Ed's rude wake-up call.
Edward Elric merely let out a small groan and turned to his side. "Go away, Al. It's the only day off I've got before we see Dr. Marcoh," he mumbled, and he was soon snoring again.
"But, Brother, Lieutenant Hawkeye is at the door waiting for you!" Al insisted.
That certainly woke up Ed. He instantly sat up, surprised. "What?!" He jumped out of bed and looked through the crack of the open door. Lieutenant Hawkeye was really there, standing in the centre of the living room and checking her watch impatiently.
"Damn it!" Ed exclaimed in a hiss, and quickly started donning his shirt and trousers. "I could've sworn it was my day off! Mustang won't give me a moment's peace after this, and he'll have every right for a change!" He caught his hair with the intention of tying it into a braid to find out he was too nervous for such a task. He groaned irritably.
"Brother, let me help..." Al offered.
"No! Screw it; I'll tie it in the car!" Ed declared, and rushed outside to meet Hawkeye. "Lieutenant Hawkeye, I'm sorry, but I thought it was my day off! Is the Colonel too upset?" he said in one breath.
Hawkeye just raised her eyebrow in curiosity at the sight of the dishevelled-haired, slightly panting alchemist.
"I was actually just about to apologise myself for coming to tell you that your day off's been revoked by the Colonel," she said in all seriousness. "He's expecting you at Headquarters."
The nervousness Ed had felt up to that moment was instantly replaced with annoyance.
"What happened? Did he miss my company?" he asked sarcastically, taking out his indignation on his hair as he started tying it into a braid once again.
"I'm afraid it's not my place to say, Edward," answered Hawkeye, as always not sharing the humour. "All I can tell you is that you and your brother are expected at Headquarters where you will be debriefed. And, before you decide to take your time," she added, "I feel I should tell you that the matter is important."
Ed sobered at once. He exchanged a glance with Al, who was standing right behind him; then nodded.
"All right. We're ready to go."
A quarter of an hour later, Ed was knocking at the door of Roy's office. As soon as he heard the colonel's familiar and commanding "Enter!", he walked in, followed by an apprehensive Alphonse.
Colonel Roy Mustang was standing by the window behind his desk, looking outside as though lost in thought, and he wasn't alone. Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes was also in the room, sitting on the couch, his gaze sharp as always even behind the glasses he wore.
Though Maes welcomed the Elric brothers with a small smile and a nod, Roy wasn't as cordial.
"It was high time you arrived, Fullmetal," he said, turning to face the newcomers. "The world doesn't stop moving to wait for you, you know."
"Nice to see you too, Colonel," said Ed with a grim smirk and sat on the couch, next to Al. "Lieutenant Hawkeye said you wanted to see me."
"I did." Roy sat behind his desk, his hands tracing the file that rested on it. "But I think I'll let Hughes start with the talking before saying anything myself." And with no other word, he nodded at Maes.
Understanding that that was his cue to proceed, Maes stood up and took the file from Roy's hand; then turned to the brothers.
"In these last couple of months there have been a series of murders which have been puzzling the military." He showed Ed and Alphonse five pictures of women. "Two of them were soldiers, and all five of them were stabbed to death. Witnesses say that lately they've been seeing an armoured man circulating in the area. Does the description sound familiar?"
Ed didn't answer, but it was clear it did.
"The only armoured person is me," Al said, his fingers twitching nervously.
"Al, don't even think about it!" Ed chided his brother at once. "You were with me at all hours! There's nothing against you!"
Roy shook his head. "Alphonse has every reason to be afraid, Fullmetal. When the public wishes for answers, the military is forced to come up with some - at all costs."
Ed immediately jumped out of his seat and banged his fists on Roy's desk.
"Well, the military should move its ass and find answers instead of making them up! Al is innocent!"
"Sit down, Fullmetal!" Roy shouted in wrath, also standing up. Their angry faces were so close now that their noses almost touched.
"Brother..." Al started lamely.
"Ed, you didn't hear the whole story," Maes said calmly. He then turned to Colonel Mustang, clasping his best friend's shoulder. "You know you haven't said everything yet, Roy. Don't you think you should?"
Neither Ed nor Roy seemed ready to give in for many moments, yet they finally relented. They both sat down grudgingly.
"Like I said," Roy continued, trying to rid himself of the last traces of anger, "when the military is forced to give answers, the military has to find them wherever it can. If it served its purposes, it would lay charges against Al." He sighed, yet there was a tone of relief in his next words. "But your brother was lucky this time. Brigadier General Connors graced us with the honour of arresting another suspect." He grabbed a photograph from his desk and threw it at Ed's direction.
Ed caught the photograph in mid-air, his automail proving precise in its movement. He looked at the photograph and he wondered to see that it was a man, possibly in his early thirties, his dark hair reaching his jawline, and his green-hazel eyes seeming as though dead as they stared at nothing. Moreover, it was a soldier's hand that had forced the man to face at the camera for the picture to be taken; Ed could see the fingers clearly. That struck to the young alchemist as odd.
"When that person was found, he also was wearing armour and he was covered in blood. What's more, another woman was found dead this morning - stabbed."
"Seems to me like Brigadier General Connors found the man," Ed noted coolly.
Roy smirked. "And I'd agree with you for once, Fullmetal, but Hughes and Havoc have convinced me otherwise."
"How?" asked Ed, surprised. He looked at Maes.
"It was Havoc who found him," Maes said, answering the young alchemist's look. "He hit him with his car while driving back to his home and brought him here after he was forced to shoot him. And instead of getting treatment as Havoc had intended, the man was arrested by Connors and charged with murder."
"That's what we're supposed to do, isn't it?" asked Ed. "Find the guilty ones of crime and arrest them?"
"Perhaps, but Havoc feels pretty bad for dragging the man in this situation. You see, he's certain that the guy is innocent. And I believe him. After all, don't forget that Havoc shot him and the blood could as well be his. There's something else too."
"The profile that we've come up with on the murderer presented someone overconfident, disrespectful of authority, without any sense of distinction between good and evil; a person who, no matter what, just tries to amuse himself in any way possible."
Maes picked up the picture and looked at it, thoughtfully; then gave it back to Ed.
"Now this one is anything but all that. He's afraid to so much as move; he looks confused and frightened at every man and everything that seems to be close to him, cowering like a dog that's afraid its master is going to hurt him; he jumps at every loud sound..."
"In other words, Fullmetal, this guy is scared to death even to see his own shadow," intervened Roy.
Maes nodded. He motioned his head at the photograph. "The moment that this picture was taken, he collapsed on the ground, trembling and covering his eyes."
Ed raised an eyebrow of curiosity. "But still, didn't anyone try to talk to him, to get his side of the story?"
"I did. Personally," Maes said. "He's not talking. Not that it would make too much of a difference anyway."
Roy smiled grimly. "Because, according to Havoc, who has heard him talking, the sounds he lets out can be described as anything but comprehensive speech."
Maes sighed. "I'm sure that's what is going on in that guy's mind as well. That's why he didn't stop when Havoc told him not to run off." He turned again to Ed. "To that guy's mind, what he says is speech. It's us who can't understand what he's saying," he said solemnly. "At least, that's what the doctor said."
"So what you're both saying is that the military is ready to put in jail someone who doesn't have the mentality to defend himself, just to appease public opinion?" asked Ed, looking hard at Maes and Roy.
"If the real murderer isn't found soon... yes," said Maes.
"But that's unfair!" exclaimed Al, horrified.
"You can't do that!" seconded Ed, springing up and facing Roy furiously again.
"I don't intend to, Fullmetal. That's why I asked you to come here," said Roy calmly.
Ed blinked, not really understanding.
"If we're to find the real murderer, every man available in the team will have to get out onto the streets and start investigating. And that includes you," explained Roy.
"Oh... All right. Then tell us where we're to go," said Ed.
"'We'?" echoed Roy, raising an eyebrow.
"Alphonse and I, of course."
Surprisingly enough, Roy shook his head. "Your brother can't be with you on this."
"What?!" exclaimed both brothers at once. "Why not?!"
"Because, Al, you'll be with me and Havoc if you'll have it," answered Maes for Roy.
Al tensed up, his curiosity piqued. "What am I to do?"
Hughes only smiled. "Before telling you anything more, I think we should all go to the hospital first."
"To the hospital?" asked Ed. "What for?"
"That's where our 'friend' is until his wounds are taken care of," said Roy.
The guard by the door of the hospital room instantly straightened his glasses and pulled his shoulders back upon seeing Colonel Mustang, accompanied by Maes Hughes, the Elric brothers and Riza Hawkeye. "Sir!"
"At ease, Fuery," said Roy with a small wave of his hand. "Anything new to report?"
"The doctor came in to examine the suspect an hour ago. Havoc will be able to tell you of his conclusions though; it was he who talked to him."
"Very well," Roy said; then, smiling a bit, patted Fuery's shoulder. "Go get yourself something from the canteen. Lieutenant Hawkeye can relieve you while we're here."
"Thank you, sir," said Fuery and, with a brief salute, he left, leaving Riza to take his place. As soon as she took position by the door, her hand resting on her gun, the rest went inside.
Havoc was sitting on a chair, a cup of tea in his hand and a newspaper in his other. Even though he was tired, it was clear that he was glad to see familiar faces walking through the door, because he smiled when he saluted.
However, there was no reaction from the other occupant of the room, who kept staring in the void, his hands resting loosely on his lap.
Maes looked at the man, his eyes widening in surprise. "Lieutenant Havoc... that's how I left him more than three hours ago!"
Havoc nodded, sighing. "And he hasn't moved an inch since. I had to hold him upright while the doctor examined him."
"So it's safe to assume that he hasn't talked either?" asked Roy.
Another nod. "The doctor said that there's nothing physically wrong with him. In fact, with the exception of several nasty bruises on his torso and the bullet wound on his shoulder, he's one of the healthiest people he's ever examined. But it seems like he's... well, shut himself down seems the best way to describe it."
"A mental breakdown then?" asked Ed. Before he could help himself, he poked at the man curiously with his flesh hand, watching closely for any kind of reaction.
There was none.
"I suppose one could consider it a mercy," noted Roy thoughtfully. "He's not aware in what kind of trouble he is."
"But it'll make things more difficult for us," said Maes with a sigh.
"In what way?" asked Ed again.
"Even if he's proven innocent of those women's murders, he still has plenty of explaining to do. For example, who he is, or why he was circulating in the dead of night in armour."
"I think the answer is obvious to that last one," said Havoc. "He's rather... eccentric, to put it mildly."
Maes shook his head. "Maybe, maybe not. To know for sure, we've got to find a way to get through to him somehow." Maes turned to Al. "And now we've come to what I've been meaning to ask you, Alphonse."
Al's eyes flashed brilliantly. "Yes, sir?"
"Lieutenant Havoc and I have decided to take turns in staying with him, in the hopes that he'll learn to trust and perhaps open up to us. That will also serve one more purpose. Should another woman be murdered in the meantime, this one has an alibi and gets acquitted.
"Yet, we also don't want to take any chances of you being accused either. So we believe it'll be in your best interest if you also helped us in that task. The catch is that you'll have to stay here at all times, where Havoc and I can keep an eye on you, and also the nurses and the doctors can see you," Maes explained. "That gives you an alibi, too."
Al didn't speak for several moments. He simply turned towards his brother. "Ed..."
"It's completely up to you, Al," Ed said at once. "You're a civilian, so no one can force you to do anything. I can only tell you that Hughes' reasoning holds water, and I want you to be safe."
"But... I don't know what I can do here," said Al, shaking his head.
Ed smiled broadly. "Don't worry about it. I will come whenever my own duties finish and stay with you for several hours to help out. How does that sound?"
Al bowed his head, clearly thinking; then looked at the man, who kept staring at empty space.
"I guess it could be me in his position. And I'd certainly want someone to be with me if that happened," he said in the end. "I'll do it."
That was certainly received gladly by the others. "You've made the right decision, Alphonse," Roy said with a small encouraging smile. And with that, they all started making arrangements. Havoc would come by in the mornings, whereas Hughes would visit in the afternoons; as for Ed, he would come over in the evenings, and they all would report on Roy, who would in the meantime supervise the investigation of the women's murders.
None of them noticed that, while they were deep in conversation, the man was staring at them continuously, studying them. And they never saw him looking straight ahead again when Ed cast a brief glance at him, just before walking out with Mustang and Hughes.