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Paper in Fire

chapter 24.

Roy hovered in the doorway of the makeshift infirmary, watching the medic shine his penlight into dazed, golden eyes. Edward watched both the Brigadier General and the doctor warily. Apparently Roy was once again in the same category Ed placed most of the medical profession — grudgingly tolerated with grave reservations. If nothing else, Roy regretted the loss of the boy's trust.

"What is the damage, Captain?" Mustang addressed the medic.

"Confusion, headache, blurred vision, uneven pupil dilation. No nausea, strangely enough. Still, definitely a concussion," came the answer. "Ideally I'd like to get his head x—rayed to check for possible fractures or hematoma, but that will have to wait until we get to a hospital. However his cognitive responses are encouraging, aside from moderate confusion, and he was injured nearly twenty—four hours ago. I think complications would have appeared by now if they were going to. He has to stay off his feet, and we'll have to keep an eye on him. He needs to rest, but he won't be allowed to sleep for more than an hour at a time, just to be safe. He is also dehydrated, so plenty of fluids. I'll stitch up the laceration in his scalp, and find him a cot."

"I'll assign someone to watch him," Roy said. "He has an aversion to following orders, doctor's or otherwise."

"Yes, I got that impression," the medic grimaced.

"I'm right here you know." Edward slurred, upset. "And concussions don't make you deaf. I'm kinda hungry though," he added thoughtfully.

Jean Havoc strode into the tent as the Captain began clipping Ed's hair around his scalp wound, tossing a greeting to Ed and a lazy salute to Roy. "We have a call from General Clayton on the secure line, Sir."

Roy left the tent, making his way to the Inn, and the phone call he had been expecting. Entering the small back room, the Brigadier General was quickly handed the phone.

"What is your status Mustang?"

"General Clayton, Sir," Roy started. "The insurgents in Youswell are contained. The total number of enemy soldiers occupying the town was forty enlisted and three officers. We have arrested sixteen men, including the officers and two enlisted men stationed in the neighboring town of Brownsville. We believe that the majority of the rebel troops were in the mine when it was collapsed by Major Elric. They had just received an arms shipment and were storing it underground. So far we have recovered twelve bodies."

"Well done Mustang," the General returned. "I trust Major Elric and Sergeant Fuery are in good health?"

"Their injuries are not life threatening. I would like to get them to a medical facility for treatment, but under the circumstances, I don't want to leave them unprotected."

"Understandable. There is a good possibility that they would be targeted by traitors that are currently under the radar."

"Something I would like to avoid, Sir. Medically their conditions don't warrant taking the risk. I'd like to keep them isolated until the majority of the dissidents are apprehended."

"On that front, you'll be pleased to know that nearly all Senior Staff noted by Sergeant Fuery have been detained for questioning, and we are confident that we have the identities of all upper ranking conspirators. We have been able to determine that General Hakuro was the driving force behind this scheme, backed up by most of Bradley's old guard. Their stronghold appears to have been New Optain. Generals Barkley and Morrison are in custody, along with most of their senior staff. Hakuro is in the stockade in Central of course, and so is General Tyrol. West Headquarters reports they are in the process of subduing General Scott and some of his senior staff. Someone tipped them off. They took up arms and are making a stand at Scott's estate, but they are heavily outgunned and outnumbered. It's only a matter of time before we take them down, one way or the other. And you're already aware of General Raven's status here at East Headquarters. The only command that did not harbor insurgents was North Headquarters."

"I understand that General Armstrong runs an extremely tight ship, Sir," Roy wasn't surprised that the Northern base was clean.

"You have no idea," the General muttered. "We have also located the remaining supply caches the insurgents had concealed around the country. Aside from Youswell, one has been secured. The other six are still under siege, and both sides have taken casualties, but thanks to your quick thinking with that earthquake story, they didn't realize their plot had been uncovered until we closed in on them. We were able to surprise them, and of course we have the numerical advantage, so it's only a matter of time. The sheer quantity of arms they had stockpiled indicates that these people were ready and willing to wage a prolonged, bloody civil war if necessary. How they believed this to be for the good of the country is quite beyond me."

"I've noticed it's a common mindset among Furher Bradley's staunchest supporters, Sir. The common good often takes a back seat to their personal agenda."

"Hmm, yes. On a lighter note, I'm sure you realize that due to your command's role in exposing this coup, your promotion is in the bag, eh? There are, after all, quite a few vacancies in the upper ranks," the General chuckled. "The Major and Sergeant will also be up for advancement of course."

"I'll be sure to pass that along with your compliments, General," Roy returned.

"Ironic, isn't it, that the rebel cadre's drive to secure their communications network resulted in their exposure. Very poor planning to abduct your officers right on their own doorstep. They had to know it was only a matter of time before we found them out. Hard to say whether it was simple stupidity or pure arrogance."

"From a strategic standpoint, it was an epic blunder."

"Yes, well, let's face it. Hakuro never was the sharpest sword in the armory." General Clayton chuckled. "Carry on, Mustang, and keep me posted."

"Yes Sir."

Roy handed the phone back to the soldier manning communications. A satisfied smile quirked his lips as he left the Inn. In the blink of an eye his promotion was coming months ahead of schedule. General Clayton would likely grant his request for a transfer to Central in short order, and would probably be agreeable to Roy taking his closest officers along with him as well. It had been under two years since they had been transferred from the capital back to the East. Jean, Heymans, Kain, and Edward would feel like ping pong balls by the time this was all over.

His musings had carried the Brigadier General back to the grouping of tents that were serving as a field hospital. Both medics and the town's general practitioner had been kept busy with injuries that had resulted from the mine fire. The rescue operation was hazardous as well, and a number of townspeople and soldiers had suffered minor wounds in that undertaking. Poking his head into the main section of the infirmary, Roy noted that Edward was no longer there. Asking after his subordinates' whereabouts, he was directed to another tent.

Walking the short distance to the indicated tent, Roy noted the signs of a town emerging from a state of shock. The sound of music and light laughter drifted over from the Inn. The tavern had been doing steady business, but up until now it had been very subdued. With the clean up at the abandoned mine well under way, the townsfolk were beginning to relax. Mustang's squads were speeding the effort along, and it was obvious by the townspeople's more tolerant attitude that this small fraction of the military at least was appreciated. The soldiers weren't experienced with this type of operation, but Breda had chosen well. The men were quick to grasp the techniques required to get the job done, and did so under civilian direction without complaint.

Stepping into the tent, Mustang checked the six cots. Four were occupied: three by soldiers from his squads that had been injured while clearing sections of the abandoned mine, and one by his youngest officer. All four appeared to be asleep. Sitting in a chair by Fullmetal, Kain Fuery smiled and made to stand.

"At ease, Sergeant," the Brigadier General said quietly, returning the salute. "I thought you were ordered off your feet. As in lying down."

"Sorry, Sir," the younger man grimaced. "I can't seem to settle. I lie down for a few minutes, then get restless and have to get up."

"A common reaction to the kind of stress you have been under, Sergeant." Mustang pulled a chair up to sit with the younger man. "Were you able to call Mrs. Fuery?"

"Yes Sir. She was very happy to hear that everything is alright."

"You'll have more good news for her after you get back to East City, in the form of a new stripe to add to your uniform, compliments of General Clayton."

The young man beamed. "Thank you Sir!"

"You earned it, Sergeant. With results like this, maybe we should send you out in the field more often." Mustang grinned as his junior officer frowned.

"Honestly Sir? I'd just as soon stay closer to home." Fuery looked over at his sleeping colleague. "I don't know how Ed does stuff like this all the time. I couldn't do it. I thought the stress was going to kill me."

Mustang glanced over at the blond alchemist. The hosing down the miners had given him after bringing him up from the mine had taken care of most of the grime, but he was still in serious need of a shower. Black dust streaked his collar bone, smudged the hollow of his throat, and stuck in the grooves of his automail. His bandage wrapped head was tilted to the side, to avoid putting pressure on his wound. A small frown furrowed his brow, lips downturned to a pout. He looked like a cranky toddler forced to take a much needed nap. Failing to resist the urge, Roy lightly brushed errant blond strands back from the young man's face.

"It's by no means an easy job, but he does it, and as much as he might hate it, he does it well," the Flame Alchemist said finally. "I don't think he'll miss it."

Kain looked up, surprised. "Oh, that's right. His contract is up soon." The Sergeant looked down at his colleague. "You think he's really going to quit Sir?"

"Yes."

Kain sighed. "First Major Hawkeye, now Ed. The office won't be the same without him."

Mustang said nothing.