Genre: Alternate Reality/Dystopia
Word Count: Appx. 40,750
Characters/Pairings: Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric, Yao Ling, Winry Rockbell, Olivia Armstrong, Gracia Hughes, Elicia Hughes, Chris Mustang, Roy Mustang/Riza Hawkeye, OC’s.
Warnings: Alternate reality post the capture of Gluttony, manga-verse.
Summary: Roy still remembered Edward’s words, that it was their mess to clean up, and the way those three boys had waved him off with Riza, Knox and the injured girl.
Disclaimer: I promise I will put Arakawa-sensei’s toys back, just as soon as I’m done playing with them.
A.N. 1: Thanks to Yoporock and Sweetnessnarose for their beautiful art. Please be sure to tell them how you feel about their work!
A.N. 2: Thanks to cornerofmadness and ishte for the first readthroughs. Any mistakes beyond what they pointed out are mine alone.
A.N. 3: This story was started some time back, before the ending of the manga. You may have noticed I posted last week, as well, but through AO3. Hope you enjoy.
X X X
The weather had been miserable for the past three days; a mix of rain and sleet falling from the sky. Thick clouds crowded the horizon both day and night. Roy Mustang hated the end of the year, when the cold set in. It reminded him too much of Briggs, except it was wetter. At least the snow in the Briggs Mountains had usually been dry until it melted. This stuff would coat streets and sidewalks, freeze and make everything slick and dangerous.
This was the time of year when Roy would prefer staying inside, his feet pointed at the fireplace, a good book in hand and a glass of whiskey in easy reach. He hated that he couldn’t do just that; that he was unable to indulge himself that way, but he still had a job to do. He had made a promise, after all, and he intended to keep it, no matter how difficult it was in the light of all that had happened.
It had been no one’s fault, though Roy still liked to hold that blame close to his chest. He could’ve insisted the Elric brothers and their Xingese friend return to Central City, back when that homunculus had been hunting him for killing one of its kind. Instead, he had allowed those boys to stay behind, to fight while he ran. He still remembered Edward’s words, that it was their mess to clean up, and the way those three boys had waved him off with Riza, Knox and the injured girl.
It was the last time Edward Elric, his brother, Alphonse, and their friend, Yao Ling, the Xingese prince, were seen alive.
Fuhrer Bradley had expressed his regrets over the loss of the Fullmetal Alchemist at the time Roy had learned the entire government of Amestris was corrupted. “It’s too bad,” Bradley had said, “we had definite plans for Edward and his brother, Alphonse.” That dark eye had fixed Roy with a glint of cold humor. “The loss of two chosen sacrifices in one day is a setback, as I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you. Where else will we find another pair of alchemists with their abilities?”
Roy’s foster mother had been proud of his bland expression and his stupid, cheerful answers when he told her about them later. Even in the comfort of her house, he couldn’t react the way he wanted, not then. It had been months later; almost half a year, before Roy allowed himself the luxury of mourning the loss of the Elric brothers.
In some ways, Fullmetal’s loss was a rallying point for the military, not to mention certain civilians who had dealt with Edward in the past. Roy had been shocked at how many people had put their trust in the boy but wasn’t surprised at the turn out for Edward and Alphonse’s memorial after the war was over. Fuhrer-in-Standing, Olivia Armstrong, had spoken about the brothers, of their selflessness, of how in their short lives, they’d managed to help bring about so much change in Amestris. Roy could remember the pretty blond girl, Winry Rockbell, standing with her grandmother. Neither woman had cried, though Miss Rockbell’s fists clenched so tightly, droplets of blood had rolled out of her palms. That image still seemed burned into his memory, the Elric brothers’ dearest friend, unable to cry for them.
“Are you ready?”
Her voice always called him back whenever he drifted and Roy turned, smiling at his wife of two years. “Almost, Riza.” Shrugging into his military issue overcoat, Roy buttoned it closed, not wanting the cold fingers of winter getting into his clothing. “Now, I’m ready.”
Riza pointedly raised her eyebrows and Roy stopped, trying to figure out what she had realized that he’d missed, then touched his head. “The hat.”
“The hat.” She nodded at the hall tree with a faint smile and Roy picked up his hat as he walked by it, sliding it onto his head and tugging the brim down.
Personally, he would’ve preferred the military had designed a winter hat with ear flaps but no one had bothered to ask him. And a scarf might not be so bad, either. Of course, the one Elicia had knitted for him – with a good deal of assistance from her mother – helped and Roy unwrapped it from the hall tree as well, arranging it around his throat. “Better?”
Riza’s mouth puckered slightly. “I can think of other ways I’d prefer to see you dressed but for work, much better.”
“Dressed?” Roy stepped closer to her, sliding his arms around her waist. “Or undressed?” He nuzzled her cheek, moving back to lip at her earlobe.
“Work, Roy.” Riza pressed against his chest, her smile hidden in her voice. “Play later.”
With an exaggerated whine, Roy released her to gather up her coat, holding it for her so she could slip it on. Checking to make sure they had everything they needed for the day, they left the house, Roy locking the door behind him. A yap got their attention and Hayate raced across the lawn toward them.
Riza took a single step closer to her dog. “Sit. Good boy.” Hayate waved his tail in response to her voice, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. “Ready to go to work?”
The dog barked again and fell into step with them as Riza and Roy started down the slippery walk to the waiting car. Roy misstepped, nearly sliding to the ground, catching himself after wind milling frantically. Righting himself, Roy glared at the walk. He could flash dry it but it wouldn’t do any good. The sleet was still coming down. “Damn weather.”
“We should have salted the walk,” Riza murmured, taking his arm now that the show was over. “Are you all right?”
“May’ve pulled something but I’ll be okay. My dignity is more bruised than anything.” Roy gently disengaged from her, not wanting to pull her down if he slipped again, and they made their way through the gate and to the car without further mishaps.
X X X
“W-where are we?” Alphonse’s voice seemed drowned by the wet, frigid air.
Edward narrowed his eyes at their friend. “Not helping, Ling.” Ling shrugged in response, crooked smile in place, but Edward had slid his gaze past to his brother. Alphonse was already shivering. They needed to find shelter and fast. “If we’re really back home,” closing his eyes, Edward took a deep breath. It just smelled like cold and wet and forest, like other places he’d been and Edward mentally cursed himself for thinking that he’d know Amestris by scent alone.
Ling shook his head when Edward glanced his way. “That feeling that I always had in your country...it isn’t there any longer.”
“Great.” Mouth thinning, Edward turned his attention to Alphonse again, watching his little brother tremble. Three years in his real body and Al was still sensitive to so many things. Well, if he was going to protect Al, he needed to do something and it wasn’t as if shelter was going to suddenly appear out of the ground unless he made it do just that. “Let’s see if this works.” Touching his palms together, Edward pressed them to the damp ground. Blue lightning crackled and swarmed around him, nearly making Edward lose the calculations in his head, but he persevered, bringing walls of dried earth up out of the forest floor. “It’s rough but it’ll keep us out of the damp. And we can get some wood and dry it out to burn.” Edward panted softly, trying to ignore that spark of hope attempting to ignite in his breast. Just because he could work alchemy didn’t really mean anything. He’d been able to work alchemy in the other world, too. “C’mon, Al, get inside and Ling and I’ll get that wood.”
“I’m not feeble, Brother.” Alphonse shot him a glare. “I can collect wood.”
Edward opened his mouth to respond, closing it again and nodding. Ling caught his eye, the slight motion of his head letting Edward know his friend would watch out for Alphonse. “Okay. We’ll meet back here in fifteen minutes, though. Got it, Al? No traipsing off ‘cause you hear a cat meow or something.”
“Yes, Brother.” Sarcasm coated those two words.
Edward shrugged it off, pointing at Alphonse as a reminder. “Fifteen minutes.” Spinning on his heel, he started into the woods, away from the little clearing. There was no light overhead; the cloud cover was too thick. He shuffled along, kicking up branches rather than finding them by sight. It scared him to have no clue where they were. Last time had been bad enough, winding up in the middle of a war zone with creatures even more legendary than chimeras battling each other and humans to get the upper hand. “At least we wound up on the winning side.” Shaking his head, Edward reached down to pick up a waterlogged branch. Alchemy could dry it out, same as it could be used to make a shelter for the night. “And tomorrow, maybe we can find out where we are.”
Longer than fifteen minutes passed by the time he returned to the shelter, spotting Ling and Alphonse straggling up, both of them laden with branches. The rough earthen dome was more than big enough for the three of them and a fire, though transmuting the damp out of the wood made the interior humid. “The fire will burn it out,” Edward muttered as Ling set to starting the flame.
Cocking his head, Alphonse shot Edward a curious look then sighed in relief as the flame shot up, eating greedily at the freshly dried leaves and grass. Ling fed the fire twigs until he was sure it caught then added some of the larger branches. Thick smoke trickled up the dome and out the smoke hole, lightening as less trash and more wood began burning. A self-satisfied smile lighting his face, Ling leaned back. “I think that’s good.”
“Did you see anything out there to tell us where we are?” Edward wished they’d thought to bring more leaves with them for bedding. As it was, their clothes needed to be dried, too, otherwise the fire wouldn’t help all that much.
“Not really.” Alphonse frowned as he removed his coat, obviously thinking the same thing Edward was, as he touched his palms together, using the energy to remove the damp from the fabric. The air felt nearly as full of water inside their shelter as outside. Edward congratulated himself for taking that into consideration for his calculations. It would suck if the combination of moisture inside and outside made the dome collapse in the night.
“Me next!” Ling shrugged out of his coat, offering it to Alphonse to dry. The orange light of the fire cast his face into odd shadows, making the young man’s sharp features seem saturnine. “We’ll find out more tomorrow, Ed.” He smiled across the flames. “Once it’s daylight, you’ll probably recognize where we are.”
Edward wondered how much of that was an act for Alphonse, since Ling had already said he didn’t feel the weird sensation he’d always felt while in Amestris. Edward wouldn’t let the thought that maybe that problem had been resolved while they were gone complete. It was entirely too much to hope for. If they’d just managed to return to Amestris, hell, to their world, it would be enough. They could deal with any changes that might’ve happened – that surely had happened; Edward wasn’t that much of a fool to think that nothing would have changed in three years – as long as they were home.
“Brother, stop it.” Alphonse’s gentle chiding woke Edward from his thoughts. At his confused look, Alphonse jerked his chin up, using it as a pointer while he pulled on his coat. “Your hand. You’re clenching it too tightly again.”
The sound of hydraulics pushed to their limits intruded and Edward relaxed his hand. “Sorry.” He flexed his fingers before dropping his hand on his knee. “Why don’t you two try and get some sleep. I’ll take first watch.” Glancing toward the entrance, Edward could see something that looked suspiciously like snow falling. Mentally cursing the weather, Edward transmuted the moisture out of his coat. Once he was sure Al was asleep, he figured he’d drape it over his little brother.
“I wonder what’s happened here since we left.” Alphonse had a wistful note in his voice.
“Bet the bastard managed to take the information we gave him and use it to his benefit.” Edward crossed his arms, leaning back against the wall.
“Your boss, you mean?” Ling shot Edward a glance. “Isn’t that why you told him, so he could do that?”
“Yeah but,” Edward rolled his shoulders. “I wanted some of those benefits, myself.”
Alphonse grinned slyly. “You just wanted to look like a hero to Winry.”
Pointing a finger at his little brother, Edward snarled in response. “I did not. I just think it’d be cool to be able to say that I had a hand in it.”
“Or,” Ling folded his legs, tucking his hands in the sleeves of his too-large shirt, “you might’ve been executed for going against the current government.” He smiled cheerily as the brothers looked his way. “It could have happened.”
“They wanted us as their chosen sacrifices, remember?” Edward waved his hand between them. “They wouldn’t have killed us until they needed to. In the mean time, we’d have figured a way to keep from getting killed.” He said that last with a cocky grin, hoping it didn’t look forced. After the whole experience of being swallowed by Gluttony and using the Philosopher’s Stone that made up part of Envy to open a gate into a new world, Edward wasn’t sure that the homunculi couldn’t have found a way to keep Al and him under their thumbs.
At least some good had come out of it – by them going through they gate, Al’s soul and body had been reunited. Edward remembered his surprise at finding his brother’s body, skeletal, near death from starvation, but still Alphonse, when he came through to the new world. Of course, they’d wound up in the middle of a war zone but that led to the believable story that they’d been trying to rescue Alphonse from his captors. Al had been too out of it to protest and by the time he was completely coherent, the story stuck – at least, until they got Al healthy enough to travel. By then, Edward had been searching for a way to get back home – Envy, no surprise, had taken off without them, too entranced by this new place to care about returning to Amestris – leaving him and Ling to figure out ways to take care of the hospital bills Al was racking up – and Edward without his military stipend.
But that was then, Edward thought, glancing at his brother, unaware of the soft smile that lit his careworn face. If they really had made it home…no, better to not go that route, not until there was proof. His hopes had been dashed too many times in the past few years for him to believe in anything without evidence.
“Thinking about Winry?” Alphonse’s voice cut through Edward’s musings, making him start in response. “You have that funny little smile on your face.”
“What? No. I wasn’t thinking about her!” He felt his cheeks heat up despite the truth in his protest.
Ling chuckled. “I’d say you are, Ed.” He sighed lingeringly. “Of course, Winry is a prize. Do you really think some tall young man hasn’t snatched her up while you were gone?”
“Height isn’t everything!” Edward snarled across the fire at Ling. “Winry’s got more,” words failed him as he tried to come up with the perfect retort. “She’s better than that,” he finally settled on, knowing it wasn’t nearly as good as it could be but praise for Winry in areas other than her prowess as a mechanic left him tongue-tied, still.
“You do realize you’re the shortest person here?” Ling’s eyebrows danced.
Edward was all too aware of it. Once he filled out and had access to a steady supply of food, Alphonse shot up like a stalk of wheat. “I’ve gotten taller.” He glared at the other two, folding his arms for emphasis. “I’m just not freakishly tall like some people I could name.”
“Major Armstrong?” His smile nearly splitting his face, Alphonse giggled at Edward’s glower.
“He’s a special case, all by himself. So is Mr. Curtis.” Edward scowled at Alphonse. “Shouldn’t you be bedding down, anyway? I said I’d take the first watch.”
“Yes, Brother.” Alphonse managed to say it without rolling his eyes this time but it was all too evident in his voice.
Edward narrowed his eyes until his brother actually curled up before the fire then turned his attention to Ling. Raising his hands to forestall any argument, Ling stretched out, pillowing his cheek on his curled arm. Listening to their breathing evening out, Edward fed a few more branches to the fire. If we are home, where should we go first? Rezembool? Central City? The bastard Colonel might still be there. Don’t know if I want to announce us to just any military base, though. Who knows what lies may’ve been told since we’ve been gone. The corners of his mouth turned down at that idea. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough, if this is Amestris. With a faint sigh, Edward flexed his metal digits, staring down at them pensively. Winry, are you okay? Did you miss us? Will you be happy to see us or angry that we vanished for so long? He shivered at the thought of the wrench reception he probably was going to get. I wouldn’t blame you for being angry, Winry, I just hope… Shaking his head, Edward didn’t allow that thought to complete. If Winry had moved on, she had. It wasn’t like he’d ever given her any indication that he’d wanted her to wait – and for all she knew, he and Al were dead and never returning. I wouldn’t want you to pine away, waiting for us.
Closing his hands, Edward told himself he meant it, too.
X X X
Waking with a start, Alphonse shook his bangs out of his eyes. While nowhere as long as his brother’s or Ling’s, his hair was about to get to the point where he’d want it cut again. Maybe, wherever they were, he’d be able to find a barber. With a delicious little shiver, he sat up, patting back a yawn before stretching his arms over his head. His spine cracked in protest to the move but that just felt good. The shelter Brother had transmuted last night had remained waterproof and the fire and body heat of three people had made it pretty cozy. Alphonse was almost loathe to leave it but his body insisted that he needed to, and very soon. Awkward from the need to pee, Alphonse made his way past Ling, noting his brother was absent from where he’d been sitting last night. His mouth quirking, Alphonse duck walked out of the shelter, only slightly dismayed to see snow had fallen during the night. The cold bit at him as he left the warmth and Alphonse shivered, wrapping his jacket closer around his body. It was almost frigid enough to chase him back inside but his bladder had other concerns than freezing, so Alphonse made his way to a stand of trees, following a trail of footprints that had to be Brother’s.
His low shoes were no match for the depth of the snow, even with Brother having broken a trail. By the time he’d chosen a tree, Alphonse’s shoes, not designed for traipsing around in the snow, were soaked through. He knew he’d have blisters if they had to travel very far. Brother had to realize that, but he’d gone out anyway. Alphonse couldn’t believe Brother had left before either Ling or he had woken.
Alphonse walked behind one of the larger trees. He’d worry about where Edward had gotten off to after he took care of his personal business. The cold made that somewhat difficult, he found out; his body was suddenly leery of performing in the cool air. “C’mon, you woke me up, do something,” he grumbled, sighing in relief when the stream finally came. Shaking himself dry, Alphonse let the foreskin slide back into place and tucked everything back inside. Bodily functions taken care of, at least for the moment, Alphonse glanced around. The tracks that his brother had left went on through the woods, breaking the white surface of the snow. The bitter cold made Alphonse wonder why his brother had wandered off into the woods but Brother was nothing if not tenacious. Grimacing, Alphonse debated on following his brother. Brother would yell if he did but Alphonse would hate himself if something happened and he wasn’t available to help. Decision made, he followed the tracks.
Brother had evidently decided he was going to find out where they were. Alphonse wondered how long it had been since he’d had started out. It was obvious Brother hadn’t woken Ling to take the second watch. Alphonse certainly hadn’t been woken for his turn. If he had, he wouldn’t be out here trying to find his headstrong brother, who’d just wandered off in the snow, without telling anyone. “Stupid Brother.”
At least the sun was shining this morning, rather than the cold, sleety snow from the night before, and Alphonse tramped along in his brother’s footprints, hoping to find Brother before too much time had passed. Ling wouldn’t appreciate being left behind if there was a discovery to be made. In that way, he and Brother were perfectly matched: neither wanted the other to one up him. Alphonse took a perverse pleasure in beating both of them to the punch. If nothing else, the expressions on their faces when they realized that he’d gotten in ahead of them made it all worthwhile.
The whoop startled Alphonse, making him freeze as he tried to pinpoint the direction of the shout. It echoed around the trees, not giving Alphonse a good focal point. He cupped his hands to his ears but by then, the sound was dying down. Tucking his pinkies in the corners of his mouth, Alphonse whistled shrilly, cocking his head, waiting for a response.
A whistle answered him, two sharp pitched pipes, and the tension fled Al’s body. It didn’t matter what world he was on, Brother could find trouble just by waking up. That his brother had responded with the ‘all’s clear’ left Alphonse limp with relief. He could already hear the faint sounds of someone moving quickly through the woods – another surprise – he and Brother had learned to be quiet, both as hunters and hunted.
Brother broke out of the underbrush, twigs stuck in his hair, scrapes on his cheek and forehead, a huge smile on his face. “Al, c’mon, get Ling.”
“Brother, what…” Realization dawned and Alphonse felt a stillness that had nothing to do with the cold weather descending over him. His question came quiet as a puff of air. “Are we home?”
The manic grin was answer enough and Alphonse scrambled back toward the rough building, hearing his heart pounding in his ears. Home, we’re finally home. “Ling! Ling, get up! We made it!”
X X X
Riza Hawkeye-Mustang waited in the anteroom for her nine-thirty appointment with President Fuhrer Armstrong, files cradled in her arms. Though she stared straight ahead, her thoughts were anywhere but on this meeting, quietly rolling through this morning’s discussion with Roy. He’d threatened to melt the snow and ice off the sidewalk, to flash-dry it afterward, so he wouldn’t slip again. Riza, as always, had a hard time believing that her husband could be quite so clumsy as he made out. There were things he’d kept hidden for so long that she wondered if this was another of his ploys, just one she wasn’t really in on.
“Captain Mustang? The President Fuhrer is ready to see you now.”
Getting to her feet, Riza nodded politely at the adjutant, entering Olivia Armstrong’s office. This was not the first time she had been here; that visit had happened so long ago, when Fuhrer Bradley had assigned her to be his assistant in an attempt to keep Roy under his thumb. The room had seen very little changes in the décor, a pair of crossed swords still hung behind the President Fuhrer’s desk, an Amestrian banner rose above that. The chair was still covered in dark leather and between it and the desk, they dwarfed every other piece of furniture in the room. Across the way, under the windows, a long table was covered with papers and notes, a map with figures set on it, and a young woman hurriedly scratching something in a pad.
“Captain Mustang.” Olivia Armstrong’s voice always reminded Riza of smoky honey, the way it curled and oozed, both. Roy had told her once that he’d gotten hard just listening to Armstrong speak. Riza thought she understood that completely.
“President Fuhrer.” Riza saluted and only dropped her hand when Armstrong nodded at her. “I have the morning reports from the East.”
“Statistics?” Armstrong stood with her head bowed as Riza recited the latest information on wounded, dead and missing in action; how much land had been taken and how much regained; what supplies needed to be replenished and, finally, that the tanks that had been created in Briggs were doing their job. That brought a flash of something to the President Fuhrer’s eyes and the faintest curl to her mouth. The Northern Wall still took pride in the accomplishments of the soldiers from Briggs.
“Finally, the minor earthquake to the west of the city.”
Armstrong raised her head in reaction to that. “Any word on the cause?”
“As of this moment, it is still believed to be natural in occurrence.” Riza met Armstrong’s gaze. “However, precautions have been taken and scouts have been sent to the area.”
“Excellent.” Armstrong turned her attention to the window though Riza doubted the President Fuhrer’s mind had wandered. “I expect you will keep me informed of whatever the scouts turn up?” Riza thought there might be a teasing lilt to that question though Armstrong’s stance didn’t change, not even a glance over her shoulder.
“Then that will be all for now, Captain.” Armstrong turned from the window then. “Oh, please tell your husband that I appreciate his invitation. Tomorrow night is good for me if it’s good for him.”
“Tomorrow night. Yes, sir.” Riza knew all too well how to hide any type of shock but she thought that Roy might’ve warned her about whatever it was that he had planned with the President Fuhrer. If she was coming to dinner, it would be good to know. “I’ll be sure to let him know.”
“Excellent.” Armstrong nodded, her smile nearly as cool as the wind outside. “Oh, Captain?” she called as Riza was nearly out the door.
“Yes, sir?” Riza turned around, waiting patiently.
Armstrong gave her an actual smile. “I wanted to let you know that Winry Rockbell will be in Central day after tomorrow.” She raised her hand, flexing the automail fingers. “It’s time for my tune up.”
“Thank you, sir, for that information.” Riza saluted before spinning on her heel and marching out of the office, wondering just what in hell her husband was planning. For all she knew, it was a night out with ‘the boys’ – Havoc and Breda were in town and Fuery was still assigned to Roy. If he wanted it to be a surprise for her, she’d have to compliment him on it. “Sneaky bastard,” she muttered under her breath, not noticing the corporal who stared at her with wide eyes, hearing that come out of her mouth.
And Winry, returning to Central. Not that it wasn’t expected; she was the President Fuhrer’s mechanic, and Winry would travel to wherever Armstrong might need her. Though it had been some time since Riza had actually had a chance to speak with Winry, she knew that the young woman’s success wasn’t attributed to her two most famous – or infamous, as the case might be – clients, but her own skills. Wondering if Winry would be staying at a hotel or with Gracia and Elicia Hughes, Riza made a mental note to call her friend. Perhaps they could make arrangements to meet with Winry while she was in town. Too bad it wouldn’t be the same night that Armstrong was doing whatever with her husband.
Corners of her mouth twisting down fractionally, Riza figured she’d find out soon enough what Roy was angling after. He was excellent at keeping secrets, after all – but she knew each and every weak point he had. With that thought to cheer her, Riza made her way back to her office to await the reports from the scouts and find out if any new information had come in from the front.
X X X