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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 14.

He's been in the apartment several
times before, so he didn't know why it seemed so different now. He stood with
his hands in his pockets and watched Sarah take off her sweater and lay it over
the back of a chair next to the door. She then reached behind her, untied her
apron and headed across the main room toward the hall.

"I'm going to change clothes," she said. Havoc had escorted
her home after her shift on the first night of Abby's absence. He smiled and
nodded and when she turned down the hallway toward her room, he felt a fluttering
in his stomach.

They were here and they were alone.

Sarah was a heavy petter. She was not above wandering
hands and she didn't discourage Havoc's own wandering hands. In the months they
had been dating, Havoc had discovered that Sarah's curves were very real and
her bra was not padded.

He fidgeted nervously with the pack of cigarettes in his
pocket and almost jumped when Sarah came back into the room, dressed in a pair
of blousy pants and a soft sweater. She tilted her head at him, gave him a quizzical
look and headed for the kitchen.

"Sit down already, soldier boy," she laughed. "You know
by now I don't bite. I'll get you something to drink."

Havoc grinned at himself, moved over and flopped onto
the couch, glancing at a magazine lying on the coffee table before putting his
feet up on it. He could hear her moving around in the kitchen and for a moment
he let himself believe this was his home and she was his...

He took his feet off the coffee table and sat up straighter
on the couch, resisting the urge to once again pull out his pack of smokes.
Sarah walked back in, moved over behind him and slid her arms over his shoulders.
He titled his head back and she grinned at him upside down.

"Making you some coffee, although I don't think you need
it," she said. "What's up with you, you're being really quiet," she kissed him
then on his nose.

"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I guess some things
are just catching up with me, this is getting a little real," he kept looking
up at her.

She smiled at him, fingered his blond hair, still leaning
over him.

"You think it's too fast?" she said. "You know I can wait
if you want, you're worth the wait."

So... she was expecting, she wants me to...

Havoc wet his lips. She thought she was being too fast.
He was glad in that very moment that Mustang had left the playing field ages
ago and no longer felt the need to prod and pry and get details from Havoc about
his dates. He would have had a field day with this one.


He was met by a car at the train station and was grateful
for her thoughtfulness. The Corporal saluted him and Al smiled, waving his hand.

"No more need for that," he told the soldier. "I'm just
a civilian now." He felt light saying it, happy, and slid into the backseat
of the car when the corporal opened the door.

The trip to headquarters was quiet; the corporal was not
given to chatting and Al was just as glad. He was tired and he wanted to report
in, find out what Parkerson was having problems with and then head to his apartment
for some real sleep. The train always made his ass sore now that he had it back.

His feet knew the way even in his half-awake state and
he got stopped at the front desk to be given a visitor's badge.

"You should just keep it, Al," Corporal Tatum said and
smiled, "You didn't even make it a week before showing back up, I have a feeling
we'll be seeing a lot of you."

Al gave her a wink, a cheerful mock salute and headed
for the Colonel's office before reporting to the lab. He leaned into the open
doorway of the office and Pharr grinned at him from across the room; the Colonel
glanced up from her desk and smiled. Al started into the room, hand raising
in an automatic salute, but she extended hers toward him.

"Alphonse," she said. "I'm sorry we had to call you back,
I hope the trip was alright and your brother not too upset."

Al was caught with his hand halfway raised to attention.
He looked at her outstretched one, then to his own and dropped it hastily, approaching
the desk and extending it again, clasping hers.

"You know Ed," Al said and smiled, "any little thing can
set him right off."

"I do," she said, shaking his hand and smiling,
she was smiling at him. It was her usual reserved smile, but it was for him.
He caught himself, made himself release her hand at the appropriate time.

"Lieutenant Parkerson will be most anxious to see you,"
she said. "I'm gathering he's been rather startled at some of the results, so
I won't keep you here."

"I'll look into it straight away," Al said. "I just wanted
to let you know I was back in town were you to need me."



I wanted to see you, to hear your voice.

"Always considerate," she said.

Ask her.

Al turned to the table and Pharr grinned at him again,
giving a small wave.

"I knew you couldn't stay away," the man said. "Everyone
knows this is where all the action is," Lieutenant Pharr winked at him and Al
couldn't help his own grin.

Ask her.

"I couldn't very well leave you to your own devices,"
Al said. "There's no telling what would happen should I let you loose on the
world."

Ask her now, while you can.

Pharr gave him a salute and Al gave a wicked smile in
return, not saluting back. Pharr winked again.

What if she says no? It doesn't matter, you'll never
know if you don't ask her. She danced with you, she confided in you, she smiled
at you. Ask her.

"I better get down to the labs," Al said, turning once
again to the Colonel's desk. She had resumed her seat but looked up at him at
the movement. "I was wondering Colonel," Al said meeting her brown eyes, "what
you were doing tonight?"

She made such a tiny gesture of surprise that no one but
someone who was looking for it would have seen it.

"Well I have no real plans tonight," she said. "Apart
from my routine and Hayate's company."

Al latched onto that, onto a connection between them.

"Would Hayate mind terribly if we went to dinner?" he
asked.

The Colonel glanced down at the dog, asleep on his pillow
again, now that the excitement of Al's arrival had lost its novelty. She then
glanced back up at Al with a very thoughtful look. He thought in that moment
she was onto him and would now deny him; it was already hard enough ignoring
Pharr's incredulous looks being cast across the room in a manner he must have
considered stealthy, but to have to face a rejection in front of him that he
would later tease Al with, almost made the young alchemist break and run from
the room.

Instead, he held his ground and his breath and waited.
Her lips parted and her eyes rose back to his. He felt himself clench his fists
and fought to undo the gesture as she began to speak.

"Seeing as how you had to come all this way when you were
supposed to be enjoying your newly acquired freedom," she started.

She's going to let you down easy, she's going to offer
you an excuse. It's gracious and you can still hold your head up around Clay,
even if he pokes you about it. It's not the end of the world, it's not the end
of the world. Take a deep breath.

"I would be glad to go to dinner with you," she finished.

"That's quite alright," Al blurted. "I can understand
you are busy, maybe next..." and he stopped, floundered with his mouth open
before snapping it shut.

"You will?" he said and then winced inwardly at the disbelieving
tone issuing from his own lips before rushing ahead to try to cover his embarrassment.
"I mean, that's wonderful, should I meet you here?"

She was giving him this rather indeterminate look and
he leapt upon his internal reference guide for the woman, pawing through its
pages madly, but she didn't let him finish the search.

"Why don't you meet me at my home," she said. "That way
I can change out of uniform and walk Hayate before we go."

Al snapped his jaw closed, nodded once and tried to smile,
but he was sure it was strange and off putting.

"Seven o'clock is alright?" he squeaked and barely stopped
himself from slamming his hand over his mouth. He liked to tell everyone he
was twenty-three despite looking like an eighteen year old. He should add in
that he had the social age of a ten-year old with a schoolyard crush.

"I look forward to it," she said, nodding to Al who nodded
back. When he came back to his senses, he was in the lab and Parkerson was looking
at him like he'd grown a second head on the way there. He didn't know how he
got there, he didn't care and life was grand.

"Hello," he said to Parkerson, "let me take care of this
problem for you; after all, I really have to thank you. If you hadn't been watching
the experiment to note the changes and you hadn't been so anal and decide that
my opinion was so needed as to engage me in a two day train trip when I was
supposed to be visiting my family, then I wouldn't be here and she wouldn't
have said yes." He grabbed Parkerson's hand and shook it hard.

"Thank you, thank you Lieutenant Parkerson," Al sighed.
He tried to ignore the look on the man's face; he knew very well he had no coherent
thought processes at the moment and the insanity that slipped from his lips,
(while being insanity, that was true), was just something he was going
to have to learn to deal with.

Just look at Ed, it ran in the family.


Do you think for one moment...

Ed made a soft, half-startled sound against the side of
Roy's throat when Roy began tightening his arms again. Ed shifted but didn't
try to get away as Roy drew his legs up as well, all but enfolding Ed into his
body.

that I do not know...

Ed made a ragged sound from the cocoon of flesh he was
now trapped in, his automail hand flattened against Roy's stomach and his flesh
arm circled around Roy's back and pulled, as if he could somehow help the melding
process along.

whose face that monster used to trap you with?

"He... he was..." Ed stuttered and Roy longed to say "No,
stop, you don't have to tell me anymore
", but he knew that would not help.
He knew they had come too far down his memory to turn back. It would not help
Ed and it would leave Roy with doubts and unanswered questions that would forever
hang between them if Ed did not finish.

"He was not who I wanted... who I thought he was... who
I... he wasn't," Ed blurted out, muffled by Roy's throat.

It used MY FACE! My face, and it did this. After everything
it did in my image... he still came to me, called to me, wanted me to hold him!

How pathetic am I? My tormentor is also my comforter?

Roy moaned. It wasn't a pleasant sound and he bowed his
head, digging in with his fingers. Ed squirmed but pressed harder. Love had
been used as a lure, a trap, a betrayal. It used Ed's love against him. The
only thing Ed had ever put his whole faith in, was turned and twisted and maligned.

Yet Ed still believed.

Ed made a shushing sound and seemed to be trying to rock
Roy, to comfort Roy. Bile rose in his throat and he struggled for control.



I have taken care of you, I have looked after you, I have loved you. I always
wanted to protect you, yet somehow you got away from me. You are trying to comfort
me in the midst of all this horror. Yes, I have loved you and I have done it
madly, passionately and without reason, but you have loved me with your faith,
with that part of you that is unstoppable, unshakeable. I am a human and a man,
that is all I am. What does this make you? I used to think you were untouchable,
but that was a lie. You made yourself weak by letting me in. You made yourself
vulnerable and you humbled yourself because of what you saw in that thing pretending...
MY FACE...

"Kill it," Roy growled, a wrong, ugly sound, "Make it...
die, I'll kill it... I will... protect you, even from ME."

Ed jerked in his arms and hissed, his fingers now digging,
tightening.

"It wasn't you!" Ed cried. "Stop it, stop it. It wasn't
you! I'm telling you this for giving me your patch and I'm telling you this
because it is part of me and someone needs to know to make it real; not some
insane dream that I have over and over. I know it happened and I'm still alive,
they didn't win! I want to tell you, because you deserve to know, because you
are part of me and I don't want these dark places anymore! I never want you
to think you should hide things from me anymore, so I'm giving it to you!"

Roy struggled with his breathing, his voice. He bowed
his head, shoving his forehead to Ed's temple.

"You give me everything," Roy said roughly. "You've always
given me everything, this is..."

"It's the last of me that's dark," Ed said lowly. "When
I am done you will have everything. You think this is selfless? It isn't. When
you gave me the patch, when I took it... the monster was gone. It's not there
anymore Roy, it's gone."

"Gone," Roy echoed, his lips found Ed's cheek, his jaw.

"I woke up in a dark, enclosed place, turns out it was
the rumble seat of a car," Ed continued hoarsely.


He chewed at the rag in his mouth and twisted at the bonds
holding his hands behind his back, all the while suffocating darkness pressed
in all around him. He tried to kick with his legs, but the space was cramped
even for him and he could do little but lie there. There was no sense of the
passage of time, no way to know where and when he was, there was nothing.

This was how it ended.

He ordered himself to lie still because really, what was
the use? It was over now, it would all be over. No, he didn't appreciate that
it would end this way, he didn't appreciate it would end with the leering visage
of a sin or his taunts, but in one thing Envy was right, he would be
free. He would be free of this world and his memories and his pain, physical
and emotional, and he hoped there would just be nothing on the other side. No
thought, no torment, just nothing. That would be true freedom.

There was a noise above him, then the lid of the rumble
seat lifted. He could just make out the figure in the hazy light of what must
be near dawn and when it reached in and grabbed him, lifting him from his prison,
he offered no resistance. He was stood upright and Ray (Why bother to call
him other than Ray? He had known Ray for almost a year, Envy was just a sudden
inconvenience)
, shook his head and put his hands on his hips.

"This isn't any fun," Ray said. "Don't tell me you want
to cooperate, you were never any good at cooperating. We tried all manners of
persuasion, maybe we should have waited until you were a little older." Ray
reached up then, stroked fingers through Ed's bangs and Ed jerked his head to
the side. His next reaction was all instinct; it seemed that even though his
rational mind wanted to get this over with, his emotional mind had other ideas.

He was fast, but Envy was faster, (No, calling him
Ray is too close to calling him... who you wanted him to be. Call it for what
it is, don't give it the satisfaction of your discomfort. This isn't Roy)
,
turning quickly to the side. Ed's raised knee slammed into Envy's thigh instead
of his groin and Envy made a tsking noise, shaking his head and spreading his
hands.

"That was lame," Envy said, "it's almost as if you are
of two minds on this whole matter. But still, can't have you doing that again."
Envy grabbed him by the shoulders then and Ed made a strangled sound. The sin
lifted its foot and slammed the heel hard into Ed's prosthetic knee. There was
a sick cracking sound as the artificial joint snapped all the way backwards
and Ed stumbled, falling against Envy's chest who shoved him back again. The
leg refused to respond and Ed went down on his ass, sitting there panting for
a moment.

"Look, shorty. Let's not make this any harder on yourself
than it already is," Envy walked over, reached down and yanked Ed back to his
feet. Incredibly, he steadied Ed, letting him find balance on his ruined leg
before reaching up and roughly working the knot loose from the rag in his mouth.
When he removed it, Ed spit a few times and licked his lips. He didn't move
much because his balance was precarious at best, and his hair hung in his eyes.
He was sore all over, vaguely surprised that Envy had bothered to redress him
after their last encounter and disoriented as to his whereabouts.

"All this resistance is going to get you nowhere," Envy
said. "We both know it's inevitable, the superior power wins."

"Superior," Ed gave a hoarse laugh. "Superior enough to
wind up in the same boat as me and the old man, stuck here with no road back."

"That is why we are here," Envy said. "To remedy that,
now come on." He grabbed Ed by the upper arm and yanked. Ed stumbled forward,
started to fall and then was simply dragged toward a hillock just beyond the
parked car.

"Fucking shift," Ed suddenly snarled. "Fucking do this
with your own face you goddamn coward."

"I showed you my face before you made the trip over,"
Envy said sweetly. "You didn't seem to like it, you like this one much better.
I thought you would appreciate the gesture."

"You thought wrong," Ed said. Envy was dragging him by
his false arm. The strap was pulling tight across his chest and the joint was
being pulled painfully against the remaining flesh of his shoulder. He kicked
out with his flesh leg, dragged his heel through the dirt and vaguely noticed
that there seemed to be something there. Envy grunted in annoyance then and
completely hefted him into the air, then sat him on his feet again a little
ways away.

Ed teetered for a moment before steadying himself. As
long as he leaned forward on the broken, false leg, it would support him; the
joint could not go any further forward than it normally did. Envy then did the
strange and additional kindness of freeing his hands and standing back, tossing
the bit of rope aside. Envy put his hands on his hips and shook his head, snorting.

"Can't take you anywhere, pipsqueak," he grumbled. It
was then Ed noticed the array, the one drawn in the dirt of the hillock, all
around them; he was standing in the middle. Ed chaffed at his aching flesh wrist
with his prosthetic hand and surveyed the markings in the dirt. Some were familiar,
calling on certain elements, and some were archaic, but he recognized them from
ancient alchemic texts he'd studied in his youth. Other things were unrecognizable,
however, in a language he didn't understand and there were strange symbols he'd
never encountered in his research.

"What is this?" he mumbled, watching Envy look around
and pick up a stick lying on the ground before heading for the portions Ed had
disturbed with his heels.

Envy stopped by the disturbed earth and gestured.

"It's a faerie ring, an array of this world, more or less,"
Envy said. "I just added a few modifications," he began to scratch in the dirt.
"The real key is, of course, material from the other side of the gate. It took
a while to figure out that this world wasn't completely magicless as I first
believed. Do you know what it was like being stuck in one form for days, weeks,
months on end?"

"No, and I don't care," Ed said. "You mentioned Hoenhiem's
blood, so I'm assuming you killed him?"

Envy's face split into a grin that had nothing to do with
humor, and Ed felt something inside him twist painfully. He and the old man
had never really come to terms and it wasn't like he was exactly there for Ed
when Ed fell here. He had taken Ed in, helped him get on his feet and provided
for him, but Ed told himself it was out of some deranged sense of parental guilt
he'd developed while living here. He figured Hoenhiem had suffered some epiphany
in his isolation that had preyed on him; it was too little too late, and maybe
he even knew it... but it shouldn't have been like this. He shouldn't have died
like this.

"You sick fuck, change your face," Ed grumbled again as
Envy moved behind him, out of his line of vision. "I'd much rather see your
ugly mug than..." he broke off and gasped as pain laced through his back. He
took a stumbled half step forward and the pain came again. He stood trembling,
managing to keep his feet and distractedly watched some of his own hair flutter
to the ground around him. He felt something wet on his back and his shirt stuck
to him, his vest seemed to gape open. He saw Envy's arm then, sharp like a blade
and long. He watched it retract back into the sleeve of his shirt and reform
into a hand at the end.

"You never know when to quit, do you shorty?" Envy said,
tossing the stick aside and starting up the hill. Ed watched him come sidelong,
jaw tight, back burning. "You should be thanking me that I'm letting your miserable
Colonel see you off. It also reminds me, I have quite a bone to pick with that
sniveling little brother of yours when I get back."

"Al?" Ed said, almost involuntarily. He hadn't let himself
think of his little brother, not since he'd resigned himself to life in this
place. Just that one time, when he thought Greta might have married him... but
not since then.

"Yes, Al," Envy said in a simpering tone. "He's the reason
I ended up here, I'm always good about paying my debts. Too bad his big brother
won't be there to watch me tear him limb from limb, poke holes in his precious
little blood seal."

Edward felt all the blood drain from his face, his flesh
fingers felt numb and his heart staggered inside of his chest. Alphonse... Al!
He couldn't let this monster hurt Al. No, it could end like this for him, but
not for his brother. Not after everything, not after he'd given his life. Yes,
he was still alive, but he'd given his life. He'd given up his family, he'd
given up his lover, he'd given up his home... that had to count for something!
His mind reeled and he cast about desperately, but there was nothing there,
only a field, trees and a fence line in the distance. The road they'd traversed
to get there could be called anything but that, it was more like a meandering
cow path.

You know, it was drinking the old man's blood that
let me shapeshift.

If the ability to travel the gate was locked in one's
soul, if everyone held a gate inside them that made alchemy possible, what was
held in the blood? If a soul was part of a body that was a gate, then the blood
was also a part of the way to open the gate. A soul would have a genetic stamp
on it, just like the living vessel it inhabited. Therefore, the blood would
hold part of the soul within it. He could piecemeal together Envy's logic: Envy
couldn't perform alchemy because being a homunculus, he was soulless and therefore
without a gate. However, by using the blood of someone with a soul, (but
not just anyone, it obviously had to be someone who practiced alchemy)
,
he could affect an alchemic reaction. Envy was a product of alchemy, and his
'birth', like the birth of other homunculi, had called upon the gate. So in
some sense, Envy, while not a part of the gate, must be in tune with the gate.

Ed looked again at the array he was standing in and at
the smirking monster who was enjoying his despair, but it wasn't despair, not
anymore. He had his own theory, one he needed to test, for what did he have
to lose truly? His life? He'd already lost that six years ago while giving life
back to his brother. He grit his teeth, squared his shoulders, swung his hip
out and propelled the prosthetic leg forward, hopping after it, his right foot
coming down on a line of the array. The gate made it possible for him to create
an array within his clasped hands. His body was an array for all intents andpurposes.
If blood was needed, he had blood. Envy snorted then, shook his head
and headed towards him.

"You know, this really bores me, you've become pathetic,"
the homunculus said, pausing right in front of him.

"I don't have to rely on the emotional weaknesses of others,"
Ed said. "I don't have to lie about what I am to achieve what I set out to do;
I don't have to hide behind other peoples faces. I think you should redefine
pathetic in your standards."

Envy's lip curled at the side and he backhanded Ed across
the face, over his lip that had been bitten through previously, and Ed tasted
the metal sheen of blood as it welled from the reopened bite. He slowly raised
the fingers of his flesh hand to it and pulled them across the cut, ignoring
the sting. He looked at the fresh blood, dark against his fingers, and back
up at Envy. The sin shook its head and flexed its arm as a strange, rippling,
rolling motion started at its shoulder.

Edward clapped his hands.

Blue and white, it flashed around him and he flinched
from it, having not seen it in so long. The prosthetic arm groaned and screamed
in its death throes as the metal and gears of it were forced into a form it
was never meant to take. The rubberized skin fell in scraps toward his feet,
but Ed neither noticed nor cared, for he threw himself forward. He barely registered
the array at his feet echoing the flash of his hands, his arm jarred hard at
the shoulder but he kept pushing forward. Envy's hands clawed at his arm and
the homunculus opened its mouth, only to have blood well from it. It tried to
pull back, but dragged Ed along with it, Ed and the makeshift blade he'd fashioned
from Hoenhiem's creation. It wasn't as sharp, it wasn't as strong, but it was
buried deep in Envy's flesh, at the divot of his throat.

"You know, you should know when to keep your big trap
shut," Ed sneered into its face. "You were doing fine until you mentioned Al,
you won't lay a finger on Al, you fucker."

Envy continued to claw at him, it continued trying to
speak as blood from its wound welled and ran down its body, dripped to the ground,
falling onto the array.

There was a rumbling, the ground beneath them tilted and
moaned and Ed would have fallen had it not been for the sin holding him up by
clutching his fake arm. The shadow that fell over them both was both terror
and welcome. Death, life, home, hell... it no longer mattered, all that did
matter was that this thing die and Al be happy and free. There were other matters
too, but now, when he tried to think of them, purple eyes and a leering grin
waged war in his memories.

"You took him from me," Ed screamed even as the grating
screeching sound of door hinges split the air around them. "You fucker you took
him from me! I'll never forgive you, never forgive you! He was mine!" It was
important for some reason Ed couldn't fathom, that this monster know the enormity
of the crime it committed when it betrayed Ed with his lover's face. Ed was
certain that Al was safe, then and now, but the Colonel whom he left standing
on the road...

Pride has dealt with him by now.

He never once looked up, he knew by the way the hair on
his nape was standing that thousands of eyes were upon them. Envy flailed and
Ed did see black hands attached to black ribbons winding around the sin's arms
and legs, reaching for him. There was a violent jerk and his arm came free.
Released from the alchemic reaction, it reverted to as much of it's natural
state still left and fell to his side, useless, but that hardly mattered. Fingers
danced over his body, through his hair, wound lovingly around his arms and legs.
As his vision began to tunnel, as he took what would be his final breaths, he
heard a horrible noise and saw the hands fight over Envy, each claiming a piece.
Ed shut his eyes tight, hoping he would be dead before such a thing happened
to him, and tried to have a more pleasant memory carry him into oblivion. In
the end, all he could think of was Al's smiling face.

Tears stung his eyes that he was not strong enough to
separate another face from more recent events. He was fucking pathetic.

Then the darkness closed in.


Ed was shaking hard. Roy pushed back Ed's bangs and his
eye searched Ed's face worriedly.

"You know what happened after that," Ed managed. "But
you don't know it all. I woke up, I was home. I tried to call you, but I couldn't
find you, I thought you were dead." Ed took deeper, shaking breaths and
Roy kissed his forehead, his brow. Ed swallowed, no more dark places.

"I lost my nerve after I called Winry, I was scared.
For some reason, I still thought when I saw you it would be Envy, I know
that's irrational, I saw Envy torn apar... but I still thought it was you and
so I hid. Then you were there I watched from the alley when you went into the
hotel and I still couldn't move and then you came out and you were walking back
up the street and you went under the lamp..." Ed stilled for a moment, then
set his jaw and plunged on.

"You weren't you! You were different, you had that goddamn,
beautiful, wonderful eye patch and you looked DIFFERENT!" Ed shuddered all over
and jerked in Roy's grip, but Roy only held tighter, silent, listening. "Aren't
you listening?" Ed half sobbed. "I was glad... I was glad you were maimed
and old and different. I was glad your eye was gone! Because then what he was
wasn't you and I had you back and he didn't take you from me! FUCK! I sound
insane!" Ed began to laugh, a high distressed sound.

Then Roy's mouth was over his own and he couldn't breath
and he didn't care. He let Roy swallow his grief and pain, panting when Roy
released him.

"The eye patch is yours," Roy whispered in his ear. "I
give it to you, whenever you want it. No more dark places, I promise."

Ed could only nod, press against Roy's chest and breathe.

"I'm going to try and become Prime Minister," Roy said
quietly. "The Xingian Court has a vested interest in me because I believe that
some border disputes are being handled badly. I believe that the parliament
is showing too much throat in its effort to be loved by the people. I think
the country is weakening under their rule. We didn't come all this way just
to let bureaucracy sacrifice us like lambs."

"Where do I figure in?" Ed said hoarse and soft.

"There is no figuring in," Roy said. "You are my lover,
you are my husband for lack of better term. You just are and I won't
be without you."

"But you still want discretion," Ed said. "I still don't
look good on your arm at state functions."

"You look incredible on my arm at state functions," Roy
said, then sighed. "I wish things were more open. In truth, we have been spoiled
because of the good people around us." Roy nosed through his hair and stroked
down his arm. "I love you Ed, I'm not ashamed of it. There is no one in the
world that deserves to be loved as you do."

Ed tilted his head back, looking up at him and Roy's hand
lifted to Ed's upturned face, fingertips stroking it.

"I'll be good," Ed said with a sigh. "I'll do what you
want me to do. I'll try not to complain."

It hurt. It hurt so badly it surprised him and Roy could
only stare for a moment into the weary eyes of the man in his arms. It wasn't
supposed to be like this. It wasn't supposed to be Ed sacrificing again.

"That's not what I want," Roy said. "That's not what I
want from you, Ed."

"But what else can there be?" Ed questioned. "I won't
ruin your chances; I can't really support you openly. The only thing I can do
is be is unobtrusive, you know, behind the scenes. It's not so bad; I'm over
my days of the need for attention, good or bad. If you want to be Prime Minister...
I guess I can live with that."

Ed would not ask Roy to forgo anything, because Ed knew
what it was to give up on your hopes and dreams. For a long time they just sat
there, Roy wrapped around Ed, and they listened to one another breath. Roy had
listened and Roy had talked and Ed felt drained and exhausted, but better than
before.

"Forgive you," Ed said against Roy's throat.

"Don't deserve you," Roy murmured back.


Worth the wait.

He wasn't the only one. He stood slowly from the couch
and walked around it as Sarah looked up at him and smiled.

"You know, I'm a fool not to jump at this and I'm a fool
if I were to jump at this," Havoc said. "I've been with my share of women, I
know you know that, and this might sound cheesy, but none of them were you."
He ran a hand through his hair and gave her a half smile.

"Are you laying the 'good-enough-to-marry' line on me?"
Sarah grinned. "You really are a piece of work, soldier boy."

Havoc's eyes got a little big and Sarah laughed, making
patting motions in the air with her hands.

"Don't panic, I'm not reading a proposal here and I'm
not making one either," she chuckled. "Damn, just when I thought I had met them
all, I had to go and find a good one. What am I going to do with you?"

"I'm not sure, I don't even know what to do with me half
the time," Havoc grinned back. "But I like this; I want to see where this goes...
you in?"

"Hell yeah I'm in," Sarah said. "I like to take risks;
it's the only way to get good on your investment."

"I promise to try to make your return as big as possible,"
Havoc grinned, then softened and leaned over her. Sarah kissed him, resting
her hands on his hips, and when they parted, he rested his forehead on the top
of her head.

"So I guess you better go then," she said.

"Yeah, I guess I better go," he lamented. "Pick you up
when you get off tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yeah, I like this walking me home stuff, makes me feel
special," she said.

They kissed again at the door and Havoc left. He couldn't
help the little smile on his face as he went down the sidewalk, hands jammed
in his pockets.


It was seven o'clock and he stood outside the door of
the Colonel's house with his hand raised, hovering to knock. He let his knuckles
rest against the door for a moment without truly knocking and then nodded and
pulled his knuckles back.

He would knock, yes he would knock this time. He clenched
and unclenched his hand, then clenched it again. Knocking, it was the simplest
thing in the world. You just hold up your hand, draw it back a bit, then strike
it against the object you wish to knock upon. In this case, the object was a
door. It was a wooden door, finished and painted a slate gray. It went well
with the exterior of the house that was painted an eggshell off-white. The shutters
were black and the mail slot in the door was weathered bronze, there was a bronze
plate around the door handle as well. The curtains in the front window looked
to be a dark blue with white sheers and the lawn was immaculately trimmed, as
well as the hedges, box clipped.

Knock, there as nothing to it, just some forward momentum
with a hand, hardly any force at all. It would produce a sound on the gray,
wooden door that would alert the occupant of the eggshell, off-white house that
there was a visitor awaiting her pleasure. Perhaps Hayate would bark. Alphonse
was not sure, because Hayate never barked at the office unless he was told to
speak. He didn't seem to mind the steady traffic in and out of the Colonel's
office, which led Alphonse to believe he wasn't very territorial there. But
this was his home, it might be different. A knock might arouse his instincts
to bark to alert an intruder that this was his territory. Many dogs reacted
this way to sounds outside the boundaries of their living rooms, but Hayate
was a well trained dog and he might be trained not to bark when there was a
knock, so in this case perhaps, Al should knock louder.

He drew his hand back a bit further, because after all,
all he had to do was knock and that was an exceedingly simple thing. So he rapped
once on the door and stood frozen. He'd done it, he had knocked. There was a
sound on the other side, the click-click of dog nails on hardwood and then he
thought he heard a voice as the doorknob turned. The Colonel opened the door,
no, that was not right, Riza Hawkeye opened the door, out of uniform and with
her hair loose about her shoulders. It was as if Alphonse were receiving some
gift he felt ultimately unworthy of and when she smiled at him, he knew he was
lost.

"Alphonse, right on time, would you like to come in a
moment?" she asked pleasantly, Hayate standing at her feet, wagging his tail.

"Oh, thank you," Al stepped hesitantly past the threshold
and the Colonel, (No, Riza), shut the door behind him. Hayate sat politely
in front of Al's feet to impede further progress until a proper greeting was
given. Al obliged with a smile, a friendly word and a scratch on the head, so
Hayate moved to allow him to pass.

Al had never been inside her home and he looked around
without trying to be obvious about it. It was neat and orderly as to be expected,
and his eyes were drawn to many shadowbox frames on the walls, each holding
a gun. He knew from his long association with her of her interest in firearms,
and her skills at rebuilding antiques was not a secret. Riza followed his gaze
and smiled.

"This is part of my collection," she told him and moved
toward the wall. "This one here was given to me by my Grandfather, he was a
General and stationed here in the East. I don't think you ever met him, I have
him to thank for my hobby."

Al looked up at the gun in question, an old revolver that
had been restored. He knew she had a Grandfather who was in the military, but
he'd never known his rank or station. He felt awed that she was sharing the
information, that now he knew a bit more than he had before. It felt like a
treasure.

"Your skills with firearms are a lot broader than people
think," Al said. "This is an amazing collection."

Riza nodded and let her eyes wander over the frames, then
turned back to him.

"I thought to indulge you the Elric trait of noodles with
meat sauce," she said and smiled. "Would you like to go to Brio's?"

She was thinking of him, of what he might like, and his
chest tightened with the thought. Maybe it could always be like this, maybe
she could always be thinking of him as he thought of her and it would be good,
they could be together. Sure, he had fantasized it a million times over, but
here now, like this, he could see it becoming a reality. His impulse was to
reach for her, take her hand and thank her for her thoughtfulness, but he quelled
the strong reaction because despite it, she hadn't given him that sort of freedom,
only the freedom of her friendship outside of her military office. That was
to be honored and he would not betray it.

"You don't have to indulge me," Al said and smiled. "I
thank you for it as always, but I know not everyone shares this gene that forces
my brother and I to seek out the finest in pasta and red sauces. We can go anywhere
you like."

"Then I would like to go to Brio's," she said, returning
his smile with her own and moving to pick up the purse that was lying on a couch
side table.

"Your wish of course is my command," Al said, leaning
down to give Hayate one last pat. "I promise to bring her home safe and sound,"
he told the dog who wagged his tail.

There was a moment at the door where they regarded one
another. In his mind's eye, Al offered his arm and she took it, but in reality,
she opened the door and gestured with her head for Al to precede her. Because
he could deny her nothing, he did, and on the walk, he jammed his hands in his
pockets to keep them to himself as she walked beside him, head up and hair loose.

"Let's make a promise," she suddenly said, "to not talk
shop at dinner. I know it will be difficult for both of us, but truly Alphonse,
I'd like to talk to you, not talk at you about work."

His heart hammered as he nodded his head.

"We are both such creatures of habit," Al said. "You're
probably right, but I'm game if you are. It will be interesting to see what
we come up with when deprived of our very existence in conversation."

She laughed and he grinned, and unbidden, he gestured
with his elbow. It wasn't meant as an offer, (but it was, even if he didn't
intend it to be)
, and she glanced at it a moment. He was already on the
path to ruin, he and his sentimental leanings were plotting his downfall, but
when she raised her hand and took his elbow, everything that had come before
fell away. He couldn't speak then, only walk and try to concentrate on where
he was going, but the weight and warmth on his arm at his elbow almost caused
him to walk into a lamp post or two. It was only her quick thinking and gentle
tugs that steered him clear. As they approached Brio's, they'd both become desperately
quiet and Al glanced up and watched their reflections in a shop window as they
passed.

She only came to his shoulder, she was about the same
height as his brother, and her profile betrayed nothing more than her voice
at any time, but her fingers on his arm had firm purchase, as if they didn't
intend to go anywhere and when they stood at the hostess stand at Brio's, she
still did not let go. Only when they were seated on at a nice patio table did
she relinquish her hold, and he pulled out her chair and help her get situated
before claiming his own seat directly across from her. Menus provided necessary
distraction while they both gathered themselves; they also provided opportunities
to make subtle overtures to conversation.

"If noodles and meat sauce aren't your fancy," Al said,
lying the menu down and pointing with his finger at a blurb, "their chicken
parmesana is also quite wonderful."

"I am surprised you would know that," she teased, looking
to see where Al was pointing, then finding the corresponding spot on her own
menu. "You mean you've actually tried something here that wasn't on the pasta
menu?"

"Well, it wasn't me," Al admitted with a small grin, "it
was the Pirate. Do you remember when he came to visit me that time? He insisted
I at least try something different. He said I wasn't a very good judge
of a restaurant because I only had a limited view of its entire selection. He
then lectured me about my eating habits and made me try his chicken parmesana,
it was quite good."

She laughed a little and shook her head.

"You had such a profound effect on him, you effectively
pulled his fangs. Everything he worried about was you, and he was content to
do it, I think," she smiled fondly and her eyes trailed the menu. "He was very
different in those times and I worried about him, but really I shouldn't have,
you kept him well entertained and occupied."

Al blushed a little and tapped the menu edge with his
fingers. When he really thought about it, he could conjure up those memories,
the ones he had when he was the new Al, and that seemed a little strange, but
they were a part of him and he did remember them and he integrated them into
what made him the whole. He could compare now and see the Colonel in contrast
to the Pirate, but further conjecture of his almost-father was suspended when
the waiter approached the table. They both ordered and both deliberated on a
wine selection, Al naturally bowing to her experience in the matter. He was
a fan of wine, but never with any discretion, just drinking whatever was set
in front of him. She had definite opinions and was never known to drink for
the sport of it.

Now that the menus were cleared and the die cast for dinner,
it left the two of them looking at each other over the small patio table. If
he'd ever known true intimidation of the woman, he was feeling it now. His mind
only brought to the forefront his most recent of topics: his experimentations
in the lab with Parkerson, but they'd sworn off shop talk and he fumbled around
his cranium for a more congenial conversation starter. There was always Ed,
but indirectly, Ed might bring up shop talk, so he was shunted aside. Besides,
he needed to learn to have meaningful dialogue without his elder brother's exploits
to provide them.

She was looking about the patio, studying the many flower
pots and striped overhead awning, clearly at her own loss and that, in a way,
was comforting to Al. He wasn't as hopeless as he might seem if she too were
having troubles with conversation. At last, Al's floundering hit on something
they both shared that was fairly safe from shop talk, (but in reality, part
of the shop, there was no denying it)
.

"How has Hayate been?" Al said. "I notice he's been sleeping
a lot, I guess that can be chalked up to his age. How old is he now? I seem
to remember that you took him in when I was around twelve."

Riza nodded, putting her elbows on the table and lacing
her fingers.

"You're right, I believe Hayate is around eleven. He's
been slowing down a bit lately, but that is to be expected," she said.

Al nodded and groped for further observations, but Riza
had other ideas and voiced them.

"I think you should set up your company while you are
here, unless you are going to be based out of Central. There are business licenses
you'll need to acquire and I don't mind you stopping into the legal department
for advice. You'll need to get on the approved vendor list as well. Ah, that's
dangerously close to shop talk, isn't it?" she said.

"I think you're right though, I don't see why I need to
be based in Central when the bulk of my work will come through East City," Al
said. "It's not quite the same shop talk we've sworn off, so I can over look
it," he grinned.

He had such a nice smile and she, for one, was grateful
to see it.

She would always remember her shy, tall shadow, because
it was a fond memory. When Alphonse had first followed his brother into the
Colonel's office, she hadn't know what to think, but even as seven feet of steel,
he'd managed to make himself small, the shadow of his older brother's glaring
personality. When he first began to follow her around, helping with her filing
and shyly speaking to her, she hadn't thought much more of it than just a lonely
little boy, despite his brother's intentions. A little boy who had been hurt
and was confused and needed someone to talk to; she'd been happy to speak to
him, but as each day and their conversation grew, he grew to be more than just
Ed's younger brother, more than just a disembodied child's voice trapped in
steel. He became Alphonse, her friend, her confidant. His intelligence was astonishing
for his age and his compassion was equally so. Riza had always thought of children
as selfish, and until Al and Ed came to make Roy's office their home, she had
only limited dealings in the matter of children. They were usually those of
distant relations of co-workers, easily ignored and their misbehavior internally
scoffed at but discarded as unimportant.

Alphonse showed her that in the world of children, there
was order and chaos, confusion and pain. There was also love, of which Alphonse
was the master. He poured his love onto his brother in ways no adult could comprehend.
His immeasurable compassion and sympathy often played over Ed's jangled nerves
and he was a balm like no other to the frantic thirteen year old. Riza could
see why Ed's life became so entangled in trying to do what was right by Alphonse.
The more she knew of him, the more she came to know him, the more she realized
he was something to be protected and treasured. People like Alphonse didn't
come along every day and while she would not call him fragile, (though in
many ways he was very fragile)
, she would call him vulnerable, relying only
on his wits, his brother and the steel of his armor to hold his place in the
world.

Now this older Alphonse intrigued her anew. He was still
there, in all the ways she remembered; even when he repeated his life before
her, he was still in essence Alphonse, fundamentally unchanged, only floundering
a bit without his brother to lean on. He transferred a great deal of his emotional
needs to Roy and she was proud of the way Roy responded, given the circumstances.
Roy could just have easily turned from the boy, because Alphonse brought him
a great deal of pain, inadvertently, she knew. Alphonse was there to show Roy
what he had lost and still, he reached out to the boy, loved the boy, cared
for the boy in place of his brother, perhaps because he knew this is what his
brother would want. It was those times, when she had still thought herself in
love with Roy, that she had come to the conclusion that Roy had known true love.
She may have disapproved of the standards at first, but Roy had been taught
to love, he was applying the lessons Edward left behind.

It was a bit bitter to her at first, but she'd come to
terms with it. Later, she'd come to embrace it, because how could she herself
deny what was before her eyes? It was lessons for them all.

The wine steward arrived bearing their bottle and they
both sniffed the cork appreciatively. She noted the way Alphonse watched her
taste the wine, then copy her movements and nod in the same way she did. They
were all still learning, Alphonse and Edward still looked to the adults that
had dominated their lives for so long for lessons, and they could not be denied.

She would never deny Alphonse anything. If it was in her
power to teach him, to give to him, she would do it.


They were both surprised and delighted that after the
food had been served, then coffee and dessert, that they did indeed have a world
of things to talk about: dogs and cats, coffee and flowers, music and books.
Why had either of them thought for a moment that not talking shop would be difficult?
Their discussion on fiction authors spilled out onto the walk with them and
carried them to her front door, where they spent another good ten minutes comparing
reading recommendations and a surprising realization that they both liked the
strong Ishbahlan coffee that could be found in only one cafe in East City.

"Let's go there tomorrow," Al said. "After work, of course.
We can try some of the pastries too, I understand that dates are wonderful."

"I would like that," Riza told him. "If you'd like, we
can meet here again."

"I can come with you from the office," Al said. "I'll
walk Hayate while you change."

As if the very mention of him heralded his presence, they
both heard a plaintive whine and scratch on the gray door. They looked at each
other for a very long moment.

"I'm glad that you are no longer in my command," she said
suddenly. "Though we've always been friends, it's so nice to make a friend of
you."



I am always under your command, military not withstanding.

"I feel the same way," Al returned. "You've been a part
of my life for so long, I'm happy that we are still... together."

"Yes," she returned simply.

There was no kiss goodnight, no embrace that would carry
him until the next day. There was merely her smile and handshake, but it was
enough, it was more than enough to send him floating toward his apartment.

It was in this very haze on a street corner near his own
place that he met another lady. He was receptive to advances at the moment,
his guard worn down and his bliss such that he was vulnerable to seduction.
It almost felt like a betrayal of sorts, since he and the Colonel, (No, Riza)
had just had such a lovely evening, but she was still not his and he was rather
lonely. With a little coaxing, his new lady friend followed him home, made him
feel warm with her appreciation and slept that night in his bed.

Al hoped he wasn't easy.