Title: Hero Worship
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Ed, Al, Hughes, and an original character.
Summary: Ed is skeptical of the shocking claim made by an eccentric young alchemist.
Disclaimer: Kestra Wachter is mine, but all other characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: This very unexpected exercise in trope inversion was written for the prompt word "Lever" at Fan Flashworks. Since knowledge of DNA is referenced in FMA canon in relation to chimeras, I take the liberty of assuming that Amestrian genetic science is far enough advanced that the test proposed in this story would be possible. (And a trivia note for those with 1990s cartoon nostalgia: Kestra completely insisted on my imagining her as a human version of Gosalyn Mallard from "DarkWing Duck". Brace yourselves.)
"I hope you realize we were in the middle of something on the other side of the country, Major," Edward Elric muttered without preamble as he barged into the office of Maes Hughes, with his brother Alphonse clattering behind him. "What's so urgent that you had to call us all the way back to Central in such a—"
"Ah, so these are my big brothers!"
Eyes widening, Ed froze in his tracks so abruptly that Al bumped into him—and only upon steadying his balance did he look up to realize that Major Hughes was not alone in the room.
A blond-haired child, perhaps no more than ten years old, was sitting opposite Hughes. For a second, Ed thought he was looking at a boy; but when the round softness of the features and the protruding tufts of short twin ponytails finally sank in, he realized it was actually a girl in very boyish clothing. She looked up at him with large, bright hazel eyes, a wide smile splitting her face between freckle-dusted cheeks as she jumped out of her chair.
"You must be Edward, right? I'm Kestra! This is just awesome having the Fullmetal Alchemist as my own brother… I should have come looking for my family a long time ago!"
She grabbed his hand in hers—his left hand, rather than his automail—with such force that Ed felt a sting in his palm, and proceeded to pump his arm vigorously.
"Ow—what?" Ed snapped, wrenching his hand out of her grasp. "What in the heck are you talking about?"
"Uh… yeah." Hughes rose from behind his desk, looking distinctly awkward. "Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric—I'd like you to meet Miss Kestra Wachter. She's here in Central to apply for the State Alchemy Exam. She also, uh…" He cleared his throat. "Well, she claims that your father… is her father too."
Steel rattled as Alphonse gave a start. "But that would mean she's our—!"
All eyes shifted to Edward. He loomed closer to the girl, imposing on her with his greater height—which was only an inch or two, but at least it was something for once.
"I don't know what kind of game you're playing," he growled, his fists clenching at his sides. "All I do know is that you're lying. Why?"
Surprisingly, Kestra didn't flinch at Ed's tone of cold fury. She merely continued to gaze up at him, still smirking.
"I know this must be kind of a shock," she said earnestly. "And maybe you think his having a child with another woman says something bad about our dad, but—"
"Our dad is not your dad!"
Kestra's lips pursed poutingly. She sat back down in her chair, folding her hands. "Don't be mad at me! I'm just telling it like it is."
"Then where's your proof?"
"…Well, it's not like I have any pictures or anything. I never actually knew Dad, 'cause he and my Mom… didn't stay together. But she told me all about him."
Hughes shrugged helplessly from the sidelines. "I'm afraid there are no hospital records of Miss Wachter's birth. Even she says she doesn't know exactly where she was born. All I've been able to dig up is that her mother raised her in a small rural town, but she was already about two years old when they showed up there." He winced under Ed's withering glance. "Believe me, I spent the last three days looking into her claim before I decided to call you."
Ed turned back to Kestra, swallowing down a snarl. "So you're saying that after Hohenheim left us and our mother, he went off somewhere, had you with another woman—and then he just dumped her too?"
Alphonse's voice broke in, very quietly.
"If that's basically what he did with us… do you really think he couldn't have done it again?"
The elder brother paled, his shocked gaze swinging up to Al's faceplate. "Wait a minute. You mean you're actually willing to believe this?"
"It's not impossible, is it? As much as you hate Dad, I'm surprised you're not even quicker to think it could be true." Al's helmet bowed, in a posture of pensive melancholy. "I have to admit, I've thought about it before. Who knows where he could have gone after he left us—or who he might have been with?"
Scowling, Edward eyed the slightly petulant-looking young girl in the chair.
It was certainly true that circumstances alone ruled nothing out. The Elric brothers had heard not one word about their father since he left them, when Al was barely old enough to remember him. In all those years, there was no evidence to say Hohenheim hadn't settled down with another woman and raised a new family—or even had a string of briefer love affairs, possibly resulting in any number of children. Ed supposed those thoughts had always been in the back of his mind too, but…
But added to the injury of being abandoned, the insult of being forgotten in favor of others was too repugnant to willingly contemplate.
All of that aside, if Kestra's claim was true, there was no way she could be held to blame for who fathered her. On the contrary, she would really be just one more victim of a man who seemed able to cast his children aside without a care.
Ed's frown softened a fraction as he studied her more intently. Apart from the blonde hair, he couldn't say he saw any particular resemblance between her and himself, or Alphonse's lost human form; but then, there was no telling how much her looks might have favored her mother. What she did have was an obvious precocious intelligence, and a certain stubborn gleam in her eye which… well, Ed had to admit, that did remind him just a little of himself at her age.
It also stood out that Kestra was allegedly an alchemist—and so confident in her skills that she was seeking the position of State Alchemist, at a younger age than Ed. Loath as he was to concede it, he had no doubt that the Elric brothers inherited something of their own giftedness from Hohenheim's very genes, even without his being present in their lives to teach and inspire them personally. If the man had produced any other children, it wouldn't be surprising for them to show the same aptitude.
Some part of Ed faintly wondered, all of a sudden, why he even wanted to argue the possibility so fiercely.
Hohenheim was gone, and Mother was dead. Only he and Al were left—in the ruins of a life they had done still further damage to, by trying to reclaim a part of what was lost. They once sought to have family again in the most terribly wrong of ways… but maybe there was a right way they had never even considered.
"You know, I always have wondered what it would be like to have a sister," Al said softly, looking down at Kestra with a curious and interested tilt of his helmet.
Kestra beamed up at him, exposing the gap of a recently-lost baby tooth that reinforced just how young she was. "I know exactly how you feel. I'm so excited about getting to know you both—especially since you're alchemists too! I never had any brothers or sisters before at all, and… since my Mom died last year…"
Her face fell, and she tapered into silence.
Ed's heart tightened painfully. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before turning to Hughes.
"…So now what?"
Hughes sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, in the absence of any other evidence, the only way to figure this out for sure is with a blood test. I talked to a specialist here in Central, who's made some breakthroughs in comparing DNA. He'll need to look at blood samples from Kestra, and you, Ed—since DNA straight from Hohenheim isn't exactly available, and Al, uh… can't." He coughed self-consciously. "Anyway, it could take weeks, but we'll get a definite answer in the end. It'll tell us if you two were fathered by the same man."
The State Alchemist felt his stomach squirm, and it was not entirely at the idea of learning he had a half-sister. A blood sample would involve… a needle. Ed would much rather have cut his skin open than have one of those things stuck into him; but unfortunately, all of the doctors in his experience had shown an annoying disapproval of any other method.
"So does Brother need to have the sample taken at a lab?" Al inquired.
"No need. The doctor gave me something he invented that'll let us do the job right here, quick and easy." Hughes did not react to Al's sudden scoffing noise—probably because he had never actually seen the great Fullmetal Alchemist when faced with a needle. He merely picked up one of a pair of objects on his desk which, at first glance, looked like simple writing pens. However, the implement was visibly shorter and thicker in his hand, and there was a glimpse of a hollow end as he held it out to Ed. "You press this end against your arm, and flick this little switch. It'll collect a few drops of blood, which is all the Doc needs. You'll just feel one little prick."
The edges of Ed's vision suddenly turned gray. He could feel all his blood retreating deep into his body at the very thought of being drawn. It took a herculean effort not to visibly sway on his feet—much less bolt for the door.
"Let's see Kestra do it first," he heard himself grind out through his teeth, and hoped the words sounded more suspicious than petrified.
Maybe it was his abrupt chalky whiteness, but at the very least, he failed to fool Kestra. The little girl stuck her chin out at him, grinning evilly and wrinkling her nose. "You're not actually chicken about needles, are you?"
…It was hard to imagine how this day could get much worse.
"Of—course—not," Ed breathed out heavily and haltingly, glaring down at her. At least it was a respite from staring at the hypodermic device. "But since you're the one putting us to all this trouble, it's only fair."
Looking entirely unconvinced, Kestra rolled her eyes, and reached out with her left hand to take the hypodermic from Hughes. For a second, Ed recalled her choice to shake his own left hand, instead of the steel of his right. He had assumed it was a gesture of courtesy because she knew about his automail, but now he wondered if she was actually left-handed.
And then he saw the ring on her middle finger: a ring with an unusually large and heavy signet that she had turned under, into her palm.
Ed's automail hand shot out, seizing Kestra's wrist tightly before she could grasp the hypodermic. Her faint noise of discomfort caused Hughes and Alphonse to flinch in alarm; but before they could react, Ed turned the girl's palm upward, exposing the intricate transmutation circle that formed the signet she had hidden.
The equations concerned a field of alchemy he didn't normally work in, but he read the gist of their purpose at once. Moreover, he saw a tiny hole at the edge of the circle… and when he pressed the signet with his left thumb, a nearly-invisible needle finer than a hair protruded from it.
His stomach dropped into his boots as he remembered the odd sting when Kestra had shaken his hand so aggressively.
"It looks like this brat has taken my blood already," he hissed in a low voice. Releasing her hand roughly, he stepped back, to drop into a chair by the wall—because he had to. Even the belated realization that a needle had pierced his skin made him feel momentarily dizzy.
"Kestra…" Al whispered in a tone of astonished betrayal, looking down at the shamefaced child who now stared at the floor.
Slapping the unused hypodermic down on the desk, Major Hughes turned to Kestra, his expression grim. "You want to explain just what you're really doing here, young lady?"
"I think I can tell you," Ed muttered. "That transmutation circle on her ring pretty much says it all. It's designed to alter blood cells." He stared hard at the top of Kestra's bowed head. "When you shook my hand, that needle stabbed me without my even knowing it, and drew one small drop of my blood. After you took a sample of your own blood, you were going to transmute it, to try to make it match mine genetically—at least enough that it'd probably fool the doctor. That was the whole plan, wasn't it?"
Alphonse gasped, and Hughes grimaced. Kestra merely wrapped her arms around herself, scuffing the toe of her shoe against the carpet. Gone was the cocky precociousness of before, leaving only a very guilty and immature-looking child.
"Why would you do that?" Al asked her indignantly. "What would make you want to lie about being our sister?"
Ed shrugged his automail shoulder. "My guess is, she thought being related to me would give her more leverage in her bid to join the military. She's even younger than I was when I got my commission. She was probably afraid they'd laugh her out of Central—unless she had some link to the current youngest State Alchemist in history."
Although Kestra did not look up, she raised her head just a fraction. When she spoke in a grudging mumble, her voice did not sound teary, but sullen and regretful—if only, perhaps, from the regret of being caught.
"I've read all about you in the papers. How you're always doing good things and being the 'Hero of the People'. I wanted to be like that, so I tried to learn everything I could about you—and I found out you grew up without a dad, too. When I started to realize how our stories could line up, I got the idea to say your dad was mine. I thought maybe… maybe you'd be as happy to have a sister as I would be to have brothers. I never wanted to make anybody upset, but I… I just want to be a State Alchemist so much…"
"Then if you really care about being the best one you can be, you should work for it, like my brother did," Al replied sternly. "If you only try to cheat your way into it, you'll never prove to yourself or anyone else that you're really good enough—and if you found out too late that you're not ready for the job, someone could even get hurt."
The girl hunched her shoulders and curled into herself, looking as if she wanted to disappear.
"I think we're done here." Hughes addressed Kestra firmly, but with a father's underlying kindness. "Miss Wachter, for the sake of your future chance at a military career, I'm not going to report this incident. There's no official record that I called Edward here to check out your story, so I'll try to explain it away as a joke or something to the other officers you've spoken to. I guess there's technically nothing to stop you from still applying for the State Alchemy Exam now, if you're bent on it—but instead, I hope you'll take this experience to heart, and give yourself a little more time to learn and grow first. I'm pretty sure I can guarantee that when you're really ready for it, the military will still be here."
"I guess you just want me to go now," Kestra murmured.
"Just wait in the outer office for a minute. Once I finish a couple things, I'll take you back to your hotel… or see you onto the train safely, if you want to go home."
Without replying or lifting her head, Kestra began to shuffle toward the door; but Alphonse called after her, his voice low and flat. Curiously enough, he still seemed to feel more than a little hurt by the child's deception, leaving Ed to wonder just what kind of hope had been stirred in his little brother at the thought of having a sister.
"I'll give you one thing, Kestra—you really did your research about us. How much were you lying? Did you really lose your mother too, or was that just something else you made up for us to sympathize with?"
Kestra froze at the door, her shoulders stiffening.
"That part was true… and so was the part where I said I was excited to know you."
Al flinched and took a sudden interest in the carpet. He said nothing more as the girl quietly slunk out of the room.
When she was gone, Hughes sighed and collected the hypodermics from his desk, to shove them into a drawer. "I really apologize for dragging you boys back here and putting you through all this. We just… had to have confirmation. I'm glad you were able to figure it out before we went to any more trouble, Ed. And don't worry about Kestra. I know a mentoring program I can put her in touch with, to help her learn how to chase those ambitions of hers the right way."
"…Yeah," Ed agreed softly, only half-listening.
"Well… as long as you're here in Central, how about having dinner with my family tonight? Gracia happens to be making one of your favorite dishes—and it's been too long since you've seen Elicia!"
"Uh—sure. But I want to see what's new at the Central Library first. We'll head for your house at about five…"
"Which actually means closer to seven," Al chimed in, with a trace of his usual cheerfulness. "You know Ed and books."
Goodbyes were then said, and the Elrics took their leave of Hughes. As Ed opened the door and stepped from the inner to the outer office, he saw Kestra sitting on a chair across the room. She was balled up, her knees hugged to her chest and her chin tucked down, looking thoroughly dejected.
It was difficult to say what Alphonse might have felt, but the way he shifted his gaze from her looked more awkward now than angry. He moved past her in a hurry, steel clamoring more briskly than usual as he exited into the hallway.
Somewhat more slowly, Ed followed his brother; but when he reached the door, he paused, looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling.
"That transmutation circle for altering blood was pretty ingenious. It'd be impressive enough from an adult—much less a kid your age. …The fact is, once you just learn to deal with people a little more maturely… I think you'll be able to ace that Exam."
From the corner of his eye, he saw Kestra look up, her eyes widening. He turned his head to look once more at the girl, so young and talented and dangerously stubborn—and very much like himself at her age.
"I'll tell you what, Kestra. Drop Al and I a letter sometimes, in care of Major Hughes. It's kinda hard to be regular about correspondence in the military, but… we'll catch up with you when we can. And we'll cheer you on as you grow up to be a great alchemist."
The smile he saw before he slipped out the door just might have made the whole situation worthwhile.
2017 Jordanna Morgan