WARNING: One scene is rife with horror elements and dark sexual suggestions, so if this kind of thing bothers you, don't read, please.

Sit Vis Tecum
Chapter Five:

"Need to Know"

Everyone had managed to cram themselves into Gil's office once Warrick handed the minidisk over. Warrick and Greg took the seats on the other side of the desk –having already seen what was on it- but Catherine, Sara and Nick tried to wedge themselves in behind it in order to watch over Gil's shoulder. This elicited a mildly annoyed glance over said shoulder and the group taking a reluctant step back. Sophia wisely chose to perch on the corner of the desk out of the way of the overly curious, but within view of the monitor and Archie hung back behind Warrick and Greg. Hodges wandered in, curious, and stood next to Archie. Right on his heels, Wendy showed up and smiled when Hodges shot her a dirty look.

Jim poked his head in, zeroed in on the prodigal sons and grinned. "I heard you two decided to wander back home." He looked them over and added, "You don't look like you were abducted by aliens. So what happened?"

"We were just about to find that out," Gil said as he waved Jim in. "May as well join us for the early show."

Jim cast a glance about the crowded room and chuckled. "Looks like it sold-out. Should I have brought popcorn?"

Gil answered by turning the monitor so that it could be seen by everyone in the room and hit his enter key to run the file. Images of an athletic man with silver hair, red eyes and a detailed tribal-style tattoo up his muscular right arm filled the screen, along with stats and video of his abilities. After that, there was a video highlighting parts of the autopsy on the DB Warrick and Greg had been sent to process, as well as a detailed description of the cause of death. More files on the disk contained the reports, along with information that was to be handed out to patrol officers warning that the suspect was not to be approached if spotted, only to contact a specific phone number with a report of where he'd been seen. The entire case was now under the jurisdiction of the military and the crime lab was being trusted to keep classified information, classified.

Ten minutes later, Gil closed the files and the room was silent. He faced Warrick and Greg and said, "You two have anything to add to this? You were there for over 24 hours, what did you observe?"

Warrick shook his head, clearly still baffled at the experience. "Griss, I can't even begin to come up with a theory that would make any sense." He brushed his hand down his face and dropped his head back tiredly. "What it looks like just defies all science and logic." Warrick focused on Gil again. "They call themselves -if you can believe this- alchemists."

Greg shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. "They are using the symbols and the arrays," he said. "And General Mustang didn't have any miniature flame-thrower in his hand when he threw that little fire-ball at you."

Warrick threw his hands up and rounded on the younger CSI. "Greg, you cannot possibly believe that all he did was—" he waved a hand barely an inch from Greg's face and snapped his fingers to demonstrate, "-and make that flame! Man, you're a scientist!"

"So how do you explain it?"

Warrick's mouth flapped a moment, then he shook his head, fell back in his seat and grabbed a double handful of his hair in frustration. "I can't. Yet. But that doesn't mean there isn't a rational explanation."

Gil tilted his head, deep in thought a moment, then he looked right at Greg and said, "Was the General wearing gloves when he snapped his fingers?"

"Yeah. Leather." Greg sketched a circle over the top of his own hand and said, "Had the array with the flame and the salamander in it. Just like that picture of the scene Archie enhanced."

"Anyone else have something similar?" Gil asked.

"Yeah, the DB had a chrome gauntlet," Greg said. "And the big dude –Armstrong—he had something like it."

"Then there was the creepy guy who had the circles tattooed on the palms of his hands," Warrick said. "Now there's a real winner."

"No kidding," Greg said with a soft chuff, then an exaggerated shudder. "I didn't know if he was going to kiss me, or kill me."

"So," Gil said, trying to bring the conversation back to the subject before it got too far off, "does everyone have an… array?"

Greg shook his head and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Nah. Colonel Hughes didn't. Neither did Captain Havoc. I think they might be support staff, or something."

"Asshole," Warrick muttered.

Gil was only mildly surprised at that, but wasn't about to let it go without being addressed. "Excuse me, Warrick? Was there something else you wanted to add?"

Chagrinned, Warrick said, "Havoc. He showed up pretending to be a county tow and stole our evidence."

"Well, it kinda is their jurisdiction in a way," Greg said and everyone stared.

"You sound like you admire them, Greg," Catherine said.

"I do. Sorta." He shrugged and smiled. "They're keeping a dead art alive. That's gotta count for something, right?"

"You don't really believe they're… magic?" Sara said.

"Alchemists, Sara," Greg said. "There's a big difference. They were chemists and philosophers."

"With charmed circles and symbolism. Right." Sara crossed her arms and shook her head.

"It's not that far-fetched, really," Nick said and everyone stared at him, incredulous. He returned the gaze, just as incredulous. "What? A lot of ancient cultures used sympathetic magic in rituals; wear the bear skin and the warrior became the bear. And the hunter-gatherer tribes depended on their other senses more than we do now. It's possible that they had 'senses' that disappeared for most of us as we evolved and didn't need them anymore, but there are some people who kept some of that ability. The number of reports of psychic events can't be completely ignored, you know. And who's to say that the circles and symbols weren't just a focus? Maybe that's what we have here? A group of people who've evolved but kept those particular traits, refined them and made them stronger, somehow?"

Hodges started chuckling, and said, "So what are you saying here? That we have the X-Men running loose in Vegas?"

"More like watching too much Discovery Channel," Sara teased.

There were a few subdued chortles around the room as Nick rolled his eyes in mild annoyance and glared good-naturedly at Sara. "Cute, Sara. For your information, I didn't get that from the Discovery Channel."

"Oh yeah? Where did you get it from?"

Nick nervously carded a hand through his short hair and coughed then mumbled.

"What was that?" Sara said, grinning. "I didn't hear you, there."

With a deep breath, Nick squared his shoulders and said, "It was… the History Channel." More chuckles filled the room and Nick added, indignantly, "This time. You know, I do read things other than the sports pages."

"From an anthropological point of view, Nicky is right," Gil said.

"Oh, come on!" Catherine said, "You can't believe that these people have turned magic into science."

Gil shrugged. "'Any science sufficiently advanced will be indistinguishable from magic.'"

"Arthur C. Clarke," Archie said. "There's actually a plausible technological theory to these alchemists, too."

Catherine held her hands out to Archie and said, "Hard science? Please! It's gotta make more sense than… fairy circles."

"Why not nano technology combined with biotech?" He nodded at the blank monitor and said, "That would explain the glow of that tattoo just before he made the wall explode."

Hodges peered down his nose at Archie and said, "Nick watches too much Discovery Channel and you watch too much Star Trek."

"Hey!" Nick protested.

Hodges continued on, "We're decades from that kind of technology, Archie."

"Not necessarily," Wendy said, which only made Hodges roll his eyes. Wendy glanced from Gil to Archie and back. "For thirty years, people reporting UFO sightings frequently described a flying wing over Nevada, right? Then the military rolls out the B2 Bomber and it fits the description, and coincidentally, it had been in development for thirty years."

Gil's brows shot up. "And this was Area 51," he said. "Regardless of the conspiracy myths, it's been the sight of advanced weapons and aircraft development that the public is never privy to until it's completed."

"Great," Jim said. "We've got a psychopathic serial killer -that we can't touch- running loose with an experimental weapon in his arm. Who wants to place bets on how long it'll take all the terrorists to find out about it and start a bloody bidding war for his services?"

Horatio wanted to talk to the Elrics and Colonel Hughes somewhere more private than an interrogation room and he also wanted to make sure those boys hadn't been seriously injured, but taking them to the local emergency room was not an option. Too many prying eyes and too many questions would be asked. The best place he could kill two birds with one stone, therefore, was the morgue.

Alexx had already been alerted and because Sgt. Decker from IAD had arrived, she was given more than enough time to hide Nina and gather extra medical supplies for the boys. The Internal Affairs investigator's arrival couldn't have been timed better, and Horatio would have to thank Frank later for the assistance in delaying him. By the time the sergeant managed to get to Interrogation Room One, Hughes and the boys were sitting peacefully in a perfectly pristine room while Horatio and Eric hung back outside the door.

Just another day at the Miami-Dade police department and there was no evidence of anything else. Sgt. Decker wasn't entirely mollified, of course, but at the moment there was nothing for him to base his suspicions on. If Horatio Caine had his way, there never would be.

The rest of the team had gone back to work –even Eric, whom Horatio was concerned about. He caught a glimpse of the shape-shifter's form before it changed again and it had shaken him. He could only imagine what seeing Marisol's face on that monster was doing to the younger man. Unfortunately, the incident was one that neither of them could talk to the department psychologist about.

As he led the two brothers and their advocate past DNA, he caught sight of a flustered and harried Natalia as she was shuffling through three unusually tall stacks of reports. He gestured to the three people following him to wait in the corridor and went in to the lab. "Natalia, is there a problem?"

She started and then waved two handfuls of reports. "Horatio, I ran the DNA on that sample three times and it keeps spitting out multiple reports."

He joined her at the counter and lifted a few pages. As he scanned them, he said, "You made sure the equipment was calibrated correctly?"

"Of course!" she snapped, then more calm, "That was the first thing I did… when the printer finally stopped spitting reports out at me." She pointed at one stack. "Those are the first set. When it did it again, I had the equipment checked again, and it was calibrated correctly. I even compared it with a sample I'd run the other day and that one came out exactly the same as it did before." She shuffled through the last stack and pulled out several reports. "And none of this makes sense. Every time I ran the sample, I'd get different results and multiple DNA."

"Any hits from CODIS?"

Natalia barked a short, frustrated laugh. "About half of them." She led Horatio over to the computer and pulled up a file.

Horatio read over the information. The DNA belonged to an ex-con who'd fallen off the radar approximately five years before and was presumed dead, although there had been no evidence to support that theory.

"The DNA that matched the records in CODIS are all like this guy. Missing and presumed dead. The rest…" She shrugged. "No idea, but I can imagine that they're all missing too."

"That would seem to be a logical assumption, Natalia," Horatio said as he returned the reports to their stack.

He caught a hint of impassioned whispering outside the lab and glanced up to see Edward glaring up at Colonel Hughes. From the set of the young man's shoulders, the clenched fist and the flexing muscles in his jaw as he ground his teeth, it was clear he vehemently disagreed with whatever the colonel had ordered. Hughes was nowhere nearly as angry, but he was standing firm; the straight back, squared shoulders and hands on his hips said he wasn't about to back down –but Horatio didn't miss the slight knitting of the man's brows that told him Hughes didn't like the order he'd been forced to give the boy.

Then he noticed the pale, wide-eyed expression on Alphonse's face just before he quickly looked away. The object of his fear had been the red substance on the counter –the synthesized amniotic fluid that was harmless in itself, but the center of the mayhem currently plaguing his city.

She leaned on the wrought iron rail of the third floor balcony in the old roach motel and watched the crowd parading the boulevard down below. The place wasn't quite in the seediest part of Miami, but it was low-rent enough. It was littered with motels and bars and frequented more often than not by college students who didn't have rich parents funding their road trips. So many transients. So many tasty morsels that could never completely satisfy her hunger.

She sighed at the sound of a wet crunch and cast a glance back into the room. The young man lying cold and naked on the bed was pretty, but he just hadn't had the stamina nor the skills. Too bad. She would have liked to play with him a little longer before handing him over to Gluttony. As it was, he'd worn out long before she was ready and because of that, she had no choice but to kill him and let her partner devour the evidence.

Currently, the rotund creature had finished up the boy's legs and was about to rip his stomach open to get at the steaming, tender entrails. "Gluttony, not on the bed, please."

The creature (and Lust could never think of him as a man, even though he was male) gave her a blank-eyed stare as he slowly processed the simple command, then he grinned hugely and said "Okay, Lust." With that, he grabbed a limp arm and pulled the body onto the floor like he was dragging a rag-doll. There was a brief hesitation as Gluttony tried to remember what he was in the middle of doing, then with a feral growl, chomped half the boy's abdomen in a single bite.

The door banged open, but neither Lust nor Gluttony were startled. Nor was it a surprise who entered with a burden over his shoulders in what appeared to be a laundry bag. Gluttony came up from his meal, face covered in blood and gore and entrails hanging out of the corner of his mouth as he stared longingly at the bundle.

Envy took in the scene and sniffed disdainfully, then dropped the package next to the body. "How long did that one last?"

"Only four hours."

Envy whistled low. "Wow. No wonder he's a snack."

Lust sighed and turned back to the activity outside. The sun had set and the pub-crawlers were getting thicker. Not far away, a live band started playing a hard rock tune that might've given her a headache… except she never got them anymore. "They all become snacks, Envy."

Envy joined her on the balcony and leaned on the rail. In the background, Gluttony had opened up the bundle Envy had tossed him, and oooooed appreciatively. A moment later, the two could hear the wet tearing of flesh and smacking noises as he started to devour the second body.

"Well, the Fullmetal Pipsqueak and his pussy brother found Tucker's place."

Lust's head snapped around and she glared at Envy. "Not good. How much do they know?"

Envy gave her an exaggerated shrug. "Not enough. I made sure of that."

"What did you do?"

With an exceptionally arrogant smirk, he said, "It's amazing what you can find out when you pose as someone they think they can trust."

Lust's eyes narrowed and she leaned against the wall dividing their balcony from the one next door and crossed her arms over her breasts. "Don't let your desire for revenge influence your actions. We can't afford to have our real purpose found out."

He looked her up and down and snorted. "You're a fine one to talk about personal vendettas." Then he grinned widely. "Besides, as long as those two don't know why we're here, that tank is safe. It should be easy enough to get to."

"Cain and his people aren't stupid Envy, and neither are the Elrics. Don't underestimate them."

Lust and Envy became silent for a long while; the only sounds were the partiers down below and Gluttony's sloppy feasting behind them. Finally, Envy asked, "Have Sloth and Wrath reported today?"

"Sloth did," Lust said. "They had the target, but he turned on them. Sloth escaped, but he chased Wrath into traffic and the boy nearly lost his head when he was hit by an SUV." She faced Envy. "He ended up as far as the morgue before he could regenerate, Envy. And it took Sloth to get him out of there."

"That little shit turned and ran?" Envy sneered. "Idiot."

"He's the only one who can convert the incomplete stone for our use after it's activated," Lust said. "It's better if he does run if that man is in a position to overwhelm him. I want to eviscerate Sloth for abandoning him."

"When we get back to Nevada, I might let you." Envy closed his eyes and tilted his head up as he smiled beatifically. "I might actually get a real hard-on watching you put an end to that useless bitch."

"Soon enough, Envy," Lust said, smiling at the prospect, herself. "By the way, our 'assistant' should arrive tomorrow night. What we need that tin can for, is beyond me."

"So maybe you can play with him, too," Envy breathed.

She gazed down the shape-shifter's androgynous body and saw him rub his genderless crotch. It was useless, of course. He didn't have a physical reaction to sexual desire any more, but he couldn't eliminate the memory of it and he could 'make' genitals when it served his purpose. Unfortunately, it wasn't satisfying for him and only managed to make him incredibly cruel to his victims when he used it. The countless years that he'd been this way –unable to feel—had made him an artist with rape and sexual torture.

"A completely useless endeavor," Lust said. "I wouldn't even get the satisfaction of feeling his blood on my skin." Lust was the opposite of Envy; she felt every physical sensation at a heightened level. Her need was never satisfied, either, but she certainly enjoyed it more. Of course, the constant state of arousal would wax and wane… and watching Envy when he performed some of his more exotic tortures always brought her teetering at the brink –but it was never enough.

It had gotten quiet behind them and Lust waited for the inevitable. A moment later, Gluttony waddled up to them, sucking on a finger and looking pathetic. "Lust, I'm still hungry."

Envy opened his eyes and gazed at Lust as his smile went cold. "And I'm bored."

With a rolling flash of static, he became a lovely woman that didn't look like she belonged in the tawdry clothing Envy gave her and was one Lust had never seen before. She didn't look like the type the shape-shifter would normally use to lure and she arched a brow. "Who is that?"

"Delko's dead sister," Envy/Marisol said. "You should have seen the look on his face when he saw me. It was precious!"

Lust moved next to the other monster and a smile tugged at her lips. "You know a weapon like that loses its power when you over-use it. Have a care."

Envy's only response was, "You still have that digital camera?"

Lust's smile grew and she linked arms with Envy/Marisol. "Shall we hunt?"

Gluttony was going to eat well tonight.

Alexx had finished examining Alphonse and pronounced him fine, which amazed her considering the circumstances. On the surface, there were quite a few contusions and abrasions, but nothing that wouldn't just leave him sore for a few days. The CT scan she ran on him confirmed what her eyes told her. Alphonse Elric was in remarkably good shape…

…for a fourteen year old boy with almost no body fat, no scars and no evidence of ever having broken even a finger.

She saw the devastation of Interrogation Room One and between that and the contusions on the boy, Alexx didn't need to make a great leap of logic to know he'd been right in the middle of the fray. His attitude, bearing and physical shape told her he was typical of active boys his age. There should have been more evidence of a rough and tumble childhood. Instead, she saw a body free of any old injuries –pristine except for the physical signs of previous, long-term malnutrition. But that level of malnutrition would affect higher brain function even after the physical effects were reversed, and this child is bright and alert. It was one more oddity she added to a growing list.

Off to one side of the autopsy theatre, Horatio and Colonel Hughes were quietly talking, and she only picked up snippets of the conversation. This case was becoming more intriguing as the investigation went on and her curiosity was burning, but she trusted Horatio to fill her in on whatever she needed to know when she needed it, and concentrated more on the living patients in front of her.

When it came time for Edward to be examined, he seemed reluctant to take off his shirt. Having already seen the prosthetic right hand, she assumed that was the reason, and said, "It's okay, baby. I've seen much worse than amputated limbs." She took his metal hand in hers and was surprised to discover it was almost body temperature. "And it's nothing to be embarrassed about." She gently turned his hand palm up and added, "This is actually very impressive."

A shy smile pulled his lips and he said, "Winry would be thrilled to hear you say that."

Something in the tone of his voice told Alexx there was more to his relationship with this Winry than he was letting on, but she resisted the temptation to say anything about it. It was already painfully obvious by the way he hesitated to expose just the upper part of his body, that Edward tended to be an extremely private young man.

When he finally removed his shirt, Alexx reassessed her assumption for his reluctance. With extreme control, she kept her expression neutral, but the metal plate that was literally attached to his shoulder nearly elicited a startled gasp from her.

Something must have shown on her face anyway, because Edward's left hand rubbed at his right shoulder and he said, "Yeah, it's bolted into my skeleton." With a sigh and sounding like he'd memorized it all by rote, he said, "Titanium fused to holes drilled into the bone anchor the port, prevent wear and allow for freedom of movement." He ran his finger over the edge of the plate, where the actual arm connected and said, "Inside there are connectors fused to the nerve endings." He flexed the fingers of his left hand and demonstrated the full range of motion he was capable of. "Fiber optics, servos and computer chips let me move; tubing and fluid like they use in liquid-cooled computers regulates the temperature inside and out." He tapped his forearm. "It's all titanium, so it's light, durable and deflects heat… mostly. It's still a little uncomfortable if it's exposed to the sun on hot days." He knocked on his left shin and said, "The leg's the same."

"Remarkable," Alexx breathed.

"Indeed it is, Alexx," Horatio said as he joined them for a closer look. "May I ask how you came by these amazing prosthetics?"

Edward's eyes cast down and he practically curled in on himself as he unconsciously rubbed at his shoulder. Alexx cast a glance at Alphonse and saw him squirm and wrap his arms around himself and avoid her gaze.

Colonel Hughes nervously cleared his throat and rubbed at the back of his neck, then said, "That's… classified, I'm afraid."

"No," Edward said softly. He met Alexx's eyes and then Horatio's. "It's okay, Hughes." A tremulous smile twitched and he added, "A 'Good Will' gesture, right?"

"Edward," Horatio said, "I apologize. If this is too personal, you don't need to answer."

The young man shrugged with only his left shoulder and Alexx noticed that he was still rubbing at the right. Phantom pain?

"It's need-to-know, Edward. It has no bearing on the case," Hughes admonished.

"It does have bearing on the case," Edward said. "Sorta."

"Then I'm all ears," Horatio said.

Hughes threw his hands up and made a be-my-guest gesture at Edward.

"You two talk," Alexx said as she took Edward's left hand in hers and raised his arm, "just don't get in my way while I examine this young man."

A dismayed groan came from Edward when she lightly prodded at a darkening bruise on his ribs and she hesitated. "Did that hurt?"

"Not really."

"Brother just doesn't like doctors," Alphonse said lightly.

"I understand," Alexx said with a gentle smile. "Physical therapy for your prosthetics couldn't have been much fun."

"You have no idea," he mumbled, then faced Horatio. "Lt. Caine, the first thing you should know is that the Alchemist Program doesn't normally conscript kids. Al and I are… unusual."

Amusement crinkled Horatio's eyes as he dipped his head and gazed sidelong at the older boy. "Of that, I had no doubt."

Edward chuffed and went on. "Well, without going into the gory details… when Al and I were real young, we did something that's strictly forbidden in alchemy."

"Edward, this is the second time you used that word," Horatio said. "Are you talking about chemistry combined with philosophy to turn base metals into gold? A practice that died out during the renaissance?"

"Well, turning anything into gold is also strictly forbidden," Edward said, "but yeah."

"Are you telling me that the United States military has revised a dead art?"

"Actually," Hughes said, "we're only very loosely attached to the U.S. military. And only by virtue of the fact that they allow us to have our main base of operations here. Most of the alchemists and support staff are scientists, but there are some whose skills are useful to the UN security counsil."

"And the art never died," Edward added.

Alexx stared at Horatio and he arched a brow at her. "I see that we'll have to have a very long discussion after this," he said, then he nodded at Edward. "But continue, please."

With a deep breath, the young man steeled himself, then said, "Anyway, what we did? Was worse than turning lead into gold. We…" and he hesitated.

Alexx could see that the memory was excruciating to the boy, and terribly shameful to both of them and she wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around them and comfort them.

"We really screwed up," Alphonse whispered as he stared down at the floor. His long bangs hid his face, but his grip on his forearms tightened as he hugged himself. "And it wasn't an accident." He gazed up at Horatio through his bangs and said, "We planned it out carefully and made a conscious decision to go through with it, even though we thought we knew the risks."

Edward was avoiding looking at his younger brother and shame etched his fine features. Even Hughes was shifting uncomfortably and there was a pain in his green eyes that only a parent could feel when watching his child struggle; wanting desperately to do whatever he could to make the child's hurt go away, but knowing that –in this case—he had to stand back and allow it. Alexx understood then that Colonel Maes Hughes wasn't just the boy's advocate or a superior officer, but a member of their extended family.

"Dad," Edward said, bitterly, "was almost never around." A short bark escaped the young man's lips that might've been a laugh. "Even when he was, he wasn't. So it was just mom and us."

"Then she got sick," Alphonse said.

"Glioblastoma multiforme," Edward said, staring down at his hands, "grade four astrocytoma." He met Horatio's eyes and something unspoken passed between them that Alexx wasn't privy to. "I was ten and Al was nine when mom died."

Her heart went out to both of them. To watch a loved one deteriorate from any illness was horrible, but from a grade four brain tumor –and to witness it at such a young age; with no father around to ease the pain or to help them understand—

-but there was something else very wrong with Edward's story. "I'm sorry," Alexx said. "Did you say that Alphonse is only one ye—" a gentle grip on her wrist startled her and she glanced at Horatio. The warning in his eyes silenced her.

"Dad was in the Alchemy Program," Edward continued, "and Al and I are smarter than average. We'd already been into his books; had already started practicing alchemy. Simple stuff. Transmuting flowers or dolls, shit like that."

"We wanted to join the Alchemy Program when we grew up," Alphonse said. "Mom taught us that it was supposed to be used to help people. But we needed to learn more, so we started deciphering Dad's old personal journals."

"Then we came across one that had to do with…" Edward hesitated and his shame became more pronounced. His eyes darted down and his right hand clenched tightly.

Alexx laid a gentle hand on his left shoulder and said, "It's okay, baby. We're not here to judge."

"You should," Edward whispered. When he met her gaze, the shame and pain was so intense she had to blink back the threatening sting of impending tears. "What we did… it was worse than making gold from lead. It was human alchemy."

"We tried to bring our mother back from the dead," Alphonse said softly, his voice trembling.

Alexx covered her mouth in an effort to smother a gasp. How they could have possibly attempted to go about it, she couldn't begin to imagine, but the fact that two very young boys –who should have been more worried about getting cooties from their friend Winry, or the latest video games—had even contemplated something like this horrified her and broke her heart.

"Forgive me, Edward," Horatio said. "I'm afraid I don't understand. How did this cause you to lose your limbs?" Then he gazed at Alphonse and added, "And how does this explain the fact that your brother appears to be more than one year younger than you?"

"Alchemy is a system of Equivalent Exchange," Edward said. "When you transmute something, the final result has to have similar properties."

"You can make water into wine," Alphonse said, "but you can't make wine out of stone."

"That's the simple explanation," Edward said. "Human transmutation isn't quite so basic, but Equivalent Exchange is still part of the equation." He tensed and looked away from Alphonse. "When we tried to bring her back, we had to give up something. A human life isn't cheap, Lt. Caine," Edward said as he gripped his right thigh.

The autopsy theatre was silent for a long time. Alexx tried desperately to digest what she'd just heard -and assumed Horatio was doing the same—but no matter what, she couldn't shake that pervasive sense of unreality.

"Lt. Caine," Hughes said, "had the boys been adults, they would have been imprisoned and executed. As it was, it was a miracle they even survived. Their talent is remarkable, even for the Alchemy Program."

"So your organization chose to exploit them, instead?" Horatio asked without taking his eyes off Edward; his voice tight.

Hughes sighed and closed his eyes tiredly. "Quite the opposite, actually. We did what we could to protect them."

Horatio turned on Hughes with a cold glare. "By sending children out into the field?"

Hughes tensed and took a step toward Horatio. His jaw was set and his eyes had gone hard, but he never raised his voice as he said, "First of all lieutenant, we are not under any obligation to justify—"

"Mr. Horatio, Brother and I made that choice," Alphonse said. "No one forced us."

"Besides," Edward added, "we were already a part of the program by virtue of being born into it. We were given dependant benefits in medical care, education and training. We had the choice to be researchers or soldiers, or not be involved in the program at all except as consultants. As long as we honored the non-disclosure rules we were free to make our own choices in the matter. We didn't actually join the military branch until we'd each reached sixteen."

As Alexx helped Edward lie back on the exam table to run the CT scan on him, Horatio said, "Which brings us back to the issue of age, Edward. I can accept that you're over 16, but your younger brother couldn't possibly be."

Alphonse smiled and said, "I'm seventeen, Mr. Horatio."

"If you are lying to me, I will find out, Alphonse."

As the scanner hummed and traveled the length of Edward's body, he started to face Horatio and opened his mouth to speak, but Alexx interrupted. "Stay still, Edward."

"Yes'm," he said meekly and turned his head back into position. "You can test the telemeres to get his cellular age lieutenant, but all you'll get is that his body is fourteen."

"You are not attempting to convince me of past lives, I hope."

Edward snorted. "No way."

"You know that picture of Nina and my brother you have?" Alphonse said. "I was in there, too."

"It would be physically impossible for you to control that suit of armor now, much less a few years ago, Alphonse. I advise you to come up with a different story," Horatio said as he cast a glance over at Hughes.

The colonel raised his hands and said, "You're not going to believe anything I have to say on the subject."

"You're right, Colonel Hughes. I don't believe what I'm hearing from these boys, either."

"That's because it wasn't his body," Edward said as the machine hovering over him had ended its scan and Alexx helped him sit back up. "His soul was attached to the armor. His body was somewhere else, in a state of stasis." He shrugged and added, "More or less."

"Mr. Horatio," Alphonse said gently, "If someone had told you that shape-shifting was possible, or that a human and a dog could be fused together yesterday, would you have believed them?"

Horatio's head dipped and he cast a sideways glance at Alexx with just the hint of a smile. He'd just successfully been outmaneuvered by children. The story was perfect; no holes they could use to prove that Alphonse and Edward were telling anything less than the truth… bizarre as it was.

Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix. CSI: and CSI: Miami are created and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and owned by CBS. All rights reserved.