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The Path Not Taken

chapter 3.

The surveillance team will have to be retrained. They heard the screaming, chalked it up to one of Tucker's experiments, given that the National Alchemist Re-test was coming up. Screaming is – was, not unusual.

But it was only when the bangs and crashes were going on for too long to be a simple accident then they raised the alert. Too slow, too late.

An utter waste.

If they'd raised the alarm earlier, he might have been able to salvage something. Instead, he stands in the ruins of Tucker's basement laboratory and surveys utter destruction.

Cages all bent and twisted and the chimeras are all bloody lumps in the corner. Tucker's research notes have been set on fire, burning in the wreckage of delicate laboratory equipment. Expensive wrecked laboratory equipment.

The man still breathes, but it will take several months with serious medical attention before he can start work again.

This will set back the research for months, if not years. And Elric is not being cooperative.

Elric is downright defiant, rebellious, and ready to tear apart anything vaguely related to Shou Tucker that he hasn't already torn apart.

All save for the dog, which that fool boy apparently developed an attachment for. At least he didn't kill it.

Brigadier General Grahn scowls and marches back up the stairs. He'll have to destroy everything now.


They've put the boy in one of the side rooms, a pair of soldiers guarding the door with blank faces, while the salvage teams sort through everything in the mansion, looking for anything not meant for other eyes. You could almost imagine nothing had happened; the rooms are still neat and untouched above.

Grahn goes in.

Edward is cradling a huge white sheep dog, his back to the door, its head lying in his lap, fast asleep. The platter next to him is covered by a thin skim of creamy liquid.

"What is that?" Grahn's voice rumbles, like low rolling thunder.

"Milk. With poppy extract in it. I had to put the dog to sleep. It was getting agitated by the smell of blood."

"Why did you destroy the laboratory?"

Edward doesn't stop stroking the furry head, even though the dog can't possibly feel it.

"I felt like it," he returns tonelessly. "I don't like chimeras."

Grahn bites back a snarl.

"You didn't have a problem a year ago."

"I've never seen chimeras until a year ago," Ed replies snidely. There's a challenging tilt to his head, and if they weren't where they were, Grahn would be tempted to beat some sense into that blonde head. He suppresses a flash of irritation; Elric was ordered to cut his hair a long time ago.

Grahn changes tack. "Where's Tucker's daughter? There doesn't seem to be anyone in the house except you and the damned dog."

For a moment, Grahn tenses while Ed's shoulders practically vibrate with fury. If it wasn't for the sleeping dog weighing the boy down, he doesn't have the slightest doubt that Elric would leap up and try to kill him. The boy glares at him, hands clenching, then turns away.

"He transmuted her." Ed's voice is low and venomous. It's a good thing the medics have left the house with Tucker on a stretcher. He doesn't know why Elric stopped short of killing Tucker, but he doesn't doubt that the next time, Elric will rip his throat out.

"Transmuted her?"

"He was going to make a chimera that could understand human speech. He used her as one of the components."

Grahn makes a mental note to pick a family with no children next time. Elric is already unstable; now he gets attached to little girls.

"Where's the experiment now?"

The look Elric turns on him is deadly, but Grahn is quite unimpressed. The boy is twelve years old and he owes his life to Grahn. And Elric will be spending the rest of that life repaying him.

"...Destroyed with the rest of them. You could always try sorting out the body parts before they cook." The burning gold eyes drop to the dog again.

Grahn stifles a snarl of fury. An utter waste.

"Anderson!" He barks. The aide, lurking behind the door, comes scurrying in.

"I'm putting you in charge of Elric. Get him out of here before the clean-up crew arrives. You'll look after him until I decide what to do with him."

"Yes sir!" The aide creeps nervously towards Elric, obviously unwilling to get to close to the boy. As if insanity was contagious.

"The dog comes." announces Elric abruptly, glowering as Anderson leaps back with a startled squeak.

"B-but..."

Grahn has left the room, uninterested in the proceedings. He's going to have to figure a way to keep Elric far, far away from Shou Tucker, and his new and sudden dislike of chimeras is definitely going to be a problem. Still, the boy is young and has potential—he merely needs to be refocused on a new project. And someone of course, will have to look after him.

It's not going to be one of his aides, that's for certain. Elric needs a leash, possibly a straitjacket, and preferably someone who has no connections to any of Grahn's projects, someone whose connections can't be used to find Tucker. Someone that Elric won't be tempted to kill because he took offense with milk being served with breakfast. Someone hard to kill. And someone who will make Elric toe the line while obeying Grahn's orders at the same time.

"Bring me Elric's file," he barks, and behind him, another military shadow scurries for the telephone.

Before Lisenburgh burned, Edward Elric wrote a letter to the military, one that his spies intercepted. One that brought him to General Grahn's attention, at a most fortuitous time.

His lips stretch in a grim smile. Elric may be glad that Lisenburgh burned, but he never forgets his brother died in flame, hates it and fears it in the same breath. Elric will behave himself, as a ward of the Flame Alchemist, Roy Mustang.


The motel room is clean, quiet, in soothing cream and dark green colours. Anderson finally found a place willing to take pets, though there was some small argument about the dog sleeping in the room. Edward merely looked homicidal, and Anderson rather hastily went to bribe the night porter to sneak the dog in.

The drugs should be wearing off soon; he'll need Anderson to get him some animal painkillers tomorrow morning. Organic transmutation on a live subject is invariably painful; he's observed enough of the chimera experiments to know that. And even the Binding Life Alchemist rarely performed more than one transmutation on a subject in the same day – constantly exceeding the pain threshold tended to kill the experiments.

Necessity is the mother of invention. It's a good thing Grahn didn't check the dog too closely; it would have been difficult to explain why Alexander was now a she, and Ed's nerves are too strained to invent more elaborate lies.

He fingers the jaw, the muscle hot and swollen from changing shape; a mute dog he could explain, but not a talking one. Nor one with an almost human face. He buries his face now in the warm, breathing coat, eyes burning with fatigue.

There was a story he read once in the library, of how a girl was raped by her brother-in-law, and had her tongue cut out to silence her. She would not be silenced; instead, she wove a tapestry out of the unspeakable crime done to her, and her sister looked upon it, and took vengeance on her sister's rapist.

Nina doesn't have hands to weave, thanks to her father, but it's thanks to him she can't speak. She'll live the rest of her life like this, raped of a future by her father, silenced by her niisan.

"I'll make it better," he promises. "I swear I will. You'll be a real girl again. No matter what."

The notes in that laboratory have been burnt, but Ed doesn't care. He won't touch that research again. He knows what he's looking for already.

The Philosopher's Stone.

He'll make Nina a real girl again, no matter how many bodies he'll have to step over. He promised.

Niisan, the ghost whispers in his ear, and he no longer knows if it's Al's voice or Nina's.