The next day Edward knew Tucker was watching him very closely, which creeped him out more than a little bit. As such he simply kept his head down all day and read the books he had chosen, not even pausing to play like he had done the last two days, much to Nina's (and, he suspected, Alexander's) disappointment. He did, however, almost force Alphonse to go outside with the child, though not before the two of them extracted a promise for him to play the next time he came over.
By the time Falman had come to pick them up Edward's eyes hurt and he was half-asleep on his feet after all that time reading in the library, facts and figures almost swimming in front of his eyes even without the book that went with them. He knew Tucker had been in the library all day, only a few shelves away as he reorganized his books, watching him. Half Edward's mind had been focused on his pile of books while the other half stressed about what the man might suspect.
It was also incredibly suspicious – why did Tucker feel the need to watch him so closely like that? Did it have something to do with the conversation that they had had yesterday about his late wife?
Innocent men didn't act like that. Edward was more certain than ever that Tucker had some deep, dark secret that he had to uncover, something that seemed to involve Elsa Tucker.
"Work hard?" Falman asked as they drove away, the two boys waving back as cheerfully as possible to a saddened Nina.
"Nii-san did," said Alphonse, throwing his brother an almost disapproving look for having worked himself to near exhaustion. "He made me keep Nina company while he kept studying."
"We haven't found a-anything y-y-y-yet," Edward complained, failing to suppress a wide yawn. He could wait to get some sleep. "Nina's great,though, but we don't see Mr Tucker much. He keeps disappearing."
"Well, Tucker certainly knows how to slip between the cracks without problem," Falman said darkly with a scowl and the windscreen.
Instantly all traces of tiredness vanished from Edward's mind and the alchemist sat up straight, his eyes wide. He had been incredibly concerned about where to start his investigation in Tucker's past, but he hadn't even thought about asking the people around him discreetly for information.
"What do you mean?" he asked as innocently as possible.
From the sharp look he saw Falman give him in the rear view mirror that question hadn't been as discreet as he had hoped it would be.
"You've heard about the chimera he transmuted in order to become a State Alchemist, haven't you?" Falman asked eventually.
"Yes," said Al. "Colonel Mustang told us the day he took us over there."
"All that poor creature could say to everyone was that it wanted to die," Falman said, staring stoically ahead at the road. His voice shook oddly and he was strangely worked up for the usually formal man. "No one knows how he transmuted it, nor do they know what he did to it before presenting it. The board was so impressed with his work, and a few days later the chimera died, having refused to eat anything. Tucker didn't care, he had his qualifications by then. It was a display of cruelty that should have had him turned down, but no one thought about the chimera."
Falman glared at Edward in the mirror.
"You're a prodigy," he said. "You can do just about anything, you know. But, for gods sake, don't play around with chimera, with the lives of innocent animals, please."
Edward was impressed with the passion in the man's voice and he found himself nodding without consciously telling himself to do so.
"I will never attempt to create a chimera," he swore.
Falman nodded, relaxing now. Silence descended on them, all three lost in their thoughts. Soon they arrived at the hotel the boys were staying at and it was then that something else struck Edward.
"Hey, Falman, did you know Tucker's wife?"
Falman blinked, startled.
"Yes, why?" he asked.
"I'd just… like to know something about her. Nina doesn't remember her but she still misses her a lot."
"I agree," said Alphonse, speaking up for the first time in awhile, and Edward was glad that it was in support of him. "What was she like, sir?"
Falman smiled, but his eyes were still sharp when he glanced at Edward. Obviously he suspected that Edward, at least, was up to something.
'What's with all these people suspecting me of things? I mean, I know I am up to something… am I really that obvious?'
Shaking this thought away Edward gave Falman his best "who, me?" look, causing the man to huff, his lips twitching as he struggled not to show his amusement.
"Her name was Elsa," he said, and Edward made a note that Tucker had told the truth on that front. "I don't remember her maiden name, or where she came from. She got on well with people."
"Did you know her well?" Al asked curiously.
"Fairly," Falman said with a shrug. "She was a wonderful woman most times, though she was easy to anger." He shot Edward a mischievous look. "She was very volatile too when she got angry – think the chief when someone calls him short."
Al chuckled and Edward instantly felt anger flaring.
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING…?!"
"Not now, Nii-san," said Alphonse with a sigh, clamping one metal hand over his brother's mouth. "He didn't call you short. I want to hear what he's saying!"
He removed the hand and Edward sent him a dark glare and slouched down in the seat, sulking.
"Anyway," Al prompted.
"Yes, well, it was always interesting to talk to her," Falman said, not fazed in the least by Edward's show of temper. How could he be when Mustang taunted him into it every time the colonel saw Edward? "She was very intelligent, too, and she helped her husband a lot with the theories he came up with – she encouraged him to reach his dream of being a State Alchemist.
"When Nina came along she was so happy. But a year before she left and Tucker became a State Alchemist she started becoming noticeably stressed."
"Stressed?" Edward asked. "What do you mean?"
"She and Tucker were having major arguments regarding the material he was beginning to research as well as his experiments," Falman said. "She didn't want him to be researching and creating chimera."
"Really?" Alphonse said. "So why did he keep doing it?"
"By that point their marriage was strained almost to the point of breaking. Tucker didn't care much what she thought because he had decided he would create a chimera that could understand and speak human language. Elsa hated the idea of chimera, thought it was unnecessarily cruel. One evening, about a week before she left, she had shouted at him in the middle of the street, asking if he would experiment on humans next."
"Experiment on…?" Edward shuddered. "That would be horrible, too. I'm glad he never made it that far."
"Well, he found a way to create the talking chimera," Falman said. "She disappeared the night before the evaluation and Tucker said she had put in for divorce papers and fled to her family."
"Just like that?" Alphonse asked.
"Just like that," Edward said darkly, thinking of his own father, who had just up and left.
"No one knows what became of her," Falman continued. "She seemed to just disappear off the face of the Earth. Part of me wonders… there's no way she would have just left her two-year-old daughter like that because Elsa thought the whole world of Nina. And to be out of contact for two years?
"I do commend her on getting out of that house, however. The arguments had gotten louder and love had been lost somewhere."
Alphonse seemed to be saddened by the story and Edward had to admit he felt a little sad, too, for Elsa and Nina. What had happened to make Elsa run?
And then Tucker had said his wife had died not long after she left. In an accident, he said, an accident that didn't appear to be on the records because otherwise Falman would have known about it. He debated saying something about it to see what Falman's reaction would be, but decided against it.
"Thank you for talking to us," Al said, subdued.
"And for bringing us back to the hotel," Edward added.
"Not a problem," Falman said with a small smile. "You boys keep out of trouble, hear? I would not like to be the one to tell Colonel Mustang that you need to be rescued while we're watching you."
"We'll be fine," Edward assured him.
Falman gave him a piercing look.
"I'm sure you will."
The smile Edward returned was slightly nervous as he slid out of the car. There was no doubt now that Falman suspected that Edward was doing something that could likely get him into trouble.
But how much trouble could he get into, really? It wasn't like he was doing anything dangerous, he was simply digging for information. His curiosity wouldn't let all the questions he had rest, questions that he doubted anyone either could or would answer if he asked. Obviously, though, it was not the best idea to talk to his co-workers, especially if they all decided that he was up to something and needed watching.
No, that would not do at all. He didn't need to be watched, he needed to just be left to do his own thing. He would clear up the mystery and then everything would be fine.
With a confident nod to himself Edward followed his brother into the hotel, never noticing the concerned eyes that watched him long after he had disappeared.
"Warrant Officer Falman," Roy Mustang said seriously from behind his desk. "Did Alphonse and Fullmetal get home alright?"
If the situation he was about to report wasn't so serious Falman might have smiled – here was the aloof Flame Alchemist who generally tried to keep a distance from everyone asking after two boys as if he was a concerned guardian. He supposed he shouldn't be so surprised; Mustang genuinely cared what happened to the two boys and worried if one of them (most usually Edward) got into trouble.
Unfortunately this was going to be one of those times where Mustang was going to be worried for them.
"They're fine," he assured the Colonel and then hesitated, wondering how to broach the subject.
Mustang instantly picked up on the hesitation, frowning. At his shoulder Hawkeye, who had been in the office to deliver some papers, eyed him, knowing that they were about to hear something they probably wouldn't like. Havoc, Breda and Fuery (who were shamelessly eavesdropping) knew it too.
"What is it, Falman?" Mustang asked.
"Major Elric was asking questions about Tucker, sir."
"Asking questions about Tucker?" Mustang frowned. "Why?"
"He was very interested in discussing the chimera he transmuted two years ago, and equally as interested in Elsa Tucker."
This made Mustang sit up straight. This was very curious; why would the Fullmetal Alchemist suddenly be asking questions about that? He frowned heavily.
"What did you tell him?" he asked, unable to get rid of the unease in the pit of his stomach.
"I told him about her and her disappearance," Falman reported. He paused for a moment. "I thought it best that I not tell him what her maiden name was or where she came from. There was something suspicious about his interest."
"When Fullmetal's interested in something it's always suspicious," Mustang muttered before shaking his head. "Good job Warrant Officer. Though I doubt you have done more than delay him awhile; he will work out everything there is to know about Elsa Tucker through other means."
"That time might be all we need to work out what he's up to, sir," Hawkeye pointed out.
"True," said Roy thoughtfully. "I cannot ask Tucker to keep an eye on him, since it is him that Fullmetal is researching. I believe, however, that Fullmetal would not be looking into this unless he has good reason."
The office fell quiet.
"What do you mean, sir?" Hawkeye asked.
"I'm not sure," said Mustang, frowning at his desk. "I ask you all to help me keep an eye on him – I don't think there's much else we can do."
"Yes, sir!" the five officers said, saluting.
"And Breda, Fuery and Havoc… please don't let me catch you eavesdropping again."
After his five subordinates had gone Roy Mustang sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers together, deep in thought. It didn't make sense that Fullmetal would suddenly be interested in Tucker's past. Had something happened recently?
Or perhaps he was just interested about the type of man who had created the suicidal chimera. It had been an amazing feat, true, but Roy felt sorry for the poor creature, even after only hearing the second hand accounts of it.
Mustang sighed. He did not trust Fullmetal to keep himself out of danger, but all he could do was watch from afar and be ready to pull the annoying brat out the moment he got in over his head.
Because there was absolutely no doubt in his mind that he would.