Mother's voice woke him. He blinked once, twice, adjusting his eyes in the darkness of the room; then pushed back the blankets of his bed and arose to a sitting position.
"B'othe'?" he called softly.
But his brother was next to him, still sleeping. That also meant that Mother wasn't in their room. Then where was she?
He heard it again. And he was now sure that Mother was calling someone. But it wasn't that that made his heart skip a beat.
It was the fright and concern in that voice.
He instantly jumped out of bed, not minding the cold air that came in contact with his skin, and padded at the best of his ability towards the door. It was a good thing that he was afraid of the dark and had insisted on his parents leaving the big oak door slightly ajar at night. It made it easier for him now to pull it open and go outside.
He looked first to his left, then to his right. Still no sign of Mother.
Perhaps if he went downstairs?
And then he heard Father's voice. To the toddler's surprise, it was carrying a tone that he never thought he'd hear in his life.
Father sounded... worried.
That seemed impossible. Father always worked out everything, knew everything and nothing disturbed him. So the boy decided he had to investigate further. Using the wall as a support to walk, he found himself at the top of the stairs.
He felt dizzy to see just how big those stairs were and, normally, he would have called for someone to help him downstairs. But something in his little heart warned him against it. So, he simply gritted his teeth, grabbed with both chubby hands the rail, and started going down, one uncertain step at a time.
He could hear the voices clearly, but he couldn't understand what they were saying. Nevertheless, he was sure that something bad was happening, and that puzzled him even more.
And then, as he entered the living room, he saw it. Father was hunched over someone sleeping on the couch; he could see that, even though Mother was unwittingly standing in front of him, her back to him. And the boy became even more confused as he realised Father was patting the sleeping form on the face.
"Damn it, don't give up now! Wake up!"
But, apparently, there was no response, because then Father suddenly turned at Mother.
"Call the Rockbells! Now!"
Mother made a motion as a nod and turned to leave... and saw him. The toddler flinched at the expression reflected in her face.
It was anxiety and shock.
"Mom? What's going on?"
Mother just picked him up. "Not now, sweetheart..." she said softly.
"Trisha! Hurry!" Father cried out.
The toddler tried to understand what was going on, he really did. But when Mother picked him up, he looked over her shoulder and caught a good glimpse of the form on the couch.
/ It was/> him.
And his face wasn't the right colour at all.
It was then that Ed woke up with astart. He blinked, trying to straighten his mind - then remembered where he was. He let out a small groan, and rubbed his forehead in frustration.
What the hell was that?
"Brother? What's wrong?"
Ed turned and saw Alphonse in the corner of the room, now looking at him in what could only be described as aquizzical manner.
But, even though Ed really wanted to tell Alphonse about it, he wasn't sure if his brother would understand. After all, Ed wasn't sure if he understood. What he saw felt like a dream -yet another part told Ed that it was too real to have actually been a dream.
And so, there was only one answer Ed could come up with.
"Nothing." Then lied down again and closed his eyes.
Unbeknownst to him, Alphonse's gaze was locked intently on him.
"I didn't expect this turn of events," Roy said, more to himself than to Lieutenant Hawkeye, who was sitting in the co-driver's seat next to him. "What made Connors turn to Syndow all of a sudden?"
"It wasn't because any of us talked, that is for certain," Riza commented thoughtfully.
"I know that, Lieutenant; I never doubted it," Roy answered, his eyes still locked on the road as he drove on. "Hopefully Breda, Falman and Fuery will be able to fish out something useful from Connors' men."
"Yes, sir," Riza said.
However, Roy sensed that there was something troubling the woman. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Will Professor Syndow really tell of his conversation with Sergeant Beregond?" she said. "The professor must have understood the delicacy of the situation."
Roy sighed. "If he will say anything, Idon't believe it will be willingly. Nevertheless, we should still be careful."
"Do you think Brigadier General Connors will be able to connect Syndow to Thornlace?"
"Connors, as much as I hate to admit it, is a clever man. So yes, I believe he will. That's why we have to keep ourselves a step ahead of him." And with that, Roy parked outside the building in which Dr. Thornlace's office was. In a matter of moments, he was knocking at the door, Riza next to him and on the lookout for anything unusual.
"Damn it!" Roy hissed under his breath."At a time like this..."
Roy didn't finish his sentence because, at that moment, the sound of another door opening made both him and Riza turn. Awoman was standing at the threshold of the apartment across the hall, looking at both of them warily.
"Excuse me," she said. "Can I help you?"
Now if there was anything that Roy knew very well except his Flame Alchemy, was how to talk smoothly to someone of the opposite sex. So, without losing a beat and assuming the most innocent possible expression, he scratched the back of his head in a somewhat embarrassed manner.
"Oh... pardon me. Had I realised that someone would be in this apartment, I wouldn't have been so loud. Did I wake you up?"
The woman's expression softened at once. "Well, no. I was... already up."
"Nevertheless, it was quite inconsiderate of me," Roy said at once, bowing his head slightly. "I hope your husband didn't mind too much."
The woman blushed at once. "I'm not married."
"Oh?" Roy flashed his most charming smile. "In that case, I don't really regret my lack of discretion. Is that all right?"
And the woman giggled.
Riza just sighed inwardly.
Her commanding officer was just impossible at times.
"Any luck?" Falman asked Breda as he walked inside the Colonel's office to find the warrant officer already there.
"No. Connors' men either don't know anything, or they've seen through my attempts to get the information from them," Breda answered. "What about you?"
"Not all that much. From what Igathered from the Brigadier General's escort, Connors just got a phone-call practically in the middle of the night - he said he clearly heard it ringing -and then, just like that, Connors started barking out orders to take him to Professor Syndow's house."
"Hmm. By the looks of it, somebody must have tipped him off."
"But who?" Falman wondered. "We're the only ones who knew about Syndow."
"True," Breda said, crossing his arms and frowning in thought. "Maybe you and Beregond were followed."
Falman shook his head. "I didn't see anything and neither did Beregond. And we would have certainly have noticed if another car was tailing us whenever Havoc would drive us at Syndow's estate."
"Intriguing, I must say," said another man's voice. It was Roy Mustang, and he was now entering the room, followed by Lieutenant Hawkeye. "Nevertheless, somebody did draw attention to Syndow, and we need to know why."
"Sir!" Breda and Falman said, saluting."Did you find Dr. Thornlace?" the warrant officer asked next.
"No," Roy said with a shake of his head. "The doctor has gone to West City on a conference and he will be gone for a month. The neighbour across the hall of his floor was kind enough to tell me so."
"That works to our advantage," Breda noted. "He's gone out of Connors' reach if he decides to talk to him."
"Not really," Roy said. "Psychologists always keep a record of their meetings with their patients; preferably an audio tape. The sergeant's meeting was no exception."
Falman and Breda winced. "If Connors finds the tape..." Falman started.
At that moment, however, Riza drew out of the inner pocket of her uniform a reel with magnetic tape on it and handed it to Roy.
"Let's just say that, while the good neighbour was offering me a cup of tea, Lieutenant Hawkeye kept herself busy otherwise," Roy said, putting on one of his pyrotex gloves. "Hairclips are quite useful for unlocking doors; always keep that in mind, gentlemen." A snap later, and the reel had become a pile of ashes. "If this doesn't end Connors'search, it will at least slow it down considerably."
Falman shook his head. "Connors could still have Beregond interrogated to determine Syndow's connection to him."
Roy smirked. "Sergeant Beregond isn't presently at Eastern Headquarters. He has been sent away on a most important, /confidential/mission and the time or day of his return isn't certain."
Breda grinned as he caught on. "So he's gone to find the Elric Brothers, hasn't he? And judging by Havoc's absence, he's not alone in his trip."
Roy nodded. "Of course Fawcette is still in Central, but that is currently the least of our concerns. Havoc will keep an eye on things so nothing goes wrong, and I gave him instructions to ask Hughes to do the same thing." He went up to his office and sat down, placing his elbows on the desk and knitting his fingers together. "Now, all we have to do is keep a careful watch and make sure we'll never face such a close call again."
It was then that the door opened, but there was no reason for alarm. It was only Sergeant Major Fuery, accompanied by Hayate. Breda took a few steps back, keeping his eyes on the canine.
"Sorry for being late, Sir," Fuery said, saluting.
"No problem. What did you find?" Roy asked, eyes locked on the young soldier.
"Sir, it's been circulating that Brigadier General Connors received a telephone call early in the morning which mobilised him to such actions."
"Yes, Warrant Officer Falman gave that same bit of information a few minutes ago."
"But that's not all, Sir. As I was returning here, Hayate escaped from the leash and, upon retrieving him, Ioverheard a couple of soldiers talking. They had orders to escort Professor Syndow to Central."
Everyone was certainly puzzled at this.
"Who would want Professor Syndow in Central?" Riza spoke, her wonder evident in her voice.
Roy crossed his arms and frowned. "Whoever they are, they must have some damn good reasons to want such a thing at this time." Roy would have to make a phone-call to Hughes as soon as possible. And he now regretted sending Beregond to Central, because now it felt like he was sending him into the lion's den.
He could only hope that luck would be on their side.
Connors was sitting on his desk, tapping absentmindedly his pen on the wooden surface in a slow, monotone rhythm as one thought after the other started piling in his mind. He was quite troubled, more than he cared to admit to himself, in fact.
After all, it was no small matter realising that perhaps the Führer was interested in that strange man who practically came out of nowhere more than half a year ago.
"Do you know why you are here?" Connors asked Syndow. The professor was sitting in a chair in front of the brigadier general, looking quite serene and undaunted by his surroundings.
"I was hoping you would tell me,"Syndow answered simply.
"I do know that your presence is requested in Central by the Führer himself. Yet you have no idea what he could be wanting from you?" Connors insisted.
"I have kept myself afar from the machinations of the military for too long, I fear. I have no notion as to what use could be a professor of literature in the army," Syndow said.
"Yet it has fallen to my attention that your contacts with the military were renewed only recently."
"Indeed? Do pray tell."
Connors was getting quite annoyed now. "Are you ready to deny the fact that you have spoken to a certain Sergeant Beregond?"
But Syndow only smiled broadly.
"Though I am aware that Mr. Beregond serves the State Military, his visits were hardly of militaristic nature, Iassure you. Mr. Beregond is just a language enthusiast who wished to share some of his theories with me."
"Just theories?" Connors said, raising an eyebrow.
"To ask that question, it means that you already have reasons to believe otherwise," was all that Syndow said.
"And perfectly sound ones," Connors retorted. "I noticed in your living room a suit of armour which I am quite positive it belonged to Sergeant Beregond."
"Yes, that is right," Syndow said. "Sergeant Beregond gave it to me as a gift. It was a most thoughtful action of his, and the least I could do was place it in the most prominent spot in the house."
"And the drawing on the wall?"
"Another friend's present. It's adepiction of how that armour was worn."
"Was?" Connors echoed.
Syndow smiled again. "I do not believe Sergeant Beregond is still wearing it, does he?"
Connors growled inwardly. "Would you care to know that that man was discovered in a semi-wild state with no knowledge of human speech or even with such a thing as a human conscience?"
"I am actually aware that he was discovered under unique circumstances. Incapable of human speech or conscience, however... that is quite the misassumption."
"Nevertheless, he could certainly not have the knowledge that is required to become a 'language enthusiast'. So what was he really looking for in your house, Professor?" Connors said, his tone reaching to dangerous levels of indignant.
Syndow, however, still retained his calm demeanour. "I've already told you: he wanted to share some of his theories with me." He interlaced his fingers and eyed Connors thoroughly. "You may think little of the particular sergeant, Brigadier General, but I assure you his mind is very unlike yours... or of most people, for that matter."
"Oh, I see," Connors sneered. "He's like one of those intellectually handicapped people who can just amazingly perform complicated math equations, I suppose?"
Syndow shook his head."Narrow-minded people can say something like that. It's what makes this world the way it is, I suppose." And with that, Syndow stood up.
That angered Connors to no end. "I'm not done questioning you."
"But I'm done answering your questions," Syndow said, his eyes glinting with slight anger of his own. "Your problem, Brigadier General, is that you think of yourself as far more superior than the others. That confidence of yours wavers, however, when you realise that someone manages to outsmart you."
"How dare you...!"
"Am I wrong?" Syndow said, not in the least fazed. "Or do you think of me so thick that I would not notice your shock upon seeing the armour in my living room?" A smirk appeared on the old man's lips. "You hate that suspicion that gnaws in your mind, don't you? That you and the top dog himself are probably both interested in the same object of observation? You were hoping you would get to impress your boss by making asmall surprise discovery, perhaps even get a big promotion; but now it seems that you just got used like a common pawn."
Before Connors had the chance to say anything, Syndow walked up to the coat rack, where his hat was hanging, and picked it up. "Who knows, perhaps the Führer will ask me the same questions; maybe he's willing to know about Mr. Beregond, too. Maybe he'll ask me politely - or he'll force the answers out of my mouth. He might even execute me if it serves his purpose. But...you'll still never find out what you want."
And with that, he was out and actually telling the soldiers that he was ready to depart for Central, while all Connors did was watch the old man go, an incredulous expression settling on his features.
Connors arose with a huff and started pacing up and down the office. The more he thought about his 'talk' with Professor Syndow, the more furious he became. And it didn't help matters when, upon ordering one of his subordinates to find Sergeant Beregond and bring him to his office immediately, he was told that the Sergeant had departed for Central early in the morning.
Things are just turning from bad to worse, Connors thought dismayed. He could notify Fawcette about this and order him to find the sergeant in order to transfer him back to East, there was no denying that. But he couldn't do that without some reasonable justification.
Damn it all, what was he supposed to do? If there was anything that Connors hated was his plans getting foiled.
Connors stopped in his tracks as realisation hit him. What was it that Syndow had said?
You may think little of the particular sergeant, Brigadier General, but I assure you his mind is very unlike yours... or of most people, for that matter.
He's like one of those intellectually handicapped people who can just amazingly perform complicated math equations, Isuppose?
Narrow-minded people could say that.
Though it sounded otherwise, Syndow hadn't/, in fact, denied Connors words. There /was something off with that sergeant. Except Syndow had the thoughtlessness of actually admiring that in the man.
And so it was that another thought occurred to Connors.
What if he treated the sergeant's case like some kind of medical case? After all, dressing up in armour and talking gibberish didn't only indicate that the man was just from another country...
It was true that Fawcette had already tried that approach in the early days of the sergeant's appearance, when Mr. Beregond was still charged with the murder of those women so long ago; it was also true that medical records were classified. But this time Connors would pursue the matter till the end. He would make sure of that.
Connors instantly opened the door of his office and ordered one of his men to bring him a list of every known psychologist in East City. In the meantime... he would call Colonel Douglas and get a very special permission.
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