Ever – Chapter Ten

Ed has his first real-life exercise. Drama, I-3

“I have clients today, Nii-san, so I can’t help with the project report until afternoon. I’m sorry,” Al told Ed at breakfast.

Ed waved away the apology. “Don’t worry,” he said a bit indistinctly around his toast, “I’m just putting the last touches on it before I drop it off.” He chewed and thought. “Clients, hm? Do you mind if I drop in, then? It’s been a while since I had a good chance to watch your work.”

Al gave him a bright smile. “Not at all! Though I doubt I’ll have anything very impressive to do today.”

“Not very impressive. Hmp,” Ed muttered to himself as they all parted ways to their respective work. He never could convince Al that his technical acumen far exceeded Ed’s own, or that his precision was impressive in and of itself. Watching Al’s work always gave Ed a proud-big-brother glow.

So, once he had made all the revisions to his report that he could stand, he tossed it in a folder to take to Mustang later and took himself off to the sun porch that had become Al’s office.

The room was neat and full of light, tastefully furnished and decorated in soft colors, and very much like his brother.

“…no, it’s better to transmute the metal before the parts are assembled,” Al was saying to his client, a somewhat befuddled looking man in a brown suit. “Sometimes fusion does occur, if there are unpredictable elements, which your alloy has a few of. As long as the parts are all machined properly, the greater density after transmutation shouldn’t be a problem for assembly.”

My brother is a genius, Ed thought, fondly. At moments like this he had a bit more sympathy for Hughes and his constant burbling over his daughter.

“I see. I think. Yes, that makes sense, Elric-san,” the client said.

“Good.” Al jotted something down before looking up to spy Ed leaning in the doorway. “Nii-san! You came down at a good time. Bower-san’s metallurgy projects are just fascinating, and he was mentioning that he’d like to see if you were interested in some of it.”

Bower turned, and stood quickly. “Edward Elric-san? So pleased, so pleased! I’ve been wanting to meet you for some time, actually.”

Ed shook hands briefly and raised a brow at his brother. Al ducked his head just a little and grinned. Which meant this Bower person had probably been enthusing about the famous Edward Elric and Al had decided to kill two birds with one stone: boost his brother’s morale while he was bogged down in report revision, and make his client more malleable for having met Ed.

Ed rather hoped that Mustang never managed to completely win over Al, because if those two joined forces the world would be doomed.

“Really?” Ed answered Bower, smile only a bit toothy.

“Oh, yes,” Bower said, earnestly. “I truly admire your courage of convictions, Elric-san, the way you act for the common people even while bound to the military.”

Eh? It had been a while since Ed had done anything… flashy in that way, and he’d thought the rumor mill had calmed down a bit.

“It must be very frustrating for someone like yourself, having to deal with such an autocratic system,” Bower continued. “I know there are other people in my company who appreciate what it must take to work counter to the military’s orders.”

Ed was getting a bad feeling about this.

“So, yes, we were wondering if you would be interested in taking a bit of work for us…” Bower trailed off suggestively.

Ed froze. That didn’t take long at all, did it?

And then his eyes narrowed and he advanced on Bower.

“Take a bit of work for you?” he repeated, voice low and cold. “For people who would use my brother as a lever to get to me? Who would use me as their tool to defy the State and then throw me away when it all came down on my head?”

Bower’s mouth flapped. Ed leaned towards him and Bower leaned back.

“The only kind of work I would take in relation to you is destruction,” he stated, toneless. “Now get out.”

Bower fled.

“Nii-san?” Al whispered.

“Al, I’m sorry,” Ed said without looking up.

“Was that really…?”

Ed nodded. A rather horrible thought occurred to him, and he whirled to grab his brother’s shoulders. “Al, have there been any other clients who asked about me like that?”

Al, wide-eyed, thought for a moment. “No. Just him.”

Ed breathed a sigh of relief. Just Bower.

“Nii-san, you really think he was working for someone trying to… to suborn you?”

“I don’t know. But I can find out. I’ll be back in an hour or so, I think.” Ed hesitated. Al looked… stricken. “Al, are you all right?”

His brother summoned a smile for him and patted his hands. “Of course.”


Ed barely bothered to knock on his way through Mustang’s office door. “Shousho. You know what you said about there being a great many fools in this world? Well the first one just arrived.”

Mustang gestured for him to shut the door and sat, hands folded, listening while Ed paced the office and recounted the conversation with Bower. When Ed was done he rested his chin on his hands, looking calculating.

“A good beginning,” he pronounced.

Ed, used by now to Mustang’s patterns of thought, understood that this was a comment on his own performance. He stopped pacing and slumped down on the arm of the couch.

“You can damn with faint praise better than anyone else I know,” he remarked, raking a hand through his hair.

“I didn’t entirely mean it that way, Edward-kun.”

And again. Ed gave Mustang a jaundiced look, and Mustang’s mouth quirked. “Just tell me,” Ed sighed.

“You are always most… extreme in defense of your brother,” Mustang noted. “I’m somewhat impressed you didn’t throw the man bodily off the roof. Greater subtlety in these affairs is never misplaced, however. The most important thing to remember is never to show all of your strength and knowledge until it’s absolutely necessary.”

Ed thought about the confrontation. “I don’t think I did,” he said, slowly.

“Indeed you didn’t,” Mustang agreed, “which is why I said it was a good beginning. However, as you did not already know whether Bower was working alone or as part of a larger group, there is the possibility that you left yourself open to retaliation or more direct things, like blackmail, from parties you have no easy way of tracing now that they’re warned.”

Ed winced.

“Relax, Edward-kun. I’m familiar with Bower, and can assure you he’s currently working alone on his various seditious little projects. And, dealing with a single scavenger like that, it is, in fact, the best policy to chase them off with a quick show of strength if there’s nothing you need from them.”

“So I got it right by luck,” Ed grumbled.

“I have noticed before that your luck, both good and bad, is generally stupendous,” Mustang allowed, dryly.

Ed leaned an elbow on the back of the couch and pursed his lips. “So, if I don’t know one way or the other, I suppose the best thing would be to string them along, drop a few hints that I might be interested if I could talk to the person in charge, ask what would be in it for me, find out what they know.”

“Precisely.” Mustang lowered his hands and gave Ed a faint smile. “You show a great deal of promise in this field, Edward-kun.”

“Mm.” Ed glanced aside ordering himself to not blush, damn it.

Three or four years ago he would rather have died, or at least would rather have eaten Winry’s cooking, than admit that Roy’s approval mattered in any way to him. Now…

He would admit it to himself, he supposed.

Sometimes.

“I’d better get back before Al starts worrying,” Ed said, rising. “I’ll bring the research report by tomorrow, it’s finished.”

“Excellent,” Roy told him. “Then you can start reading the reports Hughes gives me about the sort of people who may have an interest in you or your brother. I’ll trade you the first volume for your report.”

“Thrilling,” Ed groaned, and trudged out of the office in a far lighter frame of mind than the one he’d entered with.

TBC