She remakes the world, day by day; that's a mother's job, after all. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, laundry, shopping. It needs to be done every day, again and again, and she doesn't mind.
Blue sky, green fields, golden sunlight, scrubbed house. Two clamoring boys so full of energy and life and love, love, so much love. She washes faces and serves snacks and kisses booboos and approves alchemical creations. And all the time she carries in her a secret that will bring the world down around them all, one day; one day it will all stop.
But not today. Not today.
Nobody officially decided, to let him lead the line. Slowly, the crowd had just shuffled out that way, falling in behind his stature, his scars, his silence.
Did they see a leader, in him? Beyond absurd, to follow a sinner. He was as lost as the rest of them. More lost.
Oh, my God, he begged in his heart, please. Send me guidance. Send me work. And softer, Brother, what should I do? But no answer came, unless it was the wind, ever blowing from hope to despair.
He only lowered his head, and led his people against the wind.
If you want to understand the two of us, you have to imagine that all metal is chains. Then you will see how I am encased by them, wrapped round and round so tightly that I cannot breathe, cannot feel, cannot move freely, can never be free.
Then you will see how my brother allowed himself to be chained for my sake, streams of them falling from his shoulder and leg and binding him to me, to the military, to whomever will use him up and throw him away.
Then you will see how we are trapped, inescapably, but together.
Come out of there, Edward says through the telegraph. We should never have let them separate us in the first place. They won't stop you. Come.
I can't, Alphonse wires back. They need me here. I'm the only one who can still walk, still help the patients. I'm safe. I can't leave.
Then I'll come, Edward replies. I don't want you to be alone right now. I'll find my way through the quarantines somehow. I'll come.
Don't come, Alphonse says. They still haven't found a cure and the deaths just keep climbing. Whatever you do, don't come.
Don't come near.
There were some people who were afraid of blood. They couldn't stand the sight of it, even the smell made them faint. So Al heard.
He thought those people didn't know how lucky they were.
You learned to really appreciate blood when it coursed out of your brother's body so fast that it painted the floor and not all your frantic efforts could stop it, he thought. You learned to really miss blood when your skin was empty underneath and your body was silent of a heartbeat.
Some people were afraid of blood. So Al heard.
Al wished for it.
That person told her: When you become human, you will understand.
Will she understand, then, these funny pictures in her mind, of a house on a hill, with a tree in the yard, and a swing? The sky a brilliant blue, the grass filled with green light, and the house glowing softly white. Will she understand these people in her head, a man with glasses and a kind smile, children laughing and crying? Their hair and eyes flash silver and gold in those pictures.
Will she understand, then, why the world since that time has been nothing but dull gray?
They tell him that it's been four years, that a lot has happened since that night, that he's been beyond the Gate—whatever that is—and without a body for all that time.
He wouldn't know, really. He's just happy to play with Den and the baby, and roll on the grass, and laugh and talk with Winry and Sensei. He misses his brother, of course, but it's not too bad.
Sometimes, though, he has a chilling feeling like there's something important he's lost; something he's forgotten. And in those times, he wonders why all the food tastes like ashes.
Singular Scieszka, that's what the girls in the dormitory call her; for she has never been on a date, spends all her time in the library or her apartment, and she is strange.
It's not that she doesn't mind what they say, or that she's never lonely, but she doesn't have it in her to chase after a boy, or to play the games the other girls play. It wouldn't bring her happiness, because other people just make her uncomfortable, stifled and miserable, especially boys. She can't read them, can't understand them.
She spends her time reading. Books, she understands.
If he'd ever doubted how weak he was, he knew it now; less than a pawn, no more than a bargaining chip, bartered by the homunculus in exchange for his brother's soul. Everything is crashing down around them, and he can do no more than lay here and watch his brother burn.
And she appears.
He can't see much of her, arms up to shield her face against the light, coat whipping wildly behind her from the force of the gale, as she walks into the fire, and folds his brother in her arm.
It's enough. It smothers the flame.
It's no secret that Roy Mustang is lazy. He drags in to work every morning right at the deadline; papers sit until the last minute; work and responsibilities are neatly avoided, if possible. His talented alchemy and natural intelligence make it possible, that he can slide by—rise in rank, even—with the minimum possible effort.
Mustang knows this, fears this, and it's this fear that drives him to do everything he does—the fear that the killing will go on forever, that the atrocities will never stop, because he missed out on his one chance to make a difference.
Everywhere they go, people try to kiss Ed. Usually it's nothing big, just a peck on the cheek from a grateful housewife. Sometimes it's a daughter, blushing or crushing, or even a little girl, sloppy in her enthusiasm.
Ed hates it. He doesn't like to be touched at all, and the attention is embarassing. They won't take no for an answer, even if he could give it without giving offense.
But most of all, he hates it because Al is standing there watching, and Ed can see in his eyes that he wants to be kissed. And nobody ever offers.
It takes a lot to get Alphonse really angry. He's the patient one; he has to be, with the way his brother goes off at every little thing. In this hollow metal body, true anger is slow to build, and quick to dissipate, willing to forgive.
Now, looking at the mad jagged grin of the creature that has stolen his brother's precious limbs—the ones that his brother gave in sacrifice, the ones whose bloody stumps he'd bandaged and carefully tended—and hearing him gloat, his malicious laugh, Alphonse can feel it slowly beginning to boil inside him again.
It was so cold that the river froze all the way over, and even though they'd been forbidden from ice skating, the prospect of adventure drew the brothers there.
"I bet we could cross," Ed said.
"Are you sure?" Al doubted.
"We're light. We can make the other side," Ed said. "Come on, let's explore."
They stepped out, but halfway Al felt a buckling under his foot, and drew back.
"Niichan, no," he said. "This isn't safe. Let's stop."
Ed started to protest, but Al was adamant; they turned back.
Years later, Al didn't protest, and the ice gave way.
He used to love rain. He had many fond memories of camping out under a blanket, playing 'wilderness' with his brother while the rain pelted down outside, turning the world dim gray and providing a constant pattering soundtrack to their running dialogue. Or, if they were feeling particularly restless, venturing outside in a thunderstorm and chasing each other through the sheets of falling rain, yelling like madmen; and Mother would be waiting with dry towels and warm drinks that never tasted so good any other time.
Rain stopped being fun when he had no choice about being out in it.
He stands in their father's study, and the books are messy and discarded behind him. He's about to learn things, he's afraid, that he never wanted to know, that he will never be able to forget.
Mother's voice echoes in his mind:
"Whatever happens, you are never to open that door!"
Mother is dead. And the secret, the means to bring her back lie in this forbidden room beyond his father's study, he's sure of it. If he follows his father, he can bring Mother back, and make her happy.
If he opens this door, he can never go back.
The rain is cold, and so is she. After all these months of heated warmth, quickening life, everything inside her is still. Still.
The glade is up ahead, the ring of flat stones that centers the island. She trained here, worked most of her best transmutations here. Now she only needs to work one more.
She falls to her knees on the edge of the circle, and hugs the cold claylike bundle to her chest, and finds she does have the energy to cry after all.
"It'll be okay, baby," she whispers. "Mama loves you. Mama will make you right."
"Where's everyone?" Ed asked, wandering into the kitchen. Al looked up from his sandwiches.
"Oh, around," he said. "Amery came over today; she and Terry are upstairs somewhere."
"Did she come today?" Ed asked vaguely, stealing a strip of cheese. "Good, then Terry can give her that present he's obsessing about."
"What present?" Al asked, swatting Ed's hand. "I don't remember seeing this."
"Me neither. Well, he said he hadn't made it yet," Ed said, then paused. "Al..."
"You don't think..." They exchanged worried looks.
From upstairs in the study came a familiar crackling noise, and a little girl shrieked.
"I understand your concern," Winry said placatingly to the indignant couple. "Alchemy is scary to watch the first time. But Terry was only trying to do something nice for her."
"I suppose," Amery's mother said, grudgingly. "But I wonder about that boy of yours, Mrs. Elric! There's something funny about him."
Scieszka sighed, turning around in the hallway and going back into the kitchen. Ed sat at the table, head in his hands; Al had an arm around him.
"Don't worry," she told them cheerfully. "Winry will get rid of them. Terry will... Ed? What's wrong?"
"It's started," he whispered.
A year is a long time to a child; especially if each new one brings dark disappointment, grief, and fear.
His eleven-year-old self couldn't foresee the troubles ahead. His twelve-year-old self wouldn't believe that his silver watch couldn't buy him the one thing he wanted. His thirteen-year-old self hadn't suppressed the indignant rage that two years of searching had gotten them nowhere.
His fourteen-year-old self turns to his brother, crowded into the lower bunk; patient, forgiving, trusting. He kneels at his brother's feet, lays his head on his brother's knee.
"This year, Al," he whispers. "I swear it."
He always kept his eyes open while they fucked. (Sloth called it 'making love,' but it was a semantic distinction, devoid of meaning.) He wanted to watch the changes of expression on her face, the gasps and twists of her face as he fucked her unresisting, not-quite-right body. He wanted to see her brown hair, falling over her shoulders, her large (motherly) breasts, her pale-white skin.
She always kept her eyes closed. And when her hands poured through his hair, flowed over his arms and clasped his small body to hers, he wondered who it was Sloth wanted to see.
They made a good team, Mustang and Hawkeye. His courage and her sense, his power and her dead-shot aim, no enemy was a match for them.
And after the explosions died and the flames passed, Hawkeye would walk the ruins of the burned towns, and find the victims by their screams. Skins black and blistered, eyes popped from the heat, charred bones exposed, she would put the barrel of her gun to their head and the screams would stop.
Thus Mustang was spared the guilt of their deaths, and Hawkeye was their angel of mercy. They made a good team.