Alchemy: the science of understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter.
However, it is not an all-powerful art. It is impossible to create something out of nothing.
If one wishes to obtain something, something of equal value must be given.
This is the law of equivalent exchange, the basis of all alchemy.
- “Laws of Alchemy” - Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
The door flies open with a satisfying crack. Katsuki hopes that he’s broken it this time, that he’s poured the entirety of his rage into his too short left leg and directed it in a kick powerful enough to break the Bastard’s door for good, no matter the resources available to the military to fix what Katsuki breaks. The Bastard doesn’t deserve a door, not after this, pulling Katsuki away from his research again.
Izuku clanks as the door slams against the wall of the Bastard’s office. Katsuki knows the sound intimately and fills in the sigh that can no longer come. “Kacchan…”
“Shut up. He deserves it. He knows better than to interrupt our work.”
With that, Katsuki lowers his legs and strides into the office as best he can. Aside from the door, nothing has changed since the last time Katsuki was dragged here for an assignment. The muted neutrals of the office furniture set a drab background for the dull blue of the military uniforms. In his red coat and black boots, Katsuki sticks out like a surly sore thumb. And that’s without Izuku standing behind him, no clothing in sight, just the gleaming steel of his armor. They violate every rule the military has concerning proper dress, but Katsuki wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a small rebellion against the indignity of having to work for the military, and under the command of the Bastard no less, who can rip Katsuki away from his research whenever he whims.
The Bastard’s lackeys scatter at the sight of Katsuki. His eyes snag on one as he makes his way across the office, a new one, unsurprising as the lackeys never last long working for the Bastard. This lackey hasn’t scattered like the rest. This one still sits at his desk, and as he sits, he gawks, blatantly and brazenly, at Izuku.
Jaw going tight, Katsuki slows to a stop.
On good days, he understands the staring. It’s not every day a person sees a seven foot tall suit of armor walking around. But today is not a good day. Or it had been, it had been a very good day, Katsuki and Izuku had been making significant progress decoding David Shield’s notes, but it’s not good now, now it’s shit, so Katsuki slows to a stop and he lifts his hands.
The clap resounds through the office. The lackey at his desk jumps and whips his head around to stare at Katsuki. He goes pale as transmutation energy begins to crackle around Katsuki’s hands, so pale that, for a moment, Katsuki thinks he’s going to pass out. The lackey remains conscious though. He scrambles to his feet and darts to the other side of the office where he cowers behind a filing cabinet. Katsuki continues to glare, the energy building and pooling and coursing around his hands, then he feels a light tug on the hood of his coat.
“That wasn’t necessary, Kacchan.”
Katsuki lowers his hands. The energy from the halted transmutation lingers in the air, warm with possibility, and Katsuki breathes it in. “Yes, it was. He was being a dick.”
“So are you,” Izuku says as he releases his coat, “but you don’t see anybody threatening you.”
“Because they know better.”
Izuku just clanks, conveying his sentiment in a silent sigh. Katsuki rolls his eyes at the reprimand and starts again across the office. The Bastard’s door looms, as does the desk preceding it and the person perpetually perched behind, his feet up and irritating smile already in place.
Lieutenant Keigo Takami, more commonly known as Hawks.
“You’re late,” he says as Katsuki stops at his desk.
“Like I give a shit. I told him not to put me on any missions this month. We’re on the edge of a breakthrough-”
“And he still called you in.” Hawks pauses long enough to lift a brow. “Must be pretty important then, don’t you think?”
Katsuki glares at the question, but the look does nothing to diminish the amusement in Hawks’ eyes. How he ever ended up working for the Bastard, Katsuki doesn’t know. The two of them are like lazy oil and constipated water, but somehow the arrangement works and has for at least the last five years, as long as Katsuki has known the Bastard.
Hawks peers past Katsuki then. “No need to sit down, Midoriya. The Major General wants to see you, too.”
The revelation freezes Katsuki. Behind him, Izuku clanks, the one when his chest piece moves for a sharp, shocked inhale. That compels Katsuki to move, to lift a hand and snap his fingers in Hawks’ face. “Why does he want to see Deku?”
Hawks shrugs. “Go in and ask him yourself.”
No further explanation comes. It never does from Hawks, at least not to Katsuki. Izuku stands a better chance at gaining information, Hawks more willing to actually talk to Izuku. With Katsuki all he wants to do is rile him up. Yet talking is impossible now given the Bastard’s order, the first and only time he’s ever invited Izuku into his personal office.
Katsuki eyes Hawks a moment longer then turns around. Even after all these years, it’s still a jolt to have to look up at Izuku, to see the eerie red glow of the blood seal staring at him rather than Izuku’s big green eyes. “Go back to the library. I’ll talk to the Bastard myself.”
“No can do, buckaroo.” Hawks waits until Katsuki has turned back around before he continues. “I was ordered to get Midoriya myself if he hadn’t shown up with you now.”
Hawks is sitting up now and the asshole grin is gone, which means he’s serious. Katsuki takes a moment to draw in a breath and squash down the panic beginning to bubble within him, and then he says, “Deku’s not even military-”
Hawks lifts up the lone piece of paper on his desk. “He’s been hired as a special consultant as of this morning.”
Katsuki snatches the piece of paper. It’s as Hawks said, a request signed by the Bastard for Izuku to be temporarily hired as a consultant to the military. The Bastard hadn’t even considered such an action when Katsuki first joined the military four years ago. All he’d allowed was for Izuku to accompany Katsuki on missions. Otherwise, Katsuki would never have joined his command.
Yet now, suddenly, he hires Izuku as a consultant, without either of their knowledge.
Pulse racing, Katsuki tosses the paper back onto Hawks’ desk. “I don’t need a consultant.”
“Who said it was for you?”
The question hurls a match at the spark of Katsuki’s rage. He stomps past Hawks and heads for the Bastard’s door, but only makes it two steps before Izuku reaches out once more and snags the hood of his coat, jerking Katsuki to a stop.
“Let me go, Deku.” He doubts his voice carries beyond him and Izuku, perhaps as far as Hawks, but as he speaks, a hush descends on the rest of the office, the uneasy calm before the storm.
Izuku responds just as quietly, but also as firmly, as Katsuki had. “Not until you calm down. And if that means I carry you out of here, I will.”
Katsuki whirls around. “Goddamn it-”
“No. If this is what’s needed to keep our access to the military’s resources, I’ll do it. You’ve done everything, Kacchan, to help us. Let me do this. Let me help you.”
The plea suckerpunches Katsuki and drags him back to the past, to the last time that he saw Izuku in his body, twelve years old, short and scrawny, all big hair and even bigger eyes, yet absolutely determined to help Katsuki break alchemy’s biggest taboo.
Because he believed in Katsuki.
Because they were friends.
Because he wanted to help.
Katsuki closes his eyes and swallows against the bile that suddenly rises in his throat. He hadn’t been able to keep Izuku from helping then, and he hadn’t been able to keep Izuku from following him to Central City as he had to be close in case something happened with Izuku’s blood seal, but Katsuki had at least kept Izuku out of the military, he’d kept him safe from that.
What was Auntie Inko going to say when she found out?
Or All Might, if he ever returned?
Katsuki opens his eyes. Izuku’s hunched now and his head’s tilted down. The rest of the office is quiet still, and without even looking, Katsuki knows that everyone in it is staring at them, Hawks included. They stare and they wait. They can stare at him as much as they want, Katsuki asks for it with the way that he looks and the way that he walks and the way that he talks. But not Izuku. Izuku wants people to like him. He works hard at overcoming their instinctive fear of a massive suit of spiked steel armor with glowing, blood-red eyes.
Swallowing again, Katsuki unclenches his hands. He draws in a long breath and exhales it slow, smothering, for the moment, his simmering rage. He takes another moment to ensure his voice is steady when he speaks, and then he says, “Let’s go see what the Bastard wants.”
The size of the room is preposterous, populated as it is by one man and a few pieces of furniture, a massive desk and accompanying chair with two smaller, decidedly more uncomfortable chairs placed before it. All of them are collected in the center of the room, too, most likely to highlight the grandeur of the office, but it emphasizes the frigid emptiness instead, both of the space and of the man at its core.
Usually when Katsuki arrives, only the chair behind the desk is occupied.
Now, someone sits in one placed before the desk as well.
In the chair behind the desk sits the Bastard himself, Major General Enji Todoroki, the infamous Flame Alchemist.
Katsuki doesn’t recognize the person in the other chair, at least not from the back. And he thinks that he would given the unique nature of this person’s hair, half red and half white, split evenly in the middle.
As Katsuki saunters into the room, the Bastard lifts his head from the papers on his desk to glare. “You’re late. I sent Bannon for you an hour ago.”
Katsuki says nothing, he just continues to saunter in, his eyes fixed on the person in the chair. He suspects it’s the one that Izuku’s been hired to “consult” for, at least until he rounds the chair and sees the figure in full.
It’s a boy around his age in full military uniform. The first thing Katsuki notices is the large, red scar marring the left side of his face. The next is the utter composure with which he sits. His face is so flat and expressionless that Katsuki would wonder if the boy was alive if not for the way he clenches his gloved hands. His eyes meet Katsuki’s, and they’re as strange as his hair, a soft grey and bright blue entirely at odds with one another. He stares at Katsuki, not intimidated at all by Katsuki’s glare, at least until Izuku steps into view, and then the boy blinks and shifts his gaze to Izuku and stares, and it’s not like the staring from the lackey, that had been fueled by shock and fear.
This is something else.
Something that sets Katsuki’s blood alight. “Who the fuck are you?”
The boy’s gaze snaps back to Katsuki, but it’s the Bastard who answers. “This is my son, Shouto. He’s to accompany you on your next mission.”
Katsuki whips around to look at the Bastard. “Like fuck he is.”
“You need supervision,” the Bastard states, entirely unfazed by Katsuki’s cursing. “Shouto needs experience.”
“I don’t need supervision.”
“The damage reports from your missions indicate otherwise.”
At this, Katsuki narrows his eyes. “You’ve never given a shit how I’ve done my missions before. Only that I got them done. What’s different now?”
The Bastard taps a finger against one of the files on his desk. “This mission is more important. Someone is killing State Alchemists.”
The revelation cools Katsuki’s rage. It wasn’t unheard of, a State Alchemist dying in the line of duty. They worked for the military after all, which meant that they, like Katsuki, were repeatedly thrown into danger. Yet it wasn’t common either. State Alchemists were more skilled than their civilian counterparts. They had to be in order to be hired by the military. So for a number of them to fall to the same culprit was certainly a significant occurrence and a mission worthy of Katsuki to investigate.
Katsuki eyes the Bastard a few more moments before he gives in and bites the lure that dangles before him. “Who?”
“We don’t know.”
“With alchemy. At least with think it’s alchemy,” the Bastard says. “We’ve never seen anything quite like this before.” He pauses and his finger taps again on the file folder. Free from his rage, Katsuki sees the irritation underlying the gesture now, the frustration that the Bastard must feel at having to pull Katsuki in because he can’t solve the case himself.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Katsuki lets loose a sharp grin. “And that’s why you need me.”
The Bastard sighs. It’s not the usual sigh that Katsuki elicits for his boasts. Instead, it’s one that sets him on edge again, as does the expression that accompanies it, the Bastard’s face twisting like he just swallowed his own piss.
“No,” he says as he lifts his hand. “That’s why we need…”
He doesn’t finish. He merely points, not at Katsuki, but past him.
Katsuki shakes his head. “No.”
“No.” Grin vanishing, Katsuki steps between Izuku and the Bastard, and uncaring of age or rank or power, he stares the Bastard down. “Absolutely not.”
The Bastard lowers his hand. “This is nonnegotiable, Fullmetal. I’ve allowed you to bring him with you on missions for years, despite the fact that he’s not a State Alchemist, much less a-”
Katsuki moves forward. As he does, he unfolds his arms and lets his hands hang loose and ready by his sides. “You want to finish that thought?”
The threat does not go unnoticed by the Bastard. He glances down and takes in Katsuki’s hands. In a fight, perhaps, the Bastard has the speed. The transmutation circle for his flame alchemy is already sewn into his gloves. He needs no preparation. But speed is all that he has. Katsuki has the versatility, the sole benefit to his botched human transmutation, to his awful journey through the portal of Truth. One clap of his hands, and Katsuki can do anything.
As though he can hear the thought, Izuku shifts behind Katsuki, a clear, devastating reminder that he can’t do anything, that the universe has already punished him for thinking so and for trying to, and that it has punished Izuku as well, sending him through the same awful portal, forcing him to confront the same awful Truth, and claiming his body as the price for Katsuki’s sins.
The reminder yanks Katsuki back from the brink. He looses a long breath and forces his body to relax. Izuku had been right. They need the military’s resources, which means, for now, that they need the Bastard. Picking a fight with him would accomplish nothing. It wouldn’t bring Izuku’s body back. It wouldn’t erase the harrowing white and the horrible grin of Truth as it claimed first Katsuki’s leg and then his arm for his arrogance.
It wouldn’t bring his parents back, or All Might from wherever he disappeared.
The moment stretches, taut, and then, finally, pops as the Bastard also relaxes from the brink. He stares at Katsuki’s hands another second and then lifts his gaze. “As I was saying. Midoriya is not a State Alchemist, much less a regular soldier. He’s a civilian, and, as such, he should not be accompanying you on missions. Yet he has been. Now is the time to make it official.”
“Why? I’m a better alchemist than Deku, than anyone else in the military. Send me instead.”
“I am. You are to accompany Midoriya and fix him should he fall.”
The final word snatches the breath from Katsuki’s chest. “What?”
“The last two alchemists sent to investigate these killings were murdered before they could give us any information. They were torn apart, Fullmetal. Parts of them were utterly obliterated.” The Bastard stops here to point at Izuku. “He has greater odds than anyone of surviving an attack like that and providing us with the information we need to capture those responsible.”
Izuku had been obliterated when the transmutation failed. Utterly so. The black hands of Truth had slithered out of the transmutation circle and snatched Izuku inch by inch, and Katsuki had been forced to watch as he screamed, as he cried out to Katsuki to help him, to save him, to-
Katsuki whips his head up. Izuku stands before him now, between him and the Bastard, blocking the Bastard from his sight, protecting Katsuki even now, even after everything. Chest going tight, Katsuki shakes his head. “No. No.”
“It’s okay. I’ll be okay.”
Katsuki keeps shaking his head. “No. You’re not going. He’s not going.” He tries to step around Izuku then, but Izuku lifts a hand and blocks his path.
“I want to do this, Kacchan. And I might be the only one who can. The Major General is right. I can survive a lot more than other people can, and if I can make use of that, if I can save people, then I will."
Izuku pitches his voice low, almost soft, just for the two of them, but there’s no concession in the softness. There’s no room to argue. Beneath the softness lies the steel of which Izuku has always been made and that now defines his entire being.
This, more than anything that the Bastard said, finally causes Katsuki to yield.
“Fine,” he says, looking away. “We’ll do the mission. But don’t expect us to coddle your kid. If he can’t keep up, he’ll get left behind.”
Katsuki hears the chair behind the desk creak. “That won’t be a problem. Will it, Shouto?”
The chair behind Katsuki creaks. A few seconds later, the boy comes into view. He stops beside Katsuki, and his eyes again catch on Izuku before they slide past him, presumably to look at the Bastard. The boy, Shouto, Bastard Jr., still clenches his hands, but his expression is not the blank slate it had been when Katsuki first walked in. There’s fire in his eyes now, a burning gleam of accomplishment, one that blazes hotter as he lifts his chin and says, “No. It won’t be.”