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24 November 2005 @ 02:11 pm
Fic - Darts  
Hello, all. Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating it (and to those not, no reason you can'd have fun today, too.) ^_^ I bring you fic, because I'm bored and felt like sharing.

[Title:] Darts
[Rating:] PG
[Genre:] Pre-series genfic, which is a genre now in case it wasn't before
[Characters:] Roy and Hughes
[Word Count:] 5,000
[Summary:] In my mind, I like playing with the different ways Roy and Hughes could have met. This is one of them, though I admit it doesn't fit in the timeline properly or anything useful like that. I just wrote this for fun. And this isn't a summary at all. So here: This is a story about Roy and Hughes, in which they meet over a game of darts. ^_^


            In the early afternoon, the second floor common room of the Amestrian military academy was usually smoke-filled and noisy, full of State Alchemist hopefuls as they avoided the unwashed masses of common officer prospects and relaxed between lectures.  They were, almost invariably, all the starched-collar sons of rich men looking to get a leg up on their military careers.  Alchemy was less a science to them than a faster way to the fame and glory of a successful military career.   The real alchemists, the only ones who ever really believed in the mantra of “alchemy for the people” were those that learned independently and came to the military later for research funding.  And even then, their idealism soon cracked under the research demands made by the military for practical (and often deadly) application.  Such things rarely crossed the minds of these boys as they smoked their pipes and sat around the lounge, making alliances and plans to impress the officers who sat in on their classes.

            This sort of basic manipulation and elbow-rubbing was regarded as a necessary evil by Roy Mustang.  He never enjoyed it, and often kept to himself, cultivating his aloof image by throwing darts in the corner of the room.  Since it was a hobby he’d only picked up for stress relief since he’d joined the academy, he was proud of his proficiency.  Already there were very few alchemists who could beat him when they were bored enough to make idle challenges.

            It was a younger, more inexperienced alchemist who had latched on to Roy in hopes of making friends with the others (already a grave oversight and a sign to them that he would never make it far in the ranks) that hinted to Roy that there was a formidable opponent to be had in a cocky young officer running what seemed to be a racket in the pub at night.  It wasn’t until one of the older officers, a few weeks from his second attempt at the State exam, declared informal war on the pub racket after losing fifty dollars in a bet that he had reason to face him.  Roy was quickly (though not unwillingly) dragged out to be the hero of the lounge group.  He was happy for the excuse to face the mysterious racket-owner, but wary and overly aware of how his casual grip of the game was likely to match up to someone skilled enough to scam the men out of their money at night.  It wasn’t long, though, before he formulated a plan that thrilled the alchemists. 

           

            A few days of heavy workloads had pushed the plan out of Roy’s mind for the time being until he found himself standing in the light of the pub peering curiously inside as he passed by on his way back from the library.  He’d been there many times before, but never for long.  It was a popular place to pick up the neighbourhood girls looking for a quick fling with a man in uniform (and some who were looking to find a husband that would become rich and powerful.  Roy had learned early on how to avoid them).  With a grin he realized that the research that had kept him in the library might actually have a practical application tonight.  When his peers had suggested cheating, they probably hadn’t guessed that his new pet project would be the key.  He’d had to put a lot of effort into not laughing at the younger man who had suggested he light the darts on fire as soon as they were thrown.  The point was not to get caught and to put the hustler in his place, improving his reputation a little in the process.

            Putting his hand in his pocket, he felt for the familiar piece of paper he always kept there.  He wasn’t sure what purpose it would ever serve for him in an emergency, since the arrays drawn on it were rarely practical, but being able to do alchemy at a moment’s notice was comforting.  And, after all, his newest array for adjusting the concentrations of certain elements in the air might just be what he needed tonight.  He straightened his jacket and walked into the smoky air of the pub.  The atmosphere was immediately different, full of loud laughing men gathered around pool tables and on questionably stable chairs, their form of relaxation the total, unpretentious and unabashed opposite of the men Roy was used to.  He found it strangely welcoming, and before joining the small crowd in the back gathered around the dart board stopped at the bar for a pint of beer, intending to fit in at least a little.

            He took a spot somewhat behind the general crowd watching the game.  Their occasional shouts in reaction to the throws passed him by completely.  As someone who had picked up the game in the common room as a matter of boredom, he had no idea of the finer points of how the players interacted with the game.  Not that leaning against the wall nursing a beer didn’t already peg him as an outsider.  A quick look around told him that the hustler was likely the tall man in glasses and a black shirt sitting on the edge of a table near the dart board.  He seemed to alternate his attention between the game and the group of people around him, presumably discussing bets as money was passed between them.  The man in glasses never touched any of the money himself, though, and Roy was certain that, every once in a while, the man was actually watching him rather than the man he seemed to be talking to.  Roy did not want his attention before he’d had a chance to test his idea, however, so using a refill as an excuse to scurry away, he returned with his second drink and carefully positioned himself behind the largest man in the crowd with just enough room to see the board on the wall.  At this point it didn’t matter which of the random men were playing, only one of them was his concern.  And, after all, most alchemists acknowledged that these lower-level members of the academy weren’t worth worrying about.  These men, short of some uncanny amount of brilliance, would have to work for years to even make it to the rank of Major, let alone surpass anyone of their own age among the alchemists.  They’d always be subordinates, nothing more.

            He switched his drink to his left hand and put his right hand back into his pocket, watching the darts as they flew past into the board.  Experimentally he tried adjusting the currents of air around the dart board, making a thin pocket in the air a few inches in front of the board, hoping it was enough to drop the darts down off course.  From this angle, however, it was impossible to tell if the changes were having an effect.  It was impossible, he also realized, to tell where the darts would have ended up had it not interfered.  He had no idea of how good most of these people were.  The easiest solution to this, as far as he was concerned, however, was to interfere more.  Moving his fingers to a slightly different array he’d conceived for fun, he tried heating the air around the dart as it flew.  This caused it to take a pleasant dip in its flight as the air around it became lighter, supporting its flight less.  A little obvious to anyone watching closely enough, but it would work.  He theorized that, from the right angle, he might even be able to steer the dart.  The only disadvantage was that, starting with the air touching the array in his pocket, every bit of air on the way to the dart had to be heated, including that in his pocket.  He hoped it wouldn’t somehow be obvious to anyone watching once he had to face the racketeer.  Satisfied that he’d had all the practice he needed, he folded his arms across his chest and moved over slightly to get a better look at who was playing.  It was still a match between two men that Roy didn’t recognize, one of which seemed somewhat bewildered that a few of his darts had fallen to the bottom of the board rather than where he’d aimed.

            He jumped as someone’s hand came down on his shoulder, turning him around from the game and bringing him face-to-face with the man in glasses.  He hadn’t noticed that he’d left the table.

            “Yo!” he said, invading Roy’s personal space and grinning whether he was oblivious to the fact or not.  He would have backed up had he not remembered that he would have run right into the giant man he’d been hiding behind.  (That, and it would have looked cowardly.  He chided himself that losing face in this situation wasn’t first in his mind.)  “Roy Mustang, I presume?”

            “Yes,” Roy said straight-faced, offering his hand.  The man took it enthusiastically, shaking it only briefly before wrapping his arm around Roy and leading him around the crowd to the table where he’d been sitting earlier.  He waved aside a few men busy taking bets, and Roy ignored that they were occasionally pointing to him.

            “Honestly, I was expecting you a bit sooner.  Didn’t your guys declare war on me a few days ago?  You haven’t been hiding from me, have you?” he joked.

            Roy stifled a derisive snort. 

“No.”

            “No, of course not,” the man laughed.  “You lot are always busy in the library.  I’m lucky, for now I can brush up on my work in here.”

            “Does your work ever include introducing yourself properly?”

            “Oh!  Of course,” he continued unabashedly, his enthusiasm only wavering for a moment.  “I’m sorry, I forgot you’re not a regular around here.  The name’s Maes Hughes, though no one ever uses my first name.  They didn’t let you know who you were going to war against?”

            Some tiny fragment of loyalty kept him from answering the question, though Hughes continued without him.

            “So, Roy Mustang, are you going to put an end to my tyranny over the dart board tonight?” Hughes said, grinning as he leaned against the table.  “I hope you’ve been practicing.  Frankton was bragging left and right that he was the best you alchemists had up there.”

            Finally, a small spark of loyalty to his peers spurred Roy to speak.

            “Is that why you swindled him out of fifty dollars?”

            “As far as I’m concerned he deserved it.  You don’t make claims like that if you can’t back them up.”  Hughes shrugged.  “He could afford it, anyway.  You lot are rich, but you don’t have any common sense.  It’s probably why you’re alchemists.”

            Roy glared at Hughes, but his casual, amused grin was too disarming for him to do anything more.  He looked instead over towards the dart board where a couple of men were making payments on the bets as the two men gathered their darts.

            “Can’t really argue with that, can you?” he grinned and grabbed two sets of darts from the table, then corralled Roy into the centre of the crowd of people surrounding the dart board. 

            “Gentlemen!” he began, wrapping an arm around Roy and pulling him awkwardly close.  Roy did nothing to hide his annoyance, glaring forward at the dartboard.  Now in the way of all the attention that had been focused on Roy, however, Hughes began laying down the rules of the game.  Once he had everyone’s attention to himself, Hughes stepped away from Roy under the pretence of finding out the final odds, giving him a clear view of no small number of unfriendly stares from some of the men.  He turned his attention back to the dart board, judging the angles and weighing the three darts in his hand while taking in the house rules as Hughes laid them out.  They didn’t sound all that different from those that Roy had learned, until the final stipulation caused the crowd around them to burst into laughter.  Hughes couldn’t help grinning when Roy turned to him like a deer caught in the headlights.

            “What was that?”

            “House rules, my friend,” he said.  The grin was bordering on evil.  “One gercha.  Don’t ask me to demonstrate.”

“Right…”  Roy studied his grin, trying to figure out if he was planning to take advantage of his loophole, or if he just enjoyed watching him looking uncomfortable.

“The game’s cricket.  You know I’d lose the toss on purpose, so we’ll skip it and you can just take first throw.”

            Not sure what to make of his flippant attitude, though certain he didn’t like what seemed to be some sort of blatant overconfidence, Roy turned to the dartboard and took aim.

            Their strategies matched nearly move-for move, and soon Roy was forced to stand with his hands in his pockets between shots.  After the first leg, they were as good as tied, and Roy had a feeling he was being played with.  Wrong assumptions could go both ways, though, and he relished the thought as he retrieved the darts from the board, resolving to give the game a bit more of an entertaining push next round.

            Halfway through the second round he had inched ahead, and it took every ounce of self-control he had to avoid building up extra points every time he noticed Hughes smirking at him.  It had to be a way to unnerve him; he kept watching him out of the corner of his eye, he could feel it, but every time he turned his eyes to Hughes, the man was smirking at the dart board.  As he interfered with his shots more and more often, Roy became certain that Hughes was even compensating for the differences.  But that was crazy, he assured himself.  No one would be able to notice the minute changes that pushed the darts off course.  A normal person would just think he was having an off night.  Hughes’ strange reaction to it was his own problem.  What mattered was that he walked away from this the winner and returned to the lounge the next day as the victor.  Hopefully with only one black eye and no missing teeth, judging by the group of men who’d gathered uncomfortably close to the board to glare and jeer at him every time one of his shots missed its mark.

            The game remained close to the very end, as the two tried to close their last sections.  Roy was certain that Hughes was getting more accurate against his interference, so he redoubled his efforts, ignoring the fact that the air passing over his hand between the array and the dart in the air was often getting uncomfortably hot.  He wasn’t prepared to admit to himself, though, that the heckling from some of the onlookers was interfering with his concentration and control. 

            In the end, it came down to the last throw.  Roy’s final throw was only a single, and he blamed the fact on the inopportune and fake (he was certain) cough by one of the men behind him.  All Hughes would need to win would be a double bulls-eye, and, at this point, Roy was sure he’d hit it no matter how much he interfered.  It was hard to deny that the man was good, and he was also unnerving.  If he didn’t interfere, he might throw it normally and nail the bull’s eye.  Roy had the feeling that he’d be able to read whichever decision he made.  Which left him only a final and extreme try for interference.  Even if it caught him on fire.  This time, as Roy watched Hughes out of the corner of his eye as he threw his final dart his expression remained serious.  As soon as the dart was out of his hand, Roy followed its flight carefully, and as it neared the board he concentrated as much energy as he could into the array.  The dart seemed to waver for a moment in midair, then struck the metal and fell to the floor.  Roy blamed the faint smell of something burning on the bar’s atmosphere, but the curious looks from the small crowd made him more than a little nervous.  Maybe he’s underestimated them a little and been just a tiny bit too obvious.  He nearly jumped when a hand landed on his back.

            “Good game,” Hughes said, his usual grin back on his face.  “About time someone beat me.”

            He offered his hand, and without thinking Roy shook it, then winced when he saw Hughes’ grin turn into a rather amused smirk.  He turned his attention to the small group of men who were slowly inching their way towards the dart board. 

            “We’ll collect our own darts, gentlemen,” he said, waving for them to move out of the way.

            “But he was…” the tallest of the three bent over and reached toward the dart that had fallen to the ground while the other two glared.  Roy paled.  Before he could reach it, though, a knife appeared lodged in the wall a few inches from his head. 

            “Baseless assumptions,” Hughes said, clicking his tongue against his teeth disapprovingly.  “I know when I’ve lost.”

            He glared half-heartedly.  “He was using –”

            “Says the man who believes in the thirteenth warehouse, Richards.  Can you prove it?” 

Richards shook his head, looking doubtful. 

“Then no point in pushing the issue.  You can’t cheat at darts,” Hughes concluded, waving them aside again with an amused look.  “Always paranoid, those three.”

            With that, the group of men turned away, presumably to collect on the bets.  There were already a few men, a few too many drinks in them for this early in the night, that were making a point of flaunting their winnings, having bet on the underdog.  Hughes guided Roy towards the board and began picking up the darts.  Roy kneeled on the ground and picked up the dart that had fallen, turning it over in his hand as he stood again. 

            “Don’t admire your work too long, they’ll get suspicious,” Hughes said, just barely audible over the bar noise, not turning his attention from the board as he pulled the last of the darts out.

            Roy handed it to Hughes without another word.

            “Well, Roy Mustang,” Hughes began, this time loud enough for the rest of the men in the bar to hear.  “Your coup was successful.  Can I buy you a drink?”

            A few men laughed as Roy followed Hughes to the bar itself, and someone actually slapped him on the back, laughing harder when he flinched, still aware of the few who watched him with unfriendly eyes.  When he reached the bar, Hughes already had two pints in hand, and he nodded towards a dark booth in the corner not far from where the battle of darts had taken place.  Already most of the crowd had receded, gathering into small groups for games of billiards and disorganized card games, leaving only a few to play darts.  The one Roy had nearly toasted was subtly missing, replaced by one that was a few shades darker, newer. 

            After they sat down, Hughes watched Roy as he took in the rest of the bar, waiting for him to begin the conversation himself.  He was about to give in and push the man for information himself when Roy finally turned his attention from the bar and nursing his beer to Hughes.

            “You’ve got good aim,” he said grudgingly.  “Are you training to be a sniper?”

            Hughes laughed and raised an eyebrow at him, and under his gaze Roy felt like he had something embarrassing stuck to his face.

            “Me?  A sniper?”  He tapped the side of his glasses with his index finger.  “You must be a bit more liberal than the guys up top.  I don’t think they’ll ever realize you don’t need perfect vision to be accurate.  Their loss, though.” 

            Roy paused a moment, finally seeming to notice Hughes as an actual person, not just someone he needed to beat.  He wondered how he’d overlooked the glasses.  They made him look a lot more intelligent than he usually gave most of the non-alchemist recruits credit for. 

            “Then what are you in for?” Roy asked, only pausing to question his wording of the question after it was past his lips.  It was usually only the others that saw the academy as a sort of prison.  Then again, none of these men were pampered the way the alchemists were.  He’d hardly had to hold a gun more than once after safety training.  These men were on the practice fields with live ammunition weekly.

            “I’m dabbling,” he grinned again when Roy tilted his head inquisitively.  “Intelligence, if you couldn’t guess.”

            “You’re obnoxious enough for it,” Roy said, regretting the words immediately.  He could be a smartass when he outranked the man and wasn’t in his territory, not before.  He glanced at the beer as if he could blame it on that.

            “Oh?  I’ll take that as a compliment, then, coming from someone who’s figured out a way to cheat at darts.”

            “You knew?”

            “I’m not stupid,” Hughes said.

            “Then why didn’t you call me out for it?” Roy asked, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

            “If I called you out, someone here would take it upon himself to beat the crap out of you,” Hughes laughed.  “Maybe I’d rather do that myself?”

            With a flick of his wrist, he produced a pack of matches, seemingly from nowhere.  The action immediately connected in Roy’s mind with the knife that had appeared in the wall earlier, and he flinched involuntarily.  Hughes grinned.

            “You smoke?” he asked, flipping the cover of the book of matches.

            Roy shook his head.

            “No.”

            “Me neither,” he said.  “I just keep my lungs just dirty enough to be able to smoke when I need to.”

            Hughes set the pack of matches down on the table.

            “I was getting tired of the racket anyway.  I can’t let myself get predictable yet, people’ll be expecting me to scam them forever.  There’s more I can learn now by watching how everyone reacts to this.”  He paused for a moment, studying Roy.  “How’d you do it?”

            Roy shrugged.

            “Alchemy.”

            “I already said I’m not stupid.  There’s not much use for a specialization in air alchemy, is there?”

            “How do you know?”

            “It’s the most subtle way to interfere with a dart.  And I don’t think you were running a fever only in your right hand.”

            “It’s not common for an alchemist to share his research with outsiders…”

            “Out with it, Roy Mustang, or I throw you to the wolves,” Hughes said with a just hint of a grin, making Roy unsure of how much he was joking.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper with his array on it.  Pushing his glasses up on his nose, Hughes leaned over the table and peered down at it.

“Well?” Roy asked, after Hughes had scrutinized it for a good thirty seconds.

“Well what?”

“Do you see how it works?”

Hughes hesitated, this time the one looking caught, not wanting to admit his ignorance.

“Well, it’s fairly simple, isn’t it?” he said, hoping to sound informed by being vague.

“It is, yes.  But obviously it does its job.”

“And what do you plan on doing with this?  You can’t redirect bullets.”

“Actually I could,” Roy said, a smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“Oh?”

“Of course, the force would throw me across the battlefield.”

Hughes raised an eyebrow.

“Conservation of momentum,” Roy explained. 

“Equal and opposite reaction… I see.”

He grinned at the reference.  Perhaps some of these men weren’t so stupid after all.  He found himself slowly finding this intelligence officer somewhat endearing.

“You’re smart, why aren’t you studying alchemy?”

“Honestly?  I haven’t the slightest interest in it.  Not everyone who’s smart is smart in math and science.  I much prefer people.”

“At least the elements stay the same.  They make sense.  People don’t.”

“Not always.  It makes them more of a challenge.”  Hughes looked over at the pack of matches.  “And you can’t tell me everything about alchemy makes sense,” he said, pulling a match from the book and striking it on the back.  “You can’t tell me someone could predict every time how this match is going to burn.”

Roy considered the challenge for a moment before responding.

“Maybe not exactly.  There are hundreds of things affecting the match each time – humidity, the balance of the gases in the air, air currents… but I can tell you that, unless the match is wet or not a match at all, it will burn.”

Hughes grinned, shaking the match to extinguish it as it burned down close to his fingers.  It didn’t go out and he gave it a confused look and dropped it to the table.  Before it hit the surface though, the flame grew and the rest of the match disappeared in a poof of ash.  He turned to Roy, who moved his fingers from the edge of the array, smirking.

“You didn’t see that coming?” he asked, not masking his triumphant air.  “Oxygen’s highly inflammable.”

“I’ve only known you an hour.  I’ll know next time,” Hughes laughed, looking down at the array again.  “Parlour trick?”

“I can’t say I haven’t singed the boots of a few people who sat too close to the fireplace in the lounge,” Roy said.

“That’s all the fun you have up there?”  Hughes laughed again.  “You deserve your reputation as a bunch of starch-shirted wusses.”

“So all people are essentially predictable?”

            “If you get to know them well enough.  You see that guy over there?” Hughes continued, pointing to a tall man holding a pool cue, eyeing his next shot.  “My number one opposition down here.  He’s been waiting for someone to beat me for weeks now.  You made him over a hundred dollars tonight.  Notice he’s one of the few keeping quiet about it, but he’s very happy with you.  The guys he’s playing with are close with him, and though the one on the left secretly bet for me, any one of them’d be happy to help you out of a jam right now.  It’s an amusing thing, loyalty.  They like you because you haven’t been loud about this.  You’ve got to watch out for the ones like Jack over there, though.  They’re the frontrunners.  If you picked up where I left off, they wouldn’t bat an eye if I came back and beat you out a few days later.”

            “You’ve figured all of this out just by watching them?”

            “I’ve been talking to them, too.  You’d be surprised the sort of stories they have to tell.  Not that I’ve known of any alchemists that’ve asked, even when they’re put under their command.”

            “What gives you that idea?” Roy asked, credulously, slightly offended at the constantly slights Hughes made against the alchemists.

            “Look.  How often have you been down here?”

            “Once a week?”

            Hughes pointed towards the bar.

            “What’s the bartender’s name?”

            “I don’t know,” Roy said.  “That matters?”

            “How long do you usually stay here?  Long enough to pick up a girl, right?”

            “Well…”

            “I’ve seen you before, if you’re thinking of denying it.”

            “I wasn’t.”

            “That’s as close as any of you get to mingling with us, unless one of you gets it in his head that he’s exceptionally amazing and deserves to swindle us out of some cash.  And in that case,” he shrugged, “we’ve got to put him in his place.  You can tell them by the way they carry themselves.  They’re too sheltered to know to hide it.  You, you’ve already got a leg up on them.  If Frankton had beat me out, even fairly, he’d have been out of here with his winnings in a second, bragging to the rest of you first chance he’d got.  You may not have noticed it, but there are already some men here that hate you a lot less because of that.  You’ve got them curious.”

            “You’ve given this a lot of thought,” Roy said, giving Hughes a curious look.  It was odd to see someone putting this much thought into something that wasn’t alchemy.

            “Here.  How about this?  I’m a curious person.  You’re going to have some of these men under your command in a few months, right?  And, knowing you alchemists, your goal’s to climb the ranks.  I’ll tell you now, that’s going to be much easier with a loyal crew, and as a bonus, you’ll annoy your peers by knowing something they don’t.  Of course, they won’t realize this until they’re all out of the academy and they’ll probably spend most of the intervening time making fun of you for lowering yourself to our level, but that’ll be nothing new for you.”

            “Hey, you make it sound like I’m some sort of social reject,” Roy said defensively.
            “You are,” Hughes said, smirking.

            “I was coming back from the library.”

            “That’s not a sign?  You didn’t even bring a second.  No one from your side was here to cheer you on.”

            “It was unplanned.”

            “The guys who came into the bar to pick up women didn’t stay to watch, did they?”

            “We have an exam tomorrow.”

            “Ah, and you’re the only one that can get away with not studying for it.  I have connections, Roy Mustang,” Hughes barrelled on.  “You’ve already got a reputation for being a womanizer and being lazy, yet you’re near the head of your class in alchemy.  Your peers already dislike you for that, you might as well give yourself an advantage and make their lives more difficult.”

            “Is this how you make friends, Maes Hughes?  By insulting them?”

            “Ah, avoiding the issue at hand.  That means I’m right,” he said with a victorious grin.

            “Light another match, see if I don’t catch you on fire.”



(cross-posted to fm_alchemist and fma_gen)
 
 
Current Mood: nervousnervous
Current Music: Arcade Fire - Wake Up
 
 
Is This Thing On?: crackbrothers academycrack_alchemist on November 24th, 2005 09:42 pm (UTC)
oh, i truly like this story; the premise, the interaction between them seems right on the mark. and, of course, i have this thing for those two in their academy days XD! thanks for sharing this!
EvilHippo of the Clan MacHippo: 10 [wee]evilhippo on November 24th, 2005 10:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you! ^_^ It's been so long since I've written anything, I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to write the two of them together. (And oh, the trouble they could've gotten into in the academy. It's probably a good thing I don't usually think about that.)
Is This Thing On?crack_alchemist on November 24th, 2005 11:06 pm (UTC)
i know. unfortunately i'm currently my muses are currently obsessed with the good old days. XD