Story cover drawn by NinthFeather and edited by CalamitasWrath!
Just FYI, this story is slightly AU—it's post-Dublith/Rush Valley, but Hughes didn't make that big realization and is therefore still alive. Also, Trisha dies in 1905 instead of 1904. They're not /huge/ things, but I figured I'd head off my fellow nit-pickers haha
I may be bending the scope of alchemy's power. All for the sake of the story, shall we say? The Elric love...the angst...:D
I'm walking a fine line between wrong and right
And I know there is a part of me that I try to hide
But I can't win, and I can't fight; I keep holding on too tight
Running away from the world outside...
Now I am calling, hoping you'll hear me
We all need somebody to believe in something
And I won't feel this when I am falling
We all need somebody that can mend these broken bones...
— Broken Bones, Rev Theory
The screams that emanate from the other side of the house are the most terrible that Trisha has ever heard.
She drops the cooking pot with a crash, running toward the sound even before the voices register as her sons'. They're in the study, she knows, poring over alchemy texts she can't hope to understand... When they had expressed an interest in alchemy about a year ago, she had been overjoyed; they were taking after their father, with their incredible leaps of logic and brilliant minds...she was sure they would grow up to be just as amazing as her husband.
Now, though, she is reminded of the less reputable side of alchemy. Van had never gone into detail, but that alchemy, that darkness, was what caused him to leave...
(It's been two years, now, with no news. She tries to stay strong for her sons, but...)
Now, all she can think is that this side of alchemy may have taken her boys away as well.
She slams open the door to the study with wide eyes and trembling hands, ready to do anything—anything—to save her sons...
But it's too late...
The light from the transmutation is already dimming...
And her boys are nowhere in sight.
There is no answer for her. The room is empty.
She drops to her knees and screams.
Pinako answers the phone when she calls. Trisha's hysterical, can barely speak, but the old woman gets the gist of her half-coherent babbling. She promises to be over with Urey as soon as possible.
Just as she's hanging up, just when she thinks this situation can't possibly get any worse...a hugely loud crash echoes through the house. Trisha jumps and spins wildly, wondering what could have possibly—
But when she makes her way back upstairs, half-terrified and half-hopeful, all she sees is a blonde girl with braided hair, lying face-down in the center of the circle. In addition, the armor from the corner lays there, with a strange symbol painted on its shoulder and a sort of loincloth around its waist.
They're...they're not her sons...
When Pinako and Urey finally arrive, she doesn't know how much time has passed since it happened. All she knows is that the girl hasn't moved; her sons are nowhere in the house...
She's failed as a mother.
Urey gently leads her to a chair (Van used to sit there for hours on end) while Pinako gingerly steps into the circle, toward the girl. "You didn't say anything about this," she says, raising an eyebrow as she kneels down and gently flips the girl over. She pauses a moment, studying her, and then looks toward Trisha with something like astonishment on her face.
"...What is it?" She almost doesn't want to know, but she doubts this day can get any worse...
"It's...well..." Pinako shifts, giving Trisha a clear view of the child's face...and if it weren't for Urey's steadying hands, she's sure she'd be keeled over on the ground.
But it can't be!
Her Ed is five years old, barely into school...and this boy is in his mid teens. As she looks closer, though...she sees his bangs and the cowlick she's always been fond of, the tilt of his nose and the slant of his brows...
If her Edward grows another ten years or so, he would look just like this boy.
But...it doesn't make sense!
(The small voice in the back of her mind reminds her that nothing is making sense right now.)
But this—it just can't be happening. What kind of transmutation could age the alchemist involved? And even if that's truly what happened...
Where is Al?
Before she can think on this any more, however, the boy (who is not Edward) moans and tries to sit up. Pinako is upon him in an instant, gripping his shoulders tight (she jerks and stares at him for a moment, but Trisha is too far gone to notice) as he sits up.
"Are you all right?" Pinako asks after several seconds of silence. The boy's eyes are half-lidded, staring ahead without seeing as he tries to wake from unconsciousness. He moans again as his eyes (they're gold, but there has to be another explanation—there has to be) finally focus on Pinako.
"Does anything hurt?" she asks again, slipping into her well-honed doctor persona as she pats him down with one hand. The other is latched tightly to his left arm, keeping him upright.
The boy mumbles something incoherent, and Pinako has to ask him to repeat himself before they can understand—"What're you doing here, Granny?"
Granny. Only three people call Pinako Granny...and two of them are missing. (Ed...Al... Right now, she can only hope and pray that they're all right.)
"Let's start with who you are, young man," Pinako says, and her voice is, perhaps, a bit harsh for the situation. The boy is barely lucid, and even if Trisha is desperate for information...he's only a child, just like her sons.
(Are they one and the same?)
The boy's eyes snap open the rest of the way, staring at Pinako incredulously. "What're you—where are we? Granny, what's going on?"
It's amazing, the way he's suddenly alert when he realizes that the situation is strange to him. Her Edward, innocent and five years old, would never be so high-strung...but she doesn't know whether to be reassured by this or worried.
"Tell us who you are, and where Edward and Alphonse went, and then we'll talk," Pinako says in reply, her steely eyes only hardening as she holds his gaze.
"What—Granny, it's me! Ed! And Al's right here!" He gestures to the still-motionless suit of armor before returning his attention to Pinako. "What're you talking—"
Urey moves from his position next to Trisha after making sure she's all right, kneeling next to Pinako. "Mom, lay off, he might be—"
"Uncle Rockbell?" The boy's face drains of color so quickly that Trisha thinks he might pass out then and there. But he only sways in Pinako's grip, his eyes full of so much disbelief that Trisha has to wonder why.
"Ed," Urey says carefully, obviously shaken up by the recognition in the strange boy's voice. "What's going on? You and Al were in here, practicing alchemy...and then your mom heard screams and you were gone..."
He looks ready to go on, but the boy (Edward?) jerks so badly that Pinako loses her grip. His gaze, which had been locked on Urey and full of shock, snaps around the room at dizzying speeds until it finally comes to rest on Trisha.
There's a second's pause while they only stare at each other. Trisha works to keep her expression kind, even as his turns to one of abject horror. It's clear he knows no more than they do...and if this is her son, sent from the future or aged or...
The pain, desperation, and unparalleled hope in his voice pull at her heart in ways she's never imagined. That's Edward's voice; that's Edward's face; those are Edward's eyes, looking up at her with such admiration that all she wants to do is pull him into her arms and never let go.
"Edward..." It comes out almost as a question, even though she's sure this is her son. It doesn't make sense—nothing makes sense—but if this is her son, no matter how old...it's her duty to make him feel better.
"What—" His eyes are suddenly full of such agony (they've always been so expressive) as he only continues to stare at her. It's unnerving, but she holds his gaze, hoping to offer some comfort. He is her son...but at the same time, he isn't...
(Is he from the future, somehow? Is alchemy capable of such a thing? There is a time for answers, for questions and explanations, but now is not it.)
Before anyone can say anything more, however, a huge clanking comes from in front of Edward, and the suit of armor sits up. Whoever is wearing it must be enormous; the plate mail is nearly seven feet tall and very broad-chested. (But Edward had said it was Alphonse?)
"Brother?" Nobody's mouth moves, but the armored head turns, looking all around the room. "Colonel? Edward?"
It does sound like Alphonse—remarkably like him—and while she wonders at the fact that he asks after a military officer, that doesn't matter right now. Edward rips his gaze at last from Trisha's with what seems to be a great deal of effort, turning toward the armor.
"Al...I don't know what's going on..."
It's clear that he's trying to sound brave, to be strong for his little brother, but if none of them know why they are here... She can hear the terror in his voice, clear as day, and it only makes her apprehension worse.
(And why is Alphonse wearing such a huge metal suit? She has so many questions...)
"Bro—" Al turns toward his brother; his relief is clear in his voice and the way his body relaxes... But then he sees Trisha, over Edward's head, and he jerks with a huge clang of his armor. "What—Mom—?"
She can't see his face, can't see even an inch of her baby boy, but his body is rigid in something she can only read as terror. Why are they so surprised to see her; why is such a horrible pit of apprehension forming in her gut?
She has no answers for these questions as they gnaw at her mind, but she knows they aren't as important as her boys right now. Even if they're teenagers, brought here by some mysterious happening, they're still her sons...
And right now, that's all that matters.
Roy has been fairly certain for a while, now, that he has the Elric brothers figured out.
At their core, they are each other's lives—their motivation and family and everything. Ed will do anything for Al; Al will sacrifice everything for Ed; their relationship is strong and undeniable.
So when the blinding blue light of a transmutation fills the office, when Roy yanks on his gloves without thinking and the others draw their guns, two terrified voices split the air—
The light is only intensifying, and while Roy feels nothing of the alchemy affecting himself, that means nothing for the others under his command (subordinates—friends—family—he'll do anything to keep them safe). He's running around his desk, running toward Edward and Alphonse, where the light seems to be originating from (if they're hurt he'll never forgive himself)—
There are two final, horrifying screams, and then the light dims.
The Elrics are gone.
Roy's gaze snaps around in desperation, searching searching searching for (but never finding) the two boys in his charge. They aren't here; there are no loudmouthed comments from Ed, nothing of Al's calming presence...and as he meets the gazes of each of his coworkers, he knows they have all come to the same conclusion.
That transmutation—whatever kind of alchemy it was—it took them away, somehow, somewhere...
Before he can snap into action, before he can do anything but stare numbly at the space where the boys were standing, there is another great flash of light (Roy is poised to snap in an instant, and Riza and the others are backing up to the wall, guns at the ready). Two small figures hit the ground and are still.
They aren't the Elrics—that much is clear. These are too small; as Roy does his best to focus on them, he realizes that they are only children...
(None of this is making sense to Roy, and he hates it.)
The flash of alchemy has faded away, now, and Roy cautiously steps forward. A glance at the floor, at the ceiling, shows there is no circle...but if it wasn't alchemy, what could it be?
He's blinking the spots from his eyes as he strains to focus on these people that have replaced Edward and Alphonse. One is moving sluggishly, and he holds up one hand again, wary and alert. If this is a Homunculus, something that is out to hurt him or anyone else—
(that may have already hurt the Elrics)
—he is taking no chances. But the figure is slowly sitting up, now, holding its head and staring around with golden eyes.
(Ed's eyes. What is going on?)
The others are moving forward, guns lowered but still cocked, confused and unsure and worried. But the boy is perhaps five years old, and the other is no older; Roy doubts greatly that they are a threat. All he needs to worry about now is what they're doing here and where Ed and Al have gone.
(The boy is strangely familiar as Roy looks down at him, but he can't understand why right now.)
"Al? Where're you?" The child is the first to break the silence, seemingly unaware of the group of adults hovering feet from him. This simple question, the worry saturating his voice, jars Roy, sounds uncomfortably familiar...and then he realizes.
The way he holds himself is vastly different; his eyes aren't nearly as hardened and aged; this little boy is far too young...
But he looks just like Edward.
Riza is stepping closer now, crouching down to be at the boy's eye level as he starts to look around, alarmed by the lack of response. "What's your name?" she asks cautiously. Though her gun is in its holster, Roy can see the tension in her shoulders, hear it in her voice. "What are you doing here?"
The boy does not answer; his gaze has landed on the other figure, and he lets out a cry of alarm as he launches himself toward it. "Al! Are you okay?"
It's familiar, too familiar—and Roy watches with a strange sort of dread as the boy (who looks so much like Edward) tries to shake the other into awareness.
(It works, but Roy isn't sure whether to be relieved or alarmed.)
This second boy does not look familiar, but he is jarringly similar to the Ed-boy as he sits up as well. "Brother...did it work...?"
"Did what work?" Roy has crouched down next to Riza, and though his snap reflex has relaxed, his gloves are still firmly on his hands. "What did you do?"
The younger boy (younger but taller, it seems—something insidious is worming its way through Roy's gut) looks up at his voice, and he gives a little squeal before backpedaling as best he can. "Brother—Brother—who are they—?"
"We're not going to hurt you," Riza says, and she seems to have come to a similar conclusion as Roy; her eyes are much kinder than they were before. "What are your names? Do you know what happened?"
"Mom says not to talk to strangers," the older boy says, and a very Ed-like pout crosses his features before he turns to the other boy. "Where are we? The circle should have worked—"
"What circle?" Roy leans closer, and the boys recoil quickly. The older one is holding the other behind him, looking ready to protect him with everything he has if the need arises. This is familiar...too familiar...a scene plays out in Roy's mind, terrifying and far too real.
Ed. Defenseless on the ground in the pouring rain, bargaining with a serial killer for his brother's life, prepared to do absolutely anything...
This doesn't make any sense...
"My name's Roy. I'm an alchemist too," he says after a moment, pulling off one glove with only a bit of apprehension. He hands it over for the boys' inspection. "You did some sort of transmutation, right? Maybe I can help, if you tell me what happened..."
He has very little experience with small children, and he's not quite sure what he's doing. Sure, there's Elysia, but he's known her since she was born...and Maes is always around to help out.
But with these two—if they're the boys he thinks they are—he doesn't even know where to start.
"This is for...fire, right?" the younger boy says, breaking him out of his quickly spiraling thoughts. "With the salamander, and the sharp corners..."
The other boy makes a noise of agreement, and Roy hears Breda whistle from his right. For a boy—maybe four years old—to figure that out...
"Can you tell me what your names are? Maybe I can help you get home," he offers, doing his best to make his usually authoritative voice sound friendly. "What was your circle supposed to do?"
The boys share a glance before the older one sighs huffily. "'M Ed Elric, 'n that's my brother Al. We were trying to see the future with one of Dad's circles to show Mom everything'll be okay, 'cause she's sad a lot now and we thought..."
He trails off, a rather somber expression on his face. Roy tries to keep his own face understanding, to stay calm for these two children (who he knows, but doesn't, all at the same time). Their mother. They can't be any older than four and five—Trisha Elric had died when Ed was barely six—"All right, Ed, I'll do my best to help. But first..." He swallows, knowing the answer...but he has to make sure. "Can you tell me what year it is? And where you're supposed to be?"
The boy looks at him strangely, but answers after a moment—"1904...at home with Mom..." His eyes widen, looking around the room as if expecting her to step out from behind one of the desks. "Where is she? Where are we? Al, what's happening—?"
"You're in Central, Ed," Roy says, and he must swallow to make his voice as neutral as possible before he continues, "and it's 1914."