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Full Version: Fire And Light: Sequel To Conqueror Of Shamballa
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Sable
First chapter of my very first published fanfic. Hope you all enjoy.


Summary: Ten years after Ed and Al's return from Germany, World War II has ignited Europe, and Amestrian alchemy may hold the key to victory...or defeat. Rated for language, violence and eventual adult situations.


10/4 Okay. One last try at posting this monster...

Chapter 1: Al in a day’s work.

Rain beat a pattering staccato on canvas tenting, soft and soothing, lulling the sleeper within into a drowse—until thunder crashed directly overhead. Alphonse Elric sat up with a start, the last wisps of his dream fading as he remembered where he was.
That was strange. I could almost swear I’ve had that dream before…
Yawning, he rolled to his feet and stuck his head out of his tent, making a face as the cold rain immediately soaked his scalp and neck. Outside lights of the camp pierced the night, reflecting off the rain-slick ground. Uniformed men and women hurried back and forth, shielding themselves from the elements with oilcloth, coats or sheets of canvas. Gah, it would have to get all muddy right before a scouting run. Being in the south for the short but intense rainy season was starting to wear on him.
He pulled his head back in and sat back down on the regulation cot, reciting his mantra as he stuffed his stocking feet into his boots. One more day until I can go home. One more day until I can go home. One more day...God, I can’t wait.

“Colonel Elric?” someone was calling outside Al’s tent, his voice pitched over the rain.

Alphonse hopped on his one shod foot to the tent flap and yanked it open. “Get in here, Hakuro. It’s too miserable to stand around outside.”

The younger officer smiled gratefully and darted into the tent. “Thank you, sir. I’ve mail for you.”

Al nodded an acknowledgement and clapped his hands, touching them to the lone camp table. An array that emitted heat and light emerged on its surface, bathing the drab canvas in a warm glow. He smiled at it, mentally thanking Roy for showing him this trick. “Here, dry out over that for a minute.”
“Thank you, sir,” Hakuro repeated, hunching over the array.
Alphonse stifled a chuckle as his glasses immediately fogged up. He liked the shy but earnest officer, who reminded him a great deal of the hapless Captain Fury. Hakuro had been attached to Al’s unit as an expert in local communications, despite his being hopelessly myopic and notoriously clumsy. He and Al had met when Hakuro had tripped and fallen against him in the mess tent, sending his laden tray straight into Al’s face.
Al still had to fight the impulse to laugh whenever he remembered the incident. The awkward Corporal had blanched sheet white when he realized the man blinking at him through gravy and unidentifiable meat bits was the famed Soul Alchemist, Colonel Alphonse Elric.
Fortunately, Al managed to salvage his own dignity and the enlistee’s. He smiled kindly through his goopy mask, attempting to assuage the Corporal’s obvious panic.
Far from reassured, Hakuro caught the smile and turned a pale shade of green, certain he was about to be reamed in front of the entire lunchtime assembly. He closed his eyes tight and braced for the inevitable bellow of displeasure. But when a minute passed without reprimand, Hakuro dared to crack one eye. He was in time to see Colonel Elric insert one goop coated finger into his mouth and swallow. Hakuro flinched again as the colonel’s expression twisted in mild disgust.
“Officer Hakuro.” The Corporal looked up in shock. He hadn’t expected any ranking officer to know his name, let alone a colonel of Al’s reputation. There was a hush as every neck in the tent craned, macabrely interested in the fate of the luckless Corporal.
“Thank you for your assistance in testing the aerodynamics of the mess’s food. It seems military rations are better suited as projectiles than to be ingested.”
There was silence as every man in the mess tent processed that Colonel Elric had in fact said what he just said. Then someone at the far end laughed, with the rest a breath behind. It wasn’t long before the entire tent was roaring.
Hakuro’s anxious look melted into stunned gratitude as he realized he wasn’t going to be bellowed at. Alphonse watched, caught between amusement and sympathy as the young officer’s mouth opened and shut, apparently attempting to stammer either thanks or an apology. The young man seemed far too stunned to stand without assistance, so Alphonse pulled the smaller man to his feet with one gravy-splattered hand, then shucked off his uniform jacket and used it to wipe his hair, hands and face. When he finished he offered it to the younger man. “Your glasses are coated, Hakuro.”
Hakuro looked at the ruined jacket uncomprehendingly, horrified all over again. “Sir, I can pay for your uniform—”
A chuckle escaped Al as he reached over and whisked the shorter man’s glasses off his face. He wiped them with an un-spattered corner of his jacket as he spoke. “No you won’t. Not if I’ve anything to say about it. You’ve done me a favor.” He handed the glasses back to Hakuro, as clean as he could make them. “Uniforms aren’t really my style. Thanks to you, I’ll be in civvies for the rest of the operation…as long as no one lets on that I’ve got a spare.” He cocked an eyebrow at the younger man, grinning in a way that, to Thomen’s mind, suited mischevious six-year-olds, not colonels who could have you cleaning toilets for the rest of your career. “You’re not going to report me are you, Corporal?”

Hakuro had gaped at him for a moment, slack-jawed, then shut his mouth with a snap and saluted.
“No sir!”

Al remembered this as the younger man set his glasses on the table and worked past his natural shyness to speak. The effort it cost him informed Al that the younger man wasn’t delivering mail out of his usual thoughtfulness.
When Al inquired how someone so obviously academic had ended up enlisting, Havoc informed him that the young man had been pushed into service by his father, General Hakuro, in order to “make something of him”. Havoc’s sardonic comment had been that forcing incompetent people into the military often made corpses of them. Al had been surprised to learn that this Hakuro was from the family he and his brother had saved on the fateful train ride that brought both Elric brothers to the attention of the state.
Corporal Thomen Hakuro seemed all too aware of the disappointment he was to his famous father. Alphonse, noting this, decided to give Thomen something in the way of the support he lacked from his family.
He had Thomen’s commanding officer transfer him to his own command, then took the Corporal under his wing, reassigning him to research and ciphering after the young man revealed a native talent in both areas. Until Alphonse had requested him, Corporal Hakuro had sat behind a rifle in the field.
The part of Al that loved learning and intelligence for its own sake cringed at the near waste of an eager and brilliant mind.
But despite his genius, Thomen’s redoubtable sense of inferiority crippled him to the point that speaking to friends was an exercise in resolve. So Al waited patiently as Thomen mustered his tattered courage. He seemed to find it in a picture of the twins that stood on Al’s table, with a smaller photo of Arelana laughing (Al’s favorite picture of his wife) tucked in its frame. “Sir, I wanted to request your permission to be a part of the scouting mission today.”
Al stilled. He had been expecting something like this. “Why?”
Thomen looked at him as though he couldn’t quite believe Al had asked. “To help! I mean, to serve the country bravely.” He squared himself into what he likely believed a determined and heroic pose.

The colonel looked at him without expression. “Request denied.”

Thomen stared at him for a moment, crestfallen but somehow unsurprised, before he looked away. “So. I am useless.” The Corporal’s was voice soft and so dead with conviction that Al’s eyes narrowed in realization. If that’s what he’s been telling himself—or someone has been telling him—all along, it’s not surprising he has no confidence.
Al closed his eyes and thought hard about what he would say next. Thomen was smarter than this, he knew. If it hadn’t been for his blasted general father…
“Corporal, why do you think I put you with cipher and research?” Al held up a hand, forestalling his subordinate’s reply. “I’m about to tell you. It was because in the field your effectiveness was limited to the number of bullets in a gun. I put you on cipher because preventing deaths on both sides is my job. And code allows us to do that.”
Al closed his eyes and turned his face from his subordinate. He had to wake the young man to his own worth, before he did irreparable damage trying to prove he had some. “I’ve watched too many people die who didn’t have to, Thomen. Life is too precious to waste hating yourself and refusing to value your own talents.”
Al looked back at Hakuro. The young man appeared to be listening to him, even if bitterness still clouded his eyes, and that gave him hope.
“As long as I’m in command, resources will go where they’re needed, and a soldier will be put where he can preserve the most life. That’s why you’re not in a ditch behind a rifle. That’s why I’m here commanding soldiers despite the fact that I may have to kill with alchemy, a tool that should only be used to preserve lives. My being here preserves lives on both sides because alchemy provides alternatives to killing. Another colonel wouldn’t have the option.”
At Al’s tone, the younger man’s tight expression slackened into understanding, tinged with not a little embarrassment. Al, seeing this, pushed his memories to the back of his mind and gave the Corporal a direct look. “I suspect you would have realized sooner just how indispensable you truly are, if your father hadn’t expressed his opinion on the matter to you.”
Thomen looked at him, eyes widening behind his glasses. “How did you--?” He bit down on his words as the colonel pointed to the letters still fisted in the other man’s hand, giving him a half-smile of wry empathy. “No one goes to get mail and doesn’t check for their own. It’s your business how you deal with your father, but I may remind him that he still owes me a favor, and I would thank him to not second-guess how I assign my subordinates, especially to my subordinates.”
Al wondered if the surprise in Hakuro’s face was due to his daring to rebuke a general, daring to do so within his son’s hearing, or simply for thinking that the young man was worth defending.
None of the above, as it turned out. “Father owes you a favor?”
Al gave him a half smile. “You were probably too young to remember the Eastern Rebellion hijacking.”
“I do remember, but I don’t understand how --” Al watched sudden understanding leave the younger man’s eyes wide and jaw agape. “I never realized…that was you with the Fullmetal Alchemist?” Thomen realized how incredulous he sounded and flushed. “Colonel Elric sir, I apologize for my tone.”
Al laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Most people still don’t know that I was the armor suit that followed my brother around. There’re times I have trouble believing it.”
“Well, I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t mind if you did write my father, sir.” Al smiled at the newborn spark of defiance in the Corporal’s eye.
“I’ll do that, then. But before that…would it be all right if I claimed my mail? The briefing is in fifteen minutes.” Al smiled, holding out a hand.
“Oh! Sorry sir. I forgot I had them.” Hakuro sheepishly handed him the letters.
Alphonse took the proffered envelopes. The first, Arelana’s, got tucked inside his coat pocket to read when he got a moment alone. The second was recognizable by its cramped, spiky handwriting as Ed’s. Al grinned and ripped it open, holding it up to the glow of the array.
The letter was unusually short. He checked the header. Ed had written from the lab in East City a day before his leave should have begun.
Alphonse hoped for both his brother’s and the general’s sake that Ed’s leave hadn’t been cut short again. He had heard about what happened the last time his brother had been dragged away from his own research to assist “some jumped-up, pompous, brigadier general’s toady” (Ed assigned the other state alchemist this distinction with his usual grace and tact) in a state research project that overreached the man’s abilities. Ed had been forced to finish the other alchemist’s research on ethyl mercaptan (the chemical that made skunks so potent) to discover possible military applications.
When the Fullmetal Alchemist arrived back to Central, he sealed the windows of Mustang’s office (it had been vacant at the time; Edward mounted his attack during lunch hour) and alchemized a vile cloud of ethyl mercaptan inside of it. The elder Elric thought it very poetic to provide evidence of the chemical’s potency and usefulness—all while wreaking his revenge. Ed had carefully taped his report inside the door before he triggered the array and ran.
But the letter held nothing of his brother’s usual blow-by-blow account of his escapades. There were only a few short sentences that looked as though they had been scrawled more hastily than usual.
Al—
When you get a chance, take a look at this array and see if you can make it more stable.

--there was a stream of alchemic diagrams, followed by a complex array. It was far neater than his brother’s handwriting. It looked as though Ed had drawn the diagram first, and then wrote the letter around it.
Louis and Rick asked when their dad was coming home when I talked to Winry. They told me to tell you they love you. A letter arrived from Lana today; she asked if I could forward it to you. I didn’t peek, so don’t worry—Al chuckled at that, drawing a glance from Hakuro. There had been a time when he’d had to hide letters by his then-girlfriend from his older brother. His brother had never quite forgiven him for the teasing he had endured for writing to Winry. Edward's retribution had been to commit particularly sappy parts of Al’s letters to memory and recite them aloud, while his thoroughly mortified younger brother chased him around and over the furniture.
--Hers should arrive with mine. Miss you, Al. Take care of yourself—
Ed

Al smiled to himself as he examined his brother’s diagram. With a second look the smile had faded into recognition, then intense concentration. Alphonse snagged his chalk out of his pocket, removed the pile of reports and alchemy manuals to his cot with his other hand, then started to scrawl on the bare wood of the table. Biting his bottom lip, his hand and arm a blur, Al copied his brother’s diagram twice, checked them against the original, and then started making changes in the second copy.
“…Stabilize in the third instead of the fourth…the regeneration point is right…”Alphonse muttered to himself, tapping the chalk above a sigil. “Move the earth element to there…Ha!”
Hakuro, who had moved to stand behind the colonel, jumped at his sudden shout. Al redrew the array with his additions, stared at it critically, and began to laugh. “We did it!” Almost ten years, but we did it. We’re past the difficult part.
Hakuro stiffened in shock as he was swept into a rib-crushing hug.
“Sir?” he managed to gasp. “…I—can’t breathe—”
“Oh. Forgive me,” Immediately contrite, Al set the smaller man back on his feet. He started to laugh again and wiped his eyes, beaming. “Brother, you’re a genius!” Al whooped suddenly, throwing his arms wide to the air in boisterous, boundless triumph. Fearing another spine-cracking embrace, Hakuro began to back toward the door. He had never seen Colonel Elric display this alarmingly physical brand of insanity before. “Sir?” He attempted.
The colonel whirled as if he’d forgotten Hakuro existed. “Oh! Sorry! Do you need me to dismiss you?”
“Yes sir. But sir…” he faltered for a moment, but then his curiosity got the better of. “What were you drawing?”
“This?” The colonel gestured at the table with the chalk, his smile blinding. “This is an array that my brother created to return human-chimeras to their original form. My brother’s finally created a failsafe for all organic components to reform if the human components reach a terminal deconstruction point.”
It took Alphonse a moment to realize that Hakuro was staring at him blankly.
“Oh, um…” Al groped to translate the alchemic jargon. “Chimeras can be separated into their original bodies, but with this array, if they start to die during the process they’ll be reformed without self-destructing.” Al was smiling so hard his face hurt. He and Ed were one step closer to being able to resolve human chimeras. One step closer to ensuring that what had happened to Nina would never happen again. We couldn’t save you, Nina. But if we can save others…it’ll be one less ghost to haunt Brother, maybe even chip a little more weight from the guilt he insists on carrying…
He couldn’t wait to let Ed know about the array. He groped in his pocket for paper and a pen, thought for a moment, then shoved it all back in his jacket.
Why write when I’ll tell him myself tomorrow? Al grinned, picturing how his brother’s face would light up at the news.
“Amazing, sir,” Hakuro contributed, sounding awestruck. He stared at the diagrams as though trying to decipher them. Al grinned at him, and the Corporal smiled back shyly.
“Corporal Hakuro, could you do me a favor?”
“Anything, sir.” Hakuro’s smile was full-fledged now. The colonel’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“Whoever’s on cleaning duty for the tents shouldn’t touch anything in here, especially the table. In fact, my tent is off limits until I clear them. Could you tell them that?”
“Sir!” Hakuro saluted smartly, then turned on his heel and marched out.

Al realized suddenly that he was standing on cold, soggy canvas with one boot off, his shirt only half-buttoned and his suspenders hanging limp against his legs. He sighed good-humoredly and finished dressing.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Oi, Al. Over here.” Brigadier General Havoc waved affably from the where he stood by the door of the officers’ tent, shielding his inevitable cigarette from the rain with his other hand. Havoc never had been one to stand on rank with friends.
A bright grin flashed under the younger man’s hood. “Am I late for the briefing?”
“Nah,” Havoc waved dismissively, cigarette flaring in the dark as he took a long drag. “We’re waiting for two more after you.”
Al wrinkled his nose at the wreath of smoke surrounding Havoc’s head. “Those things’ll kill you someday, you know.”
Havoc grinned around the cigarette, blew a puff of smoke that mingled with the mist of the rain. “Not before my wife does.” Havoc cocked an eyebrow at his subordinate. “Besides, I’m your commanding officer, not your brother. Don’t think you can manhandle me like you do him,” he asserted around another cloud of smoke. “How is the little blond head case, anyway?”
“Hey, I’m blond too. And so are you—where you aren’t grey, anyway,” Alphonse retorted, defending the facts if not his brother’s sanity (something Al often questioned himself).
Havoc cuffed the younger man casually, as though it would be a waste of effort to beat him up. Honor satisfied, the young colonel took the abuse with a grin.
“Brother’s fine. Kids keep him happy and busy. The general’s keeping him busy and insane.”
Havoc laughed. “Roy’s loving every minute of Fullmetal hating his guts, I’m sure. How’s your end of the family?”
“Louis and Rick are doing really well with alchemy. The last time I was home they managed to alchemize their spinach halfway into chocolate before the entire thing destabilized and blew up.” Al’s smile was rueful. “That was fun to clean off the walls.”
Havoc laughed. He could afford to; his daughters didn’t routinely attempt to transmute things into chocolate pudding. “How’s Arelana?”
At the mention of his wife, Al’s eyes glazed over and he smiled dreamily, looking slightly dazed.
“Lana is wonderful.”
“Jeez, Alphonse. Almost ten years and you’re still like a moonstruck teenager.” Havoc smirked knowingly at his subordinate.
Al gave the older man a goofy grin. “So? You’re just jealous.”
“You can keep the hormones, thanks. Me and Annette do just fine, and I couldn’t be happier with my girls.” Al had met Havoc’s daughters at a military ball. They were a very cute ten and twelve, with their father’s blue eyes and their mother’s auburn hair. “Though I never got how you and your brother managed to snag two of the best-looking women in Amestris within two years of getting back from—from wherever you were--” Havoc waved a hand blankly “--when I had to look over a bloody decade to find a girl Roy couldn’t steal away from me.”
Al’s merciless grin made his sweet-natured, still-boyish face into something more demonic in nature. It was this smile that let people remember he was, in fact, related to Edward. “You never thought that the General’s getting married had anything to do with the sudden drop in competition?”
The other man stared at him for a moment, cigarette dangling from his lip. “Anyone ever tell you that you fight dirty?”
Al’s grin got a little wider. “Only Brother, and only because you have to cheat better than he does to beat him.”
Havoc looked as though he were groping for something to salve his dignity when he straightened abruptly. “Looks like the rest of the group is here.” Al followed his eyes to the people becoming visible as they trudged through the mist of rain, familiar figures bulked by oil cloth or great coats. Havoc flicked the cigarette away to smolder in a puddle.
Once salutes were exchanged and everyone had found a seat, the brigadier general’s manner turned deadly serious.
“We’ve had reports of alchemy up at the installation in the north-west quadrant.” The room fell completely silent. Havoc indicated the position with an unlit cigarette on the map of Aerugo’s border with Amestris pinned to the canvas wall.
Lieutenant Klaus raised two fingers. Havoc nodded to her. “Isn’t that where our border guards were reportedly taken?”
“Yes.” Havoc’s face was stony. “It also appears that people from the border villages on both sides have been rounded up and taken there. Children, mostly.”
Al propped his elbows on the table, resting the lower half of his face behind his hands. He didn’t want to voice his suspicions before Havoc gave him a reason to do so. He was trying to think of some alternative to what he feared alchemy and captured children meant.
“It looks like alchemy is only being employed inside the complex, not on the offensive perimeter. That could change, so we’re keeping you well-equipped in case of assault, but few enough that you should be able to get in and out without triggering an alert. Make sure you leave no trace of entry. We don’t want let on how you got in, in case another assault has to be made. Remember that we pull out to join General Raven in the west tomorrow. If you have the opportunity to free the prisoners, take it.”
Havoc leaned forward and put his hands flat on the table. His eyes moved among them, looking every man and woman in the eye before he continued.
“If you are caught inside the complex, all bets are off. I want you to grab everyone you can and get out of there. No heroics. Burn your way out if you have to. Any questions?” Havoc glanced around at his men. When no one offered to speak, he straightened. “Reconvene to leave at the south end of camp in half an hour. Colonel Elric is in command. Dismissed.” As they rose to leave, Havoc cut Al a look and tapped two fingers on the table, telling him to stay behind.
Once everyone was out of earshot, Havoc leaned on the edge of the table next to Al. “What’s your analysis of the situation?”
Memories pulled the softer lines of Al’s face taut and sharp in the dim light. “I hate to say it, but it sounds like the Fifth Laboratory all over again. I can’t see any use for prisoners around alchemy except as guinea pigs. Children would be convenient for that purpose because of their weakness and smaller food requirement.” It was discomfiting to realize how easily he could think along the lines of a less ethical alchemist. Then again, Brother and I have come across so many, and tread such a fine line ourselves in what’s considered ethical alchemic practice, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I can recognize and predict their methods. “There weren’t any reports of chimera, right?”
Havoc shook his head. “Doesn’t mean they won’t be there, though.”
Al frowned suddenly at the map. “Something’s bothering me about the perimeter, too. There should be more security than what was reported, if all the prisoners in the area are getting transported there. But the scouts are saying that patrols consist of a handful of two man teams, and they’re very slack about observation.”
“Could be overconfident.” Havoc shrugged, elaborately casual.
“Or this whole thing could be one huge booby trap. Which is what you’re thinking.” Al gave his commanding officer a piercing look. Havoc smiled back grimly.
“When it looks too good to be true…”
“It is.” Al finished the adage. He got up to take a closer look at the map. “Every angle of approach is through dense woods. There could be just about anything in there, but if its alchemy we’re watching for…Brother and I could have rigged arrays to go off if more than a certain number of people passed over them, or if someone weren’t carrying something the traps were rigged to ignore.” Al’s brow furrowed. “There’s no more than one team of two patrolling at any given time? You’re dead sure?”
Havoc nodded. Al’s mouth thinned. “Probably triggered by number of bodies, then. That would be the simplest and most foolproof way of doing it. Rigging the traps for iron content or something would be more fiddly, not to mention having animals set them off accidentally…” Al trailed off, deep in thought. “The traps probably don’t extend into the complex, since they have to move prisoners around in greater numbers. Meaning we have to take out the guards at distance.”
“Sniper?”
Al shook his head. “No good. You could set the arrays to go off if two people were to die inside their influence. I know I could, anyway. We need to move them, somehow…” And I will not kill… not unless there is no other choice.
“Distraction. Have to draw them to you.”
Al nodded. “That’d probably be the best bet. Second option is putting a hole beneath them and hoping outside alchemy doesn’t trigger the arrays. Another is to take the oxygen out of the air around them until they pass out. If I were laying traps, I’d allow for the possibility of unconsciousness. Soldiers aren’t so disposable that you can let them die if they fall asleep on duty.”
“Not yet, anyway. We’re still a valuable resource.” Havoc’s lighter clacked in emphasis as he lit a new cigarette. “I like the oxygen trick. I recommend that you lure them to you and use it to drop them. We need people for questioning. Go on and get ready. And Al…” Havoc paused, exhaled smoke.
“Don’t die.” He said it straight, then cracked a grin. “Your brother would kill me.”
Al smiled crookedly as the tent flap closed behind him. “I’ll do my best.”

---------------------------------------------

They were within sight of the fence before Al found the first array. They had been moving slowly, using sticks to brush aside debris, when Al caught a pattern half-hidden by leaves from the corner of his eye. He had his group back up a few yards, cleared the rest of the leaves away, then studied the hidden trap intently. It was not of a type to be triggered by alchemic reactions. Al’s guess had been correct: this array, and those connected to it, were rigged to go off if three men or more passed over just one of them. It was a nasty piece of work, made to react moments after it detected the requisite number of bodies. Meaning it would wait until more people had moved within its influence before it went off. Then it would deconstruct all the organic material within a two foot radius.
They weren’t designed to kill. They were designed to maim, to leave a man screaming and without whatever limbs had been in range of the reaction, but alive. Al stared at it, feeling his stomach go hollow.
Do they want invaders for questioning...?
He looked away toward the looming black bulk of the prison.
Or do they have another reason for taking people alive?
Al put his hands together, then pressed them to the ground. “Be ready in case this doesn’t work,” he called back.
There was a smell of ozone and a flash of blue light as a wave rippled though the ground, erasing the dirt-drawn arrays. Al watched for the light of new reactions triggered by his alchemy, but there were none.

He moved back into the group. “All right. I’ve removed the ground traps but we still need to watch for arrays on the trees. I’m going to drop the guards when they pass into the blind spot from the windows. Daniels and Tocker, take their guns and stay in the middle. Then we’ll go through the fence. Everyone ready?” Curt nods and grim smiles answered him. They moved into position, crouching among the trees. It wasn’t long before Al spotted shapes moving along the fence.
“Colonel…”
“I see them.” Al clapped and held his hands out to the air. For a moment it looked as though nothing had happened. Then one guard staggered into the other and both collapsed to the ground. Al smiled tightly. There’d been no noise, and the downed guards were invisible from the windows. Best of all, no one had died. Let’s hope we can keep it that way.
Al waved the group forward to the fence. They disarmed and bound the sleeping guards, and Al concealed them under a layer of alchemically-merged leaves. Then they were through the fence and in the shadow of the north wall. “Lieutenant Klaus, where’s the best place to make a door?”
The lieutenant scanned the squat, two-story structure, her eyes narrowed in thought.
“If it’s a typical installation, we should bore in there.” She pointed to a spot on the north east corner. “No more than two feet from the ground, though, or else we’ll run into the basement ceiling.”
“Right. All right, Klaus behind me to navigate, Lane behind her. Daniels and Tocker, Peterson and Ellis, Connor and Bell, Hart and Walder. Double up once we’re through. Don’t follow until I give the word.”
Al pressed his hands to the wall, and a square plug of it vanished. The cross section of the hole was a good two and a half feet thick. He crouched, peering through the darkness. Here’s where being taller than Brother becomes a problem. The thought let him smile a little as he wormed through on his elbows and knees.
Al got to the end and peered through the dark, considering, then widened the tunnel toward the floor and shoved himself the rest of the way through. He landed cat-soft on the stone floor, alert for any sound while his eyes adjusted from the nearly pitch-dark of the outside to the light filtering through the door on the far wall.
They had been lucky. It looked as though they had broken into a file or archives room. Al crossed to the sole door and made sure it was locked. “It’s clear.”
One by one his team moved into the room.
“Ah. Nice to be out of the rain.” Lane, being Lane and therefore a smartass, felt the need to comment on any given situation.
Al smirked a bit as Klaus shushed him. “Where’re we going, Lieutenant?” he requested of her.
“Floors above us should be the main cell block. This level should be high security cells or laboratories, or some combination. We can probably go straight through the floor about…here, to be in the corridor between the cells.” She pointed to a corner overhead.
“Good. I want to check the floors above us, then head back down and hopefully come out the way we came. Let’s move this table so we can get a leg up.” No need to use alchemy unless I have to, Al added to himself. Less to clean up later. He picked up an end and Lane grabbed the other, moving the metal desk soundlessly into place. Then Al stepped up from the floor and placed his hands on the ceiling. After a small flash, he pushed the section he had cut slowly through the floor, listening for footsteps as he did so. Hearing nothing, Al shoved the plug the rest of the way through and set it to the side, then grabbed the lip of the opening and pulled himself off the table to peer around. They had moved into a closed corridor, with iron bars marking the cells that lined one side. Why is does the place seem so deserted? We should have run into more guards by now…
“Wow, Colonel. Been working out? Ow.” Lane had run into Lieutenant Klaus’ fist once again.
Al quietly dropped back onto the table. “Looks like the coast is clear. Lane, you first in case I’m wrong.”
“Ha, ha, sir.” Lane shoved his rifle through first, then Al made a stirrup of his hands boosted him after it.
Al helped Klaus through last, then jumped high enough through the opening that his chest and arms cleared the hole. He flung his hands out to brace against the floor above, pushing up until he sat on the edge, then pulled himself clear and replaced the bevel. It slid seamlessly into the floor.
His team had fanned out around the hole, rifles drawn. “Colonel…” For once, Lane sounded unsettled. “Sir, look.” He lowered his rifle and gestured toward the cells.

Al looked...and felt his jaw clench.
Even Klaus’s stone façade had cracked slightly. “Children…” she murmured.
Behind one iron-ribbed door, the dim stormlight filtering through the sole window outlined a small form. It whimpered softly.
Al’s face twisted as the sound wrenched something in his chest. “Go and wake them up as quietly as you can. Hart, guard the door at the other end. Get my attention if someone comes, but don’t shoot. We’re getting these kids out now.”
“Sir.” They spread out along the cells.
Al turned to the nearest cell and the pair of terrified eyes that peered at him through the bars. Some instinct told him to crouch down, making himself look smaller and less threatening to the frightened child.
“It’s all right,” he whispered, smiling kindly. “We’re here to rescue you. My name’s Al, what’s yours?”
“Kaila.” Her hair had been shaved, and she was so thin and brittle-looking that Al hadn’t been able to tell what gender she was. Hope seemed to flash across her face when she dared to look him in the eye.
“Hello, Kaila. Would you mind if I got you out of there?”
“You have keys?” Kaila’s tone was definitely hopeful now.
“I’ve got something better. But it might be a little startling. Can you promise not to yell? I don’t want the guards to come,” Al explained gently, ignoring the little mental voice that was telling him to hurry, hurry, hurry. You couldn’t hurry a frightened child; he knew from experience with his sons. Especially when it would only take one child crying out at the wrong time to get caught. Kaila nodded vigorously and covered her mouth with both hands. Al clapped, touched the metal—and with a flare of blue light, a child-sized section of the bars disappeared.
“Like fireworks.” Kaila whispered, her brown eyes wide and wondering.
Al smiled. “Let’s get you out of there, Kaila.”
The girl’s bare feet made soft slapping sounds on the stone as she walked out. Al frowned at the noise, realizing he had a new problem. We have to get them through the woods without shoes. There isn’t anything organic to transmute into leather or cloth. That meant slower progress back to camp. Which meant they would be even more vulnerable than he had counted on. Need to give them some kind of protection in case the guards pick up on what’s happening. But what…?
Down the row, Connor’s lock picks had opened two more cells. “Sir, these two are too weak to walk. They’ve been starved.” Outrage tightened his already sharp face.
Inspiration struck Al like his brother’s metal fist. “Everyone back away from the cells. I’ve got an idea.” Al clapped his hands and ran down the row, touching each metal grid as he passed. The metal glowed white-gold, then pooled. As though it had a will of its own, the molten metal streamed from all quarters to form two softly-glowing mounds that rose and solidified before Al. The metal crackled, sharpened, and suddenly two suits of armor stood before him, mirror images of his old body.
Al grinned and touched each gauntlet. Blue sigils gleamed across the armor, then red lights flared to life in the hollows of each helmet. The disorientation of looking back at himself through another set of eyes felt odd, but he was used to it. Me, myself and I. Al grinned to himself. The armor suits cocked their hollow heads, empty eye sockets twinkling as though they also smiled.
With the bars gone, the children had wandered into the arms of their saviors. Klaus in particular had a large knot where she crouched, reassuring them with her kind hands and steady voice. Al took a quick count: about twenty kids, four of whom seemed too starved to move without help. They were all very small; the oldest was probably no more than eight. Some were crying, pathetically relieved and utterly exhausted. Most all of them were gawking at the suits of armor. Al’s team stared too, though less openly.
“Colonel, what…?” Corporal Tocker murmured.
Al patted a metal shoulder. “Don’t worry. These’ll help us get the sick ones out.”
Lane slapped his forehead melodramatically in Tocker’s direction. “Jeez, you rookies are ignorant. Haven’t you ever heard how the Colonel earned his handle?”
The sergeant’s smirk turned sickly as the Colonel cast a wicked eye in his direction. “I seem to recall that you had to be convinced that the armor weren’t ghosts the first time you saw them. Lieutenant Klaus, just how long did we spend talking Sergeant Lane out of that tree?”
“Exactly one hour and two minutes, sir. And he was a Corporal at the time.” There was the barest hint of a smile in Klaus’s voice.
Lane raised his hands over his head. “I surrender. I’ll never pick on rookies again.” Tocker and Daniels shot him meat-eating looks. Klaus merely sighed in a way that suggested if the sergeant got shot he would thoroughly deserve it.
During this exchange one suit of armor moved over to where Ellis had propped the children too ill to walk. It crouched and scooped up the two that looked most fragile with a delicacy that belied its bulk. Then it turned its glowing gaze on the other two, and the colonel’s disembodied voice echoed from its hollow body. “Get on my back, please, and I’ll carry you out of here.” Wide-eyed, the children scrambled onto its shoulders.
“Peterson and Ellis, I want you to take the children back the way we came. I’ll send this one with you.” Al indicated the suit that toted the kids. “Remember, if the armor gives orders, it’s me talking.” Both men shot looks at the metal automaton, but took the statement in stride.
“All right, you lot,” Peterson called cheerfully to his charges. “I need you all to line up behind me. Whoever’s the quietest gets a prize when we get back to camp. My buddy’s gonna follow you, and the, uh…armor person will lead the way.”
“Armor person, huh?” Al’s voice sounded amused coming from his own mouth and both suits of armor. Ellis gave all three a fish-eyed look. The second set of armor found the seam of the bevel and lifted it out, and the one carrying the children dropped through. Peterson jumped down after it and Ellis lowered kids to him. He turned and saluted before jumping through himself.
“The rest of us are going to make sure this floor is clear of prisoners and then go back to the lowest level.” Al continued once the bevel was in place.
They searched the remaining cellblocks on the floor and found no one. The hollow feeling in Al’s stomach grew with every cellblock they found empty. Are we too late? Did they move them, or…? He shook his head. Better to leave that thought unfinished.
They retraced their steps through the archives room. Al waited until his team had armed themselves to unlock the door. Beyond it was a hall washed in livid red by the emergency lighting. Bloody light seemed to drip from their rifle barrels as the moved through the passage.
Suddenly they were before a huge set of barred, metal doors. Al could see the tell-tale fracture patterns of alchemy running across its surface, far larger and coarser than in something he or his brother would have transmuted.
Al ran one hand across it thoughtfully. The coarse work indicated either little control over the alchemic response or that making it had stretched an alchemist to the limit of his or her power. Don’t think much of their taste, either, Al thought, grimacing. Dozens of screaming iron faces writhed around and within one another, straining to escape the door’s panels. I think the hope that this was a detention center that just happened to house an alchemy lab is pretty much shot.
“Eww,” Lane muttered as he caught sight of the door. “Somebody needs to fire their decorator.”
Al fought down the urge to laugh. Someone else giggled nervously.
“Then let’s pretty it up a bit.” Al rolled his sleeves back, mimicking Ed’s customary gesture before he charged headfirst into trouble. Everything I know I learned from you, Brother, Al thought affectionately at his absent sibling. For once Ed would be well out of danger.
“Everyone in double formation behind me, and stick close once we’re in.” The armor trudged over to his side and Al paused, recalling the first time he had raided a lab like this. It was the ghost of Shou Tucker that made him turn back to his group, his gaze encompassing them all. The face that had always seemed too young and far too good-natured to belong to a war-forged state alchemist had changed. Now his men could see, some of them for the first time, the steel that lay at their colonel’s core, as hard and strong as the grim shadow looming beside him.
“You may see things in here that no one should ever have to. Remember: do not shoot unless you are physically threatened. What seems like a monster may be human.” And what seems human may be a monster, Al added silently to himself, glancing again at the faces in the door. The eyes of the Sewing-Life alchemist seemed to loom over them all, pale and thoroughly insane. Alphonse shook the image from his mind and looked to the armor, which nodded to him. “Everyone ready?”
There were nods and whispers of “Sir!”
Al nodded back silently, his pride in them evident in his face. He turned back to the door.
“One—” Al placed his hands together. Rifles cocked behind him.
“Two—” His hands were on the door.
“THREE!” Light flared as the door was obliterated. The armor charged through, shielding Al and the rest as they followed. Al skidded to a halt inside, eyes darting into every corner.
It took an eternal instant for his eyes to adjust to the dank blackness. And then a sickly glow drew his gaze to the floor. A glow that was getting brighter, and encompassed the entire group. Vaccum took Al’s heart as comprehension dawned—They were standing on an array!
“NO!” he clapped his hands—
The layer of super-dense ice had barely solidified beneath them before the array ripped it apart. His team was thrown into the walls and back through the doors. Al leapt as high as he could, attempting to clear the reaction. Icy shrapnel raked his face, leaving burning pain in its wake. A large chunk of ice glanced across his forehead at blinding speed, stunning him. He barely managed to catch himself as he fell. Nausea and vertigo surged as he pushed himself back to his feet. Al pushed it aside with less success than he would have hoped, straining around the ringing in his ears to catch the noise echoing from further inside the chamber, when something struck the back of his head.

Stars burst before his eyes and then he saw nothing at all.

Alphonse awoke to laughter. He shook his head muzzily, grimacing as something warm dripped into his eye and across his lips. Licking at it proved it to be blood, likely his, and just as likely having to do with the sledgehammer pounding in his skull. He squinted into the darkness around him, searching for movement from his men and the source of the laughter. His vision doubled once, then resolved, and Al could make out a thin form clutching something to itself, shaking as it giggled shrilly. He winced as the high pitch of it pierced his head.
“Who are you?” Al demanded, flinching at the way his head throbbed when he talked. He repeated the words in his rudimentary Aerugan, reaching up as though to clutch his head, thought he was truly trying to bring his hands together and hoping the movement would go unnoticed. Only then did he realize he had been restrained.
The figure stepped into the stark light of one of the few overhead lamps, and Al could finally see what it held before itself. It was Lieutenant Klaus, and her captor was a wiry, starved-looking man wearing a suit that must have been fine once, before neglect made it ragged and dyed it with dark, questionable stains. The man was holding a pistol to the unconscious lieutenant’s temple. “Let’s get those hands up, shall we? I’m sure Amestris can’t afford to lose another of its precious alchemists. And it would be a shame to have to shoot such a lovely young lady.” The pistol-wielder spoke Amestrian with a strong accent. With his chin he indicated someone behind Al, who spared a glance behind himself. Daniels and Connor were on their feet, but barely, which let Al hope he couldn’t have been out for more than a few minutes. Tocker was on his hands and knees. Lane was sprawled on his chest, and he wasn’t moving. Alphonse hoped fervidly that the sergeant was only unconscious.
Al took another instant to glance at his restraints. His hands and feet were incased by stone stalactites that had sprouted from the floor and ceiling. He shifted around, testing for weakness, but the rock held him fast and dangling this way offered him no leverage.
“Colonel!” came the alarmed shout. Tocker must have caught sight of him.
“Don’t move!” Al warned.
“I’d listen to him if I were you,” the alchemist mocked. “Now, I wonder what my net has caught me…” He trailed off as Klaus opened her eyes, stiffening when she felt the cold metal pressed to her head. “I suggest you remain on your best behavior, my dear.” He leered at her, and Klaus’ jaw tightened.
“Lieutenant, don’t provoke him.” Al tried to inject as much calm as he could into his voice. He twitched as blood ran into his eye again, obscuring his vision.
“Oh, wisely spoken,” the alchemist mocked, gracing Al with a twisted smile. “I suppose as you are my…guests…I should introduce myself. I am Varys, Aerugo’s most talented biological alchemist.” The man made a derisive bow over Klaus’s helpless, raging eyes. “Now—Colonel, was it? Amestrian rank and reputations are so puffed up I suppose it hardly matters—yet Mother always preached good manners, even if they’re wasted on Amestrians, so if you’d be so kind as to introduce yourself…” Varys tittered shrilly.
“Alphonse Elric.” Al bit out his name, twitching helplessly as blood trickled down his chin. His head was hammering worse than the few times Winry rattled his brains for him with her wrench.
The Aerugan alchemist’s pale eyes widened. “Elric,” he repeated. “You’re the Fullmetal Alchemist?”
“No. That’s my brother.” Al missed Ed suddenly. If his brother were here and fourteen again, he would have turned into a blond ball of fury at the mistake. But Brother’s safe and sound asleep in Riesembul, which is exactly where I’ll be this time tomorrow if I can distract this guy for a few more minutes…
“Actually, you’re lucky it’s me and not him. I’m a bit more understanding of crackpots and incompetent alchemists.” Al said brightly, forcing his face into a broad, blithe smile.
The man’s veneer of sophistication and arrogance cracked, and for an instant Al looked in the eyes of insanity. Then the alchemist slammed back into control, his face smoothing into its condescending mask. “Oho. You’re a brave one, I’ll give you that.” Varys’s look of contempt shifted abruptly, and his eyes took on a gleam of avarice. “I have heard you Elrics can do alchemy without an array, even a tattooed one. Tell me how you accomplish it,” the alchemist demanded abruptly, “Depending on the answer, I may just let you live.” The man’s eyes burned feverishly in his head. The desperation in his face, and the odd, erratic way he spoke only confirmed Al’s impression that the man truly was less than sane.
“Human Sacrifice talent.” Al gritted. His eyes were blurring in time with the throbbing in his head. He only had to distract the man for a few more seconds…
The man threw him a puzzled look that smoothed once again into arrogance. “I’ve already done that. There’s no telling how many lives have gone into my work. But I’ve never been able to accomplish such a thing.”
Al felt his heart sink, cold and heavy as a stone. “You sacrificed humans.” He might have suspected it, but having his suspicion confirmed still chilled him to the bone. Science and alchemy give insanity an irresistible scope. His brother had said that, a decade and a world ago, and it sickened them both to be proven right over and over again. Behind him, there was a silence so complete it seemed to swallow sound. His team’s horror was a palpable thing.
“Of course. Isn’t that what you meant?”
“No. It wasn’t.” Al whispered. He kept the bitter triumph from his face as the man unconsciously edged closer, eyes bulging with greed. He was absolutely desperate to possess Al’s method.
“I sacrificed myself.” Accidentally, for my mother. Unwittingly, for the Philosopher’s Stone. Willingly, for my brother, he added silently.
The other alchemist stared at him, incredulous. “What do you--?”
Al chose to strike in that instant when the man’s attention focused completely on him. An overlooked steel fist shot out of the shadows and wrenched the gun up, away from the lieutenant. The alchemist screeched and pulled the trigger, discharging it harmlessly into the ceiling. The armor batted him away from Klaus, then gave the lieutenant a gentle push in Al’s direction. The alchemist turned and lunged for the armor suit, exposing the twin arrays tattooed on his palms. The armor neatly avoided its attacker’s hands, then grabbed the staggering alchemist by his wrists and hauled him off the floor. It stood stoically as its now-helpless burden kicked and screamed to his heart’s content.
“Lieutenant, would you mind reaching into my coat pocket and pulling out a piece of chalk and the paper?” Al requested over the racket, wincing.
When Klaus had done this, Al picked the simplest array from one of the sheets of paper. “Now, draw that one once on the stone around my feet, and once by my arms.”
As she carefully did so, Al called back to the rest of his men. “Sergeant Connor, please make sure everyone’s still breathing. Daniels, and Tocker if you’re up, restrain our prisoner. If he keeps yelling, gag him.” Al’s head hurt enough as it was.
Once Daniels had restrained the alchemist (he had fallen silent when Tocker took off his sock and offered it as a gag) and Tocker had his gun on him, the armor clanked over to Al and touched the arrays. Al dropped to the floor as the stone crumbled, his gray duster flaring out around him. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Klaus’ salute was heartfelt. “Thank you, sir.”
Al nodded back soberly, then strode across the room to where Second Lieutenant Connor, the field medic for the group, was crouched over Lane. Hart was standing next to them clutching his arm, which was bloody and hung as though it were broken. Walder stood next to him, tearing strips from her uniform to fashion a sling at Connor’s direction. Bell had been blown back through the doors but was making his way over. Al released a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, raking a hand through his hair. All of his team had survived. He winced again as the adrenaline in his system faded, amplifying the pounding in his head.
“How are we doing?” Al asked Connor, bending carefully. He had a feeling that if he moved his head too sharply he would pass out on the floor.
“Not too bad, considering,” the second lieutenant smiled tightly as he replied. “Lane’s seriously concussed, compound fracture on Hart’s arm and maybe a fractured rib along with it. Bell’s managing to limp over, so I guess he’s fine.” He turned to the red-headed man. “How’re you doing, buddy?”
Bell grimaced. “I hit the floor on my knees. They aren’t real happy with me, but I’ll live.”
“Glad to hear it.” Al chuckled and immediately grimaced at the pain.
Connor caught his expression and did a double take, staring at him. “Sir, you need to let me look at you.”
Al didn’t need a mirror to know that he looked like he’d been through a meat grinder. His face was stiffening with blood and stung with cuts. The front and arms of his cloak were in shreds, and he could feel where more icy shards had penetrated his clothing.
“I’m all right. We need to look around and get out of here before someone comes to see what all the noise was about.” He knew they were fortunate that reinforcements hadn’t already shown up.
Connor looked him over as though debating whether he could successfully browbeat Al into getting looked over.
His commanding officer saw the speculation in his eyes and gave him a flat look. “Don’t make my head hurt more than it already does, Lieutenant.”
The second lieutenant shrugged. If Al had been anyone else, Connor would have instructed his fellow officers to sit on him. But a six-foot-two national alchemist was beyond his ability to bully.
“If you pass out, don’t cry to me.”
Al smiled wryly. “I’m sure I won’t. Let’s move.”

It didn’t take much to convince Varys to guide them to where the prisoners were kept, isolated cells off a corridor of the main chamber. He seemed almost …eager, in fact. Al didn’t like that one bit, and signaled his men to keep their guard up. He wasn’t about to walk into another trap.

Al could smell them before he saw them. The scent of blood, sweat and human waste grew stronger as they passed deeper into the dark. There was an acrid bite to the air that Al recognized as fear. With a clap, Al transmuted the door of every cell into empty air and one by one, the captured Amestrian soldiers stumbled out.
One who seemed slightly less wasted than the others turned and peered at Al. “Colonel Elric? Is that you?”
Al squinted through the dark, trying to match a name to the voice. “Waldenmeyer? Major Waldenmeyer?”

A sound that was almost a sob wrenched itself from the man’s throat. “Thank God you came. Thank God. What they did to us…You can’t imagine…”
Waldenmeyer moved out of the concealing shadows, and the dingy glow of a lamp caught one side of his face, allowing the Soul Alchemist to see the extent of the damage Varys had inflicted on his captives. Dark scales ran down one side of Waldenmeyer’s face and neck, and continued beneath the ragged remains of his uniform. When his eyes caught the light they glowed an eerie red. Al’s mouth tightened, though not at the officer’s appearance. We alchemists have so much to answer for…

“It’s all right, Major.” Alphonse mimicked the bracing tone Granny Pinako had used with her patients, trying to give the other man a purchase on what was happening. “We’re getting everyone out. Are these all of your men?”
“All of them that survived. Officers Joels, Talc, Freeman, Mahler and Dovart were killed by the Aerugan’s alchemist, along with Sergeant Held.” The Major recited the names in a dead voice, as though speaking drained what energy remained to him. “Did you see the alchemist?”

“We captured him,” Al informed the other man grimly, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
Waldenmeyer stared past Al to the captured alchemist. His alien eyes locked on his tormentor and he went utterly still, a feral-eyed predator scenting prey.

Al moved to block his prisoner from the major’s view. “Waldenmeyer, don’t. Please.”

The Major’s eyes blazed. “You’d defend him? After what he did? What he did to us? Look at me! I’m not—I’m not even….” Waldenmeyer wrenched his eyes from Al’s to stare at the wall, trying to bring himself under control.
After a moment he turned back, slowly and deliberately, looking not at Al but Varys. “Just look at me. He’s got to pay.”

Looking at him, Al could hear Martel’s shriek of hate as they confronted the Crimson Alchemist. The sound blended into Ed’s cry of accusation when they had stumbled upon the Shou Tucker and his most terrible work, his screams of denial when the alchemist compared his crime to their own.

He could see the metal fist slamming into Tucker’s face, over and over and over.

He could see Martel lunging for Kimbley, the flash of her dagger nothing compared to her steel-hard intent.

Waldenmeyer’s eyes held the same look as Ed and Martel had; horror and pain had been the fuel, the source of their rage, blinding them to everything but the fact that their tormentor were before them, and erasing him might mean erasing the pain...

Once again Al was standing between a man and a murder, just as he had for Martel, just as he had for his brother, all those years ago.

He spoke gently, trying to cut through the other man’s emotion and get him thinking again. “If he isn’t questioned, we’ll never find out all of what went on here. We may need him to reverse the damage he did.”

They stared at each other for a tense moment, sober bronze eyes to blazing red. If revenge had become more important to the man than a cure…

Suddenly Waldenmeyer sagged, turned away. “Yes, sir.”

“You! Elric!” Both of them turned as the captive alchemist shrilled. “Don’t forget my masterpieces! You can’t leave them here!”
“‘Masterpieces.” Al was certain anything this man considered a masterpiece would fall into the category of things he never wanted to see.
“Yes! In that chamber there!” He thrust with his head and neck toward a door at the opposite end. “If you were a true alchemist, you’d understand their significance! Those are my life’s work! No one else could even approach the genius it took to create them--”

“Tocker, gag the prisoner.”

“Yes sir.” Tocker pulled his sock out of his pocket and stuffed it in the alchemist’s mouth with relish.
---------------------------------
Chiyo
Is it possible just to post it rather then download? Its most likely to get more reviews that way. If its too x-rated perhaps you could edit slightly where needed and then add a link to the original?

All up to you though, and welcome to the boards.
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(Chiyo @ Oct 3 2006, 04:58 PM) [snapback]454672[/snapback]

Is it possible just to post it rather then download? Its most likely to get more reviews that way. If its too x-rated perhaps you could edit slightly where needed and then add a link to the original?

All up to you though, and welcome to the boards.


Great to see you here Sable, not only are you a cool person (hey! you put up with me! biggrin.gif ) you are one of the Twelve FMA Fanfic Authors WHo Are Better Than I Am. I hope you will post some of your artwork based on your fic too.
Sable
space holder. text has been removed for your viewing pleasure.
Chiyo
QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Oct 4 2006, 02:54 AM) [snapback]454762[/snapback]

QUOTE(Chiyo @ Oct 3 2006, 04:58 PM) [snapback]454672[/snapback]

Is it possible just to post it rather then download? Its most likely to get more reviews that way. If its too x-rated perhaps you could edit slightly where needed and then add a link to the original?

All up to you though, and welcome to the boards.


Great to see you here Sable, not only are you a cool person (hey! you put up with me! biggrin.gif ) you are one of the Twelve FMA Fanfic Authors WHo Are Better Than I Am. I hope you will post some of your artwork based on your fic too.


Ooh who are the twelve?


This story really looks as if its going somewhere although I believe you were cut off at the bottom. You are descriptive without such a thing taking over and it is a unique idea.
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(Chiyo @ Oct 4 2006, 08:08 AM) [snapback]454881[/snapback]

Great to see you here Sable, not only are you a cool person (hey! you put up with me! biggrin.gif ) you are one of the Twelve FMA Fanfic Authors WHo Are Better Than I Am. I hope you will post some of your artwork based on your fic too.


Ooh who are the twelve?


Um, lessee. I know Tobu Ishi is one of them, not sure if the others on the list post to this site. I will have to check my favorite authors list to be sure of them.
Sable
Dammit.

It said the word count was under the limit. I don't know why it did that. *sigh* I'll post the rest tonight. I apologize, everybody.

QUOTE(Chiyo @ Oct 4 2006, 06:08 AM) [snapback]454881[/snapback]

QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Oct 4 2006, 02:54 AM) [snapback]454762[/snapback]

QUOTE(Chiyo @ Oct 3 2006, 04:58 PM) [snapback]454672[/snapback]

Is it possible just to post it rather then download? Its most likely to get more reviews that way. If its too x-rated perhaps you could edit slightly where needed and then add a link to the original?

All up to you though, and welcome to the boards.


Great to see you here Sable, not only are you a cool person (hey! you put up with me! biggrin.gif ) you are one of the Twelve FMA Fanfic Authors WHo Are Better Than I Am. I hope you will post some of your artwork based on your fic too.


Ooh who are the twelve?


This story really looks as if its going somewhere although I believe you were cut off at the bottom. You are descriptive without such a thing taking over and it is a unique idea.

Sable
part ii, Chapter 1 cont'd.
---------------------------

Behind him, Al could hear someone heaving their most recent meal onto the concrete. He couldn’t blame them.

He had tried to brace for what they might find as they broke through the steel door. It hadn’t helped much.
Cries of shock and horror began as Al’s team came through the doors and were immediately cut off. They were soldiers, after all.

But Al was the only one who could bring himself to proceed any further into the room.

In the center of the bunker, glass and metal tanks of yellowish preservative were bolted to the floor and backlit, displaying the terrible fruits of the mad alchemist’s efforts. Al reached out to touch the curve of the glass, so cold it bit his fingers even through his gloves. Behind his hand, beneath the glass, what had been a little girl was suspended in the viscous fluid, her wide, blind eyes level with his own. Her pale hair drifted around her like a pall and her skin was stretched thin, as though it was barely enough to cover her tiny, brittle body.
Crowning it all was the deformity that, to Varys and his patrons, must have been their most brilliant achievement. In place of arms, twisted, pinion-covered limbs sprouted from her shoulders, looking for all the world like the wings of a half-plucked chicken. Mouth and eyes agape, she was like some sad and alien bird, crushed and drowned in a rising tide. Every tank held a chimera that was much the same, more or less birdlike, all with the faces of children between ten and three years of age.

Al looked at them, the shadows around his mouth and eyes etched deep into his face. If they had lived, Brother’s array might have made them human again. We came for them too late...just like Nina…

We’ll never even know what their names were…


A muffled sound caused Al to turn, searching for the source. Behind him, the captured alchemist was laughing around his gag, his eyes full of a vicious, insane delight. Al felt his face harden and his fists clench, the anger his discipline had restrained ripping through his control. His eyes shot to the armor suit that restrained the Aerugan alchemist as he gave it a wordless command. The armor trapped both of the man’s hands in one fist and dragged him over to where Al stood. It wasn’t gentle when it ripped the gag out of its captive’s mouth.

“What was the Aerugan military’s purpose here? Why did they want avian chimera?” Al rapped out before the other man had a chance to protest.

“Surely a National Alchemist should have figured it out by now--” the man began, sneering. He was cut off by when an armored hand closed on his throat.

Backlit by the ambient light, the colonel’s face was hooded in darkness, and the armor beside him seemed a blaze-eyed extension of his shadow.
The grim voice that echoed around the chamber might have come from the armor or the man. “If I tell it to, that hand will close. Which do you prefer, a broken neck or asphyxiation?” Al schooled his expression to look as cold and unyielding as the fist closing around the alchemist’s throat. The Fullmetal Alchemist wasn’t the only Elric who knew how to intimidate people.

Varys’s eyes darted to him, bulging with fear—“Soldiers! They wanted soldiers that could assault from the air!” He gasped in choking, drooling relief as the mailed hand released him.

Al closed his eyes and stepped back. It made a terrible sort of sense. Aerugo must have heard of the success of the aerial assault on Amestris during the war of the gate. Being metal poor, they had resorted to the materials at hand--- namely, human lives. They had probably started preying on enemy soldiers, until the weaker, unarmed children became too tempting a target…

“Colonel, look out!”

At Bell’s shout, Al looked up. Within the shadow of the tanks, a darker shadow was inching toward him. It stopped when it felt Al’s eyes on it, shrinking into itself. Al squinted at it. Was it shivering? Something about its pose seemed very familiar…

A memory of his son Richard sobbing over a scraped knee let Al recognize what the figure was, and what it was doing.
Al slowly crouched on one knee and spoke in the gentle tone reserved for injured animals and chasing away nightmares. “Don’t cry. It’s all right. We’re here to help. What’s your name?” Al hoped the small form could understand him.

“I don’t know.” The voice was strangely high and fluid, its inflection that of a child no older than eight or nine. Bell lowered his rifle as the words echoed forlornly around the chamber.

“I don’t know!” the voice sobbed again suddenly. It lunged forward—

And Al opened his arms. He rocked back as the figure crashed into him at full tilt, but he didn’t fall, and he didn’t let go of what flung its strange arms around him and sobbed in piping breaths. “It’s going to be all right.” Al whispered, praying it wasn’t a lie. “You’re going to be all right.”

The creature crying into Al’s shoulder was a little boy, or had been. Alchemy had stretched his upper limbs to drag on the floor when they weren’t folded awkwardly at his sides. The muscles of his legs were overdeveloped, his feet ending in three-toed talons with another vestigial talon sprouting from each heel. A clawed thumb sprouted from the second joint of where hands should have been. His body was covered in pale feathers, from short, fur-like tufts on his head to huge, fully developed flight feathers that made his upper limbs more wing than arm. His eyes were huge when he blinked up at Al’s face, his pupils mere pinpricks even in the wan light.
Al stroked the trembling head comfortingly, feeling feathery down under his hand. Sliding out of his cloak he knelt and wrapped it around the child, lifting him into his arms. The boy tensed for a moment, then sighed and sagged into him. Al felt his heart melt as the feathered arms gingerly reached back around his neck.

Please let us be able to save this one…Al prayed, though he wasn’t sure to whom.

“Are there any others like this?” he addressed the alchemist grimly.

Varys stared back at him, his expression a sickening mix of jealous pride and possession. “It’s mine! I made it. You can’t have it!
The boy in Al’s arms flinched at the other alchemist's voice, shuddering, his arms tightening around his rescuer’s neck.

He belongs to himself!” Al’s clear, furious shout rang out, silencing the man. “Answer me. Are there any others?”
The man glared at him a moment in sullen silence. Then he replied, “No. That is my best chimera, the only one that survived the transmutation process.”

“Fine.” Al raised his voice so that he was heard by all. “We’re moving out. I want my team split between the front and the rear, Major Waldenmeyer and his men in the middle.” Al moved to the front with the suit of armor.

The alchemist it restrained bucked and frothed out, “No! Don’t take my creation! It was a trap! They’re coming, they’re coming, and they’ll destroy it when they kill you!”

Damn. Al thought bitterly. I knew this was too easy…“We’ve got incoming! Everyone, line up now! Double formation! Tocker, Daniels, give the major’s men your spare rifles. Lane and Hart, give them yours too and get in the middle. I want Klaus and Bell behind me, anyone else who can shoot in back.” Al’s eyes went to the burden in his arms. Unasked, his mind summoned images of what a firefight would do to a small body…
“Here, Colonel. I’ll take him.” Lane held out his hands, no longer burdened with a rifle.
Al looked for any sign Lane’s face that his concussion was slowing him down. Finding none, he handed the boy over to the sergeant. “If he’s too much to carry--”

“I’ll keep up.” Lane hefted his burden and gave Al a cocky smirk. “Don’t be such a worrywart, Colonel. Between the two of us, I’m not the one who looks like dog meat.”

The colonel smiled crookedly in reply as he touched the steel door of the bunker. A minute later another suit of armor had joined the group at the rear, one more shield for his men. Alphonse hoped it would be enough. “Let’s go, people.

The gruesome iron doors leading into the lab became three more suits of armor, and then the battle was joined. With a cry “Fire!” from some faceless enemy, the passage behind the entryway erupted with gunfire. The armor suits charged forward without hesitation, unaffected by the hail of half-molten lead. Ricochets whined along the stone of the corridor. Cries of fear and pain came from the enemy soldiers as some of their shots were repelled back into their mass. They split and retreated further down the corridor, still shooting.

Lieutenant Klaus was beside Al, shouting into over the roar of gunfire. “The corridor splits up ahead! They’ll try to catch us in the crossfire!”

“Then we’ll make out own way out!” The wall of armor defending them was just wide enough that Al could reach the wall without being exposed to gunfire. And suddenly there no longer was a wall, only empty air where it had receded into the floor.

A horrendous, grinding groan from the ceiling barely preceded Klaus’s cry of “Sir! That was a load-bearing wall!”

“Too late to worry about it now! Move!” Al yelled, directing his men toward the new exit. They surged through, the armor coming last and closing the gap behind him. Al had already bored a hole through the ceiling, with stone stairs leading up to it.
They were through the ceiling and halfway across the open gallery of the main cell block when gunfire erupted from overhead. One of his brother’s more pungent oaths escaped his lips, but Al didn’t hesitate. With a blue flare, he condensed a wall of ice from the air to shield them, curving from the floor to arc over their heads.
With a wall at their backs, fire from above was cut off from behind and thudded into the ice in front. Fracture patterns formed where bullets struck, obscuring Al’s view of the snipers. His conveniently transparent barrier wouldn’t hold out much longer. Worse, his hands were starting to shake in exhaustion. Grafting several pieces of his soul at once was beginning to take its toll.

“Klaus! Where’s the northern wall?”

“Through here, sir!” the lieutenant called back, pointing to the wall at their back.

Al made a hole barely wide enough for them to pass in double file and ordered everyone through. Then his knees gave out. Klaus and Daniels saw him fall and got under his shoulders. Between them he managed to stagger to his feet.

A second later, a section of the ice shattered, letting the rain of bullets pour through. Al's head whipped around at Bell's scream.

The officer collapsed like a string-cut marionette as a shot ripped through his thigh. Then the armor was there, shielding him. But that’s not going to last…Al watched as a tell-tale shudder ran through it, a sign that the soul-bind was failing.
He couldn’t trust it to take the strain of carrying Bell out…Al pushed Klaus and Daniels toward the gap and dashed headlong for the bullet-proof umbra of the armor. A glancing shot caught him along the shoulder, spinning him halfway around. Then he was at Bell’s side.

Colonel!” Klaus screamed. She and Daniels were starting after him.

“Stay there! That’s an order!” Al bellowed back

Exhausted as he was, hefting the unconscious man was more difficult than he had thought it would be. God, I’m so tired—no time for that, have to lift, LIFT—! Al locked his legs and strained, by some miracle managing to get Bell over his shoulder. Another suit of armor took the place of its failing counterpart, retreating with them as Al staggered for the opening.

They were through. Two of Waldenmeyer’s men took Bell between them and Klaus was at his elbow, supporting him, Daniels right behind as they moved toward the wall, the last wall. The sight of it gave Al another spur of numbing adrenaline. He clapped and the wall was gone, and there were footsteps behind him—he touched the opposite wall and heard the stone scream as it cracked under his hand. With a roar like thunder, the ceiling collapsed before their pursuers, but a rising, grinding shriek from above warned that the rest of the instillation wasn’t far behind. He staggered through with the aid of his men, then there was dirt under his boots, and they were through the fence and into the trees.

Al stumbled against a root and fell sprawling, his weight carrying Klaus to the ground with him. He strained to rise, collapsed back to a knee as his vision wavered and his head spun. Daniels shouldered his rifle, and he and Klaus helped the colonel to his feet once again.

Daniels’s eyes were staring up at him worriedly. “He looks concussed, and he’s bleeding from his head and shoulder. Klaus--”
“’M fine,” The colonel slurred at them insistently, trying to shrug off their help. “Stop worrying, Brother.” Daniel’s and Klaus traded anxious looks, both thinking Just how hard was he hit…?

Suddenly Colonel Elric’s head whipped around. “Here comes the cavalry,” he pronounced brightly. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he folded into a boneless heap. Klaus knelt over him, yelling into his face and finally slapping him, but it was useless. The Soul Alchemist was out cold.

She and Officer Daniels had managed to lift him halfway when they were suddenly relieved of his weight, and a familiar voice came out of the dark behind them, making them both jump. “Sorry about that,” it said, its tone oddly sheepish. “Here, let me.”

A suit of armor had come back through the trees. It hefted their unconscious leader without effort. Daniels peered at it. Was it his imagination, or did the armor’s movements seem more human, less stilted than before…?

“Colonel, is that you in there?” he asked.

“Well, technically, it always was, but my control gets better when I’m not conscious.” The colonel’s voice replied hollowly.

The steel huge steel form turned glowing eyes on its limp burden and seemed to shiver.
“This is really weird. I’ve never carried myself before.” The colonel’s voice was somewhere between bemused and vaguely disturbed as he peered into his own face. “I didn’t realize that array had torn me up so badly…” The glowing eyes shot up at the shouts filtering through the trees. “What am I doing? RUN!”

Dodging branches and leaping tree roots, they plunged through the darkness, sprinting for the border and safety.
IttyBittyPretty
Hey Sable, since you have now joined this site, I have been thinking about joining DA, to post my fics, and also photographs of cemetary art I have taken. But I wanted to know, is the joining process easy, complicated, or a royal pain in the derriere? What do members who buy a subscription to DA get which members who didn't don't?
Sable
Okay! Here's the deal--

Getting on to dA is easy. The account type I have is free. The subscription account is NOT free, 'course; it's only worthwhile in my opinion if you can sell your pieces for over fifty bucks, and even then there are better deals. Subscribed accounts also let you track your viewership to a greater extent.

The only problem I can think of you having is if you don't have a program that can format your images into a .PICT, .GIF, or. JPEG file.

Other than that, it's pretty fool proof. Hell, I can use it; that alone speaks for it. - -;

Be sure to fav me if you decide to go through with it!
IttyBittyPretty
QUOTE(Sable @ Oct 16 2006, 05:45 PM) [snapback]460805[/snapback]

Okay! Here's the deal--

Getting on to dA is easy. The account type I have is free. The subscription account is NOT free, 'course; it's only worthwhile in my opinion if you can sell your pieces for over fifty bucks, and even then there are better deals. Subscribed accounts also let you track your viewership to a greater extent.

The only problem I can think of you having is if you don't have a program that can format your images into a .PICT, .GIF, or. JPEG file.

Other than that, it's pretty fool proof. Hell, I can use it; that alone speaks for it. - -;

Be sure to fav me if you decide to go through with it!


#That sounds simple enough. I have an HP 1210 PSC and everything I scan is automatically formatted as a .JPEG file. (how many people say "Jay Peg" in their minds when reading that? Raise your hands, don't be shy! tongue.gif ) Now, must I contact a member first and ask for permission to fav, or can I just go ahead and do it? I don't want to make any etiquette mistakes.
Chiyo
You just fave a piece of work, you don't have to ask. Some people like to have a comment if you fave but not usually. If you really Like a piece I would always recomd looking at the artists gallery and adding them as a friend (if they update that is). They don't have to add you as a friend if they don't want, so your not forcing anything on them.

Good piece Sable, keep it up.
Sable

#That sounds simple enough. I have an HP 1210 PSC and everything I scan is automatically formatted as a .JPEG file. (how many people say "Jay Peg" in their minds when reading that? Raise your hands, don't be shy! tongue.gif ) Now, must I contact a member first and ask for permission to fav, or can I just go ahead and do it? I don't want to make any etiquette mistakes.
[/quote]

Nah, go right ahead. DA is huge and mulitnational; there's no check in with the admins. It's only on the forums that you have to watch what you do, and read the rules (speaking as a two-time offender - -wink.gif.
Tobu Ishi
*grins* So, where's the rest of this? You have my interest, and I'm very interested in whatever comes next. Good chimera!fics are few and far between. <3
Sable
QUOTE(Tobu Ishi @ Oct 22 2006, 04:24 PM) [snapback]463537[/snapback]

*grins* So, where's the rest of this? You have my interest, and I'm very interested in whatever comes next. Good chimera!fics are few and far between. <3


TOBU ISHI LIKES MY FIC! SABLE CAN DIE HAPPY!

...aheh. Sorry. Otaku. I've been reading EdWin 100 themes on Scimitar Smile for a while now. In dealing with EdxWin I can't say that I set out to emulate you, but your writing is always masterful and exactly...in...character...! So I believe that (in the most respectful, non-plagiarizing way) that your writing informs my feel for Ed and Win's relationship.

And...this fic is no mere chimera fic. As you will soon see. *evil grin*

Next up! Chapter 2: The Shadow of Steel!
Sable
Disclaimer: I don’t own Fullmetal Alchemist, obviously, so don’t sue me. I’m a poor college student busily incurring a great deal of debt, so it’d be like squeezing blood from a stone, really.


Chapter 2: The Shadow of Steel

The camp seethed with activity as personnel scrambled to load supplies onto waiting trucks. Messengers dashed back and forth, relaying orders and getting under everyone’s feet.
Colonel Elric's squad returned to camp in the midst of their unit's AM withdrawal northward to join the rest of the South branch of the army at Fort Lone. The perimeter guards halted them at the checkpoint and sent them on. Outside the infirmary a few minutes later, they were intercepted by a harried-looking medic. He took in their assortment of cuts, slings and bruises, caught sight of the suit of armor...and then the scales on Waldenmeyer’s face. His eyes widened, and he started to move past the armor to the chimera when the steel body shifted to block his path.

The man paled when it spoke, recognizing the colonel’s voice as he requested that Brigadier General Havoc be informed that his team would be in the infirmary. The medic led them into the tent without a word. Before he left he informed them that it would take some time to be debriefed or even seen to until the chaos of packing up died down.

So they waited. After checking to make certain that Bell had already been stabilized and drugged in anticipation of his surgery and the train evac to Central, Connor unpacked some iodine and began tweezing ground-in shrapnel out of the more drastic cuts. The suit of armor lay the colonel’s body down on one of the empty beds, then assisted the second lieutenant mutely, bandaging the wounds and resetting Hart’s broken arm. It didn’t speak again, and its movements grew more and more stilted as time passed. Connor hoped it was a sign that the colonel would soon awaken.

Waldenmeyer and his men kept to a corner, all of them dozing except for major himself and the two other ranking officers. They sat hunched, staring at nothing, apparently lost in thought. The major only moved to wave Connor off when he offered to look them over. “We’re fine. Your people bore the brunt of it. See to yourselves.”

They all started when the armor finally shuddered and collapsed, the head rattling emptily into a corner. Connor stepped around Lane’s cot and checked the Colonel’s pulse, but there was no change. Walder peered inside the empty metal carapace and shivered. “Do you really think the Colonel lived like that for four years?”

Connor, who at thirty-seven was the oldest of the group, answered her. “I saw him and his brother in 1912. Everybody knew a suit of armor followed the Fullmetal Alchemist around, but the higher-ups were the only ones who knew the whole story, and only a few of them. And the Fullmetal himself didn’t exactly invite questions on the subject. I had heard he had a hell of a temper for a little cuss.”

Walder looked thoughtfully toward the bed the colonel occupied. “Connor, aren’t you older than Colonel Elric? I mean, our Colonel Elric?”

“By seven years, yeah.”

Walder could see that everyone else was doing the math as well. “But for the Fullmetal to be in service in 1912…”

Conner half-smiled at the realization dawning in the other faces around the room. “He couldn’t have been more than fourteen. And our fearless leader was all of thirteen at the time.”

“I wondered how he made Colonel so young.” Hart was looking at the unconscious man as well. Sleeping, the colonel’s face was barely lined, and gray had yet to touch his bronze hair. It was a gentle face, true to the Colonel’s nature, but deceptive in that his experience hardly showed . . . unless his eyes were open. Then someone might catch a glimpse at the truth behind the rumor that surrounded the Elrics. The Colonel’s eyes were older than they had any right to be. They peeled the myth away, and let one wonder if every whispered horror of his and his brother’s legend was true . . .

Daniels’s expression almost awed. “Did you see the way he went back for Bell?”

Klaus frowned from where she stood against the wall, arms folded. “It was foolish. He should have sent one of us back.”

“It was brave!” Daniels insisted.

Klaus’s dark gaze bored into him, then flicked to Connor. “You explain,” she directed.

The field medic sighed out a “Yes, ma’am”, but pierced the rookie with a look as direct as the lieutenant’s. “It was brave. But the lieutenant is right. It was also really stupid.”

“But--” Daniels checked his tongue as Connor raised a hand.

“Look, kid. I’ve been around a while, and I’ve been passed through a lot of officers who were incompetent, wouldn’t tolerate the fact that I spoke up when I thought they were wrong, who were cruel to their men or cowards. The Colonel’s none of that, and I’m glad of it. I hope you’re retired before you realize how lucky you were to get him right off the cadet lists. The man would die for any of us, and that’s the truth.”

He leaned in then, staring the corporal in the eye. “But that’s exactly what the danger is. The Colonel would do that, not expecting that we’d do the same, that if he gets hurt we have to help. Lose one of us, and the rest will probably get out of it alive, but lose him—" Connor made a slicing motion across his throat.
“Command throws us all at things knowing what he can do. I wouldn’t have given a used hanky for our chances in that bunker this morning if he’d gone down any earlier. And that’s the other thing,” he added, his dark eyes no longer on the rookie but on the still form occupying the furthest cot. “He can’t stand us dying on him, any more than he can stand to kill.”
Connor said it softly, but read looks of realization and agreement in the faces of the senior officers.
Daniels frowned. “How is he supposed to stand it? What do you mean?”

Connor looked away to the colonel, then back at the senior officers. “You all remember when Redman and Stockbridge got killed.” It wasn’t a question. There was no doubting they remembered the men that Daniels and Tocker had joined the unit to replace, in body if not spirit.

“What happened?” Daniels asked. He and Tocker were looking around at the suddenly grim faces.

“Ambush. Not the Colonel’s fault; some joker of a major general screwed us over by marching us straight into a line of Drachmar subversives hiding in a bog. The colonel put a wall between us and them, but Stocks and Klev were down before we even knew they were there.”

Lane smiled bitterly into the silence. “I always told Stocky I’d outrank him one day. Never occurred to me his punching out would prove me right.”

“And you all remember what happened with the Colonel after they died.” Connor continued.

Lane laughed, the shadow over his face lifting somewhat. “You punched him.”

Daniels and Tocker gaped. “You punched him?”

Connor narrowed his eyes at the snickering sergeant. “I’m trying to make a point to the rookie, you dumbass. I punched the colonel to snap him out of the week-long spell when he barely ate and only talked when he had to.”

Daniels and Tocker’s eyes widened. They weren’t the only ones.

“He stopped eating over that?” Hart asked, aghast.

“I never knew that.” Walder looked just as taken aback.

“I knew.” The lieutenant said softly. “All the orders, all the planning was as sharp as before. I think he was desperate to keep us all safe after that. But outside of duty he stayed away from everyone, including us. The Brigadier General tried talking to him, but it didn’t help.”

“Even punching him didn’t bring him out of it.” Connor remembered, the barest hint of a
smile playing on his face. “So I got desperate and called his brother.”

“His brother?” Tocker spluttered at him. “The Fullmetal Alchemist. You just called him up out of the blue.” Even Klaus was looking at him in surprise, and perhaps approval.

Connor grinned, the response of his audience letting him warm into the story. “Pretty much. I got his number from some pencil pusher I know at Central. The number went to the lab closest to where he was on the southern border, so it took him two days to get back to me. At first I thought he was the dead opposite of the Colonel. Rude cuss. I didn’t even tell him my name before he cut me off to ask what the hell I wanted. But he went quiet when I said it was about the Colonel.” Connor knew Elric had thought he had called to report his brother’s injury or death, which was usually what calls from anonymous servicemen meant. The relief had been strong in the alchemist’s voice when he thanked him and hung up.

“He was on the Drachmar border by two in the morning, three days later. Must’ve driven like a bat out of hell to get there.” Connor laughed, recalling it. “He wasn’t what I expected at all.”

“What do you mean?” Tocker had leaned forward, intent on Connor’s tale.

The second lieutenant grinned. “Well, you know how all those dime novels describe him. You know, all flawlessly heroic, cleft chin, dashing smile, long golden hair, eyes that make women swoon--” Connor batted his own at Walder and ducked the bed pillow she threw at him.
“All that crap. Plus, his voice was deeper than the Colonel’s, so I thought he’d be the taller of the two.” The others looked askance at him when he started laughing before he explained precisely why the story was so hilarious.
“So here I am, it’s two fifteen in the morning and I’m waiting up to see the “human weapon” out of Amestrian dime-store legend, who called an hour before to tell Havoc that they have to keep this on the down-low, because no one’s realized yet that he’s gone AWOL in order to get up there. Best conversation I ever had the pleasure of overhearing. You should have heard the Brigadier General swear when he got off the phone. But then he looks at me--” Here Connor mimed the Brigadier General’s long jaw, set in a grim line. “—and he goes, ‘You heard the little cuss. Make sure nobody sees him when you escort him to Colonel Elric.’”

“I can’t believe the higher-ups would tie themselves in so many knots for this guy, even if he is a war hero.” Hart shook his head as the rest laughed.

Connor smirked by way of reply. “It gets better. So I’m waiting outside to escort this guy and someone in civvies walks up and asks where the hell Havoc is. Doesn’t add the rank or the sir, which should have told me something right then, but it’s two in the morning, remember, and I’ve been up since four the day before. So my brain sees the clothes and thinks ‘this fucking civilian is trying to push past me’, so I unsling my rifle and tell him to state his fucking business and who the f*!@ he is.”

Walder’s expression was somewhere between laughter and horror. “You didn’t.”

“I sure did. Next thing I know there’s a flash, my rifle muzzle suddenly looks like a bowtie, and this guy who barely comes up to my chin--” Connor held out his hand to indicate the man’s height—“has yanked me down so I’m face to face with these mean, bloodshot, yellow eyes. Then the guy snarls right in my face, ‘I’m Edward fucking Elric, and my fucking business is none of yours.’”
Connor laughed just as heartily as everyone else despite the joke being at his expense. Even Waldenmeyer’s men joined in. He wiped his eyes and kept going, raising his voice over the roar of laughter, catcalls and cheering. “He says that and I finally figure out it’s the same voice I heard over the phone three days ago. Only then do I realize I’ve nearly assaulted the Fullmetal Alchemist, legend in the flesh and steel.”

“He only came up to your chin?” Daniels looked torn between laughter and incredulousness, as though trying to decide whether Connor and the others were having a joke at his expense.

“Swear to God, may I be drowned in the cafeteria tapioca if I lie.” Connor assured him, chortling. “He didn’t look real heroic, either. He looked more like a guy that had driven for three days straight. Walder, you’ll have to tell me whether bloodshot eyes make you swoon, ‘cause they don’t do much for me.” He ducked another flying object and continued. “So I led him to the Colonel, they talked, and the Fullmetal left before dawn.”

“You didn’t hear what he said?” Tocker asked, disappointed. Connor could tell the rookie wanted to redeem the hero whose image had been soiled by his portrayal of a foul-mouthed midget.

Connor gave him a direct look. “I did. They didn’t dismiss me, so I stuck around. Elric told the Colonel…exactly what he needed to hear.” His tone was final, stating clearly that he had said all he meant to. Daniel and Tocker's faces fell like five year olds who had just had their candy snatched away.
Seeing their disappointment, Connor added, “I will say this. There was enough in what he said to tell me that anyone who says he was responsible for Lior doesn’t know shit from steak at the Alabaster.” He knew that would brighten Tocker up at least. Any time a debate turned to Lior (which it never did if Colonel Elric was present), Tocker always jumped to the Elrics’ defense.

“How do you know?” Hart questioned. He was one of the skeptics who maintained that the Lior disaster might have been caused by a state alchemist, though there was no proving it unless and until the military gave them up.

“Because, and I want you to understand what I’m saying, the older Elric is exactly like our fearless leader at heart. He just hides it better. The Colonel couldn’t have managed killing our own people at Lior. Hell, you’ve seen him, he never even kills foreign soldiers.” Connor watched as Hart’s skeptical look softened into thoughtfulness. “Him and his brother, judging from what I heard then and what I’ve heard around, take every risky task they’re handed to keep other people out of harm’s way.”

“Whatever they said could have just been for your benefit.” Hart shrugged defensively with the shoulder that wasn’t bandaged as everyone looked at him. “I’m just saying.”

Connor snorted. “Then it was the best spun, most eloquent piece of bullshit I’ve ever heard, and the Elric brothers could put any film star to shame.”

The tread of boots snapped the group out of their debate, and a man’s voice filtered through the canvas divider. “Your patient’s through here, doctor.” A hand pulled the canvas aside, and a woman in a blue medic’s coat walked through.

Connor had to look twice to get his brain to register past the uniform and her insignia of a major. The woman was beautiful. Not in a classic way; the eyes were slightly too tilted, her straight nose a bit long, her skin a dusky olive. But her eyes were cinnamon-brown and warm with laughter, her lips were full, and her nose balanced a well-boned face positively crammed with character.
This one’s a spitfire, Connor thought as his eyes made the customary dance to her hands, checking for a wedding band. Wonder if she’s lonely…
His speculation broke off as he caught a gold glint on her hand. Seeing the ring, he sighed mentally, tipping some faceless man a rueful salute. Hope the bastard knows how lucky he is. He wondered idly if he knew the bastard in question; that ring looked familiar…

His attention was so focused on the woman that it took a moment to realize Brigadier General Havoc had been the one to escort her into the tent. Everyone able to do so shot to their feet and saluted.
Lane saluted from his cot, a jaunty, lady-killer smile already in place. “General Havoc sir, thank you for sending the most beautiful nurse in the service. I’ll be sure to name one of our children after you.”
The brigadier general blinked at him. Connor put a hand over his face. Lane, you ass…He had just managed to place the ring that matched the medic’s.

The brigadier general looked from Lane to the woman, fighting to keep a straight face and failing miserably. The medic lifted one cool, dark brow at the sergeant’s winning smile. When she spoke, her voice was rich with amusement and an Eastern accent. “I don’t have a say in this?”

“Nope.” Lane looked as dashing as Connor supposed was possible on a military cot with a bandage around your head.
The second lieutenant caught Klaus and Walder rolling their eyes in unison. They knew. Lane was about to be shot down in the flaming wreckage of his ego, and he would never see it coming.

“What about my husband?” One lovely hand displayed the band, braided with three shades of gold.

“A husband that doesn’t follow wherever you choose to go clearly has no concept of how he couldn’t possibly deserve you.” Lane returned gallantly.

The brigadier general choked, unlit cigarette flying out of his mouth. Lane pointedly ignored him.

The woman only smiled. “Perhaps. But before you explain why you are so much worthier, I have to see my patient.” She padded to the bed where Colonel Elric lay. His head was turned toward them, so that they could see his face had relaxed enough to have fallen into true sleep. She laid light fingers on his wrist, checking his pulse, then pulled back the dressing on his forehead and frowned. “How did he get this?” she addressed the room.

Klaus spoke up. “Ma’am, a chunk of flying ice made that cut.”

The medic’s fingers probed the colonel’s head gently. “I thought it had to have been masonry. It fractured his skull for him. I need new bandages, please.”

Connor nearly tripped over Lane as the other man charged to bring a handful to her. Connor rolled his eyes at the sergeant’s muttered “I saw her first” and laid his share of the bandages on the tray. “How could you tell his skull was fractured just by touching it?” he asked.
The woman gave him a brilliant smile. “Because I am an alchemist as well.” A needle flashed, pricking one long finger. When the blood welled, she drew a tangled circle around the wound. She laid two fingers on it and smiled as it flared with green-gold light.

When the glow died, the cut was still there, but it was no longer so deep or broad, and blood no longer welled from it.
“You didn’t seal the cut so that oxygen is allowed kill the bacteria?” Connor inquired.

She looked at him interestedly. “That’s right. Are you a medic?”

“Field medic assigned to Colonel Elric. I would have dressed that wound sooner, but in my defense, the only way to sew up the colonel is if he lets you. Big stoic.” Connor added with affectionate disgust. He pointedly ignored Lane’s elbow jabbing him the ribs.

The lovely brown eyes had already turned back to the colonel. She sat lightly on the edge of his bed, then reached out and ran gentle fingers through his hair, leaning over so that they were nearly nose to nose, her own long tresses falling over her shoulder in a dark, rippling curtain. Out of the corner of his eye, Connor could see Lane’s face contorting in all manner of interesting expressions.

“Mmmm.” Eyes still closed, the colonel sighed and turned his face into her hand.

“Good morning, love,” she whispered, though not soft enough that Lane and Connor couldn’t hear her clearly. Connor thought he saw a dark eye flick wickedly in Lane’s direction.

Al’s eyes flickered open to a face that was beautiful in its familiarity as well as its form. “Hey there,” he said softly. Oblivious to his audience, he pushed himself to his elbows, and warm lips leaned down to meet him.

Connor had been watching Lane when the colonel got kissed, so he knew the exact moment comprehension brought its hammer down on the man’s skull. He hadn’t known the sergeant could blush like that, and his groan of embarrassment made both the colonel and the doctor turn. When she did, the gold name tag that had been concealed by a lapel became visible, emblazoned with the letters “A. Elric.” The colonel’s left hand rested on the medic’s shoulder, allowing a good view of a ring that was a larger duplicate of the one she had flashed.
Lane threw an arm across his eyes, grimacing melodramatically. “I humbly request that someone shoot me. Klaus, Connor, I know you love me. Kill me.”

Connor grinned cheerfully and raised his hand. “Colonel Elric sir, I volunteer to put the sergeant out of our misery.”


Once Al was updated on the situation, Havoc filed everyone out, saying that he would request Al’s report after the main group rejoined General Raven. Once the room was empty, Al’s eyes went back to Arelana. A grin blazed to life in his face as he swept his wife into his arms and spun.
“I didn’t know you were coming!” he crowed, artlessly happy.

Lana waited until he had set her down and kissed her soundly to reply. “Didn’t you get my letter?”

Her husband grinned sheepishly. “I didn’t have time before the raid. I like to read them
when no one’s around.”

“Dope.” Lana smiled up at him and rapped the back of her hand against his arm.

Al caught the hand and brought it to his lips. “So, why are you here?” he asked, smiling against her fingers.

Lana gave him a regretful look that warned whatever she said next was sure to break the mood. “Well, officially, my unit is here to help evacuate the wounded from the border. Unofficially…” She leaned over and whispered into his ear. “There was a message an hour ago that they wanted me, specifically, because there was the possibility of chimera.” His wife leaned back and frowned thoughtfully. “Though how they think I could be more expert than you or your brother is beyond me.”

Al’s playful mood was indeed smothered as his thoughts turned to the Aerugan alchemist and his “progeny”.
Lana looked at him concernedly as his face folded. “What happened? You didn’t find any, did you?”

“We did. We brought him…back….” Lana watched her husband’s bronze eyes widen in alarm. “Oh, no. I can’t believe I forgot about him!” His face twisted as he cast around for his boots and cloak, berating himself under his breath. He jammed it all on and rushed for the door, snagging his wife’s hand as he passed. “Come on!”

They found his team in the middle of debriefing two tents away. Normally respectful of protocol, Al bulled into the tent in a manner that reminded Lana strongly of her brother-in-law. “Lane! What happened to the boy?”

Startled, the sergeant who had been hitting on her in the infirmary leapt to his feet. “Sir! The medical staff took him off my hands when we arrived. They may have put him with the other children.”

Al didn’t take the time to reply. He whirled them both around and plunged back out of the tent.

Despite the glow of predawn, visibility was terrible as they ran through the haze of mud and rain.
It was Arelana who spotted the small figures being loaded into two medical vans. Al skidded to a halt in front of one man in a white field-surgeon’s uniform and flashed his watch, a blur of silver in the uncertain light. “I’m Alphonse Elric. This is Arelana Elric, the Healing Alchemist. Where are these children are being taken?”

The medic saluted but left his hand in place to shield his glasses from the rain. “Sir, I was instructed by Brigadier General Havoc to take them to the Army Hospital at Central. He insisted that we be among the first out.” The man added pointedly

“I’m sorry, but this won’t take a minute,” Al replied, preoccupied with searching the ragged knot of children for a pair of golden eyes.
Puzzled at lapse of activity, the huddle of children in the truck peered out the rear doors. Then one of them spotted the figure in the tattered gray cloak and crowed in a piping voice, “It’s the man with the lightning! The Light Man, look! Look, you guys! He came back!”
The horde leapt past the startled medics and barreled into an equally startled Al. They cheered and laughed, dancing with their hands in held up to the rain, reaching for his cloak, his hands, anything they could touch. Al looked around helplessly from where he stood, knee-deep in a veritable sea of humanity. Lana caught his expression and laughed, but her eyes were bright with pride.

“He isn’t here?” she asked when she caught his eye, meaning the chimera.

Alphonse was still peering around frantically. “I can’t see him. Hey guys--” Al addressed his following. “Did you see a boy with ...um." Al trailed off. "He looks a little…different from you.” he finished lamely.

The children thought it over, murmuring amongst themselves. Then a girl’s voice piped from somewhere in the morass. “Mr. Al! I saw a boy in a blanket. I think he had gold eyes. A man took him away.”

Al felt his heart plunge as though the ground had fallen out from under him. “Is that you, Kaila? Which way did they go?”

“Over there.” She pointed down the row of trucks awaiting their load of men or equipment. “Want me to show you?”

“Yes, please. We have to hurry.” Al turned to the medics and stabbed a finger at the one in glasses. “You’re coming with us. You--” he said grimly, pointing to the other. “You will watch these children in the meantime. This truck doesn’t move until I get back, are we clear?”
“But--”

Any protest the man might have made died when he caught the look on Al’s face. “Yes sir.”
------------------------------------------------

Alphonse came around one armored van and nearly walked into the muzzle of a rifle.

Kaila looked up when he stopped, freezing when she saw the gun.

Like Al, Arelana started but recovered quickly, her eyes narrowing. “Pointing a gun at superior officer can earn you five years in prison.” She said it coolly, her level gaze never leaving the man’s face.
“Pointing it at my husband can get you killed.” He quiet voice was low and loaded with deadly promise. “Lower the rifle, captain, and explain yourself.”

“No need.” A man stepped from behind the truck. He stopped two feet away from Alphonse and addressed the taller man’s collarbone. “I am Acting Colonel Reeves. I apologize for Captain Welk. He was instructed to guard the cargo.”

Alphonse's gaze dismissed the captain and his now-lowered rifle and addressed the man Reeves in a clipped voice. “Your cargo is what, and headed where?”

The officer smiled thinly. “That would be top secret information.”

Al’s eyes narrowed. “Not secret from me. I’m Colonel Alphonse Elric. My team brought the chimera in. I want to know where you’re taking it.”

The man’s face didn’t move, but Al felt that behind his eyes the thin smile had grown a little wider. “I know of no chimera. Sir.”

Al’s mouth twisted. “Who’s your superior?”

“I answer to General Grumman. Sir.” The honorific was lagged deliberately as the man attempted to antagonize him. “Perhaps you’ve heard of him.”

Al kept the concern from his face at hearing the man drop the name of that particular general. What does Internal Affairs want with a chimera...?

“Internal Affairs has no jurisdiction over a human chimera,” he informed Reeves, merely to see the formalities out of the way. Al wasn’t about to let the truck leave with its living cargo still aboard, and the only one who didn’t know it was the pompous little man in front of him.
Keeping a tight rein on his temper, Al addressed Reeves once more in his most patient tone. “I request as a State Alchemist that you release him into my custody.”

The acting colonel finally abandoned his pretense of ignorance. He turned a cold eye up at Al, obviously trying to cow the taller man. He looked away when he just as obviously failed to do so. “Our orders come from the Major General. You have no authority to countermand them.” He recited the words to Al’s chest as though he had learned them by rote. “Get out of our way.” Behind him, several rifles cocked.

Al sighed resignedly and clapped his hands, then pinned Reeves with a look. “I suggest that your men not shoot. I just changed the composition of the air you’re standing in to pure oxygen. Any friction could cause a flame that would incinerate you in seconds. That includes a spark of static electricity...so if I were you, Acting Colonel, I wouldn’t move.”

At his words, the entire detachment froze. The acting colonel eyes widened before he attepmpted a weak glare. “You’re lying. You wouldn’t dare.”

Al smiled grimly, all tooth and no cheer. “Just remember, I warned you.” He walked away from the sputtering man.

“You can’t do this,” The acting colonel spat viciously. He craned his neck to follow Al’s retreating back, but otherwise made no move to follow. His men were being very careful to remain absolutely still. “There will be repercussions, I promise you.”

“There always are,” Al’s voice returned from inside the truck. There was a flash of blue light from the interior, a squealing cry, and he emerged again with a small, blanket-swathed form braced against his shoulder. As his feet met ground again Lana’s slim hand touched his shoulder, lending more than physical support. The look he turned on her was heavy with memory.

“There always are,” he repeated softly. Then, louder—“Let’s go.”


There we go! Chapter 2 up by popular request. *snicker* And by popular I mean three people (You know who you are). Thanks for the support! Chapter 3 coming soon to a forum near you...
IttyBittyPretty
Whoa. ohmy.gif I don't recall reading this chapter when it was on ff.net. Either it really is new or I'm blind.
Sable
QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Oct 23 2006, 08:47 AM) [snapback]463929[/snapback]

Whoa. ohmy.gif I don't recall reading this chapter when it was on ff.net. Either it really is new or I'm blind.



Huh. That's odd. This is chapter two on ff.net as well. I did take the chance to make some corrections...
Karlykitten
Wow, this fic is really good! I can't wait for more!
Chiyo
Haha it'll take a while to get used to seeing my name in there, even if it is only once or twice.

This is such an original piece of work, each character is well thought out. And with Tobu's approval you know you're onto a winner,
Sable
Sat Nov 18

Hi all. Chapter 3, as promised
I've taken a long time to post this here. Gomen. I hate html, so I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off....


Chapter 3: Small Price

Edward Elric cracked one eye as he heard the creak of the bedroom door--and flinched at the bright morning sun filtering through the window.

“Winry?” he muttered. The warm weight under his left arm shifted slightly, murmuring.
Having reaffirmed all was right with the world, Ed heaved a sigh, closed both eyes tightly and burrowed further into his wife’s hair.

He had almost managed to nod off again when he heard a soft pattering noise. It sounded strangely like small feet creeping stealthily across the bedroom floor, despite the fact that small feet had no business in his bedroom so early in the day.

Fortunately, he had enough experience with the phenomenon that he didn’t start when a small hand patted at his face. Ed merely closed his eyes tighter and prayed that the early morning apparition would take the hint and make itself scarce for another ten minutes…

Now little fingers were trying to pry his eyes open. “Dad?” a small voice whispered. Of course she’s whispering, Ed thought ruefully. She learned early on that Daddy’s the one who’ll put up with this kind of nonsense. Not to mention that NOTHING short of an earthquake, a flood, and an act of God wrapped up together had better wake her mother before seven in the morning.

The hands were getting more insistent, tugging at his hair and shoulder.

“Tri-shaaa,” Edward moaned pitifully into the back of Winry’s neck. “It’s too early for this.”
His daughter didn’t acknowledge the simple truth of his statement. In fact, she seemed to take her father’s semi-coherent groan as encouragement. Trisha hooked both hands around his arm, braced her feet against the bed frame and heaved at her recalcitrant father, trying to roll him over.

“You said…urg!...that we…unh!...were going on the train!…meh! Today!”

“I said today, Tri, not at the crack of dawn.” Ed, refusing to be moved, was still speaking to the back of his wife’s head.

“Wha…?” The movement from Edward being shaken by the nine-year-old had finally woken Winry.

“Your daughter’s trying to haul me out of bed,” Ed growled in her ear. “Despite the fact that I slaved for three weeks at Central just so I could get back to this bed. At the hands of General Bastard, no less.”

“My daughter? Are you downplaying your responsibility in this just a little bit?” Winry shot back sleepily. “Are the other two mine, too? Or are you trading her for them?”

“Anything that wakes me up this early is completely your fault.”

“Uh-huh. How come?”

“Dunno. Wasn’t it in the wedding vows somewhere…?”

“Mom-my.” Trisha was appealing to the higher power now. “Make Dad get up.”

“Win-ryyyy.” Ed locked both arms around his wife, using her as an anchor against the small body throwing itself backward against his weight. “Make your daughter get out of my room.”

Winry chuckled and gently pried at her husband arms. Edward, sensing a reprieve, relaxed his grip…and was caught completely by surprise when his wife gave him a sudden hard shove toward the edge of the bed. His daughter gave an especially hard yank on his arm at the same time, and their combined efforts achieved what Trisha alone could not. With a squawk, Edward flailed and fell sprawling onto the floor.

“Ow…” Ed looked up into two pairs of eyes, one an anxious gold, the other a pitiless sky blue.

“You heard your daughter, alchemy freak. Go get dressed.”

He growled in response and stood up, rubbing at his bruised backside.

“You okay, Daddy?”

“Peachy.” Winry was already snoring. Ed toyed with the idea of grabbing the blankets and yanking his wife off the bed…but only for a moment. Winry’s wrench wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be introduced to his head within thirty seconds of his wife hitting the floor.

“Go get dressed, Tri. I guess we’ll take the early train.”

Cheering, his daughter pounded out of the room.

-----------------------------------------------------------

An hour later they arrived at the station, just barely in time.

Most of that hour had been spent prying four-year-old Alfons Nikola and a pouting, stubborn William off their father’s legs so he could actually move out of the door. Both the four- and the seven-year-old were resentful at Trisha’s being allowed to go on a trip with their father when they had to stay home. To top it off, the fuss woke up Al’s six-year-old twins, who were staying with their aunt and uncle while their parents were out in the field. With a teary wail of “Please don’t go too, Uncle Ed!” they added their weight to the assault.

Winry hadn’t been any help at all. When the four younger children heard the door open downstairs (Edward had no idea how; he always tried to sneak out of the house without a fuss, but the kids had ears like bats) they all came barreling down and commenced pleading and whimpering to come along. And there was Winry, standing at the kitchen door, giggling and snapping pictures while Ed alternated between prying children from his boots and shaking his fist at his wife.

Trisha, on the other hand, had attempted to help by prying Niko off. That is, she tried to, but her little brother only whimpered and released one hand to snag her braid in his strong little fist. At this point Ed’s patience, never extensive at 7:30 in the morning, wore thin and he started out the door, dragging the entire mass of squirming, squalling humanity with him.

They hung on grimly all the way to the road, the twins attached to his arms and William clinging like a burr to his left leg, forcing Ed to swing the limb in a wide circle to avoid beaning the boy against his knee. Niko brought up the rear, content to be dragged along on his behind by his father’s coat tails. Still firmly attached to his fist was a pleading, scolding Trisha, walking bent almost in half so that her little brother wouldn’t snatch her bald.
Rounding out the impromptu Elric family circus was their audience. The inhabitants of Riesembul, being mostly small farmers, usually rose before dawn. Therefore most of the neighbors were awake to see Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist and hometown hero, trudge by them with his own and his brother’s progeny in tow.

Some of the women, (particularly Nelly, who had a large brood of her own) gave Ed commiserating looks as he passed.

Everyone else paid their respects by laughing themselves sick at the sight of him.

Eventually the three cups of coffee Ed had downed kicked in and granted him access to his sleep-numbed brain.

“If the whole lot of you don’t let go and go home RIGHT NOW, I am going to alchemize ALL of your desserts into BROCCOLI for as long as you LIVE.” The menace in his voice promised that it would not be for long.
Within a few minutes, the only sign of the boys were four dust trails on the horizon.
It was amazing, Ed marveled, how children complied with one’s wishes when properly motivated.

They made good time after that, but he still had to sprint the last mile with Trisha on his back and a suitcase under each arm.
He dashed up to the ticket booth, gasped out “Two tickets”, picked them up with his teeth and sprinted for the train. The conductor, used to Ed’s headlong dashes for the eight o’ clock to Central, obligingly punched the tickets without removing them from his mouth.

Ed skidded to a halt at the closest alcove, puffing, and leaned back so Trisha could slide off onto the seat. He heaved the suitcases onto the overhead rack, then flopped down next his daughter.

“Rehhhh.” Edward sighed and sagged back, closing his eyes.

“Either you’re getting too big, or I’m getting too old for this.”

“You’re not old, Dad!” Trisha stated indignantly.

Ed chuckled and put his arm around her. “Thanks, Tri.”

His daughter leaned into his side, and Edward tenderly brushed her fine, richly golden hair out of her face. His eyelids were already at half-mast, and he was hoping to nod off once the train started moving.

With one last cry of the whistle and the squeal of metal against metal, the train lurched forward. Not anticipating the sharp movement, Trisha flew out of her seat, but was stopped in time by her father’s reflexive grab for her hood. He chuckled quietly as he pulled her back onto the bench.

His daughter’s coat was the same that he had worn and Al had worn in his turn during their adventures all those years ago. True, Al hadn’t been able to wear it long (much to Ed’s chagrin, his brother had managed to outgrow it much faster than he himself had), but it had been kept safe and lovingly repaired, a tangible piece of their travels in both worlds.
It had been Trisha’s favorite thing to sleep with until she’d been barely big enough to wear it (Winry had finally gotten tired of the way it dragged on the floor, and asked Arelana to hem it), and after that had worn it as often as she could.

From the time she could talk, Trisha was forever demanding stories about her father’s and uncle’s adventures. And she was always so infernally easy to talk to, Ed thought wryly, taking it all in with those big, knowing eyes. Ed reflected that he’d told his daughter things when she was five that Winry had had to pry at him for years to know.

It was unfair of him, he knew, born of the fact that Ed saw a lot of himself in his daughter. He knew their bond would be strong, even when she was grown. Her eyes were what gave it away. Gold as his own, wide-set and curious, they were eyes that always sought to understand, always asked why.

Strong eyes that look like they’re gazing off into the distance
… He smiled quietly to himself.

Edward’s cloak, on the other hand, had been a present from Winry in the same year he and Al had finally returned home. Together.

The new cloak was a more sober red than the old one, made with tough, mid-weight cotton for the outer layer with soft black flannel lining the inside. It was a good weight, and suited Ed’s broad-shouldered, five-foot-six frame perfectly. The Flamel was emblazoned in black on the back and the left shoulder. Al had received one as well, its only differences being that the outer fabric was a deep gray (not to mention longer; Al had managed to top Ed in the end by a good six inches).

They were vast improvements over the old cloak. Winry showed them how both jackets had a high collar and a hood that could be attached or detached by stylized black steel catches, dragon-shaped, no wider than Ed’s thumb. The lining could be unbuttoned and discarded in warm weather. The last two inches of both hems were sown all the way around with tough-yet-supple black leather to discourage fraying. There were several large, well-concealed pockets both inside and out. The cloaks were tough enough to wear in all weather, but the fabric was of good enough quality that the brothers could (and did) wear them for military functions.

Ed and Al had been amazed by the craft and detail in them. It was as though Winry had committed every random complaint Ed had ever made about the cloak to memory and improved on them all.

“Is it alright?” Ed remembered Winry asking when the brothers had had time to look
their gifts over. She had been half afraid of encroaching on something sacred where the cloak was concerned. Both brothers had looked at each other, grinned and looked back at Winry, declaring in unison, “It’s perfect.”

Winry had been very relieved, and had gone on and on about how gray brought out Al’s eyes, and Ed never looked presentable in anything but red. That got a rise out of him, as she had thought it would. What Winry hadn’t known was that Ed had seen the sudden gleam of tears in her eyes, and had carried on to give her time to recover before Al noticed.

Later that night she told him that to her, the red coat had been a reassurance. When they had worn it, he and his brother had always come back home.

“I know it’s stupid. But I know you can’t leave the military, at least not yet, and I wanted something to remind me that you’ll always come back. I wanted something I could take as a sign of that…I guess I’m not making any sense…” She had laughed a little, not looking at him.

Ed had taken her chin in his hand, lifted her eyes so that the starlight over Riesembul picked out her tears, shining like seed diamonds in her gold lashes. “You do. I’m not going anywhere, Winry.

He had held her, rocked her, his own eyes brimming.

“Not ever again.”

He swore then that he would wear that damn coat everywhere.

Trisha abruptly shifted against him, bringing him out of his half-doze.

“Dad?”

“Mmm?”

“What’s this?” When Trisha shifted her head, something hard had moved inside of her father’s coat. She patted the spot, and the something gave a muffled clunk against the shoulder plate of his automail.

“Just pictures.”

“Pictures? Can I see?”

Ed shrugged carelessly. He groped inside his cloak pocket and brought out a scratched and dented steel case, which he passed to Trisha. The case had done time as a military-issue canteen before Edward alchemized it to suit its new purpose. His daughter pried at it with her finger nails until the lid gave a “pop!” and went skittering into a corner of the compartment. She lifted out the first one, and Ed leaned in for a look as well.

The first picture was of Winry, holding a very new, very wide-eyed baby. Ed didn’t have to look at the date on the back to know which infant this had been. Only one of their children had opened her eyes and actually stared around avidly when she was born.

“Who’s this?”

“That’s you and your mom. The doctor was very impressed that you could focus on things when you were so new. Most babies can’t.”

Trisha grinned and hauled out the next one. “I know who this is!” she crowed.
Ed grinned too. The picture in question was one of him sprawled across the sofa, limbs dangling off the side, snoring with a book over his eyes and his mouth wide open. Sprawled belly-down and boneless across his father’s chest was a two-year-old Niko, his mouth open just as wide as Ed’s.

The next picture was the only one of both Elric brothers together with all the kids save Niko. Ed remembered the day very clearly. It had been in the aftermath of the Great Bug Zapper Incident (as Al had termed it), when it was decided that all the Elric children were going to receive alchemy lessons twice in a week that either their father or their uncle was home. When school was on break, lessons were stepped up to every day at least one brother was around.

The short version of the Incident was that Ed had caught five-year-old Trisha doing alchemy outside in the dirt while four-year-old William looked on. That in itself wasn’t so bad, despite the fact that Ed strongly discouraged his brood from using alchemy when he or Al wasn’t around to supervise (Trisha especially was guilty of this; it was one of the few instances where Ed profoundly wished his daughter weren’t so like him).

No, the bad part was that they had been using one of their father’s arrays to blow up ants.

That was the only time Edward had ever taken a hand to his children. Once he realized what his son and daughter were so intent on, he’d collared both of them with his automail hand, laid them across his knee, and whacked them each once, hard, with the flesh and blood hand.

It was over almost before the kids had registered what had happened.

They certainly didn’t have time to cry. Their father set them immediately in the dirt and explained to them that the pain in their backsides wasn’t a trillionth of what the ants had felt. Edward proceeded to tell them in graphic detail just how that array broke organic matter apart, shredding molecules into their component elements. He had made it to keep the drains from clogging in the kitchen sink.

By the time he’d finished his explanation, both children were pale and round-eyed. Will had started to cry. Trisha was dry-eyed but shaking, staring at the ground, eyes refusing to stray anywhere near the array.

“Trisha, look!” Edward commanded, then lay his automail hand across the array.
His daughter only had time to emit a strangled yelp before the array went off.
Then Edward lifted his steel hand out of the cloud of vapor, blackened but intact.

Now he yelled. “What if William had put his hand in the array? What if you had? Do you know what that would do to me and your mother? How you’d feel if one of your cousins or your friends stepped on this by mistake?”

Trisha couldn’t pull her eyes away from her father’s smoking prosthetic hand.
William was bawling in earnest now, and suddenly Trisha’s face crumpled and she was crying too, hugging her brother and sobbing “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!” over and over.

Edward closed his eyes, hurting at what he’d done, and that doing it had been necessary. He had gathered his sobbing children into his arms and held them silently while they cried themselves out. They clung to him like drowning men, Will clutching at his shirt and Trisha wrapped around his neck, apologizing over and over.

Will, as four-year-olds are wont to do, finished crying and immediately fell asleep. Ed held his son against his shoulder while the last of Trisha’s hiccupping, wrenching sobs petered out. Then he explained in a quiet voice that the role of an alchemist, the role of a good alchemist, was to help the world around them, and to respect life in whatever form they found it.
“And it’s not just you that you have to be responsible for. You’re the eldest, Trisha. You’re going to have to be responsible before Will is. You have to look out for him too, when your mom and I aren’t there. All right?”

Ed had felt a quiet burst of pride when his daughter nodded solemnly, her face determined. “I will.”

Two days later Alphonse had come home. Edward related what had happened and both brothers agreed that it was high time their kids had some instruction besides the idle alchemy lesson when one brother or the other was actually home.

There was no time like the present, so that same day Edward and Alphonse had rounded up Trisha, Will, Louis and Rick and taken them off into the woods to practice.

The lesson had gone very well. All of the kids had a strong aptitude for alchemy, and Al and Ed kept things interesting. Then one of the twins had misdrawn their array and sent a glob of mud flying straight into Ed’s face.

There had been a hush while the guilty twin gaped, frozen stiff as his uncle clawed mud out of his nose and mouth. Al took one look at his brother and started laughing so hard that tears streamed down his face. His brother’s eyes smoldering at him through their layer of sludge only set off the giggling fit all over again.
His fuming sibling retaliated by clapping his hands and dumping a wall of river water on him. Al, sputtering and shaking water out of his boots, slapped his hands together and shouted “You’re not getting away with that!” He caught his snickering brother in the ear with a particularly rank patch of muck.

“Al, you backstabbing little traitor!” Ed roared as he struck the ground with open hands. Mud erupted around Alphonse.
But one flash of light later Al was safe behind a stone barricade. “Who’s little?” he caroled back gleefully.
The mud fight—or rather, mud war—had begun.

Rick and Lou had backed their father up, while Trisha and Will joined the scrimmage on Ed’s side. The children soon mutinied against the adults, ambushing Ed and Al with alchemy-induced waves from the river. They managed to erect a barricade and scuttle behind it before either brother could retaliate.

The war soon degenerated into a squealing, yelping, mud-pitching free-for-all with the kids being sorely outmatched. Ed and Al didn’t need arrays to sling mud; the only way the kids could keep up was to throw it. Al was keeping them pinned down behind their wall by way of a small mud-lobbing cannon, and Ed was keeping them contained by shifting the ground around beneath them, making it impossible to draw an array.

Then one of the kids (Ed suspected Trisha) had the bright idea to transform their stone and mud wall into a monstrous, gaping mouth of sludge that lunged for the older Elrics. At the same time, Ed and Al constructed huge earthen hands that emerged out of the ground beneath the kids. With no one defending against either attack, everybody went flying into the river.

The trek home was slow going, both sets of cousins picking gobs of mud off their clothes and flinging them at each other. Ed and Al weren’t any better. The brothers sparred and wrestled cheerfully all the way, with the kids occasionally jumping in to make it a six-way melee.

When they finally got back they had missed lunch by two hours. Every one of them was so clotted with mud, sticks and leaves that the only way to identify anybody was by height and eye color. So Winry had grabbed the camera and Arelana had grabbed the hose.

Winry bullied them all into two lines, small Elrics in front and not-so-small in back.
That was the image Edward kept in the case in his cloak pocket: him and Al, with their arms around the other’s shoulders and caked with enough mud that if someone tossed seed on them they would probably have sprouted, beaming at the camera with their four grinning, articulated globs of dirt.

Ed also remembered what had come after the picture.

Winry snapped two shots, then Arelana, who had snuck up behind them, unleashed the hose.

Click, click--fwa-WHOOOSH!

The two adult Elrics bore the brunt of the assault, yelling and cursing (mostly Ed), tripping over each other or the yelping horde, alternately trying to scatter or wrestle the hose or the camera away from their respective wives. Unfortunately for them, Lana’s aim was uncannily good. She kept them well away from herself and Winry.

Those pictures, Ed knew, were the ones Winry kept framed over her work bench. One shot, a close up of Ed, was her particular favorite. Blinded by water, he’d run into Al, who had just started to stand back up, and gone flying over his brother’s back…just in time to get shot in the face with the hose once again.

The picture caught Ed in his moment of flight, arms and legs outstretched on the air, his face totally obscured by the blast of water.

Hence the mischievous glint in his daughter's eye when she looked up at him.

“I like Mom’s picture better.”

Ed snorted. “Yeah, I just bet you do. You and your mother love seeing me make a fool of my…self…” He trailed off, suddenly aware of someone standing behind him. Who had, in fact, been standing behind him for some time.

Edward turned back toward the aisle and locked eyes with a woman attired in an expensive-looking, dark blue business suit.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked. Ed’s eyes narrowed at her voice, which was a little too sweet and deferential to suit the canniness behind her eyes. But he shrugged and nodded at the empty bench. “Go ahead.”

Trisha, oblivious, had pulled out the next picture. “There’s Uncle Al and me! I’m so little.

“You still are.”

“Am not! I’m taller than Louis and Rick and Will!”

“Shorter than me, though,” her father pointed out, tongue in cheek.

“Not for long! I’ll be taller than Uncle Al before I’m through!”

Edward leaned down and kissed his huffing daughter on the crown of her head. “I know you will. That’s why I’m teasing you now.”

“Hmph.” Trisha folded her arms and tried to glare, but her grin refused to be banished.
Just then the serving cart rolled up, pushed by a jolly-looking, middle aged man, and stopped before their alcove. “Sweets? Treats? Something to tide over the little miss there, sir?”

“You hungry, Tri?”

“Dumplings and syrup!” The aroma from the cart had informed his daughter that her favorite treat was aboard.

“I suppose that’s a yes.” Grinning, he turned back to the man to order, only to see a look of recognition spreading across his face.
Oh, great…Ed thought.
“Mr. Elric? Are you Mr. Elric the Fullmetal Alchemist, sir?”
Ed sighed and tried not to wince. Should’ve worn my cloak inside out. Bloody flamel’s too recognizable. “Yes.”
Fortunately, the older man read the look on Ed’s face and acted accordingly. He leaned in and said very quietly “The conductors, the engineer and the firemen told us pullmen that any Elric gets complementary service.” He grinned, showing two gold teeth. “And I would’ve anyway sir. I was working this train when the Eastern Rebellion tried to kidnap that General.
He straightened again and grinned, flashing a golden tooth. “Your money’s no good here, sir. And if that little lady belongs to you, she gets free eats, too.”

“Yeah! Dumplings an’ syrup!”

“Yeah, she’s mine.” No matter how many times he said that, Ed always felt like throwing out his chest and crowing. “Three sticks each, then.”

“Here you are. And here you are, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, mister!”

“Thank you.” Edward nodded gratefully to the man.

“Thank you, sir. Couldn’t have you thinking trainmen have short memories, now could we?”

Chuckling, he trundled off down the aisle. Ed kept his eyes on his food, fighting the temptation to check if anyone was peering around their seat at him.
“How’s the food, Tri?”

“Good!”

“Ahh, your hands are already sticky. Here, hold mine while I pick up the pictures. And don’t eat ‘em; I didn’t get breakfast, either.”
Edward was bending down to pick up the photos that had fallen on the floor when the woman finally spoke.

“That’s a very nice set of pictures, Mr. Elric. Where were they taken? At your home?”

“Just out in the sticks.” Edward waved his one gloved hand casually toward the window and tried to look bored, but his jaw clenched. There was something about the way this woman talked that really bothered him…it reminded him too much of the coolly superior tone the Colonel had taken with him when he was younger, and made him bristle just as it had back then…

“Is this your brother? The so-called Soul Alchemist?” She was holding out a picture of Alphonse, laughing as the twins tried to wrestle him to the ground (Al had let them win).
Edward had to force himself to take the picture slowly, not snatch it out of her soft white hand. So-called, huh?

“Yeah. That’s him.” Edward bit the words off, irritated. If Trisha hadn’t been with him, he would have ignored the woman until she returned the favor. But he didn’t want to look rude in front of his daughter.

“Since you already know my name, it’s only fair you tell me yours, Miss..?”

“Merel. Ms. Abigail Merel,” She offered it with a cool little smile. She seemed very aware that her questions irritated him. Sometimes Ed wished he were a little less transparent.

“A pleasure, I’m sure,” he mouthed the words tonelessly, but met her eyes as though he were trying to bore through them into her brain. What the hell does she WANT?

Suddenly he had a brilliant idea. “Trisha, you can have the rest. I want to get some sleep before we get off.”

“Okay!”

“Don’t make yourself sick,” Edward added. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Ask your pointed little questions now, lady, he challenged smugly, but silently.
But Ms. Merel had one more ace up her sleeve. After almost ten minutes had ticked past she spoke again, this time to the smaller, feminine version of the man resting next to her.

“So, your name is Trisha?” she asked too-sweetly. Edward nearly “woke up” to glare at her.

“Yeah,” Trisha replied. Ed smirked inwardly. Adults learned early that condescending to his daughter was a big mistake. Tri hated being treated as though she were stupid. And she the same degree of restraint when she was angry as Ed himself had at her age: precisely zero.

Ed resolved to sit back and watch the fun.

“And how old are you, sweetheart?”

“Twenty.” Edward was hard put not to laugh at that one.

“You’re quite a big girl, then,” the woman continued blithely, rolling right over the sarcasm. “Does your Daddy teach you alchemy?”

“Sure.”

“Are you very good?”

“I’m better than everybody except Dad and Uncle Al.”

“Who else can do alchemy in your family?” The woman put a marked emphasis on can, as though she suspected that the little girl was puffing up her abilities at the expense of the non-alchemists in the family.

Trisha snorted. The lady had pricked her pride. “I’m better than William and Lou and Rick. Niko doesn’t count yet ‘cause he’s a baby.
“But I’m the oldest,” she added. She wanted to be fair; Will was a whole year and a half younger, and Louis and Richard were half a year behind him.

“Are those your brothers?”

“Will and Niko are my brothers. Lou and Rick are my cousins.” Said as though any idiot could have figured it out. Ed could have whistled in gleeful admiration.

“Your brothers didn’t come with you?”

“’Course not. Will came last time, and Niko’s too little.” Spoken from a lofty nine years of age.

“So they’re back home in Rezenpool?

“Riesembul,” Trisha corrected. Her father winced mentally. She had just unwittingly confirmed what he hadn’t wanted the woman to know.

But Merel seemed to back off. “They must’ve been sad to be left behind.”

Ed felt Trisha shrug. “It’s Will’s turn to go next time.”

“Did you know your Daddy’s very famous?”

“’Course. He’s the best alchemist ever.” Again, Edward stopped himself from smiling by the skin of his teeth.

“Do you know what he’s famous for?”

“Dad and Uncle Al tell me stories.”

“But do you know what he’s most famous for?”

“Being the youngest National Alchemist ever. Everybody knows that.”

“Really? I heard it was because he’s the only National Alchemist to murder a city.”

Ed stiffened—

“You’re a liar, lady.” Edward’s eyes snapped open to see his daughter standing, fists clenched and eyes ablaze.

“Trisha.” When Edward spoke, he got a hot stab of satisfaction out of seeing the woman twitch.

“We’re moving. Get your coat.” He handed his daughter her suitcase, shot the woman a hard look and moved out into the aisle, turning back for his daughter.

Trisha stood with her suitcase in one hand and her coat in the other. Edward was startled to realize she was trembling. He reached out a hand, his voice gentle.

“Trisha, honey. It’s all right. She doesn’t know anything about Al and me.”

His daughter wasn’t listening. She stared at the woman.

“You don’t know anything,” Trisha said quietly.
“My dad never hurt anybody.”

Edward took her hand, and Trisha allowed herself to be led from the compartment.

---------------------------------------------------

End of part 1. Second part of the chapter should be directly below.
Sable
-----------
The door gave a very satisfying crash as Ed threw it open and stormed through like a blond thunderhead, unerringly aimed for the vast desk against the window and its dark-haired occupant.
Brigadier General Riza Mustang, working in a desk to the right, acknowledged his presence with a long-suffering sigh. But however exasperating Colonel Elric was, the general always had a smile for the young girl trailing in his wake.
Riza caught Trisha’s eye and surreptitiously patted the front of her desk in mute permission. Trisha smiled and hopped up to sit on the edge. Riza’s orderly desk was the best seat in the house for the impending exhibition of verbal abuse.

“Mustang! What do you mean by giving me a week’s leave and then cutting it off four days later? You bastard! I’ve got better things to do then hang around here with you.” The you was spoken as though a tribe of incontinent baboons was infinitely preferable to the general's person.

Ed caught his daughter pulling a face at him, the same one her mother made when she informed him that he acted more like a kid himself than someone with kids of his own. He winked in return.

Mustang merely leaned back in his chair, wearing the expression of careless arrogance that he did so well. The eye patch added a piratical touch. Despite the comment he had made ages ago that Mustang's headwear didn't suit him, Ed could just see him swaggering up and down some captured frigate, complete with cutlass and evil chuckle, jabbing hapless victims off a plank.

“You should be grateful, Fullmetal. If I didn’t remember to pull you out of the sticks once in the while, I might forget why I pay you.”

“Like you could when you have me up here for months doing the work of three alchemists by myself and send Al to the ass-end of nowhere so I can’t even compare notes with him.
“How the hell am I supposed to research what you tell me to research when I’m doing everybody else’s work, and when I have free time to do research you make me come running back up here?” This was bellowed at the top of his voice, which was enough to make pens rattle on the desk. Edward’s lung capacity was the envy of every drill sergeant in the Amestrian army.
“You ever think of that, you incompetent, irritating, smug-faced, piece-of-shit excuse for a matchstick!”

Mustang pointedly studied his gloved hands, bringing two fingers and a thumb together in a vaguely menacing way. “Careful, Fullmetal. I’ve always been curious to see what you’d look like without eyebrows.”

Ed folded his arms and snorted, unimpressed. “Take your best shot. It’ll be worth it to see Winry beat your head in.”

“How like you to hide behind your wife, Fullmetal, knowing that I am a gentleman who would never stoop to upsetting a lady.”

Who hides behind whose wife, General My-Wife-Actually-Does-All-the-Work-so-I-Can-Strut-Around-and-Not-Get-Shot-for-Incompetence, sir?”

Edward got a quiet chuckle from Riza for that one. He folded his arms and smirked, knowing he had scored a solid point.

Roy’s eye narrowed speculatively, causing Ed’s smirk to falter a bit.
“As I was saying, it sounds to me as though I’ve been giving you too much paperwork, Fullmetal. Perhaps latrine duty would be better suited to a man of your…standing.”

Ed’s eyes narrowed. Had the bastard just made a shot about his height? “You make me shovel shit, you shit colonel, and it’ll just end up in your office.”

General Roy Mustang glanced up at Edward (the only time Ed got to look down on Mustang was when the older man was sitting and he himself was standing) and the younger man’s golden glare bore right back into his face.

They locked eyes like that for half a minute.

Then they both smirked.

“God, Edward. I must be slipping when an upstart like you can actually get the better of me.”

Ed snickered. “Getting slow, old man.”

“Only you could mistake age for maturity, Fullmetal. Who’s that with you?”

Ed grinned and stepped to the side, revealing the small, blonde, red-clad form seated behind him. “Trisha came along for the ride this time. Tri, say hi to General Shit.”

Trisha had met Roy Mustang for the first time when she was three. Ed had finally brought the toddler up to Central in the wake of a dispute with Breda and Havoc. Breda had voiced the opinion that a three-year-old couldn’t possibly do alchemy, Ed insisted that his daughter could, Havoc informed Edward companionably that he was full of shit, and things had escalated from there.

Neither Havoc nor Breda voiced their doubts about Trisha’s abilities after that (they still weren’t sure what Ed had turned their uniforms into, but the two men had smelled worse than skunks for weeks, and had no desire to repeat the experience), but Ed brought her along to prove it anyway.

Everyone immediately conceded to the beaming father that little Trisha was indeed unbearably cute (which she was, but no one would have dared to not say it after what happened to Havoc and Breda). Mustang had gone so far as to say it was lucky she took after her mother, but he was the only one who could insult Fullmetal without coming off worse for it.
Ed set his daughter down and Trisha, fearless in the face of strangers, ran straight to Mustang and peered up at him intently. Roy looked disconcertedly down at the bright-eyed toddler who, despite what he’d said, looked exactly as Fullmetal did when faced with a particularly complex problem of alchemy. Or when he considered just how he would pull off some expressly forbidden stunt…

“Kol…kol-nel…” Trisha attempted, her face screwed up in babyish concentration.

Her normally dignified father was jumping up and down in pride and excitement, drawing incredulous looks and snickering from Falman, Breda and Havoc. “Look! Look, she knows you and she’s never even seen you before! MY LITTLE GIRL IS SO SMART!”

“Kol-nel,” Trisha repeated. “Kol-nel Shit.” Pleased with her accomplishment, Trisha toddled the rest of the way over to Mustang, hugged his leg, grinned up into his astonished face and burst into peals of laughter.

All eyes turned back to Edward, who was staring wide-eyed and slack jawed at his daughter.

“I…” He swallowed. Riza was giving him The Look… “I didn’t teach her that, I swear.”

They eventually worked out that there was a picture of Mustang and the Elric brothers back in Riesembul. This picture received a great deal of abuse at Ed’s hands, who, when summoned back to Central weeks before his leave was up (which he often was) or reassigned to complete or review someone else’s project (which often happened), was in the habit of pointing at it and bellowing “Damn you, Colonel Shit!”

He hadn’t realized that Trisha could see this picture from her perch in the high chair, where she was spooned her baby food while Ed tried frantically to finish whatever he was working on before he had to rush back to Central.

Edward babbled his confession hoping for clemency from Riza, who was giving her pistol a speculative look. “Please don’t tell Winry,” he begged unabashedly. “She’ll kill me.” He was fully aware that Riza and Winry enjoyed comparing notes on their children.

Mustang had raised one black eyebrow at Ed, then stooped and picked up the toddler who had attached herself to his leg. Unbeknownst to the general, Trisha loved to be held, had the tensile strenghth of elastic and could climb like a monkey. She immediately wrapped herself around his head.

Even Edward was impressed (though he would never, ever admit it) by how Mustang managed to maintain his dignity in the face of Trisha Esmé Elric, the human Velcro.
Mustang’s voice was somewhat muffled by red corduroy, but still intelligible.
“I see she takes after her father after all. God help you, Fullmetal.”

Mustang came around his desk and bowed with a flourish, offering his hand. He always played the consummate gentleman with Trisha. Trisha, as always, bypassed the hand and hugged him like she was trying to squeeze the breath out of him. She liked Mr. Roy, and even though her father complained about him and at him all the time, his stories made Roy a hero too. She privately thought they were a lot alike, though she was careful never to make that observation out loud.

Ed watched Mustang’s face soften and smiled at the wall. If he harnessed his daughter’s hugs as a weapon, he could doubtless rule the world.

“Trisha, it’s good to see you again. You’ve gotten really tall…” his eye slid lazily to Ed “…unlike your father, who never bothered to grow up.”

Ed didn’t screech, but a vein stood out strong in his forehead. He gave Mustang a carnivorous smile.

“Better watch it, old man. Assessments are coming up, and battle assessments are still optional.”

The general just smirked. “I’m not worried.”

“I can fix that.

“Trisha, would you mind terribly if I turned your father into a torch?”

“I don’t, but Mom might kill you with her wrench.” Trisha grinned cheekily at her glowering father.

“It’s a pity Fullmetal, but I think I’d as soon avoid being beaten to death by your wife.”

Roy cut Edward’s snarl off as it began by turning to Riza. “It’s about time to break for lunch, isn’t it?”

His wife consulted her watch. “The Performance Review is due tomorrow morning, and the report from the Northern Intelligence branch needs to be--”

“I think we should break for lunch now,” Roy stated. Riza sighed stoically.

“Young lady,” the general addressed Trisha, holding out his arm. “How would you like to have lunch at my home? I’ll even invite your father, though he’s never done anything to earn the honor.” Roy threw Edward a careless look over his shoulder.
Ed’s eyes narrowed, but he let it pass. He wasn’t one to jeopardize an invitation for free lunch.

“Dad, can we?” Trisha asked excitedly. She was practically swinging from Roy’s arm. “I want to see how Mr. Roy’s gloves work!”

Roy lifted a questioning eyebrow in Edward’s direction.

“I described how your gloves worked once. Trisha’s really keen to know what they’re made of.”

“I thought a prodigy like yourself would have figured that out, Fullmetal.”

Ed smirked, but didn’t rise to the bait. “Who’s to say I didn’t? But giving a nine-year-old the means to set things alight with a snap of her fingers didn’t seem like the smartest thing, somehow.”

“Dad said I could do it if I could figure it out for myself,” Trisha added, pouting.

Roy smiled, but chose not to comment.

---------------------------------------------------

Mustang and Riza lived in a two-story house in the old district of Central. The foundations were heavy granite, with warm tan and cream brickwork above it. It wasn’t the biggest house, nor the smallest, and one of the least pretentious. Its one outstanding feature was the huge, high-walled garden surrounding the house.

It was a beautiful August afternoon, so they set up a card table out back and had lunch in the sunshine. Mustang skinned out of his uniform jacket and gave Trisha a demonstration of his alchemic prowess in his shirtsleeves, culminating in a whirling procession of hundreds of tiny flares and sparks that split and ignited more of themselves, spinning through the air like demented fireflies.
Even Ed, knowing the sheer concentration it took to feed and coordinate the tiny pockets of oxygen, clapped appreciatively as Mustang bowed. Trisha whooped and demanded to see the general’s gloves.

It was only after lunch, when Trisha was showing off her alchemy for Riza, that Roy revealed the real reason he had invited them over.

“Fullmetal, I have to know if you or your wife ever told anyone about how the Rockbells died.”

Ed’s head snapped up, eyes widening. “What?”

“You heard me. Did you?” Roy’s face was utterly expressionless, but his voice was colder than a glacier and twice as dangerous to cross.

“No.” Edward sat with his mouth open, trying to get his brain to catch. His surprise had thrown him enough that he hadn’t even thought to be angry at the accusation. “Nobody knows except me and Winry and Al. No one ever will.” Edward closed his mouth and leaned forward on the table, looking Roy dead in the eye. “I swear.”

Ed waited until the measuring look in Roy’s eye faded before he looked away, watching Trisha practice.

“General…Roy…Al and I would still be across the Gate if you hadn’t figured out what we were attempting to do. I haven’t forgotten, and neither has Winry.” Ed’s eyes lingered on his daughter chattering at Riza, laughing and happy. Ed thought about how much colder and poorer his life would have been without her, or William, or little Niko, and felt icy fingers wrap around his heart.

“I didn’t leave Winry alone. I was there when all three of my children were born. I was there when Al’s sons were born.” Ed spoke to the table, his eyes obscured by his bangs.

“I got to tell Elysia what her father did for me and Al. We got to come home.”

Ed’s lifted his chin and his eyes blazed as though he were angry. Which may well have accounted for part of what he felt at that moment. “All of that. It’s your fault, you shit colonel. I haven’t forgotten. And I refuse to remain in the debt of such a bastard.” He growled the last with a wry grimace that almost succeeded in not being a smile.

Roy sat back in his seat, relaxing out of his role of the cold-eyed, implacable general. The tiniest smirk flared to life and crept slowly across his face. Leave it to Fullmetal to make gratitude sound like a threat.

Edward frowned at him, eyes narrowing. “What is that? What is that look?” His eyes widened suddenly. “You bastard. Did you just put me through that shit for fun--?
He bit off the rest of his words as Roy held up his hands and shook his head mutely. “I apologize, Edward. I would not have done it if it hadn’t been necessary to verify you were not the source of the information leak.”

“What leak? What do you mean?” Ed hated manipulation in any form, and his tone warned that Mustang had best explain himself quickly.

Roy’s eye glanced at him, then flicked away to Riza, who was smiling at the mastiff-sized stone lion that Trisha had just alchemized. One of Black Hayate’s descendants sat at her heel.
“A woman came to my office last week to interview me for a newspaper. She asked why the military covered up your responsibility for Lior.” Mustang paused as Ed grimaced.
“When I told her that she had been misinformed, and it had been Scar, not you, who laid the array on Lior, she asked if covering for you had been the price of your silence about the murder of Rockbells.”

Edward’s breath hissed from between his clenched teeth. “What did you do?”

The tightness in Roy’s face faded, and his smile grew a little more sincere as he looked at his wife.
I didn’t do anything. Riza chased her off.” His eye flicked back at Ed, and now he looked concerned.
“You had best keep your ears and eyes open. Whoever she was, she seemed out for blood.”

“Did she say what paper she was with?”

“She’s the main reporter for the Central Distributed’s so-called investigative column. A scandal writer named Merel. I didn’t find out until later.”
Ed sucked in a breath, feeling a scalding surge of rage. “That’s who that was?”

“What?”

He shook his head angrily. “God damn it. I wish I’d known that earlier. A woman named Abigail Merel came up to Trisha and I on the train.”

“What happened?”

Roy resisted the urge to lean away from the patch of air that suddenly seemed to boil around younger man. His face had twisted into a malevolent mask, a fanged, fire-eyed avatar of wrath that Roy remembered with a certain amount of apprehension. The fourteen-year-old Fullmetal had certainly had moments of infamy, especially when it came to remarks on boy’s height. But Roy had discovered that a thirty-something Fullmetal who had fathered three children was a far more formidable animal.

The general had first witnessed this darker aspect of Ed’s personality when he had dared infringe on the unspoken, inalienable agreement that Ed would always be present for his children’s birthdays. Roy had failed to note the date and sent Edward off. The mayhem glinting behind the yellow eyes was dismissed as Edward’s usual attitude of willingness and cooperation.

When Edward returned to Central, things started exploding. When Roy touched his food with his fork, when he opened a filing cabinet, when he went to the men’s room (that incident had been by far the most mortifying), whatever he came in contact with would explode in his face.

Roy, not wanting to show weakness (and unable to catch Ed in the act) had endured this for three weeks before he finally snapped and threatened Colonel Elric with a court martial. Edward failed to show the slightest bit of repentance. In fact, when Roy threatened to toss him in the brig to teach him better respect, Ed had jumped up, stuck his face in his superior’s and bellowed at him semi-coherently for ten minutes straight. The majority of the tirade was a torrent of abuse against Roy, his ancestry and his personal habits. Yet from it Roy was able to glean that the trigger for his three weeks of hell at Fullmetal’s hands had been when Ed’s reassignment caused him to miss his youngest son’s birthday.

Neither man had apologized, but things ceased to spontaneously combust around Roy after that. Mustang, realizing that when it came to his progeny Colonel Elric was clearly unreasonable, uncompromising and utterly irrational, had his wife call Winry. He requested that Riza mark down the birthdays of all the Elric children and never fail to schedule Edward’s leave to coincide with those dates (he gave assigned the duty to Riza knowing that if she forgot, her pistol inspired far better behavior in the colonel than he, a general, ever had).

When this monstrous aspect appeared, it only could only mean some perceived slight had been dealt Ed through his children, and that an unfortunate someone was about to buy the heavy end of the hammer. Mustang hoped it wasn’t him; he had been the one to pay for damage inflicted by Colonel Elric the last time. He wasn’t sure his office budget could bear that sort of strain again.

“She told Trisha that I was best known as the State Alchemist who had murdered a city.” He half-hissed, half-growled the words.

It was Roy’s turn to look shocked. “In front of Trisha?”
To Trisha. I was trying to ignore her so she’d leave. But that b*tch started talking to my daughter and I didn’t have the sense to get out of there,” Ed rumbled, closing his fist so tightly against the table that his knuckles cracked. “Bad enough that I thought she had lost somebody at Lior. But to have it turn out to be one of those bloody rumor mongers…”
Roy watched him impassively, making a mental note to smooth out the dents Fullmetal’s namesake was leaving in the table.

“Are you talking about that scandal writer?” Riza asked quietly, making Ed jump. He hadn’t heard her walking up behind him. She stepped around the table and laid an unobtrusive hand on Roy’s shoulder, who covered it with one of his own. Edward checked to make sure Trisha hadn’t followed Hawkeye, but his daughter was still out on the lawn playing with the Black Hayate look-alike and two puppies who had decided to join in the haphazard game of fetch-and-chase.

“Yeah. I was telling Roy that I’d had a run in with her on the train here this morning. She…” Ed trailed off. “It wouldn’t have mattered if Trisha hadn’t been with me. I’m supposed to protect her from crap like this.”
Ed closed his eyes and put a hand over his eyes, getting a grip on himself. After a minute his temper had cooled enough for him to realize what his metal hand had done to the table.
Ed winced and avoided Riza’s eyes when he caught sight of the damage. Hurriedly he slapped his hands together and reformed it. “Sorry.”

The sound of a door slamming inside the house made the adults turn. “That’ll be Maes,” Mustang said.

“Mom? Dad? Are you home?” A boy’s voice called from inside the house.

“Out here, Maes.”

Edward watched as a raven-headed boy, hair thoroughly mussed and already halfway out of his school uniform, emerged from the house. Riza’s chestnut eyes, sharp chin and serious demeanor were strong in his face. Yet the eleven-year-old, Ed noticed with a smirk, had clearly inherited his father’s swagger.

Maes squinted at the blond newcomer, then broke into a run. “Uncle Chibi!”
Mustang smirked as Ed pretended to growl in protest his son’s pet name, but smiled all the same as the boy skidded to a halt. When Ed and Al returned from whatever lay on the other side of the Gate, Maes had been one year old, and his “Aunt” Winry had been a babysitter and willing admirer during the Elric brothers’ absence.

At first Edward was less than enthusiastic about Mustang-spawn being underfoot for an occasional weekend or the rare campaign that called for the General and Hawkeye but not Ed himself. He hadn’t been shy about saying so, either. Yet as the years had passed, Ed’s complaints became rarer and less vehement, seeming more and more like a show of reluctance than the genuine article. It wasn’t until Riza had gone to retrieve her son from the Elric household at Central and caught him breaking down complex principles of alchemy for an eager, dark-haired nine-year-old along with his own tawny-headed horde that Ed’s display of annoyance stopped entirely.

“Hey short stuff," Ed smirked back. "How’s school?”

“Dull. Thanks for those alchemy books you lent me. They got me through religious studies without dying from boredom.” Ed imagined that Roy’s eye-roll had looked much the same when the general had been his son’s age.

“You’ve been reading in class again?” Riza’s look could have made a rampaging bear stop in its tracks.

“No,” her son replied, too quickly. His father winced. Ed grinned. “So busted.”

But fortune intervened on Maes’s behalf.

Trisha had been eager to practice an array of her father’s she had been trying out secret. It worked by pulling common elements together to react and propel a neutral object. Taking her chance to try it while the adults were occupied (and thinking it better to ask forgiveness than permission), Trisha had been using the array to make the ball fly upward. The aim wasn’t that accurate, but the ball went far. A little too far, as a matter of fact…

Uh oh… Trisha thought.

The only warning the adults had was a yelp of “Look out!” from the younger Elric and a descending whistle from above. Edward (whose reflexes had been honed by his adventures as well as a near decade of child-rearing) immediately flung himself away from the card table.
Riza backed to a safe distance, but when Mustang tried to shove his chair backward its legs got caught on the grass and flipped him onto his back. He watched helplessly as the ball descended toward his face. It impacted with a thud three inches from his right ear and rebounded high into the air, bouncing merrily across the lawn until it rolled to a stop just short of the bay doors. Roy sighed in relief. He hadn’t wanted to explain that he’d lost the other eye to a nine-year-old with her father’s penchant for experimentation.

And then the dogs stampeded. The puppies, fortunately, were still fairly small, but the older dog leapt up, cleared the table…and landed squarely on Roy’s chest, knocking the wind out of him. Then he had an excellent upside-down view of three canine backsides as the dogs pelted across the yard without a backward look.

“Mr. Roy! Are you okay?” Trisha squealed, running up to them.

Mustang had rolled to his feet with as much dignity as a man who’d been trampled by seventy six pounds of dog could muster. Which wasn’t much. Salvaging his pride in the face of an eleven-year-old sniggering at him and the merciless laughter of Fullmetal was like assaulting a firestorm clad only in cotton balls. It was futile, it was painful, and you were going to look like an ass despite all your efforts.
Even his normally stone-faced wife was attempting to stifle a giggle as she leaned over to help him to his feet.

“Nice shot, Trisha,” Ed snickered as his daughter ran up.

His daughter shot him a look as she went past, but schooled her face into something more apologetic as she came up to Mustang. “I’m really sorry,” she said.

Mustang shrugged, smiling faintly, but eyed her father opaquely the entire time. Ed noticed the stare and gave his superior a toothy smirk. That seemed to decide Mustang, who immediately spun on his heel and marched into the house.

Riza watched him go, wondering what her husband was up to. There’d been a glint in his eye that didn’t bode well for someone…She caught Edward’s attention with a glance; he was still snickering as Trisha insisted nearly getting brained and then stampeded was not funny.

“If I were you, I’d find out what he was doing before it bit me in the ass,” she informed him bluntly.

Ed looked up, concern flitting briefly across his face. “What is he doing?”

“I don’t know, but he’s on the phone with someone. And I just heard your name.”

Concern ignited into full-fledged alarm. Ed jumped up and sprinted into the house, his tied-back hair snapping out like a banner of war.

“What’re dad and Mr. Roy doing?” Trisha asked as she came up behind Riza. As she spoke there was a bellow from inside. Maes looked around expectantly as his mother sighed and Trisha started, recognizing the yell for her father’s.

Riza sighed again as another bellow echoed across the lawn. “I suspect we’ll find out shortly.”

Maes grinned. He knew you couldn’t pay for entertainment like his father and the Fullmetal Alchemist. His grin got wider as the yelling got more articulate.

“WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR, YOU BASTARD?!”

“Honestly, Fullmetal, you think you would thank me for the chance to be fawned over by your fellow alchemists--”

“THAT’S EXACTLY WHY I DON’T GO! EVERYONE COMING UP AND GAWKING AT ME, YOU ASSHOLE!”

“If you’re thinking about calling and backing out, don’t bother. I called Winry first.”

“YOU—”

Mustang suddenly emerged from the house, looking smug but walking fast.

“—SHITHEAD—”

A blonde streak shot through the doors, teeth bared, flesh and metal arms both
outstretched for the general’s throat. Mustang abandoned his pretense at walking and broke into a sprint, moving impressively for a forty-year-old who was laughing his head off.

“—COLONEL!”

The chase ended as abruptly as it began. Riza, knowing it was only a matter of time before one of them resorted to alchemy and destroyed her yard, drew her pistol and pointed it at Ed. The younger man caught the flash of metal and reacted accordingly--he yelped and threw himself flat. However, he had been close enough to Mustang when he dropped that his steel hand caught Riza’s husband across the ankle. For the second time that day, the general went flying.

Riza thought her husband’s arc through the air was rather graceful, even if the way he planted himself face first in the ground spoiled the effect.

They both sprawled there, unmoving. Riza wondered if they were both too mortified at their behavior to get up. She doubted it, but there was always that possibility.

Eventually Roy spoke. “Well done, Fullmetal.” It was amazing how he could manage to be sarcastic even through a mouthful of dirt.

“Shut up, old man. You can thank Riza that something worse didn’t happen to you,” Ed growled back, still face down in the grass.

Riza sighed. “Roy, stop antagonizing Edward and explain why you want him at the Annual Convention of Alchemists. I’m going to clean up.” She and Trisha picked up the dishes. It only took a glance from his mother for Maes to grab the tablecloth and follow them inside.

Hearing Hawkeye’s footsteps retreat into the house, Ed sat up and brushed grass off his vest with short, irritated smacks. “You actually have a reason for this besides torturing me?”

“Ha.” Mustang smiled crookedly over his shoulder, rose to one knee and stood. “That is a bonus.
“But the real reason is that this convention will have a special exhibition for youths exhibiting talent in alchemy. They were planning to showcase only those over ten, but I suspect that rule is being broken into small pieces as we speak.”

Ed gave him a thoughtful look. “So…?” He knew Roy wouldn’t have looked nearly so pleased with himself if this weren’t something more than showing off the kids’ skill in alchemy to dried-up, pompous old men.

“So I dropped a few hints to some of the more prominent professors of alchemy that this would be a prime opportunity to scout for talent. There’ll be some politicians there as well, so if you promise to be on your good behavior, perhaps I can convince them you aren’t the monster that Merel is making you out to be. Even if everyone knows otherwise.” His smirk grew a little wider as Ed glowered at him.

“So Colonel Elric, do I have your cooperation?”

Ed huffed, sighed, smirked wryly. “One day we should play poker instead of chess. Then I’d be sure to win.”

“It will never happen, Fullmetal. This general knows better than to pit himself against Elric luck.Or Elric slight-of-hand.” Roy shot back just as wryly.
“Speaking of Elrics, I need to inform Alphonse about the convention. Unless you want to tell him?”

“Yeah, I will. He’s coming back from the Aerugan border tomorrow. Arelana too. That’s the only reason I let you drag me back up here.” Ed threw Roy a shark-eyed look.

Mustang merely sighed tolerantly, as though indulging a ferocious kitten.
He added, “It’s formal wear only, so come prepared.”

“Ah, damn.” Ed raked his fingers through his hair, disgusted. “I hate dress uniforms.”
“That’s reasonable. You lack the air of maturity needed to carry them off well.” It wasn’t true, but Roy simply couldn’t resist such a tempting target.

“WHO’S SO SHORT HE HAS TO RETAILOR UNIFORMS BECAUSE HE CAN’T WEAR NORMAL SIZES?!”

The quarrel might have started all over again if not for a timely save by Maes.
“Dad! Mom says to tell you that if you can’t play nice with the other kids, she’ll have to shoot you both,” the teenager called out cheerfully from the door.

Mustang shrugged at his son and smirked at Ed, who gritted out a smile that was all tooth. “Please tell your mother that won’t be necessary.
“As I was saying, it’s formal wear, but no uniforms. We shouldn’t look tied, visibly at least, to the military. Not with Hakuro there, and not with the sentiment some people have against alchemists employed by the military.”

Ed’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “In order to give the kids the best chance, without getting singled out by bias against me or you.”

Roy smiled faintly and nodded. “If that’s avoidable at all. It’s probably…a wasted effort.”

“Is Hakuro getting to be that big a problem?” Ed’s gaze was concerned, and for good reason. Hakuro was still one of the strongest of the old faction of the military, what had been the Fuhrer’s sycophants and strongest supporters. Even in the new congress, that faction still wielded a great deal of political power. General Hakuro in particular had made his animosity toward Mustang clear. It was due in large part to him that Mustang’s every promotion and commendation had been a struggle.

Mustang shrugged nonchalantly, not meeting Ed’s eyes. “It’s enough that he went out of his way to tell me that he’d be there.”

“Huh…” Ed frowned, considering, then grinned abruptly. “Wait a second. He’s trying to make you edgy at an alchemy exhibition? Is he an idiot? Why don’t you accidentally set his hair on fire, or better yet, let Maes do it.”

Hearing laughter, Riza peered through the kitchen window into the backyard. She smiled, snorted a little in amusement, then went back to scrubbing out pots.

“What’s happening out there, Mom?

“Nothing. I was just making sure the laughter wasn’t because one of them killed the other.”
--------
End of Chapter 3. Hoped you liked it, Frauen und Herrn
IttyBittyPretty
I used to think "And then the dogs stampeded" was THE classic line, but after re-reading it I love the semi-argument between Ed and Winry about whose fault Trisha is, Ed's threat to alchemize the desserts into broccoli, and the side story of the Mud War. (Have you ever read "The Button War"? Ths just reminded me)
Sable
QUOTE(IttyBittyPretty @ Nov 19 2006, 02:59 PM) [snapback]475584[/snapback]
I used to think "And then the dogs stampeded" was THE classic line, but after re-reading it I love the semi-argument between Ed and Winry about whose fault Trisha is, Ed's threat to alchemize the desserts into broccoli, and the side story of the Mud War. (Have you ever read "The Button War"? Ths just reminded me)



I've never read the Button War. What is it?
IttyBittyPretty
It's set in in this little French town in the late 19th and early 20th century about two groups of kids from different neighborhoods who have a huge fight about something - I can't remember, but it seemed silly. I think I first saw a film of it, then I found the book in the high school library (I was still a kid then). It's very funny.
Racheakt
Dude, this is awesome stuff! Your characters are awesome!

But when're you gonna update?
Sable
QUOTE (Racheakt @ Apr 8 2009, 05:53 PM) *
Dude, this is awesome stuff! Your characters are awesome!

But when're you gonna update?


I apologize, this is sort of a teaser.

To read the rest of the story thus far, look up Sarif on fanfiction.net. I haven't tossed in the towel yet, I'm just seeking time to keep going.
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