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Tsubasa/FMA fic: Part 7

Title: Catalyst
Series: Tsubasa/Fullmetal Alchemist
Part: 7/11
Summary: It's nearly always safe to assume that whatever trouble the Tsubasa crew wind up in, there's going to be a feather involved somewhere in the middle of things. And it's probably even safer to assume that where the Elric brothers are involved, it's never going to be the Philosopher's Stone.
Rating: PG
Word count: 1970
Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6



At the hotel, things had calmed down just enough that Al was only slightly on edge.

“Can I offer you some tea, Alphonse?” Fye inquired pleasantly.

“We haven’t got any tea,” said Kurogane’s voice dryly, coming from somewhere out of Al’s view. “When would we have found time to buy anything like that today?”

“That’s no call to be inhospitable,” said Fye, just as pleasantly, giving their guest an expectant look.

“Ah, really, I’m fine!” Al said quickly.

“Oh? Well then, we won’t have to send Kuro-wanwan out to buy us some!”

There was a loud, non-specific thump from behind them. Al decided he didn’t want to know what it had been.

“So, do tell us some more about yourself and your brother,” said Fye, leaning on the table with his chin resting on his hands and a look of enthusiastic attention. “You’ve been studying alchemy for a long time?”

“Ever since we were children,” Al replied, quietly thankful for a topic of conversation he could participate in without fear of controversy. Something nagged at the back of his mind about giving out personal information to near strangers – something that might have looked a bit like an angry elder brother yelling at him about how they didn’t know whether they could trust these people and how he was supposed to be keeping an eye on them, not the other way around, but Al quite successfully convinced himself it was all an irrelevant figment of his imagination. “We learnt from our father’s books.”

“Your father was an alchemist too then?” inquired Fye, with avid interest.

“Yes. And our mother always used to love it when we did alchemy for her.”

“You’re both entirely self taught then? That’s very commendable.”

“Oh no – we started that way, but later on we found ourselves a teacher too. An incredible teacher!” said Al, in the voice of someone who spends his life half expecting that teacher to burst into the room any second and know exactly what has just been said about her.

“And now your brother is… what was the title again?”

“State Alchemist!” Al supplied.

“That’s right. Are there a lot of State Alchemists your brother’s age? It sounds like an important position.”

“Oh no, there are no others that young. My brother is truly exceptional at alchemy for his age.”

“He really is, isn’t he?”

“Oh yes!” But that was just the reminder Al needed of where his brother was at that moment. “Though he can be a bit hasty at times. I do hope he’s alright.”

“Well, your brother has our Syaoran with him – he’s very dependable, you know,” said Fye, stretching casually. “Between them, I’m sure there’ll be nothing they can’t figure out.”

Kurogane decided he was in need of some fresh air at this point. His instincts may have been warning him against trusting these people, the younger brother especially, but the ease with which Fye was picking through their whole life stories was making even him uncomfortable. The woman manning the desk suddenly became very interested in something she was writing as he passed her by (a sharp reminder that the room they’d been given when they checked in was only one badly-soundproofed wall away from the entry, and that none of them had been especially careful to keep their voices down), but Kurogane was perfectly happy to be ignored. So it was that just as Fye was assuring Alphonse that his brother was sure to be okay that the ninja nearly walked straight into a man running down the street yelling “Help! The werewolves! The werewolves are invading the town!” in the terrified manner common to panicked villagers the multiverse over.

Kurogane grabbed him by the arm so sharply he very nearly wrenched the man off his feet. “What wolves?”

“Werewolves!” the man shrieked at him. “The ones that nearly bit Thompson’s leg clean in half! The ones that…”

“You’re talking about those chimeras?” Kurogane cut in.

“Chimeras?” said the man, apparently not very familiar with the word. “But I’m telling you, these are…”

“Don’t worry about what,” Kurogane instructed, “just tell me where. We’ll deal with it.”

Back inside, Alphonse greeted him with what was really an impressively good impression of a comically white-with-horror face for someone with no facial muscles exposed.

“You both heard all that outside?” said Kurogane.

“My, whatever can those boys be getting up to to stir up trouble like this?” Fye wondered, stretching again and getting to his feet. “There’s no rest for us today. We’d best go check this out.” He followed Kurogane outside then paused, remembering something, and stuck his head back around the door. “Oh, Alphonse, would you keep an eye on Sakura for us until we get back?”

“Oh, sure!”

“Wonderful!” said Fye, and vanished once again.

Outside, with a bit more distance and an extra wall between them and the room, Kurogane stopped long enough to say, “Are you sure about leaving the princess alone with that?”

“Alphonse is harmless,” Fye assured him, “and also a very nice young man. I’m sure they’ll get on fabulously.”

“We still don’t know what those brothers are hiding yet,” Kurogane pointed out. “You remember what I told you about that one before.”

“A personal secret or two doesn’t make you a horrible person,” said Fye. “Shall we go?”

Kurogane would have bet one of his favourite limbs that that magician wasn’t just talking about the brothers with that last bit, but even if he had wanted to know, this was hardly the time to talk about it now, so the matter was better left alone.

***

The staircase under the mansion descended in the shape of a gently sloping spiral, meaning that whatever awaited them below would remain concealed until they rounded the last corner. It continued down for quite some distance.

“That’s five chimeras I’ve seen,” Syaoran said on the way, after some thought. “Plus at least two in the tunnel. Why would anyone make so many?”

“Search me,” said Ed, not even looking back over his shoulder. “There are a few places in Central that use them as specialised guard animals, but if that’s what these are for, they’re not doing a very good job.”

“So our theory is still that this is someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing?”

“Self-taught is my guess,” said Ed. “You can get a long way from books alone, but – take it from me – there are some things about alchemy only a real teacher can teach you.”

“There are books on alchemy?” Syaoran asked before he could stop to think about this – of course there would be, there were books on everything.

“There’s a whole library in Central City filled with nothing else.”

“Really?”

“State alchemists admitted only,” Ed added, with a teasing grin thrown over his shoulder. “Sorry. You thinking of taking up alchemy now too?”

“It seems like a fantastically useful skill,” said Syaoran, with nothing but absolute honesty. “But I’d never find the time to learn it properly,” he had to admit, feeling a tinge of regret.

“Shame, you seem like you have the brains for it.” Ed made it sound casual, but Syaoran didn’t need to have known him long to guess he wouldn’t throw compliments like that around lightly.

“Thank you – I’m honoured you’d think so.”

Ed shrugged. “Just calling it how I’ve seen it. You aren’t the only ones around here who notice things, y’know.”

Syaoran ran his fingers over the wall, seemingly carved right out of the earth just as the tunnel had been, and finally found a way to put words to one of the other thoughts that had been chasing around in his head.

“Alchemy could have made all this, couldn’t it?”

“Easily. Shifting dirt around would be basic for anyone pulling off stuff like those tricks with the circles upstairs,” said Ed. “What are you thinking?”

“The tunnel we came in through must have connected up somewhere down here, but it doesn’t seem like something that could have formed naturally. Could an alchemist have made that the same way you made that escape tunnel?”

Ed paused to consider. “It could be, but it wouldn’t be easy to pull off. You’d need a lot of fine precision to move that much material from this far away from the other side.”

“What if someone did it in increments though?”

“Huh? You mean, tunnel out the first bit then go to the end and tunnel and tunnel out the next from inside, bit by bit? I guess it’s possible, but there wasn’t a lot of space in there. Anyone who could do it that way would have to be… shorter than me,” he concluded, visibly torn between enjoying the idea there was someone shorter than him out there and being forced to face just how short that would be.

They rounded the last corner at the bottom then though, so whatever Syaoran might have said in reply was forgotten.

***

Fye and Kurogane had only been gone a few minutes when the sleeping girl Al had been left to watch – Sakura – blinked herself awake. She looked around the room and came to focus on its sole inhabitant. “Huh? The armour from before – ah! Sorry, you’re Alphonse-san, right?”

“That’s right. And you’re Sakura – we were introduced before.”

Sakura took another look around the room and confirmed it to be otherwise empty. “Where is everyone?”

“My brother and the one called Syaoran have gone to investigate the mansion,” Al explained. “And there was some sort of commotion outside before, so the others went to see what it was. They asked me to wait here and keep you company.”

“Oh,” said Sakura, sitting up a little straighter. “Then I can keep you company too!”

“Ah… thank you?” said Al, not sure how else to respond.

Sakura’s eyes trailed up and down over his form for a few moments. “That armour – doesn’t it get heavy?”

“Ah… you get used to it! It’s no problem!” Al assured her hurriedly.

“Do you wear it all the time?”

“Ah, we… it’s kind of…” Al stammered.

One of Sakura’s hands flew to her mouth. “Ah! I’m sorry, I asked something I shouldn’t have.”

Al waved his hands quickly. “It’s alright, I mean, anyone would wonder.”

Sakura glanced down guiltily for a moment, despite his reassurances, then looked back up again. “It really doesn’t hurt to wear?”

“Not at all,” said Al. “In here, nothing hurts you.”

There was thoughtful silence in the room for a moment.

“I’m asking all the questions,” said Sakura. “If you like, you can ask me something too.”

And there Al was again, grasping for safe conversational topics. “Um… well… I know – which country do you come from?”

“Clow country – a country made of sand,” said Sakura, wistfully. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember it very well.”

“Has it been a long time since you were there?”

“I don’t think so, I don’t remember,” said Sakura sadly, but then, with more enthusiasm, added, “But I am remembering more and more the longer we travel!”

“That’s…good?” said Al indistinctly.

Sakura nodded. “Everyone is working really hard to help me get my memories back,” she said fondly.

“My brother and I are on a kind of journey too,” said Al.

“What kind of journey?”

“There’s… something important we’re looking for.”

It seemed like a blatantly evasive answer to Al, but Sakura treated it as though she’d just been imparted with his greatest secret. She leaned forward to grasp one of his large hands with both of her own. “Then you’ll definitely find it someday! I know it!”

“That’s very kind of you…” said Al, lost for any more words.

Sakura gave him a determined nod. “And Syaoran-kun and everyone else who’s trying so hard for me – they’ll find what we’re looking for too!”



On to Part 8

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
smokexscribbles
Jun. 19th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
“A personal secret or two doesn’t make you a horrible person,” said Fye. “Shall we go?”

You're amazing.
rallamajoop
Jun. 20th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)
Fye can be a little unsubtle sometimes, can't he? XD
nebroadwe
Jun. 20th, 2007 08:29 pm (UTC)
I noticed this story when it initially went up, but the first chapter didn't really grab me. But I wandered back to it and discovered that the subsequent installments were very pleasant to read. I've been reading a lot of character-driven FMA fic lately; a plot-driven 'fic, particularly one set early in the timeline (that also shows a good sense of humor) is a nice change of pace. And I want to know the solution to the mystery. I'll look forward to the next bit!
rallamajoop
Jun. 21st, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
Mm, it does often take a couple of chapters before you can tell whether a story is going to go anywhere interesting, so I definitely get that. (And really, plot-driven, early-timeline stuff in any fandom is pretty unusual by my usual writing standards too, so it's been a challenging project.) I'm glad to hear you found it worth coming back to though - and I hope the remaining parts will live up to expectations.
grass_angel
Jun. 24th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
I agree with what smokexscribbles said. Fye can be SO subtle can't he?
But yay! Geeky dork love for books.

rallamajoop
Jun. 24th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
But yay! Geeky dork love for books.

*grin* Putting those to together has been far too much fun.

(PS: Part 8 is up now too in case you hadn't seen it - just hadn't quite gotten around to going back to this post to add the link until now. ^^;)
grass_angel
Jun. 24th, 2007 12:20 pm (UTC)
I'm.... 200 entries behind my flist. ^^;
vikki
Jul. 12th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
DAAAAAAAAW! *squeals at the final segment* Sakura and ALPHONSE! You are a genius! XD;;; I love the awkwardness of their conversation; you can sense that Al feels as though he's entered the middle of a conversation and doesn't know where it began at all.

Ed and Syaoran continue to delight me. Syaoran's interest in alchemy is wonderful, and Ed's praise for him? Perfect. Ed is often calculatingly casual, isn't he?

Fye's line: "[Syaoran]'s very dependable, you know" - made me smile. That's a great way to describe Syaoran. And "A secret or two doesn't make you a horrible person" - *makes horrible sad sounds* If only Fye really believed that about himself ... ;___;
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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