I should probably hide under a rock which itself is hidden in a very deep and very dark place for making you wait so long. But then… I don´t think I can get wifi under that rock. And without wifi I wouldn´t be able to read all your lovely words which always brighten my mood and make me grateful : ) And I wouldn´t be able to post a chapter, so… I think you prefer the chapter … At least I hope you do…
Life has been busy and keeping my mind on other things. Although I apologize for the enourmous wait, I don´t want to make any excuses. There were a lot of important things. The good thing is that I think I finally got a break from RL to update and write a bit.
I know it´s been long, so I´d like to make a point: I´m not going to abandon this story. I´ve read enough stories which were amazing and I loved them and… they stopped. Or disappeared. That´s not something I want to do to you.
Last but not least, I have to say a bit fat THANK YOU to Ca11iope, who has been patient with me and keeps being a wonderful fried even though I made her worry over the long absence ^^ You are wonderful! And I´m sorry.
And now, enjoy the chapter :)
Chapter 41: Picking Your Battles
Being under observation on doctor´s order was exhausting. Due to his wandering thoughts, Roy had a difficult time falling asleep, and even when he did finally manage to drift off, he was rudely awoken by the nurses or Doctor Streng for his hourly round of inane questions. By the time his prescribed twenty-four hour observation regimen was almost over, the Colonel was utterly exhausted. Then, to add insult to injury, the absolute last person he could possibly want to see stormed into the room.
Not because Roy cared that he likely looked like death warmed over at the moment, vain as he could be. Also, even though he was tired as hell, he wouldn´t have minded the overly energetic and far too loud alchemist barging in. What he did mind however was...
"Paperwork?" Roy blinked, unwilling to believe what he saw. This had to be a nightmare. For once, he hoped for a bossy nurse to wake him up, because surely, this couldn´t be real.
Papers... a pen... an envelope for internal use... fuck.
"Get out!" the Colonel growled, quite tempted to just throw the sheet over his head like a child.
The moment the words were out of his mouth, Roy winced mentally. After Ed´s almost-or-not love confession, maybe Ed would take this the wrong way –
"You´ve been lazing around the whole day, bastard. You'll survive signing a few papers," Ed answered as he hopped up onto the bed´s edge.
- then again, this was Ed. No reason to worry as long as references to his height were left out of it.
The blond pretty much threw the papers in Roy´s lap before holding out the pen. Feeling his headache increase, the Colonel looked at the offending implement in Ed´s hand as if the blond was offering him a venomous snake.
"Roy..." Ed said it with that tone.
How was it possible for a blond alchemist from Resembool who was years younger than the Colonel and still on the short side to sound just like Roy´s mother? Ed had never met Roy's mom, so how the hell was he able to imitate her? Maybe it was just the tone all people found the most useful when it came to Roy and work involving paper. His mother had used that tone when it came to homework; Hawkeye used it when it came to paperwork; other officers used it when they needed Roy to expedite some document or another; and now, Ed.
It was a conspiracy, damn it!
Ed raised an eyebrow, and wagged the pen between his fingers.
Reluctantly, Roy took the pen, which earned him a smile and a quick kiss on the lips. Ed glanced around, looking for anything he might use as a firm support for Roy to write on. Not quite as grumbly after the kiss, Roy picked up one of the documents. Despite his headache, he tried to concentrate on the small letters. The other alchemist, without further ado, took Roy's patient chart and flipped the pages before handing the chart over for Roy to use as a makeshift desk.
"Ed. . . " Frowning at the typical circumlocution the military used in all of their forms, Roy lowered the pen. Why the hell did he had to do this now? And what exactly was 'this'?
"I need your signature as my former CO," the younger alchemist explained. "It´s part of this whole 'welcome back' procedure." Ed rolled his eyes and pulled his legs up on the bed. "In other words, someone thought of a way to make this far more complicated than it should be, and someone else put that plan into action. I'm sure you remember. Doesn't matter where you're going. Could be to Central Command. Could be some shitty little shack somewhere in Briggs, buried under loads of snow, not a single soul around to talk to, where the 'postman' is some badass kamikaze dove trained by General Armstrong to survive in that environment. A technique passed down through generations..." a dismissive gesture made it clear that Ed expected him to know the rest of that speech, which Roy, of course, did.
"You are rather talkative right now," Roy commented dryly.
"And you are-" Edward was interrupted by another voice.
"-surprisingly manipulative. Interesting."
Roy recognized Hughes´ voice and looked up, but the Investigations Officer wasn´t paying him any attention. He was observing the other alchemist through creepily reflecting glasses, never mind the fact that there seemed to be no light source for his glasses to reflect. And as to why Maes said 'surprisingly' - Roy being manipulative was no surprise. But Ed...
Ed huffed and shrugged.
Huh. Roy looked down at the forms again, forcing his brain to comprehend the words. There didn´t seem to be anything out of order. They looked pretty much standard. He had handed similar documents, albeit with different attachments, to his own former CO when he returned from his post in Briggs. It was quite eerie, though, how close Ed had come to describing Roy's circumstances after his demotion and banishment to the north - well, except for the bird. An Armstrong-trained dove... Roy smiled at the thought. Maybe he should offer the idea as a formal suggestion for improvement.
"Let´s just say I´m eager to return to duty." Ed's dry words interrupted Roy´s thoughts and the Colonel looked up to meet golden eyes, demanding an answer.
Ed scowled. "Doctor Streng will probably prescribe sick leave for the rest of the day when your observation period has run its course," Ed explained.
"Which, if I don't sign these documents now, will delay your reinstatement into the military," Roy concluded with a short nod.
It was kind of absurd, but thanks to Amestris' bloody history of fighting war after war, an officer's signature was valid as long as he was not on actual leave, and as long as a doctor didn´t deem him unfit to make reasonable and responsible decisions. Which had not happened to Roy despite his concussion, and spoke volumes about the kind of behavior Dr. Streng had to deal with on a regular basis. On a battlefield it wasn't uncommon for a commanding officer to issue orders while lying in a med-tent close to the combat zone. While at war, the military couldn´t afford to have commanding officers stay idle in their tents to recuperate. As long as they were judged mentally competent, an officer could still command, which meant issuing orders.
Unfortunately, that concept had proved to be much more problematic than the non-combatant, desk bound, pencil pushing decision makers stationed well behind the fighting could ever have imagined. In the first place, 'mentally competent' was by and large an extremely vague concept in war. And in the second place, depending on the amount of pain the officer was in, decisions made and orders given were often the product of men either heavily medicated or in so much pain that they couldn't think straight, which forced the men following those orders to suffer the consequences. The Amestrian bureaucracy was slow to change, however, and repealing laws after spending years to push them through was a task only the most patient and driven of men might undertake. Worse, it also meant acknowledging that a mistake had been made. So instead, many inane laws were no longer practiced and generally ignored, though they were still on the books.
Roy found it quite curious to know that Edward was aware of this particular regulation. Roy felt a pang of satisfaction, too, over the fact that he was no longer surprised over the amount of preparation and insight the former Fullmetal put into his actions.
"You are in no condition to sign any paperwork." Maes threw in. "This can wait a while, I-"
"I need access to headquarters," the blond growled, sending a sharp glance towards Hughes.
"What for?" Roy demanded to know. Obviously, Hughes was trying to prevent Ed from rejoining immediately for some unknown reason, which Ed seemed determined to do.
Ed bit his lips and glared at Hughes, who stared back.
"What for?" Roy repeated, this time forcing his voice into 'Superior Officer' mode. Which naturally did nothing for Ed, but Hughes as the lower ranking soldier felt compelled to answer.
"Edward has demanded to pick out his initial assignment before his actual reenlistment," Hughes said sourly. "Which is completely unacceptable, and not an option."
So the problem was not exactly when Edward was signed in, but what for. This kind of answer was rather childish and not typical of Hughes. Something was going on. Roy needed more information.
"Just like the Liore assignment was not an option. And just like every other assignment which so much as mentioned the Philosopher's Stone was not an option," Roy reminded Maes with a sudden rush of schadenfreude. Nonetheless, he kept his voice calm and his tone dry in order to drive his message home. "I really feel for you, Maes." One didn´t need to be an Investigation's officer to detect the sarcasm in his words.
"Funny." Or in those words, either.
The frown never left Ed's face. Obviously annoyed, he leaned back against the headboard and pulled his legs up onto the bed without bothering to take off his shoes. Considering the slightly chemical smell and the almost aggressive whiteness of the overly bleached sheets, Roy felt no desire to reprimand him.
"And pray tell, which assignment is he demanding?" By now, the Flame Alchemist decided to use Maes as his source of information, because he did not think Ed would willingly co-operate.
"He happens to be present," Ed threw in testily, but both Roy and Maes ignored him.
Hughes was quiet for a few seconds, which gave the Colonel a hint as to what this might be about.
"He demands to be let in on the investigation of the recent attack on you," Hughes finally admitted.
Now this was something Roy needed to think about. Leaning back, he looked between the two stone-faced men. Both attempted to stare him down, hoping to gain his support. Finally, Roy came to a decision and settled his gaze on the Investigations Officer.
Despite their earlier argument, there were no words needed between them. Sighing in defeat, Maes muttered, "You´re making a mistake." Then he turned to leave Roy and Ed alone.
A few weeks ago, Roy would have expected Ed to eagerly take advantage of his victory and push Roy to immediately sign the document. Now, however, Roy wasn't surprised as he watched the blond man's gaze follow Hughes until the door fell closed. Only then did Ed´s eyes meet the Colonel's.
They stayed quiet for a few seconds. Staring at the other man, Roy picked up the document and pen.
"I´m going to sign this on one condition," he began, and looked up to find himself the center of Ed´s attention. Which he might enjoy sometime later, but this needed to be clear first. "You will not investigate this matter."
It was instantly clear which matter Roy was referring to, and Ed immediately went rigid.
"This is not debatable," Roy interrupted, and even though he could see the anger building up in Ed, he continued. "I do understand what you are aiming for with this, but-"
"The fuck you do!" Ed burst out. "You can´t expect me to just sit down an-"
"-and let Hughes do his job. Yes, that's exactly what I expect you to do," Roy returned.
Before this could end up in a shouting match with each interrupting the other without listening, Roy quickly reached out for Ed´s balled fist and placed his own hand over it. Surprisingly, it seemed to be enough to get Edward to listen for a few seconds.
"He´s good at what he does," Roy said quietly.
"You two are fighting," Ed pointed out, and seeing no sense in denying the obvious, Roy nodded.
"He´s still good at what he does. Maes is a consummate professional. This man has given people some would consider mortal enemies safe passage through battlefields at great risks to his own life, because it was the right thing to do. He has acted against traitors in the military who had once been close friends. And despite our current circumstances, I can be absolutely sure his feelings – both positive and negative – will not affect his performance in this investigation. Can you guarantee the same?"
He was met with silence. Even without the scene Ed had caused by beating up one of Roy's attackers, they both knew the blond wouldn´t be able to claim the same amount of emotional distance.
"You have a personally stake in this matter," the Colonel explained, and found himself remembering another time when he had used logic and hard facts against Ed, shortly after Nina Tucker´s gruesome death. This time however, there was no need to distance himself from Ed, so he didn´t force the affection and warmth out of his voice when he continued. "I am aware that you want to deal with these enemies, and make sure there is no lingering danger. I suspect you have had someone take action against you and a lover in the past."
It was rather obvious if one put together all the puzzle pieces. The things Ed had said about having to hide his relationship, and the way he spoke of being cautious, even when drunk. And even more so, the way Edward had clung to him that same night, as if afraid that Roy might be taken away. It felt strange to be on the receiving end of what Roy considered to be his role as protector, but he could understand the motives behind Ed´s intentions.
"Believe me, Ed. I understand perfectly what this is about. But disregarding the damage you might do to your career as well as your Commander's – which in this case will be Maes' for the first few months - you are simply too emotionally invested in this situation. No one – and that includes the both of us – can predict how you will react to what you might uncover in this investigation. It´s simply too risky, and I will not put you at risk."
Edward eyed the Colonel sullenly, but said nothing.
Roy continued. "In addition to any overtly aggressive behavior in which you might engage individually, you will be dragging the Investigations team along with you. And I know your methods, if you recall. You have always preferred to work alone, and that will not inspire the trust of the other investigators, your colleagues, Maes' team, who are experts in this area and, believe it or not, know how to get the job done. As well, you would be coming into the investigation though the back door, because we both know this is not exactly standard procedure, which might inspire some resentment, and that's no way to start a professional relationship with your comrades. So I can´t, in good conscience, let you jump into this." Roy concluded.
By then, Ed was biting his lip, but didn´t argue back. His built-up frustration and tension was obvious, however, and the Colonel could see the man´s mind running wild, trying to undermine Roy's argument. Ed finally huffed in helpless frustration, clearly unhappy, and pulled his hand out from underneath Roy's.
"Why bother to sign off on me, then, when you won´t give me the one thing I actually want from all this shit?" Ed asked bitterly.
"Because it will give you access to headquarters." Roy replied calmly, and thankfully, Ed seemed to perk up at this. Smiling at the look received for his words, the Colonel placed the pen's point on the paper and looked at Ed. "That way you can at least indulge your paranoia by following me around like the good military dog you are officially going to be. That is, once you promise me that you will stay out of the investigation . . ." Roy paused, looking expectedly at Ed until the man finally, though reluctantly, nodded. The Colonel signed the document with a flourish and handed it to the other man, ". . . and turn in that document," he finished.
"I´m not sure if I should kiss you or slug you." Ed informed him, but took the paper anyway.
And here Roy had made a valiant effort not to say 'follow me around like a good little military dog'. That would likely have earned him a solid punch. Putting on the most charming smile he had thus far managed while in the hospital wing, Roy decided that a bit of a reward was in order, so no one could blame him for trying his luck.
"Can I register my vote on that?" The Colonel asked, but left out the slightly husky tone which would normally accompany those words. Considering his sore throat, he was afraid it might sound… less than appealing.
"I´m afraid elections have to wait till after you are out of here, Colonel." Dr. Streng's dry tone interrupted whatever answer Edward might have made.
Roy looked over in hopes of being freed from hospital captivity, and was elated to note the olive green forms on which official releases were usually printed. He let out a relieved shout – or rather, something that should have been a shout.
Ed startled and appeared unsure whether he had heard the noise right, and Roy felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment.
"Did you just … croak?" the blond asked, amazed at the Colonel sounding suspiciously like his voice was breaking during puberty.
"Let´s get out of here. I´m sick of this whole wing." Roy began shrugging out of his hospital attire and pulling on his uniform in record time.
Even though the corners of Ed´s mouth twitched, the blond nodded. "So, since you are now officially on sick leave, we can go out. I don´t think there are any sandwiches left, since I left them with Breda, but they would have been stale by now anyway, so I guess we'll just have to buy some." Ed stood up and stretched.
"Sandwiches?" Roy felt as if he was missing something.
"For the picnic," Ed explained, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to go on a picnic when released from the hospital.
Roy sent a glance to Streng.
"No stress," the Doctor said instantly. "But a bit of fresh air and lying around shouldn´t strain you to much as long as you dress accordingly."
Somehow, Roy got the feeling the man wanted him out of there, and the sooner the better. The doctor's next words confirmed Roy's suspicions.
"You can schedule your next appointment with my receptionist. On your way out." The doctor practically shoved them out the door.
Neither Roy nor Ed minded at all.
I like this chapter a lot more than the last one. Originally, this chapter and the last one should have been one chapter - which I would have preferred – but then you would have waited twice as long and it´s been already far too long.
I´d be happy if you let me know what you think. I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Cu next chapter,