Title: Helping Hand
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Edward, Alphonse, and an alternate-world double.
Setting: First anime. Roughly five years after Conqueror of Shamballa.
Summary: The Elrics meet another familiar face on the other side of the Gate.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the awesome Kristen Sharpe, as a combination birthday fic and 2016 GenEx exchange treat. This follows my story "More"—and by way of a very obscure crossover reference, it also throws a hint toward my story "Ironmongers and Alchemists", which takes place decades later in the same timeline.
"Ed, I don't think we should be doing this," Alphonse Elric fretted, his gaze anxiously turned up toward his older brother. "That gate must have a padlock on it for a reason, you know."
Hanging ten feet off the ground, Edward Elric stared down from the tall chain-link fence to which he currently clung. "Will you relax? This'll just take a sec. All I need is a little scrap metal—and it's not like anyone's gonna notice a piece or two missing in a place like this."
Beyond the fence, there stretched the desolate, rusting landscape of a scrapyard. Junked automobiles and other hulks of metal wreckage were piled in jagged peaks, all waiting to be salvaged, or melted down, or simply decay into oblivion. Although the moon was bright overhead, black shadows fell between the mountains of twisted steel, potentially hiding dangerous pitfalls and avalanches waiting to be triggered.
"You know you can't fix your hand completely by yourself," Al retorted reasonably. "All you can do is restore the missing plating, not repair the mechanisms. We shouldn't even be wasting the time. Besides, you bled enough just transmuting your blade in the first place."
Ed frowned down at Al. Then he pointedly turned and redoubled his effort to scale the fence, relying almost entirely on his left hand alone—which was only made more difficult by a self-inflicted gash in his palm. The Elrics had found that they healed a little faster than normal people in this world, but with his strenuous movements, the wound was probably still being chafed underneath its makeshift bandage.
Al could only sigh and shake his head.
If Ed had only gotten three of his automail fingers busted in the fight with the guys who jumped them earlier, he probably would have been a bit more patient about having the damage properly seen to. However, Al knew what Ed was actually so intent on fixing just then. The familiar blade he transmuted from the plating of his arm had been broken off in the struggle. What he wanted was to replace that lost steel at once, in case of any sudden need to form the weapon once again.
In simple terms, he wanted to be sure he was equipped to protect Al—even if it meant spilling a little more of his own blood that night, as the price required to perform alchemy on this side of the Gate.
He did have the right to be rattled, just as Al was. This particular mission they were carrying out for British Intelligence was a minor one: a mere delivery of documents, not expected to be dangerous at all. The attack upon them, carried out in a quiet side street as they returned from dinner, came very much out of the blue.
Neither of them had to put their suspicion into words. They both knew they shared the same fear: the Thule Society, or some new evolution of it. After five years of chasing more active threats to human life and liberty, the memory of that mad cult had faded into the background of their lives, but they never dismissed the chance that a remnant of it would try to seek out alchemic knowledge once again.
Al's fingers slid inside his coat pocket, tracing the curves of the medallion which he had—more or less accidentally—torn from the neck of one assailant. It bore the image of something like a red octopus, its tentacles ominously coiled. As intelligence operatives, the Elrics were versed in the insignia of official agencies and secret societies from across the globe, but they had never seen one like this before.
Perhaps Sir Alexander Armstrong would be able to tell them about it when they returned to London. Their superior and patron knew more than he would admit about almost everything that went on in this convoluted world.
It would be good in any case to get back to the city where, at least for the present, they made their home.
Al wondered if Noa would be back from her latest assignment by then. With her ability to absorb memories by touch, Sir Alexander preferred to use her for very different types of missions, sending her undercover to mingle with diplomats and dignitaries in a higher stratum of society. The beautiful Roma woman needed only to charm unsuspecting foreign agents just long enough to greet them, while quietly collecting information from their minds with a mere handshake.
Ed got testy—or more so than normal—when he was separated from Noa for too long. It could be bothersome, but it was understandable. After more than four years of marriage, he never worried any less about the woman he loved.
He still didn't like the work Noa had volunteered her psychic gifts for, and not only on the sheer principle of seeing his wife employed as a spy. It could be highly unpleasant for her to look inside the minds of others; men with official secrets worth keeping often had personal secrets that were even uglier. Sometimes, the things Noa saw within her subjects caused her an almost physical distress. Yet in spite of Ed's objections, she insisted on sharing the purpose her husband and brother-in-law had committed their own talents to.
At first, it had been about protecting themselves, staying one step ahead of any renewed effort by the Thule Society to hunt them. But in time, as they helped Sir Alexander and British Intelligence unravel other threats to innocent people… it became the work that mattered to them in this world.
There was no going home to Amestris. In their hearts, both Al and Ed were sure of that. Any further attempt to reach the other side of the Gate could only endanger the friends they left behind. This world was theirs now—and they had chosen to help protect it from evils like those they had already witnessed.
After all, it wasn't really so different from what they had spent most of their time doing when Ed was a State Alchemist. It helped people, and it was simply what was right. They still had past sins to atone for… and a responsibility to wisely use their remaining, limited alchemic abilities in this world, even if doing so was now a little more costly than it had been in the world they came from.
A dull thud suddenly interrupted Al's thoughts. Blinking into the darkness, he observed that Ed had topped the fence, and dropped down on the other side. Ed flashed him a quick thumbs-up with his automail hand—the thumb and little finger being, at the moment, the only digits of the partially-smashed prosthetic that were actually working.
Sir Alexander was going to have a fit about Ed needing yet another round of repairs.
"Just hurry, will you?" Al muttered impatiently. "—And be careful!"
"No problem…" Ed moved off between the scrapheaps, producing a small flashlight from his pocket. Al watched its circle of illumination sweep back and forth, scanning the junk for suitable pieces of metal.
…And this was where Brother was probably going to get picky, Al realized with an inner sigh. Most any decent chunk of scrap would serve as a temporary filler for what had broken off Ed's arm that night, but he just couldn't help looking for steel of true quality and strength.
He probably couldn't be blamed for that either. Repairable as it was—and even replaceable, after the careful studies made by the mechanics Sir Alexander recruited—Ed's automail was really still a part of himself. In the old days, Al would have disliked the thought of having substandard material transmuted onto his armor, too… Besides which, even after five years of assorted fixes made in this world, almost all the parts of Ed's arm and leg were still the Amestrian steel of Winry's original handiwork. No doubt he could never bring himself to mix unworthy metal with the last precious gifts their friend had made for him.
As Ed rounded the side of the nearest mountain of scrap, his silhouette disappeared from view, and the wavering glow of his flashlight receded ever farther. The scrapes of metal fragments that he pried loose to examine gradually became distant. It vexed Al that Brother was wandering so far from the fence, but at least there hadn't been any sound of a horrific crash. Not yet, anyway.
Once the noises of Ed's search grew dim enough to be drowned out by the crickets in a nearby bush, the night was almost eerily quiet. Al had to admit he was getting a little nervous. Unless there was a book in front of him, Edward and quiet didn't tend to mix.
Finally, somewhere in the distance, beyond the relentless chatter of the crickets… was that the bark of a dog?
…Either way, what followed it was definitely the sound of a startled yell from Ed.
Al's heart skipped a beat, his right hand moving instinctively to the watch on his left wrist. A hidden blade was built into the metal strap. Much too small for any defensive use, it was meant solely for drawing blood from himself, to provide the fuel for a transmutation.
Now he was glad that, unlike Ed, he hadn't resorted to alchemy when they were attacked earlier. Having not lost any blood yet tonight, he still had the maximum effort to give. If his brother was in danger, he wasn't going to waste time climbing the fence—he would go straight through it instead.
However, what followed came just a little too quickly for Al to follow through with his intent. The barking swiftly came closer, interspersed with a few clattering sounds of metal colliding and falling as something bumped into it. After a second or two, Ed's not-quite-even footsteps could be discerned as well, pounding heavily in an all-out run. A moment later, the wide-eyed Ed burst into view between the scrap piles—with the source of the barking hot on his heels.
A heartbeat away from the act of nicking his palm with his watch-blade, Al froze. His head tilted to one side, and he squinted into the darkness behind his wildly onrushing brother.
Ed leaped at the fence and scrambled up it, avoiding the snap of canine jaws by mere inches. In the process, he dropped his flashlight, which landed on the uneven ground with its beam pointed back into the scrapyard. Meanwhile, the dog crashed into the fence, jumping up on its hind legs to bark furiously at the intruder who still clung just out of reach.
The animal was unmistakable now, big and black and white in the glow radiating from the fallen flashlight. Al blinked and drew the breath for an exclamation—but he was cut off by the sharp crack of a female voice, rust-tinged like the scrap of the junkyard.
"Down, boy! I've got 'em covered!"
Obediently the dog dropped to all fours, backing away from the fence to join his master; and simultaneously, a short, wiry figure advanced into the light.
The fence suddenly rattled as Edward almost fell off of it, stifling a choked noise. Alphonse, for his part, could only stand and stare.
It was an old woman who had appeared from between the heaps of scrap. Her face was pinched and wrinkled, her gray hair pinned up in a tight bun, her apron streaked with machine oil… and a startlingly familiar grimace of disapproval was twisting around the corncob pipe between her teeth.
The other rather important detail, which Al only belatedly recognized, was that there was quite a large gun in her hands: the old-fashioned kind with a flared muzzle that was called by an oddly humorous name in this world. What was it again—blunderfuss?
…That was beside the point right now, of course. It was just that, every time Al met the doppelganger of someone he had known in Amestris, his brain still tended to freeze up and fixate on something completely random.
"Uhm?" he squeaked, raising his hands slightly in a gesture of surrender.
Pinako—or at least, this world's iteration of her—stood silent and scowling, grimly sizing up the two young intruders on what was presumably her property. That ridiculous gun in her hands remained unwavering. At length, she took her eyes off the Elrics just long enough to bend down quickly and seize the flashlight from the ground.
She first skimmed the light across Al on the other side of the fence, causing him to wince at the brightness in his eyes. The she turned the beam in Ed's direction… and it settled upon the visibly damaged metal hand he raised to shield his face.
"…I'm guessing you're not a couple of those hoodlums who break in here for car parts," Pinako said dryly, after a moment. "Get yourself back down here, young fella. Whatever it is you were looking for… well, maybe I'll trade it to you for a look at that hand of yours. In all my years of tinkering with the broken-down machines in this junkyard, I've never seen anything like that."
At the top of the fence, an odd flinch passed through Ed. Al thought he looked like he wanted to laugh… or maybe it was something else.
Their eventful night only seemed to be getting more interesting.
2016 Jordanna Morgan