baka neko

The Path Not Taken

chapter 1.

Roy Mustang had pulled the trigger twice. Not once, not never-ever, but one-two, bang-bang and the blood had flowed. His hands had been shaking, but they had been accurate. Because even then, he had known that the difference between an execution and a massacre is the number of bullets in the body.

A bullet in the head is an execution, an order carried out.

Everyone knows a soldier follows orders.

He has never asked Hawkeye to kill a man for him. She would, he knows, pull the trigger as soon as he said to: such is the measure of her trust. She has shot men before—she was in the military police before, the officer in charge of a case that was bumped up to his jurisdiction, and he was with her when she kneecapped a fleeing man with a single shot. It was deliberate, he knows, that Grahn picked him rather then one of his veterans, to pull the trigger.

Soldiers are weapons, Mustang. Are you a weapon?

"General Grahn," said Mustang neutrally. "What a pleasure to see you. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"It came to my attention," replied the General in a low rumble, like the sound a large, heavy machinery makes when it warms up, "that you had requested the services of a National Alchemist for the matter in Liore."

Mustang smiles, a pleasant, empty smile. "The intelligence report mentioned the possibility of alchemy being used to produce the 'miracles'. I thought it best to send an alchemist to verify that before making any sudden moves."

"In any case, your request has been denied."

"Ah." He does not look down at the blank, unmarked folder lying on the desk. Grahn would have seen the same report, and known exactly what percentage of accuracy had been assigned to the 'rumour'. And he too, knew exactly what alchemy could do, that might seem a miracle to the ignorant layman.

"We simply cannot spare the manpower to verify stray rumours. However, I have an alternative."

He gestures, and the aide who had hitherto been a small, dark blue shadow, moved forward to place another unmarked file on the Colonel's desk. At the General's nod, Mustang opened the file and raised an eyebrow at the photograph neatly clipped at the top of the page.

"Edward Elric, a prodigy in alchemy at age twelve. Currently a ward of the Binding Life Alchemist, Shou Tucker. However...due to personal problems, Tucker is unable to both care for the boy and continue his research."

Mustang does not comment that fostering services can be quite capably handled by the civil branch of the government. It is obvious that Grahn has other plans for the boy.

"However, Elric has proven capable of carrying out his own research projects and I have proposed that he take the test to become a National Alchemist this year. The Fuhrer has granted permission, with the understanding that while Edward Elric may hold a National Alchemist license, he will not be confirmed as a military personnel until he is eighteen."

In other words, Grahn's prodigy, officially or unofficially, could not be considered a legitimate weapon for the military. But Grahn also did not leave swords rusting in their scabbards.

"He will be under your care until the test. I leave all the arrangements in your hands."

He might as well have marked Elric's file with invisible ink: Hone him. Keep his edge sharp and blooded. And one day, he will be a dagger to your throat.

"I understand," said Mustang.

"Good," replied the General.

"I've sent a man to pick him up. He should arrive in two hours."

"Understood," said Mustang again and saluted.

Two hours was not a lot of time, but Mustang had summarily handed the necessary arrangements to Hawkeye, while he went through the file. There was... a lot of paperwork. Apparently, Grahn had meant it when he said the arrangements would be in his hands to the world, Edward Elric would be his ward, a promising young protege to be. The papers for guardianship, the application for the National Alchemist Test, the child allowance fund application papers that was legally due to all orphans...Roy's temples were starting to throb.

What there was not a lot of was information. There was the basic statistics, a clipping on how Elric's hometown had been one of the insurgent towns that rebelled and had been forcibly suppressed by the Iron Blood Alchemist himself, his mother and younger brother's death certificates...and nothing else. Nothing on the research that had brought him to the General's eye, much less the approval of the Fuhrer. No record whatsoever of the marvellous alchemical feats the boy was capable of whatever it was.

Roy slanted a look at the telephone.

There was a knock, and the door swung open. Roy looked up and frowned. There was no one with Liza, and somehow he didn't think it was because the car hadn't arrived.

"Is something wrong?" he inquired.

"There's going to be a problem with living arrangements, Colonel." Hawkeye said with her customary directness. "He has a dog with him."

Roy stared. While he hadn't expected Hawkeye to say, shoot the dog and render that question moot, he quite frankly didn't expect that to prove an obstacle to the Lieutanant's formidable problem-solving powers. "Did you make any other arrangements?" he asked.

Lt. Hawkeye actually looked uncomfortable, which was a first. "I suggested finding a family that would take the dog in, or at least put her in a boarding kennel you can book one for up to six weeks, but he was very insistent. The dog goes wherever he goes."

Roy hmmed thoughtfully. Previous foster family had been the Tuckers for nearly two years...and then fostered out again to a completely unknown stranger. A child would cling, quite understandably, to something familiar and loving.

Then he looked down at the file again, and at the boy in the photograph.

General Grahn's dagger.

"I'll go down with you," he said.

"Colonel," said Hawkeye again, as he passed her in the doorway. Her hand brushed his.

"Lead the way, Lieutanant." Roy responded, and tucked the folded square of paper deeper into his pocket.

Animals were not allowed into the headquarters either, and thus Hawkeye led him through the mess hall and into the kitchens, where the boy was perched on a stool and munching on an apple, while the dog lay at his feet.

At least it looked like it had been properly trained, thought Roy, then blanked his face as Hawkeye marched over.

"Edward Elric, this is Colonel Roy Mustang."

"Nina goes wherever I go." said Edward flatly. He bit, rather aggressively at his apple, and raised angry golden eyes to meet Roy's. Nina's head lifted in response to her name, but made no sound. Edward's fingers slipped down to tangle in her thick coat while he glared defiantly at the both of them.

"The dormitories do not permit pets," said Roy casually, watching the blazing gold eyes.

"Then I'm not staying there."

Roy nodded absently, examining the dog. Huge and white and remarkably silent. And the eyes were very young and brown. Very young. His fingers clenched over the slip in his pocket.

"Her name is Nina?" Roy asked lightly, casually. Edward nodded cautiously, still wary.

"You must have named her after Shou Tucker's daughter. Were you fond of her?"

Edward's fingers tightened, and there was a wet crunch as the apple core crumpled in his grip.

Roy watched it all, and thought about the paper crumpling in his fist.

"She was like a sister," replied the boy.

"You'll have to stay in my house then." Roy said. "I'll have the guest bedroom made up for you. The responsiblity for taking care of...Nina is all yours though. Lieutanant Hawkeye, would you handle the rest of the arrangements?"

"Yes sir."

Roy stayed where he was while Hawkeye efficiently bullied a hapless private to carry the bags, another to fetch Havoc and a car, and then sweep Edward and Nina off to the garage. Once boy and dog had been tucked into the car, he turned and made his way up, pausing long enough to flick some ashes in the bin, swiftly indistinguishable from the potato peelings and other food leavings.

He thought about the words on the paper, the blazing golden eyes and the young, soft brown eyes.

You were right about ST. E almost killed him. G had to send him away.


The General had gave him a weapon. And when Roy Mustang raised the gun, he pulled the trigger twice. Not once, not never-ever, but one-two, bang-bang and the blood flowed.

His hands are not shaking now.