scimitarsmile

Menu

Author's note: this fic diverges slightly from the manga's very final chapters - but isn't a critique of or response to the canon ending. In fact, this fic was written before chapter 108 and got itself jossed!

bob fish

No Small Injury

chapter 1. The Way to a Man's Heart
Never do an enemy a small injury.
—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Oh dear Lord, this was absolutely criminal. Seriously, in whose book was past twenty two hundred on a Friday night a reasonable time to finish work? Rebecca looked over from the clock to her boss's desk. She could just about see the jackass through the gaps between stacks of red files. He wasn't even writing, for heaven's sake, just staring straight through a document and chewing on the end of his pencil. Seriously, man, when you've read it four times and it's not sinking in, it's time to clock off and hit up a steakhouse.

When she'd got the post-coup transfer to Mustang's new department, she'd been stoked. Political shenanigans were fun, they would be maneuvering on the side of righteousness, she had held unrealistic hopes that Riza would let her get away with stuff, and it didn't hurt that the brigadier general himself was pretty easy on the eyes. She'd changed her mind about that last one after he'd made her pull two all-nighters in her first week. The hotness, it was invisible to her now. To think that after nearly two years of this, he'd promised them all — lying dick! — that things were going to ease off now they'd taken on new staff, they'd be pleased to hear that he was going to be asking less of them and thank you for bearing with all of this blah blah blah. The rest of those chumps might be buying it, but she knew one of those guys when she saw one, and Mustang was so one of those guys.

To make matters worse — or perhaps just to rub it in — her boyfriend had been allowed to clock off at four in order to take some dubious fat cat to dinner, off the record but on the expense account, to schmooze him into giving their parliamentary faction a wad of dough in a brown envelope. Rebecca had offered to add her persuasive powers to the mix ("I can wear that dress with the little skirt and the lace cut-outs!") but Mustang had just narrowed his eyes and nixed it before Jean could even get half a sentence out. Well, Jean and his new best buddy had better not hit up a strip club. If he did, she'd know the minute she eyeballed him and asked. For a professional perpetrator of sketchy deals, Jean was such a crappy liar, the sweetheart.

Well, she'd be damned if she was still going to be here at midnight. None of this shit was going to get finished, and she had to turn up the next morning anyway (Saturday morning! When decent citizens were supposed to be sleeping, having leisurely sex, then eating bacon sandwiches with ketchup!). So yeah, she was done for the night. She stopped typing right in the middle of her sentence, wiggled her fingers to get the cramps out, and then marched over to Mustang's desk and snapped him a salute which she hoped had at least a tiny hint of sarcasm to it.

"Sir? Permission to finish up for tonight? I know the plan was to finish up this analysis today, but there's way more to it than I thought, and I'm gonna make much better headway after a night's sleep." It was kind of cheeky, but if Mustang had any redeeming qualities as a commanding officer, it was that he was usually okay with cheeky.

He didn't even look up properly, just waved a hand and said, "yes, yes, dismissed, Captain," then went straight back to whatever it was he was failing to read.

Nicely weaselled, Rebecca congratulated herself. With a lighter heart, she locked up her desk and collected her bag, already fantasising about deli food and a big glass of red wine, to be taken slumped in her armchair.

By the time she'd gotten her coat on she'd realised in resignation that really, she just wanted to fall straight into her bed the minute she got in the door. Damn you, Mustang, she cursed. First, he'd hijacked her leisure hours and destroyed her dating opportunities. Then, when she'd fallen for his tricks and started fraternizing with a fellow prisoner of the office, he posted her new man off to enjoy fillet steak and guy talk for the good of the revolution, leaving her to type report after report until her fingers bled and she lost the will to live. Such an ass. Rebecca really wished she didn't love democracy so much.


The metro had been full of people who, for the most part, were younger, drunker and cheerier than her. So by the time Rebecca was walking up to her own front door, her mood was even worse than it was before. At least the light was on under the door. Her flatmate, Katie, could get in a real snit if you woke her up coming in late.

She pulled her keys from her coat pocket, rattled through them, and picked out the right one. She looked up. Huh. The door was open. No wait, it wasn't just open, it was wrenched open. The doorframe was splintered, the deadbolt ripped out. Oh crap, oh crap. Tonight just had to be the night she interrupted a burglar, didn't it?

Rebecca pulled in a breath, forced herself to feel the adrenaline pulsing through her body. She let her mind settle down calm, getting into the zone. She reached behind her back, unholstering her sidearm. She hoped Katie — who so wouldn't have cut it in the army, bless her — was out on some parliamentary jolly, or had at least had the common sense to hide under her duvet quaking. She pointed her gun upwards and cocked it, kicked the door open, and moved in. Her gun out in both hands, she moved slowly round in a semi-circle, taking in the scene. The hall was empty and quiet. There was blood all over the floor. Someone had laid tea towels down over it, but there was more blood there than towels. Had she got this wrong? Had Katie had some kind of klutzy accident, and then had to get ambulance guys to break down the door?

The biggest bloodstain was a fat, messy trail soaking through the towels leading between the living room and the bathroom. Rebecca moved across the hall and through the open living room doorway on the balls of her feet. This room, too, was empty. There was a smashed lamp, an overturned bookcase. The blood started at a foot-wide stain on the carpet. Oh hell. Rebecca sprinted back, threw open the bathroom door, her gun out and ready.

Inside, Katie, her annoying, high-maintenance flatmate, Katie, Katie who'd put a bee in her purse when they were six, was lying in the bath tub with a bone-white face and a blood-soaked towel over her chest. She looked up at Rebecca dozily. Rebecca sucked in a breath, tried to unfreeze her brain. She spoke quietly. "Are they still in the apartment?"

Katie furrowed her brow and thought for a moment. Then she said calmly, "No ... I think he left. Did I make a mess? I put towels ... I'm gonna lose us our deposit." She suddenly sounded wobbly and anxious, as if she was about to cry. Rebecca felt sick.

"Okay, listen up. I'm going to check the rest of the apartment, and then I'm coming back here and I'm calling you an ambulance. Hold tight, all right?" She tried to give Katie a perky grin, though it probably only scared the poor girl: Rebecca's reassuring face sucked ass and she knew it.

It only took a moment to check the rest of the flat: two small bedrooms, the broom closet, and the living room again, just to be sure no one had snuck back. Okay. She holstered her gun, raced back into the bathroom, put a hand to the side of Katie's throat. Her pulse felt crazy fast under Rebecca's hand. Without looking at her, Katie said quietly, "I already called them. The ambulance. I called them after he left. Then I came in here." She was wheezing. God, it sounded nasty.

Rebecca gave her another crappy, unconvincing grin. "Then we'll wait for them. Do you remember how long it's been?"

Katie looked up at Rebecca and shook her head.

"Okay, I'm gonna take a look at this; see if we can do something about the bleeding. Did this asshole stab you?"

Katie creaked, "I got shot."

Shit. Gently, Rebecca peeled off the soaked tea towel, dropping it on the floor. Katie was wearing a thin blouse underneath, so sopping wet with blood that it was difficult to tell where it had all come from.

Rebecca pulled out her army pocketknife, carefully cut off the buttons, then peeled open the shirt. There was a round little hole on the lower left of Katie's chest, which was seeping blood slowly. Had it hit her lung, was that why she was wheezing like that?

Rebecca thought back to procedure, and carried on looking. There was another entry wound down by Katie's belly button. This one was bleeding worse. Oh God, this was just unreal. How the fuck was this war zone shit happening in her own apartment, to her nice-girl, pansy-ass politician roomie? Since when did burglars in Central start carrying handguns anyway? Weren't they all meant to be pimply fifteen-year-old boys with switchblades? She grabbed a hand towel, folded it a couple times and pressed it firmly down, one hand over either wound. Katie made a miserable little sound in her throat.

Now what was the next thing? Right, next you were supposed to keep the person talking. Okay, and the police, she'd need to tell them what had happened once Katie was in hospital getting all those holes sewn up. "Katie? Can you tell me what happened?"

For a moment, Katie didn't respond. She just pursed her lips and frowned hard, as if she was chewing it over. Or maybe she was just in pain. Two holes in your front, that had to hurt like crazy. Well, she imagined it would anyway; somehow, Rebecca had managed to get through her career so far without being shot.

Then Katie spoke, her voice soft and croaky. "I was making cheese noodles." She wasn't looking at Rebecca. Instead she was staring straight ahead of her, up to the ceiling and right through it. Her face was calm and dopey. "I drained the noodles and I went to the icebox. And then I got out the butter and the cheese." She sounded like she was trying to work out where she'd misplaced her keys or something. "Then I went to get the cheese grater, and I turned around, and there was a man standing right there in the living room."

Rebecca pictured it. Their kitchen was actually a tiny corner of the living room, partly blocked off by the icebox and a corner of internal wall. When someone was rummaging in the icebox, you couldn't see them from the living room, but then when Katie had turned around...but how the hell hadn't she heard the guy break in?

"What happened then? He just shot you?"

"Yeah. It was so funny, we just looked at each other...for the longest time. Then I came up to him, and I said —" She paused, leaned forward a bit and stayed there, breathing hard. There was a bit of blood on her mouth. Rebecca looked at her watch.

Katie started up again. "I said — "God, I thought you were a burglar or something" — because I thought you must have brought him home or something —" Rebecca bristled a bit at that. She had a boyfriend! She knew Katie not-so-secretly thought she was a slut, but seriously, now was so not the time. "And then he got out a gun, and — he shot me."

"Do you know what happened to the bookcase? Did you fall on it?"

"No — he moved stuff — after—" Katie was starting to look really, really bad. She'd sunk back again against the wall of the tub now, and she was rasping and sucking air like she was breathing through cloth. Shit, where was this supposed ambulance? Did they forget the meaning of Emergency Services? What were they doing, stopping for donuts?

"Do you remember what he looked like?" Rebecca regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth, because Katie so obviously wasn't up to a response anymore. Katie screwed her face up in concentration, grabbed the side of the tub, and tried to pull in air and push out words, but it was all just croaking and horrible, wet sounds.

"Stop! Calm down, calm down. It's okay, just breathe."

Katie obeyed her instantly, like a little kid. She lay back and most of the tension went out of her face, but as for just breathing — that wasn't going so well. Rebecca sat with her, listening for the knock at the door.

Rebecca had never been a patient woman. After a minute or two of silence, Katie's rattling breaths and a complete lack of ambulance crew sprinting into the apartment, she couldn't take it any more.

"Katie? I'm just gonna call the ambulance people. I'll be five seconds, okay?"

Rebecca sprinted the few steps to the phone in the hallway, and had the ambulance service dialled up before she'd even remembered the number. She was speaking the moment she heard the phone pick up. "Hey. Can you tell me what time the ambulance is getting to Holyhead Mansions, 415 Krugman?"

"What's the nature of the medical emergency?"

"No, no, my friend called the ambulance already. It's supposed to be on its way, and she has two gunshot wounds, and we need it to be here, like now."

"At what time did your friend make the call?"

"I don't know — maybe a half hour ago? It was before I got here. Just check — and, can you radio, can you get them to hurry it up? I don't want to leave her long."

"Let me check the card index for you." There were shuffling noises as the operator left her seat. In the background, Rebecca could hear the murmurs of the other operators in the room, busy on their own calls. Come on people, come on. What part of gunshot wounds — wounds! As in more than one! — were they not understanding?

There was a crackling on the line, and the operator was back. "Ma'am? I'm afraid we don't have any record of such a call."

Rebecca felt her brain freeze solid for a second. Then it unfroze in a flash of rage.

"What the fuck? She called, she called. Check again!" She had called, right? This better not be like that time Katie swore she'd paid the gas bill and the whole time the envelope had been stuck down the side of the gramophone.

"There's no need for profanity," said the voice down the phone, all prissy.

Rebecca laughed short and hard. "Are? You sending me a god-damn" — she rolled out the curse word slower — "ambulance?"

"An emergency vehicle is already on its way to you now, ma'am."

Without acknowledging the operator, Rebecca slammed the phone receiver back in its cradle, hard. Then she lifted it back up and dialled Riza's flat. After a few rings, someone picked up. She didn't even bother to see if it was her. Instead, she barked, "Riza, get a freaking ambulance to my house. Katie's shot. The ambulance guys are morons." Then she hung up.

Done with the calls, she wandered back into the bathroom on shaky legs. Katie was still exactly as Rebecca had left her, staring at the ceiling, hands in her lap and that horrible, shocky, don't-care look on her face. Rebecca reached in, squeezed her hand. Katie ignored her, so Rebecca squeezed harder, and put a hand up to stroke her face. Then she realised.


At 0630, Roy found Riza standing in uniform by the park's pavilion with pink, sleepy eyes and two paper cups of coffee. Roy smiled as he approached, and waved his bag of almond pastries at her. They started walking deeper into the trees. After a couple of minutes, they found a clearing, perched on a log, and swapped a pastry for a coffee. It was a glorious spring morning. The skies were clear and the early morning sunlight was bright. There was a little breeze, and a slight chill still hanging in the air. It was too goddamn early.

Riza blew on the surface of her coffee, took a sip, and got started. "Katherine Flowers, thirty-two years of age. She's — she was — a parliamentary civil servant. She ran the Speaker's Office for him. She was also a rising politician herself. The Progressive Republic Party listed her as a prospective parliamentary candidate for next year."

"Ah. So she was one of ours. I was trying to remember where I'd heard her name. This coffee needs to kick in. How did she come to be sharing a flat with Captain Catalina?"

"School friends. And Rebecca is like you about officers' quarters, she hates to live at work. I knew Katie through Rebecca, a little. I also gather that there was a certain amount of helping each other out career-wise, which is part of the reason I think we should pay attention to this. The police officers I spoke to told me they thought Katie had interrupted a burglar. Violent robberies are getting pretty common, these days ..." Riza paused, collecting her thoughts. "However, this is something I think we might want to look into ourselves discreetly. It's possible that either Katie or Rebecca could have been the intended target."

"So your theory is, this might have been deliberate murder disguised as a burglary? And that it's possible that Ms. Flowers was murdered by mistake?"

"Those are both possibilities, yes."

"Then should we also be considering that it may have been a burglary, but of a more targeted and specific kind?"

"To steal information or documents, you mean? I hope to God that Rebecca hasn't been taking anything home with her from the office."

Roy raised an eyebrow. "So do I. If Catalina's been that idiotic, it'll have been a real failure of judgement on my part. I brought her on board, I gave her my trust, I put up with her and Havoc mooning at each other across the office and sneaking off like kids ..." He sighed. It was just too early in the morning. "So, of course you're not just guessing about this. What exactly made you think there's more to it than a random break-in?"

"Rebecca says Katie claimed to have called an ambulance after the burglary, but then when she telephoned to check, the ambulance service had no record of the call. So I woke Fuery up and got him to check the exchange. A call was placed from their telephone to the ambulance service at 2139." She paused for a beat. "Rebecca arrived home at 2247."

Roy tipped his head back for a moment and took a breath of the crisp, grassy morning air. "If someone interfered with the call, or with the service themselves, in order to prevent Ms. Flowers from gaining medical attention ... that would imply they were planning for her death."

Riza nodded, pursing her lips for a moment. "You're right. If that's true, we're looking at intentional murder, although the intended target could have been either of them, given Katie Flowers' political career. Ah — it couldn't just have been planned as a document theft, then. I wasn't considering that. I'm rather tired ... I should be focusing better than this."

Roy smiled at her, ruefully. "We're both tired. We're all tired. This is appallingly timed." He took a gulp of his cooling coffee and thought for a moment. "Also, if they didn't check they had the right woman, that would make them pretty incompetent."

Riza gave him one of her wry little smiles. "If every troublemaker was competent, Brigadier General, we'd be getting even less sleep."

Roy smirked back. They sat side by side for a few moments, eating their pastries and looking into the trees. Roy finished his, brushed the crumbs from his trousers, and sank the rest of his coffee. "So," he said. "This business of the ambulance. If your reasoning is correct, that this was a political killing, the order would have had to come from high up."

"Yes. If we're right, this is the brass."

"Ah." And now he saw the whole thing. With things as precarious as they were, one political murder, whether it was of a parliamentarian or an officer, could be enough for the military to start tearing itself apart. A single spark ... and it wouldn't necessarily have to be someone important. Like Ishbal. "So, we're one gunshot from a civil war. If someone from Hakuro's faction fired that shot, for whatever reason ..."

"—And whether or not they were acting with his knowledge—"

"...Then we need to know about it, and know why. Best case scenario, we can get some real leverage over Hakuro out of this. But the worst case ..." Roy didn't finish, just puffed out a breath that made his chest ache tightly, and looked sidelong at Riza.

She'd crumpled her paper bag into a little ball in her hand. She turned towards him a little, and nodded, her jaw clenched.

It was much, much too early in the morning. Why did it have to be like this? The coups he'd read about — well, researched, to be honest — all seemed to begin and end quick and dirty. Seize the military, the communications, the banks, put out a radio announcement, and be swivelling round in the big chair by lunchtime. This is what he got for trying to do things bloodlessly. Political murders, deals upon deals, machinations, endless piles of morally dubious bullshit to wade through, and all this before he even got to the top. He had to admit, Olivia Armstrong had had a good point about these things after all. Misguided, dogmatic, morally abhorrent — but still, a point.


Wheat beer was sour, but in a good way, Alphonse decided. He took another sip from his bottle, then put it down, lacing his fingers around it. The bottle was cold from the bar's icebox, and wet with condensation. God, it was such a warm evening out for April. Didn't it normally get chillier than this at night during spring? He tried to think back, but couldn't remember. It had been so long since he'd felt spring rather than just seen it. He could feel the bottle's label against his palm; the paper felt softer and warmer than the glass. The beer was citrusy, that was it, the sourness was a little bit like lemon. The chill of it slipped all the way down his throat.

He smiled a bit, and ran a fingernail round the edge of the label. It was peeling back away from the bottle, and still crisp. The exposed edge felt a little sharp under his nail. What did a papercut feel like? Did it hurt a lot? People always seemed to make a fuss over them.

An explosive clap sounded right behind his left ear. He jerked and whirled around in his seat. Immediately, he overbalanced and tipped backwards — arms cartwheeling uselessly, catching hold of nothing — and landed straight on to the sawdusty floor while his asshole brother laughed and laughed in his face.

"So, you're still zoning out, huh? Seriously, you need to stop doing that." Ed put down his suitcase, popped himself up onto the next stool, and raised a pointed arm in a dramatic pose. "In these uncertain times, danger lurks everywhere! I knock you on your ass for your own good. This is teaching!"

The last argument might not have worked for most people, but Ed and Al's notions of the learning experience had very strong associations of violence attached. Al imagined that if the university ever landed him that after-school tuition work they'd been threatening, that this could turn into a problem.

After he'd climbed back onto his stool, Al smiled at the bartender and waggled his bottle, motioning for another wheat beer. At least Ed seemed to be in a good mood, which was a rare thing these days. He said, "So, I quite like this place. They do all these strange kinds of beer, and there's kind of a funny mix of people. And some of the people are cute girls."

Ed looked around, taking in the tiny old lady at the end of the bar, the bowler-hatted businessmen, the off-duty builders in one corner and the gaggle of fashionable university students in another. "It seems better than the Three Crowns, that's for sure." The Three Crowns was their local, but they'd made a pact to hate it after Ed had sent a spoiled beer back and the trendy, snotty barman had accused them both of being underage. Well, Al technically had been underage at the time, but only by about three weeks. It hardly seemed fair. Ed took a sip from the fresh bottle that was placed before him, then scrunched up his face. "This beer tastes like lemon juice."

"I think it's supposed to. The barman says they just got it in for the summer."

"Well, it's weird. But hey, at least their icebox has ice in it. That puts them one up from that dump down the street."

Al laughed, and took a swig of his weird lemon-beer. "So, how was the thing in Yarvil?" Al felt a pang of guilt as he asked. He had originally meant to go along with Ed, but his research was getting so close to a breakthrough now, and it had pulled him away.

"Crappy. And pointless. You were totally right not to come. At least this way only one of us was insanely bored for five days."

Al tried not to look guilty, and knew instantly that he'd failed. His face still just seemed to crack expressions without asking him first. He needed to practice this more.

Ed took his beer and saluted the air. "One more month! Only thirty more days of this military bullshit, then I'm free!" He took a sip. "And when my contract is up, I am gonna march into Mustang's office, I'm gonna slap this" — he tugged his pocket watch chain —"down on his desk, and I'm gonna say—"

"We are both going to walk into his office, and we are going to thank the man, properly. We couldn't have done it without him, Ed. So I'm not going to let you be an ass about it." This had to be the fifth time they'd had this conversation already.

"He couldn't have done it without us either. We're quits! No, in fact, I do still owe him something, because in fact, he hasn't even done what he's supposed to yet." Ah, the 520 cenz. Despite the fact that he understood full well the situation with Hakuro and the schism in the military, Ed had seemed to take it personally that Mustang wasn't yet Fuhrer.

Should Al mention that Winry had called? No, he'd better not. Ed would be rattled, and he wouldn't want to show it, and they would end up awkwardly going over the whole relationship thing again, which Ed didn't want to talk about and Al kind of didn't want to talk about either. Especially after Winry had already poured her heart out to him for two hours on the phone earlier that day.

It had been the same conversation he'd had with her several times over the last couple of months, and he was sure this wouldn't be the last time either. Did Al hate her now? Of course he didn't, she was family. Did he think she and Ed could ever be friends again? Of course they would, they were family, right? She didn't want to be with him like that again, no way, but she really missed him, did Al get that? Of course he did both parts of it. Why did Ed and her have to screw everything up? Well, jeez, Al didn't know. Because they'd been sweet on each other for years and even a haunted lump of iron could tell something was bound to happen sometime? Because life was complicated like that? Because his brother could be an insensitive dick?

Al hadn't said most of these things. Instead he had spent most of the call saying "oh" and "mm" in different tones of voice, wishing he could just hug Winry over the phone instead. Al felt helpless, and he hated that. Ed was the only person who could really reassure Winry that they were going to get through this weird, horrible, heartbreak phase, and that one day soon they'd be friends again. But persuading Ed to call her was proving about as amicable and straightforward as the current state of Amestrian politics. Al suspected that Ed was just as worried and sad as Winry, but knew full well that he wouldn't want to do a "lame girl thing" like talk it through.

In fact, Ed sorely needed a good talking to — a talking to Al had delivered four times in the last fortnight. The results were: one living room door off its hinges, one large coffee stain on the floor, a couple of nasty bruises each (talking about it while sparring had not been such a great idea) and pretty much no appreciable change of attitude from Ed. At least he hadn't busted his automail. If Ed did that right now, he was really screwed. Although Al supposed it would at least get them talking ... and he derailed that train of thought before it really, really got him into trouble.

He'd been so simply and dumbly happy for them both when it all started the summer after the Promised Day, when he'd seen the two of them walking in from the fields holding hands, and he'd thought that all of the loose ends in their lives were coming together. But of course the holiday had to end sometime: Winry had a job that she loved that was halfway across the country, and Ed, much as he hated it, had a military contract that wasn't up yet...and that was where it had all gotten complicated with the two of them.

Al himself was fine. He did kind of need to work out what he wanted to do with his life, but really, that wasn't so much of a problem. In the meantime, he had his studies, and Ed's company — much as he wasn't always fun to be around right now — and the city itself. Since their return after the coup, Central seemed to be springing to life around them — bars, cabaret, music, art, weird radical street theatre that made no sense. Of course, there was also the increasingly scary amount of violent crime, but after years of fighting homunculi and chimerae and crazed alchemists, it was difficult to get properly nervous about that. Hey, that reminded him.

"Hey, Ed, did you see today's paper yet? You know Captain Catalina from the office? Her roommate got murdered by a burglar."

Ed's head snapped round so fast that his ponytail hit the guy standing behind him right in the eye.


"Put me on the Flowers case."

Fullmetal, lean, wiry and stubbled, was leaning against the back of Roy's office sofa with his arms folded in front of his chest.

"Are you trying to give an order to your superior officer?"

Edward stuck his chin out, his I-won't-budge expression. "Why not? It's not like you've got me on anything else."

True, but Roy was more focused on how, within the space of a single day, Edward had even heard about their supposedly discreet and unofficial investigation of Flowers' death. The gossip in his offices was appalling. Time to get Major Hawkeye to have another one of her little chats with everyone?

If it had been a few years ago, he would have known exactly which meddling, overbearing loudmouth had spilled the beans to Fullmetal. Then again, the answer was still fairly obvious, wasn't it?

He raised his voice above the background hum of the office. "Havoc! Stop gossiping like a housewife and do your damn job!"

Across the room, Havoc looked up with a fairly convincing expression of startled innocence. "Me, sir?" His new position was making him into a much better liar.

Roy gave him a sharp look and held it. After a moment, Havoc blinked and looked away, then contritely went back to his survey of the financial paper. Another small battle won.

Roy returned his focus to Edward. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. "So, where did this sudden desire to help come from?"

Edward — Fullmetal, still for the next twenty-nine days — looked awkward. He fidgeted, hopped his butt further up on the sofa back he was leaning on. "I'm interested in the case?"

Roy wasn't buying it. "You have less than a month left. This sort of enquiry isn't exactly your speciality. And neither is asking me for work."

"Look, this is gonna be my last job, right? I might as well do something that isn't a total waste of time. If I don't ask, you're just gonna give me some pointless busy-work crap to remind me I'm not free yet."

He was being defensive. Edward was on the ropes already. Pleased, Roy pressed ahead. "So, Fullmetal, what exactly makes this assignment worth your time?" He gave Edward a challenging look.

Edward tried for a stubborn glare, then he looked down. He muttered, "She made me dinner."

Roy raised an eyebrow. So that was it, then. "The way to a man's heart ..."

Fullmetal jerked upright and snapped "No! It wasn't like that! Get your mind out of the gutter, Mustang."

Roy laughed inwardly. Flowers was thirty-two, for goodness' sake. He hadn't been implying anything more than that the best way for anyone to make an impression on Edward was to feed the man. Still, it was gratifying that after all these years, Fullmetal seemed to have developed such a marked Pavlovian response to his teasing that Roy hardly needed to say a word to get a reaction.

Then, almost guiltily, Ed offered his explanation. "It was just the one time ... It was a couple weeks ago. Al used all the typewriter ribbon and it was a Sunday, so I had to go write my report at the office. Havoc and Catalina were there, too, and we were all kind of messing around in between work stuff, and then when I got finished up we all went to Catalina's place to grab some take-out. Only when we got there Katie was in, and she had this big pot of stew on, and she made us all share. She didn't even make it for us; she didn't know anyone was gonna be in. It was pretty nice of her, and y'know, the stew was really good." Ed frowned, as if he was searching his mind. "I wanted to do something to say thanks, so I was gonna ask Catalina if they had anything at the apartment that needed fixing. But then I was out of town for the Yarvil thing — total bullshit, by the way, read my report — and when I got back ..."

Edward and his alchemist's need to balance the scales. Roy smiled. "All right, Fullmetal. Meet me here at thirteen hundred. We'll take a walk, and I'll get you up to speed on things." Then he added, "Bring some sandwiches."