[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.
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.
few days of heavy workloads had pushed the plan out of
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
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
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
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.
he said, invading
“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.
“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.”
a small spark of loyalty to his peers spurred
“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.”
really argue with that, can you?” he grinned and grabbed two sets of darts from
the table, then corralled
he began, wrapping an arm around
“What was that?”
“House rules, my friend,” he said. The grin was bordering on evil. “One gercha. Don’t ask me to demonstrate.”
“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.”
sure what to make of his flippant attitude, though certain he didn’t like what
seemed to be some sort of blatant overconfidence,
strategies matched nearly move-for move, and soon
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,
game remained close to the very end, as the two tried to close their last
the end, it came down to the last throw.
“Good game,” Hughes said, his usual grin back on his face. “About time someone beat me.”
offered his hand, and without thinking
“We’ll collect our own darts, gentlemen,” he said, waving for them to move out of the way.
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.
“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.”
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
“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.
“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?”
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.
they sat down, Hughes watched
“You’ve got good aim,” he said grudgingly. “Are you training to be a sniper?”
laughed and raised an eyebrow at him, and under his gaze
“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.”
what are you in for?”
dabbling,” he grinned again when
obnoxious enough for it,”
“Oh? I’ll take that as a compliment, then, coming from someone who’s figured out a way to cheat at darts.”
“I’m not stupid,” Hughes said.
why didn’t you call me out for it?”
“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?”
a flick of his wrist, he produced a pack of matches, seemingly from nowhere. The action immediately connected in
“You smoke?” he asked, flipping the cover of the book of matches.
“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.
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
“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…”
with it, Roy Mustang, or I throw you to the wolves,” Hughes said with a just
hint of a grin, making
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.
“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.”
“Of course, the force would throw me across the battlefield.”
Hughes raised an eyebrow.
“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.”
“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
“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.”
gives you that idea?”
“Look. How often have you been down here?”
“Once a week?”
Hughes pointed towards the bar.
“What’s the bartender’s name?”
“How long do you usually stay here? Long enough to pick up a girl, right?”
“I’ve seen you before, if you’re thinking of denying it.”
“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.”
given this a lot of thought,”
“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.”
you make it sound like I’m some sort of social reject,”
“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)