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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 5.

The helmet hit the ground and rolled onto its side. Shaking
fingers worked at catches that had once been leather, but in the creativity
of the moment, were now metal. He didn't watch as Pharr moved the five bundled
pieces away from each other; he was just grateful they found the burlap, rope
and rotting boxes. He didn't want to see if the bundles were still moving. They
were wet now, black and dripping. He clawed free of the splattered chest plate,
stumbled back and sat, then lay to shimmy out of the lower torso and legs of
his tractor fashioned armor.

He scrubbed his face with the arrays on his palms and
covered his mouth for a few moments until he felt a little more stable. A shadow
fell over him and he looked up at the pale face of First Lieutenant Pharr, spattered
with his own blood and the blood of the other's. He reached a hand down
to him to help him up.

Alphonse got up, winced and almost doubled over, clutching
at his side. Pharr made a move to support him, but he straightened up slowly
and gently brushed the older man's hand aside.

"I'm alright," Alphonse said, "We have to get the others
and get... this... out of here." He swallowed against the pain and looked at
Pharr's face.

"One of us will need to stay here," Pharr said, eyes searching
Alphonse's face with concern.

"I'll stay, you go," Alphonse half whispered, hand still
to his side.

Pharr looked around then, fetched a nearby bucket and
brought it over, turning it upside down.

"Sit back down Al, before you fall down," he urged gently,
"You're looking pale."

Alphonse didn't argue with him. He sat slowly with the
man's help and looked up at him again, giving him a ghost of a smile.

"Okay, thanks. Get moving Lieutenant, it will be dark
soon and I'd rather not be here by myself when it falls," he never once looked
toward the bundles on the floor.

Pharr nodded and started toward the door, but turned abruptly.
He returned to Alphonse's side long enough to lay a sticky, wood axe by his
feet before heading out the door.


Edward returned to class the very next day, much to the
terror of his students. Twenty-three very hapless individuals huddled in their
desk, seeking what wooden protection they could from the blistered, red creature
with short bangs at the front of the classroom. It was especially worrisome
for four similarly blistered students who were trying so hard to be invisible,
it was almost working.

"Today we have a SPECIAL lesson," the Professor's voice
weaved around the room. It was low, menacing, and it coated the walls, dripping
to the floor, where it pooled in liquid puddles of malice.

"We will all learn, and learn very well," the voice thrummed
and hissed, "the folly of using an array we know nothing about."

"We will learn about breaking school rules, unauthorized
practice of alchemy and lack of supervision," the voice was now creeping toward
the napes of the student's necks, where the hairs stood on end and clung to
each other like children lost in the woods.

"All questions will be directed to my LEFT SIDE," the
Professor pointed at his left ear with his flesh hand, "but I don't expect there
will be any questions, as I plan on making myself agonizingly, exactingly, BRUTALLY
clear," he finished off, flicking his forked tongue and showing his razor sharp
fangs.

He was not only clear, he assigned enough homework for
the weekend to ensure everyone would be a gibbering wreck the following Monday.


His weekend, however, was spent being spoiled.

Worried for his joints and his otherwise sore visage,
Roy placed him on the couch with a few good books and the coffee table pulled
close, laden with snacks. This of course granted Ed the constant companionship
of a small black and white terrier. R.D. was now able to leap up onto the couch
without needing the General's helping hand under his tummy. R.D. and Edward
had come to a solemn agreement.

R.D. was allowed to be his couch companion on certain
conditions. First of all, he had to remain at the far end of the couch, away
from Edward's feet. Not that R.D. particularly wanted to cuddle with steel,
but Edward's other foot was just fine and had been on many occasions, until
the blond alchemist noticed his extremity being adored and snatched it away
in protest.

Secondly, R.D. was allowed the edge of the blanket only.
No wiggling up under the blanket and edging toward Edward's flesh foot was allowed:
something R.D. had to be reminded of constantly. So, if he stayed at his end
of the couch with his allotment of blanket, peace and harmony prevailed.

Lastly, no snacks for R.D. Roy tried to enforce this one
onto Edward, who protested mightily to the slight and swore the air blue
that he had no interest in giving Roy's dog any of his junk food, but
R.D. now knew the sound of the mixed nut tin and would come running hard enough
to leave grooves in the hardwood whenever the tin was opened. It didn't matter
how quietly it was done, the moment the nuts were accessible, R.D. was there.
Mixed nuts were a favorite of a particular blond alchemist, and mysteriously
were now also the favorite of a small black and white terrier.

By the time Roy had made sure Edward was comfortable,
R.D. had already practically climbed into Ed's lap. Ed was putting on a big
show of concentrating on his book to give the impression he hadn't noticed the
little dog turning in circles between his legs before flopping down with a contented
sigh. Ed was so hard nosed when it came to sticking to his rules for the dog.
No really, he was.

With Edward thus occupied, Roy decided he really should
tackle the spare closets to sort out of some of the accumulating stockpiles
of things boxed and forgotten.

He worked his way room to spare room, pulling out the
odds and ends that he and Alphonse had managed to amass before Edward came along
and started adding his own pack rat talents to their lot. He pushed several
of Alphonse's boxes to the middle of the floor of one of the empty rooms. He
thought it might be best the boy went through them himself. Alphonse had the
habit of bringing home many odds and ends in his travels, not all of which could
be deemed safe or practical.

One box in particular caught his eye as he pulled it from
the back of the closet. It was halfway open to begin with and a flash of crimson
pulled his attention to the dark interior of the cardboard. He flipped the flaps
open and sat on his knees for a moment, looking at his discovery. He reached
in slowly and lifted the coat from the top of a pile of clothes. Alphonse had
given up wearing it shortly after Edward had come back, and even though a year
or so had passed, it still didn't seem to be such a long time since he'd seen
it.

But Alphonse had never been its rightful master. It smelled
musty, it was probably stored a bit damp. It was scratchy and the right sleeve
was tattered at the end, clear evidence of the several times it was caught in
the hinge of an automail wrist. The coat ends were darker than the rest, dirty
from absorbing mud and rubbing against black leather for miles on end.

It had always preceded its wearer when making an entrance
into a room. With its dingy hood pulled up, it was never inconspicuous enough
to offer cover. It had, in itself, almost become a personality just for the
fact it cloaked one. Roy turned it over in his hands, fingers briefly tracing
the pattern sewn on the back. The flamel was bubbled at the edges, old fabric
starting to fray. Roy wondered who had done the deed, fastening the alchemic
cross to the back of its garish host. Had Edward himself done it? He ran his
finger along the straight edge of the cross symbol that made up the core of
the badge. Edward had worn it like an offering. He'd worn it like a means of
strength. Whenever Roy saw it, he knew it was the signal the boy was going again
to put his life on the line for his brother, his cause or his country. It was
sometimes a relief to see it moving away and taking its fevered follower with
it, but after its original bearer had vanished (taking most of Roy's soul
with him)
, it became a dull, flat, black thing hanging shapelessly on the
back of another young man who would always be rushing away.

He had grown to hate it as much as he loved it, but what
was it now when everything had miraculously righted itself?

It was a cherished thing. Roy got up and carried it out
to reunite it with its long lost harbinger of things both joyous and painful.


"Talk about feeling old," Edward actually dared to say
when the coat was laid across his lap.

"Somehow you always know just the right thing to say to
make me regret every thought I've ever had," Roy said, exasperated. "I'll let
you know when to feel old. Until then, refrain from talking about it."

"Testy," Ed said, giving the older alchemist a smirk and
holding the coat up himself to have a look at it. "But it does take me back;
pardon me if I'm making you feel antique."

Roy snorted and watched Edward extract himself from his
nest. He rolled R.D. off into the warm spot, stood and shrugged the coat on
over his sweater. It pulled tight over his shoulders and Edward grunted, wiggling
back out of it to pull the sweater off and toss it on the couch. When he tried
again, he found that it was still snug and the sleeves rode up on his arms,
exposing his wrists entirely. Where it used to hang just below his knees, now
it fell just above them, but Edward tugged its lapels forward like he always
did and glanced at Roy, grinning like he always had. The General couldn't help
the little smile that spread on his face.

"I'm so happy it doesn't fit anymore, I might puke," Edward
said, accenting the moment in his usual fashion.

"You really like to jump on the joy of any given moment
and make it whine in submission, don't you?" the General said.

"I only do it because talking dirty makes you hot," Edward
grinned.

"I am so honored you think so highly of me to lowbrow
me into arousal," the General returned.

R.D. added one loud yap right at that juncture and they
both stopped to look at him, causing the dog to tilt his head and wag his tail.

Edward snorted, "HEY! You're in my spot, get back to your
spot!" (Never mind that R.D. had been in Edward's forbidden lap when Roy
had walked in)
. This of course, had no effect on the terrier whatsoever.
Edward shrugged the coat off and tossed it into Roy's face.

"Maybe you'd appreciate it more if I came to bed in just
the coat and pretended I was fifteen again. You could relive your glory days
of pederasty once more," Edward taunted. "I guess I'm getting too old to properly
turn you on."

Roy straightened the coat, draping it over his arm. He
turned on his heel, and walked toward the hallway.

"Heaven forbid," he said over his shoulder, "I think I'll
go hang this in the closet."

"What for?" Ed called after him, dragging his sweater
back over his head and freeing his ponytail when it snagged in the collar. He
started to flop back down onto the couch, but remembered the dog at the last
moment and managed to catch himself with the back of the couch before sitting
on him. He snorted in indignation, picked the puppy up and deposited him on
the far end of the couch, away from his nest. In the moment or two it took him
to rearrange again so he could flop, R.D. mysteriously reappeared in the spot
he'd just been evicted from. Edward scowled and carefully flopped around him,
glaring at Roy across the room, reminding him that this dog was his fault.

"To remind me," the General said, pausing at the arched
entrance of the living room where he watched Edward scoot around to accommodate
a dog whose existence, according to Edward, was frivolous, "of my carefree days
when I thought bad sex was hot," the General marched into the hallway in triumph.

"BASTARD!" chased him down the hall.


He was, for once, grateful of his rank. He could delegate, and delegate he did,
leaving the barn and its ghastly contents to the others. Alphonse had left Pharr
in charge. Despite the man's own head injury, Pharr seemed the most capable
at handling the situation. Alphonse cursed himself quietly as he settled into
the back of the deputy's squad car. Pharr had the farmer summon them and the
other military personnel that were in the area. He had returned to Alphonse
with towels borrowed from the farmers wife; one now served as a makeshift bandage
against his injured side.

It's okay, Lieutenant Pharr said he could handle it
and he can. Head wounds just bleed really profusely, I think he's okay. We looked
into his eyes very carefully and he is alert, he's not slurring. We are well
read on medical symptoms, you know. You should use it more.

"Right," Alphonse muttered.

"Did you say something Lieutenant Colonel?" the deputy
driving back to town said, glancing in his rear view mirror.

"Yes," Alphonse said, "but not to you, don't worry about
it."


The available doctor hadn't been the best at bedside protocol
or congeniality. His side hurt from the stitches and the bindings around his
middle were a bit tight. It was out of his hands, but not far from his mind.

He was in the deputy's office, phone receiver in hand,
listening to the clicks of the switchboard as his call was transferred to Colonel
Hawkeye's office. When her voice sounded over the line, just her simple "This
is Hawkeye" comforted him from miles away.

"Colonel," Alphonse said, "We've located and... captured
the creature we believe is responsible for Lieutenant Lester's death. We are
arranging transportation as we speak; I need to request a special envoy to meet
us at the station. I'll be checking in with our arrival time once we are able
to get a suitable train heading back east."

"Were there any problems, Lieutenant Colonel? You sound
out of breath," the Colonel said, "please tell me what you require for the envoy."

"There were unforeseen complications, Colonel," Alphonse
said carefully, "the creature in question is a homunculus. I know you know what
this means," his voice dropped a bit, "and I'm surprised to realize I do too.
I have read about them, but rarely have I known enough to call one by its name."

"I see," the Colonel said, "and you've captured it? Well
done. I will handle things on this end, check in with me with your most precise
arrival estimates."

"Yes sir," Alphonse said, "is there any chance I can ask
you about this matter when I return to headquarters?" He knew it hung unspoken
between them, this subtle plea he sometimes offered, hoping against hope this
time she'd give in and really talk to him.

"I would like..." she started, but stopped, "Lieutenant
Colonel, I strongly suggest you take this matter up with your brother. He could
be considered rather an expert in the field."

"I intend to," Alphonse said, "I was hoping I could use
that promised break to do so."

"I'll have your leave papers awaiting your signature the
moment you step foot into my office," the Colonel replied. They hung up then,
there was nothing more to say.


Pharr and the others returned not long after and were
tended by the same doctor, resulting in the same complaints. They took a room
in the town and Haartje and Morton were assigned the duty of guarding the five
crates that were now stored in the only two cells in the local sheriff's office.
Pharr took them dinner and then brought dinner to Alphonse, but he only picked
at it half-heartedly and retreated to one of the twin beds in the rented room
to curl up on his good side.

He closed his eyes to the sounds of Pharr also settling
in, contemplating just the right combination of words to guilt and brow beat
his elder brother into finally giving in to his demands for information regarding
the before.

Every time he broached the subject, Edward would look
pained. Then instantly, legions of guilt driven troops would appear in his eyes
and begin erecting an impenetrable wall. Edward's determination was Alphonse's
greatest enemy; as long as he determined it wasn't in Alphonse's best interests
to know something, all of Alphonse's pleads, demands and threats would shatter
into pieces against the wall in his brother's eyes.

He is so stubborn you could use him as a battering
ram,
the internal voice supplied, the Colonel used to call him 'unstoppable'.
I think what he really meant was 'unreasonable', but in all the right ways.
More or less, I apologize for his obstinate behavior.
Alphonse blinked up
at the suit of armor that shuffled from foot to foot in the white spaces of
his subconscious.

You don't have to apologize to me, Alphonse returned,
I was well versed in his behavior before I ever met him in the flesh.

Still, the armor went on, I don't want you to
think he's rude. That's just the way he is, it's not like he can help it. It
really came in handy most of the time, I figured putting up with it was fair
exchange for being able to take advantage of it when I needed to.

Do you know how to get him to talk to me? Alphonse
asked, Because I'm running out of ideas. He is so used to loop holes in conversations
I think he smells them coming. He's too adept at word traps himself to ever
fall for one of mine.

He's really a pain in the ass like that, the armor
said, putting its hands on its hips, except when he wants to play dumb, which
he is also uncannily good at, you'd almost think he practiced it. Sometimes
just jumping on him and holding down worked
, he offered himself, but
we're sort of little now, he might be able to get away.

I'm not small! Alphonse snorted in indignation,
Besides, need we resort to physical confrontation? Edward is brilliant, there
must be some way to sway him other than physically threatening him.

That is where you're wrong, the armor chuckled,
You've fallen into the same trap as the Colonel. Edward has a lot of respect
for intelligence, that's true, but he has more respect for a good ass kicking.

Alphonse cocked an eyebrow at himself.

It's true, the armor continued, I'm not saying
you can't talk to him or that you shouldn't, but we're bashing our heads against
a wall here and you know it. What you need to do is bash his head against a
wall, physically. If you shock him enough, you can loosen his vocal chords.
It worked in the past!
the armor shook its hands, I'm not saying you
have to really hurt him, just show him you mean business. Brother has this 'King
of the Hill' mentality, it comes from being short.
The armor made a gesture
indicating where the top of Edward's head might touch on his large frame.
Brother has a great big chip on his shoulder; you have to knock it off. I can
help.
It volunteered.

Alright, Alphonse said, I'm in, tell me how
to take him.

The armor suddenly held out its hands toward Alphonse.

Then take me back, it said, I'm lonely in
here and I really want to talk to Brother. If you take me back, then you might
not have to go through any of this.

Alphonse looked at the proffered hands, then slowly up
to the faceplate and its darkened eye sockets. His stomach rolled, his side
throbbed. Something shook him at his very core and he started to feel cold.

If I do this, (if I give in, if I let go), then what
I am might go away. (I am Alphonse, I don't want to be other than what I am).
What I am is not wrong; it's what I am meant to be. (But not what I was, what
is missing. It is what I am, how can I want other than that?)

He took a step back and then another. The armor did not
pursue him, but simply stood with arms outstretched.

It's okay to be scared of the truth, it said,
but now you are only doing this to yourself. We were brave once; we really
didn't have a choice. Now that we have a choice, you are rather disappointing.

Alphonse gaped and snorted, insulted. Insulted by whom?
Himself? He looked again at the offered hands, but still his balled fists remained
at his side. He would not lose himself; he would be in charge, he could handle
this. He could use it.

You mistake prudence for cowardice; I don't like to
go into things uninformed. If Edward gives us some information, then I might
be more inclined to agree with your assessment.
Alphonse said clinically.
So I guess it's really up to him, but I would like your advice if you're
willing to take an assistant sort of position?

Up to Brother, is it? I'll be rust by the time he decides
to loosen his ass about this,
the armor grumbled, If disembodied voice
you wish to speak to, and make everyone think you're insane you want, disembodied
voice I'll be. At least I won't be sitting around biting my non-existent tongue
every time you let a good opportunity to let Brother know he could be a better
person go by.

A deal then, Alphonse said, to avoid confusion
between you and sanity, what should I call you?
he asked.

You can call me Al, the armor said, and I'm
glad to be on board.

Alphonse blinked his eyes open for a few moments, but
Al told him he should get some sleep. It was going to be in scarce supply in
the coming days, what with all that was going on. It was good advice, Alphonse
closed his eyes.


After dinner, they put R.D. on his leash and took him
out for a meandering drag. The puppy decided they could just go hang themselves
with the offensive leash and since he had to walk on it, he should set the path
and agenda. They got to visit many a hedge in various neighbors' yards this
way. At least that was what the walks always started like. At some unspoken
point, Roy would pry the leash away from Edward, and in that instant, R.D. would
become a most accommodating canine companion. He would be content to trot at
one's side instead of trying to lure one to a murder/suicide pact in the middle
of the street.

"You've made some sort of deal with the beast," Edward
grumbled, shoving his mitten-covered hands into the pockets of his heavy jacket.

"Not at all, just an understanding of who the higher ranking
person is," the General smiled, breath misting in the cold night air. "With
you he can sense the total aversion to authority, but with me he can sense an
orderly calmness that comes with discipline."

"Or you've managed to speak dog and totally bullshitted
him, as usual," Edward said, "not that it matters to me." There wasn't a lot
of fight in his words and he bumped Roy with his shoulder as they walked. Roy
snaked an arm across Ed's shoulders, still so surprised that he tolerated it.
It was more newness that Edward had come back with, this ability to let Roy
have momentary public signs of affection. He never prolonged them, because he
could tell there was still some tension lurking beneath the surface. Edward
still had some damnable shyness about it, but the General couldn't deny it was
touching in ways he couldn't name and so he appreciated every gesture Edward
let him get away with. Like now, Edward only half snorted at the affectionate
nuzzle he got to his temple before tilting his head away.

A nice hot soak to warm up the automail awaited them at
home, so Roy decided to hurry them toward it.


Ed got out first, which was a little unusual. He dried
off and left the towel on the sink, proceeding out of the bathroom before Roy
even stood up. Roy puzzled after him but didn't think much of it, getting out
to dry off himself. He heard Ed fussing at R.D. in the bedroom and grinned.

"No you little monster, you aren't sleeping in here tonight...
I mean any night! Roy! Your dog has escaped and is in the bedroom!" Ed called.

Roy came strolling in, grin firmly in place and faltered.
Naked, except for an old red coat and braiding his hair over his shoulder, his
lover glanced up at him and scowled. The General's heart bounced up into his
nasal passages and then plummeted to the pit of his stomach. His smile leaked
off the corner of his mouth to puddle on his shoulder and lust seized him by
the nose, pointing hard at Edward. R.D. began a frantic, dog-happy dash between
the two men, one who was now smirking in sexually alluring smugness, and the
other who was ready to go on his knees and crawl to his lover's feet.

"Colonel," Edward grinned, "your tongue is on the floor."
Ed released his braid. He had no tie for it and it began to unravel at the ends
immediately, but the top third held and it was enough to suspend belief.

"You're mistaken, FullMetal," Roy returned smoothly, "I
was merely noting your lack of proper attire," he advance on Edward, who's eyes
went half-mast. "You might have to be disciplined for it," Roy said, letting
his voice slip lower, "I don't like sharing what I worked so hard to achieve."

Edward's throat worked and he ducked his head a little,
looking pleased.

"You're not playing this game properly," he said quietly
as Roy reached him, running his hands inside the coat and letting them rest
on his naked back. "You're supposed to make some remark about my... height,"
his voice faltered a bit as Roy ran his hands slowly down the smoothness of
Ed's skin to rest on his butt, pulling to arch Ed's hips into his own.

"I'm not interested in playing," Roy murmured, his lips
moving to the corner of Ed's mouth, "you're not a child any longer. I don't
have to coddle you into bed, I'm allowed to want you now. I always want you,
Edward," Roy's voice turned husky. His lips moved to Edward's and his fingers
pressed hard into Ed's firm backside. Roy kissed him firmly, too.

Completely wooed, Edward opened his mouth to Roy's, his
arms sliding over Roy's shoulders, his hips arched and moving to Roy's direction.
Roy had it in mind to make this a slow seduction, the movements were deliberate
and languid. He used his mouth to press Ed's head back, and Ed felt no inclination
to resist him. Their relationship was always many shades of the same passion,
only in varying degrees and even though Edward had found his own hunger for
dominance play, it was Roy who was the true master. What Edward forced, Roy
cajoled, what Edward demanded, Roy seduced. Edward found he couldn't be upset
about it, especially when he was on the receiving end of such attentions.

Roy's mouth left his and traveled over his flushed cheek
to his ear, then slowly trailed down a neck that Edward arched and tilted for
him. The bump and grind was actually a slow slide of flesh and muscle at the
moment and Edward was rather breathlessly pleased at the many variations his
favorite sexual foreplay had taken. Roy turned them then, backing Edward toward
the bed. Edward complied willingly enough, letting himself be lowered onto it,
meeting Roy's heated gaze with a smile. Roy reached behind Ed's head then, gripping
the hood of the coat and pulling it up as Ed's grinned deepened. Roy was such
an old lech, it was endearing.

Edward was old enough now to see he was perhaps too young
for the attentions the Colonel had given him when he was fifteen. He could see
why it would have been frowned on and why Roy would have been censured for it
had the military bothered to concrete its suspicions. Edward now also realized
there was no way it was entirely the secret he always thought it to be, but
he had no regrets. He had Roy and he was definitely not one to worry about appearances.
Roy lifted him somewhat and Edward helpfully scooted up into the pillows, but
as Roy started to climb up onto the bed with him, he paused and looked down
at the floor. Then Edward had to wait, (rather impatiently), while R.D.
was returned to his nightly pen. Roy eventually came back, closing the door
behind him, because the puppy would inevitably escape and charge back into the
room.

Now Roy was sitting beside him on bended knees, resting
back on his heels. He reached out and trailed fingers over the red coat where
it had flipped over Ed's thigh. He raised his dark eye to Ed's and grinned.

"You never made love to me in the coat, you know," Ed
said, teasing. "You always had me mostly naked by the time we got to bed." Roy
moved over him then, putting his knees between Ed's, making the younger man
spread his legs.

"You were always so impatient," the General said, lowering
himself between Ed's spread thighs, "I can't count the shirt buttons I found
all over the bedroom when I finally moved. They were everywhere. You always
said you'd fix them, but you never did. You cost me a fortune in button downs,
I'll have you know." Roy dropped his head and kissed Ed's stomach, finally settling
comfortably.

"I liked watching them sail off when I jerked your shirt
open," Ed confessed, "I always though it was funny that you always made that
exasperated sound. You made destroying button downs fun, can't blame me," Ed
grinned merrily.

"Can blame you and do," the General said, smile curling
the edges of his lips anyway. He leaned his nose into damp blond curls that
still smelled of soap and bath water, nosing them. Edward drew a deep breath
and sighed; he shifted his ass a little, then settled.

Roy moved his nose slowly through the curls and listened
to Ed's plaintive little sounds as he then trailed it around the base of Ed's
erection. He was feeling lazily playful today and decided Ed was too, even though
he might not know it. He pushed his knuckles below Ed's balls, lifting them
as he moved his lips there, ignoring the other more demanding portion of Ed's
anatomy that was waving for attention. Edward grunted in confusion and took
a nice inhale as Roy's tongue moved across the velvet weight of his sack. Dipping
under, Roy's mouth closed over a portion and he began to suck.

This was always an almost strangely weightless sensation
for Ed; he was never quite sure what to make of it. Roy often rolled his balls
in quick heated strokes as he blew Ed, but rarely did he make them his first
stop on the express to Ed's climax. Ed's shifts and soft, half gasps of uncertainty
were probably one of the reasons Roy would always linger in this particular
task longer than he did most.

A dark eye met questioning gold ones and a single dark
brow lifted as Ed groaned both in arousal and resignation. Roy was after expressions
and he was never specific about what he wanted, so he would work Ed slowly,
this way and that, until he saw what he sought. Near the end, Ed would always
get shrill and demanding, asking Roy what he wanted so he could gladly give
it to him. But no, the older alchemist was exacting in extracting his own pleasure
and Ed knew he was in for another night of pleading for release. It excited
him miserably, but he'd never let the bastard know that.

Roy kept his eye trained upward, watching Ed watch him
with heat and trepidation in his gaze. He raised his flesh hand then, tucking
knuckles between his lips and gently biting down as his brow furrowed in Roy's
direction. It was grossly unfair that Edward could bite himself. Roy
had thought of bringing the subject up for debate and new voting, but right
now, with a very delicate portion of Edward's nether regions in his mouth, would
probably not be a good time; it would not likely gain him the moral majority
for the new amendment to sex to be passed. He pressed Edward to the roof of
his mouth, stroking back and forth with the tip of his tongue vigorously and
Edward whimpered around his knuckles, wiggling his butt into the sheets and
arching a bit in supplication. His eyes asked if any of this was what Roy was
looking for, and if it was, could Roy now just get on with it please?

Roy let his gaze shift away and Edward made an apologetic
pleading sound as he turned his flesh foot and stroked Roy's hip with his toes,
looking to stay in his good graces. Roy tolerated the touch, letting his fingers
trail over to the inside of Ed's thigh to stroke there a little. He enjoyed
feeling of the muscles jumping under his fingertips and watched the blond struggle
with his ticklish nature. He decided he really wished to see all the adorable
Ed enticement measures he could manage to wring out of him tonight, and to do
that was to remove himself from the source of the greatest pleasures, making
Edward work to get him to return there. He opened his mouth and released him,
moving up onto his hands, but he couldn't quite help from running the flat of
his tongue up the thick vein on the underside of Ed's cock before he crawled
slowly up Ed's body. Ed made a despairing whimper and gave Roy a very beautiful
pout.

When Roy put his hands on either side of Ed's chest, the
coat was pushed down and the already tight cloth on his shoulders strained more,
effectively pinning the younger alchemist's arms. It had slipped down on the
automail side, however and revealed the dull shine of the metal shoulder. Roy
bent his lips to it, pressing them to the cool metal, causing Edward's breathing
to deepen predictably. It always did when Roy treated the automail as flesh
and Roy made a point of doing it when they were in bed together, intent on romance
and sex. Edward was just now finding that he was pinned with his own coat, and
grunted with the effort to try and slip free of his red straightjacket.

All Roy had to do was lean his weight into his arms a
little, which he did. Edward looked up at him, surprised and scowling.

"I can't touch you if you keep me pinned," the blond
growled, "come on, let me take the coat off," he coaxed, realizing growling
wasn't likely to get him what he wanted, "don't you want me to touch you?" he
purred.

Roy was giving him a rather glassy look. It meant lust
might be taking over and that was good. Roy getting all lust crazed could lead
to multiple orgasms, which was great, but sometimes it led to requests of dubious
nature. Edward stopped struggling for the moment, wet his lips and tried to
shake his hair loose over his shoulders from the last of the braid. He worked
hard on the innocent look and tried to lean up and touch noses with Roy, something
that always seemed to turn the older alchemist into goo.

"Let me tie you up," Roy suddenly husked, "just try it
once. You never let me before, but I think you know by now you can trust me.
Let me tie you up, Ed," he lowered his lips toward the other's stunned expression,
"I promise to make it good."


If you're not going to indulge me, then you must not
want me very much. Let's just end this now; it's a farce at best. I think I
like women too much. You look like a woman sometimes with all this hair; that
must have been the attraction. Why would I want you to touch me with that dead
hand anyway?

No. This was not then, and not there. This was now, with
Roy, home.

I should just leave you like that for Greta to find
when she comes to wake you for breakfast in the morning. Then they could all
see what a pervert you really are, wanting another man's touch. I should be
disgusted, but I feel sorry for you. You should be grateful, no one likes a
cripple.

Roy's lips moved on his, warm and inviting, giving and
offering. He only asked for Ed's love in return.

I think this will be the last time, I just don't find
you all that appealing.

Roy's lips moved to his cheek and his eyebrows, and when
Ed closed his eyes, his eyelids.

"Let's just try it," Roy whispered, "I'll let you have
a word and I promise to stop if you say it," he coaxed.

Roy loved him. He could help take those times away, even
if he did it unknowingly.

"Yes," Ed replied, soft and shaky, "I'll let you try it."
He opened his eyes and gave a half smile when Roy's kisses on his face got a
little excited.


"This tie is ugly as hell," Ed said, concentrating on
the piece of fabric he held in his flesh hand, studiously ignoring what Roy
was doing with his automail hand.

"It was a gift, I never wore it," the General said defensively.
"I do have some taste."

"No, you have a uniform you consider a 'one suit fits
all occasions'," Ed replied dryly. "Sometimes it's a wonder you don't wear it
to bed. Wait, you have tried to wear it to bed."

"Yes, you didn't like it," Roy reached over and took hold
of the tie in Ed's hand, giving it a tug. Ed didn't release it immediately:
he looked sidelong at Roy. Roy didn't force the issue, but didn't let go of
the tie either. Instead, he leaned over and kissed Ed, running his free hand
into the blond hair on top of Ed's head. After a few moments, he pulled up,
watched Ed's eyes study his face anxiously for a moment, then felt Ed's grip
on the tie loosen. Roy wrapped the large end around Ed's wrist, working the
knot to be tight but not biting. Ed watched him do it, fingers curled. Then
Roy stretched up, pulling Ed's hand above his head. Roy pressed the narrow end
of the tie between the mattress and headboard, and threaded it behind its central
support, looping it over and tying it off.

The moment he pulled back, Ed tested them, pulling on
both his captured wrists and licking his lips, tensing all over for a moment
before he let go. He almost looked like he would melt into the mattress and
he took several deep breaths. Roy moved his hand down Ed's bound, flesh arm
and over his shoulder, onto his chest. He raised his eyebrow to the younger
man's eyes as they watched Roy intently.

"Don't think I don't appreciate what this is costing you,"
Roy said softly. "If you want to stop right now, I would certainly understand,"
he smiled and ran a fingertip down Ed's nose, tapping the end.

Ed snorted and gave a half grin, shaking his head on the
pillow.

"Hell no, we've gotten this far, might as well see what
its like," he shrugged as much as the position would let him. "You have this
way of making the weirdest shit good and when I let you have your way, you get
all mushy on me and the sex is better." Ed laughed at Roy's scowl. "Damn Roy,
it's always good! You sure like to fish for compliments."

Roy raised his finger, just one, and half turned, lowering
it over Ed's bare stomach.

"Oh, OH NO! You bastard, you wouldn't dare!" Ed yanked
hard on his wrists and jerked his knees up, trying to roll on his side and curl
up. He yelped and scowled as he was easily subdued and uncurled, unable to fend
his intent lover off without the use of his hands. "NO ROY," he shrieked, "DAMN
YOU!"

Roy stuck his finger in Ed's navel and the blond howled
with helpless laughter.


"I was wondering... I was passing by..." Havoc ran a hand
over his face and paced back and forth in front of the park bench where his
imaginary intended target sat.

"Gibson said you might be here," he said to the empty
bench, "I was passing by and thought I'd stop in to say hi and see how you were
doing," he continued and smiled, then scowled, turned and sat on the bench he'd
been trying to woo for the last half hour.

"Sucks, doesn't it?" he said to the bench, it didn't disagree.
His steady climb up the ladder of military rank had also shown a marked climb
in his ability to date women. That was, until he'd met Sarah. She was bright,
sassy and independent to the point of painfulness. She always had a smile for
him, always made conversation with him and always whisked away to wait on her
other customers no matter how much charm he tried to ooze.

He tried for a moment to think what the General might
do. He hadn't fallen back on this tactic in quite some time and it was in fact
the Colonel he tried to think about because he knew what the General would do.
The General would give Ed an arched eyebrow, a snort and complain about him
hogging the bed covers. The General was so married. Ed had just ruined
him.

"Just go in there, get a table in her section and do what
you always do, only this time actually ask her out," he told himself, "the worst
she could do is say no, and you've lived through that before. Okay, here we
go." He continued to sit and brood, wondering idly what Breda was doing and
what bar he was doing it in. He laid his head back on the hard bench and fished
for the cigarettes in his uniform jacket pocket, noticing someone else coming
down the walk out of the corner of his eye. Their shadow fell across him from
the streetlamp behind them and they stopped. He lifted his head, cigarette dangling
from the corner of his mouth, and regarded the object of the recent solicitous
affections he made toward the bench.

"Well hey, Lieutenant," the waitress of his dreams said,
"fancy meeting you here. What are you doing out here in the park, did you get
kicked out or something?" She grinned and sat down beside him. She had on the
dress she always wore in the restaurant with a sweater thrown over it, carrying
her apron over her arm.

Well this must be fate, plain and simple. He was feeling
reckless now, because he'd psyched himself up by coming onto the bench that
was now supporting his butt.

"I was actually out here trying to figure out how to ask
you on a date," Havoc said bluntly, "because all my flirting with you at the
restaurant doesn't seem to be working."

"That's because I'm at work and I haven't got time for
subtle," she said, pulling her feet up on the bench and wrapping her arms around
her knees, "If you want to go out, that's great. Give me a drag off your cigarette
since we're dating," she grinned.

Havoc blinked at her for a moment before slowly plucking
it from his slack lips and handing it over.


Alphonse didn't look forward to the train ride, especially
since he was going to spend it in a boxcar with five crates and three nervous
soldiers. The stitches in his side reminded him sharply of their presence as
he lowered himself to sit on a bag of grain also riding along in the same boxcar.

The crates were sedate again. At some point last night,
one of them had started rocking around, which caused the two soldiers guarding
them to call his room every five minutes. This finally caused Alphonse to get
up, walk across the street to the sheriff's office and spend the rest of his
night on a bench in front of the cells.

What do you think they will do with him? Al asked
as they both watched the crate that Alphonse thought contained the leg bounce
and rock.

I don't know, Alphonse replied, But once I hand
him over to Parkerson, it's out of my hands. He might try to kiss me for this
one, so be ready to defend my lips.

Don't worry, Al replied, the only Elric who
likes for boys to kiss him already has one.

That's a bittersweet relief since it's my Pirate he
wants to kiss him,
Alphonse returned glumly.

I think they're good together. They always look so
happy, you should be glad they both found someone to be with,
Al said.

I didn't say I wasn't happy for them, Alphonse
snorted and slumped on the bag of grain.

Well, if you think about it, it's perfect, Al said,
because anyone else they paired up with would probably kill them.

Alphonse nodded once; he felt that, sadly enough, he had
to agree.


"I... can't breathe!" Edward begged, "I fuckin' hate you,"
he panted, "Let me go, you bastard!" he mock demanded, but he hadn't used the
safe word.

Roy moved to his left side ribs, poised his lips for the
same feather light kisses he'd just given the right side. Edward whined, high
and frantic, trying to get a knee under Roy to shove him off.

"I'm just so hurt to hear you say you hate me," the General
said, not hurt at all, "you're such a spiteful little beast."

"I'm not little," the blond wailed then shrieked when
the lips touched his skin. He yanked the headboard back and forth, trying to
burrow a tunnel into the mattress with his ass and pounded his heels into the
sheets when that didn't work.

Roy counted down his ribs slowly, holding him by his hips
and lingering over the last one a moment or two longer than the others. He pushed
up and looked into a flushed and sweating face, which gave him a beautiful scowl
and then a pout.

"You just wanted to do this so you could tickle me," Edward
accused, "and that's not sexy! This is pointless! Let me go," he bared his teeth.

"I'm sensitizing you," Roy informed him. "You're responsive
now, so now when I do something like this," Roy leaned down and instead of seeking
to tickle, he ran his tongue down the line of Ed's hip toward his crotch. The
blond's eyes widened as he gasped and arched up as much as he could with Roy
holding down his hips. "You'll try to crawl out of your skin," the General simpered.

"I really fuckin' hate you," Edward said when he could
breath again, "and if I could get my hands on you, I'd show you what I thought
of your sensitizing," he threatened.

"Should I start tonguing your navel now?" the General
asked drolly.

"NO, I didn't mean it," Ed cried, "I'm sorry; please ignore
everything I say between now and the time you let me cum! I deserve verbal amnesty
because you're torturing me!"

The General seemed to mull that over and Ed rubbed the
sides of the General's legs with his feet, trying to tilt the vote in his favor.

"Your automail is cold," the General said, pushing up
and turning to slide off the bed.

"Ah! I'm sorry! You can blow on it to warm it up! Where
are you going?!" Ed tried to flail unsuccessfully. Roy walked calmly over to
the dresser and pulled open one of the middle drawers, (since the dresser
was a highboy, Ed got all the middle ones)
and pulled out Ed's leg sock.
He came back over and sat down on the side of the bed. Ed looked relieved, smiled
and helpfully held up his automail leg for Roy to slide the sock over, then
lowered it so Roy could tie the tie at the top. He wiggled and grinned when
Roy got back on the bed and took up his position between Ed's spread legs, but
Roy put his elbows on the bed and propped his chin in them, regarding his lover
thoughtfully.

"I feel like I'm wasting an opportunity here," the General
said.

"What do you mean," Ed wheedled and returned to running
his feet up and down the sides of Roy's legs, "You got me where you want me,
all helpless and at your mercy. Except for the tickling part, it's been pretty
good so far."

"It's not something I can put my finger on," the General
un-propped his chin and folded his arms, leaning over and nosing Edward's erection.
"It's just, I should feel more creative in this moment."

"Oh?" Ed said shakily, arching slightly and trying to
entice some mouth action with the nosing. "What did you have in mind? I'm pretty
sure if you talked me into this, you could talk me into other things."

"That's just it," the General said, "I should be thinking
of other things. But what I'm really thinking of is putting my mouth all over
your cock and listening to you sob my name. That's something I really enjoy
by the way," the General open-mouthed Ed's erection and Ed, willing to accommodate,
gasped his name.

But the General lifted his head again. Ed whined and hooked
his feet behind the General's butt cheeks, trying to slide him up further on
the bed. The General inched upwards a bit to mollify him and Edward tried as
best he could to knead sexily on the General's ass with his toes.

"See, I think I'm falling into a rut the way I once accused
you of doing," the General shook his finger, "we're going to have to figure
out how to broaden our horizons," Edward was arching his hips and the General
lifted his eyebrow, then obliged him for a moment by mouthing him some more,
but never with any real satisfaction or suction. Edward tried gasping his name
again and adding a plea to it, but the General merely lifted one hand and used
a finger to idly stroke back and forth over Ed's balls. The blond ground his
teeth and pounded his flesh ankle into the bed for a moment, struggling with
his obscenities and trying to play nice.

"That's great," Ed managed behind his snarl, "and I'd
like to do those things too, but not now, this is fine for now," Ed bounced
his butt on the bed trying to get Roy's attention on his crotch. When Roy glanced
down, Ed arched again.

"I always wondered what you'd look like in a mini-skirt,"
the General said, "but then I'd picture you in one and all I could do was snicker,"
the General pressed his lips against Ed's balls, his nose pressed to the base
of Ed's erection and he sighed. "However the though of you in that leather you
used to wear is starting to have appeal," he said, muffled into Ed's crotch.

Edward's eyes almost crossed. If he arched up now, he
was more likely to push Roy's face away, so he tried to sink into the mattress
instead. Roy seemed to appreciate the gesture and he 'raspberried' gently against
Edward's balls. The blond moaned lowly and sucked on his bottom lip briefly.

"Ok," Ed gasped, "what is it you really want, demon? Just
tell me already," he turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. "I can
take it; just tell me what it is you really want."

The General pushed up and Edward whimpered as he turned
and slid off the bed again. Edward didn't even open his eyes, he just lay there,
feeling the head of his erection slide on his lower stomach with every breath
he took. He wasn't to the downright begging point, but he had no doubt Roy intended
to get him there. He listened to his lover rummage in the closet again and then
heard him approach the bed. He opened his eyes when something wrapped around
his ankle and he lifted his head to watch as Roy secured his first ankle to
the footboard. He tugged on it and snorted as Roy worked on the automail ankle.

"More ugly ties," he muttered, letting his head flop back
in the pillows. He'd done it, Roy had done it. He'd completely diffused all
Ed's early reservations, all the tension, it was all gone. Why did Ed ever doubt
the man? Roy climbed back up between Ed's legs, reached down and flipped the
coat tails over Ed's naked thighs, smiling to himself and sighing.

"Wish I had a camera," the General said wistfully. "I'd
have the start of a nice rainy day album if I did." Roy then picked up yet another
tie he'd laid on the bedside.

"How many of these things do you have?" Ed said. He tried
to push his head through the pillow as Roy leaned over him and his intent became
clear.

"I had a lot of girlfriends," the General said, pouncing
with the tie and fixing it over Ed's eyes, "and a lot of them were unimaginative.
I must have hung onto them all these years out of premonition."

Edward had ceased to struggle, letting the General turn
his world black.

"I actually believe that," the blindfolded blond said
wryly, "your second sight was always just short of damn spooky when I was on
a mission."

"That wasn't second sight," the General laughed, "that
was just good old fashioned manipulation."

"You are a fucking dead man when I get loose," his lover
growled.


R.D. howled out in the hallway, howling right along with
the other howling thing in the house. He started when the floor beneath him
seemed to jump, but his canine mind didn't comprehend it was from a bed frame
threatening to break through the hardwood.

"FUCKIN' NO! PUT YOUR MOUTH BACK DOWN THERE," something
screeched from in the room and R.D. backed up a bit from the door, tilting his
head at it and wagging his tail just once.

"Give me incentive," another voice growled, husky and
laughing. R.D. did one joyous circle and ran up to the door, scratching it once.

"I'll incentive you into next week, you fucking fucker
fucking bastard goddamn tease!" the other voice raged again, "it will be fucking
never again I let you do this to me you damn... OOOOOOOoooooooooOOOOOOOOOO..."
the voice trailed off.

There were several moments of heaving breathing and wet
noises, then more words, garbled and disjointed. The higher the voice rose in
pitch, the more R.D. raised his ears until he was howling along again to the
painful cry of one of his snack-givers.

"I just..." the voice that had been howling finally managed
afterwards, scratchy and raw, "I just fuckin' love you," it finished out.

"I know," the other voice said, smugly, "and I think you
managed to hit the ceiling, that's some record," it said, impressed.

R.D. piddled right outside the door and then trotted away.


Alphonse reported in from their first stop over and gave
his revised time of arrival. The boxcar was an unnerving place to be, so he
was letting the two men from the information department take turns riding in
the passenger cars for breaks. He extended the offer to Pharr, but the man only
shook his head and stayed by Alphonse's side. Pharr even checked Alphonse's
bandages from time to time and had tried to make a more comfortable place for
the boy to sit.

When they resumed their journey after a dinner of station
house buns, Pharr moved closer and sat by Alphonse's side.

"How do you know what this thing is?" Pharr asked, looking
at the boy, "I've never even heard of a homunculus."

"I've faced them before," Alphonse said, and Al played
the images of Lust and Gluttony across his mind, the two monsters from his dreams,
"I've fought them before," he finished quietly.

"I didn't know. Is it classified? You've never mentioned
it," Pharr said.

"It's news to me too," Alphonse said, then ignored the
Lieutenant's questioning look and was grateful when the man pressed him no further.


Two weeks of detention would probably add up like five
years in prison with hard labor to Daniel Stanton's reckoning, but he should
be grateful; at least that was what he was told. In the inquiry, the Professor
had argued for them. He proposed making them his slaves as punishment, instead
of giving them a mere suspension; their parents would be too lenient with them.

At least the other three looked just as miserable. Seth
wasn't speaking to any of them and Daniel did feel a little guilty about it,
especially when Seth didn't squeal like they all thought he would. It was odd
though, when the other adults demanded the name of the senior who had given
them the array, (and they truly WOULD be dead if they told that), the
Professor had not pressed. He either didn't seem to think that was important,
or he understood the unspoken law of the playground. Either way, that chalked
up to a good thing, because the other adults finally gave up and Daniel wasn't
sure he would have been able to keep the information from the Professor.

They all sat with toothbrushes, rags and turpentine, scrubbing
each of the wooden one-pieced desks free of all gum, scuff and pen marks. After
that, it was promised they'd do the entire classroom floor, followed by painting
the walls and possibly planting a flower garden. The Professor said he'd get
more creative as the days wore on and they had all shuddered because they knew
how creative the Professor could be.

It was the second day of the damnable torture and his
ass was sore from sitting on the hard floor. They'd been at it almost two hours
now and the fumes were making him a little dizzy, even though they had all the
windows open. The Professor had left the room briefly, but they knew oh so much
better than to attempt to slow down or stand up and stretch, because somehow
he'd know they'd done it when he got back. He always seemed to know everything.

He did come back as if the mere thought of him had summoned
him, carrying a bag and some juice bottles. He sat them on the big desk and
looked toward his motley crew.

"Okay you guys, come take a little break," he said in
an almost friendly way. They could hardly believe their luck as they abandoned
their task to all troop as a dutiful little unit to the Professor's desk. He
indicated for them to pull up some of the cleaned desks to sit in, and they
did. He let them all have a sandwich and a bottle of juice and he sat behind
his big desk watching them while they ate.

"What you did was incredibly dangerous," he suddenly said,
and they all turned their eyes on him. Even Duffy lowered his sandwich from
his mouth.

"Arrays not of your own making can be very dangerous things;
even arrays of your making can be dangerous. This is something you need to realize
if I'm going to let you continue to be in this class," he wasn't looking at
them, he was looking at the top of his desk. "Already I know of three students
whose parents are seeking to transfer them out." The Professor sounded upset
by this and the boys all shuffled in their chairs, feeling their own guilt rise.

"Perhaps that doesn't seem so bad, but I know that the
three boys don't want to be transferred out and there isn't much I can say about
it. I appreciate the lot of you confessing as well, you saved me an inquiry
and quite possibly my job, but you've botched my reputation," the Professor
laughed a little, "I finally see what he meant all those years."

He got up then, went around to the front of his desk and
sat on the edge of it. He leaned down and caught the cuff of his left pant leg
and slowly began working it up to just past his low boots. The boys' eyes widened:
they never knew he had a metal leg as well. How cool was that, the Professor
was literally half metal.

He undid his cuff then, slid up his sleeve, pulled off
his glove and held his arm out before him. He flexed the fingers and they clinked
as he looked at them one by one.

"What do you think of this?" he asked them, looking very
serious.

Daniel spoke up first because he always did. "I think
it's really cool," he said, "and dangerous looking. I bet you used it a lot
when you were a state alchemist. I bet you beat a lot of bad guys with it."

The other three nodded general agreement, they all muttered
after Daniel's lead about how cool it was and how useful it must have been to
the Professor when he was out getting famous.

"Well, I appreciate that," he said, "but the truth of
the matter is it hurts me right now, because it's so wet and cold," he reached
up to rub his shoulder. "My joints are constantly weakened by its weight, it
generates no heat of its own and at night I have to wrap it up so it won't touch
my side and startle me awake. It makes writing very difficult and when I hug
people, like my younger brother? I have to be careful not to snag his hair or
his clothes and I don't like it touching his bare skin because it's cold." The
Professor drummed his metal fingers against the heel of his metal hand making
a clanging noise as they boys before him digested this.

"The worst thing is if I damage it, like all these scratches
on the back," the flipped it over to let them see the scuffs the steel wool
had left, "when my mechanic sees it, she tries to beat me to death with a large
wrench." The boys all winced in sympathy. "I know it looks cool and it may be
useful, but it's not really something you want to live with, you can take my
word on this." There was more silent shuffling from the quartet.

"I'm going to tell you a secret, because it's just us
guys and you proved to me you can keep one by not telling us who the senior
was that gave you the array. That's alright," the Professor held up his hand
to stall the stuttered apologies that might have followed, "he'll slip up sometime
and we'll find out who he is. I don't necessarily think he'll be doing it again
anytime soon. You four getting caught might scare him straight on the matter."
The Professor went silent for a few moments and they all waited tensely, wondering
what secret he was going to impart to them that was so important they couldn't
tell.

"I did this to myself," the Professor said softly, "when
I was ten, with an array I made myself. I almost killed my little brother as
well," he added, his eyes going distant and troubled, "so you see why it's so
important to me that I impress on you what you did is so dangerous it can't
be repeated. If I get one whiff of anything like this again, you will not only
be taken out of my class, I will see you expelled from the Academy." The Professor's
voice was as steel as his hand and they all swallowed. "Because I now know what
my own teacher felt as well, and it's not a good feeling. I sincerely don't
wish anything like this on anyone, not even an enemy. I feel that strongly about
it," the Professor finished.

"Su... sorry Professor," Daniel stammered then, "we didn't
think..."

"No, you didn't," the Professor interrupted him, "but
now you will."

Daniel nodded, the other boys added soft apologies too
and the Professor smiled a little, if sadly.

"So tomorrow," the Professor said, "you're going to clean
the floor with the toothbrushes." He folded his arms.

He got no complaints. Not because he had intimidated them,
but because he had enlightened them.


When Alphonse reported in, he was ordered to the infirmary
and made no protest. He spent the night there in the comfort of painkillers
and clean bandages.

The Colonel came to him the next morning, pulling a chair
to his bedside before he could get up to get one for her. She ordered him to
eat his breakfast and give his report, but she sat beside him as he did so and
declined politely his offer to share his fruit cup with her.

I've really missed her, Al said, She's a Colonel
now, no one deserves it more. She should be a General.

She will be, Alphonse returned, It's only a
matter of time. So we've always liked her?
he asked.

Always, she's an incredible person. She's so intelligent
and she always gave really good advice. She always nudged me in the right direction
even when she couldn't outright tell me. She really did a lot for us, I'm very
grateful to her.

Alphonse nodded, then caught the Colonel watching him
do it and blushed. He pushed his breakfast tray aside and turned his full attention
on her. She met his gaze with her unwavering brown one and asked directly, as
she always did.

"Tell me everything that happened," she said, "start with
the crates you delivered to Parkerson yesterday."

"It's the homunculus Wrath, in pieces," Alphonse said,
"you can't kill a homunculus outright and we have none of his mortal remains
to nullify him. He'll have to be kept in pieces and in neutral containment that
he can't absorb for weaponry. My suggestion to Parkerson was deep freeze containment,
if it can be done. It will suspend him and might be kinder." Alphonse clasped
his hands together in his lap and looked at them, dropping his gaze from hers.

"Are you sure this is what killed Lester?" she asked.

Alphonse nodded. "I don't think we'll get any sort of
confession however, and we'd have to... reattach its head if we did, but Lester
had things in his notes that indicated Wrath was what he was looking for," Alphonse
bit his lip at the twinge the creature's name brought. It had a name,
and he knew it, knowing its name denied him a distance he wanted to keep. Knowing
its name and that it was sentient, if not human, made his suggestions to its
imprisonment horrific, but really, what else could they do?

"Why do you call it Wrath?" the Colonel said neutrally
and Alphonse sighed, lifting his eyes again.

"Because I know it; that is its name. I've met it before,
fought it before, with Brother," he turned to look at her, "and I did it in
armor."

She said nothing, merely nodded her head once and stood.
"When the doctor gives you leave, you may discharge yourself from the infirmary,"
she said, "as we discussed, I am granting you a two week leave once you're been
cleared here. Go home and sort this out with Edward," she said, "I expect you
back for the short time I'll have you before your retirement."

Alphonse saluted her and she saluted back.

"Thank you for coming back in one piece," the Colonel
said.

You're in love with her, Al stated needlessly.

"Yes sir," Alphonse said softly, then watched her walk
out the door.