NOTES: Events in Noda's latest time-traveling escapade are covered in episode 25. There are slight spoilers for those who haven't seen episode 25.
I blame college, as always. When in doubt, blame college!
When Edward and Alphonse Elric gently pushed the open door of Roy Mustang's office, they were pleasantly surprised to see Hughes instead, passionately arranging several picture frames on Roy's desk. In front of him were Riza and Havoc, plotting some points on a map of Eastern Amestris.
"Hey, what happened to the Colonel?" asked Ed. "Not that I'm complaining," he added quickly. He stepped into the office, and Al followed close behind with clanking footsteps after shutting the door behind them.
"You haven't heard, I presume? The news was all over East Headquarters – scratch that; may as well be the entire military," said Hughes, waving at the Elric brothers as they took seats beside the two lieutenants. "It's a long story, really…"
"We have time," said Al. "We just stopped by for a little visit…hope the Colonel's doing fine, wherever he is…"
The lieutenant colonel smiled as he shoved a huge stack of papers away from his precious photos. "That reminds me…have I showed you the picture of Elysia helping Gracia bake her famous apple pie?"
"Uh…we'd like to hear how Mustang suddenly went MIA," Ed replied. "I mean, it's not like him. Okay, so maybe it is…"
"To keep the long story short, Roy has been given a…erm, a very special assignment, which is to be a substitute teacher in the Alice Academy, a rather prestigious school for gifted children in the far-flung reaches of the East. He's teaching English and handling Elementary Class B, and he'll be there for a few weeks or so. That's where I come in and man things while he's out. Unfortunately this takes me so far away from my two beautiful, heaven-sent angels…"
The Fullmetal Alchemist and his younger brother traded a look. At first, neither of them said anything, as Riza turned away from the map to write down some notes on a piece of paper, Havoc muttered about sharpening his pencil, and Hughes sighed as he went through the documents he had set aside awhile ago.
Then Ed began to laugh. He laughed so hard that he clutched the arm of the couch he was lounging in for support. "Mustang?! A teacher? Seriously, Lieutenant Colonel…that was some joke. You almost got me there…you sounded so serious and everything!" He gasped and slapped his knees, laughing anew. "What about you, Al? Didn't you think that was a hoot?"
Al cocked his helmet to one side and scratched the top of it. "Brother…I don't think he's joking." He glanced at Hughes, who was now twiddling his thumbs as he scanned a document. Neither Riza nor Havoc seemed to be amused, either.
"Edward," Riza began slowly.
"Your little brother is right," finished Hughes, picking up the paper and waving it towards Ed. "Here's an official letter from the Alice Academy principals and administration."
Ed stood up, crossed the room and snatched up the letter with his automail hand. As he read, he heard a few clanking noises and saw a shadow cast onto part of the paper. When Ed was done, he turned to Al.
"It has signatures and seals and everything," said the younger Elric. "See? Colonel Mustang really is a substitute teacher!"
"I wish I knew how they got a guy like Mustang to do that kind of work," muttered Ed, more to himself than to Al or Hughes.
"And I have more proof," said the lieutenant colonel, as though he knew what Ed was thinking. Hughes picked up the receiver from the phone on his – actually, Roy's – desk, dialed swiftly, and waited. As it rang, he added, "Haven't updated him on – oh, hey there, Roy! I've got lots of interesting news for you, but first, I think someone wants to talk to you."
And then he handed the phone to Ed.
"Well, what brings you to East HQ, Fullmetal?" Roy's unmistakable tone filled Ed's ear. "Did you come to visit me…perhaps bring me a gift?"
"Very funny," Ed replied, obviously infuriated. "So, I heard about your new job. Does that mean Hughes takes over for good? I wouldn't mind working under him, actually."
Havoc snickered until Riza shot him a glowering expression. Hughes stifled a guffaw. On the phone, the Flame Alchemist chuckled, and Ed could almost see his superior smirking widely on the other end.
"Don't worry. I won't be here for too long. Why…will you miss me?"
The Fullmetal Alchemist gritted his teeth. "Why would I?" he shot back. "Who knows, it might be easier to get promotions over there!"
"Or, maybe when I come back, I'll be promoted."
"That's all you ever think about, eh, Mustang?" Ed snorted, giving the receiver back to Hughes. But before that, he put in, "I hope the kids are giving you hell."
"Oh, they don't. They're very good, actually…much more disciplined than you, Fullmetal. You could learn a thing from them…and they're only ten."
Hughes grinned, half-apologetically and half-amusedly as he talked to Roy again. "You should've seen Elysia try to make apple pie with Gracia…"
"How did those remedial classes with Mikan go, Roy? Did they do her any good?"
"Check this out, Noda – seven out of ten in the transitive and intransitive verb quiz. Not bad, don't you think? She's been working pretty hard – "
The substitute teacher's voice suddenly trailed off, and he stared out the window of the faculty office. He thought that, amidst the colorful background outside, he saw a flash of black. Roy blinked once, and it was gone.
Noda waved his hand in front of Roy's face. "Hey…what's wrong?"
"Nothing," was the reply. "I thought…nah, maybe it was a student. Never mind. Noda, you're becoming…blurry…again…where are you off to next?"
"That's the thing; I always have no idea where I'll be off to next!"
"Does this mean you'll be calling off your next Special Ability class?" Serina chimed in, her hands hovering over her clouded crystal ball.
"I hope I'll be back in time," said Noda, as he started looking more like steam than a human being. Roy almost thought that his colleague would soon dissipate into the air. "No pun intended." And with that, Noda was gone again.
Serina and Roy, the only two teachers left in the staff room, traded a look.
"How's Narumi these days?" asked Roy in a bid to break the ice.
"Fine," answered Serina. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm missing all my classes just to keep a close watch on him. Then I remember all the trouble he's been getting himself into lately…"
For a long time, everything was pitch-black, and Noda wondered if his eyes were shut tight. He could feel himself flying and falling at the same time, but he was no stranger to this sensation, having experienced it so many times…
And then he felt his face collide with something hard.
He steadied himself with his hands and knees, feeling papers and clipboards on the floor, and knelt down to examine the object he had conked his nose against. It was dark brown and rectangular, and it read Inconcessus Scientia in foreboding, gilded block letters underneath a picture of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, or at least something that resembled it. At least, he thought that was what he read and saw; the place he was hurled into was pretty dim, unlike the bright, blazing sunshine over the Amestrian army camp, or the bright, blazing flames Roy created during the Ishbal massacre.
Even though he knew he was unseen to the people of whatever time he had landed in this time, Noda moved aside as a hand reached out for the item he had been staring at, and almost sat on several charcoal drawings of circles covered in strange runes. This hand was splattered with red paint and smeared with something black that was either charcoal or a whole lot of grime. The person was hunched slightly, with unkempt dark hair, and the sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to his elbows. Noda recognized the trousers and boots as part of the Amestrian military uniform.
But his back was turned, so Noda could not see his face. This stranger sat on the floor, working with a paintbrush and a bucket of blood-red paint. As he moved closer, the teacher watched as a new circle began to take form on the floor, and all sorts of lines intersected and entwined in it, including words written in splotchy script such as cruento, clementia, viscus and tergum.
Noda chanced a look at the man's face, crawling in front of him and avoiding the wet paint and the sea of reading materials. It was only a fleeting glimpse, but that was enough to make him almost back away against a desk that was overflowing with books and papers.
Roy looked much better when he was a soldier in the Ishbal massacre. This Roy Mustang, older than that one and younger than the Roy Mustang working in the Alice Academy, was in dire need of a shave, a wash, more proper combing than usual, a change of clothes, and most of all, a good night's sleep. Noda stood up and stared at the pocket watch open on top of a thick, leather-bound book entitled, The Dark Side of Alchemy and Its Lighter Side. It was twenty minutes past seven. Whether it was morning or evening, he couldn't tell, as the curtains were all drawn.
Tearing himself away from the strangely-titled book, he decided to examine the room he and Roy were in more closely. The walls disappeared under towering, filled shelves, and Roy's military jacket was draped on a chair. The badges had one more star than the badges he wore during the war.
Before the teacher could make any more observations, a knock on the door made both him and Roy jump. The latter got to his feet, thrust the brush back into the can, and shuffled towards the door, swaying slightly. He didn't look drunk, but he definitely looked like someone who definitely had to be shoved into bed.
When the door opened, a man not much older than Roy came into view. This newcomer also had black hair, but he had light green eyes behind rectangular-rimmed glasses. He stared at Roy at first, then grinned and said as he held out a basket, "Got my girlfriend to bake you an apple pie. You want it?"
Noda walked closer to them in time to see Roy smile back – a small, tired smile so incongruous to his scruffy features.
Who was he? Noda wanted to know. He and Roy didn't look like relatives…or so he thought. Is he someone from Roy's past…maybe also his present? The man walked into the room and looked around, still clutching his basket. Just about nothing escaped his gaze – not the books, not the papers with many different circles scrawled on them, and definitely not the paintings and chalk drawings on the floor. Some of them were even on the walls.
"Roy," the man began, no longer smiling.
"It's called a taboo," said Roy, shrugging. "Forbidden alchemy…it's kinda fun."
Taboo? Forbidden alchemy? Noda echoed to himself. Was Roy's Alice – alchemy – forbidden? There was such thing as forbidden alchemy?
He gasped as the man suddenly grabbed Roy by his collar, his green eyes boring into Roy's dark blue ones.
"I may not know much about alchemy," he hissed, "but I'm no fool, and I do know what happens to anyone who commits a taboo!" He let go of Roy, who sighed.
"You can relax, Maes, I haven't done anything."
"But you were going to," the one called Maes shot back.
While the two of them talked, and Noda listened to their conversation, he noticed the overcrowded table again. There was something else there besides research and a silver pocket watch, isolated from all that and off to one corner.
Noda winced as his bottom hit the floor of the classroom where the Special Ability Alices were talking animatedly. Misaki was complaining again about the overly eager and gung-ho Roy Mustang fan club, Tsubasa was rolling his eyes in agreement with everything she said, and Mikan was giggling, presumably at something Misaki said. Of course, everyone quickly turned to see their teacher appear out of nowhere, which was just normal.
"Mr. Noda!" exclaimed Mikan. "You're just in time!"
"Good one, Mikan," he answered, using the chalk ledge of the blackboard to support himself. Then he realized how wet his palms were. Wiping a hand on his pants, he ran a hand through his hair – which was also drenched with sweat.
"I don't think she meant that to be another time-related joke," said Tsubasa. "Never mind. Are you all right, sir? You don't look too good."
"No, I'm fine," said Noda, shaking his head. "I think it's time for – "
"Hey there, Noda, I see you're back…just in time. Get it?"
Mikan stood up from her seat and waved gaily. "Hi, Mr. Mustang!" she called.
Some of the girls – Misaki not included, of course – craned their necks to see who had spoken and used a time pun as well.
Noda grinned awkwardly, wiping sweat from his temple. "Oh…what brings you here, Roy?"
"Well, my next class is this way," said Roy, pointing down the corridor. "Where else do you think can I pass to get there, some secret passageway or something? Have fun."
"Was that for me or for Mikan?"
"Both of you. See you later. And Mikan, I do hope you haven't forgotten to study for today's quiz. You do know how to find object complements in a sentence now, right?"
Mikan saluted sagely. "Yes, sir!" She didn't notice the other girls whispering furiously among themselves and seeing how many furtive glances they could throw in Roy's direction without getting noticed. When he walked away, they all sighed and turned back towards Noda, whose little grin had already faded.
"You don't look fine," Misaki pointed out.
"Want us to take you to the hospital?" her doppelganger offered.
"No, no…it's just a little…headache. Too much time-travel, I guess," said Noda, forcing a laugh. "Now, where were we? We were going to have a practical lesson again today, right?"
The class nodded. As he picked up a piece of chalk, the fingers closed around the stick twitched ever so slightly.
What the children didn't know was that the image of Roy losing sleep and studying feverishly in order to break the rules of alchemy was haunting him, along with exploding buildings and the Vitruvian Man. Why have I been visiting his past lately? Did this mean something? Was there much more to his Alice – alchemy – than I thought? Was there much more to Roy Mustang than the man who knew the best way to keep Natsume Hyuuga under control and to humiliate Jinno?
I'm going to become the Führer, Maes. I'm going to change how this country's run.
And what did that mean?
The image of the gun popped into his head next, and shuddered. Had he thought…thought of…
Mikan's voice snapped him out of it.
"Oh…sorry, I must have forgotten what I was supposed to write. I remember it now, don't worry."