pandora_culpa: (Ed golden eye)
[personal profile] pandora_culpa


“...and do try to refrain from too much property damage this time. New Absner is a rather poor town, and without many resources, and massive destruction would create all kinds of problems with the populace.”

“Meaning you'd have to kiss a lot of ass and pay for the repairs,” Ed retorted, flipping idly through his mission briefing. “I hear you.”

“It would also generate the kind of antagonism against the state that we really can't afford in the West right now.” Roy frowned over his stack of reports, tapping a pen irritably against the blotter. “As long as you've been doing this, I really shouldn't have to tell you these things.”

“So don't.” The young man yawned, letting his heels drop from where they rested on the table as he sat forward. “We done yet?”

“Pretty much. Do you understand the assignment?”

“Spy on the mayor, make sure he isn't trafficking in alchemized gold, report in daily, don't ruin your reputation, don't wreck the place, and don't piss anyone off.” Ed graced him with a smart-assed smirk that Roy was fairly sure had been adopted from his own repertoire. “I think I've got it.”

“I should hope so. I don't want there to be any trouble this time.” He had too much paperwork lately as it was, without the additional headache of covering for a wayward alchemist. With a faint, long suffering sigh Roy turned his attention back to the piles of reports covering the desk. “And don't forget to empty your garbage before you leave. I don't want to deal with any funny smells coming out of your room while you're gone.”

Ed snorted. “Okay, mom.” Heavy boots clunked as the young man made his way toward the door, and when he was nearly there Roy spoke again.

“Have a safe trip,” he said, quietly, but with more warmth than their previous exchange. Ed paused- looking back over his shoulder, most likely- and then Roy heard the door open.

“Don't burn the house down,” Ed replied, voice light and teasing, and Roy smiled to himself as the footsteps receded.

*****


He'd thought that it would be nice, having the house to himself again for a while. Before he'd acquired a housemate, Roy had been perfectly content with his solitary existence, the quiet allowing him to concentrate on reading or studying, or the occasional reports that he took home. When he'd wanted company, he would go out on a date, or to a bar with fellow officers or alchemists.

But his new norm consisted of bleary gold stares before the coffee was made in the morning, of loud voices and passionate arguments about obscure scientific theories. The quiet he'd once taken refuge in now rang with emptiness. With Ed gone the house seemed larger than before, no longer familiar and, more bored than he could have anticipated, it didn't take long before Roy had taken to spending his evenings out. He dusted off his black book, calling several well-visited numbers in it and, by the second week's end, adding a few new ones. He fell back into his old lifestyle as though he'd never been apart from that existence, like he hadn't spent nearly a year away from the dating scene, and he amused himself with the thought that Ed didn't have anything on him.

But it wasn't nearly so satisfying as he'd once found it to be. Pretty, amiable women- the kind he'd once dated by the score- didn't hold his attention. Going out, night after night, in an endless parade of dates, dinners, and beautiful but vacuous faces seemed more of a chore than a pleasure. Something indefinable had been leeched from his appreciation of such activities, and what enjoyment he managed rang hollow inside him.

On the evenings when he passed up the chance at company, Roy would sit at home at his desk, examining the strange and difficult array Ed had drawn for him. The twisting lines threatened to give him headaches, but he worked through them, not wanting to press his reprieve from Ed's temper by studying the array in his presence. And the longer he looked at it, the more he realized that, although there was an immense amount of detail to the design, the array was actually rather simple. It was more a matter of understanding the balance of the design than of interpreting the pattern of its energy.

However, he still wouldn't claim to understand the array enough to consider using it, even without the dire payment it demanded, and Ed's very real threat to his face. This wasn't the kind of transmutation that gave second chances, and he'd be damn sure he knew it inside and out before even contemplating touching one of its lines.

But well before he had more than a modest grasp on it, Roy received a call at the office. Fullmetal. Wanting to be picked up from the station that evening.

I'm tired,” the young man growled, his voice sounding thin and metallic as it crackled down the bad connection. “And it's on your way home anyway. Not like I'm asking you to go way outta your way.”

Roy brushed off Hawkeye's attempt to pass him another folder, gesturing irritably at the telephone. “I suppose that can be arranged,” he replied rather officiously, hoping that the Lieutenant would get the wrong idea, and think the call was important enough to leave him alone for a bit. “But it's highly irregular.”

So's me asking in the first place. Don't worry- I'm not gonna make a habit of it.

A silent sigh slipped from Roy's lips as his office door shut at Hawkeye's back, and he was able to speak normally again. “I'm not worried about that. What time is your train?”

Oh, was Hawkeye in? Got news for you- she's been on to your 'official phone call' ploy forever. You use it too often. Anyway, my train's supposed to be in at six thirty, though with the time we've been making, I'm betting it's closer to a quarter past six. This thing's been flyin' and... shit, there's the call to board now. Gotta go.

“I'll see you this evening then.”

Yeah. Don't be late, bastard.

The line disconnected with a click. Setting down the receiver, Roy leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. It had occurred to him to wonder if Edward's return would feel awkward or inconvenient, disrupting the way he'd been reforging his previous life during the past few weeks. But what he'd found instead was anticipation, curiosity as to what Ed had been up to, and the urge to tell a few tales of his own. The desire to catch up with an old friend, and he shook his head in amusement. He and Edward, friends. That's one that probably even Maes never saw coming.

*****


To Roy's surprise, Ed didn't disembark alone.

“Hey bastard.” A sharp-edged smile cut his way. “This is Merisel. Merisel, this is Colonel Roy Mustang. He's a bastard, don't listen to anything he says.”

Roy bent over the slim hand he was offered, giving the young woman a winning smile. “Charmed,” he replied, and it was no less than the truth.

Wherever Ed had found the petite redhead currently hanging off his arm, Roy rather hoped he would share the location, so that he could inquire as to whether the lovely lady had a sister there. Merisel was only a little taller than Ed, small but statuesque, and with a presence that would fill a room. Dancing green eyes met his as she raked him over with an assessing gaze, leaving no doubt that the mind behind those eyes was as sharp as the cut of her fitted black coat. Once she'd taken his measure, she brightened with a dimpling smile.

“Mr. Elric insisted that I impose upon you to drive me to my flat,” she explained, her tone one of resigned amusement. “I hate to be a bother, but he was very persuasive.”

“He is that, and it's no trouble at all. Please, allow me.” Roy reached for her bag, but Ed beat him to it.

“I've got it,” he growled, hoisting it along with his own battered valise, and Roy only barely restrained himself from chuckling over Ed's possessive behavior. Although with a lady like that, he supposed he couldn't blame Ed for being protective.

She gave him the address where she was staying, and Ed held the door so that she could get into the car's back seat, then gave Roy a sly wink before sliding in after her. The three chatted amicably as the car wended though the city streets, but Roy had the impression that his presence was entirely unnecessary. Ed and Merisel seemed barely conscious of him, talking with great animation and furtively touching hands and arms when they thought he wouldn't notice in the mirror. When they finally arrived at the building housing her flat, Roy was unsurprised when Ed immediately offered to carry her bags up for her. Nor was he shocked to find himself waiting in the car for nearly half an hour before Ed reemerged, grinning in triumph, although that wasn't enough to keep him from being grumpy about it.

“Got her number, and a date for dinner tomorrow,” he crowed, piling into the front seat alongside Roy and ignoring the sour look he received in return. “Fuck, I'm the luckiest guy in Central! Did you see her?”

*****


Roy didn't realize just how much he'd actually been looking forward to spending his evenings with Ed again until the young man was back, and completely unavailable.

After seeing the girl Ed had taken up with, Roy couldn't entirely blame him. Merisel was gorgeous, intelligent, and far more refined than any girlfriend he might have expected the comparatively socially inept youth to end up with. But judging from the number of calls to the house for Ed, and the amount of time he was spending out of the house- including overnight visits- she seemed to be just as enamored of him.

He wasn't jealous. Not at all. On the contrary, Roy felt very strongly that Ed deserved some happiness in his life, and if he got that from this girl, then that was all he could ask. And yet...

The longer things went on, the more strained Ed appeared. There was something different about him; his predatory presence had been replaced by something less domineering, something a little warier. Not that Ed had weakened in any other aspect of his life; he still raised hell in the office, gave lip to anyone who pissed him off, and generally lived up to his aggressive reputation. No, only with Merisel was he cautious, subdued. Although he was still eager to see her, and proud to flaunt her in front of his friends, there remained the shadow of a weird, desperate struggle to maintain her approval, and Roy couldn't say he cared for that at all.

“High maintenance,” he suggested to Ed one night, and caught a glimpse of weary agreement slipping across the young man's face before gold bangs whipped the air, the acceptance shaken off.

“It's not like that,” Ed muttered, fists clenching as he turned aside. “I really like her.”

Which only made Roy's unfocused misgivings throb harder in his chest.

*****


It was the kind of relationship that a generous soul would call 'passionate', while a less charitably inclined observer might think that 'unhealthy' was a better proper term. Hot and cold, loving and clashing. A constant struggle for control, though the sheer magnetism they displayed together was undeniable. And yet it was the term 'destructive' that came to Roy's mind most often; watching silently from the edge of the picture, he couldn't help but see how Ed's obsessive nature was tearing the young man to pieces.

Not that Merisel would have made things easy for him even without the intensity of his focus. Beneath the sweetness of her appearance lay a temper to rival Ed's own, and a mind almost as keenly manipulative as Roy's. It had only taken one evening- a double date with Lourdes, an old friend of his- for Roy to recognize the subtle ways that she nudged Ed's emotions as well as his actions, and the realization burned his stomach far worse than the glass of red wine in which he'd indulged that evening.

He wouldn't deny that he himself had been guilty of such things. Everyone knew that he'd used Ed's anger like a goad, that Roy had withheld information or embellished details somewhat in order to aim the fractious alchemist. It wasn't even a secret; Ed knew as well as anyone that the Colonel did this. As an officer, he wouldn't hesitate to paint whatever picture was necessary to get the required results, but he had never, never allowed it to get personal and hurtful.

Not that Roy ever saw Merisel stoop to outright attacks. Instead, she fed Ed's guilt, ever so subtly, plucking at that unhealed wound and fraying at the young man's confidence even as she smiled and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. The barbs were always couched as jokes or vacuous asides, brushed off with a wave and a tittering laugh, but Roy had met her eyes that last time, and saw...

She knew. She knew exactly what she was doing, and she knew that he saw it. And she didn't care if he saw. Right then, Roy felt certain that he knew exactly what kind of woman Merisel was. The appraising, heated stare she gave him as he spoke of his upcoming promotion review wasn't even necessary to confirm it. He'd met enough women who were grasping and forever hungry for power, for titles and status and the need to feel important. He'd just never thought that Ed would let a person like that into his life.

The drive home was awkward; Roy and his date rode in the front, while Ed and Merisel sat quietly in the back. A couple of times Roy stole glimpses of them in the mirror; Merisel clutching Ed's hand, Edward leaning toward the window, looking both exhausted and unhappy. The expression made Roy's hands clench on the steering wheel.

He walked Lourdes to her door when they arrived, and returned to a car whose atmosphere had shifted in the time he'd been gone. Merisel looked faintly irritated, and Ed's face was flushed with what Roy knew very well was suppressed anger. The few minutes it took before they arrived at her building were spent in silence, and Roy was relieved when he pulled up to the curb, and Ed got out to walk her up. As he had the first night he'd met her, Roy found himself waiting an unnecessarily long time for Ed to return, and when he did it was with a slow dragging step that told Roy all he needed to know.

“Merisel kinda wants me to hang out awhile,” Ed explained, shuffling closer and rubbing the back of his neck with his automail. “Sorry to leave you hanging out here.”

“She talked you into staying,” Roy stated flatly and Ed glared at him, but nodded all the same. “I didn't get the impression that you wanted to stay.”

“Didn't really. Got work tomorrow, and I'm tired, but it's cool. It's fine.”

The Colonel shook his head, making an exasperated noise. “You know, you don't always have to do things her way, Edward.”

Ed shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “Sometimes, it's just easier,” he mumbled in explanation, stuffing his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders. “I don't wanna fuck this up.”

Roy propped his elbow on the door of the car, staring up into Ed's face. “You aren't fucking anything up. It takes two to make a relationship work...”

Gold eyes blazed, and Ed's face immediately shuttered. “You don't know anything,” he snarled, taking a step back from the car, “and I sure as hell didn't ask for your opinion. This is what I want, Mustang, I want this to work, I want to be with her...” He broke off, glancing over his shoulder at the building. “Fuck, I gotta go. She's waiting for me.”

He turned on his heel, trudging back toward the door while Roy stared at his back and the lamplight gleaming sun-bright on his hair, even through the gloom. The young man's proud, cocky stance was hunched, his sure gait hesitant, and for an instant Roy envisioned a wolf, collared and brought to heel. Moments later, Ed was swallowed up in the doorway of the apartment building, gone from view, and Roy wanted to pound on the steering wheel with frustration. How could anyone who claimed to care take someone as vibrant as Ed, and reduce him to that? But he'd get no thanks for interfering, and so Roy turned the car on and pulled out into the street, his mouth set in a hard, bitter line.

Where's your equivalence, Edward? You give her everything. What does she give you?

*****


Muffled arguments that seeped through beneath closed doors. Curses muttered, barely audible, and slamming doors. A housemate who existed like a ghost in his home, and too many evenings spent alone on his sofa. Roy would have welcomed the need to fend off elbows and heels, to bicker over feet on his cushion, or who had more room.

But Ed had it bad, and Roy knew very well that nothing he said would sway the young man's opinion of his girlfriend. Despite all the grief she gave him, there was still that happily besotted gleam in his eyes when things were good between them, even if those times were rarer now than when he'd begun seeing her. No matter how much they fought Ed refused to hear a bad word against her, and finally Roy stopped even trying to make him see reason before he alienated his friend entirely. When things finally fell apart- and Roy had no doubts whatsoever that they would- it was going to hit Ed like a freight train, and that knowledge sat heavily in the pit of his stomach; a prolonged, painful anticipation of events beyond his control.

He wasn't even able to study the array Ed had given him, despite the other alchemist's absence from the home. He'd pulled it out a time or two, bored and lonely, although he'd never admit to the latter, but the concentration required for such an intensive project simply wasn't there. Every time he began studying the sigils or tracing the flows of energy, his mind was inevitably drawn back to Edward, and the blind spot within the young man's devastating genius that kept him from seeing Merisel for who she was.

It actually came as some relief to him when Hawkeye brought in the mission briefing with his morning coffee, and he saw that it was an assignment perfectly suited to Ed's skills. And Fullmetal took the news surprisingly well; Roy almost asked him if having some time apart from Merisel would do them both good, but stopped himself before the words formed. Not only was it an inappropriate question to be asked in the workplace, he simply didn't know how to phrase the question without it causing offense. Sighing, Roy watched Ed striding away across the parade ground below his window, heading back home to pack for the trip. Perhaps he'd find the right thing to say by the time he got home.

Luckily, Ed was still at the house when Roy arrived, and suddenly the flack he was going to face from the Lieutenant in the morning for cutting out early seemed justified. He slung his jacket over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, calling upstairs to inquire as to whether or not Ed would be around for dinner that evening.

“Yeah,” came the shouted reply, followed by a thump and some muffled curses. “Be down in a minute.”

Not bothering to change from his uniform, Roy began setting the table and laying out cartons of Xingian takeaway he'd picked up, a cuisine Ed loved but seldom had anymore, as Merisel was allergic to the spices. Even if it didn't take the edge off of the conversation he hoped to have with Edward, it should at least make the young man a little happier. The old saying that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach could have been coined with Ed in mind.

As Roy expected, Ed brightened as soon as he saw the little waxed cartons amid the dishes. “Xingian! Fuck yeah! Thanks, Roy!” Dropping into his chair, he flipped open the first carton he grabbed and began spooning the food onto his plate, not even bothering to identify it.

Roy joined him with a bit more decorum, laying a napkin across his lap and serving himself quickly before Ed could decimate each little box. For some time the meal passed without conversation, only Ed's infrequent sounds of appreciation punctuating the silence. Once the cartons were emptied and Ed was nibbling on an almond cookie with a glazed, sated look in his eyes, Roy thought that perhaps it was safe to broach the subject.

“So,” he drawled, toying with his fork, “were you planning on taking the morning train?”

Ed grunted agreeably, his expression still pleasantly unfocused. “Yeah. Gotta go by and see Merisel before I go.” A sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough huffed up from his throat. “She'll either be thrilled that I'm off on some kinda dangerous adventure that'll let her brag about me, or pissed as hell 'cause she had something planned. No way to tell which.”

“Hmm.” Why do you put up with it, Ed, why do you let her keep shoving you this way and that, you've never let anyone, and why can't I just ask you this? And since when have I ever been afraid of making you angry?

“Actually,” Ed said into the pause, as Roy fumbled for a way to voice his concerns, “I wanted to ask a favor of you. While I'm gone.”

Edward's face was tipped toward his empty plate, eyes distant and thoughtful. And Ed never asked him for anything, it seemed to be anathema to his character to do anything other than fend for himself, and so Roy didn't hesitate to reply, “Of course.”

“While I'm gone,” Ed repeated, “would you... I dunno, look after Merisel? I wanted to let her know she could call you while I'm out of town, you know, if she needed anything. Most of her friends are real fuckups...”

Men, Roy's mind amended.

“...and I don't think they'd be all that much help to her anyway.”

And you don't trust them.

“So you'd rather put your gorgeous girlfriend in the hands of an inveterate womanizer,” Roy remarked mildly, because teasing was a far easier way to handle the awkwardness of this situation than a frank reply. As much as he disliked Merisel for her influence on Edward, the young man's willingness to place the welfare of the woman he treasured in Roy's hands displayed a monumental degree of trust, and that was something he could not take lightly.

Ed shrugged, the corner of his mouth tilting upward as he considered Roy's jibe. “Yeah, well, I know where you sleep. And if I beat the shit out of you, no one would think twice anyway, 'cause they all know you're a girlfriend-stealing bastard.” Abruptly the grin vanished, and Ed was staring at him with surprisingly candid eyes. “I know you wouldn't step out of line with her,” he told Roy, quite seriously. “And I know if she's in any kind of trouble, there's no one better than you to help her out of it.”

When did this happen? Roy wondered in amazement. There was no hesitation in Ed's request, nothing less than utter belief in Roy, and it shook him to his core because he understood what this meant. There were very few people whom Ed trusted unequivocally, and to be included in that number was something he had never expected, no matter what past they shared. Despite his antipathy toward Merisel he replied, “I'd be honored,” and meant it quite truthfully.

Ed nodded, his expression melting into a contented smile that Roy couldn't help but mirror. “Thanks,” the young alchemist told him. “I feel a lot better, knowing there's someone around to look after her.”

And with that, there was no way Roy could possibly bring up his concerns about the relationship, not with Ed looking so relaxed and pleased. It was with mixed emotions that he bid Ed a good evening as he set off, valise in hand, to spend the night with Merisel before departing in the morning.

The good news, Roy thought glumly as he settled on the empty sofa, is that she'll probably never call.

*****


The mission was to have taken a week, but after only four days Ed called the office, and told Roy that the factory he'd been sent to investigate was creating far worse things than alchemized gold.

Whole fucking place stinks of alchemy,” he stated. “Lots more than would be needed to make gold. It feels almost like...

“Human transmutation?” Roy rubbed his face, feeling a headache coming on. Not that, please, not another person foolish enough...

Nah. Not that. But still pretty big. Chimeras, maybe.” There was an odd hitch in Ed's voice, one which Roy thought he could possibly puzzle out if only he could see the young man's eyes as he spoke. But they were separated by a day and a half of hard rail travel and a small mountain range, and he had only the whispery, echoing telephone line for a gauge.

“Do you need backup?” He asked this now, instead of assuming Fullmetal could handle matters by himself, hoping that perhaps Edward might one day accept assistance instead of seeing just how close to death he could scrape. Funny how he worried more for Ed now than he ever had when Fullmetal was little more than a brash young punk with more mouth than common sense.

Of course then, he'd had Alphonse with him. But his brother lived in Riesembul now, well away from military assignments and mad alchemists and power-hungry idiots.

Ed made a disparaging noise, rattling down the line like a box of pebbles. “Nah, they'd just get in the way. I can handle this one, I just wanted you to know it's gonna take longer than we thought.

“Don't take any unnecessary risks,” Roy admonished. “If things get too dangerous, back off, call me, and I'll send in reinforcements. That's an order, Fullmetal.”

Yeah, yeah. Look, you know I don't go out of my way to get in trouble.

It was Roy's turn to snort.

Fuck you, I don't. Just... shut up, Mustang.” Ed sounded cross, but also a little amused. There was a pause, and then he added, “Have you heard from Merisel?

Where he had earlier wished the distance between them closed, Roy was now thankful for it, as he made a sour face. “I haven't heard anything from her. I assume everything is all right?” A question, because Ed had surely been calling her, and if he was asking...

There was silence down the line. Then, “I don't know. I haven't been able to reach her since I got in town, and I thought...” Another pause. “Fuck, I don't know what I thought. Just... lemme know if you hear from her, okay?

Roy felt as though his face could have been carved from stone, no matter that Ed couldn't see him. “I'll let you know immediately if I do,” he promised, and tried to ignore the sharp bursts of anger that wanted to flare. He didn't know anything; this could be entirely innocent, a misunderstanding. Merisel could be out with friends, or visiting family, or doing any number of things that were not the unscrupulous scenarios his mind immediately leapt to. “Would you like me to call on her, make sure she's fine?”

Ed sighed. “No. I'm sure I'll catch her soon, I just wondered. Speaking of, I should probably try calling her now.

“Have a good evening, then.” Roy said. “Take care of yourself.

Laughter. “I'm not a kid, Mustang. Don't worry about me.

“I worry about the letters of grievances I receive after all of your missions,” Roy smirked. “I've got a file cabinet full of the damn things. You should read them sometime.”

You keep some really strange things,” Ed snickered again. “'Night, bastard.

“Goodnight Edward.”

*****


The next time Roy heard from Ed, some eight days later, the young alchemist was four towns away from where he'd started, responsible for only one structural collapse, and currently accused of starting a riot. He hadn't yet caught the alchemist he was pursuing, but the evidence was growing and he just knew he was getting close. Oh, and the structure he mentioned? Happened to be a bridge, and “...things are cool, by the way, Merisel's fine.”

What?” Roy roared into the phone, loud enough that heads peeked around the corner to stare at him, half-standing, hand in a painful ball where he'd slammed it down against his desk. “A bridge? A riot? Fullmetal, what in the hell are...”

For once, Ed wasn't the one shouting. “Fuck, Mustang, I told you, it's okay. I'll take care of all that shit, I told them I would, don't know why the fuck they're bitching about it...

Roy pinched the bridge of his nose, trying very hard not to shout. Beneath his elbow, brown stains were spreading across the daily reports from the coffee cup he'd upset. “A bridge, Fullmetal. Without even going into the engineering considerations of constructing a new one, did you not stop and think...”

I know, I get it, whatever, can we move on now? This is important!

“And a riot?”

It was unintentional. But it turned out to be pretty decent cover. Got me into the militia headquarters, which I'd been wondering how to do. Look, I didn't call so you could bitch me out.

Roy opened his mouth to reply, but paused, a deepening line creasing his brow. “Reports indicate that the Brownfield plantation militia has been locked down and surrounded by the local law enforcement for over thirty six hours.”

I don't have a lot of time right now, you gonna keep wasting it with this bullshit?

“You're calling me from inside there, aren't you?”

Silence.

Sitting ramrod stiff, adrenaline soaring through his veins, Roy asked in a careful, precisely moderated tone, his control strained to the breaking point, “And just how, exactly, does this constitute not taking unnecessary risks?

I told you- I'm close. I've almost got this guy. Some of the shit he's making... I can't let him him get away with it. I won't. Now listen, you wanted me to ask for help when I needed it. Well, here's me asking.

Part of him wanted to scream that this was not what he meant at all, but Ed was asking for help and his worried mind kicked into gear, trained for action no matter the circumstances. “What do you need?”

I need the power cut to the plantation. If you can manage that, I'll be able to take care of the rest.

A few hundred miles and a mountain range apart. Roy rested his head on his hand, still clutching the telephone like a lifeline. “This may take a little time.”

As long as you can get it done sometime in the next twelve hours or so, that should be okay. Outside of that, and things get trickier.

Roy was sure he didn't want to know how.

“I'll get right on it. Anything else?”

Nah, that was it. Oh, but if you hear from her, tell Merisel why I didn't call the past few nights. She's probably mad at me.

You're hiding inside an aggressive rogue militia's stronghold, in pursuit of an alchemist suspected of making chimeras who is probably working with that militia, and you're worried your girlfriend is getting pissy about you not calling. There is a flaw in this logic. Gritting his teeth, Roy said, “I'll pass it on. Now if that was everything, I'd better get on with your request. But I expect a call from you immediately once this is resolved, no excuses. Do you understand? Before the dust even settles, you get back on the damn phone!”

Fuck, okay! Don't get so worked up, everything's gonna be fi-... Shit, gotta go.

The line went dead against his ear.

*****


For the next three days the headquarters was a whirlwind of activity, a constant flow of paperwork and personnel between his office and Investigations. The power loss Ed had requested was easily accomplished within a space of hours, but this also had the effect of taking out most of their sources of communication with the plantation. Which was just far enough outside of town to put a long delay in messages from the military's local contacts.

As the Colonel was putting his coat on to leave the office, his phone rang. Ed, sounding tired but pleased, almost smug. “I got the asshole.

“Fullmetal.” One sleeve on, half the coat hanging limp down his back. Roy leaned against the desk, heart thudding painfully in his chest. “Took you long enough to let us know.”

There was a little clean up to do before I could call. Point is, I got the shit who was making those things. And the militia is broken up, the local authorities are chasing down the last of them now. I'm just wrapping my end of things up, and then I'll be heading back with my report.

He took a long, quiet breath. “Were you injured?”

No, I'm fine.

“Would I think you were fine, if I could see you right now?”

Shut up, bastard, I said I'm fine. I'll be on the train tomorrow.

A small smile crept across the Colonel's face, relief allowing his humor to surface once more. “What about the bridge?”

What? The ... oh, shit. I forgot about that.

“So I see. Will you be able to repair the structure, or should I request Major Armstrong to attend to it?”

No... I can do it. Was just in a hurry to get back. Fuck, all right, it won't take that long. Won't be able to get away tomorrow then, but I'll be on the next train out.

The smile on Roy's face grew. “Travel safely.”

*****


The next evening, as he read his newspaper on the sofa, Roy's telephone rang. He rose to answer it, mind still occupied with the article he'd been reading, and was surprised when it was a familiar woman's voice that greeted him on the other end of the line. “Colonel Mustang?

Recognition summoned his thoughts back to the present, and reflexive courtesy took over. “Call me Roy, Merisel. There's no need to be so formal when I'm not at work.. What can I do for you?”

I just wanted to pass on a message,” she told him. “Ed called a little while ago. He's having trouble with the bridge, and thinks he'll be a few days longer. I thought you might want to know.

He did, and thanked her for the consideration. “I would hope that he'd have called the office to inform us, but however the information arrives, it's appreciated. Edward is a law unto himself.”

Merisel laughed, low and rich. “Yes, he is that. Although I imagine you have ways of keeping him under control.

Roy frowned at the comment, hearing things unsaid beneath her words. “Not really. I can try and predict which way he'll move, but that isn't very easy.”

So modest,” she purred, and something prickled hot and cold along his skin. “But you've commanded him for years, I'm sure you've figured all sorts of ways around him by now.

“What are you implying?” He knew, oh god, he already knew, but he had to hear her say it, had to have more than merely the suspicion...

I'm lonely tonight.” A smoky smile curled through her voice and despite his disgust, Roy's body responded to the intimations. “And I'm good at keeping secrets.”

His mind spun; auburn curls stretched across his pillows. Her body, lithe and receptive beneath his own, pert breasts exposed, slender legs splaying. That mocking little mouth greedy against his own, and lower, taking him like a whore...

Roy never hesitated. “Don't call here again.”

Excuse me?” The sultry tone was gone, vanished in the ice of her snapped reply.

“I believe I spoke plainly enough. Did you not understand?”

She laughed unpleasantly. “Your reputation really is overblown, Colonel, if you're not man enough to take me up on my offer.

His teeth ground together. “Edward is my friend. And you aren't anything I would want. Don't call again, Merisel.”

As long as Edward lives there, I have every right-!

“You have no right,” he interrupted, voice pitched low but with hard authority in every word. “Not in my house. Never call here again.”

He hung up before she could lash out at him and stood over the telephone, adrenaline trembling through his veins. How long? How many men had she courted, while Ed was away? Did she do this even when he was in town? Roy had known the woman was bad news, had seen what she was but, damn it all, he'd wanted to be wrong! Ed could have lorded it over him forever and he wouldn't have minded one bit, if only she didn't turn out to be the deceptive, selfish minx he suspected. How many?

This was going to break Ed apart. And after everything he'd put into the relationship, all the bullshit he'd endured, it just wasn't fair. Ed didn't know enough yet to hold something of his heart back when he shared it. It didn't occur to him to protect himself; he gave everything, and damn the consequences. Impotent rage and deep sorrow filled Roy, knowing very well that there could be no good end to this now.

The telephone shrilled loudly, and Roy took a quick step back, startled. He stared as the thing pealed again, demanding, then backed away, reaching for his coat and sliding into his boots.

Most likely, the caller was Merisel, wanting to have the final word. But it was just as likely to be Ed, reporting in about the delay. And Roy didn't want to talk to either one of them. If that bitch was calling, he was certain he'd say or do something he'd later regret. And if it was Ed... he couldn't lie to Ed. If he spoke with him, the truth would come out, and if there was one thing he knew with absolute clarity, it was that Ed didn't need to receive this news over the phone. He wanted to tell him, and he would, but not like this. Not now.

Patting his pocket to make sure his keys were there, Roy wrenched the coat on and left the ringing phone at his back, hurrying out into the evening with a brisk stride.

*****


go back ~*~ go forward
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September 2011

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