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Paper in Fire

chapter 12.

Brigadier General Mustang strode down the deserted halls of East Headquarters. The meeting with General Clayton had gone on much later than he had expected, but was worth every second. He now had a new ally here in the East, the Base Commander no less, and was therefore one step closer to the promotion he required. He'd head home, call Maes as promised, and fill him in on the details. He was also curious to know what Maes had found out about a Ms. Kelly Connor. Ever since he'd spotted Edward and the girl at the café, he'd found himself going over the ridiculous little scene again and again. Lost in his thoughts, it took Roy a moment to realize he was not entirely alone.

General Raven was one of the old school senior staff at East HQ, and had been one of Furher King Bradley's strongest supporters. In his late fifties, the man had a reputation for being very intolerant of younger officers he considered 'upstarts', State Alchemists in particular. It was whispered that he also had some very unsavory appetites, and was rumored to coerce his younger subordinates to satisfy them, though lately he had been keeping to himself. The tall, heavyset man stood by the stairwell, artificial smile fixed on Roy Mustang. The Brigadier General mentally steeled himself for what would likely be an unpleasant confrontation.

"Well, if it isn't young Mustang," the older man spoke up as he approached.

Offering his sharpest salute, Mustang brought himself to attention, "General Raven, Sir."

"At ease, Mustang. Rumor has it that you are once again on the path to promotion." The older officer barely kept the sneer out of his voice. "I was thinking that you might be in the market for some assistance."

Hmm, this was unexpected, and a little unsettling. "Sir. Any assistance you might offer would be much appreciated."

"Well, you know how it works, Mustang. I give you a little help, and you give me something in return."

The Flame said nothing, waiting for the older man to elaborate, but he already suspected that he wouldn't like what he was going to hear.

"I have heard that your subordinates are extremely loyal to you," the General started. "So much so, in fact, that they would go to great lengths to assist you in your rise through the ranks."

"My junior officers are indeed very supportive of my career goals, as I am of theirs."

"I understand that Major Edward Elric is under your command."

"Sir."

"I also hear he is on leave at the moment. Injured on assignment, was he?"

"Yes Sir. He is in Central at the moment."

"When he gets back, you would do well to let him know that a visit to my townhouse one weekend would go a long way towards gaining my support for your promotion."

This exchange was getting more bizarre by the moment. "I suspect Major Elric's loyalty would not extend to prostituting himself for my gain," the Brigadier General murmured.

The General's false smile was all teeth. "There are always other means of ensuring a subordinate's cooperation, Mustang. Physical means, chemical means, or a combination of the two. He trusts you, no doubt. I'm sure you could arrange it."

The momentary image of Edward drugged, bound and helpless, struggling underneath this disgusting piece of shit, ignited a rage so intense inside the Flame Alchemist that it shocked him to the core. Dropping all pretence of respect, Mustang looked calmly up into the older man's eyes as he reached into his pocket.

"You obviously haven't heard the full story when it comes to my subordinates' loyalty to me General," Mustang said with a tight smile as he pulled out his gloves. "I happen to be very protective of them as well." He pulled on each glove, never taking his eyes off the other man's, which widened as he realized what he was seeing. The red arrays traced on the white cotton were prominent even in the dim light of the hall. "And I am particularly protective of my youngest officer." The Flame Alchemist stepped into the other man's personal space and scraped the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together, sending small sparks spiraling up into the air between them.

To his credit, Raven held his ground. "A threat, Mustang?" he growled menacingly.

"A promise. If you ever so much as look at Major Elric in anything other than a purely professional manner, I will not hesitate to reduce you to a fine sprinkling of clean, white ash."

"You just made a big mistake Mustang," the larger man snarled, stepping back. "Threatening a superior officer. I'll have you up on charges. You can kiss your military career goodbye."

"I'm sure the circumstances surrounding the threat would vindicate me. Are you quite sure you want this brought out in the open General?"

"It's your word against mine, and who's word would carry the greater weight do you suppose?" The big man sneered. "Mine, or some pretentious little upstart's?"

"I'd put my money on the pretentious little upstart." A bored drawl cut in before Mustang could answer.

Both men turned toward the stairwell. General Olivier Armstrong, Base Commander of North Headquarters, leaned casually against the wall halfway up the steps, a slight smile playing on her lips. Her blonde hair, blue eyes, and statuesque build marked her blood line, though she was obviously not into pumping iron as was her younger brother Alex. Pushing away from the wall, she strode purposefully up the stairs towards the two men, hand on the hilt of her sword.

"Ah, Olivier, you heard his threat I'm sure," Raven boomed, false smile back in place.

"Hmm, yes, and the reason for it. Some things never change." The woman stopped at the top of the stairs. "I think Mustang's odds of being believed just went up, now that he has a credible witness to the circumstances surrounding his threat, don't you?"

A scowl twisted the older General's features. "Don't think this is over, Mustang," he snapped as he turned.

"Actually, you had better pray that it is." Armstrong called after him as he stalked away. "Word has it you are already on very thin ice."

Raven shot her a venomous glare as he rounded the corner at the far end of the hall, moving out of sight.

"Thank you, General," Roy turned and saluted. "I let my temper get the better of me. You just saved me from a very ugly legal battle."

"Nonsense, Mustang. His cronies would have talked him out of making a public spectacle of himself I'm sure." The woman sighed. "I wasn't joking about the thin ice. If he weren't so well protected by the remains of Bradley's old guard, he'd have been up on charges himself a long time ago, and good riddance."

"I'm rather surprised to see you here, Ma'am," Mustang said as the pair proceeded down the stairs.

"North Headquarters and West Headquarters have been assigned to go on maneuvers in the vicinity of our shared border with Creta," the blonde woman glanced aside at the dark haired man. "A friendly competition between our two Districts, hmm? Rumor has it that this show of strength was something you suggested."

"Yes, Ma'am. You're a little off course for a trip to West Headquarters though."

"Well, I thought I'd take a little detour to Lior and visit my brother. It's been a while, and Mother and Father insisted." She glanced at the younger man again. "Alex speaks very highly of you."

"Major Armstrong is a good man," Mustang returned.

The General snorted. "He's a sentimental fool. However, I have found that he is a very good judge of character. Good evening, Brigadier General."

Mustang watched her stride off down the hall, then turned toward his own office. It appeared that he now had an ally in the North as well. Entering his inner office, he gathered his thoughts for the phone call he would make to Maes when he got home. He made a mental note to have his friend check on Edward's condition, and to find out if the young Major had ever had any contact with General Raven. If it turned out that the General had anything to do with Edwards's odd behaviour of late, no earthly power would save him. What Roy had said to Raven was the simple truth. He was particularly protective of his youngest subordinate.