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04 July 2012 @ 16:46
Arc II: Debut, Chapter 08 Part A  
Title: Catalysis (Full details, here. Also available on Fanfiction.Net & AO3.)
Words: For this chapter (all parts), ~51000
Rating(s): PG-13 for this chapter.
Warning(s): Language, some sexual themes, violence.
Chapter Summary: In which lots of things happen, in Roy's point of view.


Notes: Finally, right? A long time coming, this chapter! This is for all the people who have constantly nagged and begged and bothered and nattered to me about updates throughout the silent months I’ve been away from writing and fandom in general. Thank you for your endless patience (or lack thereof), your faithful readership, and your dedication to this fandom. Thank you for remaining with us even after two long years of practically nothing from the authors. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

About the chapter: This is a unique one we have chosen to gift you lovely readers with for an arc-ender. (Reviewer zealousfreak27, who pointed out that not many things happened during the first few chapters: this one should satisfy you!) Hopefully, this chapter will illuminate a lot of pivotal points where Roy’s convictions change—points which, in previous chapters, might have been glossed over or entirely left unexplained due to Edward’s very narrow tunnel vision. Those perceptive readers out there (hint-nudge Sinn-san and icedcandy) might have noticed those spots where Roy changed his stance all of a sudden for no apparent reason. This chapter is for you! After this chapter, we move on to greener pastures: Arc III, Growing Pains. Doesn’t it already sound so promising? So stay with us despite the update lags! We have so much in store!

II : Debut
Part A
Part B →

“A simple child,
That lightly drew its breath,
And feels its life in every limb:
What should it know of death?”
( William Wordsworth )

Roy Mustang first encountered Edward Elric through a letter. The envelope was beaten, worn at the edges. The ink spelling his name was faded by its travel. There was no return address on the back or the front; the letter was meant to be a sink or swim.

Inside was a short missive, quick and abrupt, almost as if whoever wrote it feared inconveniencing the recipient. The script was neat, small, and industrial; the paper, immaculate and clean. There was not a single line out of place, and the letter would have been perfect, if not for the twin names signed at the bottom. It said, Edward and Alphonse Elric, sons of Hohenheim, in somewhat disjointed script. Roy thought about how old they would be. From the sound of the letter, fourteen, maybe fifteen—but he knew from Hohenheim himself that the eldest, Edward Elric, was exactly nine and a half years younger than him. Which would make made the boy barely eleven years old.

No less could be expected from the son of a brilliant man who had pioneered a great number of things in the history of alchemy. Hohenheim was no State Alchemist, not even a published researcher, but he was a well-connected man, with plenty of influential friends within the alchemic circles of Amestris and beyond. Roy was acquainted with a fair number of these friends: every last one of them only had words of high regard for Hohenheim’s alchemic brilliance. It would only be logical if that brilliance carried on to the sons.

He looked again over the letter and closely studied the tone of the script. There was agitation, excitement, and fear—all tempered, of course, by a curt politeness that seemed a bit forced. Hohenheim was always a mild-mannered person, peace-loving and never given to war, but perhaps some of his underlying passion had passed on to the sons without enough of his restraint. The very thought sent a shiver down the back of Roy’s neck: Hohenheim’s brilliance combined with an unstoppable intensity for the pursuit of knowledge—indeed, his ideal alchemist.

At first, he did not act upon the letter. Though his curiosity was piqued, there was nothing he could give these two young boys. He had neither the knowledge of Hohenheim’s whereabouts nor the intention to find the man, not when Hohenheim exerted such effort to disappear; he refused to make the trip to Resembool if it would only ruin the family’s peace. It was something Hohenheim had left to protect. So Roy restrained his curiosity and kept busy with his work, thankfully now reposted to Central and far away from the temptation of an easy train stop to say hello. East City would have been too close; his control (already admittedly undermined by his frustration at the lack of worthy intellectual stimulation in the abysmal backwaters of the East) would have inevitably crumbled.

It wasn’t until Maes found the letter on his desk at home that he took action at all. Over the days it had become his pastime to study the ink on the paper as if it held some hidden message he needed to decode. Ever the nosy bastard, Maes had read the letter for himself, subsequently took great pleasure in deriding Roy’s new “obsession” (whatever the man was talking about, he of course had no idea), and then said, “Are you sure you want to sit here and do nothing about these kids? If they’re half as smart as they seem, they would have sent letters out to Hohenheim’s other associates. Even the seedier ones~”

Suffice to say that Maes’ sidelong remark unceremoniously shoved him off of his comfortable spectator’s perch. Hohenheim had several questionable contacts, not all of them confined within the familiar political cesspits of the military. Roy wasn’t keen on these boys being exploited by the hands of power-hungry mongrels like them. Not to say that he himself was not power-hungry, because he was; but he prided himself with a more refined taste—a certain amount of finesse—which most of his opponents he found in desperate need. He would not sully Hohenheim’s sons for the sake of the pursuit of petty power.

The following day, no doubt much to Maes’ great amusement, Riza would find the Lieutenant Colonel Mustang’s office desk vacant if for a short notice of temporary leave. His men, of course, were loyal and true, and could implicitly be trusted to valiantly face the temper of the woman’s guns in his stead.


He had immersed himself in enough war to notice it from afar. Such things were unforgettable, staining old memories with futility and its accompanying despair. The thickness of it hung around the prim house, muting the off-white fences and red-rimmed windows, a warning and a beckon all at once. The skies responded to the beckon, inking the landscape in a darkness that bled into those unfortunate enough to bear witness. The winds were howling—a low and whistling rumble underneath the quiet, riotous roll of the thunderclouds. As the summer storm brewed over Resembool, so did it under Roy’s skin.

What he found upon arrival in this small, idyllic corner of the countryside was at once a nightmare, at once a miracle: an event with two facets, with two possible paths— and the decision rested on little Edward Elric. Edward, the older boy, was Hohenheim’s son indeed; all doubts were shorn from Roy’s mind by the boy’s overwhelming will and alchemical brilliance. But what that brilliance had just achieved was something Roy’s mind, even clear of doubt, found hard to grasp.

He stood over the last step leading down into the basement, now tasked with the chore of removing the evidence of Edward’s mess. On the floor were pools of blood cloaking precise white lines. He walked around them, around the massive and purposeful array, observing the symbols of Edward’s theory. What was it about this circle—what special aspect or innovation—that made the transmutation succeed? What was unique about this particular reaction that eluded hundreds of years’ worth of research by brilliant alchemical minds? Something apparently so unique and perhaps so unexpectedly fundamental an eleven-year-old could wholly comprehended while wizened old researchers struggled under its weight—and Roy could not see it.

He couldn’t see it. He had seen plenty of experimental human transmutation arrays, even engineered a fair share of his own in his darkest moments after Ishbal, but this particular piece was no different from all of them. (At least, as he understood it in its basic composition, this circle comprised of the same fundamental building blocks—but then again, he reminded himself. Then again, his understanding—along with the rest of the alchemical world’s—has already been undermined by one dismembered child at present restive a few houses away.)

Roy paused. Standing there in the gloom, he felt a great presence, tasted it in the very air he breathed. There were no words to describe it, only the easy and heady crackle of his alchemy feeding the lamplight. His most recent acquaintance with residual energy of such palpable substance, not to mention sheer mass, was on the fire-scorched and blood-soaked streets of Ishbal. This comparison gave him no comfort.

Every alchemist of any worth to his title knew of residual energy, knew that the size and scope of a reaction was proportional to the amount of its detritus. The energy hung in the atmosphere and remained for a period of time relative to its total mass. If the reaction in question was of respectable quality, the energy was as heady and pure as honey; if otherwise, the refuse became comparable to slugs depositing slime.

In the great conquest of early Amestris to secure and construct the Briggs fortress of the north, the military had used (simple and unimaginative) alchemists who were proficient in large-scale mass-production transmutation (such as the making of steel from mined ore and the preparation of edible food from available organic material) in the efforts of the war. These alchemists were conscripted to efficiently supply the infantry with supplies and rations by performing the transmutations as close as logistically possible to the battleground. Whichever combat-designated alchemist posted on the battlefield then drew upon the residual energy resulting from these massive processes to enhance their own reaction. The results, of course, were stunning—alchemically. These processes radiated such power that it was commonplace to find combat alchemists undergoing withdrawal when removed from it. (Roy knew a handful who suffered symptoms after the war.) But little could be done toward prevention, for alchemy customarily siphoned surrounding energy into its purposes, sometimes as if the alchemy itself was sentient.

Such was what Roy’s alchemy invariably did in the presence of Edward’s genius. The energy met him eagerly when he had snapped at the top of the steps to light a fire. The fire had sparked into being with the most minimal of efforts, and to maintain it cost him none. If such energy was visible, Roy knew it would have hung around the room, heavy as a roll of thick white fog.

Drawing more of it into his fingers, he snapped. Ropes of fire scorched the floor, bathing his nose with the scent of burning blood. He snapped and snapped again, letting the finest of tendrils incinerate the symbols beneath his feet. He hoped Edward knew this circle by heart, knew its theory and could reproduce it, because he intended to leave nothing behind. Roy refused to risk the discovery falling into unknown, unfriendly hands.

When he finished, he took a slip of paper from the nearby desk and scribbled a quick circle. It felt silly drawing such an unrefined and simple array after having been stunned by Edward’s genius within these four walls, but he did it anyway, placing it on the floor. It activated with a push of a finger. The floor shone smooth of scorch marks, clean as if a little boy hadn’t lost his arm and leg on its very innocent surface. Vision always lied; plenty of things were never as they seemed.

Roy supposed he should go back now, before the little boy woke again. But he did not feel ready. He was only now beginning to feel the visceral shift of his perceptions, his view of the world and its possibilities. Shock approached with the acceptance of what Edward Elric had achieved.

Human transmutation was reality. And he was there to see its results.

As he walked away from the house, having locked its doors and sealed its windows, the skies convulsed around him in the throes of a storm. For the moment, he hunched and hurried towards cover, but he felt a kinship with the tempest as he began to chart his plans. This downpour would pale in comparison to the storms this event would awaken—and he intended to be right in the very midst of it all.

“That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
( Friedrich Nietzsche )

He returned to Central and gave the situation some meditative thought. By the window he sat all night, nursing a glass of whiskey even as the evening smouldered over Central. There wasn’t one whiff of a breeze outside.

Against the pane of glass, thrown open to ventilate his rooms, he watched his reflection and he remembered the boy. He kept on seeing himself in Edward’s eyes, suspended in two shining pools of gold, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if the boy’s eyes were two pieces of amber that might capture and hold him intact. It was suffocating; their sheer intensity burned, so much like the fire he controlled—except unlike his flames, this he was not certain he could tether.

He glanced back out at the city, a city of shadows outlined in grey. How like a mirror Edward’s face had been. He remembered himself in the boy, when he was yet young and full of the optimism that came with innocence. That innocence was shed, now. One’s eyes had to peel open when faced with the horrors of war.

How long had he stayed with the boy? A day, maybe two? But it seemed so much longer, so much larger a span of time. Now Edward was an immense figure invading his thoughts, and for the life of him, he could not figure out why.

All he knew for certain was that one day, in the near future, the boy would come to him, and he would open his arms. Despite the inconveniences of having a dependent, Roy knew he was not going to resist. (Maes, if he were present, would question his very ability to do so, faced with the current set of circumstances.) He had already planted the seed of doubt, that one seed that awakened in Edward an awareness of the world out here in its entirety, entirely accessible and all too tempting. The alchemist in Edward would never be able to resist. One day, Roy told himself, one day he would have the opportunity to know Edward Elric in and out.

Throughout his thoughts, he refused to acknowledge the guilt disquieting his heart, for if he did, he would send the boy back home where he truly belonged. He would tell Edward to stay with his brother and mother, rebuild their family, and remain as Hohenheim left them and wanted them to be.

But no. No. Edward was much too precious an investment for that. Should Edward want for guidance, Roy was equipped to provide that. Should Edward want for companionship, Roy thought himself an excellent friend. And should Edward want for someone to call family, Roy would offer his presence—and should they truly become a family, well, Roy didn’t think that was such a bad idea.

The day came far sooner than he had expected, when he received a missive on the dull hours of work. He had been dozing over the papers, when a puzzled Havoc walked in, a slip of telegraph transcription in hand. It read, “I’m coming to Central,” and if he were not accustomed to thinking fast on his feet, he would have missed the cue. It could only come from one conceivable source, the only person that should ever bother to inform him of a trip to the city, and already he could feel the tingle of anticipation low in his spine. There was nothing he could do to help the unbidden smirk blooming over his face.

“Crosscheck train schedules for trips arriving from Resembool through the fastest possible route,” he instructed Havoc, shaking the cloak of sleep from its perch around his shoulders. Rest was elusive these days, if for the memory of Edward’s screams. They were shaping up to be as bad as the night terrors he brought home from the desert. Only his extent of experience with such dreams gave him leverage not to fall into the trap, and the thought of how much more the boy should be suffering this ordeal humbled him enough to stem all complaints. He had no right, none at all.

Escaping from Riza was Hard Work, but most definitely worth the reward of watching the little blond boy step off the busy train. The boy’s hair was done up in a simple tie uncannily reminiscent of the missing Van Hohenheim, and Roy could not help a small smile. Edward looked, for all extents and purposes, a lost child with nowhere to go. That the boy considered him a trustworthy enough of an ally to run to engulfed his chest in the same blooming warmth he had puzzled over for so many nights after returning from the countryside. He watched the boy for a moment longer—aimlessly stepping about, weaving to and fro between clumsy human bodies and strewn luggage—before he approached.

“Well, this is certainly earlier than I’d expected,” he said when Edward lingered within earshot. The boy stiffened, alarmed, as if caught in some untoward activity. Roy thought of precisely how the boy could have afforded on his own an express ticket from Resembool—the thought was tucked aside.

Edward turned sullenly on his spot and gave him a scowl, formidable and hawkish despite the small stature. “Hello to you too, Lieutenant Colonel Bastard.”

Roy heard Havoc choke back a startled laugh. There weren’t many in this city willing to offend with such crude language a military officer of Roy’s station and calibre.

But Roy himself was delighted beyond measure. “Come, follow me,” he beckoned with a little smile, making for the north side exit where they were closely parked. It was visible how Edward assessed the situation, lightning-quick golden eyes passing over Havoc and the exit and the station and the people around him. Perhaps the boy had had some combat training, after all. “It is best if we don’t linger outside for too long. We can talk later, at my house.” After a short pause, out of consideration, Roy added, “Unless you have someplace else to go?”

Quietly and almost meekly, Edward said, “No.”

Again, the bloom of warmth. Roy nodded. “You can stay at my place for as long as you need. In fact, it’s probably better that way.” If anything, he refused to have the boy lodge at some inn or board where he was at risk. Talents like Edward needed careful cultivation, and Central was not a place conducive to such—or, at the very least, not the side of Central Edward would no doubt have to acquaint himself with if the boy was forced to survive on his own.

No; penniless students and wandering apprentices were best kept away from the boy until he developed his own form of thinking. They hung around the cheaper renting rooms on the backside of the academic parks. Roy expected Edward to gravitate toward the libraries and colleges, and the students there brought naught but trouble. They were poison to new growth, laden with a conglomeration of old and new ideas learned but never fully understood, with anarchists and socialists and sophists among them plenty. They would foul Edward’s freethinking. For now, the best recourse was to have the boy absorb as much information as he wanted and was able, free to explore the world for what it was. Roy would take it upon himself to teach the boy how to critically think.

When they settled into the car, he introduced Havoc. “He was the one who delivered your telegram,” Roy explained. “It was almost thrown into the bin—you should put a name next time.”

You told me to be discreet,” argued the boy. “I was trying to be discreet. It’s not my fault if your staff can’t even recognize relevant messages from irrelevant ones.”

“’I’m coming to Central’ is hardly enough to tell anyone anything, Edward. Most especially without a name,” Roy smirked, shifting in delight at the boy’s spirited conversation. “If I hadn’t anticipated that you would come, I would have totally ignored it.”

“What—you anticipated that I would run away from home?” the boy was incredulous now, and Roy as incredulous as he.

“Well, no—but I did know that you wouldn’t be able to resist visiting Central for long. I hadn’t expected you would run away from home. In fact, I would’ve thought that would be the last thing you would do.” The very idea sounded ludicrous to Roy—but as the boy pressed lips together and gazed outside, understanding dawned. It was sudden, but it made sense: if Hohenheim was capable of leaving all that he loved behind to chase after some mirage of his alchemy that only he could see, why should his son be incapable of the very same thing?

Roy did not want to presume, of course, that this was the reason Edward left his family. But it was a hard battle not to do so. The questions he itched to ask stumbled into each other at the back of his throat, but he held them and allowed Edward his silence, at least for now. Running head first into such spirited discussions never brought desirable results; even he, master of words and his composure, has in the past lost himself in the whirlwind of uncontrollable confrontation. Such treatment was not something he wanted to dispense Edward, not with so much promise and potential at stake.

Fingers laced and reclined in his seat, he followed Edward’s eyes outside. As ever, the growing obsession consumed his awareness: what did the boy think and see, Roy wondered, looking at Central’s streets, so removed, so alien, from Resembool’s small farmland lanes? The scene was, to Roy, worn and familiar; beloved, but common. But Edward had never seen this before. What a privilege it would be to be able to hear Edward’s thoughts and ideas! He would work hard for the one day that would come when they would be comfortable enough with the other, as friends, to approach such things in the fashion of words.

He resolved to ask the boy about his reasons for leaving home over dinner. It would be a start—a big step for a start. But big steps were better suited for personalities like theirs. If Edward truly did leave home for his alchemy, Roy’s respect and adoration would only kindle further, because he fully believed in alchemy as a just cause—and, once upon a time, long ago before the horrors of Ishbal, he himself left the comfort of home to pursue a dream of fire and power.

Work the following day brought narrow inquisition from the eyes of a hawk. She stood beside him as he relinquished his coat, wordless inquiries burning at her fingertips and, if not addressed, at the point of her gun.

“He’s a guest,” he surrendered, raising his voice for the ears of his men, too. “A most esteemed one. Son of one of my mentors in the day. You’d know the name,” he told Riza. “Edward Elric, son of Hohenheim.”

Riza retreated, implications tight within her grasp. Her father, Berthold Hawkeye, was Roy’s primary alchemical mentor. Berthold Hawkeye had also been, in life, one of Hohenheim’s closest and most trusted friends. During the span of time that Roy had lived with the Hawkeyes to learn about alchemy and the world, he had seen more of Hohenheim than he wagered Edward and Alphonse ever saw of the man. Hohenheim spent many days visiting with Berthold and his small household of three. It was at that time when Roy had acquainted himself with Hohenheim’s brilliance and thus kindled the dream to be as powerful and wise. After the war, he often wondered if he had gone about it the wrong way around.

“The boy’s an alchemist, of course,” he said, continuing his explanation. “He’s here to learn; staying at my place for the while.” He prepared for coffee himself before Riza could venture to try. She was better to brew tea, as her coffee was a tad stale and a touch too bitter—not that he’d ever say. Again, certain opinions were better left unsaid when in the presence of potentially punitive powers.

“Better than letting him lodge up North 1st,” Falman remarked, echoing Roy’s exact thoughts the previous day. “That place has some nasty corners.”

“The young ones are always the fiercest, as they say.” Maes swept into the workspace, heading straight for Roy. “What is this I’m hearing about a stray kitten you’ve picked up from the streets?”

“He’s hardly so tame,” Roy scoffed. “The boy’s got himself an excessively sharp tongue in exchange for all his shy bones. I’ll bring him over for a meal sometime soon; he’ll like Gracia, I think.”

“Of course he’ll like Gracia! Everyone likes Gracia! She’s everything likeable about the world!”

“Yes, of course, Maes—but more importantly,” he cut into his friend’s impending tirade, “I need you to keep this quiet.” He turned to his men. “All of you. I can’t have top brass hearing about Edward’s background. Hohenheim is quite famous among the alchemic trade. The younger ones might not know him, but the older ones surely will. I’d like to keep him away from such things until he’s ready and willing to take it on. It’s nothing particularly top secret—but you understand, I’m sure. The military doesn’t much care for age weighed against an alchemist’s usefulness.”

Maes could only smile. “Oh, it does care for age, dear old friend; I rather think it prefers them young.”

“Precisely,” Roy pronounced, heavy and slick as the fall of an axe. Sharp, it sheared away further points of dispute. Maes’ sidelong jab at his military debut—far too early, at far too young an age—fell severed, unacknowledged, to the side.

The rest of the day was a humdrum of the mundane, made only faster to pass by the business of his thoughts. They meandered, for the most part, but eventually returned to Edward, like trains crisscrossing the country but at night returning to the station to rest. He thought of the previous night and this morning; he thought of Edward’s awe. It was a startling change—a welcome one, for it did a wonder to refresh his nerves. Most people, when they saw his house, were struck with the envious kind of awe. On his few friends’ part, there was no awe at all; only a resigned, or sometimes appraising, indulgent smile.

But Edward—Edward—approached all things the same. Edward approached everything with the fiercest and most sincere hunger for knowledge, openness and alacrity few souls could boast to possess. The awe that fluttered, unashamed, on Edward’s face was the type of wondering, delighted awe that a child with a ravenous sweet tooth might put on, were he positioned in the midst of a prime confectionery. Edward held nothing of envy, of disdain or disregard. No; Edward was truly and honestly in awe of what he kept and collected at home.

The people who understood what he had spent years and fortunes to attain books, relics, scrolls, and such items—were as few and far between as trusted lifelong friends. Edward was now among them. To don the same kind of awe as Edward required a keen appreciation for the value of knowledge and the effort it demanded to manifest. Roy could not have wished for a better person to invite into his home; Edward understood him, or at the very least was geared towards understanding, and Roy would be lying if meeting that understanding was not a relief.

It had been a long time, he thought to himself as he left the office that afternoon, since the last time he had been so eager for company at home.

When he arrived, what he found was quite expected. Edward was there, supine on the couch, face half-concealed by the squared edges of a book. The tome was familiar, no doubt a piece of his library. Hardbound and thick with pages of aged papyrus, they looked perfectly at home within Edward’s young hands. The boy, however, failed to notice his arrival until Roy stood close and prodded for attention.

“Do make sure to lock the doors if you’re going to be floating off into your own world like that,” he relinquished his jacket on the chair by his desk.

“Yes, Mommy.” Roy could easily conjure Ed’s exasperated face.

“I’m serious, Edward. Central is a far cry from Resembool. There are troubled souls here who are not above breaking and entering,” and he knew it, quite intimately, from his short time renting a space outside of military barracks. Some people liked to think that being employed as a soldier meant trunks stuffed and full of gold. Not that he was particularly poor even then, but his money was in the bank, as most persons with command of logic would have their money kept. There weren’t very many of them, logical folk. Fortune had smiled upon him as always; only the few of his possessions that were cheap and dispensable were taken by the thieves. They had no notion of the value of his antiques and rusting relics and piles of books strewn about the place. They were not alchemists.

“Let ‘em come,” Edward petulantly grumbled, grounding Roy’s peripatetic thoughts with gravity only the boy could command at such an age. “Not like I can’t defend myself.”

And such mettle! Few would be so confident. Perhaps it was his youth, but Edward had a fierce and daring spirit. It also affirmed Roy’s suspicions that Edward had received combat training. All for the better, he thought to himself, mindful of the dangers lurking Central’s streets. Plenty would be willing to swallow Edward whole if they knew of the promise his talents were worth.

“You know,” Edward began, “this book has some rather interesting theories.” The book in question was the same lighter tome, gold-gilded and beautiful upon closer inspection. Roy could not remember ever reading the thing; higher up in the military’s pecking order meant he was getting very busy (not that the slave work ever varied). Such was evident now, as he stacked paperwork on the table where he could find space. “It talks about sub-atomic theory,” Edward was explaining, “but this thing had to have been written before the age of common sense and healthy handwashing. Makes absolutely no sense except for the part where it really does.”

“Hm,” Roy paused. “This is... a Persian book? Or Xingese?” The papyrus pointed Persian.

“Persian, I think,” Edward confirmed, fingers—almost lovingly—tracing the inked lines barely faded by age. “Golds and greens. Where in the world do you find these books?”

“I have contacts.”

“Introduce me.”

Roy had to smile. “One day,” he promised, indulgence brimming over with familiar warmth. There were very few things he could resist the boy. He wondered, half in contempt of such gentle sentiment, if this was how it felt to have a favoured son. Leaving his children as he did must have given Hohenheim unimaginable grief. “I don’t have education in the old Persian language, but this looks faintly similar to old Xingese.”

“You can read Xingese?” again, the awe. “Teach me,” the boy demanded, eyes both set upon what he wanted. Roy had to admire that will, that focus.

“We’ll make time for it,” again, another promise. Perhaps he was getting ahead of himself; time was scarce enough as most his days went. But Edward needed him and the guidance he could offer. Roy took it as repayment for Hohenheim’s patience with him when he was Ed’s age, for he was just as inquisitive, and relentless, even ruthless, for knowledge. (He could recall with much fondness, for instance, several incidences involving himself, Hohenheim, some notebooks detailing sensitive forbidden alchemy, and a handful of exquisite photographs as his pitiless blackmail material.)

They ate and over dinner talked about the book. Ed was a true scholar from the way he picked theories apart. Roy was continually amazed by the boy’s aptitude for alchemy; basic theorems and concepts he skipped while most students would take time to digest them. And even as he skipped steps, he kept an unshakable grasp of the big picture with but instinct inborn. There was no other word for it: Ed was a natural.

Still a child, though, Roy told himself as Ed frowned upon the felling of Persia as an empire and along with it its alchemy. Or perhaps entirely unconcerned about politics and its trappings. If it were so, Roy would rejoice.

Power and greed, more than anything, drove the world as Roy saw it. Some romanticists would beg to differ and insist on love, pure and simple. But what was greed if not love unbound and overabundant? What was power if not the capability to command love, and through it, obedience? Indeed, most dictators who elbowed their way into power failed to command much of love from the people around them and the people subject to them. But the desire for power arguably stemmed from the one common root each dictator and ruler had within themselves: love. Love for money, love for fame, love for glory, for destruction, for excitement and adventure. Love for others, which often equated to love for oneself. It was simple.

Perhaps because of this simplicity, Ed failed to see it. Ed seemed to have a hard time of grasping small, simple things. But Ed himself was driven by the very same substance. Indeed torn, instead of merely driven, by this substance Ed could not see. His love for his family and his love for his alchemy: two forces overwhelming when united (as was the case with his resurrected mother), but now directed towards different goals. One won out when pitched against the other.

“By the way,” Roy broke the relative silence over one of their dinners on another day, “I’m visiting a friend tomorrow. You’re coming with me.” Now that Ed’s alchemy had driven him to be with Roy, it was only appropriate that Roy begin providing for him as a responsible adult should provide for a child. If Ed was to keep Roy’s company, Ed would need his own things: new clothes, new shoes, new accessories, notable among them new pens and paper and journals and other such scholarly necessities. A shopping trip was overdue; besides which, Roy also needed to restock his own stores. He parried Ed’s queries with a simple, “I want you to learn,” which (for now) stymied the boy’s relentless need for justification. However, the boy drove the conversation towards an entirely new direction.

“So if your gloves get wet, what do you do?”

Roy paused and regarded Ed. Ed looked back: open, steady, eager, true.

This boy is practically ignorant in the ways of alchemical etiquette! One doesn’t simply ask another alchemist for their secrets, silly child; it is not done. Only fools would stoop to such flagrant disrespect of privacy and intellectual property. Only fools, which in other matters you may not be, but in this you apparently are. Not that Roy would ever say this aloud, but his thoughts were veering and the wine was dampening his otherwise sharp control. He would have to do something about this.

“You need an initial spark to set off the fire, right? That’s why you use that cloth. But what if they get wet? I’m just asking.”

And since you’re Edward, I’ll believe you, Roy resumed his meal. “A smoother and altogether better attempt at subversion, Edward, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Don’t hope to beat me at this game anytime soon.”

Ed scowled. “Answer the question, Bastard.”

“Spares,” Roy had to chuckle at the ease with which Ed’s ire was ignited. “I have spares on hand. In a waterproof case.”

Roy could practically see the cogs turning in Ed’s brain. It certainly wasn’t a fail-proof backup, especially in the most emergent instances, but Roy had methods. He had survived this world far too long not to have methods.

“Can I see your circles?”

Again, no etiquette. Roy resisted the urge to click his teeth and instead handed a glove over. Immediately, the boy began poring over it, over the deceitfully simplistic dual-glyph circle. After a moment’s silence, the boy said, “Have you ever thought of adding a drying component in the circle? It would be really easy to add, since you already have the molecular manipulation part down.”

“Good idea,” Roy hummed in quiet assent. “I’ll consider it.” He tucked the glove away. They both resumed their meals, Roy tingling in acute anticipation. His senses were attuned to Edward, watching the boy deep in thought, watching and waiting if the boy would notice anything else.

But soon dinner was finished and the matter of his alchemy was left untouched. Roy felt somewhat disappointed. Ed had been given a close look, a chance to dissect Roy’s alchemy, but he had missed the important clue. Did the boy think that the thought of a drying component never crossed Roy’s mind before? Of course it had; but the very nature of his technique prevented him from excessive additions. If Ed had looked closer, he would have surely noticed.

Not tonight, perhaps; and it was too early, anyway. It was too early to divulge trade secrets with each other, with barely a week behind them in this new life together. Roy was keeping his silence, but he had noticed that Ed himself had yet to show alchemy in action. For all that they discussed theories every night, as if to quench a long-denied need for such intimate intellectual companionship, Ed had yet to show any form of actual practice. Which naturally only beckoned to Roy’s budding and unhealthy obsession. Ed was hiding too.

Roy almost wanted to ask, except he held his mouth in check. He refused to set a terrible example; alchemists did not ask other alchemists for secrets like so. He would have to be patient. He would have to wait. It was only polite to wait for one such opportunity to observe the alchemy in action from the sidelines, without directly asking, without confronting Ed with the uncomfortable decision of what and what not to disclose. Even though Ed had just confronted him with it a little while earlier. Roy fancied himself the bigger man (as he should be, with nearly a decade of experience, and a foot and some inches, over Ed’s young little head).

Perhaps, he told himself, he doesn’t intend to hide, like how I don’t truly intend to hide. Perhaps, he told himself, he has only yet to find the right time and manner to show me, to make me understand. Or perhaps he is waiting for me to figure it out myself—like how I am expecting him to figure it out himself.

It would be a few more days until Roy would see Ed’s alchemy—a few more days until he would discover that try hard though he might, he would never have come close to an accurate guess.

Roy had to keep himself from forcefully re-inspecting the boy’s hands; there had to be a trick, some sort of catch, like his gloves, or tattoos, or a slip of hidden paper. But he knew Edward. He knew that Edward spoke the truth. A seemingly impossible truth—but was it not this boy who had performed the impossible and brought a dead human back to breathing, beating life? There was neither trick here nor catch. It was alchemy without a circle.

Without a circle!

Or a physical one, at the very least, from how he’d explained it. His thoughts were still ricocheting around the insides of his cranium, and rank adrenalin-surging confusion coursed through his veins like some vile drug. I can’t stand this, Roy thought to himself. I must do something. He was not one to pace, but he now battled with the unbearable urge to do so.

Returning upstairs was a short affair. With zeal returned after a long time of torpor, he made for the bookshelves, titles on his tongue. Vividly he could recall the little room in which he sat with Edward back in that house in Resembool. At the time, he had felt this itch as well, unrelenting until he had burned through two days of extra leave to immerse himself in research. Riza had been furious, and he had only found crumbs for clues, but it was such a refreshing feeling to return to the grind of alchemy once again that he barely minded. The Gate was that much a fascinating and elusive topic.

That Gate, he thought, should have something to do with this. It was at present the most feasible explanation. Edward did not mention it this time, but had spoken of it the first time after succeeding in Trisha Elric’s revival from the dead. Perhaps the boy was attempting to protect information, the same way that Hohenheim had done when Roy had known him. But no matter; Roy was capable of researching on his own. Ed would tell him in due time if the boy wished for him to know, but for now, Roy was on his own.

From the handful of things he had managed to find—a smattering of Persian whisperings, Xingese folklore, and disperse Romanesque sorcery—the Gate was capable of many impossible things. Being a conduit for power, it never ran out, and over time acquired a store of knowledge so vast the best of all alchemists easily drowned in its depths. Perhaps, upon meeting this Gate face to face, Edward had managed to glean information and now put it to use. It was not impossible. (At the moment, Roy reflected, very few things were impossible.)

It was strange to think of this Gate as a being with a voice and a face. It was even stranger to think of how it would have been to meet such a... thing. (Should he call it a god? A deity? A supreme supernatural being? Roy could very well be illiterate in face of such theistic faith.) But the knowledge—the knowledge¬¬—and to think that Edward seen it—twice—

Roy’s toes curled into his carpet, plush and soft underneath his feet. Somewhere in between the Gate and gods, he had gotten lost in his thoughts and failed to notice that he was sat. He had a book in hand but his eyes weren’t reading; he was storm-shaken and taken with the ideas spinning round his head. How long had it been since he felt this sort of excitement? He had stopped searching—stopped longing—for knowledge the way he used to, the way an alchemist was always supposed to. Since Ishbal, he had stopped being a true alchemist, his love for the science having lost against the horrors that he’d seen.

But Edward was reminding him of the other side. That other side of alchemy that Hohenheim had shown him with his simple transmutations, simple efforts to turn useless things into useful things. Broken things into a working whole. How had he forgotten? Alchemy was also capable of wonderful things. No—alchemy was a wonderful thing, at the very heart of it; alchemy was life.

How had he forgotten?

One is all, and all is one.

From the depths of memory, Berthold Hawkeye’s eyes stared straight into his soul. Until you understand this, his master had told him, you are not an alchemist. Until you understand this, Roy.

He looked across the room at Edward, who was sat on the floor drawing a circle. Edward knew nothing of Ishbal, of his past, and of his hardships coming in the future. But he had no right to say that Ed knew nothing of horrors that could freeze a man’s soul; Ed had his own fair share, much fresher and deep-set than Roy’s old scars. And yet here this boy was, single-mindedly forging through near-indecipherable centuries-old theories, seemingly without a single care in the world but for his pursuit of knowledge and the dissolution of the mystery.

Roy was a proud man, but before this boy, Roy was thoroughly humbled.

“You match each other well,” his friend said from somewhere behind him. Maes was echoing his wife, it seemed, but with a more deliberate and malicious approach. Maes liked peeling at Roy’s ever-present façade—especially when Roy shrieked and struggled like a cat whose tail had been pulled. (In return, Roy took great pleasure in the veritably rare chance to hold precious information—usually Maes’ territory—over his best friend’s unsuspecting head. At least, in his indignation Roy shrieked like a cat, which was an infinitely more elegant animal than the monkey Maes, when out-informed, aspired to emulate.)

“So your lovely wife has told us,” Roy replied, unwilling to let Maes take the lead yet again. The nosy bastard already knew far too much. “I won’t deny her words. After all, a woman knows best.”

“Yes, Gracia knows best!” Maes exclaimed. Roy wanted to tell him there were other women in the world, but refrained from doing so. His friend was as blind in this respect as Roy was not. Roy was caught between amused and thankful. “In fact, since Gracia knows best, you should probably let her talk to Ed more; that ought to ease his transition, don’t you think? Poor kid’s been through quite a lot from what you’ve told me.”

“I was about to ask of you the same thing,” Roy put a dish away and began rinsing another one. “It won’t do for him to become a complete recluse; he needs people if he’s to grow.”

Maes laughed. “Look at you, old friend! Such a model parent! Why, if I’d have known you’d beat me to it, I wouldn’t have wagered a bet with Breda!” An elbow found its way into Maes’ side; the Intelligence officer barely rescued a plate from shattering. “Oy, this thing cost a good fortune, you know!”

“Then be sure to handle it with steady hands, old friend. We wouldn’t want your gorgeous wife missing her china now, would we?” Roy smiled as he rinsed his hands under the tap. He turned and leaned against the counter as Maes dried the rest of the dishes, listening to Ed and Gracia’s quiet laughter coming from next door. Ed needed this, he knew; Ed needed companionship beyond one person. Human beings needed community to thrive, so Roy would give him this. Maes and Gracia were both trustworthy; Roy would trust Maes with his life. If it was in their hands, he could be sure that no harm would come to Ed. He could be sure—

“There’s that face again,” Maes said, “that grim face you like to wear when you’re contemplating on the sacrifices you need to make to ensure that you don’t lose any of your pieces on the board.”

Roy cursed the heavens for giving him such a meddlesome best friend.

“How do you intend to survive as the King with his kingdom still intact if you intend to cover for all manner of harm that will, despite your best efforts, come upon your subjects?” Maes crossed arms and frowned at him. “Beyond that, how do you intend to run your kingdom if you don’t let the people around you grow into their roles and learn to do their job properly? Roy, there’s no need to protect everyone from everything. Truly. You can have faith enough in us to do our jobs if you can have faith enough in yourself to protect all of us alone.”

Roy sighed and shook his head.

“Come on, start talking,” Maes prodded. “You know I’ll eventually drag it out of you. Make it easier on yourself; spare both of us the blackmail battle.”

That engendered a grimace. Blackmail battles were the worst with Maes as an opponent. He should have never introduced Maes to his most frequented establishments. “Fine, damn you,” he seized the glass of blue-label scotch from Maes’ hand. It was too bright and warm an afternoon for scotch, but he could not care. He deserved the alcohol; here he was being bullied, after all! “I’m worried about the boy. He’s too damn precious—and too damn blind. I’m wondering if luring him to Central was too premature an action.”

“And if you hadn’t, where would he be?” the ice in Maes’ glass tinkled as he lifted his shoulders in a shrug. Ed’s happy chatter was audible through the open door. “I doubt he’d have stayed at home, seeing how much of an alchemist’s soul he has. He’s just like you when you were younger, back in our Academy days: single-minded and stubborn to a fault. I think that’s why you match so well. We always retain the child we were inside of us, you know.”

“And that part of me is screaming caution into my ears, Maes, that’s why,” Roy said, looking out. Central sprawled around and away from them, a world so wide it had drowned Roy in its depths years ago. “Ed reminds me of myself. I don’t want him to go through what I went through. You and I both know there are things in this world that are better left alone.”

“He reminds you of you, but he isn’t you, Roy. And no matter what you do, you can never change the fact that he needs a world to live in. As highly as you think of yourself, you can’t be that world on your own. You have to let him grow.”

Roy downed his scotch and bit at the ice that met his lips. It felt good against the waning summer heat.

“Or will you sacrifice his growth for his absolute safety? Because if you will, I’ll have to pay Havoc a fine sum of money, and that would cause me troub—ow! That hurts, you wicked old man!”

“One of these days, you will have to stop making me a thoroughbred for your betting games,” Roy retrieved his foot and turned to the table for more scotch. “No, I won’t sacrifice his growth. You can collect your money from Havoc tomorrow, rest assured.”

“Actually, from both Havoc and Fuery—ow, damn it, Roy! How do you suppose to make a good parent with such abusive habits?” Maes hobbled and nursed his throbbing foot. Roy knew one precise spot where if he stepped on it hard enough, the pain would shoot straight up to Maes’ spine. Such were the benefits of having gone to war together: he knew Maes’ old wounds very well.

They lapsed in silence for a while, uninterrupted but for occasional laughter next door and Maes’ mumbled whines. Outside, their unified backyard simmered under the heat. Summer aspired to colour everything in the various hues of the sun; the grass had long since surrendered its green to the vicious invasion of yellows and browns. Sweat was pearling on Roy’s neck as it did on his little glass of slow-moving poison. If they were not to die of bullet or blade, he and Maes would surely suffer the painful death of a failed liver. Though perhaps not quite as failed as Havoc’s liver would be; for one, they weren’t dumped quite so often.

“He’s a smart boy; he should do fine,” Roy said now, more to himself than to Maes or anybody else. “And if he needs any help, I’ll be here.”

That, my friend,” Maes said, “is the burning spirit. You and I both know there are things in this world a person will face no matter the path he takes. Part of the growing pains, Roy. Perhaps it’s best to let him ease in with guidance into what he cannot avoid.”

“A tall order, Maes.”

“Not any taller than becoming Führer,” and Roy had to curse again for Maes’ infallible sense. One could only be so annoying, surely! For a little while, he contemplated on scorching Hughes’ head. It was a very entertaining image. “Besides, looking at that kid, you’d have to be death himself to be able to keep him from the things he wants to see.”

Roy had to laugh. He put the empty glass down and smiled knowingly at his friend. “Somehow, Maes, I doubt that even death could stop him.”

“Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.”
‘Unless you believe, you will not understand.’
Isaiah 9:7, The Holy Bible )

Part APart B →

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aventria: y hallo tharaventria on 4th July 2012 22:09 (UTC)
No, really, only because Kia sounded so excited that there was a review already.
aventria: y hallo tharaventria on 4th July 2012 22:12 (UTC)
Re: FIRST \o/
icedcandy on 30th July 2012 06:44 (UTC)

Maannn I was rereading the end of the last update just to refresh my memory and I saw in the comments my last one was 13 July 2010 XDD

Gahh I am so excited to read the rest of this a;sldkfj;asdlfsf
夢路 : dreamscapeiluxia on 30th July 2012 22:08 (UTC)
Of course you get a shoutout! One of my most favoritest readers evlar! ♥
icedcandy on 31st July 2012 05:13 (UTC)
flops on you lovingly

that's great. because you're one of my most favoritest writers ever