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Paper in Fire

chapter 14.

Roy sat in his office, fiddling with the cord on his phone, paper work once again ignored aside from the doodles in the margins. It had been three days since he had called Maes, making his friend two days overdue for a return call, and Roy wasn't sure what to make of that. The last time they had spoken, they had discussed the confrontation with Raven, and Maes had said he would find out if Edward had been approached by the man. It was time for a formal complaint to be filed as far as Roy was concerned. Up until that evening in the upper hallway of East Headquarters, Raven's abuses had only been rumors and speculation. Now they were very personally confirmed. Roy had never liked the idea of that poisoned piece of shit hiding behind his rank and position, preying on the younger staff. It was fraternization in its ugliest form, the reason why it was sanctioned, what the rules were meant to prevent. The Brigadier General had just decided to pick up the phone and call his friend to see what he had found out when it rang.

"Brigadier General Mustang."

"OK, listen up, because I won't be on the line for long."

Roy knew right away that this wasn't happy go lucky, photograph wielding, everybody's favorite Uncle Maes. This was that ruthless, knife wielding, mean miserable prick Colonel Hughes. "Maes?"

"I'm told that General Armstrong's detour to Lior and East Headquarters had something to do with General Clayton. Word is that they're old friends, and Armstrong is looking for support for a Cabinet appointment. I'm guessing that she might be on Grumman's short list of possible Junior Ministers too."

"That's . . ."

"About that other matter, Edward tells me that he was approached by Raven a few months ago. I won't give you the details. Let's just say I now understand why the son of a bitch hasn't been harassing his subordinates lately."

"I can only imagine . . ."

"I also contacted General Rogers in the JAG. He agrees that his office should look into why complaints against Raven filed by junior staff have been ignored. Some of those soldiers and junior officers left the military very suddenly after filing those complaints, and he will be assigning some of his staff to locate and take statements from as many as he can find."

"So we're going ahead with . . .?"

"I left out who my sources were when I spoke with him. I'd like to at least leave Edward out of this if possible. . ."

"How is he?" Roy cut in.

The line was silent for a long moment, but Roy could feel the tension seeping over the line, and his heart rate tuned up a notch.

"When was the last time you spoke to him?" Maes tone was very cool, his game voice.

"The night before he left for Central. Maes . . .?"

"What did you talk about?"

"I ran into him at a café. We introduced our dates to each other. I told you about that."

"When was the last time you had an actual conversation with him?"

"What's with the interrogation Maes?" Anger tinted the Brigadier General's voice. "Where ever this is going, I suggest you cut to the chase."

Another long, uncomfortable silence.

"I was afraid this was going to happen. It's the reason I put off calling you," the Colonel told his friend, voice still cool. "And I can't tell you what's going on, because I made a promise."

Roy just listened.

"But I will say this," the other man continued. "Edward, Alphonse, and Winry are a part of my family now. Elicia believes they are her older siblings, and Gracia and I wouldn't have it any other way. All three of them have been through a hell of a lot. They deserve a little peace. We look out for Al and Winry here in Central, and I had hoped that you were looking out for Edward."

"I am. You know I am." Softly. "I've got people keeping an eye on him when he's in town, making sure he stays out of trouble. I do my best to steer him away from the particularly nasty assignments. It's not so easy when he's out there somewhere and doesn't stay in touch, but that's when I rely on your network to keep an eye on him for me."

A sigh. "That's not quite what I meant, but alright."

"Maes, what's . . . is he OK? This isn't just about that last assignment, is it? He isn't just freaked out about the suspect getting killed. He's been acting strangely ever since he got back from Lior."

"He's, well, depressed is too strong a word. Certainly unhappy, and I didn't even notice until Winry . . . set him off. I tried to get him to talk about . . . this, but he won't." Maes voice hardened again. "You need to talk to him. And I mean really talk. None of your bullshit."

The last time Maes had used this tone with him had been . . . just after Ishbal. What the hell was going on? Roy could guess who his friend had made the promise to, but not why or about what. He wasn't used to Maes being so cold to him, or being on the outside looking in, and it disturbed him. He had tried to talk to Edward. He could usually get the teen to talk when something was bothering him, teasing him until the younger man's temper flared and he blurted out what was on his mind. The trouble was that tactic didn't seem to be working this time. Roy's inability to get the kid to come over for some private time was also making it difficult for the older man to work out what the problem was, and that was Ed's doing, the obstinate brat. Everything had gone to shit after the younger man had pulled that stupid prank on . . . Oh. Hell. It couldn't be that, could it? It couldn't be . . . him? That little scenario had taken place just before Edward had left for Lior, so the timing was right. Roy tried to remember exactly what he had said to Edward that night in his entryway, and the day after in his office, but weeks had passed, fading the memory. He hadn't said anything beyond what he usually did to keep the boy in line, had he? No. This was crazy.

"What exactly did he tell you?" Roy asked stiffly.

"He didn't tell me anything, and Winry's not talking now either. Is there something you need to tell me?"

"No." Long fingers rubbed his temple. "No. Not until I talk to him."

"I know that the two of you have never made your relationship public, but it never occurred to me that you might be treating him as if he were just another one of your casual affairs. He's an idealistic seventeen year old, extremely intelligent and sophisticated in many ways, and woefully inexperienced in others. You are his first lover. Everything he knows about that kind of relationship he is learning from you. Try to keep that in mind when you talk to him."

"You're missing the main point of that argument, and it makes all the difference, Maes. He's seventeen years old. This is an adolescent crush, driven mainly by hormones. That's all. This isn't about caring for a special someone. It's about satisfying basic urges."

"And what is it for you?"

Roy sighed. "What it always is for me. Sex. He knows this. I've made it very clear."

"Oh," was all Maes had to say, and Roy heard his friend's deep disappointment in that single, quiet interjection.

Roy swallowed around the tightness in his throat. "Whatever he's complaining about, it likely has very little to do with the actual situation. This is typical teenage angst, Maes. Think back to yourself at that age. Crushing on someone so hard it hurts one minute, then suddenly it's over and you're head over heels for someone else. It all boils down to a fleeting physical attraction. There is an emotional response, true, but it's more possessive than affectionate. Remember?"

"No, because it was never like that for me. And as far as I can tell, it's still that way for you."

"Not at all. I'm an adult. In my affairs there is never any sort of emotional response."

"And for your lovers?"

"I make it very clear from the outset that all I can offer is a physical relationship, no strings attached."

"Not everyone is as clinical about it as you, Roy. Attachments sometimes develop against a person's better judgment."

How well he knew. Roy sighed again, his friend's accusing tone wounding him. "That isn't my problem, Maes. If the terms become unacceptable, then my lovers are free to leave at any time. We're getting off topic here. Ed is not in love, anymore than I am. I have obviously done something to hurt his feelings, and I'll deal with it when he gets back. Then things will get back to normal. You're making altogether too much of this little drama."

"Am I?"

"Yes. Is he otherwise in good health?"

"Yes."

"Automail repairs proceeding on target?"

"Yes."

"Then I look forward to his return on schedule. Goodbye Maes." Roy replaced the handset.

Roy sat frowning at the telephone for some minutes after he had hung up. This was just great. Now his best friend was on his case, and Edward was the reason. Just when it looked like his goals were finally within reach, when he needed his friend's support more than ever, Maes had to start in on him about his relationship with that damn brat. Could his life get any more complicated? To be honest though, this was his own fault. He should never have allowed Maes' assumptions about his relationship with Edward to go uncorrected. It would have been better to put up with the occasional blind date than to have Maes so disappointed in him now.

Maes was right about one thing. Roy knew he and Edward were definitely overdue for a serious talk. But Edward depressed? That was a crock. Edward didn't get depressed. He displaced everything to anger. He yelled. He swore. He took it out on the furniture. Except . . . he hadn't lately, had he. The kid was like a different person all of a sudden. No arguments, slammed doors, outraged shouts. Whatever his problem was with Roy, he'd chosen to deal with it by not dealing with it — a completely uncharacteristic behavior. He was avoiding the situation, instead of charging straight in and confronting it, confronting Roy, head on. Whatever was up, it must really be upsetting the kid.

Fuck, he didn't need this right now on top of everything else. Scowling, Roy reached for the Black Book and fingered the cover, but didn't open it. The thought of a meaningless flirtation followed by perfunctory sex held no appeal for him. Alright then, straight home after work, with a quick detour to that deli down the street from his place. The one that he usually got take out from when Edward was coming over for the evening . . .

. . . sitting on the kitchen counter, legs spread wide around Roy's hips, tightening leather pressed against his own growing need, cool steel palm stroking up his back under his shirt, warm fingers scritching on the nape of his neck, hot breath meeting his lips just before the flick of a tongue as strong legs folded around his waist, drawing him closer . . .

Shit. A couple of stiff drinks and to bed then. It was a week night, but nothing much was going on lately, and he seriously needed the distraction.

East Headquarters had been fairly quiet, and it was making everyone nervous.