AN: Well, this is my V-Day fic. Kimblee has invaded my brain and won't let it go, so no romance. Stupid Kimblee and his stupid invasion. Oh well. This was written for my muse and beta, who is now asking to be called Red Lotus *sigh* Much love anyway, right?

So, I don't own the characters, but I've done incredible research into the meaning of alchemic symbols and thought very long and hard about several arrays, so if you have a problem with my interpretation of the arrays, tough. I encourage you to contact me with grievances though. I will probably reply with my reasoning and I always appreciate the opportunity to see a new point of view.


The most impressive thing about Roy Mustang was how incredibly misunderstood he made himself. He was able to turn spies and informants into numerous flings and a playboy nature. He had turned subtle manipulation and bluffing into arrogance and a 'by any means' attitude. He had even turned his own brand of alchemy into snap and flair – a show of power when the need called for it, or a simple parlor trick, if necessary. Even his title, the Flame Alchemist, was misdirection.

It had started in Ishval, which only seemed fitting as everything else had started there too.

Hughes had gotten out of going to the war but Roy had never been a lucky man. The very thing that got him into the military had signed his draft notice.

Equivalent exchange could be a bitch.

All State Alchemists had to report to the front lines during Ishval, with red stones that amplified the power of their alchemy – and the alchemy itself, unused and feared by the Ishvalans – and made the military unstoppable. That didn't mean it ended the war quickly, or without incident.

There were many incidents – far too many. And they all seemed to involve alchemists. They were gods to the regular soldiers; the Titans that killed the insurgents. They were terrible gods, though, slaughtering the people without regard. So the soldiers wouldn't have to.

They had each been given a red stone.

It was exhilarating, using such power. It was like the first time he'd gotten that array right, like the first perfectly controlled flair of fire.

The phrase 'better than sex' came to mind. Another alchemist had said that over rations after the first way of attacks. Roy didn't let himself think too far into it – he couldn't help but connect it to the, rather senior, officer – but he had seen agreement in the eyes of some.

It made him feel ill.

He wasn't sure why – he didn't know what went into them yet -- but when he used it, he tasted bile. When he looked at it, he felt light headed. When he touched it…

He didn't touch it any longer. Roy could put on his gloves and slide it, never had to feel that emptiness. For a second, he felt as if it had opened a screaming abyss in his mind. But the screaming was from outside and the abyss had opened the first time he struck down another man with the ease of a snap.

It would be disobeying orders not to use it though, so the ring stayed on. He endured it and the other alchemists.

The worst was the Red Lotus Alchemist. For a long time, that was all he knew him as – that and those hands.

He didn't understand the name – maybe he never would. The Fuhrer was a strange man with an equally strange sense of humor and proved to be poetic in the most disturbing of ways.

So even though his name gave nothing away, his hands did. They had arrays on them, one tattooed on to each palm.

Most alchemists wouldn't think twice about seeing these arrays – they didn't even seem complete so Roy really wasn't sure how he used them. He had once seen another alchemist grab the man's hands up, bringing them up to his face for a closer study, as if he had just found some text on an obscure but interesting new text.

"Fascinating, "he had muttered. "You don't have to even touch – don't you ever accidently activate them?"

"Oh no," And his voice, a low rumbling purr, made Roy's skin crawl. There was something wrong about it. "Do you want me to demonstrate?"

The man nodded and the Red Lotus clapped his hands together in a gesture that, to anyone else, would have said "Let's get to it then!"

It was in that instant that Roy realized why those arrays – mysteriously incomplete – had made him so uneasy. His right hand shot out, instinctually, and grabbed the man's right wrist. The man's reaction seemed just as instinctual and immediate; within the second Roy's left wrist was captured in a surprisingly tight grip.

Roy was very aware that the hand was holding him between his sleeve and glove. The thought made Roy nauseous – his arm felt dirty, violated, and he knew it was because of that incomplete array – and he tightened his grip of the man's boy wrist.

The Red Lotus was glaring bloody murder at him before he really looked at Roy – What did he see? Disgust? Determination? Blind terror for a fool of a scientist? – and his face melted into an easy smirk.

"Hey there handsome, I don't think we've been properly introduced. Name's Kimblee."

He didn't flinch, but he wanted to. Roy wanted nothing more than to be very far away from this man, this Kimblee. Away from that voice and those hands. Away from those eyes, which were trained on Roy for the first time and so very predatory.

He knew better though. He knew better than his instincts. If he released this man's, Kimblee's hand, then he would touch him with it and he knew that was a bad thing.

So he held firm and stuffed down his fear and for the first time ever put on his mask of haughty indifference.

"Mustang, if you must know, but I really don't care who you are."

Kimblee scowled.

"Then why so handsy?" He flopped the hand in Roy's grip back and forth for emphasis.

"You were about to attack a fellow officer. That I care about and will not allow."

"Oh? I'm not the one who's ready to snap."

He was right. Roy hadn't realized it but his left thumb and middle finger were pressed together, ready to create a spark. He only hoped his face didn't betray his surprise.

"Merely contingency in case you can do anything with that incomplete array on your palm."

The other alchemists were muttering now and Kimblee looked less than pleased at Roy's comment.

"You think you know something about my alchemy, pretty boy?"

Ah, this at least was simple. He knew how to talk shop with alchemists and knew how to use his knowledge as a weapon.

"I know that you've bastardized an array meant to create equilibrium so that you can disturb the balance the natural balance of elements in whatever object you touch. I also know that you need both arrays to do so, which is why you clap your hands together and activate the arrays before contact. That's quite enough, isn't it?"

For a moment, it seemed like Kimblee didn't know which expression to wear. He was very good at hiding his shock, if he felt it, but annoyance shown through his eyes even as he fell back into a smug grin.

"Well look at what we have here! A genius in our midst. Can't wait to see what you do to all the little Ishvalan boys and girls they send at you."

With that, he released Roy's wrist and stuffed his hand in his pocket – a truce, for the moment at least. Roy, after a moment, did the same, but resisted his immediate urge to step back. Kimblee spent a moment looking him over before snorting and slinking off through the crowd. The other alchemists gave him more than enough room to pass.

Roy stood there for a moment, the center of attention, before retreating himself, in the opposite direction. He had never seen such- such deception in alchemy before. He had never seen anyone pervert an array like that.

The thought made him sick. Alchemy had always been a pure thing to Roy, incorruptible through its non-bias.

That thought would come to pass though. In the coming year, everything Roy knew about alchemy would change – everything he believed in would change. He hadn't known it at the time, but this was the first lesson Roy had in misdirection.