AUTHORS: alchemy_reborn , unbent_unbroken , forgotten_frame , just_the_ghosts , machine_junkie , metallic_smile , too_loyal , brokenflame3, therocketspulse, ashen_photo
Pairing: For this, none, but will eventually be Elricest as well as a number of other pairings.
Rating: PG-13 (for this peice)
Warnings: Spoilers up to series end, AU from the movie. Prologue to fma_rebirth
Summary: Yes, it had been a very nice day. Then the Gate opened.
It had started out, Ed thought, as a nice day. Not great, because as long as he was separated from his little brother nothing in life would ever be great, but not as awful as some of his previous days had been either. It was chilly outside, but the sun was shining and he and Alfons were showcasing rockets at a local festival.
Yes, it had been a very nice day. Then the Gate opened.
He could only imagine what the people who had been standing around them had thought as the large, ornate Doors of Truth had materialized in front of the Ferris wheel. It would go down in German history books, for sure. That was, as long as the Gate didn’t drag them in after him as some misbegotten form of price.
It was unsettling to be pulled through the Gate again so suddenly and without a clear reason why. Had Al found the way to bring him back without a sacrifice? Had these past 5 years served as the price for Al’s body and now the Gate was taking him back of its own will? These and numerous other thoughts were racing around his mind as he spun through the blinding light that was the Gate. The most palpable one: he was going home.
Edward almost felt bad as it occurred to him that Alfons would be left behind- the friend that he had spent nearly half a decade of his life with would be left with only memories of him the way he had been left with only memories of his brother. Still, as Al came to the forefront of his mind once more, he couldn’t bring himself to feel any more sympathy for his German colleague.
His tumultuous journey through nothing ended abruptly, with Ed on his hands and knees. That had been nothing like his other trip back through the Gate to Amestris, but rather like his first chaotic trip to Germany, only this time he was in his own body.
As his eyes began to adjust to the utter blackness of the room he discovered himself in Ed heard a muffled thud and harsh cough to his left; it almost sounded as if someone had landed next to him. There was a scuffle and a choked cry to his right and then a warm blast of air drifted past his cheek. Fog? Smoke? He wondered.
Ed couldn’t decide and as his vision cleared he decided it probably didn’t matter. What mattered was the familiar circle sprawled out in front of him, the circle and the figure crouched at its center; the figure with eerily calm golden eyes suddenly only inches from his own, identical to the eyes that greeted Edward whenever he looked into a mirror. Those eyes were frightening and mesmerizing all at once.
A sharp pain exploded in the back of Ed’s skull and then the world was black once more.
The figure looked down inquisitively at the man's head he had just touched. His fingers still crackled with the spare energy that flitted between his fingertips, small lightnings. He looked down at Edward, a smile still plastered on his face.
"Sorry for the inconvenience," he murmured gently. He flipped the body onto its back, seeing the face. The face flashed twice again in his head, once, a young child with chubby cheeks and bright golden eyes, a second time, a somber child-who-was-almost-like-an-adult, and then he saw the silver watch. He shook his head.
Glancing over to the other who lay beside him, his smile simply seemed to grow brighter as flashes of the Bronze One began to play in his head. As his family members began to emerge from the rubble, his maker from the protective dome he had erected about himself, they began to stand around the golden stranger's form, murmuring and debating with worried expressions, their voices undulating in volume as one agreed, and one protested. As they began to bring him away, Machine lifted the other Bronze one into his lap, and began to play with the ends of the cream colored hair. He leaned over, and licked away the trail of blood that extended from the corner of his mouth. He looked up with a bright smile, and said ever so politely:
"Excuse me, but is it okay if I keep him?"
Alfons wasn't a terribly excitable person, but once he, Edward, and his team arrived at the festival they were presenting at, his stomach did a series of loops, gut bubbling with the excitement of his achievement. He could barely contain his enthusiasm; Alfons was grateful that Edward had a tolerance constant talk of rocketry. Not to say that Edward wasn't also interested in the science, but he didn't quite share the same ardor as Alfons did.
So as he set up each of the rockets they'd constructed, Alfons couldn't help smile at the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' of the festival's more appreciative patrons. However, he was secretly glad that no one questioned him about the rockets constructors; his team had taken a lunch break and a stroll and left him to soak up most of the admiration of the audience. It was selfish, he supposed, but he rarely took advantages of opportunities like this
Adjusting the last of the rockets onto their respective bases, Alfons stood up and brushed the knees of his trousers off, before noticing an older woman beckoning to him. Making his way around his pride and joy, he leaned toward her to hear her inquiry.
"Did you and your handsome young friend really design this all by yourself?" she unknowingly yelled, drawing a handfuls of giggles from surrounding spectators. Rubbing his rapidly coloring cheeks Alfons turned to face Edward, who'd undoubtedly heard this from the short distance he was away...
... and instead witnessed the appearance of a grand, intimidating doorway towering over both of them.
The sight was so unexpected and deeply unnerving that he gasped, triggering a bout of coughs that caused him to double over. As he tried to regain his composure, Alfons looked up to see the gate's doors creak open, revealing darkness- and eyes. Hundreds of eyes staring straight at them.
Shuddering - not only from the momentum of his cough - he clutched his arm with the hand that wasn't covering his mouth. He couldn't focus on Edward long enough to hear or see anything, only succumb to the hacks that wracked his body and the blood that dripped onto his palm.
"Edo -! Edward -!" Alfons struggled to yell between heaves, attempting to confirm his location relevant to the boy. However, he found himself unable to breathe, unable to speak, unable to do anything but be pulled forward - by what he wasn't sure of - into unconsciousness.
Only after the last of the sunlight faded, weeping itself away from indigo skies, did Al decide to pause and rest. The mountain ranges north of Drachma were hostile at the very best of times; with winter’s slavering jaws so close, storms already rolling in from the temperamental seas, travelling after nightfall could be suicide.
He didn’t know how long exactly he had been travelling through the unnamed foothills, which the locals lovingly referred to as ‘Demons First Gate’, the very reason he had travelled so far to investigate it. It had been months since he had found a military outpost, so posting the letters which had started to weigh down his pack was out of the question. He missed human companionship, because frankly, the local tribes terrified him.
Al had seen many despicable things that had occurred in his young life, but nothing prepared him for the religious sects that dominated the mountains, living out their lives embraced fully with human sacrifice. The Camera was happy – chances to gobble imprisoned souls were rare, and the young women and girls sacrificed on wooden boards at the centre of each settlement provided a never ending feast for its insatiable appetite.
It hung around his neck on its embroidered leather cord, filling him with dread at its icy cold touch, even as he opened the bindings that allowed him to use it effectively. The array was projected in perfect, gleaming amber light when he flicked the metal switches, so he opened the shutter, and…
It shuddered in his hands. He recoiled, mentally and physically, at the roiling pleasure that resulted from the energy it used to carve a notch into the iron grey cliff face. It was small enough to house his weary body, his tools, and the metal filaments he had used to pull small, tortured souls from motionless and torture-filled metal spikes, rammed into wooden boards with brute force.
He would send them back in Central, on the holy ground he had somehow conned Mustang into reserving for him – the Camera was happy to destroy them, but he knew what it was like to be so frayed, and did everything he could do to ease their suffering. But exhaustion beckoned, and while not inviting, the new ‘cave’ did look somehow appealing…
He climbed into it with a sigh, ignoring rising claustrophobia as he sealed it behind him, leaving him in the dark, protected from the cold, and alone with it.
It being the Camera, which had started squealing in the spaces where it connected to his mind, shuddering wails that nevertheless sounded excited, and Al’s bronze eyes widened as the sound of a door being opened rang through his soul.
Gracia was curled up on the couch with a pile of clothing that needed mending set beside her. The tinny sounds of a victrola filled the living room, chasing away the lingering emptiness and shadows as best as mechanical music possibly could. She had never quite gotten used to the quiet moments - Alicia visiting with a friend from school and the house silent other than creaks and groans of wood settling. Not that she didn't enjoy the quiet times some; they were a chance to catch up on reading or sewing or fixing up the parts of the house that always needed upkeep. But she still wasn't used to them, and doubted that she ever would be.
But it was the quiet that made her all too aware of the small tremor, the mild shaking of the house that had nothing to do with settling. China rattled delicately in its case. A vase threatened to skitter across an end table. Photographs on shelves tipped. What in the world was going on? Frowning to herself, Gracia set aside the shirt she was sewing up. She knew what an earthquake was but couldn't remember ever experiencing one before. What if it got stronger?
She glanced to the telephone, tempted in her moment of worry to use it to seek out some sort of human contact. She had people to call, friends, some as close as family. But what would she say? That she was frightened? She supposed she was, a little. That she simply couldn't stand being alone over such a small thing? She supposed that was true, too. But neither were things she was eager to admit, even to friends that were close as family. And so she passed by the phone and moved to the window, peering out even as the tremor faded away to nothing. Nothing seemed amiss on the street outside, and Gracia immediately felt foolish for fearing over anything.
It had only been a tremor, probably one of those odd little geographical quirks that came along every century or so. Shaking her head as though chiding herself, Gracia went to begin righting the fallen photographs.
Dragging out the day’s last cigarette, Roy dryly wondered when he started smoking. He laughed to himself remembering something about a dare in another dingy tavern. Because of the places Roy was visiting lately, he would have died from second-handed smoking anyway.
Being an alchemist, Roy knew the mind-fizzing elements inside the cigarette that pushed the pain further back. He also knew about the mind-numbing effects and components of alcohol as it traveled from bottle to blood veins. Along with this knowledge, he also knew what happened to a person once they became addicted to such substances. Roy didn’t care.
It was another way to drown the pain.
Brigadier General Roy Mustang looked for a brief moment at the moon-less sky. Central was dark around this time of night with only the street lamps and a few lighted windows to indicate life. He walked these streets without fear. Who would attack the rumored killer of the King?
Suddenly the ground began to tremble. Steadily at first, but then it seemed to jerk into action. Standing on the vacant sidewalk, Roy stepped away from the towering buildings as the cigarette dropped form his gloved hand. The steady roar was what alarmed Roy. Holding a hand to a street lamp, Roy glanced in all directions. This was no ordinary earthquake. Was that alchemy, Roy wondered as he faintly heard the familiar sounds of sparks.
The earthquake ebbed and finally stopped. Suddenly something was faintly burning on Roy’s hand. In the city’s lights, he held his hand eye-level and he realized he didn’t need light to see his fire transmutation circle embroidered on his glove…was glowing.
Winry sighed as she trudged up the stairs to bed. It had been a long day of work and she was exhausted. In the early morning, she was heading out to Central to visit Sheska, Gracia, and possibly Lieutenant Hawkeye if she could manage. Maybe visit Hughes' grave while she was at it. And of course she would try to get in contact with the Brigadier General for news of Alphonse. Swiping her hair out of her eyes, she paused at the open door that led to Alphonse's room. He hadn't been back for months, not since her birthday. She stared into the empty room, then shut the door. Twenty-one, she told herself with a grim smile, was not supposed to feel this lonely.
The last letter she'd received from Al came from far up north. That was two months ago and, as always, he had been up there searching for a way to bring Edward back. Even five years later, he still had hope that Ed could come back. But Winry...she had given up on that a long time ago.
Winry slipped into a nightgown and crawled into bed. Only in her dreams did she believe that Al would be successful; only in her dreams did she let herself entertain the hope of hearing from Al that Edward was coming home at last.
That night, in her dreams, Winry felt the earth shatter beneath her, and the sky glowed with blue and gold behind her eyes.
Earlier in the day, the golden hair of a little girl flashed in the afternoon sun, her high laughter piercing the air and reaching the ears of a bespectacled man, sending a sheer feeling of pain into his heart. The man watched from behind a tree which was next to the sidewalk in front of his old house ... Or was it still his house? He didn't know, the shade of the foliage hiding him from view as he wondered if he could ever go back there ...
He'd been dead ... He knew that, and yet here he was, watching his little girl play happily outside, his wife keeping a watchful eye on her as she sat comfortably in a chair, fixing up a piece of clothing of some sort, working skillfully with a needle and thread. He didn't know why he was back ...Or how, for that matter. He'd seen others like him too, others that he'd known were dead as well, like the little Tucker girl. But the first thought that had come to his mind as soon as he could think, was his family.
It was the one thing he'd regretted most when he'd died, and as soon as he had the chance to go and see them again he took it, not waiting around for answers. And now here he was, watching them and feeling a great sensation of longing to go and really see them but ... He knew it would be too hard on them, too much of a shock to suddenly have him back, and that's where the pain came from. It tore at his heart with acidic claws as he reluctantly turned around, deciding to leave this for another day. He was somewhat satisfied to know that they were safe, which was the only reason he could leave them again.
He vowed to himself that he would come back again, and reveal himself one day. When, he didn't know, but he would.
Five years was a long time to be in a state of limbo. In some ways, she'd been under his command the whole time, even though on paper, she was pushed around through the main headquarters, from office to office, department to department, never staying in one place for long, and always, always keeping an ear to the ground, a sharp eye out for something that might help usher in his return.
It was strangely exhausting, a sense of her life being on hold, with nothing as it should be and nothing where it belonged. And yet, there was normalcy everywhere -- life going on.
She could hear Black Hayate barking before she even climbed the steps to her small home. Yet another change. He was no longer allowed to go to work with her each day. Riza could understand why -- or could she? Sometimes in the moments where it felt as though she were standing amid enemies, she resented the loss of everyone, from Mustang down to Black Hayate. Even the small dog's company would have been a welcome sense of having an ally. Home became her sanctuary, her refuge, and she often hated leaving it unless absolutely necessary.
He squirmed and wriggled in front of her on the floor as she opened the door, almost tripping her in his efforts to restrain himself from jumping up. He was trying so hard to be good, it was just difficult. She was home. It was the highlight of his day, every day!
It was nice being able to come home to someone who was clearly thrilled to see her.
Riza took a few minutes to greet him, then let him out into the back yard while she started up some hot water for tea. With the water working its way to a boil, and the wire infuser basket full of leaves, she stepped out on the porch to check on him. Hayate began to bound toward her, then stopped in his tracks, his ears flattening and tail tucked low as he looked around, growling.
"What? Hayate, what's hap--" Then she felt it. Heard it. A low rumble that vibrated up her through bones, that clattered the teacup on the counter, and made the old wood-frame screen door shudder and bang against the house. "Hayate." Even to her own ears, there was a pitch she detected that crept toward fear. Too much had been seen over the years, too much had been done. Maybe this was just an ordinary earthquake, but she'd seen far too much outside the ordinary now. She gathered the black dog into her arms, and waited, ignoring the whistling kettle.
Then, as unexpected and suddenly as it arrived, it passed. She set Hayate down and locked them both inside before tending to her tea. Riza was ready for an elusive bit of normalcy for her own life now.
The soft scrape of a boot briefly filled the nighttime silence. The city was quite quiet tonight, which was a bit unusual. Citizens were often seen bustling in and out of a bar or some other place.
On the outside, things had seemed to calm down and settle for the city within five years. Of course, that was only the illusion that people wanted to see.
Jean knew that people were talking and gossiping. There were times when he happened to overhear people talking about the way that the country had changed, and some thoughts were none too positive. It was truly annoying how everyone couldn't be satisfied with changes, one way or another. Life would always be that way when half of the world wanted to stay at a constant and the other half wanted to advance.
As he was about to light up another cigarette to quell his thinking, the paved street he was standing on began to shake. He had nothing to grab onto, so he could only fall to his knees and wait until the quake subsided.
Once it was over, he could still feel the shaking within his body... That told him that this was much more than a mere natural disaster. Then again, when was life ever really normal in Central?
-- End Prologue.
Interested in more? Check out fma_rebirth! (We're also currently taking applications for characters!)
Banner made by just_the_ghosts
Cross-posted to: elricest, rebirth_addicts, fma_yaoi, and fullservicefma