"I apologize for the bumpy ride, but here in the countryside, automobiles are rare indeed," Clark, the old military man assigned to take him out to the site of his search, remarked cheerfully. The draft horse, equally calm and countrified, plodded along the well-worn road.
He should've known he need never apologize for such a thing to Lieutenant Colonel Kimblee (although the show of good manners was appreciated). "It's fine," the lieutenant colonel smiled, "I'm used to this kind of thing. I come from a relatively small town myself." Somehow, the resemblance of Resembool to his native Fernburg only made the reports he had read about the gifted brothers more intriguing to him. Resembool was even smaller, quieter. What was it like living here? What had drawn two of its residents out of their ignorant slumber into the dark bliss of alchemy?
Two young boys and their dog ran alongside the cart. "Hey! Hey!" they called out, "Hello, Mr. Soldier!" City kids didn't do that. It had been a while. Kimblee turned his smile their way and waved back. He was probably the most interesting person to pass this way in weeks.
"So, you came all the way from East HQ?" Clark inquired.
Kimblee imagined that even were he not the most intellectual sort, he must be starved for intelligent conversation. "Uncovering new alchemists and recruiting them is part of my current job. We need recruits to fill the places left vacant by the civil war. It's a shame really. Some of our most incredible talent took themselves off the field back in Ishval..."
"You mean Roy Mustang," Kimblee's driver clarified.
"He wasn't the only one, but..." he sighed dramatically, "Yes, that is who I had in mind..."
Among all the alchemists he had served alongside in Ishval, Kimblee's relationship with the infamous Flame Alchemist had been the most personal and the most complex. Some still muttered, in dark bars and off the record, of course, that Mustang was the one that should've received the promotion, the real hero of Ishval, but that was not the way things in the final days of the war had played out. Mustang had broken and made a scene. Kimblee had played by the rules. One man was court-martialed. The other was just what the higher-ups wanted.
But Kimblee knew best how fine that difference had been. He thought of it as he made room for a visit in his schedule each time he visited Central. Technically, Mustang wasn't to be allowed any visitors, but Kimblee was a smooth talker with a keen sense for how to use his authority. Officer Levesque was easily convinced to speak to the warden on his behalf. Mustang was a model prisoner. These two things combined to open up the way for him. Officer Levesque didn't believe in his flawless memory, so her scribbled phone number came back with him on the back of an empty official form.
He tried to touch base with Hawkeye each time before seeing Mustang, even going so far as offering to take her along, but it was a deal she wouldn't make. He couldn't say it didn't please him to be able to sadly inform his imprisoned colleague that once again Hawkeye had declined to make the trip, even though Mustang was savvy enough to know the situation wasn't as simple as that.
"It really was a shame," Kimblee shook his head. "Mustang was more popular with the enlisted men. He was talented too. ...But I suppose that's life. Not everyone can handle that much responsibility. Some people fail, break, crack."
"It's scary to think what must be going on inside the mind of a man like that though..."
"Indeed," Kimblee agreed politely. Unfortunately, it wasn't really anything like that. He had tried to find the darkness in Mustang and, oh, it was certainly there, but he'd locked it up tight. He wasn't half the monster that they made him out to be. A would-be reformer wasted away behind bars and a heretic was called a hero. In this sort of world, who was more sane than the mad? Since that long ago moment when Kimblee had first cracked open a book on alchemy, every day had been his day.
The cart wobbled closer and closer to a solitary house. "I'm surprised that you'd come out for such young kids though. ...Are the higher-ups really that desperate?"
"It's not desperation. ...Think of it as grooming. The sooner I take these boys under my wing, the better their education will be." If Edward and Alphonse Elric were of the proper disposition, this might also be their lucky day.
They covered the last leg of the journey on foot. Kimblee rapped, business-like, on the door and waited. No one came. He tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. "Excuse me?" he poked his head inside, "Is anyone home?"
"I'll check the back," his companion volunteered.
Alone, Kimblee proceeded into the silent house. It was easy to tell this was the residence of alchemists, or at least scholars. The stacks of books and papers, some crumpled and tossed aside, reminded Kimblee of visits to the homes of many other alchemists. He kept his own small place neater than this.
A photograph of two blond boys on a successful fishing trip caught his eye. It was something nearly all country boys did with their fathers. His own was no fisherman.
Silence prevailed throughout the house, amplifying his gentle footsteps. There was something nearly cinematic about it. The next door he pushed open provided the rest of the horror movie details: an array splashed with blood on the center of the floor. What an interesting fishing trip these boys had been on.
"They're not out back either, Lt. Colonel," Clark interrupted his musing. "Maybe they're over at the Rockbells'."
"Then, please, lead the way," Kimblee answered, stepping back and carefully closing the door. There was no reason to worry his comrade unnecessarily- a man of his age, it would probably be bad for his heart.
It wasn't far to the Rockbell home and business where they were greeted by a noisy dog with an automail leg. He didn't like dogs. He wasn't surprised that the dog didn't like him. Clark tried to calm the animal as Kimblee repeated his perfectly pitched knocking at this house.
"Enough yappin', Den," a pint-sized woman opened the door.
The dog had been the more effective of the two of them. Kimblee kept his expression tranquil and gave a slight bow. "Pardon me, ma'am, but I'm here looking for the Elric Brothers. I heard they might be here." He started out looking into her eyes, but gradually his focus shifted over her head to the far side of the room, searching for some hint of the ambitious duo. He wanted nothing more than to catch them red-handed.
They were there. ...At least one of them. A boy in a wheelchair (one arm, one leg), a man in armor. "Excuse me," Kimblee slid past the slightly indignant Rockbell woman, "Edward Elric? I saw your experiment. Are you...?"
The boy's eyes were dull, shell-shocked, depressed. For the first time on a trip to meet a fellow alchemist, Kimblee wondered whether it would have been wiser to bring along Second Lieutenant Hart. She was good at getting coherent information out of children. Not to say he was not capable of handing this. Edward Elric was a fellow alchemist. Even young, injured, and softhearted, Kimblee could meet him on their common ground. He knelt down and began to introduce himself.
The boy's golden eyes pressed closed. His lips quivered. He was shaking slightly, trying not to cry.
Lieutenant Colonel Kimblee reached into his coat and, from an inner pocket, produced a handkerchief. He offered it to Edward Elric.
The armored person revealed himself as no man, but a boy when he spoke. "...You're not mad at us? ...You aren't going to tell?" His words were punctuated with gasps a little like sobbing.
Kimblee could not say for sure now if these were both the Elrics which was which, but the boy in the wheelchair, not quite crying, very slowly pulled the handkerchief from his hand. Edward and Alphonse Elric. How terribly curious.
He listened as Pinako Rockbell told their story. There was no need to play at interest; the whole tale was deeply engaging. They no longer had any parents. Pinako stepped into that role and very seriously listened to the contents of his pitch to the brothers- what they would be asked to give, and, in return, what they would receive. He tried to offer a glimmer of hope; something he thought might raise their spirits. All it took was hope to convince people to do so many things. "It might be possible for them to discover a way to regain their original bodies."
He peered at Edward (he was indeed the one in the wheelchair), but there was no obvious reaction given on his face.
Pinako was a tough lady. She asked questions about the demands that service to the state would make upon them. She accused him harshly of a wolfish desire to slip into their childhood and steal them away.
A little girl peered, secretly she believed, into the room. Kimblee kept silent and studied her troubled face. He knew that countenance, though he had only seen it smiling. She was the daughter of those doctors, unfortunate girl. Pinako, Urey, Sarah, this daughter. The Rockbells were all such strong-hearted people. He could not talk to her now, though the thought appealed to him. He was here for the boys. ...But there was a chance that...
"I'm not forcing them to do anything. This is merely an offer, albeit one I feel would be in Edward and Alphonse's best in interests. They wouldn't be on their own out there," he placed an envelope on the table, containing the necessary information for the Elrics to contact and meet up with him again, "And seeing as they're friends of the Rockbell family, like those two I was too late to protect, I would consider it even an even more important duty for me to watch over them."
Pinako's harsh front faltered. She looked at him inquiringly. The little girl- the daughter- was wide-eyed now. "I was in command of the squad that was sent to protect Urey and Sarah Rockbell," he explained, "I'm sorry, I didn't plan on bringing up such a difficult subject, but it just..."
"Stop," Pinako said, "You don't have to say any more."
"Well," Kimblee folded his hands and turned his gaze squarely back to Edward, "I've troubled you fine people long enough. Please think about everything I've said and decide what's best for you. I wish you a speedy recovery, Edward."
The older Elric remained outwardly unresponsive. ...Or perhaps his fingers squeezed the handkerchief just the tiniest bit. Kimblee left Resembool the same way he'd arrived, by horse-drawn cart, with a smile on his face. On the matter of whether he would hear from the Elrics again or not, he had a very good feeling.