It must have been a minute. A second, even, from the moment I fell asleep to feeling someone firmly shaking my shoulder, waking me up. The sky was still very dark, and I nearly smacked the person who woke me up in the middle of the night. Then I remembered that Edward, Alphonse and I were leaving early in the morning. I rolled over and saw Edward glaring at me, bending over the bed.
"Get up, Kale," he growled, "We have an hour and a half before our train leaves!" With that, he spun around and marched out the door.
I slowly sat up and pushed the blankets off of my legs. Using the only light source from a lamp in the hallway, I got dressed, pulled my hair back with my hair tie, and stumbled groggily downstairs with my suitcase.
Rounding the corner to the kitchen, I passed a sleepy and exhausted Winry. The bags under her eyes were deep and dark; her blond hair askew underneath her bandana.
"Oh, good," she yawned, "My bed's open."
"Winry," I called after her.
She turned around. "Oh, Kale!"
"Thanks for letting me use your room." I said.
She smiled sleepily. "No problem. Did you sleep well?"
I twitched from the memory of the nightmare I thought was only a nightmare. The truth was I did fall asleep right afterwards. "Yes, I did," I smiled, lying through my teeth.
"I'm glad," She said, rubbing her eyes. "Ed and Al are downstairs. If you hurry, you'll get some breakfast before Ed eats it all."
"I think he's in a snippy mood," I said before turning to go, "I accidently smacked him when he shook me awake."
Winry chuckled. "He probably deserved it. He dishes the same attitude a lot, but he can't handle it when someone gives it back to him."
"Yeah, I know that's true." I smiled and rubbed my head.
"Listen," Winry said softly, "take care of those two, okay? Granny and I don't hear from them, so we don't know what they're up to. I'm worried about them, that's all. So since I can't do it, make sure they do okay, please?"
I regarded her a little before answering. "Of course I will. Someone has to be their referee when they argue, right?"
Winry smiled. "Yeah,"
I smiled back. "I should let you get some sleep. You've been up all night."
She nodded and began heading up the stairs. "It's always crazy when those two come here, and it gets even crazier with Ed and his two auto-mail limbs."
I watched her climb the stairs and open the door with the hands that constructed Edward's artificial limbs. The hands that gave him the ability to stand up, keep his balance, and not rely on only one arm. Because of her, Edward has the ability to transmute; preform alchemy.
"Thanks to you, he can live his life, Winry." I told her.
She turned and looked down at me with soft astonishment on her face. "I hope so. After everything he's been through and going through, that's what he deserves."
"Remember, kids, don't be strangers," Granny Pinako said as we descended down the porch steps, "Come back for a home-cooked meal every once in a while."
"Okay, we will." Alphonse said.
Edward scoffed. "Like we'd come all the way back to no-man's land just for a meal."
"If Mrs. Pinako can continue her game of cooking great dinners like last night's, then I'll totally take the long train ride for them!" I piped in with a grin.
"Then you would be riding that train alone." Edward said.
"Not if Al comes with me!" I laughed.
"Yeah, right," He scoffed. "As if he would take off with you just to come all the way back here!"
"He just told her he would come back!" I retorted.
Alphonse chuckled nervously in an attempt the change the subject. "Thanks for everything, Granny."
She smiled. "No problem. Shall I get Winry out here before you leave?"
"Nah," Edward waved off the request. "She'll just go on and on about auto-mail maintenance."
"She seemed exhausted when I saw her this morning, anyway." I told Granny Pinako.
She nodded. "Very well, you three stay safe, now.
We nodded and raised our hands in unison to wave, when we heard someone calling from the house.
"Ed! Al! Kale!" There was Winry standing on the balcony, wearing a large, baggy t-shirt and black shorts. She slowly waved at us. "See you later."
Edward waved nonchalantly over his shoulder. "Later," he said.
Alphonse and I waved back at her. "Bye, Winry!" I called, and followed Edward to the train station.
I watched Granny Pinako stand by the front door, watching us walk away. Den came up behind her and brushed her nose into Granny's hand. Taking this moment to fully look at the dog, I gazed at her left auto-mail leg.
"What happened to Den's leg?" I asked, turning around.
Edward blinked like a memory had appeared in his mind's eye. "She lost it when she saved me from being hit by a train. I was eight-years-old, then."
"Wow," I breathed in astonishment.
"I remember that," Alphonse said, "We were all worried Den wouldn't make it, but luckily Granny Pinako made plans for an auto-mail leg for a dog, but Winry was the one who built it. That was her first one, wasn't it, Brother?"
Edward smiled, "Yes, it was."
"That's amazing," I said. I was completely blown away by the dedication and loyalty of this dog, that Edward was rescued by her, and Winry's talent as a mechanic starting so young.
We reached the platform of the small train station just as the locomotive came barreling up. It shook and rumbled the wooden beams beneath our feet and let out its' last high-pitched whistle of the stop. The windows of the passenger cars were void of people, meaning we hopped on to one of the first trains of the morning.
"Guess this means we can get a couple more winks of sleep." Edward said, climbing into a seat in the middle of the car.
I sat across from him and watched him cross his arms over is chest, then close his eyes, slump in a more comfortable position, and place his ankle upon his knee. Alphonse occupied the seat next to him.
"What's next for us?" I asked.
"Al and I are going over to our teacher's in Dublith to get some more training." Edward pointed his thumb at his brother.
"You have a teacher?" I blinked.
"Yep," Edward nodded slowly. "She taught us everything we know."
"That's right," he nodded again. "What did you expect?"
I shrugged. "A male teacher, I guess. So if she taught you everything you know, then that must means she's an alchemist."
"She didn't only teach us alchemy, she also trained us physically," Alphonse said. "That the world is the all and I am the one."
"What?" I blinked, not getting the reference.
"You know this stuff, Kale," Edward quipped with a belittling tone, though his mouth twitched at the sides slightly as if he was teasing me. I felt a rush of blood in my ears from hearing my name from his mouth. The way his tongue cut with the "K" and lingering on the "L"; his voice dragging the "A".
"The foundation of alchemy is the power of the circle-"
"Oh, right," I cut him off. "I know about that. I've just never heard about it in that term before."
"That's how our teacher taught us," Edward glanced out the window. "She pounded the means of alchemy into our brains while pommeling us into the ground."
"She meant well, though," Alphonse said quickly when I raised my eyebrows. "She did take care of us and looked out for us. Kind of like a second mother."
I nodded in understanding as I tossed the words "The world is the all and I am the one" over and over in my head. The circle formulates the course of power, and certain symbols written inside have the ability to release that power. The same works even when alchemy is not involved.
Something sparked in my brain. Glancing down at my folded hands, I noted the blue veins transcending through the thin underside of my wrist, reminding me of the tattoos on my back. I glanced at the brothers. They still had no idea, but could they?
When I was captured by Thaddeus, and he threw the red stone at me, I absorbed it. Just before I went unconscious, I remembered hearing Edward shouting. He had to have seen that, but why did he not bring it up? Maybe he never noticed. He was probably too busy screaming.
Still though, I absorbed that stone, like it was a part of me. There was some kind of reaction before Thaddeus threw it, too. All he had to do was take it out of his pocket, and I over-heated like I had a high fever. I had to figure out the connection between that stone and my tattoo, and I was not going to find it sitting by while Edward and Alphonse train with their teacher.
"Are you falling asleep on us, Kale?" Edward asked.
"No," I replied automatically and blinked a couple times. I had to get home, to the only place where I could research inside Clyde's library.
There was a station coming up where I could jump off and take a train heading in the other direction. How would Edward and Alphonse react? If I told them my intentions, they might bite, metaphorically speaking. What could it hurt, really? They did not expect me to hang around and do nothing while they trained their butts off.
"I need to go home," I said, gazing at the passing fields.
"Why?" Alphonse asked, surprised.
"There's something I need to do there." I replied, "Besides, you don't expect me to just sit while you guys work yourselves to death, do you?"
"Well, we thought you could meet our teacher." Alphonse inquired.
"Oh yeah, that's a great idea," Edward rubbed his face, "If our teacher will cut me down for being a state alchemist, then you meeting her would be like a witch trial."
"Ed!" I made a face at him.
"It's true!" He yelled, "I'm warning you, Kale. Meeting my teacher will not be a walk in the park. She hates all state alchemists with a passion."
I smiled musingly at him, "There seems to be a lot of those haters, huh?"
Edward regarded me. "What's at home?"
"Research," I told him. "I can meet up with you again at Central."
"You're going to be secretive about it?" He mimicked my smile.
"Once I know the answers to my questions, I'll let you know what's going on." I replied.
Edward's smile vanished as he regarded me deeper, making me tremble and tear my eyes away from him.
"Will you be okay taking a train by yourself?" Alphonse asked.
I managed a smile again, "Don't worry about me, Al. I'll be fine."
"When did you decide all this?" He asked.
I scratched my ear. "Uh, just now, I suppose."
"I see," he said, his massive, metal shoulders slumped a little. Edward continued to stare at me, but I avoided his gaze like one would avoid staring at a black cat on the street.
"It's nothing to worry about, Alphonse," I assured him, "Once I'm finished, I can meet up with you both in Central. Colonel Mustang must have a new mission for us by then."
"Oh, that's what we do, huh?" Edward remarked. "Wait around for the great Colonel Mustang to give us missions to accomplish at his command?"
I scowled at him. "Did you forget you're state alchemist, Ed?"
"That does not mean we can cater to the state's every whim!" He shouted. "Al and I have other objectives."
Silently, I regarded him. "You'll reach your goal, Edward. I know you will. The Colonel won't stop you from obtaining it, but it does come at a price to be a state alchemist. If we end up fighting in a war, it wouldn't faze them to yank us into it, and it shouldn't faze us."
"Is that what you've decided?" He asked. His golden eyes flared in the sunlight. "If you end getting yanked into a war, I would have no choice but to fight alongside of you."
I nodded solemnly, "Yes, and just as you two devote yourselves to finding the Philosopher's Stone, I also devote myself to finding it with you. We are partners after all, right?" I glanced back and forth between them.
"Of course, we are!" Alphonse said, seemingly appreciative that I included him as a partner.
I smiled at him as Edward smirked. "You really did get swindled into our journey," he said.
Glancing out the window at the passing landscape, I clasped my hands together. "Yeah, I guess I did, didn't I? Why were we put together?"
Edward's smirk disappeared, and he blinked at the realization. "The Furher made us partners, remember?"
"Yes, but why?" I wondered, "I mean, there aren't a lot of partnerships in the military, especially in Central. Lieutenant Havoc doesn't have a partner, and Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye aren't partners, despite them being together a lot."
"Heh," Edward chuckled, "If you believe the rumors anyway."
"You're right," Alphonse said, "It is pretty weird that you both became partners right after getting your licenses."
"Right," I agreed. "So why did they put us together?"
Edward shrugged and gazed out the window. "Maybe they didn't want two kids running around loose without supervision. They can't have them out in the country with their own goals in mind and taking risks. Amestris would probably fall."
The corners of my mouth twitched. "Probably, but I think there's something more. It's like they planned right from the beginning to make us partners. And for what?"
Alphonse shuffled his feet. "Maybe they just think you work well together. Right, Brother?"
Edward shook himself out of a daze at the sound of his name. "What? Oh, I guess."
"Maybe so," I smiled. It was possible I was overthinking things and the Furher just thought we would work well together. He had seen our performance on the day of the exam, so it was possible he thought Edward and I would do a lot of good in the state.
That settled it. A little while later, Edward had gotten his deck of cards out and the three of us played a couple of games. This was the first time I played with the brothers, and I quite enjoyed it, until Edward started winning all the time.
During our last game, I was doing so well, and I almost won until Edward pulled the trick on me at the last second and it completely threw me off. By that time, my stop had rolled up, and I ran out of time to get him back.
I stood up and slid my suitcase off the overhead rack. "I'll see you guys in Central, and don't let your teacher kill you."
"Eh, that's up to her, really." Edward quipped as he shuffled the cards.
"We'll be okay, Kale, "Alphonse said. I could hear the smile in his gentle voice. "I hope you find the answers you're looking for."
"Thanks," I smiled at him, and then bent down to whisper to his helmet. "Get him good, Al. I think he's stacking the deck."
"The train isn't going to wait for you, Kale." Edward scowled as he laid out the cards.
I straightened and waved at them. "Bye, boys."
"Good-bye, Kale!" Alphonse called out as Edward grunted and waved without looking up.
Dragging my suitcase behind me, I climbed off the train and onto the platform. A little ways down, I could see the brothers through the window. Edward's head was still bent while Alphonse watched me. I waved to him once more, and he waved back. Edward lifted his head and looked straight at me. It was uncanny how his eyes found me so quickly.
The train whistle squealed and the giant locomotive pulled away from the station, but Edward kept his eyes fixed on mine. There was an odd expression about them. They held no emotion; they had a stone, cold look about them, with a slight hint of determination.
I felt myself shake as if his eyes were a weapon that struck right through me. I was betraying him by going off and finding my own goal without them. If I was unable to tell them anything, how could they trust me? The wall between us was starting to build.
The train disappeared into the horizon, and I spun around to head inside the station. The next train would not arrive for another hour, so I needed to find something to keep me occupied. There was a small bookstore in the station. I walked up and down the aisles, browsing the titles. It had been so long since I read a book for leisure. Most of them were unfamiliar to me. After getting frustrated, I picked up a few of them and read their descriptions. There were not very many that grabbed my attention, especially since they were mostly cheap romance novels.
I finally found one I thought would be fine to pick up. It was a short book about a boy who grew up as a celebrity in his country, but it proved too much for him to handle so he faked his death in order to live on in disguise with a normal life.
After purchasing the book, I went back outside to wait for the train, opened my new book and began reading. The train I was taking was heading north, and from there were two more stops before I reached my hometown.
I was three-quarters through my book when I arrived, and from there I walked the remaining three miles to my house. This was when I began to miss the boys. I wished they were there with me taking in the scenery, walking alongside of me on the path I once took when I was in school, which seemed so long ago.
Right before I took the State Alchemist exam, I quit school since I knew my life was going to take a different direction. By that point, I had completed all of the levels I needed before heading to secondary school. It seemed to be a good place to end my time there, especially since I did not have any close friends to leave behind. Most of the kids had known each other their whole lives when I moved in with Clyde and Marie, and while there were some girls who tried to befriend me, I kept them at arm's length because I had already made my decision of becoming a State Alchemist. Eventually, I would have had to leave any friends I behind, and I was not prepared to handle that.
I rounded the corner as my house came into view. A soft glow of light showed through the windows, and my heart nearly broke from nostalgia and homesickness. The cool air of the approaching night kept my tears from falling, but the back of my eyes still stung.
Out from the bushes underneath the front windows, a small and orange colored shape emerged and crouched down into the grass like it was stalking something. Rusty. The little guy had gained some weight while I was gone. Had it been that long?
As I approached closer, he perked his head up and stared at me. Alphonse had given him to me, so Rusty was my cat, but there was no recognition in those eyes. He looked at me as if I were a stranger coming to visit. I really have been gone a while, I thought.
I continued to walk to the front door with Rusty abandoning his hunt to follow at my feet. Taking a deep breath, I placed my hand on the knob, and then exhaled as I entered the house. I was home at last.
"Since you've been gone, I think your cat has become Clyde's." Marie said with a smile.
The three of us were sitting at the dinner table. I considered myself lucky to have a home-cooked meal two days in a row. That kind of luxury would not come again for a long time.
"More like he turned my work space into his domain," Clyde shook his head, "I'm always finding shredded bits of paper all over the garage floor, and I've found a dead mouse lying underneath my bench. Almost didn't see it when I was trying to pick up a pencil I dropped. I nearly touched the thing."
I giggled. "You know when cats bring you the mice they catch, it's like they're bringing you a gift."
"No, thank you," Clyde muttered, bringing a forkful of rice to his mouth, "Cats are very clever, and I think he's showing me what he's capable of. Soon, he'll find a way to kill us in our sleep and feast on our dead bodies."
"Clyde, that's gross!" I made a face at him.
"Nice table talk, Clyde." Marie shook her head.
Clyde gave her a knowing look. "Alright then, we can change the subject. We were hoping to have the chance to tell her soon anyway, right?"
I looked at both of them. "Tell me what?"
Marie smiled and turned to me. "We were going to wait till you got home to tell you."
"What is it?" I demanded.
"We were going to tell you together," Clyde said, then turned to Marie, "Ready? One…two—"
"We're pregnant!" Marie exclaimed.
"Hey, you cheated!" Clyde shouted at her.
Feeling shocked, I glanced back and forth between them. "You're what?"
"We're having a baby, Kale!" Marie's smile grew. "I'm about two months along."
I sat back in my chair. "Wow," was all I could manage.
Clyde blinked at me, and then turned to Marie. "She's taking it well," he said in a level tone.
"I-I'm sorry. I'm happy for you guys, really!" I mustered a smile as best as I could, "A baby. Wow."
"It's alright, Kale," Marie said, "You don't have to pretend for us. I know the news came as a bit of a shock."
I folded my hands on my lap. "When did you first find out?"
"Shortly after you left for your first mission," Marie replied.
I blinked. "So, it wasn't too long ago."
Marie shook her head. "No, not at all. If it's the same to you, we're still a little shocked as well."
"We were planning on having children once my sculptures sell." Clyde said. "It's going to be a challenge raising a kid on the little money we have right now."
"But don't worry," Marie tried to assure me. "We'll be okay. I mean, if we were unable to handle having a baby right now, then it wouldn't be happening."
"That won't make it any less challenging, though."
"We'll be fine, Clyde. I'm sure of it."
"I'm glad you feel that way." He mumbled, bowing his head.
Marie stared at him. "You don't think we will be?"
Clyde shrugged. "I really don't know, honestly. I'm just nervous that all of this is too soon."
"Well," Marie smiled slowly. "Not everybody is prepared for their first child."
"Tell me about it," Clyde muttered setting his fork down and gestured toward me. "I was barely ready for her when she came along."
"Clyde," Marie whispered harshly. I stared at him in shock, feeling my insides squirm.
An awkward and pregnant silence weighted the room until I finally pushed back my chair.
"I've got some work to do," I took my plate over to the sink to rinse it off. "I'm going to hole up in the library and research on something."
Without glancing back, I left the kitchen and walked to the little library. After closing the door behind me, I leaned against it and took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of old books and the rich wooden shelves. I knew Clyde had not meant what he said, but I was not up for confrontation at the moment. The best way to forget about it was to move on and focus on my task.
I leaned against the front of the chair as I sat on the floor. I brought up my knees and rested my face in my hands. My only lead was not here. Why would it be here? The library was so small and limited, and it only covered the basics of alchemy. Since Clyde no longer studies it, there would be no reason for him to have any more books on the subject.
I picked up another book that lay amongst the pile of other alchemy books. The same books I used to study for my alchemy exam. What had I expected? There was nothing new here. The text was the same. The text stating about the attributes of the philosopher's stone and its' most common known properties of transmuting gold and silver, and the ability to heal all forms of illness, as well as other mentions include material to burn lamps, transmutation of regular crystals into priceless stone and diamonds blah, blah. Blah. BLAH.
Exasperated, I threw the book across the room. It hit the wall with a satisfying thud.
I should not have left Edward and Alphonse. They could have given me better insight in what to do. My brain was not thinking logically now that I had hit a wall. I was stuck. The only thing that I could do was meet them in Central when the time was right.
Being a State Alchemist has its privileges. The thought jumped into my head before I even had time process it. It came as quick as a small voice to be dismissed. Yet that voice sounded a lot like Edward's.
Raising my head, I looked around the library. Night had fallen, and the only light was coming from a crack under the door. I slowly rose, stretched the stiffness out of my legs, and walked out to the hallway. Near the bottom of the stairs, I found Marie standing there with her arms crossed. She looked up once she heard the door open.
"Did you fall asleep in there?" She asked.
I shook my head, even though the stress I was feeling could have been mistaken for fatigue. "Are you doing alright?" I asked her, mostly inclining about the news.
"Yeah," She replied softly, "It's just weird, you know? Clyde and I have been trying to have a baby for a while now, but my doctor said it might be hard on me. Some women just aren't physically able to get pregnant."
I nodded, knowing that Marie and Clyde had been married for some time, but there had not been a lot of talk between them having children since I started living with them.
"Marie, I'm sorry for the way I reacted at dinner," I said, "It's just that I'm not really used to babies since it was just me, my mom and my dad when I was little, and then I was…with my uncle before you and Clyde." I hesitated at the mention of my uncle. "It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I don't know much about them."
Marie smiled and shook her head. "Don't worry about it. The three of us are going to go through this thing together. We'll all be new at it."
I smiled meekly at her.
"Oh, before I forget," She turned and picked up a jacket that sat folded on the chair behind her. "This is for you since you don't have a nice jacket, and it's getting close to that time of year again."
I held it up the shoulders and looked at it. The jacket was made of leather and purple. Not a frilly, girly purple, but a dark purple. A lot of my clothes did not look as nice as this, and I was almost afraid to wear it at all for fear ruining it.
"Thank you, Marie." I said.
"Marie?" Clyde's voice called from outside.
She turned her head to the front door, and then glanced back at me. "You're welcome. I'd better go see what he's up to."
I headed up the stairs to my room, carrying my new jacket in my arms. A cool draft met my face as I walked in; reminding me this was my first time in my room during my visit. After draping my jacket over the back of my desk chair, I walked to the cherry-wood, vintage dresser and went to open the top drawer for my pajamas. It would not budge. I looked closer at the drawer and noticed it was a little crooked.
Ah, crap, I thought, and gave the handle a good tug. It still did not give. I tugged harder and even wiggled it around a little. After it gave a few pops and cracks of protest, it finally broke free, making me drop it to the floor. The only sweaters I had laid rolled up and bunched together. I took them out, refolded them, and placed them back in the drawer. When I picked it up, I heard something rattle inside.
I scowled and shook the drawer, hearing the rattling sound again. I knew I had taken everything out and did not see other objects inside. Setting the drawer on the floor again, I began taking the sweaters out to investigate.
Nothing. There was only the stained, wooden bottom of the drawer. Wait a second, I thought. The inside of the drawer was shallower than it looked on the outside. I peered in closer and saw a small sliver of space. There was a secret compartment.
Using my fingertips, I pulled open the door about halfway and was greeted by a small, silver object that glared up at me. I picked it up by the chain and studied it closer. It was the same symbol on the back of Edward's jacket and on Alphonse's left shoulder. It was a cross with a snake draped around it, with a crown and wings above the cross. All of Clyde's alchemy books had this symbol in them, as well. It represented the process of alchemy, but unfortunately those subjects did not go any deeper than that.
I wondered if Edward and Alphonse wore this symbol to portray their vocation, then it was possible I could wear it, too. I unclasped the chain and reattached it behind my neck. The cross fell to the middle of my chest, just past my collar bone. It looked nice there. Jewelry was not my thing, but maybe wearing this necklace would not be so bad.