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Paper in Fire

chapter 8.

Roy schooled himself to wait until the third ring before he snatched up his phone. "Brigadier General Mustang."

"Roy!" Maes' overly cheerful voice was not the one he'd been hoping to hear. "How's life out there in the boonies?"

"Maes, if this is a social call, I'll have to call you back this evening. I'm expecting a call from Mike Roach."

"Mike Roach? As in Michael T. Roach, personal assistant to Prime Minister Thomas? My, my, isn't that exciting." Of course, Maes did not sound at all surprised.

"Maes . . ."

"Just calling to give you that update you requested on the current status of your little blond sweetheart," Maes plowed ahead.

"You know, if I were to tell him what you've been calling him lately, he'd probably go off on you so bad they'd have trouble finding all the pieces."

"Who do you mean by 'they'?" Maes asked. "I'm just curious."

"Maes."

"He's secured the Chimera, some sort of dog/lizard cross, now euthanized. Finding its creator is what's giving him problems. Looks like he's going to be a while on this one. Guess you'll just have to find someone else to keep you company."

"As if that's ever a problem for me. "

"Apparently it's not currently a problem for Ed, either. Seems he and Porter's very attractive chief law enforcement officer have been spending some time together."

"And your point is? He's on a case. They are working together."

"Ed always prefers to work alone, as you well know. You don't find this unusual?"

"How Edward chooses to complete his assignments is entirely up to him. Thank you, Maes. I'll call you tonight and fill you in on how the phone conversation with Roach goes."

"Do that." Maes hung up.

So Ed might be having a little fling. Roy idly tapped his pen on his desk blotter, frowning. Well, so what if he was? He was young, and definitely available. The kid had urges just like anyone else, and by Roy's calculations he'd been doing without for almost two months. Still, this was Edward. Up until now he had never shown any inclination to see other people, and Roy just couldn't picture him doing so. It was probably just business. Obviously Maes thought Roy might be upset about this, and was most likely expecting to hear that he and Edward were having some kind of lover's quarrel. Maes in all probability had planned to commiserate with Roy, offer a platitude or two to make him feel better, perhaps suggest that most couples hit a bump in the road of love occasionally, or some other such romantic horseshit. Now he probably assumed that Roy wasn't upset because he trusted Ed to be faithful to him. Roy smirked at the irony.

Roy's thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing once again. Mentally shifting gears, he once again waited for the third ring before grabbing the receiver.

"Brigadier General Mustang."

"Roy! Glad I caught you in!" Mike Roach greeted him with his cheerful baritone.

"Mike." Mustang smiled. This was his game, and he thoroughly enjoyed playing it. "How are you?"

"They tell me I'm very good. And yourself?"

The Brigadier General allowed the smile to tint his voice. "The same."

"I was speaking to the Prime Minister and Furher Grumann, and your name came up." Good. Straight to business. "They are rather intrigued by your recommendations. The liberties Creta has been taking along our mutual border have become quite worrisome, and appear to be escalating."

"Compromise can only go so far before it is perceived as weakness. Sometimes peace is better achieved by a demonstration of strength."

"Indeed. I thought you should be the first to know that we will be putting some of your suggestions to the test."

Mustang's smile widened. "Glad to hear it. I'm always pleased to be of service to my country."

"There's something else you should know," the advisor's tone became conspiratorial. "Is this a secure line?"

"Definitely." Kain Fuery regularly made certain of that.

"Parliament is in the process of creating a new Cabinet portfolio — Defense Minister. Its purpose would be to take over the duties the Furher, thus eliminating that position in the hierarchy. Of course, Furher Grumann is on board with the idea, and is the obvious choice as the initial appointee, but he'd also be the first to admit that he's not getting any younger."

"Quite true, though for a man in his late seventies, he's remarkably fit. He is an excellent military strategist as well." Roy had served under the man during his previous tour of duty in East City, and had only ever beaten him at chess once.

"Indeed. My point, however, is that we will be looking in future for someone a little more, shall we say, progressive? And once again, your name has come up in conversation as someone with great potential."

"That's good to know. I'm delighted to hear that I inspire such confidence."

"Well, your overall track record is quite impressive. Your performance during the Ishbal rebellion showed your dedication to the performance of duty, but also your restraint in exercising authority. Your peace time record also shows some very impressive accomplishments, not the least of which being the role your command played in that whole Bradley debacle. With Grumann installed as Defense Minister, he'll be looking for a few good men — or women as the case may be, to fill some advisory roles. Our new Minister will definitely need someone to oversee the State Alchemist Program, which is long overdue for an extensive restructuring. Not being an alchemist himself, he'll require the expertise of someone who is, and I certainly can't think of anyone better suited to that role than one Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist. Can you?"

"As a matter of fact, no, I can't."

"I think a rank of General would be required to make that appointment easier to swallow for some of the old school senior staff, however. And a transfer back to Central would also be necessary. That will require considerable effort on your part of course. The Furher can't be seen openly grooming you for the position."

"Of course." All part of the game, as far as Roy was concerned.

"Very good then. I'm sure I don't have to ask you to keep this on the down low for now. I'll be in touch, Roy."

"Thank you Mike, and please be sure to give my regards to Prime Minister Thomas and Furher Grumann as well."

"Will do."

Roy hung up the phone, and just sat for a few moments, basking in the warm glow of knowing that all his hard work was finally beginning to show some serious results. The late night strategy sessions with his supporters, midnight phone calls made and received from allies and adversaries alike, dinner parties fraught with political maneuvering, not to mention the day to day navigation through the minefield of quirky senior staff both here and in Central — all of it was starting to come together. Just a little bit longer. His goal was finally within reach. If he played his cards right, he'd likely get that promotion to General within the next six months to a year, since he'd been working a number of angles for at least that long already. He had to call Maes as soon as he got home from the office so they could map out a few new lines of attack.

Leaning back in his chair, the Brigadier General realized he was far too adrenalin charged to sit still reading routine reports and signing endless requisitions. He needed a distraction. Snapping open his briefcase, he pulled out his notorious Little Black Book.

Luke, a Critical Care nurse at Bradley Memorial Hospital. A lovely man about Roy's own age. Pleasant conversation over a late dinner, then perhaps a show on the Strand, and finally Luke's place for a nightcap. Roy smiled as he picked up the phone once more, and dialed. As he waited for his call to be answered, amber eyes and golden hair flashed through his mind, and he briefly wondered if Edward was in fact seeing Porter's Sherriff in more than a professional capacity. The Flame mused that oddly enough, until that day, it had never consciously occurred to him that The Rules worked both ways.