Seven interconnected ficlets on Roy Mustang, framed around a passing conversation as he prepares to try for the position of State Alchemist. (Episode 25 spoilers)
"Of the Plannets ben begonne,
The Gold is titled to the Sonne:
The Moone of Silver hath hi part,
And Iron that stonde uppon Mart:
The Leed after Saturne groweth,
And Jupiter the Brasse bestoweth;
The Copper sette is to Venus:
And to his part Mercurius
Hath the Quicksilver." -- John Gower, "Concerning the Philosophers Stone"
Roy remembered sitting down to the written test to become a State Alchemist. The man seated next to him -- much older, and with a drawn look about him -- gave him a wan smile as he sat down. Roy had resisted the temptation for a last-minute all-night study session, but it looked like this one hadn't managed that. "Ever hear the one about the lazy alchemist?" the other man asked.
"No." Roy said.
"Slept through all but the first week of his lectures, and ended up thinking there were still only four elements and seven metals."
It wasn't that great of a joke, but you couldn't expect much before such an important test. Roy laughed anyway.
"So, Flame Alchemist? Does the military give everyone cute nicknames like that?"
Roy thought he had remembered what it was like to be young and cocky -- to hear some of his superiors talk, he still was young and cocky -- but he had to wonder if Edward Elric was taking it a bit far. Twelve year old boys -- even ones that were going on thirty in life experience -- shouldn't radiate a presence that some generals didn't have.
"It's custom. We State Alchemists don't classify well, so the military gives us titles, so field commanders know what they are getting, Fullmetal." He was seated at his desk, and Edward was standing in front of it, arms crossed, and taking up more space than someone with his stature should.
"So, you work with fire. You've got to do something a bit more than start fires -- a lighter can do that." He was looking past Roy now, and Roy wondered if he should give him a hint, or even a small demonstration. "So maybe you manipulate it. How would you do that?" Edward was mumbling now, and only the quiet of the office let Roy catch what he was saying. Edward's gold eyes were half-lidded as he worked it out. "Fire needs fuel and oxygen to burn. You could get fuel from the carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air. It's just reversing the normal burning of hydrocarbons. Is that what you do?"
He knew the kid was bright -- stupid people couldn't transmute souls, even when not bleeding to death from missing limbs -- but here it was again. Not that the basic idea was that complicated, but it was more the way Edward had approached the suggestion -- logically laying things out, then burning away the dead-ends. He'd love to see how he handled a tough problem.
It had rained that afternoon, but the clouds cleared up near sunset, and a crescent moon shone over the still-damp city, tracing the contours of dark buildings in silver. It rained a lot here in the fall, which irritated him. The fact that it had decided to start today just as he was far enough away from his house to make going back for his umbrella impractical just made things worse.
"Sir? Are you still here?" Lieutenant Hawkeye paused at the door to his office. She was wearing a dark coat over her uniform, and had an umbrella in her hand. "And working?" She sounded surprised, and he was a bit hurt. Honestly, he didn't spend as much time as most people thought avoiding his paperwork. After all, if he was on the fast track to promotion, that meant he had to at least do some of the paperwork. Unfortunately.
"Just some alchemist business. I'll be finished shortly. Good night, Lieutenant."
"Good night, Colonel."
After she left, he continued to stare at the circles and lines and mathematical equations. It was no good. None of the transmutations would have the staying power of a good umbrella in keeping the rain off his gloves. Not without creating a bubble of disassociated hydrogen and oxygen around himself -- a bad idea when working with fire. He was going to have to rely on Hawkeye's umbrella, or suffer the feeling of uselessness when it rained.
He did so hate the rain.
Roy had considered becoming a vegetarian after Ishabl, when he found out that the smell of cooking meat could nearly make him sick when he got back. It was mostly the smell -- these wasn't much of a distinction in species when it came to cooking flesh. It didn't help that one of his first attempts of cooking after returning to civilization and the luxury of non-ration food, had suffered when he had gotten distracted and filled his kitchen full of smoke. He cracked open the windows, fanning the smoke out with his bare hands. He could use alchemy, yes -- his gloves were in his apartment, and he still could draw circles -- bit it seemed almost profane to use it to get rid of smoke. Disrespectful to the dead, and the blood shed to the east.
He wasn't sure who noticed he was living on cheese sandwiches and coffee. Maybe Hawkeye caught on, or maybe it was Maes. Either way, he discovered a few pots full of leftovers on his desk.
Considering how poorly some of his friends cooked, that was a bit of an incentive to get back on the horse.
He had wanted to get back to East Headquarters as soon as possible after the funeral. He felt like his uniform was weighted down with lead, and he needed to move -- to find out what Maes had found out that was so important that someone needed to kill him for it, to make and unmake plans to protect his people, and to get away with a city that seemed duller and grayer than it had been when he was last here.
But, Gracia had asked him back to the Hughes house to pick up a few personal effects. He accepted them with little comment, unsure of what to say to his best friend's wife, now widow. It was a brief, stilted event, mostly noted for the heavy air of what wasn't said. 'I'm sorry that my desire to protect everyone didn't protect your husband.'
He didn't open the package until he was on the train, late at night. Hawkeye was dozing next to him, and there was no one else in the car. It was an album. He -- along with everyone in the military -- had known about Maes's photography. But he hadn't known of these pictures -- candid shots of his coworkers and friends.
The last picture was dated to be shortly after the Ishbal war. He looked at it, and noticed the tired look of a slightly younger version of himself, just off the battle field. Still, there was a look of determination in his eyes. Next to it, in Maes neat handwriting in smudged graphite was a bit in one of the old, dead languages. 'To the stars, despite hardships. Good luck, Fuhrer Mustang.'
He watched the troops line up in formation as the Fuhrer made his inspection, like painted tin soldiers in lines placed by an anal-retentive four year old. The normal activities of headquarters had ground to a halt as soon as their beloved -- said in his mind in a tone he would never use in public -- leader looked them over, accompanied by General Grumman.
So, this is how the brass looks on their soldiers. There was a joke in that -- something about tin being a pure element and brass being an alloy. Make it bronze, and you could say that officers are just soldiers with something else added. It was something he didn't want to forget -- that each of those men and women lined up right now was the same flesh and blood as he was -- even if he became Fuhrer himself, he was still one of these little tin soldiers, even if that little tin soldier had a brassy crown.
Customs died slowly. Religion, such as it was, only existed in Amestris in the immigrant and refugee communities -- more of the latter than the former, given the current political situation. Still, elements of it stuck on. Roy never figured out why marriage celebrations were usually held outside. It was just one of those things, like the flowers, and the green of a bridal dress, that hung on.
It was a pain, that's what it was. Since the war ended, it seemed like every couple in the country was suddenly in the mood to marry and start raising a family. The number of young lovers new mothers pushing prams that he noticed on the walk to work was steadily increasing. Roy made a few cynical comments about reminders of mortality to Maes once, and got a shrug and a quick segue into Maes's new favorite topic -- his fiancÃ©, Gracia.
Somehow, Maes had managed to book a spot for the party -- he had to wait until the fall, and near sunset. Things were going to be a bit chilly before things wrapped up. It was a beautiful setting, though, he had to admit. The leaves were beginning to change colors, and the trees that formed a backdrop to the party were lit up by the late-afternoon sun in shades of gold and copper.
"I hear a car approaching," he said to no one in particular.
Roy stepped behind the tables where enough food to feed the population of Central -- or possibly the party guests, which looked to be about as numerous -- was laid out. He had been busy during the entire setup preparing this. Maes had pulled him aside a couple of weeks ago, and asked him for a favor. 'You're my best friend, and one of the best alchemists I know,' Maes had said. 'Can you help out?'
He had drawn the circles, and, since the humidity was low today, brought a few buckets of water to be sure. He already needed to bring limestone anyway. It was a pretty simple transmutation -- the trick was getting the lift he needed for the water once it was transmuted.
He heard the band start up. That was his cue. He touched the circle with a hand, activating it, and heard the whump of several gallons of water turning to a fine spray of mist. At first he thought the planned updraft he had created -- carbon dioxide from the calcium carbonate in the limestone -- hadn't worked, but he felt his hair rise and the air get drier as the water rose above his head. He heard a gasp from the party goers as the setting sun caught the water droplets, producing the rainbow he had planned.
Maes pulled him aside later. "Thanks, Roy. Gracia loved it."
"No problem. It was fun." And it had been. For all the silliness of making a temporary rainbow, it had been refreshing to use alchemy for something that wasn't part of his job as the military's attack dog.
"I'll remember the favor. If you need something whenever you get married, just ask."
Roy was going to reply to that, but Maes managed to head off for another dance with his bride.
It was a hot day in a hot summer. Most of the wealthier citizens in the city had fled until the mercury sunk back down in the thermometers. Those that didn't made do the best they could -- they avoided the days, where the buildings felt like they were covered with the shiny, liquid glare of sunlight.
Roy Mustang hated the heat. Most of the military did -- at least, those that remembered Ishbal. Maybe that was why the simple cooling strategies he came up with -- like 'forgetting' his uniform jacket in his closet -- that also happened to bend regulations a bit made him feel a bit better. It could just be going to work in shirtsleeves though.
There was a crowd gathered in the breakroom when he arrived. The tables were pushed against the walls, and the chairs stacked up, clearing the center of the room for some unknown project -- whatever everyone was gathered around. There was also the smell of gasoline and machine oil in the still air, which made the hair on the back of Roy's neck stand on end. While his office had a window, this room didn't -- and a gasoline fume-filled room on a hot day was asking for trouble. "What's going on here?"
"Colonel!" Jean Havoc jumped a bit, giving Roy a chance to see what everyone was watching. It looked like the gutted remains of a truck had been spread out in the center of the floor. Kain Fuery sat in the center, looking uncharacteristically unkempt as he bent over whatever it was they were working on. Vato Farman was seated next to him in a chair, a book in one hand. He saw them both jump to their feet at Havoc's outburst, Fuery nearly bumping his head on a piece of the engine.
"What in blazes are you doing?" Roy asked.
"Well, sir, Lieutenant Breda found out one of the newer refrigerated trucks got into an accident, and was scrapped. He and I thought we could fix up the refrigerator and use it to keep the breakroom cool," Havoc said.
"Do any of you even have an idea what you are doing?"
"Well, Fuery knows something about fixing radios, and Farman knew where to get a manual..."
"Clear this out of there -- you can leave it behind the building for someone to take care of. We don't have the ventilation to run an engine in here, and I don't want any of you blowing out a fuse trying to power this by the building's electricity." It was a clever idea, and he really hated to disappoint everyone, but he knew what gasoline and a broken engine could do to a room. It was basic chemistry. He had already tucked his gloves into his pockets -- spark cloth and gasoline were a bad combination outdoors. No sense tempting fate.
He spotted the engine as he left that night, gleaming in the sunset. He studied it for a moment -- it really wasn't in bad shape. He removed a small package from his pocket and unwrapped a piece of chalk.
If his men noticed that some of the back rooms of the building were cooler, they never said anything to him. And, if he noticed that said rooms got a lot of use that summer, he never said anything to them.
"Did you know that the ancient Xingese had a different set of elements?" His seatmate asked as they both stood up and headed to the door, written exams turned in. No one really wanted to ask how anyone else thought he did -- there was still the apprehension in the air. The practical exam was still to come, after all -- what they all had really been preparing for -- and no one in the room could imagine not even being able to sit for that.
"No, I didn't," he replied politely. "What did they add?"
"Wood. And metal."
"So they cut out Earth then?" His world history had always been a bit weak, growing up. He had always meant to head to the library and learn something about Xing and Dracma and Ishabl and Kreta that didn't involve their interactions with Amestris.
The other man shook his head. "Air."
"Air? That's kind of silly, don't you think?" Roy thought of his project, waiting for the practicals. For all their simplicities, gases could be pains to transmute.
"I guess they figured it was a combination of elements."
"Perhaps." Water needed air to stay liquid, after all, and wood needed it to grow, and metal to rust or to make the minerals of the earth. And, as for fire, he could demonstrate what fire needed air for.