Journey to the Past

BY : Cha's Aegis
Category: Fullmetal Alchemist > Het - Male/Female
Dragon prints: 890
Disclaimer: Don't own anything in the FMA universe. Some chick in Japan does. Make no money on my stories either.

Winter days are cold, bitter and depressing.

At least, that’s how most people would describe them.

Out of all the seasons, winter seems harder for the average person to endure than any other. The cold, sometimes freezing, temperatures often bring misery, illness and much inconvenience and such weather seems to quickly turn treacherous without warning, making it far easier to die or sustain injury.

Not that Brigadier General Maes Hughes is one to gripe about the cold very much.

Casually strolling down the corridors, he gazes out the windows at the gray, overcast skies, taking in the landscape and noting the barren trees and patches of snow on the ground. If weather predictions are accurate, everything will be blanketed with snow by this time tomorrow morning.

He personally doesn’t mind the often bitter, cold days since his job in the recently renamed Investigations Division keeps him predominantly indoors. Even if he isn’t stuck inside so much, regardless of the weather, it’s simply another day to appreciate his second chance at life.

One he’ll shamelessly take advantage of tomorrow by calling out to take his wife and daughter sledding. After all, the snow could make it far too dangerous to drive into work in the morning.

Arriving at the main door of the outer office, he steps inside and grins at the young brunette woman already sitting at her desk diligently doing her work.

“Good morning, Sheska,” he greets cheerfully as he steps over to the coat hooks lining the wall near her desk.

“Good morning, General Hughes,” she greets back with a smile as he shrugs off his coat and hangs it onto one of the brass hooks.

Rolling his eyes he playfully admonishes her. “There’s no need to be so formal, when it’s just us, Sheska.”

The bespectacled woman blushes in embarrassment. “It just seems inappropriate for a corporal like me to be so informal when we’re on duty, sir.”

Maes shakes his head as he drapes his scarf on the same hook as his coat. “Unless there’s a stick in the mud like Colonel Douglas or General Hakuro nearby, there’s no need to worry about anyone raising a stink because we’re ignoring protocol. You didn’t go through the academy training, so strict decorum isn’t expected of our ranked civilians.”

“I’ll try to remember that, sir,” Sheska replies meekly, causing him to shake his head fondly at her again.

“How’s my schedule looking for today?” he asks instead, picking up his briefcase and heading toward his office door located on the other side of her desk.

Rising from her seat, she grabs a clipboard and follows him into his office. “You have one meeting scheduled this afternoon at 1500 hours. Otherwise, you’re clear for the rest of the day.”

Setting his briefcase on the desk, Maes grins at her. “Good. That gives me plenty of time to go show Major General Mustang some new pictures of Elicia I have!”

Reaching into a side pocket of his briefcase he slips out several photos before turning on his heel and heading toward the door.

Sheska belatedly realizes he’s completely serious and hurries after him.

“Wait! But, sir!” she protests at his back as he disappears through the doorway.

“Maes!” his fading voice playfully admonishes from down the hallway.

An hour later Maes strolls back into the office, grinning from ear to ear.

“I’m back,” he needlessly announces, stopping in front of Sheska’s desk.

She reaches over and picks up a small stack of mail sitting on the outer edge of her desk to her right and hands it to him.

“Will you be here for awhile?” she asks meekly. “Soon I’ll have some urgent documents that need your signature.”

Maes gives her a fond smile before idly flipping through his mail. “Yeah, I’ll stick around…”

His voice trails off at a large, innocuous looking, gold colored packet envelope. His brow arches at the sender: the Immigration and Naturalization Division of Amestris. Frowning slightly in confusion, he reaches over and snags a letter opener from the cup of pens on Sheska’s desk. Pulling out the documents, his brow furrows into a slight frown as he scans the main letter before flipping briefly though several accompanying forms.

When he finally notices Sheska watching him out of curiosity he smiles and hands back the letter opener.

“I’m going to close my office door. Unless it’s those documents you need signed or something urgent, I’m not to be disturbed.”

Not waiting for an answer, he leaves a baffled Sheska to watch in confusion as he disappears into his office and closes the door.

Major General Roy Mustang wanted blood. Preferably, Maes Hughes’ blood.

Fuming, he storms into the Investigations Division annoyed that Colonel Hawkeye refused to allow him to show up sooner. Then again, she did threaten to shoot off essential parts of his anatomy if he didn’t complete some priority documents first.

Barely looking up, Sheska’s eyes widen when she realizes where he’s heading. Rising to her feet, she raises a finger to catch his attention.

“Um, General Mustang, sir…” she begins before she shrinks back under his glare. “Go right in, sir,” she finishes meekly.

Roy slams open the door and glares at his target’s back across the room. Sitting at his desk, the noise causes Maes to turn from the window he’s gazing out of to glance over his shoulder across his desk.

“Roy! It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other,” Maes teases in greeting.

Stalking over, Roy glares daggers before slapping a few photos on top of the papers littering the blotter.

“It’s one thing to wave photos of your wife and daughter at me on a near daily basis,” Roy growls, crossing his arms, “but do you have to hide them in my desk and tape them to the mirror in my private bathroom?”

“I didn’t think you had your morning coffee yet when I showed them to you,” Maes laughs, partially swiveling his chair back around. “I thought I’d leave them so you’d have more time to appreciate them.”

Roy’s glare intensifies as he growls, “I sure as hell don’t need more picture viewing time!”

His rant is cut off when his eyes catch on a photo peeking out under the ones he just threw on the desk. Curious, he reaches down and pulls the picture from underneath the scattered pile, his frown deepening as he studies it.

Maes watches his friend study the photo, knowing exactly which one it is, before gathering up the precious pictures of his wife and daughter.

Finally Roy looks up. “Why do you have a childhood photo of Ed and Al?”

Not bothering look up as he slips the other photos into a breast pocket, Maes replies, “That’s not the Elrics.”

Roy arches an incredulous brow. “Don’t tell me it’s their evil twins?”

Mischievous green eyes meet Roy’s. “I wouldn’t say evil. Not in the least,” Maes grins.

Confused, Roy’s gaze drops down to the photo again and he notices some subtle differences that make him question whether they are the Elrics. Their faces certainly look like the two young men, but their manner of dress is odd. He never saw anyone in Resembool dressed like that. He couldn’t recall Al wearing a Xing-like, upright, tab collared, button up shirt and he especially doesn’t remember Fullmetal ever wearing an Ishvalan type headscarf.

Roy looks up at a quietly waiting Maes. “This isn’t a photo of the Elrics?”

“They are the Namikaze twins,” Maes smirks. “The one on the right that looks like Al is Kyo and the one that looks like Ed is his sister Kisa.”

“Sister?” Roy blinks in confusion.

“Yep,” Maes nods. “Ed’s double is a girl.” Both share a chuckle before he continues speaking. “They were born and raised in Tenerife in the southern portion of Azambra and are a year younger than Al.” Smiling softly, he adds, “They also saved my life.”

Roy stares at his friend before looking down briefly at the photo. When his questioning eyes meet green, Maes leans back in his chair and gestures at the door. “If Colonel Hawkeye won’t kill you, and if you’ve got the time, I’ve got a long story to share about those two.”

Still holding the photo, Roy walks back over to close the door before returning and settling onto one of the armchairs in the small sitting area in front of Maes’ desk.

As soon as Maes joins him and settles in another chair, Roy asks, “What is this about?”

Maes’ eyes grow distant in remembrance before finally speaking.

“It happened when I was in hiding in the Southeastern area.” Smirking he focuses back on Roy, adding, “Since I was busted back down to major, I had to lead a mission against a group of raiders purportedly backed by Aerugo. The group liked to sneak in to do quick hits before slipping back across the borders. My commanding officer, Colonel Powers, received intel as to when their next strike would be and ordered my team to do a retrieval.”

Sighing wearily, Maes shakes his head.

“Didn’t matter in which country it was or how volatile Amestris’ relationship was with said country, we were to eliminate the raiders and recover whatever we could.”

“What the hell was Powers thinking?” Roy asks in incredulous outrage. “That could’ve started a war and at the worst possible time.”

Maes nods in agreement. “I tried reasoning with the idiot, but he was too busy looking at a quick promotion. Being a major didn’t give me much recourse, so I had to take the mission.”

“My entire platoon was slaughtered,” he continues softly. “The Intel was correct and we tracked the group back into Azambra after their strike. What wasn’t known was that Azambra had quietly gone through a coup. An anti-government party had been growing for years and backed the exiled younger brother of the crown prince after his failed bid to claim his father’s throne. Eventually they staged a coup and murdered the imperial family, taking over.”

“I was shocked when I heard the news broke about the situation months ago,” Roy muses. “Regardless of the chaotic events surrounding the Promised Day, I was surprised we hadn’t heard about the coup at all. A small part of Azambra borders Amestris; we should’ve heard something.”

“Especially with the raiders flitting across the border,” Maes agrees. “However, they kept their movements small enough to merely be a nuisance to Amestris and not a threat. Since Azambra didn’t have much of a military force, Bradley probably didn’t see them as a threat. They only stayed in the southeast and there’s nothing of note there. Certainly didn’t fit with the giant transmutation circle you guys shut down that day.”

“That was the whole point of hiding you in the southeast because there wasn’t much going on there,” Roy exhales in frustration. “It was supposed to give you time to recover from the head wound after that bastard Envy shot you.” Sighing in resignation, he adds, “Although, it did keep you out of the hands of the homunculi in case you remembered what you uncovered before you were shot.”

“You know,” Maes muses, “even after you told me about the brass being polluted, I still don’t remember how or when I came to that conclusion. It might’ve saved some trouble for everyone in the long run.”

“You’re lucky that memory is all you lost from that wound,” Roy mutters darkly, arching a brow. “As it was, the doctors at the civilian clinic we hid you at weren’t certain if you’d even survive. Then they raised hell when we took you out early to hide you in the southeast.”

“You could’ve made me a lieutenant colonel instead of a major,” Maes grouses petulantly.

Roy’s gaze narrows. “The point was to keep your existence low-key, making you a lieutenant colonel was not low key.”

“Admit it. You were just being lazy and didn’t want to hassle getting me a higher rank,” Maes scoffs.

“What part of being undercover don’t you understand?” Roy snaps irritably.

“I understand all right,” Maes snorts, “but it’s a real blow to the ego to be double promoted when I supposedly died and then demoted as Maes Hayes. And did you have to make my fake surname rhyme with my first name?” he grumbles. “You have no idea how much I got ribbed for that.”

Not bothering to wait for an answer and ignoring Roy’s harsh exhalation he continues.

“It’s ironic you were fighting a hell unleashed by the homunculi here in Amestris while I was surviving a man made hell in the nation of Azambra.”

Roy arches a brow, as Maes’ eyes grow distant again and his voice softens.

“My platoon infiltrated with no problem and we tracked our targets for four days. The tropical terrain was difficult to traverse and we couldn’t get into position to ambush them. What we didn’t count on was armed patrols covering for the raiders. My men were quickly decimated and I took a bullet in my right shoulder and shrapnel in my left side. The raiders left to drop off their spoils while the patrol went to check the area for any other invaders.”

Roy stares at Maes in shock as he shrugs.

“I was in bad shape. I thought it was ironic that I escaped getting killed by the homunculi only to bleed to death in the middle of a jungle.” Smirking, he gestures at the photo of the twins sitting on the coffee table between them in front of Roy. “Those two little scavengers showed up a couple of hours later and turned into my saviors.”

Two years prior…

This had to be the most unpoetic death he could’ve ever imagined for himself.

Shifting more comfortably against the smooth trunk of the tree he’s leaning against, Maes looks around again at the small ‘shelter’ he discovered earlier. At first glance, the base of the tree appears to be overwhelmed by clusters of dense shrubbery with thick, twisty branches and fern like leaves. The bushes have grown so close together they became entangled, making it hard to determine one plant from the other.

The unusual tropical shrubbery looks thick and impassable from the outside, but despite their interconnectedness they are arranged in such an odd grouping that the ground is clear in the center. Some of the branches fan out and tangle overhead into a thin canopy allowing enough light to filter through, but hiding anything underneath like well-placed camouflage netting. The small clearing is just big enough for him to stretch out to lie down in and high enough for him to remain hidden sitting upright. He appreciates the shady canopy protecting him from the bright sun. It’s humid enough; he doesn’t need to be cooked on top of that.

Glancing down to his left side, he lifts the bloody compress to peek at the wounds. Sighing in frustration that the bleeding hasn’t stopped in the shrapnel littered wounds he winces as he presses the compress back in place. He’s glad he stumbled across this quirky trait of the bushes. They surround most of the trees in the area, but he never imagined the secret they hid. As he crawled around, he thought he merely found an opening to a type of animal burrow. Since it was big enough he decided to chance it instead of risking discovery by the enemy out in the open.

Amazement at the bushes and his dumb luck gave way to disappointment when he realized he wouldn’t be able to dig out the bullet in his right shoulder, nor could he do much for the shrapnel embedded in his side. He has been trying to staunch the slow, steady bleeding for the past two hours with little success. Even if he does stop the bleeding, he won’t make the four and half day trek back to the borders of Amestris. He’d either die or be discovered by the enemy long before he got halfway there.

Blowing out a harsh breath, he silently focuses his ire on his commanding officer. He tried warning Colonel Powers that it was a stupid plan to stop the raiders. Thanks to that asshole, he’s going to die in a foreign country and his wife and daughter will never know it. He knows Roy had quietly informed Gracia that he was alive at his insistence. However, Gracia doesn’t know where Roy hid him.

Maes’ thoughts shift to his friend. Roy is going to be beyond pissed when he finds out his entire squad disappeared in Azambra. Assuming Powers doesn’t cover the whole mess up, that is.

Leaning his head back against the tree, he shakes his head at the irony of surviving getting shot in the head and all the effort and trouble that had gone into hiding him from their enemies wasted because of an ambitious colonel with half a brain.

The quiet movement of someone approaching his position breaks into his thoughts and captures his attention. Knowing he’s well hidden, he listens intently until he hears two voices, one male and the other female, break the silence and speak in low tones. He guesses they are either children or young adults. Their speech proves they are neither Azambran military or part of the raiders, leaving him to conclude they are scavengers.

Accepting there isn’t anything he can do to protect the remains of his comrades, Maes waits for them to leave. What he doesn’t count on is to hear movement through the foliage towards his position several minutes later.

Slumping further down against the tree as a corpse would, he deftly slips out one of his push knives, hiding it out of sight next to his left thigh underneath part of his coat. Dropping his chin to his chest he closes his eyes.

He doesn’t wait long for the light rustling of someone crawling through the entrance of his hiding place. Within moments he’s sharing space with the intruder. He’s certain they’ve paused to study him since all movement stopped and all he can hear is their soft breathing. Moments later they shuffle closer and he senses their presence to his immediate left before feeling a tentative hand fiddling at the collar of his shirt.

Ignoring the excruciating pain shooting throughout his body, his eyes shoot open as he slams them to the ground by their neck, eliciting a startled grunt. Pressing his blade against their jugular, he uses his body to pin them down. His fierce scowl instantly melts into stunned disbelief as he stares down into the familiar face of Edward Elric.

Several thoughts race through his mind, making little sense. Why would Ed be all the way out here in Azambra? It’s not that small a nation, so how in the hell did Ed find him? Especially out in the middle of a jungle? Isn’t he back in Amestris searching for the Philosopher’s Stone? Isn’t he trying to get his and Al’s bodies back?

Maes quickly realizes there is no recognition in those familiar gold eyes. His mind also registers that ‘Ed’ is trembling and isn’t fighting back. The ‘Edward Elric’ he knows fights like a hellcat when cornered. The final fact that cinches it is the boobs he can feel through their clothing. Because of the stifling humidity he opened his uniform jacket, so his undershirt and her shirt provides a thin barrier between them. He’s definitely not imagining those lumps.

Embarrassed, he’s about to apologize and let her up when he hears her companion closing in on them. Hating himself, he grunts softly in pain as he quickly shifts back against the tree, bringing the girl up against his chest and keeping the knife at her throat just in time.

The pale blond crown of the bent head of what appears to be a boy pushing a knapsack ahead of him emerges from the opening.

“Did the blood trail lead to another soldier that crawled into the bushes and died?” the boy blithely asks before straightening up on his knees, his happy expression promptly morphing into shocked horror.

Feeling the girl shaking in his arms, Maes feels guilty using her as a shield, but he’s not going down without a fight regardless of who it is. He studies the young teen gaping at them a couple feet away. He has the same golden eyes as the girl, but his face is different, narrower and his eyes are rounder. There’s still enough similarity to convince Maes they’re related. He also notes the boy is very gaunt and frail and his clothes worn and frayed, confirming he is neither a raider or in the military.

His attention snaps back onto the teen when he slowly raises both hands in surrender.

“Please, uncle, don’t hurt my sister,” he begs.

Maes is a little taken aback by the boy addressing him as ‘uncle’ before remembering it’s Azambran custom is to call any male older than themselves ‘uncle’ out of respect.

“We didn’t mean any harm,” the teen continues earnestly. “And we didn’t realize anyone was still alive.” Placing his hands on the ground before him, he bends forward to touch his forehead to the ground, pleading, “Please release my sister. Take me hostage instead.”

Maes silently considers the boy who remains bent against the ground. His mind races through ideas on how to handle this situation when the sound of several people approaching causes the boy’s head to snap up in horror as he pushes himself upright.

His eyes aren’t focused on Maes, but lower at the captive in his arms as he whispers, “The patrols!” Snapping his anguished gaze back to Maes, he begs in a hushed whisper, “Please let my sister go so we can hide! If the patrol finds us, we’re all dead!”

Maes’ mind works furiously before narrowing down to the best option.

“Go hide elsewhere,” he orders, dropping the knife from his captive’s throat. When the boy opens his mouth, he snaps, “Hurry! I promise she’ll be safe.”

The noise of the patrol grows louder causing the boy to glare as he growls, “Better keep your word.”

Casting a reassuring look at his sister, the boy swiftly disappears from the clearing, leaving her and Maes alone again.

Gently grasping the terrified girl by the shoulders, Maes guides her to face him. Not releasing her shoulders, he gazes intensely into frightened gold eyes.

“I won’t let you get hurt,” his whispers reassuringly, “but I need you to trust me. Do exactly as I say so we can all survive this. Do you understand?”

Slowly the girl nods despite her obvious fear, causing Maes to smile softly.

“I’m sorry, but it’ll be very awkward and uncomfortable,” he states before gently pushing her to lie on her back.

He guides her to rotate onto her side so her legs are bent together sideways. With her head bent forward, she’s essentially curled into a fetal position. Draping his own body awkwardly over hers, he positions himself to appear like he was trying to crawl away from the opening. He’s grateful she’s considerably smaller and that he has on his full uniform. It may be horribly hot, but the uniform skirt and protective white overcoat spreading out around them is providing excellent cover for her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers again, “but I’ll have to relax my full weight on you if anyone approaches. Stay quiet and try not to move at all.” He feels her nod against his chest, showing she heard. Smiling to himself, he says, “Thank you for working with me on this. I promise we’ll make it through this.”

Maes immediately falls silent as he hears the patrol moving slowly through the area counting out the number of dead. He knows it won’t take them long to find the blood trail the two children found earlier that will inevitably lead to him.

“Dammit this shit is tough,” a male voice grumbles under his breath. His words accented by the sound hacking at the foliage of Maes’ hideout with what he assumes is a machete.

With no hesitation, he relaxes his body onto the girl, causing her to grunt softly in discomfort. To her credit she remains still despite having the weight of a full-grown man bearing down on her.

The soldier finally struggles into the clearing, stopping next to Maes’ boots.

“Found a set of legs and it appears the rest of the body is tangled in the undergrowth, sir!” he calls out.

“All the enemy have been accounted for then,” another voice calls back. “Leave the bodies where they are. A storm is coming fast. We’ll come back with flamethrowers and torch the entire area later.”

Maes listens to the rustling of the canvas as the soldier asks, “There’s a knapsack here, sir. Should I bring it along?”

“Leave it,” the other voice answers.

“But, sir…” the soldier begins to protest before getting cut off.

“Don’t forget about our former comrade who disobeyed orders,” the voice warns. “Do you wish to be sent to reeducation also?”

Maes feels the girl’s trembling intensify, but she makes no other movement except to press her head into his chest.

“N-no, s-sir,” the terrified soldier replies. “I thought we could find use for whatever was inside. No disrespect was intended, sir.”

“Policy is clear on non-Azambran items,” the voice answers dismissively. “We must leave or get caught in the rain.”

“Yes, sir!” the soldier answers smartly.

Maes listens to them leave before shifting slightly.

“Don’t move,” the girl’s muffled voice whispers. “They haven’t left yet.”

Arching a brow, he wonders why she’s saying that when it’s obvious the patrol has left. That is until he hears them stealthily moving through the area again.

Several tense minutes later the girl quietly declares, “They’re gone.”

With a grunt of pain, Maes pushes himself off the girl onto his knees. Silently he extends his left hand to help her up. She eyes him warily before accepting. She notices him wince as he helps her sit up before shifting to lean back against the tree.

Panting from the exertion, he looks her over.

“Sorry for getting blood on you,” he apologizes quietly.

Eerily familiar gold eyes widen in surprise before looking down at her clothing at the bloodstains. Looking back at the wounds littering Maes’ body, she silently admonishes herself for forgetting the injuries she noticed earlier.

Both look toward the entrance as they hear her brother quietly approaching. The crawl space is relatively intact, but the soldier hacked the upper branches away to struggle into part of the space.

Panic gives way to relief as his eyes lock on his sister before snatching her in a fierce hug then pulling back to examine her.

When his eyes widen at the blood, she quickly reassures him, “It’s not mine.”

The boy looks over at Maes and takes note of his injuries before releasing his sister and shifting to bow low to the ground again.

“Thank you for protecting my sister, uncle.”

Maes tiredly waves it off. “It’s the least I could do for scaring her.”

“Why did you insist she stay instead of letting her hide with me?” he hesitantly asks.

“I had some questions and didn’t want you running off before I could ask them,” Maes sighs wearily.

Eyeing him warily, the boy asks, “If we try to leave, will you try stopping us?”

Maes chuckles, wincing at the pain before replying, “Nah. I don’t have the strength for it. We just had a narrow escape, so I’m willing to call it even if you are.”

“The soldiers are correct, there is a storm coming and we should all go before it hits,” the girl states quietly, causing her brother’s head to snap around and stare at her incredulously.

She silently meets his gaze and Maes watches in confusion as they engage in a brief, defiant staring match.

“We better hurry,” her brother caves with a frustrated sigh. Turning to Maes, he places his hands together in a prayer position at his chest and bows slightly. “I’m Kyo Namikaze.” Gesturing at the girl who mirrors his movement, Kyo introduces her. “And this is my twin sister, Kisa.”

Slightly confused, Maes nods in greeting, “I’m Maes.”

“We better hurry to get as far as we can before the storm hits,” Kyo states reaching for the discarded knapsack.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Maes asks in confusion.

“It’s dangerous to answer your questions out here,” Kisa replies quietly, reaching for Maes’ knapsack, which the soldier didn’t notice because of the bushes.

Kyo gestures for her to leave the clearing and she begins pushing the knapsack ahead of her as she crawls out.

“C’mon,” he jerks his head toward the entrance. “You’re injured and we need somewhere dry and warm to treat your injuries.”

Maes tries processing what they’re saying as he watches Kyo disappear from the clearing with the other knapsack.

Finally registering what they’re saying he snaps, “Are you two out of your minds? You could get in trouble if I’m caught with you!”

“It’s not up for debate,” Kyo’s voice drifts out of the hole. “Hurry up before the patrol returns and roasts you.”

Reluctantly Maes follows them back out into the open. As he emerges from the bushes, he sees Kyo already bearing one of the knapsacks while helping his sister shoulder the other.

“You could fight us,” Kyo grins at the older man, “but you’ll need your strength to make it back with us.”

Shuffling over, he drapes Maes’ good arm over his shoulders. With Kisa’s help both drag him groaning to his feet.

“You’re both being stupid and making a mistake,” he grumbles.

“We’ve never been described as smart and it won’t be the first mistake we’ve made,” Kyo quips as Kisa grips the older man’s torso as best as she can in support.

Maes merely shakes his head as they start walking.

It isn’t long before a heavy downpour erupts from the sky. That, coupled with heavy blood loss, weakens Maes to the point of making walking nearly impossible. Kisa switches places with Kyo in order for them to continue as he positions himself in front of Maes so the older man can lean forward heavily against his back.

When they finally arrive at their destination, Kisa remains hiding with Maes in the surrounding growth of a small clearing, helping to support him against a tree while Kyo carefully scouts the area. Once he returns after making sure the coast is clear, they both quickly hustle older man inside the ramshackle structure barely visible through the deluge.

Maes is light headed and woozy, but is aware of climbing the small ramp they guide him up on before a hand pulls down on his good shoulder to bend low enough to enter the structure. Once inside, he’s guided toward the center of the room where Kyo and Kisa ease him onto a bedroll near a fire.

No words are spoken as the two kids struggle to peel off his uniform. He notes there’s another occupant on the other side of the fire in the center of what appears to be a single room home.

Kisa briefly leaves Kyo to finish getting Maes’ out of his outer clothing before returning with dry garments. Maes’ head spins as Kyo helps him into the fresh clothes then eases him to lie down. He’s barely aware of the boy leaving his side to change his own soaked clothing, but manages to focus enough to notice Kisa has changed and is quietly talking to the other occupant.

Maes doesn’t realize he’s drifting off into unconsciousness until Kyo startles him awake by dumping out one of knapsacks onto the floor, following up immediately with the second one.

He watches the young blond sort out the medical supplies before asking, “Is that why you two were scavenging among the dead?”

Jerking as if stung, a guilty expression crosses his face as he nods. “We don’t have any medical supplies and most soldiers, regardless of country, carry first aid kits,” he explains while continuing to sort the supplies. “We were looking for that and any food.”

“Weren’t you looking for things to sell?” Maes weakly asks.

“There’s no one to sell them to,” Kyo mutters darkly.

Confused, Maes considers asking what he means, but grimaces instead at the pain shooting through his body, discouraging any further questions.

When he hears a different movement, he cracks open his eyes to see Kyo has repacked everything except the medical supplies. He struggles to stay focused as the twins move about the room, barely paying attention as they bring things over like water filled basins, clean rags and a sewing basket.

“Uncle?” Kyo’s voice breaks through the fog of Maes’ stupor.

Pain filled green eyes struggle to focus on the concerned boy flanked by his sister.

When they have Maes’s full attention, Kyo speaks again.

“There’s no such thing as doctors here, so we’re going to have to treat you. We can’t leave the shrapnel and bullet in because they might get infected. So I’m going to dig them out and clean the wounds.”

Maes considers his words and isn’t sure if they know what they’re doing, but he can’t deny there isn’t much choice. Slowly he nods as both smile reassuringly.

Within moments Kisa moves to kneel at his left shoulder and places a thick stick in his mouth to bite down on. She places her right hand firmly on his shoulder and her other on his chest. When she’s ready she nods at her brother who nods back with grim determination before leaning in and getting to work.

Maes bites down hard as he cries out around the stick as Kyo digs into the bullet wound while Kisa struggles to hold him still, softly muttering reassurances and encouragement. The bullet isn’t very deep, but Kyo knows he can easily do more harm than good. Sweat accents his furrowed brow as he continues working steadily until he’s finally able to dig the bullet out.

Maes is too out of it with pain to hear the sigh of relief both kids share, but grunts when Kyo starts cleaning the wound with soap and warm water. The burning, throbbing sensations of electrical jolts shooting throughout his body masks any pain caused by the needle and thread as Kyo stitches the wound before wrapping his shoulder in bandages.

Not wasting any time despite being tired emotionally and physically from the day, Kyo carefully digs out all the shrapnel dusting Maes’ left side.

“Uncle is lucky not to have been too close to whatever explosion caused these wounds or the debris would’ve been embedded much deeper,” he muses to Kisa as he drops another piece of bloody metal into a bowl before picking out another with the tweezers.

Kneeling above Maes’ head, she merely grunts in acknowledgement as she continues gently stroking his face reassuringly while he drifts in and out of consciousness. Thankfully he mostly remains unconscious and she doesn’t have to hold him down like she did while Kyo removed the bullet.

It doesn’t take much longer for Kyo to finish pulling all the pieces out and clean the wounds.

Since the wounds are too numerous, and many too small, to stitch up, Kyo places a damp cloth over the area to help stop the bleeding. By this point, Maes is too disoriented by pain and doesn’t feel Kisa draping a blanket over him, nor is he aware when they replace the cloth with a bandage wrapped around his torso later that night.

Blood loss and fever make him barely aware of the passage of the next few days. Sometimes he wakes up to either twin placing a damp cloth on his forehead or changing his bandages.

Finally, bleary green eyes struggle to open, repeatedly blinking until the fogginess clears and his gaze wanders around the rough wood of the room, trying to recognize where he is.

“Kyo! He’s awake!” Kisa calls to her brother on the far side of the room.

Soon the two blonds crowd into Maes’ field of vision as he smiles tiredly at them.

“If you two were identical I’d wonder if I had a concussion,” he quips, causing Kyo to grin and Kisa to smile softly.

“Too bad we aren’t. It would’ve been fun messing with your head,” Kyo replies facetiously.

Shaking her head, Kisa rolls her eyes. Reaching out she places a gentle hand against Maes’ cheek then moves it to his forehead.

“You don’t have a fever anymore,” she comments before asking, “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” Maes answers.

It’s Kyo’s turn to roll his eyes. “Well, thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“You’re welcome, Sergeant Sarcasm,” Maes fires back.

“Ooooh! Great comeback! I’ve gotta remember that one!” Kyo compliments appreciatively.

Kisa glowers at the two of them, snapping, “Knock it off! I’m being serious!”

“I’m being serious too,” Maes smiles in amusement at her anger. “I feel like shit.”

Kyo opens his mouth to reply with another witticism when he catches sight of Kisa narrowing her eyes at him dangerously.

Clearing his throat he asks more seriously, “Are you feeling any sharp pains? Are you still feeling light headed? Nauseas?”

“Other than the dull aches caused by breathing, I feel fine,” Maes explains, amusement still coloring his tone. “Thank you,” he adds sincerely.

Kisa nods, the barest of smiles gracing her lips as Kyo replies, “You’re welcome.”

“How long has it been since you found me?” he asks, finally becoming serious.

“A week,” Kyo answers. “Are you hungry? We don’t have anything really good, but you should try eating something.”

Maes considers it before replying honestly, “Not really, but I can try.”

Without a word, Kisa leaves to go prepare something.

“She doesn’t waste time, does she?” Maes asks Kyo.

“Nope,” he replies fondly, observing his sister as she works.

Eying the distracted teen, Maes decides to stop beating around the bush.

“So would it be a bad time to ask why there are military patrols armed to the teeth wandering the jungles and protecting raiders stealing from Amestris?”

Kyo stiffens and suddenly looks fearful. Maes glances over to Kisa who is now working near the fire just within his line of sight and sees her reaction mirrors her brothers.

“I’ll be right back,” Kyo whispers fearfully before leaving.

Confused, Maes remains quiet, especially since Kisa still appears tense. Deciding to wait to see what happens next, he takes in his surroundings.

He can’t describe their home being any better than a ramshackle hovel. Calling it a shelter is too kind. He sees no sign of electrical wiring, outlets or fixtures and no signs of any type of plumbing. It’s odd not seeing windows and the doorway having no door but a piece of cloth tacked into place instead.

Kisa interrupts his observations when she reappears by his side bearing a bowl and helps him struggle into a sitting position. She hands him the bowl and a spoon before positioning herself behind his good shoulder, her back against his.

“Lean against me so you can take some of the pressure off your side,” she instructs while reaching up over to her shoulder to gently pull on his.

Deciding it’s not worth the effort fighting her, he complies before reluctantly digging into what he can only describe as gruel. He guesses the lumpy, white chunks are rice and sincerely hopes Kisa cooked it that way on purpose to make it easier to digest.

It isn’t long before Kyo returns and kneels next to Maes, quietly declaring, “It’s clear.”

Maes hears Kisa sigh softly and feels her body relax slightly in relief.

Resting the bowl in his lap, Maes asks, “What’s going on?”

“A living nightmare,” Kyo replies solemnly. “While you’re hiding here, please remember not to speak too loud. In fact, it’s a good idea if you don’t speak unless Kisa and I first check the area for informants. You don’t know what not to say yet.”

“Informants?” Maes asks in confusion. “What you’re talking about.”

“He’s telling you to keep your mouth shut or you’ll get us all killed!” an unfamiliar female voice snaps at Maes. “It’s bad enough these fools are hiding you here, but do your part not to attract attention to your presence.”

Kisa shifts to twist around slightly to gently push Maes’ shoulder so he can straighten up before hurrying over to the other side of the fire. Both can hear their hushed arguing, mostly on the unknown female’s part.

Leaning in closer, Kyo quietly whispers, “That’s our only sister Kyoko. She’s the oldest and our last surviving family member.”

Kyo holds Maes’ shocked gaze before continuing, “She’s dying from malnutrition and who knows what else. Probably doesn’t have a lot longer,” he muses. “Anyway, she’s not happy we’re hiding you here. She tends to have outbursts like that, which contradicts what she’s scolding you for,” he finishes as his lips quirk a bit in amusement.

“Anyway, please be careful what you say and please go along with what we tell you from now on,” Kyo continues earnestly. “It’s for everyone’s safety because saying the wrong thing in Azambra can get you killed in the most brutal and imaginative ways.”

“The monarchy has turned totalitarian?” Maes frowns in confusion.

Kyo snorts. “The monarchy is dead and gone. Now Azambra is ruled by ignorant thugs with lousy ideas of socially reengineering the country into a sort of agricultural, self-sufficient utopia isolated from the rest of the world. Everyone is supposed to be equal to the point of no individuality.”

“Schools, hospitals, businesses and banks were all closed. Everyone was forced out of the cities to live in these communes,” Kyo explains, gesturing at their house. “All religions have been banned and family relationships are pretty much discouraged. Even if a couple were married, if it’s not approved of, they could get killed just talking to each other or even having sex.”

Maes blinks in surprise, “People are killed for having sex with their spouse?”

“I’m sorry,” Kisa sighs softly, returning to sit with them, “but my brother isn’t explaining things very well. Death is a way of life. Has been since an anti-government group calling themselves the People’s Army staged a coup to topple our king over six years ago. They used the exiled prince as a means to gather sympathy among the people and turn them to revolt against the monarchy. Once that was done, the leader everyone has to call First Friend had the prince killed and took over.”

Taking the empty bowl from Maes’ hands, Kisa sets it aside. She continues her explanation while Kyo begins changing his bandages.

“The People’s Army believed the society of Azambra only benefited the few, especially the rich and educated while the poor suffered and died underneath them. So they decided to destroy and rebuild society into an agricultural paradise where everyone is equal. In order to make everyone equal, that meant taking away everything that makes people distinctive.”

Suddenly Kisa breaks off speaking, sitting perfectly still. No one says anything as they watch her cock her head slightly as if listening. Maes isn’t sure what she’s listening for when all he can hear is what he thinks are typical noises from the jungle.

“I’m going to go clean the dishes,” Kisa abruptly states, picking up the bowl and spoon and promptly leaving the hut.

Maes looks at Kyo in confusion. The teen merely shakes his head and presses a finger to his own lips, indicating for Maes to remain silent. Several minutes pass before both hear Kisa speaking to someone just outside the door.

“Evening, Cadre Osamu,” Kisa’s voice greets solemnly.

“Evening, Friend Kisa,” an unfamiliar male voice greets back.

Maes watches Kyo freeze in place as he turns to fearfully watch the doorway as the voice of Cadre Osamu continues speaking.

“I’ve received reports that there is another occupant in your quarters. Is that true?”

“Yes, Cadre Osamu,” Kisa replies promptly.

Maes tenses, wondering if he was just sold out.

“Care to explain why there is another occupant when there are only supposed to be three?”

“Yes, Cadre Osamu. Our mother’s cousin was chased out of his work camp northeast of here. I believe he stated it was Cadre Shinobou’s camp. I’m not sure since he was incoherent with fever when he found us. How he managed to find us in his condition, I’m not certain either, but we took him in to express our commitment to building the People’s Nation. Since there is a shortage of able-bodied men, it would demonstrate how well our camp operates should he recover to return to contributing to the benefit of the people.”

“Yes, Cadre Shinobou still struggles with running his camp as successfully as mine,” Osamu muses smugly before adding, “I applaud your efforts in wishing to strengthen the People’s Nation. You are correct, able bodied men are in demand.”

“He’s embarrassed to have been chased out of Cadre Shinobou’s camp,” Kisa adds. “But his commitment toward contributing to the success of the People’s Nation is strong and I believe is what drove him to seek us out.”

“With that kind of commitment he should not have been chased from his camp,” Osamu scoffs. “I would like to welcome your cousin and wish him a quick recovery.”

“Certainly, Cadre Osamu,” Kisa agrees. “At Friend Kyo’s suggestion, you might wish to tie a kerchief over your mouth for protection.”

“A kerchief? Why should I do that?” Osamu asks baffled.

Kisa sighs dramatically. “Friend Kyo is being too careful in my opinion. I don’t think our cousin is contagious, but he is suspecting leprosy. I doubt this as that is not a common sickness, but Friend Kyo travels farther to his work fields and interacts with more of our friends than I do.”

“Leprosy?” Osamu’s voice squeaks fearfully. “Then don’t worry about it. I trust he will recover and thrive under your care. As for your other duty, I will permit you and Friend Kyo to alternate every other night since there are two members of your household that need caring for. Tonight you both are exempt from your duty, but tomorrow Friend Kyo shall begin that rotation.”

“You are too kind, Cadre Osamu,” Kisa acknowledges solemnly. “We will do our best to aid our ailing friends to recover quickly to return to serving the people.”

“Goodnight to you, Friend Kisa.”

“Goodnight to you, Cadre Osamu,” Kisa replies.

Maes watches Kyo close his eyes and sag slightly in relief before finishing bandaging his torso. They all remain silent until Kisa finally returns several minutes later.

“Nice job, sister,” Kyo compliments as she reenters the hut with the clean bowl and spoon in her hands.

“More a lucky fool,” Kyoko scoffs, struggling into a sitting position.

Finally getting a good look at Kyoko, Maes agrees with Kyo’s assessment that the woman is dying. He guesses she is about his age, maybe older by a few years and possibly in her mid thirties. Her greasy, pale blonde hair lifelessly frames her face, draping down her shoulders. She’s painfully thin where he’d describe her as skeletal, her eyes nearly bulging from sunken sockets.

Kisa doesn’t respond to either comment as she sets the bowl and spoon down and proceeds to work on making something to eat for all of them.

“Sister came up with a great explanation, Kyoko,” Kyo glares, pausing in removing the bandage on Maes’ shoulder. “I never would’ve thought of what she came up with.”

“She’s had years of practice covering and lying for you and our brothers,” Kyoko fires back. “Seems to be about the only skill she’s good for as she’s failed at everything else.”

When Kyo opens his mouth, Kisa quietly interrupts him. “It won’t be long until I have something ready if you both feel like eating.”

Maes watches Kyo regard his sister who silently pleads with him to drop it. Sighing in resignation he replies, “Sure. I could probably eat something.”

Relief floods her eyes as she turns her attention back to her cooking.

Feeling the weight of someone staring at him, Maes glances over to meet Kyoko’s gold eyes staring hard at him.

Before he can make any sort of comment, she tersely states, “My youngest siblings didn’t do you any favors saving you. I hope you heal fast because the longer you stay, the more painfully you will die.”

Kyo glares hard at his sister, but Maes beats him to replying by quipping, “With such a warm welcome, it’ll be hard to return home.”

Kyoko looks affronted before narrowing her gaze at him and turning to look elsewhere in a huff.

Kyo blinks in surprise before a wide grin spreads across his face at Maes who merely winks back. Neither comments as the teen finishes re-bandaging his shoulder and helps ease the older man back down onto the bedroll.

After a quiet meal, Kyo scouts outside again while Kisa cleans up their dishes. When he signals all’s clear, Kisa moves to sit close to Maes and in a low voice picks up her earlier explanation.

“One of things the People’s Army did was drive all the city dwellers far from their homes into the countryside. We couldn’t take anything that separated us from anyone else, like books because that’d make a person more educated than their neighbors. We were discouraged from taking personal items like photographs because being close to our family separates us from our neighbors. We couldn’t bring any radios because we only need to know what they tell us and accept it.”

“We were told we weren’t going far, but we marched for days. We’re originally from Tenerife which is located in the south near the coast and it took over a week for us to get here on foot.” At Maes’ shocked expression, Kisa nods, adding, “I don’t mean small groups of forty people, I actually mean the entire city. Thousands of citizens of Tenerife had to constantly walk from sunrise to sunset. It was hard and a lot of people died along the way, especially young children and the elderly.”

Maes watches her and Kyo’s gaze become distant with memory as she briefly falls silent.

“So we ended up in these camps monitored and run by the poor country people who were recruited by the People’s Army,” Kisa sighs wearily. “We were sorted like laundry. The younger children stayed with their parents and the older ones sent to other camps nearby where the genders were separated further. We are expected to slave for hours in the rice fields regardless of age or health. If one of the cadres thinks someone messed up, they’re made an example of in front of everyone. Their rations could be cut, or they would be beaten, or worse.”

“Sister,” Kyo interrupts, capturing both her and Maes’ attention. “We should go to bed since we still have to report to the fields tomorrow.”

Kisa nods before looking back down at Maes.

“I’m sorry, uncle. There is a lot more to tell so you’ll understand what it’s like here, but Kyo is right. We have to leave in the morning and won’t be back until late afternoon. We won’t be able to come check on you, so if you need to relieve yourself, we’ll set an old saucepan for you to use. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to eat until we are given our daily rations at the end of the day. We could give you some of the rations you had in your knapsack, but I’m not sure your stomach can handle anything stronger than the rice gruel I made. If you want to try, we’ll move your knapsack closer so you can access it.”

Maes merely nods in acceptance. He has so many questions, but understands he’s going to have to wait for the twins to tell him. He watches the two settle on their bedrolls nearby and it’s not long before they drift off into exhausted sleep.

It takes him a long time to fall asleep that night. He’s surprised since he barely woke up earlier after a week of delirium, but there’s a lot to think about despite feeling worn out and sluggish.

It certainly doesn’t take a genius to know he’s landed in some deep shit.

He reads the papers everyday, keeping up on the current events in other nations. To not know that Azambra went through a coup and had become so isolated from the rest of the world is extremely unsettling.

At first he wasn’t sure whether to believe the twins’ story. However, there is no way they could make up what they’ve shared so far nor successfully fake the level of terror displayed when the cadre stopped by earlier.

For a brief moment he was certain Kisa sold him out. Not that he could blame her. He has a feeling that Cadre Osamu’s visit wasn’t a random one. He’s lost an entire week and blood loss can make a man delirious and if he got too loud, someone could’ve overheard him. Taking into consideration how jumpy Kisa and Kyo are at every shadow he’s sure that’s what happened.

Yet, Kisa did a masterful job handling the situation. She used enough of the truth to avoid suspicion and mixed in enough of a lie to keep the cadre from wanting to return anytime soon. He thinks it might’ve been easier if she had given him up. However, he gets the feeling she was protecting her family just as much as she was protecting him.

His final thought before finally drifting off into sleep is how in the hell he’s going to get out of this mess.

A/N: *dusts hands off* And that, my friends, kicks off not only a brand, spanking new story, but my first FMA fic.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is an alternate reality fic that mostly follows the manga/Brotherhood anime with a few tweaks. However, I had always hated that Hughes had to die. Not content to let things be, I figured out a plausible way to have him live. You just have to wait until later to find out how. ;P

What makes this particular story a challenge is that it’s the first time I’m working with an original character. I typically do gender benders. However, this OC will not be typical like the majority found in this fandom. Give it a chance and you’ll see what I mean.

Thank you for taking the time to read and if you’re so inclined, please feel free to drop a review.

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