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Out of Synch

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Title: Out of Synch
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: January 5, 2014
Rating: G/PG
Warnings: Mild violence.
Continuity: Any for either series.
Disclaimer: “Fullmetal Alchemist” belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties. Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite, Shounen Jump and TV Tokyo.

Edward Elric had ringing ears, blurring eyes and a throbbing head. The combination of which was the only possible explanation for the apparition of Maes Hughes grinning in front of him.

“Still with us, Kiddo?” the apparition asked.

Ed snorted. “You’re the one who’s dead.”

“Lucky for you, I was here to keep things that way,” Hughes agreed.

Which was exactly what Ed needed - his own hallucinations getting smart with him. Especially on top of−

Only then did he remember the alchemist he'd been fighting. A man with mad eyes, madder plans, and a technique that tore at the bonds between body and soul.

“Where−?” Ed shifted to look past Hughes and found himself stopped by a surprisingly solid hand.

“Easy.” Hughes’ face was serious now. “He won’t be causing anymore trouble for you.” He offered a wry, sad smile. “You know how unforgiving alchemy can be.”

Ed caught a glimpse of blood and steam and swallowed heavily. “He finally pushed it to the point of true human transmutation.”

Hughes nodded soberly, and then his smile was back. “Now, let’s get you back where you belong, eh?”

Ed blinked at him in confusion and then realized. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?”

“Close enough.” Hughes laid a hand on his chest, started to push.... and froze as a sudden hissing filled the air. He swore and spun around, standing.

And, as Hughes’ clothes spun with him in a dark swirl of loose garments, Ed realized for the first time that Hughes was dressed in a strange, black robe. A bathrobe? Stranger still, was that a sword he was drawing?

“It shouldn’t be possible to Hollow that fast,” Hughes muttered, raising the sword to a ready position. He sucked in a sudden breath. “Unless he’s played with his own soul. All this time, he might have already−”

The rest was lost beneath a roar as a huge shape loomed out of the steam of the failed transmutation. Ed stared at it in horror. It might have been a chimera, but he had never seen one so monstrous. It was all chitinous plates and jointed insectoid legs. Like a giant centipede. But, with a skull-like white face that leered down at them in a fixed grin.

Ed tried to move. Dream or not, he had to do something. Because the monster felt real in a way he couldn’t describe. Real and terrible.

His body wouldn’t move.

Of course. Typical nightmare. He couldn’t move, there was a monster, and a dead man was going to fight it wearing a bathrobe. If it hadn’t felt so real, Ed might have considered it a pleasant change from grasping hands and eldritch smiles.

Meanwhile, Hughes seemed calm, bracing himself and randomly announcing, “Fly true, Cipher.”

Something glowed in his hands, and then a trio of small knives was racing toward the monster. They thumped home in the skull-like mask in a line that ran its length top to bottom.

The monster roared again, a sound that mingled fury and agony. And, above the roar, there was a sharp crack. As Ed watched, the white mask split and light poured out. The monster reeled back, waving countless limbs in the air as its body began to dissolve. Then, it was gone as quickly as it had come.

“W−what?” Ed managed.

Hughes didn’t answer. Instead, he reached out, and three points of light swirled back to his hand, becoming a sword once more. Sheathing the sword, he turned to Ed with a look of deep concentration.

At least, until he snorted out a sudden breath and slumped. “That had me worried for a minute there.” He looked pleadingly at Ed. “Honestly, why does a normal guy like me keep getting dragged into these freak shows?”

“Wha−What was that?” Ed demanded. He tried to stand and failed to move so much as a toe. “And, why can’t I move?”

“Ah, right.” Hughes crouched in front of him. “You got a little too close to our friend there’s transmutation, and your soul and body are just a little... out of synch.”

“Out of synch?”

Ed remembered the reports that had brought him to this town. Unexplained comas, paralysis, inanimate objects moving on their own. He suddenly felt sick.

“Ah, it’s okay,” said Hughes quickly, seeing his face. “That’s actually what they sent me for.” He grinned. “Don’t worry; I’m a professional.”

Then, his hand was on Ed’s chest, pushing firmly.

“Say hi to everyone for me, okay?” Hughes’ voice sounded strangely distant, and darkness began to close around Ed. “And, tell Gracia and Elicia... I’m sorry, and I’ll be waiting.”

Edward Elric woke up to a too-bright sun, a too-worried Al, and a town of mostly recovered inhabitants. Which, once he had time to think about it, made no sense. But, he was more than ready to be done with the entire surreal disaster, so he left the townsfolk to their belief that the alchemist's power died with him. Treating alchemy like fairy tale magic galled, but it was more believable than his own story.