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Paper in Fire

chapter 2.

Ed showed up at Headquarters by mid-morning, greeting the only person in the outer office — First Lieutenant Jean Havoc. The young alchemist didn't envy the man his new position as Mustang's office manager. He'd inherited the job from the long-suffering Riza Hawkeye when she transferred to Central after being promoted to Major, and the office just wasn't the same without her. She now had a position in the Intelligence Division under Colonel Maes Hughes, and Warrant Officer Falman had gone to rejoin his former commander's personal staff there as well.

"Hey Havoc!" Ed grinned widely.

"Hey yourself Boss!" the blond man's ever present, though unlit, cigarette bobbed as he spoke. "You're back sooner than expected."

"Caught a couple of lucky breaks and wrapped it up early. Where is everyone?"

Havoc smiled. "Breda is over at the shooting range getting his recertification today, and Fuery's on loan to Tactical. They needed his help troubleshooting some of their equipment. The Chief is expecting you. Said to send you right in when you got here."

Ed's grin became a bit strained. After the initial amusement over his little prank had worn off, the young alchemist kind of regretted his impulsive behavior. He knew he was going to be in for a talking to by his commanding officer, and certainly wasn't looking forward to it. Well, might as well face the music and get it over with. He strode up to the inner office door, booted it open and entered.

"Ah, Fullmetal. How nice to see you. Close the door, will you?" Mustang had that dangerously calm aura about him, and Edward mentally braced himself for the coming verbal assault.

Closing the door and stepping up to his superior's desk, the younger man plopped down his report and decided to play it straight.

"The assignment went easier than I expected," Ed began, focusing his eyes on the wall about 6 inches to the left of his commander's shoulder. "Usually I have to do a lot of digging before I find out who did what, but these guys weren't very bright. They weren't even trying to hide what they'd done. Bragged about it to anyone who'd listen, too. By the time I got to Cookstown, they had already used a lot of the gold they transmuted on crap like fancy clothes, restaurants, hookers, you know the drill, so I had some trouble gathering evidence until I got the idea to spread a rumor that the gold these assholes were spending was fake. Then people were more willing to come forward and turn it in. The coins showed all the classic signs of trans-elemental transmutation, and the two brothers confessed to the crime. As alchemists they were amateurs, and not very talented either. Their array only worked with lead, and I got the impression that they were pretty surprised that it worked at all. They are in custody at the local military detachment in New Optain, awaiting trial. "

"Well done, Fullmetal. You even managed to include all the relevant details, as requested." The Brigadier General picked up the report and looked it over. "No property damage. No personal injuries. No undue expenses. No irate phone calls from local elected officials. I must say, Edward, I'm impressed. I would be congratulating you on your maturity right now, if it weren't for what you did last night."

Edward tensed. Here it came. "It was just a little joke Mustang."

"Your 'little joke' was in poor taste, and a rather cruel thing to do to my innocent date, wouldn't you agree?"

Ed's eyes dropped to the floor. "She wasn't even officially your date yet when I was talking to her, bastard. It'd been two weeks; you couldn't make a little time for me?"

"Whining isn't your style, Major. And you know the rules. You are not to interfere with the other people I see. I have an image to maintain. I had already called Ms. Burrows and invited her out, and I'm not the sort of person who . . ."

"She hadn't even agreed to go out with you yet!"

The older man heaved a heavy sigh. "Edward. You know the rules. You agreed to them."

"You and your fucking rules!" Ed gritted out, exasperated. "Yeah, I agreed. I never really had any say in the matter."

"But you agreed."

"I didn't have any choice!"

"Still, you agreed. Complaining about it after the fact is juvenile and counterproductive. Really Fullmetal, you are still such a child in so many ways." Mustang braced himself for the explosion.

For a moment, it looked like the younger man was going to react as expected, but then his shoulders dropped. He just looked at his commander, eyes shrouded with resentment.

Somewhat taken aback by the uncharacteristic behavior, the older man continued. "You know why the rules are necessary, Edward. To reach my goal, I need to maintain a certain image, and I can't afford to have our affair become public knowledge. I have to keep up certain appearances." The young man cast his eyes down once more. "I'm sorry Ed, but if you can't keep your end of the bargain, it's over."

"What's over, Mustang? As far as I can see, we got nothing anyway." He muttered.

"Then here's your choice. The rules stand. If you don't like it, you can leave at any time."

"Whatever, bastard."

"Now, your next assignment shouldn't be too much of a problem for a man of many talents such as yourself . . ."

"Next assignment!" Ed sputtered. "But I just got back! Don't I get any down time?"

Roy smirked. Back to normal. "Are you injured Fullmetal?" he purred.

"Like you'd give a shit if I was," Ed snarled.

"If you're not injured, then you don't require any recovery time. The situation in Lior requires an alchemist experienced with handling chimerae, and while I hate to massage your already over-inflated ego, you are the most qualified field operative we have in that area."

"Chimerae." Ed paled. He hated these assignments more than anything. Was this the bastard's revenge?

"See Havoc for the case file before you leave. Oh, and give my regards to Major Armstrong. Dismissed, Fullmetal."