Ever – Chapter Five

Ed starts to learn to play the game. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Edward Elric, Roy Mustang

Roy folded his hands and examined Fullmetal across them. “This errand is for my benefit, but you should find it to yours as well. I want you to accompany the civilian State Alchemist Dunning on a trip he’s making to Faufend.”

Fullmetal groaned. “Not him, he was one of the crazy ones!”

Roy ignored him. “Dunning-san has already agreed to this, as you are considerably more able to defend yourself and any companions than he is. I would appreciate it if he returned in one piece.”

Fullmetal eyed him sourly. “And?”

“And what, Fullmetal? Those are straightforward enough directions aren’t they?”

“Shousho,” Fullmetal growled. “Will you just tell me why you want me to go along with him?”

Roy smiled and picked up a folder, tapping it absently against his desktop. “Two or three years ago I would have simply sent you off and trusted nature to take its course. The comparison of then and now may shed some light, for you, on the preference many players show for pawns. Pawns are much less trouble than informed juniors, and infinitely simpler than allies or partners of any kind.”

Fullmetal’s mouth twisted very expressively.

“I’m not suggesting that you acquire such a preference, Fullmetal. Only that you remember it, and always ask the point of an action or request.”

Fullmetal thought that over and nodded. Roy handed over the folder. “I already know that Dunning is interested in the most delicate and chaotic stages of the transmutation process. This is what I have on his research thus far. It doesn’t seem to have a purpose. I want to know the purpose.”

Fullmetal leafed through the folder, frowning occasionally.

“In addition,” Roy continued, “this will make a good exercise in control for you. I have no doubt Dunning suspects that I know he’s concealing information. See if you can keep him from realizing what you’re doing as you try to extract that information.”

Roy half expected a protest at the implied slur on Fullmetal’s temper, but Fullmetal merely paused, mouth tightening, and nodded silently.

Interesting. Roy had seen such flickers of poise and self-awareness a couple times in the recent past. He was coming to the conclusion that Fullmetal’s legendary temper was less ungovernable than it was something Fullmetal had just never bothered to govern.

The young man on the other side of the desk closed the folder and regarded it for a minute without speaking. Roy waited for the calculations behind that far-away look to finish. At last Fullmetal nodded, halted, narrowed his eyes and looked up at Roy.

“So, Shousho, what’s the point of this?”

Roy smiled, slowly. “Very good, Edward-kun,” he murmured. Edward merely raised a brow, but Roy could see the pleased gleam in his eye.

Roy stood and came around the desk to lean against it while he explained. “What I’m afraid of is that Dunning is trying to develop, not some destructive alchemy, but something that will unpredictably alter whatever it’s used on.” He tilted his head at Fullmetal, inviting him to speculate on the results of such a thing.

“For the military,” Fullmetal said hesitantly, eyes troubled, “that could only be something to… cause fear.”

“Precisely,” Roy agreed. “I’m already watching who Dunning deals with so I know who’s interested in the possibility. What I need to know now is whether Dunning can actually do it. And,” he added, “whether that’s actually the goal of his research.”

Fullmetal tossed the folder back to Roy and stood. “I’ll go pack, then.”

At the door he turned back and offered Roy one of his rare salutes in parting. Roy returned it soberly, not chuckling until the door closed. It had always amused him just how pointedly Fullmetal kept to civilian courtesy with him. Both Hawkeye, who was only recently promoted to the rank that even civilian State Alchemists held de facto, and Hughes, who was not and never had been part of Fullmetal’s chain of command, had received more salutes than he had. When Edward did offer a salute to his commander it meant something.

Of course, at times what it meant was a deadly insult, but still.

Roy turned back to his work with a faint grin.


Three weeks later, Fullmetal was back in Roy’s office looking disgusted.

“Dunning is a complete airhead,” he declared. “He can’t tell solid sources from fairy tales.”

“The whole story, if you please,” Roy prompted.

“What,” Fullmetal’s tone turned silky, “the great Mustang-shousho doesn’t know already?”

Roy gave him a quelling look. “I stopped wasting resources keeping track of you when I acquired the leverage to get the whole story out of you myself. Now report.”

Fullmetal grinned, but settled back on the couch and started outlining Dunning’s activities.

“…so not only is he trying to do something morally bankrupt,” he summed up, “but he’s too incompetent to succeed. Two of the researchers he talked to are equally fixated on false leads, the only one you need to worry about is Farley. Fortunately he’s only concerned with the destructive stage and couldn’t care less about making unstable phases permanent. He’s scavenging the results of the others’ failures.”

Roy reflected, not for the first time, that Fullmetal not only had the detailed observational skills that any advanced alchemist needed, but also the rather rare ability to expand his observation to humans as well as chemicals.

“I wanted to rip his lungs out when he started going on about the beauty of pure chaos and how it could elevate humans to apply it to us,” Fullmetal added, “but you said this was an exercise in control so I didn’t.”

Edward also had a cast iron ethical code, which, combined with his perspicacity, had gotten him into trouble on many occasions. It was one of the things Roy had relied on most heavily when calculating Fullmetal’s most likely course of action. He found it an appealing irony that he was now in the process of teaching Edward to be less predictable.

Roy steepled his hands and considered. He wanted to suggest something that would almost certainly be a severe distraction to his student. Unshakable ethics or not, Fullmetal was still a scholar to the bone, possessed of an obsessive drive to discovery.

Perhaps it was time, though. Edward would certainly have to learn at some point to keep his political wits about him while working on his own projects. Roy leaned forward again. “Could you do it?”

“Make the mutable phase permanent?” Fullmetal filled in.

“Yes.”

“Why?” Edward asked so promptly that Roy had to smile.

“So that I know how it works, and what to look for if and when other researchers have the same idea.” Roy tapped a finger on his desk. “You’re the only alchemist I know with both the ability to do something like this and no interest whatsoever in applying it, Fullmetal.”

Fullmetal’s gaze unfocused. When he finally spoke it was not an immediate acceptance. “Can you keep the results secure?”

Roy nodded approval of this forethought. “Yes. There are other things like this I’ve had to sequester over the years.”

“All right. I’ll do it.”

“Excellent. Let me know directly if there’s anything you need.”

Fullmetal agreed in a distracted manner and wandered out of the office as if he didn’t quite see the walls around him. A complete alteration of focus, Roy gauged. Well, if Fullmetal hadn’t recovered by tomorrow Roy would remind him then.

TBA