Ed tapped his fingers absentmindedly along the pages of a notorious alchemy treatise. Hmm. Jorkoff's Premise – not a bad theory to hit the General with, he mused.
Tilting his chair back, Edward began scanning the paper once more. His hair covered his gaze in a golden curtain, which Ed blew irritably out of his eyes. He knew he needed a haircut, but seriously, who had the time? He was already up to his neck in work, what with being sent on missions with almost regular frequency, never mind not having enough time while he was in Central to engage in his favorite pastime of Mustang-baiting.
Ed stopped that train of thought with a smoothness that echoed of long practice, and considered Jorkoff's Premise again. It was a highly controversial dissertation on the creation of artificially intelligent golems that was probably about half a decade old but still a considered a radical idea in many alchemy circles.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite solid enough in its proofs, and he was sure that Mustang would be able to spot the flaws right away and even casually sneak in a few comments on Edward's height in the meantime. No, Ed definitely needed something more abstruse and esoteric if he wanted to truly stump Mustang in their usual morning debate. Anything less than complete and utter victory would be unthinkable.
Edward allowed himself a moment's respite from his studies at the thought of General Roy Mustang, speechless at long last. He let out a cackle, expression dreamy with anticipated triumph – before looking back down at the text, and sighing. Nope, this wasn't going to cut it. He needed something truly spectacular in order to defeat the Flame Alchemist.
Edward knew himself to be a genius, but he had yet to satisfactorily crush Mustang in a verbal debate. He sometimes swore that the man had probably read every single random text in the library. Or had his spy network report to him so that he could subsequently obtain a copy of the same text Ed had read, mere hours before the debate was engaged.
At that notion, Ed scowled at the stack of books in front of him. He certainly wouldn't put it past the man. Mustang was nothing if not eminently resourceful.
Growling softly to himself, Ed let his chair clunk back to its original position before reaching out for another book of collected theories. Opening the book with the ginger care of a man who truly knows the value of old books, Edward tilted his chair back once more and began his customary scan of the pages. His eyes flicked from left to right in almost idle perusal, until his attention was caught suddenly by an odd paragraph.
Ed slowly lowered his chair, his breathing slowing almost imperceptibly, as he re-read the passages in front of him. He closed his eyes in momentary thought, brow slightly furrowed in absolute concentration as he replayed what he'd just read over in his mind. It was no more than a brief second, however, before his eyes flew back open in shock.
The incredulous yell reverberated down the echoing aisles of Central Library's Main Branch, traveling at unknown frequencies straight to the twitching ears of the beleaguered librarian. Steely eyes snapped with astounding speed towards the culprit, who guiltily slammed shut the tome he'd been reading and beat a hasty retreat to another level.
Safely ensconced in another well-hidden corner of the vast library, Edward Elric stared down at the page open in front of him, his piercing golden eyes almost twice their normal size. "Impossible," he breathed, hands almost shaking as he tenderly traced a light finger down the valuable page.
It was impossible. It was absolutely impossible that the theory written on the page in front of him could be completely, irrevocably, true – and that it hadn't ever occurred to him before.
He rubbed vigorously at his eyes, and glared once more at the incriminating text. It was almost unimaginable, that he, Edward Elric – infamous Fullmetal Alchemist, self-proclaimed bane of General Roy Mustang's existence and general all-around alchemical genius – had never, in his entire nineteen years of existence, ever thought about this possibility.
Edward let out a heartfelt groan. "I'm an idiot…"
"Brother…? Brother! Where are you?" Alphonse Elric's worried young voice echoed through the dormitory's deserted corridors. At 0800 hours, all of the military's recruits were out practicing drill formations under the already glaringly bright winter sun, and the normally crowded and noisy dorms were eerily silent.
"Brother!" Al was quickly losing his renowned patience. Upon waking up that morning, he knew immediately that Edward had not returned to the room last night. Edward's bed was still made in the crisp, precise coin-toss method that the military favored. Had Ed returned to the room to sleep, the blankets and sheets would have resembled a warren of hidden cavities, hollows and tunnels. Edward Elric, to put it kindly, was not a calm sleeper.
Nor, Al sighed as he checked their room again for the 8th time, did his brother have the tendency to make his own bed. Ed's irrefutable logic was that he was just going to sleep in it later that night and return it to its normal chaotic condition anyways, so why waste his time? All of Al's most persuasive arguments, and, since his restoration, liquid puppy-dog eyes, held no sway against Edward's apparent conviction in this regard. So Al, resigned to his fate, continued to make Ed's bed for him because he just couldn't stand a mess.
Al usually didn't mind. However, on mornings such as these when his erstwhile brother was missing with not a word, not even a considerate note, Al felt particularly resentful. Of course, his resentment always carried along with it a healthy dose of guilt. He supposed he should be thankful that his too-clever-for-his-own-good brother had finally managed to restore Al to his own body – and he was very thankful, in fact.
Being flesh and blood again was wonderful – he could smack Edward without worrying that he'd hit him too hard with his armored body. In fact, his brother could probably do with some smacking right about now. Brothers were supposed to do things together, dammit!
"Where IS he!"
"Has anyone seen Fullmetal this morning?" General Mustang asked, looking up from his desk thoughtfully at approximately 1100 hours. It was a rare morning indeed when the older Elric brother had not made his daily appearance to Mustang's office for the sole purpose of continuing their on-going repartee. Edward was like clockwork in that regard. He was utterly predictable, but never boring. Much of Mustang's enjoyment while Fullmetal was in town was derived from Edward's keen insistence on trying to get the upper hand, and the lengths the stubborn blond would go through to get there amused the General mightily.
They had already argued over most of the obscure alchemical theories Edward had managed to dig out of the library, and were just starting to enter the realm of more controversial alchemy. Mustang had been looking forward to today's fun – er, debate, he corrected himself rather meticulously. He mustn't ever let Edward know how much he truly enjoyed his unruly subordinate's presence, or Edward – just to be his contrary self – would probably never enter his office again and thus, leave poor Roy bereft of any entertainment. Roy snickered to himself. No, that simply would not do.
"Sorry General – haven't seen even the hint of his tiny shadow yet today," Havoc grinned, chewing nervously at his toothpick. His new girlfriend hated cigarettes.
The entire office waited with bated breath to hear Edward's usual incensed reply to the jab at his height – or lack thereof. At nineteen, Edward had yet to hit his height spurt. Even with all of Winry's skill as an automail mechanic, she'd still not managed to reduce the weight of his limbs enough for his skeletal structure to begin to compensate for the years of enforced extra gravitational weight. No one who wanted a long, healthy life, however, mentioned Edward's height to his face.
Of course, Mustang's small group was very much a part of Ed and Al's extended family. So for Al's sake, as Ed would never candidly admit that he actually cared deeply for the irrepressible group, they were permitted to live in spite of the insults. Barely.
"I don't think he's within earshot, Havoc," Fury said, bending down to scratch Hayate's ears. Hayate's tail began to wag happily.
"…That's got to be a first…" Breda mumbled, scratching his head. "Do you think he's sick?"
"Hmm. Hawkeye, if you would…?" Mustang's brows were furrowed. Yes, Fullmetal must be sick if he'd deviate from his schedule in any way. He'd have to think of a suitably irritating get-well gift to speed Fullmetal's recovery in that case.
Hawkeye snapped a sharp salute. "I'll call Al."
"I'm sorry Major Hawkeye…I haven't seen him all day and I've been looking for him too," Alphonse said irritably. "If you or the others run into him, please tell him to find me."
"Of course, Al. In fact, why don't you join us here at the office and we'll launch a search party for him?" Hawkeye suggested.
"Oh that would be great! I'll be right over."
Hawkeye hung up the phone thoughtfully. Then she picked up the receiver again.
"Hello? Ah yes, I am fine, thank you Colonel Armstrong. Hmm? No, no there's no problem…well, it's not really a problem. It's about Colonel Elric. No, no that won't be necessary. He's not ill. It appears that we've just misplaced him. No, Al is looking for him as well. I see. Yes. Thank you, that would be much appreciated. See you shortly."
"What do you mean, no one's seen him since last night?" Mustang looked up sharply. "Where was the last place he was seen then?"
"The library, sir!" was the collective reply. Everyone grinned ruefully.
"I might have known," Mustang muttered, fighting against a grin himself. "Did anyone see him leave the library?"
Everyone looked at each other and fidgeted. Hawkeye shuffled some papers thoughtfully.
"You know, General – it might not be a bad idea to automate the library with an electronic card system for that purpose."
"Duly noted. Fury, see to it."
"In the meantime…where on earth could our little" – the office paused once again to listen for the shriek of outrage – "Fullmetal be?" Mustang tapped a gloved finger against his temple impatiently.
"Do you think he's been kidnapped?" Al was beginning to worry, now that his brother had yet to make an appearance and it was almost lunchtime. Edward never missed lunch. Ever. It was right up there with all the other nevers that made up Fullmetal's personal code of conduct.
Edward never made his bed. He never ducked from Winry's wrench, claiming that making her find him to hit him would hurt more. He never missed Alicia's birthday, although ironically, he constantly forgot his own. He never missed a chance to throw an insult – any insult – at Mustang on principle. He would never ever admit to even liking the man although it was fairly obvious to everyone, the General included, that Edward very much liked and respected Mustang, in fact – and maybe even a tiny bit more than just that. As for lunch? Yep, it was right up there with admitting to liking General Mustang. Al was seriously worried now.
"No – no one's capable of kidnapping him," the General mused thoughtfully. "There's no container in this world small enough to contain him," he continued.
"I heard that." A snarl came rumbling in through the doorway as Ed poked his head around the frame. Al breathed a sigh of relief. Yep. Edward never missed lunchtime. It was good to know there were some constants in life.
"I rather hoped you would, Fullmetal," Mustang said in relief. Ed's countenance scowled briefly before clearing into his usual expression of impertinent insubordination while in Mustang's presence.
"Edward Elric!" Armstrong boomed. Ed's face fell, as his eyes warily glided over to Colonel Armstrong's sparkling presence.
Armstrong flexed threateningly. "It was inconsiderate to not let anyone know your whereabouts. We were all worried, especially your brother and the General." He nailed Edward with a pointed look.
Edward looked sheepish. "Sorry 'bout that everyone."
"It's okay kid," Breda waved a hand negligently in the air. "No explosions, no problem."
"Don't let it happen again," Havoc grinned. "Thought the world had ended when it was so quiet this morning."
"Most definitely," Hawkeye murmured. Farman and Fury both nodded in agreement, while Hayate thumped his tail.
Alphonse scowled at his older sibling. "Brother, next time leave a message or a note. I know you know how to write."
"Sorry Al…" Ed winced slightly. "I completely forgot."
"I noticed." Al's voice was still a bit chilly. Edward felt momentarily thankful that they were in public, or Al would have already smacked him a few times for good measure. He still couldn't beat Al in a fight without cheating, and he was the older brother too, dammit! There was supposed to be rules against that sort of thing!
Mustang was beginning to feel a bit ignored. "Hey, what about me? Don't I get an apology?"
"Aww…were you worried about me, General?" Edward snarked, with a patently false look on his all too innocent features – composed of utter sweetness and razor blades.
Mustang hid his smirk. "I always worry about you, Fullmetal…" he sighed, a tragic expression artfully arranged on his face in response. He could play that game too. Edward looked surprised and somewhat inordinately pleased at this admission, until Mustang continued, "…after all, if we had to look for you all the time we simply wouldn't have the funds to spare in order to replace of all those shoe heels you might have been stuck on…"
Ed looked smug. "Heh heh heh. Whatever you say, General."
Everyone looked around incredulously. Edward…had laughed off a crack about his height? From the General?
Hawkeye leveled a gun at Ed's face, which quickly ducked behind the doorframe. "You're not Ed. That's one of Ed's 'nevers'," Hawkeye stated suspiciously. "Who are you?"
"I'm Ed! I swear!" A self-satisfied snicker came from behind the doorway, quickly stifled.
"Hawkeye, put the gun away. It's Ed alright," Mustang sighed. Al nodded. Hawkeye put the gun away reluctantly.
"How do you know?"
Al shrugged. "Only Brother can snicker so smugly. He's very pleased with himself about something."
Mustang nodded in resigned agreement.
"Okay Ed, come in and tell us what you're so goddamn pleased about," Havoc called.
Ed poked his head in through the door again, with a grin. "Well, if you really want me to. Ta-daaaaaa!" He slid into the office with a theatrical little flourish, a slim tome under his arm.
Everyone's jaws dropped. Mustang stood up in one smooth motion and leaned forward incredulously. Al blinked. "Brother…you're…"
"Fullmetal, come here right this instant," Mustang snapped, walking out from behind his desk and pointing a finger to floor. "Stand here."
"You called, oh great General?" Ed's smirk, if possible, got even wider as he sauntered up to the General and looked up at him with his usual impudent grin…from about five inches higher than he normally did. He was now about a head shorter than the General instead of two.
"Brother…you're…taller," Al marveled. "You're…my height now!"
"Shut up, Al."
"Edward, what on earth..?" Hawkeye exclaimed.
Breda whistled. "Holy crap, miracles do happen!"
"Genius, not miracles…" Edward corrected meticulously as he preened.
"Genius? Where?" Mustang had recovered his aplomb admirably, and was now walking around Edward in a speculative fashion.
Edward scowled as he turned about to continuously face the General. "Success is 1 genius and 99 perspiration. Can I help it if I got more than my share of genius?" he cackled.
"Let's not forget ego," Mustang countered, amused.
"What?" Ed protested. "This isn't genius? Tell me this isn't genius!" he grinned as he squared his shoulders and looked at them all with a defiant expression.
"What on earth did you do, Brother!" Al shouted, surprising the rest of the group. "Don't tell me you transmuted yourself! That's the kind of thing that got us in trouble before!"
Ed looked very sheepish. "Eh…not really."
"EDWARD!" Al lost his temper.
"Okay! Okay!" Ed held up his hands in surrender. "Here, catch." He threw the book he'd been carrying at Al, who caught it and promptly flipped it open to the marked page. Everyone gathered around Al while he scanned the book.
There were a few moments of silence as Al digested the text in front of him. "Brother…"
"Now what?" Ed looked long-suffering, but couldn't quite hide his pleased grin that his little brother had caught on so quickly.
Alphonse looked up at him from the book and grinned hugely. "You didn't."
"I did!" Ed crowed. Al let out a guffaw, and tossing the book to Armstrong, ran over to throw his arms around his now insanely cackling older brother.
"You idiot! Why didn't you think of that before!"
"That's what I said when I saw that page last night, too!" The brothers collapsed onto Mustang's couch, still laughing with Al pounding Ed on the back in congratulations.
Armstrong began laughing as he read the page Edward had marked before passing it to Mustang. Mustang scanned it looking very bemused, chuckling before erupting into outright laughter. Everyone else in the office, being non-alchemists, just looked confused.
"I don't get it," Fury summed everything up for the rest of them.
"Explain," Hawkeye ordered.
"It's really quite simple," Al stopped his mirth long enough to reply. Edward was still holding his stomach and laughing too hard to even try to respond.
"How wonderful. Now talk."
Al assumed a lecturing tone. "You know the human body is made up of many basic elements, correct?"
"Get to the point, Alphonse."
"I'm getting there. Well, one of the main elements that make up our bones and skeletons is calcium. And the best source of calcium for growing bones is milk."
"But Edward hates milk, doesn't he?" Farman blurted out suddenly.
"Oh Lord, yes," Alphonse nodded fervently. "But what Brother did was really very clever. After all, alchemy is like cooking, one could say. You can even use alchemy to cook if you really wanted to. All you would need would be the raw ingredients. Anyways, according to that page in the book Brother found, nutrients that are a natural part of the human body can easily be transmuted into the bloodstream, muscles, bones…"
"I think I see where you're going with this," Breda said thoughtfully.
"Right!" Alphonse said gleefully. "So since the reason Brother was so short in the first place was due to the heavy weight of his automail limbs and the fact that he hates milk, which of course didn't help much..."
"Shut up, Al."
"…I mean, he wasn't supposed to be quite that short," Al continued serenely.
"Shut UP, Al."
"Anyways, biologically speaking, he should have been taller. So what he basically did was to alter the array shown on that page, and transmute about 500 gallons of milk into calcium which he then transmuted into his own skeletal structure to lengthen his legs and then adjust his frame to what should have been his normal height had he never worn the automail in the first place! The best part is that it's not technically human transmutation because growing is a natural, physical process as opposed to creating non-existent tissue," Al concluded.
"Ingenious," Armstrong rumbled. Edward grinned at him.
"Wait…didn't that hurt? To suddenly have your muscles and everything stretched out?" Fury asked, wincing.
"Not really," Ed said in a bored tone. "I also transmuted a ton of other food into proteins and vitamins to accelerate muscle development at the same time so the rest of my body would grow at the same rate as my skeleton." Ed looked rather sheepish suddenly. "I wouldn't recommend going to the markets today. And yes, before you ask, General – I paid for all of it."
"Why didn't you re-grow your arm while you were at it," Havoc commented curiously.
Ed scowled at him. "I can't. The nerves are no longer there and I can't work with what's non-existent. Maybe if I can find an alchemy book on growing nerves then it could work, but regenerating the whole limb out of just elemental components is too much like the forbidden aspects of human transmutation. My automail is fine. I just wanted to be taller."
"Wait…Brother, this array doesn't take very long. Where you the rest of the morning then?"
Edward pointed at his automail. "I went to Winry's workshop on Main Street and asked her to lengthen them, and in the meantime I also had to buy new clothes," he grinned.
"Winry lengthened them so quickly?" Al looked suspiciously at his brother.
Ed looked a bit sheepish. "I…er…helped?" he offered with a wry grin.
Al looked more closely at his brother, noticing the faint red lump on his forehead. "You transmuted metal pieces from her closely hoarded stockpile and only asked her to connect the wires, didn't you?" he accused.
"You got off lightly, Brother, " Al admonished with a slight frown. Winry was more than a little bit overprotective of her tools and metals. Anyone messing around in her workshop would get a seriously threatening amount of physical trauma via a wrench.
Ed winced in pained remembrance. "You're telling me!"
"She must have been very happy for you if you don't have more injuries from messing with her stuff."
"It's the Elric charm."
Al snorted. "You don't have it. I do."
"Hey! Take that back! I do too!"
"Boys, boys…" Mustang held up a gloved hand, ready to intervene the minute either brother was about to use alchemy.
"Well, all's well that ends well," Armstrong observed. "Now, why don't we all go out and celebrate Ed's good fortune?"
"YEAH!" Edward punched the air triumphantly, immediately forgetting his bickering with Al. "Ha ha! Now no one can call me short ever again!" he gloated.
Mustang looked aggrieved. Oh well. He'd find something else to tease Edward about soon enough. He sat back down behind his desk thoughtfully, tenting his fingers in the way he usually did when engaged in serious thought.
Edward must have been reading Mustang's mind. "What? Not happy for me, General?" he asked in a challenging tone, lifting his chin up almost imperceptibly.
Mustang sighed theatrically, looking above his hands at Edward with calculated speculation. "Well, at least I can still tease you about your lack of development…"
"WHAT? I'm taller! How much more developed can I get?"
"Development is not only about height, Fullmetal," Mustang noted with an evil smile. "Team!"
"Edward…" Mustang paused for effect. "…needs to socialize more. I recommend a girlfriend."
Everyone cackled and saluted sharply. Al was giggling into one of the cushions on Mustang's couch and subsequently missed Edward's outraged expression.
"WHAT? I socialize fine! And I don't need a girlfriend!"
Mustang looked pleasantly surprised. "Boyfriend then? Why, Ed…"
Edward sputtered helplessly, his fair complexion doing a slow burn as he glared at the now smirking General.
The rest of the group just rolled their eyes and left Mustang's office to wait for the two bickering alchemists downstairs. Edward might be taller, but he'd always be their little boy. And the General…was the General. Just as manipulative as ever.
Behind the closed door, they could hear the outraged yells of the Fullmetal Alchemist, and at a lower register, the amused tones of the Flame Alchemist baiting his very favorite toy into what was probably another series of verbal traps.
"Ignore them," Havoc muttered, picking up and putting on his jacket.
"Yeah…they'll get around to figuring things out eventually," Breda agreed.
Hawkeye looked very thoughtful. "How do you suppose that Edward is so smart when it comes to alchemy but so clueless when it comes to everything else?"
Alphonse laughed. "You have to understand Brother – he's very focused and driven, and not very easily distracted. Nothing else, unless it completely revolutionizes his world, will ever cross his mind."
"Hmmmm. Who wants to bet on when Ed and the General will get together?"
"So Ed, what will you do now that you're not short anymore?" Mustang asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow. He listened carefully for the sounds of his office leaving the building for lunch to ensure no eavesdropping. He'd trained his men after all. He knew what they were good at, and eavesdropping on private conversations was one of them.
Ed shrugged, and grinned a shark's grin. "I don't know, Roy. I guess I'll have to find something else to obsess on."
Mustang chuckled. He couldn't resist the open-ended statement. "Might I suggest…"
"You may, but I don't have to listen to your suggestions, now do I, Roy?" Ed countered swiftly, his tone sharp with suspicion.
"…dating?" Mustang said lightly with a wry smile.
"WHY? What the hell kind of interest do you have in whether or not I socialize? I don't need to socialize, and I sure as hell don't need to date!"
"Why ever not?"
"I don't need to!"
"That is not an answer, Ed. I have a duty to see to the happiness of all my subordinates," came the pious rebuttal.
"Ha! You just like to meddle!" Ed scoffed, folding his arms across his chest and glaring daggers at the General.
"You're still avoiding the question, Edward."
Edward huffed and threw himself into the chair in front of Mustang's desk. "…I never really thought about it," he murmured distractedly. "I mean, all I wanted was to return Al to normal. Which I did, last year. I always wanted to be taller. Which I just did, too. Those were my main goals. Other than that…well, I'm doing work that I love and I get to travel. When I'm in Central, every day I get to spend in the best library in the country and I get to argue with you every morning or whenever else I like. There's no reason for me to date. I just happen to like my life the way it is right now. Why change it?" Edward was beginning to look confused instead of peeved as he rambled.
Mustang smiled crookedly at Edward's abstracted phrasing. Unfortunately for Edward, Mustang could read him like a book. An old, well-loved book. "I'm a patient man, Edward. I can wait forever."
Edward scowled and fidgeted a bit uncomfortably. "You're still not really getting a straight answer, I hope you know. Heck, I don't even know."
"Perhaps I would get a straight answer if you understood the proper question."
Roy chuckled. "Never mind Fullmetal. That will do for now. Come, let's go to lunch."
Edward still looked suspicious. "Your treat?"
"Of course," Roy smiled as he draped his overcoat onto his shoulders and straightened his gloves. "We're celebrating your change in status, aren't we? Or should I say, stature?" Mustang ignored Ed's automatic scowl. "I'm sure the others are tired of waiting out by the cars by now. After you – Ed," Mustang smiled, gesturing chivalrously towards the door.
"Don't let the door smack you on the way out – Roy," Ed said with a grin as he ambled towards the exit. He loved getting away with calling his superior by name.
Roy let out a snort of amusement. "Move it, Fullmetal."
"Make me, Flame."
Roy just put his hand to the small of Ed's back and gave him a gentle push out the door as he shut it. Neither he nor Ed really noticed that Roy left his hand there even as they left the building.