I wish to congratulate the Polka-Dotted Sock on receiving her 200th review for The Lost Fullmetal Heart. That's a pretty big feat, and she definitely deserves it. I'd definitely recommend reading it.
Anyhow, this is a gift fic for her. In continuity of her cannon, this story occurs before The Christmas Vacation. If you want to know if The Lost Fullmetal Heart occurs in the same universe, please ask her (aka. I don't know the answer to that one). Enjoy!
Dobby's Imaginary Sock
Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist or any of the characters or places mentioned in the city. Background information on family relations come from the wiki, and the characterizations of Jessica, Violet, Sylvia, and Madeline belong to the Polka-Dotted Sock.
The Christmas Present
Xing was certainly a more active country than the last time she'd visited. Of course, Madame Christmas usually stayed within the Amestrian borders, but her latest intelligence gathering had brought her to the capital city Tàiyáng. The once tiny village-like city surrounded by huge tracts of farmland had exploded into a large metropolitan center full of factories just like the major cities of Amestris. While surprising, it didn't faze Madame Christmas. She was used to the even larger, smoggy streets of Central.
The only difference was that she normally didn't bring her girls with her…
"Mommy! Look at the river! It's so pretty!" gasped Sylvia, her red hair bouncing under the the straw hat she wore while looking over the ship railing.
"Don't do that, Sylvia!" snapped Violet. "Jessie! Stop pulling my hair!"
"Sorry, Violet," giggled Jessie, letting go of the chocolate brown tresses. She began to stick things in Sylvia's hair instead.
"Mommy?" asked the youngest one, Madeline, quietly. The two-year old looked up at her with big blue eyes. "Can I get a parasol? That pink one over there is so pretty."
She really shouldn't have brought all four of them with her. Bringing Jessie and Violet would have been enough, but she didn't want to leave them with a babysitter. Madame Christmas wanted her family in plain sight at the moment. "Girls, come here," she said. All four of them gathered around looking up into her dark eyes expectantly. "We'll be getting off the boat soon. I want you all to remember that you are to call me 'mommy' while we're out here. It's very important."
"Yes, Mommy," they all chorused, giggling a bit at the name. They had always called her Madame, so the sudden change to a more affectionate term had given them a bit of a turn. They took to it eagerly, though. She supposed it felt nice to them to finally have someone to call Mommy.
The petite, curvy woman with long, wavy black hair had never been married. None of her 'daughters' were actually related to her. Madame Christmas had sort of acquired them over time. Jessica, the oldest, had been living on the streets for a few years before catching a fever. Madame had found the girl asleep on her doorstep thrashing around in some sort of feverish nightmare. Feeling it would be bad for business, she took the child in and nursed her back to health. She'd just never bothered to kick Jessie back out on the street.
Violet was the remnants of one of Madame's past jobs where she investigated a kidnapping gone wrong. The little brunette was to be held for ransom, but Mommy and Daddy came home too soon… That job had been a mess. Luckily, Madame Christmas had found the kidnapping ring responsible for it before anything could happen to Violet. Since the child had no living relatives, Madame had thought it might be nice for Jessie to have a playmate…
Sylvia was the daughter of one of her old coworkers. The woman had been ecstatic to learn she was expecting. However, the pregnancy had been too hard on her and she didn't make it after the child was born. Her family was not too welcoming of the fatherless child, so Madame took everything that belonged to her coworker (including some cash that rightfully belonged to Sylvia- she'd had to fight the family for it) and that was that.
Madeline was a recent addition to this messed up family. She probably didn't even remember being sold by some crooked orphanage into a slavery ring. Madame had busted that joint before the babe was sent to Xing. After several weeks of investigation she'd found no family for the child, so like with the other three Madeline became a constant sight during the early hours around her shop.
The five of them disembarked from the boat and made their way to the nearest restaurant. This took a considerable amount of time due to all the exotic wares being sold on the street and four very curious and excited little girls, so by the end Madame Christmas practically herded them inside the establishment. The host wrinkled his nose a bit at the sight of so many children, but after she talked to him for a few minutes she'd won him over. Pretty soon they were seated and eating dim sum.
As the girls nibbled on their dumplings, Madame Christmas handed their waiter a note. He left and came back moments later to lead her to the telephone. She dialed the number for Central Headquarters, a number that was becoming all too familiar in the past couple years. After a brief conversation with the operator, her call was directed to the office of a certain Major.
"This is Major Grumman speaking," stated an official sounding voice on the other line..
"Abram, darling, it has been too long!" she exclaimed in the sweetest voice she could muster.
"Ah, if it isn't my sweet little Penelope," sighed Major Grumman, his voice turning lighter and very amused. "To what do I owe this call? I thought you were going fishing."
"Oh, I'm at the lake right now," said Madame Christmas. "Haven't been able to find my catch yet."
"I've heard that it's bass season," replied Grumman. "Bass would surely take the bait."
Madame Christmas made a mental note of that. "Well, I think the bait will hop out of the bucket if I don't get a move on. Thanks for the advice, Abram."
"Penelope," said the Major before she could put the phone down. She noticed that his normal humor was gone. "Are you sure you want to do this alone? I could send you some worms or even a net."
"I'm afraid in this case I am very much like Ahab," she stated. "Moby-Dick is mine."
She soon found the bass Major Grumman had told her about on the phone- a butler named Wei Chao. He was a tall muscular man that served the most powerful merchant in Tàiyáng- Long Heng. Major Grumman had hired her to investigate the illegal sales of weapons to the Drachman Mafia in East City. The suspicion was that Long Heng's workers made the weapons for him to sell. However, all previous searches had yielded no proof of weapons, so now the specialist had been called in. The higher-ups, of course, did not know she was an informant or that she was even in Xing, which would be better in the end. She would get what she wanted and Major Grumman would probably be promoted for stopping the arms sales.
And what was is that she wanted? To put it simply: revenge. She had some personal issues at the moment with Long Heng and would like nothing better than to see him behind bars. If it took the Amestrian military putting him behind bars for something silly like illegal weapons sales, then so be it. Madame Christmas was not letting him get away with murdering her older brother and his family.
That had been one week, six hours, two minutes, and fifty-four seconds ago. Major Grumman had even come by the shop that day to tell her personally about her brother. Her brother went to Xing with his wife and their son to visit her ailing mother. From what she could gather, his wife's mother had not paid that month's rent to her landlord, Long Heng (the merchant was involved in many fronts of business). Long Heng, it seemed had not been amused, so late in the night the Xingese branch of the Drachman Mafia had broken into the little apartment and slaughtered all the inhabitants. Her brother and his wife had been found in the front room, his mother-in-law a week later in the gutter of a nearby alley, and they had yet to find the baby. The mafia had taken all responsibility, saying they had killed the family since her brother was an Amestrian police officer who had married a Xingese woman.
Madame Christmas knew that was a lie and, understandably, was pissed.
It was because of this that she had brought the whole family- she was having severe trust issues at the moment- and now she was lucky that her bass liked bait. Wei Chao was apparently very fond of children. Perhaps the man had children himself. It was too bad he'd be out of work soon.
She saw the man board a nearby ferry, so she ushered the girls toward that boat. "Hurry up, girls! We're going to miss the ferry!" she called. The girls began to pick up the pace, five pairs of legs clad in black stockings moving as fast as they could. Just as they were about to reach the ferry, Violet tripped and fell on the sidewalk.
Madame Christmas would have to say the next part was fate, for Wei Chao ran down the ramp to check on Violet. "Are you alright?" he asked in broken Amestrian.
Madame bent down to look at Violet. Her stockings and the purple fabric of her dress was slightly dirty, but nothing was broken. "I think she's fine," she replied. "Thank you for your concern."
Wei Chao looked up at her and Madame Christmas saw the usual look she received from men at her bar. "You're welcome," he said. He gave a low bow. "I am Wei Chao. Might I ask your name?"
"Penelope Schmidt," she replied, smiling and giving a slight curtsey.
"I don't believe I have seen you around the city before. Are you tourists?" inquired Wei Chao as they walked up the ramp onto the ferry.
"Yes, we're on a little family vacation," she stated. "It has been a very difficult year for the girls."
"Four daughters?" questioned the butler. He was of course amazed by this. "I suppose your husband really wanted a son."
"Yes, but he loved the girls dearly," sighed Madame Christmas, taking out a handkerchief to wipe her 'tears.' "It's unfortunate he will not see them grow up."
"I am very sorry," responded Wei Chao, looking at her sympathetically. "It is so hard for children to lose their father so young, as well as for their mother."
"Well, I have to keep my spirits up for the girls' sakes," she sniffed. Wei Chao put his hand on her shoulder. She had him now.
"Do you have plans for dinner yet?" asked the butler.
"Not yet," she replied truthfully.
"Well I would love to have you all over," stated Wei Chao.
"I don't know…"
"Could we, Mommy?" inquired Jessica.
"He's really nice," said Sylvia, rocking back and forth on her feet.
"Please!" exclaimed Madeline.
"Alright," consented Madame Christmas. The girls cheered, and Wei Chao gave a huge grin.
Long Heng's estate was truly one of the wonders of Tàiyáng. Despite being in the city, the house looked like it was in the middle of the countryside due to all the land surrounding it, not to mention the lush landscaping. If she were not here on business, Madame Christmas would not have minded a tour of the garden. The house itself was an architectural feat, standing five stories high with large windows and a steep shale roof adorned with statues of dragons.
Wei Chao lived in a hut nearby the large mansion. Although it seemed small the hut was very roomy inside. As soon as they arrived, the man set himself to work cooking dinner for six. Madame Christmas decided to help, setting Jessie and Violet to work watching Sylvia and Madeline. While she helped to chop garlic and green onions she chatted with Wei Chao about his family, his work, and various other unimportant topics- at least unimportant to most people.
Wei Chao had worked for Long Heng for the last nine years as his butler. Before that he had worked for the prestigious Han clan but left due to them having problems with his distant cousin working for the Yao clan. Mr. Heng was not home often, so that left him a lot of free time like today. He was not expecting his master back until the middle of the night.
"He has very odd habits," he commented. "Master Heng hired a chamber maid, but she's not allowed to clean his office!"
Madame Christmas chuckled at this comment. "How odd!" she agreed.
Funnily enough, said chamber maid came by moments later looking to borrow some rice. "I wasn't able to go to the market today," she sighed as Wei Chao filled a small sack in her very tan hands.
"That's fine," he replied. "Tell little Li that I say hello."
The maid nodded and then turned to look at her. "It was nice to meet you Mrs. Schmidt, you and your lovely family. It's not often that we have visitors to the estate."
"The pleasure is all mine," responded Madame Christmas.
She and Wei Chao resumed discussing Long Heng's odd habits. "He'll come home in the middle of the night with visitors," stated the butler. "Not the normal late night visitors either. I could understand it in that case. I don't understand why anyone would want to bring thugs home so late at night. Master Heng could be seriously hurt if he's not careful."
"Oh my," she gasped. "That does sound dangerous."
"Mommy," interrupted Jessie, "could we go play in the garden?"
"Yes you may," said Madame Christmas. "Don't forget to wash up before dinner though, and be careful!"
With the girls now safely out of earshot, it was the opportune moment to delve into some deeper topics. "I was a bit concerned coming here after hearing about the gangs," she admitted. "I read the article in the paper just the other day about the police officer and his family."
Wei Chao nodded sadly while washing kale in the sink. "It's truly a terrible occurrence. For gangs to target defenseless old women and young people like that- it's truly despicable!"
"I haven't met anyone unfriendly so far, though. Xing truly is a beautiful country."
"Yes, it is," agreed the butler. "I'm very proud of the progress we have made. I wish I could say that all the progress was managed with good intentions."
"That's a shame," sighed Madame Christmas. "Every country has those crooks, though. I remember a wealthy man who owned a steel plant in Central was arrested not a month ago for supplying weapons to a rebellion in Creta."
"I'm afraid I know worse," stated Wei Chao. "The staff does not like to talk about it, but we have seen the thugs leaving with crates in the middle of the night. Everyone knows what is inside."
Perfect, thought Madame Christmas. Now she had that murderer. Of course, the embassy police would have to wait a few days before raiding the place, but now she had dirt on where the weapons were kept and when they were delivered. "Even good men can be led astray by money," she said, smiling sympathetically at Wei Chao.
"Mr. Chao! Your garden is really nice!" called Sylvia. "Maddie wants you to know that she really likes the pink flowers!"
"Thank you, Sylvia!" replied the butler. "We shall have dinner ready in fifteen minutes. How about you girls come inside?"
Wei Chao showed them around the city for the next three days. On the fifth day of their visit, several members of the Drachman Mafia were caught during a rendezvous at Long Heng's mansion. The merchant and the thugs were arrested and extradited to Central. Fortunately, Wei Chao received a request from the Yao Clan to come work on their familial grounds. The butler was thrilled, but he was very sorry to be leaving them so soon. He gave his fondest farewell to both her and the girls before leaving for the western countryside of Xing.
"That was nice of you to negotiate a position for Mr. Chao in the Yao Clan, Mommy," said Jessie as they walked down the street of a crowded market place.
"It's only part of the business, Jessie," replied Madame Christmas. She was going to have to break them of this 'Mommy' habit soon, otherwise it would become permanent. That wouldn't be good for business at all. She didn't want the military officers that frequented her bar thinking she actually had four daughters. "He helped me, although unknowingly, with my investigation, so I might as well see that he is compensated."
"It still just sounds like you're being nice," muttered Violet.
"Violet," reprimanded Madame Christmas, "ladies don't mutter. Speak your thoughts loudly if you want to be heard. Whispering in another's ear is what you do when backstabbing someone."
"Yes, Madame," responded Violet. At least someone was back to normal.
"Madame! Madame! Can we get something from the market?" inquired Sylvia.
"Pretty please!" begged Jessie. "It's not like we travel to Xing every day. Plus, we didn't slip up on the job!"
"It's not like you girls did any work," she said. Four pairs of eager eyes looked up into her poker face. "However, you all did a good job for training. I suppose we can buy some sort of souvenir."
The girls cheered and ran off together to examine the goods in the market. Madame Christmas kept a wary eye on them, but didn't follow too closely. Although she was still bitter about the loss of her brother and his family, she felt safer knowing the culprit(s) were locked away. It would do her some good to watch the girls examining the market with bright, young, innocent eyes. At least there was some good still left in the world.
"Madame! Madame!" called Sylvia. She was standing by a woman sitting on a ragged towel. She wore a shawl draped over her head and wrapped around to cast her face in shadow. The woman held a basket in her lap between weathered hands that had seen too much of the sun. "Could we buy this?"
"I've told you before, Sylvia, people are not things," stated Madame Christmas in all seriousness.
"Not her!" laughed Sylvia. "The basket! She says it's special."
Madame looked at the basket. She really hoped it wasn't full of snakes or spiders or even worse kittens. Right now was not the time to bring a basket full of kittens home.
"What is it?" asked Madame Christmas. The other girls gathered around her.
"Only the greatest treasure of the East," replied the woman in a mystic voice. Madame Christmas could still tell that the woman was young despite the attempt at a rasp.
"Ooh! I like treasure!" exclaimed Jessie.
"Is it shiny?" questioned Madeline, hopping up in down in excitement.
"You'll only know if you buy it," stated the woman.
"Sounds like a scam," Violet whispered to her.
"Only six yen," continued the woman.
"That's a better deal than the parasol Maddie wanted!" squealed Sylvia.
"I thought it was the 'greatest treasure,'" said Violet.
"Greatest treasure doesn't necessarily mean expensive," responded the woman sagely. "Will you buy it?"
"Can we? Can we? Can we?" shrieked Jessie, Sylvia and Madeline.
This was really more trouble than it was worth. "It's not poisonous, is it?" inquired Madam Christmas, rubbing her temples to ward off her coming headache.
"Not at all," stated the woman. "It's softer than a rabbit's fur, gentler than a falling leaf, and full of more love than gold can buy."
Jessie, Sylvia, and Madeline opened their mouths to shriek again, but before they could, Madame relented. "Alright," she sighed. "No need to blast my eardrums out."
The girls cheered. Even Violet seemed a bit happier as Madame handed over six yen. She took the basket in her hands and marched off up the street, the girls following her.
After several more purchases (Maddie just had to buy the pink parasol) Sylvia finally asked to look inside the basket. "It's our treasure," she explained, "and I found it. So we should look first."
"Fine," replied Madame Christmas. She put the basket down on a bench. "Take a look if you'd like. Don't cry to me if it's garbage or a stuffed panda."
Sylvia ripped the lid off and the girls looked inside the basket.
"Madame," said Jessie, "I thought you said we weren't allowed to buy people."
Madame Christmas walked over to examine the basket herself. Sure enough, inside was a baby. She made a note not to buy things without looking ever again. The baby opened its eyes to fix her in a piercing dark gaze.
"I think we must have a word with that woman," stated Madame Christmas. She stuck the lid back on top and walked back down the street to the corner where the woman had sat. The towel was still there, but the woman was gone. Just great. Fortunately, she recognized the hands from a couple days before from a certain chamber maid. Before she could beckon the girls, Jessie handed her a note.
"She left this under the mat," said the girl. "She even left you your money."
"Hooray! Free treasure!" exclaimed Madeline, blonde curls dancing around her head.
Madame read the note to herself. Please keep him. She somehow formed the impression that the maid was attempting to frame her for kidnapping. "Girls, we're going to the embassy," announced Madame Christmas.
If she found the situation odd, the staff of the embassy thought it was even weirder. "We understand, Ms. Mustang, that you were not involved," clarified a staff member. "But you said the child came from where?"
"In a basket on the corner of the market square. Six yen," she replied curtly. It was the about the tenth time she was telling this story. The girls sat behind her playing peek-a-boo with the baby.
"We've contacted local police," stated a young woman at the door. "They're looking through their missing person files right now."
"Ms. Mustang?" asked a young man from another door. "There's someone on the phone for you. Says he is your fishing buddy."
Madame Christmas stood up immediately. "Do you mind if I take that call?" she inquired. "I'm sure he just wants to check in."
"Go right ahead," said the first staffer.
She went into the phone room and whispered, "What is it, Abram?"
"I just wanted to congratulate you on a job well done," said the Major. "Of course, you're sounding a bit stressed, my dear. Whatever has happened?"
"My girls have picked up a missing child," she explained.
"Ah, so that's why you're at the embassy. I'll admit I was curious!" exclaimed Grumman. "How old?"
"A baby," she replied.
"The old baby in a basket trick," sighed Grumman.
"Since when was that a trick?" asked Madame Christmas, very annoyed by now.
"Boy or a girl?" questioned the Major.
"Boy," she responded. "I don't have time for questionnaires, Abram. They're expecting me back."
"Ever thought it might be your nephew?" inquired Grumman. "It seems that someone went through a whole lot of trouble to get the child to you."
She felt her insides freeze. "The gang said they killed him," she stated.
"But we never found proof that they did," countered the Major. "What does he look like?"
"The baby is pale and has black hair and eyes," she reported.
"Does he look Xingese?" asked Grumman.
"Yes," she replied, "but not completely."
"What did your nephew look like?" questioned Grumman.
"I've never seen the child before," answered Madam Christmas. "He's only three months old."
"And the baby?"
"They guess between two and three months."
"Sounds like we need to get specific then," said Grumman. "Any distinctive birth marks?"
She thought about how her brother had described her nephew on the phone. "Roy has a mole on his left foot. It's on the joint of his pinkie toe."
"Roy… sounds like a good name. I suggest you check his foot then, dear. Let me know how things go!" replied Grumman. "I'm looking forward to our next fishing trip." With that he hung up.
Madame tried very hard not to get her hopes up as she returned to the room. "We don't have many reports of missing children today so far," said the woman staff member. "There's plenty from the last week, though."
"Do you mind if I check his feet?" she asked. The staff members looked confused. "It's in case he has any birth marks."
"Of course, Mrs. Schmidt," responded one of the staff members. "Let us know what you find."
She knelt down by the girls and shooed them. The baby wriggled as she unbuttoned his onesie to look at his feet. The right foot was plain pale skin, but the left foot…
A tiny round mole sat on the joint connecting to the pinkie toe. "There's a mole on the joint of his left pinkie toe," she told the staff members. She smiled down at the baby. He began to play with his newly freed feet.
"I didn't think you could buy a little brother," stated Violet while holding onto her luggage. It was two days later and all six members of her messed up little family were boarding a boat bound for Amestris. "Susan is always telling me how she has wanted a little brother. I'll just tell her to go to Xing."
"This is a special circumstance, Violet," chided Madame Christmas. "You can't really buy a little brother."
"But we bought Roy-Boy," argued Sylvia.
"The lady gave the money back, though," countered Jessie. "She pretty much just gave him to us."
Madeline was humming and dancing around the little group. She had been ecstatic upon hearing that Roy was coming to live with them. "I'm going to be the best big sister in the entire world!" exclaimed Madeline, throwing her arms open wide.
"No, I am! I have more practice!" shouted Sylvia.
"You two are too young to even take care of him," huffed Violet. "I'm obviously going to be the best."
"But I have the most practice," said Jessica. "He'll look up to me because I'm the biggest sister. Roy will even like me the best."
"That's no fair!"
"I'm way better than you are!"
"I bet he'll say my name first!"
"How would he be able to say Sylvia before Jessie?"
"I'm nicer and sweeter and kinder!"
"I'm smarter though!"
"Madame, Violet is calling me stupid!"
Madame Christmas decided to tune out the girl's argument and instead focused on carrying her luggage and her nephew at the same time. Roy was currently sleeping in his newly bought carrier. "I hope you don't argue like these girls do, Roy-Boy," she whispered conspiratorially. "With the way they act, I'm going to have my work cut out for me teaching you to be a gentleman."
And that is that! Please review!