sky dark

Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 1.

He had the phone cord wrapped tightly around metal digits. His steel thumb rolled the tightly wrapped cord up and down his equally steel forefinger. He kept giving Roy (who was standing in the door way of the den with his robe half hanging from his tall, lanky frame) worried glances and kept caressing the phone receiver with his flesh fingers, leaning harder into it.

"Then what did you see?" Edward said softly.

Alphonse was on a mission and it was also his time away in East City. He had two residences now, made necessary by his appointment to Colonel Hawkeye's staff: one here and one at home in Central. The Colonel and her hand-picked team had come to East City, a place better than it was when she was assigned there a few years ago, but still needing a firm touch. Alphonse, both flattered and thrilled, had of course eagerly jumped at the chance to accompany her, which resulted in him spending many a night with his elder brother looking like he wanted to throw himself off a bridge. But the Elrics, even in service to their country, had always been ones whose rules where twisted into pretzels for. When Alphonse didn't have immediate pressing assignments, reports or theories due, he was allowed to be away from his assigned post, which helped to content his elder brother, if not very much.

But sometimes, like tonight, the dreams came. At first they were coy and shy, standing there twisting the hem of a skirt like that girl had that day, when she had watched Alphonse from the mezzanine in the park. The dreams would sidle and loiter, linger and sigh. They would wait until he was unguarded and then they would splinter and slither and hiss and strike. He would wake blindly, crying out in the darkness with unintelligible sounds, mostly of his brother's name here and there. After he could breath again and his body obeyed his commands, he would lunge for the phone, perched right on the side of the bedside table, where it had rested the night before (or rather, only hours previously) when he made his brotherly dutiful goodnight call.

The voice that would always answer these late night intrusions was jarring and would tease the edge of what was still hanging about in his mind, waiting for him to turn his back again. He found he wished the Pirate was quicker on his feet, but the true source of the dreams always spoke to him softy, trying to take the bad away and for that Alphonse was grateful.

Although, it never quite worked.

"I saw a woman," Al said softly, "she was very beautiful, but looked cruel and then her fingers... I don't know, it sounds crazy. They shot out and then there was a man, he was fat and he looked cheerful and terrifying, and he opened his mouth and... he had a mark on his tongue," Al went quiet, listening to Edward's breathing over the phone. His brother was almost panting now and it always seemed a peculiar comfort that in his time of need, it was he that would eventually have to soothe Ed.

"Is that all?" Ed's voice came to him, distant and strained.

"Yes," Al lied, "then I woke up. I'm sorry to have called you over nothing," Al twisted the sheet in his fingers, glancing about his shadow-cased hotel room and sighing.

"No, it's alright," Ed said, "call me anytime, anytime at all. Do you want me to come out to where you are? I could help with the investigation..."

"No," Al said quickly and maybe a little more forcefully than he should have, "it's not necessary. I'm on assignment, brother; I'm capable of handling it on my own."

And I don't want you here breathing down my neck, second guessing all my decisions and being recognized. There are only so many blows to my ego that the FullMetal Alchemist should be allowed to make.

"Okay," Ed said, sounding sad and resigned, "if you're sure."

"I appreciate it, I really do, but you need to keep an eye on the Pirate," Al said, trying to make his own spirits lift from under the bed, "he's hopeless without you around now, you've spoiled him."

"Yeah, I guess," Al could tell Ed was making the effort to improve the mood as well, since Al had made the first overture, "but all he does is bitch about my cooking and sleep in the big chair with a paper over his face. I can hardly see how he needs watching."

"Well you know," Al said, "it's actually him watching you for me, we just like to make you feel useful."

"I'm so glad we had this chat," he brother grated out, "please call me tomorrow night right before dawn and insult me again."

"Oh well, if you insist," Al said merrily, "it's not like it's hard to do, goodnight brother!"

He hung up on the answering shout.

Ed glanced over at Roy who mumbled, "Al ok?" and yawned. Ed sighed, gave a shake of his head and half a smile.

"He is ok enough to rib me, so I guess he's alright. Would you... would you ask Hawkeye to keep more of an eye on him?" Ed ventured, "Ah, listen to me," Ed rubbed his face, "he's perfectly capable, I know he is."

Roy had lived with this over protective and elder sibling of Alphonse Elric's for over a year now. He loves this man to his very inner workings and knows him like a book (most of the time, until he runs off on a tangent he's never been before, leaving the General standing there blinking). To make comments now will just lead to more Ed pondering, which might lead to guilt, and Roy is just tired, so he tries to forestall it.

"I'm tired, let's go back to bed," he whines and coaxes.

"You go on back to bed," Ed said with a shake of his head, "I'm up now, it will be dawn soon anyway," he looked around the library, "maybe I can get some of that research done..."

Roy shuffled forward and draped his arms over the shoulder of the shorter man and leaned into him, making Ed support his weight. He sighed heavily to add more poundage and snuffled behind Ed's ear.

"Noooo, come back to bed," the General complained, "I don't like it, it's hard to sleep. I want you to come toooo," he grumbled, "if I go back to bed you'll just come and wake me up every few minutes making sure I'm asleep, you have to come with me, I don't like sleeping without you..." he got his lips on Ed's earlobe, pressed hard (no teeth is the rule) and tried to make himself weigh more. He was rewarded by Ed's grunt.

"Quit being a bastard," Ed said, staggering back a half step, arms going around Roy, "I won't come and check on you then. You don't need me to sleep, you did it plenty before, and before that too... come on... Roooyyy," he whined.

But the General could tell by Ed's tone, even as he complained, that he was pleased with the General's admissions and that his resolve was slipping. He continued his boneless tilt into his love and sighed dramatically when called for, and Edward finally gave a hard snort. "Fine, let's go back to bed."

Well that was all the General wanted, so he straightened up and took Edward by the hand, dragging him back through the house to the bedroom and shoving him toward the bed until Edward snapped at him about being pushy (but climbed up on the bed all the same), and flopped around in the pillows. Roy shucked his half-worn robe with no grace and climbed back in, taking possession of his living bed warmer with an arm around the waist, spooning into his back. His possession grumbled and scooted and squirmed, but then settled and sighed and snuggled like he always did. It wouldn't be Ed without the resistance.

As distressing as Al's late night phone calls could be, once they were settled, Roy always had the satisfaction of realizing just why he loved Edward sleeping in the nude, because Edward walking around the house in the nude was a lot of fun too.

Sleep after that was useless.

Alphonse dragged himself out of bed and gathered his bath things. At this time of the morning, the communal bathroom that the three rooms on his floor shared (of this house turned small hotel) would be empty, which would afford him enough time for a good soak. He left his room and went down the hall quietly, drew himself a tub full of hot water and sank into it.

Even on missions, he couldn't shake Edward. But then again, this was his own fault for calling in a blind panic over a stupid... realistic-feeling dream. He would just have to control himself better; it was definitely one for the Green Journal. Alphonse still kept personal journals along side his notes and work journal. The work journal was brown, drab and filled with conjecture and copied information from books, but the Green journal held his speculations on life, his brother (of course), musings in general, half jotted down letters that would later be transferred to stationery and mailed to either Colonel Hawkeye or his Pirate, and his ever increasingly active dream life.

He wasn't ready to replay his mind's cinematic showing, so he tried to think of other things. The mission was not paying off as well as he thought, theorizing about using alchemy to encourage plants to grow and actual practice were two different matters. He had written letters to a Fletcher Tringham on the subject and received very warm replies, almost as if the young alchemic botanist knew him personally. They had corresponded quite readily on the subject, but as Fletcher pointed out, he could coax a plant to grow artificially with alchemy, but it rarely produced edible vegetables or fruits. Fletcher himself indeed had some limited success, growing an alchemic apple tree that produced apples, but he admitted they weren't quite right. The pies where never finished and were left to go stale on the window sill, but he encouraged Alphonse nonetheless to try, because a fresh perspective could always help nudge research in the right direction.

So Alphonse had come to Nambly with hopes and plans, and a farmer more than willing to lend his crops to research, but so far the tomatoes were slightly less hideous in appearance than a pickled brain and the peppers seem to have eyes. Ah, back to the drawing board it seemed, but at least he had the market cornered now in scary produce.

No one had gotten up the courage yet to take a bite.

The water was going chill by the time he let his mind's eyes trace over the curves of the beautiful lady who laughed at him so cruelly from his dreams. Lust came to mind. Yes, she inspired lust. She was well proportioned and not inclined to cover it up, she was pale, her hair was inky and her eyes were purple, which had been very odd. Her voice was satiny for all its slicing edges and her laugh, even as it mocked him, held an allure. The woman was lust and should be called so, so in his mind he named her that. She caused him other problems besides sliding against his dreams and he closed his eyes and bit his lip and slid his hand between his legs to take care of the more physical evidence. But even as she started him out with her brittle smile and the way she leaned forward to let him see all that delicious cleavage, stroking him with that throaty laugh, his mind slipped to another set of eyes, dark and brown, a full bottom lip, the wisp of blond hair that sometimes escape and curled right in front of an ear, and the way she'd reach up and tuck it behind that ear absently.

It was so totally irrational, because she never looked at him that way, she never looked at anybody that way. Her voice held no subtle undertones, no teasing edges; it was always even, reassuring and commanding. She never used her body as a distraction, she was always dressed appropriately and she wore dignity and poise like other women wore jewels. Al tilted his head back, gasped and arched up a bit to his hand, fingers tightening and pace quickening. His name was never simpered from her lips, it was always spoken with a levelness that grounded him. Her letters were full of inspiration, hidden pride and moralistic value and it was wrong, it was just wrong to think of her when he was doing this.

But he did it anyways.

He couldn't help it.

He bit his lip bloody to keep from screaming when he came.

"Leave me the fuck alone," it hissed and snarled, trying to push itself further into the back of the empty silo. There was a sound of metal on metal and then a furious amount of activity as the dark figure gained the ladder on the side of container and started to climb. The loud pounding of feet on the rungs was uneven.

The two men that had chased the thief in ran back out and around the side. They craned their necks upward as the hatch at the top swung open violently and the figure erupted onto the roof, scrambling for a moment on the tilt, then seeming to gain its balance as it dashed the rounded edge to the far side. The two men ran as well, but even in the brief moments it took them to round the container, the figure had leapt from it, landed hard and taken off around the back of the barn. Only the rustle of bushes told of its passage into the woods that bordered the field.

"It had metal arms and legs," the man said to his son.

"It was a monster," his son whispered.

Edward Elric jogged up the steps to the third floor administration offices where the higher ups' offices were housed and half smiled at a young Second Lieutenant who was stationed on guard duty there that gave him a salute. He was no longer military, so it was an unnecessary gesture and he had to wonder if it was in deference to his old title or his lover's current one.

They weren't exactly demonstrative in public (because Edward never was, it was just something that rubbed him wrong unless the occasion was too involved to avoid it), but they no longer exactly hid the relationship either. While it might raise eyebrows and cause murmurs and plenty of office gossip (and what was an office without that), Roy's position and Edward's discretion made it tolerable. It was all they could really hope for at the moment.

He strolled into the office like he still owned it (because he did own the man behind the big desk), tossing off a wave to Havoc and Fuery who were seated at the big table to one side, like always. It was comfortable and familiar, and he grinned as the General looked up at him and smiled. Edward spread his hands and said, "Here I am, as requested."

"That's so odd," Havoc said from behind him, "to have him show up and look happy to be here. Damn, he's even dressed."

Edward snorted and rolled his eyes. The peanut gallery could never resist no matter how old he (or they) got.

"I agree, Lieutenant Colonel," the General said, "it's almost like some strange illusion we are all sharing, a mirage of a man who looks like Edward Elric, but in reality is something our delusion-addled minds is trying to foist off on us. We need to check the ventilation system or the food in the cafeteria."

Edward put his hands on his hips. Obviously the General was the ring leader of the peanut brigade, but then he always had been.

"My bets on the cafeteria," Havoc said, "and after today's offerings, I'm really glad Breda has work elsewhere. Can you just imagine being trapped in here with him after eating that."

Even Fuery gave an involuntary shudder.

While Ed stood glaring between the big desk and the big table, biding his time before he leapt to the attack, Roy took a few moments to take him in. His ever—present ponytail trailed over his shoulder in its usual haphazard fashion, worn high on the crown of his head. Now when he was out, he was given to tailored slacks and button down vests with suit jackets, high collared shirts and black ties with regular dress shoes. It was one of those great mysteries he brought back with him from wherever it was he had ventured and still hadn't spoken very much of, except for the occasional slip.

Time away had taught Edward how to dress, among other things. Roy ached after some of the things Edward had grown into that he had not been around to witness. His charm had sharpened as well as his wit and he could control his anger a bit better. Learning to keep his mouth shut was a great accomplishment as far as Roy was concerned and it nagged at him that he didn't know the circumstances behind such a dramatic change. Edward had also developed a casual grace he lacked in youth and of course the physical changes were more than evident. But the other changes, such as the way he moved against Roy in bed, the way he demanded, the way he knew just when too much was enough, the patience that he had lacked before, the newfound stamina that was never his forte, were on many occasions, Roy's undoing.

Roy found, much to his own disliking, that some of this maturity grated on him. He realized he'd often prayed for it in the times before Edward had left him desolate and wondering how he'd grow old alone, but because Edward now possessed it and because Roy had not been part of its shaping... it nettled at him. Who had touched Edward, other than himself? He knew it was best not to think of these things, they were things that Edward could hardly have helped. The few details he'd gotten from Edward left him with the impression the young man had been trapped, wherever he had been, and it had taken him those soul-eating six years of Roy Mustang's life to make it back.

But it had been Roy Mustang's hands and lips and his love that had given Edward the basics. He felt strangely cheated and bereft that he'd only been the first instructor and not the finishing school master in the final grade that was the Edward Elric of now, even though Edward himself had protested that in certain ways, groaning in Roy's ear that the things he said were for Roy alone. It was probably idiotic to dwell and self-serving to feel, but he couldn't help it, not really. He'd manage though, because that is what he did best. He had Edward back, whole, hearty and now staring at him strangely from the other side of the desk. He must have been making faces.

"So what is this big assignment you're so sure I'll get back on the payroll for?" Ed said, furrowing his own brow, "you left me a note written on the bathroom mirror with soap, so I showed up, the least you could do is start giving me hints. I know it pains you to give anyone a straight answer off the bat, but if you refresh me as to the rules of the game," Edward waved one white, gloved hand in the air, "I'm sure I'll pick it up again," Edward tapped his temple with one finger and winked, "prodigy, you know."

The General glanced at the big table that had gone all quiet at the mention of the soap message on the bathroom mirror and he worked his jaw back and forth a moment, already rehearsing the witty comebacks in his mind he was going to have to parry with Havoc's wit. He appreciated Edward's visits, he truly did, but not as much as the other men in the office, the General-persecuting-asses-who-should-all-be-court-marshaled absolutely delighted in them. Edward, while discreet, was somehow still oblivious to subtext and if he was questioned just right, he would offer up to their weapons-master (that would be Havoc) all sorts of raw materials with which to reduce the General, and his flimsy wall of witty subterfuge, to rubble.

The more he conjectured on the subject, the more strange looks he got from Edward and it appalled him that in the twilight of his years, he was wearing everything so openly when he never had before. But then again, he'd never been content before and like Edward, he had changed. So he put his elbows on his desk, laced his fingers in his customary fashion and raised an eyebrow.

"This look really suits you," the General supplied, "and will appeal to the board as well. You look very respectable and scholarly, I won't have to lean much at all."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Edward snorted, attention drawn back to the big desk before him and away from the table-of-buffoonery.

"The military needs you," the General pointed at him, "but not in any way that would make you sign contracts. There is a position open in the Bradley Academy (and YES damn it irked him that it had been renamed after that war-mongering homunculi bastard, but there was nothing he could do about it. He noted Ed's matching scowl at just the name as well) that will suit you to perfection and get your ass up off our couch before you start to spread."

"You are fucking kidding me, a position at the goddamn military academy?" Edward's nostrils flared, "Teaching the snot-nosed brats of the fucking military brass? You have lost your damn mind, what makes you think I'd be the least bit... WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU CALLING FAT?!"

That had taken a bit longer than expected.

"Points, sir!" Havoc crowed, "He really is slipping to let one go for almost a whole minute." the Lieutenant Colonel saluted from his seated position and Fuery shook his head, sighing.

Edward whirled on them, pointed and shrieked, "Shut UP!" Then he whirled back on the General, sprang to the desk and slammed his hands down on it (wincing just a little because this desk top was marble and it must have stung his flesh hand). All he was missing was his braid, crimson coat and metal shadow. The General just grinned without flinching, put his chin on his laced fingers and just enjoyed his lover like nothing else.

"I'm not calling you fat, FullMetal," the General said, "I'm calling you lazy, something you often call me. Isn't it time you were a contributing member to society once more? After all, 'The People's Alchemist' can almost write his own ticket, and they aren't all military brats, the Academy is accepting students from outside now as well. You'd be teaching Alchemy, or the basics and theory, that's just frosting for you. It would be a very cush position, leaving you plenty of time for the important things and yet still let you feel like you're pulling your weight."

Edward had learned to control (mostly) his issues with his height, but now that the General was swinging for the gut, it was a whole new trauma. Edward windmilled in the most entertaining fashion and Roy ate up every last nuance of every flail. He replayed his happiest days before these when a twelve year old boy had made his life exciting and turbulent, and when a fifteen year old boy had finally brought him the things in life that truly mattered. He grinned merrily as Edward struggled to compose himself (doing a very lousy job of it).

"You fucking BASTARD," Edward gasped and leaned on the desk again panting, "so you think I'm a mooch, do you? You think I'm not doing my share, do you? Well I'll have you fucking know that if that is the way you fucking feel about it, then I'll fucking make myself useful, and you'll be fucking sorry because I'll be so goddamn useful, they'll see how irrelevant you ARE!" he screeched.

"By all means," the General purred, "please put me out of a job. Then I can lie about at home all day, reading the paper, eating the pantry bare and sleeping on the couch with my t-shirt pulled up to my nipples," and his dark eye danced merrily.

"I fucking hate you," his lover hissed insincerely, "just wait until we get home," he glowered, "you're going to be really fucking sorry then."

"Oh I look forward to it," the General returned with glee, leaning closer. Then the General remembered they had an audience and the retort about which sexual promise Edward was going to extract from him tonight died on his lips. He set back and pushed a folder that was on his desk in the panting young man's direction. "Here are the particulars," he said cheerfully, "why don't you sit over at the big table like old times and go over them?"

Edward snatched up the folder, straightened, sniffed very haughtily and stalked to the table. He started to sit by Havoc, but changed his mind and sat down next to Fuery instead, who didn't look too pleased to be Edward's honored chair-side partner. He flipped the folder opened, just dared Havoc to say a word by magically waving his hair antenna (another thing he would NEVER outgrow) and began to read.

Ah, the General thought, life is grand.

After the short train ride back to East City that afternoon (on which he'd managed to nap and catch up on his lost sleep), Alphonse made his first stop at the East City Military Labs and delivered to Lieutenant Parkerson the fruits of his labors. They both shared a geeky smile over the pun and Alphonse turned over what notes he had written during his alchemic experiments with the promise of a more detailed theory to follow. Parkerson had chortled in glee, exactly like the mad scientist Alphonse always fancifully expected him to be, over the alchemic vegetables, but managed to refrain from ruffling Alphonse's hair like he had done when Alphonse first started delivering him creative ways to spend his afternoons at the tender age of thirteen. But then again, Alphonse had been much shorter at the time and Parkerson didn't have to stand on tiptoe to do it.

He would never deny that the spring in his step (that everyone took for youthful enthusiasm and just outright Alphonse good-naturedness) when he entered the main building on the East City Military compound had to do with her more than the duty she called on him to serve. Unlike his Pirate (his General, his enabler), she was much more given to protocol. He had to check in at regular intervals, he had to justify expense reports, he had to maintain proper military protocol, and these were all such small things. He gave them to her easily and gratefully, and was just happy that she relied on him the way she did, for she hardly relied on anyone.

He entered the office and immediately squatted down, waited patiently for his first real welcome back, one that had always greeted him since he'd first set foot as a working man of the military in any office. The old dog shoved to its feet from the pillow by the desk and came trotting over, not quite the bounce it used to have, but tail wagging just as it always had. It pushed its graying muzzle into his hand and then under, bumping up with its nose. Alphonse grinned and scratched all the old dog's favorite itchy places on its head and under its chin. It was just so welcoming and had always put him, at any age, right at ease in duty and spirit.

"Lieutenant Colonel Alphonse Elric reporting for duty, sir," the young man told Black Hayate, "It's good to be back and have someone so glad to see me."

Duty satisfied, the dog made its way back to its pillow and laid back down, looking up at the figure seated behind the desk as if to say it had inspected this new visitor and given its approval. Alphonse stood then, straightened his back and lifted his hand, fingers going stiff and rigid as he saluted his commanding officer with reverence and respect, just like she always deserved.

"Lieutenant Colonel," Colonel Hawkeye said, "welcome back. I didn't expect to see you in this afternoon, you could have reported in tomorrow morning."

"Saw no time like the present, sir," Alphonse said, thus acknowledged and dropping his salute, "I had to make a delivery to the lab anyway, I thought I'd check my correspondence (and see you) before heading over to my apartment."

"It's not like I'm complaining," she said mildly, "you are a rather nice change from my usual stream of overworked and underpaid complaints," she gestured toward the big table where a small file box sat, "Lieutenant Pharr sorted the mail just this morning, I believe you'll find it in your drawer."

Al nodded, smiling, and walked over to the table to pull open the drawer marked 'Lt. Col. Elric'. He smiled at the handful of white envelopes lying within it, plucked them out and plopped with his usual casual grace into a chair at the table to sort through them himself, prioritizing them in his usual fastidious manner.

There was a letter from Ed, who he talked to every single day on the phone and who didn't write as well as he articulated in any newsy fashion. It was probably just filled with complaints about the General, anyway; to the bottom of the stack it went. There was a letter from the assessment board that needed looking into; probably a polite inquiry as to when it would be convenient to set the date for this year. That was fairly important, it stayed at the top. There was a letter from the General, who he didn't get to talk to on the phone because his elder brother was a hog that way, forcing them to correspond on paper to get anything across, and there was a letter from his friend Elysia Hughes, who he had met at a holiday party with the General a couple of years ago. She was only fourteen, soon to turn fifteen, but she wrote such sweet letters that he enjoyed her correspondence very much. She always sent photographs and was becoming quite the photographer. No letter from Mr. Burt, which was a bit troubling. He wondered if he could write to the station master at Pekinpaw for news or find out if the old man was just being slow, which he often was. Winry's scrawled penmanship, little better than Ed's, graced one envelope and he smiled, fingering the edge of it. Even if he no longer considered Risembool the place he wanted to spend the rest of his years, it would always be home. He hoped she was doing well; the last he'd heard from her she was planning on returning to Rush Valley.

A few bills he needed to satisfy were also in the pile, they went on top with the assessment board letter. All in all, it was a satisfying little stack. He was grateful that his loved ones took time out to write him and tell them of their lives, even Ed, but really, it was because he was bored with nothing better to do. The General needed to work up the courage to broach that teaching position that had come open with his brother and soon, before someone else had it. Ed had gone from content slacker to discontent nitpicker in the last month and it was the warning sign of worse things to come if he wasn't occupied with something capable of causing his intellect to at least notice, if not become distracted.

With that in mind, he stood and put his letters in his jacket pocket (no longer black, no longer Ed's, but his own) and looked in the Colonel's direction. She nodded her head once, always seeming to know when his eyes were on her, even if she didn't look up from her paperwork. He saluted her again, knowing she knew he'd done it even if she still didn't look in his direction.

"See you in the morning, sir," Alphonse said.

"Have a good evening, Lieutenant Colonel," she replied.

Alphonse gave a wave to Black Hayate as he headed out the door to go home.

It was, and he hated to admit it, an intriguing proposal. Ed wondered who the General had leaned on to get it written in just such a way to make his alchemic blood tingle. Teaching basic theory shouldn't be this appealing at all, especially not to a group of thirteen year old boys.

But the proposal spoke of prestige and honor (which he could care less about), of lab privileges and resource budgets (which of course he could care about), of lecture circuits (which appealed to that little, vain voice in his head that remembered that he liked to make a spectacle of himself in the name of science) and of long summers and holiday breaks. The salary wasn't insulting (not that he needed anything spectacular, he still had some of his savings he'd accumulated before his enforced abandonment of his world that Alphonse had refused to touch, plus the General was't too shabby in the bread winning department) and the schedule promised flexibility. It could be a pleasant way to while away his hours in the day when the General wasn't available for his pleasure, insulting or otherwise.

He knew Roy was watching him, trying to study him the way Alphonse did when Edward thought he wasn't looking. He was still mad at him (not an ounce of fat anywhere on this frame, you bastard, and you know it because you have your hands and mouth all over it all damn night), so he deliberately kept any look of thoughtful acceptance off his face. Let the man stew, as Anna always said, it made him squirm and that was cute on the General. Edward closed the folder, stood and tucked it under his arm. The General raised his eyebrow.

"I've read your damn proposal and now you owe me, take me to lunch," he told the smirking black eye.

The General shrugged and smiled, standing to retrieve his coat. He was under no illusion whose rank was higher in situations like these.

Alphonse keyed into his apartment, closed the door and leaned back against it, glad to be home. He took the mail from his pocket, pressing it to his lips once before shrugging out of his jacket and hanging it on a peg behind the door. He strolled through the foyer and living room, humming softly to himself while giving the mail one last priority shuffling before laying it on the kitchen table and heading for his refrigerator for some juice. It should still be good, it had only just been purchased the day before he left.

Retrieving his juice, he reached up into the cabinet and brought down a heavy, etched, crystal glass tumbler. It was one of a set of twelve, very detailed, very expensive and very inappropriate to his bachelor existence and paycheck. He poured it about three quarters of the way with juice and carried it to the kitchen table to sit down and finger open his first letter. Mr. Armstrong had been so happy and pleased to present him with the glasses at his 'house warming' party when he'd first rented the apartment in East City. He'd traveled out by train with the General and met up with Alphonse and Edward at a restaurant called Sardi's, where they all had a nice dinner and walked back through the park to inspect Alphonse's freshly rented abode. Mr. Armstrong was such a nice man. Despite his intimidating stature, his eyes spoke of kindness and thoughtfulness. He could be overbearing at times, that was true, but no more so than his own brother, and he was there for Alphonse in his own way when he had first come to Central seeking the Pirate Mustang.

He'd met him only a week after arriving and the look in the man's eyes at their meeting had left Alphonse with one of his very first pangs of knowing the before. He looked like he might break into tears, this gentle giant in a tailored suit. Alphonse came to learn that Mr. Armstrong had once been Major Armstrong, who served in the military alongside his Pirate and his brother, but the man had not reenlisted after his last term of duty. His Pirate had explained that Mr. Armstrong had finally realized that his father's ambitions were not his own and had spent enough time in the military already to honor family traditions. The large man was running a business as well as a few relief agencies in the frontier towns ravaged by war, such as Liore and many places in Ishbhal, which was slowly recovering from a disastrous civil war and uprising that had lasted many years. He needed his very large stature, Alphonse had concluded, to hold his very large heart and spirit. He was such an easy man to read, at times it was embarrassing, but one time, to a sobbing fourteen year old boy lost in despair and waning hope, he'd been a gentle deep voice and large warm hand on his back. He'd spoke of family and honor and tradition and hope. Hope so bright that Alphonse couldn't turn his back on it, and an admiration and love so strong for Alphonse's own brother, he couldn't help but be inspired by it.

Large hands had offered the handkerchief that had dried his eyes, deep pockets had provided a sandwich at his favorite deli and a very big heart had spent an afternoon fortifying the support system that told Alphonse Elric he would find his brother. Al had never forgotten it. He skimmed his official business and bills quickly (and reprioritized them again. An organized mind, an organized life, an organized mantra. Yes, it served him well) so he could take time to enjoy his personal mail, like his letters. He finally wandered through them one by one, laughing and sighing and making mental notes about what to write in return. Then he came to Edward's letter, last in the stack and thickest. He knew it was inevitable, so he opened it by ripping off the end (thinking perversely that if he accidentally ripped part of the letter itself, he wouldn't have to read it, but he admonished himself for such a thought about a loving brother who just wanted to be close to him and share news) and pulled out the heavy military stationery Edward habitually stole from the General's desk.

It was, as Alphonse expected, a complete bitch fest for the most part. The Pirate had done things to Edward's disliking (as usual) and Edward felt he was within his rights to rant about it (on paper as well as verbally, because they'd had this very exact conversation on the phone and from glancing at the date of the letter, on the very exact day). It also had a very detailed and abusive description of what Edward had had for lunch (complete with a taste sample in the margin, if Alphonse cared to look closely enough. Did Edward carry the letter around with him all day and stop and write at intervals when he'd done something he considered noteworthy?) and how lackluster it was. Of course it implied 'Why aren't you here to cook it for me?'. Alphonse rolled his eyes and sighed, but even as he did so, he realized it was things like this that made him love his brother despite his brother. Edward wanted to share his life with Alphonse. He wanted to tell him about his day, his feelings, his hopes and fears, Edward wanted to be a part of his life and Alphonse wanted him to be wholeheartedly. He wanted to know he had Edward's love to fall back to when he was feeling down, Edward's caring to lean against when things were tough and Edward's laughter when times were good. They were brothers, decreed by blood and god (don't get Ed started on that) who blessed him with such a wonderful one, even when he tried to tighten invisible apron strings all the way from Central by bitching about his own inadequate cooking skills.

Cooking led to thoughts of dinner and how cooking for one wasn't any fun, which led to thoughts of going out, equally boring when one was alone, which led to thought of what was April doing and would she like to go to dinner? He went to his desk in the corner of the living room he called his den and pulled out a small address book (a present from his Pirate), looked up her number and set his hand on the receiver. For a moment, for a single moment, he though of making a call elsewhere, where crisp tones would inform him that fraternization among enlisted personnel was strictly forbidden, and even as much as the friendly gesture was appreciated, it just wouldn't look right, being only the two of them. He sighed and called April instead and was pleased when she accepted. He hung up the phone, went to freshen up and added a P.S. to his letter to his Pirate.

Edward started down the stairs first, turned to look at the General over his shoulder and lifted the folder he was holding in his hand.

"Who did you bribe to write this?" he asked. The General just smiled and ducked his head forward in indication that Edward should watch where he was going. Ed turned to look ahead of him and then whirled around to go back up the stairs, but he bumped into the General and stumbled backwards. His eyes widened when they lifted to the General's face, but the General just grinned as a pair of log-sized forearms came into Edward's peripheral vision and steel bands wraps around his chest causing his ribs to make creaking noises like someone stepping on loose floorboards. His lover just continued to grin as all the air rushed from his lungs and his back met granite. A noise, deep, booming and oddly human, rang out above his head.

"Even though you have come back to us and have been with us all this time, Edward Elric," the deep thrumming in his ears told him, "each time I see you, I am filled with gratitude and faith in the human condition, knowing that you are living proof that determination, devotion and love is all mankind needs to survive."

Ed wheezed and made clutching motions with his hand in Roy's direction, but Roy seemed very unperturbed by this turn of events and had stopped walking down the steps to merely stand a few steps above where Ed's life was being squeezed out of his nostrils.

"It's good to see you again, Alex," the General said, "I didn't know you were back in Central."

"I had some unexpected business here and I couldn't let a trip go to waste without checking in with my dear friends," Alex Louis Armstrong replied, "I was also hoping to see Alphonse, how is the lad?"

Neither of them seemed to be concerned that Edward could hear his spine cracking.

"Well, he's in the East. You remember I told you he was attached to Colonel Hawkeye's unit now. I expect him back next week, if you're going to be around that long," Roy said pleasantly.

Edward was having tunnel vision now and he thought that his time home had been all too brief. He hoped Roy wouldn't grieve overly, and that Alphonse would have a happy life as well, complete with kittens and children, or children with kittens or something to do with kittens and maybe children but not in that order.

"Alex, I believe Edward is turning blue," some wonderful person who was dressed like the General said from what seemed a great distance to Edward's ears. Ah, his lover was speaking for him, but it was too late. He would miss him, but this was just another journey like journeys he'd had before. He might not find his way back this time, but at least he would have that one last line, said in his defense, to carry with him.

Suddenly, Edward could breathe again. The hand that slapped him on the back (that seemed to be the same width as his back) had rattled his vertebrae like beads on a bracelet and helped to revive him somewhat, as it offered jovial pain.

"My apologies, I know I can be a bit overwhelmed with camaraderie whenever I see the boy," Alex said, "can I offer the two of you lunch?"

Roy flashed a smile usually reserved for courtship and Edward, while still trying to convince his broken body to function, scowled. The General eagerly accepted the invitation, because at heart he was a cheapskate.

"We'd be honored of course, Alex," the General purred, "I know just the place too, a nice uptown eatery that many of the officers here talk about," The General descended the steps and stopped by Edward's side. "Edward can tell us his thoughts on the youth of today, since he'll soon be teaching at the Academy." Roy grinned.

"This is a cause for celebration," Alex boomed, looking a bit like he might be in a hugging mood again. Ed whimpered and shuffled toward Roy, who took pity and smoothly stepped in front of him to offer his protection: Alex had never hugged the General.

"Exactly," Roy said and turned to his side, regarding his lover with a sly smile, "I'm sure he wouldn't want to turn such an opportunity down, but should that thought be lurking at the edges of his decision, you'll be able to talk some sense into him, I'm sure. He never really listened to me, as you will remember."

"I will make it my honor bound duty to convince him that his great knowledge should be prevailing. To think of all the boys he could inspire with his lifetime of accomplishments to share, I can think of no one better to mold our youth of today for a brighter tomorrow. There is an artistic persuasion technique passed down in the Armstrong family for generations and I have very few chances to actually practice it."

Edward conjectured that this was due to people agreeing readily to any suggestion the ex-Major might have made, for fear of their rib cages. He didn't bother to hide the injurious look he leveled at the General who only smirked in return.

"Let's be off, shall we?" Roy said and stepped away from Edward, resuming their walk down the stairs. Edward's eyes widened as his shield deserted him and Alex turned his earnest blue eyes on him. The arm that fell over Edward's shoulders nearly sent him to his knees as he was propelled forward. He almost went down the stairs head first, save for the grip the man had on his shoulder.

"You're being so quiet, Edward," Alex rumbled, "I can see this decision weighs heavily on your mind. Let me tell you of my Great Uncle Maximus Armstrong, who also faced a similar decision...."

As the man continued to push Edward forward with his body and voice, Edward's eyes fixed on a dark-haired bastard strolling down the steps before him. It was a good thing he loved the man, because right now he really hated him.

Alphonse returned home, bussed thoroughly, but with little else to show for his trouble and expense. All the women of his acquaintance in East City, when not attached to the military, were introduced to him through First Lieutenant Pharr. Pharr was a handsome enough, twenty-something military brat who enlisted to please his father and was a credible officer, otherwise Colonel Hawkeye would never had tolerated him on her staff.

Alphonse found Clayton Pharr very pleasant company and the older man seemed happy to have Al to pal around with as well. They spent at least one night a week talking about the local gossip (office oriented and otherwise), current events and bachelorhood in general at one of the eateries that bordered East City Park. Clayton, in the much the same way as Al's Pirate, never had problems attracting the opposite sex. He was well known among the local waitresses and hostesses, shop girls and office helpers. He was so successful in fact, Alphonse considered him the rightful inheritor of the Pirate's East City legacy, and felt a little jealous to admit it to himself, seeing as he always thought he'd be the lucky soul to pocket a well worn little black book, handed down through the generations in much the same illustrious way as the Armstrong family handed down its various techniques.

But Clayton endeared himself to Alphonse by sharing the wealth. He introduced Alphonse to many a pleasant and lovely young lady and spoke highly of Alphonse's rank, state alchemist title and engaging mind. He sold Alphonse the way a wily street vendor sold day old fish and patted him fondly on the back with a broad wink at every evening outing he scored. Alphonse was grateful. He was academically unmatched, but romantically inept, and to his embarrassment, a bit shy (much to his own exasperation. No matter how he wished to emulate the Pirate, even just the thought of doing so made him twitch with unfulfilled dread. The Pirate's reputation was legendary, even to this day, it made Alphonse wonder sincerely how he attained it, seeing as he had very obvious eyes for Alphonse's older brother and didn't bother to hide it very well). Plus, the way his dates treated him on their outings did little to boost his confidence.

They were always polite (he would expect nothing less of First Lieutenant Pharr's lady friends) and pleasant company, intelligent girls that could converse beyond the realm of female gossip, usually in literature or other such philosophical things (Pharr was always very careful who he set Alphonse up with, like a fastidious matchmaker). They were happy to spend his money, thrilled that he was gentleman enough to walk them home, grateful enough for kisses with perhaps a little tongue, but in the end he always felt like they were restraining themselves from giving him a pat on the head before they banished him from even the realm of his fantasies with the shutting of a door and the turning of a deadbolt.

So here he was, yet again, home in his Edward-chosen apartment with his right hand and his smirking inner voice who told him that he should know better. The Pirate he was not and never would be, mere association with the man did not make him irresistible by osmosis. Thinking about his pirate led inevitably to thinking about his brother, because his brother always got in between the General and Alphonse on the most minor of matters nowadays. It was mainly why he wrote to his Pirate, trusting that Edward had enough social grace not to open the man's letters.

His Pirate was always encouraging, offered sound advice, dirty little tricks and everything needed to woo his prospective cuddle-afterwards-session a good time, but obviously Alphonse wasn't implementing the techniques the General so painstakingly inscribed for him. It wasn't like him, there was no written instruction ever beyond his grasp before, but he kept the letters bundled chronologically in a bible of fornication techniques to rival even the most prolific sensual writer of the legendary whore houses of Xing, tucked carefully away in a box under his bed where his elder brother's prying eyes better not find them.

Alphonse trudged back to his bedroom, tugging at his tie and toeing off his shoes once he got in the door. He picked them up and returned them to the closet at the end of the line, next to his secondary pair lined up for duty the next day when nudged, then tucked his tie on its wooden hanger and began unbuttoning his shirt. His apartment was roomy and comfortable for a single man, and it faced the park to the front. His unit was on the bottom floor left hand corner of the building, butted up against a tiny, but well maintained courtyard that gave a bit of breathing room from its next closest neighbor. He was fond of it despite his initial resistance. Edward had been so insistent it be this particular complex. Alphonse found his brother's regular bouts of 'I-know-what's-best-for-you' really grated on his nerves (despite the fact Alphonse knew it was done out of love. The other option of course, was that Edward show no interest or caring at all and Al really felt that would leave a very empty hole in his chest).

He remembered as they stood on the stoop with the landlord that Edward kept casting wistful glances at an occupied unit a couple of stoops down. Alphonse knew there was a story to the looks, he knew it had to do with the before, but on that subject Edward was as steel as his right arm. He would utter not one word, but he'd study Al's eyes, looking for something and looking hard. Al tried to bare his soul because he really wanted to know, but in that he knew Edward would never give him any satisfaction until he saw in Alphonse what he was looking for. There was some magic padlock to Edward's explanations that Alphonse had the key for, but it was tucked somewhere inside his head. Until he could find it and give his visual signal that he was jumping up and down and waving it about, his brother would not let him anywhere near the lock of his memories. It was frustrating and aggravating and infuriating, he was not a child! They should just tell him already! He knew! He knew he knew, but convincing Edward to let him know was running right into the wall of Edward determination with blinders on.

His Pirate also shied from all direct questioning and was too smart to give himself up to subtle maneuvering. He'd look at Alphonse, apology in that dark eye and gently nudge the subject into another lane of traffic, looking for the exit. Alphonse had a soft spot a mile wide for Roy Mustang, so naturally he would let himself be redirected and go about his own research (also completely frustrating, especially when he realized that even though he was granted the files on his elder brother when he first started his search, they were incomplete. Military efficiency demanded numbers and symbols and filing techniques designed to make even the most disorganized file keep formation. In theory they worked well, when one could understand them and naturally Alphonse could), which included the rash of dime store novels that his brother's exploits had generated in a time and nation hungry for heroes.

He dismissed them as utter hogwash (his own very diminished role in these ludicrous publications that could, on a good day, laughingly be called an attempt at entertainment, notwithstanding), especially now that he had the flesh and blood FullMetal Alchemist to compare with his literary counterpart. Edward in these novels was taller, he was politer, he was omnipotent with amazing clairvoyant powers, his automail was more impressive and seemed to be able to house an amazing variety of different modes and functionability (Winry loved these stupid books). Overall, they were a complete sham of reality that was, if he thought about it, exactly what it was supposed to be. He was always cast as a 'pilot', housing himself in an immense, steam-powered, armored suit and possessing incredible skills at hand to hand combat, but other than dashing to his brother's side to render aid at the appropriate climactic time, he had no characterization at all, not that he cared (yes, he cared and was insulted).

Alphonse, in short order, stripped to his undershirt and long briefs as he let himself wallow in his self-pity, both with women and in the minds of dime-store novelists, and flopped back on his bed. Credibility and reliability should outweigh manic obsession and fictionally gifted super powers any day.

But as usual, that's not how the world worked.

Lunch had been pleasant and afterwards, Roy had waved goodbye as Armstrong cheerfully manhandled Edward down the street to continue their conversation while the General returned to the office. Edward had cast glances over his shoulder as he was dragged away, both homicidal and pleading, but Armstrong had ushered him off around a corner before either had landed with sufficient force on the General's conscience to make a significant impact.

Roy was under no pretense about the frank and distinct possibility he would be sleeping on the couch in his den tonight. At least he could crank the phonograph and let one of his divas sing him a song about what a miserable bastard he was for inflicting one of Edward's only natural weaknesses on him before he went to sleep.

As improbable as circumstance made it, Edward actually listened to Alex and had, on many occasions, in his youth. While he protested the larger man's very physical need to demonstrate affection, he wasn't fool enough to not recognize that a keen intelligence lurked behind the overbearing demeanor. Roy could talk until he was blue in the face, (and often did) with only partial success, but for whatever uncanny reason, Alex (as he always had with anyone of his acquaintance) had a way of using the muscle of his mind to move mountains of doubt and insecurity. As Edward himself had once quipped, in his very own Edward Elric eloquent way, the man 'shit sunshine.'

So be it. The teaching assignment was perfect for Edward, he was just too stubborn to admit it. Let Alex put him in traction for the good of the Academy, it was worth a cold metal shoulder and a night or two on the couch, as dismal as a night on the couch seemed.

He wondered if Edward would get to see Armstrong's chest before the day was over, it might actually improve his chances of sleeping in his own bed that night.

Roy saw the haze of broodiness lurking beneath the front door when he returned to their house that night. It seemed to be pooled there, waiting for an unwary General's casual trod, so it could rush back to its master and inform him that his prey was home, to ready his wrath for dinner.

Roy lingered on the walk for a good five minutes, twisting over excuses and apologies (that weren't actually apologies. More like cleverly disguised, placating words that might be relations to apologies, but shunned like red-headed step-cousins) before deciding that discretion was not the better part of valor when dealing with an Edward armed with mock betrayal and possible spinal fractures. He was a General after all and had faced down much more fearsome foes in the past than one pissed off, diminutive, blond lover, armed with a quarter ton of steel and enough alchemic power to reduce Roy into a mass of quivering gelatin in a uniform.

He coaxed his courage out of his belly and went through his front door. The house was still rightfully his after all, even if his person was not. Property values on houses were always so much more lucrative than on the broken bodies an enraged FullMetal left in his wake. He heard footsteps as soon as he closed the front door and shucked his great coat. A pair of golden orbs glittered in a shifting myriad of expressions from the end of the front hallway, in the door that lead into the kitchen. Roy sighed, braced himself and put on a smile, hoping that somehow it might at least soften the verbal beating he was about to take. But Edward, like always, surprised him anew by merely snorting and lifting an eyebrow.

"I made you dinner, bastard," he said, lifting his nose and turned back into the kitchen.

It was worse than he'd feared: Alex must have dropped him on his head. Only he could do it with enough force to actually make a dent.

A tale tell folder lay on the table between the place settings. Roy took off his uniform jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up before sitting down. The kitchen actually smelled wonderful and not the least bit oily. He watched Edward over at the counter, even if he didn't look his way once the entire time. When Edward did deign to give him a glance, it was when he was carrying the plates to the table. He sat one at his place setting first, one in front of the General, then returned to the counter for a pitcher and two glasses. He then returned, arranged himself in his chair and shrouded his lap in a napkin.

Roy was busy looking at the plate in front of him. It looked like fish, actual fish, not just a slab of ruddy, golden crispness that was usually the bulk of Edward's homemade meals. There was rice and vegetables, too. He glanced up at the clink of glassware and the filled glass Edward sat in front of him that seemed to be tea colored (if a bit murky). Edward raised an eyebrow at him and said, "What?"

"Well I was expecting, I mean, thank you," Roy said, deciding not to voice his complete astonishment that he was being treated civilly (even practically pampered) and being fed, instead of being blistered from head to toe by a tongue scalding.

Edward shrugged casually, filling his own glass. He picked up his fork and seemed to hover over the fish for a moment, before actually picking up a piece and sticking it in his mouth thoughtfully. He moved it about a few moments, face ranging in emotion from braced skepticism, to mild surprise, to starved eating machine. Roy found the dish equally appetizing and silence reigned while they both shoveled (the General never one for table etiquette at home since he had to practice it so ardently in public during his youth) food and grunted male satisfaction. After the meals were mostly devoured and the second glass of tea was poured, it settled to the point where dinner conversation was allowable.

Roy glanced pointedly at the folder and then over to Edward, who met his eye when it swung his way. Edward tilted his head a bit to the side and gave a little shrug.

"You're right, I need to burn off some of my collecting energy reserves," he admitted, "and it will be conducive to my own research that I've let lie about in the ruins of what was me for this past year, but I damn well think you could have convinced me of that instead of letting me be strong armed into it, and I do mean that literally."

"That was a happy accident," Roy said, "I had no idea Alex was in town or that he was planning a surprise lunchtime visit."

"If that's true, which I highly doubt," Edward said, "you're really starting to slip in your old age. I distinctly remember there was a time when you could tell me when I went to the bathroom on a mission in a place that was four days away."

Roy snorted.

"Those were different times. At first it was to keep tabs on a very young subordinate who was just learning the ropes," the General informed him loftily, the age quip making him a bit defensive despite himself, "and later it was to keep tabs on my lover, because that is what lovers do."

"Oh really? You though I would cheat on you?" Edward said with a sparkle in his golden eyes, "were you that jealous of me back then?"

Already slightly on the ropes, Roy leaned further into them.

"Not at all," he said, mind beginning to grope around for the right turns of phrase to bring the ball back in his own court and away from Edward's delighted grasp, "it was concern for your safety, which you cannot begrudge me. You are the ultimate shit magnet and each time I saw you in a hospital bed it took another year off my life. See? You shall have to spend many little old gray years alone now, and it's all your own fault."

"Man, you can't even argue fair anymore," Edward said, softening with amusement, "this love stuff stinks. It always defuses what could be a great screaming battle and we miss out on fantastic make-up sex. I hear this happens when you're settled," Edward grinned, not sounding at all put out by the prospect.

Roy pushed his plate aside and put his elbows on the table, grinning back and noting Edward's own relaxed and easy posture now. He loved this playfulness that maturity had brought him, the ability to deflect things and not take them as personally as he did when he was younger. His ability to control himself was growing in leaps and bounds and it just lent itself to the increasing alluring package that was Edward Elric, the adult.

"I'll arrange a meeting with the dean tomorrow; he's halfway expecting the call anyway. You're going to find this position to be a real ego stroker, and I know how you like that," Roy teased, "not to mention you'll come to find molding young lives just as satisfying as I once did."

Edward shook his head.

"You're something else, always so full of yourself. You certainly molded me alright, into the defensive, adrenaline-maddened teenage maniac I once was. I hope you're proud of your accomplishment." Edward wrinkled his nose and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest.

"I am," the General purred, "because I get to reap the benefits of my teachings almost every night, and that is an accomplishment for a man my age."

Edward had the decency to blush just a bit. Roy wished he didn't have his boots on so he could toe an ankle of hard calf under the table.

"Dinner was excellent," the General continued, the verbal foreplay had started and he did enjoy it so, "is it from the deli? Are they trying out new things?"

Edward shifted in his chair a moment and shook his head.

"Armstrong family fish poached in wine technique," he mumbled, "passed down in the family for generations, as you well know."

The General laughed.

Roy reached over and turned on the bedside lamp, panting slightly. His lover, younger and always more energetic after sex, slid out of bed and returned a short time later to perform a clean up with a warm cloth, something the General appreciated with great enthusiasm. He found it endearingly touching, especially since it was a custom Edward had practiced from almost their very first sexual encounter. Roy always took it as a 'thank you', nothing like being thanked for your efforts in the give-your-lover-a-screaming-orgasm department.

Afterwards, Edward crawled back into bed and half way onto Roy, who was lying on his back, and began trading pecks and fingering black bangs. The wind down was in its own way as pleasurable as the wind up. They were both warm and sated, and could study each other without words in these small times after. In ways, it was more than words their looks spoke to each other. After a bit, Edward's look turned questioning and then intense. He was staring at Roy's bangs and automail fingers closed with a click; Roy hissed and slapped his hand to his forehead when they plucked. He scowled at his lover who was holding his prize aloft, turning it this way and that in the lamp light.

"What are you doing?" Roy asked, the answer already forming on the edge of his brain, because the rest of his brain began to back away in dread.

Edward grinned, slow and sly, and he held the hair in front of Roy's nose the way an investigator held up for examination his prized piece of evidence.

"Look at this, General," the words rolling off Edward's tongue like a slinking cat and the grin on his face sharpening in a similar fashion to said creatures fangs, "I do believe this is gray," he half way cackled.

"It's your deranged imagination," the General huffed, "or your damn cat-yellow eyes playing tricks on you," he flung back, his own fingers working his bangs now as if he could tell by touch if his hair was graying there or not.

Edward didn't let the retaliation deter him in the slightest; he wet the strand between his lips and held it closer to the light.

"I see a definite glint," he chortled, "I'm going to keep this like some people keep baby books. I'm going to have an aging journal to pull out when I'm older, since you've informed me I've shortened your life. That way, I'll always have the satisfaction you gave up your looks before I did," the golden-haired demon that had been his lover snickered.

Roy made a grab for Edward's hand, but Edward had anticipated it and snatched it clear quickly, rolling off the General and onto his side of the bed, keeping his prized hair well out of reach of fingers that would like to dispose of it and pretend it never existed.

"I don't know what you're so pleased about," the General growled, "even if it is gray (which it was not), it's a mark of sophistication and distinction, age and wisdom, things I have no problem being associated with in the slightest," his voice took on a haughty note, "I've already achieved General at an impressively young age; if it was really gray (which it wasn't) you'd let me see it, but since you won't, I can tell it's just another of your little tricks to try and throw me off guard, because once again my advice was right as it always had been in the past. You're very ungracious when admitting defeat, Edward," the General continued, "a more mature mind would realize there is no shame in giving a nod where a nod is due. Professor Elric sounds good rolling off the tongue."

"It is SO gray," Edward emphasized, "I almost have trouble seeing it without it blending into the automail," then Edward let out an impressive startled squawk when Roy grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back to his side of the bed, wrestling with him. The General's longer reach captured an automail wrist, but his all too flesh muscles failed at being able to subdue it properly.

"You're so in denial," Edward yelled, laughter permeating his every word, as he wrapped his legs around Roy's waist and stretched back as far as he could, battling Roy's other hand with his flesh one, "and if you're so sure it's one of my tricks, why are you trying so hard to take it back from me?" his grin was wicked and amused.

"It's my property for one thing," the General grunted. Edward's tactic of waist capturing and arching was making the younger man longer since he was cheating by starting at Roy's hips. He couldn't get any leverage, "taken in an ambush after you had lulled me into security with sex. It's not gray and once I get it, I'm going to shove it so far up your nose, you'll have a hairline bald spot in your vision," he hissed.

Edward just chuckled in evil glee, easily holding his lover at bay and slowly beginning to buck against the General's stomach, whose struggling became less and less pronounced the harder his lover's cock grew. Finally, he dropped the hand clutching Edward's flesh hand, but didn't let go of the automail wrist. Edward moaned in appreciation when Roy slid his free hand over his cock, bringing it to hardness quickly and pressing it into the Roy's stomach with each open palmed stroke he slid up and down its length.

"This is unfair distraction," the General grumbled, "dirty tactics."

"Umm," Edward sighed, undulating slowly. His own free hand reached out to stroke his lover's face and neck as he was rubbed, "wasn't intentional," he informed Roy huskily, "but for someone who's getting gray hair, twice in one night will be something to receive a medal for," he offered with a moan.

Roy's own cock had already stirred and awakened, naturally, but he made no move other than the lazy up and down strokes he was already giving. Never miss an opportunity for payback in full, if Edward thought he was going to come anytime soon he had another think coming. Edward must have sensed this about the same time, because he raised his head and gave Roy a look that begged forgiveness (but not really), offered one of his lovely groans to punctuate it, but the General was not swayed (overly) and offered back to Edward his own slow, sly smile. Edward groaned and let his head drop back into the pillows.

"Ha," the General said, thumbing the head of Edward's cock and causing Edward's stomach to jump, "guess your little tease backfired on you," he simpered, "I'll bet you're sorry now."

"Sorry?" Edward moaned, trying to arch harder into the General's touch, "No, I'll sleep really well tonight after getting it twice. I don't have to get up early and go into the office. I'm hard, you bastard, we both know that's past the point of no return for either of us," he husked.

"You manipulative little shit," the General growled, hand never slowing, never leaving the cock it was pressing possessively against his own stomach, "if it is a goddamn gray hair, you're the one who put it there," he hissed.

Edward gave a throaty laugh, another moan, and eventually got to cum.