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Edward was still unused to the Amestrian military uniform. It was too tight in some places, too loose in others and the stiff material of the collar made his neck itch almost constantly. He often did whatever he could to get out of wearing the accursed blues, but this time he had been foiled by the inauguration of the newest State Alchemists - Senior Colonel Roy Mustang had been asked to supervise the ceremony in General Blackburne's stead - and that meant Edward, working for the Colonel, was obligated to attend.

It was a boring ceremony. As a licensed State Alchemist, he was required to stand at attention, beside Colonel Mustang, in the late spring sunshine without respite for the better part of the morning. Edward contented himself with keeping a running tally of the glances that Mustang gave him out of the corner of his eye - the man had a well-known and quite exploited weak spot for a particular State Alchemist in dress uniform. It was all that Edward could do to keep Mustang from pawing at him in the locker room earlier - not that Edward had made them both late leaving for the base that morning or anything.

His military uniform smelled like mothballs, the scent exacerbated by the direct sunlight. Alphonse had sat on the trunk kept at the end of the bed in Mustang's spare room and laughed as Edward tried the uniform on for the first time in months. He hated dragging it out, even when the trousers came up past his ankles and had to be altered, and the coat itself had to be let out to make room for the breadth of his shoulders. Of course he had grown, he had grumbled at Alphonse's cheeky grin. He was an *adult* now.

The office had all its windows open today, the brilliant late spring sunlight heating the building until its occupants felt cooked. Edward was a little more immune to this than most, years of heavy layers traveling in the desert made a stuffy afternoon a walk in the park. However military jackets were shed, and even the ever-proper Mustang rolled his sleeves up and unbuttoned the top few buttons of the collared shirt he wore under the jacket.

Edward took his lunch in Mustang's office. He had stopped by the officer's canteen - the State Alchemist's title granted him rank enough to avoid lunch in the mess hall - and picked up some cold sandwiches. It seemed that most everyone had cleared out of the building to take their lunch hour outside.

Mustang, on the other hand, opted to work through his lunch. Presiding over the induction ceremony meant lost hours in the day, and that meant bonus paperwork to catch up on. Edward had been paying more attention lately, and as much as he hated to be lost in the sea of blue in the mess hall the rumors there were the juiciest. No one gave him a second glance as a Major - and it was there that he heard the most about the unrest in the East, and the Ishbalan terrorists that might force the Amestrian army to move soon.

He never had much use for the political climate of Amestris before. Edward's primary concern had been Alphonse, and while he knew Mustang used him as a driving force for some of his own political gains Edward didn't really *care*. He used Mustang and Mustang used him, equivalent exchange.

Then somewhere along the line things changed, and Edward actually started to care about Mustang's goals. It was around the time that Mustang had cornered Edward in the bar (that he was really too young to be at) and kissed him. It was a celebratory party of sorts, Alphonse was still bedridden, far too weak to move under his own power yet but alive, and most importantly whole. Edward's arm was off, the automail destroyed but that was okay because it gave him the excuse to cling to the front of Mustang's shirt for balance, coming up off his heels to meet Mustang's mouth and give back as good as he got.

Mustang didn't look up when Edward put the sandwich down in front of him. "If you don't eat that," Edward said matter-of-factly, "I will."

"I'll eat it later," he said, tucking a signed paper away in a folder. "I'm busy, Fullmetal, please."

Edward sat down on one of the twin couches in Roy's office and stretched his arms out over his head. "Is it the Ishbalans again?"

"Mm," Mustang murmured. Edward leaned forward in his seat. On the low coffee table between the couches a chessboard was laid out, a game set on the board. Edward picked up the rook and looked at it. "Don't play with that, Fullmetal."

"I'm not playing with it," Edward responded, putting the rook back down on the board. Mustang closed a file decisively and looked at the wrapped sandwich Edward had left him on his desk. Edward had already picked up a pawn though, and was considering that as well. "Who are you playing?"

"Was," Mustang murmured, unwrapping the sandwich. "It's a game I lost to General Grumman a few weeks ago." He sat back in his desk chair and watched Edward consider the board curiously. "Do you play, Fullmetal?"

"Nope." Edward set the pawn back down and sat back on the couch. "Never learned."

"I'm surprised," Mustang said. "It seems like the sort of game you and your brother might have taken up."

"We never played many board games," Edward said. "Too many pieces to be lost, takes up too much space in the suitcase." He shrugged. "Never play cards with Al, Colonel. He'll take you for every penny you've got."

"Well, he *was* a suit of armor before," Mustang pointed out. He stood up from the desk chair and stretched luxuriously, before crossing the room to sit opposite Edward on the couch. He started shuffling the pieces on the board back to the correct positions. "I'll teach you how to play."

Edward gave Mustang an incredulous look. "Why?"

Mustang glanced up at Edward through those dark bangs, some stuck to his forehead with sweat. "You never know," he murmured philosophically, "when such a skill might come in handy."

"You're just sore the last game of strip poker went the way it did," Edward said with a sharp grin.

"There are only four aces in a deck," Mustang reminded Edward. "It would probably behoove you to remember that the next time."

"Shut up," Edward said, and picked up a pawn.


"Knight to queen's bishop four," Alphonse said, moving the piece across the board. Edward had both his elbows on the desk, hands folded in front of his face as he contemplated the board. "You really pissed Neuhaus off with that stunt, brother. Didn't I tell you it was a bad idea?"

"Just because you have ears everywhere doesn't mean you know half of what's going on in Central," Edward sulked.

"I know more than you do, and I'm not even stationed there." Alphonse's study was small and cramped, but at the same time homey. It reminded Edward often of their father's study, a lived-in space with notes pinned on the walls and bookshelves overflowing with books of all sizes. An all-too familiar helmet sat atop the highest bookshelf, glinting occasionally in the light. "How can you not know what's going on in your own backyard?"

"Rook to king's knight seven," Edward said, moving the chess piece. "I know exactly what's going on in my own back yard, thank you. Neuhaus might be pitching a fit now, but it's making him look bad in the long run. And he's got no direct proof of my involvement."

"It's a dangerous game you're playing," Alphonse warned him. "Neuhaus has a lot of power."

"He's an old fogey," Edward dismissed him, waving a hand in front of his face. "I'm not worried."

Alphonse moved another piece across the board. "I hope you're playing that game better than you're playing this one," he murmured.

"Hey!" Edward said.

Alphonse moved his piece across the board. "Check."

Edward gaped at the board a moment, trying to determine how Alphonse had worked that particular move. Alphonse grinned sitting back in his chair and resting his hands on his crossed knee. He heard a noise at the door and Alphonse glanced over to see Thomas peeking around the corner. "Daddy? Are you done thrashing uncle Ed?"

"He's not thrashing me," Edward snarled, moving his king.

Alphonse turned around and moved another piece. "Check."


Thomas sneaked into the room, and climbed into Alphonse's lap so he could peer at the chess board curiously. "Where's Rian, kiddo?" Alphonse asked, ruffling Thomas's hair.

"'sleep on the couch," Thomas said. "Uncle Rian said he didn't get a lot of sleep last night." Edward had picked up his king, but Thomas was pointing at the board. "If you move here, uncle Ed, daddy's gonna win."

Edward groaned and put his king back down. "I think you daddy's already won," he grumbled.

"You're not very good, uncle Ed."

"Yeah, I know," Edward reached across the desk and mussed Thomas's hair. "You and Sara wore out uncle Rian, huh? Why don't you go wake him up and tell him to get his ass in here and beat your father in a game of chess?"

"Brother," Alphonse said, as Thomas squirmed to be let down. The five-year-old ran out of the study and Alphonse frowned at Edward. "Every time Winry leaves them with you, I have to explain to her how their vocabulary miraculously expanded to include invectives no five-year-old should already know."

"Fuck, Al, you knew them all by five, and you turned out fine." Edward shrugged.

Alphonse shook his head. "Brother, just promise me that you're going to be careful." They both glanced to the doorway when Thomas appeared again, leading a yawning Rian. His hair was stuck up funny from sleeping on the couch, and he was trying to comb it back into place with his fingers. "In all things."

"Someone wants to play chess?" Rian said.

Edward stood up, offering Rian his chair. "Do me a favor and kick Al's ass, would you?"

Rian rolled his eyes as he took Edward's chair. "I can't believe I have to soothe your poor damaged ego every time," Rian muttered as Alphonse set the board up again. Thomas tugged on Edward's hand.

"Uncle Ed, let's go play."