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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 15.

The SoAB had found themselves a mission which had started
innocently enough. After school, Tom Pine helped his dad carry some broken desks
to the dumpster. They had been held in storage in the hopes of having them repaired.

"But why are you throwing them away now?" Tom asked his
father, who smiled.

"We need space in that storage closet," Tom was told.

"But won't the school have to buy new desks now?" Tom
pressed. "To replace these we are throwing out?"

"Well I suppose," the elder Pine said, "but it's not my
place to point that. I just do what the head of maintenance tells me."

"Alchemy could fix these," Tom said resolutely to which
his father raised an eyebrow.

The Professor now had eleven broken desks in the back
of his classroom and a group of determined Society of Alchemic Brotherhood members
ready to accost him after class.


"This is your club project," the Professor informed them,
"so it's up to you to work out the array and get the extra materials, like screws.
I'm only here so you can use the room after classes."

But of course the Professor couldn't keep his nose out
of anything, therefore they were all sitting on their knees, (Professor included),
after having pushed all the good desks to the side. Seth had started the array;
it was fairly large since they were going to have to put desk pieces into it.
Daniel had lectured about the need for the wood element symbol and Boyd had
drawn it in what they assumed was the appropriate place. The Professor's jaw
was very tight and they all kept looking at him, waiting for him to butt in.
He must have sensed this because he was being uncannily quiet and cleared his
throat a lot whenever one of them wrote something on the array.

"Okay, I think we have everything," Daniel said, setting
his textbook aside. "Let's get a desk."

"Screws," the Professor said, then studied his gloved
fingers as if he'd said nothing.

"I'll get some," Tom offered. "My dad said we could have
some from the maintenance department, I'll go get them." The boy stood and brushed
chalk dust off his knees, looked toward the door and raised his eyebrows. Then
he grinned and threw his hand in the air.

"Hi Prince Ling," Tom said cheerfully.

The rest of the group gave themselves whiplash, turning
their heads, (the Professor included), and there stood the Xingian Prince
in black silk and good humor.

"Hello," the Prince returned, throwing up his own hand.
He side stepped smoothly to allow Tom to slip out the door, then his gaze settled
back on the group and the Professor in particular.

"You haven't been around for lunch," Ed said and startled
himself. It wasn't what the hell are you doing here? or what the hell
do you want?
like normal. Instead it was just an innocuous acknowledgement
that the Prince's absence had been noted. There were no curse words attached,
which was how he usually addressed the Prince.

It had been almost a week since he'd seen Ling, in the
bathroom of General Culpepper's home. Ed mentally winced a little, remembering
the sound of steel striking a flesh palm. He must be bruised to the bone and
that drove the Professor to stand.

"Don't let me interrupt," the Prince said cheerfully,
then blinked as the Professor strode toward him.

"I'm going into the hall," the Professor told the group,
"don't transmute anything until I come back."

"Well then hurry," Daniel said. "We only got another half
hour."

The Professor gave him a look, grabbed the Prince's elbow
which caused the Prince to give him a look, and herded the man outside the door,
pulling it closed behind them.

"Okay, straight to the point," the Professor said, "because
I don't have a lot of time. How is your hand?"

"My hand?" the Prince echoed, looking confused.

"Your hand," the Professor demanded, "you know, the one
I hit... argh..." Ed grabbed Ling's arm then and slid his hand own to the wrist.
The Prince obliged him, opening his hand palm up and Ed released his wrist to
cup the back of Ling's hand with his own. He curled his thumb and fingers over
it to steady it and it looked fine. Ed wasn't sure if he was seeing the edges
of a fading bruise or not.

"We're holding hands," the Prince said. "In my country..."

Ed sputtered and yanked his hand away, scowling.

"Keep your country in your country," the told Ling's smirking
face. "I just wanted to see if your hand was okay, because I hit it and I shouldn't
have and I'm... sorry."

The grin on the Prince's face softened at the edges and
he bowed his head slightly.

"I too am sorry, in some ways I feel your ire was my fault,"
he said.

"In a lot of ways it usually is," Ed told him, "but it
wasn't then. That was different and I shouldn't have taken it out on you. You
were only trying to help... I guess. But yeah, um, thanks for that."

The Prince actually opened his eyes, raised an eyebrow
and turning his grin into more of a smile.

"You're welcome," he said graciously. "Does this mean
we are going to be friends?"

"I suppose we'll have to be," Ed said, mouth flat, hands
on hip, "because no matter how hard I try, I sure as hell can't get rid of you."

"This fills my heart. I'll let you take me to lunch tomorrow,"
the Prince said, grin returning in full force.

"Gee, thanks," Ed sneered.

"We'll go for that dish you like so well," the Prince
continued, "the one with the red meat sauce and the noodles not made of rice."

"Okay," Ed said with guarded optimism, "but we can't linger
at the restaurant long because I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon."

"Oh?" the Prince inquired.

"You're not going, so forget it. We'll have lunch and
then I'll leave," Ed said and pointed at Ling.

Tom appeared then, carrying a box of screws, and looked
up at the two adults as he opened the classroom door.

"Professor!" Daniel's voice carried to him from the crack
in the door before Tom shut it behind him, causing Ed to turn and look.

"I have to go," Ed said turning back, but Ling was already
gone. Ed sighed, opened the classroom door and went back in. He resumed his
seat on his knees to one side of the circle and watched the boys load one of
the broken desks into it, carefully counting the missing screws and adding them
as well.

"What you smiling for?" Daniel asked, scooting a bit closer
to the Professor as Seth readied to lead the transmutation.

Edward didn't know really, or maybe he did. He looked
at the assembled boys, all ready for him to show them how to transmute broken
desks. That was enough to make him smile, he thought. All these boys were his
friends even though he couldn't tell them that; you aren't supposed to make
friends with your students. But now he had another friend, one that wasn't handed
to him in the hopes of distracting him. Or maybe he was really in a way, but
friendship probably hadn't been on the General's mind.

Ed had a friend he'd made himself. That shouldn't be counted
as too great an accomplishment because people did it everyday, but he didn't
and he had, so it was. Ling was on the outside, not someone Ed had grown
up around, not someone Ed had learned from or looked to. He was just a friend,
it was as simple as that.

"Is it so strange for me to smile?" the Professor asked
Daniel.

"Well sort of," Daniel said. "I mean you smile, but you
know, it's different."

"Leave the Professor alone," Seth said, "He was smiling
because his friend was here, let's transmute this desk!"

Yeah, he was smiling because his friend was here. He laid
his hands on the circle with everyone else and let Seth make a desk.


"I've got to call Al," Ed half moaned when Roy's lips
found his neck. The General gave a mild rumble, his lips traveled lower and
Ed squirmed against him, trapped between a chest and the back of the couch.

"Roooyyy, let me call Al, and then... ah... and then..."
Ed's mouth was silenced by Roy's own and Ed's fingers dug into Roy's shirt.
He was trying to scoot to the end of the couch and was also trying to bring
his flesh foot up to gently push Roy off, but the General wasn't a strategist
for nothing and each coup that Ed attempted, was efficiently blocked.

"If I don't call Al now... you'll drag me off to bed and
I won't get to... ah... ah... call him," Ed whined.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," the General murmured
from the recesses of Ed's neck.

"It is and it isn't, I call Al every night," Ed complained.
"You're making me late, uh... please?"

Ah, defeat. The General unburied himself from his lover's
neck, but ran his hands down Ed's body before leaning back. Ed sighed and sat
forward, risking a kiss to the General's chin before squirming away quickly
and getting up, heading for the den. R.D. decided to join him.

"What, you're leaving me too?" the General directed at
the little terrier, causing him to pause in the archway of the living room door
as Ed went into the hall. R.D. trembled in indecision and the General grinned.
The little dog was an endless source of amusement, as was Ed's endless denial
of affection for him. After a moment or two's hesitation, R.D. ran back over
the Roy and danced up on his hind feet, placing his paws on Roy's knee. He was
rewarded by being picked up, cuddled and scratched.


"You're late," Alphonse said, picking up the phone receiver
and settling in the chair next to his phone stand. Sofia eyed him from the doorway
between the kitchen and living room.

"Sorry," Ed said, "I got distracted. You know the routine
questions," Al's elder brother said.

"I'm fine, I'm eating well, the City is the same, the
weather is lovely," Al told him. "You should see the park, the spring flowers
are coming in."

"Sometimes I really miss it," Ed sighed into the phone.
"Okay, I think I've given you enough time to figure out whatever is it was you
had to leave to fix. When are you coming back?"

"Well," Al said slowly, eyeing Sofia as she made her way
slowly into the living room and across the floor to him, "there's a new complication."

"What would that be?" Ed groaned. "Why is it every time
I think we're going to get some time together, things come up?"

"It's life," Al said cheerfully, "but I have this new
lady friend and I can't just up and leave her so quickly..." Al started.

"Lady friend?" his brother cut him off. "What lady friend?
Do I know her? Where did you meet her?"

Ah, here we go. Al narrowed his eyes. Always the third
degree from Ed. It was amusing, warming and downright annoying. Alphonse was
only a year younger than his brother despite appearances and Ed seemed
to want to think, on their whole journey, Alphonse had been oblivious to the
things happening around him. Ed had it in his head that only he was the veritable
harbinger of all memories dark and gloomy, and that somehow he'd miraculously
shielded Al from any need to mature. Ed of course would make all the decisions,
no matter how many times he caved in, he at least had to try. Why Al's love
life was such a major concern, Al would never know.

"No, you don't know her," Al said smoothly. "I only met
her a couple of days ago myself. She was on the street and we ran into each
other. She needed a place to go and I was feeling a bit lonely, so she came
home with me." Al studied his nails.

"You met her on the street?" Ed half hissed. "Doing what
on the street?"

"She was very solicitous," Al said. "At first she was
a little hesitant, but after a little petting she followed me right home," he
said. "We got to know each other a little over a drink and then we went to bed."
Al listened to his brother's quickening breath over the phone.

"Alphonse," Ed grated out. "I know that you are an age
to like girls, but I was under the assumption you had your sights set a little
higher. Is she gone now? You won't see her again?" Ed pressed.

"No, she's not gone, she's here right now as a matter
of fact," Al said, "watching me talk to you on the phone. I think she's a little
jealous, she likes having me all to herself and I find I rather like that about
her."

"She's still there?" Ed squawked. "Alphonse," he lowered
his voice to a conspirator whisper, as if he could be heard over the receiver
in the first place, "I know we've never had a talk about women, I was rather
hoping that you and Roy had a talk about women since you two seem to talk about
that sort of thing occasionally."

"Talk about women?" Al said, trying hard to suppress the
grin in his voice. "Brother, I'm not sure you're the one to talk about women
with, I don't think you've had a lot of practical experience."

"What do you mean?" Ed said, catching movement out of
the corner of his eye and seeing Roy leaning in the doorway. "I've had plenty
of experience; I know a lot of women."

"I'm not saying you don't know them," Al said, then shifted
and resettled as Sofia climbed into his lap and made herself comfortable, "I
know you have many acquaintances who are women. I mean... Brother, I mean intimately.
You don't have any experience as far as I know... you're... how you are."

"How I am?" Ed said slowly.

"You're gay," Al supplied helpfully. "There's nothing
wrong with it, in fact I quite envy the relationship you have with the General
at times. I mean, I know we are close and all, but that kind of relationship..."

"I'm not GAY!" Ed howled into the phone. "What is this?
Some conspiracy between you and Winry?! She said the same thing! I'm not gay,
why on earth would you think I was gay?" Ed stressed.

"Sleeping with the General tends to be a dead giveaway,"
Al said into the phone, his amusement getting the better of him. "Brother, I'm
just saying that perhaps you're not the best person to be dispensing advice
when it comes to my dealings with the opposite sex."

"How do you define gay?" Ed continued. "I've seen gay
people, I don't act like that, and sleeping with Roy doesn't count," he growled.

"Why doesn't it count?" Al asked. "The General is a man,
you know."

"He's not a man," Ed snapped, and then saw Roy's eyebrow
quirk very high and his mouth turn down at one side. "No, I don't mean it like
that!" he called across the room.

"Then how do you mean it?" the General asked, hands on
hips.

Alphonse started laughing and Ed tried his best to make
his scowl an audible thing.

"Look you," Ed snarled, "you're trying to turn this conversation
away from the original subject and that was you, my own little brother,
consorting with women of questionable character." Ed nodded too, like Al could
see that.

"You really whip out the formal when you think you need
to lecture me," Al said. "I tell you what, she's here on my lap right now, I'll
let you speak to her." Alphonse removed the receiver from his ear and gently
laid it on the purring belly of the long haired calico cat in his lap. Sofia,
for that is the name he'd given her, looked at it, sniffed at it, gave Al a
disinterested look and then looked away. Al slowly lifted the receiver back
to his ear.

"Did she purr loud enough for you?" he asked his huffing
brother.

"Alphonse Elric," Edward Elric said, "since when have
you become such a brat?"

"Since my elder brother decided he was my mom," Al returned
and held the receiver away from his ear a bit. After Ed had calmed down, he
tried again.

"Do you really think so low of me?" Al asked.

"It's not that," Ed said, "I just think that sometimes
you are too nice to people and they take advantage of you. I was also shocked
because well, you told me you liked someone else." Ed glanced again in Roy's
direction, then made shooing motions at the man with his hand. Roy gave him
a disgruntled look that clearly said they were going to discuss this not
a man
thing further, but left the room.

"That's going great by the way," Al gushed over the phone.
"Last night we went for dinner at Brio's."

"Brio's," Ed moaned. "I miss Brio's."

"When you come to visit me, we'll go there," Al inserted,
"but nevermind that. Tonight we went to this little exotic cafe that had Ishbahlan
coffee and date cookies and then we sat in the park for a while listening to
a trio play on the park stage."

"Okay, so you're going out," Ed said. "Like on dates?"

"I would think that yes, the term date should apply, but
somehow I don't think the Colonel thinks it does," Al said and sighed. "She
calls it going out with her friend, and that is fine. I guess it's fine. It's
not fine. Ed," Al said frankly, "I'm at a loss. Is the Pirate hanging around,
I need some advice."

"What? No I sent him out of the room, he's so freaking
nosy," Ed complained. "Why can't I give you advice? Have you tried to kiss her
yet? Has she tried to kiss you? I think that's a bit strange kissing Hawkeye,"
Ed rubbed the side of his nose.

"No, but kissing Colonel Mustang was perfectly logical,"
Al said. "You're no help, let me speak to Roy."

"Yeah okay fine," Ed said, "run to Roy. After all, what
do I know right?"

"Stop being so obstinate about it," Al said. "We made
him a part of this family and I for one want to tap into the resources. He used
to date women before you ruined him."

"I ruined him?" Ed gaped into the phone
receiver. "You have no idea what you're talking about, I was a normal hormone-addled
teenager before he decided to get all touchy-feely, thank you. You know I thought
about marrying a girl once," Ed said before he quite knew what he was
saying.

"Like Winry would have you," Al said, because he didn't
know. Ed found relief in that until he realized he'd been insulted.

"That's not what Winry said," Ed parried. "Look, that
is all besides the point," Winry made Ed feel guilty in unreasonable ways.

"Fine, I'll just call him at the office," Al said. "Once
again, you can entirely hog a conversation proclaiming your concern while running
road blocks. You amaze me. You know, there are other people out there qualified
to help me out, Brother. You've done your share."

"You're my brother," Ed started sounding hurt.

"Yes, and I thank all of creation for it, but Ed, it's
okay to look after yourself now and let me do the same," Al cajoled.

"I'm slow on the uptake," Ed said wryly.

"It's okay," Al said cheerfully. "We all love you for
it."


Roy was sitting up in bed with R.D. in his lap looking
over the news digest when Ed ventured into the bedroom.

"Here you are," Ed exclaimed. "I thought you'd be in the
living room listening to music or something, are we going to bed now?"

"I wouldn't know, you're the man, you tell me," Roy said.

Ed hung his head back, trudged across the room and just
fell face first onto the bed near Roy's feet.

"Please don't torture me for that," Ed said muffled by
the comforter. "I didn't mean it like it sounded," Ed raised his head and glared
in Roy's direction. "Look, I just like sex with you. I mean, I don't think it
matters about you being a man, it's just you. I don't look at other men and
think about having sex with them, I don't look at women and think about having
sex with them. I look at you and think about having sex with you a lot."

Roy's smile grew into something other than a smile and
Ed moaned at that too, burying his face back into the comforter.

"We need to make your ego closet space," Ed said, muffled
again and raised his head again when Roy shifted on the bed. The General stood
and carried R.D. to the door, set him in the hallway, shut the door after he
did so and turned to smile at Ed.

"That's really flattering," the General purred, "that
you think about sex with me a lot."

Ed felt his cheeks heat up and he pushed up on the bed,
climbing up onto it and turning to sit and look at Roy as he walked back over
and sat next to him. Roy placed his hand over Ed's on the bed between them.

"I know what you meant," Roy said. "You defy definitions,
so I think it's a little unkind of your brother to tease you with a classification,
especially one definitely have some preconceived notions about," Roy grinned
when Ed wrinkled his nose. Roy threaded his fingers through Ed's and lifted
his hand, bringing Ed's fingers to his lips.

Ed watched as Roy pressed his lips to Ed's knuckles and
just that tiny gesture made him immensely warm. It was true, everything he'd
said to Al. Roy was the only person that made him think of sex. From the moment
he'd first tried to puzzle out what sex meant, to this very moment sitting on
the bed beside his lover; It was just Roy. Roy turned his hand over then and
kissed the inside of Ed's wrist, then slowly down the inside of Ed's arm. His
dark eye rose to catch Ed's and Roy slowly licked the crease of Ed's elbow,
who swallowed and squirmed just a bit.

"You know," Roy said lowly, "when I think about sex, I
think about you a lot too. The way you look splayed out in the sheets with your
hair loose over the pillow, the way you smell, like after a shower, the way
you smell after we've made love, the way you taste, the way you moan."

Ed offered him one then, a small, involuntary moan as
Roy's lips left the ticklish area of his inner elbow and traveled his arm to
his shoulder. Ed still had on his shirt but he could feel the heat of Roy's
mouth through it.

"I even think about the way your automail smells of oil,"
Roy husked. "The way it glints if we have the bedside light on while I'm pulling
your clothes off," and as he said it, he reached down, caught Ed's shirt and
began to raise it. "There is nothing about you that doesn't make me think of
you in this bed beneath me, letting me touch you, love you."

Ed's eyes had gone half mast. He helped Roy remove his
shirt, then dug his fingers into Roy's own shirt who smiled, releasing Ed and
sitting back, letting Ed help him take his shirt off.

It was only natural the rest of the clothing followed
and then Ed was halfway lifted, turned and laid into the pillows on his side.
His lover's warm hand skated his body, around to his back, cupped his butt and
drew him close. His bare stomach touched Roy's bare stomach and it sent a tiny
electric shock through him, but Roy continued to pull on him. Roy pushed his
leg between Ed's and then Ed could feel Roy's cock on the inside of his thigh
with his own cock resting against Roy's. It made him throw his arm over Roy's
waist and dig his fingers into Roy's back, who gave him a lovely moan as well.
Roy bent his head and tilted his forehead against Ed's.

"This is Sunday morning stuff," Ed said softly, "when
we just like to lie around and touch each other."

"Ummm," Roy purred. "I like Sunday mornings too. Nothing
pressing at all, it means I get to lie in bed with the man I love and make him
feel good. He lets me touch his gorgeous body and do what I want," Roy kissed
across Ed's forehead.

"Well yeah... me too," Ed said with a smile and what Roy
knew was faint embarrassment. Ah yes, thank you maker. Edward was twenty-four
now, but still, oh still, he had kept traces of the fifteen year old that once
graced Roy's bed. Roy tilted his head further down and pushed his nose against
Ed's, but Ed turned his face suddenly and tilted it up, and that was when Roy
felt his eye patch move. Ed lipped the edge of it, then brought his hand up
slowly, gently curling it around Roy's head, snagging his fingers in the strap.
Nothing was said as he eased it up Roy's skull, trying to be careful of his
hair. Nothing was said as he pulled it free and tossed it casually over his
shoulder.

"Much better," his younger lover said softly. Ed's lips
then traveled the ruined side of Roy's face. Roy could feel them in places,
but not in others. It was alright, he knew they were there. He tried to pull
Ed even closer, working small circles with his fingers on Ed's back as Ed kissed
over the bridge of his nose and to his other cheek, then down to his lips, where
he nudged them gently. Roy parted his lips and Ed took the invitation, Roy brushing
his tongue against Ed's, closing his lips and sucking a bit as Ed allowed. Ed
squirmed closer, as if it was possible, and Ed's flesh hand ran up and down
Roy's side, then over to his back and down to his butt. Now Ed was doing the
pulling and he was trying to be sneaky, but Roy knew that the beginnings of
the bump and grind were being played out, so Roy started them off, very slowly.
His hips moved forward, he pressed them and moved them in a languid circle against
Ed's.

Ed made a soft sound into his mouth and turned his face,
breaking the kiss. His fingers pressed hard into Roy's butt and then he too
began to move very slowly.

"This is you," Roy said softly to him, "this is all my
memories and all my fantasies. This need you have to rub against me; sometimes
I think I felt you in my dreams. Ed, I never knew what I was missing until you
came along to show me. I never thought of making a place in my life for someone
else until you walked in and demanded room," Roy raised his hand to tangle and
tug in long blond hair. "You're a gift to me, when I think of everything I went
through, you're like my reward. If I think about it hard enough, I think you
saved me from myself."

"That's backwards," Ed said quietly. "Or maybe we saved
each other."

Roy half turned, snatching the bottle off the bedside
table. Ed helpfully held it as Roy oiled up his fingers, then slid his hand
between their bodies. Ed gasped when slick fingers closed over his cock, already
full and at attention. Still, they moved together, the back of Roy's hand rising
up against Ed's stomach with every lazy thrust. Roy tunneled his hand over Ed's
cock and began to slide and tug it up and down in time to their thrusts. Ed
wrapped his hand around Roy's, seeking to steal the heated oil, then his own
hand found Roy's cock and together they squeezed and pulled, but it wasn't hurried.
Roy drew up the arm he was laying on, bent it and laid his cheek on it, dark
eye studying Ed's face, mouth a lazy smile.

Ed returned the look, his eyes moving side to side, his
mouth not smiling but not frowning, then his lips parted for a soft moan.

"So beautiful, Ed," Roy said.

"You too," Ed said and Roy could tell it was a struggle
for him not to drop his eyes and look away, but he was grown now. He let go
of Roy and tugged on Roy's own hand even though he moaned lowly a little in
denial when he was released, pulling Roy's hand from between them and pressing
it onto his hip. Roy smiled softly and obliged him, running his slick fingers
over Ed's hip and down to his butt, where he stroked him gently in the cleft
before pressing a finger inside. Ed moaned and mouthed Roy's throat frantically
for a few moments, then Roy slid in the second finger and began to move them
slowly.

"Faster," Ed begged and Roy ignored him. "More... Roy..."
Ed sobbed and Roy did only what he wanted to do. Ed thrust his cock against
Roy's lower stomach and slid his arm under to curl his hand over Roy's shoulder
and shake him.

"Please," Ed sobbed, his trump card.

Roy withdrew his fingers and Ed cried out, sliding his
automail arm under Roy so both of his hands were on Roy's back, pulling. Ed
then threw his leg up and over Roy's hip, who scooted down, thrusting his hips
forward, positioning and guiding himself slowly inside of his lover. Ed was
shaking all over, gasping softly and his fingers, flesh and otherwise, pressed
almost painfully into Roy's back, but Roy didn't move more than to bury himself
deeply, he just wrapped his own arms around Ed and held on tight.

Ed began to shift, but Roy just held him and Ed finally
settled down, panting slightly.

"It's hard to be still," Ed said, voice a tremor. "I want
to move," he wheedled. "It feels good," he bribed.

"I know," Roy said with a smile, but he did nothing more
than lie there.

After another few moments, Ed moved again, lifting his
hand and trying to push it between their bodies. Roy caught his hand despite
Ed's weak protest and laced fingers with him, holding their clasped hands on
Ed's hip.

"Roy, I want to move," Ed tried again. "Let me touch you,
let me touch me. Roy, fuck me," Ed pleaded.

"What's the hurry?" Roy said huskily. "Just being inside
you is enough to make me thank god I'm alive," he teased. "Don't you like it,
Ed? Won't the anticipation make it so much better when I do this..." Roy thrust
once and Ed threw his head back, groaning loudly.

"Do that more," Ed said raggedly, "more and more, Roy..."
Ed tilted his head down, his breath deepening. Then he seemed to set his jaw
and he squeezed, causing Roy's eye to widened as he let out his own groan.

"More," Ed whispered and tightened again. Roy's brow furrowed,
his eye closed and he thrust, giving an almost helpless sound.

"Don't stop," Ed commanded and Roy nodded once, releasing
Ed's hand in favor of gripping Ed's hip.

"Love you, fucking love you, love this," Ed growled, pressing
his face into Roy's throat, his own hand moving to Roy's hip to tug and encourage.

"Ed," Roy growled and then rolled, pushing Ed onto his
back and moving up between his legs; Ed half yelled encouragements as he wrapped
his legs over the back of Roy's, arching his back.

It was just heat and rhythm and their voices mingling.
Ed's hands found their way to Roy's ass and he pulled hard, opening his mouth
on Roy's shoulder and sobbing against it. Roy shoved up on his hands, his arms
shaking, arching his own back as if to get deeper as they rocked there, hard
and steady for long moments. Then Ed half shrieked and Roy cried out as Ed bore
down and came against Roy's stomach. It wasn't long after that, with Ed gasping
breathless encouragements and still moving to Roy's last desperate thrusts.
Roy climaxed, sagged and was pulled against Ed's own heaving chest as Ed's hand
stroked over his head and neck, making small pleased sounds. Roy nuzzled him
and Ed grinned and half laughed, then Roy withdrew slowly and rolled to the
side.

Ed rolled with him, pushing up against his chest and they
lay like that for awhile, catching their breath, holding each other.

Roy eventually tugged the sheet up and tucked it around
Ed, who was more or less purring against his chest, and Roy couldn't resist
dropping kisses over his ear and along his jaw. He then realized Ed's hair was
still in it's ponytail and reached back to free it.

"You take such good care of me," Ed said in his spent,
gravely voice.

"It's a job with a lot of perks," Roy told him, stroking
his fingers through Ed's freed hair. "I wouldn't give it up for the world."

"Not likely to get fired either," Ed said sleepily.

"Good," the General chuckled, "because I have a lot of
years invested in the end product."

Ed tilted his face up to look at him, giving a half grin.

"Up to specs?" Ed said, "Not going to trade me in for
a newer model?"

"I have news for you, you are the newer model," Roy told
him. "Funny how that works, the older you get, the newer you are."

Ed's grin slid into a half smile and he hitched himself
up to kiss his General.


The Prince had a sucker in his mouth and he strolled along
at Ed's side like he had not a care in the world, twirling the stick and occasionally
pulling it out of his mouth to contemplate it before sticking it back in.

"I think I remember specifically telling you that you
weren't coming with me," Ed said, looking at him sidelong and trying to pretend
he wasn't with the prince even though they were walking side by side.

"Umm, cherry," the prince said, pulling the sucker out
of his mouth again. "I'm not coming with you, we are merely going the same way."

"That is what you said two blocks ago and I made two fake
turns to test the theory," Ed informed him, "you're following me."

"Ah, guilty as charged," the prince admitted freely once
he'd been found out. He stuck the sucker back in his mouth and then clasped
his hands behind his back, letting it freeform hang there.

"You're impossible," Ed grumbled. "If you do anything
to mess up this interview, I'll kill you. I really want this man to be in the
exhibition, he's got an impressive record."

Ling looked at Ed, tilted his head and quirked an eyebrow.

"He's done some very humanitarian things," Ed said, "like
purifying water supplies and developing revolutionary irrigation techniques."

Ling unclasped his hands and popped the sucker out of
his mouth.

"Very helpful, but exceedingly dull," was the prince's
opinion.

"He changed the course of a river," Ed said. "He held
back floodwaters once until a proper structure could be erected... he's made
water dragons," he finished, looking to the side.

Ling twirled the sucker in his fingers and smiled.

"Water dragons? Like sculptures?" the prince asked cheerfully.

"Yes, I've seen pictures," Ed said, "I figured the kids
would like them."

"You like them too," Ling nodded, returning the sucker
to his mouth.

"So?" Ed said, then fished the address out of his pocket
again, slowing. He double checked it to the mailboxes on the street and looked
up at a two story gingerbread-type dwelling. It was fanciful and done in colors
not quite corresponding with the rest of the street. It had decorative trim
and railings, and shutters with adornments. There was a neat little fence enclosing
the front yard with a gate and the lawn was immaculately trimmed and adorned
with small statuary.

Ling pulled the sucker out of his mouth with an audible
pop.

"This house is purple and pink," Ling observed. Then he
stuck the sucker back in his mouth.

"A fat lot you know," Ed said, "that's not purple and
pink." He turned toward the prince. Ling put his hands behind his back again
and slowly rotated the sucker stick in his mouth to the 'up' position.

"It's burgundy," Ed said and bent his head forward a bit,
"and that would be... mauve."

The sucker stick in the prince's mouth went to the 'down'
position.

"What the fuck does it matter anyway," Ed growled, pushing
open the gate. "You should talk, you're wearing purple too!"

Ling pulled the sucker out long enough to say, "This is
plum!" helpfully before sticking the sucker back in.

"Shut the fuck up," Ed snarled heading up the walk. "I'm
warning you, one stupid remark out of you..." Ed turned around and drew his
fingers across his throat. As he did so, some of the small stone statues on
the lawn caught his attention and he slowed to a stop.

Ling stopped behind him and they both studied the sculpture
for a moment. It appeared to be two children, but not quite. They had pointed
ears and small stone wings that were mosaics covered in tile. They were barely
wearing anything and if you looked hard enough, they almost looked to be playing
leap frog... almost. Ed and Ling looked at each other slowly.

"I'm sure that's not what we think it is," Ed said hastily.
"I mean, there are a thousand different interpretations in art, if this is art,
and you wouldn't put something like that on your lawn for people to see."

Ling bounced his sucker stick up and down in his mouth,
hands still clasped behind his back.

"Well you wouldn't, unless you do it in your country,"
Ed said, eyes narrowing a bit.

Ling moved the sucker stick from one side of his mouth
to the other and looked sidelong at Ed.

"I am never setting foot in Xing," Ed informed him, then
continued up the walk. Ling fell into step behind him and hopped up the steps
onto the porch, but rolled his eyes innocently when Ed turned to glare at him.

The door was big and oak with three small windows placed
along the top. It had a heavy brass door handle, curved in a delicate arch outward
as if inviting the visitor to clasp it. There seemed to be no doorbell, but
in the middle of the door, eye-high, (to everyone but Ed), was a large,
ornate, brass door knocker. At least it appeared to be a door knocker, or would
be a door knocker if it were on a normal door. It was shaped like a mermaid,
or presumably a mermaid, the kind that adorned the bow of large pirate ships
in many a child's tale. She was very well endowed and didn't bother to hide
it, instead thrusting her chest proudly forward, perked and alert, and she had
a rather come-hither look to her eyes that belied the serene smile on her face.
Ed cast about for the doorbell again.

Ling pointed at the mermaid's chest, but Ed shook his
head and scowled, studying the doorframe hard as if the bell would magically
appear by sheer mental force alone.

Ling pointed again, jiggling the sucker stick up and down,
and Ed looked at his finger, then at the brass mermaid and frowned.

"That's just for ornamentation," Ed said, "it doesn't
even have a big ring to act as the actual knocker," he told the prince.

Ling withdrew the sucker from his mouth with one hand
and reached forward with the other, placing his fingertip right over a pert
nipple and pressing. The sound of loud chimes filled the porch, starting high
and ending low, then high again for just a moment. The tones lingered even after
the prince pulled his finger back.

"How was I to know that was the bell?" Ed grumbled.

"You're afraid to touch them, aren't you?" the prince
grinned and Ed whirled on him. "No wonder you sleep with the General; it's a
real shame, they are a lot of fun."

Just as Ed turned scarlet and opened his mouth to grind
the prince's bones with the sheer force of his retort, there was the sound of
a lock being turned and a latched being opened. He took a deep breath, tried
to murder Ling with his eyes and then turned around and subdued himself. The
man who opened the door was an older gentlemen and he seemed to blink in surprise
at Ed and Ling standing there on his porch. His hair was white and immaculately
styled, and he was dressed sharply in what looked to be an indigo, crushed velvet
vest over an arrow-collared, white, starched shirt and dark slacks. Ed and Ling
blinked back at him owlishly and the man broke into a delighted smile.

"Please tell me," he said, his voice smooth and light,
"that one of you fine young gentlemen is Professor Elric."

At first Ed wasn't sure he wanted to answer, but Ling
elbowed him and Ed cleared his throat and smiled.

"That would be me," Ed said and offered his own smile.
"We were told you would be expecting us... well, that is, me," Ed glanced at
Ling again. "Your niece who works with General Mustang's office referred us?"

"She did indeed and you will have to remind me before
you leave to write her into my will," Otto Dunbar said. "Come in, come in, no
need to waste such fine scenery on the front porch."

Ling had to get behind Ed and push him through the doorway
bodily.


Ed kept having to grab Ling's sleeve and pull him along.
The long hallway of the house was adorned with many interesting prints, many
of which Ed tried hard to ignore, but the Prince had other ideas and would stop
to admire them along the way, until finally Mr. Dunbar showed them into a large
sitting room. It was furnished in heavy, dark furniture, all ornately carved
and upholstery-soaked. There was a large collection of artwork adorning the
walls in this room as well, along with many interesting figures and carved lamps.
Two very nubile young men, extremely naked, were intertwined in polished marble,
grins firmly in place as they vied to hold aloft a large, glass lamp shade.
Ed once again had to be edged into the room by the Prince's hand on his back
and Otto smiled pleasantly, indicating the sitting area. An armrest couch with
a rounded back sat facing two equally curvy armchairs from across a glass-topped
coffee table. The table's base was black and also seemed to be naked young men
delighted to be holding their burden aloft.

Ed edged over to one of the chairs, perched right on the
edge of it and fisted his hands on his knees, plastering a smile on his face,
(even if it was a bit strained). The Prince approached the couch and
smoothed himself as if to sit elegantly, (as elegantly as one can sit with
a sucker stick protruding from one's lips)
, but on the way down, he dropped
the pretense and sprawled, still managing to do it gracefully. Otto clapped
his hands together once and then opted to sit on the couch with Ling, (much
to Ed's dire relief)
.

It hit Ed then, (right in the forehead because really
that was the only way to get his true attention)
, that he had not yet introduced
Ling. And here he was worrying about the Prince's manners.

"This is Prince Ling Yao, of Xing," Ed said, gesturing
with his hand. "I hope you don't mind his accompanying me," it was odd to feel
so relieved that for once he was appreciative of the Prince's tenacity.

"A real Prince," Otto almost cooed. "Why heavens no, why
would I be offended, I'm very honored to make your acquaintance, your highness,"
He got back to his feet and half bowed to Ling, who merely pulled the sucker
from his mouth and bowed his head.

"It is our honor to be so welcomed," Ling said imperiously,
then grinned. "I used the royal honorifics just for you."

"Well, I am just beside myself," Otto said, and took his
seat again. "Are you a good friend of the Professor's?"

Ling didn't reply, instead he stuck the sucker back in
his mouth and both he and Otto turned to look at Ed, perched like a frightened
squirrel in a massive armchair.

"He's an acquaintance that I've come across in my line
of work," Ed said, nose tilting upwards. "My official capacity is that of 'cultural
liaison'."

"Well, you've certainly shown him the delights of the
Amestris confectionary," Otto said.

Ling wiggled his eyebrows and clasped the sucker stick,
making a few quick in and out motions with it.

"I apologize," Ed grated out, "for the prince's obsession
with a child's sweet. I didn't give it to him and he invited himself along."

Ling grinned around his sucker and Ed stiffened as Ling's
eyelid slid slowly down, but he checked it at the last moment, not quite making
it a wink.

"He seems to be enjoying it, who are we to judge? Different
cultures and the like. May I offer you a drink, Professor?" Mr. Dunbar stood
again. He was a thin man, seemingly straight up and down, and his hands were
small, almost delicate. He gestured at a small mahogany bar as he approached
it.

"It's late enough in the afternoon to enjoy a few tipples
before dinner," the man continued. "What is your pleasure? Cognac? Whiskey?
Perhaps a cordial?"

Ed's stomach did a roll at the last utterance. It still
impressed Ed that all these years later his stomach still held a grudge for
one mischief-filled day with his brother and an absent Colonel.

Ling popped the sucker out of his mouth and called cheerfully,
"Cherry cordial?"

"Of course your highness, nothing but the best after all,"
Otto moved behind the bar and brought up some glasses from beneath it.

"Not for me, thank you," Ed said. "I'm not much for liqueurs."
Well, that wasn't quite the truth, it's just they weren't much for him.

"I have wine," Otto further offered.

Ed smiled and shook his head.

"He likes juice," Ling supplied. "He's very moderate for
someone with such a fine ego. I suppose it could be admirable in the right settings."

Ed glared at Ling, gritting his teeth to keep from responding.
Otto rubbed his chin, then smiled and nodded.

"I've cranberry, will that suit? You know, temperance
isn't something to be mocked, there are many times in my own life I wish I'd
known the meaning of the word," Otto said.

"Cranberry is fine," Ed said tightly, trying to issue
death threats to the Prince with his eyes, but Ling kept his eyes on their host
and stuck the sucker back in his mouth.

Otto came back with the drinks and Ed got to his feet
to accept his, but the Prince just held up his hand, all lazy indifference,
and Otto once again took the seat next to Ling, with Ed sitting back down as
well.

"Such learned and esteemed company," Otto said, taking
a sip of his own drink and crossing his legs. "Of what use could I possibly
be to the FullMetal Alchemist? He is, without a doubt, the paramount of our
very profession. Now he educates the future leaders of our country and puts
his knowledge to very much use, while I myself languish away my waning years
in literature, the fine arts and any other sort of hedonistic indulgence I can
find."

Ling popped the sucker out of his mouth and grinned. "You
should be a prince," he supplied before inserting the sucker again.

Otto smiled and tipped his glass toward Ling who leaned
forward to tip his own glass back. The glasses clinked merrily and both men
took a sip after they'd pulled back.

"Um," Ed said, "I thought your niece mentioned the exhibition?"

"Oh yes that's right, an exhibition for the Academy,"
Otto waved his hand in front of his face and took another sip of his drink.
"The chance to mold the minds of fine young men," he said and looked at the
Prince.

The Prince liberated the sucker from his mouth again.

"It's an excellent opportunity to show the next generation
how it's done," Ling said. "They could use all the experience they could get.
The Professor's lot is especially malleable at the moment, like little sponges.
It's his superior teaching techniques you see," back into the mouth the sucker
went and the eyes of the prince's trailed across the coffee table to rest on
said Professor.

"I read an article on your water sculpting techniques,"
Ed forged ahead. "I saw some pictures of your display at Grand Caypointe."

"Grand Caypointe has the most excellent resorts," Otto
said and Ling made an interested sound, raising his eyebrows. "Oh yes," Otto
continued, "they have these private cabanas simply tucked away amidst the majestic
palms. In the morning, a dazing sight awaits you right outside our very bedroom
window. The waves, the first rays of dawn, but I tell you there were many nights
I didn't have to wake up to see them. I was well entertained until they came
spilling over the sands. Their room service staff is simply the crème
of customer service; those darling dark-skinned lads in their pristine white
coats would do anything to please, and I do mean anything," Otto and Ling shared
a small laugh and a sip and then they both glanced over at Ed who looked like
he was torn between a fight or flight response.

"Oh but yes," Otto soothed the Professor, "I did do quite
an intricate display of solidified water shaping and I think I could be persuaded
to do so again," he smiled.

Ed was suddenly terrified. Never had he been so uncertain
of an offer before, not even the homunculus Greed had made such a deal seem
so horrific. Before he could force his cowering brain to formulate a reply,
the Prince inadvertently saved him with an interruption.

"Tell me about some of your art collection," Ling said,
having removed the sucker again. "I detect a few Xingian influences here and
there, but the overall effect is quite foreign to me."

"Would you like a tour?" Otto asked.

"Oh yes," the prince said jumping to his feet. "I'm such
a fan of culture, I have to have a guide," Ling grinned.

"About the exhibition," Ed tried but Ling waved his hands
at him.

"It's all you've gone on about practically since the day
I met you, you're supposed to be my liaison and you've finally lived up to your
job," the Prince informed him. "Let's take a few moments to experience some
culture, Professor, that has nothing to do with a restaurant menu," then the
Prince grinned.

Otto had climbed to his feet as well and Ed's jaw hung
open as Ling swooped down on him, grabbing him by his arm and hauling him to
his feet.

"We can start with the photographs," Otto said. "I'm such
a fan of Kugel, I know you will be too, come along boys," and he led the way
out of the room with the Prince following and the Professor dragged behind.


"It makes me think of midnight," Otto said as he and Ling
both leaned over a particular print laid out on the library table. "The dark
lines, the deep tones you could lose yourself in if you are not careful, sometimes
I even think I might fall into it and never find my way back out."

The Prince bounced his sucker stick up and down in his
mouth, his hands clasped behind his back, his long black hair trailing over
his shoulders as he bent over the table. Edward stood back, mute testament to
what he did not know. He had been called prodigy... genius... alchemist, but
none of these titles gave any comfort in the face of things beyond the scientific,
and art was certainly one of them.

He'd listened before with the intent to absorb knowledge
as a man in a gallery led him and the Colonel around, explaining the significance
of each piece on display. It had been one of those endless state functions that
the Colonel used to attend with regularity and force Ed to come along. Ed really
gave it his all, determined to sort out this art world, in its own way as mystifying
and oblique as the philosopher's stone. In the end, he admitted defeat, (and
drowsiness)
, chalking it up to one of those things he was never meant to
know. With a mocking grin, told the Colonel that in its way, 'art' was more
elusive than any philosopher's stone.

Not that he considered nude photographs of men lounging
about on animal hides art. Or even the men with the big balls, (in their
hands!)
, sepia toned or black and white, it didn't matter. Who would call
simple pictures of naked men art? Wasn't art supposed to be creative? Alchemy
was called an art because of the word 'creation.' It was the art of making something
out of something else, but hadn't Ed heard somewhere that life imitated art?
He'd never known any male of his acquaintance to want to do anything remotely
like that in the nude... well, the General didn't count... and they had no big...
round spheres at home for the General to hold aloft anyway.

"Would you like to see the naughty stuff," Otto asked
the prince, eyes narrowing in mirth, fingers to his lips.

The Prince returned the gesture, nodding and smiling,
sucker stick bobbing eagerly.

"As fascinating as this all is," Ed suddenly injected
loudly, "I'm afraid I have to ask you more about the exhibition. It's getting
late and I'll have to leave soon to catch my ride home."

Otto and Ling both turned to look at him and Ed appealed
directly to Ling with his eyes, as if asking for deliverance. After all, in
his opinion, they'd already seen plenty of 'naughty stuff', so he was very trepidacious
about what the true 'naughty stuff' just might be.

"Besides, I'm sure Ran Fan is tired of lurking on the
roof or whatever," Ed cajoled Ling. "If you don't mind, Mr. Dunbar? I'm really
marveled by your generosity in hosting, but there was a point to this meeting."

Ling pulled the sucker out of his mouth and looked at
Otto.

"I have to admit that he is right, I did eclipse his original
purpose of this visit," Ling bowed to Ed. "My humblest apologies, Professor."

"I do rather get carried away, it's just you're both so
interesting and charming, you'll forgive me?" Otto said and smiled at Ed.

"It's just I'm not sure that you accepted the invitation,"
Ed said, relief setting in. "If you are, I'd like to go over what you might
like to do and perhaps we could do something in conjunction..."

"There is no need for him to forgive you," Ling said to
Otto, almost as if Ed hadn't spoken. "It's my fault really. I thought that the
Professor might like to get to know a bit more about his culture."

"I'm well versed in my own culture, thank you," Ed said.
"Mr. Dunbar..."

"I don't mean the Amestris culture," Ling said cheerfully.
"I'm only practicing your vaulted equivalency. I'm talking about the..."

Ed got it then, he simply got it. "Ling," he said warningly.

"...gay culture," the Prince finished and blinked at him,
smiling.

"Oh," Otto Dunbar said with obvious delight. "Are you
gay?"

Edward Elric, Professor of Alchemy and former State Alchemist,
exploded.

"I'm!" he shouted, drawing his fists up to his chest.

"Not!" he screeched throwing them into the air above his
head.

"GAY!" he howled slamming them down hard in emphasis.

Otto and Ling both blinked.

"What is with you people?!" Ed shrieked. "First it's Winry,
then it's Al and then it's Roy and I try to tell people over and over I'm not
gay! Do I look gay, do I act gay, do I sound gay?! I'm just ME! I don't want
a label I don't need one! I don't care if anyone likes or dislikes the fact
that I sleep with the General who happens to be a man, it's the General and
only the General for me! LOOK! LOOK!" Ed ran over to the table, scrabbled through
the prints and held aloft one of the nude photographs. "This man is NAKED! He
does nothing for me! If I were gay, I would get turned on by looking at him
being naked and the big ball he's holding over his head, but I'm not! I don't
even care to look at him being naked with a big ball over his head! I don't
care if this picture was even taken! He could keep his clothes on for the rest
of his life as far as I'm concerned and never show me an inch of skin because
naked or clothed I don't care because he's not Roy! I only like to look at Roy
naked! That's it! I don't even like to look at girls naked! It makes me uncomfortable!
They aren't Roy either, so why should I care?! It's not because I'm gay! I just
have what I want and why does everyone out there seem to think I need to be
placed in a neat, explainable package for their own comfort! I don't care if
you like me! I don't care if you hate me! What I do care about is not what other
people think, just what I think! And what Roy thinks! And what Al thinks and
that's it and maybe Winry and Pinako and Havoc and all those guys at the office,
but that's just because they are my friends and family and I care what they
think, but I don't care about you or the world at large because it doesn't matter!
QUIT CALLING ME GAY!"

The Prince was jiggling his sucker stick up and down and
Otto Dunbar had his eyebrows raised. Ed threw the print down on the table, charged
over and snatched the sucker out of Ling's mouth, threw it to the rug and slammed
his heel down on it.

There he stood panting, the remains of a cherry-flavored
sucker sticking his heel to what looked to be an expensive woven rug. He studied
the red shards arranged in a ragged aureole around the toe of his shoe and very
slowly lifted his eyes to the two other men in the room.

The Prince regarded him a moment, hands still clasped
behind his back.

"I can see this really upsets you," Ling said.

"I'm terribly sorry," Otto Dunbar added, fingertips to
his chin, "I had no idea."

Ed groaned. His head sagged forward and he reached up
to pull his gloved hand down his face.

"Please don't apologize, Mr. Dunbar," Ed said, hiding
his eyes. "This is entirely my own fault and I am the one who should be apologizing
to you. It really has nothing at all to do with you and you've been nothing
but kind... and I smashed a sucker into your rug," Ed finished lamely. Really,
he was beyond pathetic. "I most certainly understand if you don't wish to be
in the exhibition, after this..." Ed spread his hands helplessly, "I wouldn't
want to be either."

"On the contrary, I'd be delighted," Otto Dunbar said
pleasantly. "Why, I was terribly flattered when I learned that the famous FullMetal
Alchemist wanted to see me. It's been such a while and I was so happy to be
able to relive a bit of my glory days, if only for the delight of children.
Really, what is a nobler cause?"

Ed's head snapped up and he looked at the man.

"You mean you'll do it?" he said faintly.

"Of course," Otto said. "I do so like a good exhibition,
and it will be a chance to mingle with the military's finest. You are right;
labels can be a terrible thing. They can hurt a person, ruin their chances and
bring pain to their life, but we forget things like 'famous' and 'wonderful'
and 'amazing' are labels too. People have this awful tendency to pay attention
to the more negative aspects, so for the people who are labeled, it would be
best to set a good example. I admire that you have such a strong sense of self
and you will be who you are no matter what others think. That takes great courage.
I would be proud to be part of your exhibition, if you will have me. I've always
heard such wonderful things about you, how fortunate am I that they have all
been proven true?"

Ed stepped forward, winced at the cracking of hardened
sugar under his feet and grabbed Otto Dunbar's hand.

"You have no idea how much this will mean to the boys,"
Ed said. "Thank you very much Mr. Dunbar, I really do appreciate it."

"Ed likes dragons," Ling said cheerfully. "He talked about
your dragons on the walk over."

"I do, I do like dragons," Ed said still shaking the man's
hand. "Let me fix your rug," Ed released Otto's hand, clapped his own together
and knelt. When he stood again, he held a complete (if fuzzy with rug lint)
sucker in his hand and offered it to the prince. Ling took it slowly, inspected
it and let it hang between his forefinger and thumb rather sadly.

"Please call me Otto," Mr. Dunbar said. "Thank you for
fixing my rug, now what is it I can do for you, Professor Elric? I am now at
your disposal."

"Can you come to lunch with the Prince and I tomorrow?"
Ed suddenly asked. "It's gotten so late and I have to be heading back, I'd really
appreciate it if you could join us."

"My pleasure," Otto said, smiling. Ling looked between
them and then smiled too. "I am already formulating some ideas for the display."

Ed and Otto quickly made lunch arrangements while the
Prince stood and mourned his sucker. Otto walked side by side with the prince
as he escorted them back to the door and gave him a sympathetic pat on his arm.

"I'm terribly sorry, but you know they can be had at any
shop on any street corner," Otto told Ling, opening the door. "Are you going
to be participating in the exhibition, Highness, or merely lending your esteemed
royal presence?"

Ed started to make a quip about it, but Ling cut him off.

"I was thinking that perhaps Ran Fan and myself could
give a demonstration of Xingian hand to hand combat techniques," the Prince
said. "You know, the Professor's enthusiasm is very inspirational. Did I mention
that this exhibition has been at the forefront of his mind since I met him all
those weeks ago?"

"You did, and I think that would be an excellent display.
I must say I've always admired the sleek grace of the Xingian combative forms.
Some of the same moves are practiced in Xingian exercises and meditation, I
had an opportunity once to study closely with a lovely young Xingian man," Otto
gave a wistful smile.

"Well, see you tomorrow," Ed said, opening the door. "I
really hate to rush off like this, come on Ling," Ed stepped out onto the porch
and Ling paused to hand the sucker to Otto, who smiled indulgently and took
it. "You boys be careful, see you tomorrow."

He stood in his doorway and waved as they went down the
walk, through the gate and turned down the street. Ed pushed his hands into
his pockets as they walked along, looking sidelong at Ling.

"So, you spar?" the blond alchemist asked. "For pleasure
or for real?"

"I have a feeling I could do a fair mix of both at the
same time," the Prince said, returning the sidelong look.

"Good," Ed said with a slow smile. "Because I only do
it for real."

At the intersection on the street, Ed caught a cab and
headed back toward the Central Military complex and the Prince watched him go.
Ran Fan soon appeared at his elbow and they looked at each other for a long
moment. He was a bit disappointed when the sucker she gave him turned out to
be grape instead of cherry.


"How did it go?" Roy asked on the ride home.

"As per my usual," Ed said and sighed. "I made a complete
ass of myself, but the people around me are always bigger than I am. I don't
mean that physically," Ed said quickly. "What I mean is that he let me act like
an imbecile and still agreed to help me. Really, it's a talent, I ought to try
and bottle it for sale."

Roy chuckled softly and reached over to pat Ed's hand
on the seat between them.

"You really are irresistible," the General said.

Ed laid his head back on the seat and rolled it to look
at Roy.

"What I am is a great big contradiction in terms," Ed
sighed. "I always say I don't care what people think and then I go and get all
overreactional about a stupid word. I'm a complete loser." Ed rolled his head
back and stared at the car ceiling. "Why do you put up with me?"

"Because I'm lucky," the General said. "Of course I should
have said out of habit or something similar, but something tells me that today
you've reached your being teased quota and I should be nice. I'm perceptive
like that, you know."

"Yeah," Ed said. "That makes me lucky, too. Has anyone
ever called you gay?" Ed asked slowly.

"No," Roy said. "Why do you ask?"

"Is it because you used to date girls?" Ed said, mouth
pulling down on one side.

"Don't be silly," Roy laughed. "It's because I have rank.
We dogs are rather obsessive that way. I'm sure I've been called quite a few
things when I'm not around to bristle and thrust out my chest medals, it doesn't
really matter what others think."

"Yeah," Ed said, "that's what I always say. Looks like
we're going to have a really great exhibition, though. There will be Alex, Otto,
me and Al. At least I hope there will be Al if I can drag him away from East
City. Guess what? The Xingians want to show off some hand to hand. Prince Dainty-Ass
says he spars."

"Ling spars?" Roy said, risking a glance in Ed's direction.
The blond man was developing the sort of smile that sent chills down Roy's back.

"Yeah, fancy that," Ed said. "I might be a bit rusty,
but it's okay, I'm sure I could use the exercise."

"If you break him, I'll get in a lot of trouble," Roy
said.

"Don't worry, I promise not to break off anything that
can't be put back on," Ed said with a cackle and wiggled his automail fingers.