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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 18.

They watched the proceedings as Matilda went from a healthy
shade of fat pig pink, to a dank and grayish color that smelled like the underside
of a large truck with a bad muffler. Then one of the boys doffed his shirt and
stuck out his chest and the others began to shoo back the crowd. Matilda was
still forlornly nosing at the muffin pan, hoping against hope that they would
suddenly turn into something edible as the crowd formed a large circle around
her and her apparent captor. Her harness was then removed, but she made no move
to avoid the young man as he charged up and tried to grab her around her fourteen
chins. She grunted a bit in annoyance when he did so, however.

The longer they stood there and watched the young man
try to wrestle a hog that outweighed him by at least one hundred pounds, the
more pointless it seemed to become. Ed crossed his arms and looked at Al who
shrugged and stuck his hands in his back pockets.

"It's reminds me of interpretive dance," Otto said sidelong
to Roy, "All that skin and neither of them getting anywhere."

The General grinned, looking off to the side and Ed and
Al snickered at each other. Matilda, who must have thought the snickers were
directed at her grease covered self, took sudden and great offense. With an
incredible display of fat control, she rolled the rings at her neck all the
way down her back, dislodging her lone and ineffective subduer, then fixed her
beady, black eyes in the direction of the amused menaces and gave a mighty snort.
That got everyone's attention and with a speed belaying her size, (bordering
on physically impossible if the truth be told, but then again, bumblebees were
in the same league)
, she charged across the clearing in a most predictable
fashion.

In the Elric corner, it became every man for himself.

For the first time in his life, Al found he rather wanted
his big brother's protection, and in the same moment of revelation, Ed decided
that Al was old enough, (finally), to face certain crisis on his own.
After all, how else was he going to learn how to handle himself under pressure
if his elder brother always bailed him out? In their haste to abandon each other
to a thousand pounds of unprocessed sausage, they collided, thus making Matilda's
target bigger. As Ed and Al toppled over for a proper trampling and all seemed
lost, there was a sudden pop, a flash of light and the familiar (to an alchemist,
anyway)
smell of ozone. A wall of dirt shot straight up from the ground,
missing Ed's nose by bare inches and there was the sudden, dull thud of impact
that rained the dirt down over Ed's and Al's heads.

Al, of course, thought that once again, his big brother
had come through with an unexpected display of alchemic fortitude and Ed, on
his part, thought Al's array drawing skills had reached demi-god levels of speed.
The grinned at each other, (Ed had managed to end up on top of the Elric
pile)
, and opened their mouths to congratulate the other when above their
heads, Alex's voice boomed.

"Well done young man, very well done. I can see your Professor
has taught you not to panic in a crisis; you have mastered basic array techniques.
I think both his teaching mastery and your quick learning abilities are to be
congratulated for averting what could have been an otherwise painful experience."

There was a round of cheers and applause, and in the commotion,
Ed pushed up and got to his feet, reaching a hand down to Al distractedly to
help him up as well. Alex was effectively obscuring any view of he and Al's
rescuer and behind him, he heard the placating moans of several members of the
football team as they tried to revive their hog. Alex turned toward them then
and as he did so, Ed's eyebrows rose. Seth, Daniel, Eric and Duffy were beaming
up at the large man; on the ground at Seth's feet was a small piece of paper.
Ed brushed himself down, swallowed his embarrassment and headed over to the
quartet that had made his academic life so interesting. They saw him coming,
each breaking out into a large grin.

"Professor," Seth said as Ed approached, "I'm glad you're
alright!"

"I thought you were a goner," Duffy added, tugging the
hem of his uniform jacket down.

"Did you have some childhood trauma involving pigs?" Eric
asked, "Despite what Richard said, I don't think you scream like a girl."

"I think that hog was about to show you the error in the
food chain," Daniel snickered, gleam in his eye, "It must have an iron deficiency
in its diet."

Ed knelt down and picked up the piece of paper. On it
was Al's array, the one he'd taught the boys when they'd transmuted the toy
horse. The paper was well creased from having been folded and grimy from riding
around in a trouser pocket. Ed straightened back up and folded the array.

"Who's is this?" he asked, holding the square aloft and
eyeing them each in turn, "Care to explain why you're wandering around with
an array in your pocket?"

Four sets of lips clamped firmly shut and four sets of
hands found their way clasped behind backs or shoved in pockets.

"Really Brother," said Al beside him and reached over
to pluck the paper from his fingers, "This isn't a time for a lecture, it's
a time to say thank you," He turned to the boys, "You'll have to forgive my
older brother," he smiled, "He's used to taking care of things, you see, and
that would include the four of you. He's only acting this way because he thinks
of the mischief you could get into carrying around a ready array, but believe
me, despite appearances, he's very grateful. As am I, thank you very much for
saving me from being a hog's doormat."

Ed cleared his throat, worked his jaw and looked once
more at the four sets of eyes trained on his face anxiously. He waved his hand
and looked off to the side.

"Yes, good job, whoever did it. You make me realize I'm
not wasting my time badgering you to do your homework," he conceded.

The light of hero worship lit four sets of eyes and they
all shuffled and looked pleased with themselves, elbowing each other in pre-teen
embarrassment at the praise, (they'd been the Professor's students long enough
to know his brand of praise when they heard it. It wasn't handed out often and
was only won with hard work, so it was something to be pleased about)
.

"I think this deserves some kind of reward," Al pitched
in, "Isn't there a booth selling funnel cakes?" He gave his own brother the
manly elbow, (while not meaning quite the same things as the pre-teen elbow,
the context was similar)
, and Ed gaped at him, trying very hard not to look
at the four boys who suddenly clustered closer to him. One tentative tug at
his sleeve was all it took, and Al folded his hands, grinning at his brother's
back as he trudged off, herded by his students. Several other boys joined them
as they walked across the field, making Ed the center of the pack. He wouldn't
have been very pleased to hear Alphonse snicker aside to the General, "You can
hardly tell which one is Ed."


Al brushed at his butt and decided he'd have one more
go at finding the Xingian prince.

"Hey Al," a voice called, "there you are, we've been looking
all over for you guys! This place is a crush!"

Al looked up and grinned. Sarah came wading through the
crowd dragging Havoc by the arm. Behind them was Fuery, holding the hand of
a boy who looked to be about seven or eight. Sarah released Havoc when she got
close enough in favor of throwing her arms around Al's neck for a hug. Al grinned,
patted her back and reached to shake Havoc's hand.

"Whenever we want to find you or Ed, we just look for
the generalized disturbance," Havoc grinned.

Sarah released Al as Fuery approached and Al gripped his
hand as well for a shake.

"Hey Al, it's been a while. East City must be agreeing
with you," he smiled, "This is my nephew, John. John this is Mr. Alphonse Elric,
say hello."

The boy clutched Cain's hand tightly, gave Al a wavy smile,
a near inaudible hello and seemed to restrain himself mightily from jumping
behind his uncle to hide.

"He's a little shy," Cain said, "sorry about that."

"No need, I remember being a little shy myself at times,"
Al grinned, "Hello John, I'm glad you could come, I hope you are having a good
time."

"Where's Ed?" Havoc asked, fishing around in his uniform
jacket pocket as Sarah watched him with an amused look on her face. He kept
looking around and kept fishing even though he was coming up empty handed.

"Funnel cake run," Al supplied, "He took about twenty
of his students with him, he'll be awhile. They are holding some exhibitions
on the parade field and you missed the marching bands entrance."

"When are you and Ed going to perform?" Fuery asked, "Is
there time for us to take a look at the booths?"

Al glanced at his watch and nodded. "You've got about
an hour and a half, plenty of time to wander the exhibits."

"Colonel," Havoc suddenly said, delightedly, "No one told
us you were coming!"

"That's because I didn't know if my schedule would clear
up in time," said a voice behind Al, slightly to his left. The very air around
him suddenly seemed thin and scarce, and from the corner of his eye he saw a
figure, though not clearly. She stepped up further into his side field of vision
and he reined himself in mightily to keep from whirling on the woman.

"Too bad Vato couldn't make it," Fuery said, "or Breda...
not that he even thought about coming for a second... but still, it would have
been great, like a real reunion."

Al let himself turn to her then, take in her profile and
long to lean closer to take in her scent as well. She turned her head to look
at him then and smiled.

"Alphonse," she said, "I didn't tell you because I wasn't
sure I could come, but as it so happened, some of my time freed up. I'm glad
I made it in time to see your display."

She was here and real and not some delusion of his one-sided,
obsessed crush. He should speak to her, yes, that would be good, since he'd
determined she wasn't a mirage of his longing, fevered mind.

"You came to see me?" Al said, voice squeaking off at
the end. That is not what he meant to say, or how he meant to say it. The ground
could do him a massive favor by opening its maw wide and swallowing him whole.

"I thought it was important to lend my support if only
by my presence," she said, "I think this is a very worthy cause, something that
you and your brother excel at; besides, the book reading is a bit pointless
if I have no one to discuss it with afterwards."

I love you.

"Can I show you around?" Al said, immediately lifting
his elbow, boggling that he was so presumptuous as to lift it. Can I be with
you for the rest of my life?

She smiled at him, a genuine, open smile and lifted her
hand without hesitation to curl her fingers into the crook of his elbow.

"I'm sorry about the uniform, but I thought it would be
appropriate," she continued, "I hope you don't mind."

Mind? Why would I mind? You... care what I think?

"Of course, it's a military academy after all," he replied.

"What exhibits do you recommend?" she asked. She was the
only person there, the only one he needed to give his attention to. He turned,
took a step and his heart skipped a beat as she followed.

"I'll take you anywhere," he breathed, sounding out of
context.

You should tell her.

"There so much I want to tell you, I'm so glad you're
here."

The fingers in the crook of his elbow tightened.


"Is what I think happening actually happening?" Havoc
said, watching the pair walk off. Sarah gave him a half smile and shook her
head while Fuery reached up to adjust his glasses.

"It needs to happen, one way or another," the General
cut in, finally finding his voice, "They are both running in place so frantically,
someone has to give. If not soon, Alphonse may combust, or their combined formality
will have them still orbiting each other until they are old and gray."

"Who is that woman?" a new voice broke in; the General
didn't bother to turn to look at the prince.

"Colonel Hawkeye," Havoc replied, "Good to see you, Your
Highness."

"Oh good, you’re here," Sarah exclaimed, "Solider
boy, get out the camera," she cried, releasing Havoc's arm and attacking Ling's,
"I need a picture to send the folks so they have something to brag about at
the next Sunday social. That way, the 'when are you gonna get married' thing
might go away."

"Or could backfire," the General said, "into ‘When
are you marrying the prince?’ Quite frankly, I wouldn't want to be seen
with him."

The General and the Prince shared a smile between them
that the rest of the group quirked an eyebrow over.

"You are such a darling thing," said Otto, standing at
the outer ring of the group. "I think it's a very clever idea. Ling, I would
like a picture with you as well, just to have something to brag about."

The Prince smile enigmatically and tightened his arm to
his side, trapping Sarah's hand there. Havoc snorted, suddenly thrust the camera
at Fuery and marched over to Sarah's side.

"This is what you brag about," he told her in a fit of
pique.

"Okay, you can be in the picture too," Sarah said, snuggling
up to Ling's side with a teasing smile, "You want my folks to think you wanna
married the prince too?"

Ling wiggled his eyebrows at Havoc and his smile grew
a bit wider. It was not quite a smile that was what could be considered friendly,
but more like speculative. The type of smile that a spider might give to a fly
while trying to decide it its blood type would be to its liking, but knowing
all along it was going to eat the fly anyway.

"Oh look," Otto said, pointing, "Is Edward signing autographs?"

They all turned to look in unison. Ed was still in the
middle of a knot of boys, but now his shirt sleeve was rolled up to expose his
automail arm. He was writing something furiously and every time he handed one
book off, another was thrust into his hands.

"Sucks to be famous, huh?" said Sarah with a laugh. "And
it's so weird because he doesn't act like he's famous at all."

"HA!" Havoc said, "You didn't know the boss back in the
day."

"He made famous a career," said Fuery.

"I think he got accused of graft so much, it was frightening,"
Havoc said, "I know the boss would never do something like that, but people
used to fall all over him."

"It's because he's so little and cute," Sarah grinned
wickedly, "You just want to cuddle him."

They all edged away from her then, even the prince tried
to lean away.

"Baby," Havoc said, eyes wide, "Don't make yourself ground
zero like that," he waved his hands up and down, "I don't wanna be a widower
before I'm even married."

"Oh come on," Sarah said, "he's way over there, he can't
hear us."

But when they looked to check, Ed was staring right at
them.


"I can't believe you're here, not to say I'm not happy
you are. I am, I mean it will mean a lot to Ed that you thought to come all
this way."

"What is it you wanted to tell me? You said you had a
lot to tell me."

"Yes, right, I do. Ah... it's hard. You'll hear me out,
won't you?"

She inclined her head and they kept walking. It was an
unhurried, leisurely pace and he could almost imagine that they were out on
a Sunday stroll, having woken up early and had coffee out on the porch. They
might have gone to brunch or maybe they were going to the park.

"You've gotten very tall," she offered when the silence
stretched longer than it should have, "Even since I last saw you I think," she
said it almost with a sense of wonder, "It's so strange that it's come to be
like this. I never imagined something like this, but now that the thought has
come, I find I can't quite shake it."

"I think, for a long time, it's been like this for me.
But it wasn't what could be now... back then, does that make sense?" He looked
at her sidelong.

"It will take some getting used to, there are certain
things I still associate with you. It can't be helped, because it has been that
way for a long time."

"What can I do to change it? I mean, is there something
I can be doing differently that will make it more... feasible? More comfortable?"

"No, because to change for only that reason is not enough
and it wouldn't be you then, would it? If it happens, it happens."

"...so, it could happen?"

"I'm here, aren't I? You have been making overtures; neither
of us are suited to this sort of thing it seems, but when you weren't there,
I started thinking about you and then I couldn't stop. It seems funny, doesn't
it? I'm sure no one ever thought, least of all myself, of such a thing occurring,
but it's not a bad thing, just unexpected."

He stopped. They were near the far end of the field, away
from the crowd a bit.

You should tell her.

"What about Talbert?" He asked finally, appalled at himself
and dying to know anyway.

"Who? Oh, Talbert," she said, confused by the abrupt change
of subject, "Did you think... Talbert is a business acquaintance. Since I will
be working closely with him, I thought I should get to know him a bit better.
I find it easier to get to know someone away from the office." Her fingers squeezed
his inner elbow again.

"I love you. Don't say anything yet, please just wait
and let me tell you what I mean. I mean I love you, but I mean, I have to tell
you about why I do and the reasons why I'm not a child anymore and you should
listen to me and let me tell you why it might be a good idea for this to be
between us. Okay? Please just hear me out and let me tell you before I explode.
I really feel like I'm going to explode, do you ever feel like that? No, of
course not, that's just me. But please, before you shoot me down, just
let me make my case. I mean, not shoot me literally because I know you'd never
do that no matter what the General has ever told me, and I didn't believe a
word of it, but you know what I mean. What do I mean? I think I want to run
and hide from you right now, but I can't, I won't! Because I'm not as young
as I look, you know how old I am, I feel like I'm pleading for my life, I am
pleading for my life. Please don't hold this against me. I'm sorry to sound
so insane," he babbled.

"Alphonse," she started, "I don't think you sound insane,
I know that I'm..."

"Wait, wait," he pleaded desperately, "I thought I should
tell you, because as you said, neither of us are suited to this. We've always
been very straight forward in everything. I'm supposed to be good at all these
things; I'm supposed to be a genius, but this is important and I feel like I'm
ten. I don't understand it, but I want to understand it. I want to learn. I
want to learn with you and from you. I love you. You were always there for me;
I could always count on you. It was circumstance or fate, it just was,
and that's how it is supposed to be. I believe that in my heart, I truly do.
Everything happens for a reason and not always a good one, but this is a good
one, this is a good reason.

"You know about me, about my brother. You know of our
sins and I'm open to you. Everything I am, you've seen twice over; there is
nothing inside me that you haven't touched. It's so rare... don't you see? That's
how it is for brother, the General, he knows him. He knows what it's
like, deep down inside, to feel the way Ed feels. That is how I feel about you.

"I don't want to make you uncomfortable, or push something
on you that you'd rather not have, but I had to tell you. It was the only thing
to do. I spent the first part of my life chasing after something I wanted more
than anything in the world. I don't want to chase things I want anymore. I'm
tired of running."

"You don't have to run anymore," she said then. "I understand
what you are saying, and I want..."

"This isn't all about me, it's about you too. I know that
and whatever it is you want, I want that too. I want to make it happen for you,
I will do everything to make it happen for you, but please, just let me try!
Whatever happens I can live with it, I promise, so I don't want you to feel
like you have to..."

But he never finished.

Because she kissed him.


He whirled around and tried desperately to disappear back
into the crowd, but the crowd, out of respect for his own growled wishes, had
dissipated. Using his brother and the Colonel as an excuse to escape seemed
like a good idea and to make the lie work, he'd dashed after them through the
crowd, but now, oh now, they couldn't see him! This was private, this
was beyond private.

They were kissing!

If Al caught him, he was dead! (not that Ed actually
considered the one kiss Riza had actually bestowed on his brother to be kissing,
that was more like just a kiss. Kissing involved groping and tongue battling
and a lot more privacy than they actually had at the moment, not that he was
actually giving them any! The bastard, he could kiss, he really had it down.
He started hard to realize he wasn't sure which bastard that was currently on
his kiss register he meant)
.

Al was leaning back now, his lips were parted and he was
wearing a blush so potent, eggs could be fried on each cheek. Ed dove headlong
for the nearest booth and ducked under the table. Everyone jumped back and he
hissed, grabbing for the nearest cadet colored pant leg, causing the boy to
yelp.

"SHHHHH," Ed stage whispered, "If you all run from the
table, that’ll look suspicious and I'm trying to hide here, act natural!"

The boy wet his lips, nodded and stood stiffly behind
the table as Ed slowly released his pant leg.

"Look over there, do you see a guy with brown hair and
a Colonel in a blue uniform?" he asked the boy.

"No," the boy whimpered.

"No, over there, to your left, look to your left," Ed
growled.

"I see a Colonel in a blue uniform," the boy said. "And
there are a lot of guys around too."

"No, look for the guy kissing the Colonel, maybe
they aren't kissing anymore, he has on a green shirt and a pair of tweed pants.
He's... taller than you, do you see him?"

"I don't want to see a guy kissing the Colonel," the boy
whined. "And why would he want to? He has a big mustache and it looks like there
is food caught in it."

"NO—for the love of... it's a girl Colonel, a blond!
MOVE," Ed pushed the boy's legs aside and peered over the edge of the table.

Of course he was instantly spotted.

"Brother!" cried Al, pointing at him. "What are you doing?!"

"Nothing!" Ed shrieked. "I wasn't spying or anything!
I was minding my own business and I had nothing to do with it, I didn't see
anything!"

"What are you talking about?" Al waved his arms. "You're
going to be late for your own demonstration!"


They made the tent set up on the edge of the parade grounds
just in time to hear the dean begin to speak over the loud speaker system. Ed
stood in the tent, half bent over, hands on knees panting. He straightened up
and looked at the assembled crowd.

"Okay, I'm up first, then Al. After that, we turn on the
hoses for the fountain Al is going to make. That brings up Otto and Roy," Ed
couldn't help the grin that spread over his face at his lover's name in connection
with an alchemy demonstration. "Then Alex, you're the clean up."

"We've only gone over this a million times," the General
grinned.

"I know, but I'm nervous, okay?" Ed snapped, his eyes
settling on Ling. His stomach twisted a bit and he snarled, "What are you doing
in here?"

"Everyone else was in here," the prince shrugged.

"Everyone else isn't in here," Ed countered. "I don't
see the Colonel or Havoc or the rest of the masses."

"That was figurative, brother," Al said behind him.

"I know that," Ed said, taking his turn to wave his arms,
"I just mean... nevermind, did he just say my name?"

Everyone turned to listen to the voice over the loud speaker
and Miss Bloom poked her head into the tent.

"Professor, there you are," she said with a smile, "You
better come on, the dean is starting the introduction. We're all so excited
to see your display."

Ed tried to edge around the woman, but it was no use.
She clung to his arm like lint to fabric and he got yanked out of the tent before
he could cast a proper 'save me' look at the General.


He'd had this feeling once, long ago in a restaurant,
in an eastern city. He had been there with a Colonel and somehow, even though
he had never been sensitive to attention before, he could feel every eye on
him. It was the same now. The bleachers around the parade grounds were overflowing.
The turn out for the event had become much larger than anticipated. He rubbed
his palms on his pants leg, (he rubbed them both even though one only sweated;
it felt like the other one was sweating too)
, and stood near the base of
the podium as the dean made the introductions. He and Al had spent a few nights
coming up with his demonstration. He was going to create a 'Rube Goldberg',
an insanely intricate device used for a simple function, in this case, cracking
an egg. It struck him as he went over the details in his brain once again...
that he didn't have an egg. He waved to Miss Bloom frantically, whispered in
her ear feverishly and watched her dash off. He glanced up as he heard
his name come over the loud speaker once again and his eyes widened as the roar
of the crowd drowned out anything else the dean might have wanted to say.

He was 'The Alchemist of the People'. It was a title the
people had given him and the only title he'd worked hard to be worthy of. It
was also the only title he was proud of. Then there were the eyes again, all
over him. He tugged at his right shirt sleeve, swallowed and stepped forward,
raising his hand a little. The second wave of calls from the crowd were every
bit as deafening at the first and he winced a little. He took a few deep breaths
and looked around, at the very end of the parade grounds where several large
mounds of dirt that has been placed there for he and his brother to draw upon.
His ‘palms’ were sweaty again, but rubbing them on his pants in
front of an audience was not an option. Where the hell was his egg?

He pictured the construct in his mind one more time, running
over the fine details and quickly making fine tuning adjustments to the array
he was picturing. When he clapped his hands, he completed the circle; the circle
allowed the flow of alchemy to make its way through is body. When he knelt to
place his hands on the ground, the alchemic reaction grounded and projected
itself into an array that was usually not visible to the naked eye. With the
array in place and his will determined, he could force reactions from the elements
around him by transmuting. When he transmuted, he could exchange one element
for another, if the appropriate compounds were available. It wasn't something
for nothing, it wasn't magic, it was the nexus of his entire existence; and
sometimes, at night, he wished he'd never met such a merciless master.

Blue and white, it whipped down the parade grounds, rushing past the bleachers.
Immediately, one of the huge mounds of dirt began to sink into the ground and
in the same instance, a spike suddenly erupted in front of the bleachers. The
crowd gasped in delight, breaking into applause as the spike doubled back on itself
and crashed earthward. With the flashy part of the demonstration over, it was
time to get to work.

The device was simple, but it was being constructed on
a grand scale. The first part was a large, old fashioned crank cash register.
Ed had studied many pictures of the devices and their inner workings, and the
register formed with its simple gears, raised up on a platform of dirt. Ed formed
a large ball that sat against the drawer of the register and a ramp that sloped
down from it, towards a funnel, which would drop the ball onto another ramp.
Attached to the ball was a 'string' and as it reached the end of the ramp, the
string would pull and a large toy car would be released (Ed made the car
look like the General's state loaned car that he was rather familiar with)

down yet another ramp. This trip would result in yet another ball being pushed
into another funnel, (when they'd thought this up, it seemed that a lot of
ramps and funnels would be fine, but now in practice, it seemed redundant. If
Ed ever did this again, there would be less balls and less funnels),
this
ball would land on and set off a huge mousetrap.

The mousetrap would pull a large 'nail' from a pole that
would allow an attached weight to drop. The weight, in turn, would pull a cork
from a tube, which would, in turn, deliver the ball into a cup, which would
be perched on a scale. The scale would tilt and raise a wire to... yes, release
a ball to run down a ramp, (this seemed so much more creative in theory).
This ball would drop into a basket, which would lower and hopefully hit a lever
on the back of a replica of a toy axe man, causing his axe to fall with just
enough precision and force... to crack a single egg.

As stated before, it had all worked in theory.

He was out of practice and the detail and dimension of
the grand scale contraption was taking its toll; he had started to pant near
the end of it. From the response of the crowd, just the construction of the
contraption might have been enough, but then there was Al, hurrying out to his
brother and carrying a small bowl.

"Here's the egg. It’s not really an egg," he whispered.
"It only looks like an egg because well, we used all the eggs in the cafeteria.
So I transmuted an egg shaped something and BROTHER she kissed me!"

"The egg kissed you?" said Ed staring into the bowl at
the small, oval-ish, egg-shaped something or another Al had transmuted.

There comes a time in every man's life when he questions
his very existence. Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Alphonse Elric
was pretty certain he'd answered all these questions at a very early age, (twice
over, even)
, and there should be no really big surprises left in life. Oh
there would be surprises, but not the philosophical kind. Even with this in
mind, there was one question that at certain times in his life, Alphonse Elric
would always ask himself, and that question was: Is Edward Elric really my
brother?

"The chicken kissed me and got so excited she laid an
egg," Al said, "all that about transmuting it? That was a lie."

"You kissed the 4-H boy's chicken?" Ed wrinkled his nose,
"I didn't need an egg that badly. You better go boil your lips."

"What do you think the crowd would do if I were to shove
this up your nose?" Al asked causally.

Ed snorted, reached in the bowl, grabbed the egg and ran
to the end of the contraption, balancing it precariously on the small pedestal
transmuted there for the very purpose.

"Now, we get someone to crank the crank," Ed said and
rubbed his hands together in a pretty descent imitation of a demented scientist
about to pull the lever that would grant him world domination.

"Why don't you have one of your boys do it?" Al said.
"That would make one of them really happy."

"And the rest completely miserable. I'd hear about it
all next week. Oh, Professor Elric likes you best. Really Al, you have
no idea how the minds of young boys work," Ed waved his hand.

"A couple of semesters under your belt and you're an expert,"
Al said, "It's a pity you didn't have all this advanced knowledge when you were
a young boy; being your brother might not have been such a ulcer-inducing past
time."

"Ah!" Ed said, and raised his finger, intent on wagging
it in Al's face, but he caught himself at the last second, dropping his hand,
"You couldn't get ulcers, you didn't have a stomach," Ed said triumphantly.

"That's okay," Al said, "You had stomach enough for both
of us and a couple of siblings we never had," Al retorted, hands going to his
hips.

It was then the General wandered up and looked at them
both with a pleasant smile. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Al kisses chickens," Ed said.

"Ed is an expert on being an adolescent air-head," Al
replied.

"Al, kissing poultry will have people talking. Ed, engage
your brain before putting your mouth into gear. Now gentleman, can we get this
show on the road?" the General made a polite but pointed nod at the assembled
crowd, who'd all gone silent. Some of the boys who were sitting up front had
edged closer to listen to the siblings argue.

"Crank the crank Roy," Ed said.

"Pardon," the General asked, "This is not a time to be
bringing that up..."

Ed grabbed the General's elbow and turned him, pointing
toward the large crank handle before giving him a little shove forward.

"Just crank it?" The General asked.

"Just give it a good turn, that's all it should need,"
Ed reassured him.

"Crank the crank?" Al said, looking sidelong at his brother.
Ed's cheeks pinked a bit and he made a shooing motion with his hand.

"What do you know about it, you're the one kissing girls,"
Ed hissed out of the side of his mouth.

"On the lips no less, girls who used to outrank me," Al
murmured back.

"Welcome to the real world, where you'll learn to love
the compromise and you'll care how you look in the morning," his big brother
said. "Suddenly little things you never thought of before will no longer be
little things and all your free time will be gone. Your privacy will eventually
become nil and you'll feign interest in things that really aren't interesting
at all. You'll live for each breath, each smile, and each day. You'll no longer
live for yourself, it's amazing."

Al studied his brother's profile as his brother watched
the General reach up and grip the handle of the crank, looking over his shoulder
at Ed once more, uncertainly. Ed smiled and nodded, hands clasped loosely behind
his back. Ed had never lived for himself; it was funny to hear him speak of
it as if he had. Ed lived for a cause and at one time, his cause was his younger
brother. His cause was a bit different now, it was tugging on a make shift handle
of an alchemized Rube Goldberg contraption.

"Harder!" Ed yelled in encouragement and mimicked tugged
on the handle himself. The General quirked his eyebrow up, turned back to the
handle and heaved downward. There was a sudden grinding noise, the sound of
a bell chiming and the drawer of the crank cash register shot open, driving
the ball on the ramp toward the first funnel; Ed held his breath.


It cracked the egg, the pedestal and the ground, but the
crowd didn't seem to mind at all. It took some doing to hush them for the next
introduction, whose last name also happened to be Elric.

"There is going to be no following that," Al said with
a shake of his head, tugging on a pair of old, white gloves he'd brought along
for the occasion. His eyes strayed over the people standing on the sideline
and his chest puffed out a bit at the sight of a certain Colonel standing between
Alex and the Prince. The Prince! So he hadn't left after all. Al walked
toward the hoses that had been strategically stretched across the field; they
the 'fuel' for his fountain and Otto's alchemy. He clapped his hands together
and knelt to the ground, replaying the fountain he'd studied on the train in
his mind. It wasn't terribly intricate and he made mental modifications to the
design as he pushed power into the earth below his feet and exchanged one energy
for another. The basin of the fountain quickly formed and the central tower
rose into the air. For an artistic touch he spiraled it, making it hollow as
planned and splitting the top in a curved shape that was supposed to look like
flames.

"What is he doing? It looks like a giant daisy," Ed huffed
to the General in the background.

Al tunneled beneath the fountain and the water hoses disappeared
underground before he gave a curt nod toward the main building where a volunteer
had been posted to turn on the water. He could hear the bubbling as the hoses
came on one by one and glanced over his shoulder toward where his brother and
the other 'performers' stood.

"Is that my cue?" Otto said. "That's my cue, isn't it?"
The General turned abruptly and strode off, needing to get to the vantage point
that had been previously discussed for his part in the spectacle. Al stood up
and dusted off his hands, turned and bowed his head to the older gentleman who
came up along side of him. Otto listened to the dean announce him over the loud
speaker and gave Al a wink.

"Octavious is so pretentious, don't you think? I always
thought so, but that's alright, I like pretentious. It's amazing what you find
useful, isn't it?" Otto lifted his cane and struck it on the ground and there
was a moment of collected silence in which nothing happened. Alphonse thought
perhaps the man needed time to use the cane to sketch an array on the ground,
but he did nothing of the sort. He simply stood with his hand on the brass cane
handle, his other hand behind his back and surveyed the fountain of Alphonse's
creation.

"It's rather plain," Al said hesitantly, trying not to
turn to glance at his brother. "I've never made a fountain before."

"It's lovely my dear boy, simple lovely," the silver haired
man said, "It's tall and slender and dark, like many a lovely man I knew in
my youth. It has the elegance and grace of a spiral, reaching toward the sun,
its top open as if in supplication. It's truly a work of art."

"Thank you," Al said, fidgeting a little, "But really
it's..."

The water in the fountain suddenly shot upwards and suspended
as if frozen in place on all sides before exploding into a fine spray. Each
tiny droplet seemed to reflect the sun as they began to swirl around the now
dry fountain in a glittering display and there was an appreciative 'ahhh' from
the audience in the bleachers. Suddenly the droplets went still, they seemed
to flatten and broaden out and slowly, they began to layer themselves, one over
another, until they took on the look of rippling, iridescent scales. Now the
display snaked its way around the fountain, setting into the basin. It rose
in waves, taking on the look of something diving and breaking the surface over
and over again. Large, spiked fins rose from the rope like lengths that kept
rising around the basin of the fountain, then the coils stilled and one of them
detached itself and began to rise in the air.

The glistening, transparent dragon opened its mouth and
roared. Alphonse gasped as the spray hit his face, raising his hands to shield
his eyes against the glint coming from a creature of legend rising from a fountain.
Suddenly, Ed was there, right beside him, wearing a grin that instantly threw
Alphonse back ten years.

"How does he make it roar?" Ed asked in breathless wonder,
"What could he be doing to cause such a sound?"

"Maybe it's like thunderclouds, the displacement of air,"
Alphonse said, only to be drowned out as the dragon shrieked again.

The were calls and applause from the crowd, cheers and
children's screams of delighted fright, then, as if one, the crowd gasped. Al
turned quickly, eyes widening and reached to grab Ed's arm. Ed turned slowly,
titling his head upward as the large firebird descended on the parade grounds.


There is always a moment, a special defining moment, when
something you thought you'd lost is found again. It isn't always the person
who thinks that perhaps they've lost it that has this revelation; sometimes
it's those around them that have mourned its passing that take the greatest
joys in its rebirth. Like a phoenix risen from the ashes, a cliché, but
nevertheless true for its thinking.

He spread his arms and tilted his head back, seeking to
expose as much of himself to the warmth as it passed over him, reveling in the
rebirth of a glory he'd thought long since embers. The great bird descended
silently, spread its wings and banked around the parade grounds before heading
for the fountain itself.

Ed opened his eyes; the true beauty of this moment wasn't
the firebird that a glistening water dragon rose to meet. His eyes trailed across
the scene, toward the bleachers and the lone upper tier. There was a figure
there, discernable by blue, with one arm outstretched; that was the true beauty
of this display. The bird closed in on the dragon and they danced fancifully.
A fairy tale legend brought to life, but fated to doom, for everyone knew that
fire could not love water. The bird banked away again, soaring down the parade
grounds and angling back up into the sky. It angled back once it was far from
the ground, folding its wings in on itself and plummeted toward the fountain
again.

The crowd was now cheering it on and Ed finally tore his
eyes away from the upper bleachers to watch as the bird came skimming low to
the ground and plowed straight into the opening at the bottom of the spiraled
tower rising from the middle of the fountain. The dragon began to climb as well,
coiling itself around the tower as it went. When it reached the top, the firebird
burst from the opening and the dragon's coils encircled it. They climbed higher
and higher together, loving and doomed, until at the pinnacle of their ascent,
the dragon tightened its coils. The great bird, as silent as it was beautiful,
threw its head back with wings spread and simply ceased to be. With its love
gone, the dragon dissipated and fell in a rush toward the ground. Everyone around
the fountain back pedaled furiously, all expect for a lone, blond alchemist,
who once again threw his arms out and bowed his head, eyes closed.


There was an appreciative shriek as the ground rumbled
all around them. The bleachers themselves seemed to bounce and Alphonse reached
out and grabbed his brother's damp arm to steady himself. Ed grinned at him
as the Rube Goldberg and the fountain shuddered and began to fall in on themselves.
As this was happening, Alex raised his second spike-robed fist, slammed it into
the earth and a great chasm opened beneath the two crumbling structures. They
fell into it, the long tower of the fountain hitting and breaking in a spectacular
display of flying dirt over the Rube Goldberg. They vanished without a trace
as the earth snapped shut and when the dust settled, it seemed as if nothing
had ever been there at all.

"Oh, well done," Alphonse breathed by his brother's ear.
"Listen to the crowd, Brother. I think this has been a great success."

Ed smiled, nodded, his eyes turning to scan the bleachers
once again, but the figure that had held him so enraptured was gone. All he
really wanted to do now was find him and kiss him. Kiss him until neither of
them could draw a proper breath. Run his hands down the back of that blue cloth,
hear his nails scratching down to those square and narrow hips, feel the weight
of the man between his legs...

"I'm going to find the Colonel," Al said, drawing Ed from
what could have been an embarrassing condition. Al released his arm and surged
into the forming crowd around the troop of alchemists.

As an event, it was officially over. Ed tried to navigate
the crowd, but the tugs and questions and boys’ pleas waylaid him, and
the General was not given to being tall enough to distinguish amidst a sea of
blue uniforms. He managed to get to Otto's side, however, as the man signed
his own share of autograph books. He was positively glowing and it made Ed happy
in innumerable ways.

"So, how is it you transmute without a circle?" Ed managed
to get in edgewise between the pleas for autographs, young boys’ breathless
questions and admiration. The older man winked at Ed and hefted up his cane
enough for Ed to get a look at the array etched into the brass tip at the bottom.
Ed grinned but got jostled aside. He was old hat now. After all, he was a teacher
and accessible. He found he was glad his fame wore thin the longer he was with
the school, now that he had a life and was not chasing one, it suited him to be
just one of the crowd.

He glimpsed his brother, Riza at his side, standing with
Alex and another group of boys. Al was grinning ear to ear as books where shoved
in his face and he kept glancing at the Colonel to make sure she was watching.
Ed's stomach did a little flutter at the sight. Growing up. No, that wasn't
right. Grown up, he was grown up and finding his own happiness.

I did it, I managed to undo what I have done. May I be forgiven.

A hand landed on the small of his back and spread, the
palm warm against his spine and he grinned and turned, but it was not the black
hair and eyes of who he expected to see. The features were rounder, foreign
and familiar.

"Congratulations," said the prince, prodding the professor
further from the crowd.

"Your display was breathtaking, fit for an emperor; and
since one day I will be one, wasn't it lucky I was here to witness it."

"Ling, I'm trying to find Roy..." Ed said.

"Where did you last see him?" the prince said, perhaps
meaning to be helpful but not really sounding like it.

"He was on the bleachers," Ed moved away from the hand
on his back and turned to head toward the now almost deserted parade ground
bleachers. The prince fell in step at his side, clasping his hands behind his
back.

"Look, I don't need an escort," Ed grumbled. "I'd rather
see Roy alone, so if you don't mind, scram."

"I don't mind," the prince grinned. "I'm merely walking
the same way, and as you haven't found the General yet, you don't have to be
alone yet. Oh look, is that him?

Ed turned to look and then snorted. "No," he said, "You
know the General. He's not that tall, not that old and doesn't have a beard
to his belly. You are being deliberately unhelpful."

"All these uniforms look the same after a while," the
prince shrugged with an easy grin.

Ed ducked under the side of the bleachers where he and
Alphonse and the General had their discussion earlier in the day. The sunlight
dappled through the seats, but for the most part it, was dim and Ed didn't see
anyone standing under them. He felt a little knot of disappointment and turned
and ran into Ling who had ducked under with him.

"Do you always have to get right up on me?" Ed snapped,
taking a step back, "What, are you afraid I'm going to disappear if I'm more
than a foot away?"

"Quite possibly," the prince said, advancing again. Ed
backed up into a strut and hissed at the feel of the metal biting into his back.

"Look, Ling, this has to stop. I know that I've been...
I don't want you to think I'm leading you on. Damn that sounds weird, I never
in a million years thought I'd be saying anything like that..." the prince's
lips cut him off and Ed raised his hands to put them on Ling's shoulders with
the intention of pushing him away.

He managed it after a moment, held the prince off at arms
length and panted slightly.

"I said this has to stop!" he snarled.

"But you didn't say stop," the prince returned. "I don't
think you really know what you want, Professor. I think it's very fortunate
for both of us." Ling took a step back then and Ed lowered his hands.

"I want to find the General," Ed said, "I didn't come
under here to get ambushed. Now leave off, I mean it."

The prince nodded once, turned and walked off without
another word and Ed took a moment to simmer down. What the hell was wrong with
him that he let that pompous, monkey-faced bastard get away with putting his
lips all over him? He ran a hand over his face, brushed back his ponytail and
shook his head before moving from beneath the bleachers.

By this time, he'd lost track of everyone, and
the fair grounds were emptying out. The only real crowds were the students taking
down their booths, tallying up their takes and the football team struggling
to get Matilda back in the truck. He threw his hands up and let them drop to
his sides, then pulled them up and put them on his hips, pursing his lips and
lookingaround. Great, abandoned.

"Professor," called the voice he'd only spent the last
hour looking for, (or what seemed like an hour, anyway). The General
waved from the doorway of the main building and Ed grinned, hurrying toward
him.

"I've been looking all over," he said, coming up to Roy's
side, "I thought you might be under the bleachers," the Professor wiggled his
eyebrows.

"You know, I thought about that," the General grinned,
"but I thought you might like to show me your classroom?" and he winked.

"The boys are going to store the booth pieces in there
until Monday," Ed said, elated and disappointed.

"Ah, well then, you'll have to show me the broom closet,"
the General said.

"Broom... closet?" asked the Professor.


"It was... exhilarating, I didn't remember just how it
felt..." the General mumbled into the side of the Professor's neck. The Professor,
half dressed and with a mop handle pressing against his spine, just moaned.

The General nudged the Professor's shirt to the side,
lowered his head and extended his tongue toward the nipple he'd just bared.
The Professor hissed and arched his chest, slamming the heels of his hands against
the mud sink he was leaning against.

"It was arousing," the Professor hissed out when the General
made a slow, warm and wet sweep of his tongue over his chest. "All I wanted
to do was find you. Ah... Roy..."

"Find me?" the General murmured, leaving off his splendid
torture for a moment, "What would you have done, if you had found me?" he asked.

"I think the fact I'm here and half naked in a broom closet
should clue you in," the Professor swallowed.

The General grinned into glazed, golden eyes, his fingers
working at and releasing a belt and the button of a pair of dark, brown trousers.
He tugged at the zipper then shimmied his hand inside, palm flat against Ed's
stomach for a few moments. The General's fingers skated through the curls in
the juncture of Ed's legs, who spread his legs and unbidden, went up almost
onto his toes.

"You're fucking hot, did you know that? Flame just makes
you that much fucking hotter... damnit YES... yes do that..." Ed panted.

"So, the alchemy made you hot?" Roy murmured, bowing his
head to nibble up the side of his neck again.

"You made me hot, you always make me hot... the alchemy
just made it... ah... AH—" It took a few moments before Ed could speak
again, "I don't remember what I was saying," he whined.

The General groaned deep in his chest and stuck his tongue
in the Professor's ear; that was just too nice a fucking compliment. The Professor's
hand suddenly made its way into one of the General's voluminous regulation trouser
pockets and Roy grunted as Ed dug hard into the pocket but didn't come anywhere
near his now evident erection.

"To your left," Roy muttered, his own fingers closing
around Ed's cock. Ed shivered and bucked into his hand, "Further to your left,"
Roy panted again. Ed's hand obeyed and his fingers brushed over Roy's rigid
penis, but quickly flitted away again.

"That's your dick, not the lube," Ed complained and Roy
groaned and sighed. He pulled his hands from Ed's pants and Ed whined loudly,
gripping his forearms, but Roy hooked his thumb into the waist band of Ed's
pants and began to work them down. He knelt as he worked them and Ed's breathing
hitched up a great deal once the General was on his knees. Ow, the broom closet
floor was tiled and wasn't very comfortable; it was cold as well and a bit damp.
On his knees, he could smell more of the chemicals stored under the mud sink
Ed was backed up against and that wasn't pleasant, so he stuck his nose in the
damp, blond curls above his lover's erection and inhaled deeply. There, that
was better, that smelled like Ed. Ed gasped and swallowed, arched his back and
looked down at Roy with a dazed and heated expression.

"What are you doing?" Ed asked with a quiver in his tone.

"All I can smell down here is bleach," Roy said, and rested
his nose against musky, damp curls again. "But this is better."

"Yeah, okay," Ed said weakly and his thighs trembled under
Roy's hands when Roy reached up to stroke over them.

"I can't help but think this should be the other way around,"
the General suddenly mused. Ed's eyes came close to crossing. Why was it every
time Ed was so horny he could fuck a knot hole in a log, Roy wanted to wax poetic
over something?

"I'll blow you when we get home!" Ed bargained.

"I mean, if it was my display of superior alchemy that
got you this aroused," the General continued in that smug, teasing tone, the
one that made Ed's toes curl, the one that made Ed want to shove that arrogant
face into a meat grinder; yes that tone, continued, "I'd think you'd like to
be showing me your appreciation."

"I am showing you!" Ed half howled, "I'm fucking harder
than a diamond and you made me that way, be goddamn flattered and suck me already,"
he sobbed.

The General made a tsking sound and the tip of his tongue
touched the base of Ed's cock and pressed there, seeming to move in a little
circle.

"That spot’s done, move on," Ed begged, "Roy, don't
do this to me in a broom closet, for fuck's sake, I thought this was going to
be a quicky!"

"Well, it was going to be," the General said in that very
put upon tone he got when the thought he was being horribly wronged, "but someone
went and got snooty."

"It wasn't me," Ed sobbed, "It wasn't mean, I don't have
a snooty bone in my fucking body. Fuck what do I have to do to make it up to
you? Just fucking tell me, you always do this when you know I'm weak! You're
a nasty bastard, praying on my honor. I hate you... oh fuck, put me in your
mouth, I'll bottom for a month!"

"You'd bottom for a month anyway," the General said with
a smirk, "You like to bottom," he gave Ed a long tongue swipe up the underside
of Ed's straining cock.

"If you don't do something and soon," Ed said, sweating
and panting, "I'm going to transmute this broom right up your ass, and then...
people won't say you walk around like you have a broom up your ass... they'll
know. Please Roy..." Ed arched forward again, invitingly. He turned on
his best pout, he gave the General his best big-eyed look.

The General looked up at him, one slim eyebrow arched
and an amused smirk on his face. Then he repeated the lick up the Ed's cock
and his tongue nudged the head. It was warm and full and red, glistening with
pre-cum and Ed sucked in a hard breath. When the General closed his mouth over
it and lightly tongued the slit, Ed came. As it turned out, it was a quicky
indeed.


The Professor had the most languid smile on his face and
he burrowed back into the car seat on the ride home.

"So spoiled," the General murmured, a smile on his face.

"I know, what can you do?" Ed sighed and then he leaned
hard and just flopped over, the side of his head hitting the top of the General's
thigh. One of the General's hands immediately dropped to his head and scritched
through the hair on his temple.

"You're going to be asleep before we get home," his lover
said and Ed couldn't argue. He was so warm and relaxed and happy.

"You were incredible," Ed sighed, rubbing his cheek on
the scratchy blue cloth, "I knew you could do it, I don't see why you thought
you couldn't."

"It was just one of those carryovers," the General said,
"Back when I was feeling sorry for myself. You know, not everyone can get knocked
down and get up as quickly as you do, have pity for us mere mortals."

"No, no pity for you," Ed said and yawned, "You're not
allowed to be a mere anything." The gentle scratching over his ear was insidious
and he found it near impossible to keep his eyes open.

"No pity for me," the General murmured. His fingers strayed
over the outer ridge of Ed's ear, lightly traced his jaw line, "Are you asleep?"

"Almost," Ed said faintly.

"Thank you," the General said, "From me and from Otto
both."

"What are you talking about?" Ed mumbled, "I didn't do
anything, that display you two cooked up stole the entire demonstration."

"Hmmm," the General said. He might have said more, but
Ed didn't catch it. He was floating now, Roy's fingers in his hair, the vibration
of the car, Roy's warmth under his cheek; they all conspired against his waking
consciousness.

The General could tell as he pulled the car onto the thoroughfare
that he'd have a nice, quiet drive all the way home.