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(See Chapter 14)

The alarm bells seemed to be coming from everywhere. He struggled up from the thick, fuzzy blackness, slowly, his arm reaching out in a vague search for the alarm clock. It was only when he felt the hard surface beneath him, and began to push himself away from it, that he realized it wasn’t the clock making the noise.

He gasped for breath, for some reason needing the extra air. “Gracia…get the phone…,” he managed, labouriously shoving himself up onto his hands and knees. It took about three tries, with shaky hands, before he could straighten his crooked glasses on the bridge of his nose.

And then he remembered.

The last fire )The last fire )The last fire )The last fire )
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(See Chapter 13)

Maes stood looking down across the table at Roy for a long, long time. Roy, in the meantime, sat quietly waiting, saying nothing, gazing into the amber liquid in the glass cradled between his hands. His still-gloved hands.

Maes could hear the tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the hallway, and the occasional creak as the house settled for the night. The darkness outside continued to deepen as the evening progressed toward midnight. A far contrast from the brilliantly lit clouds above the warehouse just an hour ago, making the streets almost as bright as day.

The warehouse where almost everything Maes believed in, in the world, had been burned to a lifeless crisp.

Confessions )

(See Chapter 15)
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(See Chapter 12)

When Elysia had been put to bed that evening, and Maes settled with Gracia on the couch in front of the fireplace, he decided he’d had a pretty productive day, even if he’d ended up staying home instead of going in to work. He’d called the office to let his investigators know there would be some extra police patrols starting tonight, and they’d caught him up on any news they had (which wasn’t much). He’d managed one call to Roy’s place, where Breda told him that things seemed to be fine there and mentioned that Roy himself had been doing a lot of work over the phone. This was reconfirmed later on in the afternoon, when Maes had called again a couple of times and found the line occupied.

After lunch, he’d laid down to nap with Elysia again, and this time both of them had slept. They’d had a fun afternoon of playing, in between a few more work-related phone calls.

All in all, it had been a good day. And now Gracia snuggled against him, in the curve of one arm, and each of them was just starting to get engrossed in a book for the evening. He reflected that life just couldn’t get much better than this.

But when the phone rang for what must have been the twentieth time that day, Maes sighed. “Not again,” he complained. “Can’t we have just one uninterrupted evening?”

Crisis )

(See Chapter 14)

(And yes -- I know. They don't have buttons on their cuffs. I only checked this morning. But the button's been such a major part of the story since I conceived it that I left it in. When I retool the story to post on FF.net, I'll figure out a different clue. But for now, with the rush of NaNo, it has to stay.)
kashiwrites: (Default)

(See Chapter 11)

On the morning after Roy’s rough night, Maes got up and stuck around while Roy continued his deep, heavy sleep. The stricken man had finally managed to nod off, his tremors and the “night shadows” subsiding, about three hours after Maes had come to the house. His slumber hadn’t been entirely perfect even in the three hours since then; he’d tossed and turned quite a bit for the first hour (limiting Maes’s own chance to sleep during that time), but at last his mind seemed to have come to rest and allowed him to settle into the exhausted, undisturbed sleep in which he lay when Maes woke up.

He should try to sleep more himself, but he’d probably had a couple hours that Roy hadn’t had, at the other end of the night, so he made himself get up. He found Havoc still sitting and watching on the top step of the hall stairway, while Fuery was yawning as he paced through the rooms on the ground floor. He’d drawn them both into the kitchen with him, where they could talk. The last thing he wanted to do was wake Roy up, when he needed to sleep as long as he possibly could. Maes had made sure to turn off the alarm clock before he’d left the bedroom.

The calm before the storm )

(See Chapter 13)
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(See Chapter 10)

He didn’t even have to knock; the two guards at the front of the yard waved him past, and as he took the porch steps in one leap, he saw Fuery standing in the doorway, waiting for him. All the lights in the house appeared to be on.

“What’s happened?” Maes demanded breathlessly. Even though he’d driven here, he’d been unable to get a breath since the moment he’d fumbled with and dropped the phone receiver and turned to find Gracia behind him with pants and a shirt. “Where is he?” he gasped. “What’s he done?”

“He’s locked himself in the bathroom upstairs, Hughes,” Fuery said, his face drawn with worry. “Havoc’s talking to him.”

Roy's crisis )

(See Chapter 12)
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(See Chapter 9)

Maes walked into the outer office and waved cheerily at its current inhabitants: Lieutenants Hawkeye and Havoc. He knew that both Breda and Fuery were napping at home this afternoon, preparatory to their guard duty at Roy’s house tonight. He also knew that Breda would have one more night after this, before he was spelled off by Havoc, and that Fuery would be replaced two nights later by Second Lieutenant Maria Ross, whom Maes had recruited into the rotation.

And right now, Warrant Officer Falman was in the inner office with Roy, having just started the first of his four days in that part of the schedule. (Or, as Roy’s people privately called it, “having drawn the short straw.”)

By now, Maes could recite the schedule in his sleep. It was even starting to infiltrate his dreams which, until now, had been the almost exclusive preserve of his wife and his daughter. In fact, he’d complained about it to Gracia during breakfast this morning.

And the bad moods build )

(See Chapter 11)
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(See Chapter 8)

He sat as though enthroned, on a bench along the wall across from the doorway, his long, greasy black hair tumbling down his shoulders and over the front of his light brown prison uniform, his wrists encased at either end of a double-thick stock of wood that had been both padlocked to a post embedded in the floor and attached to the ceiling by thick chains. A couple of lamps set into the wall on either side of the door ensured that he didn’t sit in darkness, but they were not bright, and his eyes were shadowed under his brows, the merest glitter seeming to spark there as he watched his visitors enter the room.

Roy and Kimbley )
(See Chapter 10)
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(See Chapter 7)

Major Vanova, when she arrived, paused in the doorway at the sight of Roy Mustang lounging all over Maes Hughes’s chair while Maes himself sat on a corner of the desk, arms folded across his chest and ankles crossed as he stretched his legs out before him.

He gave her a wan smile as she appeared. “We’ve got an extra passenger,” he said apologetically.

How Roy wormed his way into the expedition )

(See Chapter 9)
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(See Chapter 6)

Maes dropped in again, the day after the new arrangements had been put into place, partly to see how all the parties had survived through the day and overnight, and partly to try to take the brunt of things if Roy was in a foul mood. Havoc and Breda had stayed inside the house during the night, spelling each other off in two-hour watches while four other military guards had stood outside. The two lieutenants didn’t seem too bad for wear as he peeked in the door, and there didn’t seem to be any upheaval going on.

When he tiptoed dramatically over to the other door and opened it, he saw that Hawkeye was, again, doing her work in the inner office, her files spread all over the coffee table, her gun lying at the ready on a pile of papers. She’d be leaving after lunch to try to catch some sleep, before serving her turn with Breda in the house tonight.

A possible suspect at last? )

(See Chapter 8)
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(See Chapter 5)

Maes strode down the hall at military headquarters, reflecting on how the day was about to take a distinctly negative turn.

Breakfast at Roy’s had been riotously funny. He had seemed to wake up fully recovered, and Maes had awakened to the sensation of a finger trailing down the side of his cheek, and a voice crooning, “Was it as good for you as it was for me?” He’d rolled over to find Roy lying in the bed behind him, head propped up on one hand while the other teased at Maes’s hair.

Another development Roy doesn't like )
(See Chapter 7)

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(See Chapter 5, Part 1)

And suddenly, deep, deep inside the building, a loud rumbling started that grew louder and louder, beginning to shake the ground beneath their feet. Then Maes knew with sick certainty that the wooden barrels had begun to burn through and give way, their contents quickly vaporizing in the heat, and beginning to ignite in the flames.

Oh Gracia, he thought, grief and regret stabbing through him.

What Roy did about it )

(See Chapter 6)
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(See Chapter 4)

Maes ran sideways along the street, with one arm waving on the water pump truck as it followed behind him, and with the other arm trying to sweep people out of the way as quickly as possible.

“Move aside now! Hurry!” he called. “We’ve got more water!”

Not that it was enough, when they had to wait so long between arrivals. The fire was so big – the building was huge, and full of flammable materials – that it seemed that all the water wagons in Central weren’t enough to deal with this one. Everyone was scrambling to get water here in whatever way they could. Even before he’d arrived, people from nearby neighbourhoods had already arranged bucket brigades from the river three blocks away, but that barely kept the outside of the building from going up.

The situation grows dire )

(See Chapter 5, Part 2)

kashiwrites: (Default)
(See Chapter 3)

Maes rapped lightly on the front door, and then after a couple of moments without any answer, pressed the doorbell. He heard it ringing loudly inside Roy’s front hall, and at last an answer came.

“It’s open, Maes!” the man’s voice came hollowly through the door. “Just come in – I’m kind of occupied!”

Maes turned the knob and found that the door was indeed unlocked. (He’d have to speak sternly to his friend about that; couldn’t have him leaving himself too vulnerable with some pyro wandering the streets with possible vengeance on his mind.) Stepping into the front hall – and, incidentally, locking the door behind him – he briefly allowed his eyes to adjust to the dimmer inside light, and then walked further in. It was much warmer in here than in the cooler morning air outside. The sun had only just risen a few minutes ago.

Roy Mustang under stress )

(See chapter 5 part 1)
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(See Chapter 2, part 2)

“Daddy! You’re home!”

Maes shut the front door behind him just in time to bend down and scoop up an armful of four-year-old as she hurtled in stockinged feet down the hall toward him, brown pigtails bobbing.

“Hel-lo my angel of cuteness!” he cried, gathering the little girl against him. “Have you had a good morn – aaagh!” He made exaggerated strangling noises as his daughter closed her arms tightly around his neck, and she giggled. It was their regular noon-hour ritual, whenever he could manage to get home at lunchtime.

“I killeded daddy!” Elysia hollered over her shoulder toward the entrance of the kitchen, toward which Maes now proceeded, carting his bouncing burden with him.

“Well, stop killing daddy and tell him the soup is getting cold!” came another voice from inside the bright room at the end of the hall. Gracia appeared in the doorway, smiling as she wiped her hands on the apron around her waist.

Lunchtime conversation )

(See Chapter 4)

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(See Chapter 2, part 1)

“The thing is, Roy,” he said in answer to his friend’s quiet remark, “we really have to know if it was possible for anyone else to get hold of Riza’s father’s research. You have to tell me that nothing – nothing – escaped that burning in the fireplace. Are the two of you absolutely certain that there was no trace of this alchemy left, outside of that house?”

He expected an immediate, certain confirmation. But instead, Roy and Riza exchanged an uneasy glance. He pounced on it immediately.

“There is something, isn’t there? What is it you haven’t told me?” After another uncomfortable silence, he pressed the point. “Come on, you two, this could be important. I have to know.”

Maes develops some theories )

(Go to Chapter 3)

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(See Chapter 1)

Maes stepped into the office doorway and briefly observed the people busy at their work: Warrant Officer Vato Falman bent over a couple of files, totally absorbed, Second Lieutenant Breda on the phone (feet up on his desk), Master Sergeant Kain Fuery busily making calculations on a large notepad, and Havoc and Hawkeye conferring quietly at her desk, the man leaning against one corner of it, arms folded across his chest.

Fuery was the first to see the newcomer, setting down the pencil and greeting him with only a slightly diminished degree of cheerfulness. He obviously knew about the latest case of arson, and was aware that Maes would have just come from there. “Good morning, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes,” said the young man. “Good to see you. How is Elysia?”

Maes beamed at him, even while inwardly chuckling at the way Breda grimaced and tossed an eraser at his co-worker at the next desk. Pulling out a sheaf of photographs. “Good morning, Fuery,” Maes enthused, “I can tell you exactly how my little ambassador of sweetness is. See?” He walked over to Fuery’s desk, leaning over it and fanning the photos out on its surface. “Look at this one, on her tricycle. Her pigtails are just bouncing, you can tell even in a picture. Isn’t that the cutest thing ever?”

Heading into the inner office )

(Cont'd - Chapter 2 part 2)
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Chapter 1

Maes paced a small path, back and forth, working off his agitation as he stared at the blackened, smoking wreck of the warehouse. The engineers – yet again – were testing the remaining frame of the building, to make sure it was safe. He could tell that most of the roof was gone, since he could peerk through several of the windows along the sixth (the top) floor, and see stars through the haze that still hung in the air after the fire had been put out. None of the Investigations people were ever allowed into these buildings before these tests were done, no matter how urgently they needed to find clues about what had started the blaze. There had been a close call in the very first burned building, five months ago, when a precarious wall collapsed onto the spot were two investigators had been standing about ten seconds earlier, and that was the end of just sauntering in to start peeking around.

Maes had made that decision himself, and of course he knew it had been the right choice. But that didn’t prevent him from chomping at the bit, wishing he could just get in there and start looking. Who knew what clues might be glowing in there, gradually fading and disintegrating under the influence of the water, to leave them clueless (in so many ways) once again?

He’d thought – everyone had thought – that the arsonist had finally stopped, when there had been that two-month silence after his string of seven burned buildings in the prior two months. But that hope had been dashed tonight, when Maes had been awakened by the shrill ringing of the phone in the darkness, and informed that another empty warehouse near the edge of the city was ablaze.

This made eight in total. And he had no doubt that whoever had started this fire tonight was the same person who had instigated the previous seven. Which meant, he admitted gloomily to himself, that it probably didn’t matter how quickly they got inside to look around. There had been no useful clues whatsoever, the first seven times, and it was very probably that there would be none tonight either.

He made himself stop pacing, and cast a glance at his companion, who had remained utterly still and silent at his side, through all the hustle and bustle of the cleanup and the tests.

Disturbing undercurrents )


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May 2012

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