Chapter 1: Sudden Awareness
Disclaimer: Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All
Chapter 01: Sudden Awareness
As per usual, the day found Major General Mustang toiling away at an unusually high stack of paperwork. He often took lunch in the presence of other officers of his rank, but today he wanted something a bit more low-key. Not wanting to be bothered with the ins and outs of military life this afternoon, he decided to take lunch at a local café. He walked across the street to a spot he heard Havoc recommend on several occasions. When he entered he found the atmosphere likeable enough to decide to stay. The entire eating area was a complex series of high booths separated by latticework. He sat at a booth and was staring at the menu when he heard giggling from the booth next to him.
"Well, at least he is in your age range, Sciezska." That sounds like Riza, thought Mustang.
"Oh quit acting like you're so old, you know you would do him in a flat minute!"
"That may well be, but it doesn't erase the fact that he probably sees me as somewhat of a mother figure."
"HA! So you admit it!"
"No one is denying that Fullmetal is the hottest thing on two feet, Sciezska. It's just getting to him that is the problem."
"Yes, not all of us have been on dates with the infamous Fullmetal Alchemist- two at that, might I add."
Sciezska sighed and replied. "Two and only two. We haven't been out since, and that was months ago." Following her statement, an audible thump was heard.
"At least you got close to the promised land; I'm almost a decade away." Riza chimed with amusement heavy in her voice.
"Hey, I don't even happen to be in the race. Not that I want to be…" said Gracia.
"But?" countered Ross.
"But nothing. It's just, well …they sure didn't roll out like that five, ten years ago!"
"No kidding. With looks like his, I would say that Mustangs are on their way out and the Elrics are in. His brother is not half bad either, a bit more on the adorable side as opposed to downright sexy, but attractive nonetheless." chimed Riza.
"True, true." agreed Sciezska. "Ed also had a complete change in attitude once everything was situated with Al. He even smiles now; I mean a real smile and jokes too. I really never thought Ed would be one to date around either but it seems like a lot has changed for him and about him since they accomplished their goals."
"Resuming our conversation about Roy, when was the last time that the dear Major General received flowers or cards, Riza?" Questioned Gracia.
"It's been quite a while; most things like that come for Ed now. I am really surprised Roy hasn't noticed."
"I think he just assumes that it's because of his new rank, since most of his incoming mail is sorted and filtered now." answered Maria Ross.
"Poor Havoc is dying to rub it in his face but I talked him out of it." Giggled Riza.
"Did your 'talk' include a pistol by any chance?" asked Gracia.
The three women chatted off and on for a bit then left the restaurant. Shortly after that the waiter came over and took Roy's order. When his food arrived a baffled Roy ate his lunch in silent contemplation when certain thoughts began to invade his mind. So Fullmetal has become the topic of feminine confabulation, I see. Was anyone planning on letting me know? How the hell have I missed it in the first place? Was Riza being sincere when she stated that my ardent female followers have abandoned me? When have I fallen out of the office gossip circle?
Suddenly his lunch lost its appeal, and the Major General sat still, staring out the café window. Who knows how much time had passed before he snapped out of his stupor and decided to head back to the office? He had every intention of being blind no longer. He was going to make it a point to notice what the Fullmetal Alchemist was into. When Roy returned to his office, he left the door open, deposited himself behind his desk and waited. It seemed like an eternity before Fullmetal was heard entering their section of the building. Now, Roy's ears were open and waiting.
"Good afternoon Major." Was Fullmetal's greeting to Riza.
"Same to you, Lt. Colonel."
"You started it, Edward." she said with a soft smile.
Riza was smiling. During work hours.
Now I know something's up! How was all of this happening right underneath my nose?
The conversation continued on, the participants oblivious to Roy's distress.
"Touché, have you seen Jean?"
"Yes, but I believe he is rather occupied. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Now that depends completely on you and your mood, Major." Roy could see Ed smirking in the most devilish way he'd ever seen. Outside of his own, of course.
Roy could see Riza's blush from all the way across the office, and that alone had him floored. He noticed Fuery sitting there, watching the entire scene with a rather hard to read expression on his face.
"Well, to answer your initial question Edward, I think it is Havoc's turn to sort and distribute the mail, so he is probably in the basement."
"Oh for crying out loud, has no one decided to give the mail personnel their raise yet?" Fullmetal responded.
"I am afraid not, so it looks like it will be your turn again before you know it."
"Do the people that decide these things have any idea the work involved in doing that job?"
"Apparently not, sir." Fuery answered.
Fullmetal gave a long exaggerated sigh as he turned toward the hallway that led toward the basement.
"Where are you off to?" questioned Fuery.
"To help Jean sort the mail, or at the very least convince him to give it a rest until we get back from lunch-I'm starving!"
"No offense, sir, but isn't that always the case." Riza chimed in. And Roy watched as she suppressed what might have been a giggle.
"As true that may be it still does nothing to alleviate my hunger."
And Mustang watched in stunned silence as the both of them shamelessly gawked at Fullmetal's backside as he strolled off down the hall. Not one to let any opportunity, especially one this golden, pass him by, he decided to clear his throat loudly and it had the desired effect of snapping them out of their trances and putting an embarrassed blush on both their faces. Roy could feel the self satisfied smirk on his own countenance and carried on about his business until he heard the sounds of laughter coming from the hallway.
He looked up in time to see Fullmetal and Havoc emerge from around the corner. He had to admit that he was a bit taken aback at what he saw next. Fullmetal was sitting on Havoc's desk speaking rather animatedly to Riza about something he didn't really care to focus on. His focus was on how close Havoc was standing to the blond alchemist. Roy could have possibly dismissed that as some sort of chance occurrence if he hadn't also noted the fond faraway look in the Lieutenant's eyes as he watched Fullmetal. Just as he was about to dismiss the entire thing as a product of his overactive imagination, Havoc reached out and pulled on the long blond braid that was now more than halfway down Fullmetal's back. Edward didn't grumble, snort or complain as he usually did when someone dared to do that. No, instead his response was "I guess that's my cue to get going." as he bounced off the desk, all smiles.
"Hey, you're the one who rushed me out of the basement like you were dying of malnutrition." Havoc replied.
Off they went, joking and laughing as they exited the office. Roy debated with himself for quite a few minutes before he gave in and let curiosity get the better of him. He summoned Riza into his office and motioned for her to shut the door behind her.
"Is something wrong sir?" she asked
"No, no. I am just…honestly curious about a few things."
"Oh-I see." Riza replied as the corners of her mouth curved upwards.
"From your expression, I infer that my eyes were not deceiving me and my assumptions are indeed correct."
"Whatever do you mean, sir?" she asked, and he knew then he was going to get no answers without flat-out asking.
"Just when did Fullmetal and Havoc become so friendly?" he asked.
"I believe it was about two months ago."
"TWO MONTHS AGO!"
"Ah…yes, is there a problem with that, sir?"
"No, it's just…well, I…."
"Allow me to clarify, sir. It was about two months ago that most of us were made aware of Jean's attraction to Edward. Now, they are not officially an 'item' yet."
"Yes, I feel that those two becoming a couple is something that will be happening in the near future."
"Oh, I see."
"Is there anything else, sir?"
"Sir, how about we take a stroll around the grounds? You look like you could use some air."
Without another word, Roy stood and headed for the door.
Their walk started out in comfortable silence, but Roy quickly grew tired of it and began to query Riza for more information.
"When did the entire office staff become such a social bunch?"
"I really can't say exactly when, but I do know that I noticed it shortly after Edward returned to active duty."
"That long ago?"
"Yes, the day that sticks out the most in my mind is the day Edward loudly announced that he could no longer take the monotony, as well as the cafeteria's food, and decided we all needed to go out for lunch. Then it all just kind of snowballed from that point."
"All this from just one day out to lunch? That's hard to believe." Roy shook his head in disbelief.
"Yes and no. All of this is not the product of one day out to lunch. That is simply the catalyst. We all go out to lunch as a group at least twice a week now."
"Every week? Even now? I had no idea."
"Well, we invited you each time we went in the beginning, but after a few months of declinations we quit asking." She replied.
"Oh." Replied Roy, intelligently.
Riza then proceeded to tell him about how once they all got out of the office and got to talking about things other than work, about how they all realized they had quite a bit in common. They made plans do it again later that same week, and it has been a ritual to gather every Monday and Thursday since then. Roy didn't know what was more shocking, the fact that all of this was going on right under his nose or the fact that all of this socialization started because of Fullmetal.
Riza then recounted how this whole thing developed between Fullmetal and Havoc. She said that after a few months of them all going out together, Havoc had all but begged everyone in the office to be 'too busy' to go to lunch one day so he could get some time alone with Edward. It became a regular occurrence a couple of months ago for them to take off to lunch together on days when it wasn't a group outing. Roy then made a comment about not knowing when Fullmetal became so popular, and that effectively stopped Riza in her tracks.
"Not to be rude, sir," she stated as she gave Roy a look that made him inwardly cringe, "But, do you know anything about Edward the person, as opposed to Edward the State Alchemist?"
Roy stood there, watching her watching him, and he knew she was waiting on a response. And that this conversation would not continue until he gave one. Roy tried hard to scrape up any knowledge in his brain about Fullm…Edward the person. Fullmetal adored his brother, but that was basic knowledge- what personal information did he know about Fullmetal, if any? All of the information on Fullmetal that came to mind was related to his military career, his intelligence and his prowess as an alchemist.
Roy lowered his head in resignation.
"I see. Maybe you should try to make an effort to get to know him; he is actually quite the conversationalist these days. Believe it or not, he is one of your biggest fans. He does not stand in awe of your presence like Fuery, mind you, but he has always been the first to defend you when someone speaks ill of you."
Just when he felt the day couldn't get any more shocking, she drops this on him. He hated to admit it, but he did find that hard to believe, and said as much.
"Major, I am to believe this of the same individual who used to address me as 'Colonel Bastard' as though it was my given name?"
"In all due respect sir, that was years ago. Edward isn't a kid anymore."
"A few inches and a couple of years does not a man make."
"Perhaps he is an exception to that rule, like he is to most others. And perhaps a life altering journey and six years, to be precise, would do the trick." she said in a tone that was just this side of condescending.
Forced into quiet contemplation by Riza's tone, it slowly dawned on him that it had indeed been far longer in reality than it had been in his thoughts. That meant Fullmetal was now…what? Twenty-two years old now, far from the high-strung, precocious brat he began to command at the mere age of twelve.
"You may be right about his mindset these days, but I am still hard-pressed to believe that I am in Fullmetal's good graces."
"All right, I suppose an example is in order. When an acquaintance, that shall remain nameless, was quick to get rather opinionated with why they felt you never wanted to join us all for lunch, Edward's response was to say, 'Hey, cut the General some slack. He may have his reasons not to join us, since he is actually pretty busy these days, and it may not be the best for a man in his position to be seen socializing so casually with his subordinates during office hours.'"
"Indeed, sir, so now maybe you can extend him the same courtesy and cut him some slack." She responded with a smile.
With that said she checked her watch, saluted and left him alone with his thoughts.
Thanks to all for reading and I hope everyone enjoys this revised and Beta'd version much better.
Chapter 2: Blurry Vision
Disclaimer : Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Disclaimer : Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Sorry about the incredibly long wait between updates. I now have newfound respect for authors that have more than one multi-chapter fic going at one time. (eeps)
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Chapter 02: Blurry Vision
Roy Mustang realized that he had been missing an assorted host of things once he made it a point to listen to and become part of the 'office' once again. It was a refreshing change of pace from his previous self-imposed exile. He found himself leaning casually on Hawkeye's desk as they all listened to Breda's latest mission gone awry. He and the rest of the office found themselves in stitches by the story's end.
Roy was making his way back to his office when the question he had been waiting for rang out, effectively stopping him in his tracks.
"So, where's lunch going to be today people? I know it's hard to imagine, but I'm just a bit tired of the side street diner." Ed half-stated, half-asked as he kicked back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk.
"I have to agree with you there boss." Havoc chimed in as he pulled a lollipop out of his desk drawer and proceeded to unwrap it.
"Well, we could always go to Greyden's on Helm street." mumbled Fuery. Almost immediately, the distinctive click of a pistol being cocked echoed throughout the office. All eyes were now on the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant held at gunpoint.
"Uh… sorry Miss Hawkeye, I 'm guessing the staff there has not managed to get back in your good graces yet..." stuttered Fuery as he held his hands up in defense.
Fuery received no more than a satisfied 'humph' in reply as the Major put away her pistol. They all debated back and forth for a while before Roy Mustang cleared his throat, gaining the attention of the room.
"Would you happen to have a suggestion, Major General, sir?" questioned Falman.
"Indeed I do. How do you feel about Bella Tornio's?"
Everyone stared wide-eyed at the General. Bella Tornio's was easily the best restaurant in town, not exactly a casual dining establishment. [Not to mention the fact thatOf course, the food was far from cheap.
"No offense General, but that's a bit more than I wanna plop down on lunch." Breda said shaking his head.
"Er, not only that, but the wait is bound to be longer than the hour we have for lunch." Ed added. Jean was about to chime in next when Roy raised his hand in protest.
"I figured this would be a grand time for me to show my appreciation to all of you for all the hard work you do. I took it upon myself to make reservations there today. It will be my treat, of course."
"Hot damn!" shouted Breda, "Now you're speaking a language I can understand."
Everyone was in eager agreement with this and soon, all were swiftly readying themselves to go. Everyone made a beeline for the door, with Ed at the very front, when Riza's firm voice stopped them.
"But Major General Sir, this still doesn't clear up the time constraints."
A multitude of whimpers and muffled curses were heard from the crowd that had now stopped in mid stride.
"At ease, Major. Am I correct in assuming that I am the highest ranking officer in this division?"
"Yes sir." She replied looking rather confused about what this had to do with the rather spasmodic lunch arrangements.
"Then who will be tracking your absence if I am with you?"
An indiscernible smile spread across her lips, and she replied with a simple, "Understood."
With that settled, they all filed out of the office, grabbed a couple of cars and proceeded to head to the restaurant. When they arrived they were escorted to the second floor and out onto the terrace. Two of the wait staff came up to them and promptly took their drink requests.
Roy found the conversation that was taking place around the table highly amusing, and rather informative. He had no idea that they all had so much in common and knew so much about what was going on in each others' lives. Yes, he had indeed been out of the loop for far too long.
When the drinks arrived and all orders for food were placed, the conversation turned to the upcoming meeting with the representatives of Xing at the embassy, and the ball that would follow. For reasons unknown to Roy, Ed seemed to know all of the ins and outs concerning the entire affair.
"Ed, you still trying to get out of going to the ball?" joked Breda as he took a healthy bite of the steak he'd been hacking at.
"Nah, I think I'll just suck it up and do my duty. It can't be all that bad."
Roy was now officially confounded. One, he couldn't understand how Ed seemed to know so much about the upcoming peace talks with the Xingians. Two, why did Fullmetal think that his presence would be required at the ball? Only those who would be present at the meeting were invited. Roy asked Edward these questions, and was met with a table heavy with silence coupled with stunned looks. Further bemused by this, Roy sat there eagerly awaiting his answers.
Minutes passed and the only thing worth of notability was the grin that slid across Riza's face. Still confused, Roy finally spoke up. "Well? Is anyone going to answer?"
"You're…kidding us, right chief?" asked Havoc, who seemed that he couldn't decide if Roy was joking or if he was insane.
"No, I am not. Why would I be?" Roy responded dryly.
Havoc started to say something else, but was halted as Ed held up a silencing hand.
"For starters, Major General, I am the ambassador, a liaison if you will, on behalf of Amestris."
"…no offense Fullmetal, but I find it hard to believe that you would be chosen as an ambassador. What kind of qualifications could you have to end up in such a position?"
The silence at the table was now heavily ladened with shock and ire.
"But sir, how could you not know…" Fuery began, but he too was silenced by Edward. Riza's grin simply grew wider.
"Well, for one, I spent the first four years of my military career basically traveling the world."
"I am very well aware of that, Fullmetal, but well-traveled does not necessarily translate to well-seasoned."
"It actually does if, after all is said and done; you end up being able to speak seven different languages, with native fluency in five out of the seven. Xingian happens to be one of the five."
To say that Roy Mustang was shocked would have been the understatement of the year. Perhaps if he was thinking straight, he would have bowed out of the discussion and asked questions later. But not Roy, he remained undaunted and oblivious to the amount of somewhat defensive and appalled stares he was getting due to his line of questioning as well as his responses.
Edward tried in vain to let the matter go and continue on with what had started out as a carefree lunch; however, the Major General was not going to give up so easily. Roy proceeded to interrogate Edward, and he received calm remarks and answers in return.
Roy found out that the reason Edward knew so much about the peace talks was because he was the reason they were happening to begin with. Edward was the one who brought the idea to the governments' table and as a result, he was handling the initial long-distance negotiations with Xing. Edward was also the reason why the Emperor of Xing was even considering setting foot on Amestrian soil. Something he had previously vowed to never do. Roy was then bombarded with several different stories from all those around the table about everything Edward has gone through over the past year and a half to make this happen.
Through all of this, Roy kept his air of indifference. On some level he still refused to believe that Edward was the driving force behind what was bound to go down in history as one the greatest alliances ever formed.
Roy's attitude did not go unnoticed. He made one brazen remark too many and the First Lieutenant Jean Havoc excused himself from the table.
Ed let out a soft sigh and said, "Well, that's not how I had planned on getting him out of the room…but I'll work with it anyway."
Confused again, Roy just sat there blinking as the others swiftly changed the subject to yet another matter he was painfully blind to. Apparently Havoc had recently purchased a home and they were all trying to plan a surprise housewarming party.
"Do you have it?" Ed asked as he held his hand out to Breda.
"Yeah, but I don't think you're going to need it."
"Well, I need something to keep him distracted and occupied while you guys work out the details, so hand it over."
Roy watched as Heymans reached in his jacket and pulled out a couple of cigarettes and a book of matches. When he placed them in Ed's outstretched hand, Ed wasted no time getting to his feet and following Havoc.
"Remember, Al and Gracia are handling the food, Maria said she bought him cookware, Danny picked up the cooking utensils and I got the desk and chair." With that said Ed disappeared into the restaurant.
Heymans Breda looked in the direction that Ed left and shook his head. "Ed has no idea that he's all the distraction needed to keep Jean occupied."
"He is refreshingly oblivious in that sense Lieutenant, and I wouldn't have him any other way." chimed Riza before she took another bite of the seafood salad she ordered for lunch.
A short uncomfortable silence fell over the crew. Not being able to stand the tension any longer, Fuery quietly cleared his throat, looked over at Roy and spoke.
"Obviously you are not aware of a few things, sir."
"A few things, as?" questioned Roy.
"Well…for starters, we all have a lot of respect for the Lieutenant Colonel, sir. Not only for what he has done but for the things he continues to do."
Roy didn't respond, but simply arched a questioning eyebrow at Fuery.
"Take for example, what he has arranged to happen between Amestris and Xing, sir. As well as all the work he does for the youths in Central, and the time he spends researching medicinal plants and herbs."
"Fullmetal studies something that isn't related to alchemy?" scoffed Roy. "You have got to be joking..?"
"I'm afraid not, sir." replied Falman, who had up until now remained silent through the entire meal. "I wouldn't laugh too hard, General. If it wasn't for the Lieutenant Colonel, you wouldn't be attending the peace talk at all."
"I beg your pardon? What would, exactly, Edward have to do with me being present at the embassy this spring?"
"If you must know, sir, the 'powers that be' decided early on that your presence was…unnecessary." answered Fuery, meekly. "Edward was the one that argued with the commanding General and persuaded him to convince the board that your presence would be an asset to the meeting, sir. That was the reason that you were the last to receive the invitation. Surely you would have wondered why?"
All eyes now fell on Roy, and he wanted nothing more than to be anywhere but here. After that awkward moment, he ate his meal in relative silence and actually absorbed very little of what the rest had to say concerning the housewarming party for Havoc. It was ironic how he felt so inferior sitting there surrounded by a group of his own subordinates.
His mind was running mile a minute as it tried sort out and process everything he had learned in the last hour. He had judged Fullmetal by what he knew of him in the past. The fact that he has been selling the boy…no… the man short because of his own blindness was enough to make even Roy Mustang feel extremely contrite.
He knew he owed Edward an apology, but eating crow was something he was never very good at. He was in the middle of trying to come up with a way to do it and still salvage some of his dignity when Riza called out to him.
"Yes, Major?" He replied and his voice sounded so very small and foreign even to his own ears.
"I was wondering whether you wanted to contribute to the surprise party, sir."
Her tone was gentle and forgiving. It was obvious to Roy that she felt sorry for him at the moment and was trying her best to include him in the discussion.
For that, he was very grateful.
"Of course. Just tell me what else is needed, and I'll pick it up." Roy answered.
Falman flipped through a small notebook that Roy hadn't even noticed until now and said, "A bookshelf and drinks seem to be about it."
"Consider the list done. You'll just have to tell me what kind of drinks you have in mind." Roy replied as he offered up a warm smile that he was relieved to see returned by everyone at the table.
Breda was about to speak when Riza suddenly made a statement about how backed up the mail has been getting since the workers went on strike. The Major General was only puzzled by her statement for a moment because right after she spoke, Ed and Jean walked out on the terrace.
With the two blond men back at the table finishing their lunch, the conversation turned back towards work. The group was standing to leave before Roy worked up the courage to voice the apology he knew Fullmetal deserved. Instead of the smartass remark he expected in return, he received a 'thanks' and a 'don't worry about it, I'm not offended'. Roy would probably have felt better if the Lt. Colonel had sworn at him and threatened to kill him. With this quiet acceptance of his apology, he really felt like the bastard Ed used to accuse him of being.
Two weeks later, the General found himself back at Bella Tornio's- only this time he was alone, and after hours. He had a taste for one their pasta dishes and decided to indulge himself. The waiter seated him at a small table near the center of the restaurant, took his order and disappeared.
As he sat there waiting on his order, Roy's mind wandered back to the surprise party last Saturday. Everyone had actually managed to get all of the things for Jean's house and the food ready during the three hours Edward had him shopping downtown. When Jean walked through the door of his new home and saw all of them as well as all the things the group had brought with them, his jaw dropped. He said thank you to all of them more times than Roy could keep track of. After that the food was served and drinks were passed out. By ten that night, they were all feeling rather relaxed, thanks to Breda adding rum to the punch. A good time was had by all.
Roy then thought about how little he has seen of the First Lieutenant since then and made a mental note to drop by Havoc's new home to see what the man was into. His mind had drifted to work related musings when a small fit of laughter caught his attention.
Roy raised his head and looked around to find the source of the laughter. When his eyes traveled to the far left side of the dining area, they fell upon Ed and Jean. Slightly surprised to see the two of them here, he decided to be sociable and say hello. He was still a few tables away from the duo when Ed spotted him and waved. Edward's actions caused Havoc to turn around and see to whom Ed was waving at and when the First Lieutenant caught sight of the Major General, an unreadable expression crossed his features.
Roy was a bit surprised to see them both together, dressed as they were. Ed was wearing a deep purple dress shirt, tie and black slacks. Havoc was dressed in a similar fashion only with a blue shirt, sans tie.
"Good evening, Major General." Ed said with a smile.
"And the same to the both of you. What brings the two of you here?"
"..Just grabbing a bite to eat and having a few glasses of wine while we wait." answered Havoc.
"Well, why don't you have a seat, the wait staff said the food was gonna be a while, what with them one cook short and busier than usual." Ed added as he leaned over and grabbed a clean wine glass off the empty table next to them and poured Roy a drink.
The three of them had been talking for close to half an hour when Edward excused himself.
"Too much wine?" asked Havoc with a grin as Ed slid his chair out and got to his feet.
"Yeah, that and not enough food." Ed replied as he returned the smile. "Order another bottle while I'm gone, I'm beginning to think that 1865 was a better year than I previously thought."
With that said, he strutted off towards the back of the restaurant. As Edward went by, the majority of the people around him turned to watch. Roy hadn't even realized that he was among those people until Havoc's voice snapped him out of his reverie.
"Excuse me, sir."
"Yes Jean, and call me Roy we're out of the office, there's no need for such formalities."
"All right, Roy… please don't take offense to what I'm about to say."
"I will try my best, Jean." Roy replied, now feeling a bit wary about what was about to pass the Lieutenant's lips.
"It has taken me a long time to get to this point, and I would kinda like the moment to myself."
"..I'm not sure I'm following you, Jean."
Havoc let out a heavy sigh and said, "It's true that Ed and I are here to get something to eat, but us being here together is not a coincidence."
Roy sat there confused for a moment before realization slowly dawned upon him. How could he have not noticed? Was he not the heartbreaker of Central? He should have noticed the familiar atmosphere. His mind went over how the two men were dressed. The way they had been treating each other and hell, even the time itself screamed what Roy had never even considered.
They were on a date.
Roy Mustang had just become a third wheel to Jean Havoc.
What was the world coming to..?
Chapter 3: Crystal Clear
Disclaimer : Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All
Chapter 03 Crystal Clear
After the incident at Bella Torino's, Major General Roy Mustang noticed that while all of the office still went to lunch as a group twice a week, more often than not Ed and Havoc went to lunch together on the other three days. Now this should not have surprised the General but it did. He was just not sure what the cornerstone of this feeling was.
Roy wondered if it was because all other attempts at relationships Havoc had made had never dreamed of lasting this long. Or maybe it was the fact that, according to the majority of Central, the First Lieutenant hand landed the most sought after person in the city. Roy was leaning more towards the fact that, in his mind, an unlikely candidate had won or was at least way ahead in the race for Ed's attention.
When Wednesday rolled around he had the misfortune of overhearing some of the ladies in the secretarial pool gossiping about his love life or rather lack thereof. He was rather getting tired of everyone feeling sorry for him and assuming that he felt envious of Fullmetal's popularity. He was just about to turn around and leave the office for the day when one of them said something that stopped him in his tracks.
"Well you know what I really can't believe."
"And what would that be Deloris?"
"I can't believe that the Lt. Colonel is considering dating Jean Havoc exclusively."
"At his age and from what he has to pick from! Surely you must have heard wrong."
"No, scout's honor Alice. I heard him talking to Maria Ross with my own two ears and it sounds like wants to settle down."
Now Mustang was not one to fall prey to office gossip but this bit of possible information had him more than just a little intrigued. Had things over the past month really gotten that serious between the two? Roy was admittedly more than a little curious as to what was really going on. He was going to have to up his observation of the two. Not that there was anything wrong with them deciding to become a serious item, it was just a bit sudden.
This is what was bubbling through the Generals mind as he left the office much later than usual to begin his walk home. He was so lost in thought he walked right past Ed and would have continued on if the other Alchemist hadn't spoken his name.
"What's got you in such a daze General?"
Not wanting to lie to the other man Roy opted to be vague.
"Just pondering the secrets of the universe, Fullmetal. What brings you over to this side of town?"
"Falsetto's, it's the only shop in all of Central that sells the kind of piano wire I like." Ed replied as he spread his arms out in emphasis.
It was then that Roy's attention was drawn to the brown bag clutched in Ed's left hand. As he stood there listening to the younger alchemist go on about how hard it was to find a decent music supply store, Roy once again found himself confused about something concerning the man standing in front of him. It seemed like any and everything surrounding Ed these days left Roy confused and it was starting to grate on his nerves.
Roy let out a long sigh and decided to ask the question burning in his mind.
"Why do you need piano wire Fullmetal?"
"It's for my piano." He replied with a bit of uncertainty lacing his tone. Roy, now glad he was not the only one floundering, continued his line of questioning.
"Why do you have a piano?"
"Because I got tired of the harpsichord and upgraded." Ed replied with blinking eyes and a slight tilt of his head. That combined with the expression on Ed's face reminded Roy of a kitten.
"I didn't know you played." Roy said.
"Oh, that's what you meant. Sorry General, I thought you were the first to know everything."
"So did I- but I've come to find out here recently that is not the case."
Roy, while talking to Ed found that not only did Ed play the piano, but Al played the guitar. Edward told Roy about how important their mother felt music was and that she had urged both of them to learn to play an instrument. Ed claimed that his mother had said they would live to regret it if they didn't.
They were so wrapped up in the conversation they hadn't noticed that they had started walking until they came upon what appeared to be a festival vendor in distress. Once Ed saw this he wasted no time approaching the man and offering his help and Mustang followed.
As the two alchemists tried to figure out what was wrong with the man's vehicle, their conversation continued. By the time they found the problem Ed was in the midst of telling Roy about one of his funnier alchemical mishaps while out on a mission. Greatly amused by his colleague's story, Roy decided to share one of his own. When Roy finished talking all three men-including the vendor, whose name was Levi, they found- were laughing and it was now the Levi's turn to tell a tale.
When it was all said and done more than two hours had passed and both alchemists were covered in motor oil, grease and grime but that was fine because Levi's vehicle was now up and running.
"I don't know how to thank you officers enough. I'm afraid I'm not able to pay you." Said Levi as the kindly old man stared at them with grateful eyes.
"Don't worry yourself, Levi- your thanks is payment enough for me." chimed Ed as he wiped his arms down with a towel Levi had given him.
Levi then looked thoughtfully at Roy and Roy just nodded his head and smiled at the older man. For a moment it looked as if Levi was about to speak, then suddenly his face brightened and he asked the two of them to hold on for a minute as he went back to the cart his vehicle was pulling. A few moments after that an odd humming sound was heard coming from the cart.
Curious both alchemists walked toward the source of the noise. Ed and Roy had not moved two feet before Levi reappeared with some sort of papers in hand giving Roy and Ed two apiece.
"Now don't you boys run off just yet, I've got one more thing for ya."
Roy and Ed stood there caught in the grip of Levi's enthusiasm as the man went back inside the cart. As they waited for the man to rematerialize from inside the cart that humming sound from earlier got louder. When Levi finally did return he held two of the largest helpings of cotton candy either officer had ever seen.
He handed each of them one of the large pink puffs of spun sugar and smiled at his rescuers. Levi then proceeded to tell them that they could use the passes he gave them anytime over the next 3 weeks and that the festival was being held in the small town of Hayden that was neighboring Central. Ed was reluctant to keep the passes because he at first thought Levi would be charged for them. But the man eased Ed's fears when he said that all of the people working at the festival received the passes free from the owners as a gift for their families. Since Levi had no family to speak of he had no use for them.
The man thanked them again and said he had to get on the road if he wanted to make it in time to setup for tomorrow. He said if they ever found themselves in town of B'Lina during the off season that they would always be welcome at his house. The two alchemists waved to Levi as he disappeared into the background of the evening sky.
Roy examined the two passes in his hand and discovered they were both passes to the theater troupe that was traveling with the festival. When he asked Fullmetal if his were the same a slight scowl appeared across Ed's features.
"What's wrong Fullmetal?"
"Both of mine are for the games and rides."
A smile spread across Roy's face as he realized what had put the Lieutenant Colonel in a foul mood.
"Well regardless of your actual age Fullmetal, you do still appear quite young."
"Whatever Mustang… I guess this is better than appearing too old to want to have this sort of fun." Ed snickered as he motioned to the passes Roy held.
"Touché." Roy said as he took a bite out of the pink fluff ball in his right hand.
"Well I have an idea that will make us both happy." Ed said as he began to gnaw on his own wad of cotton candy.
Roy said nothing he simply quirked an eyebrow at Ed and waited for him to continue. Ed suggested that the two of them trade one pair of the passes so they both get to do it all. Roy thought that was a wonderful idea so he handed Ed one of his theater passes. When Ed reached out with his own pass Roy noticed that he had the glove off on his automail hand.
Roy knew that when Fullmetal restored Al's body he also got his left leg back. He found himself suddenly wondering again why he did not receive his arm back as well. Not wanting to bring up anything uncomfortable he simply took the offered pass and continued to enjoy his sugary treat.
Roy now realized that by the time they had wandered into Levi they had doubled back past the office and was closer to south side of Central. He knew Ed and Al owned a home on this side of town but he had never actually seen it. He knew what kind of salary a Lieutenant Colonel lived off of and he was more than a little surprised by the neighborhood Ed had drifted into.
There was nothing wrong with the neighborhood, quite the opposite; it was rather nice, a bit upscale even. He was further surprised when Fullmetal opened the gate to a well manicured lawn that surrounded a rather spacious looking Tudor style home. He hadn't intended to stop and stare but he did and it soon became obvious Ed knew why.
"Between Al's salary and mine, as well as the work I do in my lab, we've managed to do pretty well for ourselves over the past few years."
"I'll say…um…did you just say 'my lab'?"
"Yep, the basement to this place is mostly a one huge laboratory. You want to come take a look?" Ed asked as he stepped up on the porch and began peeling his shoes off. When Roy began to do the same Ed stopped him.
"That's not necessary General. I just loathe having shoes on and the sooner I can get out of them the better."
"I don't mind. I'm not much for strolling around the house in mine either."
Ed simply nodded and opened the door. When he did an absolutely wonderful aroma reached Roy's nose and made his mouth water. It was then that his stomach reminded him of the fact he had not eaten dinner.
"AL!" Ed shouted "I'm home."
"About time." was the reply from Alphonse that drifted out from further inside the house.
The younger Elric had launched off into a nice calm rant about older siblings being trouble and how Ed never knew how to use a phone but he stopped once he reached the foyer and realized that Ed was not alone.
"Well hello Major General. Nice to see you again, it's been a while. Sorry about all the fuss I was making, I didn't realize Ed had company."
"Not a problem Alphonse, nice to see you as well."
"Well since you're here and I'm sure it's somehow my brother's fault you're arriving so late, why don't you stay for dinner?"
"Only if you're sure an extra mouth won't be any trouble." Roy said as he smiled at the younger Elric brother.
"None at all, if I can feed Ed anyone else should be no challenge at all."
"Humph… very funny Al." snorted Ed as he walked towards the stairs. "Since the two of you are having so much fun at my expense I'll leave you to show the General where he can clean up." With that Ed disappeared up the stairs.
"Follow me General." Al said as he led the way through what was apparently the living room followed by a dining room. Off to the left of the dining room was clearly the kitchen; Roy's nose quickly determined that it was the place that delicious smell was coming form. When they stepped out of the dining room they walked down a short hall that ended at a small bathroom.
Al told Roy where the towels were and left the General to clean up. Shortly after Roy turned the water off, a soft knock was heard on the door. When Roy opened the door Al was standing there with a clean shirt in his outstretched hand. Initially he had doubts about the shirt fitting, but one good look at Al told Roy the young man had grown quite a bit since his restoration–they now stood eye to eye.
Roy thanked Al for the shirt, stripped his uniform jacket and undershirt off and donned the clean white shirt Al was kind enough to bring him. Roy mused that Al remained as thoughtful as ever. He then wondered if there were any kittens about the house. Roy's mind flashed back over the countless times Ed had come into the office grumbling about how Al tried to take in every stray they encountered.
As the General walked up the short hall he heard Ed explaining to Al just why he was so late getting home. When he arrived in the dining room he was greeted by two smiling faces and a table set for three. Apparently Al had taken it upon himself to get everything ready while the two of them cleaned up. This was fine by Roy, he was more than ready to eat.
The conversation the three of them had over dinner was stimulating to say the least. It was a bit surprising to Roy that the younger Elric had not joined the military like his sibling. Roy soon found out that Al taught advanced alchemical theory and biology at the University for a living. From what was said despite his age, or lack thereof, Al seemed to have no problem holding his own with the other professors.
The General found himself lost on more than one occasion during the discussion Al had initiated. The Elric brothers discussed science on a certain level and with an ease Roy found hard to describe. The three of them were so engrossed in their world of science that time got away from them. It was the grandfather clock located somewhere in the Elrics' home chiming twelve times that pulled the three alchemists back to reality.
"Is it really midnight already?" Al questioned.
"I guess it is." Ed replied as he got to his feet and started gathering the dishes.
"Sorry to keep both of you up so late." Roy said as he began helping his hosts clear the table.
"Not a problem General." Al said as he followed his brother to the kitchen. "It happens to Brother and I all the time."
Once everything had found its way into the kitchen, Ed told his younger brother not to worry about the dishes, and that he would do them once he got back from giving the General a ride home. Al nodded while trying to stifle a yawn, said his goodbyes and left the room. Roy watched Ed as he sifted around the kitchen in search of something. He did not have to search long because only moments after he started his search Al's voice called out with the information that the keys were hanging behind the door. Ed responded with a thank you and guided the General out the kitchen door.
The kitchen door led out to what was apparently a wraparound porch. The two officers followed the porch around the back of the house to the car the Elric brothers shared. Roy was not aware of the fact that the Elric brothers owned a car and said as much once he and Ed started off down the road. Ed said he never really drove it to work because he preferred to walk when the weather was nice and that when it was cold or stormy out Al just dropped him off on his way to the university. The University was a much longer trek from where they lived so it just made more sense for Al to use the car.
When they arrived at the Major General's house, Roy thanked Ed for the ride home and said that he was going to have to have the brothers over for dinner sometime in the near future. Ed smiled and agreed before he bid the General goodnight.
It was now Friday of the same week Roy had eaten dinner at the Elrics' house. The office was alive with the usual chatter and rustle of papers when Roy had come out of his office to get some information from Riza and give some approval letters to Ed. Roy was in the process of turning around when Ed asked him to hold on for a minute and started reaching under his desk for something. Ed pulled out a paper bag and handed it to Roy.
"What's this Fullmetal?"
"Oh, that's the clothes you left at my house Wednesday night."
You could have heard a pin drop in the office after that statement was made. Roy's back was turned to most of the others in the room but he didn't have to see them to know all eyes were on him and Ed. Roy could feel the weight of their stares and if the expression on Ed's face was any reflection of his own, he was in no hurry to turn around and face them.
Ed's cheeks and ears were an impressive shade of cerise by the time he decided to lower his face and pretend to be engrossed in his work. The General decided to follow Ed's lead and continue on as if nothing had happened. Roy said a polite thank you as he turned on his heels, made direct eye contact with no one and marched into his office where he remained for the rest of the day.
When quitting time came Roy made sure everyone had ample time to vacate the office before he even started closing for the week. When he stepped out of his office the only person he saw was Furey, and he was hurriedly digging around for something in the file cabinet.
"Is there something I can help you with Lieutenant?"
"Yes, in fact there is, sir. I need to find the minutes from your last meeting with the commander of the team in East city."
"Are they that important to have you flustered like this?"
"No I'm just in a hurry because if I'm late again I'm sure Major Hawkeye will make good on her threat to leave me behind."
"I didn't know you rode home with Hawkeye in the evenings."
"Oh not from here sir, we all usually meet up at the town square and leave for Baysol from there." Furey said as he slid the top drawer closed and proceeded to move on to the next one continuing his search. "Now that you join us for lunch have you decided to come to Fidel's in Baysol as well?"
Roy was not sure who Fidel was or if he had ever had a reason to stop in Baysol for anything. As far as he could recall Baysol was a two bit town that was about a forty minute drive west of Central. From Roy's point of view something important had to be going on there to get the Lieutenant this anxious about being left behind. So without much thought Roy decided to tag along.
"Sure why not. What time do you all leave for Baysol?" Roy asked.
"Well Ed and Al leave around six and these days Havoc is usually with them. I can never… ah-ha! I found it!" Furey all but shouted in joy as he slammed the file cabinet shut.
"..You were saying." Roy said as a reminder for his second Lieutenant to finish his original train of thought.
"Oh sorry about that sir, I would just like to have enough time to shower and change and not have to run all the way to the towns square. I was saying, I can never seem to be ready that early and usually catch a ride with Hawkeye, Breda and Falman or Danny and Maria. They don't leave until seven."
Roy looked at his watch and saw that it was already a quarter after five. Realizing he would have to get a move on himself he bid the Second Lieutenant farewell and headed for home.
On the way there his mind was trying hard to come up with a viable reason for everyone to be going to Baysol. He could not think of any real social hotspots or attractions being located there. But he figured he would trust his coworkers' judgment on this and tag along. When he got home he showered, changed and headed out to the town's square, arriving with ten minutes to spare.
Everyone looked a bit surprised to see him. He figured Fuery would have informed them that he was coming but when he looked around Fuery was nowhere to be seen.
"He is always late sir," said Riza as she checked the hem of the skirt she was wearing, "that's why I threatened to leave him last time."
"So what is this big attraction in Baysol?" Roy asked.
Danny opened his mouth to answer but silenced when Riza cut in and answered with a 'you'll see when we get there.' Roy would have questioned her further but Furey chose that moment to come running into the square. Riza checked her watch and shook her head at the wheezing man in front of her. With Kain's arrival they all wasted no time loading up in the two cars present and starting on their way.
Roy thought it was a pleasant change of pace to see all of them out of uniform. Especially Falman, Roy was almost positive that the man lived in his uniform. Even on the rare occasion he bumped into the man when he was off-duty Vato was still garbed in his uniform.
Roy did not miss the fact that everyone conveniently avoided all of his questions concerning the reason as to why they were all so concerned about going to Baysol and getting there at a certain time. Not wanting to ruin their little game he let it go and played along. Roy figured he would get his answers soon enough.
When they arrived in the town of Baysol, they did not travel far before Riza brought the car to a halt in front of what appeared to be some sort of tavern or pub. If the crowd was anything to judge by this was quite the popular little nightspot. There was a line for admittance at the door but when the men guarding the door recognized Breda and Riza their group was waved in around the line and the shorter of the two guards told Breda that their usual tables were ready.
Havoc was already seated at one of three obviously reserved tables fairly close to the small stage that appeared to be a setup for a band. Everyone took seats facing the stage so Roy did the same, anxious to see what all the fuss was about. He did not have to wait long because in a manner of minutes some of the lights closest to the stage went out and two of the last people in the world he expected to see on a stage came into view. The two were not alone but the others were of no consequence to Roy his attention was focused on the Elric brothers.
Al picked up a guitar that was leaning against a set of drums and Ed took a seat behind the piano. Once everyone was in place a relative hush fell over the crowd. When the band started playing Roy's eyebrows shot up a few inches. They sounded good. The sound coming from the stage was smooth, soft and languid–kind of a jazzy blues mix.
Roy Mustang looked at Riza about to make a comment when the next thing that happened made his eyebrows disappear into his hairline.
Edward Elric leaned into the mike and started to sing.
In the ten years he had known Edward, Roy was sure he had heard every possible sound and syllable the eldest Elric could make. But nothing he had ever heard come out Edward Elric's mouth sounded anything like the voice that was now filling the small pub. The shock must have been clearly written on his face because when he finally peeled his eyes off the stage to look at his companions he found knowing smirks on all of their faces. Roy was too mesmerized by the music and surprised by the situation to say anything; so he simply sat back and enjoyed the show.
As the night wore on, the music became livelier and some of the patrons left their seats to dance. Roy received his second shock of the evening when Falman extended his hand to Riza, she accepted and they strolled out onto the dance floor to join the crowd.
When they finished playing the band left the stage and joined the others at the reserved tables. Al was the first to notice Roy's presence.
"Hey Ed, look who's here tonight." Al said as he pointed at the Major General.
Now it was Ed's turn to look stunned, even if it only lasted for a moment. The shock on Ed's face swiftly gave way to a smile as he walked around the table that Havoc, Riza and Roy were sitting at and took a seat beside Jean.
"What brings you all the way out here tonight? I thought you said this wasn't your sort of thing."
"I did?" replied Roy "I don't remember making that comment. I don't even remember being asked." Roy said truthfully.
"Jean told us you said you were not into the whole bar and live music thing." Al said thoughtfully as he reached for the bowl of pretzels in front of Riza.
Roy glanced over at the First Lieutenant just as a small smirk flickered across his face. Roy narrowed his eyes at Havoc but replied with, "I don't really remember our conversation going quite like that."
Roy was guessing that Al sensed the sudden shift in his demeanor, since the young guitarist quickly mentioned how long ago that was and how the only thing that really mattered was that Roy was here now. Ed then asked Roy what he thought about the band's music.
Roy answered that question as well as all the other ones Ed and Al aimed at him but all the while his mind was replaying that long ago, and until now forgotten, conversation with his First Lieutenant Jean Havoc.
"Hey Chief, I got a question for ya."
"Fire away Lieutenant."
"Do you still go to bars and whatnot on the weekends?"
"You mean like Rossi's downtown?"
"No I'm talking about the kind that have room to dance in, bands that sort of bar."
"No I can't say I've been into that sort of thing for years. Why do you ask?"
"Not really important if it's not your sort of thing. Have a good evening General."
With that said the Lieutenant had disappeared and the subject had never come up again. Roy was a little peeved to have his words twisted in that manner, especially when he got the distinct feeling that Jean had been overly vague on purpose. Roy had no desire to dampen the evening and chose not to press the issue. He would not forget it but he wasn't going to overly ponder over it either.
In the midst of Roy's musings someone from the bar came over to see if they wanted anything to eat or drink. When the bartender left, Ed proceeded to introduce the other members of the band. Zac was a carefree looking gentleman that played bass guitar and Miles was the soft-spoken heavyset man that was the groups' drummer. Ed said he would introduce the two ladies, Ashley and Lena that sang and played various other instruments like the tambourine and saxophone but they wouldn't arrive until it was time for the second set, and that didn't begin until ten-thirty.
They all sat around joking and laughing until Ashley and Lena arrived with barely enough time for a hasty introduction to the General before they had to all get back on stage. When they started the second set Roy noticed the songs involved a lot more guitar and Ed did more singing than playing.
When the evening drew to a close and everyone was heading to their respective cars Roy's mind was roaming over the night's events. He was still a bit awestruck with it all. He couldn't help but look at the Elric brothers in a whole new light. Roy chuckled lightly to himself and this earned him a sideways glance from Riza but she didn't comment. He was laughing at the fact that he was still amazed at anything that involved the Elrics. By all rights and purposes he should expect the unexpected from them by now, especially from Ed.
Roy decided then to open his eyes and put his ears to the ground…he was not going to be caught unawares again.
Thanks for reading guys and gals. I will see you again in a couple weeks.
R&R if you can.
Chapter 4: Intense Focus
Thanks to all of you for reading and now I have a question for all of you. I haven't clearly said if Hug h es is dead or alive in this fic. I personally love Maes Huges but I thought I would leave it up to a vote. Just let me know if you guys would like to see Maes in this.
Thanks to all of you for reading and now I have a question for all of you. I haven't clearly said if Hughes is dead or alive in this fic. I personally love Maes Huges but I thought I would leave it up to a vote. Just let me know if you guys would like to see Maes in this.
Underneath It All
Chapter 04 Intense Focus
Midmorning on the Saturday after his trip with the others to Baysol found Major General Roy Mustang still lounging around his home in his PJ's. He had nothing planned for the day and was still mulling over the events of the previous evening. On and off all morning he kept hearing the rhythms and vocals of the various songs the band had played. Roy thought the sounds they produced were infectious.
He was in the process of deciding on what he was going to have for what could only be described as brunch when the door bell rang. As he made his way to the door he wondered who it could possibly be at this hour on a Saturday.
When he opened the door he found Fullmetal standing on his porch.
"Good morning General." The blonde alchemist said with a smile.
"The same to you Fullmetal, and please call me Roy."
"Only if you call me Ed."
"All right, Ed. What can I do for you?" Roy asked as he stepped aside so Ed could come in.
"I was wondering if you were done with Graeme's Book on The Structure of Elements." Ed said as he entered the General's home.
"As a matter of fact I am. How did you know I had it?" Roy asked genuinely curious.
"Deductive reasoning. When I went to the library to check it out and it wasn't there I asked what day it was due back and the librarian said that there was no due date on it." Ed finished.
Roy quirked an eyebrow at him, indicating that Ed's response had not answered his question. Seeing this Ed continued, "Only officers with the rank of Colonel or higher can check out a book without having a due date, that fact combined with the subject matter of said book led me to you."
Roy nodded his head in understanding. He told the younger man to have a seat while he went upstairs to get the book for him. Ed thanked him and took a seat on couch to await Roy's return.
Once Roy found the book he took the opportunity to get dressed. When he returned he handed the book to Ed and asked him if he would like cup of tea. With Ed's response of an eager yes, both alchemists made their way into the kitchen. Ed took a seat at the counter on one of the two bar stools as Roy started the water for the tea. While doing so Roy had an idea that would kill two birds with one stone; he would get to eat and also get to know Fullmetal better.
"Have you had lunch yet Fullmetal?"
"Have you had lunch yet, Ed?"
"Would you like to stay for lunch, then? I'm sure I have enough to feed both of us."
"Am I breathing?" Ed asked.
"I'll take that as a yes." Roy said, now smiling as broadly as his guest.
The two of them started talking and the conversation rolled around to the events of Friday night. Roy didn't hesitate to flat out ask Ed how the whole situation came about.
Ed told him that the little tavern they perform at was one of the many places they would stop by when he and Al were still looking for the Philosopher's Stone. Ed said he came to befriend the owner Fidel when he and Al were stranded there for a few nights due to the weather and Fidel was kind enough to feed as well as house them until they could make it back to Central. From then on out, Fidel would always feed them when they came through in exchange for hearing tales of their wanderings.
Ed went on to say that Fidel was one of the first people outside of immediate friends and family Al wanted to see after he was restored. When they went to visit the kindhearted man, however, they discovered he was being all but put out of business by larger bars and taverns because he couldn't afford to offer any of the extra benefits like live music, dancing and such.
The Lieutenant Colonel told Roy that he and his brother remodeled part of Fidel's business and told him that if he would allow them, they would perform free of charge until business picked up.
"So you have income from all over the place these days." Roy said as he dumped the rice into the skillet with the chicken.
"Nah, Al and I do it as our way of saying thanks. We give whatever Fidel pays us to the rest of the band. Every now and again when something big comes up and the crowd is really large, they get wise and try to force us into taking our share. When they do that, we just donate it to the orphanage Ashley and Lena grew up in."
"That's very kind of you Full…Ed. Not to pry but how did you meet all of the people in the band?" Roy asked as he clumsily started hacking away at the vegetables on the cutting board.
"Pass me that knife and cutting board and I'll tell you." Ed replied as he walked over to the counter to stand beside Roy.
"Are you trying to say my culinary skills are lacking?" Roy asked his blonde guest.
"No, I'm trying to say I don't want fingertips in my lunch." Ed snickered as he tried to stifle his amusement.
That wasn't very successful because Roy started laughing as soon the words were out of Ed's mouth.
After the two alchemists gathered their composure Ed began to tell Roy how he met all of the members in the band.
Ed met Zac while shopping at Falsetto's and the two had started talking about music and before he knew it they were making plans to get together twice a week to practice. Ed said Al was the one who found Miles and he was still not sure how that came about, but he was glad regardless because Miles is one hell of a drummer.
Ashley and Lena were a different story; he and Al had met them long ago when Al was still in that suit of armor. The brothers had decided to spend some time volunteering at the local orphanage because they realized how fortunate they were to have each other as well as Granny Pinako and Winry. Ed told Roy that he and his brother have always been very self-sufficient even though they missed their mother dearly; they could still take care of themselves for the most part.
Roy told Ed that was part of the benefits of having a pair of wonderfully gifted minds at their disposal. With a laugh he continued on to say, "Not all children are able to read and understand advanced alchemical texts at six."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right on that one, but that's not all we had going for us."
"What else was there?" Roy asked.
"We also had some smug bastard in high places sticking his neck out for us so we could succeed."
His words stopped Roy dead in his tracks. When he looked over at Ed he met golden eyes that were filled with admiration, respect and gratitude. In that moment Roy was a bit taken aback by the sincerity of Edward's words and the intensity of his gaze. Completely flabbergasted, Roy turned back to the task at hand.
He was quiet for so long Ed decided to speak again.
"I know I've said it before but this time I'll say it without all of the false bravado and frustration." With that the younger alchemist quit what he was doing completely and placed a hand on Roy's shoulder. When Roy looked back at the man beside him Ed said, "Thank you Roy, I know that's hardly payment enough but, I want you to know we are truly grateful for everything you did for us."
Once his head cleared and he found his voice, Mustang turned to Ed and said, "You and Al are most certainly welcome. I can't think of two people more deserving of my help. I never mind helping those who seek to help themselves."
The two men worked in comfortable silence until brunch is done.
When they sat down to eat, Roy broke the stillness by asking Ed what he was working on that led him to need Graeme's Book on The Structure of Elements. With wide eyes, Ed instantly delved into his theory of using a mixture of crossbred plants and strict environmental states to produce more potent plants and herbs. He told Roy that he figured if he could control all of that and use this new alchemically altered soil he might even end up with a few new varieties of plants altogether.
After that the pair exchanged several theories involving plants and alchemy; finally a few minutes after three Ed noted the time.
"Well I think I've taken up enough of your day, I guess I need to get going." Ed said as he finished his forth cup of tea.
"I had nothing planned for today at all; in fact, you probably rescued me from a day spent twiddling my thumbs."
"That or I just pissed off half the women in Central." Ed responded with a smirk.
Willing to tease the younger alchemist a bit Roy ventured to say, "No, from what I hear there's a better catch in Central these days and I've been dethroned." Roy said as he gave an exaggerated sigh and a pout.
"And just who would be grand enough to take the Mighty Mustang's place?" Ed asked as he gave an equally exaggerated bow in Roy's direction.
At this point Roy wasn't sure if the man in front of him was serious or playing coy. He figured he'd go along with it a bit more and find out.
"Oh just some blond officer here in Central, I hear he's hottest thing on two feet." Roy said with barely contained amusement.
Ed moved in front of Roy and started rubbing his chin and it looked like he was honestly thinking. As the young alchemist continued to think Roy used the opportunity to really take a good look at the person standing in front of him.
Ed was now at least 5'7", 5'8" to Roy's 5'11". This still made Ed shorter than most men, but on the flip side of the coin, he managed to be taller than most women.
It was obvious even under the clothes the man wore that Edward Elric was muscular and yet lithe. His hair has grown to the point that, even in a braid, it was almost halfway down his back and Roy had to confess, Ed wore the look well. Gone from Ed's face was any hint of childhood roundness and in its place was a noticeable jaw line.
Then of course if someone managed to miss all of the above he had those striking golden eyes that surely found their way into a lot of dreams.
Yes, Roy could now easily see how he had been dethroned.
"Well," Ed began, effectively snapping Roy out of his reverie, "I've dredged my brain and the only attractive blond guys I know are Jean and Danny."
"You're probably missing someone." Roy said as he thought, yep. Completely oblivious just like Riza said.
"Yeah, I probably am. I don't go to any of the other offices much so there could be ten hot blondes and I would never know."
Now on the verge of laughing out loud Roy felt he needed to change the subject before he ended up having to come up with a reason for what would seem to be a completely spontaneous fit of laughter.
"Have you decided if you're going to go to that festival in Hayden that Levi gave us tickets to?"
"Yeah I wanted to ask you about that when I got here, but you had to go and distract me with food." Ed teased, "How about we go together since we both have tickets and that sort of thing is a drag if you go alone."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Do you have a particular day in mind?"
"No, you're the one with the busy schedule so I figured I would leave it up to you."
A smirk slid across the General's face when Ed said this. "How about tomorrow, I have nothing to do on Sundays."
"Sounds good to me, Al and I don't have practice with the band until next Sunday so I'm free."
"No plans with the First Lieutenant?"
"Uh...no, not this weekend anyway." Ed mumbled as he turned away from Roy. When he did the General could have sworn he saw a blush spreading across Ed's face.
To see Ed blushing and being bashful about something made Roy smile. So unlike the loud-mouthed brat he used to be–or maybe pretended to be. Roy mused.
"So," Roy began, "how are things going with Jean?"
"Um… pretty well really, I'm actually quite surprised. I guess I'm luckier than I thought."
Now, in Roy's opinion, there were several things wrong or rather odd with the statement Ed just made. Now curious, Roy decided to delve further.
"Why do you say that you're lucky, Ed?"
"Well for one, when it comes to dating I am a social idiot." Ed said and when he did Roy just looked at him in disbelief. "Hey if you don't believe me, just ask Al."
"Ok, I'll let that slide for now, so please continue."
"And well… I know I don't really hide it like I use to but, I'm really not much more comfortable with the automail now than I was when I got it ten years ago." Ed said as he looked down at his right hand and flexed the metal digits. "Let's face it, not many people want to be seen with someone who's 'the oddity' that gets stared at every time they enter a room."
Roy was once again speechless. He could not believe what he was hearing. Did Fullmetal actually think that the reason people were staring at him was because of his automail?
So he wasn't really oblivious but what he actually did see was the distorted version of the truth. Roy had never considered that Ed was self-conscious about the artificial limb. Roy knew such things happened to people in Ed's position but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else to this.
When he looked over at his guest he noticed Ed had this dazed look in his eyes and the broad smile from earlier was nowhere to be seen. Seeking to clear something up for his young coworker Roy asked him a question.
"Ed, have you ever considered that there may be another reason for people staring at you?"
"Why would I? That's the only valid reason I could think of, it's not like I'm new in town or something."
"Well let me run this by you." Roy began as he motioned for Ed to have a seat. "Maybe just maybe people are staring at you because they find you rather pleasing to the eye."
Immediately Ed's face scrunched up and he looked at Roy like he had grown an extra head. He sat there silently contemplating Roy's words and soon a small wistful smile slipped across Ed's face.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence Roy, and I'm sorry if it came across like I was being grossly mistreated by people. It's really just subtle things and I can live with that, but trust me I know it makes people cringe and I can't really blame them if I'm uncomfortable with it myself."
Everything in Ed's little speech sat fine with Roy save for that one line… I know it makes people cringe. For some reason that stuck out to him, it sounded too specific when everything else Ed had said was so vague and general. Roy knew it wasn't his business and he had probably already pried too deep, but regardless of all that he wasn't going to stop now.
He wanted an answer and the only way to get it was to ask.
"Why did you say it makes people cringe?"
This question made Ed's head snap to attention. For a few seconds his eyes held such sadness Roy almost regretted asking the question. He really wouldn't have blamed the other alchemist if he had gotten up and left without answering.
But for reasons unknown, Ed had yet to tell him to mind his own business and the blond now looked like he was trying to make a decision.
"Before I lost this arm I was right handed." Ed said out of the blue after his few moments of quiet contemplation.
Not sure what that statement had to do with the question he had asked Roy simply remained quiet and moved to sit on the couch with Edward.
"Old habits die hard and no matter how much time passes I still have a tendency to try to do everything with my right hand."
The long pauses tell Roy that Ed was struggling somewhat with trying to get this out and even if curiosity was killing him he would not allow himself to interrupt.
"I throw with it, I pick up my coffee with it, I write with it and sometimes before I can stop myself… I reach for people with it." and as Ed got to the end of that sentence his voice trailed off and he was now staring down at the book on the coffee table.
Now this was starting to make sense to Roy.
"Ed…I'm sorry that…" Roy started, and suddenly Ed jumped to his feet and took over the conversation.
"No I'm the one who should be sorry General. I didn't come over here to unload my worries onto you. I don't even know why I'm telling you all of this… I haven't even mentioned this to Al." Ed said as he turned on his heels and headed for the door.
Roy stood up and crossed the room in no time, placing his hand on Ed's shoulder and effectively stopping the blond's attempt to flee. Ed didn't struggle to free himself but he didn't turn around to face Roy either.
"Ed, I know I haven't been the closest person to you in the last few years but I would like to think I am still someone you consider a friend. If I had to say anything about you that I was absolutely certain of, I would say you haven't mentioned this to Al because you don't want him to worry about you. Am I right?"
When those words reached Ed's ears his shoulders slumped visibly and he nodded yes.
"We all need someone we can confide in Ed, me included. I can't tell you where I would have been some days without Maes or Riza. As much as I like to face life head on and handle my own problems my own way, I would sometimes come across things that confused me or left me floundering. That's what friends are for Ed, not just for the easy things but for the hard things as well."
Ed let out a loud sigh and he turned to face Roy. He didn't comment on what Roy had said, choosing instead to simply returning to his place on Roy's couch and staring at the Flame Alchemist.
Ed sat there with clenched fists in his lap and Roy could almost hear the internal war that was undoubtedly being waged inside Ed's mind. An odd sort of tension seemed to be developing around them and for a moment Roy was a bit apprehensive about what was going to take place.
Just as the silence bordered on being unbearable Ed spoke.
"Well if I'm going to start baring my soul I'm gonna need something a little stronger than tea Mustang."
"I heard somewhere that 1865 was a good year; I think I'll travel back in time with you, if you don't mind the company." Roy replied.
"I've always hated to travel alone so welcome aboard." Ed quipped as he flashed Roy a nervous smile.
With the tension now broken, Roy turned and made his way into the kitchen.
Ed could hear the distinctive sound of glass clinking and a cork being popped. When Roy reentered the living room he had two Bordeaux glasses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. When Roy made no motions to sit, the younger man also stood and Roy led him toward his study. When they entered the room Roy told Ed to have a seat, as he sat the glasses down on his mahogany desk and promptly proceeded to pour the wine.
The first glass was consumed while the pair engaged in idle chitchat. It wasn't until Ed started on his second glass that he actually returned to the conversation that had begun in the living room. Roy could tell Ed was not comfortable discussing personal issues by the way the young alchemist struggled for words.
It was a slow, but enlightening, journey to the source of Ed's present dilemma concerning how he assumed others saw him.
What Roy gathered from Ed's recap of events was that, Ed's current view of things stemmed from the various incidents of his youth and the reaction most gave once they realized someone so young had automail–period–not to even mention two pieces that went to the extent Ed's did.
Even Roy had to inwardly admit that there weren't too many twelve year olds running around with an entire arm, shoulder and half a leg made of steel.
These past issues were only compounded when, as Ed put it, Al decided he should stop being such a social recluse and start dating. Ed said it was all pretty enjoyable at first and he soon found himself dating a young woman that worked at a shoe shop in downtown Central.
He said it was nothing really serious. They had only been out a few times when they decided to go ice skating one afternoon. At some point in time the two were chasing each other around and the young lady ended up on her rear. Ed said they were laughing and having a good time until he extended his hand to help her up- as she went to accept it she caught sight of his automail and swiftly withdrew her hand.
That reaction created quite the awkward moment between the two.
Ed said she apologized and he tried to play it off and like it wasn't a big deal, but judging by Ed's tone of voice her actions had clearly hurt him.
"It would be different if it was something I could change," Ed stated as he swirled the last of his wine around in his glass, "but this arm is something that will be with me for the rest of my life."
Roy's heart went out to the blond. He truly couldn't imagine how difficult something like this would be. It just seemed as if life strived to cause nothing but hardships for Edward Elric.
He watched as Fullmetal finished off his second glass of wine and sat the empty glass on the table to the left of the large overstuffed chair he was seated in.
"And it was not a one time occurrence either. Something like that happened with Gary and Sciezska too." Ed added as he flung a leg over the arm of the chair. "Can you now see why I have a hard time believing the stares I'm receiving are in admiration? Not much to admire in someone scarred and incomplete."
Roy couldn't help but flinch at those words. So this is how Ed views himself, Roy thought, and with a few unfortunate occurrences under his belt he now assumes this is what everyone sees.
Roy knew that getting Ed to see this differently was going to take more than just flowery words. If Edward Elric was anything he was a man of science. Therefore any changes in an ongoing theory would take examples and hard evidence.
"I'm not going to pretend to understand how you feel Ed, because I don't. But if you would allow me to I would like to ask you a few questions."
"Sure why not." Ed replied as he folded his arms across his chest.
"How often would you say you go out with your automail arm exposed?"
"How often would you say you're stared at?"
"Almost every day."
"And you don't find it odd that those two things don't match up?"
Ed narrowed his eyes at the man seated behind the desk. Roy could tell he was searching for a loophole in what he'd just said.
"So? It's not as though everyone doesn't know it's there whether the automail's visible or not." Ed replied.
"But if they can't see it, what does that leave them to stare at?" was the question Roy posed as he grew somewhat amused at the fact that Ed, the former child prodigy, had never really thought this out.
Now Ed was thinking so hard, Roy could almost hear the gears in his head turning. A variety of expressions crossed the man's face as he sorted through Roy's words. To Mustang this was quite amusing to watch.
"Have you ever been to Hayden?"
Ed simply shook his head no.
"Good, tomorrow will be a good test of my theory. I want you to wear something that covers your automail, hand and all, and for once I want you to really pay attention to what's going on. If I'm wrong I'll sort mail in your place when your turn comes back around. Deal?"
At that a wide grin spread across Ed's face. "You've got yourself a deal there Major General."
After that the subject matter was dropped, the two alchemists passed the rest of the afternoon sipping wine and exchanging stories. Eventually the subject of alchemy came up again and Ed told Roy he needed to come by and check out his lab one day when he wasn't busy.
After deciding he really had nothing else he wanted to do for the rest of the day Roy decided he would walk Fullmetal home so he would get to see some of the things the blond genius was working on.
During their walk towards the south side of Central they came upon a lemonade vendor and Ed insisted on buying each of them a drink.
"Hey it's the least I can do in return for lunch and listening to my problems, thanks again by the way for letting me vent. Even though I don't really agree with your theory, as you put it, it still made me feel better just to get it out."
"Not a problem Ed, thank you for trusting me enough to share." Roy replied as they continued on their way.
When they entered Ed and Al's home they were greeted by the younger Elric at the door.
"It's nice to see you again so soon General Mustang."
"Same here Alphonse." Roy replied.
"Oh hey, brother, Havoc's here. He just went in the music room to drop off some sheet music he thought you'd like."
"Cool. I'm glad I got here before he left, I'll have to go thank him for that." Ed said as he headed off to the music room. "Al, would you be kind enough to show the General to the Lab? I'll be down in a few minutes."
"Sure thing brother I was headed that way anyhow."
Roy followed Alphonse around the corner from the entranceway where the younger Elric opened a door that led down to the basement. Once they descended the stairs Roy could not believe his eyes. There was almost every conceivable apparatus a person of science could want and a few he was sure he had never seen before.
It was apparent Elric brothers had used alchemy to modify the basement because from the looks of things it was more widespread than the house above them. Al was being quite talkative while he was giving Roy the tour of his brothers' lab. Unfortunately for Roy, Al caught him daydreaming. It was Al's snickering that brought the General back to reality.
"What's so funny?" Roy asked.
"You," Al said, "you look like a kid in a candy store."
"I feel like one. Sorry for spacing out on you."
"That's no problem; it was amusing to see the great Flame Alchemist in awe." Al said as he walked toward the door leading to the next room.
When Al opened the door there was nothing but plants as far as the eye could see. Roy now knew that Ed was not exaggerating in any way when he said he had almost every medicinal plant known to man in his basement. He proceeded to wander around the room, stopping every now and again to take a better look at some of the experiments. Roy was about to ask Al a question when the sound of approaching footsteps reached his ears.
"Well Roy, what do you think?"
Roy turned in the direction of the door only to see Ed and Jean had joined them. With a smile, he replied, "I'm rather impressed."
Al soon posed some question to his brother that had the three alchemists debating over some mineral compound. The entire conversation went over Jean Havoc's head. The First Lieutenant stood there looking at the three of them and at some point he started to chuckle. The sound of laughter gained the attention of the chattering alchemists.
"And what, may I ask, is so funny?" Ed asked as he took in Jean's amused expression.
"Just the three of you, I know you guys said everything in English but damn if it didn't sound like Cretian to me." Havoc replied shaking his head.
This caused all four men to burst into laughter. Once they all settled down, Jean announced that he needed to head home and Ed volunteered to walk him out. All four men left the basement and once they reached the main floor of the house Al said he would like to show Roy the music room and Ed and Jean turned toward the kitchen.
Once Al and Roy entered the music room, Roy asked the younger Elric if he played any other instruments.
"I tried learning some wind instruments but I could never really get comfortable with it." Al answered.
"Well I think your abilities with a guitar are superb, sometimes it's best to stick with what you know."
Al nodded in agreement and asked Roy if he had any musical inclinations.
"I used to play a little piano myself but it's been years since I've attempted that. When I first joined the military I took up the trumpet and joined the military choir, that's actually how I met Hughes."
"Mr. Hughes was in the choir!" Al exclaimed.
Roy nodded and the two of them talked about music and the like off and on for a while before Al asked Roy if he would like some of the tea he had made earlier. Roy thought that sounded great so the two of them headed for the kitchen.
When Roy and Al walked through the kitchen door they both froze.
Across the room Ed was backed up against the wall between the counter and the door, and Jean Havoc had his hands on the wall on either side of the older Elric's head. Jean was currently kissing his way up the younger man's neck. When Jean reached Ed's jaw line he brought a hand down to cup the smaller blond's chin and kissed him lightly on the lips. That light kiss soon turned deep and languid.
Roy looked over at Al and the young man's eyes were wide as saucers. He was shocked, but apparently pleased by the situation at the same time if his expression was anything to go by.
When Jean stepped back, Edward stumbled forward looking thoroughly dazed. The older man smiled at this and kissed Ed on his forehead and told him to stop by his house tomorrow if he got back in town before dinner. Ed nodded dumbly and whispered an 'ok' as Jean walked out the door.
As soon as the door closed Ed brought his hands up to his lips and a content smile claimed his face.
All was well in Edward's world until he turned around.
The shock of finding his younger brother and commanding officer standing there was enough to turn the man red in the face.
"..How long have you two been standing there?" Ed asked as he started organizing the dishes in the sink.
"I think Jean was somewhere around this region." Roy said as he tilted his head back and ran a finger up and down his neck.
"Yep, we came in right before the exchanging of the tongues." Al added.
Roy and Al stood there grinning as Ed turned a deeper shade of red.
"Did it ever occur to either of you to leave the room?" Ed said in a huff as he desperately tried–and failed–to hide his embarrassment.
"And miss out on a moment like this?" Al questioned, "Not likely brother, not likely at all."
Done picking on his older sibling, Al left the room and Roy followed.
It was a good ten minutes before Ed showed his face in the living room and much to his relief neither Al nor Roy said anything else about the kiss he shared with Jean.
"What time do you want to leave for Hayden tomorrow?" Roy asked.
"Doesn't really matter to me, are you driving or am I?"
"I'll pick you up around nine; that way we can be there before noon." Roy said as he got to his feet and prepared to leave.
"Not that it's a problem but, why so early?" Ed asked.
Roy smirked and said, "From what I saw it would be in your best interest to be back before dinner."
Roy could still hear Al's laughter after he exited the house and shut the door.
Thanks for reading guys -hugs-
Chapter 5: Beautiful Distortion
Underneath It All Chapter 05: Beautiful Distortion
Sunday morning rolled around and Ed woke to the smell of pancakes and bacon. As he sat up and stretched, a long yawn worked its way past his lips. When he swung his feet out of bed and they came in contact with coolness of his bedroom floor he marveled at the duel sensation. Even though it's been years since he had regained his left leg the awe still had yet to wear thin with him. In the recesses of his mind he often wondered if it ever would.
The eight years he spent without the limb had definitely left its mark.
The thought of the recovered limb brought his mind around to the conversation he had with Mustang the day before. The fact that he had shared so much with the man caused a wave of awkwardness to wash over the blond alchemist. He ended up rolling his eyes at the memory of his own actions and words, as he made his way to the bathroom. He couldn't help but wonder what made him dump the woes of his world onto Mustang of all people.
With a shrug of his shoulders he pushed the thought out of his mind and proceeded to brush his teeth. He could think on this later… breakfast was waiting and so was Al.
When Ed entered the kitchen Al greeted him with a smile and motioned for him to have a seat. Before Ed could sit down good, Al had a plate piled full of eggs, pancakes and bacon in front of him; and no sooner than the thank you passed his lips did Ed start digging in.
Al moved away from the table and laughed quietly as he opened the fridge. When he pulled out the milk and started filling a glass Ed's eyes narrowed in suspicion and his defenses went on high alert.
"Relax Brother it's for me. I have absolutely no desire to start the last day of my weekend off by fighting with you over your crappy diet."
Somewhat taken aback by his Brother's words–and tone–Ed just sat there in silence with his mouth agape. When Alphonse turned around but refused to meet his eyes Ed knew something was wrong, he just didn't know what that something was. When he parted his lips to ask, Al simply put up his free hand and said, "And no, I don't want to talk to you about it."
"You don't want to talk at all or just not to me?" Ed asked already suspecting the answer.
Al took the last swig of his milk like he was kicking back a shot of scotch. Once it was drained he sat the now empty glass down–none to softly–on the counter and turned to stare out the kitchen window. Ed flinched at the harsh sound and just stared at his usually mild mannered brother in disbelief. It was not often that Al got bent out of shape about something and when he did it could be rather frightening.
Ed's breakfast had lost its appeal but he began to poke at the cooling food anyway. He was trying to find a way to break the silence that had enveloped the room when Alphonse did it for him. "I sorry for snapping at you Brother, I didn't mean to take my frustration out on you." It was obvious to Ed by the way Al was drumming his fingers on the counter that his brother had more to say but was trying to find the right words.
"Al I don't mean to pry but you know you can talk to me about anything right?"
"Yes and no …that's only true to a point Brother."
Ed's face morphed through a series of expressions before it settled on mixture between hurt and angry. "And exactly what do you mean by that?" he asked as he pushed away from the table, his food forgotten, and folded his arms across his chest.
Al sighed loudly. "Despite all you do know Brother, and the vast things you've experienced even you have to admit there is still some subjects you know next to nothing about."
"Like what? And when you answer that please tell me what the hell it has to do with this conversation. I'm lost over here!" Ed replied at a volume a bit louder than necessary.
Al whirled around to face his brother and pointed an accusing finger at him. "Fine, do you really want to know what's bothering me? I'll tell you. I'm frustrated Brother, sexually frustrated, I haven't had sex since Kara and I broke up four months ago and it's starting to grate on my nerves!"
It took a few seconds before Ed's brain could processes what Al had shouted, and when it did his cheeks turned an impressive shade of crimson and he looked away.
"Thank you for proving my point Brother." Al said before he started to leave the kitchen. As he stormed past his brother Ed grabbed onto his sleeve effectively halting his march. "Hey, just because I don't have a lot of experience with something doesn't mean I can't listen."
Al's shoulders slumped when he heard this but he stood his ground. "I know you mean well Brother but I've known you all my life and this is a subject you have always avoided like the plague."
"I do not!" Ed shouted.
"You do too!" Al yelled in returned, and after he did he took a good look at Ed, assessed the tension in his own body and came to a decision "Look this is a stupid thing to fight over, so why don't we just drop it ok?"
"Fine by me," Ed whispered as he put his anger in check, "but can I ask you one more question?"
Al was leery of this but he nodded anyway, he figured he brought all of this on himself by having an attitude first thing in the morning. A few moments passed and Ed was still silent. Al arched an eyebrow at his brother and finally Ed spoke. "What makes you think that …why did you say I avoid that subject?"
Al threw his arms up in the air in frustration. He couldn't believe this. "Because you can't even say the word Brother, and don't try to deny it!" Al said as he turned on his heels and headed for the side door that led out to the porch.
"Are you trying to say I'm a prude?" Ed said as he jumped to his feet and followed his brother.
"Yes, I am! Most of the time you've got a stick wedged so far up your behind I'm surprised you don't walk funny!" Al bellowed as he flung open the door and stepped onto the porch, "and until yesterday I was pretty sure you were actually going to die a virgin!"
Ed had a scathing reply to that on the tip of his tongue but it died there when he looked out into the driveway and into the face of Roy Mustang.
When his brother stopped cold and went silent Al knew something had gone awry. Ed never lets him get the last word in. All he had to do was follow his brother's line of sight and the reason for Ed's silence stood in the middle of the driveway clutching a bag from the local pastry shop.
Roy Mustang had left his house early enough to stop at Mama Sandy's pastry shop and still get to the Elrics well before nine-thirty. He knew both of them had quite the sweet tooth and would probably enjoy just about anything he could find there. Not having any clue as to what they would like specifically he picked up a variety and was on his way.
When he arrived at the Elric residence he barely pulled into the driveway and parked the car. He didn't know what Alphonse had planned for the day and if the younger Elric needed to leave before he and Ed were on their way he had plenty of room to pull around him.
As he stepped out of the car he could hear the muffled sound of conversation from inside. When he rounded the corner of the house the voices got a bit louder and he smiled as he figured the two young prodigies where probably engaged in a debate over some little known alchemical theory. As he passed under an open window he heard, "Are you trying to say I'm a prude?" and a response of, "Yes I am. Most of the time you've got a stick wedged so far up your behind I'm surprised you don't walk funny!" confused Roy stopped his approach and contemplated what he had just heard. He didn't get much time to do so because mere seconds later the side door swung open and an angry looking Alphonse marched out and said, "And until yesterday I was pretty sure you were actually going to die a virgin!" an equally pissed looking Ed was hot on his heals and it looked like he was about to shout something when he caught sight of Roy standing there. Al soon followed Ed's eyes to the man in the driveway.
As both Elric brothers stood there staring at him Roy felt the need to say something, but what does one say when they accidentally end up privy to a conversation like this one?
"Uh… I brought doughnuts." Roy said humbly as he held up the bag of glazed treats.
Al lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose with the fingers on his left hand. When he looked up at his brother there was definite regret on Al's face. Ed probably would have gotten an apology if he had stayed around long enough for Al to give it voice; but the blond alchemist glared at his brother and walked back into the house as soon as Al lifted his head. The resounding slam of the door was enough to make the other two men cringe.
When the thud of angry footsteps faded away Al kicked the side of the house in frustration and cursed loudly. Roy's eyebrows shot up at this because in all the years he had known the Elric brothers he had never heard the younger one use any sort profanity. Roy felt no need to ask what the problem was; an idiot could figure that out. The issue now was getting past the awkwardness of the situation.
"Is this a bad time?" Roy asked despite the obviousness of the answer to that question.
Al's face screwed up and he looked at Roy like he was crazy for asking. Al's features soon returned to normal and he waved the General up on the porch. Roy flashed the young man what he hoped was a comforting smile as he walked up the steps.
"Just how much of that conversation did you hear?"
"I came in around the point in time which someone was asking about being a prude." Roy replied with a lighthearted tone that didn't seem to make the younger Elric anymore at ease. In fact his brow furrowed even deeper. Roy put a reassuring hand on Al's shoulder and said, "Don't worry about it Alphonse it's really not that big a deal."
"Yeah I know that, it's Brother that I'm concerned about." Al replied as he shot a worried glance at the door that led to the kitchen.
Roy was at a loss. He had no idea how to deal with a pissed off angry Ed…he wasn't even sure he wanted to try; but one look at the remorseful face of Alphonse made copping out not an option. With an inward sigh Roy started devising a plan.
"Has Ed eaten yet?" Roy asked.
"He started to but then I snapped at him…that's how this whole convoluted mess kicked off." Al explained while looking more down trodden every second. "This is all my fault. He got up in a perfectly good mood for once and I let my crankiness ruin it, and if that wasn't bad enough I storm outside shouting about his private life only to find his commanding officer standing in our driveway."
"It'll be fine Al; Ed can never stay mad at you for long."
"I'm not so sure this time, I know if our positions were reversed I would be livid." The young professor said as he slowly made his way toward the door, ready to face the music. "You don't understand General, Brother is a very private person."
When they opened the door they found themselves quite literally facing the music. A very high tempo concerto was coming from the back of the house. Roy wasn't sure what this meant but he had a feeling it wasn't good.
One look at Alphonse told him he was right; the young man looked beside himself and near tears. Roy figured there was more to this than what it appeared to be so he asked. "Is there a particular reason why Ed venting in this manner disturbs you? It actually seems like a rather calm, productive way to deal with anger." Roy said as he eyed the young man in front of him. "It's a lot better than all of the screaming and shouting your brother use to do."
"I agree with that wholeheartedly; but to answer your question I'll just say this, for one he usually only does this when he's been pushed to the point of wanting to hurt someone or break something, which hasn't happened in years. And two, to be perfectly honest these little sessions usually only happened after he had to report to you."
That was not exactly what Roy expected to hear. This information was not comforting to the man in the least.
"Here," Roy said as he shoved the bag of pastries into Al's hands. "Go heat up whatever you and Ed were eating we'll be out in a few minutes." Al looked at the man like he had promised to bring him the moon. As Roy shooed Al off back toward the kitchen he started to think getting the young man the moon might be easier than calming Ed down.
Roy remembered the way to the music room Al had showed him on his last visit, yet he took his time getting there. His plan was sketchy at best but it was the only thing he had to work with so it was going to have to do.
His plan: Find a way to leave Ed no logical course of action but to suck it up and be done with the matter.
When he entered the room the music came to a sudden stop.
"Save the speech General I have no desire to hear it."
"Ok, fine then let's go eat the doughnuts and be on our way."
Ed made a low disgusted noise in the back of his throat and started to play again. Ed was not going to make this easy, but he was not the only person that could be bullheaded when they wanted to. If Edward Elric wanted a challenge then Roy Mustang was going to give him one.
"Tell me what purpose it would serve for you to sit in here sulking while your little brother is out there worrying about you."
"He's a big boy he'll get over it." Ed quipped back, but Roy could tell the 'little brother' remark got under his skin some. "I'm sure you will both get over this in due time, but feel free to call me impatient for wanting it done in haste."
Ed's head snapped to the side and he shot Roy a look that could have melted steel. Mustang suddenly got the feeling he might have pushed the envelope a bit too far with the sarcasm. Looking for an out he decided to just be brutally honest and see where that took him. Whatever he was going to do he needed to do it quickly.
"Look Ed, it's really not a big deal."
A sour note rang out of the piano. "It's so nice to hear you know how I should feel about this."
The music continued on.
Roy hadn't realized the blond musician would take his statement in that manner. Roy wasn't trying to tell him how to feel, he was simply trying to remove the awkwardness. He was now completely at a loss as to what to do. When Ed stopped playing this time Roy was convinced he was doing so because he needed both hands to choke him. Mustang prepared himself for the lecture of a lifetime and a possible beating but all that came out of the eldest Elric was an exaggerated sigh.
When Ed looked over at him this time all of the previous anger had drained out of him and was replaced by a look of weariness. "I appreciate you trying to help Mustang but it's really not necessary. We're brothers, we fight at times but at the end of the day we will still be brothers." Ed slid off the piano bench, stood and leaned against the baby grand. "I'm not as embarrassed by the whole thing as you probably think. What I'm really upset about is the fact that Al assumes things about me instead of asking me about them."
A quite voice from the doorway whispered, "I kinda just realized that."
When Roy and Ed looked toward the door there stood Al and guilt was draped over him like a blanket. To Roy's surprise Ed flashed his brother a genuine smile and replied, "It'll be fine Al and don't take all the blame for that, I don't exactly go out of my way to share my thoughts."
Roy watched as a small smile drifted across Al's face. After seeing this, the smile on Ed's face got bigger and he approached his brother and slung his arm around his shoulder. "Come on let's go find that bag from Sandy's the General brought with him."
Without further ado and just like that the two of them walked out of the music room like nothing had happened. Roy just stood there by the piano blinking in disbelief. It was not that he was unhappy with the turn of events, quite the contrary, he was thrilled. He was just in awe of how quickly their emotions shifted and things switched back to normal.
"Are you coming Roy?" Ed yelled from a few rooms away. Roy shrugged his shoulders and headed for the kitchen.
After a very nice breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, pancakes and doughnuts the two alchemists were on their way to Hayden. Roy noticed that Ed was unusually quite and the few times he stole a glance at the blond he looked lost in thought. Not caring for the idea of riding in silence for the next hour or so Roy spoke up. "What's on your mind Ed?"
"Just questioning my decisions and pondering life, as per usual."
"Sorry, I don't really follow."
Ed drummed his gloved automail fingers on the window for a moment or two before explaining. Roy smiled at the fact that Ed had remembered the conversation from the night before and had covered his automail. He was determined to open Ed's eyes about how others perceived him and the sooner that happened, the better. Abruptly the drumming stopped and Roy once again glanced in Ed's direction. The Lt. Colonel was staring out the window and what Roy could see of his expression left the older alchemist curious.
"Just because I said I wasn't as embarrassed as you thought I was, didn't mean I wasn't embarrassed at all." Ed finally answered.
Ed's comment caused a grin to slide across Roy's face as they passed out of Central City limits. "Well fear not my young friend the matter will never be brought up again unless you speak of it. Sound like a deal to you?"
"Sounds like a great deal to me!" Ed beamed as he adjusted in the seat so he was no longer turned toward the window. "Now please find something to talk about, the silence is killing me!"
The General couldn't help but chuckle at this. When he settled down he asked Ed about one of the experiments he had in his laboratory and the conversation continued on from there.
The trip passed rather quickly and before they knew it they were inside the small township of Hayden. The fair itself was easy enough to find so Roy parked the car in the first available space he saw and the two got out and started to enjoy the festivities.
From the moment they walked onto the fairgrounds Roy noticed they were turning heads. He smirked at this and as they passed by a small group of blatant admirers Roy leaned down and whispered in Ed's ear, "Don't make it obvious but glance to your left." Ed started for a moment before glancing over his left shoulder and spotting a small group of people giving moony-eyed looks in their direction. Eds face scrunched up in consternation as he looked over at Mustang.
"In case you're confused Ed that's what admiration looks like when plastered across someone's face." Ed backed away from his superior officer and gave him a playful punch to the arm. "It'll take more than a couple of odd looks from a group of misguided souls to convince me my dear General."
"Suit yourself." Roy said.
Ignoring Mustangs remark Ed moved on to the closest game and presented his pass. Several minutes and five rings on a bottle later, Ed found himself the proud winner of an oversized stuffed Panda. Ed had this huge grin on his face as it was handed to him and this prompted Roy to ask him a question.
"Not that you can't be, but why so happy over the Panda?"
"Because I know Elysia's going to love it, she's obsessed with Panda's."
"That she is." Roy said after a moment of reflection. "You want to go put that in the car?"
"Sure," Ed replied, "I really don't want to carry this thing around all day, and while we're on the subject of Elysia, when is her doting Father going to be back in town?"
"I'm supposed to pick him up at train station at ten o'clock Tuesday night."
As the two alchemists moved around the fairgrounds Roy noticed the small group of admirers was never far behind. Roy felt that it was only a matter of time before they made a move. Normally he would have just approached them in order to get the ball rolling, but that was not going to happen today. It wouldn't prove his point to Ed if he was the one to do the approaching. Roy was going to have to be willing to wait, and he was sure it was going to be worth it.
After several games and a couple of rides Ed's noisy stomach told the pair it was lunchtime. The duo decided on a lunch that consisted of corndogs and fries. Not something that was normally on their menu but considering the atmosphere it was fitting–and surprisingly tasty. While they ate Roy noticed that their little group of followers had come to the outdoor food court as well. He could tell they were hesitant about making a move toward them but from the way they were pointing and giggling they were going to do it and soon.
The General looked up from his own meal to Ed and noted that the blond alchemist was completely absorbed in his repast. After not so much as a grunt of acknowledgement from the young musician, Roy went back to eating. He had just taken a bite of his corndog when the sound of shouting reached his ears. He and Ed looked up in the direction of the shout at the same time and their eyes fell upon the group that had been shadowing them since they arrived. When nothing more came of it they both resumed eating. It wasn't ten minutes later that a deep rich voice was heard from Roy's left. When he turned toward the sound of the voice he was looking into a set of sea green eyes.
"For crying out loud Aggie, someone would think you've never seen a man before." a young lady with brown hair said to the redheaded woman beside her as she folded her arms across her chest with a huff.
"You are just as eager to make move as we are Gail so you can quit acting."
"You two are impossible!" Aggie shouted and in return she received two sets of heated glares from her friends as the two men they were watching stopped eating their lunch and looked at them curiously before returning to their meal.
"Would you two settle down? If you keep this up they're likely to get up and leave." The guy with them growled out in a hushed voice.
"It wouldn't make any difference to me if they did Preston." Gail mumbled as she turned her back to her two friends.
"Come on Aggie," Preston said as he grabbed the girls' wrist and started pulling her away from the angry brunette, "looks like the odds of us not spending the day alone just got better. There's one for you and one for me."
Aggie just sighed and allowed herself to be pulled along.
The rather handsome man with the exceptional green eyes now had his hand extended to Roy in greeting. "The names Preston," he began, "and you are?"
"Roy and my friends name is Ed. Nice to meet you."
"Same here and this is my friend Aggie," Preston answered as he flashed Roy a charming smile (that rivaled Roy's own) as he motioned toward the redhead beside him and she waved timidly in response. Roy had to admit–even if it was just inwardly–that he was drawn in by that charm. "What brings you guys here to Hayden? Are you passing through or just visiting?"
Ed looked at Roy then at the two people now standing beside their table and slid over. Ed didn't even get the chance to extend the invitation before Preston sat down. Roy did the same for Aggie and she uttered a quiet thanks before taking her seat. "Is it that obvious that we're not from here?" Ed asked of Preston with a laugh.
"Well when you live in a town as small as this one new faces really stick out."
"True," Ed responded right before he popped the last of his fries in his mouth, "new faces do tend to do that."
"Especially those that are, unforgettable." Preston stated as he held Eds golden eyes with equally stunning green ones. Roy watched as the ears of the blond alchemist tuned pink as the full implication of that statement settled around him.
Oh, he's good, Roy thought as he looked over at the green-eyed, dark haired smooth talker. Under normal circumstances Roy would make an effort to scare the young man off, but this was far from normal circumstances and he felt one of these two would be just hat he needed to prove his point from yesterday to Ed. He glanced to the young lady sitting beside him and said, "I was just about to go get something to drink would you care to join me?" Her eyes brightened and a very genuine smiled slid across her face. "I would love too." She replied. When they stood up Roy extended his arm to Aggie and off they went.
When they reached the tent that was selling various sorts of drinks he asked the young woman what she would like. "Nothing for me." She responded but her eyes lingered on the vat of lemonade an elderly lady was stirring.
"Have something," Roy said, "I insist." She rubbed her chin thoughtfully for a moment before she pointed at the lemonade she had been eyeing since they reached the tent. "That looks really good."
"Do you think your friend Preston would like some as well?" Roy asked as he waved the little old lady over in their direction.
"I don't see why not. If he doesn't like it I'm sure it will not go to waste." Roy chuckled at her statement and promptly ordered four glasses.
When they made their way back to the table where Ed and Preston were waiting the pair was laughing pretty hard at something. He looked over at Aggie and she simply rolled her eyes and said, "Preston is a great story teller, no doubt your friend has fallen victim to an embellished version of one of his many tales."
Her tone might have been exasperated but amusement twinkled in her eyes. When they sat the drinks down Ed began filling them in on what had them laughing so hard. Between Ed's recall of the tale and Preston's interjections the foursome was in stitches by the time the lemonade was gone.
When the laughter died down Aggie asked them what their plans were for the day. When they said they were just going to enjoy the festival and play she nodded and looked at her friend. Preston wasted no time producing four slips of paper from his shirt pocket and began waving them in the air. Ed looked over at Roy and when Roy simply shrugged his shoulders he looked at the man beside him for an answer.
"What are those?" Ed ventured to ask since it appeared Preston was not going to volunteer the information. "Four passes for the Hayden Countryside Tour." He answered proudly. As soon as the words passed his lips his friend Aggie leaned across the table and snatched one of the slips of paper out of his hand and stared at it wide-eyed. "Where did you get these!" she shouted.
"I'll never tell." He said as a devious look claimed his features.
"Would the two of you like to join us for the tour?" Preston asked as he looked over at Ed who in turn looked at Roy. When they didn't give an immediate answer Aggie added, "It's a really nice carriage ride and the tour guides tell the greatest stories and share pieces of the towns' history along the way."
This raised Roy's interest in this tour quite a bit and Ed's as well if the look of intrigue on his face was genuine. "Sounds like fun to me." Ed said as he began gather up the mess he had made eating lunch. "What do you think Roy?"
"You can count me in. When and where does it start?"
"The next tour is due to start at two o'clock and it begins at that clock tower in the middle of town." Preston said as he pointed toward what was easily the tallest structure in Hayden. "How about we plan on meeting you guys there a few minutes till two?" He asked as he slid off the bench and got to his feet. When both of the alchemists nodded in affirmation Preston and Aggie smiled broadly at this.
Ed started to get up with the tray of trash he had gathered when a pair of tanned hands relived him of his burden. "Allow me," Preston said as he winked at blond. "Aggie and I have a few things to take care of before two so we will have to be going now anyway."
The young woman shot him a puzzled look but quickly recovered and nodded in agreement and stood up. "It was nice to meet both of you and I'm looking forward to seeing you for the tour."
"The pleasure was all ours." Roy replied and he watched as a light blushed colored the woman's cheeks as she walked around the table to join her friend. Roy and Ed waved as the two disappeared into the crowd. Soon as they were out of sight Roy turned his gaze to Ed.
"Not one word Mustang." Ed growled though clenched teeth.
"What makes you think I was going to say anything?" Roy asked feigning innocence.
"You always get that shit eating grin on your face when you think you've made your point and are about to rub it in."
"But haven't I made my point?"
"I guess," Ed muttered as a far off look settled over his face.
Roy looked at his companion in worry; something seemed to be distressing the blond alchemist. He thought that the events of the past hour or so would have done wonders to lift the young mans spirits but now this seems to not be the case. The General was greatly confused by this and he aimed to find out the cause.
"Is something the matter Ed?"
"Yes…no…well it's more than a little overwhelming that's all."
Roy simply stared at him in question.
"That guy was hitting on me wasn't he?"
Roy almost fell off his bench at Ed's questioning understatement. That Preston guy couldn't have hit on him any harder without getting physical. The fact that Ed was still confused by what the deal was had Mustang floored. "Yes Ed, he was definitely hitting on you."
Ed's eyebrows knitted together and he glared at the General. Taken aback by this Roy asked him why he was looking at him like that. Ed's features relaxed but the intensity never left his gaze.
"I told you before I was a social idiot, so there's no need to rub it in. Not everyone can tell the difference between a really friendly person and someone trying to put the moves on them!" Ed exclaimed as he stood up and started walking away from a startled Roy.
Once Roy regained his senses he followed his blond companion. He noticed Ed seemed to be a bit frustrated at him so he figured he would approach him in a non-threatening, less cocky manner. Wiping the smile off his face Roy caught up to Ed and asked, "What is your real question about all of this Ed? Maybe if you tell me I can answer you more clearly."
"Well how exactly do you tell the difference?"
Roy thought about it for a moment and he started listing off things like body language, facial expressions and proximity. When Ed still looked bewildered he started giving examples from Ed's encounter with Preston, hoping that this would make it all come together for him. Roy started off with Preston's compliment about Ed's face being unforgettable. Then he moved onto his all but sitting on top of Ed on the bench, the wink, the flirting. Hell, even the request to spend more of the day with him during this tour thing that was apparently a big deal around here judging by Aggie's reaction to Preston having tickets.
"And to wrap it all up," Roy said as he looked over at Ed as they made their way toward the Ferris wheel and got in line, "the man even took your garbage away for you."
The Major General was expecting some sort of response from the younger alchemist but Ed still looked as dazed and confused as he did when the conversation began. When it was their turn to get on, the blond man was still silent and lost in thought. They got in the blue cart labeled number five and the silence and suspense was killing Roy. The cart slowly brought them around as more people got on and when they started going in slow full rotations Ed finally spoke, and what he said explained it all.
"But what are you suppose to do if everyone acts that way around you. How do you tell the difference then?" Ed asked in a defeated tone that said he was more than tired of being confused. Roy just looked at the blond incredulously. If what Ed was alluding to was indeed the case no wonder he had gotten everything all mixed up. If the only people that ever acted normal around him were us in the office and his brother then that explains a whole lot…actually it would explain everything.
"Let me get this straight." Roy began as he looked over at Ed just as the wind picked up and flipped the man's long braid over his left shoulder. Roy wondered for a moment what Ed looked like with his hair down, he almost wished he could see it. He swiftly shook that stray thought from his mind as he continued, "Everyone acts like this around you?"
"Basically, I just figured they were going out of their way to try and make me comfortable in my own skin or they realized who I was and figured they had to be nice." Ed replied as he looked out over the rail of the cart they were in down at the town below. "That or they were just being nice to the unfortunate amputee." He added dejectedly.
Mustang could feel the carefree mood slipping away and he sought to quell that as fast as he could. "Well now that you know that's not the case how do you feel?" Roy inquired hopefully. The wistful look that had taken over Ed's visage melted away and his eyes brightened. A muted laugh escaped the young man's throat and he replied, "Whole."
That one word was music to Roy's ears. He flashed a smile in Ed's direction, leaned back in his seat and enjoyed the ride.
By the time two o'clock approached four more toys had joined the panda in the back seat of Roy's car and the duo made their way to the clock tower. When they neared the clock they spotted Preston and Aggie right away. The pair had changed clothes and they were both looking well groomed. Ed realized that this was probably done to appear more attractive and was suddenly hit with a case of nerves which slowed his pace.
There were definite perks to being in the dark about some things and now that he no longer was, his mind was in turmoil. Roy noted Ed's change in pace and slowed his down to match. He looked at the golden eyed alchemist and whispered, "Don't say anything about the change of clothes unless it's a compliment."
Stunned that Roy knew what he was thinking Ed whispered back, "How did you…"
"Don't worry about it," Roy interjected as they approached hearing range, "Just follow my lead."
Ed shook his head thankfully and did just that.
The carriage ride was wonderful and a lot more entertaining than either of the alchemists expected. They said their goodbyes to their newfound friends with plans of heading for the stage to get a good seat for the play that was due to start in less than thirty minutes. As they started to walk away Preston called Ed's name and when the blond turned around the green-eyed man was right behind him and caught him unexpected embrace.
"Thanks to you today has been the best one I've had in a while." He said as he reluctantly let the shorter man out of his arms. Ed tried not to flush but the heat overtook his face anyway. Preston handed him a piece of paper and when Ed unfolded it there, in perfect script, was a name, address and phone number. When Ed looked up he noticed Preston was sporting a blush of his own while nervously rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand. "Just in case you want to keep in touch." He mumbled. "The phone number rings at the print shop I run on the edge of town."
Ed smiled and said, "I think I'll do just that." This answer seemed to make the other mans day and he apologized for holding them up and told them they'd better get going if they wanted to get decent seats for the play. When they started on their way again Roy asked what Ed was grinning about. When Ed handed him the slip of paper Roy simply nodded and smirked. When Ed saw this he snatched the paper out of Roy's hand and stuffed it in his pants pocket and muttered, "Smug bastard."
That old declaration made Roy laugh off and on all the way to the stage.
When the play was over Roy noted the time and sighed when he realized they would have to be going soon if they were going to get back to Central around dinner time. He almost hated to leave. He was having a great time and was really enjoying Ed's company. When his eyes fell on his companion he noted Ed was looking at the Ferris wheel. "Want to ride that one more time before we hit the road?" Roy asked.
"You bet old man," Ed said as he bounced off in the direction of the ride, "Last one there has to buy the other lunch on Tuesday."
They arrived at the ride out of breath. Roy had come really close to catching Ed but he had a feeling Ed was holding back. They were in the midst of rehashing the day's events when their turn to board came up. When the attendant steadied the blue cart Ed looked at the number and asked Roy. "Hey, weren't we in cart five the last time?"
"Indeed we were what a coincidence." Roy answered as he climbed in behind Ed. Roy was looking at the small town below and talking about what the tour guide had said to them concerning the town hall when he heard a few grunts coming from Ed's side of the cart. Curious to see what would cause the young man to make those noises, Roy turned around just as Ed freed the last of his hair from its braid.
Between the motion of the ride and the breeze that was blowing, Ed's blond tresses where flowing to the side like a golden river. Roy watched as Ed leaned his head back, stretched his arms out across the top of his seat and lost himself in the moment. Before long Ed started humming a familiar and somewhat silly traveling tune. Without much thought Roy joined Ed in his humming of the tune. When Ed heard this his head shot up and his eyes snapped open. Roy said nothing he simply started to hum louder, a few minutes later they were both singing and when they reached the end of the song they just looked at each other and died laughing.
With his hair flowing in the breeze and a look of pure unadulterated joy on his face Edward Elric appeared carefree in a way Roy had never seen him look before. For once Ed was wearing a completely unguarded expression and the General decided he wanted to see this on the young mans face more often.
When the ride came to a halt Ed moved to get off first and as Roy followed him he got a good look at exactly how long Ed's hair really was. The tips of the blond mane in front of him were just an inch or so away from touching the waist band of Ed's pants. As they walked away from the ride Roy realized he had gotten his earlier wish and for whatever reason that brought a smile to his face. Just then Ed looked over at the older alchemist and asked him why the big grin. Roy shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing. Ed quirked an eyebrow at this but kept silent as well. As they passed the lemonade vendor they each got one for the road and headed for the car.
The ride back to central was filled with commentary on the day's events and conversation. When they reached Central Ed asked Roy if he could just drop him off at Havocs house. When they approached the First Lieutenants Roy could tell Ed was excited about his upcoming visit with the man. Roy asked him what they had planned and Ed said Jean hadn't really said so he figured it was just going to be dinner. Mustang shot Ed a sidelong smirk and the younger man sank down in his seat, looked out the window and said, "Get your mind out of the gutter Mustang."
Roy laughed for what seemed like the hundredth time that day noting how nice it felt to be in such a good mood. He made a mental reminder to have more days like this as they pulled in front of Jean's house. The house was dark and for a moment Ed thought the other blond might have given up on him and turned in early. That thought was washed away as the porch light was flipped on and the front door opened to reveal Jean standing in the entryway. Ed waved at the man and when he waved back Ed said his goodbyes and thanks to Roy and all but bounded out of the vehicle and toward the house.
Once Ed was inside Jean gave a small salute to Roy and shut the door.
Roy stopped for takeout on his way home and once he got there he ate his dinner and settled down in his study to do a little reading. Just as he was about to call it a night the phone rang. He looked at the clock and it was close to eleven thirty. Wondering who it could possibly be at this hour and if he needed to be alarmed he answered the phone, "Mustang residence."
"Hello Major General. Sorry to disturb you so late."
"Is everything alright?"
"Yes and no…is Brother still with you?"
"No I dropped him off at Havoc's around seven. Is there a problem?" Roy asked now amused at the younger Elrics assumed dilemma.
"Well it's just late that's all." Al replied sheepishly. "I knew he was stopping over there for dinner but it's not like Brother not to back by now."
Roy was having a hard time keeping the amusement out of his voice. He and Ed had talked a little about the things that had led up to the argument he had walked in on this morning between the two siblings. Ed hadn't went into a lot of detail but Roy could read between the lines well enough to see what the eldest Elric was getting at. Roy had ascertained that Ed felt compelled to "save" himself in a sense and the lack of intimacy in his life had led his sibling to think of him as a prude. Roy didn't know why Ed felt the need to "save" himself–he knew for a fact the young man was not religious–but he didn't think the timing was right to ask. He figured all would be revealed in due time and left it at that.
At the moment he had a worried Al on his hands and he wanted to calm the young mans fears but at the same time he couldn't let this golden opportunity pass him by. So with a smile in his voice he replied with, "Worry not Alphonse. Jean is probably working his way toward removing that stick you said your brother had lodged somewhere."
"What do you mean by…"
The ensuing silence spoke volumes and Roy would have paid to see the realization dawn on Al's face. After what was surely and uncomfortable silence for the youngest Elric Al responded with a meek. "I see…sorry to bother you General."
"It was no bother at all Alphonse, have a good night."
"You do the same." That was all that was said before a soft click was heard. By the time Roy hung up the phone his shoulders were shaking with barely suppressed laughter. He was sure his statement had given Al more than enough to think on…along with some vivid imagery he could have probably done without.
A/N: Sorry for the INSANELY long wait guys and I hope no one has given up on this fic. I just had another episode of "Life getting in the way"
Thanks to you all for reading and I eagerly await your comments and suggestion. Luv -OnyxLight-
Chapter 6: Depth of Perception
Disclaimer: Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Disclaimer: Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All
Chapter 06: Depth of Perception
Wherever Roy was it was warm and sunnyHe could hear peals of laughter and sounds of happiness all around.
He was rushing about like a kid and every time he stopped someone pulled on his arm and they were moving once again. 'Where am I?' Roy thought. 'Nothing's making any sense.' Just as that thought went through his mind a Ferris wheel came into sight.
"Oh, I'm back at the fair in Hayden."
When he got close to it he noticed that all the carts were labeled with the number five. He stopped and stared at this knowing something wasn't right but his arm was tugged on once again and he followed the person in front of him into the cart. One glimpse of blond hair and he knew who had been tugging on him.
"It's Ed! I'm back at the fair with Ed."
They were singing and laughing as the ride took them in circles for what seemed like forever, but Roy didn't care how long the ride took, he was having a great time and so was Ed.
When they finally got off the ride they headed to the car and started back to Central. When they pulled into a neighborhood that Roy assumed to be the one Havoc lived in something seemed off he just couldn't place his fingers on it. They stopped in front of a house and when the porch light flipped on Edward said, "Goodnight, JeanThanks for the ride." and hopped out of the car, headed for the house.
Confused as to why Ed called him by the wrong name he looked out the window at the house only to see none but his own face staring back at him. He watched confusedly as he saw himself open the door for the Lieutenant Colonel and with a grin, once Ed stepped over the threshold, he shut the door.
Roy Mustang woke with a start.
That was the forth time in as many weeks he had dreamed of Ed. He was starting to worry himself. Between the dreams and the events of last night, he was starting to think that he might be slightly attracted to the blond. He shook that thought from his head and reasoned that he was only dreaming about Ed because he spent so much time with the younger alchemist. At the same time, a small voice in the back of his mind said, 'You spend so much time with him because of the attraction.' Roy's brow furrowed at this. He refused to seriously consider, let alone outright admit, being attracted to Ed.
"I need to get out of this house." Roy said to no one, as he got out of bed and headed for the shower.
It was still fairly early on the same morning and the Major General figured he would do some shopping downtown at the local farmers' market. His mind was a lot clearer once he got out of the shower and he was still feeling a bit energetic from the good time he had with the others last night at Fidel's, so he decided to leave the car and walk. As Roy moved down Dale Avenue he thought about how thankful he was that none of them had really questioned his actions last night. Everyone just seemed to laugh it off and roll with it, and for that he was grateful. Even after a night's sleep he still had no clue as to why he did that. No clue as to why Ed did, either. It really seemed like one of those weird moments that just 'happened.'
Twenty minutes into his walk he neared the street that led to the south side of town, and he was tempted to swing by Ed's to see if the younger man wanted to join him. Roy sighed to himself as he realized that his mind was once again on the subject of Edward. Frustrated at this he turned his back on the south side of town and marched purposefully in the direction of the market.
He was in sight of his destination when a familiar voice called his name. He turned around to see Maes Hughes walking in his direction. "What brings you out so early on a Saturday?" Maes asked.
"Just out to do a little shopping." Roy replied as he waited for the man to catch up to him. When he did, the family man started looking all around as if he was missing something. Before Roy could ask him what he was looking for Maes asked, "Where's Ed?"
Roy glared at his friend and in a curt tone replied, "And exactly how would I know?"
"Ooh, hit a nerve did I?"
Roy made a conscious effort to relax the expression on his face and said, "I don't know what you're going on about." Without giving the investigations officer a chance to reply, Roy resumed his march toward the market. When the other man walked up to the General he was quiet for a few awkward moments before he said, "You know Roy, it wouldn't kill you to ask him out."
Roy stopped dead in his tracks and with fury that defied reason he all but screamed, "What the hell makes you think I'd want to do that?"
Maes took a step back out of the range of his best friend's wrath. He was a little stunned by the unexpected ferocity of Roy's reply, but it only took a moment before a wry grin spread across the photographer's face. "I don't know…let's see…oh yes, it might have something to do with that little dance the two of you shared last night at Fidel's, maybe."
Roy rolled his eyes at the grinning man beside him, but at the same time his mind began to flash back to the events of prior evening.
The place was packed before the band even started the second set so an overjoyed Fidel started sending rounds of drinks to the band and their group during intermission. A couple of drinks in, Al leaned over to Roy, Maes and Fuery and whispered, "You know how Brother rarely dances?" When they all nodded yes he continued on to say, "Watch what happens now that he's had a few drinks, all it will take is the right song on the jukebox and he'll be on the floor, guaranteed."
A devious grin spread across Kain's face and he said, "I'd pay to see that. Can you name a song Al?" as he got to his feet and jingled the coins in his pocket.
"I could name several." The guitarist said as he stood up as well and he and Fuery made their way over to the jukebox.
By the time they returned the first song the crafty pair had played was midway through and a table away the four of them could see Ed steadily tapping his feet and swaying with the music. Al giggled at this and said, "See I told you. He won't be able to stand it much longer."
When the second song fired up Ed could be seen tugging on Jean's arm and the taller blond was steadily shaking his head no. Several tugs later he said, "No dice Ed. I'm sorry, but I've got two left feet and there's no way in hell I'm going to embarrass myself in front of this many people."
Ed rolled his eyes theatrically and looked over at Riza. She smiled at him and stuck her hand out "All right Edward, I'll go with you. I'm dying to dance as well." Ed's face lit up as he accepted her offered hand and off they went. Two songs later they were still out there dancing. Shortly after that, Al and most of the gang soon followed. They all looked like they were having such a good time Maes and Roy finally looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders said 'what the hell, we might as well join them.' Only Jean and Breda remained seated, shaking their heads in disbelief.
Roy couldn't really remember how he managed to end up dancing right next to Ed and Zac, but he did and he was having a damn good time. Most of the music that Kain and Al had played had been innocent little dance tunes but the next song that played was trance inducing to Roy's mind. The song had a hypnotic beat and not long after it got going Roy looked at Ed and he looked at Roy- soon, before he even knew itthey were dancing.
The two of them dancing together was not a problem in and of itself. No, far from itIt was the way they ended up dancing before the song was over that created the problem. Roy could still hear some of the lyrics of the unknown song in his head now and that only made the memory more vivid than it had a right to be
Where you are seems to be, as far as an eternity (1)
Outstretched arms, open hearts, if it never ends, then when do we start?
I'll never leave you behind, or treat you unkind
I know you understand
At first Roy was moving along with the music behind Ed. Everything was going along just fine until Ed started backing up. He eventually bumped into Roy and when he spun around to see who he walked into, their eyes met and that was…That was just it.
Dream away everyday, try so hard to disregard
The rhythm of the rain that drops
And coincides with the beating of my heart
Their eyes stayed locked together the entire time. As the song continued it was as if the rhythm possessed them. Because possession would be the only valid explanation for what happened next. Roy would like to blame the alcohol but neither one of them had had enough to use that excuse. As they drew closer and closer to each other they had failed to notice that quite a few people had stopped dancing to watch.
Pushing forward and arching back. Bring me closer to heart attack
Say goodbye and just fly away
When you've come back, I have some things to say, yeah
Roy grabbed Ed around the waist and pulled him against his body. Ed didn't fight it or seem shocked in the least, rather seeming to be savoring the moment. He hooked one arm around Roy's neck, leather clad hips pushed forward and he let Roy take the lead. Ed matched every dip and sway Roy made.
There must be someplace here that only you and I could go
So I can show you how I feel.
At some point in time their foreheads ended up pressed together, and he then felt Ed's fingers entwine in his hair and he wasn't even sure where his hands were and, and- he didn't care.
They were still blissfully lost in their own little world until the music stopped. When it did, hips stilled and they both blinked for what was probably the first time in minutes. After they finally took note of their proximity to each other they backed away only to have a round of applause from the bar patrons really snap them out of their trance.
Roy groaned aloud as the memory drew to a close. When chuckling reached his ears he shot a heated glare at the man responsible for the noise. "Can it Maes!" Roy hissed as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. This was the last thing he needed right now. Last night was bad enough without this morning's dream added to it, and he certainly did not need Maes added to the mix.
"Hey, don't get huffy with me. It's not my fault you two all but molested each other on the dance floor last night." Hughes said as he failed to contain his amusement.
"I did not take advantage of him." Roy growled.
"I didn't say you did, all could see that he was a more than willing participant. Which is why I think you should ask him out."
"In case you hadn't noticed, Maes, he's dating Jean."
A wide and mischievous grin spread across Maes' face. He so loved it when he was right about things. Roy hadn't said he didn't want to ask Ed out, he simply gave a reason he felt he shouldn't. He felt a little sorry for Roy at the moment, but damn if it wasn't amusing to see Central's foremost lover boy in the midst of his own infatuation.
"Yes, I know he's been dating Jean. But they haven't made it official or announced any type of serious commitment as of yet." Maes pointed out as he dug around in his pockets.
"So, it's still perfectly all right for you to ask him out."
"He's happy Maes, and I'm not going to interfere with that. What makes you think I'd want to ask or he'd be interested anyway?"
Maes was disconcerted to hear confusion and insecurity in Roy's voice. It wasn't often that Roy Mustang's confidence was shaken, and when it came to romance, Roy was probably the most self-assured person he knew in the field. He still had yet to hear his friend downright admit that he had a bit of a thing for the short blond alchemist. "Oh come on Roy, the only way anyone could have gotten a greater chemical reaction out of the two of you last night would have been to draw an array on the dance floor."
Hughes watched as a variety of expressions crossed his friend's face. He was not going to let Roy deny this. Last night had been the final piece of evidence he needed to convince Riza and Gracia of his suspicion. He hadn't mentioned it to anyone else because he didn't want to get rumors started, God forbid, and as much as he loved them all when it came to gossip they were like a bunch of bored housewives.
Feeling he needed to drop the subject for a while, Colonel Maes Hughes started telling Roy about how Elysia was doing in school. The proud father was going on and on about her last play and how she was going to grow up to be a great actress when he noticed that Roy had tuned him out and was staring over his shoulder. Curious as to what his friend could find so interesting at the local market he turned around, and what he found should not have surprised Maes at all. There, on the other side of the marketplace, stood the Elric brothers and the older one of the pair was watching Roy as intently as Roy was watching him.
When Saturday morning came, Edward Elric had already been awake since before dawn staring at the ceiling of his bedroom. He could hardly believe his own actions last night and had spent quite a while trying to figure them out. The strings of thoughts had kept him awake for most of the night. Sure, he and Roy had played the whole thing off rather well and no one had made too big a deal out of it, but he could tell that they were all stunned. Shit. Here it was the next day and he still felt off kilter.
He was hard-pressed to describe what he and Roy had done last night as a mere dance. Under normal circumstances he wouldn't mind his "little sister" Elysia watching him dance. Would he have wanted her to see that spectacle last night? Hell no!
As if that wasn't enough, Jean kept looking at him funny and shooting daggers in Roy's direction the rest of the night. When it was time for the band to get back on stage and do their thing Ed had found it almost impossible to keep his eyes off Roy. He finally gave up center stage and sat back down behind his upright and proceeded to add piano parts to the songs. If his band noticed they said nothing and rolled with it. For that he was extremely grateful. At least from behind the piano he was not expected to look straight out into the audience. He should probably thank his lucky stars it didn't get any worse.
Frustrated, he kicked his blanket off and headed for the bathroom. He was hoping fervently that as early as it was, he could shower, dress and slip out of the house before Al got up.
Ten minutes later he was out the shower drying his wet hair. Five minutes after that he was fully clothed and headed down the steps and out the door. Just when he thought he was home free, a voice from his right stopped what he thought was his great escape.
"…Wanna talk about it Brother?"
Ed's shoulders slumped as he looked across the porch and spied Al sitting on a section of the railing with a glass of juice in his hand. "No coffee for you this morning?" Ed asked ignoring his brother's question.
"No, I figured if you smelled coffee brewing you would have known I was up and hid in your room all day."
Ed scowled at his younger sibling and asked, "Why would I be hiding in my room?"
"For the same reasons you're trying to slip out of the house unnoticed. I'll ask again. You wanna talk about it?"
Ed sighed in defeat as he plopped down on the top step leading off the porch. He should have known Al would have noticed everything. He always did. Ed didn't really know where to start this awkward conversation and he said as much.
"Well, how about you let me ask a couple of questions that came to mind last night?"
"Sure," Ed said as he put his back against the opposite railing so he could look at his brother, "ask away."
"Okay, one: Where did you learn to dance like that? And two: How long have you had the hots for the General?"
Ed's face turned beet red as he shouted, "I DO NOT HAVE THE HOTS FOR ROY!"
Ed's shouting didn't faze his sibling in the slightest, and Al simply replied with, "You'd have a hard time convincing anyone at Fidel's last night of that one brother, but look at the bright side; it's obvious he has a thing for you too, so at least it's not one-sided."
"Look Al, Roy and I are friends and whatever happened last night was just a fluke, end of story."
"That's a hell of a fluke brother, I've seen people make out with more space in-between them than you and the General had between each other on that floor last night."
Ed threw his arms up in the air and shouted, "That's it!" as he jumped to his feet and bounded down the steps. "This is exactly why I was trying to leave before you got up!"
Al was hot on his heels as Ed stomped through the yard and out onto the sidewalk. "Where are we going Brother?"
Ed didn't bother to look at him when he replied, "I am going to the market downtown, and you can stay home."
"Don't be so touchy Brother; I was only stating the obvious. Besides, aren't you the least bit curious as to what the General's thinking about all of this?"
Ed didn't say it out loud but he was definitely curious about that. Why had Roy grabbed him and pulled him so close? And why hadn't he cared in the slightest? What had Ed all bent out of shape right now was the fact that whatever it was that happened between them had happened in front of an entire bar full of people and it was something he had not seen coming at all, so he felt completely blindsided by it. He was happy with Jean, wasn't he? If that was so, why did being that close to Roy not bother him in the least? Flustered by it all he repeated his earlier declaration in his head over and over. Just a fluke, just a fluke, just a fluke.
They walked in silence most of the way downtown but apparently his brother grew tired of this and started asking questions that Ed tuned out as he examined some of the fresh produce on display. He could tell Al was getting irritated with being ignored so he looked up at his brother, but when he did his eyes traveled across the marketplace and landed on Roy Mustang. Caught in the man's nearly obsidian gaze he did the only thing he could do. He stared. With his mouth slightly open, and an apple in one hand, Edward Elric was glued to the spot.
Roy could still hear Maes talking, but all possible comprehension went out the window once midnight blue met gold. Were the fates conspiring against him? What had he done to deserve running into Maes (who insisted on talking about Ed) then running into Ed himself? It was not that he didn't want to see him, no; it was just the circumstances surrounding the chance meeting that had Roy dreading it all.
Surprisingly it was the lack of sound coming from his best friend that got his attention. Roy peeled his eyes away from his current focal point and whipped his head around toward Maes to snap, "What!"
"Uh…I didn't say anything, Roy."
Roy let out a frustrated noise and looked back around to where Ed and Al were only to find the pair gone from where they once stood. A deep frown line creased his brow and Roy turned his now heated gazed back to Hughes.
"Boy, you've got it bad." Was all the photographer had time to say before Roy spun around and stomped off back in the direction he had come from.
"I thought we were shopping?" Maes asked, somewhat confused, as he trailed along behind Roy.
"Feel free to do whatever you please Maes, I'm going home."
Roy looked at the man as though he was seriously insane. He figured someone, whose job happened to be reading people and uncovering things, would have been more observant. As it stood, Roy was wondering if the faith he had in Maes and his abilities of perception all these years was misplaced. As they left the inner circle of the open market Roy felt like a complete ass. Here he was, the great Flame Alchemist and Major General of the Amestrian army, running away from what was essentially nothing. So what if he had danced with Ed last night and it had gotten a little frisky. Was it really that big a deal? No, it wasn't. But if that was true, why did he want to pull his hair out and scream?
Roy stopped his frantic fleeing of the marketplace and sighed dejectedly.
"You look like you could use a cup of coffee." Maes said after hearing his friend sigh.
Roy jumped slightly because he was so caught up in his own internal musings that he had forgotten that Maes was trailing along behind him. When he got himself together enough to acknowledge his friend's statement he nodded.
"Let's grab a bite to eat too; I left the house without eating breakfast." Roy mumbled, his voice barely above a whisper.
Maes nodded in agreement and the two of them decided on Sandy's Pastry Shop. Not only did it have some of the best coffee in Central, Sandy's had a variety of pastries and sandwiches that was well known to both of them.
Once they entered the shop a bright faced young woman came up to them almost as soon as they had seated themselves in a quiet corner and asked them what they would be having. When they put in their orders she gave them a warm smile and disappeared behind the counter only to reappear shortly with two steaming mugs of coffee.
"Will you fella's be needin' anything else?" she asked.
"No, no- I think we're good." Maes answered once he noticed that Roy wasn't going to bother.
As soon as she was around the corner and out of earshot Maes said, "All right, spill it Roy. Something about this whole situation is eating at you and I won't leave it alone until you come clean, so out with it."
Roy knew what the other man was saying so lightly was nothing more than the truth with a sugar coating. Maes may have said it in a joking manner but he'd known the man long enough to know Hughes would indeed pester him relentlessly until he heard what he wanted to hear. Still, Roy really didn't want to talk about this to anyone until he had it somewhat figured out for himself. So he decided to try and dodge the man's questions by changing the subject.
"Is Gracia still thinking of giving cooking classes?"
"Of course! As a matter of fact my darling wife already has her first unofficial student."
Roy's eyebrows went up at this and he asked if her student was anyone they knew.
"As a matter of fact it is." Maes answered as that sly grin from earlier returned.
Now leery of the man in front of him, Roy asked, "Well, who is it?"
"Ed." Maes replied as he dumped another spoonful of cream into his coffee.
"You've got to be kidding me?" Roy said aloud before he could stop himself.
"Nope, and from the stories he tells while they cook you two have become rather chummy."
Roy glared across the table at the smirking man. He was just not going to be able to avoid talking about the blond; but Roy was not one to give up easily and he was going to fight this until the bitter end.
"I suppose we have." Roy replied while trying to come across as if that was nothing remarkable.
"So you don't deny it then?"
"We are friends, Maes. There's nothing to deny."
"So when are you going to ask him out?"
Roy was so frustrated he could have spit. Why was Maes being so insistent about him asking Ed out in the first place? He knew Maes had a nosy streak in him a mile wide and often thrived on the latest drama, but this was extreme even for him. It was almost as if the other man needed Roy to ask Ed out.
Tired of being on the receiving end of uncomfortable questions, and rather a bit curious about Maes' reasons, Roy decided to start asking questions of his own. "Why do you want me to ask him out so badly? He's going out with Jean; haven't he and I had enough trouble over this sort of thing?"
Maes simply snorted but Roy remembered all too well how things ended in what will forever be referred to as The Susan Situation.
Roy had been sent to East City temporarily due to the death of Brigadier General Roland Yeats. So Führer Oswyn Cross had ordered him to oversee that office until a suitable replacement was found to take the deceased Brigadier's position. Roy ended up staying in East City for a little more than two months.
On the night of his return to Central Roy's train pulled in three hours late, which left the Major General hungry but too tired and in no mood to cook. He quickly went over his mental list of eateries trying to think of one that would still be open but he drew a blank. Just as he had resigned himself to a bowl of ramen when he got home, one of the travelers he had spoken with on the ride back to Central passed by. When he asked them if they knew where he could possibly get a bite to eat at the current hour they suggested a little hole-in-the-wall off of 3rd street called The Sub and Pub.
When he got there the place was still open, but due to close in less than an hour. When he sat down in a booth the most charming young woman by the name of Susan waited on him. The place was empty so she spent a lot of time chatting with him while his food was being prepared.
They hit it off pretty well; by the time Roy finished his food her shift was over and the diner was closing its doors. Roy offered to walk her home, she accepted, and they had talked all the way.
Before they parted he asked her if she was available to go out sometime. She said she had been seeing someone on and off for the past four months but he didn't really seem to be her type. She said he was a bit to secretive for her liking. Roy's only thought on her statement was, 'Someone's loss, my gain.' After they made plans for her to meet him outside of headquarters on Thursday at four he kissed her hand goodnight and went on his merry way.
When he walked into the office the following morning everyone was happy to have him back and things were moving along as per usual. Shortly after lunch the phone on Lt. Havoc's desk rang. It was a short conversation but everyone could tell that whatever was said had taken the wind out his sails. It took the remainder of the day for Breda to get the blond to tell him what was wrong.
Jean Havoc had been dumped yet again.
Two more days passed into Thursday and a smile had yet to grace the First Lieutenant's face. Normally Roy would have shared the fact that he had date with the office but considering Jean's misfortune he kept it to himself. Work was slow that day and he was ready to get on with his evening so when the four o'clock hour neared he told everyone to go ahead and head out. He didn't have to tell them twice as everyone, except Riza, tidied their desk and headed for the door.
Once they were gone Riza shot Roy a look and asked, "Alright Roy, what's got you in such a good mood? You look like the cat that ate the canary."
Roy smiled and said, "I have a date tonight."
"I figured as much." She said as she smiled back and stood to leave.
The two of them walked out of the office together. When they stepped out of the double doors the pair was surprised to see everyone still standing out front. They all seemed to be watching something. When Riza and Roy followed their line of sight they saw Jean speaking rather animatedly with a striking raven haired woman. Upon closer inspection Roy realized that woman was his date Susan.
Curious as to how Havoc knew her Roy started to ask this when Kain said, "Wonder why she showed up here after giving him the boot?"
"Maybe she changed her mind and wants him back." Falman whispered.
"Doubtful," Breda said, "I think she said she something about having a date."
Roy hadn't meant to gasp out loud but he did. All heads turned to face him and in a matter of seconds Breda had it put together. The First Lieutenant looked over at Jean then back at Roy and shook his head in disbelief. "This is unbelievable … what are the chances?"
"Chances of what?" Kain asked with his face scrunched in confusion.
Riza winced in realization and set out to confirm their suspicions. She pointed to the tall brunette speaking to Jean and said, "That's your date over there isn't it Roy?"
Roy nodded dumbly as the full implications of the situation washed over him. They all watched intently as the dark haired lady closed her conversation with Lieutenant Havoc.
"This is waaay too much drama for me," Ed announced, "I'm gone." The younger alchemist stated as he turned to leave and Falman was right behind him.
The others were still there watching the situation unfold as the tall blond came marching toward them with a furious face. When he got close to his officemates he looked at Roy, eyes blazing, his face weighted with contempt.
"Havoc, I sincerely apologize; I really had no idea, I just…" Roy started.
"Don't worry about it, chief." Havoc sneered and the amount of scorn behind the word 'chief' was enough to make everyone present flinch. "Maybe when you're done with her you'll be kind enough to toss her back my way."
Riza's eyes narrowed before she said, "Watch you tone Lieutenant. You are…"
Roy placed a calming hand on the Major's shoulder to silence her.
"Easy there Jean," Breda said as he approached Havoc, "There's no way Mustang could have known who she was. He was out of town for months and I think I was the only one you introduced her to."
Kain was nodding when he said, "Until today most of us had no idea what she even looked like."
"That was kind of the point." Jean growled out low as he cut those angry blue eyes over at Roy again.
Between Jean's statement and the look he gave, Roy gathered that he was the reason Jean had never brought the young woman around or mentioned her. Roy felt extremely guilty about all this even though the woman had said it wasn't working out with the person she was dating. He had just never fathomed that that person was Havoc.
"I just need to accept the fact that most women would rather have a one night stand with him than a relationship with me."
At that Riza and Kain looked absolutely furious at what Jean was implying about Roy's ethics and behavior. Riza opened her mouth to say something but Jean cut in and said, "Save it Major, I'm bowing out and going home."
And with a curt bow to Roy as well as a flippant salute that's exactly what Jean did.
Once he left Susan walked over to the group and apologized for all of the trouble she felt she had caused. Roy told her it wasn't her fault and said that due to the circumstances he wouldn't feel right going out with her. She said she understood, apologized once again and left.
When she was out of earshot Heymans Breda said, "That was bad. I think I'll give Jean some time to cool off before I try to talk to him."
That whole situation happened over a year ago and it took months before the tension between Roy and Havoc dissipated. During that time Kain and Breda informed him of just how often things like that occurred. Roy truly had no idea that some of the women he asked out were showing interest in the First Lieutenant until he came along. When he asked Fuery why no one ever said anything, his reply was, "It was none of our business, General. Besides it's really up to ladies you ask out. They have a right to decide who they want to see, don't they sir?" When Roy nodded the younger man pushed his glasses back up on his nose and continued working on his disassembled radio.
Roy has made it a point since to try not to 'steal' any of Jean's dates. He was in no way looking for a repeat of The Susan Situation.
During Roy's reflection on past events Maes' eyes had grown dark; when he spoke his expression was serious and his pitch flat. "You do realize that Ed and Al are like sons to me?"
Stunned by the sudden seriousness of his friend's tone Roy looked the man in the eye and nodded. He was too confused to trust his words. Outside of work Maes was seldom serious. The man acted so lighthearted and carefree most of the time Roy often wondered about his stern side.
"Well if you understand that then it should go without saying that I only want what's best for both of them."
"I'm glad you think so highly of me Maes, but might I ask what's wrong with the First Lieutenant."
"Nothing I can expressly put my finger on Roy, it just seems like he's always…too guarded."
"You ever consider Jean might just be a very private person?"
Maes peered over his cup of coffee and gave Roy a look that said he had just asked the dumbest question of the year.
"Fine Maes, think what you want."
"I'm glad I have your permission because I was going to do just that."
The waitress showed up then with their food in one hand and coffee in the other. After she placed their food in front of them and refilled their coffee she disappeared back behind the counter. The two men ate in comfortable silence until Maes asked Roy if he'd like to come over to his place for dinner tonight. Not having any plans for the evening he agreed to. It had been a while since he'd had dinner with them all. Roy was just relieved that Hughes had let the Ed subject drop for the time being.
As they finished off their plates and stood to leave, Maes told Roy to be over at his place at six o'clock sharp. With that settled the two said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
Thanks to all please remember to feed the plot bunny!
(1) Song lyrics belong to Maroon 5 the song title is "Sweetest Good-bye" off of their album Songs about Jane.
Chapter 7: Blindsided
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All 7 Blindsided
The dinner with the Hughes clan was wonderful as per usual. The only difference from the norm was the fact that Maes and Gracia took turns singing Ed's praises and, in their own polite way, encouraged Roy to ask Ed out. Roy's response had been to change the subject rather quickly each time. After a while the couple got the hint and let the matter die in peace.
What Maes somehow failed to see was that Edward's relationship with the blond Lieutenant had Ed smiling, laughing, glowing and happy. It was those reasons, especially the last one that had Roy unwilling to do anything that might disrupt the new balance Ed had found. The younger blond alchemist was seldom seen without a smile on his face and in his voice now.
Each time Maes caught him looking at Ed for one moment too long he would just shake his head and say, "You need to make a move. If you don't do it soon you're going to run out of time."
Roy appreciated his best friend's advice he just couldn't see himself taking it. He spent time with Ed–just as friends of course–but that just seemed to make the ache that had taken up residence in the Flame Alchemist's soul that much harder to endure. Every now and again when Roy forgot himself and was caught blatantly staring at Ed and Ed alone , he simply put on that fake smile he was so used to wearing these days and said, "I never thought I'd see you like this." In return Ed would nod and say "Me neither." Roy would then waste no time shifting the subject to something that hurt a lot less than the idea of Ed with someone else.
Weeks rolled by, and on a particularly warm Thursday word reached Roy's office that the Führer had become greatly displeased with the Military's current letterhead as well as various other forms of correspondence, forms and stationary. Now this may not seem like a big deal but if one ever had the pleasure of meeting and working under Führer Oswyn Cross, they would understand. He had reformed the Amestrian Military's lackluster image into one that was respected by most of the known world. He took great pride in every decision he made and if he was displeased with something…well. It was usually fixed–immediately.
"So none of the local shops have given any samples that the Führer deems worthy?" Kain asked of Falman. The stoic man simply shook his head no.
"I don't see what the big deal is," piped Breda, "it's just paper, you would think what's written on it would be much more important than what it looks like."
"To a degree you have a point, Second Lieutenant. But as one of the most powerful countries out there we have an image to uphold, not to mention the fact that anything coming from the military, especially the Führer's office, is a direct reflection on Cross himself." Falman answered. Breda didn't comment further, simply turning back to the stack of paper he was working on earlier.
Roy looked out of his open office door at Edward. The young alchemist seemed to be lost in thought. A moment later his head shot up and he began to write furiously on a sheet of paper. Curious as to what had inspired such actions in him Roy beckoned Ed into his office. Ed replied with, "Give me one moment, General." a few sentences or so later Ed gathered up what he had been writing, as well as some blank forms off his desk.
When Ed entered Roy's office he was looking rather smug.
"What do you have up your sleeve now Ed?'
"Heh. Do you remember Preston?"
Roy thought for a moment and slowly striking green eyes floated up from his mind and images of the town of Hayden sprang forth.
"Yes I do, wasn't he the young man from Hayden?"
"Yes, and if you recall he ran a print shop. I have written him a couple of times since we went to the fair…"
Roy cocked an eyebrow at Ed, and a devious smirk played across his features.
"Not like that." Ed growled out in frustration but Roy noted that the tips of the blond's ears were scarlet. "Anyway," Ed continued, "I figured he might be just the one to provide the Führer with what he wants. It won't hurt to try at any rate."
Roy nodded and held out his hand, wanting to see what Ed had gathered up to send to the print shop owner. Ed handed it over and Roy flipped through the stack and appeared to be impressed with the examples and notes Ed had chosen to provide. The last thing Roy came across was the letter Ed had penned in haste that read:
How are things in the beautiful town of Hayden? Well, I hope. I can't wait until I can make it back thereOnly this time I hope to spend more than a day; the countryside there is simply breathtaking. Sorry this letter is so short but I have something you might be interested in. The Führer is rather displeased with our local print shops and is on a quest to find someone who can redo letterhead, permission slips, leave forms, etc.
I have enclosed some examples of what we have now so you would have some idea of what is expected. I have to speak with the Führer tomorrow about the upcoming Peace Talks and will try to get a better idea from him concerning what he's looking for in his personal stationary. I will mail that as soon as I have the details. I just wanted to send this so you can start working on it now if you're interested.
Ring me if you have questions.
PS- Give Aggie my regards and tell her yes, Roy is still single.
Roy smiled as he read that last line, even as the ache that seemed to accompany any thoughts of the man in front of him crept up his spine. When he looked up at Ed with that grin still firmly on his face he asked, "Trying to play matchmaker here, Colonel?"
"No, that's my brother's gig, not mine; she just asks about you a lot."
Roy nodded, as a certain coolness settled over him to keep the ache company, and handed the papers back to Ed. "I think this actually is quite a good idea, Fullmetal. If the Führer likes what the young man has to offer this could be a great influx of business for Preston."
Ed's eyebrows knitted in puzzlement when the title "Fullmetal" passed Roy's lips. It had been quite a while since Roy had called him that and it sounded foreign, and a bit frore, when it passed the man's lips. Ed just stood there staring at the man, whose facial expression gave away nothing, leaving Ed wondering what had changed in Roy so suddenly and why. Ed would have asked him if something was the matter if a gentle knock hadn't sounded behind him right then.
Roy looked away from that intense amber gaze to find both Riza and Havoc standing in the doorway.
Riza had no idea what the two alchemists were talking about but the tension in the room was undeniable. From her desk she had heard what seemed to be a pleasant conversation; but from the time it took her to go over Ed's approved vacation request and walk to Roy's office door, things had apparently changed.
"Pardon the intrusion sirs, but I was headed to lunch and I'm off for the remainder of the afternoon so I wanted to let the Lt. Colonel know the status of his vacation request."
Havoc looked over at Riza, obviously as confused as Ed and Roy were at her overly formal tone and said, "I'm glad you're off for the rest of the day Major. Sounds like you need it."
At that the remaining tension in the room completely dissipated as everyone but Riza broke into reserved laughter. "Thanks, Hawkeye." Ed said as he took the sheet of paper out of her hands. His smile broadened as his eyes scanned the document. He looked up at Riza; she simply saluted and left Roy's office.
"I take it you got the time off, then." Havoc said in response to Ed's grin.
"Yeah, I guess Al and I are headed south here in a few days."
"Good, I know you both have been missing the Rockbells'." Havoc said as he gave Ed a warm smile. "Not to rush you babe, but you ready for lunch?"
"Aren't I always?" Ed replied good-naturedly as he waved goodbye to Roy and left with Havoc.
Roy sat there for a few minutes before he decided to go for lunch himself. It wasn't like he could get anything done with his brain this addled anyway. When he stepped out of the building a familiar voice asked, "Care to join me for lunch, General?"
"I thought you were off for the day Major?"
"I am but I still need to eat, so join me."
"I…" Roy began.
"I insist, sir." Riza cut it firmly.
Roy knew better than to argue and followed the Major. They grabbed a couple of sandwiches from a street vendor and took them to one of the small parks not far from the office. They only just started making idle chitchat when Riza asked, "What happened between you and Ed in the office today?"
"What do you mean?" Roy asked, honestly confused.
"You two were talking just fine at first but by the time I got to your office door there was this odd tension hanging between you two."
Roy was startled that she had picked up on that slight shift between them. He wouldn't have thought it was noted by anyone else, but Roy should have known that Riza Hawkeye would notice.
"It was nothing, Riza."
"'Nothing' doesn't usually make two people stop mid-conversation and stare at each other, Roy."
Roy didn't answer.
"Now that I think about it moments like that happen between the two of you quite often." She went on to say.
Roy chewed on his lunch slowly.
"If I'm not mistaken, ever since that night at Fidel's the two of you have been acting a bit strange."
"What do you mean Ed's been acting strange?" Roy said around his current mouthful.
"I take it I have your attention now." Riza declared smugly.
"What do you want from me Riza? Blood?"
"No, but I am concerned for you Roy. You just haven't been yourself lately; and really, neither has Ed."
"What are you referring to there?"
"You need to be honest with yourself and him, Roy. To someone that really knows you it is painfully obvious that you are attracted to Edward."
"Been talking to Maes I presume."
A soft smile spread across her face as she took the last bite of her sandwich.
"Look at it this way Roy. What good would it do for a Restaurant to have two new dishes but not add them to the menu?"
"Not much good at all, but what does that have to do with this?"
"Maybe Ed's not considering you because he doesn't know that you are available at all." She said as she gathered up her trash and tossed it in the bin beside the bench they were sitting on.
Roy was looking down at his own lunch like it held the answers to the secrets of the universe. He wished that it did. What he wouldn't give for this turkey and cheese on wheat to hold the answers to his current dilemma. Roy had indeed never thought of it the way the Major was putting it, but that still didn't solve the whole Jean situation.
"He's happy, Riza. What if I ruin that for him? What right do I have to take that away from someone who deserves it so much?"
"Soldiers are happy to receive MREs in the field too, that doesn't make them tasty though."
Roy's head snapped up and when he looked up into Riza's warm chestnut gaze, he sighed heavily. She had a point; he knew that but with so much involved it still seemed like a bigger risk than he wanted to take. He would be crushed if he took Ed away from what he had now only to end up making the young blond unhappy. When he voiced this fear to Riza she smiled at him and said, "Are you listening to yourself Roy, he's so precious to you that you would be willing to be without him rather than take the risk of you possibly hurting him yourself. He means so much to you already and you aren't even dating yet."
Roy just looked back down at what was left of his lunch and willed the sandwich to answer him. It didn't. When had Ed become so important to him? Not that it was a problem, exactly, but it felt slightly odd to Roy once Riza pointed it out.
"I've watched how you two interact and whatever is between you is wonderful. It takes no more than a look to get the two of you laughing and it seems that the world along with everyone and everything in it disappears when you're together…you should embrace that Roy."
"I…I can't." Roy mumbled eyes never lifting from his sandwich.
"Can't or won't?" Riza asked and Roy didn't answer.
When the silence dragged on, she bid Roy farewell and left him to his thoughts.
Well after the work day had drawn to a close Roy sat in his den sipping scotch as his interest in Ed came into a new light. As the sound of the rain picked up outside the Flame Alchemist snapped his fingers and lit the logs in the hearth. Roy watched the golden flames dance and his mind wandered to eyes of the same color. He now knew he was beyond intrigued by Ed and as a long slow swallow of the clear liquor burned its way down his throat, he realized he was infatuated, captivated…smitten.
The evening found Edward Elric sitting in the windowsill of the music room watching the rain fall. He had left the office to go to lunch with Jean but his mind kept drifting to Roy. He knew it was probably nothing but it sure as hell hadn't felt like nothing. So he called me by my title, big deal Ed thought; he used to do it all the time. A metal finger rose from its resting spot to trace circles on the window. Lightening flashes and Ed is reminded of the spark that flares right after Roy snaps his fingers. Why did it feel so wrong in someway for him to call me that?
Frustrated, Ed turned only to find Al standing in the doorway watching him.
"What's up Al?"
"Shouldn't that be my question to you?" the younger Elric responded as he moved into the room. Ed didn't reply and he kept his focus on the falling rain. "Talk to me, brother. Is it the trip home that's got you worried? Do you not want to stay for that long, is that it?"
Ed's shoulders slumped and the hand on the window curled into a fist. "No, Al, I'm looking forward to seeing Winry and Auntie Pinako."
"Did something happen between you and Jean?"
"No, everything's fine between us." Ed murmured.
Al was more than a bit lost now. Ed had come in from work and seemed fine but as the hours passed by it became obvious that he wasn't. Ed hadn't even come out of the music room to eat dinner. When his brother missed out on food something was definitely amiss.
"Is it Roy?" Al asked tentatively, and if he wasn't mistaken, Ed flinched.
"It's stupid really," Ed started still not taking his eyes away from the window, "'Fullmetal' is my State Alchemist title, so if my commanding officer wants to call me that then it's perfectly okay for him to do so."
"True." Al said, but at this point he was very perplexed. He was happy his brother was sharing his thoughts like this with him but he was clueless as to what he was getting at.
"But it didn't feel ok." Ed whispered. "It felt strange and impersonal and… You know what; just forget I even said anything Al."
Initially Al honored his brother's wishes and remained silent. And for the longest time the two of them sat there in the shadows and watched the rain fall. Then just before the younger Elric turned to leave the room he said, "Why don't you call him and talk to him and work it out before it gets too late."
"No, he'll just think I'm crazy."
"He knows that already, brother and if he hasn't cared about your lack of mental stability in all this time I doubt it's going to bother him now."
Ed laughed at his brother's words and replied, "I might just do that Al."
Al nodded, yawned and told his brother goodnight.
Once Al was upstairs Ed rose from his seated position and made his way through the house and to the phone.
Roy was looking into the dying embers of the fire when the phone rang. Hoping it was nothing urgent, he answered it with, "Mustang residence."
"My name is Ed."
"I'm sorry I don't know why I said that. I…" Roy stuttered out and he vaguely realized how juvenile they both sounded. Ed had been disturbed by Roy's use of his state title enough to call him at this hour over it. At least that let Roy know he wasn't alone in feeling awkward in the office today.
"It felt wrong." Ed whispered.
"…it won't happen again." Roy said as a lump formed in his throat at the dejected, desperate tone of Ed's voice. In truth he felt the same way, like he had violated something between them by reverting back to his old habit of calling the alchemist by his title. But it was something, Roy realized, that made him feel more in control of this damnable situation he found himself in.
Maes' words, Riza's advice, hell, his own inner thoughts were begging him to say something to let Ed know how he felt. Every time some words of expression came to mind they lodged in his throat and the silence prevailed. When he finally did manage to say something it was in no way truly reflective of how he felt. "I was having an off day." Roy choked out finally.
To his surprise Ed started to laugh. It was a nervous and odd kind of laughter but it was there nonetheless. "I take it I am forgiven?" Roy asked.
"I suppose." Ed replied sounding a lot more like his usual self.
"Thank you, Ed."
"Sleep well, Ed."
Once Roy hung up he had to admit that had to be one of, if not the, most awkward conversation of his adult life. He was glad it had taken place; yet he was disappointed in his own cowardice… but such is life.
By the time the next week rolled around and the days wound back around to Monday, the Elric brothers were preparing to make their trip to Resembool. Ed and Al had put in for two weeks' vacation at their respective places of employment and were headed to their hometown. Ed stopped by Roy's house the night before he left and the short blond was all but bouncing around in excitement. He said it had been almost a year since they had seen the Rockbells and the trip was long overdue. Roy asked his guest if Jean would be joining them at some point since he had time off as well. Ed said no, because Jean had planned on visiting his mother during his five days of vacation.
Following that, there wasn't much conversation between them. Instead of it being awkward it was a comfortable and companionable sort of silence. After a while Ed said, "I guess I need to get going, the train leaves at 7am." as he got to his feet and stretched before moving out of Roy's den toward the door.
"You two enjoy yourselves, then. I'll be looking forward to your return."
Roy said as he opened the door for his guest. Ed stepped across the threshold and onto the porch. "Will you now?" Ed asked coyly as that devious smirk he was starting to become known for slid across his face. Roy's response was a smirk of his own. As the two alchemists stood there staring at each other, Roy's mind spiraled in a dozen different directions. He wanted to say something, but much like that never spoken of night on the phone, words failed him.
The unexpected sound of a cat screeching in the background made Roy break eye contact with Ed and look towards the source of the noise. In that instant Ed moved forward and wrapped his arms around his friend. It was a gesture Roy returned readily. "I'll miss you too Roy." Ed mumbled into the man's shoulder where his head had settled. When Ed extracted himself out of the embrace, because Roy couldn't bring himself to end it, the General smiled at the blond and said, "Have fun Ed."
"We will." with nothing further Ed strode off the porch and into the evening, leaving the older alchemist staring after him until he begrudgingly shut the door.
Once that door was closed Roy gazed down at his now empty arms until they almost seemed to ache with Ed's absence. Roy cursed himself again for his lack of action.
Sleep would not come easy to him tonight.
Ed left Roy's house but instead of heading home he ventured into an empty park and sat down on one of the swings. Mindless of his swaying to and fro Ed had his head tilted skyward and gazed at the stars, almost pleading to them to define what he was feeling, regardless of how unscientific that was.
Early the next morning the phone rang at the Rockbells' and once Winry fell silent from her seat on the couch Pinako called into the kitchen and asked, "Was that a customer on the phone, Winry?"
"No Granny, that was Ed calling to tell us he and Al were headed to the train station and that they would be here Thursday morning or early that same afternoon."
"That's good," Pinako replied, "it's been ages since they've been here for a proper visit."
Winry was all smiles when she entered the living room and took a seat beside her grandmother.
"I know you enjoy seeing Ed and Al but why so excited this time?"
"I think it's finally going to happen Granny."
"What is, child?"
"I think Ed's finally going to ask me to be his."
Pinako's eyes widen at this. She has long since known that her granddaughter has had more than a crush on the eldest Elric for years; but to the best of her knowledge he had yet to express anything of the like in return. "Why do you think this?" the elderly woman asked gently.
"Well he said he was going to take me shopping for one; and we all know Ed has never volunteered to do that."
"I see." Was Pinako's reply, not at all impressed with the younger woman's logic. It must have shown because Winry's face grew determined and she went on to say, "That's not all Granny, he also told me to make us a reservation at whatever restaurant I wanted to go to because he had something he wanted to share with me and we were long overdue for a sit down over coffee."
"Don't you think you're being a little presumptuous my dear?" Pinako asked carefully. She had no desire to hurt her granddaughters' feelings but she didn't like how sure Winry was of Ed's intentions.
"You just wait and see Granny." Winry chimed as she bounced off the couch and up the stairs.
On a south bound train the Elric brothers were playing cards, "Gin!" Al cried as he placed his cards down on the bench between them. That was his third win in a row. Al was fully expecting his Brother's usual tirade when the elder Elric shocked him by simply picking the cards up and shuffling them.
"Anything on your mind, Brother?"
"Would you believe me if I said no?"
"Not likely." Al said honestly as he gently took the playing cards from his brothers' lax grip and tucked them back in their box. As he waited for his sibling to gather his thoughts he glanced around the train car they were riding in. There weren't many passengers still on board, most having gotten off in South City. In fact there was only three other passengers in their rail car: Two men that sat together near the front that appeared to be traveling salesmen and the little old lady that sat across from them.
Al looked back to his brother and said, "It can't be that bad Brother."
"It's not that anything's wrong or bad, it's just confusing."
Ed turned his gaze towards the window and replied, "Jean is great to me, he makes me smile, I enjoy his company, hell, I even miss him when he's not with me…"
"But…" Al said because it was obviously there.
"But, there's some odd, indefinable, feeling that comes over me at times when I'm with Roy."
"I was wondering when this was going to resurface."
Ed's head slowly turned until he faced his brother. He narrowed his golden eyes and said, "What do you mean by that?"
"Because you two have been acting a little odd ever since that night at Fidel's. One moment you two are all wrapped up in something only the two of you are part of, then the next moment there's this weird tension between you."
Ed's face twisted in thought. "What are you getting at Al?"
"Nothing, that was simply my voiced observation."
"Humph, thanks for nothing Al." Ed said as he folded his arms across his chest and leered at Al.
"Oh don't get cross brother. What you're going through could mean a lot of things or nothing at all."
"Enough with the vagueness Al."
Al sighed and said, "Look at it this way, just because you two might be attracted to each other doesn't mean you have to act on it. It doesn't have to mean you are unhappy with Jean nor does it have to mean either of you want to be more than good friends…"
Now it was Ed's turn to say but.
"It could be that you are more attracted to the General than you are to Lt. Havoc, you and the General certainly have more common interests. He could be keeping his distance because you are involved with the Lieutenant. I know you and Havoc aren't necessarily committed to each other but it's been a while since either of you have shown interest in another person. Also you could be unaware of your own attraction to the General because this whole dating thing is new to you."
Ed just blinked at his brother somewhat mystified at the mouthful Al had to say about his situation. "Well that thoroughly covers the 'a lot of things' portion Al." Ed said as he considered the possibility of Al having missed his true calling. His brother had presented both sides of that scenario so well he practically sounded like a lawyer. "What about this nothing at allpart,then?"
"Well…let's face it. The closest person to you is me and Winry–the three of us have been this way since forever," Al began and Ed nodded in agreement to his words, "and the General has had Miss Hawkeye and Mr. Hughes as friends for nearly as long. It might be that the two of you are reaching a new plateau of closeness as friends and since it's been so long since you've had anyone new in that respect, not to mention how fast you two buddied up, you might not recognize the feeling for what it really is."
Al had given Ed a lot to chew on. He was thankful for his brother's insight and told him as much. Shortly after their conversation both brothers ended up taking a nap. They had a long trip ahead of them and Ed had things to figure out.
When they arrived in Resembool that Thursday morning Pinako had quite the breakfast waiting for them. After eating they all sat around exchanging small talk until Pinako ran them up to their room to get settled. Al was eager to catch up with his friend Howard and Winry was more than ready for Ed to take her out shopping and to dinner like he'd promised.
Ed and Winry had spent quite a bit of time, and money, around the growing town of Resembool and the two were now headed home to get dressed so they could drop off Winry's bounty and head out to dinner. Winry had chosen one of the nicer restaurants in town and Ed was all for it. He missed talking to her and he couldn't think of someone who deserved the treat more.
Ed washed and dressed in no time. When he took a look in the mirror that hung on the back of the door in the room him and Al shared when they visited he was pleased with what he saw.
When he walked into the living room Granny let out a wolf whistle that had Ed laughing in response. "Thanks for the compliment Auntie." She adjusted the pipe between her lips and nodded at him. "You sure you won't come with us?" he asked.
"I'm sure." was all she got out before Winry appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked beautiful. The simple black dress she had on fit her perfectly and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle with their own light. Ed was almost at a loss for words.
"You look wonderful Miss Rockbell." He said as he gave an exaggerated bow and kissed the back of her hand. She let out a girlish giggle and flushed at his antics.
"Why thank you Mr. Elric." she responded doing her best impression of a southern belle.
When he straightened up he crooked his arm and asked, "Shall we?" She took his offered arm and said, "We shall." The happy duo waved to Pinako and made their way into town.
Once they were seated at the restaurant and had given their orders Winry grew impatient at all of Ed's talk about the Military and peace treaties. "So," she began when she caught Ed taking a sip of his wine, "what's this news you wanted to share?"
Ed had given a lot of thought to everything Al had said to him on the train and decided that he was happy with Jean and that Roy probably fell in the category of a new best friend. Ed also knew his brother was right in the fact that he and Jean had been seeing each other exclusively for months now and some sort of commitment was probably not too far off. It was well past time he shared this with the person he thought of as one of his best friends– Winry might as well be his sister.
"Well I know I don't talk about what's going on with me personally a whole lot so I've decided to fix that."
Winry tilted her head to the side in slight confusion.
"A few months back I started dating Jean Havoc and…"
"Who…what?" Winry stuttered in shock and disbelief.
"You know the really tall blond guy that works in…"
The echoing sound of her hand connecting sharply with the side of his face rang through the dining area like a bad omen. The unforeseen attack almost knocked Ed out of his seat. After the initial shock wore off his hand moved up to his wounded face and when he finally turned his head back to its original position he was met with furious blue eyes.
"HOW COULD YOU!" she shouted at her confused dinner companion as she jumped to her feet and pointed an accusing finger at him.
"Winry, what… I don't…"
"How dare you come here and ask me out then…then tell me this crap!" she continued to yell. The entire restaurant was now focused on the obviously troubled pair seated in the middle of the dining area.
"Winry, will you please sit down?" Ed asked trying to calm his irate friend.
"I won't… I don't care if you're embarrassed Edward Elric, it's the least you deserve!"
"For what?" Ed said his own voice rising a bit in confusion. "What the hell did I do to merit any of this?"
With fists clenched at her sides Winry simply stared at him, her angry blue eyes boring into his confused golden ones. She then violently shoved her chair back and walked around the table. When he called her name and reached out to her she smacked his hand away and screamed, "LEAVE ME ALONE! I have nothing to say to you!" Before he could react she turned and bolted from the restaurant. Ed sat there in stunned silence for a few moments before he dropped a few cens on the table to cover their bill and chased after her.
By the time he reached home Al and Pinako were waiting for him in the living room. They told Ed that Winry had barred herself in her room and refused to come out. Al reached out to inspect Ed's inflamed cheek and the blond flinched at the contact. He swiftly grew tired of his brother's scrutiny and brushed Al's hand aside. Ed went up to her bedroom door and knocked on it and pleaded for entrance.
All he got in return was harsh anger.
"Winry, please talk me." Ed called through the closed door.
"Just go away Ed! I don't want to talk to you!" was the shouted reply. He could tell she had been crying from the way her voice wavered. He hated seeing her like this. He wanted to fix this–whatever this was.
"Tell me what I did wrong." He begged.
He was met with the sound of muffled sobs and silence. He stood there for what felt like hours pleading with her to talk to him. A weird sort of stressed out exhaustion swept over him and he rested his forehead on her closed door and said. "You're my best friend Winry; I can't stand it thinking I've done something to hurt you. Please, please say something…anything."
There was rustling behind the door and when she did speak her words stung like venom. "What part of go away don't you understand? I don't want to talk to you, not now and not ever!" he could tell she was crying again and at that moment he felt like he would give damn near anything for her to stop. "Winry I…"
"Just shut up!" she screamed, her voice high and loud to the point of sounding unnatural. "I hate you, Edward Elric! I don't care if I never see you again!"
Ed stumbled back from her door on shaky legs. Her words caused a cold chill to run down his spine and settle in his veins. If it hadn't hurt so damn much Ed would have thought he'd gone numb.
Unexpectedly Ed felt a hand on his shoulder and when he turned around he found Al and Pinako standing there looking at him worriedly.
Ed was crying.
When he turned to look at Al silent tears were running down his face; and he looked like warmed over death. Ed was pale, shaky and he had a vacant look in his eyes. Al turned to Auntie praying she would have some idea of what to say or do because he sure as hell didn't.
Ed staggered like a drunk down the steps through the living room and into the kitchen. Once he sat down at the table Auntie put what looked like a hot cup of coffee in front of him and tilted Ed's chin up so she could get a good look at his now swollen cheek. "She left quite a mark. Al, get your brother some ice." She ordered and Al happily complied. He never knew what to do in situations like this and it was nice for him to have some direction. Al wrapped the ice in a towel and watched sorrowfully as his brother winced when he brought it up to his face.
Pinako let Ed's nerves settle before she asked him what happened. As he told her she sat there and listened patiently. Al was stunned at the tale Ed told. It made little sense to him and both males looked at Pinako expectantly once Ed fell silent.
What she had to say, explained everything.
"I didn't know." Was all Ed had to say at first once Auntie finished.
"I know, child. There was no way you could have known. She never did or said anything that would have made it obvious."
"But Auntie," Al began still somewhat floored at the revelation, "Brother can be dense at times; we all know that, but even I had no clue Winry felt this way."
Ed glared at his younger brother for calling him dense, but as he sat there with an ice pack on his face looking like a kicked puppy the glare had little effect. Pinako sighed and said, "I'm sorry for what she said to you Ed."
Ed's gaze dropped down so he was staring at the coffee cup in his automail hand. He looked like he wanted to let go of himself all over again. His grip on the coffee mug tightened until Al thought the mug would crack under the pressure. "So, there's a good chance she might have meant some of what she said."
"She will be hurt for a while but she will get over it. I doubt she even realizes all of what she said, not to mention how it affected you."
"I can't stay here." Ed mumbled.
"Brother…I'm sure by morning-"
"By morning what?" Ed almost yelled at Al, and his brother took a step back to distance himself from the barely contained rage and hurt emanating off his sibling. "She will either a) be still be holed up in her room feeling like a prisoner in her own home because she doesn't want to face me or b) she will walk around here ignoring me and giving me the cold shoulder like I don't exist!"
Auntie put a comforting hand on Ed's shoulder and said, "Give her some time Ed, she'll come around."
The last of Ed's strength faded at this and the hand that was cradling the coffee cup moved up to massage his temple. "I'm taking the Red Eye back to central tonight."
"I'll get my stuff together and…"
"No Al, you stay here and enjoy your vacation. It's me she's mad at, there's no reason for you to leave too. Besides if I know you at all, once you get back to Central you'll go back into work and not vacation at all."
"Like you won't do the same." Al mumbled in frustration.
"No…I think once I get back I'll head out on a road trip or something, you don't have to worry about me going to work. I won't even venture down to the lab. Besides once she comes out of that room she'll need you.
Al eyed his Brother warily and said, "Fine Brother, I'll stay."
A thin smile graced Ed's lips. "Thanks Al."
He rang the train station as soon as Pinako had left to try and talk to Winry. The person on duty said the there was a train headed out to Central at 11:20 pm. Ed asked if there was room on it and the response was, plenty.
Ed didn't really have much packing to do since he hadn't really gotten the chance to unpack as it was. It was strange how life threw curveballs at a person. Ed thought that his time in his home town was going to be relaxing and happy.
It turned out to be anything but.
Al insisted on walking him to the train station and Ed didn't argue. Once he had his luggage together and moved downstairs he said his goodbyes to Auntie and with a sorrowful expression his eyes turned upstairs. Ed felt like he had to try one more time, if she wouldn't talk he at least had to say goodbye. They always said goodbye, he wouldn't feel right if he didn't.
With a heavy heart he ascended the staircase and made his way to her locked door. He stood in front of that door with a hundred different things flooding through his mind. There were so many things he wanted to say. He didn't want her to feel like she had to come out and face him. He had no desire to upset her more than he already had. Ed decided he would just tell her what was on his mind and in his heart and leave it at that.
"Hey Winry, I realize you're upset with me right now but I want you to know that despite everything, I want us to always be friends. I know now that friendship is not all you wanted from me but I hope you will accept my offer of it anyway. You're part of my family and I'll love you always. I hope you'll realize that nothing will ever change that."
Ed stood there waiting for some sort of response from her until Al came up and said they needed to get going. Ed shot one more remorseful look at Winry's locked door before he followed his Brother.
He had a train to catch.
Gracia Hughes sat on her living room sofa listening to a late night radio program. It was Saturday night (almost Sunday morning), Elysia was at a slumber party and Maes had left much earlier to go out with Roy. She was just about to turn off the lights and radio when a soft knock sounded at the front door. Nervous about whom it could possibly be at this hour, she went to the kitchen window so she could see who it was and the sight that greeted her made her stomach knot in apprehension. She made haste to the front door, and unlocked it.
"Ed, my goodness! What brings you here at this hour?"
He tried to answer but his words were jumbled. Gracia took in the forlorn look on her sons face offered up a warm smile and said, "Where are my manners this evening… come on in Ed."
When she stepped out of his way he moved into the house like a wraith. Shutting and locking the door, she then moved to guide the dazed looking youth to the couch she had been lounging on earlier. He sat down and just stared into space looking like he was lost and had no hope of finding his way. From her knowledge both of the Elric brothers were supposed to be in Resembool. This did not bode well.
Gracia sat down beside the troubled young man and waited patiently for him to tell her what was upsetting him. She knew him well enough at this point that if he came over here at this hour he was ready to talk, she just needed to wait for him to find the right words. Ed and Al–for all their differences–were remarkably alike in this respect. Neither of them was ever one to do anything to impose on someone so for Ed to just show up here, unannounced, at this hour something had to be horribly wrong in his world.
Ed started telling Gracia what had happened. All while focusing on the floor, his voice flat like he was reading the script to some twisted play he wanted no part of. It wasn't until he got to the part of Pinako's revelation that he looked at Gracia for the first time since he started speaking. Silent tears were making their way down his face and he looked like a man that had just lost a piece of his soul. It was then that she got a good look at his face and noticed the slight bruising on his left cheek. Ed and Al had always said Winry should have been a baseball player, and she could now see they were not exaggerating.
She knew that Winry was a big part of his world, Al's too, and to have her say such things and behave like she did had no choice but to be somewhat devastating to him.
"How," he began shakily his eyes pleading at her for the answer to the unfinished question, "how was I supposed to know? How am I supposed to fix this, Gracia? How?"
Gracia Hughes wanted to have the words that would make all of this go away but she didn't. All she could do was open here arms and when he fell into her offered embrace she let him cry it out like any good mother would. She rocked him back and forth, petted and comforted him until the worst of the emotional storm passed.
When he got himself together somewhat she moved into the kitchen and made them both some tea, green tea for her and chamomile for him. After all of this he needed a good rest and from the looks of him he hadn't slept since this all took place. When she held the cup out to him he accepted it with a quiet thank you and it was gone within minutes.
He laid his head on her shoulder and apologized for dumping his woes on her at such an ungodly hour. She laughed and said she would have it no other way and assured him that that's what family was for.
Less than an hour later the tea had kicked in and Edward Elric was fast asleep.
Gracia was running her fingers through Ed's hair–which she had taken it upon herself to unbraid–when she heard footsteps on the porch and the key in the door. It sounded like Roy was with Maes and the two of them were carrying on while laughing about something. Gracia had her finger up to her lips when they walked in and immediately both fell silent and their eyes traveled to the sleeping blond's head on her lap.
The confused looks on their faces would have been laughable if the situation were any different.
"I'll go fix the bed in the guest room." Maes said and his wife nodded.
"Roy, do you think you could carry him in there?" Gracia asked, "I put two bags of chamomile tea is his cup, I don't think he'll be waking anytime soon."
"Of course, Gracia." Roy answered as he slipped one arm under Ed's torso and arms and the other under his knees.
Roy lifted the younger man and when he looked down at Ed's face he noted the troubled expression that was on it even while he slept. Roy pulled Ed closer to his body and walked through the room and down the hall until he found Maes. Reluctantly, Roy laid the sleeping alchemist down on the bed and started taking off his shoes.
"I'll go make some coffee," Maes whispered, "I'm sure there's quite a tale behind this."
Roy said nothing as he continued on with his task. Once he was done he kneeled down so he could get a good look at Ed's face and he could see what looked like a fading bruise and dried tears. He didn't like the look of either of them. He brushed a few stray strands of hair behind Ed's ear and mumbled, "What happened to you Ed…you were supposed to go have fun." Roy leaned forward but halted as soon as he realized what he was about to do. He fought with himself internally for a while before he gave in to part of his temptation and gently kissed the blond on the forehead. When Ed didn't stir Roy got to his feet, pulled the blankets over Ed and turned around… only to find Maes leaning against the doorframe.
To Roy's surprise Maes said nothing and simply turned and left the room.
Chapter 8: Tunnel Vision
Underneath It All Chapter 8
Underneath It All Chapter 8
When the two men got settled in the kitchen, Gracia filled them in on what had caused the eldest Elric to return from Resembool so quickly. To say Roy and Maes were stunned would have been an understatement. After the men had a moment to gather their thoughts, Roy stood to leave.
"Well. It's been an eventful night. I think we've all been kept awake for long enough, so I'll head home. Good night Maes, Gracia."
"For God's sake Roy, it's after three in the morning. Just crash here for the night." Maes remarked exasperatedly.
Roy looked over at Gracia. "Oh, it's not a problem at all, Roy. I have plenty of extra pillows and blankets in the house. Elysia's gone too, so we can all sleep in and then have a nice big brunch. It'll be like old times." She said warmly.
Roy nodded gratefully, and Gracia went to retrieve the pillows and blankets. Soon Roy was settled down on the couch. Sleep claimed him swiftly.
When Roy woke the next morning, the house was silent save for the sound of cabinets opening and closing softly in someone's apparent effort not to make too much noise. Simply assuming that it was Gracia, Roy looked at his watch, noted it was close to eleven and made his way into the kitchen. He was taken aback to find Ed in there, systemically cracking eggs into a bowl.
"Good morning, Edward."
Startled out of his thoughts, Ed dropped the egg in his hand. A wet, slimy sound quickly followed, breaking the momentary silence as it cracked apart on the kitchen counter.
"Fuck, Roy! You scared the piss out of me!"
"Sorry about that. If you give me a minute to wash up though, I'll lend you a hand with brunch."
Ed sighed, gave a slight nod and proceeded to clean the egg off the counter.
When Roy came back after cleaning up, the two worked in what could almost be called a state of oppressive silence until Roy could stand it no longer.
"I was surprised to see you here. I thought you had already left for Resembool."
"I had, and now I'm back." Ed curtly replied.
Inwardly Roy flinched at the bite in Ed's tone. "You want to talk about it?"
Ed fell silent as he began to methodically place the bacon in the heated pan. In truth, Ed did want to talk but the many conflicting thoughts and emotions prevented him from finding a place to begin. He was confused at Winry's reaction. Sure, he knew what had upset her but he couldn't wrap his brain around how she had come to those conclusions. He was also a bit annoyed at how Al had made it clear that even if Winry had made her feelings obvious he still would have been blind to it. These things weighed heavily on his mind, but above all, he was angry with himself for being the reason Winry was hurt so much that she couldn't even face him. Logically he knew he had no control over others' feelings and reactions; that did little to make him feel any better about the situation in reality.
Ed glanced up at Roy. What he saw in the man's eyes was not what he had expected. He had expected pity, but what greeted him in those dark eyes was compassion; for once Ed was more than willing to take that offered empathy. Even if he never gave the need voice, that didn't change the fact that he really needed some commiseration at the moment. Ed wanted nothing more than for all of the madness of the past day to disappear.
Roy could all but hear the distress echoing in every stiff movement Edward made. Roy was a man that was more than familiar with what Ed was doing. The young alchemist was trying his level best to forget the memories–and his worries–in something familiar. Too many times Roy had tried the same thing and the outcome had never been anything close to what he desired. As he watched Ed move about the kitchen, he thought about how many late nights he'd spent in the office working or staring down the neck of a nearly empty bottle. When he thought about times like that, he thanked his lucky stars for some of the people in his life.
When left to his own devices in the wake of a personal disaster, Roy in his younger days could spiral out of control and into depression faster than even he would like to admit to himself. As he stood there watching Ed looking around for yet another mindless task to perform he exhaled, stepped closer to the disheveled self-designated chef and placed a hand on his shoulder.
When Ed's head whipped around and their eyes met, he could see all the anger, frustration and confusion trapped in those golden orbs. Yes, it was now clear that the incident with Miss Rockbell had rocked something in Edward's world, and it was eating at him with a vengeance.
At first, it looked as if Ed was going to remain silent; but soon enough his posture relaxed under Roy's hand and once Ed started talking he continued to do so until he had let go of everything.
Roy offered him what words of comfort he could but before Ed could respond to any of it, Maes and Gracia swept into the kitchen.
"My, it smells good in here!" Gracia chimed in an approving tone.
"It's nothing more than your lessons in action." Ed replied as his voice took on a lighter quality for the first time that morning.
"I think biscuits would be a great addition to all of this, don't you honey?" Gracia said as she got up and started pulling out the flour and other ingredients necessary for the task.
"I am good with whatever you decide, my love." Maes answered her as he propped his feet up on the edge of the table and started reading the newspaper.
"Aren't you even going to offer to help, Maes?" Gracia chided with a mock scowl on her face.
"This is my castle and I'm content to sit around like the king I am." After hearing that, Gracia promptly thumped her husband on the head with a dishtowel, an action that elicited laughter from the two alchemists turned chefs.
"Why don't you both have a seat, Gracia?" Roy said as he took the towel and mixing bowl out of her hands, "Biscuits are actually one of the few things I'm damn good at making."
"Go ahead, have a seat Gracia, we have this under control."
"No 'but's," Roy cut in, "we've got it."
"Well I, for one, am not going to argue." Maes remarked in a cheerful tone.
"Oh, you hate to cook anyway," Gracia said as she eyed her husband, "Besides, you can barely manage to pour cereal."
Once the laughter died down, Gracia and Maes settled into their chairs while Ed and Roy started to work on the food again.
The office brunch last fall had been the last time Roy had bothered to make biscuits. There was really no point in making them for a breakfast of one. The few people whom he had the pleasure- or disaster- of sharing breakfast with usually wanted to be taken out and had practically no interest in a home-cooked meal or a serious conversation. Unfortunately for the General, most of the people that took interest in him saw his rank first, his looks second and normally, it went no further. It was almost as if they wished for him to desire nothing more than some live trophy to show off on his arm at public functions.
Roy was so wrapped up in his musing and bread-making that he didn't pay attention to where he was flinging the excess flour and dough off his hands, and eventually a wayward clump smacked Edward right in the nose. Seeing that the older alchemist was engrossed in his task still, Ed grabbed the dough ball and flung it back at Roy, hitting him on the cheek with it. Startled out of his bread making, Roy looked over at Ed. He noticed the blond trying extremely hard to appear innocent.
Roy was not convinced.
He cut out a few more biscuits, grabbed some excess dough, dipped it in flour and let it fly. It nailed Ed square in the chest. Undaunted, Ed continued what he was doing until he felt that Mustang had his guard down. It one swift motion Ed grabbed a handful of flour and tossed it in Roy's direction. A gasp was heard from the General shortly before an entire wet biscuit landed on Ed's head.
A flour-covered face looked over into a pair of golden eyes and it was officially on. Flour was flung, dough was hurled and when the dust settled both alchemists looked like human pastries; regardless they were laughing so hard they couldn't breathe.
"Wow. That absolutely had to be the funniest thing I've seen you do in the last five years, Roy." Maes said while trying his absolute best not to chuckle at the pair.
Both Ed and Roy snapped to attention and they looked over at the couple, who sat forgotten by the pair of alchemists, at the table.
"I hope one of you knows some alchemy good for cleaning up messes, because you two certainly made one." Gracia said while shaking her head in a show of mock exasperation.
Roy looked around and sure enough the kitchen was looking a…little worse for wear. "Ah…sorry, Gracia. I guess we kind of forgot where we were for a moment there."
"No harm done, Roy. It was all in good fun." She said with an amused smile. "Now let's see one of those fancy light shows you guys like to put on. I never studied alchemy myself but I've always liked to see it in action."
Roy looked at Ed expectantly. The shorter man rolled his eyes. "You never did learn any day- to-day alchemy, did you?"
"As a matter of fact, I know plenty."
"Just not any for kitchen cleaning."
Ed snorted, clapped his hands and placed both palms on the floor. Everyone watched in fascination as blue energy danced all around and the floor vibrated almost imperceptibly until the flour and debris was all neatly piled in the center. Another clap and the counters were clean as well. Roy gathered the dustpan, swept up the piles and dumped them in the garbage. But when he passed by Ed he saw a minute blue spark of alchemical energy crackle up the blond's arm. His eyes met Ed's and everything in Ed's expression warned, not now. Taking the hint Roy continued across the room to put away the dustpan.
"Now if only that would work for the two of you," Gracia pondered as she took in the disheveled mess Ed and Roy were in. "both of you are rather dusty."
"I could fix that too, but I think it would make a mess of the kitchen again, which I would have to clean for the second time." Ed mused out loud.
Maes waved a hand and said, "You two just head on up to the bathroom. I've got plenty of clothes I'm sure you can alter to fit. Besides, nothing short of soap and water will get the dough off your faces."
Both Ed and Roy flushed at this bit of knowledge, an action that put a grin on Maes' face. A split second later, a flash lit up the room. When the victims turned to look at the mad photographer the flash went off again.
"You really didn't think I was gonna let an opportunity this golden slip by, now did you?" Maes asked as he waved his camera around. "One can never have enough blackmail."
Roy growled as he slowly stalked towards his so-called best friend. Maes leisurely stood up … then without warning, he bolted from the kitchen with Roy hot on his heels and Ed not far behind.
Maes nimbly navigated through his living room and hopped over a rug and onto the platform at the base of the stairs. Roy unfortunately slipped on the rug, which in turn caused Ed to crash into him. They ended up in a heap of arms and legs at the base of the stairs.
Again, the camera flashed and Maes took off up the steps to hide his prized possession with the images stored within. Roy was slumped over and frustrated, but Ed was laughing his head off. Gracia came up to them and asked the two if they were all right. Roy simply grumbled and Ed's response was to say, "I don't think anything's hurt here except for twinkle toes' pride," as he pointed a thumb over at Roy.
Roy just glared at Edward, which caused Gracia to join Ed in his fit of laughter. When things calmed down, she chased them off upstairs to get clean while she returned to the kitchen to put any remaining edible biscuits in the oven.
Once brunch was over Maes disappeared upstairs, leaving Roy, Ed and Gracia to chat away in the living room. A little more than an hour later Maes reappeared to ask if anyone wanted coffee. After the unanimous "yes", he headed into the kitchen with his wife following behind him.
Once the kitchen door swung shut behind Gracia, Maes gave a soft chuckle.
"I think you were right, Maes." Gracia said softly as she leaned on the counter and watched her husband prepare the coffee.
"So you noticed it as well."
"How could I not?" she asked quietly, "They completely forgot we were even there during their little food fight."
"It's like that a lot between them. I so wish you could have seen them at Fidel's that night. I don't think I've ever seen something that overtly sexual done while standing!"
"Maes!" Gracia nearly shouted as her face flushed scarlet at her husband's blunt approach.
"Well hey, it was true Gracia." He said as he turned the percolator on.
"They do seem to work well together… and that was the most human thing I've seen Roy do in a long time."
"I know, I think they would be good for each other." Maes said as he began pulling coffee cups out of the cupboard.
"But what about Ed's relationship with Jean?"
"I'm hoping to get Roy to make a move on Ed before they actually make a commitment…but if that doesn't happen I guess I'll just have to wait for Jean to work his magic so Ed will be free again."
"That's a terribly rude thing to say, Maes." Gracia said as her brow crinkled at her husband's unusual bout of crassness. She was clueless as to why her husband was so set against Ed's relationship with Jean. So again, she asked him what his problem was.
His eyebrows knitted together and thought carefully before he said, "I really can't explain it in words. It's just this uneasy feeling I get when I'm around him sometimes. It's like my instincts are trying to tell me something."
"So you're condemning the man just because of some… weird gut feeling?"
"It's not like I'm sending him off to be executed Love, I just don't want him romantically involved with our son."
Gracia let out an exasperated breath. "I don't exactly agree with you on this Maes, are you sure this feeling isn't the least bit influenced by the fact that your best friend has a thing for Ed?"
"Absolutely positive. I've had this feeling for a while now, long before there was anything between them."
"I think you've worked in investigations too long Honey, it's making you distrustful and paranoid."
"That may well be the case, Love, but on more than one occasion my instinct has saved my life."
Gracia couldn't disagree with that; she just wished her husband had more to tell her than that he had an uneasy feeling. In her opinion Jean was a nice man, and for the time being he seemed to be making Ed happy. She had to admit, though, on the few occasions she's had them over they didn't seem to have the same type of connection that she's seen between Ed and Roy. But this was Ed's life and she really didn't want to interfere.
Not that it would stop her husband.
"What had you tied up earlier?"
"Oh, just had to call in a favor from an old friend." He said innocently as he poured the coffee.
Gracia glared at her husband as she arranged the cream and sugar on the serving tray.
When they entered the living room, Maes wasted no time putting whatever scheme he had in action. "Well Ed, what do you plan on doing with the rest of your vacation time?"
"I was just telling Roy how I'd probably go on a little road trip."
"Really," Maes said as he passed each one of them a cup, "Roy loves road trips. We used to do that all the time, he should go with you."
Roy looked at his friend as if he'd grown a second head. Dark, narrowed eyes peered over the coffee cup. If looks could kill, Maes would have been in dire straits.
"I would, but I haven't put in any paperwork for any time off."
"Funny you should mention that," Maes started as he settled back against the couch with his own heavily creamed cup of coffee, "I spoke with Riza earlier today and she said there would be no problem with you doing so since you have so much time accumulated anyhow."
Roy again narrowed his eyes at Maes but the man simply smirked around the rim of his cup. "In fact, she had it all worked out and approved in an hour's time."
Ed could sense there was something going on that he wasn't quite aware of yet, but he was more focused on having company on his little journey. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, he elbowed Roy and said, "Well how about it old man? You up for a little adventure?"
Roy was torn. Yes, more than anything he would love to spend that much time with Ed all to himself- but at the same time that was exactly what he feared. What the hell was Maes playing at, throwing him into this? Roy knew for a fact that Maes was well aware of most of what Roy was going through concerning the blond sitting beside from him. Why was he doing this?
Roy glanced at those expectant golden eyes and he couldn't say no. Ed's vacation had gotten off to such a shitty start Roy couldn't bear the thought of adding to that disappointment- even if it meant it would be his own undoing. It was then that Riza's words floated through his mind. …he's so precious to you that you would be willing to be without him rather than take the risk of you possibly hurting him yourself.
"Sure, Ed. I'm game."
Ed's face lit up when he heard Roy's response. "Well then, let's finish our coffee and get a move on. If we leave at four we can be in East Grinstead right after sundown!"
The two alchemists made haste to pack and were indeed on the road a little after four. They had decided to take Roy's car, just in case Alphonse returned to Central early and needed the one the brothers shared. They had spent most of the time in the car singing and joking, but the little alchemical incident in Maes' kitchen wouldn't leave Roy alone. He wanted to know what was up and the suspense was killing him.
"All right Ed, I kept my mouth shut around mom and dad, but now I want the truth and I want all of it."
"Don't play innocent with me. I want to know exactly how you were still holding onto alchemical energy even after your transmutation was done."
Ed swore under his breath. He then sighed, folded his arms across his chest and slumped down into his seat. He had managed to keep this little issue from everyone, even Al, and Ed now wondered how he had managed to slip up in front of Roy Mustang of all people. It wasn't like that was anything bad, necessarily; it was just new. Yeah, it was just new, and… different.
When Ed repeated this to Roy, the older alchemist simply arched his eyebrow at him. "Remember who you're talking to Ed, let's try this again."
With resigned tone, Ed told him how it all started about two years ago. Edward almost didn't get past that point at all, because Roy went on a small tirade about him keeping something like this to himself for that long. Once Roy calmed down Ed went on to tell him about the first time he noticed this new thing. He had clapped his hands to perform a simple transmutation while remodeling the basement of the house; and after he finished the job he felt the rush of alchemical energy still coursing through him. He said he had tried to just ignore it, but after it didn't disperse after a number of minutes he tried to do another transmutation without clapping.
"And…?" Roy eagerly inquired, perched on the edge of his seat.
"It worked." Ed responded matter-of-factly.
Roy looked at his companion, completely awestruck; but he remained silent for it was obvious that Edward had more to say.
Ed said that the reaction was weak, and the transmutation took much more concentration. But it worked. It was something that now happened almost every time Ed clapped his hands. The younger alchemist completely astonished Roy when he said, "Sometimes I don't even have to clap."
Roy almost ran off the road at this piece of information. Rather than to risk injury Roy pulled off the road, stopped the car and turned to face Ed. "You mean to tell me that you now have the ability to just…just perform transmutations at will like that? Ed, this is… this is huge!"
"Yeah, and scary as fuck too, Mustang. Let's just drop it."
"But, are you sure? I mean, are you sure that other parts of your body aren't somehow making the circle instead of your hands?"
Ed leered at him. To prove his point Ed sat perfectly still, and in moments his hands and arms were glowing with the crackling trails of alchemical energy. Roy stared at him partially in wonder and partially in fear. He wasn't afraid of Ed, but of the numerous unknown things, this phenomenon could mean. After Ed managed to dissipate the free alchemical energy, an uncomfortable silence fell over them.
"Oh for fuck's sake Roy, say something!" Ed shouted, and Roy couldn't help but smile. It had been ages since he had riled the other alchemist up like that. On some level, he missed their little verbal sparring matches. Roy caught his musings in time and responded to Edward's outburst.
"… What do you think caused this, Ed?"
"Hell, my only guess so far would be my repeated exposures to the Gate. Not many people survive seeing the Gate even once, and for me to have done it multiple times… I mean the first time alone gave me the ability to just clap and transmute, along with more knowledge than a single person should have." Ed let out a sigh. "I should have guessed all along that every other time I saw the Gate would alter me in some way as well."
"But that, it's amazing!"
"Well, I'm glad you think so, all I can see out of it is the fact that I'm a bigger freak now than I was to begin with."
"Why would you even think that? You're not a freak, Edward." Roy said, becoming apprehensive at the tone in the younger man's voice.
"Whatever…" Ed mumbled. "Can we please get back on the road now?"
"Sure," Roy said as he maneuvered the Roadster back in the driving lane, "can I ask you two more questions before we drop the subject, though?"
"Why not… go ahead."
"How does it make you feel to do that? Is it very difficult?"
"It makes me feel like I do when performing any other alchemical reaction, and as far as difficulty goes, it's very hard to do. I have to be well rested and focused to gather up as much energy as I just did. But on the flip side, when I perform alchemy my usual way, by clapping, it's quite easy for the energy to linger."
Roy nodded and proceeded to change the subject to their little food fight earlier. Subsequently, the atmosphere lifted and things were back to normal. As they approached East Grinstead Roy asked Ed what his goals were on this little journey. Ed's response was that his goals were to shop in Grinstead, then move on to B'Lina to look up Levi and back down to Hayden to see Preston and Aggie.
Roy figured they had enough time to spend a couple of days in each spot, and so the plan appealed to him.
"Anywhere you want to go?" Ed asked.
Anywhere with you is fine, Roy thought. He quickly erased the thought from his head and simply shook his head no. When they reached East Grinstead there happened to be an inventor's convention of some sort going on and rooms were scarce. Roy and Ed actually ended up sharing suite five at Lou's Inn–the only vacant room that was even remotely close to town. Neither of them really thought much of it when they dropped their things off to go grab a bite to eat, but when they returned in some time to call it a day, the solitary bed loomed before them, creating a rather awkward moment.
Not really trusting himself to do anything else, Roy told Ed he would sleep in the armchair in the room. Ed's face scrunched up, which made him appear half his age, "I really don't see any reason we can't just share the bed…it's not like either of us has fleas or something like that."
Roy smiled at Ed's words even as he thought about all the reasons why he shouldn't be that close to Ed for an extended period of time. Roy prided himself in his self-control, but the sleeping arrangement would probably be more than even his willpower could stand.
"It'll be fine, besides I don't bite unless provoked so you should be safe." Ed added jokingly.
Roy rolled his eyes at his blond companion before he gathered his toiletry bag, pajamas and headed in the bathroom to change. Once he shut the bathroom door, Roy Mustang's mind flew in several different directions. The more he thought about "it" the more nervous he became. By the time he got around to brushing his teeth, his hands were shaking like a leaf in the wind. He couldn't believe how his body and mind were reacting to this situation; Roy was far from a blushing virgin, but he sure as hell felt like one at times in Edward's presence. Just the simple thought of sharing a bed with Edward was enough to make his heart race and his palms sweat; all of this led to Roy taking his sweet time going through his nightly routine.
Ed was busy using the time Roy was taking in the bathroom to unpack; he only pulled a few things out of his bags since they were only going to be staying in this place a couple of nights. Once he was done with that, he went over to the small desk in the corner and picked up a flyer that had the details of the inventor's convention on it. It gave a brief description of what types of inventions would be on display in each section of town. Interested in seeing most of the inventions at the convention, Ed figured he would ask Roy how he felt about touring the convention tomorrow. Ed placed the brochure back on the desk and turned toward the bathroom. The General was certainly taking his time in there. Not that Edward had anything pressing to handle, he just never pegged his commanding officer as the type to primp before bed.
He shrugged his shoulders at the thought, sat down in the armchair and started taking off his boots. As he sat there untying his laces it dawned on him that he would actually be sharing a bed with one of the most sought-after people in Central. The thought made him laugh out loud until he lifted his head and his eyes fell on the suddenly too-small bed.
A lump formed in his throat. By the time, he forced it down, he felt a bit anxious and for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why. It'll be fine, Ed reassured himself, he'd said that same thing to Roy earlier, but I…
Before he could think any further, he heard the bathroom door creak open as Roy finally emerged; and Edward was surprised at what he saw. He'd seen Roy out of uniform many times over the past few months, but even then the man was usually wearing business casual attire. In other words, plenty was left to the imagination. Ed had caught the man just out of bed before, but even then, Roy was usually in a pair of military PT sweats and a shaggy robe.
What he had on now was… was noticeable, to say the least. Roy was wearing a rather form-fitting blue tank top that looked similar to the black one Ed often wore, and a pair of thin white cotton pants.
Roy filled out the shirt rather nicely.
Ed would have never guessed that the man had all that toned muscle under all that crap he used to cover himself up. His physique was not as well defined as Ed's own, but it was nice…very nice. So nice Ed's eyes followed every shift Roy made as the man drifted about the room putting his things away.
He could easily see the commanding presence that helped Roy Mustang climb the ranks at such a young age. It was in every movement the man made and Edward sat there mesmerized by it.
Roy was a little edgy but he knew he couldn't stay in the bathroom much longer. When he opened the door, his eyes fell on Ed who was bent over untying his boots. The shorter alchemist looked up when the door creaked and an odd expression crossed his face. Not sure how to take it, Roy just set about putting his things away. As he moved around the room, he could feel Ed's eyes on him. Roy chanced a sidelong glance at his temporary roommate and Ed's countenance pleased him greatly. His lips were slightly parted, his eyes were wide and he was blatantly following every move Roy was making.
Roy grinned to himself inwardly.
Ed was so lost in whatever was going on in his mind while he was watching Roy that he really wasn't paying attention to how close Roy was moving to him. Roy stopped less than five feet directly in front of the blond and asked innocently, "Is everything alright, Ed?"
Roy watched as Ed snapped out of his daze. His eyes and mind slowly adjusted themselves to finally focus on Roy; the alchemist nearly fell out of the armchair. Edward's face turned crimson and he averted his eyes as he realized that he had been caught staring.
"Uh…yeah, I'm good."
"Are you sure?" Roy asked, not being able to resist needling him a bit.
"I'm sure, I'm fine. Fine."
"You look a little flushed." Roy said as he placed the back of his hand on Ed's forehead. Ed squirmed slightly in his seat.
"I'm just tired." Ed mumbled.
"Well then, you better go get ready for bed." Roy replied as he backed away and watched the short blond jump to his feet, grab up his things and all but run to the bathroom. Once the door shut, more of Riza's words floated through his mind. Maybe Ed's not considering you because he doesn't know that you are available. Roy was not exactly a relationship expert, but Ed's response just a moment ago made Roy think maybe just maybe he really should make a move on Ed…but the timing and the circumstances were awful.
Now was definitely not the time. Roy would feel like he was taking advantage of Ed considering everything that happened in Resembool. Ed needed a friend right now. So Roy decided that's exactly what he would be.
All while damning his instincts and sense of morality.
When the bathroom door squeaked open and Ed strolled out with his hair undone wearing shorts and a T-shirt, Roy sought to shift them away from the earlier tension and asked Ed what he came here to shop for. Ed's shoulders visibly relaxed as he told Roy that he wasn't looking for anything in particular, but just wanted to browse; but there were a few things at the convention he wanted to check out.
When they finally climbed into bed, Roy had them both laughing as he retold the story of Breda's last encounter with canines. The second time he caught Ed stifling a yawn, Roy decided that it was probably time to sleep. "Let's call it a night, kiddo."
Ed's response was to flop his pillow across Roy's face.
"And just what was that for?" Roy sputtered.
"Kiddo my ass. I'm long past that age." Ed groused.
Roy broke into a fit of laughter, which earned him another pillow to the head. Soon it was an all out pillow fight/wrestling match. Roy hadn't played like this since his time in the academy. It was wonderful to cut loose and forget for a while. He was having a great time and so was Edward. At some point Ed won the dominant position and straddled him, whacking Roy with relentlessly with two pillows; tired of Ed having the upper hand in this battle, Roy caught him off-guard and reversed their positions. "Not so fast Mustang!" Ed shouted as he fought to flip them back over. They rolled, struggled, laughed and tossed about until they finally ended up falling off the bed and onto the floor with a resounding thump.
They landed on the area rug with Roy victorious.
Out of breath, Roy looked down and the sight of Ed smiling, flushed and panting beneath him with all that flaxen hair spread out made Roy's heart skip a beat. Before actual thought could become part of the equation, he moved his hand to caress the side of Ed's face and Edward leaned into his touch. The breathing of the man beneath him quickened, and Roy watched his face becoming flushed. He knew the meaning of that look all too well. If Roy Mustang knew any language like the back of his hand, it was body language. That was desire calling in those golden eyes and Roy wanted to answer that call so badly he could taste it.
As his fingers trailed down the side of Ed's face, again Roy leaned in a little closer. Ed's tongue darted out to moisten his lips, causing Roy's own breathing to pick up. Did Ed have any idea what he was doing to him? Roy wasn't sure and he really didn't care at this point. As he moved in those last precious few inches, he saw those golden eyes close and his lips parted in anticipation.
Ed could not believe Roy had called him kiddo. The first thing that came to the blond alchemist's mind was exactly what his body carried out; he whacked Roy with his pillow. When Roy asked him why he did that, his response made the man start laughing, which resulted in Ed grabbing his pillow and assaulting his superior officer with it once again. After that, it turned into a battle.
It reminded Ed of how he and Al use to have mock fights before bedtime. It was always fun and often ended with them in tears from laughing and sometimes with a room full of feathers.
At some point Ed got the upper hand and ended up on top of Roy as he pummeled him with both pillows. Roy could barely defend himself because he was laughing so hard. Ed was so distracted by Roy's antics that he soon lost his superior position. "Not so fast Mustang!" Ed yelled once he landed on his back, as he struggled to regain his former position. Soon all of their tussling about caused them to fall off the bed and onto the floor.
He was such in high spirits–and so out of breath– he couldn't even bring himself to be pissed about Roy landing on top.
Ed was startled out of his contentment when he felt a hand ghosting down the side of his face. Without thinking, he leaned into that surprisingly gentle touch. His stomach knotted and he felt like he couldn't catch his breath. Ed watched as the expression on Roy's face morphed into something he couldn't define.
When Roy leaned down a little Ed felt overtaken by a want. He only had a vaguest idea of what he wanted, but everything within him was pretty damn sure Roy had it. Ed's heart was beating so fast, how could Roy not hear? His throat and mouth suddenly became unbelievably dry and when he licked his lips, he felt Roy shift above him.
Rational thought…what the hell was that, anyways? Ed had no idea and at that, moment and he wanted no part of it. He was fully immersed in what was happening and that was fine by him. When Roy moved even closer still, he simply reacted… no contemplation, no reason, no logic; it was pure instinct at play, easy and effortless.
Suddenly Ed felt Roy's breath by his ear and he heard, "We need to get some sleep, Ed."
The moment between them shattered. Ed's eyes opened and he found himself wondering when they had even closed. He blinked up at Roy a few times, still somewhat dazed and mustered a reply. "Sure."
As the Flame Alchemist rose from his position, he mentally berated himself for his temporary loss of control. True, Edward was a bit naive when it came to things like this but Roy was pretty certain that even he would realize what had almost happened. Roy had had no intentions of doing anything that would make Edward uncomfortable and he definitely didn't want to do anything that would jeopardize Edward's current, though unofficial, relationship with Jean. Roy wondered again, why he became so irrational around Edward Elric.
As Roy made his way around the bed and across the room he dreaded the moment he would have to turn and face Ed. Roy figured he needed to have some words of apology ready when, out of nowhere, a pillow smacked him on the back of his head. Stunned, he slowly turned toward his assailant and what he saw made his eyes go wide.
There, on the center of the bed, stood Ed with the other pillow clutched in his automail hand as his flesh one pointed at Roy in a challenging manner.
"Get that somber look off your face and bring your pale ass over here! I want a rematch!"
Roy could not believe his luck. Maybe Ed had actually missed what was going on a moment ago; and if he had not actually missed it perhaps this was his way of blowing it off and sweeping it under the rug. Either way Roy was happy to go along with it.
By the time they finally decided to really call it a night, they had to completely remake the mangled bed. Once that was done, both parties climbed in wearily and Roy was thankful for their worn-out states; he hoped it would keep his nerves steady and his mind from…wandering.
Roy cut the lamp off on his side of the bed and once the room was dark, he started to doze off pretty quickly. He was on the edge of consciousness when he heard, a "Roy…?"
"Yes." He mumbled sleepily.
"What am I gonna do if she never forgives me?"
Ed's voice was quiet and slightly unsteady. Roy rolled over to face him and found the younger man staring up at the ceiling. The pale moonlight coming in through the windows cast a shadow on the face of the man beside him. Roy cleared his throat, propped himself up on one elbow and said, "You two have been friends far too long for that to happen, Ed. Besides that, you have done nothing that merits her never forgiving you. She simply needs time to get over her wounded feelings and disappointment."
The room was silent for a while.
As the silence rolled on Roy's eyes adjusted to the darkness, enough so that he could almost fully make out the facial expressions of the man beside him. He took this opportunity to blatantly stare at the object of his affection. His mind had wandered so far into "Edville" during the stretch of silence, when Ed actually spoke it somewhat startled Roy.
"Say you're right and she does get over it. Things still won't be the same, now will they?" Ed voiced his thoughts while never taking his eyes off the ceiling. Roy could see Ed's automail hand clutching the thin bedspread that covered them, as though the material was a lifeline connecting him to normalcy.
Between the obvious distress in Ed's tone and behavior, Roy knew he needed to choose his words carefully.
"I won't lie here and promise you that they will be. It's an unfortunate fact of life that things like this change relationships. If this was anyone else, I would say things will probably never even be remotely the same; but this is between you, Al and Winry. The three of you have been through and overcome so much together I honestly think there is a great chance for you to overcome this as well."
Roy watched as a tired smile appeared on Edward's face. The young man beside him let out a big sigh and swallowed hard. When Ed turned to face him that small smile grew in size, and with knitted eyebrows he asked, "You're not just blowing smoke up my ass, are you Mustang."
Roy smiled back at him and replied, "I would do no such thing concerning something so serious. I know how much she means to you and Al."
Another period of silence followed, and as it stretched on Roy noted how Ed's eyes appeared to be unnaturally bright. It wasn't until a barely audible sniff escaped him that Roy realized the brightness in Ed's eyes were caused by unshed tears.
"Edward, are you…" Roy began, only to have the blond huff loudly in response and roll over to face the wall.
"I thought I got all of this emotional crap out of my system yesterday." Ed growled out, but Roy could tell he was trying to put on a gruff front.
"It's okay to be upset. Yesterday was quite the trying day for you. I think you're holding yourself together far better than I would be if this had happened between me and Riza."
"But being like this still sucks."
Roy smiled at the blond's back and said, "Yes it does, but it will get better."
When Ed grew quiet and still, Roy tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder. He felt a slight shudder pass through Ed's body and before he could utter the words of comfort he had lined out in his mind, Roy found his arms full of Ed. The younger man had rolled himself over and buried his head in Roy's chest so swiftly it was almost startling.
They stayed like this for a while neither of them say anything. Ed taking comfort in Roy's arms and Roy relishing in being able to provide said comfort. Hardly a sound escaped the blond during this and that was fine by Roy. He was just happy to see Ed getting this out system in whatever way he saw fit.
With the worst of Ed's emotional storm past, a muffled voice rose from Roy's chest. "If you tell anyone I cried like this I swear I'll cut both your balls off and display them on the parade grounds."
Roy chuckled quietly and said, "My lips are sealed, Edward. You have my word."
Not too long after that, sleep descended upon them both.
Thanks for reading and reviewing as always guys. I love all of you dearly. My apologies for taking so long to write this one.
I now have a surprise for two of my most faithful reviewers ( and ehxhfdl14) they will each have the opportunity to pick a quote for one of the characters in my fic. It can be anything you would like to have one of the characters say and I promise to work it in ASAP! Send it to me in the review, in a PM or email…however you like.
Thanks for always reviewing hugs
Chapter 9: Hazy Clarity
YAY an update! First off I would like to dedicate this chapter to my two greatest supporters, ehxhfdl14 and VexedWench!
YAY an update! First off I would like to dedicate this chapter to my two greatest supporters, ehxhfdl14 and VexedWench!
The second thing I would like to say is I am sending a HUGE thank you to all of you for not giving up on me or this fic since it has been quite while between updates.
As always please read and review feel free to let me know what you think about the direction I have taken the plot in.
Thanks with hugs and love to you all! - OnyxLight-
Chapter 09 Hazy Clarity
When Ed woke the next morning, he found himself alone in bed. He was confused for a moment until the sound of the shower running registered in his ears. Looking over at the open window, Ed noted the sunny and clear weather outside. He was eager to add to the faint noises of activity was going on below them. He stretched his somewhat stiff body, got out of bed, and grabbed the brochure detailing the goings-on of the convention. Ed knew it was his overly academic brain at work when he realized that he was really quite excited about seeing some of the things that were going to be on display.
Edward wondered if he would find anything that would be of interest to Jean, since his birthday was coming up in just three weeks after Ed's own birthday; his own birthday was less than a couple of months away itself. That reminded Ed that he still had yet to talk to Roy about the surprise party they were throwing for Jean. Everyone had such a great time pulling one over him for the housewarming that they figured they'd really get him on his birthday.
Ed himself never worried about being surprised on his birthday, for the past few years since he and Elysia shared a birth date, Maes and Gracia always threw them a small joint gathering. It tickled the little girl pink that she shared a birthday with her big brother; and the shared celebration was also perfect for Ed since he didn't like to make a big deal for his birthday like Al preferred to. Al probably wouldn't mind if his birthday was published grandly across the front page of The Central Press.
Just as Ed flipped over the brochure to look at the hand-drawn map of the city on the back, a long, loud squeak announced Roy's exit from the bathroom. Ed looked up and snorted the sight that greeted him. Roy was fully dressed, but his hair was not yet dry and tendrils of wet hair were plastered onto Roy's forehead.
"I'm wondering what you're finding so hilarious." Roy called out, right before he started to vigorously run a towel through his hair to rid it of excess water.
"You- you soggy bastard, you look like a freaking waterlogged rat."
"I'll have you know that a mere rat could never look this good." was Roy's retort.
Ed laughed. "You're full of yourself, you know that?"
Once Ed showered and got dressed, he reentered the room, sat down in front of the mirror, and started brushing his hair. Roy stood a little ways behind and watched as the brush slid through the blond mane. He didn't remember envying an inanimate object so much in his life. Ed then gathered his hair at the nape of his neck and started braiding it. Halfway through, the blond undid it all and started over. Less than halfway through this go around found Ed muttering a few obscenities as he undid his work and went to start over yet again.
"Why don't you let me give that a try?"
Ed glanced over his shoulder at Roy and simply held out the hairbrush behind him, sighing in defeat. Roy happily took the brush and started to groom Ed's hair, noting that it did indeed feel as nice as it looked.
"You know," Ed began as he caught Roy's eyes in the mirror, "its times like these I'm tempted to cut it."
Roy's eye grew wide as he stopped in mid stroke. "Don't you dare!"
"Figures. That's what Al and Jean say every time I even toy with the idea. Do you guys realize it hadn't been cut in years? I mean, I've had it trimmed, but never actually cut."
"How soon we forget the bubble gum incident of two years past." Roy teased as he resumed brushing.
Roy watched in the mirror as Ed's face scrunched up in an effort to remember, and he soon heard a soft exclamation from the alchemist sitting before him. Ed had just remembered when one of the younger kids from the orphanage fell asleep on him, and how he later found the kid's gum tangled in the lower portion of his ponytail. The only reason Roy knew of that story was because Ed had come to the office the following day in an inexplicably foul mood. Then Al had come in at lunchtime and explained to everyone about having to cut the gum out of his brother's hair…and how badly Ed had reacted to it.
"You know you love your hair as much as the rest of us do, and I know for a fact that you would never actually cut it."
"Eh, yeah. Riza did threaten me subtly the last time I said 'that' in her presence. I guess after all these years of having long hair I would look strange if I cut it." Ed thought aloud, and Roy nodded in agreement. "By the way, you wouldn't happen to know how to do that fancy braid Gracia can do by any chance?"
"The herringbone braid. As a matter of fact, I do. Who do you think taught it to her in the first place?"
The obvious shock on Ed's face had Roy smirking as he started the intricate braid. In the meantime, Ed quickly regained his composure and changed the subject to somewhat more familiar territory. "So, has anyone told you anything about the surprise party we're throwing for Jean's birthday?"
"Fuery said something about it last week but he didn't get to tell me much before Jean popped up."
With a grin Ed launched into great detail about how the party was supposed to go. Everyone was to get together at the Elric household under the pretense of celebrating Riza's return from her two weeks of training. Riza was even going to make sure she came on an evening train so the office could rationalize having the party so late on a Friday night. The party would start at nine, carrying on past midnight to make it into Jean's actual birthday. The cake, presents and other festivities would be hidden in the guest room, since the place was mostly deserted as it seemed to be in a state of wreck half the time. The room was planned to be cleaned out and turned into a party room just for the occasion.
Ed was practically glowing just talking about it.
The blond went on to say how he was going to do most of the food- with Gracia's help, of course- and how the band guys were going to be there so there would be music throughout the night. Breda was making the punch as usual, while Sciezska and Falman were handling the decorations.
In other words, everyone was pitching in.
"Think you'd be able to make it?" Ed asked as Roy finished off the braid.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
Once they finally made it downtown, there was more than enough going on to keep both of them entertained. Roy noted that Ed was acting rather like a kid in a candy store. The General was actually pretty excited himself, and they both ended up buying a few things as they walked around the cobbled streets of Grinstead. A man and his daughter promoting some kind of fruit juicer were located at one of the last stalls they stopped at. The two alchemists watched as the girl put half a sliced lemon in the little metal gadget and with one good squeeze. A hefty portion of the liquid the lemon had to offer flowed out of the lemon and into the pitcher she was holding it over.
Roy noticed Ed's expression as he remarked, "Gracia would love that thing!"
"I think so, it does look much easier than doing it by hand."
Ed nodded as he approached the man and inquired on the price of his juicer. After a short conversation with the man, Ed returned with two of the juicers. After that, it was almost noon and the duo had wandered into the city's center to grab lunch. Ed insisted Roy choose where they ate at so they found themselves eating at an outdoor café serving grilled chicken and pasta for lunch.
They were in heaven.
Near the end of their meal, a couple of people came through the food court hanging up posters on all the posts and poles. Curious, Roy walked over to the closest one and read it. When he got back to his seat, he resumed eating without saying a word about the posters' details to his
companion. This was done on purpose, mind you, Roy was well aware of the fact that the blond had a curious streak a mile wide.
"…Well?" Ed said after several minutes of watching Roy eat and waiting on some bit of information. "Well, what?" Roy asked with a sly grin on his face as he twirled the last of his pasta on his fork.
"You know damn well what I'm referring to, you smirking bastard!"
Roy got a good laugh out of that and replied, "It said that tonight is one of the last two nights of the band contest."
"There's a band contest?"
"I didn't know, either."
"So what time is the show?"
"Seven-thirty; and before you even ask, yes, I'm interested in going as well."
A huge grin spread across Ed's face as he wolfed down the last of his chicken. Roy sat there across from Ed a bit lost in thought. Over the past few months he'd noticed that Ed had not completely done away with all of his previous personality traits. He could still be loud when excited. He could still manage to royally piss off the wrong people with as little as three words and he still swore in such a way that made even Roy shake his head. Still, it seemed that the young man had finally learned when and when not to be so "himself". Roy hadn't realized he was staring at Ed until his companion looked up at him. "What is it? Do I have sauce on my face?"
"I was just sitting here thinking about how much you've changed over the years but still managed to stay the same."
Ed tilted his head to the side and looked at Roy in a way that reminded the General of the face he'd made at the time they ran into each other when Ed was on his way home from the music store. Roy explained his statement, and Ed's faintly flushed pink before he said, "Well, I guess I just realized that there's a time and place for everything."
"A lesson we all must learn."
"Yeah, well for me to be such a quick study with most things I sure as hell took my time getting that one through my skull. Looking back on it though, I realized that I could be a bit much at times."
"And that would be the understatement of the year, Mr. Elric." Roy said as he attempted to gather their dishes in a stack.
"Humph. Bastard." Ed retorted, no real malice behind his words.
"Don't ever change Edward, don't ever change."
After they finished lunch, they wandered down the crowded streets of the city to check out some more of the gadgets on display. Some were incredibly impressive while others were… different, to say the least. After wandering a while, the two noticed that there was an immense tent near the city's courthouse that seemed to have gathered a rather large crowd. With curiosity getting the best of both of them, they slowly began making their way towards the attraction. As they closed in, music started wafting out of the tent. It wasn't just a few instruments they heard either, it sounded more like a small orchestra at the very least.
When the two managed to make their way to the front, what they saw floored them. There wasn't an orchestra or even a band; just two men behind what looked like really small, flat pianos. Upon seeing this, Ed turned and gave Roy a hard look of disbelief. He didn't have to say it out loud for Roy to know that the young alchemist was having a hard time believing the sounds they had heard came out of those two miniature pianos.
Without meaning to, Ed gave the equipment and the men promoting it quite the questioning look. The older gentleman noticed the stare and motioned towards Ed. "You look skeptical, lad. Feel free to come on over here and try it for yourself."
Ed looked uncertain, and Roy nudged him forward. Ed glared at him and Roy made a shooing motion with his hands. The blond stepped forward and was let in the inner circle of the tent by a short brunette lady neither of them had noticed beforehand. She smiled at Ed and led him to a third unoccupied piano-like… thing.
"Herb calls it a 'synthesizer'," She explained as she found Ed a stool to sit on. "It can mimic the sounds of most instruments, all in one." She proceeded to give Ed a short lesson on how all of the keys and controls worked. Roy could see Ed's expression shift several times and until it finally settled on amazement.
"Do you know how to play?" The older man asked of Ed.
"A little," Ed responded with a sly grin and a wink in Roy's direction.
"You play something you know and we'll follow your lead, then."
"If you insist," Ed replied and Roy watched as Ed readied himself behind his synthesizer.
Roy couldn't help but think that the two men had no idea what they had gotten themselves into by inviting Ed to play. Over the past few months, Roy has watched Ed sit and compose complex works of music while stuffing his face and holding a conversation all at once.
Ed finally started playing and the various sounds that the synthesizer generated were simply amazing. Before long, Ed was really getting into the swing of things and the two other men were struggling to keep up.
When they stopped playing, the crowd around the tent clapped and cheered. All three men stood and bowed to the enraptured audience. Ed went to leave the tent and the younger of the two men stopped him. "You sure you wouldn't be interested in one of these, sir? You seem like the sort that would get a lot of use out of this."
Ed stroked his chin thoughtfully. "It sounded great… and it's small enough to haul in a car… hmm. So, how much is it?"
When the man gave the price both Ed and Roy almost exclaimed out loud. The expense for the "synthesizer" was easily as much as a person would spend on a used automobile. Ed told both of the men that he thought that their invention was truly, truly worth the price they were asking but it was not in his budget right now. They nodded in understanding but gave both Ed and Roy a business card in case they were to ever change their minds.
When evening came, the pair made their way into the park where everything was set up for the contest. The stage was fairly large, the outdoor lighting was on, and people were milling around everywhere.
Soon after they arrived, a short balding man walked out on stage and grabbed one of the microphones. He named off all the bands that were playing that night then proceeded to call the names of the bands in the top five positions in the contest. Then without further ado, he introduced the first band to take the stage and the concert got underway.
The first band played a jazzy little tune that had the entire audience bobbing their heads and tapping their toes. The second group onstage played an upbeat dance song that had everyone, including Ed and Roy, dancing around the park. When the third band took the stage, they toned it down quite a bit by playing a slow song. People all around started to couple off and sway with the music.
By that time, the sun had long since set and a soft glow was being cast over the park. When Roy looked at Ed the blond's eyes were fixed on the stage, seemingly lost in thought. Probably thinking about and missing Jean, Roy mused to himself. He wanted to ask Ed to dance- but wait, no, he didn't. It was obvious why Roy wanted to but the reason he was holding back was nowhere near as cut and dry. He was really not sure how the blond would react to the offer. Discarding the idea, Roy turned his back to the stage and focused on the lyrics of the song.
It's undeniable... that we should be together...
It's unbelievable how I used to say that I'd fall never
The basis you need to know, if you don't know just how I feel,
Then let me show you now that I'm for real...
If all things in time, time will reveal...
Roy felt a soft tap on his shoulder and when he turned around Ed had his hand extended out to him. It looked like an invitation to dance but Roy didn't want to make an ass out of himself by jumping to conclusions. He gave Ed a questioning look only to have the blond shake his head and chuckle in response. Before Roy could open his mouth to respond, Ed grabbed Roy's wrist, pulled him close, and wrapped his arms around his neck. Roy realized he must have given Ed a strange look when Edward told him, "Humor me. I don't get to dance much, you know."
One... you're like a dream come true...
Two... just wanna be with you...
Three... it's plain to see... that you're the only one for me...
Four... repeat steps one through three...
Five... make you fall in love with me...
If ever I believe my work is done... then I start back at one
Roy quietly wondered why was it that the blond didn't get to dance often. If he were mine, I'd have him out on a dance floor every chance I got, Roy thought as he guided them around in slow circles. Ed moved in a bit closer and laid his head on Roy's chest, and Roy wrapped his arms around Ed's waist. Between their closeness and the song playing, Roy was having a hard time keeping a hold on his emotions.
"Yes." Roy whispered around the lump that had formed in his throat.
"Thanks for being here for me these past couple of days. I know I've been hell to deal with."
"It wasn't a problem Edward, you've been just fine."
So incredible... the way things work themselves out...
And all emotional, once you know what it's all about hey...
And undesirable... for us to be apart...never would
made it very far...
Cause you know you've got the keys to my heart
Roy couldn't help but think how close the lyrics were to how he was feeling at the moment. He really hadn't realized how much of a loner he'd become in his personal life until Ed came crashing into it. He had come to spend most of his evenings in front of the hearth in his den reading, and most of his weekends were spent with either Maes or alone with his thoughts. Not that there was anything wrong with not being incredibly social anymore; it was just that things were so different now that Ed had made himself a spot in his life. Now, he went out to pubs as well as to lunch with the rest of the office. He participated in all sorts of military activities, courtesy of Ed singing him up for whatever he was involved in, and now he was on a spontaneous ten day road trip.
Say farewell to the dark of night... I see the coming of the sun...
I feel like a little child... whose life has just begun...
You came and breathed new life into this lonely heart of mine...
You threw out the lifeline... just in the
When the lead singer sang out that last line, Roy felt as if truer words had never been spoken. He knew it was going to be hard letting go of this person in front of him when the song ended. The tightening of his chest Roy got from just holding Ed in his arms confirmed the Flame Alchemist's worst fear. A simple attraction had turned into something much more.
Roy Mustang was in love with Edward Elric, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to change it.
The song came to a close mere moments after Roy's realization hit him and when the audience started to clap Roy stumbled away from Ed. His knees were weak, his palms were sweating, and his heart was racing as if he'd spent the last few minutes running for his life instead of slow dancing. He took one look at Ed as the blond applauded for the band with the rest of the crowd, and Roy thought he might be ill. His nerves were shot, and his stomach lurched like he'd been punched in the gut. He made his way over to a nearby bench, sat down and tried to pull himself together.
When Ed noticed a shaken Roy sitting on a bench looking like warmed-over death, he rushed to the man's side.
"What happened? Roy, what's the matter?"
"It's…it's nothing. It's nothing. I'm fine." Roy rasped out in-between deep breaths. As ridiculous as it seemed to Roy, he felt like he could pass out at any moment.
"Like hell it's nothing, I've seen 'nothing' Roy, and this ain't it. You look like shit."
"Thanks." Roy said as he glared up at the blond standing over him.
"Oh, quit being such an ass. You know what I mean." Ed protested as he took a seat beside Roy on the bench, "Do you want to call it a night and head back to the Inn?"
Only if I get to do more than just sleep beside you, Roy subconsciously thought as he looked into golden eyes filled with concern. "No… I think I'll be alright. I just had a dizzy spell."
Ed scrutinized Roy, suspicious of his companion's answer.
"Really, Ed. I'm fine." Roy said as he put on the most convincing "normal" face he could muster. It must have done the trick because Ed's features soon relaxed. After making sure that Roy was really not sick after all, Ed went off in search of a cold drink for Roy.
When he returned, he had a glass of lemonade for the both of them. Roy took his and drank it eagerly. He hadn't realized how dry his throat was until the ice cold drink hit it.
"Slow down there, Chief," Ed said as he sat slowly sipping his own drink. "If you don't take it easy you might choke. You think it was the food from earlier that made you sick? Lunch was great, but the greasy sausage dogs we had for dinner might've been bad."
Roy simply nodded, not wanting to verbally confirm nor deny anything. The two of them sat in silence as one of the remaining bands took the stage. Roy didn't catch the name of the next-to-last group, but they were all decked out in green and sounded superb. When he glanced at Ed he was nodding his head to the beat. Roy let out a low laugh and Ed whipped his head around to face Roy. "What?"
"You just can't sit still, can you?"
Ed folded his arms across his chest and huffed, "Can too!"
Roy simply laughed harder. He sat and watched as his companion tried ardently to hold still; but inevitably, his foot or his finger would start tapping. When he stopped that then it was his body rocked to the rhythm. Roy couldn't stand it any longer and finally said, "There's nothing wrong with you moving about, Ed. Dance, bob and wiggle or whatever all you want, it doesn't bother me. It's not like you've ever been known for being quiet and still."
"Bastard." Ed mumbled.
"Tell me I'm wrong." Roy replied.
Ed grinned broadly at Roy's remark before his expression melted into a cocky smirk. "So does this mean anytime I need a dance partner I can drag you out on the floor?"
Roy gave him a smile and a nod. Even after Roy's nerves settled, Ed kept insisting they needed to call it a night. Roy finally agreed. He felt more than a little drained, even if it was just emotionally.
That's all for now folk's net update will be out in a week or so...thanks for reading
Chapter 10: Insight
Underneath It All 10: Insight
Underneath It All 10: Insight
As they made their way out of the park and back into the city, they started talking. Roy could tell that the blond was in a conversational mood, and he would settle for anything that would take his mind off his recent revelation.
"We've known each other for- how long now Roy? Eleven years?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"Don't you find it odd that it's been in only the last few months that we've actually really gotten to know each other?"
Roy hadn't thought about it in such terms, but Ed had a point. One would think that in all this time they would have known more personal information of each other a lot sooner than they did. Roy soon came to the conclusion that both of them were just extremely good at keeping out of the limelight when it came to certain things, and he also knew that they were both grand masters at dodging uncomfortable questions.
Once he really thought back on his previous conversations with Ed, Roy realized that he was one of the few people who knew that Ed ran into his father while he was on the other side of the gate, and that there were people on that side who looked just like people on this side. When he first started to really spend time with the eldest Elric as a person, he found out all sorts of things. He now knew that the person walking by his side was multi-lingual, played the piano, sang, composed music, had every plant known to mankind in his basement, volunteered at the local orphanage and that he had also become somewhat of a favorite to the Führer himself.
Despite all this knowledge, Roy did have one question he'd always wanted to ask Ed; but his instinct told him it would be better off to let that sleeping dog lie. From the sounds of things, though, he might get a chance to bring it up tonight. If he was reading Ed right, the blond had a question or two of his own he wanted to ask. Roy figured he'd save any questions until they got back to their room.
When they reached suite five of Lou's Inn, Ed announced that he was going to go downstairs to find a phone he could use and call Al and Hughes. Roy was planning to relax and read until Ed returned, and bade him good luck. With a smile and a salute, the young prodigy was out the door.
It had been a couple of days since his brother left Resembool to return to Central, and Al was beginning to get edgy; he hadn't heard from Ed since then. Al had managed to get Winry to talk to him a little, and at first he was not overly impressed with what his childhood friend had to say about her actions. After several failed attempts at trying to
convince Al that the whole situation was indeed Ed's fault, she gave up, cried out, and apologized profusely, all the while trying to convince Al to get Ed to come back. He told her he didn't think that was a possibility, but when he heard from Ed he would ask anyway.
After Winry had retired for the evening that night, Al was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a cup of tea with Pinako when the phone rang. "Answer the phone, Alphonse. I'm betting it's for you anyway."
Al nodded at her; he had the same feeling as well. He picked up the receiver. "Rockbell Automail Service."
A smile split the younger Elric's face when he heard the lighthearted tone in his sibling's voice. "Hey Brother, you sound well. How are you?"
"Doing pretty good, I mean, better than I thought I would be. But I have mostly Roy to thank for that. I guess."
"Roy… what'd he do?" Al asked, and Pinako noticed the expression on his face as well as the tone of his voice. The elderly woman then turned her attention to Al's conversation.
"He came along on my road trip with me- we are in East Grinstead right now."
"Really? What brought you there?"
"I wanted to just go and browse some of the shops, but as luck would have it they're having an inventor's convention."
"That sounds great, Brother. I'm glad you're doing better and having fun."
There was a stretch of silence after Al's last statement.
"Is she still mad at me Al?"
"No. Not really. I think she's madder at herself right now. She wants you to come back to Resembool."
"Even if I wanted to I can't. You know how far East Grinstead is."
"Yeah. I'll let her know you're not in Central. It's probably for the best, she's still a bit emotional."
Ed sighed into the phone. "Well, I guess it's like Roy said; it'll take time."
"Sounds like you've been receiving some sound advice."
"Eh, he's been great to put up with me the last couple of days. Maes and Gracia too."
"How are they doing?"
"Probably worried about me since I turned up on their doorstep as soon as I got back to Central, but Maes fixed it so Roy could come on my trip with me. Don't ask me how."
Al chuckled at that. "Mr. Hughes has a magic all his own. He can manage the craziest things on no notice at all. I think he holds all of the military strings in the palm of his hand."
"…You're probably right on that one."
"Well… I'm glad you are not alone, Brother. I was worried about you."
"I know, and I'm sorry for taking off like I did. I just didn't see any way around it."
"There wasn't." Al admitted dejectedly.
"How is Auntie? Has she talked to Winry any?"
"She's fine, and they have chatted quite often over the past few days."
"I hope she wasn't too hard on Winry."
"I think she was as stern with her as she needed to be. I know you don't like seeing her hurt, neither one of us do, but what happened was pretty uncalled for."
"I know, Al, the whole thing's just turned into a big mess."
"Like Roy said, it will work out in time."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Ed replied. "By the way, has anyone heard from Jean? I would call him, but his mother doesn't have a phone."
"No, I haven't. But maybe Mr. and Mrs. Hughes have. You're going to call them too, right?"
"Yeah, as soon as I get off the phone with you Al."
"Tell them a hello for me."
"You do the same for me with Auntie and Winry, okay?"
"Will do, Brother. Have a good night, and have fun."
"Thanks. Love you, Al."
"I love you too, Brother."
When Al hung up the phone and turned around, he could see the questions in Pinako's eyes before she gave them voice. He simply smiled at her and returned to his seat. He knew she would ask them as soon as she got her thoughts together.
"Alphonse. I thought you said Ed was dating that tall, lanky fellow from his unit. Jean, was it?"
"But Ed's out on the road with Roy Mustang."
She stuffed some more tobacco in her pipe, lit it, and sat back in thought. She was a wise old woman, and Al had no doubt that even on the limited information she had, Auntie would figure out what he was just starting to understand..
"From what I heard, it sounded as if General Mustang was just what the doctor ordered for Edward."
"I believe he is too Auntie, even for more than just this road trip of theirs, but I won't interfere with Brother's life like that. I will leave that for him to figure out."
"Tell me, Alphonse," she began as she refilled both of their cups of tea, "What do you make of this Jean fellow?"
"He's a nice guy, he's funny, he's attractive, and he seems to care for Brother a lot."
"But I think Ed's a little too much of a free spirit for him."
"Your Brother has always belonged to two things, to you and the world."
Al reddened a little at that, all while knowing full well the woman in front of him was right. He realized a long time ago that his brother was akin to a force of nature. Wild, untamed and beautiful, but he could be fierce and unpredictable. For all of the hardships they've endured, both of them still saw that the world had a whole host of wonderful things to offer, and at times they both sought out those things with an almost reckless abandon. He knew that was part of the issue in his previous relationship with Kara.
She wanted him to belong to her and only her; Al had swiftly let her know that was not likely to happen. He had his research, his music, friends, family…in other words, too much to be entirely devoted to one person. The only person Al could think of being devoted to in such a single-minded way was his Brother. When Edward disappeared, Al spent every waking moment (and even some sleeping ones) trying to find a way to bring him back.
"I think you're right as per usual, Auntie. I think Jean might be a bit too fragile to be with Brother. Ed doesn't know the meaning of the word jealously while I know the first Lieutenant is all too acquainted with the term."
"I see. So he's insecure?"
"Maybe others don't see it, but I do. I have watched him watching others as they watch Ed. His expression and mannerisms give away a lot." Al said as he got up from the table to rummage through the fridge. Finding a few slices of ham from last night's dinner, he pulled it out and sat it on the counter before turning his back to Pinako to stare out the kitchen window. "Or maybe I'm just being an overprotective brother."
"Perhaps… or maybe it is simply that you know Ed like no one else ever could. Plus you have always been highly observant. You are probably the only reason Ed didn't get himself killed when he first joined the military. He had you there to actually pay attention to what was going on around him…we all know he gets tunnel vision at times." She said with a smile he didn't see.
"True." Al replied with a heavy sigh.
"So if you don't mind an old woman being nosy, could you tell me what else has went on to make you feel the way you do? I have known you long enough to know any judgment you've passed on a situation has to have had more input than what little you've told me."
Al leaned on the kitchen sink and told Pinako everything starting from Ed and Roy's little dance that night long ago at Fidel's, up to their current road trip that he has observed. Right after he finished Al heard a chair slide across the floor and Pinako soon appeared beside him at the kitchen counter.
"So you are thinking that Mustang has a thing for Edward." She stated.
"Yes." Al said bluntly.
"A situation like that could spell trouble for our boy."
"I don't think it will come to that Auntie." Al said sounding somewhat shocked at her words.
"And why not?" she asked as she tapped him on the shoulder.
"Because," Al said as he turned to face her, "Brother is not one to promote drama."
"Not intentionally." She responded matter-of-factly, "But we both know Edward can be painfully oblivious to some things. I know for a fact that he has a hard time seeing himself as attractive because of the automail. Not an unusual thing for amputees to experience, but in all these years Ed has never really adjusted to it mentally. He sees himself as irreparably flawed, that he'll never be good enough."
Al took a step back and narrowed his eyes at the woman beside him. She was making it sound worse than it probably was. He was sure the elderly woman had to be mistaken. For all of Ed's denseness, he was still one of the cockiest people Al knew and he told Pinako just that.
"When it comes to alchemy, science, and his rank of Lt. Colonel at the tender age of twenty-two; not nearly so much when it comes down to his physical person. A man with his looks should be downright vain, but not our Edward. He's not vain at all."
Al's mind quickly replayed many events at lightening speed trying to come up with one incident to prove her wrong. Memories of their times on the road, nights at Fidel's, office parties and the like all rolled through the young professor's head and at any time someone was eyeing them when they were together Ed was always certain it was Al, not himself, being "checked out." He remembered his Brother being quite the social butterfly at the Christmas party at the University but never dancing with anyone. He remembered Ed's short-lived dating of Jules from the shoe shop, the artist Gary Hollis, and Sciezska too. All ended after a few dates then Ed never spoke of them again. Al assumed his brother had grown bored of them or something of the like; but now wondered what really
happened to end it. Because after Gary he dated no one for over two years…then he started seeing Jean.
"Just because you catch most things doesn't mean you catch them all. No one is perfect, Alphonse, and your Brother has gone out of his way to hide what he wants no one to see." She said with a weary smile. "Believe it or not, his lack of dating anyone was part of the reason why Winry was so convinced he had his eyes set on her."
It was silent for a while as Al turned back to the window just as a few stray clouds crossed in front of the moon. There was a feeling welling up in Al's chest and he felt he might be consumed by it.
"Why didn't he ever talk to me about it?" Al whispered.
"And risk worrying his little brother?"
Al whipped his head around and glared at Pinako with fury in his eyes. "I'm not some kid anymore!" he all but shouted, "He can talk to me about anything!"
"Only to an extent." She replied calmly in the face of his anger.
Al felt his own words come back to bite him and he didn't like the feel of it at all. He remembered all too well saying something similar to Ed not too long ago, and to hear it now directed at him hurt. It made him angry, and it hurt.
"Are you trying to say he doesn't trust me?"
He knew it was wrong but he took his anger out on the only person there at the moment when he was really only mad at himself. Maybe he and Winry should start a club.
"No. Your brother would trust you with his life, but one thing he has never done and probably will never do is tell you anything he thinks will worry you about him."
By this time, Al's chest was heaving with barely suppressed emotion. He didn't know what to do with all the new information he had to process concerning his brother. If he looked at Ed's behavior from Pinako's perspective, the seemingly odd things Ed did (or didn't) made a lot more sense. Sure, it would be nothing to dance with Fuery or Riza. If he touched them with his right hand, they wouldn't be shocked by the firm coolness of the steel that it was made of. They knew. They were safe. There was almost no risk of rejection, any awkward hesitations, or uncomfortable moments of explanation.
For years, his brother had suffered in silence and all he's done was give him a hard time about being such a prude. For the first time Al actually tried to think how he would feel
undressing in front of someone if he had an automail limb and quite a few scars from it as well from battles past. He couldn't even convince himself that it would be an easy thing to do. He'd always felt guilty about Ed sacrificing the majority of his childhood to the military in order to fix a mistake they both chose to make. Now Al felt even guiltier as he realized his brother was still living a somewhat limited life as an adult.
Al's memory might be a little hazy in spots, but other than that, he had nothing to complain of. At first his mind was missing those four years, he spent in armor but as time passed most of those memories came back. Whatever Ed did, he made sure his little brother was restored completely. Moreover, there Al was, whole and happy. Not only that but he got a complete rewind with a childhood to relive; sure, he spent two years searching for a way to return Al to them all, but he had help. He still lived a relatively normal life. Al realized that was because, unlike Ed, he didn't have a seven-foot metal reminder in front of him as searched for clues and answers.
Al never had to eat his meals across from someone he knew could not do the same. He never had to sleep in front of a soul that he knew could not rest. Al had no reason not to take comfort in the understanding arms of Mr. or Mrs. Hughes because there wasn't someone standing there also hurting that could not feel the warmth of the embrace.
Then the memories of the obvious guilt he knew Ed felt every time he did any little thing Al couldn't enjoy while in that armor flashed through his mind. How Ed never did most of the things average teenagers did, because he promised Al that they would do those things together when Al could feel again… but that wasn't what happened. Ed spent two years in a foreign land where no one even spoke the same language. Ed was alone, with damaged automail in a place with people that eerily mirrored the people here. Ed even had to deal with finding their father only to lose him just as he had made some sort of peace with the man.
Looking out at the now cloudless night sky, Al realized his brother had done what he could to give Al back everything he'd lost and, remarkably, succeeded. While Ed himself had not fared so well; equivalent exchange always liked playing hardball with Ed.
Tired in a why he hadn't been since he first got his body back, he looked up at Pinako shamefully. "Sorry for raising my voice like I did, Auntie."
"Not a problem Alphonse."
"Now that I know part of what Brother's true issue is, how do I get him to talk to me?"
"Like I said earlier, that is something that may never happen; but if it does it will have to be him coming to you after he realizes there aren't as many closed doors for him as he thinks there is. With any luck, Roy or Jean will help him see that."
Al nodded and yawned. He now had a lot to think about, and he vowed he would take the next opportunity he had to honestly speak with his brother and use it to the fullest. He had already realized he needed to stop assuming things about his brother, but now he had a completely new list of things he needed to do. Especially learning to stop judging Ed by the same standards socially as he did himself. Al could now see how some parts of their lives and experiences were too different for that to be logical.
Al didn't have automail. He hasn't spent ten years in the military. He didn't spend two years in a place where everything he knew and trusted was gone. He never had to deal with confronting dad. He didn't have a reputation larger than life to live up to.
… And he didn't have to be the older brother.
With those thoughts in mind, he hugged Pinako, apologized again, and went upstairs.
After the conversation with his brother ended, the eldest Elric picked the phone right back up and asked to be patched through to the Hughes household in Central. Maes was the one to answer the phone, and after the two of them exchanged pleasantries Maes asked, "So are the two of you having a good time?"
"Yeah, we are. Thanks for pulling whatever strings you had to pull with Riza to get Roy's time off approved so quickly."
"Not a problem Ed, you needed the company and he needed the break, so it worked out well for all parties involved."
Ed smiled into the receiver. "I guess it did."
Maes wanted nothing more than to tell his almost-son how his best friend felt about him, but he knew that would be a violation of trust he would likely not be forgiven for. So instead, he decided he would try to pique Ed's curiosity about a few things in lieu of spilling the proverbial beans.
"I had no doubt this would be a great time for both of you." Maes began, and his wife glanced up from the book she was reading and gave him a curious look. "The two of you always seem to have so much fun when you're together." Gracia narrowed her eyes at her husband and shook her head. She now had a good idea what he was up to.
"I guess we kinda do, don't we?"
"No 'kind of' to it, Ed. Remember when the two of you got paired up to kick off the demonstrations at the induction ceremony of the newly appointed State Alchemists."
"The two of you put on such a great show people are still talking about that one. No one would have ever guessed the entire thing was unrehearsed."
"I suppose that was a great success considering we got cornered into doing it at the last minute."
"Yup, it was just like the time you signed the two of you up to be hosts for the Miss Central pageant."
"Now that was hilarious. We had a blast doing that once we got into the spirit of things."
"These days I always figure that anytime the both of you are going to be in the same place, there will be a good time had by all. Gracia's is still laughing over that little food fight you two had in our kitchen."
At the mere mentioning of the event, Gracia Hughes started laughing again. "Can you hear her Ed? She's laughing now."
"I can hear her." Ed said while chuckling himself, "I guess that was pretty comical."
"It was. The two of you are like peas in a pod; and so much alike at times it's scary."
Ed just laughed at what the man on the other end was saying, but all the while his brain was replaying all of the incidents of him and Roy doing something together over the past few months. He had no choice but to admit he did really enjoy the time they spent together. Ed remembered thinking about how much he was going to miss Roy the two weeks he was supposed to spend in Resembool.
Ed shook the thoughts out of his head and asked Maes if he or Gracia had heard from Jean.
"No, but he's supposed to be back at the first workday after tomorrow, I think."
"That's right, would you tell him I'm out on a road trip with Roy so he won't panic when someone tells him I'm not in Resembool."
"I most certainly will."
"Thanks, Maes, and you can leave out the details. I don't want to worry him. I'll just fill him in when we get back."
"Whatever you wish, Ed. You guys take care and have fun."
"We will, hug both the ladies for me."
"It'll be my pleasure. Consider it done."
When Ed hung up the phone, his mind was whirling. It had him rethinking the conversation he had on the train with Al, as well as that odd moment between him and Roy last night. He was pretty sure where Roy fit into his life a few days ago, and now his mind was mulling it all over again. His psyche didn't get too far with it before he thought, Wait, why the fuck does this keep coming up? Ever since that night we danced at Fidel's, Roy Mustang has been on my brain. Ed continued to think as he wandered into the kitchen area away from the front desk. Maybe Al's right and I do just need to get laid. One racy dance and my mind gets all… obsessed.
There was only one person left in the kitchen at that time of night, and she looked like she was closing up. When the tall, older, mostly gray-haired, woman noticed him, she smiled tiredly. "Is there anything I can help you with, sir?"
"Yeah… is it too late for me to get tea and a light snack for two."
"Not if you can deal with green tea and ramen?" she replied in a joking manner.
"Beggars can't be choosers, and to be honest, that actually sounds great to me."
"What room are you in, sweetie?"
"I'll have it right up as soon as it's done."
Ed thanked the lady and slowly made his way back to the room. When he got there, he found Roy propped up in the window seat and he appeared to be daydreaming. He didn't even acknowledge Ed walking into the room. Ed took this opportunity to study Roy's face as the pale light from the moon illuminated his features. He was not happy to note that the man seemed distant, a somewhat sad smile was occupying his face. A face Ed noted, that didn't look as old as it should be. Ed wondered if Roy had something on his mind or if it was the bad meal that was bothering him still.
The blond figured that it was only one way to find out.
"You okay over there Roy?"
Roy murmured a soft yes in reply, but never turned away from the window he was peering out of. Now unsettled, Ed's eyebrows knitted together and he walked up to Roy and told him he had some ramen and tea on the way up. Roy said thank you in reply, but continued to stare out the window.
"You sure nothing's wrong?" Ed asked as he took a seat on the surprisingly soft cushion, across from Roy.
"I'm fine Ed, honestly. I'm just thinking."
About how wonderful you are, how foolish I am, how difficult the rest of this trip is going to be now… Roy thought woefully. He finally turned away from the window and his eyes fell on Ed as he worked to undo his hair from its braid. Roy watched, transfixed as a nimble mix of flesh and metal worked the golden plait loose. "Just a lot of things Ed, mostly work related." He figured that it wouldn't be a complete lie. "You sounded as if you had something on your mind when we were leaving the park, Ed. What was it?"
"To be honest, I was sort of wondering about your parents, you don't speak of them much," Ed said as his teeth worried his bottom lip in his anxiousness, "… actually you don't speak about family at all." He finished quietly.
"My mother was Xingian, my father was Amestrian." Roy stated somewhat wistfully.
Edward didn't miss his tone or the past tense Roy used when referring to both his parents.
"Are they…? I'm sorry, Roy. I didn't know."
"It's all right. They both passed away years ago, I've dealt with it."
"It still must be hard at times. I know how it feels to lose your parents." A moment of silence enveloped them both. "Do you have any other family left?"
"My mother's brother and his wife live in Xing. I keep in frequent contact with them." Roy answered, "I was always their favorite nephew, and they still dote on me like I'm still a little kid." Roy said with a smile, and he couldn't help but think about all the things his Aunt and Uncle sent him when he first left home and joined the military. They really were wonderful to him. "Can I ask what brought this all on?"
"Anytime something drastic happens in my life or Al's and we end up at Hughes's place, it just makes me think about what we've lost. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm more than grateful for everything Maes and Gracia do for us. But I still wonder what my life would have been like if…" Ed's voice trailed off.
"I understand. I sometimes wonder myself," Roy began as he adjusted in the window seat, deciding to share a little more of himself. "My mother died in an accident when I was 15, and then my father died the following year. The doctors called it unlikely, but I think he died from a broken heart. I went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Xing afterward for a short period of time before I decided to return to Amestris and join the military."
Ed started to say something when a knock sounded at the door. He strolled across the room and opened it, only to have a tray loaded down with ramen thrust in his face. When he looked up at the woman she smiled at him and said, "I remembered you from the first day you boys were here and came in for dinner after you checked in. I figured you could put this much ramen away with no problem." She said with a playful grin, "Besides, it's nice to see young lovers at this inn again. We mostly get stodgy old salesmen and business people these days."
Ed's face turned three shades of red at the woman's assumption. "Um, thank you. Er, but we're not um...I mean…." Ed barely managed to stutter.
"Huh. Really?" she asked looking over Ed's shoulder at Roy and he nodded, "The way you two were joking and carrying on that day I would have bet anything that you were lovers or newlyweds."
It was remarkable how much blood Edward's face could hold.
"How much do we owe you, ma'am?" Roy said as walked up beside the speechless blond and reached for the tray.
"It's on the house, sweetie." She answered with a wink as she handed the tray over to Roy and disappeared down the hall.
Roy moved form the doorway to take the tray over to the small circular table that sat across from the window seat Roy had been perched in. When Ed turned around, Roy was looking at him with the strangest of expressions. Edward found that he was still unable to utter a sound and decided to just go sit down and eat.
Roy unrolled the chopsticks from their napkins, handed one set to Ed, placed the other in his bowl of ramen and took a seat himself. Ed had busied himself by pouring them each a cup of tea. Once that was done, they both sat there eating in silence. Thick, oppressive,
awkward silence. Finally, Ed could bare it no longer and blurted out what had been on his mind earlier. "There was a lot involved in getting me back on this side of the gate."
"How so?" Roy asked, thankful to have a reason to fill the silence.
"Like you already know there was no alchemy there. So every time Hoenheim and I came up with a way to get back here it called for… it called for major sacrifice."
Ed's tone caused Roy to look up from his food. His eyes met serious gold ones and a sudden chill raced through him. He wanted to know what the sacrifice entailed, but was reluctant to ask exactly what Ed had meant by that. When he did, the answer was shocking beyond his own imagination.
"The entire situation and everything I was involved in had gotten crazy. We had managed to anger a lot of people and things on that side and in an act of desperation to save me Dad slit his own wrists, by forfeiting his life, he gave the gate what it wanted in exchange for returning me here."
Roy's chopsticks clattered as they hit the table, and his wide eyes looked at Ed in disbelief. "I'd always wondered way he didn't return with you." Roy whispered.
"I figured it had crossed your mind a time or two." Ed replied as he idly poked his chopsticks around in his bowl of ramen.
"For what it's worth, Ed, I'm sorry."
Ed gave him a wistful smile and took a sip of his tea. "I guess we both have a nice list of things we keep under lock and key, oh husband of mine." Ed said as a joking tone slipped back into his voice. Ed could only take so much seriousness before he needed a breather.
As hard as he tried, Roy burst out laughing, and Ed soon joined him. Their spirits lightened, the two delved back into their cooling noodles. With the ice broken between them over another thing once hidden in each of their pasts, it became a lot easier for them to converse about what was once forbidden. They talked until the moon was high in the night sky and they were both stifling yawns. Many times Roy considered saying something to Ed about the way he felt, but he talked himself out of it each time. During that long conversation over tea, they decided to spend one more night in Grinstead. Roy didn't care either way. Time with Ed was time with Ed, after all. He knew this was going to be hard at some points, but he decided he'd make the best of the situation and have as much fun as he could.
...and so ends all of the chapters that have somewhat visually centered titles. I will start on another one of the five senses as of next chappie. Thanks for supporting me thus far through all of this (and the long breaks between update .) Feel free to tell me what you consider the strongest and the weakest points in this chapter. I am striving to improve my writing skills! I love to hear what all of you have to say e. g. what was your fav part, what you think will happen next, all of that good stuff, it feeds the bunny.
Hugs to you all
Chapter 11: Not So Distant Melodies
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All Chapter 11: Not So Distant Melodies
Morning found both alchemists wandering around the same food court they had had lunch in the day before. They had just finished a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast when they came across five men all seated together but looking rather downtrodden. Ed studied them as they drew closer to the sad looking group and finally realization hit him. It was one of the groups from the contest. Ed leaned over to Roy and whispered, "I believe that's one of the bands."
Roy nodded, but before he could say anything Ed had strolled up to the men and struck up a conversation. There was no doubt in Roy's mind that the young alchemist wanted to help them with whatever had them looking so melancholy. When Roy walked up to the table he heard something about an allergic reaction to wine, now the two singers of the group were out of commission and tonight was the final round of the contest. When he really studied the group, he noticed the two with the affliction were identical in appearance and dead silent.
"Can none of you guys sing at all?" Ed asked hopefully.
"I wish," answered the dark haired man that had been telling Ed the tale. "Murray over there," he began, as he pointed to a thin gangly fellow across from him and said man waved in response, "he does a few background vocals from time to time, but the rest of us couldn't carry a tune in a bucket."
"Oh I see," Ed replied.
"Do you think their voices will improve any at all by tonight?" Roy asked as he motioned toward the twins. With narrowed eyes, the twin with the short hair said a few words and even Roy had to admit he sounded horrible. There was indeed no way a voice like that was going to win anything tonight. Roy seriously doubted either man could even manage to sing if they tried.
"They were supposed to do a duet tonight because that's the challenge the judges picked for the finale. So even if one of them did get better we would still be screwed."
"What was in the wine?" Ed wondered aloud.
"Elderberry," the longer haired twin croaked out, "Wine is usually made with just grapes but this one had blasted elderberries in it," he finished hoarsely.
"I am so sorry fellows."
"Yeah and we are in the number one spot too. Our whole town pitched in to get the funds together to send us out here because they believed in our talent. Now there's no way we can get the third place rank we need to hang onto our lead and win this thing."
Roy's heart was really going out to the young men gathered at the table. He could only imagine how bad they must feel having come so far only to have it all come to a crashing halt over some berries. When he looked over at Ed the blond was rubbing his chin and thinking so hard Roy's head hurt. A devilish look crossed Ed's face before he excused them from the band and pulled Roy quite a few feet away. Roy didn't know what Ed had in mind but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to like it.
"I think we can help them Roy."
"How?" Roy asked confused, "You know some medicinal alchemy?"
"Nooooo." Ed replied as he drug out the word and began rocking back and forth on his heels trying his best to look innocent and doing a damn good job of it in Roy's opinion.
"What do you have up your sleeve Edo?"
"We could sing the duet for them!" Ed answered in an excited whisper.
"We who?" Roy asked fearfully.
"Me and You of course."
Roy backed away from Ed and began adamantly shaking his head no, "No dice, Edo. There's no way in hell I'm doing that. What makes you think I can sing anyway?"
"Remember you told Al you were in the choir with Maes."
Roy shot Ed a disapproving look.
"And besides that you sing in the shower, and at times when you're doing crap around your house. Face it Roy I know you can sing."
"Singing in the shower is one thing, doing it to win a contest is another, Ed"
Golden eyes looked at Roy pleadingly, "I know but I really think we could fill in well enough to get them the third place they need to win."
"Ed…" Roy growled out.
"Oh come on it's worth a shot, besides it would be ill of us not to at least try."
Those beseeching golden eyes melted right through what little resistance Roy had when it came to Ed; and the General heard his own exasperated sounding voice say, "Fine Ed, we'll give it a shot if the contest officials will allow it."
Ed's face lit up and he dashed back over to the group to run the idea past them. A few moments later, the dark haired fellow whom they found out was the drummer of the group named Josh and one of the twins sped off to track down the proper authorities. The rest of them went to where the band rehearses so Roy and Ed could begin to learn the song for the big performance.
Hours passed and both men were having a grand time with the members of Jade they were trying to help out. Roy was a bit reluctant at first but once he got comfortable behind the microphone, he was like a fish in water. The twin that had left with the drummer Josh had returned to say the judges said the substitution would be allowed as long as both the twins still did something during the performance. That was not a problem for Josh since he played bass guitar but his brother Noah was strictly the bands lead singer.
They were all distraught for a moment until Ed piped in and asked Noah if he played anything like the maracas or tambourine …something anything would do. His brother answered for him and croaked out, "He's plays the harmonica."
"Great!" Ed shouted as he grabbed some blank sheet music. He asked the band to play the song a few times and as they did so, he went to work writing in several parts for the harmonica. Once that was done they all put their efforts in trying to get it to sound good before the final show at eight.
Around six the pianist, Sherwin, stopped cold and said, "What about outfits for Ed and Roy? We are all dressed alike and it'll look strange for them to be wearing shorts and t-shirts."
Roy really hated to admit it, especially since they were all wearing dark green leather, but Sherwin had a point. Presentation was part of the package when you were trying to win something like this and the odds were already not in their favor. They needed no more obstacles in their way.
"Well," Ed began as he stood and paced the room, "if you guys can find us the material we can make the outfits."
"Two outfits in an hour and a half!" Mica, the other guitarist shouted, "How?"
"Alchemy," Ed stated, "We're no experts, but between the two of us I am sure we could manage."
Roy had no idea how in the hell Ed managed to say that and keep a straight face. Ed just winked in Roy's direction as three of the band members went in search of some material. They returned twenty minutes later with one of the guy's spare outfits and an arm load of green vests, "We seldom wear the vests," Noah squeaked out, "So I figured they would be the perfect things to use."
After depositing the clothing on the floor, Ed asked if anyone had any chalk. He was surprised when Roy produced a stick from his pocket. When he handed the stick to a stunned looking Ed he said, "You never know what might come up," Ed grinned at him and proceeded to draw two basic circles on the floor; as he did so Roy wondered how those circles were going to produce the outfits they needed. Ed looked up at him and motioned for him to get on the other side of the arrays. Roy complied and when he got down on his hands and knees Ed gave him a sly wink, smacked his hands together, and rubbed them as if he were revving himself up for the transmutation but Roy knew better. All this circle drawing was just a way for Ed to keep his cover. Not everyone knew what the legendary Fullmetal Alchemist looked like, but for him to transmute without a circle would be a dead giveaway even to the nearly oblivious. All of Ed's posturing was also just a way for him to cover the clap of hands he needed, or preferred, to get things rolling. Roy also realized his presence on the other side of the circles was just another part of Ed's elaborate ruse as well.
When Ed nodded at Roy, they placed their hands around the circles in unison and after a short flare of energy the pile of vests and spare outfit were no more. In their place laid two outfits identical to the ones the band wore.
A loud whistle rang out and when the alchemists looked up, the band members were staring in awe, "Nice job guys! That beat a trip to the tailors any day," Murray said as he popped a stick of gum in his mouth. Everyone was mumbling in agreement as Ed and Roy picked up the clothing out of the circles.
With the excitement over, everyone decided to go over the song a few more times before they all left to change and head down to the park. Back in suite five, of Lou's Inn two men swiftly showered before trying to work their way into some rather snug leather pants. After the pants were on, each of them slipped on a dark golden colored tank top and finished by pulling a green, button-less leather jacket over that. Roy hadn't realized how close the tank tops were in color to Ed's hair until the younger Alchemist had it on.
Ed started to fuss with pulling his hair back when Roy said, "Leave it down."
"You heard me. I'm voting for you to leave it down."
Ed rolled his eyes and shook his head at Roy but made no more motions to pull his hair back. Roy noted that even after all these years Ed still had unruly bangs but it was something that made Ed…well Ed. With the outfit he had on, his long golden mane looked good down. The younger man really looked like he belonged on a stage. Roy on the other hand felt like he looked like a complete idiot; but he knew he'd come too far to back out now, "I still can't believe I let you talk me into this, Edo."
"Well believe it Roy, because we will be at the park and out on that stage in less than an hour."
Roy sighed and stepped in front of the mirror. Once he got a good look at himself, he decided that he really didn't look as bad as he thought. From behind him, he heard a soft whistle and when he looked at Ed's reflection in the mirror the blond seemed to be looking down at something.
"Is something the matter Edward?" Roy asked as he cocked an eyebrow at the man's reflection. Ed didn't respond right away instead he kept his eyes trained somewhat down and began rubbing his chin.
"You know you should wear leather more often, it really does wonders for your, uh… physique," He said with a smirk.
Roy could feel the heat rise in his face as he realized Ed had been standing behind him staring at his butt. When he turned to face him Ed was already laughing and moving toward the door, "Come on we'd better get going before we're late."
When they arrived at the park, the place was crawling with spectators, press, radio announcers, and journalists. Backstage the rest of the band was already there tuning their instruments. Shortly after their arrival, the same host from the previous night announced the bands and things got underway. They were slated to be the fifth band up and when the fourth band took the stage they all started to get a bit nervous.
When the host called their name, all of them threw their shoulders back and marched on stage with their heads held high, despite the butterflies in their stomachs. Each one of the alchemists grabbed a microphone and took up center stage. The song had a very short intro before it launched into Roy's part.
Say Say Say
What you want
But don't play games
With my affection
Take take take
What you need
But don't leave me
With no direction
As Roy sang, Ed stared prancing around stage and soon Roy took the hint and started doing the same. When Ed's turn came up the blond faced the audience and he put every bit of charisma he had into his part.
I sit home by the phone
Waiting for you, baby
Through the years
How can you stand to hear
My pleading for you
You know I'm cryin
Oo oo oo oo oo
…and the audience loved it. Back and forth, the two went singing the duet getting into the whole performance more and more with every note.
Now) Go go go
Where you want
But don't leave me
You you you stay away
So long girl, I see you never
Before long, the two alchemists were back-to-back singing their hearts out.
What can I do, girl
To get through to you
Cause I love you baby
Baptized in all my tears
Baby through the years
You know I'm cryin
Oo oo oo oo oo
The crowd was going crazy. Noah's harmonica part was blending in perfectly with the tune, and the band never missed a note.
You you you
Can never say
That Im not the one
Who really loves you
I pray pray pray, everyday
That you'll see things
Like I do
Roy would be slow to admit it later, but he was really enjoying himself up on stage. He felt alive with the energy of the crowd and he loved it.
What can I do,
To get through to you
Cause I love you baby
Baptized in all my tears
Baby through the years
You know Im crying
Oo oo oo oo oo
Meanwhile back in Central Maes is listening to the radio as he tried to complete his ship in the bottle project. He hadn't been paying too much attention to what was on until a familiar voice wafted out the little brown speaker box on his craft table.
"Gracia come here! Come quickly, you're never going to believe this but Roy's singing on the radio!"
Thinking her husband out of his mind and imagining things, Gracia Hughes had a retort on the tip of her tongue as she entered the room until she too recognized the voice. Sure, it was possible they could both be mistaken but even she didn't think so. She had heard Roy sing so often at military functions and gatherings when she first met Maes that she was certain that was his voice. It had been a while since she'd heard it, but she was still certain nonetheless. Gracia was about to ask a question when another unmistakable voice came through. By this time Maes was all but in knots with laughter, "I would bet the farm the other voice belongs to Ed love."
All Gracia could do was stare wide eyed. She was dumbfounded. She couldn't wrap her mind around how the two of them ended up on the radio.
Once the contest wound down and it came time to announce the winners, Ed, Roy and the members of Jade were on pins and needles. They just needed to place third in order for Jade to hold on to their lead in points and take home the grand prize; the prize being a sizeable amount of cens, an interview and cover shot with some big time magazine and a recording deal. The host walked back on the stage and thanked all of the competing bands and told them that regardless of the outcome they were all winners for making it this far. After his speech, a bouncy blonde woman came out on stage and gave him a sealed envelope. He opened it and after his eyes scanned the enclosed paper for a few moments before he stared announcing the bands that placed starting from third.
There were only five bands left at this point and when the third place name came out of the hosts lips it wasn't Jade.
Second place for the night was announced and that wasn't Jade either.
At this point, all of them were pretty sure they could hang it up. Ed had started giving his, I'm sorry we didn't help as much as we thought, speech when the host screamed, "…and the winner of tonight's round, as well as the contest, is none other than JADE!"
The band was so awestruck Roy had to shove them to get them moving toward the stage to get their hard earned and well-deserved prize. When they took the stage, the crowd leapt to their feet and cheered so hard nothing else could be heard. Once they were presented with their trophy, award and cens Murray took the microphone and gave a little speech of his own. He thanked everyone from their entire hometown, the audience, and the judges then last, but not least, he thanked the groups' impromptu singers for the duet and waved Ed and Roy up on stage.
By this point in time, the crowd was yelling encore and the host said, "You heard your fans fella's. What are you waiting on?"
The band members looked at Ed who in turn looked at Roy. When he shrugged his shoulders and said, "What the hell," they all took up their places and gave the audience what they were screaming for.
Ed had never pictured Roy to be as comfortable center stage as he appeared to be at that moment. Ed himself had never performed in front of a crowd so large. Sure, he was on stage at Fidel's on a regular basis but that was just a small pub in the middle of an even smaller town. This was an entire park in a major city jammed full of people. It was exciting as well as nerve wracking, but in a good way. From the moment, they set foot on stage Ed could feel his blood rushing through his veins. His heart was pounding in his ears and his adrenaline was pumping like no tomorrow…it was a rush and he loved every minute of it.
There was a nice sized celebration after the concert so by the time Ed and Roy got back to their room they were beat. They had had a great time but they were exhausted and they had to leave tomorrow morning headed toward B'Lina.
Bright and early Wednesday morning found first Lt. Heymans Breda walking into the office in Central with his usual load of newspapers from the surrounding cities in hand. Being the strategist that he is his superiors thought it money well spent to keep the officer informed with what was going on around him. Shortly after he took a seat behind his desk, Havoc strolled into the office, coffee in hand.
"Welcome back. How was the trip to your mothers?"
"Was nice, and as per usual she was excited to see her family's only war hero."
Breda chuckled and shook his head. Jean's mother always did dote on her eldest son, "Have you heard from the Boss?"
"Not directly but I did get a call from Hughes this morning saying that he had come back from Resembool prematurely and was now on a road trip with the Chief," Jean responded with a furrowed brow. He didn't get to explore that thought further because the rest of their office mates began filing in.
"Wonder what happened to bring him back so soon?"
"Who's back so soon from where?" Fuery asked with squinted eyes as he cleaned his glasses before placing them back on his face.
"The Boss," Breda responded.
"Not sure, but from the tone of Hughes voice I take it something went wrong," Jean said in response to Breda's earlier question.
"Damn, I hate to hear that," Breda said as he opened one of the many papers on his desk, "The Boss seemed so excited about his trip home."
"I know and now to be stuck with chief stick in the mud I'm worried he's not having such a great time. I wonder what kind of business they had to handle that required a road trip?"
"Hey the Chief's not that bad," Fuery cut in, "besides maybe it's not a business trip at all, the Lt. Colonel is still officially on vacation."
"True but the Chief isn't," Jean said with a triumphant smile. He didn't want to entertain the thought of his Ed on a leisure trip with Roy.
"He was as of Monday," Riza replied never bothering to look up from her paperwork.
"Oh," Jean said as he sifted through his inbox, brows knitting together once again, "Well I hope Roy doesn't bore him to death."
"Uh…I don't think you'll have to worry about that. I think they're both having a grand time," Breda said causing all of the occupants of the office to look over at him in wonder.
"What makes you say that?" Falman asked, thereby voicing the question they all had in mind.
Breda didn't answer he simply held up page four of the East Grinstead Times for everyone to see. Gasps rang through the office as all eyes fell upon a rather large picture of Ed and Roy back-to-back with microphones in hand, while on what appeared to be a stage with several other men no one recognized. The title above the photo read, Jade Wins the Second Annual Music Contest. Below the large picture of the two alchemists were several other photos as well as a column detailing the event.
Riza found herself blinking in shock. She had wished the two of them well once Maes had told her of his plans to get them on the road together; but even in the best of the scenarios playing through her mind she would have never seen this coming. A soft smile settled on her face as her eyes took in the looks on their faces in the photo. There was no doubt in her mind that the two were having some well-deserved fun. Especially after what Maes had told her about Ed's unfortunate time in Resembool. Happy with the turn of events she went back to work.
Fuery on the other hand had made his way over to Breda's desk wanting to read the article as soon as the larger man was done with it. Once the strategist handed to him, large dark eyes scanned the article greedily. When he was finished, he sought to hand the paper to Jean, assuming he wanted to read it as well. When the blond officer declined, Kain shrugged his shoulders and handed the paper back to Heymans.
Breda had watched the whole exchange and found his mind a bit unsettled by the look on Jean's face as well as his actions. Filing it away with everything else the strategist observes, he went back to reading his papers.
Wednesday morning in East Grinstead was filled with laughter as Ed and Roy packed their things before they checked out. Ed was in the midst of doing his best impression of the band members faces after the host announced them as winners, when a knock sounded at the door. Roy tried to stifle his laughter as he made his way to answer it. When he opened the door, an older man stood there holding a large basket filled with fruit, cheese and wine. Stunned Roy could think of nothing else to say other than, "Can I help you?"
The man smiled broadly, as he introduced himself as Lou, the inn's owner, and handed Roy the basket, "The redheaded young man that paid your inn tab early this morning dropped had this with him and asked me to deliver it to you once I thought you were up."
"Uh…thanks," Roy said still somewhat confused.
"Not a problem," Lou said as he turned to leave, "I hope you boys consider staying here next time you're in town."
Once the man disappeared down the hall, Roy shut the door and sat the basket on the table.
"Did I hear him right when he said someone paid our tab?" Ed asked as he eyed the large basket of food.
"You did indeed," Roy replied as he plucked the card out of the basket, opened it, and read it aloud.
Ed and Roy
We know what little we've done could never repay you both for what your kindness and generosity has given us, but please accept it anyway.
Thanks again and if you ever find your way to the outskirts of New Optain please look us up.
"Wow," Ed said as he looked into the stunned face of Roy.
"I know how you feel Ed. This was very thoughtful of them."
"I'll say, well let's not have their generosity go to waste," Ed chimed as he plucked a wedge of cheese out of the basket, "Oh cool, Pepper Jack, my favorite!"
"I didn't know you liked spicy foods Ed," Roy mused as he lifted an apple out of the basket.
"Yeah I do to an extent; this cheese has to be on the top of my list of favorites though."
The pair finished off their snacks and left Lou's Inn headed for B'Lina. The trip was a long one and once they finally reached their destination, they were ready to get out and stretch their road weary legs. Ed was behind the wheel at this point and pulled into a rather busy looking fuel station and shopping mart. When they got out of the roadster, Roy asked the younger man if he had any idea how to find Levi. Ed shook his head no and said his only plan had been to ask around. Roy shrugged at this thinking that it wouldn't be too hard to find a person in a town this size. Chances were everyone knew everyone else in the tiny town of B'Lina.
Ed made his way around to the fuel pump and began gassing up the car, seeing this Roy offered to go in and inquire about a place to stay and get some drinks. As Roy stood in line behind a rather brightly dressed woman that was talking the cashiers head off and a man waiting rather impatiently behind her, a voice behind him asked, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Roy turned around and found himself face to face with the man him and Ed were looking for. Roy grinned at the ponderous look on the man's face and said, "Just the man we're looking for."
"I am?" Levi asked with confusion written all over his face as he continued to search his memory banks for where he had seen the man standing in front of him. Just as Roy was about to introduce himself, Levi shouted, "Ah-ha, I remember now. You're one of the officers that helped me out when I broke down in Central!"
Roy nodded as he moved up in line as the talkative lady had finally closed her conversation with the cashier, "Indeed I am," he responded to Levi's revelation.
"Roy was it?"
"I might not be as young as I use to be, but given a little time I find most things are still in here," he said jokingly as he tapped his temple.
The previously impatient man in front of the dark haired alchemist paid for his bread and lunchmeat and moved on. Now Roy's turn at the counter he looks out the window to see Ed holding up two fingers indicating what their fuel cost was. He told the rather bored looking cashier this as he sat the two drinks down on the counter. He rang up Roy's items and gas then without so much as a nod he motioned Roy out of the way and began to ring up Levi's items. Once both men had paid they walked out of the busy store towards the car.
"Look who I found Edo."
"LEVI!" Ed all but shouted as if he had found a long lost friend, "What a coincidence, you're just who we're looking for."
"So I hear," Levi, replied as he smiled at Ed, "What brings you boy's out here to the sleepy town of B'Lina?"
"We're on a road trip of sorts and figured we would stop in and see how you are faring," Ed answered as he shut this gas tank of the car.
The two men made small talk with Levi for a while before closing their conversation and offering him a ride home.
Along the way, they asked him where the closest inn or lodge was. Levi knew of a few places right off the top of his head but he then said if they were looking for a room, they were more than welcome to stay with him. They tried to refuse saying they didn't want to impose on the man especially with no notice, but Levi insisted. He said he lived by himself in decent sized farmhouse on the edge of town. It was soon decided that the two alchemists' would stay with him. They made a stop at a local market for provisions before following Levi's directions to his home to settle in for a couple of days.
The stay at Levi's was interesting for the two alchemists to say the least. Ed had insisted on doing most of the cooking as a way to exercise what he had learned from Gracia. This left Roy to do the odds and ends…like milking Cleo, Levi's cow. Now Roy didn't consider himself a city boy by any means but he wasn't necessarily comfortable enough with nature to be milking cows either. However, pride and ego can bring even the greatest of us to our knees, so when faced with the task Roy strode off without seeking any advice. As he strolled through the field with bucket in hand he thought, how hard could it be?
When he approached the innocent looking creature, his confidence grew. Cleo stood there chewing leisurely on some grass as Roy got down on one knee and placed the bucket beneath her udders. Cleo never missed a beat chewing so Roy simply grabbed an udder and pulled.
Before he could react, the once docile animal jerked to the side and kicked out with her hind leg. The next thing Roy knew he was flat on his back staring up at a pale blue sky.
Despite the lesson, this should have taught him, Roy remained undaunted. He sat up, dusted himself off and got to his feet. He walked back up to the bovine to try again. When he did the cow didn't so much as spare him a backwards glance, before she lunged forward pulling Roy off balance resulting in him landing face first in the field.
Roy grumbled to himself as he got up on all fours spitting out grass. When he stood this time, he glared at the cow as he rubbed his chin. He needed to figure out what he was doing wrong. After a few moments of contemplation, an idea hit him and he approached the cow again. This time he petted the creature and spoke soothing words to her as he reached for an udder for what would be the third and final time whether he got the milk or not. This seemed to do the trick, as Cleo held still and in a few minutes Roy had the milk Levi requested.
Roy was all but strutting as he made his way back to the farmhouse shoulders squared in triumph. He was whistling a happy tune and swinging the bucket holding his liquid prize. When he walked back into the kitchen, the other two men froze in mid conversation.
"What in the hell happened to you?" Ed asked sounding shocked.
"From the looks of things he had issues with Cleo," Levi said, as he looked Roy up and down, "have you ever milked a cow before today?"
Despite his best efforts not to, Roy flushed furiously. That was answer enough.
Seeing Roy that embarrassed had Ed hiding a snicker behind a fake clearing of his throat as he suggested Roy clean up before he sat down to eat. Roy wasted no time getting out of the kitchen and down the hall to the closest bathroom. Once inside the small wash room one look in the mirror told him why they were so shocked at his appearance.
Roy had a mud streak running the length of his forehead, his nose was beet red, his hair was full of grass, and his shirt was dirty as well as crumpled. With a sigh, he opted to leave the room in search of new clothes. At his current level of disarray, he figured it would be best if he just took a shower.
When a clean and changed Roy came out of the shower Ed was putting something in a serving dish and Levi was setting the table. It smelled heavenly and if the smile on Ed's face was anything to go by the blond was pleased with how his cooking endeavor had turned out. Roy tried to help Levi with the setting of the table but the older man refused his assistance by saying, "You have done your duty my good man, and judging from the way you looked when you came in you put forth more effort than either of us."
Roy could feel the heat flooding to his face and Ed's cackling in the background did not help at all.
During the three days Ed and Roy spent at Levi's they slept until naturally waking, both men spent many hours reading , talking, touring around the town and taking walks around the farm as Levi told them stories of his youth and travels. When it came time to head out toward Hayden neither man was ready to leave the peace and serenity they had found in Levi's little farmhouse on the outskirts of B'Lina.
Regardless they said their heartfelt goodbyes, promised to visit again and headed for their final stop before returning to Central.
That's all folks. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoyed it. Have a happy holiday! ^_^
Chapter 12: Slightly Out of Tune
Underneath It All Chapter 12: Slightly Out of Tune
A/N: I would like to thank all of you for your patience and reviews as you waited for me to update this fic. I will eventually get around to replaying to everyone but life is hectic and it was something of a miracle I got the update done. So with my sincere thanks and without further ado ON WITH THE FIC!
They took the scenic route to Hayden. Country roads, large estates and some prime acres of land dotted the path as they drew closer to their destination. They had been on the road for the better part of the day and Roy was behind the wheel. Ed was sitting across from him humming and unfamiliar tune off and on as he wrote in a notebook Roy had often seen him with over the course of their trip.
Roy didn't consider himself a nosy individual, but he really wanted to know what had the young alchemist so focused. In his peripheral vision, he could see the blond writing furiously for a moment before erasing only to write again. Then he would hum for a moment before pencil once again met paper. Unable to stand it any longer Roy's calls his companions name.
"What is it Roy?"
"What are you working on so hard over there?"
"Three things actually, in one of the sections in this book I am working on a petition to the City of Central about their need to address the space and money shortage at the orphanage. In another section I am working on flushing out this piece of shit, no name alchemist that's been claiming some of dad's research as his own..."
"And the other thing?"
"…uh well I'm trying to write a song for Jean. I would like to sing it to him at the surprise party," Ed replied softly as a faint blush tinted the alchemist's cheeks.
Roy smiled sadly, as he focused intently on the road ahead of them. He would have never thought he would find himself jealous of Jean Havoc; but there he was trying not to envision the look on the blonds' face as Jean thanked him for such a thoughtful gift. Gloved hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as their owner tried not to think about such things too hard. A change of subject to reroute his train of thought was in order.
"What's going on with the orphanage?"
"The bastards running the city won't fix or expand the small building all of the kids are crowded in. Some of the rooms are the size of the rooms at the barracks and there are three sometimes four kids in a room that size!" Ed all but shouted as he flailed his arms about in the car. His notebook tumbled off his lap as his tirade went on, "Al and I even volunteered to do the work if they would get the supplies."
"Even with that offer they still wouldn't budge?" Roy asked rather shocked at what Ed was implying. He found it hard to believe the city officials were that tight.
"You've met Ashley and Lena right?"
"Yes," Roy replied wondering what they had to do with their current conversation.
"You surely noticed Ashley's dark complexion and Lena's reddish eyes."
After that statement it didn't take Roy long to figure out what the true issue was. Roy gathered that the majority of the children there are Ishvalans or at least part Ishvalan. Roy hated to think that the persons in charge of this sort of thing would be racist to the point of depriving mere children of an adequate place to grow and thrive.
"Surely they must have other reasons Edo."
"Yeah they do and those reasons come in the form of disgruntled civilians that don't want their tax cens wasted on keeping up some other countries garbage!"
"Edward!" Roy shouted as his head whipped over to look at his traveling companion.
"Not my words Roy, that came directly out of the mouth of some asshole at the last city board meeting. There are precious few of us in opposition of the cities refusal to do anything to improve the kids living situation," Ed finished in an exasperated tone as he fished around in the floorboard for his notebook. Once he sat up, he folded his arms across his chest and glared out the passenger side window.
Roy hated to see Ed's carefree tone and demeanor slip away over the current subject matter. As much as he loathed doing so, he decided to ask Ed about the song he was writing… the things people do for love.
His companion didn't answer instead he began flipping through the pages of his notebook. Roy sent a sidelong glance at Ed and when the younger man remained silent, Roy reiterated his question.
"It's going well. At least I think it is."
"Well why don't you read some of it to me and allow me to be opinionated."
"As long as you promise not to laugh too hard, old man."
"I promise," Roy replied as he prepared himself to hear what he thought would be an original twist on the usual happy birthday song, or maybe even something along the lines of what Ed sang at Fidels. These assumptions left the dark haired alchemist woefully unprepared for what he actually heard.
Ed cleared his throat a couple of times before he began humming a hauntingly lovely tune which was followed moments later by Ed's painstakingly written lyrics:
I'll be your dream, I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope, I'll be your love be everything that you need.
I love you more with every breath truly madly deeply do…
I will be strong I will be faithful 'cos I'm counting on A new beginning.
A reason for living, A deeper meaning… hmmm ….hmmm
Roy was floored. The song in and of itself was starting out beautifully but it was speaking of love…the big L word. When had this happened? Had Roy been so blind that he missed something of this magnitude? He didn't want to think too highly of himself but he really thought he knew Ed well enough to say that he wouldn't write something like this as a gift if the sentiment wasn't truly behind his words.
Roy was speechless, which was a shame, because Ed took this as dislike for his song writing efforts. A heavy sigh from his right caused Roy to look over. Ed's head was bowed and he was absently rubbing a page in his much used notebook with the thumb on his automail hand.
"That bad huh?" he asked and his voice sounded thick and uncertain.
Upon hearing that Roy felt like an ass, he hadn't thought about Ed taking his silence as a sign of not liking his song.
"No, no that's not it at all Edo. I was just a little thrown by the weight of the lyrics. What you sang was absolutely beautiful."
Ed lifted his head but the smile on his face was weak.
"You can be honest Roy. If it sucks, now would be the time to tell me so I can start working on something else."
"No, I was being honest Edo. I…I just hadn't realized that things between you and Havoc had gotten so…so…"
"So serious you mean? Yeah they kind of have…or at the very least they could be. A few weeks ago when I stayed at his place for the weekend we got into a discussion about where we stood with each other."
A smile splits the eldest Elric's face and at the same time Roy Mustang's heart starts sinking at an ungodly rate. Stayed the weekend! Why was this, the first he'd heard of this? He didn't know a lot of things for certain at this point in his life but he did know he didn't like the sound of that one damn bit.
"Well while we were talking he told me how much he enjoys everything about me, my presence, my sense of humor, my laughter…everything. He said at this point in his life he didn't really see himself with anyone else, and well he then said that he could easily fall in love with me."
Heart now firmly resting in the pit of his stomach with his hands sweating inside his driving gloves, Roy Mustang was having a serious conversation with himself. How did I let this happen right under my nose? Why didn't I see some change, some sign? Those times I would call late and Al would say he was out, why didn't I realize he'd been staying at Jean's? Roy could feel the contortion on his face but lacked the ability or the will to do anything about it.
"Don't look so damn shocked. I haven't mentioned this to anyone…not even Al. I've had a lot on my mind and I didn't want to make any rash decisions."
"What do you mean by, you didn't want to make any rash decisions?"
"I know it's a small word but the meaning behind it, is colossal. When I just sat there in front of him with my mouth agape he told he didn't expect me to say anything in return he just wanted me to know how he felt."
"Do you know how you feel," Roy asked before he thought better of it. Shaking his head, Roy quickly says, "Never mind Ed, I'm sorry I shouldn't have asked that, it's none of my business."
"Don't sweat it Roy, you wouldn't be a good friend if you weren't nosy sometimes," Ed answered with a sly grin.
Outwardly, Roy was smiling but on the inside, he was in complete turmoil. He knew there was a damn good chance the young alchemist at least thought he was in love with the lieutenant. The lyric's of the song Ed is writing all but screams that.
"As you well know I don't have much experience to draw from, but I can honestly say I can't recall ever feeling this strongly toward anyone."
Roy's hands once again tighten on the wheel.
"I miss him when he's not with me. I think about him at random times and for no apparent reason," Ed said as his tone grew wistful, "The way he looks at me gives me that whole butterflies in the stomach feeling; but I truly don't know if all this adds up to love. It sure feels like more than a crush."
"Sounds like it," Roy answered despite the dryness of his throat.
"Does it?" Ed asked with wide questioning eyes Roy couldn't see because he was focused on the road. He then turns to look at the man driving and asks, "Have you ever been in love, Roy?"
If he had been having this conversation over the phone Roy would be beating his head on the closest hard surface he could find; but as it stands that would be horribly undignified and raise a ton of new questions he didn't want to answer. The one facing him already was more than enough.
"I'm sorry Roy," Ed said sounding remorseful, "I guess it's my turn to be a bit inquisitive, don't feel like you have to answer that."
"Huh, why'd you say that?" Roy asked curious of Ed sudden change in demeanor and tone of voice.
"Your expression," Ed began, "it looked so pained, I thought I might have brought up some unpleasant memories or something."
Roy wanted nothing more than to disappear. He couldn't believe it was that obvious. He didn't want to worry Ed, but he didn't have an answer he felt he could give him either. Maybe I can answer…just vaguely, Roy thought. Determined to say something and not give in to the feeling of melancholy that threatened to consume his soul, the General clears his throat and says, "Love for me is looking at that person, seeing a smile on their face and knowing you put it there, makes the world right as rain. Love is when their well-being supersedes your own feeling, the law, duty… whatever may be in the way. Love is knowing that as long as they are there beside you nothing else matters."
Roy glances over to see Ed has fallen back in his seat with an awestruck look on his face. The blond is staring out the windshield and looks lost in thought.
"Uh, you ok over there Edo?"
"Yeah I'm fine, just sitting here thinking."
"Well for one if that's love I am apparently still in the falling stages," he said with a chuckle.
"Whoever it is you're in love with, is or was lucky. That was deep."
For someone that had so much they needed to say Roy found it easy to remain silent. The comment hung in the air between them holding both their tongues until they reached Hayden.
The city of Hayden was much more alive than B'Lina and they had no problem finding a lodge. When Roy strolled up to the receptionist and asked for two rooms Ed was surprised but said nothing. He had gotten somewhat use to them bunking together on this trip and was enjoying the "sleepover" type atmosphere and camaraderie it had created between them. It was obvious to Ed that something he'd said during their last conversation in the car had upset Roy, because the man had yet to utter a word.
Thinking he needed to apologize, Ed set his mind to coming up with a way to do so without making things more tense or the situation worse. When the lady at the desk walked away to get the keys Ed was further disheartened when Roy didn't bother to turn around and make small talk with him, instead the older man stood there with his elbows on the counter staring at nothing. Saying nothing.
Mad at himself for upsetting Roy, Ed held his tongue and all the questions on it, as they waited for their keys. When the smiling lady returned she gave both keys to Roy saying that rooms 318 and 320 were side by side, on the third floor and to the right. Roy gave the lady a solemn thank you that made Ed cringe inwardly and shoved one key in his pocket. When Roy turned around, he refused to meet Ed's eyes, held the other key out to the blond and as soon as Ed took it, Roy headed for the staircase.
Ed stood in the lobby speechless, as he watched Roy ascend the stairs. His automail hand curled around his key and his teeth worried his bottom lip. With a grim face, he stooped to pick up his bag and when he did, he felt a hand on his shoulder, "It can't be that bad."
Ed's head whipped around and he came face to face with vibrant green eyes.
"Preston!" Ed exclaimed partially from shock and partially from relief. A friendly face was definitely a welcome sight.
Ed's shout of the print shop owners name reached Roy's ears just as he stepped on the second floor platform. He turned in time to see the other man pull Ed into a hug. Dark blue eyes narrowed at the pair. He could tell they were talking but he couldn't make out their words. He could see Ed's slack posture and glum face and Preston seemed to be asking him questions because every so often, Ed would shake his head or shrug his shoulders.
When Preston looked up at Roy, motioning a thumb in his direction, the flame alchemist adjusted his bag on his shoulder, turned and continued to climb the stairs.
"What's up with him?" Preston asked as he glanced up the stairs.
"Not exactly sure, but I think it's my fault."
"Wow, care to tell me your woes over dinner and coffee?" Preston asked.
"Make that coffee, wine and you might have a deal," Ed replied.
"I aim to please," Preston said as he gave an exaggerated bow.
Ed laughed and almost followed the man out of the lodge. However, one flash of Roy's somber face across his mind stops him dead in his tracks. With a sigh Ed asks, "Is that invitation open for two? Regardless of his mood I know he has to be hungry and I wouldn't feel right just ditching him."
Preston gave him a screwy look.
Ed glared at him and said, "Besides I told you it's my fault anyway."
"I'm having a hard time believing that Blondie, but whatever you say."
Ed arched an eyebrow at the nickname and told Preston to have a seat in the lobby while he took his bags to his room and talked to Roy. Ed was hoping the promise of a decent meal would lighten the man's mood a little.
When Ed reached his room, he tossed his bag inside, flopped down on the bed and tried to come up with something to say to Roy. He knew he was to blame for Roy's mood but he had no idea exactly what it was he had said or done to cause his friend to act this way. He sat there on the edge of his bed, staring at nothing, for quite a while before he came up with a plan.
Words in mind, he rose from his seated positioned, walked out of his room, into the hall and over to Roy's door. He knocked on the door but received no answer. Turning the knob, he was shocked to find it locked. He waited for a few moments before knocking again, only a bit louder. Foot tapping in nervousness and impatience Ed stood there staring at the numerals 320.
When Roy didn't answer from the second knock, without thinking, Ed lifted his right hand and knocked again…and even he cringed at how loud it was.
Seconds later the door swung open. Ed opened his mouth to apologize only to have the action cut off by Roy's irritated voice, "I was in the bathroom Fullmetal. What is so urgent?"
The use of his title instantly crawled under the young man's skin and he forgot the words he'd so painstakingly put together. So instead of apologizing he just stood there staring into angry eyes. Mouth agape and a little pissed at Roy's reaction Ed was glad for the distraction when it came in the form of a low whistle and the word, "Sweet!"
Both men turned to see Preston standing just down the hall from them with a broad smile on his face, "I knew you were in the military Blondie but you never even gave me the slightest hint you where the Fullmetal Alchemist!"
Ed glared at Roy and at least the man had the decency to look remorseful. Ed had never intended on telling his long distance, green-eyed friend exactly who he was. Ignoring Preston for the moment, through clenched teeth, Ed said, "I knocked with my right hand before I thought about it." When the man continued to look sheepish Ed sighed and asked, "You hungry?"
Lowering his eyes, Roy shook his head no.
"You sure?" Ed questioned with a sigh, feeling somewhat guilty for barking at the man a moment ago.
"Go have fun with your friend, Edo. I'll be fine."
Ed looked at Roy skeptically and after another nod from him, he turned and walked toward Preston. Sea green eyes sought Roy's and held them in contemplation for longer than the General felt comfortable with, before the man they belonged to turns to follow Ed down the hall.
Roy closes the door and when it clicks he allows the pent up emotions from the car ride to wash over him. As he stands behind the door with his head pressed on the cool wooden surface he thought, maybe more time with Ed wasn't such a grand idea. This and many other things were weighing on his mind as he trudged away from the door and plopped down on the corner of his bed.
Head in his hands he keeps thinking about the look on Ed's face as he gave him the key as well as when he berated him for pounding on the door. I won't fault him if he doesn't forgive me for that last one, Roy mused as he began unpacking his bag, I should have known it was his automail hand hitting the door. How could I have been so foolish? He's self conscious enough without me making it worse. With this last thought, Roy flung his bag off the bed and it hit the chair that sat at the small desk in the room hard enough to tip it over. The chair crashed to the floor but Roy couldn't bring himself to care. As it stood, he wanted to set the damned thing on fire.
A warm, late summer breeze whips around the two men, as they made their way through the busy streets of Hayden. One man was all aglow and talking animatedly while the other, shorter man walked along almost solemnly with his hands shoved in his pockets and his head held low.
"I can't believe I am friends with a living legend!" Preston declared as he threw his arms out wide in wonder.
Ed didn't respond he had too much on his mind to take joy in Preston's wonderment. The print shop owner noticed Ed's lack of enthusiasm and sighed before saying, "Would you please smile?"
"Sorry," Ed replied as the corners of his mouth turned up weakly.
"What the hell happened between you two? The both of you looked like death warmed over standing in the lobby of that lodge."
Ed's eyebrows knit together before he responds with, "I'm not exactly sure."
"Then why do you think it's your fault?"
"Because we were talking in the car and after I made a statement he hasn't spoken since."
"Wow…mind if I ask what you said? Not just to be nosy but I want to make sure whatever it is never passes my lips."
Ed glared at his companion and increased his pace.
Dinner between the two was pleasant even if Ed was a bit on the quiet side. Preston didn't bring the topic of him and Roy up and Ed didn't volunteer anymore information. When they finished eating Preston walked Ed back to the lodge he was staying in and they made plans to meet up after breakfast tomorrow. When Ed disappeared up the steps Preston wandered over to the receptionist's desk and asked her to ring room 320.
When the phone rang in his room Roy looked over at the clock, noting it was half past eleven. Figuring it was Ed he answered with a hello. When the receptionist's voice answered back and told him his presence was requested in the lounge on the first floor he thanked her, gabbed his key and left his room.
When he got to the first floor the lady behind the receptionist desk pointed toward the lounge, with a nod and a thank you, he entered the area. When he saw Preston seated in a booth towards the rear he was a little disappointed, he had really expected the summons to be from Ed. The young man waved him over so Roy obeyed and took a seat.
"Don't look so let down, he's in his room and you can go talk to him as soon as you're finished having a drink with me."
Roy didn't comment, he simply slid into the booth beside Preston. He didn't like the fact his expression was so easily read by someone he'd only met one time before. As soon as he was seated, bourbon on the rocks was sat in front of him and he said, "Nice guess on the drink."
"Wasn't a guess, Ed said something in a letter a while ago about you, him and a guy named Maes putting away a bottle of the stuff."
Roy smiled as he sipped his drink. He remembered the incident fondly. When he sat his glass back on the table he noticed that Preston was staring at him intently. The younger man seemed to be contemplating something. Roy was sure that something had to do with Ed therefore; he was in no hurry to rush the man's words. Taking another drink, he motioned a waitress over and ordered a sandwich. He had skipped dinner and that fact was now catching up with him as he took in the bourbon.
"Whatever goes on between the two of you is really none of my business."
"No, it is not."
"However…as Ed's friend I feel the need to say this."
Preston paused long enough to make Roy's eyebrow arch in wonder. The suspense was killing him. Had Ed said something to him? Was he fed up with Roy due to his attitude? Had Ed figured out the reasoning behind it? All of these thoughts drifted through Roy's mind as he waited for the man to say something. As he lifted the heavy glass to his lips, his companion finally speaks.
"You know you could make this easier on the both of you if you just told him how you felt."
Roy almost choked on his drink. Sputtering a little at Preston's forward nature, Roy wipes his chin and looks at the man sitting across from him. Roy could only imagine the look on his face; it must have been comical because his guest started chuckling.
"Don't worry Roy, he still has no clue. I wasn't sure myself but it was the best conclusion I could draw from some of the things he's said."
Still coughing Roy rasped out, "Exactly what did he say?"
"I won't go into any detail on that but, from what he said you sound like you've got it bad. Plus your reaction just now was a pretty good indication I wasn't wrong in my assumptions."
Roy glared at the green-eyed man but he only chuckled in response. Roy's sandwich arrived and he took a bite without hesitation. The conversation was making Roy more than a little uncomfortable. When he finally looked up at Preston, the Hayden City native was shaking his head and smiling.
"Regardless of what you do about however you feel for Edward, I think you should do something to ease the guilt he's feeling over this. I'm not saying you need to kiss ass but at least let him know you're not pissed at him for whatever slight he's imagined he's made against you."
With that said the younger man stifled a yawn and started sliding out of the booth, "if I know him Roy he's still awake. If you wolf down that turkey and Swiss you can make amends with him and you both will be able to sleep better."
Roy sat there quietly chewing away but before the other man could walk away he says, "Thank you, Preston."
"Not a problem Roy, what are friends for," the man said before he stifled another yawn, waved at Roy and walked out of the lounge.
Roy finished his sandwich, paid his bill and did the same. As he walked up the stairs toward Ed's room Roy tried to figure out exactly what he was going to say to Ed. He knew he needed to explain his cold actions and attitude but he wasn't ready to come clean with Ed in that manner either. He didn't know what he was going to do but he knew if Ed was awake, he was going to do something. Preston was right he would sleep much better if he did.
Roy stepped up to Ed's door and right before he knocked he heard Ed talking to someone.
"…yeah we should be back in Central in a couple of days." Ed said his tone tired.
Roy couldn't make out the mumbles of the other person and surmised Ed was on the phone.
"No, no I'm fine just a little tired, it's kind of late."
"I'm not lying, I am tired, and it's just been a long day that's all."
Roy strained his ears to make out the other side of the conversation, but it was all he could do to hear Ed clearly.
"He's fine…we've been fine, today was just… just hectic that's all."
Ed was not sounding very convincing to Roy's ears at all. Probably even, less so to whomever he was speaking with.
"Well you see…calm down Jean, it's nothing like that."
Oh so he was talking to the Lieutenant. Great. Just great.
"No, he's not making my life hell. He's actually been really good company for most of the trip."
Roy didn't know how to feel about Ed defending him to Jean. On one hand, he felt proud Ed wouldn't allow someone to speak ill of him out of context, but on the other hand, he didn't feel like he deserved it.
Laughter shook Roy out of his thoughts, leaning closer to the door he heard Ed say, "Don't worry about me I'll be fine and I'll see you in a couple of days ok?"
"I miss you too and I'm looking forward to that warm welcome when I get home. Sleep well Jean. Goodnight."
When Roy heard Ed hang-up the phone, he opened and shut the door to his room before knocking on Eds. The sound of soft footfalls came from the other side of the door before it opened slightly. Tired golden eyes were surprised to see Roy but their owner opened the door wider before stepping aside. Roy smiled at Ed while stepping across the threshold. Roy took a deep breath however, before he could speak, Ed blurts out a jumbled mess of words that sounds like an apology of some sort.
Roy calls the blonds name several times before he finally got Ed to quiet long enough to make an apology of his own. Once Ed processed the words, an immense look of relief settles on his face and he flops on the bed with a lopsided grin gracing his lips.
Nothing like knowing, I put that smile there, Roy thought wistfully.
"For a while there I thought I had really done something to tick you off at me."
"I'm truly sorry Ed I shouldn't have acted the way I did."
"It's ok Roy we all get like that sometimes. We're all human."
Not wanting to talk about his indiscretion any further, Roy swiftly changed the subject.
"So what are our plans for tomorrow Edo?"
"I thought we would grab breakfast and then track down Preston at his print shop."
That sounded like music to Roy's ears. If Ed was willing to put this whole sorted incident behind him and move forward he was going to do the same. It was only a matter of days before he had to hand Ed back to Havoc and he would be damned if he would spend any of those remaining days like this one.
Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.
- Peter Ustinov
Thanks and hugs to you all,
**The song Lyrics belong to Savage Garden
Chapter 13: Underneath It All Chapter 13 Currently Untitled Teaser
A/N: Ok my ever so patient fans, old and new, of this fic. I have not abandoned it. *hugs on you for not giving up on me* I am wrangling with my muse on how to progress things on the tail end of their road trip, get the fellows out of Hayden and back to central and still set up the things I've already ironed out or set in motion for the plot. I shall try to get this out in its entirety the moment my muse has an epiphany on how to accomplish all of this…lol. If you guys and gals want to drop any ideas my way I am all ears!
A/N: Ok my ever so patient fans, old and new, of this fic. I have not abandoned it. *hugs on you for not giving up on me* I am wrangling with my muse on how to progress things on the tail end of their road trip, get the fellows out of Hayden and back to central and still set up the things I've already ironed out or set in motion for the plot. I shall try to get this out in its entirety the moment my muse has an epiphany on how to accomplish all of this…lol. If you guys and gals want to drop any ideas my way I am all ears!
So without further delay (because a year has been more than long enough) On with the fic!
Underneath It All 13 - Still Untitled
Even though Roy and Ed had gotten through the rough spot between them, Roy still had trouble sleeping. Getting separate rooms seemed like the appropriate thing for Roy to do at the time but now that it's done he found he missed the constant presence at his side as he settled in for the night. It had all started with the room at Lou's Inn having one bed but it had continued throughout the trip. Even when there had been multiple rooms to choose from at Levi's the two had bunked together more out of habit than anything else but they bunked together all the same.
Now here it was after two in the morning and Roy Mustang was still staring at the ceiling. Tired of chasing the sleep that wouldn't come he shed his pajama bottoms, pulled on his pants and shirt then headed for the door. With any luck, the lounge was still open and perhaps another scotch on the rocks would do the trick.
When he opened the door, the unmistakable sound of another door opening almost in unison reached his ears. When he looked towards the sound tired golden eyes met his and he realized Ed wasn't sleeping well either. Having felt like a coward for longer than he cared to admit Roy gathered his nerve, stepped aside and motioned for Ed to come in.
How would the eldest Elric take this gesture he didn't know but he had enough what-ifs hanging over his head to last him a lifetime and he was thoroughly sick of adding more. When Ed didn't move right away his heart started hammering in his chest and the first true vestiges of doubt and rejection crept in.
Roy began to wonder how in the hell he would explain this if the other man simply looked at him as if he were crazy or started asking questions.
To his immense relief it never came to that. Ed plastered on a weak smile and walked through his door.
Nothing was said between the two as Roy crossed the room and headed toward the bathroom to change his clothes. When he emerged, Ed was already in the bed with the blankets pulled up over his shoulder. Roy climbed in as carefully as he could and as soon as he was comfortable Ed drifted a bit closer and all was right with the world.
The next morning Ed awoke and began jabbering on as they usually did about what they were going to that day. Ed was oblivious to a lot of things but not being able to fall asleep in an empty bed was kinda hard for even the densest person to miss. Just because they were choosing to not discuss it didn't eraser the event, if anything it magnified it.
Part of Ed wanted to thank Roy for putting himself out there and offering but another part of him didn't want to think about what it truly meant, it screamed that's what he…what they were both missing. He had thought it to be the stress of the day keeping him awake but that theory had no weight once he found himself in the calm confines of slumber moments after Roy settled into bed.
They only had one more night before they headed back to central and Ed didn't want to dwell on or discuss such weighty matters. He wanted to meet up with Preston, let the green-eyed smooth talker drag him and Roy all over town, eat too much rich food and fall into bed exhausted and happy.
Even with this desire lying heavy in his heart, he still felt like they were ignoring the elephant in the room, so to speak. Upon further thought, Ed pondered if it really mattered since the tension was gone and both parties were happy. He supposed that was what was truly important and decided to sweep the incident under the rug.
When he left to return to his own room to shower and dress Roy simply smiled and waved at him saying he would wait there for him to return.
Roy was fighting quite the internal battle with himself. Part of him wanted to say something to Ed and be rid of some of this burden he carried but the thought of passing that weight onto Ed was unthinkable. He knew the young alchemist had to realize something between them has changed…for both of them. He felt torn, sick and happy all at once. A mix of emotion that really shouldn't be possible, but there it was all the same.
Knowing he needed to talk he picked up the phone in the room and rang Maes. Knowing if anyone could give him some peace of mind it was Hughes.
When the jovial man answered his work phone, he was all business until he realized it was Roy. His tone turned light and stayed that way until he heard the tension in Roy's speech.
"You sound bad, Roy. What happened?"
Roy gave him the condensed version of events covering his realization and subsequent bad reaction before falling quiet waiting for his friend to respond.
"I was hopeful and afraid this would happen at the same time. Are you going to say anything to him?"
"How can I?"
"How can you not?" countered Hughes.
"Look he doesn't feel the same about me and opening my big mouth would just make the last day or so of this trip awkward."
"The man could only fall asleep once he was beside you. For fucks sake Roy what more do you need to take action?"
"I'm not sure but it's going to have to be more than that," Roy sighed.
"It's your life Roy but I'm telling you all the signs are there. What are you so afraid of?"
Roy's throat went dry at the question and he stayed silent so long Maes felt the need to call his name to see if he was still there.
"If I screw up my friendship with him I couldn't live with myself Maes. That would mean losing him all together."
"But what if this turns into something way deeper than friendship?"
"I don't have a good track record Maes and you know it."
"Hell, I didn't either Roy, but that all changed with Gracia."
Roy sighed but held his ground. Maes backed off and promised to take him out and get him properly wasted when he returned. Roy thanked him and hung up the phone.
Roy sank down on the bed, threw his arm across his forehead and let his thoughts wander. Before long, the fact he'd only gotten a few hours sleep caught up with him and he'd dozed off.
Grass. Lots and lots of grass.
A glimpse of blond hair and the sound of laughter caught his attention. He looks up and Ed's standing in Levi's cow pasture a few feet away saying, "Catch me if you can old man," before darting away and disappearing over a hilltop. Roy gives chase and like two little kids, they are running around laughing without a care.
As soon as Roy closes in on Ed the scenery changes and suddenly everything is dim and Ed's in front of him wearing those green leather pants and nothing else. His hair was down and he was beckoning Roy forward with a hooked finger and a devilish grin.
When Roy advanced on him, he didn't run this time. He wrapped strong arms around Roy's neck, pulled him close as a hot moist tongue licked the shell of his ear. When Roy leaned in to return the favor Ed pulled away and suddenly the blond was tugging him down the corridor of a lodge or inn and all the doors had the numbers 005 on them. Ed dangled a key in front of him before stopping at a door. Roy grabbed the keys and pinned Ed's body to the door with his own.
He's kissing on Ed's neck while fumbling to get the key in the lock. When the door opens Ed falls backwards into this void and it's only by chance that as Roy fell forward he grabbed one of Ed's wrists. This left Roy lying partially across the threshold on his stomach, one hand clinging to the doorframe and the other desperately holding onto Ed.
The tenuous grip on Ed's wrist slips until it's only their fingers that are interlocked, as that starts to go Roy looks down into golden tear filled eyes as he feels the tears rolling down his own face. Ed smiles sadly at him before whispering, "It's ok Roy, let go before you fall too."
"NO!" Roy shouts as his grip on the doorframe weakens and he slides further forward.
"Goodbye Roy, don't forget me," Ed said smiling at him again before he relaxed his fingers…
Roy sat bolt right up on his bed. Chest heaving, scream caught in his throat.
It was just a dream.
Just a stupid fucked up dream.
He'd just stepped in the bathroom to splash water on his face when Ed strolled in. He was all smiles and energy; it was nice to see after the nightmare. Ed didn't bring up the fact Roy wasn't dressed already he simply sat at the small desk in the room and waited.
When Roy emerged, they locked the room and left to begin their day. The nightmare Roy had kept weighing on the edges of his mind but he did what he could to keep those shadows at bay.
They drifted through the streets of Hayden until they came upon Preston's Print shop. When they pushed open the door, a loud bell clanged and the man they were searching for appeared almost instantly.
"Ed!" he shouted as he hopped over the low counter he was standing behind and swept Ed up in his arms before twirling him around. Ed let out a startled yelp but the grin on his face said he didn't mind at all. Preston introduced them to the other workers of the shop before he gave them the grand tour.
The shop itself was a lot larger than either alchemist envisioned and both were impressed with what they saw. When the tour was over, they ended up in Preston's office so he could show Ed some of the forms he intended to send to the Führer. Ed was delighted with what he saw and thought most of it was exactly what Oswyn Cross had in mind, he suggested a few things, Preston took notes and that was that.
Preston announced to his crew that he was off for the day and instructed an older man to lock up when closing time came.
The three of them went into the city with no direct plan choosing instead to play it by ear. Preston was in the midst of describing one of the local parks that had a waterfall on its northern end when Ed's stomach growled loudly.
The green-eyed man arched a brow at Ed, "I thought we were meeting up AFTER you had breakfast?"
"Uh well Roy and I kind of had a late night so we didn't get up as early as we usually do."
"A late night you say?" Preston inquired as he looked back and forth between the two. Once Roy got what he was implying he rolled his eyes at the man. Preston laughed, Ed looked lost and Roy just wanted to know where the closest eatery was.
When they reached the nearest restaurant, it was fairly empty. They walked in and as soon as Ed sat down at a booth, the lady sitting across from them had her eyes on him. She had long wavy brown hair and looked to be about Roy's age. That in and of itself wasn't a problem for Roy it's just that the look in the woman's eyes was almost predatory. She had on a short black skirt and a low-cut red blouse that fit like a second skin. As she looked at Ed, she appeared as if she wanted to devour him instead of what was on her plate.
Roy's brows narrowed and he asked Preston if there was another restaurant close by and even though the man looked confused, he answered with a yes.
Ed looked at Roy quizzically and asked, "Some reason you don't want to eat here?"
Yes, there was but nothing he could come out and say to Ed. Roy was in the midst of telling a fabulous lie about how the smell of something in here was getting to him when the woman pounced.
She slid in the booth alongside Preston, edging him down so she was face-to-face with Ed. She leaned in, clasped her hands together and all but purred at him from across the table. Ed swallowed hard as Preston and Roy leered at the crass woman.
She introduced herself as Ivy and went straight into how she'd never seen him around here before. Ed stuttered out a response and slid closer to Roy. She reached across the table, slid a scarlet painted nail up and down the length of Ed's left arm, and said, "Well since you're new here I'd love to show you around. I'm free all day…and night," she added as she fluttered long lashes at him. Roy could feel the panic coming off Ed as he tried to figure out how to respond to this lady…if you could call her that.
Preston noted the death glare Roy was giving the woman as well as the panicked look on Ed's face. He rightfully assumed that this woman must be why Roy was giving them some lame excuse to leave. From the way Roy was glaring at her, he knew if he gave Roy a chance to speak this would turn ugly.
He cleared his throat gaining the woman's attention and said, "He's got plans today Miss, sorry to disappoint you."
She looked Preston up and down then did the same to Roy before saying, "Oh, so I take it you fella's don't share."
"No ma'am we don't," Preston answered smoothly with a smile, "now if you'll excuse us." He finished as he moved to stand as Roy and Ed followed.
However, this vixen was not giving up so easily. She grabbed Ed by the elbow as he stood and said, "Have you ever considered he might want to learn a thing or two?"
There was no stopping Roy's explosion at this point and Preston was almost looking forward to the show. This woman made his stomach turn and he wanted rid of her.
Roy grabbed the woman's wrist and removed it from Ed's elbow as if the limb were diseased. Hard cold eyes leveled on the woman and in a voice that sent chills up Preston's spine Roy said, "I believe you were told no. And unless you want to spend the next decade of your life rotting in a military prison for assaulting an officer I suggest you get the fuck out of our way and go play your little games with someone who's interested. You will not be warned again."
The woman paled considerably before backing away without another word. Roy wasted no time ushering Ed out of the restaurant, but he leveled another glare at the woman as he passed. Once all three men were outside everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
It was obvious Ed was visibly shaken by what had happened and Roy was seething so openly both of the younger men kept their distance. They walked in silence for a few blocks before Preston said, "Damn Ed sorry about that. Usually the Sheba's and hookers don't venture this far over nor start so early in the day."
Ed stopped dead is his tracks, skin turning an even sicker looking shade of white. "She was a hooker!" he shouted causing several people on the street to turn and look at him.
"No I think she was more a Sheba…she wanted a piece of you bad. That one wasn't charging you a thing."
Ed swayed on his feet and looked ready to either hurl or kill something. He was sputtering partial questions mixed with obscenities left and right despite Roy trying to silence him.
"We need to get him inside somewhere," Roy mumbled to Preston. He nodded saying his house wasn't far from where they were at now.
As Preston leads them through the streets of Hayden he was thinking on Roy's reaction to the woman. At Roy's age and with his looks Preston was sure the man had encountered this type of thing before so that wasn't his issue. The issue was her touching Ed. He was livid at the thought of that woman getting her claws on him. This just further confirmed Preston's assumption from last night. Roy had a thing for Ed and he had it bad, he looked like he wanted to break every bone in that tramps hand, Preston believed he might have done so if she hadn't backed down.
He glanced back at Ed and the short blond was still switching between fits of angered disbelief and muttered obscenities at the woman's gall. Preston couldn't help but smile a bit at the blonds' reaction. He really would have figured this sort of thing happened to Ed all the time, but of course a person tended to be shy when faced with someone who has as much presence as Ed has. That coupled with the fact Ed is seeing some guy named Jean but yet here he is out and about with Roy (again) who is quite the guard dog it seems.
He'll have to ask Ed what's up with him and Roy. Preston didn't know this Jean guy at all, having never met him and only knowing him from what Ed mentions in letters, but it seems Ed spends a lot of time with Roy. It's really none of his business but Preston was nosey like that, so he would ask anyway. You don't get answers if you don't ask questions.
When he got them settled in his home, he volunteered to go down the street and bring lunch back from a sandwich shop down the street. Before he left, he told Roy there was a bottle of wine in the icebox and a flask of scotch on the counter. In Preston's eyes, Blondie looked like he could use it.
A/N part Deux: Sheba - A woman with sex appeal (from the movie Queen of Sheba) or (e.g. Clara Bow) see http:(double slash)local(dot)aaca(dot)org/bntc/slang/slang(dot)htm
Sheba is a slang term from the 1920's that I loosely interpreted/twisted to have the same connotation as what we now call a Cougar. Just me striving to try and stay with the time/setting/era of the fic. ^_^
Chapter 14: A Totally Different Cadence
A/N: I have to say you guys rock for being so patient *hugs on you for not giving up on me* I have finally updated and now that I've gotten this on the move again updates won't take as long ^_^
Also an awesome shout out to Blood Words for the Beta on this *HUGS* You rock so hard babe.
Roy looked at Ed and he could see he was an oddly amusing mix of pissed and confused. He was shaking his head and rolling his eyes one moment and swearing the next. It had been a long time since he'd seen the blond lose his cool in this manner; so long Roy had thought his temper gone for good. It would have been more amusing to watch if Roy hadn't gotten so bent out of shape over the woman's actions. He didn't think Ed paid much attention but he knew Preston had. If the Hayden native didn't say anything about his reaction, it would shock the hell out of him.
Roy moved to the counter where Preston said he had the scotch, located the flask and dug around until he found a small glass. He poured Ed a healthy measure of the clear liquid and carried it to the distraught man in the living room.
When he held it out to Ed questioning eyes looked up at him and he said, "It'll settle your nerves."
Ed glared at him but took the offered glass and knocked the liquor back in one go. His face twisted and when he sat the glass down he growled out, "Fuck that burned!"
"I'm sure it did," Roy agreed, "it smelled like pretty strong stuff."
Roy waited a few minutes and when Ed grew quiet, he asked, "Feeling better now?"
Angry eyes looked over at Roy before softening as their owner said, "Not really. What the hell did I do to give her the impression that I... I..."
Ed just turned his head and stared at the lamp beside him so intensely Roy thought it might explode. Roy felt sorry for him. He'd realized Ed was mad but he hadn't considered that he possibly thought he'd done something to provoke it.
"And what was that shit she said about how you guys don't share? What the fuck was that suppose to mean? And why did Preston answer no?" Ed blurted all of that out in one breath, not giving Roy any time to answer one question before he asked another. Intense amber eyes were staring Roy down so hard the older alchemist took a seat and sighed. He didn't have any clue where to begin.
"Edo you didn't do anything to cause that woman to hit on you. She simply saw something, or in this case, someone she wanted and went after them. It was a little aggressive but…"
"A little?" Ed asked, sarcasm dripping off his words.
"Ok so a lot, regardless you did nothing to provoke her. I've tried to in every way possible to get you to understand how attractive you are. To most that would make you difficult to approach but to some that just makes you a challenge."
Ed was looking at Roy as if he lapsed into speaking a language he didn't understand. Arms folded across his chest defensively as he slumped down in his seat.
"Now as far as her comment about not sharing and Preston's response goes, that was simply her playing whatever game she felt she had to in order to get to you, and him replying in a way that put her down in a non-confrontational manner."
"But I don't get how insinuating that I was someone's property could be more than an insult to anyone."
Roy poured Ed another shot of Scotch and handed it over. He was going to need it. The General couldn't help but think, All that alchemical genius and this goes right over his head.
He watches Ed drain the glass before saying, "That is and isn't what she was implying Edo."
Blond brows scrunched together in thought for a few moments before the slow dawn of realization took over Ed's expression. "You mean she thought that… That you, me and Preston were… Were…"
"Yes Edo, that's what I'm saying and Preston merely agreed with her in order to get her to back off. Call it staking a false claim if you will. He meant no harm. He was only trying to get rid of her."
Ed flung his left arm across his brow as he slid further down into the armchair. He couldn't believe any of this. He was used to people acting odd around him but this took the cake. He didn't know if he should be mad or scared, because at that moment he was a little of both.
Ed sat up and a shaky hand sat the glass on the coffee table just as Preston walked back in the door.
"Sorry it took me so long guys. There was a line."
"Not a problem Preston, thank you for going to get them," Roy said as he went into the kitchen to help their host with his burden. Once he rounded the corner, Preston looked at him before tilting his head toward the living room where Ed sat.
"Is he ok?" he asked in a hushed voice.
"Mostly," Roy replied, "He was a little confused about the situation but I cleared that up."
"I figured as much, that's why I suggested the scotch."
Roy merely nodded as he continued to take items out of the two bags Preston carried in. There was a lot of food for three people and Roy gave Preston a questioning look.
"Hey I've seen him eat, do you have any doubt he'll polish most of this off?"
Roy chuckled in a low voice and said, "Good point."
They set all of the food out on the table before calling to Ed saying lunch was served. The men talked about what they were going to do with the rest of their day as they ate. Ed showed a lot of interest in the park with the waterfall that Preston had mentioned earlier. Roy on the other hand was interested in the jazz Pub Preston had suggested.
"Well the day is still young so I say we start at the Park and make our way toward the Pub by dinner time. They have an excellent menu."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Ed chimed in as he picked up the container of potato salad and polished it off. Once he had set the empty container down he asked Preston where his bathroom was, and Preston told him it was at the back of the house to the left.
When Ed got out of earshot Roy said, "It's the automail, that and a high metabolism from carting around so much muscle."
"Ah," Preston replied as he mulled over Roy's words. "Once I found out who he was I realized he had to have some but I've never even seen a glimpse of it."
"He keeps it covered," Roy said as his eyes narrowed at Preston.
"Easy there solider. I'd never do or say anything to make Blondie uncomfortable so you can kill the death glare."
Roy was a bit stunned at his words but worked to relax his face. He hadn't realized he'd been giving the man a look.
Preston chuckled at Roy's effort to calm his features. He knew what he was about to do was mean but he had Roy off balance and wanted to test his theory further. "Is he still seeing that Jean guy?"
Roy's face darkened as his brows dipped together before he replied with, "Yes he is. Why do you ask?"
"Oh no reason just wondering, since he's out here again with you," Preston replied as he took a drink of his ice water.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"You tell me. You're the one playing guard dog and companion."
Roy glared at the younger man but didn't get a chance to reply before Ed came back into the room. The three of them cleaned up their lunch mess and headed for the door. On the way out Preston grabbed his camera off the coffee table, stating that he wanted to get some pictures of the two before they left.
The walk to the park was uneventful, but when they arrived Ed was awestruck and immediately made his way to the ledge closest to the waterfall. Even Roy had to admit the scene was breathtaking. Pristine water cascaded over rocks rounded from years spent in the path of the fall. The fall itself let out into a deep pool of blue water, and if the weather hadn't been starting to cool Ed would be tempted to jump in.
That was something having his leg back had also returned to him, the ability to swim. There was no way he could have swam before with that much dense metal on his body, but now with only the arm to contend with he could swim once more.
As he peered over the edge of the rock he was leaning on, he heard the camera go off. When he turned around it flashed again.
"Well you didn't think I grabbed this just to carry did you? I told you I wanted pictures of you two," Preston declared as he nudged Roy toward Ed.
Ed laughed at the put out expression on Roy's face and told him he needed to smile before he broke Preston's camera. When Roy stood in front of him stiff as a board Ed tugged on his arm until he was sitting on the rock in front of him. Roy didn't loosen up until Ed leaned forward on his shoulders and yelled at Preston to snap away.
A few pictures in, Roy got into the spirit of things, and when Ed wanted to hike down closer to the fall's base the other two men were all for it. Ed didn't waste any time hopping from one rock to the other once they got to the water. Preston was showing Roy some feature on his camera when the green-eyed man looked up and said, "Hold on Roy I have to take this shot."
Roy looked up and what he saw had him agreeing with Preston's statement. There Ed stood on a rock near the middle of the pool looking out at the roaring water. He'd taken his hair down at some point in time and the spray of the waterfall had it swirling around him giving him an ethereal appearance. Roy stood speechless as Preston snapped picture after picture from different angles.
Ed must have finally come back to his senses, or felt himself being watched and turned around. The look on his face was initially wistful until he realized Preston was taking pictures of him and he started laughing. He soon returned to water's edge where Roy and Preston were. Ed held out his hand for the camera, shooed Preston toward Roy, and took a few pictures. Roy did the same thing for Preston and Ed before the trio left the park.
As they made their way back through town, they passed a shop playing music and Ed started singing along with the tune. Preston just looked at him then at Roy, who smirked but said nothing. "Hey you don't sound half bad over there Blondie, do you want to hit an open mic spot? Whoever gets the most applause between the two of us wins and the loser buys the first round."
Ed's eyes grew mischievous as a devious smirk splayed across his face. Roy had to exert quite the effort to keep his facial features neutral. Ed sent him a sidelong glance and it was nearly his undoing. Preston had no idea what he was getting himself into. Roy was glad they only bet a round of drinks… Anything more would have been highway robbery.
When they strolled into the quiet little café there were a few patrons, a bar, a small stage with (of all things) an upright piano and a few tables where people sat eating and chatting. When they walked in and took a seat a smooth rich voice rang out with, "Preston my boy, it's been a while, three weeks at least."
"It's been about that long Landon. How's business been?" Preston asked as he walked up to a cigar smoking, broad shouldered man wearing an apron and carrying a large spatula.
"It's plugging along, nothing to write home about."
"Well I have some friends here I want you to meet," Preston announced as he walked over to where Ed and Roy sat. "This is Roy," he said pointing at the General, "and this is Ed."
"Ed it's so nice to put a face with a name. You've made quite the impression on ole Preston here I swear he talks about you more than…" Preston elbowed him in the side to shut him up as he cleared his throat and tried to hide the flush on his face. "Anyway my name's Landon and any friends of Preston's are friends of mine. What can I do you for?"
"Just a pitcher of tea right now, Blondie and I are gonna borrow your stage and some background music" Preston declared as he urged Ed to stand up and follow him.
As the two fiddled with the equipment on the stage Roy watched them with a smirk on his face. Landon brought back the requested pitcher of tea just as Preston was getting the attention of the crowd. He told them about their little challenge and once everyone focused on the stage, he fired up the music.
Roy was no great judge of music, voices or anything of that nature but in his opinion Preston was pretty good. He was singing a lighthearted tune and while the vocals were not as hard-hitting as what Ed usually sang, they were well done all the same. The crowd seemed pleased and applauded thusly when he finished. Preston gave an exaggerated bow and stepped off the small stage, cocky strut matching the grin on his face.
When Ed approached, Preston asked him if he needed any help with the music. Ed declined, saying he was going to make his own music. His green-eyed friend shot him a questioning look but shrugged his shoulders and took a seat with Roy. Everyone was watching with anxious eyes as Ed turned on the microphone by the piano before plunking out a few notes and simple tunes on the upright. Once he decided the instrument was decently in tune, he flexed his gloved fingers and began to play.
A few notes in and Roy recognized the song as one Ed sang at Fidel's. The crowd was moving and swaying to the beat and few couples had gotten up to dance. Soon Ed was singing his heart out but Roy could see the grin on his face every time he looked at Preston. Preston sat slack jawed staring at Ed until the blond winked at him causing his mouth to snap shut.
When the song ended applause filled the building. As Ed walked over to Roy and Preston, he was wearing a grin that spoke volumes. It was such a perfect mix of mischievous, devious and you fell for it that Roy had to laugh.
"I get the feeling I've been set up."
"Indeed you should have this feeling my good man because that is exactly what I allowed you to do to yourself."
Preston laughed at Ed's response and motioned for him to sit down.
"You know, you never cease to amaze me Blondie. Is there anything you can't do?"
"I wonder that myself sometimes," Roy said as he sipped on his tea.
Ed didn't reply, he merely shrugged and reached for his glass of tea.
Landon brought them out something to snack on and Preston ordered them all a round of bourbon. Landon asked Ed if he was interested in a part-time gig entertaining his customers. As flattered as Ed was by the offer, he had to decline since not only did he already have a part-time gig he wasn't a local and adding another out of town commitment to his schedule was not an option. Landon pouted a bit but he understood.
As the men sat there eating, Preston asked them what they wanted to do for the remainder of the day. Roy looked at Ed and shook his head in a non-committal manner so Ed said, "To be honest I'd like to spend the day just hanging out with you. I don't get to see you often."
"I'm flattered Blondie. I say we hit up Landon for some munchies to go, pick up a couple of bottles of wine and head back to my place. I know you play cards," Preston began as he turned to look at Roy, "do you?"
"Name your game Preston. There isn't much I don't play."
So with snacks in hand the men left Landon's and proceed toward Preston's apartment. As they strolled down the street Preston asked them if they'd paid for both nights at the Inn already and when Roy replied no their guide smirked and said, "Well gentleman I vote we go get your stuff and save you a nights fare. I've got a guest room plus if we get rowdy at my place there's no one to complain."
In no time the three men had Roy's car loaded up with their belongings and they were headed across town. Once they arrived they hauled the necessary items into their friend's apartment. Preston's guest room was just as cozy and inviting as the rest of the photographer's home. Neither man verbalized the fact that they were back to sharing a room and bed. Their eyes met once as they unpacked a few things but neither man said a word. Instead they simply smiled at each other and continued to unpack.
As he laid out the outfit he'd travel back to Central in, Roy wondered if this wasn't part of the reason Preston asked them to stay. Roy knew the two had talked over the dinner they shared but neither man had told him anything that was said. Roy was no psychic but he would place good money on Ed having mentioned the change in their routine.
When they finally joined their host around his dining room table Preston had spread out the snacks, filled three glasses with wine and sat busily shuffling a deck of cards. They started out playing something Preston called five card yak, where the object of the game was to actually have the lowest cards so you wouldn't be stuck with the discard pile at the end of each hand. Roy soon realized fate had it in for him with this game because each hand seemed to find him staring at more than his fair share of face cards.
They played this and several other games as they worked their way through the food on the table. Conversation flowed easily between the men and so did the wine. By the time night fell they all retired to the living room with their glasses and continued to talk about everything from the state of the country to the merits of knowing how to cook.
All seemed well until Preston asked Ed how Al was doing and the Blond's reply of, "probably trying to get laid," stunned both men to the point of them exchanging looks before laughing. The look had nothing to do with Ed's choice in language but had everything to do with him just tossing out something like that about his beloved brother. That and the fact Ed usually avoided talking about anything to do with intimacy like it would give him the plague.
This caused Roy to scrutinize the man and when Ed clumsily reached for one of the chips on the coffee table Roy got a flashback from Havoc's house warming bash. When Ed had become the sudden life of the party Al had pulled him aside and told him that Ed could drink like a fish on most occasions with most kinds of drinks, but a few too many glasses of red wine left him, in Alphonse's opinion, loopy as hell.
From his position on the couch Roy looked over his shoulder at the bottles on the table and by his estimation they had polished off two bottles already and were working on their third.
Preston on the other hand found a tipsy Ed amusing and asked, "Why do you think that Ed?"
"Because he's been cranky as fuck since he broke up with Kara. I told him one morning if he slammed another cabinet door I would go to the library and tell Shezka that he had the hots for her."
"Does he like this Shezka?"
"Nope," Ed said as he leaned back in the chair he was sitting in and flipped a chip into his mouth, "but she sure has a thing for him. Hangs off his every word. I overheard her telling Maria Ross that if she ever got her hands of either one of the Elric brothers she would-"
"ED!" Roy shouted, gaining Ed's attention and effectively cutting him off mid sentence. The blond gave him an annoyed look before chuckling and saying, "Oh come off it Roy I know you of all people are no blushing virgin. Besides you ought to have heard what Maria said she'd like to do to you. I can only imagine the women I'm pissing off by having you out of town for so long."
Preston tipped over laughing and Roy could only guess that was because of the flush tinting his face. He just wasn't used to Ed speaking like that.
"So if this Maria Ross lady and several others have the hots for you Roy why are you single?" Preston asked, and Roy could have choked the smirking man. He knew damn well why Roy was single.
"That's a good question," Ed replied as he held his glass out for Preston to refill, "even I've managed to find someone to date. Or is it a matter of picking through the list."
"Something like that," Roy mumbled as he shot Preston a dirty look.
It didn't faze the man in the slightest. If anything it made Preston laugh harder. They played a few more games and the conversation bounced around until it was after midnight and all parties were yawning.
Despite being tired Ed was still in high spirits and proceeded to hum show tunes on his way down the hall to their room. Their usual routine of taking turns in the bathroom to change was tossed out the window as Ed started peeling out of his clothes as soon as he reached his side of the bed. Socks, shirt, belt, pants…as each item dropped to the floor Roy prayed Ed wouldn't end up naked.
When he halted at his boxer briefs Roy sighed in relief even as part of him was lamenting the fact he didn't get the full show. However what was on display was more than pleasing to the eye. Roy didn't think it was possible for anyone to look any sexier than Ed did at that moment, lopsided grin on his face from having too much wine and a great time. Lean muscle covered nearly every inch of his body due to his active lifestyle. Blond hair loose and spilling down his back as his forever unruly bangs covered one eye.
Yes, Edward Elric had the market cornered on sexy and Roy thought it best to keep his eyes focused on the task at hand. That task being gathering his pajamas and toiletries to take to the bathroom. Just as he was about to leave the room he saw Ed's face scrunch up in thought just before he leaned over and picked up Roy's discarded shirt.
"I think I'll wear this," Ed said as he held the button up shirt up in front of him and wobbled a bit.
Roy said nothing as he watched Ed pull it on then flop down on the bed. He stood corrected; Ed all but naked in his shirt and grinning at him was now officially the sexiest thing he'd ever seen. As Ed made himself comfortable Roy couldn't stop himself from asking, "Not that I care Edo but why are you wearing my shirt?"
Ed rolled over onto his stomach, propped his head up on his fist, and looked up at Roy with half lidded eyes before replying, "Because I like the way you smell."
Roy gave him a relaxed smile but on the inside he felt undone. This was going to a long night if Ed didn't fall asleep soon. When he stepped out of the room shutting the door behind him, he was looking down the hall right into Preston's smirking face.
"Having fun Roy?"
As Roy approached the bathroom he said, "You are an evil, evil man."
"I prefer the term devious, but considering the wine we put away I'll let evil slide tonight."
Roy shook his head and entered the bathroom to change. When he stepped out Preston was nowhere to be seen and for that he was thankful. Roy didn't think his nerves could take anymore than he already had to face concerning one half naked and tipsy Edward Elric. Roy paused with his hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath before turning it.
The room was dark except for the light of the nearly full moon spilling in through the windows. Ed was no longer in bed and stood in front of one of the windows looking up at the night sky. Edward illuminated by moonlight looked like something out of a painting or a dream. Roy tried to shut the door quietly so he wouldn't disturb the young alchemist, but the as soon as it clicked Ed's head snapped around.
"The stars never look this bright in Central."
"Too much residual light from the city," Roy replied from the doorway.
Ed chuckled lowly, "I think the wine has made me wax sentimental."
"Nothing wrong with that, it beats Fuery crying after a few shots any day."
The silence stretched between them until the air in the room grew tense. Roy could tell something was on Ed's mind but he did and didn't want to ask. Tired of the nervous apprehension, he sucked it up like a good little solider.
"What's on your mind Edo?"
"It's going to sound silly."
"Sillier than you and Preston debating over the best way to flip a pancake?"
"Well then you're good to go."
Ed placed his flesh hand on the window pane and leaned forward until his forehead was touching the glass. His other hand was busy tracing invisible circles on the sill. His mind was in a thousand places all at once. He knew without a doubt that something had changed between him and Roy on this trip. To what degree and what it meant for them in the long run he was unsure of but the change was there all the same.
It wasn't until Roy left the room and Ed realized he was wearing the man's shirt eagerly awaiting his return that this fact settled on his mind. Al's words about a deeper level of friendship trickled through his mind but even as it did something was telling him it was more than that…maybe it was the wine.
"Is it just me or has something noticeable…almost tangible happened between us on this trip?"
Roy was stunned. He was prepared to hear a lot of things, more talk on pancakes; semi-drunken ramblings maybe even more trepidation about returning to Central and having to face Winry at some point. A lot of things but not this, not him flat out asking if he noticed the change between them.
Ed turned to Roy then and those serious golden eyes were boring into him. Begging for an answer, begging for help to sort out what was in his head. More than anything Roy wanted to say yes, he wanted to say that he felt it too, he wanted to do anything but give into the fear that held him silently in the doorway.
"It's been an adventure that's for sure," Roy replied feeling like the world biggest coward. It was a copout and even with the amount of wine flowing through his veins he knew Ed knew it.
Ed gave him a lopsided grin and said, "It must be the wine. Come on let's get some sleep."
Roy nodded thankfully and crawled into bed. Ed stood in front of the window for a few moments more before following him. They had to get on the road tomorrow and despite all the questions in his mind he had no desire to do so with a hangover. He settled beside Roy and without much thought he draped his left arm across the man's midsection and laid his head on Roy's shoulder.
Roy hesitated a moment before he wrapped his arm around Ed and pulled him closer to his side. He had lost the ability to care if his actions were questioned or not. This was the last night of his time alone with Ed and if his blond wanted to spend it snuggled up to him he was going to encourage that.
Ed on the other hand had his eyes closed but he wasn't sleeping just yet. His mind was spinning on why he felt so damn comfortable where he was and why he didn't care if he ever moved. He had to fight not to laugh at himself when he realized it was probably a mix of the kindness Roy has shown him during their trip, all the time they've spent together and of course the wine.
They slept in and woke to the smell of pancakes.
Neither man brought up the unfinished conversation last night, choosing instead to go eat and get their day going. They thanked Preston for his hospitality and invited him to Central sometime when he could get away from work. The trip back was spent rehashing the events of their little vacation and all was well until they pulled into the Elric home driveway. I weird sort of melancholy settled over the two and silence stretched between them.
"Thanks for coming with me and putting up with my moods Roy."
"It wasn't a problem Ed, it was my pleasure."
Ed snorted and gave Roy a look. He had wanted to bring up their conversation from last night the entire trip but hadn't found the words or the courage. No time like the present, he thought as he cleared his throat.
"Hey Roy I know we had all had a lot of wine but…"
Just then the front door of the Elric home slammed open and a distraught looking Lena ran out onto the porch and down the steps. The two exchanged a look of confusion before getting out of the car. Before they could round the vehicle, Al came flying out of the house calling Lena's name but she didn't slow her furious retreat, if anything her pace increased.
Al chased her to the end of the block but soon realized not only could he not catch up to her but he had no idea what to say to her if he had. Panting and bent over Al jumped when he felt a hand on his back. He looked up into the concerned faces of his brother and Roy with a sigh.
The last twenty minutes of his day had been more shocking than the young professor could deal with.
"Al, are you ok?"
"Lena she… she just said something to me that shocked me and instead of thinking before I spoke I just… just. Oh god I so fucked up."
"She told you how she felt about you didn't she?" Ed asked.
"She had already told you and you didn't bother telling me!" Al accused loudly.
"No it was just obvious so don't sound so wounded as if I was hiding the fountain of youth from you!"
Roy looked at the two, then up to the old man that had come out on his porch to see what all the ruckus was about and suggested they return to the house to finish this discussion. Both Elric's immediately looked sheepish before turning and taking Roy's advice.
Once they got into the house Ed put on the water for tea and apologized to his brother for snapping at him.
"No Brother, I snapped first so it's my fault it's just that your words struck a sore spot."
"Why don't you tell us exactly what happened Alphonse and we'll see if we can help."
Al let out an exasperated sigh and started with Lena showing up unannounced and him inviting her in for lunch since he was cooking. They had eaten but he noticed she was unusually silent so he asked her what was on her mind. Without much preamble she had said how she was tired of dropping hints and wanted to know if he was ever going to ask her out.
"Well what did you say to that?"
Al slumped forward and let his forehead clunk on the table, "I laughed and said, funny Lena that would be like asking out my little sister, then I asked her what was really on her mind."
"Oh," Ed said as he looked over at Roy who was shaking his head. "That is so not good."
"Tell me something I don't know Brother! She hopped to her feet and started telling me how she wasn't a kid anymore and she was tired of me treating her like one and how sorry she was that she'd ever entertained the notion of me seeing her as anything more than an orphaned brat."
"Damn," was all Roy could think to say. What else could be said? The whole thing sounded like quite the mess. Roy looked between the two and realized they truly did everything together including pissing off women to high degrees at the same time.
"I think you are going to have to give her some space Al. She's had a crush on you for a long time."
"You have no idea how bad realizing that even you had noticed this makes me feel."
"Thanks for nothing Al, but it's apparent that I'm not the only oblivious Elric in town."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I thought you knew and just weren't interested. I really didn't think a whole lot about it, it's not like she's the only admirer you have, ya know."
That last bit made Roy curious and as much as he wanted to ask he knew now was neither the time nor the place.
"What am I going to do?"
"I would suggest steering clear of her if at all possible until she cools off," Roy suggested as he fixed three cup of tea.
"That would be easier said than done if we weren't all in a band together Roy," Ed said as he sat the cream, honey and sugar on the table. "A band that is scheduled to practice together in about five hours."
At that Al's head thunked back down on the table.
Ed looked at his distraught sibling and his expression grew somber. He knew all too well how Al was feeling. There were just no words of comfort he could offer him, nothing he could do to fix it and that sucked. He looked up meeting Roy's eyes over the slumped figure at the table and Roy looked as lost as he felt. He nodded his head towards the door and the two left the kitchen.
When they stepped out on the porch it was Ed's turn to sigh as he looked at Roy, "sorry about all of that."
"No worries Edo. Life happens, when it happens."
"I know but still…anyway if you're not busy later why don't you come over around five and listen to us practice."
"I'd like that. Let's get your stuff out of the car so you can get back to Alphonse."
Roy wasn't home for an hour before Maes turned up on his doorstep.
"So how was the trip home?"
"It was fine Maes. How have things been here?"
"Same as always, so I take it you didn't do any confessing along the way."
"If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, I'm not saying anything to him."
"It's you loss my friend," Maes said as he flopped down on Roy's sofa. "So what do you have planned for tonight?"
Inwardly Roy flinched before he answered. He knew how his reply was going to sound to Maes, "I'm going over to watch the band practice later."
"Ten days with him to yourself not enough Roy Boy?"
"No it wasn't."
The reply stuns Maes silent for a while before a grin spreads out over his face, "Well at least you are not in denial anymore."
"It is what it is and I can't change it, so why waste energy denying it?"
"Oh but maybe you could change it if you'd say something to him."
"Well I'm not going to do that which means there's nothing I can do about it, so drop it."
There was enough finality in that tone for Maes to do just that. He knew when to stop pushing Roy's buttons. He patted the younger man on the back before dragging him out for a drink and some food.
It took Ed a while to calm Al down but once he did he set out on foot to Jean's house. When he got there the man wasn't at home so he decided to go into town to see if his favorite bookstore had anything new in. As he walked down the streets he noticed a few clouds rolling in and quickened his pace. It's not as if he thought he'd melt if he got caught out in it but he didn't have any desire to be soaked head to toe either.
He left the store with two new books then promptly bumped into Maria and Denny. He asked them what had them in downtown Central and they told him they'd just finished eating. The trio chatted for a little while before going their separate ways. Ed swung back by Jean's to see if he was home and when he still wasn't there Ed made his way back home.
He gave Al the book he'd brought for him and Al informed him that the band wanted to move rehearsal to tomorrow night since it seemed like everyone had had an off day. Ed just nodded thinking it was probably for the best, he was a little tired and had a lot on his mind. He couldn't really say he felt like singing he was too preoccupied to put his heart in it.
He was out on the porch reading his new book when he heard the gate open. He looked up and saw Roy strolling up the walkway and realized he had no way of knowing that band practice had been canceled. When he told him Roy sat down beside him on the porch and asked if the book was any good. They sat there shoulder to shoulder talking about the fantasy novel Ed had picked up. It was book three of a series and Ed said he was completely enthralled with it.
As they sat there talking and laughing neither noticed the figure standing just outside the gate watching them. Jean had been dating Ed for a while now and had no idea his boyfriend ever read a book that wasn't centered on alchemy nonetheless a novel that had him as excited as he seemed to be about the one he was discussing with Roy.
As much as they talked it wasn't often that Ed ever looked that relaxed and joyful around Jean no matter how hard he tried or what the subject matter was. It struck an ill chord with Jean to see it and part of him wanted to shake both of them and just tell them to knock it the fuck off.
The moment he found out Ed was out on some road trip with Roy this was the sort of thing he feared most. He had wondered about the two since the night they had ended up dancing like lovers in front of god and everybody at Fidel's. From that point on he has watched get closer and closer and it made him uneasy. As he sat there looking at them lost in each other's presence he could feel his teeth grinding together.
As Jean continued to look on, he wondered if it was possible for them to be any closer. The wind couldn't even pass between the two they were sitting so close. Ed was grinning so wide he was surprised his face didn't hurt and Roy as eating it up. Having seen enough he pushed open the gate and entered the yard.
As soon as the gate creaked they both looked up and saw Jean strolling up the walkway.
When Ed's face lit up it pained Roy's heart so he asked Ed to say goodnight to Alphonse for him, said a good evening to Jean and excused himself.
Ed walked up to Jean expecting a warm reception but halted a pace away from him when he noted the look on the man's face.
"What's wrong Jean? Please don't tell me you've had a crummy day too."
"You could say that."
"Well what happened?"
"What time did you get back into town today?"
"About noon, why?"
"Oh nothing, it's just that its well after six and I wondering why I hadn't seen you all day but of course it looks like you were busy so that explains it."
Totally missing the implications of Jean's words Ed said, "Yeah life happened the moment Roy and I pulled into the driveway, but that all had more to do with Al than me. How have you been while I was away?"
"Does it matter?"
Ed gave him an incredulous look and said, "Of course it matters. What are you talking about?"
"Don't worry about it Ed," Jean said as he turned to leave. "I'll catch you at work tomorrow."
Baffled, Ed grabbed onto the man's arm to stop him from leaving. As blue and gold faced off thunder sounded in the distance as clouds rolled in overhead. Ed wasn't sure what he'd done but he got the undeniable feeling he'd done something and he didn't want Jean leaving until he found out what it was.
"Easy there handsome. What did I do?"
"Nothing I see changing anytime soon so don't worry about Ed."
"How can I not worry about it when you are this upset? Why won't you tell me what's wrong?"
"Because you can't make me into something I'm not."
"What's that suppose to mean? I'm confused."
"I know you are and that hurts more than you could ever know."
With that Jean walked away leaving a dumbfounded Ed standing in the middle of his yard. As he watched Jean get smaller he didn't know what to do. He had no idea what had just happened and that left him with no course of action.
When the first droplets of rain started to fall Ed was still standing in the yard looking out into the horizon. He started to turn and go in but he knew Al would know something was wrong the instant he saw him and he had enough on his plate without Ed adding to it. Without much thought Ed dashed up on the porch, stuck his head in the door and shouted that he was going for a walk.
Without even grabbing his jacket he set off on foot toward town.
He walked around in the drizzle thinking in circles until the soothing sprinkle turned into a downpour. Not wanting to go home but not wanting to stay out in the elements without even thinking his feet carried him to Roy's doorstep.
Chapter 15: Skipping a Beat
Ed's getting closer to Jean, Roy's not dealing well with that fact making him feel as if he's losing the already tentative grip he has on his sanity. Al's having his own love troubles on on top of that there's trouble brewing outside West City... can you say full plate?
Skipping a Beat
When Roy opened his door the last thing he expected was to see was a soaked and distraught looking Edward but there he was all the same. Shaking off his shock Roy stepped aside and let the man in. Ed stood in his entryway, teeth chattering, hair plastered to his face and shivering. Roy couldn’t think of anything that could have possibly happened to prompt the current situation. The one thing he did know was Ed looked absolutely miserable and he didn’t like that fact one damn bit.
Roy was about to ask him what happened when Ed blurted out, “I screwed up.”
“I’m sure whatever it is that happened between you and Alphonse is not as bad as…”
“Not with Al, with Jean.”
Well that declaration got Roy’s attention. He had been certain whatever it was, was between the Elric brothers.
“You need to get that wet clothing off. Follow me, and I’ll go find you a towel and something dry to put on.”
Once they reached Roy’s bedroom Roy gave Ed a towel and some new clothing to put on. As soon as Ed stepped into the man’s bathroom he peeled out of his shirt and began scrubbing at his wet hair with the towel. Once he got the dry shirt on he realized his pants were a lost cause as well. Hooking his thumbs in the waistband Ed angrily shoved them off as if they were the cause of his current dilemma. Tossing his wet clothing over the shower rod he pulled on Roy’s jogging pants, flung the door open and marched out into the hall.
Roy was seated in his favorite chair in the living room when Ed finally came tromping back down the steps. He looked furious. In Roy’s eyes his blonde companion was a perfect mix of sexy, cute and pissed as he came stomping down the staircase wearing Roy’s shirt, too long pants and a scowl. He flopped down in the chair across from Roy and angrily shoved some of the wet strands plastered to his forehead to the side and sighed.
“Care to tell me what happened?” Roy said as he filled two glasses with wine.
“That’s the whole thing; I can’t because I don’t have the slightest clue,” Ed grumbled as he took the offered glass from Roy’s hand and downed it all in one go before holding it out to be refilled.
Roy gave him a puzzled look as Ed sat there scowling. Ed recounted what had happened between him and Jean all while staring up at the ceiling. When Roy didn’t immediately chime in with something Ed added, “You know what really gets me, besides the fact the entire exchange made zero sense?”
“The last two things he said, because you can't make me into something I'm not, and when I asked what that was supposed to mean and told him I was confused. His response of, I know you are and that hurts more than you could ever know,made my stomach knot. Even without knowing what the hell he meant everything in me thinks that phrase is bad news. So if you have any idea what that was all about please clue me in because I’m so lost I feel like I’m drowning.”
Roy didn’t know what to tell Ed because he couldn’t make sense of the situation himself. The one thing Roy did pick up was that Jean was apparently upset Ed hadn’t come to see him once he got back into town and that Ed had missed his thinly veiled sarcasm. When Roy mentioned this, Ed’s brows furrowed before he asked, “But I stopped by his house twice today after we got back into town and he wasn’t home.”
“Did you tell him that?”
“No,” Ed sighed.
“I suppose that would be a good place to start whenever you see him again. Other than that I’m not sure what advice to give other than trying to get him to talk to you.”
“But why be mad at me over something like that? What difference would it have made if I had been exhausted from the trip and just getting up from a nap when he stopped by?”
“Relationships and emotions are funny things Edo, they don’t always follow logic.”
“So I see. I just don’t think me strolling over there and asking to talk is going to pan out any differently than it did in my front yard,” Ed said as he looked off to the side.
Blonde hair darkened to the shade of fresh honey by the rain clung to the side of Ed’s face. Roy could tell that Ed’s teeth were clenched and more than anything he wanted to run his fingers across that perfect jaw line and watch that tension melt away. Anymore, Ed didn’t look right wearing a scowl even though it was something he’d worn more often than not when they first met. Yes, the overly driven man-child that was Edward Elric had evolved to become an almost entirely different being.
A mellow, carefree, even if somewhat confused, happy being that no longer lookedright when upset. At least he didn’t to Roy. In Roy’s world, an upset Ed should not exist. This meant that despite the fact it was going to kill off something in his soul to do so, Roy was going to do what he could to help Ed patch things up with Jean.
Steeling his nerves Roy said, “Well there are other ways to communicate.”
When puzzled golden eyes narrowed at him Roy ignored the high pitched screaming of his spirit and said, “Body language, Edo. I’m sure with the right smile, the right look and the right caress… the right words won’t matter.”
Ed’s face turned five shades of crimson but he swallowed hard and asked, “You think so?”
“I know so,” Roy replied and the words surely shaved five years off his life.
“Humph, easy for you to say, Oh Legendary Lover Boy of Central, but me, I’m still new at all of this stuff and to be honest I… I’m not even sure if I’m any good at it.”
“Has…” Roy faltered, took a large drink of wine and thought a bottle of the stuff would not be enough to get him through this conversation, “has he had any complaints before?”
“No but I know… well I just know I could be better at some things.”
“I’m sure your insecurities are unfounded, Edo.”
“I could prove it to you but I wouldn’t want to scar you for life.”
If this kept up Roy may die this very evening. You could only shave so many years off a man’s existence before the reaper immediately came looking for him. “You are worrying over nothing.”
Ed snorted and said, “You say this now but you’ve never been on the receiving end of the mockery I make a blow job into. Trust me, it could probably scar you for life.”
Dead, that’s what Roy was going to be. The imagery that simple phrase alone sparked in Roy’s mind was going to be his undoing. It amazed Roy what a little bit of red wine did for Ed and his hang-ups. That shy person that avoided talk of intimate things took a back seat to this sensually sarcastic creature that didn’t bite his tongue.
Polishing off what wine remained in his glass, Roy swallowed hard and replied, “Practice makes perfect and there’s no better time than the present to go for it.”
“You think so?”
“Absolutely,” Roy replied.
Hopping to his feet Ed shouted, “Fuck it! I’m going for it then. I don’t idle well anyway and I hate inaction, to me that’s worse than the problem.”
Roy stood up as well and when Ed marched toward the steps Roy sighed and resisted the urge to beat his head against the nearest wall. There was one lone flickering ember left alight in his soul and it was sure to die off due to his next action. Walking into the kitchen Roy went down into the basement then into his wine cellar. Selecting a well aged red wine he grabbed it off the shelf and swore under his breath. He didn’t know what felt worse, helping Ed into the arms of another or how selfish he felt for not really wanting to do it because he desired Ed for himself.
Cursing one more time he climbed the steps and was surprised to find a redressed Ed standing in the kitchen. Still damp clothing clinging to him like a second skin he had his hands shoved in his pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels.
“You ok Roy? What had you swearing down there?”
“Stubbed my toe, nothing to worry about Edo,” Roy lied as he handed Ed the bottle.
“What’s this for?”
“Everything’s better with wine.”
Ed smiled at him and said, “Thanks Roy,” before leaning forward and giving Roy a brief hug. “I don’t know what I would have done these past two weeks without you.”
“What are friends for Edo, what are friends for.”
Those nine words extinguished the flicker.
Ed wasn’t one to interfere in his brother’s life but as the week trudged on he knew he had to say something. As a band, they couldn’t skip out on Fidel with such short notice. They’d made a commitment and they had to stick with it. That’s why when Wednesday night rolled around Ed was at home cooking a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes for him and his brother instead of over at Jean’s. If anyone could use a plate of comfort food it was his brother. Al eventually wandered in the kitchen and asked his brother if he needed any help. When Ed said he could peel the potatoes Al started his task immediately.
When the silence got too heavy, Ed finally spoke.
“You need to talk to her.”
“I know I do. I just don’t know how to begin,” Al admitted. “I could wave the white flag in the form of treating her to dinner. It would be a start.”
“You don’t really want to have this conversation in public. If her emotions are still running high that could get ugly,” Ed said as he added spices to the bowl of flour in front of him. “Take it from someone who sported a bruised cheek for several days. I’m just glad no one at that little Resembool eatery really realized who we were. Winry damn near knocked me out of my seat.”
“Yeah I guess you have a point there. I don’t think Lena’s that temperamental but I don’t’ want to risk it either.”
“You could invite her over here. I’ll make myself scare.”
“You don’t seem to have a problem doing that lately. This is the first night you’ve been home since you got back from your road trip.”
Ed tried to fight the flush but he knew he was crimson anyway. When he didn’t comment Al merely smiled at his Brother’s flushed face and said, “I just wish I knew where to begin.”
“Well how do you feel about, Lena?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“The kind that needs answering before you talk to her,” Ed replied sternly, giving Al a look.
“She’s like a little sister to me.”
“So you aren’t attracted to her at all?”
The silence hanging between them was confusing Ed. When the seconds drug on, he began to worry.
“I… well I hadn’t thought about it before she pointed it out but, well… she isn’t a kid anymore.”
“True and even if she was it’s not like you’re one of the ancients at your age.”
“True as well but the idea of dating her still seems… odd.”
“But I take it from your hesitation answering my question you’ve thought about it.”
“How could I not after what happened on Sunday?”
“Point taken, so is this something you actually want to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean are you actually interested in her in this manner or would going out with her at this point be a pity date.”
“I… I don’t know. I don’t want her to be upset any longer but I also don’t know much about her other than the fact she has a great voice and fabulous ass.”
“Ah, so you haven’t been totally blind.”
“Tell me you haven’t noticed.”
“Touché,” Ed said almost instantly. A person would have to be blind not to notice the hips and ass on little miss Lena. “So what are you going to do?”
“What men have been doing since the dawn of time, Brother. I’m going to go grovel. Then, if that works, I’ll ask her if we can work on being closer friends and go from there.”
“So a one day at a time plan, that sounds good to me.”
“Great now what are you going to do about, Winry?”
“I was actually going to call her a few days ago before I got distracted and time got away from me.”
“So I noticed,” Al replied with a smirk as he dumped the peeled and cubed potatoes in the pot of water on the stove. “Who was the distraction, Jean or Roy?”
“Why did you ask that and what’s so funny?” Ed asked as he began chopping the lower stems off some asparagus and placing the spears on a baking sheet. It’s not like it would magically make the chicken and potatoes health food but they had to have something green on their plate.
“Oh no reason, mister ten days on the road with one and then three nights at the house of the other.”
Ed hadn’t looked at it like that. “Roy and I are just friends, Al. There’s nothing going on there at all.”
“Okay fine if you insist,” Al said deciding not to push the issue. “But that leaves more than checkers and canasta going on between you and the Lieutenant then, am I correct?”
“You might be,” Ed said as he made it a point not to look at his brother.
“I’m just giving you a hard time, Brother. I won’t pry.”
“No, it’s okay Al. I’m happy to report that getting laid on a regular basis is much more fun than checkers and canasta combined.”
It was Al’s turn to blush and all was right in Ed’s world.
Al and Lena made it through their rough spot which meant the band back together and back on track. Ed and Jean seemed to be getting closer and it was killing Roy. It was painful to watch so he made a decision. He was going to put some distance between him and the older Elric. He started with backing away from hanging out together after work. It was hard, but Roy knew it needed to be done. He skipped Fidel’s, he stopped walking home with Ed, he even backed away from going to lunch with everyone. After a few weeks of that Roy was ready to spend his first completely Ed free weekend in months. Ever since that fateful Saturday Ed appeared at his front door looking for Graeme's Book on The Structure of Elements they saw each other at some point nearly every weekend.
That changed from nearly, to absolutely every weekend after their road trip and as much as Roy enjoyed it, it was also destroying him on some level.
With this looming overhead Roy chose to pass on grabbing a beer with everyone at the Tavern that Friday night. He decided to be up out and about, bright and early on Saturday morning so if Ed stopped by he wouldn’t be home, therefore avoiding the temptation to spend time with him. Things were going well until Roy wandered into the middle of downtown to grab an early dinner because the apple and sandwich he’d taken with him when he’d left that morning had worn off. He stepped into a hole in the wall diner and before he could take a seat he was greeted with, “Hey Roy, fancy seeing you here.”
Everything in him tensed when a voice that he knew all too well called out to him. Roy couldn’t help but think, what were the chances? He’d picked the no name greasy spoon because he figured he wouldn’t run into a soul he knew. But he’d run into two of them in the form of Al and Ed. They both waved Roy over and invited him to dine with them saying they’d just placed their orders.
Off kilter and totally unprepared for the turn of events Roy hesitated to the point where both the Elric’s gave him a funny look.
“Thanks but… thank you both for the offer but I was just going to order something to go.”
“Are you sure General?” Al asked.
“I’m positive Al, you boys enjoy your dinner,” was all Roy said as he purposefully ignored the golden eyes boring into him. He kept his attention focused on Al as he wished them pleasant dining and left the eatery.
Al was watching his sibling as Ed watched Roy’s retreating form. One of the reason’s they had gone out to dinner was because they had talked most of the day away and by the time their stomach’s were growling neither one of them were in the mood to cook. The biggest reason behind their less than cheerful mood just walked out of the diner without ordering the food he had proclaimed he wanted “to go.”
“See what I mean, Al.”
“I do,” Al replied wistfully. When he and Ed had been talking earlier Al had convinced his sibling that he was reading into things but now Al wasn’t so sure. Maybe Ed was right. Maybe Roy was avoiding him.
“I just can’t think of a single thing I’ve done to cause this.”
“Maybe it’s not as dire as you think.”
“The man would rather go hungry than eat in the same building I’m in.”
Al didn’t have anything to say to that. Even he had to admit Roy’s behavior was as strange as Ed had said it was.
The two sat in tense silence and when their dinner arrived Ed did little more than push his food around on his plate. Ed not in the mood to eat was always a depressing sight in Al’s book and after the fourth heavy sigh he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Talk to him.”
“How can I when he’s avoiding me like I have the plague?”
“When did you become the roll over and die type?”
“You, you’re acting defeated. It’s not your usual style. Talking to Winry after the incident was no cake walk either but you survived it. If you lived through that, this should be easy.”
Ed gave Al a look but realized his brother was right. On top of that moping and guessing would get him nowhere. Tomorrow he was marching over to Roy’s bright and early and he wasn’t leaving until he got an answer.
Roy hadn’t slept well at all. In fact he’d spent most of the night staring up at the ceiling trying to shake his incidental encounter with Ed. Finally giving up on sleep around six Roy got up, showered and ate. By a quarter after seven he was ready to walk out the door. His heart ended up in his throat when he opened it only to find Ed on the other side with his hand poised to knock.
“You scared the piss out of me, Roy.”
“Likewise,” Roy admitted as he tried to calm his racing heart. “Is there something I can do for you, Ed?”
“Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“Not really, I was on my way out.”
“We could talk and walk, that wouldn’t bother me.”
Roy had to fight the urge to swallow loudly as those exquisite eyes he adored so much looked at him in a pleading manner. “I was really on a mission to get a few errands done so maybe another time?”
“Sure thing, no problem,” Ed replied even though his tone said otherwise. “Enjoy your day, Roy.”
“You do the same, Edo.”
With that, Ed started to walk away but when he got to the bottom of the steps leading off Roy’s porch Al’s words echoed in his head. He was rolling over again. Not in the mood to leave this unresolved for another day Ed turned around, fixed Roy with a pointed look and said, “No.”
“No?” Roy asked confused.
“That’s right, no. You don’t get to dismiss me like that. We’ve known each other for too long, been through too much together and over the past year you’ve become my best friend so no, you don’t get to just dismiss me after avoiding me for weeks.”
Stunned, that’s what Roy was and as Ed stood there before him with his arms folded over his chest he couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to the man.
“What with us isn’t? Do we know how to live any other way? You don’t have to avoid me, because of it.”
Roy sighed, “It’s not what you think.”
“Well if you aren’t avoiding me by all means please tell me what this is. I’m lost over here.”
“I… I have a lot on my mind.”
“And that makes me contagious how?”
“I’m sorry if you felt that way, Edo. That wasn’t my intent. I’ve been dodging everyone.”
“I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. I’m, just trying to clear my head.”
“You know you can talk to me about anything right?” Ed asked as he walked back up the steps to where Roy was standing.
“I know that, but there are no words for some things. Have you ever felt like that? Like whatever you had going on in your head couldn’t be expressed with words.”
Ed gave him an incredulous look.
“Sorry, forgot who I was talking to, of course you have.”
Ed smirked at Roy and said, “I’ve been told that I offer the most companionable silence this side of Xing.”
“Ed, nearly everything is this side of Xing.”
“I rest my case.”
The two of them laughed and Roy realized it felt good to let some of the tension he was carrying melt away. But then again he’d felt like part of his very being was missing for the past few weeks as he had tried to put some distance between him and Ed. It felt good to be standing beside him once again even if they weren’t immersed in their usual highbrow conversation.
The silence was indeed as companionable as Ed said it would be and that’s how they spent the day. In almost to complete silence just enjoying each other’s company. They moved from the porch to Roy’s den where they each picked a book off the shelf and settled down to read. Just past midday Ed’s growling stomach made Roy chuckle and the duo relocated to the kitchen where they fixed lunch together and ate in the same comfortable silence they’d enjoyed all day. After that they cleaned the kitchen and settled in the living room to listen to a talk show on the radio. When it was over that program was followed by a live broadcast of the West City Orchestra.
They enjoyed two hours of excellent music and when that drew to a close Ed disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned he was carrying two cups of tea and passed one to Roy. When Ed turned to leave the room Roy followed and they ended their day where it began, out on Roy’s porch, this time watching the sun set.
The day had been perfect and Roy was happier than he’d been in weeks. He was just about to say so when a voice interrupted his musings.
Jean had been waiting for his boyfriend to show up at his place all day. They hadn’t had any solid plans but Ed had told him Friday night that he’d drop by on Sunday and by the time the sun dipped low on the horizon Jean had given up on Ed appearing and decided to look for him. Once Al told him Ed had taken off that morning headed for Mustang’s place Jean had to bite his tongue not to curse.
The sad thing is part of him knew that’s where Ed would be and that fact was enough to make his teeth grind. Ed spent a lot of time with Roy. More time than he spent with Jean and some days that fact was hard to endure. He’d always hoped Ed would realize this and snap out of it but as time passed it seemed to be getting worse instead of better. The moment the two of them were together everything and everyone else seemed to fade into the background. Jean had no doubt that Ed hadn’t even thought about the fact he’d told him he’d stop by.
“Hey guys, am I interrupting anything?”
“No not at all,” Ed said as a smile claimed his face. “Come on up.”
“No thanks, Love I was merely looking for you.”
Ed’s brows knitted for a moment before he said, “Oh shit, I was supposed to be at your place wasn’t I?”
“It’s ok,” Jean said as his eyes locked onto Roy’s. “I knew where to find you.”
Roy didn’t falter under the intense icy blue stare Jean was giving him, but he’d never forget it. No, forgetting that look want possible. Jean Havoc was pissed and Roy knew exactly why. If they weren’t friends and coworkers this would have dissolved into one ugly scene.
“I was hoping you had time to join me for dinner.”
“Of course I do,” Ed replied as he sat his cup on the railing. “Forgive me for not showing up before now.”
Once Ed was off the porch and standing beside him, blue eyes that hadn’t left Roy’s tense face grew cocky before Jean said, “No problem, Ed. I’m sure you can think of a way make it up to me later.”
Ed swatted Jean on the arm as his ears turned red before waving goodbye to Roy and turning to leave.
“Sleep well, Chief,” Jean said as he turned to follow Ed.
“You do the same, Lieutenant.”
Jean placed his hand on the small of Ed’s back, looked over his shoulder and with a wicked smirk painting his face he said, “I’m sure I will.”
Roy narrowed his eyes at the man but said nothing. If peace was to be kept he would have to remain quiet on the matter, and that’s exactly what he’d do. As he watched the two leave his yard then grow smaller in the distance Roy cursed under his breath. Once he looked down and saw Ed’s empty mug he swore loud enough to startle the squirrel that was sitting on the railing on the far end of his porch.
The gray and brown creature looked at him with his head tilted to the side as if to say, have you lost your mind. Roy answered yes to the unasked question and in what could only be called a showing of compassion the squirrel brought the nut it was trying to pry open as close to Roy as it dared and dropped it off. When Roy said thank you but didn’t pick it up the creature nudged the gift closer to Roy with its nose.
“I think you would get more use out of that than I.”
A little bit of chittering.
“No thank you, nuts aren’t really my thing.”
More chittering and head tilting.
“I really have lost it haven’t I? I’m out here talking to a squirrel… and the odd thing is I think you’re listening.”
As if to exemplify that point the animal sat down on its haunches and looked at Roy.
“What should I do? This is killing me.”
The squirrel flipped its bushy tail around a bit before turning toward the gate.
“Go after him? I can’t do that.”
An almost angry snip is the response.
“It’s not my place.”
The creature turned its back on Roy and bounced back to its original place on the railing at the edge of the porch. It was official. His love for Ed had robbed him of his sanity… Roy Mustang had just had a conversation with a squirrel.
Time marched forward as it was apt to do and on this particular day found Edward Elric excited. Today was one of the Saturday’s he got to spend with one of the kids from the orphanage and today it was Taylor. Him and Al often took the time to take one of the kids at the orphanage out for the day and today was one of those days for Ed. Taylor was easily one of his favorites even though he’d never admit it. She had dark brown hair and beautiful large green eyes. She was a year younger than Elysia and they could pass for sisters. Once the two got together they acted the parts as well.
Ed had always hoped Jean would warm up to this particular activity of his but so far no dice. He’d invited him out with them but Jean hadn’t seemed inclined at all to spend his Saturday in this manner. Ed knew volunteering wasn’t for everyone but this was something very personal for him and Al. They were orphans too and there wasn’t a day that they weren’t thankful for the people that had taken time to help them through life when all they had was each other.
Jean’s lack of interest shouldn’t bother him so much but it did. It bothered Ed a lot. The man seemed almost… annoyed by Ed’s need to volunteer. In fact, Jean didn’t seem interested in most of the things Ed did with his spare time. While not a big deal in and of itself it didn’t leave a whole lot of common ground for the pair to interact on. Shaking the morose thoughts Ed asked Taylor where she wanted to go first and in a heartbeat they were off to the nearest clothing store.
After taking her shopping, having lunch together and listening to how life was going for Taylor, Ed looked up from his drink and saw large green eyes focused on him all while looking extra innocent.
“Ok, what is it?”
“If that’s the case I guess we’ll head back.”
“I’m just kidding Taylor we’re going to go see, Elysia.”
The smile on the girls face was as wide as it was contagious.
When they arrived at the Hughes household Ed was immediately abandoned for the company of Elysia. Once Ed and Gracia made it into the den, Ed realized Roy was there and the three of them were playing gin.
“Would you care to join us Edo since your guest ran off with our fourth person?”
Ed nodded and said he’d be right back after he got himself something to drink. Once he was seated and caught up on how the game was progressing he partnered with Gracia since she and Elysia had been on a team together. Five hands later Roy and Maes were wishing Elysia had never left the table. Ed and Gracia were mopping the floor with them. When all was said and done, the guys were thoroughly defeated and pouting.
Gracia just laughed at the long faces and headed upstairs to check on the girls.
"So how's your day been Ed?" Maes asked "Miss Taylor looks as lovely as ever."
"It's been fine," Ed replied solemnly but neither man believed that claim.
"What's weighing on your mind so heavily?"
"Nothing that should be I suppose. I just wish Jean had been interested in going out with us today. No biggie."
"Maybe dress shops and toy stores aren't his thing," Maes offered hoping to lighten the mood.
"Well it doesn't seem to matter what I'm doing if I've got one of the kids he keeps his distance."
"Kids aren't for everyone," Maes added.
"True," Roy agreed before changing the subject. He didn't like Ed looking so lost in thought. "What are your plans for the rest of the day?"
"Not much really. After taking Taylor back I had planned on doing nothing more than finishing up that song for Jean's birthday party. It feels like I’ve been working on it forever.”
"How is that coming?"
"Pretty good I think. But that means nothing coming from me since I wrote it."
The men laughed at that and continued on in that manner until the women returned… and what an entrance they made. All of their arms were loaded down with stuff. Apparently Elysia had gotten a new wardrobe and had passed a lot of her smaller belongings on to Taylor.
"And just how are we supposed to get all of that across town, little missy?" Ed asked. “We walked over here.”
"I'm sure Roy wouldn't mind giving you a lift, he has to pass right by there," Maes offered on Roy's behalf.
Roy just sighed and agreed. He'd long since given up on making Hughes behave where he and Ed were concerned. Anymore he just went along for the ride.
Once they got Taylor home and as unpacked as they could get her in the small shared space she had they were walking through the orphanage headed for Mrs. Drogan's office when the sound of a baby crying split the air. Sure there were lots of kids there but the youngest was around six. Last time Ed and Roy checked there were no babies at the city orphanage. Following the sound of the noise they encountered an odd sight.
Mrs. Drogan was holding the crying infant in one arm as she read instructions off a sheet to Mrs. Haley who was trying and failing at putting a crib together. Both women looked haggard as they had the baby crying as well as several smaller children under foot. Ed and Roy looked at each other for a moment before Ed took the baby from Mrs. Drogan as Roy worked to calm the other kids. He convinced them to go outside by offering to show them some fire alchemy if they would go rake the leaves for their care takers. All of the kids rushed outside and peace took over the room.
"I know you two aren't believers," Mrs. Drogan began, "but from where I stand you two were heaven sent."
Ed just smiled at the older lady as he bounced the infant in his arms. He had no real experience with babies but he'd watched enough women to know babies seemed to like gentle bouncing as long as they hadn’t just eaten.
"Where did this little guy come from?" Ed asked. "Was he here this morning when I came by?"
"Yes, she was here," Mrs. Haley corrected. "She was thankfully sleeping when you picked up Taylor."
"She arrived last night," Mrs. Drogan said. “Most of the kids were not even aware she was here until her cries took over the quiet morning. It was some adventure last night trying to find supplies for her at that hour but we made due."
"Let me and Ed have a crack at that crib," Roy offered.
"Gladly," Mrs. Drogan replied as she handed over the instruction sheet and reached for the infant. She was a lot of things but a carpenter wasn't one of them.
Once the crib was together and the infant settled inside in a nest of blankets the four adults retreated to the office. Once they were behind closed doors both women were very much looking their age, those ages being in their late fifties and early sixties.
"I'm too old for this," Mrs. Haley said. "Six and ten year olds are tiring enough but a baby," she said as she shook her head.
"Especially one this young," Mrs. Drogan said as she took her graying brown hair out of the sloppy bun it was in. "She's only a few weeks old at most."
"Wow," Roy said as he looked at both women with wide eyes. "Who dropped her off?"
"No clue," replied the completely gray haired Mrs. Haley. She was a short rotund woman that was nearly as wide as she was tall. "She was literally left on the door step with nothing more than an empty bottle and two blankets. No name was left with her. She didn't even have clothes on, poor thing."
"As it is she's wearing one of the smallest shirts we could find but it still swallows her."
"There wasn't much money in the budget to begin with and now this. The crib alone nearly broke us."
"If you ladies would give me a list I'll get you everything on it," Ed said without hesitation.
"I didn't say that for that reason Edward. You and your brother give us an insanely generous amount of money as it is. It's the City that needs to cough up more funding."
"Well until that time give me a list," Ed said sternly. "Kids going hungry and naked waiting on those pompous assholes to do what needs to be done is unacceptable."
"EDWARD!" Mrs. Haley shouted but Mrs. Drogan merely laughed.
The truth is the truth, Fran," Mrs. Drogan said. "I've written numerous proposals, appeals and I've spoken down at city hall during the meetings many times. They purposefully turn a blind eye to the situation here."
"Well maybe someone a little more firm needs to speak with them," Ed mumbled.
"What was that, Edo?"
"Nothing," Ed said as he pushed the ladies to get moving on the list. No sooner than they picked up a pencil did cries ring out from across the hall just as children started knocking on the door.
"You take the baby and I'll go entertain the others,” Roy suggested."Deal?"
"Deal," Ed agreed. The ladies told him where the diapers and milk were and he was on his way.
Back inside the bedroom Ed could see the blanket in the crib moving about but he couldn't see the baby. One look over the rail told him what the issue was. Her tiny feet were tangled in one of the blankets and she was livid about that turn of events. Ed freed the impossibly small feet from their entanglement and tiny toes came into view as their owner tried to calm her frantic cries.
"Hey there little lady. I would call you by your name but no one knows what that is. Are you ok down there now?”
The baby was looking up at Ed with a tear stained face and she opened her mouth as if to answer but the only thing that came out was a small hiccup. She blinked a few times seemingly stunned at what had just happened to her body. Another hiccup hit and she quickly decided she wasn’t a fan of hiccups. Letting out a wail that could wake the dead Ed moved to pick up the pissed off child.
This seemed to calm her some but each time another hiccup hit she grew upset all over again. After several minutes of this Ed decided it was time to take action and headed for the kitchen. He was in the kitchen with the upset infant when two of the smaller children came in to see what Ed was doing.
“Ed why is the baby crying?” The young girl asked.
“Because it’s hungry,” the boy answered matter-of-factly. “Everyone knows that’s why babies cry.”
“Quit being a know it all, Ben.”
“I don’t have to, Greta. I know that…”
“Guys, guys settle down don’t you think she’s making enough noise?”
Both kids fell silent with guilty looks on their faces but they never quit watching Ed. In fact he could hardly move for them.
“I thought you guys were outside watching Roy?”
“We were and he made the coolest fire bird in the sky, it was great!”
“It was but he said he couldn’t let it go on for long because it was hard to control.”
“Let that be a lesson guys,” Ed said as he continued pulling things out of the cabinets. “Alchemy and the power it puts forth has to be respected or people could get hurt. It may all look like fun and games to you guys but it can be really dangerous if you are not careful.”
Roy had come in as Ed’s back was turned and the sight he saw brought a smile to his face. Watching Ed move around cradling a cranky infant in one arm as he rifled through cabinets was inspiring enough but once you added the other two kids underfoot as he gave a life lesson the entire scene was beyond charming. Seeing that Ed needed to cook something Roy spoke up.
“Would you like me to hold her so you could use both hands?”
Ed let out a sigh of relief and handed over the still hiccupping infant. She took one look at Roy, gave him a toothless smile and cooed at the General. Ed laughed and said, “I guess it knows no age range.”
“Your legendary charm, I guess all ladies do adore you,” Ed joked.
Roy let out a laugh even though he wasn’t truly feeling amused. He’d trade the admiration of every woman in Amestris to have the affections of the man in front of him. Roy sat down at the table and called the other two children over to look at the baby, an action that gave Ed some room to work. As he spoke to the kids Roy looked at the ingredients on the counter: caraway, fennel, ginger, mint and honey but he couldn’t figure out what Ed was making.
“What are you cooking over there, Edo?”
“Happy Juice. It was something mom use to make for Al when he was little because he often had stomach trouble and would become cranky or cry. The first time I paid attention to her making it I asked a dozen questions at least and it was then that she told me that she’d been making this since I was a baby and it always worked.”
“You remember the recipe from all that time ago?”
“All part of having my super brain I guess, but I’ve made it a few times since then.”
Roy watched as Ed made his little concoction that he only allowed to boil for a minute before turning the heat way down. He spooned out a couple of teaspoons of the liquid into a bowl as the rest of it was allowed to simmer. Finding her bottle in the fridge he poured the contents in a clean cup before washing the bottle and putting about a quarter cup of cold water in it then adding his hot concoction to it. He shook it up and tested it on his left wrist and it must have still been too warm for his liking because he added a splash more cold water.
With that done he handed it to Roy just as she was hit with another hiccup and was getting ready to wail. The instant the bottle touched her lips she was sucking away. As she drank Ed packaged up the rest of the happy juice after adding more water to it and put it in the fridge. The small amount of fluid was gone in no time and so were the hiccups apparently because she was nearly sleep again by the time they got up the steps.
Roy went to place her back in the crib but Ed shook his head no. He fussed around with blankets for a while and once he was happy with the arrangement he told Roy to lay her down. Once out in the hall Roy asked what that was all about.
“She was throwing a fit earlier because her feet were tangled. I figured she would sleep better if those little toes of hers stayed free.”
Both ladies were standing at the end of the hall looking at them in awe.
“For two men that have no children of your own you sure handled that like pros.”
“All in a day’s work,” Ed replied as he gave the ladies a mock salute. “Do you have that list ready?”
When the women handed him two pieces of paper Ed folded the papers and stuffed them in his back pocket without looking at them. After talking to the women for a bit longer, Roy and Ed left the orphanage with a lot on their minds. Once in the cabin of Roy’s car Roy said, “They have their hands full.”
“They do, too full to be honest. They are getting on in years. They need help. Lena and Ashley can only do so much. They have jobs too.”
“You’re going to stir the pot aren’t you?”
“The less you know the better,” Ed replied with a smirk. “But do you mind taking me home so I can grab the car and start shopping?”
“I could go with you if you don’t mind company.”
“I’d love it to be honest. I haven’t looked at the lists but I’m sure I’ll need help deciphering it.”
The shopping took longer than they thought. By the time they were done with that and delivering everything to the ladies at the orphanage the nearly full moon was high in the sky. When Roy went to drop Ed off at home Ed invited him in and Roy accepted. He might as well finish the day off right. It wasn’t as if he was ever ready to leave Ed’s presence anyway.
After making quick work of four sandwiches and a couple of glasses of juice two tired men flopped down in the Elric living room and damn near sighed in unison. They sat there talking about the day’s events for a bit before Roy asked where Al was. The smile that split Ed’s face was wicked indeed.
“Probably somewhere being happily molested by Lena.”
“So are they an official item now?”
"I don't think they know what they're doing yet, but they seem to be enjoying the process of figuring it out so I won't say a thing."
“Well at least they are on speaking terms now. It was rough going for a while.”
“It was. Remember that night I had to pull them from the show?”
Roy did remember. He probably would never forget it.
The band was at Fidel's, the house was packed and Al and Lena were sounding like shit. He was out of tune and slow to start his solos. She was either coming in early, late or singing over the other back up vocalists. In other words it was a disaster. Three songs in Ed had, had enough and announced an early intermission for the band.
When everyone followed him backstage Ed looked at his brother and Lena and asked them if they wanted to sit out tonight. When both of them refused Zack said, "I think you two might want to reconsider that."
"If I said I'm fine to play, I'm fine," Al grumbled.
"I think I have to disagree with you on that Al. I think you two need to sit this one out. In fact I insist."
"Since when did this become your band?" Al shouted and for the first time in a long time everyone got a glimpse at that infamous temper Ed kept a lid on most days.
"Since you started playing like a drunken sailor on shore leave," Ed replied sternly.
"Sorry I'm not perfect all the time, Brother."
"Don't get pissy with me Al. I'm not the one you've got the damn problem with," Ed hissed as he looked over at Lena. "I'm not usually one to interfere in someone else's personal life but when it bleeds over into my world and starts causing me problems I can't keep quiet. Go fix what's bothering you. Your place isn't on stage tonight."
"Look I said I'm fine now let's just …"
"Apparently you didn't understand me Al, I said go."
"No buts, if either of you set foot back in that building before fixing this mess you've made between you I swear I'll transmute you both bald."
"Ed," Lena said. "I think we can…"
"Lena I love you dearly but right now I don't give a shit what either of you think. I know for a fact you were making the band, and not to mention Fidel, look like two bit amateurs tonight. He sold tickets to tonight's show. People have paid to see us do our thing and we are going to give them their money's worth. If that means we have to do it without you two then so be it."
When Al and Lena fell silent Ed asked everyone else if they were ready to go back in. When they nodded, everyone minus the troubled singer and guitarist filed back inside. The band played the 'sick Al" lineup of songs and the show went on at a much more reasonable tempo.
Yeah that was an interesting night to say the least.
After their stroll down memory lane Ed went into the kitchen to refill his drink only to have another memory hit him. He shook his head as he pulled the juice pitcher out of fridge but memories were still flooding his mind faster than he could filter through them. Taking a deep breath he sat the juice and his glass down and tried to reign in his emotions. When he realized it wasn't working he slipped out of the side door and onto the porch to get some much needed air.
In the next room Roy heard the kitchen door creak shut and just assumed Ed was taking out the trash or something like that. When several minutes passed and Ed didn’t return Roy went looking for him. When Roy found him Ed was looking out over the railing of the porch into the yard in a daze. Roy would have been more than content to just let him stare off into space if he hadn't noticed how his eyes were glassing over. At first he thought it was a trick of the moonlight but when Ed looked away from him a sniffed he realized there was a problem.
"Are you okay over there Edo?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine," Ed replied but the hitch in his voice was not convincing.
"Want to talk about it?"
Ed bit his lip for a second before he said, "The first time I made Happy Juice was three nights after mom died."
Roy was stunned silent. What could a person say to that?
"Al had cried himself into a mess, he hadn't been eating and his stomach was in knots. Pinako had convinced him to eat some watermelon and even that light snack had his stomach protesting. I made it then and I remember crying the whole time I was cooking it. Not the loud sobbing crying but tears were streaming down my face the entire time."
"That must have been hard. I can't even imagine losing my only parent then having a little brother to take care of."
"It was a little heavy that's for damn sure. But I made the juice, it worked and for the first time in three days I felt like it was going to be okay. That even without mom or dad Al and I would survive."
"You two amaze me."
Ed merely shrugged at Roy's comment before tilting his head skyward. He spent several moments blinking back tears then sighed. "That poor baby girl will have no memory of her parents."
"It is something I would wish on no one."
"I'm already wondering what will happen to her."
"Me too, Edo me too."
It was a somber thought to end the night on but that's what they did. Life couldn't always be rainbows and roses and today reminded them of this less than cheerful fact. They couldn't save the world but part of them wanted to try anyway.
Before anyone knew it, fall was in full swing and it was time for Ed and Elysia’s birthday. Unlike his brother, Ed preferred something much more low-key so he always celebrated privately or via a joint gathering with Elysia, much to Al’s dismay. The younger Elric thought Ed was missing out on the true joy of his birthday by not having a big party.
In all honesty Ed had too much on his plate and on his mind to be concerned about a big party. There was the growing issue with the lack of funds at the orphanage and the baby girl they finally named Noraleen. Ed crinkled his nose at the name and consistently shortened it to Nora. There was his growing relationship with the lieutenant, and the fact that he had come to the happy conclusion that he was very much in love with Jean Havoc. There was the band and the fact that every time they looked up someone was trying to make them turn their hobby into career. There was that nasty issue the military discovered brewing on the outskirts of West City. It hadn't been said flat out but Ed knew something was on the verge of happening because the Führer already had him and Maes working on a plan and putting together a team. The stress of that alone was heavy enough and he couldn’t share the burden either. Only five people knew what was potentially brewing in the sparsely populated area between West City and Creta. At least he could talk to Maes when they were alone. If not for that some days Ed thought he would go nuts.
In other words life was busy.
When it came time to relax and have fun for the party Ed was all for it being small and low-key. This year, since the occasion fell on a Saturday, Gracia had decided they would have the party with Elysia and her friends during the day at their house then have the second gathering out at their lakeside cabin. She thought it would be a nice change of pace from their usual backyard cookout.
When that evening came around Elysia was so excited she couldn’t hold still. Ed wasn’t bouncing around like she was but everyone could tell he was excited as well. The day had gone by swimmingly and everyone was having a great time. Roy was watching the Elric brothers chase Elysia around when a voice behind him startled him out of his reverie.
“You alright there, Chief?”
“I’m fine, Jean.”
“You sure? You looked like you were in a daze.”
“Really? I didn’t realize your thoughts were gold and blue,” Jean said before walking toward the grill where Breda was.
Roy was confused for a moment before Ed, Elysia and Al zipping by once more caught his attention. It was then that Jean’s odd comment made sense. Ed had his hair down, per the birthday girl’s request, and he was wearing a striking royal blue shirt that made that golden mane of his seem to glow. When Roy looked in Jean’s direction he noticed that the man was already looking at him. Roy knew the beginning of an issue when he saw one so he opted not rise to the obvious bait, ignored Jean’s comment as he pretended like nothing had transpired between them at all.
Taking a deep breath Roy shouted over to Breda and asked him if he needed anything. Thankfully the man answered yes then followed that by a list of items giving Roy the perfect excuse to go inside. Once in the kitchen Roy immediately started gathering the things Breda asked for. However, his tense movements were all too obvious to Maes the moment the man entered the room.
“Easy there Roy Boy, what’s wrong?”
Roy’s eyes scanned the room.
“We’re alone, no worries so spill it.”
“Apparently my Ed watching hasn’t escaped Jean’s notice. I hadn’t realized I was so obvious.”
“Apparently I am because… “
“No,” Maes cut in, “He watches you two like a hawk when you’re together. He has done so since the night you showed up at Fidel’s.”
“The night Ed and I… danced together?” Roy asked, it was so hard to call that incident a mere dance and he knew Maes loved pointing that out.
“No, I’m referring to the very first time you joined us all there. That vertical make out session set to music simply made it worse”
Roy rolled his eyes at Maes’ commentary and asked, “But why?” as he sat the last item on the counter.
Green eyes scanned the room before looking through the doorway and into the thankfully empty living room. When he deemed it safe Maes lowered his voice and replied, “You two are friends but you also have history. Bad history and that’s left Jean with issues where you are concerned. He’s so jealous of you at times he can’t see straight and your close-knit friendship with his boyfriend is unnerving him but his pride won’t let him admit it to you or to Edward.”
“What should I do?”
“I’ve noticed he has had you under more intense scrutiny for a few weeks now. I’d steer clear of him, give Ed some space and don’t do anything to set him off.”
“Easier said than done since I’m on his shit list.”
“Did something happen to inspire his latest bout of Roy-hating? I haven’t seen him this bad since the Susan incident.”
Roy cringed at the mere mention of that. That incident damn near tore the group apart. War, homunculus, corrupt government, and it was a waitress at some all night diner by the docks that was damn near their undoing… the whole situation was insane.
“Well he was upset enough with Ed when we came back from that road trip we took a while back to express it even if it was with thinly veiled sarcasm.”
Hughes rubbed his chin and narrowed those keen eyes at Roy before asking, “What are you not telling me?”
Roy sighed because he really didn’t want to go into it. It was a hard memory to think on or rehash. It was one of those moments that made him love the man just out of his reach that much more. Steeling his nerves Roy told Maes about everything that lead up to his Ed-less weekend and how it ended up being any and everything but. He told Maes how through a weird twist of fate they ended up spending the whole day together, not talking and just enjoying each other’s presence when Jean had found them on his porch watching the sun set.
“No wonder he’s got you on his radar.”
“I didn’t mean for it to happen Maes I was honestly trying to avoid him.”
“And you don’t think it’s odd that even when that’s your goal to avoid him fate manages to throw the two of you together anyway? I know you don’t believe in a higher power but even you have to think it’s more than coincidental. ”
“I… I just don’t know what to do or think anymore. Jean is ready to skin me alive and this time I don’t blame him.”
“Hey if I had my way I’d let you two fight it out gladiator style and to the winner goes the, Ed.”
“Can it Maes and help me carry this stuff outside. I’m going to grab some beer as a peace offering.”
Roy did just that and when they approached the grill, the supplies and beer were met with broad smiles all around and the four men stood by the grill drinking and laughing until Elysia announced it was time to play a game. Being used to the little girl’s homemade games everyone followed her lead.
Elysia and Ed were sitting in two chairs in front of everyone as Gracia and Al handed out sheets of paper and pencils. It was a list of questions, not just any questions but questions asking favorites from colors to food to songs for both her and Ed. The birthday girl said that she and Ed had already written down their answers and placed them in the Kitchen. The deal was that the two people that got the most answers right got the two mystery gifts. One Ed had made and one she had made. As the two people closest to the birthday duo Al and Gracia were barred from the game and relegated to tallying up the answers.
With the rules established Ed and Elysia basically sat in front of everyone and sang that maddening never ending song for three minutes. When time was up they gave a loud annoying sound that resembled a buzzer indicating that pencils had to go down. Everyone passed their papers to Al. Once he had them all him and Gracia headed for the kitchen with the answers to determine the winners.
Everyone was milling around and snacking on food as they awaited the big reveal. Everyone knew Maes would be the winner on Elysia’s side and figured it would be Jean on Ed’s. Imagine everyone’s surprise when Gracia announced Maes and Roy as the winners. Everyone cheered… well almost everyone cheered. Jean was giving Roy a look so heated it could have boiled water as Roy stepped beside Maes behind the two mystery gifts.
Ed’s brain was spinning at hundred miles an hour. He had been certain with Al taken out of the equation Jean was a shoe in as the other winner. He didn’t know how to feel about Roy winning the game on his side. It wasn’t that he really cared it just left him with an odd feeling. When he looked at Jean the man looked pissed but Ed merely shrugged his shoulders and winked at him. When Jean winked back Ed smiled before turning his attention to where everyone else was looking and that was at Maes and Roy.
As Roy and Maes started opening the boxes Roy’s heart was thudding in his chest and Maes snickering the way he was, wasn’t helping matters. He could feel the look Jean was giving him and more than anything he wished he’d given his actions over the last five minutes more thought. However, he hadn’t and had simply written down what came to mind given what he knew of Ed and Elysia.
This was not helping his situation with Jean at all.
Regardless, there was nothing he could do about it so he might as well open the box. It wasn’t like he had a choice in the matter anyway. Roy lifted the lid off the box and froze. He didn’t know what he was expecting but the crystal griffin reared up on its hind legs with its wings spread wide wasn’t it. The statue was nearly a foot tall and the hooves, wingtips, talons and beak were painted gold. It was mounted to a stained and polished slab of wood and Roy’s mind went blank. All he could do was stare at it.
Ed hadn’t made this with alchemy he’d done it with his own two hands. Roy had seen him with paperbacks on the craft as well as various mythology art books over the past several weeks. He couldn’t even imagine how much effort Ed had put into what he was seeing. Roy was grateful when Gracia shouted for them to holdup their prizes so she could take pictures. He needed the distraction. When Maes firmly suggested they take their prizes inside to keep them safe Roy followed.
Once inside and up the stairs Maes asked, “That’s your idea of not setting him off?”
“I wasn’t thinking, Maes. I swear I wasn’t.”
“I know, I know it just makes things more difficult and Ed’s gift being as elaborate as it is doesn’t help.”
“You think I should give it to him?”
“If you were Jean would you want it after the fact?”
“Good point I suppose I… oh shit.”
“Now what?” Maes asked as he placed the two delicate gifts on the dresser.
“I need to get my gift to Ed out of the pile.”
“It’s going to make things worse.”
“It’s kind of extravagant.”
“Kind of as in, oh that’s a bit much but Ed’s a good friend or is it more along the lines of, I’m eating hot dogs for the next month?”
“Kind of as in, I really didn’t think how something like this would be perceived by everyone, it cost as much as a used automobile but I really wanted him to have it and you should have seen his face when we saw it and how much he enjoyed it and... and… just fuck me running.”
“You might end up running once Jean sees it,” Maes joked but one good look at his best friend had him sighing. Putting a comforting hand on one of Roy’s slumped shoulders he said, “Anything to do with Ed robs you of your sense of reason doesn’t it? You’re really that deeply in love with him aren’t you?”
When Roy looked down at his feet and nodded Maes patted him on the shoulder. He was in the midst of telling him he’d try and devise a plan to relocate his gift when the sound of rushed footsteps reached their ears moments before Kain appeared in the doorway.
"Come guys you're holding up the cake cutting!" Fuery shouted as he appeared in the doorway.
"Ok we'll be down in a few minutes."
"Better hurry there's an impatient birthday girl outside."
"We will," Maes answered cheerfully and once Fuery was gone he said, "Ok I'll see what I can do Roy but I can make no promises. Elysia will want to dive into those gifts as soon as the cake hits her plate.”
“It’s ok Maes this is my own fault so don’t worry about it, I’ll just deal with it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Fuck no I’m not sure. Jean looked ready to skin me alive for winning that game.”
“So I saw. You two need to find a way to dissolve the tension between you before it explodes. It’s been building for a while now.”
“I’m hoping no one really knows what this thing is so its cost won’t register in their minds.”
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you Roy Boy.”
“Thanks Maes. Let’s go so they can cut the cake.”
When the duo reappeared outside both Ed and Elysia had cake cutters in hand and were ready to go. It was hard to decide which cake looked more delectable, Elysia’s Chocolate cake with caramel coconut icing or Ed’s red velvet cake with butter cream icing. Gracia had outdone herself this year and from bite one everyone was certain that there wasn’t going to be a slice of leftover cake from either one.
Jean was still giving Roy nasty looks but Roy was giving him a wide breadth so things were going as well as they could be. Maes was watching the two closely and he was ready to intervene at a moment’s notice if the situation called for it. Thankfully all was going well as Elysia began opening her gifts and by the time she was done and it was Ed’s turn things were fairly normal.
Ed was racking up and when he opened one of the gifts from Jean it was a new camera and two lenses to go with it. All could see Ed was more than a little pleased with that gift and the second one from Jean was an ornate set of calligraphy pens and that put a mile wide grin on Ed’s face that had Jean feeling rather smug. Unfortunately for Jean, that feeling was short lived. Kain and Breda brought over the last gift in Ed’s pile and when they sat it in front of him the size, shape and heft had Ed confused.
That feeling vanished the instant Ed opened the package in front of him. He gasped as golden eyes went impossibly wide right before his jaw dropped. He looked down in the box, up at Roy, back down in the box then up at Roy again, speechless.
“What is it Brother?” Al asked from his position at the end of the table.
Ed didn’t answer; he was still shaking his head in disbelief as he reached in the box with both hands and pulled out the gift that had him so awestruck. Once the item came into sight it grabbed everyone’s attention. Soon nearly all the guests were gathered around Ed and the odd looking device he’d received from Roy.
“I… I can’t believe you did this,” Ed finally stuttered out as he looked over at Roy. The dark haired man said nothing and merely smiled at him in response.
“What’s this thing do, Ed?” Elysia asked as she walked up beside him. “It looks like a squished piano.”
Ed chuckled and answered, “If kind of is.”
“Does it function like a piano?” Riza asked as she peered down at the odd looking device.
“It does that and much more,” Ed said as his eyes drifted over to Roy for a split second before asking Kain to help him carry it over to the nearest power supply.
Ed sat there and thought for a moment before coming up with an idea. After a bit of tweaking and key pressing Ed had the keyboard tuned do it sounded like a trumpet. With that done he played a familiar riff from a popular jazz song. The melody had everyone in awe over how much it sounded like the intended instrument instead of the piano it seemed to be.
It wasn’t long before Ed’s fooling around drew in most of the band members. It didn’t take long for everyone to pick up their instruments and start making music. Once they started no one wanted to stop. Ed kept playing around with the sounds coming out of his gift and it had everyone singing and dancing. The lanterns were lit and the cake was gone before they all finally settled down around the small bonfire Maes and Breda had made.
The birthday girl was the first one to fall asleep but it was hours before any of the adults were ready to join her. The night ended on a high note despite the fact two men were doing a dangerous dance around each other. He’d never voice it but Maes knew there was no recovery from this for Roy and Jean and he hated it. Watching Ed float blissfully unaware between the two was only making it harder. The temptation to pull the young man aside and clue him was hard to deny. But Ed would ask a thousand questions that Maes couldn’t answer without either overstepping his boundaries, betraying someone’s trust or just plain sticking his nose in were it didn’t belong.
Interfering wasn’t an option for Maes, despite him knowing that the situation was as volatile as a stick of dynamite and tonight's events had lit the fuse.