Mustang found himself alone, standing in Shou Tucker's now abandoned study, simply staring at the horrible circle etched into the ground before him. His face was a blank mask, but his mind was whirling with thoughts.
What if they hadn't gotten there in time? They had arrived at the house in order to hear a scream; but not a little girl's as they had been expecting. No, it had been Edward who had been screaming, voicing his agony for them to hear, and the shock at hearing it had made them spring into action and rush past the last few doors.
Mustang had gotten there first. The sight of Edward trapped on the floor, his face contorted in pain as alchemy crackled all around him had been infuriating enough. But it was seeing Tucker kneeling beside the boy and laughing that had made the usually calm colonel lose it. He was surprised he had had enough reign on his temper to not fry Tucker to a crisp on the first click.
The second click likely would have done it had the sudden sound of silence not permeated the room. Mustang's attention had instantly turned to Edward, who was lying limply in the middle of the room next to the dog, both of them looking half way dead.
It had been close, far too close. In that one instant they could have lost Edward Elric. Alphonse would have lost a brother, the Rockbells could have lost part of their family... Mustang and his team could have lost a subordinate/superior/brat of a co-worker/friend.
They could have lost him.
For a horrible moment Mustang had been afraid that they had. Edward had been unresponsive to his calls, his breathing had been shallower than normal, his face had been so pale. So many times Mustang had watched someone die, but he hadn't been prepared to see Edward dying before him.
It was times like these that he regretted ever leading the kid to the military. Anything that happened to him would be Mustang's fault. No one would blame him, expect a few, but Mustang would blame himself.
On the other hand he could keep an eye on the boy, too, making sure he didn't get missions that could lead to death, giving him missions that Edward could do without making it seem like he was going easy on him.
Slowly Mustang scuffed the edge of the circle with the toe of his boot, watching as the line faded ever so slightly. Whatever Tucker had drawn it with had been designed to stay for awhile, so it definitely wasn't chalk.
This must have been planned in advance. Tucker had known Edward was going to come here, he had said so himself as he had been taken away. He had known and he had set up a trap that the boy had walked straight into.
Mustang was really going to have to talk to him about priorities. When you find a psychotic murderer you report them, not run straight into their clutches.
Then again... would any of them have done something different in this case? The life of a little girl could have been on the line here. If Nina had still been there and Edward had never shown up she could have been the key ingredient.
Still, a simple phone call would have taken two seconds, and the back-up would have been there in five minutes, long before Tucker knocked Edward down the stairs (Tucker had admitted that, and they had found blood on the stairs where the alchemist had likely hit his head hard). None of this would have happened and Tucker would never have even had a chance to try and create a chimera.
Evidently Edward had panicked, which was somewhat surprising. While not the most level-headed kid in the world, Edward had always been calm in the face of danger. In the face of a murderer, however, he had completely lost his head and his mind had gone on one track – in this case, 'Save Nina'.
Nina was going to have to go to her grandparents. She had been picked up from her friend's house an hour ago and she had been inconsolable ever since, despite not fully understanding what had happened. Alexander (reports were showing that there were some signs of very unusual intelligence from the dog) had been checked over quickly by the vet and instantly taken to her side. Tomorrow Sanden Rein would arrive to take her back with him.
It was sad that Nina had yet again lost a parent, and she barely knew the truth of either disappearance. One day she would have to be told, but for now...
With a frustrated sigh Mustang turned his back on the circle, cursing it for even being there.
"It could have been worse, you know."
Mustang looked up to see Maes Hughes standing in the doorway, his ready grin absent as he surveyed the study with a grim look, his eyes lingering on the circle on the floor. Mustang sighed wearily.
"I know," he said tightly.
"But it wasn't," Hughes continued. "In fact the doctors said he was completely fine except a few bumps and bruises... not even a concussion."
"Did you get his story?"
"Yeah, apparently Tucker surprised him after Ed thought he'd knocked him down. Tucker hit him with something and the next thing Ed remembers is waking up in the study not that long before we arrived."
"Fullmetal's lucky he wasn't killed."
"True." Hughes grinned suddenly. "He's on his way here."
"The hospital released him?" Mustang asked sharply.
"As I said, there's nothing wrong with him. Hawkeye's bringing him and Al. Ed's in a right mood, though; Al won't stop hovering, it seems, and it's making Edward snappy."
A snappy Edward who had almost been killed recently and had just gotten out of hospital was not someone Mustang wanted to deal with. However he needed to see with his own two eyes that the kid was fine.
Perhaps Hawkeye and Hughes had organised to bring Edward back here for that very reason, though Mustang knew neither of them would actually admit to it.
"I was hoping to remove the circle," he said after a moment of silence. "But it doesn't budge."
"Not chalk then?"
"It would have rubbed away where Fullmetal was if it was chalk."
"Good point. Do you think Ed will be okay?"
The sudden change in subject startled Mustang for a moment. And he realised, in that moment, that this was the real reason the man had come here. He knew this was where Edward was heading and he, too, needed to see that the boy was okay.
"He'll be fine," Mustang answered, projecting confidence into his words that he wasn't entirely sure he felt.
Edward stared at the front door of the house that, only yesterday, he had nearly... well, he wasn't entirely sure he would have died, nor did he know that he would have completely lost himself in the transmutation. But something bad would have happened to him.
It was enough to make him wish he never had to see this house again.
Unfortunately, this was where his superior officer happened to be at the moment, and said superior officer had requested his presence, likely to hear his story firsthand and then berate him for almost getting killed. Edward scowled and crossed his arms as Hawkeye went ahead, walking toward the door and opening it when she got there.
"Colonel Mustang is in the study," she said, looking back at Edward.
Of all the places Edward didn't want to be. Still, it would be best to get this over and done with, so he straightened his back and nodded cautiously, conscious of the wound still on his head.
"Right," he said.
The house had an eerie feel to it now. Perhaps it was knowing, now, about the murder that had been committed here, and remembering what had almost happened to him here. Edward found himself treading carefully and tensing as they walked toward the study where they could see Hughes standing in the doorway.
At the sound of their approach Hughes leaned back a little and grinned when he saw it was them. He gave them a mock salute.
"Hey, Ed, Al, Hawkeye," he said. "Good to see you up and about, Edward. Mustang's just in here."
Edward just gave him a weak smile, not even able to come up with a customary reply or a snide retort about Mustang's presence. Slowly he stepped past Hughes and into the room, refusing to allow his eyes to go to the circle that had almost transmuted him.
"Fullmetal," Mustang said, instantly catching his attention. He was standing next to the circle, his hands behind his back and a strangely intense look in his eyes. "You're out of hospital."
Edward had the uncomfortable feeling that his superior's eyes were looking particularly at the bandage wrapped around his head as he said this. He had sustained a few wounds to his head and the doctors had been satisfied with nothing less than a tight bandage before letting him go.
"Nii-san drove them crazy so they let him go," Alphonse said from right behind Edward, making him jump slightly.
"Al!" Edward cried. "They said there was nothing wrong with me. There was no point staying!"
"The point is usually to make sure you don't have a relapse," Hughes pointed out cheerfully from the doorway, well out of Edward's reach at the moment.
"Well, that aside, Hughes mentioned he had already asked you what happened?" Mustang said dismissively.
"Yeah. Not there was much to tell."
"Then I just want to tell you that what you did yesterday was dangerous." Mustang's level look turned into a glare. "What were you thinking coming here when you knew there was a murderer here?"
"I was trying to save a little girl," Edward snapped back.
"Who wasn't even here."
"She could have been!"
"The point is, Fullmetal, that you could have been killed. You were lucky we showed up when we did."
Edward scowled, hating the reminder that he had needed their help. It was so rare that he got into a situation that he couldn't get himself out of, and yesterday definitely hadn't been one of his better moments.
"Yeah... thanks for that," he muttered.
Strangely these words seemed to make Mustang just sigh in exasperation. It suddenly struck Edward how parental Mustang was being at that moment, telling him off for pulling a dangerous stunt and sighing in that 'what-will-I-do-with-you' way. Edward couldn't decide if he wanted to enjoy it just a little or hit the man for daring.
Luckily for Mustang Hughes spoke up before he could make a decision.
"I need to go," he said. "I'm heading over to talk to Tucker; luckily he isn't that far away. We might finally get the full truth of what happened two years ago."
"Mr Rein would like that," Edward murmured.
"We're keeping in contact with him," Hughes assured the boy. "He said to send along his sincerest thanks and he hopes you weren't hurt too badly."
"Thanks," said Edward.
With a wave Hughes was gone, leaving Hawkeye to remain by her post by the door.
"Are you okay, nii-san?" Alphonse asked. "Do you want to go back to the hotel now?"
"Al, I'm fine," Edward stressed. "Even the doctors said there was nothing wrong with me, okay?"
"The failed transmutation didn't do anything?" Mustang interrupted.
"It doesn't seem like it," Edward said, frowning. "Which I'm glad about; my mind would have been the first thing to go, so the fact that that is unaffected means there shouldn't be any other problems."
"You mind?" Mustang asked. "How do you mean?"
"From what I understand of chimera creation, it involves the bonding of two creatures' body and mind in order to create one being," Edward explained, his eyes becoming slightly unfocused as he thought about what he was trying to say. "The alchemy in the transmutation does this by first creating a link to the mind and fusing them as one before dragging the bodies along with it, eventually fusing them. If done right the transmutation would have ended up with me still being myself, but also, on some level, being Alexander. I don't think Tucker was doing it right however... I don't know if anyone ever has done it right."
"This process... it was painful?" Mustang asked with a frown, remembering Edward's screams.
"Very," Edward said seriously. "A link was already being formed in those few seconds that the alchemy was active." He chanced a glance at the transmutation circle, noticing that part of it had been burnt away. There was no questioning who had done it. "Any longer and it would have been too late for my mind."
"So, you would still be in your bodies... but it would be one mind in two separate entities?" Alphonse asked, trying to understanding.
"Sort of, it would be more that it would be as though I traded half my mind for half of Alexander's," Edward said, thinking about it. "Who would be able to tell what it would have done to both of us?"
Alphonse nodded slowly. It was strange to see the brothers able to put aside their horror of what had been done in this very room and talk about what had almost happened to Edward in calm, scientific terms. Mustang's stomach was churning just thinking about what could have happened here, and from the small twitch of her face Hawkeye felt the same.
"How's Nina?" Edward asked suddenly, coming out of his world of science and academics to the reality of what was happening to the people around him. "Is she okay?"
"Fuery picked her up and told her a little of what happened," Hawkeye said. "She's very upset, but she's fine otherwise. Tucker didn't even make an attempt to use her in the transmutation."
"That's one good thing about all this," Alphonse sighed.
"Hughes is going to find out everything Tucker knows, and then he's going to go to jail for a very long time," Mustang said grimly. "He is being accused of murder as well as the assault and attempted murder of a military officer. Those two alone are enough to send him away for life."
"I'm sad for Nina, but I'm glad of that," Alphonse said before Edward could say anything. "At least nothing like this can happen again."
"Where's Nina going to go now?" Edward asked.
"Sanden Rein and his wife will take her in," Hawkeye assured him. "For the first time Nina will meet the rest of her family and perhaps hear more stories about her mother."
For long moments the four stood in silence. Edward found his eyes being drawn to the transmutation circle on the ground and he simply stared at it, trying to force away the pain and horror he had felt while lying in the middle of it. It was over, he had been saved, there was nothing to worry about anymore...
Except that the circle was still there.
All of a sudden he wanted it destroyed. There were signs that people had tried, but it hadn't been erased, it only needed to be completed again and it would be back. The urge was so great that Edward couldn't fight it. It had to go!
He was barely aware of clapping his hands and dropping to the ground suddenly, causing his three companions to jump. He slammed his hands to the ground and the concrete beneath them rumbled angrily and shifted.
"Fullmetal, what are you doing?" Mustang shouted, hurriedly getting to the door.
Edward gritted his teeth and ignored him. Cracks appeared in the floor and books fell off the shelves, and suddenly the concrete was breaking up, smashing itself into little bits and then crushing into a fine dust that no one would have any hope of ever putting back together again.
Finally it was done. Edward sat back on his heels and surveyed his handiwork; the concrete floor was now ragged instead of smooth as it once had been and the floor was covered in white powder that shifted and moved from the slight breeze coming in from the door.
Most importantly, however, the transmutation circle was completely gone.
"Nii-san, I'm sure there were better ways to get rid of it," Alphonse protested weakly, though it was a little late for that.
"It was the first way I could think of," Edward replied calmly with a dismissive shrug, keeping his back firmly turned to them so that they couldn't see the tightness in his face that would betray exactly what he was feeling right now. He was so relieved it was gone... "It worked didn't it?"
After a moment he sighed and stood up, stretching unnecessarily.
"Was there anything else you wanted us for?" he asked Mustang, who was looking at him intently again. Edward shifted uncomfortably.
"No," Mustang said finally. "Take tomorrow off as well. We'll finish up here. Did you want to take any of the books from Tucker's library?"
Edward hesitated. Did he?
"No," Alphonse said before Edward could come to a decision, knowing his older brother well enough to know what was going through his head. "We'll look elsewhere."
"Alright," Mustang said. "Go straight back to the hotel."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Edward said dismissively, rolling his eyes. "We'll be fine." He glared. "But why did you have to call us out here when it was raining?"
"It started as we got here," Hawkeye explained helpfully. "It's probably still going."
"Well, I suggest you walk quickly," Mustang said, lips twitching in a smirk.
Edward glared and growled.
But it wasn't a normal growl of annoyance. Edward's lips pulled back slightly and bared his teeth in a snarl, and the growl was animalistic, rumbling deep in the boy's throat in a way that Mustang had never heard him do. Suddenly, as though realising what he was doing, Edward slapped his hands over his mouth, ceasing instantly.
"Damn it, not again!" he cursed.
Mustang blinked. That had sounded like... no, it couldn't be. But then, the reports did say that Alexander was showing intelligence that far surpassed what he should be showing. What did they mean by that?
Could it be possible, after all, that neither Edward nor Alexander came out of the failed transmutation as unscathed as they had thought?
"What?" Edward snapped, glaring at him. "It's probably just an after effect of being linked temporarily to Alexander. It will go away, I'm sure of it."
Would it? Mustang slowly nodded in acceptance. Edward wasn't a chimera, that much was clear, he was still human and Alexander was still a dog. There was nothing wrong with them, except the dog showing startling intelligence and now Edward showing slightly dog-like behaviours.
Just an after effect, that was all.
"Very well," Mustang said, straightening. "I expect to see you in my office the day after tomorrow, Fullmetal."
"Sure," Edward said, already on his way out the door. "See you."
"Bye," Alphonse said moments before his older brother pulled him from the room.
They disappeared quickly, leaving Mustang and Hawkeye to stare at the place they had just been. Mustang frowned thoughtfully, looking back at where the transmutation circle had once been.
"Just an after effect?" Hawkeye asked, repeating Mustang's thoughts.
"Fullmetal isn't a chimera."
"No... but something did happen here."
"Just what was it?" Mustang frowned heavily. If Edward began showing unusual symptoms that could relate to this transmutation... "This needs to be kept secret, no one can know about Fullmetal's involvement in this."
It would be difficult to keep this under wraps, but the public need only know that a young boy had been involved. And no one but those investigating this case and perhaps the Fuhrer needed to know it was actually Edward. The files that had his name on them would have to be put away in a place no one would find them.
Mustang's thoughts were cut off as Hawkeye's transmitter crackled suddenly and she quickly took it off her belt and pressed the button.
"Hawkeye," she said sharply.
"Hawkeye, thank god, is Roy there with you?"
"I'm here," Mustang said, striding across the room and moving closer to the transmitter upon recognising his best friend's voice. "What happened?"
"You'll never believe this... but I arrived to interrogate Tucker only to find that he's dead."
"Dead?" Mustang asked, taking the transmitter. "How? He was being guarded!"
"The guards were found dead too, killed in exactly the same way. There's no doubt about it; this is the work of Scar."
"Who is Scar?" Hawkeye asked.
"You might have heard of him... he's the State Alchemist killer. No one knows his real name so we just call him Scar. He killed Brigadier General Grand, the Iron Blood Alchemist, the other day, though don't spread that around."
"He killed Gran?" Mustang asked, shocked. "What weapons does he use?"
"We have absolutely no idea. We don't know who he is, what he uses or why he's killing State Alchemists. All we know about him is that he has a large scar on his forehead. He's going after any State Alchemists he can find, and he's in this city. Increase your guard, Mustang."
Mustang frowned, and then a thought occurred to him, causing him to nearly drop the transmitter. Hawkeye quickly caught it.
"Sir?" she asked.
"The Elrics!" Mustang said. "The just left!" He grabbed the transmitter. "Hughes, deploy the cars and have them head out to the main road! The Elrics just left here by themselves!"
Hughes' curse was cut off as he turned off his transmitter. Mustang turned to Hawkeye, his stomach tight with worry.
As soldiers got into cars and Mustang and Hawkeye left the Tucker estate as fast as possible the Elric brothers ran through the rain. Barely watching where they were going they ran through a courtyard and approached a large stone fountain, unaware of the large, dark shadow looming ahead of them.
The file was clutched in a hand that trembled ever so slightly in excitement. It was worth it, in the end, to be in investigations if information like this would come along.
No one knew, no one would ever suspect, what significance the events at the Tucker residence held to him. And he would be one of the few that knew the truth and would be able to act on it.
Slowly he began to grin as he did as he had been asked and tucked the file away in a place no one would ever find it. It would take some time and thought, but the damage had already been done. He knew... and one day Tucker's research on chimera would become obsolete in light of this new information.
No one else would ever know... until it was too late.