"Is he usually this late when it comes to giving his reports?" Havoc asked indecorously, gaping obviously enough to show off the gnarled stub of his cigarette. "Unless he's...you know..." He coughed, delicately, and cast his eyes towards the ceiling.
Alphonse, who shrugged and looked somewhat hesitant to explain, bowed apologetically to Roy, who was sitting at his desk and randomly stapling things out of impatience. "I-I'm sorry, Colonel, but you know how he is... I told him we needed to hurry here and make our report, but he told me to go on ahead, because it wouldn't hurt anyone if he was a little late...but it's been..."
"Just another thing he does in excess?" Roy smirked, amused by the prospect, and put a staple through the photo file of one of General Hakuro's enlisted men. "It is impossible for Fullmetal to be "a little" anything...well, save perhaps...heh." He added another staple, for good measure, making Fury jump.
"It has been a while," the Sergeant-Major interjected, wiggling around a bit on his seat and looking for all the world like he needed to use the bathroom. "You... You don't think he's gotten into some sort of...trouble, do you?"
"It's only been a few minutes," remarked Breda drolly, leaning back in his chair and balancing a pencil on the bridge of his nose.
"Yeah, and it's only the Boss," Havoc pointed out, with the same dry sarcasm as his comrade, and Roy snorted into his desk blotter.
"What do you think, Alphonse?" he asked mildly, finishing off the ears of his staple-dog that he had conveniently started right in the middle of a requisition from General Gran himself.
The suit of armor started, flustered at having been addressed so directly, and cast his hands up into the air helplessly. "W-Well, I k-know that i-if something had happened, th-that we would have heard about it, but...it is my brother, and i-if anyone can f-find trouble, i-it's..." It shouldn't have been possible for a suit of armor to take on a sickly pallor, yet it seemed suddenly that Alphonse did. "What if someone's called him...you know...that word?"
"WHO'S THE SUPER-SHRIMP HYPER MIDGIT?!" Edward yowled, kicking open the door and looking nothing
short of furious. "COME ON, WHO SAID IT—?!" He stopped, almost instantly, and looked around in perplexion at how every single face in the room was turned expectantly on him. "...What?"
Alphonse seemed ready to say a few choice words to his brother, but Roy forestalled him with a wave of his hand, and stood from his desk.
"Fullmetal," he intoned dryly, making an imperious gesture towards the clock without averting his gaze, "how positively magnanimous of you to finally join us." He couldn't help the smirk, though, nor the small chuckle of laughter. "I certainly hope you picked me up a nice souvenir while you were out; otherwise I'll have to, hmmm, punish you, say, for being so late."
For a moment, Edward looked stumped. Then mortified. "I...I don't know what..." he started weakly,
almost breathlessly, as though he had just been kicked in the gut. His face was turning it's usual shade of red, but there was nothing angry about the expression now, and Roy narrowed his eyes, feeling his good humor ebb away in the face of reckless concern. Not petulance, or embarrassment, or fear... Oh, no.
It was going to be one of those days, he could feel it.
"All of you, dismissed," he said aloud idly, voice calm and slightly smug, but he couldn't stop the intensity of his eyes, flat and calculating. "Alphonse, if you would be so kind as to wait outside...? I think I'll take Fullmetal's report now."
The group shuffled slowly out the door, contemplating activities such as having a smoke or going to the mess, and Alphonse cast one last worried look at his brother before following, shaking his head and shutting the door in his wake.
For a long time afterward, Roy simply stared, focused and just a little bit frightening; an age-old intimidation tactic. If Fullmetal had gotten into a fight and fucked something up, then he wanted to hear about it, first, before the jackasses from maintenance did. At the very least, hearing about it ahead of time would give him a chance to think of a good excuse, before his reputation as military brass was sunk entirely to the bottom of the sea.
He was surprised, however, as a full minute ticked by, and Edward still held his gaze. Twitched, sure, even fidgeted and toed the carpet like he was contemplating running for the door right then and there, but didn't look away, and it was...impressive. Against his will, Roy grinned, then shrugged with his palms out, and sat down again in his chair. Conceded defeat. It wouldn't hurt to let the kid have a victory or two of his own.
"Well then, Fullmetal," Roy proposed, calmly, "how was Davenport?"
"Oh, I can assure you, that was purely...accidental," Roy lied, lifting his cheek from his fist and his eyes from where he had been doodling himself roasting marshmallows from a pyre that could easily be recognized as Hakuro's flaming corpse. "Honestly, Fullmetal, I'm nothing but dedicated to you and your foolhardy quest, so why would I...?"
He trailed off, struck dumb for a moment by the expression on Edward's face—half-terror, half-yearning, and entirely embarrassed—and managed to swallow his surprise with a bit of effort.
"I...think that'll do, for today," said the colonel quietly, cursing inwardly his choice of words. The symptoms were there, albeit hopelessly violent and repressed, but goddammit, they were there. And he had set himself up for it, with his teasing and elegance and jaunty good looks, though of course he had only meant it in superiority, not...any other thing.
"The rest...o-of my report," Edward was saying, but Roy shook his head authoritatively.
"Tomorrow," he ordered numbly, and was nearly surprised as his hands moved of his own volition and
slammed another staple into Gran's requisition. He was getting quite skilled at looking busy, when all he was really trying to do was stall for time.
"...R-Right," agreed the blonde awkwardly, face flushed and seemingly disconcerted by the sight of pitch-black eyes focused unfalteringly on his face. For a moment, it seemed like he was simply going to stand there, bordering on fear and indecision, but suddenly he walked swiftly up to the older man's desk, slammed something down on it, and let out an explosive breath, fingers twitching. "T-Tomorrow, then."
Roy didn't even bother to think of an obligatory short joke as Edward spun on his feet and ran for the door. Instead, he looked with deflated curiosity at the object left on his desk, a stylish silver lighter that was obviously a trademark from Davenport—a goddamned souvenir, even—and he wished suddenly that he would be struck dead by the irony of it all.
A crush, he thought then, at the sound of heavy oak doors slamming on the other side of the room. The Fullmetal Alchemist has a fucking crush on me.
Alphonse stood, knocking outside of the bathroom door and calling out hesitantly for his brother when Roy left his office a few minutes later, mulling over just how to approach the situation at hand.
"O-Oh! Colonel! Do you think you could help me? Brother's gone and sequestered himself in there
again, and I'm sort of...worried...about him."
"If it concerns you so much, force the door down," Roy suggested offhandedly, carelessly. "It shouldn't be any problem for you."
"W-Well, no, but..." Alphonse gestured helplessly, balling his hands into fists and raising them in the air, only to unclench them and jerk them stiffly down to his sides. "It's his privacy, you know, and...wh-what if it is nothing? Brother gets sick easily, especially because he eats so much..."
The colonel sighed, and cursed then his damnable curiosity. He felt sick with dread at just what he might end up uncovering, but at the same time...
"Alphonse, would you like me to help?"
The armor virtually sparkled. "Oh! W-Would you? I...I hate to ask, because I know you're busy, but if you could find s-some way to find out what's he's up to...?"
The older alchemist shrugged. "It's not a problem." He managed a shadow of his usual smirk. "If you'd like, I can smoke him out for you, as well."
Alphonse laughed. "I don't think that's necessary, sir, but..." For a moment, his lantern lights seemed to darken around the edges, and become strangely more ominous. Pleading, even. "...i-if...there's something wrong with him...you will help him, right? Right?"
It was an innocent snare, and the older alchemist had fallen into it with the grace of a half-witted military grunt in his first real battle. Sentimentality towards this pair of brothers was something he couldn't afford, and yet, somehow...he had already predicted that the two of them would, against all odds, be his downfall. The thought was enough to make his grimace nearly show through his forced smile.
"...Of course I will."
A military relationship isn't one I'd like to keep, anyway, he told himself almost idly, as he sketched an alchemical array onto the office floor. It complicates my goals. Then he sighed, heavily, and activated the array.
Honestly, he felt rather like a fool as he lowered his head to the floor and peeked through the hole in the bathroom ceiling he had just made, but that terrible suspicion was brewing in the back of his head, and he wanted nothing more than to confirm it or deny it. Simply, he wanted to know, and what he would do with that knowledge was something he could worry about later.
So Roy put his head through the floor and looked, upside-down, at the interior of the bathroom. He had judged the floor plan correctly, and was left staring directly down at the center bathroom stall, with a moderately good view of the others, and it was when he turned his head a bit to the left that he found Edward.
"Goddamned...bastard!" the blonde was panting hoarsely, angrily, back smashed into the corner of the stall and his pants around his knees, hands jerking as though he was fighting some sort of unwinnable battle against himself which, Roy supposed dismally, he probably was. "S-Saying s-stuff...like..."
The older alchemist was frozen in place, feeling the blood rush to his head from being suspended upside down from the hole in the floor, feeling himself grow light-headed and dizzy. He wanted to jerk his head up, to close his eyes and his ears and fucking forget the entire thing, but at the same time, he felt strangely like the entire problem was his fault, and that perhaps, maybe, he ought to do something about it. Compelling, even, and he felt his stomach twisted into knots with repulsion and dread.
"...f-fucking dedicated...to me...! W-What the hell d-does that...?!"
It was ironic, really, since Edward spoke such hateful words and spoke them as though he was in pain, nearly sobbing with each expulsion of breath, tightening his fists and alternately, using his goddamned automail, which just plain made Roy cringe. The rhythm was all wrong, and he was tempted to blame it on 12-year-old inexperience, but some illogical part of him wondered, helplessly, if Fullmetal himself wasn't setting it up that way.
It was violent, and unnatural, and apolcalyptically arrythmic, and it had to have been the most pathetic goddamned case of self-gratification the colonel had ever seen in his entire life.
But evidently, it was enough.
"F-Fuck you, Colonel Mustang!" Edward gasped brokenly as he came, fingers scratching helplessly along the sides of the stall and, beautifically, his expression turned from that of agony to one of euphoria. It was a terrifying sight to behold, all of that ardor stemming from so much anger, and Roy felt like he was going to be sick from the sheer hideousness of it all, or maybe it was simply from hanging upside down through the Lieutenant Colonel's office floor.
"F-Fuck...you..." Edward was still saying afterwards, sinking to the floor with his head between his legs, and all the older alchemist could think to do was laugh himself stupid at the goddamned literalism of it all. The world spun from his place above it all.
He thought, perhaps, that the blonde had fallen asleep on the chilly tile, but Fullmetal yawned, cleaned up as best as he could with some bathroom tissue, and stumbled out of the stall to scrub his face at the sink, leaning over the basin like he was about to throw up. It was strange, however, because the boy seemed oddly relaxed now, as though all of his troubles had been jerked out by his hands and lay spattered on the bathroom floor; he zipped up his shirt, rebraided his hair, and looked for all the world slightly sleepy yet goddamned content, and it was that image that terrified Roy far more than anything else he had seen.
More than anything, he did not want to be the cause of that carnal satiation. It was disgusting to even think that he was the source of such animalistic idolatry.
He repaired the office floor and nodded politely at Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan, though he was certain his act wasn't up to it's usual par. Didn't matter. Wasn't important. Still in a sort of daze, he plodded down the stairs disconsolately and nearly bumped into Alphonse, who was leading the way around the hall corner.
"Ah, Colonel! I'm sorry." The armor bowed, and behind him Roy could see Edward, affecting an air of nonchalance, meeting his eyes with only the slightest bit of hesitance and shame. In return, Roy offered a congenial smile that fell monstrously flat of being that.
"Fullmetal, you're my favorite subordinate, you know," he teased mercilessly, and really, for no fucking reason at all. "It won't do to have you get sick on the job."
He took a perverse glee in watching the boy grab his brother by the arm and start dragging him forcibly in the other direction, face crimsoning yet again in a color that was befitting only of blood.
What's happening to my brother was a strange choice of words, one that implied that perhaps the younger Elric had the faintest inkling of just what was going on, and was perhaps using his natural naivete and sway to twist the outcome in his brother's favor, but of course that was a terrible thing to think, and Roy smiled wanly.
"You were right, Alphonse; it was a personal matter."
It seemed to worry rather than placate the suit of armor. "You... You did say, the other afternoon..." A fidget, the screech of metal on metal. "With whatever's bothering him... Sir, you will help him, won't you...?"
Help? The colonel recalled, then, bucking hips and bloodless lips drawn back in a snarl, and wondered just what the hell he was supposed to do about something like that. 'Help', even; the only thing that would help the situation was, ironically, the thing that would make it become the worst situation that could have ever occurred.
But he smiled through his inadvertant shiver, and tried to sound reassuring, as opposed to resigned.
"...I'll see what I can do."
Helplessly, the dark-haired man envisioned stray wisps falling out of a blonde braid as shoulders rolled out of synch, as small teeth bit down into trembling lips to keep from screaming out loud. It invoked with him a strange sort of depression, a feeling of helplessness that he hadn't felt since the war, and it was...curious. For a moment, he felt his resolve begin to waver: If it really would make that look on his face go away...
But that wasn't a healthy way to think, either.
No. There is another way to help this situation. Since it's probably nothing more than a fluke that incites Fullmetal into such horrible hero-worship, I'll treat it exactly as such—a fluke. I won't be stupid enough to fall for his childish attempts at a ruse.
Roy smiled grimly.
"He'll get over it," he said aloud.
"Well, yes, but if it bothers you—"
"Not at all. I was simply wondering if you would like to have this."
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan stared down at the ornate silver lighter that had been tossed into her hands, blinking in surprise. She looked perplexed for a moment, then the confusion warped into a delighted smile, and again Roy was nearly blinded by her goddamned teeth.
"It's lovely," the woman gushed, holding it to her chest as if it were made out of real silver, and not some cheap tourist substitute. "It's a beautiful gift, Roy."
But he looked not at her, instead across the mess at a small, golden-haired boy who returned his gaze with starkly dignified fury, eyes far too wide and lips too thin, shaking noticeably, even from across the room.
There was uncertainty in those eyes, and wounded pride, but there was no less passion, and therefore, Roy was no less terrified.
"You're welcome," he said, only the slightest bit out of breath.