A/N: I am so, so sorry it's taken this long! My computer crashed in Nov. so I had I rewrite a lot of thing or this story and others. Than my beta got sick, and well, life just got in the way.
But now I'm back, and I'm going to try really hard to keep regular up-dates going.
On with the show!
"I told you to leave that stupid rabbit at home!"
"Mr. Whiskers is not stupid!" Tammi protested passionately, like the very idea was unthinkable.
Edward muttered something under his breath that sounded an awful lot like "fucking little hairball," but everybody else just ignored him. It was extremely early in the morning-the sun wasn't even up yet-and no one had really slept the night before either, so you could see why Ed might be a little . . . grumpy.
It had taken Tammi the whole night to pack, and even now she was sure she'd left something vitally important behind. At first, she'd done what every other eleven year old would try to do: stuff her entire wardrobe into one tan duffel bag. When it became clear that wouldn't work, she spent the next few hours sorting, stuffing, and debating until she managed to get it down to the duffel and one large sparkly, sky-blue backpack; Plus, the abovementioned "hairball's" travel carrier.
Mr. Whiskers was not happy about this unexpected change in his schedule. He hunched in the very back of his carrier making little bunny noises of distress. He wouldn't let anyone, not even Tammi, touch him either. Alphonse felt for the little guy. A pet rabbit's life must be so simple that any little difference in route would cause an upset. On his part, Al was feeling quite content at the moment. As said before, it was very early in the morning and the sun as only now coming over the horizon, so it seemed like the whole world was covered in a pretty purplish haze. Best of all, the only other person standing on the wooded platform was a curly-haired old man much too interested in his newspaper to pay them any mind. No matter what he told brother, Al really didn't like it when people stared at him, even if he knew why they did it (you don't see a walking, talking suit of armor clamming to be a fourteen year old boy every day, do you?).
Edward didn't give two shits about the lovely scenery, lack of humans, or some fat guy reading yesterdays paper. He was tired as hell. All night his head and his heart had an intense battle of wills, which neither won.
He knew bringing Tammi along was a bad idea. He knew it, Al knew it, Winry knew it, Granny knew it, Armstrong knew it, and even the damn rabbit knew it! And it wasn't just the whole "Scar issue." There were other, just as dangerous, if not more, that Ed was worried about. He wasn't supposed to know this, but about once a month—ever since he'd joined the military-Mustang got a formal request from one his other superiors asking (demanding) that he be transferred into their division. Ed didn't put it past anyone of them to use Tammi as a sort of bargaining chip; just so they could get the beloved "Hero of the People" on their side.
On the other hand, three days really wasn't enough time together after more than four years apart. And the chances of them being attacked again were quite slim, what with the twenty-four hour protection. And, well, look at how happy she was! Ever since Ed begrudgingly agreed to take her along, Tammi's face hadn't stopped glowing. He didn't have the heart to take that away.
So those were the arguments between logic and love; is it any wonder he didn't sleep a wink?
Flexing the new fingers of his right hand, Ed fumbled at his waist for his sliver state alchemist pocket watch. Once, Resembool's train station had been a thing of beauty. Then about eight years ago, it was attacked by an Ishvalan terrorist group, and completely destroyed along with most of the surrounding buildings.
Now, it was nothing more than a simple elevated wooded platform with a small hut that served as the office/ticket booth. Along one wall there was a chart that had once advertised arrival and departure time but now remained blank due to the fact that no one wanted to bother with it. If you wanted to catch a train, you either had to get there at the butt crack of dawn (as they had done) or just hope luck was on your side.
As it was, after checking the time, Ed knew their train was almost fifteen minutes late; which didn't improve his already sour mood.
The sooner they left the better.
Tammi had the exact same mind set as Ed for entirely different reasons. The small girl was shaking with excitement! Or maybe that was just shivering? Even with dawn approaching, it was very cold for this early in autumn. Heaving the backpack down, she rooted through the various books, pens, notebooks, and bunny treats-it was a very large bag-Tammi finally found what she was looking for.
It was her favorite article of clothing: a bright yellow pullover with a hood, purposefully too big, so it bunched at the elbows and fell to mid-thigh. Al had groaned the first time he saw it, "First brother, than you; I swear my siblings are color blind!"
"What's wrong with my coat?" Ed had bristled. Tammi, on the other hand, couldn't see what Al meant. He was a seven foot tall suit of armor; bright colors paled next to him in terms of notability.
Feeling snug and warm, Tammi craned her neck in an attempt to see past the bend in the tracks where their train would be coming from. Unfortunately, there was a rather big group of hills in the way, so she didn't have much luck.
'Come on,' she thought impatiently, tapping her toes on the ground. 'Get here already.'
Ed might just change his mind about taking her if he thought about it too long; and Tammi did not want to miss the chance for her first trip out of Resembool.
And she was bored, which was never a good sign.
Her overly dramatic sigh was drowned out by the loud, sudden blast of a train whistle.
"Finally!" Edward exclaimed as he reached for his brown leather briefcase.
The train was truly a magnificent specimen: deep forest green, red and gold trimmings, fifteen cars long, with interiors of polished wood and gleaming brass. Raising high in the air, the smoke stack proudly spat out sparks and smog, like a magical genie escaping from its lamp.
They chose a car towards the back and, as they had it all to themselves, proceeded to spread their stuff out where ever they wanted. Ed flopped down onto one of the benches and was asleep in less than a minute, while Al, Armstrong, and Tammi got a poker game going.
It only took two stops for Tammi to realize two things: 1) she sucked at cards, and 2) the train was going to get real crowded, real fast.
Tammi bit her lip as yet another three people bored their car. It was only half past six, and already the front cars were full. An hour passed, then two and three, and with each new addition the train that had once seemed so big and grand became smaller and more confining. Finally, around noon, Tammi didn't think she could take it any longer. Her palms were sweating, and it took a great amount of effort to stop her voice from shaking.
"Hey, Ed, when'll we get there?"
Edward looked up from the book he was reading (he'd given up trying to sleep) and said, "We're supposed to get there around eleven."
"No, eleven in the morning."
"In the morning?" she squeaked. There was no way she could stay in this cramped airless space all night. She'd go mad. Overcome by a student urge to get out, to see the sun and feel the wind, Tammi leaped up and said in an overly chipper voice that she was going to the snack car at the very end of the train.
She held herself together just long enough to ask if the others wanted anything (they didn't), tell Al to keep an eye on Whiskers (she wouldn't trust anyone else with her baby), and make it to the foot and a half wide platform that separated the two cars. Then she just stood there, griping the hand rail so hard her knuckles turned white. Taking deep breaths to calm down, Tammi focused her attention on where she was, instead of where she'd have to go back to.
Even though the sun was directly overhead it was quite chilly out; with the type of gusty winds that'd steal a hat off your head of you weren't careful. To the left and right, as for as the eyes could see, the land was completely flat and covered in farming communities called "Sunny Rivers" or something equally as cheesy. Once in a while something bigger would come along; usually with a giant, ugly factory in the middle. In short, they were slowly, but steadily, moving out of the country backwaters and into more heavily populated areas.
All this had a soothing effect on her panic nerves. Releasing her fingers, Tammi was able to quietly open the door and slip into the other compartment without drawing attention to herself. Being the last passenger car, it was a bit less crowded then the one she'd just left. Of course, that didn't mean they wouldn't be a conveniently placed person for her to crash into when the train gave an unexpected lurch.
"Sorry!" she righted herself quickly, face burning with embarrassment, but the woman was apparently too busy fixing her cloak to notice.
The woman was very pretty, with a tall, curvy figure, fair skin, and rich dark hair that cascaded down her shoulders like a waterfall. For some reason, her beauty made the whole incident even worse.
Feeling stupid for dumbly standing there, Tammi gulped and chocked out: "Um, ma'am, are you all right?"
At long last, the woman looked up, causing the brunette to gulp again.
The lady's eyes were the strangest she'd ever seen: amethyst with elongated pupils, like a cat. There was something pectoral in those eyes, and Tammi had to resist the urge to step back. But then the eyes softened, and the fierceness was gone so fast Tammi wondered if it'd been there at all.
"No, I'm not hurt. Are you?" Her voice was light, and pleasant to the ears, the kind you'd expect a singer to have.
"N—no, I'm, I was just, I guess it caught me off guard," Tammi stuttered, blushing more than ever. Having to deal with strangers was hard enough; but having to deal with one when you've just fallen into their lap was downright impossible.
"Trains can be tricky things," the women laughed, like tinkling bells. Tammi couldn't tell if she was being made fun of, so she agreed, her own laughter sounding forced and hollow.
Her new acquaintance abruptly stopped laughing and scanned the child up and down. Tammi felt naked and exposed under such a gaze. Her greenish-gray eyes flickered to the other passengers, but they were all too absorbed in their own worlds to notice anything unusual going on.
"You seem a little young to be traveling by yourself," it was a casual question, but an alarm bell in Tammi's head went off. Every fiber in her been told her to end this conversation and get back to her brothers as soon as possible; but she didn't want to be rude. This woman wasn't really doing anything to warrant such a strong reaction.
'Then why do I feel like a fly caught in a spider web?'
"I'm with my older brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric," she said, purposely emphasizing the last name.
She got the exact response she was looking for. The strangers perfectly sculpted eyebrows raised, and the feralness re-entered those feline like eyes. It gave Tammi a since of power to know she'd broken through the others mask-if only for a moment.
"Edward Elric? Isn't he The Fullmetal Alchemist?" gone was the nonchalant, merely curious quality; replaced by a sharper tone.
"Yes, they call him the people's hero," she sounded cocky, but inside her heart was beating like a brass drum. "Speaking of which, I really should get back to them. They might start to worry if I'm gone too long."
"Indeed," the lady sniffed. Tammi could feel eyes boring into the back of her skull all the way back to the door, but she just kept walking, looking straight ahead. The youngest Elric didn't stop until she was safely in her seat next to Ed.
The blond, still nose deep in his book, glanced over at his sister. She was pale and sweating slightly.
"Tammi-bear, are you okay?"
"Yes," she said, picking up Mr. Whiskers carrier from the floor and placing it on her lap. For a reason she couldn't explain, she didn't want anyone to know what'd just happened. "And don't call me Tammi-bear," she added simply for the sake of form.
Ed exchanged a look with Al. They both knew Tammi wasn't telling the whole truth, but he decide to leave it be for now. Instead, he smoothed the hair back from her forehead, a small jester Tammi found both familiar and comforting. Edward had never been one to show physical affection, so little things like that meant much more then you'd think.
Sighing with contentment, Tammi drew her legs up, and spent the rest of the afternoon leaning against Ed's side, reading over his shoulder and not caring that she couldn't understand half of it.
Just as Edward predicted, the train pulled in to Central's station at eleven o'clock on the dot.
It was the busiest, noisiest place Tammi had ever been to, and it gave her both the feelings of excitement and nervousness. There were so many people, boarding and disembarking, going to and fro, that she was sure she would've gotten lost in two seconds if Ed hadn't firmly clutched her upper arm like he did.
Major Armstrong led the party expertly through the throngs of people until they came to a gap in the crowd where a man and woman were waiting. They identified themselves as Sergeant Danny Brosh and Second Lieutenant Maria Ross, respectively.
It took Tammi a great deal of self-restraint to not burst out laughing when they mistook Alphonse for the Fullmetal Alchemist. It was an honest mistake, and she could see why someone might make it, but Ed's reaction was priceless!
A giggle did escape drawing both their attention away from the youth who was now being physically restrained by Armstrong because Danny had mentioned the great taboo.
They weren't excepting someone else to be there, much less a little girl, but where Maria had the good sense not to show it, Danny did not. His eyes went as wide as dinner plates; he looked from Tammi, to Ed, to Al, before finally resting on Armstrong.
Tammi frowned, not liking his tone at all, but before she could even open her mouth, Alphonse stepped forward.
"This is our sister, Tammi. She's going to be staying with us for a while."
"A week," Ed piped up, feeling the need to clarify. He'd stopped trying to behead the Sergeant and was now fishing something out of his pocket. "Listen, we need to-"
"You brought your little sister here? Now?" Danny blurted out. "Surprised" was too weak a word to describe the look plastered on his face. Flabbergasted was more like it! "We're nowhere close to finding Scar and-"
"Scar?" Tammi asked when the name tumbled from the man's mouth. "Who's Scar?"
Everybody got really, really quiet.
Danny at least had enough sense to appear embarrassed; while Armstrong and Maria's were a mix between mildly uncomfortable and downright awkward. Alphonse shuffled around, digging the point of his toe into the ground. And Edward looked like . . . looked exactly like . . . looked like he'd been. . . .
Like a puzzle, the pieces fell into place in Tammi's mind. It hadn't been "just an accident," that person with the funny name had tried to hurt them! He was the reason they came back all busted up, and . . . . they'd lied to her about.
Maria, gods bless her, tried to break the tension by reminding her partner that the car was running. This snapped the adults back to reality; Ed and Al too after Armstrong almost crushed the blond in a good-bye hug. Tammi, however, hadn't moved and refused to look at anyone. Instead she stared sullenly at the floor, even when Ed put a hand on her shoulder, leaned close to her ear and whispered: "We'll talk later, I promise."
For the first time in memory, Tammi didn't automatically grab hold of his arm as Ed led her out of the building to a waiting car.
The ride down to the library wasn't exactly what you'd call pleasant, for any of the parties involved. For one thing, that nice, spiffy, military issued car hadn't been designed to hold five people in the back. Tammi ended up sitting up front with the driver; not that she minded in the least, even if he did smell like fish.
Tammi was the master at what you'd call the "silent treatment." If upset at someone, she could go days without speaking a word to them; and right now she was madder then she'd been in a very long time.
She didn't know if it was because of losing their mother so early, or the product of basically raising themselves, but one of the first promises all three of them had ever made to each other was that they wouldn't keep secrets. Being a rather young child at the time this vow was made, Tammi's own secrets didn't amount to much, but the boys had great, big, wonderful secrets; and Tammi knew then all.
She'd know about the plan to bring back momma, even if she never really understood what it meant. They'd told her about their time on the island, how they'd had to catch, kill, and cook their own food ad the scary masked man that had attacked them; and the even tougher training that came afterwards.
No secrets. It had been a blood promise, but Ed and Al broke it.
Common sense told her she was being unreasonable, and though she didn't want to admit it, it was right. Still, try telling that to a moody, pouting, eleven year old girl who feels she's been wronged. So she spent the whole journey glowering out the window, and would've continued to do so if the shock of seeing the entire First Branch of The National Central Library burned to the ground hadn't snapped her out of it.
Edward was crestfallen. They'd come all this way, hurried back as fast as they could, and the damn place was burned down. Could god really still hate him so much after all these years?
Standing before the ruins, he resisted the urge to scream out loud in pure aggravation! How was he supposed to read Marcoh's notes if they were burnt to a crisp?
Vaguely, he heard Ross saying something about the fire happening a few days ago, and that the arsonist was still at large. The blond decided right then and there that if he ever found out who did this, he'd beat then to within an inch of their pathetic, miserable life!
Inside the main building, the news wasn't much better. There were no record of anything Dr. Marcoh might have published on the Philosopher's Stone; not that it'd matter if there was as it most likely would have gone up in smoke, along with whatever tiny bit of hope Ed had left.
Just as he was about to leave in total despair, one of the assistant librarians piped up about a woman named Sheska, who used to work there.
"If anyone can help you," he chuckled, "it's Sheska. She's the very definition of a bookworm."
Though it sounded promising, Ed wasn't going to hold his breath; he didn't think he could stomach the disappointment if it turned out to be another false lead.
Since Sheska lived so close to the library, it was unanimously decide that they'd walk instead of getting back into that cramped car. On instructions from Maria, the driver was going to go on ahead and check their luggage into a nearby hotel. It miffed Ed a little when Tammi so adamantly insisted on bringing Mr. Whiskers along, but in light of recent events he let it go.
In spite of the circumstances, Edward couldn't help but enjoy the short stroll through the park and along a stretch of water front. It was slightly chilly, but the sun was shining its little heart out, and it seemed like everybody in the city was taking advanced of the good weather. Small children darted happily about under the watchful eyes of their parents. Elderly couples held hands was they traversed down well wore paths, quite content to ignore the younger people racing around them. A group of boys about his age were trying to get a baseball game going, but kept breaking off into arguments over who'd play which position.
It was even having a positive effect on Tammi, he noticed with satisfaction. She'd stopped scowling at the ground and was now swinging her head back and forth, attempting to take everything in at once. A place as large, loud, and busy as Central was a bit of a shock after quiet, slow Resembool; everyone seemed to be in a hurry, and everywhere she looked, something exciting was happening. It was a bit overwhelming, and the brunette moved closer to Ed and reached up with her free hand to take his arm without realizing it; nervousness over riding anger.
Maria had to stifle the unprofessional "Awwww" that threatened to escape past her lips. The two looked so cute, clinging to each other like that. Looking over at her partner, she saw that Danny was too preoccupied with ogling at a pretty jogger to take any notice of his surroundings. She sighed. Brosh could be an excellent solder when he wanted to- smart, hard working, and loyal to a fault- but unfortunately he had the attention span of a goldfish.
"They've always been like that," someone said from the Second Lieutenant's left. A little startled, Maria turned to see that it was the other boy, Alphonse, who'd spoken. He was surprisingly quiet for a person wearing a bulky suit of armor, and he moved with a cretin odd grace. If she had to hazard a guess, Ross would say he was trained in some form of martial arts.
"Brother and Tammi," Al clarified, gesturing to the two in front. "They've been like that ever since we were little kids." He didn't sound jealous; instead he was simple stating a fact. Perplexed-but she was soon to learn that feeling came naturally when dealing with Elrics- Maria refocuses herself to the task at hand; it was her job to protect these children, not ask questions.
Sheska's house was small, but the outside was clean and there was even a little patch of garden that had obviously been tended to with loving care. The inside, however, was much more shocking. Every available surface was covered in books. Fat books, skinny books, old books, new books; books on any subject you can imagine. Tammi guessed that if she spent half a year reading, nonstop, she'd only get through a quarter of the material here.
On any other day her brothers would've been equally impressed, but right now they were concerned with the owner of said books, not the tomes themselves; the owner that seemed not to be home at the moment. Gingerly stepping around mile high stacks that looked ready to fall at the slightest push, everyone crowded into what Tammi assumed to be the living room. If you could even call it a living room-the only lick of furniture was an under stuffed easy chair next to a small side table with a lamp.
She wondered if anyone really lived here; just the thought made her claustrophobia act up. There was something off about this place; something that put everyone on edge. So, it wasn't too surprising that they all jumped when Alphonse suddenly shrieked from the other side of the room.
"Brother, there's a person buried in here!"
There were several moments of frantic activity as everyone tried to move the fallen manuscripts out of the way. Beneath the pile, curled up in a protective ball, was a young, mousey haired woman who quickly identified herself as the Miss Sheska they were looking for.
Ed didn't even stop to introduce himself before asking about the research notes he wanted-something Tammi thought incredibly rude of him-but Sheaka didn't seem to mind, and even offered to copy them down now that the fire destroyed the original texts.
Tammi was impressed. Her own near photographic memory had always been a point of pride with her, but she didn't think she could memorize a whole book word for word; particularly since it looked like Sheska'd probably read over a million of them.
Maria practically had to drag everyone out of the house, and it wasn't until she mentioned lunch that they agreed to leave Sheska to work in peace.
Edward was in high spirits; as was Al. Not only was this was the most promising lead they'd had in years; but, according to Sheska, they'd have almost five whole days with nothing to do but show Tammi around the city. Already he was compiling a list of places he'd take her and people he wanted her to meet.
A small, fond smile swept across his face was he watched younger brother and sister walking side by side, Tammi having to take two steps for every one of Al's. Even though it had been dangerous to bring Tammi along, Ed was glad he did.
'Finally,' he thought, jogging to catch up with them, 'Things are finally starting to look up.'
You know what I like? Reviews! Could you give me some please?