Edward Elric's entrance almost always heralded trouble, of one sort or another. It had gotten to the point where most of his staff ducked and covered in instinct whenever the distinctive automail knock sounded on the door. Even if he didn't come in temper, half the time the only reason for his calm would be that he had gone through Roy's closet again, and they'd been traumatized half a dozen times already. Nobody wanted to know that much about their CO's private life.
Today, though, Edward didn't even bother to knock. He burst in through the door and made straight for the desk. Automatically, everyone ducked, then breathed a collective sigh of relief when they saw that Ed was still wearing his habitual clothes.
However, clothes or no clothes, he was in a half-wild state. He slammed up against Mustang's desk, staring at him with wild eyes. He jabbed accusingly with an automail finger—nearly putting out Mustang's eye as he did so, and shrieked, "You're a crossdresser!"
Roy's staff, with the exception of Hawkeye, began edging for the door. Roy sighed, and rubbed at a knot in his forehead. "Indeed yes," he said dryly. "As your little antics have made everyone in Central HQ perfectly aware of. Did this only just now hit you, Fullmetal?"
"That's not what I mean!" Ed sputtered. For once, he seemed entirely at a loss for words; the best he could manage were a few jerky, vague gestures in the air in front of him.
The others were all busy creeping away, so only Mustang and Hawkeye saw the little gestures; but it was enough. Roy's amused manner suddenly dropped like a hot potato, and he sat up straight at his desk, eyes fixed intently on Edward. "Get out, now," he barked sharply.
His staff didn't wait around to see whether the order was intended for them or for Ed; they got. Hawkeye followed them to the door, and firmly closed and locked it behind them.
Completely ignoring Roy's sudden serious aura, Edward pounced. Papers scattered across the desk as he lunged across it, intent and focused, and grabbed Roy's lapels. For a brief moment, Roy considered fighting him, but he knew his own strength as well as he knew Fullmetal's, and these close quarters were not advantageous. Besides, it was too early in the morning. He sighed, and raised his hands in surrender.
"Please be careful with those buttons, Fullmetal, unless you care to explain to the laundress how they came to be torn," he told him acidly. Ed ignored him, yanking open the blue jacket and then feverishly going after the white shirt underneath, until...
Ed stopped, hands still pulling at the edges of the white shirt. Underneath, wrapped around and around Roy's torso, where strips of white bandages. They wrapped tight around his ribcage and chest, and bunched loosely at his waist. A decidedly narrower waist than external appearances would suggest.
Still caught by shock, Ed raised a hand to prod at his commanding officer's chest. "It's true!" he said in horrified fascination. "You're a girl!"
"I beg your pardon, Fullmetal?" Roy raised an eyebrow. "A girl? I'm insulted. And you can stop poking my chest before you lose that other hand, by the way."
Ed seemed to realize for the first time what he was doing, and retreated back over the desk, flushing bright red. "You're a woman!" he corrected himself. At high volume. Roy spared a moment to be grateful for his office's soundproofing.
Roy sighed, and reached up to run a hand through black hair. "This is extremely awkward."
"Edward," Hawkeye broke in, taking a firm hold of the boy's shoulders. "You need to understand, this is a deathly secret. You can't tell anyone."
Ed whirled around, shrugging hastily away from Hawkeye's touch. "But, but, I don't understand," he spluttered. "Since when? And how? And why?"
"Since when, well, since always," Roy said, and began to button her shirt up again. Through disbelieving ears, Ed noticed that Roy's voice was subtly different. It was as deep and vibrant as it had ever been, but something in it had modulated—some sharp or nasal quality lost, until the voice was recognizably a cultured woman's alto. "I'm quite the same as I always have been, Fullmetal. And if you have the wits left to listen to orders, they're quite as binding on you coming from a woman as they would from a man."
"Since how," Hawkeye broke in, "it was a matter of doing some tricky fiddling with the personnel records. Fortunately, the change was completed while the Colonel was still a non-com, so virtually no-one knew her then."
"But—why?" Ed exclaimed. "There are plenty of women in the military, too! Just look at Hawkeye, or Ross!"
"As for why," Roy said, tenting her hands on the desk and leaning forward, with an expression Ed knew all too well on his—her face—"I would think it would be obvious. I intend to make the top, Fullmetal, by whatever means necessary. There are women in the ranks, yes, but how many of the top generals and staff members are women?"
There was a moment of silence, as Ed tried to sift through his memory to come up with one. Roy took pity on him. "As it happens, Edward, the highest rank currently held by a woman in this army is Lieutenant Colonel, Junior Grade. The highest rank ever held by a woman was Brigadier General, exactly once, and that was an honorary title awarded for services rendered."
"But that's a place to start, right?" Ed pounced on that. "I mean, couldn't she advance from there?"
"Posthumously awarded," Roy amended.
"Bias is still heavy in this army, Ed. If I am to advance, I cannot afford even the smallest handicap that will drag me back—and the little matter of my birth gender is no small handicap."
"They seemed pretty small to me," Ed muttered.
Roy glared. "Please spare me the juvenile excuse for humor." She leaned forward, a fierce expression on her face. "Mark my words, Edward. I am every inch as much your commanding officer as I was an hour ago, and I will be treated with the same respect. I don't know, or care, what attitudes towards women you brought in with you—"
Ed thought of his teacher, and nearly swallowed his own tongue on the spot.
"—but I-will-have-your-respect." Roy's fingers were tapping on surface of the desk; a seemingly harmless gesture until you considered that the gloves were still on. All things considered, Ed was not inclined to argue, especially not with the way Hawkeye loomed menacingly at his shoulder. Dammit, I really need to get taller. And how had he never noticed before that Hawkeye and Mustang were almost the same height?
"Am I clear?"
"Yes ma'am," he choked out, a reflex response. "Whatever it is you're trying to accomplish with this secret, uh, well, I guess I'll support you all the way."
"Good." Roy leaned back, expression lightening. When Ed studied his CO, from this new perspective, he could almost see the difference. It was strange—nothing about Roy's face had changed—but it was like some trick of the light suddenly allowed him to see past "very feminine man," into "rather masculine woman."
Not that he thought Mustang was pretty, or anything, he panicked. Well, except that she was. As a woman. In a very intense sort of way. Or, she would be pretty if she weren't nearly twice his age, he reminded himself firmly. Well, he'd always been into older women. Except I'm not! he reminded himself even more firmly, with a hint of desperation. Because being into Roy would just be weird! Really weird! Definitely definitely definitely not!
"In that case," he said semi-randomly, trying to block off his own line of thought. "What's up—the clothes, I don't understand—"
"Ah." Roy had the grace to look embarrassed; Hawkeye looked disapproving. "Well, my one indulgence to my true self, I suppose."
"I told you it was dangerous," Hawkeye reminded without remorse. Roy sighed, waving off the comment. "For trying to maintain a cover identity, it's incriminating—"
"But everybody knows, since I... oh, fuck..." Several layers of embarrassment landed on Ed at once, like layers of sand from a dump truck. The first was that it was not inappropriate at all for Roy to have women's clothes in her closet (even if her taste was a little weird.) The second was that Ed had quite thoroughly spoiled any attempt at discretion when he dragged what he thought was the Colonel's little fetish out around headquarters. The third was that it was not Roy, but Ed who had made a fool of himself by parading around in women's clothes. He attempted to backpedal to the second. "I didn't mean to, I didn't know—I—"
"Calm down, Fullmetal." Roy pushed away from the desk, and began to pace the office, absently patting the front of the jacket to make sure everything was in place. From the outside, if you didn't know better, it was the image of the lazy Colonel. But like a magician's trick, once Ed had seen the truth once, he couldn't keep to the surface image any longer.
"Actually, your little histrionics had a beneficial effect," Roy went on. "Curious... rumors... had already started to circulate about me, and I believe I was actually quite close to an investigation. The brass believed I had something to hide, as do most men of my rank and position. By exposing what you thought was my ‘secret,' their doubts were satisfied."
"But—it's awfully close to the truth," Ed said doubtfully. "What if—"
"The closer, the better," Hawkeye disagreed. "The closet their misapprehensions fall to the truth, the more likely they are to rest there. Any evidence or rumors as to the Colonel being a woman, from now on, will simply be assumed to be misinterpretations of his ‘perversion.' "
"All the senior officers have one," Roy added. "Many less savory than mine. It's expected, really. Practically a badge of honor."
Ed felt dizzy. The shifts from relief to consternation and back again were occurring too rapidly for him. "And... the women?" he croaked out. "What about all your dates?"
"Excellent camouflage," Hawkeye commented. "And no danger, when properly handled."
Roy nodded. "Indeed," she said. "They're all delighted to find a man willing to listen to them discuss even feminine issues, without pressing the relationship too far."
"Oh." What exactly those ‘feminine issues' were, Ed wasn't sure he wanted to know, but that did still leave an important question. "So you don't actually..."
Roy's eyes glinted. "No."
Ed tried to figure out whether he was happy or disappointed over the termination of that line of thought. Then he tried to figure out why he should be either. "So you do like guys?" tripped out of his mouth without him thinking about it.
Roy raised both eyebrows, this time. Hawkeye made a noise Ed almost, but not quite, could identify as a snort. Desperately, he forged on ahead. "Because, uh, it seems like you'd be kinda lonely. And now that I know, well, I mean, I'm one of the only people who knows, and if you ever wanted to be with someone who knows, and I just mean hang out with, because you're still my CO and all, even though we're both State Alchemists, and it's not like I'm trying to undercut your authority or anything, just if you happen to feel lonely—"
"Fullmetal," Roy interrupted. She sounded more amused than anything, though. Ed snuck a glance over at Hawkeye. Hand nowhere near gun, that was a good sign. He ran down with a tripping,
"—well, I like older women," he finished lamely.
"So I hear from Aquaroya," Roy said, crossing her arms and leaning casually against the edge of the desk. When she looked Ed up and down, though, there was a glint in her eye that Ed had definitely seen before, a few times, in Roy's eyes, only he hadn't understood it then. Or maybe he had but just hadn't wanted to understand—
"It would be entirely inappropriate," Roy was saying seriously. Ed's stomach dropped to somewhere around his shoes. "I still am fourteen years your senior, as well as your commanding officer. In addition, in the eyes of everyone else, it would be a case of an older man preying on a young boy."
"Oh," Ed said in a small voice.
Roy exchanged a long look with Hawkeye. Ed felt that odd sensation of information flying over his head, that he occasionally had when visiting Hughes' family. Did Hughes know about this? Probably. That man knew truly weird things.
Hawkeye shrugged, and Roy's lips curled in a familiar smirk. "Well," she said, studying her nails assiduously. "I suppose since the crossdressing is no longer a shock, I'll need a new scandal."