraction, fine. If you want to burn up your days in meaningless affairs, telling yourself it's for the greater good, whatever, it's your loss. It was none of my business until you had to drag my brother into it. He's not an empty shell like you. You should have left him alone."

"Nobody drags Edward anywhere he doesn't want to go." Roy struggled to keep his temper under control. Lashing back at the young man wouldn't do either of them any good.

"You don't know how happy it made me when brother told me he was done with you."

"I haven't accepted that it's over yet."

"Oh, so you're going to make that difficult for him too. Well, brother was right about one thing. You are a bastard." The line went dead.

Roy replaced the handset and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. He had to call Maes back and tell him what Alphonse was up to. Hopefully the Colonel could talk the young alchemist out of getting on that train, but Roy doubted it. In two days Alphonse would be in East City. He hoped the youngster cooled off by the time he arrived, but that wasn't likely. The only thing that would sooth the younger Elric was his brother, safe and sound, and Roy would like nothing better than to provide just that. If Edward and Kain had not been located by then, Roy knew there was little he could do to dissuade Alphonse from going to Youswell. Yes, the boy was a formidable alchemist in his own right, but there was no way Mustang would allow him to make his trek to search for his brother alone. He'd have to put off heading out for Youswell himself until Alphonse arrived in East City. Then, if he couldn't get East Headquarters involved in the hunt by official means, the Brigadier General would have to get involved unofficially and join the boy himself, welcome or not.

Alphonse was right. The whole situation was bizarre. Youswell wasn't like East City or Central. In the bigger cities it was entirely possible for two people to leave a train and not be noticed by the station personnel. Youswell was a small, remote town however, and the infrequency of visitors guaranteed that they would immediately be noticed. Roy itched to get out there and personally interview the locals. Whatever was going on, they certainly knew something. New Optain's investigators had to realize this as well, and the Flame Alchemist wondered how their inquiry could be so empty of results.

Havoc poked his head in through the door. "Sir! Mrs. Emma Fuery is here and insists that she see you in private."

Kain's mother. Great, just what he needed. Another irate relative to point out his shortcomings. "Send her in, First Lieutenant."

Fifteen minutes after the small, grey haired woman stepped confidently into his office, the Brigadier General came striding out with a barbed wire grin.

"First Lieutenant. Call General Clayton's secretary. Tell him I need a private meeting immediately, and I'm on my way up. Then contact the East City Chronicle and report that a minor earthquake in the near vicinity of Youswell has caused damage to some of the mines in the area, with no reported casualties. Mention that local telephone lines are down as well. Then have someone reliable from the motorcade escort Mrs. Fuery home."

"Sir!"

"Second Lieutenant. Get down to the barracks and hand pick two squads. Then head to the infirmary and co—opt their two best field medics. Have three transport trucks provisioned and ready to go within the hour. Our official destination is Kleinsburg."

"Sir!"

"We are going to Youswell to fetch our lost dogs."