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Jean Havoc: A Work in Progress

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Here are the quick and dirty particulars:
Title:
"Jean Havoc: A Work in Progress"

Rating: M, for language, realistic description of spinal cord injury, and later sexual situations.
Spoilers: Manga Chapter 38+
Pairings:
Main pairings are het some yaoi later without much detail, you'll know it happened. You will have to see for yourself for more info on the main pairings, I won't spoil you. Trust me, you'll like it.
Characters featured: Jean Havoc, Gracia and Elysia Hughes... and one other who comes in around Chapter 4.
Other Characters: Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye, Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric, Winry Rockbell, and manga only cameos.

Disclaimer: All of these characters are the property of the genius that invented FMA. No one but Jim is mine and he's purely fictional, Dr. Prick, er Parker as well. All smex scenes are fictional but technically accurate and hopefully spicy due to some personal experience as inspiration, however it would be creepy to write my actual sex life into fan fiction. This is a frank, detailed and realistic fic with some levity thrown in with the tragedy. Just like real life. If you can't laugh at yourself, you're left with others laughing at you. Better to laugh with them.

Beta: Anat-Astarte is amazing and wonderful. ANY and all mistakes up until chapter 29 are MY OWN. She hadn't joined this insane quest yet. ;)

EDITS are COMING!! They are up in Chapter 1 already. I consulted with my most excellent friend Karl who has a lot of knowledge on spinal cord injuries and he really helped me out with the medical setting. I think it's going to be great. (Explaining HOW they could have Titanium in a place with no computers and that YES there are antibiotics, no there are no computers, they have alchemy... THEY CAN SO DO THAT... they have AUTOMAIL! XD) Now I owe him my soul. He also thinks Havoc should cuss more, so he added quite a few F-Bombs. Karl is the MAN!

Chapter 1: Awareness

In a small black journal...

Disinfectant. That was my first impression upon waking up. I heard familiar voices, but unfamiliar noises. What was that smell and what the hell is in my arm? I searched through my memory and found: the Lab, Lust, Mustang, and me. Judging from the disinfectant I was definitely not in the lab. No stench of the lab, no ozone from alchemical reactions and definitely nothing burning. Shit! Was Mustang ok? No, he was, I just heard him in the room. Well, no time was better than the present to announce I was among the living.

"Hey, I need a cigarette. A drink of water and some whisky wouldn't hurt either." I rasped out.

I don't think I've ever seen people move so quickly. Breda and Fuery jumped to attention, Mustang slumped in obvious relief, and I could swear I saw tears in Hawkeye's eyes. I let that go. To be in the hospital I must be pretty messed up, and I didn't need the wrath of Hawkeye's 9 mil on top of whatever was wrong with me. Seeing that everyone I cared for was no worse for wear was a relief. I also think it was against the fire code to have that many people in one room. Mustang seemed a little jumpy and he could be dangerous even without the gloves; one could never be too careful.

Sure that everyone else was ok, and with cigarette in hand, I did a little mental inventory. Eyes, check. Ears, check. Arms and hands, check. Torso, not so good. OW.

"ROY, did you HAVE to do me well done? Seriously, the crispy look really does nothing to attract the chicks."

Mustang replied with some crack about leaving me rare and that he was medium done. I'm sure if he'd had to perform field cauterization that it had been necessary, which meant the situation must have been bad.

I'd always been pretty lucky, and I'd had the great good fortune to be a subordinate to the human barbeque pit. Bleeding out in the bowels of Lab 3 would not have been good. This more than paid off the debts Mustang owed me for ruining all the women in Central and all the money owed for losing to me at poker.

My assessment had to end as a rather pretty nurse ushered my well-wishers out as visiting hours ended. I groused to myself, "I'm sure Mustang will get her, but perhaps he'll have pity on me as I seem to be a little more banged up than he is."

As everyone left, I waved and requested they send cigarettes, booze and magazines. Breda winked and said he'd take care of my "intellectual pursuits." Mustang was deep in thought looking over charts of the Third Lab, so I was free to continue my self-assessment.

Ok Jean, where were you? Ah, yes, torso, charred but serviceable. I lifted the blankets and noted that the hospital gown was rather revealing and THE HELL? Well, no wonder I didn't have to pee after having been out cold for days. Safe to say, all of the nurses would be Mustang's as some genius had attached a contraption to my junk to make sure I didn't piss myself. How dignified. This was definitely not a shining moment in my manhood's history. Slowly the pieces began to fall into place, one by one. Wait, What the fuck? That should hurt! That really should hurt! WHY the fuck doesn't that hurt?

Now I was getting concerned. This couldn't be good. I pulled my gown up and I checked the bandages on my abdomen. The doctors had bandaged me rather thoroughly with a wrap that started at my chest and ended at the top of pelvis. I noted that there was extra thick gauze at the front near my navel. So much for a career in nude modeling as my navel was now one hole of many, and then I felt around towards the back and there was a very similar arrangement of gauze.

That bitch had run me through! The dressings were stiff and substantial. I would later learn it served two purposes; to protect my burns and wounds and to immobilize me until they could perform tests. As I felt lower centimeter by centimeter the feeling started to tingle and change and then… nothing. Just nothing. I felt skin, what I assumed to be my skin, but I could have been touching someone else. I repeated my test on my stomach; again, nothing. I then probed lower. Both legs were there, but both thighs just lie there like a broken doll's. I tried to wiggle my toes, I pinched myself and I even thought of testing for pain with a lit cigarette. My mind raced. I thought to myself, "Easy Jean, easy, this is probably just temporary. You've been in bed, what almost a week? It's pins and needles. That's all. You've just been sitting on your ass too long."

Then the final test, I touched IT. I felt NOTHING! Zero, zilch, nada!

I closed my eyes to keep them from stinging and waited for sleep. I had nothing else to do from there. It was over. I knew the doctor would be in in the morning to check on Mustang and myself. To "assess" the situation, as they had said most of the tests would have to be done when I was coherent.

Why bother? What could a doctor tell me? Lust had run me through and quite obviously I was broken. I settled in to try to sleep and prayed that the nurse would come in with something for sleep like they did at the cinema. My prayers were answered and I gladly took the offered sedative. As I nodded off into the fog I thought, "Fuck, I broke my back, now what?"



A new day dawned when an old crotchety nurse came in to, I can only assume, harass me and ruin some perfectly good sleep. In truth, she had come to turn me onto my side to prevent bedsores and empty the bag that was attached to the contraption violating my junk. She explained that it was called a catheter. I didn't need an explanation. I'd owned a pair my whole life, I knew how my stuff worked, and I knew mine wasn't working. All she really did was clarify just how totally fucked up I was. I'd been right about harassment part. This was not a shining moment in my life, or in the life of "Master Havoc".

Thank the gods Mustang is a heavy sleeper. I would have NEVER heard the end of this, either by witty retort or the sad look on his face that I would come to know later. I never got the pretty nurses any other time I got banged up, but in my current state this twist of fate was a relief. I was informed that I would be going for tests after breakfast. I wouldn't be learning anything I hadn't already figured out myself, but the time alone to think would be welcome.

Breakfast arrived, and Mustang of course had a few cracks about his lack of a "Command Suite" and the caliber of the fare. I picked at my food and was thankful they at least let me have a cigarette after breakfast. If there was ever a time to smoke 'em if you had them, this was it.

After breakfast a couple of orderlies came and transferred me to a gurney and took me for X-rays and a full physical work up. After the X-rays I was stripped, and then the Neuro Surgeon proceeded to show me a variety of blunt and pointy instruments, some which looked like they would be, should be, painful. I only ever felt a few of the pricks, but I suppose that was the aim of the whole test, to see if I could feel pain. I'd never wanted to feel pain so much in my life. I would hear the doctor move, and then he'd purse his lips or sigh, and I knew it was not good. I guess the doctors were surprised when they saw the results; I was either very out of touch with my body and ignorant of my situation, or one of the most together people they'd ever seen. Apparently, I should have been hysterical as soon as I woke up and realized I couldn't move. If only they knew what was going on in my head. I had been treating this mess like a mission, like I was gathering intel on another person. But the tests made it impossible to distance myself any longer. This was me. This had happened to me.

It was no surprise to me when the doctor came back in with a grave face and informed me, "Lieutenant, you've broken your back at T-11. Your spinal cord was severed when you were stabbed. From the sensory function tests we did we can tell you have a little sporadic sensation below the injury site and no voluntary motor function at this time. It's too early to tell what the eventual outcome is going to be, only time will tell if you will get any return of sensation or movement or not. In a week or so we will insert steel rods to stabilize from T-10 to S-1 and repair some of the burns with skin grafts. You will be able to start Occupational and Physical Therapy shortly after that. I don't want to disturb you or hinder your rehabilitation progress, Second Lieutenant Havoc, but don't count on much return."

It was like I was no longer Jean Havoc. He'd referred to me in technical terms, like a broken or obsolete machine, devoid of emotion because I was the diagnosis.

"Excuse me Doctor…. could I have that in Amestrian?" I said in a snappish tone.

He translated it from jargon to the cold hard truth.

"Lieutenant Havoc, the stab wound in your back severed your spinal cord completely just above the waist. When the swelling goes down it may allow you more feeling & function than you already have, but the outlook is grim. This is probably how it is going to be for the rest of your life. I'm sorry, but you are paralyzed from the waist down. In medical terms, you are classed as a complete paraplegic. Now that you're out of immediate danger we plan to insert steel rods to stabilize the broken bones and to insure no more damage is done To minimize the risk of infection we will perform skin grafts to cover the burns on your torso. Once we are sure the grafts have taken you will be allowed to sit up and start rehabilitation."

He'd introduced himself before the "prick test". Prick. As the ceiling flashed by as the orderlies took me back to the room, I realized I couldn't remember his last name for the life of me. It should have stuck in my mind, since in ten minutes his diagnosis had completely changed my future and my general outlook on life. I had asked Dr. Prick not to tell any of my comrades about my injuries, that I would do that. He was rather relieved, as he already had to call my mother and give her the news.

"Live like this," he'd said. How in the hell could I live like this? How could I have become such a burden on my poor mother? What would she do with me? What would I do with me? A soldier, hell, a war veteran, reduced to living with his family? Life as I knew it was over. This situation was undignified and unsuitable I would be better off dead. I considered the fact that IT was as good as dead too. Dr. Prick hadn't mentioned that. But diagnoses don't get laid, do they? I might as well give all women to Mustang now. Hell, Fullmetal could have some of them, too. He wasn't getting much in the downtime he had between missions.


When I was delivered back to the room, and gingerly but gracelessly, placed back in my bed, Hawkeye and Mustang were poring over the blueprints for the Third Lab. They were discussing plans for how to discern who could be trusted in Central. As Mustang lectured on how we would be working doubly hard for him and how good it was to have something to fight for and Hawkeye was obviously honored to be included in Mustang's ascent to the top, I thought, "This is it, I have to tell them." It was then that Breda burst in with the "intellectual stimulation". I decided there was no time better than the present.

"Breda, my friend, I won't be needing that reading material anymore, hand it over to Fuery. He certainly needs an education beyond those dime store novels," I said, trying to control my tone and keep it light. Then I turned to Mustang, and said, "I regret that you'll have to count me out."

Mustang and Hawkeye glared at me incredulously, with fury in their eyes. I explained my blunt announcement gripping the sheets that covered my now useless legs, "My legs, I can't feel them, so excuse me," I paused trying to find the words. "I cannot go on."

We were all experts at escape and evade, so of course after I gave everyone the news, the room fell into an uncomfortable silence. With that, Breda left for Headquarters to do something. I'm sure it was important, but at that point I was beyond caring. Mustang and Hawkeye fell into silence. Hawkeye left, explaining that she had to go feed Black Hayate, though the housekeeper could have done it. My announcement felt like it had sucked all the air out of the room. Mustang announced that he needed a nap after all the plotting. I just needed a cigarette and a good stiff drink.

After a much needed smoke, I settled in for a nap. I suppose the blessing in this was that I was feeling no pain. Funny, had I known this when I woke up the day before, I would have wished for agony. Anything was better than this.


A very needed distraction came before suppertime in the form of a pretty nurse. The fates hadn't forgotten me! "Hello there you! Is it time for my sponge bath?" I said.

"Well you look like you are feeling quite well. How are you soldier?" the vision of loveliness before me said. She did indeed have the necessities for a sponge bath and commenced her work appearing rather eager.

"Havoc, you haven't lost it," I thought to myself.

She undid the shoulders of my oh-so-flattering hospital gown. I let her know my name was Jean and that I was, after all, a Second Lieutenant. She started washing my shoulders and arms. She added a little shoulder massage for good measure, as I seemed tense. Was she flirting? Then she moved onto the hair. Hopefully she'd get the 'do' back in place when she was done. It was heaven to have my hair washed, and man did I ever need a shave. She of course saw to that. Gosh, pretty and perceptive. She had it all. It was pleasant for once to have a blade to my throat that wasn't going to kill me. I admitted to myself that I must have looked like hell before that. I was glad I'd requested a toothbrush after breakfast. It wouldn't do to flirt with a pretty nurse with fuzz on my teeth. After she finished my shave and moved to lower regions, she faltered, and I realized that she had not read my chart. I thought to myself, "Jean, you idiot. She didn't know. Perfectly serviceable shoulders and arms, hell, perhaps even an attractive face. Lust left that intact. Perhaps she even thought that through… but Angel Nurse saw the damage, and what they've got going on with the manhood and she's pieced it all together that Jean Havoc, former loser in love, has been taken out of the race for good."

She apologized for the lapse of attention and continued my sponge bath, but it was no longer the companionable and flirty affair that it had started out as. Sponge baths from pretty nurses were supposed to be fun, and this was just another reality check. I was now to be taken care of by pretty women and definitely not an object of lust.

All dry and powdered like a newborn babe, it was announced that Mustang and I would be fed soon and the blushing Angel Nurse hurried out of the room.


After a few more days of being babied due to my helpless and hopeless state, it was declared that I was fit enough to undergo surgery. I found it kind of funny at the time that a knife would be repairing damage done by a knife. I didn't let anyone know that though; I think they'd already thought I'd lost it. I wasn't talking much to anyone, though my inner monologue was going a mile a minute.

The day of surgery arrived, and it was a relief to be put under anesthesia and then sedated heavily until they thought I was "out of the woods" pain wise. It passed the time. Since they wouldn't let me drink at all or smoke much, pain medication was a welcome escape.

With my state of mind I couldn't concentrate enough to read, and would read the same page over and over again if I tried. If I was awake, the unceasing concerned questions of my comrades grated on my nerves. I wanted to be left alone to fester in my self-pity. When medicated, I was too out of it to hear the comings and goings of my comrades and, more importantly, to hold the pained and polite conversations. The injuries I could deal with, the pain was manageable. The unbearable part was being pitied by my former peers. In addition to my list of battle scars that my comrades and I would compare and tell tall tales about how we'd gotten them, my back now looked like I'd been dissected in biology class. A long thin line ran from the top of my boxers to mid-back. This would be great with the ladies, maybe I should have asked Mustang to char that too, make it a matched set to go with his field medicine efforts.

Days flowed in and out. Almost two weeks had passed since the diagnosis. At times I slept through whole days, and some days seemed to drag on for an eternity. Food, meds, what passed for therapy, Mustang complaining and eventually being able to wander the hospital grounds (thank the gods, a room to myself some of the time), and the Dogs would come by to visit when they had some time. Nurses would come in and check on me, turn me over so I wouldn't begin to rot and I'd stopped really looking at them. They may as well have sent the homeliest nurses. I didn't really notice, and if I had, what good would it have done? I couldn't really DO anything about it in my broken state. I'd never been much of a success with the ladies when I was whole, what could I do from a hospital bed?

I got one smoke a day. This was truly a brutal medical facility. What's a guy supposed to do when he can't really DO anything? The answer is smoke. It is comforting. It's something to do with your hands. It takes up time. It is familiar. It was damned annoying that I could only have one and damned annoying if I spaced out while smoking my one measly allotted cigarette for the day. Each drag should be appreciated if they are being rationed. Maybe they could have let me chew them? Or just hold onto one?

During my sacred smoking time, Breda came in. I must have been spacing out because he startled me, and handed me an ashtray as I'd about smoked it down to the filter and was about to have the cherry land in my numb lap and set myself aflame. I'd have known once I smelled the smoke or saw the flame. Normally a cherry landing in my lap would set me jumping. Bygones.

Breda informed me that Second Lieutenant Maria Ross was safe and sound, and though pleased for her, I didn't really smile. I was still kind of dazed and in my own thoughts. Poor Breda looked to be beside himself. I pulled out the gallows humor in an attempt to make him feel a bit better. "I'll at least be a good joke around the barracks. 'Jean Havoc, the soldier who was retired from service because he was stabbed by a woman.' Somehow it's fitting really."

Breda, ever the loyal dog, was persistent. "What about automail like the Fullmetal Boss? Edward does ok."

I sighed and said, "No, the nervous system to my lower body is completely shot. It's useless. It won't work, it's impossible. The doctors, Doctor Prick in particular, said not to get my hopes up too high, or go looking for 'miracle cures'."

Breda got ready to leave and set his jaw, I can only imagine he was thinking up some hare brained scheme to get me back into working order. He said a cryptic, "Not quite. You're not suited to the life of a retiree," and strode out. Perhaps he and the Boss can share a room in the loony bin. It's just down the hall, quite aptly named since many of the Ishbal veterans are stashed there.


As a member of the military, you need your mind and your body sharp. My mind was sharp as ever, but the body, well, it was not cooperating and my sick leave was completely used and there was still no change in my condition. The swelling had gone down around my spinal cord and I still couldn't feel anything more than I could before. Even after the skin grafts had healed & I was finally allowed to sit up I could hardly move on my own. I called the Retirement Department. An officer was sent to my room and my mother came to the meeting. I could barely look at her. My limited options were discussed, and it was decided that when I was "better" or as good as I was going to get, I would be released to the care of my parents in the East. My mother cried the whole time.

They were just leaving as Breda came in. He saw my mother and the Retirement Department officer and asked what was up. I let him in on my plans and he tried to convince me otherwise, but WHAT can a soldier do if he cannot move on his own? My sick leave was up; I was clearly dead in the water. What would I do if someone tried to attack my comrades? Fall in front of them to trip them? Roll my chair in front of them and pray that terrorists wouldn't harm a cripple or that they'd stub a toe on the clunky thing? Cripes.

Mustang of course was shocked that I would retire without first discussing my options with my him, and I think he was scared that I had talked to anyone without clearing my statement and cover story. After all, we were on an illegal raid of the Third Lab. I had covered our tracks well though.

The scenario I gave was that my injuries were caused while trying to seize the detention center attackers. Besides, who would believe that a gorgeous woman had shot out her fingers and skewered me like shish kebab? Breda continued to press me on my plans for my release from the hospital. The Retirement Department and my mother had decided that it would be for the best if I moved back to the East where my parents have a general store. In my state, I could probably still answer the telephone for them and take orders. I agreed, though I really didn't care where I'd be, or to be anywhere.

Mustang argued that it wasn't decided that I wouldn't heal. Was he crazy? What alchemy, medicine or miracle from the heavens would restore a severed spinal cord? Stubborn idiot. I was beginning to lose it. But Mustang was still my commanding officer. I couldn't yell at him. I simply stated, "I'm not so dumb that I think I will still be useful. A pawn that cannot move is not needed by the army."

Mustang said, "I won't accept it."

I finally just lost it. All the pain, loss, apprehension and fear that had been gripping me for weeks finally exploded to the surface.

"What in the HELL do you expect me to do with these legs?" I screamed while punching my slack thigh muscles.

Mustang dropped his gaze, trying to object it was useless. His eyes held a mix that I could only interpret as despair and possibly pity. This was the final straw for me.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Why don't you just throw me out? LEAVE ME HERE! Don't you have to keep your promise to Brigadier General Hughes?"

How could he keep his promise with me as literally dead weight in his command? I grabbed Mustang by the shirt, and with much effort pulled myself up so I was eye to eye with him.

"LOOK AT ME! LOOK!" I grunted out. I felt Breda's arm grab me to support my shoulders because I was shaking with the effort of even sitting up unsupported. "I have to be held like a baby to even sit up properly. I DON'T need your sympathy! Just cut me off... just GIVE up!"

I pitched forward and Breda caught me like a rag doll and I ground out my last request to my Colonel. "Please." Just that one word. Please. Like a child. I was exhausted with the effort of arguing and just sitting up. What had become of the soldier, the man that I was?

He left, but before he did he told me that I'd better catch up, he'd be waiting at the top. Even after my tirade and all we knew, he didn't give up on me. He let me know that he still wanted me to "cover his back", even in my state. Hawkeye explained that Mustang still needed me, that they still needed me. She comforted me, even after I'd been a total bastard. She and Breda carefully laid me back down on my pillows. They left without another word; just two long and puzzled looks.

After that I fell into a deep sleep. I wished I'd never wake from it, but I did. The country began to fall into a mess. I stayed in the hospital and they began working with me to make use of what was left of me. I thought about what the General Store in the East would be like, and that didn't sound too appealing, but really what was there for me?

Mustang was released, my comrades Breda, Fuery and Falman were transferred and scattered to the winds. Hawkeye was made the Fuhrer's personal secretary. All this insult on top of injury was becoming too much to bear. Truly, this was the end I thought. I prepared myself to rot in the hospital, forgotten, and to then slink off to the East to fester in my self-pity.

Chapter Text

Title: Work in Progress

Rating: T, for language, realistic description of spinal cord injury, and M later for sexual situations.
Spoilers: Manga Chapter 38+

Disclaimer: All of these characters are the property of the genius that invented FMA. No one but Jim is mine and he's purely fictional, Dr. Prick, er Parker as well. All smex scenes are fictional but technically accurate and hopefully spicy due to some personal experience as inspiration, however it would be creepy to write my actual sex life into fan fiction. This is a frank, detailed and realistic fic with some levity thrown in with the tragedy. Just like real life. If you can't laugh at yourself, you're left with others laughing at you. Better to laugh with them.

Accommodation

Eventually they allowed, correction forced me to go to occupational and physical therapy. By "occupation" they meant the basics like cooking, household chores and dressing and caring for myself, by myself. Oh how the "nearly mighty" had fallen. One blessing was that they removed the offending catheter and taught me how to take care of that by myself. It was still humiliating in my opinion, but at least it was taken care of privately. Perhaps if I had thought of this as "different" and not "awful" it wouldn't have been so bad.

To compensate for my lost ability to walk the therapists worked on increasing my upper body strength which had diminished while I was immobile, restoring muscle mass and range of motion to the areas Lust had made hamburger out of and since they felt it was important, to keep moving and stretching my legs for me. I also learned how to use my new mode of transportation.

I awoke one morning to find "the Tank" in my room. A blessing and a curse at the same time really. I could use it to move around on my own, get where I needed to go, if there weren't any stairs I would later find out. But this also began my life with an "ass eye view". It might have been a welcome sight before, at least the attractive butts. I'd have been able to look at ideal female derrière specimens all day long without getting slapped. The huge flaw in all this was that now I was stuck sitting down, and if I did get up the nerve to talk to a pretty female it got tiresome to continually look up at the person I was speaking with. Undignified is how I'd describe it. Always looking up. I'd shrunk from over six feet tall to a little over four feet tall overnight. The Boss was taller than I was now.

After breakfast my therapist came to help me into the wheelchair. It was exhausting attempting to sit up, pull my legs one by one over the side of the bed using my arms, which had grown weak. Sitting up without falling over was difficult because I was dizzy after lying flat on my back for so long. Then I attempted to heave my body without falling to the floor, into a chair a mere twelve inches from the bed. It turns out it was MEANT to be an exercise in futility. My therapist caught me as I nearly planted my numb ass on the tile floor and put me back into bed. He gave me a moment to get myself together and said, "You're going to learn how to do this properly and then it won't be so hard."

The lesson was learned and it eventually got easier. This demonstration made me a much more compliant patient when it came to therapy. He'd pegged me correctly as a stubborn bastard and this object lesson though harsh had been needed. Jim, my therapist and eventual savior, wheeled me down to the therapy room for my session. It was a relief that the view was no longer of the ceiling tiles in the hall, but of the happenings in the hospital. I had definitely needed a change of scenery.


After a grueling therapy session I wanted nothing more than to get back to my room and sulk, smoke and sleep. That was not possible as when we approached my room I discovered I had company. The aroma of apple pie told me it was Gracia. Elysia's chirrup announced the rest.

Gracia and Elysia's greetings were warm as usual and for the first time in what felt like ages I was addressed as a person, not a diagnosis. Elysia had even drawn me a "Get Well" picture. She let me know that Mommy had helped with the letters. I let her know that I'd keep it on my bedside table so everyone could see it. Gracia served us all a big wedge of pie, and had had the forethought to get coffee from the cafeteria to wash it down with. Leave it to Gracia to know my vices. We talked companionably about what everyone seemed to be up to, Elysia's latest accomplishments and of course Maes.

I felt I owed it to Gracia to be sociable since she and Maes had always been so kind to us "Military Dogs". After we finished our pie Elysia climbed into my lap. It was the closest and most unaffected human contact I'd had since the accident. Gracia looked a little worried that Elysia might hurt me somehow, but I smiled letting her know it was safe. I felt myself misting up, but composed myself as Elysia settled on my lap and nuzzled into my chest to tell me about her latest tea party. I must have visibly relaxed with her contact. A flash of an idea came across Gracia's face, and she excused herself, presumably to clean up our dishes. Elysia had brought her crayons, and asked if I wanted to join her in coloring. I thought to myself, why not? I was being taken care of like a child. I may as well color. Besides, Maes had been right in his manic picture sharing. That vision of cuteness could make anything seem better.

Gracia came back to the room after we'd both nearly finished our drawings and sat down next to Elysia and myself. We showed off our masterpieces. I had drawn a picture of Roy buried under a pile of paperwork with Riza looking at him with a menacing expression. Well, as menacing as a stick figure can look. Art would not be my new occupation. Elysia had drawn her house and a garden full of flowers and while describing it said, "Jean, you should come visit! It really is that pretty!"

Gracia cleared her throat and said, "Speaking of our house, and the garden Jean, while I was out, I hope you don't mind… I called Roy. We discussed where you'd be going when you get out. I'm sorry."

I looked at her rather crossly, but let her continue. How dare she plan the affairs of a grown man?

"Hear me out Jean, Roy and Riza and everyone really, think that you should stay in Central with Elysia and myself until you finish all your outpatient therapy. Going to the East before you are fully recovered won't do you any good. After that you can do what you wish."

I scoffed when she said, "Recovered".

"Gracia, I'm not going to BE recovered. This is it. This is all there is for me. Me sitting wherever, and doing not much at all. This is my reality, we all just have to get used to it." I said in the calmest tone I could muster so I would not scare Elysia who was still in my lap.

"Jean, be sensible", Gracia said. "You might not get any sensation back but youcan learn to function to your optimum and wouldn't you rather be in the city where there is better medical supervision and therapy? What about your friends? They'll visit when they can. Roy is also concerned about your safety. Whoever did this to Maes did this to you, that much he would tell me. The Military is not providing security for you after you are released, but my house is under twenty-four-hour surveillance. Besides, since Maes… the house is so big."

I looked at her; my gaze softened a little, as I think I had been boring a hole straight through her, to the wall.

"Gracia, I don't want to be a burden on you. I don't know what I can and cannot do for myself. I'd just be another mouth to feed, another 'child' to care for. I don't want that."

"Jean, we have a guest room on the first floor, I cook more than enough food to feed Roy's whole crew and it just goes to waste. As for care, you know you'll have a pension and if it comes to that you can hire a nurse to come for the 'burdensome' stuff. I want the company, Elysia adores you and I'm sure you will pull babysitting duty and could dry dishes once in awhile. Besides, I'll be charging you rent to keep it on the up and up on your conscience. I've been thinking about taking on a boarder to help fill the house up anyway. I can't think of anyone I'd trust more than one of Maes' friends."

I thought her words over, and again nearly cried. What was going on with me? Perhaps Lust had poisoned me as well. I'd gone from sarcastic and devil-may-care to an emotional wreck in a matter of weeks.

"Gracia, I am touched, but I will have to think about it. Princess Elysia, I will see you again soon and we will have to color. Gracia, bring pie!" I said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

With that, Elysia hopped off of my lap and Gracia and Elysia left the room. I dragged myself into bed and broke down in tears for the first time since I'd hit double digits. I sobbed until my breath came in wracking gasps and my eyes were raw and dry. The offer they extended was so tempting, but I was sure it came from pity. I'd felt human and normal with Gracia and Elysia, Elysia especially. She treated me no differently than she had before. Either she didn't understand or wasn't aware. Either way she was the first person I'd felt completely myself with since the accident. Exhausted I fell into a fitful sleep.


Somewhere in the middle of the night I heard a familiar clanking noise. I opened my eyes and was greeted by Alphonse Elric. I was certainly confused. Life in the military had gone on without me and I was uncertain on the Fullmetal's whereabouts, but I was pretty sure that the Brothers Elric were not supposed to be in Central.

"Al, what are you doing here? Is the Boss ok?"

Al sounded like he was clearing his throat, actually, he sounded nervous, if a suit of armor could sound nervous and said, "Oh, Brother was just being Brother and he got a little carried away on a mission. He'll be fine if Winry doesn't kill him."

I chuckled a little and said, "Ah, so it's the wrench for him? No worries, it's only his head. He's survived more. What are you doing here, how did you know?"

Apparently word of the fall of Jean Havoc had traveled far and wide. But for some reason, Al was a comforting presence. I knew the kid didn't sleep, and as I was now wide-awake, I didn't want to either. Since the Boss was asleep I invited Alphonse to stay and chat for a while. He informed me of all he knew about what was happening. The wonderful thing about Alphonse was that people didn't often see him as a threat, even if he was a 7-foot tall suit of armor. So he faded into the background. This made him an excellent source of intelligence. I pumped his brain as politely as I could for any gossip on myself. He knew what I was doing, but didn't seem to mind and volunteered all the information he had obtained. The description of "poor bastard" had come up in the barracks and mess, and he gave it to me straight. I had suspected that would be my new moniker anyway.

He shared Ed's latest exploits and temper tantrums and those were good for comic relief. Again, I felt almost normal. Maybe this new existence could be bearable. Then I had a brilliant idea.

"Hey, Al, I am dying for a cigarette and I need to just get out of here without proper supervision, want to go up to the roof? We could go look at the stars and I think I remember an elevator somewhere on this floor. If anyone catches us just make like official military and we can bluff our way out of it."

So off we went, Al for a night that wouldn't seem quite so long and me for my cigarette fix and a change of scenery.

I showed off my new mobility skills transferring into my wheelchair that I had dubbed "the Tank" as it was heavy and difficult to maneuver. Al looked as impressed as a suit of armor could and said, "Lieutenant Havoc, you seem to be making some progress. I had heard that you couldn't even sit up by yourself… um, err… oops, I mean I had heard that you had been really badly hurt."

We made it to the elevator without incident and I had to stretch to reach the button for roof access but eventually got it. When the door opened, my hopes of freedom and a contraband cigarette began to fade. I looked at Al and said, "Back in the room, what you said, it's ok, you don't need to be careful about what you say around me. You can say it, and call me Jean. I'm pretty pitiful right now, worse before. It's all good. Unfortunately it looks like this is the end of the road for me, there are stairs, you go on ahead."

Al pondered my statement and slowly said, "Jean, I don't know if this would bother you, but back in Risembool, right after you know, I used to carry Brother out into the fields so we could see the stars. I wouldn't tell anyone, it could be our secret, like this 'mission'."

I could have sworn that Al winked. I thought it over and agreed. I hadn't been outside in un-sanitized air in almost two months and I was beginning to get stir crazy. This was my chance to rebel just a little and I knew I could trust Al with my weaker moments.

"Ok Al, just do not drop me, I'm already messed up enough." I laughed. The gallows humor would save face for me yet.

He gingerly picked me up supporting me behind the shoulders and under the knees and carried me up the short flight of stairs to the roof. He then found a small wall to prop me up against. Al really thought of everything without needing to be told. We started out just gazing at the stars. The lights of Central blotted out some of them, but they were still a sight for sore eyes. They were quite welcome after the sea of white and surgical scrub green I'd existed in for what had come to seem like eternity.

Finally Al spoke up. "Lieutenant, um Jean, I know that you don't need or want people taking care of you, or making decisions for you, but when Gracia came to visit Ed she let us know about what had happened and what she had proposed. She and the Colonel aren't doing this out of pity, and the Colonel certainly isn't doing this to control you. Brother may say that the Colonel is a manipulative bastard, but even he admits that the Colonel has the best interests of his team at heart. You should think Gracia's offer over. Well, that and we could visit you more here than we could in the East, and Ed says you could have pie all the time. He said that would be the best part about living with Gracia and Elysia. You know Brother, always thinking with his stomach."

We sat in silence for a while. I really couldn't get mad at the kid. He'd spoken from what seemed like true compassion and I'd always marveled at what he picked up was unusually perceptive and I knew Hawkeye often trusted his powers of observation. His words caused me conflict because what I really wanted to do was push everyone I knew away so they wouldn't see what I had become. However, allowing Al to see my vulnerabilities hadn't been as bad as I thought it would be and the kid did have a point, Central was much more convenient in many ways than the East and Gracia did make one hell of an apple pie. I knew one thing for sure; it was cold up on the roof. I'd gotten soft in the hospital and used to climate control.

"Al, I'll take it under advisement. Thank you for your honesty and thank you for this." I said as I gestured with my stub of a cigarette at the rooftop and our view of the starry night. "At the moment I am sure of one immediate course of action that needs to be taken."

He turned to me and asked hopefully, "Yes Jean, what is that?"

"I need to get inside. It is freezing up here. I have gotten soft in my infirmity. Don't tell anyone that a tough soldier was complaining about the cold." With that I winked and both Al and I laughed and he commenced preparations for the trip back downstairs.

When we arrived back in my room I heaved a sigh of relief once I'd finally gotten myself into bed. I was worn out after our adventure. Between two transfers and pushing that awkward and heavy chair I was wiped out.

"Al, I am beat. That chair is the heaviest, clumsiest thing ever and I am out of shape. You better get back to check on the Boss and I had better get back to sleep. I was told that tomorrow I get to learn how to dress myself. You're impressed, aren't you?"

He said goodnight, choosing to ignore my last sarcastic remark and went back to the Boss' room. I did my nighttime hygiene routine and took care of all the necessaries so I wouldn't wake up wet in the morning; I had learned that with planning I could spare myself some humiliation. I then remembered that I should also spare my butt as I now spent a good amount of my time on it and decided it would be best to sleep on my side, so I set to getting myself there. After a good amount of struggling I was finally there and fell almost immediately to sleep. It couldn't have come a moment sooner; it had been a very long day.


The new day brought more therapy, the same hospital routine, but it also brought a Winry. As I wheeled back to my room with Jim as my escort I heard an unmistakable racket that could only be the Fullmetal Boss being pummeled by the beautiful Miss Winry Rockbell.

"Who-are-you-calling-so-short-that-he-wrecked-his-automail-while-trying-to-scale-a-curb? I'm-not-some-bean-sized-shrimp-midget-that-you-can-boss-around!" blustered Ed.

Winry replied with, "Whose automail Edward? My automail. You wrecked my precious automail again you bean!"

"It was a fucking steel-reinforced concrete wall with barbed wire and DOGS! NOT A CURB WINRY!" frothed Ed.

Jim and I arrived at my room just as the wrench went flying. Jim looked concerned and I just shrugged and laughed.

"No worries Jim, it's just his head. That is Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist, and if he is injured we are in a hospital. Thanks for the session."

Jim replied, "I thought he'd be taller. See you tomorrow Jean."

Al held Edward down while Winry gloated. I rolled in and settled in at the small table the nurses had placed in the room near the chairs for visitors. As I neared the table I heard a loud thud and Winry gasped. I looked down and realized that I must have bumped my legs against the table and couldn't get clearance under it. I'd have to check for bruises or injuries later, but I was pretty sure I was fine. I added this to my growing list of things I'd have to be more careful of from now on. Al had gone out to pick up pastry for Ed's enormous appetite and he'd remembered to get some for me so I was not about to ruin the party by letting everyone in on the realities. Ed had calmed down, Winry stopped gawking and Ed, Al, Winry and I got ready to enjoy our feast.

"This beats the hell out of hospital food, don't you agree Boss?" I said trying to change the mood and the unsaid subject as we settled in.

Ed mumbled something incoherent around a huge mouthful of pastry and Winry smiled and nodded in agreement. We continued eating in silence, my visitors seemingly becoming less aware of the elephant at the table as time passed.

"Al, you are truly too good to me. You think of everything." I said as I finished the last bite of baklava he'd brought for me because he'd remembered I'd liked it from a passing conversation we'd had months ago. People said Al was lucky to have Ed, but I thought it was the other way around.

Everyone had pretty much finished up when Winry finally gathered her words. "Um, Mr. Lieutenant Havoc, um Jean…Al told me that the um, wheelchair is really heavy and hard to get around in. I've started thinking of ways to make that easier, lighter and what not. You wouldn't mind if I worked on that would you? Um and oh gosh, I am really, really sorry that this has happened to you."

The poor kid was so nervous just asking, even addressing me. She'd dealt with automail and repairing massive bodily injuries almost her whole life and this was something she knew she couldn't fix and that fact made her very uncomfortable. It was sweet really, and she was honestly concerned. I sighed, and thought and finally smiled at her and gave her my answer.

"Winry, it's Jean, and you don't need to walk on eggshells around me. I won't break. Hell, Ed could probably throw me soon and I wouldn't sustain any damage. Didn't you know I'm the 'Fullmetal Havoc'? You should check out my X-rays, they're a feat of engineering. I have almost as much metal on my person as the Boss. I would love the services of such a talented and lovely mechanic." I shot a wink at the Boss as I said lovely. The Boss turned shades of pink I didn't think were possible.

Winry clasped that wrench of hers in both hands and bowed her head and said, "Thank you Mister, I mean Jean, I will do my best." She then set to taking measurements of everything. I could see what the Boss meant when he called her a "Machine Freak". She was unfamiliar with the specifics of my diagnosis so I filled her in on what I could and told her she should go talk to Jim and "Dr. Prick" so she would have accurate specs for her next great creation.

Ed and Al took their leave, but Winry stayed. I surmised that this was a patient consult and I was right. She had a look of determination on her face as she got up from her chair and went to her toolbox. She tied up her hair in a bandana, got out a well-worn notebook and stub of a pencil and began asking me questions.

"I'm going to ask you some questions and they might seem weird and I'm sorry." she blurted and blushed as if rushing her statement would make it go away.

I just smiled and nodded and rubbed my chin a bit and said, "Winry, you are doing me a huge favor. I'm barely military anymore and I now have a personal mechanic. I thought only the Boss got one of those. I must be pretty important."

With thatshe smiled a shy smile and said, "So um, your back, I was thinking, to make the chair lighter some of the back rest could go. This "Tank" thing is huge, almost like an armchair on wheels. I noticed when you came in that it barely cleared the door jamb and that you had a horrible turning radius. What if we made it more like, I don't know…sporty?"

I laughed and rolled my eyes. She smiled nervously and I smiled back, hoping I could make her feel more at ease, as I know on my end this was uncomfortable as hell. How could a wheelchair be sporty? What kind of questions was she going to ask? I barely wanted to admit my weaknesses to my doctors or myself. Telling Winry, a child really, felt wrong. Kids should be protected from the nastiness of the world. Since she was already entangled with Fullmetal, I figured she'd seen worse than I could deliver, this was just new territory for her. Making a better alternative to the Tank would be a tall order, but if anyone could do it Winry could. I decided the best approach was to be direct.

"To answer your question Winry, it's easiest to sit up if I have support about here," I said pointing to where my ribs started in the back, "and maybe you could think about doing something with the seat so I don't tip forward either. It is hard for me to keep stable that way, and I've been told that it will continue to be hard. Gravity is not my friend. A seatbelt is really an undesirable option; I am not a racecar. Though Elysia seems to think I am." I added, partly in jest. This was not cool, and a seatbelt would just make my trunk weakness that much more conspicuous. Though I had to admit, Elysia did think that a ride on "Jean Racecar" was cooler than playing horsy.

Winry had me transfer to the bed so she could check out the specs on the Tank and she took more measurements. She rolled it back and forth, under the table noting the distance between seat and tabletop and I winced remembering how I'd bumped my legs rather hard at the beginning of the visit. She then attempted to pick it up and decided that it was indeed too heavy being made of wood and steel and then she scribbled some notes and sketches and it seemed like a light bulb went on. She made a little squeaking noise and said, "I've got it!"

"What? What have you got?" I said. But Winry was on a mission. Apparently she had found an answer to some of my problems and for that I knew I would be grateful. She sat on the bed and then almost tackled me in a bear hug. She popped up almost as quickly doing what Ed secretly called the "Machine Freak Dance" behind her back.

"Jean, I'll be back as soon as I can. I need to get some supplies and I think I'll need Al's help but I can do this. Do what Jim says, be nice to the nurses even the ugly ones and drink your milk!" she shouted over her shoulder as she raced out of the room.

I smiled, lit up my allotted smoke and thought of the options that might be open to me if I could move around a bit better. Winry had worked miracles for the Boss; maybe she could do something for me.


A few days passed in the usual way. Awake before the birds to some nurse poking me and prodding at me, and checking on me in invasive ways that I'd never imagined before. Then breakfast and that too was wearing on me. The Boss had been released so Al had gone too, so no more pastry to supplement the milquetoast fare that passed for food. Soon after my morning bathroom routine a nurse would come in to help me bathe, as they didn't think I was quite ready to attempt the shower by myself. The memory of my first sponge bath still stung my ego, so what should have been the best part of the day was something I just closed my eyes for and resigned myself to. Next a passel of young doctors would come through with their instructor to poke and prod me some more and discuss me in terms I was coming to know all too well, like I wasn't even in the room or deaf instead of paralyzed. Thankfully they would leave minutes after they arrived and then Jim would arrive. I never thought I'd look forward to therapy, but it was a trip outside my room and Jim was pretty used to seeing guys as banged up as I was. After all, it was a military hospital. It was routine to Jim and he seemed pleased to have a patient who wanted to work with him, didn't throw bedpans at him and above all wanted to get the hell out of the hospital under his own steam. Mostly I looked forward to seeing Jim because I knew I needed to get stronger and to learn how to live with this rather learning to live "like this" and he was a way to do just that. That was how he had phrased it the first day in therapy. I could find a way to do plenty of the things that I wanted to do with effort and creativity, and if I couldn't then I would find other pursuits that interested me. I had looked at him incredulously that first day. There was no way that I could ever learn to "like" this. I'm sure he was familiar with the look.

"Jean, you have a few options. You can go home and hide and be bitter and get weak or you can work on yourself to better as much as you can. You have a brain, two strong arms, resources from your retirement, and friends if you don't push them away. Figure out a new plan. The old plan got screwed up. That is horrible, but it's a fact. Life is far too long to be miserable. Get out of here and make a new life. This new life may be different but it doesn't have to be worse."

I was in pretty good spirits after therapy. I'd met some of my goals, even if they were small and I could maneuver the Tank a bit better. My stamina was increasing as well. As Jim and I neared the room a small blonde missile darted out and jumped into my lap.

"RACECAR JEAN! Go fast! Please?" cried Elysia obviously happy to see me.

I agreed of course, who could resist an offer like that? So Elysia and I went careening down to the nurses' station and back. When we got back I was a little winded, but when I looked up I saw Gracia standing in the doorway smiling. I moved over to her, squeezed her hand and mouthed, "Thank You.".

We then entered the room and Gracia had again been thoughtful enough to bring some of her wonderful baked goods, this time a small cake. If I recalled correctly it was her special cake.

"Gracia, why did you bake a cake? What are we celebrating? This is an awfully odd place to be celebrating. If I knew you'd bake me a cake for breaking my back maybe I would have done it sooner. Your cake is the best."

She blushed and looked down at that last comment and I knew I'd said too much. I shrugged and said, "Gallows humor, sorry."

"But really, what are we celebrating?"

Gracia turned to Elysia and made a shooing gesture, and at that Elysia hopped off my lap and ran towards the bathroom. When she opened the door out came Winry with an object covered in a hospital issue sheet. I noticed Jim was hanging around in the doorway and said, "Jim, get in here. I have a feeling you know what is going on here."

With a flourish Winry pulled the sheet off to reveal her latest creation.

I looked and then wheeled over to it and was speechless. The object before me had more in common with a professional racing bicycle than the Tank that I was currently sitting in. It was sleek and compact, the tires were rubber like bicycle tires and the wheels had spokes. There were push rims that looked like they would be easier on my hands to push with and the most interesting thing from that angle was that the wheels were set at an angle. Inspecting the seat I noticed that it was also set at an angle, slightly higher at the knees and lower in the back. I pointed at the seat, still unable to speak, the back rest was low slung and lightly padded withno push handles and it was at exactly the level I had given Winry in our consult session.

Winry spoke up, "I angled the seat so that it would come up under your knees and be lower in the back, to help you sit and maintain a more stable position. You said no seatbelt, right? Oh, and the wheels are cambered for stability and to better your turning radius. Plus, they are quick release so it's easy to get it in and out of the car and stuff. Plus I figured you wouldn't want anyone to push you once you're stronger, so no handles so people won't even try." then she giggled a bit at her stroke of genius. She was giddy with pride in her accomplishment and eager to see my reaction.

There were more differences from the Tank. The armrests were thin tubing with a minimal amount of padding, set low, and were constructed with the same metal as the frame. The frame or chassis in and of itself was a work of art. Where the Tank was all angles and bulk, this contraption was compact and curvaceous. It was like Winry had made the pin-up girl of my dreams in metal. It was sad that this work of art was a wheelchair, but the girl had talent. The next feature I noticed was that the footrest was part of the frame and quite discreet. On it were two small wheels that appeared to be multi-directional.

The final test was weight. I timidly reached out with my right hand and grabbed the seat and attempted to lift it. I was overjoyed when I realized that I was in fact able to lift it a little bit and it was lighter than I had ever thought possible. I put my both hands to my face, and leaned over to rest my elbows on my knees for a bit and just sat there so I could breathe a bit easier. I was dizzy with amazement at what she had accomplished, at what I might be able to accomplish. I needed to compose myself.

When I finally gathered my thoughts I said, "Winry you are a genius. The Boss does not deserve you unless he shouts from the roof of Central H.Q. that you are the best mechanic in all of Amestris. This is a work of art."

Winry blushed furiously, and said, "I couldn't have done it without Al. I had this idea that we could take a long distance light weight racing bicycle and Al could follow my blue prints to change the shape of the tubing using alchemy. That's why it's so light. I think you'll find it's everything we talked about. I added a pneumatic, um air cushion to the seat. Jim said that would help with sores and stuff, and the armrests are perfect for you to do those pressure relief push-ups on. It'll fit under tables too. I checked."

Jim interrupted Winry's nervous presentation on the specifications of her creation, "Jean, I think you have to try this out now, and Winry, I want copies of your plans, this is amazing."

I looked at all the faces in the room, Gracia, Elysia, Jim and most of all Winry, swallowed and said, "Here goes nothing."

I carefully lined up the Tank with Winry's work of art and nervously transferred. Even though the backrest was lower I felt more stable in it than I had felt in the Tank. I rolled over to the full-length mirror that was hanging on the back of the bathroom door and gave myself an inspection. Whereas the Tank had made me look smaller and more fragile than I was, this wheelchair seemed to fade into the background a bit. Granted I was still sitting in a walking world, but this gave me back a part of myself. Maybe people might see me first, then the chair. Even just going to the mirror I could tell that I moved much more freely.

"Halloo, Jean, are you with us? We all know you are a looker, but could you grace us with your presence?" Jim said, knocking me out of my stupor. He was exceptionally good at helping me through awkward moments with humor.

I made my way over to the table, first pushing the Tank out of the way, and settling neatly underneath it with Gracia on one side and Winry on the other.

"Jim, grab a chair and sit down, not the Tank though, it doesn't fit, and get rid of it when you finish your cake!" I said, "Hey, Elysia, stop playing with the Tank and get over here." as I patted my lap to let her know she was welcome to it.

We all dug into Gracia's now famous within the Amestris Army cake and laughed and talked. Jim finished his cake and had to excuse himself as he did have other patients to work with. I excused myself as well and went to the door of my room.

"Jim, you're forgetting something, take the Tank and burn it or something, would you? Oh, and I am so going to get you. Youknew that they were planning this and you didn't tell me? I would have done something more with my hair." mock preening as I pretended to berate him. With that said, I motioned for his hand and he offered it and I shook it and said, "Thank you, truly. Thank you. I think you may be right."

When Jim had left I returned to my other guests, focusing first on Winry.

"Winry, get over here so I can thank you properly."

Winry's eyes widened, but she did what was requested anyway. I grabbed her around the waist in the best bear hug I could muster reciprocating the unaffected show of kindness she had given me when she had left that first visit and said, "Thank you, there are not enough words, just thank you." I held onto her as tightly as I could and just squeezed.

Once Winry had wrestled out of my grip I turned to Gracia and Elysia.

"Gracia, Jim gave me some good news today during my session. I can go to therapy on an outpatient basis starting in a week if I find a 'suitable lodging situation'. I was wondering if your offer of staying with you and Elysia still stands."

Gracia stood up, walked toward me and once again I found myself in an iron grip. Not to be left out Elysia squeezed into the hug and onto my lap.

"I am going to assume that this is a yes." I said as I looked up and cocked an eyebrow.

Gracia smiled, near tears and said, "Of course Jean, I'm just glad that you've come to this decision by yourself. I hadn't told Elysia about it because I didn't want to get her hopes up, but as you can see, she is thrilled."

Chapter Text

Here are the quick and dirty particulars:

Rating: T, for language, realistic description of spinal cord injury, and later sexual situations. (Het, eventually.) Havoc x Canon Character, Riza x Roy, Gracia x OC.

Spoilers: Manga Chapter 38+

Disclaimer: All of these characters are the property of the genius that invented FMA. No one but Jim is mine and he's purely fictional, Dr. Prick, er Parker as well. I own nothing.

Resignation

My last week in the hospital flew by. I learned how to shower if provided with a little bench to sit on and to help me transfer into the tub. Jim taught me the finer points of moving stuff around from place to place without dropping it from my lap or injuring myself and how to safely reach items just above me and on the floor. Winry had thought of everything on her masterpiece, I even had a little bag under my seat and a cargo net attached to the frame in case I had lots of stuff to carry. Getting Winry's wonder chair and myself in and out of the car was on the agenda as well. The final and most complicated task was the dreaded "floor to chair" transfer. This was physically taxing and to my chagrin not the prettiest sight. I decided right then that not many people would witness that stunning feat.

Early on the morning of the appointed day I packed up the small cache of belongings I had accumulated during my three month stay, got my list of home care instructions from "Dr. Prick", who I had come to know as Dr. Parker and I waited for Gracia and Elysia to come. Before they arrived to take me to their home two visitors who hadn't been by in awhile surprised me.

I had been dozing on the bed, as I was pretty tired from the flurry of activity, when I was awakened by a familiar voice.

"Second Lieutenant Havoc, you look well," Mustang said from the hall. He entered the room and was followed by Hawkeye.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, self-consciously straightened my hair, and did my best to look dignified while moving from lying on my side to a sitting position. At this point this action was at best difficult and at worst just damned awkward looking.

When I'd finally gotten my legs straightened out and my body upright I saluted him and said, "That's Jean Havoc to you, I'm a civilian now, remember?"

My tone was more severe than I had intended it to be. I looked down and said, "That didn't come out right. I'm a civilian now, and it's ok. Thank you for everything and thank you for the space. I needed it." Looking up at them again I said, "Now about you, how are you two? Hawkeye, I hear you are the Fuhrer's secretary. That has to be horrible. You can't very well take aim at him without consequences." I winked and they knew that a bit of the old Havoc was back.

We talked for about a half hour and I got the update on the state of Amestris and it was not good, but what could I do? I knew Mustang would get it under control eventually, he always had. I'd help him however I could, even if it was just by rooting for him from the wings. It was not long before I heard Gracia and Elysia in the hall. I smiled and said, "That's my ride."

Elysia skipped into the room, looked at Hawkeye and Mustang, gave a cute little salute and promptly planted herself on the bed next to me. I think as far as Elysia was concerned this whole situation was a pretty good thing. She had her own adult with lots of time on his hands, with a constantly unoccupied lap. I chuckled at that thought.

At observing this image of happiness, Hawkeye gave me a knowing smile, and I caught Mustang smiling a bit too.

When Gracia entered the room the Colonel turned a shade paler, saluted the widow Hughes and inquired about the necessaries. He was clearly very uncomfortable, but I had known about that months ago. You don't drive a man around Central or serve under him for as long as I had without knowing the small nuances of his behavior.

He took his leave and Hawkeye had to get back to Headquarters, as her lunch break would be over shortly. I mused to myself that Mustang's stack of paperwork must be huge without his First Lieutenant to keep him in line.

"You ready to blow this pop stand Jean?" Gracia said.

"You know it! Let's get out of here." I said.

"Mommy, this isn't a pop stand, this is a hospital. Jean, you grown-ups are so silly!"


As we got to the hospital entrance I noticed a military car and driver. I looked at Gracia questioningly.

"Gracia, did Mustang arrange this?"

"No Jean, this is how it's been. I told you we're under guard, I guess I am just used to it. We have a car and driver at our disposal. Roy really has seen to everything at least the practical aspects." That said Gracia looked away.

The driver opened the car door for Gracia and Elysia and they got in and I set to work getting myself in. The driver motioned to help me but I waved him away. I disassembled my chair and instructed the driver to just put it in the trunk and to bring it to me when we got to our destination. Awkward, but bearable, and Winry was a genius for the quick release wheels. In just a few minutes I was in, my chair was in the trunk and I was on my way to my new digs. The Tank would have barely fit in the trunk of even this spacious sedan and I know as a driver I would not have relished attempting to lift it into the trunk.


The sedan arrived at the Hughes' residence and I waited in the car while Gracia gave the driver instructions on how to help me get out of the car and Elysia jumped out of the car and ran for the front porch and started bouncing up and down with impatience. The driver went around the back of the car, popped the trunk and brought my chair without a word. I quickly assembled it, transferred as gracefully as I could since this was only my second "out of captivity" transfer and made my way to the front porch. Someone had built a small ramp to traverse the step onto the porch and from there it would be a smooth trip. Elysia waved something excitedly in my face, and I gently took it from her and admired it. She had given me a small, crudely formed clay bowl painted in riotous colors with my name on it. Gracia put a hand on my shoulder, patted it and said, "That Jean, is your ashtray."

I laughed, placed it on the little table that was new to the porch, like the ramp and said, "Thank you for putting up with my vices, even if I am made to indulge outside. I am a little disturbed that you used child labor to produce an ashtray."

Elysia clambered up into my lap facing me and said, "Jean, do you like your present?"

I replied, "I love my present, you are such an artist already, but an ashtray? Smoking is a filthy habit young lady, don't ever let me catch you doing it," and I gave her a mock stern look.

Elysia scrunched up her button nose and parroted back at me, "Filthy Habit". It was all I could do to keep from cracking up right there. After all, I did have to be a role model.

From there I rolled the Princess and myself into the entryway. I looked into the living room and everything had been moved around, apparently for my convenience. There was a clear path for me to everything. I had my own little accessible utopia. I just sat there taking it in.

Gracia had come up behind me, and I said, "Gracia, really, you shouldn't have."

"I needed a change. We needed a change. You were as good a reason as any to make some change. Really, it's nothing."

I was shown to my room, a private and quiet airy little room at the back of the house. I realized that it had been Maes' study and paused a bit. Maybe this would be good for all of us. My apartment had been packed up and what wasn't here arranged thoughtfully so I could get to it I was told was in storage. Gracia instructed Elysia to go clean up her many babies and stuffed animals in her room and to get washed up for lunch. This gave me a little time to explore on my own.


My first stop was the closet. I found civvies, some calisthenics gear that I had been favoring lately, winter coat, shoes, but no uniforms or combat boots. They really had thought this move through, locking most painful remembrances of my past life in storage. Next I moved on to the chest of drawers. Upon inspection I discovered new, neatly folded boxer briefs and undershirts, pairs of socks, and a few of my less grungy standard issue wool sweaters. The top of the chest held a mirror, my toiletries, prescriptions and some framed photographs of my friends and myself. I noted that most of the photos were close-ups if I was in them. Wouldn't want to see myself standing, right?

Just off of my bedroom was my own personal bathroom. It was spacious, new looking and perfectly appointed. It was too perfectly appointed, as in almost identical to the occupational therapy bathroom. They had to have assumed I'd do this, or just done the construction in case I did. Mustang sometimes knew me better than I knew myself, and he had certainly run some amazing propaganda to get things to work out. Gracia, the Elric brothers, and even Winry were in on it. Within easy reach of the bathroom counter was a box of all my "stuff" that I had really hoped no one I knew had unpacked. I later learned, to my relief, that Jim had been working overtime consulting on this. Roy was truly amazing at subterfuge, even while planning a coup d'etat he'd managed to micromanage my life. I remembered that it was time to take care of hygiene manners and decided that I would have to thank Mustang for his thoroughness at some point when I wasn't feeling utterly controlled by him from afar.


I chided myself for such petty thoughts after all the effort on my behalf, and decided to see what else had changed since the last time I'd been to the Hughes' house. The smell of something wonderful helped me find the kitchen and it too was spacious and easy to get around in. Gracia was at the stove and Elysia was setting the table. When I came in I thanked Gracia again for her hospitality and then I wondered to myself, "So what do I do, do I help? How can I help? This was a bad idea, truly… Gracia is not a waitress."

Elysia saved me just as my doubts began to get louder. "Come here Jean, you can do the silverware."

Gracia and I exchanged small smiles and I retrieved the silverware from the drawer Gracia pointed at. That hadn't been hard, now how to get it to the table?

I wracked my brain for occupational therapy wisdom and remembered: the lap. I thought about it, and really, it didn't seem that bad. Worse things happen to silverware than being placed on someone's lap. I decided it would sound obsessive for me to ask if that was unsanitary, so I just put three place settings on a clean dishtowel in my lap and went over to the table to set it.

There, I smiled inwardly, Jean Havoc being a normal guy, and setting the table. You'd have thought I'd received a medal or something I was so proud.

By this time lunch was ready and I pulled up to the table, noting that one chair had been moved to the other side of the table to clear a space for me. Gracia had not spared any details, but she and Maes had always been thoughtful hosts.


After lunch Elysia announced that it was time to color and asked me to join her. How could I refuse a request like that? I asked Gracia if she needed any help clearing the table and she answered that the best help would be if I kept Elysia out from underfoot. Just then I noticed the noise of my water glass shaking on the table, I looked down and realized I was having a muscle spasm in my left leg. I'd had spasms before in therapy. Jim and Dr. Parker had explained that muscle spasms occur when peripheral nerves that I couldn't feel got irritated fired and caused movement in my legs, which rightfully shouldn't move on their own. At first they caused me to be hopeful, then they were worrisome and now they were just annoying. Gracia noticed it. She looked hopeful.

"No Gracia, those are just spasms I'll tell you about it after Elysia goes to bed. It's not return it's a symptom. Nothing urgent. Mostly it means I've been sitting too long today." I shook my head and sighed a bit.

"Elysia, do me a favor and bring your coloring books and crayons out to the living room." I said. I had an idea that would possibly stop the spasm, and help Gracia at the same time.

I pointed to the middle of the floor for Elysia to set up her "art studio" and parked my chair and transferred to the floor, it was slow, and definitely not the most graceful transfer but Elysia was already engrossed in coloring. I then got down on my stomach so I could stretch and rest whatever muscles and nerves were bothered while I was coloring. Jim had been right about the creativity thing.

We settled in to color and I let Elysia "hog" the pink crayon. One moment I was coloring and the next thing I knew I woke up with my face resting on a coloring book, inhaling the waxy aroma of crayons. I looked up and panicked when I discovered that Elysia was nowhere to be seen and that it was awfully quiet in the house. The little bit of information I had on raising children told me that quiet children were often up to no good.

I rolled myself over and propped myself up on my elbows. When I called for Elysia, I got no answer. My next move was to call for Gracia, again no answer. It wasn't time to panic yet; Gracia had probably gone upstairs. I instinctively worked my way up to a sitting position and reached back for where my chair was and met air and landed flat on my back. My chair was A.W.O.L. along with Elysia.

I pulled myself back up to an upright position, dragged myself over to the couch and leaned against it for support.

I called Elysia's name a little louder, with a little more urgency and I finally got an answer.

"Yes Jean, you fell asleep coloring. I went to my room to play. I have a surprise for you. Come here." she called from her playroom.

I called back to her, "Elysia, you'll have to come here to show me the surprise." I answered wondering just what the hell had happened to my chair, though I was beginning to get some good ideas about what had happened to it.

"No Jean, you come here!" Elysia called back stubbornly. "If I come out there it will ruin the surprise."

I lost it. There I was, a grown man stuck on the floor, apparently at the mercy of a preschooler.

"Elysia come here right now and bring my chair!" I barked, regretting my tone of voice as soon as the words left my mouth.

Slowly I heard her emerge from her playroom and when she arrived in the living room she was on the verge of tears, pushing my wheelchair covered in hair ribbons and stuffed animals in front of her.

"I'm sorry Jean, I just wanted it to be nice since you didn't have a party when you came here. You should have a party. I'm happy to have you here. Mommy is happy to have you here."

With that her little face crumbled and I opened my arms and luckily she ran to them.

I cooed to her and patted her hair as she cried and eventually calmed down. When she was calm enough to listen I said, "Elysia, you did such a nice thing for me and I'm so sorry I sounded mad. I wasn't mad, just scared. I wondered where you had gone and with my chair gone, and you in the other room I couldn't get to you."

She looked at me perplexed. Apparently the whole chair thing was not sinking in with her. It had barely sunk in with me so I couldn't blame her for not understanding.

I asked, "Why do you think I use that chair Elysia?"

She replied, "Well, I have a tricycle and it has streamers, so I thought that you should have streamers too."

I chuckled and messed up her hair and said, "Elysia, no, that was a nice idea, but I need that chair to get around, not just for fun. Did your Mommy tell you that I got hurt?"

She nodded yes, and looked a bit worried.

I continued, "Well, I did, but it's ok. The doctors fixed me as best as they could but they couldn't fix my legs. They don't work so hot now. So now I need that chair to get around. That's why it was so special that Winry made one for me. Winry is pretty great, isn't she?"

Elysia brightened and agreed that Winry had indeed made the best racecar ever.

"I'm glad you know I'm not mad at you. I'm sad and mad that I'm hurt, but it will be ok. But I need you to promise me a few things, ok?"

Elysia nodded and put up her pinky. This was some serious business to be a pinky promise.

"Please promise me that you won't take my chair again, even to make it pretty, and please come when I call you because it worries me when you don't answer and I can't get to you."

We locked pinkies and she gave me a hug. It turns out that Gracia had been watching the whole thing from the entry way and she came in, kneeled on the floor and hugged us both. Thankfully it was dinnertime. All this activity had worked up an appetite and I was ready for the distraction of polite conversation.


Dinner came and went without major event. I had even saved the day and set the whole table and put some of the cold stuff out. It was little stuff, but at this point in my life it was all little stuff. A month prior I had been helpless and now I was helpful, even they were token gestures. Next time Gracia hosted a party, I would be more useful than most of my comrades as usually they could found at the buffet emptying it, rather than filling it. I joked with Gracia about that, and this time my self-mocking sense of humor was appreciated.

After dinner I checked out the bookshelves and picked out a book to read on the couch while Gracia helped Elysia with her bath and got her ready for bed. I was halfway through an exceedingly dry chapter on the founding of Amestris when Elysia crept up onto the couch and curled up next to me with her book of fairy tales and pretended to read herself.

"What'cha reading Jean?" she asked looking up from her book, which was upside down.

"A very dull book Princess Elysia, and what may I ask are you reading?" I asked while furrowing my brow and cocking my head to pretend to read her upside down book.

"Your Majesty, I think we have a problem, your tale is upside down. Would you like me to fix it?" I teased.

Elysia giggled, nodded in the affirmative and planted herself in my lap. I then proceeded to read her a story about a prince who was cursed and turned into a frog by an evil witch. She knew the book by heart in places it had been read so many times, and the pages had begun to get dog eared. By the last few pages of the story her voice began to trail off and head was nodding, fighting off sleep. Gracia came in and picked Elysia up to take her to bed. Elysia roused just long enough to request to be tucked in.

"Sorry, but your goodnight kisses and tuck in will have to be delivered by butterfly," I said and blew her a kiss. She was pacified and the question of why I couldn't go upstairs to tuck her in could wait until another day. I was far too content with our new bedtime ritual to explain.


Gracia came back down and asked if I'd like tea, and that sounded wonderful. She made two cups and brought them out. We started discussing the day's minutiae, making small talk as she sat in the armchair under a throw and I stretched out on the couch.

I changed the subject abruptly from the mundane to the very serious in my mind.

"I'm sorry I lost it this afternoon, you know, with the streamers. That was so sweet of her, and I wrecked it because I panicked when I felt trapped in the living room. What's more, what if it was an emergency and something like that had happened?"

"Jean, today was a very tiring day, a huge change for everyone and you both had a misunderstanding. It was sweet and funny in the end. You explained that very well. I held off on explaining everything to her when I saw how she just launched herself at you that first visit. I didn't want to wreck it, you looked so happy." Gracia said, then paused, took a sip of tea and thought a bit. "She handled it well, didn't she? I'm proud of her, and I'm proud of you. You even got a pinkie promise out of it."

"Ok, so I flipped out and that didn't traumatize her, but what if there was an emergency? Gracia, a preschooler held me hostage! It really hit home just how powerless I am now," I said and trailed off at the end and hung my head.

"There are guards outside. You must have noticed that this is the safest place in Central next to Headquarters, right? It is going to be ok. If something happened, we would get help, end of story. Is there anything else eating you alive? Talking about it with someone helps."

I hesitated and finally summoned the nerve to speak, "There is so much I have to say and I think it will come out all wrong and it is a very confusing jumble right now. Even if I did find the words to convey what is going on with me, I don't think anyone would be able to relate. With Maes…I mean you've noticed, everyone dances around the subject, right?"

Gracia's eyes welled up and I winced at the thought of hurting her by bringing Maes up. After all her kindness I did not want to cause her any more pain than she had already endured.

"Jean, you don't know how much it means to me that you WILL actually talk about him, it. Everyone inquires about our health, the weather, and tells me what a great person Maes was. Of course I know how wonderful he was. No one is there to talk about how much I miss him." Gracia wiped her eyes and regained her composure and smiled.

"I've found something that helps, and I think that it might be just the thing for you too," she said and grabbed a small book from the side table next to her and handed it to me.

"Religion? A book?" I puzzled and I wondered if Gracia had gone off the deep end.

"No, gosh, for someone as smart as you are, you can be thick headed. Look at it. Really look at it," with this announcement she opened the front cover for me. I instantly recognized it to be a small standard issue notebook that alchemists used to compile field notes in and that I had used to log shifts, intelligence and most often phone numbers for Mustang.

"You want me to write reports? Keep records? Get phone numbers for Mustang? What would I possibly keep track of Gracia? How many times I flip out over nothing, or I have a better one, how about how long it takes me to do something that I didn't even think about before... " I trailed off as I noticed she was frowning at me.

She then said, "Write it down. Write it all down. Read it later, bury it at the bottom of your underwear drawer, heck burn it when you fill a notebook. Just get it out. You will feel better. Trust me."

I was dubious, but I smiled at her, and thanked her sincerely.

"No Jean, thank you. I have not had 'grown-up time' in ages," she said and grabbed our mugs to put them in the kitchen. "Oh, and hey, the spasms earlier, are you ok?"

I sighed and she sat down at the end of the couch. "It's like this, for me they don't hurt, for others I guess they're not too comfortable. Dr. Parker said I was fortunate when I brought it up to him that I couldn't feel them. So I'm lucky, eh? But they're no big deal. They just mean I have to slow down a little and rest and figure out what is uncomfortable where I can't feel. I'm just a mess."

Gracia leaned over and patted my arm, in an almost motherly way, and I wasn't bothered by her mother hen instinct. It was comforting. She didn't pity me, couldn't know what it was like to be me, but it seemed like she might understand enough to help me figure it all out for myself.

After a day like that it was bedtime. Gracia went up to her room and I went to my room to prepare for bed. As I brushed my teeth and as I started the "bathroom hygiene" routine I chuckled to myself that maybe I should start timing myself. I chided myself for being an ass after Gracia's kindness, and decided that maybe a wise addition to my nighttime schedule would be some journal writing. It certainly couldn't hurt. I fell asleep with the notebook wide open and a stub of pencil in my hand, several pages filled with many of the thoughts that had been creeping in around the edges and brought more questions than answers. That night I slept the soundest I had since the accident.

Chapter Text

Metamorphosis

I woke up the next morning and I was a little disoriented. Soldier's instincts dictated that I play possum until I was sure of my bearings. I felt soft sheets and a pile of down pillows propping me up in bed, smelled strong coffee from a few rooms over and I heard someone singing in there too. I opened an eye and turned my head and on my bedside table was a jelly jar with a small bouquet of tulips in it and two glasses, one of them which I assumed to be cranberry juice next to my prescriptions, and a glass of water from the decanter that sat on the nightstand to wash the pills down with. I remembered where I was, I was at Chez Hughes and I realized that Gracia must have brought in the juice and set up the meds and Elysia must have picked the flowers for me. What a way to wake up. This definitely beat the hospital. No strange noises in the night and no parade of doctors and interns making me their science project. There were definitely healing methods that modern medicine had forgotten about and Gracia was a master of them all. I sat up a bit, put the pills in my mouth and took a swig of water, I then turned to put the glass down being careful not to fall out of bed as I set it down. I then braced myself for the effort of sitting up fully, did so and drank my juice. Gracia was brilliant, some breakfast before shower and the whole getting dressed bit and the rest of breakfast after.

Gracia must have heard me moving around because she knocked on the door and told me that she'd held off on making my pancakes, and that she'd make more fresh when she was back from dropping Elysia off at preschool. I panicked at the thought of being alone. Gracia must have read my mind, because before I could even object she said, "No worries, Sciezka is here having some breakfast and reading in the living room. You won't be alone. If you need her just yell, otherwise she'll go about her business while you get dressed and ready. We have errands today. I'll be back soon."

Gracia was a Goddess of Domesticity. No wonder Maes had always been so happy. He'd never wanted or worried for anything at home, save for the worry of ever leaving. Who would ever want to go out the front door? This was paradise. I set my juice glass down on the bedside table, transferred to my chair and was on my way into the bathroom.

The old Havoc would have rolled out of bed cursing a blue streak, run into the shower and danced around a bit because the hot water heater was empty and the shower was like ice, then rinse and spit with mouthwash and pray he looked alright because he was running so late. Up and to work in twenty minutes or less was the objective and I did it well. I had it down to a science so I could race to Central and then stride into the office appearing cool and collected.

Those days were gone. I think Gracia must have alerted me early to our plans on purpose as a courtesy. Jim my therapist was an amazing organizer and he must have clued her in on how long just getting ready for the day would take. Never mind breakfast or niceties, I had reluctantly become high-maintenance. I admit I took my time getting ready so I wouldn't drop anything and then have to retrieve it, or worse have to ask someone to get it for me. I also indulged in the hot water in the shower for a few extra minutes. The whole time I'd been in the hospital I'd only had three showers and I found the water beating on my muscles, the feel of the soap on my skin and the shampoo in my hair to be a soothing balm. Maybe I could just live in the shower. That wouldn't be so bad; it was nice and warm, smelled good, felt like heaven and the water beating down on me drowned out any voices of doubt in my head for at least a little while. I couldn't remember if a shower had ever felt this good in the before, if it had, I certainly had not appreciated it. Pondering this I turned off the water, reached for the towel on the bar that had been placed at the perfect height and started to dry myself off. After making sure I'd dried absolutely everything, even between my toes I could commence the orderly process that had become dressing myself. In the old days if it hadn't moved on its own it was clean, and on days off I could just rummage around on the floor of my bachelor pad and throw on anything. Now I'd been trained to bring my clothes into the bathroom with me and put them on in a prescribed order. Jim was a genius really, helping to get me organized to accomplish this small set of tasks in the most efficient way, but I resented having to be so planned. Every guy puts his pants on in the morning; mine just took an age to get on. After wrestling with my khakis and the lone commando sweater I had that wasn't in tatters for a bit I was dressed, if rumpled and I went over to the mirror to brush my teeth, shave and attempt to do something with my overly long hair. It was far from regulation and sloppier than even I could stand. I'd need to ask Gracia if she could drop me by the barber I frequented after we were done shopping since it was on that side of Central.

Once finished in the bathroom I rummaged around for a watch cap in the dresser to hide my hair until I could do something about it. "Vanity, they name is Havoc." I said to my reflection as I gave myself a final check. I located my wallet and stuck it in my back pocket as usual. Then I started the process of making my bed and promptly gave up. We were on a mission; I could make it when we got back. I did remember to get my juice glass from the bedside table. How would I carry it? Ah, yes, in the lap, between the legs so it wouldn't drop or tip, just not with hot stuff or dangerous stuff. Spill-able stuff was negotiable, it depended on if you wanted to be messy or not.

When I rolled out of my room after an hour of readying myself I found nary a sign of Sciezka and Gracia was dishing up my breakfast. I looked at Gracia as I pulled up to the table, placed my juice glass on it and looked around for Sciezka. Gracia must have been reading my mind.

"Sciezka's in the garden, picking flowers to put on the table. I thought that we might go pick you out some more comfortable clothes while Elysia is at school and then a play date, as all you have here are some civvies that have seen better days, some standard issue that looks like it came out of the dumpster and your calisthenics gear is getting tired looking. You're a looker, but really, sweat shirts and sweat pants with holes in them don't cut it. Did you put those khakis through a cheese grater?"

Gracia had very carefully glossed over the fact that most of my clothes had been uniforms and those were now gone, and that truly, I had been a looker and now I looked like shit. The khakis were comfortable and easy to get on, but really, I looked like an escapee from the hospital with my baggy tattered pants, ill-fitting sweater and "bad hair day" hat. I was pale and pasty and in need of some sun. I had lost a few pounds in the hospital as well and that didn't contribute to my overall "looker" status. Maes had always been dressed nicely out of uniform. He really was right about that whole, "get a wife" thing. If anyone could help me pull myself together it would be Gracia, and I trusted her to not push me into anything too dangerous too soon. I knew Sciezka from Headquarters, but was a little apprehensive. She was a new person, as she hadn't seen me like this.

"Um, that sounds like a great plan. Sciezka knows right? I mean everyone knew from my office but Sciezka has always seemed kind of shy and strange, I don't know if this is a good idea…I'm not exactly 'Mr. Social Skills' right now." I broke off my train of thought for a bit and had an idea, "But Elysia raves about her, and so she must be great. I think I'm more worried about being out than about Sciezka. We can always talk about Elysia."

Gracia just smiled and nodded and then said, "We'll have the car and driver, we're only going to a few of my favorite stores. I think I know just what will work. It won't kill you to get out in the air, and I won't even make you try them on. I promise if you completely hate it, we'll go home and we can arrange for clothes to be sent to the house."

I nodded furiously and gave her a playful "Yes Ma'am" salute and dug into my breakfast.

Retired Second Lt. Jean Havoc, fighter of terrorists, a war and homunculi was afraid to go out shopping for clothes. This was definitely a complicated existence.

After breakfast I went outside for a smoke and settled in at my table with my ashtray. I lit up, closed my eyes and inhaled, dragging deeply and savoring the sun on my face. I heard someone come up the front walk and I abruptly opened my eyes and there was Sciezka, arms laden with flowers. I quickly stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray and opened the door, because I could, and smiled at her in greeting.

Gracia saw that all the troops were ready and she suggested we get going.

When the car pulled up on the High Street I sucked in my breath, mustered my courage and readied myself for "public display". Gracia had been smart enough to tell the driver to pull over into a plaza a block or so away from our destination, but I still had witnesses to my balancing act. I wasn't sure if I'd ever get used to that.

We headed to the first shop and Gracia had indeed picked winners. Somehow she'd either sized me up visually, or in her unpacking had noted all my sizes and when we arrived at the store there was a range of stuff for me to look over being held at the front counter. The selection included khakis that looked more like my favorite cargo pants for missions, some v-neck sweaters in the softest wool I'd ever felt, a few short sleeve cotton shirts so the sweaters wouldn't itch, a couple button downs that looked like they wouldn't get all wrinkly even if I played all afternoon on the floor with Elysia and some house pants that looked suspiciously like the type Maes and Mustang favored in their off time. She'd also taken the liberty of having them select a few pairs of loafers and driving moccasins that looked comfortable. I wasn't sure why I cared that they were comfortable and I had accepted the fact that I wouldn't be driving anytime soon, but they'd at least be easy to get on and they looked presentable. I sized it all up and smiled, pulled out my wallet from my back pocket, paid and fumbled around a bit and found my back pocket again to put it back.

Gracia should have been a boutique owner with her fashion sense and instincts; I later learned that she'd met Maes while she was a shop girl. I selected a bright blue v-neck sweater, the black house pants and the black driving moccasins to change into as my attire was lacking and looked for a change room, said outfit in my lap. Gracia was having the rest delivered to the house later in the afternoon. We wouldn't even have to carry bags. She'd really thought of everything. When I couldn't find the change room I hunted for a clerk and found one. I asked about a change room so I could put on my new purchases. The sales girl blanched, the day had been so easy I'd almost forgotten, until I realized I'd been looking up at her when I asked for help. She pointed to a set of stairs and I could see a small loft space with curtains that probably concealed changing rooms. I felt my face heat up, and was sure my cheeks were turning crimson. This had all seemed too easy, and I'd gotten complacent about how things are.

Gracia came to my rescue, and whispered something in the sales girl's ear. There was a broom closet on the ground floor and I could change there. I went and changed, and came out with nothing harmed but my dignity. I told myself that these things would happen, and to get used to it, though my day was a little tarnished as I was passing the plate glass window I snuck a look and noticed I looked a lot better since my clothes now fit properly, and the color of the sweater was almost as good as my uniform. Gracia carried the bag of discarded clothes and as we headed out I sat up a little straighter.

"Jean, I'm so sorry, that was the one thing I didn't think through. I'll have to remember that next time," she said as she put a reassuring hand between my shoulder blades.

I just sat there for a bit and thought out my next words. Finally I said, "Gracia, don't worry, you thought of more things than I would have even considered. I didn't have to weave through the racks or reach the higher shelves to find my size. That would have been a nightmare. Forget about matching, I'd have been lucky to get out of there with anything before turning coward and leaving. Besides, this is great. I love it. What is this sweater made of anyway?" and gave her an affectionate elbow in the side.

"That is cashmere, I knew you'd love it," she beamed. "Maes finally started wearing it after I threatened to burn his favorite Military Academy sweatshirt. He never went back to that old thing. The sweaters were just so much softer. Plus that color brings out your eyes. This way the ladies get their sharp dressed man and you get your sweatshirt. Everyone wins."

She'd tricked Maes into dressing sharp with the promise of fluffy sweaters. Maybe Maes had learned all of his investigation and espionage skills from Gracia. She had turned an experience that could have put a damper on the day into an ego boost. Mustang had been right with this whole arrangement, but maybe it had been Gracia's idea as she was obviously tactically brilliant.

Sciezka had opted out of the first clothing store as it was all men's items and met us in the next store. We went in and promptly left. It was just too cramped and the second store had only been back up if I'd hated everything in the first store.

I remembered that my barber's shop was nearby and said, "Gracia, if you don't mind I am getting disgracefully shaggy here," and pointed at my cap. "My barber is just down the street. Why don't you both get your errands done and I'll meet up with you in an hour somewhere close-by."

She and Sciezka agreed that the plan would work as they had accomplished the goal to get me dressed, and we agreed to meet at the coffee house across from the barbershop. I then made my way to the familiar shop. This would be fine. I looked put together, more like myself than I had in ages. I knew this world, these people, there was nothing unfamiliar, standard regulation cut, and leave the front a bit long had been my instructions since I'd hit Central. Maybe I could even get into some of the political discussions. I had really missed office banter since my absence.

I approached the shop, and near the entrance I decided it would be wise for a cigarette to help me muster the rest of my courage. It was simple; take smoke from pack, insert in mouth, light and then the worry would fade away. As I lit up some enlisted men walked past me on their way into the barber. I watched them walk by and couldn't help feeling wistful. They went in to get their names on the list and to sit and wait. I took another drag and another blue uniform walked by. I tossed my cigarette into the bucket outside the door and made my way in to get my name on the list. I found a spot in the corner where I could observe conversations and people while I waited my turn. My name was called and I knew from my regular barber's expression that yes, it was indeed different here too. I asked for the usual and he gave it. I couldn't fault him for the cut. He'd been accommodating, having catered to war veterans before and just put the drape over my shoulders and chair and trimmed my hair while I sat in the wheelchair. We discussed the weather and sports. It wouldn't have been out of the ordinary if the barber's shop hadn't usually been a hot bed of bravado. In general the topics of conversation were our last lay, our next lay and if in a drought the pin-up girls adorning the walls. The barber went to get a mirror and I heard someone call my name, I turned to acknowledge him.

"Havoc, so good to see you, I got some bad intelligence, I'd heard you'd gotten messed up and ended up a cripple, it's nice to see you up and about," a young Sergeant whose name I never got said.

My face fell when I recognized him as someone I'd sometimes smoke and chat with outside of the mess; I swallowed hard and said, "No Sergeant, your intelligence was quite correct."

I fumbled for my wallet, took out a few bills and placed them on the barber's counter and then fought with the drape. My mind was racing and I heard the young Sergeant call my name as I got out of the shop as quickly as I could.

"Lieutenant Havoc, Havoc, I'm sorry, come back!" he called, but gave up when I headed across the street like a madman.

I don't know who was more embarrassed, he or I.

I found the coffee house, located a table in the corner and situated myself there. I could at least hide out there until Gracia and Sciezka arrived. The mission had been a critical failure. The only up side was that I no longer looked like a scruffy ward escapee.

I fished in my bag underneath the chair and pulled out my notebook and started writing. I didn't care that I hadn't ordered anything. No one would have bothered me. Not once they saw the chair. What was so conspicuous made me invisible to some and an oddity to others, though most saw me as some thing in need of aid.

It took a few tries for it to register that someone was once again addressing me.

"Hey, hi, hello…it's a bit crowded in here," said a female voice. "Mind if I sit here?"

"It's a free country for now, go ahead," I sniped and quickly closed my notebook. I looked up and realized that it was Sciezka.

I ran a hand through my hair and said, "Sciezka, I'm sorry. That wasn't because of you. Truly. I am an out of sorts bastard today. Have a seat, please."

She smiled shyly and accepted my invitation and forgave me with a smile and nod.

"Gracia and Elysia call you Jean, is it ok if I am that informal with you Second Lieutenant Havoc?" said as she stood at attention and saluted.

I chuckled, saluted back and said, "At ease, I'm a civilian now, and Jean is more than fine. To make up for my mood back there, can I persuade you to have a coffee with me while we wait for Gracia? I'll buy it, if you go get it. Coffee is dangerous stuff," and I pointed at my lap and pretended to shrink back in horror lest I be splashed with coffee.

She giggled and said, "Gracia was right, you are self-deprecating. Oh, maybe she didn't want you to know that. Um, I'll just go get that coffee, are cream and sugar ok?"

I nodded in the affirmative and pasted on my best pleasant smile. She turned to walk away and I was still distracted from my earlier experience that I didn't even check out her ass. Primo view and I turned it down. Mustang would lecture me for that later.

Sciezka came back with the coffee and I decided that we should stick to a neutral and common topic, that topic being Elysia. I had been right in the morning when I made my "orders" for the day in thinking up some discussion topics. Other than Gracia and Elysia I was horribly rusty talking to people on a non-medical or professional level. Our conversation was companionable until we came to the topic of children's literature.

When Gracia arrived we were engaged in a heated debate on the Frog Prince book that I had read to Elysia the night before and Sciezka had given her. She loved it and wasn't it a tale of true love conquering all, even princes cursed to ugliness until they found unconditional love? My opinion was that it was a fairy tale that some bumpkin had dreamt up and passed down and truly the frog should have taken the golden ball, found a new pond and dealt with it. If he had to be alone, at least he'd have the ball.

Sciezka declared me a "total cynic with no imagination" and I concurred. She prescribed a reading list for me to remedy my "ignorant" state and informed Gracia she'd bring it by when she came to visit Elysia in a few days. She thanked me for the coffee, turned on her heel and huffed out.

Gracia pronounced the day a success. She praised how I'd fended for myself, even if I did retreat to the coffee house early, spoke with someone outside of the home and managed to engage Sciezka in a conversation that lasted more than five minutes without losing her train of thought or Sciezka shrinking away in shyness.

I was utterly lost as to what Gracia was getting at, on how she could call this debacle a success, but the reading list Sciezka had prescribed would have to be more interesting than military history, economics and political science. The only other books Maes had on the downstairs shelves were photo albums.

When the car and driver pulled up I was more than ready to go home. I noticed my leg twitching and thought, "I must have been sitting on my freaking wallet."

Chapter Text

Cooperation

Gracia and I got back to the house, I got into the house without incident and Gracia let me know that she had to go out and get groceries and do a few more errands.

"Jean, would you mind staying here and waiting for Elysia to get dropped off from her play date? You'd be alone for a few hours tops," Gracia smiled as she said this.

I think she could tell I was dying for some alone time to sort through the morning's happenings.

"That would be fine, I'm a big boy, and Elysia won't be any trouble. We're good like that. Besides, if anything does happen, like you said, there are those guards outside. Don't worry," I said. "Oh, and hey…what's for dinner? I'm famished."

Gracia just rolled her eyes at me, left and I settled onto the couch to write until Elysia got home. I had been writing for about an hour when there was a knock on the door.

"Wonder who that could be? I'll be there in a minute, hold on!" I shouted and rushed to get off the couch, into the chair and to the door.

Shit… can't see who it is through the peephole… it's too tall.

"Who is it?" I asked, a little nervous.

Jean Havoc, former big strong man, was at the door like a little old lady with the ten locks on the door and twenty cats.

"Delivery for Jean Havoc from High Street Men's," said the voice on the other side of the door.

"OH! Right," I thought out loud and opened the door.

I needn't have worried; it was only my clothes being delivered.

The delivery boy came in, gawked a bit and just stood there. I realized that I should probably tell him where to put it all, and then tip him. When had I forgotten the basic social graces?

"It'll be fine if you just put them down right in the living room. Thanks for the delivery," I said, and then reached for my wallet in my back pocket, remembered I'd put it in the bag, retrieved it and pulled out a few cens notes for his tip. "Here, for your trouble."

The boy hesitated a bit when I offered him money, but took it and thanked me nervously. I decided not to read too much into his hesitation at the tip. It could have been any number of things, it was probably me, but I was already driving myself nuts over-thinking things, why add paranoia about tipping delivery boys to the mix?

I began putting away my purchases. A few trips into the bedroom later, it was done. Things sure took a lot longer now, but even with the effort I noticed I wasn't as tired as I had been, and Gracia had been right about the clothes. I should have had her dressing me before all of this. I would have had a real chance against Mustang.

Just as I finished Elysia came home with art projects and the announcement that she was going to die from hunger if she did not get a snack.

"Jean, look at what I made at school today!" she said as she thrust a concoction of glitter, feathers and construction paper into my lap.

"Wow, it's gorgeous, what is it?" I asked, wondering just exactly what this multi-media extravaganza was. By now I was covered in glitter.

"You silly Jean, it's a parrot! See the feathers?" Elysia said, like it was the easiest thing in the world to guess what this thing was. "See the beak?" she said and pointed to a small triangle of orange construction paper.

"Oh, now I see it. We should hang this on the icebox so Mommy can see it when she gets home, and you did say you were starving, me too. Want a snack?" I said.

"YES!" Elysia squealed.

"Well, what should we have? Your Mom left apples and cookies, and I think there is some cheese in the fridge," I said, amused that I was playing at house.

"We should have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Jean," Elysia said, as if this was the most obvious answer in the world.

"I agree Princess Elysia, those would taste really good. Want to help me make them?" I asked.

Of course she wanted to help me make them. Elysia loved helping in the kitchen doing big girl things. So we got to work.

"Ok we need bread, jelly, peanut butter, oh plates, and a knife. Do you want milk to drink?" I asked, thinking if there was anything out of my reach.

I busied myself getting the ingredients for our snack. I went over to the icebox, opened it, got out the bottle of milk and decided we should pour it at the table so I didn't make a mess. Putting the bottle between my knees I rolled over to the table, and set it there. One task accomplished.

Next I realized that Gracia would probably frown upon us drinking the milk straight from the bottle. I never minded at the bachelor pad, but Gracia was civilized, so I went to the cupboard for two glasses. It was a stretch, but I made it and soon our glasses were on the table as well.

Elysia watched and waited patiently from her seat at the kitchen table.

Next was the bread. Check, that was easy. It was on the counter. Jelly; also easy that was in the icebox. The knife for spreading our peanut butter and jelly was also easy enough. I was pretty good at this cooking thing.

"Ok Elysia, where is the peanut butter?" I asked.

She pointed to a cupboard that was just out of my reach. This was no good. I wracked my brain thinking of ways we could get to that peanut butter. We had come too far to have plain jelly sandwiches. I had an idea.

"Elysia, you're going to help me get the peanut butter, ok? Because neither of us can reach it by ourselves," I said, trying to sound cheerful.

Elysia nodded eagerly, ready to help.

I was kind of put out but put on a brave face for the Princess. I couldn't even reach peanut butter for fuck's sake.

"What you're going to do is stand on my lap, and I'm going to hold you around the waist so you don't fall and then you are going to be able to reach that peanut butter."

It went off without a hitch. Mission accomplished. The peanut butter had been retrieved. But we had no plates, and they were in a higher cupboard too. I decided that we were not going to tempt fate and so we would have to improvise.

When Gracia got home she found Elysia sitting on my lap, eating what was quite possibly the messiest peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever off of the cutting board I had commandeered from the counter and used as our communal plate. I had a similarly sloppy sandwich and it was one of the best things I'd ever tasted.

Gracia stood in the kitchen entryway for a bit just smiling.

"What is it Gracia? Something wrong?" I said as I looked up at her.

"No, Jean, absolutely nothing wrong. You just have a little something…" and she fell into a fit of giggles and gestured at her nose.

I put my hand to my nose and discovered I had a big glob of peanut butter there. I wiped it off and licked my finger to clean up and grinned from ear to ear.

After our snack adventure I was a little tired so I excused myself to go have a nap in my room. This needing to rest business was annoying but today I'd at least done something, gone somewhere, and not fallen asleep in the middle of something. I supposed that this was progress.

An hour later Elysia came in to let me know that dinner would be ready in about a half hour. I was grateful for the advance notice as I had a few necessaries to take care of before dinner.

"Thank you for getting me up and being such a good helper. Tell your Mommy that I'll be out soon," I said.

With that Elysia scampered off and I prepared myself to get to the bathroom. I stretched a bit, transferred and handled all the bathroom business without incident and was ready for dinner.

Dinner was blessedly uneventful and as always delicious and Gracia made good on her promise to let me help dry the dishes.

I noticed that during my nap she'd moved the plates to a lower cupboard. She truly always thought of everything.

After dinner we all moved to the living room. I took up my now favorite spot on the couch and Elysia took her favorite spot, which was my lap. We all sat and talked until it was time for Elysia to get ready for bed. She went to get ready without complaint and like clockwork came down with her "Frog Prince" book.

I sighed as I opened it and thought to myself, "Jean, you may as well pay attention to the story so that next time you verbally spar with Sciezka you are better armed."

We read the story, I got my goodnight hug and kiss and Elysia went to bed.

Gracia came down and again offered tea. This was a good routine. I had been writing while she tucked Elysia in and Gracia nodded and smiled.

"So Jean, what do you think of the notebook idea, do you like it?" Gracia asked.

I hesitated, and closed it, thought a bit and finally answered.

"I thought you were seriously nuts when you gave it to me last night. I mean how is me making chicken scratch about what is going on around me going to help any of this situation? But I think it's helping, a little bit. I may actually have written down some feelings."

I averted my eyes, thought better of it and then said, "But don't tell anyone. This will be our secret, right? I mean between the injury, the cooking, if you can call snacks cooking, the new clothes and this 'Dear Diary' thing, you are turning me into a total girl."

Gracia just rolled her eyes at me, smiled and said, "Jean, what am I going to do with you?"

Then she got up and hugged me around my shoulders and said, "You should get to bed, big day again tomorrow. Jim gets you back for therapy and I'm sure he's going to kick your ass as you so eloquently put it."

I groaned in agreement and went to get ready for bed.

Chapter Text

Cooperation

Gracia and I got back to the house, I got into the house without incident and Gracia let me know that she had to go out and get groceries and do a few more errands.

"Jean, would you mind staying here and waiting for Elysia to get dropped off from her play date? You'd be alone for a few hours tops," Gracia smiled as she said this.

I think she could tell I was dying for some alone time to sort through the morning's happenings.

"That would be fine, I'm a big boy, and Elysia won't be any trouble. We're good like that. Besides, if anything does happen, like you said, there are those guards outside. Don't worry," I said. "Oh, and hey…what's for dinner? I'm famished."

Gracia just rolled her eyes at me, left and I settled onto the couch to write until Elysia got home. I had been writing for about an hour when there was a knock on the door.

"Wonder who that could be? I'll be there in a minute, hold on!" I shouted and rushed to get off the couch, into the chair and to the door.

Shit… can't see who it is through the peephole… it's too tall.

"Who is it?" I asked, a little nervous.

Jean Havoc, former big strong man, was at the door like a little old lady with the ten locks on the door and twenty cats.

"Delivery for Jean Havoc from High Street Men's," said the voice on the other side of the door.

"OH! Right," I thought out loud and opened the door.

I needn't have worried; it was only my clothes being delivered.

The delivery boy came in, gawked a bit and just stood there. I realized that I should probably tell him where to put it all, and then tip him. When had I forgotten the basic social graces?

"It'll be fine if you just put them down right in the living room. Thanks for the delivery," I said, and then reached for my wallet in my back pocket, remembered I'd put it in the bag, retrieved it and pulled out a few cens notes for his tip. "Here, for your trouble."

The boy hesitated a bit when I offered him money, but took it and thanked me nervously. I decided not to read too much into his hesitation at the tip. It could have been any number of things, it was probably me, but I was already driving myself nuts over-thinking things, why add paranoia about tipping delivery boys to the mix?

I began putting away my purchases. A few trips into the bedroom later, it was done. Things sure took a lot longer now, but even with the effort I noticed I wasn't as tired as I had been, and Gracia had been right about the clothes. I should have had her dressing me before all of this. I would have had a real chance against Mustang.

Just as I finished Elysia came home with art projects and the announcement that she was going to die from hunger if she did not get a snack.

"Jean, look at what I made at school today!" she said as she thrust a concoction of glitter, feathers and construction paper into my lap.

"Wow, it's gorgeous, what is it?" I asked, wondering just exactly what this multi-media extravaganza was. By now I was covered in glitter.

"You silly Jean, it's a parrot! See the feathers?" Elysia said, like it was the easiest thing in the world to guess what this thing was. "See the beak?" she said and pointed to a small triangle of orange construction paper.

"Oh, now I see it. We should hang this on the icebox so Mommy can see it when she gets home, and you did say you were starving, me too. Want a snack?" I said.

"YES!" Elysia squealed.

"Well, what should we have? Your Mom left apples and cookies, and I think there is some cheese in the fridge," I said, amused that I was playing at house.

"We should have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Jean," Elysia said, as if this was the most obvious answer in the world.

"I agree Princess Elysia, those would taste really good. Want to help me make them?" I asked.

Of course she wanted to help me make them. Elysia loved helping in the kitchen doing big girl things. So we got to work.

"Ok we need bread, jelly, peanut butter, oh plates, and a knife. Do you want milk to drink?" I asked, thinking if there was anything out of my reach.

I busied myself getting the ingredients for our snack. I went over to the icebox, opened it, got out the bottle of milk and decided we should pour it at the table so I didn't make a mess. Putting the bottle between my knees I rolled over to the table, and set it there. One task accomplished.

Next I realized that Gracia would probably frown upon us drinking the milk straight from the bottle. I never minded at the bachelor pad, but Gracia was civilized, so I went to the cupboard for two glasses. It was a stretch, but I made it and soon our glasses were on the table as well.

Elysia watched and waited patiently from her seat at the kitchen table.

Next was the bread. Check, that was easy. It was on the counter. Jelly; also easy that was in the icebox. The knife for spreading our peanut butter and jelly was also easy enough. I was pretty good at this cooking thing.

"Ok Elysia, where is the peanut butter?" I asked.

She pointed to a cupboard that was just out of my reach. This was no good. I wracked my brain thinking of ways we could get to that peanut butter. We had come too far to have plain jelly sandwiches. I had an idea.

"Elysia, you're going to help me get the peanut butter, ok? Because neither of us can reach it by ourselves," I said, trying to sound cheerful.

Elysia nodded eagerly, ready to help.

I was kind of put out but put on a brave face for the Princess. I couldn't even reach peanut butter for fuck's sake.

"What you're going to do is stand on my lap, and I'm going to hold you around the waist so you don't fall and then you are going to be able to reach that peanut butter."

It went off without a hitch. Mission accomplished. The peanut butter had been retrieved. But we had no plates, and they were in a higher cupboard too. I decided that we were not going to tempt fate and so we would have to improvise.

When Gracia got home she found Elysia sitting on my lap, eating what was quite possibly the messiest peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever off of the cutting board I had commandeered from the counter and used as our communal plate. I had a similarly sloppy sandwich and it was one of the best things I'd ever tasted.

Gracia stood in the kitchen entryway for a bit just smiling.

"What is it Gracia? Something wrong?" I said as I looked up at her.

"No, Jean, absolutely nothing wrong. You just have a little something…" and she fell into a fit of giggles and gestured at her nose.

I put my hand to my nose and discovered I had a big glob of peanut butter there. I wiped it off and licked my finger to clean up and grinned from ear to ear.

After our snack adventure I was a little tired so I excused myself to go have a nap in my room. This needing to rest business was annoying but today I'd at least done something, gone somewhere, and not fallen asleep in the middle of something. I supposed that this was progress.

An hour later Elysia came in to let me know that dinner would be ready in about a half hour. I was grateful for the advance notice as I had a few necessaries to take care of before dinner.

"Thank you for getting me up and being such a good helper. Tell your Mommy that I'll be out soon," I said.

With that Elysia scampered off and I prepared myself to get to the bathroom. I stretched a bit, transferred and handled all the bathroom business without incident and was ready for dinner.

Dinner was blessedly uneventful and as always delicious and Gracia made good on her promise to let me help dry the dishes.

I noticed that during my nap she'd moved the plates to a lower cupboard. She truly always thought of everything.

After dinner we all moved to the living room. I took up my now favorite spot on the couch and Elysia took her favorite spot, which was my lap. We all sat and talked until it was time for Elysia to get ready for bed. She went to get ready without complaint and like clockwork came down with her "Frog Prince" book.

I sighed as I opened it and thought to myself, "Jean, you may as well pay attention to the story so that next time you verbally spar with Sciezka you are better armed."

We read the story, I got my goodnight hug and kiss and Elysia went to bed.

Gracia came down and again offered tea. This was a good routine. I had been writing while she tucked Elysia in and Gracia nodded and smiled.

"So Jean, what do you think of the notebook idea, do you like it?" Gracia asked.

I hesitated, and closed it, thought a bit and finally answered.

"I thought you were seriously nuts when you gave it to me last night. I mean how is me making chicken scratch about what is going on around me going to help any of this situation? But I think it's helping, a little bit. I may actually have written down some feelings."

I averted my eyes, thought better of it and then said, "But don't tell anyone. This will be our secret, right? I mean between the injury, the cooking, if you can call snacks cooking, the new clothes and this 'Dear Diary' thing, you are turning me into a total girl."

Gracia just rolled her eyes at me, smiled and said, "Jean, what am I going to do with you?"

Then she got up and hugged me around my shoulders and said, "You should get to bed, big day again tomorrow. Jim gets you back for therapy and I'm sure he's going to kick your ass as you so eloquently put it."

I groaned in agreement and went to get ready for bed.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Connection

Al, Ed, Winry and I arrived at the Mess and Al went to save us seats while the rest of us stood in line.

Ed was first of course because he was going to die if he didn't eat soon. I motioned for Winry to get in line next and said, "Ladies first," with a wink.

She insisted that I go first; I decided that I should listen as causing a scene, or receiving the wrench was not on my agenda. We went through the line with no major issues thought I did have to ask Winry to get a dessert for me that I couldn't reach, and she insisted that I have milk to drink. I pushed my tray along the rail, paid and then balanced the tray on my lap so I could get to the seats Al had saved for us.

Al had remembered that I would need a seat at the end of the table as the tables in the Mess Hall were set close together and moving chairs to get by would be awkward. As I settled in and placed my tray on the table I smiled and gave him a thumbs up.

Just as we started eating Sciezka walked by and Winry invited her to sit with us. Everyone scooted over and let her sit next to me since I was apparently the guest of honor. Sciezka sat down, gave a curt nod in my direction and began to talk animatedly with everyone else in our group.

I thought to myself, "She must still be mad at you about the Frog Prince thing… fix it."

I cleared my throat and said, "Sciezka, I read the Frog Prince story with Elysia again last night and you made some very valid points yesterday. I'd completely missed them the first time through the story."

Sciezka grinned and said, "I knew you'd see the universal themes, social moirés and the fable like nature of the work!"

"Whoa Sciezka, slow down," I said in a joking tone. "I'm afraid you may have to use small words at first and speak slowly, I'm used to hanging out with Breda and Feury. All Breda reads are magazines and Feury has a thing for those ten cens romance novels."

Sciezka shook her head and said, "That lack of culture will be the military's downfall. All great leaders were once schooled in the humanities as well as the martial arts."

"I quite agree Sciezka," I said trying to score points as she was interesting and wasn't afraid to challenge me… it was nice to talk with someone who didn't know me very well before the accident.

The Boss, Al and Winry had snuck off and I hadn't noticed, though neither had Sciezka.

"Jean, that reminds me, I compiled your reading list last night, you might like these books, even if you aren't…" she said and then paused.

"A total cynic with no imagination?" I said with a smile.

"I'm so sorry about that," Sciezka said and blushed. "I have to go, my lunch break is over."

"If you aren't running too late I could walk you back to work, I'm on my way near there anyway," I said trying to sound casual.

"Sure you could walk with me… sorry," Sciezka said, looking embarrassed.

"Sciezka, sorry? You didn't do anything. I'm confused, well more confused than usual," I said with a laugh.

"The whole 'walking' comment Jean, sorry," said Sciezka.

"Oh that. No worries, if that bothered me Amestrian wouldn't sound right. Phrases like 'side roll', 'roll about' and 'roll in the park' would be ridiculous. Not to mention the 'Do Not Roll' signs for intersections."

Sciezka smiled and said, "Well will you please walk me to my office?"

I grinned and said, "I'd like to see that!"

She gave me an affectionate punch in the arm and we left the Mess.

On the way to Sciezka's office we made small talk. We stuck to the weather, how I liked my new clothes and of course Elysia. When we got to Sciezka's office she turned to me and said, "Thanks for the escort Jean. Where are you off to?"

"I thought I'd drop by the lounge. Winry and Al will be there while Ed gives his report. It will be the easiest place to see the most people… though most of the old crew got transferred," I said, my mood dropping as I remembered that Breda, Feury and Falman wouldn't be there.

"I have an idea," Sciezka said. "Why don't you come home with me to pick up your required reading and then we'll get you home? I had planned on stopping to see Gracia after work anyway."

"That sounds like a plan. I'll probably be in the lounge for the rest of the afternoon, but if I leave I'll be back there by five when you get out. I'll let Gracia know to expect company for dinner as well," I said.

Sciezka got back to work and I headed toward the lounge.

When I arrived at the lounge I found Al sitting at the table reading one of the tawdry romance novels Feury had left behind. He closed it quickly and tried to shuffle it under a stack of papers when he noticed he had company.

"Scholar of Literature, eh?" I said and winked at him.

"They aren't too well written, but they pass the time. I've already read this one before, but I guess I miss Feury," Al said.

I sighed and said, "Me too Al, me too."

He changed the subject, as the transfer orders were not a happy topic of conversation.

"So you and Sciezka seemed to be quite friendly in the Mess, anything I should know about?"

"Oh that? We had an argument, well more of a debate yesterday about a fairy tale of all things while we were waiting for Gracia at the coffee house," I said and shrugged.

"Which fairy tale?" Al asked.

"That Frog Prince one," I said. "A vain, asshole prince gets cursed by a witch and turned into a frog and can only be turned back if he gets someone to kiss him in that form. I thought it was pretty out there at first."

"Jean it's a metaphor for so many things!" Al said. "You could even compare that kiss to finding true enlightenment, or the Philosopher's Stone or any number of things."

"I suppose you are right Al, it is deep, but this frog isn't going to get kissed…ribbit," I said and rolled over to the bulletin board.

Just then Hawkeye came in. She looked surprised and happy to see me.

"Jean, it is so good to see you! I didn't expect to see you soon after your release. You look great. I was about to go down to the range for some target practice. Would you like to come?" she said looking at me hopefully.

"The range? Sure I'll come to watch," I said.

She appeared deep in thought and then said, "I have a few spare firearms in my locker down there if you'd like to shoot as well, it could get awfully boring watching."

"That sounds like an excellent idea. I have some time to kill before Sciezka gets off work. Besides, if you want me to go, you are armed," I said sticking my hands up in mock surrender.

When we got down to the range Hawkeye stopped abruptly and said, "Jean, I haven't been completely honest with you bringing you down here."

I looked at her, searching her eyes for what she could mean.

"What are you talking about? We're going to fire off some rounds and blow off some steam. No big deal," I said. "Right?"

"I ran into Fullmetal in the corridor, I came looking for you. I'm sorry I wasn't completely forthright," she said.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out her key chain and removed a key. Then she took my hand and placed the key in my palm.

"What's this for Hawkeye?" I asked.

"Jean, just look at it, and call me Riza, you are retired after all," she said quietly.

Then it hit me. This was my locker key.

"Hawkeye… um, Riza, I thought they'd cleared all that out…" I trailed off.

"No they didn't, now let's see if you're still a good shot Sniper."

We entered the range and went to our lockers. It was like opening a time capsule. It had been left untouched in my absence; a half finished pack of smokes and the unchanged pin-up calendar page confirmed it.

I sat in front of my locker dazed and then reached for my goggles and hearing protection. She interrupted my stupor when she set my bag and scope down on the bench next to me.

"Riza, you called me a sniper, and I was, but I don't think I can handle the recoil yet. Really, I'm not sure if I ever will be able to. Besides, I'm a civilian now."

"You can take a man out of the military, but you can't take the military out of the man," Riza said with a smile. "Besides, today you'll be practicing tripod braced shots from a prone position."

"You are as brilliant as you are dangerous," I said with a grin.

Once on the line Riza set up the tripod while I checked and assembled my rifle.

As I locked on the scope I said, "Riza, you cleaned this, thank you."

I noticed she'd set down a tarp in front of the tripod so I wouldn't get dirty.

"I may end up making a fool of myself, but at least I won't get dirty," I said and then said, "Could you hold this?" and handed her my rifle.

I took a deep breath and decided that there was no time like the present to transfer and that it would let Riza down if I didn't at least try some target practice.

I picked up my left foot and put it on the ground to the side of the chair, following it with my right. I set the brakes on the chair then placed my hands on either side of the frame and scooted forward and attempted to lower myself to the ground as gracefully as possible.

Once on the ground I moved to my stomach and belly crawled to the tripod. I nodded to Riza that I was ready for my rifle and she started to position it on the tripod.

"I'll get that. I'm picky about a few of the settings," I said, slightly out of breath from the effort of getting into position.

I got my rifle locked into place and positioned myself. Once I was propped up on my forearms I braced the rifle butt against my right shoulder. I placed my finger on the trigger, aimed and squeezed. I hit the target but missed my mark by a few inches.

Riza was standing behind me and once I looked up from the scope said, "I knew you could do it, how did it feel?"

"I missed by a few inches, but it felt good you trigger happy freak!" smiling, as Riza was one of the few people I knew who would understand missing my gun.

I shot off a few more rounds and decided to call it quits because managing the recoil was more tiring than I had remembered.

I put the safety on, and then rolled myself over and propped myself up on my elbows. I reached into my cargo pocket for my cigarettes, pulled one out of the box and lit it up.

Riza just smiled, and then laughed.

"That good Jean?" she teased.

I blushed and said, "It was great, but no… not that good."

Riza then said, "You're really moving quite well on your own in such a short time. You must be working hard."

I nodded and said, "What else can I do? I attempted to skulk off to the East and you people won't let me. So now I've got to work extra hard to catch up."

Riza looked at me hopefully and said, "Are you thinking of coming back?"

"No, no…" I said shaking my head. "But if I'm going to live in Central I'll need to be independent. I don't want to sit home wasting away. Besides, chicks dig muscles."

I pushed myself up all the way to sitting, found my balance and flexed to mockingly show off my muscles.

Riza smiled and I scooted back toward my chair and pulled myself back up into it.

She handed my rifle to me and I disassembled it and put away my scope.

"Riza, thank you," I said and I went to the locker room to put my things away.

As Riza and I put away our equipment she updated me on what had been going on at H.Q. since the accident.

"Jean, if Roy ever needed you to do something for him, would you at least think it over before saying no?" Riza asked her tone changing from the previously light mood.

"I'd do anything for Roy, for you for that matter, but what can I possibly do like this?" I said irritated she had asked such a question. "What could Roy possibly need that I could even offer him?"

"Nothing yet, but with your knowledge of the layout and protocol, if you were here regularly it wouldn't arouse suspicion if we needed you to help us," Riza said, lowering her volume.

"Ah, because I wouldn't be suspected or searched?" I asked, beginning to understand their strategy.

"Precisely," Riza said. "Let's get some coffee and scare Roy for a bit before I'm away from the office for too long. I'm lucky to be valued for my firearms skills, so my schedule permits range time. You should come more often. With training and adaptations you'd be as good a shot as you were before."

"Riza, that's a great idea," I said.

"Which one?" she asked.

"All of them, especially scaring Roy," I said laughing a bit. "Maybe with more hand-gun practice I can be your substitute and keep him from slacking off. I do a great impression of him, ask Gracia."

"For that, I'm buying," Riza, said with a smile.

We headed to the canteen for coffee and then up to Mustang's office.

Riza told me to go on ahead that she'd bring the coffee to Roy's office when there was a line at the canteen. I thought about arguing, but decided against it since as always, Riza was armed and I had some questions for Roy.

I arrived at Roy's office just as Ed was storming out.

I waited for Ed to clear the doorway and then made my entrance. There were new faces and I was not in the mood to get to know them. I wanted things back the way they were.

"Colonel Mustang, do you have some time to talk?" I asked.

"Sure, of course. You'd be a welcome distraction from this paperwork," he said and then dismissed his staff so we could have some privacy.

I stationed myself in front of his desk and was grateful that he was seated.

Roy started the conversation saying, "It's good to see that you are getting out. What have you been up to?"

"The usual, well, now usual; therapy, playing with Elysia, I'm reading a lot…" I said and paused. "Sciezka has compiled some required reading for me, we're going to get the books on the way home after work. I went to the firing range with Riza today."

Just then Riza came in with the coffee.

"He didn't just come to the range today," Riza said. "Jean don't be so humble, you shot a target at fifty yards with great accuracy. If that's rusty, I'm looking forward to seeing how you do once you've had more practice."

Roy nodded and smiled.

Riza put the coffee down on the desk and said, "I'm sorry, but I have to get back to Fuhrer Bradley's office. Jean, it was great seeing you, same time next week at the range?"

"Put me down on the visitor's list," I said with a smile. "Fullmetal rescued me on the way in today. It was pretty funny. I forgot about the whole clearance thing."

Riza left and Roy said, "It's nice of you to pay a visit and you're welcome anytime, but I get the feeling you didn't come by just to exchange pleasantries."

"Roy, you always could read me," I said. "I have some questions, some holes that I need you to fill in."

Roy put his hands together, hesitated a bit and then said, "What did you want to know Jean?"

"The mission, well where we were, was there any way I could have avoided you know…" I trailed off.

"You did everything right. You fought valiantly. I'm surprised we're not both dead with the traps and fire power they had in that lab," he said as if he was surprised I'd even asked. He looked like he had more to say.

I interrupted his train of thought and said, "So this… this isn't the result of a screw up on my part?"

"You did it by the numbers, the odds were just stacked. This is one of my biggest regrets," Roy said. "I'd understand if you hated me for putting you in danger."

"Like you said, it was unavoidable," I said. "As for putting me in danger you know I wouldn't have had it any other way."

"So you don't hate me?" Roy asked.

"Roy no, never. Shit happens. I'm only sorry I can't help with what is going on right now."

"About that…" Roy said.

"Riza filled me in, no worries," I said. "Maybe sometime if you ever dig yourself out of that pile of paperwork we could go for a drink."

"I'd like that very much," Roy said.

With that, I excused myself and headed back to the lounge. Sciezka would be off work soon, and I didn't want to piss her off as I'd only just fixed the Frog Prince argument.

Chapter Text

Thirst

Back in the lounge I found Al, Winry, Ed and to my barely healed spine's chagrin, Major Alex Louis Armstrong.

"So nice to see you up and well Second Lieutenant Havoc! I see you are working diligently to aspire to the tradition of physical training in the Amestris Military. You have been performing your calisthenics!" Alex boomed as I was lifted bodily from my chair and squeezed to within an inch of my life.

"Major Armstrong, I can't breathe... put me down," I managed to say in a strangled tone.

Once I was able to breathe again I shot a look at the Boss who was clearly relieved he wasn't on the receiving end of this greeting.

"Major Armstrong, yes, I've been training and thank you for your enthusiastic greeting," I said. "But next time be more careful, eh? They may have made me the Fullmetal Havoc, but you could still break me."

I was saved from another pink sparkly attack when Sciezka came in with a huge armload of books.

"Those aren't all for me, are they?" I asked, silently praying they weren't.

"Jean, I didn't see you there… the books you know, but no, not for you," Sciezka said and colored a bit.

"Do you need help getting them home?" I asked, wondering just how we were going to get them home if she said yes.

Sciezka thought for a moment and as she was about to speak Winry chimed in.

"The cargo net!" she said with a triumphant smile. She truly had thought of everything when she created the "wonder chair".

"Winry, you are brilliant, and have I thanked you enough for this?" I said and gestured to the chair. "If I have to use one of these things, I'm glad that you were thoughtful enough to design it for me."

I thought to myself, "Way to be normal Jean, just bring up the chair again… they barely mention it, but notice it. No, quit being paranoid. If they do mention it they are just concerned or have noticed that you are better."

"Sciezka, let's get those books, and get over to the house. Gracia is making pot roast," I said to her and the room in general.

"Pot roast? She really does pull out all the stops," said Sciezka, said feeling honored that her visit prompted one of Gracia's best dishes.

"Don't take all the credit Sciezka, it's my favorite and today was my big day. Give me some of those books," I said and loaded half the books into the cargo net.

I waved a casual goodbye to everyone and we headed off to Sciezka's.

As we headed out of H.Q. Sciezka suggested we cut through the park, to save time and because it was a warm night. We talked companionably about how our respective days had gone and soon we arrived at Sciezka's place.

It had all gone so well until then.

"We'll just drop these off and grab the new books and then call for the car," Sciezka said.

"Um, Sciezka, small problem," I said looking at the four stairs leading up to her front door.

"Oh, I forgot. I'm so sorry," Sciezka said, obviously flustered.

"It's no problem, really. I'll wait down here and you make the call," I said in a slightly defeated tone.

"I have an idea. There is a coffee house just down the street. I'll call the driver and let him know to pick us up there," Sciezka said saving the day. "We can kill two birds with one stone. Coffee and a comfortable place to wait."

"Sciezka, you are a genius!" I exclaimed with a grin.

It had been a good day so far, and four steps were not going to ruin it. I also noted that Sciezka looked pretty cute from the rear as she went to go get my "required reading".

The driver arrived at the coffee house without complications and when I opened the door for Sciezka at the house the aroma of Gracia's roast greeted us. Gracia and Elysia were almost ready with the preparations so we were instructed to set our books down and come to the table.

After dinner we settled into the now usual routine of sitting in the living room and talking. I transferred to the couch to take up my usual perch and Elysia clambered onto her usual perch. Once I was positioned I realized that I was hogging the couch and that a polite host would move a bit.

"Sciezka, here… sit on the end," I said as I pulled up my legs and put a pillow under my knees to give her some room. "It's a big couch, I've just gotten spoiled."

Sciezka grinned and sat down and said, "You're not the only one, and I see Elysia has a new favorite piece of furniture."

Gracia brought in the tea and we all talked and allowed Elysia to entertain us. Eventually it was bedtime for Elysia, and growing late for the adults as well.

Elysia let out a little yawn and I said, "Princess Elysia, I think it is time for bed. Go get into your pajamas and then we'll read."

Elysia scampered off and soon returned with the Frog Prince book in hand.

"Sciezka, I'll let you do the honors, since you are a pro. Just hold on, so we can both see the book," I said and pulled myself to an upright position on the couch. This procedure involved picking up my legs, moving them to the floor and using my arms to scoot to where I wanted to sit. I was getting better at it, but it was far from natural looking.

I had thought it would be awkward, to have an "outsider" see me out of the chair and vulnerable, but Sciezka barely registered it. This was a new addition to the routine that I could get used to. Everyone won really. Gracia and I had grown-up time and Elysia adored Sciezka her bookworm.

When we were all arranged on the couch with Sciezka sitting in the middle, she began to read us our bedtime story.

Sciezka clearly loved this story. She read each line with expression and brought the story to life. She'd pause in her reading to ask Elysia questions and point at the illustrations. The deeper meaning of the story began to sink in with me.

Sciezka was finished reading all too soon, and per usual Elysia had fallen asleep. Gracia silently came over from the armchair and picked her up and took her upstairs. She gestured that she'd be heading to bed too.

Sciezka and I talked for another hour or so, and then I alerted the guard that Sciezka would need a ride home.

While we waited for the driver to tell us that all was ready I said, "Sciezka, thank you for coming over and of course, my reading list. You should come by more often. I could tell Gracia loved having you here and I liked the conversation. Besides, we'll have to discuss my reading list once I finish."

The driver came to the door and Sciezka and I said our goodbyes, and I came out onto the porch to wave and have a smoke. I needed one.

I thought to myself, "What are you thinking Jean? Yes, she's cute for a bookworm, you underestimated her but you can't do anything about it. Stop torturing yourself."

I finished my cigarette and began the process of getting ready for bed. Once in bed I opened up my notebook and began to write.

The next few weeks fell into a pleasant routine. Therapy with Jim, a few trips to H.Q. for target practice with Hawkeye at the range, and catching up with people in the lounge. My favorite part was evenings at home with Gracia, Elysia and the happy addition of Sciezka.

One day out on the range Hawkeye paused, turned to me and said, "So Jean, correct me if I'm wrong but the rumor mill says that you and Sciezka may be an item."

I blushed, thought a bit and said, "Riza, no, it's out of the question."

Riza straightened up and said, "Why would that be out of the question? You and Sciezka seem to have a wonderful time together."

I sighed and thought a bit and finally said, "It's just out of the question. Sciezka and I have great talks and have been out for coffee a few times, but that's all there will ever be."

Riza's expression softened. She put down her piece and pulled up a bench to sit down next to me.

"Jean, you're not telling me something. I can tell. You're like an open book sometimes. What is going on?"

I debated about telling her. My former superior officers already knew I couldn't walk, but did they have to know about that? I had Jim to talk to, but he'd really only ever known me as I was now. He hadn't known me before, what I had been capable of. He didn't have a common history with me.

I took out a cigarette and Riza gave a small smile.

"So you're going to cough it up so to speak?" she said in a soft voice.

"Yeah, you already know a lot of the particulars seeing me on the range," I said. "When the 'lines' were cut so to speak I lost function below the level of injury. All of it."

I hoped I wouldn't have to be too specific. It was mortifying enough talking about this at all, but with Riza of all people I didn't want to get into the specifics of the equipment.

"I think I understand, " Riza said and hesitated before she continued. "Speaking as a woman, that's not the only thing that is important to us."

We fell silent and then Riza got up and continued target practice. I was relieved that she hadn't pressed me any further and I emptied my clip into the target.

We finished up target practice and I went to meet Sciezka in the lounge so we could head over to the house together.

When we arrived at the house Gracia had a feast laid out in the kitchen.

"Gracia, is it my birthday or something?" I asked.

Gracia laughed and said, "No, nothing like your birthday, but it is special. You've been here a month and Elysia was concerned that you hadn't had a party. So here is your party."

Just then, Elysia burst into kitchen and showed me her newest drawing. It was a picture of me on the couch with a jaunty looking crown on my head. Apparently I was the "King of the Couch". There I was in my stick figure glory, pointy gold crown on pointy gold hair.

"See Jean! You are a prince. I thought you would like it," Elysia said, awaiting my appraisal of her work.

"Elysia, I love it. We'll have to put this up in my room after dinner. Thank you so much. I do look like a prince in this picture. You got a good likeness," I said. "So what kingdom am I the prince of Princess Elysia?"

"Silly Jean. Mine!" Elysia said, as if that was the most logical answer in Amestris.

With that grand announcement Gracia told us to get to the table so we could enjoy my celebration. She'd even brought down the good stemware and poured wine for the grown-ups and juice for Elysia.

We spent dinner laughing, talking, eating, drinking and all the things that I'd begun to love about the Hughes' household.

After dinner Gracia said that she would put Elysia to bed since dinner had run late and that she was tired from the wine.

Sciezka and I headed for the couch and I arranged myself and we began to talk. Sciezka had had the presence of mind to bring our wine glasses. We chatted for a good half hour when both of us noticed the wine glasses were empty. Sciezka went to the kitchen for more and when she came back set them on the coffee table.

As she was sitting down she stumbled and suddenly Sciezka was face down on top of me.

What happened next must have been the wine's fault.

Chapter Text

Satiety

When Sciezka looked up we were face to face and instinct took over. I ran a hand through her hair and drew her closer to me. She looked down shyly and I cupped her chin with my hand. I leaned up and kissed her, softly.

To my surprise she returned the kiss. She pushed up as best she could in that awkward position and I found that soon she was gripping the back of my head and kissing me so hard I had to break the kiss to come up for air and figure out what was going on.

We lie there in a daze and Sciezka spoke first, "I was wondering when you'd finally do it."

She then smiled shyly and I was stunned. What I had been feeling wasn't unrequited.

I pulled her closer to me and kissed her hungrily. Each time my lips met hers she found new ways to overload my senses; sometimes trapping my tongue and other times making me play tag to meet hers. She nipped at my lower lip and I reciprocated and I began to wonder if it was the wine that made me feel so warm, or Sciezka.

She pushed herself up and began to knead my arms and shoulders. As she moved against me she became frustrated with my clothing.

"This is in my way," Sciezka announced and began to unbutton my shirt. I protested but she covered my mouth with hers to silence me.

Once she'd undone the offending buttons and relieved me of my shirt she sat back and appeared to be surveying the layout.

She then began exploring the planes of my chest with her hands and mouth and continued the study of my shoulders and arms unhindered by my shirt.

I decided that Sciezka was a force to be reckoned with and eagerly accepted my fate.

As she was giving my arms a thorough inspection she began stroking and kissing the inside of my arm where the skin was especially tender from wrist to bicep, lingering at the top.

"Sciezka, wow, ahhh!" I moaned.

Sciezka looked up from her work, stopped and looked a bit concerned.

"Jean, are you ok? Did I hurt you? I am sitting on top of you."

"No, no… definitely ok. What you did just there, that was amazing," I said and blushed.

"I thought it would be," she said.

"Huh?" was all I could muster.

"I like you, and have for awhile and I thought I should research," she said matter of factly.

"Research? You did research?" I said incredulously.

She shifted her position a bit, while still having me pinned and said, "I thought that since maybe you might like me too, that I should be prepared and I um, did some reading."

"What exactly did you read?" I asked and then pulled her down for a quick kiss.

"Some medical stuff of course, romance novels, and a book from the far east called the Kama Sutra," she blurted out.

I laughed, "The Kama Sutra? No kidding… so with all this homework did you learn anything new?"

"Well, I learned this… "

Her voice became muffled as she began licking and pinching my earlobes with her teeth, then she began savaging my neck in the same manner. She was beginning to trail kisses down my chest and stomach when I had a sinking realization.

"Sciezka, I can't," I said and closed my eyes.

"Can't what?" she said and grabbed my hand and placed it in hers then began to lower it. First she guided me over her arms and chest, then over her thighs. I was beginning to think she had lost her mind when she placed my hand on my nether regions and stopped.

I could not believe what she had just done.

With that dramatic realization Sciezka sat up, straightened her hair and said, "I think I'll give you a some time to get used to that. I'll see you tomorrow."

She stood up rather unceremoniously, kissed me hard on the lips and left me on the couch in stunned silence.

I lie there in a daze and then surveyed the surroundings. A few candles, dying embers of a fire in the fireplace and two empty wine glasses. I knew Gracia had set me up and was thankful. I got up from the couch and into my chair, snuffed all the candles and decided to leave the wine glasses for the morning. I didn't want to disturb the sleeping household with any unnecessary noise. I wanted to savor the moment alone.

I then went about my nightly routine and got into bed. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillows.

I didn't know what I'd dreamt of, but I woke up the next morning with a shit-eating grin on my face and "Master Havoc" standing at attention. I found this out after inspection and though it wouldn't be the same, life was indeed looking up.

I heard a knock at my door and Gracia said, "Good morning Jean, I trust you and Sciezka had a good night."

I sat up in bed, making sure the bedclothes gave Master Havoc some privacy and said, "Yes, yes we did… come in."

Gracia came in with a wicked looking grin on her face and my discarded shirt that Sciezka had so kindly removed the night before.

"Breakfast will be ready soon, are you hungry?" Gracia said.

I laughed and said, "You don't miss a thing do you Gracia and yes I'm famished."

At breakfast Gracia could barely contain her excitement when she made an announcement.

"I'm afraid there is more subterfuge on my part," Gracia said.

"Do tell Gracia," I said jovially. "You are a master of espionage. I didn't figure out what you'd been up to until I was getting ready for bed. You got me."

I then pantomimed being shot through the heart and we had a laugh.

"Elysia and I are going up North for a few days to see the grandparents," Gracia announced.

I looked at her, a bit concerned about being alone, but I could handle it.

"The other bit of news, and don't get mad… " Gracia said hesitantly. "I thought I'd ask Sciezka to stay over to help with the cooking and be some company for you."

At this I was indignant, a house sitter, no more accurately a babysitter at twenty-four years of age?

"Gracia, I do not want, nor do I need a babysitter. I am perfectly capable of doing for myself," I said in an exasperated tone.

"You are capable, but it's tiring and lonely and peanut butter sandwiches do not count as cooking," countered Gracia. "Besides, with this new development wouldn't a few days of privacy with Sciezka be a good thing?"

I saw where she was headed. It wasn't about being babysat or my helplessness at all. Her cupid act had merely enhanced a good plan.

"Again, you got me," I conceded. "You are truly evil. Brilliant, but evil."

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warning: There is some mushy stuff in this chapter.

Evolution

The day that Gracia and Elysia left Gracia left me with a list of instructions, emergency numbers, wood for the fire place, a stocked ice box and some menu ideas for if I decided to cook. She told me to expect Sciezka after she got off of work and to be home to meet her.

Elysia said she'd draw me a picture every day and reminded me to check in on her "babies" in the playroom.

After receiving hugs from both Elysia and Gracia they left and I had the house to myself. I wondered if after all of the work on Gracia's part Sciezka would arrive wearing nothing but a big red bow. That image was tantalizing and nerve wracking all at once.

Today could be the day; it would either be wonderful or horrible and could make everything or wreck everything. I decided to put the horrible and wrecked thoughts out of my head and decided that the day would best be spent doing the small amount of preparation that was left to me and relaxing. If everything went well I would need my energy.

Around 3 o'clock I decided that a shower would accomplish two goals: making myself presentable for company and relaxing the knots that were beginning to form in my shoulders from waiting.

When I'd finished I got out, fixed my hair, brushed my teeth, and thought that cologne would be a wise idea. I hadn't used it in an age. What for? I was relieved to find a few splashes left in the bottle I'd gotten the last time I'd thought about those little details. The scents of coriander, lemon grass and a hint of rosewater were comforting as they mingled with the ever-present smell of tobacco. It shouldn't have been a surprise as I'd picked it up in a small tobacconist's shop near Headquarters that also sold men's toiletries. I thought to myself, "You smell good, look as good as you're going to get and in a little over an hour she'll be here. Stay calm, look casual, and breathe."

I dressed in the blue cashmere sweater Gracia had helped me pick out. She'll focus on my eyes, a good choice. Then I decided that the house pants would be the most comfortable and easily managed later if things went well.

Once dressed, I went out to the living room to write for a while on the couch.

"If things go as plotted and planned then tonight is the night. Sciezka was quite forward and that is a plus, but what if I can't deliver? I do not want to mess our friendship up, but she seems to want more and I obviously want more. This will not be a one-night stand; she isn't the one-night stand type. This is not going to work if I go about it the same way I always did, if I make it all about her we'll both have a good time. Here's hoping her research skills are as good as that first sample."

I closed my notebook, put it on the side table and went outside for a cigarette. Just before my last drag Sciezka came to the gate.

"Hello, fancy seeing you here," Sciezka said with a wink.

I smiled and thought a bit and finally said, "I know, they've been letting the riff raff in lately."

She gave me a quick kiss on the lips and before I could return it she was in the door putting down her bags.

"Well just make yourself at home," I said in an amused tone. "Before you get too comfortable I have some unfinished business with you."

She came over to me and I quickly pulled her into my lap, before she could object I kissed her deeply, nibbling her lower lip a bit before releasing her.

When she could finally speak Sciezka said, "I thought you might be mad that Gracia had asked me to come stay while she's gone… "

Before she could finish I interrupted her with another kiss, this time less urgent then looked into her eyes, which held a mix of anxiety and hope. I then nuzzled her neck with my nose drinking her in, planting kisses every few inches. Her scent was intoxicating if hard to place; soap, spiced tea, citrus and something sweet. It didn't matter what she smelled of she was delicious.

"I'm glad you came. Honestly, I spent the day wracking my brain on what to expect," I said trailing off a bit.

I quickly changed the subject and said, "You must be hungry after work, can I get you anything? The kitchen is stocked and if what's in there doesn't sound good there is always going out, or delivery."

"Jean, don't be so nervous, you're going a mile a minute, slow down, and we have plenty of time for dinner. For everything," she said with a small smile and leaned in to kiss me again.

I tried to grant her request, but whereas my mouth was otherwise occupied my mind continued to go in circles. "Awkward, it's awkward just sitting in the entryway, suggest something," I thought to myself.

I wheeled us into the living room as we'd been at the door for what seemed like an instant and an eternity all at once.

Sciezka eyed the couch, and then slowly got off my lap and stretched with her back to me, like a cat. She was in her personal "uniform", but looked slightly different. In place of the ill-fitting black turtleneck was a form fitting black cardigan over a white top revealing delicate collarbones and a hint of cleavage. She'd pulled her hair back off of her neck, revealing a graceful curve of ivory. Her usual practical khaki pants had been replaced by a pair of dungarees that looked like she'd been born in them. I noted that the waistband was situated just above her hips, the seat skimming the line of her derrière and when she stretched they allowed me to see the small of her back. I looked her up and down again, and signaled my approval with a low whistle.

She preened a bit, remembered herself, turned and said; "I couldn't have all the women in Central taking you after that makeover. It's just a change in wrapping, all the emphasis women put on appearance is silly."

"You could have fooled me… I thoroughly approve," I said with a wink.

"Gracia… " Sciezka said.

"She's been at it again?" I laughed and Sciezka nodded and sat down on the couch leaving plenty of space. She removed her shoes, also new and delicate, suited more to dancing than walking, then folded her legs under her like an Eastern Sage. She patted the cushion next to her and I hesitated a bit.

She pursed her lips in a mock pout and I knew I was done for.

"As you wish," I said and joined her on the couch.

"Do you like it? The clothes I mean?" Sciezka said hesitantly.

I looked up from the soft hand I'd been admiring, and nipping a bit at times and said, "You're a vision of loveliness."

She colored a bit and said softly, "So the duckling is a swan?"

I was a little confused, and then remembered her love of fairy tales. I knew just what she was getting at.

"You were never a duckling, you were always a swan, and could never be anything but a swan," I said caressing her cheek with the back of my hand.

I then gently tugged her ponytail and said, "I think I like this the best."

She self-consciously felt the nape of her neck and I began to show my appreciation for her more accessible neck.

Then in one fluid motion she got up and settled astride my lap smothering me with enthusiastic kisses and nips.

I got into the playful act tickling her ribs and making her squirm and writhe and letting my hands roam over her to find her sensitive spots.

My hands eventually rested, cupping her pert behind. Sciezka stopped and blushed and said, "I have no butt."

I squeezed and she yelped in surprise.

"You do so have a butt. A tight little high-water butt… It's perfectly cuppable. Just the right size for these," I said, releasing what was indeed a butt and showing her my hands.

Her small, slender fingers entwined in mine and I then kissed each finger while appraising each digit individually. I then released her fingers and let my hands roam down lithe thighs, well-muscled calves and finally small narrow feet with very high, very ticklish arches.

She giggled and said, "Jean, is this inspection?"

I trailed kisses from her pert, upturned nose to her throat and said, "It's only fair after your thorough inspection a few nights ago."

"Oh, that… " she said blushing at her previous brazenness.

"That was very necessary, very welcome and should be repeated immediately and often my pixie," I said and she squirmed in my lap and ruffled my hair playfully.

What had I done to deserve this pixie in my lap and in my life?

We nipped and licked at each other like puppies. Had it ever been this good? We were in tune mentally and physically to where the other would go next. Sciezka squirmed after a particularly merciless sneak attack on my part and she began to tip backwards. I caught her by the small of her back and said, "I think we need a bigger playground."

She stood up laughing at her clumsiness and again raised her arms over her head standing on tip toe, slowly working out every kink. After releasing each muscle she bent over in one fluid motion to place her palms on the floor and we regarded each other, me right side up still on the couch, and her "upside down" with her head between her knees sticking her tongue out at me. Did she even know how sexy she was?

"You monkey," I said. "Put that back in your mouth before I take it from you!"

She straightened up and put her hands on her hips in mock defiance, and blew a raspberry at me and flitted into the bedroom.

I followed as quickly as I could and found her sitting on the bed.

"I have to take care of a few things, then watch out," I said as I entered the bedroom and went into the bathroom.

With all necessary precautions taken care of I was ready to take my sweet revenge on that impudent little tongue.

When I finished in the bathroom and emerged into the bedroom I found that Sciezka was now standing up, studying the pictures on my bureau.

She paused and looked up, looking a bit flustered. She'd been looking at a picture of me with my unit. Breda, Feury, Falman, Fullmetal, Roy and Riza, and of course Black Hayate were there. It was after a particularly raucous party and even Falman looked a little disheveled.

"If I recall correctly, I had the beginnings of a horrible hangover there and we'd all gone out for some food to counter the liquor. Ed was just along for the food of course," I said with a chuckle.

"Do you miss it?" Sciezka asked.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," I said and paused, searching for the words to let her know that while I missed my old life she was a wonderful part of my new life.

Her eyes left the picture and met mine.

"You're so serious all of a sudden Sciezka," I said. "This has all been lovely, and I'd understand if you had second thoughts."

"No, no, it's not that at all. I just wonder if you might be settling," she said. "For me I mean. I'm not like the girls you dated before."

"Them? They hardly compare to you. You're brilliant and passionate, you challenged me when no one else would, you don't let me wallow in my own pity," I said and hauled myself up to sit on the bed. I then lay back so my eyes wouldn't betray me.

She remained standing, but moved closer to the bed, kneeling next to it as if worshiping some ancient deity.

With her voice shaking she said, "So you're not settling, I'm not beneath your former standards?"

I let out a sigh and said, "It's true, your right, before I wouldn't have noticed you. I was looking for all of the wrong things in a girl and caught up in the shallow stuff. Besides, I never would have been able to keep up with you before mentally. I bet you would have rebuffed me as some 'dumb military dog'."

"Very perceptive. I'm sorry to have brought the mood down," she said.

I propped myself up on my elbows, then up to sitting and put my hand on her head and smiled. She stood up about to embrace me, but I was too quick and caught her by the belt.

"Gotcha," I said and pulled her into a heated kiss.

I miscalculated and lost my balance; she tumbled onto the bed next to me and let out a soft sigh. I turned to face her and we began to kiss on an even playing field. She moved to take the superior position in the kiss and I dodged as best I could, flipping her using a wrestling move I'd learned in Basic Training.

"I said I'd get even for that display of cheekiness back there," as I straightened my position out so I was now propped on an elbow looking down at her.

She grinned up at me and said, "Touché."

"Whatever will I do with this advantage?" I asked playfully. "I could tickle you until you beg for mercy, be nice and let you have your way with me, or I could do this… ", and I began to unbutton her cardigan.

As I was toying with the buttons of her sweater she led the slow charge to the head of the bed so she could survey my work while propped up on pillows.

Our playful banter stopped and we began to let each other know the way with our eyes. She moved to turn the light on the bedside table off but I shook my head no.

"I need to see you," I said softly, casting my eyes downward.

She ran her hands through my hair and cupped my chin so I faced her again. She put a finger to her lips and settled against the pillows so I could inspect every inch of her.

I resumed my unwrapping.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I still don't own it.

Rating: The rating climbs, this chapter contains sex. Nothing that they don't insinuate on prime time. Though I admit that the imagination is often dirtier than the television.

Communion

Button by button, I worked to claim my prize. When I had finished I studied my work and said mischievously, "This is in my way, it's got to go."

Sciezka smiled when she saw what kind of game I was playing. She complied and assumed her previous role as the worshiped.

I began my ministrations at her lips and attempted to drink in every part of her, careful not to neglect one inch. From her lips I trailed her jaw line with my tongue to finish with an earlobe. I then worked my way to the collarbones, paying equal attention to both fair sides. From there were the shoulders and arms, down to delicate fingers. I worked my way back up each arm leaving an invisible trail of nips and tastes. Sciezka was silent say for the occasional giggle or sharp intake of breath. When every part not covered by her tank top was finished I paused, looked at the sight before me and delicately slid my hands under the tissue soft garment.

Sciezka sat up at that moment and I was a bit stunned.

"Is everything fine Sciezka? Doesn't it feel good?" I said, my voice full of concern.

Sciezka huffed in exasperation and said, "In every novel I've read the woman always ends up naked first and he's still got all his clothes on. It's undignified. My turn. You get an article of clothing, and then I get one. Quid pro quo."

I sighed in relief and said, "Your wish is my command, anything for equity."

Sciezka then pulled me down into a kiss, threw a leg over mine, and then rolled us. I had been pinned!

"No fair!" I said in mock indignation.

"All's fair in love and war and you were the one who pulled out the wrestling moves. Remember, quid pro quo," she said with a devious grin as she began a more in-depth study than her previous mission.

She straddled my hips and began pushing my sweater up, nipping and licking with each bit of progress. When she could go no further without my cooperation I said, "Looks like your plan has hit a snag."

She arched her brows and leaned in for a kiss, so near and yet so far. I pulled myself up to meet her using the headboard for leverage and she pushed my sweater over my shoulders.

I claimed my kiss and said in mock protest, "That was really not fair! Taking advantage of a man's weaknesses?"

She finished removing my sweater and set to work in earnest to make it up to me. I could tell that she was beginning to regret her insistence on equality but I couldn't help but be amused at the little bump and grind she was beginning while giving attention to each inch she'd liberated. I'd set the tone for torture and she was paying me back in full.

She started again with my mouth and we lingered in a kiss that was insistent and needing and continued slowly to my earlobes, trailing down my neck and ending at my chest. When she arrived there she began to alternately lick and nip in spots and then blow cool air to dry the places she'd licked. This was almost too much and I again attempted to steer her with her belt, having decided that it was my turn again.

She complied, allowing me take the lead again. I scooted down to remove her tank top as I was now the one wearing fewer clothes and decided to claim her bra as well. Once I had removed it I rolled to my side, propping myself on an elbow and pulled her closer to me with my other hand. I then gently cupped a pert breast and began to kiss from the perimeter and would stop just shy of the center, then I repeated this slow torture, ultimately teasing both nipples into attention. I ran a hand up her spine admiring the fine musculature and she arched her back to meet my touch when it left her. Her soft sounds eventually grew frustrated and I knew I'd done my job.

"Mm hmm, also cuppable," I said and then stuck my tongue out at her.

"Jean, screw quid pro quo… just… " she managed before I closed in for a kiss and began to loosen her belt. She grew impatient and started to help. I swatted at her hands and she laughed and said, "Let me… you too!"

The next thing I knew she was standing up and stealing my pants from me. She then did a little strip tease, slowly removing her pants and doing a playful burlesque with them. She stood just out of reach before me in nothing but low cut panties and all I could do was gawk. I'd lost the words and my mouth must have been hanging open.

She kneeled near the head of the bed, cupped my chin, closed my gaping mouth and kissed me. She then tossed my pants across the room and said, "You'll get those back when I'm finished with you."

She stood and stretched again, and while in mid-stretch I uttered the only phrase I could find to describe her.

"Breath-taking."

She blushed, forgot her sudden shyness and pounced and the wrestling match began again.

"I'm flattered, but you could say the same for yourself," she said in reply to my adulation, appearing to study me.

"One question, and then you can have your way for a bit… how were you hiding that in the library?" I asked, conceding that she indeed had control for the moment.

"Balance my dear. Healthy mind, healthy body was what my parents always said, so they exploited my love of stories and fantasy and sent me to dance classes, ballet to be precise. Ballerina or fairy princess, same thing to a kid," she said and then gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

"I have one thing to say about that Sciezka," I said with a grin.

"Oh?" she asked coyly, not wanting to take my bait.

"I am the luckiest man in Central tonight," I said with a huge grin on my face.

She opened her mouth to protest my "un-liberated" comment, but it was then that I claimed the advantage and had her at my mercy again.

To prevent her protest I trailed kisses down her stomach, to prominent hip bones, each toned thigh and then stopped, having deliberately left her panties untouched and hovered, propping myself up and simply breathing until she let me know that the torture was excruciating.

"Jean, damn it, you are a tease. An incorrigible tease," she said, clearly exasperated that I was stopping.

"And you want me to do what about it?" I said feigning innocence.

"Make me come now!" she said, shocking me with her brazenness once again and I think surprising herself.

"Now? But if I do that now, what's left for later?" I said, clearly amused that I was driving her crazy.

She wriggled free, turned to face me, kissed me forcefully again and then said through clenched teeth, "Then I come again." and she nipped at my lower lip to finish the kiss.

My eyes widened with delight and I matched her kiss.

Amused at this revelation she continued, "… and again and again and again."

I grinned and went back to work in earnest.

I deftly removed her panties and began this new research.

She lie back against the pillows, legs spread wide in invitation and I again trailed kisses and finally gave her what she'd been demanding.

I started slowly entwining myself with her knees, and nuzzling her clitoris with my nose. Her hips bucked a bit and I licked and moaned, "So wet."

Sciezka made a noise that I could only take as approval and agreement and I began to lick and suck at her outer folds sometimes forcefully and sometimes gently. With each movement she clutched at my shoulders and the pillows beneath her. I looked up at her face, met her gaze when she momentarily opened her eyes and knew from the way that she was biting her lower lip that she was close. I doubled my efforts and soon she stiffened and bucked wrapping her legs around my torso as if that would keep her grounded. She failed and soon me ears were rewarded with her screaming my name as if it was sacred. I collapsed against her heat and shook with her, her first climax resonating through my body.

When she came finally released her grip on my shoulders she panted and haltingly said, "I need you now!" and gave another jerk and squeezed my body between her legs.

I crawled arm-over-arm to meet her lips in a kiss and she licked my lips to taste the fruits of my effort. She then grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me into the pillows. In one deft move she was once more astride me grinding her wet heat into where I could still sense it and then moved lower to my groin.

All the while her hands roved and played sending me to what could only be purgatory. I wasn't sure if I was in heaven or hell. It was divine and torturous at the same time.

"Sciezka, I don't know!" I called out in agony.

She again took my hand, this time by force and I nodded hastily that I felt what she did. She then moved my hand with hers and guided me into her.

She slackened a bit in relief, and then bore down into me, hands on my shoulders to steady herself. I lifted my head and suckled her breasts as she continued her ministrations and arched her back. I then cupped her cheeks from behind to support her movements and partake in her frenzy.

With each thrust I felt a coil tighten within me, a warmth starting to spread, as she became more and more insistent. She began to buck and writhe wildly. Soon my back arched and my hips bucked with hers through the force of her will and strength, my head hitting the pillows with each effort and chanting her name in time with her movements, like a mantra. Just as I felt that my head was going to fly off as sensation rapidly alternated from pain to pleasure I closed my eyes and saw and sensed white light and heat. I heard her scream my name as I screamed incoherently. Every muscle I was aware of contracted and then fell limp as Sciezka collapsed on top of me, sobbing my name and kissing away my tears.

When I could finally move and speak again I held her tightly and thanked her over and over again. We then lie there spooned savoring the peace and warmth.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Rating: Somewhere between T and M, because truly, you've all seen worse.

Contentment

I stirred first and said, "Can you move at all? Nothing broken?"

"That was unbelievable," Sciezka purred. "I must be dreaming. Pinch me."

"No, not a dream, and if it is I don't want to wake up," I whispered

Sciezka held me closer and pinched me, hard.

"When I'm no longer incapacitated I am so getting even with you for that!" I teased.

"It's on, later… rematch," Sciezka said. "But seriously, Jean, that was amazing. Are you sure that you haven't done this since?"

"Absolutely sure, so you have that dubious honor… " I said.

"About that… no self-deprecating remarks tonight. You were wonderful for anyone," Sciezka said.

"Well then that only leaves one thing," I said.

"Would that be a cigarette Mr. Filthy Habit?" Sciezka laughed.

"That would be nice, but no, I remembered that I thought I might offer you dinner, and now I am hungry," I said.

"I have the dinner part taken care of," Sciezka said. "Are you up for a picnic?"

"It's late and I am not going anywhere outside this bedroom," I said.

"You don't need to, and check the top drawer of your nightstand," Sciezka said.

I tentatively opened the drawer and found two cigarettes, a lighter and an ashtray with a note that said, "Just this once. -G"

"Sciezka, was I the only person besides Elysia who didn't know exactly what was going to be going on? I was optimistic but… " I asked, slightly irritated, though more amused.

"My lips were sealed. You're just an open book sometimes," she said. "Now share Mr. Filthy Habit."

I lit up the two cigarettes, handed her one and thought to myself, "Jean, in your wildest dreams it's never been this good."

We finished our cigarettes and Sciezka reluctantly left the bed, putting her tank top and underwear back on so she wasn't prancing about the house completely naked, though I wouldn't have minded. She started to leave the room to get our "picnic".

"Hey, wait a minute," I said as she was heading to the bedroom door.

"Yes, did you need something?" she said coming back to bed.

When she was within reach I pulled her down for a kiss.

"Just that," I said and winked. "I wouldn't mind if you turned around to model either."

She rolled her eyes, and then sashayed out of the room with the ashtray doing her best shimmy as she crossed the threshold.

Sciezka came back in with a small hamper and hopped up on the bed. As she began to unpack it I said, "I'm at a disadvantage here, you're still holding my pants for ransom."

Sciezka grinned and said, "I know! I have on more clothes than you do now. I WIN!" and fell into my lap in a fit of giggles.

"This, and you say that I am the incorrigible one?"

Sciezka merely hugged me around my waist and said, "You were hungry right? Let's eat."

She then sat up and finished unpacking the hamper. Before me was a veritable feast, and a shortage of utensils. If everyone's machinations hadn't worked out it would have been a gourmet affair in the kitchen with silverware. I looked at Sciezka and she winked and popped a strawberry in my mouth.

We lounged in the bed savoring the treats Sciezka had brought, all finger food, but some of it "too messy" for polite company. I caught myself starting to lick a finger clean and thought better of it and offered it to Sciezka instead.

She said, "Now you've got the idea."

I peered into the various boxes and found little pastry triangles that looked delicious. I picked one up and studied it, picking at the flaky dough.

"Those are spanakopita, a recipe from near Aquroya. It's filled with spinach, feta cheese, and some herbs and spices. The other ones are tiropita, just cheese," Sciezka informed me.

"Good food and an education. Did you memorize all the ingredients of this feast?" I said.

"Only the stuff I made," she said and smiled.

"You are a woman of many talents, I grovel at your feet," I said kissing her toes.

"So are you ready for dessert?" Sciezka asked, teasing me with another piece of pastry, and then feeding it to me.

"I think I am," I said with my mouth full of pastry.

Sciezka gathered up the hamper's contents then got up and headed into the bathroom, I heard her turn on the tap and called after her, "Where's my dessert?"

"I'm making it," Sciezka said.

She came out of the bathroom without turning off the taps, left the room with the hamper and came back in empty handed.

"Dessert?" I asked.

She nodded towards the bathroom, removed what little clothing she had on and said, "This way."

I was still in a post-sex, good-food stupor and sat there dazed.

A minute later she called from the bathroom, "So are you not having dessert?"

I finally put it all together, got into my boxers and transferred to my chair in record time.

When I entered the bathroom it was dark save for a few candles. Sciezka flicked some water at me from the tub and said, "Modest, eh?"

I looked down at my boxers and realized that any shred of modesty had gone out the window hours ago.

"One small snag, I still haven't figured out how to get in the tub for a bath," I stated.

Sciezka thought my statement over, looked at me and said, "Would it be so hard for you to accept help if it meant we could soak in the tub together?"

I thought her offer over, smiled and said, "I think that is the best incentive to accept help I've ever had."

I transferred to the side of the tub, and then onto the bench and Sciezka braced the bench while I lowered myself into the water. She then removed the bench while I leaned back against the back of the tub. She climbed in with me and folded herself into my arms.

We had been soaking like that for a while when she said, "Now it's time for your dessert."

I raised my eyebrows wondering what she could be up to and she began to soap up a washcloth. I smiled and thought to myself, "This is so much better than a damned sponge bath."

She then trailed the lavender scented washcloth over my shoulders and back, kneading any muscles that felt tight. I closed my eyes and moaned softly as she delicately traced the lines of my stomach and chest. She stopped for a moment and my eyes fluttered open wondering what was next.

I shouldn't have wondered, next was my hair. I knew that routine. I closed my eyes as she trailed her fingers through my hair, rubbing my temples and strangely enough, my ears. When she was finished she slowly rinsed with some fresh water from the tap. I cracked an eye and noted that she'd even tested the temperature.

"This being helped thing, not at all bad, not bad at all," I said and gave Sciezka a slow kiss when she came into reach.

She leaned back into my arms and sighed as my arms enfolded her.

"So it's your turn now, quid pro quo?" I asked hopefully.

"No Jean, this is dessert," she said as she laced her fingers with mine.

Sciezka stood up, water beading on her pale skin in the candlelight. She turned around, bent over and pulled the plug from the drain, taking her time for my benefit. She then stepped out of the tub and slowly dried off. I was beginning to wonder how I'd get out of the bathtub when she reached out to clasp my hand and said, "Your fingers are getting wrinkly, let's get you out of here."

She placed a towel on the seat of my chair, motioned for me to scoot forward in the tub and replaced the bench. She then gave me her hand and I placed my other hand on the bench. She nodded her approval and said, "On three?"

I placed my other hand on the bench, smiled and said, "Beautiful, brilliant and resourceful? You are the deluxe package."

We counted together and as she braced the bench I pulled myself onto it. She handed me a towel and said, "I trust you know the way to bed?"

When I got into the bedroom she was already under the covers, with my side of the bed turned down, the pillows fluffed and ready for sleep.

I got in and said, "How should I thank you?"

Sciezka leaned in, kissed me and said, "You're welcome, and you can leave the real thanks for the morning."

We exchanged soft kisses and caresses and before we began to get quiet and drift off to sleep I said, "Do I at least get my pants back?"

Sciezka nuzzled into my chest and said, "I'll think about it."

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Exploration

I rose first, got up to perform the necessaries, put on some pants, and when I entered the bedroom I found Sciezka curled up in the warm spot I'd left, and looking happy to see me even though I'm sure I was fuzzy because her glasses were off.

"Would you like some breakfast?" I asked.

Sciezka looked at me and said, "You put on pants. No fair. I liked winning."

I laughed and stuck out my tongue at her and said, "I'm getting some coffee while you stay here and pout. Maybe I'll bring you some."

I went to the kitchen to brew some coffee and root around for breakfast things, I decided just coffee and fruit would be fine.

I then poured two mugs of coffee, requisitioned the cutting board as a makeshift tray and slowly made my way to the bedroom with breakfast. Sciezka, who was dosing on my side of the bed perked up when she smelled the coffee, took the proffered tray and smiled at my attempt at breakfast.

"This is breakfast?" she said.

"It is on short notice. I was never a fan of breakfast until I moved in here, usually coffee and something quick was the norm," I said.

Sciezka smiled, took a bite of an apple and said, "So are you joining me?"

"Don't mind if I do," I said and got back into bed.

We ate breakfast in near silence and sipped our coffee. I hadn't had too many women stay until morning so this was a new experience. I could tell that Sciezka was new to this as well.

Finally she broke the silence and said, "You took your pants back. You do know you will pay for that."

I set my coffee mug down on the bedside table and said, "Name your price."

"Hmmm… I think that a repeat performance of last night and then going out for some supper would be sufficient, you never go out."

I balked at her last statement and replied indignantly, "I do so go out."

"I should have been more precise," Sciezka said. "You go out to therapy, headquarters and the corner store for smokes. That is not out."

I leaned in for a kiss and said, "You win, but first tell me the best part of the performance."

Sciezka lie back on the pillows, smiled and said, "I think I'll need a few reminders of the highlights."

I turned over onto my side, propped myself up on an elbow facing her and then ran a finger down her side. Then I said, "Does that ring any bells?"

Sciezka said, "You're getting warmer."

I lifted her tank top, then removed it entirely and threw it across the room. After a quick kiss I said, "Now we're even."

She pouted and said, "Get back to work. Did I say you could stop?"

"Demanding aren't we?" I chuckled.

I then pushed myself up so I could better reach her lips. I leaned in for a kiss stopping just short making her close the gap to meet me.

She gave a frustrated wiggle under me and I moved to kiss her again. She turned her head and said, "Not there. Getting colder."

I smiled as she said that. The game was on.

I then scooted lower to better access her now bare chest. I began kissing her collarbones and décolletage, with each kiss closing in on her breasts but just far enough away to frustrate her.

"You're getting warmer," she said.

I dove in to claim her chest with zeal at this point. I cupped her right breast gently kneading it and then lightly ran my tongue over the nipple and areole. She shuddered with the light contact and arched her back each time I paused. I then commenced giving her left breast equal treatment. When both nipples were erect I began to nip and suckle at them. She reached a hand down to touch herself and I gently placed it back on the pillows.

"Nope, not yet," I said, kissing her to appease her momentarily.

I resumed slowly worshiping each breast and again her hand moved toward her sex.

I swatted it away and said, "Impatient aren't we? This is revenge for stealing my pants last night."

Sciezka abruptly scooted up higher on the pillows so I was left contemplating her navel.

"For that I'll make you pay dearly!" I said in jest.

I began to kiss her stomach while still playing with her nipples. After circling her navel with my tongue I planted a raspberry next to it. She convulsed in laughter and scooted further up the pillows.

"You're going to run out of room soon Sciezka," I warned playfully.

"So I have to spell it out?" Sciezka said.

"Yes, I think you do have to spell it out," I said. "What could you possibly want?"

This drove her berserk.

"Jean, you are so mean," she complained. "Fine, I'll tell you since you seem hell bent on making me describe this as graphically as possible."

"You caught me," I said.

"Jean Havoc I want you to go down on me, NOW, and if you don't I'll take care of it by myself," Sciezka said, crossing her arms.

"Yes ma'am," I said and began to pull her panties down with my teeth. I surveyed what I had revealed and went to work.

When I finally came up for air I rested my head on Sciezka's stomach to vicariously share the third orgasm she'd achieved that morning.

When Sciezka stopped shaking she sat up and said, "That was amazing Jean, but we do eventually have to go out."

"Do we have to?" I whined.

"Yes, we have to. Go shower up lady-killer, you earned it," she said.

I slowly got up and grudgingly went to take a shower. As I entered the bathroom I said, "You're sure we have to put on clothes and go out? I was really liking naked."

Sciezka shot a look at me and said, "Shower, now."

I started the water, transferred to the bench and began soaping up. My disappointment at having to dress and leave the house was lessened because shortly after starting my shower Sciezka came in to join me.

"I thought I had to get showered and dressed," I said.

Sciezka laughed when my jaw dropped as she began shampooing her hair. She was putting on quite a show for my benefit.

"Just because I said you had to shower and get out of the house, didn't mean I wouldn't make it worth your while. Besides, we're conserving water," she said a she rinsed her hair.

She then did a repeat performance of dessert, depositing herself on my lap and shampooing my hair and making sure I'd cleaned every part to her exacting standards.

Eventually the water began to run tepid and our shower had to end.

Sciezka got out first and tossed a towel at me, then sashayed to the bedroom to get dressed.

I called after her, "You're absolutely sure we have to leave the house?"

She called back, "YES, we do. Get in here to help me pick something out to wear."

I hurriedly dried myself, decided to skip shaving for the day and went into the bedroom.

Sciezka was still standing there in all her glory and as I entered she began to slowly dress, a reverse strip tease if you will. I found she'd laid out clothes for me a well.

"You picked out my clothes? " I said trying not to sound irked.

She gave a small smile and nodded, she was up to something.

As I began to dress she said, "I did give you pants, I think I deserve a reward."

I laughed, "Yes, I am grateful that you are allowing me to wear pants if we have to go out."

She leaned in for a kiss and said, "You get to wear the pants, but I'll pick them out."

I pulled her into my lap, kissed her on the nose and said, "As you wish."

By the time we were finished dressing it was nearly lunchtime. Sciezka and I went into the front yard so I could have a cigarette and decide on a destination. After all the work I'd done that morning, I felt I deserved my filthy habit.

"So Jean, it is lunch time, where would you like to go?" Sciezka said, hoping to lighten the mood that had come over me at the thought of leaving my bubble.

"You're really making me leave? H.Q. is fine, I know people there but I don't know," I said pausing to think.

"So the High Street would be out of your comfort zone?" Sciezka asked.

"Yes, that would be an understatement after last time," I said, frowning a bit that she was even asking me these sorts of questions.

"It will be different this time. I promise," she said and added, "Besides you are more mobile now than you were then. It will be fun."

I thought for a bit and said, "If I go out of my comfort zone and do this, will you make it worth my while later?"

Sciezka smiled and said, "We'll have lunch and then maybe I'll let you help me pick out some new clothes."

I grinned and said, "Any type of clothes? Even unmentionables?"

Sciezka rolled her eyes and said, "Yes Jean, you can pick out whatever you would like for your viewing pleasure tonight."

I pulled her onto my lap and said, "You have a deal, but you'll be sorry. I still owe you for stealing my pants."

Sciezka leaned in for a kiss, then stopped short and said, "You are such a dog sometimes."

I smiled, pinched her butt and said, "I know, but you like it."

She repaid my sass with a kiss and said, "As much as I don't want to admit it, I do."

Just then the driver came around to the front of the house and I said, "You really had this planned out, huh?"

"Prior proper planning Jean, would you expect anything less from a researcher?" she said.

We were then off to the High Street where hopefully I would have a much better time than my first outing there.

We arrived at the High Street after a silent ride and at first I panicked thinking about getting out of the car in full view of everyone, Sciezka included.

"Jean, are you ok?" Sciezka asked, her voice full of concern. "We're here, can you manage it?"

I sighed and said, "I can manage it, I'm a 'pro' at this now, and I just don't like an audience."

She thought a bit and then said, "It's a busy day, I'm sure no one will notice one guy in a wheelchair, and if they do they need to get a life."

"I just hate it when people stare or make that pity 'tsk tsk' noise," I said.

Sciezka grinned and said, "If I catch anyone doing that, I'll give them something to look at, deal?"

I pulled the chair out of the car, assembled it and transferred, and then I said, "So far so good, and I'm dying to know what this something to look at is."

Sciezka winked and said, "I think you'll like it, but it's a secret weapon… I can't tell you until it's time or it won't be as effective."

With Sciezka's threat of a secret weapon I felt somewhat less self-conscious as we made our way up the street in search of some lunch. We had gone about a block when we got to the coffee house where it had all begun.

Sciezka paused and I stopped abruptly and asked, "What is it? Something wrong?"

She smiled and said, "No, not a thing. I was just thinking of the first time we really talked, my total cynic."

I laughed and said, "So shall we go there for lunch and a re-match?"

Sciezka nodded yes and leaned over to give me a quick kiss. We prepared to cross the street to go to the coffee house when she stopped again.

"If you keep stopping like that I'm going to run you over. What is it this time?" I said.

She looked concerned and said, "Jean, there is a curb."

"Oh that? No longer a problem, but on the other side I may need a hand. Watch and be impressed," I said and grinned.

I prepared to navigate the curb by lining the chair up with the edge, and then as I went over shifted my weight forward so I wouldn't tip over backwards. This was tricky, but Jim and I had practiced often on the hospital grounds and I hadn't dumped the chair all week.

After getting off the curb I smiled and said, "The wheelie is not just flashy, it's functional. I'll need it for getting up the other side as well."

She caressed my shoulder and smiled as I said this.

The curb on the other side was a little higher and as I'd predicted I got stuck. This would have been an issue if I'd been out alone, but Sciezka was there so I wouldn't have to ask a stranger for help.

Sciezka noticed I'd gotten stuck and looked a little perplexed.

"No worries," I said. "Give me your hand, and when I give the word pull my hand steadily. Don't pull too hard and keep a sure footing."

She did as instructed and took my hand. As I leaned forward and pushed one of the rims she pulled and I jumped the curb.

"Wow, I am impressed," Sciezka said.

"It's a great trick to know as most places in Central are built like this, and I don't know of too many places that have ramps," I said. "Gracia's and the hospital do but those places are a given."

"Well, necessary or not, I'm impressed," she said with admiration in her voice.

"We'll have to work on that some more," I said with a grin.

Sciezka scowled and said, "That wasn't so bad."

"Well, one false move and I could have pulled you into my lap…" I said. "Fun at home, but not so fun here."

That earned me a hair ruffle and an eye-roll.

"For that you are buying Jean Havoc," she said and shook her fist at me in jest.

We entered the coffee house and found a table in the corner vacant and decided to sit there. After we got situated a waitress came with menus and a list of the day's specials. Sciezka decided on the soup of the day and I opted for a sandwich. As we waited for our food to arrive we chatted about the weather and other neutral topics. Finally I gathered the courage to talk about what was happening, as we'd done an awful lot, with not a lot of discussion on what it meant.

"So Sciezka, what do you see me as? I mean yes, we had sex but was that some good deed or a curiosity thing? If it was a pity fuck, please tell me. I'd understand," I said, lowering my voice as I got to the last part.

Her eyes flared and she sighed heavily and said, "You keep coming back to that. I am absolutely not fooling around with you for some karmic good deed or because you perceive yourself as a curiosity. You are a guy, an attractive guy with a brain in his head who just happens to use a wheelchair. You are not the chair, dimwit. I'm beginning to think that you fell on your head and not your spine. Shit!"

I sat there stunned for a moment and opened my mouth to rebut her statement. She interrupted me.

"Issue closed Jean, I do NOT provide sex for the un-fuckable, period. I am not a charity. Understand?" she hissed.

I slowly nodded and said, "So the whole situation doesn't bother you?"

Sciezka's look softened and she said, "Of course it bothers me. It bothers me because it bothers you. I'd rather you hadn't had this happen, that you didn't have to start all over… but at the same time I'm glad if that doesn't sound crazy."

"Glad? Explain that to me," I said, confused by her last statement.

"Both you and I know that if this hadn't happened you'd still be chasing after those bimbos in the secretarial pool and I would still lock myself up in the library or at home with all my books. We'd never be in this set of circumstances, and last night would have never happened," she said. "Correct me if I'm wrong."

I thought it over and smiled and clasped her hand.

"You're right as usual. So where do you see this heading?" I asked.

"Call me foolish to say this so early on, but I see this lasting a long time if we both play our cards right," Sciezka said.

I leaned over to kiss her and said, "I'd hoped you would say that."

Just then the waitress brought our order and we began to eat and our conversation turned to the plans for the rest of the weekend.

When we finished eating the waitress brought the bill and I paid. I was getting ready to leave when Sciezka stopped me and said, "Let's just sit here for a little while longer. I like holding your hand, this closeness and that is the one thing that I wish was easier when we were out and about. That whole cliché of strolling and holding hands thing is something I miss, but only because I want to show that level of affection in public."

I thought for a moment, frowned slightly and said, "We'll just have to think of a different way, because I miss that too. Though you're one of the few who has stuck around long enough to do the whole holding hands thing."

Sciezka gave my hand a reassuring squeeze and leaned in for another quick kiss. I smiled and said, "On a lighter note, we have shopping to do. You did promise to wear what I pick out."

"I'm going to regret that promise, aren't I," she said.

"Maybe, maybe not. I'll make it worth your while. I'm glad you dragged me out," I said.

We headed out and I led the way. Sciezka must have been a mind reader because she slowed when we got to an upscale lingerie shop.

"Jean, you are so predictable. I'm guessing that you will pick the skimpiest piece in the shop," she said with a slight tone of disapproval in her voice.

"You won't know until I've picked it," I said with a devilish smile. "We'll go in and look around and you pick some stuff out that you like as I've been rough on your panties and I'll pick out your punishment."

We entered the store and browsed together for a few minutes and then I let the sales clerk show Sciezka some items and keep her occupied. Another sales clerk, who apparently handled male customers often, came over to help me. After looking at what seemed like endless amounts of things that I knew Sciezka would hate I found it.

Instead of ridiculous ruffles and bows this selection was relatively simple. But simple didn't do it justice. This was a masterpiece in silk, or at least it would be with Sciezka wearing it. The bottoms were cut like her usual boy style underwear, but made of very sheer silk the color of the palest pink rose. They were adorned with delicate black lace for contrast. The top, which the sales clerk told me was called a "balconnet", a fancy name for not very much brassiere was of the same material and so delicate it was translucent. To top it all off was a kimono that felt like heaven to touch. I whistled despite myself as I imagined how it would look on her lithe, pixie-like form and then on my floor.

"That is the one, see the girl? It's for her. Wrap it up," I said and then joined Sciezka. She had picked out a few pairs of her usual underwear, in colors, I hoped for my benefit. I asked her to wait outside and then paid and tucked the purchases under my chair and went outside.

"So what did you get?" Sciezka asked.

I feigned innocence and said, "Oh, nothing too special. You'll just have to see. But I thought crotch-less would be fun."

"You did nothing of the sort," she said and huffed a bit. "Did you? You didn't."

"No, I didn't," I said. "I do have some couth. What's next on the agenda?"

"Birthday gift," she said.

I looked at her in utter confusion and said, "Birthday? Are we going to one?"

"Yes, it's Riza's birthday and provided you don't throw a fit, you were invited out with the Colonel, Edward, Alphonse and Winry and of course Riza," she said.

"A party? Sciezka I really do not feel like a big military thing this soon," I said.

Sciezka said, "It's not going to be a big thing. It's at a pub as almost everyone who would have been invited has been transferred and you know that Riza would shoot anyone who planned a big surprise. It'll be some food, some drinks and if you hate it we can leave."

I exhaled slowly and said, "You promise? Because otherwise I'll have Riza shoot me to put me out of my misery."

"You are horrible. If you pout too much I'll ask her to shoot you," she said. "You'll have fun, and they only asked me because they knew you would flat out refuse. Gracia gave them the heads up that she'd be out of town for the weekend, so that is the other reason they were so insistent on you coming."

"The other reason? So they think I need babysitting," I said.

"Jean, do we have to have a repeat discussion on the whole you are a normal guy to them and to me issue?"

"No, I get that I've tended to be a hermit and only gone places on my terms and spent entirely too much time in a safe little bubble," I said. "I'll go, but that leaves the problem of what to get Riza. She has a dog and a lot of firearms, so choosing the right gift is important."

Sciezka laughed and said, "That is an interesting thought. So you're not mad that I made plans without your input?"

"Sciezka, I am getting used to having my life arranged for my benefit," I said. "Just don't do it too often, you'll make me paranoid."

After much deliberation Sciezka and I decided that we could find something non-lethal and with the correct amount of sentiment at a small boutique that sold a varied assortment of items such as stationary, fine pens, curios and other unique finds the proprietor thought were apropos.

As we were browsing for Riza's gift I saw something I thought Sciezka would love. I had the sales clerk place it behind the register and wrap it discreetly so I could surprise Sciezka later. Sciezka and I finally settled on a silver paper weight depicting a dog that looked very much like Black Hayate. It was perfect. It had just the right amount of personal interest without being inappropriate. That and Riza was a stickler for useful items. This could be used to hold down the piles of paper Roy procrastinated on, or to bludgeon him with on his worst days.

We went home to change quickly and then head to the pub.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Validation

The driver took us home to freshen up. While Sciezka got ready I excused myself to take care of the necessaries and shave. It wouldn't do to go scruffy to a known military hangout given my set of circumstances. I decided to change from house pants to khakis and chose the black cashmere v-neck sweater. Sciezka loved it and if I was going into an uncomfortable social situation I felt it would help if I looked my best. The feel of wearing a security blanket couldn't hurt either.

When I emerged from the bedroom I had not expected to see the vision before me. Sciezka had changed into the dungarees she had worn the night Gracia had started the ball rolling. She had again pulled her hair back and was wearing a simple black top that revealed her collarbones. She had her back to me and was putting the final touches on in the entryway mirror. I decided that this was as good a time as any to give her the gift I had picked out when we had been shopping. I approached her as quietly as I could and wrapped an arm around her thigh. She was a bit startled, and then relaxed when she saw what I was doing. She placed a hand on my shoulder and looked me up and down and smiled.

"You clean up nicely," she said as she straightened my sweater absentmindedly.

"A swan, simply mind-blowing," I managed.

Sciezka blushed and demurred. I pulled her into my lap and said, "I must have done something right to be here right now."

"Me too Jean, me too," Sciezka sighed.

"I never knew dungarees could look so good, but those look like they were made for you, but something is missing," I said.

Sciezka looked at me, clearly confused.

"I can change," she said.

I smiled and kissed her tenderly and said, "Please don't ever do that. Stay just like you are."

Then I reached into the pocket of my pants and pulled out a small suede jewelry pouch. I placed it in her hand, closed her fingers over it and then kissed her closed hand.

"This is all your outfit is missing," I said.

She carefully opened the drawstring on the pouch to reveal a delicate string of freshwater pearls. She gasped as she examined it when she saw the tiny charm near the clasp. It was a small silver frog with a tiny gold crown on his head.

She threw her arms around my neck nearly smothering me with kisses. When I could finally get a word in between kisses I said, "I saw it and knew it was perfect. I was going to save it for a special occasion, but this is just that."

Sciezka paused to think on what the occasion could possibly be, and then looked at me puzzled.

"You've broken the spell," I said.

After my declaration she said, "It's gorgeous, perfect in every way."

She then handed the necklace to me and said, "Would you do the honors?"

I carefully undid the clasp, placed the necklace around her neck and fastened it. I then sat back to admire her.

"Stunning," was all I could muster.

Sciezka thought a bit and said, "You know how pearls are formed, right Jean?"

"As a matter of a fact I do… something lodges in an oyster and irritates or threatens it. The oyster builds a protective mineral barrier around the irritant. That layer of minerals is called nacre and that is what is so prized… "

"Something beautiful comes out of a bad situation," Sciezka said.

"Exactly what I was thinking when I picked this out. The good in my life right now protects me from the bad, and it is beautiful," I said pulling her in closer for a kiss.

Sciezka broke the kiss first and said, "You still aren't getting out of that party. We'd better get going."

She then ruffled my hair and said, "Hey, where did you learn about pearls anyway?"

I smiled and said, "You've rubbed off on me, and I'm now a voracious reader with my large amount of leisure time. Just call me 'Jean Havoc, storehouse of useless knowledge'."

We waited on the porch for the driver and I lit up a cigarette. Sciezka gave me a mild look of reproach and said, "Nervous Jean? You shouldn't be. It's just some food and drinks; blow out the candles and then eating cake. You can handle that."

"How did you know I was nervous?" I asked.

"It doesn't take a mind reader, it's a given knowing you, and you had that cigarette ready to light before we even got out the door," she said.

"Oh, right," I said and grinned sheepishly.

"Don't worry so much, though I've noticed you've cut down a bit," she said. "Doctor's orders?"

"No, none of that," I said. "I'm just more relaxed living here, more comfortable I guess, well and then there is Elysia. I've got to set a good example."

"Is that all?" Sciezka asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Well that and now I have better things to do with my hands and mouth," I said and goosed her.

The driver came and we got into the car and made use of the privacy screen. Couldn't waste a perfectly good opportunity to relax, could I?

When we arrived I saw that I recognized the pub as an old haunt. I was both relieved and anxious at the same time. Relieved because this was a low key place, but anxious because I could run into people who hadn't seen me since the accident.

Before we got out of the car I said, "No more subterfuge, ok? You may have to drag me kicking and screaming sometimes but I do want to go places with you. I'd just like a little advance notice from now on. Oh, and scratch the kicking part. I'm not a good kicker anymore. Screaming will have to do."

Sciezka kissed me playfully and said, "It's a deal, and I do believe you used up your ration of self-deprecating humor for the night. Let's go before we're late."

"I've found it is bad to keep Riza waiting long. She's probably taken the safety off already," I said with a smile.

Sciezka got out of the car and the driver brought around the pieces of my chair to assemble. I then transferred and noticed a rather soused looking man in uniform staring at me.

Apparently Sciezka did too because she leaned in for a very demonstrative kiss then under the guise of licking my ear whispered, "Here's the secret weapon."

I leaned into the kiss and whispered back, "Woman, I like the way you think."

We headed toward the entrance and I got the door. Sciezka entered, then stopped as she noticed the pub was packed and that there was a step down into the main room.

"Sciezka, it's just like a curb. No worries," I said and then navigated the step.

Roy was the first to notice me and he motioned for us to come over.

I said to Sciezka, "It's now or never, you go on ahead to part the crowd and improve the view."

She gave me a perplexed look and I laughed and said, "If I have to sit and look at the world from this point of view I'd rather see your fine ass than saggy spants, or worse be nose-to-pecker with some of these guys."

She nodded that she understood and began to sashay in front of me, clearly flattered. When we got to where Roy and Riza were at the bar rail I said, "Work it girl, hotcha!"

Sciezka blushed and in a flustered voice said, "Colonel Mustang, with your clout couldn't you get a table?"

Roy said, "We have one reserved for later, though I admit I hadn't thought all the logistics through."

Riza chimed in, "The Colonel thought it would be improper for me to plan my own birthday, sorry for his oversight. I can try to get us a table."

"You'll do nothing of the sort," I said. "This is fine. By the way, happy birthday!"

Riza smiled and said, "I'm glad you and Sciezka are here to celebrate with me. I didn't think you'd come."

"It took a bit of coercion on Sciezka's part, but I wouldn't miss it," I said. "Besides, if I'd bailed you would have taken it out on me at the range."

Riza laughed and Roy smiled and said, "So are you two having an ok time of it with Gracia gone?"

I rolled my eyes and said, "Roy if you even think of laying a hand on her I will hurt you, and yes we are having a great time."

Sciezka blushed and excused herself to go to the restroom. I hoped I hadn't said too much or embarrassed her. Riza excused herself as well, citing the well-known expectation that women go to the restroom in groups.

Roy turned to me and said, "So things are going well for you?"

I laughed and said, "You see me at H.Q. all the time before I go the range with Riza, what do you think?"

"Well I'm surprised to say the least, I mean Sciezka? She's certainly different from the others, but that is no bookworm you have with you tonight, though she seems shy."

"Sir, I mean Roy, you have no idea and that's all I can say without sounding like a cad," I said.

"Oh really? C'mon Jean, spill it!" Roy said, almost begging. "For my peace of mind, you're happy, right?"

"My bad luck is changed and I didn't think it was possible, but I think Jim is right," I said and paused. "Happy is a possibility."

"Thank you, for not blaming me, and for letting me help. Seeing you in such good spirits lifts some of the weight," he said.

I smiled, reached up and clapped him on the shoulder and said, "You're still buying the rounds tonight Chief."

Roy looked grateful to hear that barb and said, "Jean Havoc is back, and soon the ladies will be too."

He nudged my shoulder and said, "So out of curiosity… "

"Roy," I said slightly irritated. "You have a one track mind sometimes. It is fine and she is a tiger."

Roy beamed and said, "Atta boy!"

"Remember what I said Roy, touch her and die," I said with mock seriousness.

Riza and Sciezka were almost to the bar when I heard a quick snippet of their conversation. I think I heard Sciezka say, "Breathes through his ears."

I gave myself a mental pat on the back and said to Roy, "I believe I would like a drink, what have you got?"

Roy held up his glass and said, "Bourbon, what else would I drink? Want one?"

"Hell no, you know my usual. I'll have a pint of stout, but just one," I said. "I can't hold my liquor the way I used to."

Roy smirked and said, "You never could!"

We talked and drank for a while and caught up on the gossip at headquarters. Riza announced that when the Elric brothers and Winry arrived that we'd sit down to order food. I refrained from commenting that I'd brought my own seat. I didn't need to get on Sciezka's bad side.

After awhile I noticed that a man in uniform seemed to be inching closer and closer to Sciezka. She had been standing at the bar talking to a colleague from the Investigations Department. When her friend left the, inebriated man made his move. He began chatting Sciezka up with one tasteless pick-up line after another. She seemed to be taking it in stride, though her smile was forced and eventually she looked my way with a death glare.

It was Havoc to the rescue. I navigated through the now standing room only crowd, cursing how long it was taking. When I finally got to her I could tell that Sciezka had had enough.

"Mr. Suave" launched into his last line as I got to her.

"That's a great outfit on you, but it would look even better on my floor," he slurred.

That was it. I positioned myself next to Sciezka and said, "Excuse me, is this guy bothering you?"

Mr. Suave looked me up and down and said, "What's it to you? She your nurse or something?"

I gripped the rims of my chair and counted to ten to rein in my temper and then said, "No, she is my girlfriend and she doesn't seem to be appreciating your witty repartee."

Mr. Suave looked down at me and then said to Sciezka, "Baby, what are you doing with half a man? I can do things for you that he'll never be able to."

Sciezka's jaw dropped at this statement and she took a few steps away from us when she saw my face twist into a scowl.

"Excuse me, but would you care to repeat that?" I said, schooling my tone.

"Sure thing cripple. I said that you can't satisfy her and I'll show her a good time," he said and leaned on my shoulder in an effort to intimidate me, almost knocking me off balance.

My tone remained calm as I said, "I doubt you could satisfy her either with that gut, rancid breath, and below average intelligence level. Go home whisky dick. The only date for you tonight is your hand."

At this his face turned crimson and he shook and said, "If you weren't in that chair I'd clock you!"

"Wanna know a secret buddy?" I said, deciding I'd had enough.

He leaned in so we were almost nose-to-nose and said, "What could I possibly learn from you?"

I grabbed his shoulders and head butted him and it was on.

He fell to the ground dazed, then staggered while getting up, and one of his comrades restrained him after helping him up.

Sciezka backed up to give us room and I was vaguely aware that Roy was standing behind me.

"Jean, this is ridiculous…" Roy stammered.

"Roy, don't stop me," I said. Then I pointed at Mr. Suave's friend and said, "Let him go. I can take him."

Mr. Suave's friend complied and Mr. Suave threw an off kilter punch and staggered past me. He righted himself and threw another. This one landed on my shoulder, knocking me off balance and out of my chair.

I heard a collective gasp from the bar and I knew I had to finish this if I wanted to keep any shred of dignity.

Mr. Suave stood over me, prepared to spit when I hit the pressure point at the back of his knee bringing him to ground. Before he could get up I was on him and we wrestled like that for a bit. He punched me in the face and I knew I'd be sporting a shiner the next day. I recovered from the blow, pinned him and put him into a chokehold.

When he submitted I said, "Repeat after me."

He nodded furiously, panicked that I might tighten the chokehold again.

"I am a pompous asshole," I said. "Repeat it whiskey dick."

"I am a pompous asshole," said Mr. Suave.

"My date tonight is Mr. Hand," I said.

He squirmed, but complied.

"I just got my ass handed to me by a cripple," I said.

He hesitated, but I tightened the hold I had on his neck and leaned into his kidneys. He knew the best he could do was to comply and maybe I'd let him up. By now the bouncers were standing over us.

"Shit! I give up. I got my ass handed to me by a cripple," he finally said in a defeated tone.

I let him up and the bouncers carried him out bodily. While they were doing that, Roy brought over my chair and attempted to help me into it. I refused his help and managed it myself.

Riza and Sciezka came over, and Riza said, "Jean, was that really necessary?"

I could tell it had upset Sciezka, but instead of being angry she was in my lap fussing over my minor scrapes and bruises.

The bouncers came back in and I was prepared to leave as I figured I'd be kicked out.

The biggest one said, "Thanks, that jerk was bothering the ladies all night, we just needed a good excuse to bar him from coming here again."

"Proud to serve, sorry I roughed him up," I said and grinned.

Apparently I was slightly roughed up too because Riza pointed to my mouth and I realized I had the beginnings of a fat lip. Sciezka kissed it ever so gently and I winced.

The barkeep came to my aide with a clean, wet towel and a fresh pint as payment for my services.

Roy clapped me on the back and said, "I would have had your back if you'd let me Jean."

I thought and said, "Not needed, but next time I get in a bar brawl I'll let you get in a few punches too if you like."

Roy chuckled and said, "That guy had it coming, if you hadn't thrown the first punch, I would have."

I laughed and said, "Next time, you're on. Maybe after this we can hustle some billiards and get that opportunity. I bet I'm still a shark."

We were then alerted that our table was ready, so we left the bar area to start the real festivities.

When we got to the table I found that Winry, Al and Ed were there and my ruffled appearance got a few looks, but we all settled in and began Riza's birthday celebration in earnest.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Tumult and Tranquility

We were seated at a large, round table in the back room of the pub. I chose a spot in the corner so I could see the action in the room and so my chair wouldn't be so conspicuous. Roy sat to one side of me and Sciezka sat on my other side. I noticed that Riza had chosen to sit next to Roy, facing out into the room. Riza and I were alike, as we both felt uncomfortable with our backs to the door. We'd both been trained never to let our guard down. The Elrics and Winry sat across from us. The waitress brought menus and took our drink orders.

Riza went first, ordering a white wine, Roy followed with his usual bourbon even though he was already well on his way to soused, Sciezka decided that she would also like white wine and Ed and Winry ordered root beer. We'd slip them some booze later, as it had been an exception letting the teens into the bar at all.

Finally it was my turn and I debated inwardly on whether I should order root beer, or another pint of stout. Sciezka piped up and said, "He'll have another pint of stout and a glass of water."

"Sciezka, I didn't want to drink too much tonight," I said, slightly irritated.

"Jean, you haven't. Your first stout got left on the bar, and the next one was a reward for your chivalry. One more won't hurt," she said and smiled.

Roy shot a glance my way and I blushed. Riza just smiled and nodded. The other members of the table looked surprised as they hadn't witnessed the bar fight and the events leading up to it.

Winry looked like she was about to ask about this new level of rapport between Sciezka and myself when I said, "That's right, Sciezka and I are an item."

Al spoke first and said, "Jean, that is such good news."

Winry got up, threw her arms around each of us squealing with joy that her friends were happy.

Ed just said, "Havoc, you are so whipped." He then smiled and said, "But it suits you."

"Boss, that was low," I said. "But probably true!"

Sciezka reached out for my hand, gave it a squeeze and we held hands under the table. There was no point in telling them how nuts I was about her, they could all tell.

Our drinks arrived and Roy ordered some food for us to help absorb the alcohol and ready us for cake. The conversation eventually turned to my transferred comrades. Roy informed us that he had received reports from each of them and that they were fine, if lonely. I was glad to hear it, but then asked Roy what he planned to do to re-unite the group.

"After the plan goes through, everyone will be stationed here, under me," Roy said tone going from jovial to dead serious. "Until then, I will relay as much intelligence to them as I can so they are informed, safe and hopefully able to play a part in their respective regions."

I nodded and said in a hushed tone, "Will you be needing me?"

Roy and Riza both sat quietly for a bit, looked to each other, then looked to me.

"That is one part of the reason this celebration is taking place in public," Riza said.

I looked at Riza and cocked my head, indicating my confusion.

"You need to be seen out in public, mixing with the military in social situations so your increased activity level isn't noticed," Riza continued.

"Now I get it," I said. "Should I be looking for my own place? Will this compromise anyone?"

Roy nodded and said, "I have safeguards in place, but for your security and freedom, moving out on your own would be advisable."

"I'll have to get hunting then, I don't know of too many apartments in Central that are accessible," I said in a glib tone to cover my anxiety about returning to duty in this capacity, and moving out of my safe bubble at Gracia's.

"It's already been thought of, if you'll take it. It's about a block from Gracia's house," Roy said. "It's a little two bedroom bungalow, plenty of space to move around in and the rent is within your means."

I rolled my eyes and said, "Roy, do you have every move planned out for me? I thank you for the help but I am capable of making my own decisions."

Roy chuckled and said, "I know you are, I just observed your recent independence and thought it was time. It just also happened to be convenient for me. I do apologize."

"You were genius at Gracia's house, I assume that was you. The bathroom is a mirror of the bathroom at the Military Hospital," I said.

"Guilty as charged Jean," Roy said. "I'm sorry for the subterfuge, but if there hadn't been intervention you would have been in the East by now."

I sighed, considered his statement and said, "You are right, and it has been the best option for me but from now on, please keep me in the loop."

Roy shrugged and gave his best apologetic face. He did after all have my best interests in mind, though it bothered me to no end.

"Just one more thing Roy," I said. "As long as you're arranging everything, make sure the new place is as well laid out as Gracia's."

Roy laughed and nodded his head in agreement and the regular party conversations resumed.

Just before the cake was served, Winry pointed out my developing shiner to Ed.

"Hey, Jean what happened?" Winry said. "Did you get hurt or fall?"

I laughed and shook my head no.

Ed chimed in and said, "Did someone pop you? I'll kill him!"

"If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy," I said.

Riza and Sciezka laughed at that. Roy clapped me on the back and said, "You did put up a good fight back there. I was surprised."

I flushed a little and said, "Well, it was really not that much different than hand to hand trench fighting. Stuff you learn in basic really, stay low and aim for their weaknesses."

Roy beamed and said, "Well you can have my back any day."

Soon the cake arrived and Riza blew out the candles.

Sciezka asked, "What did you wish for Riza?"

Riza smiled and said, "I can't tell, or it won't happen, but it would be wonderful if it did."

I noticed that Riza moved a little closer to Roy and had a sudden realization. I nudged Roy, looked at him and he nodded yes.

It wasn't a grand surprise that Roy and Riza were together. I decided not to press her tonight, but to ask her the next time at the range.

As we finished our cake my legs began to spasm. The day had taken its toll and Sciezka noticed first, placing a hand over mine as I tried to quiet my quaking legs. She rubbed my hand and then squeezed it. She then saved the day.

She stood up, stretched and said, "I am so beat. Jean, let's go home."

With that, we said our goodbyes and made our way out.

When we arrived home my legs still continued to shake. I tried to ignore it and suggested that we have a snack before bed. Sciezka looked at me and said, "You don't have to be so stoic at home, let me fix the snack and you get into bed. It'll help the spasms. Is cocoa ok?"

I looked at her, and said, "You realize this isn't return, right?"

Sciezka nodded then leaned in for a kiss and said, "I know. Research you know."

"So this doesn't bother you?" I said.

"Jean, it only bothers me if it bothers you. It just means you overdid it. You've had a full day shopping, then a party and a fight? No wonder. We'll just have to go easy tonight, hop into bed and I'll be right in," she whispered in my ear in between nips at my earlobe.

I found her mouth again and said, "You can tuck me in this time, but next time it's my turn. Check the bureau."

Sciezka laughed softly and said, "What's in there?"

"You owe me, remember?" I said.

"It just better not be crotch-less," Sciezka said with a grin.

I maneuvered the chair into the room slowly, heading to the bathroom before getting to bed so I wouldn't lose the lease on my beer. I then went into the bedroom, transferred to the bed, cursing the fact that it took longer than usual to get in bed with my legs shaking the way they were. I finally found a stable footing and heaved myself into bed. I was so tired that I didn't bother undressing and just lie there for a bit trying to gather the energy to undress myself.

Sciezka came in bearing mugs of cocoa and a cold compress for my eye. I thanked her and took my mug. I blew on it, took a sip and said, "This is the best cocoa I've had in a long time, though it's different."

Sciezka smiled and said, "That would be the cinnamon and the vanilla."

She then sat down near the head of the bed and kissed me, licking at the bit of froth that had gathered on my upper lip.

She then got up and said, "While you finish that, and tend to that shiner I'll slip into your 'payment', ok?"

I hesitated and then said, "Not while I'm like this," gesturing towards my shaking legs. "That guy… what he said really bothered me. You're not my nurse. You don't need to take care of me."

Sciezka scowled and said, "That 'man' as you referred to that pig was entirely out of line. Put his comments out of your mind. He was wrong. Besides, I'd bring anyone cocoa. This isn't taking care of you."

I looked away and said, "But he was right about the half part. Half of me is utterly useless."

Sciezka sat back down and palmed the sides of my face, forcing me to look at her and said, "You will never be half a man to me."

I started to slide down the pillows a bit and put my hands down to push myself back up, exasperated that I had trouble with this just sitting up in bed.

She noticed I was slipping, grabbed my mug of cocoa before it spilled and when I'd recovered my balance said, "You've had quite a day. That's partly my fault."

"You shouldn't have to deal with this, or plan around it," I said and scowled.

Sciezka fluffed the pillows behind me then crawled into my lap and said, "Let me know if this is comfortable for you. I don't want to hurt you."

"No, you won't do any damage. I'm already broken," I said in resignation.

She sat up and looked at me hard again and said, "You are not broken Jean. Besides, it's better than the alternative, broken people who hide it all on the inside. You at least wear yours on the outside. I know what I'm getting into."

"It's just not fair. When I was lying next to you last night there was this wonderful closeness spooning you, and then it just stopped, nothing," I said placing a hand on my jumping thigh.

Sciezka leaned in and kissed me to silence me, and then looked into my eyes and said, "It's not fair, that you don't feel me there next to you. But I am, and I feel safe in your arms. I'm going to change now. Finish your cocoa."

She then handed me the mug and headed toward the bathroom, grabbing the tiny bag that contained the lingerie I'd picked out in the afternoon.

When she came out she was a vision of loveliness. Her ivory skin blended almost seamlessly with the peach mesh and it fit her perfectly. It was a shame that it was wasted on me in this condition.

"You look gorgeous," I said in a soft voice.

Sciezka approached the bed and I noticed she had something in her hand.

When she noticed that I was looking at what she'd brought she said, "It's massage lotion. I thought it'd help with the spasms."

"You don't have to do that… " I said.

"This is purely selfish. I can't very well have my way with you if you're all self-conscious, can I?" she said and winked. "Just relax and let me do this."

I complied and lie back on the pillows and she began to take off my sweater. When she had removed it she started on my chest and shoulders. Sciezka took the lotion, squirted some into her hands and warmed it up. She made sweeping motions over my chest and torso applying gentle pressure all over. Then she began kneading the muscles in my arms starting with my biceps and triceps, paying careful attention to each area. When she got to my forearms I moaned and closed my eyes. She kissed each eyelid and said, "Is that helping?"

I murmured something incoherent and she nibbled on my earlobe and said, "I knew it would."

She then clasped her fingers with mine and worked those as well, gently pulling each one and then massaging my palms paying attention to each small callous. I made a mental note that I should get gloves so the rims of my chair didn't tear my hands up so much.

When she had finished she said, "Ok, flip over so I can work on your back. That can't feel very good after sitting in one place all day. I bet that is contributing to the spasms."

I hesitated and said, "You know you don't have to."

She kissed me hard and said, "Just do it."

I raised my hands in surrender and slowly scooted down on the bed and turned myself over so Sciezka could work on the knots in my back.

Next she applied more lotion to her hands and began to make gentle sweeps up my back. She then methodically worked on each area, paying extra attention to my shoulders and the center of my back.

"You hold a LOT of tension there, could you feel these knots?" Sciezka asked.

She then began to work at the knot that was almost always between my shoulder blades and I sighed in relief when she released it. When she was finished there she moved to my lower back

"Sciezka, you don't have to do there, I can't feel it," I said.

"Whether you do or don't isn't the point, you're tense there," she said. "Trust me, this will help. Just relax."

She then did something entirely unexpected. She stopped and traced the long scar that ran down my back. I shivered as she did it and she said, "Does that hurt?"

I hesitated and said, "No, it doesn't. It's just I'm a little insecure about that. It isn't exactly pretty."

She leaned in and ran a gentle line of kisses down my back, paying extra attention to the scar and said, "I adore every part of you."

She then declared that my back was finished and indicated that I should turn over again. When I'd moved she announced that it was time for my pants to come off.

"Sciezka, no. It's useless... they're useless. I don't want you to," I said and trailed off.

Sciezka moved in close to me, entwining her fingers with mine and said, "It will help the spasms and remember, I adore EVERY part of you. Even the parts you don't like."

"Fine," I said and frowned. "But it's a wasted effort."

She removed my pants and I closed my eyes as she began to work on my legs. Of all the physical changes that had occurred with the paralysis, this was the most embarrassing of all. Though Jim manipulated and stretched my legs every day, they were losing muscle mass and were beginning to get thinner.

When she finished she came to rest again on my chest and said, "They've stopped."

I opened my eyes and sure enough, the spasms had stopped.

"You were right, thank you. Though now I smell like lavender. What's with that?" I said with a smile.

"Lavender is relaxing, and helps relieve stress," she said matter-of-factly.

She pushed herself up on her arms to kiss me and looked into my eyes and said, "I want to try something else."

I searched her eyes and cautiously said, "What else did you have in mind?"

She got to her knees and crawled to the end of the bed. She then leaned in and began to toy with the edge of my boxers. She smiled and said, "Just this."

She then removed my boxers and as I watched I saw she was beginning to stroke my inner thighs.

"Sciezka, don't bother…" I said.

Mid-sentence I looked and noticed that IT was beginning to stand at attention. Sciezka grinned, mounted my thigh and took hold of my growing erection. I realized that she was a force to be reckoned with and let her go to work. She then began to lick and suckle while grinding her sex into me, making sure I could see every move. As she ministered to Master Havoc I began to feel it, a growing tension in my abdomen and lower back. My cheeks began to flush and everything I was aware of tightened. When I began to bite my lip to stifle a cry she quickly removed her panties and mounted me. She slowly began moving up and down on my erection, and leaned into me so I could remove her bra. Once I had revealed her breasts I began to nuzzle and suckle at them until they were erect and she increased her pace. She nipped at my earlobe and whispered, "Are you close?"

I furiously nodded yes and she guided my hand to her sex and I began to tease her clitoris. I couldn't believe how wet she was.

As I did so, she began to grind into me harder and I knew she would come soon. Her hips began bucking of their own accord and she came hard moaning my name. She continued writhing on top of me, grinding her heat into me and arching her back. Moments after she climaxed I went rigid and came. She smothered my cries with a kiss and then shuddered once more before going limp in my arms.

A few moments later she rolled off of me, and draped a leg over me squeezing me close. She nibbled absentmindedly at my earlobe. I said nothing and was still stunned at what she'd been able to do to me.

I gave a contented sigh and wrapped my arms around her. I kissed the top of her head and played with her fingers.

Sciezka broke the silence and said, "Half a man my ass."

I chuckled and said, "Thank you for that even though I protested at first."

Sciezka turned off the light then nuzzled my chest and said, "Time to sleep lady-killer, you'll have work to do in the morning."

We dropped off to sleep entwined with one another.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warnings: Tender heterosexual couple getting it on, a lot, because they like each other, a lot. Getting it on like Crazed Weasels is mentioned.

Surrender

I woke up sometime near dawn to Sciezka calling my name and shaking me to wake me. I was sweating, my eyes were stinging and my heart was going so fast I thought it would explode. I knew with certainty I'd had another nightmare. Sciezka turned on the light on the bedside table and I covered my eyes to shield them from the bright light and to hide my tears. I felt a consoling hand on my shoulder and then she spoke.

"Jean, sorry I woke you, but you looked so terrified."

I rubbed my eyes and finally in a shaky voice spoke, "Well that was humiliating, what did I say?"

"There was nothing to be embarrassed about, I'd be surprised if you didn't have night terrors with what you've been through. You kept saying 'Solaris' and 'Lust' and you were I think warning the Colonel to stay back," she said. "Was there a prisoner there by that name? I mean the accident did take place during a jailbreak."

I hesitated and then said, "We cooked up that story. It wasn't an accident."

Sciezka's eyes opened wide at that statement, but she waited mutely for me to continue.

"It's a very long, very confusing story that I'm not even sure I believe. Are you sure you want to hear it?" I asked.

Sciezka embraced me and then said, "Of course I do… it's close to dawn, why don't we get up and talk about this in the living room over some coffee."

I hugged her back and planted a soft kiss on her forehead and said, "I think you're right. I'd rather talk about this in the light of day, and keep memories like that out of the bedroom."

With that, Sciezka got up and rummaged around in my drawers, finding one of my button-down shirts to cover up with. She tossed me some flannel pajama bottoms and a t-shirt without a second thought.

"Sciezka, you are too good to me. Let me take care of the necessaries and I'll be right out. Do you know where the coffee is?"

"You'd do the same for me, and you know it. Stop apologizing," she scolded. "Yes, of course I know where Gracia keeps the coffee."

With that she left the bedroom and I began the chore of getting dressed and out of bed. I chided myself for imagining that anything could ever be normal or easy again.

I finished my daily ablutions and went to my drawer to grab a few of my notebooks. Maybe this would be easier if I could just read them and distanced myself, rather than reliving it all over again. I decided a smoke was in order as my hands were shaking and my nerves still jangled. The chill air on the porch and the cigarette did nothing to clear my head or calm my nerves. I decided that there was no other choice but to tell her.

When I came back inside Sciezka was sitting on the couch with two mugs of coffee on the side table. She patted the cushion next to her to invite me to sit close to her while we talked. With a subdued sigh I slowly moved over to the couch and transferred. At first I sat ramrod straight, fingering the journals in my lap. We sat in agonizing silence sipping our coffee. Finally Sciezka spoke up.

"You don't have to do this if you don't want to," she said. "I'll understand because it's painful for you, but I think… "

"No, I should tell you, you should know my demons if you stick around to deal with them," I said in a discouraged tone.

"You are not your demons, you are an amazing person who just has more to deal with than most," Sciezka said.

She then patted her lap and said, "Lie down here and tell me everything. I want to understand."

I handed her my mug, then pulled each leg onto the couch and using the back of the couch for support arranged myself so my head was in her lap and I was looking at the ceiling. This would be easier if I didn't have to meet her gaze.

I opened a journal and began reading in a monotone.

"The mission was to investigate the suspects in Maes' murder. We had gotten a tip and were pursuing the informant. He led us to the Third Lab and prison. When we arrived we split up, Alphonse with First Lieutenant Hawkeye and myself with Colonel Mustang. The Colonel and I ran into a woman I knew, rather dated, who I thought was named Solaris. It turns out she was the homunculus known as Lust. We held her at gunpoint to interrogate her on what she knew about Maes and then the Colonel shot her. Even after several shots to her vitals she continued to stand, and before our eyes she regenerated. She then knocked the gun out of the Colonel's hand with a lance that appeared to grow from her arm. The crushing blow was when she used this same weapon to break a pipe, rendering the Colonel's alchemy useless. Mustang had a brilliant idea, transmuting the water that was flowing in around us to hydrogen, we then used my lighter to ignite it and there was an explosion. We thought we were in the clear, because Lust had been immolated. We went in to find the corpse so we could be sure she was thoroughly destroyed. The next thing I knew I was impaled on spikes that seemed to sprout from her fingers. When she released me I felt myself sinking to the floor and I could do nothing about it. I was in utter agony and then everything went black."

My voice broke with that last sentence and I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. Sciezka continued stroking my brow as she had been for the most of the time I'd been reading.

Sciezka spoke first after we'd sat in silence for a few moments, "Jean, that must have been terrible. I'm surprised you didn't bleed to death or die of shock."

I pulled up my shirt to point out Roy's handiwork. She tenderly rested a hand on the scars.

"Field cauterization, by flame… " I said flatly. "I'd be dead otherwise. Sometimes I wish I had."

Sciezka gasped.

"I think Gracia suspected it. When I first got here she kept my medication under lock and key, giving me only one dose at a time," I said almost inaudibly.

"Do you still feel that way ever?" Sciezka said.

"Sometimes at night, yes. During the day I have other things to take my mind off of it, but after a nightmare it's the worst."

Sciezka was silent and I felt hot droplets fall on my face. She sniffled and I knew she was crying.

"Sciezka, no… I promise that I won't take that way out. The moment it pops into my mind I think about what it would do to Roy, to Gracia and Elysia and now most of all to you," I said and paused. "I don't think that Roy would ever forgive himself if I did that, and now I finally have some hope."

She wiped her eyes and said, "You do? You promise?"

"I promise," I whispered and took her hand and kissed it.

We sat like that for hours. Sometimes I would read a passage that I thought was crucial, and other times when a passage was particularly agonizing I'd hand the notebook to Sciezka to read silently to herself. Every once in awhile she'd caress my cheek or lean in for a kiss. This was the first time I'd shared all of this with anyone. In time I dozed off in the sanctuary of her lap.

When I awoke it was nearly noon and I could hear that it was raining.

"I guess we're rained out," I said.

"No worries, there is plenty of food here and I don't feel like leaving the house today. It's the last day," she said.

I pushed up on my elbows and inclined my neck and Sciezka's lips met mine halfway.

"Thank you… " I said shakily. "Thank you so much."

I was glad for the rain because I was in no mood to go anywhere outside the comfort of those four walls and Sciezka.

I abruptly sat up and said, "After that, I need lunch. What do you want? I'm fixing it."

Sciezka asked, "You cook?"

"I have been known to, not well, but I would have starved if I'd lived solely on food from the Mess and takeout," I answered with a chuckle.

"Well, so long as it isn't a bother," she said.

"Not at all, I just hope it's edible," I quipped.

Once I got into the kitchen I opened the icebox and pondered my options. Gracia had left it well stocked and I eventually settled on omelets. Anything tasted good with eggs and cheese. I decided that mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese would be a good combination. I may have been a bachelor, but I wasn't completely devoid of culture.

Once I'd prepared all the ingredients I heated the pan and when it was ready I put in the eggs. When the omelet had risen and looked nearly cooked I put in the fillings and folded it over. To do this I had to take the pan off the flame and ever so carefully hold it over my lap. This was where my height disadvantage got me. I eventually managed it; even though it wasn't the prettiest I'd ever made and set it back on the flame.

I then called to Sciezka, "It's almost ready!"

She came in just in time to see me plating the omelet up on the counter. She stood in the doorway and said, "I'm impressed. Gracia said you couldn't cook peanut butter and jelly."

"I've come a long way since then, and I make an excellent sandwich," I said.

Sciezka sniffed the air and said, "Well that smells delicious, whatever it is."

"Omelets, I hope you like mushrooms and spinach," I said, as I inwardly chided myself for not asking if she liked the fillings.

I balanced the plates in my lap and rolled over to the table. I set them on the table Sciezka sat down and appraised my work. After the first bite I knew I'd done well.

"You get to cook from now on. I have complete confidence in you," Sciezka said.

"Only if you help. We'll cook together," I said and smiled.

We chatted, ate and my mood lifted considerably. Midway through the meal Sciezka looked at me and said, "Jean, you weren't serious last night about moving out, were you?"

I sucked in a breath and considered my answer carefully then said, "Actually I am. Roy needs me and I don't know if there will be any repercussions. With Scar, the Homunculi and the transfers it's a complete cluster fuck."

Sciezka knitted her brows, deep in thought and then said, "So you'll be in danger? Are you crazy? After what happened… "

I interrupted her and said, "I most likely will not be in any direct danger, I'll just be transporting documents, but if anything happened to Gracia or Elysia I would never forgive myself. The move is simply a precaution."

She seemed relieved to hear that I wasn't going to do anything completely reckless.

"Besides, in light of recent developments, I think I'd like the privacy," I said with a wink.

Sciezka blushed and said, "But you have plenty of privacy. Your own room, a private bathroom... "

"That being said, I can't exactly ravish you on the kitchen table without feeling incredibly guilty about it."

Sciezka's jaw dropped and I gently cupped her chin and closed her mouth.

"I fully intend on breaking in every surface in the new house, if you're amenable to that idea."

Sciezka threw her arms around me and I pulled her into my lap. The dishes could wait.

I rolled us to my room and Sciezka eyed the bed, and then got up to straddle my chair and kiss me. This was certainly a creative use of my mode of transportation and I fully approved.

I broke the kiss and gestured at the chair and said, "I think that this may be a GOOD thing today."

She began to nibble my earlobe and asked, "Jean, are you sure you didn't fall on your head?"

I laughed and said, "No, no more brain damaged than before. But I think that I'd be walking awfully funny today if I could. You're going to break me!"

Sciezka then claimed my lips for a kiss and nibbled a bit on my lower lip.

She then climbed off my lap, flopped on the bed and said, "Worship me like the goddess I am!" in her best theatrical voice.

I transferred to the bed as quickly as I could, positioned myself on top of her propped up on one hand and said, "Don't mind if I do."

I began to trace the features of her face with my free hand, caressing each part and planting kisses every so often. When I'd finished with her face and ears I moved lower to her neck at times kissing ever so lightly and sometimes nipping to feel her squirm under me.

The whole time I was doing this Sciezka lie back, almost passive, allowing me to explore at my own pace and pay appropriate homage to each part. I was after all, worshiping her. Once I had paid appropriate homage to her neck I began to unbutton the shirt that she was wearing.

"The lingerie was divine last night, but I think I like this better… " I said as I studied her in my white shirt. She was swimming in it, the cuffs almost covering her hands and the tails were long enough to provide her with some modesty. It emphasized just how delicate she was in comparison to me.

Sciezka merely smiled and sighed in contentment. Clearly I was a devout supplicant. As I undid each button I noted her attributes aloud: brilliant, persistent, resourceful, gorgeous and insatiable.

At insatiable she squawked in protest.

"Oh, insatiable is a good thing," I said while burying my face in her cleavage.

I nuzzled, sucked, nibbled and licked until she began to arch her back and then I moved lower to her taut stomach. I dipped my tongue in her navel a few times and she shivered and grabbed my hair. I wondered how long she could hold out before she would begin to plead for release.

I then nipped at each hipbone while I began to massage her inner thigh and she whimpered and parted her legs to allow me better access. I gently probed her folds, tracing them delicately until she heaved a frustrated sigh.

"I suppose I should get to work then?" I asked, nuzzling her inner thigh.

"YES!" Sciezka moaned, clearly through with my teasing.

"It's a good thing I can 'breathe through my ears'," I said brushing my fingers over her curls.

She sat up a bit, looking a little sheepish and said, "Just get to work."

"Yes Ma'am," I said and gave her a salute.

I got to work pulling out every trick in the book. When she came for the fifth time she grabbed me by the hair and said, "Jean, ENOUGH!"

I looked up in surprise and asked, "Really?"

She nodded furiously and said, "There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. My head might explode if you keep that up."

I grinned and said, "I was only doing my duty."

I crawled hand over hand to lie next to her on the pillows and she said, "You've still got all your clothes on. This has to be remedied."

Sciezka then began to strip off my clothes with urgency, starting with my t-shirt.

"Can't we just cuddle?" I said. "You're going to kill me."

She gave me a wicked grin, slid off my pajama pants and tossed them in the corner with my t-shirt.

"Fine, have your way with me. I surrender," I said, not too put out that she was going to have her way with me, whether I wanted it or not.

She kissed me forcefully to silence any further protests and set to screwing me senseless.

When she finished having her way with me she rolled off of me and we just shook for a bit unable and unwilling to move. When I could finally speak I said, "Now can we just cuddle?"

She patted my hand and said, "Sure thing. Until you're ready for round two."

I rolled onto my side and said, "Maybe insatiable is a bad thing."

She hit me with a pillow and I caught her around the waist and pulled her closer to me. She then entwined her legs with mine, murmured something about me being "one to talk" and we drifted off to sleep.

When I awoke the room was dark and when I moved to turn on the lamp Sciezka pulled me back down for a kiss before letting me turn on the light.

Out of the blue Sciezka said, "You're becoming an accomplished writer. How can you call it chicken scratch?"

"I only showed you the stuff I'd edited a bit to clarify it for myself, I assure you it is mostly chicken scratch," I said. "Maybe it's more than you expected from a grunt, but most of it is nonsense."

"Jean, if it's what you're feeling it is not nonsense," she said. "Don't negate its value just because you aren't a trained writer. Most of the greats weren't."

I sighed and said, "I'll admit there are a few passages that I'm pleased with how they turned out. They do the job setting down my feelings on paper. But that is all I'll admit."

"Have you thought about going to university?" Sciezka asked.

"University? You've got to be kidding me. I'm hardly an academic," I scoffed.

"You made it through officer training so you're clearly intelligent," Sciezka said exasperated that I didn't agree with her.

"Officer training is entirely different from anything I'd be doing at university. Besides, it's broken down so grunts can understand it," I said.

She pursed her lips and crossed her arms and said, "It's something you should think about. You don't have to choose what you're going to do right away. You could take classes that interest you and see what happens."

To appease her I said, "I'll consider it."

Thankfully Sciezka changed the subject once she got the answer she wanted and said, "So what should round two be?"

I smirked and said, "Woman, you are going to kill me. Would you object to some supper and cleaning up around here a bit so Gracia doesn't think she's running a brothel?"

Sciezka pouted and said, "You are no fun Jean."

"What can I do to sweeten the deal then?" I asked.

"Hmm… add bubble bath to the list and you may have a deal," she replied.

"That sounds doable, but remember you have work in the morning and I have therapy. We can't get it on like crazed weasels all the time," I said with a laugh.

"We could try… " Sciezka said with a wicked grin.

I got out of bed first, because if it were up to Sciezka we'd never leave the bed. As much as her idea was tempting, logistics wise it could be a problem.

I went to my bureau and grabbed a pair of clean pajama pants and put them on. Sciezka came over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "No shirt. That's my other condition."

"Fine… in that case, you get just my shirt," I said.

She picked my shirt up off of the floor and put it on and leaned into me for another kiss. She then climbed onto my lap to sit astride the chair and I touched her on the nose and said, "Oh no you don't. I know what you're up to and it's no good."

"No, it's very very good," she said as she deftly traced my ear with her tongue.

As much as I wanted to go back to bed right then as I surveyed the room I noticed that there were discarded clothes everywhere, the bed was a rat's nest and though Gracia had an idea of what we'd be doing all weekend, she didn't need to see the evidence.

She continued to assail my neck and ears and as she did so I buttoned up her shirt and said, "You, off, kitchen… now. Ahh!"

Sciezka giggled at the reaction she got when she wiggled just so and tweaked my nipples as I was ordering her off my lap.

We finally left the bedroom so we could get the lunch dishes cleaned up and scrounge something quick to eat before our bath. Sciezka washed, I dried and soon the dishes were done. After pondering what we should have for supper the decision was unanimous. Chocolate ice cream was almost nutritionally balanced, quick, and delicious. After she dished up a big bowl for us to share we went out into the living room to eat on the couch. I arranged myself on the couch and Sciezka sat on my lap, leaning against the arm of the couch. I wrapped an arm around her, she held the bowl and with the other hand I spooned our supper, one bite for her and one bite for me. Sometimes I would deliberately miss her mouth and have to clean it up with a few well-placed kisses. When we finished we sat there for awhile savoring our last night of hedonism until I got my own place. Sciezka's place was right out; it had stairs, though if we got desperate we'd work around them.

Sciezka yawned and gave a little cat stretch. I said, "Hah, I wore you out! I'm glad I'm not the only one who is exhausted."

"You win, I'm tired. A bath and then bed sounds perfect," Sciezka said.

I went into the bathroom to take care of business and draw a bath while Sciezka put our bowl in the sink and then sorted our scattered clothes into neat piles. When she was finished we repeated the "Get Jean into the Bath" dance and settled in for a leisurely soak.

As I was washing her hair I said, "I hope the new place has a big tub."

Sciezka laughed and said, "Bigger than this one?"

"This one is fine, but any smaller and I'll be disappointed. I don't think a bath by myself will suffice anymore."

"I like how you think," she said.

We then got out of the bath and Sciezka tousled my hair as she dried it. I didn't mind her helping me as much this time. It was a means to a lovely end.

I lamented that the weekend was almost over as I got into bed and turned out the light. Sciezka kissed me softly and said, "It doesn't have to be, not yet."

I smiled and kissed her and said, "You have a one track mind and it's in the gutter."

"Aw c'mon, be a sport. I'll be gentle," she pleaded.

"Promise you'll go easy on me?" I said, half seriously.

She kissed me tenderly to demonstrate just how gentle she would be. I ran my fingers up her back and resigned myself to my fate.

All the ardor and lust she had shown before was somehow present in her tender touches as she slowly moved on top of me. She was sitting astride my hips, draping her body on my chest and rocking ever so slightly. Her fingers stroked my face and hair as she slowly began to increase the tempo. I ran my hands over her form caressing every inch of her, as if memorizing it. I sensed the familiar stirring and sought her mouth as I took hold of her hips to let her know I was ready. Silently she took me in and we were joined in a slow dance. We moved at a soothing pace exchanging languid kisses, ebbing and flowing into one another. We both balanced on the edge and then fell and Sciezka collapsed against me softly calling my name. The tantric rhythm ceased and we lay there joined. I buried my face in her hair and without a word she moved to my side, rested her head on my chest and I enveloped her. Soon sleep claimed us both.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warnings: A lot less sex, sorry folks, they do have to leave the house and well, Gracia and Elysia DO get home.

Homecoming:

I awoke when the dawn filtered through the curtains. I leaned over to gently kiss Sciezka and got out of bed to start my morning routine. It wouldn't do to be late for therapy, and I hoped I could get some time to talk with Jim as the weekend had brought as many questions as answers.

I had just gotten into the shower when Sciezka came in to help me conserve water. She straddled my lap on the bench and I said, "We're going to be late if you start with that."

Sciezka pouted and ruffled my hair and said, "Fine, but can we at least have a quick shower together? I will mostly keep my hands to myself."

I kissed her and said, "If you're good in here I'll meet you for lunch today, if you promise to not take advantage of me in the supply closet."

As she was soaping my chest she said, "I can't promise that but lunch would be good. We can go in together too, if we time it right."

With that she stood up to rinse off and let me finish my shower. When I got out she was just fastening the final button on her jacket. I noticed she'd laid out my clothes as I'd neglected to bring them in with me, as I hadn't wanted to wake her.

I appraised the outfit and noticed that my shirt was slightly rumpled. I sniffed it and said, "Mmm, smells like you."

I got dressed in the bathroom and when I emerged I noticed she'd stripped and changed the bed. The dirty linens were neatly bundled and Sciezka tapped her watch and said, "I called the driver and he'll be here any minute. We'll get you to the hospital and then on my way to H.Q. I'll drop these off at the laundry."

"You thought of everything, thank you," I said. "How about you drop by here after work? I'm going to fix dinner as a surprise for Gracia since she'll be tired from the trip."

The driver arrived and we got situated in the car. I was pleased at my "time"; I had the transfer down to under a minute. We then headed to the hospital where I would be dropped off. Once we got there, Sciezka gave me a lingering kiss goodbye and I got out of the car. I waited on the sidewalk as the car drove off, waving and then lit up a smoke.

When I was almost finished I saw Jim heading towards the front door. He shook a finger at me when he saw the cigarette.

"Hey, I've really cut down and I deserve this one," I said.

Jim arched an eyebrow and pointed at my neck and said, "So, did you cut yourself shaving and what about that shiner?"

I self-consciously felt my neck and realized that Sciezka had left her mark and said, "Oh, that… are you getting breakfast? We're early. I have a lot to talk about."

I stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray outside the door and followed Jim to the Cafeteria.

Once we were through the line Jim and I sat down at a table. Jim was kind enough to move the chair to another table so I could just slide under it without any complications.

"You're maneuvering quite well Jean," Jim said. "Winry had just the thing, and she's working on something else. But first let's talk about your little 'shaving' accident."

"Well, that would be Sciezka's doing," I said a little hesitantly. How much would I tell him? I think he'd guessed already.

"So Sciezka? I didn't ever see her at the hospital when you were in-patient. Tell me about her," Jim said. "That is if you feel comfortable about it."

"This goes no further than this table, got it?" I said.

Jim laughed and said, "I am bound by a confidentiality agreement and I can tell you're dying to tell someone."

"I knew Sciezka in passing before I retired. She worked with Gracia's husband in the Investigations Department. But I didn't really know her. I thought she was some strange and shy walking encyclopedia. But she's been a great friend to Gracia and Elysia, especially since her husband was killed," I said.

Jim pondered this and said, "And she just happened to give you a hickey?"

"That part comes later," I laughed.

"So go on, I was pretty sure you were convinced that you were single forever," Jim said.

"I was, but Gracia… " I said.

"Say no more, she set you up, huh?" Jim chuckled.

"Well, more or less, I think so," I said. "I was dragged out one day to shop and Sciezka happened to come with us. We actually argued that first time."

Jim smiled and nodded and let me continue.

"Doesn't sound so good, but it was nice that she challenged me. Not too many people do nowadays. They usually indulge me and that gets irritating. So to make a long story short since Sciezka is a fixture at the house I saw her a lot and we had quite a few deep discussions," I said.

"That sounds good, so you were discussing politics and she bit you on the neck?"

I rolled my eyes and said, "That is where the set-up comes in. Gracia had fixed us all a nice dinner, there was wine and conversation after dinner and Gracia went up to bed early and damn if there weren't candles everywhere."

"I really like Gracia, she's good for you and I'm glad you stopped being such a stubborn ass," Jim said.

"Me too, me too," I laughed. "The stunner in this one is that Sciezka is ballsy as hell. When I expressed my doubts on whether everything worked or not, she gave me a little demonstration and then just left me on the couch without another word."

"So it's good then?" Jim asked. "I hadn't gotten to that talk yet, and you hadn't asked. I figured you'd ask when you were ready."

"It is very good. Though I do have a few questions," I said my volume dropping considerably.

"Like?" asked Jim.

"I still haven't figured out the logistics of being on top. It's a little embarrassing. She just…" I said, stammering a bit at the end.

"She just rode you like a wild horse?" Jim said his eyes gleaming, clearly stifling a laugh.

"More or less, yeah," I said sheepishly.

"So did she give you that shiner champ?" Jim asked.

"Oh, no that?" I said pointing at my eye. "Bar fight."

"Well that can't be good," Jim sighed.

"If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy!" I said proudly and related the incident to him.

When I had finished he said, "Quit stalling Jean, time for therapy. Sounds like you had quite a weekend."

"Oh, I did. I am going to be hurting when we're through," I said and smiled.

We got down to the therapy room and I noticed Winry was there. I was a little surprised but then I saw her manic grin as she went for her toolbox.

"Winry, what are you doing here?" I asked.

"First on my agenda would be a tune-up on my creation while you are working on the mats with Jim. Then there is something that I've been working on," she said.

"Do I even want to know what you have cooked up?" I asked, nervous because she had that wrench in her hand and I hoped she didn't think I'd been abusing her work.

"Trust me, you will like it," Winry said.

Jim and I went over to the raised mats, I transferred noting that I was sore from the weekend's exploits and Winry began work on my chair.

After going through my range of motion exercises and stretches Jim got to the strength training. I'd lifted weights before and that had helped, but it was time for more. Since my spine was fully healed Jim began working more on my trunk strength. I eyed the large inflatable ball skeptically.

"How on earth will that work my abdominal muscles?" I asked.

Jim helped me onto the ball and held onto my legs to keep me stationary. It was difficult maintaining balance without support for my back but I eventually found my center and managed to avoid toppling over.

About five minutes into it I said, "And this is helping how?"

Jim said, "Oh, don't worry, you'll see."

He took my hand and placed it over my muscles. I couldn't believe it. Just maintaining balance had engaged every muscle.

"That my friend is going to smart later," he said with a wink. "The next thing we're going to do will be similar."

He moved behind me and said, "Just relax as I do this or you will fall on your ass."

He held onto my shoulders and slowly supported me while he rolled me forward on the ball. My head was hanging in space and I found that indeed, I could feel the muscles in my trunk working to keep me stable on the ball. He grabbed my feet to steady me motioned to an assistant to bring hand weights. The assistant placed them in my hand and then Jim said, "Now, raise those from where they are to the ceiling, then back over your head and back to where you began."

After ten repetitions I was sweating profusely and was acutely aware of the area of twilight sensation near the injury site. Ten more and it was painful, but welcome as I was losing definition there and I definitely did not want to get flabby around the middle.

When we were finished and I was back in my chair I wiped my brow and said, "Jim, that is the best one yet." I patted my stomach, smiled and said, "I was beginning to get a little tubby and we can't have that."

Jim laughed and said, "Well, vanity aside Jean you'll find that this will help your back and your abdominal muscles, and make it harder to knock you out of that chair."

"That was a low blow Jim," I said.

"Eh, next time you'll be ready for a fight and not lose your balance… it'll also help with that problem we discussed," Jim said cryptically.

"Oh?" I said.

"This one too, to the pull up bar," he said as he pointed towards a pull up bar just above my head.

"Get down on the mat, then get into position so you can do a chin up."

"But…"

"Just do it. I'll give you a boost and do them just like you did in Basic. You don't need to use your legs to do it and lifting your own body weight is the eventual goal," he said.

I got into position, Jim gave me a boost and I hung from the bar for a bit, getting used to it again. I strained and eventually did the first chin up. I managed five more before I stopped, arms quaking with the effort.

"You are trying to kill me Jim," I said. "I used to do fifty of those every morning."

Jim nodded and said, "You did very well for the first time. Don't get discouraged. You are in great shape, you're getting stronger every day."

I smiled and said, "What's next on the gauntlet?"

Jim motioned over to the floor mats and said, "Push ups."

"Are you nuts?" I said.

"Just do it," Jim said.

I got down on the mat and just lie there for a while. I was convinced that Jim was truly a sadist.

He got down on the mat, instructed me to roll over and get into position and when I did so, at least with my top half he slid a bolster under my hips.

"Now, try a few pushups," he said.

I managed ten before I collapsed and said, "This is supposed to help how, other than further reminding me that I can't do a hundred of them anymore?"

"You'll be able to, and about that problem you asked me about. Get a little creative in that head of yours. What position are you in?" he said and grinned.

I rolled out of the rather undignified position and thought then pushed myself onto my elbows and said, "Oh… that position?"

He simply nodded.

I would be working in the gym solo as much as possible from now on, and hopefully "practicing" a lot at home too.

Next thing I knew he tossed me a pair of shorts and said, "Go change, then come right back."

I looked at him, clearly not pleased at that suggestion and said, "I don't feel comfortable with that Jim. My legs are so…"

"I know, humor me. Do it," Jim said.

I went to the restroom and changed, thankful that the therapy room had its own facilities so no one other than the therapy staff could see me. I attempted to comfort myself by remembering that they'd probably seen worse.

I emerged from the restroom and discovered that Jim and Winry were there to meet me.

"Jim, what the hell?" I said attempting to cover my thighs with the pants I had changed out of.

"About that, we need you in shorts so Winry can measure you, and try something out," Jim said.

His statement did little to ease my embarrassment about my legs, thankfully Winry's next statement did.

"Jean, I'm just going to measure you. I had this idea that maybe I could improve the existing design. That and I adapted an automail treatment for nerves so that maybe we could arrest the muscle loss in your legs," Winry said. "I'm sorry for springing this on you. Jim and I have been working on this for awhile."

Jim nodded and said, "I thought that it would be good to step up your rehabilitation routine. There will be this, and swimming soon. I haven't had many patients as hardworking as you are."

I considered what they said and finally shrugged my shoulders and said, "You win."

Winry hugged me and said, "You won't be sorry Jean, I promise."

I gave a small smile and said, "You did such a great job before. I trust you. I'm just glad you don't think I've abused your creation. I don't think my head is as hard as the Ed's."

"No, you keep it in fine shape, and you recognize excellent design when you see it." Winry said, beaming. "I just wanted to make sure it wasn't damaged in the fight. Sciezka said it had tipped over."

"That was only because I was pushed. He caught me off guard. I won't let it happen again," I said.

Jim smiled and said, "Easy tough guy."

I shrugged and smiled and said, "Ok Winry, do what you have to do."

Winry went to her toolbox and pulled out her tape measure and spent the next few minutes measuring. When she was finished she put the tape away and said, "Those are for later. Next is the Electronic Muscle Stimulation therapy."

"What?" I said.

"I'm going to place electrodes on some of your muscles, then hook them up to this machine and then we're going to pulse electricity through your muscles, causing them to contract," Winry said, as if this was the most normal thing in the world.

"That sounds painful," I said. "Good thing I won't feel it."

"When doing automail surgery it is painful, ask Ed. But this wouldn't be more than uncomfortable even if I did it to myself. I actually tried it on myself first," Winry said.

I gave a sigh of relief and said, "Hook me up."

In a matter of minutes I was on the therapy mat, with electrodes attached to several places on my calves, thighs, lower back and butt. I arched an eyebrow when she handed me the pads and told me where to stick them on my butt. I was extremely glad that she hadn't needed to attach them herself. I still had some pride. Winry then pushed a button and for the first time in months I saw muscle definition and tone. She explained that the electrical pulses fired the nerves that had been dormant since the accident. The spinal cord and nervous system connected with it runs on electricity, so it made sense. She said that if I did this a few times a week that I would maintain and maybe even build some muscle mass. This was good aesthetically and also practically. Muscles not only move bones, they also provide cushioning.

Winry then set a timer and she and Jim went off to discuss her next great invention. I watched the electrodes work for a while and then lie back because it was disconcerting to watch.

When they came back Winry had plans and diagrams in her hands. She turned off the unit and removed the electrodes, allowing me to remove the ones under my shorts.

They sat down on the mat next to me and Jim said, "How would you like to start trying standing Jean?"

I looked at him with disbelief and I clenched my fist. Then I said, "The doctors said that would be impossible, and you know that."

Jim nodded and said, "Under your own power, true. That will most likely be impossible. But Winry has a design for braces and you'll be able to stand with support, for exercise here and in a limited capacity at home. It won't be stable enough to ambulate much with, in fact it will be awkward, but short hitches around the house will be possible."

I furrowed my brow, thought about it and finally said, "Winry I trust you. It won't hurt to try it."

Winry then began pointing out the specifications for the braces. They would fit under pants and be self-locking at the knee. She did warn me that they wouldn't hold me up entirely, that I'd have to rely on the strength in my arms to keep from falling and that I'd have to be very aware of how I moved since I could no longer tell where my feet were.

Even with all the caveats it sounded like it would indeed be good for me and I was eager to try them out as soon as possible.

Jim said, "That's one of the reasons we stepped up your conditioning, that and that other special project you have. I think you'll be ready in a month or so to try."

I smiled at that thought. The next month it would be my birthday, and the six-month anniversary of the accident. While I might be sitting for most of the push to the top, standing now might be an option. A salute wasn't the same sitting and I'd nearly forgotten how tall I actually was.

Winry gave me a hug and said, "We'll get this worked out and then you'll be able to show Sciezka just how tall you are."

I laughed and said, "I don't have a height complex like your Bean Boy."

Winry blushed crimson and I patted her on the shoulder and said, "With all the subterfuge you all conduct I'm surprised you haven't started it with him yet. Maybe I'll have to start a mission of my own."

Winry then punched me in the arm. I was grateful that her wrench was in the toolbox across the room.

Therapy was over and I had just enough time to get changed and head over to H.Q. for lunch with Sciezka. It had been a productive session but I was wiped out.

I arrived at the Mess just as Sciezka was coming down the hall. My timing had been perfect. She greeted me with a quick kiss on the cheek and we headed in to get our lunches. We went through the line without incident, though I did have to have Sciezka get a pudding for me. All the chocolate was on the second shelf and pride or not, I preferred chocolate to vanilla. It had actually been quite easy; as when we got there Sciezka grabbed her own dessert she had me choose and just put one on my tray.

We found an empty table and Sciezka sat down next to me and we started eating. Sciezka asked me how therapy went. I told her all about the morning, leaving out the news that I might be able to stand soon. I didn't want to get her hopes up, and if it worked it would be a great surprise. I also left out the part about debriefing Jim on our sex life. It was already clinical enough with Sciezka's "research" and given the givens.

Sciezka smiled and said, "I'm glad you're having a good day. What's next on the agenda?"

"Well, I have to go see the Colonel for a few minutes to discuss some things and then I'll go find Riza on the range and hopefully she'll let me off the hook for target practice. I'm wiped out and I still have to go home and fix dinner."

"So you don't want to get lost in the stacks for awhile with me Jean?" Sciezka asked, eyes full of mischief.

I smiled and said, "As appealing as that sounds I do not want to get caught on base in a compromising position, even if it is with you. What did I tell you about supply closets?"

"Rats, so should I meet you at Gracia's when I get off work?" Sciezka asked.

I took her hand under the table and said, "I think that would be an excellent plan. Just don't get any ideas. Gracia and Elysia could walk in at any minute and I think that would scar the poor kid for life."

Sciezka laughed and said, "She's already going to be a bit miffed that she has to share you."

I grinned and said, "There is more than enough of me to go around and no fretting, I'll have my own place soon enough."

With that I tucked into my dessert, licking the spoon a bit when I would catch Sciezka watching me.

We both finished, dropped off our trays and then Sciezka walked me to Roy's office before heading to the Investigations Department. She planted a quick kiss on my lips and I nibbled just a little since we didn't have any onlookers in the corridor.

As she walked away I said, "Maybe we could have a little bit of that before they get home."

Sciezka skipped off at that news.

I knocked on the door and Roy asked, "Who is it?"

"It's Jean sir, where is your adjutant?"

"Oh, I sent the staff to lunch. I wanted some time alone, but you're more than welcome. Come in," Roy said.

I made my way to his desk and we sat in silence for a bit. Roy finally broke the silence by saying, "So you're on board with the plan?"

"Of course I am, since you have everything under control, when do I see the new place?" I asked jokingly.

"You're going to do it?" Roy asked in disbelief.

"Of course I am, I said I'd support you to the top, it's just going to be in a different way than I had originally intended," I said.

Roy smiled with relief and said, "So is there another reason for moving out?"

I blushed a bit and said, "I may as well spill the whole thing Roy, since you'll find out anyway."

"So things definitely went well with Sciezka this weekend?" he asked.

"Everything went really well this weekend. Everything, and before you ask I'm in mostly working order," I said.

Roy cocked an eyebrow as if questioning what I'd just said.

I nodded and said, "Yes, exactly where your mind is going."

Roy stood up, came around the desk and shook my hand.

"But it also raised more questions, long story short Sciezka has seen some of my writing and has this insane idea that I should take some classes at the University or the Academy. I told her I'm just a grunt, but the woman won't listen," I said.

Roy reached into his bottom desk drawer and pulled out a file. I peered over the desk as best I could from where I was and I saw that it was my file.

I searched his face for an answer and it didn't come, it never did. Roy was frustratingly hard to read sometimes.

"What's that for?" I asked.

"This my friend is your file, all the way back to Basic Training. I read it before I took you into my command and I saw your test scores from Officer Training. You are not just a grunt, you have to have some brains to be a sniper," Roy said.

"Well, yeah… " I stammered. "You need basic mathematics, knowledge of the technical specs of your equipment, tactical maneuvering, strategy and military history don't hurt either. But going to and succeeding in university, that is an entirely different sort of smarts…"

"Jean, stop playing dumb. It's here before me in black and white. You could have written your ticket anywhere with the aptitude scores you had, yet you chose to stay in my command and passed up promotions," he said. "I admire that, but you sold yourself short. Now is your chance to work on those strengths and at the same time help me."

I wasn't sure what he was getting at and gave him a quizzical look.

"I have contacts at both the Academy and the University who can help the cause. If you were there for classes you could relay information to them without arousing suspicion. That and when I reach the top I will need advisors and though I trust your judgment I would prefer that you had some credentials," he said. "Well, other than being a ladies' man from the way Riza and Sciezka carried on."

"About that Roy, you and…" I said.

"Yes, for awhile now," Roy said.

"So I missed it all this time?" I said. "Well, it does make sense that I notice it now if I think about it. I have a lot of time to just sit back, observe and process."

"Another reason why you'll be a valuable member of the team," Roy said.

I thought a bit and said, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with taking classes at the Academy. Almost everyone there is an up-and-coming officer and I'm… "

"It's already handled if you don't mind going to a Military History class at the University, but office hours at the Academy," Roy said and smiled.

"So I've applied and am enrolled already?" I asked.

"You have and are. The new quarter starts next month so it will give you time to move and settle in and then you will be taking Military History and Strategy and a Psychology class," he said and then folded his arms across his chest, appearing quite satisfied with himself.

"Psychology?" I asked. "What do I need that for?"

"You already put up with the insanity of this office and have shown an aptitude for keeping a cool head around distressed people. Riza thought it might interest you. For any more insight into that you'll have to ask her," Roy said.

"So it begins," I said and chuckled.

Roy nodded and asked, "Will you have time tomorrow afternoon to see the new place and make sure it is up to specs?"

"I still have to tell Gracia, but I'm doing that tonight, so yes tomorrow will be good," I said. "I have to go see Riza down at the range and beg off practice for today. I'm cooking dinner for Gracia and Elysia."

"They've domesticated you?" Roy asked with a hint of disbelief in his voice.

"We all have to go sometime."

When I got down to the range Riza was just exiting the locker room. I waved at her and she came over to me.

"Hey Jean, ready for some practice?" she asked.

"I came down to tell you I wouldn't be able to make it. Lot's to do around the house. Gracia is coming home today," I said.

"I'll miss the company, but you did have a rather busy weekend," Riza said, her face giving away nothing.

"So how busy do you think it was Riza?" I asked wondering how much Sciezka had told her.

"I think it was a long time in coming, and I'm glad you're happy. You won't hear any more powder room secrets from me, and Sciezka was very discreet. In fact I asked her why you were in such a good mood."

I smiled and said, "You were right about a lot of things. Thank you."

"You're very welcome, anything else before I start practice and you go home to clean up?" Riza asked.

"Well, two things actually," I said, praying that I had to say next wouldn't get me shot. "I noticed something at your party, and I think it has to do with your wish."

Riza balked at my statement, eyes going wide.

"It's safe with me, and I'll do whatever I can to help," I said.

Riza hugged me and whispered thanks in my ear, and it sounded like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

"He'll do everything he can to make things right. I know he will. Soon everything will have quieted down and you can both be happy," I said. "This brings me to my next question, psychology? The hell?"

"Jean, despite the oblivious façade you put on sometimes you are very perceptive and I think that given what you've been through you could help people. You do put up with Roy's insanity," Riza said with a slight smile.

"He said you'd suggested it. I'll think about it. It wouldn't hurt to take one course," I said and sighed.

Riza stood up and got ready to head over to the firing line and said, "Though Sciezka seems to think you are a man of letters."

I shook my head and said, "She just wants to bed a writer."

"Have a good night, good luck with dinner, and tell Gracia hello for me," Riza said when she'd finished laughing.

"Oh! I almost forgot today too, with all the excitement on your birthday we forgot to give you your present. Sciezka and I picked it out."

I handed Riza the small, carefully wrapped box and waited for her reaction. When she opened it she smiled and said, "It's Hayate, he's perfect."

"We thought it would be useful in the Fuhrer's office to remind you of the good things you have in life, and when all is said and done to use to hold down the backlog in Roy's office, or bash him over the head with when he's slacking off."

With that I left, feeling rather good about the way my life was going.

I made my way home, stopping for flowers on the way to thank Gracia for her meddling and for Sciezka, just because. When I arrived home I began prepping dinner. I scrubbed the potatoes for baking, put the steaks in marinade and made a tossed salad. It's an impressive, yet easy to make and nearly impossible meal to ruin. I put Gracia's flowers into a simple earthenware jug to serve as a centerpiece. Then I set the table and went out into the living room to write for a while until Sciezka arrived.

A little before 5 p.m. I put the potatoes in the oven to bake and at 5:15 like clockwork I heard a knock on the door. I let Sciezka in and was nearly knocked out of my chair with the level of enthusiasm she kissed me with. She straddled my lap and I thought out loud, "They aren't due until after six, I suppose I could help you out with that little problem but, let's move this party to somewhere other than the entryway."

We made our way to the bedroom so if Gracia arrived home early we wouldn't jump the gun on having to give Elysia "the talk". It was awkward pushing the chair with her astride my lap, but well worth the effort. Once in the bedroom I reached under Sciezka's skirt and began fondling her through her panties. She let out a relieved moan and fidgeted, raking her fingers through my hair with each move I made. I then shifted her panties to the side, wet my fingers and began teasing her with my saliva-slicked fingers as she kissed me. When she was thoroughly wet I slid in a finger and her slick heat enveloped it. She leaned into me and bit my earlobe. After applying slight pressure and tentatively pulsing my finger for a few moments, I added a second finger. As she held onto my shoulders for balance and threw her head back as I curled my fingers to hit the ridged, sensitive spot. It wouldn't be long now. Using my other hand I supported her back so when she arched and bucked she wouldn't tip us both over. Finally my attentions paid off and she reached her apogee uttering praises into my waiting lips. I kept my fingers in her until the waves of pleasure passed and she'd finished writhing in my lap. I then wrapped my arms around her neck and pulled her closer so I could take in the look of contentment on her face.

"What was that for Jean?" Sciezka asked between ragged breaths.

I chuckled and said, "Oh, that? That was a reward for not ambushing me at H.Q. and having your way with me in a supply closet."

"I'll have to be a good girl from now on then," Sciezka quipped.

I rolled us into the bathroom so Sciezka could straighten out her clothes and I could clean up too before we finished the last few details on dinner. We then headed into the kitchen and Sciezka was thrilled with her bouquet. Just as I put on the steaks Elysia burst into the kitchen frantically waving pictures and full of news of her trip. I backed away from the stove and Elysia clambered into my lap to show off her work. Gracia came in shortly afterwards and I waved as best I could with my lap full and my attentions on "my other favorite girl". Gracia shot Sciezka a knowing glance and Sciezka blushed, averted her eyes and then smiled wide. Gracia then came over, patted me on the shoulder and to change the subject I announced, "The steaks should be medium rare by now, anything more and you'll have to finish it yourself. I refuse to ruin good meat!"

Gracia laughed at my insistence that beef should be cooked to just past "mooing" and stated, "That's just how I like mine, but maybe Elysia's could be a little more done."

I smiled and obliged as Gracia gathered Elysia up from my lap.

Everyone sat down; I removed the potatoes from the oven cursing the heat and brought the steaks and potatoes over to the table. Gracia surveyed the spread before her and said, "You really do earn your keep, Jean. Did Sciezka help?"

I looked at her with mock indignity and said, "I said I can cook. Besides, this is pretty fool-proof."

Elysia's gaze immediately fell on the centerpiece and said, "Who are the flowers for Jean?"

I smiled and answered, "They're for your Mommy for being such a good hostess."

I decided there was no better time than the present to make my announcement. I cleared my throat and shakily started saying, "Gracia you have been an amazing hostess and I would not be where I am now without you… but all good things have to come to an end. I'm moving into my own place soon. It's time."

Gracia hid her shock, gathered her words and said, "I knew it would happen eventually. We'll miss having you here though."

I chuckled and said, "Not to worry. It's just down the block. You know Roy, always scheming."

Gracia visibly relaxed and we all tucked into dinner in earnest. When dinner was over Sciezka and I cleaned up the kitchen while Gracia unpacked and got Elysia ready for bed. As Sciezka and I were just finishing up the last pan Gracia came in and gave me tight hug and said, "I thought it would be soon. I trust you both had a good weekend?"

Sciezka and I both began to turn crimson, Sciezka stammered, "Please excuse me!" as she dashed out of the kitchen.

Gracia winked at me and said, "That good eh?"

I chuckled and said, "Yes, that good. Thanks for the surprise in the bedside table. They came in handy."

"I had to make an exception for that Jean," Gracia joked.

"Everything on the home front was beyond perfect, I'll miss this place," I said. "But I'm making Roy do as good a job as he did here, since I've gotten used to the amenities."

"Good for you Jean! You should make him squirm a little for running your life like he has," Gracia said with a laugh.

"On a serious note, it is just down the block so don't worry and if you'll have me, I'd love to drop by for dinner every now and then, and I'll happily repay the favor if you don't drop dead from my cooking. I also have a favor to ask."

"Anything, really, what is it?" Gracia asked with a note of concern in her voice.

"Could you come shopping with me this weekend to get some furniture? Well, that and figure out what I'll need for a non-bachelor pad. Sciezka is civilized," I said.

At that, Sciezka came out of hiding to stand behind me, placed her hands on my shoulders and rested her chin on top of my head. She sheepishly looked up at Gracia and said, "Thank you."

Gracia went over to Sciezka, hugged her and said, "No problem. Two of my favorite people are happy."

Elysia came down for her story, this time a new one about a princess who goes to a ball and is swept off her feet by a handsome prince. All too soon it was time for everyone to head to bed. Gracia called for the driver and I offered to wait outside with Sciezka until he came. When we got out onto the porch I pulled her into my lap and said, "It's all going to work out, just like in the fairytale. We just have to help it along as much as we can, and wait."

We exchanged a few kisses and sooner than either of us wanted the driver came to collect Sciezka and take her home. Once she was down the walk I lit up a smoke and waved until the car was out of sight. I then stared up at the night sky and thanked whoever had graced me with all this happiness.

Gracia came outside interrupting my reverie and said, "I was right, you two are perfect together."

I winked and said, "You have no idea."

Gracia pointed at my still bruised eye and said, "WHERE did you get that?"

I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Bar brawl."

Her eyes opened wide with shock and concern and said, "Someone HIT you?"

"No worries, I hit him first. Ask Roy for the blow-by-blow…"

Gracia gave me a hug and said, "What am I going to do with you?"

"I have no idea Gracia, but seriously, you should have seen the other guy," I said in my best macho voice.

"Time to get in the house tough guy, or Jim will have your ass tomorrow," Gracia said.

I gave her a crisp salute and we both headed to bed.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warnings: FLUFF abounds. I adore writing Elysia, well and Gen Fluff.

Buoyancy:

I again awoke before Gracia came in to get me up, as today would be another big day. I would be swimming in therapy and if I didn't drown, would be seeing my prospective living arrangement, after that there was a night out with Sciezka as after just one day with others around we needed alone time. Besides, I hadn't really taken her anywhere and had taken many liberties with her. I did at least owe her dinner.

As I was going about my routine Gracia knocked on the door and said, "Jean, you're up, good. Did you sleep well?"

I spat out my toothpaste and then answered, "Yes I slept great, and would you happen to know where my swim trunks are stashed?"

Gracia answered through the door, "Swim trunks? Are you going swimming?"

"Yes, Jim had another stellar idea," I said. "I guess that it's standard rehab stuff. I'm actually looking forward to it. Back home in the millpond I was a fish. Oh, and sorry I didn't tell you I needed them earlier."

"It's ok, I think they're in a box in the top of your closet, let me check," Gracia said as I came out of the bathroom.

As I put on my shoes Gracia stood on tiptoe and pulled down a box from the top shelf of my closet labeled "Warm Weather Clothes". She gave a little grunt as she set it down, then sat down cross-legged and opened it. On top were a bunch of t-shirts, some shorts that I would NOT be wearing and finally my swim trunks. Gracia tossed them at me and said, "Here Fish, you better get going or you'll be late."

She then put the rest of the clothes in the hamper so they could be washed, as the weather was getting warmer by the day. It had been a very mild winter and spring had come without much fanfare.

"Gracia, that reminds me, when we go shopping for furniture could you perhaps also help me find suitable warm weather clothes as well? You did such a good job last time," I said.

Gracia smiled and said, "Of course, but hurry up. Looking good for Jim isn't going to keep him from making you work."

Once I arrived at the Rehabilitation Department Jim started me on my stretches and as we worked on the mat we discussed my future digs and my impending university career. Jim thought that it was time for both.

"So, are you excited about the move?" Jim asked as he stretched my hip flexors.

"I'm excited and a little nervous. I'm sure Roy has a great place picked out and whatever isn't accessible will be fixed. It's close to Gracia's so I'll see them all the time. I can even drop by to read Elysia her bedtime story if she wants me to," I said in a rather laid-back tone for someone in such an awkward position.

"It sounds like a good arrangement all around," Jim said. "After our discussion last session I can see that some more privacy would be a good thing and you have gotten very independent in the last month. You're ready."

I smiled at that last statement and said, "Yeah, never thought I would be, but I am ready. I owe you Jim."

"Jean, it's my job. Besides you are the one doing most of the work. You make me look good," Jim admitted with a smile.

"Are we finished here with the girl stuff? I'm nervous enough about swimming, which means I should just get in, right?" I joked.

"We are finished, let's get you swimming first before we finish the rest of your session. I don't want you too tired in there. Wouldn't want to have to fish you out. You weigh a ton." Jim teased.

"All muscle Jim, all muscle," I said.

"Yeah, yeah, I know… but you still weigh a ton, I'm a little guy," he said with an apologetic shrug.

I changed into my trunks, making a mental note to get new ones on our shopping trip because these had seen better days. I couldn't depend on my "good looks" for everything anymore; fashion would have to do some of it. Jim met me outside of the restroom and we went over to the hospital's indoor pool. When we got to the pool there were people swimming laps, and a few other therapists working with patients. I noticed a lift in the shallow end and eyed it intently.

Jim noticed and said, "Jean, that is one way you could get into the pool."

"Absolutely not," I stated flatly.

"I thought you'd say that," Jim mused.

"I'm not just being stubborn. There won't always be a lift everywhere I want to swim, if I decide I like swimming. Well, and the other reason is that is conspicuous as hell! Besides, if I don't absolutely need it I'm not using it."

Jim waved a figurative "white flag" and said, "Put your towel down on the bench Soldier and then transfer to the edge of the pool where it's about five feet deep."

"Wouldn't the shallow end be better?" I asked.

"For some people yeah, but you are tall and if you mess up and fall in this way you won't crack your head," Jim deadpanned.

"Good to know. You'll fish me out, right?" I joked.

Jim quipped, "I will only let you drown a little bit."

I transferred to the edge as carefully as I could because it was a little slippery and then dangled my legs over the side in the water. It was strange seeing them move of their own accord with the waves in the pool. I looked to Jim to see what to do next.

Jim tossed a kickboard into the water, pulled off his sweat suit to reveal swim trunks of his own and sat on the edge next to me.

"Ok, what you're going to do is hold your breath and push off as hard as you can with your arms. Relax as you get in, then reach for the kickboard to float as I'm not sure how buoyant you are and well, treading water is right out."

I nodded and gave a nervous smile and after Jim went in said, "Here goes nothing." and went in myself.

After the initial shock of the water I came up sputtering and grabbed the kickboard. When I could breathe and talk at the same time I said, "Well, I'm not dead."

Jim smiled and gave me instructions, "Now, with the kickboard in one hand you're going to lean back and try to float on your back… there you go. Now let go and let's see if you float. Good, you do. Obstacle one defeated. Remember the 'rest strokes' from Basic?"

"Sure I do, and I was a fish back home if the pond in the pasture got deep enough to swim in after the Spring rains," I said.

"Well, try the Elementary Backstroke, it should be easy and get you somewhere without sinking," Jim said and then demonstrated.

I complied and was surprised with my easy success. I tried a few more strokes then bobbed up and tread water a bit with my hands. "How about some different strokes Jim?"

"Ok Fish!" Jim said. "I knew you'd love this."

"You know it. Gravity? What gravity? This is amazing. I feel so light. Are you sure I have to get out?" I said.

Jim rolled his eyes and began to demonstrate an adapted breaststroke and front crawl to me. He then let me have at it for the remainder of my session as I was having such a good time.

Eventually the time came for me to get out of the pool. There was the hitch in my near perfect session. Jim seemed to get my dilemma and swam to the side of the pool, grabbed the side and using only his arms hauled himself out onto his belly, then rolled over and eased himself up on his elbows and then fully upright. I followed suit. Jim got up and tossed my towel at me and said, "Jean, there is open swim with a lifeguard every night from six to eight. You should invite Sciezka sometime."

He then left me to my own devices to get into my chair and changed. So far today was a victory.

After drying off I made my way over to H.Q. to meet Sciezka for lunch, take some target practice with Riza and then inspect my new digs with Roy. It was turning out to be a very productive day.

I arrived a bit early so went over to the Investigations Department to surprise Sciezka. She was indeed surprised as I came in as Major Armstrong was showing her the revered "Armstrong Family Archival Technique". Why it involved removing his shirt I'd never know. I peered in the open door frame and said, "Sciezka, are you ready? It's lunch time and I'm famished."

Unfortunately Major Armstrong had other plans when he saw me with wet hair and smelling of chlorine. He proceeded to grab my arm and palpate my growing bicep and "flexed" it for me, apparently approving of my increased size. He then said, "Sciezka, you have picked a good one. Even after daunting physical challenge Havoc continues to train himself to increase his endurance and aspire to the ideal masculine form. It even looks like he has taken to aquatics in his continuing quest for health!"

I pulled my arm away from him and rubbed it a bit to restore the circulation and said, "Why yes, today was my first time swimming at therapy and I did not drown. In fact I took to it rather well."

Sciezka smiled in approval and said, "Jean has a rather full day today and so do I Major Armstrong, so if you excuse us we're going to get going."

I saluted Major Armstrong and he said, "Jean and Sciezka, please call me Alex as I regard you both with such warm feelings. It warms the cockles of my heart to see young lovers such as yourselves. Go, enjoy each other's company."

We made our retreat as quickly as we could and when we finally rounded the corner near the elevator we broke into silent fits of laughter until tears were rolling down our cheeks.

Once we got down to the Mess it was lunch per our usual routine. I liked this new routine. We both avoided the "meat like" substance with gravy and opted for what looked to be a green salad. It probably wouldn't kill us.

Over dessert I decided that I wouldn't die if I formally asked Sciezka out on a date. Our relationship was more than a little out of order, but better late than never. I cleared my throat and said, "Sciezka, would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"

Sciezka looked at me a little shocked then replied, "Jean, why so formal? But of course I would. What time should I pick you up?"

I grinned and said, "It wouldn't be a date if you picked me up. I will pick you up at your place around seven. Wear something nice. We're going out to that trattoria we saw on the High Street. Then maybe we should take a stroll in the park because the weather is so nice. Oh, and I figured that I should take you someplace since we have everything a little backwards."

I blushed furiously at that last sentence and she grabbed my shoulder and rubbed it and just grinned and shook her head.

"Oh, and tomorrow Jim suggested you come to open swim with me at the hospital. I'd like to show off a little bit," I said and winked.

"Jean, I do not swim. I thrash around a bit and can dog paddle, but I do not swim," Sciezka said hesitantly.

I thought a bit and finally said, "Don't worry I'll work it out with Jim he'll have you swimming in no time. It's something athletic we could do together. Maybe even go to one of those resorts near Aquroya and go snorkeling in the ruins."

"I love how you think Jean but I have to get back and don't you have to see Riza, then inspect the new place today before you come and sweep me off my feet?" Sciezka asked.

"That I do. Can you manage Armstrong on your own or do you need me to escort you back?" I joked.

"You should escort me back just because we don't get nearly enough time together," Sciezka said.

"We will soon enough. You'll get sick of me. Trust me on that one," I replied

With Sciezka safely back at her office I headed down to the firing range to get in some practice and hopefully chat with Riza. She always eased my mind about issues big and small and I think helping me out eased her mind about the many matters she couldn't fix. I went to the locker room to get my safety gear and headed out to the firing line. As expected, Riza was waiting there, handgun and clips ready for me to expend. I gave a quick and admittedly rather sloppy salute and she smiled at me and said, "Glad to see you. I have it on good authority that you have a rather busy day today."

"That I do, what have you heard?" I replied.

"Major Armstrong says you have been dutifully training yourself physically and the Colonel says you are going today to look at your new house."

"Your intel is correct First Lieutenant," I said. "So why the formality?"

"Habit, I'll drop it to deliver this next piece of information. Lieutenant General Grumman has extended the use of his lakeside cabin for my use on the weekend of your birthday. So I was wondering if you would like to share it with Roy and myself," Riza said in a rather authoritative tone.

"'You' is referring to Sciezka and myself?" I asked.

"Yes, that would be the general idea," Riza said and smiled.

"That would be great. But why would Lieutenant General Grumman do something so nice for you?" I said.

Riza grinned and leaned in to whisper in my ear, "I will shoot you if you tell anyone this, but he's my Grandfather."

I leaned back in my chair and laughed at that piece of information.

"When did Roy figure that one out?"

"After we transferred back to Central," Riza said and smirked.

"Enough stalling, I have news and I should probably not look a gift horse in the mouth but I'll have to ask you about the floor plan and grounds and then there is the whole 'shooting stuff' aspect to the firing range," I quipped.

"Yes Jean, we'll get to that and of course you will have a chance to fully plot your revenge on Roy for bamboozling you into moving into Gracia's," Riza said with a laugh.

"You'd help with that?" I said incredulously.

"Of course I would! With all the slacking off he did when I was under his command he has it coming," she said.

"Let's start with the layout…" I said and was interrupted.

"The main building is two floors with bathrooms and bedrooms on each floor and the guest house is all on one floor, no stairs. I was thinking of putting you two there. The grounds are really well landscaped because Grandfather dotes on his horses so the paths have to be level and the landscapers have some rather heavy equipment so they are paved as well all the way down to the lake," Riza informed me.

"Wow, that is so not a cabin. Try estate, compound or complex Riza. One more small question, is there a pier or dock to get access to the lake?" I asked.

"There are two actually. One to launch the boat off of and then one that is attached to the shore and is on pontoons so it is level with the water, why?" she asked with a perplexed look on her face.

I thought it over and then realized that I still wasn't expected to DO much. I couldn't get mad at her after all she'd done. She'd seen me utterly helpless so this was to be anticipated.

"Riza, I've regained a talent. I can still swim. I'm actually pretty good at it. So if it's warm enough, I'd like to take a dip in the lake. Maybe I'll even dunk the great Flame Alchemist a few times," I joked to lighten the slightly dampened mood.

Riza in an uncharacteristic gesture hugged me and then sniffed and said, "You reek of chlorine, you're right. So this a new development?"

I nodded and grinned wide and then put on my goggles and hearing protection and squared my shoulders and emptied a clip into my target. I was getting better at a lot of things. I didn't put every bullet into "the vitals" like Riza, but my paper target was still very dead.

When we'd finished practice Riza said, "Let's keep the swimming thing a secret from Roy. He always knows everything and it would be good for him to see that for himself and maybe catch his comeuppance."

I smiled and said, "Good idea as always Riza. I'm going to head up to his office and then home to clean up a bit as I'm taking Sciezka out to that trattoria on the High Street. We've gotten everything kind of backwards. You should try it sometime, the restaurant I mean. I think they do take out."

With that I winked, left and was thankful she was cleaning her weapon and wouldn't shoot me anyway. Well, at least she wouldn't aim for anything important.

I arrived at Roy's office just as he was strolling out to grab a cup of coffee at the canteen. Apparently today I had perfect timing. I accompanied him and we decided that rather than going to the canteen we'd stop by a coffee house for real coffee and a snack before seeing the rental house.

At the coffee house I found a table for us while Roy got our drinks. I may have gotten good at a great many things, but I still hadn't mastered carrying piping hot coffee in my lap and I was not ready to practice by trial and error. When Roy got back to the table we discussed the lake trip and I let him know that I was looking forward to it and would ask Sciezka if it would be something she'd like to do. She of course had to give the go-ahead, as she didn't approve of Roy's habit of making unilateral decisions.

We made short work of the coffee and cinnamon rolls and then headed to the house. As I surveyed it from the sidewalk I gave a low whistle and raked my fingers through my hair.

Roy looked at me in askance and said, "What?"

"Did you sell your soul to get this?" I said.

"No, the General who got promoted to the West lived here and this is your due so to speak. Just take it," he said.

"The military knows that this is going on?" I asked.

"As a matter of fact they do. Lieutenant General Grumman suggested that since the house was sitting empty and suited to you it would be a liability having it remain empty, and that the government could recoup some of the loss by renting it to you. It's also good public relations to do a retiree a service at the same time," Roy answered.

"Fine, good enough answer for now. Let's see the inside spin doctor," I said.

With that we entered through the gate of the white picket fence, went up the paved walk, took the discreet ramp onto the wrap-around porch and directly into the Arts and Crafts style bungalow after Roy produced the keys. Once inside I marveled at the expanse of space before me. The walls were a pristine white and there were hardwood floors in every room. Large windows framed by crisp white sheers were what impressed me most in the living room, along with the built-in shelves made of dark oak. I would have plenty of room for enough reading material to keep Sciezka happy for quite awhile. Each room flowed into the next with a wide doorframe and I moved freely. My first stop after the living room was the master bedroom, as there were two bedrooms in this palace. The master bedroom was huge, complete with double glass doors that opened onto a small private patio shielded by hedges. On the far side of the bedroom was the master bathroom. I went in to explore and discovered a bathroom the size of a barracks room. There was a double shower and separate tub that looked to be large enough to be ample for two.

I took it all in and finally jokingly said to Roy, "You sold your soul, really you did. You can tell me. Where is the real place? In the red light district?"

"Second Lieutenant Havoc you may not have read your retirement papers over very well but you are deserving of proper accommodations and as a recipient of a Silver Star and the Purple Heart, I would say that you gave enough in Equivalent Exchange to deserve this. I didn't want to tell you outright before the deed was signed but this is yours if you want it," Roy said.

"Deed? You mean this is mine, forever…"

Roy placed a hand on my shoulder, looked me squarely in the eye and just nodded yes. I could only sit there slack jawed.

We continued our tour of the house in near silence as in addition to the rooms I'd already seen there was a spacious kitchen which I could tell would be very convenient for me as the counters were fairly low and there were many cabinets underneath the counters and a large pantry with shelves that I could just roll into to get anything I needed. The guest bedroom was also roomy and would be perfect for when Elysia stayed over. The bathroom for the general household was spacious as well, had good lighting and a sink that I could fit under, actually, everything was pretty well laid out. Between the living room and kitchen was a dining room that I could tell was large enough to fit a table with seating for eight, and that would be good as I intended to entertain every chance I got once life calmed down. I had been shown good hospitality at every turn and fully intended to repay the favor. I also thought Sciezka might like that. Next was the best room in the house as far as I was concerned. The study, or more accurately the library was a cozy yet spacious nook that was lined top to bottom with bookshelves built into the wall with a ladder attached to a rail so you could reach the topmost shelves. I thought to myself, "Sciezka will finally have proper book storage. Wait… was I planning on having her live here? Why yes, I think I was once everything blows over." I smiled to myself at that realization.

Roy waved a hand in front of my face and said, "Hello, Jean are you in there? Everything ok?"

"Oh, Roy yes, everything is perfect, more than perfect," I said and blushed.

"Cens for your thoughts," Roy teased.

"You'll laugh, in fact I won't blame you. I was just imagining this place in a couple of years filled with books, all lived in with my stuff and Sciezka's stuff, when all the craziness has ended and everything is the way it should be. A big table in the dining room with all my friends around it having leisurely dinners and wine… " I trailed off.

Roy smiled, nodded and said, "I want that too, we'll make it happen."

That said we determined it was time to go and sign that deed. I decided I had indeed paid "Equivalent Exchange" and did deserve to have good things happen to me. I might still have to pay, the flux in the government wasn't finished and only time would tell. But for now life was good.

We signed the papers in Roy's office, I was handed the keys and then made my way back to Gracia's. When I got home a very enthusiastic Elysia and an expectant Gracia greeted me. I went to my room to put my stuff down, came out and said, "The house is gorgeous, and there just aren't enough words to describe it. It was a General's house. It's MINE."

Gracia's mouth dropped open as I dangled the keys in one hand and she came over, embraced me and said, "Oh Jean that is so wonderful, no one deserves it more than you do!"

I mumbled something about being relatively unscathed compared to some and she nodded and held me closer. When she finally released me I said, "About that, you'll have to help me shop. It's empty, and since you two will be over a lot I'd like you to feel like it's your second home. Are you two free tomorrow afternoon? I'd like to take you both to lunch and then let you work your magic. I'll just sit back and observe as you are more in your element in domestic matters."

Elysia chimed in, "We're going shopping?"

"We sure are Princess," I said. "I thought we'd pick out a bed for your babies for when you sleep over too, and some storybooks."

Elysia rushed into my lap and I knew that even though Sciezka had a rather large place in my heart and my lap it hadn't dimmed Elysia's view of the "King of the Couch".

"Oh, Gracia about my birthday, did you have anything planned?" I asked.

"I thought you'd never ask Jean, we'll be going to the lake with Riza and Roy," Gracia said and smiled.

I chuckled and thought to myself, "There go my plans for a romantic getaway."

Gracia must have been reading my mind because she added, "Elysia and I will just be going up for the day and then heading on to my parents' house as they don't live far from there."

"You are all always a step ahead of me, but not for long. Will you two be bringing your suits? I will be," I said casually.

Gracia looked a bit surprised and said, "So swimming today went well?"

I grinned and said, "Oh it went very well. Though Sciezka informed me that she can only dogpaddle a little bit so tomorrow night we are remedying that at open swim with Jim. You and Elysia are welcome to come as well. It wouldn't hurt for Elysia to have proper swimming lessons. I want her to be safe."

Gracia thought a bit and said, "I think that is a very, very good idea. Maes and I had been meaning to sign her up for lessons as a girl from my town drowned when I was little and that is one of my biggest fears."

"Well then, it's settled. She'll have her water wings of course just in case, but we'll make sure the Little Princess can fend for herself in the water. She'll be a fish in no time," I said.

I then went to my bathroom to rinse out my swimsuit and hang it up, take care of the necessaries, freshen up and change for dinner. After a quick shower, shave and a splash of cologne I was good to go. On second thought, the hair needed a little bit of stuff. I took care of it and was then as handsome as a frog could be.

I quickly dressed deciding on dungarees, the black v-neck sweater and driving moccasins. Something fairly dressy, yet comfortable was in order as it had been a long day. Thinking it might be chilly later I grabbed a tweed blazer and put it on. I then checked to make sure I had my wallet and smokes and then went out into the living room.

When I came out Gracia and Elysia were sitting on the living room floor coloring and Elysia gave me an up and down glance and said, "You look very handsome Jean. Are you going out tonight with Sciezka?"

"Why yes I am Princess Elysia. You are very, very clever," I replied with a wink.

"Is Sciezka your girlfriend?" Elysia asked with a note of concern in her voice.

I thought for a bit, because clearly someone was nursing a crush and said, "Well she is Elysia, but only because you are too young to marry."

Gracia bit her lip to keep from laughing, Elysia just beamed and all was right with the world. I headed out to pick up Sciezka and decided that I should pick up a little something on the way over.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warnings: Fluff and exposition abound. Take note of the furniture though, Jean has plans for it later. :D

Various and Sundry:

On the short trip to Sciezka's I stopped to pick up a dozen roses, a trite gesture but tested, and I was on a tight schedule. When I got to her place I again confronted with those damnable stairs again. I thought to myself, "Don't panic just improvise." So I did.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!" I called to her open window.

I got nothing; no response, and then I heard a racket and wondered if a pile of books had fallen over crushing her. If I didn't hear from her soon I would get a Civil Officer or the Military Police to check on her. I looked down at the ground and saw some small pebbles and thought that I might try throwing them like I did as a kid at my best friend's window, but then remembered working the harvest on his father's farm to pay off the repair bill for the window I'd busted. "Well, the next best thing would be the flowers," I thought with a chuckle.

An un-informed passerby would probably think I was insane as I began throwing the flowers one-by-one into the open window. I had pretty good aim, and they made enough noise that by flower number four Sciezka was at the window. She called down to me and when she peered out and saw me with a rose between my teeth said, "I'll be down shortly Don Juan, cut it out before they haul you off to the asylum!"

She finally came down to accept the remainder of her flowers, quickly went back upstairs to put them in water and when she came back I handed her the rose I'd held clenched in my teeth and said, "You clean up really nicely."

Sciezka flushed and said, "You're not so bad yourself."

She leaned in for a lingering kiss and said, "So how is the new place?"

I patted my lap and she sat down and turned her head to face me and leaned in so our foreheads touched. We just sat like that for a few moments and finally I broke the silence saying, "It is beautiful. My description won't even do it justice and it gets better, it's mine outright. I got the deed today."

Sciezka sat bolt upright her mouth agape, shaking her head and I furiously nodded yes. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me passionately and when we finally stopped I said, "This isn't now, and this isn't a promise you have to make… " I paused then continued, "Or an obligation, but someday when things are right in the world I want you there with me, always. I know it's too soon to ask so I'm not and I know it's crazy but I want you to know that is what I felt when I first saw the house."

She held me closer and said nothing. She hadn't pulled away or jumped off of my lap and run up the stairs, so that was a good sign.

I hesitantly kissed her and she reciprocated and when I broke the kiss I said, "Good to know you'll hang in there, as it's not always a smooth ride and all."

Sciezka leaned in to nuzzle my ear and I was grateful that she lived on a fairly quiet street. I didn't want that moment to end, but Sciezka's stomach growled. She giggled and I said, "All right then, after heartfelt confessions dinner is next on the agenda."

We made our way over to a busier street where we flagged down a cab so we could get to the trattoria; we eventually got one to stop and got in with as little incident as possible. It was always an event giving instructions to new people but I had gotten used to it, perhaps even accepted it. I wasn't going to let taking a cab put a damper on the night.

When we got to the restaurant I was relieved that I had made reservations as it was packed. I flagged down the maitre d' and informed him that "Havoc party of two" had arrived. He gave a quick bow and with a wave of his arm said, "This way."

The maitre d' led us not far at all to a table on the edge of the patio that was very easy for me to get to. He clapped his hands and the extra chair was whisked away and he then pulled Sciezka's chair out for her and she sat down. I then offered him a handshake and some well-concealed cens for his attention to detail.

"Thank you so much, the wine list if it's not too much trouble?" I said.

The maitre d' replied, "Of course Mr. Havoc, right away."

We would be dining here often as a few simple instructions when making the reservations had removed many stumbling blocks. It didn't hurt that Roy had taught me the secrets of obtaining five star service. Generally speaking one only needed to know the right people, that flattery gets you everywhere, and that the "cash handshake" seals the deal.

When the wine list arrived Sciezka decided on Valpolicella and I decided on Pinot Grigio. Before all this I had been a beer drinker, period. Since Gracia's influence, I had expanded my horizons and to my surprise I liked wine, and food other than meat with potatoes. As we decided on what to order and waited for our drinks I said, "I'm sorry I didn't compliment you in more detail earlier, but you look simply gorgeous tonight."

Sciezka was wearing a simple black dress that skimmed her figure, concealed and revealed all at the same time. She was also wearing delicate black heels and had worn the necklace I had given her. The effect was sublime. Understated, classic, elegant, and alluring all at once from just a little black dress.

I reached for her hand and said, "Please wear that for me on Saturday at the housewarming."

She smiled, nodded and said, "Really Jean, it's just a dress."

I said, "No, it's THE dress and YOU, and after I kick everyone out I am going to have the distinct pleasure of getting you out of that dress. Oh, and JUST wear the dress so I can better imagine what's under it."

Sciezka blushed at my last statement.

The waiter arrived to take our order and it was an easy choice, we'd sample the tasting menu, as that was a good way to see what was best on the menu. Soon the waiter brought out a platter of antipasti laden with prosciutto e melone, slices of polenta and a simple salad consisting of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and basil. Sciezka marveled at the presentation and asked how I'd known what to order, and I confessed that I'd had a basic idea, but this new "suave" Jean was partly Roy's doing.

"I'll have to thank Roy," Sciezka said with a laugh.

"So you didn't like the stout swilling dog?" I joked.

Sciezka grinned, "Oh no, I still like a dog sometimes, but this is wonderful. I could get used to this kind of place."

I popped a prosciutto wrapped piece of melon into my mouth, smiled as I savored the mingling of savory and sweet on my tongue and said, "Me too."

The restaurant had amazing service. Just as we were dividing the last piece of polenta in half the main course came out. They'd made two smaller sized entrees so we could try more of the specialties of the house and brought us each a plate so we could pick and choose what we'd like. The most impressive dish was ravioli made with assorted fillings and three different sauces. I was in heaven because I always hated choosing. It was beautifully arranged. They also brought out the standard chicken Parmesan and we were both pleased because it was light for something fried.

Midway through the entrée I said, "I don't think I will ever be satisfied at the Mess again. I'm now spoiled. It was bad enough at Gracia's as her food is heavenly, but this is just mind blowing."

Sciezka agreed saying, "I think the only thing that would be better would be having this delivered to your new place."

I grinned wickedly and said, "They deliver! We'd never have to leave the house. Imagine it… long weekends where we never dressed except to answer the door to bring in heavenly food. It would be perfect!"

Sciezka playfully slapped my hand and said, "You have a two track mind Jean."

I looked at her quizzically and said, "Two tracks? Huh?"

She rolled her eyes and stated what she thought was obvious, "Your libido and your stomach."

We both laughed and continued with our meal. As we were eating I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I decided to check Sciezka's reaction.

"What would you think about having Pane Fresco do the food for the house warming? I'm going to have enough going on this week without worrying about cooking or having Gracia worrying about it, which I am NOT about to do," I said.

Sciezka smiled and said, "That is a wonderful idea. You know you don't always have to be a wonderful host by the sweat of your brow."

"I'm figuring that out. Sometimes you are a good at what you do by knowing when to let others do it for you and by knowing who to call," I said.

Then the maitre d', who introduced himself as Sal, came over to our table and asked if everything was to our satisfaction. We couldn't say enough good things, and then I remembered I did have a question about the house warming.

"Sal, I noted when I picked this restaurant out that you have catering, take-out and delivery service. I'm having a little house warming for hmm… eight people on Saturday. Would it be too much of a rush to do this menu plus a large mixed salad for delivery, oh and a large order of spaghetti and marinara with meatballs for Elysia and in case Fullmetal 'is hungry'? "

Sal smiled and said, "Mr. Havoc, that would be easy. What time would you like it delivered and where?"

He pulled out a small notepad, I wrote down the details and my mind was eased. One detail was taken care of. Though I didn't have a table to serve it on, or anywhere for my guests to sit.

Sciezka caught my slightly perplexed look and I said, "Furniture."

She just laughed and said, "Don't worry, if I know Gracia she's already got it planned, called ahead and you'll just have to open your wallet."

That said, the waiter cleared our plates and Sal brought a plate of tiramisu with two forks and asked if we'd prefer espresso or cappuccino. Sciezka and I would indeed be coming here a lot.

When we'd finished our dessert and coffee Sal came back and asked if we needed anything else at all I said, "Just the bill and if you could have this exact menu with the additions I added ready for eight people delivered at six p.m. on Saturday to the address I gave you I will be eternally grateful."

Sal brought the bill, I settled up our tab leaving a generous tip for the waiter and Sciezka and I left.

As we left the restaurant I suggested that we walk through the park as it was a starry night and she shivered a bit. I offered her my blazer and she accepted.

"It's a pity to cover up such a lovely dress, but it is a bit chilly tonight. You're dressed perfectly for the occasion, but not for the weather," I joked.

When she'd warmed up a bit we stopped at a bench to better enjoy each other's company.

I remembered I had another question to ask her, this one not as serious as the awkward and rushed declaration I'd made earlier at her place.

"I forgot to ask you at dinner, but have you made any plans for my birthday next week? I don't want to spoil anything you are planning… but as my life is pretty much mapped out for me, there are plans in the works," I said sheepishly, and then laughed.

"I'd just planned to spend it with you, why? Did you have anything planned?" she questioned.

"Well, yes, actually I did. Riza had a great idea. Would you like to go away to the lake for a few days?" I asked.

She looked to see if anyone was around and since the park appeared to be deserted she clambered onto my lap, clasped me around the neck and said, "Yes, of course I'll go! It will be perfect. Days and days together, relaxing in the country. You can help me with my swimming, we can go on picnics, go exploring, laze in the sun, nap in the shade of a tree, have bonfires, stargaze and watch sunsets. It'll be just like a romance novel… "

I kissed her to see if I could get her to slow down at all because her enthusiasm was all a little too much. "Yes Sciezka, all that… and a small party with just Gracia, Elysia, Roy and Riza. But definitely a romantic get away. I'm glad you are excited."

We sat there for awhile kissing and I had to stop saying, "Sciezka, you do things to me that I didn't even think were possible a month ago. Hell, I didn't think that this was possible before everything. But I've got to get you home. Thankfully my place will be ready on Friday and we'll have a little time to break it in before the party on Saturday."

Sciezka kissed me again lingering at my lower lip to nibble and suck a bit and said, "I'm going to hold you to that buster."

She then gracefully slipped off my lap and we continued making our way through the park to Sciezka's, her hand gently draped on my shoulder.

When we arrived at Sciezka's we lingered at her stoop for a bit, neither wanting to break the goodnight kiss, but it eventually had to be done. Before she ascended the first step I said, "Remember, I won't be meeting you for lunch tomorrow. I'm taking Gracia and Elysia for lunch and then furniture hunting. But there will be swimming; Elysia and Gracia are coming as Elysia dog paddles too. I still can't wait to see you in a suit!"

She huffed a bit and said, "You have seen me in my birthday suit, numerous times!"

"Well, yeah, but not in days, and swimsuits are different. They cover so little, yet reveal so much. Be my pin-up girl, please?" I begged.

"Jean, you are a dog," she teased.

I growled and whined at her when I left as she climbed the stairs blocking my entrance into paradise and she blew a few kisses to console me.

I arrived home and Gracia and Elysia had already gone to bed. I went into my room to get ready for bed and saw that Gracia had left a note on my pillow.

Jean,

Hope you had a nice night. I'll see you in the morning and if I miss you, the plan is that Elysia and I will pick you up at the hospital after therapy for lunch. Sleep well and don't skimp on the details!

Gracia

I prepared for bed, then climbed in and opened my notebook feeling the need to remember everything about the day and the ensuing night. So many things had changed in just one short day. If I really examined it so many things had changed in six months. At times they had dragged, painfully so. The first few months after the incident, as I had decided it was not an accident, were both physically and emotionally draining and they were a blur of self-doubt and angst. Eventually the realization hit that I could either figuratively continue to die, or choose to live. I'll forever be thankful that people continued to reach into my darkness even as I pushed them away. I closed my notebook, turned off the light on the nightstand and settled in for the night.

I awoke to someone knocking softly on my door as the morning light filtered in through the window, I adjusted the duvet, sat up a bit and said, "Come in, Gracia."

I was correct, as the knock was higher up on the door than Elysia could reach. Gracia came in and sat on the foot of the bed. I pushed up onto my elbows so I could see her a little better and said, "You were in bed when I got home, and it wasn't all that late when I got in."

"I figured you would be tired and that a game of 20 Questions wouldn't be that welcome. Besides we have a big day today, right?" Gracia said.

"We have a huge day today. The house is gorgeous, but pristinely empty, a completely blank canvas," I said. I then grabbed my notebook, wrote the address down for and handed her my keys so she could drive by to get a feel for it and said, "Swing by before you guys pick me up, so you can have an idea of what you want to do to it. I give you carte blanche, that is if it's not a bother for you."

She clasped her hands together in a gesture that looked vaguely like Winry's "Machine Freak" dance and said, "Your place is going to be so wonderful! I promise it will have a masculine feel as it is your place after all but it's going to be such a great little love nest for the two of you!"

I blushed and searched for the right words, finally found them and said, "For a minute there I thought I heard Maes… in your mannerisms. It happens a lot actually and I think he'd be pleased. You and Elysia are living testaments to his love. He'd be proud of you."

Gracia misted up a bit and scooted closer to me on the bed and held me close. Neither of us said anything for a while until I broached the subject of how she felt about the move, "Are you going to be ok alone with Elysia in the house? You do know that you can come over any time. You don't even need to call. In fact, today while we're out I'm having a copy of the key made for you. Just knock hard before coming in if you have the little one with you. I don't want you to have to have 'the talk' early on my account."

She squeezed me tighter and laughed a bit at that. They would be fine, we would all be better than fine.

"I'll let you get ready Jean," she said getting up and jingling the keys. "Thanks for these."

She closed the door behind her and I pulled off the covers, made my way over to the bureau to pick something out to wear settling on dungarees and a white button down shirt and went into the bathroom to get ready. Once done with my daily ablutions I went back out into the bedroom, grabbed some sweats for therapy, as jeans and a button-down wouldn't do for work down on the mats. I stowed them in a duffle bag and put it in the cargo net under my chair, grabbed my wallet, smokes and keys, stashed them in duffle as well and headed for the kitchen to try and bolt some breakfast as I didn't want anything to delay the day's plans or Sciezka in a bathing suit.

Once in the kitchen Gracia thrust a slice of buttered toast at me and I held it in my teeth as I went out the door to wait on the front walk for the driver to arrive.

As I finished my last bite of toast the driver pulled up and without incident we arrived at the hospital for my session with Jim. I would have just enough time to have a smoke and change my clothes before my session. As I lit up my cigarette I noted that it was a gorgeous day. Blue sky, not a cloud in it and it was warm enough to go without a sweater, but not so warm that you would work up a sweat while out on a jaunt. This was my favorite part of the year in Central. The flowering trees and shrubs were beginning to bloom, gardens were starting to color up and the birds were building nests. It was the stuff cinema romances thrive on. I sure was.

I tossed my cigarette butt in the can outside and headed down to the therapy wing for my session. Once I got changed I met Jim in the room.

Jim sat down on the edge of the raised mats and said, "So, what's the verdict on the house?"

"It's perfect. Absolutely perfect, I can forgive Roy for meddling on this one. Every detail was seen to if you didn't have a hand in it, then I'm scared," I said.

"I'm innocent on this one," Jim said. "Perhaps he has just been observing you or used a little common sense? Really the world would be a much nicer place if they designed everything that way. Kids could reach stuff; old people would be able to get around better. The problem isn't you per se, it's your environment."

"Jim, you are ahead of your time. Speaking of the time, we need to get a move on. I am being picked up by two beautiful women for lunch after my session so I cannot afford to be late," I joked.

We first worked on range of motion exercises and stretches to warm up my muscles. As we worked Jim and I did a mental checklist of some of the things I'd need that I might not have on my list. Some of the items were common sense like pot holders and thick dishtowels so I wouldn't get hurt in the kitchen, a first aid kit, an anti-skid mat for the tub, perhaps a bigger bench for the shower since this shower was bigger and a "reacher" which he would give me to reach things in places I couldn't get to myself. This was a new one; I figured things were just out of my reach. After he showed me I was pretty sure that this would be on the list of things I did not want to have to use unless desperate along with the "Van of Un-Cool". The items I was surprised at included a full length mirror so I could assess everything that was going on with me, longer pull cords for the lights, and a pull up bar which though I used one at therapy, I hadn't thought of for home.

At the last item I looked at Jim and then said, "You want me to do more? Is that possible? You're already killing me!"

Jim shook his head and said, "The real world starts eventually. Soon I'll start seeing you every other day for less time, then once a week and eventually just for check-ups. You'll be responsible for making sure you stay in peak condition."

I nodded in understanding, and smiled. It was a scary thought at first as keeping myself in working order was a daunting task, but I had been well taught. Besides, going to physical therapy for half the day and university for half the day then homework would leave very little time for a social life. I fully intended to have one of those.

Jim nudged my shoulder and said, "Are you in there Jean? Care to share?"

I shook myself out of it and said, "Oh, I was just thinking that it will be nice to be on my own a bit more once classes start, what with the house and Sciezka and I'll still see you as I can drop by as this is a Military Hospital. I can come to open gym and use the equipment."

"You know you can and I'll come hunt you down if you don't," Jim threatened in a jovial manner. "Speaking of which, get down on the floor, time for push-ups."

I made my way down to the floor and in-between repetitions managed to ask Jim if he'd like to come to the housewarming and he accepted. He couldn't resist the offer of Aquroyan food, as that was where his parents had been from. I was pleased that he would get to meet my friends outside the confines of my hospital room.

The session progressed and as usual Jim was a taskmaster. After a particularly brutal combination on the balance ball I said, "Do you stay up nights thinking to yourself, 'How can I find a new way to torture Jean tomorrow?' I appreciate it deep down, just not right now."

"I am a sadistic bastard sometimes aren't I?" he joked.

"Yes you are Jim, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Because anyone else would have taken one look at my sorry ass and sent me packing to the East where my Ma might still be wiping it for me," I said in a tone that was an odd mix of humor and gratitude. "I was pretty pathetic."

"Not now," he said. "Now go get cleaned up, you have those two beautiful ladies coming to pick you up soon. Take tomorrow off, Friday too. I'll see you on Saturday."

"You are a lifesaver Jim. I wondered how I was going to manage it all. I'll stretch at home and we're all going swimming tonight, speaking of which, I need a favor. Will you be around at all later tonight? Sciezka can only dog paddle and we're going to the lake on vacation next weekend… I know it's a lot to ask, I'm sorry."

"I'll be there tonight," he said. "No worries, I worked my way through school as a lifeguard so I'm used to giving swimming lessons. Now what is that address so I can get there, meet this girl and see this house?"

I pulled out my notebook, wrote down the address, tore the page out and handed it to him and made my way to the change room.

I changed quickly, took care of the necessaries then splashed some cool water on my face to clean up a bit more. I cursed the fact that I had neglected to bring some cologne. Sniffing under each underarm I determined that I was not too stinky but perhaps I should get a new shirt and some cologne before lunch. I ran my fingers through my hair ruffling it and gave myself a satisfied smile.

I headed up to the front entrance to wait on the sidewalk and lit up a cigarette. I took in the sun and sat in my own little world smoking until the dark sedan pulled up and Gracia rolled down the window and said, "Hey soldier, going my way?"

I carefully leaned over to stub out my cigarette on the sidewalk then tossed it into the nearest garbage can and said, "Sure, I'm going where ever you're going."

I got in as quickly as I could, the driver who by now was familiar with the song and dance took away the pieces of my chair and put them in the trunk and we were on our way.

We arrived at the High Street and went to High Street Men's first to get me a clean shirt. It wouldn't be right to accompany two beautiful women smelling like a locker room. I quickly selected a fresh white button down shirt while Gracia busied herself sampling some of the colognes. Remembering that I also needed new swim trunks for the trip I looked for and found knee-length black trunks that provided me with more coverage than my current trunks. I'd at least feel a little better about how I looked even if Jim had reassured me that no one would notice. When I was finished I found Gracia over by the toiletries. She had narrowed it down to three favorites and let me smell each of the contenders. I chose one that smelled like a mixture of citrus, musk and cloves. I closed my eyes and inhaled nodding my approval and Gracia said, "That one is my favorite. It smells like you've just gotten out of the shower."

I paid, and then went to "my" change room; the broom closet and we were off to lunch. The broom closet wasn't an ideal change room but it beat smelling like the locker rooms at the firing range.

When we got out onto the sidewalk Elysia climbed up onto her favorite spot, my lap, and before we got moving said, "You smell good Jean. You're also very handsome today, are you going on a date?"

I replied, "Why yes I am, with two of my favorite lady friends."

Elysia wrinkled her nose, a little confused and asked, "Are we meeting Sciezka?"

"No Elysia, we aren't meeting Sciezka until later. You and your Mommy are my dates today," I replied, chuckling.

Elysia turned around and hugged me around the neck and then settled back into her preferred spot and said, "Ok, let's go!"

The kid was simply too cute, as Gracia and I exchanged knowing glances she suggested we go get lunch at the coffee house.

Once in the coffee house a waitress directed us to a table and we settled in. We debated on what to have and Gracia decided on soup and salad, I chose the club sandwich and Elysia got her favorite, peanut butter and jelly.

I laughed when Elysia made her order and said, "Elysia, you could have that at home."

"I know Jean, and you make them the best but it's what I like."

I shook my head and we began to go over the "War List" for what we had to accomplish to make the house a home. When the food arrived we had a plan of attack laid out. We would first be going to a furniture store up the street for the bulk of it, then across the street to a store that had all manner of household textiles, then to a restaurant supply because that was where Gracia had gotten most of her kitchen goods, next a home decor store for some of the niceties to make the place more "mine" and finally the toy store for some things for Elysia. It was a long list but we were prepared.

We ate quickly as we were on a mission and by the time the waitress came back to check on us we were ready for the tab. This was serious business. The waitress returned and I settled up the tab and we headed for our first destination.

As we made our way to the first store I said to Gracia, "What should I expect from this place?"

Gracia smiled and said, "Well, it's nice. It's where Maes and I got our couch, so I thought you'd approve."

"Your couch is what I would call epic," I noted.

"But you don't need a couch, you have one in storage Jean," she said.

"THAT couch is getting burned," I said. "If I recall correctly I had some of the guys help me get it up the stairs after we found it in the street on garbage day."

Gracia just laughed and said, "We're here."

I took in the sight before me; massive stone pillars with heavy wood doors composed the façade of the building. In comparison to the architecture the forged brass sign over the door announcing that we were at "Central City Fine Furniture" was minute. I supposed that the architecture more than made up for the sign. The store's reputation did what advertising couldn't.

I sucked in a breath between my teeth and said, "Gracia, you two go on ahead I'm just going to sneak around the corner for a smoke to brace myself, and I'll meet you in there. Look around, pick some things out and don't tell me any of the prices. Just look for things that are 'reasonable' that you think I'll like. I don't want to have a coronary."

Gracia giggled and said, "Maes was the same way. We'll see you in there."

Once I finished my cigarette I made my way over to the imposing set of wooden doors. I gave the handle a tug and thought to myself, "Way to go Jean, you are not going to be able to get in." I pulled a little harder, then wedged my footrest in the small opening I had made then pushed at the door again until there was room for me to pass. I hurried in so it wouldn't figuratively smack me on the ass on the way in.

Gracia and Elysia were waiting near the front entrance with a gentleman in a well-tailored grey suit and he extended his hand to shake mine.

"Hello, my name is Andrew, I'm the floor manager here at Central City Fine Furniture and I'll be assisting you today. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help," he said.

I shook his hand and said, "Did Gracia brief you on what we'll be requiring?"

He nodded and said, "Yes she did and she described the layout and style of the house. I think we'll have just what you're looking for."

I smiled and said, "Andrew, you are a life saver."

Andrew led us further into the show room and we started looking at living room furniture. I saw it almost immediately, THE couch. It was long and deep, the cushions looked like they would be fluffy and the armrests were overstuffed. It was the kind of couch you could spend all day on. Elysia ran over to it immediately, hopped onto it to sit and tested the cushions by bouncing up and down a few times.

"Jean, it's so soft!" she squealed.

Gracia noted that it was also practical, as it was covered in a "dark taupe" slipcover that could be washed, in case Elysia or I spilled anything.

Andrew, ever the dutiful salesman said, "The cushions are stuffed with goose down. That is why they are so soft. There's a matching armchair and ottoman over there if you'd like to see it."

It could fit three people comfortably, and four people if they were good friends. Being a tall person I like a big couch, and I do not like sharing, so the armchair would be necessary.

When I saw the armchair I laughed, this was not an "armchair"; there was enough room that I could sit in it with Sciezka and Elysia comfortably. I said to Andrew, "I'll take both, in that light brown color."

Gracia said, "While we're in this area, you need tables and lamps Jean."

I sheepishly said, "Oh, right. Lead on fearless Andrew."

He smiled and said, "Gracia told me that your new place is in the Arts and Crafts style, and I think these tables in the Mission-style will be perfect."

He pointed over to some tables in dark wood that looked to be made from polished beams of old buildings. Displayed on them and on the floor next to them were lamps that had simple white shades.

I smiled and said, "Gracia, I like these please check the prices to make sure they aren't astronomical and I am going to take Elysia to go test mattresses. Andrew, is it ok if she jumps on the beds a little?"

Andrew nodded and smiled. Apparently at Central City Fine Furniture the customer was always right.

Elysia skipped in the direction of the bedroom furniture showroom and I followed. Upon entering she began running and took a flying leap onto what appeared to be the biggest bed I had ever seen. The mattress was over a foot thick and I was surprised that Elysia didn't bounce off of it. The frame containing it wasn't shabby either. The style mirrored the tables I had picked out for the living room. I was inspecting the construction of the dovetailed joints when Andrew and Gracia came in.

"Gracia, you and Elysia should go into the interior decorating business!" I said and grinned.

Andrew chuckled and said, "So did Elysia pick another winner? This one is also in the Mission collection. I had a sneaking suspicion you would like it."

"Add it to the list Andrew. Oh, Gracia will it fit in the bedroom?" I said.

Gracia nodded that it would indeed fit in the bedroom. I was relieved, as I knew Sciezka would love it and find many, many uses for all that room.

"Would you like the matching armoire, bureau, full length mirror and bedside tables as well?" Andrew asked.

I heaved a sigh and said, "Yes, may as well. Oh, and twin beds and some furniture for the guest bedroom. Do they have them in this style?"

Of course they did and of course they were perfect and they were added to the list. Gracia had impeccable taste and a keen eye and I could tell Andrew had good instincts. Luckily he had good judgment as well as a keen sense for when someone needed things done quickly.

Next on the list was a dining room set. We selected a dark oak Mission-style table with seating for eight, complete with chairs.

Andrew then brought us over to his desk where he offered cups of coffee for Gracia and myself and juice for Elysia while we firmed up the final details and arranged for the furniture to be set up and delivered the next day. The only room not yet furnished was the study, but I thought I would leave that up to Sciezka as I had come to think of that room as hers.

Andrew and I shook hands and he thanked Gracia for coming in, mentioning that if she ever wanted to work outside the home that she should apply for work there. We then headed across the street to Amestris Woven Goods and Sundries. As we entered I realized that this store was nothing like my parents general store in the East.

"Gracia, the name of the store sounds like it's a general store but this is NOTHING like that," I said.

"Yes, it's kind of a marketing thing… but you like your sheets and duvet, right?" she smirked.

"That I do, and those down pillows. So they're from a fancy place too?" I asked.

Gracia nodded and said, "They have everything here for the house. Sheets and towels, things for the bathroom, kitchen supplies including some hard to find spices and tools, they even have decorative items like candles."

"There you go trying to turn me into a girl again," I said and smiled.

Gracia gave me a playful tap to the back of the head saying, "You like it."

"Maybe I do, I know Sciezka is into the whole candles and romance thing and yeah, it's good to smell nice and I really like the soft sheets. Do your worst," I quipped.

Gracia pulled out a list and flagged down the nearest sales clerk. She then asked me a few questions in rapid fire.

"Jean, what is your favorite color? What accent color do you want in the living room? Do you want to do color in the kitchen or keep it monochromatic?"

My head still whirling with that line of questioning I sputtered out my answers, "I like light blue, whatever you want for the living room, and just go with white in the kitchen in case I spill so I can bleach it."

Once my rather limited tastes were ascertained Gracia determined that my kitchen goods could be purchased here too. This would save us a stop. I was relieved, as all these choices were getting a little overwhelming. I didn't have to be moved by Friday, but the weekend of my birthday would mark the six-month "anniversary" of my new life. I wanted concrete proof of my success. I was grateful that Gracia seemed to understand that my urgency was not about dissatisfaction with my life with her and Elysia, but a need for more independence.

Gracia laughed a bit at my preferences saying, "You are a military man through and through. Light blue, white, stainless steel and wood. It looks stunning together really, but when it's all put together you will be able to tell that a man lives there."

The sales clerk, a rather attractive brunette named Leah, blushed a bit and said, "I think it will be elegant. It's understated and useful, but definitely elegant. You have very good taste Jean."

She bustled off and continued finding the items on the list for our approval while Gracia, Elysia and I went to go look at fire irons and candles. One of the many fine features of the new house was a fireplace. Once we got out of earshot I whispered, "Was she hitting on me?"

Gracia smirked and said, "Yes Jean she was, is that so hard to believe?"

"Well," I shrugged. "Kind of."

Elysia piped up saying, "Remember Jean, you're very handsome."

I patted her on the head and said, "Thank you for the reminder Elysia, if I get too many admirers will you protect me?"

Elysia nodded sternly. Gracia just rolled her eyes and said, "Let's go check on your admirer's progress and see if you need anything else."

We found the clerk in the glassware section and as she was selecting many "fancy" as I deemed them types of glasses I said, "No need, just pints please. They'll be serviceable for all types of beverages and it will mean fewer dishes to wash."

Gracia laughed but agreed that it was highly unlikely that I would need a diminutive set of cordial glasses. We also nixed the small, gilt-edged cups and saucers. Large, plain white porcelain mugs for coffee would be much more my style. Besides with my coffee cravings I'd be refilling my cup constantly. We also decided on the matching plain white porcelain plates and serving platters that could be warmed up in the oven. For silverware I selected a basic pattern that reminded me of the simple lines of the house. Gracia picked out some canisters to store flour, sugar, coffee and other non-perishables as well. A set of steel pots and pans completed the kitchen supplies.

Gracia quickly selected some potholders and dishtowels before the stock assistants whisked our selections to the back. From there we moved on to what we'd need for the bedroom. The sales clerk, Leah had picked out a huge duvet that looked like it would fit on the bed I'd selected. I felt it and it was just like the one on my bed at Gracia's. From there we only had to find blankets, pillows, sheets and a cover for the duvet to keep it clean. I dictated that it should all be light blue. The hospital had turned me off of white sheets permanently. Elysia selected white coverlets with embroidered Forget-me-Nots as decoration for the guest bedroom, as it would be her bedroom at my house.

The next room to furnish was the bathroom. It would be easy enough. Bathmat, towels, soap dish and the like, small garbage can that wasn't a "step can" and we'd be done. The guest bathroom was furnished similarly. Gracia picked it all out efficiently and Leah motioned for shop assistants to take it to the back so it could be delivered tomorrow.

Now we could choose the small details and refinements. I decided that the finishing touches would be several large pillows that could be placed on the floor in light brown and dark blue, a few throws to keep in the living room, a thick wool Xingian-style rug to go in front of the fireplace and best of all a phonograph. I had always coveted Roy's phonograph. Gracia winked at me when she noticed me testing the rug for thickness and softness as it was hanging on the wall. It was as if she knew exactly what I had in mind.

Finally finished with the bulk of the household shopping I made the arrangements to have everything delivered, paid for and we left to go to back to the coffee house. We all needed a bit of a snack and Elysia appeared to be doing the potty dance. Quite frankly so was I. We took care of business, had cookies and milk and then headed to our last stop, the toy store.

As soon as we came into sight of the toy store Elysia bolted from my lap and ran. There was no stopping her. Gracia and I followed her and when we entered the store she had already found what she wanted. She was on her knees before a small pram that was gray with blue bedding. She announced, "Jean, this would be the perfect baby bed for your house!"

I chuckled and said, "Anything for you Princess Elysia, now pick out some books and we can get home and get our suits so we can meet Sciezka to go swimming."

While I was paying for Elysia's "loot" Gracia called the driver. Then Elysia pushed her new pram as Gracia and I escorted her out to the sidewalk to wait.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I still don't own it, well, Jim, but that's all!

Freedom:

When we arrived home we had the driver wait with the car while we grabbed our suits and dropped off the pram. Then we headed over to the hospital to meet Sciezka for open swim.

After arriving at the hospital we waited in front for Sciezka so I could show everyone to the pool. While we waited I went around the corner to have a smoke while Gracia sat with Elysia and talked about what to expect at the pool. I finished my cigarette and Sciezka still hadn't arrived. I was a little worried that she was delayed, but took my mind off of it by playing "Got Your Nose" with Elysia.

Just as I was starting to panic Sciezka came racing up the sidewalk. She nearly knocked me over when she kissed me, quickly remembered we had an audience, straightened up and said, "I'm so sorry I'm a little late. I forgot about a swimsuit, I had to go get one."

I reached for the bag and Sciezka snatched it out of my hands and I pouted. She did however let Gracia peek in the bag and Gracia gave the contents an appreciative smile. Gracia then said, "Patience Jean, we're going in now you'll see it soon enough."

I let out a heavy sigh and said, "You never let me have any fun."

We headed toward the locker rooms and when we got there agreed to meet at the pool.

I changed quickly and when I arrived in the pool area Jim was already swimming. Scanning the pool I saw a few other people swimming but the it was largely deserted. I headed to the side of the pool where we had my therapy session before. When Jim noticed me he waved and said, "Come on in Jean, the water is fine."

After setting my things on the bleachers I went to the side of the pool, set the brakes on my chair then carefully transferred to the tiled floor, as it was wet, then scooted to the edge of the pool. Since there was no sign yet of the girls I decided to get in and warm up a bit before they joined us. I swam over to where Jim was and simply floated for a few minutes before beginning my workout.

Jim said, "You're a natural. Where's Sciezka?"

I rolled my eyes, laughed and replied, "I'm sure they are having a fashion show in the locker room at the moment. Gracia and Elysia came along as well. While you work with Sciezka I'm going to help Gracia with Elysia. They're going to the lake too and I want to make sure that the little one is safe."

He nodded in agreement and said, "When I'm done with the basics with Sciezka you can help her practice and I'll take over with Elysia."

"That's very kind of you, but you don't have to do that. You're already doing so much," I said.

"Don't you want to show off a bit for your woman?" Jim teased.

I blushed a bit and nodded.

Just as I was wondering if they'd taken up residence in the women's locker room I heard Elysia giggling and Gracia calling after her, "Elysia Hughes NO RUNNING in the pool area!"

I saw a streak of pink and blond followed by Gracia and Sciezka walking at a clip. Gracia was wearing a modest black tank suit that was still very flattering and Sciezka had made an excellent choice. I wondered where she'd found a black two-piece suit that resembled her usual briefs and camisole so closely, but I could extract that piece of information and "punish" her on Friday night. She knew what that combination did to me in private, keeping my hands off of her in public would be torture.

Elysia was finally captured and Sciezka waved at us. They entered the shallow end using the steps and Jim and I swam over to meet them.

I spoke first, introducing Sciezka to Jim, "Sciezka, this is Jim Bruno my physical therapist and I'm honored to say friend. Jim, this is Sciezka."

Sciezka was sitting on the pool steps and I swam over and sat next to her. She extended her hand to shake Jim's and said, "This will certainly be a story to tell people. I've never been introduced to anyone in a pool before."

Jim laughed and said, "Jean is a unique individual. From what I hear from him, you are extraordinary. So it is fitting that we should meet someplace out of the ordinary."

She smiled and said, "Thank you, we should get to the lesson. I noticed that Jean can already swim circles around me."

Elysia sat on the top step impatiently and it was agreed that everyone should begin swimming. Sciezka and Jim went to where the water got a little deeper so he could teach her some basic strokes while Gracia and I worked with Elysia on putting her face in the water and learning how to float in the shallow end.

"Gracia, before you both get all the way in could you go get some kick boards for us to use?" I asked.

She quickly got them and then both she and Elysia sat on the top step of the pool to get used to the water temperature. They did so quickly since the pool was heated for therapy purposes. The next step was to get Elysia to hang onto the side of the pool, put her face in the water and blow bubbles turning her head to the side when she needed to breathe. If she could and would do that the rest would be fairly easy.

I swam over to the side first and Gracia waded in and carried Elysia and luckily she complied and didn't get any water up her nose. That would have complicated matters immensely. After we were sure she'd had enough practice with her face in the water I had Gracia show her how to flutter kick her feet. The next step would be to have Elysia hold a kick board and kick at the same time. It was a grand success; she was able to do it easily. I went over to the steps to sit and rest for a bit as Gracia and Elysia did a few laps across the shallow end. Gracia brought her back to the steps and I decided we probably had time for one more lesson before Elysia lost patience with us.

Once back on the steps Elysia quickly found her favorite spot, and this made the next part easier. I turned Elysia around to face me after dandling her and praising her prior efforts and said, "Ok the next part is going to be a little tougher because you're going to have to stay still and relax for it to work. You're going to have to trust me as well that you'll be safe."

Elysia wrinkled her nose and said, "Is this going to hurt?"

I shook my head no and laughed, "Absolutely not Princess, you're going to learn how to float but since you'll be on your back you won't be able to see what's going on and I don't want you to try to sit up quickly because as soon as you do, you'll sink!"

Elysia nodded in understanding and said, "Promise it will be ok?"

I held up my pinky finger and said, "Pinky promise."

She locked her tiny finger in my much larger one and I smiled inwardly at what was serious business in my new world. Elysia was something that had worked in my favor in the exchange.

After instructing Elysia to lie back against my hands and keep her body and legs still and straight, she was floating. Gracia smiled as I said, "You're floating Elysia, keep still and I'm going to hand you off to your Mommy so you can try floating and moving at the same time."

Gracia took firm hold of Elysia and slowly waded out into the water with her. I swam beside them forming the cheering section eventually coaching Elysia, "Ok now just kick your feet and you'll be able to swim by yourself."

Gracia let go and Elysia was doing it. With practice she'd be a little fish. Now all we had to do was get her to swim with her face in the water so she wouldn't run into the side or end up half way across the lake.

Sciezka and Jim came over and everyone clapped and cheered for Elysia. Hearing her name with her ears underwater Elysia attempted to sit up to call out an answer and her little butt sank and the rest of her began to as well. I quickly wrapped an arm around her keeping us both afloat.

"A little help please?" I said.

Jim swam over and took Elysia from me and brought her over to Gracia. Luckily Elysia barely noticed her rescue and was more proud of her aquatic accomplishments than she was scared.

Sciezka and I headed over to the side and I held onto the edge to rest and calm down, as I was the only one shaken. I pulled up and propped myself on up my forearms on the side and Sciezka said, "Wow, I'd forgotten how tall you are."

I looked down at her, smiled and said, "It could just be that you are petite."

She flicked water at me and I said, "That suit is incredible Sciezka. It is very unfair as it looks like your unmentionables, but very nice. Why don't you show me what you learned?"

Sciezka swam off, splashing me as she left for my comment and she had learned quite a few strokes. I lowered myself all the way back into the water, went after her catching up quickly and gently tugging at her ankle. She swam toward me and we floated on our backs letting our fingers brush every once in awhile.

I interrupted the silence saying, "I should get some laps in since I won't have therapy the next two days."

Sciezka nodded and tread water watching me for a bit and then began practicing her strokes as well. After a few laps she tired and went to the side of the pool to rest. I swam over to her and said, "For someone who only dog paddled when she got in the pool tonight you are doing really well."

Sciezka smiled and said, "Jim's great. I can see why you like him so much. He really likes you. He gave me the short list of your achievements."

I nodded and said, "He has seen me in pretty pathetic condition. He started right working with me right after the stabilizing surgery. He saw me when I couldn't even sit up by myself."

She moved closer and said, "You were never pathetic, you were hurt and you were scared. There is a difference. You're making the best out of a bad situation. I can't say I understand, because I'm not you but I can say that I don't see anything pathetic in you. Heck, you've all but mastered swimming on the second try and you're in better shape than most people who haven't been injured."

"I have to admit I love the water, I always have," I said and hesitated. "Though now since, well since the incident it's freedom for me. Once I'm in the water I can move so much more easily, maybe even gracefully. I don't do much of that lately. But in here you can barely tell me from any other guy."

Sciezka smiled and said, "Well I can, you're the cute one."

I smiled and splashed her. Then the others called us over to the shallow end.

"Elysia is beginning to get wrinkly fingers," Jim said as he helped her out of the pool.

Gracia put a towel around Elysia and they all went over the bleachers to sit, talk and dry off before going to the locker room. Sciezka got out of the water, grabbed her towel and went to wait by my chair. I went over to where I'd left the chair, hauled myself out of the water and Sciezka put my towel over my head and ruffled my hair. She then knelt down and hugged me around the shoulders.

She then whispered in my ear, "I think that Jim and Gracia are getting along famously."

Oblivious I said, "Well, of course they are, they know each other from when I was in the hospital."

"Jean, I think they are getting along better than that," Sciezka hissed.

"Oh, you mean that?" I said and I smiled a small smile.

Sciezka just pecked me on the cheek and sauntered off to the bench to join them leaving me to catch up.

After getting myself arranged I went over to them and said, "Should we get changed and have something to eat?"

"I'm going to starve soon!" Elysia moaned.

"That settles it, we can't have that happen. Does anyone have any suggestions?" I asked.

Gracia said, "It's getting late, why don't we just head over to the house and have some sandwiches? Tomorrow is a big day. Then we'll send Sciezka home in the car. Jim, would you care to join us?"

"I wouldn't want to impose," he said hesitantly.

This was not the confident Jim I was used to.

Gracia smiled warmly and said, "Nonsense, it wouldn't be any extra trouble at all. It's the least I could do after all you've done for Jean."

Sciezka patted my hand at this statement as she could see the blush beginning to creep up my neck.

We headed for the locker rooms to change and made arrangements to head home.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Opportunity:

When we got to the house Gracia gave me instructions to give Jim the grand tour and then play host while she prepared our late supper. Sciezka asked if there was anything she could do to help and indeed there was.

"Sciezka, if you wouldn't mind making Elysia a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then getting her ready for bed it would be a lifesaver. She's going to go into C-R-A-N-K-Y mode any minute after such a long day," Gracia said.

Jim and I started with the living room, and I showed him the pictures on the mantle, giving anecdotes about some of Maes and Roy's choicer moments. Then I showed him some of Elysia's artwork taking special pride in her picture of the "King of the Couch".

Jim laughed and said, "Elysia is a great kid, very intelligent and very sweet. She's lucky to have you."

"Are you kidding? I'm lucky to have her, and Gracia," I said.

"Well after everything, you know… don't think that news didn't reach us at the hospital eventually," he whispered.

I nodded grimly and said, "But you know it's not like that. I feel protective towards her, I'd do anything for her… but nothing I do can replace him. I'm trying to be an adequate stand-in though, perhaps the favorite uncle. For now she's thrilled with having a ready playmate, a steadily available lap and her own personal race car."

He chuckled at the last one and said, "The kid idolizes you and if this picture doesn't prove it to you then the way she sang your praises during her swimming lesson should convince you otherwise."

I shook my head and said, "You've got to be kidding me Jim. Pull the other one."

"You have a serious fan club, but I hear you have been spared from marriage because she is too young for you," he said and winked.

I smiled and said, "Yes, she was not thrilled Monday when she figured out that Sciezka and I are an item. I'm glad she has recovered from the disappointment."

Jim said, "So is there more on this grand tour other than discussing the fact that you are adored by three beautiful women?"

"I can't help it that I'm pretty Jim," I joked. "There isn't much else on the main floor other than the kitchen, Elysia's playroom and my room. I'm afraid I haven't seen the upstairs, so I can't be much help with that."

Hastily changing the subject Jim said, "Well I haven't seen your room finished. You knew I was in on that already, would you mind showing me? I'm curious to see what Colonel Mustang and Gracia cooked up."

"Yeah, sure. Sorry for that last part. Sometimes I just let the little stuff get to me," I said.

"You're entitled to it sometimes. It's just rooms upstairs, but Elysia mentioned that you 'Butterfly' tucked her in and I'm sure that is what gets to you about the rooms upstairs."

I nodded and said, "Let me show you your handiwork in use. Don't mind the mess. Not that it gets that messy with Gracia around, but I'll excuse myself beforehand just in case it's not regulation."

We entered my room and Jim walked around, taking a peek in the bathroom and stopping to stand in front of my bureau. He surveyed the room, crossed his arms and said, "Not too shabby."

"No, not at all shabby. It's been perfect. Though I'm sure neither you, nor Mustang has Gracia's keen taste in linens. Go ahead sit on the bed. You'll never want to get up."

Jim tested it out and said, "So you've been staying in a Five Star joint all this time?"

"Gracia is a classy lady Jim, but I think you've already noticed that," I said.

He abruptly got up and walked back over to the bureau and picked up a picture of my comrades. In the picture were Roy, Maes, Breda, Falman, Feury and myself.

"That one was taken on an R and R trip, I believe we were all spectacularly inebriated at the time. It was before Elysia was born and everyone but Maes got transferred East with Colonel Mustang. It was a great time, Fullmetal hadn't enlisted yet and the war was a fading memory."

"Your comrades, they got transferred right?" Jim said.

"Yeah, that's why they didn't visit. I didn't scare them off with my piss poor attitude," I said chuckling wryly.

We were interrupted when Sciezka came in announcing that dinner was served and I was relieved. I could only take so much introspection on what had happened in the recent months.

***

Once in the kitchen we were greeted by Gracia's tomato soup that she'd canned from tomatoes grown in the garden the summer prior and grilled cheese sandwiches. We settled in and began talking, laughing and eating.

"Gracia, this is amazing!" Jim exclaimed.

"It's just grilled cheese and soup," she replied modestly.

"But the soup tastes fresh, it reminds me of home. I'll have to share Mama's sauce recipe with you," he said.

"A family recipe? How wonderful, thank you," Gracia said.

"Purely selfish, I don't have your expertise," Jim said sheepishly.

Sciezka nudged my arm under the table and I took her hand and squeezed it. Things were looking better for everyone.

After we finished eating I started clearing the table, shooing Gracia out of the kitchen to sit and rest in the living room with her guests. Sciezka offered to join me in the clean-up effort.

"All right you lovebirds, we get the hint that you want to be alone," Jim said.

I chuckled and thought to myself, "I guess I'm not the only oblivious one."

While Sciezka washed and I dried we would occasionally pause to exchange kisses and hushed words of endearment.

"I can hardly wait until Friday," I said as I finished the last bowl.

Sciezka leaned in for a kiss, beginning gently and then probing my mouth hungrily. She then sat astride my hips and we continued like that until Gracia called from the living room, "Do you guys need any help cleaning up in there? It's taking an awfully long time."

***

We emerged from the kitchen, Sciezka a vivid shade of crimson and me grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

Jim checked his watch and said, "It's late, and I should get home. Thank you so much for inviting me to dinner tonight."

Gracia smiled and said, "It was no trouble at all. We should all do this more often. Elysia loved the water."

"Sciezka, where in town do you live? I live just a few blocks from the hospital, would you like a lift?"

Sciezka smiled and said, "That would be wonderful, I live in that direction."

Gracia walked Jim to the door and before leaving Sciezka planted a chaste kiss on my lips.

***

After they had driven out of sight Gracia closed the front door and sat in the armchair for a few moments. Then she abruptly got up, went to the kitchen and returned carrying a few small bottles. I had moved to the couch to stretch out as it had been a long day and if I didn't rest soon I would suffer the consequences.

Gracia deposited the bottles in my lap and I looked at them and said, "So where were you hiding these Gracia?"

"At the back of the cabinet behind the icebox. Partially so Elysia wouldn't get into them…" she mumbled.

"Thank you Gracia," I said taking her hand.

She sat down on the small sliver of couch next to me and said, "For what? Living here? We've loved having you. You'll be sorely missed. You're a huge help with Elysia and you were just what we needed as well."

"No, thank you for hiding my meds," I said, averting my eyes.

"They weren't hidden, I would have told you where they were if you had asked," Gracia said attempting to retract her previous statement.

"C'mon Gracia," I said picking up the bottles one at a time, listing the contents. "There are enough drugs here to put down a raging bull. The short list alone contains sedatives, muscle relaxants, anti-spasm meds, two kinds of pain killers and one for sleep."

Gracia bit her lip and said, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be, you read me right. There were times I'd thought about going through with it but I just couldn't… it would kill my parents, eat Roy alive, and you and Elysia have already lost so much. Well and now I've got a lot to live for."

"Sciezka?" she asked.

"Well Sciezka yes and you two, of course. But most importantly, me. It wouldn't have been that dishonorable, not after everything that happened but I have too many things I still have to do. It's different for sure, but it's definitely not all bad. In fact there has been so much good. I'm a lucky bastard. The only way to describe it is it's just different than I expected my life would be," I said as I wiped a tear from her cheek.

I pushed up on an elbow and she leaned in to hug me and said, "Thank you Jean, I was so worried the first time I saw you at the hospital. I knew something had to be done and when I saw your eyes light up, the haunted look fading while you were talking to Elysia… I thought that maybe we could do something."

"You have Gracia, you've worked a miracle. The hospital should hire you. Speaking of which, anything you want to tell me?" I said.

"We do get along quite well. I don't know if I'm ready, but I'd love to get to know him better… " Gracia said hesitantly.

"It could be arranged, you know pick up poor Jean from therapy and head out to lunch but then I'm just too tired and Elysia is cranky and needs to go home too?" I joked.

"You are bad Jean," Gracia said.

"I learned from the best," I said with a grin. "Don't think I don't figure out when I've been set up. I'd love to plot your life for you, but it is late and tomorrow is going to be a long day. We should get to bed."

Gracia agreed and we both made our way to bed.

***

I awoke to a knock on my door and Gracia's chipper voice asking if she could come in. I checked to make sure that Master Havoc was behaving and he was and I said, "Come on in."

Gracia entered with two steaming mugs of coffee and as I accepted mine I asked, "What am I going to do without you Gracia?"

"You'll manage somehow," she said and smiled.

I pouted a bit and said, "I will, but I'm hopelessly spoiled now."

"We have so much to do, and the first delivery will be in a little over an hour. Time to get moving," Gracia ordered in her best commanding tone.

I gave her a crisp salute and a "Yes Ma'am" and quickly drained the rest of my mug.

***

After taking care of the necessaries and dressing I was met in the living room by Elysia, who was dressed in overalls, and Gracia who had a hamper and a box of cleaning supplies.

"Jean, I'm helping you move!" Elysia said and flexed her little arms.

I stifled a laugh and said, "You sure are Princess. We'll get your room all ready so you can come visit as soon as possible."

Gracia announced, "I have lunch taken care of and supplies so while the deliveries are being made we can unpack your things from storage and spruce things up a bit."

I put up my hands in protest and said, "You're doing more than enough already Gracia."

"Nonsense, I won't have you living someplace that's not spic and span, and I've taken the liberty of calling a few of the wives I know who take on cleaning for extra money."

I was a little indignant at this; "they" were doing it again.

"I can do those kinds of things for myself," I muttered.

Gracia rolled her eyes and said, "I know you can and Jim knows you can. If you would listen to reason… " She hesitated, wondering how to phrase the next bit. "Wouldn't your time and energy be better spent on university, your friends, and yourself? Is it so important that you do your own laundry and clean your own floors?"

I crossed my arms over my chest and said, "I'm going outside for a smoke. Sorry to be so pissy. I'll consider it."

***

She gave me some time to stew in my own juices, and then we headed over to the house.

We arrived at the house, I still had trouble believing it was my house and headed up the walk. Once we were inside Gracia set the box of supplies down and took the hamper I had balanced on my lap from me. She then opened the hamper, took out a thermos, poured a cup of coffee and thrust it into my hands. She rummaged through the hamper and pulled out a sandwich and put half in my free hand. She handed Elysia a cookie and she began to munch contentedly as a cookie before lunchtime was an unexpected treat.

"Are you done pouting? Eat something so you act like you're human," she said good-naturedly.

I took a sip of the coffee, sighed heavily and said, "After thinking about it the shelves in the study are awfully high and it is a big house. I always hated cleaning before. This wouldn't be a charity project for your friend, would it?"

"I assure you it wouldn't be," she said. "These women's husbands are away and they need something to take their minds off of that fact and you know how little enlisted men make. You'd be doing them a favor."

"In that case, it's a good idea because the last thing I would want to happen would be for you or Sciezka to be doing those sorts of chores for me. You are my friend and Sciezka is not my housekeeper or nurse, end of story."

"Well then it's settled. Speaking of the study, Roy had your things from storage delivered. We could go through them while we wait for the delivery men to come," Gracia asked.

"Oh, that stuff? I assume Breda and the guys packed that up, it's probably a mess unless Feury saw to the organizing," I said shrugging my shoulders. "It's nothing I really need at the moment. Just some mismatched dishes and kitchen stuff, uniforms and reading material."

"We could dust the shelves in the study and sort through the books," she suggested.

"Gracia, there are a few novels and the rest is um, questionable material," I said.

"Questionable material?" Gracia asked with her best poker face.

I debated on how I'd phrase my next statement and said, "You know, under the mattress stuff Gracia."

Gracia gave me a blank look and I finally said, "Elysia, go look at your room, it's just down the hall."

Elysia perked up her ears at mention of her room and skipped down the hall.

Then I whispered, "I cannot believe I am telling you this Gracia, but I do not want YOU or Sciezka seeing it. It runs the gamut from porn, pin-up girls, dirty books, to whatever you want to call it. Lots of it."

Gracia just smiled and finally let out a guffaw and said, "After dating and eventually marrying Maes and knowing all of you for this long did you think I did not know what you were referring to? I just wanted to see how many shades of red you would turn!"

I thought it over and half gasping said, "I should ship some of this to Breda as a practical joke!"

Gracia smirked and said, "Save some for Roy. Have it delivered to the office addressed from a 'Secret Admirer'!"

I pointed at her and no words came because I was laughing so hard at the image of the great Colonel Mustang opening a large box of porn in front of his staff.

Elysia came back in and I was doubled over in my chair and Gracia had a hand over her mouth barely stifling girlish laughter.

"What's so funny Mommy?" Elysia asked.

At this I let out another snicker and Gracia said, "Nothing Elysia, how do you like your room?"

We were saved from explaining by a knock at the door.

***

While Elysia and I dusted the lower shelves in the study Gracia split her time between playing Field Marshall to all deliveries and their set-up and making sure the house was up to her high standards. I was convinced that if she had the inclination to do so that she could become the next Fuhrer.

The house that had seemed so cavernous and empty that morning soon looked like a home with inviting furniture and the familiar lavender scent of Gracia's cleaning products. I peeked around the door of the study and said, "Gracia, where did you get that stuff?"

"It's a family recipe Jean. I come from a long line of herbalists," she said.

"So the sheets?" I asked.

Gracia nodded and said, "That would be lavender oil, sweet orange oil and a bit of rose water. Elysia calls it 'Monster Water', she uses it to keep away the Bogey Man."

"Well it certainly helps. I should have known there was some trick to your house being so soothing. Alchemists and doctors aren't the only people in Amestris who have all the secrets," I said with a chuckle. "Though Fullmetal says alchemy started in the kitchen and I'm convinced he's right."

Gracia blushed and said, "You did a lot of the work on the peaceful front Jean, give yourself some credit. But I did make enough of your favorites to keep you happy for awhile here."

"Thank you, I think I'd go through withdrawal without it," I said.

The last of the workmen left around noon and Gracia took the hamper and placed it on the dining room table and we all had lunch. While we were eating Gracia gave me a progress report and miraculously other than making up the beds we were done.

"Gracia, you?" I asked in disbelief.

"All of the dishes are washed and put away, you didn't get that many," she said modestly. "The bathrooms are set up, all that's left are some finishing touches and hospital corners."

"I hate that term," I said scrunching my nose.

"Me too," Gracia said. "Let's get finished here and go home to pack up your room."

I agreed to her plan of action and we ate our lunch in companionable silence.

Once back at the house Gracia sent Elysia to the playroom to tidy up a bit and we busied ourselves with packing up the things I'd collected during my stay. Armed with only newspaper, orange crates and twine in a couple hours my life with Gracia and Elysia had been reduced to a small pile and a large duffle bag containing the things I would need overnight.

Gracia called dispatch at the motor pool and asked if a driver would mind taking us over to the new house, and if he'd mind terribly helping us carry a few things. She was assured that it would be no trouble at all and that someone would be over directly.

I surveyed my room and Elysia came over to me, patted my hand and said, "You can come visit all the time, and I love my new room. I'll be over a lot. We can have tea parties."

I leaned over, kissed her on the top of her head and mumbled into the mop of blonde hair, "I would like that very much Princess Elysia."

The driver at the door interrupted my contemplation. It was our usual driver and I was relieved. I said, "Hey, come in. I'm sorry, I never got your name."

"Kennedy, Staff Sergeant Michael Kennedy, Sir," he said and saluted.

"No need for formalities soldier. At ease," I said. "I just wanted to thank you for coming over and doing this on such short notice."

"Lieutenant Havoc, it's no problem at all. This detail is a plum assignment in the motor pool. Mrs. Hughes makes the best cookies," he said sheepishly.

"I remember those days, I was always after an assignment in this direction."

"Before I started this detail Sergeant Smith said you were in a bad way, I'm glad to see… " He trailed off.

"That I'm not such a sorry S.O.B. anymore?" I answered for him.

He gave me an apologetic look and said, "I'm glad to see that you're happy living here and that you are moving out on your own. The guys in the motor pool were worried for you. You're a good guy, it's hard to see something bad happen to one of your own."

I nodded and said, "Let them know I'm just fine, better than fine. If you see Smith let him know I feel like an ass for how I treated him."

Gracia and Elysia met us in the entry way and Staff Sergeant Kennedy started loading boxes into the car. I made my way onto the walk to have a smoke and think things over.

The crates were quickly unloaded and unpacked at the new house and just after dusk we arrived home. Gracia suggested that the three of us go out for something quick in the neighborhood and I agreed. It had been a long day and the weekend did not look like it would be any less tiring.

***

We left the house and as we made our way to a small café a few blocks away I held Elysia in my lap as I usually did when we were out. As we passed an old couple I heard one of them say a hushed tone, "What a sweet little family, but that poor young man, so tragic."

Gracia looked my way, waiting for the anger but it didn't come. I stopped and said, "To the outsider that is how it looks, I've come to accept that. Besides, they don't know me or how my life is. I'm honored that Old Bat thought Elysia was mine, same goes for you."

Gracia ruffled my hair and said, "Ditto, Sciezka's a lucky woman and you know where Elysia stands on the subject of Jean Havoc."

"Jim made me very aware of that last night."

"Oh?" Gracia asked.

"Yes, he filled me in on the whole swimming lesson and he thinks that you are a very classy lady. But I bet you knew that," I said.

Gracia looked exasperated, but then smiled and said, "Dinner, now buster."

We continued to the café laughing and joking. Once there we were seated, ordered and ate without incident. I prayed to no one in particular that life under my own roof might be as placid as things had been under Gracia's roof.

***

When we arrived home it was almost time for Elysia to go to bed. In honor of the occasion she chose two bedtime stories after she'd had her bath and gotten her pajamas on.

Gracia, Elysia and I huddled together on the couch and read my last bedtime story as a resident in the household. When I got to, "And they lived happily ever after" I looked to Gracia and then Elysia, swallowed hard and said, "I think it's bedtime, goodnight Princess."

Gracia picked Elysia up and once they got to the stairs turned around and I blew Elysia a kiss and Gracia went to tuck her in.

I made my way to my room, got ready for bed and as I was coming out of the bathroom saw the door open a crack. Gracia called, "May I come in?"

"'Course you can. I'm decent," I said.

I hauled myself into bed, scooting toward the middle so Gracia would have somewhere to sit and said, "Anything troubling you?"

"Not really, it's just that while I'm happy for you, at the same time it's bittersweet," she confessed.

"I know," I replied hesitantly. "It's nice having you both just upstairs, or Elysia in the playroom down the hall ready to show me something amazing to her… or cuddling before bed. Bittersweet is how I'd describe tonight."

Gracia smiled and said, "You'll be just down the block, you can come over and read her a story every night if you want. Come over until you're sick of us."

"Likewise with my place," I said. "Goodnight, because thank you doesn't even begin to cover it."

Gracia pulled the duvet up to tuck me in as I settled into the pillows in one of her trademark nurturing gestures and I said, "Remember to take care of you too."

She turned out the light without another word and I was left alone with my thoughts in the dark until sleep came.

***

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Warnings: Good sex turns into BAD SEX! (I'm sorry Jean, I had to! It was just going TOO well.)

1,001 Nights

"The sensations of searing agony, acrid air scorching my lungs, and my body being too heavy to move, as I lay prone on the floor flash through my dreams. The smell of charred flesh, distant voices, heat and light assault my senses. Images of the hospital, of Dr. Prick, the realization of what had happened, and the words that I wish I'd never heard. Repeat throughout the night until scared shitless and thoroughly demoralized…"

"Jean wake up. Jean!" someone called to me. Now I was being shaken.

"Jean, you're having a nightmare, wake up!" a female voice said urgently.

I opened my eyes, the lights were on and I lie contorted in my sheets covered in sweat. When I finally got untangled I saw the person that had woken me up was Gracia. I raked a hand through my hair, struggled to sit up and failed miserably.

"I'm going to go get a cold cloth and some tea and give you some time to collect yourself," Gracia said.

I nodded and as she exited the room beat my fists against the mattress in frustration.

By the time Gracia came back in I had straightened the twisted mess of blankets as best as I could and was on my side with my back to the door. I supposed she'd want to talk about this.

I heard the soft click of porcelain being placed on the wood of the bedside table and she settled on the side of the bed. I was surprised when she placed a cool damp cloth on my forehead. Using my free hand I steadied it and then wiped my face and neck with it.

"Do you want your tea yet?" she asked in a neutral tone.

I sighed and for a moment said nothing then asked, "What time is it?"

"It's a little after three," she answered.

"Great, I woke you from a sound sleep, I'm sorry… " I said sullenly.

"Jean, have your tea and talk about it if you want to, or don't," Gracia said sounding almost stern.

I reluctantly rolled over and pushed myself up so I was sitting up against the headboard. Crossing my arms I said, "What do you want to know?"

She picked up a mug from the bedside table and offered it to me and I grudgingly accepted it. She then retrieved her mug and took a sip.

"I'm just anxious, they're worse when I'm anxious," I said quietly.

Gracia nodded and said, "I thought you might have them, with all your medications for sleep and anxiety. It's common in your situation you know, in soldiers actually."

I nodded and took another sip of my tea.

"They're just worse sometimes. They'd gotten better for a while… "

Gracia interrupted with, "So what's got you so anxious?"

"The long list or the short list?" I asked sarcastically.

Gracia sighed and said, "Which one has you the most worried?"

"To sum up both lists would be a fear of failure," I replied.

Gracia fretted at this rather broad range of possibilities.

"It's late, suffice to say I'll soon have more responsibilities and I'm not sure I'll be able to deliver and that scares the hell out of me."

Gracia nodded in understanding and said, "You wouldn't have been given responsibility if people didn't think you were up to it. Believe in yourself, I do. Sciezka and Elysia do and everyone you're afraid of letting down does as well."

I started to speak and she said, "As you said, it's late. Would you like something to help you sleep?"

"I hate those things, they make me all fuzzy and groggy," I complained, then leaned over to put my empty mug on the bedside table and winced.

"You overdid it today. Are they in your duffle bag?" Gracia asked rather insistently.

"Yeah, they are and you're right. This twinge in my back couldn't have helped any," I said.

Gracia went to the bathroom and when she returned brought a glass of water and then dug through my duffle bag until she found my shaving kit and retrieved the proper medications.

She handed the pills to me and I took them and chased them with a swig of water.

"I'll wake you in the morning. Did you have anything planned or can I let you sleep in a bit?" she asked.

"Nothing too pressing, just a final details for the new place and then Sciezka will be coming over to the new place after work. Sleeping in would be nice, thank you," I answered.

"Try and get some sleep," she said as she turned out the light and left the room.

The smell of strong coffee was the next thing I was aware of and I smiled as I cracked an eye.

"Did you sleep well after I left?" Gracia asked.

"Like the dead, those things put me out, but I needed it. One more worry though, what if I'm not brave enough?" I asked.

Gracia pursed her lips and said, "Bravery isn't about not being scared. Being brave is about doing what scares you despite being afraid. You're brave every day Jean."

I set my jaw, nodded then gave a slight smile.

"Have some coffee, it's a little after ten and Elysia and I are going to run some errands, do you want to come along?" she asked.

I thought for a moment and said, "Is it ok if I get some things finished first on my own and meet you?"

Gracia replied, "That would be fine, we'll grab some coffee or something before we drop you off at the new place. Does that sound like a plan?"

"Just let me get showered and we'll get going."

Once I was showered and dressed we headed out. Gracia and Elysia needed a few things for the trip East to the lake and then on to the grandparents. I needed to get copies of the house keys made and then had a few last minute details to take care of before Sciezka saw the house.

The driver, Staff Sergeant Kennedy, dropped us off in front of the coffee house and said that he'd be just up the block if we needed to drop off any packages in between errands.

Gracia asked, "How much time will you need Jean?"

I thought for a moment and replied, "I shouldn't need more than an hour or so. Why don't we meet back here at one-thirty?"

Gracia agreed that a late lunch would be in order and we both went about our business.

My first stop was the locksmith's to have copies of the keys made; he said it would take about an hour to complete my order. The next item of business would be a bit more complicated. I wanted the house be inviting and romantic, but how much was too much? I didn't want Sciezka to laugh at me for being an utter sap, but at the same time I wanted the night to be memorable.

After deciding that take-out for dinner, a bath, and nixing the idea of a roaring fire I headed to Amestris Woven Goods and Sundries for candles. It might be unseasonably warm, but there wasn't any reason that the fireplace couldn't be useful for something. I made a mental note that I'd need to pick up bubble bath as well.

Before entering the store I stopped to have a cigarette, go over the list again and calm my nerves. This wasn't any different than last time other than it was at my place and not Gracia's. It would be fine, better than fine. We'd have a lovely time and then tomorrow would be an informal gathering of my closest friends, again nothing to worry about and we'd have Sunday to ourselves. I stubbed my cigarette out and headed in.

Once inside I grabbed a basket, balanced it on my lap and headed straight for the candle section. I was on a mission. I browsed through various types eventually deciding that all the scented ones stank like a brothel with all of their heady perfumes mingling. I finally settled on tall, white unscented candles in their own glass containers.

"Jean, you're back so soon, stocking up for an emergency?" a somewhat familiar voice behind me asked.

I steadied the now laden basket in my lap and turned my chair around and said, "Um, sort of… emergency?"

"Oh, you might not remember me, from a few days ago," the brunette sales clerk said.

"Right, Leah, you helped me a few days ago. But candles, for an emergency?" I asked mildly perplexed.

"Those are utility candles for when the power goes out, things like that," she said, mildly amused.

I flushed a bit and said, "Well the others all have a smell to them, and so I'll be going with these. I think I'm ready."

She gave what I could have sworn was a sniff of disappointment and directed me to the register. She had a stock assistant box the candles up and follow me to the car. I was relieved that I didn't have to lug them around for very long. I hadn't thought that out very well. I tipped the boy a few cens for his trouble and he said, "Thank you sir, and if you were wondering, she was hitting on you."

With that he winked and trotted back to the store.

I gave Staff Sergeant Kennedy a perplexed look as he placed the box in the trunk and he said, "You know, they say when it rains it pours."

I chuckled, shook my head and said, "I guess so. Thanks for waiting around for us."

Then, I headed in the direction of the shop where Sciezka and I had purchased Riza's birthday gift. Perhaps they'd have something small to give Gracia as a token of appreciation and I vaguely remembered it smelled good in there.

Once there I found what I needed quickly. Two small silver key fobs, appropriately masculine "foaming bath" as the proprietor called it, and a few scented candles that didn't remind me of a brothel. Browsing the stationary I selected a larger journal, as I'd found that my hand cramped if I wrote for long in the smaller ones and it had become a habit. There was also a "travel pen" that had a self-contained inkwell. I was left on my own and appreciated it, as there were so many different items to explore. I'd never figure out why he'd ever put together such a diverse offering, but they were all just the thing and selected with care. I'd have to remember to stop here first from now on. As he rang up my purchases he asked how the necklace went over. I was surprised he'd remembered but said, "Perfectly, she barely takes it off."

"I thought it would be a good fit," he said knowingly.

He commented on the two key fobs, one a small heart and the other one a star and said, "So if I may ask, who are these for?"

"The heart is for Sciezka, my girlfriend for lack of a better term and the star is for my friend Gracia," I told him. He was honestly interested.

"Gracia Hughes?" he asked.

I was surprised that he knew the name and answered, "Yes, my friend and landlady."

"Then you must be Jean," he said.

I took a moment to collect my thoughts and finally said, "So she must come in here a lot?"

He nodded and said, "She likes the essential oils and soaps."

"That would be 'my' Gracia. She makes this lavender water for Elysia that I love," I said.

"She should sell that Monster Water. I keep telling her I'd stock it," he said laughing.

"I'd love to stay and chat, but I'm on a schedule today. Oh, one question, where do you find all of this?" I asked.

He smiled at my question and answered, "Well most of the things I stock are favorites I've stumbled upon in my travels, but the silver and pewter are mine. It's a hobby that got too big to be just a hobby."

"Well it's beautiful. Sciezka truly loves that necklace and the paperweight was a big hit," I said.

"Come back soon, even if it's just to browse. Have Gracia and Elysia come visit as well," he said as I turned to leave.

I thanked him, wished him good afternoon then hurried to the locksmith's to pick up the keys and to meet Gracia and Elysia.

While waiting outside the coffee house I lit up another cigarette. I wasn't smoking nearly as much as I had before, but today I noted that I was indeed nervous as I'd smoked quite a few already and it was only early afternoon. As I finished my cigarette I heard Elysia before I saw her blonde pigtails bobbing up and down as she skipped down the sidewalk with Gracia chasing after her.

"Whoa Elysia," I said as she crashed into me as she hugged me.

Gracia slowed her pace and smiled at the scene, then suggested, "We should eat something. That one ran all over the High Street for the last hour."

I laughed and said, "That sounds like a very good idea."

Once at a table we ordered and while we waited for our food to arrive Gracia and I compared notes on what we'd accomplished.

I pulled out the star key fob and placed it in Gracia's hand and said, "Here are your keys."

Gracia turned it over in her hands and said, "Where did you get it?"

I told her about the little shop and she smiled and said, "That shop is one of my favorites. I'm glad you found it. Isn't the proprietor darling? He always stocks the best things and listens to Elysia's stories."

I replied, "Both are a find. He remembered you, and me apparently. You must go there often."

Gracia flushed and said, "Sometimes, yes. His rosewater is the best in Central and he has good prices for the quality of the product."

"It doesn't hurt that it's so cozy in there either," I said and winked.

"No, that doesn't hurt either. You didn't have to put my keys on something so nice," she said.

"Yes, I did," I said. "I saw it and I thought it was perfect. It's a wishing star, for lack of a better description. You and Sciezka have warped me beyond all recognition. I don't mind though, not much at

least."

"What else did you get?" Gracia asked, wanting to see my spoils from her favorite shop.

"Hmm… new notebook, pen and some bath stuff," I replied.

"Bath stuff? What kind of bath stuff?" she said barely concealing a smile.

"Some orange and honey scented stuff that you know, foams," I mumbled.

"Bubble bath?" Gracia snickered.

"Manly bubble bath, very manly bubble bath," I huffed a bit.

"Can I at least smell this manly foaming bath?" Gracia asked.

I dug under my seat, found the bag and handed her the bottle. She uncapped it and sniffed and said, "Yes, oranges, honey, sandalwood and maybe some musk, it's manly. For bubble bath!"

I slumped in my chair and she added, "She'll love it."

Perking up a bit I said, "So what did you do besides chasing Elysia?"

"Well, I did my errands and some browsing and then stopped at the green grocer to drop off my list and yours," she answered.

"My list? I have a list?" I asked.

"I figured you would completely forget about stocking the icebox with everything else you have going on this weekend. Don't worry; it's just a few of your favorites and Sciezka's favorites. They're bringing the ice as well," she added.

"Gracia, you didn't have to do that," I said.

She smiled and said, "Don't thank me Jean, it's on your tab. I set that up too. I hope white wine is ok. I noticed that you two seemed to prefer it."

I laughed and said, "Gracia, when you become Fuhrer this country will run so smoothly."

Gracia grinned and said, "That's someone else's job."

I lowered my voice and said, "Then he'll just have to put you on the cabinet in an advisory capacity."

Our food arrived and we all continued talking jovially. Elysia had changed her order to peanut butter and honey from her usual, which we all had a laugh about and soon we went back to the car to head to my place. I noticed that Gracia had a small brown bag with her that she handed to Staff Sergeant Kennedy. He was right; this was a good detail to be assigned to.

We arrived at my place around three o'clock. I calculated that I had a little over two hours before Sciezka arrived. Gracia and Elysia came in for a few minutes to help me bring in my purchases and Gracia left a list of phone numbers of all the different repairmen and services she used at her house.

Elysia went to go visit "her room" and Gracia said, "You're going to have a wonderful time tonight. She's going to love it. Call if you need anything, ok?

I rubbed my temples and said, "I hope so. If preparation counts for anything then it will be great."

Gracia smiled and nodded. Elysia came bounding back into the living room and said, "Jean when do I get to sleep over?"

I laughed and said, "Soon Princess, soon. Let me get settled over here first."

That answer was fine by Elysia and as Gracia took her hand to go she said, "We'll see you at your party tomorrow Jean!"

"Yes, you will! I'm so glad you're coming," I exclaimed.

"Will there be streamers and balloons?" she asked.

Gracia covered her mouth to stifle a laugh as I answered, "No, it's a grown-up party Elysia. But why don't you wear your best dress and lots of hair ribbons. That would be just as good as streamers."

Elysia nodded furiously in agreement as Gracia led her out by the hand.

I surveyed the room around me and decided that the first order of business would be to set up the "emergency" candles in the fireplace. It was too warm to have a fire in there but it would look nice with something in there. Especially with the plans I had for the Xingian rug.

I'd set out all the candles in the living room, bedroom and bathroom when I heard a knock at the door. I cursed thinking that Sciezka must be early and hurried to go answer it. Luckily it was only the grocer's delivery boy. I directed him to set everything down in the kitchen and fished for some cens notes. It was only then I realized that he had a few trips to make.

After three trips to the delivery truck the large block of ice was in the icebox, and I had enough food to feed a small army for the weekend. Gracia was indeed thorough. When the delivery boy had left I hastily put away the food and put the wine in the icebox to chill and returned to my plotting.

Sitting in front of the linen closet I thought to myself, "How do I make that rug comfortable without making the living room look like a Xingian harem?" I laughed inwardly at that thought and realized that maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea. Sciezka and I had never ventured outside of the bedroom and I had promised that we'd break in every surface of the house. Why not make the first one memorable?

I grabbed a duvet, some sheets and made my way back into the living room and set them on the ottoman for later. We'd eat, have a bath and then we could come back out here for dessert. Gracia had even thought to order strawberries and those would be an excellent late night snack.

With the house prepared I went to the bedroom to change and after much deliberation finally settled on a white button down shirt and faded dungarees. I left the shirt un-tucked as it would just be us and rolled the cuffs of the shirt so they wouldn't get caught on the rims of my chair. I decided that shoes would be unnecessary as well.

I went into the bathroom, turned on the taps and splashed some water on my face and ran my fingers through my hair, mussing it a bit before putting it back into place. Next I took care of the necessaries then washed my hands and finally satisfied with how I looked splashed on a little cologne.

As I came out of the bathroom I checked the clock on the bedside table and noted that I had about fifteen minutes before Sciezka would arrive. I grabbed a book of matches and my cigarettes and as quickly as I could began lighting the candles. I wanted to appear casual when she arrived, if I could pull that off in my current condition.

When I finally got the candles lit I went out onto the porch to have a cigarette and wait so I could see her reaction as soon as she got to the gate. I stretched, shifted my weight in my chair then settled again and retrieved a smoke from the pack. I was nearly finished when she came into view. She had a piece of paper in her hand and a rather quizzical look on her face.

"Sciezka, over here! You made it," I called to her.

She shoved the paper in her bag, ran through the gate and up the steps onto the porch. She turned around slowly, taking it all in and said, "Wow, this is perfect, just like you described."

"Yeah, it's great… Roy picked a good one and wait until you see the inside. Gracia did a number on it. But I left the study to you. You'll love it, there are bookshelves from floor to ceiling," I said.

She put down her overnight bag, crawled into my lap and began to absentmindedly stroke my forearms as she nuzzled my neck.

She then whispered in my ear, "The house is perfect, but I was talking about you. You fit with this house, this porch, and I didn't think a white shirt could look so good."

"Let's get you fed, you are obviously delusional from hunger."

As we studied the takeout menu I decided that it would be easier if we both just picked our favorites and had small orders of each as Sciezka and I sat in the living room.

"Just circle what you want on the menu, I'll call and then while we wait I'll show you the house."

She circled what she wanted and I placed the order while she changed out of her uniform. I decided that the grand tour could wait and went to the icebox for the wine, poured two glasses and called Sciezka into the kitchen.

Sciezka snickered at my pint glasses and I shrugged and we went back into the living room. I hadn't gotten a chance to try out the new couch yet so I suggested we sit there while we waited for the food to arrive. After rearranging some of the pillows I transferred and stretched out so I was leaning against one of the overstuffed arms. Sciezka handed me one of the pillows to put behind my back and then straddled my lap.

"You don't want to see how comfortable the couch is?" I asked, amused at her choice of seating accommodations.

She answered my question with a kiss, setting the tone for the evening. When she broke the kiss she surveyed her surroundings and said, "It's beautiful in here at this time of day. The sky is just starting to go pink." She leaned in for another kiss and added, "I like what you did with the fireplace too."

We exchanged kisses until we were interrupted by a short series of knocks at the door. I moved to get up and Sciezka put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Jean, let me get it."

I started to protest but the couch was comfortable. Shrugging my shoulders I pulled my chair over closer so I could get at my wallet, retrieved it and pulled out enough money to cover the food and tip.

Sciezka went and took care of the delivery, then brought it back to the coffee table. After unpacking the bag and inspecting the contents of several cartons she handed me a set of chopsticks and a carton, then reclaimed her position astride me. She leaned over, deftly grabbed a carton and a set of chopsticks and dug in.

Gesturing at her carton with my chopsticks I said, "Hungry?"

Sciezka slurped a noodle from her chicken lo-mein and said, "I'm famished, plus you have work to do tonight. I haven't seen you since Wednesday."

Dinner continued in a leisurely manner, trading tastes of dishes between chatter and sips of wine.

We finished and it was time for fortune cookies. I grabbed all three and had Sciezka pick one. She unwrapped it, broke it open and then according to "the rules" read it, "Beauty will surround you - open your eyes to see it."

"In bed," I added.

"What? What was that for Jean?" she asked.

"Oh, that," I chuckled. "It's a game you play with the fortunes. You read them and then to each one you add, 'in bed'. Best one I ever got was, 'Tiny acorns grow to mighty oaks.'"

Sciezka rolled her eyes at me and laughed and said, "Well then, it's your turn. Pick one."

I selected a cookie, opened the wrapper and broke it open and read the small slip of paper silently to myself, and then aloud, "Be a good sport and you can't fail!"

I snickered at that one and Sciezka squealed, "In Bed!"

"One left, should we open it together?" I suggested.

Sciezka nodded and said, "Yes, this is fun."

I opened it, we each took an end and we broke it together. I handed the small slip from my half to Sciezka to read, "A romantic evening awaits you tonight… in bed."

She collapsed against me in a fit of giggles and I joined in her laughter. When we could finally both breathe I said, "So, after that long and hungry day at work would you like a bath?"

"That sounds like heaven… did you get your wish for the bigger tub?" she asked, sounding slightly mischievous.

"Yes I did," I answered. I think you'll be pleased. The bathroom is big enough that if we wanted to have the party in there tomorrow, we could."

Sciezka pushed up on my shoulders to nuzzle my neck, and then kissed me on the forehead and said, "I'll take care of the left-overs, and you go draw us a bath."

Once in the bathroom I went over to the tub and put the plug in the drain and turned on the taps. It wasn't too hard to get the water to just the right temperature and I poured a few capfuls of bubble bath under the stream of water. When the tub was half full I began undressing and transferred to the tiled edge of the tub. From there it was simple for me to ease in on my own.

I leaned back and let myself relax against the cool porcelain. Sciezka came in, turned the lights out and soon the only light in the room came from a few candles. Quickly shedding her clothing she stepped into the tub, turned off the taps, faced me and gently knelt in front of me. Cupping my face in her hands she kissed me slowly, almost methodically and carefully lowered herself until she rested against my chest. She just lie there for quite awhile saying nothing.

"You alive?" I asked.

Sciezka nodded against my chest and said, "I'm digesting and conserving my energy for later."

I sighed contentedly and said, "In that case, rest up because you are going to need it."

We floated there in the scented bubbles until the water began to grow tepid. Sciezka got up first, her wet, pale skin luminous in the candlelight. She toweled off slowly, placed one on my chair and set the remaining towel on the edge of the bath for me.

"I can get out by myself, if you're wondering," I said.

She leaned over the tub, kissed me and said, "I figured you'd ask if you needed help. The was lovely. Meet me in the bedroom."

Sciezka was sprawled on the bed in a pair of pale blue panties and a simple white ribbed undershirt. Though frills and lace had appeal, somehow this was infinitely better. I approached the bed but then made no move to join her, she looked at me quizzically and I answered her un-voiced question when I said, "I thought we'd start with the living room."

She cocked her head wondering what I was talking about and then seemed to remember that we were going to break in every surface in the house. A slow smile spread across her face and when the glint reached her eyes she said, "Should I wait in here?"

I nodded and said, "Just give me a few minutes, I want it to be just right."

Once in the living room I spread out the duvet and sheets hoping it would be soft enough, then arranged the floor cushions. I quickly went to the kitchen and got the wine and strawberries and went back into the living room with them balanced precariously on my lap. After lighting the scented candles I'd gotten at the stationary shop and placing them in the center of the coffee table I transferred to the rug, pushed my chair so it wasn't so obviously in the line of sight and decided that it was either going to go over very well or amuse her to no end.

"You can come out now," I called to Sciezka.

I was sitting up with the bowl of strawberries next to me, nervously playing with the stems as she emerged from the bedroom. When she came into the room her eyes immediately came to rest on me and she whispered, "It's just like in Scheherazade. It's gorgeous. You have to read it."

I beamed at her approval and offered her a berry. She knelt in front of me and delicately plucked it from my fingers. We fed each other berries and exchanged slow kisses, then she straddled my lap and said, "I'm ready for dessert now."

Her tongue slowly circled my lips removing any traces of strawberries that may have lingered there. I wrapped an arm around her delicate waist while the other traced circles over her back and shoulders. As her tongue was lightly massaging mine, occasionally flicking the tip to tease I'd catch it and she'd squirm with delight. When I began to nip at her lower lip she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, pulling me on top of her.

Reclaiming my balance I pushed up on my forearm and shifted my weight so I was over her. While tracing the fine lines of her jaw and neck with my free hand I let her know my plans for her in hushed tones, punctuating my sentences with nips and flicks of the tongue. When biting her lower lip and sharp intakes of breath no longer sufficed, Sciezka would grind against me insistently.

Shifting to my side I motioned for her to follow and she willingly complied. I slid a hand ever so slowly under her tank top and she moaned and said, "It's been torture this week Jean, don't make me wait."

I cocked an eyebrow and said, "You win, but I want to try something. Are you game?"

"What did you have in mind?" she asked, taking the slight lapse in conversation while I gathered my thoughts as an opportunity to attempt to relieve me of my boxers and when that failed reaching under the waist band instead.

"You are insatiable, and I adore it but could we try a different position first tonight? As much as I love being screwed senseless into the bed it might be fun to try something else," I said hesitantly.

She pursed her lips, looking a bit dejected and I added, "Oh, this is no reflection on you… this is definitely a 'being masculine' thing for me."

Nodding in understanding and smiling she kissed me softly allowing me to take the lead in setting the pace. While nibbling her earlobe I said, "About those boxers…"

She slowly slid her hand from where she had been playing with the hair at the back of my neck to my shoulder, trailing fingers over my chest, finally resting her palm over my stomach tracing muscles that were becoming more defined every day.

"You're working hard, Jim must have killed you on Monday and Tuesday," Sciezka observed aloud.

"That's kind of where I got this idea," I said sheepishly.

She continued working her way down to my boxers and I watched her slide them down past my hips then she sat up and slid them down over my legs tossing them aside when she'd finished. I maneuvered to my back, raised myself onto my elbows and then pushed up into a sitting position. Moving forward to find my balance I carefully placed one leg in a bent position to help me keep upright and after shifting my weight to the other side moved the other leg out further for added stability.

Thankfully Sciezka saw where my idea was headed and said, "Should I sit and wrap my legs around you or kneel with my legs on either side?"

I smiled a little at the technical details of all of this and said, "Sorry it's all so complicated, I think it will work best if you kneel with your legs on either side if that's comfortable for you."

She removed what little clothing she was wearing, then moved with ease to position herself astride my lap and wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "I don't care if we have to make up every new position, I want you. Besides, it will be fun doing the research."

With that she touched her nose to my nose, rubbing them together a few times, then sought my mouth for a deep and lingering kiss. I cupped her bottom, gently kneading it and lifting her a bit so her body was closer to mine. She nipped at my throat and ears, straying to my shoulders and chest while allowing her hands to roam. Eventually a hand drifted to the area of twilight sensation and I dipped my head to better reach her breasts. As I suckled and teased her nipples she began pressing her body against mine to meet me partway. Feeling myself beginning to lose balance I placed my left hand behind me to steady myself and Sciezka kissed me deeply. With this shift in position I seized the opportunity to make good on the promises I'd whispered earlier and began idly stroking her with the pad of my thumb while gently tracing patterns on her inner thigh. When she began biting her lip and wiggling in my lap in frustration I kissed her hungrily as she took my hand and placed it on my erection.

Taking hold I stroked it a few times and then Sciezka took me into her. She let out a soft moan, grasped my hair and then began to move slowly. In this position I was able to fondle and kiss Sciezka's breasts with her every rise and fall. As she increased the pace my cheeks began to flush and I tilted my head back panting hard. I placed a hand under her thigh to help steady her, felt muscles taut and quivering slicked with sweat and her juices. It would be soon.

Her pace became more urgent, her breathing and movements erratic and she bit down on my shoulder to stifle a cry. I felt the familiar jolt of electricity run up my spine, grabbed her tightly and as I held her she erupted in one more burst of frenetic energy then slumped against me. Caught off guard and barely able to tell up from down I toppled backwards and Sciezka collapsed on top of me, still coupled.

We lie there languidly for a few moments. Sciezka spoke first and said, "The rug needs more testing. I think I need to take you here like this, now."

I groaned and said, "May I please have some time to recover, maybe a snack, or some wine first?"

Sciezka moved to get up and get our wine when she winced and clutched her knee.

"What is it, are you alright?" I asked.

When she removed her hand from her knee, even in the dim light I could see a trace of blood. Sciezka got up to turn on the lamp and I felt utterly helpless. I should be the one tending to this; she should be sitting down being looked after.

After looking at it in the light we determined that it was just a small cut, but from what? Peering at the duvet I saw shards of glass. Sciezka looked around for her glasses so she could go get the first aid kit and I could tend to her knee but failed to find them.

A look of concern spread across her features as she said, "Jean, don't move."

She gingerly crouched so she wouldn't get cut on any of the glass and followed the trail of shards then said, "You are not going to like this. I think I found my glasses."

I looked at her dumbfounded, they weren't anywhere to be seen that I could tell.

"Where are they?" I asked.

"Roll over towards the coffee table very slowly and carefully," she said apologetically.

I did as she instructed and as I did she winced.

"Did you find them?" I asked hopefully.

"Yes," she said in a rather dismal tone. "I found them, but you are not going to like this. I didn't put them in a very good place when I took them off, heat of the moment and all and… "

"Oh, I broke them? I'm so sorry. We'll have to replace them as soon as possible," I said.

She sat down next to me and said, "I think we smashed them when we toppled over. There is glass all over the duvet, and um, you got cut."

"Well it doesn't… oh fuck, course I can't feel it," I said. "Where and how bad?

"I don't think it's that bad, but it looks like there is glass in the cut from what I can see so it will have to get looked at," she said.

"Where is the cut Sciezka?" I repeated.

"It's on your butt, I'm sorry!" she yelped.

I sighed heavily and said, "It's not your fault. Shit, how are we going to explain this at the emergency room?"

"No idea, but I will vouch that you were magnificent," she said with a small smile.

"The first aid kit is in the bathroom next to all the other special supplies, Gracia left a list with the number for a cab service, and I guess I wait here eh?" I said wryly.

Sciezka hurriedly began making preparations to get me checked out and I was left prone on the floor to wallow for a while. This was not how we were supposed to be spending tonight.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still don't own it.

Warnings: Sciezka drops the F bomb. :D

One Hundred Seventy-Four Days and Twelve Hours:

After cleaning and dressing the cut as best she could, Sciezka went into the bedroom to find some clothes for me. I heard her fumbling with the drawers a bit, then the taps in the bathroom running and finally she came out.

"I'm still sorry about your glasses, fuck," I said as I hit a pillow.

She handed me a warm, wet washcloth and said, "You had better clean up before getting dressed, and Jean, it was an accident. They can be replaced. I'm more concerned about that cut."

I grumbled a bit and started to roll over to sit up.

"Be careful, you don't want the glass to go any deeper," Sciezka warned, her hand resting on the small of my back.

"So how do I do this then?" I asked, rather irritated at the situation.

"Well if you'd let me help you won't have to move as much… " she said, trailing off when she saw my scowl.

After much complaining on my part we finally arrived at the hospital. Sciezka paid the cabbie and instructed him to go get the chair. She then helped me out of the cab so I wouldn't worsen "the wound" as we had dubbed it.

As I began to sink back into my chair she reminded me to try to keep my weight off of my left side. I nodded and complied.

At the entrance I asked, "We're going to laugh about this later, right?"

Sciezka leaned over and planted a quick kiss on my cheek and said, "You aren't being too bad a sport for someone who has glass in his ass!"

I pulled her in for another quick kiss and said, "Of course it had to rhyme, didn't it?"

She nodded and grinned and finally said, "Let's get you checked out. The sooner we do, the sooner we can go home."

Once we got inside I went to the front desk and explained my condition in rather general terms, and indicated that I needed to see a doctor. The charge nurse handed me some forms and after filling them out I was ushered into an examining room.

Sciezka was asked to wait in the lobby and I was handed a gown to change into and told to sit on the examining table while I waited. Well that would be a difficult request to fulfill. Instead I removed my shirt and put the gown on and took off my shoes. I could at least get that much done myself.

There was a knock on the door and without waiting for an answer a man entered.

"Hello, you must be Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc, I'm Dr. Knox and I'll be treating you tonight," the man said.

"That would be me, but I'm retired. Just Jean is fine," I said.

"You were one of Colonel Mustang's men if I remember correctly," he said scratching his chin.

"News travels that fast?" I asked.

"No, no Roy is an old friend. He had me look at your case sometime back. I see you're doing well," he replied.

"All things considered I'm in perfect health, other than that whole walking thing," I said in a neutral tone.

He was silent for a moment then said, "So what are you here for? The admitting paperwork was rather vague."

"I had a little accident at the house and sat on some glass… " I told him hesitantly.

"So you got cut? Did the young lady pacing in the waiting room have anything to do with it?" he questioned.

I felt my cheeks getting warmer, but answered, "She was there."

Dr. Knox simply nodded and smiled and I was relieved that he didn't press the issue any further.

"Well, let's get you up on the table," Dr. Knox said.

As I was wondering just how that feat would be accomplished Dr. Knox came to stand in front of me and said, "You're working with Jim Bruno in P.T., right?"

I nodded in the affirmative, smiled and answered, "Yes I am. He is tough but I can tell that I'm getting stronger."

Dr. Knox smiled and said, "Good, because you'll need it to help me. Plant both feet on the floor, place both hands on my shoulders, and when I count to three pull up and try to keep steady. I'll then pivot with you standing and help you onto the table."

This sounded complicated but I trusted that he knew what he was doing. I did as instructed and after some maneuvering on both our parts I was face down on the table.

Dr. Knox wiped the sweat from his brow and said, "There that didn't end in disaster, let's see what you did."

He pulled an instrument tray closer to the examination table then left my line of vision. He came back with a pillow to put under my chest to make propping myself up on my elbows more comfortable and said, "So this injury would be under you pajama bottoms?"

"Correct," I muttered.

I heard him move around the table, re-arrange some of the equipment and then the rustle of fabric.

"Well, you did a number on yourself, it's good you came in to get it checked out… " he said as the exam room door flew open.

"Knox how is he? Is it bad?" a very panicked Colonel Mustang said as he burst in.

"Fucking hell Roy, I'm fine! How did you even know?" I yelled.

Roy, who still appeared upset, looked around the exam area and once certain I wasn't mortally wounded said, "I have a list of my people, they call if anyone on it comes through here."

"Well you can leave now," I said sullenly. "It's obviously not fatal."

Roy laughed as he took note of the location of the injury and I turned my head to face him and shot him a glare.

It was Dr. Knox who acted as referee, "Jean he came all the way out here in the middle of the night, humor him."

"Fine, but he waits with Sciezka," I said before I was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Knox, it's Parker, you have a patient of mine in there. What's he in for?"

Thankfully Dr. Knox left the room to talk to Dr. Prick.

"Roy, grab something, cover me. I do not want him to see me like this!" I pleaded.

Without another word Roy took a sheet from the counter and covered me. I had just enough time to mouth, "Thank You" before Dr. Prick came in with my chart.

Without greeting me or even making eye contact he asked, "So any return?"

I left my commentary on his bedside manner unsaid and answered his question in a neutral tone, "No, I haven't had any return."

He continued, "So Knox tells me that the rehab is going well, let's check you out. It'll be what, six months soon?"

"It's been one hundred seventy-four days and what time is it Colonel Mustang?"

Roy moved to stand between Dr. Parker and myself and said, "It's two in the morning Second Lieutenant Havoc."

"Well then tack twelve hours onto the previous figure since the incident," I said flatly.

Dr. Parker was silent for a few moments and said, "If you would cooperate…"

Roy interrupted him saying, "I believe my subordinate has a formal appointment with you in a few weeks. Tonight he's here for another matter that hasn't been tended to yet. Please allow Doctor Knox to do his job."

With that Dr. Parker left.

Once he was out of earshot I said, "Thank you that was Dr…"

"Prick, I know. Gracia told me of your fondness for him, so did Alphonse," Roy said. "He lives up to the nickname. He should be in the medical examiner's office instead of Knox with that bedside manner of his."

Dr. Knox came back in and said, "Sorry about that Jean. Let me get you patched up and out of here, and Roy go wait with his friend and tell her he'll be just fine."

Roy clapped me between the shoulder blades and said, "So should I ask Sciezka exactly how this happened?"

I pushed up on my elbows as far as I could and said, "You wouldn't, would you?"

"He won't, now go keep Sciezka company and behave," Dr. Knox said.

With that Roy left the room and Dr. Knox finally began his examination.

After a few minutes spent silently pulling shards of glass out with tweezers, he cleaned and dressed the wound and asked, "So what really happened?"

Sighing I said, "Well it's about how it looks."

Dr. Knox chuckled and said, "I'm glad to see you're on the road to recovery. Roy had me worried when he first brought your case to my attention. So what are your plans?"

"In the immediate future, my housewarming and then a trip East to a lakeside cabin," I answered. "Oh what about that? Will this put a damper on the trip?"

"Don't worry, I didn't have to put in any sutures. Keep it clean, put the ointment I give you on it when you change the dressing, twice a day, and above all stay off it as much as possible the first two days so it can close," he instructed.

"Stay off of it?" I asked.

"Yes, as in other than that housewarming and the necessaries, in bed or otherwise on your side," he answered.

"Fair enough, at least you're human, that Dr. Parker…" I said

"Dr. Parker…" Knox interjected. "Is a fine surgeon, but your appraisal is correct. Since you didn't finish before, what's are the rest of your plans?"

"It has been decided that I should give academia a try. I'll be taking Psychology and Military History this quarter at the university," I said.

Dr. Knox nodded and said, "I think you'll do well if you apply yourself. Roy wouldn't steer you wrong."

I smiled and said, "No, he hasn't yet."

Then Dr. Knox helped me get ready and get back into my chair. I put my shirt back on as he went to the waiting room to get Sciezka.

When he came back in with Sciezka and Roy in tow he repeated the instructions and Sciezka promised to follow them to the letter.

"Oh, Sciezka, your glasses," I said remembering the cause of all of this.

Dr. Knox said, "Don't worry about it. I'll talk to a colleague of mine who owes me a favor. They'll be replaced by tomorrow afternoon. I'll call when it's arranged."

Roy winked at Dr. Knox and said, "I thought something was missing. So how did your glasses get broken Sciezka?"

Sciezka turned several shades of pink and I grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

Dr. Knox said, "Roy, make yourself useful and arrange to get them back to Jean's place."

I grinned, shook Dr. Knox's hand and Roy shrugged and headed towards the door.

Roy insisted on escorting us to the front door even though I protested that it wasn't necessary.

"Sciezka, I'll have a car come for you to take you to your appointment. Take good care of him and don't let him give you any lip," Roy said as he turned to leave.

"Roy, thanks… " I called after him.

"No thanks needed, though I think I've pieced together what happened, carry on," he called back.

As the car pulled away and Sciezka opened the door I said, "Smug…"

"Bastard," Sciezka said as she finished the barb for me.

Once inside Sciezka pointed towards the bedroom and said, "In there, now. Doctor's orders."

"I think I'll like this," I said.

Sciezka frowned and chided me saying, "No, you're going to get ready for bed and then stay there. I won't be the one who has to explain why it's not healing properly.

"So no fooling around?" I said and pouted.

"Not tonight," she said crossing her arms across her chest.

I went into the bathroom to take care of some things, and then entered the bedroom where the sheets were already turned down and transferred. Sciezka came in and sat down next to me.

"There will be plenty of time for that, so stop pouting. Will you be horribly offended if I help you get ready for bed?" she asked.

Still pouting I said, "Maybe."

"I promise this will be as painless as possible to your ego and you might even enjoy it," she teased.

She got up from the bed, went into the bathroom and came back with a shallow basin and washcloth.

"You have got to be kidding me, a sponge bath?" I asked.

"Is that a bad thing? I thought you might want to get cleaned up and then have a rubdown," she replied.

"Ugh, just nurses and sponge baths," I said wrinkling my nose at the memory.

Sciezka nodded, then grinned and said, "I bet they weren't naked and completely focused on making you feel better using any means necessary."

Upon further consideration, maybe sponge baths weren't evil.

Lying in bed on our sides like spoons I whispered in Sciezka's ear, "A good massage is like a fairy tale."

She turned a bit and asked, "How so?"

In my best dead-pan I answered, "They both have a happy ending."

It took a moment for Sciezka to register what I was getting at, but I knew when she did because she elbowed me in the chest and exclaimed, "That was perverted!"

"I was just making an observation," I protested.

"Well at least you're in a better mood now. It's late and I have no idea when my appointment will be tomorrow," she said. "That and I'm tired."

I yawned and pulled her closer.

The incessant ringing of the phone roused me from a deep sleep, but Sciezka's cursing was what woke me up.

"Smug bastard, arrogant jerk, the car will be there in ten minutes I trust you'll be ready. Ouch, fuck my toe!" she shouted.

"You used the F word. Sciezka are you ok?" I asked.

She was hopping around attempting to pull on a sock and finally gave up, then answered, "I'm fine, just in a rush. You stay put, that's an order. I'm calling Gracia and she'll handle whatever needs handling."

"But Sciezka… " I whined.

"It's not up for negotiation. Your role is strictly supervisory until the party. You are to stay off of that butt," she said pointing a finger at me.

"Can I at least get cleaned up a bit before Gracia and Elysia come over?" I asked.

"Of course," she said tossing a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt at me.

The doorbell rang; she kissed me quickly and ran to go answer it.

She called on her way out, "Stay in bed!"

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Housewarming:

As quickly as I could while minding that I didn't put pressure on the cut I made my way to the bathroom, took care of my routine, brushed my teeth and splashed a little water on my face. It would have to do for now. I then got dressed in pajamas and stole out to the living room.

Thankfully, Sciezka had cleaned up the evidence of last night's disaster. I returned to my room and my bed, and had just gotten situated when I heard a key in the lock and Elysia's voice announcing that she and Gracia had arrived.

Gracia came into the bedroom and said, "So I hear you had quite an adventure last night."

I blushed and asked, "So how much did Roy tell you?"

"Pretty much all of it," she said with a smile.

"Did Sciezka even need to call you?" I asked rather glumly.

Gracia shook her head apologetically.

"I'm sorry this leaves a lot of the party preparations to you," I said changing the subject.

"It's catered, right? I'll just set the table and get out the serving trays. It's nothing too taxing. Oh, and maybe I'll pick some flowers from the garden," she said.

Elysia chimed in, "My job is to read and color with you on the big bed."

I smiled and said, "I think that sounds like a very good plan."

Gracia left the room and Elysia hopped up on the bed to keep me company.

***

When Gracia returned she brought in two steaming mugs of coffee, a glass of milk for Elysia and some pastry and set it down on the bedside table. She then commenced fluffing the pillows and making a general fuss about me. I let her; it was easier to let her get her way when she was in mother hen mode.

As Elysia munched her breakfast she said, "This is like a picnic. We should do this all the time!"

I chuckled and said, "Maybe next time we'll move the picnic to the front porch. Speaking of which, do you think it needs a porch swing?"

Gracia nodded and Elysia answered, "Yes it does and a hammock. Every good porch has both."

"Well, you seem to be an expert. I'll have to have both," I said hiding my amusement at her sureness in the ways of the world.

"You should put some candles on the porch so if people gather out there to talk after dinner it has some decoration," Gracia suggested.

"That's a great idea, I hadn't thought about that. I've never really decorated before. Last night was my first real attempt," I said.

Gracia smiled and said, "I bet the fireplace looked lovely. When Sciezka gets back I'll run out and get some more candles and other incidentals."

"You are a lifesaver, can I ever thank you enough?" I asked.

"Don't be silly. Besides, if you haven't noticed Roy thinks you are my hobby. He might be right, but it's nice to have you and Sciezka around as often as you are. It was lonely before cooking for just the two of us," she said.

"Well I intend to repay the favor and watch Elysia so you can have other interests too. You wouldn't mind coming to stay at my house, would you Elysia?" I asked.

"No Jean! I love your house. You have good floors for dancing on and I love my room," she replied beaming.

"Maybe you can get Sciezka to play ballerina with you sometime," I said.

Gracia laughed and said, "I won't tell her you were the one who suggested that."

With breakfast finished Gracia cleared away the dishes and left Elysia and myself to color. She'd come in every now and then to freshen up my coffee and ask if we needed anything. It was Elysia who nodded off first and I decided I might as well nap too.

***

The warm haze of my nap was disturbed by a popping sound and girlish laughter. I flailed a bit trying to roll over, caught myself before falling out of bed and finally saw the sources of laughter.

Gracia, Riza and Sciezka were standing next to the bed and Gracia had a camera in her hand. The flash bulb must have made the popping noise.

"Honestly, blackmail photos? Ladies, I am hurt," I scolded them.

Riza was the fist to speak, "These will go over well at the firing range and perhaps we should print a copy to send to Breda."

"You wouldn't… " I said.

Gracia giggled and said, "You know she would."

"You have a little something on your chin," Sciezka said, gesturing towards my face.

"The hell? Oh great, I was drooling. This is just wonderful," I complained.

Elysia finally woke up, stretched, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and said, "What's so funny Mommy?"

Gracia smiled and said, "We caught Jean sleeping with your stuffed bear."

Elysia didn't think this was so odd, grabbed her bear and snuggled up next to me and said, "Bears are a good thing, aren't they Jean?"

Matching her indignant tone I said, "I completely agree Princess Elysia, stuffed bears are a very good thing."

I hugged her close for emphasis and stuck out my tongue at the three "traitors".

Riza stifled a laugh and said, "I'll see you all later. Sciezka, glad I was able to help with your errand this morning."

I was a little confused but then took a good long look at Sciezka and said, "You got different frames. I like them. Did you get a haircut too?"

Thankfully, the expressions registering on the adult female faces ranged from relief to approval.

The frames Sciezka and apparently Riza had picked out were made of thin silver wire and oval shaped. They complemented Sciezka's delicate features perfectly.

Sciezka touched her hair a bit self-consciously and said, "Do you like it? It's not that different… "

I patted the bed next to me and said, "Get over here so I can fully appreciate you."

She smiled and Gracia left the room with a reluctant Elysia trailing behind her.

***

Once we were alone I propped myself up on an elbow, looked her up and down, smiled, and then ran my fingers through her hair.

"So you like it?" she asked hesitantly.

"I like whatever you like, but I must say I like this window dressing. The new glasses suit you. Guess I just had to take one for the team to get you to change things up," I answered.

Gracia called from the living room, "I'll be back in a few hours to help Sciezka set out the food. I suggest you both have a nap as last night was so late."

Sciezka went to the bedroom door and said, "That's a great idea, thanks so much for all the help."

I heard the front door close as Gracia and Elysia left and Sciezka closed the bedroom door, stretched and said, "I could really use a nap."

"You just woke me up from one and you want me to sleep more?" I asked.

"You are awfully cranky. Trust me, there will be plenty of time for non-sleeping activities later. Right now I'd like to curl up and just rest with you," she replied.

"When you put it that way I think a nap would be an excellent idea. Get something more comfortable on and join me," I said.

Sciezka stood up, stepped out of her loafers, slowly removed her sweater and unbuttoned her pants and then let them fall to the floor. She stood before me in just her panties and camisole.

"I thought… " I stammered.

"We are just napping, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be as close as I possibly can be to you and this is comfortable. Let's lose your shirt and get under those covers. Oh, I should set the alarm," she said.

Sciezka wound the clock, removed her glasses carefully placing them on the bedside table, pulled impatiently at the covers I was lying on to help me get under them, then tugged off my shirt with equal fervor. Then she climbed over me, lie down to face me and whispered, "We'll rest now, get ready, have the party and then you can have your way with me."

"Really?" I asked. "It hasn't been the best weekend so far. After a sex disaster and a trip to the hospital I don't know… I'm not exactly a party to be around."

Sciezka nestled closer to me and said, "What you are overlooking is that the accident and subsequent trip to the hospital were caused by some amazing sex. I was careless with my glasses because I could hardly wait to be thoroughly bedded."

It took me a few moments to think over what she said, "So the complications… "

She interrupted me with a kiss and then said, "All worth it and not as off-putting as you make them out to be."

I returned her kiss and said, "Just smack me or something when I worry like that, would you?"

She smiled and replied, "Any time, but I think that I'd rather convince you some other way. Now hold me close and let's sleep."

Holding onto my shoulders she fidgeted to get comfortable, finally settling on draping an arm and leg over me as she buried her face in my chest and mumbled, "You're a good pillow."

After playing with her hair for a few minutes I noticed she had fallen asleep. I wrapped my free arm around her, closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep too.

***

The alarm clock went off; Sciezka startled, flailed a bit and finally got it turned off. She then stretched, rubbed her eyes and said, "See, you needed more sleep too."

"I figured if I didn't sleep I'd at least be able to hold you. You're much better than Elysia's stuffed bear. I won't object to more napping or enforced bed-rest as long as you promise to join me," I said.

Sciezka grinned and said, "That can be arranged. Now c'mon, it's shower time and I have to change that dressing."

"Could you do 'Naughty Nurse' again?" I asked hopefully.

"Maybe, now hit the showers," she answered.

***

I rolled over, sat up and carefully transferred to my chair so she wouldn't scold me. Then I headed into the bathroom. Once in the bathroom I got out of my pajama pants ran the taps until the water was the correct temperature and turned on the shower. I had no sooner gotten in and started lathering my hair when Sciezka joined me, to help she explained. I've decided I'm definitely all for help if it involves mutual nakedness.

Once we were both clean Sciezka set two towels out for me and made a peep show worthy production of getting us both dry. We then headed into the bedroom to change my bandages and get dressed.

Sciezka suggested that it would be easiest if I lie down on the bed and though I wanted to protest I knew she was right. After I complied she changed the dressing and thankfully the wound had stayed closed. Hopefully I would be good-as-new by the time we had to leave for the lake.

My good behavior was rewarded with a back and shoulder massage.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"You're tense, I can tell you hate staying in bed all day," Sciezka replied.

"Well I've done enough of it for a lifetime in the last six months," I grumbled.

"I'll just have to keep you company tomorrow and maybe Monday," she offered.

When she finished she said, "We should get dressed. You requested the little black number, is that still ok?"

"I think it would be perfect. I can show off the girl while showing off the new place," I said with a wink.

That earned me a smack, but she relented and kissed me despite my cheekiness.

"Do you think the blue sweater and black house pants will do?" I asked. "There aren't many options for pants with this cut."

"Even without the current situation that would be fine, though I do prefer your faded dungarees with that sweater. I just love that sweater," she answered.

We finished getting dressed and I ducked into the bathroom to fix my hair and splash on some cologne. When I was done Sciezka was in the living room talking animatedly with Gracia and setting out flowers.

Elysia ran up to me and thrust a bouquet of flowers at me. I invited her onto my lap and said, "So what have you got there?"

"These are flowers from the garden, um hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and the little ones are the last of the crocuses," she informed me.

"Well they are beautiful," I said. "Did you help?"

She beamed with pride and said, "I did. We put bulbs in the ground in the autumn and these are what came up."

"Gracia, thank you for plundering your garden for the decorations. They look and smell wonderful. The hyacinths especially," I noted. "You'll have to tell me what and when to plant. Ma always had a garden back East."

While Gracia appreciated my input, I was still shooed to the couch to "supervise and rest" in her words.

Sciezka, Gracia and Elysia bustled around the house setting out candles, arranging flowers and soon the food arrived. I checked my watch and called to Sciezka, "They'll be here soon. May I please have a glass of wine and a smoke on the porch while we wait for them?"

Sciezka came into my line of sight, shook her head and asked, "You must be climbing the walls, eh?"

After I nodded vigorously in reply, she shrugged and said, "Go check out the food and have a glass of wine. You deserve time off for good behavior."

I got off the couch quickly and headed to the kitchen before Sciezka had a chance to change her mind.

Gracia met me in the doorway with an ashtray and a pack of smokes in one hand and one of my sturdy pint glasses half-full of white wine in the other.

Eagerly accepting both I took a sip of wine and said, "Bless you Gracia!"

As I headed out the front door she called after me, "Light the candles on the front porch so it's ready when they arrive."

***

After surveying what they'd done to the front porch I lit the candles then sat back, fished a cigarette out of the fresh pack and smiled. Once I got it lit I took a long drag and exhaled. This was as close to paradise as it got. After I took my last drag I stubbed the butt out in the ashtray and set it on the railing. I then had a swig of wine to wash the slightly acrid taste from my mouth. I put the glass between my knees to hold it and stretched.

"Well you're awfully comfortable," Jim called as he came up the walk.

"Sure am, what's the curbside impression?" I asked.

Jim thought for a moment and said, "It's nice, and very slick how the ramp is hidden by the hedges."

I grinned and said, "I agree, the house doesn't scream 'Cripple lives here.' at all."

Thankfully Jim knew I was poking fun and not wallowing. He looked at my drink and said, "So where can a guy get one of those?"

"In the kitchen, let me show you in and then I'll come back to my post as greeter," I said.

Just as I pushed the front door open I heard Roy call from the sidewalk, "Second Lieutenant, should you be exerting yourself like that?"

"Get up here and in the house so this thing can start," I groused.

Jim arched an eyebrow and asked, "Is there something I should know about?"

I grimaced and said, "For the love of… so you didn't hear?"

He shook his head and gave me a quizzical look.

"Ha! Finally my name is out of the rumor mill for a little while. It's nothing big, I had an accident last night and had to get patched up at the hospital."

Roy, Riza, Jim and I then went into the house. Sciezka directed us into the living room and Gracia brought out trays of appetizers and asked what everyone wanted to drink. A few minutes later they came back in and it was officially a party.

Once introductions were taken care of we all made small talk until Jim smiled and said, "Well Jean, you look fine. So what did you hurt?"

Roy guffawed and said, "Jim, it was priceless…"

I cut him off warning, "Roy, not in front of the K-I-D."

He simply smirked and said, "Well it was G-L-A-S-S in his…"

"Colonel Mustang, permission to speak freely," I cut in.

"Yes Second Lieutenant Havoc?" he asked in an amused tone.

"If you are so concerned with the injuries I incurred last night you are more than welcome to kiss them all better," I retorted.

Riza, Sciezka and Gracia covered their mouths to stifle their laughter, Jim gave a hearty chuckle and Roy simply sat there, stunned into silence for once.

"What's so funny?" Elysia asked, clearly lost.

Thinking quickly I answered, "Everyone is just surprised that your Uncle Roy can spell."

That answer seemed to satisfy her for the time being. We'd be in big trouble once she learned how to spell.

 

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

Housewarming - Part Two:

After recovering her composure Gracia said, "Jean, do you think we should sit down to dinner?"

"I don't see why not," I answered then asked. "Roy, are Fullmetal and Alphonse out on a mission?"

Roy nodded and answered, "They send their regrets and Winry is in Rush Valley until Fullmetal does something reckless and needs repairs."

"As much as I love seeing and working with Winry, I hope I don't see her for a long while," Jim mused.

"Same here," I said, then added. "With Fullmetal, no news is usually good news. It means he hasn't leveled any buildings, overthrown the local government or pissed off too many people in general."

"He seems to have quite a temper," Jim observed.

"That happens mostly when his height or age are called into question," Roy said glibly.

"Fullmetal has matured since he passed the exam, he thinks things through, on what rationale I'm not sure," Riza said. "Though yes, he can be a loose cannon."

"Give him some credit, he's barely legal to enlist and he's all over the country righting injustices in his own way," I said. "Alphonse and Winry care about him and they're loyal to a fault. Besides, he's brilliant."

Roy chimed in, "Sounds like Fullmetal has a new member of his fan club."

"No, I've just come to appreciate the underdog," I said.

Gracia interrupted the conversation suggesting, "We should eat, you planned for more people, and Ed's appetite. There is a lot of food."

"I quite agree," I said. "We'll have dinner, the five cens tour and then dessert."

Elysia led the way to the dining room, informing everyone that there were place cards showing where to sit and that she had helped with the flowers. She further directed that everyone should keep their elbows off the table and use their napkins.

Gracia had greatly downplayed her plans for the party when she had explained them. She'd placed white candles of various sizes down the center of the table and instead of one large flower arrangement there were several small ones placed between the candles. The way she'd arranged the food only contributed to the overall effect.

"Roy, she'll plan State Dinners, eh?" I said after taking it all in.

Riza then said, "Gracia, it's all so beautiful and Jean from now on all parties are at your house."

Gracia smiled, colored a bit at the flattery and said, "Well really the menu was all Jean and Sciezka's doing, and this house is easy to get ready for a party. Jean would have had it handled if Sciezka would have let him lift a finger today."

"Roy, your tip on Pane Fresco was the best. Sal, the maitre d' was so helpful," I said.

Sciezka who was sitting to my left elbowed me and whispered, "You should propose a toast."

I whispered back, "You're right I'm used to gatherings like this being the beery sort."

I looked around the table, noting that everyone had a full glass, and cleared my throat to get their attention. Once all eyes were on me I raised my glass of wine and said, "I'd like to thank you all for coming, for helping me through the rough parts that make nights like this seem that much sweeter. So enjoy tonight, this is a small gesture to repay you all."

I heard murmurs of "here, here" and "nicely done". Then Roy raised his glass.

"Riza, quick kick him for me," I said in jest.

Roy cleared his throat and said, "Here's to those I love the best…"

I recognized that one immediately and shot him a glare.

"Oh right," Roy said sheepishly. "That one is not for mixed company. Thank you for catching that. On a more serious note, and before dinner gets cold, our friend has gathered us here to thank us. He didn't need to. We wouldn't have stuck around if you were an utter dick. We like you. You are stuck with us, enough said. To Jean."

My guests raised their glasses and after a bawdy start, Roy's toast was truly heartfelt.

With the toasts made we passed around the serving platters and everyone settled in to eat in earnest.

"So this Pane Fresco place, what's it like?" Riza asked.

The question had been directed at me, but my mouth was full of chicken parmesan. I nudged Sciezka and she answered Riza's question.

"The food is great, with a really diverse offering of Aquroyan specialties on the menu. The wait staff is amazing. I don't think Jean is going to want to go anywhere else in Central, Sal saw to everything. We sat on the patio, but I guess inside there are two dining areas and they also have more private dining booths. Oh, their wine list is extensive and there was a full complement of dessert offerings."

Riza smiled and said, "I take it you'd both recommend it highly?"

I took a sip of wine, wiped my mouth and said, "Anything less would be an understatement, and Sal put all this together with just a headcount, address and delivery time."

Jim looked up from his plate and said, "It is good, not quite like Mama's but every family has their own secret sauce and this one is good."

Elysia, who was sitting to my right, was enjoying her plain pasta with sauce and I asked, "Would you like to try some of the other dishes?"

She wrinkled her nose at first, then reconsidered and said, "I'll try a 'no thank you' helping."

This had become a fairly common practice when Gracia, Elysia and I would dine out. Anything off of my plate was better than hers. I cut a few bites of chicken for her and a corner off of each of the types of ravioli and put them on her plate. She poked at the chicken at first, then took a bite and smiled. It was a success.

Gracia smiled and shook her head, and Jim said, "You'll have her eating calamari next!"

Riza caught my gaze and gave me a small smile, which from her spoke volumes.

***

We continued eating, swapping stories and laughing. When everyone finished Sciezka suggested that I show Roy, Riza and Jim the house while she and Gracia put away the food.

"Are you sure? I can help," I said.

She got up and gave me a quick kiss and said, "Go be the gracious host. We're going to make coffee and then have dessert in the living room."

"If you'll all follow me I'll show you around the place. I still have a lot of things I want to do with it, I'm thinking of planting a garden, but you'll get the general idea," I said. "That and you'll know where the bathroom is."

I left the dining room with Roy, Riza and Jim in tow. Our first stop was the study.

"Don't mind all the boxes, after the trip Sciezka and I will be clearing it out, getting a desk and some comfortable chairs and I will hopefully write top mark papers here. Next you'll get to see the well appointed linen closet, coat closet and guest bathroom," I said in my best tour guide voice.

Riza lagged a bit behind and said, "The study is beautiful. Sciezka must adore those bookshelves."

"Yeah, we're looking forward to getting it just right," I said.

"You will," she said as she patted my shoulder and smiled.

We rejoined Jim and Roy who were inspecting the guest bathroom, then moved on to the guest bedroom.

"This is Elysia's room, and if you ask nicely she'll share it," I said.

Jim laughed and said, "She's got you wrapped around her little finger."

Shrugging I said, "Pretty much, but I don't mind."

"This is definitely a little girl's room," Roy said as he knelt by the pram. "I didn't see this happening when I suggested that you stay with Gracia."

"Well of course you couldn't have," I said. "What with my track record with the ladies and everything else on my mind… "

Roy paused, frowned and said, "I was looking after your best interests and I thought they'd be a good fit. But I think you were as good for them as they were for you."

I hesitated and said, "That outcome was something no one could predict. Everything has been for the best."

Riza crossed the room to stand next to Roy who was still kneeling.

"Hey Jim, I'll show you how slick the modifications to the master bathroom are, those two will be bored senseless by the details," I said as I headed for the door. "Catch up with us in the living room for another drink."

Jim and I headed for my room so Roy and Riza could be alone.

I could tell that though Roy was able to make polite conversation around and with Maes' family that he still felt personally responsible, as if he'd killed Maes himself.

Perhaps the only reason he was even remotely comfortable with me was because I seemed to be adapting to my circumstances. After rationalizing that it could have been worse, or a higher injury, the hand I'd been dealt was better than the other possible scenarios I'd worked out. As soon as I decided that I was glad I had lived, complications be damned, the setbacks weren't such blows to my ego. But I still reserved the right to sit in the bitter-barn whenever I felt like it.

"I can tell by the look on your face that you're thinking too much," Jim said. "So point out the special features, I can't find them. This looks like a regular bathroom."

Grinning from ear to ear I said, "I know! Instead of hastily installed pull-bars and benches it's all built in as part of the design… and thanks for the wake-up call."

"So what's on your mind?" Jim asked.

I sighed and said, "I'm just frustrated that something as minor as a damned cut can put me out of commission for this long. Six months ago this would have been nothing, a scratch, I'd get patched up and get back to work without a second thought."

Jim considered this for a moment, sat on the edge of the tub, tugged at his salt and pepper hair and finally said, "Setbacks will make you think about those kinds of things. This has really been the first roadblock in your recovery."

After searching his face for a moment I asked, "So you were expecting something like this?"

"I'd be lying to you if I said no. You've been so focused on your rehab and making sure others are comfortable with what has happened that I think you push all your thoughts about what you've lost aside," he answered.

"When I'm around Sciezka and Gracia, well even you, I don't feel that different. You all see me daily so we don't have stilted conversations about how well I get around or I'm doing," I said. "Yeah, I get around and I'm not helpless. It's nothing heroic, it's just what I have to do."

"That would get old pretty quickly," Jim said.

"After all the whining I've done and all the time we've spent together I barely know anything about you," I said changing the subject hastily and then paused. "It feels awkward to not know anything about someone who is such a big part of my life."

"What do you want to know?" Jim asked, smiling a bit. "Why are you so curious?"

"Well, I should know something about you, and if you spend more time with Gracia I'll have to know," I answered and folded my arms across my chest in a protective gesture.

"I'm 38, was born in Central, my parents were from Aquroya, they owned a restaurant, I have no siblings and I served in Ishbal as a medic," he said. "What else do you want to know?"

"Why a medic?" I asked and added. "That was awfully name, rank and serial number. Let me know if this makes you uncomfortable."

"Mama wanted me to be a doctor, I was only half-way through my studies when I was drafted. So I became a medic," he said with a shrug.

"Have you ever been… um any other family?" I asked, uncomfortable that I might be prying too much.

"Jean, just ask it happened a long time ago. I was engaged before Ishbal, but she didn't wait for me," he answered. "It's just as well. I had a lot on my mind afterwards."

"So you're not a medic or a doctor now, why?" I asked, changing the subject.

"As a medic on the front there were severe injuries that either died, or went home broken men. A lot of new treatments came out of Ishbal, yours for example. A decade ago you might not have been able to live independently outside of the hospital. The point is more soldiers survived who needed rehabilitation. But the cases that haunted me the most were the soldiers that were sent back out after being patched up just to be put in harm's way again," he paused then continued, "Doing what I do now I can do more good. I may not get you back to your original condition, but I have more time to try."

"We should probably get back to the party," I said. "Oh and about Gracia, you should move slowly, but move all the same. I see something there."

"I don't know, it's only been… " Jim said hesitantly.

"Yes, true. You'd both be wise to move slowly, but you're two of my favorite people," I said. "Besides, you're not too bad in the looks department. Maybe you're a little short, but you're still passable."

"Hey, look who's talking," he said jokingly. "You're 4'6"."

"No fair, that is sitting down. You're about an inch shorter than Roy by my estimate, the brown eyes and physique from hauling the likes of me around give you bonus points, but I'm still almost a head taller than you are," I joked.

"You are a tall guy. But seriously, do you think I have a chance?" Jim asked.

"Yes, I do. Now let's get back to the party," I said.

***

When Jim and I got back to the living room the other guests were talking, laughing and having another glass of wine. Roy and Riza were on the couch and in my absence Elysia had decided to occupy Roy's lap. Gracia sat on the overstuffed armchair. I looked around and couldn't see Sciezka.

I glanced at Gracia and without asking I had my answer, "She's in the kitchen."

Relieved I sighed and said, "Jim, find a seat. I suggest the ottoman, though the chair is big enough to fit three easily."

Elysia looked up from her chatter with Roy and said, "It is a very big chair. I can fit in it with all of my babies at once."

"Well, there you go Jim," I said with a wink, and Gracia scooted over a bit to offer him some room which he bashfully accepted.

Sciezka came back from the kitchen with dessert on a tray, which she offered to everyone. She asked if anyone needed any more coffee or wine and when she was satisfied that everyone was taken care of she looked to me and said, "So where were you going to sit?"

Laughing I said, "Brought my own chair, where are you going to sit?"

Sciezka rolled her eyes and leaned in and whispered, "You've been sitting for quite a long time. Why don't I pile up some pillows against the ottoman and we'll sit on the floor?"

I wasn't thrilled with this option as it meant I'd have to transfer to the floor with an audience, but the only person in the room who had not seen that was Roy. He'd see it sometime, it might as well happen sooner than later.

Sciezka arranged the pillows, I got myself on the floor propped on one elbow on my side to take the pressure off my rear and Sciezka placed my tiramisu and coffee on the floor in front of me. Then she settled in behind me with her dessert. This wasn't too conspicuous, it could have been worse.

As we all worked on our dessert we fell silent and thankfully Elysia came to the rescue when she asked, "Uncle Roy, this is a party, right?"

He was taken aback as Elysia hadn't called him that in awhile, but he answered, "Yes it is, why do you ask?"

She crossed her little arms, gave an exasperated sigh and said, "Well if this is a party, then where are the presents?"

Sciezka giggled and said to Elysia, "Everyone left them on the table in the entryway, should I go get them?"

Elysia nodded furiously and hopped off Roy's lap to follow Sciezka and "help" carry what everyone had brought. Sciezka reclaimed her place behind me, placing a hand on my shoulder and Elysia sat next to the small pile of presents they'd placed in front of me.

"Which one should I start with?" I asked.

Elysia handed me a long, narrow box and said, "This one first, and you should save mine for last."

I chuckled and checked the box for a card, seeing none I searched the room to see who it was from.

Jim said, "That would be from me, just open it. It's a start to your wine cellar as this place has everything."

After opening the box I saw that it contained a smaller wooden case, and opened that. Carefully nestled in wood shavings was a bottle of wine. With the care it was packaged with it looked like it was probably "the good stuff".

"Thank you Jim, I'll have to save this for a special occasion," I said.

He smiled and said, "It's from one of my favorite vineyards in Aquroya, a good year, and I think you two will love it."

Sciezka squeezed my shoulder as he said "you two" and I was sure she was blushing.

The next present Elysia selected was from both Roy and Riza, as indicated neatly in Riza's hand on the small white card that was attached to it. From looking at the simple felt bag I was fairly sure what it was. I opened the drawstring and pulled out a glass bottle filled with amber liquid. After studying the label I said, "This is older than I am, and single malt. Thank you, both of you. We will be breaking this out tonight for a nightcap."

Riza smiled and said, "It's good of you to share. There's also something for you at the firing range. I'll give it to you next time you're there."

Elysia wrinkled her nose and said, "Jean, your presents aren't very much fun."

Roy laughed and said, "These are fun for grown-ups." He gestured toward the pile of presents and said, "In addition to sending their regrets on not being able to attend, Edward and Alphonse sent gifts."

He directed Elysia to a neatly wrapped package in the dwindling pile and she handed it to me. Upon unwrapping it I saw that they'd sent a small leather-bound journal and a box of chocolates that had obviously been opened. I opened the journal and noted that Alphonse had written a small inscription:

Dear Jean,

Sorry Brother and I couldn't make it to your housewarming. I noticed you always have a notebook with you and thought you might like this one. I hope you do. Brother picked out chocolates for you, but he got hungry while I was choosing which journal to get you.

Sincerely,

Alphonse

P.S. I only ate one of the chocolates, if it helps any, they're good. If that bastard Colonel makes any cracks about it, deck him for me.

Ed

I laughed as I read Alphonse's note, as did Sciezka who was peering over my shoulder. It was a good thing I hadn't read it out loud. I set the journal down and said jovially, "Only a few more presents left Elysia. Would you like a chocolate? Edward sent them."

She did want one and she agreed with Fullmetal that they were delicious. Elysia didn't quite connect Ed with the title "Fullmetal"; I figured both names were interchangeable. It depended on the situation. I'd always liked calling him "Boss" myself. I'm sure he preferred that to "Shrimp", "Pipsqueak" or some of the expletives he'd had hurled at him when he'd bust places up.

"Alright Elysia, what next?" I asked and she handed me a brightly wrapped package.

"It's from Mommy!" she said.

I smiled at Gracia and said, "After everything you've done you didn't have to get me a gift, thank you."

Gracia laughed and said, "Just open it, in the end I'm saving myself time."

After carefully removing the paper from the gift I noted it was a book, but then opened it and after scanning the first few pages I realized that it contained some of my favorite recipes, in Gracia's handwriting.

"These are your recipes, aren't they?" I asked.

"Most of your favorites and some of Sciezka's favorites, now you can cook them here," she said modestly.

Elysia piped up and said, "She got you the percolator too. Mommy says you are grumpy without coffee."

We all laughed at her statement. When the room quieted I said, "Thank you so much, that was such a thoughtful gift. Both of them are actually, and I am very grumpy without my morning coffee."

There was only one more package in front of me and I said, "Elysia, is this your gift, the one I had to save for last?"

She handed it to me, then nuzzled into my chest and said impatiently, "OPEN IT!"

Someone was getting tired and cranky, besides me. I obliged her and made a show of opening the misshapen package.

"Oh, wow, this is so great. It will be the first picture on the mantle," I said.

I hugged Elysia close and looked over at Gracia then said, "It is permanently of record that I am the 'King of the Couch'."

The grown-ups all chuckled and I said to Elysia, "Go show them the beautiful picture you gave me. I love how you painted the frame."

Gracia must have helped, as photographer and framer, but this was definitely one of the best gifts I'd ever received. The brightly painted wood frame contained a photograph that had been taken of me napping on the couch with Elysia curled up on my chest. That one photograph captured the best parts of my time under their roof.

As she flitted through the room with my treasured gift the adults told her how beautiful the colors on the frame were, and smiled at me.

"I definitely saved the best for last. Thank you Princess Elysia," I said.

She'd finished showing the picture around the room, returned to her spot on the floor next to me and yawned.

Gracia smiled and said, "I think that is our cue to go, I had a wonderful time. It was nice seeing everyone."

Jim got up and said, "Would you two like a ride home?"

"That would be wonderful, it's not far but it has been a long day," Gracia said.

Jim picked Elysia up from her spot next to me on the floor and said, "It was nice meeting everyone. Jean thanks for the hospitality."

***

After Jim, Gracia and Elysia left Riza said, "Sciezka why don't you let me help you with some of the dishes."

"Riza, you don't need to help with the…" I said before her scowl silenced me.

Well, if Riza wanted to help or wanted me to talk to Roy alone, who was I to argue?

Roy said, "Why don't we have a nip of that single malt?"

"I'll go get the glasses and ice, you go out onto the porch. We can talk there," I said.

 

 

Chapter Text

S.N.A.F.U.
After Riza and Sciezka shoved us out of the house, liquor in hand, Roy and I went into the front yard to talk. He sat down on the front steps, so I took the ramp and stationed myself on the sidewalk. I'd found that since the incident I'd go to great lengths to see eye to eye with others.


Bracing myself with a swig of the amber liquid I paused then asked, "So why all the secrecy? By the way this is good stuff, thanks."


"Not much secrecy, well not much more than what you already know. I you're up to it on Monday come by my office to pick up your books. Fourth quarter starts in two weeks," Roy replied.


"Is that all? I appreciate the chance to get a head start as despite what you all think, academics are not my forte," I said.


"There is one more thing, well a few more things," he said grimly.


"Things?" I asked, not quite following.


"We've lost contact with Fullmetal. Alphonse called this afternoon in a panic," he answered.


"Lost contact? Shit, this is serious Roy, and what are you doing? Have you sent backup?"


"It's not that simple. Alphonse promised me that he would be in contact with information when he knows more. He would have requested assistance if anything could be done," he said.


"Is it that rogue Ishbahlan, the Alchemist Killer?" I asked.


Roy shook is head no and said almost inaudibly, "Homunculi."


That mere mention of that word sent a shiver down my spine and I took a belt of my drink, and then fumbled for my pack of cigarettes and lighter. "Plural, as in more than one?" I asked, my voice shaking.


Roy only nodded in reply. As I tapped a cigarette out of the pack with shaking hands a few fell to the ground. Ignoring them I lit one up and took a long drag. Roy leaned over, retrieved the cigarettes from the walk and wordlessly offered them to me in his outstretched palm.


Ignoring him I cast my gaze to where the cigarettes had been and muttered more to myself than to him, "Here I sit, unable to do a fucking thing about it…"


Riza came out onto the porch and said, "We're finished cleaning up, are you ready to go Roy?"


Roy stood up, placed a hand on my shoulder and turned to go up the stairs. He and Riza were inside for a few minutes and then left. Thankfully Riza must have sensed I was in no mood for conversation and simply said as they departed, "Jean, it was a lovely party, take care."


"Hey, thanks for coming. Roy, I'll see you Monday to pick up those books," I called after them when they got to the gate.



Sciezka came out onto the porch and then sat down on the bottom step, shivering a bit in the night air. She hugged her knees in a futile attempt to warm herself.
Her chattering teeth pulled me out of my thoughts and I said in the lightest tone I could muster, "You're underdressed for the weather, but shivering aside, it suits you. C'mere and warm up."


I flicked my cigarette onto the front walk, she sat on my lap and I wrapped my arms around her. While I was rubbing my hands up and down her bare arms attempting to warm her she asked, "So what did you and Roy talk about?"


What was I going to tell her? She didn't need to know about any of what was happening, shouldn't have to worry, and couldn't have the danger that knowledge carried with it. I quickly said, "You know him, over planning and scheming, I can't embarrass him by showing up in class unprepared. He's gotten my books so I can get a head start. I'll be picking them up Monday."


"Generous host, dashing, and a man of letters? You are a catch! I find it hard not to swoon," Sciezka said, placing a hand to her forehead for comedic effect.


"Let's get inside, before you turn into one of those romance novel heroines you say you despise, but are secretly fond of," I teased.


Once inside the house I excused myself and went into the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed. After brushing my teeth I got out "the supplies" and took care of my hygiene routine, cursing softly that even this was an effort, despite the words of reassurance Jim had given me earlier. Turning on the taps I decided that as appealing as a shared shower could be that this was not the time. I went to the door, locked it, then got into the shower hoping it would wash away or at least drown out some of my doubt and worry. As the water beat down my back I felt the tension I'd been holding between my shoulder blades begin to ease, but as I let go of my tight grip on my emotions I lost it. My mind raced.


Perhaps this was what I deserve, this life. I've taken lives in a cold and calculating manner, from a distance. I can pretend I was only following orders, but isn't taking a life still like playing god? If Equivalent Exchange truly is the way of the world then these feelings of powerlessness and taking my ability to function normally, much less kill are the least I deserve. The daily reminders of my former arrogance in the humbling grind of just existing; memories of the lab and my broken state are not enough punishment. The distance I perceive in my comrades in their communication, when it comes at all, their letters are safe and chatty. 'We mustn't disturb Havoc, he's fragile, he's changed…' is what they must be thinking. Events beyond my small locus of control are spiraling as well. Fullmetal is larger than life, he can't be missing, the Fuhrer cannot be one of those Things and all that I believed in my life cannot be a lie. When will it be enough?


No, nothing was simple anymore. Nothing was the same, now situations, things that had been certainties and comforting, from the mundane to the monumental were fucked up beyond all recognition.


I sobbed softly until the water ran tepid, then turned off the taps, hauled myself into the chair, and dried off. Then I wrapped a towel around my waist, and wiped the steam from the mirror so I could assess the damage. After studying my reflection for a few moments I concluded that though I'd looked far better, I only appeared tired after my melt down. I prepared myself mentally and entered the bedroom hoping that Sciezka wouldn't think anything was amiss.


She'd made good on her promise to reward my good behavior, as while I was in the bathroom she had brought the phonograph in and had a symphony I wasn't familiar with playing softly. She'd also lit the candles and changed out of her party dress into a pale blue silk chemise. She sat on the edge of the bed waiting expectantly.


My reaction must have been less than she'd anticipated because she bit her lower lip and said, "Don't you like it? We can lose the music if you want. It's Scheherazade."
I sighed, gave a small smile and shook my head. "No, it's not you, it's not the music, and it certainly isn't that lingerie."


After moving closer to her perch on the bed I placed a hand over hers, squeezed and said, "I am wiped out. Can I make this up to you tomorrow?"


Her expression brightened and she said, "Of course, you're just tired. It has been a long day. You get into bed while I snuff the candles and shut off the music."


Relieved that she'd bought my cover story I turned down my side of the bed and got in. Sciezka was just about to join me when she said, "Nuts, we can't sleep just yet. You can't go to bed with wet bandages and that wound should be checked after putting pressure on it all night."


She went to get the bandages and ointment from the bathroom and quickly returned.


"I think I can figure out how to do this myself, " I said flatly.


She sighed and said, "I know you hate this and yes, you probably could do it with a hand mirror and some contortions. If I minded I'd tell you to do it yourself."
I huffed, rolled over and said, "Just so we're clear on that."


Sciezka changed the bandages wordlessly and put the supplies away then got into bed putting as much distance between us as possible.
Now I had done it. Fix it.


She was lying on the far edge of the bed, staring up at the ceiling with the covers pulled up under her chin.


"I'm sorry, you're the last person I want to take this out on. It's not even really about my ass, but I'm being one. Forgive me?"


I heard a sniff and she rolled over to face the wall wrapping herself tighter in the duvet and pulling it over her head. The few minutes of silence that ensued were almost unbearable. If she left and never came back I'd have deserved it. Finally, the small lump under the covers rustled and said, "Really?"


Patting the mound of covers I said, "Really. I've just had a lot of changes lately and the pace this week hasn't helped my mood any. I'm looking forward to this trip. No set agenda other then sleeping late with you, getting some sun with you, and if we're feeling ambitious, maybe swimming a little. It'll be just us for the most part."


The covers rustled again and the lump of blankets that was Sciezka came to rest near my chest and asked softly, "You'd tell me if it was me, right?"


"Always, and it could never be you," I whispered, then lifted the covers and kissed the top of her head.


Crisis averted, I leaned over, turned off the light and thought to myself, "Great job nearly screwing up the best thing you've had in a long time."


"What a great dream," I mumbled as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Then it registered, that what I was feeling wasn't entirely a dream. I opened my eyes and sure enough, Sciezka was at my side tracing lazy circles on the duvet with her finger.


"Good morning, you look like you slept well," she purred and moved her fingers slowly from my chest to my navel.


"I did sleep well, and I'm going to take this as a sign that I'm forgiven?" I asked hopefully.


She nodded and swiftly got up to sit astride me, leaned over and fished through the drawer in my bedside table and after righting herself said, "Here, open your mouth."

 


"What?" I asked, extremely confused.
She popped something small, white, and mint flavored into my mouth. After realizing what she'd done I said, "Well that is one way to take care of morning breath, is it that bad?"


Kissing me to shut me up, giggling a bit as she did so, she finally said, "No, I just thought it might make things more interesting in the morning."


Checking my hair I laughed and said, "Well, I am damned sexy when it's completely flat on one side and standing straight up in the front. You know you want me."


Still astride me she grinned and twirled my hair with her fingers, then sat back a bit to study her work and laughed.
"What is so funny?" I asked.


She simply pointed and continued laughing. I sighed, and felt where she had been playing with my hair.


"HORNS? You gave me horns? You are so going to pay for this!" I exclaimed as I caught her off balance and rolled us.


The bed was in a tangle and we were in an awkward pile, but I had the advantage.


"I'm going to make this up to you," I whispered into her ear.


"Is that a threat or a promise?" she moaned as I nibbled the delicate flesh behind her ear.


I moved lower to her neck, accenting every word with a flick of the tongue while saying, "Maybe a little bit of both."


As I slowly pulled at the hem of her chemise so I could keep my word she sighed in what could only be appreciation and when I took too long for her taste, removed it for me.
I chuckled as I lightly kissed her stomach sending her into fits of giggles and causing her to arch her back in the most enticing way. Her fingers worked through my hair and played with my ears as she gently but insistently guided me lower. I couldn't help but comply with her wishes.


She shifted a bit, wrapping her knees around my shoulders, finally settling against the pillows. Once I was sure she was comfortable I continued at a leisurely pace. Every now and then she'd signal her approval with a low moan or the involuntary quiver. I thought to myself, "She's going to kill you later if you don't get down to business."


That thought in mind, I spread her legs wider and went to work, letting her small cries and shudders tell me what came next. Every few moments I'd look up from my vantage point to take in her expression. At times her eyes were closed, lips pursed in concentration, one hand idly ruffling my hair and the other gripping the bedclothes. She finally shuddered, clasping my shoulders tightly between her knees and then went limp. I looked up and her face said it all. She was looking down at me, eyes slightly glazed with a silly grin on her face. Taking that as a sign of approval I pulled myself towards her and before I'd made it she pulled me into a passionate kiss.
Once she released me I moved to her side and collapsed next to her. I was a bit tired from the effort, but knowing Sciezka in a few minutes she'd be ready for another round. For now, I was content to bask in her afterglow.


I must have dozed off for a few minutes because the next thing I knew Sciezka was nibbling on my ear and whispering her plans for sweet revenge. Once I was fully awake she began her assault on my neck and chest.


She was painfully thorough, but I'd made my bed and would now have to lie in it. I decided that this really wouldn't be a bad way to die. She'd mapped my every ticklish spot and erogenous zone in record time and knew just what to do to leave me begging for mercy.


As she made her way across every inch of skin she could seize she'd take a quick peek at my expression and smile or laugh. I knew I deserved it, but it didn't make it any easier. I'd bit my lip to stifle the frustrated noises and she'd use that as motivation to see how much further she could push me. Just as I thought I was going to go out of my mind she tweaked my nose and said, "There, we're even, are you ready?"


A vaguely strangled noise was all I could muster by this time and she correctly assumed that I was indeed ready. She gave me a lingering kiss, then pulled away leaving me to follow as best I could, leaving me waiting for more. Finally she traced a finger down my stomach, smiled coyly and said, "Since you're not supposed to be exerting yourself too much, I'll have to go easy on you."


I cracked a small smile and matching her conspiratorial tone said, "I won't tell the doc if you won't, do your worst."


Her worst turned out to be very, very good and as we drifted entwined with one another I vowed to myself that nothing would ruin this. If it took working twice as hard to be a better man I'd do it, if the government crumbled around our ears I'd find a way around it. This was too precious to not hang onto with tooth and nail. Life hadn't turned out the way I thought it would, but I wouldn't trade anything if it meant giving up Sciezka.

Chapter Text

Sunday, Lazy Sunday:

After we both recovered I suggested that breakfast, well after checking the clock I amended that, lunch was in order. I showered and dressed quickly while Sciezka took advantage of the bathtub and bubble bath. While she soaked I prepared breakfast. This was one meal I was a pro at as it was a favored request of my friends after a drunken night.

I decided that scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, and home fries would be well received. By the time Sciezka came into the kitchen I was putting the finishing touches on the eggs while everything else stayed warm in the oven.

"Need any help?" she asked as she peered over my shoulder.

"Sure, help me get all this to the table while I stir these eggs a few more times and put in the cheese," I replied.

A few minutes later we were both sitting in the dining room with piping hot mugs of coffee, glasses of juice, orange for Sciezka and cranberry for me, and plates piled high with my efforts.

"So how is it? Edible?" I asked.

"Are you fishing for compliments, or just oblivious? It's good. You'll do all the cooking, end of story," Sciezka said.

"As long as it is breakfast food I've got it covered, or meat. I can do that too. I can't bake to save my life," I said, chuckling.

She laughed and said, "I can cook, a few things quite well, but a whole meal is usually beyond me. I think I was made for the cocktail hour."

I smiled and said, "Well I got a lot of practice when the guys and I would come back from the pub. Falman and Breda lived on base, and well Fuery has too many damned animals, so we usually came back to my place after last call, or after we got kicked out."

"You cooked for them?" she asked.

"Well, you have to be able to eat, and it makes sense to cook it yourself. Breakfast food is known for sobering you up and helping avoid a hangover."

We continued eating and Sciezka stole the last piece of bacon off my plate. I made a mental note to make more next time as we were apparently both very fond of it.


 

After eating we cleared the table and decided that after stacking and rinsing the plates that they would keep while we relaxed.

Sciezka suggested that we put the couch to use reading and I thought she had the right idea.

"How about you top up our coffees and bring them out while I have a smoke on the porch?" I said.

I went outside to get my fix, and noticed that there was a Central Sunday Times on the porch. Gracia had truly thought of everything. I leaned over to carefully pick up the newspaper, set it on my lap and had my cigarette. When I was finished I went back inside, set the paper on the coffee table and joined Sciezka on the couch.

When Sciezka saw the paper her eyes lit up.

"It's just the paper, but wasn't it nice of Gracia to arrange it?" I commented.

"We can do the crossword puzzle!" she said excitedly.

"Whoa, I like the funny pages, but I don't get that excited over them," I joked.

"I used to do these all the time with Papa…"

"You never talk about your family, why is that?" I asked.

"Can we please change the subject? Let me get a pen so we can do it together. It's more fun that way," she said as she quickly got up and went to her bag to get a pen.

She came back to the couch, scooted in next to me as close as she could and started the puzzle. I read the funnies, while she worked the puzzle. At each clue in the puzzle she'd read it aloud and give me a chance to guess at it. She was much better at crosswords than I was; I think she only asked me for the answers to give me a sporting chance. Whenever I worked them I used pencil and sometimes there would be holes from the places I'd had to erase multiple times.

Once we finished I thought I would try to pry some more information about Sciezka's past out of her. It felt awkward not knowing, and worse not knowing what topics of conversation would upset her.

"I feel kind of guilty about going as far East as we'll be going without seeing my parents. It's only three hours more by car," I said tentatively.

Sciezka nodded in agreement and said, "Maybe after the quarter is over we can take the train and go see them. You'll be ready for another vacation by then."

"I fell like a sneaky bastard doing this, well even asking this, but why don't you ever talk about your past or your family?"

Sciezka stiffened in my arms and I noticed that she was balling her fists.

"You don't have to tell me, I'd understand… but it's just that I know nothing about your past. What if I start talking about my family, and you can just chime in whenever you do find something you want to talk about?" I said softly.

Her muscles slackened noticeably and she settled back into me and said, "I guess that wouldn't be so bad. It's only fair since I know so much about you."

"Well, as you know I was born a few hours outside of East City in a small town. The main street is about a block long and has a doctor's office, the post office, a schoolhouse with two teachers, a pub that has an inn upstairs, and the general store. It barely qualifies as a town, but people from the surrounding farms come in for supplies so it's busy during the day. My parents own the General Store and I'm an only child. But I have a pack of cousins around my age, so it was almost as good as having siblings. We caused so much trouble around town. It's a good thing I went off the Academy or they'd have run me out on a rail. Oh, the train station is a few towns over."

Sciezka cleared her throat and whispered tentatively, "I'm an only too."

I waited for her to continue, but she remained silent, so I continued talking about my hometown and family.

"My Ma is great, a little overbearing at times, but great. I really feel awful about how sulky I was in the hospital as it worried her. I hope she can tell from my letters that I'm doing better. She seemed to be amused at some of Elysia's antics. I'm waiting to see what she has to say about what I wrote about you."

"You told her about us?" Sciezka asked sounding a bit worried.

"Well not everything. But I did mention that I was seeing a very intelligent, beautiful, and kind girl," I said. "I'm hoping she skims over the sex goddess part."

Sciezka sat bolt upright, mouth agape then said, "You didn't!"

I looked her square in the eyes and nodded in the affirmative just to get a rise out of her, then smiled, laughed, and said, "Are you kidding? As far as my parents are concerned I will die a virgin. If I ever father children, they will be immaculate conceptions and my wife will be a miracle maker. By the way, I assume I was an immaculate conception."

She rolled her eyes and said, "You are nuts! I can tell you are a Mama's boy."

"Actually I'm closer to my Pa, but yeah I'm pretty lucky to get along with both of my parents. Ma is pretty good at believing I can do no wrong and though Pa is pretty stoic, we get each other."

Sciezka and I sat in silence for a few moments and she finally broke it saying, "My Papa was the one who understood me the best. He thought books were as important for living as food and water. Libraries and universities were to be held as sacred space, like temples."

She paused and we sat in silence again and I held her closer to me.

"He was a professor of anthropology at the university. I remember when I was little I would beg to attend lectures and he'd let me. Afterwards we would go get something to eat, just the two of us, usually at the coffee house near campus, where the intellectuals would gather. Then, as a reward for being good, we'd stop at his favorite bookshop to get a book for my bookshelf. That was my most prized possession, my bookshelf."

She turned away from me, grabbed her mug and took a sip of coffee that had gone cold by now, and continued, "As a professor he had access to all sorts of cultural events. Tickets to the ballet, plays, and the symphony weren't uncommon. Mother almost always begged off saying she had a migraine, so I would go in her stead. I don't know if mother was ever truly happy. I know that it was better before he went off on research to the East."

I interrupted her, "The East? Where and why?'

She hesitated, and then said, "He went to study the connection between the lost civilization of Xerxes and Ishbal. His letters, the ones we got at any rate show that he was sympathetic to the Ishballan cause."

"So…" I said hesitantly.

She nodded and her voice wavered a bit as she said, "Yes, he died when I was eleven. Nine years ago. At least that's when we got word."

Her voice had been almost devoid of emotion as she related her history. I stroked her hair and she nestled into me.

"Mother and I have agreed to disagree. She wasn't well last year. Thankfully my job provided her with extra money for a specialist. I know I sound cold, but I think I'm just too much like Papa, with my useless books and words. I'm proud it was my useless, yet precious words that got me my job."

I could tell there were tears in her eyes and all I could think to do was to thank her, hold her as close as I possibly could and just be there for her. It seemed like that was what she needed.

We remained on the couch in silence for quite awhile. Eventually Sciezka rolled over to face me and kissed me ever so gently. I returned the kiss and held her close to me.

"I'm sorry I pushed you to talk about your family like that," I said as I rubbed her back.

She kissed me on the forehead, then rested her head back on my chest and said, "No, it's good that I told someone. I'm glad it was you. I remembered some of the good things."

"We'll just have to work on making new memories, speaking of which we should probably get started on packing for the trip," I suggested.

"That's a good idea. I need to get some things at my place and do laundry," she said.

I thought for a bit and said, "Why don't you go get your stuff, including your laundry. We'll just throw it in with mine. You can take a cab and I'll fix dinner while you're gone."

Sciezka sat up, kissed me and said, "You keep saying you're just a dumb grunt, but I don't know… I think it's just an act."

Chuckling a bit and shaking my head I said, "Act? What act? I don't know what you're talking about woman."

She got up, stretched and asked, "Is there anything you want while I'm out?"

"I can't think of anything really, but if you can think of a good prank to pull on Roy that would be great," I replied with a wink.

Sciezka went into the bedroom, and changed quickly while I called a taxi to take her to her apartment.

Chapter Text

While Sciezka was out I sat down on the couch to write. She'd be gone for a while so I used the opportunity to clear my head of some of the things that had been bothering me all weekend. I cursed the fact that something as small as a flight of stairs was keeping me from going with her to help. As old-fashioned and antiquated as Sciezka thought the idea was, boyfriends were supposed to be good at things like getting your bags, helping you get stuff off the top shelf and other trivial chores that loomed large in my mind. "Thankfully Sciezka is progressive," I thought to myself. "I can at least get the door for her."

On that note I pulled myself out of my moment of self-indulgence and began figuring out what I'd fix for dinner. Heading into the kitchen I decided that we'd have the leftover chicken cutlets in sandwiches, salad and some wine. That would be simple and it would be a shame to let such good food go to waste. To "mix it up" a little I added slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella to the sandwiches. Sciezka was right; I wasn't half bad at this cooking thing.

I had become rather domesticated since the incident, but since I had more time on my hands I had fewer excuses for take-out and a lot of my Occupational Therapy had been life skills. Besides, the courtship and mating rituals of most animals involve food and nesting, as Sciezka had randomly pointed out in one of our conversations early on in the relationship.

Chuckling to myself I thought, "Well, this is a very nice nest and we eat very well. It must make up for a lot. I'm not complaining about the sex, and neither is she."

Just then I heard a commotion on the porch, I assumed it was Sciezka and went out to investigate. I was correct; she was on the front porch, loaded down with bags, with a flustered taxi driver hot on her trail.

"I said I can do it myself Mister, go help some other damsel in distress!"

Repressing the urge to laugh out loud at the absurdity of her protest I held the door open for Sciezka, and once she had stormed into the bedroom with her many bags I discreetly tipped the driver a few cens extra.

"She's just really liberated," I said and winked.

The driver smiled, tipped his cap and said, "It's ok buddy, good luck with her. She seems like a handful."

He left and I went inside and called to her, "Dinner is ready, you must be famished after carrying all of that. Is there even anything left at your place?"

Sciezka came out of the bedroom, cuffed me lightly on the back of the head then leaned in and kissed me.

"That's enough out of you buddy."

Once we sat down to dinner her mood mellowed considerably. Apparently Sciezka had more in common with Fullmetal than I'd originally suspected. In addition to both of them being walking libraries, they both got very cranky when hungry.


 

After eating we did the dishes, she washed, I dried and we finished quickly. The next task on our un-official chore list was to collect and sort the laundry. The clothes were done quickly. Stripping the bed took awhile longer as a pillow fight delayed our progress. Eventually all the laundry was bundled and ready, and the sheets on my bed were changed.

We both sprawled on the bed, a bit winded from the pillow fight and I said, "How about a shower, and then we can turn in early? You have work in the morning and I have to meet with the housekeeper before therapy."

She smiled and said, "That depends on what you mean by 'turn in'."

"Hmm… I suppose we could sleep, but I thought we might fool around until we're exhausted, then sleep," I said grinning from ear to ear.

"I like your definition of turning in, you start the water and I'll turn down the bed," she purred.

I'd no sooner finished getting cleaned up when she joined me in the shower. After quickly lathering up and rinsing off she carefully knelt in front of me, dragged her fingers down my arms and chest several times, then took the tip of my penis into her mouth. After a few moments she took hold of it with her hand to continue with her plans then asked, "How quickly can you get from here to the bed?"

I was owned, she was amazing and I think I transferred in record time even with the hindrance of an erection to consider. Still damp from the shower we moved our play to the bed and Sciezka picked up right where we'd left off. She continued sucking and teasing me until I let her know I was close. In one graceful move she mounted me and I held my erection steady to help guide it into her. I let my fingers linger at her entrance. It never failed to impress me that I could make her that wet.

She bore down, wiggled a bit, then leaned over so we could kiss and fondle each other. Each time I'd nip or suckle at one of her pert breasts she'd shiver and grind a little more insistently. When she buried her head in the juncture between my neck and shoulder, the stifled noises she made let me know she was on the brink. I placed my hands behind her back to support her as she arched upwards and bucked. She sucked on her lower lip in what appeared to be concentration and closed her eyes. I felt her every muscle contract, sensed a similar tightness in my own back and the regions of twilight sensation.

She opened her eyes, we locked gazes and she ground down for one more frenetic volley. I saw the familiar stars in my field of vision and she slowed her rhythm, eventually collapsing in a quivering pile on top of me. I whispered, "Three… you came three times?"

Sciezka could only nod weakly and I chuckled and said, "Maybe I'll wear you out someday. If you would get off me I'll try my damnedest."

Still in a coitus induced haze she flopped against the pillows and twitched a bit when I gently stroked her folds with my fingers. I watched her face and withheld my reaction. She was so utterly relaxed and sated it was funny. As she lie there with a silly grin I continued, then slowly kissed and licked. The taste and scent of our mingling fluids was strong and quite a turn on for me. I wrapped my hand around my erection and pumped in tandem with the attention I was paying to Sciezka's pleasure. She produced a few more quiet moans, sighs, quivered and fell still. Satisfied with my work, I came the second time that night.

I collapsed, pillowing my head on her thigh and just lie there recuperating. When I finally had the energy I crawled to the head of the bed and kissed her. We lie there holding each other and exchanging kisses. I decided that before we slept we should at least towel off. I slipped out of bed to get a warm, wet cloth, then silently cleaned us both up and spooned Sciezka and drifted off to sleep.

The last thought that ran through my head was, "Screw the carrying heavy stuff and stairs. I more than make up for it in other ways."

Chapter Text

The morning sun filtered in through the patio door, waking me up a few minutes before the alarm was set to go off. I rolled over as noiselessly as I could and nuzzled closer to Sciezka. She stirred a bit and wrapped her arms around me.

"Good morning sleepy head, it's time to get up," I whispered in her ear.

She grumbled and burrowed deeper under the covers.

"Come on, time to get up, it's going to be a busy day," I cajoled.

From under the covers I heard her say something that resembled, "Just five more minutes, promise."

I chuckled, extracted myself from the tangle of covers and Sciezka, put on some pajama pants and went to make coffee. Maybe that would help coax her out of bed.

After setting up the percolator I went out onto the porch for a cigarette. I was pretty sure Winry never intended for me to use the little storage pouch under my chair to keep my smokes and lighter in, but it came in handy.

It was warm and the sun on my skin felt good. I stretched out to better take it in and hoped that the weather would hold for the trip. Though I was worried about if I would be able to keep up with Mustang and Hawkeye and get around under my own power, I quickly put it out of my mind. Hawkeye had always been amazing with the finer details in a mission and she knew my capabilities and limitations from our sessions at the firing range.

After taking a final drag on my cigarette I stubbed it out in the ashtray and went inside to check on the coffee. The aroma coming from the kitchen confirmed it was ready. I grabbed two mugs out of the cabinet, poured the coffee and set both mugs on the counter. I went to the table for the sugar bowl and brought it over to the counter. After adding two heaping spoonfuls of sugar to my mug and one level teaspoon to Sciezka's I went to the icebox for the milk. She liked almost as much milk in hers as coffee, so I was glad I remembered to only pour her half a cup. After adding a splash of milk to my mug I put the milk back in the icebox, set our mugs on a tray and took them into the bedroom.

I set the tray on the bedside table, and then leaned over as far as I could to try and wake Sciezka.

"All right you, you got fifteen minutes. It's time to get up," I said.

She gave a muffled moan and pulled the covers tighter around her.

"C'mon, there's coffee and if you hurry up you can catch me in the shower."

The mound of blankets moved and grunted something unintelligible, but I think it was obscene. I decided that the situation called for more extreme measures.

I yanked the duvet off of her and said, "You, coffee, then shower."

That woke her up and she was pissed. She sat up, glared at me and said, "Coffee, now. If you know what's good for you."

I handed her the mug, then began to drink mine. A few sips into her coffee she smiled and said, "Thanks for the coffee. Sorry to be such a bear, it's just that your bed is so comfortable and I don't want to get up. Can't you get back in here?"

After finishing my last drop of coffee I set my mug down on the bedside table then said, "Nope, no can do. It's time to get up. I'm going to take care of a few things, then shower. Feel free to join me if you think it'll make getting up any easier on you."

She smiled, nodded and I headed into the bathroom.


 

We got showered and dressed without incident other than our now routine shared shower arrangements, and agreed to meet for lunch before Sciezka headed off to work.

Once she was out the door I went out onto the porch to have a cigarette while I waited for the housekeeper. I finished and decided that leaving dirty coffee mugs in the bedroom would not make a very good first impression. As I was putting the mugs in the sink the phone rang. I quickly made my way to the phone on the wall and caught it on the fourth ring. It was the housekeeper and she was running late. I thanked her for letting me know, and after hanging up called Gracia to see if she could brief her while I was at therapy.

Gracia saved the day, as usual and told me to just leave a list of what I wanted done and she'd take care of the rest.

After calling a cab to get me to therapy I wrote out the list, left it on the kitchen counter and headed out the door so I wouldn't have any delays in my schedule.


 

At the hospital entrance I ran into Jim. He cast a glance at the cab and I shrugged and said, "The driver is now the chauffeured. I guess I'll have to get used to it. Add it to the list?"

Jim smiled and said, "Maybe Winry will be able to figure something out. I'm sure she'd welcome the challenge."

"You two are the best. Some days it really is all the small things that get to me the most. Let's hurry up and get to work."

"Busy day?" Jim asked.

"After having to rest all weekend I'm going stir-crazy, and there are a few more details to see to before the trip," I answered.

We got down to the therapy room and Jim instructed me to get behind an exam screen so he could check "the wound". After he was satisfied that it was healing nicely and the session wouldn't make it worse we did my usual routine.

As my session wound down and I was stretching on the mat Jim and I made small talk about my plans for the day and the trip.

"Well, today I'm meeting Sciezka for lunch, then getting in some target practice with Hawkeye, and finally picking up the books for my classes at Roy's office. Then home for dinner with Sciezka and packing for the trip."

Jim nodded and asked, "Are you excited?"

I thought for a moment then answered, "I'm looking forward to it, but I'm still anxious. I just hope I can do everything on my own there. That's my only worry."

"I'm sure it will be fine. Lieutenant Hawkeye is quite astute and has a reputation for meticulous attention to detail. She was all over the staff while you were an in-patient."

I raised an eyebrow at this revelation.

Jim nodded and said, "She put some fear into them, but it got you the best care. So don't worry, I'm sure she has things handled."

"Thanks for the reassurance, I should get going."

As I was leaving he called after me, "Don't forget, tomorrow is your evaluation with Doctor Parker."

I groaned and said sarcastically, "Thanks for the reminder, like I could forget about something that pleasant."

Jim chuckled and said, "If it's any consolation I'll be in presenting my findings so you won't have to go it alone."

"Thank goodness for that. I'll see you tomorrow, and I'll try to behave."


 

I then headed over to Sciezka's office to meet her for lunch after a quick stop in the locker room to clean up after my work out.

When I got to the Investigations Department Sciezka was barely visible at her desk because of the mountain of files heaped upon it.

I rapped on the doorframe and she gave a startled yelp and the papers went flying.

After making my way over to the desk I leaned over to help her pick up the papers. Between the two of us we finished quickly and set the piles neatly on the desk.

"Is this a bad time?" I asked as I handed her another stack of papers.

Sciezka took the stack, placed it on the desk and then wrung her hands.

"I'm sorry, I won't be able to do lunch today. I have to finish this for Major Armstrong."

Frowning, I thought for a moment and said, "I have to go see Lieutenant Hawkeye at the firing range. Why don't I pick up sandwiches afterwards so you don't go hungry?"

Sciezka threw her arms around my neck in an uncharacteristic display of public affection and said, "You're the best, thank you for understanding!"

I chuckled and said, "Well that was easy… apparently all I have to do is feed you to keep you happy."

She smirked, tweaked my nose and shooed me out of the office so she could get back to work. I made my way down to the firing range so I would be set up when Riza got down there. It still felt odd calling my former C.O. by her given name, but as she had argued, we are friends, and I had earned it.


 

By the time Riza got down to the line with Hayate at her heel I had shredded one paper target beyond recognition and was preparing to lay waste to another.

"Nice work Sniper. Were you here long?" she asked.

After putting the safety on my rifle I rolled over, sat up and pulled out a cigarette.

She gestured at the cigarette and said, "You've cut down, haven't you."

I lit up, took a drag, exhaled, and then said, "Yeah, I guess so. But I still like one first thing in the morning, after meals and after well… not to be crude…"

She smiled and said, "I get where you were headed. No need to explain."

"What can I say? They're a social crutch, something to fiddle with, and help take my mind off things."

Riza then did something rather unexpected. She sat down on the drop cloth next to me and hugged me.

"What was that for?" I asked stammering.

"That was for being you and for listening, and most of all for coming back. He needs you."

She then placed a box in my lap. I opened it carefully and once I saw the contents said, "I can see why you saved this 'gift' for here. Will I be needing it right away?"

She shook her head no and said, "Better safe than sorry, and I can't have you involved if you are unarmed."

After carefully taking out the .38 caliber pistol, I loaded it. I then placed it in the leg holster she'd thoughtfully included and strapped it to my right calf under my pants.

"Good thinking. I don't think anyone would check me there and I can get to it fairly easily," I said. "By the way, thank you."

Riza hugged her arms closer to her and said quietly, "I just hope you never have to use it."

I squeezed her shoulder and said, "Me too."

She glanced at her watch and said, "Shit! This is what happens when I let myself get distracted, I had to make sure I wasn't followed."

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"There's more to today besides your gift. He's gone off to get Fullmetal, it should be fine… if we timed this right."

"It's natural to worry," I broke in. "He can handle himself. Is there anything I can do?"

Riza sighed and said, "The departure date is moving up to tomorrow. After your evaluation you'll go with Jim to the compound."

"So I am going with Gracia and Elysia, Sciezka, and Jim? Wait… I don't need him for a trip."

She paused and said, "Stay calm, he's not for you. There has been an injury."

"Fullmetal? Shit, this is no good!"

She grabbed me by the shoulders, held me tight and said, "No, not Ed. It wasn't Ed. They're going to be fine."

Scrubbing my hands across my face I asked, "So it's not a pleasure trip anymore?"

Riza smiled a small smile, scratched Hayate's ears and said, "You don't get off that easy Birthday Boy. We'll just have to multi-task. Keep this under your hat. Just tell Sciezka and Gracia there has been a change in plans. Jim knows and he'll help you deflect suspicion."

"I won't let you two down. I'll see you both soon. Hopefully you can relax out there as well."

Riza stood up and said, "I gave the directions and keys to Jim before I came here. Your books are up in Sciezka's office. I suggest you hurry up with that sandwich."

I gave her a lopsided salute as she walked away and then started putting away my things. On my way to the locker room to stow my rifle and scope I saw her emptying round after round into a target with startling accuracy. She didn't flinch once. She never did.


 

On the way up to the Investigations Department I stopped at the canteen to get Sciezka a sandwich. They'd always had better food there than at the mess. While I was scanning the menu I thought about how I'd tell Sciezka we were going early without alarming her. I hated lying, but in this case an omission of facts was needed. She'd understand, I hoped. I must have been staring off into space because someone tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention and asked if I was all right.

That was a big mistake, as when the voice didn't register as familiar I caught my would-be rescuer by the wrist. Hard. Once I got a good look at him I was so embarrassed.

"Staff Sergeant Smith, I'm so sorry… you caught me by surprise," I stuttered.

He held up his hands, equally embarrassed and said, "I should have known not to do that to a soldier."

I smiled weakly and said, "No harm done?"

He inspected his wrist, flexed his fingers and said, "It smarts, but no, no permanent damage."

I chuckled for a moment at how absurd it sounded and thought to myself, "No, not on the magnitude of a blown out spinal cord. But even that's better than dead."

"Hey, I owe you another apology," I said. "For the barbershop… sorry I lost it like that."

"It was a stupid thing to say, " he said, looking down at his feet. "It came out all wrong. I didn't think you'd be out on your own if it was as bad as they'd said it was."

"Don't worry about it Smith," I replied. "Half a year ago I could have made the same mistake. You meant well."

"Really?" he asked sheepishly.

"Really," I said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to pick up some lunch for my girlfriend. She's in Investigations and swamped."

"Girlfriend?" he asked in disbelief.

"Yep, just had to get out of the secretarial pool," I said and chuckled.

"My wife talked to Mrs. Hughes and she said something to that effect."

"Wait, wife?" I asked.

"Oh, that, I meant to thank you for that too. For hiring her," he answered.

I was confused and then put the pieces together: the housekeeper.

"Well, you know Gracia, she likes to make sure everything runs smoothly for everyone. I guess she sets a lot of the wives up like that."

"Well we just appreciate that you didn't hold my comment against her. We're trying to save money for a house. I'll let you get going, and thanks again," he said.

I waved as he walked away, quickly picked out two sandwiches, some fruit and juice for Sciezka. I'd let her pick first and eat what she didn't. That is if she let me live for keeping her waiting for so long.


 

When I got to Sciezka's office I noticed the mountain of files had diminished and that Sciezka looked utterly frazzled.

She looked up from the file she was poring over and said, "My hero! What did you bring me?"

I laughed and said, "Roast beef, turkey or both if you're that hungry."

After retrieving an apple from the bag I offered the rest of it to her. She came over to me, gave me a quick kiss and snatched the bag out of my hands.

As I ate my apple she devoured the first sandwich, then looked at the second, handed me half and promptly ate the other half. I made a mental note to order extra groceries after the trip.

When she finished and was sipping her juice she slumped in her chair and rubbed her temples. I moved closer to her and massaged her shoulders and neck and said, "No worries, I won't pull any funny business. Really I'm doing a service to the military."

She relaxed noticeably and I hated to break the news to her, but the longer I waited the worse it would be.

"I have an appointment with Doctor Parker tomorrow morning," I started.

She wrinkled her nose like she'd smelled something foul at that news.

I continued, "But then it will be a great day because we'll be leaving straight from the hospital. Jim is driving. Riza just gave me the good news."

Her shoulders stiffened and I continued kneading them.

"I guess they were able to get an extra day of leave. Don't worry, yours has been arranged for as well. It'll be a real vacation. This will be one of my best birthdays to date," I said, hoping she wouldn't catch on.

She turned around to hug me and said, "You'd better get going. I'll have to stay late to finish this, then go to your place to finish packing."

"I'll get out of your way," I said, and then pecked her on the cheek. "Oh, and don't worry about packing. I'll lay it all out for you so you just have to check it and stuff it into your bag. Do you need anything else?"

She ruffled my hair and said, "Gracia's rubbing off on you. Here are the books for your classes. Now shoo!"


 

On the way home I stopped off at Gracia's to give her the news and found out she'd already heard. That was a relief as knowing Jim's spin on the story would keep me from blowing our cover. Gracia and Elysia came back to my place with me and I arrived home to Mrs. Smith taking the laundry down from the line in the side yard.

"Gracia, I have a clothes line?" I asked, half seriously.

"If you'd checked out the garage you'd have noticed the washing machine and wringer," she said and winked.

The three of us then went around to the side yard so I could introduce myself to Mrs. Smith properly.

I extended my hand to shake hers and said, "Hello, I'm Jean. Thanks for coming and doing this. I should have had a housekeeper ages ago."

She smiled, shook my hand and said, "No, thank you really. Michael and I appreciate it."

Smiling I said, "I ran into him at the canteen today. Don't mention it, the thanking part that is. We should all thank Gracia."

Mrs. Smith nodded and said, "She does this for so many of the wives. It helps so much."

Gracia blushed and suggested we get the wash inside, as there was a lot to do before we left the next day.

While Gracia and Mrs. Smith folded and put away the laundry Elysia played in her room and I packed. Soon I had my bag ready and started laying Sciezka's things out on the bed. Once I'd finished I had Gracia check it over to see if I was forgetting anything.

"Um, she might want to wear underwear," Gracia said, barely stifling a giggle.

I blushed and said, "Honest, I forgot! Thanks for the reminder."

Once that problem had been remedied Gracia deemed my efforts a success. By then it was almost dinnertime and Mrs. Smith left and Gracia and Elysia went home to finish their preparations for the trip.

I sat down on the couch to read my text books while I waited for Sciezka to get home from work.


 

Just as I was finishing an outline for the first chapter of my psychology text Sciezka got home. She dropped her bag in the entryway and flopped onto the couch next to me. I shut the book, set it and my notebook on the coffee table and pulled her into my lap. As I ran my fingers through her hair and massaged her temples she sighed contentedly. Then she rested her head on my shoulder and wrapped her arms around me.

"Whatcha reading?" she asked, her voice muffled by my sweater.

I rubbed her back and answered, "Just school stuff, for psychology. I'm only one chapter in and I think the major theorists are loonier than their patients and preoccupied with getting laid."

She giggled and nuzzled my neck.

"You must be exhausted. It's after nine already. How about I draw you a bath and make you some dinner?"

She shook her head in protest and said, "I'm too tired, and I still have to pack."

After kissing the top of her head I said, "I already took care of that and Gracia supervised. It's all laid out on the bed. You take a quick look and then go have a soak while I get it packed for you. Well, and so we can sleep on the bed."

"That sounds wonderful. You are brilliant," she said dozily.

Sure that she was properly prepared for the trip Sciezka went into the bathroom to soak and I packed her bags.

Once I had finished packing I went into the bathroom to check on Sciezka. She had a washcloth over her eyes and looked utterly content.

She smiled and said, "Get in here."

Remembering "the wound" she removed the cloth and asked, "Is it healed enough, your butt I mean?"

Laughing I said, "Jim gave the ok for swimming, so this should be fine."

I stripped, got in and moved so Sciezka was sitting on my lap. After thoroughly massaging her shoulders and arms I said, "You're starting to get all pruny. We should get you into bed."

She stood up, steadying herself on my shoulders, got out of the tub and toweled off. Even tired and groggy she was a sight to behold as the water beaded on her skin and she stretched, yawning softly.

"Go get into bed and I'll bring you something to eat and then we can get some sleep," I suggested.

"I'm too tired, how about just sleep?" she whined.

"Trust me, you'll like it. Now get in bed."

She headed into the bedroom and I heard her flop on to the bed heaving a contented sigh as I got out of the tub. I toweled off, took care of the necessaries and went into the bedroom to check on her.

Sciezka had propped herself up on the many pillows and asked, "So what's for dinner?"

Gesturing to my attire, a towel, I said, "Whatever is easy. Besides, by the time I cook something you'll have fallen asleep. I was thinking ice cream."

Smiling at that idea she said, "See, you are brilliant! Hurry before I fall asleep on you."

I came back to the bedroom with a large bowl of chocolate ice cream balanced on my lap. After passing it to Sciezka I turned back the covers and joined her. Before she started eating, she noticed there was only one spoon.

"Fewer dishes this way and less messy too. You're so tired you'll spill."

She giggled and handed the bowl over to me. Suddenly she frowned, pointed at my chest and asked, "Did I do that?"

I looked at where she was pointing, inspected the small mark on my chest, and found a few others on my shoulders and biceps.

Smirking I answered, "You most certainly did. Parker is going to be so confused. The man is oblivious."

Sciezka blushed as I said, "Imagine his surprise when he finds out that an innocent boy from the sticks, cruelly cut down in the prime of his life has become thoroughly debauched."

Cocking an eyebrow in confusion she asked, "Care to explain? That didn't make too much sense."

I kissed her, nibbling on her bottom lip and then explained, "I am having ice cream for dinner in bed, naked and covered in love bites, with a wanton sex goddess. I'm not complaining."

She shook her head and said, "I'll never be quite sure you didn't get hit on the head at some point, but that is one of the things that makes you so cute. Hurry up with the ice cream. It's melting."

We shared the rest of the bowl and when we were finished I set it on the bedside table, and then turned out the light.

Wrapped up in each other we kissed softly and slowly and then settled in to sleep. Sciezka made the small night noises, contented sighs and murmurs, that let me know she had drifted off. I draped an arm over her, turned my head so I could bury my nose in her hair and whispered, "I love you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 30:

"I'm getting up, I promise, " I mumbled as I rolled over onto my side and covered my head with a pillow.

"Liar, you're planning on going right back to sleep," Sciezka said as she pried the pillow out of my hands.

I grumbled and said, "I really am not looking forward to this check-up. It's not like it's going to tell me anything I don't already know."

She hugged me and said, "The sooner you get this over with, the sooner we can be on our way to the lake."

"True… " I conceded. "But it's really a formality. He'll go over my diagnosis and re-state the obvious. 'Mr. Havoc, you're perfectly healthy, except that whole paralysis problem.' Only it'll be in jargon."

"C'mon, get up and get ready. I'll let you crack as many jokes at your own expense as you like in the car, and work on your Doctor Prick impersonation."

"Could you at least shower with me?" I asked.

Sciezka laughed and replied, "Will it help you stop sulking?"

Grinning I said, "Mostly, though I might need another dose of morale later on."

She kissed me and said, "You'll find any excuse to have your way with me, won't you?"

I nodded and said, "Pretty much, you've got me pegged."


 

After our shower, and it was a wonder we managed any washing up, we both got dressed and Sciezka gave me a kiss goodbye.

She'd asked if I wanted her to come along and wait in the lobby. I declined, preferring to go it alone. I had enough time that I could get to the hospital under my own power. Perhaps physical exertion would relieve some of the tension.


 

The eight-block trip went smoothly and I was thankful that more streets had curb cuts, probably for prams, but they served my purpose. Two blocks before the hospital I felt warm, so I removed my sweater and tucked it into my pack. To my surprise that stopped the offers of assistance from "do-gooders". I guessed the display of muscles indicated that I could handle myself.

When I arrived at the hospital Jim was sitting on a bench out front with what appeared to be two cups of coffee.

"You're here, good," he said as he handed me a cup. "I thought you might be nicer to Parker if you were caffeinated. Have a cigarette as well, we have time."

I chuckled, fished for my pack and lighter and lit up.

"Thanks for the coffee," I said. "Even if you're only condoning my vices so I'm not a grouchy bastard."

"No worries, I know you've cut down," he replied. "So did you get too warm on the way? Or are you just advertising that tickets are on sale for a gun show?"

This cracked me up and I had to fight to not spit coffee at him. When I recovered my composure I flexed and jokingly said, "Yup, you got me. The gun show is right here."

Jim smirked and said, "Ok smart ass, time to see Doctor Parker."

"May as well get it over with, we have a long ride ahead of us. You do have to tell me how you conned Gracia into thinking that you coming was nothing out of the ordinary."

Once Jim and I got to Doctor Parker's office I was ushered into the exam room and handed a gown. The first item on the agenda was having a new set of x-rays taken. The technician explained that Doctor Parker and my therapist would compare notes on my case while they developed the x-rays.

I was used to the lack of privacy afforded by the thin exam gowns and the cold, clinical environment of the hospital. That didn't mean I had to like it. But raising a fuss wouldn't make any of it go any faster so, resigned to the fact that this was how things would be, I cooperated.

After the x-rays were taken I was escorted back to the exam room. Jim helped me up on the table and then went into the hallway to let Doctor Parker know I was ready.

When Jim came back in he smiled and said, "He sounded almost human Jean, and there weren't any surprises in your x-rays, so relax."

"So he'll just do the usual? The sensory tests and a physical?" I asked, relieved that it wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary.

Doctor Parker came in, shook my hand and asked how I was doing. So far, so good.

Before Parker began the physical examination he had Jim give an overview of my progress in therapy and his recommendations for my rehabilitation.

"Jean, you've heard this from me in your sessions, but for the record, you're doing better than the team had hoped. Your work is paying off and you should be proud of yourself," Jim said.

"So the technical part is like this: you've got good range of motion in the affected extremities, recovered some muscle mass in your torso that had wasted while you were hospitalized and greatly improved your upper body strength and maneuvering skills," he read from his notes.

Doctor Parker nodded in agreement and said, "Mr. Havoc, I am impressed with your progress. Mr. Bruno, what are your recommendations for further treatment?"

"I'll want to have Jean come in three times a week for an hour, and swimming on his own at least that much in addition to daily stretching. He should be able to work that in around classes and social engagements," Jim said, winking at me when he came to the "social engagements" part.

With Jim's report complete it was time for the part that I hated most.

Doctor Parker opened my file, and then instructed me to lie still while he conducted the sensory tests. He went through the various instruments in succession alternating between asking me if I felt anything and what the sensation was, and then asking me to try moving various parts. He'd take notes on my chart, which in six months had grown rather thick, and purse his lips.

When he got to the injury site he paused and checked his notes again, showed them to Jim, and then asked me several more times to describe what I felt. Then he had Jim help me lie face down on the exam table and repeated the process again.

After he finished he told me I could get dressed and he then left the room. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Jim went and answered it, said a few words to the nurse and then said, "Now we go get the verdict in his office and then vacation."

I heaved a sigh of relief and said, "The only thing that has me worried is how long the exam took. Do you think he found anything?"

Jim patted me on the back and said, "Only one way to find that out. We should get in there."

Once we were in Doctor Parker's office Jim sat down in the chair in front of the imposing desk and I chose to position my chair to the right of Jim.

Doctor Parker cleared his throat and said, "I'm glad to see that your injury over the weekend hasn't set you back and is healing well. I was a bit shocked to hear how it happened, and to see your 'other' injuries."

He must have been referring to the marks on my chest and arms. I blushed slightly and suppressed a chuckle, as I really didn't want to explain how they had gotten there, but was amused that Parker had noticed and "understood" how they came to be there.

"I'm pleased at what the x-rays revealed," Parker said. "Your vertebrae are fully fused, or healed, and so far there is no curvature or scoliosis."

I nodded and said, "So the stabilizing surgery was a success. Good, I'd read that there were sometimes complications."

Parker continued, "Circulation in the affected limbs is good, but keep an eye on that, and remember to shift your position often and continue doing pressure relief every fifteen minutes."

I thought to myself, "They're all pre-occupied with my butt."

Glancing down at my chart Parker cleared his throat again and said, "The swelling around the cord is gone now. I'm sorry Mr. Havoc, the window for improvement in your condition is closed."

Looking down at the floor I reminded myself, "You knew that already Jean, shake it off."

"I do have some good news, but remember it doesn't mean you will walk again," Parker said, pausing. "I double checked my results so I wouldn't get your hopes up unnecessarily."

Frustrated with how long Parker was taking I said, "Well, what is it? Just spit it out."

"It appears that now that the swelling has gone down around the injury site, you have more areas with sensation than you did when you were first diagnosed."

Before I could interrupt again Parker continued, "Again, it's not meaningful recovery as far as walking goes, but you can feel pressure approximately four inches lower than you could previously. There was a weak voluntary response, or flexing, of the abdominal muscles."

"That's good, hell, that's great!" I replied.

"Mr. Havoc, I want to remind you that this isn't an indicator of meaningful recovery," Doctor Parker stated calmly.

"I know. I won't walk again, but every part that I can feel is precious to me," I said in a hard tone, pissed that he was minimizing the value of any return.

Jim cleared his throat and said, "If we're finished here, it's a busy day. Thank you Doctor Parker."

I nodded and said, "Yes, thank you. I never thought about it before, but you don't get to give much good news, do you? It explains a lot."

Doctor Parker was taken aback, but replied, "You're right Mr. Havoc. Keep working hard. I am sorry I can't give you more good news, but you are indeed making the best out of a bad situation. If you wouldn't mind, when you get back, I have a patient I'd like you to talk to."

I smiled a small smile and said, "I'll do whatever I can."

I meant it too, because it would have been a lot easier back then if I had someone who had gone through the same things to talk to after I'd woken up.

Doctor Parker got up and said as he left, "It's time for rounds, so I should go. Mr. Havoc, have a good trip and good luck with university."


 

Jim and I made our way down to the parking lot. Once we got to the car Jim unlocked it and said, "Why don't you get in back? We'll swing by your place and pick up your things and Sciezka. Then we'll pick up Gracia and Elysia."

"That sounds like a plan," I said, and then transferred to the back seat, disassembled my chair and handed the pieces to Jim to put in the trunk.

He came back with my chair pad and said, "You better use this, it's a long ride. In fact, I want you to stretch out and lie on your side once we get going."

I rolled my eyes and said, "Yes Jim, by the way, you are all obsessed with my ass. It never got this much attention before. I think I'm upset about that."

He blushed, then laughed and then said, "Ok wise guy, let's get going."


 

When we got to my place Jim asked if I needed anything other than what I'd packed and told me to wait in the car. I wasn't thrilled that I wouldn't be loading the car, but it made sense. It would go faster if I stayed put.

Soon Jim and Sciezka had the bags loaded in the car and we were on our way to Gracia's.

As soon as Sciezka got in the car she was asking questions in rapid-fire and kissing me before I could get out an answer.

I smiled and asked, "Can I get a word in edgewise here?"

She blushed and said, "Yes of course. I'm just happy to see that you're smiling. How did it go?"

I took Sciezka's hand and placed it on my stomach, "There was some good news. Here, feel them moving?"

As I concentrated on flexing my abdominal muscles Sciezka hugged me tightly around the neck and asked, "So you could feel that? When I touched you?"

"Barely, but it's better than nothing. Every little bit counts, right?"

She grinned and said, "I'll have to give you an exam of my own once were alone."


 

Gracia and Elysia's bags were loaded into the car and we were on our way. Ever the attentive hostess, Gracia had packed a hamper full of snacks and lunch. Elysia was talking a mile a minute in the front seat. I called up to the front seat and said, "Hey Elysia, you sure sound excited."

She turned around and peeked over the seat and said, "You're going to take me swimming, huh Jean?"

Grinning from ear to ear I answered, "Yes Princess, we're going swimming, as much as you want."

Satisfied with my answer she sat back down and began playing "I-Spy" with Gracia and Jim. I smiled and shifted position so I was on my side, with my head in Sciezka's lap.

She ruffled my hair and said, "Well you sure made yourself comfortable."

I wrapped my arms around Sciezka's waist and said, "I sure have. I think I'm going to nap until we stop for lunch."

Rubbing my back she said, "That's a good idea. You've already had a big day and didn't sleep too well last night. Besides, I'll have you almost all to myself all week."


 

The car came to a stop and I roused a little. Sciezka kissed me and said, "It's lunchtime sleepy head."

I sat up slowly and looked around. Elysia was out cold in the front seat. I guess that she wasn't the only one who was tired.

"Gracia," I said, trying to get her attention in the front seat. "Did she sleep at all last night?"

She laughed and said, "It was hard getting her to go to sleep last night. She was so excited."

Looking out the car window I asked, "Hey Jim, where are we anyway?'

He smiled and said, "We're at a farm stand a few hours outside of Eastern H.Q."

I checked my watch and said, "It's one o'clock, so if we're on schedule that means we have about three more hours of driving left. We'll get there around dinner time."

"Yup, that's about right. Let's eat lunch, " Jim said.

He got out of the car, brought me the pieces of my chair and I put it together and transferred. Gracia and Elysia were already laying out a blanket and setting out lunch.

The ground at the farm stand was full of ruts and it reminded me of the obstacle course at basic training. It was slow going for me and I thought I would get stuck a few times. Sciezka looked concerned but kept quiet. We'd been together long enough that she knew I'd rather dump the chair than get help. She stood by quietly, and I was sure she was probably worried. I hoped that Riza was right about the compound being level, and I was almost tempted to mention it. I thought better of it and didn't say anything, mainly because I didn't want Sciezka to think that I brought it up because I was having a hard time right now.

I was sweating by the time I got over to where Gracia had laid out the picnic. She'd picked a great spot under a large oak tree. Sciezka sat down on the blanket and motioned for me to join her. I transferred from my chair to the ground, next to Sciezka, and Gracia handed me a glass of lemonade.

"Wow, Jean, you can do that really fast!" Elysia exclaimed.

I looked at her and said, "Thanks, Elysia. I've had a lot of practice and help. Jim taught me how to do it, pretty cool eh?"

Elysia agreed and handed out the sandwiches and so we could begin eating.

I saw Gracia smile at Jim and he got all rosy in the cheeks again. I stifled a chuckle, hiding my smile as I took a drink of lemonade.

Midway though lunch Elysia announced that she had to go to the bathroom. She and Gracia left to go find one. When they came back I said, "That's a good idea, where was it?"

Gracia frowned and said, "It's in back of the farm stand, it was clean enough, for an outhouse but…"

I sighed and said, "Let me guess, stairs or a steep rocky hill? Maybe a narrow door?"

"Two out of three Jean. Narrow door and a rather rocky path, " Gracia answered.

Sciezka looked concerned again and I hated it when she worried.

Jim was awfully quiet, apparently deep in thought. Gracia attempted to change the subject and put away lunch, suggesting that Sciezka take Elysia to see what they were selling at the farm stand. She then whispered in Jim's ear and handed him the picnic blanket.

Jim stood up and headed in the direction of the outhouse.

"C'mon Jean. I think Gracia figured out a solution to one problem," Jim said.

I got back into my chair and followed him.

Once we got nearer to the outhouse Jim handed me one of the disposable cups the lemonade had come in.

"So your brilliant plan is this?" I asked holding the cup up.

Jim shrugged and said, "When you gotta go, you've gotta go. I'll cover you."

He held up the picnic blanket as an improvised privacy screen and I took care of business.

When I was finished Jim took the cup from me using a paper napkin and disposed of it in the outhouse. Gracia had also given him the small bottle of soap she carried for Elysia, and he went over to the hose at the back of the building and turned it on so we could both wash our hands.

"Thanks for your quick thinking, though I hope we don't have to do that again any time soon," I said.

Jim said, "Let's get back to the car and get out of here."

"Good idea. The sooner we get to Riza's grandfather's place the sooner we can settle in."


 

When we got back to the car the girls had already gotten in and were waiting for us. Jim helped me with my chair and once I was in the car Sciezka asked, "Want some dessert?"

The thought of that lightened my mood immensely. Just as I got my hopes up she handed me a chocolate chip cookie.

"They're really good, and we'll have plenty of time for what you were hoping for once we get there," Sciezka said, then kissed me.

The rest of the way to the lake couldn't go fast enough as far as I was concerned. Something told me Jim felt the same way. Maybe it was the way he finally cut loose and hit the gas.

Chapter Text

Napping in the backseat with Sciezka made the trip pass quickly, and I was thankful for the rest once we entered the compound. Riza had greatly understated the size of the place and Sciezka's gasp of surprise was what woke me. The main house could hardly be called rustic. It was a proud revival style manse with columns surrounding the wrap around portico and balcony above it. The next thing I noticed after the sheer size of the place was the wooden ramp that covered one half of the steps leading up to the front door. Instantly relieved I smiled at Jim and Sciezka and said, "Let's unpack and start this vacation."

Jim handed me the keys to the guesthouse and directed me down a brick path to the side of the house. Sciezka and I had packed light so we were able to manage our luggage easily. Our path was lined with flowering vines draped on trellises and well tended rose bushes. The heady perfume they gave off and the feeling of seclusion made it feel like we were entering our own paradise. After a short trek we finally came to a small garden surrounded by a high hedge that provided extra privacy for the whitewashed cottage.

I thought it might be funny to "carry" Sciezka over the threshold and get down to business. Ever the conscientious guest, she reminded me that we should put away our belongings quickly, freshen up and see how we could be of help with dinner and setting up. We surveyed the layout of the cottage: a small living area and eat in kitchen, a bathroom with a large cast iron tub (with a small bench in it), and at the back of the house a bedroom with a wrought iron bed that was just large enough for two, piled high with quilts. Sciezka informed me that the walls were covered in bead board and that the wood floors had "tongue and groove" construction. The old me would not have cared, the new me found it "charming or quaint" and filed it away under decorating information. What had they done to me? While the kitchen had electricity, we discovered that oil lamps lighted the other rooms. We'd have to be careful with those so we didn't burn the place down.


 

After exploring the cottage, hanging our clothes in the closet, washing up a bit and a few stolen kisses we went up to the main house. The ramp was steep but manageable and soon Sciezka and I were in the kitchen with Gracia, Elysia and Jim.

While Gracia seasoned and sautéed chicken, Jim sliced bread, Elysia set the table and Sciezka and I prepared vegetables for a tossed salad. A car pulled into the drive just as we were sitting down to dinner. Elysia ran onto the portico to investigate. Soon she came back in and reported excitedly, "Aunt Riza and Winry are here and they brought two boys!"

Gracia's eyes went wide, but she stayed calm. Sciezka got out four more place settings and Jim got out another loaf of brad. Gracia had the best idea of all. Instead of smaller servings of chicken, we all had salads with a generous topping of chicken. It was lucky that the boys Riza brought with her were Russel and Fletcher Tringham and not the Elric's. NO amount of creative meal stretching would have satisfied Ed's appetite after a mission.

During dinner Riza announced, appearing relieved, "The Colonel and the Elric brothers will arrive sometime tonight."

I looked around at what I could see of the house from the dining room, as I hadn't seen most of the main house and asked, "Where?"

Riza smiled and said, "There are four bedrooms upstairs and two on this floor if we include the study and living areas. There are plenty of bedrolls. We're soldiers, we've slept on worse."

I scowled and said, "Why do I get a bed?"

"Because I say so, and it's your birthday. Besides, if there are many more surprise guests they'll be on your living room floor," Riza said and winked.

We all began to eat heartily and agreed it was an ideal warm weather meal. Russel and Fletcher seemed especially pleased with dinner. I wondered what boys that young would have to do with the military, and if they just had typical adolescent appetites, or if they lived in privation.

We lingered over dinner partly due to the Aquroyan wine Jim had brought and partly because we were impatient for our downtime. When it appeared that we had all eaten our fill of the main course Gracia brought out fresh raspberries with whipped cream for dessert. For what was intended to be such a simple dinner, it had been exceptional and delicious.

After dinner we moved to the living room and I stretched out on a thick rug in front of the fireplace without a second thought. The only people who weren't familiar with my condition were the Tringhams and I figured if Riza brought them, they could be trusted. Why they were here was still troublesome to me. I decided I'd get answers later and relax for now. Once I caught Sciezka's eye I pointed at her, then my glass, and patted a spot on the rug next to me.

She refilled her glass, almost to the top and sat down behind me, patted her lap, then whispered in my ear, "Curl up here and help me drink this."

I smiled and eagerly followed her instructions.


 

As we all chatted and got to know each other better, the subject of occupations came up. Russel and Fletcher had thought that we were all military. They were very surprised by the answers given by Jim, Sciezka, and Winry, and were curious to learn more. As tight-lipped and taciturn as Riza could be, she was very tender with the boys and they were also at ease around her. Fletcher asked Jim many detailed questions about his work in rehabilitation and about the hospital, listening intently to Jim's every word. Russel, impressed with Gracia's description of her garden in Central, complemented her on the variety of vegetables she'd used in the salad and the herbs she mixed into the lemon juice with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. Sciezka had told me earlier that Winry had talked their ears off about automail the whole way to the lake and, seemingly exhausted, she was content to just sit and listen. Once the boys learned of Sciezka's unique gift of total recall of everything she'd ever read, they inquired about what texts and manuscripts the Central Library had about botany and plant alchemy.

Then it clicked for me that this was their specialty, but I still didn't know why there were here. Finally it was my turn to discuss what I did for a living. What exactly did I do?

Thankfully Riza intervened on my behalf, "Second Lieutenant Havoc is retired, but he has been gracious enough to act as an intel and firearms specialist when we need him. He's also attending classes at the university in addition to his rehab work with Jim."

Fletcher, the younger brother, said, "Lieutenant Havoc, that is very impressive. I couldn't help noticing that you are very strong."

I flushed a bit, wondering how to reply to that and finally said, "Well thank you Fletcher, and call me Jean. As for being strong, I kind of have to be, and owe a lot of that to Jim. Oh, and I can't neglect to mention this chair. Winry and Alphonse made it for me. I get around so much better with it."

Winry had been dozing off, but perked up at the mention of her creation. Fletcher and Russel both nodded and then Russel said, "We're here because Lieutenant Hawkeye requested that we come and work on some botanical medicines."

I quirked an eyebrow at Riza and she cleared her throat. Gracia excused herself to go put Elysia to bed and get some sleep herself, and Sciezka took the hint as well saying, "Jean, I'm going to make up the bed and finish unpacking. I am beat."

After they both cleared out in record time, I got back in my chair and Jim, Riza, Winry and the Tringhams and I moved the discussion to the dining room. Once we were all seated around the table Riza pulled out a small, battered notebook from her pocket.

Speaking in hushed tones she said, "Sometime tonight Colonel Mustang will be arriving with the Elrics, Doctor Knox and two more people."

"Wait, Knox, why him? You had said there was an injury. Was it that bad?" I asked.

Riza nodded and said, "The two others are here illegally from Xing. One is a noble, and having him as an ally could help the cause. It was his bodyguard who was seriously injured. I didn't get many details, but it seems that we'll be needing all the different medical specialties we've assembled here."

I nodded and said, "So then why am I here?"

"Because you know how to run a mission and I need help," Riza snapped, then thinking better of it smiled and added, "Moral support?"

Smiling and saluting I said, "Whatever you need ma'am, even if it's only a good diversion. I'm sure Sciezka and I can come up with something."

"Ok, good. Now Russel and Fletcher... I have enough information about this to know that you'll need remedies which aid localized clotting, and minimizing infection and pain while keeping the patient alert," Riza said.

She continued her briefing, "Jim, when the patient arrives I want you to help Doctor Knox with her positioning and then work with Winry to come up with solutions. Winry, I have no idea what awaits you in this, but you were specifically requested because of your expertise. Edward damaged his automail as well, but he is fine."

Winry heaved a sigh of relief, but in the next instant anger flashed over her features and she hissed, "That Bean, he is getting into trouble again! I'll kill him!"

Suppressing a chuckle I said, "Winry, go easy on him. I'm sure it couldn't be helped. At least the rest of him is in one piece."

She glared at me and said, "Don't take his side too often buster."

Grinning sheepishly I replied, "You are the boss when it comes to mechanics."

After everyone was briefed, Riza suggested that we all get some sleep and to expect an early wake-up call when they arrived.

When I got back to the cottage I let myself in quietly, stopped in the bathroom to get ready for bed and found a note from Sciezka on the edge of the sink:

"Get ready for bed and then get in here."

-S


 

I completed the necessaries in record time and hurried into the bedroom. Sciezka had dimmed the lantern, turned down the bed and put on the blue silk chemise I loved. She took a small, brightly wrapped bundle from under her pillow and set it in her lap. I took that as an invitation to join her. After stripping down to my boxers I got into bed with only a little bit of difficulty, as it was higher than I was used to. Once I had propped myself up against a few pillows and was sitting comfortably, Sciezka handed me the bundle and said, "Open it, Happy Early Birthday."

She knelt next to me to kiss me then sat back on her heels and waited expectantly to see if I liked the present. The bright wrapping that I undid was actually two narrow silk scarves, which I carefully folded and set them beside me on the bed. I then opened the latch of the intricately carved wooden box that the scarves had concealed, and I immediately smelled the delicately sweet scent of honey. After inspecting the box's contents further, I found that it held a fine amber colored powder and a small, fluffy feather duster.

"Ohhh, I think I know what this is, but why don't you tell me? This isn't a hint that I stink, is it?" I asked.

Sciezka dipped a finger into the powder, traced my lips, kissed me and said, "No, you smell delicious. I just thought that this might be fun, and a good excuse to lick every inch of you."

"What should I do with the scarves? Do I need to accessorize? I really don't think that red is my color," I said and winked.

She moved her pillows to the middle of the bed, then took mine, scowled and said, "You, get in the middle of the bed."

Once I was positioned there she fluffed the pillows so that I was leaning against the headboard quite comfortably. I said, "I think that I really like this special birthday treatment, but what are you doing?"

Weaving the finishing touches on a series of intricate loops and knots in one of the scarves, she smiled, placing her handiwork around my right wrist and tied the loose end around the headboard. Smiling wickedly she said, "I'm tying you up... if at any time you want me to stop just say 'ceasefire' and I will stop immediately."

I thought it over, and though the time and effort she'd put into her scheme was admirable, I wasn't sure if I wanted to be more immobile than I already was. Unable to think of a joke or play on words to distract her from how much my limitations still bothered me, I just came right out and said, "I'm sorry, that would have been fun before… but I don't think it will work like this. Though I'm pleased that you had forgotten that detail when you were planning this."

Sciezka kissed me on the forehead and then replied, "You have nothing to worry about. I just wanted to do this so you could focus solely on your pleasure. The bonds will be quite loose; I intend to make you move a lot. You were right about the last part though, the chair is the last thing I think about when I think of you."

I surrendered my left wrist to her and smiled.

She hitched it up to the headboard and asked if I was comfortable, and then she gave me a piece of her mind.

After making quite a production of removing her chemise, straddling me and applying the honey powder with fluttering strokes of the feather, she began the task of "cleaning up" as she called it.

She ran her tongue from my navel to my neck and kissed me, making sure I got a taste of my present. When I raised my head to try and deepen the kiss she said, "Just let me worship a bit."

I was thankful that turn about was fair play.

She put a new twist on things by telling me what she thought of when she thought of me and then touching me in ways I'd only imagined before, followed each with a kiss. Placing another on my forehead she said, "I love your mind. You're intelligent, but quiet about it, no… humble." Then she ever so delicately ran her tongue around my ear and whispered, "You're an excellent listener. You even pick up on the things I don't say." She moved to my eyes and kissed each eyelid saying, "You see through people's masks and you still look for the good in them." Next was my nose and as she nuzzled it with hers she giggled and said, "This is not only an aristocratic profile, it's very functional. It knows just how to drive me wild."

Whereas she had started with my high-minded ideals and lofty goals, my list of attributes quickly grew to include things that made even me blush. If I'd had any remaining doubts about being tied up, hell everything, they were gone now. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I could tell that this turned her on too because she began to do her usual bump and grind. I asked, "So is this how it feels when I won't let you do it yourself?"

She smiled and said, "Maybe, but this isn't payback. It's just so fun watching you. That's another one. When I think of you, I think of a very expressive person."

I gave her my best puppy dog eyes and whined, "IS this expressive enough? Please?"

Sciezka kissed me passionately and said, "On it!"

I decided right then that being thoroughly owned and ridden into the mattress was at times a very good thing. Well, the realization hit me later after the blood came back to my brain and I could think straight again.

"Ceasefire!"

"What Jean? I'm not doing anything," Sciezka said as she looked up at me from where she had collapsed after a spectacular climax.

"As much as I enjoy the cuddling, I am still tied up, I have to pee, and I need a cigarette after all that veneration. Damn woman, you are good."

After all was said and done, we both slept like rocks.

Chapter Text

In the morning I woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside in the garden and Sciezka lightly stroking my cheek. I smiled, opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was Sciezka's face. She kissed me tenderly and I thought to myself, "What a wonderful way to wake up."

Sciezka pressed her lips to mine again, and said, "I'm going to get dressed and help with breakfast. Why don't you get some more sleep? You certainly earned it last night. I'll come get you when it's ready."

I admired the view as I watched her walk into the bathroom, and then rolled over onto my stomach to comply with her request.


 

When I woke up the second time, the experience wasn't as pleasant. I'd thrown off the covers at some point, and the sweltering heat was my wake-up call. As I savored my last few moments of peace before what would probably be a very busy day, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched.

There wasn't much that I would be able to do if my audience was hostile, so I decided the best approach was to be quick and direct. I opened my eyes, pulled up the blankets, propped myself up on my elbows and scanned the room, with a speed I didn't know I even possessed. My eyes landed on a grinning foreigner, dressed in red and perched on my wheelchair.

"Good morning, you've finally woken up," the foreigner said cheerfully.

"Good morning? Is that all you have to say for yourself?" I growled, realizing that a massive case of bedhead did not help with my "intimidation factor".

The foreigner smirked as he continued looking at me, appearing to be sizing me up. I sighed, knowing that if I were in his shoes I would have laughed my ass off at such a sight. As he leaned over and untied one of the scarves from the head board he asked, "Sciezka, the delicate looking one with the glasses in the kitchen, she is your lover, yes?"

I blushed crimson, my anger steadily rising, and replied, "It's not any of your business, but yes, Sciezka is my girlfriend."

His audacity infuriated me and I asked in rapid fire, "Just who the fuck are you, how the hell did you get in here and have you any concept of privacy?"

Still grinning, he replied, "The bonds are too far apart to be for her, I assume you were tied up then?"

"I don't even know why I'm dignifying that with a response, but yes, I was tied up," I answered, growing really uncomfortable about having this discussion with what looked like a fairly young foreigner.

His amused expression remained unchanged as he said, "Ah, I see, then..."

Cutting him off I said, "I don't even know your damned name, but get this straight, I can, and we do! " I glared at him for a bit before letting out an exasperated sigh.

His eyes glinted in amusement as he finally answered, "My name is Ling, I came in through the window and does my being here make you uncomfortable?"

"Yes it does you little pervert, and get off of my chair!" I yelled.

As I was telling this 'Ling' person off, Fullmetal appeared in the doorway. He smirked at the spectacle and said, "Jean, meet Prince Ling Yao of Xing, Ling, meet Jean Havoc."

"Boss, hey," I said. "Is his Royal Highness always such a presumptuous pain in the ass?"

Fullmetal nodded and said, "You're lucky you don't have to put up with His Royal Moochery all the time."

I shot Ling another glare and said, "You're still on my chair. Scram, before I sick its creator on you."

"You better do what he says," Ed said as he rubbed the angry looking bump that was rising on his forehead, "if this what she did to me I can imagine what she will do to you."

Ling vacated his perch both gracefully and unapologetically, gave me that silly grin again, then waved and left the room.

I rolled over onto my back, pushed up into a sitting position and said, "Thanks Boss, and I'm glad to see that you're mostly in one piece. You had us worried."

Ed self-consciously touched his empty shoulder port and said, "Winry took it off this morning to work on it. I really did a number on it."

Understanding completely, I nodded and said, "I take it breakfast will be ready soon?"

Ed replied, "Yeah, Sciezka sent me to come wake you up. Well that, and I'm hiding from Winry."

"Feel free to hide in the main room Boss, and I'll get ready," I said, chuckling at the amount of fear a young, blonde girl could strike in him.

Ed pointed to the remaining scarf on the headboard and said, "I see you've returned to 'active duty'. By the way, nice hair."

I shook my head and said, "What would you know about that? Maybe I just felt like decorating."

"Sure you did... you'd better hurry, His Royal Moochery will eat all the food if we don't get there fast," Ed said as he headed for the main room.

I was not about to let that mooch eat my breakfast, so I quickly put on some boxers, grabbed a pair of khakis and a t-shirt and headed into the bathroom to wash up.


 

Once I'd gotten myself cleaned up, I went into the main room. Ed was sitting on the couch waiting for me. I noted that he had an especially sour expression on his face and seemed to be deep in thought. I knew the kid always had plenty on his mind, but this looked different to me. Knowing that he'd never spit it out on his own, I asked, "Hey Boss, you look to be especially chipper this morning, do you want to talk about it?"

He fiddled with his watch, blushed and said, "It's kind of embarrassing."

"You're talking to the guy who had to have glass picked out of his ass, shard by shard, just last weekend. It can't be that bad. I promise I won't laugh," I replied, moving closer to the couch so that we were eye to eye.

After considering my offer he said, "I really like someone, but... I don't know how to say it."

Grinning I said, "Just tell her, she'll be thrilled."

A panic-stricken look crossed his features and he mumbled, "It's not Winry."

I sucked in a breath, and said with a grin, "Oh shit! In that case, who is she and do I know her?"

"That's another um, issue," he said, clearly uncomfortable.

Giving him a puzzled look I asked, "So who is it?"

Ed's cheeks flushed a deeper shade and he answered, "Russel."

Masking my astonishment as well as I could I cheerfully said, "Well, I gotta admit, I wasn't expecting that one, but you have to follow your heart." Treading carefully, I asked, "Does Winry know?"

Ed looked at the floor, appearing miserable, and I had no doubt he was imagining Winry's reaction.

He had opened up to me, and this was a rare moment for us both since he never confided in anyone other than Alphonse. I wonder if Alphonse even knew about this. The Boss could be counted on to cause complete chaos and lots of collateral damage in his efforts to champion the underdog, but handling human emotions -including his- was never his strong suit.

I really couldn't be surprised that he seemed to have no clue as to how to handle this. After thinking about how I was going to phrase it, I finally said, "First of all, you'll need to run damage control. Tell Winry as much as you feel comfortable telling her, but most importantly be honest with her and let her tell you off. It might be less physically damaging for you that way." Ed winced, clearly not convinced. " As for Russel" I continued, "well, I don't really know him, but then again, I think honesty is still the way to go."

Ed looked relieved and said, "Thanks Jean, for... well, just... thanks. We should head over to the main house now." He was smiling now and running his fingers through his long blond bangs.

"Yeah, you're right, if we're gonna beat that mooch to the table," I said as I headed toward the bathroom. "Just give me a minute."

I took out the small bottle from my kit and thought about what I was going to do. Ed probably didn't know why I was giving him this, but since he was a prodigy and all I was sure he'd eventually figure it out.

After looking at the small bottle I'd just handed him and then back at me, it seemed that he was utterly confused as to what he was supposed to do with it. I cleared my throat and said, "Lube Ed, it's lube. What am I using it for? Strictly medical purposes and trust me, you really don't want to know the specifics. As for why I'm giving it to you, well... you might need it."

Still confused and speechless, Ed stood up and went to the door. I lit up a cigarette and followed him, and we headed up the path to get some breakfast.

Once the Boss and I got to the front of the house, he eyed the ramp and asked, "Can you manage it?"

I grinned and said, "Yeah, I've got it handled, but thanks for the offer. Let's get that chow. I can smell it from here."

Breaking a sweat as I inched my way up the ramp, I grit my teeth with the effort and finally arrived at the top, out of breath, but no worse for wear. Recovering quickly, I looked up and saw Ling perched on the railing. He climbed down to stand on the porch, flashed that grin of his and said, "Allow me to get the door for you."

"It won't be necessary," I said coolly as I wheeled past him, opened the door and went inside. Ling and Ed followed me into the house and headed towards the dining room, their stomachs growling in unison.

Sciezka peered out of the kitchen, thanked Ed for coming to get me, then came over to kiss me and asked, "Did you sleep well?"

I lightly pressed my lips to hers again and said, "I met Ling. C'mon, let's eat."

She ruffled my hair and said, "You look like you need some coffee."

Nodding I replied, "You have no idea."

We went into the dining room and sat down for breakfast. Gracia and Sciezka had outdone themselves cooking; platters were piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. I chose a place near the center of the table, where I would have the best access to everything. I filled my plate and began to eat heartily. Gracia had also set out some of her preserves, which were delicious slathered on buttered toast. As I was settling in to eat, Sciezka nudged my elbow and said, "Oh, you weren't hungry at all, were you?"

I gave her a sheepish grin, swallowed and whispered in her ear, "I think you'll agree that I earned it last night. But look at those two! I thought the Boss could eat, but Ling is worse than he is."

They were both on their second helpings and devouring it like there was no tomorrow. As Ed reached for the last piece of bacon, Ling jabbed his fork at Ed's hand and growled, "It's mine, shrimp!"

That set Ed off. If the dining room hadn't been so packed it would have been fun to watch an all-out sparring match between the two of them. While they were tussling, Riza deftly plucked the bacon off the platter and fed it to Hayate as Ling and Ed watched, completely crestfallen.

I popped my piece of bacon into my mouth and said, "Well done Hawkeye. You never fail to quell a hostile situation quickly. You'd be good at babysitting."

Riza laughed, winked at Sciezka and said, "Most women are. How do you think we put up with you men?"

I rolled my eyes and replied, "I thought I was exempt from comments like that. This dog is housebroken. Speaking of which, Gracia, can I help with clean up?"

Gracia came out of the kitchen with her mug of coffee and said, "No, I've got it covered. But could you keep Elysia busy?"

I chuckled and said, "Of course, get over here Princess, we'll go exploring and then take a swim."

Sciezka followed us onto the porch. I pulled her closer and said, "Maybe you should stay behind. I have a hunch that Winry might need you."

She looked confused and asked, "What for?"

"You'll know it when you hear it. Someone is either going to be in the doghouse or completely disassembled."

As Elysia skipped down the steps and I made my way over the ramp, I heard a shriek followed by a dull thud and what sounded like the contents of Winry's toolbox being thrown at some unlucky soul. The next thing I knew the Boss streaked past me, apparently running for his life.

Sciezka came down the stairs and said to me in a low voice, "It was only a matter of time. It's better that he told her now than have her figure it out on her own later."

"So you knew?" I asked, rather puzzled, as the news had been a shock to me.

She nodded and said, "You are so oblivious sometimes. I'll go see if Winry wants to talk."


 

Elysia and I had wandered around the lake, picking up shiny pebbles, smelling the wild flowers and chasing down and observing every living thing she could find. Whenever she found a butterfly or insect she'd ask me what kind it was, what it ate, and where it lived. I had no idea that kids from the city didn't know this stuff. She also had to know all about each type of bird we saw, and I found out that my birdcalls weren't as rusty as I thought they were. Of all the living things we saw, there was no sign of Ed. Clearly he was making himself scarce. Elysia finally sat down at the picnic table and announced, "Jean, we are going to have a tea party."

Smiling I said, "Ok Elysia, but what are you going to serve?"

Instead of answering she scampered off. I called after her, "Stay where I can see you!" I allowed myself to relax while she was on her mission. Stretching my arms over my head, I realized that I should probably take a swim in the afternoon as my back and shoulders were tight from anxiety. This was supposed to be a vacation, but so far it was more stressful than life back in Central. I told myself, "Things will be better once Winry calms down."

Elysia came back quickly and set out acorn caps, which she informed me were our teacups. We were finishing dessert, which were acorns on leaf plates, when a car came up the road kicking up dust and parked in front of the main house. I wondered who it could be and was elated, if not a tad bit nervous, when Breda, Feury, Falman and a striking blonde woman got out of the car.

I waved and said, "Hey, get over here! What are you doing out here?"

Elysia got up from the picnic bench and hid behind my chair when the four "strangers" approached.

"It's ok Princess. These people are my friends," I told her, trying to reassure her. I almost reminded her that they were her daddy's friends too, but thankfully I caught myself just in time. "Breda, why don't we all go up to the house? Elysia and I need to find her Mommy and I bet you would like to get settled in and have some lunch."

The guys, and that blonde woman, retrieved their bags from the car and went to find their rooms and unpack. I dropped Elysia off with Gracia, grabbed a beer from the icebox while I was in that direction and went out onto the porch to wait for Breda. As I pried the cap off of the bottle I thought to myself, "Damn, Falman did not do that woman justice when he described her in his letters. She is a long, tall, cool drink of water."

My stream of thought was interrupted when I noticed the spasms. Whether it was from exerting myself more than usual as Elysia and I explored or the car ride the day before, I didn't know. I just knew they needed to stop. I put my beer down next to my chair and put both hands firmly on my knees, willing the spasms to stop. I knew that was hopeless, but I tried in vain anyway. I heard the screen door open, and heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that it was Winry coming out onto the porch.

Winry quietly slid down the wall and sat with her shoulders slumped, clutching her knees tight to her body. Her eyes were red and a little puffy, and from her posture I knew she was still very upset by her conversation with Ed.

"Would you like to talk about it?" I asked tentatively. It was no secret that I'd had my heart broken many times before, but nothing quite like I suspected had gone on between Ed and Winry. I'd always assumed that they were childhood sweethearts and that they'd end up together.

She sniffed and softly said, "Maybe later, Jean. Jim had me come get you for a session."

"A session?" I asked. I chuckled softly and continued, "Only I am lucky enough to have a physical therapist and a mechanic on-call while I'm on vacation."

Winry's expression brightened a little at the mention of her engineering skill and she said, "It looks like you're in bad shape too."

Carefully leaning forward to stretch my back and pick up my beer I said, "Yeah, I must have overdone it. The session will be good for me. Maybe it'll help stop the spasms. I don't want the guys to know."

She nodded and said, "Go change into your swim trunks and wait at the cottage. I'll tell Jim that we're doing your session there, and then you can take a swim."

I took a swig of beer and said, "Thank you for covering for me Winry. I meant what I said, I'm here if you ever need someone to talk to. I don't know if it helps any, but Ma always said something along the lines of 'every pot has a cover.' Look at me... I think I've found my 'cover' and you will too."

Sciezka stepped out onto the porch as I was heading for the cottage to change and she was smiling. "You know," I said smiling back at her, as I pulled her onto my lap, "I like the way you 'cover' me."

She leaned in and kissed me, and I softly whispered, "I love you."

With tears in her eyes and a big loving smile, she replied, "I know Jean, I know. It shows in everything you do."

Chapter Text

Of all the hurdles I'd ever faced, overcoming my fear of saying the three scariest words in the male vocabulary to Sciezka was the moment of my greatest triumph. I was still in awe over it. I'd done it! I'd actually done it! Although Sciezka had known what was in my heart all along she was still happy to hear it, and to my great relief she reciprocated my feelings as well.

We sat there on the front porch in silence for a few moments before we resumed kissing each other with a renewed sense of intimacy between us. Words weren't needed. My legs jumped particularly fiercely and Sciezka placed a hand on my knees and said, "They're bad today, aren't they?"

Frowning I said, "Yeah, I don't know what I did to cause them. As much as I'd rather stay just like this for the afternoon, with you, I've got to go down to the cottage for a session."

She leaned in for another kiss and said through her smile, "I bet that will help. We'll go for a swim afterwards. You can help me put sun lotion on my back."

I took her bottom lip and nibbled on it a bit and then said, "Mm hmm, spreading lotion all over that nubile body of yours makes it sound like will never get around to swimming."

Giggling and shaking her head at me she replied, "Get to your session Mister One-Track-Mind."

I grinned and said, "Then you're Miss One-Track-Mind, and I'd say that makes us perfect for each other."

She carefully got off of my lap and said, "I'll walk over with you and no worries, I have plans for you tonight."

We went down the trellis-lined path to the cottage, stopping every few steps to admire the flowers and steal a kiss. Once in the small, hedge-enclosed garden Sciezka leaned in for a particularly effusive kiss. She then ruffled my hair and said, "I can tell you're craving a cigarette, I haven't seen you with one all morning."

Grinning as I fished in the bag under my chair for my pack of smokes I replied, "I had much better things to do with my mouth. If we could make-out all day long I don't think I'd ever light up again."

She chuckled wryly and said, "We wouldn't get much done. In fact, we'd never leave the house."

"You're probably right, but it would be fun," I said and winked.

Sciezka turned to leave and said, "Have a good session. I'm going to help Gracia get everyone settled in and then we'll take that swim."

I watched her walk, no, saunter, as I sat and smoked until the flowering vines on the path obscured my view.

After surveying the garden I found what I was looking for as someone had placed a coffee can just outside the door of the cottage, apparently for my benefit. I stubbed out my spent cigarette and put the butt in the can, then went into the cottage to change into my swim trunks for my session.


 

I'd just finished changing in the bathroom and taking care of the necessaries when I heard a knock on the door. I called out from where I was and said, "Come on in, I'm decent."

When I came out of the bathroom I saw that Jim and Winry were in the living area setting out a blanket and some pillows on the floor. Jim noticed the spasms after a rather violent one that nearly knocked my feet off of the footrest and frowned. Then he said, "It looks like we have our work cut out for us today. Are they usually this bad?"

Looking down at my twitching legs I swallowed hard and then said, "No Jim, not normally. It's probably just stress. They usually pass."

Jim helped me out of my chair and onto the floor, as the spasms made it hard to find a secure footing. After I stretched out on the floor on my back Jim began bending and stretching my legs and said, "I'll go easy on you today. Elysia said you both got a lot of exercise after breakfast on your nature hike."

I laughed remembering Elysia's astonishment at all the different types of wildlife and said, "We had a great time. She's so curious, and whip smart. She was able to remember everything I told her."

Winry sat on the couch and listened as Jim and I talked and said, "Someday you'll make a great father Jean."

I quirked an eyebrow and asked her, "You really think so? I'm flattered. I don't even know if it's possible, but it'll be fun trying. Jim, what do you think?"

Jim stopped what he was doing for a moment and said, "I don't have a lot of experience in that area, medically at least. It might be impossible, but I agree with Winry. If you want it, it will happen, even if you go the adoption route. You'll make a great father. Not to put the cart before the horse, but you and Sciezka seem like you'd be great parents. I'll bet you'll have Elysia's vote too."

The rest of my therapy session continued with Jim putting my joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Winry moved to the floor to better observe what Jim was doing. He paused and asked, "Jean, would you mind if I showed Winry how to do this?"

After pushing up onto my elbows so I could see them both I said, "It's fine, really. I just hope it helps with the spasms. If the guys found out it would put a damper on my day."

Winry nodded and said, "We won't do the electro-stimulation today, I think it would just irritate your nerves more. But I don't think anyone would think any less of you if they saw the spasms."

"Nah Winry, they wouldn't. It's just, I guess... I just want to be 'one of the guys', like nothing happened," I said softly. "Having to explain another thing that's wrong with me wouldn't help with that."

There was a knock on the door and I startled at the noise. Jim must have noticed my concern because he got up, walked to the door and asked, "Who is it?"

Thankfully it was just Sciezka. Jim let her in and she crossed the small distance from the door to where I was on the floor, sat down next to me and asked, "So how is the session going?"

I smiled and said, "Today I got to be lazy, they're doing all the work. Jim and Winry weren't their usual slave-driver selves."

Jim and Winry both smiled at that and Jim said, "He's all yours Sciezka. I think a swim would be just perfect today. I'm going to check in with Doctor Knox and hopefully I'll see you two down there. Winry, take the afternoon off, go take a dip."

They headed up to the main house after I thanked them both for the session and Sciezka went into the bedroom to change into her swimsuit. I was getting back into my chair as she came out. Once I'd gotten myself situated she came over, hugged me and whispered in my ear, "Care to help me with that sun lotion now?"

She handed the bottle to me and I squeezed a generous amount into my palms and began spreading it on her in slow, long strokes. She shivered at first because I hadn't warmed it up first. I guess I was a little too thorough, as she snatched the bottle out of my lap and said, "Now it's my turn."


 

Eventually we made our way to the lakefront and onto the dock. Sciezka went in first and waded out until she could no longer touch bottom so I could tell how deep the water was. I set the brakes on my chair, carefully eased myself on to the dock, then crept to the edge and dangled my legs over the side. I was thankful that the dock was made of smooth metal, as the last thing I needed were splinters. Doctor Knox had already seen enough of my backside as far as I was concerned.

I got into the water just as Breda and Feury approached the lakeshore. After swimming a few strokes I swam back to the dock and began to tread water. Feury was wading in the shallows and I suppressed a chuckle when the image of comparing him to a wet cat crossed my mind. Breda was out on the dock and I teased, "Who's the father? Do you think it will be an ale or a lager?"

Breda grinned, rubbed his belly and said, "I'd say it was you, but we haven't been out drinking in ages."

I chuckled, and then replied, "We'll fix that, and it's a stout, isn't it?"

He shook his head and said, "You know I only drink that muddy swill when I'm out with you." Then he made a running start and jumped off the dock landing with a spectacular splash as he shouted, "Incoming!"

Feury was startled when he got splashed and gave up his timid wading to swim out to where Breda, Sciezka and I were. I decided I would get in a few laps before everyone else in our group joined the fray.

After my second lap from the dock to the raft that was anchored about twenty-five yards out, Breda commented, "Havoc, you're still a fish. I remember last R and R trip was the same way, you spent almost all your free time in the lake."

I stopped treading water and replied, "I have been since I was a kid swimming in the mill pond."

With a mischievous smirk, Breda smiled and said, "If I recall correctly your Ma said you had a thing for skinny dipping."

Blushing a bit at the mention and the memory I said, "Yeah, well I couldn't come home in wet clothes. It would be a dead giveaway that I'd been shirking my chores and swimming and smoking behind the neighbor's shed instead."

Sciezka splashed me and asked, "How did your mother find out?"

I splashed her back and said, "She wouldn't have, if my cousins hadn't swiped my clothes."

We all had to laugh at that. I'd always been good at getting into embarrassing situations. I was relieved that Breda could still poke some fun at me, though I sensed he was holding back. I'd talk to him about it later if he kept it up for much longer.

The rest of our motley crew came down to the shore; Mustang looking pale and skinny in his trunks, Hawkeye a knock-out in a dark blue tank suit, Falman, stiff as ever and pasty from his time spent at Northern H.Q. and his girlfriend Denika. Sciezka smacked me on the back of the head when my jaw dropped as she unwrapped the towel she had around her waist.

"What? I just can't believe that Falman has a girl, much less one that looks like that!" I said apologetically.

They all got into the water and soon the girls were lounging on the raft taking in some sun, and we boys were engaging in horseplay. I caught Sciezka watching and smiled wide. This was like old times.

Jim, Winry, Gracia and Elysia arrived next. Well, Elysia arrived first and ran to the end of the dock and shouted, "Jean, come catch me!"

I knew I could do it, so I gave Jim and Gracia the thumbs-up and swam over to the dock to catch her. Elysia backed up, got a running start and leapt into my arms. The guys cheered and we took turns having Elysia swim to us and launching her into the air. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Jim and Gracia seemed quite content talking to each other in the shallows.

I left Elysia with "Unca Roy" and started to swim to the raft to see what Denika, Riza, Sciezka and Winry were talking about. They were all giggling and carrying on about something and I was happy to see that Winry was smiling and chatting. As I got closer the only thing I could make out of the conversation was a thickly accented "Laps like a true military dog" before they all noticed my approach and went silent.

As I hung onto the raft I asked jokingly, "Are boys allowed in your club?"

Sciezka pretended to consider it, rolled her eyes and asked, "What do you think ladies?"

Winry giggled and said, "I suppose so, but we'll have to swear you to secrecy."

Chuckling a bit I replied, "The things I put up with to enjoy the company of beautiful women such as yourselves."

I pulled myself out of the water and rolled over onto my back easily. Sciezka leaned over and whispered in my ear, "You're getting good at that, and yes, I was bragging about you."

After pulling her down for a kiss I said, "I bet I'll hear from Breda and Mustang what a looker you are. I'll be spending the rest of the weekend beating them off of you with a stick."

We all basked in the sun and soon everyone decided they'd better get into the shade before they burned. Sciezka gave me a quick peck on the cheek and said, "I'm going to go get cleaned up and then take a nap before dinner. Care to join me?"

I smiled and said, "I'll be in soon. I just want to talk to Breda first."

We both left the raft and I swam over to Breda, but couldn't help watching as she climbed the ladder on the dock.

"She's gorgeous," Breda said, breaking the awkward silence that had developed.

"I'm a damned lucky guy to have her," I said softly.

He nodded in agreement, seemingly at a loss for words. I headed for the dock to get out and Breda rushed ahead and said, "Ah, Jean don't strain yourself. Let me help you."

"Breda!" I said sharply, then my tone softened. "Heymans, I'm not going to break... physically or emotionally, so cut it out."

I hauled myself onto the dock, rolled over onto my back and eased myself up until I was sitting. Breda got out of the water and sat down next to me.

He cleared his throat and said, "You look good, stronger... since I saw you last."

I smiled and said, "Thanks, I feel good. Therapy is going well. I have my own place now... really you should see it. I start classes at the university next week and well, you saw Sciezka."

"Don't deck me, but man... how was she hiding that body in the Investigations Department and between the stacks?" he asked tentatively.

I laughed and said, "For a guy who is afraid of dogs, you sure are one. But, agreed, she is hot and don't tell her I said this but she's really liberated and has no qualms about smacking me around."

He looked more than a little dumbfounded, then asked, "So... it's all good?"

I shook my head and I'm sure some of my sadness slipped through the strong front I was trying to put up, "It's great, I mean I'd be lying if I said it was perfect. You know the deal, but it's still mind-blowing. Neither of us is complaining."

Breda breathed a sigh of relief and said, "We were all so worried. You were so down..."

I threw an arm around his shoulder, clapped him on the back and said, "I know buddy. I scared myself sometimes."

He nodded, then smirking he said, "So you and Sciezka? Wow, I would have lost my shirt if I'd bet on that one."

I began laughing so hard I had to catch myself as I nearly lost my balance and once I regained my composure I said, "If you want to find one like her I suggest you start spending time in libraries and coffee houses. Maybe take up yoga as a hobby."

"Yoga? You are nuts Havoc!" he replied, convinced that I really had lost my mind.

"I'm not going to give you too many details, you're a sharp guy... for a grunt!" I said grinning slyly. "I'll just let you in on the fact that Sciezka can bend in ways I didn't think were humanly possible."

Breda winked and said, "I'll keep that in mind. Maybe I'll even find a woman who plays Shogi."

"Speaking of women, Sciezka and I are due for a nap," I said in a low voice, waggling my eyebrows to emphasize 'nap'.

Breda quickly got up and said, "Here, let me help you up."

I sighed agitatedly and said, "I don't need help, and I'll ask if I do."

He put up his hands in surrender and said, "Ok, but you don't have to always do it all yourself... maybe eventually you won't need to depend on that thing."

I glared at him and said in a commanding manner, "Sit down and really listen."

He did as I asked without a word, stunned into silence.

I gave Breda a hard look, knowing what was going through his mind. "You are under no circumstances to look for Tim Marcoh or the stone on my behalf. I forbid it. If anyone was hurt or killed I'd never forgive myself. I bet you think I'm nuts, but at least this way I can sleep at night. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be able to feel again. At this point, fuck walking, even the stone wouldn't get me much more than standing, but to feel her..."

He hugged me, hard, not like before, not like I'd shatter if I got touched the wrong way. When he let go we both wiped our eyes and I said, "I just wanted to make that clear. We can both be dense sometimes."

Laughing our emotional display off he smiled and said, "So we can drink, curse, spit and play pool like before? I can even tease you?"

After catching him in a headlock and giving him a fierce noogie I said, "I'll beat you up if you don't, though you'll have to settle for funny looking as dateless is no longer applicable."

I let him go and got into my chair and headed to the cottage. Breda stood up, laughing as he said, "I knew the old you would be back. See you at dinner... go get her, she's been waiting for you a while too."

Chapter Text

When I got back to the cottage I found Sciezka in the bathtub relaxing. She smiled as she heard me come in and asked, "Care to join me?"

I got out of my trunks as quickly as I could and Sciezka helped me get into the bath. I was thankful we had practice with this at Gracia's and relieved that it wasn't an issue at my place. Once I was in, Sciezka settled in behind me and began washing my hair as I chuckled and asked, "More royal treatment?" Instead of answering, she kissed the back of my neck and lingered there awhile.

She finally broke the companionable silence when she asked, "So did you and Heymans have a nice chat?"

Leaning back as far as I could without losing my balance, then easing the rest of the way to settle against her I answered, "As a matter of fact we did. He'd been pussyfooting around me all day and it was pissing me off, so I set him straight. We'll be back to teasing, spitting and cussing in no time. Oh, and he thinks you are really good for me."

She giggled, squeezed my shoulder and replied, "Oh really? I'm glad I've got your best friend's approval."

I couldn't resist teasing her so I added, "Plus he thinks you're hot. I completely agree."

She flicked some bubbles at me, but I could tell she was secretly flattered.

"So about that Ling fellow, you don't seem to care much for him," she said.

"You noticed?" I replied, cocking an eyebrow. "It's not that he's a bad person or anything, he just strikes me as arrogant as hell and a perverted voyeur."

Sciezka's jaw dropped and she asked, "You figured all this out how?"

"After you went up to the house this morning I had the dubious honor of meeting His Royal Moochery while I was still in my birthday suit. He helped himself to a seat, my chair, and proceeded to make snoopy insinuations about our sex life."

She frowned and asked, "So did you tell him anything?"

"Only answered 'the question'..."

"He didn't!" she exclaimed, and then laughed at the absurdity of it all.

"Oh yes, he did. I told him everything worked just fine, thank you very much."

"Good!" she replied. "Let's put on a show, just in case he's forgotten about common courtesy and privacy again."

"I love the way you think Sciezka," I said, then kissed her passionately to really drive my point home.


 

After we got out of the bath and dried off we made our way to the bed.

"So how much time do we have?" I asked, unable to hide the excitement in my voice.

Sciezka smiled at me from where she was kneeling on the bed and answered, "We're all going out for dinner around seven. Riza said it's a local hangout with great food, real low-key... plus they have a pool table."

"Gracia deserves a vacation too, and that sounds like fun. Maybe I can play a few games with Breda and Falman. Now, how would you like me to thank you for my birthday present last night?" I asked playfully.

She lay back against the pillows with a sly smile and said, "I'm sure you'll think of a way. You always do."

I transferred to the bed, moved hand over hand to where she was and placed a lingering kiss on her lips. When I moved to nibble on her earlobe I whispered, "Were you serious about putting on a show?"

Grinning wickedly she arched her back and moaned loudly, "Oh yes... Jean!"

Nuzzling her playfully with my nose I warned, "I'm going to make you do that for real. No need to act for his benefit. Though your sense of humor is just one of the things I love about you."

She wriggled in anticipation as I moved lower to her breasts and began teasing her into arousal as I gently stroked her sex. Where she would normally bite her lip to stifle her small noises of contentment, she now let them all out and that only made me work harder to get her to keep making them. I thought fleetingly, "Maybe I'll have to thank this Ling pervert later."

When I felt that she was ready I moved over her, cradling her head in one hand and claiming her mouth while I slowly sunk first one finger and then a second into her and gently teased and stroked her sweet spot. She wrapped her legs around my waist, grinding and arching into me, moaning insistently as she tightened and pulsed around my fingers. Finally sweating and bucking under me she came, moaning incoherently. I slowly removed my fingers from her heat, and moved lower, leaving a trail of kisses as she continued to respond under my touch.

Settling between her thighs I began to gently lick and caress her folds, she bent her knees and hooked them over my shoulders and we fell back into a languorous rhythm. Exploring deeper I sucked gently as I nuzzled her clitoris with my nose. It didn't take long for her to begin clutching her legs around me tighter and calling my name. We lay still for a few moments while Sciezka recovered and then I felt her running her hands though my hair.

"That was so good," she murmured as she helped me shift position and then straddled my waist. She knew it drove me wild when she did that. Grinding into me she took my hand and placed it under her. I massaged her thighs and stroked her folds as she moved against me, a slow dance from my navel to my sex and back again. It wasn't long until I was hard and wordlessly she guided me into her. Once she started moving again the springs in the old mattress began groaning, punctuating her every rise and fall. Leaning over me so I could touch and suckle her breasts as we moved together she'd arch and sigh with every flick of my tongue. As I got close I gradually pushed up into a sitting position and she shifted position and wrapped her legs around my back, then bounced up and down on my lap, gradually increasing her pace. Leaning forward until I found my balance and after cupping her firm bottom, I felt that familiar snap after a few more fluid motions and cried out. She again quickened her pace and climaxed soon after. Holding her position she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, showering me with kisses.

Once I had recovered I pushed her sweat slicked bangs off her face and said, "So much for getting cleaned up." Then placing my hands behind me I carefully lowered us back to the bed and she remained on top of me, her muscles limp and her breathing shallow.

"Comfortable?" I asked and winked.

She could merely nod and smile. I'd let her sleep for a while before I woke her to get ready for dinner.

I must have dozed off shortly after Sciezka; thankfully I woke up with plenty of time to get ready for dinner. Sciezka roused as I was carefully extracting myself from the tangled sheets and her embrace. She smirked and said, "It's lucky your hair is usually a mess, you do get spectacular bed head."

After tousling her hair and kissing her on the forehead I transferred to my chair and headed into the bathroom to attempt to make myself presentable. Soon Sciezka joined me at the mirror, making funny faces behind me. I turned on the water, wet my hands, flicked the excess water at her and then ran them through my hair to tame the errant strands. It would have to do as there wasn't enough time for another bath, but luckily I did have time to shave and splash on some cologne. As I finished putting away my toiletries I looked at our reflections in the mirror. Sciezka was pulling her hair back into a pony-tail, stretching on tip-toe to see over my head and arching her back and pushing her breasts up in a most enticing manner, unaware that I was watching I leaned my head back just a little I would be able to feel them brush the back of my head, but instead all I could think as I looked back up to see her face was "Holy crap she does have great tits!" Before I left my spot at the mirror I commented, "We clean up quite nicely, don't we?"

Sciezka giggled and replied, "We're not exactly cleaned up yet, we're not even dressed!"

Wrapping my arms around her waist I caught her off-guard and pulled her into my lap. When she finally broke the kiss I whined, "But I like you naked."

She stood up she placed a quick peck on my cheek then flitted into the bedroom to get dressed calling over her shoulder, "If you're good and hurry up we can have an encore to your performance when we get back from dinner."

I joined her in the bedroom and saw that she'd laid out my clothes already. "So you're picking out my clothes now?" I asked, cocking my head.

"I'm letting you wear pants. Riza said this place was casual, but they must have some protocol regarding pants," she said as she put her hands on her hips in mock annoyance as she playfully mimicked my whiny tone. "Besides, I like you in jeans and rumpled white shirts."

She tossed my clothes at me and began getting dressed herself. After slipping into a tank top and wriggling into those ass-hugging jeans I love she slid into her shoes and said, "So are you ready slow poke?"

I finished buttoning my shirt and let her fuss with the cuffs. After stealing a kiss she grabbed a cardigan out her overnight bag and purred, "Let's go, before I'm tempted to undress you."

'When you put it like that, why would I ever want to leave?" I said, casting a look at her that was more sinister than a grin but not as wicked as a leer.


 

Sciezka went up the porch steps while I waited out front and had a smoke. She was right, no point in tempting fate more times than necessary, especially since I would be on a steep and slippery ramp with two wheels and limited braking power. Hanging out with Breda all afternoon had made me realize that perhaps this old military dog was becoming too well trained, and I was itching for a little more rowdy play. Hopefully this weekend would undo some of my "Obedience Classes", and hopefully Sciezka wouldn't mind it too much. Hell, I knew I was on a short leash, and kind of liked it, but I couldn't let anyone else in on that fact. But who could argue with getting laid often and well by a hottie with amazing bedroom skills?

As I was finishing up my cigarette I heard a commotion that could only be the Boss. I turned around and the first thing I noticed was that he was wearing something other than that ratty red coat and leather pants as the Boss was still fidgeting with the collar and cuffs of his button down shirt. Al was behind him, pushing him out the front door onto the porch. Once they were closer I heard Al say, "Brother, you look nice and after all you are going to Jean's party. Besides, don't you want to make a good impression with you-know-who?"

While I was shaking my head and chuckling at the notion of Al playing matchmaker for Ed and Russel the rest of the party came down the steps, loudly discussing logistics. It was eventually decided that we'd go in three cars and that Al and Fletcher would stay behind to look after Elysia, and Doctor Knox would be on hand if Lan Fan needed immediate medical attention.

Looking at the people gathered in front of the house I realized that Ling was nowhere to be found. Then I saw him, though he looked less smug now that he was dressed in what appeared to be some of Roy's civvies instead of his usual bright silk robes. I supposed there was no need to make the prince look more conspicuous than he already was.

Finally we were off, Jim, Gracia, Sciezka, Winry and myself in one car and Roy, Riza, Ed, Ling and Russel in another. Breda, Feury, Falman and Denika brought up the rear in the car they'd rented. Riza had written out the directions and firmly suggested that drivers follow "convoy protocol". Even though we were only going out to dinner, Riza had managed to put her stellar organizational skills to work again, though that had always been one of her most valued skills in the office- even if it meant less goofing off and more paperwork.


 

We arrived at the restaurant, or should I say, roadhouse, with no major incidents. Ed and Ling behaved more or less; thankfully Riza had already called ahead and told the staff to be prepared for a party of fourteen.

Once the cars were parked we all met near the front door. While Feury looked apprehensive about the appearance of the establishment because of the locals congregating in the parking lot, Breda looked right at home as he held the door open and said in an uncharacteristically gentlemanly way, "Ladies first, oh, and Havo... age before beauty!"

I grinned and gave him a middle-finger salute as I followed the ladies in. As far as I was concerned, I had the best view in the place as Sciezka sashayed in front of me.

The proprietor met us in the entryway and led us into the dining room. It caught me off guard when he trapped Riza in a bear hug, picked her up and twirled her around a few times. I was surprised that he didn't end up on the floor riddled with bullets after sneaking up on her like that. When he finally put her down Riza breathlessly announced, "This is my Uncle Matt, he's known me since I was a little girl who would stand on a chair to shoot pool with him and Grandfather."

Riza's Uncle Matt was a physically imposing man, but he carried his tall and broad frame in a way that reminded me of Major Armstrong. Though a hulk of a man with darker features, his smile and mannerisms suggested that he too was a gentle giant at heart, and I couldn't help but wonder about what became of the Major as I kept looking at him. He motioned for us all to sit down at a large table that was already laden with pitchers of beer, bottles of wine and a basket overflowing with hot, fresh bread, the aroma reminding me that I was famished after the afternoon's activities.

I waited for everyone to get situated before I took a place at the table next to Sciezka. As I moved closer to the edge of the table I realized that my knees wouldn't clear underneath it. Winry must have noticed the expression on my face when it dawned on me, because she stood up quickly, grabbed a chair from an adjacent table and leaned over to whisper, "It's just for dinner. I'll have Matt put your chair someplace safe while we eat."

While not thrilled with the prospect of transferring in front of everyone, let alone being without mobility for any length of time, I conceded that it would be easier to just get it over with as fast as I could. After positioning myself next to the wooden chair I transferred, and Matt scooted my chair in place next to Sciezka, winking at her as she watched the whole process with her concern written all over her face. He then motioned for Winry to follow him to the back where they could safely stash my chair until we were finished eating.

After we had worked out the logistics of who would sit where, more accurately, where I would sit, Breda broke the short silence by asking what kind of booze everyone wanted, though he was barely intelligible through the mouthful of bread he was chewing. The minors had root beer and the rest of us had various hard liquors, since there were only so many rules we could bend and no one wanted to see the Boss drunk. A waitress came to the table with a small stack of menus. Glancing at it I noted that most of the selections were meat dishes, and as far as I was concerned that was fine by me. After we'd all had a chance to ask Riza what was good, to which she answered that it was all good, we placed our orders with the waitress and resumed drinking, laughing and talking.

Everyone who had remained in Central was eager to hear what the other posts in the country were like and Breda, Falman and Feury obliged by relating humorous stories of their new commanding officers and the quirks and habits of their new co-workers. Breda had found a few people he could trounce at Shogi, Feury was in his element as he had plenty of pets and electronics projects in the works at his apartment and Falman looked like he was doing quite well up North as evidenced by Denika sitting next to him. Vato did mention being the target of practical jokes at times, and upon hearing that I asked, "Falman, it sounds like it's not that different from our old post, but the big question is, can anyone get as many pencils stuck in the ceiling as I could?"

Falman smiled and Denika laughed loudly and said, "Vato, Havoc is just as you said he would be. Oh Havoc but not to worry- he has not turned into what you call a popsicle and I have not let him alphabetize the storage closet!"

"Denika, I know you have done something to loosen Falman up. What's your secret? Vodka?" I asked playfully.

She shook her head, while turning a little pink then said, "Ah, Havoc I have done nothing!"

I smiled and replied, "Well whatever it is you are doing, keep it up. I can tell he's in good hands."

This only deepened the shade of pink flushing her cheeks, and I could see it creeping up on Falman as well. They were saved from further teasing by Breda and me when dinner arrived. I was unprepared for the size of the steak that Matt put down in front of me and thoroughly astounded when he set a platter down in front of Sciezka that was piled high with fried potatoes and a burger that looked to be as big as her head. She swatted my hand away when I reached over to swipe a few of her potatoes and said playfully, "Back off buster, this is mine!"

When I reached over again Sciezka picked up her fork and I could tell she meant business. I made a mental note not to get between her and her chow in the future. Studying the table, I heard the clicking of utensils and an almost continuous flow of Xingese coming from Ling as he struggled with his knife and fork. I think the little pervert was cursing, though it stopped when he eventually abandoned his silverware and began eating with his bare hands. Everyone else had equally generous portions and were hungrily tucking into them, but even though the Boss was just as ravenous as the rest of us he'd slow his pace every now and then to look under the table and then at Russel. I could swear they were playing footsie!

Breda had also ordered a burger and marveled when he noticed that Sciezka had eaten more than he had. Pointing at her empty plate he stammered, "W-where did she put it all?"

Sciezka smiled demurely and replied, "I eat like a bird."

Feury laughed and said, "She doe,s Breda."

As Breda tried to understand what Feury was getting at Sciezka fell into a fit of giggles and hugged me. I could tell the wine was getting to her, not that I minded. When she finally regained her composure she said, "Breda, most birds eat an amount close to their weight on a daily basis!"

She and Feury chuckled at their mutual understanding and strange animal references and I thought it was so cute that my two favorite bookworms were getting along so well. I also noted that she'd eaten more than I had, though thankfully she was not in the same league as the Boss or Ling. That would be downright scary.

The waitress returned, offering to pack up the left-over food for later, and I was sure that Black Hayate would have a feast when we got back to the house. Our server also brought the dessert menu, though it was decided unanimously that we would pass on dessert for now and move the celebration to the tavern. Winry retrieved my wheelchair without my having to ask and soon we were headed to the next room for more drinks, dancing, darts and perhaps a few friendly rounds of billiards.

When Lieutenant General Grumman entered the dining room, it was his lakeside retreat after all, it stunned us all into silence and my comrades jumped to their feet to stand at attention and salute. I self-consciously straightened my posture and saluted as well. The General clasped Riza in an embrace as she stood at attention, then pulled back and smiled broadly. After chuckling to himself he said, "Soldiers, at ease. This is a vacation; in fact I order you all to relax. You've earned it."

Riza, in an uncharacteristic display of emotion, jumped forward and wrapped her arms around the General again and said, "Grandfather, this is such a wonderful surprise! I've missed you!"

He beamed and replied, "Here, let me look at you. Are you eating enough? Don't let what's going on throw you too much. You'll need your strength."

Then he turned back to the motley crew assembled around the table and had Riza introduce those he didn't recognize already As soon as the formalities and introductions were taken care of, General Grumman suggested that we continue the night's festivities in the tavern. We followed him into the large, candle lit room to find another table stocked pitchers of dark beer and bottles of exotic wine. He smiled broadly and announced, "If it isn't on the table, it's at the bar and the tab is on me."


 

From there we split off to drink and amuse ourselves. The Boss and Russel went to the back, under the premise of playing darts. Breda sidled up to a barmaid, whispered something in her ear and the volume on the Victrola was turned up. He then crossed the room and asked a very flustered Winry if she'd care to dance. Falman, Denika and Feury were having a lively discussion at another table. I'd decided to sit back and watch while I had a pint of stout. Sciezka soon sat down next to me with a large glass of ice water, and discreetly clasped my hand under the table. Roy, Riza and her grandfather sat down at the table with us. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jim and Gracia dancing, and I smiled to myself as I'd never seen either of them look that content.

A few minutes after we all settled in Riza excused herself to go to the ladies' room. Sciezka decided to join her to which Roy commented, "They never go there alone, do they? I'll bet the best kept military secrets were negotiated in a women's lavatory. One of these days I will have to dispatch a spy to find out what really goes on in there, but for now maybe a little more bourbon will help unravel that mystery."

While Roy made his way to the bar I watched him as he strode confidently up to the counter, with most of the female patrons eyes on him.

Shaking my head I said more to myself than the General, "For the life of me, I can't figure out how he does that."

General Grumman slid his chair closer to where I was sitting and said, "I can't figure it out either, but I assure you that most of the Mustang charm is an act. I remember there were times just after he got his certification where we would give him an order and he'd jump out of his skin so much you'd have to practically scrape him off the ceiling. It took a long while for him to calm down enough to stop stammering when he gave his reports too."

I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, and then awkwardly fumbled underneath my chair for my pack of smokes and lighter. He chuckled as I lit up and gave a contented sigh. He looked me in the eye and quipped, "Don't look so shocked, I've always seen potential in him and I've seen him grow, and I have also seen the same potential in you."

He laughed as I gasped and practically inhaled my lit cigarette. "You never fooled me, not even in basic when you were a hayseed, right out of that bumpkin town," he continued, "sure you were wet behind the ears, but watching you at target practice, I could see the gears cranking in that head of yours." He patted me on the back and said, "Don't sell yourself short my boy," pausing there to let me absorb what he'd said. "So while we've got this chance to speak man to man, is everything going as well as can be expected? When Riza first gave me the news I..." he paused, trying to find the most tactful words he could, and said,"well, you're all like family to her. She was so distraught and there wasn't much I could do for any of it."

I considered what General Grumman had said and decided I could let my guard down with him. After a short, yet awkward silence I finally cleared my throat and hoped I wouldn't get choked up, then hesitantly said, "Thank you... the Colonel told me all about the strings you pulled to get my rehabilitation approved, my hospital bills paid, and about arranging for the house. There aren't enough words to express my gratitude. I won't lie, I have bad times and situations that taxed my nerves. I didn't see it at the time, but I was pretty lucky to survive it all and afterward, and I owe most of that luck to everyone here tonight."

Riza came back to the table, minus Sciezka. I was about to ask if she had fallen in, but my question was answered when Riza pointed to the makeshift dance floor where Breda was dancing to a rather fast tune, and Sciezka was trying her best to keep up. Roy sat back down at the table with fresh drinks for everyone. I was beginning to feel the effects of my second beer, but I figured one more wouldn't hurt, much. The song ended and Bread and Sciezka flopped into their chairs, winded from dancing.

"I hope you don't mind that I borrowed your girl," Breda said, beaming and wiping his brow with a napkin.

I winked at Sciezka and then said, "I don't mind you taking my girl for a spin around the floor. I know who she's going home with."

A slow song began playing and out of the corner of my eye I saw Feury cautiously approach Winry and he appeared to be asking her to dance. Roy stood up and asked Riza if she'd like to dance with him. She accepted, looking a bit bashful and Roy beamed. Sciezka sighed, sounding wistful and I decided that even though it might look awkward, that I could manage some semblance of a slow dance. Patting my lap in invitation, then taking her hand I asked, "Fancy a dance? I promise I won't step on your toes."

The wistful look left, her smile reaching her eyes and they twinkled with mischief as she said, "That's the best invitation I've had all night."

She stood up, and then gracefully settled on my lap, wrapping her arms around my neck and nuzzling my cheek. We sat there swaying slightly with the music, and were unaware that it had ended and a fast song had begun playing until our friends came back to the table. We came out of our reverie and Sciezka blushed and gave me a chaste kiss on the lips.

Breda grinned and said, "Don't stop on account of me. I have to figure out how to coax beautiful women onto my lap."

I chuckled and shook my head then replied, "Damned if I know how I do it- Sciezka, maybe you can clue us in?"

Roy's neutral expression turned to one I had come to dread and then he said, "It's rumored that Havoc recently developed the ability to breathe through his ears. I didn't even know he'd had any underwater survival training let alone passed the course with such flying colors."

I was used to this sort of comment from him, but Sciezka blushed for a moment, burying her head in my shoulder. She then recovered her composure and ruffled my hair then calmly retorted, "Well Roy, there's that and who could resist those big blue eyes from that angle?" "Besides," Sciezka continued, "I heard a rumor that when all the girls from the secretarial pool found out about his talents they all wanted him back."

Roy grinned and said, "So that's the secret? All you had to do was make big puppy dog eyes, show off a few parlor tricks, and she was yours?"

It was my turn to blush as I said, "Search me, and it wasn't just parlor tricks, 'Mister Used to Steal All My Girlfriends'. Guess I got lucky that the perfect girl for me was the one who was immune to your charms from the start."

Breda chimed in and said, "Oh, point for Havo! Should we ask the bartender for a ruler?"

Both Roy and I glared at Breda and said in unison, "No!"

After Roy wadded up his napkin and tossed it at me, I took a few ice cubes out of Sciezka's drink and tossed them at him. He fished for his gloves and I pretended to duck. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.

"Enough boys," Riza said in reproach. "Don't make me play referee." Knowing that Riza kept a gun with her at all times, we quickly complied.

Falman, Feury, Denika and Winry came over from their corner table and Feury asked, "So did we miss anything?"

General Grumman approached us from the side, cleared his throat and said, "From what I saw, just the usual banter Master Sergeant. I can tell that my Riza had her hands full with you men."

Falman nodded, knowing full well that we could be a handful in the office and then said, "That would be par for the course with this lot. Say, Havoc, would you like to shoot a round of pool?"

"That sounds like it would be fun," I said. "It might take me a few minutes to figure out the logistics. I haven't tried it yet."

He smiled and replied, "Don't worry; we won't play for money, this game at least. I'll go easy on you."

Fighting the urge to frown at the idea that any concessions would be made for me I pasted on a smile and then said, "You'd better not go easy on me. Last game we played, if I recall correctly I kicked your ass. But I may have to break the leaning rule."

As we made our way over to an available table I caught the Boss's eye and he grinned and gave me the thumbs up sign. I was glad that he seemed to be having a good time with Russel as they chatted and appeared to be drawing arrays on cocktail napkins.

Breda, Feury and Winry joined Denika and Sciezka on the side as Falman as I racked the balls on the table so they could watch the game and talk amongst themselves while we played. I hoped that I wouldn't lose too badly; I had always been able to beat most of the members of my team. Riza always gave me a run for my money, but she had the same advantage I had- marksmanship practice. She and Roy looked very cozy sitting at a table by themselves and leaning into each other.

I called over to Sciezka and said, "If anyone is placing money on this game, you hold the money, and then run!" I teased. As I looked in her direction I noticed that Ling was sitting under a table not far from where Roy and Riza were quietly talking, holding a huge plate of complimentary Happy Hour munchies and grinning wickedly. His appetite knew no bounds and neither did his sense of decency.


 

The game got underway, I was solids by default as Falman broke and sunk stripes. To my chagrin I didn't clear the table in my first few turns. I did however, manage two shots in a row. Not half bad for not having played in what seemed like ages and an instant all at once. I comforted my deflated ego, reminding myself that I'd still sunk more balls than Falman and I was having a good time, like old times. Admittedly it was different but not bad, and the lines that creased Falman's forehead as he calculated and took his shots told me that he was trying his damnedest, yet was still losing. I'd been using the bridge to help me line up shots that were too far away from the edge of the table. I cleared all my balls and was down to my last shot to pocket the black ball, feeling that victory was so close and yet just out of my reach. Gritting my teeth and cursing under my breath, I found myself thinking "If I could only stand I'd have pocketed the ball by now and lit up a cigarette before he could blink- Hah, standing would fix it, it would fix a lot of things, but getting hung up on what I can't change isn't going to help me do what I need to do."

Then it came to me. I called Sciezka over and she crossed the few paces separating us, the beginnings of a frown forming on her lovely lips. I gestured for her to come closer, to lean over so I could whisper my instructions to her. She looked confused for a few seconds and then it dawned on her and she snickered. Shaking her head at my insistence on secrecy and beaming as she crossed the floor again she exclaimed, "Creativity to the rescue!" She then proceeded to drag a sturdy bar stool over to the pool table.

Without another word and with a great amount of concentration, I carefully transferred to the tall stool, arranged myself so I was sure of my balance, then gestured for Falman to hand me my cue as I'd left it at the other end of the table. I leaned over as far as I dared, lined up the shot and sank it. Falman came over, shook my hand and said, "Impressive game Jean... as always."

I got back into my chair without incident and sat back, rather satisfied with myself. Everyone else found seats near the pool table so Roy and Riza could have some privacy. The table we'd chosen was short a chair and rather than taking one from a nearby table I suggested to Sciezka that she just take the only other available seat, which happened to be my lap. Once she was situated she kissed me full on the mouth, much to my surprise and when she pulled back she said, "A kiss for the victor."

I chuckled and replied, "Thanks, I'm impressed with it myself. I didn't even have to break any rules to play. But what if I'd lost?"

She kissed me again, this time more passionately and said, "I'd have had to kiss you anyway, to comfort your bruised macho ego."

We'd been talking quietly between ourselves and neglecting our companions. When we finally began talking with the group again Breda teased, "Oh, you're gracing us with some conversation Havo? I see how it is; you'd rather talk with your woman than us."

Blushing and stammering I said, "Sorry guys, I got distracted."

Breda's grin was a mile wide as he clapped me on the back and said, "I was kidding! I know I'd be distracted too. I'm surprised you're capable of intelligible speech with a girl sitting on your lap like that."

Falman cracked a smile and Denika laughed in reaction to what Breda had said. I noticed they were holding hands. Winry and Feury then excused themselves to talk shop. Though when I looked their way a few minutes later it didn't look they were talking about electronics or mechanics at all. In fact, from the shade of pink Feury's cheeks were, I'd bet they were flirting. It must have been contagious because Jim and Gracia also appeared very cozy at a table in the far corner of the room.

For now everything was right in the world. It wouldn't be permanent as my friends would all have to go back to their assigned posts, and no one is able to predict what the future holds. But, for now we would eat, drink and be merry. The present, the right now, was all I could hope for and it felt so good to be with my comrades again. I was relieved that by Breda's example, or instruction, everyone treated me like they had before, and that they knew that I wouldn't break. Even if that meant that I got teased and made the punch line for jokes having to do with being unlucky in love. Though, looking at Sciezka, those lonely days seemed to be long behind me now.

Sciezka leaned back against my chest, turned her head so she could whisper in my ear and said, "You holding up ok?"

I nipped her earlobe and replied, "I'm a little tired but otherwise I've never been better."

She sank back further and sighed contentedly, "Me neither."

The peaceful, yet festive atmosphere was broken by the sound of metal hitting wood and the loud exclamation, "WHOSE HAIR IS SO LONG THAT HE COULD BE MISTAKEN FOR A GIRL? GET BACK HERE YOU BASTARD!"

We all looked in the direction of the commotion with alarm. Everyone stared dumbfounded for an instant and then instinct kicked in. "Breda and Falman," I called out, "go hold the Boss down before he kills someone."

They rushed over to the other side of the room and I followed, pushing chairs that were in my path out of the way. When I arrived where Russel and Ed had been sitting I saw that although Breda and Falman were having a hard time keeping the Boss from launching himself onto the man in coveralls and wearing a self-satisfied smirk, they still had him restrained.

"He's a feisty one for someone so small," the local said.

The Boss snarled, frothed and blustered, ""I am NOT SMALL! I'll turn you into a cow! You, you... YOKEL!"

Breda and Falman were having some trouble keeping hold of Ed but held their ground and kept him in check. I turned to the man and said, "I suggest you and your friends leave now. They won't be able to hold him down for much longer."

The "yokel" as the Boss had called him, crossed his arms over his chest, spat tobacco juice on the floor and then said, "Well lookie here, the invalid thinks he can order me around."

He then threw a wild punch at the Boss who was still being forcibly restrained then sneered as he looked down on me, "It would have been you, but I don't hit women or cripples."

The men standing behind him, I'd gathered they were his friends assumed similarly hostile stances and I knew this wouldn't end peacefully. Matt was now standing next to me looked at the assailant and said, "Now Wally, we've been through this before. You are not to harass the city folks."

This did nothing to diffuse the situation. Wally stood his ground and attempted to stare Matt down. Matt sighed in exasperation and said, "Boys, let Fullmetal go."

The melee erupted and ended in less than two minutes. Breda and Falman each had one of Wally's friends pinned, Matt was holding one by the ear, the Boss was sitting on top of Wally, who was out cold and I had the last one in a headlock. Roy had crossed the room during the commotion and said smugly, "I'm glad I wasn't needed, you all took care of those small nuisances perfectly."

We all let go of our "captives" and they staggered to the door. They only looked back menacingly once. Roy put an end to that by snapping and lighting the cigarette I'd pulled out. I smiled and said, "Thanks for the light."

Deterred by Roy's display of fire power they left without uttering another word. Roy smirked when he was sure he'd achieved the desired effect and said, "Don't mention it."

Matt dumped the remainder of Ed's root beer on Wally and he spluttered back to consciousness and hightailed it out of there. Breda walked a still fuming Ed and a dazed Russel to the car to wait there until we left. That would probably keep the Boss out of trouble. The remainder of our party had gathered around the scene and Riza dryly said, "Uncle Matt, thank you for your hospitality, drop by the house tomorrow for dinner. I hate to cut the night short, but I think that was our cue to leave."

Matt smiled and clasped her in another bear hug and said, "You're welcome anytime darlin'! You bring your own bouncers and I know the little guy didn't mean to bust up the bar. He was provoked." When Matt realized what he'd just said, he smiled and whispered to Riza," Just don't tell him that I called him little."

We left and headed back to the house, and the only change in transportation arrangements was that Winry rode back with Feury.

Back at the house everyone who had stayed behind seemed to have survived without us and we said our goodnights out front. It had been a long day, a good day, but more action than any of us were used to lately. Ling commented to the group in general, "Such an interesting display of Amestrian culture. Thank you very much."

He had watched the commotion from his vantage point under a table. Leave it to him to eat and run. Before he went into the house I said to Ling with only a hint of sarcasm, "Sorry buddy, no show tonight. I'm wiped out."

For someone as shameless as he seemed, he turned an awfully bright shade of crimson and Sciezka covered her mouth with her hands to contain her laugher. With the goodnights taken care of we headed down the path to the cottage. Once I had lit the lamp in the bedroom, Sciezka flopped on the bed and said, "I quite agree, there will be no show tonight. I'm exhausted."

I joined her on the bed, still fully clothed and said, "I am an old man at twenty-five. Remind me not to do that again."

I rubbed a shoulder for emphasis; as I was sore after all the activity. She undressed slowly, then folded her clothes and set them next to her bag. Then she began unbuttoning my shirt. I scowled and said, "You don't have to do that, I can manage it."

Straddling my hips she purred, "I know you can. I want to, now relax Birthday Boy. It's after midnight, so it's official. How about a rub down so you're not cranky tomorrow?"

Surrendering, as I knew she'd win this one anyway, she relieved me of my pants and I got myself situated so my head was on the pillows. She folded my clothes and placed them next to hers and got a bottle of lotion out of her bag.

I felt her sure and gentle hands sweep across my skin in fluid motions and I let the scent of lavender lull me to sleep.

I mused to myself in my last coherent thoughts, "I am such a lucky bastard."

Chapter Text

Beta: anat-astarte, who is amazing as an editor and rules on rare pairings. Check out her ArcherxAl
Disclaimer: Blah Blah, Woof Woof! I don't own anything, so enjoy. I do however have a great MustangTachi shitajiki and more Havoc schwag than you can shake a stick at.
Spoilers/Warnings: Takes place after manga chapter 38 and is fairly current to the releases in Japan. Read the manga, it's AMAZING. Warnings? Grown ups do what grown ups do, and frank discussion of life post spinal cord injury. Also, Jean is a pervert.

Chapter 35: Birthday Suit

"On the day you were born the midwife smacked you on the bottom and you gave such a loud and strong cry. When she handed you to me you opened your eyes wide and they were blue like the sea after a storm! How is my big boy? Jean! A woman? Father, there..."

I thought that I must be dreaming. I had to be dreaming. My mother had not just seen me naked, in bed, with a girl! She did not. No! No! No! Opening my eyes and focusing as well as I could that early in the morning; I noticed that Master Havoc had pitched a tent under the bed sheet and set up camp. I pulled the covers up to my chin and looked from Sciezka who was asleep next to me, to the door and back again. My mother and father were standing in the doorway to the bedroom! Oh God, aw Hell... she did see me naked, in bed, with a girl. It would have been funny, if my Ma hadn't looked like she was gonna turn me over her knee. Pa was standing slightly behind her and he gave a small smile and waved. He looked amused.

Ma then turned on her heel and stalked into the main room. Pa smirked at us and said, "We'll just wait in here until you are decent." Sciezka, who had awoken by now, reached for her glasses on the nightstand and after fumbling a bit finally found them. Once she got them on she looked from me, to my father in the doorway. Her mouth dropped open and she squeaked while she pulled the covers up to her chin, as if trying to disappear. Pa, ever the calm one said, "Nice to meet you dear. Breakfast is ready."

He then closed the door behind him as he left the room. I could hear my mother wailing and carrying on about her "dear innocent boy" and Pa trying to calm her down. I pulled Sciezka close to me and sheepishly said, "That was my mother."

Sciezka nodded and swallowed hard, seemingly at a loss for words. I forced a smile and said, "Don't worry; her bark is worse than her bite. We may as well get dressed and face the music. I am so sorry about this. I also think I have to kill either Breda or Roy... one of them was behind this, I just know it! My parents would have needed a key to get in and I can't see Gracia or Riza letting my Ma see this."

"Yeah" she said, "especially with that."

It finally dawned on me what she meant. "Shit!" I exclaimed, completely mortified.

From the main room I heard my Ma scold sharply, "Jean Havoc, language!"

She always did have super hearing when it came to things like that.

"I'm with you on the revenge idea. I just would have preferred meeting your parents with my clothes on," Sciezka said and then frowned. "She's not going to hate me forever for corrupting her innocent son, is she?"

I held her closer and said, "No, I mean she had to know something was up with the amount of times I came home late with straw in my hair."

Sciezka smiled mischievously and asked, "So you were a Country Casanova?"

Grinning wickedly I replied, "I've seen my share of haylofts and been chased by many angry fathers."

She giggled and said, "Good to know you weren't such a lothario that you didn't get caught."

Shaking my head I said, "I've been shot at a few times with a double barrel shotgun loaded with rock salt. It's hard to run with your pants around your ankles, and a behind full of rock salt stings."

She looked at me questioningly and I explained, "Those good ol' boys will load up with rock salt instead of buckshot when they need to scare off rodents, or boys. It's non-lethal and will scare most anyone back to the straight and narrow."

She tweaked my nose and said, "You probably deserved it. C'mon, we better get dressed. We're going to have to talk to them eventually."

Grumbling, I got out of bed and started getting dressed so we could head up to the main house for breakfast.


Pa was sitting on the front porch when Sciezka and I got there. He started to stand and said, "Son, do you need help getting up here?"

I hadn't seen my Pa in so long and I missed him so much, I couldn't be annoyed with him for asking, he meant well. Even now I can see the sparkle in his eyes that Ma always said I inherited from him. Smiling I replied, "No Pa, but thanks for asking. I can do it."

Once I got to the top of the ramp he clapped his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, "You're getting strong, son. I was worried when your Ma came back from Central, but I should have known better, eh?"

"Well Pa, I was in some pretty sad shape, and things weren't looking too good, probably only made Ma worry more."

"Your mother would have worried either way. Your friend helped her see that you needed some time and space to work it out for yourself," he said.

"Colonel Mustang said that?" I asked.

He laughed and said, "No, that blonde woman with the guns... Lieutenant Hawkeye, if my memory serves me right."

"Ah, that sounds like her, she always was pretty good at blasting some sense into me," I said, "even had the nurses jumping when she shot off a few rounds when I was at my low points. What do you say Pa? Shall we go get some breakfast?"

"Don't you think you should introduce me to your lady friend first?" he asked and then winked at Sciezka.

I blushed and said, "Where are my manners? Pa this is Sciezka and Sciezka this is my father."

Sciezka extended her hand to shake my father's and he hugged her instead and said, "We've heard a lot about you through our boy's letters. Glad to meet you."

I remember Pa being a lot more reserved when I was younger, his feelings showing more in actions than words but I guess somewhere along the way change had been in the winds for him as well. I cleared my throat, feeling a bit awkward, then got the door and said, "We should get in there."

Sciezka went in first and I mouthed a silent "thank you" to Pa and he again put his hand on my shoulder. Now all Sciezka had to do was win over my mother.

There were a few more leaves in the table and chairs were pillaged from all over the house to accommodate everyone at the table for breakfast. The guys were all sitting down; clearly tired as it was a very early morning and we'd had a late night. Roy looked completely hung over. I almost laughed, but it had been so long since I had seen him this way that it was getting harder to contain myself, even if my amusement was at his expense. I hadn't seen him this plowed since, well since just after the war. Ma was helping Gracia and Riza in the kitchen and as soon as everyone was at the table they began passing large plates of food around family style. When the basket of muffins came around I was tempted to keep them all to myself, instead I said, "Ma, you baked my favorite, thank you!"

She smiled and replied, "Of course I did. You would have pouted like you did when you were ten if I hadn't. Besides, you can't tell me that the food in Central is as good as mine. You could be half-starved for all I know."

"Ma, I eat just fine in Central and I can cook," I said stopping abruptly when she grabbed me by the ear like she'd done when I was little and mouthing off. Stammering I said, "I-I-I mean, yes there is nothing like your home cooking Ma!" With that, I grabbed two muffins and passed the basket, and Ma let go of my ear. Hopefully my appetite would appease her.

We all settled in to eat and I noticed that Ma was purposely ignoring Sciezka. I knew that look, and I knew I'd have to talk to her about it after we ate. She'd always been very slow to warm-up to my girlfriends back home, as to her, no one was good enough for her only boy. Even my Pa would say that there was no talking to her about it.

Gracia and Ma had cooked enough to feed a small army, and that was a good thing as we were all hungry after our adventures the night before. Ling and Ed were able to eat their fill, Roy still looked a little green around the gills even after a cup of coffee and a shot of whiskey, or as we liked to call it, 'some of the hair of the dog that bit him', but he dug in anyway. It must have been all that bourbon, as Falman and Breda looked fine after all the stout they drank. Ed and Russel sat next to each other and they seemed to be quite at ease with one another. I also noticed that Feury and Winry were chatting quite companionably. I squeezed Sciezka's hand under the table and glanced in their direction. She squeezed my hand back and smiled, acknowledging that she'd noticed the pair as well.

When breakfast was finished Sciezka and I offered to help clear the table. Ma told me in no uncertain terms that it was my birthday and I would do nothing of the sort. Gracia also said to Sciezka that things in the kitchen were well in hand, and so Sciezka took it upon herself to watch Elysia. Pa and I went out onto the porch to sit and catch up. Sciezka took Elysia to play on the lawn. Ma was still inside bustling around the kitchen, probably fussing to Gracia that I wasn't eating enough. I chuckled at the thought of that and said to Pa, "Those poor women didn't know what they were getting themselves into when they invited you two out to surprise me."

He smiled and replied, "No, I reckon they didn't. So how are you doing son? Besides spending time with that lovely little lady that is."

"I'm good, as well as can be expected, probably better. I've been keeping busy going to therapy with Jim, I'll have to introduce you two properly later... um, and I've been taking target practice a couple of times a week with Riza on the base, and I start school next week."

He nodded and said, "You've got quite a bit on your plate for it being so soon... "

"Yeah, it helps if I keep busy, gives me less time to think about things. I know I probably should eventually, but..." I said trailing off.

"But if you think on it too long and too hard it'll get you down?" Pa asked.

I considered his question and nodded. Abruptly changing the subject I said, "So Sciezka is really something, isn't she? She's smart and beautiful."

Pa smiled and said, "Well just looking at the two of you at breakfast tells me that you're both equally smitten with each other. Your Ma wasn't too thrilled with your sleeping arrangements, but she'll get over it."

"What will I get over?" Ma asked sternly as she stepped onto the porch and then sat down in a chair next to me.

"I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do," I said sheepishly.

"Yes you do young man," Ma replied. Her expression softened as she said, "So tell us why you're so taken with this girl."

I grinned and said, "Well that's easy. Like I was telling Pa, she's smart as a whip, funny though her sense of humor might strike you as odd, sweet and kind, and she doesn't let me get away with much. Mostly she just believes in me and accepts me for who I am."

They both nodded and Ma dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.

"Besides, look at her playing with Elysia. That's really how we met. She'd come over to visit Gracia and play with Elysia, and eventually she just found ways to warm my heart. Look at them," I said, cocking my head in their direction. "Aren't they cute? I bet they're playing ballerina. I hope someone gets a picture of that," I hesitated after the last bit, knowing that if Maes were here he would have already snapped a whole roll of film.

Ma smiled and said, "She does seem to have a way with children, and she was very sweet at breakfast. So when will you stop living in sin and make an honest woman out of her?"

My jaw dropped and Pa merely chuckled as he said; "Now dear, things are different from when you and I were courting. Our boy has a lot on his mind. Right Son?"

I blushed and said, "No worries Ma, when things settle down and if she'll have me, I have every intention of proposing."

She appeared satisfied with my answer and asked, "So how is the new house and can that girl cook? You look good, but for all I know you're almost starving in that city."

Shaking my head I replied, "I assure you, I eat well. Sciezka and I cook together and you know Gracia, she's always sending food over and Elysia has said she'll never forgive me if Sciezka and I aren't over at least a couple of times a week for a meal. Oh, and Mayflower Street is a very posh address."

Ma huffed, crossed her arms and said, "Good to see that the Colonel finally made sure things were taken care of when all is said and done."

I could understand how Ma would blame Roy, but more likely she was blaming the whole military. After considering my words carefully I told her, "You can't continue to blame Colonel Mustang. He feels bad enough as it is. It couldn't be helped. If anything, you should thank him. He saved my life even though he was gravely wounded himself. I got the best care because of him. Really, laying blame gets nothing accomplished."


Elysia and Sciezka approached the porch and I beckoned for them to come over and join us. Elysia helped herself to a seat on my lap and Sciezka cautiously approached and looked relieved when Ma smiled and pulled one of the chairs next to her and indicated that she should sit down.

We made small talk and Elysia entertained us with the story of how she'd played fairy princess with Sciezka. The guys came up to the porch and invited me and Pa to take target practice with them later. We excused ourselves, leaving the women to talk and promising to be back in time for lunch and an afternoon swim. As Pa and I left I gave all three ladies a kiss on the cheek.

Pa laughed and quipped, "You always were a charmer Jean."

Smiling I replied, "It's the blue eyes, gets 'em every time. Besides, who do you think I learned it from?"

He kissed Ma on the cheek and we headed inside to grab a couple of beers in the kitchen before making our way to the "back forty" where the General had told us there was a makeshift firing range set up. Riza had let me know that the path back there wasn't the smoothest and that I should probably go early. The general left the kitchen and came back quickly with a canteen and a blanket. I looked at him in askance and he stated, "Get a little rest once you get up there. Riza has your gear and extra for your father."

I smiled, thanked him and Pa and I were off.


Al, Ed and Russel were now sitting on the front porch and Ma was fussing over the state of Ed's battered coat. If I knew her, it would be washed and mended by the end of the afternoon, whether the Boss approved or not. As I made my way slowly and carefully down the ramp I nearly lost it despite my efforts to control my speed and keep my balance. Ed and Russel ran down the porch steps in an effort to catch me should I dump. I made it, but just barely and Ed quietly said, "Russel and I will see if we can improve on this design while you're on the rifle range."

I started to protest and Ed just smiled and said, "I need to work on my architectural stuff anyway."

Deciding it would be next to impossible to argue with Ed when he'd set his mind to something I thanked him and Pa and I made our way to the range.


After cresting a small hillock we were there and I was drenched with sweat. I pulled my shirt off without giving much thought to it and wiped myself down. Pa gasped once he saw the scars the accident and subsequent surgery had left. I considered addressing that issue for a moment until I figured he'd ask about it if he felt comfortable later, which I could say that at that moment suited me just fine. Once I got the blanket spread out on the ground I transferred onto it and after I got myself situated pulled both beers out of the pack under my chair. I opened one with my utility knife and said, "C'mon Pa, sit down, relax and have a beer. We have a little time before the rest of them get up here."

Pa obliged and I handed him a cold beer, its surface covered in beads of condensation. I filled the silence saying, "It's a scorcher today, isn't it?"

He agreed, nodding in silent ascent and pursed his lips. Finally after swallowing hard he said, "So you were pretty banged up, weren't you? Hell that's a huge understatement... "

Propping up on an elbow I reached over and fished in my pack for my cigarettes and lighter. As I shook one out I offered one to Pa and he accepted on the condition that I didn't tell Ma.

Figuring that was as direct as he was going to get I looked out towards the fields and began telling him the unclassified version of what had happened.

"Don't breathe a word of this to Ma, I never let her see or be in the room when they changed the bandages or bathed me... " I said quietly. "It happened at the closed down lab and prison. It was supposed to be a routine mission but everything went sideways. Mustang and I were ambushed. I was impaled by falling debris."

I pointed to the still fading scars of the entrance and exit wounds at waist level. "The rest of it came from where Mustang cauterized my wounds with alchemy so I wouldn't bleed out and where they operated to stabilize the broken vertebrae and fix the internal damage."

Pa wiped his eyes on his shirt sleeve and said, "So it was worse than your Ma thought... she said it was nerve damage that you wouldn't... "

He was getting pretty choked up and I interrupted, "Yeah, on paper it's a pretty grim looking prognosis, the doctors say that I'll never do a lot of things again. But there is so much stuff I can still do. I try to focus on that, because well, the alternative just doesn't do anyone any good."

He smiled weakly and said, "That's my boy. But you don't have to be so brave, not on my account."

I heard the guys in the distance and quickly propped myself up on my elbows, put my shirt back on and finished my beer in a big gulp. After handing the empty bottle to my father I hauled myself back into my chair.

Smiling I said, "See Pa, I got it handled and from your experience and observations this morning the doctors don't know everything."

He winked and said, "Well I know what your priorities are."

Chuckling I said, "You have to focus on what's good in the world, that's all I'm saying."

He stood up, smiling wide and excused himself saying, "Son, I'm gonna go see a man about a horse. I'll be back directly."

I saw him disappear behind a bush as Riza and the guys crested the hill in an unruly gaggle with an unwilling Ed bringing up the rear, dragged by his brother. I caught snippets of their conversation and gathered that the Boss was going to be issued a side arm, just in case. He was less than thrilled with the idea. Once everyone was assembled Riza cleared her throat and briefed us, "As you all know the situation in Amestris is tenuous at best and deadly at its worst. Firearms aren't effective against the Homunculi, but they can buy you some time to escape. No heroes here, you are to bring back what intel you obtain and regroup. That said, you've been sitting behind desks getting paunchy and I doubt most of you have even been issued side arms at your new posts."

She then pried the top off of the crate that Breda and Falman had carried between them and issued weapons. As she did this I reached for the holster strapped to my calf to retrieve my gun. After removing the .38 from the holster I checked it to make sure everything was in order, and then placed it on my lap.

Breda gave a low whistle and said, "A .38, nice but not your usual piece. You've been practicing?"

Amused that Breda had even noticed the difference in caliber I replied, "My old piece wasn't exactly subtle. I can conceal this better. It was Hawkeye's idea."

Hawkeye interjected, "A good idea at that, your aim is as good as ever. Gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, you'd be wise to practice as much as you can without arousing suspicion."

Breda glanced at my gun again and I said, "I promised I'd meet you all at the top, didn't I?"

He smiled and replied, "I should have never had a doubt about it. You are stubborn about keeping promises."

"Speaking of which, was it you or Mustang who gave my parents the spare key to the cottage this morning?" I asked, without a hint of malice in my voice.

Caught off guard his eyes went wide and his voice shook as he asked, "Practical joke? Harmless prank?"

"It would have been funny if it had been someone else however, my Ma saw entirely too much of Sciezka and me. This is your fair warning," I said and then grinned. "Payback is a bitch."

Hawkeye cleared her throat, though she clearly appeared amused and then said, "All right children, social hour is over. Get on the line and show me what you've got."

Breda, Falman and Feury stepped up to the old wooden fence that served as the rail and aimed at the various targets that had been set up. Empty bottles perched precariously on the opposite fence line and there were paper targets attached to hay bales as well I nudged my Pa, who had returned and stood beside me, "Reminds me a lot of the set-up we had back home when I was a kid. Do you still slip out there to get away from Ma when she's sore at you?"

He chuckled and said, "You know it." He ran a hand through his dirty blond hair that had more gray in it than the last time I'd seen him and then said, "Give me another smoke if you can spare it. Seems the only place I can do it anymore is out back. Oh, and don't let your Ma catch you with those."

"How could I forget that? She tanned my hide the one and only time she ever caught me. I'm still amazed that little woman was able to get me over her knee."

Pa guffawed at the memory and said, "Your Ma, though little, is a formidable force and not to be trifled with."

"Don't I know it? Sciezka is the same, only it's a battle of wits," I replied, omitting any reference to her physical prowess for her size as well, since the only time she really showed it off was in the sack.

"She sounds a lot like your mother in some ways. I hope they are getting on well down there without us to referee."

"With any luck Ma's pulled out the naked baby pictures. I'll suffer the embarrassment if it means they get along," I said half-jokingly as my mother was rather fond of showing me off in the tub with my rubber ducky. I could only hope that Elysia didn't grab any and show them to the Boss or worse yet, that little nuisance Ling.

The first round of practice was soon over and Riza directed Ed, Roy, my father and me to take positions to start practice. I chose to use the pistol as I'd had less practice with it than the rifle. I cleared my mind, took aim and hit all my shots clean in the vitals. Once I'd emptied my clip I went over to where the guys were assembled to join in their conversation and observe the others practicing. Pa was still a crack shot, but Ed and Roy needed serious practice. I wondered if Ed would let me teach him as Riza had her hands full with her official duties.

It was hot up there on the hill and it affected me worse than it used to. I told Riza I was going to go check on Sciezka and Ma. She seemed to understand and didn't question it. An idea flickered in her eyes and she pulled Ed off the line saying, "Fullmetal, your automail has got to be heating up in this sun. Go back to the house to cool off."

He didn't put up an argument; you could have fried eggs on his arm. After checking my piece to make sure the safety was on and locked I put it back into my leg holster, the Boss and I folded up the blanket and stowed it under my chair before we headed back. As we started down the gently sloping hill he looked a bit worried, but didn't ask if I wanted help. He knew what my answer would be. It was a shame that a kid that young had personal experience in that area, but it was nice for me not to have to politely refuse offers of help. No matter how well meaning the offers were, they still annoyed me.


Back at the house Ma, Winry and Sciezka were on the porch, sitting in the shade, drinking iced tea and talking up a storm. I made the remark to Ed, "It looks like they survived without us. You've got your arm back too. So you're on speaking terms with Winry?"

Ed's expression brightened and as he said, "Yeah, more or less. It'll take time and lots of shopping in Rush Valley to get back in her good graces. But once she got over the shock it made sense to her. I'm waiting for her to threaten Russel's life with that wrench of hers if he hurts me."

"It's good to know some things never change. Speaking of which, I'm going to check in with those lovely ladies and then find Jim for a session," I said.

Once I was up on the porch I went over to Sciezka, positioning my chair next to hers, and then reached over to grab her glass of iced tea. She swatted my hand away scolding, "Get your own!"

Ma and Winry laughed, and as Ed came up the porch steps Winry said, "Oh Edward, would you go get Jean a glass and bring some more iced tea for us from the kitchen?"

I objected saying, "I can get it myself Winry."

She laughed and replied, "I know that, but you can't go in the kitchen right now. Elysia and Gracia are busy in there. Elysia would not be happy if you see the surprise before it's finished."

Ed grudgingly went inside, grumbling a bit that he wasn't a "damned waiter" and Ma pulled out his coat, which she had hidden underneath her chair, and continued mending it. I could tell that when she got finished with it, it would be as good as new, possibly better. As she worked Ma announced that she had shared her muffin recipe with Sciezka and Winry. I smiled at that, not only because I'd be able to have my favorite breakfast more often, but because Ma did not give that recipe out to just anyone. Come to think of it, I didn't even have it!

Ed came back with an ice cold pitcher of tea and filled the glass he had brought out for me before setting the pitcher down and pulling up a chair. He'd apparently graced us with his presence because Russel and Fletcher were busy working with Doctor Knox. He eyed my mother suspiciously as she continued mending his coat. Seeming pleased at her handiwork he smiled and inquired about what she was "doing" to the pockets. Ma smiled, held up her handiwork and said, "I'm reinforcing the pockets. I used to do it to Jean's overalls. He was always filling them with pebbles and things he'd collected and they would get holes in them. All I have to do now is wash this thing. It's absolutely filthy!"

The Boss looked like he was about to object, but then a nostalgic expression came over his face and he eventually smiled. Ma patted him on his good hand and then squeezed. I was glad that Ed was accepting the mothering. He didn't get nearly enough. I made a mental note to invite him and Alphonse to stay at my place the next time they were in Central. It would be a nice change from the dorms and though not quite on par with Gracia's culinary expertise, I wasn't half bad in the kitchen and certainly better than the chow offered at the mess.

It was then that I noticed my knees beginning to twitch. I excused myself and went inside to use the bathroom and see if Jim had time for a session. After finishing up in the bathroom I studied my hands as I washed them. The usual calluses on my trigger finger had returned and I smiled at that, however as I examined my hands further I realized I'd have to get some gloves as the rims on my chair really did a number on me. It would only get worse in the future negotiating the university and military academy grounds. After drying my hands I left the bathroom and set about finding Jim. Even though I was technically on vacation, my body was telling me otherwise and a session would do me some good.

I wandered the first floor and finally heard Jim and Doctor Knox talking in hushed tones outside of one of the bedrooms. Jim smiled and greeted me with, "Happy Birthday Jean!"

All things considered it was shaping up to be a very happy birthday. I smiled at that thought and replied, "Thank you and it is a great birthday so far. There is one minor snag; my body doesn't seem to understand that I'm on vacation. Think you could squeeze a session in?"

Jim looked down and his lips became set in a straight line as he watched the spasms, which had gotten worse and said, "You always overdo it, but sure I can, if you don't mind if we have your session in here. Maybe my other patient will come around to the idea of staying in Central with Doctor Knox and working with me and Winry."

Doctor Knox nodded in agreement and opened the door and pointed me in the direction of the unoccupied bed. The other bed was partially obscured by a makeshift screen. Jim moved the screen aside and I quickly glanced in the direction of the other bed. Its occupant laid still, eyes seemingly glued to the ceiling. Upon further study I noted that the patient was a girl, who couldn't be older than fifteen. This was Ling's bodyguard? As I transferred to the bed she turned her head appearing to study me, but said nothing. I took off my shoes and placed them on the floor next to the bed and then pulled my legs on to the bed and leaned back so Jim could get started. Maybe this would help her see that it could have been worse, that Winry and Jim could help her.

After Jim had been working with me for a few minutes a small voice form the direction of the other bed said, "So you were a warrior too?"

Jim stopped the range of motion exercises he was doing with me so I could prop up on one elbow to better see who was addressing me. I turned my head and said, "I suppose so, I was a soldier under Colonel Mustang's command. My name is Jean."

She replied, "I am Lan Fan, I was Master Ling's bodyguard, but now I don't know."

Jim resumed working on me and I said, "I'm helping the Colonel differently than I did before, but even now I can still be useful, thanks to Winry and Jim here. Give it time. Winry will have you almost good as new. She helped Ed, and she made that chair there."

She nodded and said, "I see, that is what they told me."

I smiled, hoping my words could reassure her and said, "For now you should rest and eat. That is the best way you can help the Prince, so you can get better."

Laying back down I hoped that my words had some effect on her. Then I focused on the stretches Jim was doing with me, as soon I'd have to do a lot of this on my own. We were nearly finished when there was a light knock on the door. Jim got up to answer it and it turned out to be Ed, with a tray of food and a shy smile. He came in and set it on the table next to Lan Fan and she smiled. Ed looked pleased at this and gently said to her, "You should drink your milk, or Winry will scold you."

Lan Fan nodded and though she eyed the large glass warily she sat up slowly and allowed Ed to place a few more pillows behind her. Gracia must have made up the tray because there was a small vase of flowers adorning it.

Ed turned to me and Jim and said, "Lunch is almost ready." Jim nodded and got up to leave. Ed, Lan Fan and I were alone in the room. I sat up, placed my legs over the edge of the bed and once I was sure of my balance held onto the seat of my chair and carefully leaned over to put on my shoes. I was aware of Lan Fan and Ed watching me as I grabbed the armrest of my chair and hoisted myself into it. Ed averted his eyes when he noticed I saw him watching me. Smiling I said, "It's really not all that bad, just different."

Ed nodded and Lan Fan gingerly picked up her sandwich and began eating it slowly. Satisfied that she was eating Ed said, "I'm starved after this morning. Let's go get lunch."

Chuckling I turned my chair around, opened the door and held it for Ed. I quipped, "After you Boss, and when aren't you starving?"

Once we were out in the hall Jim joined us and asked, "So is she eating?"

When we both nodded in the affirmative, Jim grinned broadly and shook both our hands and said, "Mission accomplished thanks to both of you."

Gathering that she must have been off her chow for a while I smiled to myself. Maybe Doctor Parker was right about my talking to guys at the hospital after all.


Gracia had set the table up buffet style with sandwich fixings and fruit and told us to "fend for ourselves." Most of us fixed our plates and headed onto the porch to eat and escape the worst of the heat. My crew, Russel and Fletcher, Ed and Al, Sciezka and my parents all took our various chairs or sat cross-legged on the smooth boards. Sciezka chose to sit at my feet, leaning against my knees. Every once in awhile, she'd tilt her head back to look up at me and I'd kiss her quickly or alternately feed her a grape or strawberry from my plate. We tried to time it when Ma wasn't looking, I think she caught us a few times, but she merely smiled and laughed. Elysia came bounding out the door with Gracia following closely behind her and Elysia planted herself in Sciezka's lap and announced, "Jean has a surprise!"

She then covered her mouth to avoid telling what it was. Gracia smiled and said, "Jean if you and Sciezka don't mind, could you watch Elysia for a little while this afternoon?"

I quickly answered saying, "No problem Gracia, this is hardly going to be a vacation if you spend the whole time in the kitchen."

Gracia winked at me and said, "I'm almost done in there, and I've missed cooking for parties. But don't worry. Someone is taking me for a boat ride."

That was all that Sciezka and I needed to know. She leaned back again, giving a knowing smile and she said to Elysia, "Let's get these dishes into the kitchen and get you changed into our swimsuit."

Elysia quickly obliged scampering into the house. I told Sciezka I'd meet her down at the pier and then I headed for the cabin to change into my trunks.

Once I was changed I went down to the lake shore and found Ma and Pa sitting on a blanket under the large beach umbrella. I winced inwardly when I realized Ma would see my scars when I was in my trunks, but it would look awkward if I went back to change into a shirt and maybe once she saw me swimming that would alleviate some of her worries.

Before going down to the pier to get in I stopped to talk to Ma and Pa. They were doing the crossword together. Well, Ma was doing it and pestering Pa when he wouldn't chime in with the answer right away. When I approached them Ma set the paper aside and said, "You found yourself a nice girl. That said, I expect you to settle down and visit more often!"

Shaking my head vigorously I said, "Yes Ma'am!"

Just then Elysia and Sciezka appeared on the path down to the lake and I said, "If you don't mind, two of my favorite girls expect me to swim with them."

Pa grinned and chuckled, and then waved me off saying, "You always were such a flirt as a boy."

Ma scowled at him and said, "He gets that from you."

He replied, "I reckon he does, but he got that stubborn streak from you." Then he took her hand and kissed it. I pictured Sciezka and myself bickering like an old married couple and smiled as I pushed my chair down to the pier.

Once at the water I set the brakes on my chair, scooted to the edge and carefully lowered myself to sit on the pier. As I slid in and then floated I was mildly shocked at how bizarre it still felt to be aware that I was in the water but not sense it until an instant later when I was fully immersed and felt the coolness of the lake. It was similar to most things really, like balancing atop something foreign, yet in reality it was my body. Thankfully the water minimized that sensory disconnect and deprivation and I could move freely. I swam a few strokes before Sciezka and Elysia waded in to join me.

Elysia's swimming had improved and she kept pace with Sciezka. We both still kept a watchful eye on her, but she was like a little fish, quite content to paddle on her own. Everyone save for the Boss, Russel, Knox and his charge had come down to the lake to swim, wade or sit in the shade and enjoy the cooling breeze coming off the water. Jim rowed the little skiff close to where we were swimming and Gracia waved at Elysia. It looked like they were having a wonderful time talking and a few times Gracia threw back her head in what appeared to be a very hearty laugh. I swam over to Sciezka and said, "You're right, this trip has been good for everyone. Look at Gracia, how happy she looks, Jim too."

Breda, Fletcher and Ling looked to be playing some sort of game that involved an awful lot of splashing and shouting. Falman, Denika, Roy and Riza had swum out to the raft and were lounging in the sun. Feury and Winry were sitting in the shade of an old oak tree. It looked like Cain might lean over at any moment to kiss Winry, and she was likely to welcome and reciprocate it.

My parents came down to the pier, took off their shoes and socks and put their feet in the water to cool off. Elysia swam over to them quickly and said, "Look Cookie Lady, watch me! Jean taught me to swim, even though he won't marry me because I'm too young. I still love him anyway."

Ma smiled and said, "Well I'd be honored to have such a fine young lady in the family."

Pa winked at Elysia and said, "Well I'd marry you if I wasn't already married to the Cookie Lady."

I chuckled in amusement, swam over to the pier and said, "Why don't you marry a boy like Fletcher or Alphonse?"

Elysia appeared to be considering both boys seriously and then said, "You are all so silly! I am too young to get married!"

We all laughed at her reply and Elysia yawned. It looked like someone was ready for a nap, and that didn't sound like a bad idea to me.

Sciezka seemed to think it sounded like a plan as well. Stifling a yawn myself I said, "Ma and Pa, if you wouldn't mind putting our little friend here down for an N-A-P it would be wonderful, because I think I'm about ready for one too."

Pa asked Elysia, "What do you say we go on back to the house, have some of Mrs. Havoc's cookies with some milk and then read a story?"

He had always been better at tricking me into a nap than Ma had been. Elysia jumped at the idea of cookies and a story and swam to the shore quickly and ran onto the pier to give my Pa a wet and clingy hug. Ma stifled a laugh and the three of them left for that snack and story.

I pulled Sciezka closer to me as I held onto the pier for balance. She looked up at me, a rare but sweet point of view and asked, "So how about a nap?"

Kissing the top of her head I murmured into her hair, "I thought you'd never ask."

Back at the cottage we got out of our wet suits quickly, dried off and after making sure the door was locked got into bed and dozed together.

Sciezka must have woken up first as I sensed someone playing with my hair and stroking my face as I gradually gained awareness. She must have grown impatient as the next thing I felt was her lithe body rubbing against mine as she cooed, "Wake up sleepy head, time to play."

As comfortable as I was and as much as I was still wiped out from all of the day's activity I opened my eyes and asked jokingly, "You needed something?"

She took that as an invitation and straddled me, kissing me before I could get a word in edgewise and purred between kisses, "You, just you."

If I'd been tired before it didn't matter now. Propping up on my elbows, a feat not easily accomplished when someone was on top of you, petite or not, I said huskily, "So what should we do about that?"

Her answer was to throw the covers off of us and begin showering my arms, chest and neck with kisses. It was good to be me at that moment. I pushed with my arms until I was sitting up straight and had a better view. Sciezka shifted position and wriggled in my lap as I played with her nipples and whispered what I thought I might do with her when we got home and had a whole house to ourselves. She quivered in anticipation when I mentioned some ideas I had for the kitchen counters.

Thumbing her clit had the desired effect and I marveled at how aroused she could become from just this. I was beginning to feel the effects of our play as well, my skin tingling with the slightest stimulation, the brush of lips playing over my throat, her soft hair across my cheek as she traced the shell of my ear ever so lightly with her tongue, her fingers tapping staccato rhythms on my arms as she sought purchase. I took hold of my growing erection and pumped it a few times, until I was fully hard. She rose onto her knees and as I held myself steady she sank down hard, shuddering when I was finally deep inside her.

She placed her hands on my shoulders for balance as I lifted her again and again setting the pace. Biting her lip to stifle her insistent whimpers I quickened the pace, making penetration shallower so each motion stimulated the spot I knew would make her orgasm more intense. I was on the edge and I could tell she was as well. I grazed her clit again and she shuddered. I had one hand on her hip and the other stroked her as she maintained the pace I'd set and raised herself up before slamming all the way down until she was filled completely. I felt the tension building and concentrated on allowing it to grow until I could barely stand it. Throwing my head back as the first wave seized me I toppled backwards and she came with me, quickly shifting position and grinding against me until it passed.

Shuddering and shaking together in a sweaty heap we reveled in each other, the scents of sunlight and fresh air mingling with the earthy tang of musk and sweat. Sciezka rolled off me, limp and relaxed and sighed, "We have to do that one again."

"All this upper body strength has got to be good for something, right?" I drawled lazily.

Curling up next to me she stroked the tender skin of my inner arm, where it was most sensitive and in not so many words agreed murmuring, "Mmmm hmmm."

As nice as this felt, after checking my watch on the bedside table I realized that if we were going to take a bath, we'd better start soon.

I nudged Sciezka and said, "Bath time, c'mon as cozy as this is we have social obligations."

She rolled over and put a pillow over her head and grunted in reply. As loquacious as she was, she always seemed to have trouble forming coherent sentences after sleep or sex.

Tossing the covers off the bed I said, "We'll have plenty of time to sleep later and as I recall, you were very alert when you woke me up earlier."

Transferring to my chair, because one of us should make an effort to get up I said as I patted my lap, "You're so lazy, I'll even give you a ride."

She peeked at me from under the pillow and stuck out her tongue. Finally she crawled to the edge of the bed, and then stood up, faltering a bit before righting herself.

"Good to know I still make you weak in the knees," I said and winked, then encircled her tiny waist and pulled her onto my lap. As I rolled us towards the bathroom I mused, "Glad this contraption is good for something."


Once we were dressed Sciezka and I headed to the main house. Edward and Russel were in front of the porch putting the finishing touches on the new and improved ramp. True to Fullmetal's reputation Ed had overdone it. In place of the slightly rickety wooden ramp was a stone behemoth complete with ornamental sculptures, wait... was that a fountain on top of the railing? It was. When I ascended the ramp to meet everyone for dinner as I got to the top I discovered that Ed had made an exact replica of Al's armor and he appeared to be relieving himself under the blue fabric loincloth. I laughed out loud when I realized the flow of "water" was directed at a rather accurate likeness of Colonel Mustang, who looked poised to snap, and wore a very irked expression.

This wasn't the most bizarre sculpture the Boss had ever created, but it was right up there on the list of the funniest. I went down the ramp to test how steep it was and was pleased to find that it was as architecturally sound as it was ornate.

Smirking I said, "It's perfect Ed. The statues are a nice touch. What does the General think of this fine addition to his house?"

The boss laughed and answered, "He likes it well enough. I may remove the embellishment once Al and that Bastard Colonel have been teased enough."

"I know about you and the Colonel, but what did Al do to raise your ire?" I asked.

He grinned and replied, "Target practice and dress clothes."

I looked over to Sciezka who was sitting on the porch steps and commented, "Remind me not to piss him off."

Russel smiled and laughed at that and we all headed inside.

Everyone was sitting in the living room on the various furniture and the "younger folks", Winry, Fletcher and Ling were on the floor entertaining Elysia. The only people missing were Roy and Jim.

"Hawkeye, where are Colonel Mustang and Jim?" I asked. I'd wanted to have Jim sit down with my parents for a few minutes so they could get the "official" progress report.

Breda answered for Hawkeye saying, "They are down at the barbeque pit."

I was surprised by that answer. Roy had many talents, but cooking was not one of them.

Gracia smiled and said, "Don't worry Jean, he's not cooking much. He's getting the fire lit and Jim is putting everything I prepped and marinated on the grill. It's fool proof. I wrote out instructions for them."

I was relieved to hear that and then Ling asked Gracia, "What is for dinner?

We all laughed, as that always seemed to be what was on the Prince's mind. Ma answered him as she's apparently had a hand in the planning and preparation, "Barbequed chicken, corn on the cob, biscuits and baked beans. There are salads and other cold dishes too."

Elysia chimed in and said, "Dessert too! I helped."

I smiled, all of my favorites. It was like a pot luck or barn raising back home. This was definitely shaping up to be one of my better birthdays. All of my friends were here, and so were my family and my girl. Though I'd need a vacation from my vacation, the trip had been worth it. I knew we'd be focusing on tactical issues tomorrow, but today was perfect and hopefully memories of it would help motivate us toward our common goal.

We all headed outside, towards the lake and I was surprised to find a large stone structure with metal grates had been erected and picnic tables brought in. A large pyre of wood for a bonfire had been collected as well. This truly would be like parties back home. Riza caught my attention and smiled and I went over to her and said, "Thank you, this is amazing! You were all very busy while I napped."

She replied, "Well, it's your birthday. It's not everyday that you have one and we'll all enjoy this. Besides, the barbeque pit was Fullmetal's doing, along with Al, and the picnic tables too. Pretty easy when you're an alchemist who excels at transmuting solids."

Jim and Gracia came over to stand by Sciezka and I and I waved at my parents to come over and talk with us. Feury and Winry were keeping Elysia busy as they strung lanterns in the trees. The sun was giving the first hints of setting, tinting the sky rose and lavender around the edges.

Ma and Pa sat down at a table on the perimeter of the party and we joined them. I introduced Jim to my parents and Pa shook his hand vigorously and Ma got up and hugged him. My letters had described my progress in therapy, but I realized that seeing the results in the flesh was another matter entirely. Six months prior I wasn't even able to sit up on my own, much less do all that I was doing. Jim was very modest as usual, protesting that I had done most of the work. Both Jim and I knew that had he not intervened I'd be what I'd originally resigned myself to: a shut-in invalid being cared for by others. I certainly wouldn't be living on my own, or starting university and a relationship had seemed out of the question then.

Just as the delicious aroma coming from the direction of the fire pit was becoming overwhelming Riza came over to let us know that dinner was served and to go get it ourselves, if we wanted any before Ling and the Boss ate it all.

They'd set up a buffet for all the food: chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans, biscuits to slather with butter and honey, huge wedges of watermelon, a couple of tossed salads and Ma's buttermilk cucumbers. I'd have to be careful to not stuff myself too full, lest I need another nap.

We piled our plates high and sat down to eat at the picnic tables. Roy and Riza joined us and Ed, Al, Fletcher, Russel, Feury, Winry and Elysia made up a "kids' table" adjacent to us with Breda sitting in as an "honorary member." Breda insinuated that he was sitting there because he intended to misbehave and I believed it. Ling joined them after he brought trays up to Doctor Knox and Lan Fan.

Turning to Gracia and Ma in between mouthfuls I said, "You really outdid yourselves. Truly, it's just like back home Ma, only better because of the company."

Roy smiled at that and I was so happy that he and Riza seemed to be enjoying the time to themselves. They were among friends and could forgo protocol and relax and be together openly.

Once everyone had had seconds and the Boss and Ling finished their third helpings the task of clearing away dinner was an easy one. Al collected the paper plates and threw them out and Russel and Ed took the platters up to the kitchen and handled dish duty Breda and Falman moved the tables so they formed a loose circle around the pit where the bonfire would be and we all gathered there to digest and talk after dinner. Once Ed and Russel returned, Winry and Feury lit the lamps they'd strung in the trees with a boost from Al and we then watched the sun set over the lake. It put on quite a show and as it dipped below the tree lined horizon, and soon after Mustang lit the bonfire with a snap and a flourish.


The alcohol was flowing freely as there were several washtubs filled with ice and bottles of beer. We sat around the fire laughing and joking. As the stars came out and the fireflies began their dance Elysia and Gracia left, and quickly returned with Gracia's special cake. It looked like it was ready to catch fire with what appeared to be twenty-five candles on top of it. Elysia exclaimed, "Make a wish and blow out the candles!"

What could I possibly wish for that I didn't already have at that moment? I smiled to myself, pictured my wish and took a deep breath and blew out all the candles in one go. Thankfully Breda hadn't gotten to the cake and they weren't trick candles like last year.

Ma and Gracia dished up large slices of cake with generous scoops of my favorite ice cream, chocolate, on the side. Turns out Fletcher and Al had spent the better part of the afternoon cranking the ice cream maker.

Sciezka wiped my nose with her napkin, as I had some frosting on it and said, "You look like a kid when you eat something you love."

Admittedly, I did and I grinned sheepishly and said, "It must be the combination of strawberry cream cake and chocolate that does it." I leaned in, wiggled my eyebrows at her and whispered, "Of course they're not the only things I like to eat."

She kissed me quickly and laughed as she messed up my hair.

With the "birthday formalities" taken care of I suggested to Sciezka that we move to one of the blankets that had been spread out by the fire circle and warm up. It had gotten cooler after sunset, almost chilly, and what better way to warm up than lounging together near the fire? Gracia took Elysia up to the house to put her to bed, but before they left she crawled into my lap and asked, "Did we make a good birthday for you Jean?"

I kissed her on the forehead and answered, "It was my best birthday ever Princess! Thank you so much for celebrating it with me and making it so special."

She threw her little arms around me and squeezed hard, then scampered towards the house to get into her pajamas.

The pop and crackle startled me and I glanced anxiously in the direction that the racket came from. Squinting to get a better look I discovered that Breda and Ling were setting off fireworks on the pier. Hopefully they wouldn't blow themselves up.

After a few choruses of bawdy drinking songs barely fit for mixed company, the group around the bonfire began to thin out, with couples heading off to be alone and look at the stars. The sky was a vast expanse of dark blue and countless stars twinkled brightly. You never saw a sky like this in Central. Roy and Riza were conspicuously absent from the gathering as were Jim and Gracia. Hopefully I'd be filled in on how things were going on those fronts tomorrow. I yawned and Sciezka nestled closer to me and said, "It's been a long day, you about ready to turn in?"

Stretching my arms and then holding her small body closer to me I answered, "I think that would be a perfect conclusion to an amazing day."

We said our goodnights to the remainder of the revelers and made our way back to the cottage. The night blooming jasmine on the path was at full intensity and the smell was intoxicating. I plucked a few blossoms and pulled Sciezka into a passionate kiss. When we finally separated I tucked the small, fragrant blooms into her hair. She beamed and skipped the rest of the way down the path.

Once at the cottage Sciezka lit the lamps and turned them down low. We undressed and got into bed and she rubbed scented oil into my complaining back and shoulder muscles. I was too tired and by that point too relaxed to protest. It was generally useless arguing with her on matters like this anyway. Besides, her touch felt so wonderful, so right.

I whispered, "I wish things would stay like this forever."

After kissing me tenderly, her lips barely brushing mine she said, "It's utopia, nearly impossible to achieve but if anyone can make it happen, your team can."

The lamps had gone out and in the still darkness, and each other's arms we drifted to

Chapter Text

Sciezka and I got up, dressed quickly and went to get breakfast at the main house. Last night's good mood had carried into the morning and we stopped quite a few times on the path to admire the flowers and of course, kiss.

Jim, Pa and Roy were sitting on the porch with mugs of coffee and Sciezka volunteered to get me some while we talked "guy stuff". I parked myself next to Jim and nudged him with my elbow and asked, "So how are things going with you and Gracia?"

Jim flushed and after collecting himself, he winked and replied, "A gentleman never tells."

I smiled and Roy looked relieved, and we were both pleased that things were indeed going quite well. Gracia and Elysia meant so much to both of us, and after Hughes' death we all wondered how they would fare. I knew from experience how painful loneliness could be. I also knew that it broke Roy's heart to see the spark in Gracia's loving eyes dim so much after Hughes' passing. We all wanted her to find happiness again, and Jim seemed like the kind of guy Hughes would have liked.

It occurred to me just then that maybe Hughes had a divine hand in bringing them together.

Sciezka came out with my coffee, fixed just the way I like it, two teaspoons of sugar and a little milk, and informed us that breakfast would be ready in about ten minutes. She then leaned over and whispered, "You may want to get in there to rescue Heymans, as your mother is fussing over him."

Shaking my head when I brought that image to mind I said, "I'll be in soon, though let's let him suffer for a little while longer."

Sciezka went back inside and, turning my attention to Roy, I said, "You aren't a gentleman. So tell me, how are things going with Riza?"

Roy laughed and replied, "I suppose I deserve that with all the teasing you've endured from me. However, Riza would shoot us both, so, no comment."

I drained the rest of my coffee, placed the empty mug between my knees and chuckled, "You're off the hook this time Roy. I'll assume that your secrecy on the matter means things are going well. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go save Breda from my Ma."

Pa grinned and said, "Good luck with that, rescue me next time?"

"You knew what you were getting into when you married her Pa. I have no sympathy, though you can hideout at my place any time you like."

Once inside the house I could hear Ma all the way from the living room, "Heymans, when are you going to settle down with a nice girl? You're a bad influence on my Jean, with the drinking and the gambling, not to mention your stubborn bachelor ways!"

Breda's eyes lit up when I entered the room and seemed to plead "Save me!"

Ma and Breda were sitting on the couch and I pulled up close to my mother and said, "Are you giving Heymans a hard time? He can't help that he's a military dog. Besides, he's mostly housebroken. Maybe we should send him to 'Gracia's Charm School for Wayward Bachelors'."

They both smiled at that, both apparently relieved that my sense of humor had been left intact. Ma then said, "You're a good boy Heymans, just a little rough around the edges, but nothing a good woman can't smooth out."

I resisted the urge to snicker when I saw the naughty look in Breda's eyes. He was obviously taking what Ma said literally, and having a bit of fun playing the scene out in his head.

He blushed and stood up to hug Ma, then replied, "I'll try to be a better influence on Jean from now on. I've missed your care packages. He always shared them."

"Hah! You'd never stop pestering me if I didn't share Breda!" I protested.

Ma smiled and intervened saying, "Now now boys, don't fight. I'll send you both care packages."

Breda grinned and asked, "Could you send some of those chocolate chip cookies... oh, and your famous brownies too?"

I cracked, " Breda, easy boy, we don't want to ruin your girlish figure."

He shot me a look that said he wouldn't mind it if a lovely lady would help work him back into shape.


 

The dining room was buzzing with conversation as I entered. Sciezka had saved a place for me and as I made my way around the maze of chairs she fetched the coffee pot and placed it on the table in front of my plate. I got there without incident and poured myself a fresh cup. Gracia and Riza came in with the food and the feeding frenzy began. A casual observer would have thought we hadn't eaten in weeks. After filling my plate with scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon and a few of Ma's muffins I tucked into them in earnest. Sciezka eyed my plate and then her own. She had a muffin, some fruit and nothing else. I asked her, "Are you feeling all right?"

She laughed and replied, "I feel fine, but after all the rich food this weekend I think I've hit my limit."

Nodding in agreement I said, "That's quite true. You never go hungry when Gracia and Ma are in the kitchen. When I used to go home on leave I'd think that Ma was trying to make up for every missed meal in the year in one sitting. Though I've heard it said that an army marches on its stomach."

Gracia snickered when she heard that and said, "If you people are any indication of that, I'd have to agree with the old saying."

Ling and Ed were fighting again over something or other and I could see that Elysia was feeding Black Hayate under the table, on the sly. Riza was attempting to stare the dog down, but failing miserably due to the glint of amusement in her eyes. Roy patted her hand and said, "You can go back to the strict discipline on Monday."

Turning to Sciezka I asked, "So how will you occupy yourself while we're discussing strategy?"

She looked at me, appearing surprised by my question and answered, "I'll be in there with you. Didn't you know?"

I picked at my eggs and chased a few potatoes around my plate with my fork and said, "Sciezka, you're clerical staff, not enlisted."

She shot me an annoyed glare and said, " Roy asked me to sit in. My access in Investigations could come in handy. Besides, I can take care of myself."

Our discussion was interrupted when Feury came back into the dining room and announced that the living room was set up for the strategy session. Ma approached me and refilled my mug, kissed me on the cheek and said, "Your Pa and I are going to keep Elysia busy while you all talk business."

Nodding I said, "I take it you're not too thrilled with my choice to stay involved?"

The corners of her lips turned downward into a frown and she replied, "You made a promise to that Mustang fellow and I appreciate that you are a man of your word. I'll just be happy when this is all over and I know you are safe."

I took her hand and said, "Thanks for understanding."

Ma pulled me close and said, "Just be safe. I almost lost you before... "

I squeezed her hard and held on for a long time at a loss for words.


 

I entered the meeting and scanned the room for Sciezka. She had taken a spot on the floor and I positioned my chair behind her. Looking around the room I saw that Doctor Knox and Lan Fan were present. Frowning I thought to myself, "This is insane! Involving civilians and women, not to mention children and the infirm?" I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself but continued seething inwardly, my expression an impassive mask. "What the fuck is he thinking? Sure the situation is desperate but this is just bat shit insane!" Hadn't Elysia lost her father already? Her mother should not be involved!

Mustang began the briefing by listing the known homunculi, their appearances and capabilities. Jim and Gracia gasped when Mustang described the incident with Lust that had led to my present condition. I had neglected to mention that part to them. Mustang had tactfully left out the gorier details like the fact that she had been my "girlfriend" and nearly killed him too. He then gave the floor to Ling who described the run-in with Envy and Wrath, the Fuhrer, in detail. Before he finished he turned to Lan Fan and asked, "Did I leave out any details and do you have anything to add?" I had a few choice words on the tip of my tongue but held it in. Lan Fan was supposed to be resting, not re-living a traumatic event in front of a group of strangers. If a homunculus could take down trained warriors like Maes and Lan Fan, fuck, me... what would they do to Sciezka? Winry was already at risk for even being associated with Ed but so far the only thing tying all of this danger to Sciezka was me.

She slowly shook her head no and then Doctor Knox helped her back to bed. As far as I was concerned Knox was the only person in the room who had any common sense at all.

Hawkeye took the floor next and said, "You will all have to be sure to commit all of this to memory. If your homes or offices are ever compromised or searched there can be no evidence. This is for your safety and for the integrity of the mission. Do I make myself clear?"

My thoughts still racing I countered with the thought, "If our homes or offices are ever compromised, do you think they'd let us live? The homunculi don't exactly play by the proper rules of engagement. Not that the army ever does, but you have a decent shot at it."

Everyone in the room nodded in agreement.

She continued, "You will all be responsible for securing a local safe house near your respective posts. All correspondence will be sent there, in code. If the mission is compromised you are all to report to the rally point to await further instructions. Colonel Mustang and General Grumman have secured permission to utilize Madame Christmas' establishment should we require it."

At that point Elysia peered around the door frame and all conversation regarding strategy ceased. Gracia said, "Come in Elysia. Did you need something?"

Elysia cautiously approached her mother and crawled into her lap. She whispered something in Gracia's ear, and Gracia smiled, and then announced, "Elysia says that the 'Cookie Lady' will be bringing in coffee and sandwiches soon."

She hopped off of her mother's lap, came over to me for a quick hug and then left the room. Ma and Pa came in with a tray piled high with sandwiches and a large pot of coffee and set it all on a side table. As Ma left the room she said to Gracia, "We'll be taking Elysia swimming, so take your time."

"Oh, I don't want her to be a bother," Gracia protested.

Ma smiled as Pa chuckled and said, "She's no bother at all, in fact, she's a darling."

Gracia smiled and then started handing out sandwiches while Sciezka poured the coffee. After we had finished eating the briefing continued. A notification method was established for all parties, as well as an "all clear" signal. The room darkened as an abrupt storm rolled in and clouds obscured the sun. It seemed to be an omen and thankfully the rain stopped almost as quickly as it had started.

The meeting was over by 1400 hours. I was tired and my back was complaining rather loudly by this time. I predicted that the spasms would kick in at any moment and I was right. Ducking out of the room unnoticed I went out to the porch for a smoke, watchful so my Ma wouldn't catch me with it. Pa was on the driveway loading the rattletrap truck that was used to make deliveries for the store. After putting out my cigarette I took the ramp and asked Pa if he needed any help with the bags. Sciezka and Ma came down the stairs and it looked like my parents were ready to head home.

Ma spoke first after she thrust an awkward looking burlap bundle into my hands, her voice almost breaking, "Jean promise to visit as soon as classes let out, understand?" She pulled Sciezka close and whispered something in her ear. After letting go of her, she latched onto me and embraced me fiercely as she said, "You study hard. You're a bright boy. Expect company soon, as I need to make sure that your house is up to par. That and I'd like to visit Elysia and Gracia."

She then let go of me and hurriedly got into the truck, no doubt crying.

Pa simply hugged each of us and said, "See you soon son, take care."


 

As they drove out of sight I remembered the bundle in the burlap sack that Ma had given me. Upon opening it I discovered that it was the ratty looking stuffed bear that I'd had since I was born. She must have figured that I needed it, and sometimes she was right.

I announced that I was going swimming. I didn't much care if anyone joined me or not. I went down to the cabin and changed into my trunks. Once in the water I swam laps, hard and fast, attempting to work out my frustration before I snapped and lost my temper. Once I was winded I swam to the raft to catch my breath. Sciezka had come out to join me and said, "You left pretty quickly. I was wondering where you had snuck off to."

"Well, you found me," I said curtly.

She frowned at my response and said, "Well you're in a foul mood."

I was silent for awhile and Sciezka let me stew. Finally I said, "I don't want you to have anything to do with this coup business. It's too risky. I don't know what I'd do if anything... "

Stunned she hissed, "So it's just fine for you to risk your life and I get no say in the matter? But if I want to help the cause I can't? Besides, when did I ever give you any indication that I was asking for your permission?"

"I was a soldier, I can defend myself!" I shot back.

"You are overreacting Jean. I'll just be keeping an eye out for files that concern this matter. Research and librarian stuff, not dangerous at all," she huffed.

I narrowed my eyes and said, "That's all that Hughes was doing." I could feel my temper rising again.

Sciezka must have seen it as well. "I can't even reason with you right now! Ugh!" she yelled, then swam for shore and stalked out of sight, leaving me alone, which was what I thought I wanted.


 

I got out of the water and toweled off while I sat on the edge of the pier, still seething at the world in general. Once I hauled myself into my chair I noticed that the spasms were still there, though they had lessened in severity. I heard a clap of thunder and sure enough, the sky opened up again. I cursed under my breath, "Well this is just fucking great!"

The path from the lake to the cottage had become slippery from the rain. Since it was muddy and uphill I leaned forward to shift my balance so I wouldn't tip over backwards. Slogging through the mud I was almost there when a front wheel got stuck in a rut. Gritting my teeth I pushed hard, hoping I'd dislodge it. No such luck today, if it could go wrong, it did. I pitched forward and landed face first in the mud. To make matters worse my chair was upended just out of my grasp.

Cursing loudly I crawled through the muck, righted my chair and set the brakes. Pausing to catch my breath I was so preoccupied that I didn't notice Breda, Feury and Winry coming towards me. I attempted to get back in my chair, lost my footing and shouted, "FUCK!"

I'd landed flat on my back, belly up in the mud and I closed my eyes tightly to keep back the tears I could feel forming. The rain beat down harder and I heard Breda exclaim, "Havo are you all right? What happened?"

I sat up slowly, glared at him and said, "What do you think happened?"

He merely looked at me, stunned and tried to help me up. I recoiled from his touch, snatching my arm away and snarling, "I'll tell you what happened. I'm a fucking cripple is what happened! I'll do it myself!"

They all stood back, averting their eyes as I tried and failed again. Finally Winry said softly, on the verge of tears, "Let us help."

Muscles slack, I let Winry and Breda help me back into the chair as Feury held it steady.

Breda put a hand on my shoulder and said, "It's ok man, I know you're not mad at me."

"No, it's not ok, it's not ok at all, nothing is ok," I replied sullenly as I headed for the cottage, head hung in shame.

Once in the privacy provided by the hedges surrounding the garden I realized that I'd have to face Sciezka. It had been bad enough that we'd argued, but now I was a bedraggled mess. Some tough solder, eh? I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. The muscles in my back and shoulders were screaming at me, protesting loudly with each movement and I leaned forward resting my elbows on my knees in an attempt to ease the tension. My cigarette went out several times and I tried in vain to relight it, swearing up a storm each time. I didn't hear Sciezka come out onto the porch and I was startled when she scolded, "Get in here before you catch cold. You're a mess."

I followed her inside grudgingly. I hated to admit it, but she had a valid point. I was soaking wet and covered in mud. After inspecting my knees I noticed that I must have scraped them when I fell. Her expression was neutral when she asked, "Would you like help into the bath?"

I considered her offer; she was giving me an out. This was my chance to apologize. Searching for the words I finally settled on saying, "I'm sorry."

She looked directly into my eyes and said, "I'm not, it needed to be said. I promise I'll be careful, just let me do this. If I can help keep you and your friends safe with the information that I gather... "

I hesitated and asked, "Are you sure?"

Smiling confidently she replied, "I've never been surer."

"You know I was only so angry because I love you, and I don't want anything to happen to you, right?" I said softly.

She wiped some of the mud off of my cheek with her hand and said, "I know. I love you too. Now if you're finished being stubborn, can I convince you to let me help you into the tub?"

"About that... "I said hesitantly, reluctant to accept her offer.

"I can tell that your back is bothering you from sitting still all day, you are covered in mud and you would do the same for me," she said with her arms crossed. When I remained silent she added, "You'd be doing the world at large a favor. Maybe it will improve your mood."

She left the bathroom to give me time to peel off my sodden, filthy trunks and returned with my shaving kit and a glass of water.

"Take your pain meds and soak for awhile, just call for me when you're ready to get out. I'll be reading on the couch."

I took the pills without further argument and she helped me into the tub. As the water level rose the heat began loosening up my muscles. I heaved a sigh of relief. I caught myself beginning to nod off and decided it would be a good idea to get out. I called for Sciezka and she came in and asked, "Feeling better?"

Admittedly I did, though I panicked when I remembered how I'd acted with Breda, Feury and Winry earlier.

"Is something else wrong?" Sciezka asked calmly, as she handed me a towel.

As I rubbed the towel through my hair roughly I answered, "I went off on Breda and Winry... after I fell. They found me."

Sciezka was quiet and after considering her words carefully she said, "Just apologize to them. Winry is probably used to it and I'm sure Breda won't hold it against you. You were embarrassed and angry."

"It's still no excuse," I replied softly.

"No, it isn't. But that's what happens when you hold your feelings in until you're ready to explode. You're tired and sore from getting around here. I'm sure Jim and Winry aren't shocked at all by your reaction."

I looked at her blankly and she said, "Come into the bedroom, you have time for a short nap, and we should probably clean up those scrapes."

After checking my knees she decided they had gotten clean enough in the bath. Once on the bed she curled up next to me and said, "The super hero, brave little soldier routine is getting old. It's expected and ok for you to express anger, just don't misdirect it at people who are just trying to do what they think is best for you."

She got up and asked, "Do you need anything?"

"Could you get my stuffed bear out of my bag, and maybe stay with me?" I asked shyly.

Smiling broadly she said, "Admitting that is so much sexier than pretending to need nothing. Want me to give you a massage? The way you've got your jaw set makes me think your back still hurts."

"You don't have to, but thanks for offering."

She got up from the bed, fetched my bear and the lavender lotion and said, "Don't you think I like touching you?"

I noticed she paid special attention to my arms and shoulders as she worked. When she realized I was watching her she said, "I can't help it if I find your muscles incredibly sexy. Men like tits and ass. While on the other hand, for me it's all about the arms and hands. Your chest isn't too shabby either. It doesn't hurt that you also have a pretty face."

She finished up and pulled the covers over us and then asked, "So what is your bear's name? I should know who I'm sharing the bed with. We haven't been properly introduced."

I chuckled as I looked at my threadbare and flattened childhood companion and answered, "It's just 'Bear'... always has been."

She shook his paw and said, "Pleased to meet you Bear. Just remember, he's all mine."


 

Resting her head on my chest she sighed contentedly and my next conscious moment she was gently kissing me to wake me up. Sciezka let me doze for a few more minutes while she got dressed. She had put on those great jeans again and had swiped my black sweater. I smiled at that and teased, "First you take my pants and now you're after my sweaters."

She got back on the bed, sat next to me and replied, "As much as I want you naked, that wasn't my aim this time. It's chilly out and this sweater is so soft and warm. Well that and it smells like you."

"I suppose that you want me to get dressed so we can get some dinner?" I asked. She stood up in an effort to lure me out of bed standing just at arm's length.

"That would be the plan," she replied as she dug through my duffle bag and then tossed some clothes at me.

She came back to where I could reach her and I pulled her down by her belt loops so she was sitting on the bed. I pouted when she didn't get back in bed with me. She smiled at me and said, "Nice try, but we do have to eat."

"You mean I can't stay in bed hiding so I don't have to face Breda or Feury?" I asked, dreading talking to them after my outburst earlier.

She pursed those bowlike lips and said, "Just tell them the truth. I'm sure they understand that you weren't angry at them, that you were angry at your situation and being seen in a vulnerable position."

Sitting up slowly I looked at her and said, "You make that sound so easy."

"Well it is, in theory," she replied. After pausing for a moment she put her arms around me and brushed her lips across my forehead. "They're unsure of how to talk to you sometimes, it's natural and expected. Show them that in most ways you are the same guy as before. Same lousy jokes, same loveable quirks, just about the same everything, you're just doing it sitting down. You were doing a good job of that. You are coping much better than most people would in your set of circumstances."

I nodded in agreement, kissed her softly and held her closer for good measure and then began getting dressed in the clothes she'd picked out. The less I had to think about the better I'd feel. Once I was dressed Sciezka and I went to get dinner. I was a little sleepy from the medication, but it was easier staying calm when I wasn't in pain.

Breda and Feury were sitting on the porch watching the rain and I decided to get what I was dreading over with, as it would only get worse the longer I waited. Sciezka kissed me on the cheek and went inside so I could have some privacy while I talked to the guys.

I approached them slowly and they smiled. Breda said, "Get over here Havo." Feury nodded in agreement and slid his chair over so I could sit between them.

Starting hesitantly I said, "I'm sorry about this afternoon. I was just so frustrated at falling and ashamed that someone had witnessed it. That was still no excuse for yelling at you."

Breda frowned and said, "I can't blame you buddy. It was instinct to try and help you up, to not let you struggle. I am still at a loss for how to act sometimes."

Sighing I replied, "That's a mystery to me too. I often don't know what I'm going to feel from one minute to the next. I don't reckon I'd know how to act if the situation were reversed."

Feury chimed in, "It would help if we were all in contact more often. We don't get to see each other everyday anymore and that makes it hard to find something to talk about. No wonder it's been awkward."

Breda nodded and said, "I'm ashamed that I didn't send more letters. I started to write them, and then tossed them in the trash. I'd have your phone number halfway dialed and would chicken out. Vato was keeping us all informed, but that's not the same, it's not enough. It must have been lonely, since it looked like we'd all forgotten about you."

I smiled at that, his words had articulated what I'd been feeling since the transfer orders had gone through.

We were interrupted when Sciezka poked her head outside and announced that dinner was ready.


 

Dinner was simple, but delicious. Gracia had made a hearty beef and vegetable soup accompanied by thick slices of homemade bread and a salad. It was a perfect meal on a damp and chilly night, comfort food. We all sat around the table but were quieter than usual. The briefing had subdued the celebratory mood and we were all tired. Once finished with the meal most of the group moved to the living room where Roy had lit a fire in the fireplace for warmth. I went out onto the porch for a cigarette and saw Feury and Winry, Denika and Vato, and Gracia and Jim engaged in what appeared to be intimate conversations. I kept a low profile so they wouldn't feel self-conscious as I never appreciated an audience when Sciezka and I were together. After I stubbed out my cigarette I went back to the living room. Sciezka had found a spot on the floor near the fireplace and I joined her. It would feel good to stretch out, and perhaps the heat would ease the dull ache that radiated up my spine. Lan Fan was bundled up in blankets, reclining on a couch near where Sciezka and I were sitting and she and Ling were speaking in hushed tones in their native language. Roy and Riza were now noticeably absent, as were Ed and Russel. Al came in and sat down near Lan Fan and she smiled as they talked. Al always seemed to know just what to say to make me feel better and his kind words seemed to be easing Lan Fan's worries.

Elysia came into the room and planted herself in my lap. She must have been playing with Black Hayate because he came in shortly after her and "asked" politely to sit with Sciezka. It was warm in the living room and I nodded off for awhile. When I woke up Gracia told me that she and Jim had put Elysia to bed and that Elysia said goodnight. She hadn't fussed at all, as she didn't want to wake me up. Maes would have been proud of what a sweet and thoughtful child she was becoming.

Lan Fan was still on the couch and Winry and Sciezka were talking with her. Feeling too groggy to participate in the conversation I shifted position so I wouldn't get stiff and closed my eyes again. Feeling a gentle hand on my shoulder I opened my eyes and gazed blearily at Sciezka.

I slowly got back in my chair and we said our goodnights. Back at the cottage I flopped onto the bed after considerable effort and would have gladly slept in my clothes if Sciezka hadn't intervened. Somehow I got under the covers and slept deep and dreamlessly.

My back was still bothering me the next morning. I had woken up while it was still dark, in pain. I lay awake, eyes fixed on the ceiling until the first rays of sunlight crept through the window. Sitting up slowly and carefully I winced at each slight movement as I transferred to my chair. I was startled while deciding what to wear when Sciezka came up behind me and began massaging my back. I thanked her and leaned into her touch since it brought some relief. Finally deciding on loose pants and the sweater Sciezka had borrowed the night before I began the chore of getting dressed. I didn't bother shaving as we would be leaving shortly after breakfast. Once dressed, I packed my duffle bag and declared that I was ready as I would ever be to face the day.

Breakfast seemed to fly by even though I wanted it to last longer. I didn't know when we'd all see each other again.


 

Everyone gathered their things, the cars were packed and we all began to say our goodbyes. There was a sense of finality for all of us, and I hoped that soon Amestris would be sorted out and we'd be able to look back on the trip fondly as a good memory, followed by many more.

As we waited outside I announced that everyone was welcome at my house in Central whenever they were in town. I extended the invitation personally to Winry and the Elric brothers. They never wanted to impose on anyone, so I made sure they understood that I looked forward to their company.

Breda came over to Sciezka and me and shook my hand and as he hugged Sciezka said, "Make him behave."

She laughed and replied, "I'll try Heymans, though you're not one to talk about behaving."

Vato and Denika said their goodbyes and Denika joked as she said, "Jean, we will visit you in winter, to get warm."

I winked and replied, "Bring some of that vodka and you've got a deal."

I noticed that Winry and Feury had been kissing and that Winry was beginning to tear up. Breda, Falman and Denika, Feury and Ed, Al, Russel and Ling piled into the rental car bound for the train station. It was good that it was only a short trip as the car was packed. Ed had been tight lipped about their destination.

Roy and Riza's group was the next to head out. Winry rode in front between them while Doctor Knox tended to Lan Fan in the back seat. It had been decided that she would recuperate at Knox's house, and then Winry and Jim would treat her. Once back in Central Winry would return to Rush Valley to catch up on her work and design automail for Lan Fan.

Before I left General Grumman pulled me aside and said, "Keep an eye out for Riza for me. She doesn't tell me everything... doesn't want to worry an old man. She confides in you though, and I'm grateful for that."

Slightly shocked by his admission I said, "I'll do my best sir. She's always had my back."

He smiled and said, "On a happier note, good luck with your studies. If you need any help with that Military History course let me know. Hell, call anyway."

Smiling I answered, "I'll be sure to do that sir."

As he turned to go back into the house he said, "Give Madame Christmas and her girls my fondest regards. Oh... I will let the boys back East know just how well you are doing. They were concerned."

"Thank you sir," I said as I saluted. He was a good man to have in our corner. Upon further reflection I noticed many similarities between him and Riza.


 

For the ride home we had an extra passenger and the car was cramped. Gracia had insisted that Fletcher stay in Central with proper adult supervision instead of following his brother and Ed. The rain had made the roads a bumpy, rutted mess and each time the car was jostled it sent a fiery jolt of pain up my spine. I grit my teeth and was silent for fear that I would be short with someone again.

Sciezka and I were dropped off at my place and we hurried into the house. After putting down our bags in the bedroom Sciezka turned to me and said, "It looks like you have seen better days. Does it hurt much?"

I shook my head no and she cupped my chin and said, "You are a terrible liar. Get in the bath while I scrounge up some supper and then we'll go to bed."

Nodding weakly I said, "You're right, I'm horrible at lying. Thank you."

I'd already finished in the bathroom and crawled under the covers when she came back in. I took my pain and sleep medicine without complaint and settled in to sleep.

"What about dinner... aren't you hungry?" Sciezka asked softly.

"No, eat without me," I answered groggily.

She pulled the covers up around my shoulders and after eating something quick she came back into the bedroom and read her book. I barely stirred, even with the light on, but felt her calming presence next to me and thought to myself, "It's good to be home."