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The False Tide

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The world isn’t always as easy as we want it to be, and in the Truth, it never has been. While we all scorn our parents for having it easier and they scorn us for the same reasons, it is a consequence of living that we ourselves do not experience true happiness when we search for it. The fates, the world, and whatever you believe in refuse to make it that way because in all honesty, if Life was truly easy, we might not ever truly enjoy it.

This is the lesson that takes many of us years to figure out, and the same could be said for the center pieces of our story, namely; Rhys Fencitine, Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric, and Winry Rockbell. These four were surrounded by people through their lives that taught them the same lessons and were taught in equally painful ways and blessed with equally wonderful endings. However, in order to get to those endings, we must start at the beginning, and this story is mostly featuring that of Rhys Victoria Fencitine. A woman of many talents and skills, but of a background that is wrought with grief and hurt.

Was it a coincidence that Rhys found herself sitting at an outside table that was almost directly across from the Leto Church of Liore just as Edward Elric was looking at it over a large crowd of people? At first, she had thought so. After all, getting two of the incidentally youngest and most powerful (in her opinion) Alchemist’s together in the same city for what was found later to be the same reason. But now it seemed horrendously and awkwardly too coincidental to be a coincidence.

Her feet were planted on the navy shag carpet, the soft cotton of the lounge seat creating a form around her as she sank heavier into the softness of the couch, her arms crossed headily and her brow arched high as she pursed her lips at the aforementioned boy’s whines of protest and annoyance at the Colonel’s words. It seemed that the more she rolled her eyes, which he couldn’t see based on the full body of armor that sat between them, his volume level spiked higher and higher. Rattling off the different reasons that he didn’t need a partner, and much less a babysitter, when Rhys knew damn well it was exact opposite. Her own Colonel had told her that she was becoming too much of a liability to have as a lone agent on her own anymore, and of course she had argued intensely against the orders, but there was nothing to stop it.

So now, she figured, it was her job to get back on the government’s good side and get out of this team as fast as she could. She knew they had similar goals, it was said loud and clear back in Liore when the three had accidentally confronted the Priest and broken the Stone, but that didn’t mean that she could simply partner up with anyone at the whim of a government entity, no matter how much she respected her.

“I’ll say it once more FullMetal, this is not a punishment. Illusion here has proved extremely useful with her background in the military, and being that you two cleaned up in Liore so well together, Colonel Yukari and I found it of the best interest of both parties to join forces.” Mustang’s voice was filled with hesitation on his words, and not in the way of nervousness, but in the way when one is trying his best to pick words to get someone out of their space as soon as possible. Yes, Roy Mustang was more than annoyed, Rhys could tell. And it made the smallest of snorts come out of her lips by the end of his sentence. Annoying Roy Mustang, she imagined, was probably one thing that the entire East City sector could agree was a wonderful pastime, even if you were in the same room.

His steely eyes switched away from the golden haired kid to her right and to her, a brow arch matching her own as he sat his chin atop folded hands.
“What’s so funny Illusion?” At this, Rhys felt the insufferable need to roll her eyes once more, maybe for the 13th time that sitting, and a huff left her body. Though the smirk never disappeared.

“Nothing sir-“ She leaned away from the armored body as his spikes began to dig into her thigh the slightest bit, “I just find it funny that this is your form a reward- Seriously… Who in their right minds wants to get stuck with an angry, loud, and incredibly tiny brat who has little to no style?” Her words were biting, meant to sting and annoy, as her goal was just the same. She could feel her new partner’s hair rising on the back of his neck, ready to jump up and call her out on her bullshit. At least it’d be a change of pace. Before he could do that, however, Roy Mustang interrupted with a chuckle of his own, which made the smirk that rested on the blonde girls face fade quite quickly.

“Oh- sorry Illusion,” the Colonel leaned back in his padded desk chair, “I just couldn’t tell which one of you that you were talking about.” The smugness in his voice and painted on his face as he looked between the trio was enough to turn Rhys’ look of curiosity into one of pure snark. Her nose scrunching up tightly as she gripped the end of the chair arm to lean forward and stick her tongue out as a reply. She figured it was better reply than none, and she was too taken aback from the smartness of the comment to really think about anything in reply, but then her mouth popped out instantly-

“Hey! I’m way taller than that little bitch over there!” Her reply came out with the scrunch in her nose still heavily visible, and she wasn’t surprised that the remark came out even louder than she intended it. Still leaned forward, the rustle of fabric to her right caught her attention as the boy by her side almost snarled at her (here she made a mental note on her newfound partner’s pride, so very easily taken down). It was then that she was finally able to take a good look at him, and he wasn’t all that bad looking, his hair matching the color of his golden eyes, but his face still holding onto the look that would be his age. His nose and jaw hadn’t quite toughened out yet, and oh yes, she could tell, he was definitely shorter than her.

“There is NO WAY in HELL that I am shorter than you you damn BRAT.” His nose scrunched even tighter than hers, and she couldn’t help but chuckle at how simple it was to get a rise out of him, what was his name? She wasn’t sure if she had been paying attention earlier, maybe she hadn’t, she thought she had, but she had also been counting the amount of papers that were currently piling onto Mustang’s desk and thanking the Lord Himself that she wasn’t any part of that, whether it be adding to it or filing it. So yes, it was probable that she had missed FullMetal’s real name, but that wouldn’t stop her from rising up to the challenge of being called a brat.

She rose up quicky from her spot, her arms crossing once more as she popped a hip out to look him up and down, “Oho yeah? You wanna bet flea-boy?” The words snipped off her tongue with a steady sharpness, almost as if her tongue was coated in a thick layer of silver, she could taste the metal in her mouth as she watched the Alchemist rise to the challenge, quickly standing up and meeting her nose with his own. A smirk crawled slowly onto her pink lips, watching as the frustration built up in the very obviously shorter-than-her boy. “What was that? There’s no way you’re shorter than me?” She couldn’t help herself, her smirk growing wider and wider with every shade that Fullmetal’s face deepened in red, nearly matching his coat (which, while she would never say it out loud, she quite liked the style of). The blonde boy opened his mouth to retort, probably loudly, and just as Rhys was about to set a pace for them, so that their arguing would have a steady base of years to come to go off of, Mustang’s throat cleared, shattering the tense mood and causing both teens to roll their eyes and plop back into their seats.

Round One: Rhys; 1, Boy; 0.

“As I was saying before, Colonal Yukari and I have agreed that it is in the best interests of everyone to push you three into a group, mostly so you can keep an eye on eachother as you all have your own special way of finding trouble, but also- the similar goals make handing this information out a bit easier.”

“Oh c’mon Colonel- get on with it already-“ A whine came from behind the suit of armor once more, this one got a small smirk out of Rhys which she quickly covered by clearing her throat as softly as she could. “How about when someone of higher rank is trying to help you out you take their tip with good graces Fullmetal? What I’ve been trying to say is that with your particular mission, boys, you might want to seek out research from the Sewing Life Alchemist, Shou Tucker. I have the file ready to hand over and everything, but he’s not back for another few weeks. I figured giving you this information now was better than sitting on it and letting you stew with nothing to do, because God knows that that’s worse.” With this, the boy got up to take the outstretched, thick manila folder from Mustang. Rhys couldn’t help but the inquisitiveness that bubbled up inside her gut.

“Shou Tucker was granted his certification after creating the first ever talking chimera.” And with this, the room went cold. Rhys found her eyes widening, not only at the revelation, but at the familiarity of the name. Where had she heard that before?

“Wait seriously-“ Rhys’ voice chimed monotonously and was interrupted by a much younger and more excited statement that seemed to echo from the suit of armor, “A talking chimera?!”

“Yes. However, after creating it, it only said one thing; I want to die. It refused to eat or drink and ended up dying quickly after it’s creation.” Rhys could feel her stomach churn and her nose scrunch once again at these words. What kind of a man would be the kind to create a creature that wishes to die so much that it kills itself, not out of pain, but out of it’s pure unwillingness to exist? That seemed horrendously human to be anywhere near that sort of consciousness… But she supposed every Alchemist had their ways, and she was no different.

“So, you want us to go, check out this guy’s research, and find if he has anything on limb rejuvenation? And because somewhere in both of our lives, we’re all three searching for that same thing, you’ve put us together to find the answer?” It wasn’t that Rhys was a horrible listener or even that bad at following orders, it was more than she wanted to reiterate how terrible of an idea that she thought this was, incredulously stupid even. Rhys worked better alone, and she imagined that her new partner felt the same way.

However, neither of them would have gotten this information without Mustang, so she supposed she could show a non-lethal amount of gratitude, and this was confirmed with the gaze that he focused onto Rhys, to which she sighed in reply, rolling her eyes for the umpteenth time and pushing the bottoms of her boots onto the edge of the coffee table in front of her.

“Well- thanks I guess- when does this Tucker guy get back?”

“Two weeks, until then, you three should bond. Get to know your partners before you’re put in the inevitable life threatening situation that I keep telling you to keep yourself out of Fullmetal.” Rhys could hear the kid scoff harshly on the opposite end of the couch, and like that, they were ushered out with the thick file that had Shou Tucker’s name in bold and unmistakable letters across the top. It was thick, and the papers were poking out at ends and seemed to almost be coffee stained-

“I’m Alphonse- by the way. Alphonse Elric!” The chipper voice rose to Rhys’ ears once again, her eyes shooting from the file in the short one’s hands to the suit of armor, who, if he hadn’t been wearing a mask, seemed to emanate that he was smiling, at least in his vocal tones. “Guess since we’ll be working close together, we should know each other’s names ya know?” A small chuckle left his armor, the metallic clang not distracting Rhys in her assessment. He was young, younger than her, but huge. A smirk found her lips as she glanced down to find the heavy gloved hand reaching out towards her and she acknowledged it only with a nod.

“Mhm- I’m uh- Rhys. Just Rhys. And what’s your name blondie?” She turned towards the shorter boy, who was seemingly already eyeing her up and down, analyzing her body language, probably trying to figure out if she was dangerous or not.

“You come up with another damn nickname and I’ll just start calling you anything I please Blondie.” His tongue stuck out from between his chapped lips before he finished his sentence, “I’m Edward Elric, Al’s older brother.” Rhys found another snicker claiming her lips, the right corner quirking up to create a dimple in her cheek and her brow arching again. She supposed she could give him the benefit of the doubt, both of them really, though she really wasn’t sure if…

“Older brother?... Are you… sure? Hey Alphonse, does Edward here often suffer from delusions of grandeur?” She snickered, nudging the younger brother with her elbow against his hard metal arm, and watching as Edward’s lips quirked up into a scowl once more.

Maybe this partnership wouldn’t be too horrendous after all.

And maybe they’d prove more than useful in her own search for the Celestial Stone.

Chapter Text

It had been one week, and surprising almost everyone in the military office and building, Rhys and Edward, despite the screaming matches that had ensued between them, had not killed eachother, nor backed away from the assignment as a team. In fact, to those that could see the blossoms of a familiar friendship of youth, it almost seemed like the pair complimented each other. Fiery blondes that wouldn’t back down from a challenge if it killed them, though it was obvious Rhys was a bit more tactful in her own insults, and she made Edward well aware of it. Even now as she stuffed a large wedge of chocolate confectionary into her mouth with a giant well-to-do smirk crawling onto her lips, she seemed smug.

Maybe it was due to the factor that she had managed to sneak a drop of milk into his water when he was away, or maybe it was that she had recently topped his insult from a minute ago with her own, and he was boiling in his own rage from across the table, trying to coat his tongue in silver so he could be even quicker and sharper than her, which so far hadn’t quite worked out, and Rhys would’ve preferred to keep it that way. Sliding the piece into her mouth and feeling the thick frosting melt on her tongue, she chuckled and crossed her arms, sniffing slightly as she bit down and arched a brow in Edward’s direction.

“What are you lookin’ at Elric? I told you to get your own dessert, that doesn’t mean I’m sharing mine-“, reaching down to her plate once more, she sliced into the soft cake with the side of her fork and scooped another, albeit too large, piece of cake up and moved to shove the piece into her mouth. This smeared the chocolate against her bottom lip, forcing her pink tongue to pole out and lick up the spot so as to not look like a total slob, which it was far too late in Edward’s personal opinion.

“I dunno- I’ve never seen rock bottom so up close, figured I might as well observe and take notes so I can make sure not even Mustang hits your level.” His voice was level, monotonous and striking, but his expression was filled with an absolute delight in the comment, being that they had been going back and forth since the day after they had officially been introduced. The first day had been too much a shock for any of the members, and even if ordered to spend time together, it was in collective silence that they had all agreed it was too much for the first day. So the day after it was, even if both human bodies completely found the other to be absolutely infuriating for such activities and timing, the armored one seemed to think that this was a great idea and plan to have their personalities and boundaries worked out even a little.

Though that was proving to be a rather… failure of an idea. But as time went on, Alphonse had noticed that the pair had begun to fall into a form of rhythm, between exchanging burning pleasantries, insulting each other throughout the day based on the other’s outward appearance, and softly guessing what the other might need from Shou Tucker himself. Neither had completely guessed right (and the game had ended when Rhys stated that it was so Edward could grow himself a pair of balls since he “obviously lacked them from birth”, this prompted Edward to state that maybe Tucker could create a better personality for her, and Alphonse found the game much too hurtful, so he put an end to it.)

“Oh- I didn’t realize you were so used to looking in the mirror you can’t even tell what rock bottom looks like anymore- Must be sad to have shit eyesight too.” Rhys propped her cheek up onto the heel of her palm, her elbow digging into the wood of the table as her eyebrow raised high up, daring the boy across from her to come back from such a devastating blow. At least, as she would call it. Reaching down once more, she sliced into the cake with the side of her fork and brought another delectable piece up to her lips, sliding into her mouth and allowing the smooth chocolate to coat her tongue once more, icing any of the pain that she may have felt from Edward’s words from before.

“You could do with looking in the m-“ Edward had begun to spoke, and raised an annoyed brow as he was cut off by a hollowed and young voice, one that held a tinge of nervous urgency to it.

“Haha! Hey Rhys, so why are you in the military? I always heard that my brother was the youngest State Alchemist by far- I didn’t realize that you- well, I’ve never heard of the Illusion Alchemist!” Rhys’ gaze didn’t falter from Ed, though her mischievous smirk curled into a more victorious one as she licked the last bit of chocolate from her lips and moved to lean back in her chair, exiting the banter between the two blondes to direct her attention to the armored boy, who she had recently found out was younger than herself, (being that her and Ed were the same age, even if he was 3 months older).

“Agh- well- being that you and Eddy have been involved in the military for so long, you know how things are done around here. Often people don’t know about others because someone doesn’t want them to know…” She trailed off, her eyes moving from the armor to the beads of water that were building up around her iced glass, quickly she picked up the glass to take a sip and wet her tongue and continue speaking, “Anyways uh- my parents were both enrolled, and I was trained from a young age and told that this is what I’d do- so here I am. Doing it. Bradley knew my father so he kept me close for a long while to make sure I stayed out of trouble, but since I apparently can’t seem to follow orders that well,” she clicked her tongue with a simultaneous raise of her eyebrows, “I’m now here, in the public eye, on babysitting duty.”

“And your father is okay with it?” Alphonse pressed, his body slightly clanked as he leaned forward, as if to try and keep her engaged in the conversation so that she wouldn’t go into bantering with Edward again. Rhys felt her eyebrows synch themselves together as she looked into her glass, counting the beads as they dropped and raced each other to fall off the bottom of the glass. Her bottom lip poked out and she shrugged.

“I’m sure he’s thrilled- but really, father’s don’t seem to care one way or another anyways- haven’t seen mine since I was 13, and I have a high doubt that he knows jack shit about what I’m doing nowadays.” Another sip of water, and she felt the cold refresh her palette from the lies that she spoke almost like another language, effortlessly and without a knot in her tongue. Maybe that was because it wasn’t total lies that she was saying, it was more of a very, very partial truth, that had no business being called the full story, or even resembling it. But she didn’t imagine entertaining basic strangers with her sob story was something that would be often approved of, so she didn’t. And in her own thoughts, she almost missed Alphonse’s words that followed up her statement.

“Oh- I’m sorry I didn’t realize- My apologies I-“ And this time, it was Alphonse who was interrupted by his own brother.

“Don’t be Al- she’s right anyways. Our dad never gave a rat’s ass either, to Hell with him.” Alphonse paused to glance over to his brother, who was watching carefully as Rhys counted the stripes of water streams down her glass, it seemed that finally the pair could agree on something. Oddly enough, this only struck a bit of concern and fear into Alphonse’s soul. They could bicker like no tomorrow, but what would happen if the pair agreed on something? Would Hell freeze over, if Hell existed? Would the Truth have to bend to their will? It chilled Al to the metaphorical bone to wonder what would occur in this chemically explosive state.

Rhys glanced from her glass to catch Ed’s eyes, pursing her lips slightly, and nodding slightly. Not out of contempt, but a small ounce of respect that he had suddenly gained from her. To Hell with the fuckers that abandoned their kids, Rhys thought. And while Ed wasn’t appeasing the same thought at that moment, she could tell that he had before, and he knew at least some of what she herself felt more often than enough. She pressed the glass to her lips once more to down the rest of the drink quickly, tilting her head back and feeling the small block of ice hit her nose slightly as she finished off her glass, finally placing her finished drink down and clearing her throat.

“I think that’s the first time we’ve ever agreed on anything Eddy.” The ill-given pet name rolled off her tongue, and she watched as Ed’s lip stippled in irritation as he slammed his steaming mug down onto the table in front of him and scowled, Rhys almost expected a gloved finger to point in her face, but instead, she only got his words.

“Hey! I told you ta’ quit callin’ me that!” His words were intermixed with a slightly irritated growl, and it made the smirk on Rhys’ lips widen effortlessly.

“And I told you to make me Eddy.” Rhys leaned forward, gently twirling her finger around the rim of her drink and watching as Edward’s face began to fluster, not out of flirtation’s sake, but more out of the embarrassment of the name Rhys had pawned appropriate only within a few hours of talking to him.

“You lookin’ for a fight brat?” His teeth ground heavily, and Rhys’ response only frustrated him further.

“More like another victory Eddy-“

“I TOLD YOU TO QUIT-“

“Is everything okay ma’am? Shall we bring the check for your table?” The woman that had approached their quickly aggressive table, with a very enthusiastic demeanor, held her hands in front of her balled up, and behind them she held their check, obviously and according to Alphonse, they had overstayed their welcome.

“Yes please!” Al’s voice chimed, trying as hard as he could to cut through the tension that the able-bodied pair seemed to continue to share whilst Al made this calming attempt at conversation. “How about we take a walk? Rhys I- I’ve got so many questions for you! Ed too- right brother?” And now Al’s voice was hurried, and Rhys felt a pang of pity for the bigger-younger brother, stuck while she mercilessly destroyed his older brother with words of annoyance (she would never admit that Ed had somewhat crawled under her skin too).

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It had been nearly a week since then, and the bickering had only increased for poor Alphonse, but he also pictured that this was probably the best bonding he had seen Ed do since he had lost his limbs, and since Al himself had lost his body. And that wasn’t to say that their other adventures hadn’t produced friends, but it was interesting to watch his brother be babysat and have to babysit all at the same time. Though now the air was quiet, as it was night, and Alphonse could only listen to his older brother snore softly as he counted the stars.

Alphonse had also learned some things about their new partner, for example, she was good company on her sleepless nights- which were more often than Al would prefer being that she had to keep her strength up. But Alphonse himself was a caretaker, even for his older brother, and while he didn’t approve of Rhys not getting her doctor-recommended 8-9 hours of sleep, he did like the quiet company and conversations she could have to keep his own mind occupied.

They didn’t often talk about themselves, more about the sky, or what Al would like to do soon, being that Rhys knew about his armor situation, and she didn’t really question as to why he was the way he was, which Alphonse (and secretly Edward) appreciated. Rhys didn’t delve into other people’s business unless they made it her business, the Elrics had found that out quite quickly. She wouldn’t dig for information when it wasn’t hers to know about, as long as they themselves didn’t dig into her. She would answer shortly and occasionally, the boys figured this was for the same reason that they kept their own story from the public eye. Not that they had imagined Rhys performed the ultimate sin, but it was more of that Rhys had a past that she didn’t want many people to truly know about, much like the pair of brothers.

Right now, it seemed like a quieter night between the pair as they sat on their respective balconies and glanced between the stars and the noise of turning pages with the book between Rhys’ hands. Tomorrow they would be heading to Shou Tucker’s house, and while Alphonse himself was filled with an eagerness, both he and Edward had noticed Rhys seems to be nervously jittery the whole afternoon. She wouldn’t really say why, and even she herself wasn’t 100% positive on why she was unable to stop numbing out her cheeks by chewing on them. Her brows furrowed heavily as she leaned over the railing of her tiny balcony, a small leather-bound journal, filled with practically unreadable scribbles, sat before her on the railing. To Alphonse, she looked almost rigidly concentrated, a trait he hoped would pass on when they began researching heavily tomorrow.

Her brows were so scrunched it looked painful, and the way she was searching through her notebook it was almost like she was going mad. Rhys was frantically trying to search for a name amongst the messy writing, or an understanding of why going to Tucker’s house made her spine shiver in concern and revolt. She didn’t want to go tomorrow, her gut told her not to, but she couldn’t place the feeling with a real reason, so she had been trying to ignore it. She was under orders anyways, so she couldn’t exactly say no in the first place, but if she had the choice, she absolutely would not go. Shou Tucker, the name didn’t sit right on her tongue, and she had debated trying to come up with another option for Ed and his brother, but she couldn’t find one.

Alphonse watched her read and re-read that book for what seemed like hours, and it was. Not until dawn cracked did she huff and say good night to Alphonse, despite not having the usual conversation that they shared about the day and light things about their pasts. What foods they ate and games they played, Rhys didn’t talk about her family, so Al didn’t really know if she had one at all. He figured he’d let her open up eventually, being that the three were assigned to each other indefinitely, and being that Al himself was an extremely empathetic person, he couldn’t help but hold a slight concern for Rhys as she stomped into her room and seemingly went to sleep.

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The drive there was filled with mindless drivel between Ed and Mustang, and Rhys found the tone of Mustang’s voice grating heavily on her brain and a small huff left her. She had heard the debriefing already, two weeks ago, and it seemed that he felt it necessary to give them a double down as if to remind them with exactly what they were dealing with, and surprisingly to the men in the car (though not to Al since he had seen her stay up the entire previous night), she stayed quiet throughout Mustang’s drilling tone.

Finally they stopped, and Rhys allowed herself to slide out of the front car, the air hitting her face lightly as she cleared her throat, “So, we’re here because this guy made a one-hit wonder chimera that, as I remember, died within days?” She waited for a response, and when she looked around, she was met with Ed’s annoyed glare, trying to match the tone in her voice that spoke in a tone that oozed with smart-ass. “And to top it off, you want him, who hasn’t had an insane amount of success with his projects, to possibly open up the opportunistic idea of making you a new arm and a brand new body? Yeah- this sounds like-“

“That’s not it- We just want to look at his research Miss I-Think-I-Know-Everything, because even if he hasn’t had any success, that doesn’t mean I won’t.” Ed’s voice was even, and slightly teasing. He wanted to make sure that he wasn’t screaming at anyone when he first met Tucker, who he was supposed to beg to let him see his personal research stock.

“Because you’re the most successful Alchemist at four foot two?” Rhys’ voice stung through his ears and it forced a scowl onto his face, his eyes switching over to watch her lips widen into a smirk as he opened his mouth to reply, not even noticing Roy knock three times at the door, but noticing that the hinges creaked right as he would about to unleash an unholy cursing (that he was in fact five foot two, a whole foot taller than she had proclaimed) upon the atomic blonde girl beside him. As soon as the hinges creaked, it was as if the three young guests were standing in front of the President King Furher himself, standing at attention, with straight backs and feet in semi-first position, heels clicking together.

Rhys onced the man over, quickly and with ease, in order to see if what her paranoia was telling her for the past two weeks lined up in any manner, and while it didn’t line up exactly, seeing him in person did make it spike in her stomach. She fought the itch to scrunch her nose as her stomach lurched and her hair stood on end, trying to launch her out of this man’s eyesight. It had been a minute since she had felt such a carnal fear, and honestly she wasn’t quite sure why that was, though her brain was itching into a black part of her memory, trying to rip it out for placement of him. As if she remembered him, but not quite.

“Oh, Colonel Mustang,” The man spoke, his voice almost as tired as the pale man looked, “I didn’t realize that your ensemble was coming today. Please- come in- I’ll fix us some-“ And before he could finish his words, a large shadow overcast the four team members, a howl coming from the giant figure in the sky, and Rhys and Ed’s eyes growing large with concern.

What the fuck could be that big?

Chapter Text

Rhys was surprised to see such a frail man answer the door after the repeated knocks, he wasn’t dressed up with bright eyes and a vial of color-changing chemicals in his hands, he was tired, and frail, and thin. His light brown hair looked to be thinning backwards, and slowly edging towards what would be a reverse widows peak. His eyes were the opposite of bright, they had lost color and were clearly not there fully, as if he wasn’t there fully, and when the light wasn’t blocking her view from them, his eyes would seep directly into her soul and steal her away, in a familiar way, an uncomfortably perverted way that made her reject the snacks offered at the table in front of her.

Despite the dog incident, Rhys had found that Edward was being suspiciously quiet as Tucker unleashed his tale of his wife leaving him and his young daughter due to not being able to handle living a slightly impoverished lifestyle, which Rhys herself held a high doubt for. If his wife left him for any reason, it was because he was an utter slob and the aura he let out was just purely creepy. Why any woman would settle down for her entire life with this man was beyond Rhys, though she did have to admit… His daughter was extremely cute, especially for a man like that. Her hair was the same color of brown as her father’s, but it was silky and laced into two long braids that brushed her little knees, which Rhys was sure with nostalgic knowledge that they were healing from small scabs caused by taking little tumbles, just as the bottoms of her palms were slightly red as well from what Rhys only thought to be protecting herself from those spills.

It was hard for Rhys not to excuse herself from the table when she could see the little girl (thinking back to it she was fairly sure her name was Nina) poking out from behind the corner to try and listen to the conversation that the perceived adults were having around the dining room table. She was poking quite obviously in and out of Rhys’ peripheral vision, and probably everyone except for Edward’s, who Rhys had noticed was more than tunnel-vision focused on Tucker’s words of light explanation of his predicament. For a moment, the young woman found herself thinking that this light tone was because Tucker knew his daughter enough to know that she would of course be sneaking around to know what her father was so busy talking to the grown-ups about, and for that moment alone she found herself hoping that this was the reality.

Hoping that Tucker was a loving man who was the exact opposite of his output. And hoping that the negative feeling that pushed into her fingertips when he addressed her was wrong, though it hardly was. Her jaw clenched hard as she glanced towards Nina, her face poking out defiantly from behind the large and disheveled bookshelf that sat behind Tucker, her hands tightening around the mug in front of her only slightly as the sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted her thoughts. Green eyes snapping to attention to the man that sat across from her, and she realized quickly that he had addressed her with a question.

“What?” Rhys questioned, her voice accidentally coming out in a much headier and harsher tone than she had intended, as if she was intending to cut through the man questioning her. Though when she looked at him, she was met with a tired smirk, as if he was chuckling at her for being so child-like, making her jaw tighten more. She didn’t appreciate the feeling of being looked down upon by someone that made her skin crawl while she hardly knew them. Her nose wrinkled at his amusement and a hand found its way to her bicep, a small slap came from the sound of a gloved hand hitting her own rough leather coat, her eyes switching over to Edward who looked just as annoyed as she felt.

“He asked you what your deal is, being here and all, which,” Ed paused in the middle of his words to look at Roy and switch his tone to a grumble, “I still am not sure of.” Rhys could practically hear Mustang roll his eyes to Ed’s comment, almost in time with her own eyeroll before she looked to Shou Tucker, clearing her own throat and meeting his eyes, fighting the urge to look away from his gaze, or to leave his presence all-together. Her right hand moved to grip her mug under the handle, and she lifted it to her lips to hide the scowl forming on her expression.

“Not sure why that would be your business if it doesn’t hurt you to give the information the boys and I are looking to us. Which it won’t.” Her words were coated in a special tone of venom, as if it would only really start to inject if Rhys felt slightly more threatened by this man across from her, to which made Ed’s right brow rise high along his pale forehead. He opened his mouth to speak, to call Rhys out and to tell her to clean up her act because they are guests and because he and his brother need this chance that this man is so graciously offering them, despite her attitude problem. But what stopped his words much faster than he had expected was Tucker’s own voice, which was calm, rational, and expectant.

“I’m allowing you full range of my research materials, un-coded and without any babysitters. I believe showing you my full hand without payment is a high expectation that not even I will be fulfilling.” He paused, matching Rhys’ gaze, and tilting his head only slightly, “If my research is to be used for a criminal act, than I’d like to know immediately so that I may at least build up a proper defense.” Golden eyes switched between watching the atomic blonde girl and the older man, the girl tightening up rapidly at Tucker’s response, her shoulders pulling back and the hands that rested on the cup were beginning to create a slight squeak from the mug based on how white her fingers were turning from gripping so harshly. Though her eyes never moved from Tucker’s, Ed noticed, and her brows seemed to fight knitting together aggressively.

Her eyes switched over to the corner that Nina had been dutifully hiding behind and took note of the small and fading steps as she left the room. Finally, as if flipping a switch, Rhys relaxed a bit and responded in an even tone, “My mother. Her legs.”

“What about them?” Tucker didn’t seem to take the slight lilt in Rhys’ tone as he pushed a small cracker topped with brie into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

“She needs them back. Refuses to get automail, can barely reach anything where-“

“So that’s where I know you from- you’re the Fencitine daughter, aren’t you?” A beat of silence, and Ed was astonished at this due to Rhys’ lack of silver-tongued response, but there was none as Tucker continued to speak, “I remember reading about that case with your father, I didn’t realize your mother had gone through with it. My deepest condolences for you- losing so much, it must be difficult to be a child in that situation.” Rhys did not like the way the word child rolled off his tongue, and she didn’t like the way he admitted his condolences with almost enough pity to get it by the men in the room. She didn’t like that he met her eyes for the words that left his mouth, as if he knew anything about the real situation, as if she was simply a child that had little to no clue what was going on during the time, as if she hadn’t sat in the room, trapped, and forced to watch.

Hands tightened around the mug once more, as if ready to throw it, and she watched Tucker’s eyes glance down to her partially gloved fingers for the first time, and she could swear she saw a hint of amusement before the glare of the sun hit his glasses and hid the expression.

Edward still sat, patiently (or he so thought, his metal leg was beginning to bounce wildly under the table with the added tension in the room), and he couldn’t manage to unglue his eyes from Rhys’ form. He hadn’t bothered to read her file, being that he and his brother were on the cusp of this Tucker situation, he had spent the last two weeks reading up on everything that Tucker had publicly to offer. Which while it wasn’t an efficient amount to get anything done, it did allow him to scratch down multiple questions and ideas that he wanted to discuss and find in this massive library- he hadn’t bothered even once to glance through Rhys’ file, and he wanted to smack himself for not expecting something like this. Why else would it be smart to team them up? If they were all looking for the same solution, then he imagined it would be better to have multiple advanced minds on the case for the solution (though he would hardly call Rhys advanced, he assumed she had to be if she was a State Alchemist at his age). He barely missed the question that was thrown his way as he plucked his eyes from watching Rhys’ hands writhe around the ceramic.

“And you Edward? I will need your own explanation, the Law we alchemists work under is Equivalent Exchange after all.” Ed glanced to Rhys once more, taking note of how her gaze was now screwed up and focused on the liquid in front of her as Roy cleared his throat, the man glancing between Rhys and Ed, and then to Tucker as he began to sputter out an excuse for Edward, despite Rhys’ easy confession of her mother’s own guilt. It left Ed a bit puzzled even now, but he didn’t need Mustang to excuse him if Rhys could admit it so easily. And besides, Ed reasoned, Tucker was right; their Law was Equivalent Exchange. Rhys, himself, and his brother could not have access without a toll, and they each had to give their own toll.

“Elric- uh- he actually-“

“It’s fine Colonel, he’s right…” but he paused to stray his eyes from Tucker to Rhys, not that he expected her to leave, but that he was questioning his next move in this careful chess game. He knew she was personally ordered by the Further to stay in the Eastern Precinct under strict watch, did that mean she was loyal to him? Or completely disloyal? He couldn’t risk his and his brother’s search (or their lives for that matter) and trust that a girl he had only known for the past two weeks would keep the secret just because they shared goals.

Unlike his older brother, however, Alphonse was thinking entirely about Rhys’ words. Rather than being completely obtrusive, he thought, she had spilled with an almost nervous intensity, and while it was obvious that what she and Tucker had exchanged wasn’t the whole story, it was enough for Alphonse to nudge his brother and nod. Ed always put Al’s safety above his own, and he knew that that was what the older blonde would be contemplating at this moment. Ed felt the thick cold metal dig into his side and he pulled his eyes to Alphonse’s form, taking a breath and accepting his brother’s nod as an okay to talk about this fully in front of Rhys, and he reached out his arm to pull off his linen gloves, and then both of his jackets, the weight of his steel lightening only slightly as the red leather coat was dropped onto the chair behind him.

There it was, glinting almost brighter than Tucker’s glasses in the sunlight that came through the window to their right; automail. While it was extremely shined, Rhys had noticed, it was also dinged, burned, and dingy in the crevices. Dented in other spots that lined his forearm, and she almost winced from the feeling in her stomach that was created just by barely looking at the spots. She knew her manners more than she let on, so she tried not to stare brazenly or openly, but she was also curious and stubborn, just as much as Edward was if not more. And before she could say anything in response, or even ask any questions, Tucker’s voice cut her own off.

“Would you care to explain?” His words were still cold, Rhys speculated he only desired these words for entertainment more than anything else, but she would excuse her suspicions with a polite decision to not ask any questions herself. She lifted her mug to take a sip, not realizing the true quiet of the room before she heard someone clear their throat and a heavy hand rested on her shoulder. Right, these words were not for her at this point, and she considered that it was only fair being that she hadn’t bothered to really tell them about how her mother had really lost her legs, or anything about the reality of the situation. She now knew what the Elrics needed the stone for, but she didn’t need to know the background. Slowly, she rose up to follow Mustang’s lead to sit outside and wait, her mind blending her thoughts together as she tried to think up of a way to avoid questions when she finally got into the library with the boys.

Mustang stood quietly at attention just outside the front door, glad that Rhys hadn’t put up a fight on going outside to wait while the boys discussed their own past. While he knew Rhys harbored an equally horrific past, he knew that forcing young people to share when they weren’t ready was a breach of trust, and besides that, he still wasn’t sure what to make of Rhys himself. The thoughts going through his mind were similar to Edward’s, but moreso on her role in the military, what did she play so importantly that caused the King Furer himself to put someone like Colonel Yukari on personal babysitting duty? The question swirled around in his mind, finding a million and one answers that drifted between too simple and too out of bounds to really consider possible.

Ten minutes later, Edward opened the front door to pull his new teammate and Colonel back into the household in silence. He felt a slight bag of shame that Rhys had to stand outside, but he didn’t show it in his face or stance. He knew that if this whole partnership thing was going to work, than they had to share on their own time, if they shared at all (part of which he genuinely hoped he wouldn’t have to share with yet another person as the list seemed to just keep growing). The trio walked through hallways and doors to enter the library in the back of the house, and immediately Edward seemed to forget what he was thinking about as he and his brother exchanged looks.

“C’mon Al- let’s get started!” And as the boys rushed forward, with an almost unfounded childish glee, Rhys realized there was a small smirk crawling onto her lips as she too allowed the previous tension to leave her shoulders. She took a breath, uncrossed her arms and huffed before speaking,

“Fucking nerds.”

Chapter Text

The amount of time that had passed between the trio sitting down amongst piles of books and now must have been an eternity, Rhys figured. She didn’t seem to have the same tenacity for attention on visual learning perceptions as the Elrics did, and this brought her back to her own childhood days, it seemed to her, suddenly, that her father had known this because she was often put into physical learning, despite what she had learned being something she now understood as wrong and horrible to do to someone. Shaking her head of the memory, she cleared her throat and stood up once again, maybe to find something slightly more interesting than Tucker’s 359th journal testing on the genetics of canines and chimps.

She would have thought that something more interesting would have shown up by now, being that in reality they had been sitting here around these piles for at least 3 hours. Something about even a slice of human DNA maybe. Though she also figured that if he were to have any of that, anything on human experimentation other than pure theory and hypothecation would be highly illegal, so while she expected he had at least something on it being that his personality screamed serial killer in the making, she had also expected that someone smart enough to come up with all of this information in these books by himself was smart enough to hide a basic confession of criminal actions, and he would hide it well enough to not criminalize himself. This was her next quest, she decided, rather than read the books that Edward had slammed into piles around them, she wanted to find something genuinely useful to her own search.

As she walked towards the back and horribly lit areas of the library, she took note of the conditions of the books that surrounded her. From the books that they had been looking at, which looked decently taken care of and had only a thin layer of dust coating their leather bindings- these books were much worse for wear. Some of them being entirely without their spines, showing their loose leaves that were saturated with dust. Her pale fingers ran along these spines, arching her brow slightly at the irony of the nostalgia she felt even being surrounded by these things- it wasn’t a happy nostalgia though. Far from it. She turned her head to bemuse the other side of the shelving, to which the books looked even older, even more worn, and more dust layered their sad corners. She only stopped her stroll when laughter was heard from the other side of the library, one young and feminine and the other sounding with a metallic resonation.

She supposed stopping where she was, was a good a place as any to pick a few of the journals and flick through them. Allowing her fingers to press along the shelving beneath the papers and feeling the labels spark a different sensation of touch, stopping on the third one, she looked beneath her hands and squinted her eyes to make out the labelling. ‘1899’. Hey, that was the year she was born! She smirked, supposing that the books above the number would have to be her lucky find and pulled one. The only thing that stopped her from pulling the next was the sound of her voice being called- apparently Ed hadn’t expected her to get up and wander around herself, just as much as he hadn’t expected his brother to be acting the way he was (whatever way that was, Rhys didn’t truly know).

“I’m back here nerd-“ She called, her hand tucking the book to her hip and walking back into the lighting and into the eyesight of Edward Elric, a smirk crawling across her face as she looked at the scene in front of her. Ed was perturbed, to say the least, while Tucker’s daughter had found a rather high perch upon Alphonse’s shoulders. “Oh, I see, the second I leave we decide to have fun huh? Real nice Al.” Her voice was tinged with amusement as she stepped forward to assess the situation even more.

“Yeah well- we don’t exactly have the time for this kind of thing, especially with a time waster like you around. Which by the way, where the hell did you wander off to?” Edward, from his standing position, looked more than annoyed. His fists were clenched, and his jaw was set, and Rhys could tell that he hadn’t found anything worth talking about either. Her eyes left his form to look at the stacks of books that had originally sat on his right side and been moved to his left after he’d read through or skimmed them and deemed unusable for information.

“Back of the library Mr. Observant-“ Rhys coined back, her right hand pulling up the exact book that she had spent the last 5 or so minutes exploring for. The fruits of her labor, if one would give her such pleasantries. “I figured that since none of the useless stuff was picked out by me-“ she paused to give Ed a once over, “I figured I would go and pick out something more useful, which is obviously not a skill that you have.” Another smirk crawled over her lips before she went to turn her attention back to Alphonse and the girl on his shoulders, noting how pink her cheeks were and how inevitably happy her eyes appeared. She wanted nothing more than for her and probably Edward to join them, and while Rhys had no complaints, she could feel Ed did as soon as the delicate journal was swiped out of her hands.

“Hey!” Her words left her before she had a chance to really say anything else, her head swiping immediately back to Edward in order to see him flip through the pages, his eyes narrowed as he deciphered the words before him. Well, at least he was trying to. It wasn’t long that a snicker left his lips and he tossed the journal back to Rhys, with a victorious sounding ring to his voice.

“You’re a lot more useless than I am at least- that whole thing is in another language! And as far as I know, no one can speak, much less read anything other than Amestrian-“

“I can.”

Edward paused, arching a brow at the young woman in front of him. Rather than out of curiosity though, it was arched more out of annoyance and disbelief. “And if you had bothered to read through my file,” the girl continued, “that Mustang so graciously handed to you two weeks ago, which you obviously haven’t-“ a tick appeared on Ed’s right temple as his jaw set itself once again, “then you might know that.” She easily plucked the book back up and moved herself to sit back down, avoiding all other questions and gaining only a more confident pluck to her posture. This compared to Ed’s seemingly balled fists and his continuously raised shoulders, seemed like the perfect explanation of their personalities, at least until a tiny voice squeaked up and interrupted the tension.

“Wait!” Rhys froze, blinking and turning her head to look towards the owner of the small and waiting tone. It was a shock, the expression on the young woman’s face when looking at the small girl, her green eyes wide and her mouth zipped shut tightly. She waited, patiently, for what the little girl wanted to say. Nina gulped shyly, her thumbs rolling over each other on the metal of Al’s head as she tried to formulate her next sentence as best as she could. “Uh- well- big brother Al said- that- that maybe you’d wanna- play with me?” Her words were coated in nervousness, the squeaky, nervous tone hit Rhys right in the stomach, and her whole face twitched, of what, the boys wouldn’t know for a while, but to her- It sounded just like her baby brother.

“Uh- wait- me?” Her voice came out much quieter and much less confident than she had intended, they were instead soft and unconfident. She glanced to the suit of armor and to the boy next to her, to be sure that those big blue eyes were looking at the right person, asking the right question. When she met her eyes back to the girl, she knew that it was in fact her that Nina was talking to. Another chord struck in her chest and her hand curled tighter against the thick manuscript that laid in her hands. For a second, it wasn’t just her brother that the girl looked like for a second, but a tuft of red hair and bright brown eyes instead, and then, Nina was back.

“Yeah! Al said that it was probably time that- you and Big Brother took a break! And Alexander and I wanna break with you guys!” Again, Rhys blinked, a small but sorrowful smile found her lips and she cleared her throat, about to tell the girl that she was certain Edward wouldn’t want to take a break, and now that she’d found something she could actually be useful in and find interesting, she kind of wanted to invest herself into this journal. But before she could answer, she found Ed doing it for her (inwardly she was relieved, though she had no plans on thanking him later).

“C’mon Al- we don’t have time for breaks and messing around! Honestly I hardly think-“ and then, another shadow overtook them with a howl, and a white mass of fur and floppy ears slammed down onto Ed’s tiny body, and rather than just one girlish laugh erupting through the walls, two did. Rhys’ lips curled up into a tiny smile that perked up her cheeks, and her nose scrunched up as a snort left her throat, followed quickly by a small, almost inconceivable giggle. Her hand reached up to rub against the side of her nose, and she took a breath, moving this time to put the delicate book atop the other stack of unread texts and glancing to the suffocating 15-year-old.

“I really don’t think we have a choice in the matter Eddy- looks like Alexander wants to beat you in a test of strength, though, in my opinion-“ she allowed herself to walk towards him, kneeling down to gently start scratching behind the dog’s ears, “I think he’s already won, haven’t you? Yeah? Are you a good boy for tackling that mean scary ant? Yes you are! Yes you are!” Her voice was much different than what it had been in the past two weeks, Ed though, it was softer and filled with a much lighter tone as she cooed and rewarded the large white canine, and with all of the excitement the dog received, he leapt up from Ed’s own mattress of a body to tackle Rhys herself and give her several large tongued kisses along her cheeks and nose. “Hey hey hey! You big lug! Knock it off!” A smile graced her lips, and it was the first that Ed had seen since he had met her. Slowly, he stood up, brushing off his clothes of thin white hairs- and he subtly thought to himself that while he would never admit it, he kind of preferred the smile to the smirk that had coated her expression for the last two weeks, or even the glare that she had felt proper to give him. For a second, he realized she was a real person that had the ability to convey real emotions, maybe she could even cry, but that thought of imagery was sliced in half when he allowed her words to sink in.

“Hey! Who in the Hell do you think you’re calling a pint sized ant?!” His tone went into a growl, and whilst the tone was obviously offset by heaving breaths from being previously suffocated by a mammal of considerable size and fluffiness. It only took Rhys a few seconds to shove the dog back by his chest and stand up herself, the smirk wiping any trace of a smile from her face and showing her silver coated tongue once more.

“Obviously you. But remember Eddy- I didn’t call you pint-sized. You did that, all your own.” She snickered once more, stepping forward so as to stand closer to Nina and Alphonse and clear her throat, “Alright kid, you have my attention, what game should we play?” Her voice was tinged with a hint of curiosity, her hands now placed delicately on her hips as she awaited the girl’s careful selection. Nina, with her wide eyes, blinked in surprise before allowing a grin to envelope her expression and clapping her small fingers together.

“Oh! We could play hide and seek! Or- or tag! Alexander loves tag! And he needs a good walk- just like daddy says!” And right as Rhys was about to open her mouth, she found herself interrupted by a huff of breath and an almost audible roll of eyes. Edward was to the side, removing his black leather jacket and moving to stretch his arms by pulling them across his chest one at a time.

“So- it sounds like you need some exercise you big lazy dog-“ Rhys watched as Ed’s personality once again took a whole new turn, and his finger pointed directly towards Alexander, who was (apparently) extremely responsive to authority. The dog stood at attention, listening attentively to Ed’s next words, “so come on- lets go! Give me your best shot you mangy mutt!” And like that, the dog took off after Ed’s quickly retreating form, them taking turns vapidly to chase each other around whilst Alphonse and Rhys changed turns on holding Nina on their shoulders and chasing after Alexander or Ed himself, just to make sure the girl didn’t feel like she was only an audience member. It interested Rhys heavily that this one moment, they all felt relatively normal. Like this kind of behavior should be easy for them, and it only tinged a bit in hurt that it wasn’t, in fact, normal or easy.

-----------

It wasn’t for another two hours that they finally took a break from their break, Rhys, Ed, and Alexander all heaving heavy breaths as they laid solidly on the ground whilst Nina sat in the middle of their circle of heads with Alexander’s promptly in her lap. Edward’s right hand had begun to sneak under the hem of his shirt to rest on his stomach, and whilst a smile wasn’t anywhere to be seen on his cheeks, his eyes were coated in a child-like exhaustion that one would only have after a long and rough day of playing games and working legs till they were tired. Rhys’ eyes held the same gleam, though it felt unfamiliar to her, a small smile crawled across her face as she tilted her head to look over at Ed quickly and sputter out a small snicker.

“Didn’t know such little legs could run so fast Eddy-“ Her voice was filled with unintentional breaths and her chest heaved almost more than Ed’s did. She quickly moved her hand to wipe her bangs from sticking to her forehead as she listened to Ed’s exhausted and annoyed response, “Oh shut it Reeses, just ‘cause you couldn’t catch me with your giraffe legs doesn’t mean you get to be a sore loser.” Rhys felt a quick and unstoppable snort leave her lips at the term ‘giraffe legs’, (though she had seemed to glaze over the new nickname completely) it was clever, and she was too out-of-breath to say anything even remotely close to not being amused by the terminology. She finished running her hand through her bangs and took another deep breath before allowing the right corner of her lips to quirk up in a smirk.

“Giraffe legs, huh-“ she sat up, stretching her arms up over her head to hear the satisfying cracks of her shoulder joints moving into place before putting her hands on the ground at her sides, the carpet much too warm for her pinked cheeks, “that’s- that’s pretty funny.” Ed blinked, casting a glance to his side to look at the girl who was now sitting up next to him and looking her over. This could be the first actual time that he had noticed her being relaxed amongst them, and he unintentionally took note of how it compared to when she wasn’t doing this, how rigid and harsh she was and could be. The difference was almost frightening.

Quickly though, he opened his mouth to ruin the moment, “Of course it’s funny- I’m funny”, Ed immediately allowed his eyes to roll far into his head and away from her as he sat up himself, reaching his arms out to stretch towards his boots and allowing his own back to pop and crack, the muscles pulling themselves tightly before he relaxed against his legs and took a few more deep breaths. He didn’t miss his brother’s added on criticism however; “Uh huh- sure brother- you’re the funniest person I’ve ever met.” A small chortle rang through the armor and made Rhys and Nina’s nose both wrinkle solidly.

“Oho- those sound like fightin’ words there Alphonse.” Rhys snickered, taking one more breath before going to stand up- though this attempt was very quickly made to be futile as Alexander’s large head moved from Nina’s thighs to Rhys’, picking his large body up in order to move and force her to stay down, leaving the rest of himself to lay on Ed’s own legs, his tail wagging rapidly to hit Edward solidly in the face at a nice four-by-four beat. “Hey bud- c’mon- I gotta get up or else I’ll never get up.” Rhys reached with her right hand to rub behind the dogs ears, ignoring the sputtered annoyed curses leaving Edward’s mouth as she went to scratch beneath the giant dog’s chin as well. “Yes- you’re a very good boy, now I gotta get up so I can get some actual work done- ya’ know, unlike these two slackers over here.” Her lips were still high in her smirk, her tone no longer oozing with affection for the dog or teasing, more of just an honest and tired statement. However, now using both hands to mess with Alexander’s ears and cheeks, the overgrown puppy couldn’t help but nuzzle himself deeper into the girl’s grip as his eyes closed, fully enjoying the affectionate grip and laying his head fully into her lap. “Hey- that wasn’t an invitation pal-!”

This was the final time Rhys was interrupted for the evening, as Tucker and another military member, who Rhys would later find out was known as Jean Havoc, entered the room to find the children laying around and being squished by the dog. A throat clear snapped the older three to attention, looking to the doorway to find the blonde with his eyebrow raised and Tucker with a strangely fond smile etched onto his face.

“Uh- Colonel Mustang sent me to come and get you guys- since Mr. Tucker probably wants to get back to work as soon as possible and- well- ya know, it’s probably around dinner time anyways…” He paused, his brow arching higher as he watched Ed’s cheek continuing to be repeatedly whapped with the white tail of Alexander, “Ed what are you guys doing?” The blonde boy took a breath and, with a great effort, shoved the large weight off of himself and wiped the lower half of his face.

“Just- getting some much needed exercise that’s all Lieutenant Havoc.” His words were strained as he went to stretch himself up again, the idea of helping Rhys up crossing his mind and quickly being shoved away in favor of, well, not doing that. He moved to go over towards the stacks of books again and found the journal that Rhys had procured two hours before sitting atop her own section of books, his brows furrowing for a moment in thought before he picked it back up and cleared his throat. “Hey, Mr. Tucker, I was just wondering- we found this in our stacks and, it’s in another language I think. I didn’t know you were bi-lingual.” Ed’s voice was light, easy, and without any suspicion or concern, in fact, that’s how he felt as well for the most part. The only real reason he was asking was to get rid of the nagging concern that was beginning to tug at his mind and make him put his nose where it (most likely) didn’t belong.

Rhys allowed her eyes to follow Ed and his remarks as she too stood up from her position, but her body was held to be much more suspicious as she garnered Tucker’s response to Ed’s words. His body language didn’t change much, but his eyes were too quick to find the journal, and his eyebrows and shocked expression, though there for only a second, was far too slow to hide from someone who was trained to watch the body like Rhys was. ‘He isn’t.’ She thought to herself, ‘And he doesn’t like that I found that journal, even though there are at least 30 others like it in the back.’ She could feel her fists threatening to close, and her jaw tightened immediately.

Ed’s eyes were too focused on the conversation in front of him to notice, but Alphonse’s were not. He was always a little more perceptive than his older brother, and he made note to talk to Edward later about Rhys’ reaction to the lack of Tucker’s.

Tucker, who was currently spouting words about his old travels and gathering information from several different kinds of people in order to gain a true understanding of bio-alchemy, allowed his eyes to meet with Rhys’ for a moment, and she could swear that she saw a spark of amusement in them. This made her jaw clench even tighter, her molars beginning to squeak against the pressure.

“You can take it home with you, if you like. The man who translated these for me is long gone and the information in the books is quite old, so I don’t think they’ll be all that much help to you, but you are always welcome to try and find anything!” He smiled, and the way his eyes crinkled struck another chord of familiarity in Rhys, though she still could not place it. He looked around at their small corner mess and cleared his throat, as if to address another issue, “Oh and, don’t worry about the mess. I’m sure you’ll be back for the next few days so- if you need a certain book to stay out- I won’t touch it!” Rhys could feel herself fighting her own stubborn will to press further onto the journal, to ask more, to demand more from him about it. The only thing that stopped her was the excited gasp of a young girl behind her.

“Big Brothers and Sister are coming tomorrow too?! We can play again right?! Right?” Rhys hadn’t expected to have a small body grapple her leg from behind so quickly, and in an instant her jaw unclenched itself so she could move and realign her body weight. Looking down, she watched as Nina’s blue eyes looked up at her, shining with excitement and readiness, and her heart squeezed almost painfully. ‘Big Sister’, it had been almost 9 years since anyone had called her that. She cleared her throat, unable to force herself to look away from the small girl and allowed a very small smile to perk her cheeks up into her eyes.

“Of course we are- we’ll be coming back and playing for the next few days- right boys?” She didn’t bother to look up at the pair as she could almost hear the chuckles from them both, she imagined they were nodding excitedly at even the chance to feel slightly normal around this little girl.

“Yeah- of course! And thank you Mr. Tucker, maybe Rhys can read through the journal while we’re here!” Alphonse’s voice was light with not only the lack of adolescence, but the purity of promise, and Tucker responded dutifully.

“Oh, do you know how to read Drachman?” The lanky man turned towards Rhys, who was attempting to peel the man’s much cuter daughter off her leg, and she huffed out slightly, this time unable to watch his body language.

“Yeah- I uh- yeah. Read and speak. Kind of shi- er- crap, at writing it but, I make do.” Finally, she let out a small sigh of relief at getting the young girl to release her limb and straighten herself back out, looking back to Tucker and almost being taken aback at the smile, she could already hear his next question, but rather than coming from him, the same words came out of someone else’s mouth.

“Wait wait wait- wait you can read Drachman?! Isn’t that- where would you even learn that?!” Ed’s voice poured out of his mouth without apology as he looked to Rhys with shock etched all over his face, searching her own for an answer of any kind. Rhys, however, was quick to use the lie that she had her entire life been taught to use in the case of this question.

“Ah- My folks were researchers and scientists too, they picked up other languages really easily and- well, wanted me to know at least something other than Amestrian. Again, if you had read my file, like I had yours, you would know that already Eddy.” A very small smirk flashed across her lips once more before she looked to Tucker, who now had the journal stretched out to her, and she bit back the urge to wrinkle her nose at the book. Instead, she politely cleared her throat and reached out to push the book back towards him, “No thank you Mr. Tucker,” ‘yes, that’s nice and polite, “it looks pretty damn old- and I know if I take it home it’ll get lost or something. If you don’t mind, I’ll be leaving it here to translate tomorrow.” Though her voice was probably the sweetest that either of the Elric’s had ever heard, her eyes never left Tucker’s. They were hard and filled with challenge, just waiting for him to say no, for her to remember something, to find something that she knew was already there to show who he really was, at least, who she thought he was.

“Oh, that’s an even better idea! Well, come on Nina, let’s show our guests out so they can get plenty of sleep- just like you!” And for once, the man seemed to be almost fatherly, plucking the young girl up and into his arms before placing the journal on one of Alphonse’s stacks of books and turning his back. The trio and Havoc all followed suit, and the three children were in the cab without another word. Rhys sitting in the front, whilst Ed quietly leaned against the window in the back, his eyes burning a hole into the back of her head, trying infinitely to remind himself to pick up that damn folder and read it over tonight. It would at least give him some damn answers to this weird and young girl that had joined his team so suddenly.

Jean Havoc sat outside for a second more to shake the man’s hand in thanks, though he poked his head back towards him quickly.

“Oh, Colonel Mustang wanted me to remind you that Assessment Day is coming up in a couple of weeks, and that he wishes you luck in your research.” Tucker’s seemingly joyful appearance sank slightly at the words, his eyes drifting to the car where the blonde silhouette in the front sat, he could tell her jaw was clenched tightly.

“Tell him thank you, and that I’m working my hardest Lieutenant.”

Chapter Text

            That night, Edward Elric had in fact heavily looked into the file once they had retreated into their rooms after eating a slightly awkward dinner with Havoc. The dinner was mostly made awkward by Havoc’s intense insinuation that Rhys and Edward were a quickly developing rivals-to-romance situation. The pair had been quick to deny, scoff, and gag as much as possible in order to deflect any ideas of the sort and had been quiet ever since. Edward lost in his own thoughts directing around the newly discovered information that Rhys was in fact much more than just your average military brat, and Rhys plagued with the need to somehow plug the idea of who Shou Tucker was to her into the outlet of her brain.

 

            For some reason, he just didn’t quite fit anywhere that she could imagine he would have or even should have. He wasn’t a friend of her mother’s, most certainly, and he definitely wasn’t an estranged uncle, and of course she had to cross out the idea of him being a former foe, otherwise he couldn’t have been a public State Alchemist, unless…

 

            Shooting up from her position on the loveseat in her suite, her eyes were widened in a sort of shock. Maybe he was a former enemy, or a current one, if the memory she had was correct. Absent-mindedly her hands ran over themselves, thumbing the raised scars that sat atop the skin on her palms, her brows furrowing. She was young when she had received the alchemical scars, and in so much pain that she hadn’t time to truly memorize the faces surrounding her except for her father’s. It was a memory that she took heavy care not to dwell on unless needed, it made her stomach sour and her fingers itch to curl up into a defensive position.

 

            Though she doubted it, and the chances were honestly quite slim, she had this horrible and heavy feeling that Shou Tucker was there.

 

            And now she itched to get ahold of the journal previously offered to her, her brain racking itself with busy work to translate Drachman, possibly the previous centuries Drachman, into her brain. ‘Maybe I should write down the alphabet, make sure I don’t forget anything for tomorrow-‘ she thought to herself, blinking out of her shocked gaze that had placed itself on the wall across from her to get up and find her fountain pen, and then shove her arm in between the mattress and box spring in order to retrieve her own worn leather journal. She sat at the coffee table, the hard floor a none too comfortable place for her worn out thighs, and she began to write everything that she could remember of the second language, unknowingly trying to peel the image of Shou Tucker standing next to her father away from her brain, for Nina’s sake.

 


 

            The room next door was almost no different in terms of tension and scrunched brows, and if the large suit of metal could pull off such an expression, he would as his brother was pacing rapidly between the couch and the wall, the manila folder open in his right hand and his left drifting through his loose hair occasionally. The teenager’s bottom lip was pink from being gnawed on continuously in thought as he scoured the pages for anything that would let him know just who the hell had he been working with these past few days- and alas- he was coming up with little to no answers. He’d gotten her parents names, the fact that she had apparently been born in Resembool (he felt he would at least remember her mother, being that the town was so tiny you always knew everyone), and he had even found a clipping of the horrible attack that had happened in her home when she was six.

 

           ‘ISHVALAN TAKES REVENGE ON WAR HERO’ the clipping screamed in large black font, tilting slightly to the right to really emphasize the tragedy in the words. He didn’t need to read much into it to find out what had happened, at least allegedly. An Ishvalan refugee had snuck into the Fencitine (he had to remember to ask her how to pronounce that) home, and in order to avenge his own son, took theirs in his own room. His name was Caleb, and he was four. Edward could only assume that this was the reason Rhys had such a mixed reaction with Nina, so tense and yet, so familiar at the same time. She had been a big sister, at least for a little, and had had the role ripped from her for someone who had it out for her dad. Edwards fingers flipped through the file once more, landing on the front page and scrolling his eyes down in order to land on the name he was searching for.

 

            “Daniel Hamish Fencitine. Damn, what a shitty middle name.” The words were muttered out quietly from the elder brother’s lips, feeling that maybe the guy didn’t deserve to have his son torn from him the way it had happened, his last name was rebuke enough. Though, as Edward’s eyes scanned the images through the file, linking the first one he could find of Daniel to his string of thoughts, the guy didn’t look anything close to the word fatherly. The cepiatone of the image filled his stomach with goose flesh, his eyes narrowing down at the older image in order to inspect it, maybe find similarities between this man and his daughter who laid just three rooms over to their right. They had the same eye shape, and maybe the same lip shape, but otherwise he could see no other hints that this man and Rhys were at all related.

 

            “Who’s that supposed to be?” Edward hadn’t even noticed the hunk of armor that had begun to loom over his shoulder, checking out the image held securely in his hand. The red eyes scanning the image for answers that his brother had yet to speak, trying to come up with them for himself.

 

            “It’s supposed to be Rhys’ father, Daniel. He was a State Alchemist during the Ishvalan war, a hero according to the military. He headed the extinction. Her mother was there too but- she’s not really anywhere in the file except her name on that first page. Regina-“

 

            “Granny would say that’s a name for a hippie-“

 

            “Ha- she would huh? A hippie being the mother of that buzzkill over there seems pretty unlikely though Al, but it’s a possibility being that she and war hero Daniel didn’t stay together very long after their son was killed.” His tone was still heavy with inquisitive need, the flavor on his tongue insatiable and only quelled by answers that these files weren’t giving him. Only the girl rooms over could do that for him, and he had the knowledge and brain to know that at least in the close future, these questions that rolled around in his brain wouldn’t be given proper answers. He was mostly fine with that, mostly.

 

__

 

            Otherwise, the pervious night went unmentioned and unbothered by the team as they set out for the Tucker house once more. This time the tension in the car that was there yesterday had melted into a regular silence, and while Ed and Rhys were equally filled with questions, it was always upon him to feel like he wasn’t wasting time, so instead of waiting for them to be in a private place, or at least away from the Lieuenant Colonel to ask questions, no, instead he opened his mouth from the backseat, “So, are you gonna translate that journal today?”

 

            Silence followed, the silence this time was booming with tension, and Rhys could feel it creeping onto her shoulders as Edward leaned forward from the backseat to gently shove Rhys’ shoulder forward repeating his question louder and with a tinge of obnoxiousness to it, “Hey- brat- are you deaf? I asked if you were gonna translate the journal today.” Rather than stopping at shoving her shoulder, he opted to also flick and tug at the closest ear to him, snickering slightly at the obvious tensing in her shoulders as she whipped her head around to glare at him. Though for good measure, he swiped his finger back before she tried to bite the finger off.

 

            Green eyes met gold, and for a second the pair of them glimmered with the late morning sun, though neither noticed, and Rhys ruined the closeness, the possible bonding moment, by opening her mouth.

 

            “My decision isn’t any of your business Eddy, and I’ll let you know if it happens to become your business anytime soon.” Of course, the real answer was yes, but she really didn’t feel like just giving Edward the answer that he probably deserved, especially being that the question was so simple in the first place. This answer, being that it was hardly an answer at all, irked Edward’s simple snickering expression downwards into annoyance. His smirk turning into a scowl and his tongue clicking in response. It was too early, he thought, to really engage and respond to her behavior, allow her to bring his attitude down when he had a full day of researching to do that took heavy priority compared to her attitude.

 

            The rest of the ride over, from that point until the three had been dropped off and knocked upon the large wooden door that loomed over them almost ominously, there had been another silence. It seemed that only Alphonse was the one who truly wanted to break it, despite his attempts being awkward at best, the odd hum here or there, or a small and unheard question that the elders of the group didn’t notice since they were both buried in their own little worlds of thought. It wasn’t until the door opened and revealed an over-enthusiastic Shou Tucker behind it, did anyone else even try to speak.

 

            “Ah! Right on time! I don’t suppose either of you will want breakfast?” The man bared no shame in his apparel in front of the teens, clothes that looked identical to the ones he had worn yesterday (Rhys had noticed they seemed to have new crinkles, as if they had been slept in) and over the clothes, to protect it from the insane amount of stains that littered it, was a stained and worn apron with what looked to be flowers decorating the lining. He appeared nervous at his offer, and while Rhys’ stomach growled openly at the idea of food, she wrinkled her nose and spat out an answer.

 

            “No thanks, I don’t do breakfast.” The words were much too curt, the brothers found, and it made the older scrunch his nose in distaste for her response. Before he could chastise her, however, she cleared her throat and continued her words, “I’ll head into the library now.” Her expression was pointed, gesturing for the man in the doorway to move out of her way, and for a moment he stood completely still. The expression on his face remained the same though, curiosity piqued, and almost fatherly. Though he did move his body to the side to allow the young woman to pass, notably, Rhys found, avoiding eye contact with her on her way through. Edward, nose still wrinkled, looked to Shou and cleared his own throat, once more cracking the tension.

 

            “Unlike some people, I’m hungry, but I have a lot of research so I-“ And again, even at 8:30 in the morning, he was interrupted. This time by a much younger, sweeter voice, and it spoke in excited glee.

 

            “Big Brothers! Come eat breaksfast time!” Her eyes, growing larger by the second it seemed, dragged Edward deep into a hole that he knew he wouldn’t be crawling out of before he sat down for an indefinite amount of time, scarfed down at least some of the food that was more than clearly burnt, and had conversation with the Tucker’s. Rhys must have seen her on her way in, and cleverly walked fast in order to avoid the stare, ‘Or she’s as heartless as she puts off-‘ Edward snickered at the thought before unlinking himself from his thoughts and allowing his steps to cross over the threshold into the dining room.

 

            “Yeah- of course it is.” He spoke quietly, scraping the chair back and allowing himself to sit whilst listening for his brother’s heavily armored steps to follow his lead.

 

            Rhys however, had quickly found herself in the backend of the library once more, her tongue poking out along her lips as she carefully picked book after book, years at random, just so she could try and skim them, see if maybe the years had a different process that possibly had more prevalence to her research. She had managed to pick out at least 5 other manuscripts, the years between dating about two years at a time, and each one holding it’s own state of wear and tear, the oldest one didn’t even have a binding to keep it safe. The pages exposed to open air and dust, and the pins holding the pages together slowly tearing into the thinning areas of the pages, ready to tear them apart.

 

            She cleared her throat, twitching her nose to resemble itching it and avoiding the dust that wanted to gather there, and went to sit down in her old spot. This time however, she readied herself to sit all day in the corner that she had resided herself into. Sliding off the thick leather coat that draped around her shoulders, she made a makeshit cushion out of it and dropped it on the ground before she sat directly down and pulled her makeshift dictionary out of her back pocket, then she reached up, releasing her ponytail from it’s bun shape as she pulled out her fountain pen from the middle of the knot, and she got to work. The books were now stacked atop the one she had pulled out yesterday, Tucker seemingly true to his word about not touching a thing since they had been gone. Seemingly.

 

            Her tongue stayed out of her lips as she opened the page, her eyes squinting over the messy Drachman as she scribbled down words that she hadn’t seen in a long time, or things she may have found important, and she sat like that, going over the journals, page by page, not once questioning anything that seemed suspicious before she wrote it down, as she assumed that she didn’t have time to question the things in the journal that seemed so odd to her- like how she recognized the writing so well but couldn’t place it (like much in Tucker), or how the journals kept mentioning the ‘Subject’ but never once stated whether it was a different subject, or what kind of subject it was. Her nose would crinkle in disgust through some of the descriptions laid out before her. She assumed, as the Sewing Life Alchemist, Tucker would have to experiment on live creatures from time to time- but these journals described pain too well, and too lively, to really convince her that it was anything but human.

 

            She wouldn’t have put it past him to do such a thing anyways.

 

            Rhys was so absorbed in her work, she hadn’t bothered to notice, or at least, hadn’t bothered to acknowledge the brothers as they walked in nearly an hour later and retook their places, moving only to gather new books or to reread sentences over once more. Rhys never noticed golden eyes glazing over her form as she darted between the books and her pads of paper, eyes scrunched in concentration. She didn’t notice the slightly tanned nose crook up in annoyance at her seemingly flawless ability to delve into her work when she wanted to, rather than when he wanted her to yesterday. Edward wasn’t one to be ignored, or to not notice when clear potential was lacking in it’s studiousness, and for a moment he had thought that maybe Rhys held no real potential in her- but now it was obvious. When she wanted to, and if she didn’t think you were looking, the girl could zero in on a task like a hawk. Her green eyes narrowed impossibly small, and her forehead gaining two thin lines along her brows in a form of concentrated, focused frustration. It almost made him respect her for it.

 

            But before he could actually come to that thought or realization, he had turned his nose back into his own book, diving himself back into his own research before he allowed stupid teenage hormones to take control of his one-task-at-a-time brain.

 

            It wasn’t until 3 hours later did Rhys find herself unable to turn another page, not only due to the heavy amount of papercuts that she was finding herself receiving, but from the lack of comfortability that was rising in her throat. She had finally gotten to the first journal she had picked out, the day before, and on the first page she felt off already. Her birthday laid there, on the first page, the date and year she was born, her birthday. Not Nina’s (she assumed), not Alphonse or Edward’s… no it was hers. Her eyes had hardly been able to leave the numbers since she’d found them, her tongue running dry and her neck slowly rising with a headache that she hadn’t known had been forming from the way she had her back arched. ‘Why the hell would your birthday of all things be listed in this damn book?!’ She spoke quite harshly to herself. Her pupils were shrunk into tight balls, two fingers held the page so hard that the tips of her fingers were turning white. Now the headache was beginning to itch into something else, her brain trying to connect pieces of a puzzle that she knew were there, all she had to do was put it together.

 

            And right as Nina and Alphonse rounded the corner, like the day previous, it happened.

 

            That’s why the writing had seemed so familiar, and yet not so. It was Drachman, but Shou Tucker didn’t know Drachman, not to her knowledge at least. He was surprised someone like Rhys knew it, and none of the books had been touched in ages. The shelves acted as storage for someone else, and that person was someone who made her hands shake. Why in the hell would her father want to store his-

 

            And then, another thing clicked in her mind as the pair of brother’s spoke amongst themselves, the elder huffing as he readied himself to stand up, the subject in these journals- they were her. They had to be. She couldn’t think of another explanation. They weren’t all during her training years, hence the journal that sat in her lap at the moment, but they were all centered around one form of handwriting which she hadn’t seen in years, but she was still at least pretty sure that it was his. It started on her birthday, so it had to be her. Just as she had managed to swallow herself and allow her eyes to finally drift onto another page, a cold metal hand flicked solidly against her forehead.

 

            “Jeeze you really are deaf huh? C’mon- we’ve been sitting here for hours, dog needs exercise.” Edward couldn’t help his curiosity as he followed the girl’s gaze down into the pages, taking note how hard she seemed to be grabbing the page between her fingers, and for a moment his brows scrunched in concern. Rhys cleared her throat, snapping the book shut quickly and squeezing it, as if for reassurance, before she looked up to see all four sets of eyes looking at her in a perplexed way. ‘You really zoned out that time kid.’ She thought to herself, taking a deep inhale before hoisiting herself up and dusting her own leather pants off and painting on an easy smirk.

 

            “Well c’mon- I have to see you get your ass handed to you again.”

 

            “Hey! Bad word big sister!” Nina pointed an accusatory finger towards the blonde woman, whose smirk only widened.

 

            “Sorry Nina- I meant butt. I have to watch Eddy’s butt get handed to him again, by a dog.” This of course wiped all forms of concern right off of Edward’s face, and replaced it with a look of annoyance that he had readied in his back pocket.

 

            “I didn’t get my butt kicked yesterday you shi-“ He was cut off from his words with a vicious snicker coming out of the woman across from him, who seemed to be able to transverse the line between severely stressed out to easy going so fast it gave him whiplash.

           

            “Language Eddy-“ Her tone was more than confident.

 

            “Oh you punk.” Edward’s hands were clenched, and he was fairly sure that it partner code allowed it, or if they were outside away from Nina’s eyes, he most definitely would have socked Rhys in the face right there, but then, as he turned on his heel to walk away, she of course just had to add to it.

           

            “Awe, thanks.” And with that, she practically shoulder checked past Edward to lead the way outside, Alexander following on her heels as if they were covered in peanut butter, and he was licking it up.