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Re:dex (Redux)

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Trisha Elric felt helpless in the grasp of reality. Somehow, by some higher power she had been given a second chance. And shouldn't she be happy? Her sons – her darling sons – were teenagers! And so changed! She often tried not to think about how long she was – dead. Such a cold word, she thought. The happiness of her sons was all that mattered even if she found herself thinking or even wishing she was dead. Truthfully, she was happy to be alive. Happy to see her sons grow up and become men. Yet, there was the sticky situation of getting her eldest to listen to her. Edward had been even as a child rebellious because of his curiosity. But now…now he was just rebellious. And she knew exactly who to place the blame on. Roy Mustang. How she could hate that man if she didn't know that he had tried his best. Or so her sources said. Her sources also said her child was rambunctious and did great property damage to everything. And last but not least, her sources said her son was well-off – had a bank fund and everything. But why was she not surprised in the least? Really, her son was so much like his father – ambitious, loving, dedicated, and so much more. She couldn't describe how much she loved him. Her youngest too, loving, generous, and so warm-hearted and he welcomed people with an air that wasn't too prideful. She loved both her sons evenly – and to her eldest she had to pay respect, he had raised his brother well. But her fear wasn't easily driven off, her fear that someday she would lose her two most precious treasures.

Roy Mustang knew that Trisha Elric wasn't impressed with him in the least. In fact, she seemed kind of disappointed. His subordinates had informed him that Trisha blamed him for Fullmetal's upbringing. If anyone should be blamed, it was Hughes. After all, wasn't he the one who had taken up the chance to raise the Elric brothers? Why, yes he had. Which was why he had almost died taking the bullet Envy shot him with to help them. His mouth twitched into a frown as he glanced down at his calendar. Meddling Hughes. He couldn't leave well enough alone could he? No, because he cared about his friends. And Roy wanted to be happy, he did – Roy knew - but did Hughes have to meddle in his affairs? It wasn't like he was at a loss for dates or anything. He had plenty, much more than Havoc ever would. (Or could?) But tonight was empty. Tonight he would go to the bar and get the latest information from Hughes, and they would drink. Later, he would return home and ponder what he was going to do about Edward Elric. Edward Elric, a conundrum, a lock that had no key. He wondered if he would ever find that key and unlock the boy – young man? - and find what was eating the kid up inside. Yes, to find that key would be one of the greatest achievements in his life. Truly, he did care for the boy, but if Fullmetal ever found out that little tidbit, they'd be back at square one and he really couldn't afford that. After all, he had big plans for the eldest Elric brother. And those plans could only be achieved with Edward's loyalty and help. And so, once he finished the rest of his paperwork, he would join Hughes in that wonderful bar and he'd be sure to get his advice. Right…after…he…finished…

The voice was smug. "Don't you think that this'll be the most perfect thing in the world? The Elrics won't know what hit them! In fact, they'll be so shocked they'll be unable to do anything at all!"

"But," another voice cut in, "Didn't you say the same thing twice?"

"Shut up! What does it matter anyways? You're just a hired hand. You have no opinions!"

"S-s-sorry…"

"And stop that stuttering, you imbecile! You look like an idiot!"

A quick nod and the "leader" settled back into his chair. "Soon, they will know what it means to lose absolutely everything. Soon, everything they had will be mine."

The man didn't laugh, but he grinned and stroked the chair's arm as he waited.

Edward moped about the house in silence for a time, turning this way and that andwondering what he should do. There were always books to look at – no, he'd read most of them anyways. Or perhaps he'd go take a walk down to that good restaurant? Then Al would want to come and as much as he loved his brother, he wanted some time alone to think. After a moment's thought he flopped into a chair, legs sprawling over the one arm, back against the other, and an arm over his eyes as the other dangled against the floor. Edward did his best not to stir when he heard footsteps in the living room;in fact, he didn't even twitch.

"G'way," he told the person standing at the edge of the chair.

The shadow continued to loom over. He sighed and rolled so he faced the interior of the chair and didn't look up.

"Brother?" How could he ignore that hurt voice? "Are you okay, Brother? You seem kind of pale."

"M'fine, Al. Tired is all."

"If you say so, Brother. But if you still don't feel good later, I'll have mom make you some tea."

"Don't need any tea. Like I said, I'm just tired."

Ed knew he was making Al worry, but he couldn't help it. He was agitated for no reason when he should be happy. His mother, restored to life by some miracle, he was curious but he wasn't going to question what the equivalence was. Ed thought perhaps it was because he returned Father to the gate? If it was true – then he had nothing else to give back. His leg, his arm, they were his. Al was human. They had their alchemy and their family. By chance of luck was this fairytale exchanged with his life? He truly wondered what the price had been. More years on his life? On their life? Someone else's? As much as he wanted to know, he would never go back to The Truth if he didn't have to. And he couldn't just ask his mother, could he? Or Al, or his father? He was stuck in a dilemma of huge proportions. He twitched once more on the couch and settled down as he sighed in aggravation. In the kitchen he could hear his mother on the phone and she seemed a little exhausted by the tone of her voice. Ed tried to listen in, but his mother's voice was too soft for him to hear anything other than a few words such as 'dinner' or 'time'.

"I think she's planning a get-together," Al mentioned casually and Ed tried hard not to laugh. Al always knew when he was trying to listen in on other conversations. "You aren't asking who it is."

"Should I be?"

"Yes," Al's voice was amused. "You should be, because you're not going to like it."

Edward tipped his head back over the arm again to stare at his brother.

"Who?"

Alphonse grinned. "I was just joking with you. I don't know who it is. Sorry, Brother."

"Cruel, just cruel," Ed muttered to Al.

As they sat in the silence of the room, Ed stared at the ceiling in contemplation. In any case, soon they'd know who was coming for dinner, and he wasn't going to worry about it in the least.

Mustang sat down his phone and penciled in 'dinner 7:30' in his planner. He tapped the pen on his desk as he thought. It had been what – three months, no four – since the coup, four months since Trisha was returned to the living and the Elrics regained their bodies. Four months since Trisha had despised him, or so he had thought. But a few minutes ago she had called him and asked him to come for dinner. She had also said she'd explain her reasons when he arrived. So, now, he would have to call Hughes and tell him their drinks would have to be moved to another night. He picked up the phone and dialed Hughes' number.

"Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes speaking."

"Hughes, it's me."

"Roy! Why this wonderful phone call? Did you want to hear about Elysia –"

"I can't go for drinks tonight. Trisha Elric asked me to come for dinner. And I'd like to know why."

"Hmm…" Hughes had quieted for a brief moment. "Well, Roy. I don't know what to tell you –"

"I'm not asking for advice, I'm telling you I'm going so I can find out why."

He heard Hughes laugh on the phone. "Okay then, Roy. Call me later and tell me how it goes. Perhaps Sunday will do for drinks?"

Roy glanced at his calendar and agreed with his best friend before he hung up. He glanced down at the paperwork stacked on his desk, sighed, and put the pen away before picking up his gloves and coat. As he passed Hawkeye he told her, "I'll finish the papers tomorrow, I have a meeting tonight."

"Yes sir," she agreed quietly before going back to work.

Fifty minutes later Roy was at the Elricsdoorstep, and Trisha was answering the door. "Thank you for coming," she gave him a slight smile. "I'm sorry if I seemed rude to you, I was just shocked at how my eldest acts now these days. He was always a trouble maker before, but now…" she let the sentence trail off.

"It's no problem,ma'am, I'm sure I would have felt the same way."

"That however," she began again, "is only the first half of the problem. The second half is this." Trisha led him to a doorway and pointed her slender hand at a chair in the other room.

'Oh' was his first thought, but Trisha was speaking again.

"He's been like this for quite a while. Moping, bored, antagonistic, depressed, I suppose the list could go on. I had hoped you might be able to help him."

Oh no, Roy thought. She can't possibly mean, but apparently she did. What had she heard that made her think he was the man for this job? Hughes would be better suited to this than him!

"I asked because I thought if you could get him riled up that he might cheer up."

Bait? His mind was incredulous and he almost laughed. However, instead of laughing like he wanted to, he agreed to Trisha's (insane) plan.

"I'll start dinner while you talk to him. Alphonse! Come help me please!"

Al stared at him for a moment when he reached his mother. Then he looked at his brother, back to his mother, to Roy and back again. Roy almost grinned as the youngest Elric shook his head and muttered, "good luck," to him.

Roy approached the young alchemist who seemed to be pouting in the chair.

"Hello, Fullmetal."

The boy nearly jumped out of his chair in shock. Golden eyes were wide with slight horror and surprise.

"You. Whata'ya want? Bastard." He tacked on for good measure.

"Your mother thought that it might help if you talked to me. So, why don't you talk instead of pouting like a five year old who doesn't get their way?"

Roy knew several ways to insult Fullmetal and get a nice reaction out of him. "So?" he asked again. "Or are you so scared that your mental functions shorted out?" Roy knew, just knew that somehow that short joke would provide an entertaining reaction.

He watched as Fullmetal ground his teeth together and snapped back, "Can't go five minutes without stabbing me with insults?"

Roy was delighted with this reaction, and proceeded to poke and prod some more at Edward's height and mental prowess. By the time dinner was ready, Edward was fuming and Roy swore he could see smoke rising from his head.

Dinner was a tense affair due to Fullmetal's foul temper after his prodding, and as much as Al tried to draw his brother into conversation, he was reproofed. Trisha seemed satisfied her son was no longer moping, or 'pouting' as he had entitled it. Hohenheim on the other hand seemed fed up with Edward's attitude in general, and Roy could see a storm was brewing. Fullmetal seemed to sense it as well, and Trisha was glaring at her husband, and was Al shifting closer to him? – he was!

As Al sidled closer Fullmetal seemed to lean forward across the table, and Hohenheim met him half way. Trisha sighed and stood, motioning him and her youngest son to the living room.

"I'm sure," she said dryly, "that we'll be much safer in here and still be able to hear their conversation."

"It gets dangerous?" he asked.

"Oh, sure," Al was agreeable. "Dad and Brother fight like the world's going to end. They get really angry and fed up and start yelling. I think it's because they actually like each other now."

"So…this is good for them?"

"Yes," Trisha agreed with Alphonse. "It's perfectly fine. Anything they break they can fix."

"Except for that antique vase, remember Mom? The one Brother threw at Dad's head?"

"If that's the case, I almost wonder why your brother never threw anything at my head. I got him steamed up enough for that."

Al donned a secretive smile. "It's partly because Brother at least has some respect for you. And the other half, well, I'm only guessing."

"And?"

"Oh, well, the office – yours – for the most part debated whether you acted like father and son, or a married couple."

Al paused, and Roy wanted to tear his hair out. "So?" he managed to ask between gritted teeth.

The boy shrugged and remarked casually, "They decided it was more like an old married couple."

"Did – or does - your brother know of this?"

Al's eyes got to be the size of saucers. "I don't know! It was what Breda and Havoc told me one afternoon when I overheard them discussing you and Brother!"

Roy twitched and stared at a wall for a few minutes. "Well. I know whose pay I'm not raising."

From the kitchen he could hear shouting and breaking dishes, but neither of the Elricsso much as twitched a muscle in their bodies. Al even yawned.

Roy happened to glance at a clock and his eyes got wide. Ten o'clock? Already? He had to be up early tomorrow!

"Excuse me, ma'am, Alphonse, but I have to go. I'm supposed to be at an early meeting in the morning." He smiled slightly.

"Oh!" Al exclaimed with shock. "I forgot! It's a Friday tomorrow!"

"It generally comes after Thursday. By the way, Mrs. Elric, I do need to speak to your eldest about his military career. If you could send him to my office Tuesday morning that would be perfect."

Trisha nodded and let him out of the house and as he walked to his car, he nearly shook his head. It seemed Fullmetal hadn't changed a bit.

Alphonse stared out the door after the Brigadier General. He had always liked the man, and tonight it had reinforced his thoughts. General Mustang was poised, polite, interested, and kind for the most part. He didn't do much without a reason. Smiling to himself, he stepped into the kitchen and called to his brother, "The Brigadier General just left. He said he had a meeting early tomorrow morning."

His brother stopped his arm movement, and looked at him. "Yes…?"

"He wants you to come in Tuesday morning to discuss your military career."

"What military career?"

Al sighed. "Just go talk to him. He was nice enough to ask instead of order – he can order you, you know."

"Shuddup, Al."

His temperamental brother seemed to be relenting however, and that meant he probably would go – an hour or two late. Al thought that was probably why the General hadn't set a specific time for his brother to come see him. Smart, Al added to his list. The General is also sneaky and maneuvering as well.

Within a moment, Al had run up the stairs and to his room where he locked the door tightly, and began to laugh. He had only told General Mustang about the office talking about his relationship with his brother because it had amused him, and he thought the man might be interested in what was going on. Apparently he was, because it looked as if the man might rip someone's head off.

A married couple, Al thought laughing. He had differed in opinion from everybody else. There was no familial relationship between those two. There was a bond though, and Al knew the darkest secret of his brother. Knew that his brother had been attracted to that man for some time and hadn't done a thing.

Al had only helped fast forward this process of them realizing that perhaps they didn't have to fight all the time – that they had something in common, something they could talk about - like he had done tonight with his mother and the General. He smiled. Everything was falling into place. Things were going exactly as he wanted them to and soon, his brother would find that he was wanted and cared for. And when that happened, Al could go and ask Mei out. But first, he'd have to call Winry and tell her that brother didn't like women. He cackled as he picked up the phone.

"Hey, Win, I have the biggest news!"

On (late) Tuesday morning, Edward sauntered into Mustang's office. He was smug, he was pretty sure the bastard would be aggravated by now. He had tried to stay in bed as long as possible, but with his brother and mother nagging him to get up, it hadn't worked so well.

So, he had sulked and dragged his feet all the way to the office. And the moment he had opened the door, the office had given him a strange look, and Hawkeye had given him another look that said, 'don't be difficult'.

He wouldn't be that difficult. In fact, he'd be a good boy today and see what the bastard wanted.

He banged Mustang's door open and shut it just as hard before plopping on the sofa.

"Yo, Bastard. What did ya need me for?"

"I wanted to talk to you about where you're going with your military career – if you're going to stay, or if you want to go."

"If I want to go?" Ed was actually stumped. Mustang was going to let him leave the military?

"You did accomplish your goals right, so you don't need the military anymore?"

"Well…I-I guess not." He wasn't hesitant and stumbling! Man up, he told himself. Otherwise the bastard's going to pull one over you.

"Unless you want to stay."

Did he want to stay? Well, no, not really. He'd be stuck wearing the damned uniform and he didn't like that one bit. He also didn't like being ordered around.

Yet…he could help people, make a difference. Not let incompetent soldiers get killed because they couldn't take care of a chimera or a rogue alchemist…was it worth it?

"Fullmetal?"

"Hold on!" he snapped. "I'm thinking!"

Mustang leaned back in his chair and Edward propped his head in his hand to think it through. Could he? Would he be able to? No, he wouldn't be able to put up with orders. He absolutely knew that he did want to help, but he couldn't do it if he was given orders.

"Hey, what does a civilian consultant do?"

The bastard leaned forward and pressed his hands to the desk. "It's basically what you are now. Under a single commanding officer, acting as part of the military and under military law, but also under your own power to do as you'd like handling the missions. Why?"

"I was just curious, is all."

Mustang looked at the desk. "The military always wants skills, and they will gladly take anyone who will work for them, however little."

"Hmm," Edward hummed beneath his breath.

"Why? Are you thinking of becoming one, because I don't think that'd work out very well because right now you are pretty much a civilian consultant."

"You'd be my commanding officer still, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I would still be your commanding officer. Besides curiosity, why did you ask?"

"Are you asking me why truthfully?"

He saw the man's eyebrow twitch upward with surprise.

"All right then, Fullmetal. I'll take the bait and answer your question. Yes, I'm asking you truthfully, because I am truly concerned about you and would like to know your position on what you're going to be doing with your future. If you're staying or going."

"Right. Okay. Thanks. I'll tell you why. Because at one point I was thinking of becoming one…but I really don't want to be part of it anymore."

Mustang nodded and pulled a piece of paper from the desk. "Sign at the bottom, it's your resignation papers. You'll be retired a few months from now."

Ed gave Mustang a snotty look. "A few months from now?"

Mustang just stared him down with that smirk, and Ed rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay. I'll take it!"

"It's too bad you're not staying, they'd be ecstatic if you did, but because you're not they're going to always pursue you." Mustang looked down and signed the paper before adding it to a stack that probably went to Hawkeye. "That's it, Fullmetal. You're dismissed."

Edward stood up and tossed a wave over his shoulder as he exited to the main office where his military friends were still staring at him.

"What the hell are you staring at me for? I didn't grow a second head, did I?"

"No, it's not that Boss…" Breda began.

"Winry Rockbell called," Havoc said. "And she said something very interesting and we were wondering if it were true or not."

Hawkeye seemed to sigh regretfully as the men abandoned their tasks to talk to Edward.

Ed's eyes narrowed. "What did she say?"

"It wasn't to us, but to Hawkeye, you know, the phones are loud so you can hear both sides of the conversation…"

"The point," Ed demanded.

"She said that you liked men."

The silence stretched on and on until Edward finally spoke. "And where did she get this idea?"

The men shifted on their seats. "Apparently your brother let something like that slip."

"It doesn't matter; I don't like men or women. In fact, I could probably care less about either."

"So," Fuery volunteered, "you're asexual?"

Ed thought it through. "Yes. I'm nonsexual."

"You're a brave, brave, kid." Havoc intoned. "At your age there was nothing more interesting than girls."

Ed smiled thinly. "Good for you, Havoc."

He shut the office door behind him and could hear Falman's whisper, "Did we offend him?"

Back at home, Edward pounced on his brother. "Why'd you tell Winry I liked men?"

"I thought it might be easier saying that than telling her you were asexual because then she'd try to get you to be heterosexual…"

"But if I'm homosexual she'll still try to change me!"

"But not as badly!"

Al was cheerfully optimistic about the whole situation, Ed thought with some annoyance.

"Don't do it again! She called Hawkeye and the whole office heard!"

"I didn't know she'd call Ms. Hawkeye. If I had known I wouldn't have said anything."

If he had known, Ed thought dryly, he would have told her not to say anything. He couldn't even really blame his brother. Al was simply trying to help him. And I can forgive him for that.

Ed gave his brother a quick hug. "Thanks, Al. It means a lot to me."

Al's eyes crinkled. "Not at all."

Ed was pouting again. Al knew this even without looking at his brother. He was quite adept at feeling his Brother's emotions. Why his brother was pouting was a whole 'nother story. Even he couldn't guess what his brother was thinking. Ed had become more remote in the last few weeks, whether it was because of his upcoming dismissal from the military or his pining – as much as Ed refuted it – for the Brigadier General. Al would guess but his brother was unpredictable so he could be way off base. Al chanced a glance out of the corner of his eye hoping to catch onto what his brother was thinking or pondering, but, well, he just sat there with that same pouty face he got when he was aggravated or irritated. Al had to resist laughing. He wondered how people could find his brother un-cute. His brother was very cute. He had Gracia and Winry to back him up on it. Speaking of cute, they should go have dinner with the Hughes's again soon. It would be nice to see Elysia again. "Brother," he asked. "Let's go have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Hughes sometime this week, yes?"

"Sure, we can do that, Al."

Food always got his attention. As Ed stared at him, he cocked his head and asked, "What are you thinking about?"

Al let a smile curve his mouth. "You and why you're pouting."

Ed blinked at him once and the pouty face came back.

"I'm not pouting!"

"Denial is never a good thing," Al teased his brother and Ed growled.

"Just what are you referring to?"

"Oh," Al said innocently, "Nothing much. I just wonder why you didn't tell – "

"Ow!" Al shouted in surprise as Ed whacked him on the arm and laughed.

"Serves you right for teasing me!"

"You didn't even know what I was going to say!" Al was pouting this time.

"I do! You were going to say something about Mustang! I know it!"

"I was not! I was going to ask why you didn't tell me that you were thinking of quitting the military earlier!"

"I thought you always knew." Ed lowered his head which Al took as his apology.

"Well, I didn't know if you were going to stay after…" he let the sentence hang, but his brother didn't grab the bait this time. "In any case, you're going to need to decide what you're going to do. That is, you will probably end up in the alchemy business right?"

"Right." Ed's confirmation of this didn't make Al feel any better as he had already known his brother's answer.

The clock continued to tick in the background. "So, what were you thinking about?"

Ed laughed and turned to face him. "Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked and got up walking away.

"That's not fair, Brother!"

"Life isn't fair," his brother's voice floated back to him from the kitchen serenely.

Al was going to throttle him. He started after his brother who was standing at the edge of the stove with a pot on it.

"Pasta again?" Al nearly groaned. Ed twisted his head around to get a good look at his younger brother.

"What's wrong with pasta?"

"We've had it so much lately!"

"Really?"

Really! Al thought to himself. Was his brother that clueless as to when they ate? He hoped not, because his brother certainly ate a lot. Enough for two at some points. Al snickered in his mind. It sounded like Ed was pregnant!

He burst out laughing and doubled over, holding his stomach, unable to contain his amusement. Clutching his sides, he could barely answer his brother when asked what was the matter. Al knew that if Ed ever found out, he was likely to be decapitated. Very decapitated. In a very painful way. He nearly chortled again at the image of Ed trying to decapitate him.

Dinner ended up being chicken when Ed burned the pasta. He had wrested his answer out of Al by chasing him around the house several times before tackling him to the floor.

And then they were both laughing. Ed hadgrinned down at his younger brother who was smiling back just as broadly and shook his head.

"Crazy."

"Mhmm." Al hadconfirmed.

Ed shook his head again and stood up, "Well, I guess we'll have chicken," he had said as he looked at the burned pasta.

"That's too bad." Al wasn't really sad about it at all. Who wanted pasta three times in a week anyways?

Ed seemed to sense the hidden sarcasm in the comment and turned another deadly glare on his brother and Al just held his hands up in a peace gesture.

Mustang sat next to his best friend in the bar, swirling his drink in his glass. "Maes," he began, "Have you heard from either Elric in the last few days?"

Maes stared at him for a moment, determining his mood. "Yes. They're coming over to have dinner tomorrow. Just the two of them."

"Ah."

"Are you worried about Ed, Roy?" Maes felt his smirk growing.

Roy shot him a look. "No, Fullmetal can take care of himself well-enough."

"But don't you care about him?"

"What are you getting at, Maes?"

"I'm just curious."

"You're never just curious. What do you really want?"

"Why do you think I want something?"

Roy blinked at him with an expression that said 'I'm not amused. Answer me or I'll be forced to do something I wouldn't like.'

"I'm just worried about him is all. He and Alphonse both have had a rough time and they've handled it spectacularly well for being kids. I'm just surprised their mother hasn't forbidden them from leaving the house."

"They act like a real family again. I saw it. The boys are happy, and I couldn't be happier for them. I just feel uneasy is all. Plus you're always saying I should trust my gut."

"Yes, and you're an idealist."

Another Roy look. Maes couldn't help taunting his friend. "I know you like looking after the Elrics, you've done it for so long. I wonder how you're going to cope if they decide to move back to Risembool?"

"I wouldn't worry," Mustang said dryly. "There they'd be far away from any dangers that I could potentially get them into."

"Even if that's the case, you won't have that to worry about for much longer. Ed's leaving the military."

"Yes. I'm glad he is. He shouldn't be in the military. It doesn't suit him."

"You respect him." Maes didn't marvel at this insight, it wasn't like either was so different.

Both were idealists of sorts, and they had their reasons for being so. Roy had achieved most of what he had desired and Ed's idealism, well, that was one of the more complicated things Hughes was planning on working out.

Roy seemed to instantly know what he was thinking about, if the look he was getting - serious and interested - was anything to go by. "Don't even try to figure out Fullmetal. He has his own code."

"You know," Maes added on the side, "You're going to have to start calling him 'Edward' soon, because he won't have his state name anymore."

Roy's mouth didn't move an inch. "And that is when I will. For now he is still a subordinate under my command and, therefore, I'll call him by his proper title."

Maes snorted into his drink with amusement. "What a load of crap! Roy, I'm in the military and we still use first names. You call the rest of your subordinates by their first names when you're all off duty. Why are you so distanced from Ed?"

"I'm not distanced!"

"What did I say about denial, hmm?"

Roy sighed, gave up, relaxed, and truly smiled at his friend. "It was nice to talk again, Hughes."

Eyes narrowed, Maes analyzed his friend some more. Roy was relaxing – he hadn't drunk that much alcohol yet – and seemed at ease, even friendly. That could be potentially dangerous, and if Roy was feeling picky today, well, then there was certainly something he could do home alone since his lovely wife and adorable daughter were having a girls night out.

As Hughes ordered another whiskey, Havoc wandered up to them grinning. "Hey, ." He greeted his superiors with a slight salute.

"Havoc." Roy didn't seem interested in entertaining his subordinate tonight.

"Did you hear thatHawkeye's got a date tonight? She was talking to Winry about it after work."

"Riza's got a date?" Maes had something else to poke his nose into.

"Yeah, apparently."

"Grumman's going to go nuts. She's his precious granddaughter. I pity the poor fellow who's taking her out. Who is it by the way?"

"Some guy from over in security. John something."

Hughes eyebrows did a dance on his forehead as he glanced at his best friend.

Roy waved his fingers telling him to be off.

But first Maes turned to Havoc, "Be sure to get him out of here reasonably sober. If he comes into work tomorrow looking like crap, Hawkeye'll stack up more work on him."

Hughes gave another cheerful smile and Havoc sat in his vacated seat.

"So, Chief, I saw the Boss yesterday shopping with his and Al at his side. It was quite adorable. He acted like a rabbit when he saw me though – he ran the other way as fast as he could. I didn't know he was so skittish about being seen in public."

"I think it had more to do with that you saw him shopping than anything else."

Havoc grinned and ordered his beer. As he sipped it he said, "The Boss has in general been very nervous lately. I thought he'd be happy to be getting out of the military."

Roy looked at Havoc. "Jean," he said and then swore softly in his mind, Hughes' comment coming to mind, "I'd hope he was happy. It was his decision after all."

"But, why would he be nervous?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask him?"

Havoc gave him an 'are you crazy?' look. "If I do, he's likely to kill me!"

"I highly doubt that, Jean. Fullmetal likes you as far as I was aware. He likes you all, I believe."

Jean looked at his commanding officer with something like amusement. "We know. He doesn't say it, but he shows it more often than not. Fixing things, helping out…the list goes on. What I really can't understand is why you hate each other."

"Hate is a strong word, Havoc."

"Then how would you describe it?"

"What's with all this philosophy tonight? Both you and Hughes – there's not a conspiracy going on, now is there?"

"Not as far as I was aware." Havoc's grin sent chills down his spine.

They both sat in silence for the next ten minutes and it was broken when Roy spoke. "We benefit mutually from one another. I wouldn't call us friends and we don't have any deeper relationship, so, acquaintances?"

"A little more than that, I should think, Chief. Al told me that you and Ed did get along somewhat when you had dinner with them. You're friends, and both you and he are denying it."

"Thank you for your input, Jean."

"You're welcome!" the cheerful man lit his cigarette and attempted to get the waitress to come closer.

Some people were just helpless to temptation, Roy thought.

The morning of Ed's resignation dawned far more quickly than he had anticipated. And as Ed showered, he thought back to the dinner he had had with Hughes and his family.

"Ed," the man's voice was soft, he had pulled him aside to talk to him privately, "I think you and Roy should talk it out."

"What out?" he had asked. Hughes had shaken his head and replied,

"You should know. But if you truly don't, I'll tell you. You both benefited greatly from working together. And I know you both respect each other, don't deny it, and I think you should continue to work together. Now that you're out of the military you have the chance to become friends and another alchemist to look over your theories – "

"Hughes," Ed tried to interrupt.

"Think about it Ed, that's all I'm asking. Think about it."

Hughes had left it at that and they'd taken their coats off the rack and thanked Gracia for the meal, hugged Elysia good-bye and trudged home.

Al had asked what Hughes had said to him and when Ed repeated the conversation to his brother, Al had just nodded but didn't say anything for once.

"You're not going to say anything?"

"Why should I? Mr. Hughes covered it all."

"You agree with him?"

"Yes I do. Because we may work well together but having another experienced alchemist see our notes will be very helpful. Please ask him for us, Brother."

Ed knew he couldn't refuse his brother. He stroked his hands through his hair smoothing shampoo in and relished the feeling of water cascading down his body. As he climbed out the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, he scrubbed the fog away from the mirror and leaned close to see the red high in his cheeks. Scowling, he scrubbed at it with his hand and when it still didn't go away, he dropped his hand to his brush and began combing out his hair. Thankfully, his hair wasn't tangled and it didn't take long to brush.

Bathroom run done, toast buttered, shoes on, he was ready to head out. Al waved good-bye to him from the front window and Ed lifted his hand in turn before he turned the corner. Around the corner he stepped up his pace to a fast walk.

Even if he didn't have automail anymore, he still didn't like being stared at, it made him nervous. His walk to work was never very far, twenty minutes at the shortest, forty at the longest, and today it took him thirty-three; he counted, because this would be the last time he'd be walking this way for work. He shouldn't feel sad about this, he reprimanded himself. It was a good thing that he was getting out of the military. He didn't need them anymore. Goal achieved. And Mustang certainly didn't need him anymore. He was almost at his goal.

It was then he remembered his promise to Mustang to return the money. Well, he thought, you're not getting it yet! He snickered and hell, he was starting to sound like Al! Ed thought I need to man up some - not that Al wasn't manly, he was (taller that is), and take ahold of his mind and make it cooperate with him, not go off in any direction it so chose. Which it seemed to be doing lately. Well, soon he'd be at work and there'd be nothing left for him to do besides relax until he turned eighteen, and then he could go find a suitable job somewhere.

Havoc was the one who greeted him at the door and swept the inner door open as well, joyful for some odd reason. He hated to ask but… "Did something good happen last night?"

"Why, yes! Thank you for asking! I'm going out on a date tonight!"

"Congratulations," Ed smiled at his friend. "I'm happy for you."

Ed entered the Brigadier General's room and closed the door. "Hey." He told the man behind the desk.

"Hello." The man replied and turned a paper towards the young man who read it quickly.

Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist…honorable discharge for exemplary service….

Well, he thought, I don't know if it was exemplary, but I did serve.

"You just need to sign the bottom line." He was told.

Ed picked up the pen and scribbled his signature in blocky writing.

Mustang picked up his own pen and scribbled his own below it, making sure to date the form before putting it into a small pile.

"Your watch," the man reminded him.

The silver was heavy in his hand as he passed it to Mustang. But when he let go of it, he didn't feel any metaphorical freedom, he just felt relief at not having to take commands from anyone anymore.

"What'll happen to the watch?"

"It'll be melted down to just silver and a new watch will be made from it."

"It's not going into a museum? I am famous after all!"

He almost got a laugh out of the man whose lips twitched upwards. "No. Congratulations Edward. You're a free man."

Ed grinned. "And it feels –"

He was interrupted as the phone rang. Mustang held up one hand, then closed all but one finger, singling him to wait that he'd only be a minute.

"Hello? Brigadier General Mustang speaking."

He watched as Mustang nodded, then saw his face go slightly pale. He nodded once. And replied sharply. "I'll do my best. Yes. Thank you. Good-bye."

Mustang looked up at him. "I think I'm going to need your help again. I'll pay you."

The dead serious look almost scared Edward, but he swallowed and asked, "What do you need?"

"Yesterday a person was murdered. They were working on a secret project for the military. It has to do with alchemy and not that many alchemists even knew of it. I was one of the few. In fact, I'd heard of them from your brother. But I'm afraid one of them killed."

Ed's mouth opened alchemist – as in free-lance, it wasn't "It's not -?"

"Russell Tringham was brutally murdered."

Ed's first thought was 'Russell?' and then 'Good!' but after a seconds thought the good turned to, 'That's really not good.'

"What about his younger brother, Fletcher?"

"He's on a train bound for here at this moment. He'll be arriving late this evening. I hope you'll be there to meet him at the station and bring him to this address." The man wrote down something on a scrap of paper and handed it over the desk. "Thank you. I know I just released you but –"

"I'm doing it because Russell was a friend. I'd do it even if you hadn't asked for my help."

Mustang's mouth raised in a slight grin.

"And I don't need to be paid. Think of this as a gift or something, Mustang."

The man's mouth twitched up into a grin and he nodded, pleased with the kid's reaction.

"I'll see you later then, Edward. Remember, if you tell Alphonse, tell him that he can't say anything to anyone else."

"I will. See ya."

Ed didn't see Mustang staring at the door long after he left, all Ed could think of was Fletcher. Poor kid, he was probably in his darkest moments, contemplating the worst things in life, suicide or revenge maybe? Fletcher was only a kid – about eleven or twelve perhaps. Ed knew the despair of losing a sibling, and he knew he had to help Fletcher.

As he nudged his way into the house he nearly ran into his mother.

"Mom," he smiled. He was doing that more lately, he noticed. "Hey. I was just looking for Al."

"He's in his room, darling."

"Thanks!"

He headed up the stairs, thumping his foot on the top step as he moved too quickly. He swore and dashed into Al's room.

"I've got bad news!" he declared.

Ed's voice got low and conspiratorial.

"Russell Tringham was murdered yesterday. I have to pick Fletcher up at the station and bring him to Mustang later. You can't come, but I wanted to let you know."

"No!" Al whispered. "It's not possible!"

"But it is."

Eyes lowered Al sat still. "Poor Fletcher."

"Yeah. Poor Fletcher."

The Elrics were silent for quite a while and then Al spoke again. "So, are you discharged from the military?"

"As free as a bird."

"Some birds aren't free!"

Al's comment started a wrestling match which he won. "Surrender!" he laughingly teased his brother. "Surrender or I'll tickle you!"

Ed shrieked with laughter, but his mind was on much more pressing issues than playing around with Alphonse.

He picked up a subdued, un-cheerful Fletcher at the train station at about ten thirty-eight. The boy was beyond quiet, walking so silently next to Ed that the older boy had to constantly check to see if he was there.

Ed nudged him in the shoulder. "The guy you're going to see, answer all his questions no matter what. He's a good-guy, I promise."

Fletcher looked up with dead eyes. "Okay." Then he looked down again. Gently Ed draped his arm around Fletcher's shoulders. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I wish I could do something…but this pain won't fade. Not in the least. Not until you learn to deal with it, and eventually you will."

"I don't have any family."

"Sure you do, you have us. Al and me. We're your family."

Ed glanced down at the address in his hand and looked up at the house number. This was it. This was the Bastard's house. He felt the heat in his cheeks and wished it would go away as he knocked. Of course Fletcher had to look up at this moment and his head was looking to the side. "Do you like this person?" he was asking as the door opened "'Cause Brother always blushed when he had a crush on somebody."

Fletcher may have been cute, but he'd be joining his brother soon if he didn't but a sock in it.

When he managed to get some of his blushing under control, he looked up at Mustang and said, "I brought him."

Mustang was looking very relaxed – but didn't he always? – yet now, he was comfortable and seemed to be slightly amused. He was wearing black slacks and an un-tucked white shirt with multiple buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up. Compared to him, Ed thought, I look like I just got out of a workout! Ed's khaki's and simple black t-shirt seemed to be dusty and dirty.

"Good. Come in. Both of you." He greeted them.

He stepped inside Mustang's house for the first time and looked around. It was a nice place, modernized yet at the same time had a very antique feel to it.

"We'll go talk in the living room," the man said and nodded to a door further down the hallway. Ed and Fletcher left their shoes and coats at the doorway and padded down the hallway after Mustang.

The living room was cozy, a big fire raging in the fireplace, a large sofa that could easily fit four, and two comfortable looking chairs with a table between them. There was also a large shelf of books on one wall, and next to the sofa there was a small coffee like table that held file folders that Mustang had apparently been going through.

"Would you like anything to drink?" he asked.

They both murmured they'd like some water. When Mustang came back he was carrying a tray with two glasses of water, wine for himself, and a plate of…sandwiches.

Mustang shrugged as he caught Ed's inquiring glance.

"I thought Fletcher might be hungry."

Fletcher thanked him and picked up a sandwich.

Mustang leaned back in his chair and continued to speak. "Now. Fletcher, I know it's going to be tough, but I need the details of the days before your brother's murder and anything that might be relevant to why he died. Can you do that for me?"

Fletcher nodded.

"Who knew about your research?"

Fletcher swallowed his bite and replied, "Some Generals in the military, a couple scientists, but they're being detained, my brother and I."

"Is there any possible way that someone else found out?"

Fletcher shrugged. "I don't know. My brother and I never said anything to anyone and the Generals – I don't know them. The two scientists and I got to know each other. They could have let something slip though."

"I'm one of the Generals and General Hammand is the other. We didn't say anything, so one of your scientists did. Where are they currently?"

Ed dropped in on the conversation. "It doesn't have to be them. Was the factory tapped?"

"I wouldn't know."

Mustang paused and looked at Ed. "You think it was tapped?"

Ed nodded. "Yeah, if you look at it like I am, then one of the scientists, even you or your brother may have been tagged with a bug and it could have fallen off, Fletcher. Were there any visitors?"

"Tons."

"Are there any records?" Mustang interjected.

"Not many, but there are a few."

"I'll need those."

Fletcher nodded. "I think…my brother and I were actually getting somewhere with our experiment. But after Brother's death, well, I destroyed it. It's not worth it anymore. It may be a great thing, this plant alchemy, but if people are going to fight over it…"

"That was a good decision. Did you destroy the notes?"

"I burned them all to ashes."

For the next few hours both Ed and Roy quizzed the young boy on what he knew, what he saw and what he heard and by the end of it they were no closer to any actual answers.

Sighing, Roy tugged on the ends of his hair and stood up. "I have a guestroom and Fletcher is welcome to spend the night. If you would like to sleep on the couch you're welcome to it. It is –" he looked at the clock, "-almost two thirty. I don't want to let you walk home at this hour."

"I'd be fine even if I did."

"I'd appreciate it if you gave me peace of mind and spent the rest of the night here."

Ed pouted for a moment before saying, "I need to call Alpho-my mother then."

"The phone's in the hallway."

Ed picked up the phone and discussed the sleeping arrangements with his mother, and in the background he could hear Al yell, "Have fun!" And "Becareful!" he snarled and hung up.

Mustang had deposited the blankets on the sofa and Ed settled down to sleep.

Mustang was a good host; he made breakfast for the three of them and didn't complain – much – when Ed proceeded to gobble up most of his food. Fletcher was quiet and ate very little, mostly just picking at his food in silence.

"Fletcher, what are you thinking about?" Ed's concern didn't stem from true concern, he was concerned, but more about what Fletcher would do to mess up the investigation.

Fletcher raised his head. "What I'm going to do now. I don't have any living family members, not with my dad and mom being dead."

"Any relatives?"

"None that I know of." Fletcher was subdued.

Roy spoke up, "Social Services – a part of the military – will come get you. You'll then be placed in a temporary home until they can find somewhere permanent to place you."

Ed was about to open his mouth, but Mustang shook his head. "There's not much of a choice. The military has cracked down on what you call orphans and all of a sudden they care about the children in Amestris."

Roy and Edward didn't get out of the house until after a good three hours, during which there were twelve chess games, eight checker games, four arguments, and one social service worker who picked up Fletcher.

After Fletcher had left Mustang nodded to Ed and said quietly, "I'm going to send Havoc and Falman out to investigate the actual scene of the crime – that way we'll know what's actually going on. You will stay here – you hear that? – because you're not military and if you get injured there's no telling the grief I'm going to get from the people who care about you."

Edward scowled. "I'm not going to get injured."

Mustang gave him that face.

Ed grumbled a bit more kicked the floor petulantly and then stubbornly agreed like it was his idea all along. Roy just gave him a blissful smile.

"And what will you be doing?"

"What I normally do, paperwork."

Ed sniffed and exited the house without a backwards glance and got to the edge of the street before the older man caught up with him. The two of them walked in companionable silence for a few minutes before Roy spoke.

"Are you okay?"

Edward gave him a confused look. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Wasn't he your friend?"

Ed shrugged. "Not really. I knew him, we were acquaintances but we never got along. Alphonse was more like a friend to them."

Roy shuffled his feet slightly and sighed. "Well, I'd been coming from the angle that it might have been related to you."

"To me?"

Roy wondered why the boy was so confused. It wasn't as if he didn't know that people were out to get him!

"You stepped on quite a few toes when you were in the military. A lot of people are still angry at you. I'd be careful if I were you."

"If I stepped on toes, they deserved it."

That was a cheerful thought. The boy certainly had his own brand of justice - and charm.

Roy felt his shoulders shake in a laugh. Edward wasn't the least bit sorry about it. He worked for results and if those results were at odds with everybody else then in Ed language – fuck them – and just find a different way around the problem.

That still didn't solve their current problem of why the Tringham's were killed. Despite what Fletcher had said Mustang knew that their project wasn't that important – nothing that would get him killed.

So, what was it then? Roy had pondered this from multiple angles and he was falling short besides the one obvious connection – the Elric brothers.

He hated to admit it to himself and Edward, but he was quite sure the boy was wrong and this had everything to do with him. All he had to do was prove it.

Upon reaching Ed's street, Roy put out an arm to stop him. "I know you think it's all unconnected to you, but I'm positive it is. I'm going to find that evidence."

"When you prove it come find me." The brat said smugly with delight. "Until then I'll be working the case from the accurate angle."

Roy felt his teeth grinding together and had the strange urge to bash the kid over the head – and realized Ed must have felt like this for years.

Sighing, Roy trudged back towards the military complex more than a bit confused about his reaction. Even if somebody were after Ed, why should he worry? The boy could very well hold his own in a fight.

So, where was this protective instinct coming from? Roy wasn't sure that he wanted to know the answer to that question anytime soon.

As he worked his way through military corridors towards the records room he thought up keywords to unsolved murders that might be linked to his youngest former subordinate.

He settled on 'unsolved', 'alchemy', 'transmutation', 'murder', 'experiment', 'no suspects' and 'brutal' in hopes that something would appear.

His first stop was the unsolved murder's case files. The section was large enough that it warranted its own room. Once he had retrieved the key from the clerk he looked for the section with murder. The boxes of files took up two walls, three shelves deep, and some of them were so large that Roy wondered what he was doing. With a precise movement he studied the labeled signs above looking for 'no suspects'. When he had found that, a wall of those - who knew that there were so many unsolved cases in Amestris – he realized his task was going to be a bit harder than he imagined. He'd have to look at each and every box for 'brutal' and 'alchemy'. If the file didn't contain either of those things, he was at a loss.

Roy took a deep breath and started at the end. Almost two hours later he was barely past half way through and had pulled out two boxes that were potentially promising. It was about here that Hughes found him.

"Hughes!" Roy spied his victim. Maes for once looked trapped as he glanced about the room.

"Roy, what are you doing?" As Hughes as the question he moved steadily towards the door.

"Another gut instinct that Russell's murder wasn't the first."

Hughes stopped. "You think there were earlier ones?"

"I'm almost sure of it. I vaguely remember things in the paper from years ago when Edward had just joined the military, hmm, he would have been about thirteen or fourteen."

"He'd have already had time to get in trouble," Hughes remarked grimly.

Roy nodded and as the two friends stared at the boxes, Hughes sighed. "I'll start at that end and hopefully we'll be able to make a dent. What are you looking for?"

"Brutal in conjunction with alchemy." Roy pointed at the boxes he had already pulled from the shelf. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were more."

The two men managed to finish when the chime for the seven o'clock shift boomed through the base. Roy yawned and stretched his body out. It was way past lunch and he was starving.

The men looked at the stack of boxes they had compiled – ten in total and nearly groaned. There was still work to be done and as the boxes couldn't be taken from the room, they had to finish now. The clerk who was currently on duty peered around the door and spoke timidly, "There's someone here to see you…"

Maes and Roy watched as Edward stepped into the room closing the door behind him.

"I thought about it," he announced, "And decided that you were probably right, Mustang. So, I came to help."

Maes' relief was tangible. "I'm going to go home to my family then, Roy." He smiled at Ed. "Good luck."

Ed waved good bye and took Hughes' spot. "So, where were you?"

"I believe these ten boxes are related to the murder of Russell Tringham."

Ed's eyes took them in and he nodded as he read the labels. "We'll each do five, then regroup and discuss what we found."

Ed pulled the first box towards him and dove in.

1913 – March

The victim was found by a passerby in an ally way. Originally suspected to be a robbing, it turned out the victim was delivering supplies to a military laboratory working on something confidential. The lab couldn't positively say that the victim was working for them or if he was a simple delivery boy, but it was believed that he may have been a bit of both according to his friends who said he had gotten very secretive in the past few months. They said that he often talked about the Fullmetal Alchemist and his research. When we asked if he had ever spoken with him, the answer was a negative. Fullmetal was apparently just an idol to him – someone he aspired to be. It was also known that he practiced simple alchemy…

….throat slit, body mauled….left to decay…eaten by rats…no suspects…no witnesses….

Ed rolled his eyes and tossed it to the side, it wasn't exactly what happened to Russell, but it was close.

He opened the next one – from the same year, but this one was exactly what happened to Russell that it was scary, and when he looked at the name he felt physically sick. He had worked with this man, this man had helped him and he had been killed because of it!

He hurried through the rest of the files, but nothing else turned up. Most of it seemed to be alchemy gone wrong that was categorized as murder. He would have to notify the clerics of this.

He looked over at Mustang who had laid two files to the side and it wasn't until they put them together that they saw the patter.

1913.

1914.

1915.

"Crap," Ed muttered softly. "Every single one of these people worked for me – had information about my studies. Someone wants that information again."

Roy grimaced. "It's going to be tough to keep you safe if that's the case…"

The two stared into space and their minds began to run wild…

The man was frowning. How had they caught on so soon? He'd been hoping he'd have a bit more time before the kid figured it out. He sighed. If the boy hadn't been so close lipped about his studies and the philosopher's stone then none of this would have happened. Or those strange people who had come to him and at first helped him before they learned he wanted to kill the twerp. Then they did everything imaginable to protect the kid. He grumbled about this for a bit before he gave up. Well, then there was only one thing left to do – right? But it'd have to wait – they'd have to let their guard down first. Then he'd pounce.

Edward shifted his weight uncomfortably on chair in Mustang's living room. He wasn't uncomfortable to be in the house, it was the fact that he was alone with Mustang in his house that made him nervous. Of course he'd heard the rumors, knew that Mustang liked women, but he hadn't tried anything before, had he?

Ed felt his face heat up with embarrassment. He couldn't have a crush on Mustang – could he? And if he did, how long would it last? Crushes did go away, he knew this.

The man in question sauntered back into the room to talk to him about the procedures for his protection.

"First off, I'm going to need a list of everyone you worked with while you were in the military. And second, we need to organize a guard so that they don't get to you either."

Roy handed him a pen and a piece of paper and Ed began writing down all the names he could remember before returning both to Roy.

"You may have to ask Al the rest, because truthfully, I didn't pay that much attention to who I worked with."

"That's the other thing, they probably aren't targeting your mother or Alphonse, but we're not going to take any chances. He and your mother will be sent to Risembool with several guards so they're out of danger. And they'll be trusted guards, hand-picked by Hughes."

"And you're positive they're not targeting him?"

"No - they may be, but it's really you they're after. If he's in the way then they might try to hurt him, but if he's out of the way…"

"You think he's less likely to get hurt."

Edward sighed, and tapped his hand against the cushion of the sofa as he waited for the man's response.

"Yes, that's right. Edward, we need to think of where you're going to stay under guard. It's too hard at a hotel, there's way too many ways for you to get hurt. And you can't stay at your house either, that'll only get you hurt. Is there somewhere you can go that's easy to protect?"

"No…not at all."

"You can stay here with me. And I'd be able to help keep you safe but if that's too big a job, you don't have to."

Edward sneered at the jibe. "As long as you don't order me around we should be fine."

Roy's mouth twitched in amusement. "Well, now is the time to tell your mother and brother."

"Aren't we forgetting my father?"

"I'm simply assuming he's going to do whatever he wants no matter what we tell him, am I right?"

Edward lifted one shoulder helplessly. "Yeah."

"Then there's no need to worry about him. Call your house and talk to them. Ask your brother to pack some clothes for you and bring them here." Roy paused, thought, "Actually, have them all pack their clothes and come here. I'll have their military escorts meet them here and travel to the train station with them. That way I know they'll be together."

The phone was ringing and ringing and,

"Hello?"

"Ah, hi, Mom. Can I talk to Al?"

"Of course, Edward, but where are you?"

"I'll explain after I talk to Al."

He heard the phone being put down and his mother calling to Al that he had a phone call.

"Brother?"

"Hey, Al. I need to talk to you about something and I don't want any arguments about it. If Mustang and I are right, there could be more to Russell's murder than we previously believed. But if that too is true, then we have a really big problem and we need to get you and Mom out of Central as soon as possible."

He could hear Al's breathing from the other line then,

"What do we need to do?"

When Ed hung up, he turned to Mustang. "Now what?"

"We wait."

The boy scowled. "I don't want to just wait – we should do something, get ahead, start warning other alchemists – "

The man looked at Edward seriously. "You don't understand do you?"

"What do you mean?"

"He's killed once this year already, he won't kill until next year."

"Then why are we doing this?" Ed asked as he waved his hands around.

"We're doing this because he could be stalking you. And if he believes your family is out of the way, then he'll solely focus on you."

"But that means – "

"Yes. It means you can't see your family often, if at all. It'll get too dangerous if he really is having you followed."

Ed pressed his palm to his forehead and ground it in, thinking. "I want to know that they're going to be safe no matter what."

"You know Brosh and Ross will take care of them. You trust those two, right? And any men they pick will be just as good."

Edward's body slumped in relief as he looked up at the man. His lips didn't move, but his eyes told the man that he was grateful for picking those two.

"Now hold on while I call…"

They were all grouped in Mustang's living room – staring at each other quite warily. His mother didn't like the idea of leaving her eldest son in the man's claws; she may have gotten to like him somewhat, but it didn't mean she trusted him enough to leave her son here. And besides that, how was she to know that - what were their names? – oh yes, Maria and Denny were not going to betray them.

But Alphonse seemed to know and like them, so she supposed that they were okay if her son liked them. Edward seemed to like them as well.

But with Edward, one never really knew what he was thinking about doing. She remembered she used to be able to tell what he was going to do next to a point, but now…now she could hardly understand him. She was always brought back to the fact that her son had changed so much in the course of the time she had been gone.

Roy Mustang, on the other hand, seemed to be able to predict with uncanny certainty exactly what her son might say or do next. When he passed her he whispered that it was only because he knew the teenage Ed better than she did.

The truth, she thought, was that she wished that they weren't doing this. She could understand if he was killing, but stalking? If he wouldn't touch them, couldn't they just stay here for the rest of the year until time came again and then leave?

But the man denied this. He said a routine needed to be established. A routine that they would stick to and itcouldn't include them. It was when he mentioned that it was a bit like Ed was baiting the man that she spoke up.

"I can't let you do this then! If you're baiting him, what happens if he catches you or tries to kill you?"

"That's what I'm here for. That's what my men are here for. We'll be around him at all times so that he's not left alone. And I don't think he's going to try and make any moves on your son for a couple of months yet, but I'd rather be safe about it."

This really didn't make her feel any better about the whole thing. In fact, it made her nervous to the extent that she almost couldn't breathe.

If he let her baby get hurt…her eyes narrowed at him and he gave her a little smile before motioning everyone up and out of the house, ushering them towards the cars that would take them to the train and to Risembool.

Al held her arm as they stepped into the car. She turned to see her eldest son leaning against the door jamb. And as if he felt her looking at him he raised his hand and waved at her. Al waved back, grinning before air bumping the air, and Ed repeated his action.

Her youngest turned around and spoke quietly in the car. "Whatever they're having us do, they're doing it for a reason. They think it's safer, and Brother would only want to protect us. Protecting me has always been his first priority. That isn't going to change."

It didn't make Trisha feel any better about the fact that she was leaving her son behind, but she could accept his reasoning.

They pulled up to the train station and got out, but as they got out she thought she noticed a strange man lurking in the shadows, but when she looked again he was gone. They've worked me up so much that I'm seeing things now she thought. When we're on the train I'll feel better. But even on the train she didn't feel better, and as they left the platform that heavy feeling began to lift and even Al who had seemed positive in the car had faded for a while before the train left.

He shook his head at her. "It's okay. We're just stressed and nervous about this. Everything is going to be fine."

Even though he patted her hand, he seemed nervous still.

Maria smiled at them kindly. "I had to do this once too, but with no communication. We'll call them when we arrive at Risembool and you all will feel better then. You'll know your son is still safe even if you can't see him."

This did make her feel a little better, but it didn't lift the suspicion that there was something wrong. Something that they weren't being told.

When she mentioned this to Al he shook his head again and denied her any suitable answers.

She frowned at him and he turned his head away; it seemed to be in something other than embarrassment, however.

"I am sorry," he whispered to her. "But if you know more than the basics you could be in big trouble. Brother and I will try to protect you as long as possible. Mustang will as well…but please try not to ask so much it could put us all into a lot of trouble if you did."

Trisha stared at her son hard. "I just want to know – "

Al's shoulders heaved up and down. "Brother has gotten so used to working with just me, that he often doesn't take in consideration for others around him. That's why he's planned it the way he has. He's simply doing what he's good at."

Irritation wanted to bloom in her breast, but she couldn't let it. She had to admit, Ed who used to charge at things head on seemed to have gained a semblance of coherence in his planning. She wondered if that too was part of Mustang's doing. She settled back in the train and began to watch the passing scenery without too much interest.

A nap would be good and hopefully by then she'd feel better. She stirred in her seat as she was going to sleep, and she dreamed terrifying dreams of monsters who didn't die, of her sons dying, and she shuddered hoping that it was just what she remembered of their story…

Roy now knew where Edward got his passion for family from. When Edward's mother had narrowed her eyes at him, he had seen the similarities between mother and son. He touched the top of Edward's head as he watched the car disappear. He wanted to tell the kid that everything would be okay, that everything would work out, but not even he was certain of that.

"Come back inside," he spoke softly, "and you can unpack in the guest room."

Ed turned away from him and slid under his arm heading into the house. "Okay,"

The boy was subdued, worrying for his family Roy surmised and in a way he felt guilty, guilty that he had caused the vibrant boy to dim so much. He knew that no matter the case, Edward was as unlikely to forgive him for this even though he accepted it simply because it was causing his family pain. And he more than knew how Edward felt about family.

He heard the boy tromping up the stairs, and the closing of a door and the undeniable snick of the lock. He turned towards the kitchen so he could make some more coffee and hopefully after that the boy would have fallen asleep.

Ed, however, did not do what Roy had thought he was going to do. The young man was still up, his nose in a book, but apparently no worse for the wear. It was as if the entire problem didn't exist at all.

"Edward." He called from the doorway. Ed gave him a brief glance before ignoring him and returning to his book.

"Edward," Roy began again. "You have to get a job. So, tomorrow you are going to look for one. I don't care what it is, but you need something that keeps you out of the house and busy."

Ed sniffed and didn't look up from the book. "Edward. Look at me."

Edward looked up glaring. "What?" he hissed.

"Did you hear me?"

"I heard you loud and clear. I'm busy though – reading through my old notes."

"I'll help then. Give me one."

Ed eyed him before handing over one of the many journals stacked on the floor.

When Roy opened one, he realized they were more like diaries than actual notebooks.

"Did you give me your diary by mistake?"

Edward glanced over at the book Roy held and shook his head. "Nope. Those are my notes."

"These are like diary entries!"

"It's how I wrote them. It's not like I could carry a lot of paper around with me. So I recorded my thoughts as well. You have a problem with that?"

"No, I'm just surprised you're letting me read them."

"They're older, it's not like I'm worried that you're going to make fun of me – or are you?" Ed looked at him suspiciously.

"No, I'm not going to make fun of you, why would you think that I'd do something like that?"

"Because you're an egotistical bastard who thinks everyone and everything belongs to you."

Roy rewarded him with an incredulous look. "That's how you view me?"

"Well…mostly. You're not so bad anymore. I like it when you're not all dressed up as a Brigadier-General. You're more relaxed."

Roy laughed. "Hughes told me I was like a stuffy old man once."

Ed gave him a little grin. "Well, he's right."

Ed's smile faded after a moment. "I'm far too worried about my family to sleep…which is why I'm doing this. I want to be useful."

"Well, this is very useful."

"I know. I'm not as useless as you!"

Roy protested this at great expense. "I'm not that useless. I can sort of do that clap-thing."

"No you can't, you really can't."

He tapped his head. "It's all up here. But I believe I've told you that before, and you're just not listening."

Roy made a face and leaned back next to Edward as he seriously concentrated on reading Edward's journals/diaries. Edward snorted with delight as he read over something he liked in his notes, and Mustang had to admit it was kind of cute.

It wasn't too much longer and he felt the weight of Edward resting against him, body heavy with sleep. Roy shifted his weight from under Ed and let him flump onto the bed.

He drew the covers up and over the boy so he wouldn't freeze and then quietly left the room.

Tomorrow was undoubtedly going to be a big day.

Big day was an understatement. It was probably the weirdest day he'd ever had. Starting with how he had woken up.

"Mustang!" the voice had seemed to come from the sky. He attempted to push it away; he was having a nice dream. It came again and it was shaking, and then it licked him. He yelped and pushed at it again and it left as he opened his eyes.

"You know how much a pain you are to wake up?" the voice belonged to an irritated Ed.

"You could have shaken me! Not licked me."

Ed grinned. "I know I just wanted to see your reaction."

Roy grabbed Edward's wrists and rolled him to the side so that he could get free. "What was it that you needed?"

"I think I know another person I forgot about."

"You woke me up for that?"

"Well, it's kinda important; person was a free-lance alchemist that did some research with me right after I joined the military. I mostly ran errands and helped refine the arrays, but not much more than that. He did give me leads though, that's how I completed some of your missions."

"Where is he now?"

"That's the thing, I don't know."

"Name?"

"Mel Justin."

Roy's breath whooshed out of him. "Were you crazy or just stupid?"

"Look, like I said, he had useful information and I learned a bit from him. Once he realized who I was, he instantly took to me. He didn't do anything to me."

"Am I ever going to get rid of the urge to smack you senseless?"

Ed laughed. "Probably not."

The man ground his teeth together in annoyance. His helper had come back and told him that the younger Elric and his mother had left Central. But that was okay. He'd deal with the younger after he dealt with Edward. The brilliant Fullmetal Alchemist didn't have much longer in his life. He had perhaps a year left, and then he'd lose everything he cared for.

And he had it all planned out exactly how it would happen – he'd take that prideful little brat and tie him down, force him to watch as his life crashed down around his ears, make him pay for what he did.

Roy knew that finding Mel Justin was going to be a pain. He was one of the most elusive and dangerous alchemists in Amestris; doubly so since he was a former State Alchemist. And Edward had befriended him without a problem. It just showed how likable (despite the nasty temper) Edward was.

So, what were they going to do in the meantime?

Apparently Edward was going to eat him out of his house, because he was now on his third sandwich. As if Ed heard him, he looked up and raised an eyebrow.

Roy waved a hand at him, motioning him to continue eating. Swallowing, Ed asked, "Are you worrying about finding Mel? If you are, you shouldn't he can take care of himself." Then Ed shrugged. "He's a good alchemist, but not nearly as good as you and I. More dangerous, perhaps. But not better."

And that was only the first thing of his weird day.

The second was minor, but something he was grateful for. Hawkeye let him have the day off so he could get Ed settled. And that was the third thing; getting Ed a job was quite strange.

Ed had the personality of an angry elephant. Yet the library workers took to him instantly. They gobbled up his large brain and his good looks and decided his job was to re-shelve books.

And it seemed Ed was going to be perfectly happy doing this job, so he left him there.

The fourth and final weird thing that had happened today happened only an hour ago – and it was the strangest of all.

They had been sitting on the side of Ed's guest bed when Ed had glanced at him out of the side of his eye and blushed.

Blushing, Ed was blushing.

Why was Ed blushing? The boy seemed to be squirming in place for a moment before he reached over and planted his hands on Mustang's face, keeping him still. Then he kissed him.

Edward kissed him. Then pulled back. And ran away. Out of the house.

Roy pressed a hand to his face and tried to think through what he was going to do.

It wasn't that he disliked Edward, he liked him well and good, but…why was Ed kissing him? Was it just adrenaline or the need to feel protected?

He had to talk to the boy before they did anything else. Before Ed's embarrassment caused him to get in trouble.

He was in his bedroom when he heard the door open and then shut. He heard the footsteps silently creeping up the stairs and the soft click of the door as it closed.

He couldn't hear the clothes falling to the floor – and what a thought that was! – but he was sure of it because within ten minutes Edward's footsteps echoed on the stairs as he crept down them once again.

He heard Ed rummaging through the cabinets and pulling out food to snack upon. He waited until he was sure Edward was digging into his food before he silently went into Edward's room and sat on the bed, lying in wait.

Ed jerked in surprise when he turned on the light to see Mustang waiting for him. Roy let his lips curve up as Ed tried to shrink into himself. Roy shook his head. "I'm not going to bite you."

Ed was wary as Roy stood up and motioned to the bed behind him. "If we don't talk tonight Edward, we need to talk in the morning tomorrow."

Ed's eyelids lowered. "Can we talk tonight?"

"Of course," Roy told him and resettled himself on the bed. "Why don't you sit down?"

Ed took his place on the bed nervously and fidgeted for the first few minutes. "Ed, can you tell me what you were thinking?"

Edward looked embarrassed, "I just thought…I mean, I wanted to see if it was more than a crush."

"More than a crush?"

"Yeah, I mean, I knew I had a crush, but I was curious to see if I kissed you…if it would change anything."

"Did it?"

Ed shook his head. "No, not at all."

Roy let his mouth turn into a grin as he reached for the young man.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Edward. Because you've just piqued my interest in you further."

"Further?" Ed squeaked.

Roy nodded. "Further."

Ed shifted a little closer. "What does that mean?"

"It means that I'm interested in kissing you again."

He could see the hot burn of the blush Edward was wearing printed on his cheeks.

The man reached for him and pulled the younger towards him.

"Let's see what happens if I do this," he whispered and lowered his head.

When Roy had lowered his head, Ed panicked and tried not to back away, but before he could even move, he was being kissed.

Kissed and kissed and kissed. It felt like it was never going to end. He reached around the man's neck with his arms to hold him still.

When Roy pulled away, the man was watching him with curiosity.

Ed felt his face flushing again and he tried to hide it, but the man wasn't going to have that. He gently grasped one wrist and lifted the hand to his mouth where a kiss was planted in his palm.

"Don't worry so much," the man husked softly. "I'm not going to make fun of you."

Ed pulled back a bit to stare at him. "I know. I'm just embarrassed. I wasn't expecting…"

"You weren't expecting because you don't give yourself enough credit."

Ed turned his face to the side.

"See, this is what I mean, you think you're worthless. You're not."

Roy touched his cheek gently. "I'm not going to hurt you orforce you into anything, even if I am interested in you."

"You can, you know, be less gentle." Ed offered and looked up, golden eyes glittering with power. "I know what I want, know that you could very well just kick me out, but you're not. You say that you're interested, but what does that mean to me?"

Roy looked surprised. "I do care about you, whether or not I showed it or realized it. You're unique Edward. You bring things out in people that might otherwise be hidden."

"Yeah – but what does that mean for me? Does that mean we're going to try this thing?"

"I suppose it does," Roy agreed softly.

Ed smiled at him. "Then let us try this, and see what happens."

Roy laughed then kissed him and didn't let go until Ed was breathless and begging for a chance to breathe.

He eased himself back from Roy and studied the man's face. The man who was watching him with interest and amusement.

"Your brother's going to know. Our friends are going to know; there's no way to hide something like this."

"I know. But…what will people say? Will they condemn us for what we're doing?"

"Probably, but alchemists are considered eccentric in the first place, sothis wouldn't be the first time this kind of thing has been put to alchemy. But in any case, tonight is too late to keep talking. We both need some sleep."

Roy stood from the bed. "I'll see you in the morning, but I don't think it's a good idea for you to stay here anymore – not with this at least."

Ed looked down, "I don't care if people talk, and you're the best person to protect me!"

"That may be, but what if something happens that compromises us?"

"We'll be careful. It's what we're good at, right?"

"Ed," Roy shook his head. "We'll talk about this in the morning."

Edward rolled over in the bed and muttered a goodnight before closing his eyes.

Roy wanted to laugh. Still so childish! But he knew Edward's feelings; the feeling that Roy might abandon him. They really would have to discuss what they were going to do about that.

Ed woke to a hand on his head brushing back his hair. He stirred against it and opened his eyes. Roy was bending down over him smiling. "Good morning to you. Hughes called and said that they put out a notice for Mel Justin. But no one's seen him in years."

"I can't help there," Ed muttered sleepily and turned over.

"Lazy runt," Roy snorted.

Ed shook his hand at Roy with lethargy. "I'm tired, let me sleep," he spoke muffled into the pillow.

Roy shrugged and closed the door to Ed's bedroom behind him. Ed sat up on the bed after he left with shock "HEY!"

Roy's laughter floated up from the kitchen.

When Ed stepped out of the shower he could smell the coffee brewing and that alone made his stomach growl.

When he arrived in the kitchen, Roy was pouring sugar into a cup without milk.

"For me?" he asked.

Roy handed him the cup and poured sugar and milk into his own.

Their eyes met and Ed felt his face flush again as he stared at the man. The man smiled at him gently. "I've got to go into the office and you have work today."

Ed moved towards the door, but was caught up by Roy who kissed him. He closed his eyes for a moment. "Am I going to stay here?"

"Well, I should hope so! After all, I am the best person to protect you."

"Egotistic bastard."

"You were the one who said it first," Roy laughed as he released Ed. "Enough fooling around, it's time to get going so we're not late."

Al stared out the window at Risembool – no one was answering the phone at Mustang's house, and so he had called the office and heard his brother had a job at the library. It had settled his mind to know his brother was keeping occupied, but what would happen if he were left alone?

The General had informed him there was a soldier in the library at all times watching over his brother.

Well, he hoped that everything would settle down soon. He looked up as Winry called to him. In any case, there were things to be done here.

Edward looked up as Roy entered the house that evening. "Hey," he smiled. "I picked up some takeout that we can eat."

They helped themselves to the food before sitting down at the table and talking about the next steps in the case, and it was at that point that Roy decided to break the news to Edward.

"There was a note in my office today – directed at you. It said that you had less than a year and that the mirror always told the truth."

Ed went still and swallowed. His voice cracked as he spoke, "I know who it is."

"Who is it?"

"It is Mel Justin."

One Year Later…

Ed's breath puffed out evenly. His face was relaxed in sleep, not unworried because he forever Roy watched him silently; he shouldn't have been suffering like this. He was seventeen years old and his young life was being erased, stolen from him with every moment he was awake. Sometimes Roy wondered what they could do to keep their demons at bay.

After Ed's revelation that it was a former acquaintance – Mel Justin – whowas terrorizing alchemists who had associated with him, things had happened rather quickly. Edward had sent Alphonse and their mother to stay in Risembool until they figured out what exactly would happen next. But nothing had, nothing at all. There had been no attempts on Edward's or anyone else's life the whole year. Not that they had been expecting anything to happen considering how they profiled it. Still, it had made them nervous the first few months. After those months things had relaxed and well…Roy hated that he loved to say it, but their relationship had progressed.

And it was in these spare moments that they managed to grasp that he was happiest. But now he was worrying about Justin again since their year of quiet was almost up. He guessed they had maybe a month to foil all of the man's plans. Maybe. He still wasn't sure. The months were never exact. There was always a month or two difference between them. He supposed it was the time it took to plan. He also wouldn't want them to be connected now would he?

Edward hadn't stirred awake yet, so Roy took the chance to gaze at him a while longer. But as his gaze drifted towards the clock and read the time he realized that he'd have to get the young man up anyways. As much as he wanted to let Ed sleep, he took his library job seriously and getting up on time was part of that. Not to mention Hawkeye would have his head if he were late to work.

He leaned over the bed and shook Ed's shoulder. "Ed. Ed! It's time to get up."

Ed's sleepy grumble told him that the boy was so far from pleased at being woken up that Roy might get a fist to the face if he didn't back up.

Roy backed up quickly and settled on the edge of the bed until Ed completely woke up. There was a hardness to him even as he woke up, there were no compromises in Ed's world. It was almost always all or nothing. But when Ed opened his eyes, finally, blinking into the sunlight that streamed through the room, Roy couldn't help but think that Ed was at his most vulnerable here. Here, and in his arms. Ed was always open then. He wasn't exactly open now, but he was more, maybe the term was relaxed? now.

Ed turned his head to look at Roy. "Hi," he mumbled. "Time to get up?"

"What do you think?" Roy's smile was amused as Edward pulled himself into a sitting position and touched his hair irritably.

Roy teasingly reached out and planted a hand on the side of his face and turned his cheek to show marks on the young man's cheek from crumpled sheets. Golden eyes locked with his as Ed rose from the bed silently and left him for the bathroom.

Roy wondered at the marvel that was Edward. He moved when Edward left the bathroom to take his own shower and shave. He made it downstairs before Edward, who was still braiding his hair, and put the coffee on so they could drink it on their way to work.

It had become traditional to drop Edward off to his work in the library first then for himself and Havoc to head to headquarters together. Speaking of Havoc, it sounded like he was here which meant that they were running behind this morning. Probably due to my staring at Edward for so long, Roy thought to himself.

Edward had apparently managed to make it downstairs because he was shrugging on a jacket and pulling to portable mugs from the cabinet and filling his with coffee and sugar. No milk.

They squeezed themselves out of the door and onto the doorstep, Roy locking the door behind them before they traversed the path to the car. When they were settled Havoc put the car in gear and took off down the road towards the library.

As mundane as Edward called his job, Roy knew he secretly loved it. What was better than being in a library full of books? Well, Roy knew there were probably a couple of other things, but he was quite sure Ed would never have stuck with this job if he hadn't liked it.

As Ed stepped out of the car, Roy motioned him down to the window with a finger. "I'll be home early tonight. Maybe we'll have a nice dinner in tonight?"

Ed's teeth were bright as he grinned. "Sounds good to me, see ya later."

Before Havoc turned around and berated them for taking so long, Roy stole a quick kiss and told Havoc, "Get going or we're going to be late."

Havoc was always polite enough not to say anything to either of them about the kiss. Or kisses. He'd gotten used to it in the half a year or so he'd been driving them to work. Roy suspected he was one of the few who did know about him and Ed.

It wasn't as if they were intentionally keeping it a secret, it just so happened it never came up. Both Roy and Ed made sure it didn't. And the only reason their cover wasn't blown was because everyone still thought Roy was housing Ed because of the potential bodily harm to him. He figured that they could keep up this cover until Justin was found.

Perhaps, he already knew it was getting dangerous. He knew people gave them odd looks when they went out to dinner together, and it always was a diner like place. There could be no plays or restaurants or anything fancy at such because then they all would really know what was going on between the two of them. He hoped that maybe he could make it up to Ed one day. Take him out on an actual date.

Not that Ed minded having dinner in, sometimes he preferred it. Tonight was no doubt going to be one of those nights. Roy grinned to himself.

Ed walked into the house sluggishly. Havoc had picked him up and dropped him off at his house. Havoc had kindly told him Roy had gotten off early and had already been driven home and was waiting there for him. Havoc had given him a little grin at this.

As much as Edward liked Havoc he wished the man would keep his leers to himself. He really didn't like to know that Havoc knew what he and Roy were doing in their spare time. He really didn't. And who could fault him that? It was his and Roy's private business and it sounded like Roy wasn't ordering takeout, but actually cooking food for them tonight. Chicken and was that Alfredo sauce?

It certainly was! Ed's stomach growled and Ed happily accepted the glass of water from Roy. Roy wouldn't let him drink - not even if he begged him. Roy said to wait until he was of legal age to drink; that he didn't care what other teenagers - or his men - were saying, Ed wasn't going to drink.

Ed may have accepted this for the moment, but he wasn't going to give up the war just yet. Roy placed the plates on the table and they sat down to the dinner.

Afterwards, Ed lay sprawled on the big bed in the master bedroom, groaning about an exceedingly full stomach.

"Shouldn't have eaten so much then," Roy remarked as he came out of the bathroom.

Ed stuck his tongue out and squirmed in the bed. Roy rolled his eyes. "Subtle, you are not."

Ed laughed as Roy climbed up onto the bed with him. Ed's teeth turned sharp as he let Roy hover over him for a moment. Then he grabbed the man's head and pulled him down for a kiss, murmuring against the other man's mouth.

"You know you're a bastard, right?"

Roy snorted and ignored him as he lowered his head again. "We're going to go through that now?"

"I suppose not," Ed replied and then they stopped talking - well, Roy did, Ed, however, was another story.

In the next few days, Ed began to feel like someone was watching him. He frowned and shifted his weight warily. He glanced over his shoulder quickly as he shelved another book. He moved down the row a little further before leaning against the shelving and waiting for the person to come around the corner. When the young woman strode around the corner confidently, obviously thinking that someone was going to be there. When she left, Edward peeled himself off the corner edge and into the pathway. He stared at the back of the retreating woman before going to the front desk and picking up the phone there.

When he was finally connected to Roy's office he talked hurriedly. "I'm being followed. It's a woman.I'm not sure who she is though."

"Do you think it's in connection with, ah, the other thing?"

Ed shrugged as he held the phone, "I don't know. That's why I called."

He heard Roy sigh on the other line. "Go home and we can talk when work ends." Ed opened his mouth to reply, but Roy cut him off, "No, don't argue with me now, Ed. Go home and read or something. Wait for me."

Ed snarled and hung up the phone, no doubt leaving the other man with a dial tone. He nodded to the other librarians and told them he had some personal issues to take care of and headed home.

Roy walked through the door an hour later. Ed looked up surprised. "Didn't know you could escape from work this early!"

"I owe Hawkeye a bunch of forms in the morning," Roy muttered and dropped them on the table. Ed grinned and propped his head up on the arm that was leaning on the side of the sofa.

"Oh?"

"Shut it."

Ed's grin got bigger as Roy walked over. "You wanna hear what I think or am a permanently going to be unable to talk?"

"Tell me if you're so inclined to speak."

"Truthfully, I don't know what to think - I'm always being followed or watched, so I mean, it could be Justin but it might just as well not be. What I'm thinking is that we should ask around about her, see if people know her around here and - "

"Not wise, Ed. If she's looking for you and you ask around, or I ask around, then there can be a bad backlash."

"Get Hughes to ask one of his men to ask around or something. Then we'll be safe."

"They'd have to have a great cover story. If they don't then we'd lose any chance of ever finding out anything about her."

"I can give her description..."

"That will all be done tomorrow. It's almost three, let me finish these reports and then I'll call him and ask him to get someone he trusts ready. Okay?"

"Fine with me," Ed slouched back into the couch and grinned. He was in actuality more than okay with that plan, because Roy had more incentive to work fast here than at work. He grinned and looked down at his book and read as Roy completed his paperwork and called Maes Hughes on his home line with specific instructions.

Ed didn't notice the man looming over him, until there were fingers tapping on his head. "It's five thirty. Feel like eating?"

"Always!" the young man happily grinned and headed for the kitchen. Roy hurried after hoping that the kitchen wouldn't be destroyed before he got there.

But even as they made dinner their thoughts were on one thing, the game is on.