I want to thank everyone for taking the time to review!

At this point, I think it's best to explain the timeline a little. Like in the cannon, Ed and Al took one year of recovering before Ed became a State Alchemist. After that, about three more years passed before the episodes actually started. That's four years in total, give or take a few months. Naruto has spent a total of three years and five months in Amestris so far, meaning that his six month stint in Xing will bring it to a total of three years and eleven months.

If you're curious to see how everything falls into place, I have made a detailed timeline on my profile page. It's complete, but I didn't put it all up at once in order to avoid spoiling future events. It'll be updated periodically in correspondence to the chapters.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

Chapter 4: Crossing Paths

Naruto climbed out of the train, groaning as he rubbed his sore backside. 'Man, it felt like I was sitting on a rock!' He inwardly gripped, moaning over the fact that he'd only been on the train for a couple of hours. He still had another day and a half before he reached Central. Unfortunately, the next train wouldn't be leaving for a few hours still. Deciding he didn't want to wait at the station, Naruto instantly forgot his soreness as his eyes landed on Rush Valley and its' active atmosphere.

"Sugoi!" The twelve year old cheered aloud as his bright eyes roamed over the tall buildings and crowded streets, feeling a heavy sense of nostalgia wash over him. Naruto inhaled deeply and let out a soft sigh while closing his eyes. For a second, he could almost imagine he was back in Konoha.

Dublith wasn't a small city by any means. When compared to the other towns in Amestris, it stood somewhere in the middle ground population and size-wise. Naturally it had been a very different environment compared to Konoha and it had taken Naruto some time to get used to it. Here, with the bustle of people, he felt more in his element, more comfortable. Still, even Rush Valley's populace couldn't match the sheer vastness that Konoha had been.

"It wouldn't hurt anything if I take in the sights for a bit before heading out." He excitedly wandered through the maze of people with ease, occasionally stopping at different vendors to see all kinds of goods being sold. His money pouch, aptly named Kuro-chan for its dog-like shape and coloring, had been a birthday present from Ookii-san and it suddenly felt very heavy in his backpack. Pulling out the Kuro-chan, Naruto couldn't help but grin a little in pride. He wasn't one to brag, but Kuro-chan was a rather fat wallet. His savings from over the years had accumulated to a rather decent amount of funds, enough for him to live off of for the next few months if he spent it wisely.

"Automail, get your band new Automail! I've got screws and double balled wrist joints going for half price!" One man shouted to a small crowd of costumers and Naruto's gaze landed on some of the metal limbs he spotted in the crowd.

He'd seen Automail once before, but that had been a few years ago and Baa-chan had promptly smacked him upside the head for staring. He couldn't help it though. Back in Konoha, losing a limb was permanent. A ninja's career would be finished with that kind of injury. How would they perform hand signs without an arm? Or fight without a leg? And truthfully Naruto found himself intrigued by Automail as it was something the Gate hadn't taught him. He wondered if he could learn the mechanics behind creating the metal limbs, then he might be able to apply it once he returned to Konoha.

'Assuming I figure out how to get back that is.' Naruto was taken aback by that backhanded thought as he realized it didn't fill him with as much despair as it should. Did he even want to go back? He quickly shook his head, as if physically trying to get rid of his silent questions from his mind entirely. Of course he wanted to go back, Konoha was his home and Jiji was waiting for him. 'But he's about the only one, isn't he?' He seriously doubted that anyone else, besides maybe Ayame-nee-chan and Teuchi-ojii-san, had missed him.

His hand unconsciously touched the sash tied around his head, making him smile a little as he thought about Oyabun, Baa-chan, and the others. Even if he couldn't get back, Naruto silently decided that being stuck in this world definitely wasn't the worst thing that could happen.

Naruto moved over to the closest stall and found a few books for beginners covering Automail. Skimming through some pages, he found that he could follow some of the information, but there were plenty of terms he'd never heard of before. He haggled with the merchant for a bit, Oyabun always said to never pay full price for anything, and bought the three introduction books that had caught his eye. As he moved to put everything into his pack, someone suddenly bumped into him lightly.

"Oops, sorry about that." A girl with tanned skin and dark brown hair apologized before quickly rejoining the crowd. Naruto brushed it off and returned to his packing only to find that Kuro-chan was missing. His head shot back up and his sights landed on the girl who winked and tossed Kuro-chan up into the air once before taking off down the street.

"Hey, stop that girl! She stole my money!" He shouted while pointing at the pickpocket, but no one made any move to stop here. With a growl, he grabbed his things and chased after her, using a burst chakra to jump up onto a nearby roof and scaring quite a few people in the process. "Get back here you thief!" She looked up at him in surprise before smirking as she dove into a nearby alleyway.

Naruto jumped down into the mouth of the alley and transmuted a wall at the other end of the alleyway to stop her advancement. She paused only for a second before moving up the sides of the buildings, jumping off of the opposing surfaces to reach the roofs. Another quick transmutation and the overhead space was blocked off as well. She dropped back to the ground in a crouched position, eyeing the only exit behind him warily.

"Give back my money and I won't have to cut up your pretty face." He said while taking up a ready stance and making a show of reaching for the hilt of his sword. Koinu-sensei had taught him that intimidation was one of the best tactics to use when trying to avoid a fight. Truthfully, he didn't like fighting women, but Naruto wasn't as opposed to the concept as Oyabun considering he trained with Baa-chan and Nee-chan on a daily basis.

"Oh please, as if a little kid like you could keep up with me? How old are you, ten?" She asked with a smirk while switching Kuro-chan from hand to hand. "You should just run home little boy."

"I'm twelve!" He shouted back and she blinked in surprise. What the hell was wrong with these people? He was still growing dammit!

"Seriously, but you're so short?" She taunted and Naruto gritted his teeth before clapping his hands and slamming them onto the ground. The stones of the opposing buildings shot outwards, wrapping themselves around the thief's waist before she could dodge. She struggled fruitlessly as he approached her, grinning triumphantly as he took back Kuro-chan from her free hand. "Let me go you little punk!" Ignoring her completely, Naruto carefully counted out his money to make sure she hadn't snuck out any bills just in case she'd been caught. Satisfied that everything was there, he stepped back and gave the girl a sharp glance.

"Why did you steal my money?" He asked seriously while looking up into her pinched face. He'd made sure the transmuted stones hold wasn't too tight, but she wouldn't be getting out of there anytime soon without anyone's help. She glared at him for a long moment before stubbornly turning her head to the side as much as her position would allow. "Alright, what's your name then?"

"Like I'm gonna tell you, shrimp!" She yelled angrily and Naruto, irritated, was half-tempted to just flip her off and walk away, that's what Oyabun would have done at least. Well no, now that he actually thought about it, he was pretty sure the Homunculus would have flirted with her instead.

Looking at the girl's frustrated face, Naruto sighed after a minute and transmuted the alleyway back to normal, leaving her held in place as he created a makeshift chair to sit on. He studied her appearance more closely seeing that she wasn't dangerously thin, so she hadn't robbed him to pay for food. He could remember the few times he'd tried his hand at thievery when he'd been desperate. He'd never managed to get away with it either.

"Well my name's Naruto Uzumaki." He said confidently while subconsciously touching his headband again. Despite the past few years, he still wasn't very sure how to act around someone around his own age. He'd never really spent much time with the other kids in Dublith, preferring to train or hang out at the Devil's Nest instead. She gave him a harsh look and Naruto held her stare, feeling as if she were silently measuring him. Just as he was beginning to feel restless, the girl huffed and sagged slightly in her restraints.

"Paninya." He tilted his head confusion and she rolled her black eyes in exasperation. "My name is Paninya."

"How old are you, Paninya-chan?" He guessed she was a few years old than him at the most. As he looked her over again, his gaze rested a little longer on her chest than was strictly necessary. Naruto quickly looked away to cover a blush and mentally cursed Oyabun for being such a pervert. "Sixteen?"

"I'm fourteen." She growled, sounding angry, and he worried that she might've caught him eyeing her… assets. "You've got your stupid wallet back. Can you let me go now?"

"Not until you tell me why you tried to steal from me Paninya-chan." His genial mood dropped suddenly and he glared at her. "Nobody steals from me." Oyabun couldn't stand having his things taken from him and Naruto had unfortunately picked up that personality quirk. Seeing that his dark tone had made Paninya-chan nervous, he shook his head and gave her a sharp smile that he'd also learned from Oyabun. "Then again, maybe I like seeing you tied up like this." Naruto had seen the Homunculus pull this trick plenty of times when one of the ladies at the bar got mad at him. A blush bloomed across Paninya-chan's face.

"I-Idiot!" She shouted in embarrassment and Naruto sniggered behind his hand. The insult didn't even register in his mind. He'd heard and said far more creative things over the past few years. "I was trying to pay someone back, okay?" Paninya-chan continued and he sobered instantly at her serious tone before motioning for her to go on. She sighed but eventually told him about Dominic, an old Automail mechanic who'd taken her in after her parents had died in a train accident. He'd given her new legs, a home, and the chance at actually having a future. She simply wanted to pay him back for all that he'd done for her.

Naruto let her go soon after that, telling her to be more careful about whom she stole from next time, before continuing his exploration of Rush Valley. When she'd asked why he'd let her go, Naruto had found himself thinking about Jiji. He had never given the Hokage anything but grief as he'd gotten older, always acting out to get attention. He wished that he'd been wise enough at the time to realize how his antics had just made things harder on the old man.

"He's lucky you know." He'd said to Paninya-chan before parting ways. "Dominic is lucky to have someone who cares as much as you do." Sadly, the blond found that he couldn't say the same about himself. How Jiji had managed to put up with him for as long as he had was a mystery to Naruto, but he was determined to make it up to the Hokage once he got back home.

It also made him wonder if Baa-chan and Oyabun knew just how much he appreciated them. Sure he helped with the deliveries for the shop, but did that really show how grateful he was to Baa-chan for taking him into her home and making him her student? What about the others? Did Koinu-sensei realize just how much he had grown to love Kenjutsu? Did Martel-nee-chan know how much he appreciated his lessons in using daggers or the how glad he felt towards Yama-san for the comfort that the man had always provided?

"Yeah, I heard it from a pal of mine in Youswell. The Fullmetal Alchemist saved the whole town from some corrupt soldier. He even gave them the property deed so now the military won't be able to tax their lands." Naruto paused next to the two men as soon as he heard the words Fullmetal and Youswell. "I guess it's true what they say, he really is a hero of the people."

"Man, that Fullmetal is something else. I tell ya, the Elric brothers are the best thing to ever happen to the military." The other man agreed before the two disappeared into a nearby shop, leaving Naruto to think over what he'd just heard.

He knew who the Elric brothers were of course. They were his sibling disciples and Izumi-sensei's fist students. He'd never gotten the chance to meet them, but Baa-chan often said that he and the elder brother, Edward, were a lot alike. It made him excited to meet them, even if Ed had become a Dog of the Military. Naruto could still remember how pissed Baa-chan had been when she'd found that out. She'd turned to him right then and there, promising that if he ever joined the military she would feed him his own spine. He'd assured Baa-chan that he understood and promised to never become a State Alchemist.

Besides, after hearing about how everyone at the Devil's Nest had become chimeras, he knew better than most just how corrupt the military was.

After stopping at a restaurant, Naruto spent the rest of his time window shopping before he boarded the train again. Fortunately this time he was taking the express line that headed all the way to Central so he wouldn't have to switch trains again. The new train's seats were just as uncomfortable as the last, but Naruto was able to distract himself by reading his new Automail books. A day and a half later, he finally arrived in Central City in a sour mood. His temper only worsened when he'd found out, that because of how late it was, the next train for Youswell wouldn't depart until the next morning. Muttering to himself about finding a hotel, he started to trudged his way out of the station.

"Hey, somebody stop that guy!" A voice shouted and Naruto turned to see a masked man running in his direction, clutching a purse with one hand and a gun in the other.

"Looks like my day just got a whole better." Naruto said with a grin as stepped into the man's path. The masked man stopped just short of running into him, before aiming the gun in his direction. Naruto wrinkled his nose at the weapon. After a bad experience when he'd been nine, he found that he didn't like guns.

"Off to bed with you, like a good little boy now." The man threatened while waving the gun around a little. Unimpressed Naruto clapped his hands and slammed them onto the ground, transmuting a cage around the man. One of the rising bars hit his hand, causing him to drop the gun, which clattered to the ground and landed by Naruto's feet. "What the hell?!"

"I think you're the one who crawled out of the crib too early." He mocked as he picked up the weapon, laughing a little as the masked man crumpled to his knees in disbelief.

"Hey!" The voice from early called again and Naruto turned to see a man dressed in blue, the standard uniform issued by the military, running towards them. The soldier was of average height and build with short spikey black hair that was mostly brushed back except for one long bang. "Nicely done." The soldier said once he reached them, panting slightly. Upon closer inspection, Naruto saw that the man had an angular face with a trim beard, glasses, and hazel eyes. "Oh wait, you're just a kid." The soldier continued while blinking down at him in surprise.

"Oi! I'm not just a kid, I'm Naruto Uzumaki." He shot back in an annoyed tone. Megane-san studied him for a second before smiling happily.

"Well Naruto, it's nice to meet ya! I'm Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes." The man started as he patted Naruto on the back vigorously, almost causing the tired and irritated boy to fall over. "And thanks for catching this guy! Heh, I'm afraid I'm not as young as I used to be. Roy would have never let me live it down if I lost a simple purse-snatcher!" Megane-san suddenly frowned. "Speaking of, what's a boy your age doing out at this time of the night? Where are your parents?"

"Eh?" He replied dumbly, thrown off by Megane-san's fast talking for a second before muttering an answer. "Um, I just arrived here from Rush Valley and I, uh, don't have any parents."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Megane-san apologized sincerely before placing a hand on his chin in thought. "Rush Valley, huh? That's a pretty big distance to travel on your own. You must be one tough kid, Naruto! Well I mean, clearly you are, what with taking down a criminal all on your own. Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?" Slowly, feeling a little unsure about what was going on, Naruto shook his head. "Well then…" Megane-san's face suddenly darkened as his hand disappeared into the top of his uniform, quickly withdrawing whatever he'd been reaching for. Naruto stepped back in surprise as a picture of a woman and little girl was shoved in front of his face. "You have to come stay at my house then! My wife Gracia and daughter Elicia would love to have you!" Footsteps pounded from nearby and the confused boy turned to see two more breathless soldiers join the scene. "Oh great, there you guys are! You know, you really should exercise more if having to keep up with a common crook is too much for you to handle." Megane-san chided them with a disapproving frown.

"But you were just as–" Naruto started to say before Megane-san threw his arms up in the air, cutting him off in a frantic manner.

"Ah! Allow me to make the introductions. Second Lieutenant Maria Ross, Sergeant Denny Brosh, this is Naruto Uzumaki." He nodded in greetings to the two panting soldiers and they returned the gesture. The woman had black hair, black eyes, and a mole under left eye while the man had dark blond hair and blue eyes. "He caught the crook while you two lagged behind, huffing and puffing." The two soldiers, clearly embarrassed, saluted and apologized while promising profusely that they would work harder. "Now Naruto, could you let the perpetrator go so that he can be properly arrested?" Clapping his hands and undoing the transmutation, Naruto was startled slightly at the reactions he got.

"Huh, he can transmute without a circle?! I thought only the Fullmetal Alchemist could do that?" Bosh stammered as he stared at the child in shock.

"Such skill! How can a boy his age have already accomplished so much?" Ross added just as incredulously while she handcuffed the culprit.

"Eh, my sensei can do it too. She taught the Fullmetal Alchemist before me." Naruto explained while rubbing the back of his head and smiling sheepishly. The two soldiers looked amazed.

Hidden behind his glasses, Hughes' keen eyes studied Naruto intently.

"I guess genius teachers make fore genius students." Ross whispered to Brosh, who nodded in agreement. She turned and smiled at Naruto before bowing her head in gratitude. "Thank you for your assistance." She then looked to Lt. Colonel Hughes. "Sir." Hughes saluted them in dismissal and the two soldiers marched away with the depressed looking criminal in tow. Naruto, who'd watched them leave, was startled suddenly as Hughes clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"Well Naruto, let's get going." Hughes said as he basically dragged the boy out of the station and onto the streets. "Boy are you in luck, I just remembered Gracia baked an apple pie this morning! She makes the best ones in all of Central! I'm not sure what we're having for dinner, usually Gracia likes to surprise me, but I hope it's her famous quiche. I've been craving that for a while now!"

In what passed as a blur that was filled with Megane-san's chatter, Naruto soon found himself staring at the Hughes family, the man smiling proudly next to his wife while hugging his daughter.

"Naruto, this is my beautiful wife, Gracia and my little princess, Elicia." Megane-san cooed happily and Naruto sweat-dropped a little at the man's antics.

"Hello, it's nice to meet you." He mumbled politely while bowing in greeting.

"It's nice to meet you too, Naruto." Gracia-san said while smiling warmly at him.

"Na-ru-to?" Elicia-chan said, struggling to pronounce his name. "Your name's funny." The toddler continued while pointing at him, making her parents chuckle as she pouted.

"Sorry Elicia-chan, you can call me whatever you want." Naruto replied with a big grin and she studied him for a second before nodding. He was surprised when she reached up and suddenly began tugging on his hand.

"Big brother, play with me." Feeling his heart instantly melt, he looked up at Megane-san with shining eyes. They shared an understanding nod before turning back to the little girl.

"She's so cute!" They chorused at the same time and Gracia-san laughed as they gave each other a thumbs up.

The night he'd spent with the Hughes's was one that he would never forget. Watching the family's interaction had been like catching a glimpse of what his life might've been like if he'd had parents. Megane-san was an extremely doting father and caring husband. When he wasn't making Elicia-chan laugh, he was sharing loving glances with Gracia-san. Naruto could only hope that his own Tousan had been just as devoted and playful.

He ended up laughing and choking on his slice of apple pie when he'd tried to imagine Oyabun acting the same way.

Gracia-san was everything that Nee-chan and Baa-chan weren't. Where they were direct and firm, and sometimes more than a little violent, she was serene and gentle. She wasn't a fighter, but there was a fierce protectiveness in her that was apparent as she kept an eye on Elicia-chan while they ate. Would his Kaasan have been like that, all graceful and kind? Or more like Baa-chan, full of tough love and with a bit of a temper?

Sadly the night couldn't last forever. Naruto left early the next morning, saying goodbye to the Hughes's and promising to visit again before leaving for the station. The train wasn't a direct line to Youswell, so he had to stop at New Optain after two days and then it was another three before he finally reached the town closest to the Eastern Desert.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

Naruto eagerly dashed off the train, glad he wouldn't have to sit through such a long trip until he got back from Xing. Youswell wasn't the cleanest or richest looking town. Compared to New Optain, which was a city that prided itself on its' stunning architecture, Youswell looked more like a rundown slum than a town. Still, the air was fresher than Central and the bits of grime and worn buildings reminded him of the downtown part of Dublith where the Devil's Nest was located. Closing his eyes, Naruto inhaled deeply, savoring his freedom from those evil trains, and was promptly hit upside the head with a shovel.

"Itai!" He shouted in pain as he crouched down and rubbed the back of his aching head.

"Oops, sorry about that." A young voice said and he looked up to see a boy about his size smiling apologetically. The kid had short, light brown hair and green eyes with a bandage on his lower left cheek. "I didn't see ya there. Hey, wait a sec, are you a tourist? Have ya eatin'? Where ya stayin'?" The boy asked quickly, a slight accent taking over his tone as he grew more excited with each question.

"Well, nowhere yet." Naruto answered as he looked over at the horizon. The sun was already beginning to set, making him sigh in disappointment. 'Looks like I'll have to leave tomorrow.'

"Pop, we got a visitor!" The boy yelled while looking up at a nearby platform. A muscular man leaned over the edge, carrying long pipe on his shoulder and wearing a hard hat.

"What are you goin' on about?"

"Over here, a piggy-bank!" The boy responded and Naruto felt his left eye twitch at the demeaning term. The man pulled off his hat, revealing hair that was the same color as the boy's, his goatee twisting up a little as he smiled down at them.

"Well hey there, my name's Halling. I run the local Inn and we'll take good care of ya." And for the second time in five days, Naruto was dragged off by a stranger to the only Inn in Youswell. "I know it's not much, but that'll change soon enough now that we don't have to answer to that rat, Yoki." Halling stated as the three of them stepped into the Inn. Naruto felt as if Halling was giving his Inn too little credit. True it wasn't a large place, or filled with lavish furnishings, but there was a certain hominess to the place that made him feel welcomed.

Groups of men surrounded the tables; the large room was overcrowded and booming with laughter. Almost every calloused hand held a mug of beer, making it feel like more of a bar than an Inn. Naruto spotted an area designated for smoking and in the far left corner a game of cards was being played. It was cleaner than the Devil's Nest and the people certainly looked a lot friendlier, but there was no dismissing the similarities between the two places.

While staying with the Hughes's had been nice, Naruto couldn't deny that he'd felt a little unsure of himself. The quaintness of their home and normal relations had been a very different dynamic from what he'd experienced with Baa-chan or Oyabun. The cheering drunken men that made up Halling's Inn was definitely something he was much more familiar with.

"Come here and pull up a chair, I'll tell ma to bring out a home cooked meal for ya." Halling said as he led Naruto to one of the less crowded tables.

"How much are your rates?" He asked and the man smirked in response, looking as if he just remembered something funny.

"10,000 cenz, of course that includes the meal. We used to charge one hundred thousand for a room." Naruto must have made a face because Halling burst into laughter. "Yeah, I know, I know, but we were desperate back then. Visitors don't come much to Youswell ya see, so we had to milk those that did spend the night for all they were worth."

"So why the change in pricing? Did you get more visitors recently?" A tray of food was set down in front of Naruto by Halling's son, who'd earlier introduced himself as Khayal. 10,000 cenz wasn't exactly cheap for a room and a meal, but it was fair price, all things considering. The fact that this Inn was the only one in Youswell didn't really leave him with a lot of options.

"Something like that. I guess ya could really say that we had our eyes opened. A State Alchemist came through these parts a few years ago and saved the town. He gave us back our land and our lives." Halling answered as he looked over the room fondly. "We owe Ed a lot."

"You mean Edward Elric, right?" Naruto asked as he started to eat, recalling the conversation he'd overheard in Rush Valley. His meal consisted of a small loaf of bread, a glass of water, and a bowl of hot stew. "Mm, this is good!"

"I'll tell the wife ya think so." The man chuckled. "Yeah, Ed was the one who got us the deed to the town."

"You sound like ya know him." Khayal added and he nodded.

"Sort of, we have the same teacher. I haven't gotten to meet him for myself yet, but I'm sure we'll run into each other soon enough."

"What are ya doing out here in Youswell anyways, kid?" A random miner asked.

"I'm going to cross the desert to visit Xing." He answered cheerfully and chaos broke out.

"What!? All by yourself?"

"The desert's a dangerous place, kid!"

"Do ya have enough provisions?"

"What do ya want to go to Xing for?"

Several more voices joined the ruckus and Halling whistled sharply to get the room under control.

"All right everyone, just calm down." Naruto had no idea just how many people had been listening to their conversation, but it seemed like the whole bar had been paying attention. The Devil's Nest was the exact opposite in those regards. There had always seemed to be an invisible line that had separated the bar's customers and the Oyabun's gang. If they had overheard something, the patrons were usually smart enough to keep their mouths shut and pretend they didn't hear anything in the first place. "Dale is right kid, the desert is dangerous."

"It's okay Halling, I've got everything I need in my backpack." Naruto started as he patted the orange bag resting at his feet. "Besides I'm an Alchemist. I can take care of myself." He grew serious as he looked up into the man's eyes, staring hard as Halling gave him an assessing look. The man nodded after a minute.

"Fine, but if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask Naruto." The evening continued from their in a more jovial manner and Naruto spent a few hours getting to know the people of Youswell before retiring for the night. The next day he left early with half of the town there to send him off and wish him a safe journey. He decided he really liked Youswell. And that had nothing to do with the fact that Halling's had given him an extra loaf of bread free of charge.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

The days seemed to blend endlessly. The insufferable heat of the sun eventually gave way to near freezing temperatures at night. The orange cloak that Bido had given him turned out to be a life saver against the desert's harshness. The first day in he'd been forced to stuff his vest into his backpack, the fur and black leather made him unbelievably sweaty. Whenever he was fortunate enough to run into an animal, snakes and lizards mostly, he ate them instead, preferring to save his rations for later. At one point, he had gotten lost in a sandstorm and completely thrown off course. As luck would have it though, he stumbled onto some ruins a day later.

Oyabun always did say he had the devil's luck.

Naruto tugged his hood more securely over his head and moved to get a closer look at the relics that must've once been an impressive city. The sand ridden marbled pillars and broken statues were corroded until they were almost unrecognizable to what they'd once been. He paused in his exploration as he spotted the oddest mural on a partially demolished wall. It looked like an animal of some sort in the center of a pentagram that reminded him of a transmutation circle. Moving in to get a closer look, Naruto was snapped out of his reverie as something clattered off in the distance. He headed in the direction of the noise, eyes widening moments later as he spotted a well that was filled to the rim with water.

"Water, water, water, water!" He chanted happily as he rushed towards the well, but was suddenly forced to stop as he saw something flying towards his face. He sidestepped it easily. The slow moving projectile had nothing on his dodging lessons with Nee-chan and turned to see a group of people standing not too far away from him on an overhanging ridge.

They wore tattered clothes and had white hair with dark skin. Numerous red eyes glowered down at him and a person from the small mob threw something at Naruto. He caught it, seeing as it was only a rock, and glared back at the people, the scene bitterly reminding him of Konoha. This reaction was what he was more accustomed to, hateful eyes that blamed for horrible things that he could only imagine.

"Return to where you came from Amestrian!" A man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, ordered as he raised a thick stick overhead in a threatening manner.

"I'll leave as soon as I get some water, Ishvalan." The leader growled and the others whispered amongst themselves, visibly worried that their race had been identified so easily. Naruto bowed to them respectfully, the knowledge of Ishvalan customs rising up to the front of his mind. "I promise to take only what I need." Predictably they watched him closely as he set his backpack down and brought out one of his canteens to take some water. He drank his fill before filling up his other three canteens Baa-chan had made him pack.

The uneasy atmosphere was broken as a crashing noise rang out from somewhere deeper in the ruins. The Ishvalans nervously shifted about, clearly not wanting to leave him unattended despite the urge to investigate. Then a voice, a little girl's from the sound of it, started shouting for help and Naruto took the decision out of their hands. He ran towards where he could still hear the girl, ignoring the people chasing after him and their demands that he stop.

Naruto found the girl crying in a cloud of sand, coughing harshly as she tugged helplessly at a large broken stone pillar. She couldn't have been any older than seven. She looked up at him, squinting through the kicked up debris, and rushed forwards, tugging on his arms wildly as she pulled him back towards the rubble.

"My big brother, he's trapped under the rocks! Please, you have to get him out!" Before they could reach the pile of rocks the group of Ishvalans arrived, their makeshift weapons pointed in Naruto's direction. At realizing the situation though, the group unanimously decided to ignore him for the moment. An older woman broke away from the crowd to tend to the sobbing girl, while some of the men rushed over to the fallen ruins.

"Abel, are you all right?" The leader shouted to the trapped boy. Everyone was silent as they waited for a reply.

"Y-yes." A muffled voice replied from underneath the rubble. "But I can't b-breath, uncle." The men moved quickly, removing what broken stones they could and not making much progress. Naruto moved to help them, but the old lady with the little girl still in her arms, grabbed his shoulder, stopping him.

"You should leave now while you have the chance young one." She muttered lowly while running her hand through the girl's hair in order to calm her down. "There is no need for an Amestrian to get involved in Ishvalan matters." He frowned at her.

"It's one of Ishvala's teachings that those in need should be helped, no matter the discrepancies." He recited in a hard tone. Ignoring the woman's shocked face; he moved past the glowering group of Ishvalans. The few who weren't helping swiftly moved away from Naruto. It brought a hollow pang to his chest that reminded him of darker days. Outwardly unmoved by their actions, he crouched to his knees and performed some simple Alchemy, transmuting the fallen stones into a small hut. The leader ran inside and came out seconds later with a boy a little older than the girl nestled in his arms.

The moment of relief lasted only a few seconds before the Ishvalans turned on him, weapons once again raised, and Naruto was prepared to flee should they attack. However, the old lady from stepped in front of the group, halting their advance as the little girl rushed over to hug his legs.

"Thank you mister, thank you so much for saving Abel!" The little girl sobbed gratefully before rushing over to her brother, hugging him with all she had. The leader stared at him for a moment before nodding his head in thanks. Naruto smiled a little, bowing lowly with his hands fisted together, as was the custom in saying goodbye among Ishvalans, and returned to where he'd left his backpack.

He briefly checked over his supplies to make sure a straggler hadn't stolen anything, before hiking his bag onto his back. Just as Naruto made to leave the ruins, which he later learned to be the remains of Xerxes, the city supposedly lost in one night, the old lady arrived, a little out of breath and offering a place for him to rest for the night. Hesitantly, he took her offer and followed the old lady, who introduced herself as Raluca, led the way. Her home turned out to be little more than a tarp thrown over some rocks and Naruto, as thanks for her generosity, gathered some materials and transmuted a real house for her.

In the end, he winded up staying with the Ishvalans for a week, fixing their homes and providing them with better supplies, such as tools and bandages. He'd even made an irrigation system that pulled up water from the ground to help them grow food. He repaired clothes, made scrolls to write on and created weapons for them to hunt with.

In that time, while most had still been unsure of his intentions, the refugees eventually welcomed him by the end of the week. Naruto had earned their trust with his actions and their acceptance with his extensive knowledge of their culture. When they asked him how he knew such things, he omitted telling them about the Gate and told them about Danut, recalling many of the conversations he'd shared with the Ishvalan scholar.

Before he left for Xing, which was estimated to be about a six day trek on foot, Iulia-chan, the little girl whose brother he'd helped save, gave him a rare desert flower before saying goodbye. Her uncle, Sandu, told him that he would always be welcomed among them and Naruto thanked the man, knowing how much it meant for them to have accepted him after all that had happened to their people. To show their gratitude they'd even given him a name in Old Ishvalan, Adevăr Văzător, which roughly meant "one who sees the truth" in Amestrian.

He had found the name uncomfortably ironic.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

The second half hike through the Eastern Desert was just as trying as the first. Naruto couldn't remember much of it, as nothing had differed from day to day, but he now harbored a special hatred for deserts and sand in general. The first sight of civilization had almost brought tears of joy to his eyes. The sun had set an hour ago and the lights coming from the town had been a beacon that urged him on even faster.

Smiling in relief, Naruto realized that he'd lucked out once again as he'd obviously arrived in a large city. The scenery itself was the first thing that caught his interest because it was so familiar looking. Lit paper lanterns of different colors hung from the shops and homes, signs and banners written in kanji greeted him instead of Amestrian letters, and the language the passing people spoke was Japanese. Yes, Naruto knew that it was called Xingese in this world, but it was still the same words. He couldn't help but smile wildly to himself as he looked over the area with excitement.

It was like returning to Konoha.

But as much as he wanted to explore the rest of this town, to see what other similarities he could find, Naruto felt like he was going to collapse at any moment. His body ached for rest and his feet had definitely developed a few blisters since leaving the Xerxes ruins.

As he set off down a somewhat populated street searching for a place to sleep, he suddenly noticed that people were staring at him. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised. He'd noticed that every person he'd seen so far had black hair and black eyes. Like the Ishvalans, the people of Xing seemed to have a distinct set of features that they all shared. His blond hair and blue eyes were bound to earn him some attention, everything about him screamed foreigner.

The problem was that they weren't just staring. They were muttering to each other, they were pointing at him, and they were shielding their children behind them. They eyed him with fear, they walked out of his path, and they crowded next to each other as if to gain safety in numbers. Again he could understand their unease. He was a stranger and people naturally didn't trust things that they didn't understand. Danut had believed that it was this reaction that had been partially responsible for the Ishvalan Civil War.

When he'd paused to ask for directions to the nearest Inn, they did not relax as he spoke in Xingese. The couple he'd stopped had simply stared at him in trepidation. The woman had stood behind the man, tugging on the back of his shirt nervously. The man had stuttered while answering, his hand shaking as he pointed down the street. Naruto thanked them both, pretending not to notice how they flinched when he waved them goodbye.

While walking towards the Inn, more people stopped what they were doing to point and stare. A few of them didn't seem to understand what the problem was until another would lean in and whisper something in their ear. They'd straighten instantly and look at the speaker in shock before turning to stare at him again, their eyes now filled with the same sort of wariness.

Not all the gazes directed at him were filled with fear though. Already Naruto could see the distrustful glances thrown his way, the way some men would tighten their fists as he passed by. How they glared, as if daring him to stop and turn to them. The number of hostile looks only seemed to increase as he continued on his way, spreading like a fire, and Naruto hurried into the Inn before anyone could work up the courage lash out. He knew from experience that it only took one person to act before the rest would follow his example.

The Innkeeper had stared at him in alarm, but once he'd set down a fistful of cenz on the counter, the man calmed a little. Just like Oyabun always said, money was power. He was sure he was overpriced by the man, but Naruto couldn't really find it in himself to care as he closed the door to the room he'd rented. He sighed tiredly as his bag slumped to the floor and sluggishly pulled off his boots. He eyed the bed briefly before turning towards the window. Approaching it from the side, he discreetly looked out onto the street below, not at all surprised to find it teeming with the people he'd passed minutes ago.

As he collapsed on the bed, feeling worn in more ways than one, Naruto realized that perhaps this place resembled Konoha too much.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

"Young Lord." Said an old man dressed entirely in black and wearing a white mask while he kneeled behind a lean figure. The young male looked at the older man briefly before finishing off his last dango and began to chew idly on the wooden skewer.

"Ah, Fu, what seems to be the problem?" The Young Lord asked cheerfully from where he stood upon a balcony that overlooked Tongling, the main village of the Han Region.

"As you requested, I investigated the rumor about the evil Chi that appeared on the boarder of the village early yesterday eve." Fu replied and bowed his head lowly when the Young Lord partially turned to him.

"Oh? And was there any truth to be found?" The Lord asked as he lazily placed his elbows the balcony's railing and gave his vassal a side glance.

"Indeed, there is a malicious aura in the area. It appears to be coming from a boy." The Young Lord straightened at that bit of information, turning away from the city completely to give his full attention to Fu. "It seems he wandered into the village from the Eastern Desert."

"What a poor time to have such an interesting visitor. No doubt the people will believe it is this evil Chi that has brought about the Emperor's sudden decrease in health." The Young Lord mused out loud, sounding more amused than anything else.

"It is too much of a coincidence to think otherwise." Fu agreed before lowering his gaze in thought, his mustache twitching as he frowned. The action did not go unnoticed.

"What is it?" Fu hesitated for a second, which the Lord knew to be unusual for the stern man.

"It's just… I went to see the source of this evil with my own eyes, Young Lord." Fu sighed deeply as he remembered seeing the identity behind such a foul Chi. A small blonde haired boy, snoring loudly as drool pooled onto his pillow. Kicking occasionally at the bed sheets he'd been tangled up in, wearing white pajamas and the oddest looking sleeping cap Fu had ever seen. "He is young, my Lord, younger than yourself. The child did not even stir as I snuck into his room."

"Hmm." The Young Lord grew silent for a few minutes before smiling widely, firmly clicking the skewer in his mouth. "Now I'm interested in meeting this boy for myself." Fu startled at that.

"I did not mean to make him seem harmless." The servant argued, though apart of him already knew it was useless as he noticed the determined look in his Young Lord's eyes. "He may indeed be the demon many of the villagers are claiming him to be!"

"A demon, huh?" The Young Lord looked back over Tongling and smiled again, though this grin came out as something much darker. "Tell me Fu, aren't demons said to be immortal?"

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

Omake #2: Greed Gives Naruto Alcohol (And Discovers He's A Depressing Drunk)

In hindsight, Greed really should have known that the Gaki's past wasn't an ideal childhood. There'd been enough clues to point this fact out, like the way the kid seemed to vibrate with happiness whenever someone's attention turned to him. How Naruto would occasionally get this awed look on his face, like he couldn't believe he was actually there. Or of how the brat practically glowed whenever he was praised for doing something right.

While the Gaki talked about a "baa-chan" and "jiji" often enough, Greed had never heard the words "tousan" or "kaasan" leave the kid's mouth. Then again orphans weren't exactly rare in Amestris. Sensei, Ookii-san, Mason, so few names, Greed could count them all on one hand. And from what he understood, this Jiji was back in Naruto's old town so the kid hadn't seen the guy for months now. There were no other friends mentioned. The fact that the Gaki had latched onto them so quickly and willingly should have sent a red flag up in his mind.

The town Naruto was from, village the Gaki called it, was spoken of sparingly. The people were talked about even less, but from what Greed had gathered, they hadn't been the most hospitable group to the blond. He could recall the kid admitting that they'd hated him, tears streaming down his face and voice much too bitter for a nine year old. At the time, Greed had simply taken it as a child making a childish exaggeration. Because seriously? The entire town unanimously disliked one little brat? Yeah, right. It might have seemed that way to Naruto, but people were way too invested in their own lives to dedicate that sort of time and energy on a single kid. So really he should've seen it coming that Naruto, despite how he acted, hadn't led the happiest of lives.

Then again, hindsight was usually blind when greed was involved.

Greed sighed to himself, feeling unusually bored. The girls hadn't been able to stop by because of the bad thunderstorm that had hit Dublith, though it obviously wasn't that bad, since Naruto had been able to reach the bar over an hour ago. The boss smirked as he thought about how he would punish his girls for leaving him high and dry. His lecherous thoughts must have worked their way onto his face because the brat gave an annoyed huff from beside him.

"Oyabun, if you start thinking perverted things again, then I'm leaving." The Gaki warned and Greed gave a scoff, knowing the brat wouldn't actually follow through with his empty threat. "It's creepy watching you smile at nothing."

"Kid, you don't even know what perversion is." It was the boy's turn to scoff, before donning that sharp smile that had become an imitation of his own. The Homunculus's eyes focused on the glass that sat in front of Naruto, irrationally offended at seeing something non-alcoholic in his bar. "What the hell are you drinking anyways?" The Gaki blinked, clearly thrown off by the abrupt change in topic.

"Um, milk? Nee-chan says I should drink a glass every day and I had juice this morning for breakfast." The brat answered as he shrugged his shoulders.

"Gaki, real men don't drink milk and especially not in a bar. It's just disrespectful and sad." He continued while glowering down at the half-empty glass. The brat paused at that, his eyes narrowing as he also looked down at the glass with a thoughtful look. "How about taking on a real drink?" Without a second thought Greed passed over his own glass, which was a nice heavy mixture of whiskey and black rum, and placed the unpleasant glass of dairy on a nearby table.

"Yama-san said I'm not allowed to drink stuff like this." The kid sniffed the amber liquid before his nose scrunched up in disgust.

"Yeah, but I outrank Roa and I say it's okay." Greed countered as the boy stubbornly refused to even take a sip. "Just try it alright?" As if sensing that his patience was wearing thin, Naruto took a large gulp and promptly started to cough. Greed's laughter rang throughout the room. He even went so far as to hold his sides, feeling as if he were going to bust a gut as he watched the kid frantically wipe his tongue on one of his sleeves. It took a few minutes for him to calm down and by then the kid had retrieved his milk from the table, emptying it within seconds.

"That tasted horrible Oyabun!" Gaki tried to yell, though his voice came out as a harsh whisper instead. The brat glared at him through wet eyes as Greed started to laugh again. He would cherish the memory of that reaction for the rest of his life. "Why do you drink that nasty stuff?"

"For the feeling I get afterwards." He answered simply and the Gaki gave him that confused, squinty-eyed look. "You can feel it, can't you, an unusual warmness filling your stomach?" Naruto nodded. "I like that sensation and the buzz that quickly follows. It gives you the feeling that nothing in the world can take you down or ruin your mood." He paused and gave the Gaki a considering look. "To be fair, that drink was a bit too strong to start you out on. How about we try something sweeter?"

Five drinks later, Greed found himself dealing with a something he'd never seen before, a depressed Gaki. At first the drinks had indeed brightened the boy up, causing him to go into a light buzz as he yammered on about stuff that made no sense whatsoever to Greed. But by the time he finished his third drink, the Gaki had begun to grow quiet. At first he'd thought the kid was going to sleep, but when he'd looked up Greed saw worn blue eyes watching him. Not worn as in a physical sense, but as emotionally exhausted. He'd never seen the kid look so wrung out before.

Now, nursing his sixth and mostly untouched glass, Naruto was staring down at the table intently, donning an unusually subdued expression. Greed couldn't help but frown as he watched the kid. He'd thought Naruto would be one of those goofy, over the top, happy drunks that would've made for excellent blackmail material. He never would have guessed that the brat was a sad drunk.

"They really did hate me, y'know?" The brat said quietly and Greed barely managed to hear him over the background noise of the bar. "But it wasn't just hate, they were afraid of me too."

"Who?" He indulged the kid while searching the bar for one of the others so that they could take Naruto off of his hands.

"The villagers." The brat sighed, his eyes becoming unfocused and looking at something Greed couldn't see. "One night I had stayed later at the playground than I should of, so it was already dark by the time I'd left. I bumped into a man while walking back home. He apologized at first, but when he saw that it was me, he smacked me hard enough to knock me onto the ground and make my left ear bleed. He kicked me in the stomach, called me worthless, and continued on his way. And even though it was late, there were still plenty of people on that street. No one came to help me as I struggled to stand up."

Greed stared. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to say to that. Sure the others had their sob stories, broken homes, loss of loved ones, the military using them in experiments and turning them into chimeras. But no one had actually ever come up to him and said it to his face. Was he supposed to sympathize with the kid? Offer his condolences for having such a shitty childhood? Perhaps promise to kill the bastard who'd treated one of his possessions that way? 'Dammit, where the hell is Martel when I need her?' Offering comfort clearly weren't his area of expertise. And of course the brat wasn't done talking.

"I think it was then, when I had looked around for help and saw only those cold glares that I'd realized… they hated me." Naruto's eyes began to droop and his head slower lowered to the table. "It… definitely wasn't the worst encounter I'd ever had… but I remember that night better… than most others." Greed grimaced as the Gaki fell asleep and mentally swore to never let the kid drink again. As he took a sip of his own drink, he found that not even its' heady warmth could cure the iciness that had curled up in the pit of his stomach at some point during the Gaki's rant.

An hour later a furious Martel tended to the drunken brat, but not before threatening to castrate him should he ever give the kid alcohol again. He'd heal of course, but it was definitely not a scenario that he wanted to experience. Quickly agreeing, Greed never spoke of what Naruto had said that rainy night and the Gaki, once he'd recovered from his hangover, thankfully hadn't been able to remember anything past his second glass.

~The Shinobi Alchemist~

Sugoi means cool or wow. Megane means glasses; I felt like Hughes needed a nickname. Itai means ouch. Adevăr Văzător is Romanian for Truth Seer, but I paraphrased to make it mean one who sees the truth, because it just sounded better to me. I read somewhere that the Ishvalans were supposed to be a representation of Indian (not Native American) cultures. There are several languages used there, so I went with Romanian, the tongue of the gypsies.

Yay, Hughes made an appearance! This really was a new addition that came from the rewrite. Before I had Naruto leave from Rush Valley to get to Xing, which I found out was totally wrong while looking at a map of Amestris the other day. Seeing as Naruto needed to take a train to get Youswell, I decided to make him stop at Central and run into Hughes.

It takes 13 days to cross the desert by horse, 8 to reach Xerxes and 5 days from there to Xing. It takes a person (with some sort of training, military or otherwise) to cross the desert in about 18 days by foot. Taking into account Naruto high reserves and chakra capabilities, it took him a total of 15 days to cross the desert.

Naruto's money pouch looks like Black Hayate and is aptly named Kuro-chan since kuro means black. If you'll notice, there were some references to original Naruto and FMA moments. Like the scene where Naruto stops the purse-snatcher. And then there's Naruto's reaction to finding water, mimicking Ed's reaction in the 2003 Anime when arriving in Liore. Kuro-chan is like Gama-chan, the frog wallet that Naruto had throughout the first few seasons. It's the little things you have to pay attention to in this story.

–Hexalys