So enthralled was he in the imagery of the battle between Red Rebel General Chang Yunzha and Gan Ye that he completely missed Maes's entrance until the man thrust a series of baby pictures over onto the page he was reading.
"Isn't she adorable?!"
"Give me a moment to adjust my mental imagery away from dismembered guerrilla fighters and I'll have a better reply for you." Roy answered, putting a bookmark into the volume.
"You and your disgusting hobbies, really, you need to get a wife already." Maes laughed, tossing himself into one of Roy's 'guest' chairs. Thankfully not the one Edward had tampered with. Roy was waiting to 'fix' it until he thought of an appropriate punishment for the boy.
Roy tucked his book back in his desk and steepled his fingers. "The world at large trembles at the notion of my reproduction Hughes. What brings you here besides a lack of victims?"
"Aw come on, you'd be, well, I wouldn't say a *great* father but I'm sure you couldn't be any worse at it than anyone *else*."
"Such confidence in my parental abilities."
"Yeah, I can see you leaving the poor tyke to your minions for watching already!"
"And Havok teaching them to smoke. Truly, you inspire me old friend."
"It's almost September." Hughes pointed out, as if that was relevant. Roy's train of thought clanked, shuddered, and switched tracks abruptly though he only allowed himself to blink once.
"It is. Should I be concerned about possible untimely vacations again?" He leaned his chin onto his fingers, watching the conflicting emotions flitter across Hughe's face. The man was loyal to a fault, the fault being when he was loyal to people *other* than Gracia, Alecia and Roy.
"Well September is when school usually starts, and the Elric's, look I know that they don't *have* to go to school but it seems like they ought to have more than a basic education from alchemy tutors you know? Maybe someone to look after them and make sure they have the basics all the other kids their ages would get. Phys Ed, History, Maths..."
"Unless you are volunteering yourself to this exercise in futility Captain, I'm sure we needn't waste resources and effort making sure our youngest State Alchemist can *read* and *add*." Roy snorted, trying not to imagine a crater where a school had once stood.
"Okay, maybe more advanced sorts of subjects. They're smart boys. Alphonse likes biology right?" Now Maes's face had that distinct expression Roy had come to associate with dangerous schemes and clandestine plots. Usually at the expense of the military repair budget.
Alphonse. Alphonse was a bit of a tricky thorn that Roy had to work *around* while running Edward at problems. If the boy's secret was ever revealed... ever revealed to people who had the power to do something *about* it... And it was only a matter of time, truly until that happened...
He'd lose them both, and probably his own life for harboring them. Conspiracy might get him imprisoned, but conspiracy alone wasn't nearly as damning as outright betrayal of the government. When he'd recruited them, he'd set his own timeline for events in fast motion, because there *would* come a day when he could no longer be their secret guardian and whether they found the stone or not, everyone in Roy's little cabal of mutineers would fall under the sword of the Fuher.
"I suppose," He said slowly, weighing the pros and cons of the idea before him, "That you're going to next suggest that Alphonse be privately tutored by someone well versed in the subject, who has no small amount of free time coming to her in the form of earned vacation, and who typically takes her vacation right here in the city."
Hughes shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands. "It's not a *bad* idea! We could always use more alchemists trained in medical alchemy right? It keeps the kid learning and out of trouble as a delinquent!"
"It will also cut into Major Spitfire's personal research time you realize." Roy pointed out."What research? She passes her annual exam every year based on field martial aptitude, and consistently fails to use more than a third of her grant funds." Maes waved his hands as though dismissing the entire thing.
It was true of course, but even if she set out to fail and turned in nothing but Alecia's finger-paintings for research, she'd still be a Major. The government would no sooner turn her out than they'd give Roy the boot, or send Edward back to the family farm. Some alchemists really were worth more than others.
They might however, finally flex their authority muscles and chain her down in a lab somewhere. Some place Roy couldn't *reach*.
"I'll let *you* be the one to deliver the paperwork to her then." Roy said, grinning just a bit at the sudden shift of panic white in his old friend's complexion.
"What this?! I not babysitter! I doctor!" Spitfire slammed the folder onto Roy's desk so hard the wood gave a muted cracking noise.
"I believe that is Captain Hughes's suggested course of evaluation for Alphonse Elric in regards to the medical certification requirements. As you are the head of the State Alchemist Medical Program it is your duty to oversee all the candidates evaluations." Roy replied calmly, flipping idly through the finely typed legalese.
"I evaluate State Alchemist! Alphonse not State Alchemist!" She argued, bristling like a cat in a room full of poorly leashed canines.
Roy nodded. "He is not *yet* a State Alchemist, however he has shown great promise and a distinct inclination to medical alchemy. It would behoove the Army to no end to ensure that he receives the education and training he will require in order to pass the exams *when* he is able to take them. Since I have here already your requested leave papers, I see no reason not to indulge the Captain on the matter and give Alphonse the best private tutor the state can afford."
"My vacation not for teaching! My vacation for research!" She shouted. He watched her clenched fists, just in case she decided to use them for more than disfiguring his furniture.
"If you needed research time, materials, or space, there are five laboratories in the city all set up for those express purposes, and a number of forms I can provide for those express reasons. There is no reason you should have to waste your vacation time on private research when the government is willing to sponsor it, *Major*."
She was nearly vibrating with frustration, his own shoulders were beginning to ache in sympathy with how tightly she was holding herself. "Labs always in use! Research take long time! No food, no water, apartment make more sense! I know what I do, I not need babysitter!"
"No," He agreed. "You need *help*. I will not condone a repeat of September 1910." He said softly, the steel in his tone finally breaking through.
He was just getting used to the idea of an office. Someplace with four solid walls and a window overlooking actual grass and trees instead of sand and dust. Sure it was small and filled with someone else's left over messes, but it was still better than a tent and mortar fire. East City was an entirely different world from Ishvar, even if it failed to hold his friends.
Hughes and Spitfire were both back in Central, far enough away to make him worry, placed well enough to give him a measure of Intel he could *use*.
The phone ringing brought him back from daydreams of Madam Christmas's warm shop to the reality of his (disorganized, filthy, possibly mold infested) new office. "Yes?"
"Cheer up! Guess who has the most beautiful, wonderful, intelligent wife in the whole world?!"
Roy smiled despite himself, holding the receiver far from his ear. He'd managed to retain most of his hearing through the war, he'd rather not lose it now because of his friend's 'enthusiasm'. "Why she ever agreed to marry *you* when there are so many richer catches in the sea..."
The outraged squawking was only his just due he supposed for missing the big day in question.
Shifting through the mountain of his predecessor's overdue log books, he wondered if setting the place on fire could somehow be made to look accidental.
"Anyway, I actually called for a reason you cold-hearted playboy." Hughes sniffed dramatically over the line. Roy could almost picture the spectacle he must be making in order to clear the room.
"Is that so, I was beginning to think you'd forgotten in your fit of matrimonial madness." Roy replied blandly. Hawkeye gave him, and his gloves, a pointed look from her own desk across the room.
"Well my wife is just so *wonderful* she deserves to be appreciate even by the uncouth masses! If you'd hurry up and get hitched yourself old man you might get to experience a *fraction* of my bliss!"
"Say that loud enough and the Fuher will outlaw the practice for State Alchemists on grounds of national security."
"You're not the only one getting long in the tooth either. How long of a vacation did you give Spitfire again? And I only got a three day honeymoon?"
"She has twenty days for travel and research Captain, your leave papers are not my jurisdiction and if they were I'd have put you on two days alone in case you lost so many intelligence points you needed transferred to the infantry." Scribbling his signature across a handful of requisition forms he didn't even read, Roy shoved the bundle into his overflowing 'out' box.
"Twenty huh? You alchemists and your 'research', she's probably just out at the beach enjoying a martini."
"If she can pass off the report as scientific, she can *keep* the cabana boy." He wondered what his friend's angle was. Twenty days wasn't actually that long for a research vacation, not with the state of the trains lately and the fact she'd put a small town called 'Valienfell' as her destination. He'd had to actually look on a map to find it, tucked in the mountains of the West Area on the line south of West City.
"I'll tell her you said 'Hi' when she comes back then. After Major Armstrong of course."
Alarm bells rang through Roy's mind but for once he utterly failed to understand his friend's code. With trepidation turning his blood cold he stared at his papers blindly. Had she finally decided to *run*? Had someone dug deep enough to discover that Dr. Marcoh's 'discoveries' were nothing more than creative ways to murder? Had the old man been *found* and thrown her to the wolves?
"Tell her I expect a full and *readable* report as well." He said finally.
"How bad?" He asked, staring at the photos Maes had slipped in with his weekly packet of 'Look how gorgeous my wife is' material. Fuery had assured him the phone was as secure as it could possibly be, and the mail had been delivered by one of Major Armstrong's personally vested Lieutenants.
Hughes voice sounded... old. "She was in a coma for two days. Raging fever and delusions for three. She's fine now, lost about about five to eight pounds she didn't *have* but... fine."
One of the pictures showed Spitfire as she'd been found, curled over the toilet naked, one hand limply holding a broken pen, a mess of scribbled notes on the floor. Another picture showed her half dressed in a tub of water, staring blankly at nothing.
"Fully viable, it just requires more than one dose. Four, to be exact. She managed to create a vaccine as well, from herself... the hospital is already working on synthesizing it for mass production."
Of course she did. She'd probably planned it all out that way.
"You were aware of her plans, and didn't see fit to give me any warning?" He kept his voice level, almost idly curious, as he studied the picture of Armstrong holding her in a gentle and thorough pin. The man looked beside himself with worry and shame, while Spitfire simply appeared murderous. "That implies that this is not a *new* habit of hers, Captain. I should sincerely hope your secrecy *is*."
The silence on the other end of the line spoke volumes. Roy tossed the photos (not the ones of Gracia) into his bin and set them ablaze with a single snap. Hawkeye gave him a very bland look from where she was pointedly polishing one of her pistols.
Finally Hughes sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think she'd let it go that far. I can't, *we* can't, blame her for her ethical integrity you know."
"No, we can't. However, her suicidal tendencies and utter lack of self worth can not be allowed to cost the Military its best medical alchemist. From now on I want *reports* Captain, and an eye on her." Briefly he remembered Kimbly, the mans psychopathic delight in murder, his almost paramount need for attention. How the Crimson Alchemist had ever passed the psychological battery exam to qualify for rank Mustang had never figured out... until the fighting started.
Spitfire never would have passed either, but then, she'd been officially drafted.
"As I see it Major, we have a compromise before us. You wish to do your research, and I wish for you to have on hand an *assistant*. If you really object to the younger Elric, then all you need to do is find a suitable candidate you trust to replace him. Until then I'm not granting leave for any period of time greater than three days." Roy flicked the folder shut and sat back.
She glared at him for a few long moments then turned on her heel and stalked out without a word or even a slam of the door.
It was their first argument without some kind of property damage, but he didn't think that was a particularly good sign.
"Lieutenant, pass along to the men that for the foreseeable future, we're on emergency drills. No extended leave."
He could be petty, or he could be *fair*, and he knew what kind of Fuher he was going to be one day.
"As you say, Sir."
After the first week passed, he was slightly optimistic. By the end of the second, that optimism had been replaced with cynical realism. Alchemists as a whole tended to be a paranoid and secretive lot, State Alchemists doubly so since funding and promotions went hand in hand with finding better ways to kill someone else.
Add to that the language barrier, the cultural divide, and the fact that Spitfire was a woman in a field dominated by men and who really would she ask to be locked in her room for days on end with an infectious disease?
Her friends could be counted amongst the nurses she had personally trained, Roy's own staff, the Armstrong family and the Elrics. Of the alchemists she might allow to see her work, to study it while she was at her lowest point, who even had the basic knowledge to understand it? Major Armstrong's illustrious family rarely dabbled in alchemy outside of advanced artistry and pugilism, and the Elrics while both geniuses, were *children*. Alphonse might be the most logical choice owing to his immunity but he was also only 13!
He wondered if she had even considered the joy of having Roy sick and helpless as a perk, or if his name had never crossed her mind.
After all, there was no reason for her to trust him. He'd given her to a government she hated, gift wrapped her alchemy for a man that perverted it, then chained her to a cause that required her serve a man and nation she utterly loathed. He'd sent her to the front lines to patch men back together multiple times to keep her from testing on herself, and perhaps most damning, he hurt the one person in the world she genuinely *loved*.
She might forgive him the rest someday. Never for the scars on Hawkeye's back, asked for or not.
No, she had no reason to trust Roy to take care of her while she tried to cure something virulent and lethal with her alchemy.
Roy grinned ruefully to himself. She wouldn't let that stop her though, not forever.
"I teach Alphonse. Not on vacation. Vacation for other thing." She growled, pacing around his office. Her jewelry was of a distinct butterfly motif today, the chopsticks vibrant orange and black.
"Alright, I'll see what sort of schedule I can set up between your hospital work and the Elric's missions." He murmured. "That means you've selected someone else to be your research assistant?"
She glared at him, long nails tapping on her jacket sleeve with a canvas sort of rasp. "You have basement?"
He didn't smile. If he smiled, she'd hit him, and he liked his teeth. "I do."
"You help me. *This* time only. I find better, smarter person next time."
"Of course. I'll even make us dinner." He offered generously, hiding his grin of triumph until she'd left his office with a slam so hard it broke the door jam.