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A Fullmetal Alchemist fic by Tobu Ishi
Part 1 - hisashiburi
The hills of Risenburg were the same as always, rolling and green with the mountains hovering smoky in the distance. The same soft puffs of fine brown dust rose behind Edward’s boots as he walked the winding ribbon of road from the train station in town to the fields of his childhood, and he took comfort in that. It felt good to know; a sort of reassurance that despite seven years of absence, some things hadn’t changed. A reward for all the years of distilling research from his own sweat and blood, that even though there were small differences—an old farmhouse torn down and a new one put up in its place, changes in the boundaries of grazing fences and new young trees growing in neat rows along the river—his homeland had remained essentially the same, as if it had waited for him, too.
He’d had a long time to think over what he would do when he returned, and his feet carried him first to an empty meadow, surrounded by the remains of a rotting picket fence. He was startled, when the overarching tree came into view, to see that it was covered in rustling green leaves. As he came closer, he realized that someone had planted Drachman ivy around the base of the trunk, and it had grown eagerly up into the branches to cover the fire-blackened bark with new life. He wondered who had done it. It seemed like a good sign.
Dropping his small suitcase next to him in the long grass, he settled his back against the trunk of the tree and slid down to gaze up through the ivy-laced branches. Sunlight filtered down in patches to warm his face, and he smiled and closed his eyes. The inexpressible peace of being home again settled over him like a blanket, and before he knew it, he was fast asleep.
It was some hours later that he was awakened by a small knee landing squarely on his stomach. Sitting up with an ‘oof’, he found himself at the mercy of what appeared to be a blond-pigtailed sprite.
“Hi,” the little girl chirped, gazing down at him with curious blue eyes from her perch on his chest.
“H-hello,” he managed. The girl smiled broadly and bounced a few times, further driving the air out of his lungs. “Stop that,” he scolded, squirming out from under her. She giggled and tumbled off, nearly disappearing into the long grass. “Where’s your mother, anyway?” he asked, glancing around. What was a little kid doing out here alone?
“Working,” the girl responded cheerfully, braiding together some long stalks of grass and giving him a companionable smile. “She said for me to go play and quit getting underfoot.”
Ah. Ed nodded, his own childhood flashing back to him. After so many years in big cities, he’d almost forgotten how perfectly safe it was to shoo children out the door for some much-needed peace and quiet here in the country. Watching her braiding the grass for a moment, her tufty little pigtails bobbing like flowers among the tall green stalks, he couldn’t smother a smile. She didn’t look familiar, but he’d been gone for nearly seven years now, and she couldn’t have been older than five or six. It was odd to think of a new generation of children growing up among the fields and hills he’d known by heart at that age.
“What’re you doing sleeping under a tree?” the girl asked, her curiosity getting the better of her when her unusual visitor didn’t speak again.
Ed laughed. “Haven’t you ever gone to sleep outside?” he asked. The girl wrinkled her nose.
“Grown-ups don’t sleep outside,” she said, knowledgably waving a finger at him. “Just kids, and we get in trouble for it. ‘Less you’re camping,” she added thoughtfully. “Are you camping?”
“Not exactly,” Ed said, quite amused by now. It was interesting to be called a grown-up, though he supposed anyone over twenty seemed pretty old to a six-year-old. “I used to live here.”
“Under a tree?” the girl exclaimed, her delighted tone of voice making it clear that living under a tree was just about the best thing she’d ever heard of. “Really?”
“Well…there used to be a house here,” Ed explained, gesturing to the empty hillside. “I grew up here with my little brother, but I haven’t been back in a very long time.”
The girl nodded. Disappearing houses, it seemed, were an acceptable substitute for living under a tree, though not quite as good. “I wish I had a little brother,” she said. “There’s just me and my mom.”
Ed sighed, remembering the many orphans he’d seen in war-torn Lior and Europe, and wondering what had happened to her father. He supposed he shouldn’t ask; it probably wasn’t a comfortable subject for a child. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, as the clouds drifted across the blue sky overhead.
“Here,” Ed said after a minute, and pulled up a handful of waving grass stems, then another. The girl left off her braiding to watch him, rolling onto her tummy with her chin propped in her hands. When he had gathered a small pile, he clapped his hands together.
“I’m going to show you something special, okay? Don’t be scared,” he told her, and touched the heap of grass. It sparked a brilliant blue and began to twine around itself, and the little girl shrieked with delight at the pretty show of light. When the sparkles faded, a neatly-woven little crown of grass stems remained. Ed picked it up and placed it on her head with a flourish, and she giggled and threw her arms around his neck in a spontaneous hug. Startled, he froze, not sure what to do. She didn’t seem to notice his surprise, but drew back a minute later, plumping happily back into the grass.
“Thank you, Mister,” she added, the words a carefully-schooled afterthought that did nothing to diminish her brilliant smile. “I didn’t know you could do magic!”
Ed couldn’t help laughing. “It’s not really magic,” he explained. “It’s a science called al—”
Her smile slipped a little at the corners, and he checked himself.
“—chemy, but I suppose it is a little like magic,” he finished quickly. She perked up again, taking off the crown to scrutinize the complicated weaving with delighted fingers.
“Could I learn how to do that?” she asked eagerly. Ed nodded.
“Maybe, someday,” he said. It wasn’t a lie. He’d had enough of traveling and war and uncertainty, and he didn’t intend to leave the peaceful mountains near Risenburg for a good long while. It was quite possible that he’d be here when she grew old enough to show aptitude for alchemy. “I could teach you, when you’re older, or find someone else to do it if you want.”
Little arms flung themselves around his neck again, and he found himself unable to stop smiling. There was something really infectious about the enthusiasm of kids. Hugging her back—gently—he untangled her arms and set her back in the grass, straightening the tiara where it had gone crooked.
“So, what’s your mother working on that has her so busy?” he asked.
“Fixing the lawnmower,” she said with a shrug, still fascinated with the crown, which she’d pulled off her head again as soon as he’d straightened it. “It ran into the fence again.”
“Lawnmower?” Ed echoed, a bit puzzled. “You mean the kind you cut grass with?”
“Yup,” the girl said, “but ours is motorized. Mama lets me ride on it with her sometimes, when she’s not hitting the fence with it.”
Ed laughed. “She hits the fence on purpose?”
“I…don’t think so…” she murmured, considering the matter carefully. “I think it goes kinda fast, and sometimes it’s hard to turn it.”
Ed tried not to grin at that mental image, but the little girl noticed and grinned back.
“It makes our neighbor really mad,” she added gleefully. “He yells and goes all purple and stuff when she breaks the fence. Mama always fixes it, though, so I don’t know why he gets so mad. It’s not like she’s hurting him.”
“I think sometimes people get angry for strange reasons,” Ed said with a shrug. “Huh…a motorized lawnmower. I’ve never heard of anything like that…sounds pretty amazing.”
“Our neighbor says it’s a public menace,” the girl said. “I don’t know what a menace is, but he calls Mama that a lot. He calls her a lot of other stuff too that I’m not supposed to say,” she added solemnly.
Ed raised an eyebrow. “And what does your mama think of that?” he asked dryly.
The girl’s face lit with a mischievous grin. “She says she’s gonna hit him with a wrench!” she exclaimed.
And in that split second, the bottom fell out of Ed’s world. The hills of Risenburg suddenly seemed to be turning inside out, and there was a weird rushing sound in his ears. Closing his eyes, he leaned against the bole of the tree and fought back dizziness. Impossible…
“Mister? Are you okay?”
Sitting up for a moment, he reached out and gently took the girl’s chin in his hand, leaning in to look at her more carefully. The face was rounder, the hair was darker blond, and there were a hundred other differences, but the blue of her eyes was terribly familiar. He couldn’t think of how he’d missed it until then.
“What’s your name?” he asked, his voice oddly hoarse.
She blinked at him, confused and a little alarmed. “Sara Rockbell,” she said.
Ed swallowed, hard. “I…think you’d better take me to see your mama, Sara,” he told her, standing and grabbing his suitcase. He held his free hand out to her, trying to ignore the weakness in his knees.
“Okay,” Sara said, willing to do just about anything for the magician she’d found under her favorite tree, and took his large hand in her small one, trotting off down the short familiar road to the Rockbell house.
Very little had changed here, either; the paint had been changed to pale blue, but the familiar house with its sloped roof and broad balcony was still essentially the same. Looking around with his alchemist’s eye for detail, however, Ed saw the chicken netting that had been stapled around the inside of the balcony railing, and the tricycle lying on its side in the yard, and his stomach churned helplessly.
As they came up the road, he noticed the hulking machine parked in the yard, and the pair of sandaled feet sticking out from underneath it. Sara let go of his hand and ran over to the machine, tugging at one of the ankles.
“Mama Mama Mama!” she yelled, and a bright laugh came from the bowels of the machine as a young woman squirmed out from under it.
“Sara,” she scolded, pulling the kerchief from her short blond hair to wipe the oil from her hands and pull her daughter’s face in for a kiss on the cheek, “I told you not to bother me, you little goof. I have to fix this and finish the mowing before that storm front they’re talking about hits us.”
“Mama, there’s a magic man!” Sara told her eagerly, pulling the crown from her hair and holding it out. “He made me this, lookit!”
Taking the little woven crown, she turned it over in her hands, and an unreadable look came over her face. Slowly, she raised her eyes to follow her daughter’s pointing hand. Standing in the dust of the road, Ed felt the heat of the sun on his back and gulped back a cocktail of conflicting emotions as he met his old friend’s eyes for the first time in years.
“Hey, Winry,” he managed, with a weak little grin.
A tear welled up and ran down her cheek as she looked at him, her hands closing tightly around the woven tiara. Then she stood, and walked across the yard to him. He flinched as she took his face in her hands, looking at him as carefully as he’d looked at her daughter. They were eye to eye now, and both of them had gone from teenagers to adults in the time they’d been apart.
“Edward Elric. I should beat your head in with a spanner,” she told him solemnly, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear with shaking fingers. “But just this once, I don’t think I will.”
“Mama?” Sara asked, coming up behind her to tug at her coverall leg in confusion.
Winry glanced down at her daughter and swallowed a few stray tears. “Sara, honey,” she said gently, bending to pick up the little girl and settle her on her hip, then turning to Ed with an ironic little smile. “Say hello to your father.”
-end of part one-