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shi lin

Temper


tem-per
v. tr.
To strengthen through experience or hardship; toughen.
To adjust finely; attune.

n.
A state of mind or emotions; disposition.
The degree of hardness and elasticity of a metal, chiefly steel, achieved by tempering.

Grey skies. As grey as the battered wreck of Alphonse's armour, or the face of Alphonse's brother, etched with hurt and fatigue. He looked at Fullmetal and thought, involuntarily: there is always pain; the question is when it stops being revelatory.

Marcoh was driven off to meet the Fuhrer's mercy, and the rain persisted in falling, drumming out a cold, steady beat: the sound of liquid needles hitting concrete. They pooled at the base of the huge crater in the pavement, forming a murky swirl of waterlogged debris.

He issued a few orders for the cordoning off of the area, and supervised Alphonse being gingerly lifted into a van (still wearily attempting to be cheerful you really couldn't fault anyone for initially thinking he was the senior Elric brother, and not just because of the armour.) Then he got into the back of the car that carried Fullmetal. Hawkeye slid into the driver's seat after shutting the door for them, and as they drove off the interior of the vehicle was soaked in silence, broken only by the radio's crackle and Fullmetal's laboured breathing. The air-conditioning was turned to its lowest, but Fullmetal was still shivering the more he fought to hide it the more obvious it became.

Roy shrugged off his heavy raincoat and tossed it across the space between them, onto Fullmetal's lap.

"That'll help until we get back."

Amber eyes flashed out from lowered eyelids; he met their defiance with perfect equanimity.

"I trust you haven't lost your common sense along with your arm not that you had much of that to begin with, of course." He said this with the usual sardonic edge he gave to his speech for Fullmetal's benefit, but those eyes dimmed to dull gold, the rebellion dying as soon as it had flared up. A lit match being snuffed; it was not like Fullmetal at all. Not that Roy had expected otherwise in these circumstances, but it was still (undeniably) faintly worrying.

Fullmetal pulled the raincoat up over his ragged cloak and the damaged void of his right arm, and turned to study the falling rain. In the window's reflection his face had closed off; gone flat, like a blank sheet of paper.

The air was heavy with an odd mixture of smells: gunpowder and wet steel and stale rainwater, and a sharp trace of what Roy's nose recognised as blood. Under the raincoat he could make out the outline of Fullmetal's left hand gripping his right shoulder, and his eyes narrowed even as he held his peace. The boundaries of Edward Elric's tolerance were clearly defined. There were times, Roy knew, when authority and presumptuousness had severely limited mileage.

(One: it wasn't life-threatening. Two: they were fast approaching headquarters, and there was a doctor who had experience in treating injuries related to auto-mail.)

"...what—"

It was a hoarse croak. Fullmetal swallowed; cleared his throat with a harsh sound and spoke again, still looking away. "What will the Fuhrer do to Dr. Marcoh?"

"I don't know," Roy said simply, and was favoured with a sharp look, as if Fullmetal couldn't believe that he didn't have spies tracking the Fuhrer.

"I do think he won't be severely punished, though. He wouldn't have been escorted back so comfortably if the Fuhrer wanted his neck."

Fullmetal nodded slightly, the edge to his gaze fading.

Silence returned, pushing the dull relentless drum of rain on the car roof into focus. Roy looked out of the window on his side and considered the name Rockbell in a brief series of images laced with muted regret: of brutality and mutilated lives in a blooming lake of blood (help, they had only tried to help, perhaps that too had once been his only motive); of a stupid young soldier, his gun shivering in his hands while an older, equally stupid soldier made futile protests to possibly the stupidest soldier of all on that battlefield.

Of the stupid young soldier finding his way back to a patch of dried blood in an alcohol-numbed haze, and wanting to kill himself. Of being stopped. And in the guilt devouring a man's eyes, the first betrayal of his institution; the first realisation that some things cannot be excused.

Flash forward, and there was that girl, Fullmetal's childhood friend her hair had been the colour of her mother's, or the colour it would have been, unbloodied. The stupid, stupid things that one noticed. He had not said anything to her. He had not known how (her eyes they were too old, already hurt; does everyone you know look like that, Fullmetal?)

It occurred to him, watching the grey rain fall, that Dr Marcoh had never answered his question.

There was movement at the corner of his eye. Fullmetal was facing forwards again. His thick braid was untidy and streaked with dark trails of damp, and rumpled bangs obscured his face; his left hand was now clenched on his thigh, its knuckles prominent even through a layer of heavy black oilcloth.

You will not break so easily, Roy silently told him. You have walked this far with a purpose. But his own words got hard to believe when Fullmetal looked like he was going to break physically, drawing in on himself with every muscle in his small frame strung wire-taut. It had been unsettling to realise that he disliked seeing Fullmetal appear thus: as if he were a human embodiment of poorly forged metal, bent and brittle. He should not look that way (and you, a part of him retorted, should have no reason to be so concerned.)

Only some things, he knew, could be repaired. Not every broken sword could be re-forged.

"We've arrived, sir." Hawkeye's quiet, even voice jerked him back to reality. The car had stopped.

He held the door open while Fullmetal clambered out, somewhat unsteadily. There was a bump in the pavement that Fullmetal didn't manage to manoeuvre, and Roy ended up gripping his remaining upper arm to prevent him from smashing face-down into the cement, feeling too-tense muscles contract under his fingers.

Fullmetal pressed his lips together, brusquely freeing himself without a word. But he turned to push the open car door a little wider, and hauled out the raincoat which had been offered to him.

"Thanks." Gold eyes looked up into dark ones, still holding a spark in their depths.

Roy nodded, once, in acknowledgement.

"First Lieutenant," he merely said. "See that Edward is properly attended to. And Alphonse as well."

He held the subtle challenge of Fullmetal's gaze a moment longer before starting to walk up to the main building, in the midst of a fine silver drizzle.

It wouldn't be long before the rain stopped.

(For now, that would do.)