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This is intended as my entry in the [livejournal.com profile] royai_fiction holiday-type writing challenge. As this is a several part series, the point at which it stands on the end date of the challenge shall be the version which is officially entered. This journal entry shall be edited to include links to parts up to that date.

Parts occurring 1914 or later will include spoilers for the ending sections of the anime series. You have been warned.

Disclaimer: I own not anything involving Full Metal Alchemist. It belongs to Arakawa Hiromu.



Words Said and Words Meant (1898)

They stand under the old oak tree, hand in hand.

The world is solemn and serious all at once, their gazes locked and their pulses racing.

How long have they hidden the preparations? The acquiring of rings. The finding of proper clothing for the occasion, matching festival finery for two who should not yet have been seeking such things.

How long have they hidden what they truly felt for each other, the two healers who specialized in different realms and yet constantly found excuses to consult the other on this or that? How long have their parents' eyes secretly sparkled with the knowledge that yes, there might be something there?

And now they stand together, looking into each other's eyes.

"Do you, Urey Jonais, pledge your life, dreams, hopes, and all of yourself to her as your wife, may death never keep you part?"

"I do so pledge."

"Do you, Sara, pledge your life, dreams, hopes, and all of yourself to him as your husband, may death never keep you apart?"

"I do so pledge."

A breathless moment, little white puffs rising in the cold air, as their hands are brought together and bound with a thin braid of white, red, and black ribbons.

"Do you pledge to stand beside each other through all hardships of this life and the next?"

"We do so pledge."

"Do you pledge to hold true to one another, to respect what you have given each other this day?"

"We do so pledge."

"And when the end comes, do you pledge to face it together and remain as one no matter what may come?"

"We do so pledge."

And then the words they have waited oh so long to hear, in a half-forgotten tongue only used in ritual: "You are now one. Kiss yourself."

They do so, leaning together against the cold as the friends and family gathered around them stand silent.

Some moments, however happy, are too sacred for applause.

And around them, the first snow of winter swirls.



Sugar Rice (1906)
The little girl leans over the stove.

"Why're you making sugar rice, Mommy? Nobody's hurt here."

"There's a train of soldiers coming through the station in a few hours, Sweetie. They're heading off to war."

The little girl turns, still holding onto the chair she is standing on, and looks up at her mother with curious eyes.

"Most of them will be hurt soon. And then they can remember the day villagers gave them sugar rice."

"Why? What's war?"

"A bunch of people trying to make work for the gravediggers and doctors of the world. And for mechanics like your grandmother. Work for all those who fight Rex Doloris." Her father walks into the room, broad back filling the doorway.

"Daddy, why? Why would they do something like that?"

He sits down at the table and she hops down, leaping up onto his lap. "Because they swore to defend our country. Including us. And the government has decided one of our borders is threatened. So they go off to fight, and be injured, and sometimes even die."

Her eyes grow wide. "Die?"

He nods. "Some of those soldiers on that train will never see their homes or mommies and daddies again. And some of them will leave wives and children behind them. And so we give them what we can, sugar rice passed through a window, so that we may repay them what we can for all they are willing to risk for us."

The little girl blinks, thinking, then hops down, climbs back up on the chair, and starts stirring the large pot with the big wooden spoon.

Her parents' eyes meet, and a grim smile passes between them.

...

Riza Hawkeye holds the window tightly as her other hand reaches for the well-worn pot. "Thank you."

"Thank you for guarding our country." The woman gives a small head bow, which the little girl standing next to her quickly copies.

"May your battles be short and the journey home soon." The man's voice is gruff but pleasant.

The train starts moving soon after she gets the pot inside. She hangs her head out the window as the train starts racing and yells, "Thank you!"

She sets the pot on the floor between herself and the three other passengers in the compartment.

"What a kind family, to care what happens to others."

"Eh, why'd you even bother to thank them? They're just villagers. Nothing really in the way of things. They'd be dead in two minutes if the war came through here."

Snore.

She kicks his leg, trying to make it look like an accident.

He scrambles upright. "Huh? We there yet?"

Nervous laughter.

"Some villagers gave us food."

And then they are all digging in packs for mess kits, looking for anything to eat with but their hands.

Useless alchemist. He's not going to last five minutes out there, flames or no flames.

...

They are almost home when he sees it. "Look, Sara! It's snowing."

The little girl laughs, running ahead in the sudden flurry of white specks.

He launches into an old hymn about an alchemist and his healer wife staring down death, destruction, and the annihilation of a village before sacrificing themselves in payment to save the village folk.

"Jonais, stop that." But she is laughing in her eyes, and soon the two are striding up the path arm in arm singing of the boldness of "Lady Timerial and her alchie" as their daughter runs ahead to the house where her grandmother is awaiting their return.

...

The weather is warmer than it has any business being this late in the year.

Then again, what should he have expected? Ishbal is a desert, after all.

They file off the trains, and processing begins to get them all to the correct encampments.

He and Hawkeye are glaring uncomfortably at each other after receiving orders that she will be working under him, the animosity of the years in the school for officer's children and grandchildren suddenly running high, when everything falls apart.

And suddenly they are back to back and he is snapping and she is firing and oh sweet deities we're all going to die here and he isn't fast enough, isn't used to using alchemy for so long in a solid stretch and there is a loud noise at his ear and the last enemy in front of him falls to the ground and her gun barrel rests on his shoulder.

There is a long gasping moment, as the new arrivals realize that now they are veterans of combat, survivors. One battle down, hundreds to go, but they are undeniably alive.

He and the young sharpshooter turn to each other, something odd in their eyes. "Why did we..."

"We've never..."

"Shall we start over, sir?" she offers after an uncomfortable silence. "Second Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, proudly serving under you." She salutes him.

He returns the salute. "Major Roy Mustang, proudly serving over you."

...

It is late and the little girl was long ago in bed.

"There were State Alchemists on that train."

The old woman merely nods at her son's words.

"Things must be getting bad at the front," the younger woman whispers into her tea.

He shakes his head. "Not enough casualties falling back to Central. They have to go through here to get there, so they should have to come back through on the way back. Risenbool may be small, but the valley and the train line are the two main routes to the east. Far more soldiers are going to the front than are coming back. Either the injured are all dying there, or someone wants to end this war soon. Without necessarily considering ethics."

"This countryside would also be swarming with automail installation jobs. There are some, but not the full volume of a losing battlefield." She paces over to the window. "Something stinks about all this."

"War always stinks, Mother."

"More than usual, this time. Not since long before my time have the State Alchemists themselves, not just the high ranking, gone to war."

"There's something... odd. Something deep." The words of the young woman have an air of mystery to them, the old intuition of the herb women shining through her normally demure personality. "Something strange. And disturbing."

"If things are getting worse, they'll need medical types. And if they make things worse, there'll be even more need for medical types."

"No." Pinako Rockbell slams her wrench down on the table and the young couple jumps. "No child of mine is ever going into a war zone. Ishbal is the last place on this world any healer should want to be right now. Rex Doloris wins there, now."

"And aren't we healerkin? Where Pain's King travels, there we go to ease the suffering, right?"

"You know nothing of war, Jonais. There is no easing the suffering there. One can only get as many to survive as possible. And since most of the survivors likely get sent back to the front eventually, or spend their lives with injuries that never quite heal... You're a mindhealer, you've seen the numbers of those that never really come home again."

"Yes, Mother."

And so the issue is settled, without ever really being settled.

...

He lies in the darkness, staring into the side of the tent.

It was self-defense.

He can't get the smell out of his nose.

She and I would have been killed.

The images of what he has done today play through his mind, will not leave him alone.

There was nothing else I could do.

And all the excuses in the world give no release from the blame...

Absolutely no other way to save myself.

... for he knows nothing he will do between the next sunrise and sunset could ever be called self-defense..



As The World Falls Down (1908)
One last disposal detail and he can go back to Central.

Just one more...

And the fingers fumble and even the flames look exhausted and that horrible smell is in the air...

It bothers him that the smell of burning human, even days-dead human, no longer makes him gag.

And then there is nothing but an ash pile and he is wiping his face and throwing the cloth to the ground and racing to report that he has fulfilled the order, racing to report for the train.

...

"They meant what they said."

"A horrible way to go, but they were together at least."

She sits outside in the snow.

"Winry, come inside."

"It's too cold out here to just be sitting."

Her friends are there, trying to get her inside.

But the adults are inside and they are saying things that scare her, disturb her, and she doesn't want to be around them.

And so she throws the brothers off and she is running... running...

...

Things are the same and not the same.

Kimblee is long gone to his own insanity.

Armstrong is looking out the window, watching the snow and the mountains.

And Mustang is lying across his half of the seat, trying to sleep. His head is tossing and his eyes are clenched shut.

"Major Mustang?"

He looks up at her, eyes bloodshot.

He needs mindhealers.

She doesn't know how he's managed to endure this long.

He needed mindhealers months ago.

She reaches over and squeezes his hand. "Just try to relax, sir."

"Can't. Never again. Can't." He curls up, beltcape tucked around his ankles.

Riza looks over at Armstrong.

He whispers, "He has been like this for weeks. I remember it started the day before the epidemic."

"The day... before..." She shakes Mustang's shoulder. "What did you do that morning, if you can tell?"

"Traitors," he moans. "He said they were... traitors."

...

She makes it as far as the train station in the village and they grab her arms as she stands there crying, watching the military banners on the train breeze by.

...

"He didn't tell me..."

"What didn't he tell you, Major?"

...

"Winry, come on home." Edward is pulling on her arm.

"Auntie will be worried." Alphonse had her other arm.

She sniffed once, twice, and then she is wailing in the snow.

...

And then Armstrong is leaning across the compartment. "Flame? What happened?"

"They were doctors." He half-rises, eyes wide and red. "Gran had me execute a pair of Amestrian country-folk doctors" And then he is curled up again, a strangely pitiful and pitiable thing as he trembles on the seat.

She takes off her uniform jacket, folds it, and forces him to use it as a pillow. "Orders are orders, sir. Please try to sleep."

<a href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/jlady_fics/1561.html>Realms of the Healers (1914)</a> Yet to come...<br> The Meaning of a Word (1916) As Yet Untitled (1940) Epilogue (1941)
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