bob fish

No Small Injury

chapter 7. Go Time

The book was so tiny that it fit neatly into the palm of Roy's hand. It was incredibly old: crumbling leather binding, delicate pages, crude ancient printing, and so tinder-dry that a single spark would be enough to incinerate it. It was only five inches by three, and yet its words had destroyed an entire civilisation.

Roy had owned this book since he'd inherited Master Hawkeye's library at nineteen years old, and in that time he'd barely glanced at it. For all these years, he had worked next to it, eaten and drank next to it, unaware.

In all the world, there was nothing so dangerous as knowledge.

The homunculus, Father, had been so impossibly hard to kill; it had taken so much. How could anyone even contemplate making another? Did Katzenklavier even know what had happened on the Promised Day? Was it possible that someone could know what the Xerxean homunculus had been, what it had done, and yet still want to make another like it?

But of course it was.

Rebecca flew around the bedroom in a manic, naked blur, wet hair flying everywhere. Somehow, she managed to locate her current target: a clean pair of socks that actually belonged to her — moving in together had left them with serious sock-mixing issues. She pulled them on and moved straight on to searching out the next thing on her list.

"Bra, where's my bra?" she chanted.

"Lampshade." Havoc pointed to it helpfully.

Rebecca turned to stare. "What's it doing th — oh, yeah." She grabbed at it, then tossed it over to the dresser, where it hung off a drawer knob. "No, no, I need the one I wear for special ops." Huh? "You know, the smooshy tight one that makes me all flat?" Oh, that bra. What was the point of bras that made boobs smaller and less jiggly?

Rebecca scanned the room, bouncing on her heels, which was all kinds of distracting. Havoc furrowed his brow. Becky in a morning rush was hardly new, but it wasn't like her to be so crazy nervous before a mission. Was it bad that despite this, he was still kind of enjoying the naked Rebecca show?

Havoc tore his gaze away and looked around too. Wait, was that it?

"Drying rack in the corner?"

Rebecca looked where he was pointing, and then shouted "aha!" She sprinted over and snatched the bra in question off of the rack. After successfully squashing her tits with it, she grabbed a black thong from the drying rack and pulled it on. She always claimed those butt floss things were comfortable, which didn't sound so likely — a string of lace up your ass, seriously? — but hey, if she liked them, he wasn't exactly going to stop her.

Her black combat pants and polo neck were next: special ops essentials. Rebecca pulled her big hair brush through her hair a few times to try and tame it, then pulled it back tightly into a pony tail. As she did so, she fumbled the hairband twice and swore.

That was that, he was getting up to help her. Rebecca turned around just as he was transferring to the chair, and groaned, "It's not even five! C'mon, Jean, it's the middle of the night, it's bad enough that I've got to be up."

He flipped the brakes off and waved a hand at her. "It's cool. It's not like I was going to sleep with you turning the bedroom upside down and cursing." Then he headed through to the living room, leaving her to it.

The car hadn't arrived yet, which was good. Miles was a decent guy, but he also seemed like the type to send the car ten minutes early and then chew you out for not being ready to roll. Outside was the quiet and blue light of the very early morning. An urban fox barked a couple of streets away. Havoc unlocked the gun safe in the corner, and grabbed Rebecca's holster and her sidearm. She'd had to write 'R' on the underside of the barrel with white-out so she didn't get it mixed up with his. Then he reached in and thought, okay, why not?

A couple of minutes later, Rebecca banged through to the hallway and pulled her boots on. Havoc was waiting for her with a pile of useful items in his lap. He handed them over one by one: silencers, sidearm and waist holster, then large-calibre pistol and shoulder-holster, and finally rifle and strap.

"I checked 'em all out for you, you're good to go." Rebecca took the rifle, then turned it over in her hands and looked at him quizzically.

"You never let me take your rifle out on a mission before." This was true. His rifle was a really beautiful gun, nearly the nicest thing he owned, ranking just below the convertible and neck and neck with his expensive custom sports chair. Havoc very rarely let anyone else lay a hand on any of these three, but — well, Rebecca's rifle had really started to stick lately. She needed to upgrade. He didn't want her going out in the field with anything but the best.

He didn't say any of this. "Well, you know. Enjoy the smooth action."

"I always do." She wiggled an eyebrow at him. Even this nervous, it seemed that she couldn't let an innuendo slide. Sometimes it just seemed like an automatic response, like maybe she'd had Special Ops Training in being a guttermind. He liked that about her.

All strapped up, she gave him a twirl. "Sexy ninja?"

"Definitely. Wait, are you wearing the invisible lipstick?"

Invisible make-up: one of the great mysteries of Rebecca. She spent half an hour applying it every morning, and after much scrutiny Havoc had managed to work out that it made her look like a very slightly neater version of herself without make-up. The invisible lipstick was a case in point: painstakingly chosen to exactly match the shade of her lips. Why spend half an hour covering your face in something that looked exactly like your face? Rebecca claimed it was like war paint, and that it put her 'in the zone', however that was supposed to work. He thought she was gorgeous without it, and he told her so whenever she was about to make them both twenty minutes late for work again.

When she puckered her lips proudly to show she had indeed applied some, he handed over his final item. It was a banana.

Rebecca snorted, then stuck it in her belt and whipped it out like she was pulling a sidearm. Then she waggled it at him and asked, "No, really. Why?"

"Seriously. You shouldn't go out on a mission with nothing at all in you. I'd always skip breakfast and then be starving half an hour later —"

"Oh my god. Now you said that, that just became my biggest fear. Being like, one of those girls who faints on the metro in rush hour. Only with a rifle, maybe in front of many evil foes —"

"There, see, I'm right."

"Thanks, honey." She leaned in and kissed him. Outside, gravel crunched on the road as a car pulled up.

"Have a good mission, babe." She winked, and bumped her forehead against his own. Then she was off.

He heard her footsteps rattle down the hall. He watched from the window as the military car pulled away and gave it a wave.

Then, in the quiet apartment, he let fly a really good loud volley of curses. That kind of helped. Marginally. The gun safe was still open. He wheeled over violently, briefly contemplating shutting the door by ramming into it, but even in this bad a mood, he couldn't bear to screw with ten thousand cenz of cutting edge Rush Valley workmanship. He settled for slamming the door with a hard open-palmed shove. It shut with a satisfying, reverberating clang.

Right. So the plan was to shower, shit and shave, and then drive aggressively to work at least two hours early so that he could head to the range and blow the everliving fuck out of flimsy paper targets with the biggest rifle he could find.

Ed liked to switch around his brooding spots from time to time. The fountain on Unification Square had been a favourite until Scar had cornered him there; after that it had just reminded him of what a loser he'd been in that fight. He used to like hotel roofs a lot, but these days, he lived in a crappy apartment above a haberdasher's, a little two storey building with a sloping roof. After he'd broken up with Winry, he'd discovered that bars worked pretty well. You could hang out quietly with your bad mood and look like you were a cool, brooding type with a lot on his mind. You could also have beer. Whisky would probably work better, but Ed couldn't drink the stuff without pulling that shuddery face, and that kind of spoilt the whole cool brooding thing. Tonight, though, he knew he'd have to suck it up and get back to work eventually, so no cool bar brooding for him.

That left the bridge over the West Canal, then.

As always, Al had been so adamant about staying involved with this case, with the translation, Ed thought as he hefted a loose pebble in his hand. Any other time, Ed would have quietly approved of how, when it came down to the big stuff, his brother would raise his hand for military duty without a second thought. Now, of course, Ed saw with unpleasant clarity where that sense of duty had led Al: to signing himself over to be a dog of the military for real. And he was doing it right when Ed was supposed to be retiring. Did Al not believe that Ed would really leave the army? Did he think he was taking over for Ed, picking up Ed's silver watch when he threw it down?

The pebble was the wrong shape for skimming, so Ed just threw it straight downwards — with his left arm, because the violence of the gesture was more satisfying when he felt his muscles pull. Then he picked up another pebble and threw it down, this time using the automail for comparision's sake. No, he'd been wrong: the power and velocity of the automail throw made for a way more dramatic splash that was way more satisfying.

And how the hell did he not know about any of this, Ed thought to himself as he hunted the gutter for another loose stone. Why couldn't he guess what was going on in Al's head? This wasn't fucking fair. This was Ed's big attempt to step back and stop making everyone worry about him, his best shot at being a normal person and seeing how that worked out for him. What was the point if Al was just going to take his place? Fuck.

Just after two o'clock in the morning, Alphonse had tracked down Fullmetal wherever he'd gone to sulk and dragged him back to Roy's flat for a very late meeting. In the intervening four hours, Roy had read through the translation three times, then come up with a mental list of questions and a couple of embryonic plans of action. After that, his avenues of enquiry had been exhausted without the Elrics. So he'd stretched out on his bed and decided the most productive course of action until then was to attempt to catch some sleep. He had, of course, gotten nowhere.

By the time the key finally scraped in the door and the Elrics trailed in, Roy was sitting on the library sofa with a mug of hot milk and his favourite novel, rereading the good bits to try and calm his mind. It might as well have been written in Xerxean. None of it was going in, though moving his eyes over the text was helping keep his mind from the memory of the freezing light of the Gate, and the deep, crackling voice of the homunculus, like a scratched gramophone record playing at half-speed.

Roy was trying to imagine where the offer had come from. Had Katzenklavier approached Hakuro, or was it the other way around? Perhaps an idea this insane had to ultimately come from an alchemist? He was guilty of a great deal on that score himself, but this creature made the most stupid, terrible things he'd done with his alchemy look mundane. It made Edward and Alphonse's crime look like a petty misdemeanour.

They were growing a creature with the will and perhaps the power to destroy their civilisation, their world, which perhaps, like Father, might take aim for the Truth itself. Did Katzenklavier even know about that part? How much of the depths of the Bradley regime had he been aware of? Hakuro, Roy knew, hadn't understood many things until afterwards. He'd known that Bradley wasn't human, but even now he still seemed to have the impression that the human scientists who'd created Bradley had actually been in control of that little operation.

Fullmetal and Alphonse sat on either end of the sofa like bookends. Roy pulled out the desk chair and sat in it opposite them, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, and his chin propped on his clasped hands. They talked.

"How the hell could making another Homunculus seem like a good idea? To anyone?" Roy squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

"The alchemist who wrote this said that a homunculus was the most powerful advisor a king could have." Al was talking with his hands, waving them in slightly manic circles. "The homunculus was supposed to have inborn knowledge, they thought it would have like a hotline to the secrets of the gods. It would serve the ruler who looked after it, like — a pet or something. All things within the sight of its eye. All things within the reach of its arm. All things laid at the feet of the master who feeds it. It will teach him to catch death itself in a jar."

There were a few moments of thick, nasty silence in the room. "Eye and arm," said Ed. "That's our fucking friend in the flask all right."

"Feeds it?" asked Roy. "What does it eat?"

"Blood," said Ed. He made a wry face.

Alphonse cut in. "To be totally accurate — the information in human blood. Because our blood contains all the information necessary for building a human." Roy nodded. Ed looked at him with that odd expression — direct stare, darkly humorous twist to the mouth — that had always meant he was thinking of his own greatest mistake. Al was looking at Roy too, but he just looked a little sad. The brothers still didn't look at each other.

Ed said, "The homunculus doesn't have a proper body, just contained alchemical energy. It uses the information in blood to build — an idea of itself."

Roy tapped his own chin. He remembered that woman, her bones and sinew sprouting from the red stone held in his hand. "Information and energy? That's how Father built itself its body, how it built its children. But a new homunculus, it wouldn't have the energy it needed —"

Ed cut him off. "You're right. To build itself a body, it needs a massive Philosopher's stone. The old one, that used half a million people. But its bosses, Katz-whatever and the rest, I bet they don't want it with a body. They want it tame. Sitting in its jar, telling them how to take over the world."

Al shook his head, frowning fiercely. "People can be just so unbelievably stupid and arrogant. Does it stop being surprising after a while?"

"It probably should," said Roy. "But not really, no."

"Okay," said Rebecca, bracing herself against the roof of the van, "here's the drill again. We cover the rear entrance. Dino, Bell, Westland, in the sniping positions we agreed, covering the exits and the rear windows. Make sure you've got cover, and if you need to move a garbage can to set up behind it, get a buddy to help, don't do it on your own and make a racket. Rook, Fieseler, Brosch, Charlie, Sullivan, you're with me against the blind wall. When we get the 'go' signal, you wait for my mark and then you follow me in through the back exit. I know I'm tiny and cute, but I can totally kick a door down. Don't dive in ahead of me once we're in action, it makes me crabby — and hey, look, I'm heavily armed. Ground rules are: take out anyone who's a threat, but shoot to wound when it's safe, and a surrender is even better. We can't interrogate corpses. Team on the inside, follow my hand signals. If you see movement, take cover and hold your fire until you've identified. The lights might not always be good, and some of our men are out of uniform, so there's a high risk of friendly fire. Hit one of ours and your ass is mine. Any questions?"

Silence. "Right. You've got your orders." They snapped off salutes. Rebecca tapped two fingers to her temple in return. "Good luck. We'll be there in five. And don't do that whistling-through-your-teeth thing, Dino, it's freaking annoying."

Very shortly after, they pulled up quietly to the rear entrance of the club. Everyone got into position with a minimum of fuss. Rebecca stood at the door with her pistol up, the silencer screwed in. After a minute, she heard Breda's voice crackling on the radio in the van: Team B clear, over.

She tried the door handle. Will you look at that, it was unlocked. She raised her left hand in a beckoning motion, then opened up the door quickly and silently, covering the empty corridor. She beckoned her team to follow her in.

They padded quickly behind her. The corridor turned a corner; Rebecca pressed herself against the wall, then pulled a dentist's mirror on a telescopic metal rod from her rifle strap. She poked it around the turning. Nothing.

This was getting eerie. They crept down the corridor and neared the unmistakable double doors of the kitchen. She paused in front of them. Was it empty? At five in the morning, surely ... no. Heavy footsteps tapped across the floor, coming closer to the door. Around her, her team shifted and waited, pressed to the wall one side of the doors. At least things were going to kick off early. All this tension and silence made for twitchy soldiers, and twitchy was dangerous.

The footsteps neared. The doors swung open.

A middle-aged man in his shirtsleeves stepped through, carrying a large grilled cheese sandwich on a napkin and concentrating upon it intently. He took a big bite as he walked past Rebecca as she stood by the door. Then he glanced over at her, casually.

After a moment, he registered the gun in his face and stopped chewing.

The man's eyes drunkenly wandered between the pistol six inches from his nose and the other guns being trained on him by Rebecca's men. Charlie leaned forward from behind him, and pulled an untouched revolver from the waistband of the man's suit pants.

"Shut your mouth, man," said Rebecca, "I really don't need to see your breakfast right now."

He shut his mouth.

Now this was why she liked big guns; they could turn even a shitfaced mobster into a really good listener.

"It's really great of you both to come in so early," said Fuery.

Riza and Havoc looked at each other. "Target practice," they both said at the same time.

"How's Captain Catalina?" asked Fuery. "Did she get off all right this morning?"

"Fine," said Havoc. He lowered his eyebrows a bit.

"How's your shoulder, Major? Did you sleep all right?"

"Fine, thank you," said Riza. She pressed her lips together in a firm little line.

Fuery grinned at them brightly in the empty office. "So, do either of you need a refresher on how to use a radio link-up?"

"No," they both said.

"I've got such a work backlog ... thanks so much for helping me out." For a moment, he seemed to notice the heavy atmosphere, then he barrelled on. "I think you'll enjoy it though, there's nothing like on the radios during a mission. It's great, you get the adrenaline rush of being in on the action, only without people shooting at you all the time. It's like the best of both worlds!"

Two pairs of eyes glowered at him steadily. "I'll put the kettle on!" said Fuery. He snapped a quick salute to both of them, and then nearly sprinted to the office kitchen.

"The thing, the thing about Mickey Luttenberger," said the man with the sandwich, "is, the thing about him is ... " He waved the sandwich-holding hand, currently raised above his head along with his other hand. A chunk of tomato landed in his hair.

"No," said Rebecca, "we want to know where he is, not what you think of him."

The man peered at her, unfocused. "Sorry, darling, sorry, I'll try again. Didn' mean to be offensive ... " He blinked. "Aren't you s'posed to read me my rights now?"

"No," said Rebecca, "because we're not the police, we're the army. Remember when I said that a minute ago?" She tried not to growl too loudly. "Okay, one more question, drunky, then you get to go to the van and sleep it off." She took a breath and eyeballed him. "Katie Flowers."

"Ah, nice to meet you — well, not that nice." He pointed the sandwich at himself. "I'm Jacky Heston."

"No-o. I'm not Katie Flowers, I'm asking you if —" Something whistled right past Rebecca's ear from behind her, and she registered the little whipcrack of a silenced pistol shot.

In front of her, she saw Fieseler flatten his body to one side and shift his hand up — and in that split second she decided to freeze, not move.

It was the right choice: Fieseler had squeezed off a couple of return shots, and a moment later, she heard a heavy thud from behind her. She turned. A man in a suit she hadn't seen before was lying on the floor, bleeding from a headshot. Sullivan was already picking up his fallen gun.

There was a beat of silence. "Nice, Fieseler," she said quietly. This guy must have come from the other end of the corridor. How the hell had he even managed to sneak up when they were covering that direction? There wasn't time for her to find out where their blind spot was, and if someone had screwed up — but, wow, these Luttenberger guys really were good. She was starting to see how they got this reputation.

"Brosch?" She jerked her thumb at the drunk guy with the sandwich, who was being quiet for the moment, thankfully. "Take this guy out back and get him in the van." Brosch nodded and set to herding fuzzy out the back.

They crept on, step by quiet step, towards Mickey Luttenberger's office. At the door, Rebecca trained her pistol, and counted her team down with her fingers. On zero, she turned the handle and pushed through. Her team burst into the office, guns fanning out to cover the room.

It was, of course, completely deserted.

Rebecca gave the place a brief once-over. The furnishings were pretty much what you'd expect from a gang boss that used a strip club as a front for his operation: fake antique, plushy chairs that looked cheap but probably cost a fortune, big expensive radio, and an awesomely tacky naked lady painting over the mantlepiece. The desk was pretty empty. The guy probably wasn't big on paperwork. There was a photo on his desk of a tiny old granny in a silver frame. Cute. He had one of those novelty cigarette lighters in the shape of a knight in armour statuette. And — ah, cigarette butts in the ashtray. Rebecca waved Charlie over and pointed to them. "Those are recent. Look, he didn't stub that one out properly. It's still burning and the ash is still right on the cigarette all neat." It was kind of handy that she'd recently moved in with a smoker who lied poorly about how many he got through a day.

"So you reckon he could still be in?"

"He's probably out on the shop floor right now. Time to make our way there."

They took a left and headed for the dancers' dressing room. Beyond that was a door which was going to take them right out onto the stage of the club. Timing and was going to be crucial here — unless Miles' team was in place by the time they got there, Rebecca's team was going to make beautiful targets.

Once again, at the door, Rebecca counted her team down, and then they burst in and covered the room.

Inside the dressing room were a couple of tired-looking girls in t-shirts and pants. One was taking her make-up off with cold-cream, and the other was pulling hair extensions on combs out of her roots. They froze, looked up at all the pointed weaponry with bored expressions, then put their hands on their heads. It was kind of impressive how unimpressed they were. Maybe they got guns pointed at them all day long or something?

"Looking for Jimmy Kramer, Mickey and Yves Luttenberger, and Sid Cole," announced Rebecca. "Seen 'em?"

All through there," said the first girl, nodding to the other door.

"Do we get money for telling you that?" asked the second girl.

"Nope," said Rebecca. "You just get a chance to look for better employment opportunities."

"Yay," said the first girl, colourlessly.

"Sullivan, escort these two out back. Then collect Brosch and get back in here."

They were still lined up in the little corridor near the curtained doorway that led to the stage when Brosch and Sullivan tiptoed back in. The seconds ticked by. Voices drifted out from the club floor. How was Miles' team not in there already? Had someone got the jump on them in the lobby? Then — gunshots, a crash and a harsh whistle. Rebecca pointed her finger, and then sprinted out onto the stage with her gun up and her team behind her.

"- you hypocritical fucks, what about rule of law? You're not even the police, you're the army, what the fuck is the army doing in my club?" A little table near the stage was overturned, drinks and cards spilled on the floor. Behind it crouched two men with revolvers cocked. One of them was shouting.

Miles' voice rang out. "Shut up, Luttenberger. You target the army, the army targets you."

Luttenberger and the other guy turned towards Rebecca's team, but Rebecca's team had them covered. She motioned with her pistol — but then a third man was suddenly sprinting across the club floor, carrying — oh shit — a tommy gun. He was firing as he ran. Looking where he was aiming, Rebecca picked out flashes of blue uniform from behind booths and columns. She took aim for the gunman, and heard the click of weapons cocking from her team around her. A moment later, the guy with the tommy gun jerked right and left, then hit the floor. Rebecca wasn't sure which of them had got him. His gun fired randomly as it skidded across the club floor. Using the chaos to his advantage, one of the men behind the table rose, turned on them, and fired. Beside Rebecca, Brosch went down. Luttenberger's head snapped back with a red spray.

"Charlie!" yelled Rebecca. He got an arm around Brosch and dragged him back towards the curtain. Blood was slicking Brosch's thigh and he was groaning in his throat, his face scrunched. The other guy from the table was diving behind the bar. Rebecca ran to the front of the stage with her pistol held downwards, trying to get a bead on him — and Fieseler had vaulted on top of him already. He was so getting a commendation for this.

There was some motion and gunshots from behind a column — the door of the men's bathroom slammed. Shit, where were all these guys coming from?

Another movement in the corner of Rebecca's eye grabbed her attention. She saw a side door creak, and a lanky guy slip through it. Was he running away? Rebecca automatically vaulted down to the club floor and ran from column to column, aiming for the side door to pursue. Halfway there, she registered that he'd been carrying a rifle. And that through the side door in question were the stairs that led to the balcony. A perfect sniping spot: from up there, the soldiers' cover would be worthless. He could just pick them off.

That wasn't going to happen.

She sprinted up the stairs three at the time, getting flashes of his stupid long legs ahead of her. As she cleared the top of the stairs, she swung up her rifle up and trained it on the door the lanky guy was running towards on the other side of the lobby. She popped a hole in the door to let him know his exit was cut off, then swung the rifle on him — and had to duck down to the stairs as he returned fire. Part of the bannister exploded into splinters. There was a moment of silence, then a crash. Rebecca raised her head again — and ducked immediately as she heard shots on the way up.

She looked down, and noticed her hands were steady. Seemed that was diesel. She'd seen a table on its end, the second time she'd looked. She took out her telescopic mirror and checked. The guy had upturned a table a good few feet from the door that led to the balcony.

She waited. After a few moments' silence, there was movement from the table and they went another round: fire, return fire, rapid ducking. He was fast. He was very fast. Was that Cole? Skinny, balding guy — she'd read his file the previous afternoon. He was one of their hitmen.

Well, if you know you're always going to wonder about something, and you've only got one shot at finding out, you might as well, right?

"Hey," yelled Rebecca, from her position on the stairs.

A pause, then, "What?"

"Katie Flowers."

"What the fuck, we're doing introductions? I don't fucking care."

"No, asswipe. Was it you?"

"Was what me?"

"Katie Flowers, thirty-two, apartment up by Unification Park, ginger hair. Was that you?"

"Eh?" There was a short pause while the guy presumably tried to work out why the hell she was even asking. Then, "Oh. Yeah, that was me. What's your point?" as if he were confessing to double-parking his car.

She heard him shift. He was going to come up from the right this time, she knew it — Rebecca rose, got a bead on him, tracked him as he came up. The bullet popped straight through his left eye socket before he even saw her.

He hit the floor hard. He didn't even twitch.

Riza's shoulder was bothering her. Aspirin wasn't really doing the trick. But her aim had been decidedly off at the range that morning, so that was that: she'd decided that the strong hospital painkillers had to be kept for night time. During the day, she'd just have to pop an aspirin, set her teeth and ignore it.

Homunculus, she thought. The day of the eclipse was still as sharp in her memory: that great bubble over her head that had looked like a film of engine oil, the low throb of pain across her neck. The sun had been blotted out, her legs wouldn't stop shaking, and that huge sick fear for everything had focused like light through a magnifying glass onto the single thought: where is Roy?

She stood in the doorway of the interrogation room and looked at Major Miles, his glasses off and eyes locked with a dishevelled, hungover crook. Ten minutes ago, neutralising the Luttenbergers had seemed like the order of business. Now, even the man who'd trapped her like an animal in her own apartment building seemed like a small, manageable, human kind of problem compared to what Roy had just told her about what Katzenklavier was making.

Still, this business was the next step in locating Katzenklavier, and it was a comfortably-sized challenge to focus her mind on. It certainly made sense that Katzenklavier would have been using the Luttenberger gang for his armed backup. This way, Hakuro's faction would have plausible deniability for any deaths. And the gang were as dangerous as their reputation.

Well, they weren't anything to worry about any more: the gang was well and truly neutralised. Mickey Luttenberger and Jimmy Kramer were dead at the scene. Yves Luttenberger was in custody and asking for his lawyer with tedious regularity. Seeing that matter through to a conviction was going to be fun. Five more gang members were dead. The other man they'd taken alive was their best bet for information on Katzenklavier's base of operations: a middle-ranking gangster called Jacky Heston.

Miles looked up at her; she flicked her eyebrows up, a silent question.

"Mr Heston's decided to talk to us," he said evenly. "Sensible guy." Heston had something of the look of a small animal that a cat had been toying with: rigid, quivering, eyes watchful and watery. Miles stood, tucking a pencil into his clipboard, nodded to the soldiers guarding the unfortunate Mr Heston, and stepped out of the room.

Out in the corridor, he tore off the top sheet of paper, folded it and handed it to Riza. "Here you are, Major Hawkeye. This should be enough for you to act on."

She scanned her eyes over the paper. So that was where Katzenklavier was hiding. Funny. "Thank you, Major. This should be of immediate interest to the brigadier general." The corridor of Headquarters' lockup was too public a place to discuss their plans in plain language, but she trusted he'd take her meaning. Now that they knew where Chrysalis was based and what he was attempting to do, she imagined Roy would want to visit him in person within the hour.

"How's the shoulder?" His tone was kind, but there was a hidden question in it: would she be going out into the field with Roy this time, regardless?

"I've been staying with you for a few nights now; you know how it is. Business as usual."

He nodded at her and gave her that cheeky half-smile. "You're stubborn; very Briggs of you."

She inclined her head. "You should say, that's very Team Mustang of me."

"You're injured," said Roy. "Absolutely not."

"I'm fit for duty as it's necessary." Riza locked eyes with him, and the staring match began. Roy was sure she'd learnt this trick from him. It was very annoying how often she seemed able to beat him at it.

"And you've decided it is necessary?"

"Yes, sir." Riza stuck her bottom lip out. She looked about fifteen. Of course, back when she was fifteen, he'd rarely won arguments with her either.

Roy sighed theatrically and put a hand in his hair. "I'm surrounded by insubordination. It's thoroughly aggravating. I'd have you all locked up, but then I'd have to do all the work around here myself." Riza's deadpan look had a hint of soft gratitude around the eyes. He smiled at her, and put a little smirk into the smile. "All right. Send one of your men to Armstrong and have him track down a building plan for us." And how extremely unfortunate it was that they couldn't get away with requisitioning Armstrong himself for this mission. "We'll be moving out at 1200."

Rebecca leant against Havoc's desk. The sexy ninja outfit was a little rumpled, and her hair was coming out of her ponytail at one side. She hadn't fixed it.

He propped his chin on one hand and looked up at her. "So, how was the debriefing?"

"Consider me debriefed." She stared into the middle distance for a long moment. Her silence was a worryingly un-Becky-like thing. Quietly, she continued, "I think Miles knows I got the guy who killed Katie. I don't even know how he could know that. Those Briggs guys are spooky. But you know what's funny? He seemed kind of cool with it." She shrugged, then spaced again.

Havoc considered his options. Even as he worried over her, a small part of him savoured having this job of Becky maintenance to distract him this morning, while Riza strapped on a hundred guns for the big mission and the Chief did some quick brooding exercises to get himself into the zone. Whatever the hell Katzenklavier was doing, it was obvious that there were terrible things lurking in the shadows again. And once again, he was itching to blow their heads off — but he was going to have to settle for setting the traps.

"You know what?" he said, considering an idea. You could hardly call yourself a member of Team Mustang unless you knew how to take advantage of the system. "I'm feeling a little tired. I might move my two 'o clock to tomorrow morning, maybe just take some work home this afternoon. Have you eaten anything since the banana?"

"What? No, nothing." Rebecca tucked a finger under her chin, and after a moment, a more Becky-ish glint lit in her eyes. "You know something? I'm starving. Is that bad?"

"No. That's completely respectable. Post-mission munchies. I always used to go out for some steak in pepper sauce and fries."

"Really? 'Cause I always get that, the post-mission munchies. I do! Morning after the Promised Day, there was this stall that was giving out free cheese crepes to the soldiers, I swear I had about four for breakfast." She was grinning properly now, still tired, a little manic, but cheeky and shameless and full of life again.

"How about we hit the Celador Cafe and get the all day breakfast deal?"

"Ooh. I haven't had a Celador breakfast for a while. I could go for one of their Bloody Marys, too."

Havoc started getting his things together. Was he good, or what? He knew how this thing was going to go, too. Rebecca was still just as strung-out as she had seemed a minute ago, but now that all that leftover energy from the fight had a little goal to latch onto, Rebecca's mood had swung up. She definitely seemed more perky, but it wouldn't last for long: missions were draining in every sense of the word.

Halfway through her breakfast, he bet she would crash. He'd have his wallet ready, so when it happened, he'd be ready to slap some bills on the table and coax her straight off to the car. He'd drive her home, take her straight to bed, and hold her warm little body while she cried or ranted or stayed quiet, whatever she needed to do until she fell asleep. Then he'd get himself up and get down to the afternoon's work. And then, some other day, it'd be her turn to do that for him.

It was funny. He'd never thought that he was any good at this part of relationships, that it could be so easy for him to know the right thing to say and do for a grieving girlfriend who didn't know what to do with herself. It was even stranger that it could be easy to contemplate letting go in front of her himself. But they were a team, right? That was how it worked.

Al put the phone down, carefully. Well, thought Ed, of course he volunteered immediately to join them on the mission.

Ed snorted and said, "You haven't even drafted yourself yet."

Al answered, "I drafted myself years ago, and you know it."

Ed didn't say anything else. He just frowned and glared at Al. Al glared and frowned back. After a minute, Ed started to get a crick in his neck. Then they both turned on their heels, headed into their rooms, and slammed the doors in perfect unison.

Al must have been ready to head to headquarters before Ed was, because soon Ed heard footsteps and the slam of the front door. Ed waited a moment, then walked into the living room and dropped into the chair by the telephone table. Well, at least he had a few minutes' privacy. He picked up the telephone receiver. He weighed it in his hand. Nice and heavy. Well-constructed. You could swing it at a burglar in a pinch. His hand floated over the rotary dial. He had a lot of stuff to do right now. He needed to get changed, wash his face, check out that passage in his last notebook in case it turned out — eh. All that stuff was going to take him five minutes, and he knew it.

He scrunched his eyes shut and exhaled loudly. Then he dialed the exchange for Rush Valley.

When Winry got herself to the phone and heard the silence on the other end, she knew, somehow, just who it was. She didn't bother with the whole "Atelier Garfiel, how can I help?" She just said, quietly, "Hey."

"Hey," said Ed, his voice crackling through the lines from hundreds of miles away.

"Hey," said Winry, again.

"I'm an asshole," said Ed.

"Or you could say hello. Hello is good."

"Hello. I'm an asshole."

"Ed, you really think that's what I —"

"No, seriously. I didn't call, I didn't write. I thought I should just, you know, keep the hell out of your face —"

"Well, there might have been something to that —"

"But — I shouldn't have just stayed out of touch, because —"

"Stop interrupting all the time!"

"Sorry." A chastened mutter. She felt bad. He seemed kind of nervous. Goodness knows, her own heart was hammering in her chest right now.

"Jeez ..." she said, automatically, but not unkindly.

"So, how've you been?"

What was she supposed to say to that? Heartbroken? Busy? Scared? Angry?

"Busy. Hey, you know that old motorbike I was talking about?"

"Round the back at Simon's place?"

"Yeah. Well, I got it running! I ride it all over town now, I love it."

"Wow." Was that a good wow, or a scared wow? "I've got some pictures I can send, the bike's looking beautiful now. And I'm learning to carry people on the back. Paninya and I rode out to the mountains to practice. It's pretty difficult at first, but the weight of the bike helps compensate — and I figured if I can take Paninya, I can take most people, her legs weigh a ton. I mean, I'm not denigrating Mr Dominic's work, it's classic, but you know that old-fashioned stuff is so heavy, and with modern alloys we can — "

There was a low chuckle down the line. She missed that laugh — and oh, she was really babbling. Ed said, "Sounds awesome. I've still never ridden a motorcycle."

"Well, next time you and Al come to see me, maybe I'll let you guys try it out."

There was a little pause. Winry's heart contracted miserably. Dammit, he was going to be an asshole about this. How could he not be a part of her life, how could he just walk out of hers —

"Would that — be cool with you? I mean ..." But Ed didn't seem to know what he meant.

Winry let the silence draw out until she realised he wasn't going to continue. "Of course it's cool with me. You've got to come, anyway. I've been redesigning your shoulder brace, remember? You're getting a complete arm refit and a tune-up for the leg, we need to book you in." Another pause. "And it'd be good to see you. Both of you."

"I — that'd be good. Yeah ... Wait, you redesigned it? Really?"

"Of course I redesigned it! Ed, you need it! And this is some of the best work I've ever done, there's — I've —" And just like that, her throat closed up on her. She sat on the little work room stool, gripping the receiver tightly with both hands and trying to breathe.

Through the wires, Ed's voice said, very quietly, "Thank you." Then, "I've got to go now. But after — we should talk more. I'd really, really like us to be friends again, to —" He went quiet again. Had his voice cracked, or was that just the bad line?

"Family," said Winry. Her voice sounded creaky to her. "To be a family." She heard Ed breathing shakily down the line. "Hey. I'll send you the blueprints for the new brace and arm. The brace is a pretty radical redesign, with that and some physio you should see some major improvements with the back pain, we've got a whole programme worked out, I'll send you a copy ... " Yeah. Babbling again. Why had he called right now? He was probably about to go off and do something dangerous, wasn't he? Things weren't really calming down in Central, she knew that much from Al. Honestly, they weren't really calming down in Rush Valley either. She wondered if Al had manned up and told him about the State Alchemist examination yet? "Hey," she said carefully, "take care."

"It's a promise."

She closed her eyes. And into the ringing silence, she found herself saying the one thing that she had promised herself she wouldn't say. "Ed? I think there's going to be another war."

Very quietly, from very far away, his voice sounded in her ear. "Yeah. Me too."