The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Roy banged out idly, still fascinated by the novelty of his new, smaller desktop typewriter. The lazy dog is sleeping by the river.
But unfortunately, the dog was not sleeping; the dog was not lazy—the dog was sitting in front of him, looking perfectly miserable, sporting a deep purple shiner that swallowed the majority of his lower cheek and was encroaching on his forehead.
"Well?" Roy asked, drumming his fingers along the home row keys.
"I told you, he deserved it," the boy said curtly, and shifted uncomfortably on his chair. "Can I go now?"
He rolled his one good eye languidly, as if somehow his sheer lack of interest could end this ordeal; there was an attempt at a stately, dismissive shake of the head, but he added a sneer and ended up looking ridiculous. Just a kid. An extremely brilliant, extremely talented child, but a child nonetheless, with the mannerisms and fidgeting to match. He was even twiddling his thumbs together, the very picture of impatience.
Just like any other brat that he could have seen waltzing down the street. Just like any other faceless child he could have passed by without noticing. It was more comforting that way, not to have to think about any of their particular differences.
"Fullmetal," he said finally, having to lend at least that much acquiescence to his dog's (puppy's!) identity. "Whether or not you perceive that someone 'deserves' to be subjected to your particular brand of witticism, be aware that certain members of society are more likely to reply with their fists."
Another eye roll. The right eyelid made an attempt to follow along but got caught on itself and just twitched, in what looked to be an extremely painful manner. The dog whimpered way back in his throat.
Roy advanced the paper and tapped a few more lines.
Fullmetal Alchemist involved in altercation near local eatery (Horsehead Tavern). Three known injured; minor property damage. Bill for medical treatment, loss of livelihood compensation, external repairs (transmute window, stair step, western half of building).
Fool kid was doing alright until he nutted Big Thomas.
"You are dismissed," he said finally, looking over at the door. The boy leapt up in an instant, despite the obvious stiffness in his leg, and hobbled toward the exit with unabashed glee.
He fumbled, just a little, at turning the door handle, and Roy's heart lurched rather painfully in his chest.
"Wait!" He barked sharply, and fumbled in his coin purse.
He wrapped his fingers around a five-spot and hurled it at the kid, wishing that he didn't have to notice that the gold of the child's (Fullmetal's) hair was exactly the same as the gilding on his wrist watch, and that the boy's brilliant eyes were as sunny as his hair. Damn distinctive. Far too memorable.
"...Get some ice on that," he said to the typewriter, trying not to memorize the way the kid's (golden!) eyes smiled at his newfound fortune. "Go down to the Depo, they'll sell you a pack."
The kid sneered at him half-heartedly and bustled out the door, a flash of scarlet and black that was terribly, tragically coming to be associated with the unfortunately catchy name, "Fullmetal". Roy sucked down on his lip and went back to reporting.
Kids got black eyes all the time. They fell out of trees, they hit each other with baseballs, they ran their stupid selves right into the corners of doors. Children had been injuring themselves for aeons before, and would continue until the very last child breathed its last on this planet.
This, he said to himself, and wished he could pretend it was true, was no different.
In a truly well-oiled military machine, one needn't use real names at all. One thing he did like about the office (when he bothered to be found in his office) was that, if he needed to, he could get by for days without having to specify which particular captain or lieutenant he was barking at; the protocol was specific and everyone just hollered back "sir". His very close posse (his Hawkeye, his Havoc, his Breda, and recently his Fuery and Falman) he deigned to address directly. The rest of the base could go pleasantly under the radar.
Except that civilian consultants didn't tend to follow military protocol, and even if they did there were many of them who didn't do it correctly. Especially if they were twelve years old, and blonde-headed, and had a habit of terrorizing whomever they were saying 'hello' to.
"Fullmetal," he said (and he knew it was the kid, even before the boy slunk through the doorway, damn it all). "I'll kindly ask you not to swear in the dining hall."
The boy's back arched, like a cat, and he immediately went on the defensive.
"He said my brother dresses funny," the boy hissed, pupils dilating. "Fucking asshole."
"Language." Roy said automatically. "If you were an officer, that would be two demerits."
"Give me a promotion then, so I can get your stupid demerits, Colonel Bastard," the kid emphasized. Roy snorted. Both of them knew that was never going to happen.
"I'll decline for now, but suffice it to say, if I ever find out you were the cause of a food fight again, demerits will be the LEAST of your worries."
A childish snicker, followed by a stuck-out tongue.
As Fullmetal walked out, Roy realized (with no small amount of concern) that he was walking with a limp.
When he asked Havoc to escort the boy to and from his dorm room for the next couple of days, it had nothing to do with playing favorites. It was all about avoiding the paperwork that a hazing from Company D would inspire.
It was getting kind of depressing, though, by the time the color red alone would make him wonder about the child; the flash of a cardinal, a sprig of bright berries, the gaudiness of nighttime tavern lights, and the scarlet lipstick of bar women. He'd find himself wanting to call his friend Hughes, and thus Hughes' other "friends", many of whom were out in the field, and a large proportion of whom were keeping an eye on one Fullmetal Alchemist (and younger sibling). Only the threat of Elysia, and the general ridiculousness of the impulse, kept him from doing it nightly. The boy had survived human transmutation, at half the age when most men performed their first transmutation. His brother was a nine foot dynamo of solid steel. His damn arm and leg were even made out of metal, and he could transmute anything in the world without ever drawing an array. He had enlisted the boy, yes, but the boy could take care of himself.
He had to.
He lifted his scotch to his lips, and chugged it hard so he didn't have to realize that the honey color was vaguely like Edward's eyes, and so he didn't have worry about where the kid was at and whether or not he was getting fed, and whether or not he'd gotten himself into another fight somewhere. Whether or not he'd been hurt. He was going to have to do something about that. The kid was always sporting some kind of injury now, when he came in for debriefings, and it was starting to cause problems. The way Hawkeye looked at him, you'd think he was hitting the kid himself. It was horrifying, but when he'd taken in this stray he'd somehow gained a pet for the entire office, and now it wasn't just his own bloody conscience yipping at him when the puppy got hurt. Dammit, that was the last thing he needed. Something to upset the ranks.
He took a deep breath and ran his fingers across the now well-worn keys of his typewriter, admiring the way that they depressed and sprung back all in order, in controlled, fluid motion that was nothing like his life.
Try to pull back a bit. That's all he had to do. He had learned long ago that it was dangerous to care too much, and that no matter how much he loved all his charges and protected them fiercely, there was peril in playing favorites. If the dream was to be realized, they all had to harden their hearts.
Fullmetal was a kid like any other. Kids make mistakes. You can't protect them from everything, nor should you try.
But when the phone rang and the somewhat breathless voice announced simply that "Edward is in the hospital", he was not surprised at all that he knew exactly who it was he was running to.
He stopped by the nurse's station only long enough to get the relevant information—yes, Fullmetal is in good condition; no, you can't see him, he's resting; okay, maybe just for a few minutes if you promise to take me to the opera next Saturday—and then went directly to room 307, still in his uniform, without a single thing for a get-well soon gift. No matter. The boy wouldn't appreciate the sentiment anyway.
And Alphonse was parked squarely in the middle of the doorway, arms folded menacingly, a steel-plated, spike-covered sentinel from hell. Yet another person who deserved to give Roy a good once-over.
"Hello, Alphonse," Roy said despondently. "I'm sorry...about that mission..."
He was rather surprised when the boy simply stepped aside for him, with a short, stocky bow that seemed out of place coming from such a fearsome creature.
"No, it's not your fault. My brother is so stupid!" the armor rattled, eyes twin pinpricks of angry light, and Roy was alarmed to see that Alphonse was actually shaking around the joints. God, could he actually fall apart? It occurred to Roy that for all the things he'd learned about the elder of the two brothers, he knew surprisingly little about the younger one.
"What's wrong?" he asked, placing a steadying hand on a large metal elbow, more to assure himself it wasn't going to fall apart than anything else—not as if the boy could feel it. The gesture seemed to help Alphonse calm down, though; the horrid vibrations started to even out, and slow.
"He has the sense God gave a billy goat, I swear!" Alphonse wailed. "Sir, I tried to stop him, I didn't care, but he was all insulted on my behalf and then there were so many of them, and I didn't want to hurt anybody too badly so I couldn't just jump right in, and—"
"And one of them got him in the knee and he just went down and they got him in the back and they were holding my arms and I couldn't get to him fast enough and—" A curious noise, kind of like an airless sob. "-and why can't he ever just let things GO?"
Roy observed with alarm as a nine foot tall suit of armor began to contract in on itself from all ways at once, until all of its pieces were screeching for mercy. He wanted to kick himself.
How could he have possibly thought this child was scary?
"Alphonse, it's okay," he said forcefully, tugging at the impossible forearm. "He's going to be alright."
The scraping noise lessened as Alphonse stretched himself out again. "Would you talk to him? He listens to you."
Roy highly doubted this was true, but let the boy continue.
"I've been trying to get him to say something all evening, but it's like talking to the wall. He's being completely impossible."
He couldn't suppress a wan smile at that. "I'd believe that. Fullmetal is the definition of 'completely impossible'."
Alphonse started, raising his large fists in a way that made Roy worry about his earlier assessment, but then sighed, a creaky rattle coming from his midsection.
Roy gave Alphonse's shoulder one last pat and entered the room, wondering a little if he should contact Hughes about keeping tabs on Alphonse as well.
In truth, it wasn't actually as bad as he'd imagined it was going to be.
It was worse.
There was something about the sight of the boy's body swimming in the hospital bed, not even big enough to cover half of it, that made his gorge rise. Fullmetal was white, white and red, but it wasn't his customary coat providing the coloration this time. He looked like a martyr laid out for his burial rites, and the silent way the boy was holding his arms out, stretched away from his body in a beseeching gesture, only made it more so.
Roy couldn't help it.
"When I enlisted you," he said, voice as cold as Drachma in winter, "I sold you as the most brilliant alchemist this goddamn world has ever seen."
Two puffy eyes blinked slowly, staring up with a slight glimmer of comprehension.
"I worked my ass off to set it up so you could impress the right people, take the damn test. Do you know how know HARD it was to get them to let you?! They don't let most twenty year olds go out for the exam, let alone a snot-nosed punk kid!"
Fullmetal shivered like a leaf in high wind, but still said absolutely nothing.
"I put you up as a goddamn genius who shit arrays and pissed miracles, and how do you prove it?!"
He clenched his hands together and snarled, old dog to puppy, and nearly baring his teeth, snapped, "I should THINK you'd be intelligent enough not to get baited into a fight with thirty guys twice your size!"
No response. He was slightly alarmed at this. Normally, a slur on his height would have woken the kid up from a coma.
"And your brother is upset, too," he continued, not caring that it was cruel, not caring about anything but the number of bandages. "He was practically in tears when I showed up"—well, as close as he can get to it—"and he's so scared I thought he was going to collapse!"
Edward's face crumpled into the very picture of agony at the mention of his younger brother. Bingo.
The shields were down; now the real message could get through.
"You don't have to buy into every fight that people are selling, Fullmetal. Sometimes, the stronger man is the one who knows when to walk away," he said, softer this time. "I know you worry about your brother. I worry about him too. But there are times when a man has to pick his battles."
He patted the little flesh hand tentatively, got no response. It figured. He rose and brushed invisible lint, smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion, if only to the doorway.
"Take care of yourself, kid," he said. "People worry about you." People like me. "I want you to remember that, next time you get in a street fight."
"...but I'm his older brother," a tiny voice croaked back at him, and Roy nearly gave himself whiplash spinning around.
"I'm his older brother," the boy said mournfully, and the kid was looking back at him with those soulful, horribly expansive eyes; and Roy could suddenly see a thousand children, and what it was to be thirteen and young and desperate for everything. That in the language of children, your own life was somehow less important than your honor, and that the world was sometimes so wide it was terrifying.
So he slid onto the edge of the bed and brushed the boy's face with a cloth as the tears began to leak out of the corners of his eyes, and muffled his sobs with the corner of a pillow so Alphonse wouldn't hear because Fullmetal 'never' cried. He was only a child, and he could still cry for the world and his brother and his own mistaken hopes and dreams, and Roy only wished he still had the strength to cry with him.
And as the boy's breathing finally evened and he drifted into a slow and steady slumber, Roy leaned low and christened him.
"Edward." He said softly, smoothing golden bangs away from the bandages.