Title: Lessons
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Edward, Alphonse, Izumi, and a minor original character.
Setting: Soon after the Elrics first began training with Izumi.
Summary: When Izumi introduces a new student, Ed and Al must confront a dilemma.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Just a random idea. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I’ve decided it works for the prompt “rites of passage/coming of age” at Trope Bingo.

 

Lessons

 

On the Elric brothers’ sixth morning at the home of Izumi Curtis, Edward was tempted to ignore the harsh jangling of the alarm clock.

He would be in for major trouble if he did. The boys’ new teacher was an early riser, and extremely punctual about her students’ schedules. If he didn’t present himself on time, she might decide to send him packing back to Resembool… but right now, Ed was finding it difficult to care about being there at all.

After Izumi brought them back from their month of educational exile on Yock Island, he had felt no shortage of enthusiasm. When she accepted their answer to her riddle about Equivalent Exchange, and agreed to teach them, he had visions of launching at once into an exciting journey of new discoveries. Neither of the boys had ever seen anything like her ability to transmute without a circle, and Ed desperately wanted to learn secrets like that—but their first several lessons merely covered fundamentals of alchemy they had known since the day they picked up their father’s books. Reciting such simple basics was boring and repetitive.

Even so, Ed tried not to complain… at first. Starting at the beginning was probably just a matter of course for an alchemy teacher, and perhaps Izumi did not yet realize how advanced her students were. When she saw them demonstrate their skills, surely she would skip ahead to the far deeper knowledge they craved.

So Ed waited, and made sure to perform some of his best work, in the hope of showing Izumi just how high the bar needed to be set; but the beginning-level lessons continued, and his dismay increased a little more each day. At last, when his frustration built and he began to mutter that he and Al already knew these things, Izumi only gave him brusque non-answers and made them keep at it.

All they had really gained there so far was bruises. In sharp contrast to Izumi’s alchemy teachings, Ed was pretty sure her physical training was more advanced than anything two boys their age should be subjected to.

By now, Ed had begun to wonder if they should just write the woman off as crazy and return home. There they could at least work at their own pace. If Izumi continued at this rate, it would be years before her lesson plan even caught up to their current skill level—and Ed certainly wasn’t going to spend that long pointlessly rehashing information he had already mastered.

Somewhere behind him, the alarm clock was throttled into silence. From the other bed he heard the rustling of blankets, followed by Alphonse’s soft yawn.

“Come on, Brother. Time to get up.”

Ed huffed slightly and burrowed a little deeper into the covers. What was the point? They would just spend hours going over kiddie stuff, and then be dragged outside to collect some more contusions. This sojourn in Dublith was turning out to be not at all what he imagined or wanted when they first pleaded for Izumi to take them on.

Maybe that was the point. Back in Resembool, she made it clear that she didn’t want any students in the first place. Maybe she planned to bore them so badly that they would just give up and go away.

“…Brother?”

In any case, Ed couldn’t blow off their plans without giving Al a say in the matter. It might not be an easy sell, either. Optimistic and forgiving, Al was so much more resilient on the inside—even if his soft skin did bruise more easily on the outside.

There was no sense in putting off the discussion. The elder brother rolled onto his back and kicked the covers off, staring blankly upward.

“I’m wondering if we should just go back home and keep studying on our own, Al.”

Bedsprings creaked, and Al’s concerned face suddenly loomed over Ed’s own. “What are you talking about? After all we went through on the island to get Teacher to accept us—now you just want to leave?”

“She wasn’t really happy to have us here from the start. I think she wants to get rid of us. Why else would she be making us study the simplest stuff in the world, when she’s knows we’re way better than that?”

“I’m sure she just has to be thorough. When we get through all the tests to prove how much we know—”

“Do you realize how long that’s gonna take?” Still on his back, Ed folded his arms over his chest. The fingers of his left hand fell on his upper right arm, and he felt the slight roughness of the fox-bite scar the island had left him with. He turned his head to scowl bitterly at the mark on his flesh. It was beginning to seem like a lousy price to pay for a lot of nothing.

Then he glanced back at his sibling… but instead of discouragement, only the faint trace of a twinkle appeared in Al’s eyes.

“You know what? I think she’s testing your patience, Brother.”

The suggestion rankled Ed, suddenly and hotly. He jerked upright, forcing Al to flinch backward.

“What am I supposed to be patient for? We came here to learn alchemy. Going over stuff we already know isn’t learning—and getting a bunch of stupid life-lessons isn’t alchemy. I’m sure there are plenty of other great alchemists out there who’d start teaching us at our level, instead of just jerking us around.”

“But Ed—have you ever seen another alchemist who didn’t need to draw circles? Or even heard of one?”

That was the one argument Ed’s own mind kept coming back to. His shoulders sagged, and he puffed out a sigh, knowing he couldn’t argue the point. Izumi Curtis had a skill that was positively otherworldly—and if they didn’t bear with her in the hopes that she would someday teach it to them, they might never have a chance to learn it from someone else.

Of course, their ultimate goal was not to transmute without circles. It was to bring their mother back. Surely an even more improbable feat… but if Izumi could perform alchemy in a way no others could, how much else was she capable of?

“Just give it a little more time, Ed.” Al grinned encouragingly. “I’m sure things will still work out.”

Although Ed had become somewhat inured to Al’s relentlessly positive attitude over the years, he hated to admit defeat. If for no other reason than that, he wasn’t very surprised to feel himself give in… at least for now. With a gloomy shrug, he rolled off the bed and proceeded to dress.

In short order, the brothers made their way downstairs—only to find an unfamiliar boy sitting on the living room sofa.

“Ah, there you are.” Izumi sat facing the young guest, as if they had been in conversation, but she turned to the Elrics when she heard their footsteps. “Edward, Alphonse—I want you to meet Timofei. He’s come here seeking to be my student as well.”

Startled by the declaration, Ed cast an appraising glance over the newcomer. He looked to be a few years older, perhaps fourteen or so; but his thin, narrow-chested frame was not as well-built as the two younger boys, and his color was much paler than their sun-warmed skins. His short, close-trimmed hair was a very light brown, while the eyes that gazed from behind large eyeglass lenses were an only slightly darker shade. Gray trousers and a white button-front shirt, both spotless and neatly pressed, were the finishing touch to his tidy, schoolboyish appearance.

“Hello,” Timofei said politely, extending a small and rather limp hand to the Elrics. “Teacher has been telling me all about you. I’m really looking forward to studying together.”

Speechless, Ed froze, staring down at the offered hand. At the moment, all he could think of was that this meek, soft-spoken lad was probably a total amateur at alchemy—and if Teacher was taking him on, that was likely to hold back their lessons even more.

Oblivious to Ed’s hesitation, Al cheerfully accepted the handshake. “It’s nice to meet you! We only just started with Teacher a week ago—but having another student here should make things a lot more interesting.”

Izumi smiled crookedly. “Timofei won’t be staying here just yet. As you both know… I consider it very important to test potential students.”

Ed’s eyebrows jumped, and he looked at Timofei with a new sense of incredulity. “You mean you’re gonna dump him on that island for a month too?”

Even after experiencing Izumi’s tough methods firsthand, Ed couldn’t help feeling astonished. He and Al, hardy rural boys that they were, had been hard-pressed enough to find food and shelter on Yock Island—much less elude the hostile masked giant that lurked there. Timofei might have been older than they were, but judging by his frail-looking physique, it was hard to believe he would even last for a week. The thought of putting such an apparent weakling through the same rigorous trial was rather appalling.

“Actually, I have a different test in mind for him.” Izumi turned to her prospective student, her expression growing serious. “There’s news that an alchemist in the next town to the north was performing illegal experiments. He created some large and dangerous chimeras—and when the police arrived to investigate, one of the animals attacked them and escaped. They’ve been hunting it in the nearby forest for two days now. It’s injured several people, but they haven’t been able to capture it.” The teacher narrowed her eyes ominously at Timofei. “…So I want you to go there. Your test is to find the beast, and kill it, and bring me back its head—all without using alchemy.”

Timofei appeared to grow even paler. His eyes widened, his lips thinned, and he swallowed hard.

“You… You honestly think I can do that, Teacher?” he asked faintly.

“Of course.” Izumi’s tone was brusque. “If you want to become a good alchemist, it’s important to understand what happens when alchemy is misused. Seeing how dangerous the chimera is to others, and how much it suffers itself, will teach you that.”

“…I see.”

“You’ll have to be careful, of course. They say it has the speed of a cat and the strength of a bear—but if you really are a student worthy of my teaching, it should be no match for you.”

The sheer casualness of Izumi’s tone was shocking. Ed could only stare at her, wondering if she was truly that ignorant of the difficulty of what she was asking. Did such tasks as slaying monsters—and without alchemy—really come to her so easily that she had no idea what it meant for others?

For a long moment, Timofei was silent, looking a little bit sick as he digested Izumi’s demand. At last he stood up, and gave the teacher a slight bow.

“Nothing in the world means more to me than becoming a great alchemist—and I want to learn from the best. If you say I can do it… then I will do it.” He glanced at the Elrics, smiling wanly. “I’m sorry our meeting was so short today. I hope we can get to know each other much better… when I come back.”

The when was a forced and trembling word. Timofei badly failed at the effort to sound confident that he would come back. He surely knew what was already obvious to Ed: he did not have the skills or the physical strength to defeat a wild beast.

With a last nod of farewell, he turned and started for the door… but his movement could not be described as a walk. It was nothing less than a hobble, each step crooked and unsteady.

Ed’s breath caught. For the first time, he noticed that Timofei’s right leg was twisted, his foot turned inward at an unnatural angle. The resulting limp was so severe, it was a wonder the boy could walk at all without a crutch.

Looking equally startled, Al was the first to find his voice, and called out after the retreating teenager. “Hey—wait!”

“What is it?” Timofei asked with unassuming politeness, turning back.

“Your leg.” Al’s troubled gaze shifted to Izumi. “Timofei can barely even walk. How can you expect him to fight a chimera like that?”

“With intelligence and a strong will—the same traits you two relied on to fend for yourselves on the island.” Izumi gazed down at Al loftily. “If he wants this badly enough, he’ll find a way, the same as you did.”

Timofei took a deep breath, raising his hands in a placating manner. “Alphonse, really, it’s okay. I have to do this. I’ll—”

No,” Ed interrupted flatly, and took a step forward. Not without some difficulty, he raised firm eyes to Izumi, whose gaze in return was cold.

“We’ve done everything you wanted us to, Teacher… but this is stupid. It took us a lot more than just intelligence and strong will to last for a month on that island. We would’ve been hurt if we couldn’t fight too. Now what you’re asking Timofei to do sounds even more dangerous—and if he finds out he really can’t do it, he won’t even be able to run away.”

Izumi’s dark eyes flashed dangerously. “I advise you not to interfere, Ed. If I don’t get the head of that chimera, Timofei cannot be my student.”

A brief moment of heavy silence ensued. Ed glanced to his right, meeting Al’s eyes; and what he saw in them was an unspoken agreement with the thought he knew they both shared.

Fine,” Ed muttered grimly at last, looking back at Izumi. “If that’s what you want, you’ll get your trophy—but Al and I are going to do it. We’ll go and kill that chimera in Timofei’s place.”

“That would miss the entire point of the exercise,” Izumi retorted. “For Timofei to prove his skills—”

“But he doesn’t have those skills!” Ed shot back. He glanced at Timofei, who returned the gaze with wide and startled eyes. “Just look at him, Teacher. He can’t go fighting monsters—but there’s nothing wrong with that. And it doesn’t mean he can’t be a great alchemist. Just because he doesn’t have the kind of strength you’re looking for… that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own.”

Ed’s voice faltered at the end of the sentence. As he delivered that heated protest, Izumi’s face had lapsed from faint surprise to a complete lack of any expression at all—and Ed was suddenly gripped with a fear that he had gone too far.

…At least in one sense. Certainly, he feared his objection would earn Izumi’s fury; but even so, in his heart, he couldn’t bring himself to regret a word, because he knew he was right.

Then, very slowly, Izumi’s stony countenance relaxed into the faintest hint of a smile.

“Thank you, Timofei.” Rising from her chair, she held out a handful of coins to the older boy. “You did well.”

At that moment, Timofei’s demeanor became subtly yet distinctly changed. His attentive posture and serious expression both relaxed, reversing the attitude of his entire being: instead of demure nervousness, he suddenly exuded a casual confidence. With a grin of satisfaction, he reached out to accept the money from Izumi’s hand.

“Thank you, Ma’am.” He turned to the Elrics, ducking his head. “Sorry to have fooled you guys. The truth is, I’m not really an alchemy student at all—I’m just a neighbor from down the street, and Mrs. Curtis asked me to do this. But thanks anyway for how you tried to stand up for me. I have to get to school now, but I’ll see you around sometime.”

Leaving the Elrics speechless, Timofei departed—now absent the smallest sign of his earlier limp.

“…You were just testing us again,” Al wailed abruptly, staring up at Izumi with a look of abject betrayal.

“It’s my responsibility to be careful of who I teach. In spite of the raw talent you both have, you still haven’t dreamed of how powerful alchemy can truly be… and in the wrong hands, that power can be terribly destructive.” To the brothers’ surprise, Izumi wrapped her arms around their shoulders, looking down earnestly at each of them in turn. “An unselfish alchemist is one who will use his skills wisely. I wanted to know if you were willing to place someone else’s good before your own—and you did.”

For a moment, Ed found it hard to meet Izumi’s gaze, because he had a feeling that his and Al’s motives were the most ultimately selfish of all.

Such a thought did not seem to occur to Al. His hurt expression warmed into a hesitant grin, and he shrugged slightly under Izumi’s arm. “So… does that mean you think we’re ready for more advanced lessons?”

Izumi sighed, but she smiled wanly. “Yes, Al. I believe you’ve both proven that you’re prepared to handle greater knowledge.”

That verdict was instantly enough to sweep away not only Ed’s quiet doubts, but his indignation at having been tested in such a devious way. A huge smile spread across his face, and he could barely restrain himself from jumping up and down as he pulled away from Izumi, to raise his hand and high-five his brother. “Alright!”

“Go and set the table now,” Izumi instructed them airily. “We’ll discuss it all after breakfast.”

The boys practically bounded away to the dining room—too excited now to be hungry, but knowing Izumi took nourishment just as seriously as alchemy, and she would never let them escape from the table without full stomachs.

“You see, Brother?” Al said cheerfully. “I told you it’d all work out. We just had to wait and believe in Teacher.”

“Yeah—but she’s still kinda crazy. Did she really have to put on a whole big act like that just to test us?” Ed rolled his eyes. “And I guess she was even fibbing about that wild chimera on the loose, too.”

Al’s sudden look of wide-eyed, trembling horror was Ed’s first clue that their teacher had stepped into the room behind him. As his heart froze, he slowly turned to see Izumi staring down at them: her hands on her hips, her expression flat, one dark eyebrow lowered ominously.

“Thank you for reminding me, Edward. Now, about your offer to bring me the beast’s head…”

Ed knew then that if he and Al could only survive their time with Izumi Curtis, they would be able to handle anything at all.


© 2014 Jordanna Morgan