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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 16.

Ran Fan opened the door, gave him a polite half
bow and stepped back to allow him in. He'd never been in the Xingian 'embassy'
before, never set foot in the territory of Ling. He shouldered his duffel and
turned back to look at Ran Fan. She stepped past him, indicated that he should
follow in that eloquent wordless language of hers. She stopped short however,
and Ed, who was looking around at the furnishings in the foyer almost ran into
her back. He looked up to where she was looking and standing halfway up the
stairs was the prince himself.

"Welcome to Xing," Ling said with obvious mirth. "I think
you should be careful when you make declarations Professor. Here you said you'd
never step foot in my country."

Ed put his hand on his hip and gave the prince a baleful
look.

"This is fake Xing," Ed said. "It's like you, an imitation
of the real thing."

The prince only grinned and came the rest of the way down
the steps, stopping at the bottom. He was dressed in a pair of blousy silk pants
that gathered at his ankles, an equally blousy shirt with a deep 'v' collar
revealing a lot of the prince's chest and a short silk vest of deep red. His
hair was pulled back almost casually in a ponytail instead of trailing loosely
over his shoulders and being caught up at the sides.

Ed was still in his 'work' clothes, hence the duffel.
Ed shrugged at the prince.

"Where do I change?" he asked, taking in the elegant yet
simple furnishings of the main floor of the house.

The prince nodded at Ran Fan and she half bowed and withdrew.
Ling beckoned to Ed and turned down the hall past the stairs. He opened a door
down the hall and lead Ed into what appeared to be a small bedroom, it reminded
Ed that the embassy had at one time been an actual residence. Ling stood with
his hands clasped behind his back and Ed unshouldered the duffel, setting it
on the bed.

"So did they kick the family who was living here out to
make room for your mooching ass?" Ed said and worked at the buttons on his cuffs.

"I can hardly say," the prince said, "it was already arranged
when I arrived. I'm having the staff prepare us some tea, it's always a good
way to start any activity."

Ed was unbuttoning his vest when he realized the prince
was making no move to leave.

"I'm going to change," Ed said flatly.

"So you said," the prince replied.

"As in change my clothes," Ed pointed out.

"That is what I'd gathered unless you had special sparring
automail you hadn't informed me about," the prince grinned.

"You're not going to watch me change my clothes," Ed snorted.

"You're so self conscious," the prince smiled. "I thought
by being in attendance, almost as a valet but not actually a valet being as
I am a prince, might help you overcome some of your issues."

"My issue is with you seeing me change my
clothes," Ed snarled. "Now get the fuck out!"

Ling sighed expansively and slowly made his way over to
the door.

"In my country we take communal baths after we spar..."
Ling started.

"Get out!" Ed shrieked and Ling ducked out and closed
the door quick enough so the shoe bounced off and fell to the ground.


When Ed emerged he had a tie hanging out of his mouth
and was busy braiding his hair behind him. The prince, who was standing in the
hallway, nodded his head and proceeded down the hall. Ed followed. Ed's sparring
gear wasn't as elaborate as the prince's, just a pair of loose draw tie sweat
pants an a old t-shirt with the collar torn out. He preferred to spar bare foot,
a habit picked up when he sparred with Al over the years. He tied off the end
of his braid and flicked it over his shoulder as Ling led him to the back of
the house and through the kitchen. There was a Carolingian man and woman in
the kitchens Ed had never seen before and when he and the prince entered they
stopped what they were doing to bow in Ling's direction.

The prince spoke to them briefly in Xingian before opening
the kitchen door that led out to the gardens. Ed followed him out and looked
around. It must have been a typical back yard for the houses on the street.
It was large, spacious and fenced by high fencing all the way around. There
was a partial bricked patio with a table and chairs set off to one side of it.
The landscaping was different from anything Ed had seen. Bushes and small trees
that didn't look native, there were many dotted patches of flowers along what
appeared to be a path leading toward the back corner. At the end of the path
was a large pond and Ed's curiosity was instantly piqued but the prince sauntered
over to the table and flopped into one of the chairs as he normally did. He
grinned at Ed and made a casual indication of the chair opposite him with his
hand. Ed sighed and sat down.

"Do you like the gardens?" Ling asked. "They are but a
poor approximation of the gardens in the palace, but they serve their purpose."

"They're alright," Ed said, trying to affect an air of
nonchalance. "They aren't going to keep me from kicking your ass, which I'm
dying to get to by the way. Why are we lounging on your patio? Having second
thoughts?"

"Not at all, I'm very eager myself to sample your fabled
skills, however," Ling held up his finger, "in civilized times we remember ourselves
and our decorum. Plus I don't want to the tea to get cold."

Ed might have retaliated further but the back door opened
and the Xingian woman from the kitchen emerged with a tray, the man followed
her. They came to the table, heads bowed in deference and the man began to unload
the tray with hurried precision. The tea cups resembled small bowls, at least
Ed thought they might be tea cups and there was no sugar or cream offered. The
kettle looked to be made of iron and had an intricate handle that was made to
look like a long, skinny dragon arching it's back. The man also set out plates
of what looked to be small tea cakes. Ed arched an eyebrow at Ling and the prince
shrugged comfortably. The man poured liquid into each cup, about half way up
and set the kettle on the table. Templing his hands, the man bowed as he backed
away. The woman bowed as well, the pair then turned and retreated into the house.

"What is this?" Ed said, tilting his bowl up and peering
in.

"It's tea," the prince said, raising his eyebrows.

"This isn't tea," Ed said. "Tea is brown, I've had tea
before."

"It's green tea," Ling said. "It's a tradition in my country.
It cleanses your system."

"Cleanses? You mean like it drugs people? You're trying
to drug me?" Ed shot back.

"What? No, don't be absurd, it's green tea," Ling insisted.

"Well go ahead and drink some," Ed challenged.

The Prince cupped his bowl, raised it to his lips and
took a sip.

"That wasn't much of a drink," Ed folded his arms.

"It's hot," Ling snorted. "Why would I try to drug you?"

"I don't know, hoping to slow me down?" Ed looked at his
bowl again. "There isn't any cream and sugar."

"This tea doesn't require cream and sugar," the prince
huffed. "It's much more healthful than that vile drink I'm forced to choke down
at every reception I go to."

Ed tilted the bowl again, then cupped it and lifted it,
sniffing at the contents.

"It smells off," Ed said and set the bowl back down.

"You don't have to drink it," the prince said and sniffed
like he was insulted and sipped his tea again.

Ed mulled it over, the prince had been awfully indulgent
of his restaurant choices lately. With a small sigh he lifted the bowl to his
lips and took a sip. It was too hot at first to get any proper sense of taste
out of and he lowered the bowl and blew over the surface. He raised his eyes
to find Ling watching him, and when he met Ling's eyes, Ling smiled slowly.

"It is drugged," Ed accused, setting the bowl down.

"What are you talking about?" the prince said, jaw dropping
a little. "You are going out of your way to be difficult."

"I'm not, you're smiling at me like some dime-novel evil
overlord waiting for the drug to kick in," Ed sat back again and folded his
arms. "You are really worried about me trouncing you aren't you? AND before
we get this started I want to hear from your mouth Ran Fan stays out of it."

The Prince put his hands on the table and stood, he shrugged
out of his short vest and dropped it into the chair. He fisted his hand, placed
it against the palm of his other hand and gave Ed a short bow.

"Let's do this," the Prince said and turned to stride
into an open area in the garden.

"Now that's what I'm talking about," Ed crowed, jumping
to his feet and hurrying to follow.


He rolled and got his feet under him, stood and brought
his arms up again, resisting the urge to wipe the dirt from his face. His opponent
immediately moved back into a defensive stance and studied him coolly. It was
all tension at this point, each waiting for the other to make a move. He did
move then, surged forward and feigned to his right and brought his leg up on
the left. The other man caught the movement, blocked the leg with his arm grunting
as he did so, and they danced apart. When he charged forward again his opponent
charged as well, but he did a half turn and was suddenly airborne. He threw
his own arm up to block a fraction of a second to late, the blow struck the
side of his head and Ed turned with it. He tried to keep his feet but there
was a strike to the back of his knee and he went down again.

"Be glad I'm not the one with automail," the man still
standing said with a touch of mirth in his voice.

Ed shoved back to his feet, wiped his mouth with the back
of his flesh hand and spit out some dirt. He gave Ling a sneer and shook himself.

"Maybe you'd like some tea now?" the prince questioned.

Ed gave him an elaborate Amestris hand signal that called
for just his middle finger to be extended while he curled the rest of them into
his fist. Ling grinned and bowed to him. Ed rolled his shoulders and then stretched
his arms back. Grinning bastard, wiry son of a bitch. He was loving this, the
fucker was gloating and it rankled Ed to his very roots that he'd tasted dirt
not just once, but twice.

"That gesture strikes me as being very unsporting," the
Prince said. "After all, you are the one who suggested we do this in the first
place, I was merely being accommodating."

"I'll drink your goddamn green water if it will make your
smarmy ass shut up," Ed hissed and the turned and stomped to the patio. Threw
himself down in his chair and picked up his bowl and drained it in one gulp.

"It was cold," he said holding the bowl aloft as Ling
walked over. "It tasted like cabbage water," the prince was informed.

"You mock thousands of years of my countries traditions,"
Ling said, walking up to stand beside the table.

"This bothers you?" Ed asked.

"Not really," the prince replied.

"You know I don't get you," Ed said, leveling a look at
Ling. "Just what is your agenda? I know you're here as Roy's pet Prince, but
what else is on your mind? I mean why the specific interest in me? And I'm not
talking about your flirting bullshit. Oh you look surprised, did you think I
was dense?"

The Xingian man suddenly emerged through the back door
again, bringing a large bowl of water and some towels. He set these on the table
and cleared the tea settings away.

"So the General got jealous?" the Prince asked as the
servant retreated. "Wasn't that your first clue?"

"You fucking leave him out of this," Ed snarled. "I'm
talking about your agenda. I don't think this is truly a patriotic cause
for you. Wait a minute, while we are on the subject of the General, do you get
some perverse thrill out of making my lover act like a possessive jerk? I really
don't appreciate it."

"That is interesting," Ling said, soaking one of the smaller
towels in the bowl and ringing it out. "You don't like the General showing his
feelings for you?"

"What? No I'm not talking about that. He just has this
tendency to be a jerk when he feels threatened..." Ed said.

"Have you given him cause to feel threatened?" the Prince
asked, reaching up to wash his face.

"No! I mean I haven't, it's been you. He caught you at
Al's party, remember?" Ed insisted.

"Did you tell him I kissed you?" the prince said casually,
putting aside the towel he had used and wetting a clean one. He offered it to
Ed who was looking at him and had said nothing.

"I take your silence as a 'no'," the prince said and started
to reach to wipe Ed's face himself when Ed didn't reach up to take the towel.
But Ed grabbed his wrist and held it, golden eyes meeting black.

"Tell me the fuck why you kiss me, why you want to flirt
with me. Is it a real attraction to me or are you looking for something?" Ed
said lowly.

"I'm attracted to you," the prince said, making no move
to free his wrist. "You are intriguing and intelligent. You are lovely. A person
would have to be blind not to be attracted to you."

Ed shoved Ling's wrist away and stood.

"I think you're a lying bastard," Ed hissed. "There is
something you want from me and you're not telling me."

"Is it so hard to think of yourself as attractive?" the
prince questioned, no trace of his usual mirth on his face. "Do you think in
some way that you are undesirable? Then let me ask you this, if you truly believe
these things why would the General want you?"

"He's known me my whole life, or at least it seems that
way," Ed started, then looked away. "I mean, he was the first to come onto me
and I was flattered, I liked him, I mean I love him."

"He's been your only lover?" the prince asked.

No.

"Yes," Ed said. "But that doesn't mean anything, it just
means I picked the right person straight off the bat," Ed gave a shrug and an
insincere grin. "I'm a prodigy you know."

"How long has he been your lover?" the prince continued
and he sat down and clasped his hands in his lap.

"Since I was fifteen but what does that matter? Did you
bring me over here to get my life story?" Ed gestured toward the garden. "I'm
ready to go again."

"Maybe I'm interested in your life story," the prince
said. "From what I've heard you've had a very interesting one."

"I did some flashy things as a kid," Ed said, folding
his arms. "That's all behind me now. I'm a teacher, my life is good, that's
all I really wanted."

"Seems like a very sedate profession for you," Ling said,
templing his hands under his chin. "Do you ever miss it? Your adventures? You
were quite well known."

"Has this got a point?" Ed said, unfolding his arms and
putting his hands on his hips. "If all you want to do is play twenty questions
I have better things to do."

"I'm merely trying to know you better," the prince said.
"If you are so eager to have your face shoved in the dirt I suppose I can indulge
you." Ling stood and stretched. "I have an idea," the prince suddenly said.
"For every blow you land you get to ask a question, for every blow I land I
get to ask a question. The round lasts until one of us tastes the dirt."

"And you'll answer the question with nothing held back?"
Ed asked, eyeing the prince.

"I will answer your question truthfully and with as much
detail as I can offer, will you return the favor?" the prince said.

"You're on," Ed growled, heading for the open space.


"So you see I will be in Central from the twelfth to the
eighteenth," Al said, sitting in front of Colonel Hawkeye's desk. "This exhibition
is very important to brother, so I wouldn't be asking otherwise. She's really
a very nice cat," Al smiled and looked at Lieutenant Pharr who was standing
to Riza's right.

"I don't know," Pharr said. "I'm not very good with animals,"
he rubbed the back of his neck. Al cast his sights on Marilyn, sitting at the
long table.

"I'm allergic," Second Lieutenant Harper sang out. "Otherwise
I'd help you out Al, you know I would."

Al turned his eyes on the Colonel but she only raised
her eyebrows and glanced down to her right at the dog sleeping on a pillow by
her feet.

"I guess Sofie does Central," Pharr grinned.

"I should have never told you about that phone conversation,"
Al laughed.

"You could always ask around the office," the Colonel
said. "What about Lieutenant Parkerson? He owes you a few favors."

"Oh no," Al said and waved his hand. "I couldn't, he's
far to busy."

"Might mistake her for an experiment," Pharr added helpfully.

"There is that," Al said with a smile and shrug. "I guess
there is nothing for it, I'm sure R.D. won't mind too much."

"The twelfth is a little over two weeks away," the Colonel
said.

Will you miss me?

"It won't be as meaningful to go to Chester's book reading
without you, but I suppose I'll get by," she said with a small smile.

Al barely contained his shriek of joy.

There was a sudden tap on the office door and Al turned
his head and the Colonel got to her feet. A man stood there, he was tallish
in a nice suit and he carried a shoulder bag. He grinned and entered, moving
straight to the Colonel's desk and extended his hand.

"Riza, it's good to see you again," he said, his smile
warm and he held her fingers.

"Macklin," she returned the smile and shook his hand.
"It's good of you to come by and how fortunate that Alphonse is here as well."
She turned to look at Al, who jumped to his feet. He caught himself as he was
about to salute.

"Alphonse Elric," the Colonel said, "this is Macklin Talbert,
he's a architect who specializes in the building and design of military bases.
He has studied Brisbane extensively and the military has engaged him to work
with us in designing some new barracks for the bases to the east."

"Pleased to meet you," Al said, extending his hand.

"I've heard a lot about you from Riza," the man said and
smiled. "Quite an accomplishment for such a young man to retire from the military
as a Lieutenant Colonel and continue his service in a consultant capacity. Most
young men your age are out chasing women, I'm duly impressed."

Al felt his cheeks color just a bit. Why was Talbert being
so familiar with the Colonel and calling her by her first name?

Macklin released Al's hand and turned back to Riza.

"I hope I can take you to dinner tonight," he said.

"I look forward to it," she returned.

Al's heart sank into his shoes.


"Hey General, a few of us are going out tonight, why don't
you and the boss come along?" Havoc grinned at his superior officer over his
desk.

"That sounds like a plan, the 'boss' has been rather cabin
feverish lately. Ask him when he gets here, if he wants to I'm all for it,"
the General returned.

"Ask the boss? But you sound like you want to go, just
tell the boss we're going out," Havoc said.

Roy looked up slowly at the blond officer standing in
front of his desk.

"Havoc, you are in a relationship, am I correct?" he asked.

Havoc puffed up like a peacock. "Damn straight," he said
around his toothpick, "best damn girl in all of Central if you ask me."

"And do you just tell her you are going to do something
without asking her input?" the General said, lacing his fingers and putting
his elbows on the desk.

"Well...sometimes. I mean, if it's something I really
want to do. She usually doesn't object." Havoc said.

"So you just order her to go with you?" the General said,
his smirk sliding into its familiar place.

"It's different, you and the boss are married," Havoc
said.

The General's eyebrows climbed all the way to the back
of his head.

"Yeah," Breda added from across the room. "You're an old
married man now, it's really sad to see how the mighty have fallen. Ed says
'jump', you say 'how high'?" Breda shook his head sadly.

"What?" the General gasped. "That's ridiculous, and beside
the point. I don't believe Sarah would put up with any of that nonsense from
you," The General pointed at Havoc. "Now who decided you were going out tonight?"

"She did," Havoc mumbled.

"Did she tell you to invite us?" the General pressed.

"Yes," Havoc mumbled.

"I see who gives the orders," Roy snorted leaning back
in his chair.

"Yeah Sarah and Ed have ruined the both of you, " Breda
snorted.

"I don't think it's being ruined to want to please your
spouse," Fuery interjected. "After all, it's the life choice you have made and
you've committed to compromises."

"Ed and I aren't married. We are...partners," The General
said, nodding.

"That's what you think," Breda continued. "Let Ed wander
in here with his boxers in a twist and you all but flop on the floor and roll
on your back."

"I swear we see your tail wagging," Havoc added.

"Don't listen to them General," Fuery said. "I think having
a partnership is a good thing."

"I agree," Falman said. "Abigail and I discuss every joint
decision before making any plans."

"It takes you two days just to tell me if you and Abby
can go to dinner with us or not," Havoc snorted. "You know you've always done
everything by committee, you just added another person to your committee."

The General waved his hands.

"Partnership or not, committee or not the fact of the
matter is I like deferring to Ed, and not just to keep the peace," the
General sat back as they all looked at him. "Edward hasn't had as many opportunities
to make choices as I have. I'm comfortable with my decision making skills, I'm
merely giving him a chance to sharpen his."

"You are, without a doubt, the master of bullshit," Havoc
said and saluted.

"I don't think that's bullshit, I think the General is
a very selfless person," Fuery snorted.

"You would," Breda said and then puckered his lips and
made smoochy noises.

"I would like to interject I think the General has a point
about allowing Edward to sharpen his skills. I would hope the General plans
on encouraging Edward to work on his people skills in the future," Falman stated.

"I don't think that's fair," the General said. "I think
Ed has come a long way from the terror-in-a-red-coat he once was."

"Yeah," Havoc said. "The boss has gotten better about
not cursing so much."

"He doesn't throw things around anymore either," Breda
said.

"I don't see any problems with Ed's people skills," Fuery
added.

There was a slight commotion in the hall before the door
of the General's office was kicked open and a snarling madman stood in the doorway.

"You better be glad there are so many Xingian princes
because I'm gonna fuckin' kill this one!" the frothing, snarling figure shrieked
and threw its briefcase across the room, where it struck the front of the General's
desk and clattered to the floor.

The General turned too look at Falman and gave him a thumbs
up sign.

"That is next thing up on my list," he said.


Ed's head snapped to the left but he kept his feet.

"First blow," the prince said, dancing neatly back out
of the way. "What is it you see in General Mustang?"

"I have to answer while we spar?" Ed said incredulously.
"That's not fair!"

The prince shrugged, grinned and closed in. Ed backpedaled
and drove him off with a few kicks.

"Fine!" Ed said. "What do I see in him? He helped me out,
he helped my brother out. He's good to me, he loves me. He's level headed and
he's insightful. He knows how to treat people, he's brilliant. He's got a good
sense of humor and he's sexy as fuck. How's that?"

"Not bad, not bad," the prince said and closed in again.
They danced around the open space. Ed had his hands up. He was bouncing a bit
on the balls of his feet. He slowed, letting the prince get close and took a
chance. The prince blocked his arm and ducked under it to avoid the accompanying
blow by his leg. The ball of the prince’s fist struck him on the side
of the jaw and Ed moved with it, once again keeping his feet.

"Second blow," the prince said. "How did it feel when
I kissed you?"

"First time or second time?" Ed snarled, dodging another
kick.

"Oh I'd say the second time, that first time was just
a peck on the cheek," the prince said gleefully.

Ed wet his lips, kept weaving back and forth, kept his
feet moving. Truthful, he had to be truthful to the fucker and he had to land
his own goddamn blow.

"It wasn't bad," Ed admitted. "I was surprised because
you know, you got fucking lousy etiquette moving in on someone else's claim.
But it was an okay kiss...I've had better," he said smugly.

The prince wiggled his eyebrows, the infernal grin never
leaving his face. Ed gave him the middle finger salute and then had to backpedal
furiously to avoid a quick jab of blows.

Ed was getting a bit winded and told himself resolutely
he was going to start making use of the gym in the main building. He could go
there and work out while waiting for Roy to get off of work. This was fucking
disgraceful, he really had gone rusty. He'd let his comfort with his life lull
him and put him off his game. He ducked another blow and countered but the prince
was fucking quick and pulled back out of the way.

I've got to get one in! I have to know, he's not telling
me everything. The fucker better come clean, I have to get one in!

The prince moved in again, Ed countered all his strikes
neatly.

Ha! Not as rusty as I thought...

Then the prince landed a fist in Ed's mid-section and
Ed backpedaled gasping but kept his feet.

Sunuvabitch!

"Third blow," the prince said and tilted his head. "Would
you like me to kiss you again?"

Ed's vision blurred around the edges and his stomach rolled
into a knot and he channeled all that fury into one beautiful round house kick.
He got massive ground clearance and a glimpse of the bastard’s surprised
expression before the side of Ed's leg connected solidly with the side of Ling's
head. The prince hit the ground on his shoulder and Ed came down neatly and
straightened up slowly. The prince sat up and rubbed the side of his head. Ed
cocked an eyebrow.

"Guess you were lucky it was the right leg," Ed said,
the squatted down abruptly and met the prince eye to eye.

"First blow," Ed panted, "and match over. What is it you
really want from me?"

"You didn't answer my last question," the prince challenged.

The truth.

"I've thought about it," Ed admitted lowly.

The prince leaned toward him and Ed tensed but his look
was speculative and his grin slid off his mouth.

"I want you," the prince said, "to help me acquire the
Philosopher's Stone."

Ed's jaw would have hit the ground if the prince hadn't
chosen that moment to kiss him again.


Ed sat in the restaurant next to Roy and opposite Havoc
and Sarah. Falman and Abby were to his right and Breda and Fuery were to Havoc's
right. They were all studying menus.

"All I'm saying," Ed continued, "is that it's a damn good
that I put up that fence and installed that dog door. Now we don't have to rush
home every evening to avoid accidents."

"I thought you didn't like that dog," Havoc teased. "You
sure go out of your way for it."

"I'm not doing it for me," Ed said loftily, "I'm doing
it for Roy."

"Is that the difference?" Sarah grinned. "That's damn
fine cover there Ed."

"It's not cover, it's the truth," Ed snorted.

"Ed who tap danced on your jaw?" Breda said and rubbed
his own bearded jaw in sympathy.

"Oh," Ed grumbled, "that was the prince. Turns out the
fucker spars better than he looks like he should."

Ed felt the subtle brush of Roy's knuckles against the
side of his thigh under the table and he bumped his foot against Roy's.

He's still jealous...I don't know if I'm pissed or
flattered.

But that only gave Ed a massive guilty twinge. He pretended
to be extremely interesting in some anecdote that Falman was imparting about
pocket protectors so that he didn't have to look at Roy for a moment.

Okay how fucking fair is that Elric? You let the fucker
kiss you. Right on the lips and you didn't push him away, you didn't hit him
or anything. Why? Fucking why?

Ed looked around when Roy elbowed him softly and noticed
with a start the waitress was standing there. He glanced down at the menu but
in reality only listened to what Roy ordered then seconded it.

Has the General been your only lover?

"When is the exhibition?" Fuery asked with a smile. "I
want to bring my nephew if that's ok?"

Ed leapt on the subject grateful for the distraction.

"It's two weeks form Saturday," Ed leaned over the table
a little. "Of course you can bring whoever you like, I know I haven't made any
formal invitations but whoever wants to come is invited." Ed looked up and down
the table. "It's for the Academy you know, it's a good cause."

There was some general nodding of heads and such and then
the waitress brought the beer and that was far more interesting than Ed's little
cause.

"That's just typical," Ed grumbled but accepted a beer
glass with no qualms. "I need to invite Otto out to the house for a practice
run. Can we send a car for him General? After all it's for the military academy,"
Ed looked at Roy and took a drink of his beer.

"I don't see why not, we can call it the military's contribution,"
Roy took his own sip. "I'm surprised the prince got in any blows decent enough
to leave a mark."

"Well just let me take back that dainty-ass comment,"
Ed snorted. "Maybe all the moron has to do in Xing is eat and train at hand
to hand. I'm going to start working out in the gym."

Roy grinned and shook his head.

"You know Ed, it's not a crime to run into someone who's
better at something than you are," he chuckled. "But then again it's your drive
that makes you who you are. I won't mind seeing you...tighten up a bit."

Ed slammed his glass down on the table.

"Are you calling me flabby Mr. Spare Tire?" Ed questioned.
"You did not just say I'm getting soft in the middle, you didn't."

"You know, I just lost a bet with Alphonse," Roy said
wryly. "When is he coming into town anyways?"

"Next weekend," Ed started, then: "Wait a minute, what
bet? What the hell are you betting with my little brother for? I mean in pertaining
to me."

"That ability to gloss over everything, you know...just
rail road it right into your own station," Roy grinned.

"What? I'm not stupid, I know what you're talking about
even when you don't say it," Ed stressed. "Are you calling me self centered?
Is that what this is?"

"Lost the bet twice," Roy said and poured himself another
beer.


Roy opened his eyes blearily as Ed shook his shoulder.
He turned his head but couldn't make out his lover's features in the darkness.

"What is it?" the General mumbled. "What time is it? Is
something wrong?"

"Roy," Ed said. "I have a dark place, I need to tell you
about it."

"What?" Roy pushed up on his elbows. "What are you talking
about Ed?"

"Today, when I was at the Xingian embassy, something the
prince said," Ed continued.

Roy scooted and sat up, reached out in the darkness and
brushed Ed's arm. Then trailed his hand up it to Ed's shoulder.

"Roy, the prince wants the philosopher's stone," Ed scooted
closer and Roy squeezed his shoulder. "He told me that is his true agenda, he's
volunteered to come here because somehow he knows that we found it. He wants
me to help him."

"What did you tell him?" Roy asked.

"I told him he was a fucking lunatic of course and dropped
the subject, but somehow he knows, Roy." Ed's fingers touched Roy's chest. "What
should I do? I don't think I should see him anymore. You know I can't tell him
about the stone."

"No, of course not," Roy murmured. "If you decide to stop
seeing him that's up to you Ed," because Roy trusted him. "He's not the kind
to be easily discouraged."

"I know," Ed sighed.

"You can handle this, I have faith," Roy said and released
Ed's shoulder and laid back down. "Just tell him where to stick it, you know
that everyone will back you up. Nobody will volunteer him anything."

"Yeah," Ed said, "ok. But I wanted to tell you because
you needed to know."

"Thank you," the General said. "Come on, lay down and
get some sleep."

Ed settled at his side and pillowed his head on Roy's
shoulder. Roy turned and nosed his hair.

"Next time why don't you tell me before the wee hours
of the morning, hmmm?" Roy mumbled.

"Yeah," Ed said. "Sorry."

But he didn't tell the General about the kiss.


"Are you really wearing that?" Ed said, heading for the
front door as the doorbell rang with R.D. hot on his trail. "You could at least
go and brush your hair," Ed called out reaching the door. He opened it and smiled.

"Otto, I'm really glad you could make it," then he had
to scrabble to catch R.D. who thought he might be able to make a break for it.
He practically dove for the little dog and ended up on his stomach at Otto's
feet with a wiggling terrier in his outstretched hands.

"I'm really glad I could make it too," Otto grinned down
at him. "Do you need any help, Professor?"

"No, got it, I'm fine," Ed grunted with tears in the corner
of his eyes. He managed to get to his knees by using his elbows as a prop up
and then get to his feet, R.D. still firmly in grip. "Why don't you come on
in?" Ed wheezed.


Otto followed Ed down into the living room and Roy stood
up from the couch. Ed came over and shoved R.D. into his arms. Ed looked him
up and down once again and then at his hair. After closing his eyes briefly,
Ed plastered on a smile and turned to Otto.

"Octavious Dunbar may I introduce you to General Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist,"
Ed said. "Roy this is Octavious Dunbar, the Hydro Alchemist."

"A pleasure to meet you," Roy said and extended his hand
and Otto extended his as well but hesitated.

"I assure you the pleasure is all mine, but should we
really be shaking hands?" he asked with a grin. "I can tell you that you are
one fire I most definitely don't want to put out."

Roy's smile froze in place, he still had his hand extended
so Otto did shake it and nodded at Ed.

"I can see why you said what you did in my study, he is
quite a looker," Otto smiled.

Ed turned scarlet, then purple, then decided on scarlet
again. Roy looked at him sidelong and Ed suddenly grabbed Otto's elbow and steered
him back toward the hall.

"We can go out back and practice," Ed said rushed and
overly loud. "We got a water hose!"

"Ed," Roy said with a grin, setting R.D. on his feet,
"let's offer our guest coffee first at least."

"I'd love some coffee," Otto said as Ed dragged him down
the hall.

R.D. chased them into the kitchen and began bouncing around
Otto's feet. Ed tried once to shoo him but R.D. would not be deterred. Roy came
in and took over the coffee making duty.

"I've got it Ed, why don't you see if we have any shortbread
cookies, then sit down with your guest," Roy smiled and shooed Ed away from
the coffee pot.

"But..." Ed started.

"We want Mr. Dunbar to be able to drink the coffee," Roy
said. "Not eat through steel with it."

Ed had never gotten the hang of the percolator. Otto smiled
pleasantly from his seat at the table. He was scratching R.D.'s head and the
little terrier stood with his front paws on the man's knee.

"You don't have to let R.D. climb all over you," Ed told
him, going through cabinets and looking for a cookie tin. "He's pretty hyper
when he meets new people."

"Well you know they say that dogs reflect their owners,"
Otto said and Ed gave Roy a smirk.

"I don't think he's talking about me," Roy grinned.

"R.D. is Roy's dog," Ed said and huffed a bit.

"Oh my mistake then," Otto said with a grin.

Ed located the tin, brought it to the table, sitting opposite
Otto, he pried it open. Roy brought over the sugar bowl and retrieved the cream
from the ice box and set it on the table. R.D. switched sides at the sound of
the tin opening and began hopping at Ed's feet. Ed tried to ignore him, but
ended up glaring at him.

"Go on R.D.," Ed said. "Nothing for you here."

"Now how is he suppose to know that?" Roy said bringing
over mugs and setting them on the table. "You slip him snacks all the time."

Ed gaped a bit, glanced at Otto and snapped his mouth
shut, cheeks pinking slightly.

"Why don't you tell me what you had in mind Professor,"
Otto offered to cover Ed's embarrassment. "I'm really interested in your ideas."

"Well first off call me Ed. I can't tell you how much
I appreciate the time you're putting into this, coming all the way out here
on the weekend and such."

Roy brought the percolator over and poured them all a
cup and used a pot holder to set the hot coffee pot on the table. He sat down
next to Edward, fished a shortbread cookie out of the tin, snapped it in half,
giving half to the frantic terrier at his feet.

Ed quirked an eyebrow at him and Roy half shrugged, grinning.

"I was thinking," Ed said turning back to Otto, "I could
transmute some kind of fountain. Oh even better. Al could do that, he's better
at artsy stuff than I am. Then you could make it flow. And of course I want
to see the dragons," Ed smiled a little and pretended to be interested in his
coffee, "they are kind of neat, I mean really intricate."

"The fountain is an excellent idea," Otto said, legs crossed neatly. He lifted
his mug taking a sip. "Oh excellent coffee my dear General."

Roy nodded, leaned back in his chair and crossed his arm.

"Maybe I could so some sort of design that could be powered
by water, you know like one of those models you see that rolls balls about and
things, only on a grander scale. I have some books I could look through," Ed
said leaning on the table.

"What will the other alchemists be doing?" Otto said.
"General are you participating?"

"Ah," Roy said. "I'm afraid not."

"That's a real shame," Otto said. "Water and fire are
such an interesting dynamic, we could probably do something positively breathtaking."

"The General is retired from alchemy," Ed said. "He'll
be there for moral support."

"No one is ever retired from alchemy, they only fall a
bit out of practice," Otto said. "I haven't been active with the military in
years, and yet I am still an alchemist. Just because you give up your state
sanction doesn't mean you give up being an alchemist. I would have thought with
the General's position he would keep his certification?"

"He's very busy..." Ed started but Roy laid a hand on
his arm and smiled at him.

"Actually," Roy said. "My inactivity is due to my injury.
You must realize that fire isn't as forgiving as water should it get away from
one."

"Ah, perception is it?" Otto said. "You know General,
that doesn't mean you can't be a showman. Flash is done in open air and on a
larger scale. With enough open space about, why, anything is possible. And you
would have me there to handle any fall out," Otto winked and sipped his coffee.

Ed looked at Roy and his eyebrows rose. Roy rubbed his
chin and glanced at Ed and Ed sort of nudged his foot under the table.

"It would mean a lot to you wouldn't it?" Roy asked his
lover and Ed smiled and pressed his forehead to the General's shoulder briefly.
Roy turned to Otto again. "What did you have in mind?" the General said.

"Oh General, let me tell you about a thought I had about
a phoenix and a dragon," the older man said and smiled.

Ed couldn't help his own grin.

They talked well into dinner which Roy graciously cooked
for them and eventually it was late enough to say goodnight. Roy summoned the
driver back with a phone call and Ed walked Otto out to the car.

"Thank you again," Ed said. "This means a lot to the academy
and...you did something for me as well."

Otto smiled at him, patted his shoulder and the driver
opened the door.

"I could tell that maybe he needed to hear it from someone
besides his partner," Otto said. "He has all the makings of a first class show
off." Otto slid into the back seat. The driver closed the door and moving to
the driver’s side, climbed in.

"Oh yeah," Ed said. "He dances."

Ed stood and waved until the car turned onto the main
road and faded from sight.


Alphonse stood in the foyer with a carrier raised above
his head. R.D. was hopping up and down and getting some impressive air time.
He was almost clearing Al's chest with every leap. The carrier above Al's head
complained loudly and Ed almost shoved his fingers in his ears rather than try
to catch the manic dog.

"There wasn't anyone you could leave her with?" Ed complained,
capturing R.D. "I guess I'll just lock him in the den." Ed put R.D. down inside
the den door and kept him back with his foot until he could close it.

"I tried," Al said apologetically, "but everyone was allergic,
inept or otherwise. The Colonel has the same problem you have, I'm sure Hayate
wouldn't have been thrilled." Al lowered the carrier.

"No it's ok, I don't mind," Ed said, not wanting to upset
his younger brother.

"What's wrong?" Roy said, coming in behind Al and carrying
his suitcase.

"Oh it's nothing," Ed said. "R.D. is just interested in
Al's cat, you know how it is...cats and dogs, do the math."

Al carried the cat carrier into the living room and sat
it on the coffee table. He opened the door and squatted down and peered inside.

"Are you ok Sofie?" he asked. "Did R.D. scare you? He
was just curious."

Ed stood back in the arch of the doorway with his hands
on his hips and shook his head. Roy took Al's suitcase to his room and set it
on the bed. Ed watched Al try to coax his cat out of its carrier and folded
his arms.

"I'm going to need to get some sand," Al said. "I didn't
want to lug what I had at home on the train. I figured I could just transmute
a pan for her once I got here."

"Where are you going to put it?" Ed asked.

"Well the bathroom should be ok," Al said.

"But wait a minute, if you're going to let her wander
around R.D. has to stay locked up," Ed said.

"Oh," Al hadn't thought about that. "Well maybe they can
take turns being locked up, I can keep her in my bedroom some."

"If R.D. is locked up someone has to check on him and
take him out instead of his just going out on his own through the dog door,"
Ed stated.

"Oh," Al said. "Well I can help. Can we block up the dog
door? I don't want Sofia getting out, she might get lost."

"Why don't you just keep the cat and its pan in your bedroom
with the door closed, problem solved," Ed shrugged.

"That's not very fair," Al said and then smiled as the
cat ventured out of the carrier and into his arms. He cuddled her up, stood
and turned to face his brother. "Sofia is a guest, not a prisoner."

Ed quirked up an eyebrow.

"R.D. lives here, this is his home," Ed said. "He has
more right to wander the house than she does," Ed pointed at the cat.

Roy walked into the middle of an Elric glare-off and almost
dove for cover.

"Ok, what's going on?" the General said.

"Ed wants me to keep Sofia locked up in my room for my
entire visit," Al complained. "I don't think that's good for her, what if she
gets lonely?"

"Al wants to lock R.D. up to let the cat roam around,"
Ed countered. "We'd have to block up the dog door and check on him to take him
out instead of letting him go out by himself. Besides, what if R.D. gets lonely?
He's use to sitting on your lap all evening."

"Well maybe we should let R.D and the cat meet," the General
ventured. "Perhaps they can come to an agreement we can't."

"That's a good idea," Ed said.

"I don't know," Al said and cuddled his cat closer.

Ed walked over to the den and opened the door and a black
and white bullet shot out. It zipped straight into the living room and right
to Al's feet.

"Hi R.D.," Al said, watching him nervously. The cat in
Al's arms began to growl a bit. "Ooooh, she's not happy, catch him Ed," Al said,
trying to edge away, but R.D. followed him. Ed rolled his eyes and moved forward,
bending down to grab R.D. But Sofia decided enough was enough, she launched
out of Al's arms, used Ed's bowed head as a spring platform and flew to the
floor right at Roy's feet. Roy danced out of the way and R.D. yodeled in joy
and took off after her. Sofia decided running pell mell down the hall was a
good idea.

"Sofia!" Al cried.

"R.D.!" Ed cried.

Roy watched the two race by and sighed and shoved his
hands into his pockets and waited for thuds and crashes that were sure to follow.
He could tell what part of the house they were in by either Ed or Al's yelps
and curses. Well to be fair all the curses were Ed's. After a few moments, Ed's
head appeared around the doorway of the living room.

"You weren't attached to that stand and globe in the bedroom
overly, were you?" he asked and sucked in his lower lip. Roy arched an eyebrow.
"Ok, ok, I'm fixing it," Ed said and disappeared again.


A truce was reached when R.D. got close enough to be slapped
and decided that getting that close wasn't necessary anymore. Sofia was content
with the fact he kept a respectful distance and also by the fact she could sit
on top of the credenza and lord over him. Al got away with minor scratches on
his forearm and Ed had a bruised tail bone from falling on his rump when R.D.
had charged between his legs at some point and surprised him, (chasing a
dog in your socked feet on hardwood is not a good idea)
. Roy was completely
unscathed having stayed out of the whole mess.

They had a dinner of sandwiches and sat around getting
caught up a bit in the living room and all decided to have an early night of
it. Al was tired from the train ride, Ed had class and Roy had work. But once
Roy got Ed into the bedroom things changed and it turned out what Roy wanted
was to get his hands all over his lover.

Ed was cooperative, he let the General have his clothing
piece by piece. He leaned back against the wardrobe, naked, and let the General
run his hands up and down his sides and stomach and chest.

"So...still think I'm going to pot?" Ed breathed as Roy's
hand strayed lower on his stomach and Roy's palm covered his cock. Roy pressed
and squeezed him gently. Ed shuddered in a breath, his head thunked against
the wardrobe.

"Never," Roy whispered, rubbing Ed up and down slowly.

"Want to fuck me here?" he husked, his golden eyes lazily
searching his lover's face.

"It's a thought," Roy purred. "I haven't done you against
a wall in years, when was the last time?"

"Not long after I got my automail back," Ed said softly.
"We'd come home from a cafe, you'd let me drink a little too much wine. We made
it into the living room, you left my shirt and jacket on me, but had me wrap
my legs around your waist. It was...exciting, I felt wanted."

Roy's chest heaved once, his eye went half mast. He pushed
his face under Ed's chin, opened his mouth over Ed's throat as he continued
to rub Ed gently between his legs.

Ed rumbled and purred, humping against Roy's hand.

"You're being a fucking tease," Ed whined. "Damn Roy,
do more than that."

Roy chuckled against Ed's throat and moved up to look
at him again.

"The oil is over there on the bedside," Roy said and kissed
down the side of Ed's nose, dragged his tongue over Ed's lips. "You want me
to leave you here and go get it?"

"No...yes...why the fuck do you ask me to think when you
got your hand on my cock?" Ed groused. "Let's just get in bed dammit, this wardrobe
is hard on my back. No, wait, I didn't say that. I can take it, I'm still young,"
Ed grinned mischievously. Roy snorted, gave him a hard squeeze and Ed half yelped.
The General pushed away and went toward the bed. Ed growled and darted after
him, tackling him and they both toppled onto the bed. There was wrestling and
grunting and rolling around. In the end Roy ended up on his back and his captor
leered down at him.

"I won," Ed chortled. "I get to top!"

"I don't think that's how it works," the General snorted.

"Of course it does," Ed said haughtily. "He who can pound
all comers gets to be the boss. It's just the laws of nature."

"Is that so? Ok I'll let you top, you can sit in my lap,"
Roy smirked.

"That's more like...HEY," Ed said. "That's not topping,
that's just sitting on top!"

"Who says the definition of being on top means you get
to do the deed?" the General grinned. "If we are going with the definition of
being on top as being the dominant, well we both know who that is. Age, rank,
experience...these are all things that should, by right, be equated in when
the issue of dominance is applied. Therefore, no matter the situation, even
when I'm being the submissive for lack of better term, I'm still on top."

"Why does you fucking rank always factor into everything?"
Ed snorted. "You know what? I say actions speak louder than words."

Ed suddenly pushed up fast, lifted his hands long enough
to clap them together and Roy yelped loudly when Ed slapped them down on his
chest. Blue and white light blinded him, ozone assailed his nostrils and he
felt his hair stand on end. His shirt began to unravel from around his body
and it was ungodly ticklish. Roy kicked and flailed but his shirt seemed to
snake up his arms and suddenly his wrists were bound tightly together. The
glow faded and through the spots in his vision Roy panted and stared up at Ed.

"Yeah, weren't expecting that were you?" Ed suddenly moved
off of him, grabbed him and flipped him over onto his stomach before he could
protest. Ed's knee came down between his legs forcing him to part them and he
heard another clap and he half shouted when Ed's hands slapped each of his butt
cheeks. His pants went the way of his shirt, and his eye widen to it's fullest
when his legs were dragged further apart. He shoved up on his elbows and turned
to look over his shoulder as much as he could. His pants were now tethers that
held each of his ankles bound to the bedposts. One more clap and slap and his
long briefs disintegrated into so much unraveled thread lying bunched up against
the side of his thighs.

Ed hummed behind him and Roy shuddered when two hands,
one warm, one cool, ran up the back of his thighs, over his ass and onto the
small of his back.

"Damn General, for an old man you still got it," Ed cooed.

"So you think a mere show of force validates your theory
about being on top," Roy said, he shivering a little involuntarily when Ed's
fingers dug into his back just at either side of his spine in an impromptu massage.
"You think because you have special talents this makes you somehow more suited
to the role of dominant?"

"Yeah, keep talking," Ed murmured and bent over Roy's
back.

Roy swallowed and shivered again when warm lips touched
him just below his shoulder blade.

"You're not going to talk me out of fucking you, might
as well just accept it. We always go through this song and dance, every goddamn
time. I've accepted it, just be the bigger man General." Ed stretched over him
and Roy watched as he plucked the bottle of oil off the bedside table. Ed laid
the bottle against Roy's side and moved fully between Roy's parted legs.

He lowered himself, his bare flesh all along the bare
flesh of Roy's back. Ed's erection pressing into the cleft of Roy's ass. His
lips found Roy's shoulders and began a slow trail along one, across his back
with a bit of extra attention to his nape, and then onto the other. Ed squeezed
a hand under Roy, his fingers found and began to press and rub a nipple in a
slow circular motion.

Roy groaned and then he tensed up a little and squeezed
Ed between his butt cheeks. Ed shuddered out a breath and laughed softly.

"Damn General, that is some fine control, do that again,"
Ed purred into his ear.

"I can do that all you like," Roy said. "If you'll put
a little oil there and rock back and forth I can..."

"Nu uh," Ed snorted. "No substitutes for the real deal,
I'm going in Roy. Going in... you can try to worm your way out of it as much
as you like, but you're still going to get it and you're still going to come
and you're still going to howl like a dog before I'm through."

Roy let his forehead thump on the bed. His bound wrists
were pulled against his chest and he sighed.

"You know that's real fucking nice, just sound so goddamn
put out," Ed suddenly moved off of him.

Roy raised his head and looked over his shoulder.

"What? Ed, I..." But there was a clap, another flash of
light and he was free. He blinked in confusion and rolled onto his side, reaching
toward Ed but Ed pulled away quickly and got off the bed.

"Fuck it," Ed said and threw his hands up, heading for
the bathroom. "I give up, too bad for you I don't feel like being your fuck
toy tonight," Ed disappeared into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Roy said up and stared after him.

Ed leaned back on the door, crossed his arms over his
chest and let his head drop back against it as he closed his eyes.

He's been your only lover?

Ed sucked his bottom lip and rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

Yeah, yeah he has because I don't count that other
place. That was fake and it means nothing. He's all I know. Everything I know
he taught me. What if he only taught me what he wanted me to know? I have no
basis for comparison do I? Sometimes he jokes about how he's made me such a
good lover, but what if he only made me a lover to his own tastes? What if that
fake place and that...thing showed me there is something more to it? NO, I
don't want that to be my comparison.

Ed heard Roy slide off the bed, he heard the sound of
Roy's bare feet on the hardwood and then there was a soft tap on the door.

"Ed?" Roy called quietly. "Ed will you let me in?"



I already have, you bastard. You are about as far in as you can get. You are
wrapped around me, both inside and out. How can I possibly let you any further
in when you know me better than anyone? Did you fucking use that against me?

"Ed?" Roy called again. "Did I upset you? Hey, talk to
me, open the door."

Ha! I talk to you until I'm blue in the face for all
the good it does me. You say I only hear what I want to hear. Well you hear
what I have to say and somehow always turn it around on me, how is that any
better?

"I'm sorry," Roy muttered into the crack between the door
and door jamb. "Won't you at least let me see your face to apologize?"

Ed closed his eyes and pushed away from the door. He turned
around and pulled it open, opening his eyes and raising them to Roy's face.

"I'm sorry," Roy said. "I didn't mean it the way you took
it."

"Then how did you mean it?" Ed said flatly.

For once the General seemed at a loss for words.

Oh, so he doesn't know everything, he only thinks he
does.

Roy ran a hand over his face, then he folded his own arms.

"You know I don't mean to hurt you," he said. "I'm not
really sure what set you off...I mean it was no different than how we usually
play. I don't mean to sound derogatory either Ed. So I'm apologizing and I’m
not sure why."

"Then it's not much of a fucking apology," Ed sneered.
"Get the fuck out of my way, I'm going to bed."

"You're being extremely unfair right now," Roy said, his
jaw tightening. "But fine, be my guest," and he stepped aside.

Ed marched past him, stopped and turned back to him. Roy
unfolded his arms, gave him a slight lift of his eyebrow and frowned.

I'm not being really being fair am I? Do I need to
be? Has he always been fair? FUCK, listen to myself...I love him! He loves me.
It's that fucking prince's fault. I'm going to fucking waste that bastard. Beat
his goddamned nose so far into this skull he'll be breathing out the back of
his head.

Ed reached out and snagged Roy's hand, tugging him close.

"Yeah ok, I'm not being fair," he mumbled. "I'm in a weird
mood. When you sigh like that it's like you're just humoring me or tolerating
me. I know, I know...I even said it...every goddamn time Roy. It just hit me
wrong tonight, I don't know why." Ed ended on a shrug.

Roy pulled his hand free then wrapped his arms around
Ed's shoulders, Ed tilted his face up to him and Roy kissed his forehead, his
eyelids, the side of his nose and his lips. When he pulled back and Ed blinked
his eyes back open Roy smiled.

"So you want to try again? I promise to be a very willing
bed toy," the General cooed.

He loves me, so what if he's been my only love? I only
need one.

"Do I get to tie you back up?" Ed asked.

"Hey, bed toy, remember? You can play with your toy however
you want," the General grinned and then squawked as he was tossed back on the
bed.