gold eyes looked up from the file, startled. Colonel Mustang folded his hands together and nodded gravely. "That is," he said, "what the report we got from the witness states."
Ed's mouth tightened, and he crumpled the paper in one gloved fist. "Consider me on it," he said. "I'll go to Sanborne and investigate."
Roy nodded, glad that Ed was taking his assignment seriously for a change. But then, he was like that whenever it came to a clue that might help restore his brother and himself. He was singlemindedly driven towards that purpose, and no other. Alas.
"According to the report, this store—" Roy pushed the address across the desk—"is actually a front for the illegal alchemy business."
Ed nodded, eyes moving rapidly over the file, absorbing the little information that was provided. "Train tickets are already at the station?" he said absently.
"Yes. You leave this afternoon."
A train ride, a night's stopover at a motel, and the next morning found Ed in Sanborn, lingering casually around the street where the store was located. Most stores usually had a brightly lettered sign out front, but this one had only a discreet name underneath a concealing awning. Interesting, Edward thought.
The morning wore on. Customers came by the store, and unless it was Ed's paranoia at work, they had a furtive, hunted air. He wished there was a restaurant or something nearby where he could sit and observe, and not just look like a vagrant. Several of the shop's customers were well-dressed, he noted with interest. More than one person left with packages; strangely shaped packages wrapped in plain brown paper. No labels.
This just got more and more interesting. Ed sidled a little closer, hoping to get a better look at one of the mysterious packages. This definitely had the feel of an illicit organization, but what did it have to do with human transmuation?
He must have set off some kind of proximity trigger, though, because out of nowhere, a bear of a policeman came striding up to him. "What are you doing here?" the man asked brusquely. "This isn't the kind of area for children to be lingering in."
Ed allowed himself to be shepherded away, but inside, he was making plans for a night assault. This wasn't good. If the local law enforcement knew that something sneaky was going on, but were taking no steps to prevent it—there was no way of knowing how deep down or high up this went.
"Niisan, are you sure this is a good idea?" Al whispered as they crept towards the darkened shop that night. "What if we get caught?"
"Then I'll show them my watch," Ed answered grimly, holding up the shielded lantern, "and pull rank."
"And if they attack us?" For an invincible suit of armor that couldn't even feel pain, Al had no right to sound that nervous, Ed reflected.
"Then we'll kick their asses, of course." Ed tested the door; it was locked, of course, so he resorted to the simple expedient of transmuting the door open. The brothers slipped inside, Al shutting the door carefully behind them.
"Look around for a back room or trapdoor," Ed ordered. "If they're conducting secret experiments in human transmuation in here, it won't be right out in front."
"Yes, but what kind of shop is this, Niisan?" Al wondered around. He was poking around the racks up front, even as Ed searched for a trapdoor. Metal clinked, and Ed looked up.
"Does it matter?" Still, Ed turned up the flame on the shielded lantern, spreading more light over the shop's interior. The light reflected from a baffling assortment of objects, and gleamed off half a dozen arrays.
"Eh?" Puzzled, Al bent towards the racks again. "Niisan, it seems to be a shop for selling alchemy."
"That doesn't make any sense," Ed said, bewildered. "Alchemy is intended for the public good. If it wasn't anything illegal, why the need for secrecy?" One gloved hand reached into a brightly colored pile, and came up with a strange assortment of metal and fur, inscribed with a simple array. "And are these handcuffs?"
Al squeaked, and froze. Ed glanced over at his brother, puzzled by the noise. "Al, don't tell me you have any more small furry creatures inside you," he said suspiciously.
"N-no," Al said, shakily. Ed scowled, and swung the light over the other merchandise.
"Anyway, what is all this stuff? Clothes... really weird clothes... why would anyone need clothes with arrays on them?" He bent to examine the arrays closely, touching one finger to them without lighting them up. "This one would just tear these pants into ribbons. What's the use of that?"
"Niisan... maybe you shouldn't be touching anything else..." Al began nervously. Honestly, for an older brother, Ed wasn't catching on very fast. Al knew his brother was obsessed with the search for the stone, but didn't he take the time to talk to his fellow soldiers? Even Al had picked up enough of their conversations to know exactly what use someone would have for self-dissolving clothes.
"What's this, some kind of weapon?" Ed grumbled, plucking up a short silver rod from a row of others. He turned it over in his hands, glancing over the different symbols in the array. "This junk... elements to heat up... cool down... what's this, a size expander? The hell is that for? And this one... I don't even recognize it!" The thought of an unfamiliar alchemical symbol offended his pride, of course, and he couldn't rest until he activated it.
He yelped and nearly dropped the thing when it began to rattle in his hands. "Dammit! That surprised me! What the hell his this junk?" He moved off to rifle through a stack of flimsy papers, each one sporting an array of its own, evidently meant to be applied to some surface and activated.
"Niisan," Al said, exasperated. "You're a boy, aren't you? Figure it out!"
"Huh?" Ed looked back at his brother, baffled. Al would have blushed if he could; who would have ever thought that he'd be the one explaining this to his elder brother?
"This is a store... you know... for adults," Al waffled a bit. "It looks like they're using alchemical reactions just as... umm... aides to the normal course of things."
"You're not making sense, Al," Ed scowled. "Human transmutation..."
"Has nothing to do with this," Al said firmly. "Niisan... please... put that down. I can't say this while you're holding that thing."
He explained. And since only the dead could have slept through the commotion Ed caused then, he explained again when the constables came to investigate.
Roy Mustang had gotten the call, and posted bail as obligated, but he still wasn't quite clear on the details. So when Edward burst into his office in a high temper, he was looking forward to getting some information.
Assuming, of course, that Ed didn't kill him first. Roy was used to that, although he couldn't really remember what he'd done to deserve it this time.
"Calm down before you burst something, Fullmetal," Roy said mildly, in a tone that brought Edward up just short of his desk. "What did you discover?"
"Did you know that you were sending me to an alchemical porn shop?" Edward demanded, in full voice.
Roy blinked, and ran the last few seconds over in his mind. No, this wasn't one of his recurring fantasies; Edward had actually said that. "Try that again, Edward-kun," he said. "Preferably in more detail, and lower volume, please."
"You bastard! You knew, didn't you? Human transmutation my ass! Or not mine, anyone's! I don't believe some of the things they were selling there!"
This really was too bizarre. Roy pulled out his file, and glanced at it. "The witness reported, and I quote, that the proprieters of that store were performing 'doing strange alchemy on people,' " he recited. "Was that not human transmutation, then?"
The sound of Ed grinding his teeth was clearly audible halfway across the room. "Like hell it was," he said. "That store was selling alchemical sex toys. There wasn't anything to do with transformation there, not in the store, not in the basement, not even so much a still! I checked. And I think I'm scarred for life. But there wasn't anything illegal at all! The whole thing was a waste of time!"
Roy thought about that. Thought about a store that sold alchemical sex toys. Thought about Ed being scarred for life. At last he could only offer, "Did you buy anything?"
"For the sake of research, of course," he added hastily as Ed's face darkened.
"Get fucking serious!" Ed slammed his hands down on Roy's desk, spilling the precarious stacks of documents onto the floor. Roy couldn't say he particularly minded. "Do you know who audits my expense accounts? Lieutenant Hawkeye, that's who! What would she say if she saw something like that on there?"
"She would think you were growing up at last," Roy mused, "and probably wonder who was the lucky soul you'd chosen to try them out with."
Ed was staring at him like he'd sprouted a second head, and Roy bit his tongue. Oh, damn. That was a little too obvious for even the single-minded Ed to pass over. He attempted to resolve his expression to a cool and disinterested one, and stared back at Ed.
"You did send me there on purpose," Ed said at last, but he didn't sound nearly as angry as Roy was expecting. "Pervert."
"I assure you I knew nothing of this," Roy swore solemnly. Of course, whether he would have sent Ed even if he had known, well, that was a different matter.
"Hmph." Ed snorted, and leaned back a trifle. He was eyeing Roy with distinct interest, though, which Roy decided to interpret as a hopeful sign. After all, he was fairly confident that even if Edward did try to rip his head off, he was still fast enough to get the drop on the boy.
"So you didn't retain anything from that trip at all?" Roy said with regret. He smiled, slowly, in a way he usually reserved for outside the office. Inside the bedroom, in fact. "A pity. It would have been... instructive."
"Well," Ed said abruptly. "It's not like I didn't learn anything from it. I mean, there were some new kinds of Arrays there that I'd never seen before, if you can believe it. But now..." His fingers traced over Roy's desktop, outlining a pattern that Roy only vaguely had an understanding of.
"I see." He pushed his chair closer to the desk. "You are a fast learner, I take it, Fullmetal."
"The fastest," Ed promised him. And at Roy's inviting gesture, he leaned forward over the desk, and met Roy's kiss halfway.
Ed hadn't lied. He was a fast leaner. And his powers of retention were excellent.