Pandora's Box

chapter 2.

Edward didn't say much the next morning. Though admittedly, part of that was because he was asleep through most of Alphonse's morning. Once he woke up, though, he made sure to be a proper nuisance.

"Did you get any sleep at all last night?" He kept asking, as he followed Alphonse around the kitchen, making it impossible to cook. Pity. He'd been looking forward to just enjoying a decent, home-cooked breakfast.

"Yes." Alphonse kept saying. He refused to tell his brother exactly how much (well, little), because then Edward would be at him to take another sick day. And Alphonse could only imagine how well THAT would go over. He hadn't exactly finished detailing the arrays for the bridge yet, but if he called in, his co-workers would have nothing at all to fine-tune. Besides, if he were being less than charitable (and he personally felt that on fifteen minutes of nap, anyone was allowed to be less-than-charitable) he knew that they would probably be lost without him there to explain the base.

That was the problem with construction by alchemy—it wasn't so much moving the earth (and stone, and bricks, and so on); it was making the arrays such that other people could follow them later. Even the best bridge would wear, and when that happened, someone else would have to understand its make up well enough to repair it. And so, he had to do things the old school way—surveying, mathematics. A series of simple tri-corner arrays, when really a few twelve-points would do; but those were hard to control for the layman. Let alone weaving on instinct, the way Alphonse, the way Edward did. The arrays in their heads—the real ones, the live ones—were full of twisting symbols, three-dimensional, four-dimensional axises. Things impossible to explain, let alone plot for future generations. He fully expected that some of the things his brother had created—statues, hostels, highways—would, in future generations, be considered Great Wonders. Things that no alchemist had created the likes of before, and no alchemist was likely to reproduce for centuries after. Maybe never. Edward, after all, was a genius.

Said genius was currently transmuting a fortress out of his waffles, and drawing a syrup-moat around it to keep the masterpiece separate from the wasteland of scrambled eggs.

"I wish you wouldn't play with your food like that." Alphonse said, but they both knew he honestly didn't give a damn. It was just something Mother would have said, and every now and again, it was nice to still hear it.

"Hey, it's still edible." Edward said. Similarly, he didn't seem to give a damn about eating them. He'd already demolished a small army's worth of waffles. Normally, the materials wouldn't last long enough to catch his interest.

Alphonse brushed the crumbs from his mouth and pushed away from the table.

"Hey, can you clean up?" He asked. "I'm out of here."

Edward made a complaining sound, and Alphonse expertly dodged his outstretched hands by slipping around the opposite way.

"Sorry, gotta go!" He explained, and made a break for the study. He managed to gather his things and get his coat even, before his brother caught up to him.

"Al..." Edward was waiting in the foyer again, but at least he didn't spring. Which was a relief. Linger too long and he might have to face a goodbye kiss, though, which might escalate into a goodbye blowjob, and as pleasurable as that was...

"Sorry, gotta go." He lied, and ducked out through the door. On fifteen minutes of sleep, he sure as hell wasn't up for running to work.

The work day wasn't bad—which was good, considering what little sleep he'd gotten the night before. He'd forgotten his lunch, which sucked, but then Crowley (in apology for keeping him after the previous night) shared his; so that didn't suck nearly so much. Things Evened Out. The layman's version of equivalent exchange, and it was something he'd generally found to be true.

One thing that unfortunately, had yet to even out was Mr. Pug. He had never met someone as solidly imbalanced, and to be honest, it was rather starting to rankle. He didn't mind being a civilian contractor—really, the alchemy was interesting enough, and he got the okay to actually do transmutations that helped people—but the guys the regime assigned to manage them...

"Yes, sir." He sighed on auto-pilot as Mr. Pug finished yet another long stream of inspiring, authoritative, complete and utter bullshit. Like many government-assigned managers, he seemed to find it important to Provide Active Support to his employees.

Just shut up and let me get back to doing my job. There is no such thing as a seventeen point Earth array. He thought, pushing his pen around the paper in what might have been a water seal, but to the discerning alchemist, looked rather suspiciously more like a fat, balding man being eaten by a tidal wave.

Sometimes, he wished he had gone for a research position, after all. But at the time, brother had been so sick, and he was more concerned with just finding something to DO with himself, and he hadn't had the time to devote to coming up with a proper project to get his certification. And now, he suspected it was rather too late. The new government was nothing like the old one, but his brother still had a chip on his shoulder a mile wide, and would probably die of apoplexy if Alphonse even remotely suggested he become "a dog of the military". Well, to hell with that. All the best research grants CAME from the government these days, and if you wanted to be sure some university wasn't going to poach off you, you really needed to go S.A.

Of course, again, he recognized that with the amount of money the new Fuhrer was likely to shower upon his brother whenever Edward so much as sneezed at something, he could always just form his own lab, BUT...sometimes, just sometimes, he wanted to do things on his own. know, because. It was nice to know he'd gotten this job all on his own, without having to flaunt that he was Alphonse Elric, Relative to (and Keeper of) the famous Edward Elric, and one of the infamously precocious Elric Brothers, Defender of Amestris, the Amestrian People, and (in Edward's case, at least) the high, holy Ham Sandwich on Rye.

Though admittedly, right now he really wanted to pull the genius card and tell Mr. Pug to fuck off. I am too smart for this was not something you wanted to pull on your boss often, but it certainly applied today. Maybe he could start off by pointing out that Kelp's Constant was called a constant because, you know the value didn't just arbitrarily change the way Mr. Pug seemed to think it did—

"—and also, I must impress that we uphold security procedures, hmm?"


While he was busy thinking about how he was going to let his boss down about the seventeen-point Stupid, Mr. Pug had done one of his famous 180's and completely changed the topic. Damn. That was one of his better tricks. He looked up into the now-frowning, bulbous face, and tried to judge which of his usual Pug-away-expressions he should be using.

"Oh, er...of course, sir?" He said, lamely.

A meaty hand clapped down on his shoulder, and he tried not to flinch.

"I was saying," Mr. Pug said enunciated, as though talking to someone extremely slow. "Ms. Hawthorn at Reception would like to remind you that there are to be no guests during business hours. We may be a little laxer than some-" damn right, since you and Ms. Hawthorn are usually too busy making out in her office to notice when someone rings the bell "-but we are still, first and foremost, a firm that prides itself on its State Contracted work. Can't let anyone Outside get in, hm? Much too much to lose, if the fox ends up in the chicken coop, yes?"


"So you tell your pretty little girlfriend she should call ahead if she wants to come up, eh? Ms. Hawthorn didn't recognize her through the window, and we had to have John come down from security to check the package she left."

Alphonse tried not to look too confused. "Girlfriend."

"Yes." Now it was Mr. Pug's turn to not look confused. "Little blond, about yay high, mid-waist hair—didn't stick around long once security showed up, apparently. You're not telling me you don't know this girl? Because she left a lunch sack, and it seemed to check out. If not, I'll have security go back through it with a fine-tooth comb."

Alphonse swallowed. His brother had realized he'd forgotten his lunch. His brother had delivered his lunch.

"No, no, I think I know who you're talking about."

Mr. Pug smiled beatifically. "Well, my boy, just remember to give me notice next time, eh?" He slapped a wrinkled, thoroughly abused brown paper sack into Alphonse's hand and sauntered off, apparently pleased with himself. "Enjoy your lunch!"

About two hours two late. Alphonse thought, but unwrapped the sandwich anyways. The apple was bruised beyond all recognition, but the sandwich -

—okay now, he would have felt bad about his brother making a special trip, except that this time, there was rather more than just lube at the bottom of the lunch sack. The wrapper the sandwich was IN, for one—it rather suspiciously looked like a transmuted rubber.

See you at home ;) The code read plainly.

I'm not going to kill him. Alphonse thought, balling the thing up into an angry little wad. I'm not even going to SAY I'm going to kill him.

Cause he's already DEAD, and you can't kill something that's already dead.

The remains of the lunch sack hit Edward solidly in the face when Alphonse stormed in at five-thirty (at least the boss hadn't kept him after again, thank heaven.).

"Hey, what was that for? Don't I get any credit for bringing you lunch!?"

"No, you get nothing, and you're going to continue to GET nothing, if I have anything to say about it!" Alphonse retorted, and dove into his study. Slammed the door.


"It's just one more day, brother! You can DEAL." Alphonse hollered back through the door, temples throbbing. Fuck, he was tired. He thought about curling up for a nap for a while, but knowing his brother, the nap wouldn't last very long. An Alphonse in bed was Edward-territory, in their was an Alphonse in the shower, as was an Alphonse in the kitchen, on the couch, on the living room rug... And dammit, he did NOT encourage it, he told himself firmly. Edward was just too persuasive for his own damn good. And sweet. And good with his hands (oh god, was he ever good with his hands). And-


"Not. Interested!"

...persistent to the point of demanding immediate castration.

"...I was just wondering if you wanted some dinner."

"You're not fooling me that way." Alphonse replied, and sat down to his work. "Good. Bye."

Edward ranted. He raved. He even managed to sulk loudly, which was something one normally assumed impossible. But normal and Edward Elric His brother did eventually go see about dinner, but he did so with a vengeance the pots and pans (and tabletop and stove as well, from the sound) really didn't deserve.

"Could you keep it down!?" Alphonse howled, after a few long moments of automail-on-kettle symphony. To Edward's credit, the racket stopped...only to be replaced moments later with the sound of vegetables being cut with a vengeance. Alphonse put his head in his arms. Which was really a bad idea, because...

...he hadn't realized how awfully sleepy he'd been until the knock startled him awake.

"Al, you alive in there? I brought you dinner..."

"Yeah, thanks." Alphonse muttered, and waved a hand at the door. Then, belatedly, "Oh, right." He rose unsteadily and weaved his way toward the door, turned back the lock.

Edward was standing there not just with the usual bowl-and-a-spoon, but an honest to god dinner with steak and biscuits and gravy and the whole nine yards. His bangs seemed to have a suspiciously flour-like substance caked into them, and his nose and lips were smudged with what could only be the evidence of gravy-testing, but Alphonse really didn't give a damn about presentation.

"See? I told you you wouldn't 'die of starvation' without me." Alphonse groused, and accepted the plate, glass, and pile of mismatched silverware without a second thought. His brother did not say 'I love you' very often (when he did, it was either a red letter occasion, or it meant that one of them was approaching imminent doom, so conversely it tended to make Alphonse nervous) but between the two of them, actions spoke just as loudly as words.

"I dunno, your gravy is better." Edward said doubtfully. "This sludge got too salty."

Alphonse shrugged.

"Transmute a little out then. 'S what I always do."

"Hey, that's not fair!" Edward gaped.

"What do you mean, it's not fair? It's cooking, brother." Alphonse said, amused. "Don't tell me you didn't think of it?" He clapped his hands together and touched one finger to the stuff, felt deep within its structure and drew the salt to him. Sodium chloride (un-iodized); an extremely simple salt to isolate. It helped that Edward hadn't gotten it very well mixed in, to begin with, but Alphonse wasn't going to tell his poor, proud brother that.

"There," Alphonse said when he was done, indicated the small pile of flavoring sitting precariously to the left of his biscuits. "That's all there is to it."

Edward made an incredulous sound.

"...fucking transmute the salt out. Why didn't I think of that. Jeez, no wonder you're so good at this shit." Alphonse raised an eyebrow. "Hey, what are you looking at! This is my cooking, I'm perfectly allowed to say it's shit!"

"I think your cooking is perfectly acceptable." Alphonse said. "I just wish you would do it more often."

"Oh shaddup." His brother said, colored. Alphonse couldn't resist running a hand over the crest of his brother's hip.

"Seriously, though...thank you." Alphonse said, and dug in. Previously salty gravy aside, the food really was quite delicious. His brother had a knack for broiling that not even the infamous Flame "Call-Me-Grill-Lighter" Alchemist had been able to top (and he HAD tried, over and over until Breda of all people had made a motion to end the Summer of Infinite All-Office Cookouts. "I like burgers as much as the next guy and all, but uh, seriously—enough's enough." Alphonse, though in armor, had been inclined to agree with him.)

Edward perched on the edge of his desk and waited for him to finish, watched attentively as cut his steak into portions and shuddered when he went for the milk. He may have poured it, but he didn't have to like it, his face said.

It wasn't until AFTER dinner that he resumed being a consummate pain in the ass.

"You sure you're okay in here?" He asked, brushing one hand curiously across Alphonse's forehead. Did it again, and then a third time, obsessively. "You look peaky."

"YES, Mother." Alphonse sighed. "Funny, you know, I swear I used to have a brother around here somewhere."

"Smart ass." Edward snorted, but didn't deny the allegation. He slid from the desktop to stand at Alphonse's side, grabbed Alphonse's chin and started tilting his head this way and that.

"Hey, what are you—ow!" Alphonse protested as his sibling jabbed an accusing finger into the space just below his eye. "Cut it out!"

"You've got circles under your eyes." Edward diagnosed gravely.

"And? I pulled an all-nighter." Now Alphonse was thoroughly annoyed. It was bad enough he'd had to do it in the first place. Worse that his brother was poking at the evidence like a curious monkey.

"That's not good...'you're not at your best without a full night of rest!'"

"I'm aware of that." Alphonse said dryly. "Do you have any other pearls of wisdom for me, or would you like to consult a fortune cookie?" He was pretty sure that particular gem had come from an obnoxious local radio commercial. Something about mattresses, or sleep aids, or...oooh...

Edward's hand was sliding down along his cheekbone, moved a little higher and curled softly around an ear. It was a subtle gesture, but never failed to be utterly disarming. In his next life, Alphonse thought dizzily, he wanted to be a cat. Then he could go around getting his cheekbones rubbed by Edward all day.

"Al, come to bed." His brother purred.

Alphonse looked at his unfinished arrays with unbridled horror. "Are you crazy!? NO."

The hand dropped lower, began rubbing gently at the base of his neck. Alphonse shivered.

"For me?" His brother's voice was concerned but husky. A second hand buried itself in his thick, straight hair, mirrored the motions of the first.

"ESPECIALLY not for you." Alphonse said, and shoved the offending limbs away. "Brother, I know you! You'll end up keeping us both up half the night anyways."

His brother looked insulted. "That's not true!"

"Why do you think I always oversleep?"

Edward blinked.

"...because you have no stamina?"

Wrong. Answer.

He didn't even have to count to ten this time; Edward put himself into the hall all by his lonesome.