East City was probably the least affluent of the military headquarters in the country, being located in recently-accquired land. The crime rate was much higher here - the city hid numerous war criminals and petty thieves and the like - and there were rumors of an underground 'black' market that took the regular practice of having bondservants a step further - a step too far.
And this was the city that soon-to-be-Colonel Roy Mustang had been given command of. He was less than thrilled.
He did not yet have command; the title 'Colonel' would still be honorary for several months, while the paperwork went through and the workload was shifted. However, Mustang had already made several preliminary trips to the city, sketching with his mind the structural changes he would make, the personnel he would trim and add, the systems he would alter. East City would become every bit as secure and crime-free as Central City, if he had any say in the matter; the region it commanded would fall in line quickly, and he would have an unchallenged, easy rule.
But today, Colonel Roy Mustang came to East City in casual clothes, on his own time, and found his own hotel to stay in.
Today, he was here on a rumor.
The supposed black market did in fact exist, in the slummiest part of town - the refuge of tax dodgers and gamblers from the all-seeing eye of the Western Army. It was to this part of town that Mustang went, his stride confident, his attitude indifferent. Soon, everyone would see his face and they would part like water because he was Colonel Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist; today they parted simply because of the purposeful air he exuded without so much as a thought.
When he reached the building at the end of the block, whispered words were exchanged, money was palmed, and Mustang was permitted down the stairs and into the center of some of the most organized illegal activity in the country. Men milled about the warehouse-sized room, and a few women as well; at the far end a low platform had been set up, but there was no activity there for the moment. It would be another few hours before that main event. For now, most of the activity centered on the wall opposite Roy, where some 23 individuals were lined up, collars around their necks, chained to the wall by cuffed arms. Human property.
Mustang snorted under his breath. The practice was demeaning in a way that bondservantry was not - slavery was for life, while a bondservant was working off a pact. Additionally, since slavery was illegal, it was not regulated by laws ... and that alone created any number of problems in regular society.
This market too would go when Mustang overtook East City. But for the time being, the system had its uses. He migrated towards the wall lined with people to be sold and meandered down the line, only briefly glancing over each figure.
It was the ninth person in line that caught his eye. He did not look very old, but his cool attitude, his set, angry features - even the way he stood, leaning slightly forward in an aggressive fashion - suggested that he was older than he appeared. Mustang gave him a once-over with his eyes before the young man saw him; his hair was long and blonde, bound back into a ponytail for convenience, and his eyes were nearly the same color as his hair, and intense. He had only one arm, but it was bound back and chained as the others were; his opposite shoulder was plated with metal, and the circular rotary plates designed for automail attachment were easily visible.
This had to be the boy he was looking for.
"Ah, sir!" A merchant hustled up next to Mustang as he observed the sullen boy. "Are you interested in him?"
"Yes," Roy acknowleged without looking away from the young man.
The merchant pounced on the chance. "Isn't he a terrific looker? And strong, too."
Mustang did not physically roll his eyes, but he wished to do so. "Of course he's strong - he has an automail attachment," he said, and stepped away from the merchant, towards the boy.
Immediately the boy looked up at him, his full-forced glare settling on Mustang like a firestorm. "Who're you?" he asked without preamble, raking his eyes up and down Roy's body as if their positions were reversed.
But the merchant slapped the boy soundly across the mouth. "Don't speak unless spoken to!" he commanded, before turning to Roy apologetically. "He's only 13, sir, and has few manners. Please don't mistake him; he works well and is good at heavy labor--"
Mustang ignored him. "I could ask the same of you," he said to the disobedient child, waving the merchant away. Salesmen; that was another occupation Roy would eliminate. "But I suspect I already know the answer." Thankfully, the merchant left.
The young man glared up at him, a tired smirk crossing his features. "Heeh? You think you've heard of me?" he said slowly, disbelief in his voice.
"Indeed, boy," replied the taller man -- "Edward Elric, the boy who performed human transmutation at the age of 11 and lived to tell about it?"
The young man went pale, and his lips pressed thin, but he answered, "And who is this Edward Elric guy?"
Roy smirked, amused by the boy's audacity and determination. "Nice," he said evenly, before pressing a hand over the boy's automail shoulder, leaning closer; the boy flinched slightly, as if startled by the touch he could not possibly have felt. "And in exchange for the secret I know about you, I will tell you a secret. I am Colonel Roy Mustang of the West Army, and if I so chose, I could have you executed before the month is out." He paused, letting the information sink in; the boy's eyes widened, and he took in a sharp breath. "Only a handful of officers are aware that you are still alive, Mr. Elric. Those that are aware have been notified that you are to be put to death as quietly as possible."
The boy tensed under his hand, going slightly more pale, and his gaze slid away from Mustang slowly. "What do you want?" he asked in a low tone.
Mustang smiled slightly. The first part of the battle had been won. "Your cooperation." He placed two fingers against the side of the boy's chin and turned his face back towards himself; the boy's glare was half-hearted. "I am also an alchemist," he said softly, "and I have no use for you dead. What you accomplished is an amazing feat of alchemy."
But the emotion in Edward Elric's face merely changed from fear to pained anger. "Do you want to use me for experiments like my brother!?" the boy hissed, his voice cracking.
Ah, yes, the suit of armor; Alphonse Elric, one of only three known cases of successful soul-binding. Alphonse, however, was the only one who had been successfully transmuted without the binder dying - and all this right after attempting human transmutation on their mother.
"Of course not," Mustang answered after only a momentary pause. "It is not the transmutation itself that I am interested in - it is the fact that you are still alive. You are a very powerful alchemist, are you not, Edward Elric?"
The boy set his teeth. "What do you want?" he asked again, this time with more venom.
It was almost comical, how this child, physically bound up, could not keep his personality bottled away - and he was brash, a little arrogant, and determined. Roy smiled slightly. "I want to become the Fuhrer."
The young man's eyebrows quirked, but at the same time, a spark of ... of hope came into those large golden eyes. "What does that have to do with me?"
"A powerful, intelligent young man like yourself would be an excellent ally," Roy replied evenly. "You miss your brother, correct?"
The boy froze. "Do ... do you know anything about him? Is he okay?" his voice trembled only a little, as if betraying the child.
Mustang considered how to answer that question - it was hard to qualify how a soul bound to armor would be 'okay'. "His soul remains bound to the armor, if that's what you mean," he answered, and watched as Edward Elric's entire body slouched in relief.
"I'm the only one who .... well," he trailed off, lowering his gaze for a moment.
Roy was intrigued, but he let it go for the moment; there would be time for that later. "Listen to me, Edward Elric," he said, and the boy looked sharply back up at him, brows slightly furrowed. "Today, I am going to purchase you. You will help me become the Fuhrer by doing what I order, no matter how bizarre it may sound to you. In exchange, I will not have you executed." Mustang allowed himself a small smirk. "That is an equivalent trade - don't you agree?"
The boy's brows lowered consideringly. "And Al? What about him?"
Roy raised his eyebrows. "I will keep him safe," he answered. "And I will try to free him from the lab. But first you must prove that you will not doublecross me."
Edward's lips pressed thin again. "How can I do that?"
"We'll see," Mustang said, but inwardly he rejoiced. With a few well-placed words, he had Edward Elric willing to do as he ordered. "I think our time for now is up." he straightened, and Edward looked after him, no longer glowering venemously. "I will see you on the auction block."
He walked away, feeling eyes on his back, and smiled into his jacket.