Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Underneath it All ❯ Intense Focus ( Chapter 4 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Thanks to all of you for reading and now I have a question for all of you. I haven't clearly said if Hughes is dead or alive in this fic. I personally love Maes Hughes but I thought I would leave it up to a vote. Just let me know if you guys would like to see Maes in this.
Chapter 04 Intense Focus
Midmorning on the Saturday after his trip with the others to Baysol, found Major General Roy Mustang still lounging around his home in his PJ's. He had nothing planned for the day and was still mulling over the events of the previous evening. Off and on all morning he kept hearing the rhythms and vocals of the various songs the band had played. Roy thought the sounds they produced were infectious.
He was in the process of deciding on what he was going to have for what could only be described as brunch, when the door bell rang. As he made his way to the door he wondered who it could possibly be at this hour on a Saturday.
When he opened the door he found Fullmetal standing on his porch.
“Good Morning General.” The blonde alchemist said with a smile.
“The same to you Fullmetal, and please call me Roy.”
“Only if you call me Ed.”
“Ok Ed. What can I do for you?” Roy asked as he stepped aside so Ed could come in.
“I was wondering if you were done with Graeme's Book on The Structure of Elements.” Ed said as he entered the Generals home.
“As a matter of fact I am. How did you know I had it?” Roy asked genuinely curious.
“Deductive reasoning, when I went to the library to check it out and it was not there I asked what day it was due back and the librarian said there was no due date on it.” Ed finished.
Roy quirked an eyebrow at him, indicating that Ed's response had not answered his question. Seeing this Ed continued, “Only officers with the rank of Colonel or higher can check out a book without having a due date, that fact combined with the subject matter of said book, led me to you.”
Roy nodded his head in understanding and told the younger man to have a seat and he would go upstairs to get the book for him. Ed thanked him and took a seat on couch to await Roy's return.
Once Roy found the book he took the opportunity to get dressed. When he returned he handed the book to Ed and asked him if he would like cup of tea. With Ed's response of an eager yes, both alchemists made their way into the kitchen. Ed took a seat at the counter on one of the two bar stools as Roy started the water for the tea. While doing so Roy had an idea that would kill two birds with one stone: he would get to eat and get to know Fullmetal better.
“Have you had lunch yet Fullmetal?”
“Have you had lunch yet Ed?”
“Would you like to stay for lunch? I'm sure I have enough to feed both of us.”
“Am I breathing?” Ed asked.
“I'll take that as a yes.” Roy said and now he was smiling as broadly as his guest.
The two of them started talking and the conversation rolls around to the events of Friday night. Roy didn't hesitate to flat out ask Ed how the whole situation came about.
Ed told him that the little tavern they perform at in Baysol was one of the many places they would stop when he and Al were still looking for the philosopher's stone. Ed said he came to befriend the owner Fidel when he and Al were stranded there for a few nights due to the weather and Fidel was kind enough to feed and house them until they could make it back to Central. From then on out Fidel would always feed them when they came through in exchange for hearing tales of their wanderings.
Ed went on to say that Fidel was one of the first people outside of immediate friends and family Al wanted to see after he was restored. When they went to visit the kindhearted man they discovered he was being all but put out of business by larger bars and taverns because he couldn't afford to offer any of the extra benefits like live music, dancing, etc.
The Lt. Colonel told Roy that him and his brother remodeled part of Fidel's business and told him that if he would allow them to they would perform free of charge until business picked up.
“So you have income from all over the place these days.” Roy said as he dumped the rice into the skillet with the chicken.
“Nah, Al and I do it as our way of saying thanks. We give whatever Fidel pays us to the rest of the band. Every now and again when something big comes up and the crowd is really large they get wise to us and make us take our share. When they do that we just donate it to the orphanage Ashley and Lena grew up in.”
“That's very kind of you Full…Ed. Not to pry but how did you meet all of the people in the band?” Roy asked as he clumsily started hacking away at the vegetables on the cutting board.
“Pass me that knife and cutting board and I'll tell you.” Ed replied as he walks over to the counter to stand beside Roy.
“Are you trying to say my culinary skills are lacking?” Roy asked his blonde guest.
“No I'm trying to say I don't want fingertips in my lunch.” Ed snickered as he tried to stifle his amusement.
That wasn't very successful because Roy started laughing as soon the words were out of Ed's mouth.
After the two alchemists gathered their composure Ed begins to tell Roy how he met all of the members in the band.
Ed met Zac while shopping at Falsettos' and the two had started talking about music and before he knew it they were making plans to get together twice a week to practice. Ed said Al was the one who found Miles and he was still not sure how that came about, but he is glad regardless because Miles is one hell of a drummer.
Ashley and Lena are a different story; he and Al had met them long ago when Al was still in that suit of Armor. The brothers had decided to spend some time volunteering at the local orphanage because they realized how fortunate they were to have each other as well as Pinako and Winry. Ed tells Roy that he and his brother have always been very self-sufficient and even though they missed their mother dearly they could, for all the major things; take care of them-selves.
Roy told Ed that was part of the benefits of having a pair of wonderfully gifted minds at their disposal. With a laugh he continued on to say, “Not all children are able to read and understand advanced alchemical texts at age eight.”
“Yeah I suppose you're right on that one, but that's not all we had going for us.”
“What else was there?” Roy asked.
“We also had some smug bastard in high places sticking his neck out for us so we could succeed.”
His words stopped Roy dead in his tracks. When he looked over at Ed he met golden eyes that were filled with admiration, respect and gratitude. In that moment Roy was a bit taken aback by the sincerity of Edward's words and the intensity of his gaze. Completely flabbergasted Roy turned back to the task at hand.
He was quiet for so long Ed decided to speak again.
“I know I've said it before but this time I'll say it without all of the false bravado and barely contained frustration.” With that the younger alchemist quit what he was doing and placed a hand on Roy's shoulder. When Roy looked back at the man beside him Ed said, “Thank you Roy, I know that's hardly payment enough but, I want you to know we are truly grateful for everything you did for us.”
Once his head cleared and he found his voice, Mustang turned to Ed and said, “You and Al are most certainly welcome. I can't think of two people more deserving of my help. I never mind helping those who seek to help themselves.”
The two men worked in comfortable silence until brunch is done.
When they sat down to eat Roy broke the stillness by asking Ed what he was working on that led him to need Graeme's Book on The Structure of Elements. With wide eyes, Ed instantly delved into his theory of using a mixture of crossbred plants and strict environmental states to produce more potent plants and herbs. He told Roy that he figured if he could control all of that and use this new alchemically altered soil he might even end up with a few new varieties of plants altogether.
After that the pair exchanged several theories involving plants and alchemy; finally at a few minutes after three Ed noted the time.
“Well I think I've taken up enough of your day, I guess I need to get going.” Ed said as he finished his forth cup of tea.
“I had nothing planned for today at all. You probably rescued me from a day spent twiddling my thumbs.”
“That or I just pissed off half the women in Central.” Ed responded with a smirk.
Willing to tease the younger alchemist a bit Roy ventured to say, “No from what I hear there's a better catch in Central these days and I've been dethroned.” Roy said as he gave an exaggerated sigh and a pout.
“And just who would be grand enough to take the Mighty Mustang's place?” Ed asked as he gave an equally exaggerated bow in Roy's direction.
At this point Roy wasn't sure if the man in front of him was serious or playing coy. He figured he'd go along with it a bit more and find out.
“Oh just some blonde officer here in Central, I hear he's hottest thing on two feet.” Roy said with barely contained amusement.
Ed moved in front of Roy and started rubbing his chin and it looked like he was honestly thinking. As the young alchemist continued to think Roy used the opportunity to really take a good look at the person standing in front of him.
Ed was now at least five foot seven or eight to Roy's 5'11”. This still made Ed shorter than most men but, on the flip side of the coin, he managed to be taller than most women.
It was obvious even under the clothes the man wore that Edward Elric was muscular and lithe. His hair has grown to the point that, even in a braid, it was almost halfway down his back and Roy had to confess, Ed wore the look well. Gone from Eds face was any hint of childhood roundness and in its place was a noticeable jaw line.
Then of course if someone managed to miss all of the above you had those striking golden eyes that surely found their way into a lot of dreams.
Yes Roy could now easily see how he had been dethroned.
“Well,” Ed began effectively snapping Roy out of his reverie, “I've racked my brain and the only attractive blond guys I know are Jean and Danny.”
“You're probably missing someone.” Roy said as he thought, yep oblivious just like Riza said.
“Yeah I probably am. I don't go to any of the other offices much so there could be ten hot blondes and I would never know.”
Now on the verge of laughing out loud Roy felt he needed to change the subject before he ended up having to come up with a reason for- what would seem to be-a completely spontaneous fit of laughter.
“Have you decided if you're going to go to that festival in Hayden that Levi gave us tickets to?”
“Yeah I wanted to ask you about that when I got here, but you had to go and distract me with food.” Ed teased, “How about we go together since we both have tickets and that sort of thing is a drag if you go alone.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Do you have a particular day in mind?”
“No, you're the one with the busy schedule so I figured I would leave it up to you.”
A smirk slid across the Generals face when Ed said this. “How about tomorrow, I have nothing to do on Sundays.”
“Sounds good to me, Al and I don't have practice with the band until next Sunday so I'm free.”
“No plans with the First Lieutenant?”
“Uh…no, not this weekend anyway.” Ed mumbled as he turned away from Roy. When he did the General could have sworn he saw a blush creep across Ed's face.
To see Ed blushing and bashful about something made Roy smile. So unlike the loud-mouthed brat he used to be-or maybe pretended to be. Roy mused.
“So,” Roy began, “how are things going with Jean?”
“Um… pretty well really, I'm actually quite surprised. I guess I'm luckier than I thought.”
Now, in Roy's opinion, there were several things wrong or odd with the statement Ed just made. Curious Roy decided to delve further.
“Why do you say that, Ed?”
“Well for one, when it comes to dating I am a social idiot.” Ed said and when he did Roy just looked at him in disbelief. “Hey if you don't believe me ask Al.”
“Ok, I'll let that slide for now, please continue.”
“And well… I know I don't really hide it like I use to but, I'm really not much more comfortable with the automail now than I was when I got it ten years ago.” Ed said as he looked down at his right hand and flexed the metal digits. “Let's face it, not many people want to be seen with someone who's `the oddity' that gets stared at every time they enter a room.”
Roy was once again speechless. He could not believe what he was hearing. Did Fullmetal actually think that the reason people were staring at him was because of his automail?
So he wasn't really oblivious but what he did see was distorted. Roy had never considered that Ed was self-conscious about the artificial limb. Roy knew such things happened to people in Ed's position but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else to this.
When he looked over at his guest he noticed Ed had this dazed look in his eyes and the broad smile from earlier was nowhere to be seen. Seeking to clear something up for his young coworker Roy asked him a question.
“Ed, have you ever considered that there may be another reason for people staring at you?”
“Why would I? That's the only valid reason I could think of, it's not like I'm new in town or something.”
“Well let me run this by you.” Roy began as he motioned for Ed to have a seat. “Maybe just maybe people are staring at you because they find you rather pleasing to the eye.”
Immediately Ed's face scrunched up and he looked at Roy like he had grown an extra head. He sat there silently contemplating Roy's words and soon a small wistful smile slipped across Ed's face.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence Roy, and I'm sorry if it came across like I was being grossly mistreated by people. It's really just subtle things and I can live with that, but trust me I know it makes people cringe and I can't really blame them if I'm uncomfortable with it myself.”
Everything in Ed's little speech sat fine with Roy except for that one line… I know it makes people cringe. For some reason that stuck out to him, it sounded too specific when everything else Ed had said was so vague and general. Roy knew it wasn't his business and he had probably already pried too deep, but regardless of all that he wasn't going to stop now.
He wanted an answer and the only way to get it was to ask.
“Why did you say it makes people cringe?”
This question made Ed's head snap to attention. For a few seconds his eyes held such sadness Roy almost regretted asking the question. He really wouldn't have blamed the other alchemist if he had gotten up and left without answering.
But for reasons unknown, Ed had yet to tell him to mind his own business and the blonde now looked like he was trying to make a decision.
“Before I lost this arm I was right handed.” Ed said out of the blue after his few moments of quiet contemplation.
Not sure what that statement had to do with the question he had asked Roy simply remained quiet and moved to sit on the couch with Edward.
“Old habits die hard and no matter how much time passes I still have a tendency to try to do everything with my right hand.”
The long pauses tell Roy that Ed was struggling somewhat with trying to get this out and even if curiosity was killing him he would not allow himself to interrupt.
“I throw with it, I pick up my coffee with it, I write with it and sometimes before I can stop myself… I reach for people with it.” and as Ed got toward the end of that sentence his voice trailed off and he was now staring down at the book on the coffee table.
Now this was starting to make sense to Roy.
“Ed…I'm sorry that…” Roy started, and suddenly Ed jumps to his feet and took over the conversation.
“No I'm the one who should be sorry General. I didn't come over here to unload my worries onto you. I don't even know why I'm telling you all of this… I haven't even mentioned this to Al.” Ed said as he turned on his heels and headed for the door.
Roy stands up and crosses the room in no time and places his hand on Ed's shoulder effectively stopping the blondes attempt to flee. Ed didn't struggle to free himself but he didn't turn around to face Roy either.
“Ed, I know I haven't been the closest person to you in the last few years but I would like to think I am still someone you consider a friend. If I had to say anything about you that I was absolutely certain of, I would say you haven't mentioned this to Al because you don't want him to worry about you. Am I right?”
When those words reached Ed's ears his shoulders slumped visibly and he nodded yes.
“We all need someone we can confide in Ed, me included. I can't tell you where I would have been some days without Maes or Riza. As much as I like to face life head on and handle my own problems my own way, I would sometimes come across things that confused me or left me floundering. That's what friends are for Ed, not just for the easy things but for the hard things as well.”
Ed let out a loud sigh and he turned to face Roy. He didn't comment on what Roy had said, he simply returned to his place on Roy's couch and stared at the Flame Alchemist.
Ed sat there with clenched fists in his lap and Roy could almost hear the internal war that was undoubtedly being waged inside Ed's mind. An odd sort of tension seemed to be developing around them and for a moment Roy was a bit apprehensive about what was going to take place.
Just as the silence broached on being unbearable Ed spoke.
“Well if I'm going to start baring my soul I'm gonna need something a little stronger than tea Mustang.”
“I heard somewhere that 1865 was a good year; I think I'll travel back in time with you, if you don't mind the company.”
“I've always hated to travel alone so welcome aboard.” Ed quipped as he flashed Roy a nervous smile.
With the tension now broken Roy turned and made his way into the kitchen.
Ed could hear the distinctive sound of glass clinking and a cork being popped. When Roy reentered the living room he had two long stemmed glasses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. When Roy made no motions to sit the younger man stood and Roy led Ed toward his study. When they entered the room Roy told Ed to have a seat, as he sat the glasses down on his mahogany desk and promptly proceeded to pour the wine.
The first glass was consumed while the pair engaged in idle chitchat. It wasn't until Ed started on his second glass that he actually returned to the conversation that had begun in the living room. Roy could tell Ed was not comfortable discussing personal issue by the way the young alchemist struggled for words.
It was a slow, but enlightening, journey to the source of Ed's present dilemma concerning how he assumed others saw him.
What Roy gathered from Ed's recap of events was that, Ed's current view of things stems from the various incidents of his youth and the reaction most gave him once they realized someone so young had automail-period-not to even mention two pieces that went to the extent Ed's did.
Even Roy had to inwardly admit that there weren't too many 12 year olds running around with an entire arm, shoulder and half a leg made of steel.
These past issues were only compounded when, as Ed put it, Al decided he should stop being such a social recluse and start dating. Ed said it was all pretty enjoyable at first and he soon found himself dating a young woman that worked at a shoe shop in downtown Central.
He said it was nothing really serious. They had only been out a few times when they decided to go Ice skating one afternoon. Well at some point in time the two were chasing each other around and the young lady ended up on her rear. Ed said they were laughing and having a good time and he extended his hand to help her up and as she went to accept it she caught sight of his automail and swiftly withdraw her hand.
That reaction created quite the awkward moment between the two.
Ed said she apologized and he tried to play it off and like it wasn't a big deal, but it was clear by Ed's tone of voice her actions had hurt him.
“It would be different if it was something I could change,” Ed stated as he swirled the last of his wine around in his glass, “but this arm is something that will be with me for life.”
Roy's heart went out to the blonde. He truly couldn't imagine how difficult something like this would be. It just seemed as if life strived to cause nothing but hardships for Edward Elric.
He watched as Fullmetal polished off his second serving of wine and sat the empty glass on the table to the left of the large overstuffed chair he was seated in.
“And it was not a one time occurrence either. Something like that happened with Gary and Sciezska too.” Ed added as he flung a leg over the arm of the chair. “Can you now see why I have a hard time believing the stares I'm receiving are in admiration? Not much to admire in someone scarred and incomplete.”
Roy couldn't help but flinch at those words. So this is how Ed's views himself, Roy thought, and with a few bad instances under his belt he now assumes this is what everyone sees.
Roy knew that getting Ed to see this differently was going to take more than just flowery words. If Edward Elric was anything he was a man of science. Therefore any changes in an ongoing theory would take examples and hard evidence.
“I'm not going to pretend to understand how you feel Ed, because I don't. But if you would allow me to I would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Sure why not.” Ed replied as he folded his arms across his chest.
“How often would you say you go out with your automail arm exposed?”
“How often would you say you're stared at?”
“Almost everyday.”
“And you don't find it odd that those two things don't match up?”
Ed narrowed his eyes at the man seated behind the desk. Roy could tell he was searching for a loophole in what he'd just said.
“So, it's not like everyone doesn't know it's there whether it's visible or not.” Ed replied.
“But if they can't see it, what does that leave them to stare at?” Was the question Roy posed as he grew somewhat amused at the fact that Ed, the former child prodigy, had never really thought this out.
Ed was thinking so hard now, Roy could almost hear it. A variety of expressions crossed the man's face as he sorted through Roy's words. To Mustang this was quite amusing to watch.
“Have you ever been to Hayden?”
Ed simply shook his head no.
“Good, tomorrow will be a good test of my theory. I want you to wear something that covers your automail, hand and all, and for once I want you to really pay attention to what's going on. If I'm wrong I'll sort mail in your place when your turn comes back around. Deal?”
At that a wide grin spread across Eds face. “You've got yourself a deal there Major General.”
After that the subject matter was dropped and the two alchemists passed the rest of the afternoon sipping wine and exchanging stories. Eventually the subject of alchemy came up again and Ed told Roy he needed to come by and check out his lab one day when he wasn't busy.
After deciding he had nothing else he really wanted to do for the rest of the day Roy decided he would walk Fullmetal home so he would get to see some of the things the blonde genius was working on.
During their walk towards the south side of Central they came upon a lemonade vendor and Ed Insisted on buying each of them a drink.
“Hey it's the least I can do in return for lunch and the listening ear, thanks again by the way for letting me vent. Even though I don't really agree with your theory, as you put it, it still made me feel better just to get it out.”
“Not a problem Ed, thank you for trusting me enough to share.” Roy replied as they continued on their way.
When they entered Ed and Al's home they were greeted by the younger Elric at the door.
“It's nice to see you again so soon General Mustang.”
“Same here Alphonse.” Roy replied.
“Hey brother, Havoc's here he just went in the music room to drop off some sheet music he thought you'd like.”
“Cool. I'm glad I got here before he left, I'll have to go thank him for that.” Ed said as he headed off to the music room. “Al, would you be kind enough to show the General to the Lab? I'll be down in a few minutes.”
“Sure thing brother I was headed that way anyhow.”
Roy followed Alphonse around the corner from the entrance way where the younger Elric brother opened a door that led down to the basement. Once they descended the stairs Roy could not believe his eyes. There was almost every conceivable apparatus a person of science could want and a few he was sure he had never seen before.
It was apparent Elric brothers had used alchemy to modify the basement because from the looks of things it was more widespread than the house above them. Al was being quite talkative while he was giving Roy the tour of his brothers' lab. Unfortunately for Roy, Al caught him daydreaming. It was Al's snickering that brought the General back to reality.
“What's so funny?” Roy asked.
“You, you look like a kid in a candy store.” Al said.
“I feel like one. Sorry for spacing out on you.”
“That's no problem; it was amusing to see the great Flame Alchemist in awe.” Al said as he walked toward the door leading to the next room.
When Al opened the door there was nothing but plants as far as the eye could see. Roy now knew that Ed was not exaggerating in any way when he said he had almost every medicinal plant known to man in his basement. He proceeded to wander around the room, stopping every now and again to take a better look at some of the experiments. Roy was about to ask Al a question when the sound of approaching footsteps reached his ears.
“Well Roy what do you think?”
Roy turned in the direction of the door only to see Ed and Jean had joined them, with a smile on his face and said, “I'm rather impressed.”
Al soon posed some question to his brother that had the three alchemists debating over some mineral compound. The entire conversation went over Jean Havocs head. The First Lieutenant stood there looking at the three of them and at some point he started to chuckle. The sound of laughter gained the attention of the chattering alchemists.
“And what may I ask is so funny?” Ed asked as he took in Jeans amused expression.
“Just the three of you, I know you guys said everything in English but damn if it didn't sound like Greek to me.” Havoc replied shaking his head.
This caused all four men to burst into laughter. Once they all settled down Jean announced that he needed to head home and Ed volunteered to walk him out. All four men left the basement and once they reached the main floor of the house Al said he would like to show Roy the music room and Ed and Jean turned toward the kitchen.
Once Al and Roy entered the music room, Roy asked the younger Elric if he played any other instruments.
“I tried learning some wind instruments but I could never really get comfortable with it.” Al answered.
“Well I think your abilities with a guitar are superb, sometimes it's best to stick with what you know.”
Al nodded in agreement and asked Roy if he had any musical inclinations.
“I use to play a little piano myself but it's been years since I've attempted that. When I first joined the military I took up the trumpet and joined the military choir, that's actually how I met Huges.”
“Mr. Huges was in the choir!” Al exclaimed.
Roy nodded and the two of them talked about music and the like off and on for a while before Al asked Roy if he would like some of the tea he had made earlier. Roy thought that sounded great so the two of them headed for the kitchen.
When Roy and Al walked through the kitchen door they both froze.
Across the room Ed was backed against the wall between the counter and the door and Jean Havoc had his hands on the wall on either side of the older Elrics head and was steadily kissing his way up the younger mans neck. When Jean reached Ed's jaw line he brought a hand down to cup the smaller blondes chin and kissed him lightly on the lips. That light kiss soon turned deep and languid.
Roy looked over at Al and the young mans eyes were wide as saucers. He was shocked, but apparently pleased by the situation at the same time, if his expression was anything to go by.
When Jean stepped back Edward stumbled forward and looked thoroughly dazed. The older man smiled at this and kissed Ed on his forehead and told him to stop by his house tomorrow if he got back in town before dinner. Ed nodded dumbly and whispered ok as Jean walked out the door.
As soon as the door closed Ed brought his hands up to his lips and a content smile claimed his face.
All was well in Edward's world until he turned around.
The shock of finding his younger brother and commanding officer standing there was enough to turn the man red in the face.
“Uh… how long have you two been standing there?” Ed asked as he started organizing the dishes in the sink.
“I think Jean was somewhere around this region.” Roy said as he tilted his head back and ran a finger up and down his neck.
“Yep we came in right before the exchanging of the tongues.” Al added.
Roy and Al stood there grinning as Ed turned a deeper shade of red.
“Did it ever occur to either of you to leave the room?” Ed said in a huff as he desperately tried-and failed-to hide his embarrassment.
“And miss out on a moment like this?” Al questioned, “Not likely brother, not likely at all.”
Done picking on his older sibling Al left the room and Roy followed.
It was a good ten minutes before Ed showed his face in the living room and much to his relief neither Al nor Roy said anything else about the kiss he shared with Jean.
“What time do you want to leave for Hayden tomorrow?” Roy asked.
“Doesn't really matter to me, are you driving or am I?”
“I'll pick you up around 9 that way we can be there before noon.” Roy said as he got to his feet and prepared to leave.
“Not that it's a problem but, why so early?” Ed asked.
Roy smirked and said, “From what I saw it would be in your best interest to be back before dinner.”
Roy could still hear Al's laughter after he exited the house and shut the door.