AUTHOR'S NOTES: This fic contains elements from the manga, starting from chapter 58, but is basically anime-verse.

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Central Park

Amestris, 1896

The sun shone brightly on the vast verdant expanse that was Central Park in Amestris. It was early in the afternoon, and people were scattered all around the park, engaged in all sorts of entertaining activities such as feeding the gluttonous ducks in the pond, walking dogs, watching the birds soaring overhead, flying kites – after all, there was a bit of wind in the air – and picnicking. Some just chose to take leisurely walks, lie on the grass and stare up at the blue sky, or just sit down on a bench with a good book or something else, should one not be interested in reading.

There was a particular wooden bench underneath a shady apple tree that was occupied by a young girl who looked no older than ten, but no younger than six or seven. Her blond hair was cropped, cut short as a boy's, and some of it flopped over one of her reddish-brown eyes. She was even dressed like a boy, wearing a dark blue vest over a red and white striped shirt, blue shorts that stopped at her knees and black shoes that looked more like boots than shoes. Her hands were busy tinkering with a crude Y-shaped branch and a length of rubber and she was hunched over her work, her eyes squinted in concentration. A small pile of stones occupied the spot beside her.

So engrossed was she in whatever she was doing that she never noticed a group of much older boys, probably much closer to adolescence than she was, sidle up in front of her, sneering and guffawing.

"Hey, isn't a girl like you supposed to be playing with dolls and stuffed animals?"

"Yeah, do you really think you can pass for a boy like that? 'Cause you can't."

The girl barely glanced up, and went on with trying to attach each end of the rubber to the two ends of the Y. But she did mutter something so softly that the boys leaned in to listen.

"Leave me alone. I'm busy."

The tallest among the gang, who wore a black cap that probably denoted that he was the leader, or at least the oldest or the most street-smart, reached out to grab the girl's things, but she was quicker, stuffing everything into her pocket, including her stones, and jumping onto her feet. She stared up at the guys, showing no fear, despite them towering over her.

"I know who she is!" he declared, pointing a finger at her. "She's the kid of that poor, deranged alchemist who lives next door to us! Say, are you gonna call your daddy and tell him some big mean boys are bothering you? See? You can't pass for a boy."

"Who ever said I was going to call my father? And don't you call him deranged, he knows a lot more than you ever will, Brad," was the reply. The girl barely moved a muscle, but one of her hands groped for her branch. "And why would I want to be a boy?"

Brad bent over slightly so he was eye-to-eye with the girl.

"So what are you gonna do now, eh?" His cronies stood behind him, cackling and talking excitedly among themselves, throwing the girl a few dirty looks here and there, which she ignored.

"Hey! Leave her alone!"

A new voice cut through the cool air, and the boys craned their necks, following the sound. There was another boy, around ten, and he was only an inch shorter than the shortest in the gang. This new arrival had black hair that the wind had already slightly messed up, very dark blue eyes that glittered with a sense of purpose, and wore a collared, long-sleeved plain white shirt over a pair of black trousers. He had his hands on his waist, and the girl thought she caught a glimpse of something between his fingers – was it chalk?

"This ain't any of your business, Mustang," growled a blond boy who probably weighed more than the boy he called Mustang and the girl put together.

"Yeah, leave us alone," Brad chimed in, stepping up to face him. The others accompanied him like the huge bunch of bodyguards they were. "What could you possibly want with this little brat?"

"You should always be nice to girls. Didn't your dads teach you that?" the black-haired boy pressed on.

"Are you trying to scare us, Mustang?" asked the blonde, whose name was Lee. "What'cha gonna do, call your dad, just 'cause he's a general in the military?"

Mustang shook his head defiantly and crouched down on the grass. He raised his right hand – which really was clutching a piece of chalk – and drew two circles on the ground, starting with one circle, a triangle inscribed in it, another triangle over the first, albeit smaller and inverted, and finished off with another smaller circle inside the innermost triangle.

"A transmutation circle," whispered the girl as she took this time to tighten the rubber on her branch.

"What's that?" drawled a mousy-haired boy with watery, gray eyes, pointing scornfully at the white marks striking through the green.

"You'll see," said Mustang confidently, placing his hands on the circle and wearing a huge smirk that rivaled those of Brad and his gang. It started to glow with scintillating light that blinded everyone watching him, and something seemed to grow out of the circle, dazzling as the light that streamed from the array. The thing shuddered slightly as it grew till it was only an inch or so under the crouching boy's chin. When everything cleared, the circle had given birth to the small, slightly lopsided cannon made of dirt and rock that was now pointing straight at the other boys.

"Are we supposed to be scared of that thing?" Lee joked, jabbing another comrade in the ribs and laughing. "Look at it, Frank, isn't it cute?"

Brad raised an eyebrow. "Bet I could turn that toy into dust faster than you can make it."

"No way!" Mustang kept his hands on the circle that was still intact despite the cannon protruding from it, and the cannon shuddered, suddenly emitting a spray of water that drenched them from head to foot, even bringing along some bits of grass and mud. Unfortunately, it was nothing more than just a little shower, and it ended in a few seconds. The gang was wet and a bit dirty, some of them even whining about it, but they started laughing again in no time.

"It takes more than just a bit of water and mud to scare us. Try again, kid," taunted Brad. He swung his right foot back, and gave the cannon a good kick, demolishing about half of it. Mustang leapt aside and avoided getting hit by the foot or the dirt that went flying, but his creation was now a useless pile of rubble. Still, he stood tall and knotted his hands into fists shaking both with frustration and anger.

"I can beat you, even without alchemy."

"I dare you to," yawned Brad, adjusting the cap on his head and glaring down at the younger boy with his piercing, emerald-green stare. But before either he or Mustang could make a move, Brad yelped, feeling his head and screwing up his face in pain and infuriation. At his feet was a good-sized dirt clod, cracked in half. "Ouch! Which one of you wise guys did that?!"

Lee shrugged, lifting his broad shoulders. "Not me, boss." The rest of the gang echoed his answer. Suddenly, they all threw their hands over their heads as a couple of dirt clods swooped down on them, this time striking Lee and Frank.

"Hey!"

"That wasn't funny!"

It didn't get any funnier when a real stone missed Brad by an inch, Lee by half, and Frank by even less, plopping to the ground. Mustang stepped back, and saw that the following dirt clods and stones were only targeting the gang. Boys howled and whined as they got hit, some of them fleeing till only Brad and Lee remained. A few more projectiles rained down on them, and they winced as they made helmets out of their own hands.

"What the hell is going on?"

"I dunno, let's just get out of here before our skulls crack open! Ow! Ow!" Brad groaned as two small stones landed on his head. Even though his cap absorbed some of the impact, and one of the stones simply gave him a sore finger, they still hurt. "This isn't over, Mustang!" he bellowed as he and Lee hightailed it after their friends. Mustang watched in amusement as they ran, but sighed as he glanced down at his destroyed cannon.

"That was a nice bit of alchemy, but it was useless."

"Who're you callin' useless – "

Mustang blinked and saw the girl walking up to him, clutching a slingshot in one hand and a dirt clod in the other. She smiled at him, but her smile flickered and changed into what looked like an imperious expression, as though she were his older sister and he had done something she didn't particularly like, which was saying something, as it was pretty obvious that she was younger than he.

"If I hadn't fixed my slingshot in time, you would have been finished," she said matter-of-factly.

"Don't you think you should be thanking me for saving your skin – me, Roy Mustang, who will one day become the greatest, best, most powerful alchemist in the world?" he asked, smirking.

"I saved my own skin," answered the girl, throwing the dirt clod at the remains of Mustang's cannon. The clod hit its target, and everything fell apart, much to his chagrin. Then again, Brad had given it a good kick earlier anyway. "Brad and his stupid gang were too stupid to see me firing at them. Okay, so maybe you were the distraction, that's it."

The boy bristled at this statement. "Me – a distraction?! I'm not just a distraction…I still helped you get rid of them!"

"Guess you and your alchemy were of some use after all. Anyway, Brad was right. That was really only a little toy you made out of alchemy. You've got a long way to go if you want to be a real alchemist…Roy, is it?"

"The other kids usually just call me Mustang," he said with a shrug. "But fine, I guess you can call me Roy, if you really want to. What's your name?"

"You can call me Riza," she said, pocketing her slingshot. "Anyway, I have to get going. My father wants me home now."

"I can take you home. Where do you live?"

"I can go home on my own. I'm not some lost little kitten – I know the way."

"Isn't it too early?" Mustang glanced up at the sky. "The sun is up, the sky is blue…"

"And the only thing annoying me now is you," Riza finished for him.

"What if Brad and the other dummies show up again? Who'll protect you then…Riza?" he pressed on, obviously undaunted by the sharp tongue she had just unsheathed.

She turned her back on him and started walking away. But before that, she glanced behind her and said, "I can take care of myself. Besides, like I said, you still need more practice with your alchemy. I've seen better transmutations than that. Like I said, you've still got a long way to go before becoming a great alchemist. You've got to be able to do more than just tiny water cannons like that."

"Maybe water isn't my element," said the boy, scratching his head and brushing away some of his bangs. "What about fire – do you think I could use alchemy to control fire?" He ran over to her side.

"People who play with fire usually end up getting burned," Riza recited, as though admonishing him. "I wouldn't recommend it. I have to go. Don't you also have some place to go?"

Mustang shook his head. "Not really…my dad's still busy with work, since he's a major general in the military and all, and my mom works at a restaurant. They let me go to the park on my own, since I know where it is, and so long as I come home before dinner."

Riza started walking even faster. "Look, I'm sorry, but I really have to go." This time, she sounded a lot more serious. "But I bet you'll find other things to do besides talk to me."

"Wait…before you go, I want to tell you something."

With a sigh, she slowed down and briefly faced Mustang, but kept on going. "What?" she asked impatiently. "Shouldn't you have asked me that earlier?"

He halted in his tracks and watched her breeze past him. The boy knotted his hands and suddenly called out something that made Riza freeze instantly.

"I…I think you're cute. I mean, how you shot those freaks and sent them running. I've never seen a girl like you that good with a slingshot. That was something."

Riza whipped around and stared at him. For a while, all the two children did was stare at each other, even as the wind blew past them, lifting the golden bangs that fell over one of her eyes and somewhat lifting the rubber sling that stuck out from her pocket. Then the air moved on to Mustang, sweeping his dark fringe away from his face and revealing his onyx gaze, seemingly boring into her. He flattened his hair as the wind lifted it, but never took his eyes off Riza, whose skeptical look softened into a gentle smile. For some reason, the boy thought it suited her more.

"T – Thank you…I guess," she answered shyly, feeling her cheeks burn as she blushed. Then just as quickly as the blush had crept onto her face, she turned around and kept on walking. No other kid ever said I was cute…nah, maybe Mustang just says it to all the girls he meets. He's probably said it to every other girl besides me…

Still, a part of her insisted that even if that may have been true, it was still a nice thing to say, especially coming from a boy with huge ambitions like becoming the greatest alchemist in the world.

And as she stepped farther and farther away, Mustang continued to stand there, watching her – her short hair gently rippling in the breeze, her boyish outfit, how she put one foot ahead of the other, how her slingshot stuck out from her shorts pocket, how she had looked at him so intently with those eyes of hers, more red than brown, how she could actually use a slingshot…

He dug his hand into his pocket and found the piece of chalk he had used to draw the transmutation circle. It left a few powdery white stains on his hands, but he couldn't care less – alchemists had more important things to worry about than chalky fingers.

"You're right…I've got a long way to go before I become a great alchemist," Mustang mused to himself. But since you seem to know something or other about alchemy, maybe you could help me?

Chuckling, he kept his chalk again and looked up at the grassy fields before him, punctuated by trees, flowering bushes, and other hallmarks of a park. Riza was completely out of sight now, and he felt a twinge of disappointment.

Eh, how can a cute little girl like her help me become a great alchemist? Sure, she's good with a slingshot…and she is cute…

Mustang shrugged and decided to leave as well. Maybe he could just go home early and find those old alchemy books again…he did need practice.

He did have a long way to go, even if he already started teaching himself alchemy a few years ago.