Maturity

Roy Mustang watched Fullmetal shift uncomfortably trying to adjust to the heavy weight at his left hip and pondered the young man in front of him. It was summer now and Ed was twenty-one. Three years ago the blond had returned after a two year absence having to replace his automail due to a huge growth spurt. Roy remembered the day that Fullmetal had returned to the office. He'd hadn't been so shocked in…well probably since the day he had first met the Elrics. Edward had grown tall enough that everyone except Armstrong had to look up at him, a fact that pleased Fullmetal to no end.

With the sudden change in height people also began to treat Edward differently. Instead of treating him as a child, they acted as if he was their equal. This had worried Mustang at first since Ed had shown a purely childish attitude on many occasions. Instead the Fullmetal alchemist seemed to reflect their attitudes as he quickly matured. Even more so when, at the age of nineteen, he managed to restore his brother's body. The two Elrics had settled in Central shortly after. Ed took up several research projects for the military while helping Al adjust to living again. Roy could remember the day he had called Fullmetal back into his office a mere three months after the near miraculous transmutation.

"You can't be serious!" Al yelled slamming his hand on Mustang's desk. "Brother does NOT have to stay! You've gotten your time. The deal's off!"

Mustang stared at the younger Elric in shock. Alphonse had never lost control in front of him before. In fact they often relied on him to control his older brother. He tensed as he saw Al reach for a piece of chalk, fingers reaching for his gloves.

"Al."

Alphonse stopped and stared up at his brother. "Brother, you can't mean you want to stay!"

"No," Edward replied surprisingly calm. "But I suspected this was coming." He placed his left hand on his brother's shoulder. "Give us a minute?" Al nodded and left throwing the Colonel one last glare over his shoulder as he did. "So the masters don't want to see their prize dog run off do they? Is this the reason you stayed?"

"Not exactly," Roy replied. He after all had stayed to attempt to change the way the government ran. But the same argument applied to him. Neither the Fullmetal nor Flame Alchemists could simply retire. They didn't even have to do much for yearly qualifications. "Your brother-" How did he point out that Al seemed like he was about to explode?

"I know," Ed replied sounding exhausted. "If this is anything like what Al and the rest of you had to put up with me all these years I surprise you didn't just fry me and be done with it."

"Your temper had its uses Fullmetal," Roy smirked.

"I'm not sure but I think I know what's going on with him," Ed continued. "I've run into a few other bound souls over the years. They always seemed distant, unfeeling. I thought maybe it was because they were so old. The youngest was about a hundred and fifty. Now I'm not so sure. I think binding a soul to an object makes it harder for a person to feel because they're distanced from everything around them. Al got around it by overcompensating. Now he's back but his emotions are still on overdrive."

"An interesting theory," Mustang mused. "Have you seen any improvement?"

"We were getting in fights everyday at first," Ed replied. "He wanted to do so many things at first that his body couldn't handle. His control's getting better. I suspect he'll be back to normal reasonably soon."

'He's not the only one whose control has improved,' Roy silently observed. Fullmetal had shown more restraint in this session than he ever had. Then again the blond could relax now. Everything wasn't quite as urgent. "Well. As long as you're staying I have a few more projects for you."

Al had improved greatly over the next two years though he still had some problems. Large crowds and noises tended to send him into a near nervous breakdown. Luckily Winry Rockbell had set up shop in Central and later moved in with the Elrics. The blonde looked after her childhood friend when Fullmetal returned to doing the occasional field mission, as trains tended to bring out the worst reaction in the younger Elric.

Shortly after Ed's twenty-first birthday, the day he obtained full status as an adult, an order came down from the Fuhrer. Recently promoted Brigadier General Mustang had given it to Fullmetal with no small amount of worry. This would be the real test on the boy's growth. Edward had sighed but conceded. That day Fullmetal officially became an officer of the military as well as a National Alchemist. He still wore his usual outfit under special permission from Bradley. It was the trademark of the Fullmetal Alchemist, Hero of the People, after all. That was something Bradley wanted to keep.

With formal enlisting came formal training. Bradley had wisely requested First Lieutenant Hawkeye to handle it. Which had lead to their current situation. "It won't leave if you keep changing positions."

"I know. I just hate guns." Ed sighed and ran a finger down the cold metal.

"Lieutenant Hawkeye says you have become quite proficient on the range. Your other courses are also coming along rather well. You'll be back out in the field soon." Proficient wasn't quite the word Roy would use for it. Ed might not match Hawkeye yet but Roy suspected with time he would. Maybe it was a blond thing. "As you become accustomed to the weight it won't bother you as much."

"Don't tell me that. I know better that than anyone else," Ed replied running his left hand down his automail arm. "Are we done here?"

"Almost," Mustang pulled out a pile of books from his desk. "These are for you to study."

Ed shuffled thought the pile. Books on tactics, protocol, political functions… "What's this?" He held up the thin handwritten journal hidden within the pack. It was clearly encoded but it wasn't one of Mustang's Alchemic journals; Ed would know those immediately. Having that many women on one page was baffling.

"It is tradition amongst some city families to pass down a guide book for their descendents containing directions on how to survive political situations. I trust it will return in exactly the same condition."

Ed stared at his commander for a long moment his fingers gently caressing the book. It was a gesture of ultimate trust to give him this. Though Mustang hadn't said it directly, this was an irreplaceable piece of his family's history. The fact that it was encoded in horse terms made that easy enough to guess. It was also a warning; Ed had come into dangerous waters. Others in the military would try and use him to their own advantage or attempt to bring him to ruin.

For the first time Edward got a glimpse of how much the officer had protected him over the years. He had always known that if the brothers' sin had been discovered he would face death and his brother would be dragged away to a lab for study. What the blond hadn't considered was what others might have done with the pairs' talents. How many others would have figured out a way to let Ed take the National Alchemist exam? How many others would have put up with his attitude and refusal to obey the rules any more than necessary? Who else could have predicted his moves so accurately that his actions benefited them both?

Ed bowed and left carefully carrying the pile of books close to his chest. Roy didn't really worry about the book's safety. Fullmetal treated books better than many librarians. He did wonder if the blond had caught his other meaning though. No one outside of his family ever saw and decoded that book. Thought the term 'family' didn't always mean those related by blood. Roy considered Edward and Alphonse family in the same way most of his office was family. At first they had been younger nephews. These days Ed at least had become more of a younger brother.

Hopefully with time Edward would catch on to what Roy had planned and help him on the way. He really missed having someone to talk to. He had Hughes of course; who did rather well considering he wasn't an alchemist, but there were things only another alchemist would understand. As for Armstrong…let's not go there.

But Edward...was exciting, full of energy even now and bright. Their earlier fights had calmed some but that drive was still there just beneath the surface. Roy would love to have a rather long discussion on Alchemy with him. Or several. He rarely got to practice his art anymore.

Roy nodded to himself and bent over the paperwork before him feeling Hawkeye's gaze fall on him. Yes, Ed had become very much of a younger brother.

If only he didn't have to look up at him.

I don't know when I'll work in this universe again. I like it, but no promises for more. Sorry!