jade pen

Place of Refuge

"I didn't mean it, Full Metal!" Roy Mustang found himself dashing through the hallways of Central Headquarters, a very... upset, Edward Elric hot on his tail.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. Normally, Roy would put on his gloves, give a snide comment and a smirk, then blast the boy into submission. Considering his skill with fire-based alchemy, it was likely that the Colonel could have done so without causing any harm at all. It would have been a controlled situation.

He had no idea that Edward had bothered to read military regulations. Namely, Rule Seven Paragraph Two Subsection Thirteen, which clearly stated that combat-based alchemy was strictly prohibited in any Headquarters facility except in times of crisis or war. Edward, obviously, didn't care a bit for military regulations. Roy, however, had to follow them religiously, for fear that his enemies would take advantage of any laxity. This left Roy at a slight disadvantage.

"Come back here, you bastard!" Despite himself, Edward had to be impressed by Roy's speed. It had to be his long practice of evading irate relatives of his conquests, and not his positively marginal reach advantage. Alternatively, it could have been sheer terror that boosted his speed. Edward had to snicker at the thought.

Then he paused. While he was thinking, he had lost track of the Colonel, and now he was at an intersection. He frowned, then went right, screeching, "Where is that bastard!? I just want five seconds of his oh-so-precious time!"

He burst into the lobby; surprisingly empty, but that might have been due to the panic stirring in the boy's wake. The only person there was Alphonse, his younger brother and a soul-bound suit of armor, who was standing up and leaning against one of the walls. Edward called, "Al! Did you see that bastard come through here?"

"Yes, Brother." Alphonse sighed. "What did Mr. Mustang do this time?"

"Well... that is..." Edward faltered. How was he supposed to explain the situation. "I'll... tell you later, all right? Just tell me which way he went."

The younger Elric sighed. "If he's as smart as you said, I think he'd be outside by now." He pointed a leather gauntlet towards the wide windows. "Maybe he's gone to get some help?"

"That would make sense, that cowardly..." Edward gritted his teeth, then nodded. "Thanks, Al. I'll be right back." With that, he dashed out, golden eyes glancing in every direction to find his target.

After a moment, a muffled voice from inside the armor asked, "Is he gone?"

Another sigh. "Yes, Mr. Mustang, but he'll be back soon."

"A pity." The voice inside Alphonse truly seemed... regretful. "Lieutenant Hawkeye will not be pleased to learn of this situation. Or of the fact that your brother chased me through half of Headquarters."

"Well... Brother does that, every so often. He really should think before he tries to attack people." The suit of armor shuffled his feet, then asked, "Why was Brother chasing you, Mr. Mustang?"

A very long pause ensued. Finally, Roy answered, "He was giving his report about the last mission. In which you saved him from a gunshot by interposing yourself between him and his attacker."

Alphonse nodded, with a soft screech of metal on metal. "So I did. But that wouldn't make him mad..."

Hesitantly, Roy continued, "I... raised the possiblity that, perhaps, it was fortunate that you had been transmuted into this form."

Dead silence. Then, finally, slowly, Alphonse asked, "Is that what you truly believe?"

"In certain instances, yes. Just as I believe that your brother's automail can prove useful in certain situations. Such as when he's trying to kill me, for example." Roy gave a self-depreciating laugh, which was not echoed by the boy he was surrounded by.

"I... didn't ask for this body, you know. I want my real one back."

Roy knew that he was treading in dangerous ground. Partially because he hadn't really dealt with Alphonse Elric before, and partially because he had never encountered someone with his... condition. "That is understandable, and a goal worth aiming for. However..." He carefully chose his words, "...until that time, your body can be used to protect those you love."

Alphonse pondered this. "Is that what we gained in exchange? We gave up so much... but in return, I can protect Brother from people that want to hurt him? He... can rely on me for protection?"

There was a soft rap, as Mustang knocked against the inside of his armor. "He is not the only one you have protected, Alphonse. Due to what you have become, numerous people have come to rely on you... not only for protection, but for guidance and inspiration as well. Your brother..."

A soft laugh. "Brother's reckless, but I can keep him safe and out of harm's way. And... I can rely on him to anchor me to this world."

"He already has." Mustang rapped again, this time a few centimeters from the precious blood array. "The two of you complement each other wonderfully. It is... fortunate, that I managed to acquire him."

"'Acquire'? Brother isn't a piece of property, you know!" Despite himself, Alphonse felt insulted. "And just because he's a—"

"That isn't what I meant, Alphonse." The older man sighed, and explained, "I am fortunate to be his superior officer, though I strictly forbid you from telling him this. It isn't just that he will prove useful on my climb to the top of the ranks, although that is also true. By observing the two of you... I can remind myself of why I wish to do so. When I am Fuhrer, there won't be a need for children to serve in the military. That much I am certain of."

"I... see." Alphonse considered this, as well, then nodded. "Then... I'll keep protecting Brother and the people important to us, for as long as I can. Maybe... we can both get our dreams."

"In order for that to happen, I will need to survive your brother." There was a pause, as the older man considered his options. "If you can get me back to my office, I should be able to take it from there. Full Metal should have worn out his temper on something by the time he looks there again."

"R-right." Alphonse started walking to Roy's office. "I'm... sorry about Brother being so tempermental."

"Nonsense." Roy's voice took on an amused tone. "It is that personality that makes him so endearing. And useful. And..." he added with a chuckle, "...he does make life much more interesting."

"That's true." Alphonse laughed. "Without Brother around, things would be... worse, I think. I know that I'd be worse off, at least."

Before Roy could answer, a voice called out, "Al!" The suit of armor snapped up, to see his older brother, panting and very obviously frustrated. His blade, however, had been transmuted back into his automail. "Have you seen that bastard running around here?"

"N-no, Brother, not for awhile." At the golden glare, he amended, "Well... um... he wasn't running, exactly..."

Edward slowly advanced. "Al... what are you hiding from me?"

"Well, Brother, you see..." The younger brother simmered in indecision, utterly unsure of what to do. He hated lying, and he knew that his brother could see right through him... suddenly, from inside the armor, there was a faint yet audible, "Meow."

Edward's eyes narrowed. "Al... what was that?"

"Um... nothing, Brother?" The armor gave a placating gesture. "Well, I... he... um... he looked like he needed me to protect him, so..."

For a long moment, Edward just looked at his brother. Then, abruptly, he gave a soft smile. "Should have known that you'd find another stray to take care of. Let's... just put him back where he belongs, and then we'll go home. All right?"

"All right, Brother." Alphonse gave a small sigh of relief, glad that Edward wasn't mad at him. "Why don't you go ahead? I'll catch up."

"Absolutely not. You'll try to sneak him into the house, and then you'll start pleading and I'll give in, I just know it. We're going to take him back where he belongs right now, all right?"

"Yes, Brother..."

As the younger boy moved to obey, Roy whispered, "What are we going to do now? He'll be with you until you let me out... and then the situation will repeat itself all over again."

"Sorry, Mr. Mustang..." Alphonse apologetically whispered, "I'll... think of something. I always do. And if Brother finds out, I'll protect you from the worst of it."

Roy couldn't prevent the snide comment from escaping. "That is such a relief to hear, Alphonse."