Ever – Chapter One

After a year staying with Winry and Pinako Rockbell, Ed and Al return to Central with Winry to settle for a while. Roy pays them a visit… Drama, I-3

Roy Mustang stood in the street and looked up at a large, though unpretentious, brick house. He had hoped he might not have to come here. But after a year of listening to rumors and whispers, of fielding more and less subtle inquiries, he had finally decided there was no choice after all.

Edward and Alphonse Elric had returned to Central City.

No choice, he reminded himself, and knocked briskly on the door. He heard an unfamiliar voice approaching.

“…don’t be ridiculous, Nii-san, there are plenty of reasons why it could be… Mustang-junsho?”

Roy couldn’t stop a smile, and didn’t really want to. In the door stood a rather lanky boy, blond hair cropped short, honey colored eyes dark with surprise, hand frozen on the doorknob. His voice sounded very different without the overlying echo the armor had given it, and it was lower now than it had been.

“Alphonse. You’re looking well.”

Considerably better than the last time he had seen Fullmetal’s brother, two days after the transmutation, when Alphonse had been indulging in some well-deserved hysterics. Alphonse blinked at him.

“Ah, I’m sorry, come in, please!”

Roy stepped inside and found Edward… Fullmetal leaning in the entry of the vestibule. He looked very much his usual self.

“Plenty of reasons, huh?” he muttered. “Well, at least it means I don’t have to hike to headquarters to give you back the damn watch.”

“Indeed, that was what I came to discuss,” Roy told him agreeably.

“Well, come in, come in,” Alphonse shooed them all into an airy living room.

Roy was entertained to note that his time as a large suit of armor had apparently left Alphonse with an ingrained assumption that people would go where he directed them, which, of course, nearly everyone then did. Fullmetal, however, was not looking so welcoming. He caught it, then. Sharp as always.

“There’s nothing to discuss,” Fullmetal bit out, confirming Roy’s guess. “I’ve gotten what I need, and you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of us. Enough is enough.”

“Hm. That’s too bad,” Roy mused, leaning against a high-backed couch. “It will be a terrible shame for such a dedicated scholar to work without the resources of the National Library.”

A corner of Roy’s mouth twitched as longing flashed over Fullmetal’s face. Now to see if that would be enough…

“Mustang-junsho.” Alphonse’s voice sliced through the developing confrontation.

Roy suppressed a start. In the past Alphonse had rarely interrupted his brother’s arguments with Roy, and never in such a cold voice. A single look showed that Alphonse was not amused by the way the conversation had turned. That wasn’t a source of interference Roy had expected. Ah, well.

“Alphonse, have I offered my congratulations yet? You must be very relieved to be returned to your proper body,” he noted casually.

Fullmetal wasn’t the only Elric who was fast on the uptake. Alphonse’s eyes narrowed, and he suddenly resembled his brother far more strongly.

“Al,” Fullmetal cut in, voice low.

The brothers locked eyes in a moment of silent communication, and Alphonse nodded. “I’ll be upstairs helping Winry unpack, then,” he said, throwing a last warning look over his shoulder at Roy as he left.

Fullmetal turned to Roy, face still.

“Was that a threat?”

“No, actually, it wasn’t.” Roy passed a hand through his hair and heaved a silent sigh. Alphonse had broken his rhythm, now how to retrieve it?

“Junsho, just tell me why you’re here,” Fullmetal snapped.

Roy regarded him thoughtfully. It wasn’t an approach he had really considered, but Fullmetal was getting old enough that it might work. The fact that he hadn’t completely lost his temper yet was an encouraging sign.

“Very well. I’m here because you will not be able to leave.”

Fullmetal froze. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know how much you thought about what might happen afterward, if you succeeded in returning Alphonse’s body, but in the course of your search you’ve become very well known. The military will not be particularly willing to let an alchemist of your power out of its control. Even if they were, other interests would be quick to close in on you.”

Roy shook his head at Fullmetal’s wide eyes. He had been right; this was coming as a surprise.

“They can’t force me,” Fullmetal whispered.

Roy quashed his mild disgust at such naivete. It was probably just denial, because he knew Fullmetal was more intelligent than that.

“Many would probably use the fastest method and threaten your brother to win your compliance. While that would be a foolish thing,” he continued over Fullmetal’s snarl, “there are a great many fools in this world, and I assure you they will all be drawn to you like iron to a magnet.”

Roy wondered, with an academic sort of interest, whether Fullmetal would let go of the chair before he broke the back off. The grip of his right hand was making the wood creak.

“So,” Fullmetal finally ground out, “you’re saying that since I’m going to be manipulated by someone I might as well keep being manipulated by you?”

Roy tilted his head. “Effectively, yes.”

Wood splintered.

Roy let his own expression cool and cut across Fullmetal’s incensed inhalation. “Power like yours, once known, will not be let to lie.”

“So I should just resign myself to being a tool?!” Fullmetal spat.

“You are a tool,” Roy told him, bluntly. “For the last four years you’ve been my tool. You knew it. That was the bargain we made, the condition I set against the one you set. That bargain is done, though. Now it’s time to choose again how you will be used.”

Absolute rage filled Fullmetal’s eyes, and Roy had a moment’s doubt whether he was really ready for this much truth. Well, nothing for it now but to go on. He kept an eye on Fullmetal’s hands, which were flexing a bit ominously. Time for a suggestion, perhaps.

“If you don’t wish to be the tool of another, become your own.”

Puzzlement slowed the momentum of Fullmetal’s anger. “What do you mean?”

“You had a purpose all this time, and you let me use your power only in service of it,” Roy pointed out. “Fine. You succeeded; choose a new purpose.”

“And let whoever I need to make it happen manipulate me in service of that one?” Fullmetal asked, rather skeptically. “Why?”

One side of Roy’s mouth curled up as he contemplated the boy in front of him. He was impressed that Fullmetal had realized just how vulnerable his obsession had made him. “If you don’t want to be manipulated, then learn the steps of this dance, Fullmetal. Until you do someone else will always be calling your measures. In the meantime, would it be so terrible to continue lending yourself to my ends? You haven’t found them distasteful so far, and I have the influence to keep others away from you for a while.”

Fullmetal paced two turns around the room before he stopped and looked sidelong at Roy. “Your ends? What are your ends? You’ve used me blind long enough. Tell me what it is you want me for.”

Roy was pleased. He hadn’t actually expected Fullmetal to make that leap. “Youswell, Aquroya, Zenotime,” he recited quietly. “Lior. Do you remember Lior, Fullmetal?”

Fullmetal flinched and looked away.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Roy told him. “Do you remember everything that happened there?”

Fullmetal frowned at him. “Yes,” he answered slowly.

“You can say as often as you wish that you only interfered because that Priest had a Stone,” Roy’s mouth quirked, “to others. But don’t think you can lie to me. You would have interfered in any case, because you saw something happening that was wrong.”

Fullmetal opened his mouth, paused, and closed it again. Roy smiled thinly.

“The notable thing, Fullmetal, is that you interfered successfully. You left chaos behind you, yes, but if it had not been for… other interference Lior would have sorted out its own affairs. That’s what I value. Your potential for creating useful chaos.”

Fullmetal leaned against a window while he processed this. “Stir up the mud so you can shape it the way you want it?” he summarized at last.

“I shape very little outside of the military itself, Fullmetal. I just want you to stir up the water so it flows downhill.”

Roy waited with practiced patience for Fullmetal to make up his mind about all this. He had better make up his mind now, because that was all the information Roy intended to part with at the moment. After another couple turns around the room Fullmetal slowed and stood still, staring at nothing.

“Learn the steps, huh?” he murmured at length.

When Fullmetal looked around at him Roy had to lift a brow. The gold eyes were gleaming, focused, as determined as Roy had ever seen them. Something had obviously been decided on.

“Show me.”

The other brow joined the first.

“A new bargain? That’s it. You know the steps. So show me. And I’ll run your damn errands for you.”

A slow smile tugged at Roy’s mouth. That had… potential. “A worthy bargain,” he agreed softly, and held out his hand.

Fullmetal’s closed around it and they both nodded.

And then Fullmetal broke away to shove a hand through his hair. “Al’s going to kill me,” he muttered.

“He looked more like he wanted to kill me, something I hope you will now be willing to dissuade him from,” Roy remarked.

Fullmetal shot him an unfriendly look. “That’ll be easier if you’re not here. I’ll come in tomorrow.”

Roy allowed himself to be escorted out and didn’t laugh until the door closed behind him.