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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 6.

General Mustang looked up from his desk as the door to his office opened. He
couldn't help the smile that spread across his face as he stood to return the
salute of Lieutenant Colonel Elric. The boy smiled tiredly at him and set his
suitcase on the floor beside him.

"Sorry I didn't call before hand, sir," Alphonse said,
"I thought I'd surprise the both of you, if that's all right."

"Always a pleasure to be surprised in this fashion," the
General returned. "It's good to see you, how long is Hawkeye letting you grace
our presence?"

Alphonse grinned then and walked forward to the desk,
taking the General's extended hand and giving it a shake, then sitting in the
chair the man's hand indicated when he released it.

"I've a two week leave," Alphonse said, "There are some
things I need to take care of while I'm here."

He really does look like a Pirate, Al chortled.

"Your brother is in class and its Thursday, his students
have a club meeting, so he'll be a little late," the General said taking his
own seat. "But that's fortuitous because we always have dinner in town on Thursday
before heading home. It can be a welcome home dinner now as well. You don't
mind hanging about the office for a while, do you?"

"Not at all," Alphonse said, "as a matter of fact, I could
use the reading time. There are a few files I want to go over to be well armed
when I pin down Edward."

"Pin down Edward?" the General asked, eyebrow lifting.

"Yes," Alphonse said, "I know you aren't at liberty to
discuss things with me until you've cleared it with him," there was a bit of
resentment in the tone, "but some things happened on my last mission and he
is giving me some answers," Alphonse sighed. "I really don't want to drag you
into the middle of it, Pirate," he said and gave the General a small smile.
"You've done so much for me already. Maybe it's better if I stay here in the
city and have Edward meet up with me."

"Nonsense," the General huffed, "you'll come home with
us where you belong and I'll just keep my nose out of it... as much as I can,"
He smiled at the young man across the desk from him. "But no absolute guarantees,
you understand. I can't help but be affected when the two of you are involved."

It made Alphonse warm the way he said it and Al nodded
his head in a fond way.

The Colonel is so nosy, Al said, and it really
used to make brother mad, but I always thought it was nice to have an adult
who looked after us. Even if brother didn't think we needed one.

Alphonse rubbed the side of his nose and looked aside
as Al chatted away in his cranium. He noticed the Pirate looking at him, the
side of his mouth drawn down just a bit.

But sometimes he was too nosy, Al conceded, Has
he put on weight?

The Pirates mouth drew down even further when Alphonse
suddenly laughed and covered his mouth with his hand.


The ditto machine was his sworn enemy.

Edward stood eyeing it warily, slowly peeling his gloves
off. Not that this would do any good, or in fact even save them. Whenever he
had to use the ditto machine, his gloves were a necessary sacrifice. He eyed
it. If only he knew more about the printing world. Alchemy to make duplicates
was a tricky business. Al had been able to do it; he'd once watched his younger
brother copy a book. The difference between his and Al's alchemy had always
been a balance of delicate control. Edward had control, he had gushing torrents
of it. He could will an alchemic reaction into whatever piston of force it needed
to be and shape it to the blueprint in his mind in a moment's given notice as
long as the blueprint hinged on engineering and mathematics and mass ratios.
Alphonse on the other hand could be more precise and fine-tuned: smaller reactions
neatly housed within the walls of their array, nothing over taxing its borders,
minute details of logic and theory evolved into matter. Edward could still out
sculpt his younger sibling however, but only through the vastness of his own
imagination. Al was order and he was chaos, it was the reason they worked so
well together.

It was really the ink the damn thing used that was out
to get him. No matter what he tried, it would leap from the cylinder as if attracted
by magnetism to his automail hand. No amount of scrubbing would clean it, and
when he put his glove back on, it would seep through and stains his gloves.
There was no stopping it, no preventing it, no reasoning with it. He would just
grit his teeth and get it over with.

Twenty-five copies and one pair of ruined gloves later,
he stomped back to his classroom and threw himself behind his desk. The only
thing that kept him from brooding about having to spend extra hours at the Academy
after his classes were over for the day, was the thought of getting to go to
dinner with the General in his uniform. The uniform was such a nice suck-up
tool; Edward enjoyed watching hostesses fall all over themselves for something
they couldn't have.


Alphonse was sitting at the big table with Fuery and Breda.
He was really trying to read, but Al kept pestering him for information on the
two since he hadn't seen them in a while. Alphonse irritably told him that he
had seen them, and not so long ago. Finally, just so Al would give him
some peace and quiet, he looked over to Fuery who noticed and smiled.

"So, how many more books where there in the Duke Chantal
series after the whole... it's been what? Seven years?" Alphonse asked casually.

"Oh," Fuery said and blinked in surprise. Since Alphonse
had come back, he'd never asked about the novels once. He saw the General studying
them intensely, but he said nothing.

"There were three more books," Fuery said, "and then a
sequel series about his son."

"Really?" Alphonse said, sitting up straighter, "Who was
the mother? Please tell me it wasn't Clarrisa."

"No," Fuery said and flattened his mouth, "it was a last
minute introduction character that I thought was really bad plotting, but the
sequel wasn't all that bad."

"Do you think I could borrow them?" Alphonse suddenly
broke his Hawkeye-like office protocol and leaned forward on the table eagerly,
grinning.

"Sure," Fuery said, "I'll send them home with the General
for you tomorrow," he was glad to have his reading companion suddenly appear
back at his side.

"Great," Alphonse said in a very un-Alphonse like way,
"All this reading about brother is just plain dull." But having said it, he
dropped his gaze back down to his piles of files and resumed.

When Fuery looked to the General again, the man looked
concerned, but shook his head and went back to his work. So, Fuery followed
suit.


"Meeting is called to order," Todd Evans said, the elected
speaker of the group, "today's agenda includes Alchemists we want to acknowledge,
the club fees debate and whose mom is going to make stuff for the next meeting."

At his desk, Ed just shook his head and smiled, taking
the opportunity to get a jump on grading papers. It really was unfair to ask
Roy to help him every time.

The club president, who happened to be Daniel, stood up
then and called for the first Alchemist nominee for the SoAB hall of fame. Several
hands shot into the air, but he picked Seth first (because he knew who Seth's
hero was)
and glanced back toward the big desk. The Professor always pretended
disinterest, but Daniel knew he listened to every word.

"I nominate the Professor!" Seth said excitably and predictably,
"Because he was the FullMetal Alchemist, the youngest state sanctioned Alchemist
ever!" Seth shuffled through his papers and clippings. "My older brother Stephen
kept a scrap book of newspaper articles and he let me bring them," Seth continued
and held an article aloft, "this is when he caught Barry the Chopper when he
was thirteen years old!" Seth grinned merrily. He held up another article. "This
one is about when he stopped a runaway train and this one is about when he helped
that one town make a new dam... oh and this one isn't so good, it says he's
a menace."

The Professor looked up at that bit of information, cocked
his eyebrow.

"I brought some of the novels too," Seth continued on,
"Here is The FullMetal Alchemist versus the Lion Chimeras of Zim!" The boys
instantly crowded around his desk. "This one is my favorite," Seth held another
battered paperback aloft. "The FullMetal Alchemist versus the Lady Alchemist
of Mount Doom!"

"Let me see that," the Professor said suddenly and Seth,
eager to please, jumped up and raced to the big desk, book in hand.

The Professor took the book, scowled at the cover art
and flipped it over to read the brief synopsis on the back. He tried hard not
to snicker, but he did, and looked at the cover art again.

"This doesn't even look like me," he said, "my jaw isn't
that square and my braid was never that long, neither was my coat," he grinned
and started to hand the book back to Seth.

"Could you sign it," Seth said in a little hero-worshipping
voice, "my big brother would really be happy if you did."

"But I didn't write it or even live the adventure," the
Professor said smiling, taking in the boy's blush and clasped hands.

I really shouldn't be eating this attention up. It
seems so conceited that I do.

"Alright," the Professor gave in and scrawled his chicken
scratch on the inside of the front cover. Seth took it from his hand with a
reverence that should only be reserved for sacred things.

"Thank you Professor," the boy said with a lip tremble,
then turned and scooted back to his desk beaming and receiving some envious
looks.

"Okay, we all know the Professor is great," Daniel broke
in, "but before we make his ego unmanageable, who else has a nominee?"

Daniel grinned as the Professor snorted behind him.

"I nominate the Firefly Alchemist," Gavin Royal said without
even raising his hand.

"But she's not a real Alchemist," Eric Danvers complained,
"she's only a singer who uses alchemy in her act. The state didn't give her
that name, she chose it for herself."

"If the Professor was out being a state alchemist when
he was thirteen," Duffy suddenly broke in, "then when did he go to school?"

The Firefly Alchemist was abandoned for the moment and
several pairs of curious eyes turned on the big desk and the Professor hmmm
and hawed a little.

"The Military provided my schooling," the Professor offered,
"just like they are doing for you."

"You went to the Academy?" Richard Timbers asked, "But
there aren't any plaques about you anywhere. Other famous Alchemists who went
to the Academy have plaques!"

Now they were all incensed on the Professor's behalf and
looked like they might be planning a small riot.

"No, I didn't go to the Academy," the Professor said to
forestall the mass swarm out the door and the march down the hall to the Dean's
office, "I just... learned from the school of hard knocks," he gave a sheepish
grin.

"You didn't have to go to school?" Boyd Harding said in
envious disbelief, "So if you become a state alchemist you don't have to go
to school!?"

"No, that's not true," the Professor said, grasping around
for control of this conversation before it got away from him, "state alchemists
have to go to school and get training with another Alchemist," he pointed out.

"Well then why didn't you have to go to school, you were
a state alchemist," Daniel said, looking to back the Professor into the ropes.
Sure he admired the man, but you couldn't let good opportunities like this go
by.

"He doesn't have to tell us," Seth leapt to the Professor's
defense. Duffy punched him lightly in his upper arm. Seth knew better, the rule
of the playground is if you could stick it to a teacher, (no matter how cool
they were)
, you should.

"I'm a prodigy," the Professor said, nose in air. "I was
too smart to be in the Academy and so the state decided I should be a state
alchemist." There, that ought to do it.

"But it looks like they got you in the Academy anyway,"
Daniel grinned and wiggled an eyebrow, "does that mean you aren't a prodigy
anymore?"

"You only have another half hour to finish your meeting,"
the Professor snapped, "and I'm grading papers, so kindly try not to disturb
me."

Students: 1 Professor: 0


Havoc took the phone call in the office adjacent to the
General's. He wasn't expecting a female voice on the other end of the line and
it made him grin so hard he thought his jaw would snap.

"I hope it's okay calling you here. I know you gave me
the number, but I've never called the military before," Sarah said. "I don't
want to get you in trouble."

"It's ok," Havoc said, trying not to bounce around. She
called him first, at work!

"About our date," she continued, "my friend Abby is going
to be by herself Saturday night and I want her to come along. You need to hook
her up with your tall, gray haired friend."

Havoc blinked. Hook up her friend with someone else? Double
date? But it was the first date! Wait a minute. Tall, gray haired friend...

"You mean Falman?!" Havoc said in a bit of disbelief.
He wasn't sure Falman dated. He wasn't sure about anything Falman did if he
thought about it.

"Yeah," Sarah said, "I think that's his name. He's been
in the restaurant with you guys a couple of times. You know, he's all tall and
stiff and looks sort of expressionless?"

"That's Falman," Havoc said faintly, "are you sure that's
who she means? Did she meet him before or something?"

"I don't think so," Sarah said, "she just saw him sitting
with you guys while she was waiting other tables and I guess she just liked
him. She says he looks safe and malleable," Havoc could almost see the girl
shrug on the other end, "I'm not here to regulate her tastes, I just want you
to hook her up."

"I'll see what I can do," Havoc said in a stunned way,
"and I'll let you know."

"Great!" Sarah said, "We're counting on you! It will be
fun, you'll see," her voice grinned at him over the phone. "Okay I have to go
now, are you coming by the restaurant tonight? The special is chopped steak."

"Yeah," Havoc said, "sure."

"See you then," she said merrily, and hung up the phone.

All along, he thought his luck had changed, and it had.
It had grown a malicious, practical joking streak.


Edward listened to the list of hall of fame nominees read
like a listing of contemporary bad literature. Half the Alchemists on it he'd
never even heard of and the other half made him cringe. Why yes he was an elitist
snob when it came to alchemy and he had every right to be because he could back
it the hell up. He shifted in his seat a little; this was none of his business.
He was only here to supervise the boys in as far as letting them have after
school access to an adequate meeting room and that was all.

"Why don't you nominate someone, Professor," Daniel's
voice carried to him, it was an apology for zinging him earlier, he knew.

"I'm not in your club," he told the boy and gave him a
smile.

"But you are really," Seth piped up, "you're the reason
we started the club."

"I bet you know all kinds of cool Alchemists," Bernard
Martin said, "tell us one for the list!"

There was a round of 'please!' that Edward found hard
to ignore. When had this gang of boys gotten such a handhold on him?

"Oh very well, add The Flame Alchemist," the Professor
said, smiling.

Daniel dutifully noted the name down and then said, "Who's
that?"

Edward blinked.

"Oh I know," Seth jumped in again, "That's General Mustang!
My dad's boss, he says he's a pompous ass!"

"General Mustang is an alchemist?" Duffy said, "Since
when? My dad says he's gonna run for Prime Minister if he'd get off his ass
already and do it."

The Professor's eyes had gotten rather large. Now he seemed
to be listening to them rather intently.

"My dad said," Seth continued, "that he made a bid to
run the Academy, but not because he wanted to be the administrative head, he
just wanted to lean on the Dean. My dad says it's a shame because he used to
be really kick ass, but then he got all washed up because of the old Fuhrer
that disappeared."

"Was he really kick ass?" Daniel directed to the Professor,
who blinked at him and then seemed to snap out of whatever self induced trance
he was in.

"Very," the Professor said, "he was a war hero. The stuff
about the old Fuhrer is all just rumor and you shouldn't put any real stock
in it."

"Hey, you could tell us what really happened," Daniel
suddenly said, looking eager. "You were there!"

No, I wasn't really. I let him go alone.

"No, I wasn't in on that," the Professor said, "I had
business elsewhere at that time. Besides, that would all be classified and if
I did know, I couldn't tell you."

I do know, but I won't tell you. There will be no monsters
for your dreams if I can help it.

The boys looked a little disappointed, but seemed to accept
his explanation.

"It's time guys," the Professor said, pulling out his
silver pocket watch to double check, "see you in class in the morning."

They all gathered up their things and filed out, telling
him goodbye as they went. He was packing up his own briefcase.

Prime Minister, eh? That was news to him. News he was
going to confirm.


Brother!

Alphonse stood and smiled when Edward came walking into
the General's office. Edward didn't see him at first, intent on the big desk
where the General himself sat smiling, but then General nodded in Alphonse's
direction and Edward looked over, grinning and lighting up like he always did.

"Al," his big brother said, "why didn't you call?" Edward
dropped his briefcase on the General's desk and walked over. Alphonse extended
his hand like he always did.

Hug him! Al cried.

Don't worry, we're about to get squished. He always
mauls me when he sees me,
Alphonse said.

No, you hug him first! Look, he's so happy to see us.
How can you not want to hug someone who is always so glad to see you?
Al
demanded.

Alphonse started a little; Edward did always look overjoyed
to see him. No matter what, no matter when, his elder brother always had a huge
grin for him. He wasn't sure if it was of his own violation he suddenly moved
forward, but he didn't care because he found he agreed.

Edward made a surprised sound when his younger brother
beat him to the rib crushing, but it only lasted a moment before he wrapped
his arms around him.

"This is a great surprise," Edward said next to his ear,
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting. My class had a club meeting," he offered.

"That's okay, the Pirate told me," Alphonse said, releasing
Edward and stepping back. "He says you guys would take me to dinner," he grinned.

"Of course," Edward said, "anywhere you want, just name
it. Are you on leave? I thought Hawkeye wanted to work you to death your last
few months in her service."

What should I tell him? Alphonse asked.

Lay low and butter him up first, Al said.

"I've been really busy, but after this last mission, she
told me I needed a break. I asked if I could come and visit you," Alphonse said.

The grin he got in response to that made him feel guilty.
Al felt guilty too.


Roy sat and watched the siblings eat. It was one of the
few things they did exactly alike. He was glad he had forgone the pasta dish
and opted for chicken, because watching the brothers savage their pasta bowls
was just this side of frightening. Maybe even a little nauseating.

They were currently scuffling over the last meatball and
it plopped onto the tablecloth. Alphonse, the neat freak, made a huffy sound,
but Edward dived right in. Never one to let an opening go by, he plucked it
off the table with his mouth and his little brother snorted in indignation.

It amazed the General that they didn't find this behavior
embarrassing, and he glanced around giving a couple at the next table over a
half smirk and shrug.

"Are you going to have dessert?" the General ventured.

"Yes!" they both half shouted and then looked at each
other and grinned. Edward tried to wipe Alphonse's chin, but Alphonse flailed
and snatched the napkin out of Edward's hand, growling.

"I'm not a child, Edward!" Alphonse wiped his own chin.

Whoa, that is some role reversal, Al said.


Roy unlocked the front door, immediately reached for a
leash hanging on the wall and bent down to try and snap it to the collar of
a black and white blur.

"I'll check for accidents," Ed said with resignation as
he led Alphonse into the house.

Roy was too occupied at the moment, grunting with frustration
as he tried to get his hands on a terrier, but he managed to get the leash on
R.D. and steer the puppy out the door, pulling it shut behind him.

Edward took Alphonse's suitcase from him and grinned at
his brother's half protest as they walked down the hallway to Alphonse's room.
Edward set the suitcase by the closet and then sat down on the edge of Alphonse's
bed while the younger boy peeled of his gloves and shrugged out of his coat.

"How have you been feeling?" Alphonse asked, "Is the weather
treating you any better?" He opened his closet and hung up his coat, took out
a few hangers and then picked up the suitcase, laying it on the bed next to
Edward.

"I'm alright," Edward said with a smile, watching his
little brother unpack and put things in his closet. This was the best part of
any visit. With things hanging in the closet, it felt like home to Edward, that
Alphonse had finally come to stay. "Roy is such a mother hen about it, it's
not as bad as he makes out."

We haven't kept our promise, Al suddenly said,
sadly.

Our promise? Alphonse returned.

Brother still has his automail, we promised to fix
it,
Al said.

"Well, the General has the right to mother hen you, after
all," Alphonse said, worrying the new supplied bit of information, not sure
how to offer it. Better to wait. "How is the teaching job going?"

"As well as can be expected," Edward said, putting his
hands behind him and leaning back. "It's quite an experience to be molding young
lives," he flashed a half maniacal grin, "If find I rather enjoy it. The thought
of being able to inflict myself on future generations, even indirectly, has
its appeal."

Alphonse laughed, put the empty suitcase in the bottom
of the closet and shut the door.

"Just what the alchemic world needs, more of the Elric
style of reckless transmutation," he teased.

"Hey," Edward said, "I'm not reckless, I'm innovative,
ask my students." The smile of pride on his face was a dead giveaway to Alphonse
on how much the teaching career was suiting his brother.

He's so happy, Al said and sighed softly, He
deserves all this happiness. The Colonel is really good to him.

Alphonse gave a half smile and clapped Edward on the shoulder.

"This is great Edward," Alphonse said, "Did you think
this is how it would turn out for us?"

"The happily ever after part?" his elder brother said,
"Well yeah, I did. It is almost, I think." Edward raised his automail hand and
laid it over the back of Alphonse's on his shoulder. Alphonse could feel the
coolness of it, even through Edward's glove.

We're definitely going to work on that, Alphonse
told his inner voice.

Can't be truly happily ever after until Brother is
fixed,
Al agreed.


Any further musings were interrupted by the appearance
of a small black and white missile. It came darting into the room and ran rapid
circles for a moment.

"R.D.!" Alphonse said in that special, reserved baby-talk-for-the-dog
way. "R.D., have you been a good boy," he cooed at the puppy and Edward rolled
his eyes.

R.D. went into spasms of trembling joy at his name from
Alphonse's lips. He stood shaking like he might explode and when Alphonse tried
to pet him, he tore away in a tizzy down the hall, only to come racing back,
small tail threatening to snap off his behind and go flying.

Edward got up and shook his head. He too tried to bend
over to pet the dog, only to have it tear away again as if its happiness was
so hard to contain he had to chase it down. Edward looked at Alphonse who grinned
and shrugged.

"If we could only harness that energy," Edward said, "we
could rule the world."

Both brothers laughed and Edward walked out of Alphonse's
room. This caused R.D. to bounce excitedly in the hallway. He would bounce straight
up into the air, almost reaching eye level a time or two. Edward snorted at
him, pulling off his own gloves and shrugging off his own coat, heading for
the coat rack in the hall to deposit them. R.D. came charging along behind him,
only to abandon him and go charging back down the hall.

Edward chuckled again as he heard Alphonse's tones, if
not his words, and the little terrier came zipping down the hall again to do
an epileptic seizure of joy for a few moments, then stopped to have a little
pant. He seemed to notice Roy's absence at this point and barreled down the
hall before Edward into their bedroom.

"You must be excited, Al is here," he heard Roy say as
he walked in. Roy was out of his work clothes already and pulling on his house
wear. Edward watched him appreciatively for a few moments; he liked Roy's cold
weather lounging attire, the General looked good in sweaters and blousy, flannel,
house pants.

R.D. decided that everyone was much too sedate about Alphonse's
arrival. He tore frantically around the room as Edward unbuttoned his vest and
shirt, then went roaring down the hall again, yapping. His yapping would grow
louder and then fade as he ran up and down the hallway.

"The dog is insane," Edward informed Roy as he pulled
on his own sweater, working it over the sock on his arm, "I hear they reflect
their owners' personalities," Edward grinned charmingly at his lover.

"Well, constant exposure to you has helped that along,
on both our counts," his lover replied charmingly back.

Edward snorted, then grinned as Alphonse stuck his head
in the doorway. R.D. squeezed past him and ran in to make the circuit of each
man there. Edward tried to catch him again, but R.D. did an amazing almost back
flip and slipped between his legs, running behind Roy's legs and giving a very
definite defiant yap.

"What's the point of having a dog you can't pet," Edward
groused, "Al has been trying to pet the little beast since the moment we walked
in," he gave Roy a look that indicated clearly this was his fault.

"He's just excited," Alphonse said, "he'll calm down in
a bit. Are we going to go sit around the living room?"

PUPPY! Al jiggled again, I can't believe the
Colonel and Brother have a puppy!
Alphonse got the distinct impression of
the armor making 'grabby hand' motions.

Roy nodded and made the gentlemanly motion for Edward
to precede him out the door, which Edward did. He grabbed Alphonse's arm as
he went and pulled his younger brother down the hall.

"Tell me all about that last hush-hush mission of yours,"
the elder brother prodded, "Roy's useless for intelligence nowadays. His mind
is all caught up on his bid to be Prime Minister." Edward looked over his shoulder
and narrowed his eyes.

"Prime Minister?" Alphonse said, eyes widening, "A pirate
for Prime Minister?"

Roy wondered how that old rumor had reached Ed's ears.
He thought he'd squashed it flat.

"Sure," Edward said as they went through into the living
room, "rape and pillage, you know. That's everyday work in government."


Al pestered Alphonse until R.D. was captured, then they
held the squirming terrier prisoner in their lap for a good petting. R.D. finally
succumbed to the pleasure of having Alphonse's total attention and laid panting
on Alphonse's crossed legs.

"I'm not a liberty to discuss that mission at the moment,"
Alphonse said, fingers buried in the short black and white fur of a wiggling
dog butt.

At least not at the moment, I'd like a few days to
relax before that particular conversation.

Puppy! Al practically drooled, being useless.

Edward slumped petulantly on the couch next the General
and then began rearranging the blankets the General piled on him in an automatic
fashion. He was used to this ritual.

"I hate being on the outs," Edward grumbled, "it's so
unfair. You know, I used to be trusted with all kinds of delicate missions,
I don't know why I'm suddenly a horrible security breach," he snorted.

"Loop-less," the General said serenely, tucking a throw
pillow behind Edward's back as Edward spread some of the blankets over the General's
legs. "You're a civilian now, FullMetal," the General grinned, "welcome to being
one of the uninformed masses."

"I can't wait to be loop-less myself," Alphonse sighed
and smiled, slouching a bit as R.D. wiggled around giving all the signs he was
settled for the night right there in Alphonse's lap.

"Won't be long," the General said, rubbing a sock clad
foot that had materialized in his lap. "Just another 3 months. Try not to make
the resignation letter too long or sentimental, everyone looks at me funny when
I sniffle in the office," he grinned.

"What did you have in mind for when you come home?" Edward
grinned.

"Actually, I was thinking of starting my own alchemist
for hire company," Alphonse smiled, "the Colonel and I talk about it frequently.
She says there are all manners of grants I can still get from the military and
that the military uses contractual labor all the time. I'm a shoe-in for her
office and I like working with the Colonel, I don't see why it should end just
because I retire from the military."

Edward shifted about on the couch some, fingering the
edge of his blanket. Roy kneaded on his foot a little harder and looked at him
with a smile.

"Wouldn't that require you to be live in East City?" Edward
said, a bit subdued. "There has been talk at the academy about forming an intermediate
class for Alchemy and that would leave a position open for the beginner class,
since I would be first in line for the intermediate position. I was rather hoping
you might consider that." Edward looked over at his younger brother.

"That's very generous," Alphonse said, "but I think I
would like to work on my own for a while. I have a few theories I'd like to
propose and maybe get some grants for. I would still spend part of my time here;
I'll just keep my apartment in East City for when I have an assignment there."

Grant money to fix brother, Al said.

Yes, the most important thing. I'll need lab access
as well; the Colonel of course will understand and help me, I know she will,

Alphonse returned.

Edward went all broody after that and only half participated
in the rest of the evening's conversation. The General and Edward still had
to work in the morning, so they all retired a bit early. Alphonse graciously
let R.D. room with him.


After it had gotten dark and still in the house, and Roy
was spooned to his back, Edward finally decided to whine a little.

"I don't want him to live in East City," he said in the
stillness of the room, keeping his voice down, "I want him to live with us and
be a family again."

"We are a family Ed. It doesn't matter if Al wants to
live in East City," Roy said. "He wants to do his own thing now, he's earned
the right. Let him grow up, I promise you'll like the result." He kissed over
a metal shoulder to the side of a warm neck.

"He would be a marvelous teacher, I just know it," Ed
pressed. "The kids would love him because you can't know him and not love him,"
He scratched the pillow with an automail finger. "You know he's only doing it
because Hawkeye is there," he said softly, "maybe you should speak to her about
it. It's... it's not like... I mean..." he stuttered to a halt, not sure what
to say.

Roy moved his lips to the back of Ed's neck.

"Don't you think that's none of our business?" he said,
muffled there. "I think that's something Al and Riza need to work out between
them."

He felt Edward tense up and wondered at the reaction.
Ed half turned his head to try and see Roy over his shoulder.

"That is where you are wrong," he said tightly. "Al is
totally my business. He's still just a kid; I don't want him to get hurt. Hawkeye
isn't interested in him the way he wants her to be, he needs to open his eyes
and see it. For one thing, she is very military; even with Al's resignation,
he is still a minor. It would be frowned on and therefore she frowns on it.
She's older too, almost twelve years older, right? If Al wants to date, he needs
to find some girls his own age. He won't do that dogging Hawkeye's heels."

"You are being amazingly hypocritical," Roy said blandly
behind him. "If you even hint of this to Al you're going to make him angry.
I think you need to trust your brother and I think you need to let him take
any hard knocks coming his way on his own. He's strong Ed, let him prove it
to you."

"I'm not a hypocrite," Ed hissed, "I know why you are
saying that. You and I are a completely different situation. You can't compare
apples to oranges, I know Al is strong; he has to be for everything he went
through, but he doesn't have any experience with this..."

"I hope I'm an apple," the General said. "But he needs
experience and why are you so terrified of Hawkeye? Even if it's a let down,
it won't be a bad one. You know she'll be kind to him."

"That's part of the problem," Ed said. "Not every girl
out there will. I'm not scared of Hawkeye; I'm just worried for Al. Who do you
know that has daughters his age? I mean that you like, or think will be right
for him?"

"What?" Roy leaned up on his elbow. "I am not setting
Al up, end of story." He rolled onto his side then and Ed turned and glared
at his back.

"You don't have to do any setting up, just give me the
names and I'll handle it," Ed said, rolling over and spooning to Roy's back.
"You know if he likes a girl here then maybe he'll stay here and then he'll
be a teacher and we can all be happy."

"That is your plan for happiness," Roy said. "Alphonse
isn't figured into that equation. You're being selfish, Ed."

"Al is figured into every equation," Ed growled. "You
act like you don't want him here! Talk about selfish; I know how you think.
You're thinking if Al is here, you can't make love to me on every piece of furniture
in the house in your spontaneous fashion. That is selfish, hypocrite." Ed shoved
away then to his side of the bed and Roy whipped over and glared at him.

"I thought being a teacher would make you think before
putting that mouth into motion," Roy said angrily. "I didn't think it would
make you take on the behavior of your pupils."

"You aren't contradicting me," Edward growled back. "It's
not my maturity level on discussion here, it's Al's and yours. Al has
been around the military his whole life, all of them! He doesn't know any better;
adults always surrounded him, it was the same with me. Adults to the left of
me, adults to the right of me, I never stood a chance when my hormones decided
to body slam me, but Al does! He has that chance now and I want him to take
it. I want him to go through it normally, not the way I did. I'm not saying
it wasn't good or that it was wrong; I made do with what I had, I made it work,
but that's me and Al is different."

"You 'made do'?" the General hissed in a breath. "You're
damn right Al is different, so why the hell are you trying so hard to control
him?" Roy sat up then, putting his hands on his quilt covered knees. "I can't
believe you just said that," he mumbled, "what the hell does 'made do' mean?
I was easily accessible? Is that it, Ed? Because I was there and I showed interest?
What the fuck is all this then?" He made a gesture around the room. "You got
complacent?" he hissed.

"Damn it, this isn't about you," Ed sat up as well. "You're
taking that out of context deliberately. I'm not trying to control Al! I'm just
trying to figure out what might be in his best interests! It's what I'm supposed
to do, I'm his elder brother and the only family he's got left."

"I'm going to let you dig your own grave," Roy snorted,
then flopped down and turned on his side, with his back to Ed. "I'm going to
sleep now, I have to go to work in the morning."

"You're taking this all wrong, that's not what I meant
and you know it," Ed said, chest tightening a little.

"Sometimes I don't know you as well as I think I do,"
Roy muttered, "Now go to sleep and leave me alone. I'm tired."

Ed worked his jaw and stared at Roy's back for a few moments.
He lay down, but didn't turn and scoot to that promised warmth like he normally
would. He stared at the ceiling. He should apologize, but that was what Roy was
waiting on, wasn't it? He didn't mean it that way; Roy knew that, he was just
doing this to distract him from Al. When Roy couldn't win an argument, he used
theatrics. Well, it wasn't going to work this time. Roy knew he loved him, he
should know that a thousand times over. Outside of Al, there wasn't a single
person left on the planet he'd work harder to please, it wasn't right for Roy
to twist his words back on him. He turned his head and looked at his back again;
it might as well have been a wall at that moment. He closed his eyes and tried
to sleep.


Alphonse raised his hand and petted the small black and
white head that had popped up from the blankets, ears raised, cocking back and
forth.

He heard the voices down the hall, too. He was pretty
sure his Pirate sounded angry. He wondered what they were arguing about and
sincerely hoped it wasn't about him or his military choices, but knowing Edward,
it was. Alphonse sighed and was glad when they voices died away. R.D. seemed
to sigh too, and he laid his head back down as Alphonse closed his eyes.


Alphonse had gotten up when he heard the morning preparations
for work commence down the hall. He went to the kitchen, R.D. at his heels,
and immediately started coffee. He then found the second leash hanging by the
back door and took R.D. out, stamping his feet and folding his arms against
the morning cold, urging the little dog to hurry up his business. After coming
back inside, he rummaged the ice box and found eggs and ham and cheese, and
began making breakfast for everyone.

The General appeared first. He looked surprised and then
pleased, and went to get the morning paper off the front stoop with R.D. hurrying
after him on the off chance of getting to go out again. Edward stumbled in as
the General was fetching his paper (and then chasing his terrier in the front
yard)
. Alphonse smiled and wordlessly handed over a cup of coffee with sugar,
watching Edward lean against the counter to sip at it.

Still not a morning person I see, Al said.

"How did you sleep?" his elder brother inquired after
he had enough coffee in his veins to engage his vocal chords.

"Rather well. You look like hell though," Alphonse grinned,
"but that doesn't surprise me, you often did."

Edward gave him a funny look for a moment, then shrugged
it off and looked over as Roy appeared back into the kitchen, grumbling. He
had R.D. tucked under one arm and his slightly chewed paper in the other hand.

Alphonse made no comment as he carried plates to the table
and watched his brother and Pirate pretty much ignore each other. He sat down
at the far end; Edward and the General sat opposite each other. R.D. took up
immediate station next to Edward's feet.

Edward looked down at the puppy and scowled, then proceeded
to butter his toast. The General opened his paper and picked up his coffee cup.
Alphonse rather felt like a third wheel in that moment, but said nothing. Obviously
whatever they had argued about last night hadn't cleared up in the light of
dawn and their breakfast was consumed in mostly silence, broken only occasionally
when Edward would inform R.D. how worthless he was while tossing him a scrap
of ham.

They both stood at the same time from the table, regarding
each other for the briefest of moments before both turning to Alphonse. He really
wished he was a true third wheel now, but he grinned gamely.

"Have a great day at work," he told the two of them. "Don't
worry about me, I'll be fine, R.D. is great company," he assured. "If you tell
me what you have in the ice box for dinner I can get it started before you come
home," he offered.

"Thank you Alphonse," the General said. "You're really
thoughtful. There are some chops in there if you want to make use of them."

"You're not here to be our maid," Edward cut in. "You
don't have to cook if you don't want to. I'm sure one of us can handle it when
we get home, Roy is the chop expert after all."

"No, it's alright," Alphonse rushed in when the two of
them once again regarded each other over the table. "I love to cook. Hey Edward,
while you're out today, will you stop by a newsstand and pick me up a copy of
The Alchemic Almanac? I left my other one in East City. Pirate, will you bring
me some stationery from the office? I left that behind too and I have a few
letters I need to write even though I'm on leave."

They both nodded and actually looked grateful at the Alphonse-shaped
buffer placed between them.

"We better go," the General said then, laying the paper
on the table, "can't have Edward being late to class."

Alphonse got up and walked with them to the door, helping
Edward get his coat over the extra bulk of his right arm and grabbing R.D. so
there would be no more escapes that morning.


The drive in was mostly silent and Roy found it very irritating,
but he grabbed Edward by the arm before he got out in front of the academy,
pulling him close and kissing him. Edward kissed back immediately, closing his
fingers on the General's uniform jacket for a moment, before pulling back and
looking around. It was still early enough to go mostly unnoticed and they regarded
each other evenly.

"Not apologizing," Edward mumbled.

"Didn't expect you to," the General returned with a scowl.

Then Edward pushed away, grabbed his briefcase and got
out of the car, looking back once before hurrying up the steps toward the front
doors. The General leaned on the steering wheel and watched him go, sighing.
That comment really hurt, the least the little shit could do was give him something.
It was damnable Elric pride that kept him so tight lipped, that and the belief
that he was never truly wrong when it came to dealing with Roy.

Roy sighed and drummed the steering wheel with his thumbs
before putting the car back in gear and driving the block and a half to the
main headquarters building.


The students could tell the Professor was in a rather
subdued mood. He overlooked some talking while he was drawing alchemic material
symbols on the board to be copied for a test. He would glance back at them when
they got a bit too loud, so they tried hard not to take advantage. It was the
last day before the weekend and the Professor was usually a little more lenient,
but even for him this was down right coddling. He finished up the notes for
copying and turned to look at them, hands on his hips.

"Okay you lot, you've done really well this week, so as
long as you copy the notes and study," he emphasized, "I'm going to let
you talk amongst yourselves quietly for the rest of the period."

Something was wrong. Daniel looked at Seth who looked
at Eric who looked at Duffy who looked at Boyd who looked at Bernard who looked
at Richard. Richard looked at the Professor who had sat down behind his desk,
shuffling notes and they all looked with him and tried to figure out what was
going on.

Daniel suddenly leaned across the isle and whispered to
Seth.

"Distract him; ask him a question," he said, "about anything.
You're our club expert on FullMetal."

Seth nodded solemnly. He had been so proud to be assigned
the Professor when it was decided they would each research an Alchemist and
archive his or her achievements for the club. Seth looked toward the front of
the room and straightened his glasses, plucking out a question from the teeming
knowledge he'd actually been dying to ask. This seemed like a good time.

"Professor," he asked politely, raising his hand as he
did so. The Professor looked up at him and nodded, acknowledging his right to
ask a question. Seth stood.

"Sir, I was reading about how you could do alchemy without
circles," Seth said, "it says you are the only known alchemist to date, with
the exception of a woman named Izumi Curtis, that could do it. Izumi Curtis
was never state sanctioned, so there are no official records on her and she
passed away without leaving any journals behind for the state library. Can you
teach us how to do alchemy without circles?" he asked innocently.

The Professor said nothing for several moments and Seth
sank back into his seat, shooting a worried glance in Daniel's direction.

"Izumi Curtis was my martial arts master and alchemy teacher
when I was younger than you are now," the Professor suddenly said, "but she
is not the reason I can do alchemy without circles."

The room got very quiet and Edward sighed. He wondered
when this would be brought up. He thought he would just tell them 'No' and leave
it at that when the time came, but he couldn't do that, not to these curious
and bright boys. It wouldn't be fair. But, what could he tell them and how much
could he tell them? Not much, he admitted to himself.

"Alchemy without circles isn't achievable by normal means,"
he said slowly. "It's like... the philosopher's stone; you come by it through
an act of desperation." He tucked the notes he had been reading into a book
on his desk and then clasped his hands before him.

"There are extraordinary circumstances involved and people
rarely live through them," the Professor said seriously. "I was lucky and then
I somehow fell into the lap of other people who actually cared what happened
to me and my brother. I am teaching you about Equivalent Exchange," the Professor
continued, "and how it figures into alchemy as a science. Science isn't about
desperation; it's about concrete facts. It's about truth. Truth is rarely pretty
and sometimes it's down right vicious, but we all need to learn to live with
it, because the alternative is living a lie and a lie is a half-life."

Homunculus are told the biggest lie of all, aren't
they?

"I know chapter two of your basics book covers the laws
of alchemy. I suggest you reread it very carefully and not only commit it to
memory, but etch it into your hearts. Believe me when I tell you there are things
that, no matter what you sacrifice, alchemy cannot put right. Alchemizing without
circles isn't something I can do because of hard work and determination; it
is something I can do because I tried to break the laws.

"I told myself I would never alchemize without circles
in front of the lot of you; it was pointless, it would bring up needless questions
and you couldn't do it anyway, but that would be disrespectful of me; I never
want to give you answers without facts. Alchemy is science and science is fact
and fact is truth, the truth of the matter is: I fucked up royally and I won't
let you do the same. Please don't tell any of your parents I used the word 'fuck'
again, alright?"

There was some very solemn head nodding from his troops.
The Professor half smiled at them.

"Science is a serious business isn't it," he said, "but
since you did bring it up and you did listen, I guess it won't hurt to show
you alchemy without circles just once. Who has something they want transmuted?"

There was a rush for the big desk and he should know that
telling them 'just once' would be something he could never hold to. He clapped
himself silly for the rest of the period.


The silence of the morning on the ride into work was broken
by the few comments on the evening drive home. Roy was always magnanimous, so
he offered first.

"How was class?" he asked after Edward climbed in and
got settled.

"It was fine," Edward said with a smile, "I finally got
the dreaded 'alchemy without circles' question," he looked over at Roy.

"How did that go?" the General asked. He knew the probability
of being asked that particular question had worried Ed. He cared about the kids
he was in charge of for an hour a day, it was a nod to his character and his
compassion, and very like him to be that way. It was one of the things Roy loved
most about him.

"I think it went pretty well, I told them everything while
telling them nothing and stressed the importance of Alchemic law," Ed bit his
bottom lip, "at least I hope I did."

Roy knew the headquarters complex like the back of his
hand. They always took a back gate out, there was less traffic. He nodded at
the soldier who saluted them as they drove past the guard house and as they
pulled out onto the main road, Roy reached over and found Ed's hand, pulling
it to his lips and kissing the knuckles once before releasing it.

"I'm sure they will be fine," he said, "you are both a
role model and a force to be reckoned with if they screw up."

"I guess I need to try and be meaner on Fridays," the
blond sighed.


The smell of chops made their mouths water when they walked
in the door. Then they did the quick-footed dance of 'trip up R.D. before he
makes a break out the front door' and managed it successfully before shutting
the door.

"Welcome home," Alphonse called cheerfully from down the
hall in the kitchen doorway, "dinner is almost ready, you two get comfy!"

They aren't scowling at each other, maybe they made
up,
Al said hopefully.

Time and dinner will tell, Alphonse told him.


The make up process was a very interesting thing and Alphonse
studied it closely. Not that he would ever have to practice it he was sure,
but it never hurt to take mental notes. Dinner was pleasant enough. Each complemented
Alphonse on his cooking talents and both offered to help with the dishes. Alphonse
let Edward help and sent the General off to entertain R.D. and read the evening
edition of the paper, then both brothers went to the living room as well. Edward
sat down on the couch and looked toward Roy who was sitting in his leather chair.
Alphonse sat on the second chair, an overstuffed, but shorter, cloth version
of the leather one and patted his knees for R.D. to jump up in his lap.

"How was class?" Alphonse asked.

"It was good," Ed replied.

"How was the office?" Alphonse asked.

"It was good," the General replied.

Alphonse noticed how Edward kept glancing at the General,
but saying nothing. Then he remembered he'd gotten Alphonse the almanac and
went to get it out of his coat pocket, returning a few moments later to offer
it to his younger brother.

Alphonse thanked him, settled and opened it; he let R.D.
investigate it as well with a small, wiggling, black nose.

The General was now glancing at Edward, who'd picked up
the news digest that had come in the mail that morning.

Edward glanced up and they both looked at each other a
moment before glancing back down again at their prospective reading materials.

"Why don't we let Alphonse listen to your new phonograph
disc," Edward offered casually.

The General rustled his paper and closed it, folding it
and setting it on the chair's side table.

"I think you'll like it Alphonse," he said, standing up
and stretching before heading for the den to get the phonograph, "it's a jazz
trio that's been gaining popularity lately." He went to retrieve the box and
disc. R.D. leapt from Alphonse's lap and trotted after him to keep him company
on his journey.

The phonograph was given a place of honor on the credenza,
the disc was put to spinning and the needle lowered over it. Alphonse smiled
as the first note took the room and his Pirate closed his eyes for a moment
before walking over and handing Alphonse the record sleeve for his reading pleasure.
It brought him close to the couch, which he promptly sat down on, not two hand
spans away from Edward, who was watching the General with an unreadable expression.

R.D., having trotted back in after a full den investigation,
stood in indecision about which one of them to assault first while Alphonse
tried very hard to concentrate on the record sleeve in his hand and not on the
events taking place on the couch. Roy settled back and R.D. decided to jump
up between him and Edward. Roy scratched the little head and ears, crossing
his legs and getting comfortable. Edward studiously ignored the dog by concentrating
on his digest, but he also leaned back and took up a comfortable slouch, leaning
toward Roy just a bit.

Roy's hand dropped off to the other side of R.D. and R.D.,
deciding that was all he was going to get from Roy, scooted over and made a
bid for Edward's lap. Edward snorted and grunted as the little dog wiggled between
him and his digest, and turned to look at Roy, mouth pulling down.

"Your dog is on me," Edward said.

"So I see," the General returned, "he seems to like you.
He must be a glutton for abuse."

"Kindly remove your dog from my lap," Alphonse's brother
intoned in an insulted air. "I'm trying to read."

"You heard the man, R.D.," the General scooted over closer
than necessary and scooped the terrier up, depositing him on the floor.

R.D. didn't know the meaning of insult and happily trotted
over to stand up with his paws on Alphonse's knees. Alphonse graciously helped
him up into his own lap and went back to pretending the record sleeve held deep
meaning to all things meaningful and alchemic that he'd been struggling for
all these years. He wanted to leave the room, because that would be best, but
it seemed rude since the record was being played of his benefit.

We need to get out of here, Al broke in, confirming
Alphonse's suspicions. They won't make up and smooch with us watching,
he informed helpfully, then turned his attentions to a wiggling puppy.

If I just get up and leave, that will seem obvious,
Alphonse said, and that might make them conscious of what they are doing.
Edward gets uncomfortable in situations like this. You would think, as long
as he's been with the General, things like this would come easily.

We are talking about Brother, Al said, he never
lets anything come easily. He goes out of his way to find the most difficult
path possible and if none of the paths he chooses are difficult, he thinks he
owes some karmic debt because he didn't have to suffer along the way. He's in
love with guilt more than anything else on the planet and that includes you
and me.

Alphonse bit his bottom lip to keep from smiling, and
then hit upon some inspiration, laying the record sleeve aside and standing
with R.D. in his arms.

"I'm going to take R.D. for a walk. When I get back, can
I have use of the den to write the letters I had you pilfer office stationery
for?" he asked, smiling.

Ooooo, good one, Al congratulated.

The General smiled at him and Edward half scowled.

"You don't need permission to use the den Al," Edward
said, "this is your house too."

"Alright then," Alphonse said, taking the wiggling puppy
out into the hall.


Roy listened to the sound of dog nails scrabbling in the
foyer. He knew it meant R.D. was doing a dance of excitement and joy to be going
out, making it very difficult for Alphonse to get his leash on him. He was smiling
to himself over it, picturing the boy trying to reason with the puppy, when
something warm covered the back of the hand he had resting on the couch between
he and Edward.

He spread his fingers slightly and without hesitation,
Edward's fingers moved between them as Roy tightened his fingers back together.
The front door opened and closed, and Edward's fingers tightened as well. They
said nothing for a few moments as Edward still fiddled the digest in his lap
with his automail hand.

Roy knew that it was usually himself that made the first
overtures in situations like these. He'd learned it was just a part of loving
Edward, to be the one to always bend first. He'd done it so much in Edward's
boyhood, he wasn't sure why he thought now should be any different.

But maybe it should be, somewhat. Edward was no longer
a boy; he was an adult now, having survived his crazy childhood amazingly enough,
almost unscathed. That spoke volumes for Edward's strength. Roy moved the pad
of his thumb onto the back of Edward's thumb and rubbed up and down slowly.
Just as he was going to open his mouth and speak, a blond head leaned against
his shoulder.

"I love Al so much, sometimes it makes me stupid," Edward
sighed. "You do that to me too," his voice lowered a bit, his fingers tightened
more. "You put up with a lot," he offered.

It wasn't an apology, but it was something like it. Roy
felt himself bend in the places in his heart that had become so very elastic
when he actually fell in love. He turned his head and kissed the top of a blond
one, then leaned his forehead against it.

"Love doesn't make you stupid, Edward," he said, smile
spreading despite himself, "I'm fairly certain you do that on your own."

He then laughed, yanking his head back before the top
of Edward's connected with his nose, and fought to hold onto the fingers entangled
in his. But it only lasted a minute and Edward subsided, looking at him with
a soften version of his scowl.

"Okay, I deserved that," he said flatly. "Since you've
admitted you're not all-seeing, I suppose I can't tell you to warn me in advance
when I'm going to have an episode of idiocy."

"What fun would my life be if I could do that?" Roy grinned.
"These little lapses between times of absolute bliss remind me I'm still earth
bound."

"Oh stop it with the mush," Edward grimaced, "no need
to punish me any further for my momentary lapses."

"You know the best way to shut me up, don't you?" the
General raised his eyebrow.

Edward kissed him. Forgiven again.


Sunday evening rolled around.

The trio had lived through enough adventure for many life
times, so lazy comfort and quiet was always well appreciated. They'd tried to
play a few hands of cards, but one or the other of them would become distracted
and the remaining two wouldn't feel the need to pressure them into actually
paying attention to the game.

Let's speak to Brother now, Al said as Alphonse
toyed with the little wooden peg game that the General kept mostly for decoration
on the living room's shelves.

Alphonse glanced across the room at his brother, half
asleep on the couch where he had been working on a class assignment. His glasses
were teetering on the end of his nose and his elbow looked like it was about
to slide off the couch arm.

You know, you must have had to do this a lot, Alphonse
said. Catch him when he's off guard to bring up potential serious issues.

You don't know the half of it. I've had more success
in my life getting appliances to talk to me than Brother. They realized what
a bad idea the mold they made for his stubbornness was, so they broke it before
he was out of it, is my guess,
Al said wryly.

What should we say first, Alphonse asked. He
shuts up tighter than a virgin's thighs if I make the wrong first move.

That's an interesting analogy... have we had sex yet?
Al asked, Because if we have, you're hiding it well.

Alphonse felt his cheeks heat and he sucked in his bottom
lip.

We've almost had sex. Do you remember Pamela?Alphonse
said. She came really close to actually taking her shirt off once, I'm certain
of it.

What happened? Al asked, riveted.

Her cat came through carrying one of its kittens in
its mouth. It was so cute,
Alphonse grinned. A really pretty calico cat
too, and the kitten was little and white.

Remember it for me! Al said excitedly.

Anyway, after I had to go and watch the mother cat
carry her whole litter from under the kitchen table to a spot behind the sofa
in the living room, she seemed to lose interest. We didn't date again after
that,
Alphonse said. She was always busy when I called.

I'm not getting any cat memories here, Al said,
tapping his foot.

Oh right, Alphonse said and dutifully began to rerun
the evening through his mind. That is when he noticed Edward watching him with
the corners of his mouth pulled down.

Alphonse looked to his side to see what R.D. might possibly
be doing to cause Edward to frown like that, but the little dog was nowhere
to be seen. He looked back over at his elder brother.

"Al, you feeling alright?" Edward asked, pulling off the
glasses threatening to come off on their own and laying them on the coffee table
along with his notebook.

Oh, you must have been making faces again, Al said,
I warned you about that! I could see you doing in the mirror at your apartment,Al
sighed.

"I'm fine," Alphonse said, "I'm just going over some theories
in my head."

Better than saying I'm just reliving some cat memories
for the disembodied voice that lives there, I suppose,
Alphonse said.

I feel like a reference book, Al snorted, You
only acknowledge me when you need something. You know I've lived this life too,
only on the mostly non-vocal side.

I'm going for it, Alphonse suddenly said.

"Edward, tell me about the homunculus," he blurted. His
elder brother's eyes widened and he sat back into the couch.

"You're making theories on homunculus?" Edward said breathlessly.
Something in his eyes cringed and Alphonse heard the click of metal fingers
bunching in the blankets.

"No," Alphonse said. "On my last mission, I captured one.
Its name is Wrath, it knew who I was and I knew who it was and you need to give
me some answers."

No.

No, not that. They were past that. Their lives were their
own.

"Talk to me Edward," Alphonse said, a pleading note coming
into his tone.

"I... don't know what you want me to say," Edward said,
gaze shifting from his younger brother's imploring look. "There is nothing to
say. There are books about homunculus; I know you've read them." Edward wet
his lips and looked toward the arched door of the living room like he might
be longing to go to it and away from this conversation.

"He called me 'that pipsqueak Alchemist's brother', he
knew me," Alphonse stressed. "Edward, just tell me how I knew this thing, how
it knew you. What did it mean to us? What did we do?" he pressed. "Brother,
give me back my life. Please."

Edward's eyes darted to him at the 'pipsqueak' remark,
his hand was resting on the arm of the couch, only resting was too sedate a
word. His white-knuckled grip looked like it might snap the arm at any moment.

He still reacts to being called short, Al sighed.
At least we have his attention again. Just be persistent and calm. He can't
handle calm, it wears him down. He'd much rather provoke a screaming match,
it's how he escapes really critical matters.

"It's not like I'm asking for forbidden things. I'm not
asking for you to break any laws, I just want what you know that I used to.
Edward, I'm seventeen years old, but I have the feeling I should be older. I
feel like part of me is missing. I know you can help me with that, please just
try." Alphonse shook with his control. Al was right, as long as he stayed calm
and steady, then Edward had no good reason to bolt. Edward was a creature of
fierce passion. With nothing to rage against, he was powerless.

"I don't want to tell you," his brother suddenly admitted
in ragged tones. "I don't want you to remember," he turned haunted, golden eyes
on Alphonse. "Al, you're so much better off now, you don't have to know all
the things that happened. What is missing in your life now that you need so
badly as to want all that... pain? Tell me, I can find something else. I'll
give you anything else, I don't want to give you nightmares."

"Not good enough," Alphonse said. "That is not an excuse.
I'm asking you. As your brother, your only brother, don't keep these
things from me anymore. I'm not a child to be coddled; it's unfair and unreasonable
for you to keep this from me. It's unfair and unreasonable for you to demand
everyone else do it too!" That was something that really angered Alphonse, though
he'd never voiced it directly. It twisted in his gut that his brother had so
much power over his life, even to those around them, that he could force their
silence.

Don't start shouting, Al said. It won't accomplish
anything. Maybe this is a bad idea, he looks scared. We don't have to do this!
You can just give over...

"To who?" Alphonse shouted. "To you? Just let you have
it all back and lose everything I am?!" He realized then that he'd spoken aloud
and he looked up at Edward. His brother was almost panting and he'd half raised
himself from the couch.

Alphonse gained his feet, fists working, and jaw tight.
Edward rose all the way as well, his eyes searching Alphonse's face with the
worst look.

Let's stop, Al said faintly. You're too upset,
you're upsetting him, I don't want to upset him. He's been through so much and
this is pointless. I don't know why you're so afraid; I won't take what you
are! I promise!

Alphonse swallowed hard and still Edward did not speak.
It was enough, it was just enough; he wasn't a back seat to his brother's fears!
He wanted his own life, he didn't want the one Edward wanted to mold for him!
He'd given Edward six long years of searching and heartache and tears, and this
was how he was thanked. It was ludicrous and wrong. What could possibly be so
horrible that Edward would go to such lengths? Nothing was worth this; it was
about control, plain and simple.

"What is so horrible? What was it? Something I did?"
Alphonse cried.

Edward went positively ghostly.

"NO," he cried, "it wasn't anything you did Alphonse,
please! I know you must be frustrated but trust me..."

"What can I trust," Alphonse retaliated, "if it's not
something I did, then what was it? Was it something you did?"

He wished, just in that moment as Al gasped in his mind
and Edward reacted as if his words were a physical blow, that he could take
it back.

If I back down now, I will never get anything from
him,
Alphonse cried. You promised you would help me!

Calm down, you have to calm down! Please don't hurt
him,
Al pleaded, I know he's stubborn, but he loves you so much and he
thinks he's doing what is right for us. He's lived his life for us.

"I don't want you to live my life for me," Alphonse said,
"if you live my life for me, why am I here?"

Edward's jaw worked then, he was struggling with his breathing
and he swallowed hard.

"It's not like that," he said, his voice almost raw. "Alphonse,
you have to believe me when I tell you it's better, it's better not to remember.
I don't know how to convince you." Edward reached toward him then. "We went
through so much so you could have this life, please, you can be happy now. It's
all I've wanted."

"I suppose what I want doesn't matter," Alphonse said,
voice dropping.

No, that's not true. He thinks he's doing this for
you. We have to show him...
Al started.

There is no 'we', Alphonse said. There is me
and it looks like that is all there will ever be.

"That's not true," Edward said. "Of course what you want
matters."

"Then answer my questions, that is what I want," Alphonse
yelled. "That is all I want from you Edward. Just answer my questions and you can
keep from me anything I don't know to ask about, that way you won't totally
have to give up your precious control of my life!"

He couldn't help it. Everything was welling up inside
of him, it was like dam when the floodwaters came and they just kept coming.
It was too late to stop them.

"I don't want to control you," his elder brother wailed.
"I just want to protect you!"

"I don't need your protection," Alphonse returned, "I
took care of myself for six years! Six years while you were off wherever you
were, another one your precious secrets! I don't care about that," Alphonse
made a sweep with his hand. "It's obvious you don't care enough to tell us,
not me or the General. We looked for you! We worried for you and you don't have
the decency to tell us anything!"

It was all spinning out of control, he just couldn't stop
it. He had to let it out or go mad with it.

Edward's mouth worked but little sound was heard, his
fingers clenched and unclenched. He finally shook his head as if to free himself
of something and his eyes were oddly bright.

"Please don't do this to me, Al," his elder brother begged.
"Please, let me help you find another way, we always said we could find another
way."

In seeking to keep things from him, his brother inadvertently
gave things to him in little slipped phrases as he'd done now, every now and
again. Alphonse realized it, painfully aware, that it was more than Edward wanted
to give.

"Another way," Alphonse said slowly. "Edward, was I in
armor or was I armor," his lips pulled tight and his own breathing becoming
ragged. A fear gripped him so hard and so tight, he felt his vision tunnel for
a moment.

"Am I a homunculus?" Alphonse whispered.


"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
it might actually do."

"No," Edward said in a voice so thin it was unrecognizable,
"no, Al." he choked.

His younger brother stood panting, face flushed, eyes
welling with unshed tears. Edward was shaking so hard he clamped his teeth together
to keep them from chattering.

I have to tell him.

No, I don't want him to remember... what I did.

I'll lose him if I don't.

No, he loves me. If he'll just calm down, we can talk
I can make him see why this is such a bad idea.

He's not... the same as before.

Reality spun for a moment. Everything darkened at the
edges. He heard himself, repeating over and over I'm not fifteen anymore,
stop treating me like I never left!

"Still nothing," Alphonse yelled, "If your secrets mean
so much to you, then KEEP THEM! If they are more important to you than I am,
THEN I DON'T NEED YOU EITHER!"

All his sins came to roost on his shoulders. He hardly
felt them, as one shoulder was metal and heavy to begin with. He wondered at
the numbness that held him, that concreted his tongue to the bottom of his mouth,
that constricted his throat so tightly there wasn't even the possibility to
swallow.

"That's enough," another voice said, an outsider come
to witness his final fall from the world.

Alphonse was panting hard, his unshed tears all to shed
now. He stared at Roy a moment without truly seeing him, but then he did and
looked as if he wondered why he was there.

"You don't mean that Alphonse," the General said, keeping
his voice calm and level. "You're overwrought; don't say anything else you're
going to regret in the morning."

But Alphonse's pain was loose and wild and he lashed out
to all sides, even to those he also longed to run to for comfort.

"STOP TAKING HIS SIDE," Alphonse screamed through the
pain. "What about me? You're always worried about me hurting him, what
about how he's hurting me?" the boy sobbed.

Edward moved then, as if some spell was broken. Alphonse
stared at him and then backpedaled to avoid his hands.

"No Al," he was saying. "No Al, please listen to Roy,
we can talk about this. I want to tell you, I just don't know what to tell you.
Alphonse, please!" Edward cried and pursued him until the General caught his
arm. He jerked against it and turned to stare at Roy.

"You're never going to give me anything important," Alphonse
hissed. "Stop interfering with my life! I don't care if I have to question everyone
between here and East City, I'll find out without you! There has to be someone
you don't hold some sway over, someone who will tell me the truth! I'm
going back East, there is nothing for me here!" he spat, then turned and ran
from the room, down the hall toward the bedrooms.

"AL," Edward screamed after him and struggled in Roy's
grip. He turned with teeth gritted and slammed his hand against Roy's chest,
realizing belatedly it was the automail one. He gaped up at Roy, apology fumbling
for exit from his lips, but Roy just grimaced and took it.

"If you go after him, you better be prepared to tell him
everything and I mean everything, Ed," Roy grated. "Nothing less is going to
do it. Everything Ed, about your mother, your automail and his body."

Edward almost convulsed in his hold and Roy dragged him
against his chest.

"We tried to tell you," Roy tried to say gently, "Riza
warned you, I shouldn't have let your pain sway me."

Edward twisted angrily then and broke away completely.
His eyes screamed for help but his mouth had other ideas.

"Saying 'I told you so' isn't going to help this," he
snarled. "How can you be so petty as to bring that up now? I can't tell him
about... about that! How can you expect me to? What I did to him! How can I
tell him that? Why should I have to when he doesn't remember?"

"Withholding Alphonse's memories is not your absolution
Ed," Roy snarled back. "Alphonse not remembering doesn't make what happened
go away!" Gods he shouldn't have said it. Why was his judgment always looking
the other way when his heart was under siege?

Edward was staring at him. His eyes no longer sought help;
it was beyond the time for help.

"YOU FUCKING BASTARD," Edward screamed. "How dare you,
how dare you! It's NOT THAT! IT'S NOT THAT! I WOULD NEVER MAKE IT ABOUT THAT!"
he raged. Roy reached for him, then reacted instinctively to avoid the incoming
blow, his reflexes saving him from the strike that glanced past his cheek.

"What are you doing?" Alphonse said, standing in the doorway
of the living room. His suitcase struck the floor with a dull thud. "Don't you
dare hit him!" The boy charged forward and Roy leapt, throwing himself between
the brothers. Alphonse ran into his chest as Edward came up against his back
and they all went still and silent.

Alphonse looked up at him, shaking. Edward ground his
forehead into his back, hands clutching at the back of his sweater.

"I want to take all of this from both of you," Roy heard
himself say, "and never let either of you hurt again, but I can't do that no
matter how hard I want to. I'm the only one that bends," his voice dropped,
"I'm the only one that knows how."

"Take me to the station," Alphonse begged, no words were
going to reach him now and he wanted to run. The boy's life centered on logic,
but in this moment it failed him. "Please, Pirate." he asked.

"Don't go," sounded Edward's strangled voice from behind
him, his hands dragging downward on Roy's sweater, "please don't go, Al. Please
let me try to explain."

But Alphonse wasn't listening anymore. He appealed to
Roy once more with his eyes, then pushed away and headed for the hall.

"Alphonse," Roy said and caught hold of Ed as he tried
to get past. Ed struggled and Roy let him go, running after Alphonse into the
hall.

"Leave me alone," Alphonse's voice sounded high and near
hysterical, moving Roy's feet to follow after them. Alphonse had the door handle
but Edward had his hands flat against the door, holding it closed.

Roy closed his hands over Edward's shoulders and Edward
turned his head to look at him, wild and desperate. Roy tightened them, pulling
back, and Ed made a strangled sound of disbelief. Alphonse jerked the door open
and fled out through it as Edward cried out.

"You have to let him have some distance," Roy's voice
rolled over him, but he couldn't think, "he has to calm down. He's not going
to listen to anything you say right now," Roy struggled with him, pushed him
against the wall and trapped his wrists. A black eye met gold and Edward arched
from the wall for a moment, then collapsed back against it. Roy slowly let his
wrists go, reached up beside him and pulled his coat from the rack, shrugging
it on.

"I'll try to talk to him, but what can we do right now?
We can't force him to stay here," Roy reached to touch Ed's face, but Ed turned
his eyes away and Roy let his hand drop. Then he was out the door and gone as
well.

Ed pushed off the wall, walked without seeing into the
living room and just stood, unable to move past the moment.

The law of equivalency had been laid bare with the stone.
The truth was a lie, but still the truth in the end, unavoidable as the rising
and setting of the sun.

He thought he'd paid, but he hadn't.

Here to collect was his atonement.