Disclaimer: Characters used without creator's permission but with lots of love on my part.
She watched children playing, her eyes full of hunger.
After What Happened, the pain was so loud it deafened them both; it was so big it filled all the corners of their lives. It left no room for forgiveness, no breath to talk about adoption. As big as he was, Sig could not shield Izumi from her own mind and guilt. As strong as he was, he could not take that burden from her.
Life went on. As impossible as it seemed at first, gradually they learned to relax a little, to live with What Happened. The pain never went away, but they got used to it. They had each other. They tried to make it enough.
On a rainy day during a visit east, in the tiny village of Risenbool, a miracle occurred.
..Part the First..
Izumi was always hyper aware of children. She'd been trained to always be on the alert, to notice her surroundings, but children stood out like beacons. Even as she strode confidently towards the failing levy, part of her attention was on two little mites standing on a hill. Izumi had spotted the kids even before she took in the abysmal engineering behind the locals' sandbagging attempts. 'What parent would allow their children out in this?' she wondered as she ordered the men to stand back. 'Did they sneak out? One way or another, someone needs an asskicking.'
Later, Izumi realized the boys were trying to do what she did with a clap of her hands, only they were defeated by the practicalities of inscribing an array during a monsoon.
Much later, Izumi was sorry she'd ever allowed the boys to see the hand clap method at all.
..Part the Second..
Izumi loved children. Yes, she did. Truly. Granted, she'd never been forced to spend several hours in a small train compartment with two of them before, but...
"Boys, keep it down."
Al (or was it Ed?) was hanging out the window, singing "Train-ing, train-ing" which was a rather cute pun. Or had been three hours ago. Ed (or was he Al? Izumi knew Ed was the elder but she was almost certain the larger boy was Al) was rattling excitedly about libraries and laboratories. They never stopped talking! Or moving. It was exhausting just to be near them.
Sig caught her eye. He was laughing at her and Izumi had to grin back. One of the things that helped her decide to take on the little Elric's was the fact they were not the slightest bit intimidated by Sig. She knew it hurt her gentle husband that the local children were afraid of his size, shy silence, deep voice, and sharp knives. These little imps crawled all over him.
A voice from a nearby booth grumbled, "Can't you keep those children under control?"
Izumi's temper flared. "I suppose you sat like a lump for hours at a time when you were their age?" And still did, from the looks of him. The boys overheard and sat back quietly, looking guilty. It didn't matter that they had been annoying her just as much moments ago; strangers had no right interfering with her child raising and Izumi was half tempted to tell the boys to run up and down the aisles a few times.
Cooler heads prevailed; Sig rumbled, "I'm hungry." and the Elrics took up the chorus. They were underdressed for the dining car, but the next stop featured an hour layover and a handy sandwich shop. Lemonade, giant poorboy sandwiches with everything, and ice cream after brought blessed peace and quiet. The boys yawned all the way back to their seats and were asleep in minutes. Izumi covered them with her jacket, marveling at how much they ate and wondering where they put it. The boys were so little! And yet, fairly competent at minor repairs and transmuting small items. They could do better. She would show them the way.
"We'll have to get them beds," Sig whispered. "The house is going to be noisy." He was hinting about The Baby's Room, left unfinished, empty and abandoned all these years.
Izumi made a snap decision. "Oh no no, they won't need beds!" She would train the boys as she had been trained, on a lessor scale, of course, since they were so much younger. She would call Mason, and maroon the kids on Yock Island. It would be good for them, test their mettle.
And hers. Give her a little time to adapt, and let go. They could do this. She could do it.
..Part the Third..
Sig fretted about the boys the whole month. When it rained, he nearly went and fetched them himself. He was stopped only by Izumi's cast iron confidence that the little Elrics would be fine, Mason's cheerful reports on their progress, and the fact that Sig himself could not swim and wasn't a skilled boatsman.
He distracted himself by working on the boy's room. Izumi, pretending she still wasn't convinced she'd take the boys as apprentices, would not allow Sig to decorate the room for children. "We can't have guests stay in a place festooned with pirates." They compromised on cool green walls, bright yellow blankets, and pictures of vibrant tropical birds.
Although Izumi tried to remain blase about the Elric's fate, she was up and at the boat rental shortly after dawn. The boys were waiting for her when she got to the island - grubby and sunburned, covered with scrapes and bug bites, and (her heart clenched) noticeably thinner. Determination burned in their strange golden eyes as they recited the answer to her riddle: "All is the world, and one is me."
Four hundred years of philosophy in two sentences. The kids passed.
..Part the Fourth..
"That doctor gets any slower he'll be moving backwards." Izumi grumbled. She stood on tip toe to kiss Sig on the cheek, their private code for 'everything is fine'. "Where are the boys?"
"They finished the exercises you gave them," Mason explained. "So we sent them out on deliveries."
Sig pointed with his knife to several sheets of butcher paper tacked to the wall in the office. Izumi eyed the arrays drawn there critically. "I can see I need to raise the bar. Those boys are too smart by half, all they do is create more work for me." She didn't sound particularly bothered by that fact.
"They should be back by now," Sig said. He moved to the door and peered up the street.
"Off playing hookey?" Mason guessed.
"They are good boys," Sig protested. Not spoken: and afraid of Izumi's wrath. "Ed likes to be here when Izumi gets back from the doctor."
He did, Izumi realized. 'He worries about me. ' She would not leave him as his mother had, she was stronger than that. She decided to be annoyed rather than concerned about the boys being late. "If I have to drag those scamps home, I will."
A few phone calls confirmed that the boys had made their deliveries. All the meat had arrived in good order, although Ed had some trouble holding the roast out of reach of Mrs. Delaney's poodles. Izumi hung up after speaking with Lakeside Pub, Al's destination, and said wearily to Sig, "Lakeside paid their account in full. They gave the cash to Al."
"He's a responsible boy, he would come straight back here." Sig paused, thinking of the route. "Straight back." The quickest way would take Al past some of the seedier portions of Dublith. Izumi nodded, grabbing her jacket off the hook by the door. Sig washed his hands and hung up his apron.
"I'll just stay here and mind the store," Mason said, but the Curtises were already heading down the road.
..Part the Fifth..
It wasn't anything as fanciful as a mother's instinct. It was simply cold hard facts, the kind alchemists preferred. A small trusting boy carrying a goodly amount of cash through Devil's Row could only mean disaster. Even Ed would have been safer - he was smaller, but more wary, and fast as the wind. Ed would have run back to the Shop, but Al, Al would politely stop and exchange greetings with anyone who called out.
'I don't care about the money,' Izumi thought. 'Just let my boys be all right.' She was walking so fast even Sig had to lengthen his stride to keep up. A lowlife, leaning in a doorway, attempted a wolf whistle, which faded off pathetically when he spotted Sig.
"You!" Izumi pointed to the man, who froze like a rabbit. "Have you seen -?"
"No! And I won't ever look again, either!" He dove back into the darkness of the shanty.
It didn't matter. Izumi heard a soft snuffling noise and followed the sound down an alley. There she found two bloody and disheveled little boys hunched together like gargoyles. Al was crying, although by the looks of things, Ed had gotten the worst of it. Izumi made an involuntary noise and the boys cringed. The pain of them shying away from her took her breath away. She put her hands on her hips to steady herself.
"What happened?" Izumi already knew the answer, and fury made her tone harsher than she intended. One thing she'd never anticipated about having children was how it changed your views on violence. Izumi had never wanted to kill another person with her bare hands before, but she was fairly sure she would be attempting that shortly. How dare they strike her babies? Whatever sorry bastard made them cry was going to wish he'd never been born.
Al sobbed, thinking Izumi was rightly furious with them. Ed, the braver of the two, moved so he was shielding his brother with his little body. "Some guy jumped Al and took your money. He got me to help get it back, but we couldn't. I'm sorry. We'll... work extra hard to pay it back."
"What? No, don't worry about that. Who was it?" Izumi cracked her knuckles.
"There were a lot of them, Teacher, and they were mean. They all had green sashes or neckerchiefs." Al seemed worried that she would get hurt. As if.
Sig crouched down and looked the boys over carefully. "Nothing broken," he said finally. "Need to get them home and cleaned up properly."
"You handle that, Honey. I want to have a chat with the leader of the Emerald Demons about the consequences of attacking children in my turf." Izumi was going to have that conversation with her foot on his skinny neck. She might even have it posthumously.
Sig set Al on his shoulder before scooping up the more bloody and battered Ed, who he carried in the crook of his arm. The kid had to really hurting because he didn't protest being babied. "We're sorry," Ed repeated, downcast.
"The only thing you boys did wrong was trying to deal with it yourselves. I know I teach self-reliance, but this is a criminal matter and those are not for children. Next time, come straight to us, or get a policeman, understand?"
"Yes Teacher," they chorused.
..Part the Sixth..
Sig got the boys cleaned up and their various wounds tended. Mason ran across the street for ice cream sodas, which added greatly to their recovery. Sig left them in the kitchen, quibbling over the virtues of orange soda pop verses root beer.
"We should do something nice for Teacher and Mr Sig," Al said, admiring the plasters on his knuckles.
"We could fix dinner. Teacher doesn't like to cook very much." Ed burped from too much root beer and they both giggled.
Deciding it would be a surprise, the boys first checked to make sure Mason was busy up in the shop. He was grinding meat to be made into sausages tomorrow, and that would keep him occupied all afternoon. Happy their plan could progress, the boys raided the ice box to see what was available to cook.
"There are leftover vegetables and chicken... we could make rice and stir fry it." Ed held up a bunch of carrots.
"That sounds good, it's too hot to run the oven." And Brother would be against anything with cream gravy, so that let out most of Al's food ideas.
Al hunted down the bag of rice and poured the recommended amount into a pot. He frowned at the paltry presence it made. "This sure doesn't make a lot."
Ed, knife in hand, peered over Al's shoulder. "Mr. Sig is a big man, add more."
"Double it?" Al dutifully poured more of the grains out. "Mason eats a lot, too." He added more. "And I'm pretty hungry." Brother could really pack away the groceries, as well. Al looked at the nearly empty bag and shrugged, dumping it all in. He filled the pot to the top with water and set the fire high so it would boil quicker.
Ed was having a little trouble with the carrots, which wanted to shoot all around the kitchen when he chopped them. One hit Al in the arm and he retaliated by throwing chicken bones at Ed. The brief battle was over when Ed dumped ground pepper over Al's head, resulting in a sneezing fit that had Ed laughing his ass off while he tried to protect the food. Al stomped over to the sink and stuck his head under, sulking and splashing. Some of the peppery water ran down his back and onto the floor, joining the various discarded vegetable ammunition.
The rice was making ominous gloop noises, and sticky gray bubbles were sliding down the sides of the pot. Ed paused in the act of adding oil to Izumi's largest wok and eyed the rice. "How much did you make?"
"All of it."
"The whole five pound bag?" Ed wasn't sure if he should be impressed or aghast. "It grows, you know."
"I thought it had to suck up water to grow. If the water fit, wouldn't the finished rice fit?"
"I don't think so... I think it gets bigger."
"But how? Wouldn't that make the sum greater than the parts?"
"You are forgetting we add heat, which makes things expand." A determined bloop noise rattled the lid on the rice pot. "Al, grab some more pots, it's going to overflow!"
The boys scrambled for every pot in the kitchen, trying to transfer the slippery, steamy, and altogether belligerent rice from it's original container. A goodly amount had scorched and adhered itself to the bottom in a smelly brown mess. Al got his fingers thoroughly steamed and was sent sniffling back to the sink to cool them. Ed managed to get most of the rice goop into several pots and pans lining the back of the giant stove. He had to crawl up on the counter to do so, and unbeknownst to either brother, Ed's foot slipped against the knob that controlled the fire under the wok. Which was somewhat overfull of cooking oil...
..Part the Seventh..
When Sig caught up with with his wife, the few Emerald Demons who were still conscious were busy pleading for their lives. Izumi was standing with her foot on the back of the Leader's neck, while she riffled through his wallet. She looked up and smiled brightly at Sig.
"Here's our money," She said. "And I think I nice tip for Ed and Al for their trouble. What about the rest? Should I leave it or make a charitable donation?"
"They'll only steal more," Sig said, disapproving.
Izumi increased the pressure on the Leader's neck and he squawked, "No! No stealing! I swear! We'll get jobs!"
"Maybe leave them a little for medical supplies, then," Sig conceded. Izumi shrugged and dropped the wallet and the remaining cash.
A teacher to the core, Izumi paused in the doorway. "What did we learn here today, gang?"
The response was ragged and mixed with moans and groans. "Beware of scary housewives," was offered. Izumi kicked the speaker in the ribs.
"Don't mess with the Curtis' kids," was the next try, and was seconded by approving whimpers in the crowd. Izumi considered it, but shook her head.
"I see a bit more instruction is in order." She headed back into the room.
The Leader cried desperately, "Don't pick on people smaller than you."
Izumi lowered her foot. "Very good, class. Now, clean this mess up."
..The End Part..?
"When I saw what those losers - some of them grown men! Had done to our little ones, I saw red. Honestly, they don't warn you that having children to love also teaches you to hate anyone who hurts them."
"Every knife has two sides," Sig said. "They are all right. Little boys are tough. They were more afraid that you were angry with them than hurt."
"Angry? How could I be angry? They are the best kids in the world. Honey, we truly lucked out finding them. I love them both to pieces." Izumi linked arms with her giant husband. "Maybe I haven't shown that enough. When we get home I'll give them each a big hug and..."
Sig had stopped still and Izumi looked up, following his gaze. Smoke roiled out of their kitchen windows and Mason charged by, garden hose in hand. Ed and Al were sprawled on the lawn, coughing and coated with some sort of sticky slime.
"...kiss. Right after I kill them both." Izumi charged forward, shouting questions and orders.
Sig followed more slowly.