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Happy Families

chapter 10.

Roy hadn't thought that Dante's absence would be anything but beneficial; it appeared he was mistaken. Hohenheim, Envy and Marcoh had gathered in the drawing room to commiserate; a more dispirited gathering could hardly be imagined.

"It makes no sense," Hohenheim said softly. His fingers played softly in Envy's hair, a fatherly gesture of comfort. Envy sat at his feet, resting against the side of Hohenheim's armchair. It was a childlike pose, odd for the usually sophisticated young man, but the anger and shock of loss had faded somewhat, replaced by acceptance and a gentler type of grief. He spoke little, lost in his own thoughts, and resembled nothing so much as a bereft child seeking reassurance.

He would not be left to grieve alone. Roy sipped the wine he held, watching the subtle sympathy between father and son, and wondered how long it would be until Envy became officially an Elric. Without Dante's objections, there was nothing to stop it happening . . .

"The papers that are missing," Hohenheim continued, shaking his head. "They just don't make sense. Not only are they not important, but they're not even in order—"

"There are papers missing then?" Roy stood, eager to take the excuse to leave the gloomy atmosphere of the drawing room. "I should let Hughes know."

Marcoh nodded as Roy stood to leave. "Actually, Hohenheim, I've been meaning to talk to you about the boys. It might do them good to get away from the house for bit—"

The phone at the police station was engaged.

Roy wasn't surprised. He sincerely hoped that the criminal citizens of Lincolnshire would restrain themselves a few days; with Hughes in the vicinity he doubted any calls to the station would be getting through. Of course, this now meant he was at a loss what to do with himself. As he weighed his options in the hallway he heard a burst of music from the kitchen. Intrigued, Roy went to investigate.

He'd never imagined a scene of such happy domesticity could take place in that household. Sieg was drying the dishes, a stew pot bubbling merrily on the stove. The apron gave him a fond paternal air and for some reason he did not look quite so fearsome as usual. The fire was lit and Alphonse sat in front of it, Nina beside him, both of them engrossed in the book of fairy tales that he was reading to her. Mrs. Curtis sat at the table, peeling carrots as she chatted with Edward who had the parts of a wireless spread out before him. As Roy watched he made an adjustment with a screwdriver, and the radio crackled into life.

"That ought to do it," the boy said with a grin. "It wasn't broken, it just needed a bit of fine tuning."

"You're a marvel, Edward." Lila spun round happily as a popular dance song aired. "Dance with me?"

"Not likely."

"Oh, don't be such a spoil sport, Ed." Lila pouted prettily. "Come on, it'll be fun."

"Make Al do it."

"Brother!" Alphonse didn't seem very enthused about this suggestion.

"Alphonse is going to dance with me," Nina said with just a hint of a pout. All the same, there was the underlying assumption that she would get her way. Alphonse stood taking her hand with an apologetic grimace in his brother's direction.

Lila put her hands on her hips. "Then who is going to dance with me?"

"Perhaps I can be of service?" Roy stepped out of the doorway, bowing as he took her hand. "I've been told I cut a pretty fine rug on the dance floor."

Lila grinned happily back at him. "Don't mind if I do," she replied as she curtsied. "Watch and learn Edward—this is how to treat a lady."

"I'll remember should I ever see a lady," Edward replied with a grin that was thoroughly unrepentant.

Mrs. Curtis leaned over to tug his plait though she was smiling. "Less cheek from you."

It was rather fortunate that the house belonged to an era where the kitchens were built large to accommodate a full staff. Although the more flamboyant dance moves were out of the question, there was still enough room left that the four of them could dance without any fear of upsetting the stew. Dance may have been an overly optomistic term in the case of Alphonse and Nina. Still, the girl enjoyed being spun around the kitchen.

On the other hand, Lila could dance and then some—Roy should have suspected no less from her. "You must have picked this up from attending parties in London?" he asked appreciatively.

"I should be so lucky—Dante preferred to socialize with the sober socially active types. She looked positively amiable in comparison."

"So how did you learn to dance?"

"Lila has a young man she meets on Tuesdays," Edward grinned. He was leaning over the back of his chair to watch them. He had a smudge of oil on one cheek and his grin was wide. It took Roy a moment to work out why this was odd. Then he realised it was merely the strangeness of seeing the boy smirking like the fifteen year old boy he was. "They have an arrangement, the dance hall the town over. If she takes the eight o'clock bus, Dante doesn't even know she's gone."

"Thusdays is the church social group," Alphonse said. "And Friday she has another young man—"

"With a car, so they can go two towns over to the Ragtime Theatre. He's a bit of a bore, but he can do the Charleston all right and the car's good quality—Bentley engine and—"

"A girl needs to have her fun," Lila shrugged slipping out of Roy's hold and waltzing over to put her hand on Edward's shoulder. "Anyway, you know you're the only man for me, Edward—"

Edward went a rich shade of pink. "Get away," he said unable to meet anyone's eyes, much to the amusement of the rest of the kitchen's occupants, his brother in particular. Roy watched as Alphonse ragged Edward mercilessly—such joviality was almost a novelty in this household.

Lila hummed as she resumed her work. "It makes such a difference to have the radio back. Dante thought it too turbulent an influence for us lower classes. We might be distracted from our work, or heavens! the ever-so-interesting pamphlets about how our indolent lifestyles and habits perpetuate a cycle of failure and misery."

"I don't know," Edward shrugged. "I thought the one about how unsound drinking water leads to moral decline and alcoholism was rather entertaining."

"You would. I don't know how you managed to finish those things."

Edward shrugged, opening the pantry. "The shoddy research and the appropriation of science for scare-mongering—from a professional standpoint it's as fascinating as it is appalling. Al, you want an apple?"

"You'll spoil your tea—look out!"

The fruit basket balanced perilously close to the edge of the shelf, and Edward's grab for it brought it down. The boy tried to catch it but his efforts only upset the rest of the shelf, sending cans and packets falling.

Roy stepped forward to help. "Are you all right?" he asked, pushing the shelf back into place.

Edward moved gingerly. "I think so," he said, putting back the jars he'd managed to catch.

Alphonse helped them tidy up. "At least nothing was broken," he said. "Even your medicine's all right."

Roy looked with interest at the bottle Alphonse returned to the top shelf. "You keep it in the pantry? But anyone could—"

"Take it? Who'd want to?" Edward's face was dark as he shoved the last of jars back on the shelf.

"Ah, there you are boys," Marcoh sounded a little too jovial, and Roy wondered at that, even as he turned towards his friend in greeting. Envy lingered listlessly at Marcoh's shoulder as the doctor continued. "What say we go for a ramble along the riverside until dinner? It'll be nice to get out of the house for a bit. Let's take Alexander, make it a real expedition."

The boys greeted this suggestion affably, although Roy noticed they glanced towards Mrs. Curtis for permission. The housekeeper nodded.

"Dinner's almost ready and Lila and I won't want you underfoot as we work. Take Nina with you, and Edward, I'll go over these equations for you before supper."

"I hope you don't mind if I tag along," Roy said as coats and scarves were found and donned.

"Not at all," Marcoh said. "I'd be glad of the company—I never know what to say to Mr. Dante." In an undertone he added, "It think it best not to allude to this morning's events of possible. Alphonse is taking an unsavory amount of pleasure in it and Edward seems prone to brood."

"Agreed," Roy nodded, as Nina grabbed his hand to go fetch Alexander. "Well, let's hope the mutt hasn't tired himself out chasing coppers."

Alexander seemed to have a limitless supply of energy. Alphonse and Nina ran ahead in a futile effort to keep up with the dog. The rest of the group followed more sedately the path that traced the stretch of water that gave Little River its name—a misnomer if Roy had ever heard one.

The river was a cold gray and rushed along at a tremendous speed. The path they followed went along the top of a flood bank, and the bits of refuse littered along its sides indicated it was no mere gesture—this river was a force to be reckoned with.

The path was just wide enough for them to walk two abreast. Roy fell into place alongside Envy, Edward and Marcoh talking in front. Well, Marcoh was talking at least.

"I don't know that it's wise to associate so much with Lila. I don't wish to seem fuddy-duddyish, but—she's not our type."

"Because she's the help? So's Izumi, and she knows engineering better than Tucker—"

"Mrs Curtis is quite different and you know it," Marcoh fussed. "It's not a question of intellect so much as—"

"Class?" Envy suggested idly. Roy shot him a glance, but the young man's expression was mild, his thoughts well masked.

"That's it—she simply lacks the refinement and dare we say, taste, to make a fit companion for you and Alphonse—"

"Wouldn't want you picking up bad habits," Envy continued loftily. "Lila's inclined to be of somewhat, shall we say, vulgar tastes—"

"I had no idea," Edward replied, with a dryness that reminded Roy somewhat of Hohenheim.

"It's natural for youth to find flippancy and frivolity attractive," Marcoh continued.

"But the danger to your moral fibre is extreme," Envy continued with all seriousness. "You may not be aware of this, Edward, but she has been known on occasion to wear make-up—"

"I'm not at all surprised," Marcoh said. "One hesitates to make generalizations but—"

It was amazing, Roy thought, torn between letting the boys have their fun and concern for his friend. Marcoh had no idea he was being mocked.

Edward tired of the sport abruptly. "I'm going to walk ahead," he said. "Show that stupid dog who's who."

Alphonse and Nina shrieked with laughter and Alexander reached new levels of mad excitement as Edward joined them.

"We tend to forget," Marcoh said watching as Edward chased Alexander across the farmland neighboring the path, "that he's still a child."

"It's good to see him letting himself go," Envy said with what seemed to Roy like real relief. "I've worried about him lately. Such reticence from him is unnatural."

Interesting that Envy would remark on the same point Marcoh mentioned, Roy thought. "You show great understanding of your brother's nature."

Envy smiled, watching Edward's zig-zag progress across the field. "Great understanding isn't necessary—Edward is usually . . ." Envy hesitated. "I won't say open, but fervent, very fervent in his emotions. This change must strike even the most casual acquaintance. Still, I would like to think that I know him better than most—he's certainly very dear to me."

"Hohenheim said that the two of you were very close as children," Roy said and Envy brightened. "He spoke warmly of the times you spent school holidays here."

"I can, with all honesty, say that those holidays were the best years of my life. I enjoyed school—I had companions of my own age, diversions, the tuck boxes Trisha sent me. Best of all, I went from being bullied constantly at home to being bullied only sporadically. Even so, I lived for the holidays and Edward."

"It seems somewhat of an unlikely friendship?" Roy asked, curious.

"I suppose it must seem pathetic, my being so eager to be the playmate of a child seven years my junior, but Edward—" Envy smiled an inward mocking smile. "He was a precocious child, able even at three to express himself and demand attention in a way that I, aged eleven, couldn't. I suppose the gap between us wasn't as great as it could have been, and Edward—" The young man's expression lost it's bitterness as he watched his half-brother. "It was the first time in my life anyone had wanted me." The bitter smile was back in place as he added. "It's a wonder I didn't hate him, you know. I could have. In fact, I did the first time I saw him."

"He was an obnoxious infant?"

"He was so little and dumpy-looking, his pudgy fingers clutched in my father's coat. I hated him for taking my father away from me, taking what was mine, even as I could see how it happened." Envy glanced again to where the children were playing. "Even at three years, Edward had charm. I knew I could never hold a candle to him."

Roy followed his gaze to watch Edward trip and immediately be pounced by a wildly excited Alexander. Alphonse's attempts at rescuing his brother were hampered by his inability to quell his own laughter and Nina wasn't even trying to help. Battle-hardened soldier though he was, Roy couldn't help but smile.

"What changed things?"

"I don't know that I could put my finger on it," Envy replied thoughtfully. "It wasn't just that he needed me. I hadn't much experience with infants and I'm ashamed to admit that his utter dependence on everybody disgusted me until I understood he couldn't help it. No, I suppose it was his belief."

"Belief?"

"He knew only warmth and kindness," Envy said simply. "He believed I would take care of him and faced with such trust, I could do nothing but obey. Whatever Edward needed, I was—playmate, protector, teacher, co-conspirator—" he paused. "I can't express the difference it made to me. I didn't know it at the time, but that summer quite possibly changed my life."

It was a startlingly frank answer, and Roy cast around for a suitable reply. To his relief Marcoh took up the conversation.

"I'd say he takes after Trisha in that respect. She was of a much quieter personality but she had an aspect about her that brought out the best in people. Though a good decade or so her senior, I am unashamed to admit that I would have done anything she desired."

Roy had the sudden absurd mental image of his friend clad in armour in the manner of a knight errant, and charging off to do battle on his steed, Trisha smiling gently from her tower. "All these years and I never suspected you had a romantic streak, old man," he teased.

The doctor shrugged. "If only you could have met her, Roy—she was a woman in a million."

"I say," Envy said suddenly. "I don't like how close the boys are getting to the edge of the flood bank. Think we'd better call them back?"

Roy looked up sharply. They were damnably close to the edge of the floodbank. Alphonse at least appeared to be trying to keep a safe distance, though he had his hands full trying to keep Nina from going over the bank.

"Boys!" Marcoh called. "Come back this instant! That bank's not safe!"

"We can't!" Alphonse yelled back. "Alexander's collar's caught."

There was a scraggly brance wedged against the bank. Alexander was tangled in it, barking madly. Edward had climbed over the edge of the back and was trying to calm the dog so he could free him.

"Come back, Edward," Envy called, starting to jog up the path. "I'll do it."

At that moment, however, Alexander surged forward. The movement dislodged the branch from its resting place and it fell, catching Edward in the stomach, and dragging both boy and dog into the river.

Even before Nina's scream registered, Roy was moving, scrabbling down the bank, his eyes fixed on the spot where Edward had disappeared underwater. Envy was faster, throwing off his coat and diving into the water without hesitation.

"Ed!" Alphonse half slid, half fell down the bank.

Roy caught him before he could pitch into the water. "Stay back, you'll be swept away in an instant—"

"Ed—" Alphonse clutched Roy's arm, as they both scanned the water for any sign. It was a painful few moments, with nothing but the rushing of the river and the seconds dragging on like hours. Then Alphonse's grip tightened.

"There! Look! Envy, he's there!"

There was snatch of gold in the eddy that had collected between two large rocks; as Roy watched it sank out of sight. "Envy! There—the rocks—"

Envy heard, dived. A couple of anxious seconds passed before he struggled to the surface, a limp form clutched to his side. There was no pause for relief, however—the current was so strong that Envy, burdened with Edward's extra weight, couldn't fight against the current to make his way to the other side. He managed to scrabble a hold on one of the rocks and keep Edward's head above water, but it was apparent that he could do no more.

"Colonel, your coat!"

Alphonse had shed his jacket and was hastily knotting its sleeves together with the coat Envy had discarded on the bank. Roy saw his intention immediately, and shrugged out of his coat. It was a long shot, but their only option. "I'll do this—for heaven's sake, Alphonse, stay on the bank."

For the makeshift rope to be able to reach Envy, Roy had to wade into the river. Bracing himself against a large boulder, he was just able to stay upright—the current was devilishly strong, and the water so cold the shock of entry almost took his breath away. Gritting his teeth, Roy threw one end of the coat-rope towards Envy.

The young man had guessed their intention, but it was clearly difficult for him to reach for the rope while supporting Edward.

"Alphonse—find me something I can tie to the other end of this—a branch or something," Roy, called over his shoulder, watching as Envy attempted to shift Edward's weight to get the boy further out of the water. It was obvious he could not continue to fight the river and support his half-brother much longer.

"Here—" A branch was shoved into his hands. Roy cast a look over his shoulder as he took it. "Alphonse, that's close enough. If you fall in, I'll tan your hide."

The boy hovered in the shallows, his face anxious. Roy couldn't blame him, but as he turned back to try again, he sincerely hoped that Alphonse would listen. He didn't wish to have to pull him out of the river too. "Envy, get ready!"

The stick knotted round the end of the makeshift rope made it easier to throw, but Envy still had the same problem trying to catch it while holding Edward out of the water. Roy tried not to think about how long the boy had gone without movement, and instead pulled the rope back to try again. This time, the stick caught on a branch jutting out of the water. It was almost within Envy's reach—the young man shifted position, holding Edward more tightly, and gathering himself for a frantic dive. He just made it, grabbing the rope, and then Roy had his hands full, bracing himself against his rock, and struggling to stand firm. He'd thought to pull then in but the current was so rapid, that it was all he could do just to hold on. Luckily, even that provided enough for Envy to make his way across the current and after a minute or so of battling with the water, Edward was hauled ashore by Marcoh and Alphonse.

Roy was very glad to leave the bitter river water, giving Envy a hand back onshore. "That was some rescue," he said, helping the young man to sit down on the bank. "Are you hurt—how'd you feel?"

"Edward," Envy rasped the moment he had breath. "Is he—-?"

Alphonse, Nina and Marcoh were clustered around him, the children's expressions frightened, Marcoh's grim.

"Roy, your hipflask."

Roy didn't even bother asking how Marcoh knew about the hip-flask, just passed it automatically. To think that one of his bad habits could come in handy at a time like this. As he watched Marcoh press the brandy to Edward's lips, the boy lying pale and very still in the puddle forming from his clothes and hair, he resolved that should this work, he would never, ever, consider giving up drinking again.

It appeared that Roy was not destined to be teetotal; a second later Edward choked and spluttered.

"He's alive!" Alphonse cheered, leaning forward to help Marcoh get him sitting up. "Ed—" He swallowed, and Roy thought he might cry.

"No time for that," he ordered briskly. "Marcoh, you're the doctor. What needs to be done?"

"He's likely to be suffering shock," Marcoh said, leaning Edward against him as he shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it around him. "He shouldn't be so unresponsive from just the river—there's the possibility he hit his head when he fell. He may be concussed. Either way, we'll want to get him back to the house as quickly as possible."

"Right." Roy stood, sizing up the situation. Envy was clearly exhausted, Nina too little—"Alphonse, listen. You're going to run back to the house as fast as you can. Tell Mrs. Curtis what happened, and then get Ross and as many blankets as you can, and come back this way with the car. Understand?"

"Yes. Will he be all right?"

"He's managed this far." Roy clapped him smartly on the back. "Now go."

Nina let out a shriek as Alphonse left. "Alexander—where's Alexander?"

Roy looked helplessly at her. He really had no idea what to do with small children, especially in situations such as this. "Nina—come away," he said, grabbing her hand as she scrambled towards the river. "It's too dangerous—"

"Alexander—come back!" Nina yelled with all her strength. "Alexander! Don't be a bad dog!"

The river made no reply.

Roy glanced helplessly towards Marcoh for any clue what to do, but the doctor was more concerned with checking Edward's pulse. Envy had pulled himself over to kneel on Edward's other side, and careful brushed his half-brother's hair, freed from its customary plait and plastered to the sides of his face, out of his eyes.

"He's so pale," he said. "And still. Will he be all right?"

"The biggest danger right now is the cold," Marcoh said, coming abruptly to a decision. "Roy, you haven't let yourself go too much since our army days, have you?"

Roy couldn't repress a smirk. "What do you want me to do?"

"Take him, and go meet Ross and the car—we need to get him home and warm as quickly as possible. If possible, try not to jolt him to much—I really don't like this lack of movement."

Roy nodded; he could do that. "And the rest of you?" he asked, scooping Edward, still bundled in Marcoh's coat, into his arms.

Envy wobbled unsteadily to his feet, but couldn't manage more than a step before having to sit down again hurriedly. Marcoh passed him Roy's flask.

"We'll follow more slowly, once Envy has had a chance to rest some," Marcoh said. "Don't worry about us, just get Edward back to the house."

"Right." Roy tucked Edward more firmly against him, hoping that body heat would make up for the fact that both their clothes were sodden, and set off. Once over the flood bank he began to jog carefully—he hoped that the movement wouldn't jar Edward too much, but the boy's continued lack of movement had him worried.

The path had not seemed so long on the journey there. The wind had picked up somewhat, and Roy slowed his pace to tuck Marcoh's coat more firmly around his burden. Edward stirred slightly as he did, and Roy wiped the boy's hair from his face, watching intently for awareness. "Edward?"

"—nvy?" Edward's eyes fluttered open, the usually clear gold unfocused and clouded. Roy wasn't even sure that the boy saw him. "Why—-?"

"Mr. Dante pulled you out of the river," Roy assured him, starting to walk again. "Don't worry about anything. I'm taking you back to the house, and we'll get you warmed up and into bed."

"Envy did . . . ?" Edward pushed against Roy's side, trying to sit up. It seemed he wanted to stand. Roy had an anxious moment when he feared he might drop the boy, but Edward quickly realised that he didn't have the strength to free himself.

"Don't move," he said. "We're not that far from the house." Remembering they hadn't had the chance to ascertain the extent of Edward's injuries, he asked "Do you hurt anywhere?"

It took Edward a moment to answer. "My head aches, and my back," he said, letting his head fall back against Roy's shoulder. "What happened to my shoe?"

Roy cast a look at the boy's feet. "It must have been lost in the river."

"Oh."

Edward's voice sounded curiously far away. Roy glanced down at him, and was concerned again at the boy's paleness. They needed to get him to the house, fast. "Are you cold?"

There was a pause as Edward thought about that before answering slowly. "Not really. It doesn't feel as I'm actually here."

"Marcoh thought you might be suffering from shock," Roy said, picking up his pace.

"I thought I'd died, at first," Edward continued, distant and slow. "It hurt and it tugged me under and I thought my lungs would burst but I couldn't move and then . . ." He reached out weakly, for something beyond Roy's sight. "Everything went white and then grey, and it didn't matter any more and I was floating and then he pulled me out . . . why do you think he did that?" Edward turned bewildered, still cloudy, eyes on Roy.

"Your half-brother doesn't lack guts," Roy said. "He's a regular hero."

Edward wasn't satisfied with that answer. "It doesn't make sense," he said. "He knows—"

"Knows?"

"This is my fault. All of it is," this confession seemed to tire Edward completely, and he lent against Roy exhausted, his eyes half closed. Roy was surprised when he continued, the words so soft he almost thought he'd imagined them. "It would have been better if I had died."

"Nonsense," Roy said firmly. "You're not throwing in the towel here, are you lad? You've got your whole life ahead of you."

Edward continued as if he hadn't heard. "I was meant to drown, I think . . . this is the second time. Maybe if I had died then everything would have been all right—"

Maybe he had hit his head harder than they'd assumed. "Try to rest, Edward. I'll get you back to the house as soon as I can."

Edward didn't reply, and when Roy glanced down at him, he appeared to have lapsed into unconsciousness again. The cold seemed to be taking its toll on him, he'd begun to shiver. Roy quickened his pace to a brisk jog; where was Alphonse?

It can't have been much longer, although it seemed like hours before the car roared down the path, Ross determined behind the wheel, Alphonse hanging out of the back window as though he could make the car go faster that way. Roy had never been so glad to see them.

They had another passenger; as they pulled up beside Roy and his load, Hohenheim was out of the car with a speed that rivaled Alphonse's.

"Edward," he breathed, raising his fingers to his son's face with almost fearful slowness. "He's so cold—blankets, we need blankets! Get him into the car, quickly."

Roy found himself and Edward ushered into the back seat and plied with blankets. Edward remained unconscious through out, and Roy carefully undid Marcoh's coat, now soaked through, and wrapped him in a dry blanket. He had a hard time getting the blankets around Edward, and it wasn't until Alphonse gently but carefully took the blankets from Roy and finished the task that he realised his own hands were shaking.

"I ran as fast as I could," Alphonse said. "Should he be shivering so much? He wasn't shivering when I left."

"The cold's catching up to him, I think," Roy said. "You did a good job, Alphonse. I think he's going to be all right, he was conscious for part of the journey back."

"Did he complain of injury? Say anything?" Hohenheim twisted round in the front seat to watch them. "What did Marcoh recommend?"

Roy gave him all the information he could. It seemed that Hohenheim was capable of acting like a father when the need arose. It was just a pity that the display of paternal concern was wasted on Edward.

Mrs. Curtis met them on the steps. "Shock, cold and possible concussion?" she asked, checking Edward's pulse. "You say he regained consciousness on the way back? How long was he aware?"

"Ten or so minutes, maybe more. He spoke, seemed to understand his surroundings and recognise me."

"That's a good sign then." Mrs Curtis opened the door to the house. "Our first priority should be keeping him warm. I've run a hot bath for him upstairs."

"I'll take him." Roy found himself relieved of his burden by Hohenheim. Roy opened his mouth to protest, knowing the condition of the man's upper arms and chest, but his own illness didn't seem to be a concern of Hohenheim's at all. "Alphonse, get the Colonel something warm to drink, and something for yourself too. The both of you look like you're chilled to the bone."

Roy hadn't imagined that such a short jaunt could take so much out of him. The river must have been colder than he thought, as he found himself shivering as he followed Alphonse to the kitchen.

"It's a good thing Izumi had the fire lit," Alphonse said, poking it before lifting the heavy kettle from the fire place to the table. "We don't have to wait for the water to boil."

"That is lucky," Roy agreed. "Be sure to leave some hot water for the others."

The boy didn't respond. Roy suspected the situation had caught up with him; this was borne out as he barely managed to stop the boy adding salt to their tea.

"Why don't you sit down?" He asked, taking the teapot firmly from Alphonse. "I can pour."

"But you're the guest," Alphonse protested. "It wouldn't be right."

"I'm the guest, so I'll decide what's right," Roy said, firmly guiding Alphonse into a seat. "Stiff upper lip, or as we used to say in the army, stiff upper lip, sir."

That got a wan smile, and the boy closed his hands around the mug of tea. "I don't know what to think," he said. "Ed could have died."

"We have Mr Dante to thank, don't we?" Roy said. He felt rather chagrined with himself; he'd let himself be fooled by the young man's dandyish exterior and dismissed him accordingly. When he and Marcoh returned, he would have to shake Envy's hand.

"We do." Alphonse's voice sounded oddly constrained. "I wish . . . I don't want to have to thank him."

Roy glanced at the boy, He wasn't still clinging to his ridiculous theory in light of Envy's heroism was he? "You can't still think him guilty of murder, surely?"

"I don't know what to think," Alphonse admitted. "I'm very grateful that he saved Ed, of course, but—it's the only way it makes sense."

"Even though your own brother disagrees with you?" Roy said a little more sharply than intended. Alphonse's words struck a chord with his own feelings of guilt—he should have been easier on Envy, given him a chance to show that he wasn't so bad after all.

"My own brother is afraid of Envy," Alphonse said. His voice was quiet but sure. "Ed says he's afraid of nothing but I've seen the way he looks sometimes and I kno—"

"Enough!"

Roy started; Alphonse flinched. Hohenheim stood in the doorway, pale and glaring. "That is quite enough of that sort of talk, Alphonse. I don't want to hear you repeating those words again, understood?"

"Yes, father."

"That's better." Hohenheim reached over to pat his son's head in an awkward apology. "Your brother wants you," he continued more kindly. "Make sure he gets some rest."

As the door shut behind Alphonse, Roy glanced towards Hohenheim. In his short stay in the Professor's household, this was the second time he'd seen the man lose his temper—and like the first time, it was with his son. He couldn't really blame the man, however. Hohenheim had sunk into the chair that Alphonse had vacated as if unable to hold himself up any longer and was currently staring at the grain of the kitchen table like a man suddenly bereft of all hope and joy. Roy had seen similar expressions on his men during the war, and it was with sympathy toward a fellow sufferer that he fetched another cup.

"Tea?"