October 3, 1911
"…a girl! And her eyes are so pretty, just like her mother's – who is adorable too, but she's not as adorable right now as our new daughter – and she has these cute little toes and-"
"Hughes," Mustang gritted out. "At this point, I'm only glad you finally had a child only so I can stop hearing about your wife and her pregnancy! Please. You've been talking for the last-" he shot the clock a look "-two and a half ho – two and a half hours?! Jesus, it's four in the morning! I have to get up for work in an hour! Are you insane?!"
"I knew you would love to hear all about her, so I made sure to call you before you went into work so you could tell everyone else all about her! I'm waiting for them to get done with all the tests they have to run. Which isn't a problem, since she's a perfect little-"
Hughes stared at the phone in confusion for a moment. "Mustang? Hello? That's weird, the line must have cut off…" The secretary at the front desk looked up over her magazine at him in vague disbelief. He explained, "His office has trouble with the wiring a lot. I get cut off all the time." She nodded doubtfully, as if sorry for this poor deluded man.
He walked down the hallway towards Gracia's room. She seemed to be doing fine, just a bit tired. She had slept most of the last six hours after the delivery and hadn't been very coherent when she was awake. He had spent the time either hovering over his daughter or making calls to everyone he knew.
A doctor was walking out of the room as he approached it. She smiled at him and held the door open a few seconds longer. He nodded his thanks, smiled, and walked inside. The doctor let the door go and it swung shut gently. Gracia was sitting up and awake, holding Elicia in her arms. A light blue blanket was wrapped around the baby, leaving only the head and feet bare. The child was fast asleep, mouth open slightly.
Hughes took a seat on the plastic chair by the bed. "How is she?" he asked quietly, smiling.
Gracia shrugged. "As tired as I am, I think. She's slept a lot and hasn't cried much while she was awake." She sighed, her expression becoming a bit more solemn as she leaned back against the pillows.
Hughes's smile faded a bit. "Everything okay?"
"Yes, it's just…" She looked at Hughes. "The two of us have seen things eye to eye on everything but religion. It's an important part of my life, but you don't…"
"…share any of the same views," he finished when she trailed off. "Right." He looked at their daughter a bit longer. "Well… Religion's not really a big thing here in the east, so it'd give my side an advantage if we just said we should let her choose…"
Gracia nodded. "We'd have to go somewhere else to find a large church she could attend."
Hughes sighed. "I'm sorry, but recently…" He looked up at her. "I take it you haven't been keeping up much with the news lately."
"I haven't had time."
"I know. About a year ago, Mustang was out looking for potential state alchemists." Gracia nodded – she knew Mustang. "Well, there had been a paper mix-up. He went out to look for two in particular who showed extreme potential. He was told ahead of time that he was going to find two brothers in their thirties. When he got there, he found an eleven year old child in a wheel chair with two limbs missing and a suit of armor that held the soul of a ten year old." Hughes looked down, fiddling with the blanket, twisting it around in his fingers. "The office is really stressed right now because… the older brother just finished rehabilitation for his new automail limbs. He's going to be here in a few days for the exam. I can't believe in a god who would let this happen to those two boys. They don't even have family…"
Gracia grimaced, reaching out with her free hand to take Hughes's right one. He looked up at her and smiled sadly. "Sorry. I'm a party pooper."
"Where are they going to work?"
"Under Mustang. He found them, he has to deal with them." Hughes cracked a grin. "Ha ha, Mustang has kids!" Something about that struck a funny bone in him, and he bent over, holding his sides, laughing. "Mustang has kids!"
Gracia gave her husband a weird look.
October 3, 1914
Gracia set a cup of tea down in front of Winry. The young girl nodded her thanks and cupped her hands around it, waiting for the hot liquid to cool. Gracia sat down opposite her, adopting a similar position. A loud giggle came from upstairs followed by Hughes's louder tenor laughter. They settled down a few minutes later. Gracia smiled at Winry, and the two shared a knowing look.
"What was it you wanted to talk to me about?" Winry asked a minute of silence later.
Gracia sighed. "It's… a little strange, but I thought you should be made aware of it. It's never been harmful, and it's been… oddly comforting on occasion, but you should still know."
Winry smiled. "I lived with the Elrics, remember? I'm used to strange."
"Not like this." Gracia sipped at her tea. "There's someone in the house. We thought it wasn't anything to be worried about, though, because… The one thing Maes and I could never agree on was religion. So when Elicia came along, we decided that she shouldn't be influenced one way or another by our opinions. So we compromised, and suggested she talk to someone else before bed instead of praying. I figured He would understand."
"So, who did she talk to?" Winry asked.
"Fairy tales. People like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Well, the person who keeps coming… She says it's Jack Frost. Whoever he is, he's never taken anything. The only thing he's done is play with Elicia. She absolutely adores him. He stops by about once a week, sometimes less. Maes and I have never actually seen him though, and that's what makes me so worried."
"Wait, so he's never talked to you before?"
"No, but that's the thing! He's been in the room, I swear it, and we can't see him." Gracia inhaled deeply, rubbing her eyes with the palms of her hands. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's what happens. Elicia doesn't have a very good imagination for games with herself. She has to be with someone to play. Whenever he supposedly comes around, she can talk to him and play entire games. Winry, both sides of the game board move. There are definitely two people playing. But she's the only one there."
"Have you ever looked around the room to see if he was hiding somewhere?" Winry asked, worried.
"All the time, but he must be an extremely good hider. I've even looked outside to see if he had climbed out the window. If I ask her where he is, she just gives me this look and says, 'You can't see him?' It's like he's right there, right in the room in front of me, but only she can see him. I've asked around, and some other parents have had the same thing happen. They all call him Jack Frost."
"Do they all describe him the same way?"
"Yeah. He looks the same to each child. Winry, some of the children who know him… The children don't know each other. There's no way it's just a joke they're all sharing."
Winry sat back, cradling her tea thoughtfully. "But he seems friendly enough?"
"Oh, extremely. He excels at starting snowball fights and getting school cancelled for entire weeks at a time. We just don't know who he is."
There was a shuffling noise from across the room, coming from the other side of the door. Hughes ignored it. The door creaked open, and two pairs of footsteps padded inside. A light weight sat down at the end of the bed by his and Gracia's feet. His wife didn't seem to be up yet, so he tried to disentangle himself from the blanket gently before he sat up.
He heard Winry whisper, "Maybe we should just go back to sleep. I'm sure it was just a dream."
"No, Jack said it's not safe."
"Is Jack here?"
"No, he's watching the burglar to make sure he didn't see us get up."
Hughes finally managed to get out from under the blankets, but at that point it seemed Gracia needed to be up anyway. He tapped her shoulder before sitting up fully and swinging his feet around to the floor. He reached over and felt for Elicia at the end of the bed. "Elicia," he said gently. "Did you say someone was in the house?"
"Yes. They're downstairs, I think. That's what Jack said a few minutes ago, anyway." As his eyes adjusted, he could see that she was clinging onto Winry's hand. The older girl's hair was tousled and she looked very confused. "He said we should come in here just in case."
A thud came from downstairs like someone falling. Whoever it was cursed loudly before they remembered to be quiet. Hughes tensed in the next few seconds of silence. Then he carefully stood up so as not to make the floorboards creak. "Winry, Elicia, stay here, okay?" he gently asked. Gracia was already standing up as well, walking across the room to where the phone was. Winry bit her lip, looking like she wanted to do something but didn't know what.
Hughes began to walk towards the door, but Gracia frowned at him, shaking her head. Under her breath so Elicia couldn't hear, she said, "The police'll take care of it."
Hughes paused, and then said, "I can't believe I'm really saying this, but Elicia has to be right. This Jack person is actually in the house, downstairs watching the burglar. …It would really suck if he got injured because of that."
There was another moment of silence, and then he could see Gracia's lips starting to quirk up in a smile she was trying to suppress. "Honey, Jack can turn invisible to adults."
"What if his invisibility charm fails him if he gets nervous?"
Gracia closed her eyes, biting her lip to stop from laughing. "I don't think that's the case, dear."
"But what if it is?"
There was another loud bang from downstairs. "Son of a b-!" He abruptly cut himself off, remembering that he was breaking into a house.
"He seems to be doing fine by himself," Gracia pointed out. "Why don't you let the expert handle it?" She reached for the phone and dialed the emergency number. It began ringing. She turned to continue the conversation with her husband, but the door was just closing behind him. Gracia sighed, shaking her head, but she was smiling.
Hughes made his way down the hallway as stealthily as possible. He imagined that if you believed you were something or someone, you really were for that time. At least, to some extent. So he imagined himself to be one of the Xingese ninjas, as quick and nimble as could be. He could walk across a floor of bells without making a sound. He had trained in the temples of Kah'zal and Genphet. If he so wished, he could take on this burglar while walking on his hands. The master of the Shaheit temple had been his teacher for two decades, and he would do well to honor his-
Wait, the Shaheit area had been taken over by the Drachmans about fifteen years ago. Crap.
He reached the top of the stairs and leaned over the balcony slightly to see if he could see anyone below. While he couldn't see any movement, he could hear faint shuffling sounds right beneath his feet in the kitchen. Hughes carefully walked down a few steps, not completely sure what he was doing. Was he going to ask the guy if he was here for delivering the milk or something? Maybe he was a real estate agent.
Yeah, or maybe he should just ask if he was Hughes's great-aunt, who was very dead right now. That seemed like it'd be more realistic.
He hit the loose step. It didn't make a sound, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He stepped off to go down another level… and it creaked. Hughes froze. So did the robber.
In the kitchen, the stranger turned to face him. He seemed unsure if he could actually see someone there or not and was nervous to begin with. The man took a step forward to investigate.
Hughes held his breath for a few seconds, but then realized it wasn't going to do him any good to have to tussle if he was out of breath. He silently blew it out. To his surprise, a puff of smoke rose up in front of his eyes. It was forty degrees outside, wasn't in? Why was it so cold?
Oh yeah. Robber. Why didn't Hughes listen to Gracia more often?
Then the man slipped and fell. Again. His head cracked painfully on the ground as he did and he let out a groan. He moved feebly for a moment and then slumped back down. Hughes waited a minute and then walked down the rest of the stairs, not bothering to be quiet. The man was passed out. He flipped on a light and looked at the poor guy in front of him. Then he looked up and around the room. There was no one else there. Almost every surface glittered with frost, and there were several slick patches of ice along the ground. Hughes didn't blame the guy for slipping so often.
Hughes turned around quickly, surprised to see the rest of the house's occupants on the stairs behind him. Gracia was holding onto the other two. It looked like Elicia had at least convinced Winry and the two had ended up dragging Gracia along.
"Jack says the thought was nice, but unnecessary."
As she spoke, a hint of frost appeared on the stair's railing. Then it was gone, and a trail appeared on the floor of the kitchen as if someone were moving around the room in boredom. Hughes watched the floor as his daughter spoke.
"Uh… Tell him thanks?"
"Daddy," she chided, grinning, "he can hear you!"
The temperature in the room suddenly went back to normal. Hughes could no longer see his breath, and the ice on the floor turned into puddles. A faint layer of dew lay over most of the surfaces in the kitchen. The room had returned to normal.
"Did he have to leave?" Hughes asked uncertainly.
"He's kind of busy."
"Well, I would expect so…" He traded a look with the other two on the stairs. This was getting out of their hands.
Hughes spent the entire walk to work thinking over the events of the night before. He was pretty sure he had gone mad or someone had been playing an elaborate joke. But in the morning, the police had still been there, asking questions over and over again to make sure they got the story straight. At four in the morning, Hughes, Gracia, and Winry had exchanged looks, and told the police about how Elicia must have accidentally spilled some water that morning while getting a drink and splashed it on the floor, and the burglar had been unlucky enough to slip and smack his head. The police were gone ten minutes later.
He nearly walked into Mustang. The only reason he stopped quickly enough was because of the alchemist's statement.
"Hughes. Tell me I'm dreaming."
"You're dreaming," he immediately replied without actually taking a moment to see why his friend was saying that. Then he took his eyes off the sidewalk he had been so carefully watching and looked up at the military building he had arrived at for work. He blinked. "Uh…"
The entire entrance into the place had been covered with about eight feet of snow.
"I thought it was a little chilly outside for autumn…"
"Hughes, the snow plows are all buried under the snow because no one thought they were going to need them this early. They're going to have to dig out the garage doors before they even think about getting the plows out onto the roads!" Mustang grinned. "You know what this means?"
"Lots of shoveling for us?"
"A chance to test my alchemy against snow!"
Mustang's grin turned into a look of confusion. Hughes grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the building. As they crossed into an alley adjacent to the military base, they could hear Hawkeye call out, "Colonel? … Colonel!" She clearly thought someone was ditching their duty. Not like this happened often or anything…
"Oh, she's going to kill me later," Mustang muttered, but didn't seem to care. "Hey, Hughes, what's up?"
Hughes glanced around the alley they were standing in for a moment. A clump of snow fell from a balcony and he flinched. He tugged Mustang along after him in a hurry to get out of there. "Hughes, what the hell's the matter?"
"Because he's listening."
As a matter of fact, "he" was.
"How do you know?"
"Because he just is. And he's probably laughing at me as well."
"He" was doing that, too.
A minute later found them in a café a block away from Central's base. The two ordered cups of tea after sitting down. The waitress walked away to deliver the order. Mustang was eyeing his friend strangely, trying to determine if something had been knocked loose in his friend's head or not. Hughes was nervously wringing his hands, not sure where to start.
Mustang tried to ask his question again. "What happened?"
"We were burgled last time." He paused, and then amended, "Well, the guy tried. He slipped and knocked himself out."
"So everything's okay," Mustang said, leaning back in relief.
"No. Mustang, he slipped on ice."
"You think it had something to do with the freak weather pattern?"
"I know it did. And I know who's doing it."
Mustang was back to looking at his friend like he was crazy. "Hughes, it's just the weather. Something weird happens every year. Remember how we had the drought that one summer and then it dumped rain all throughout the winter? It never got below zero degrees.*"
"No, no, this goes back to something else." He paused for a few seconds, trying to figure out how to say this. "Okay, so you know how I told you Elicia was always talking to the Sandman and Easter Bunny and all those other people?"
"Vaguely. I also remember you telling me it was absolutely adorable and-"
"Well, everything she does is adorable. A while back, she told us that something had happened and there was a new person in that group called Jack Frost. This guy would come to talk to her more often than the others would. Seems like he had more time on his hands or something. It was around that time that things started getting… strange. Chairs would move of their own accord, our house was always cold, and Elicia… she's using words that are way too big for her to have ever heard before and she knows about things across the world before even I hear about them at work! It's not just her, either. All the kids under a certain age in the area are doing the same thing. Mustang, I know this sounds crazy… but there's someone there. You know me. You know I wouldn't be saying this unless there was absolutely no other possibility."
They both stopped the conversation as the waitress came back with the cups of tea. Both murmured thanks and waited for her to get out of hearing radius before continuing the conversation.
Mustang sighed suddenly, running a hand through his hair. "Couldn't it just be alchemy or something?"
"There's never a reaction and there're no signs of it after the event."
"So the only remaining option, you think is that a strange guy is running around, talking to kids, stopping burglars and freezing puddles of water?" Mustang summarized.
Hughes laughed nervously. "I know it sounds ridiculous-"
"But it's the only thing I can come up with."
"Well, let me know if-"
He yanked his hands away from his cup of tea suddenly. The liquid would've splashed if it hadn't been frozen solid. He rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them up from the sudden cold. A layer of frost covered the table an inch in diameter around the cup.
Mustang and Hughes exchanged glances.
*For anyone who uses the Fahrenheit system: This is the same as saying below 32 degrees. I assume the Amestrians would use Celsius because it's a system that makes more sense and is the most common. Why the hell do Americans use Fahrenheit anyway? (Asking this as one of them.)