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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 3.

"...this is for you, too," Alphonse stood in the foyer, unloading the pockets
in his heavy winter coat, just having come from the train station. It was a
surprise holiday visit and he was unloading travel souvenirs into his brother's
mitten-bedecked hands.

Edward was grinning and practically bouncing in place,
which for Roy was good to see. This winter had been particularly wet, cold and
very bad on him from the beginning, hence the mittens in the house and the 'automail
sock' on his arm underneath his long sweater, both concessions Edward had made
to Roy's pleas. They also had a permanent wintertime blanket nest on the couch
with one of the more modern medical warming technologies to come along from
Central: a heating pad.

But the best medicine for Edward, of course, was this
surprise visit (not a surprise to the General, who had sent the request to
the Colonel to ask her to relinquish her favorite minion for the holidays)
,
just as Roy knew it would be. Edward had lamented softly about only getting
to see Al for a day or two during the climax of their holiday celebrations and
in doing so, had let the General know exactly what sort of gift to get for him.

The Professor was on holiday break from class as well
and wouldn't be back in session until the second week of the new year, leaving
the two brothers with each other's company for these special days, their first
true celebration together since Edward's return a little more than a year ago.

The two of them ambushed him, Edward wrapping an arm around
his waist, Alphonse grabbing his hand and pressing a small box into it, grinning
up at him. Their joy was always infectious; Roy eyed the box and stroked Ed's
back.

"I know what this is," the General said to Al's shining
eyes, "it's cufflinks, because you made a comment that my onyx ones were cracked
the last time I wore a good suit to take you to dinner."

"You have been practicing," Alphonse said, "I'm very pleased!
See? It's not hard to read things if you only apply observation, something I'm
exceedingly good at despite myself, it seems. I can see you have gotten Edward
to wear his warmers that Granny made for him, even after he told me over the
phone they itched and snagged in his ports. I can tell by the extra bulk under
his sweater on his right arm."

Roy kissed Edward's head as Ed snorted and frowned at
his little brother, but then reached up and flung his arm as far as he could
around his younger brother's shoulders. Alphonse squawked as he was drawn into
Roy's chest as well.

"Enough already, this is the holidays dammit and we're
gonna act like it. None of the shop talk, that 'analyze Ed until he screams'
bullshit. No sly looks at each other when I say something perfectly innocent
and you two want to twist it back on me either, this is just gonna be us. We're
gonna eat and drink and do all the holiday stuff just like we're supposed to.
We're gonna go out and listen to those stupid carolers in Central City Park
just like you like," Ed patted Roy on the ass, "and we're gonna go shopping
for Granny and Winry," Ed directed at Al, "just like I know you want to, and
it will be great. It will just be us three guys and the holidays and damn, don't
we deserve that?" Ed looked between them.

Roy and Al looked at each other. Both of them gave the
same one-sided smile and raised the same eyebrow (in Roy's case, the only
eyebrow)
and they both said, "Whatever you want, Ed" at the same time.

Edward Elric screamed.


The great mystery that was Roy's state-loaned car sat
in the driveway with its hood up, chugging irregularly. The two geniuses of
the house were contemplating it in grim silence, wrapped head to toe against
the cold with their noses peering out of mufflers wound around their faces.
The General stood back, arms folded, waiting for the verdict.

"Something is wrong with it," Ed said, voice fighting
through the knitted barrier that protected his lips.

"It's making funny noises," Al, the master observer and
now master listener, supplied helpfully, "is it supposed to make funny noises?"

The two of them leaned further under the hood and began
pointing things out to each other.

"What do you think that does?" the elder asked.

"Don't know," the younger said, "Oh, look at this thing,
what is it?"

"Don't know," the elder said, "it's got a hose though,
look it's attached to this thing, what the hell is do you think that's for?"

"Don't know," the younger pondered putting his chin to
his hand, "but it's vibrating up and down. What do you think this thing over
here does?"

Roy put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes. They
were likely to be at this all day, who would have thought that the infamous
Elric brothers would be laid low by something as mundane as a car with a stuttering
engine?

"I know," Ed said, "Let's drive it around and see how
it acts."

"Okay," Al said and dutifully climbed into the passenger
seat. Ed closed the hood, got behind the wheel and studied the gear shift for
a moment. Roy folded his arms again and stamped his feet against the cold, contemplating
going into the house and making some coffee. It occurred to him as the car started
rolling backwards that he'd never seen either of them drive before.


Alchemy fixed the porch very easily. Roy found out that
his neighbor directly across the street from his house was named Mrs. Finch
and she did not appreciate the car on her porch or the young hooligans loitering
in her yard.

The local police showed up in due time, lent Mrs. Finch
a sympathetic ear, but seeing how the damage had been repaired, they saw no
reason for hauling anyone off to the 'clink'. They did, however, helpfully tow
the now crumpled and dead state-loaned car of the General's back across the
street and into the driveway with their patrol car. The two hooligans stood
at the curb and discussed the afternoon's exciting events.

"I really thought that flat, skinny pedal was the brake,"
Ed said, "to me it makes more sense that the flat, broad pedal would be the
gas, doesn't it to you?" he asked his brother.

"Well, I should have warned you. I've watched the General
drive the car before, but I can see it was an honest mistake," Al said, "one
I might have easily made myself if I hadn't watched the General's feet," Al
nodded, "well now you know the 'R' on the gear means 'reverse' and not 'reeve',
I'm not sure why you'd want to reeve a car anyway," Al contemplated.

"You reeve it up to make it go, of course," Ed said, then
saw Roy looking at them, "what?" he questioned.

Roy sighed, shaking his head and gave his attentions to
one of the officers approaching him.

"No real harm done," the officer said, "but next time,
you might want to pick a more hospitable day to teach your sons to drive," then
the officer took a step back from the man before him and gave a shaky smile,
"we'll just be on our way."

"Hey dad," the leering, blond-haired hooligan called
from the curb, "does this mean we're taking a cab into the city?" he chortled
with glee.

"Don't let him bait you, Pirate," the other blond-haired
demon supplied, "you can barely tell your bangs are going gray."


The Colonel came to visit, staying with them. Now that
the General had the nice guest room, it just seemed appropriate. She came to
attend the holiday party at the office, but arrived a day early. Edward watched
Alphonse slip into some kind of bliss-induced coma as they all sat around in
the living room, discussing what to do for dinner when the General got home
that night. Edward had wanted Roy to (skip) take the day off, but in
order for everyone to be released early for the party the next day, things had
to be caught up. How responsible of him, Edward supposed that it was the difference
all along between what was his Colonel and what was now his General.

The moment the Colonel had walked in the door, Alphonse
had become the epitome of hospitality. He carried her luggage (offered to
unpack it and hang it all up for her, but she declined gently)
, gave her
a tour of the house, (pointed apologetically at the messy pile of blankets
on the couch and informed her they were a necessity for Edward and his joints.
She said she completely understood and he looked relieved)
and offered to
play the phonograph for her (when he still had a suppressed snarl whenever
Edward had tried to touch it)
. The moment she sat down in the living room
to chat and be comfortable, he'd rushed to bring her coffee and cookies, and
offered her a lap blanket from the hall closet.

"Alphonse," she chided gently, "please sit and talk with
Edward and I, we so rarely have the time to be together anymore."

Edward smiled and was then assaulted by his younger brother's
one last mad burst of she's here! energy as he was tucked in and wrapped
up vigorously. Al even stuck his fingers up the right sleeve of Ed's sweater
to make sure he was wearing his 'sock'. After that, he sat (practically at
attention)
and watched the both of them intently.

It was adorable to Edward, the way Alphonse fawned on
the woman. Riza was a beautiful lady; Edward took in her casual appearance,
still so neat and efficient. She wore a high-collared, soft shirt with a soft
looking sweater over it, her unbound hair lending a softness to her features
that she didn't encourage when she was in uniform. Slacks and low-heeled, short
boots finished off her look; she seemed relaxed and happy to be there with them,
at least to Edward. If even he could read that much, she really must have her
guard down. He had to hand it to her, when she was on duty, she was really on,
but not everyone could be like that all the time, not even the formidable Riza
Hawkeye. Edward was grateful it was in their presence she chose to be more approachable,
he knew very few people were allowed to see it and so it made it all the more
special.

She had been a frightening thing to a twelve year old
boy, with her hard eyes and straight back. Women of his acquaintance usually
looked at him in ways that made him squirm, because he wasn't a little boy,
dammit, no matter what their eyes said. Only his mother could touch his cheek
like that, or pat his head, or say those soft, kind words. But because she wasn't
there to do it for him, it hurt when these other women thought they could. Second
Lieutenant Hawkeye, however, was different. She was appraising, she looked at
him as if to judge who he really was, she made him feel inadequate at times
and ashamed at others. Edward was sure it wasn't intentional, especially later
when he did see her first, almost soft, looks in his direction, but they were
never motherly. They were concern, yes, but they looked at a young man, a fellow
soldier and offered strength instead of a want to relieve him of his burden.

Of course now that he was older, he knew what some of
the looks were that she gave to Roy and he felt a bit guilty and ashamed of
that, too. He could see why Roy would be attracted and could definitely see
why Alphonse was, she was a desirable pillar of strength. Alphonse saw a kindred
spirit to his orderly existence and Roy had eventually seen her unwavering support
and loyalty when his blind spot, named Edward, had been taken from him. Roy
had never really explained just what went wrong between he and Riza, but Ed
wasn't about to ask the woman herself. He felt guilty at the surge of gratitude
that they weren't together when he'd come stumbling back into their lives, needing
Alphonse and Roy so much it was a physical necessity.

"Tell me about the academy," she said, smiling and looking
a bit proud. Edward, for a moment, felt like Alphonse. He felt like he'd tell
her anything, "I hear you're something of a celebrity all over again."

"He teaches Alchemy to thirteen year olds," Alphonse leapt
in, as if afraid Edward couldn't answer the question properly himself, "and
he was given an honorary Professorship," Alphonse seemed to puff up proudly,
too. Edward just kept his mouth shut, smiling. If Alphonse wanted to talk for
him, then Alphonse certainly could.

"Professor Elric," Riza said, sipping her coffee, "very
impressive, Edward. Is it to your liking, then? The General seemed very pleased
with himself when he hatched the plan, didn't he Alphonse?"

Al nodded eagerly, leaning toward her when she spoke his
name.

"He was certain he'd found the right venture for brother,"
Al agreed.

"Wait a minute," Ed said, "he discussed this with you
two before he discussed it with me?"

"Well of course," Alphonse said, like how could he not,
"he wanted our opinions. The way you overreact at times leaves much to be desired,
" he informed his older brother loftily.

"Overreact," Edward squawked, "I think discussing with
me my future career is not something that needs to be done by committee!", Edward
flared his nostrils and glared toward the hallway where the front door was located,
as if willing a certain General to come strolling into it so he could open fire,
"I am no longer twelve, a fact quite a few people around here," and he eyed
Alphonse, "seem to have forgotten."

Riza's smile widened a tad more, her brown eyes softened
a touch and Edward thought Alphonse was going to float away.

"This is all true. I assure you Edward, I no longer think
of you as a twelve year old, but the General has high regards for your feelings
and I would think rather he was asking us if we thought the offer beneath you,
as not to offend you," she said smoothly, instantly defusing Edward's ire and
making him feel a bit like he was an overreacting twelve year old. Damn, the
woman was good.

"You're always bad about jumping to conclusions, Brother,"
Alphonse said, "I'm sure the Colonel knows it better than most, but why he wants
you to attend an academy I'm not sure. It seems funny, what if we get a lead
while you're there?"

Edward went rigid and Riza lowered her coffee mug. They
both looked over at Alphonse, who blinked at them in mild confusion. Ed swallowed
and was glad he had his hands buried under a blanket so their shaking wouldn't
be seen. He glanced at Riza who was studying Alphonse thoughtfully, Alphonse
noticed her gaze and squirmed uncomfortably.

"I'll get you some more coffee," Alphonse said to escape,
jumping to his feet, "and some for you as well, Brother. You're shaking, you
must be cold, I wish the General had a fireplace in here," and he took Riza's
cup when she offered it to him and fled before their gazes, down the hall to
the kitchen.

"What have you told him?" Riza asked quietly as Alphonse's
footsteps retreated. Edward tore his gaze from the empty archway and to her
face. She looked concerned, thoughtful and sympathetic; Edward was almost taken
aback by this simple offering of her eyes and face, and shook his head.

"I haven't told him anything," Edward whispered, "he has
asked, but I haven't told him anything."

Riza leaned back a moment and slowly rubbed her fingers
up and down the curve of the arms of her chair where they dipped down to run
toward the floor.

"I'm not sure that's the wisest course of action, Edward,"
she said gently, "I think in the long run, if his questions aren't answered,
he may force on himself conclusions that we know aren't true."

It was agony, plain and simple. How could he say to her,
how could he make any of them understand he didn't want Alphonse to remember!
Because that was better, wasn't it, if Al didn't remember? Why should Ed want
him to remember it? The terrorbloodpaindespair, the voices, the figures,
the eyes probing and staring straight through to your very soul, the grasping
fingers, so beautiful and so terrible, the whispers promising so many things
and buzzing so loud you wanted to claw at your ears. Why should he want Alphonse
to remember that?

All the years trapped in unfeeling oblivion, all the people
around them hurting and bleeding and dying, why should any elder brother wish
that on the younger? If Alphonse didn't remember, he could go on from here,
have a normal life, something Ed denied him the first time he lived it.
He could be free of the nightmares, the memories, the regrets. He wasn't quite
the same, this was true, but his soul was there, Edward could see it, he could
feel it when his brother hugged him or touched his hand and he could hear it
when his brother said his name. It was just better, it was good like this, Alphonse
was clean and free and saved and Edward could carry it for them both, because
it was Edward who had brought them both so low and fought so hard to raise them
back up. So maybe it was the first good thing the Gate had done, intentional
or not. Edward saw not reason to waste it.

"I think it's too much," Edward heard himself say, "he's
lived those years again and it might be too much," he whispered.

"Edward, I think we need to discuss this further," but
she stopped abruptly and Edward could hear the click of heels that told him
why she did. He raised his head and smiled when his brother offered him a mug.
His look of confusion gone, he sat back down and paid attention to whatever
polite conversation could be wrung from either of them for the rest of the afternoon.


He had a very big mouth, and he remembered he had a bit
too much to drink. He only petted the damn dog once, hadn't he?

Roy looked over at the box on the passenger side of the
car, heard the faint scrabbling within and sighed. This was his own fault for
lapping up support like honey when he first became a General, a very young General,
who no longer had dreams of grandeur or ambition, but who wanted to sit in power
for selfish reasons. General Culpepper was a strong woman, matronly in a way,
and she'd taken a shine to the infamous Roy Mustang. For a while he was her
invite favorite to every little soiree she threw, but he had gradually been
weaned away when fresh meat rose in the ranks and wasn't all that sorry her
attentions had turned elsewhere. But she never forgot him at the holidays (damn
the woman)
. This year she'd rung his office, told Havoc she had 'something
special' for the General and that he was not to let him leave until she got
there.

He pulled into the driveway, put the car in park, shut
off the ignition and looked at the box again, sighing. He got out, walked around
the car and opened the passenger side door. He carefully lifted it out and shut
the door, looking down at the box's small occupant scrabbling in a blanket and
tilting its small head up to look at him.

"If we are lucky," he told it, "he will be so overcome
by your charm that we'll both survive the introduction, but don't get your hopes
up," he started up the walk to the front door, "it's just our luck Hawkeye is
here, though. She speaks your language and might be able to hold Ed back while
we make a break for it," he unlocked the door and walked in.

"Hey!" he heard Ed call from the living room. He sat the
box down for a moment on the foyer bench to shed his gloves and stuff them in
the pockets of his great coat before similarly removing it and hanging it on
the mirrored hook.

"Hey," he returned, picking up the box and steeling himself
before walking into the living room, "you all look cozy, had a good day I hope?
General Culpepper sends her greetings," he patted the side of the box.

"One can only imagine," Hawkeye said, a glint her eyes
and a slight smile on the side of her mouth, "what is it this year? Not more
of her homemade liquor, I'd hope. You were so sick last time," she sipped her
coffee.

Roy put his hand on his hip, balanced the box against
his chest with his remaining hand and sniffed.

"It wasn't the liquor, my dear woman," he said, "it was
the buffet. If you'll recall, I heard I wasn't the only one a bit under the
weather the next day."

"Well, Brigadier General Cothwell drank all his liquor
that evening too, if I recall," she said, one eyebrow raised in challenge and
Roy grimaced.

Edward looked between the two of them, his mind running
from curiosity to mild jealousy, then to being ashamed of himself for feeling
jealous. He should be glad they were still friends, affairs could be very messy
things as he well knew.

"What is it?" Alphonse asked. He was always the eager
one when it came to presents, his or anyone else's. Roy smiled, walked over
to the couch, sat down near Ed and put the box between them. Ed leaned over
to inspect it, eyes widening and nose wrinkling as he drew back.

"She gave you a rat?!" he exclaimed, "What kind of lunatic
gives out rats as presents?"

This of course made Alphonse jump to his feet and come
hurrying over to peer in the box as well. He blinked then grinned and reached
in to lift the present.

"Don't be silly, brother. It's not a rat, it's a puppy,"
Alphonse was all smiles as the small, black and white terrier wagged its small
tail and extended its pink tongue for a friendly lick toward a nose it couldn't
quite reach.

"Just as bad," Ed sneered, "why in the world would she
give you a dog?" Ed turned accusing eyes on Roy, "and what are you going to
do with it?"

"Well, I expect I'm going to make a pet of it," Roy said
and shrugged, "I could hardly turn it down, it was a gift. That's bad press,
you know," he went on smoothly, "besides, it's a small dog, it shouldn't be
much bother."

Alphonse was, of course, already besotted. He cradled
the puppy to his chest and took him to Hawkeye, the resident dog expert, for
a proper inspection.

"It will be fun, brother. Dogs are nice company, not as
good as cats, but lovely all the same. The Colonel can tell you what a good
companion Black Hayate is if you need convincing," he leaned forward in offering
as Hawkeye reached up to rub small, black ears.

"This must be one of Moppet's puppies," Hawkeye said and
sat her cup down to free her hands. Alphonse happily deposited the small, wiggling
puppy into them, "General Culpepper has fine spotted terriers, but Moppet is
her only black and white," she held the little creature in her lap and let it
play chew a finger.

"Trust you to know a person's dogs better than the person,"
the General grinned, "unless they collect antique revolvers as well, then you
would have found your true soul mate," he teased. Alphonse began to make rapid
mental notes and a conviction to read everything he could lay his hands on about
antique firearms.

"Either diversion more worthy than collecting phone numbers,"
the Colonel returned smoothly, never breaking the sight smile or the gentle
rub of a small black and white canine head, "at least in the end I have a companion
or an investment," she then turned her eyes to Edward, "but I see that somehow,
despite all that, you did come out with the better end of the deal, although
the same might not be said for Edward."

Edward had the grace to blush and smile, and Roy bumped
shoulder with him affectionately while Alphonse continued to stand in attendance
at Hawkeye's chair. She held the puppy back up to him and he took it, carefully
nesting it against his chest, where it grinned and wagged and showed its prize
asset, its tongue, taking in its domain from the higher vantage point.

"What are you going to name it?" Alphonse asked, retreating
to his chair of earlier and settling down, letting the puppy snuffle hopefully
in the folds of his shirt.

"How should I know? It's Roy's dog," Edward said, "I suppose
he'll name it."

They were prophetic words.


After a morning spent erecting an elaborate barrier that
'Roy's Dog' could not escape, (and finally resorting to alchemy to do it,
the little nuisance was an escape artist!)
, the four of them headed into
the city for a brief shopping excursion to satisfy family gift obligations before
heading to headquarters for the party.

Edward was less than thrilled, bundled head to toe; he
kept getting lost and having to be found. Roy proved to be excellent help in
choosing gifts for young ladies, (even better than Hawkeye, if it could be
believed)
. Edward found he could feel jealous over that with no reservations
and let everyone know it. It took a two pound box of chocolates and three tins
of cocoa to placate him. Alphonse got exasperated and told him that it was wrong
to use the General's past against him to extort presents for himself, then the
brothers heatedly argued all the way through the plaza into the next shop, where
Hawkeye stood guard over them, ushering them out of people's way while Roy procured
dog accessories, grumbling himself about the prices.

They decided to forgo lunch. Well, at least three of them
did. The fourth and shortest member of the quartet complained bitterly about
being made to fast, despite the other three constantly reminding him there would
be plenty of food at the party. A street vendor pretzel shut him up for as long
as it took him to eat it and he then informed Alphonse that he had all the fashion
taste of a near-sighted, dandy-fused chimera when he picked out a sweater he
thought would be a nice gift for First Lieutenant Pharr. The two brothers got
into it again and at the first opportunity, the General and the Colonel ditched
them and went on ahead to the party, figuring they were old enough by now to
find headquarters on their own.

By the time they figured out they'd been ditched, caught
a cab (arguing the whole way about whose fault it was that they got ditched)
and arrived at headquarters, the party was just getting started. The General
was already prepared for a major snubbing, (which he got) and Alphonse's
looks of hurt feelings (which were easily soothed by a cup of warm punch,
a pat on the back and a whisper about what a brave soul he was to stay and take
care of Edward)
. Soon, more people began to arrive and they all started
to have a very good time.


It became apparent that the warm, apple and cinnamon punch
was spiked when Edward began to giggle, looking rosy in his nose and cheeks.
The General demanded to know who made the punch, how they did it so the alcohol
wasn't evident and could he get the recipe? The wine had already been flowing
freely at that point and Breda was everyone's hero when he showed up with a
dolly loaded down with a few cases of beer he'd liberated from his uncle's warehouse.
Beer, of course, was a manly drink and the wine was freely abandoned for it.
Alphonse was torn between what he liked to drink, (sweet wine), and what
he should, as a man, be drinking. He ended up putting down his glass and accepting
the lukewarm can from Havoc, grinning when Havoc, Breda, the General and other
equally masculine men in the room did, and held his breath as he drank it, trying
to cast a look in Colonel Hawkeye's direction to see if she witnessed his feat
of manly fortitude.

Edward was at the point where he'd drink anything given
to him. He was also standing guard over the buffet, leering menacingly at anyone
who came near the serving dish of meatballs he'd staked out as his own. After
all, he'd been forced to go without lunch and these meatballs, by gosh, were
his by right. He was this man's army from the age of twelve, and pointed that
out to any unwary buffet browser with fork poised over his meatball horde that
he was the FullMetal Alchemist, in case they forgot, and that they should all
just be grateful. Nevermind if he didn't do anything for them personally,
they should just be grateful anyway because he was warning them before they
touched his meatballs. If he didn't warn them beforehand and they touched them,
well he'd just have to kick their asses.

The General was dispatched to deal with the blond meatball
terrorist who resisted mightily, grabbing the serving dish as he was dragged
from the buffet table. They just let him have it to shut him up, but then Alphonse
was sent to whisper discreetly to the General that trying to feel his brother
up while he was shoveling meatballs in his face in public was probably not the
image he wanted to portray, even if they would forgive him because he was drunk;
someone might be lurking around with a camera.

It was Havoc's bright idea to go find the stairway to
the roof. He was urged to take the General along because no one was going to
be able to take the serving dish away from Ed until he'd licked it clean. The
General decided this might be a good rite of passage for Alphonse too, so the
tipsy teenager was dragged along as Havoc, Breda, the General and a few other
people he didn't know too well (because he couldn't focus properly and only
knew the others by their voices, no matter how slurred.)
ascended the stairs,
only tripping a few times.

Havoc won the pissing contest, but only after they all
had to troop downstairs and outside to check. It was determined his prize for
winning was to have another beer, so they all headed back up to the party where
they found Edward snarling over a tray of miniature éclairs, holed up
with them in the corner between the bookshelf and the window behind Roy's desk.
The General announced he'd rather face down a woman who'd just been told her
dress made her ass look fat, than go near the frothing, blond, drunk, sugar-buzzed,
disaster waiting to happen, and his followers all nodded in agreement, giving
him 'buck-up' sympathy pats on the back. Havoc even ventured so far as to say
he was glad he didn't have to sleep with that, whatever it was, snarling over
pastries.

Hawkeye was wise enough to know that her authority only
went as far as making sure people didn't leap out windows to see if they could
fly during this kind of debauchery, but seemed to be enjoying it all the same.
She noticed Alphonse making an unsteady orbit around her, trying so hard not
to be obvious, but sticking out like a sore thumb none the less. He was alternating
between looking at her, looking at where he was going, and pushing people out
of his way. The tighter his circle got, the more nervous he began to look, until
right on the cusp of the circle that would have brought him closest to her,
he veered off sharply and made his weaving way back to the group of men making
bets on how many éclairs Ed could get into his mouth at one time. She
watched Havoc slap Al's back a few times while force feeding him another beer,
then sort of turned him in her direction, giving him a small shove to his shoulder.
Al stood listing to his port, looking like he might cry and laugh at the same
time, but he didn't move much further. Riza decided, since she was feeling warm,
that this should be her last glass of punch, because wasn't it going to be fun
getting all these wasted idiots home?

The General decided that Havoc was a good place to lean,
so he did so. His head bumped up under Havoc's chin and Havoc, beer can grafted
to his hand, half glazed smile in place, patted his superior officer on the
back and sighed. Ed shrieked like a banshee, leapt to his feet and came out
swinging. Everyone scattered and Havoc, used to defending his superior officer,
took off with him in tow as Ed chased them from the room and down the hall.
In the hall, his automail leg decided to take a nap and he ended up face down
for a while. Havoc came back, dragging the General, and poked Ed with a toe.
He only received a grunt in response, so he dragged the General back into the
party.

When they got back into the party, Fuery had magically
appeared. He wasn't drunk yet, so this was a cause for celebration along with
more beer, only the beer was getting low. Alphonse had not moved from the spot
where he was swaying like a loose screen door in the breeze and it was decided
he'd had enough beer and could now drink the wine, but really he should stop,
because he was shit-faced, teehee. Then Ed showed back up, all askew and huffing,
and the General demanded to know who was giving Ed beer. When it was pointed
out that he was the one giving the beer, it was okay. If he was the one giving
Ed beer, then it must be alright for Ed to have beer and then everyone could
give Ed beer. Ed seemed pretty indifferent, but drank the two and half beers
that came his way anyway.

The General patted Fuery on the head and told him what
a good soldier he was. Fuery of course blushed in gratitude, drunken General
notwithstanding, preening when the General proceeded to inform every living
being in earshot just how wonderful it was having someone like him around. He
was polite, he was punctual, he could fix just about anything
without alchemy, he was smart and he was respectful. The
General threw an arm around the blushing young man's shoulders and Havoc backed
away suddenly, pointing one shaky finger in the direction of a smoldering, blond,
alchemic reaction waiting to be unleashed. The General, oblivious, waved at
Ed because Havoc was pointing at him. Ed came screeching over (only tripped
and fell once)
and grabbed Roy's arm around Fuery's shoulders, intent on
using it to pull Fuery's head off. It was far too dull for such a thing, so
Ed decided to strangle Fuery with it, screeching that he was "The Gennrals proggy
firs!" which no one could understand.

Al woke up around this point and yelled "No, she wuz always
mah friend first!" and leapt on his brother, inadvertently saving Fuery's life
and the General from an extended prison stay where he would have wound up as
someone's girlfriend. Havoc began yelling out odds as the two Elrics rolled
around on the ground and money started getting passed while cheering sections
broke out. Then someone yelled that they should have a camera and Ed started
bawling about how much he loved his little brother. The fight degenerated into
Al trying to claw his way to air and freedom.

Hawkeye took pity for her favorite subordinate and went
over to pinch Ed's nostrils shut, slapping a hand over his mouth until he realized
he had to breathe. That, however, meant releasing Al, who he loved most in the
whole world. He decided to die for love because that was noble. Hawkeye, in
exasperation, just pinched the hell out of Ed's nipple through his sweater.
He screeched like he was dying, grabbing his chest as he rolled the other way,
releasing Al. Being suffocated for love was one thing, getting a 'titty twister'
was another entirely.

Hawkeye then helped Alphonse to his feet and got distracted
when Edward grabbed her by the ankle, swearing vengeance (and asking her
to make that pasta dish she always used to make that he liked)
. When she
looked back to Alphonse, whom she was supporting, he kissed her.

She knew he harbored a crush and a very strong one; she
sometimes despaired of having to deal with it. She didn't want to hurt him,
he'd suffered enough in his life.

It wasn't even that good a kiss. It was sloppy and drunken
and delivered mostly to the side of her mouth. He smelled like beer and tasted
like one, too and it was over almost as soon as it began. Edward had gone quiet,
but hadn't released her ankle and Alphonse was staring not into her eyes, but
at her lips, like he might be working himself up to another attempt. The sudden
chorus of whoops and catcalls did nothing for the situation in the least, Hawkeye
was just grateful that they were all as drunk as they were and not likely to
remember it in the morning, particularly Alphonse, most of all Alphonse. At
least, that was her sincerest hope.

She pushed him away gently and leaned down to slap Edward
a couple of times in the head, knowing he wouldn't be hurt. He released her
and shrieked anyway, grabbing his head. For whatever reason, this time his shriek
brought a staggering General to his rescue, who couldn't seem to kneel down
or help Ed up, but stood there over him cooing.

Late and bewildered, Falman finally made an appearance
and Riza was pleased to see him, as he was not drunk and could help her get
those who were drunk out and into the car. She'd had enough; it was time to
take the terrible trio home. The General could still pretty much walk- a miracle
unto itself. He only needed to be supported and was easily put into the front
seat of the car. Alphonse couldn't really walk, but Falman, for all his narrow
frame, was still a big man and got him into the back seat with no problem. The
real problem had latched onto the doorframe with a metal hand, proclaiming he
wasn't going 'any fucking where' while there was still food on the buffet table,
because that meant the party wasn't over.

Fortunately, he was ticklish and Hawkeye was exasperated,
a bad combination. He was dragged to the car by his flesh leg and tossed in
head first onto his hapless brother who immediately told him there was a line
drawn down the middle of the back seat that he wasn't allowed to cross. The
General, however, was being a very good boy because he had fallen asleep with
his head against the front passenger side window and was drooling. Half way
back to the General's house, Ed edged the fingers of his flesh hand over the
'line'. At first, Alphonse didn't notice. He was too busy admiring the back
of Hawkeye's head, thinking it was the loveliest, most well rounded, proportionate
head he'd ever seen, that he'd kissed her and that he was dead from massive
internal hemorrhaging because he was sure she was packing the snub nosed 35
caliber in her boot under her lovely wool slacks.

When he did notice, he immediately wailed in stricken
sibling betrayal and proceeded to try to slap fight Ed into submission. It caused
Hawkeye to utter words she'd never thought would leave her lips... ever.

"Don't make me stop this car and come back there," she
said, then felt her own jaw slacken just slightly, because really, she shouldn't
be playing their game at all. Alphonse then tried to be good, but Edward was
feeling surly. He leaned up and reached over the seat, grabbing Roy's collar
and slapping the General back and forth on his seat, repeating "Roy" over and
over again. Hawkeye gripped the steering wheel tighter and kept her eyes straight
ahead, figuring if Roy made this bed he could sleep in it. Besides, she was
fairly sure the car seat couldn't give him a concussion.


One by one, they were negotiated into the house. Roy was
first and was dumped onto the couch, because amazingly, he could walk in his
drunken stupor sleep. Alphonse, who kept giving her the most love struck of
looks despite the fact he seemed to have lost all control of the muscles in
the rest of his body, was dumped there next. It took a good ten minutes just
to get Ed out of the car. He then decided the lawn was a good place for a nap
and no amount of kicking would make him budge. He was once again dragged by
his flesh leg up to the porch. Hawkeye just decided the hell with it and dragged
him up the lip of the porch and over the door jamb, ignoring the way his head
bounced up and down when she did it. It was, after all, only his head. He was
easier to drag on the hardwood and she dragged him into the living room as well,
but left him lying on his back on the floor, spread eagle.

High pitched whines of someone truly in need summoned
her and she left them there to stew in their own pickled juices for a bit while
she cleaned up after a puppy, giving him a bit of attention to quiet him. She
much preferred his company to that of her other male companions, but knew eventually
they would have to be dealt with. Returning to the living room, she stood in
the doorway and sighed, hands on her hips. Figuring that once again the General
was going to be the easiest to move, she glanced down at Ed who was, amazingly
enough, awake, but very unfocused. He kept furrowing his brow like he was trying
to puzzle out who she was. Edward was a true delight inebriated, no really,
he was. She shook her head, frowning at him, and he had the decency to at least
look confused and maybe a bit contrite.

She went over and shook Roy, rousing him into his walking
catatonic state, got his arm over her shoulders and grunted, turning him to
the doorway.

"Come on General, let's get you to the bedroom," she muttered,
taking a step and encouraging him to follow, which he did. Hawkeye was convinced
he wasn't conscious enough to really realize it; the man's automatic reflexes
were amazing. From the floor, Ed made a sudden noise like an exclamation and
rolled over, trying to get up on his feet a few times as Hawkeye pulled the
General out into the hall. She heard scrabbling and dragging noises, glanced
over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow as Edward determinedly followed them
on all fours, except his automail leg had decided to be a total traitor and
wasn't cooperating well. In actuality, he was following on all threes and dragging
the fourth, but a couple of times his automail arm also decided it had its own
agenda and wandered in another direction. Edward ended up slapping his face
on hardwood a few times, making Hawkeye almost wince in sympathy each time he
did it...almost.

She got the General into his bedroom, managed to turn
him around and back him up to the bed, letting him fall onto it, his knees hanging
over the side. He immediately closed his eyes again and she knew he was gone.
She shook her head, wondering why it was always she that looked out for him,
even though she thought she'd left it all behind her with her transfer to East
City. She bent down and lifted one foot, working his shoe off, and then the
other. She heard a distressed noise behind her, (the dragging and thumping
had stopped right outside the door)
and looked back to see Edward, who was
managing to get himself to his feet by going hand over hand up the door jamb.
He stood there staring at her, trying to speak, but only coming out with garbled
sounds and slurred whines. Finally, he lurched the few feet from the door to
the bed and half way collapsed on it face down beside the General. She sighed
and began unbuttoning Roy's shirt, but Edward leveled himself, made another
high whine, then gently and unsteadily reached out with his automail hand, put
it on her shoulder and gave her a slight push. She blinked at him, wondering
what he was on about, but he did it again and then began trying to climb up
onto the bed. He kept lifting his knee, hesitating and putting it back down.
He did it several times and his whines were becoming frustrated and slightly
panicked. Hawkeye finally took pity on him, got behind him and wrapped her arms
around his waist, grunting as she heaved him up onto the bed. With all four
extremities on the bed, Ed calmed a bit, but then threw himself sideways and
collapsed right on top of Roy. Roy snorted, grunted and licked his lips, but
didn't so much as make a move. He must be used to it, Hawkeye figured. She stood
there long enough to realize Edward was somewhat jealous of her attentions to
the General, as he was now trying to throw his leg over Roy as well.

There was nothing else for it. Edward was making it impossible
to get either of them undressed, so she shook her head, retreated, turned out
the light and just left them there. At least they weren't sleeping on the floor.


Alphonse had tipped over on the couch. He appeared to
be asleep, his ponytail lying over his jaw with the end of it draped over his
nose, where his inhales and exhales made it sway gently. A simple touched on
his shoulder had his bronze eyes open. He turned his head slightly, saw her
and smiled. The boy had a lovely smile, it softened his features in ways she
ignored in the office; he tried to sit up on his own, but she caught his shoulders
and helped him.

"Can you walk, Alphonse?" she asked, "Let's get you in
bed."

He contemplated her for a long moment, then put his hands
down on the couch and tried to shove to his feet. On his second attempt, she
caught his shoulders again and helped him, quickly ducking under one of his
arms and drawing it over her shoulder to steady him. His head hung forward,
but his face was turned toward her, studying her with unsteady focus; the smile
hadn't left. He was surprising manageable, if a bit boneless, and she was able
to get him to his bed without incident, letting him flop back on it the same
way she had the General. She bent down to remove his shoes as well, since the
two louts in the other bedroom should have known better, she contented herself
with doing for Alphonse what she couldn't do for them. He tried to cooperate,
but was a bit of a hindrance until she tapped his nose and told him to be still
enough times that he finally understood, laying quietly and watching her.

It was almost uncomfortable to be under his scrutiny as
she stripped him down to his boxers and undershirt, leaving his clothes piled
by the bed on the floor in much the same way their wearer was lying on his bed-
shapeless and relaxed. She lifted his legs up onto the bed and used his own
struggles to move him so his head was at the pillows; she was able to yank the
covers from beneath him to cover him up. He was going to be so sorry in the
morning, she already felt pangs of sympathy for him, (maybe she shouldn't
have let him drink so much? But she also knew trying to curb him in front of
his brother and the others he considered peers, would have been embarrassing)

he was, after all, only seventeen and despite himself at times, still mostly
a child.

When he'd returned to Central at the age of twelve, she
restrained herself mightily from telling the then Major General to send him
home. How could she, in good conscience, deny him the right to find his brother?
It was equivalent trade among the Elrics to sacrifice ones own need for the
other, and had been since the moment she first laid eyes on them those years
ago, when they were both young at the same time. She also considered him a balm
on the wound his elder brother had left raw and open across the Major General's
heart, the way Roy would track the boy across the office with his eyes, wearing
all too real emotions for brief seconds on his face before realizing what he
was doing and shutting himself up again. He was many things to many people then,
he was pain to the Major General, it was true, but he was also pride for the
man and a sense of purpose. She knew as long as he had Alphonse to worry for,
he wouldn't let Edward's ghost consume him in entirety.

He was inspiration to the others and also a bit of a sad
reminder of what they lost when they gained Alphonse. He endured many head rubbings
back then, as if he were some sort of lucky charm. The way he would trail Havoc
around sometimes, all but hanging onto the man's jacket tail, was touchingly
poignant of his need for his elder sibling. But as he'd done before, and to
her own secret kept joy, he began to turn to her more and more as time moved
them all ahead. In a way she would never admit to herself, he was a reward for
the things she had done right. He was a confidant, trusted and true. Even at
thirteen, she knew anything she shared with him would be in the strictest confidence,
even though it was only things about the job and perhaps Black Hayate and fleas.
He was a vicarious joy, the way he would light up all over, get over excited
or plead (while trying not to sound like he was) for a file, a book or
even a game of chess. It was her own jacket tail she began to fear for when
she developed her much smaller Alphonse-shaped shadow after his return. His
presence only intensified for her how much she'd missed it, the reach above
her own, the comforting shadow that fell before her, the sharp mind that reaffirmed
her own theories.

So her own secret elation was the return of this boy.
It was only added to by the return of his brother and she knew she'd have been
poorer in spirit if she'd never met the two. It must have been what drove her
as Alphonse lay there, gazing at her with love written all over his features,
the alcohol stripping from him the defense of his usual shield of cheerfulness.
It must have been her own punch-induced relaxation that made her reach out and
work the tie from his hair and thread her fingers through his bangs to push
them off his forehead.

His sigh was euphoria laced and she blinked when he was
actually coordinated enough to reach up and catch her hand. She felt some uneasy
stirrings and perhaps a little heat in her cheeks when he pulled her knuckles
to his lips and let them lie there against him.

"I really like you," he confessed in a hoarse whisper,
(voice raw and scratchy from the screaming bout he'd had with his brother),
"I know you think I'm too young and the rules..." he sighed and trailed of for
a few moments, "but I really like you" he told her with drunken earnestness
again, kissing her knuckles in a sloppy and uneven way.

She should stop this right now. Drunk or not, he was her
subordinate and many years her junior. It was inappropriate to let this charade
continue, even if she was certain he would not remember it the next day. She
should pull her hand from his grasp, inform the Lieutenant Colonel that while
she appreciated his feelings, (No, while she was touched by them. Yes, Alphonse
could be easily wounded by a word falling out of formation from her lips and
she knew that, that is why she was always very carefully correct in the office,
the boy kept her on her toes)
, he would admit to himself that the entire
situation was indecorous and that what was said here should stay here, never
setting foot off of Alphonse's own pillowcase again.

But the punch was insidious and she heard herself say,
"I like you too, Alphonse" in the most even manner, with not a hint of authority
lurking around its edges at all. She was just indignant with herself, but she
could not afford to release control of any situation. Alphonse wiggled all over
and slobbered on her knuckles again. She should just stop him from doing it,
it was wrong and it couldn't be this way because of his age, her rank and their
lives.

"I mean," he continued blearily, "I really like
you," his eyes adored her. She knew he was trying to will the true meaning to
his words into her brain. Even as drunk as he was, he still knew that
if he said more than that, she would shut him down, pull her rank up like the
armor it was and make him see the fruitlessness of what he said, letting it
hang forever suspended between them. He knew it, the boy knew her and
thus he was also her own little tragedy, because yes, maybe in the dark places
within her, she did hunger for that, she wanted that. But that would make him
more to her than what he should be, what was appropriate and respectful.

He was under aged and her subordinate, and while the General
had his own reasons, presumably good ones, she did not, nor would she ever.

Alphonse Elric would not be with the military for the
rest of his days, and she would not be without it.

They had both worn armor, only he'd lost his and she never
could.

She gently tugged her hand free, sincerely hoping she
left her musings behind her there on the pillowcase with Alphonse as she turned
to go out the door, because she would never admit them to herself in the light
of day.


"Kill me," Edward begged tragically, "please, I know you
love me, kill me," he got out before grabbing the toilet again and practically
going face first into it.

The General leaned from his perch on the tub's edge and
caught the thick blond hair as it started to slide forward, his own head beating
out a rhythm he could dance to if he had truly wanted to. He thought instead,
(amazed he could think with all the cerebral racket), that it might hurt
less to throw himself bodily and repeatedly onto the dance floor. Edward was
making the most noxious retching sounds Roy had ever heard and ever wanted to
hear, because after watching Edward crawl frantically into the bathroom, knowing
that his lover bound duty was to follow him, he almost wished he were single
again, but only for half a second.

Hawkeye had checked in on them once during the last hour,
giving them towels and looks that said they were the idiots she always expected
them to be, but then by mercy's own blessing, she had left. Roy heard frantic
running in the hall and some retching noises only slightly less gruesome than
Edward's, and knew that Hawkeye had assigned herself to Alphonse duty. Edward
was released from his own folly for a moment as he leaned his cheek against
the side of the toilet bowl and turned grisly, watering, pinky-gold eyes on
Roy, pleading as much as he could with their oozing condition, for a quick and
releasing death.

Roy tried to rub a comforting circle on Ed's back, but
it was more just a push into the toilet bowl. Roy wanted coffee and aspirin
and escape at the moment, but he knew if he tried to leave, the consequences
would be dire, indeed. Edward was a firm believer that his misery was a desperate
and lonely creature, bent on suicide. It needed more company to wallow in so
it would find the will to live long enough to make sure it tortured him beyond
endurance.

"What the hell did you eat, Ed?" Roy grated out, squeezing
his own eyes shut as tiny tears collected in the corner, fleeing the party his
brain and its swing dance cohorts where throwing, "and how much did you eat?
You've been at this for an hour already," the General groused.

"I don't know," Edward half sobbed, "I think it was maybe
the meatballs? They were tainted, I bet everyone is sick," on cue, he lurched
up and gurgled at the inside of the toilet bowl again.

Roy grabbed a handful of blond hair but kept his eyes
fixed firmly in the opposite direction.


She laid a cool towel across the back of his neck and
he almost leaned down to kiss her shoes. She was his heaven, the hand that kept
his hair from becoming doused, the half soothing shush noises as he took up
the most undignified position in front of a toilet he'd even been in, and she
flushed for him, because trying to lift his hand above his head now was just
agony.

But he was also appalled, embarrassed and aghast that
she could see him like this. What was he thinking? No, what was he drinking
last night? Why, oh why did he have this burning, itching, insane need to fit
in every time the other males of his acquaintance did something stupid? He had
nothing to prove, (unless Edward was watching), and he shouldn't let
his stupid addle-padded hormones run away with him. He deserved this! He did,
and he deserved for her to see him in his lowest hour, on his knees in a bathroom,
trying to turn himself inside out.

Because he was an idiot and her looks would remind him
later not to be one.


After Edward said "I think that's my stomach floating
in there," he had been left to fend for himself. After all, he was a big boy
now, capable of throwing up all on his very own. He dragged himself to the kitchen
(he would call himself 'half-blind', but to do that now, he'd be 'all blind'
and in fairness, he could still see... a little)
and looked groggily at
the outline of the figure at the stove with a coffee pot and something wiggling
on one arm.

"I've taken the dog out," it announced in clip tones,
"and I've started your coffee. I have to check on Alphonse, sit down before
you fall down," Roy remembered she'd been just about this warm in bed, too.
He fumbled to the kitchen table and sat; she came over and put the wiggling
thing in his arms and marched back down the hall to the bathroom. Roy
had no motivation to get up on his own, so he sat there trying to engage latent
telekinetic powers to will a coffee mug to the table, with coffee in it, but
no cream. GAH no cream today! He wondered what the wet sensation on his chin
was, then realized the black and white blob in his arms must be licking him.
He hoped feebly that Hawkeye would come back with a hammer to crush his skull
and stop the pounding; it really couldn't be any worse that what it was, truth
be told. He thought about setting the puppy down, he finally realized that's
what the furry, wiggly blob must be
, but he was sure if he bent over, he'd
join it on the floor and might not want to get back up. It was hard drinking
coffee lying on the kitchen floor, he knew because he'd tried it before.


Alphonse managed to make his moan both pitiful and grateful
when Hawkeye laid the cool towel on the back of his neck. He reached out to
finger her shin, but she moved away.

"I have to check on your brother," she said with some
resignation, "I'll be back to get you back in bed afterwards, just make sure
you think your sick spell is over," Alphonse was comforted by the gentle command
and nodded once before she left him there on his knees, praying in the age old
fashion to the hangover gods for mercy.

Edward was sprawled on the bathroom floor and looked up
at her, whimpering, when she looked in on him. His forehead sported a large
bruise from where it had repeatedly made contact with the floor in an effort
to drag his body behind it last night. He was pasty, sweaty and was still wearing
his party clothes. She heaved a very large sigh, bent down and got her hands
under his shoulders to sit him upright. She wiped off his face and neck with
a wet wash cloth while he whimpered in short happy bursts, then managed to drag
him back into the bedroom proper and onto the bed. She began unbuttoning his
buttons and after she got them all open, he mumbled "I can get it from here,
Colonel". He tried to smile at her, but it was just an imitation badly made
in a small, foreign country. She retrieved him some clean boxers and a clean
t-shirt, laid them beside him, went out and closed the door behind her, but
listened for a moment to make sure he didn't slide off the bed, onto the floor.
Once she was satisfied, she returned to Alphonse, did a similar clean up on
him and got him to his room, offering him clean garments and also leaving him
alone to dress. She went back to check on the General, deciding her holiday
wasn't being any kind of vacation at all.


Alphonse was sleeping, Roy was medicated and caffeinated,
and Edward had somehow managed to get into the kitchen, surprising them both.
He sat slouched against Roy, rumbling every time the puppy darted over to lick
his flesh toes and sniff his metal ones. His nose was crammed into Roy's shoulder,
and Roy, not feeling very sympathetic, kept shifting and snorting, resulting
in Edward wiping his nose on Roy's shoulder. Riza sat across from them
with her own cup of coffee and some toast; the other two had looked at her like
she was some kind of hideous dominatrix when she suggested they try to eat.

"We may not have this opportunity again for some time,"
she suddenly said. Roy raised his eyebrow half mast and Edward rolled an eye
in her direction.

"I would hope not," the General said hoarsely, "because
we'd all be dead, I'm sure," Edward just vaguely nodded agreement.

"That's not what I meant," she continued, "I think we
should discuss Alphonse and his memories," she said quietly. Edward turned his
face then, still leaning on Roy but not looking at her.

"Al's memories?" Roy said, "What about them."

Riza sipped her coffee, giving Ed a chance to speak up.
When he didn't, she spoke up for him.

"Al had an episode the day before yesterday, it came across
like a regression," she said evenly.

Roy seemed to stiffen, he turned his head to look at the
top of Edward's head, then back to meet Riza's hazel gaze.

"Explain it to me, I haven't heard anything about it,"
he suddenly shoved slightly sideways, making Edward move back. He took the hint
and sat up as much as he could, leaning his elbows on the table, still holding
his silence.

"Since Edward seems too reluctant to discuss the matter,
I'll enlighten you," Riza said, "we were all sitting in the living room discussing
casual things, Edward's job was the topic of discussion, and Alphonse made statements
as to his confusion why Colonel Mustang would want to send his brother
to an academy when they should be out chasing down leads for the stone."

Roy sat silently for a long moment, then turned slowly
to look at Ed again.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Roy's voice was concerned and
plaintive, "this isn't something to brush off, this is concrete evidence that
Al's memories of his years before are still in there, and are starting to surface."

Ed's stomach rolled, and not just from his earlier upset.
He would just have to voice all his misgivings, they could just think whatever
they wanted to. He'd done this very thing before, but always with strangers
who he didn't give a fuck what they thought about him. It was so much harder
to say things in front of people he loved; he took a deep breath.

"I don't want him to remember," Edward said, "don't you
think it's better if he doesn't? What's so good about those memories? What use
could he possibly have for them now? Look at him, he's perfect! Why can't he
just be who he is now without having all that clutter to confuse him from the
past? He's not hurting for the lack of it, if we just lay low and don't talk
about it, maybe they'll never come back..."

Listen to yourself, Ed thought disgustedly, you've
bought into your own stupid delusion and they are going to pick you apart.

Riza was contemplating her mug and Roy heaved a heavy
sigh, sliding his arm was over Ed's shoulders. Edward was drawn against the
side of his chest, and he closed his eyes as a nose gently ruffled the hair
on top of his head.

"I wish it were that easy," Roy muttered, "because I think
maybe you might be right in a lot of ways, but we both know, simply because
who we are and what we lived through, that it won't be that way."

"Why do you want to deny him himself?" Riza questioned
gently, "Or memories of you when you were a boy, his constant companion, his
elder brother? I know these are memories Alphonse would cherish. As I told you
before, do we want him having confusing visions and being unable to decipher
them himself, thinking he can't come to us because we won't talk to him?
I can only imagine some the conclusions he might draw from them. Think about
this Edward, think about how much harm that might actually do."

"I would never hurt him," Edward said suddenly, a little
more harshly than he intended.

Roy made that sound in his chest that Edward clung to
in his darkest times as he tightened the arm around him. Edward let himself
be comforted and pressed harder, trying to apologize to Hawkeye for his tone
with his eyes. He was relieved that she didn't look offended, only concerned
for him and his brother. She was good to them; she was always so good to them.

"I will, of course, do what you think is best," she said
quietly, "but I want to make it clear my thoughts on the matter," she kept her
gaze right on Edward's face, calm and reassuring, as she had done several times
when a young boy had stood before her, trembling with guilt and indecision.

Edward furrowed his brow. He wanted to defer to her in
an almost painful manner, but this was Alphonse they were talking about,
not some failed lead, not some dangerous mission. This was his only brother.
His gaze shifted up to his lover's profile. Roy's jaw was set; he looked contemplative
and deep in thought. Roy took some of the pain and guilt by just being there
with his arm around Edward's shoulders, and he wanted desperately for the miracle
solution to come from the man's lips that very moment. Instead, the dark eye
moved down to Edward's face and he was given a half smile, sad and lovely. Edward
sighed and hid his face again; it was so hard to think like this, with the people
who mattered most in his life watching him when the decision was so important.

Roy spoke then, his voice protective and Edward centered
on it, feeling his balance being restored.

"I understand what Edward is saying," he said, "and I
sympathize. I also understand your position, Colonel and I think you are correct
in ways too, but the matter is at the moment that we aren't sure what we are
dealing with," the General sighed, "none of us are schooled in the ways of the
mind, and nobody in the world is schooled in the ways of a mind that has lived
three lifetimes."

"Three?" Riza questioned before Edward could.

"Yes," Roy said, "his past life and current life both
had waking stages, but have you forgotten that Alphonse never slept? I can only
imagine the sheer amount of thought and knowledge he accumulated while the rest
of the world slept. To me, that would amount to another lifetime in itself,
a speculative place that he is somehow tapping at the very moment to write his
incredible theories."

Edward made a small sound of surprise. Why hadn't he
thought of that, Alphonse's own brother? His hand moved to Roy's side, his fingers
dug into his shirt.

I am always blind and stupid in the really important
matters. My stupid heart gets in the way when my head should be rationalizing
things,
Ed thought bitterly to himself, I don't know who to thank for
making Roy love me, but thank you, I always need him and I always needed him.

"Very astute, General," Hawkeye said with a slight hint
of admiration, "a brilliant point. So, your opinion on how we should proceed?"

Edward stiffened all over and Roy yielded despite himself.
He would have sided with Hawkeye, but because Edward was still fragile in so
many ways (no matter how strong he had gotten), Roy would wait on Edward's
word. He was Edward's creature; he had told him so years ago on the night that
had shaped what they were today and he would support him, because Edward needed
him. He would always long to carry some of Edward's burden.

"I think we'll bide our time," Roy said simply, "nothing
untoward has happened as of yet, but we'll watch him very carefully. If things
begin to change, we'll make the time to have another opportunity like this and
we will reach some concrete decisions on what is to be done," he hoped his answer
satisfied them both.

Edward relaxed and Riza lowered her eyes, accepting but
still concerned, as she always was in the past, no matter how outlandish his
requests.

For the faith they both placed in him, he was grateful
and solicitous.


In the evening hours, like the undead rising from so many
horror stories, the Mustang-Elric household came back to life. Everyone was
grateful to eat homemade soup and complimented the Colonel outlandishly. Edward
had since been bundled up against the cold and was holding court in his blankets
on the couch. Alphonse was sitting on a pillow on the floor, letting a black
and white puppy dart between him and Hawkeye, and the General was even feeling
much more like himself, listening to the suggestions being offered to him.

"Patches," Alphonse said eagerly, laughing when the puppy
ran over to lick his fingers.

"No," Roy said with mock indignation, "that sounds like
a five year old named him," he grinned in mischief when Alphonse snorted indignantly.

"Harlock," Riza said, "after the Captain who single handedly
fought off Drachman invaders in the Holder's Pass," she intoned loftily. She'd
named a dog before, after all.

Roy snorted and let his grin wander over to smirk at her.

"No, I don't think so. I know what you named your defenseless
pooch who couldn't speak up for himself, why should I let you torture ours,"
Roy said.

"Yours," Edward reminded him.

"There is nothing wrong with Black Hayate," Riza informed
him icily. She had her legs crossed and her foot jiggled just slightly. Roy
chalked up a point for his side.

"General, that was really rude," Alphonse leapt into the
line of fire and defended his superior officer, "and what's more, you
aren't making any good suggestions, neither is brother."

"It's Roy's dog," Edward informed them all with a sniff
of disdain. The puppy was making laps from human to human, only finding Alphonse
readily in reach. Edward just gave it a disinterested eye when it stopped to
gaze up at him.

"The poor beast is going to go nameless," Riza told the
General, "because you're so picky, yet won't do it yourself, as usual."

Now Roy was a bit slack jawed. Alphonse giggled and nodded
to Hawkeye, who sipped her coffee and put her elbow on the armrest of the large
leather chair, leaning her cheek into her palm in a very subtle challenge.

"Give us a good name, Brother," Al said from the pillow
on the floor, "something with spirit that's easy off the tongue."

"I have no vested interest," Edward said again, "it's
Roy's dog, let him decide."

"You are both sticks in the mud tonight," Al groused,
giving the puppy a butt scratch and watching him wiggle in canine glee.

"Fine," the General said, "I think I'll name him... Spot.
Seems appropriate," he said, slouching back into the couch. He had never named
anything before and the task seemed daunting, that's why he wanted to leave
it up to the genius and the expert, but they weren't coming up with anything
either, and the man he slept with was practically useless.

"How is that any better than Patches?" Al said, askance,
"In fact, it's worse. Let's not call him Spot and pretend you never mentioned
it," he looked again to Hawkeye for wise, dog christening counsel.

"Bris..." she got out of her mouth, but the General leapt
upon it before she could finish.

"I'm not naming it Brisbane," he said, "I don't care what
lofty accomplishment you think the Central Command Headquarters building is,
it looks like a damn box!"

"It is defendable from all sides," she countered, "its
upper floors are vantage points for the whole city, he was an amazing fortress
engineer," she sat up straight again.

"It's butt-ugly," the General said, "so no, our dog won't
be called Brisbane."

"Yours," Ed said again. He looked absolutely apathetic
until it was even hinted that the puppy was more than a passing annoyance in
pertaining to him.

Roy looked at him, exasperated, flopping a foot up into
Ed's lap. Ed shoved at it and Roy snorted.

"What, don't tell me you don't want to rub Roy's foot,"
he said, "you know the dog will be living here with the both of us,"
he emphasized, "it's so unlike you to not have an opinion, I'm actually getting
chills up my spine," the General said.

"Roy's foot can get the fuck off my lap, which is somewhere
Roy's dog will never be," Edward countered.

"R.D.," Alphonse said suddenly and very loudly. All eyes
turned to him and Al smiled and shrugged, capturing the black and white focus
of much heated debate and holding it aloft, "his name is R.D.," Al said again.

"R.D.?" Riza asked, still sounding a little put out that
Brisbane had been rejected.

"They're just initials, it's not a name," Edward said,
then snorted, because dammit, he'd voiced an opinion and he swore he wasn't
going to do that!

"I don't know, initials can be very dignified," the General
said.

"R.D.," Alphonse said one last time, "Roy's dog."

The other three sat impressed.

"I like it," the General said.


The traditional exchanging of gifts left everyone richer
in sweaters this year and it was all too soon for Alphonse to accompany his
Colonel back East, plus the school year would soon be picking up. Edward stood
by the cab, looking downcast as usual. Roy stood beside him with the newest
member of the household wiggling in the crook of his arm.

"Keep him on schedule," Riza advised, "he'll need to go
out often while he's young, but soon you'll train each other," she said.

Roy saluted her jauntily and grinned.

"Call me when you get home," Edward said to Alphonse,
"I know it might be late the night you finally get in, but I'll probably be
up hammering out my next quarter syllabus. It will only be a day or two before
I go back to class by the time you two get back to East City, so just call and
let me know you're okay?" he offered what he thought was a good smile, even
though he really longed to pull his little brother out of the cab and keep him
there. Damn military and their damn contracts! But then again, Al was with Riza,
and Edward found those were safe and reassuring hand to put him into. He trusted
Riza when she said she'd abide by his decision concerning Al's memories and
she'd never let him down before.

"Don't worry, Ed," Al said, reaching through the window
and letting his elder brother catch his hand for a few moments, "I'll be fine,
I promise to call." Edward nodded, then released Al's hand and waved to Riza.

"Thanks for everything, Colonel," he said, smiling that
smile again that was supposed to be good, but actually told its recipients how
sorry he was for them to go. He was wearing it so openly now and it was, in
truth, a good smile, because everyone could see he cared.

The cab backed down the drive as Roy's free hand found
its way onto Edward's shoulder. Edward let himself be drawn against his side
first, then into the house.


R.D. left them a present in the hallway, which Roy found
with his foot while mauling Edward on the way to bed that night. There was much
disgusted snorting from both parties and the General hopped one-footed down
to the bathroom to stick his loafer in the bathtub, grimacing as he used soggy
toilet paper to clean it. Edward had grumbled, but scooped the menace up, taking
it out back to see if it was in the mood for more giving. But no, it seemed
that solitary token of love was all it wanted to leave. He brought it back in
and went to imprison it in the little pen that had been erected for it for the
night, and the General snorted, grumbling in the hallway.

"Why didn't you clean this up while I was in the bathroom?"
he complained, going to retrieve more toilet paper.

"I took the little beast out for you," Edward informed
him, "and put it in its pen, what more do you want?" the blond questioned.

"I was cleaning my loafer," the General said, one shoed,
"where you just going to leave it here until I came out and picked it up?" he
waved his arms.

"Tell me," Edward said again, sly grin slicing across
his jaw, "what is that dog's name again?"

"Goddamn me and my ego," the General grumbled, carrying
the gift his dog had left for him back to the bathroom and the waiting toilet.