Number of words: 4,494
Published date: July 22, 2014
Began chapter: June 29, 2014
Finished chapter: July 22, 2014
Chapter 34: Daring Fight
It still took them almost a half hour of wandering around the outskirts of town to find the Elrics' vehicle. Greed usually had a good sense of direction, but this time it seemed he had not been paying attention when he'd parked, being too eager to check out the town, and his sheepish and repeated assurances that I'm sure the car is around here somewhere did little to make his companions more patient with him.
They were all tired. By the time they piled into the car, Gluttony had begun to lag behind, growing weary of carrying the packages Selim had bought and probably getting hungry. Lust had grown sarcastic and testy, an indication that she was mentally drained from the many conversations she'd had to manoeuvre with the townsfolk. The Elrics, though they had lots of physical stamina, also seemed mentally drained from worrying over Greed, who was the only one who still had a spring in his step – which didn't improve the others' moods. Selim was tired mainly just from all the walking they'd had to do. His short legs made the distance much greater compared to his siblings and teachers, and he was especially grateful that they'd have a drive for the trip home.
The car was a tight squeeze. Ed got into the driver's seat and Al joined him in the front, leaving the rest of them to pile into the back. Lust took the middle seat, squeezed in between Gluttony and Greed, and, with no other options, allowed Selim to sit on her lap.
"Don't squirm," she admonished when he tried to get more comfortable.
"I'm not," he protested, shifting on her lap even as he said it. He pouted, then said, almost as an accusation, "You're not as comfy as Mother."
"Good. I'd prefer to give it a few more decades before I'm as padded as she is."
"Hey! Don't call Mother fat!"
"Did I say that?" she replied in an even, if sarcastic, tone.
"... No. But you were implying it."
"Don't put words in my mouth."
"Aww, come on, you two!" Greed butted in. "We finally got out of the house. You should be in a better mood, Lusty."
"Don't call me that," she immediately snapped. "You would be in a foul mood too if you had just spent the afternoon humouring a bunch of humans. Or no, I keep forgetting that you're a human lover. You probably would have enjoyed it." Her tone made it very clear that she meant this to be derogatory. She wrinkled her nose and twisted her face away from him. "By the way, your breath stinks." Besides the faint smell of alcohol on his breath, cigarette smoke still clung to his clothes, brought with him from the bar. She had never understood that particular human habit and found the smell completely distasteful. One good thing about Jean had been that he'd known better than to smoke around her.
At the comment, Greed grew indignant. "Compared to Gluttony or Envy's breath? Yeah, right!" he scoffed.
"How is it that you were allowed in some bar anyway?" she continued coolly while feigning interest in the fields passing by them that formed the outskirts of Dublith. "Surely you don't have ID on you."
"Ah, that's right. I didn't even think of that..." Greed said, sounding surprised by the thought.
From the front, Al spoke up. "You were lucky. Ling looks quite a few years older than he actually is. They probably assumed you were old enough to drink even though you technically aren't."
"Yeah, but that part of town isn't exactly known for abiding by the law," Ed argued. "They might just not have cared whether Greed was old enough so long as they got paid for it."
Greed shrugged. "Either way doesn't matter to me," he asserted, throwing his arm casually up across the back of the seat and brushing Lust's shoulders. Sandwiched in between him and Gluttony, she couldn't do anything about it except give him a dirty look. Wisely, he pulled his hand back so he wasn't touching her. "As long as they keep letting me in, I'll keep going. It was fun. Next time you can come with me, Sweet Cheeks."
"No thank you."
"Geez, lighten up. I can't force you," Greed sighed, put off by his sister's foul mood. "I just thought you might enjoy it. Bar didn't have a whole lot of women there. You'd be real popular."
Stony silence was her only reply, and for a few minutes, the vehicle's occupants fell quiet, watching the countryside pass by. The road they were on was in pretty good condition and had no real potholes or bumps to speak of. However, the hot sun had quickly dried up the water from the storm, leaving the road dry, and a large plume of dust rose up in their wake. They crossed a bridge over a fair-sized river, and then the road began to climb as the landscape changed, fields being replaced by rolling forested hills. Their route also didn't seem to get a lot of traffic; two cars followed behind them only to turn off onto a side road a short distance past the bridge, while another vehicle pulled out of the same road and turned towards Dublith rather than heading southward in the same direction they were travelling.
"That's the road to get to Kauroy Lake," Selim told Greed, not addressing the others since he had already mentioned it to Lust and Gluttony on the walk to town. "You can see it better from home, but it's actually a lot bigger than what you can see 'cause some hills are in the way and block the view. Those people are turning off onto the road that leads to the beach."
"On a day like today, it's probably quite crowded," Al commented. With the dust being a problem, they had to keep the windows up. The heat in the car was stifling, making the quick flashes of lake that they caught glimpses of through the trees definitely look appealing.
"… About the bar…" Selim said as the lake disappeared behind them. "Did you get any of your memories back?" Greed raised an eyebrow at the question and Selim elaborated. "That's half of why you went, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess. I just didn't realize you knew about it."
"Big Brother mentioned it, and you've talked about it before."
"Oh, right," Greed said, sinking down to lounge in his seat as much as he could, pulling at the bottom of his shirt to fan himself and affecting a nonchalant air. "Well, not really. Some things felt familiar, kinda' like déjà vu, but I wouldn't say I remembered anything in particular."
"That's too bad," Selim said simply. He seemed to understand that it mattered more to Greed than he was letting on, and he sounded genuinely disappointed for his brother. Again, Greed looked taken aback by this before shrugging it off.
"Don't worry about it, kid," he drawled. "It's not a big deal. I'll just make some new memories is all. Easy."
"Did anything interesting happen?" Selim asked curiously, then his voice hardened slightly as a thought occurred to him. "You didn't tell anyone else that you and the others are from Xing, did you?" From the front, Alphonse twisted around to glance at the two of them, seeming concerned by this news before deciding not to intervene.
"I never said we were from Xing, I said we'd been in Xing," Greed corrected, this time sounding grumpy. "And no, it didn't come up. And in terms of interesting… Well, it turns out that the people running the Devil's Nest don't own it legally, and maybe it was just them, but they don't seem to think much of State Alchemists."
Ed joined the conversation from the front of the car.
"Most Dublithers don't," he told them. "When we first came here as children, we thought it was just Teacher who disliked State Alchemists, but we later found out that they aren't popular in Dublith in general, and there are two reasons for that: First off, in the early stages of the State Alchemist program, there were a good number of alchemists who left town to join, and it left Dublith with a large hole in its economy. Alchemists are really helpful to a lot of different professions, and without them, the town suffered financially. Not only that, but the government had no interest in offering its support until Dublith got back on its feet, so they ended up feeling used and betrayed by the government.
"Second, Dublith isn't near Amestris's borders. You're more likely to hear support for State Alchemists in towns near the borders because those places saw active conflict and felt the need for State Alchemists more keenly. Here, the argument that State Alchemists were needed to protect the citizens doesn't hold as much weight because no one here was in danger. The motive was far more likely to be selfish."
Greed hummed in acknowledgement, then gave a brief laugh and said in a teasing tone, "Thanks for the history lesson, Professor Elric!"
Ed laughed too as he slowed down and turned onto their driveway. "Sorry. Was I lecturing? I'll be giving a pop quiz later, so I hope you were paying attention!"
As soon as Edward pulled the car to a stop in front of the mansion, Selim made a less-than-graceful clamber over Lust's shoulder to grab one of the lighter bags from the trunk (earning a greatly annoyed reprimand that he completely ignored), then dashed off for the front door, leaving the rest of the packages for the others to bring inside.
"Mother! We're back, and we found Greed!" Selim yelled into the bowels of the mansion. Not getting any response, he continued on inside, trying the living room, dining room, first floor bathroom, and kitchen before checking the backyard and finding Lily and Sloth sitting together on the bench, each with a cup of tea in their hands and peacefully watching the sunset. Envy wasn't too far away, sitting at the picnic table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out in front of him, though when Selim first saw him, his brother was also looking to the west and the setting sun, suggesting that he'd grown bored with the puzzle.
Though the scene was nice and peaceful, Selim gave no thought to disturbing his mother and siblings.
"Mother! We're back!" he exclaimed, darting over and, as always, giving her leg a brief hug by way of greeting.
"Oh, Selim! Welcome home! I'm glad you're back. You were gone longer than I expected. Did you find Greed?" she asked him, smiling, resting her tea cup on the bench, and then ruffling his hair to return the hug.
"Uh-huh. He's fine. He just wanted to visit Dublith after all, just like you thought. I'm sure Big Brother and Teacher chewed him out for making us worry."
"That's good," she responded, but Envy, listening from the picnic table, gave a soft snort and rolled his eyes.
"Should have just left him there. Not like he'll learn his lesson," he muttered loudly enough for them to hear, then raised his voice as he addressed Selim directly, looking distinctly peeved. "What the hell, Pride? You guys just up and left me here! Some fat lot of nice you are!"
For a brief flash, his excitement to tell Mother about their trip fell to the wayside and Selim drew himself up, irritated that Envy had once again called him by his old name and quite ready to admonish that Envy was still recovering from being sick and should hardly have made the hour-long trek to Dublith with them.
But then he remembered his mother's admonition and, with considerable effort, changed what he'd been going to say.
"I'm... sorry, Envy. We didn't realize you wanted to come with us. How about next time?" He was proud that he only stumbled a little in apologizing and was rewarded by his brother looking absolutely flummoxed by the child's contrite response.
As Envy struggled to think of how to counter this, Selim turned back to his mother while rummaging in the bag he had brought with him.
"Look," he exclaimed. "I got this for you!" And he pulled out a new hairclip that had a ladybug accent.
As she always did whenever he brought presents home, Ms. Bradley oohed over the gift and turned around on the bench so that Selim could help her put the new clip in her hair.
"How does it look?" she asked once he pulled away, turning her head to the left and then right so he could assess it. He nodded his approval, though he honestly didn't have much of a head for fashion or what looked good or not, and she patted at her hair and the clip to make sure it was properly in place before getting up and walking towards the back door.
"You must have bought this at Pearl's?" she asked.
"Did you introduce her to Lust?"
"Yeah," Selim said, then hesitated before elaborating, "I don't think Lust was thrilled with the modeling idea. And Mrs. Chanel may have been too pushy. Lust doesn't like it when people try to make her do what they want."
Ms. Bradley frowned. "That's too bad," she said as they came to the back entrance and went inside. "I thought for sure she and Pearl would get along..."
As they entered the kitchen, they were immediately greeted by the sounds of the others bringing in the rest of the packages and depositing them on the dining room table. Greed, who had not seen Lily's list or been with Selim's group when they'd made the purchases, was already digging curiously through the bags.
"Geez, you guys bought a lot of stuff!" he exclaimed. "I should have stuck with you instead of wandering off on my own after all! There was a ton of other things I saw that you could have picked up."
He didn't seem to notice – or just plain didn't care – that he was in the way, and he had the items out of their bags and spread out on the table in short order: the candles, the new bottle of cold medicine, a radio, and the pair of black boots, along with a few smaller items, including a canister of tea to restock Ms. Bradley's supply, a bag of birdseed, a thick-papered sketchbook, and a small set of spice jars.
"If these're for me," Greed said, holding up the boots and eying them with the same confused look Lust had given them when Selim had bought them, "you screwed up the size, kid. They're way too small for me."
"They're not for you," Selim corrected, collecting the bags Greed had thrown on the floor and taking them to the kitchen.
"I asked Selim to buy them for Envy," Ms. Bradley elaborated.
"Oh?" Envy asked curiously. He had noiselessly followed her and Selim inside, doubtless not wanting to miss out on the hustle and bustle of the group's return, and he slipped past her to look at what she and Greed were talking about only to wrinkle his nose in disdain. "Boots? I don't want boots. Why'd you think I'd want those?"
Ms. Bradley took the boots from Greed and made as if to hand them to Envy. He refused to take them from her.
"You'll get sick again if you don't start wearing something more on your feet than just those," she told him, sounding exasperated and gesturing to his cut-off socks.
"I don't like shoes," he replied stubbornly.
"You'll need some proper footwear if you want to visit Dublith," she tried again.
"Says who?" he countered.
"I'm sure Alphonse could modify them if you'd rather a different look-"
"Don't. Want. Them." He enunciated each word to show that he thought she was being particularly dense.
Greed laughed. "Well," he said, leaning toward Ms. Bradley and plucking the boots back out of her hands, "if you don't want 'em, I'll take them." Both of them looked at him, Envy with scorn and Ms. Bradley with her 'I don't understand' look that changed to a frown at the smoky scent that wafted over to her from his close proximity.
"Why? You just said they're too small for you," Edward pointed out, but Greed merely shrugged.
"Packrat," Envy scoffed, rolling his eyes at his brother.
"Collector," Greed corrected tightly.
"Whatever. It's certainly not new. Won't be long before you fill your room with useless junk again. Did you know that when you ran away, we threw out everything you couldn't drag off with you? I've never seen such a collection of crap in my li-"
"Are you trying to pick a fight for a reason, or are you just jealous that I got to take off and you were stuck here?"
"Greed," Lily interrupted as forcefully as she could, "you can't have the boots. We bought them for Envy and even if he doesn't want them now, he might change his mind."
"As if," Envy grumbled.
"As if," Greed said at the exact same time. The pair glared at each other.
"The both of you, just shut up," Lust snapped. She was leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, surreptitiously massaging her temples, apparently trying to fight off the beginnings of a headache.
"Oh, Lust, I have something for you," Selim piped up, returning from the kitchen and digging in the bag he'd gotten from Little Central. Out of it he produced a small box. Lust looked down and accepted the box with a raised eyebrow at the child's sudden shy look.
"What is it?" she asked, only to answer her own question by opening it. Inside was a necklace made up of several gold loops connected by a thin chain around the back. It was clearly not an expensive piece, but didn't look cheap or tacky either. "Why are you giving me this?"
"It's a present," Selim explained, shuffling his feet. "I got Mother a new hairclip, and everyone else got gifts, so I thought I should get something for you too. I bought it when you were with Mrs. Chanel. Do you like it?"
"It's… nice?" she tried, suddenly feeling awkward. She had received presents from past boyfriends, of course, but not from her siblings, and thanking him in the way she had thanked those beaus was definitely not an option. Selim's crestfallen expression said it wasn't the right response, so she tried again, unable to suppress a sigh as she crouched down to meet his eye level. "Want to help me put it on?"
He perked up at that, nodding and moving forward as she pulled her long hair to one side.
Greed began to tick off his fingers. "So the Missus gets something, the sketchbook must be for Sloth, Gluttony's got some spices, Lust gets a new necklace, and Envy's got a new pair of boots-"
"You can't call those a gift since I don't want them," Envy interrupted, but Greed ignored him.
"So let me get this straight, kid: Everyone gets something except me? How is that fair, huh? Or are you just punishing me for taking off on my own? It's a little harsh."
Selim, busy trying to fasten the necklace around Lust's neck (the clasp was giving him trouble), didn't immediately respond, and instead, it was Alphonse who answered, approaching the table and tapping the one item that Greed hadn't been able to identify.
"This is your gift," he smiled.
It appeared to be a hunk of scrap metal. It was hard to tell exactly what it had been in its previous life, but Greed thought it looked like a greatly abused mini-oven. Whatever it had been, he was not impressed by it.
"… Gee, thanks. It's just what I've always wanted," he said as sarcastically as he could.
Ed found this quite funny and in between laughing managed to get out, "It's better than it looks now!" which only made Greed more confused, but both the Elrics and Selim seemed to think it a great joke. Selim finished fastening the necklace and got up, coming over to the table and adopting a wheedling tone, poking Greed's leg.
"Aw, come on, Greed! It's like a guessing game. Just think: What's it made of?"
"What's it made of?" his brother repeated, staring at the hunk of metal and rubbing his chin. "Some kind of metal, obviously."
"Yeah, but what kind?" Selim pressed, staring at him encouragingly.
"Um, I don't know. Steel?"
"Right! So, what else is made of steel?"
Greed looked down at Selim incredulously. "You want me to start listing stuff? There's tons of things made of steel. That doesn't narrow it down at all!"
Selim remained undaunted. "It's got about the same mass as this," he said.
"The same mass?" Lust repeated, fiddling with the necklace to get it straight around her neck. "Then, you mean you'll change it with alchemy?"
"Hey!" Selim growled, turning to give her a look. "No help! He has to figure it out on his own!" Then, turning back to Greed again, "It's something your friend had," he hinted.
"D'you mean Ling?" Selim nodded. "So it's something that Ling had that's made of steel…?"
He wracked his brain, but nothing came to mind and Selim began to look… well, disappointed wasn't quite the right word. More like disgusted, as if he should have known instantly what the three were thinking. It was starting to get his back up, but of all people, it was Envy who came to his rescue.
"He's not going to know what you're talking about. Gluttony ate that fool's sword right before he was created."
"Envy!" Selim burst out, stamping his foot. "You ruined it!"
"A sword?" Greed asked. "Ling had a sword?"
"Well, yeah," Ed said, "although, now that I think about it, I guess Envy's right and you couldn't have known that. He matched blades with…" A brief flicker of his eyes toward Ms. Bradley, then, "your 'common enemy'," Wrath, he meant, "and held his own. We figured you might like to have one of your own."
"Selim is working on the post-transition metals right now," Alphonse continued. "He's already covered iron and carbon, which are what steel is made of, but he'll need to know more about tin and aluminum for this piece because obviously it's not a pure product and it's got a mix of metals in it. And logically alchemy's the only way to go for something like this. There are no sword shops in Dublith!"
Greed considered it for a moment and realized that he probably could have figured out that Ling was a swordfighter if he had just thought about it a little more. He knew that Ling, like himself, had fought against Wrath, who favoured swords, and without an Ultimate Shield, it made sense that Ling would have matched him with the same type of weapon.
Not to mention that it just fit the bad-ass Xingese ninja image.
He let them hang for a few beats, then laughed and put his hand on Selim's head, pushing his weight down into the arm and leaving the child to squawk and buckle under his elbow.
"I take it back, kid! Great idea! Hurry up and study, then; you know I don't like to wait for things."
"Then get off of me! I can always change my mind!" Selim threatened, managing to push Greed's arm off of his head.
With the excitement over, everyone began to drift away. Lust slipped off to her room, looking for some alone time from their exhausting trip, and Selim grabbed the sketchbook and went out to the backyard to give it to Sloth. Edward and Alphonse discussed briefly whether they should head home, but neither of them felt like making the drive so late in the day and they hadn't made any progress in Selim's studies (the primary excuse for visiting in the first place), so Ed went to call Winry while Al went to the living room to prepare a place for them to sleep. Gluttony asked what was for supper and Ms. Bradley guiltily admitted that she'd expected them to get something to eat while in town, leading to a disappointed scrounging in the kitchen for something quick and simple.
Envy was already in the hallway and Greed had just started to head out as well (intending to go to his room and count his day's winnings) when Ms. Bradley stopped him.
"Greed, wait a moment, please."
"Yeah?" he asked, turning around. Curious, Envy came back and poked his head around the corner.
She walked up to him, a strangely serious and stubborn look on her face, and wordlessly held out her hand, palm up.
"… What?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow at her.
"Give them here," she ordered sternly.
"What?" he repeated.
"You can't hide it. If there's one thing I can't abide, it's cigarettes, so just hand them over."
"Seriously?" he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "You're asking Greed the Avaricious to give up something that's mine?"
"This is my house," she countered, "and while King may have been the ruler of the country, there were some things that even he didn't get away with."
They engaged in a brief staring match. Greed could hardly believe this new side of the meek and mild old woman he'd become used to and genuinely liked. Lily's green eyes were unrelenting and where she had started off timid with all of them, she faced him now without any hint of intimidation. He held her gaze for a long enough time that it became uncomfortable, unwilling to give up one of his prizes from gambling just because she wanted him to and expecting her to give up and back down.
Breaking the stalemate with a self-depreciating chuckle, he fished into his pant's pocket and produced the cigarettes. They smelled nice, tickling his memory, reminding him of the Devil's Nest both past and present, and he hated to give them up, but he dropped them into her outstretched hand. She rewarded him with a smile.
"Gotta' say, Ma'am, I wasn't expecting that from you. I thought you and the Fuhrer were an odd pair, but I think I'm starting to see what he liked about you. You've got balls."
She winced at the phrase, but her eyes were still steely as she replied, "King always liked to say that he picked me, but actually, I was the one who picked him."
A cackling laugh came from around the corner.
"Letting yourself be pushed around by an old granny? Greed, you are so whipped!"
Envy turned to go, thinking that he'd had the last laugh there.
Until one of the boots beaned him in the head.
Some people have been asking how long I expect this story to be (in terms of number of chapters) and how far away we are from the more exciting adventure/action-based stuff. The truth is that I honestly can't provide a good estimate at this point. My chapters are not laid in stone and I am actively modifying my original plan, especially in terms of chapter order. Some readers love longer, detailed chapters that simply explore the Homunculi in the more average day-to-dayness of human life. Others are admitting that they are finding things slow and would like the pace to pick up. I'm trying to be balanced. I've been skipping over what I felt was more boring to increase the speed of the story, but I also don't want to go too fast. This slower period is important. My present estimate is still that it will probably be around the 60th chapter or so before things take a major turn plot-wise. Some of these chapters will be quite short, so don't gasp and assume that this means it will take forever to get there. The story is probably between 1/4 and 1/3 of the way finished. Please be patient.
Anniversary: So while Phylactery's second year anniversary is on August 7, I do not expect to be able to post a new chapter that day. It's only two weekends away and one of those weekends, I'm going home to chill with my parents. I'll still try, but I just don't think it will be possible, so don't get your hopes up.