Disclaimer: I do not own, nor ever will, Fullmetal Alchemist or the characters within.
General Roy Mustang picked up another folder and sighed. It was nearly six in the evening, he had been here since seven this morning and the paperwork just kept on coming. When, he wondered would they run out of paper. It would make his life so much easier. They could reuse the existing paper until it wore out and then he could realise his vision of a paperwork-less military. He shook his head. He really needed another coffee, these long days were starting to get to him.
As if summoned by his thought, Major Havoc walked through his door with fresh coffee and another pile of files.
"This should do it for today, Chief." Havoc said with his usual calm disregard of Mustang's glowering face. He had been with Mustang for so many years now that there was little the man could do to scare him.
"I'm sure I'm thanking you somewhere for this." Mustang retorted and picked up his coffee as he opened the file.
Coffee left his mouth in a fine spray and coated his desk in small droplets as he spluttered wildly.
The list of this year's State Alchemist candidates was in his hand and his eye was frozen on one name.
Edward von Hohenheim.
It took Roy Mustang a long time before he could stop his hands from shaking.
Edward von Hohenheim looked around the large room where the written examination was to take place. He had found a seat amongst the others scattered along the tiered seating. A raised dais was at the lowest level where several blue uniforms were sorting out the test papers. He looked across at the banners hanging from the wall and then scanned the room idly. Large windows gave the room an even more spacious feel. So unlike the last place he thought. That had felt more like a dark and dank cavern compared to this. This was much better, he thought. He leant back in the seat and waited.
A door opened near the dais and a line of soldiers appeared. Edward watched with idle curiousity. Four of them sat at the long table and two others stood at either end. They looked like normal everyday soldiers, he thought. Two of them had brown hair, one had black hair and an eye-patch and the grey haired one seemed to have more decorations than the others combined. At their appearance, several corporals began moving up the levels and handing out the papers. Edward watched as the paper slid across the desk face down in front of him.
The grey haired soldier stood up.
"This is the first stage to determine which of you will be accepted into service with the State Alchemists. You may begin."
Edward turned over the paper, picked up his pen and started at question one.
It had taken General Roy Mustang less than five seconds to spot the golden blond head as he had entered the room and walked onto the dais. He had scanned the tiers and seen the golden hair that could only belong to Edward Elric. Why he was now calling himself von Hohenheim was a mystery and one Mustang intended to get answered as soon as he could. Edward was dressed in a sober brown coat and he thought he could see a cream shirt beneath it. His hair was pulled back in a high ponytail. He had gloves on and Mustang wondered if there was still automail under the right one.
Mustang frowned slightly. When Edward's face had turned in his direction he had expected a smirk or something, but there had been nothing. And when the papers were handed out, he simply started with everyone else. The lack of any recognition of either his surroundings or himself caused Mustang to doubt for a moment if that was Edward sitting there. But there was no-one else here that it could be.
The clock ticked away as the exam progressed. Mustang kept an eye on the golden head. Edward, it had to be Edward, kept writing steadily, never looking up. The pen kept moving smoothly in his left hand for page after page. For three hours that golden head never lifted.
When time was called he watched as Edward handed his paper to the collecting officer. He stretched and then moved easily with a slight limp to the stairs and climbed with the others to leave the room without looking behind him.
It's been five years, Mustang thought with a twist in his gut. Name change or not, that's got to be Edward Elric.
Edward von Hohenheim looked around the small hotel room. His opened case sat on the end of his single bed and his coat was tossed over the chair by the small desk. A bedside table with matching dresser and small wardrobe were the only other pieces of furniture.
He picked up a book from his case and placed it on the bedside table before going to the window. The window was dusty as if it hadn't been cleaned for some time and Edward lightly touched the glass with his fingertips. There was a brief rattle as the glass shook and the dirt slipped from the window. Edward smiled slightly as he looked out the now cleaned window.
The first part was done he thought. Two more to go. The written paper had been easier than he had expected. He had been told it was very hard and he hadn't expected to answer more than three quarter of the questions. But he had managed to answer them all and he couldn't think of any mistakes he might have made.
He leant his head against the window and stared unseeing through his reflection. The answers were here, he knew that. He just had to find them.
Roy Mustang looked at the lists. Edward von Hohenheim had passed the written exam. He had done more than just pass, he had answered every question and gotten them all correct. Mustang couldn't remember the last time that had happened or even if it ever had. Mustang looked at the other paper on his desk. Edward's test paper. He looked at the handwriting. It was slightly familiar but nowhere near the scrawling penmanship he remembered seeing on Edward's reports. This was definitely more legible.
Was this von Hohenheim Edward Elric returned after so long? It had looked like him from the distance. His knowledge of alchemy was impressive, very impressive, and he had limped and written left-handedly. Did he have automail, or some form of prosthetics for two of his limbs? Hohenheim had been his father's name, who else would even use it? And why was he using it? That was the thought that kept running through his mind. Hohenheim was not a common name.
Mustang leant back in his chair. The interviews were to be held the day after tomorrow and this Edward von Hohenheim would be there. His score alone guaranteed that. Perhaps when he saw him closer up, he would be able to know if this was Elric or not.
And if it was, why hadn't Al told him or did Al have no idea of this either? Al wasn't due back in Central for another two weeks, Mustang decided it could wait until then. Hopefully he would know a lot more about this Edward von Hohenheim by then.
His hand tightened. It had to be Edward, it just had to be.
The candidates sat around the small foyer in front of the white doors. The numbers had shrunk, obviously quite a few had not passed the written test. Edward von Hohenheim watched as one after the other, they were called to enter the room beyond the double doors. He studied the white carved panels and found the designs interesting as his eyes followed the graceful lines of the figures. He blinked suddenly as he saw the angle between one curved line and another. His eyes flickered and he gave a small smile. There was an array hidden very subtly amongst the bas-relief figures.
When his name was called, he rose from his seat and approached the doors, gripping the handles and letting the array tingle through him before pulling them open and entering the dark room beyond.
His first step on the array caused it to flare beneath him and the light blazed down from the ceiling at the same time. Edward closed his eyes and walked through the blinding light to the Chair and sat down. The array beneath him dimmed as he sat and he opened his eyes. The same soldiers who had been upon the dais for the written exam were seated behind the table before him.
"Why do you wish to become a State Alchemist?" The grey haired man asked.
"Because I have the need to be one. Alchemy is the centre of my life and it is all I know."
"Why do you need to be a State Alchemist?"
"Because alchemy teaches that one must have a purpose for every thing you do. It is my purpose and I must use it as I can."
Mustang watched the golden-eyed young man. He had never seen the array on the floor react like that before. It was there to anchor the Chair. It was not supposed to be activated by people walking on it. This was Edward Elric, he was sure of it. But there was no recognition in his eyes. The voice was accented and concise. There was no nervousness as he continued to answer the questions. There was a sense of honesty about him as he spoke. And he appeared calm. Mustang had never thought to associate that word with Edward at all.
When he finished, he stood up and bowed, the array beneath him glowing faintly. When the double doors closed behind him, both the array and the central light above went dark.
"Well, that was interesting." The grey haired man turned in his seat and looked at Mustang.
"Very." Mustang replied, keeping his voice level.
"Mark him down as passed and let us see what he produces at the practical."
General Roy Mustang had suffered from insomnia on several occasions in his life. Ishbal had left him unable to sleep for years, the loss of Maes still disrupted his sleep. The double strike of losing his eye and killing Bradley in what turned out to be a futile endeavour had cost him more than just sleep. But the loss of Edward Elric had left him unable to find any peace anywhere. It had gnawed at him, even when he did manage to sleep.
He didn't know when it had happened, but somewhere along the line he had fallen in love with the irritating, annoying, short-tempered, short statured pain in the ass. The boy had made his life a living hell at times, he had insulted him, attacked him, he had thought the worst of him and he had given him respect and understanding when he had least expected it. When he had heard that Edward was missing, something in him had died and he had been blinded by the sudden pang.
It had taken him a year to realise just why Edward's disappearance had caused him such pain and by then he had retreated into a cold shell at a cold outpost. A small rebellion and a stupid suicidal attack had led him back here, with honours and a promotion for his daring behaviour. Only Hawkeye had labelled his actions as reckless and seen them for what they were. A death wish that had gone unfulfilled.
As he strode to his office on the day of the practicals, Mustang was feeling bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. He was determined to talk to Edward von Hohenheim as soon as the exams were over. He wanted to know, he had to know just exactly who this young man was.
Edward von Hohenheim stood on the wide steps leading into Headquarters and yawned as he idly watched the people passing. Some hurried past and others moved with casual intent. People were the same all over he thought. All wrapped up in their little worlds. He smiled as he looked up at the large banner that hung above him. The contrast of the green against the blue sky teased his eyes and he watched with appreciation as the banner shifted in the wind, pulling against its restraining ropes.
Dad was right, I think I will like it here, he thought and his smile faded slightly as his golden eyes dimmed for a moment and he sighed before he began to walk up the stairs. Signs were posted and he followed the arrows as they led him and the others through long hallways to a large open parade ground surrounded by the even larger sprawling complex that was Central Headquarters.
The mountainous piles of raw materials caught his eye and he studied them carefully. Spoiled for choice, he thought. He tilted his head as he looked at it again and began to draw arrays in his mind.
General Roy Mustang stood with the others, slightly behind General Paull, the head of the Amestrian Military. The Amestrian parliament had claimed control of the military when Fuhrer Bradley had disappeared and had placed General Paull as their puppet. However, soon after he had been appointed, General Paull had discreetly and carefully canvassed several of the other Generals and then had thrown away his strings and taken proper control of the Military, much to the chagrin of the parliament.
It had taken a rebellion and a lot of talking before he had persuaded Roy Mustang to return to Central and resume his old command position. Semi-control of the State Alchemists had been a nice sweetener and Mustang had found himself unable to resist, especially when a recovered Alphonse Elric had appeared in his office two years ago and demanded to join.
He watched the young man contemplating the provided materials and was convinced again that it was Edward Elric standing there. Wearing that same brown coat with the cream shirt and brown pants he had worn to both the written and interview, he looked remarkably at ease in these surroundings. His hair was in that long fluid golden tail and it moved as his head tilted to one side.
General Paull waited until everyone was gathered and spoke clearly.
"This is the final test. Using the materials we have provided you must demonstrate to our satisfaction your skills in the practical applications of alchemy." He finished and stepped back and watched with interest as did the other observers.
There was the usual pause as the applicants looked at each other, each wondering what the other would do and nerves got the better of some of them. Mustang saw the self-doubters take that step back that usually meant they had failed and were going to be unable to perform at all.
Edward von Hohenheim had no such doubts and there was no hesitation as he was the first to stride forward. Even with his limp, he walked easily and gracefully towards the mountains of rock and dirt. With no apparent preparation he knelt down and his hands met in a quiet clap. Gloved hands were placed on the ground and the mountain moved. It sank completely into the ground and disappeared. The golden eyed man smiled as there was a rumble and a small mound of solid iron ore rose from the centre of the now empty space and then several other piles began to appear, circling out from the first. Ever faster and ever expanding the mounds appeared. All the elements collected into their purest form and separated.
Mustang watched as Edward stood up and brushed a hand against the iron ore. Metal gleamed as steel cables snaked from the central mound and linked into the others. Edward walked slowly away as the cables stretched taut behind him, linking the pillars together. He stood just outside the joined elements. With that same quiet clap he touched the cable and the array he had constructed flared into brilliant blue life. Fire flared along the steel lines and sparked in each element. The array sank down into the ground and took the cables and mounds with it. A shuddering and the ground split open and the original mountain reappeared.
Edward turned and began to walk back to the group, a small smile on his lips. The other applicants moved out of his way as he limped back to his original place and Mustang saw the puzzled frown that creased his forehead.
Mustang was in awe. He had never seen such a large scale transmutation before. It was no wonder the others were wary of him. He couldn't even begin to design an array that would accomplish what Edward von Hohenheim had just achieved. And he had used no circles. He had only known Edward Elric to be able to do that. Even without circles it would have required detailed knowledge and time to plan and mentally calculate what was needed.
Didn't he realise just how extraordinary what he had done was, Mustang thought as he saw the frown deepen and the golden eyes become confused as the other applicants moved further away from him. This was not how he remembered Edward Elric behaving. Edward would have known exactly what he had done. But then again, he wondered if the Edward he remembered would have thought of such a transmutation.
He watched the other applicants but knew they could not compete. The exam had finished the moment those gloved hands had literally moved mountains.
It was silent in General Paull's office. Dark brown eyes met a single one of black.
"We have no choice, Roy. He is the best candidate we have ever seen. No-one has ever done what he did."
"I know, Justin." Roy said with reluctant agreement. "It's just ... if he is Edward Elric returned, why would he feel the need to use a different name? It worries me." And he doesn't act like Edward and he doesn't recognise me, he thought.
Over the last few years, the two men had managed to build a solid working relationship based on their original respect for each other. A drunken night had sealed their friendship as they had spilled secrets neither of them had ever planned to tell. It was a measure of the depth of their friendship that Justin Paull did not ask Roy how he was coping with that same resemblance on a personal level. He could see that for himself in the uncharacteristic fiddling of the gloved hands.
"I'll have him placed under your command. If there is anything suspicious then you will know better than anyone else what to look for." The General's voice had a hint of hesitancy in it as he watched Roy tense slightly and then relax.
"Agreed." Roy met his eyes with a wry twist to his lips. "There really is no other place for him."
A contemplative silence fell between them.
"Will you be okay, Roy?" The question was quietly asked and the reply was just as quiet.
"I don't know."
Edward von Hohenheim received a message at his hotel to report to General Mustang's office at two that afternoon. Correctly assuming it to be the notification of his results he made sure he was there early to ask for directions to the General's office. A helpful desk sergeant gave him explicit directions and he set off through the maze of hallways and stairs.
It took him less time than he had thought it would and he appeared at the office door fifteen minutes early. A blond Major with an unlit cigarette in his mouth looked up as the young man appeared before his desk. His blue eyes went wide and the cigarette dropped from his mouth. Before he could say anything the young man spoke.
"I was told to meet a General Mustang here at two. My name is Edward von Hohenheim." He spoke clearly in his accented voice and his eyes widened fractionally at the sudden paling of the Major's face.
"I'll just let him know." Havoc said in a voice he tried to keep even and nearly ran into the inner office, closing the door behind him. Edward could hear the muted murmur of voices and waited patiently, looking curiously around the outer office. Several desks, obviously in use, were pushed together to make a larger work space in the middle of the room and the door to the inner office was framed by the two desks on either side of it.
The door opened and the Major returned. "The General will see you now." He said in a calmer manner than he had used before.
"Thank you." Edward bowed his head and smiled as he walked past him into the inner office.
Author's Note: It's a small thing I started to get me through blocks and over hurdles in other places.