A/N: This little ficlet came to me after reading someone complain in one of the forums I frequent that they wished there was more Nina-centric fic (I guess ranting does work sometimes.) Initially, it started as a "yeah, that's a nice one, maybe I'll write it someday" idea, but somehow turned itself into a compelling challenge of characterization between two unlikely individuals. Admittedly, this is not my best piece of writing, but I really like the concept and am mildly proud of how I managed to pull it off. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist is a copyright of Arakawa Hiromu, Square-Enix, Bones, and other corporate someones who don't happen to be me.
"O merciful God who hast created all… please receive these scarred souls into thy bosom."
A brief spike of sensation reverberated through her inhuman frame. She felt herself jerk, something between a canine howl and a child's scream dying in her throat. Then, just as suddenly as it came, the pain was gone.
Nina Tucker opened her eyes to cloudy vision. She was lying on the ground, disoriented and not entirely sure where she was or how she got there. The last thing she remembered clearly was holding her father's hand as he led her to the lab downstairs, Alexander's nails clicking rhythmically against the hardwood floor behind. She had been excited because Daddy never let her inside his main workspace before, lecturing many times why the place was off limits. His recalled image turned around, giving her an inviting smile as he opened the door; she smiled back. Everything became fuzzy after that.
Blinking slowly, her large blue eyes came into focus on a dark, derelict alley. Thunder rumbled in the distance as she sat up. The small girl was too frightened to realize she didn't feel cold despite the damp haze, but she still shivered, gaze darting frantically between shadows as they seemed to slither around her. Tears began to well when a high-pitched whine, accompanied by the familiar bump of nose against cheek, captured her attention.
"A.. Al…ex…ander?" she hiccupped, glancing upward into the doleful eyes of her canine companion. The snow colored dog whimpered in response. Taking comfort in the fact she was no longer alone, Nina scooted closer, threading tiny fingers through his thick fur as she buried her face against his side and did what any four-year-old would do in her situation: cry.
"I… I wanna… go home!" she sobbed. "I wanna go home!"
Her head snapped up, all traces of fear instantly gone. She knew that voice! Her big brother Ed must be looking for her!
A shadow, short in stature, suddenly blocked the alley entrance, dim light from scattered streetlamps creating a soft halo around him. Nina hurriedly wiped her eyes with a closed fist and stood with open arms. She let out an exuberant cry, starting a running dash toward her savior as twin braids slapped her back in unison.
"B… big brother! You found me!"
He gasped, flinching violently before the child reached him. She stopped, confused by his reaction and unsure how to handle it. Clacking footsteps drowned out another roll of thunder, heralding the approach of her other big brother, Alphonse. Soon, his hulking form obscured the remaining light. A strangled noise escaped his metal helm, but otherwise, he showed no signs of distress. Ed was by far the most disconcerting one.
Nina didn't understand why her big brother was looking at her that way. He stared straight forward with wide golden eyes, face bone-white and whole body trembling. Like he had seen a ghost. At a loss for anything else, the young girl took a tentative step, calling out in a timid voice for reassurance.
Edward's mouth twitched convulsively. As if he had something to say, but no words to express it. Finally, a coherent (albeit strained) sound escaped him.
He streaked past her, Al lumbering close behind. Bewildered, she turned to follow the train of his long, red coat. Why were they acting like she wasn't there?
A pair of gentle arms encircled her without warning. They drew her in, closer and closer… until her nose pressed flat against lavender colored fabric. She finally relaxed as a practiced hand rubbed calming circles across her upper back. Had her young mind been able to fully comprehend the oddity, she probably would have wondered at the person's strange lack of scent too.
"Please," a motherly voice whispered. "You shouldn't look."
"Why?" Nina asked, her childish curiosity kicking in.
The arms loosened enough for Nina to tilt her chin upwards. She peered up into an oval shaped face, framed by tresses of chestnut-brown hair. Lovely green eyes stared back; the kind of eyes you trusted inexplicably, because the owner of such a tender expression could only be (genuinely) a good person.
"It's awful dark here, don't you think?" the woman smiled warmly. "Why don't we go talk somewhere with a little more light."
Nina didn't struggle as the nice lady led her away, Alexander's heavy pants trailing close behind. Neither did she notice when a steady rain began to fall. The muffled voices of her older brothers faded away… a choked sob broke the delicate quiet and Nina attempted to twist free at the sound.
" 'S big brother crying? Why's he crying?!" she shouted as slender fingers tightened securely around her shoulders. Troubled once more, she looked to the woman for answers. Instead, the girl was met with a saddened gaze: focused on a point just above her head.
"Don't worry… he's fine," the woman assured. "They're both a little sad now, but they'll feel better soon. Things always get better… over time…"
"Huh? Are you sad too, Auntie?" Nina questioned innocently as they continued their walk. The sound of Edward's tears mingled with the rain and soon could no longer be heard.
"Why do you ask that, Nina?" the woman responded with a light laugh.
" 'Cause you talk like it."
"Do I?" the woman blinked as they reached the street. She continued to lead the child safely away from the gruesome alley scene. "Well, my! Aren't you a clever girl!"
"Uh-huh! Daddy and big brothers say so too!" Nina chirped as they settled down on a well-lit curb. "What's you sad about, Auntie…"
"Well," she stalled a bit, folding nervous hands in her lap. "I'm not… really sad, just worried. You know your big brothers? Edward and Alphonse?" she paused as Nina nodded an affirmative. "Well, I've been watching over them a while now… to make sure they're alright. They were all alone, and some bad things happened, but they're good, strong boys. I'm proud of them. Still, sometimes I wish I could do more than just watch."
"Oo! Like an angel!" the younger brunette practically bounced as she spoke. "Daddy told me stories 'bout angels. They're pretty an' real nice an' protect people from harm," the last four words were said with a slowness that suggested remembered repetition. "Are you an angel, Auntie?"
"An angel… hmm," the woman pondered. The way her jaw hardened at Shou Tucker's mention went unnoticed amidst the child's excitement. "Yes, I suppose that's one way to put it…"
"Wow!" the girl exclaimed, clearly awed. "You big brothers' angel? Do I have an angel too? Huh?"
"Of course you do!" she beamed, all traces of tension gone from her pale face. Nina listened with rapt attention. "She went to check on your grandparents this morning and asked if I could look after you too for a bit… when she gets back, I'm sure she'll be very sorry she wasn't here tonight."
"Really? What's she like?"
"Well," the woman seemed conflicted for a moment, unsure of what to say, before her expression transformed into one of resolve. "Do you remember your mother?"
"Uh-huh," the child bobbed her head. Blue eyes darkened slightly as negative emotions she didn't quite understand stirred. Beside her, Alexander whimpered (sensing the swift mood change) and nuzzled her cheek affectionately. "Daddy said she left… said she got mad an' didn' like him or bein' poor anymore."
"She didn't want to leave."
Nina started as a consoling hand was placed on her shoulder. The woman smiled at her forlornly, sad green eyes practically begging for forgiveness in Miss Tucker's absence.
"Your mother loves you very much, Nina. She didn't want to leave you, so, she stayed behind to watch," her gaze appeared to withdraw inward, as if reliving an unpleasant memory when she spoke her next words. "We both did."
"Hn," the girl responded, her small, freckled nose crinkled in puzzlement.
A deafening screech of tires against wet pavement interrupted the two females right then. They watched curiously as several uniform black vehicles rounded a nearby corner and braked loudly in front of the alley; car doors slammed in a helter-skelter rhythm as soldiers stepped out, all dressed in their black, issued trench coats. Nearly ten minutes passed before a pale man emerged on the scene, hood pulled back as he strode purposely toward the guarded entrance. Rainwater dripped steadily from the cropped ends of his short, dark hair.
"Auntie?" Nina questioned suddenly, somewhat distracted. Something had been bothering her through most of their conversation, and her budding mind had just stumbled upon what it was.
"Yes?" the woman wiped away her concerned frown, turning to face the apprehensive child.
"It's rainin', Auntie. How come I'm not wet?"
"Ah, well… you see," the woman truly seemed put on the spot by Nina's belated observation. After a significant pause, her features lit up and she asked with a confident smile, "do you remember our talk about angels?"
"Un-huh, an' Mommy's my angel."
"Well, how would you like to be one too?"
"Really?" stars practically shone in Nina's eyes at the prospect. Alexander yipped playfully and ran circles around the pair, eagerly responding to her enthusiasm. "Can I?"
"Of course! You'll never have to worry about cold, or too much sun, and you'll never get wet in the rain. I'll teach you everything you need to know. So, tell me, is there anyone you'd like to look after?"
"Hmm," the little girl poked the tip of her tongue out in deep concentration. "How 'bout Daddy?"
"Maybe… you should think it over for a bit first… it's a big decision, after all," the woman had trouble completely masking her anger that time. Nina blinked inquisitively at the unusually harsh reaction. "Then again," she pondered, face relaxing a bit. "I suppose everyone needs an angel sometimes. Regardless."
Edward ran out of the alley at that precise moment, Alphonse following diligently as always. Long blond bangs shielded the older Elric's face, his shoulders hunched in a tell-tale sign of distress as he weaved between parked cars. Al tried to reach a reassuring hand towards his brother, but (for some internal reason) kept pulling himself short. The woman stood abruptly.
"I know! How would you like to help me watch over the boys while you're thinking? I'd love the company and your mother should be back soon," she held an open hand out to Nina and smiled warmly. "Would you like that?"
"Uh-huh!" the offered hand was taken without hesitation. Together, they began walking towards the military gathering, Alexander trotting obediently at their heels. " 'S Mommy really coming, Auntie?"
"Of course! And," the woman leaned over with a playful, conspiratorial look. "You can call me Trisha," she whispered.
"Alright, Auntie Trisha!" Nina affirmed happily. They stepped beyond the streetlight's ambient perimeter and began fading into the night. "Say, Auntie Trisha… if Mommy's my angel an' I'm an angel too, who's angel is she gonna be now?"
"Oh, I'm sure you two will figure something out," Trisha chuckled good-naturedly as they disappeared fully into the shadows.