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Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 27.

Every time he turned his red and runny eyes to the papers on his desk his vision swam and the voices started whispering all around his head. Voices, high and hushed, jabbering in excited tones,droning and incessant. When he lifted his eyes, all was silent.

He tried to remember if he'd maimed Breda or not. He knew he had wanted to, had mapped it out in exact detail just how he was going to strangle him with his own intestines. Had he done that? If he had, he hoped the General had pictures.

When he could actually focus on the boys, they were usually staring right at him. But they were smart, they knew when he was under the weather and likely to be at his most vicious, so they were very well behaved.

He rubbed a hand over his face and leaned his cheek into his palm; elbow on desk. He wished he could remember more details from the night before. Something seemed different. Roy seemed different. He'd been all smiles this morning, more than willing to coo over his sick and hung over lover. Not that Roy was particularly vindictive or spiteful when Ed had a few too many, but he wasn't usually so accommodating. There was usually a sternness to his affection when Ed was a bit to carefree for work the next day. But that was all absent this morning. Roy had been sunshine; it had been annoying.

He sighed and abruptly burped before he could catch it and cover his mouth. He heard many failed attempts to smother snickers and he relented, because really, he had no one to blame but himself.

"I should be an object lesson to you all," he said, "take this warning and carry it with you into your adult lives."

Since the Professor was demonstrating he wasn't going to leap over the desk and sink his fangs into the first student to make a breach of protocol, the room lightened up a bit.

"Why did you shave off your beard, Professor?" Seth asked in the silence.

What?

Shave off his beard?

He slowly slid his hand from his cheek to his lips. His fingertips probed under his nose, the palm of his hand caressed his chin.

They were both naked.

It took a few minutes of wiggling his hands back and forth to confirm this, but he still needed visual recon to correctly assess the situation. He lept to his feet making his chair tip over backwards and strike the blackboard before falling to the floor. There was a collective gasp in the room and then everyone looked at each other and the whispered conjecture began.

"SETH! You're the room monitor, I'll be right back!" the Professor yelled, then he ran across the floor and slammed out the door and it swung shut behind him.

"What do you think that was about?" Duffy asked, his eyes still fixed in their saucer like 'startled emergency' mode.

"He acted like he didn't know it was gone," Eric chimed in.

"He went on a bender last night and someone shaved him as a joke, sweet!" Daniel crowed.

"Poor Professor," Seth sighed. "He really thought it made him have less of a baby face."

The other three boys looked a him.

"What? You know he has age hang ups! Look how he reacts whenever someone thinks he's a student!" Seth flailed around. "If you really observe the Professor the way I do, you'd know."

"I think you observe him to much," Duffy said.

"Yeah," Eric chimed in, "that's a lot of observing."

"It's like you want to date him or something," Daniel said, mouth pulling down at the side.

"There is nothing wrong with being observant," Seth said indignantly. "I want to be an alchemist, too. So if I watch one of the greatest alchemist of our time, then I might pick up some pointers."

"Oh yeah," Duffy snorted a laugh, "like how to lose your temper and screech a lot."

"Or how to assign lots of homework because you're in a bad mood," Eric pointed out.

"Or how to have long girly hair and have other guys crush on you," Daniel leered.

"You're a bunch of morons," Seth huffed. "Shut up."

The Professor saved Seth from further teasing by slamming back into the room, stomping over to his desk and throwing himself into his chair. There were those in the room that swore the desk itself actually tried to cringe away from him. The entirety of the class took this well known mutual signal from their professor to be as quiet as possible and try not to move around much lest they attract his attention. At one point they all tried to breath in shifts so as to make less noise that way, and hopefully stay out of the line of fire.

Every now and again the Professor scowled up at the big wall clock as if to intimidate it into ticking by faster.

One of the boys made the horrible faux pas of actually coughing and everyone in the class room gripped the edge of their wooden chairs and steeled themselves for the hurricane force bellow that was sure to follow, but the Professor merely glanced up, then down and wrote furiously in his ledger. This made a few students bolder, and they risked glancing at each other. They, too, then glanced at the wall clock, pleading with it instead of trying to intimidate it.

"Chapter 18, 19 and 20!" the Professor suddenly exploded. "Read them! There will be a test, a long, involved written test with essay type answers expected," he snarled. "Or maybe," he continued, not looking at them but at some point outside the window in the direction of the main military offices, "I'll just have you write an essay, how many words should it be?" he hissed.

Daniel was then aware of many eyes trained upon him; 'Save us!' they pleaded. He shifted around in his seat and in doing so attracted the very thing he wanted to avoid.

"Do you have something to say, Mr. Stanton?" the Professor-creature asked in a low, scaly voice from behind his desk. His forked tongue whipped out once and he pinned the boy with his gaze as one might pin a butterfly to a board.

"We didn't shave off your stupid beard, it ain't our fault, you shouldn't take it out on us!" Daniel cried, realizing, belatedly, he should never just speak what's on his mind but not being able to help it.

The Professor turned an interesting shade of red, opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again and let it hang there a moment before finally closing it a second time. He whipped his gaze away, instead fixing his glare of doom on his ledger and made a few more furious notes. The whole room writhed in tension and now the pleading looks of 'Save us!' Daniel received turned into accusing stares of 'Way to go jerk! Now you've doomed us!'.

"This isn't about my beard," the Professor finally said, but it was obvious that it was, you could almost read it burned into the blackboard behind him. "Ok, three chapters is excessive, read chapter 18 and we'll have a multiple question pop quiz on it," he finished out.

There was a collective gasp and then a collective sigh of relief. Daniel allowed himself a small half smile and basked in being the hero of the class once again.

"Well just have a thousand word essay for our semester final," the Professor noted and there were several thunks of heads hitting desks around the room.

Daniel wasn't upset, after all, he wouldn't want the man to lose face so soon after losing his beard.


"I don't want to call you Gluttony, don't you have another name?" Luludja asked as they sat huddled in the back of a truck. "Gluttony isn't a proper name, it's a sin," she said.

"But it's my name," the fat man moaned and fretted with the brim of his bowler hat. "It's always been my name. I use to have another name but I'm not allowed to use it anymore, because it's not my name anymore, it's dead."

Luludja put her elbows on her knees and her chin in her palm and mulled this over.

"I don't understand why it's dead," she said. "If it was your name it's always your name, it's better isn't it than being named for something no one wants to be."

Sometimes talking seemed to complex a task for him, but at other times he would gush and tumble words. They made sense in the strangest ways; like reading a sentence backwards and they were no less elegant from the careless way they were dropped. This strange 'either or' with him was as fascinating as it was frustrating and she hadn't grown tired of it yet.

"You should go by Lust," he offered timidly and she snorted.

"I think not," she grumbled, even though the idea secretly appealed to her a bit. Lust was a sin, this was true, but in it's context wasn't it connected to beauty? That wasn't so bad, as far as sins were concerned.

"When we get to Central we have to go to church," he explained. "We have to go to church and down the bottom to find the truth. We'll need an alchemist."

He kept saying these cryptic things. Alchemists were only people she read about in the papers, she'd never actually met one. Most of them were people who were in the military, and that was like the police, and they should stay way from them. There were questions she never wanted to answer and places she never wanted to see again. She turned her minds eye away from empty houses and family pictures that were not her own. She never asked, he never volunteered and they houses were always nice, just like she liked them. He was good at that, she didn't need to know why he was good at what he was.

"What is the truth?" she asked him, "And why do alchemists know it and the rest of us don't?"

"I can't do alchemy, I have no gate," he answered cheerfully, being as unhelpfully helpful as always.

It was like chasing her tail to have these discussions with him. She should really just ditch him, and maybe in Central she could. There would be opportunity there with so many people and so many things all around them. He was scattered within and there he would be scattered without and it would be easy to slip away. Never mind he was powerful in ways she couldn't understand and devoted in ways she didn't realize.

But he was kind of helpless on his own, that much was plain.

And he was powerful, no one could stand up to him, even if she'd never actually witnessed this, she knew it to be true.

And he liked her, and he did what she told him to do.

She tapped her lip with the tip of her index finger and sighed.

She would just wait and see what happened in Central; there would be plenty of opportunity to make a decision there.


It was a wonderful, lavender scented cloud and he was curled up, warm and snug right in the middle of it. He lifted his eyebrows, smelling the sunshine that filtered in and lay dappled across his nose. Oh yes, life was a good place to be.

But then of course, he woke up.

Most notably his bed companion was no where to be seen. He pushed himself up on one hip and looked around the room. Her suitcase was open, but of her there was no sign. He reached up to push his bangs back, the sheet slipping into down to pool on his waist and that is when he noticed he was naked.

And he was naked because...

And suddenly life was a stupendous place to be, because good just didn't cut it anymore.

But then he remembered the actual act instead of the imagined act. He mulled it over for a good three or four minutes, sizing it up next to his 'great sex checklist'. As he tallied the scores he felt his stomach start to sink. There were several glaring and obvious omissions to what he wanted to do and what he actually did. And what he actually did was hair-trigger. Here he was in the prime of his life with the woman he'd dreamed of all his life and his love life had lasted perhaps...five seconds.

He was so miserably incompetent and undependable sexually, he wasn't even sure if he should even masturbate himself anymore; and that was likely all he was going to get considering he'd blown his whole sexual future on the good old 'wham-bam-thank you ma'am'.

He ran to his mental file cabinet and looked under 'emergency mortification in case of sexual incompetence', but the folder was empty and he wasn't sure what to do. He staggered around in his brain looking under rocks for answers that weren't forth coming. He was so paralyzed by not having an answer (because he always had answers), that he didn't completely register the door of the rooming opening or the sound of the door closing again.

"Good morning, Alphonse," Riza said with a smile on her face and Al looked at her hands to see what caliber weapon she was likely to pistol whip him with, (because surely, she wouldn't shoot him for that, although, he probably deserved it), and she spoke again.

"You look pale, what's wrong?" she asked, crossing to the bed. Her hair was damp and loose and she was in her bathrobe and slippers and Alphonse whimpered slightly. Immediately her hand was on his cheek, then her fingers sliding into the hair at his temple.

"Before you say anything, just know you don't have to say anything. I have to admit, after I thought it over, I was rather flattered," she said, her smile still soft, her voice reassuring and her manner not suggesting she was going to pull a concealed weapon from her robe at any moment.

"But...," Al began miserably.

"But," she stated firmly, "we all have to start somewhere and will make a confession to you. I think I will rather enjoying being your instructor. I can be a hard task master, I warn you now, but I think the lessons might turn out to be rather enjoyable."

Alphonse carefully schooled his expression, and licked his lips once. She was rubbing slow circles on his temple and her smile was still soft, but her words shot straight to his groin and he grabbed a pillow to hold in his lap even as her soft petting held him captive.

"You don't need to hide that now," she said, gently tugging the pillow from his grip. "You should always come to me with your needs. That is what makes a couple; sharing, don't you agree?"

Alphonse nodded and wondered what had run off with his voice, because no matter how hard he tried he could not summon it. She leaned forward then, lowering her face, covering his mouth with her own and he was pressed back, into the pillows, her weight coming down on top of him. When she released his mouth, miraculously his voice had returned.

"What if I...?" he started.

"You won't, I'll be here to help you," she reassured.

"I still want to apologize for last night," he said.

"Not necessary, but accepted anyways," she told him.

Al had his arms around her now, he was rubbing up and down her back. She kissed him again, then rolled to off to the side, looking up at him, smiling but expectant. Al wet his lips, squared his jaw and moved over her.


Roy heard him before he saw him and braced himself. He briefly considered making a makeshift barricade out of the trash can and Breda, not that Breda would provide much in the way of suitable cover. There were footsteps approaching quickly, closer and closer to the flimsy door that was the only thing that stood between him and 5'2 of nasty fate heading his way.

The door slammed back on it's hinges just as he expected it to and he caught himself just before he dived under his desk. Better to face death sitting in his comfy leather chair, after all, he was a General now and he finally got the damned comfy chair, better to die on his ass then on his knees.

Ed didn't say anything right off the bat, but he charged the desk and pointed at his face, fangs bared and eyes blazing. Roy almost broke and dove for the window, but he managed once again to check himself.

"How was your day?" Roy managed to ask and clasped his hands nervously on the desk before him. "You're looking gorgeous this afternoon," he added hopefully.

Ed kept pointing at his face with one crooked finger and his fangs grew longer and he was turning really red and huffing like an engine building up steam.

"You want a kiss?" the General ventured. "Ok, but we're at the office so no funny stuff from you, ha ha," he tried.

Ed shuddered all over, then he was on the desk, then he had Roy by the ears and then his teeth had Roy by the nose.

"GAHHHHH!" the General said then, in a rather pleading for his life fashion, and he jerked back and his comfy chair helpfully tipped right over bringing the blond wolverine, (who had yet to release his nose), right down on top of him. So his end was assured by the very chair he'd fought so long to sit his ass in, it figured.

"I already gave an eye!" the General shrieked.

"Equivalent exchange demands I eat your nose!" the monster howled, releasing his nose long enough to howl it. The General immediately clapped his hands over his nose to try and keep it attached.

"Maybe I'll just give you a new look by YANKING YOU BALD, HAIR FOR HAIR, HUH? MAYBE THAT'S A BETTER EXCHANGE!" His demon-possessed lover grinned down at him with a look that made demons shrink back into the depths of hell.

"Mercy my love, mercy," the General whimpered from somewhere under him. "It was a moment of weakness, actually you were messy having puked in the car and then passed out and while I was attempting to scrub you clean some of it rubbed off and was lop sided so I tried to trim it up to make it even and make you more grown up and dashing but the more I shaved the shorter it got and then it looked funny...I couldn't help it! I'm not a barber!"

Ed sat back, straddling the General and looking down at him, one eyebrow cocked.

"You rubbed some of my beard off?" he questioned.

Roy nodded and still held his hands up to shield his nose.

"Ok, so then, because you wanted to even it out, you shaved it off?" Ed said.

"It was an accident," the General murmured.

Ed wrinkled his nose and purses his lips and moved them back and forth.

"I threw up in the car, huh? No wonder it smelled funny the this morning," Ed said.

"Right in the floorboard," Roy confirmed.

"Well, I give you points for creative bullshit and I have to give you points for not bitching me out about throwing up in the car," Ed sighed.

"Points for letting you get drunk in the first place and then cleaning you up even though you were covered in puke," the General added tentatively.

"Ok, ok, I'll call this even," Ed sighed and looked down at him. "Anything less? No sex for a month."

The General's eye got very wide.


They arrived in Central in the night and he immediately sought out a place for them to stay. She waited outside as she always did, detached and ignorant, (but less ignorant lately), of what he was doing. He beckoned to her from the doorway of a small house, back lit by the kitchen light and she hurried inside and tried not to look around and tried not to wonder where the previous occupants had gone.

Such thought did her no good, she shouldn't even have them. She should just be thankful that there was always somewhere to stay wherever they went.

"Tomorrow the church, we'll go down and down," he grinned, bustling about the small living room just off the kitchen. She didn't join him there, preferring to sit at the small table.

"You don't strike me as a god-fearing man," she said. "So why are we going to a church?"

"It's just another gateway, to another place where we need to go," he stopped and looked back toward her, "when we get there you'll see," he said.

"What is it you want me to be?" she asked him, really studying him as she hadn't in a while. "Will it be like you?"

"Oh yes," the jolly man nodded emphatically. "You'll be like me. You'll never grow old, you'll never die, unless they make you. You'll have everything you ever wanted and the power to take it, just wait," he said.

She found his moments of lucidity far more disturbing than his normal insanity.

"All we need is an alchemist," he muttered, mostly to himself.

"Where will we get one of those?" she asked, propping her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand.

"The military has them to spare," he nodded. "I knew one, once. He was full of metal and just this high," he held his hand up. "He made a lot of trouble. That is when she left," he added sadly.

"Who left?" Luludja asked.

"You," he said brightly. "But it doesn't matter, I have it inside of me and he can have it to use on you and then we'll be together again."

"But we're together now," she said.

"We are, but we aren't," he sighed. "But when I am there and there is an alchemist, you will be there, too. It will be like you never left."

"I don't understand, except to think you think I'm someone else," she gave a shrug of her shoulders and glanced at the ice box, wondering what might be left behind to eat; if she could stomach to eat.

"I know you're someone else," he replied. "You're just not here yet."

She got up and crossed to the icebox, looked inside and shut his babbling out of her mind.


"We really should make an appearance," she murmured against the hair at this temple.

"Why?" he yawned. "We're paid up for two more days, by terms of contract the room is ours and if we want to make use of it, who are they to question?"

"Decorum and the need to eat," she laughed softly, before lipping his earlobe.

"I'm not worried about decorum, food on the other hand might be nice," he conceded.

"So we really need to get up now, and take a shower," she said. He could feel her breath on his neck behind his ear.

"You'll have to show me the way to the bathroom, I'm not sure I can find it on my own," he grinned and stretched a bit.

"I need another one anyways," and with a show of reluctance she rolled away. He gave a mournful sigh; watched her don her robe and kicked his foot lazily in the sheet.

"Food," she coaxed and fished his robe out of his suitcase and he kicked the sheet aside and got out of the bed.


"You know what work has done for me?" Ed asked after they'd come home for the evening and were stuffed with deli food and sitting in the living room being R.D. entertainment.

"Give you self esteem? A feeling of accomplishment? A sense of pride in doing a good job?" Roy asked from the couch where he was reading the evening paper.

"Made me look forward to weekends," Ed said, lazily sliding his socked foot back and forth, inviting R.D. to attack it.

"Aren't we lucky then, that today is Friday?" the General said, amused.

"I think you're more lucky you still have a nose, actually," the Professor returned.

The General reached up and felt his facial extremity again.

"You know, I really felt for a bit there it was another one of your bids to control my life," Ed said, letting R.D. worry the toe of his sock on his automail foot. "I mean, I wanted the beard and you didn't, so you waited and took advantage of me when I was defenseless and took matters into your own hands. Don't give me any of your 'it rubbed off' nonsense, we both know that's total bullshit you came up with to save your nose."

Roy lowered his paper and looked across the room to Ed, slouched in one of the recliners, a terrier hanging off his foot.

"Am I allowed to have no opinions now, Ed? Are you going to take everything I do adverse to your desires as my means of controlling your life?"

Ed glanced up at him, mouth pulling down in a frown and snorted.

"Well you just make it feel that way, maybe I'm am a bit sensitive to it. But that was really low, even for you. I was drunk and dependant on you, and look what you did."

"I don't regret it," the General said, flipping his paper back up. "I think you are too lovely a man to hide your face with that coarse, mismatched hair."

Ed tried not to let Roy's flattery go to his head or soften his need to make the bastard feel guilty; but it did anyway.

"Stop buttering me up," he murmured and slid R.D. back and forth on the hardwood by the toe of his sock.

"I wouldn't dream of it," the General said behind his paper screen.

"You're a bastard," Ed said half heartedly. "I think you should make it up to me by taking me out to eat tomorrow."

"You leave me little choice," the voice behind the paper said. "Your impeccable logic and razor repartee have put me in my place. Where are we going?"

"I miss Brio's," Ed sighed.

"My guilt isn't strong enough for a train ride to east city, guilt me into something closer," Roy said.

"I wonder what Al is doing?" Ed said. "He hasn't called me even once."

"That's a pretty good indication of what he is doing," the General murmured. "I can give you a practical demonstration, only I don't think you'd like it if I pretended to be Al and you were having to pretend to be Hawkeye."

"You are one sick fuck, you know that?" Ed growled. R.D. released his automail foot and went over to the oval rug and rolled onto his back and wiggled around, getting the itchy places.

"Not only do I know it, I list it on my resume," the General said in his distracted, 'I'm reading' tone of voice.

"We have to go to the market tomorrow," Ed informed him.

"We always ruin our Saturday morning with shopping, why don't we do it on Friday nights?" the General complained.

"You're always in a hurry to rush home and do nothing, like we're doing now, on a Friday night. I'm a young man, I should be out having a good time, you're dragging me down. You're a old, sick fuck bastard, and you're devouring my prime years of party going. Any other young man my age would be out drinking..."

"And barfing," the General threw in.

"And having a good time," Ed continued on, louder to drown out any heckling. "But me? I get to come home and sit around and watch a dog chew holes in my socks. Lucky me."

"Very luck you," the General agreed while missing what he was actually agreeing to, eyes still glued to his paper.

"Actually," Ed said with a small smile, watching R.D. crouch and wiggle his haunches for another attack, "Yeah."


That morning he woke her early with a tentative touch to her shoulder, and she complained softly the entire trek into the city on foot. He was going slow now, being less conspicuous, (as if he could be appearing as he did), much more methodical and careful. He actually seemed to be thinking, and that in itself, made her shiver.

The church was old and stately, but churches tended to hold a monopoly on those conditions and gaining entrance was as easy as walking through the front doors. Religion made you so open and vulnerable, hell could walk right in. And it did, if it could be counted as such and he went right to the altar and shoved it aside like it was nothing and turned and held his huge hand out to her.

"This is it, you will be back soon," the said in a tone and way that sounded nothing like him and when she hesitated he jerked his hand downward and his small eyes hardened. Intrigue and fear pushed her forward, after all, she'd come this far and there was no going back now. Not with everything that had happened between here and there; not with all his macabre courtship getting in the way. He quickly closed his fist over her wrist and pulled her and she saw the small archway then, the stairs leading downwards.

Though they stared in inky blackness there was soon a tiny light in a sconce on the wall, it was linked to another light a few feet ahead and then another; all interconnected by a wire that was draped loosely between them, looped over nails driven into the stone.

Down and down, just like he'd said. Beneath a church was a tunnel to hell and it was conveniently lit so that hell could eat them alive instead of take them dead after they'd tumbled to their death on the stairs.

The came out on a balcony and a vista opened before her and she knew the church above their heads only won the monopoly on old and stately because it had gone to great lengths to conceal this. A city inside the earth.

"What is this?" she whispered. "Is this the city of the damned?"

"Yes," he said and she jerked, because she had not really expected that response. "It is a city of the damned and it continues to be one. Let's go to the opera house, she will not be there now, none of them will. We'll wait for an alchemist there."

"How do you know one will come?" she asked as he lead her off the balcony, along a hallway at the end of which was another set of stairs. They descended this much shorter set, stepping out onto what appeared to be a messinine. She could still see the city, lurking below them.

"No one comes here," she says, "we'll sit here till we rot!"

"Halt! Who is that?" came a voice from the other end of the hall. She froze. She could see a figure approaching them, he passed beneath a light, dim and domed overhead and she saw the blue of his uniform, the shape of the gun he was carrying.

"Don't worry," Gluttony said in the voice she was accustom to. "I will make it so they come, so they take notice," and he headed for the man slowly at first, then with gathering speed. The man raised his weapon, got off a choked scream or two and his cries brought the voices of others. Luludja pressed herself against the wall, ducking beneath the staircase they'd just come down and tried to ignore the shouts and shots, but most of all, she tried to ignore the content hum of someone being well fed.


The phone was ringing the next morning when they came in the door manhandling grocery bags. Roy dumped his on the floor by the hall phone stand and Ed continued down the hall and turned into the kitchen. The General picked up the receiver on the fourth ring.

"Hello? Yes, this is he," then he went silent. Ed poked his head out of the doorway and watched, then came back down the hall and retrieved the bags Roy had set down.

"I see, and what time was this reported? Who is on duty there now?" the General said, one hand fisted and resting on his hip, the other on the receiver. He turned his back to Ed and Ed snorted and carried away the rest of the groceries.

Ed stopped in the kitchen doorway and stepped back into the hall when he heard the General say: "I'll be right there."

Roy hung up the phone and looked down the hall at him, gave a helpless shrug.

"The first weekend you haven't had political crap and now this? It's the military's conspiracy to keep me from getting a nice meal out with my lover!" and Ed threw himself back into the kitchen and Roy sighed and started down the hallway.

"Ed, it's not like that. This is an emergency. There is a missing squadron that was on patrol int the old city," Roy said, leaning in the doorway. "And even telling you that is telling you to much, but I think you deserve to know why I'm abandoning you tonight."

"Old city, you mean, the one beneath Central?" Ed said, halted in mid bag unpacking.

"I have to report in, that's my jurisdiction by design," the General said, and he gave Ed an meaningful look and turned to head toward bedroom and uniform.

"Ok fine, I'll just stay here and put away the groceries," Ed said to his retreating back. Disappearing soldiers were an emergency, as much as Ed hated to admit it. He couldn't really blame Roy for going to his post to check on his men, he'd do the same thing in the same shoes. Roy had done it for him when he use to hurl himself headlong into the field.

Ed tossed the potatoes in the bin under the cabinet and looked out into the hallway again. If he volunteered to go with Roy, that would be met with resistance. Roy seemed happy Ed was no longer involved in the military beyond his civilian teaching role. Ed certainly expressed his dislike of his service during the time he was a member, enough so that Roy had taken it quite to heart and was determined to shield Ed from any further involvement. It was nice, it meant that Roy wanted to protect him and make him happy; therefore he was blocking Ed from something Ed had resented in the past. It was frustrating because Ed would sometimes feel excluded from Roy's life. But he couldn't have it both ways and so he tried to console himself with the fact he was happy to no longer be involved, and even happier that Al was now officially a civilian as well.

He carefully set the eggs, one by one, in the small indented tray made for holding eggs in the door of the ice box. Roy kept talking about going to look at one of the new 'refrigerators', but his schedule prevented them from doing a lot of things. If he wasn't smoozing he was embroiled in some mission. If he wasn't campaigning, he was reviewing field reports. At least he'd managed to wheedle down the late nights to one, maybe two nights a week. But more often than not their weekends were shot by a dinner party or a function or some other way for Roy to ingratiate his way into political power. After the incident with the Prince, he and Roy had talked long and hard about his bid for Prime Minister. Ed knew, just as it was with his drive to restore Al, this is what made Roy tick. This was what he promised himself he would do. And even though Ed had told Roy he didn't need Roy to make the world a better place, but just to live in it with him, the need was a thing that did not die.

Hughes had believe in him, and Ed knew that Roy missed the man every day. Ed missed him as well, especially when he got a letter from Elysia or saw a photograph Gracia sent. Roy had seen to many bad things. Roy was a man who knew what could happen, had lived what has almost happened, and he didn't want anyone to have to experience it again. Least of all Ed and Al, who Ed knew were the closest things to his heart.

All of that was why Roy Mustang was so achingly easy to love.

He appeared then, as if summoned by thought in his uniform. It was such a part of him that Ed wondered, if Roy ever did retire from military service, would he still wear it?

Probably.

"I know you are tired of hearing me say I'll make it up to you," Roy started and Ed gave a half smile, shook his head and walked over to him.

"A wise man once said to me; 'it's all part and parcel of the whole Roy Mustang gig', and I understand what he meant now," Ed said, reaching out to touch Roy because he was close enough to touch.

Roy gave him a confused look and Ed gave a little laugh, leaned up and Roy leaned down and in the middle their lips met.

"You think you may be very late? Stay overnight?" Ed said with a small sigh.

"Depends on the situation," Roy said, reaching up to run his fingers through Ed's bangs. "I promise to call you. I'll send a car in the morning to get you to school if I have to."

Ed wasn't happy and he wasn't going to lie about it and not let it show on his face.

"I'm sorry," Roy said again, kissing his forehead. "I was looking forward to dinner out this evening."

"Don't beat yourself up about it, I can get some class room planning done. I just hope everything is alright an you're home before midnight?" Ed gave him a half hopeful smile.

"Me too," the General said and kissed him once again before turning and heading down the hall. Ed watched him open the front door, block R.D. with his foot and give a wave.

Ed waved back then leaned against the kitchen door jamb and sighed when R.D. ran back to him, insulted to have been pushed back by the General's boot.

"I know," he told the small terrier. "He's keeping me indoors, too."


"More of them are coming," she whispered. She could hear voices, outside, along the streets. Calls from men, searching and seeking. She knew all they would find would be scraps. Just scraps, guns and other things. Lying alone in the mezzanine, scattered in the streets.

"I want them to come, I want them to keep coming until they bring me what I need," her companion said. His voice was calm and confident; his small eyes fixed on the window outside the small house where they were hiding. But they weren't hiding, were they? They were laying in wait.

"How did you come to be like this?" she asked, because now it was starting to really sink in, just what she might be involved in. There was no easy deniability, there was no excuse to latch onto. There was only this, and him, and what he had done. What he had always done. But she could ignore it before, pretend it wasn't there. She never had to watch and she never had to hear, until they came to his place.

"I was born," he said. "But not of man and woman. I was born of desperation or need. I was born to be what I am with no choice in the matter. I was born to carry a sin inside me, even though I had not committed it." He turned to look at her then. It was at times like these he was a horror. These times of rationality, (if it could be called that), when his voice was lucid. And even though he still spoke as cryptic as he always did, his tone was more self assured, more authoritative. She could feel her stomach flutter when he spoke this way. She could feel her skin almost crawl.

"You had a choice, you have none now, but you did," he said. "Even when this was young, before you came so far, you had a choice. But now, you've seen to much, you know what is at stake and you're hungry. You can feel it, can't you? This gnawing inside? I have the power to consume everything, but for all that, I know that even if I did? I would never be satisfied, because I am Gluttony, not just in name. Do you know my hatred? Do you know what it is I hate the most? It isn't this never ending craving. It is what it is, and that is just life, we all have burdens. What I hate the most is that in my own weakness I can never truly realize what it is to be Gluttony, for if I devour everything, then I will be alone. And I am far to weak to be alone."

He went quite after that and Luludja just hugged herself. She could hear the running of feet on the cobblestones outside the house.

"I see no silver chains," he sighed. "I guess I'll just have to provoke them again." He went out the door and Luludja covered her ears. But really, the fresh screams did nothing to drown out the stale ones still echoing in her mind from earlier.


The news arrived almost as it happened.

There was a monster underground.

The General would risk no more regular troops, because he had his fears and his suspicions. He hand picked his team and ignored the objections of those to be left behind. He went over strategy and maps at the site of the disturbance. He stationed men at the entrance armed with heavy weaponry to prevent it's escape. He took Havoc at his back and pulled on his gloves before giving the orders to the rest of the squad accompany them. He gave firm orders and timetables to be followed, just in case. Just in case.

Ed woke from where he'd fallen asleep on the couch. He fumbled to the den in the dark and almost knocked the phone from the desk before he got the receiver to his ear. He couldn't make out the time on the desk clock from the cloaking blackness and he grunted into the phone before he realized he was doing it.

"Roy?" he asked, sleep hoarse and pushing errant hair from his eyes.

"Ed, it's me, Cain Fuery," said a voice on the other end of the line.

"Cain?" Ed asked in confusion. While they were good friends, it was true, Cain had never called the house to Ed's knowledge before.

"I'm breaking protocol to do this, hell I'm breaking all kinds of rules and going directly against his orders, even though he didn't give them to me," the man said.

"What..what the fuck has happened?" Ed said quietly, his stomach sinking low.

"The General has disappeared, along with Havoc and several men into the underground city," Cain said on the other end of the line. "They are talking about sealing it up if nothing is heard from them in a few hours time."

"He's in there; they know it? They can't seal it up...like hell," Ed all but screeched into the receiver.

"That's why I'm calling you," Cain said. "Breda and I, we want to go in, we need your help."

"You got that backwards, I'm going in and I need yours," Ed snarled. "I'm fucking stranded out here, come and get me!"

"There is already a car on it's way to you, Breda is really good at forging the General's signature, he's done it enough times," Cain said. "We have to keep this low profile, they've set up perimeter's now, it's really tight down there."

"I'll get in," Ed all but panted. "No one else has more rights to that fuckin' hole than me! I'm the one who died there, I'm the one who..." he gritted his teeth and ground the receiver against his ear. Roy had disappeared, along with Havoc and several other men.

He couldn't think and he could think and he didn't want to think.

He was terrified.

The old city, that person, the array, the sins, the stone and the gate.

They were nothing; but Roy?

He was everything.

"Ed?" Cain said, sounding far away and scratchy, like an old record playing over a microphone.

"Get me a uniform," Ed hissed, "and think up some good cover. If we can't sneak past..."

"I'm on it, the car should be there soon," Cain said. "If anyone can find him, you can," the man ended softly.

"Or die trying," Ed said and rubbed his forehead. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Right," Cain said and hung up.

Ed sat the phone back in the cradle of the receiver and sunk down into Roy's desk chair.

The old city, that person, the array, the sins, the stone and the gate.

They weren't real terror.

This? This uncertainty and the possibility he might be spending the rest of his happily ever after alone?

That was true terror.