Word Count: ~ 2200
Summary: The military’s newest State Alchemist is a genius. And a prodigy. And a brat.
Notes: First in the Courage So Rare series.
Courage So Rare is an AU of the 2003 series, with some elements of Brotherhood. Infinite thanks to seryan and akainagi for enabling, lengthy discussions and beta work, and enthusiastic interest and encouragement, respectively. :)
Knowledge In Pursuit
“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
When Colonel Hughes sailed into the Investigations Office that morning, he was full of effusive cheer, bestowing beaming smiles and bright greetings to everyone as he made his way into his office. His staff knew better than to accept his upbeat demeanour without question, however, and there were no few suspicious glances darted at his back as he meandered his way through the outer office. Their misgivings were confirmed when he brought himself up short before entering his office with the air of someone who’d abruptly remembered something.
“We’re receiving guests today so everyone be on your best behaviour!” he instructed, rapping his knuckles on the edge of Roy’s desk. “Especially you, Major Mustang. The Promise Life Alchemist will be making her rounds today with her newest recruit.”
Well, that explained the angry glitter of Hughes’ eyes behind his glasses. Maes’ daughter was only a few months old and he had strong opinions about kids these days. Reinhold’s latest prodigy had been a sore spot since word of him had crossed Hughes’ desk. Not that Roy was terribly impressed with what he’d heard, either.
“Of course, Colonel,” he replied aloud, drawing himself up out of his casual slouch into a properly respectful posture. “We’d never embarrass you by being at anything less than our best.”
That won him an amused snort and an easing of the sharp edges of Hughes’ smile. “I have complete faith in you all,” Hughes assured him dryly.
As he should. Roy would be the last person who’d willingly cause trouble for Maes. Not after everything the man had done for him over the years. Not even if it meant playing nice with Reinhold’s upstart of a protege.
Hughes’ warning had come not a moment too soon; footsteps in the hallway announced that their guests were here. The sound prompted a flurry of motion as the Investigations personnel hastily put the finishing touches on their appearance of a typical, hard-working military office. By the time the first knock sounded on their outer door, everyone was deeply immersed in their paperwork against a backdrop of Fuery’s quiet conversation with some distant operative.
“Miss Reinhold!” Hughes greeted as Falman ushered them in, “Welcome to Investigations. What can we do for you this morning?”
The Promise Life Alchemist favoured Hughes with a sweet smile and shook her head. “Don’t put yourselves out on our behalf,” she replied, putting her hand on the shoulder of the boy standing next to her. “I’m just giving Edward here the grand tour.”
Lucky Edward, treated to the niceties that so many other alchemists had been denied, Roy reflected cynically. Perhaps that’s what came of being Denise Reinhold’s latest “discovery”. The Promise Life Alchemist had the Fuhrer’s ear (opinion was sharply divided as to whether his regard was for her expertise in biological alchemy or for how she looked in her decidedly non-regulation suits) and any alchemist she sponsored was assured prominence and preferential treatment.
Being drafted into the military and pressed into service for the Ishval conflict hadn’t featured anywhere in Roy’s plans but he’d made the best of it. His alchemy had quickly distinguished him, and he’d easily made a reputation for himself, thankfully gathering enough influence to eventually collect Riza Hawkeye back to his side after he’d discovered his teacher’s daughter working as a sniper near the front lines. Being assigned to Hughes’ squad had proven just the advantage they’d all needed; they’d kept each other alive and won enough acclaim that they’d secured positions for themselves and their people after the dust of the war settled. That they’d finally found people worthy of trust in each other and the small group of subordinates they’d gathered, they kept to themselves. Roy and Maes had new plans now and taking care of their own was no small part of that.
But for all that Roy was far less of a glory hound than was generally believed, it had been all too easy to resent the much-touted Edward Elric. Roy may not have intended to pursue State Certification but there was a twisted sort of pride to having earned the military’s respect. To see it being handed over to a precocious child was grating. Edward was a genius, raved the rumours, even at the tender age of just twelve! Strong and determined enough to bear the strain of two automail limbs, despite his youth and the infamous pain associated with the prosthetics. Reinhold had openly claimed that he was one of the most gifted alchemists she’d ever seen and by all accounts he’d lived up to her words with the impressive means by which he’d gained his Certification just last week. Roy hadn’t been sure what to make of the stories making the rounds of Central after Edward’s test -- some of what was being said seemed outright impossible. Regardless of how he’d done it, the boy had earned his watch and his name.
None of that, however disconcerting, was what currently had Roy struggling to keep his expression calm and unruffled. Central had been alive with whispers of Reinhold’s new discovery for weeks now. The rumour mill had exploded after Edward’s Certification tests, half-hysterical claims that he could transmute without an array snaking their way through the network of alchemists stationed at HQ. But for all the stories circulating about him, for all the fuss being made over his youth, no one had mentioned the fact that the newly-titled Fullmetal Alchemist was such a tiny child.
He was striking, to be sure -- Roy had never seen the like of the boy’s eyes before -- but still just a child. He wore red like a challenge and the stubborn set of his mouth fairly shouted belligerence but nothing could disguise the childish contours of that face. Roy couldn’t quite stop the clench of sympathy that caught in his chest at the sight of him. Whatever kind of genius he was, twelve was far too young to be selling himself to the military, no matter what prize Reinhold had dangled before him.
Then again, Reinhold had never been known for having a terribly firm grasp on the finer points of morality versus practicality, Roy privately acknowledged as he stood to meet the newcomer. Probably another reason why she was one of the Fuhrer’s favourites. The boy was barely chest-high on her - what had she been thinking?
“Ah, yes,” Hughes acknowledged easily, and only someone who knew him as well as Roy did could have spotted the way that his pleasant smile had hardened at Reinhold’s proprietary clasp of Edward’s shoulder. “You’d be Edward Elric, then? Our new Fullmetal Alchemist?”
“Yeah, that’d be me,” Edward answered, chin tipping upward.
Something in Hughes’ expression softened at the obvious challenge Edward was levelling at him, and his smile warmed into something genuine. “I’m Colonel Maes Hughes, of Investigations. Nice to meet you, Edward.”
The pleasantry seemed to catch Edward off guard, unusual gold eyes widening at Hughes’ words. His initial hostility faltered as he shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably, flicking his eyes to the side as he mumbled something that might have passed for a civil greeting.
“Let me introduce you to my team,” Hughes began, sweeping a hand wide to indicate the rest of his staff.
“Actually, Colonel, we’re a bit pressed for time today,” Reinhold interrupted. “We’ll have to make time later for Edward to properly meet everyone.”
Reinhold was good, Roy privately acknowledged. But for the faint gleam in her eyes as she glanced over at Roy, you’d think she was actually apologizing for dismissing the majority of the people in the room.
“I was hoping to see that he gets a chance to meet his colleagues,” Reinhold continued, which was Roy’s cue to emerge from behind his desk to be presented.
To give Edward credit where credit was due, he seemed every bit as sharp as the stories had described. The arrays on Roy’s gloves had immediately caught his attention and Roy had seen the quick dart of his eyes as Edward checked for the watch at Roy’s belt. From the lopsided twist to his frown, Roy thought he might have even caught Reinhold’s subtle insult. That was a bit of a surprise; Roy would have thought that someone in Edward’s position would be inclined to believe in the superiority of alchemy and its practitioners. Well, well, well. Perhaps he wasn’t the pampered prodigy Roy had suspected.
Keeping his expression clear with the ease of long practice, Roy stepped forward and held out a hand. “I’m Major Roy Mustang. Hello, Edward.”
“The Flame Alchemist,” Reinhold added helpfully.
Edward ignored both of them and made no move to take Roy’s extended hand, though he did lean a bit closer to inspect the lines stitched on Roy’s glove. When he finally looked up, there was an openly insolent sneer on his face and Roy heaved a mental sigh. Apparently, he’d hoped too soon when he thought there might be something to this boy.
“I think I get why they call you the Flame Alchemist,” Edward said.
“Oh?” Roy prompted mildly, preparing to accept some slight to his array design, some criticism of his capabilities, or something similar in the vein of overconfident youth the world around. “And why do you think that is?”
“From what I can see, you’re full of nothing but hot air,” Edward shot back with a smirk.
Roy froze for a moment, fingers twitching as he fought the urge to swat the puffed-up little brat. The smothered snicker clearly audible in the startled silence of the office did nothing to improve his temper. The last of his sympathy for Elric evaporated, along with any lingering desire to practice politics. Hastily recovering his composure, he pulled on a smug smile of his own.
“I’m sure it must seem like that from your perspective,” he asserted smoothly, looking down his nose. “Perhaps when you’ve grown up a bit, you’ll be able to better appreciate how an adult works.”
He was delighted to see Elric flush crimson with outrage. “WHO ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL HE COULDN’T SEE OVER YOUR BOOTS?” he howled.
“Edward,” Reinhold snapped, breaking her own sweet-faced facade to glare at her spluttering protege.
Roy hadn’t expected her admonishment to have any effect -- quite frankly, he’d been looking forward to more fireworks -- but Elric surprised him by subsiding under Reinhold’s forbidding stare, however sullenly.
She put her arm back around him, visibly tightening her grip on his left shoulder as she gave Roy and Hughes a tight smile. “You’ll have to excuse him. Edward is young and the last few weeks have been overwhelming.”
A squeeze of her hand prompted Elric to mutter something vaguely conciliatory.
“And now we have to be off,” Reinhold said as she steered Elric out of the office. “Thank you for your time, Colonel, Major!”
As they passed through the doorway, Reinhold bent her head to whisper into Elric’s ear. Her voice was too low to be overheard but from the rigid set of Elric’s shoulders, Roy didn’t imagine her words were kind.
Hughes clapped his hands together as the door closed behind Reinhold and Elric. “Well!” he said brightly. “That was exciting.”
“Exciting isn’t the word I’d have chosen,” Roy retorted, temper still simmering. He wished Reinhold luck with Elric; from what he’d seen, they deserved each other. As far as Roy was concerned, no amount of alchemical genius was worth that attitude.
“It certainly shouldn’t have been exciting,” Hughes agreed. “In fact, I seem recall someone making promises about his best behaviour?” He tapped a finger thoughtfully against his chin as he squinted theatrically. “Now, who was that?”
“My behaviour was entirely appropriate to the situation,” Roy asserted. “That was a calculated response to a verbal assault.”
There was another strangled laugh from behind him and a sharp sideways glance caught Havoc hastily ducking behind a stack of paperwork. Roy would remember that, the next time one of Havoc’s girlfriends started flirting with him.
“So, it was a tactical temper tantrum?” Hughes suggested guilelessly.
Roy resisted the urge to scowl at him. “Nothing of the sort,” he insisted. “It was returning discourtesy for discourtesy. Call it fighting fire with fire.”
“Hot air feeds fire,” Hawkeye remarked blandly from her desk, without looking up from the forms she was busy completing.
“Not you too, Second Lieutenant?” Roy asked mournfully.
“Prove me wrong by attending to your work. Sir,” she responded evenly.
Well, at least no one was laughing at him this time, Roy reasoned as he slunk back to his desk. They were too busy pretending to be hard at work. Having the most intimidating lieutenant in the service as your second was occasionally useful. Even Hughes had purposefully retreated into his office, though not before Roy caught the unhappy quirk of his lips as he looked back at the door through which Reinhold and Elric had departed.
Let Hughes worry about the brat if he wanted, Roy decided as he took his seat again. Fatherhood had clearly rotted the man’s brain if Hughes thought Elric was worth the time or trouble. Roy had more pressing concerns, including a pile of papers that really should have been signed yesterday and about which Hawkeye was going to be very irritated. That was as many problems as a man needed. Too young for military life or not, Elric wasn’t Roy’s concern. In fact, Roy would be just as happy if he never had to contend with the obnoxious little hellion ever again.
Good luck and good riddance, Edward Elric, Roy silently wished him as he resolutely focused on the forms spread across his desk. And may it be a long time until we meet again.
The Masterpost for the Courage So Rare series, on my journal.