chapter 2.

It had been a cold day when Roy Mustang had finally turned up. Winry had been expecting him ever since she'd let Ed and Alphonse slip away, since she'd heard about his rising to the post of "Fuhrer", and she smiled to herself as she saw him come up the path leading to her home, Major Hawkeye pacing by his side.

"Looks like we've got guests. Can you put the kettle on, please, Granny?" Granny Pinako blew smoke in the air and shook her head at the foolishness of children, and left to prepare coffee. Winry had grinned at her and slipped her wrench into her belt, pausing a moment at the mirror in the hallway to school her expression into a sorrowful mask before opening the door.

"Ah... Miss Rockbell? You're looking well." Mustang had said, and sounded like he meant it.

"Please, come in." She sat them in the waiting room while Granny Pinako bought in the drinks, and made small talk until the last cup had been drained.

Mustang put the empty cup on a nearby table filled with proto-type automail eyes, folding his hands over his lap. He was wearing his gloves, Winry had noticed, and she bit her lip at the sight. "Miss Rockbell, I assume you know the reason I am here?"

"Ed and Al," she had replied promptly.

He nodded.

"You're three months too late for them," she said, absently picking up an automail arm from the floor near her feet and flexing the wrist and fingers.

Something about her expression—which she'd been practising so hard since Ed had first thought of the plan—told the military personnel something was amiss.

"Have they already left?" Riza Hawkeye inquired.

Winry shook her head. "Maybe you'd better come with me, Fuhrer," she said, putting the arm on her chair as she stood up. Without a word, Mustang rose, and Winry hid her smile when Riza stood up too. She walked quietly up the stairs, fishing in her tool belt for the keys to the small room at the end. It had been Ed's bedroom when he wasn't in surgery, and thus had seemed perfect for the hoax. She opened the door, flicked on the lights, and made her way over to the windows to let in some fresh air. Three month's worth of dust had built up, and the room felt cloying and gritty. She heard Riza gasp as the lights illuminated the only two things in the room, but Mustang made no sound, and she didn't dare hope what he might be feeling.

Al's armour lay against the wall opposite the door, its helm in its lap, though the eyes were dark. The back of the neck, where the blood-seal had been, had been carved out neatly. A table next to the armour carried Ed's silver pocket watch, nestled on top of his coat.

"About three months ago," she said without waiting to be asked. "It was Envy. Ed got him, but was injured himself in the process. He..." here she paused for dramatic effect, still looking out of the window. "He wouldn't let me help. He was... hysterical, kept talking about having no reason left to live. I didn't think... I didn't think he was that dramatic enough to... to..."

"To do what, Winry?" Hawkeye asked quietly when Mustang didn't.

"He killed himself," she said, turning back to face them. Crocodile tears rolled down her cheeks, and she wiped them away with the back of a hand, taking the opportunity to study her visitors. Hawkeye was mostly stunned, but Mustang was silent, his head ducked down. "Drowned himself in the river. The body was... horrible." She took a deep breath, judging their reactions to be appropriate, and continued, "we... that is, Granny and I... buried Ed and what was left of Al's seal in the cemetery over the hills. Where their mom's grave is. Do you want to... see them?"

"Yes," Mustang said into the silence. Winry nodded.

She led them out of the house, over the hills to the cemetery her parents and Trisha Elric called their final resting place. They said nothing as she led them past rows of neat grey tombstones, to an impressively shaped monument and the plain, ordinary headstone next to it.

"Alphonse Elric," said the inscription on the sculpted one, and "Edward Elric," it said on the other.

Winry left them there, to their own reflections. She felt more than a little bad for lying, but it was necessary.

"They were just children," Roy said when Winry left.

Riza didn't say, "I'm sorry," because she had nothing to apologise for. She didn't say, "It's going to be all right," because it wouldn't be. She didn't even say, "It wasn't your fault," because it was. Instead she said, "You gave them hope when they had none, sir. I think they would rather have died this way than any other."

"I'd rather they died whole," Roy muttered, going to touch Al's headstone but pausing when he caught sight of his gloves. Stripping them off, he put them in his back pocket while he crouched in front of the grave. Riza would have retreated a few steps, left him alone, but he motioned for her to stay. "You know something, Major Hawkeye?"


"I didn't know Alphonse."


He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm thinking of Alphonse, and you know? Even though his restoration was Fullmetal's main goal in life, I can't remember much but a timid voice and a huge, grey presence."

"He liked cats," Riza found herself saying, and bit her lip when she heard herself say it. "He was a brave, kind person," she continued, quietly. "He was also a capable fighter. But I don't think he'd want to be remembered for that, sir."

"Not 'sir', not today." Roy said, softly, mouth twisting into a cold parody of his usual smirk. "Of course, Alphonse and his cats. I remember Ed's combat assessment—he wanted me to take in a kitten his brother had 'rescued' if he won, rather than throwing it back out onto the street, as well as the information on Dr Marcoh." Roy permitted himself a small 'heh'. "Fullmetal always seemed so sharp. Who'd've known he had a soft side?"

"It was there," Riza said. "You could always see it around Alphonse."

Roy nodded slowly, stepping away from the gravestones. Riza held his coat out for him, and as he put it on, something seemed to occur to him. "It's odd," he said, toying with the collar. "When I think of Edward, two things really stand out."


The small smile he gave her was indulgent but warm. "Call me Roy, Major Hawkeye. You've known me for long enough."

"Only if you agree to call me Riza," she replied without thinking, then wished she could bite back her insubordinate words.

"That sounds fair... Riza," Roy said, with a grin. The grin faded as he turned back to look at the cold stone with the small plaque commemorating the final resting place of Edward Elric. "You liar," he told the headstone. "What was it you said? 'I will not die before you do, Colonel shit!'" he sighed, shaking his head. "Hughes reported that back to me with such glee, too. Really, Fullmetal. I suppose you were about as honest as you were tall." He smiled, inclined his head to the headstone, and turned back to Riza. "Let's go back," he said. "We have a train to catch."

As they pulled away from the station, Winry and Pinako Rockbell waving at them from the platform, it occurred to Riza to ask, "What was the other thing you mentioned you remembered about Edward, Si—Roy?" And God, it felt odd using his name.

Roy looked down at his gloved hands, resting quietly in his lap. "Do you remember? Before the Tucker case, Barry the Chopper got another victim, and Edward was there when we found the corpse?"

"He fainted," Riza said. "Brigadier-General Gran had a wonderful time with that. 'The Military doesn't need State Alchemists who fall apart at a little bit of blood. Toughen him up, or take him out.'" She carried on polishing her gun, the only sign of her irritation the sharp horizontal swipes along the barrel rather than the vertical strokes she usually used.

Roy nodded. "Thank God that bastard's dead," he said cheerfully, "and I can say that now, since I'm Fuhrer, though I didn't get the title merely because of the opportunities for slander. Heh," he permitted himself a smirk, and Riza didn't even bother to hide her smile. "But..." and his tone was pensive as he looked out the window again, at the rolling fields and hills. "I was the one who picked Edward up and took him to the car." He sighed, fingers twisting together. "He was surprisingly heavy—I suppose that was the automail, since he was still small enough for me to pick up. His face was pressed into my shoulder, and I could hear him whimpering. The position of that corpse seems to have reminded him of something..."

"What?" Riza asked, the cloth stilling for a few seconds as she looked up. "What did he say?"

"He was calling to his mother," Roy said softly, not looking at her. "Said something along the lines of, 'Mom. Mom, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me, I didn't mean it.' Of course, if he ever found out I'd heard that, I think he might have killed me," he added.

Riza felt a brief stab of pity grip her, and pushed it away. Edward had been strong. He had refused to cave in to his own demons, and pity would have been furiously rejected. "It makes sense," she said, resuming her cleaning. "He had two automail limbs. He must've been too used to the sight of his own blood to faint at the corpse alone."

Roy nodded. "I teased him mercilessly while he worked for me, to keep him sharp. He hated it. Probably hated me, too." Now, he smirked. "He needed it, though. Especially in the Tucker case."

Riza tilted her head at him. "What did you say to him, by the way? In that alley?"

Roy looked her in the eye, and smiled. "True things."

"I see." Let him be cryptic if he wanted. There were more important things to deal with. "Do you want me to tell the rest of your staff, sir? In private, I mean?"

"Roy-not-sir," he corrected on one breath, and smiled at her curt nod. "No. I will tell them all myself. Don't worry about that, Riza." And yes, it felt just as weird to hear him using her name. She shifted her weight on the seat, and instantly felt that something was wrong. A brief reversal of the motion revealed that someone had slipped something into her breast pocket without her noticing; she dipped a hand in and fished it out, glancing up at Roy to see him gazing out the window again.

That was odd. A bit of tissue wrapped around something hard, and she didn't even need to read the note Winry—for it could only be she—had stuck to the tissue to know it was Ed's silver pocket watch. She read the note anyway; Winry simply wrote that she thought the military would have more use for it than Ed did, but it was Riza's to do with as she would. Riza looked up at Roy, smiled, and called "catch," before pitching the watch across the seats. "Miss Rockbell managed to slip it into my pocket before I got on the train. Quite the nimble-fingered young lady, isn't she...?"

"You say that like you're old," Roy shot back, holding the watch firmly in his palm. "We'll have to thank her one day," he added, in a quieter tone of voice.

Riza nodded, and smiled abruptly. "Rest in peace, Elric brothers," she said, and Roy murmured along with her.

It was snowing when Riza pulled the keys out of the ignition, throwing the car door open. "It's not too late for you to learn to drive, sir," she said, tugging the collar of her standard-issue black trench coat up.

"You know what they say about us old dogs and new tricks, Riza," Mustang replied grandiosely, pulling his cap over his head, partially to stop himself from getting cold and mostly so that he wouldn't have to meet Riza's glare.

"I would hardly call you an 'old dog', sir," she replied, a hint of a smile ghosting her face. More jeeps were pulling up behind them, car doors slamming. There was a hint of movement that went against the grain of the snow just ahead of them. "Someone's coming."

"Anyone we know?" Roy asked, too used to her skills to ask her how the hell she'd known.

Major Havoc, flanked by Major Ross and Second Lieutenant Broche, stomped up to them and saluted. He'd gone with the advance negotiation squad, along with Breda, Farman, and Fury. Riza couldn't help but notice that he was wearing what appeared to be half a bear chopped into both bulky coat and hat. He'd pulled his scarf low to make room for his trademark cigarette.

"Major," Roy said carefully-the snow melting on the fur was beginning to make it smell highly unpleasant. "You appear to be wearing some rather unorthodox outdoor apparel..."

"Nah," Havoc said dismissively. "Farman came from up here, y'know. He called his brother-in-law at North HQ and got a list of things to remember, then dragged us 'round the Rulingrad flea market as soon as we arrived. Goes down to minus forty at night, you know," he added, grinning through the smoke. "The smell's worth it. Sir."

"I'll remember that," Roy replied, sticking his hands in his pockets. He wore thicker gloves than normal today, his sole concession to the weather. Riza could see the flame array on the backs, however, and knew that though the material may be thicker, their effectiveness was not lessoned. "So, judging by the fact that you called for reinforcements, the negotiations failed?"

The grin fell from Havoc's face. "They shot Fury," he replied. "Only once, and it wasn't in a fatal area, but it was enough to get their point across."

"What are their demands?" Roy asked, the 'Fuhrer expression' coming onto his face. It was Riza's name for the deadly serious look Roy wore when he had a difficult problem to solve.

"They want Yikatrinburg. And Rulingrad. They want North HQ and all other military personnel north of Tommensky evacuated."

"Tommensky is only a hundred miles north of Central. They're getting more demanding each year." Riza said, clasping her hands together behind her back. Roy nodded.

"This has always been a troubled region; this time it's a hostage situation. There are three million people in Yikatrinburg. They claim to have planted bombs all over the city, and they aren't letting anyone in or out. The people are starving, close to performing rebellion by themselves. They don't care who they belong to, Amestris or Drachma, as long as they get fed. Here are the Drachnian group's demands." Maria Ross dug into a pocket and found a folded piece of paper, which she handed to Roy with a grave expression. He unfolded it, read the first few lines, and snorted.

"They must be mentally addled if they think I'll agree to any of this," he said, scrunching the paper up and throwing it a few feet away into a snow bank. "This time I won't make any concessions," he added. "They threaten an entire city, injured someone who worked with me for a long time, are trying to blackmail me with inaccurate information and want me to pay them to let us retreat in safety—and think I'm going to let them go?"

Havoc snapped a sharp salute. "Sir."

"I'm going to the hospital. I need to speak to Fury. Ross, find Farman and Colonel McQueen of the advance and send them to me, Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye, please do the same with General Armstrong. Then I want you to take over these troops. I want schools evacuated to use as a temporary HQ. Fill up North if they have space. Organise the military police, too, recruit the civilian police force if you must. Ross, help Hawkeye. Havoc—"


"You and Breda can go buy me some winter coats. Something stylish, please, in black."

Jean managed to refrain from sighing in disbelief until Roy was out of sight, at least. "General Armstrong can be found in the mess hall, by the way, along with Colonel McQueen. It used to be the university cafeteria. Follow the main street. Ask the locals if you get stuck, they're all mostly bilingual. And not surprisingly, very unfriendly. Maybe you should go with Major Ross?"

"Thank you," Riza said with a side long glance at Maria, who simply shrugged. "I'll do that. Have you got a weapon?"

"Don't mention it. And yeah, got a standard issue pistol."

"Have you needed it yet?"

Havoc took a long drag on his cigarette and said, "No. And that's the most disturbing part about this entire thing."

"I see. Thank you for the warning, Major Havoc." She saluted him with a hint of a smile, and he did the same in return. He watched her leave, and when Denny Broche went to follow, he grabbed the blond by the shoulder. "Not so fast, you. We need someone to help us carry the Fuhrer's stuff..." It was almost worth being used as a personal shopper to see Broche's sigh of resignation. "Good start, kid. Now help me find Breda."

" 'Something stylish in black?' " Breda said helplessly.

The stall holder blinked at him, said something incomprehensible, and tugged at one of the fur-lined coats hanging on the rack behind him.

"What the hell, it'll do," Havoc said, holding out a fistful of notes. The stall keeper counted them out, beamed them a smile, and took the coat off the rail. He stuffed it into a brown paper bag, still talking in his own little language, which bore no relation to any Havoc had heard before. He smiled at the little man anyway, said "thanks" and thrust the bag at poor Broche, who made tried to make room for it amidst the similar bags he clutched and ended up dropping them all on his feet; Breda crouched down to help him while Havoc lit another cigarette. He looked around the small market, with the brightly coloured canopies of the little stalls flapping in the wind, and his fellow shoppers.

A boy standing in front of another stall was watching him, curiously, so Havoc stared back. The boy had dark blond hair, darker than Broche's, and bronze eyes; and he was taller than the average person in this area, his facial structure and skin colour marking him as being a foreigner. Havoc grinned at him through the cigarette smoke and dropped his gaze to the stall behind the boy, which was piled high with paint pots, brushes, blank canvasses, pencils, charcoals and paintings.

The boy bit his lip abruptly, perhaps realizing he'd been staring, and turned back to the stall, pointing out several items. The stall holder joked with him as though he were a regular customer, and Havoc was intrigued. The people of Rulingrad and the other northern towns and cities were notoriously xenophobic; this boy must have been here a long time. The woman bagged some blank canvasses, some paints and a few brushes for him, and he handed her another bag. She emptied it out on her lap, peered at the contents, bit her lip and held up five fingers. The boy nodded, and she pushed a handful of money over to him. He thanked her with a grin and an elaborate bow, tucked the bag under his arm, and headed over to the stall besides the art one, which sold boots.

Havoc felt there was something familiar about the boy, but he couldn't quite place it. Reminding himself that Roy hadn't specified what winter clothes to buy, and good boots were damn handy in this weather, he headed over to the very same stall. The young woman who sat behind it smiled at him.

"I'm looking for some good boots for a Central size 36?" he asked, and she shrugged her shoulders and said something in Drachnian. The boy had been watching him sidelong, and now he rattled off a string of fluid Drachnian; Havoc only managed to catch the word "Central". The girl beamed and replied.

"She asks what they need to be good for," the boy said. And yes, he had a Central accent, a bit distorted after some time spent here, but not by much.

"The usual. They need to be sturdy with a good grip for walking in snow, as well as keeping feet dry," he replied via his unexpected translator. She found a few for him, and Havoc picked up some heavy black knee-high ones that weren't too different from the military issue boots, but lined with fleece, and paid her. "Thanks, kid."

"It's all right," they boy replied, and Havoc held up a gloved hand.

"Major Jean Havoc. I'm with the military. Feel free to run screaming."

The boy laughed, though Jean noted that there was a vague hint of... worry? Interesting... "I'm Alex. Alexander Edwards. I'm a part-time librarian at the university." He stuttered a little over his name, but the smile on his face didn't waver, and when he shook Jean's hand his grip was firm and steady.

"Ah? Seems we've given you a long holiday, then."

"Mmmm. If only it were paid," Alex said with a sigh, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

"Sorry about that. Cigarette?"

"No thanks, I don't smoke. So, how long d'you think this is going to take?""

"To be honest, I don't know," Jean sighed, exhaling a long stream of smoke. "We thought we could argue with them, but they made their stance clear on the matter. Shot Cain Fury, a man I've worked with for years."

"Is he dead?"

Jean paused, surprised by the concern in Alexander's voice. Well, he was an artist and a librarian; if Elysia and Scieszka were anything to go by, they were all bleeding hearts. "No. In hospital. They didn't aim to kill."


"They been bothering you?"

"Yeah, but not much. A few marches through the streets, open air assemblies, posters on walls. Door to door arguing. They knocked on my door three days ago. 'Would you like to help our cause to make this region part of the great Drachma?'"

"What did you do?"

Alexander laughed. "It was six o'clock in the morning. I'm not capable of getting up until eleven, or coherent speech until at least one. Not without caffeine, anyway." Jean laughed with him, recognising the feeling. "Nah, my b—my boyfriend got the door for me," Alexander added, blushing furiously and scratching the back of his neck with a gloved hand.

Jean wondered why he'd slipped on the word "boyfriend," but decided the kid hadn't been in any of the more... interesting bars when he was in Central. "I take it he's not a nice person either?"

"Oh God, he's worse in the mornings, just more coherent and with better aim," Alexander said with a fond laugh, a little bit of the blush receding from his cheeks. "Needless to say, they won't be coming by again any time soon."

Breda joined them then, Broche trailing behind. Jean briefly introduced them to Alexander then said, "I should be getting on. Gotta look for clothes for my boss, he's too lazy to do it himself. Nice talking to you, Alexander, and thanks for your help."

"No problem," Alexander replied, holding out a hand. Jean shook it with a warm grin. "I know how hard it is to fit in here. Word of caution, don't drink the tap water."

"Hmmm?" Jean paused in the process of lighting another cigarette. "Why's that?"

"Bacteria. Foreigners get sick from it. Nothing fatal, just nasty stomach cramps." Alexander briefly rubbed his lower abdomen, pulling a face. "Really nasty stomach cramps."

Jean laughed. "Thanks for the warning, kid. I'll pass it on to the Fuhrer when we get back to base."

Alexander tilted his head sharply, bronze eyes widening. "The Fuhrer? Fuhrer Mustang, the Flame Alchemist? He's here?"

Jean rolled the cigarette slowly around his mouth, eyeing the kid carefully. That was the thing with these terrorists and this city; they could be anyone. But... Alexander looked a little too... innocent to be one of those Drachnian terrorists, and Jean didn't think his earlier disgust with them was faked. And it wasn't like Roy couldn't take care of himself... "Yeah," he said. "Why? Hero worship?" He grinned at Alexander through his cigarette smoke, and the kid's shoulders slumped.

"Heh. Sort of. I'm an alchemist myself, you know."

"Heeeeeh? Any good?"

"Yeah," the boy quipped with a slightly sarcastic grin. "I'm the next Fullmetal Alchemist."

Jean took the cigarette out of his mouth. "Edward Elric was very good," he said. "He's also very dead."

"I'm not like him," Alexander replied with a shrug.

Jean pretended to look him over critically. "No, you're alive," he said, and smiled, a little bit sadly.

"And that's a relief," Alexander laughed, shifting his bag onto his other hand. "I should go. Good luck finding what you need. It was nice meeting you, Mr. Havoc."

"You too, kid. See you around." He waved at Alexander's back as the kid walked off, then stubbed the stump of his cigarette out.

"What was that all about?" Breda asked.

"The kid's a liar," Jean said with a shrug. "I don't think he's a terrorist, but he has something he doesn't want us to know. We should finish up and get back to base; I want to see if there really is an 'Alexander Edwards' working for the University."

As they passed the art stall, Havoc was distracted by the painting the stall keeper was setting out. A blonde woman with her hair pinned up, holding a black and white puppy in her arms and dressed in the uniform of a First Lieutenant, staring fearlessly out of the picture. It was a very good painting, but that didn't disturb Havoc as much as the "AE" of the artist's signature in the bottom right corner.

"How much money do we have left?" he demanded.

"Enough to buy that painting," Breda replied, having followed his line of sight, his mouth flatting into a tight line.

"Good. Mustang's gonna want to see this."

Ed was lying face down on the couch, reading, when Alphonse came in, the towel wrapped loosely around his hips the only article of clothing he wore. "Close the door, it's bloody freezing," he complained, not looking up from his newspaper. Al obeyed, dumping his bag by the door and yanking his coat off in quick, uneasy motions, and it was this that finally got Edward's attention. "Al? What's wrong?"

"I bought some more paints and a few more canvasses," Alphonse said, realizing his voice sounded unsteady and hating it.

"That's what you said you were going to do. What happened? Why are you upset?" Ed swung off the couch, pausing only to secure the towel around his hips, and came closer.

Alphonse stripped off his boots, turned, and buried his face in Ed's automail shoulder, wrapping his arms around his brother's back. "Hey," Edward murmured, threading the fingers of his living hand through Al's hair, "What happened?"

It took Al a few seconds to realise he was practically sobbing, his chest heaving with the huge dry gasps of air that came with crying, but though his eyes stung, no tears came. He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrated on the warmth of his brother, the smell of soap and coffee and ink and books and all the other relaxing scents that came along with the sharp smell of raw Edward. He took a few more of those heavy, gasping breaths, feeling Ed's breathing against the side of his neck and Ed's automail around his back, and said into the cool steel of Ed's shoulder, "Roy's here."

"Oh," Ed said quietly, his left hand continuing to stroke Al's hair. "Maybe you should tell me what happened. From scratch."

So Al told him, told him about meeting Havoc and wanting to help, and about all the slips he'd made in the conversation, and the suspicion in Havoc's eyes whenever he did so. He was shaking, he realised, and felt stupid for doing so, but he'd been that highly strung through the entire conversation. "He'll probably go to the University and ask to see my file," he said. "My file has your picture on it, too. And if that weren't bad enough, I sold the painting I did of Riza to Natalya. You know, the pawnbroker-artist? Her stall is right next to the one Havoc was at. He must have seen it; Natalya always puts out my paintings whenever she gets them." He broke off with another wrenching breath, whispering, "I'm sorry. I know you said you didn't want to leave. I'm so, so sorry."

Ed kissed the top of his head, like he'd done sometimes when Al was small and had tripped over, skinning his knees. He pushed Al back onto the couch, straddling his brother's thighs. "Al. It's okay. It is. Don't worry, all right?"

"Why shouldn't I?" Al demanded, raising his face. His eyes burned and he rubbed at them, refusing to cry over something as simple as the end of their quiet, peaceful life. "They'll know, brother, they'll—"

"Your file's all fake, isn't it?" Ed said, gently. "I know it is, I faked it, and your passport, myself. Fake birth date, fake issue number, fake identification code," and he dropped a kiss against the hollow of Al's throat, "fake name, fake birth place, fake everything—"

"Except the photograph," Alphonse whispered as Ed's hands began to open the buttons of his shirt. "And yours—"

"Also fake," Ed said with a shrug, casting Al's shirt onto the floor behind him. "Even the photograph." He cupped Al's jaw with his left hand, leaning forward to kiss his mouth as his automail hand began to unbutton Al's pants.

"But—the painting—-" Alphonse whispered, catching Ed's metal wrist. "It's not so much the name—'AE' is a fairly common initial—but the subject—"

His brother smiled, golden eyes half-lidded with something like amusement. "Simple," he muttered softly, sitting back on his haunches, left hand covering Al's over his wrist. "It was a gift from your boyfriend."

"And if they want to meet my boyfriend?" Al asked softly, releasing Ed to undo the knot of the towel around his brother's hips.

"He's out of town, stealing things from the backs of trains," Edward purred, leaning forward to kiss Alphonse again.

Al ducked. "This plan is stupid! It's badly thought out, makes no sense and I can't do it," he growled. "I'm sorry, brother, but it won't work! I can't lie to save my life!"

Ed shrugged. "We could always hop town again," he offered. "We could try somewhere in the West for once. Or somewhere near Dublith; Master would never betray us to the military."

"Master would find out, though," Alphonse said quietly. "About... us. And what we do. She wouldn't approve, nobody would. They'd separate us, and if that meant selling you back to the military, even Winry might do it."

Ed kissed him, fiercely, passionately, possessively. Al wasn't surprised. Even talking about being taken away from his brother, or having his brother taken away from him, made him flinch closer, running his hands down Ed's back.

"I won't let them," Ed whispered against Al's collarbone, breaking off the kiss.

"I know," Al replied, brushing his jaw over the top of Ed's head, pulling his brother closer. "I love you," he whispered into Ed's hair.

Ed said nothing, but Al could feel his brother's mouth curving into a grin against his skin.

They held each other like that until sundown, until the windows along the wall of the room flooded them with red and gold. Ed broke the embrace first, complaining of kinks in his spine, and Al dipped his head and kissed his brother's chin with a smirk. "Stop complaining and get off me, my legs feel dead."

Ed obliged, standing and stretching, and Al was made acutely aware of his brother's nakedness as the unfastened towel slid off Ed's body, pooling around his feet. "We still haven't worked out what to do," Ed said over his shoulder. "Come on. We can discuss it later."

"What're we doing now, then?" Al asked, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. Ed didn't do anything so crass as to look down at his brother's body, but simply smiled and said, "Guess," tugging Al into their bedroom.

Alphonse knew that it was a pretty serious problem they'd uncovered, but he was willing to allow himself to be distracted. If necessary, they could skip the entire sleeping thing and go from sex to skipping town, like they'd done so many times before.

He was starting to see what Ed meant when his brother said he was fed up with always running away, but this place... well, this place felt like home, but would he stay here if it meant being harassed by the military? All he wanted was a peaceful life with his brother, especially since their relationship had taken this little turn for... well, the better, really, but how many others would see it like that? How many would see it, and them, as anything other than foul, perverted and wrong? Could he kill to protect this life, Alphonse wondered, as Ed's head ducked between his legs; would he kill to protect this life, to protect them?

Yes, he realised with a sharp, almost painful twist in his stomach, as he ran his hands through the silky softness of Ed's hair, directing his brother's mouth to where he wanted it. He could, and he would.