Roy studied the first file folder a while before opening it up. He touched the label with his finger. Elric, Edward. Fullmetal. A silver tab, which would tell the Clerk to file it under the National Alchemists section of the Army's personnel records. The manila folder was still crisp, its corners unbent, and the file was satisfyingly thin, but that wasn't the point. There shouldn't have been a file on Edward at all. Even in his jadedness, Roy felt there was something deeply wrong about using children this way.
It shouldn't have mattered that the child was talented. It shouldn't have mattered that he was willing (frighteningly willing—Roy hadn't even needed to bait the trap, Edward had literally fought to put himself in it.) Someone should have stepped in and stopped this from happening. No twelve year old should have to do the things that Edward would now be forced to do. Edward should be running on the soft grassy hills of his hometown, flying kites, and studying, and just being. Roy would have preferred to have waited, let the child ripen into his teens, then bait a trap and lure him in. But there was no helping it. Roy was not in charge of this timetable.
Roy opened the folder and looked at the picture affixed to the first page. Edward glowered back at him with that intensity that drove all the boy's actions. The boy had been smiling fiercely when he'd signed the most damning papers, the ones that committed him to the military. Edward had actually scoffed at the section that Roy had worked HARD to put in, allowing the kid the resign the Army when he wished, rather than the usual hard and fast one year contract. Not that Roy would let Ed walk away, but he knew that the opportunity to leave was necessary for the illusion of free will, because one thing Edward hated most was being told what to do. Ironic, really, considering how thoroughly he'd been manipulated.
Hence the scowling photo. It was Roy's first order to the boy, and Ed had chafed at it. He'd complained it was a waste of his time, because apparently the child couldn't wait for anything, not even 30 minutes for a routine photo, so hard was he driven.
Golden eyes. Blond hair pulled back in a neat braid. Fine, deceptively delicate features. Pretty even, as though the kid needed to be even more desirable to those who would use him.
Innocent, despite all the kid had done and seen. And that was what amazed Roy the most. The kid was utterly unaware of how much people wanted him, or what lengths they would go to get him. He and his brother were so focused on their own aims they never considered how they presented themselves to others. How ironic, the kid had actually FOUGHT to put himself in Roy's hands. There were others would fight just as hard, but in a different way to take the boy out of Roy's hands again, and Roy couldn't let that happen. He wouldn't let the boy know. He'd keep that innocence.
Because Roy had learned that the most careful, gentle touch was what worked best with Fullmetal. The tiniest of nudges in the right direction were enough to put that all wild energy to Roy's purposes. Others would use more ham-handed approaches.
Like this one. Roy slid out the second manila folder. Black tabbed, which meant that it wouldn't be filed in with the personnel records at all, but rather down in the bowels of the Army's intelligence division. Elric, Alphonse. This file was considerably thicker than Edwards, and its edges were decidedly more worn. Well thumbed.
Roy had hoped that the file hadn't existed, but suspected it did long before he'd actually found it. The Elric brothers were many things, but discrete wasn't one of them. They had never attempted any sort of stealth or dissembling to hide what they were, relying on the world to mind its own business. Such foolishness.
Inside the file were many, many pictures, but none of them posed. Surveillance photos, every last one of them, each with an accompanying paragraph detailing Al's, and to a lesser extent his brother's, comings and goings. Here was a picture of the armor sitting in the train station. Armor taking the National Alchemists exam. And one through the window of Shou's house: armor sitting at the dinner table—but not eating.
Roy had spread conflicting rumors: Alphonse had been born hideously deformed. Alphonse had been badly burned. Alphonse had been involved in an accident and the armor was a mobile life support machine. The last had been alarming close to the truth, but it had seemed to satisfy those who didn't buy the first two reasons.
In the file were pictures of the alchemist's circle where the boys had attempted to bring back their mother. Of Al's clothes left behind on the floor after the event.
It was clear from the paragraphs of texts that Al was primary mark, even though he was not as skilled as his brother. It was thought that the younger Elric's calmer, more reasonable temperament would make him more approachable. Offer the child a diet of affection and subtle threat, give him a father figure to love, and fear, and worship and Alphonse would fall into line. And since the two brothers were inseparable, where Al went Ed would follow.
Roy smirked. It would not have worked that way. The only way to Al was though Ed. And Ed was not looking for a father figure to complete his life.
Roy hadn't expected the file to extend as far back in time as it did. There were pictures of Alphonse and his brother from before their experiment in human transmutation.. At the funeral. Sitting together on a hill back when their mother was still alive. Notes made of their talents. Even back then, someone had been watching the boys, photographing them. Waiting, expecting that someday some use could be made of them.
Roy's finger lingered over a picture of Al as a pretty eyed ten year old. What a loss.
It had been the letters that Ed and Al that had sent. Who knows how many the children had sent out, begging their absent father to return before their mother died. How naïve of those children not to expect that some who opened the letters would see the situation as an opportunity. Would size things up the way Roy had: here are Hoinheim's kids, vulnerable and alone in the world, free for the taking.
Roy closed the file and pushed it aside. There was one last page on his desk. It was from Gran. A simple request for transfer of newly minted National Alchemist Edward Elric from Roy's staff to his.
Roy had seen the jealousy in Gran's eyes when the general's pampered star alchemist paled in comparison to Roy's new acquisition, but he'd dismissed it. There had always been some jockeying between the two of them, a game in one-upmanship that served to distract both of them from the fact that they held such vehemently incompatible philosophies towards the world. There had been rage in Ironbloods eyes later when Ed and Al defied him, letting Nina escape. He'd chalked it up to embarrassment over Shou's fraud. And now there was hate in his eyes when they passed in the halls. It's true Roy had undermined the other, with quiet deliberateness. He knew Gran was doing the same behind his back. Poisoning the minds of potential allies, turning them against Roy.
But he hadn't expected that Gran had wanted Fullmetal and his brother. Had wanted them for apparently longer than Roy himself. That, like Roy, he'd been waiting for the children to mature before coming for them. It had been a slap in his face when they had come running early and of their own volition into Roy's arms.
It was some comfort that Gran didn't want to actually expose Alphonse. It would have been easy with all the evidence documented in Al's file to go the legal route and take custody of the children that way. But that would have lead to Edward's death, and Gran didn't want that.
He wanted what Roy wanted. Two brilliant but malleable minds, to teach, direct, manipulate, and occasionally coerce into doing whatever Gran wanted. And their goals were remarkably similar: A philosophers stone to seal their power and spread their philosophy over the land. And considering the intensity of focus the brothers had already shown towards the project, it was looking very likely that the one who controlled the Elrics, would indeed possess a stone, and sooner rather than later.
Roy crumpled up the request for transfer, and then for good measure tossed it in the air and snapped his fingers. The page woofed into brief flame, then fell as ashes. Gran had lost. The boys were his now, until Roy was done with them. And if Roy had any say in the matter, the boys would never even know there had been a contest.
Such innocence was worth preserving.