Hey there, folks! I'm back, with a new chapter! Hooray! Let me just tell you that I was up till midnight last night writing this so I could have it up on the Fourth of July (to all of you who are not from the US of A it's Independence Day in America today!). Much effort was put into making sure another nine months didn't go between the last chapter and this one…really. Believe me. Could these eyes lie to you? Wait, you can't see my eyes. Damnit!
So, let me just say that the end of this chapter gets pretty intense, and I have been ODing on dream sequences lately. Don't worry, I will try to stay away from them in the next chapter. Promise…okay, not really. I don't make promises because I'm evil! Mwahahaha!
Ed: And don't I know it! Stop torturing my character!
Ash: Yeah, me too!
Roy: And me!
Misty: And me!
Artemis: And me!
Me: You're not even in this story! Get out!
Showpeople: And me!
Me: Quiet, you…you beta! Sigh…this isn't even making sense anymore…
(long line of characters and people form, complaining about past and present torture…)
Me: Oh my god, I'm drowning in the sound of people whining! Gahhh! Anyway, hope you enjoy the chap- Tamaki, get off my couch, I haven't paired your precious daughter with your wife! Yet! That story has yet to be written!
Tamaki: Stop pairing Kyouya and Haruhi together you monstrous fanbase! DEATH TO THE OTAKUS! (jumps into the realm of otakku fanfictionspace with a rusty spoon as a weapon)
Me: …well, we're down one idiot now. Oh well.
Anyway…one with the story…god I hate myself sometimes.
"I still don't see why Misty has to come along," grumbled Ash, only to have afore mentioned person whack him over the head with a spatula she had grabbed off of Brock's backpack. Seeing how Brock had been walking in front of her, it had been a easy target to snag. From his place carefully situated on top of Ash's backpack, Ed chuckled and Ash rubbed his now aching head. "Hey!" he yelped indignantly.
"Don't you 'hey' me," snarled Misty, still wielding the spatula. "It's your own fault for saying nasty things, so don't even try to complain!"
"She's got a point there Ash," Ed remarked, which almost got him knocked off of his perch as Ash gave his backpack a rough shake.
"Quiet back there or you're going to lose your free ride, midget," Ash warned, and Edward growled and began to mutter menacingly about how he wasn't short, not really anyway. While Ash appeared to be in a poor temper, if you looked closer you could see the spark of humor in his grey eyes. It had been a while since Misty had seen Ash looking something that even began to approach happy. They had been traveling for three weeks since they had left Misty's house that one morning. Misty smiled as she remembered the scene that had ensued.
The morning was dark, seeing as the sun had yet to rise. Their search of Cerulean City had turned up no word of strange events, so Ash and company had decided to head out. Everyone had said their goodbyes to Misty the previous night, and Ed had insisted upon the earliest start they could possibly get. He seemed more anxious about finding his brother than ever before. Ash and Brock had noticed several hushed conversations between Riza and Roy when said scarred and strange Pikachu was conspicuously not around, and it seemed the two were torn between wanting to find Ed's brother as fast as possible and making sure Ed was truly alright. The strange Growlithe and Eevee had a determination that almost rivaled Ed's in their concern for the youngest Elric.
The fog had gently blanketed the low rolling hills that lead away from the house, making it so they lost sight of Misty's cottage in minutes. Ash looked like he had either not gotten any sleep at all, or had woken several hours previously. The dark shadows under his eyes were not getting any darker, but nor were they lightening. It was concerning to the whole group, which Roy had sarcastically dubbed 'The Traveling Committee to Improve Ash's and Ed's Mental Health'. Likewise, Ed's fur had long ago lost its luster, a sign Brock knew as an indicator of poor health in Pokémon in general. Between Roy's casual efforts to keep an eye on Ed after dark and Brock's to do the same with Ash (all right, they both weren't going to pretend that they didn't have a rotating schedule to keep watch over them at night, to make sure neither of them did anything stupid like wander away from camp and fall into a lake), they were both a little less rested than normal. Only Max, being his ever oblivious self and Riza, who had been stopped by Roy from being part of the rotating schedule that didn't exist, seemed their normal, energized selves. As energetic as Riza ever got, anyway. Screw it, this was one tired, de-energized group of traveling trainers and freaky Pokémon. Really.
So they were all plodding along, kind of in a lackluster manner, seeing as it was somewhere close to five in the morning, when they had heard rapid footsteps from behind. The only people who heard Brock's quiet mutter of 'took her long enough' were Roy, who was curled up in his backpack, and Max, who was walking next to him. Needless to say, Ash and Ed were very surprised to see Misty fly out of the fog, with a backpack slung over one shoulder, and come to a halt when she had reached the group. She took a couple of deep breaths, seeing as she had had to run to catch up to the travelers, then stood up straight and glared at Brock.
"How could you let them leave without me?" she said sharply, glaring at the once gym leader.
Brock simply shrugged his shoulders. "I stalled for as long as I could," he said, looking completely unsurprised at her sudden appearance.
"You are really, really bad at stalling," Misty accused.
"Well, Ed and everyone else were pretty anxious to get going. It's really hard to stall Ed and Ash all at the same time," replied Brock calmly.
Meanwhile, Ash and Ed had been just staring in slack-jawed amazement at the girl that stood before them. Then Ed came to his senses enough to blurt out, "Damn it, it's the scary lady! Why me! Everywhere I go I always meet women who can rip me into little tiny pieces. And now, there's one following me around!"
"You'd better believe it!" said Misty with a smug grin on her face. "I could beat you to a pulp in a second and don't you forget it!"
"Why are you here!" yelled Ash, looking a little distressed. Whirling around, he began to verbally attach Brock, seeing as even he knew better than to go directly at Misty.
After listening to a couple minutes of Ash yelling, Brock simply cut him off by saying, "She really can't turn around now, and I invited her to come with us. So if you really feel like trying to force her to turn around now, be my guest."Ash turned to look at Misty, whose eyes were spelling out something like 'just try and do it', tinged with a hint of murderous intent. So he simply sighed and turned sharply, marching ahead without looking back once. Brock and Misty had exchanged a glance, and Max had smiled up at her.
"Now spikey-head can make up with his girlfriend," came a voice from Brock's backpack.
"Shut up, sir," said Riza from her place on Max's shoulder. She then jumped from Max's shoulder to Misty's arms, preferring the red-headed women to the small boy who talked far too much. Said girl now had a light blush on her cheeks.
"You know you love me Riza baby," came the voice from Brock's backpack.
"You wouldn't even dare to call me 'Riza baby' if I still had my gun," said Riza, her voice like a large glacier, or maybe a nuclear winter. Take your pick.
"Oooh, sexy! You used your strict voice," purred the unfortunate voice from within Brock's backpack. It was at that moment that Riza learned the move Swift, and used if quite effectively, unfortunately for the unwitting victims; Brock and his new backpack. They had had to get a new one at the next town they had passed through, and Ash didn't speak to Misty for the next three days. But gradually, things between them had thawed considerable, settling into something that resembled what they used to have. Before everything had happened. Before their worlds had come crashing down around them.
Misty shivered, almost remembering that night before catching herself. On long hikes like these, it was hard to not let your mind wander, especially to places that it really didn't want to go.
Ed looked up at the starry sky, the luminescent lights seeming to wheel above his head. They were camping in the middle of an open field, on their way to the next town. With every town they passed through, Ed found himself getting edgier and edgier. He had never been apart from his brother for this long, and it was made worse by the fact that he didn't know if his brother was ok. Every day that passed was another day that Al could be out there somewhere, frightened and lonely and waiting for his brother to find him. Ed couldn't stand the thought of Al having to spend his days in this new and strange world alone.
Everyone was in their sleeping bags now, all of the humans anyway. There were sleeping bags for Pokémon, but that didn't work out too well for the bastard and Hawkeye. There new bodies didn't have opposable thumbs, so they had had to figure out something different. They had settled on small blankets they could throw over themselves. It had taken a couple tries for them to master the trick of throwing the blanket over themselves using only their teeth. Riza had gotten it perfectly after a few tries, but it had taken Roy all night to figure out how to manage it. This was something that Ed had stayed up to watch, and the poor blanket had come close to being burned to a crisp on several occasions, but when he had finally managed it that bastard had looked so smug. This had prompted Ed to say something about old dogs not being able to learn new tricks, and then a minor (major) physical altercation had ensued at sometime close to midnight. The others had not been happy to be woken up that late, and Ed and Roy had had to walk the next day. Their smaller bodies made it difficult for them to keep up with the much larger people who had much longer strides, and by the end of the day the two of them had been exhausted. What was worse, Hawkeye had acted like a drill sergeant the whole time, telling them to keep up the pace and stuff like that. Mustang had bickered back in forth with her so much that they sounded like a married couple. Which was cute because everyone in the office knew they were together, even if they didn't say anything, or show any outward appearance of unusual affection. Everyone in the office was so attuned to each other that they just…knew. Ed smiled to himself as he remembered.
Ed stayed up most nights, trying to avoid sleep the same way he usually did. This had given him ample time to observe the other's sleeping patterns. Ash, for the most part, got about as little sleep as he did. Ed could tell, because Ash was always very tense while he was awake, in such a way that you could see it in the lines of his shoulders, back, and face. Tonight, however, seemed to be one of those rare nights where Ash succumbed to the Sandman. When he slept, Ash's whole body seemed to melt, making you realize how tense he was normally. He slept on his back, sometimes with one arm tucked behind his head, like he had become so accustomed to shielding his head from the hard ground that it had become a habit. But tonight, like most nights when Ash slept, it seemed he was sleeping poorly. He fidgeted and he would sometimes whimper, with that torn expression on his sleeping face. While things were going better for Ash during his waking hours, it all seemed to catch up to him while he was sleeping.
Brock tended to sleep on his side, hugging a pillow or sometimes part of a blanket to his chest. He was the loudest of their group because he tended to talk in his sleep and had a gentle snore. Both Misty and Ash complained it kept them up, but it seemed they actually slept better with it than without it, lulled by the familiar sound. Such complaints, Ed guessed, were just a part of the routine the three had.
Misty was a very quiet sleeper, and very still. She slept curled up on her side, breathing light and easy. She was also one of those people with the miraculous ability to fall asleep seemingly as soon as her head hit the pillow. Ed was a little envious; it always took him ages to get to sleep, when he got there.
Max, being the youngest, was always the last to settle down for bed, filled with resilient child-energy that made it seem like he could power a small factory all on his own. However, once he was settled he was out like a light. He was a fidgety sleeper through, kicking while tossing and turning his way through most nights. He slept with his arms curled to his chest, like he had semi-recently given up sleeping with his teddy bear and still missed it, subconsciously or otherwise.
Roy and Riza were a strange pair, made stranger by the fact that they were Pokémon now. It seemed they still had sleeping patterns ingrained into them by the War in Ishbal and their current (if it was still current, he really wasn't sure) conflict with Drachma. They slept wherever they lay, and were always up with the crack of dawn. Ed sometimes wondered, in the middle of the night when he had way too much to think about, if they had always been that way. They must have had different sleeping patterns, before the war had come around and practically brain-washed away most of their smaller habits. Ed had noticed this in himself as well. It was small things really, like how he would always make his bedding as soon as he got up so it would be ready for an inspection that would never come, or the meticulous way he would now check his gear. War had a way of changing people to suit its own purposes. Maybe that's why Roy and Riza were so close, bonded by combat and loyalty. They knew each other to the point where they would have entire conversations without words, and could move as a single unit without any conscious thought. When one needed something, the other was always there. Ed smiled, thinking about how after a tough or stressful day on their trek to find Alphonse, he would always find them curled up next to each other in a mound of multi-colored fur when the sun rose, breathing in perfect synchronization. They were made for each other, in so many ways.
A flash of light caught Ed's eye, and he turned to see a shooting star streak across the heavens. While Ed had never been really superstitious, wishing never hurt anyone. So, Ed closed his eyes and wished for happiness. He wished, not only for himself, but for Al, for Ash, for Hawkeye and Mustang, for everyone back home, and for Winry. Please, he thought, may everyone manage to find a happy ending in this mess.
"Hey look, a shooting star Riza," Ed heard Mustang say quietly, obviously trying not to wake the others.
"So it would seem," said Hawkeye, seeming to be in deep thought.
"Did you make a wish?" asked Roy. "What was it?"
"You know as well as I do that if I tell you, it won't come true," said Riza with a hint of a laugh in her voice. Ed perked up, seeing as the Lieutenant laughing was a rare, almost unheard of thing. It was probably because Roy was there. Did he really make her that happy?
"I know what I wished for," said the Colonel, gently. "I wished that I would never have to leave you. For any reason at all. So many people around us have been losing everything, in the war and outside of it, and I just don't want to lose you. I don't know what I would do without you, Riza."
Ed knew that this was a private conversation between the Colonel and the Lieutenant, so he squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to listen. Like that helped any.
There was a pause before Riza replied. "Aren't you going to jinx it by telling me? Isn't that the whole point? You idiot," she said, but the tone was so happy it took all the bite out of the insult.
"There are some things that need to be said to make them true," said Roy, an undercurrent of some sort of intensity in his voice.
"That is true," said Riza thoughtfully, and they lapsed into silence for a while. The minutes ticked on, and Ed felt a sense of relief that the conversation was over. He wasn't supposed to be hearing any of this!
"You know…I was going to ask you to marry me," said Roy into the silence, and the way his voice broke made it sound like he was on the edge of tears. Can Pokémon cry? Ed wonders, but something inside of him twists at the sound of Roy's voice. It was only in these moments that Ed could force himself to acknowledge that Roy Mustang was more than what Ed tended to let himself see. It had taken Ed the longest time to figure out that Roy did care, about a lot of things, chief among them being him. He had rejected it thought, scared by the prospect, and had forced himself to keep seeing him as the bastard who gave him paperwork and made fun of his stature. But Roy was more than that, and Ed couldn't let himself keep seeing that because he was so damn scared. He had figured out early on, if you got attached to something it hurt more when it was taken away. Life had pounded that lesson into him over and over, until sometimes that was all he could see. It made him afraid to get attached, afraid to acknowledge that Roy and Riza loved him in the fierce way that parents love their children. In the past, he had told himself, no one can replace Mom and Dad was a bastard anyway, but they had creeped up on him. Slowly but surely, their kindness had melted him enough to ask them for help, sometimes, when he needed it, or to, sometimes, talk to them when he needed to sort out his troubles. Sometimes. But every time he did, they smiled in such a way that told him that was enough.
Well, Riza smiled. Sometimes. And Roy was more likely to call him a runt or sent him on some obscure mission that was really a front for Ed and Al to get some R and R (rest and relaxation or research and rapid chases, whichever was needed at the time). So maybe they were all right for each other after all.
"That would have made me very happy," Riza said, sounding like the words were breaking her heart a little as they left her mouth. Ed's heart wrenched. Of course, they could never be together in the way that they used to be, not in these bodies. It just would never work. Ed didn't know what he would do, if he were in their shoes. They were together, but what they had was never going to be enough. There was a brief pause before Riza continued. "Sometimes, thought, the thought really does count for quite a lot. I mean it."
Translation: It doesn't matter. We are still here, together, and that's all that matters to me.
"Really?" asked Roy.
Translation: Can this really be enough for you? Can you truly be happy like this?
"Yes Roy. You will always be enough for me."
Translation: I love you.
"And you for me."
Translation: I love you too. With all of my heart.
And then the silence came, encompassing the night and all of the creatures dwelling in it. Engulfed in the stillness, Ed found himself slipping into slumber, not noticing the tear that had slipped from him cheek and tumbled to the dusky earth below.
Ash was there again. This didn't surprise him, he dreamt about it almost every night, but it never ceased to horrify him. The rain poured into the muddy canyon, getting in his eyes as he ran as fast as his body would let him. He could see that streak of yellow darting along the ground, chasing after his hat, he knew. Ash tried to call out, but as usual, his voice had left him and he made no sound. All he could do was run as fast as he could, in the hopes of catching up to his partner before the mudslide came.
Pound!Pound!Pound! His feet slapped against the raw, wet, earth, sinking down as if nature itself was trying to stop him. The faster he tried to run, the slower things seemed to get until he was running through the quicksand that was time. And as the world slowed around him, he saw the canyon crumble, and the earth swallowed that darting flash of yellow in the path before him.
Suddenly, time snapped back into its proper place, and Ash was running full-tilt towards the pile of earth that would serve to double as a grave. He launched himself at it, clawing his way towards the spot where he had last seen his Pikachu, his best friend. Fingers were tearing at the ground, desperately trying to split the earth beneath their hands. They dug until the mud and the blood mixed together, feeding the ground with red iron as his own breath rasped in his ears. Then, there he was, all golden yellow smeared with the earth, broken and bleeding.
Ash gently picked the yellow body up, moving to cradle it in his arms. Mud caked the yellow fur, turning it brown and dirty. Wiping a clod of dirt away from that yellow muzzle, he froze.
This was not his Pikachu. This was Ed.
Ed opened his eyes a little, blood oozing from a gash on his forehead. "Ash," he breathed. "My brother…find my brother. Please." Then, astonished, Ash watched the life leave those haunted golden eyes, and Ed was no more.
Before he could even begin to process what he had just seen, the scene before him began to shift and blur, collapsing inward and then exploding outward into a different place and time.
At first, all he could register was the sight of red blood, coloring everything the eye could see. Then, the masses all around him became clearer, and Ash realized he was on a battlefield. No, that wasn't accurate. He was on a field of slaughter.
All of the men were wearing white, furred uniforms, blurring and blending as they battled on a field of snow and ice. Ash recognized the field from one of the odd dreams he had had. Only this time, he could see the men fighting, moving in as if they were trying to destroy a target in the center of the mass of people. Then the smoke cleared from a cold, chilling wind, and Ash saw the boy.
He was the same boy from before, the one with the red coat and golden hair. But now, he was something else. He was death and destruction in motion, a blur of red coat and flashing steel. No man could match him on the field, and any who could not match him fell to his deadly shining blade. The spray of red every time he killed was like horrible red flowers blooming in the snow. Others, from further up on a hill, were trying to barrage him with bullets. But, Ash saw sparkle of blue electricity, and all of a sudden the ground beneath the men had turned to deadly spears of ice.
They died. They all died.
The tumult drew closer to where Ash stood, rooted to the spot in the swarming mass of bodies. Hundreds were dying each minute, killed either by the boy's spears of ice or by his blade, and still the white men kept coming. They were closer now, close enough that Ash could hear the boy's battle cries, and the dying screams of soldiers fallen.
"For my country! For Drachma!" yelled one of the men as he charged, only to be felled by the boy's singing iron blade.
"Why are you doing this?" screamed another as he faced the whirling red boy. With a roar the boy spun, and the man simply collapsed upon the ground, silent.
"We only do this for our country! For our families!" cried one of the soldiers further back.
The boy stood square on his feet, blade making another fell swoop into the oncoming crowd. "Why do you think I do this?" he screamed, red blood flying from his blade. "I do this for Alphonse!" He stabbed into the crowd. "For Winry!" Stab. "For Granny!" Stab. "For Nina!" Stab. "For my superiors!" Stab. "For my subordinates!" Stab. "For everybody!" His cry was so wretched, that the soldiers instinctively stepped back. The lone boy, covered in blood, stood before them. "I fight so they won't have to fight! You'll die so they won't have to die! So DIE!"The boy's roar was so mighty, the soldiers fell back further. It was only for a moment, then the slaughter began anew before the ringing trumpet sounded over the din of the battle, and the men in white retreated until the boy was left standing, panting, in a field of blood and corpses. Then, the boy fell to his knees and screamed, screaming and screaming until his simply collapsed, like one of the dead.
Ash saw something he had never even begun to fathom before, reached an irrevocable understanding. This was war. And war was hell like he had never known it before.
Off in the distance, a man picked his way through the field of bodies and red death flowers until he reached the boy. With a start, Ash recognized him. It was the dark-haired man. It was Roy. He crouched down next to the boy. "Have you given up?" he asked the golden-haired boy, still covered in red. "Have you reached the end of life? Is Al no longer worth anything? Is Winry no longer worth anything? Get up," Roy ordered, rising to his feet. "We are human weapons. We fight so that hundreds of thousands of other men won't die. We fight so everyone we love will not have to die. Never forget what it is we fight to protect. Not our pride, not our honor, and not even our own lives. We fight for our country and for all the ones in the world we love. So stand up, Edward!" The boy was rising to his feet. "Stand up and take your mantle, for we stand between our country and destruction! Stand, and never forget who it is we are fighting for!"
As shock and realization flowed through him, Ash saw the boy's eyes for the first time, and they were the burning eyes of gold that he knew well.
"I won't," said Edward, eyes a blaze of fire as he wiped the blood from his face, determination emanating from every pore in his body. "I won't."
Ash woke with a start, shaking, sweat pouring from every pore in his body. He gasped for breath, realizing they were still in the dark of night. With shaking hands he carded his fingers through his sweaty hair.
What was that? Was that real? Could these be memories, memories from one of his companions? Or was he just making this all up in his head? Ash couldn't figure it out. But there was one thing he knew for certain. He had recognized Ed and Roy. Their eyes were the same in his dream as they were out here. Or was that just his imagination? He wasn't sure. But whatever the case may be, Ash had an uneasy feeling these dreams were more than just dreams. Trying to convince himself otherwise, he lay in his sleeping bag, shaking, waiting for the dawn to come.
Told you there'd be intensity. Can't say I didn't warn you. Let me just say this chapter is dedicated to all the soldiers, past and present, who gave their lives to help make this country what it is today. For your sacrifice, I thank you. I would also like to thank all soldiers currently in active duty and all veterans who have given a good part of their lives to this country. For your bravery and service I thank you. I have a good friend who will be going into the military as a fighter pilot and I worry to death about her. So thank you, one and all!
If you review, the chapters really do get dome faster. Really. I can't say it enough. So DO IT! The power of Edward Elric's antennae compels you!