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mikkeneko

Subliminal


"What do you mean, you don't have any baths?" Ed said incredulously, his case slipping out of his limp hand to thump on the floor.

The inn matron hastily tried to explain. "It's not that we don't have baths, young sir, it's just that right now we can't spare the water to run them. But for five thousand extra cens a night, we can provide you with a bucket to wash in..."

"A bucket!" Outraged, Ed slammed his fingers down on the countertop. "What do you mean, you can't spare the water? How do you expect to keep guests if you can't even give them decent facilities?"

"Brother," Al intervened with a sigh, putting one hand on his brother's shoulder. "Don't be so rude, it's probably not her fault..."

The innkeeper was already shaking her head. "None of the inns in the town can offer you anything better, young sir! Water is being strictly rationed right now, it's only guests and tourists who are allowed any water for washing at all..." She wrung her hands over and over, and the evident distress on her face seemed to get past Ed's visible outrage.

"Water rationing?" Al's voice reflected his concern. "Are you having a drought?"

"If only it were just that!" The inn matron sniffed slightly, then shook her head. "We have dry spells every year, but they've never gone on this long before! We would be fine if we still had our well, but it's been running dry for months now..."

Ed and Al exchanged looks.

"It's been terrible. No washing water, barely enough to drink, the plants are all dying... People are leaving in droves, and nobody wants to come to our town any more. If this keeps up much longer, this place will turn into a ghost town. ...Sir? Sir, where are you going?" Distracted from her tale of woe, the matron called out anxiously as Ed turned on his heel and strode towards the inn door.

"I'm going to make you a new well," he said brusquely. The inn door slammed against the far wall as he threw it open, and the inn matron gaped at his back as his red coattails vanished. Al followed in his wake.

"But... but..." She scrambled for the door, and poked her head out into the street. "What do you mean, you're going to make a new well?" she called after them. "Can you do that? Is that even possible?"

Heads turned in her direction as she shouted, then swiveled to follow the brothers' progress. They were distinctive enough, two blond strangers in red and blue, and a mutter immediately began to spring up behind them.

By the time Ed strode into the town square, a sizable crowd had already gathered. The town mayor himself came puffing up, as Ed made his way to the square center. "Pardon me," he panted, obviously having run to the scene of the excitement. "Did I hear correctly? Is it true that you can make a well, and save our town?"

Ed planted his feet and threw his head back, tossing a cocky smile up at the mayor. "I'm the Fullmetal Alchemist," he said, in a voice that carried clearly across the space. "I do alchemy for the good of the people. Making a new well for your town is no trouble at all."

Across the square, a group of gawking teenage girls gasped appreciatively at his speech and giggled to each other. Ed glanced over and saw them, and somehow managed to straighten himself up an extra inch or two, chest thrown out.

Al saw the exchange, and winced. He knew perfectly well what was on Ed's mind now. "Brother," he murmured, tugging on Edward's sleeve, "tell you what, why don't you let me do this one?"

"No way, Al," Ed shot back, shaking Al off him. "I got it covered. You just relax, and think of a nice cold bath back at the inn."

"But I could at least help..." Al trailed off, seeing how thoroughly his brother was determined to ignore him, and sighed.

Ed braced himself, feet planted slightly apart, and clapped his hands together. "I won't just give you a well," he said to the gathered crowd, and dropped to his knees to slam his hands into the ground. "I'll give you something to make your village proud!"

A collective gasp went up from the crowd as blue light crackled and spark, making the daylight seem dim in comparison. The ground heaved and rippled, then subsided as the energy burrowed deep into the rock under the square. The ground itself began to push itself upwards, reforming into a shape almost like a layered wedding cake. As the charge continued to dance over its surface, it resolved itself into a tall fountain, covered with intricate decorations. The shape settled, resolved, and held stable for a moment, charge still dancing over it; then at the last minute, water burst out of the apertures near the top and began to flow.

There was an amazed gasp from the assembled crowd, that broke into cheering and applause. Ed grinned as he scrambled up off his hands and his knees, dusting his hands off theatrically. Al, however, groaned and clapped his hands to his face in dismay.

Ed had done it again.

The town mayor, being much closer to the new fountain than most of the other townspeople, was staring at it with a slack-jawed expression of disbelief. Al couldn't blame him. The fountain was intricately detailed, of course; everything Ed transmuted was like that. But for this fountain he had chosen—or maybe he hadn't chosen it specifically, it had just come out that way—to cover it with marble representations of women.

Naked women.

Naked, voluptuous women.

Voluptuous, naked women cavorting with each other all around the base of the pedestal, or caryatids holding pitchers and jugs over their heads, from which the water poured. Al peeked at one, then blushed and had to cover his face again; he did have to say, though, that he admired the... artistry by which the pose emphasized her extremely busty chest.

"No need for thanks," Ed was saying briskly, oblivious to the mayor's stammering horror. "It's an alchemist's duty to work for the people. This fountain should go deeper, and draw better than your old well—it should run for a hundred years, unless there's an earthquake that moves the water table. Your town is saved!"

"This... this is..." the mayor stumbled, eyes nearly bugging out of his head. "...er.... c-can't thank you... enough... but don't you think... it's a little... a little..."

"What?" The smile dropped off Edward's face, and he looked a little stung. He looked back at the fountain, then at the mayor. "What's wrong with it?"

Al sighed. He just hoped they'd be allowed to stay in town long enough for him to have his bath.


They go to stay after all, but Ed was still sulking when they finally got to their hotel room. Whether it was because Al had insisted on changing his creation—at least to the extent of adding clothes—or because the girls in the square had been less than impressed at his display of alchemy, Al wasn't sure. Either way, he was sure Ed was going to be unbearable for the rest of the night.

As a means of heading off a possible argument, Al reminded Ed to call in his report—which consisted, as usual, of making it for him. Ed continued to sulk in peace on his side of the room as Al described the incident, only making occasional cranky editorial comments.

"Do you have any new orders, sir?" Al asked somewhat apologetically at the end of the call.

"No, you boys seem to be doing fine on your own," Mustang replied calmly from the other end. "It's good to hear that Fullmetal is in good spirits, if he's being so obtrusive in showing off."

Al chose not to relay that comment to his brother.

"Oh, and I almost forgot," Mustang added off-handedly. "Lieutenant Hawkeye asked that you return to Central as soon as humanly possible in order to return my desk to its original state."

Al winced. It was never a good thing when the Lieutenant got crisp. "She did?"

"Yes. She's not terribly fond of the new decor. But, Alphonse..."

Al waited.

"Do take your time." There was a click, and silence.