All That Matters

The sun was just on the verge of setting when she came up the narrow path, two men at her back and more trailing her in the scrub on either side of the small country road. She walked with purpose, yet daintily, avoiding puddles and patches of mud to spare the hem of her finely-tailored coat and prevent her expensive boots from the dirt. As she rounded a bend and saw the small, isolated cottage, miles out from anywhere, she raised her chin and gave a small smirk of victory. Four strides took her through the little garden at the front of the house, her men fanning themselves out and vanishing into the undergrowth; only one of the two men who had accompanied her went with her as far as the doorstep, the other waiting at the bottom of the hill. She raised an elegantly gloved hand and rapped, sharply, on the door. It was opened by a young man in his late twenties, honey coloured hair in a tiny ponytail at the nape of his neck, clean shaven and tanned. His bronze eyes widened a little when he saw her and her men, but she merely smiled and nodded to him. "Alphonse Elric," she said, sweetly, and saw those eyes narrow and tension creep into his lean muscles.

She couldn't really blame him. The Elric boy had vanished over a decade ago, believed by many to be dead; suicide, perhaps, after the death of his older brother. It had taken her a good deal of searching, bribes, rewards, pleas for information and outright harassment of those who had known him, for her to get this far. Someone who had done what he had done would, understandably, have fled society. This, of course, did not mean she couldn't find a use for him. "My name is Alexandra. I have been searching for you."

"For what reason?" Alphonse growled, eyes flicking to the huge man standing to her left and the other at the end of the garden. She had heard all the stories, about his abilities both as an alchemist and as a fighter, and had come prepared. When she moved, holding out a hand for him to shake, the shifting folds of her coat revealed a firearm in a snug holster at her hip. She removed the hand when Alphonse didn't accept it, a little pout of disappointment on her face.

"I had hoped you would have been more welcoming. My men and I have travelled far from Central to get here."

"Answer the question," Alphonse said, face rigid but eyes burning.

"I have heard," she said, dropping the coy, flirtatious attitude and raising her chin in order to feel less intimidated, "that you have successfully created a homunculus."

Alphonse froze, just for a few seconds, a flash of fear crossing his face. But then he composed himself and laughed, leaning casually against the door frame with his arms crossed over his chest. "Impossible. And I believe I should know." In answer, she merely tilted her head and smiled, raising her hand. At the motion, her hidden back-up troops left their hiding place, weapons in hand and aimed at the reclining figure. Alphonse raised an eyebrow, scowling. "So this is how it's going to be, I see."

"Let me reintroduce myself; I am Alexandra, a dabbling alchemist, scholar and mathematician. I am also the leader of one of the largest Central City underground gangs."

Alphonse tilted his chin up, scowling. "And what does this have to do with homunculi?"

"I want you," she said, drawing her own pistol out and snapping the safety off with affected casualness, "to teach me how to create a homunculus."

"... Why?" Alphonse asked, and he had no right to sound so amused, not with the multitude of guns aimed at him. Alexandra gritted her teeth, finding something in that expression both offensive and... creepy, somehow. It took her a few minutes to modulate her tone back to playful, and to repress a shudder.

"I do not need to tell you anything. You will tell me what I need, and I will spare your life. Equivalent trade, correct?"

Alphonse stepped closer, invading her personal space, and rested his hand lightly on the barrel of the pistol. Immediately the small area resounded with the snap of safety catches going off, but he'd achieved his goal; Alexandra was forced to take a step back, jaw squared, to prevent him from looming.

"There's no such thing," he said softly, as though talking to a three year old who wanted to plunge her hand into the fire, "as 'Equivalent Trade'. Not where human transmutation is concerned."

She yanked the gun away from his touch, glaring defiantly as she spat out, "Don't toy with me. I know you've made one. Either you tell me how to duplicate your methods, or you let me take your current one away for study."

"I can't do that," Alphonse said, retreating a step. The sudden soft patter of bare feet on floorboards behind Alphonse announced the arrival of somebody else—probably the homunculus he had created—and Alexandra raised her gun, expression fierce and wild. The creature that finally emerged however was, to all appearances, a golden-haired, golden-eyed boy in his mid-teens. It wore only a pair of shorts, and completely ignoring her and her minions, flung two tanned arms around Alphonse and clung to the man, pressing its head into its creator's neck. "Hey," Alphonse said, as gently as anything. "Did you just wake up?" The homunculus rubbed its face against his throat a couple of times, arms tightening. "What's wrong?" It gave a little wordless whimper, and Alphonse ran a hand soothingly down its back. "This is it, lady. This is what you came to see."

"Are they all going to be as simple as that?" Alexandra asked, a faint touch of distaste sliding into her voice. This was starting to sound troublesome; she wanted troops, not a bunch of imbeciles, no matter how easy it was to make them.

"He's not simple," Alphonse snapped, a sharp edge coming into his voice. "He's my brother." Alexandra watched the creature lift its face from Alphonse's throat and bare its teeth to hiss at her, all golden hair and eyes that... didn't focus, not quite as they should. She raised an eyebrow, a sneer painting itself across her features.

"Really? Can it even talk?" Alphonse glared at her, and the thing unwound itself from his neck, taking a few hesitant steps closer towards her. It cocked its head, those unnatural golden eyes glittering with that detached malice as it surveyed her, and Alexandra had the unfortunate feeling of being... inspected, weighed and judged. Then it smiled, face creasing into a picture of innocent joy, those eyes closed for the moment.

"Brother, come here. Leave the intruder alone." At the words the thing opened its eyes again, just watching her for a few seconds. There was no expression on its face, but its eyes were still unfocused, and when it smiled, she jumped.

"Impressive," she said, hoping to cover her reaction. "You will teach me how to make others like it?"

"No," Alphonse snarled, and tapped his brother's shoulder to get its attention. "Go inside, brother. Go inside. Brother. Inside. Go sit down." It blinked at him, then flashed a radiant smile and slipped behind him. "I will not teach you. The less homunculi there are, the better. Go back to Central, petty little mob boss. Go back to your crime and your stupid little gang wars, and leave alchemy out of it. I will not tell you what you want to know."

"I could have you tortured," Alexandra said, face utterly deadpan.

"That won't change my mind."

"We'll see, Mr Elric. I shall be back tomorrow morning. Sleep on it. It's your last chance to agree, after all," she spat, sliding her gun back into the holster and waving for her men to stand down. She stepped off the door step and was halfway down the garden path when he spoke again.

"It's your last chance to change your mind, too."

"I don't plan on doing so," she said, without looking back, and then she was gone.

Alphonse shut the door, making his way into the kitchen. "Stupid. So stupid. Oh, well, she'll learn. Brother, is there any-?"

He blinked at the empty kitchen and the open back door, and then nodded. Maybe he should have been surprised, but he couldn't find it within himself anymore. Placing another log on the fire, he pushed the back door to and poured himself a cup of lemon tea.

She had set up a camp a few hundred meters down the road; this was mild country, though far from any sort of civilization. The nearest village lay over twenty miles away, and was essentially a one horse town. She'd been through there, and bullied the locals until a carter admitted to taking supplies once every fortnight to a little house set far back in the woods. She had walked the entire distance, with her men, only to be rebuffed on the door. The meeting hadn't gone as she'd planned, but that was okay; now she knew where they were, she could arrange to have the place burned and Alphonse and his pathetic pet abducted. She shuddered as she stomped ahead, thinking of its eyes. God. She'd be happy to see that thing pinned down on a table somewhere, carefully dissected but more importantly restrained. Letting it run loose—what was that idiot thinking? Of course, he had convinced himself that it was his brother, when by all accounts the Fullmetal Alchemist had died over ten years ago—consumed by an alchemical reaction gone wrong, or so the military records claimed. Insane.

The campsite was tiny; a dozen tents huddled together with five men on guard at any time. Alexandra growled at anybody fool enough to speak to her, wolfing down her rations and glaring moodily at the campfire until her second nudged her shoulder and indicated she should get some rest. She slapped his hand away, but rose, brushing herself down and barking orders for tomorrow morning. She wanted to be at Alphonse's door before sunrise, and she wanted to be armed. He knew she had bought back up, so there was no point in trying to conceal her men, but they would ring the small house, weapons drawn. She wanted them to fire if there was any sign of trouble, and she wanted two by her shoulders and another between her and the door—here she forced back another shudder, not voicing her thoughts on that damn homunculus—and while she was at it, she wanted another slice of bread before she slept! Her men jumped to obey, and when she was placated, she finally ducked into her tent. Her men watched her go, and sighed with relief.

Inside was dark, and she flicked on the portable gas lamp as she began undressing. She shrugged her coat off and froze, hand brushing the empty holster at her hip. Damn. That pistol had been a gift from the previous leader of the gang; the fact that she'd shot him with it only made it more precious.

She stuck her head back out, growling a short inquiry. Her men shrugged, and she barked an order, coming fully out of the tent and pulling her coat on as she did so. Her second and the man who'd stood beside her on the door step earlier on were already armed and waiting as she announced she was going to retrace her steps. They grumbled at the thought of trooping around at this late hour, but collected flashlights and followed her out of the small encampment.

By the time chaos broke out amidst the remaining men, she was too far away to hear the screams.

She knew she was no soft hearted weakling. She'd survived gang diplomacy, a couple of years on the streets, assassination attempts and had witnessed alchemical rebounds, torture, plagues and cities razed by the military, thick with the stench of burning flesh. She'd been starved, beaten, shot at, knifed, and attacked by a couple of chimeras, each time facing down the threat without fear. She knew all of this, but still, when she saw the golden haired homunculus sitting casually on that rock in the middle of the path, she couldn't be blamed for freezing in fear. The creature tilted its head, eyeing the two men to the side of her, and slid off its precarious perch. It landing a few meters away from her, stumbling a little until it caught its balance.

"What do we do?" her second whispered, and she thought she could detect urgency and a little fear in his voice. She licked her lips, and swallowed before speaking, and if her voice wavered she didn't think it was too noticeable.

"Shoot it." Fuck preserving it in the name of science, Alphonse could make another one. Her fingers itched, longing to draw her own gun, but she still hadn't found it. And as her men raised their guns and took aim, as it padded closer and the light fell upon it more clearly, she could see the fresh blood spattered over its face and hands and chest.

The twin bursts of gunfire to her sides were reassuring, at least. Her men were good, and more importantly accurate; each bullet hit the target dead centre, and she saw it jerk as each shot ripped into it, wavering just a moment before collapsing to the ground, red leaking into the dirt. She heaved a sigh of relief and mentally slapped herself for her folly. Created human or not, they evidently died just the same. "Let's go," she said, allowing a smirk onto her face and smugness into her voice.

And then it stood up again.

As it turned towards her, bullets worming their way backwards out of its flesh to land without sound on the soft floor, its golden eyes were focused for the first time she had seen it. And it smiled, sweet and innocent as a child, and lunged.

Alphonse was on his third cup of tea by the time his brother returned, blood dripping from his hair and clothes. He said nothing, merely pursed his lips and patted the bench beside him, attacking Edward's face and hands with a damp cloth as soon as he sat down. He'd need to bathe Edward to get the stuff out of his hair, but for now he settled for tugging his elder brother's blood-spattered clothes off, casting them away onto the floor. Making a mental note to burn them tomorrow morning, he kissed Edward on one red-smeared cheek and received a gentle smile as a reward. At the sight, something inside him relaxed.

Alphonse pulled at his brother's shoulder to get him to stand up and help him lift the heavy pot of water over the fire, dragging it upstairs to the battered tin tub in the corner. They tipped the hot water in, Alphonse gritting his teeth as some of it, scalding hot, splashed free, and Edward lowered himself into the bath. If he even noticed the heat, he gave no sign. Alphonse washed away the blood, rubbing his hands over Edward's soft skin and submitting eagerly to his brother's occasional needy kisses. Edward was here, warm and real and wanting, and surely that was all that mattered.

His brother let himself be towelled dry in the bedroom, and let himself be kissed deeply, and let himself be pushed onto his belly on their bed as Alphonse oiled the pair of them. He gasped under Alphonse's fingers, arched into Alphonse's thrusts, made all the right sounds, and when they were both finished snuggled into his brother's chest, still tingling faintly with pleasure. Alphonse wrapped his arms around him and settled him closer against his own body, pulling and pushing until they were both comfortable and as close as skin would allow. Edward made a sleepy little noise deep in his throat and Alphonse kissed him on the forehead, then reached out and pulled the blankets over them both.

All right, there were occasional mishaps, but this was still Edward, this golden-haired beautiful thing which held him like there was nothing else in the world. And those mishaps had mostly stopped since he'd moved out here, where there was nobody else for Edward to accidentally harm. It wasn't Edward's fault, he just couldn't help himself. Honestly, he wondered, why did people keep insisting that this warmth, this body resting against his wasn't his brother? Alphonse thought that a rather foolish thing to say; nothing could look so much like Edward, smile exactly like Edward, smell and taste and feel exactly like Edward, and not be Edward. It couldn't. And it wasn't like Edward ever hurt him, only those he thought were intruding on their life together, and as far as Alphonse was concerned, anybody who did that deserved their fate.

Alphonse closed his eyes, listening to Edward's steady, even breathing. People were such fools, he thought, as Edward uncurled himself enough to reach over and kiss him on the lips. He tasted salty and sickly-sweet, like blood, but Alphonse opened his eyes and kissed back, deeper, trying to taste as much as he could. When they parted, Edward was still hovering over him, an expression of nervous anxiety on his face—as though he had done something wrong and was waiting for Alphonse's judgment—so he reached up and threaded long fingers through that soft golden hair. "I love you," he said into that familiar face. "No matter what, I love you. Forever."