Paper in Fire

chapter 10.

Roy sat in his office, paperwork ignored on his desk, waiting for Edward to report in. He knew his subordinate had been back in town since the previous evening, and had hoped the boy would show up at his home, but once again was disappointed, though 'disappointed' was probably too strong a word. Well, the kid couldn't put off coming in to make his report much longer. As per regulations, he had to check in as soon as possible after returning from an assignment, and that meant sometime today whether he liked it or not. Since his telephone fact finding session with Alex Armstrong had turned up no enlightening clues, Roy had decided that he would force the issue of Edward's avoidance of him and settle the matter, once and for all, one way or the other. He was determined to know what exactly was going on, and had no intention of leaving the matter up in the air any longer.

That was, of course, until the young man walked through the door.

Quietly stepping into the office, right arm in a sling, the set of the boy's jaw told Roy that he was in more than a little discomfort. The Brigadier General had read the report sent by Porter's doctor as to the extent of Edward's injuries, but actually seeing the angry red burn marring the left side of the boy's face from chin to ear . . . the Flame Alchemist was certainly no stranger to that particular brand of pain. The medical report listed an assortment of nasty wounds that were hidden from view, but noticeable from the way the young alchemist moved, a slight stiffness marking his usual athletic glide. More scars to add to his already extensive collection. And to top it all off, the kid looked totally drained.

Stopping in front of the older man's desk and dropping the report, Edward began outlining the highlights of his assignment without preamble.

". . . and the Autoclave Alchemist was killed by her own chimera. The kidnapped child was uninjured, and returned safely to his parents. Two of the chimerae were killed at the scene. One was shot by Deputy Randall Wells when it attacked him outside the farm house, the other I killed in the basement lab when it attacked me. The two captured chimerae were euthanized. All the chimerae remains are in the main lab here at Headquarters. Some of the researchers are interested in discovering how steel was successfully introduced into the transmutation to reinforce the creatures' scales and skeletal structure. Unfortunately, the suspect's notes were nowhere to be found," Ed concluded.

"I'm sure they weren't." Mustang arched an eyebrow at his subordinate. "It wouldn't do for that kind of information to make its way into the wrong hands, would it?"

The younger man remained silent.

"You appear to be in rougher shape than usual, Edward. The medical report I received catalogues some rather painful injuries," older man watched the teens face carefully. "Your target was killed as well."

"I'm fine." An automatic response.

The Brigadier General sighed. "Very well. You are officially relieved from active duty and on medical leave for the next two weeks. I expect you'll want to go to Central to see your automail mechanic. Let me know if you need your leave extended."

As Ed turned to go, Roy decided to try again.

"I would very much like to see you before you leave for Central," he said gently.

Edward didn't even turn around. "Not interested," he said as he quietly left the room.

Roy sat staring at the door for some time after the teen had left, trying to identify the strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hadn't made the offer because he wanted to jump the kid's bones — his condition really didn't warrant it after all. The older man had just felt the need to spend some time with the younger, to make sure he was alright. The kid was sensitive, and a death on his watch was sure to be affecting him . . .

. . . cross—legged on the living room floor, book forgotten in his lap, staring through the opposite wall into some unpleasant memory, Roy's hands running up his arms to squeeze his shoulders, one warm and soft, one cool and hard, continuing on across his chest, pulling him back into his own, golden eyes flicking up as the boy leaned into his embrace with a sigh, welcoming this comfort . . .

The Brigadier General finally shook his head, and reached once again for the Little Black Book. The kid's kicked puppy look had momentarily roped him in. He should have known better than to show any concern for Edward's condition, or expect a civil response to it. If the brat wanted to slap the kind hand offered and sleep injured on a lumpy dormitory mattress, rejecting Roy's comfortable king size out of sheer stubbornness, too bad for him. There were plenty of other people who would be only too happy to spend time with Roy Mustang. He leafed through the pages, finally settling on Terry Williams. The young lady, a petite blue—eyed blonde about five years Roy's junior, owned a flower shop near Headquarters. It had been a while since he'd called her, but she quickly accepted his offer of dinner and dancing.

He decided he wasn't going to let Edward's attitude bother him. He was Brigadier General Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist. He was on his way to the top. And he was still one of the most eligible bachelors in East City. Hell, make that Amestris. It was the kid's loss, not his.

Out on the town later that evening, walking arm in arm with his lovely date, Roy was back to normal. They were on their way to a little café off the main in the entertainment quarter for a light dinner before heading to the dance hall. A 20 cen note slipped to the hostess gained them a secluded table in a quiet corner.

Waiting for their order, engaged in pleasant conversation, Roy was startled to hear a familiar laugh. It couldn't be. He scanned the room, eyes finally falling on the last person he'd expected to see. Sitting almost directly across the room in another secluded corner was Edward Elric. And he was not alone.

The girl looked vaguely familiar to Roy, but he couldn't place her. Rich chestnut hair falling to her shoulders framed her pretty face, a light sprinkling of freckles over her smooth cheeks, clear grey eyes sparkling. Her neat, short—sleeved white blouse and pale yellow skirt subtly showed off her attractive figure. She was clearly enjoying Edward's company. And Edward . . .

But for the fact that he'd heard his laugh, Roy would probably have missed his youngest subordinate. Instead of his usual low braid, Edward had tied his hair back in a high pony tail, the radiant gold falling to the center of his back. His eyes on his companion were sparkling honey, an easy grin relaxing his smooth features, the cold aloofness displayed in the office absent. Absent as well was his usual attire. He had long since exchanged his hooded red coat for a more subdued black jacket, but tonight he wore a white, long—sleeved shirt topped with a tan vest snugged to his slim waist, a dark brown jacket discarded over the back of his chair. White gloves hid the young alchemist's automail from view. Roy peered through the other patrons in the café, vying for a better view.

"Roy." Terry had obviously been trying to catch his attention for some moments.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the man smiled at his date. "I just caught sight of one of my men."

"Really?" the young woman asked skeptically, looking in the direction her date had been staring. "Who?"

"Major Elric."

The woman's eyes widened. "Edward Elric? The Fullmetal Alchemist? That Major Elric?" she asked as she looked intently across the café again.

"The very one," Roy smiled indulgently. This might be his chance to do a little spur—of—the—moment snooping. "Would you like me to introduce you?"

"Would you?" Terry's eyes lit up. "We wouldn't be bothering him?"

"While Edward is generally very short tempered, I'm quite certain he will remain civil for a brief introduction." Roy stood up and moved to pull his date's chair out for her. Taking her elbow, he maneuvered the woman towards the other couple's table.

Ed spotted them when they were halfway across the room, and the warm smile directed toward his companion slid from his face to be replaced by the cold mask Roy was unfortunately becoming very accustomed to in his office. He stood awkwardly from his seat as Roy and his date walked up to the table.

"Good evening, Fullmetal. Fancy meeting you here." Roy purred. "And who is this lovely young lady so kindly gracing you with her company?"

"Kelly Connor, this is Brigadier General Roy Mustang, my commanding officer, and . . . "

Roy took over the introduction. "My date, Terry Williams."

"A pleasure to meet you, Major Elric," the blonde woman made to take his hand, then stopped, noticing the sling. Her attention turned to Ed's date. "And you as well, Ms. Connor."

"Likewise." Ed said without inflection as Kelly nodded.

Ed and Kelly exchanged a glance. "I'm sorry, but we'll have to be going if we're going to get to the show in time," Kelly said. "Nice to meet you both."

"Yeah." Ed said, "See you in a couple of weeks, Mustang."

"Indeed Fullmetal."

The younger couple quickly made their way out of the café.

"I take it he doesn't like you very much," Terry said as she and Roy returned to their table.

"Nonsense. He's just a little out of sorts," Roy unfolded his napkin as the waiter approached with their orders. "He was injured a couple of days ago on assignment. I'm quite surprised to see him out and about actually."

"Hmm. His girlfriend seems very nice."

"Girlfriend?" Roy quirked a grin at his companion. "Friend girl, more likely. The wholesome, girl next door type, yes. I was pleased to see that she was at least able to get him to dress a little more like an adult for a change."

"I think he looked very nice. In fact, I'd venture to say he's quite striking. On the market too, you say?" the blonde woman grinned teasingly. "I'm surprised you haven't made a play for him yourself. I certainly would."

"By all means, be my guest," Roy smiled pleasantly. "Though I'm afraid you might find him rather rough around the edges."

"I could smooth him out," Terry murmured as their waiter approached the table. "It would be fun. Is the problem that you just aren't his type?"

"I'm everyone's type. Perhaps he isn't mine." Roy sipped the wine the waiter had served, and nodded his approval. He continued as Terry was served in turn. "He's my subordinate. He's also very young. I prefer a more sophisticated partner."

"I suppose you're right. And if he actually lives up to his reputation, he's likely not the type to hop from bed to bed." Terry gazed at her date, lashes lowered seductively. "While you prefer it that way. Best not to tempt fate, hmm?"

"Tempt fate?" Roy smirked his trademark smirk. "It would take a lot more than what Edward Elric has to offer before I would consider making any sort of commitment."

"Still, your protégé has grown into a very attractive young man. It's only a matter of time before he realizes that, if he hasn't already. With him on the scene, you could find yourself scrambling for his leftovers in no time. You had best watch out, Roy," clear blue eyes twinkled, teasing.

Roy rolled his eyes and grinned. "But as you so astutely observed, he is simply not the type. And even if it turned out that he was, Fullmetal has a long way to go before he can expect to challenge the master."