A Fantrack Song
D M Evans
Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al, Square Enix and funimition. I don't make a profit
Pairing - none, not even any implied, Armstrong centric
Time Line - Fresh out of Ishbal manga verse
Summary - Strongarm finds he's not as alone in his soft-heartedness as he thought
Rating – PG-13
Author's Note – Written for the Boys in Blue fantrack, inspired by Montgomery Gentry's Didn't I? thanks to evillittledog" for the beta and thanks to Mjules for the encouragement
Deep down, he knew this was a bad idea but how could he tell his father no? For the most part, he adored his father; his whole family but try as he might Alex Louis couldn't ignore the fact his dad was a blowhard. He would surely start in on how grand the military was when he was on active duty and how soldiers today couldn't measure up.
When Philip Armstrong would get on that track, Alex Louis knew the man would spare him an accusatory, disappointed glare. He didn't need to be told that he was a failure to the Armstrong line. Alex Louis already knew that. His older sister hadn't hesitated to do her duty in Ishbal and she was a colonel already. He had been sent home in disgrace. No one came out and said it but they all knew his career was as dead as the Ishbalans. He'd resign right now but his father wouldn't hear of it. It was easier to capitulate than argue with the Armstrong patriarch and it wasn't as if he knew what to do with himself outside of the military. Granted, as an Armstrong he didn't need to work but Alex Louis felt uncomfortable with a life of leisure.
What he hoped for most for tonight was that his family didn't embarrass him too much. As much as he loved them, he knew others found his relatives overbearing. Alex Louis headed towards the door, hearing the bell. He was somehow uncomfortable with the maid answering the door. Maybe it was all the jokes he endured about his wealth in Ishbal. He never heard Mustang participating in those jokes. Flame had enough of his own hurtful jokes to endure. Alex Louis didn't beat Lucia, the maid, to the door. She opened it to reveal a rather shell-shocked looking newly promoted lieutenant colonel, a rank worthy of Mustang's exalted status as a hero of Ishbal.
Alex Louis knew the reason his father wanted to invite Mustang to dinner was to rub elbows with an acknowledged hero. The Armstrongs knew how to keep their family affluent and knowing the right people was key. As for Mustang's shell-shocked look, well, that was something Alex Louis was used to seeing in the eyes of first-time visitors to the palatial Armstrong manor.
"Greetings Lieutenant Colonel Mustang," Alex Louis rumbled. "Thank you for joining us for dinner."
"Thanks for inviting me." Mustang's head swiveled quickly, trying to take in all the marble flooring, ornate bannisters and fine art that made the Armstrong home a show place. "This is fantastic. I had no idea that when you talk about the Armstrong family that you meant this."
Alex Louis nodded. As much as he talked about his family, he limited it to their accomplishments, not their wealth. It occurred to him that he knew nothing about Mustang's family. He'd heard unkind things rumored around the encampments in Ishbal about the little alchemist's mother being part of the exotic prostitute trade that seemed to be all that was left of the Xing population once the train stopped running between their respective countries. Alex Louis didn't know if it was true nor did he care. He admired his fellow alchemist.
"The home has been in the Armstrong family for generations," he said proudly.
"It's beautiful." Mustang went over to peer closely at a forest scene oil painting.
"Thank you," Armstrong said. "Dinner will be starting soon."
"Well, thanks again for inviting me," Mustang replied.
"It was Father's idea," Alex Louis said then realized how that sounded. "I'd rather have gotten together over drinks."
"We could always do that," Roy said, something in his eyes suggesting he'd have preferred that option to the one facing him.
Alex Louis smiled. He didn't have all that many friends and Mustang seemed like a good one to have. Just then one of his sisters popped out of the sun room, grinned then disappeared back inside. Mustang glanced over at him. "That was Catharine, my youngest sister. She's a little shy."
"She's a cute kid," Mustang said, his eyes tracking Catherine's path.
"Yes, we're all very fond of her, though I don't believe she'll be following me and our older sisters into the military. She also has no interest in alchemy," Alex Louis said, feeling a little protective of the youngest Armstrong.
"I guess it's not for everyone. Alchemy can get a little dull even when you have a passion for it," Mustang replied with brutal honesty.
"The Armstrongs have been alchemists for generations." Alex Louis kept his 'I think my parents are disappointed' to himself but it was probably obvious from his tone. "And in the military just as long. My older sister, Adaliz, will be taking dinner with us."
"Wasn't she just promoted?" Mustang asked.
"Yes." Alex Louis gestured for Mustang to enter the dining room. The small alchemist hung back once he stepped over the threshold, his eyes roaming over the room. Philip Armstrong sat at the head of the table with his wife next to him. Adaliz sat next to her mother, leaving the other side of the immense table for her brother and his guest. The Armstrongs stood to greet Mustang.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Colonel Mustang." Philip held out his hand and Mustang shook it, repeating the gesture with the female half of the family.
"Thank you inviting me. This is an amazing home," Mustang replied as Philip indicated for everyone to sit.
"You served with my brother in Ishbal, did you not, Mustang?" Adaliz's eyes raked over the alchemist.
Mustang glanced over at Alex Louis and Strongarm was certain then that he saw what he suspected he had seen back in Ishbal; self-loathing, regret, pain. It was one of the reasons he didn't protest when his father suggested this dinner party. Alex Louis was convinced Mustang had felt the same way about the war as he had. "Yes, ma'am, I did."
"Please, call me Adaliz," she replied and Alex Louis saw a predatory look in his sister's blue eyes. From the rabbit before a hawk look on Mustang's face, his fellow alchemist saw it, too. "Your alchemy is...unusual. Is it a family secret?"
"No, I'm the lone alchemist in my family. Well, I think so. I don't know much about dad's side of the family...or Mother's either." Mustang made a face. "We didn't have strong family ties like your family does. I studied with Mr. Hawkeye. My flame alchemy is his family's secret though, he never seemed interested in his only child learning it."
"Hawkeye?" Alex Louis' eyebrows climbed. "I did not know you knew her prior to her being assigned in our region."
"You know these people, son?" Philip asked as if surprised Alex Louis had any interest at all in the military.
"I know the man's daughter, mostly by reputation. She was only a cadet but her sharp shooting skills quickly became a thing of legend," Alex Louis replied.
"Her father charged me with taking care of her. I think he'd be very disappointed how that turned out." Mustang sighed. "He was not a fan of the military."
"Foolish man. The military is a fine institution," Philip replied, then launched into the military's 'golden years,' in other words when he was on active duty. The diatribe went on throughout dinner with occasional input from Alex Louis' mother, pleading with her husband to stop bragging. Adaliz made several barely veiled comments, enough that Alex Louis didn't doubt Mustang was probably sizing up his chances against a girl of Adaliz's fine, tall stature. Alex Louis was of a mind that Mustang was too willowy for his sister. He looked delicate. Maybe the alchemist could stand a few lessons in the traditional Armstrong morning exercise regime.
Alex Louis' father started winding down by the time dessert was over. Both his mother and Adaliz were fretting over how little Mustang ate though the alchemist had an 'I'm stuffed' look on his face and he kept protesting that the food was splendid and he enjoyed it. Alex Louis had kept relatively silent throughout the dinner, not sure what to say. His father was praising heros all the way to the clouds. Mustang was one and he...was anything but. Alex Louis didn't feel as if he had a place in this conversation.
He missed the thread of his father's latest conversational tidbit, only picking up when he heard, "I just wish Alex Louis would have understood better the reasons for following military command's lead. Orders are there for a reason." Alex Louis stared at the table, wishing his father wouldn't feel the need to share his disappointment in him with Mustang.
Mustang pushed aside his after dinner glass of wine. "Actually, sir, many times I wished I had followed Strongarm's lead. It takes a lot more courage to stand up to bad orders and refuse to carry them out than it is to blindly follow them."
Both Alex Louis and Philip stared at Mustang, stunned. Adaliz made a sound that showed her disdain for that idea.
"Your son wasn't wrong in thinking that the military shouldn't be killing children." Mustang looked like he wanted to say more but then decided it wasn't in his best interests to be so forthcoming with a family that could potentially report that to people who could hurt him, the way Alex Louis knew he had been hurt.
Philip grunted, resting his hands on his expansive belly. "I suppose you have a point there."
The rest of the conversation strayed onto less politically charged topics. After the evening wound down and Mustang left, Alex Louis was left wondering just how many others wished they could have just said no to their orders. Maybe it wasn't a weakness after all.
Clouds of smoke swirled around him and Alex Louis remembered why he wasn't a fan of pubs. He spotted Mustang in a corner, looking positively grim over his glass of whiskey. Mustang hadn't seen him yet. The empty stare was something Alex Louis had seen on too many faces in the desert, the look of a haunted man.
"Mustang," Alex Louis said before joining the man at his table.
Mustang's head jerked up, startled. "Oh, sorry, Armstrong. I sort of got started without you."
Alex Louis could see from the look in Mustang's clouded eyes he had more than got started. A couple more and the slender man wouldn't be able to walk home. "That's all right."
"Thanks again for inviting me to dinner," Mustang said as the waitress headed their way.
"I apologize if my father came across as overbearing," Alex Louis said then gave his order to the waitress who sped off.
"That's all right."
Alex Louis sighed, wishing that were entirely true. It might be unfair to bring this up now, given that Mustang was drunk but he felt he needed to. "Thank you for standing up for my decision."
Mustang downed the remaining whiskey in his glass in one powerful shot. "No thanks needed. I meant it."
"Well, it was appreciated any way."
"I didn't think it wise to mention in front of your sister and father but, the things they had us doing." He shook his head. "It was wrong. I knew it. You knew it. We all did. That wasn't war. It was annihilation." Mustang's voice was as insubstantial as the smoke around them. Alex Louis had to strain to hear him.
"There was...no call for it," Alex Louis agreed, remembering the dead child he had held in his arms, a child he had killed.
"And we didn't kill them all. The ones that survived...may not be as broken as Command would like to think," Mustang whispered. "And our own people, if they had any idea would hate us. This can never happen again. I want to see that this is never even dreamt of again."
"Then I'm glad you didn't do what I did," Alex Louis rumbled. "You and I both know I'm done for. If you had followed suit, you wouldn't have fared half as well. I know I'm not imprisoned because of who my family is."
Mustang frowned at his glass, glaring when he remembered it was empty. "I'm sure."
"You are in the position to rise," Alex Louis said.
The young lieutenant colonel nodded, leaning forward. "That's my plan. Some day I want to be fuhrer and I want things like Ishbal to never happen again."
Alex Louis didn't know if it was the alcohol making Mustang talk so dangerously or if he meant it. He decided it was probably both and he did something he rarely did; he made a hasty decision. "Whatever you need me to do to help, I will. You can call on me."
Mustang smiled. "I'll always remember that." He sat back as the waitress came with Alex Louis's beer and Mustang put in another order for whiskey.
The thrust of the conversation changed to things of a far less serious nature but Alex Louis would always remember the look of sheer determination in Mustang's eyes and of the promise he made to help him. Alex Louis didn't know where that would take him but he was willing to make the journey.