Part I, Chapter IV
There were, however, benefits to being in charge. The ceremony of it, for example. There were many, many who spoke of how disgusted they got as everyone bowed and scraped, but the President enjoyed it quite a bit. The way they all had to stand when he came into a room, for example. That was eminently satisfying, particularly if they'd been in this particular meeting quite a while and were tired. Perhaps it was perversity, perhaps a bit of schadenfreude, but he enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they had to drain even that tiny little bit of energy.
Or here, where he didn't have to open his own door. That was the nicest feeling in the world, particularly since it was about no degrees outside and the car had been sitting outside for some time and the metal handle would be absolutely frigid. Besides – these were valuable hands, baby. How could they sign documents with frostbite?
But honestly, it seemed like they were quite well-bitten, for all that he'd only to walk out to the car. He couldn't even imagine what it was like to have to stand out there for hours in dress uniform, just guarding the motorcade. Lordy. That poor kid, standing there – he must have been absolutely freezing. So Mustang couldn't find it within himself to enjoy it as the door was opened for him, even as he told himself how damn valuable his hands were.
There was a girl inside the car, sitting in the rear-facing seat. Pretty enough sort, really, if a bit severe, dressed in the long slacks and jacket of his guard service, with hair pulled sharply back. But she had lovely eyes, and very nice – But she was his personal guard, dammit. Not someone to get distracted over.
"Brisk out there, isn't it?" he said as he clambered in. The look she shot him was distressingly neutral. Well, at least she didn't notice his distraction. Maybe.
"Terribly, sir," she agreed.
"You must be Hawkeye." He stuck out his hand, and she took it. He'd expected her hands to be soft, just from the way they looked at a distance, but there were heavy calluses along her fingers. He pulled back from the handshake with a touch of – surprise, really, at this evidence of her professionalism.
"Are you settled in, sir?" the driver called from the front.
"Yeah. Thanks," Mustang said back.
As the car pulled off, the President turned back to Hawkeye. "So, Hawkeye. – I'm really bad with names, first off. Don't be offended if I forget yours. It's not like you're not outstanding, I just forget names."
"You've been doing well so far, sir."
"Oh...Thank you, I try. Every once in a while, though – I may just sort of, you know, snap, and call you 'You' – I don't mean to disrespect, really I don't, and don't let it get in the way of you, you know, picking off snipers – don't take offense. It's just the onset of my senility."
She looked at him calmly – not, of course, that she seemed to be able to do anything but calmly. "I see." Then – unnervingly – she took her gun from her holster. She lay it on her lap, though, and took out a rag and began to polish. A tic, perhaps? "And how old are you, sir?"
Mustang nodded thoughtfully. "Late twenties," he said, still nodding. Then he realized what he had said. He quickly corrected himself: "Uh, ear – mid-thirties, ish. You know. Prime of my – career...Yourself?" Dumb question, dumbass.
She seemed unfazed, unoffended: "Prime of my career," she echoed, lifting her gun so it would catch the light. "And no need to worry about angering me, sir. I'd take a bullet even if I loathed you. They brainwash us in basic training. "
Mustang had to take a moment before he realized that she was joking. Then he brayed a loud laugh, which was appropriate, considering the level of jackass he was. Christ. "Oh, yeah. Okay. So, uh – " Okay. Take a moment. He'd charmed heads of state; he could certainly impress an employee. "So you guys do take bullets, huh? That's a bit of a relief. Last guy said it wasn't in the job description."
She smiled – thank God. "I believe, sir, he may have been lying."
"Shit," he pronounced deliberately. "I should've known it. I should've known it by the glint in his eye. Who wouldn't want to take a bullet for me?"
She raised an eyebrow at her gun. "More than half the country?"
"Oh, those are fighting words. Considerably less than half, thank you, we won by a healthy margin."
"The margin had cholera, it was so unhealthy, sir, and I'm referring to your current failures, not your past triumphs."
Roy pulled a face at her. Unfortunately, absorbed as she was in her gun, his expression was lost. "Shouldn't you be – I don't know – polite, or something? Can't I fire you?"
"Yes," she said calmly. "But we've been over this. As someone who would take a bullet, I'm a precious commodity."
"You said half the country!"
"I said less than half."
"That's a hell of a less than half."
"Besides, you don't want to fire me. I'm charming. And I have yet to make fun of you for – "
"Oh, shut up. And now you've brought it up, so I need feel no compunctions when canning you."
"Honestly, sir, what were you thinking?"
"It was sabotage, Hawkeye."
"Oh? You didn't actually say it, then?"
"No, uh...I did say it, but – it was a private, jokey sort of thing. You know. 'Ha, ha, ha, Kickass!' That sort of thing."
"Even so, sir," she said calmly, continuing not to look up, "it was extremely inappropriate. I, for one, was terribly offended."
He watched her for a moment, then waved his hand in dismissal. "No you weren't."
"Yes, I was," she replied.
"No you weren't. You didn't even flinch when I said..." He trailed off as something outside the car caught his attention – some flash of yellow. And, among the crowds of people on the sidewalk, there was a boy – young, really, with brownish hair, glaring furiously as the car went by, and there was something strange about him...
"Sir?" Hawkeye asked. She wasn't relaxed, casual as she had been before – now she seemed keen, alert, her gun in her hand. "Did you see something?"
He shook his head. "I, uh...Sorry. I just tend to be easily distracted, and there must have been a – shiny object out there, or something." He smiled at her, and she scanned along the sidewalk, then nodded, sat back, and put her gun away. Still, she gave him a chiding look.
"Don't be afraid to tell me anything – anything you see, sir," she said. "Your safety is of the utmost importance."
"That and not looking like an idiot, yeah, they're pretty..." But Hawkeye was shaking her head emphatically.
"I'm not here to be impressed by you, sir," she said. "You tell me anything you're afraid of, if it's a guy you saw you think might have a gun or – I don't know, rabid eagles flying down from the sky to attack you. I won't think any bit less of you for it."
"Hmm," he muttered. It was a relief to hear, and it was a nice sentiment. He couldn't really restrain himself, though: "Eagles don't get rabid, though. It's a mammalian disease."
"Honestly, sir, I don't care if they do cut back on my benefits, but I will shoot you if you become to annoying."
"Oh," he said, then cleared his throat. "Okay. That's cool, I guess."
He'd expected...something different. He'd expected, from seeing the pictures, someone lanky, and lean, with a long-muscled sort of strength – and someone cold. He'd expected someone unfeeling, really – an icy expression, eyes dead. He'd expected a killer, the sort he'd been surrounded with when he did his stint. Not quite so cruel as some he'd served with, but just as chilly, and just as languid, perhaps with that same wolfish, callous smile playing about the lips.
What he hadn't expected was to feel pity. He hadn't thought that he'd look at the Major and feel sorry for him. He'd expected a soldier, not this – tiny boy, strong, yes, wiry, yes, but with a face frozen with a cold sort of grief, so pitiful, bound as he was. The fact that he grieved for his fate, for his imminent punishment, should have made Mustang hate him, for the fact that he was sad not for his crime but what resulted from it, but no – it stirred up a sort of sympathy – a pathetic fallacy, really, if one would excuse the pun.
But the Major looked up when he walked in, for a brief moment, and met Mustang's gaze – and lord, it was all the President could do not to falter in his step. The sheer fury of that glare, the sullen, smoldering rage – he amended his decision to call the Major a boy; no child could exhibit such anger.
But he looked down again, staring at the table as though he could divine and answer to something from its black slate depths, and Mustang sat opposite him, quite glad of Hawkeye's presence. He didn't speak, and neither did the Major. They just sat in mutual silence as Mustang pondered the fact that he had too little time for this.
Finally, the Major's eyes flickered, and he spoke, still without looking up. "Colonel," he greeted.
Mustang gave a small smile. "Didn't you hear, Major? I've received a bit of a promotion since then."
Still in a monotone: "Pardon me. Brigadier General?"
The forced smile turned into a real one – rueful, yes, but genuine. "I rather fancy that I've left behind my military roots."
"Funny thing about roots," Elric said. "Cut 'em off, you die."
"Not all that funny."
The Major shook his head. "No."
Again a brief minute of silence, in which Elric's eyes stayed fixed on the same spot. Finally, Mustang burst out:
"God. Isn't there some sort of height requirement for the army?"
Finally! A rise. Elric half-stood, so far as his restraints would allow him, and his eyes met Mustang's again. Now they held a purer fury. "I'm not short!"
"Are you joking?" Mustang asked, the corrected himself: "Are you delusional?"
"Shut up! I'm not. Besides, I've grown a lot recently."
"Well, that certainly counts for a lot. Did your voice drop, too? 'Cause that's a big step in a boy's life – "
"Oh, screw you!"
"I mean, how tall are you?"
"I'm five-nine!" Elric spat defiantly, holding Mustang's gaze. Then he looked away. "Ish."
"Ish," Mustang repeated. Elric scowled at that. "I really have to...Was that why you killed him? Did you have a Napoleon complex thing going on?"
"That doesn't even make any sense."
"It does to you. They say that the minds of the small work in different ways."
"No it doesn't, and no they don't!"
"Or small minds? Maybe it's small minds. Either way, it's applicable."
"You don't even know me!"
"I can extrapolate. Assume. I know your sort."
"You don't even know what my sort is, asshole."
"No?" Mustang leaned forward, his hands crossed before him. "Young man, maybe a little short..." It was interesting to watch Elric's face go a little purple before he finished the though. "...on cash. Pretty sure of himself, and his ability, and his immortality – either a bit more patriotic than is strictly called for or more strapped for cash than the norm – with a bit of an attitude problem and an independent streak. Good at what he does, so his superiors cut him a bit of slack – just so he acquires a slight insubordinate edge. Nothing serious, just something to bolster his ego and get him addicted to practical jokes. Enough that he'll have enough leeway to get pissed off when he thinks it's called for. Enough that he'll dare to disobey an order when he doesn't like the thought of it."
Elric was smirking, settling back into his chair. "That sounds like a bit of projection on your part, sir."
Hmph. Boy was more perceptive than he seemed. Still, Mustang knew how to piss someone like him off: "Welcome to the analogy, Major," he snorted. The smirk disappeared and the jaw tightened at this affront to the boy's hallowed intelligence.
He shook it off, though. Impressive, really. "So? Which was it?"
Mustang waited for the boy to elaborate. He didn't, of course, ass, so there was an awkward pause before Mustang asked, "Which what?"
"Patriotism or money?"
"For me?" he asked. The boy nodded. Mustang considered lying, but decided that he was going to break the mold and tell the truth. He would be a lying politician no longer. "Money." Shit.
"No it wasn't," Elric said breezily. "It was patriotism. You sounded too bitter for it to be money."
"I didn't sound bitter. Hawkeye, did I sound bitter?"
"No, sir," she replied. Elric looked at her appraisingly, then shook his head.
"She doesn't count. You pay her. Me, I did it for money. Country's a piece of crap, and I know it."
"What?" he asked defiantly, then shrugged. "It's true. It was true four years ago, and it's true now."
"In neither case – we're the single most educated country in the world; we have one of the highest standards of living; our GDP is among the highest – "
"Yep. I sure did hear that when I watched the State of the Nation address."
Well, this line of discourse was generally shit. "Oh? Really? What, did they build a special low-to-the-ground TV set specifically for you?"
Elric flushed and futilely beat his fists against the arms of his chair. "Shut up! That's not funny!"
"Actually, it is. What do you think, Hawkeye?"
"It's quite funny, sir."
"There you are. Funny, funny. I say Major Elric looks like he's three, and I've got my entire stand-up routine down. 'How did Major Elric manage to kill Basque Gran?' 'Boxes!' Drumroll."
"Oh. Stilts, then?"
"No! That isn't...I didn't kill him."
Huh. Mustang raised an artful eyebrow. "Isn't it a bit late for protests, Major?"
"What, the filing deadline pass?"
"Matter of fact..."
"Well, I was a little bit indisposed, is all. I'd just try running again next year, but I don't much think that'll be an option, so...I didn't kill him. Bastard would've had it coming if I had, but I didn't."
That last bit was more convincing than it should've been. "Really."
"Yeah. I mean – I punched him. I did do that much. Bastard had that coming," Elric repeated. "But then I ran away. I was scared."
"They found you next to the body. You came back."
"I was scareder," the boy said defiantly.
"More scared," Mustang corrected absently.
Elric snorted. "Same difference."
"Please – " Mustang choked out, then got a handle on himself. "Don't say that. Please." He held up a hand to forestall any outrage. "Scared of what?"
"Right...Why did you come back?"
"Them! I was scared of them."
Mustang watched Elric, who seemed startlingly reluctant to explain himself. "Major, bear in mind that I decide whether to try you here or in Drachma. If you're uncooperative, I won't hesitate to hand you over to them – to their firing squads."
Well, it got his attention, at least. "I'm not fucking being uncooperative! I'm telling you – I was scared of them, what they'd do – I needed to get to the comm equipment. I needed to contact someone from Amestris."
"Didn't you have a two-way radio, Major?"
The boy shrugged. "Took it apart and made it into a one-way. How do you think I heard the State of the Nation address?"
"You made your two way..." Mustang shook his head. "I don't even know how that's possible."
"Well, that's why I'm the genius and you're the politician."
"Right," said politician muttered. "You know you've been surrounded by people from Amestris for the past few days, right?"
"No one would believe me now. It sounds like I'm trying to make excuses."
"Yeah, it really does. Why did you need to talk to one of us so badly?"
Elric smirked just a little. "Patriotism."
"Thought you didn't have any."
"Thought I didn't have any either."
"Well, thank god that little deus ex machina was there to bail you out. And what was so dire that we had to know it right then?"
The smirk faded; Elric shrank, just a little. "They were killing people," he said.
Mustang blinked. "They...tend to do that in war."
"Innocents," he amended, something sickening in his delivery.
Jesus. The President forced himself to lean forward, supporting his chin with the heel of his hand. "You were part of a scientific crew, weren't you, Major? Trained nominally in combat, mostly out there to dismantle biological weapons..."
"Jesus," the President said out loud.
"We found some labs. We converted them, and we used them." Elric looked up, and he looked – desperate. "I swear to god, Mustang, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was blind. I swear. That was why I hit him, when I found out that they'd been engaging in human experimentation – " Elric dropped his gaze. "And that was when I came back – when I found out that I..."
Oh. Well, okay. That put something of a different spin on things. "People will think you're lying, Elric."
"I know. Don't think I don't know," he replied quietly.
Mustang watched him stare at that same spot on the table. "I knew Basque Gran," he said. Elric didn't move. "He was my commanding officer in Ishvar. – Do you know Ishvar?" The Major nodded, wary. "Well, that was how I made my name, you know. Napalming villages under his command. Made my way all the way up to lieutenant under that policy."
"You did it?" Mustang suppressed a wince at the contempt in the boy's voice.
"I'm not a courageous man, Major Elric, and Gran isn't a merciful one. I suppose you learned that yourself. I was afraid of being shot. I was..." Strange; he'd never admitted all this to anyone else. "I was afraid of disgrace. I was young, and I didn't know that I could disagree. Insubordination – never even crossed my mind. So I murdered until I didn't anymore."
Elric's brow furrowed. "You left?"
"Blew the whistle. Submitted a formal report on the activities of Drachman commanders in Ishvar, right to the Secretary of Defense. I doubt he read it, but somebody did, and they called me into a meeting and offered me a bump up several ranks if I kept my mouth shut. They threatened to destroy my reputation if I didn't. So I took their offer. You should be sorry that I'm your advocate here, though, Major – the Premier is civil, but he he's never really forgotten the way I ratted out his boy." Mustang shook his head. "Anyway. I'm sorry – I went off there, didn't I? All I mean to say is that I know what it's like, and I believe you, and I don't really like you, but I'm going to do my damnedest to keep you inside our borders, and that's the difference between a fair trial and death. And I want you appreciating it, because from the look of things..." He looked at Elric – just a boy, really. "Protecting you isn't going to win me any votes. So appreciate what I'm doing for you."
"Piece of crap politician, talks too much," Elric said with a smile. Yeah. He appreciated it.
Mustang started to push himself up from the table, then paused. "Human experimentation, you said. For what purpose?"
"I can't tell you, sir," Elric said. He did look sorry, too, sort of.
"I'm the President, Major. I think if there were anyone you could confide in – "
"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head.
Mustang forced a nonchalant shrug. "Okay," he said, and stood. He turned to Hawkeye – her expression was strange, clouded, but it cleared after a moment – and she in turn turned to open the door.
"Mr. President," Elric said, just before Mustang left.
First time the kid had actually used the correct title. Mustang turned back. "Yeah."
The boy looked younger, somehow – even smaller. "I...have a brother, sir. Alphonse Elric. He's a student at APU. Could you – maybe – could you get him into protective custody? They'll be after him, too."
"Who will?" Mustang asked.
Elric paused. "The media," he said unconvincingly. Fantastic.
"I'll do what I can, Major. I would like to admonish you, however, that the more you hide from me, the more you're screwing yourself over."
"Yes, sir," Elric said. "Thank you."
And Mustang nodded to the Major, and left, a great deal worse off for having seen the kid.
(A/N: Sorry this took so long. See, I'd typed up this really kickass dialogue between Ed and Roy, and then I sort of switched computers and forgot to transfer said document with me. I'm still not sure that I won't replace this chapter once I get access to that particular computer again.)