Author: Kristen Sharpe
Warnings: Eventual violence, particularly of the Scar and Kimblee sort.
Genre/Continuity: AU (alternate/divergent universe) set in the first animeverse.
Disclaimer: "Fullmetal Alchemist" belongs to Hiromu Arakawa, Square ENIX, Studio BONES and various other parties.
Author's Note: This is set in an alternate timeline of the first anime world. Several characters have had their timeline shifted back thirty years while others remain as they were in the canon. This is my entry for this year's FMA Big Bang Challenge. Many thanks go to my wonderful beta readers, SageSK and Kayca, as well as to my awesome artist for this project, bay115. Visit my Livejournal link to see the included art.
He drifted. He had been drifting for so long. Names and faces, cities and countrysides flowed past him in an endless stream of dreams and memories.
The familiar glow of a transmutation. The thrum of energy under his hands.
The sun high in a cloudless summer sky. Water catching the light as the mud of the creek bed squeezed up between his toes.
His mother's smile. His little brother's laugh.
A monstrous eye that snapped open to stare into his very soul. His little brother's scream.
A cold, leaden weight in his stomach as the encoded research before him finally yielded up its terrible, awful truth. Shock and horror making a funeral pyre of the last of his hope.
The burning of a bullet lodging in his only flesh leg. Blistering cold biting into his unprotected cheek as soldiers tackled him into the snow.
But, something was stirring, interrupting his world of dreams. Voices whispered at the edges of his subconscious.
"They're asking about it again."
For a moment, he listened, wondering what it meant. But, the voices immediately retreated.
He didn't fight the quiet suggestions. Slowly, he drifted back to his world of dreams as the whispering faded.
"How long can he sleep?"
"How long will they search?"
"How long must we wait?"
Book 1: Analysis
Chapter 1 – Sunday Night
Colonel Roy Mustang watched the night-darkened streets slide past his window, silver under the light of a waxing moon. The city of Central was quiet at this hour; his was one of the few cars on the road. Central Command, on the other hand, never truly slept. The heart of Amestris' military government was a continuous thrum of activity, alive with the business of running the country and a thousand intrigues, both petty and of a far darker nature. All the same, it was rare to be called back this late.
Mustang leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and ran over the last few months in his mind. His own activities had been mind-numbingly boring. Since his transfer from Eastern Headquarters, he had been assigned little beyond an endless stream of paperwork. In the larger scheme of things, there were a handful of cases circulating that might warrant summoning him back at this hour. Expanding the scope further, the short-lived Fuhrer Bader would be stepping down soon. And, his expected replacement, General Lockheed, had already begun his bid for the position. Lockheed, who had been agitating for the dissolution of the State Alchemists program for years.
"And, there," Mustang said aloud as he straightened, "is the explanation."
"Sir?" In the driver's seat of the military-issued car, 1st Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye glanced at the dark shadow of her commanding officer via the rearview mirror.
"Just wondering what General Grand is planning to save the State Alchemist program," he answered. His dark eyes narrowed. "And, why it requires me."
He focused on the clip that kept her long, blonde hair at regulation length as Hawkeye inclined her head slightly, considering the situation. "Maybe he means to use your reputation?" she said at last.
Mustang shrugged carelessly. "There were a lot of alchemists in Ishval."
"There weren't a lot of alchemists who people still refer to as the 'Hero of Ishval'," Hawkeye noted as she turned onto the main thoroughfare toward Central Command.
"Only because people are quick to forget." Mustang crossed his arms. There had been no heroes in Ishval. "No, this is something else. Something more than simple politicking."
Hawkeye didn't question him as she slowed to approach the checkpoint at the entrance to Central Command.
Some minutes later, Mustang was ushered into General Basque Grand's office. He knew the general only through reputation and a few scattered meetings, none of which had been especially pleasant. Grand was as fierce as his title of Iron Blood Alchemist implied, a mountain of a man who was known for his ruthless efficiency both on and off the battlefield.
As he stepped inside, Mustang let his eyes sweep the room. Its only occupants were Grand, dwarfing his own monstrous desk, and an unfamiliar, smaller man, tiny beside the general's bulk.
"Colonel Mustang," Grand growled by way of greeting. "The Flame Alchemist."
"Sir," Mustang returned, saluting quickly.
Grand motioned him over before using the same hand to gesture to the second man. "This is Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist."
Fullmetal was a slim, bespectacled man with close-cropped gray hair. Between his steel gray hair and lined face, he looked to be a couple of decades older than Mustang's thirty. He wasn't in a uniform, dressed only in a well-worn suit that seemed at least one size too big for him. Just a State-certified alchemist then and not a commissioned officer.
As Mustang stepped forward, Fullmetal turned to give him a quick nod. Then, without waiting for any sort of acknowledgement, he faced Grand again.
Keeping his face carefully neutral, Mustang positioned himself beside the other alchemist. With surprise, he noted that, even in comparison to himself, Fullmetal was short. He could look at the top of the smaller man's gray head out of the corner of his eye.
Grand loomed over both of them.
"As I'm sure you've heard, General Lockheed will, in all likelihood, soon be the new Fuhrer," he said. Beneath his mustache, his lips curled in disgust. "Lockheed has made no secret of his opinion that the State Alchemists have outlived their usefulness."
It was so nice when his hunches were validated quickly, Mustang mused.
He knew of General Martin Lockheed only by reputation. The general hadn't served in Ishval. Instead, as the commanding officer at Western Headquarters, he had spent much of the war fighting Creta on the western border. Taking advantage of Amestris' civil war with Ishval, Creta had staged a sudden grab for several key western production facilities. And, with only minimal assistance from Central, Lockheed and his troops had repelled the invasion. The victory had gained the general instant fame and spurred his rise through the ranks.
Grand's lips drew back further into a true sneer. "Lockheed believes the new weapons his research division has been developing will make "human weapons" obsolete." The burly general put his arms behind his back and began to stalk back and forth. "He doesn't trust alchemists. Thinks machines are more reliable. It's nonsense, but Lockheed is in a position to make his nonsense reality. That in mind, the State Alchemists need to produce something that will surpass all of his machines."
Grand pinned both men with a glare. "All of our careers hinge on this. Lockheed won't hesitate to use the changing public opinion of Ishval to discredit the State Alchemists." Grand's glower focused on Mustang. "He might even take it so far as to suggest trying State Alchemists for war crimes."
Mustang felt his eyes narrow fractionally. So, that was why he had been chosen for this. Because he was not a researcher; he was a soldier. But, as always, Ishval was his double-edged sword. The sword of a war hero that had helped him quickly cut a path through the ranks. And, the sword of the executioner that even now hung at his throat, ready to punish him for his sins.
Punishment he deserved.
But, a punishment he could not accept. Not yet.
Grand broke eye contact and paced to his desk where he planted his huge hands against its polished surface. "I've been looking into the records. Thirty years ago, several alchemists made a series of critical discoveries concerning the creation of a Philosopher's Stone. One in particular was of special interest to us. However, he disappeared, leaving only a series of heavily encrypted notes."
Mustang fought to keep the disbelief off his face. The Philosopher's Stone? All that talk about the seriousness of Lockheed's threat and Grand's plan to save the State Alchemist program hinged on alchemy's most infamous wild goose chase?
A muted sound drew his attention to Fullmetal. The other man's face was blank, but there was a tightening in the muscles around his mouth. Surprise? Anger? Maybe Fullmetal shared his opinion of this assignment.
Mustang focused his attention back on Grand in time to find the general watching Fullmetal intently. Something like a stillborn smile twitched at the corner of the man's lips.
But, it was gone in an instant as Grand addressed them both once more.
"This line of research was apparently abandoned when no trace of the alchemist could be found and his notes proved indecipherable." Grand glowered. "Unlike my predecessors, I don't give up so easily. Tomorrow, you will be granted access to the notes." He looked between the two alchemists. "I expect results by the end of the week."
"Sir," Mustang debated his words as he spoke, "the Philosopher's Stone is—?"
Now, Grand did smile. "More real than you might believe, Colonel Mustang." He straightened. "Dismissed!"
Mustang maintained his inscrutable facade until he was safely back in the car with Hawkeye. Then, once they were outside the walls of Central Command, he leaned back into the seat and huffed out a sudden breath of air.
"Well, this is unexpected," he murmured, massaging the area between his eyes.
He offered his lieutenant a quick, sardonic grin. "General Grand wants me to discover the Philosopher's Stone."
"The Philosopher's Stone?" Hawkeye repeated. "But, that's—"
"A legend alchemists have chased for centuries," Mustang finished. "Yes." He sat up, dark eyes narrowing. "But, Grand isn't the sort of person who chases fairy tales. There's something more to this."
"I believe there's a phone booth up ahead on McConnell," Hawkeye offered.
Mustang smiled. "Excellent." He reached into his overcoat to produce a small notebook. "Let's see." He began thumbing through the pages. "Breda and Falman should be home at this hour."
Hawkeye was silent as she pulled the car over beside the public phone booth. Cutting the engine, she exited the car to take up watch as the Colonel slipped into the booth. But, he paused with his hand on the door handle and turned to look at her.
"I'm sorry to keep you so late," he said.
Hawkeye allowed herself a small smile. "I'm used to it, Sir. I'll call Sergeant Fuery in the morning to ask him to feed Black Hayate on his way in."
Because she knew she wouldn't be returning to her apartment and her over-enthusiastic puppy tonight.
Mustang gave her a quick, sincere smile and then stepped into the phone booth.
Yes, she would be lucky to see her apartment again before this time tomorrow. The Colonel was on a mission. And, she would follow him, as always.