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Little Red Cap


The phone jangles, a muted, vibrating trill.

"Maes Hughes," he murmurs softly. The night is oppressively quiet, damp and foggy mist has risen from the river banks and gripped the city in its ghostly tendrils.

"Hello, Grandma." The voice on the other end is purring velvet. "Your cookies are on their way."

Hughes laughs, but quietly, quietly. "My compliments. I'll be in touch."

"Sir." Lt. Maria Ross' voice is also hushed. "The Wolf is on the move. Should I give the signal?"

"No. Wait."

She nods, but there is unease on her face. As well she should be. The killer who stalks the streets tonight has been attacking women late at night, mostly prostitutes who ply their trade in the dark alleyways. Impossible almost, to catch. This is the old, crumbling Older City, far away from where Central Headquarters was built the sewers here are a warren, and he could have a hundred men wandering in there without meeting each other for a good half-hour. If Hawkeye was still here, he would have been tempted to borrow her to play bait. But not tonight. Not when the mist deadens sound, steals away the sound of footfalls, plays tricks on eyes and ears. Even Hawkeye could be caught off guard, and the men moving in too late, even five seconds too long, too far away.

The sallow light of the flickering streetlamp glints off something, and Hughes leans closer to the window. Blond hair, a bright red collar, the swirl of crimson like a shout, a red flag. The shape is graceful and half-seen for a moment; then all is swallowed save for the top of the head.

The nightwomen wear garish colours, exotic flowers in the darkness. It makes them easy to spot where they lurk in doorways, when they stroll the streets, flowers of the night. In the mist however, the killer is invisible, but his prey moves like a beacon. Like raw, red meat, and an invisible fin tracking it. Lt. Ross tenses. "Sir!" she hisses. They've lost sight of all but the flickering light off the blond hair the mist hides everything else, including the killer.

"Wait," says Hughes implacably.

The gold hair fades to dullness in the interval between streetlamps. His men coil, ready to spring, fearing the end of the leap.

Then one of the streetlamps flickers. It sizzles, muted and sullen, then winks out entirely. Gold hair flashes in the dying spark and then gone entirely. The mist suddenly swirls and eddies in its wake.

"SIR!" Ross actually reaches out to him, aching to race out there, find the killer, tear his bloody hands off the victim. Three women dead, sliced to bloody red ribbons already. She could save the fourth, she knows she could.

"WAIT," insists Hughes, wire-taut tense.

A scream rings out, horribly strangled in the mist net, and he can almost hear the sob vibrating in Lt. Ross' throat, can feel the heat of her betrayed gaze burning his shoulderblades. There are three killers tonight, he can hear her think. Him and him and the mist.

"Wait," he whispers, softly now, even though she says nothing.

There is a crash downstairs, and all of them jump. Cursing, more thumps, and then an indignant roar comes raging up the stairs.

"HUGHES! THAT SHITHEAD COLONEL SENT YOU SOMETHING! GET YOUR ASS DOWN!"

The men throw each other startled glances, then jostle to be the first down the step before the Major; Lt Ross, however, ruthlessly shoves one man out of the way and is the first down, her fingers already fumbling for her torch.

Edward Elric is staring up them with great irritation, rubbing his sore human knee, while behind him, Alphonse manages to simultaneously look apologetic and puppyish-look-what-I-brought.

"Here," says Ed snippily, and shoves a brown package at Hughes. "To be personally delivered. I can't imagine why—Hawkeye practically threw us onto the train and insisted we had to be on time."

Al practically radiates wave upon wave of apology; this-is-my-stupid-niisan, please-forgive-his-lack-of-manners.

Lt Ross directs the beam of her military-issue torch onto the dark lump Alphonse carries. "What is that?" she demands shakily. It's not really a question there's something in her voice that says she knows already knows.

Ed explodes. "HE CALLED ME A LITTLE GIRL. A LITTLE BEAN GIRL IN RED! A RED BEAN GIRL! SO SHOR—MMPH."

"He attacked Niisan from behind with a knife," says Al, still apologetic as ever. "Niisan punched in the face and stomped on him and kicked him three times in the crotch before I could stop him. Could you please deliver him to the hospital? Only I think you might want to take away all his knives first."

"..." says Lt. Maria Ross helplessly.

There's a pop and a clink of glass and everyone automatically swivels to look at Hughes.

Hughes is grinning maniacally, and he hands out glasses that glow golden with soft fizzing sounds. He sets down the champagne bottle on top of the torn wrapper.

"Cheers," says Hughes, smiling like a man with a secret. "Operation Red Riding Hood is a success."