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Paper in Fire

chapter 5.

Nearly three weeks later, Edward was once again in Mustang's outer office, back from his assignment. He was torn between feeling relieved that the bastard was still out to lunch and he could put off having to deal with him for a little while longer, and pissed off that he was being kept waiting when all he wanted to do was head for the dorms for a quick shower and about 24 hours of sleep. He'd made himself comfortable in Havoc's chair, eyes closed, feet on the desk, and was drowsily listening while the First Lieutenant was cheerfully eviscerated by his closest comrades. Ed found that he could at least take comfort in knowing that someone else's love life was in as bad shape as his was, although he wasn't free to admit that he'd actually had one, or with who.

"So, what was that waitress' name again, Havoc — you know, the one that shot you down because she said you smelled like stale cigarette smoke and too much cheap cologne?" Breda knew how to press all of his friend's buttons, and wasn't afraid to do so for the entertainment value. It also distracted the First Lieutenant from looming deadlines and badgering his colleagues to get their work done.

"Oh man. Don't go there." Havoc put his head down on the heavy—set man's desk and covered it with his arms.

Kain Fuery, back from his temporary reassignment to Tactical, hunched his shoulders, grinned, and prepared to participate.

"No, really man! I think my sister knows her." Breda's was all sincerity. "Was it Janice?"

"No, that was the one that said he looked too desperate," Fuery supplied helpfully.

Havoc made a brave attempt to ignore his two coworkers, but Breda wasn't having any of that.

"Julie, then?" He rubbed his chin, blue eyes narrowed in false concentration.

"No," Kain jumped in again. "That was the one that said she thought he was immature."

"I know it started with a 'J' — Jill maybe?"

"No," Kain had all the answers today. "That was the one that turned out to be a cross dresser . . ."

"OK, enough!" Jean couldn't take any more. "It's bad enough I have no life without you guys constantly throwing all my disappointments back in my face! Though I find it kinda creepy that you have all my failures so efficiently catalogued, Kain."

"Hey, at least you know I'm listening when you're drunk and crying the blues on my shoulder!" the smaller man said defensively.

Mustang picked that moment to breeze into the office. His eyes scanned over his subordinates, finally locking on the youngest. He raised an eyebrow.

"Well, if it isn't young Major Elric. What an unexpected pleasure," he said cheerfully.

"Don't start, bastard," Edward growled back. "I've been sitting on a fucking train for two days. I'm tired, and I need a shower almost as bad as you need to have your ass kicked. What I don't need is to sit here while you try to break my balls."

"As charming as ever." The older man observed. "Well, come on then, step into my office and I'll take your report."

The door closed, Mustang sitting at his desk, hands steepled under his chin, Edward stood in exactly the same position as he had close to three weeks before. For a moment, all the times he had stood in this exact place telescoped together, making the young alchemist dizzy. He pulled himself together and got down to business.

"There were no chimerae in or around Lior," Ed started. "It was all a set up to get an alchemist out there. The Mayor thought the rebuild was going too slow, but his request for more State qualified alchemists to help out was denied by the Parliamentary committee in charge of the reconstruction. The bit about needing someone who was experienced in handling chimera was a red herring so no one would catch on until he got an alchemist to come out. I spent four days in the fucking desert looking for a chimera that didn't fucking exist, and when I got back into town, this asshole says, well, as long as you're here, how 'bout you give us a hand with some construction? That's when I finally caught on."

"Hmm, yes, how you reacted when you 'caught on' resulted in my receiving a rather irate phone call from Mayor Carluccio," Roy murmured.

"Yeah, well, in retrospect, advising him to fuck off, and making the observation that he was one gigantic asshole, was rather tactless of me. He's lucky I didn't beat the shit out of him."

"I admire your restraint. He demanded an official apology, Fullmetal."

"OK, tell him I'm officially sorry that he's an asshole, and offer him my sympathy. I stuck around for over a week to give Alex a hand rebuilding some of the infrastructure, so Carluccio can officially kiss my ass." Ed swayed slightly on his feet. "Can we wrap this up? I didn't sleep on the train."

Roy sighed. The damage control never ended with this kid. "Alright Edward, dismissed. You are free to conduct your personal research projects until next Thursday — one week. I should have something else for you by then. And if you like, you can have that shower at my place, and a nap afterward until I get home. I'll be out of here by around six."

"No thanks." Ed said coldly.

Roy was amused. "You're not still upset over the conversation we had the last time you were here, are you Edward? That was almost three weeks ago."

Edward said nothing, turning to go.

"Are you quite sure you want to waste what little time we have to spend together by holding a foolish grudge?" Roy tried again.

Ed continued out the door, closing it quietly behind him. He walked through the outer office, waving a casual farewell to his comrades as he exited. Down the hall, out into the compound, across the parade grounds where he and Mustang had battled for his recertification once, so long ago. Into the dorms, where he picked up his room assignment, smiling at a comment made by the duty Sergeant that he didn't actually hear. Up the stairs and into the assigned room to collapse on the thin mattress as he finally let his weak knees give out.

He'd done it. He had turned the bastard down for the first time. It had been hard, but he'd known it would be. Mustang had been a sight for sore eyes after weeks on the road, sitting there behind that desk, all cool confidence and sexy as hell, taking it for granted that Ed would jump at the chance to spend time with him. He seemed to find it funny when Ed had refused, and that just confirmed what Ed had finally realized; that the older man wouldn't care if Ed never came to his bed again. It was going to be lonely on his own. Spending time with the bastard was about more than great sex. He was good company too. But it was better this way, making a clean break. He was alone most of the time anyway, so this wouldn't be so bad. It would be worth a bit of loneliness now, so that Ed could concentrate on finding someone else to spend time with, and when he did, well, he wouldn't be so lonely then, would he. Now all Ed had to do was actually tell the bastard that they were done, and it would really be over. Mustang wouldn't give a shit, but it would close the book for Ed. Then he could get on with his life; find a happy ending to tack on to his story. Yeah. This was all for the best.

Now if only his aching heart would believe him.