Paper in Fire

chapter 6.

Roy Mustang lounged in his comfortable leather chair, idly tapping his pen on the report he was supposed to be reviewing. As much as he missed Riza Hawkeye's stalwart loyalty and cool competence, he had to admit the office was a much more relaxed place since she had transferred to Central Command. Of course it wasn't as efficient either, and it got very hectic when all the work that was supposed to be completed came due, but even that wasn't as stressful as staring down the barrel of her hand gun. Everyone in Roy's command was almost positive that Hawkeye would never actually have shot them, but there had always been that tiny hint of uncertainty. Coupled with the cold look in her eye as she flicked off her safety, everyone decided it was best to err on the side of caution and do as she instructed. Havoc was a flyweight in the discipline department compared to the Hawk, relying on cajoling, whining, and outright begging to get the staff to finish their assigned tasks, which had little to no effect on the rate of completion.

The week since Ed had last been in Roy's office had passed rather slowly. Edward had not shown up at the older man's home at all, and Roy was quite frankly amazed. He had expected him every night, unable to believe that the kid could actually stay away. His sources informed him that Edward had spent most of his days either at the East City branch of the National Library, or in one of the open labs at headquarters conducting experiments to test the theories in his current research. His only deviation from that pattern had been when the younger alchemist had joined Havoc, Breda, and Fuery for lunch on Monday and Wednesday. It was now Thursday afternoon, and the Brigadier General was currently awaiting his youngest subordinate's arrival to receive his next assignment.

Despite the reevaluation of his relationship with Edward, and all the good reasons why he should break it off with the younger man, Roy had ultimately decided that he wasn't quite ready to give him up just yet. He really did enjoy the blond's company, not that he'd ever dare admit that to him. So of course the kid had to go and start avoiding him, probably to make some childish point. Roy could understand to a certain extent why he was irritated over the rules, but this signature Edward Elric stubbornness was as frustrating as hell. Ed knew the whys and wherefores. What was his problem? Did he expect Roy to chase after him? Roy snorted. Like that was ever going to happen. The kid couldn't hold out forever. He'd cave eventually. And until then, there were plenty of other fish in the sea.

After Ed had left his office the previous week, Roy had made arrangements to take out a new conquest. Tia, a junior secretary from Transportation, had been making subtle overtures towards him for a while, and he had finally decided to grace her with his attention. It had gone very well — dinner, dancing, and a very satisfying encounter at her centrally located apartment. He would definitely be seeing more of Tia.

His pleasant musings were interrupted by the uncharacteristically quiet entrance of the awaited Edward Elric.

"Ah, Fullmetal. Fashionably late as always. But rather subdued today, aren't we? I do hope you're not coming down with something."

"Just cut the crap, and tell me what you've got," Ed said, face expressionless.

"As you wish. The town of Porter has requested military assistance. Local law enforcement believes they are dealing with a chimera. They report the disappearance of livestock, some random sightings of what witnesses describe as 'an unnatural creature', but fortunately no human victims yet. Your contact is the local sheriff. Havoc has the case file and your train ticket. You are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning."

"Great," was Edward's unenthusiastic reply as he turned to leave.

"Just a moment Edward," Roy stopped him. "I haven't dismissed you yet."

Edward turned back around, face still expressionless.

"Don't you think this has gone on long enough?" Roy asked gently. "What do you hope to accomplish by avoiding me?"

Edward did not answer, his expression giving away nothing.

"I'm free this evening. Come to my place."

"No thanks," came the clipped reply.

"Fine, have it your way," Roy said, covering his sudden surge of anger with a bored expression. "If you insist on holding a grudge like the child that you are, I won't waste my time trying to convince you otherwise. Dismissed, Fullmetal."

The anticipated explosive reaction, once again, did not materialize. Edward simply turned on his heel and quickly exited the office, quietly but firmly closing the door behind him. Quite frankly, Roy was astonished, and his anger quickly drained away, leaving him troubled.

What was going on? It wasn't like Edward to simply shrug off Roy's verbal slights, but now for the second time, he had done just that. This uncharacteristic behavior was more than a little unsettling for the older man. Roy wondered if he was missing something here. Could there be more to this than a petulant teenager in a stubborn mood? Roy had assumed that the younger alchemist was still irritated over the scolding he'd received before he'd left for Lior, but was he? All Roy had done was rehash the rules with the young man. It was nothing he hadn't done before. This reaction seemed out of proportion to a simple restatement of the rules. Had something happened in Lior to cause Edward to withdraw into himself like this? The kid still felt responsible for what had happened there while he was searching for the Philosopher's Stone. Was he guilting over it again? Had the Mayor said or done something to trigger this perhaps? Or was Edward avoiding him because he was hiding something? The Brigadier General decided to call Alex Armstrong as soon as he got the chance. Roy would sound the Major out about what had gone on in the desert town, and possibly get some clues as to what was going on in Ed's convoluted mind.

Shit. This was a pain in the ass he didn't need right now. Things were starting to heat up on the political front, and Roy Mustang had to be on his game. He had to push these trivial distractions aside and focus. Maes' sources had confirmed that a major restructuring of the military chain of command was on the Prime Minister's agenda, and that sounded like opportunity knocking on Roy's door. He had to be ready to act. He couldn't afford to get sidetracked by a cranky teenager in a snit over god knew what. Roy supposed it was his own fault for getting involved with a kid half his age though. He should have known better. This would probably turn out to be some sort of adolescent attention seeking behavior that the older man shouldn't respond to. Any reaction would likely encourage it, when what Roy wanted was to nip it in the bud.

Sitting there deep in thought, paperwork ignored, Roy wondered why he was spending so much of his valuable time trying to figure Edward out. Maes was the concerned father figure, not Roy. Edward was a casual fling with no strings attached, and he knew it. The dark haired man had no idea what the hell the kid could possibly want from him, but whatever it was, Roy was fairly certain he couldn't provide it.