chapter 14.

Truth be told, he'd been expecting something of the sort for several months.

Not actively waiting, perhaps—but the possibility had lingered in the back of the Fuhrer's mind ever since he'd suggested that Armstrong ought to pay the brothers a visit.

And so when the commotion in the hall drew nearer his office unchecked, the man hid a smile that wasn't quite his usual smirk before pretending to turn his attention back to the paperwork he'd been ignoring for the previous hour.

And when the chaos that had descended upon the outside world finally reached the door and exploded inward, Roy calmly finished his sentence before glancing up to meet the eyes of the boy that he knew would be standing, enraged, in the doorway.

He wasn't expecting those eyes to be bronze.

"Alphonse-kun," the Fuhrer said, masking the moment of uncertainty under a surface calm. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Good afternoon, sir," the boy ground out in response. Behind him, the door swung slowly closed again. "It's funny you should mention surprises."

"Oh?" Roy quirked an eyebrow, made a show of setting down his pen and folding his hands before him.

And Alphonse seemed to take the prompt as an invitation, because he was stalking forward to place both hands flat on the wood of the Fuhrer's desk. The position reminded Roy of the last time the boy had been in his office, and he wondered, fleetingly, whether that was intentional.

"You see," the younger Elric told him, every word clipped and carefully chosen. "I got quite a nasty one this morning."

Ah. So that would be what this was all about.

Roy smiled evenly through the realization, though, expression tailored into one of polite confusion. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you."

"When I found out that you're putting my brother back on duty," Alphonse insisted, the edge to the words biting. The Fuhrer had only ever seen the boy this angry once before, and it was a memory that he didn't like to dwell upon.

He was saved the difficulty of forming an appropriate response, however, when the door slammed open once more—and there was the arrival he'd been expecting. Fullmetal, panting as though he'd run the whole way to the office, face flushed and hair slightly askew.

The boy was thinner than he ought to be, and there were lines in his face that hadn't existed two years ago—little reminders that brought to the surface, just for a moment, the icy spike of horror that had accompanied daily accounts of new torture. But Edward was well, and as whole as his automail had ever allowed, and far better than the Fuhrer had dared suppose.

Because Armstrong had informed him of the progress Fullmetal was making, certainly—but it was quite another thing to see the sheer vitality that the boy possessed, despite all he'd been through. To know that some things could not be crushed, even under the weight of abject cruelty.

Roy had seen enough people destroyed, after all, that he understood how precious it was to watch one heal.

"Fuck, Al," Edward was gasping, evidently unaware of the impact of his arrival. "What part of ‘slow down' don't you understand?"

And then the famous Fullmetal Alchemist was relinquishing his hold on the door frame so that he could move to stand beside his brother, automail leg dragging in a limp that wouldn't have been noticeable, had Roy not known to look for it.

The younger boy's eyes showed just a flicker of concern before steeling over once more. "I told you to stay home, brother. You should have listened."

"And you shouldn't have gone running off like some psychopath the second you found out I was gonna start working again!" Edward drew himself up to his full—unimpressive—height and folded one flesh arm and one steel across his chest.

"For once, Alphonse-kun," Roy pointed out evenly, "Your brother is being the reasonable one."

Fullmetal actually growled at him, the sound low and threatening. "Don't give me ‘reasonable', you asshole. This is your fucking fault." Golden eyes narrowed threateningly, corners of the boy's lips twisting down as he glared.

The smirk crept in by degrees—because Edward was right about this, well. It was very much his fault.

Was entirely by design that the brothers had been allowed to continue without aid for so long, and so too that help had arrived just as they'd truly begun to need it. "Are you trying to insinuate that my efforts went unappreciated?"

Alphonse made an interesting little choking noise, anger diffused as the blush that crept over his cheeks forced him to glance sharply away. "It's not to say that General Armstrong wasn't helpful—"

Fullmetal cut the boy off, scowl etched deep into his brow. "—it's just that the man has no fucking concept of privacy!" The steel hand removed itself from where it had settled, clenched into the parody of an impassioned gesture. "Brotherly love! Such strength and devotion! Seeing the bond between you stirs the very depths of my heart: every—goddamned—day!"

Idly, Roy contemplated whether Edward would match the shade of crimson that his brother had achieved, were he to point out how obvious the boy was being. "Surely," the man replied smoothly, making a conscious decision to set that particular opportunity aside for the future, "The General's presence wasn't the only thing to convince you that you ought to return."

And the Fuhrer knew the answer already, of course. Knew, from Armstrong's frequent reports, that the near-captivity was all but driving Edward insane by this point. That the boy had only needed a little push, really—part motivation and part good intention.

The smaller alchemist just snorted, rolled his eyes. "You say that like it's not reason enough."

"Brother!" Alphonse's voice was sharp with disapproval. "That's why? You can't start taking missions again just because—"

"Now, Alphonse-kun," Roy cut in smoothly, and smiled his most winning smile. "You don't truly think so poorly of me, do you? Fullmetal will not, of course, be undertaking field work until he's fully recovered." There was something wary in those bronze eyes, and the Fuhrer pushed on to placate it. "He's agreed to take a desk job until you've both gotten settled again."

Charcoal eyes flickered between the expressions of the two boys, watched as the new information sparked indignation in the face of the younger.

"Oh, really?" Alphonse's tone transformed into something dangerous. "And when exactly were you planning on letting me know this, brother?"

The smirk grew just shades wider, and Roy continued before the interruption could throw him too far from what he'd meant to say. "And of course, I'm prepared to let you accompany him when he does begin traveling."

"What?" Fullmetal demanded, looking very likely indeed to explode.

He met the expectation just seconds later, and Roy missed the soft knock at the door under the ensuing tirade. But when General Hawkeye let herself in, the tone she used was sharp enough to slice neatly through the outburst.

"Fuhrer," she said with a salute. "The meeting."

"Ah, yes." Rising hastily from the desk—it was a meeting he'd called, after all, and his General was showing considerable irritation at its having started twenty minutes ago without him—the man considered each of the brothers in turn. "You'll have to excuse me. I'm expected elsewhere."

"You timed that!" Fullmetal fumed, turning on him. "That's cheating!"

"We'll have plenty of time to discuss this tomorrow," Roy replied smoothly, maneuvering neatly around the accusation. "When you come into work. You can sign for your back pay then, too." The man paused, seemed to consider—affected an expression of mild annoyance. "And really, Fullmetal, I ought to make you fill out the medical reimbursement forms, as well. Use a military treatment facility next time you need surgery, won't you? The paperwork's quite trying."

The words brought a play of emotions to the boy's face—surprise, indignation, gratitude—all bright and apparent in expressive gold eyes, flickering for dominance.

The smile grew just a touch wider. "Civilian clothes ought to be fine, by the way. I'm not sure you've grown enough to fit into a proper uniform."

With a lazy wave, the Fuhrer made for the open doorway, ignoring the strangled sound of fury that escaped the throat of the boy behind him.

In a single backward glance, he took in the expressions of both Elrics: the elder red-faced and sputtering, caught in a newly-dawning fit of rage, the younger tight-lipped and considering, plainly mistrustful.

Not quite the way it ought to be—but close enough, for now.

And the rest could wait.