On the other hand, I finished the outline. I think it's a good one, too.
And here, for your reading pleasure (I hope), are the prologue and first chapter of my FMA fic, Changed For Good. I hope you'll take a look; I've been working hard, and I think it has potential. Please read! ^_^;
Title: Changed For Good
Author: Miss Arel, aka me, aka Regent
Section: O and 1 of ??
Summary: This started out as a 'what if?' and kind of EXPANDED . . . if one minor event had gone one way and not the other . . . Everything would have changed.
Spoilers: SO far, just Episode 7. but that's certain to change.
Pairings: . . . None YET, but I hope that won't stop you from reading.
Rating: . . . PG-13 for language, at least at this point.
Continuity: Set during episode 7, after which point it looks at the map, sees which way the story's going, and goes the opposite direction. That's the point.
It is said by some people that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause hurricanes on the other.
It is said by other people that some people are idiots.
Others say that there is no such thing as chance, that everything that was and is and will be was predetermined long ago, and that fighting destiny is pointless.
And others say that a god trying to impose fate on people is like shooting an arrow into a river; you can see the target, but the currents of free will can, and often do, pull the arrow off course.
But there is no denying that the things we do have consequences, repercussions; for good or ill, regardless of intentions, everything we do is connected in an intricate spider-web of cause and effect, action and reaction.
Cut one line, and watch the spider react . . .
She was beautiful, walking down the street. Short, petite, delicate, a woman with the frame and grace of a young girl; sleek black hair, creamy complexion, dressed in a white summer dress that fairly floated, cloudlike, around her shapely legs . . . Beautiful.
Of course, they were all beautiful. The more beautiful, the better, in his opinion; the purest, the cleanest, the most innocent; they were by far and away the most fun to have, under the knife . . . he imagined what she would look like, this gently smiling porcelain doll, sun shining full on her, eyes wide with the razzle-dazzle of the city streets; what she would look like, after a night in his care: face torn, body splayed, white dress turned scarlet, with not a trace of pristine purity remaining.
The man known as Barry the Chopper licked his lips, narrowed his eyes, and shifted his position, following the girl with his gaze, waiting for the right moment.
“Hey, babe, h-h-howareya?!”
A heavy, rough hand landed on Barry’s shoulder, and he jumped, almost forgetting to put his voice into falsetto as he whirled to snap at the man behind him.
“Hey, hands off, ape-face!”
--Was what he wanted to say, but the stink of sweat and cheap beer hit him like a wave, and all he could do was gag.
“Howzabout you’n’I go’n getta drink?”
This guy must be really drunk, thought Barry, if he mistakes disgust for interest. My disguise must be better than I thought. He smirked. “Sorry, pal, but I’m not interested.”
Apparently, the creature (who had several dozen pounds and at least one foot of advantage over Barry, plus an apelike frame and at least 2 kegs of beer in him) only caught about every other word, because his face broke into a wide grin. “Great! Lessssgo, babe.”
And then, to Barry’s immense surprise and irritation, the creature put his huge, hairy arm around Barry’s shoulders and started steering him towards the nearest pub.
Barry hated to break character, but desperate times, desperate measures.
Employing the same tactics his victims sometimes attempted to use on him (though never very successfully), Barry delivered three speedy blows: stilettoed heel to booted toe, sharp elbow to bulging gut, and wigged head to jutting chin. The drunken man grunted in pain and reeled back, trying to hold his foot, his stomach, and his jaw in his hands and finding himself a bit understaffed. Cursing and wincing, he stepped backward, allowing Barry to deliver one sharp, final blow to the back of his head, laying the man out like an expert prizefighter. The big gorilla landed facedown in a mud puddle, showering those around him with stinking, murky water.
Several women, seeing this, broke into scattered applause and cheers; apparently Barry was not the only one to have suffered the buffoon’s advances. But he wasn’t paying any attention to them. He scanned the streets for his target, the angelic vision he’d seen earlier; but she was gone. In the few minutes he’d been distracted, she’d slipped away.
Barry sighed. Well, you couldn’t win em all. Wincing and rubbing the back of his head – the bastard’s chin had been unusually sharp – he limped back to his truck, observing, as he got in and shut the door, that not only had he broken a heel in the tussle, but his dress was also now covered in mud.
He sighed again. It seemed it just wasn’t his day.
Flap. Flap. Flap.
The hand of God (or arrow of fate, or butterfly of destiny, as some would have it), thrown off course, started drifting. It came to rest, invisible, beside a conversation being had not far away, between a lanky, brown haired man, and a young boy with hair and eyes like polished gold.
Maes Hughes sat back ins seat and looked across the room at Edward. “The chimera definitely said one thing . . . ‘Give me death.’”
He saw Edward’s eyes widen suddenly in surprise; then the boy’s expression hardened, and he cast his eyes downward.
“After that, it didn’t eat anything and died.” Maes added, shrugging.
“ . . . Why did Mr. Tucker think of creating something like that?” Ed whispered, almost to himself.
Maes shrugged again. “I don’t know . . . But there was someone in the military who thought it could be used . . ."
He could almost see the wheels turning inside Ed’s skull, but could only guess as to what the boy was thinking. “What about Mr. Tucker’s wife?” Ed asked suddenly.
Maes blinked. Tucker’s wife . . . “Oh, the one who died before he came to Central City? . . . Am I wrong?” he added, quirking an eyebrow at Ed’s shocked expression.
Ed chewed his lip. “No . . . never mind.”
Maes didn’t buy it, but he decided not to press the issue. It wasn’t his business. (Of course, his job was to investigate things that weren’t his business, that was why he was in Investigations, but he still didn’t want to badger Ed right then.) “Okay, well . . . hey, why don’t you come for dinner tonight?” His face lit up at the idea; yeah, Ed looked like he could use a relaxing evening. “Bring Alphonse, too. I think perhaps spending all that time with Tucker is making you a little paranoid, hmm?”
Edward laughed a little. Spending time with Tucker right now would make anybody nervous. “Yeah . . . okay, that sounds good.” He smiled. “We’ll both be here this evening. But I should go now, if I want to get Al and be back here in time.”
“Oh, of course,” Maes said, standing and walking him to the door. “Don’t be late!’ he added as Ed hurried down the path, “She’s making pasta!”
End of prologue
“Ísn’t she cuuuuuuuuuuuuute?”
Edward Elric blinked. He guessed so; he hadn’t had much experience with babies, having been little more than a baby himself when Alphonse was born. He’d never been much good shakes with ‘cute’ anyway; he and Al had always thought bugs were cute, but their mother had tactfully (but very firmly) forbidden them from bringing the little devils in the house. (The same thing had happened with the spiders, the snake, the lizards, the frog, the toad, even that kitten Ed had found in the rain.) Al was a lot better at this sort of thing.
Well, sure, yeah, the baby had those big green eyes and round pink cheeks and a little tuft of light brown hair, and she was all roly-poly and soft and warm and she was just so tiny, with ten itty-bitty toes and ten teeny-tiny fingers and –
Okay, so she was adorable. But this was the fifteenth time that Hughes had shoved his newborn daughter under Edward’s nose since he and Al had arrived for dinner, and Ed’s admittedly limited patience was wearing dangerously thin.
“Yes," Ed sighed heavily, "she’s very cute.”
“I knoooooow!” Hughes cuddled his daughter again. He sounded like a little girl, for crying out loud, squealing over a new doll. Ed had observed Hughes’ behavior over the past few days at first with surprise, then interest, followed by incredulity, and lately with disgust. Squealing, giggling, showing off his daughter to virtually everyone within a ten-mile radius, chattering a mile a minute, and snapping those damned photographs every time Elysia so much as burped . . . The man had obviously lost his mind.
Strangely, Ed had observed no signs of a similar condition developing in Gracia, who was at that very moment sitting calmly in a chair, watching them. Although she was obviously happy and content and apparently immensely proud of herself, there was no indication of the madness that had possessed her husband. Ed wondered if it was possibly a sex-linked trait. If that were the case, it shed new light on why his father had left them; Ed imagined that the man valued his sanity even more than his family.
“Don’t you just wanna eat her up!?” Hughes cooed.
Edward and Alphonse exchanged wide-eyed looks from across Elysia’s crib. Ed had a feeling that there was no right answer to this question.
“Uhhhh . . .”
Fortunately, at that moment Gracia came to their rescue. “Now, Maes, honey, try not to traumatize the poor boys,” she said, deftly plucking the baby out of her husband’s arms. “Elysia needs to be fed now, anyway.”
Hughes looked almost ready to object, but Gracia’s pretty eyes flashed green fire for a split second, and he backed down. Ed and Al watched this exchange with interest; obviously females were the true parental authority. That would explain why their mother had been able to raise them without any help.
Hughes looked so crestfallen, though; it was painful to watch, really.
“Um,” Alphonse piped up nervously, “We should probably go home anyway.”
“Yeah,” Ed agreed, “It’s getting late, and, uh . . . we promised Nina we’d read her a story tonight! Yeah! What with her dad preparing for the assessment and all, she’s getting kinda lonely.”
He was only half-lying; Nina had probably gone to bed hours ago, but Hughes didn’t know that, and it was getting very late.
As he spoke, Ed realized he had punched a hole in his own theory; Mr. Tucker was a little eccentric, but there was no doubt he lacked Hughes’ parental obsessiveness, and he seemed to be doing just fine without Nina’s mother to help him out. Perhaps the madness was a short-term thing, then? Ed could only hope.
“Oh?” Suddenly Hughes looked a lot more lucid. “What’s Tucker planning on for the assessment?”
Ed shrugged, frowning. “No idea. We tried to talk to him about it . . .”
“We suggested another talking Chimera,” Alphonse added, “But he won’t tell us anything.” He sounded hurt.
“And right now . . .” The blonde boy rubbed the back of his head. “I dunno, I’m just worried.”
“About Tucker?” Hughes raised an eyebrow.
“About Nina. I don’t know why; I just have a bad feeling.”
“Hmmm . . .” Hughes managed to look serious for a few more seconds, but that was apparently his limit; A moment later he was totally insane once more. “Well, come back soon and visit my Elysia-chan, okaaaaay!?”
Ed and Al took an instinctive step towards the door. Ed grinned nervously. “Uh, sure, Mr. Hughes . . . Uhhh . . . Bye!”
And he and Al practically ran out the door. Once they were safely at the bottom of the stairs, Al paused to shout, “Thanks for everything, Mrs. Hughes!”
“Come back soon, boys,” she called cheerfully.
“You didn’t say good-bye to Elysia-chan!!!!”
Too late; the Elrics had bolted. Multiple exclamation marks are never a good sign.
The knock on the door came so soon after the Elrics’ departure – no more than ten minutes – that Maes assumed that it must be Ed and Al returning (to say good-bye to Elysia properly, no doubt.)
So he was rather surprised to open the door and find himself staring at a mass of blue fabric. Eyes trailing upward, he recognized the visitor.
“Brigadier General Basque Gran,” he said in surprise, firing off a salute automatically.
“Major.” The massive man glared down at him, his face wearing its customary thundercloud expression. “Where are the Elrics?”
Maes figured there was some special Hell for soldiers who thought badly of their superiors, and thusly considered himself one of the damned; he hated Basque Gran. Unashamedly and unrepentantly hated the man. And it wasn’t just because of his conduct in the Ishbal war; (though it certainly didn’t help his case any;) It was little things, too. Like the way he’d look at you, as if you were an insect who was just a hair away from being squashed; or how he’d speak to all subordinates as if they were made fools simply by comparison to his own brilliance; or how he would totally forgo any pretense of politeness; no ‘I’m looking for the Elrics’ or ‘Have you seen the Elrics?’ or ‘Oh great and wise Major Hughes, best father in the universe, have you perchance seen, in all your great wisdom, the Elric brothers?” (although even Maes realized that that last one was just wishful thinking). Maes did not have a problem with selfishness as a general rule; he was all for doing things for yourself, as long as it wasn’t hurting anybody (or at least, not hurting anyone who didn’t deserve it anyway), but Gran’s ego simply defied belief.
If Gran had any interests other than his own gain, Maes would eat Elysia, crib and all.
So he felt no guilt at all when he craned his head up to meet Gran’s eyes, smiled, and blithely answered, “I don’t know, Sir.”
After all, Maes was out of uniform, and it was only politeness and the thought of what Gracia would do to him if he lost his job that prevented him from replacing that 'Sir' with a few more . . . descriptive words.
“Are you sure?” Gran rumbled.
Maes nodded, endeavoring to look as honest as possible. “Quite, Sir. Haven’t seen them all day. Yesterday they said they were planning to do research at the National Library; does that help?”
Gran glared at him, doing his very best to intimidate Maes into confessing, but Maes had survived with his wife through pregnancy and PMS; Basque Gran’s worst glare was nothing compared to Gracia at the end of her tether. Gran couldn’t prove anything; the man’s spy network was at best shoddy. Maes would know, as he comprised roughly half of it. And the other half was Armstrong, for crying out loud, who didn’t have a subtle bone in his whole huge body; the man couldn’t hold his breath quietly.
Honestly, who did Gran think he was: Roy Mustang?
Eventually even Gran realized that the Glare wasn’t going to work, and he turned on his heel without a word and marched away, leaving Maes feeling very satisfied, and thinking that, if he were going to Insurrectionist’s Hell, he’d rather enjoy getting there.
By the time Ed and Al gt home, the house was dead silent, and so they tiptoed upstairs (Alphonse doing a surprisingly good job, considering) and got quietly into bed.
In the morning Nina came to wake them up. Ed woke to a little fist prodding him in the shoulder. “Small Big Brother – Ed-brother – “ Nina said, “Phone call.”
“Mrrrf . . .”
Getting out of bed was harder than he’d thought, but he managed it somehow and picked up the receiver downstairs.
“This had better be good,” he grumbled.
“Mr. Hughes!?" Suddenly Edward was wide awake, and angry too. "Why are you calling me so early, when it was you keeping us up till the middle of the night in the first place!?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry,” Hughes said, not sounding sorry at all – rather, he sounded worried. “Look, I need you and Al to come over right away.”
There was a pause. “I don’t want to explain now – just hurry. It’s important. Oh – and don’t tell Tucker. Don’t tell anyone.”
And then the line went dead, leaving Ed confused, and no longer angry, but very, very awake.
Five minutes later Ed and Al left the Tucker residence, very fast.
Ten minutes later Brigadier General Basque Gran arrived with several soldiers, and once again found that the Elrics were nowhere to be found.
The two brothers arrived at the Hughes residence in record time. Hughes was waiting in the living room.
“So, where’s the fire?” Ed asked, breathing heavily as he sat down.
Hughes inhaled deeply before speaking. “Okay . . . last night, Basque Gran came to visit me.”
“Basque Gran?” Alphonse echoed.
“Brigadier General Basque Gran,” Ed explained, remembering what the glasses girl at the library had said.0, “the guy who thought of using alchemists in combat.”
“And the guy Tucker reports to,” Hughes added. “And he was looking for you.”
Ed blinked. “Why?”
Hughes looked around, as if he thought they were being watched – but how could they be, in Hughes’ own house? – then beckoned Ed and Al in closer. “Listen. He may be my superior, but I don’t trust Gran any further than I can throw him – and believe me, that’s not much. Now, Gran, he’s the overseer of all Tucker’s projects. And with Tucker’s assessment coming up, and Gran looking for you two – it’s too much a coincidence for me to ignore.”
“Wait – what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I think Gran’s looking for you because he wants you to stay away from whatever Tucker’s working on – which to me says that you need to figure out what Tucker’s up to.”
“You mean spy on him!?” Alphonse cried.
“Why not? I do it for a living. And I smell a rat.”
Al looked around. “A rat?”
“It’s a figure of speech, Alphonse,” Hughes said gently.
Ed stood up. "Thank you for telling us, Major. Al, let's go.”
“Ah?” Al looked up. “Go where?”
“Back home. I want to know just what the hell Tucker’s up to.”
“Careful,” Hughes said, standing up as they went to leave. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“That makes two of us.”
After what Hughes had told them, Ed and Al were not at all surprised to find the entrance to the Tucker residence guarded. Surprised; but not inconvenienced.
After all, what can two bored privates do against one bulletproof suit of armor and one pint-sized (and subsequently hopping mad) National Alchemist?
Really, not much.
For one thing, they weren't getting paid that much.
Not all silences are the same. To say that silence is silence, and that's it, is like saying that the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is no different from waves crashing on the sand. Some silences are strained and awkward; others poetic and poignant; others warm and comfortable.
The silence in the Tucker house was deafening. The warm golden light streaming through the southern windows somehow amplified the complete lack of sound, until Ed and Al could almost hear the words whispered by the silence: This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong . . .
“This is wrong,” Ed murmured. He kept his voice low, yet somehow it echoed in the emptiness. “This is really wrong. I should have been tackled twice by now.”
“Do you think Nina’s napping?”
“Not a chance. She never naps at lunchtime. And anyway, even if she is asleep, where’s Alexander? Where’s Tucker?”
“Probably working on his . . .” Alphonse’s voice trailed off.
The realization hit them both like a wave.
The brothers stared at each other for a second that seemed much longer as both their minds raced. They were staggered by realization – of what, exactly, neither knew – but both knew they had to get down to Tucker’s lab. Now.
They both ran for the entrance. Ed reached the door first, and, finding it locked, wrenched it open with his Automail arm before hurtling himself through. Alphonse followed half a step behind. The two brothers pounded down the steps to the bottom, slipping and sliding on the wet stone but still speeding towards the door across the cellar. Ed skidded right into it; Alphonse narrowly avoided skidding right through it. It too was locked, and Ed’s arm nearly came loose from its socket as he tried to yank it open. He was in a full-fledged panic now, flooded with a nameless fear that rose in his stomach and flooded his veins as he clapped his hands together and slammed them against the unyielding wood.
The door exploded in a shower of splinters.
Instantly Ed and Al were through it, looking around them wildly. They half expected to see blood and guts smeared everywhere, both Nina and Tucker gored by an out of control chimera, to see the beast snarling and racing toward them, fangs bared, claws outstretched –
They certainly didn’t expect to see Tucker standing calmly at the edge of a complex transmutation circle, surrounded by books and candles and cages full of shadows and glowing eyes – and in the center of the circle, Nina and Alexander curled up against each other, so deeply asleep that they looked dead.
Edward looked from girl to man to circle and back again, gasping for breath.
“What the hell are you DOING!?”
Tucker turned his head to look at them. He looked even paler and more nervous then ever, and the look in his blue eyes gave Edward chills. (And Alphonse, too, but they were of course metaphorical chills in his case.) Tucker had the look of a caged and desperate animal, a man who has reached the very edge of his road and can’t go any further without violent repercussions.
“Edward. Alphonse. You shouldn’t be down here.”
“What are you doing?” Ed asked again. ‘What kind of experiment is this!?”
Tucker looked back at the girl and the dog, curled up on the floor. “You wouldn’t understand. This is something I have to do.” Alphonse saw Tucker’s fists clench and unclench, fingers jerking like scorpion tails. “You wouldn’t understand,” he repeated, this time in a whisper. “I’m at the end of my road . . .”
“What . . . “ Al asked, “What are you doing with Nina and Alexander?”
“Oh, God . . .” Ed’s eyes were wide. “You wouldn’t . . .”
“What?” yelped Al. “What, Brother?”
“The chimera . . . the talking chimera . . . it was a person . . .”
Tucker nodded. “My wife . . . I didn’t want to, but I . . . I didn’t have a choice . . . I had to, you see . . . I had to . . .”
“You sick bastard . . .” Ed whispered. His left hand drifted over to his right, clasping his metal wrist tightly. “I won’t let you!” He whipped his flesh hand away, the Automail blade following its arc like a magician’s spell leaving its caster’s palm, and ran at Tucker with a wordless cry of rage.
Tucker was at least a foot and a half taller than Ed, and quite a lot stronger; but he was also a coward, and without convictions or rancor or even a weapon to back him up, he could only take a step back, moving out of range of Ed’s swinging blade.
“Al! Get Nina out of here!” Ed shouted as his strike went wide, struggling to retain his balance and mount a second attack. He heard Al’s affirmative, heard metallic foot-falls behind him, running to the center of the circle. He lunged again at Tucker, who was ready for him this time, parrying his blow with a length of pipe and stepping to the side once again. Ed whirled around and swung again; Tucker blocked, but barely, the force of Ed’s attack knocking him back. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw Alphonse running for the door, hoisting both child and canine in his massive metal arms.
Ed’s distraction was all Tucker needed; he ran for the nearest cage and used the pipe in his hand to smash the lock. “Get him!” he shouted, and the creature within leapt at Ed.
Ed was surprised by the chimera’s sudden appearance, and the creature bowled him over, spilling him into the transmutation circle and knocking the breath from his lungs. A command from Tucker and the creature stopped still. And then Tucker was looming over him, reaching for him – “One way or another – I’m getting that chimera!”
Ed threw his hand out, hitting Tucker in the face in the same instant that Tucker’s hand gripped his shoulder, pushing him flat onto the ground. In the same flash their alchemical instructions left their hands and jumped to their targets.
There was a brilliant flash, both before Ed’s eyes and behind them – then he was flying through the air – Pain – Darkness –
Edward opened his eyes, and blinked them a few times. His head was swimming, more or less all of his body in some kind of pain. He realized he was lying on a pile of broken wood – had he hit the table? Must’ve hit it awfully hard – and there was blood in his mouth. He saw a figure in dark clothes running for the door, heard Al’s voice – “Brother!”
Edward coughed, rolling onto his hands and knees in an attempt to push himself up. “I’m here,” he wheezed, his whole chest aching. “Stuh . . . stop him . . . getting away . . .” He coughed again, standing shakily and leaning against the wall. His voice sounded strange; had he hurt his throat in the fight?
He heard Al’s voice again, closer, more uncertain. “Brother? Is that . . . you?”
He wanted to laugh, but all he could manage was a rough, bitter-sounding chuckle. “Of course it’s me, Al, who else would it . . .”
Just because Al didn’t have a human face didn’t mean Ed couldn’t read him like a book.
“Al . . . what’s wrong?”
Something’s wrong, he thought to himself, Very wrong . . . Had he been badly wounded in the explosion? Disfigured? But he didn’t hurt . . . that much . . .
“Brother, you’re . . .” Al’s voice was faint with – shock? Horror? Disbelief?
Edward was panicking again. “Al, what’s going on!? Al!”
Al’s breastplate shone dimly in the candlelight. Ed darted for the shine, rubbing his sleeve violently against the metal until he could see his face reflected, see what had happened to him . . . he pulled his arm back and looked his reflection in the eye.
He knew the face he saw there. But it wasn’t his face. Rounded jaw . . . short, dust-colored hair . . . ice-blue eyes, wide with shock . . . it wasn’t Edward Elric looking back at him.
It was Shou Tucker.
End of Chapter 1
Whew! That's it for the first chapter. I have more, but first I want to see how this is received. So please, please pleeeeease, in the name of Al and Nina and Elysia and all that is cute in the world, please tell me what you thought! I'll love you forever! Really I will! (And feel free to point out mistakes; my beta's schedule is too hectic right now for her to finish it this week, and I was too impatient to wait till later.)
Up next, in Chapter 2: "LIEKOMGWTFI'MTUCKER!!?!??!!?!
Please tell me what you think! Thanks again. ^_^