Disclaimer: Full Metal Alchemist and characters belong to Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix… except for the massive yaoi bomb I detonated on top of them.

Large wood doors closed firmly shut behind the small figure standing in front of them, shoulders hunched over and shaking with rage.

"I'm going to beat the living crap out of him one day!" Ed screamed down the hallway, not caring who heard. He hoped that the smug jerk in the office behind him had heard it too, along with all of his little lapdogs waiting around to serve that selfish ass. He couldn't understand how Roy Mustang could have a single loyal soldier in this entire army when the man sneered and made jabbing remarks about everything, from Ed's height to his poor grammar. Everyone else that Ed had met had declared him a genius at alchemy without a second thought; except that unbearable Colonel sitting behind his stupid desk with his stupid reports and stupid gloves.

"Broth-…"

"I'm serious this time! Let's see how the Flame Alchemist reacts when I turn his entire office into ice," Ed laughed as he started to truly consider it. Turning an inanimate object into pure ice, or at least covering that whole room in a nice glaze of frozen water, would be so ridiculously easily. Ed wondered why nobody had done it before. There was already plenty of oxygen in the air, able to become water just as quickly as Roy could turn it into his trademark fire. Ed planted both fists on his hips, beginning to laugh as the plan came together in his head. Al only sighed next to him; the creaking and clanging from his armor as those huge shoulders hunched over drowned out Ed's laughter.

"I wish you wouldn't act like this. You're a State Alchemist now," Alphonse chided him like a mother, despite being the younger one. Ed couldn't wait to get Al back into his original body, because at least then he was shorter than Edward was… at least he had been. Would Al's body have gone through any changes, puberty, any kind of aging before he finally got it back? Ed immediately stopped laughing, putting a hand to his chin as he began to contemplate. Alphonse's body had to have gone somewhere- it was the where that Ed couldn't even begin to theorize about. There were hardly any written documents on Human Transmutation, the bulk of it destroyed senselessly by older Alchemists that had declared it a forbidden art and quickly went about suppressing every bit of knowledge about it… as if ignorance would protect them. Everything Ed knew was gleaned from his father's notes- may he rot in hell- and the few books in the Central Library that had barely more than a few paragraphs written about Human Transmutation. It was enough to drive Ed crazy, more superstition than any hard facts for him to find. All he could know for certain was that his arm and leg, along with Al's body, were missing.

"Brother? He really wasn't that bad, was he?" Alphonse pried gently, always careful of Ed's temper. Ed gave a sarcastic snort as his answer, crossing one metal arm over the natural one. He hated these meetings with Mustang. Once a week, he had to go in and get his ass grilled by the Colonel as Roy questioned him about when they had made the mistake of trying to resurrect their mother. Edward hated having to remember it, to go over the idiotic circle array that he had drawn out, all of the materials that he had poured on top, down to the very last second when Alphonse's body broke down in front of his eyes. Ed looked over uncomfortably to the suit of armor that he had tied his brother's soul to, feeling the guilt all over again. Ed began walking; one artificial leg, groaning underneath his pants with each step, was nothing compared to the loss of an entire body. Ed couldn't understand how Al still wanted to be around him, would still want to travel with him after he had imprisoned his little brother inside an oversized suit of armor. He should have been the one to lose his body; he had been responsible for the whole mess in the first place. Edward regretted that day he had even begun to think of making another Mother, one that would smile the same, cook the same, and always leave a light on for them. It was unfair that Mother had died, that her life had just ended before they had even grown up. She had never gotten a chance to see her sons make anything of themselves, hadn't been there when they went through the State Alchemist test… just gone. He would have given anything to have her back; at least he had thought so at the time.

But, when the price had been his own brother…

"I am going to beat the shit out of him," Edward snarled under his breath, hating Mustang for bringing up these horrible memories. It was as if the man enjoyed listening to the most awful day of his life, pouring over every detail as if he wanted to revive a loved one of his own. As far as Ed knew, he was the only person to survive through a Human Transmutation… and he didn't want anyone else to experience that pain again. He had given up all thought of having their mother back long, long ago. Now, he just wanted his little brother, warm flesh and blood instead of this hulking monster of steel and leather straps. Al was sensitive and sweet, someone that didn't belong inside the shell Ed had shoved him into. It had been selfish and cruel, but Ed couldn't think of anything better to do. Being left alone would be even worse.

"You shouldn't talk that way about Colonel Mustang," Alphonse sighed again, as if he was only echoing himself. Edward frowned, about to tell him just what he could do with Roy Mustang…

"He's right, you know," announced a gravelly voice that Ed hated upon the first syllable. He turned around to see three soldiers in full uniform; service coats dirty and stained. Ed frowned, wondering when they had gotten so desperate for manpower that they had needed to start enlisting convicts. These men looked like every stock variety of hardened killers. One was short but still depressingly taller than he was, with black hair and narrow, small, black eyes. He would have been plain if he wasn't so overweight, making Ed wonder just what he could possibly be able to do. Another was tall, thin, with a matching black braid slung over one shoulder. He looked weak but somehow managed to still be intimidating, grinning predatorily at them both.

"You can't say whatever you want about your superior officer," snapped out the middle one, who was of a more average height. His face was so ugly that it was almost a miracle of life, not a single feature proportionate with the other. Even his eyes were unequal, the left one narrowed more than the other, slightly bulging, one set over a flaring nostril in a nose that was too narrow and long to actually work. Ed didn't even want to imagine what might be identified from the tiny pieces of trash caught in the man's scraggly, shoulder length hair. Al made a worried squeak, or it could have his been his armor as he began to shift about nervously. Edward could tell that his little brother was uncomfortable and that these men were beginning to worry him. They didn't make him very nervous, not after he had just dealt with the Flame Alchemist. Edward was ready to bring their worst nightmares to life with his talent. He wouldn't even need to draw out an array.

"This is the military, punk," the middle one explained, throwing a glance back at his two cronies. They obviously thought that this was somehow funny, all of them laughing loudly in front of Mustang's office. Ed could hear Alphonse's soft and concerned 'brother' as their little gathering soured… or it had been that way from the start. Edward could smell a fight in the air, one that he was more than ready to take on.

"Really?" Edward sneered out sarcastically, throwing his hands out at the decorated walls of the military headquarters. A large mural of a city burning as lines of shadowy soldiers came out victorious was hanging to their side, like Roy Mustang enjoyed being a Flame Alchemist so much that he had to have a piece depicting his own horrible glory. Edward wouldn't call that art. Ever. He hated the military and everything that it stood for. Obedience, unity, clean uniforms, standing up straight and taking one on the chin from a Colonel every single day was not Ed's idea of a good time. At least he hadn't joined the State Alchemists during wartime; or else Edward would be burning that city along with the rest of them. He didn't look forward to his time as a military dog, but he would do anything to give Alphonse his own body back. If he could get closer to the Philosopher's Stone by doing this, he would have no regrets.

"This isn't a daycare. Don't think we're going to take it easy on you because you're a kid," growled out the tall one, stepping up out of the lineup to lean over him. Ed stared forward at the man's zipper, hating his height all over again. He really didn't want to, but Edward was finally forced to lift his head up in order to glare at the jerk hanging over him.

"Hell, you're not even a kid, you short freakin' midget," laughed the tall one, each word a stab into Ed's pride. Alphonse began fretting in earnest, all those metal plates and leather straps creaking as his little brother began to shake and make grabbing motions at the air, like he thought he should try to hold Ed back and then thought better of it.

"Al, I think that we have some military matters to discuss," Edward suggested in a sickly sweet voice that was so bad it must have given him a cavity. It seemed that he was going to have to show these idiots just why he had passed the State Alchemist exam at the age of twelve. He was no kid, certainly not after the things that he had done. He wasn't about to allow some morons who ranked lower than him to threaten him! In the military, State Alchemists were above lumbering soldiers any day, especially a collection of freaks like these. Once again, Edward wondered how they had even gotten into the military if they were happy pushing around 'kids' in the hallways. He would like to know just what Roy Mustang would think of this, that arrogant and idealistic bastard. They certainly weren't underneath the Colonel's command, not if they had allowed the front of their jackets to become stained with food and their belts frayed and cracked from age. Edward wouldn't be surprised to know that the three were all the end result of inbreeding, seeming like brothers in that same stupid and ugly aspect.

"Brother, I don't think-…" Alphonse started, weaving the fingers of his gloves together like he was going to try begging.

"…-That you want to be around for this," Edward interrupted quickly. The three cronies began chuckling at the confident words. Alphonse had always had this thing about violence and fighting. He would probably pull Edward off of these three before he could even prove his point. Ed could tell that they were the types of idiots who needed their lesson pounded right into them. A few broken bones and he wouldn't be bothered ever again.

"Run along, you don't want to see us beat this little runt," the taller one mocked his height one last, final time. Alphonse finally sighed and reluctantly began hulking down the hallway- because there was really no way for a suit of armor to simply walk. It was hard to watch his little brother go, grinding his teeth together while the thugs giggled with anticipation. Edward was fighting down that instinctive response to start yelling and kicking at someone who was being so rude, though it was hard. He still had to wait until Al was out of sight, or else he knew that his brother would come back to 'help' him when Edward wanted to do this on his own. Alphonse wasn't a member of the military. He didn't need to get involved in this for any reason. Edward wouldn't be able to bear with it if Alphonse got hurt because of him… though that was pretty much impossible now that Al didn't even have a body. He was still quite young and sensitive though, and Al didn't need to see his older brother beating the crap out of adults, no matter how stupid and ugly they were.

"Hey, hey now, are you sure you're going to be all right without that big guy to protect you?" the fattest one asked, grinning like a pig. He started to advance forward on the carpet, obviously trying to intimidate Edward by standing over him. Hadn't they already learned that this didn't work? Edward was used to everyone looming over him, glaring up pure hatred at the overgrown hog. Even his boots had a heel in them and he didn't make it past the average adult's shoulders. It was worse now that he had joined the military, because it seemed like most soldiers were bigger and stronger than normal, the Colonel and his misfits seemed to be an exception to this. Edward wondered if it was something in the food, and if so, why hadn't it worked yet! His small stature couldn't be because of a lack of vitamins; Edward consumed most anything that was edible, along with Alphonse's share whenever people made the mistake of thinking he could eat. It was his fault that his little brother didn't even have a mouth, or hands and feet and a damn body to call his own. Edward didn't eat so much just because he was hungry, but also because he knew Alphonse couldn't. He had to appreciate all the tiny details in life for his brother's sake as well, not about to forget for one second just what they were travelling for. Edward had already grown accustomed to his auto-mail, used to the heavy machinery that had replaced his arms and legs until they no longer even bothered him, except when the joints needed maintenance.

"Unfortunately, he was protecting you from me," Edward corrected, waving a finger up in the pudgy, stinking jerk's face. It was only the truth; now that Alphonse was gone, there was no one to stop him from seriously hurting these guys. They had already come at the wrong time, trying to hassle him right after he finally escaped Mustang's office… because he had been badmouthing that fire-using, sarcastic son of a bitch, nonetheless. This could all be blamed on the Colonel, from being responsible for Edward running into this group to keeping three idiots like these in the military. Just what were they doing anyway, giving a kid a hard time- even though Edward would never willingly call himself such.

"Don't get so cocky, you little shrimp," the leader warned from the back, absolutely the last comment Edward would be able to stand about his height.

"You're only making me want to crush you more!" Edward warned, bringing his hands up in front of him. The fat asshole closest to him looked down in confusion before Ed clapped his palms together; one arm made of warm flesh and bone while the other was cold, hard steel and metal wires. It was enough to make a full circuit, one that could replace a transmutation circle. The tallest one yelled out a warning far too late as the light of an alchemist reaction exploded between them. Edward managed to grab a hold of the chubby man's wrist before he could jump away, quickly manipulating the water molecules inside the human body. There was an angry cry of surprise that quickly turned into panicked squealing as he started rounding out like the balloon of fat he was. His limbs were soon useless, nothing more than a ball with chubby pinks hands waving frantically. The other two were left gaping with their mouths open at their friend beginning to roll slowly down the hallway, one swift kick sending him off in the opposite direction. It was Edward's turn to laugh heartily at the man's helpless cries, the numbers starting to equal out.

"What the hell did you do, you punk?" the somewhat decent-looking one demanded, fear written into even inch of his face. He obviously hadn't taken into account that there might be a reason why a twelve-year-old had passed the State Alchemist test. The taller one looked like he wanted to make use of his longer legs and start running away. Edward took one deliberate, loud step toward them, cackling softly as they both recoiled in fear. He began to think about what he should do next to these maggots, preparing to cast another array-

"Don't let him put his hands together!" the leader yelled out, already rushing Edward before he had a chance to clap. A fist connected underneath his chin, shaking his brain around inside his skull as his head snapped backward. He couldn't believe that the guy could hit so hard… and then belatedly reminded himself this was the military, after all. Edward should have been expecting them to be somewhat decent fighters, but instead he had underestimated them and gotten caught off-guard. How many times had his teacher yelled at him for making that mistake before? Edward had never regretted his nasty habit so much as now, his nerves jerky and unresponsive from that one blow. Ed would have happily fallen to the floor right then and there, but the soldier just had to follow up with another punch in the gut. These were all serious hits, meant to put an enemy down quickly. Despite all his training and experience, Edward was still just a kid. His body wasn't built to handle it; coughing and spitting weakly as the air was driven out of his lungs.

Ed only had the vague poetic thought of how quickly things were turned back around, his chest burning and his vision beginning to dot gray. The leader snatched him up by the base of his braid, twisting his dirty hand around Edward's hair. He found himself physically dragged away from the oversized pig that was still struggling in the hallway, unable to figure out where he was being taken. Edward was concentrating more on breathing, his footsteps stumbling before giving out entirely. The man didn't stop though, forcibly hauling Edward through one of the doors and into a dark and cold service closet. Edward was tossed in without care, thankfully before the stupid lout could rip all his hair out. His scalp was screaming from the treatment, loose strands falling around his shoulders as Edward sluggishly realized that the jerk had broken the tie holding his braid. He landed hard on knee and palm, the mechanical limbs managing to cushion the worst of the fall. Edward wheezed painfully, slowly regaining his breath as he heard the taller man close and lock the door behind them.

"Look at that hair, it's all long like a woman's," the man laughed as he tested the door once to make sure there would be no interruption. There were no windows in the room and no lights turned on; dark enough to be hard to see in with the only illumination coming from a slit across the bottom of the doorway. Even though it was a little late now, Edward managed to cough out whatever had been stuck in his throat and finally face off with his two captors… or at least glare into the darkness where he could see two figures standing over him. Edward began easing up from his knees to the balls of his feet slowly, not wanting to alert them to the fact he was going to attack soon. He didn't even look around at the shadowy and cluttered arrangement of brooms and cleaning supplies for a weapon; not needing too when he could make one out of his arm just by clapping his hands together. He would miss that small plus to auto-mail, always enjoying the looks on his enemies' faces when they were suddenly faced with a solid metal blade coming out of a kid's arm. He may have been young, but he had already fought much more than the average person would ever dream of. Edward would show them that the military was exactly where he belonged.

"More like a little girl's," laughed the average-looking one, making all coherent plans fall away as Edward simply launched himself forward. Just the solid metal of his arm would be good enough for this guy and besides, he wanted the satisfaction of punching the guy for that comment. The taller man yelled out a startled 'Philip' in warning, finally giving Edward a name for his victim. There was a satisfying impact at Edward's shoulder, making him wish he had a real arm so he could actually feel his knuckles breaking the bastard's nose. To call him a girl and short on top of it was unforgivable. Edward threw his real leg back to kick his new friend Philip right in the face when the tall one threw himself at him, easily tackling Edward while he was off balance. They fell down together; the older man's much bigger body slamming down on top of his own. Panic welled up in Ed's stomach before he stomped it down, not about to give into childish emotions. He was a State Alchemist after all. Ed began struggling out from underneath the taller man's body, trying to get his hands together to form a transmutation circle.

"Oh, I don't think so," Philip declared coldly as his government-issued boot slammed down on top of Edward's left arm. Ed didn't know if he should call it irony or something else as the ugly lout put his weight down, twisting his shoe into Edward's tendons. Philip had a hand over his nose, blood coming through the fingers as he glared down at Ed, his eyes bright in the relative darkness of the room. Edward fought down the urge to cry out; knowing that would probably bring someone there to help him. He couldn't have that, wanting the satisfaction of beating these guys himself. He was a dog the military now! What would he do if he couldn't handle some damn mutts from the very bottom of command? Edward refused to give into the fear that wanted to take over his brain, burning up from his guts, desperately trying to think of a solution instead. He had to find a way out.

"You're helpless if you can't clap these pretty little hands together. Do something about his other arm," the man ordered, proving that Edward had been right in assuming that he was the leader. They were truly fools if they thought he was only able to do alchemy with his hands. Edward was a genius not just for that significantly outstanding ability, but he had studied every written text he could find pertaining to the science. He had memorized just about every array possible, fingers scrabbling around for something to draw it out with. Even a rock would do. He didn't want to be trapped underneath this Philip, who was starting to bleed on him as Ed felt something warm and wet hit his face. The other man was having a hard time keeping his hand around Edward's mechanized wrist, his face becoming confused at the strength and hardness of the limb he was trying to hold down. Edward had a better chance at getting his right arm free and started struggling with renewed energy, kicking, flailing, and even biting as his teeth closed down on air. They truly were soldiers, close enough to hold him down yet able to stay out of his range. Another useless twist of his body and the sleeve to his jacket tore loudly, revealing the metal structure underneath.

There was a moment of frozen shock while the taller man stared down at what was right in front of his eyes in utter disbelief. Edward found himself struggling for new reasons as the man suddenly ripped at his clothes. Seams broke and fabric fell down to expose his entire arm, artificial joints groaning in protest as the man tried to restrain him again. The pair went quiet at the scar tissue before his arm hooked up to his body, horrifying even in the dim lighting of the storage closet.

"I can't believe a kid like you has auto-mail," Philip hissed, completely oblivious to the true meaning of his missing limbs. Well, he certainly didn't look like the studious type, and Edward couldn't expect anyone outside of alchemy to understand exactly what taboo he had broken. His body would be proof enough to damn him, if anyone knew what they were truly looking at. Alphonse's lack of one was much more horrifying than Edward's own mutilation. At least he still had half of his… though sometimes Edward didn't think it had been very equivalent trade at all. He should have been able to do more for Alphonse then, not just shove his little brother's soul into a piece of armor. Death would have been kinder, if Edward thought he would be able to survive without Al.

"Switch with me," he snapped suddenly, grinding his boot into Edward's arm in warning. The taller man adjusted his hold as well, a knee digging into his stomach as the guy slowly began to ease off of his right arm. Edward wasn't about to hold still when such an opportunity was being presented to him… except when he was struck hard in the face for daring to move. Edward was dazed so badly he didn't even know if it had been a fist or a slap, doing his best to keep on glaring at them. Even if they had just been meaning to give him a hard time because he was a kid, they were still plain soldiers while he was a State Alchemist.

"I've still got to pay you back for this nose. I think you broke it," the man sneered, his bloody hand pinching the bridge of his nose tentatively and wincing in pain. His damn lackey was continuing to ram his knee into the soft part of Edward's torso, as if he was some hardened criminal that could break free at any moment. It was possible, just not physically- they were simply bigger and heavier than he was. Philip quickly braced his shin against Edward's wrist, weighing down his arm with his entire body. There was nothing Edward could do except kick the floor, his legs at the wrong angle to hit either of his captors.

"Good, maybe it can improve your looks," Edward snapped back as they settled into new positions, even though he was tasting blood in his own mouth now. He didn't have anything particularly clever to say right now, sure that his own face was beginning to swell up from the burning throbbing where he'd been hit, but he wasn't the type to get scared with a few threats. It was the continuous blows that were starting to get to him, making the shadows in the storage room even darker and bigger than before as his vision blurred. There was no doubt of where the other two were in this room, not when he could feel both of them sitting on him.

"You know, I had a friend who had an auto-mail. His real arm got blown off in the Ishibal conflict," Philip began explaining as he put fingers to the base of Edward's shoulder. He couldn't help but recoil, trying to get away out of sheer disgust of this man's touch. It was different from how they had been trying to restrain him, fingertips brushing along bare skin in a way that lingered. Edward didn't like it at all; unable to deny the fact that he was scared any longer when the soldier began examining his auto-mail.

"If I remember correctly…" the now incredibly ugly and average leader mumbled to himself, deftly hitting the buttons on the locking mechanism for the joint. Edward had enough time to cry out in protest before his arm was released and pulled right off. He knew immediately when the circuits detached, his body spasming hard enough to shake the taller man pinning him down. Phantom pains of his missing limb immediately began to take over, Edward's teeth clamped shut to keep himself from screaming in agony. He didn't usually have to deal with it when there was a fake arm responding, but now his brain was frantically sending signals to fingers that weren't there. It hurt in a way that was unreal, not just an ache emanating from his shoulders but spreading out to the air where he should have an arm. Edward was vaguely aware of them laughing at his suffering, heard the metal clang of his auto-mail being tossed aside like an alarm clock. He came back into focus just in time to hear Philip talk while his taller friend remained, holding down a body that wasn't in much shape for struggling right now.

"This is supposed to hurt like hell, right?" he asked curiously, stabbing a finger into the circular input for his arm's signal wiring. There was a thin, protective flap of rubber that was pushed aside as the man prodded his index finger into the raw nerves and flesh that lay behind. He might as well of been poking at an infected wound with a stick of salt for how much it hurt. Edward forgot to fight, to draw an array, to trick them somehow, just began thrashing around mindlessly. He screamed his agreement, the pain overwhelming him past sanity.

A dry hand clamped over his mouth when he became too loud.

-

It was always the rookies that gave him the most trouble. All high off of passing the esteemed State Alchemist test, they thought they were all-powerful and invincible. It didn't take long to make them realize just what it meant to be a dog of the military, for him to have to break their spirit and shove them into rank before anything worse could happen. An independent mind was not welcome in the military. Ambitions beyond serving the Fuhrer and the King would be crushed without hesitation. Even so, it had been a while since he had to deal with anyone so damn immature. He was used to fresh cadets from the military academy or farmers' sons who wanted to serve their country, all of the men dead serious about their post. The most naïve, immature adolescent he had to deal with had been no younger than seventeen. Now, he had a twelve-year-old State Alchemist that he needed to train, no better than a wild animal that refused to be collared. Edward still seemed to have the delusion that he was allowed a free will in the military, constantly disregarding orders and sulking like a child whenever Roy reprimanded him. It didn't help that the boy was so short with those big, golden eyes overwhelming the face that hadn't quite grown into them yet. Too bad reality was going to inevitable crush that rowdy spirit. It had happened to him as well, to everyone that had joined the military. Their lives became cold and hard no matter what any of them tried to do, and things wouldn't change for the Full Metal Alchemist. So tragically immature, innocent, and idealistic, the complete opposite of his father despite the chilling resemblance. Roy had heard the stories before, had se-…

A pile of papers hit his desk, about an inch thick and clipped together smartly. Roy recognized the complaint form immediately, having to go through hundreds of them as a Colonel. That by no means meant he actually read half of what was written on those worthless things, far more accustomed to finding the line he signed as quickly as possible before throwing it in the 'out' box.

"What's this?" Roy pointed at the stack of reports that his favorite Lieutenant had chosen to deliver personally. It wasn't just because she was a woman who managed to make the depressingly utilitarian dress of the military look somewhat alluring, but because she was the most loyal and steadfast subordinate officer that he had ever met. She listened and obeyed him without question- except for those very few, very rare occasions when he had actually been about to make a mistake. She didn't hesitate to tell him so then, which unquestionably took more balls than any of his men had.

"This week's sexual harassment cases," she explained in a painfully business manner, shaking her head back to clear the fall of her bangs from her eyes. Roy had to admit that he loved that petite habit of hers, appreciating the flash of neck and graceful curve of the chin. There were certain perks to having her yell at him all day, because he could just tune out whatever she was bitching about this time and stare at the body in front of him. Just imagine the day when the women in the military could actually wear something befitting of their figure. There would certainly be a few more complaints then.

"Why can't military men just behave themselves?" Roy tossed his hands up, shaking his head at the people they were allowing into the military these days. The number of complaints was impressive; probably even more so if they were all filed by different individuals. This was the sort of thing that required he actually read whatever they were whining about; because there might be a lonely woman, whom after experiencing a horrible event with some brutish fellow officer, would need a gentleman- such as himself- to comfort and protect her…

"These are all yours," Hawkeye corrected him coolly.

"What!" He couldn't keep himself from yelling aloud, snatching the papers up and beginning to flip through them in disbelief. There was no way that all of these could be just for him... even though he had never known Riza to make a mistake. He heard Fuery and Havok giggling at their own desks, carefully hunched over their work and trying to hide their amusement- while failing miserably, of course. One sharp glare in their direction at the two men quickly shut up, pens writing furiously the only sound coming from their side of the room.

"I took the courtesy of sorting them out from the other two complaints we got for the entire company," Lieutenant Hawkeye explained, the disapproval in her tone clear as daylight. She didn't just laugh behind his back; she simply wasn't that type of woman. She got up in his face about it, extremely articulate when she wanted to be. He would bet money that she had probably already reported the number of complaints just for the beginning of this month and got him cited for disrespectful conduct- again.

"Just what the hell is this?" he demanded, scanning over a random accusation that didn't sound like him at all. Roy scowled at the name, his memory struggling to place it until he recalled Melissa, the blonde from the accounting branch. She hadn't taken being dumped in a public restaurant very well, so Roy had quietly eased away from the sobbing woman, paid for dinner, and never returned her calls again. Now she had put down some ridiculous and unsavory lie about how long the Flame Alchemist could last in bed. He was going to have to call this foolish bitch up and rectify her thinking, not about to leave such a gross inaccuracy alone. He had a reputation to uphold, after all, glancing back up at the woman frowning down at him. Had Riza already read all of these reports or just sorted them for him like a good girl?

"Most are demanding that you apologize. There are four that state they're now pregnant and want you take responsibility, while seventeen are from officers who claim you've stolen their girlfriends, three were wive-…"

"Enough," Roy held his hand up to halt further embarrassment. He accepted the papers with as much grace and dignity as a man could have in that sort of situation, the rest of the people in the office snickering loudly. She returned to her desk to finish up the paperwork that they had been left with, satisfied with the damage that she had wrought. Roy only moaned as he flipped to the next page, no better than the first one he had looked at. There was no way he could let his commanding officers see this sort of thing. Though the military liked to preach that personal affairs would not reflect upon a man's professional success, they would never let him move up in rank if they read that he was, quote: '-no good for more than several minutes if he's well rested' along with other such lies. Women never seemed to think that it could possibly be their fault for the sex not lasting long enough, with absurd expectations and a complete lack of talent in bed. What else was he supposed to do but get it over with when the lady was doing nothing more but laying back and enjoying it? He might as well have just masturbated alone in his apartment and saved some money on taking a woman out, buying a bottle of whiskey instead. Some evenings he did do just that, drinking alone and crying alone because he couldn't handle being a Colonel any longer… he was just a miserable, petty human being, after all. He had made mistakes, too many to count, some too horrible to ever forget. It was even worse now that those Elric brothers had shown up, with the foolish belief that they could make a difference. Roy had used to think like that, believing in what the military stood for and his own indubitable significance as a decent person… and then he had killed in cold-blood, with Alchemy, with guns, with orders issued on the battlefield as he sent his troops to untimely deaths. Sometimes Roy couldn't understand why anyone would follow him at all, after some of the things he had done all for the sake of moving up. One day he would get to a place where no one would ever order him to kill again, where he would never force a soldier to shoot a child in the head just for being born in the wrong country.

"Um… excuse me?" came a tentative voice, soft rapping on the door covered up by the loud clank of a suit of armor poking its head in. Everyone in the room looked up at the intrusion, most likely surprised that there wasn't two of them. It was an odd day indeed when the Elric brothers weren't together. Mustang found himself taken back every time at the sight of Alphonse Elric, an unexplainable anomaly in Alchemy… in life itself. The very fact that Edward had managed to tie his little brother's soul to an object after being lost in a failed Human Transmutation proved that there actually were souls, something beyond the flesh and bone of their bodies. To think that Edward had somehow managed to call Alphonse back from the dead was even more unimaginable. The Full Metal Alchemist had seen the other side of life, had played around with human souls like a God no matter what his intentions had been. Those missing limbs and his ability to perform Alchemy without an array was proof enough of the sin he had committed. Roy could be court-martialed just for knowing this much and not reporting it, but he knew what they would do the Elric brothers. Neither of them would be treated as human any more. The military would turn them into studies, experiments, dissections until there was nothing left to do but kill them. Roy had been allowed into one of the military's secret labs before just to meet some government personnel, and even till this day he got nauseous thinking about it

"Oh, Alphonse-kun, what's wrong? Did you forget something?" Lieutenant Hawkeye asked in a polite, sweet tone that better belonged to a mother. It was no secret that she was soft on the newest additions to his commands, finding something in the Elric brothers that was absolutely irresistible. She wasn't the only one either; in fact, the few women in the military were dropping by his office just to see the youngest State Alchemist in history. Roy wasn't sure if it was his age or his short stature that made the ladies squeal and dolt over him, but he was sure that Edward wouldn't appreciate the reasons. The Full Metal Alchemist didn't tolerate it very much either, either yelling at or outright shoving anyone foolish enough to approach him. Why wasn't he the one getting slapped with harassment complaints… and more importantly, why were the women beginning to pay attention to some clueless minor instead of him?

"Uh, no… well, you see- it's that…it's like… um," Alphonse faltered, fidgeting around in the doorway and twiddling his thumbs together self-consciously. Riza smiled at the childish nervousness of the boy, even though the suit of armor towered over her. Havok kept staring at the door behind him, obviously waiting for Edward to appear. The rest of the people in the room went back to frowning at the work that had built up, Roy especially not happy with new development. Besides, it was nearly impossible to start planning out all the make-up dates and one-night-stands he was going to have to do in order to clear this all up when there was a child simpering and stammering in the corner. Even worse was that armor clanging together like a motley collection of pots of pans, getting louder each time Alphonse Elric shifted his weight around nervously.

"We do have some work to get done here, so if you would mind being quick about it, Mr. Elric," Roy snapped angrily, sick of his command slowly turning into a daycare. He ignored the glare Riza sent at him for being so rude to what was really a younger boy than Edward, no matter what the difference in size and appearance was. Even so, since when had it been all right to have a civilian wandering around in the building without any supervision? Ever since the Elric brothers had landed here, it had been nothing but paperwork and complaints as they tried to clean up after the mess they left behind. Sexual harassment reports were nothing compared to having two children on the loose in what just until last week had been a tightly run military establishment. One was supposed to be a State Alchemist, but with his quick temper and even louder voice, Edward Elric didn't act like any type of genius. If Roy hadn't had the questionable timing of showing up at the tail of the Elric's failed attempt at Human Transmutation, seen the light of an alchemist's reaction, he wouldn't have believed that such a child had managed anything like that. And to think in the time it had taken him to get from that backwater community that didn't even have enough buildings to qualify as a town to Central City for the State Alchemist exam, he had somehow learned how to perform transmutations without an array. His potential for growth was frightening, downright dangerous if Edward wasn't watched carefully. The saying 'like father, like son' haunted him, unable to keep the paranoia controlled when Edward had such an adaptive and curious mind. It was going to cause trouble one day, if the Full Metal Alchemist learned something he wasn't ready to know.

"Yes, well… I'm sorry, I know this probably isn't very important," Alphonse apologized in that slightly garbled voice of his, echoing inside the armor and coming out through the various holes in his makeshift body. Roy's finger began tapping loudly on top of his desk, growing more impatient with the boy by the second. Sergeant Major Fuery and Havok exchanged wary glances, recognizing the signs of a foul mood immediately. Fuery even began slowly sliding down in his chair, eventually disappearing underneath his desk like Roy wouldn't notice. It was still a plan that worked well enough, since Roy usually didn't go through the trouble of dragging a soldier out from underneath furniture just to yell at him. Besides, there was nothing that he could blame on his subordinates- this interruption would probably have something to do with Edward, without a doubt.

"Go on, Alphonse-kun," Riza prompted gently when the boy finally noticed that Mustang was glaring at him and squeaked in obvious fear. It was bizarre to see a suit of armor harden up, stammering and tossing quick peeks in Roy's direction like Alphonse expected him to jump up and eat the boy. It took a little more convincing on Hawkeye's part that the big bad Colonel really wouldn't hurt him, which only frustrated him further. Havok recognized the veins that were starting to throb on Roy's forehead, quickly jumping up and announcing that he needed a cigarette break. It would have been believable, if the idiot hadn't gone for the door at a dead run. Roy could easily guess that Fuery was shaking underneath his desk, left virtually alone by his comrades while Hawkeye sweetly announced that Alphonse was ready to talk now. Why couldn't she ever use that voice when talking to him?

"Right after we left here, we were stopped by several soldiers, and they seemed to be giving brother a hard time… Then, he told me to leave him alone, that they were going to talk about some military stuff, but- but I'm worried after all," Alphonse began babbling as the room went silent. He could only stare in shock at the complete and utter naivete of the younger brother, needing a moment for those words to truly sink in.

"What!" Roy yelled for the second time that day, slamming his hand down on the desk in front of him. Alphonse literally jumped, forcing Riza to start patting his gauntlets reassuringly. Fuery poked half of his head up over the edge of the desk in concern, slowly realizing what that meant. He may have some baseless lies being told about him by bitter ex-s in the form of 'Sexual Harassment Complaint Report,' but there had also been far worse accusations passed around. Some promising young men had even retired early from the military, exactly why Roy didn't like getting the rookies. There was always some group of senior officers wandering around, picking on new recruits under the excuse of 'initiation.' Last year one girl had accidentally been murdered, the violent idiots going much too far in their pranks. She had been beaten to death, a pretty face forever ruined by half of it being shattered on cement, her brains and fragments of skull dribbling out into lovely, long black hair. There had been evidence of rape as well, and Roy would have liked to say that it was the first time. Unfortunately they had found too many victims of fierce hazing despite the strict rules and punishment laid out… on those they could actually find. Roy knew that there were some sick, insane perverts that had joined the military because they had a taste for blood and murder. Peacetime was when they were at their worst, with no constant fighting to keep the soldiers entertained and nothing else to do but pick on the weak. Roy could imagine that there were some people who couldn't believe a mere child had passed the State Alchemist test under his own merits, that he had somehow managed to buy such a respected and valued position. There were a few ripples of discontent spreading out among the ranks at the Full Metal Alchemist's already blooming career, even if the boy had yet to hit puberty himself. He could just see someone trying to pick on the older Elric brother… and Edward making it worse for himself with that arrogant and insolent disposition of his.

"I'll take care of this," Roy growled out angrily, immediately digging into his pockets for his gloves. He heard a small cheer coming from Fuery's direction; always supportive when Mustang stood up for weaker people that had managed to get into the military.

"Sir, I'll-…" Hawkeye started to offer her services unnecessarily.

"Stay here with Alphonse. This is a military matter," Roy ordered quickly in a voice that would tolerate no argument. He didn't want to have a child accompanying him, especially the little brother of the victim… or soon to be. Roy was quite sick of the higher-ups turning a blind eye to the so-called 'trifles' of military life. He planned to punish these soldiers rather harshly if they were doing what he thought they were. Besides, what else did he have to do beyond going through reports that were obviously nothing short of complete dishonesty? It might even do Edward good to finally get a beating, since Roy wasn't in the habit of hitting his subordinates. He could yell at the minute punk all afternoon long and barely make a dent himself. It was better that Edward learn his place as soon as possible, before something truly awful happened. At least he had someone like Roy Mustang as a commanding officer, one that actually gave a damn about his men- even if this one barely qualified as a man and irritated him to no ends. Roy was certain that there hadn't been enough time between the brothers leaving and Alphonse coming back for anything bad to have occurred, but that was no reason to not be quick about it. Roy tugged his gloves on, smiling down at the red arrays that would probably be getting some use soon. He smoothed his jacket back into place after having been stuck at a desk for the entire morning, not about to venture outside his office with wrinkles in his uniform.

"Colonel Mustang," Alphonse managed to get out before Roy could pass him and through the door. He paused, turning to the boy and waiting for the rest of it impatiently. Riza sent him a fierce warning glare around Alphonse's side, promising a world of hurt if he didn't act a bit nicer. He wasn't used to thinking about other's feelings, typically dealing with hardened soldiers, not children with a tendency to cry… with or without a body. A rather sobering thought, and Roy forced himself to work a smile onto his face.

"Don't worry, I'm just going to scold them all a little. Just wait here," Roy finally announced, sensing that Alphonse needed to hear some asinine lie at the moment. Riza mouthed a 'thank you' to him with an appreciative nod and Roy knew he was free to go. He exited his office brusquely, marching down the hall to… nowhere. Roy had to stop in the middle of the walkway, wondering just where his Full Metal Alchemist could be right now. If he was a miniature-sized brat with a foul mouth and an ego that far surpassed his own height, where would he be? Roy put a hand to his chin, considering the possibilities- as a ludicrously huge, soldier-shaped ball slowly rolled past the end of the hallway that met with another perpendicular one. He felt one eyebrow shoot up to met his hairline at the sight, not quite sure what to make of it until he heard a tired, beaten voice moan for help like a man that didn't expect anything better than death.

"Hey, you," Roy yelled out immediately, pacing forward to catch up. He turned the corner and put a hand on the massive, rolling mess to stop the soldier. He could only think of one person that would be responsible for this, shaking his head in disappointment. Just who did Edward think filled out the report that was going to be written about this? He began pushing the blimp the Full Metal punk had made out of a human being, slowly getting the man to revolve around until Roy could finally see a face sticking out. He didn't recognize the fat features that had nothing to do with his ballooned state, no rank or insignia on his breast pocket. He was a Private at best.

"Colonel Mustang, oh, thank go-…" the man started.

"Have you seen Edward Elric around here?" Roy interrupted, lacking the patience to deal with the man right now. It would likely take him several hours just to figure out how to reverse the transmutation safely. The best he could hope for was that eventually the effects would wear off. In the meantime, he had to find the culprit and thrash him soundly for this stunt. Edward wasn't going to get off with a simple scolding this time. One of the few duties of a State Alchemist was to respect the military, and Roy couldn't have rumors spreading that he had a loose dog running about the place.

"The fucking Full Metal midget? That little shit was the one that did this to me!" the soldier cried out, hands flopping around angrily. Roy sighed at that statement of the obvious, pushing the man off hard when he saw he wasn't going to get any immediate answers. The solider cried out in alarm as he spun off, bouncing against the wall, and rolling down what sounded like a set of stairs. Roy wasn't too concerned, sure that in the soldier's inflated state very little harm would come to him right now. It was too comical for anything else, though Roy doubted the soldier would think so whenever he returned to normal. At least he now knew that the oldest Elric had to be close, frowning at the clean carpet and fine, artistic paintings hanging on the wall. Nothing was out of place, everything harmonious and orderly in the hallways just as a government building should be. Roy began to stroll the opposite way of where he had sent the soldier rolling off, crossing his arms as he tried to think of where he would find Edward.

He didn't have to work at it much longer when he heard muffled struggling, a definite cry of pain coming from behind the walls. Edward was probably already doing worse to the soldiers that had made the mistake of getting in the same room as him. Roy found himself stopped in front of the storage closet, cursing himself for not just simply guessing this would be the first logical place to check. He tried the door, finding it predictably locked and not having the slightest clue to where the key might be. Roy tried knocking loudly on the door, immediately hearing the short, quick raps echoed inside. It was the impact of something hard on flesh; Roy having served in the military long enough to recognize the soft noises coming from the storage room. He had no doubt his State Alchemist was showing them the mistake of underestimating him just because he was a kid. Roy had done the same once before and had learned from it ever since, knowing that Edward was improving past getting lucky and actually having some skill. If he wasn't careful, the Full Metal Alchemist just might be the one to overtake him. Until then, it was nice to have someone he could trust to do his dirty work. Edward was blissfully unaware of common events, beating up someone just because they had pissed him off. Thankfully, so far his victims had all been deserving of it, some even convicted felons. He hadn't been expecting the Elric brothers to do very well on the little test he had set up for them on the train to Central, but Edward had succeeded wonderfully in diffusing what could have been a fatal hostage situation. He wasn't just some spoiled kid that had studied a little bit of alchemy, but actually had the courage and ability required of a State Alchemist. Roy would have been able to take pride in the Full Metal's achievements like a father, guiding him around since day one- if half of them hadn't ended up as misunderstandings and bumbling failures. Edward lacked any sort of perceptive skills outside of science, slowly becoming a true dog of the military without even realizing it. He chuckled, ready to wait there until the boy came out as he listened to the cries coming from inside… and now that Roy was close enough he could recognize the timbre and pitch through the walls. That was no adult screaming aloud in pain.

Roy drew his arm out of his pocket, swinging it up at the door to start a light current of air before he snapped his fingers together. A concentrated and powerful flame jumped through the air, finding the wood of the door and eating it up savagely. Nothing compared to the destructive power of flame, only needing a few seconds to burn before Roy could kick the door off of its hinges. It fell inward easily, smoking and glowing in the darkness of the storage closet as Roy filled up the doorway to prevent any escapes, coldly surveying what was before him.

Only two men were looking back at him, one tall and thin while the other was ugly as sin with a broken nose. They were both frozen over a tan and bloodied body, usually braided hair falling around his face and one arm missing, along with his shirt. Roy had walked in just in time to see the ugly one working off Edward's pants, a hand in between the boy's legs that he was currently straddling. The other one was currently sitting on top of Edward's chest and arm, restraining him and gagging him with his hand. He could make out a torso jerking around, still futilely trying to struggle against his captors as they paused at the interruption.

Roy had seen it before.

He had walked in on his fellow officers raping an Ishibal woman while her daughter screamed at them to stop.

He'd seen the bodies left out in the ruined streets after the fighting was over, genitals nothing but a bloody hole adding to the gore.

He knew this spectacle well, having seen it repeated again and again in so many different battles and countries. Soldiers drunk off combat and bloodshed went into homes and found fresh victims there, defenseless and trying to do nothing more then hide from the enemy forces.

But, even through those appalling conflicts and the monstrous war crimes that had occurred during them, no one had tried to rape a child.

Not a twelve-year-old boy.

The one between Edward's legs went first. He grabbed the man by his uniform, hauling him off a safe distance from the boy before Roy snapped his fingers again. The air hissed and exploded with the reaction, creating a bonfire all over the man's body. The screaming was terrible as his skin was burned off of the muscles, then muscles from the bone. The flames died down as quickly as they had appeared, a hiss of smoke released from the man's body as his blood oozed out and boiled on contact with the air. When the man fell down, he hit the floor a corpse. Roy turned around on the other people left in the room, both of them shaking badly for very different reasons.

"Wait, wait- I didn't do anything," the taller man insisted, moving off of Edward and quickly putting his hands up in surrender. Roy barely even heard the words, just saw his mouth moving and knew that he was making excuses. The military didn't need men like these. Roy didn't even bother to watch, he just set the other one to burn alive in the same manner before hunching down at Ed's side. The incomprehensible shrieking in the background as the other man died didn't satisfy Roy at all as he looked his State Alchemist up and down. Edward hadn't moved yet, didn't seem to even know that someone else was in the room with his pants and underwear still caught around his thighs. At least Roy had come before they could have gotten them entirely off, but it was still too damn late. Loose and gnarled blond hair hid Edward's eyes from view, but Roy could see blood coming from his nose and mouth to spread down his chin, both cheeks bright red from being hit. His body was dotted with discolored pink welts that would surely become darker bruises, all on the vulnerable parts of his stomach. Roy glanced to the empty, mechanized shoulder where there should have been auto-mail, finding himself staring in spite of everything. It was somewhere between horrifying and fascinating to see something so foreign on a human body, steel and metal mounted right onto his flesh. Roy had seen a few of his comrades with auto-mail before, but they had usually kept clothing over it, just like Edward did. Roy wasn't sure if it was because they were embarrassed of having such a physical impairment or because people with all their limbs still connected would stare and murmur at the sight… but either way, this was no time to be considering such.

"Full Metal. What happened here?" Roy demanded at last, checking the room over as he waited for the reply. Two charred corpses, a limp auto-mail arm tossed against a stand for mops. Nothing was out of place beyond the burn marks Roy's victims were sure to leave in the wood floor. He cursed as he realized his temper had gotten the best of him once again, furious at his lack of control, at the fact that supposedly respectable and honorable soldiers had taken to beating children inside closets. Edward wasn't helping matters by staying quiet either, his whole body trembling and yet the boy hadn't moved from his spot on the floor. It irritated Roy even more than his little brother's whining and fidgeting. He was supposed to have a State Alchemist in front of him, not some idiot child snatched up from the countryside and tossed into the middle of Military Headquarters.

"I asked you a question, Elric," Roy snapped, gaining a hard flinch from the blonde in front of him. He shook his head at the reaction, standing up off of the floor and holding back the desire to kick the boy up as well. He didn't try to comfort others- hell, he could barely even do it for himself. All he had to think about was his current position in the military… and just what it would look like if someone saw the Flame Alchemist in a storage room with the door burned down, two corpses, and a half-naked blonde missing two limbs. All they needed was a single, educated Alchemist to walk down the hall and see Edward's body to know that he had attempted the ultimate taboo. That would lead to too many questions, official inquiries, and eventually the Elric brothers getting a court-martial right along with him. Roy did not want to have to deal with that along with the rest of his paperwork; perfectly fine with coddling the boy as soon as they got back to his office where he knew they would be safe.

"Get up, we need to fill out a report about this," Roy ordered finally, grabbing the small blonde by his real arm. That finally got Edward moving, though it was to scream and shake him off violently. There was nothing that resembled sanity in the boy's face, his pupils retracted into pinpricks of gold in the center of wide, white eyes. Edward wrapped his one arm up around the exposed auto-mail, curling up around himself and shying away from Roy's approach, obviously in no condition to recognize someone. His boots dug into the floor, the boy doing his best to flee with his pants hitched around his knees. He didn't care if Edward was upset right now- as a State Alchemist he would have to deal with much worse soon enough. For the moment, it was more important that they get an excuse in writing as quickly as possible.

"I told you to get up!" Roy yelled, determined to haul the Full Metal Alchemist back to his office regardless of if he wanted to stand or not. He grabbed for Ed's wrist; the first attempt deftly avoided before Roy managed to snatch his arm up. Immediately the boy started screaming, barely even coherent enough to get out a 'no' as he fought against him. Roy ignored the display easily, picking the blonde up and forcing him to his feet. Edward made it worse for himself, simply tossing his body around since he didn't have another hand to hit at Roy with. The pointless struggle shook Edward's pants all the way down, leaving Roy with a fully naked juvenile that had obviously been smacked around a bit too hard by adults. He starting yelling like some crazed thing, hanging limply from Roy's grip as he tried to fall back down to the floor.

"Don't touch him!" was the only warning Roy got before he was slammed out of the way by a stone wall. At least that was what it felt like as Roy flew into the shelves, various items falling down and on top of him as his body finally came to a stop. He looked up at whatever had managed to take him off-guard, a ridiculously huge figure seeming to banish the little light that was coming in through the door, filling up the room with an anger Roy could taste in his mouth. Or maybe that was blood, wincing at a cut from inside his mouth. He started to get up, a variety of buckets and cleaning supplies falling off from where they had piled up around him- and the eye slits in the facemask flashed red, glowing viciously in the extreme shadows cast over the armor's surface. Roy wisely sunk back down to his spot on the floor, certain that he wouldn't be able to get a flame hot enough to melt down steel before Alphonse Elric could get across the room to him.

"Al! Al," the Full Metal Alchemist immediately cried out, repeating the name over and over like he was the younger brother, in desperate need. The menacing armor turned around from Roy slowly, silently warning him that he was still being watched. Roy didn't know what Alphonse's range of vision was inside that mess of armor that served as his body, but it was questionable enough to keep him from attempting anything. Alphonse might be able to get through to his brother quicker than him anyway; metal clanging together as Al wrapped two massive arms around Edward. The room was suddenly filled with gut-wrenching, heartbreaking sobs as the Full Metal Alchemist howled around his brother's name, one small hand scrabbling around the side of the armor and sliding off the smooth metal as it tried to find a grip. Maybe just the comparison between Alphonse's colossal armor and Edward's own hand, fingers still chubby with baby fat was what did it, but Roy realized all over again just how damn young Edward was. That arm belonged to a child, one that might have barely grown big enough to stop being carried around by his father. Except from what Roy had heard about Elric senior, there hadn't been much of a family relation at all. Most people were shocked to hear the Hohenheim of Light had sons, much less a wife at one point. Roy had been surprised to find out just how little the Elric brothers knew of their father as well, walking around without a clue to the heritage they were carrying. They were practically destined for trouble, magnets for bad fortune as Alphonse gathered his older brother easily up onto his shoulder. Roy only watched quietly as the armor took loud, heavy steps over to the wall and picked up the loose auto-mail arm as well. Alphonse didn't bother with attaching it then, just laid it on top of the child curling up against his breast plate and adjusted the load awkwardly, since Edward was doing his best to hide his face against the armored mass.

"I think we'll be going home now, Colonel," Alphonse spat out, the title the only polite thing about that sentence- and Roy didn't think he meant it to be nice at all. He hated himself for feeling lucky as the brothers exited the room without another word, the crying slowly fading as Edward was carried away. Roy finally let out a curse, sagging down in relief that he hadn't had to fight someone that didn't even have a physical body. If he remembered correctly, Alphonse wasn't able to feel pain either. He would make a good solider, in a few years when he finally grew up… Roy clapped a hand over his own face, so miserably pathetic that he could barely keep from laughing at himself.

Lieutenant Hawkeye appeared in the door a few careful moments after Alphonse had left, obviously waiting until he was gone to see what had happened to her commanding officer. It was just as well that someone see him like this after having his dignity completely blown away by a ten-year-old. If he thought Edward was young, it was even worse for Alphonse. What a wonderful mess this afternoon had turned into, two officers murdered, one severely bloated for an indefinite amount of time, and a State Alchemist accosted. He was sure the Fuhrer would just love to listen to him explain this one.

"Sir, I tried to stop him, but we heard screams-…" Hawkeye began to apologize, trailing off when he started softly chuckling at the irony.

"It's fine. I think work is pretty much done for today. Lieutenant, come with me for a drink," Roy ordered, pushing off the items that had fallen over him heedlessly. There was no way he'd be able to sit calmly behind a desk after this, frustrated and defeated all in one. He needed a stiff drink as soon as possible, but he had never liked drinking alone…at least not when there was a pretty woman in front of him. Roy wanted to get off duty as soon as possible, ready for a good, long night of intoxication. It was nice being the Colonel during times like these, just commanding himself to leave Headquarters no matter what time of day it was. He was done for now, and that was all there was to it.

"Yes, sir," Riza replied with a smirk on her face, giving him a mocking salute before moving to help pick him up off the floor.

-

Alphonse had gotten angry.

The emotion had faded quickly; never able to truly feel anything for long periods of time, but Al was sure that if he had a real body, it would still be shaking with rage. The one he was in was just cold and empty, sitting on the bed since it was the only piece of furniture in the place that could support him. He had already broken one of the two chairs that went to the wobbly dining table and there was a hole in the floor from where Alphonse's weight had made his foot break through. Military housing left something to be desired, even though it had been provided to them for free until a better arrangement could be made for the year's newest State Alchemist. Nobody had told them beforehand that they would be staying in the barracks that had been condemned several years ago. The small and plain four-room barrack was nothing short of ancient along with everything else inside, faucets that leaked, electricity that couldn't be trusted, and windows that were cracked and drafty. The kitchen so old and worn down that it would never be clean again, while the adjacent living room had an open hole in the roof before Edward had repaired it with alchemy. One room had all the windows shattered in and the ceiling had a definite slant in it, so they had just closed the door and never used that part of the house. It wasn't like they needed the space anyway, having nothing to worry about beyond Alphonse's own oversized body and whatever material possessions were in Edward's suitcase. There was a fireplace in the bedroom, which had become so only because it was the only room that would stay warm. Ed complained of all of these things, though Al hadn't really noticed since he didn't need to use water for drinking or bathing, couldn't feel the air currents or the chill of apparently freezing winter they were in. He didn't even need the lights to see in the dark, having no pupils to adjust. Alphonse wasn't sure how it worked himself, figuring that if he could see perfectly fine at night, then logically his daytime vision would become more sensitive… but such was not the case. There were many contradictions about his body that would drive Alphonse crazy if he thought too hard about it. That was for Edward to do. His big brother was the genius alchemist, not him. Eventually, Alphonse would forget ever having these worries- because one day, they were going to regain their original bodies. Edward would no longer have to use auto-mail, and he'd finally be able to hug his brother with both arms… his own hands.

Alphonse glanced down at the limp auto-mail in his lap, his glove resting on top of the dead arm as he held it for his brother. To think that someone had taken it off made Alphonse mad all over again. Edward would probably insist on hooking back up tonight when he was already hurt so badly. His brother had been silent ever since they had gotten back to their interim home, except for the crying that had yet to stop, though it had calmed down slightly. He had locked himself in the bathroom and had turned the water on while Alphonse had kept a careful ear on the door. He didn't think that Edward would ever actually do anything to hurt himself, but after what he had just been through, it couldn't hurt to be sure. It was still nothing but the sounds of someone taking a long shower, certainly past the capabilities of the water-heater in this decaying building. Or, so Alphonse had heard Edward complain about the water temperature before. He still knew better than to knock on the door and ask if everything was all right. That would make Edward stay in there even longer, his older brother never one to admit to needing help, even if he only had one arm right now.

Alphonse didn't know what to do, wasn't sure what had really happened himself. He had been talking to Miss Hawkeye about their place… outright lying to her as he said how nice and comfortable it was because he didn't want to offended them after being good enough to give them a house to themselves. Then, they had been cut short by screaming that didn't sound human- except Alphonse was sure he had heard 'help me.' Mr. Havoc begun chuckling and shaking his head at that, announcing that the Colonel was hard at work. Alphonse hadn't seen the humor in it, unable to stand there and wait when something bad might be happening to his brother. He had gone running in the source of the cries before anyone could stop him, barely able to hear the second round of screams and Miss Hawkeye yelling at him to come back. It was easy enough to find Edward by the smoke he could see but not smell as it billowed out from a charred and destroyed doorway.

Inside, he'd seen the man he had respected up until then shaking his brother roughly by his real arm, the auto-mail missing along with all of Edward's clothes. It wasn't until he got out of that room and far away from Roy Mustang that Alphonse had realized just how bruised his brother's face was. Edward had already started losing consciousness once he knew that Alphonse was there. He would have loved to have just run home that way, but he was sure his brother wouldn't appreciate anyone seeing him in this shape, face bloody and not a stitch of clothing on. He had forgotten to look for those as well, but just remembering his brother's arm was enough for that situation. Alphonse had turned the next corner and upon finding it empty, he had opened up his breastplate and gently set Edward down inside the empty hollow of his body. It seemed like it should be more intimate, but Alphonse didn't feel a thing. They had done this before while travelling, when Edward finally grown too tired to walk any further. Alphonse didn't need as much sleep, though he occasionally napped and never dreamed. He would carry Edward on his back and their single suitcase inside himself, or sometimes Edward would even get in to rest flat against the curves of the armor and use the trunk as a seat when he was being fussy and no longer wanted to walk. Usually Alphonse complained about Edward being too lazy, but he enjoyed it whenever his brother got near to the blood seal- an indescribable sense of closeness that he could only compare to the few times when they were younger, he'd been the one getting a ride home on Edward's back... well, just until they could see their house. Then, Alphonse would start walking on his own because he always wanted to be a strong boy in front of his mother. He wished she was there now, because she would have been able to make everything better with a smile and a few kisses.

Alphonse didn't have a clue what to do when they had finally arrived at their house. He had tried to wake Edward up before taking him out of his armor, which had only made Edward flinch awake like he'd been burned and jumped out of Alphonse without another word. He had slammed the bathroom door in a clear order to stay out, so angry that he'd forgotten his auto-mail. What else was Alphonse supposed to do but wait quietly? He wanted to move, but he would probably break something if tried pacing around the room like a normal person. Just how much longer was he going to have to wait for Edward's temper to cool down?

As if on cue, Edward finally opened up the door and stepped out into the room. Alphonse had been so involved in his own thoughts that he hadn't even heard the water stop. He looked up nervously to his brother, who had both eyes and mouth closed angrily as he awkwardly toweled his hair off with one arm. There was another one wrapped around his waist, the tan skin spotted red and pink with swelling. Alphonse didn't know how bad it was yet, wasn't sure what had happened to give Edward all these bruises. At least the blood was gone; Edward cleaned up and refreshed enough to start being embarrassed. Alphonse could tell by the way that his brother stomped past the bed without even looking at him that Ed wasn't angry any more. He was humiliated and sulking, making a full loop around the corners of the room before returning to the bed and throwing himself down a measured distance away from Alphonse. Edward immediately made a damp indent in the expensive bedding he had actually spent money on instead of trying to create with alchemy, because there were some comforts that couldn't be recreated perfectly. His hair was still dripping wet despite Edward's attempt to dry it, and Alphonse knew better than to scold Edward that he might catch a cold if he didn't dry off soon, knew better than to say anything at all. It was times like these that he had to let his older brother go first, because Edward could go for amazingly long amounts of time without saying a single word if he didn't want to. Pressuring him would only make it worse, so there was nothing for Alphonse to do but wait. Edward kept the silence from getting uncomfortable by grumbling and cursing under his breath, but none of it was directed to Alphonse. He just held onto the auto-mail, wishing that he could make a face right now. He could feel this bad and uncomfortable and yet nothing would happen, nothing could change when his body was made of beaten metal and worn leather straps.

"Thanks…" was finally mumbled out, quiet but distinct in their empty house. Alphonse looked over to his brother, who had stopped trying to dry his hair and had his hand resting on top of his metal leg. Edward had left the towel hanging over his head; white terrycloth hiding his face from view, shoulders hunched down in defeat. He had always been able to express his emotions so well, letting Alphonse know just from his body language that his brother was disturbed and frustrated by whatever had gone on this afternoon.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Alphonse asked, not sure what had brought up this sudden change in attitude. Getting a thank you from his older brother was just as common as an apology- practically never. Edward may be rather short for his age, but he more than made up for it with his pride. Most adults found Edward to be a smart-mouthed punk, but Alphonse had always been amazed at how confident his brother was in himself. Edward truly believed that there wasn't anything he couldn't do if he set his mind to it- and so far, he'd been proven true.

"You know, when Mus-…" Edward started and trailed off just as quickly, either because the rest was too embarrassing or he just didn't want to say the name right now. Alphonse could guess easily enough who Edward must be thinking of, knowing only one person's whose name started like that- and only one other person had been in the storage closet once Alphonse had gotten there.

"Brother… What happened, exactly?" It was one of the hardest things he had ever had to ask Edward. Alphonse knew that his brother didn't want to talk about it, knew that he would probably get in trouble for bringing it up again, but he couldn't just leave it alone. Edward had obviously been hit; his face was swelling up underneath that towel and the bruises on his side were in clear sight. There had been two large piles of blackened ash on the floor that Alphonse had instinctively not liked the sight of, but he couldn't be exactly sure what they were until his brother told him something. Alphonse didn't want him to go back into that silent mood, the kind that Alphonse hated most of all and could do very little about.

"Nothing," Edward's voice was low and sulking, a bitter and obvious lie. Was that supposed to qualify as an answer? Alphonse may be younger than Edward, but he wasn't stupid. He had known what he'd seen when he had walked in that storage room. Alphonse didn't think that the Colonel would ever have actually hurt Edward, but he wasn't so sure now after having to shove the man away from his screaming and crying brother. If Roy Mustang had done anything to make his brother feel bad, Alphonse wouldn't hesitate to beat the man's handsome face in. He usually hated violence, but when it came to his brother, Alphonse was fiercely protective. Edward was the only family that he had left, and he knew his brother felt the same. They had always helped each other out before, had always worked together on everything from studying alchemy to stealing cookies when they had been younger. Why wouldn't Edward tell him what was going on now? How was Alphonse supposed to help him with 'nothing' as his explanation for finding his older brother naked and crying while the Colonel yelled at him.

"We heard some cries and when I got there, you were-…"

"Nothing happened, okay!" Edward yelled it, grabbing the towel and tossing it down violently. Alphonse wasn't impressed, more used to having his brother break things or create large explosions with alchemy when he was truly angry. He didn't say anything though; for once appreciative of the fact that he didn't have a real face right now. Alphonse was sure that he wouldn't be able to keep it straight right now, fighting down the urge to shake Edward for some answers. He might end up hurting Edward instead, having very little control over his own monstrous strength. There were no muscles for Alphonse to use, the fact that the armor actually moved when he willed it to boggling at times. It was all or nothing, Alphonse able to punch through walls without any effort. Hitting people was even worse, because they would bleed and make noises that humans just shouldn't make. And even so, if Edward ever told him who did this, Alphonse would make sure they got the healthy amount of pain they deserved.

"Just help me get my arm back on," Edward grumbled, shaking the empty jack for his auto-mail that had been clamped over his shoulder at him. Alphonse reluctantly picked up mechanical limb and held it up for his brother as Edward scooted over on the bed. He cracked his neck and pulled the towel around his waist up tight in preparation, his breathing already starting to become heavy and controlled. Alphonse hated watching this, making sure to hold the auto-mail steady as Edward eyed the loose wires and began loosely reattaching them. It was crude and definitely unsanitary compared to the procedure Winry would go through back at her shop, but there was no other choice in this matter. She would probably kill Edward if she ever heard he went to a different auto-mail technician, despite living so far away from Central City.

"Ready?" Edward asked, but Alphonse didn't think that his brother was talking to him. There was a moment's hesitation, and then Edward threw his shoulder hard into the auto-mail. Alphonse heard the metal click as it locked into place, the arm going rigid and straight as the turbines and nerves were hooked back up. Edward screeched aloud, so overwhelmed by pain he couldn't get a full scream out. His body tossed around out of shock before Edward swung back and slammed his forehead against the back of Alphonse's armor. The blow made the suit ring like a bell, plates clanging together as Edward ground himself into Alphonse's back. He didn't even move, fearing that he might cause his brother even more pain at this point- even though Edward had already used him to bang his head against. He was panting hard, groaning and twisting around in helpless pain until the nerves properly connected to the wiring in the auto-mail. Alphonse waited quietly while Edward eventually relaxed, settling himself bonelessly against his armor.

"You feel good after that. Nice and cold," Edward mumbled, his voice softer now. Alphonse wished he could smile at that, glad that one of them knew what it was really like to touch the other. They stayed like that, Alphonse unable to see or sense what his big brother was doing behind him. He just knew that he liked it, especially if it was helping Edward. He could almost imagine it now; if had real flesh, warm and soft instead of the hard steel that his brother was pressing his face up against right now. Alphonse probably missed his fingers the most, the way they could touch and sense the difference between textures… nothing but distant memories.

He heard a soft 'plop' on the bed, turning around to see his brother already sleeping in a messy tangle of arms and legs, a mix between flesh and metal. His mouth was open and was already snoring, so quick that it verged on passing out. Alphonse sighed, rolling imaginary eyes as he eased off the mattress. Even though Edward tended to sleep like the dead, he still didn't want to disturb him after reattaching auto-mail so soon. He tried to act so tough, even if he was hurting and aching like Alphonse knew he must be. He may not be able to feel anything, but he could see how Edward suffered whenever his auto-mail was attached. He wanted to do more for his brother, wanted to actually be useful for once instead of just mammoth and bumbling. Just how many years would it take for him to finally get used to this body? Not that he wasn't grateful, preferring this over that… that place he had barely had a glimpse of before Edward had called him back. The mere memory of it made his skin crawl- if not his armor.

Alphonse lifted up the sheets, carefully tucking his older brother into the bed instead of thinking about such horrible things. He was still here, no matter what sort of body he was in. Edward had managed to keep him from going off to whatever had been trying to pull him away from this life… Alphonse didn't really have an understanding of it himself. He just wanted to be by his brother, and that was enough. There was no one else to watch over them, Mother and Father gone long ago. Edward seemed to know just what had happened, but he had never talked about it, just like now. Alphonse was too timid to ask, too scared about making his brother angry to risk asking about what their parents had been like before Father had left. Edward had never told him anything about it, but from the frown that would come over his brother's face and the disjointed memories of yelling and things breaking before Father had completely disappeared was enough to make Alphonse sure that he didn't want to know. He hated not knowing, so left out of that part of their family life. He didn't want Edward to protect him, just because he didn't think that his little brother could handle the truth about their parents. He knew that Mother and Father had fought occasionally; he could remembered hiding in the room he shared with Edward while outrageous fights had gone on outside the door… but Edward would always say it would be okay, and then eventually Mother would come in and apologize about the noise, and in the morning Father would be smiling at the table with a cup of coffee like nothing had gone wrong- the light always hitting his face just so that Alphonse couldn't remember what his eyes had looked like.

He could only assume that they were somewhat like Edward's, drawing the covers up to his brother's chin as the blonde began snoring. Really, his brother could go from inhuman suffering to unbelievable laziness so quickly that is made his head spin… or rather, his helmet. Alphonse slowly picked himself off of the bed, moving very carefully and silently as he eased toward the door. Alphonse wanted to let his brother get as much sleep as possible, and knew that his body would make a terrible amount of noise no matter what he did. Edward wasn't the most delicate of sleepers, but Alphonse would still feel bad if he woke his brother up. Besides, he didn't really need that much sleep ever since he'd first woken up in this body. Many other things like thirst and hunger had gone missing as well, but it was better than not being alive at all. His evenings were still rather lonely, since this body was too loud to try and keep around Edward when he was sleeping. Alphonse stepped out onto the small porch outside, sighing again in disappointment. Edward hadn't told him anything at all, had gone to bed all bruised and banged up, still wet from the shower. Alphonse wished that his brother would take better care of himself- or at least listen when someone was trying to help him instead of getting angry and yelling.

Alphonse decided that he might as well go train until Edward woke up, slowly heading over the military practice grounds. He didn't really want to leave his brother alone right now, but he knew that Edward preferred it that way. Besides, if Alphonse didn't leave, Edward would in some form or another, be it falling asleep or stomping off on his own whenever he woke up next. Even though he wouldn't get tired from any exercise, it was nice to practice the old moves their old Master had taught them. It was meant to train the body and mind, but Alphonse only had one of those left- he thought. Well, thinking meant he had a mind, even if there was no brain any more. Alphonse was so preoccupied with trying to figure out where he kept his memories and thoughts that he almost completely passed by Lieutenant Hawkeye and that jerk Mustang walking down the path. To their house.

"Alphonse-kun, where are you going? How is Edward doing?" Miss Hawkeye asked immediately while both of them bowed politely to each other in greeting. She and Mustang were wearing their heavy, military-issued coats, carrying a brown paper bag apiece. The only difference was Mustang had a cap on as well, tugged down low enough to hide everything above the nose. Alphonse realized that it must be cold, glancing up once to spot the moon above to confirm what time it was. He didn't have the same perception of these things as when he had a real body, shuffling awkwardly as he wondered exactly what they were doing here so late at night.

"He just fell asleep, so I thought I would give him some quiet," Alphonse explained, hoping that the two of them hadn't been planning on checking up on Edward. He wouldn't take kindly to being babied, even though Edward had always whined the loudest for Mother to take care of them. After she had died, so had that part of Edward. He suddenly was always doing his best to be the older brother and more, like he could somehow fill up the hole their parents had left in their lives. Edward would rather try to bandage up his own wounds or nurse himself when he got sick, refusing to admit just how bad it really was to Alphonse. Edward was doing that now… he would probably wake up in the morning back to normal, and today would never be mentioned again. Alphonse wanted a real shoulder to offer his brother, but even that was impossible now. All he could do was stubbornly fend off anyone that wanted to bother them right now, wanting his brother to save his energy instead of yelling at intruders.

"Is that so?" Miss Hawkeye asked, sending a meaningful glance over to the Colonel. Alphonse couldn't tell if the man caught it or not, with that hat pulled down so low over his face. Hawkeye seemed to think so, turning back around and smiling at Alphonse gently. She wasn't the type of woman Alphonse would expect to find in the military, very polite and respectable. He couldn't imagine her firing a gun, even though she carried one in a holster attached to her side at all times. At least her coat was covering it right now, because it had always bothered Alphonse to see someone so motherly with such a deadly weapon.

"I'll just… drop this off outside the door then," the Colonel's voice was strange, a little bit slower than usual. Alphonse wasn't sure if he could really trust the man or not, about ready to protest them going anywhere near their house right now.

"Oh, Al, would you like to help me for a moment? I'm sure you would like to see this," Miss Hawkeye asked suddenly, digging into her own bag and holding up a can of cat food. Alphonse couldn't help but be interested after that, curious just what she might be doing with that- even though it was already obvious enough. He didn't know that Lieutenant Hawkeye liked cats, but she seemed like the type of person who would be kind to animals. She seemed to know that she had Alphonse's attention now, smiling and pointing down the path in a silent question of if he would like to go. Mustang sniffed, nodded carefully in goodbye before starting off down the path. Alphonse didn't even think twice about it, offering out his hands to help carry her load. Hawkeye passed it off easily, a warm and affectionate look in her eyes at the gesture.

"Where are we going?" Alphonse asked happily, glad to have some company for a little bit. She just turned and began walking at a brisk pace that would leave Alphonse behind if he didn't move, completely oblivious as he followed her away from the barracks.

and now to save everyone a little pain, intermission.