sky dark

Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 21.

It was in a sense, too perfect. Even though the manners matched and as a Colonel,
she couldn't help but be pleased, but the pleasure of dating a gentleman was
growing rather thin. It was like him, however, to try to be the perfect companion,
the perfect compliment to a career she'd devoted her entire adult life (and
honestly a little before true adulthood)
to. He would never want to shame
her or give her reason to think he was base or insensitive, because that was
just Alphonse. Perfect to almost a fault. It was comfortable, of that
there was no doubt, and comfort was an important commodity, but there was this
little nagging feeling, right at the base of her skull, that somehow the scale
remained balance and untipped... well, what was wrong with comfortable?

Comfortable meant no surprises. That wasn't such a bad
thing as one might suppose. It meant order from chaos; it meant accomplishment
in ruling one's destiny. It was everything she desired, but as time passed and
her attraction deepened, she found it was nothing she wanted. There must be
some way to engage him, to make him shake free of his self-imposed properness
and be... well be Alphonse.

She was used to command; she was confident in her abilities
to steer her subordinates in the direction she desired them to go. She rarely
had to issue an outright command and in this she took pride, but with Alphonse
it wasn't as cut and dry. When she hoped he would take the initiative, he deferred.
When he was invited to be in charge, he delegated. It was enough, in a way,
to make her own head swim. Why was it he was so much easier to read when they
weren't... this? And what was this, anyway?

It was... comfortable. She tapped her pen on her desk
and frowned slightly. Across the room, First Lieutenant Pharr cleared his throat
but she didn't look up, she just gave a little wave of one hand. She needed
to find some common ground between them and then push him off onto the curb.
She needed to make him question what was for, what could be, and she just needed
him to do something. Something other than being lovely, perfect, completely
flawless Alphonse.

As if on cue, he walked in. Hayate paraded at the end
of his leash and Alphonse bent to release him of it. He smiled as the dog made
his way to the pillow behind Riza's desk and flopped over onto it.

"You wore him out," she said with a small, half smile.

"I carried him most of the way," Alphonse grinned, curling
the leash up his hands and pocketing it, "Are we still on for lunch?" he asked,
tilting his head.

The Colonel rose from her desk, dropped the pen on it
and straightened her jacket. She went around the desk to his side and slipped
her fingers into the crook of his elbow when he offered it. He turned and nodded
to First Lieutenant Pharr, who gave them both a grin and a broad wink, and lead
her out the door, slowing his stride and pace to match her own.

"I hear the symphony might play in the park on Saturday,"
he said, turning his head to look down at her, "We could take lunch, I could
make it," she felt a little twinge then. Her choice of career hadn't lent itself
to making her culinary proficient, therefore it was Alphonse that did most of
the cooking. While she thought it absurd that such a notion should bother her,
(for she was never in her own opinion, womanly) it did.

"I should really learn to do more than boil water," she

"I don't mind," Alphonse said cheerfully, "in fact, I
rather like it. I used to cook for brother all the time when we were traveling.
I'm grateful that it is actually tasty rather than just serviceable. Ed wasn't
much for offering his opinions as much as he was for just shoveling it in."

"I'm not sure I want to go to a concert on Saturday,"
she said, "I've been rather neglectful of my personal regiment. Why don't I
teach you something I can, and in exchange you teach me to cook?"

Alphonse looked surprised for a moment, then pleased and
she almost got the impression of an all over wag, like a puppy so happy to see
you its enthusiasm can't be contained in a mere tail, that it must make
a full body demonstration.

"That sounds intriguing," he said, a smile tugging the
corners of his lips, "So what did you have in mind for our outing?" he grinned.

"The firing range," she replied matter-of-factly, "I have
a couple of rifles I need put through their paces."

She was rather impressed with his ability to keep his
grin in place while the rest of his facial expressions retreated to hide behind
his neck.

"This is a repeating rifle," she said, lifting the weapon
from its case. It was long and had a polished wooden handle. When Al commented
on it, he was corrected.

"That is the stock," she said with authority, "It has
a lever action, it can fire several shots before being reloaded, hence the term
repeating," she informed him.

Al felt like there might be a test afterward.

"This rifle belonged to my grandfather," she said and
that made Al much less inclined to touch it, "It's a 66, it can only use a rim-fire
round. This other rifle is a 76, it can use the more potent .44 center-fire

"Oh," Al said.

Riza flipped the rifle in her hands, then pointed and
a litany began that Al struggled to keep up with. He was sure it would be on
the test.

"Side plate, magazine follower, carrier spring, mainspring,
firing pin," she ticked off as her finger darted over the gun’s metal
parts, "trigger, stock..." she trailed off when she glanced up at him, "Alphonse,
are you alright? There won't be a test," she reassured him.

He let go of the breath he had been holding and tried
to give a light laugh that came out sounding like a man being reprieved from
the gallows.

"Oh I knew there wouldn't be any test," he said, "I was
just interested you know, you are so knowledgably and it's a great hobby, only
it isn't a hobby to you is it? I mean to say, you are a marksman and an expert.
You have trophies and medals and commendations... and oh say, what is this part
again?" he riveted on the rifle in her hands and pointed.

She wanted to kiss him.

Instead, she pushed the rifle into his hands. His eyes
widened and he handled it gingerly, like a new uncle with his infant niece.
The look he gave her reminded her of small helpless things facing danger.

"I'll set up a target," she said, and turned to walk down
the stall to the end. She pulled over a bale of hay and set up a cardboard target,
already peppered with buckshot. She walked back down to where Alphonse was doing
a good impersonation of a wooden solider; he hadn't moved a muscle since she'd
put the rifle in his hands. She opened the ammo box she'd brought with them
and took out two shells.

"Now we'll load the rifle," she said. Alphonse smiled
and nodded in such a slight manner that not a hair moved out of place.

"Alphonse, the rifle isn't glass and it won't go off if
you are merely holding it," she coaxed, "Now here, take these." She pried one
of his hands free and slipped the two shells into it, "See this impression here?"
she pushed the flat metal plate in with her finger, "Put the shells one at a
time in here, with the brass part pointing toward the stock."

Al took a few deep breaths, then nodded again more firmly
and pressed one of the shells to the plate. He fumbled it and it dropped the
floor. His eyes went wide and he jumped back. Riza bent down and picked up the

"It's safe Alphonse, it won't go off just because you
drop it. The rifle on the other hand could, if the lever has been cocked."

He reached out to take the shell from her fingers, but
she curled her fingers over his for a moment. He was trying, very hard, only
to please her. She knew his feelings about firearms, both he and his brother
had avoided them like the plague.

His eyes were trained on her hand holding his; he flicked
them up to catch her gaze for a moment.

"Here," she said quietly and took the rifle from his hand,
turned it and smoothly slid the shells into the chamber, "Now, hold it like
this." She demonstrated once and handed the rifle back to him. He hiked it up
to his shoulder, and she stepped behind him, reaching up to adjust his grip,
"Don't hold it against your shoulder, it has a kick." She had to lean against
his back to correct his stance and he went still, but then she felt him relax
all over. They stood there for a moment like that, touching, moving together
for a common purpose. They had moved together for a common purpose many times,
but this was the first time they moved together for themselves.

"Riza," Al said softly.

"Cock the lever," she whispered back, "Put your fingers
through it and push it down until it stops in one clean move."

His right arm moved forward, his right knee bent and she
moved with him, her hand sliding along his arm and moving down his side to his

"Bring it up and aim toward the target, remember not to
rest it against your shoulder," she encouraged.

He raised the rifle and bent his head forward; she felt
his body move against her and she steadied his left arm. She leaned a bit to
the side to see past his shoulder.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"As I'll ever be," he said, turning his head just slightly.

"Focus on your target," she said. She was a bit surprised
when he didn't turn his head back right away, but she saw a smile tug at the
corner of his mouth and he looked back at the target.

"Don't jerk the trigger, squeeze it," she said softly
in his ear, "Slow and steady, I'm right behind you."

He took a breath and held it. She felt it through his
back and she went still as well. There was no sound at all until the report
of a rifle bounced off the firing range walls and the man, (yes, the man)
before her released his breath and took another. She stepped around him to see
how he had done. He was a little to the left of center, but his aim was true.
He lowered the rifle, holding it with more ease at his side and he smiled at

"Well done," she said, "You have always been a fast learner."

"I can't help but be a good student with such an expert
teacher," he said. That lovely, easy flattery he handed out like sweets to an
indulged child.

"Shall we try the other rifle?" she said, moving to him,
reaching for the gun in his hand.

"Riza," he said again and she looked up at him, "I don't
want to mess this up. I have a feeling you're looking for something from me,
but I don't know what. I feel that it isn't my place to ask, I mean I feel I
should know, but I don't. I've waited for this chance for a long time,"
he searched her eyes with his.

She reached up and cupped his cheek, the pad of her thumb
stroked over it. His eyes closed, he turned his face into her hand, his lips
pressed into her palm.

"You terrify me," she admitted and his eyes snapped open,
"I fear what you expect, not only of me, but of yourself. In this... we are
alike. I thought I knew what I wanted once and I had a chance to have it, but
when I did have it... well it turned out that it wasn't what I was looking for.
It always seems there is an agenda that is not my own, but one I need to make
happen. I've never had my own cause. I always integrated myself into someone
else’s; something I found worthy and in that way, I thought myself worthy.
It's different with you and it may be presumptuous to think that I am your
cause, so that makes me afraid of what it is I might be messing up," she didn't
move her hand and he didn't move his cheek.

"No," he said, "I'm through with causes and so are you.
I mean, haven't we given enough, can't we just have this? I promise I
won't expect anything, I'll just take it as it comes, I'm good at that. My whole
life to this point has been nothing short of one day at a time. You can tell
me what you want; you don't have to be afraid, not of me, never of me."

"But I don't know what I want," she said softly.

"Then let's find out, together. Let's just be together,"
he said, "That is all I want."

It was easy to step against him, feel the warmth of his
side and the weight of his arm as it went around her. His fingers splayed across
her back and he rested his hand there and when he kissed her this time, it was
different. They had kissed, yes, in all this time standing side by side hoping
to be what they wanted to be, but there was something else in this kiss, almost
a release. Sometimes the things you know are just as frightening as the things
you don't know. As she curled her fingers into the fabric of his shirt, as she
tilted her head back, yielding to the pressure of his lips, she decided not
to be afraid anymore.

Al lifted his other hand, intending to put his arms around
her and was momentarily baffled by the rifle there. He couldn't press that to
her back, and he tried to stretch and lay it on the nearby table, (without
removing his lips from hers)
, but he couldn't quite reach. When he tried
to pull away a bit, her fingers bunched tighter in his shirt and the tip of
her tongue met his. He momentarily forgot to breath, along with remembering
anything that might be in his hand. The thing in his hand became an annoyance,
because really, he should have his arms around her and she should be pressed
up against his... yes, she should be, so he opened his hand to drop whatever
it was that was preventing him from being able to pull her against him. It fell
with a clatter and she jumped, her eyes widening, but now he had both arms around
her and their stomachs touched. Their stomachs! No one ever touched him there
but himself, and maybe Ed, when they were fighting.

She pulled back a little, but he followed and it caused
them to over-balance slightly. She took a few more steps back until she came
to rest against the back wall. He could feel the seams of the gloves she wore
as she gripped his shirt at his sides. There was some subtle shift and her leg
moved to the side. Somehow, his happened to be right there to slide between
them and when finally, they both had to breathe, their foreheads still touched.

She wet her lips and he tried to slow his breathing. They
stood almost locked like that for several seconds, lost in this air around them.

"I... I suppose we should try the other rifle now," she
said and looked up at him. He took a moment to focus on her words instead of
her lips, but then he nodded slightly and stepped back. He turned around and
froze at the sight of her grandfather's rifle lying on the floor.

"I'm so sorry!" he cried, rushing forward and scooping
it off the ground. He held it gingerly in his hands as she walked over.

"Forgive me, Riza. I don't know what came over me; I shouldn't
have just dropped it like that. Please tell me it's alright..."

She reached up and put her hand on his cheek, stilling
his frantic rush of words. She then lowered her hands and took the rifle from
his grip, inspecting it and flipped it in her hands.

"No harm done," she said, "These rifles were built for
endurance, that's why it’s still around to be handed down in the first
place. "

Al watched her carry it back to the table and lay it in
its case, then pull open the second one. She looked over her shoulder and smiled.

"What is it you plan to teach me to cook?" she asked.

He hadn't the vaguest idea.

"Our menu for tonight is simple. We are going to roast
a chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions. I used to make this all the time,
it's one of Ed's favorites, but you don't have to make bread, he'll just eat
store bought, he's not picky," Al waved his hand.

"Well, that is valuable information if for any chance
I should get to cook Ed a meal," Riza said with a half smile.

Al reddened slightly, but nodded firmly.

"Right, well first off we need the roasting pan," he went
over to the cabinet beneath his oven and pulled out his trusty roaster. It was
speckleware and he was quite proud of it, having bought it on one of his many
military sojourns; he carted it all the way home in his pack. It spent many
years in the General's cupboard and Al was tickled to have the General hand
deliver it to his door after he'd gotten his apartment.

"I bet you'd forgotten this," Roy had said with a small
smile on his face. So in a way, it was like Riza's gun, only it hadn't been
handed down properly. Only from Al to Roy to Al again, but that counted.

He sat the roaster on the counter and then went to the
icebox and pulled out his chicken. It was a fine bird, a four pound roasting
hen, freshly plucked with all the giblets and other bits stuffed in a neat,
waxed bag, tucked in the bird's body cavity for your gravy convenience. He quickly
pulled the little waxed bag out and showed it to Riza.

"Always take this out first," he cautioned. It was many
the cooking novice that roasted the bag and its contents, making a kitchen that
smelled for days.

"What is it?" Riza asked.

"It's the innards," Al supplied and started to expound
on their many uses, but Riza made a slight face, "Just throw them away," he
said hurriedly.

"My grandfather was very fond of gizzards," she said,
rubbing her elbow and still making that slight face, "He tricked me into eating
one once. He liked them fried, my grandmother use to fry them for him all the

Al wasn't sure which side of the fence to lean on. It
was obvious she had a strident dislike for gizzards. On the other hand, it might
be a fond memory of her grandparents, the way she told him about her grandmother
frying them. He decided to be cautionary.

"I'm not sure all that fried food is healthy," he said

Riza hugged her elbows and nodded, tilted her head and
looked at him. She looked so relaxed and causal, Al didn't realize he was holding
the chicken upright by the wings and dancing it back and forth until she commented
on it.

"Are you... draining it?" she asked.

"What? Um... okay put the chicken in the roasting pan,
no wait, rub it with butter first, butter makes the skin brown," he dropped
the hapless poultry corpse and went back to the icebox for his butter.

He demonstrated the butter rubbing technique handed down
through just one generation of his family, then scrubbed and rough-chopped vegetables,
answering all her questions about why you had to poke holes in potatoes before
putting them in the oven. He closed the oven door with a satisfied thump and
set his counter top timer.

"And that's all you do?" Riza sounded skeptical, "I was
lead to believe cooking was more complicated than this."

"That's all you do," he said, wiping his hands on this
sink towel, "Now we wait patiently and then reap the benefits of our labors
in about an hour or so."

She looked at him expectantly, like obviously he had something
planned in which to while this hour away before dinner. He felt rather flat
footed and did a mental scramble.

"Why don't we go into the living room, I'm sure there
is something we can do in there," and he did a little wince because really,
he hadn't meant to say that last part out loud.

But she smiled and nodded and preceded him out the kitchen
door into the living room area. They both stood around for a moment and then
she sat down on the couch. Sofia, who had been curled up in Al's armchair,
took her languid time in unfolding, stretching, yawning and leaping down to
cross the floor and jump up beside Riza. She was there to leech body heat, which
seem to be her primary duty as a feline and she began to insinuate her princessly
self in Riza's lap.

"Sophie," Al started and moved to rescue the Colonel from
being shed upon, but she shook her head.

"It's alright, I like Sofia, she's a very mannerly cat,"
Riza said. She ran her fingers into the fur along Sofia's back and Sofia arched
accommodatingly, then flopped and curled up. Al stood undecided for a moment,
then sat down on the couch beside Riza. Not too close, but close enough to be
touching if either of them really wanted to.

"How are things at the office? I don't get to meddle nearly
as much as I used to, how is Clayton doing?"

"He's been fine; very busy. How about you lately? What
are you doing to keep busy? I know we see each other, but it seems like since
we are... dating," she seem to test the word out, to see if she liked it, "I
find that I know less about what you do when I'm not with you. Perhaps I didn't
think about it before, which is not to say I wasn't interested, but it seems
more relevant now."

I'm relevant!

"Well, I'm trying my hand at alchemy for hire," Al said,
trying to keep from bouncing beside her.


She smiled and nodded her head, asking him to continue.

"I haven't gotten any clients yet," he confided, "But
I did pick out paper for my office stationery and I'm having business cards
made. Do you know Handle Printing on Madison? He assured me that the stock choice
was very professional."

"First appearances are very important," Riza confirmed,
"I'm glad to see you taking such a serious interest. You are brilliant Alphonse,
and it would be a shame to put such talent to waste in the likes of an office

He felt that he could slide a little closer and he did
so, but subtly. He leaned back on the couch and toyed with the idea of putting
his arm along the back of the couch behind her.

"What sort of alchemic services will you be providing?"
she asked.

"I'm good at construction and chemical compositions,"
Al said confidently, "Also any little odd job that might come my way. I'm not
beyond small household repair or identifying substances. I've even toyed with
an alchemic way of producing frequencies that would drive rodents out of cellars,"
he nodded. He'd been very pleased with that little find, although the neighborhood
dogs had been rather upset.

"That would be an invaluable service," Riza said, still
stroking over Sofia's back, "Especially in places such as food warehouses and
medical facilities, places where cleanliness is important."

Al went for it. He threw his arm up along the back of
the couch. The side of his hand touched her, just below the nape of her neck;
but she didn’t' pull away. As a matter of fact, after a few moments, she
leaned back into it. In all his time, in all his travels with Ed, facing things
untold and other worldly beings in dimensional gates, he'd never been held in
a firmer trap. He didn't dare move.

"I hope by this time next year," he said airily, "to be
done with this renter’s existence. I've had my eye on some property just
outside of the city. There are some nice parcels of land available and I've
always wanted a house. The house Ed and I grew up in was very roomy and we had
the entire outdoors to explore. I think I want something like that again, something
to really call my home."

"You were without for a long time," Riza said, lifting
her eyes to his, "So young and groundless, I often worried about that."

"It was fine, that's the life we made for ourselves. We
did have some stability, I always knew when we came back to base that someone
would be there waiting for us, if not missing us. It made it alright."

"I think back on that and I think maybe there was something
more I could have done," she said, "But that's just worrying about things that
can't be changed. I was always told to move forward; I took that advice to heart."

She was looking at him again. Al had tried many times
over to read this woman's heart through her eyes; he was never very successful,
but just this time in just this place, he decided to make an educated guess.
Instead of answering, he leaned forward. When he tilted his head, she parted
her lips and that was all the invitation called for.

She raised her hand, but he caught it. The slow side of
her lips against his as he turned more to his side sent feelings to places he
didn't know he had. She smelled fresh and clean, with just a hint of something
else that he couldn't identify. It wasn't sweet, it wasn't cloying, it was just
a female scent. He held her wrist aloft as he tasted her, but she was no novice
to the experience. She opened her mouth. Somehow she taught him invasion without
him realizing it and the sound she made tightened his groin in such a way as
to be painfully embarrassing. But he wouldn't give it up, not for a moment,
not for an instant and in that same second, not for a lifetime.

She used her free hand to grip his shoulder and used her
weight to tug him toward her as she leaned back toward the arm of the couch.
Sofia made a displeased mew and leapt to the floor, but Al hardly noticed.
All Al felt was his body, settling against her side, her fingers tightening
on his shoulder and her mouth claiming all his senses. Somehow she'd gotten
her wrist free from his grip and her other hand slid behind his neck, her fingers
threading into the hair at the back of his head.

It was some strange dream, some gate phantom. He'd had
them, late at night when everyone else was asleep, sitting alone in his hammered
steel, wishing for things beyond the leather grip of a gauntlet. This was one
of those 'someday' things he always promised himself, but never truly believed
he would achieve. It was his escape from the cold reality; it was the comfort
that his brother couldn't give while he slept. She pulled her mouth from his
and for that single devastating moment he was almost alone again, sitting in
a darkened hallway so the creak of his armored joints wouldn't pull Ed from
his well deserved sleep. But then there was warmth on the side of his jaw and
he tilted his face toward it as it moved down to the side of his neck. The hand
on his shoulder moved a bit and he felt his collar lightly move along his neck,
then the warmth was there too.

Along his neck, to the divot of his throat and then over
slightly onto his collar bone. He couldn't think what to do, how to reciprocate
all this pleasure and he felt his throat work, then her hand was on his and
his hand was on her side. He spread his fingers there, seeking as much contact
as he could get. Her hand returned to his back, a slow side down his spine and
her lips touched the underside of his chin.

Helpless and new, it was petrifying. He wanted, he wanted
so much, but he wasn't sure what it actually was and frustration began to creep
from his belly toward his throat. He was supposed to know things. He
was supposed to be brilliant, so why was it when he had everything he wanted,
he knew nothing? It was just another degrading and cruel thing; his existence
dangled right in front of him and horribly out of his reach.

"It's alright to touch me," her voice came, soft and simple
and out of nowhere.

He let go of a breath he had been holding, bowing his
head down. Her hands where rubbing then, gentle massaging circles.

"I don't want to mess this up, I can't mess this up,"
he sounded so pathetic and squeezed his eyes shut.

"You can't mess this up, Alphonse," she said to him and
then she cupped the back of his head and pulled his face down to hers, "Not
even if you try." He felt her breath against his lips. He couldn't open his
eyes, but he could open his mouth when she kissed him again. His palm was so
warm, and it slid easily over the fabric of her shirt, the place between his
thumb and forefinger came to rest against something on her chest... his eyes
popped open.

She made a small, indeterminate sound and arched toward
him, and he wasn't sure what that meant, but somehow his hormones managed to
wrestle control away from his cognitive thoughts and his hand moved up and over
and rested right on top of what he'd just been touching. He was so astonished,
so completely flabbergasted, he pulled back to confirm with his eyes what his
sense of touch told him.

He was touching her breast. Her BREAST! He just
had his hand, right there on it... and she wasn't screaming, or slapping him
or trying to roll out from under him. She was allowing him to touch... her
It was funny, the few times Ed had gotten his hands anywhere near
one of these he'd been flattened by the offended party.

Of course, Ed was gay; he probably wasn't doing it right.

She was smiling at him and she did that little back arch
again, pushing her breast into his hand. She just pressed it there and
made another little sound. He ran quickly to his mental filing cabinets and
looked under both breast and female anatomy. It was a very interesting
mental dialogue concerning the mammary gland and its ability to produce milk
when certain hormonal changes took place in a woman's body. He tossed it over
his shoulder and dug to the very back of the cabinet looking for porn... of
which he had none. He cursed his squeaky clean, lily-white, chicken livered
younger self and tried to draw on his instincts of just being a man and

Of course, he use to read what laughingly might
be called porn, but really it was just washed down purple prose and did
him not one iota of good. All that time wasted on the damn Duke! Okay, he could
do this, he was after all, an adult. Adults had sex. He was just getting a late
start. It was high time he had sex and he definitely wanted to have it with
Riza. She liked him, she was letting him touch her breast and that, in itself,
was proof enough that he should have sex. After all, women only let men touch
them in places that would normally get them brained when sex was in the offing.

Sex took place in a bed. It was a healthy and preconceived
notion, but then again, he should know that nothing was an absolute. After all,
his brother and the General has proved, by very active demonstration, that a
kitchen table was perfectly acceptable, (and it was a place he never wanted
to eat again. Iit actually took some doing to get up the nerve to set a plate
on it after that)
and if that was true, then a couch would work nicely.
When he leaned down to kiss her, (to distract her from the fact that he had
his hand on her breast, but then again how could he do that? She knew perfectly
well where his hand was!)
, she tilted her chin up as his lips descended.
Instead, he kissed her throat, then the side of her neck. He worked his way
slowly down into the 'V' of the neck of her blouse and stopped a moment to just
inhale. There was that scent again, almost clover and spice, it was Riza
and he groaned into it softly. Beneath his palm her nipple hardened and he felt
liquid and heat and was all at once lost.

It went in slow stages, a learning experience for both.
For him, it was a whole new vista, things he'd thought about, dreamed about,
made flesh and blood and taste and smell. For her it was the places he liked
to be touched, the things that elicited the most delicious of sounds, the furrow
of his brow, the regulation of his breathing. Buttons gave way to skin and his
lips found and traced the line of her bra over the swell of her breast. He felt
her fingers then, the pull of his belt against the back of his waist and then
the loosening as it came free of its buckle. This was real, this was happening
and the air had an aroma and miasma of... smoke. A charred smell, like something

"What's that smell?" Riza asked, her voice a delicious
tremor against the side of his neck.

"I don't know," he said with a light pant, "It smells
like something burning."

"What could be burning?" she asked and peppered light
kisses down the side of his neck. How she expected an answer while she did that
was beyond him. When he was released, he pondered the possible combustibles
around them. From the way he felt it might be the couch beneath them, but he
tried to tick off the possibilities as she worked at the buttons of his trousers.
It wasn't cold enough for the furnace, he had no candles burning... something

She came to the same realization at the same time.

"Chicken!" they cried in unison, both leaving the couch
at the same time. They tangled briefly and almost went over, but managed to
stay upright and run for the kitchen. The air in the kitchen was thick and smoke
was billowing from around the door in the oven. Al grabbed his oven mitts and
opened the oven door, receiving a face full of charred chicken aroma for his
troubles. He shut off the knob and stood back waving his hand in front of his

"This always happens when I try to cook something," Riza
said behind him, sounding almost fretful. He turned to look at her and was mesmerized.
Her hair was down and splayed over her shoulders. Her shirt was unbuttoned almost
to her navel and the bone color of her bra stood out against her skin. Her lips
looked a bit swollen and overall she looked flushed. He actually felt the front
of his trousers move.

"Chick... um chicken is done," he croaked.

"Very well done," Riza sighed, "I'm sorry Alphonse, you
went to all this trouble and look what happened. I don't think I'm meant to

Sorry? What was she sorry for? She had nothing to be
sorry about EVER. She let him lay on her, she let him touch her, she let him
taste her. She was standing here in his kitchen close to half dressed and she
was sorry?

All he could think about was dragging her to the floor,
but the kitchen floor was hardwood and he hadn't cleaned it recently...

"Never be sorry," he said. It was a misnomer but he didn't
care. "It's salvageable," he stooped and pulled the pan out of the oven and
sat it in the sink. "All we need is a little determination, things will work
out fine."

As it turned out, they worked out fine indeed. The coffee
table served as their dinning table. Some of the potatoes weren't too bad and
the chicken was dry, but if they dug deep enough with the fork, it was edible.

"See?" Al said, fishing her another piece from the breast
bone, "It had a few trials, but it worked out fine in the end."

She took the piece he offered on the end of his fork and
took a bite, then leaned close and pressed the rest to his lips. He smiled and
opened his mouth, taking it from her fingers. She finished off the morsel with
a kiss.

"I never lost faith," she told him when they parted, "And
I never will."

He could put his arms around her. He could pull her close;
he could kiss her now when he wanted to. For something he thought never could
be to be so right...

Ed always said there was no magic in the world, but he
was wrong. Neither of them noticed when Sofia jumped up onto the table and
helped herself to the rest of the chicken's sorry carcass.