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Leave a Scar

Central City

I stepped off the train, taking in the busy air that could only be Central City.

"This is amazing!"

"You've been here for about a minute." Ed commented, stepping beside me, suitcase swinging in one hand. "How can you tell this place is so great?"

"Just look at it!" I spun around, arms opening wide. "There's so many people here!"

"Well it is Central for a reason." Ed grinned, Al stepping off the train behind him.

"We should get to headquarters extra fast." Al told his brother.

"Ah, yeah, you're right." Ed looked to me. "We gotta return that watch you found."

I nodded. We began walking away from the train, making our way through the thin crowd of people. I occupied myself by looking at as many faces as possible. Some crying, some refusing to let the tears break as they said their goodbyes. And there were many happy expressions, too. Laughter that accompanied hugs, embraces between lovers. I blushed at this, looking away in fear of intruding and ruining a special moment.

Suddenly, a large man stepped into our path. He was dressed in a blue uniform, decorated with a few badges on his collar and stripes running along the tops of his shoulders. I hardly noticed these details. My focus was taken by how muscular he was.

His hands were on his hips, eyes shut and pink sparkles dancing around his face.

"Elric Brothers!" he said, mustache bouncing with every majestic word. "My heart warms at the sight of seeing you in Central again. I've longed for the day and now I can't believe it's finally here!"

Edward stepped up beside me, a smile on his face that almost looked nervous. "Yeah, it's nice to see you too, Major." He turned towards me, then lifted a palm out as he spoke to the muscular man again.

His introduction was quick, just saying my name and how I was new to Central. I felt a flash of annoyance. I mean, it was mostly true—I'd only been to Central once, when I was little—but how the heck did he KNOW?!

The man's eyebrows rose, the curling swirl that made up his hair bouncing at his surprise.

"New to Central? Then allow me to show you—" His shirt suddenly gave way to rippling muscles, allowing his body to strike an equally flattering pose. My mouth dropped open. "—The physique that's been passed down the Armstrong line for generations! A true sight to behold, wouldn't you agree?"

I forced my mouth closed and blushed a little, listening as Ed turned away, voice annoyed.

"We're really not in the mood for a muscle show, Major!"

Armstrong's bicep was suddenly in Ed's face, muscle bulging rhythmically. "Nonsense! Look at the form! The structure! You can't see art like this in museums, Edward Elric!"

"Get that thing away from me!"

When I turned, Ed had both hands on the Major's arm, trying to push it away.

"See? It's magnetic! You can't resist the beauty!"

"Will you shut up?!"

I laughed behind my hand. Ed's face relaxed, eyes looking at me. I barely saw something of a blush creep up before Armstrong stood, towering over all of us.

"Well this was very memorable, but I must get back to my duties." His pec muscles tightened, chest flexing as if it was a wave goodbye. "I bid you all farewell!"

We said our goodbyes, and after picking up the tattered remains of his shirt, Armstrong left. I watched Ed sigh, posture hunching.

"That guy is a handful sometimes."

"Especially when you're gripping his arm like that!" I teased.

We all started walking away as Ed scoffed, that annoyance coming back to his face. "Yeah, right. You probably enjoyed that, didn't you?"

"Enjoyed you being embarrassed or how muscular that guy was?"

Ed looked away from me, hands in his pockets as something of an irritated groan came from him. I laughed again, Alphonse joining me this time.

"Major Armstrong does get a little bit excited sometimes, but he is really nice..."

Ed glanced towards his younger brother. "Yeah, I guess." he replied, looking ahead again. "This place wouldn't be the same without him."

Al nodded. I briefly retraced the strange conversation we had with Armstrong, a thought occurring to me. As we exited the train station and entered a sunny strip of shops, I looked behind myself towards Al, making sure to regard both of them as I spoke.

"So how's Winry doing? Is she still in touch with you guys?"

"Uh, yeah," Ed answered, glancing at me from the corner of his eye, "We only go back for mechanic work but she's alright. In a relationship with some guy from Dublith, which is interesting." I couldn't read the tone of his voice; a roughness was touching his words... I listened, looking down at the road ahead as he continued. "Last I heard, they were making plans to marry."

I suddenly caught on, the tone clicking. "But Winry's still young, isn't she? There's always time for things to change."

Ed looked at me, seeming surprised. He smiled, a bit embarrassed as he put his hands up in defense. "Oh, no, I'm not talking about myself. Al had a little thing for her, so it was kind of a bummer when we found out, that's all."

"Thanks, Brother." The teen in the metal suit looked absolutely devastated, stopping in his tracks.

We stopped walking and Ed turned to his younger sibling, a grin on his face. "Hey, what kind of brother would I be if I didn't tell everyone about your crushes?"

Al began walking again, our pace continuing as he said, "You had a thing for her, too, you know."

"Yeah, when I was like seven." Ed hurried in front of us, pointing to a shop on the corner. "Is that a bakery up there? It's been years since I had something."

He dashed off, leaving me to watch Al's head move in a half-circle, a sigh sounding against the helmet of his suit. The equivalent of rolling his eyes in such heavy armor, I suppose. Either way, I laughed against my hand, my amusement mainly directed at Edward.

By the time we entered the shop, Ed was already buying something. I stepped up beside him, watching as he was handed a hot croissant from over the display counter.

"Don't you have some important Alchemist business to attend to?" I asked.

Ed scoffed, handing over more money than necessary and holding his hand up to the cashier trying to figure out how to give him change. Her face was dumbstruck, but Ed ignored it, replying to me.

"Please. That can wait; we're in no hurry to put the leashes back on."

He ripped off a piece of the croissant with his mouth and immediately dropped it, his mouth burning.

"HOT HOT HOT!"

Al giggled, the sound funny in itself, considering the suit it was coming from. "You're just avoiding another lecture from Mustang, aren't you, Brother?"

Ed stopped the frantic waving of his arms, tongue hanging out for a second before he recovered, straightening to his full (still not too tall) height.

"Of course not, Al." he was saying. "Trust me, I could take that hot head any day of the week." He turned to me, giving that soft smile again. "We just have a guest, that's all."

I put both my hands up, flustered at the attention. "Oh no, please, let me know if I'm being a burden."

"Nonsense." Ed walked up to me, hooking an arm around my shoulders and swinging us both around to face the counter again. "I'm buying again. What would you like?"

"Brother..." Al sighed, "You can't avoid him forever..."

Ed turned to look over his shoulder, about to protest. I took the opportunity to slip out from underneath his arm, diligently putting it back to his side. The look on his face was almost something of disappointment.

"It really seems like you guys are busy." I began again. "And you already have the watch I found, Ed, so I guess my work here is done!"

The State Alchemist shook his head. "They'll probably want to question you, get some idea of what you saw." I opened my mouth, but he shut down the words before they even escaped. "Even if you didn't see anything. If I turn this in, they'll be questioning me to no end. And I wouldn't know what to say 'cause I didn't find the thing."

"Yeah, you're right." I turned around, looking past the shop's windows and into the strip. "We should get this over with. Where do I need to go again?"

"We're heading in the same direction." Ed replied, leading us out of the shop. "Leave it us."

"Yeah!" Al exclaimed, putting both hands in the air. "We'll be your escorts!"

I laughed lightly, taking his huge arm in both of mine. "Yeah, in a dangerous town like Central? Al, you're such a kid!"

"I'm not a kid!" We all stopped walking, watching Al put his other fist against his hip. His eyes closed, head tilting upwards proudly. "I'm almost seventeen!"

"Point made." Ed grinned, laughing along with me. He turned to me, suddenly serious. "But what you said about Central. Don't underestimate this place. There's been some really bad stuff going on lately."

I let go of Al's arm, listening as the teen in the suit spoke. "Yeah..."

"What's been going on lately?" I asked, walking with them again.

I saw Ed shake his head, dismissing my question. "Nothing to worry yourself with. Military business. Top secret stuff." He looked upwards, towards the roofs of the buildings.

"Central Headquarters is a few minutes away." he said. "We should be there soon."

"So? What'dya think?"

I turned away from Ed's grin, looking around the halls as we passed by.

"Well it's not what I expected." I told him. "I guess I've always imagined Headquarters to be... A little darker..."

"Huh."

I didn't know what to make of Ed's response, hearing him turn away from me to look at the many windows shining bright afternoon light inside.

"Yeah, guess you're right." he responded finally. "After everything the military's done..."

His words trailed off, leaving only our footsteps to echo down the hallway. Alphonse was following behind, the steps of his suit much louder than our own. I wondered how he manages to stay in that thing for so long.

The hall we were walking along ended, leading to a room with a few tables and chairs. I caught a glimpse of a few books lying around before spotting a man walking by.

"Hey, Hughes!"

The man turned at Edward's voice, glasses flickering off light. He grinned, widely waving to us as we all met in the center of the room.

"Hey there!" he called. "Seems like it's been a long time since I've seen you two back in Central. That kidnapping case took a lot out of you, huh?"

Ed sighed. "Yeah, it was a tough one."

Hughes turned to me, putting a hand to his chin. "This wouldn't happen to be the girl that was missing, would it?"

I quickly shook my head, saying I was just a long-time friend of Ed and Al's. Hughes grinned, and the next moment my hand was being shaken like there was no tomorrow.

"Well my name is Maes Hughes, it's very nice to meet you!" My hand was suddenly released, and I watched Hughes reach into his pocket. Beside me, Edward braced, a nervous look coming to him as Hughes spoke.

"And really what would an introduction be without—" A photo was suddenly in my face. "—My darling daughter, Elicia!"

I leaned back, getting far enough away to examine the photo and see a girl. Her light brown hair in twin pigtails, one finger at the edge of her smiling mouth.

"Elicia just turned five the other day! Five! Can you believe it?!" His voice curled up into a higher pitch at the end, and despite feeling a little weirded out I gave my best response.

"Five?" I repeated. "No... No way..."

"Hughes!" A voice I considered my savior barked. "Don't you have something else to do?"

I turned, seeing a man walk forward and stop near the east entrance of the room. A blonde haired woman was trailing behind him, a clipboard held against her chest.

The picture of Elicia was brought away from me. Hughes straightened, speaking to the other man.

"Oh, hey, Brigadier." he said. "Well, to be honest, I was just on my way to get some coffee. Been working pretty hard on this Boiler Room case lately."

"Boiler Room?" Ed asked, shifting his weight to one side. "You guys are still working on that?"

Hughes nodded, suddenly serious. "It's a tricky situation, Ed. Don't underestimate it. There's a lot of factors involved that we just can't piece together quite yet."

"Huh."

I sensed Ed spin around, and before he could finish saying "well, see ya later then!" I grabbed his waving arm.

"Isn't this your job?" I asked, concerned.

Ed sent me a harsh stare, and instantly I felt like I was out of line for asking. I heard Hughes hum in thought, and when I turned around, he was speaking directly to Ed.

"You know, having an extra pair of eyes on this case wouldn't be such a bad idea. What'dya say, Ed? You mind sticking around for a few minutes to read over the files?"

"Uh…" Ed blinked a few times; thoughts probably leaving him. He gave a weak grin. "Well, I just saw Mustang pass by and—"

"Ah, c'mon." Hughes waved a hand. "That guy's not goin' anywhere. It'll just take a few minutes, promise!"

Ed sent me that same face again, and I could almost hear his thoughts. Look at what you did‼

I was ashamed to say the least, masking the failure with a dumbstruck smile. I let go of his arm as he lowered it back down, turning to his superior in defeat.

"Yeah, sure, I'll look over the files."

"Great! And while you're doing that, I'll entertain your friend here with more photos of my daughter, Elicia!"

Ed gave me a cynical smile, and I couldn't help but bow my head. I stifled a sigh. If karma existed, this was definitely it.

"Now which photo do you like more?"

I scanned over the three he was holding out. All of them looked pretty much the same; just different shots of different outfits with different cutesy props. I suddenly grew nervous, seeing his intense eyes watch me from above the photos.

"I... I don't know!" I said, faking the enthusiasm again. "They're all so cute. I couldn't pick just one of them!"

"Right?" Hughes gushed, even going so far as to put his hands up to his face. "I couldn't pick either; it's absolutely impossible!"

Walking footsteps came to my left. My head turned towards the noise, heart leaping at the chance for a distraction. Ed walked past us, hand outstretched above the table.

"The owner of the pet shop did it." The folder fell on the table between us, slapping down and fluttering some photos in the air.

"Wha—" Hughes opened the files again, immediately pouring over them. "How do you know?!"

Ed rolled his shoulders, and briefly I heard metal clicking together. "His testimony doesn't make any sense. The marks on his door were done with a knife, not cat claws. He staged the alibi, plain and simple."

Hughes gave a hum of agreement as he nodded. Then he closed the thick folder, flapping it at me as he spoke. "See, that's what happens when you're too close to something. You can't see the bigger picture and miss out on what you were searching for in the first place!"

"Yeah." Ed replied, clearly not caring as he picked up the suitcase he had set on the floor near me. "We should probably get going—" He suddenly looked around, mouth dropping into a wide frown. "Where the heck did Al go?!"

"Oh, he left for the library." I replied. My stare went to the wall on my left, checking the time. "I told him to come back at a quarter-after, so he should be here any minute…"

Ed sighed, scuffing his boot against the floor as he slumped over to me and Hughes.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

Edward sat down on the chair besides mine, one hand supporting his jaw as he leaned over the table. "Oh, nothing. I just get worried about that big lug being alone sometimes!"

I laughed, giggling behind my hand. "He's in a giant suit of armor! Who's going to try and do anything?"

"You'd be surprised..."

I caught Hughes staring at me, giving a look I couldn't read. Almost... Surprise?

"Is there something wrong?" I asked quietly.

The State Alchemist shook his head, wiping the expression from his face. "No, nothing." His hand moved, lifting the folder in a small gesture. "Thanks for your help on this case, Ed. It's appreciated." He stood up before noticing all of the photos still on the table.

A grin overtook his face. "But before I go, let's finish up all these pictures of Elicia!"

A collective groan met this statement, but I quickly turned mine into a laugh.

"I—can't wait!" I said, forcing a smile.

"Great!" Hughes gushed, reaching into his pockets to pull out more photos. They spilled from his hands and onto the table, littering the folder he had set down.

"Can't we do something else?!" Ed groaned.

Hughes put his hands on his hips. "Y'know you're probably going to want kids some day, too, Ed. Might as well learn to like other people's."

"I... I do like Elicia!" Ed put his hands up nervously. "She's a doll, honest!"

"Isn't she?!"

I looked past Hughes' gushing face, noticing that same guy walking around again, the blonde lady with him. He was holding something up and looking to her, almost in question if he should use it or not. She just shook her head, patience never faltering.

"Hey. Mustang. Wait up." Ed stood, grabbing my arm along with him.

I turned to Hughes and said my goodbyes as Ed pulled me away, walking a little too quickly to still be polite. In the next moment, we were stopped in front of the guy I assumed to Mustang.

"What is it, Fullmetal?" he asked.

I turned to Ed, hoping for clarification on the name. He only dug around in his pocket, revealing the watch I gave him earlier. "Here, before you start getting on me about that case in North City."

When Mustang didn't respond, I looked up from the watch, nearly jumping when I saw him staring at me.

"Who's your friend?" Mustang asked Ed.

Ed's shoulder motioned to me as he told him how I was "an old friend of his and Al's." A better intro than before...

Mustang glanced back to me, deep eyes meeting mine before he gave a curt nod. I couldn't help the smile that came to my face as I nodded back, a little flustered at being included like this.

Mustang turned back, finally acknowledging the watch in Ed's hand. "It's a pocket watch. What about it?"

"It's not mine."

Mustang's interest perked, and he looked towards me. I stepped forward a bit, looking to the watch in Ed's palm and reciting the memory.

"I found this outside my house. I live in Lautoxan, so it's a little rare to see something like this lying around."

I watched Mustang nod, surprise on his face as he took the watch from Ed's hand. He raised it up to the light, and a moment later, he grunted, as if noticing something.

"What?" Ed asked.

A crack suddenly split down the middle of the watch. Surprise and shock came from Ed and I, Ed's voice rising.

"W-What'd you do that for?!"

Mustang remained calm.

"This watch is a fake." he said. "Someone's been impersonating a dog of the military."

"Someone would do that?" I asked, regarding the now broken watch. "Why go to all the trouble?"

"I dunno." He tossed the watch back to Ed, who quickly caught it with both hands. "But Ed, I want you to find out. Don't screw this up like that last case you did."

I could practically see steam rising from Edward as he yelled at the back of Mustang's head. An arm raised in response, waving to both of us as he walked away.

"I gotta go do some really important Brigadier duties." he said, almost yawning the words.

"Yeah right! Why don't you turn something in early for once?!"

Ed gave a quiet sigh, relaxing. I had both my hands by my face, a little scared at the outburst. After staring at the watch in his hands for another moment, he looked to the Brigadier again.

"Wait a minute," Ed called, "How'd you know this was a fake?"

Mustang looked over his shoulder, taking one hand out of his pocket to give a half-shrug.

"Whoever made this was short on steel and infused what little they had with pewter, making it easier to break under some weight." he explained, turning back. "Some basic Alchemy, Fullmetal."

I looked back to Ed, again wondering about the strange name. Edward was almost steaming again, gritting his teeth as he pushed up one of his sleeves.

"I'll show you some basic Alchemy, you flame retardant piece of—"

"Brother!" Footsteps were banging against the ground, and I looked to see Al waving as he ran up to us.

"Oh, hey, Al." Ed replied. He was perfectly calm, showing no signs of the worry he expressed earlier. "Heard you were at the library. You find anything good?"

Al shook his head. "Just some stuff on transmuting food."

Ed sighed. "Some more cooking alchemy?"

"You'll never know when we'll need it, Brother!"

Ed turned to me. "You can cook, right?"

A deep pain flashed inside my chest—memories of that same question being asked by a different voice. I blinked, recovering much quicker than I expected to, saying the first thing that came to mind.

"Why? You can't?"

The comment struck a nerve. Ed's face went red. "I-I can, too!"

Al giggled, the sound reverberating within his armor. "Burning fish doesn't count, Brother!"

"Hey, we got a lot better at making those by the time Teacher showed up again."

"Oh!" Al looked down, suddenly noticing something. He pointed to it. "The watch in your hands... It broke."

Ed followed his stare to his own hand. "Oh yeah."

He tossed the item upwards, catching it again. "Someone's been disguising themselves as a State Alchemist, and we gotta find out who. So looks like we're catching the next train back to Lautoxan."

I barely hid my burst of fear. "Why my town?" I asked.

Ed looked to me. "Well I figure it's best to go back to the scene of the crime. Your house is back in Lautoxan, right?"

Memories flashed, pelting equally dark feelings against my heart. I took Ed's arm, trying to laugh the pain away from reaching my face. "Why head back now? This is my first time seeing Central, isn't it?"

"Yeah but there's not much else to see. You already walked down most of the best shops and you've been as far as you can go inside Headquarters... And besides, this case just got opened, so we shouldn't wait to start investigating."

I silently cursed myself, stifling a sigh. Ed didn't move to take his arm out from my hold, and noticing this, I quickly broke our contact. "Sorry!"

Ed just shrugged one shoulder, looking at me with a face I couldn't read. Then he rolled his neck, facing forward again.

"Guess we're on the next train back."

They both walked forward, heading towards the exit. I waited for a few moments, willing myself to step forward and join them. I forced myself to move, knowing I had to.

I just didn't think I'd be returning home so soon...