"From the worst of times," someone had once told a young Roy Mustang, "always come the greatest of gifts." They were the words that had got him through Ishval, as much as Maes' broken smile and Riza's grim stare. They had almost failed him while he stood over his best friend's grave, before the voice that had spoken them took on Maes' laughing tones, preserving his voice even when Roy had started to forget the turn of his smile when he started in on how he needed a wife already.
In Maes' voice, those accursed words had sheltered him as he stumbled towards the Promised Day, had kept his spine straight and his arm unshaking as Riza whispered angles and directions in his ear, clapping and snapping to set aflame a monster that he couldn't see.
He balanced between Maes' voice and his team's support as he relearnt how to see, as he returned to Ishval and stood tall under hard stares and broke his back rebuilding a city with the same sweat and tears that he'd once used to tear it down. He found the promise of gifts in the red eyes of a young girl when she brought him water, in the smiles on his back when he finally allowed himself to be ordered back to Central.
Saw it written across the notice of promotion sat on the desk between himself and Führer Grumman as he said, "I need my successor here."
Three months after his return, Central Command exploded.
"From the worst of times–"
"Shut up, Maes," Roy hissed at the figment of his imagination, hands pressed tight against the field bandage he'd made from his dusty uniform and wrapped around Riza's forehead. They'd been in one of the centre hallways when everything had come crashing down around them, and while Roy's panicked clap may have kept them from being buried, it hadn't saved them, not really. He couldn't risk digging them out, not when the attempt could endanger other soldiers trapped above and around them, not when a single shifted stone could set the whole building resettling.
And he couldn't even use flame alchemy to make sure Maes hadn't suddenly come back as a ghost to haunt him, because they needed that oxygen just in case...
"–come the greatest–" Maes continued, as undeterred by Roy's anger as ever.
"I will kill you if you don't shut up!"
Maes was quiet for a moment, and Roy couldn't relax, knew–
"You realise I'm already dead."
Roy closed his eyes and touched the tender spot at the back of his head, where Riza's revolver had hit him when she'd collapsed onto him. Because as soon as he'd knelt to set off the array that had saved their lives, she'd leant over him, taking the one piece of ceiling that he'd missed to the head, so the transmutation hadn't failed half-finished.
He drew in a careful breath, tasting dust and stale air, heralds of the end. "Why are you here?" he asked, and he was almost assuredly going insane, but it had been a constant decline since Ishval; finding true madness buried under the rubble of the old regime while slowly suffocating to death seemed quite poetic, actually.
"You're not going to die," Maes insisted, like he could read his mind. (He probably could, when Roy thought about it. In life, Maes Hughes had been able to read Roy's body language and the tone of his voice better than anyone, save his aunt; in death, what's to say he hadn't graduated to mind-reading.) "I told you–"
Roy waved one hand around him at the absolute darkness, a reminder of months being blind. "What sort of gifts am I supposed to find at the bottom of Central's–"
The coughing fit caught him off guard, and he curled over Riza's prone form in an attempt to keep the pressure on her wound as he tried to get the blockage of dust out of his throat, tried to keep breathing without breathing too much.
Maes was quiet as Roy caught his breath, as he swallowed down the scrape of powdered stone and closed his eyes against the burn of his throat, the sympathetic burn of his eyes.
Roy drew in a careful breath, held it for as long as he could, and just before he had to let it out, he heard it, a distant voice calling for survivors. A voice that was just as familiar and out of place as Maes', because that voice was supposed to be mangling Cretan, not–
Roy took a careful breath, barely kept from coughing, and it was all too familiar to shout, "Fullmetal!"
There was a brief silence, then Edward's voice came again, shouting for shovels, for them to put their backs into it, for someone to "Get Armstrong, you assholes are fucking useless!"
It was good to hear his voice again, even if it was just another hallucination.
"Don't waste this, Roy," Maes whispered in his ear as Roy gave in to the grasping darkness that went hand-in-hand with too-thin air.
(As if he wasn't already trapped in absolute darkness.)
It was probably the voices that woke him, a quiet murmur just loud enough to serve as the figurative bee in his ear. He opened his eyes, expecting utter blackness – always expecting it; six years of sight hadn't been enough to wipe away the certainty of blindness, he doubted any amount of time would be enough – and having to slam his eyes closed when the whiteness around him nearly undid all of Marcoh's hard work and made the headache he almost hadn't noticed roar its displeasure.
He wasn't sure if he'd let out the groan he'd tried swallowing down, or if the movement of his eyes had caught their attention, but the voices immediately went quiet. Footsteps moved closer, and it was months of blindness that let him recognise Breda, and Fuery's steps. There was another set, too, slightly uneven and with the hint of a drag, but he didn't have time to wonder over it before the person had stopped moving and Breda was asking, "Sir? Are you awake?"
Roy swallowed, grimacing at the rough scrape of his abused throat. As much as he wanted water, he could remember the darkness that had come before, which had reminded him so strongly of his brush with blindness, and who he'd been trapped in there with. "Hawkeye?" he rasped.
"She's sleeping in the bed next to you," Breda was quick to reassure him, and Roy felt like something heavy had just eased the press against his chest.
"She woke up about an hour ago," Fuery added. "Started bossing us around first thing; Jean ran to go check on Black Hayate, and now he and Vato are managing things at Command."
Roy nodded. "Rescue effort?" he guessed. And, yeah, he could really do with some water, probably, but Central Command had just come down around all their heads and– "You're all okay?" he managed to get out without a grimace (barely) at the drag of his throat, turning towards where his subordinates' voices had been coming from.
The third pair of footsteps – the uneven set with a hint of a drag; why was the sound familiar? Why couldn't he place the owner? – suddenly started up again and Fuery let out a startled, "Ed!" as the gleam of too-bright lights behind Roy's eyelids vanished.
Roy took a chance and squinted one eye open. Upon finding the room's lights off – there was a hint of early evening light coming through the closed blinds behind him, just enough to see by – he opened both his eyes fully and found himself faced with two very dusty subordinates and an even dustier Edward Elric, who was leaning back against the wall next to the door, his usual golden gleam muted by the low lights and the covering of dust, looking somewhere between disgusted and amused.
"Water's next to you, bastard," Ed said, and the insult was a taste of something that Roy hadn't even realised he'd been missing until it had slotted easily into an empty space in his chest. "You're making my damn throat hurt, and you're not so much an invalid that you can't lift a fucking glass."
Roy flashed him a grin that was probably a little too honest, a little too relieved, but he didn't care. "Not an hallucination," he realised before turning to find the mentioned glass.
There was a beat of silence, then the floor lit with a triangle of light for a brief moment, and when Roy looked back up, Ed was gone. He turned a frown on Fuery and Breda.
The two men traded uncertain frowns, then Breda shrugged and shook his head. "Kain was off-site, handling that faulty relay," he offered, and Roy nodded as he shifted so he could actually get a drink from the glass of water, remembering the request that had been sent through that morning about the telephone relay down by the station that had been acting up since the night before. "I was over in Investigations, having a...lively debate–" Roy couldn't resist a snort, and Breda flashed him a quick grin "–with Colonel Fokker about that one incident last month."
Roy nodded, showing he remembered the particular mess that had set Breda and Fokker at each other's throats, and understood the unspoken reminder that some things should not be spoken of in depth in an unsecured hospital room. That said, if the colonel had survived the explosion, Roy expected he would find another strongly worded complaint about his subordinate's inability to respect rank in his next batch of paperwork. (He liked to claim it was all Edward's fault, but he knew it was more due to everything his team had suffered at the whims of Bradley and Father.)
"Jean and Vato had come to, ah, collect me for lunch," Breda continued, staunchly ignoring Fuery's knowing cough, "when the explosions started."
"Sorry," Roy managed, his throat greatly soothed by the slow sips of water he'd been taking during Breda's report, "explosions? Plural?" And now he could spot the hint of too-white bandaging around Breda's left upper arm, a sure sign of a recently treated wound; he suspected that, were they there, he would find similar signs of minor wounds on Havoc and Falman. Fuery was fine, had been practically on the other side of the city when the explosions would have gone off. Still, it was a relief to know that his team were all okay before he realised the danger they'd been in.
Breda's expression turned grim and he managed a nod before the door of the room opened and a doctor stepped in, the light from the hallways silhouetting him. The doctor paused in the doorway, and when he reached for the light switch just inside the room, a hand shot out from behind him and covered it. "You need light, someone can open the blinds," Edward said, his tone so completely cool and no-nonsense, Roy almost didn't recognise it for a moment.
He had about half a minute to be grateful for Ed's unexpected thoughtfulness, before the young man added, "You turn them on, you're gonna wake up Hawkeye, and she's got her gun under her pillow."
The doctor's head very obviously turned towards the bed beyond Roy's for a moment and he swallowed audibly before nodding. "Right." He stepped more fully into the room and the light from the blinds painted lines of shadow across his face and chest, giving Roy the chance to make out eyes that were honed to observe everything about a patient, and stubble that spoke to a long shift in the hospital. "How are you feeling, Führer Mustang?" he asked, his tone no-nonsense.
"I'm–" Roy started before what the doctor had called him sank in. "What?"
"Shit," he heard Breda whisper.
Fuery cleared his throat and his expression was tight when Roy turned to him, feeling a little lost. "The initial explosion was in Führer Grumman's office. There's been no sign that he survived, so–"
Roy nodded, closing his eyes and barely resisting the urge to rub at the growing ache of his headache. Hell. "I'm fine," he declared, setting the glass back on the table and reaching to push his blankets off; he needed to be at Central Command, seeing to the rescue efforts, showing people that their new Führer cared, that he was willing to get his hands dirty. "Discharge me."
"Sir, I really should insist–" the doctor started, frowning, and it really must have been a long shift for him, because Roy could hear weariness in his tone, now, winning against the no-nonsense tone he'd opened with.
"Do I have a concussion?"
"No, sir, but–"
"Am I bleeding profusely from anywhere?"
"No, sir, however–"
Roy pinned him with an icy look and the man shut up.
And then, Roy wasn't staring at the doctor, but Edward, who had clearly gone through a growth spurt, because he was a lot taller than Roy remembered, and had his eyes always been that stunning shade of gold? No matter the physical changes, he was as disrespectful as ever, one hand coming up and shoving hard against Roy's chest, sending him back onto his pillows with enough force that he bounced a bit. "Lay down, shut the fuck up, and stay put before I put another lump on your head, you stupid bastard," Ed ordered.
Roy was aware of Breda and Fuery discreetly leading the gaping doctor from the room, even as he focussed his best glare on his former subordinate. "Excuse me, Fullmetal, but–"
Edward clapped his hands together and Roy couldn't help but flinch, the reaction automatic after years watching that particular motion precede destruction. The blond flashed him a smile that was all teeth. "Look at that," he said, amusement colouring his voice, even though his golden eyes were as icy as Briggs, "no alchemy. Can't be the Fullmetal Alchemist, can I?"
Roy resisted the urge to wince at the reminder. "Edward–" he tried, going for cajoling, because orders had never worked on Edward Elric.
"Führer Bastard," Edward returned, and Roy could actually see the moment he got stuck with that title for the rest of his life because Ed liked the sound of it. "Huh."
Roy closed his eyes. "I do not require medical attention–"
"You weren't breathing when we found you," Edward informed him, and Roy opened his eyes to find his former subordinate wearing a cool expression that didn't suit him, didn't match that hint of a tremor that he hadn't managed to keep out of his voice.
Roy swallowed and forced himself to appear unruffled. "And I am now, as you can–"
Gold eyes flashed with a familiar spark of anger before it was quickly hidden away. "You sound like you swallowed gravel, your earlier reaction to the light suggests–"
"That I'd been sleeping and just woke up!" Roy snapped, shoving Edward back just enough that he had the space to get out on the other side of the bed. "My eyes are sensitive to light because of the–" he waved his hand in the air "–that." Edward would know what he meant; those of them who had seen the Gate always knew.
"It's probably the only part of you that is sensitive," Ed muttered, quiet enough that Roy could pretend he hadn't heard him.
Roy stood from the bed, closing his eyes against the rush of dizziness that he'd known would come – okay, so the headache meant he probably shouldn't be going out and pushing it, but he wasn't going to be a Führer who sat back and watched; Maes would never forgive him – and once it had passed, he started around the bed, casting about for any clothing that wasn't the too-thin hospital clothes he was wearing.
Edward had retreated to the wall next to the light switch again, leaning back against it with a closed expression. "The second explosion went off in your office," he announced, a bomb all of his own to set Roy's life reeling. And then he turned the lights on.
Roy grabbed for the end of his bed, slamming his eyes shut against the flare of pain in his head. "Edward," he snarled.
"You get back in bed, I turn the light back off," Edward offered, sounding almost apologetic, nothing like the smugness Roy had expected.
"Sir," said a cold voice from behind Roy, and he couldn't help but flinch at the level of restrained murder in it, "get in bed."
Roy quickly felt his way back into bed. "Lovely to hear your voice, Colonel," he offered as the room light turned back off again.
"Likewise, sir," Riza replied, and her no-nonsense tone – so familiar after years hearing it in the office and at his side while they were working to rebuild Ishval – was far more soothing than it had any right to be. "Edward, sit down before you damage your leg more than you already have."
Roy turned to watch as Ed grimaced and obediently brought a chair over to the side of Roy's bed – between Roy and the door – and settled into it. And Roy didn't know how he'd missed how stiffly Ed was moving his automail leg, not even trying to bend it. Well, at least now he knew what the dragging noise had been. "What did you do?" he demanded.
Ed stared at him for a moment, his expression – always so open before – blank. Finally, he shrugged, a neat little roll of his shoulders that looked lopsided, like he still wasn't used to having two complete arms, even after six years. "I kicked a boulder," he said, and something flickered in his eyes, something so utterly familiar, Roy didn't need but that brief glimpse to know he was only getting – at most – a quarter of the story.
He didn't push it, couldn't read Ed well enough to know if he'd be jabbing into an old wound or opening the way for a humorous tale. "Well," he said instead, "at least that answers why you're back in Amestris. Should I ask why you're in Central? Last I heard, Miss Rockbell was in Rush Valley."
Ed snorted, and he was suddenly an open book again, his eyes glinting with good humour and his mouth curling up into a smirk that he must have stolen from Roy. "My train from the border got in this morning, and when I saw Kain at the station, I decided to come say hi. And we got to talking, and he invited me to lunch with everyone, and I agreed, because, honestly? I'm not looking forward to having a wrench thrown at my head."
"If you'd write–" Roy started, because he'd heard enough griping through the grapevine to know that half of the young Miss Rockbell's problem with her childhood friend was that he didn't bother keeping in contact while he was on the road.
"You have no idea how fucking hard it is to post shit to Amestris when all our neighbours are waiting for us to start declaring war again," Ed re-joined with a completely unnecessary amount of cheer. "I admit, I was tempted to try my luck when I came across a someone selling a sense of responsibility in Drachma, though."
Roy sighed. "Thank you for your consideration, Full–Edward," he replied drily, barely catching his slip.
The smile Ed flashed him was very much him as a teenager, standing on the other side of Roy's desk and poking at a weak spot and knowing he'd hit his mark, even as Roy struggled to keep his cool. "Anyway," he continued, and his smile vanished, "I was just finishing helping Kain pack up his tools for lunch when the explosions started. We made our way to Command as soon as we could, and they'd only just decided it should be safe to start shifting rubble when we got in."
The door to the room opened and Falman and Havoc stepped in, both looking exhausted and dusty. "We got spelled," Havoc offered to the curious frowns sent their way. "Sent Heymans and Kain out to take our places." He dragged a chair over next to Ed and slumped into it backwards. "Good to see you up, Chief. Had us all a bit panicked when the boss and Alex pulled you two out."
"So I've been given to understand," Roy replied drily, before turning to Falman, who looked just as tired as Havoc, but was standing stiffly by the door. "Vato, sit down. And one of you fill me in."
Havoc looked uncertain, while Falman hid his discomfort by taking his time fetching the last chair against the wall and dragging it over to sit between Riza and Roy's beds. "How much did Heymans tell you?" Havoc asked, thoughtlessly digging out his pack of cigarettes and tapping one out.
"The first explosion was in Grumman's office–" Roy sidled a glance towards Riza, and when she didn't react, he guessed she'd been warned when she was awake earlier about her grandfather's status "–and he is MIA, presumed dead, leaving me his position. The second explosion was my office."
Havoc shot Ed a betrayed look and he shrugged, unapologetic. "He tried leaving."
Havoc sighed and nodded, rolling his cigarette between his fingers, close enough to his face that he would be able to smell the tobacco; it was one of the signs that he had some particularly shitty news and needed a smoke to calm his nerves, but knew he couldn't. "There were six explosions in all, each about a minute apart," he reported tiredly. "Führer Grumman's office, yours, General Bess's office, two in the mess, and one in the dorms."
Roy closed his eyes and gave into the urge to rub at the inner corners, unbothered at showing the minor weakness to his team. Robert Bess was, according to the gossips, the next in line for the Führership after Roy himself, something which both Roy and Bess had laughed over, because Bess didn't want to be Führer. "Casualties," he requested quietly, not sure he wanted to know, because it had been the beginning of the regular lunch break; hell, he and Riza had been heading for the officer's mess above the general mess when the explosion had gone off.
There was a momentary silence, and then Falman grimly reported, "When we left, we had confirmed four casualties and twenty-three wounded, six of whom are critical. However, there are still over fifty men and women unaccounted for, most of whom are expected to be in the mess. Of the brass, General Bess and Major General Colt are both in critical condition and currently in surgery, Lieutenant General Peabody and Major General Vickers are both dead, and Brigadier Generals Hashim and Lee are both among the wounded, though only Lee is still in hospital."
Counting himself, that was nearly everyone above the rank of Colonel currently stationed in Central off their feet or, in Grumman's case, missing. "Lieutenant General Spencer?" he requested.
"He was taking a personal day to help with his son, who's ill," Falman reported. "He's currently leading the rescue efforts."
Roy nodded; Mark Spencer was a good man, very focussed on his family and reasonable to the men under his control. He and Roy got on fairly well, though Spencer had some beliefs regarding Ishvalans that he'd taken from Bradley's administration, and they'd long agreed to disagree about the matter. He'd been stationed in West City during the Promised Day, and had been one of the three members of the brass who hadn't complained when Grumman dragged Roy and his team up from Ishval and promoted him three ranks, the other two being Bess and Olivier Armstrong. "Have they reached the officer mess?"
"Yes, sir," Falman agreed, and Roy guessed that most of the brass had been in there, save those of them that had been in the halls or their office.
"Alex was returning to help clear the way to the mess when we left," Havoc offered, the words slightly slurred, and Roy looked over to find the man had stuck his cigarette in the corner of his mouth and had clearly already been chewing on it. Havoc offered him a tired smile. "He got ordered to take a break, but he just went over to the dorms for an hour and helped out over there."
Roy felt his mouth quirk with a half-smile; if he and Riza weren't stuck in hospital, he had no doubt that his team and himself would have been avoiding rest right along with Alex.
His smile fell as his mind turned to everything that lay before them. "As soon as they've reached the mess and cleared it, we need to know where the explosion there originated, same for in the dorms. Extraction takes priority, but we need to start figuring out who was behind this. Tell Heymans to start working on that as soon as he can, and to grab as many Investigations people as he can to assist."
"Sir!" Falman replied, standing from his chair. He was out the door before Roy could say anything more. Which, well, that had been the important thing, so...
"Sir," Hawkeye called, and Roy looked over at her. "You were a direct target; until we have the culprit or culprits in hand, you need to remain with at least two of us." She gingerly reached up and touched the large bandage covering her forehead. "I'm not sure I should count."
Roy frowned. "Is your aim unduly impaired?"
Riza considered that for a moment, then pulled out her gun – Ed had been telling the truth, it was under her pillow, not that Roy had ever doubted – and pointed at the far side of the room. The light switch was taken out with a single bullet, and Havoc let out a muffled snort of amusement. Roy looked back at Riza to find her considering her handiwork for a moment before shaking her head. "No, sir, but I do report a headache, which may serve as a distraction, and I'm told I have a concussion."
Roy resisted the urge to rub at his forehead and chance giving away his own headache. "Jean, find an empty bed, you and Vato can take shifts."
"Fuck that," Ed interrupted, leaning forward and grabbing something out from under Roy's pillow. "Jean, get Falman and both of you find somewhere to crash. Anyone tries anything, I'm still capable of kicking them in the face while Hawkeye shoots them." Then he tossed one of Roy's ignition gloves in his face. "Couldn't find the other one."
Roy quickly pulled his glove on, feeling far better at the familiar weight of it. "You heard him, Lieutenant Colonel. Get out of here," he ordered.
Havoc looked past Roy, towards Riza, and he resisted the urge to sigh at the reminder that he didn't, actually, have any control over his adjunct or his men. "Edward," Riza started, "your leg–"
"Is at about eighty percent," Ed cut in, rolling his eyes. "Hawkeye, seriously, everyone's dead on their feet from shifting rubble, and I'm not allowed to help any more because the rubble is unsteady or some shit and if I trip it's a liability suit or whatever that fucking colonel with a stick shoved up his ass was bitching about. Winry's already agreed to come here, so I might as well be useful while I wait for her."
Riza sighed. "Get some rest, Jean," she decided, and Havoc ran for it before she could change her mind.
Ed's victory smile was all teeth, and he pushed his chair across the floor until he could see both Roy and the door. "So, other than exploding buildings and you getting back to Central, what have I missed?"
They spent a while catching Ed up on things. It was clear he'd heard some of it from Fuery and possibly Miss Rockbell, because he nodded knowingly at a few things, and he didn't pursue mentions of his brother or the Rockbells. Ed did seem interested in hearing about Gracia and Elicia, and since Roy had taken to keeping tabs on them in the name of his best friend, he was happy to update the young man.
He was just in the middle of telling Ed about Elicia's most recent birthday party, which had been shortly after his return to Central, when there was a commotion in the hallway. Edward was on his feet and standing between Roy and the doorway before the handle even twitched, and Roy was surprised at the speed of his reaction, even though his own fingers were poised to snap, the array on the back of his glove warming with the heat of ready activation. It was just hard, sometimes, to remember exactly how quickly Edward could move when he cared, especially since Roy hadn't seen him since before he'd lost the automail arm and its added weight.
It was Fuery who stepped into the room, his eyes bright behind his glasses, which looked to have been hurriedly wiped clean recently. Roy felt his shoulders slump with relief and heard Riza's own quiet sound of relief behind him. As Ed settled carefully back in his chair, Fuery stepped forward and gave a respectful nod to Roy. "Führer Grumman's been found, alive," he announced, and Roy closed his eyes, grateful, even as he knew the news couldn't be all good, not with how long it had taken to find the man.
"He was down near the mess when the explosions started and he's in a bit of a bad way," Fuery continued. "They're taking him off to surgery now, and while the doctor I spoke to seems to think he'll survive, he can't promise when the Führer will be able to return to duty, if ever." Without any prompting, unless Riza or Ed had made a motion, Fuery explained, "His right arm from his elbow down and most of his right leg got pinned under a large piece of the ceiling. The doctor said they'll try to save his arm and leg, but he expects they'll have to amputate at least one of them."
Which meant that Roy was very likely stuck as Führer. He'd reached his dream position, but this was hardly the way he'd expected to do so, and the new rank left a bitter taste in his mouth. "I see. Do you have an update on the casualties?" he requested, finally opening his eyes and looking at Fuery again.
Fuery's expression was grim, no longer lit by the relief in his eyes. "Yes, sir. General Bess is out of surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though the doctors warn he'll very likely be required to remain in bed for the first month, and be restricted to light duties for a month or more after that."
Roy grimaced and nodded; he and Bess had been the only two full generals in the military, part of Grumman's plan to scale back the military's influence, which meant he was going to be doing the work of three people for a while. "Noted."
Fuery took a deep breath, then reported, "Major General Colt died about twenty minutes ago. Current count has twenty-two casualties, nine of which are a major or above; seventy-eight wounded, fifteen of which are critical, including the Führer; and we still have approximately thirty people unaccounted for."
God, it was the Promised Day all over again. He turned to his adjunct. "Riza," he said, knowing he didn't need to say more, that she'd understand his request, even if she'd hate it.
Riza closed her eyes, her expression tight. "You were a target, sir," she said, but her tone suggested she'd already given in, that she was just trying to figure out how to lessen the danger.
"I know," he replied, because he did, because he knew that he was very likely still a target, but with Grumman in surgery and Bess trapped in bed for an extended period, he needed to show the country and the military both that they weren't flailing in the wind.
Riza took a deep breath. "Captain," she started, and Fuery came to attention so fast, Roy expected to hear something crack, "please find the Führer's doctor and have him come here, then drag Havoc out of bed and collect a couple soldiers who are loitering to serve as a guard." Fuery saluted and Riza turned to Roy as the other man left. "You will stay with at least one member of our team and at least two other soldiers at all times. I find out you've disobeyed, I'll shoot both your legs and you'll be trapped in bed."
Roy grimaced, knowing that wasn't an idle threat. "Understood."
"Edward," Riza continued, turning to the last member of the room and gentling her voice, "it's your choice–"
"I made a promise," Ed said quietly. "I'll keep him alive until I can pay him back."
Roy started – he'd forgotten about that conversation – and held out a hand. "I'm Führer now, Ed. Pay up."
"Only technically," Edward replied with a flash of a smirk, there and gone. "I'll pay you back at the swearing in ceremony," he added, perfectly serious.
Roy withdrew his hand, offering a smile in response. "Understood."
He was still smiling when the doctor rushed in, looking harried. The man scowled at the broken light switch, but didn't even bother complaining, beyond shooting Riza a quick disapproving look. By the way the doctor paled, Roy wouldn't have been surprised to find that Riza had pointed her gun at the man, but he didn't bother checking, instead announcing, "I'm discharging myself."
The doctor let out a disgusted sound and turned to Edward, who was calmly returning chairs to where they'd been taken from against the wall. "You're not going to stop him this time?"
Ed gave a roll of his shoulders, that same uneven shrug, and didn't bother looking up from the chair he was carrying. "Nope. Stubborn bastard wants to go get himself killed, that's his prerogative."
"If he starts feeling unwell," Riza offered coolly, "Acting Führer Mustang will return to hospital immediately."
Roy bit back a sigh. "As Colonel Hawkeye says," he agreed, even though it would probably prove to be a lie; he had no interest in returning to hospital while Central Command lay in ruins.
The doctor sighed, apparently smart enough to know when he was beaten. "Very well. I'll have one of the nurses bring you a uniform. If that's all?"
Roy cleared his throat. "Do you know anything about Führer Grumman's status?"
The doctor shook his head, expression turning apologetic. "Not yet. I can put you on the list to be notified as soon as he's out of surgery, though."
Roy shook his head. "Have Colonel Hawkeye notified," he ordered, then turned to Riza. "I'll leave Fuery here with you, and Falman can spell him once he's awake. Whatever the news, send them to me."
Riza inclined her head, hiding any sign of relief that she might have felt at the assurance that she be kept in the loop. "Yes, sir."
Roy turned back to the doctor. "Thank you, that will be all."
The doctor sighed, but inclined his head and left them.
"I think you're actually more of a pompous bastard than you were when I left," Ed commented cheerfully.
Roy climbed out of the bed, relieved when the rush of dizziness was briefer that time. "Yes, Ed, that's what happens when I no longer have a subordinate determined to poke tiny holes in my ego," he offered, glancing at the young man from behind his bangs.
Edward blinked. "Was that a reference to my height, old man?"
Roy put on a thoughtful frown. "Was it? I suppose it could be construed as such."
"Oh, fuck you. Why couldn't you have been in your office when that bomb went off?" Ed complained, though it was clear he didn't mean it.
Havoc stepped into the room, looking ruffled and only a little better for his brief nap. "Kain says you're heading out to Command?"
Roy nodded. "You, Edward, and whoever else Kain managed to round up will be going with me. Could you have Kain come in? He'll be remaining with Riza until Vato wakes up."
Ed touched Havoc's shoulder before he could leave. "I'll go; Hawkeye's probably got orders for you." Then he flashed a bright smile and was gone.
Roy would have groaned, but a pretty brunette nurse had taken the closing door from Edward, and he brought up his most charming smile instead. Once he'd collected the replacement uniform from her – his had likely been too much a mess for the hospital staff to consider saving, and they would have had to hunt down an extra set of stars, anyway; even if it was only temporary, he needed to wear his new rank – he relocated to the toilet, leaving Riza to order his team around to her heart's content.
He felt much better once back in uniform, even if it wasn't one of his well-worn sets. Someone had kindly supplied him with an extra glove, and while it was a normal glove, it wouldn't be hard to borrow a couple matches off of a soldier so he could transmute the ignition cloth. The circle wasn't a necessity any more, but it was easier to have it, so he carefully pulled free a few loose threads from his uniform and, with a quick clap, had them forming the shape of his preferred array on the back of the glove, which he then pulled on.
When he stepped back into the room, Havoc, Fuery, Riza, and the three soldiers Fuery had scrounged up – a lance corporal and two privates – were all quick to salute him.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Ed complained while Roy saluted them back. "Are you done primping? Can we go?"
"Patience, Edward," Roy retorted easily, while the three unfamiliar soldiers shot the only civilian disbelieving looks. "Well," Roy added as he very obviously fixed his cuffs, "that's assuming you actually have any."
Edward, rather than losing his temper like Roy had hoped, simply rolled his eyes. "If you'd rather be back in bed, Führer Bastard..."
One of the privates let out an angry sound, and Roy realised it was time to go, before Edward proved that, while his temper may have calmed, he was still a master of pissing everyone else off. "Colonel, Captain," he called to Riza and Fuery in parting as he ushered Ed out the door ahead of him, leaving everyone else to follow on their own time, and trying not to cringe at the bright lights of the hallway. "Please don't tempt anyone to shoot you," he murmured to Ed as the others hurried to catch up.
"I'll consider it," Edward promised, which was really just a variation of 'fuck you' in Edward Elric-speak, but Roy didn't have the energy or time to beat diplomacy into his former subordinate's head, so he had to make do with that.
Soldiers sat slumped in chairs and benches along the halls, every one of them covered in a fine layer of dust. White bandages, very rarely stained with blood, were wrapped around heads and arms and even a couple legs. Nurses and doctors bustled around them, some checking on those in the halls, some walking briskly along on their way to one patient or another. Everyone showed signs of exhaustion, and Roy hurt to know that they would very likely all continue to look so for a few days yet, as the military struggled to recover from the explosions and soldiers who been staying in the dorms struggled to recover whatever was left of their possessions and, until they could repair the dorms, found places to stay.
Still, as exhausted as everyone looked, people perked up as he walked through the halls, taking care to match Edward's slightly slower than usual pace. Soldiers saluted him, some smiling, all of them looking relieved, and Roy knew he'd made the right choice in insisting he be released. He couldn't stop to converse with anyone, needing to get to Central Command, but he did nod in response to most of the salutes.
Once they were outside, the three soldiers formed up around him, leaving Ed to cover his right side, where he'd been walking the whole time, while Havoc took the lead. The hospital was close enough to the main gate that they walked to it, and Roy was grateful for the chance to gather himself before diving into the mess of rescue efforts.
They took one of the lifts up, and passed the other one going down on the way. It was full to capacity with wounded, while a few straggling men and women made their careful ways down the stairs to either side. At the top, the clearing between the covered path down to the street and the gates had been turned into a staging area for wounded, and merrily burning braziers on poles lit the space at regular intervals, while a large bonfire at either end marked the walls overlooking the moat.
They'd gone unnoticed on the lifts, with the poor lighting of the tunnel, but they only made it about halfway to the open gate before someone called, "Is that Mustang?"
And then, from near the first person, someone else exclaimed, "Führer Mustang!"
"Here we go," Roy thought he heard Ed mutter, but people were already moving closer, eyes wide and hopeful as they tried to recognise him past the flickering firelight.
Roy snapped his fingers, calling a bright flame to his right hand, and held it up to light his face. He offered his best smile and the air practically dripped with relief as someone said, "Thank God."
"I'm looking for Lieutenant General Spencer," he called.
A corporal wearing the red patch of a field medic stepped forward, stopping just next to the tense private on Roy's left. "Sir, I'm happy to lead you to him."
Roy inclined his head. "Please do, Corporal."
She smiled. "Yes, sir. And may I say, sir, it's an honest relief to see you on your feet."
"It an honest relief to be on my feet," Roy admitted, and a couple people chuckled. "If you would, Corporal?"
She saluted him, then joined Havoc at the head of the group, taking his place as the leader. The crowd stepped back to let them through, and Roy let his flame go as they moved.
"Showy bastard," Ed muttered.
Roy flashed him a smirk. "Problem, Fu-Edward?"
Ed snorted and glanced at him, his eyes flickering with the motions of the flame around them. "On the contrary, it's almost a relief to know you're never going to change."
Roy almost asked if it bothered the former alchemist, watching other people do what he no longer could, but he bit the words back; Edward Elric had never appreciated anyone making note of his weak points, and this was hardly the time or place to be asking personal questions.
They found Central Command's parade ground almost as well-lit as the main gate platform had been, with massive bonfires placed along the pavement at intervals, and more fire-filled braziers on poles set in the grass and placed carefully among the ruins of the building. Only the wings that sat nearly flush with the east and west walls were still standing, and even they were crumbling around the edges, floors open to the city night air, an occasional desk or bookcase nosing out over the destruction.
A group of tents had been set up to the left of the main gate on a triangle of grass, gas lanterns serving as a far steadier light within, and it was to there that the corporal led them.
They found Spencer in the tent closest to the ruins, sitting tiredly at a desk, his jacket hung carelessly over the back of his chair, and covered in dust and old sweat trails. He had a pile of papers in front of him and was staring down at them as though he wasn't even sure he was awake enough to read, but knowing he needed to. He didn't look up at their approach, only offering a tired, "I told you to rest, Lieutenant Colonel," when Havoc called his name.
Roy stepped calmly through his guard and moved Havoc out of the way with a light hand on his shoulder before touching Spencer's shoulder. "Mark," he said gently.
Spencer's head snapped up and he stared at Roy for a long moment, like he wasn't sure he wasn't hallucinating, and then he slumped back in his chair. "Mustang, God. When I heard where the explosions had gone off..." He shook his head and offered Roy an exhausted smile. "The last thing I wanted was to get stuck with the Führership."
Roy resisted the urge to grimace at the idea of Spencer leading Amestris, given his distaste for the Ishvalans. "It looks like we both got lucky, this time," he allowed before shaking his head. "Give me your report on the situation and then go home."
Spencer frowned uncertainly. "Sir, aren't you supposed to be in hospital?"
"I was released," Roy replied with a careless shrug, then he pinned the other man with his best 'I'm your superior and you need to explain yourself' stare, which he'd perfected on Edward, for all that the young man had always been immune to it. "Report, Lieutenant General."
Spencer straightened in his chair and quickly set about updating Roy. A lot of it he'd already heard from his own people, though the number of missing personal had gone down, as soldiers who had been avoiding work or didn't have a surviving CO to explain away their absence reported in. They'd cleared out everyone they'd found in the mess, all of the main departmental offices, and all of the offices that included members known for their habit of eating at their desks. Clearing out hallways was proving to be a much harder task, given the narrow confines of those spaces and the uncertainty of where people might have been when they couldn't respond to calls for survivors.
"Once the sun went down," Spencer added tiredly, "we had to halt active excavation, because it just got too dark to keep digging randomly. I sent home everyone who had been working from the start and sent a few remaining men out to pick spots around the rubble and listen for any survivors waking up and calling for help."
Roy nodded; that was probably what he would have done at that point. "Do you have a report about the dorms?" They weren't inside the walls but, rather, out in the city, on the back side of Command. There was a tunnel from them that went under the street and up to the back side of Central Command, serving as a quick way to replenish troops or serve as an escape route in case of a siege, but also an easy passage to block off. It was that passage, Roy knew, that the Briggs troops and the Curtises had taken to get into the building during the Promised Day, Izumi Curtis serving as their tunneler through the defensive blockage.
Spencer sighed and filled Roy in with what little he knew; with both buildings destroyed, there was no quick passage between the dorms and Command, and setting up a phone relay hadn't been a priority, so Spencer had ordered his two highest ranking officers, and then Brigadier General Hashim, once she'd been cleared for duty, down to manage that clean-up, and they sent up reports every few hours, when there was something to report. Like with Command, they'd had to call a halt to the shifting of rubble once the sun had set, and they were as hopeful about finding more survivors as the men and women who had been clearing Command. Which was to say, not very.
Roy nodded once Spencer fell quiet. "Very well. Go home, Mark, and check on your son, then get some sleep; I don't want to see you back here again for at least ten hours. I'll send someone to spell Hashim and your men, as well, and send them home."
Spencer tiredly pushed himself up from the chair. "Thank you, sir."
Roy shook his head and rested a gentle hand on the other man's shoulder. "No, thank you; you kept things from falling completely apart while Führer Grumman, General Bess, and I were indisposed."
Spencer shook his head. "The rescue efforts were already well underway when I made it up here, sir," he admitted before pointing tiredly past Roy, at where Edward was standing with his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. "You have that young man to thank for taking command of everyone and getting them moving. Also, for finding you."
Ah, so Edward had left some things out in his retelling of his and Fuery's parts in the rescue effort. Somehow, Roy wasn't surprised; he knew how little Ed liked being praised as a hero. "Yes, getting people moving is something of a talent of his. Although," Roy couldn't help but muse, "usually he's the reason buildings fall down."
"I should have left you under there, bastard!" Ed snapped, and Spencer's eyes widened in disbelief. Judging from the sounds of the three soldiers who had accompanied Roy from the hospital, they weren't too pleased with the blond's response, either.
Roy barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "You wouldn't have done that to Colonel Hawkeye."
Ed snorted. "True. Pity you were a package deal."
Havoc barked out a laugh before anyone could start acting even more offended by Ed's usual charm. "Boss, I missed you."
Roy glanced back to see the wide grin splitting Ed's face. "I missed you too, Jean."
Roy turned back to Spencer, failing to completely hide the fond smile that had made its way to his face. "Go home, Mark," he ordered.
Spencer shook his head. "Yes, sir," he agreed before turning and walking away, and Roy wondered if the man was going to think this entire conversation had been a dream, come morning.
With a quiet sigh, Roy turned back to the matter at hand and turned to the men behind him. "Private," he said to the nearest one, "I need you to find me two reasonably fresh officers who are a major or above."
The man saluted. "Yes, sir."
As the soldier left, Roy turned to Havoc. "Find Breda and have him report to me, then see if you can't scrounge up a few Communications people; we can't go hunting through the rubble right now, but we don't need daylight to get phone lines set up."
Havoc nodded. "You got it, Chief." He glanced at the remaining private and lance corporal, while Edward stepped past Roy to go digging in the desk drawers. "You two, remain here with the Führer unless you're spelled."
"Sir!" they called, both saluting.
Havoc clapped a friendly hand on Roy's shoulder. "Get rid of them and the first phone call on the new lines will be to Hawkeye," he promised with a wide grin, then hurried off to find the men Roy had requested.
Roy sighed and barely resisted the urge to rub at the lingering headache. Instead, he turned towards Ed and found him considering the stack of papers on the desk, a sort of distant look to his eyes that Roy knew meant he was stuck somewhere in his own head. "Edward, what are you doing?"
"I need paper," Ed admitted absently.
Roy blinked, then shrugged and stepped around the desk. "Let me see if any of these files are useless," he offered, and Edward let out a snort of amusement.
It didn't take Roy long to find an report that had an extra, mostly blank sheet tacked on, and he held it up to his former subordinate, who had taken to half-sitting on the edge of the desk, staring towards the ruins of Command. "Ed. Do you need more than the one sheet, or...?"
"One should do," Ed allowed and turned around to crouch over the part of the desk his butt had been occupying, pulling out a pencil from who knew where to start sketching a circle on the paper.
Roy frowned at him, uncertain what was going through the young man's mind, but was distracted from trying to get an answer by Breda's arrival. The man offered a lazy salute as he slouched to a stop in front of the desk. "You sure you should be out of bed, sir?"
"Not an invalid, Lieutenant Colonel," Roy informed him drily, and felt an unexpected sense of regret when he didn't get a reaction from Ed.
Breda shrugged, his mouth twisting with a knowing smile. "If you say so, sir," he allowed, and Roy shot a disgusted look towards the focussed Edward, blaming the easy insult on the blond. "You asked for me?"
Roy gave a sharp nod. "What have you discovered about the explosions?"
Breda nodded. "We found the remains of what we think was some sort of bomb in the remains of the mess. The blast pattern suggests that the bomb had been placed near the food line, under where Führer Grumman would have sat, had he been in the officer's mess. The initial explosion set off a secondary explosion from the kitchen, which was believed to have been the cooker back there. Whether it was intentional or not, it did a lot in the way of hiding the cause of the initial explosion. Survivors say the explosion definitely originated in the mess, not the officer's mess, but we're getting conflicting reports about whether it was in the ceiling or the floor."
Roy resisted the urge to sigh. "Either way, the target seems fairly clear; a second attempt to take out the Führer and his closest supporters, in case any of the original explosions missed their marks."
"It does seem that way," Breda admitted. "I've got a few people trying to sort out pieces of the bombs used in the offices, but because of how the building collapsed, a lot has been strewn around, and the rescue efforts have caused things to shift and get lost in alchemical remodelling."
Roy brought up a hand to cover his involuntary smile at the thought of what sculptures Alex had very likely left behind during his part in the rescue efforts. "I see. Do what you can and remove what pieces you find from the rubble; when we can finally start rebuilding the building, the last thing I want to do is accidentally rebuild the bombs."
"I hear you," Breda agreed tiredly.
"Anything found in the dorms, yet?" Roy asked, spotting the private he'd sent out leading two officers over to them.
"Not yet," Breda admitted. "Reports say the explosion was pretty central, and likely intended to bring the building down, rather than as an aim towards more casualties."
"A distraction?" Roy asked, frowning.
"Or a way to keep everyone tired and stretch us thin," Breda replied, his expression grim.
Roy closed his eyes and forced back a string of swear words. "Spell half of your people," he ordered, "and keep me updated."
Breda saluted, far more firmly than his initial salute. "Sir!" he barked, then turned to follow his orders.
With Breda out of the way, the private approached with the two officers he'd found. "Sir," he offered with a salute, the officers following his lead. The officers both looked pleased to see him, and while they had both clearly taken part in the rescue efforts, and the lieutenant colonel had a dirt-covered bandage wrapped around his left forearm, they both looked fairly fresh.
Roy nodded at them. "Thank you, Private." He focussed on the two officers. "Colonel Metford, Lieutenant Colonel..." he trailed off, realising that, while he recognised the man, he couldn't recall his name.
"Benet, sir," the man offered. "Owen Benet."
Roy offered a faint smile. "Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Benet. I need you two to head down to the work on the dorms and spell Brigadier General Hashim and the officers working with her. Also, if there are any Communications members down there, please have them report up to me so we can get phone lines installed."
Metford let out a snort. "About time," she said. "I mean, I get that unburying people is important, but it's been hell to keep everyone updated."
"Quite," Roy agreed drily.
Metford winced. "Nothing against Lieutenant General Spencer and all, sir, he's a good commander, but–"
"I understand, Colonel," Roy assured her. "Sometimes we get so caught up looking at the big issue, we forget about the little issues, and exhaustion only makes that worse; much to our chagrin, even generals need sleep to function." When he smiled at her, Metford smiled back, clearly relieved that her complaint hadn't been taken as insubordination. "If you would both head for the dorms?" he requested.
"Sir!" they replied, saluting before turning and hurrying towards the east gate.
Roy glanced towards Edward, and realised he was working on an array. "Ed? What are you doing?"
"Thinking," Edward said from around the pencil he'd been chewing on the end of. "Shut up and let me."
Roy frowned and tilted his head, trying to see if he could figure out what the array was for, but Edward's alchemical knowledge was so far beyond him, he couldn't hope to figure it out without some help. Especially since he was quickly interrupted by Havoc's return, six Communications men and women trailing behind him.
"Sir, brought the phone people, as requested," Havoc reported with a lazy salute, before stepping out of the way and pulling out his pack of cigarettes.
Roy turned his focus to the new group. "I need you to start putting together phone lines for both this tent and the group down at the dorms. They need to connect to at least each other and the hospital, and while I would prefer multiple lines, focus on getting one each for here and the dorms for right now."
The highest ranked among them, a second lieutenant, stepped forward. "Sir, most of our supplies are buried under the rubble. We can get replacements from the warehouses, but it's going to take time."
Roy turned to Havoc, who had lit his cigarette and was clearly enjoying it. "Lieutenant Colonel, do we have any vehicles that can be leant out to Communications for the night?"
"Should," Havoc agreed. "Last I heard, the carpool entrance was unblocked, and I'm fairly certain most, if not all, of the road blocks cleared when people started heading home a couple hours ago, so you shouldn't have trouble get through the streets." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Want me to go with them? Flash my rank around if anyone starts getting fresh?"
Roy paused to consider that; it was true that the group could use someone of a higher rank with them, but Havoc didn't know a single thing about what they would need, and Roy wasn't certain his nap had refreshed him enough to trust him behind the wheel of a car. "No," he decided. "Head down to the hospital and switch out with Fuery."
The group of Communications people all looked quite relieved at the mention of the captain.
Havoc grinned knowingly. "You got it, Chief," he agreed before stepping forward and touching Ed's shoulder. "Boss? Hey, Ed," he added with a gentle shake of the blond's shoulder when he didn't get a response.
"What?" Edward snapped, gold eyes flashing when he looked up.
Havoc didn't react beyond nodding towards the Communications group. "I'm leaving. Keep tabs on him."
"Yes, thank you for that wholly unnecessary reminder," Ed snapped back before returning his attention to the array he was working on.
Havoc shrugged and nodded to Roy. "Good luck with him, sir."
"Appreciated, Lieutenant Colonel," Roy replied drily, and Havoc grinned, the end of his cigarette glowing as a bit of ash fell off, and it reminded Roy of something he needed. "Before you leave," he added, raising his voice to include the Communications group and the two privates and the lance corporal, "do any of you happen to have any matches on you?"
'Matches?' Havoc mouthed, looking confused for a moment before he spotted the out-of-place blue of the array on the back of Roy's left glove and clearly figured out what was going on.
The other soldiers all reported back in the negative, though the private that had gone searching for the officers to send down to the dorms offered, "I saw some earlier, sir."
Roy let out a quiet breath of relief and waved Havoc and the Communications group away even as he looked at the private. "I need two, please, Private."
"Sir," the man replied with a sharp salute, before hurrying off to hunt down the requested items.
It didn't take the private long to return, and Roy wasted no time in pulling off his left glove and setting it and the matches in a pile in front of him. He clapped his hands together, envisioning the array he needed, and quickly pressed his hands to the pile.
The transmutation was a familiar one, and therefore quick, pulling the red phosphorus and powdered glass from the match heads and affixing it to the tips of the middle finger and thumb of the glove. Once the light died, he brushed away the now-useless matches and pulled on the glove. He snapped with that hand, nodded at the spark, and let it die without activating his alchemy. "Excellent. Thank you, Private."
"Sir," the private replied, clearly awed, before picking up the useless matches and stepping away.
"How's your head?" Edward asked. "On a scale of one to ten."
Roy turned to raise an eyebrow at the blond. "I don't have a headache," he lied.
Ed sighed. "Roy."
The sound of Edward Elric using his given name for the first time was enough of a shock that Roy admitted, "A four."
Ed seemed to consider that for a moment, then asked, "Did it get any stronger just now?"
Roy frowned at him, uncertain where this was leading. "No." When Edward shot him a stern look, Roy firmly repeated, "No. Why?"
Ed sighed and pushed the paper with the array he'd been working on towards Roy. "You should be fine," he decided, standing from his crouch and grimacing as his automail leg made an angry noise.
"Fine for what?" Roy demanded, carefully tapping a finger against the corner of the paper, well away from the outer edge of the array. "What is this supposed to do, Fu-Edward?"
"You can't guess?" Ed asked, and there was a hint of mocking in his voice.
"No," Roy ground out, before snapping, "My focus has always been flame alchemy, not 'ooh, look, shiny'!"
Ed snorted, amusement glinting in his eyes. "You should try my approach some time, you might learn something." Before Roy could find a retort to that, the former alchemist leant forward and tapped a finger against the centre of the array, unconcerned about accidentally setting it off. "It's an array to sense life. We'll have to clear everyone off of the rubble, but you should be able to use it to tell us where we need to dig next."
Roy blinked down at the array, then turned to stare at Edward, awed and honestly grateful for the genius that his former subordinate had been born with. "This is amazing, Ed," he admitted.
Edward flushed and turned away. "Don't get excited yet, bastard; we have no guarantee it'll work."
"It'll work," Roy insisted, because Ed had managed to bind a human soul to a piece of armour as a child, while in agony from losing a leg; if anyone could create an array which would pinpoint living souls in no more than half an hour, it was Edward Elric.
Ed huffed in response, then pointed at the two privates who they'd brought from the hospital. "You two, you're with us, so Hawkeye doesn't start using us all for target practise. You," he continued, pointing at the lance corporal, "stay here and detain anyone who comes looking for the Führer. Anyone tries pulling rank on you and going after us anyway, you tell them that their interference will cause a rebound and both their Führers will be in critical condition in hospital."
The three soldiers all paled while Roy got to his feet, and the lance corporal stammered, "W-will it really–?"
Ed shrugged, unconcerned. "No idea. Come on, Führer Bastard," he called over his shoulder, before starting towards the ruins of Central Command and shouting for people to clear off the rubble.
"Sir?" the lance corporal pleaded, looking at Roy.
Roy placed a gentle hand on the man's shoulder. "Edward is exaggerating about the rebound," he promised, because he trusted that Ed wouldn't let Roy try an array that unstable, "but interruptions may upset the rubble; please hold anyone looking for me here, for our safety and theirs."
Looking much relieved, the lance corporal nodded. "Yes, sir."
Roy offered him a reassuring smile, then motioned for the two privates to follow him before setting out after Ed, moving at an unhurried pace and glancing over the array in his hand, memorising as best he could in hopes that he could use it again on the dorms without Edward having to redraw it. Which, well, as complicated as it was, he suspected Ed would have to redraw it.
Edward was awaiting them at the spot where the porch had been, glaring at a few stragglers who were taking their time moving off the rubble. "Mustang," he growled.
Roy nodded, then barked, "Clear out!" and the stragglers ran for the clear patch of grass where everyone else who'd been ousted had gathered.
"Sir," one of the two privates serving as Roy's guards asked, "where do we need to be?"
It took Ed a moment to realise the man was talking to him, then he pointed to a patch of pavement that was clear of rubble only a few steps away from where Ed had stopped. "There. You hear anything funny, any gunshots or whatever shit someone tries, you fucking shoot the culprit; leave interrupting the alchemy to me."
The two privates saluted him with a firm, "Sir!" then moved off to the suggested spot while Ed grimaced.
Roy snorted and quietly commented, "I think that was more respect than anyone bothered to pay you while you were actually in the military."
"Fuck off," Ed ordered before crouching with a grimace, his leg loudly complaining about the motion. "Get down here."
"Miss Rockbell is going to kill you if you keep pushing that leg," Roy pointed out as he joined the younger man in crouching over the rubble, gingerly setting the array on a flat stone between them.
"Nah, she can't kill me, she'd lose a customer. Might beat me around the head until I get stuck in hospital, though," Ed corrected, sounding far too cheerful about that possibility, and Roy couldn't quite hold back an amused snort. "Right," Ed said, his voice turning serious as he tapped a finger against the array, "when you activate this, you should feel a sort of pulling, if there's anyone alive under this mess. Focus on any of the pulls for a couple seconds, then move on to the next, but don't spend too long on any of them, and if you don't feel anything, let it go; the longer this array is active, the more tired it's going to make you."
Roy nodded grimly. "What will concentrating on them do?" he asked, needing to know everything he could about the array before activating it.
"Light the area up like someone set fucking bonfire," Ed replied. "Shouldn't take more than a second to light them, and they should stay lit for a few minutes, so don't worry about moving on too quickly."
"What about us and the rest of the soldiers up here?"
Ed's eyes glinted, something that looked suspiciously like approval reflecting the light from the nearest brazier. "The array should focus on life signs specifically beneath the rubble, but if it doesn't, just focus on life signs that are in groups of no more than three and ignore the group of us directly behind you."
Roy nodded his understanding and thought over everything before deciding he didn't have any other questions. "Right. Let's get this done so we can get these people out."
Ed's smile was grim as he stood, his leg screeching again. As he stepped past Roy, however, to join the two privates behind him, he touched Roy's shoulder, bringing him to glance up. "Don't push it," he insisted. "I know you want to get everyone out, but if you collapse from exhaustion, you're going to cause more problems."
Roy raised an eyebrow at him. "A reminder of the necessity of restraint from the Fullmetal Alchemist?" he returned.
Ed made a face at him. "Shut up, bastard," he ordered before stepping past.
Roy waited until Ed had fallen still, then took a deep breath and pressed his fingers to the edge of the array, letting his eyes slip shut as it activated.
The 'pulling' that Ed had mentioned felt a lot like when Father had activated the Gate in him on the Promised Day, and Roy grimaced, even as he turned his attention to the three 'pulls' he felt. All of them were fairly weak, but one was weaker than all the others, and he turned his attention to that one first. He mouthed a count of three, then moved to the next 'pull', mouthed another count, then turned to the last one and counted.
When he pulled back from the array, letting the alchemy go, a fair portion of his energy went with it, and he slumped tiredly to one side, breathing, "Fuck." He hadn't been that tired from activating an array since the early days of his work with flame alchemy.
A hand settled gently against his forehead, another hand coming to rest on his shoulder. "Still with me, bastard?" Ed asked, his voice quiet.
Roy managed to nod his head, then motioned in the direction of the first 'pull'. "Her first," he insisted, and had no idea how he'd known the gender of the person he'd sensed, but he'd take it all the same. "And tell them to hurry."
"Got it," Ed replied before he moved away, and Roy immediately missed his presence. "You two, stick with him and help him back to the tents when Breda gets over here," Ed ordered before raising his voice to shout, "Grab some of those torches and get started on that spot! Führer says move it! Breda, get your ass over here! You assholes, mark those other two spots before the light fades!"
Roy let out a tired chuckle and opened his eyes to watch Edward standing a few feet away, his hair practically glowing in the firelight around them, one hand outstretched as he shouted orders and insults at the group of men and women who were scurrying to move rubble around the bright purple glows that had remained even after he'd stopped powering the array.
Breda knelt in front of Roy, blocking his view of Ed. "Can you get up, sir?"
Roy held out a hand in a silent request for help, and Breda wordlessly helped him to his feet. He had to take a moment once he was standing for the wave of dizziness to pass, but he managed to start back towards the tents without any assistance.
"There's coffee and some food left for you," Breda said as they walked, all three men around Roy wordlessly matching his pace. "Ed sent me off for it while he was clearing everyone off, said you'd be wanting it soon as you were done."
"He would be the expert," Roy admitted drily, and Breda flashed him a knowing grin.
The coffee and food helped a lot, and Roy was back on his feet and heading back into the rubble as they pulled out the young woman he'd found. She was immediately rushed off to hospital, two field medics calling reports to each other as they jogged with the privates carrying the stretcher they'd put her on towards the main gate. There were two other bodies in the same small cavity with her, and Roy left Ed to manage that extraction, taking half of the soldiers and leading them to the next closest person.
By the time Falman showed up with an update about Grumman's status, they had just finished pulling out the last living person from the rubble, and had another three dead bodies to add to the tally of deceased.
"Sir!" Falman called, standing a respectful distance back from where Roy stood over the line of bodies, each one's face covered with a jacket, either their own or one belonging to someone who had pulled them out.
Roy bit back a sigh and turned his attention to his subordinate, stepping carefully around the lines of bodies. "Havoc is sleeping?" he guessed.
Falman gave a brisk nod. "I spelled him about forty minutes ago. I have a report from Colonel Hawkeye."
Roy nodded. "I expected as much," he agreed, motioning for Falman to walk with him back to the tent, his honour guard of privates trailing behind them. "How is Führer Grumman?"
"Out of surgery," Falman offered, his tone gentling, losing some of the military bite. "They had to amputate his leg, and while they managed to save his arm for the moment, the doctor warns that the nerve damage is bad, and he may be better served amputating that and defaulting to automail."
Roy shook his head. "Grumman's tough, but I don't know that he has the strength to survive two automail surgeries."
Falman offered a grim nod. "That was the colonel's feeling as well," he admitted. "The doctor says they'll discuss it with the Führer once he's awake and aware enough to make the choice. Either way, chances are very high that he'll be retiring before he leaves hospital."
Roy gave a tired nod. "I'll be sorry to see him go," he admitted, because as much as he'd wanted to become Führer, he liked Grumman and would have preferred to succeed him when the man was ready to retire, rather than have him forced to step down. "Was there anything else?" he requested as they reached the tents, nodding in response to the salutes from the lance corporal Ed had ordered to remain there and a sergeant standing next to the desk. He was momentarily surprised to see a phone sitting on the corner of the desk, and he felt himself smile a bit at Fuery's efficiency.
"A message from Lieutenant Colonel Havoc," Falman agreed, recalling Roy's attention from the phone. "He says Brigadier General Lee was discharged shortly after you and, according to the nurse he spoke to, had been well enough to leave since shortly after his arrival, well before yourself and Colonel Hawkeye had been brought in."
Roy raised his eyebrows at that. "If I hadn't been trapped in a room with Hawkeye and her gun, I might have stuck around for some extra attention from the nurses myself," he joked, even as his mind turned the information over.
"Reports are he brushed off all of the nurses who came to check on him, and they ended up just ignoring him because it had started to get busy by then."
'Started to get busy then', like it hadn't been busy when Lee had been admitted. Roy cast a quick eye over the parade grounds, then turned to the private who had brought him the matches for his glove. "Has there been any sign of Brigadier General Lee up here?"
"Not that I'm aware of, sir," the private admitted. "Would you like me to check?"
"Please do. And check with the soldiers manning the lifts and standing down on the street, while you're at it."
The private saluted and hurried off without a word.
Roy turned to the sergeant who was standing next to his desk, whom he recalled being a part of the Communications group. "Do we have a line to the dorms?" he requested.
"Yes, sir," the sergeant agreed, holding out a slip of paper with a number scribbled on it, which Roy accepted. "You're also connected to the city lines, though it's currently unsecured. Captain Fuery is working on installing a second line out at the top of the lifts, then he'll focus on securing the lines."
"Excellent. Thank you, Sergeant," he replied as he picked up the receiver and started to dial. "Someone find me Lieutenant Colonel Breda."
With the certainty of no one alive remaining under the rubble, those soldiers who had been sitting in the rubble and listening for cries of help had retreated to the tents, which meant there were plenty of people around to be sent on errands without losing another one of the three soldiers Fuery had found to serve as Roy's guard. Which was good, because Roy was already going to get yelled at if Riza found out he'd lost both Breda and Ed while they'd been pulling out the last two people; better he not further anger her by going below the limit of two soldiers.
The line connected and someone reported, "Metford."
"Colonel," Roy replied, "I need to know if anyone down there has seen Brigadier General Lee within the past two hours."
"Führer!" Metford recognised. "I'll find out and ring you back right away, sir!"
"Thank you, Colonel." Roy hung up the phone and turned to Breda as the man approached. "Andrew Lee."
Breda's expression darkened and he performed a sharp-edged salute. "You got it, Chief," he agreed before turning to hunt down whatever Investigations personal he could take away from hunting for bomb pieces to help him find the man and compile any information they could.
Metford called him back before the private he'd sent out returned, clearly having less area to cover: "No one's seen any sign of him, sir, not here. A couple of men report seeing him in hospital, and one says he saw him making a few phone calls fairly early on, but that's it."
"Thank you, Colonel," Roy replied. "As soon as I settle a few more things up here, I'll be heading down to you; Mr Elric created an array to find survivors in the rubble."
Metford let out a relived noise. "Sir, that may well be the best news I've heard all night. We'll keep an eye out for you."
Roy nodded and hung up, only to find the private he'd sent out was back. "Report."
"No one's seen him," the private replied. "The men down on the street don't remember seeing him leave the hospital, but they admit they may have missed him. I did get a definitive response from all the gates: he never passed back inside through any of them after he walked out just after the explosion, sir."
Roy frowned. "He walked out under his own power?" he clarified.
"That's what I was told, sir."
Suspicion was a dark monster in the back of Roy's mind, and it was only growing as more questions were fed to it about the missing general. "Is Captain Fuery still working on connecting the line at the top of the lifts?" he asked as he stepped out from behind the desk and cast his gaze over the parade grounds, trying to spot that familiar glint of gold hair; he needed to use that array on the dorms before he went crazy trying to form a picture without firm facts.
"He should be, sir," the private who had turned into Roy's message runner agreed. "Do you want me to get him for you?"
Roy shook his head. "Run ahead and keep him there, we'll come to him. Edward!" he shouted when he caught sight of the blond.
Ed shot him a scowl from across the grounds, but obediently started over when Roy motioned for him.
Roy turned to Falman. "Hold down the fort for me, Major."
Falman saluted. "Sir! I'll have any calls forwarded to the dorms."
"Thank you," Roy replied as he started for the main gate, motioning for the remaining two members of his guard to follow him.
Ed fell in next to him after only a few steps, snapping, "I'm not your dog any more, Mustang."
"Much to all our relief," Roy retorted. "I'm not sure I could afford a proper training regimen."
Roy flashed him a smirk before turning his attention back to where they were going. "I want to handle the dorms."
Ed was quiet for a long moment, and a quick glance showed he was frowning down at the ground as he walked. Finally, as they reached the opening of the main gate, he said, "You need to take a break right after. And I mean a proper break, Mustang, not sitting for a quick meal and then going right back to work moving rubble."
Roy barely held back a sigh and pointed out, "You'll have to stay with me," because while Riza might cut them some slack for him losing his team on the parade grounds, the street was another matter entirely, and Ed was the only member of his team that wasn't going to be busy with something.
"Fuck," Ed snarled. "Why couldn't you still be a useless colonel?"
Roy snorted. "Wouldn't that be nice," he muttered before returning Fuery and the private's salutes as they reached them. "Captain, as soon as you can, I need to see if you can find out who Brigadier General Lee made calls to while in hospital."
Fuery nodded, frowning. "I'll do that once I'm done installing this line. Do you want me to prioritise that over securing the lines?"
Roy let out a quiet sigh. "Yes. However, if you can set your team to working on the securing, that would help."
"When you're down in the hospital, wake up Havoc and have him come up here to keep an eye on things with Falman," Roy added, because if they had lines up, even unsecured ones, they really didn't need anyone sitting with Riza and acting as a message runner.
Fuery grimaced. "Yes, sir. You're heading down to the dorms?" When Roy nodded, Fuery dug a hand into one pocket and pulled out a set of keys. "Communications' cars were the only non-medical vehicles down there last I saw; we shouldn't need any of the rest of what's in the front car to secure the lines, so you can take that around to the dorms."
Ed snatched the keys before Roy could take them. "Thanks, Kain, you're awesome," he offered with a flash of his most obnoxious grin. "Right, come on, Führer Bastard!"
It was a sign of how quickly people resigned themselves to Edward's insubordination that the only soldiers who frowned were the handful of men and women who were in charge of the lifts. For his part, Roy just shook his head and quickly caught up with the blond, his three-man guard of soldiers once again taking up position around him.
Edward refused to hand over the keys to the car, and Roy didn't bother trying to fight him for it, instead just getting into the passenger's seat without complaint. The three soldiers crowded together in the back, and Roy looked back at them with a thoughtful frown while Ed got the car started and pulled them away from the kerb. "I never learned any of your names," he admitted. Because, honestly, a part of him had hoped they wouldn't be necessary for long, and the rest of him had been so focussed on one weathering one crisis after another that he hadn't bothered to actually ask.
"Lawrence Carcano, sir," the lance corporal announced.
"Whit Enfield, sir," the private who had been serving as Roy's runner offered.
"Matt Tarpley, sir," the other private said.
Roy nodded. "Thank you, gentlemen," he offered and they all inclined their heads before he turned back to facing forward.
He caught Ed watching him out of the corner of his eyes and raised an eyebrow at him. The blond shrugged. "Should I ask why you're suspicious of this Lee fuck?"
One of the soldiers in the back seat let out a vaguely horrified sound, and Roy realised that, just because they were getting used to hearing Ed call him names, didn't mean they were used to his habit of insulting everyone else. Especially since there was a world of different between the familiar banter of insults and mocking that Ed shared with Roy and his team, and the comments he made at the expense of people he just didn't like.
"A few things. Do you actually care about the specifics?" Roy asked, because it wasn't like Ed to start fishing for reasons why he shouldn't trust someone.
Ed seemed to consider that for a moment, then shook his head as he pulled to a stop outside the ruins of the dorms. "Not really. What's he look like?"
"Dark hair, Breda's figure, probably about your height." Roy flashed the blond a smirk. "Well, your height without the risers–"
"Fuck off, bastard," Ed snapped, shoving his door open. "I'm a perfectly normal height."
"For a midget," Roy couldn't resist adding, and quickly stepped out of the car before Ed could decide to try decking him.
Colonel Metford and Lieutenant Colonel Benet came out to meet Roy as his guard formed up around him, Ed slotting in at his right and wearing a scowl. "Führer," Metford greeted, both of them saluting. "What do we need to do?"
"Did you memorise the array?" Ed asked before Roy could speak, and the two officers in front of them shot him frowns.
Roy shook his head and admitted. "Not completely." Then he held out the blank piece of paper Ed had drawn the array on before, as well as a pencil he'd found in the desk.
Ed stared at him for a moment, mouth open as though he'd been about to speak before Roy had anticipated his needs, before taking the paper and pencil with a snort, his eyes bright with amusement. "Showy bastard," he muttered before brushing past the disapproving officers to find something flat to draw on.
"I need everyone cleared off the rubble," Roy said, distracting the two in front of him without having to resort to apologising for his former subordinate's normal manner. "Preferably, have everyone group together on the pavement or the grass, but if someone wanders off, that's fine, as long as they stay off the rubble."
"Yes, sir," Metford replied before she and Benet both turned to start clearing their people out of the way.
Roy turned back to his guard. "As last time," he told them quietly, "stay just behind us, off the rubble, and keep alert for any sign of trouble. Are you familiar with Brigadier General Lee?"
The three men traded uncertain looks before Carcano replied for all of them, "Yes, sir. Do you think this is all his doing?"
Roy shrugged. "I think he's slacking in his duties and I would like to know why. If you spot him, don't bother warning myself or Edward, just go and detain him. If he pulls a weapon, you have permission to shoot him, though I request you aim for a non-fatal hit." He looked between the three men, taking in their grim stares and giving them a sharp nod before turning and striding over to where Ed was working on the array. He didn't bother trying to distract the blond, instead looking past him to where the last of the soldiers were clearing out of the ruins.
Very likely because of how central the single bomb had been, the dorms had retained their most distant walls, partial apartments visible at either end over the piles of stone and the remains of soldiers' lives. While the initial explosion had blown out the front and back of the building, leaving signs of damage on the nearest building behind the dorms, most of the building had collapsed straight down. Which, while it meant the rubble was fairly contained and the streets unblocked, it left them having to decide between going at the mess from the high sides, or climbing to the top and digging down. Someone – Roy suspected Alex Armstrong – had transmuted stairs where the door had originally been, letting people to the top of the ruins, while other people had started digging in from the front on either side of the stairs.
"Mustang," Ed called and Roy looked down at him to find him holding out the paper with the array, which Roy took carefully. "If you hear me calling your name, stop."
Roy nodded. "Let's do this."
Ed led the way to the rubble and motioned Roy forward once he'd reached the last clear space wide enough to stand in. "Fan out," he ordered the three soldiers, and they did so as Roy found a spot just inside one of the dug-out spaces to the right of the staircase.
He knelt down there, having no interest in falling when he let the alchemic energy go because it had exhausted him. He set the paper down on a mostly flat stone in front of him, took a deep breath, then closed his eyes and activated the array.
There were more 'pulls' this time, every one of them as weak as the stronger two he'd sensed back at Command. He quickly set about focussing on each of them, lighting them up for everyone else to see and losing count of how many he'd found, because he couldn't focus on how many were there, only the movement of his lips as he counted to three each time and moved on to the next.
"Roy!" Ed snapped from behind him, and he pulled away from the array with a gasp. He felt himself falling backwards, felt too weak to catch himself, but then firm arms caught him, wrapped tight around his chest. "You're a fucking pain in my ass," Ed whispered against his ear before shifting behind him and shouting, "Mark where the lights are before they fade and start digging!"
The silence of the night burst into sound as people ran to follow the orders, too desperate to be of use to care that the person giving them was technically a civilian; Ed had that effect, Roy knew.
"Is he okay?" Roy heard Benet ask.
"He'll be fine," Ed promised. "You might call ahead to the hospital and have them send a couple of ambulances over here, though." After a moment of silence, Ed said, "Carcano, help me with him; we can set him up in the back of the car and if shit starts going sideways, one of us can just drive him the fuck out of here."
"Not an invalid," Roy insisted. Or, well, he tried to insist, but the Gate alone knew how it had come out.
"Shut the fuck up, bastard," Ed ordered and his arms around Roy shifted, making room for another person, so they could work together to get Roy to his feet and across the open space between the dorms and where the car had been parked.
Roy managed to keep awake until he felt himself being laid out along the cooling leather of automobile seats. Once there, he gathered himself enough to grab for Ed's arm before he pulled away and demanded, "How many?"
Ed was quiet for a moment, then he offered, "Twelve."
Roy tried to tighten his grip on Ed's arm, but he wasn't sure if there was a noticeable difference. "More in there."
"I know." A hand brushed through his hair, a promise of safety trying to drag him down to sleep. "Get some rest and let them pull out who they can and you can try again."
"Wake me if–" Roy started before his train of thought left him, exhaustion eating away at his too-slow thoughts.
"If something happens that I can't handle, I'll call Hawkeye out here so she can shoot the problem," Edward retorted. "Shut up and go to sleep, Roy."
There was something about Ed using his name that made Roy want to frown, but the thought drifted away into the blackness he lived in, and Roy followed it down into oblivion.
"–turn to the hospital!" Riza was shouting when Roy woke up.
He frowned, confused because he was exhausted, clearly not sleeping in a bed, and he knew Riza shouldn't have been there, though he couldn't quite recall why that was. He shifted against the gentle give of whatever he was sitting on, and something covering him started to slide off. He grabbed for it, peeling open one gummy eye to get a look at the object and found himself holding on to a dark brown coat.
"Are you done?" Edward asked, his voice flat. When there was no verbal response, he said, "He was just drained from the alchemy and needed to sleep it off. I didn't think that required taking up a bed in the hospital."
"He is a target," Riza hissed, quiet enough that Roy almost didn't hear her.
Roy opened his other eye and looked blearily at his surroundings. He was inside a car, lights from the braziers around the dorm reflecting off the windows. The driver's side door was cracked open, gloved fingers held between the door and the roof, explaining why he could hear the conversation that seemed to be happening just outside the car.
"Sticking him in a hospital bed isn't going to change that," Ed pointed out drily, and it occurred to Roy that Riza was supposed to be in a hospital bed. "Really, it's just going to give whoever wants him dead a stationary target, and there's no way you can screen who comes into a hospital. At least in the car we can move him if something happens. I'm not about to be fucking careless with him, Hawkeye."
"Well it sure looks like it!"
It came back to Roy, then: the array to find survivors in the ruins of the dorms, being moved to the car so he could sleep off the energy drain, Ed promising to call Riza out here if he couldn't solve a problem that cropped up, Ed using his name again. "Edward," he called.
The cracked door jerked and he looked over to watch as it was pulled open and Ed stuck his head into the car. "Fuck, sorry we woke you, bastard. Go back to sleep."
Roy shook his head, his mind finally waking up enough to remind him of the dozen or so things he needed to see to; sleep could wait. "You're making a habit of using my first name," he said, because there was something about that, about the way Ed said his name that was sticking with him.
Edward flashed him a shit-eating grin that didn't reach his eyes. "I figured out you have one," he joked, but there was something flat about his voice, an obvious lie, and Roy raised a disbelieving eyebrow at the blond. "You listen a lot better," Ed said next, and that still sounded like a lie, but when Roy raised his other eyebrow, Ed's expression shut down the same way as it had back in the hospital, when he been talking about his broken leg.
Roy shifted on the seat and grabbed the release to open the door. Ed looked like he wanted to stop him, but it wasn't him that stopped the door before Roy could open it all the way.
"Sir, listen to Edward and go back to sleep," Riza ordered.
"Move, Colonel," Roy returned, his tone leaving no room for an argument, and the pressure on the door let up.
Roy stepped out of the car, bringing the coat with him and allowing a quick grimace as his body protested the cramped position he'd slept in. He was pleased to realise that his dizziness and headache, both, had vanished, and he held out Ed's coat to its owner as he declared, "I'm fine. Colonel, what are you doing over here?" he asked, eyeing the bandage wrapped tight around her forehead. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, a little lower down than Ed's, and he guessed the bandage was in the way of her usual hair clip.
"They've started releasing anyone who can walk out under their own power and isn't homeless, to free up beds," Riza reported, nodding over Roy's shoulder towards the ruins of the dorm. "I went up to Command first and Havoc sent me over here."
Roy nodded and turned to Ed, who had shrugged his coat back on. "How many people have they pulled out?"
Ed looked towards the ruins and Roy turned to follow his gaze, vaguely surprised to find what had been a fairly symmetrical pile of rubble gutted, new piles growing across the lawn and pavement. "Fourteen," Edward reported. "Two of them died on the way to the hospital, three died during or shortly after surgery, but the other nine are expected to make it."
Roy had to cling to the car door, his knees feeling too weak to support his own weight, and he was distantly aware of two sets of hands grabbing for him even as he breathed, "Thank God," because nine was better than none, because Maes must have been smiling to see him giving his all to keep his people safe, just like he'd sworn he would. "What time is it?"
"About thirty minutes before dawn," Ed reported carefully.
Roy nodded and slipped from the supporting hands that had caught him, stepping easily around the car and towards the dorms. "Right. Let's–"
Ed was suddenly in front of him, a firm hand pressing hard against Roy's chest, his eyes glinting with stubbornness in the light of the nearest streetlamp. "If you're not going to sleep, you need to eat, so get back in the car and we'll find somewhere to get food."
Roy opened his mouth to point out that there was almost certainly something to eat in the small tent set up to one side of the dorm, when Riza offered from behind him, "I have verbal reports from Major Fuery and Lieutenant Colonel Breda for you."
Lee, right. He needed that information to help fill in the rest of the very suspicious picture surrounding the events of the past day, and he knew Riza well enough to know she would hold the information from him unless he let them drive him somewhere that served more than rations. He sighed and nodded. "Madam Christmas, then."
"Madam Christmas?" Ed repeated, clearly unfamiliar with the rebuilt bar or its predecessor.
"Get in the car, I'll drive us," Riza said to Ed, before raising her voice to call, "You three follow us in the other car."
Roy glanced back over his shoulder as he returned to the car, and was surprised to see the three soldiers who had been serving as his guard since he left hospital loitering around one of the nicer cars from the carpool; Riza's ride over here, he assumed.
"Yes, sir," Carcano replied with a salute and they slipped into the second car while Roy, Ed, and Riza got in the one they'd borrowed from Communications.
"Madam Christmas," Roy explained for Ed once they were underway, "is the pub owned by my aunt. She's technically closed up shop by now, but she won't mind us dropping in for some breakfast."
Ed looked towards Riza, who nodded and offered, "It's not the first time. Chris will complain, but it's likely she's already got something cooking."
"Huh." Ed relaxed back in his seat and threw a smirk back at Roy, over his shoulder. "I had no idea you had a family."
"It's not something I make a habit of mentioning to my most loudmouthed subordinates," Roy retorted, and Ed's grin widened. "When is Miss Rockbell's train due to arrive?"
Ed's smirk faded into a thoughtful frown. "If she caught the train immediately after I called her, she should be getting in within the hour. Otherwise, she'll be here this afternoon."
"Major Falman has orders to watch for her at the station," Riza announced before Roy could suggest something similar.
Roy leant back and shook his head. "Perhaps I will go back to sleep," he said. "It's clear you lot can function just fine without me."
"Would you like to hand over the Führership as well, sir?" Riza returned evenly, and Ed started laughing.
"I had no idea you had such high aspirations, Colonel," Roy shot back, amused.
"Be honest, Mustang; she's going to end up doing at least half your job, anyway."
"That's called 'delegation', Edward."
"No, that's called you're a lazy bastard."
The sigh Riza let out made it clear she wished she'd thought to have one of them ride in the other car.
Edward glanced back at Roy, gold eyes sparkling with a level of amusement that, while Roy could understand and completely related to, he'd never seen the blond show in regards to their spats. It was a good look on him, Roy decided, offering an amused smirk back.
As the car slowed, Roy turned his attention to their surroundings. He could see the entrance to the pub just ahead with Vanessa, one of his aunt's employees, loitering outside, smoking. When Riza stopped, before she could turn off the engine, Roy ordered, "Let me out here and park the car around back."
Riza nodded. "Edward, get out with him," she ordered and Roy sighed, resigned, as he stepped out onto the pavement.
Vanessa perked up when Roy stepped out of the car, and she quickly stubbed out her cigarette as he stepped towards her, Ed and two of the men from the second car getting out behind him. "Vanessa," he offered with his most charming smile, "you're looking as stunning as ever."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Roy," Vanessa promised, pushing off from the wall and stepping forward to run her fingers along the front flap of his uniform as the two cars pulled away.
"Kill me now," Edward muttered from behind him, and Roy didn't bother suppressing his amused smile at the blond's discomfort.
Vanessa's eyes lit up with her smile and she pressed a quick kiss to Roy's cheek before stepping back. "Go on in; the madam figured you'd show up some time this morning."
"Thanks." Roy motioned for the other three to follow him, then led the way into the darkened pub. "Madam?" he called ahead.
The square of the doorway behind the pub that led back to the kitchen lit before filling with the wide form of his aunt. "Roy-Boy?" she called back, and Roy heard Edward muffling a snicker.
Roy put on his most pathetic expression. "I was hoping I might convince you to provide some food for myself and a few of my men, Madam."
Backlit, it was impossible to see Chris' expression, but her smile was plenty obvious in her voice. "I might be convinced, but you'll have to pull your own chairs down." She waved a hand around at the tables, each of them topped with overturned chairs to clear the floor so it could be cleaned.
"You are as gracious as you are lovely, Madam," Roy praised.
Chris snorted and turned to return to the kitchen. "Keep that up and you'll be cleaning the floors before you leave," she threatened over her shoulder.
Roy chuckled as he stepped forward to pull down a chair from the largest table in the pub, the one that Chris had made him buy her after the second time he'd brought his whole team over for an after-work drink and they'd had to slide several tables together, scraping up the floor in the process. Enfield and Tarpley were quick to lend their assistance in pulling down the chairs, but Ed had relaxed back against the wall next to the door, gold eyes bright as he watched them work. "Are the chairs too high for you to reach, Ed?" Roy enquired, just to see if he could get a rise out of the blond.
Ed snorted and patted his left thigh. "Gimp leg," he insisted, and Enfield let out a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
Riza and Carcano came in shortly after they'd got all the chairs down, Vanessa following them in and locking the door behind her. She tipped Roy a wink as she walked past him, and he smiled after her as she vanished through the doorway that led to the staircase up to the apartments where most of Chris' staff lived.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Mustang," Edward complained, and Roy returned his attention to the table in time to see Enfield, Tarpley, and Carcano all hiding grins. "Could you focus on something other than the nearest woman for once?"
Roy rested his elbow on the table and used it to brace his cheek as he eyed Ed's scowl. And he was probably acting too relaxed, given he hadn't known the two privates and lance corporal for long enough to trust them, but his aunt's pub was always his safe haven, even when he had to go and blow it up as a diversion. "Jealous, Edward?" he teased the blond.
It was still dark in the main room of the pub, so Roy couldn't be certain, but he could have sworn he saw a blush stain Ed's cheeks, and he blinked a few times in surprise, even as Ed snapped, "Fuck you, bastard. No one here wants anything to do with your libido."
"On the contrary–" Roy started.
"Go. To. Hell," Ed snapped, and when he turned his head to look directly at Roy, the light from the kitchen lit one side of his face to show no trace of a blush.
"Sir," Riza interrupted before Roy could continue baiting Ed.
Roy sighed and turned his attention on her. "What have you got for me, Colonel?"
Riza inclined her head. "Brigadier General Lee was near the main doors when the explosions started. Witnesses report he was seen loitering in an alcove, occasionally checking his watch. The rescue teams report that he was in the building when they started pulling people out, but seemed largely unharmed and walked down to the hospital of his own power, though he did insist on taking the lift. Once of the nurses at the hospital remembered him because he only had a few minor scratches, but he insisted that his rank earned him a private room."
Ed whistled. "Holy shit." He nudged Roy with his elbow. "I take back everything I ever said about you being a pompous arse."
Roy snorted, then offered a smile as three of Chris' women – Emily, Peggy, and Dorothy – came out with food for them and two oil lamps for the table, giving them just enough light to see each other and their plates without advertising that people were dining in the pub after hours. "Thank you, Emily," he said to the woman who served him.
Emily smiled as she set another plate in front of Riza. "We're just glad you're okay, Roy. There were some worrisome rumours floating around the city after those explosions."
"Not all seem to have been just rumours," Chris said from behind Roy, and he only just managed to keep from startling when she rested a heavy hand on top of the stars on his left shoulder. "Hello, Riza. Good to see you keeping this boy out of trouble."
Riza smiled. "Hello, Chris," she replied, even as Roy gave in to the need to complain, "Madam."
Chris laughed and stepped away to grab one of the chairs, then bought it over to join them at the table. "Eat up," she ordered them. Or, well, ordered everyone but Ed, who was already working at a steady pace to decimate his serving.
"Edward may need a second helping," Roy warned drily before starting in on his own breakfast. "Tell me some of these rumours, Madam," he suggested, since he knew Riza was too polite to continue giving her report with her mouth full, and he suspected she needed the food as much as he could admit that he did.
"Oh, little things," Chris said, waving her hand in the air a bit airily before using it to pull out a pack of cigarettes. "You're dead, Grumman's dead, the top brass is in shambles, an angry civilian is leading the rescue efforts up at Command, you're not actually dead but you are Führer, you're not Führer because Grumman's alive..." She tapped out a cigarette as she spoke and slipped the package away. "The usual. Light this for me, Roy-Boy."
Roy sighed and obediently snapped his fingers. "I'm clearly not dead, and neither is Führer Grumman, unless something happened while I was sleeping?" he looked at Riza, who shook her head.
Chris blew a mouthful of smoke at him, which Roy waved away with the ease of familiarity. "And yet you're wearing four stars."
"Führer Grumman is confined to a hospital bed," Riza reported evenly.
Chris' eyes sharpened as she turned to Riza. "How bad?" she demanded, because she and Grumman had been friends since before Riza or Roy were born.
Riza took a moment to swallow her mouthful and set her fork down, then replied, "They had to amputate his right leg, and they were making plans to amputate his right arm when I was discharged."
Roy straightened. "What happened?" he asked, because last he knew, they were going to wait to see if Grumman could make do with a bad arm.
Riza met his eyes steadily, and it was only because he knew her as well as he did that he could see how much it hurt her to explain, "He shifted in his sleep. No one realised the new position had pinched a vein and gangrene set in. By the time one of the nurses noticed, it was too late to reverse the damage."
"Fuck," Ed breathed, giving voice to the response that, Roy suspected, all of them wanted to make.
"I'm sorry, Riza," Roy offered quietly.
Riza's mouth thinned. "Don't be sorry, sir, just finish this."
Roy gave a sharp nod. "Tell me about Lee's phone calls."
"He made three, all to North City Command," Riza reported. "The first one was made as soon as he had been left by the nurses, the second was after you and I were admitted, the third was after Führer Grumman was admitted. According to the operator in North City, the first two calls were picked up by Major General Welrod's office, but the third one didn't go through."
"Welrod?" Roy repeated, frowning down at his breakfast as he tried to remember everything he could about the man. "He's the one that Lieutenant General Armstrong likes to refer to as 'that pansy-ass white-blooded snot-for-balls', isn't he?"
Ed choked on a laugh and his fork clattered to his plate. "I love that woman!" he declared while the three soldiers at the other end of the table stared on with wide eyes. "She's fucking terrifying, but she's amazing."
"Silence the wedding bells for a moment, Ed, I'm pretty sure you're not her type," Roy suggested and got an elbow in the side. He winced, but had to admit that he'd deserved that; at least the blond hadn't hit him.
Riza shook her head at their byplay, while Chris laughed. "That is the one, sir," Riza agreed.
Chris leant forward, looking past Roy as he sorted through what he knew about Olivier's least favourite member of the brass. "You must be that angry civilian who got the military's head out of their asses."
Ed snorted. "They need a kick every once in a while," he agreed.
"Chris, this is Edward Elric," Riza introduced, and Roy could feel the weight of the stare his aunt pinned on him.
"Roy-Boy always has such wonderful stories to tell about you, Mr Elric."
"Ed, please," Ed insisted. "I'm afraid I can't say that the bastard's ever mentioned you, though. Something about my being a loudmouth?"
Roy reached out and absently placed a hand over Ed's mouth. "You are a loudmouth," he commented before laying down the facts he could recall, "Theodore Welrod. He was a colonel under Clemin's command, led the group that staked out the radio station where we sequestered Mrs Bradley on the Promised Day. When Father's plan failed, he was the one who brought her in safely and was declared a hero, so Grumman had to promote him. He sent him up to North City so Olivier could keep an eye on him, from what I understand."
Ed pulled Roy's hand away from his mouth, scowling. "Okay, so he's a slimy fuck; why have Lee plant bombs and then call him?"
"Grumman, Bess, and I weren't supposed to survive," Roy reminded him, and he could see the picture beginning to form in his mind, leaving him, in turns, impressed and sickened. "Lieutenant Generals Peabody and Spencer are known for taking lunch a little early, and both of them sit fairly close to Grumman's usual seat in the officer's mess; if Spencer hadn't been home with his son, he'd likely be dead, same as Peabody. That clears out almost everyone above Welrod, save Olivier, and she's made it clear she wants to stay up at Briggs. With most of Central's command trapped under the rubble and likely dead, all Welrod would have needed to do was swoop down from North City and take command of the panicked enlisted men, and he'd have control of the military."
Ed closed his eyes, looking disgusted. "What is wrong with the military? This shit is why I got the fuck out at my first opportunity."
"Lee made sure he was in a position to be hurt just enough that he could be excused to the hospital, but not so badly that he couldn't put a call through to North City to let Welrod know everything had gone to plan, giving him a valid reason for catching the next train down here," Riza continued for Roy.
"Very likely, Welrod promised to promote Lee when he had control," Roy agreed. "Lee is exceedingly lazy, would rather make other people do everything for him; he would never manage as Führer, but he'd enjoy the benefits of a higher-ranking among the brass."
"You're going to need hard proof, Roy-Boy," Chris cautioned him. "Everything needs to be above board, or people will see Bradley again."
"Proof I can get," Roy insisted, folding his hands in front of his mouth, "but military crimes mean a military tribunal, and that means behind closed doors."
Ed shifted next to him. "But it's not just a military crime," he said, and Roy frowned over at him. "There were at least four civilians in the dorms, two of which are now dead, and one of the civilian buildings behind the dorms took damage, right? And the explosions shut down most of the city for four hours. Is that enough to try it in a civilian court?"
Roy looked at Riza, who was nodding slowly. "A case could be made," she allowed. "With most of the top brass either dead or in hospital, you'll have trouble filling the tribunal chairs, too."
Chris chuckled and, when Roy and Riza both turned to her, she said, "You're talking about trying two generals in a civilian court. That has–"
"Never been done," Roy finished for her, and he let free the too-sharp smile that was tugging at his mouth. "Good. It's about time the military was held accountable to the citizenry."
"So says the Führer," Ed muttered, but his tone was very clearly one of approval.
Coins clinked against the table top, and when Roy looked over, he found 520 cenz resting innocently on the table between himself and Edward. When he looked up, he found Ed watching him, one hand held in front of his mouth, eyes unreadable in the dim light from the oil lamps. "I thought you were going to wait."
"I changed my mind," Ed said, no inflection in his voice.
Without looking away from the bland gold eyes, Roy swept the coins off the table and slipped them into his pocket, then pulled out the small fold of bills he kept on him and held out the 1000 cenz bill that had been wrapped around the outside.
"You're so cheap," Ed complained as he accepted the bill and slipped it away, a hint of amusement brightening his eyes.
"You should have waited until I got my first paycheque, then," Roy pointed out as he slipped the rest of the bills back away.
"I have no idea," Riza murmured to Chris, who must have looked at her for an explanation, as Roy turned his attention back towards the last of his breakfast.
"I'd like to take one more look at the dorms," Roy commented, "then we should head back up to Command to wait for Miss Rockbell and, I suspect, Welrod." He glanced up at Riza. "Did Heymans find any more of the bombs?"
"Parts, but he hasn't been able to fit together a complete one."
Roy nodded. "How do you feel about puzzles, Ed?"
"Figures," Roy muttered.
"Fuck you." Ed tapped his fork against his empty plate once. "If you're lucky, Al's coming up with Winry."
"Oh? Is he staying with Miss Rockbell?" Roy asked, and Ed levelled an unimpressed stare on him. "I don't make a habit of asking after your brother's romantic aspirations, Edward."
"I never said anything about romance!" Ed snapped, scowling. "Stop stalking my brother, you pervert!"
Chris chuckled as she stood. "Did you want more, Ed?"
Roy watched Ed look around the table at everyone else's nearly empty plates and sigh regretfully. "No. I expect we'll be leaving directly."
Roy glanced at his aunt and, when she met his gaze, raised an eyebrow and quirked a half smile. Chris smiled back and promised, "I'll get you something to go," before heading back for the kitchen.
"I like her," Ed decided, nudging Roy with his elbow. "Can I trade you in?"
Roy met Riza's amused stare. "Colonel, take Private Enfield with you and check past the hospital, then meet us at Command. Any alchemists you see on the way, have them report to Command; we have a building to rebuild."
Riza nodded. "Understood."
They all made quick work of the rest of their meals, and rose when Chris came back in, a small box for Ed in one hand and a carafe and a pile of cups in the other. She handed the box off to Ed as she passed him, and he gave her his most stunning smile as thanks. "Coffee," she announced as she set the cups and carafe at the end of the table, and everyone around the table, including Roy himself, let slip a grateful noise. "Roy-Boy, go get the cream and sugar," she ordered as she set about pouring the coffee in the cups.
Roy sighed and did as he was told, knowing better than to try arguing with her; Führer or not, his aunt would always order him around, and he wasn't crazy enough to ignore her orders and find out what ways she had to embarrass him as punishment.
On the worktop next to the cream and sugar sat an envelope full of, he didn't doubt, information on Lee, Welrod, or both, and on top of the envelope sat a replacement pair of ignition gloves.
Roy wasted no time in switching out his current dusty gloves for the new pair, and slipped the others into a pocket, in case he had need of them later. He felt much better at the sight of the familiar array traced out in red on the back of two clean gloves, and he was smiling as he slipped the envelope inside his jacket; he'd find the time to look through it as soon as he found a place where he could spread out, without his guard detail peering over his shoulders. He had nothing against his team – Ed included – knowing that Madam Christmas served as a large part of his information network, but the fewer members of the military who knew that, the better her information.
He almost forgot the cream and sugar, but remembered them before he reached the doorway and grabbed them before hurrying back out. "Stop ogling my girls," Chris ordered as brought the requested items over to the table.
"Sorry, Madam," Roy replied smoothly, taking the excuse for his extended absence without missing a beat; having a reputation for being a lady killer had far more perks than he ever might have guessed the first time he'd used the excuse to explain away how close he was to so many of the women in his aunt's employ.
Chris quickly set about fixing everyone's coffee to their specifications and passed out the cups, which everyone accepted was an honest 'thank you'.
Once they had their cups, Riza and Carcano left to collect the cars. Enfield and Tarpley took one look at Roy's flat stare and followed after their two superiors, leaving Roy alone in the front of the pub with his aunt and Ed.
"I don't know when I'll have time to look at this," Roy admitted quietly, tapping the envelope under his jacket.
Chris nodded in understanding. "I'm sure you already know most of it, but there may be some things you can use, should it become necessary." She flashed him a too-sharp smile. "Now get out of here so I can talk to your boy."
"I'm not a boy!" Ed snapped, scowling from behind his coffee.
Roy snorted. "Edward, if I'm a boy, you're a boy," he pointed out, and Chris laughed at his expense. "Thank you, Madam."
Chris nodded. "Make me proud, Roy-Boy."
Roy quirked a smile and left Ed to her tender mercies, joining the other members of the military out by the cars. He managed to get Riza to drive off just before Ed came out, looking thoughtful. The drive to the dorms was quiet, and Ed must have re-sketched the array while Roy had been passed out earlier, because he handed it over once they got out of the car.
The sun had risen while they'd been hidden away in Madam Christmas, and it had stained the ruins of the dorms with lines of light and blocks of shadow; a confusing jumble of sharp angles and jagged edges than hurt to stare at for too long. The group of men and women who were still trying to move things looked like they needed the coffee Roy had chugged in the car, and he made a mental note to find someone to make a coffee run for everyone who had spent the night at either site as soon as he got up to Command.
People were happy to take a break and clear out so Roy could activate the array for a third time, and thank god Ed had created it and Roy was strong enough an alchemist to activate it, because there were too many people who wouldn't have survived the night otherwise, and that was a far greater gift than Roy could have expected to come from this tragedy.
There wasn't any sense of a 'pull' when Roy activated the array, and he let it go with regret; he couldn't say if everyone he'd spotted the first time had already been pulled out, or if they'd lost the last of them between then and now, but there was no one else alive in the ruins.
He passed that on to Metford and Benet, both of whom seemed to droop at the grim news. "Still," Roy said, "if you have people who need to keep digging, have them focus under that staircase; reports suggest the cause might be under there."
"Yes, sir," Metford agreed tiredly.
"Anyone who clearly needs it, send them home," Roy added. "And as soon as I get someone up at Command who can, I'll have you two relieved."
Benet swallowed, then motioned to the ruins behind him. "With all due respect, sir, some us no longer have a home to return to."
Roy closed his eyes, well aware, because Fuery and Falman both still lived in the dorms, too, and while he had nothing against putting them up in his house, he couldn't do that for every member of the military who had lost their bed. "Anyone who needs a bed and lived in the dorms can be sent to one of the nearby hotels," Roy decided. "I have someone start calling around, make sure they know to bill the treasury. Tell your people to be reasonable about their choices – we can't drain the vaults for this – but we can afford to ensure everyone has a bed until we get the dorms rebuilt."
Benet sort of stared at him in disbelief for a long moment, then croaked, "Thank you, sir."
Roy put on his best 'trust me' smile. "Give me twenty minutes to get those calls started, then start sending people to get dome sleep."
"Yes, sir," Metford agreed, while Benet just nodded, looking so unspeakably grateful, and Roy hated that no one expected the Führer to care about the troops under him; this was Bradley and Father's legacy, and Roy was going to erase it from the military mindset if it killed him.
Once they were back in the car and headed around to the main gate, Roy asked, "Ed, what is a reasonable upper limit for a good hotel room?"
Ed took a moment to consider that, then offered, "I usually aim for about 10,000 cenz, but knowing the prices in Central, I'd say set the limit at 18,000 cenz."
Roy nodded. "Thank you."
When they reached the top of the tunnel, the first thing Roy did was find two people comfortable with talking for extended periods on phones, then had them take over the two lines to start calling hotels within walking distance of Central Command. Once that was done, he caught a couple of field medics who didn't look too tired and sent them out to send home anyone who looked like they were about to fall over from exhaustion. After that, he found a couple of privates who had clearly caught some sleep and found coffee, and sent them out to a bakery he knew of just around the block; the owner owed him a favour and should be willing to repay it by closing up shop for the morning to bring all his bread, pastries, and a few dozen galleons of coffee up to Command, so long as Roy could pay him back from the treasury later.
He found Riza, Havoc, Breda, and Fuery in the main tent. Riza was looking through the paperwork that had been left there, while Breda fussed with pieces of the bombs and Havoc attempted to 'help' him. Fuery had curled up under what appeared to be Breda's jacket and was dozing in a dark corner, but only Riza looked anywhere near fresh. Hell, even Ed looked like the long hours were starting to drag on him.
"Jean," Roy murmured, touching Havoc's shoulder as he stepped up next to him, "I need you to drive Kain to my house and put him in one of the guest rooms. Then either go home, or get yourself some coffee and come back, your choice."
Havoc shot him a tired grin. "You got it, Chief," he agreed and got up with a groan before heading over to collect Fuery.
"I'm staying here," Breda bit out before Roy could give him the same options. "Wouldn't mind some coffee and food, but I'm not leaving until I figure out this fucking thing." He waved an aggravated hand at the mess in front of him.
"Food and coffee are coming," Roy promised, and Breda perked up. "Take a ten minute break, stretch your legs, and don't come back until you've eaten. That's an order, Lieutenant Colonel."
Breda snorted. "Yeah, fine. This is me, exercising." He got up and ambled off, offering cheerful greetings to those he knew who were milling around the parade grounds.
"Colonel," Roy greeted Riza at last, stopping next to her and looking down at the papers she was sorting through. "Please tell me none of those are for me."
He swore he heard Ed snort.
Riza held up a small pile with a bland expression. "Read these and sign, and please find some paper somewhere and write up a report about promising to pay for soldiers' hotel stays, so it can be handed off to the treasury right away."
Roy didn't groan, but it was a near thing. "Yes, Colonel," he muttered as Riza left the chair for him, and Ed was definitely snickering, the brat.
Thankfully, most of the paperwork Riza had handed over covered reports he'd received verbally, so it was quick to get through. Finding a piece of paper he could use was far harder, but Ed sent Private Enfield out to hunt some down – because he was not helpful – so he was able to write up a report on his decision for Treasury. After that was done, he used the extra paper the private had brought to sketch arrays for rebuilding Command; very few State Alchemists regularly worked with stone or metal, after all, and Roy was the only one who didn't need to have a physical array to activate the transmutation.
While he was working on the arrays, the bakery owner Roy knew had come up with his offerings, and someone had kindly brought him a coffee and pastry, which he quickly polished off without realising it. People walking the parade grounds were looking far more cheerful at having food in their bellies, though they still got quiet if they got too close to the lines of bodies laid out by the west gate.
"Are the phones clear?" Roy asked Riza once he was done sketching arrays, looking towards the bodies.
"I believe so, sir."
"Can you have some morgues called? Leaving the bodies out for the elements like that seems disrespectful."
Riza offered him a small, approving smile. "I'll go do that now," she agreed before starting away.
She hadn't got far when a familiar voice shouted, "Brother!"
Ed, who had been kicking at the pieces of Breda's bomb that the man wasn't currently attempting to fit together, looked up, his mouth curving with a wide grin. He hurried to the front of the tent and peered past Tarpley, towards the main gate. "Al! Winry!" he shouted back, waving one arm a bit wildly in the air.
Roy's chair jerked before he could open his mouth to make a smart comment about Ed's height and the probability of his brother and Miss Rockbell actually seeing him, and he glared back at Breda, who flashed him a knowing grin in response.
Once again resigning himself to the fact that his team didn't respect him, Roy got up and walked over to the front of the tent, watching as Ed ran forward and met Al with an excited hug, both of them clearly happy to see each other, and Roy felt a very real thrill of pleasure at the chance to see them together in the flesh for the first time. Miss Rockbell was standing next to the brothers, smiling widely and holding tight to what Roy recognised as her travel tool case.
Falman slipped quietly past the exuberant greetings and stopped in front of Roy with a salute. "Sir."
Roy knew that expression and he felt a frown tugging at his mouth even as he ordered, "Report, Major."
Falman inclined his head. "Shortly after he was discharged, Brigadier General Lee attempted to purchase a ticket on the next train out of Central, however," he added, and humour glinted in his dark eyes, "the night teller is anti-military and was extremely unimpressed with him leaving the city during an emergency situation, so he was unable to purchase tickets."
Roy surprised himself with his own laughter, because wasn't that just ironic, one of the anti-military faction keeping a possible traitor from fleeing. He reached up and clapped a hand against Falman's arm cheerfully. "Thank you for that, Major."
Falman inclined his head, and his eyes lost their glint of humour as he said, "Brigadier General Lee left after causing a scene, when the teller threatened to put in a call to the military police. No one I spoke to knew where he might have gone from there."
"He probably went looking for a car, if he's that desperate to get out of the city," Breda said from Roy's elbow, and he hadn't even noticed the heavyset man joining them. "No one saw him around the carpool, and I don't believe he's noted as owning his own vehicle, so he probably used a civilian lending service."
Falman frowned. "There are only three civilian lending services that would have been open between the time when he left the station and now," he reported.
"Do you know the numbers?"
Falman nodded. "Yes, sir. Ring them up?"
"Yes." Roy pointed towards where the phone that had been on his desk had been moved for the people calling the hotels, and Falman stepped quickly over to it. Roy turned to Breda. "Was anyone sent past Lee's home?"
Breda nodded, his mouth drawn in a disapproving frown. "Sent two soldiers first thing, but there was no answer to their knocks, and without probable cause..."
Roy nodded in understanding. "Trying to leave the city during an emergency seems like probable cause to me," he commented, and Breda's smile as he salute and hurried off was as sharp as broken glass.
As Breda left, the Elrics and Miss Rockbell approached, Al leading with a friendly smile. And, with the two brothers standing so close, Roy could see that Al was a little bit taller – he had no doubt that pissed Ed off – and that either Al had seen some serious sun recently, or Ed had been spending a lot of time out of the sun, because there was a noticeable difference in both their skin tones and the shades of their hair.
"Führer Mustang," Al greeted, holding out his hand. "I see congratulations are in order."
Roy took the offered hand with a smile that he couldn't have suppressed even had he wanted to. "Good to see you looking well, Alphonse. And thank you, though I admit that it still feels a bit unreal."
"I understand that sensation entirely, sir," Al admitted, and Roy knew he would.
Roy let go of Al's hand and turned an easy smile on the other visitor. "Miss Rockbell. I'd like to say 'welcome back to Central,' but, well..." They all glanced towards the ruins of Central Command.
The young woman snorted. "It's fine; I'm used to coming here because someone broke his automail again, and finding buildings in ruins."
"True enough," Roy admitted, and Al laughed while Ed made disgusted noises, though, notably, he didn't disagree.
Al clapped his hands together. "Well! Since I'm here, would you like some help repairing buildings?" he offered.
Roy smiled at the young man. "I'm waiting for Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong and a couple other State Alchemists who are living in the city to report in, but additional help is always appreciated."
Al glanced towards where Ed and Winry were retreating towards the back of the tent. "Brother would help if he could, you know."
"I know, and he's done a great deal, already," Roy agreed.
Al sighed. "Has he been difficult?"
"No more so than usual."
Al shot him a knowing look, and Roy offered a faint smile in response. Al shook his head and looked towards the ruins. "At least you're not threatening to kill each other," he decided, and Roy allowed a quiet chuckle at the truth of that statement. "Has he paid you back yet?"
"Yes. And then he borrowed 1000 cenz off me, which actually sort of defeats the purpose, when you think about it," Roy complained and Al laughed. Roy smiled back for a moment before his mind meandered off into a related topic. "Ed would probably deck me for asking, but do you know how he's intending to pay Miss Rockbell for the repairs to his automail?"
Al glanced over at him, frowning. "No. Winry suggested they'd work something out, figure a family rate." He sighed and admitted, "I didn't even think about it. I'm so used to knowing he can take the funds from his military account, but since he was discharged..."
Roy nodded. "I'll speak to Miss Rockbell," he decided.
Al shook his head. "Brother won't thank you for charity, sir."
"It's not charity," Roy insisted. "He saved my life, and he created an array that saved twelve others, at last count; this is payment for services rendered."
Al smiled at that. "Equivalent exchange?"
Roy raised an eyebrow. "Have you discovered the exchange rate for a human life, now?"
"Fair point," Al replied.
The sound of Ed and Miss Rockbell sniping at each other floated out of the tent, and Roy didn't have to look at Al to know neither of them had any interest in going back in there.
Falman stepped up next to Roy's free side shortly after the sniping started, and he glanced over at the man. "Report."
"Sir, none of the civilian automobile lenders report renting out a car to anyone since Brigadier General Lee was discharged, nor do any of them report any missing vehicles."
Roy nodded. "I don't expect Lee has the sort of knowledge necessary to steal a car, but if he's desperate enough, he might surprise us," he admitted. "We'll have to wait to hear back from Heymans' team." He turned his head enough to get a good look at Falman, taking in the faint circles under his eyes. "I had Jean take Kain to my house to rest. You're welcome to do the same, or you can go see if there's any coffee left and take a break for half an hour, your choice."
Falman's shoulders slumped slightly. "I'll see about that coffee, then, sir," he announced before walking off.
Roy glanced over when he felt someone patting his arm to find Al giving him a knowing smile. "They're good people," he said.
Roy nodded and quietly admitted, "I couldn't ask for a better team," which made Al's smile widen.
The next interruption came about five minutes later, in the form of Alex Armstrong striding over, three State Alchemists trailing him tiredly. Alex, himself, looked like he'd only managed a couple hours of sleep, but he was still sporting the widest, most relieved grin that Roy had seen yet. "Führer Mustang, sir!" he called as he approached, and Roy turned to return his salute. "It eases my heart to see you up and about, sir. You gave us quite the scare when Edward carried you out of the rubble."
Roy raised an eyebrow at the new information and filed it away. "Your assistance in the rescue efforts so far have been much appreciated, Lieutenant Colonel. If you're not too tired, we could use your help in rebuilding." He glanced over the other alchemists for the last bit, including them in the request.
One of the alchemists, Thomas Freher, the Mirror Image Alchemist, asked, "Are we sure all of the survivors are out?"
Roy glanced towards where he could still hear the occasional comment from Ed or Miss Rockbell from inside the tent. "Mr Edward Elric designed an array that would allow us to pinpoint any living bodies under the rubble and it was used to clear out both Central Command and the dorms."
"So, there may still be bodies, but they won't start screaming if they get caught between two pieces of the floor," Joanne Hollandus, the Sulphurous Alchemist declared, and Roy was the only one who managed to keep his grimace of distaste from showing. "Fine. What about the explosive devices?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Breda has removed all the pieces he and his team were able to find. He believes there's not enough left to chance rebuilding any of the bombs, but we'll keep our focus specifically on rebuilding the building and not the detritus within, just to be on the safe side."
"Where did the bombs go off?" Al asked, frowning.
"Führer Grumman's office, my office, General Bess' office, and the mess," Roy replied.
"I'm sorry," Freher interrupted, looking at Al with an unimpressed look, "but who are you?" And Roy probably should have reprimanded him for that, but he'd sort of been waiting for someone to question the addition of a civilian's involvement in a military emergency since he'd found out Ed was handing out orders like he still had that right; very few people recognised the former Fullmetal Alchemist, after six years, and most of the country had known his military-given title, rather than his name, which Roy suspected was part of the reason that Ed didn't want him using that title any more.
"Alphonse Elric," Al returned with an easy smile. When that didn't seem to spark any recognition in either Freher or the last alchemist, Adam Ripley, the Blooming Alchemist, Al added, "I came to visit with my brother, and the Führer asked if I might be willing to lend a hand. I mean, I'm not Brother, but I know a little bit of alchemy."
Hollandus scoffed, and it was clear from her expression that she knew exactly who Al was and how good an alchemist he was, though she didn't appear interested in filling in her colleagues, any more than Roy or Alex were. "Let's just get this over with," she snapped before Freher could make any further disparaging comments about the civilian. "I left the keys to my flat in the office, and I'm not going to spring for a hotel just for a couple hours of sleep."
Ripley cleared his throat. "I'm unfamiliar with rebuilding arrays," he warned them.
"Alphonse," Roy said, turning to the young man, "there's a pile of arrays on my desk, if you could get them for me?"
"Of course," Al agreed before hurrying off towards the tent.
Roy turned to consider the ruins, debating the best positions for everyone to work from, given their various strengths. He didn't really want to put Hollandus near any of the remaining bomb pieces, since she specialised in explosive substances, and he'd be best served having Freher work on the front of the building, as he specialised in reflective surfaces, and there weren't many windows in the back. He knew he could trust Al and Alex to manage the outstretched wings in front of the building without any trouble, but he would need to place himself in a fairly central location, in case he needed to spot one of the other three alchemists, given none of them had much experience working with stone. Not that Roy had much experience working with stone, himself, but he'd known Ed, Al, and Alex for long enough to have picked up some of their tricks.
Al returned to them with the arrays, a half-grimace tilting his mouth. "It's a good thing Brother can't help," he told Roy as he handed over the papers. "He's going on about how Central Command would look much better with gargoyles."
"Your brother's sense of aesthetic never ceases to disturb," Roy answered drily, handing out the arrays to the three State Alchemists as Al snickered, then eyeing Alex. "How adaptable is your array?" he asked.
"I have used it to rebuild structures before," Alex replied evenly.
Roy nodded and slipped the left over arrays inside his jacket, against the envelope from Chris. "Lieutenant Colonel, Alphonse, you're in charge of rebuilding the front wings; pick positions along them that are the best for your purposes."
"Sir!" Alex agreed with a salute, while Al just smiled and nodded.
"Major Thomas, you have the front entrance and façade; don't worry about stretching past the wings unless you feel the need to do so."
"Major Ripley, you'll be in the north-west corner; Major Hollandus, you'll be in the north-east corner," he continued, barely pausing long enough for the noises of understanding from the two alchemists. "I'll be across from Major Thomas. If you start feeling tired, step back; you'll do no favours wearing yourselves out, and we don't have to get everything up right this moment, as nice as it might be to be able to move back inside."
He met everyone's eyes, ensuring they understood, then motioned for them to head over to the ruins. He was only a little surprised when he realised that Privates Enfield and Tarpley had followed him out, and when he glanced back at them, Tarpley shrugged in apology and offered, "Colonel Hawkeye's orders, sir."
Roy nodded. "She terrifies me, too," he admitted and the two men grinned.
Once on the far side of the rubble, against the north wall, Roy directed his two guards to stand where they'd be out of the way, then stepped forward to the edge of the fallen masonry.
It was hardly a simultaneous activation, but they all got to it in their own time. Roy kept his focus on his transmutation at the start, rebuilding his section of the wall and pulling out the floor divisions as he reached them. The stones had some memory of what they'd been before, and his own familiarity with the building filled in any gaps. Furniture was harder, and he left most of it alone, with a few nudges to reform a couple of pieces because they were in the way of a piece of the building.
He didn't start paying attention to the other alchemists until he felt Freher's transmutation tickling the edge of his own. At that point, he started shaping his work around the other man's, matching up floors and walls, reshaping some of Freher's work when it wasn't quite right. And when he met up with Ripley and Hollandus' work on either side of him, he set about doing the same minor fixes.
It wasn't easy work – rebuilding never was – and he knew the other three alchemists stepped away before he did, but, then, the homunculi wouldn't have forced Roy to perform human transmutation if they hadn't known he was a strong alchemist. Which, really, when he considered it as he let the alchemic energy go and observed how not drained he felt, begged the question of exactly how advanced that array that Ed had made had really been.
'Stone and metal are easy,' he could just imagine Ed saying, 'souls are not.'
Which...was true. One transmutation used a fairly basic circle and relied on the component's own wish to be connected to forge bonds, while the other was created on the fly and searched out energy that Roy didn't have any real connection to, while also adding a bit of his own energy to leave a mark visible to other people.
Roy shook his head and glanced towards Hollandus, who was walking tiredly towards him, then Ripley, who had sat down against the wall where he'd been working and was rubbing at his face. Roy waited until Hollandus was close enough to hear without him having to shout, then said, "Head on through. I'm sure someone has found some food, or at least some coffee."
She leant herself slightly artistically against the wall, her rather ample bosom pushed out like she was trying to tempt him, and nodded. "I'll get right on that, sir. Did you want to get the dorm today, too?"
Roy shook his head, very firmly keeping his eyes on her face; not only was this far from the place for appreciative gazes, he'd never done more than pay a well-meant compliment to his subordinates, and his new position meant everyone in military-blue or carrying a State Alchemist watch was his subordinate. "No. We haven't found any sign of the explosive used there, so that building will have to wait," he admitted with a grimace.
"Lot of people not going to have a bed for tonight," Hollandus commented, and while she'd tried to blank her expression, Roy was well-practised at reading people, and she was fishing for something, though what it was, he couldn't say.
"No," he replied quietly, honestly, "there won't. We're putting up everyone in local hotels."
" 'We', sir?" Hollandus asked.
"The military. We have the funds, and I won't let any of my people go without a place to sleep."
Hollandus' mouth twisted with something that was almost a smile and she pushed away from the building. "You know, sir, you're a lot less of a self-serving dick than the rumours would suggest."
Roy snorted; his team had started some of those rumours for their own amusement. "I try. Go get something to eat, Major."
Hollandus saluted him, then vanished through the nearest door, leaving Roy, his two guards, and Ripley left in the back of the building.
"We may need to carry Major Ripley back to the tents," Roy warned before he started towards the sitting alchemist.
"It won't be the first time this morning we've had to carry an exhausted alchemist, sir," Tarpley informed him primly.
Roy looked back at the private, putting on his best bland stare. When Tarpley slowed down, looking a bit worried, Roy sighed and looked forward again. "This is Ed's fault," he complained, pitching his voice so it would carry no further than the two privates.
It was probably also at least half Ed's fault that Roy didn't mind a bit of good-natured insubordination at his expense. But, then, he would never be Bradley; he needed his people to know that they wouldn't be punished out of hand for questioning an order that put someone at risk or went against their own morals. Roy needed to be a leader that his people could come up to in the hallway and not be afraid to start a conversation with, that they trusted to lead them to safety on the battlefield, that they wanted to follow.
"Sorry, sir," Ripley called as Roy and the privates reached him, glancing up from behind his hands. "Plants are a lot easier to work with than stone."
"I'll take your word for it," Roy replied, leaning against the wall next to the man. "Take a minute and breathe, Major, we'll go when you're ready. Unless you want someone to carry you."
Ripley let out a disgusted sound. "No, sir."
Roy smiled and looked up the rebuilt wall, along the marks of transmutation, to the bright blue sky stretching above them. He heard Enfield and Tarpley settling against the perimeter wall across from him, content to wait.
"Sir?" Ripley called after a few minutes.
"Major." Roy glanced down and found the other alchemist was watching him with unguarded awe in his expression.
"You're amazing. I've never seen anyone perform a transmutation so easily before. I mean, you finished up my part and yours and you're not even sweating."
Roy glanced back up at the sky. "Stone is easier to work with than fire," he replied.
"Hah. I guess you would know," Ripley agreed before lurching to his feet. "Still. It was amazing, sir."
Roy quirked a smile at the other alchemist and fell in next to him, matching his pace as they made for the nearest door into the building. "Thank you, Major. It is a pity, I admit, that the Fullmetal Alchemist can no longer do alchemy; if you thought I was impressive, you'd have been utterly in awe of him. Even if he does have terrible taste in décor."
Ripley coughed out a laugh and almost fell when he tripped over some splintered wood scattered just inside the door, but Roy and Enfield both reached out and helped steady him. "Thanks," he said with a hint of embarrassment. After a few more steps into the building, Ripley taking care to watch his every step, the man said, "I wish I could have met him, Fullmetal. He was the reason I joined the military."
Roy barely held back a grimace. "Please don't ever tell him that." When Ripley shot him a half wounded, half confused look, Roy explained, "He'd be proud to learn he'd inspired someone to learn alchemy, but Edward has always hated the military; we were simply the means to an end for him, and he's quite proud of the fact that he's rid of us."
"But...why? Wasn't he proud to serve?"
Roy folded his hands behind his back and diplomatically offered, "The military was different under the late Führer Bradley."
"Well, that's true," Ripley agreed, though he didn't sound convinced.
Roy let it be; there were a dozen reasons why the Elrics had disliked the military, and just as many reasons why Ed had joined up despite all that, but they weren't Roy's reasons to tell, and most of them had to remain secrets for Ed and Al's sakes, besides. "You can meet him," he commented instead.
"What? Really? I thought he'd... I don't know."
"Died?" Roy suggested, and Ripley grimaced. "Yes, it's hard to imagine him still being alive, yet unable to do alchemy," he admitted, "but that was never his only skill, for all that it's the one he's known best for. He was in the tent when you arrived, or you'd have met him with Alphonse."
"Why him?" Ripley asked, and Roy just watched him out of the corner of his eye, waiting to see if he'd get it. And, as they approached the front doors, Ripley stopped walking, his eyes going wide. "He had a younger brother," he realised. "He has– That kid is his brother?!"
Roy smirked. "Quite," he agreed before stepping out into the sunlight.
He took a moment to look back at what Freher had rebuilt, then looked along the reaching wings that Alex and Al had done. It all looked good, so close to the original that Roy would have been hard pressed to spot the differences if they were placed side-by-side. Also, he was grateful to note, lacking any of Alex's artistic handiwork or Ed's wished-for gargoyles.
"Führer," Enfield called, and when Roy looked at him, he saw the private had his gun drawn, though pointing at the ground, and was pointing with his free hand along the path towards the tents.
Roy held up a hand to shade his eyes and followed Enfield's finger to a solitary group of figures far enough away that he couldn't quite make out faces. Still, it was easy to spot the two bright gleams of Elric hair – one of them looked to be wearing a military jacket, for some inexplicable reason – and Alex's bulky shape. They were standing with six other people – one blonde, one redhead, one white-haired, and the other three darker shades of brunet – all of whom were wearing military uniforms. He could make a pretty good guess as to the white-haired individual, the redhead, and the blonde, but he had no idea about the brunets.
Roy glanced back at his two guards, saw that Tarpley had also drawn his gun, then past them at where Ripley had stopped just outside the doors, looking uncertain. "Major, why don't you wait here and rest for a moment," Roy suggested with an easy smile. "I'll send someone out to you with some food as soon as I can."
Ripley swallowed and nodded. "I'll do that, sir."
"Gentlemen," Roy said, and led the way down the steps and onto the path, where he set an easy pace, hands clasped politely behind his back, where he could ready one hand to snap without anyone ahead of him aware of his intentions. If they were smart, Enfield and Tarpley would keep their guns out of sight until they had a better idea of what they were walking into.
When they got close enough to make out faces, Roy was able to quickly recognise Falman, Riza, and Breda as the white-haired person, the blonde, and the redhead, and that Ed was the Elric wearing the military jacket, though he was lacking the trousers and butt cape. One of the brunettes was Hollandus, another Welrod, and the last a woman he didn't know, but suspected had come with Welrod, judging by how close she was standing to him. He could also make out Miss Rockbell standing just behind the desk under the tent Roy had taken to using, Havoc and Carcano standing very obviously between her and the major general. Most of the rest of the lingering men and women who had been on the parade grounds since Roy and his group got back from the dorms that morning, had either retreated to the tents, or pulled back to the main gate; how much everyone knew was anyone's guess, but it was clear that the tension Roy was feeling was felt by more than just his team.
"Führer Mustang!" Falman called as Roy and his guard came within shouting distance, and everyone in the group in military blue saluted – even Edward, which Roy was going to have to hold over him later. Welrod was noticeably slower than the others, the woman with him – a captain, Roy could see – even slower as she followed his lead.
Roy put on a smile, rather than the frown he'd have rather been wearing, and returned the salute. "Major General Welrod," he said as he stopped before the group, "this is a surprise. I thought you were stationed up in North City."
Welrod cleared his throat and managed a tight smile in response. "Well, yes, but I received a call about the explosion and thought I'd make my way down here to see if I might lend some aid."
"That was quite forward-thinking of you, Major General," he praised, before making a show of pulling out his pocket watch and checking the time. "Huh. You must have heard about the explosions rather quickly, to have arrived on the first train down from North City. If I might ask, who was it that called your office?"
Welrod coughed. "Ah, Brigadier General Lee, I believe."
Roy glanced casually towards Breda, who shook his head grimly. "Brigadier General Lee," he mused. "Funny you should mention him, since he attempted to flee the city last night and is currently missing." And then Roy smiled. "Is there anything you'd like to share with me, Theodore?"
The captain at Welrod's side reached behind herself, but before she could pull out whatever she'd been grabbing, Ed had slipped around behind Welrod and grabbed her in a chokehold, one hand hidden behind her and, Roy suspected, squeezing her wrist. "Drop it," he ordered, his voice icy.
As the knife she'd grabbed clattered to the pavement between her feet, Riza and Breda both pointed their guns at Welrod, while Enfield and Tarpley stepped forward to stand in Roy's periphery vision, their own guns pointed steadily towards Welrod. Welrod obediently raised his hands in surrender, trying very hard to look both confused and insulted and really just looking constipated. "Shelly," he snarled to the woman Ed had immobilised.
"Führer," Hollandus called, and when Roy turned to her, she very obviously dropped her gloves and the ring her preferred array was on to the pavement in front of her, then held up hands unmarked by arrays. "I'm turning myself in as an accomplice to yesterday's explosions." Her mouth twisted with a slightly feral grin as she glanced towards the rapidly paling Welrod. "And I'm happy to confirm that Major General Welrod was the instigator, and Brigadier General Lee was the one who planted the bombs."
Okay, so Roy hadn't anticipated this outcome.
"Traitor!" Welrod snarled, taking a step towards her.
Alex stepped smoothly between Welrod and Hollandus, and while Roy couldn't see his face, he had a pretty good idea of his expression as he demanded, "Traitor? How dare you bandy about such terms towards others!"
"Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong," Roy interrupted before Alex could rip off his shirt, because he knew that was coming, "Colonel Hawkeye, Major Falman, would you please see these three down to the street to await the civilian police?"
"Civilian?!" Welrod shouted, looking horrified, as Alex started herding him towards the main entrance.
Riza smoothly holstered her gun and went to collect the captain from Ed, while Falman politely motioned for Hollandus to walk with him. Al fell in on Hollandus' free side, apparently to continue an alchemy discussion they'd been in the middle of when Roy had interrupted.
"Well," Ed said, stretching his arms over his head, "that was fun."
"Breda," Roy called as the man and the two privates holstered their guns, "please go ring the police and have them send over a few cars. Warn them that one of the detained is an alchemist."
Breda replied with a lazy salute and made towards the phone at a pace that was slightly faster than was his norm.
Roy turned a smirk on Ed, feeling himself relax slightly as the tension in the air left with Welrod. "Planning to reenlist, Edward?" he asked.
"Oh, fuck you," Ed threw back before pulling the jacket off over his head. It caught his vest on the way, baring Ed's stomach and chest, and Roy was surprised to feel a pull of want. (Which probably shouldn't have surprised him, because he would have called Ed attractive as a teen, even with his foul mouth and general temper. Grown up, with his temper somewhat better leashed, he was even more of a temptation, but it was Ed, part of his team.)
Ed stilled, his arms stuck over his head for a moment before he started swearing in at least three languages, and leave it to Edward Elric to travel through foreign countries and pick up their profanities.
Roy couldn't help a quiet laugh as he stepped forward to help. "Here, straighten your arms," he ordered, resting his hands on the lumps of Ed's elbows under the fabric.
"You're enjoying this, bastard," Ed growled, even as he did as he was told.
Roy snorted. "You were with the military long enough, surely you're aware of how you're supposed to remove the jacket."
With Ed's arms held straight up, Roy easily pulled off the jacket, his vest following with. A rumpled Ed emerged, his hair wild with static, his expression disgusted, and Roy caught himself reaching out to brush aside a few strands of hair caught in the corner of Ed's mouth before he actually touched him. He forced himself to take a step back, focus on removing Ed's vest from the jacket. "Where did you even get this from?" he asked.
"Borrowed it from someone," Ed replied, his voice clipped.
Roy held out the vest, privately bemoaning the sudden tension between them; he'd got used to their easy bickering since Ed's return. "Why were you wearing it?" he asked, forcing his voice to be casual. "Everyone knows you're not enlisted, by now."
Something glinted in Ed's eyes before he hid them to pull on his vest. "Welrod didn't," he pointed out, and he sounded quite smug about that.
And just like that, it seemed, the tension was gone.
Roy nodded, motioning that they should retire to the tent. "Fair enough. Did you learn anything while impersonating a military–" he checked the shoulder of the jacket he was still holding "–sergeant major? I see you took a demotion."
"Fuck off," was Ed's easy rejoinder, before he shrugged and admitted, "Not much. We bonded over our mutual hatred of your character and the current shape of the military." Roy couldn't resist a snort, and Ed flashed him a smirk. "I asked him if he'd ever thought he could change things, he alluded to his intention to become Führer, but was irritatingly slim on the details."
"He did mention that he disliked alchemists, though he had to employ one because they are, and I quote, 'useful tools'." Ed scowled, and Roy had some trouble keeping his own disgust from showing. "That alchemist was close enough to have heard that, which is probably why she turned on him."
"I expect it was part of the reason," Roy agreed as he set the jacket down on his borrowed desk. At Ed's enquiring look, he explained, "Major Hollandus and I spoke after we finished, before she returned out front. She commented on how I was better than the rumours painted me."
Roy snorted and turned to Carcano. "Please find some food and coffee and take it out to Major Ripley. He should still be resting by the front doors."
"Yes, sir," Carcano agreed before hurrying off to do so.
Ed swept a couple of papers out of his way and hopped up to sit on the edge of the desk, looking smug, and Roy couldn't help but notice how much more smoothly he moved; his leg must not have been as badly damaged as Riza had suggested, if Miss Rockbell had repaired it so quickly. "Well, other than the alchemist, which helpfully resolved itself, I did learn one thing that might be of use to us."
"Oh? Were you planning to share?" Roy returned.
Ed's eyes practically sparkled as he announced, "Welrod has a house in the city, not far from Lee's." And then he rattled off the address.
Roy turned to Breda and found the man's face already splitting with a vicious smile. "I'm on it," he promised.
"See if you can't collect a couple of civilian police to help," Roy ordered as Breda turned to scrounge up some men. "We've made this as much their problem as it is ours."
"You got it, Chief," he tossed back over his shoulder before vanishing into the crowd of men and women who were fanning back out after having hidden from the clash between Roy and Welrod.
Roy turned to Havoc. "See what you can do about organising everyone; most of the furniture is still in ruins, but the building should be sound."
"Pull everything to a central location and you'll fix it in a bit?" Havoc suggested.
Roy nodded. "There may also be a couple bodies left in there, so have people check through all the rooms, even the storage rooms that most of them walk right past."
Havoc gave him a lazy salute, then headed off to start bellowing for attention.
Which left Roy with Ed, Enfield, Tarpley, and Miss Rockbell. He took a careful step out of Ed's range as he turned towards the latter, then requested, "Miss Rockbell, if you would leave the bill for Edward's repairs for me, I'll pay it."
Ed stiffened and snapped, "I don't need your fucking charity."
Roy turned a hard stare on the young man. "It's not charity, Edward. It's payment for all the work you've done here. Just because you're not in the military any more doesn't mean we won't pay you for doing more than your part."
Ed jumped off the desk and rounded on him. "You think I did this for the fucking money?"
"No," Roy admitted, and Ed sort of...deflated. "You never do things for money, you do them because you're a good person, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve some form of recompense."
Ed crossed his arms over his chest, a hint of pink dusting his cheeks. "I don't want your money," he muttered.
"Which is why you're not getting it," Roy returned, and Ed opened his mouth to snap a response, "Miss Rockbell is."
Ed sort of stood there for a moment, mouth open, a surprised look on his face.
Next to Roy, Miss Rockbell started laughing.
Ed huffed and seemed to come back to himself. "Shut up, Winry," he ordered before shooting a disgusted look towards Enfield and Tarpley, who, Roy realised, were both attempting to hide amused grins behind their hands and failing miserably. "You're a bastard," Ed added, and Roy didn't need to look to know it had been aimed at him.
Roy allowed a faint smile before announcing, "I'm going to get started transmuting furniture. You're free to continue pout–"
"Fuck you," Ed interrupted, leaning over the desk to grab his shirt from where it had been flung over the back of the chair. "You sent everyone else off, you're stuck with me."
"I'm fairly certain the threat–"
"Shut up and start walking, bastard."
Miss Rockbell joined them as they left the shade of the tent, commenting, "I'm here, I might as well be doing something."
"Ha. How much are you going to pay her, bastard?" Ed asked, nudging Roy with his elbow.
Miss Rockbell scoffed. "He's not paying me for shifting through broken furniture," she declared, and Roy wondered how it was that he knew so many civilians who refused money for their work; even Chris and her employees refused any suggestion of payment for the information Roy passed on, beyond Chris occasionally demanding that he pay for something for the pub. "He is, however, going to give me whatever Al's owed for helping fix this building, so I can slip it into his luggage when he decides to head back to Xing."
"Oh? You think he's actually going to go back?" Ed asked.
"I know," Miss Rockbell corrected. "Neither of you can stay still for more than a couple months at a time. I swear, they're going to find you dead of old age on a train bench."
Roy resigned himself to listening to the two old friends bickering for the rest of the morning.
Thankfully, once they got into Command, Miss Rockbell left them with a wave and a, "I'll see if I can't spot more of those bomb pieces!" And since working with metal was her livelihood and Roy trusted her because Ed and Al trusted her, he didn't even consider trying to send anyone after her to either help her or keep an eye on her.
He, Ed, Enfield, and Tarpley all got to work shifting through the pile of debris that was being left in the entrance hall, pulling out pieces that were clearly part of a desk and separating them from parts of filing cabinets or chairs. When it looked like he had enough of something to make a complete piece of furniture, Roy would quickly transmute it, and those men and women bringing in more debris would cheerfully cart it off.
"She's right," Ed said as Roy finished transmuting another chair.
"Who's right about what?" Roy asked, accepting the chair back Ed was holding out to him and looking over the pile he had to see if he had enough pieces.
"Winry. Al'll probably settle down eventually, but I'm not sure I can."
Roy set the chair back on top of the pile and turned to consider Ed's tired frown. "Edward, you spent almost five years travelling around the country, meeting new people and seeing sights that most of us can't even imagine. And maybe it wasn't always fun, but it shaped you, just like it shaped Al, and that wanderlust is a part of you. If you want to keep wandering until the day you die, well, that's up to you, and you should never let anyone shame you into settling down. Although," he added, feeling vaguely discomfited under Ed's grateful stare, "you might consider learning how to pen letters, if only to keep the people who love you from resorting to tying you down somewhere so they can keep tabs on you."
Ed choked on a laugh, his eyes bright. "You would never."
"I am not the one you have to watch out for," Roy returned, and Edward turned away with a bright laugh.
Roy didn't realise that he'd admitted to actually caring a little too much about Edward until after another four transmutations. He paused for a moment, surprised, before he shook his head and got back to work; after everything they'd gone through, of course he cared what happened to Ed. Hell, they were actually friends, though he doubted either of them would ever admit that out loud.
"Are you sure that's all?" Maes whispered in his ear.
Roy dropped the piece of desk he'd been carrying and rubbed angrily at his face; he'd thought his best friend's ghost had left when he'd been pulled from the rubble.
"Mustang?" Ed called, a hint of concern in his voice.
"Coffee," Roy decided before leaving to hunt down one of the cups he occasionally saw people with, because the only possible reason he could be hearing his best friend's voice again was exhaustion, which required caffeine. Or sleep, but there was too much to do to get some sleep, so caffeine it would have to be.
When he asked, people were happy to direct him towards the line of carafes and snacks set up just inside the mess, and Roy wasted no time in collecting some of each before finding a cleared space of wall he could prop up.
Ed joined him after a moment, his own cup of coffee held between two gloved hands. "Al and Armstrong just showed up, told me to take a break. Pretty sure that order's meant for you, too."
Roy shook his head. "Probably," he admitted before giving in and letting himself slide down to sit on the floor. When Ed joined him down there, their elbows brushing, he asked, "How are you holding up?"
"I've been worse," Ed said as he stared out over the soldiers taking their own breaks in the mess, a broken sort of smile twisting the side of his mouth that Roy could see. "I'm not bleeding anywhere, I have four limbs in perfect working order, no one's tried to kill me recently..."
"That's not what I was asking," Roy muttered, though he had to admit that, compared to most of Ed's stays in Central, this was a good one.
"I know what you were asking. How are you holding up?" One gold eye glinted at him knowingly.
Roy inclined his head. "Fair enough."
Ed hummed into his coffee cup.
Roy sighed and relaxed back against the wall, tilting his head back to stare at the transmutation marks along the ceiling. "I really hope this is the last time we have to fix this building in my lifetime."
Ed snorted. "At least you were stuck in hospital last time."
"True, but I still don't want to have to rebuild it again."
Ed looked over at him, mischief glinting in his eyes.
Roy pointed towards the door. "Out. Get out of my building."
Ed laughed. "That's not going to stop me," he pointed out.
"Anything you destroy I will make you rebuild yourself," Roy threatened.
"Al would help me," Ed insisted.
"After you destroyed the building he just helped fix? I'm pretty sure he'd stand back and watch."
"Ah, you're probably right," Ed decided, still grinning. "I'm not sure I have the energy to destroy anything right now, anyway."
"Will wonders never cease."
"Shut up, bastard."
They fell into silence for a bit, content to sip at their coffee. Ed stole one of the biscuits Roy had got for himself and he rolled his eyes, deciding he didn't care enough to complain.
Finally, staring down at the dregs of his coffee, Roy asked, "Where are you going to go next?"
Ed hummed. "Pretty sure there's a shoot to kill order out on my head in Creta–" Roy snorted; he'd believe that "–so that's out, though it's pretty okay. Good food."
"Of course," Roy agreed, because of course Ed would judge a place based on their food.
"Might go back to Drachma," Ed considered. "Their food's only so-so, but they don't care if you blow something up, and fistfights in the street are kind of a national pastime."
"Clearly, you ended up in the wrong country."
"Clearly," Ed agreed, laughter in his voice. "Didn't spend much time in Aerugo, but there's this really nice restaurant in the capital city, where they try to recreate dishes from other countries, but with an Aerugoan slant, so it all comes out tasting fucking weird, but in a good way. Also, the beaches are nice, though Winry spent an entire letter shouting at me about what salt water does to automail when I let it slip where I was, so I kind of can't tell her if I go back."
Roy caught himself chuckling. "Yes," he commented, "Miss Rockbell is quite protective of her work."
"I think 'protective' might be an understatement," Ed retorted before jumping to his feet. He snatched Roy's empty cup and ordered, "Stay put," before Roy could consider getting up, then hurried off to the carafes.
When Ed returned, Roy accepted his cup with a quiet "Thank you."
Ed shrugged and returned to his spot sitting next to Roy, close enough that their elbows knocked together any time one of them moved, close enough that Roy could feel Ed's warmth seeping through his uniform, and it felt too nice to want to move away, even if he probably should. "Al was saying they've been working on excavating Xerxes, and it might be nice to go see that. Maybe go irritate Ling in Xing. Al sometimes forwards on letters from the asshole and it's always Ling telling me about how great this is in Xing and how I really need to see that wonder and on and on. Pretty sure he just wants to be all smirky in person about him being Emperor."
Roy didn't know the Xingese emperor well enough to comment on that one way or the other, so he settled for, "It sounds like you have nothing but options."
Ed nodded. "Yeah. Whole world out there just begging to be explored. Not sure where to start. Maybe I'll just cool my heels in Amestris for a month." He glanced at Roy, an emotion he couldn't read in the gold eyes. "Drop by Resembool, check in on Granny, make a run through Ishval and irritate Scar–"
Ed flashed him his best troublemaking grin. "Miles still down there?"
Roy sighed and nodded. "He's the military liaison."
"So I can irritate him, instead. Maybe drop by Teacher's place, let her beat me up."
"You'd deserve it, after annoying everyone in Ishval," Roy muttered into his cup.
"Drop by and see people in Rush Valley, let Winry remind me all the things I'm not allowed to do to my automail. Maybe head up to Briggs–"
"It's your funeral."
"Yes, but you're the one who's going to get the call about me."
"Olivier is far less terrifying when there's a phone line between us."
"I'm going to tell her you said that."
"I'm sure she'll take it as a compliment."
Ed considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Good point. Maybe I'll tell her–"
Roy was saved from Ed's latest attempt to give him a heart attack by Havoc bursting into the mess, looking vaguely panicked as he looked around the room and blindly shouted, "Chief!"
Roy and Ed both hurried to their feet, Roy barking, "Report, Lieutenant Colonel."
Havoc slumped, relief crossing his face briefly before he straightened again. "Sir. We just got a call from the dorms, reporting that Brigadier General Lee shoved past the workers and ran for the underground passage. They tried to follow him, but he had at least one explosive device with him and he used it to bring the tunnel down on them."
Ice froze down Roy's back, but he pushed it aside and turned to the soldiers who were relaxing in the mess and ordered, "Evacuate. Now."
He didn't need to tell them twice.
Roy turned back to Havoc. "Make sure everyone is out."
Havoc swallowed. "What about you, sir?"
"Don't worry about me, just get everyone out," Roy replied. When Havoc opened his mouth again, Roy added, "That is an order, Lieutenant Colonel," before turning and starting towards where the tunnel from the dorms would come out.
Behind him, he heard Ed say, "Give that to Al," then his footsteps as he caught up to Roy, falling in at his side.
"Get out, Ed," Roy said.
"Fuck you," was the blond's sharp-edged response. "I'm not about to let you face off against some desperate fuck alone. Not my style." He snorted, stretching his arms out in front of him, tired bones popping. "I'm probably the only person in this fucking building who won't let you order them out."
Roy grimaced because that was quite true; even Al would follow his orders if Roy was persuasive enough, but Ed just got more determined to ignore him the harder he tried. He checked his gloves and ordered, "Don't die."
"Not a chance. I'm supposed to go out quietly on a train bench, remember? Can't let Winry down like that." Roy caught a flash of something metal and sharp out of the corner of his eyes and was surprised to find familiar knives in Ed's hands. Ed caught him looking and put on a feral smile. "Gracia gave them to me, said Hughes would have wanted me to have them, keep myself safe."
"He would have," Roy agreed, and he could almost see the grin his best friend would wear to know that Ed had them.
They reached the door to the tunnel shortly after, it not being far from the mess. It was set back in the hallway, a small almost-lobby space between it and the main rush of the hallway. It was set up so that people could come up from the dorms without getting run down by someone not paying attention to opening doors as they rushed down the hall. Or, well, that was the official story. Really, it had been set back from the hallway so troops inside Command had walls to use as cover, while anyone walking out the door was completely unprotected.
Roy silently motioned for Ed to stand against one of the corners while he took the other. Ed narrowed his eyes, but did so without a comment, as aware of the need for silence as Roy was.
They didn't have to wait long, maybe two minutes, before the door slammed open. Roy held up a hand to keep Ed from acting, because Lee hadn't shown his face, had probably only done that with the door to see if there was a firing squad waiting for him. Which, well, there was, but Roy didn't have an itchy trigger finger.
The look Ed sent him made it clear that he was intending to let Roy act first, which probably wasn't a bad plan, given that Ed's fighting style tended to be up close and all over the place, and Roy's involved setting things on fire.
When Lee finally stepped out, a gun held shakily in front of him, Roy let him get just far enough from the door that he couldn't dive back through, then snapped to ring the man in fire.
Lee screamed and emptied his gun towards Roy, while he stood calmly out of the line of fire around the corner.
As soon as the gun clicked empty, Roy saw Ed go into action, slingshotting himself around his corner and jumping headlong into Lee, pushing them both out of the fire ring in such a way that Lee's trouser leg caught on fire, but Ed was left completely unscathed as he settled on Lee's stomach, one knife held to his throat, the other to his crotch; an effective way to keep any man still, Roy thought, impressed. "Not today, fuck-shit," Ed commented cheerfully, as the sound of Lee's abandoned gun hitting the wall echoed through the empty halls.
Roy activated his array to kill the ring of fire, as well as the flames eating at Lee's trousers. "Well, Andrew," he commented as he stepped slowly towards the two men on the floor, "it seems you're not having much luck, today. I heard about the train station, and Major Hollandus was quite happy to give me your name with Theodore Welrod's."
"I make my own luck, Mustang," Lee snarled, and Roy heard a sound that was almost like someone pulling the pin out of a grenade.
Ed's eyes went wide and he jumped towards Roy, catching both of his hands in his and clapping them together before Roy could react. An array that Roy had never seen before, couldn't even begin to guess what it would do, flashed through his mind, then Ed pushed his hands against the wall.
The light of an alchemic reaction arced along the wall, the air shifting around them and the walls letting out a groan of despair, and then Lee let out a scream of absolute agony and Roy looked over to find that the hand that had been behind Ed had...exploded. Like it had come in contact with a grenade that had only had a tiny area of effect.
"Edward," Roy whispered, looking down into gold eyes that glowed with victory, "did you just–"
"I found out on accident," Ed admitted, his mouth curling with a smile to match his eyes: absolutely stunning. "I don't have a Gate any more, can't do alchemy myself, but I can direct other people's alchemy, if they trust me."
"You realise you're amazing," Roy heard himself say, and he meant every word.
Ed's eyes went wide and his face took on a decided red tinge. He swallowed, then said, "Lee."
Roy realised Ed was still holding his hands as he pulled away, and he almost didn't want to, wanted to see Ed's face light up again as he performed alchemy through Roy, but Lee was still there, thrashing and wailing and clutching the stump of his wrist to his chest.
"Pathetic," Roy spat, reaching down and dragging Lee to his feet by his collar. He snapped his fingers to cauterise the wound and winced when Lee howled.
Ed made quick work of going through Lee's pockets while Roy kept him on his feet, and pulled out two more grenades and one replacement cartridge for the gun that Ed must have pocketed when he'd picked up his fallen knives, since it was no longer on the floor. "He's clean," he said over the sound of Lee's blubbering.
Roy nodded and shoved Lee to get him moving down the hallway, towards the front doors. "Shut up and start walking, Lee," he snarled when the man just kept wailing and almost fell flat on his face.
Between the two of them, Roy and Ed managed to threaten Lee out of the building, only needing to pick him back up off the floor once.
Most of the people who had been in Command had moved off to the tents, but Roy's team (sans Fuery), Alex, Al, Enfield, Tarpley, and Carcano stood just beyond the porch, and they all hurried to the bottom of the staircase once Ed and Roy turned to one of them.
"Sir," Riza said when she met them, clearly unimpressed, "if you ever go off to face an enemy on your own again, I will shoot you myself."
Roy snorted and pushed the still-blubbering man towards her. "Noted, Colonel. If you could please see the former Brigadier General to the civilian police I'm certain are awaiting him by the main gate?"
Riza sighed and motioned for Carcano to join her as she corrected, "Hospital, sir. Civilians don't lock up wounded culprits until after they've been seen to by a doctor, no matter their crime."
"Which is also by the main gate," Roy couldn't resist pointing out, and the glare Riza sent him before she and Carcano led Lee away made him wish he'd kept his mouth shut.
"What the hell'd you do to him, Chief?" Havoc asked around an unlit cigarette, expression somewhere between impressed and disturbed.
"His grenade exploded in his hand," Ed offered with a careless shrug. "All Führer Bastard did was keep him from bleeding all over the new halls."
"Brother," Al complained.
"What? That's what happened."
Al sighed and offered Roy a helpless look. "I'm sorry about him, sir."
Roy snorted and shook his head. "I'm used to it, but I do appreciate that one of you has a sense of decorum."
"Fuck decorum," Ed announced, and Roy's team and the two privates all laughed, a world of relief in the sound.
Roy sighed and looked up towards the blue sky stretching above them. "I'm thinking everyone deserves to break for lunch. Is there anyone in this city we can bribe to bring food for everyone up here and down at the dorms?"
Alex touched his shoulder and solemnly said, "Leave that to me, Führer," before turning and heading towards the tents.
Alex did indeed handle it, as evidenced by, shortly after Roy and his group made it back to the tents, Armstrong family servants appearing with enough food for most of the crowd to have seconds. When Roy asked, he was assured that food was being brought to the team down at the dorms, too, and he wasted no time in thanking a beaming Alex.
After lunch, Roy culled their numbers again, sending probably about half of the people there to get some sleep, including Carcano, Enfield, Tarpley, and all of his team, save Ed, who had pinned him with a flat stare and a dry, "I'll leave when you do," when he tried sending him away.
Roy and Ed were about halfway to to the front doors of Central Command when they were stopped by a light hand on Roy's shoulder, which he found was attached to Lieutenant General Spencer. "Sir," Spencer said, "go home. We can manage without you for the rest of today."
"Yes," Ed immediately piped up, clearly recognising an ally. "You need sleep before you embarrass yourself by falling asleep standing up somewhere."
Roy scowled at him. "I'm not going to–"
"Roy," Ed said, and okay, so he'd probably had a point about using Roy's first name being a good way to make him listen, because Roy felt all his fight drain away.
He sighed and patted Spencer's arm. "It's all yours, Mark," he said.
"Thank you, sir."
Roy shook his head. "We've two civilians on site: Mr Alphonse Elric and Miss Winry Rockbell. Alphonse is an alchemist and assisting with the repairs, Miss Rockbell is collecting pieces of the explosive devices and keeping them safely apart from the repairs." And he probably was too tired to keep working, because he couldn't keep himself from adding, "Unlike some civilians, they're willing to listen if you have any orders for them."
"Oh, fuck you too, Führer Bastard," Ed shot back, and Spencer gave him a disbelieving look. "Don't give me that look, f–"
Roy covered Ed's mouth, because he didn't want to deal with the brewing incident. "Send someone to get me if anything happens," he ordered before shoving Ed ahead of him and starting for the main gate.
Ed fell back to walk at his side after a few steps, and an easy silence fell between as they crossed the parade grounds and stepped onto the waiting lift, Roy returning the salute from the operator before they started down.
"I'm not sure where my suitcase ended up," Ed admitted under the cover of the faint sounds of machinery running as the lift carried them down to the street.
Roy frowned. "I assume you left it in whatever car Kain had when you two came from the station."
"Yeah, but since we sort of abandoned that car in the street when we couldn't get through the traffic..." Ed shrugged. "It's not a huge deal, really. It's mostly clothing, a few notebooks about my travels, that sort of thing. It was a military car, so I'm sure I'll get it all back eventually."
"I'll have Kain look for it once he wakes up."
"Nah, it can wait a few days. Finish cleaning up this mess first."
Roy glanced over at him with a frown. "You won't have a change of clothing for a couple days," he warned.
Ed rolled his eyes. "You've seen my suitcase; how often do you think I change clothes."
Roy sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "Thank you for that, Edward."
Someone – Roy assumed Spencer – had ordered a car wait for him outside the entrance, and the driver opened the door for him with a salute and a firm, "I'm to drive you home, sir!"
Roy returned the salute and motioned for Ed to precede him in. "Thank you, Corporal," he replied before slipping in himself. The man closed the door, then hurried around to climb into the driver's side.
"Sir," their driver offered carefully as he adjusted the rear-view mirror, "I know your address, but would you like to drop–" He stopped, clearly uncertain how to refer to Ed.
Roy shook his head. "Mr Elric is staying with me."
"Don't need charity, Mustang," Ed complained.
"It's not charity, it's a bed," Roy retorted. "Drive, Corporal."
"Bastard," Ed muttered as the car pulled away from the kerb.
The house Roy had bought when he'd moved back from Ishval was closer to Madam Christmas than it was to Central Command, because he didn't mind driving to work every day, but he enjoyed walking to his aunt's pub on occasion. Too, he'd wanted a safe place for his aunt and her women to go if they needed to get out of the pub, and while Chris would probably never admit as much, Roy knew she appreciated him thinking of them.
It was clear from Ed's expression that he recognised how close they were to the pub, but he didn't say anything as they pulled up outside Roy's townhouse.
"Thank you, Corporal," Roy offered as he stepped out of the car.
The driver inclined his head. "Call the carpool if you need a drive back in the morning, sir," he offered as Roy closed the door, and he was left scowling at the assumption that he wouldn't be returning to Central Command until the next day as the car zipped away.
Ed laughed and caught his elbow, using it to tug Roy towards the house. "Come on, bastard. Sleep first, then get angry at them worrying about you."
Roy sighed and gave in, leading the way up to his door and activating the array on the underside of the lock, which he'd put there for days when he either didn't know where his keys were, or he couldn't be arsed to dig them out.
"You actually are a lazy bastard," Ed realised, ducking down as he followed Roy into the house so he could get a look at the miniature array. "Hey, this is cool. Did you design this?"
"Ages ago," Roy agreed quietly as he set about pulling off his gloves and shoving them in his pockets. "I had a bad habit of forgetting my room key when I first moved back into the dorms, after Ishval, so I came up with a way to not need one." He shook his head as Ed closed the front door and threw the bolt. "I'm afraid I only have two guest rooms. You can wait until Kain gets up, or just boot him out, or you can sleep on the couch."
Ed stared at him, vaguely disbelieving. "Your aunt was right," he said, as if only just realising it.
Roy frowned and looked down to kick off his boots, helpfully avoiding Ed's stare. "She often is. What about this time, particularly?"
Ed moved forward and grabbed Roy's collar to yank him forward and crash their mouths together.
Roy couldn't even think for a moment, caught somewhere between shock and a bone-deep pleasure, but he did manage to gather himself enough to push Edward back and rasp out, "What–?"
"Either kiss me or I walk out that door and find a hotel," Ed said, his voice flat.
Roy shook his head, tried to gather his thoughts, and wondered if he wasn't, maybe, a little too tired to deal with whatever this was. "I'm not–"
Ed turned and started for the door.
Roy reached for him, missed, then lunged forward and slammed a hand against the door as Ed reached for the bolt. "Dammit, Edward," he bit out, and the blond stiffened, close enough that Roy could feel the heat of him, could feel the shorter strands of his hair tickle his nose as they were moved by his breath. "I am too tired to figure out what you're avoiding saying," he said after a brief silence, because honesty always seemed to work best on Ed.
Ed took a deep breath, his right shoulder shifting under Roy's extended arm. "I've had a crush on you since–" his left hand came up, performed a little mid-air flip, and dropped back down to his side "–before. Then. I didn't–" He coughed and glanced over his shoulder. His cheeks were stained faintly pink, though he was scowling. "I made a friend, in Drachma. I thought I loved her, she knew better, forced me to see it for myself, then broke my leg and sent me home. I hadn't–"
"You were going to go right through Central without a word," Roy finished for him, because he knew how Ed thought, how he dealt with things he didn't want to face.
Ed's expression tightened. "I thought–" he started before shaking his head and turning back to the door. "Fuck it. Let me out."
"No." Roy shifted his weight, pressed a little harder against the door. "What did Madam tell you? That I'm blind to honest affection unless it drags me down and kisses me full on?"
Ed let out a startled noise. "How did you–?"
"I've heard it before; I grew up in a brothel-cum-pub, Edward," he admitted, vaguely surprised at how easy it was to give voice to the truth he usually went to great lengths to keep hidden, and Ed let out a choked noise. "Doublespeak and manipulations come naturally to me, but Maes and Riza had to teach me loyalty. Everything else–" He sighed and leant his head forward, resting against Ed's head. "You are extremely attractive, and I've known that for a long time, but I'm used to looking, not touching, because you're off limits, my whole team is." He felt Ed's hand curl around his wrist and heard himself quietly admit, "I don't want you to walk out that door."
Ed turned, and Roy found himself staring down into gold eyes that were full of an emotion that he didn't have words for. "Do you want to kiss me?" he demanded.
"Yes," Roy decided without having to think about it too hard.
Ed's mouth turned up at one side and he brought a hand up to cup Roy's cheek. "I can work with that," he decided before leaning up towards him.
Roy leant down and covered Ed's mouth with his, brought up his free hand to tangle in the gold hair that was always so eye catching, found he didn't mind the feeling of grit caught between the strands, or the taste of it caught in the dried pool of sweat that had gathered in the dip above Ed's upper lip. Ed let out a broken sound and grabbed tight to Roy's uniform jacket as he sucked on his upper lip.
"Fucking shit," Ed breathed out against Roy's chin as he drew back a bit, took a moment to stare into hazy gold eyes. "Fuck you."
Roy felt himself smirk and murmured, "Maybe after we've both had some sleep."
Ed's pupil's seemed to explode, quickly pushing the ring of gold out of the way, and he let out a ragged breath. "Bastard. You are a complete and utter bastard."
Roy carefully untangled his hand from the comfortable grip he'd had on Ed's hair and moved it forward to cup his face, finding it hard not to keep touching now that he'd allowed himself to do so once. "Did you want to sleep in my bed?" he asked.
Roy brushed his thumb over Ed's lower lip, then forced himself to pull away. "Boots off," he ordered, because he really didn't want to have to deal with anyone stepping on whatever might fall off Ed's boots on the way upstairs.
Ed made short work of kicking his boots off, leaving them in an ungainly pile next to Roy, Falman, and Fuery's row of military perfection. When he caught Roy observing the difference, he snarled, "Shut up," and shoved Roy towards the stairs.
Roy led the way up to his room without complaint, and motioned Ed in ahead of him, closing the door behind himself while Ed took a moment to look around the sparse room. It didn't take the blond long to zoom in on the only real personal touch: three photographs lined up on top of the dresser, clustered around the spot where he usually left his gloves and watch. The picture in the centre was of Roy's parents, his mother holding baby-Roy, which his aunt had kept safely locked away until he'd moved out. On the right was a picture of Chris with one arm wrapped around Roy's shoulders after his graduation from the academy, looking so unspeakably proud of him, while Roy tried to look like a proper soldier, but failed miserably because he was being teased by some of his aunt's women who were standing outside the frame. The last picture was of Maes, Gracia, and Roy clustered around the newly-born Elicia, whom Gracia was holding; the picture had been taken by the doctor who'd discharged Gracia and Elicia, and it was one of the few pictures that Roy hadn't complained about being taken of him before Maes had died.
"There are more photos downstairs," Roy offered as he started unbuttoning his jacket. "Mostly of Elicia and Gracia, but there are some of my team, and one of you and Al, which Maes took and hid in my flat when he visited at one point; I didn't find it until I was packing up to move back to Central, after the funeral."
"He did that," Ed said quietly, gently touching the frame of the picture with Roy and his best friend's family. "There were a couple times, when we'd get to our next destination after we'd visited them, when I'd find pictures in my suitcase, or tucked under whatever baked goods Gracia sent us out with. They were almost always pictures of Elicia, but he'd slip in pictures of Al and me sometimes, especially if he caught a shot of one of us with her."
"Did you keep any of them?" Roy asked, because, as much as Maes had driven him completely insane with his habit of hiding photos places and shoving them in his face, Roy had kept every single one he'd ever found.
"Yeah," Ed admitted. "We'd send most of the ones of us back to Granny and Winry, but I'd always slip the pictures of Elicia into my journals, pull them out to look through when we were in a rut. And, after he died..."
"I know," Roy offered quietly, because he did. Because he still pulled out one of his albums of early pictures, sometimes, when he needed more than the whisper of his best friend's voice to get him through the night. He sighed and stepped forward to place the much abused envelope from his aunt on the dresser, next to the photos.
Ed's eyes sharpened on the new curiosity. "Is this what Chris gave you? The thing you said you'd get to eventually?"
Ed stared at it for another moment, while Roy pulled his gloves and pocket watch out of his pockets to set in their usual place. "Well," he said as he stepped back, out of the way, "I guess you can look at it tonight, since no one wants you back in the office until tomorrow." And then he flashed Roy a too-bright smile.
Roy snorted and turned to hang up his jacket. "That, and whatever the madam has managed to compile since this morning."
"Why do you call her that?" Ed asked, and Roy looked away from his shirt to find the blond watching him, his own shirt and vest balled in one hand.
Roy blinked, distracted by the strong lines of Ed's abdomen and chest, the gleam of metal from the few automail pieces that had remained embedded in his skin, the trail of golden hair that vanished temptingly under the waistband of his trousers. And, yes, he really had been telling the truth when he'd said Edward was attractive. Stunning, even. "What?" he asked a bit dumbly.
" 'Madam'," Ed clarified, oblivious to Roy's distraction.
Roy shook his head and forced himself to turn back to his shirt. "Habit," he managed to explain in something approaching his normal voice. "When I told her I was going to become Führer, she promised to pass on any information she heard that might help me, because, well, military men are surprisingly loose-lipped when in bed with whores."
Ed made a choked sound, and it was a struggle not to turn around.
"Alcohol helps," Roy added, "which I think is part of the reason she opened a bar downstairs."
"It's still a brothel?" Ed whispered, sounding vaguely horrified.
Roy couldn't resist looking back that time, and he had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing at Ed's expression. "Of course, that's why she's still a madam. And, as her best long-standing customer, you can see where some of those rumours about me started."
Ed rubbed a hand over his face, which was developing a distinct red tint. "I shouldn't ask this," he mumbled before asking, "have you ever used any of the other, er..."
"Have I ever slept with any of the women there?" Roy offered, and Ed nodded with a quiet groan. "No. At first because they helped raise me, and then, as women changed over, because I didn't want to complicate things. They're my spies, my eyes and ears in the parts of the city that I can't be seen to go, and I don't mix business and pleasure."
Ed peeked up at him from behind his bangs, understanding darkening his eyes. "You can look, but you can't touch," he said.
Roy nodded. "Yes."
Ed dropped the ball of his shirt and vest to the floor and stalked forward to catch the trailing edges of Roy's open shirt. "You can touch this time," he said, before clever fingers left Roy's shirt and ran firmly up Roy's chest, not shying away from the burn marking his side.
Roy groaned and grabbed for Ed's shoulders – gentling his touch on the right at the last minute because he didn't know if that metal was painful – ducking his head to catch Ed's mouth again, forcing his lips open so he could run his tongue along his teeth, taste the lingering hint of coffee and the sweet pastries he'd had at lunch.
Ed let out a whimper into his mouth, his hands grabbing for Roy's shoulders under the fabric of his shirt and digging in blunt nails, like he was afraid Roy might leave, like Roy was the one with wanderlust growing in the marrow of his bones.
"I said sleep first," Roy whispered against Ed's mouth before kissing him again, wishing he could figure out what it was about Ed that made him so much more tempting than the dozens of lovers that Roy had bedded over the years, because he honestly could not remember a single incident previous when he had so much trouble holding himself back.
Maybe it was simply because he could touch now, after so long knowing he couldn't, or maybe there was something else there, like Maes had hinted while he'd been rebuilding furniture, like Chris must have seen if she told Ed to just go for it.
"You say that," Ed gasped, shoving at Roy's shirt with one hand, while the other slid down his chest, "like you think I'm going to listen."
"Stupid," Roy agreed, giving up on denying Ed anything and going for the younger man's belt. "How careful do I need to be about your shoulder?" he asked, because he needed to know, because he hated hurting his partners when it was just a one-night fling, but with Ed?
And when the fuck had he decided this was going to be a more than one night thing?
Ed looked honestly surprised and glanced over at the embedded metal for a moment before offering Roy a wry smile. "I don't even notice it most of the time," he admitted. "Extreme changes in temperature, when the weather turns suddenly..." He shrugged, then let out a victorious sound as Roy's butt cape hit the floor. "They removed the pieces that they were afraid would do me actual harm."
"Good," Roy said before leaning down and licking along the easiest part to reach from this angle, a plate that curled over his shoulder.
Ed let out an absolutely wrecked noise and grabbed for Roy's shoulder with the hand that hadn't been starting on his belt. "Oh my god," he breathed. "Oh fuck. What did–" He broke off with a whimper when Roy did it again, and tugged ineffectively at his belt. "Bed. Bednowstopbed."
Roy chuckled against the join of metal and skin, but obediently pulled back so he could help Ed's fumbling hands in divesting them both of their trousers and pants; there would be plenty of time to drag every single variation of that lovely sound from Edward very, very shortly.
Which, well, Roy did.
Roy woke to a warm body curled up against his side and the distant sound of someone moving around in his kitchen. Only streetlights came in through the cracks around his drapes that he could never quite get closed, and he let out a sigh at the knowledge that he'd slept far more of the day away than he'd ever intended.
Then again, he hadn't intended to wear himself out quite so effectively before sleeping, either.
Roy glanced down at the blond head pillowed on his chest, letting his fingers slide through the loose locks, careful not to catch on tangles. Of all the possible futures he'd let himself dream of, it was a rare one that featured Edward in his bed (usually involving a great deal of the regret that was missing right now, once he'd realised what he'd been dreaming of), and he'd never have envisioned a future where he wanted Ed to stay there, where Ed made noises like he wanted to stay.
Roy turned his eyes towards the dark ceiling, wondering if he was capable of being someone Ed would want to come home to. Making space for him had never been a concern – Ed was the sort of natural disaster that created a space for himself, whether you wanted him to or not – but Roy didn't do commitment.
"Right, because you never committed to gaining the Führership," Maes' voice whispered in his ear, and Roy slammed his eyes closed. "You never committed to always being there for your team, for Ed and Al, for Gracia and Elicia."
"Shut up," Roy hissed.
"Roy?" Ed mumbled, his voice heavy with sleep, and Roy couldn't help but tense at getting caught talking to the spectre of his best friend. Ed shifted, pulled away, and when Roy opened his eyes, he found himself looking up into gold eyes that were dark with concern and still crusty at the corners from their extended sleep. "What's wrong?"
Roy wanted to lie, wanted to evade the same way he'd done the two times Riza had caught him whispering to ghosts, but he found he couldn't, not to those eyes that always demanded the truth, that Roy be straight with him for once. Not to the man who he'd let into his bed and didn't have any interest in watching leave it, and if Ed caught him in a lie, Roy could pretty much guarantee that he'd be gone. He licked his lips, damned if he did, damned if he didn't, then quietly admitted, "Sometimes, I hear Maes' voice. He tells me when I'm being an idiot."
Ed tilted his head, no judgement in his gaze. "When Al and I split up, before the Promised Day, I would hear him sometimes, telling me what I needed to hear, would have conversations with him." His expression twisted, colouring with irritation. "Greed thought it was the best thing ever to sneak up on me and start offering commentary; pretty sure it was Ling's idea to start with."
Roy stared at him for a long moment, not sure how to respond to that. He finally decided to just ignore the matter of Greed and Ling, instead asking the one thing that he'd never had the courage to ask anyone: "You don't think I'm crazy?"
Ed's eyes softened. "No. I think that we all need someone, sometimes, to confide in, and when we get stuck without that person..." He shrugged. "For me, that's Al, and I still, sometimes, I still hear him telling me off when I'm thinking about doing something dangerous and I know he wouldn't approve of, except it's always his voice from when he was in the armour that I hear, and please don't ever tell him that, because it's bad enough that Ling told him I talk to him when he's not there, if Al found out which version of him I talk to, he'll give me so much more hell."
Roy choked out a laugh and reached up to cup Ed's cheek with one hand, a part of him needing to check to make sure the blond was real, as though the steady warmth of him wasn't proof enough. "Your secret's safe," he promised.
Ed flashed him a quick smile, then sobered to continue, "But you, I think for you it was Hughes, right? And maybe it could have been Hawkeye, but she's not really... Well, okay, so maybe it's just because she was so much older than us and I didn't get it until after, but she's always been a bit unapproachable, because she's always so stern about everything, but Hughes... Hughes was the sort of guy who'd figure out all your secrets from the part of one of his pictures you looked at first–" Roy started laughing "–and then he'd– Hey, you bastard, stop fucking laughing at me!"
Roy shook his head and dragged Ed down for a brief kiss. "Thank you," he whispered against Ed's lips.
Ed closed his eyes and knocked his forehead lightly against Roy's. "I think, sometimes, that we're all a bit insane, but we've been through some insane shit, suffered so much through it. I think...I think we're entitled. That's okay."
Something clattered loudly downstairs, and Ed and Roy both looked towards the bedroom door.
"I think," Roy commented drily, "that we should go ensure my kitchen is still in one piece."
Ed snorted as he pulled back, leaving a long cold strip down Roy's side and chest, where he'd been pressed tight. "I think you may be right. Also, I don't know if you have enough food to feed all four of us."
Roy eyed Ed as he stretched, taking a moment to enjoy the view, then agreed, "Not with you here."
Ed stuck his tongue out and climbed out of the bed to go hunting for his clothing.
Roy sighed and got out after him. "Must remember to have Kain find your luggage," he reminded himself as he pulled open his dresser for pants and and socks.
"There's an array for cleaning clothing," Ed informed him. "Doesn't work all that great when there's sand, admittedly, and probably building dust, now I consider it, but–"
"Stop," Roy ordered, and Ed flashed him a terrifying smile. "I don't want to know." He gave Ed a quick appraising glance. "My trousers may be too long for you, and I think your shoulders are wider, but you're welcome to find something of mine to wear until we find your suitcase."
Ed considered that for a moment, looked down at the dusty clothing he was holding, then sighed and dropped it to the floor. "Yeah, okay," he agreed, coming to join Roy in front of his dresser.
They managed to find enough that Ed came through looking decent, though he did have to pick out his dusty shirt from the pile to wear over the sleeveless vest Roy had found in the back of a drawer. Which didn't seem to bother Ed in the least, but they'd already touched on the blond's disregard for the cleanliness of his appearance.
Roy's kitchen was a bit more crowded than expected, with Fuery and Falman debating over whatever was burning on the hob, food and empty containers left haphazardly along his worktops, while Havoc sat at the breakfast table and called out suggestions. Ed just sort of stared at the mess, expression disbelieving, while Roy let out a quiet sigh before straightening and barking, "Attention!" in his best drill sergeant voice.
Havoc, Falman, and Fuery were standing straight and turning towards the doorway before they realised what they were doing, and Ed just started laughing at Roy's side.
Roy raised an eyebrow at his men as Fuery and Havoc's expressions took on a decided sheepish tinge, while Falman grimaced outright, then ordered, "Captain, Major, clean that up so we can go out." The two immediately set about doing so, with far less debating, and Roy turned to Havoc, who had slumped back down into the chair he'd been sprawled in when they'd walked in. "Lieutenant Colonel, what are you doing in my kitchen?"
"Hawkeye sent me." Havoc patted the fistful of papers on the table that Roy had managed to overlook, and he barely resisted a groan. When Ed snorted, Havoc turned to him and declared, "Boss, your brother wanted to know which hotel you were staying in. Figured out you were here from your boots by the door, but, well. Since your brother's terrifying, I told him you were sleeping on the couch."
"Al's not terrifying," Ed replied, his eyes bright with amusement.
"Yes, he is," Havoc insisted. "He's got this 'I will slit your throat with a smile' air, which may actually trump Hawkeye's itchy trigger finger. There is no way I'm telling him you weren't on the couch or any of the guest rooms." Havoc very pointedly didn't look at Roy.
Ed snorted. "Al wouldn't hurt anyone. What's the number? I'll ring him back."
Havoc fished out a piece of paper from his pocket. "You're a braver man than I am, Boss," he insisted as he handed the paper over.
"Phone?" Ed asked.
Roy motioned over his shoulder. "Front hall, across from the boots."
Havoc waited until they heard Ed pick up the handset before saying, "Well, I lost that bet."
Roy turned a hard stare on the man. "Lieutenant Colonel, tell me you didn't have a bet running about which member of my team I was going to sleep with first."
Havoc blinked. "I promise I will never tell you that, sir," he returned, completely straight-faced.
Behind him, Fuery and Falman traded worried looks and studiously returned to their clean-up efforts.
Roy sighed, because this was his life and he was resigned. "Who won?"
"Uh..." Havoc glanced back towards his unhelpful co-workers, then groaned and admitted, "Hughes."
Somewhere, Maes was doing a victory dance, Roy just knew it. "I expect," he commented, keeping his tone dry, "that you now owe Gracia some winnings."
"Yes, sir," Havoc agreed.
"Al!" Roy heard from out in the hall, and wasn't the only one who turned an ear towards the one-sided conversation, judging by how silent the kitchen had fallen, even the clink of cookery and food containers muted. "Yeah, the couch. It was fine. Very warm." There was a pause, then Ed ordered, "Stop. Alphonse Elric. No, you– Fucking hell, Al, no. I am hanging up, go perv on Winry. And don't tell me about it!" Then he threw the receiver back onto the cradle.
"Did Al just...ask for details?" Havoc wondered a bit dazedly.
"Fuck off, Jean," Ed ordered as he stopped in the doorway, a hint of pink still noticeable across the tops of his cheeks, and Roy found himself having to resist the unexpected urge to lean down and... Actually, he had no idea what he wanted to do, but he knew it wasn't appropriate when half his team was watching on. "Where are we going to eat? Madam Christmas?"
"No, she won't do food at this hour, not even for me," Roy replied, shaking his head. "There's an Aerugo place on the way that I go to sometimes, if you want to see how we ruin their food."
Ed laughed, his eyes lighting up. "I'm going to drag you to that restaurant some time. Diplomatic mission or something," he threatened.
"What restaurant?" Havoc asked as Fuery and Falman finished putting away the last couple things and joined them in starting toward the line of boots and the front door.
Roy very pointedly steered Ed towards his boots so he could put them on as the blond explained, "There's this place in Aerugo's capital that tries to recreate 'specialty dishes' or some bullshit from other nations, except they do it in classic Aerugo fashion, which is to say, way too many added flavours and using an obscene amount of tropical fruit, so it comes out tasting really fucking weird. But still edible. You kind of have to experience it to believe it." He poked Roy in the arm as they stepped out onto the stoop. "I'm taking you. Figure something out."
Roy couldn't help a smile. "I'll let you know," he promised, a part of his mind already turning the problem over, trying to figure out a reason that he could visit Aerugo. Peace talks, maybe. "Jean, lock the door," he ordered as he started down his walk, because he still wasn't sure where his house key was. It had probably been in his office, really; he'd have to have a new copy cut.
"Two copies," Maes whispered in his ear as Ed came to walk at his side, the rest of his team falling in behind them.
Dinner was expectedly loud and excitable, with Havoc and Fuery pestering Ed for tales of his travels and Ed being all too gleeful about sharing only the most improbable of his adventures. Falman used the cover of their noise to pass along whatever new information he'd learnt since their brief intelligence trade over lunch, and Roy suspected Havoc had brought more than paperwork for him to sign when he'd dropped by.
After dinner, they moved on to Madam Christmas and settled around the familiar table to people watch over drinks. When Havoc decided he'd try his luck with Peggy, Fuery and Ed quickly sketched out a betting pool, which was really more of a 'how quickly do you think Havoc will strike out' bet than anything else, but they managed to drag both Falman and Roy into it. When Havoc saw it, after he'd been summarily turned down, he groaned good-naturedly and tried to get Fuery and Falman to join him in attempting to get a date.
Roy retired to the bar after ten minutes or so of Havoc's wheedling, ostensibly to get a new drink, but really because Chris was tending the bar and giving him a look. "Hello, Madam," he offered politely as he settled into his favourite corner stool, the one that other patrons avoided unless they didn't want to be noticed by anyone, which was kind of the opposite of why most people visited his aunt's place.
"Roy-Boy," Chris returned, taking his empty tumbler and turning to refill it with, Roy realised when she handed it back and he took a sip, barley tea. He sighed, resigned to his aunt's habit of cutting him off before he could even get tipsy, and sipped at the new drink. "Did you find time for what you left with this morning?"
Roy raised both his eyebrows at her and said into his glass, "The paperwork, no; Ed, yes."
Chris' eyes gleamed with victory.
"Me yes what?" Ed asked as he slipped onto the stool next to Roy. "Hey, Chris."
"Hello, Ed. Need a refill?" she asked, nodding to his nearly empty glass of beer.
"Nah." Ed shook his head. "I know when I've had enough." He glanced at Roy's fresh glass. "Unlike some people."
"What, exactly, are you insinuating about my level of inebriation, Edward?" Roy demanded while Chris went to, he assumed, fix Ed some tea of his own.
Ed considered him for a moment, then decided, "For the moment, nothing."
Chris returned with a tumbler similar to Roy's. "House special," she said when Ed looked like he was about to refuse. "Drink it before I get insulted."
Ed sighed and accepted the drink. He took a careful sip, then stopped, looking surprised, and turned towards Roy. "This is–"
Roy smirked at him and reached out to click his glass against Ed's. "What was that about my level of inebriation, again?"
Ed chuckled and wrapped both hands around his glass. "Thanks, Chris," he offered with a bright smile.
"Consider it a return for you taking my suggestion," Chris said, glancing at Roy, before leaving them to respond to the hail from someone else down the bar.
"Ah," Ed murmured into his glass.
Roy glanced back towards their table, checking on his team, before quietly admitting, "She always cuts me off. Still charges me like she doesn't, though."
Ed snorted. "Yeah, I can see the resemblance."
Roy let out his own snort and they both fell quiet, nursing their tea, Roy occasionally checking on the state of his team; Havoc looked to be trying to catch Helen, while Fuery played wingman and Falman recited facts of one brand or another.
"Did you mean it?" Ed asked into the easy silence between them.
Roy focussed on him. "Did I mean what?"
Ed stared down into his drink for a long moment, his expression troubled, before looking over at Roy. "I can't stay still. I can't just..."
Ah. "I know you're a wanderer, Ed," Roy murmured, holding the gold stare. "I'm fine just being the one you come home to." Ed's eyes softened, his mouth turning with a grateful smile. "Are you okay with knowing there will be days, maybe even weeks, when I can't leave the office because of one crisis or another?"
Ed's smile twisted, took on a resigned slant, even as his eyes gleamed with a light of humour. "Are you going to stop pretending to be lazy, then? Hawkeye might actually have a heart attack."
"Or simply have me admitted to hospital," Roy agreed, and Ed snorted. "I'm not fond of paperwork, it's tedious, but I've been stepping up while you've been away; Grumman didn't give me a choice in the matter."
"I like Grumman."
"Yes," Ed said, his tone changing, becoming more firm, less teasing, and his eyes, when Roy met them again, had taken on a grim cast that Roy was all too familiar with. "I know what it means to have to put the country before someone that you want to be more important. You make sure I have somewhere to come home to, somewhere I'm proud to come home to, and I will."
Roy smiled and brushed his fingers over Ed's cheek, pleased by the way his eyelids fluttered at the brief contact. "Fair enough. But I expect at least monthly reports from you."
Ed let out a choked laugh. "You hated my reports! You always said my handwriting was worse than a five-year-old's."
"It was," Roy insisted, and Ed lightly hit his shoulder in response. "I can only hope it's improved, but I'll suffer if I have to."
Ed snorted and wrapped his hands around his glass again. "Yeah, okay. I suppose I can make an effort to write home once a month."
Roy held out his glass. "It's a promise."
Ed cast him a suspicious glance. "You're not getting your money back yet."
Roy sighed. "Edward."
Gold eyes gleamed with amusement as Ed clinked his glass against Roy's. "Monthly letters and someone to come home to," he replied.
"From the worst of times," Maes whispered in his ear, and Roy smiled.