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Chapter Text

What good is knowledge if you have no way to utilize it? This was the question plaguing a group of seven ever since they'd ended up in the god-forsaken hellhole that was wartime Ishval.

Well... truthfully, they'd ended up in the Ishval of one year before the war. They hadn't had a real timeline, not at that time, but their first instinct had been to get the minors out of the damn country and into Amestris. Of course, a year later, one of said minors was no longer a minor. Edwina had returned, but at what cost? Alexia, Lisa and Jim began working to get everyone else out of the country the moment it was needed. The two girls were working on getting legal identities for all of them, which was easier than expected as soon as the war really started going. Jim was their runner, he went back and forth with messages and later, when Leo found the Rockbells, supplies. Edwina was closing off more and more as the screams and gunshots increased. They became better and better at evasion, but-

sometimes they got caught.

They would not escape the war without scars. Physical or emotional.

Leo looked at his hands, seeing the blood that he had already scrubbed off and feeling sick. But he could not let himself throw up what little of Marcus' cooking he had managed to swallow. He hadn't had the guts to even try to use the knowledge crammed into his head by the gate. Marcus stared at the iron cooking pot he'd transmuted using a drawn circle. He didn't have the courage to even briefly touch his hands together. Lisa had already come to the conclusion that she didn't have that inborn talent for alchemy, even though she too had all the knowledge. Alexia also felt useless, even though she could transmute. It was just that her talent would be no use in a fight. Forgeries, however? No one would be able to tell the difference. At least her artistic talents were useful for something. That something being creating the correct papers for her family to be able to enter Amestris and live there without any scrutiny.

Edwina... Edwina had already killed with the art. The white coat made for desert-conditions was stained with blood. She refused to clean it of them.

No one tried to make her.

Jonas talents lay in electronics, with or without sciency magic on his side, while Jim was in the same boat as Lisa. Both made up for that lack with their natural talents. Not once had Jim been caught crossing the border.

It was a good thing there were no Xingese warriors around, otherwise he would have been caught and killed a long time ago. Still, some soldiers were just that good. At least they were just normal soldiers for now. They knew the other shoe was about to drop. And it would drop hard.

It came from nowhere, that spark of hope that would soon make way for dread. But at the moment when Jim came with the news, all four of them felt as if they'd been struck by lightning.

“Al found herself a man.” the black-haired amateur ninja said as soon as he entered camp, falling gracefully onto a makeshift bench near the fire.

Jonas looked up from his latest attempt at creating a walkie-talkie and raised an eyebrow “Oh?”

The unspoken 'And this is important, how?' was telegraphed loud and clear to everyone.

The 24-year old sent him a rogueish grin “His name is Maes and he's absolutely ridiculous.”

Marcus dropped his knife and turned to look at him with wide eyes. Jonas shot up straight, a shocked look on his face. Leo jerked towards him from his first aid kit, face unreadable. And Edwina? Edwina sat up slowly from where she'd been lying on the ground and turned to face him with a raised eyebrow “Really, now?”

Jim smirked even wider “It took her a few weeks, but they're officially a couple, which means...”

“We have an in.” Leo said, hand on his chin.

The only female of their group present shook her head as she stood up “No, don't you get it? We don't just have an in... we have an opportunity.”

They turned to look at their unofficial leader, surprised and overjoyed to see a flame in her eyes that hadn't been there before. It didn't take long for Marcus to understand what she meant “With this...”

Ed looked him in the eye, nodded, then returned her gaze to the others.

“We can save Hughes.

Even that ray of hope wasn't enough to stop Leo's breakdown when the Rockbells died. Normally, it wouldn't have been that bad, but...

He'd been right there when it happened.

His glasses usually obscured his eyes from sight, which was how he preferred it, after what the Gate... what Truth had done to them.

They were red.

Ishval red.

He looked like some sort of half-breed.

But his eyes, trained on the brutal sight in front of him, blurred slightly but not enough by the loss of his glasses, were what had saved him, he was sure.

Scar had seen them. He had seen his red, Ishvalan eyes, and he had spared him from physical injuries.

The mental ones...

The mental ones were what woke him up to throw up for the next few months.

The mental ones were what forced him to collect every personal item the Rockbells had had with them, put them in a box, and guard it with his life.

The mental ones were what made him clean the blood off of the family photo in Yuriy's pocket and place it in the inner pocket of his doctor's coat.

The mental ones were what kept him in Ishval until the very end, doing what the Rockbells had been doing.

The mental ones had led him to take a detour when the war ended. Instead of heading to Central, Leo had taken the box with Yuriy and Sarah's things and taken a train to Resembool. He'd been resigned to it ever since the end of the war was announced and he'd assumed he'd be doing it alone.

But Edwina disagreed with that and had come with him.

The red-head looked at the 26-year old beside him, no longer wearing the blood-stained coat she'd had in Ishval. Instead she'd put on black slacks, boots and a grey button-up. Mourning clothes. Same as him. Though he still wore his doctor's coat over it all and, unlike Ed, he'd managed to fumble a tie around his neck, the same colour as his pants.

“You didn't have to come. I know you wanted to see Al the moment the war was over.” he finally managed to say, his voice almost drowned by the sound of the train.

The brunette sighed “Yeah... I did. But-” she shot him a pained smile “I had a year with her and Liz before... everything. I can wait a few more days. Besides...” she trailed off, looking at the box at their feet.

“You shouldn't be alone right now.”

It was a heavy statement. The dual meaning wasn't lost to either of them. They both knew, individually, that meddling would be bad. Especially right now, when Edward and Alphonse had yet to try and perform Human Transmutation.

Logically, they knew that stopping them was ultimately a bad idea. Logically, individually, collectively, they knew that.

But emotions weren't logical.

So, Ed had come with to insure that he didn't try and stop the brothers. And Leo would do the same for Ed. This was why she was the only one to come with. The two of them could keep an eye on each other and stop the other from doing anything.

It had taken months of arguing. But at the end, they all knew that some things just shouldn't be meddled with. Too many things depended on things going the way they had in canon.

But they had Hughes. They had Hughes and... it would have to be enough.

They'd make it be enough.

But first...

they had a little heartbreak to get through.

Chapter Text

They'd had no customers that day. It had been a pretty slow few days in general, so Pinako wasn't expecting the knock on the door. Den was barking up a storm, so it wasn't anyone he was familiar with, such as Edward or Alphonse. Not that those boys would have knocked, they'd have just barged in. Putting her pipe down after she'd emptied it into the ashtray, the old automail mechanic made her way to the door. Opening it gave her no immediate answer to the situation. She recognized neither the red-haired man holding a box, nor the brown-haired young lady standing to the side, looking over the landscape. Their attire caught her eye before the tenseness of the man's shoulders did. The eldest Rockbell had a sinking feeling about their business at her home.

Honestly, she'd rather have a customer right now.

“Yes?” she finally prompted, when the silence stretched just a bit too long.

The red-head jerked, pressing his lips closed, before speaking “The war ended... and- since I had no reason to- I thought I'd-” he broke off, sounding frustrated. The young man breathed in deeply, before trying again, “I couldn't save them.”

The statement hit hard. Harder than Pinako could ever have expected. Harder than when soldiers had come to tell her the news.

Because this young man, this doctor, had cared. Still cared.

That made all the difference.

“I couldn't save them...” the man repeated, tightening his grip on the wooden box “So I saved everything they owned and put it in a box where I could protect what little I still could, before continuing what they'd started.”

Pinako exhaled. Shaking her head sadly. Yes. This man had cared and was suffering because of it. Punishing himself, even. Why else come and face the last kin of two people whose death he felt guilty about, probably having resigned himself for the anger.

Pinako had no anger to spare to a grieving person.

The woman glanced in her direction, obviously waiting for any backlash she'd have to save her companion from. Well, Pinako wouldn't sink that low.

“Come inside.”

They'd migrated to the dinner table. Well, Pinako and the red-haired man had, the woman was standing in the doorway, leaning against it and looking out of the room, probably keeping watch. Perhaps she was there in case Winry came, if she was aware of her granddaughter's existence.

Pinako had poured all of them coffee, but the woman had only grabbed the cup and returned to her place at the door. The doctor was looking into the dark depths in an effort to not look at her.

“What's your name, young man?” the automail mechanic finally asked.

The redhead started, before his lips twitched “Right. Introductions.” he chuckled, taking a deep breath as he ruffled his hair, before straightening up minutely “I'm Leonard Oak. That's Edwina Ericsson.” he nodded towards his companion.

Said companion waved with her mug at the mention of her name, but stayed otherwise put.

Leonard's shoulders dropped as he rubbed the rim of his cup with his thumb “I met Yuriy and Sarah when Ed got shot. I didn't have my bag with me, a stupid decision really, but we were close enough for someone to lead me to them. I owed them 'Wina's life. Seeing their work, I decided to aid them. We were doing well enough, what with Jim helping with supplies... but then...” the ginger rubbed his face, looking worn.

The woman, Edwina, spoke up at last “Leo came back bloodied, that day. Not too strange, given the circumstances, but... the look on his face told us all we needed to know. This time it wasn't a few patients he'd have to bury in his heart.” she sighed, lowering her own cup near her hip “He had to go back for their things, of course, but... keeping the field hospital going got harder with just one doctor."

Pinako's eyes widened behind her glasses. She understood what those words meant. This young man... had continued her son and daughter-in-law's work.

They hadn't died for nothing...

It didn't make the pain go away... but it made it more manageable.

They left before Winry came home, leaving behind the box and three photos. One was the family portrait of Yuriy, Sarah and Winry. The second was a candid shot her son had taken by accident, his hand outstretched and going out of the shot, Leo holding a box of what had to be supplies and perhaps telling him off for touching the camera and Sarah in the background, laughing. The last one held her son and daughter-in-law, Leo, Edwina and three other men, all looking worn but at least somewhat content as they looked into the lens. The box held some items she had no idea where they'd come from and came to the conclusion they had been received during their time in Ishval. It was too bad she couldn't ask about them, with Leo having left no way to contact him. Pinako sighed. Everyone had their own way of dealing with grief, she supposed.

Somehow, the automail mechanic doubted this would be the end.

Chapter Text

Maes was visiting his beautiful, talented, sweet, amazing girlfriend of five years when someone knocked on said girlfriend's apartment's door. And not a normal knock either, no. It was obviously a code of some sort. One that had his dear Alexia bolting for the door from her position of leaning against his side on the couch, causing Maes to groan in dismay even as he sharpened his focus and rose to join her.

Ishval still clung to him, which was why he had yet to spend the night with Alexia since his return.

“Big sis!” his girlfriend called with joy from behind the corner, having thrown open the door already.

“Ale...” another female exhaled, sounding similar to Alexia but different enough that Maes at least wouldn't mix them up.

Rounding the corner he could see a woman wearing dark clothes under a cream coat that had seen better days and a suitcase that looked only slightly better. He couldn't tell much else since she was hugging Alexia tightly and had buried her face in his girlfriend's neck. They had obviously not seen each other for a while.

“You're back, you're back...” the younger brunette sobbed, practically hanging off the other, who was now rubbing her back.

“Yeah,” came the muffled reply “sorry it took so long. Leo needed some closure so I went with.”

Alexia just nodded before letting go and taking a step back. She then turned to smile at Maes “Maes, come meet my sister Edwina, sis, this is Maes, my boyfriend. Jim said he told you guys.”

The 24-year-old stepped forward with a friendly smile that covered his nervousness and wariness “Hello, ms. Ericsson, my name is Maes Hughes. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Edwina smiled, looking tired as she offered her hand, which he took as she spoke “Nice to meet you and welcome to the family. There is no escape.”

“Edwiiiiinaaaa....” the light of his life groaned.

Said woman shot her a wry glance “You know it's true, otherwise Jim wouldn't have even mentioned it.”

The younger huffed at the elder “That still doesn't mean you can just say that!”

“I don't hear a denial~!”

Maes laughed lightly. It seemed he had worried for nothing. He'd been slightly wary of the fact that Alexia had yet to introduce him to any family or even mention it to him, but it seemed he had been mentioned to the family. His parents weren't exactly a factor in his life and from the looks of things, their parents may not be a factor in the siblings' lives either.

“So what did I miss?” the elder brunette asked, tossing her impressively long braid over her shoulder, her coat having been tossed onto the coat rack without a second glance.

Alexia hummed as she put the coffee on “Well, there's this building right at the edge of the slums that is just the right size for a theater.”

Maes wasn't sure what this was supposed to mean, but apparently it meant something to the elder sister, since she stuck her head into the kitchen with an expression of excitement and shock “What? No way. Awesome. How bad is it?”

'Lexia shot her an amused look “As if getting a fixer-upper is so bad, miss Al-che-mist~”

The amusement disappeared at her sister's shiver “Sorry.”

The elder shook her head “It's fine. Well, since all we need is raw materials, does that mean we have any ideas for opening night? Or how to get people to come?”

That was when it dawned on him “I'm sure I could spread the word if you give me details.” he beamed.

The siblings turned to blink at him, before the elder quipped ”Damn, he's good.”

Al smiled at him “Once we have a set date for the opening, I'll be sure to tell you.”

Maes beamed. Hey, if he could support Roy's dreams, he could support Alexia's dreams. Besides, helping her advertise for her theater was a minor endeavor in comparison to getting Roy into the Führer's seat.

Also, he was forcing Roy to come to the theater opening so that he could brag about his girlfriend. Y'know, like friends did. Besides, he was pretty sure Roy liked theater. Two birds with one stone and all that.

Once the coffee was done, Alexia went to drag the suitcase into her bedroom, leaving Maes alone with the elder sister. The woman stared at her cup for a silent moment before sighing.

“Normally, this would be a great moment for the shovel talk-” the soldier gulped, afraid that was what was going to happen “but I'll refrain.” the woman sighed, lifting her cup with two hands but not taking a sip. Another moment of silence passed before she continued “Just... stay alive, that will be enough.”

Maes gripped his own cup tighter, Ishval and all the near misses flashing through his mind, before relaxing “I've been assigned to a desk job, I'm pretty sure I can do that.”

Edwina snorted “There's no such thing as a desk job in the military, Hughes, don't be stupid. Being military puts you at risk whether you want that or not.” she teased, then sighed “Alexia... the blood the two of us share is the only blood we share with anyone right now. The others don't even have that. It's not surprising the seven of us clung to each other when we lost everything else. It's been years since we've all been together and now that we finally have this opportunity I don't think any of us can let it go.”

Maes listened to what she said and didn't say. Mulling it over, he thought he understood.

Little did he know his understanding only scratched the surface.

Alexia wasn't sure how they managed, but not only was the Jörmungandr Theater built and ready for action but they'd managed to invite so many Ishval war veterans, Basque Grand and Alex Louis Armstrong included. In fact, the entire Armstrong clan that was in Central was there.

The theater's main function wasn't entertainment though, oh no, not by a long shot. What no one would know was that they were employing Ishvalan refugees in the kitchen of the restaurant in the same building and as extras in the plays they would be showing. They would also be a sort of soup kitchen and medical station for the ones they couldn't employ. The only reason it was working was that many recognized the five of them that had been in Ishval during the war and many of them owed their lives or the life of someone they knew to Leo if no one else. This was one of the only things they could do without stirring things up.

Speaking of stirring the pot, it had taken an intense debate to decide what they should open their theater with. There'd been some groaning when they realized they'd have to censor what they showed. No The Last Airbender, for example, someone might mistake the Fire Nation for a parallel to Amestris and they couldn't have that.

How they'd ended up with Hamilton wasn't important. But once it had been mentioned and they'd all watched a video Jim had downloaded where the entire soundtrack was animated by different people, and no one wanted to think about why Jim had it downloaded on his laptop, everyone was of the opinion that it was too perfect to pass up. There were so many parallels to be drawn without showing their hand.

Jim had whined about being cast as Hamilton, especially when Alexia had been cast as Eliza. It had been hilarious.

“Why do I have to be the one to cheat on Lex?!” the black-haired non-alchemist exclaimed during their first practice session.

Everyone had laughed so hard at that. Alexia was resigned to forever being the baby of the group, even if she was also their ticket to saving Hughes. And boy hadn't that been a surprise. But it had been all too easy to fall in love with him, even if it had started out as a scheme on her part. She wasn't sure how, but the man had started to fancy her. When it was time for him to leave for Ishval, Alexia was afraid that a long-distance relationship would be their undoing. But every letter that he wrote back was the same, his affection for her didn't wane as she'd feared and now... honestly, she wouldn't be surprised if the man would start looking at rings soon. He was easy enough for her to read by now, just like he was able to read her tells. It was getting more an more difficult to keep things from him, not just because of his impressive deductive reasoning, but also due to the fact that lying to him hurt.

But it wasn't like she could tell him the uncensored truth.

But for now, avoidance and vagueness would have to be enough. The less outright lies that were told, the better.

Perhaps, once the Dwarf In the Flask was taken care of, she could relax and they could be truly happy.

Chapter Text

Roy was going to strangle Hughes with his own tie. Then feed it to him. He knew that getting a ticket to Central's new theater's opening show was too good to be true. Of course the man would take the opportunity to gush about his goddamn girlfriend. And tell Roy how he should really get a girlfriend himself. Urgh. He'd take solace in Hawkeye suffering with him, except her seat was somewhere else while Mustang was stuck beside Hughes. Great. At least he'd be forced to be silent during the show.

Roy let out a sigh of relief when the lights dimmed and the curtain was drawn. He blinked at the sound of music. He hadn't realized it was a musical. A brown haired man with a severe face, clad in knee-high boots, white pants and a purple jacket, was illuminated by a spotlight.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” the man sang in a matter-of-fact tone, gesturing vaguely with his arm.

A blond, Roy squinted, woman in drag, wearing a white uniform, was the next to be illuminated, voice pitched low to sound more masculine as she sang “The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter”

A red haired, bespectacled man, wearing the same kind of white uniform as the woman, was the next to appear “And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted
Away across the waves, he struggled and kept his guard up
Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of
The brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter”

Roy wasn't ashamed to say he became mesmerized by the characters being introduced and the cast of background dancers, all clad in white. He assumed the main characters were the ones with more elaborate clothes. Then the main character was introduced.

“What's your name, man?”

A black-haired man, he too wearing a white uniform, stood in the center of the stage “Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there's a million things I haven't done
But just you wait, just you wait...”

A woman, this one wearing a dress rather than drag, appeared on stage and caused Maes to squeal silently. Roy could tell only because he knew the man so well and had to contain an exasperated sigh. This had to be the girlfriend then. Well, he had to admit, she looked pretty. And she had a beautiful voice, too.

“When he was ten his father split, full of it, debt-ridden
Two years later, see Alex and his mother bed-ridden
Half-dead sittin' in their own sick, the scent thick”

“And Alex got better but his mother went quick”

It was amazing how whoever had written the play managed to cram so much information in one song. It painted quite the vibrant picture of misfortune and genius. And it wasn't even finished yet. Maybe this would be more enjoyable than the Flame Alchemist had first anticipated. He also wondered how they'd come up with the different countries that had been in the “background information” in the pamphlet. Though he had laughed at the so called “Too long, didn't read” section of: “British are bad, Americans and French are good, all of Hamilton's enemies became President but he didn't and James Madison became his enemy because Hamilton wrote more essays than him.”

It was a much abridged version, he was sure.

“We fought with him”
“Me? I died for him”
“Me? I trusted him”
“Me? I loved him”
“And me?” a pause, a chuckle “I'm the damn fool that shot him”

That caught everyone's attention, more than the show already did. How clever, leaving them in suspense for who knew how long?

It was almost dizzying how quickly the set was changed by the background dancers, Roy didn't always notice when it was being done, what with the spotlights focusing elsewhere, but since he and Hughes were sitting high up, they could see more than most. It wasn't really surprising the man got such good tickets when his girlfriend was part of the production.

Roy was feeling both inspired and personally attacked, which was stupid, because the author of the play could have no way of knowing his innermost thoughts or his ambitions. But still...

Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for
“You can't be serious”
“You want to get ahead?”
“Yes”
“Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead”

He would never admit it, but that part shook him more than it had any right to. It wasn't the only moment to affect him, however.

Geniuses, lower your voices
You keep out of trouble, and you double your choices
I'm with you, but the situation is fraught
You've got to be carefully taught:
If you talk, you're gonna get shot!”

For shame-
“For the Revolution!”
“For shame!”
“For the Revolution!”

Death doesn't discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints,
it takes and it takes and it takes
and we keep living anyway.
We rise and we fall
and we break
and we make our mistakes.
And if there's a reason I'm still alive
when everyone who loves me has died
I'm willing to wait for it.”

Stay alive ‘til this horror show is past
We’re gonna fly a lot of flags half-mast”

“Strong words from Lee, someone oughta hold him to it”
“I can’t disobey direct orders”
“Then I’ll do it”

Roy remembered vividly the moment when Basque Grand shot Fessler, sorry, when the stray bullet hit Fessler, in Ishval, for some reason.

There was just... so much that spoke to him on such a visceral level that Roy was left feeling vulnerable. Watching Hamilton start to spiral after Laurens' death made him wonder if that would happen to him if he ever had to live with Hughes dying on him.

He didn't want to think about it.

Honestly, he wasn't in a worse state of mind only because of the humor sprinkled in, but when Laurens died again symbolically, since the same woman who'd played Laurens and the woman Hamilton cheated on his wife with also played Philip, Hamilton's son, Roy really wondered how this play could end in anything but a tragedy.

And then-

On stage, Eliza takes Hamilton's hand “It’s quiet uptown
“Forgiveness. Can you imagine?”

But then.

Then stand, Alexander
Weehawken. Dawn
Guns. Drawn”
“You’re on”

This... was what had been said at the beginning, wasn't it. That Burr had shot him. What a fool.

On stage, Burr and Hamilton turned around and aimed, a background dancer's fist acting as the bullet fired from the former's gun, slowly, slowly heading towards a rambling Hamilton, an impressive show of a dying man's thoughts that he never got to say, before everything sped up and Hamilton finished aiming.

...My love, take your time
I’ll see you on the other side
Raise a glass to freedom...”
“He aims his pistol at the sky-!”
Wait!

Bang!

“Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
History obliterates
In every picture it paints
It paints me and all my mistakes
When Alexander aimed
At the sky
He may have been the first one to die
But I’m the one who paid for it

I survived, but I paid for it

Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too young and blind to see...
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”

The Flame Alchemist dragged his palm down his face. What an utter fool. In the end, Burr didn't wait for it... and Hamilton threw away his shot.

Fools, the both of them.

But still, the musical somehow managed to end on a rather positive note.

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control:
Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story?”
“Every other founding father's story gets told
Every other founding father gets to grow old”
“But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story? “

Eliza tells his story. Eliza tells all their stories. It's breathtaking to even think about, how history will see you once you're gone. When the show is over, Roy stands up along with everyone else in the theater to applaud. The actors look surprised by the reaction, but they shouldn't be. This was something no one had seen before. These characters someone had created were so relatable, so utterly human that they had no choice but to love them. Any plays Mustang had seen didn't feel so real. He had no idea how they'd done it, but-

“Hughes, I need to see this again, I don't care what it takes, I need to see this again.”

He needed to see this warning tale about hubris again. Not just because it was just that good, but also...

As a reminder to himself. If he wanted to be Führer, he'd have to make sure he didn't make the same mistakes.

Chapter Text

Maes knew he shouldn't read into it too much, but...

Every time he laid eyes on his dear Alexia's sister he couldn't help but remember some of the things that had been in the play. And a few things the woman had said during their first meeting. Had she somehow slipped her own message into the story? He had no idea who in the group of seven had written the script, and they weren't telling, but the words echoed in his mind sometimes.

Roy had, surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, gone to see the show an additional three times while in Central. Even the Armstrongs hadn't gone that far (and Hughes still laughed at the troupe's disturbed faces when they saw the family twinkling and crying. It would never not be funny).

But the words Angelica had almost screamed at Hamilton didn't stop plaguing his thoughts...

I know my sister like I know my own mind
You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind
And a million years ago she said to me 'this one's mine'”

“I love my sister more than anything in this life
I will choose her happiness over mine every time
Eliza~
Is the best thing in our lives
So never lose sight of the fact that you have been blessed with the best wife
Congratulations
For the rest of your life
Every sacrifice you make is for my sister
Give her the best life
Congratulations”

Now, he knew that Edwina didn't think him the kind of man that would cheat on his wife- but he had to wonder if she hadn't meant some of those words for him. He'd interacted with her and seen her interact with her sister enough to realize that Ed would sacrifice her happiness for her sister's if she had to.

It also made him question whether he should ask Edwina for her blessing or not. She had blatantly welcomed him into the family when they'd first met, so there was no real need, but...

He wondered.

It wasn't like money was an issue on either side. His pay was decent enough and it wasn't like Alexia wasn't making a healthy amount herself. The theater was positively flourishing and a lot of costs could be cut out completely with keeping things in-house. Repairs didn't cost nearly as much as in other establishments mostly due to the fact that Jörmungandr housed at least three alchemists from what he'd been able to figure out, his future sister-in-law included. He'd been told they would use this to their advantage to have way better special effects than their competitors. Hughes wasn't surprised that was something they'd come up with, even if he found the art freaky. Thankfully none of them could start fires with a snap of their fingers, he was sure Edwina would burn the world to the ground if she was given such firepower.

Maes couldn't say he interacted much with the other five members of the main troupe, but he saw them often enough when he came to show his support during concerts and plays.

Right, had he mentioned they also held concerts? It was baffling how many different genres and songs they had in their arsenal. He wondered when exactly they'd had time to write them all.

Honestly, the Major sighed, his occupation got in the way of his thinking, sometimes. But Alexia never complained, she just poked him on the nose and winked, saying “Mind in the moment, please.”

And he was doing that, now. His mind was in the moment when he'd finally gotten her a ring. It was a simple band, she wouldn't want something unnecessarily expensive anyway, she was practical that way. Now, to ask her. Well, she'd want to tell her friends anyway, sooo...

He took the ring with him when he went to watch one of the rehearsals he was allowed to see, mainly just what they called “band-practice”. He could understand why. If he wanted to see the plays, he'd need to pay.

A reduced price, but he'd need to pay.

He kept his work as separate from his free time as he could. He might always walk around armed, at Edwina's insistence no less, but he wasn't wearing his uniform. It tended to put people in the building on edge.

Jim was the first to spot him. The man had incredible spatial awareness, one Maes was envious of and knew some people who'd kill for it. The ravenette grinned from where he was fiddling with the 'electric guitar', one of the many things Jonas had created “Yo, man!” he called, waving.

This brought him to the attention of everyone else and each member smiled at his approach, hands still in his pockets, hiding the box “You stayin' fer dinner?” Marcus called from the back, where he was reading something. Notes or lyrics maybe? He wasn't sure, but it wasn't that important.

The Intelligence Agent shrugged as he casually made his way towards his girlfriend “That depends.”

Marcus looked up and cocked an eyebrow “On what?”

Hughes cocked a shoulder as he came to a stop and smiled gently but brightly “Hey, best of women,” he started, bringing out his hands and lifting the one with the ring, the lid of the box springing open with little effort as he got down on one knee “will you marry me?”

The gobsmacked expression on Alexia's face was well worth the nerves he was feeling. The others 'ooooh'ing in the background wasn't helping, nor was Edwina's “Damn, he's smooooooth.”

After what felt like an eternity, Alexia teared up and laughed at the same time “Oh you horrible, horrible man, what took you so long?” she hiccuped, extending her left hand with her fingers splayed, an obvious invitation for him to slide it on.

Then all hell broke loose when Edwina gasped “Oh my god, guys! He quoted! He proposed to her with a quote! Yes! Integration complete!”

Sis!”

Their combined laughter was so loud Hughes was surprised no one checked what was happening back there. Perhaps it was commonplace. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

Now he just needed to get Roy to be best man!

In East City, the Flame Alchemist sneezed while doing his late paperwork, sending some of it flying. He immediately blamed Hughes.

Getting married prompted Alexia to insist on house-shopping. Of course, she enlisted the other six to help finding one that suited all of them, because they all knew it was going to be used by all of them even though Alexia and Hughes would be the only ones sleeping there every night. The house would need to have secretive ways to enter and exit and would need to be sheltered enough that spying on the people inside would be difficult. Of course, none of them mentioned this to Hughes, though perhaps the man would notice while living there. Because he didn't refuse when Alexia “found” the house she thought would be good to raise a family in. A two-story house that had a basement and an attic. It was a bit of a fixer-upper so it came cheaper than a house that size normally would, but with a few alchemists and a handyman, aka Jonas, it was a steal. It also meant it was much easier to make it into a ninja house. And that more than once while modifying the house, Edwina walked through while saying “Haaaaaaaax.”

Just another thing only the seven of them understood and could laugh at.

It often formed a barrier between them and the rest of the world they were inhabiting, but what could they do? It was good that they had each other, but sometimes it didn't feel like enough. With the Ishvalans it wasn't as bad, because there was a cultural barrier both parties acknowledged, often enough with an “I don't get it, but ok.”

No judgement. No criticism. Just... fact. They had to work around some religious things, like praying times and holidays and such, but it was a small thing to do. The Ishvalans had to hide enough without the seven of them making things difficult.

The refugees weren't the only thing the theater hid. In the basement was a bunker and under that, a training ground. An obstacle course for when scaling buildings didn't feel safe. With Pride in the shadows, it didn't always feel safe to go outside. All of their apartments were rigged with as much illumination as they could get away with and blackout curtains to keep them safe in their sleep. The paranoia might seem like too much, but... well... they knew what they were dealing with.

God knew they knew what they were dealing with.

And the cost could have been much worse... even if they'd had a little more to lose when they stood in front of their gate.

There was a reason not a single one of them had even thought about trying to find a way home.

Chapter Text

The year turned to the next and Alexia kept supplying the others with information she gathered from her husband. His notes and things he said, including phone-calls from his best friend. It was an invasion of privacy and she knew she was breaking his trust with every word she passed to the others, but she had known it would be difficult.

She loved this man, but it was difficult.

Most days she could pretend nothing was wrong, she'd smile at her neighbors who knew nothing of the world, she took care of the chores that Maes didn't manage to do and she pretended to be part of the community. But they all knew it was fake.

It wasn't as big of a surprise as it could have been, she supposed, when Hughes exclaimed about Mustang finding someone to take the State Alchemist exam. Alexia immediately had the bright idea to tell her darling husband to invite them all over to stay, since it would probably take some preparation to study and all.

She knew it was utter bullshit, but Maes didn't need to know that.

In the end she got what she wanted, even if the Colonel looked slightly uncomfortable during the entire ordeal.

Edward's young face looking at her with some astonishment was enough for her heart to give a painful lurch, but she hid it well. Al was back in Resembool and Mustang was personally escorting the 12-year-old to Central and back to East City alone, so there were only two additions to their dinner table. Personally, she was surprised Hawkeye had let the Flame Alchemist go off without her, but whatever.

Edward was surprised when the guy with glasses had appeared out of nowhere and started to drag the Bastard off somewhere. He'd been forced to follow since the man was his ticket out of Central. He only had enough money with him for the return ticket from East City to Resembool. When the man, Hughes, mentioned food, he was more eager to follow. They stopped in front of a pretty nice looking house that had some traces of transmutation on the walls, which caught the prodigy's eye immediately. Whoever had done it was really good, the result was surprisingly smooth.

Hughes threw open the door with a cheerful “Honey! I'm home!”

A pretty woman with long brown hair in a braid wearing a blue dress appeared in the foyer, a brilliant smile on her face “Welcome home,” she said, pecking him on the lips, before turning towards the Bastard and Ed, by proxy “Colonel, it's nice to see you again and...” her eyes landed on him, blinking.

Yeah, this probably looked weird, in hindsight.

The Bastard Colonel pointed his thumb at him “This is Edward Elric, he took the State Alchemist Exam today.”

Edward remembered his manners now that he actually needed them and bowed “Nice to meet you Mrs. Hughes.”

The woman's smile was only marginally smaller as she nodded back “Call me Alexia. Or any variation of, really.” she then looked somewhat accusingly at the Bastard “Awfully young.”

Dang, he wished he could sound that disapproving in just two words. He was scared stiff when he was forced to take his shoes off, but no one mentioned anything about his automail, even though not moments before the Bastard had basically threatened him not to let anyone know about his background.

Dinner was an experience. He knew he was staring at the glass of milk with death in his gaze, but no matter how rude it was, he refused to drink the crap.

“So, Alexia, when is Hamilton coming back to the theaters?” The Bastard asked, sounding less smarmy than he had ever since he'd first opened his mouth when Ed came to East City.

The woman smiled, a mischievous edge to it “My, my, Colonel, if I didn't know better I'd think you were fishing for information.”

Mustang shrugged, not even slightly apologetic “What can I say? I can't wait for it.”

Mrs. Hughes threw her head back and laughed heartily while her husband sighed “I swear you're obsessed.”

His wife nudged him “Or perhaps he wants to see Angelica~” the woman sang the name in good humor.

The Bastard twitched while Hughes laughed “Perhaps you should just give in and propose.”

Alexia snorted and hacked “Ed? Getting married? Who do you think you're talking about?!” the woman exclaimed.

“... what?” Ed had to ask.

Alexia blinked at him “Oh, sorry. My sister, Edwina. She's... let's just say the day she gets married is the day the world ends.”

Well, that made more sense. He also somehow avoided having to drink the milk. Alexia had taken the untouched glass away and brought him back a glass of water while the Bastard and Hughes were bickering about Hughes showing off pictures of his wife when “Your wife is right there, damnit! I don't need to see pictures!”

It was fuckin' hilarious.

When it was time to turn in, Edward was given some sheets to turn into sleepwear with his Alchemy since he hadn't been prepared for staying the night in Central. The Bastard was forced into some of Hughes' pyjamas and given the couch. It was a nice couch, but Ed felt a little vindictive that he got the bed instead of the Colonel.

“Alexia...”

The young alchemist perked up at the sound of Hughes' voice and got closer to the door to listen. He was a curious person, alright, cut him some slack.

“what's wrong? The way you looked at him...”

A shaky sigh “Roy said he was twelve...” the woman explained, sounding wobbly “and he already has that look in his eyes...”

“Alexia...”

“I was his age when it happened.”

Ed swallowed at the way she spoke and leaned against the door.

“The day when we lost everything...”

“I was twelve years old when I saw Hell.”

The woman sounded wrecked and Ed wondered how she could smile so kindly at him.

He didn't sleep well that night.

And when he got back to Resembool with a shiny new watch and a shiny new name, he burnt their house down.

No turning back now, huh?

Chapter Text

There were three years of unknown in the narrative. They hadn't realized it until recently. Things wouldn't really start to roll until Ed was fifteen. Until then the brothers would supposedly be going around on assignments and chase down clues about the Philosopher's stone.

Alexia had managed something when she'd gotten her husband to drag Edward and Mustang over the day of the Exam, however. She'd told the boy that he was welcome to visit whenever he was in Central. She wasn't sure if the boy took it to heart or not, however.

Mustang rarely stayed the night, but Maes did manage to drag him to dinner after every showing of Hamilton. They'd decided to do at the very least one showing per year, since it was so popular. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it was quite popular with the Ishval Veterans. The good ones, at least.

The Armstrong family quickly became one of their biggest supporters and financial backers, which gave their Theater a status many would kill for. Of course there were attempts at sabotage, of course there were. But with so many Ishvalans seeing the building as sanctuary, it was well guarded from physical abuse and attempts of arson. Though the sprinkler system Jonas had installed also helped in the latter.

The three-year gap, as they were considering it, was to be used mostly to debate on and fine-tune “The Plan”. The moment that “Canon” started they would have to be extra vigilant in their spying and information gathering so that they could execute everything and adjust accordingly if things changed too much by something they had done. Hopefully nothing too bad would happen from their meddling, but they had to be prepared for every possible scenario. Step one of the plan, the one they'd been working on ever since the end of the Ishval war, was integrating themselves into the lives of the “Good guys”.

Hughes had already been fully assimilated, though he knew it not. Mustang had been somewhat ensnared by Alexia, but the others hadn't interacted with him all that much, heck, Marcus and Jonas hadn't even met him officially. Lisa and Riza were friendly acquaintances, which was more than could be said about the rest of Mustang's team. The Jörmungandr group hadn't even laid eyes on them.

Alex Louis Armstrong was on speaking terms with Jonas and Jim, along with Edwina.

Alexia had no idea how her sister could stand the constant half-nudity. Or at least not laugh at it.

And the Elric brothers... well, Alexia had accepted her job as the Lure and did her best to ensnare the two ever since they first graced her with their presence, surprising as it had been. Maes had been thrilled, too.

Of course, Alexia was more than just the Lure, the Siren, the sense of security. She was also the Forger. It was her that had given all of them identities. It was a good thing the only ones she needed to do quickly had been her, Lisa and Edwina's papers. The rest had been in Ishval and thus didn't need them immediately. Next had been Jim, as their Courier. She'd had much longer to polish the existing ones and create the rest. Getting Leo his Doctor's License was... harder, let's say, but thanks to his absence and the lack of a sense of urgency had helped. Much. She even managed to get him a status as a backup for the mourge in Central, which would be needed in the future. Not only for intel, but also...

It was a necessity.

They all had their role to play and it was only the sense of doom that kept them from infighting too much when differences in opinion cropped up. Like the subject of the Tuckers...

Lisa had wanted to save them. Had been adamant about it, even, but...

“And what then!?” Alexia had screamed at the woman, mind already whirling with all the things that could go wrong with changing just that one thing.

Thankfully, Marcus had been thinking along the same lines as her. He was particularly fond of Scar, so he would remember how the man was introduced.

“If Tucker is put in prison early, especially that early, it would mean he won't get killed by Scar in East City when Ed and Al are there.” the cook said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was fighting the urge to call Lisa an idiot, knowing it would only do harm but hating the fact he had to actually explain what he and Alexia had realized ages ago.

Edwina picked up that line of thinking, starting to formulate where it was going “Which would mean Mustang wouldn't know that Scar is in East City... while the Elrics are walking around unprotected and unprepared... oh shit.”

The others were a little slower on the uptake. Leo and Jonas had an inkling, remembering how badly Scar beat the brothers and then suddenly even Jim and Lisa realized what they meant.

'Lexia smiled without humor “And since no one knows Scar is in East City... Mustang does not come with a bunch of soldiers as backup to save them. Ed dies. And it will be because we decided to play god.”

Lisa had been stubborn “You can't guarantee that!”

“We can't guarantee that's not exactly what will happen!” the youngest of the seven yelled right back, wild-eyed “Every change is because of us. Everything we change has a risk of failing because of things we cannot possibly foresee accurately. If something goes differently, if something goes horribly wrong that shouldn't have, then it's OUR FAULT, LISA! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?!”

Jim looked uncomfortable as he spoke up “Aren't you putting too much responsibility on us all? We're only human.”

“Then whose responsibility is it?” Leo asked, perhaps a bit too bitterly “If we're not held responsible for our actions, then who is? Yes, we're human. But we hold the world in our hands. We're small, insignificant human beings who can't even save a little girl from grief.”

And it was obvious he was talking about Winry. About Yuriy and Sarah's deaths.

But it was a big question. If they didn't hold themselves responsible for the changes they brought, no one would. And if they weren't held responsible, who was? They had to police themselves and each other, because no one else would.

This world was far too close to realism for them to rely on the plot to forgive them for their meddling.

After that rather explosive and depressing disagreement, they'd all needed some time apart. It was funny how this had also been the day when Edward had decided to take Alexia up on her offer. Maes hadn't disagreed with her on it when she'd first offered, as she knew he wouldn't. The problem would be not letting Maes know about Alphonse's hollow insides... and not letting the Elrics know she knew about said fact.

Ed looked at the darkening sky, knowing it would be cheaper to go to the barracks, but also knowing the food at the mess hall was shit. Looking around, the 13-year-old got a better idea.

“Al, c'mon, I know a place nearby.” the blond said, turning down a familiar road, in his mind's eye seeing Mr. Hughes drag the unwilling Bastard Colonel down the street.

His little brother sighed, some-fucking-how, as he spoke “Brother, I doubt anything's open at this hour anymore. At least, anything that would let us in.”

The elder brother rolled his eyes “Not that kinda place, Al.” he called back, hopping up the stone steps and knocking on the door.

“Brother!” his little brother panicked, obviously assuming he was doing something less than morally acceptable, but he just waved him off.

The door opened to reveal a familiar face. Mrs. Hughes blinked at Alphonse before sliding her eyes to meet Edward's, causing her to beam “Edward! What a nice surprise, come in, come in.” the woman beckoned, shutting the door behind them “Take your shoes o-” she cut off, looking dubiously at Al's feet, before lifting her gaze to the suit of armor's eye-holes “I don't suppose you'll take off the armor if I asked?” she asked, sounding like she knew the answer already.

Al looked contrite “Sorry, ma'am.”

Mrs. Hughes sighed “Alright, just- wipe your feet and I'll find something for Edward to make you slippers. No dragging dirt inside the house.”

Ed smiled sheepishly and said “Sorry, Mrs. Hughes.” even as he took his own boots off.

The woman shot him a tired smile “This is the strangest way of dealing with Agoraphobia that I have ever seen, but if it works, fine.” she sighed as she left the entryway, leaving behind two confused boys.

“Brother, what's Agoraphobia?”

Ed transmuted slippers out of some cloth, rubber bands and discarded cardboard that Alexia scrounged up from her “hobby drawer”, as she'd called it. She then proceeded to pull an apple pie out of the oven. It certainly explained why she was wearing an apron over her black leggings and green sweater. And why there was flour on her face.

She became exasperated once more when Al made no move to eat his share of the pie, but smiled when Ed glared at the glass of milk she'd put in front of him. Though it looked kinda funny, now that he thought about it...

“It's soy.”

The blond looked up and blinked at the woman nursing her own drink of... not milk?

“I can't stand normal milk either, the taste is... weird. Thanks to Jim and his wandering ways, I now have a somewhat steady supply of soy milk. It's made from beans and once you sweeten it it's quite good. If you don't like it I'll give you juice or water instead, ok?”

Ed ended up liking the soy milk. Alexia gave Alphonse a piece of pie and told him to eat it in the guest room if he was so adamant on not eating around other people, before sternly telling Edward to make sure his brother ate.

She knew he couldn't, but she couldn't let them know that.

Once the duo had went to bed, the brunette found a different blond in her living room. Silently, she sat down on the sofa while Lisa sat half inside half outside in the opened window.

A few moments went by in silence, before the blond sighed “'m sorry.”

Alexia sighed, also worn out “I'm sorry too.”

“It's just...” the sniper trailed off.

“Yeah.” Al sighed again.

“I don't like it.”

“No one's asking you to.”

More silence.

“This is what Winny and Leo felt like when they went to Resembool, isn't it?”

“Probably.”

“Damnit. Can't argue with that. If they can do it, I'll have to be able to do it too.”

“I know it hurts, but-”

“Save it. I know I was being childish, no need to baby me.”

Silence.

“I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“I know. But that doesn't make it better.”

Lisa took the rest of the pie with her. In the morning, Edward and Alphonse left after a fullfilling breakfast and a lunchbox full of food for Al. Of course, Ed ended up eating it, just as he'd eaten Al's share of the pie the night before. Alexia let them think she didn't know exactly where the food was going, but she felt accomplished in giving the two a safe space to hide less in. In her house, Al didn't have to pretend to eat in front of her, she'd just “assume” that he'd eaten while she wasn't looking.

Hopefully, it would help some, to have a safe zone in this messed up country. Even if no one was aware of that little fact. Well, Mustang was aware that the ones at the top were not what the people needed, but it went much deeper than that. And the man wouldn't learn of this until later. Much later.