chapter 5.

Ed doesn't immediately go and unpack, instead pausing outside Al's room, hoping Al will come out and apologise. When, after a few minute's wait, Al has done no such thing, he pushes the door of his own bedroom open, dragging his suitcase behind him, and throws it on the bed.

He feels a little lost, and a little uncertain. He doesn't know anyone here—and if what Al said holds true, nobody is going to be exactly friendly to him, either. He flops down next to his suitcase and falls back, folding his good arm behind his head, and glares up at the ceiling.

The argument he just had with Alphonse is not the first, nor, Ed suspects, will it be the last. Still, he's never felt like this before, like some sort of kicked puppy, and the feeling makes him set his jaw and wonder if it's worth storming into Al's room and beating some sense into him. He has a feeling that such an attempt will be unsuccessful.

He knows he's the type to just sit around and mope, to wallow in self-pity. Al was never like that, always thinking ahead, always trying to make the best of a miserable situation. Ed recalls he once threw a bag of chimera-food and later, a tea-cup at him because of it; it never works. Al has a way of sulking that always, always, breaks through Ed's defences, and thinking about it makes him smile. People always used to assume that he was the more forceful of the infamous Elric brothers. They'd obviously never seen Al when it had been time to clean their dorm room and Ed had been slacking off.

He pushes himself up and reaches for his gloves—he discarded them when he came in, and they lie haphazardly on top of the dresser. Even if the locals aren't very friendly, it's infinitely better to explore his surroundings than just sit in his room thinking about his brother.

He pauses outside Al's door, despite himself. It's closed, but he can hear voices; Al's, and one he hasn't heard since shortly after he killed Sloth, even though then it was an impostor. For a moment he just wants to stay there—hearing Winry's voice conjures in his mind an image of Rizenbourg, and by extension the home he and his brother had burned down—but he knows he cannot.

He hovers for a few seconds, and with a great exertion of willpower, manages to keep himself from eavesdropping. He should use the opportunity to explore, he decides, rather than lurking in the vague hope Al will come and apologise.

He retraces his steps back to the main hall, and for a moment pauses halfway down the stairs, staring up at the ceiling. "Damn," he mutters to himself, feeling for the next step down with his good leg and clinging to the railing for balance. He can't help but think of the tiny flat he and Al share back in London, the paint peeling and stains on the curtains that won't come off no matter how hard they try. "Moron," he whispers, and grins. Al could have had all this, and instead he'd chosen to settle for that?

He's still gazing up at the ceiling as he descends the staircase, and the distraction pays off when he falls over a black-and-white dog, lying under the bottom step. He doesn't catch himself in time; he hits the ground hard with a muffled curse on his behalf and a whimpering yelp from the dog.

"Oh, I'm sorry," says a voice he knows, distorted by a North American accent, and Ed raises his eyes up at the ceiling before climbing slowly back to his feet, using the bottom stair and banister for support. "Heel, boy," and the dog's claws clatter on the floor as it trots over to its master.

Ed takes a moment to compose himself, sweeping dust off his clothing, and says, in as unaffected a tone as he can manage, "It's okay."

"I haven't seen you around here before," the other man offers, extending a gloved white hand in greeting. "Roy Mustang."

"Edward Elric," Ed offers, and frowns down at the offered hand. "I'd shake, but..." he pulls the glove over his prosthetic hand down enough to show it for what it is and shrugs helplessly, and Roy good-naturedly switches hands. If he finds it odd that someone as young as Ed is missing a limb, it doesn't show.

"When did you arrive?" Roy asks, tugging at the lapels of his coat, and then pauses to rub at a piece of fluff imbedded in the fabric.

"Just now." Ed uses the opportunity to study this world's Mustang, and finds him different, somehow. It's not really a physical thing—this Roy looks more open than his, something Ed can't really put his finger on. There's a hint of past worries in the lines around his eyes, barely noticeable, but visible, and a scar on his cheek. Ed wonders, suddenly, if his own Mustang had survived, and had killed the homunculus Pride. It would be a bitch if the man had died, just when he and Ed had learned to be civil to one another. "I arrived with Al."

The man blinks at him. "Al?"

Ed feels a moment of unease. "Alphonse?" he tries, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Alphonse Havoc?"

"Alphonse? You mean Jean's prodigal son has finally returned?" Roy's face splits into a grin. "My gosh. I haven't seen him since he was fourteen. Few weeks before he left for England. That was before the Great War, of course."

The dog at his heels whines, and he pets its head absently. "I'm terribly sorry, Mr Elric—-"

"Ed. Call me Ed."

"Of course. Where did you say you came from again, Ed?" Mustang is still smiling pleasantly, but his gaze is piercing and uncomfortable. "I'm afraid I'm having difficulty placing your accent."

"Oh," Ed says, forcing himself to relax. "I get that question a lot. I'm British, but I spent a lot of time with my parents in India."

"Ah?" Roy lifts his eyebrows, and grins. "They were well-travelled, I take it?"

Ed nods. "My father couldn't stay in one place at all for very long," he says, without a hint of bitterness. "So—um—Col—Mr Mustang," he continues, inwardly marvelling at the words. Mustang has never been a 'mister' to him. Hughes was, for a while, as was Tucker; but Roy has always been 'Colonel' or occasionally just 'Mustang'. "Can I ask why you're just standing at the bottom of the stairs?"

"Oh," Roy replies airily. "I'm trying to see how many people I could trip up. You're the fifth, I believe."

Ed can't help but laugh at that, and Roy throws him an amused, knowing look. "Finally," he says. "I wondering if you even knew how to smile."

"Oh, that's not fair," Ed protests, and Roy chuckles again.

"To tell you the truth, I'm just waiting here for Jean and the others to get back. They went down to the local village about four hours ago, in order to get something to drink—Elizabeth won't let Jean drink in the house."

"Why didn't you go with them?" Ed asks, making himself comfortable on the bottom step.

"I had a terrible headache," Roy admits, and takes a seat beside him. His dog barks twice, and he frowns at it. "This mutt here isn't helping, of course. Go, boy, go outside and play, or something." The dog sits down and wags its tail, looking at him expectantly. Roy sighs. "I suppose I should do something about him, or else he'll be impossible to deal with by suppertime." He stands up again, fishing in one pocket of his trench coat for something. "Care to join me?" he asks Ed, withdrawing a green ball and tossing it up in the air, offering his other hand as a support; and Ed stares at him for less than a second before grinning and taking it.

The gardens here are just as impressive—and even more extensive—than the house itself. They are carefully tended; Ed and Roy pass no less than six gardeners, who all give them thoroughly displeased glares, as if annoyed that people are actually daring to intrude upon their domain. They finally come to a stop about two hundred metres away from the house, in a pleasant meadow bordered with flowers with a large, clean pond at one end, whereupon the peaceful tranquillity is abruptly shattered.

"AAARGH—DAMN MUTT—I don't understand dogs," Ed complains, giving the not-Hayate—named Corsair, for reasons known only to this Roy—a push. "Scram, you bloody mongrel. Go. FETCH! Look! The ball's over there! Get off me!"

"Sorry about that," Roy says, not sounding terribly contrite. "He never normally does that."

Ed gets a hand wrapped around the back of Corsair's collar, and drags him up. "Ball," he growls through gritted teeth. "Over there. Now go fetch!"

This time, the dog seems to obey, and goes haring off to fetch the required toy. Edward breathes a sigh of relief, and rubs at a grass stain on his trousers. "I really don't get dogs—I haven't known a single one who doesn't like to jump on me sooner or later."

"You're a cat person?" Roy inquires, crouching and holding out a hand for Corsair to drop the ball into. The dog does, then bounds on past, hurtling into Ed and knocking him off his feet again. "Heel!"

"If I hadn't been before," Ed grits out, from where he lies on the flat of his back, "I would be now."

Roy laughs, an open, friendly sound that is so unexpected it makes Ed sit up and stare at him. "Corsair here used to be Elizabeth's dog," he says. "Given the, uh, nature of his previous owner, I can only wonder that he hasn't torn your throat out yet." Ed snickers at this; he has no problem with imagining Lieutenant Hawkeye teaching Hayate to kill, and can't see why her double should be any different.

Roy pitches the ball as hard as he can in the opposite direction, and winces when it lands in the lake with a splash visible from this distance. "My mistake," he says, heaving a dramatic sigh as Corsair plunges in after it.

"At least it wasn't a window," Ed tells him amiably, getting up again and brushing more grass off his clothing. "It could be worse."

"Oh, I'm not concerned about that," Roy informs him with a wicked grin. Ed, made nervous by the mischievous glint in the man's eye, takes a step back just as a sopping wet mutt climbs out of the lake.

"Oh no," he yelps, taking a few steps back as the dog breaks into a run. "You complete bastard—OOF!"

"Need a hand?" Roy asks, not bothering to hide his grin. Ed shots him a foul look and shoves Corsair off, scrambling to his feet and thumbing at his sopping wet clothing. "Or do you need a towel instead?"

"Die," Ed tells him, and stalks off towards the house. Behind him he can hear Roy breaking out into laughter, and can't quite conceal his own grin. It feels good to get outside and stretch his legs, even if the end result is that he's soaking wet and covered in mud and grass stains.

He can't help but wince—as he treks through the house, even though he's taken his boots off, his socks nonetheless leave wet footprints all over the floor. He hurries up the stairs and slinks furtively along to his room, grateful that nobody is there to see him; but pauses outside Alphonse's door, listening intently. It seems he's still in there, and is still talking to his sister. Ed curses under his breath; he'd been hoping to be able to talk to Al; if not to apologise, then certainly to try and persuade him that he had been telling the truth. Stuffing his good hand into his pocket, he moodily shoulders his way into his own room, and, after shucking off his sopping wet clothes and changing into dry—if somewhat crumpled—ones from his suitcase, he pauses to examine the room.

There's a collection of miniatures on the dresser, and he picks one up to examine it. It's Al's sister, Winry; she must have been about ten when the picture was painted, and has been shown with a regal, graceful expression, unnerving on one so young. There is a picture of her parents behind it; Havoc and Hawkeye, holding hands, and smiling gently. It's such a contrast to back home, and Ed wonders if the relationship here is a reflection of his own world's, or if this is different, something new.

He hopes it's the latter. If it is a reflection of his own world's, after all, then what does that make the relationship between himself and this Alphonse? What does that make the relationship between himself and his brother?

There are other miniatures on the desk. Edward forces himself to concentrate on them, swallowing against the vague nausea in the pit of his belly; and nearly manages to forget when he sees the alter-Roy staring up at him, narrow eyes as dark as usual and mouth twisted in an achingly familiar smirk. He's dressed in some sort of military uniform; probably American, and quite high ranking. At the bottom of the portrait are the words ' mon cher ami, Roy'. Ed runs his fingers over the dedication—in French, despite this being a German household, and evidently painted at the same time as the others; Havoc, certainly, though Ed couldn't tell whether or not he was the artist. He doubts it, somehow.

He puts the little picture back on the dresser, and crosses to the window. His room faces down the hill the house stands on top of, and commands a fine view of the little village nestled on top of the next hill, and the river that lazily meanders through the valley between them. There's a forest. Ed closes his eyes against a memory of Rizenbourg, abruptly more homesick than he has been ever since he arrived.

He wants to go home. He wants the Colonel Bastard to tease him about his height, he wants his teacher to dropkick him for not having correct table manners, and he wants Winry to throw a wrench at his head. He wants to spend lazy afternoons lying on his belly in father's study, an alchemy text open in front of him and Al curled up to sleep at his side. He wants to go running through the forest, swimming in the river; wants to splash water at Winry and Al, wants Den to jump in and then climb out when they do, shaking himself off and soaking the three of them again. He wants to return home at sunset with his little brother's hand in his, having waved Winry off to the home she shares with her parents and grandmother, and see his mother flashing a light for them both from the upper window. He wants cool winter nights, he and Al sleeping so close they can feel each other's breath to conserve heat; he wants mom's apple pie, Auntie Sara's shortbread cookies, even Uncle Richard's homemade chocolate milkshake, despite the horrible milk.

This world is alien to him. There are only shadows of those he knows, copies without the memories; the only one who knows, who understands about alchemy, is his useless father, and Hohenheim is not—and never will be—anywhere near a suitable replacement for the presence of his brother. This world's Alphonse is the closest he can get, and if they're not on speaking terms—all because Alphonse won't believe him, he thinks sourly, despite his claims of loving and trusting Ed—then Ed really, truly, is alone in a way he's never been before in his life.

The thought makes him shiver, and he pushes himself away from the window to settle on the bed, wrapping his arms around his knees and trying to think of anything other than that.

Al pauses outside Ed's door, taking a deep breath to calm himself. It had been Winry who had pushed him here, to apologise to Ed. She'd said that a far better method of getting the truth out of Edward was to guilt-trip him into divulging it, and this apology is part of the plan; Al cannot fault her logic, but wishes Edward had just told him the truth in the first place. "Can I come in?" he calls, rather than knocking on the door. When there is no answer, he simply pushes it open anyway; it's not locked, just like he thought it wouldn't be.

Ed has fallen asleep, curled up on top of the bed covers, and Al can't help but smile at the sight. He toes some wet, muddy clothing out of his path, wondering vaguely what on earth happened to make them that way, before giving up and padding slowly over to Ed's bedside. "Hey," he says, reaching out and taking his boyfriend by the shoulder, shaking him awake. "Ed. Wake up. It's nearly time for supper."

Ed wakes up slowly, and in stages; Al takes a seat on the edge of the bed and waits for his mind to catch up with his body, which is already sitting up and stretching. "Evening," he says mildly; Ed blinks at him sleepily, rubbing his eyes with the heel of one hand. "How long were you out for?"

"I don't," and he punctuates the sentence with a jaw cracking yawn, "know. Four hours, maybe?"

"Ah." Al reaches out and gently brushes one of Ed's bangs behind his ear with his fingers. He loves Ed's hair—always has. It's soft, and always gleams beautifully in any amount of sunshine—like now, the evening sun giving it a reddish glow that makes Ed's skin and eyes seem even more golden in colour. He's beautiful, Al thinks, and can't help but let go of Ed's hair and gently take Ed's hand in his, squeezing softly. He leans over and kisses Ed on the cheek, and draws back with a smile. "I'm sorry," he says in response to Ed's confused, wide-eyed look. "I'm sorry for saying... you know. The stuff I did."

Ed's eyes narrow, and he frowns. "Are you really?" he asks, bluntly. "Or are you just saying that in the hope that I'll feel guilty and tell you the truth?"

Al's flinch is enough of an answer for him, and he pulls his hand away. "Ed," Al blurts, "I don't want to fight with you. It's just—I thought I could trust you, and after—after what happened back here I value honesty a lot and—it hurt, that's all. I'm sorry. Just tell me the truth or tell me that you don't feel like telling me the truth, and I'll leave you alone. I love you, okay? I don't want to have to doubt you. Please."

"I told you the truth," Ed tells him, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and pushing himself up onto his feet. "I told you that you wouldn't believe me, and you didn't. I expected you to be more polite about it."

"How can I believe that?" Al demands, abruptly outraged. How is this his fault? How is his refusing to believe Ed's lies a bad thing? How can Edward say that with a straight face? "I love you, Ed, and I tried to believe you, I really did—but it's impossible! You're lying to me and expecting me to believe it and I can't—and then you're blaming me and—why?! Why are you treating me like this?"

Ed pauses for a moment, looking at the window; then he turns back and says, "Forget it."

"I can't," Al snarls, scrambling to his feet. "You're like that story—about the boy who kept crying wolf—"

"Al," Ed interrupts, with a sharp chop of his hand. "Quit it."

"No." Al leans back against the door, crossing his arms over his chest, and glares at Ed. "I'm not letting you leave this room until you tell me the truth. Until you quit abusing my trust."

"No," Ed repeats, leaning back against the windowsill and mimicking Al's pose. Al sets his jaw and glares at him. "If you want to make this a contest, fine, go ahead. Let's see who lasts longest, hmm?"

"You're such a bastard sometimes, Ed," Al tells him, heatedly, and Ed snorts.

"And you're a complete hypocrite. You go on about love and trust, and I know fucking nothing about you—"

"Don't make this about me!" Al unfolds his arms and stands up straighter, hands balling into fists. "This isn't about me, this is about you! You and your lying, manipulative—"

"How the hell am I 'manipulative'?" Ed snaps, drawing himself up. "You were the one who came in here planning to guilt-trip me into telling you what you thought would be the 'truth'—or have you forgotten?"

"Shut up," Al orders. "You bastard. You've been mooching off me for the past two fucking years, and you won't even have the courtesy to simply tell me the goddamn truth—who pays the rent? Me. Who cooks the meals? Me. Who also has a part-time job and fulltime education to struggle with? Me again. And who sits at home, whining about being separated from their precious little brother and does fuck-all to help?"

"I don't just whine," Ed says, in a deathly quiet tone that should warn Al something is going to happen if he continues. But Al—furious, now—is in no mood to pay attention to that sort of thing, and ploughs ahead.

"You never told me how you got separated from him," he continues, mercilessly. "I wonder, Ed, if that's because you don't want to think about it yourself. You keep telling me how similar I am to your brother. Did he, like me, get fed up with you? Did he kick you out because he was fed up, Ed, fed up with you doing fucking nothing except making his life worse? Did he?"

Ed's response to this outburst is to punch him in the jaw. Al staggers back—both hands plastered to the injured spot, which is throbbing in time with his heartbeat—incapable of doing more than staring, open-mouthed, up at him. Ed had never hit him. Ed had never hit anybody before, and Al can't quite get his head around it.

Ed doesn't seem to believe it, either, and stands still for a while, shaking. He's crying, Al realises in bewilderment; and not that light crying he's done occasionally before, but tears-streaming-down-cheeks, silent-sniffling kind of crying. Al feels his gut sink, and realises with some consternation that bringing up Edward's brother like that was the stupidest, cruellest thing he could have done; this point is hammered home when Ed grabs his suitcase and brushes past him, heading down the hall. Ignoring the pain in his jaw, Al staggers back to his feet and follows him, falling into step behind him, feeling like something is not quite right with the world. "Ed, I'm sorry," he calls, desperately; Ed ignores him, kicking open the last door and taking the main staircase two at a time. There are people at the bottom of the stairs, on their way to dinner; a few continue on their way, but most stop to stare. Al vaguely notes his family and some of his father's friends amidst them, but can't bring himself to care; he stops halfway down the stairs, watching in horror as Ed opens the front door and pauses on the doorstep. "Ed, please," he offers. "We can—-"

"I'm going back to Munich," Ed tells him flatly. "You stay here and do whatever the hell you like."

And with that, he steps out, slamming the door behind him.

Al lasts all of five seconds before taking a seat, in the middle of the staircase, and burying his head in his hands. He's such a fucking moron, he thinks; he's let the best thing to ever happen to him so far walk out of his life, and he doesn't think he can get it back.

There are footsteps beside him, and someone crouches next to him. "Alphonse," someone says, gently; he recognises the voice as belonging to one of his father's old friends.

"Fuck off," he mutters, and is met with a sigh. Roy reaches out and grips his elbow, dragging him to his feet, and without saying a word, drags Alphonse behind him as he heads up the stairs. Al tugs against the grip, not caring that they're on the staircase, in plain sight of everyone; not caring that if he is released, he could fall to his death; just knowing that right now, he really, really needs to be alone. Roy doesn't release him, however, and instead pushes him along until they reach Al's old bedroom; he's ushered inside, and Roy shuts the door behind them.

"I need to have a talk with you," he says, frowning.

Even the nearest station, with trains departing for Munich every hour, is well over forty miles away, one of the villagers had been kind enough to tell him; and she had suggested he beg a ride from the village teacher. When Ed inquires why that is, the woman tells him the teacher both speaks English, and also owns the sole car in the village; these are incentives enough, he finds.

The teacher in question is a small man, lithe, with a dark shock of hair and intelligent eyes. He's British, too, and has settled and married his German sweetheart. "It's a bit late to be driving anywhere now," he explains, levelly. "If I were you, I would wait until the morning. I can put you up for the night, if you so wish."

"That'd be great," Ed replies, with a thin grin, and steps inside the door frame. A woman greets him with a sweet smile, a little girl in her arms, and offers him something to drink; he accepts her offer of a glass of water, and drinks it in the living room, seated in an armchair opposite the teacher.

"Can I ask why you want to leave in such a hurry?" the man asks, as his wife excuses herself to put their daughter to bed. "Nothing personal. You don't look like a mass murderer, but..."

"—You can never be sure," Ed agrees, taking a deep gulp and putting the empty glass on the table. "I got into a fight with the Havocs' son."

"Alphonse?" the teacher asks, impressed. "He's back? After what he did here, I didn't think he'd be in any hurry to show his face."

"What did he do here, then?" Ed asks, not without a degree of vicious malice. If Al won't tell him himself, then he'll find out by some other means. A dirty, underhanded technique, perhaps; but then, so was the manner in which Al bought his brother into their argument.

"It's a long story," the teacher says with a yawn.

"I'll listen," Ed informs him, quietly, folding his hands into his lap and crossing his legs over one another. The man gives him a thoughtful look, and then says, "What's your name?"

"Edward," he says patiently. "Edward Elric. Yours?"

"David," the teacher says with a quiet grin. "David Griffin. This could take a while, Mr Elric, so please make yourself comfortable."