Kimblee-centric. Spoilers, set around ep 30.
Hands went up around the classroom when the question was asked.
"A..." Stumbling. "A carpenter. Just like my brother!"
"Very good. And you, Jork?"
The boy looked up from the pictures he'd been immersed in on his desk, the textbook laid out like an open cadaver.
"I'm going to be an alchemist, Teacher."
- - - - -
The first time Kimblee realized what he wanted was when he saw people burn.
Alchemists weren't common in the borderline village where Kimblee was raised. They would trickle through on their way to more illustrious towns, trading their abilities en route to other tasks, or marching steadfastly in military blues. Alchemists were expensive, and mysterious, and any number of things and why didn't Jork have the milk pails in yet? Laggard boy.
Kimblee would hang on the fences of the horse pastures whenever he heard that a wagon would be going through, the cuffs of his pants rolled up, feet pawing at the wooden trestles. Sight of the silver chains strung from the pockets of the State Alchemists always tantalized the boy. The decorations were dog collars, branding those who bore them as possessions of the military, fine toy soldiers operating on command.
He'd been twelve when the accident took the Dollums farm. One of the workers had been clearing the extra fields, setting fire to the scabs of brush. Wood-smoke from the farm stoves smeared fat fingers across the clear mapwork of the sky. The air was crisp and sharp; deep breaths stabbed at the hot privacies of lungs. Far away, someone was baking yams.
Then everywhere you looked, inferno. Careless hands had neglected to properly control the released flames, and they licked across the ground, leaping free in the fashion of demonic imps. Thin grey staircases of smog billowed heavy into black. Fire raced across the land, jumping into the skeletal crops yet to be torn down.
Within seconds, it had reached the rows of jaundiced corn-stalks, and burrowed in to feast.
Jork pushed himself up on both palms while he watched, legs swinging free as the terrified shouts of the trapped farmhands began to clamor. A cowbell added its metal tongue to the choir. Horses began to scream--high-pitched, desperate, hooves slamming against their stalls as the heat reached the barns.
His fingers buzzed from his weight. Then turned numb. Jork paid them no heed as he listened to the raw yarn of terror being spun into a baby's blanket around him, warm and soothing on a level entirely primal. It swaddled his mind where he kicked on the fence. Watching.
At the time, the Dollums had been lucky. One of their neighbors down the road had bought a traveling alchemist earlier in the week to fix their cast-iron stove. They burst out of their kitchen with the dough-faced man in tow, dragging him by the hem of his jacket while he protested the rush, and threw him down in the dust of the farm's footpath with a demand that he help.
Unfortunately, the man they had hired was a mineral specialist. He'd reacted on instinct, chubby fingers dragging a twig through the dirt. The formulas that fell into his mind were soil-based.
With a few minutes work, the alchemist had split the ground wide open in a deep chasm between the Dollums' main and secondary yards. Balked, the fire rose against the gulf and then folded back upon itself, devouring any substance unlucky enough to be trapped inside its segmented pen.
Father Dollum had thrust himself into the alchemist's face, screaming at the damage to his farm.
"It was necessary," the alchemist claimed, fluttering his hands like dying doves to abate the farmer's fury. "I've saved the rest of your crops! At times, you must deconstruct in order to achieve the desired result--"
"Then fix it!" The tendons in Father Dollum's neck stood out, taut ropes in his rage. His face was suffused with reedy blood vessels, fresh-tomato's red. "How else are we supposed to put the fire out, you idiot, if we can't even reach it?"
"If you took your hands off me for a moment, sir, I certainly will..."
Kimblee didn't pay attention to the repairs performed on the ravaged land, or to the calls for help as more families poured out of their homes to sling buckets back and forth, slopping water on the ground as they formed an imprecise line brigade. His eyes had fastened themselves to the ridge of ruined earth, a pair of golden ticks feasting on the wound.
I want to do that. The fierce knot of want burrowed into the boy's chest, pulsing hotter than his own heart. I bet I could learn to destroy everything. Just like that.
It was better than pig farming.
- - - - -
He thinks that was the first time he felt lust. Or maybe it was envy.
Sins could be hard to tell apart.
Over ice when he's older, Kimblee reflects about his origins. Best opportunity to do it, he decides. Greed and his grinning posse had taken off hours ago, claiming they were picking up supplies. Kimblee, for his part, knew well enough when it was time for him to make his own preparations. The risks could be called insane, but that was a label applied to a great many things, and not all of them applicable.
There was one lesson he'd learned during the Ishbal conflict--a sobering pang that had deeply affected him despite how everyone else imagined him untouchable. In order to block out all the whining, all the squealing of your fellow officers, it was oftentimes better to dwell on pleasant days.
He'd had his first kiss when he was fifteen.
That memory had lasted Kimblee all through the trench sweepings. He'd lost count of how many times he thought of that kiss during the war, remembering the feel of soft lips while dark-skinned faces melted around him. At times, he'd flicked out his tongue to wet his mouth, expecting to encounter the presence of another's spit. He received blood and grease instead, and found the combination to be just as pleasant.
Those indirect intimacies from his victims were, unfortunately, not the same as his first.
He doesn't remember the girl's name. Rubbing his fingers against the back of his neck years later--he knows he should be feeling embarrassment, but can't seem to dredge up the fuss--Kimblee tries to pinpoint the memory down. Sally? Sue? It didn't matter. She'd tasted faintly sour; he'd caught her near the apple orchards. They'd scraped their chins together, clumsy.
After the kiss, Kimblee found a soft nub of mush against his gum, and he had rolled it along the inside of his lower lip before identifying the morsel as fruit.
He'd swallowed it.
Next year he'd had more, fingers fumbling muddy, the girl's voice hissing about how if they got caught it'd be more than beaten britches this time and don't you think for a moment you're getting her in trouble, Jork.
Jork. Kimblee had entertained himself by monikers when he'd grown older, swapping names back and forth until finally determining his satisfaction with what the military had chosen for him. Crimson. He'd liked that too, answered readily to its call, and replayed the memory of his acceptance again and again in his mind while winnowing through civilian homes. The awarding of his pocketwatch, the certificate with his title--Jork, Zolf, it hadn't mattered what he was called so long as he had his tattoos on his hands and a silver chain staining his hip.
Kimblee prides himself as a very moral man despite his prison record. He doesn't hate or dislike, but he does suffer twinges of annoyance when the complaints of other people break into his concentration. They were drowned out at last during Ishbal, when Kimblee stood apart from the pathetically sallow-faced troops who spent most of their time grieving for the very people they happened to kill.
He'd learned that trick of memory then. It had served him well for years.
Worlds away and dressed in different colors, Kimblee knows he could be afraid of what the future holds in store. The Sins have powers that State Alchemists can only dream of. Once, Greed had flashed his shark-teeth in a grin under the bar-dimmed lights, and Kimblee had discovered himself waking from that vision for days afterwards, rousing from dreams of being devoured.
Another man might be afraid.
Kimblee pours himself another drink.
- - - - -
Kimblee's least favorite memory is one heavily laced with frustration. It comes back to him as he sits at the bar and watches the hours dissolve, uncorking another bottle and topping off his glass. The silence builds barred walls out of the room's emptiness and almost, almost reminds him of solitary confinement.
But Kimblee banishes that comparison by summoning a fresh bout of recall.
It had been his seventeenth year. He'd been drawing chalk outlines on the trees outside the schoolyard hill. The Annual Autumn Festival was scheduled for the next week, and all of the other students were enraptured by the competitions. Five more ounces on a favorite hen, a new saddle for a preferred horse. They catcalled back and forth over the haybales. Races were planned. Families tucked up their sleeves and buckled down to work.
Jork had skipped out. Their teachers were giving shorter study days. Most farms needed the extra hands in order to get their fields in before winter hit, bundling grain together and rolling hay into loose stacks studding the empty plots. With the approach of cooler temperatures, the pigs were complaining more frequently. Jork couldn't stand their high-pitched whining.
"Are you still up here, Jork?"
It had been that girl again. Sue, Sally--everyone expected them to be long-term sweethearts. They sat together during lunch hours. They did a lot of things together. First kiss, first jam competition, first fumblings. Once, Jork took her to a dance, where he'd spent most of the time staring at the bonfire until it was burned into his retinas and flashed white every time he blinked.
Fire lures him, even years later. A side product of his own transformations, Kimblee always considers flame to be a brother, or cousin, or partner in crime. Ishbal had been disappointing in that respect--not in all ways--but memory of black hair and black eyes is washed away by hazel and brown, and the girl is talking in his head loud enough to drown out the ways Roy's face looked when terrified.
The hillside. Chalk. And Sally-Sue, who might have actually been named Margaret, but which doesn't matter now.
"Alchemy..." she had frowned, clasping her hands around her knees as she rocked her weight back and forth, "it's all very fancy. But it's not really work."
Kimblee's stunned expression caused her to fumble. The girl's fingers had bunched into her calico-print skirt, which still bore stains of fruit pressings from earlier in the month.
"No," he interrupted, shocked, finding his voice lancing through his disbelief. And then again, "No. Alchemy is everything. It's everywhere. It's in this tree. It's in the ground. It's in me, it's in you..."
"Alchemy's not in either of us, Jork." Fast, the denial, and then the girl tempered her speech. Regretful. "And it isn't worth anything. I know you fancy it and all... but my da says that there isn't any profit in it. You can't sell alchemy at the market. It's... it's peddler's work."
Angered beyond rational thought, Kimblee grabbed for her wrist, yanked it hard enough that he felt the small bones click inside his grip. Her yelp was a rabbit's fear. Weak. Useless. But loud, so he twisted her body hard underneath his knee, and shoved the girl against the tree trunk.
Her lips moved, he remembered that much, but years later he still doesn't have any idea what she'd been saying.
Maybe because he'd been shouting at the time.
"Shut up!" Too much noise would attract one of the other students--or worse, a teacher. Realizing that, Kimblee bit down on his own voice with a crunch that made him wonder if he'd just chipped his own teeth. "I'll show you. Stop squealing! Just hold still."
The girl pressed her lips together with a visible shudder. Her shoulders twitched in a chicken's brainless fear, pressing against Kimblee's arms. Ignoring the fragile whimpers, Kimblee finished the last strokes of the chalk design and waited for the transmutation to prove him right.
When nothing happened, the girl laughed. Nervous. "See? Nothing. Please, Jork, just let me go..."
"It just needs more components!"
Her attack took him by surprise. One minute, he was staring at the powder-scrapes of the chalk lines, and the next, Kimblee had been reeling from a palm that had boxed one ear. He tried to clear his wits; the girl's arm shoved against his chest while he blindly attempted to maintain his grip, and then Kimblee felt his stomach swell in cold dread as her weight began to slip free.
In desperation, cursing beneath his breath, Kimblee struggled to keep the girl pinned down while he reached for the circle once more. Chaos unfolded in his arms. Light suddenly sliced through the pattern he'd been touching and illuminated the bones of the girl's hand, painting black lines upon her lucent skin.
Kimblee clenched his eyes shut against the brilliance.
Then it was over. Splinters flecked his hair. His ears were humming, simmering in a low reverberation that penetrated the back of his throat. The world wrapped itself around Kimblee again, warm, just like the first time he'd seen alchemy split the ground open to the tune of burning horses.
This time, it was wet.
- - - - -
The explosive circle had triggered. The girl had vanished. Disappeared, exchanged herself for the raw meat left behind inside a calico cover; the younger Jork hadn't cared at the time, hadn't even thought about what had happened to her, but the older recognizes the truth of the alchemical reaction and smiles over his gin.
The girl's denials never mattered. The unresolved mystery that Kimblee left in his hometown when he shipped out two months later for training at Central--meaningless. Legions of desert-fighters lining themselves up in cornrows. Greed's teeth.
Only the taste of oils and orchards holds any relevance, mixing with the alcohol warming in the Crimson Alchemist's mouth.