sky dark

Better Living Through Alchemy

chapter 29.

It was mostly dark. Just like he remembered. Even the air smelled the same, thick with the scent of burning torch wick and stale as old bread. He moved lightly, in increments, slowly creeping up on the light just ahead. He strained to listen and held his breath the closer he got. He could hear the murmur of a voice, and then another, answering murmur. He went low to the ground, almost to his knees and found cover in a table with a moldy, dry rotted table cloth situated near the door into the main ballroom. He crouched there, peering between strands of rotten linen and table legs. Two figures sat in the middle of the room, one was blocked mostly by the other.

He knew them both.

The fat one was rocking slowly, back and forth, he had managed to bend his knees and had his ankles crossed, he was gripping his knees.

The General was sitting up, but he was leaning over his lap, head down and Ed couldn't see his face. He looked around to see, if by chance, any of the others where there. But no, they were accounted for; they had all fallen.

He had no idea what had become of Dante, and he really didn't care.

Ed watched as Gluttony lifted his nose to the air and took a deep breath. He held it, released it, and then took another. He tilted his head back and forth, as if he was trying to place something, then he'd shake his head and take another, long, deep breath.

"He can smell you," said a voice behind him.

Ed startled hard, whirling and coming half to his feet. His shoulder hit the table and rattled it and he gaped at the girl behind him.

"I told you to get out of here," he half whispered, but why was he bothering, he was heard, he knew it.

"You did," she said, walking past him, "I just decided not to." She walked straight to Gluttony, stopped just beside where he sat on the floor. The sin chortled and looked up at her, then he looked over at Ed.

Ed returned the even gazed of the sin; he dare not look at the General who had raised his head. He knew better. But he'd already given himself away.

"This one is here to take your alchemist," the woman told Gluttony. "He said so to me outside, he called him a General and he said he was coming to get him."

Gluttony surged to his feet.

"He can't, He's MINE," the homunculus shrieked. "If he tries he'll be very sorry, but he'll be sorry anyway!"

"You said you were hungry," the woman told him. "So I brought you this so you wouldn't be thinking of that one," and she nodded her head at Roy.

"What... what the hell lady! Do you know what that thing is?" Ed yelled across the expanse toward them. "Do you have any idea?"

"No," she said back, calmly enough. "But does it matter? Does it matter now? I've come all t his way, the least he could do is try. He can try to make it work. I'll take the risk, I've seen the gain," she looked at Gluttony again.

Ed started to open his mouth, tell them just how full of shit they were and Roy could never work this array, but he caught the slight shake of the General's head, his one eye trained intensely on Ed and Ed swallowed it down, clenched his fists.

Gluttony stood, staring in Ed's direction, tilting his head back and forth, back and forth. He pushed one pudgy digit to the corner of his mouth and then broke into a grin that was all sunshine and homicide.

"I know you!" he squeaked in glee. "I know you! I KNOW YOU!" And he surged forward with speed that could never come from human anatomy.

The General broke then.

"ED RUN," he screamed, scrabbling to his own feet.

Run? Run where? Run and leave the General here?

It was just that quick, the thought had barely strolled across his mind and Gluttony was on him, he backpedaled desperately, his back hitting edge of the door jamb, he tried to throw himself around it, but a hand caught his shoulder, spinning him and then the same hand grabbed the back of his neck.

He twirled again, like a toy ballerina and a fist closed over his automail arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. He was facing Roy, head held stiff by the unbreakable grip around his neck from behind. Fleshy fingers pressed into the sides of his throat and he was marched like a toy toward the center of the room, but not to close to the General who stood there, looking like a ghost in a uniform.

"Fullmetal Alchemist," Gluttony said with glee. "It's another one!" he called over to Luludja.

"You're mistaken," Roy said, voice suddenly calm and authoritative. "This man is not part of the military."

Gluttony looked momentarily confused. He looked at Roy, then pulled Ed back to look down his body. Ed was not in a uniform and Roy hoped, he fucking prayed, he could play off this creatures literal streak.

But whatever else the ingested stone had done to the homunculus, it had made him so eerily sharp and lucent, at least, at the important times.

"Yes he is," Gluttony said in the voice of a person who has caught on they were being teased. "He never wore an uniform before, either. I know what I smell."

Ed was panting shallowly, his flesh hand reached up to tug at the fingers on the side of his throat and Gluttony gave him a hard shake and Ed dropped his hand way.

The woman cleared her throat and looked at Gluttony.

"We can use this, you can use one of them to make the other obey," she told him.

"Why are you doing this, what do you think you will gain?" Roy suddenly asked. "What do you see in this creature that is so appealing? It lacks a soul, it lacks a conscience, it lacks all the basic things required to be human. Why would you want to give up what you are to only be a replica and a poorly constructed one at that?"

"What I am? What am I? I'm nothing. I come from a poor family, I was an unwanted burden, another mouth to feed. I would never claw my way up without a man to marry me, to take me away from that, from the drudge and toil and child rearing. I didn't want that, I didn't deserve that, just because I was born to it. He came," she pointed at Gluttony. "He showed me how I could be different, special, better."

"He's a murderer, he kills people to get what he wants, you think that makes him better?" Roy asked incredulously. "You think the power to take lives makes you superior? You don't need to be a soulless husk for that, just pick up a gun."

"Your vision is so narrow," she said. "You think the only good in the world is human. How do you know this? I know bad, I know humans just as bad if not worse and for less reason! His cause is his cause, who are we to judge what is noble? He's looking for lost love, he's come this far just for that. Love drives us all, how can he be without a soul when he feels so deeply? Who are you to tell me what makes a soul?"

Gluttony kept looking back and forth between them, and though he had seemingly forgotten he hand Ed in his grip, Ed was reminded all to quickly when he suddenly tried to bring his hands together.

"You're a bad alchemist!" Gluttony hissed. "You'll have to do what I say! But I know that you can make the circle like that! I'll just have to make it so you can't!" And the sin tightened his grip on Ed's automail, twisted it sudden and violent and ripped the arm right out of the port. Ed's eyes widened in a look of horrific disbelief and then he screamed.

It had happened so fast, so matter-of-fact that Roy's own cry of denial was already drown in Ed's shriek of pain.

Gluttony lifted the metal arm, sniffed it, then opened his mouth wide and bite off the end of it, the part that had been attached to Ed's shoulder socket. He seemed to chew it thoughtfully and Roy was moving before he knew it.

"Let him go you fuckin'..." but he didn't finish because Gluttony spit out the metal he'd been chewing and winged the automail arm right at Roy's head. The General twisted to get out of the way, but it glanced off his temple on his blind side and he stumbled and feel to his knees, reaching up to cover the spot, seeing sparkles.

"Enough, you, do it!" Gluttony pointed at Roy, pointed at the array. "Do it!"

"I...I don't know..." but Roy's remaining eye widened when Gluttony leaned his open mouth over Ed's shoulder. "I'LL DO IT, DON'T..." he said. Gluttony stopped, hovered there, the pulled his head back and away.

"Don't be...fucking idiot...," Ed gasped-sobbed, "going to kill us...anyways..."

Gluttony shook Ed violently and tightened his grip on Ed's throat and Ed gagged and his eyes bulged.

"I won't do it if you kill him!" Roy said. "If you kill him, you might as well kill me! I won't help you if you hurt him any further!"

Gluttony peeled his lips back and pulled Ed back to his chest and hooked his chin over his shoulder.

"I can make him die screaming, cursing your name, slowly, bite by bite," he cooed.

"You better do what he says," the dark skinned woman said.

It's not like there was any decision. Roy bowed his head and walked into the giant array that had been burnt on the floor by Edward himself in desperation long ago.

Gluttony shuffled forward excitedly and nodded to Luludja, who looked nervous, but determined. Ed reached up to claw at the fingers around his throat, and in some little act of mercy, Gluttony loosened them enough so he could draw breath to speak.

"You FUCKING MORON, don't give into this, you don't know what you're doing, what if you call the Gate?!" Ed rasped.

What if he did? Would it matter? He only knew the Gate from Ed's story. So to die here or in Ed's tale? Well, he was weak when it came to all things Ed.

"What...what do I do?" Luludja asked, eyes darting back and forth between the two alchemists.

"If you're lucky, you die before the Gate appears," Ed sneered and Gluttony tightened his grip and shook him again.

"What is this gate?" Luludja asked to Gluttony himself. "Is it as bad as they say?"

"The Gate gives and it takes, is that good or bad? It's equivalent. It will want something to make you into what you were. I have the stone, so it can have that, and I have these alchemists, it can have them, that's more than enough trade."

"How do you know it will appear?" she asked again.

"Human transmutation," the General supplied. "Not that I have tried it before, or have ever seen this gate."

"What about him?" she pointed at Ed.

"He's seen the Gate," Gluttony hummed merrily. "That's why he needs two hands to make a circle."

"Well why don't we use him instead?" Luludja reasoned.

"You should have thought of that before you pulled his arm off," Roy snarled bitterly. "Let's just do this and get it over with, let's all go to hell together."

"Stand with me," Luludja said to Gluttony, casting glances at Roy. The sin grinned like all the world was smiling on him and rushed to her side, dragging Ed.

"Is there anything special I need to know as I activate this?" Roy said to his lover, so very close now. "Anything special to get it going?"

"No," Ed croaked, "just pour yourself into it." He sucked his lower lip and reached out with his flesh hand toward Roy. "I love you, yeah? I love you, it's ok, do what you have to."

Ed's fingertips touched his sleeve, but before he could lift his hand to give a reciprocating touch, Gluttony jerked Ed out of reach.

Roy stood for a moment, then he knelt and laid his palms flat on the array. He didn't even try a last chance to reason, he just poured himself into it and it sang to him.

A shadow fell across him and he looked, but even in the shadow he had to squint. Everyone was staring upwards, Gluttony released Edward and Roy jumped to his feet and caught Ed as he staggered to the side. Everything around them fell away until there was just this place, bathed in pale light and this giant Gateway, riddled in reliefs of people twisted in agony and a single, monstrous eye carved to look like it was staring out from the doorway.

"Blank your mind," Ed whispered raggedly, crushed to the General's chest. "Don't think of anything if you can. Whatever it asks you, just ignore it. It's hard, but you can do it, you can do it..." Ed turned his face against Roy's shoulder.

"This is the Gate?" the girl said in a wondrous voice. "What do we do here, do we open it?"

"It will opens, when it's ready," the sin said slowly. "It will open when it is finished deciding if we have enough to offer."

"Never enough to offer," Ed whispered to the side of Roy's neck.

"It will make you one of us," Gluttony said. "It will make you like me, no one can hurt you, no one can stop you. You are beautiful and terrible and everyone who sees you, wants you. You will be Lust. You will always ache and always hunger and never find satisfaction."

"Wha..what?" she said, turning to look at the fat man round eyed.

"To embodies Lust is to always be hungry, like me," the fat man nodded. "That is what makes Lust, the need for something. All we sins, we are interconnected, you and I, we were always together. Lust and Gluttony, between us, we could devour cities."

"I don't know if I want this," she said, taking a step back.

"It's too late now," Gluttony told her cheerfully. "Don't be afraid. I'll be with you, we'll have everything you ever wanted. I can help you, I will stay with you, I won't leave you, don't be afraid. You will have power and everyone will curse themselves because they aren't you! You will have dominion over this world because you will be better than humans. Always, we are told, we are better than humans, so that makes it true, yes?"

"Everyone will want me? Women will curse themselves that they aren't who I am?" she asked slowly.

"Everything, everyone," Gluttony purred.

There was the sound of groaning hinges and the doors began to open, slowly, surely, inevitably. Luludja took a few steps forward.

Edward's compassion was always bigger than himself and he could never contain it.

"Don't ask it for anything!" He called after her. "Don't be a fool!"

Roy pulled him down against him again, rocked him.

"Leave idiots to their own dead," he said in Ed's ear.

Luludja turned a bit to look back at Gluttony, she smiled a little.

"What do I ask of it?" she said and then she was gone, simply gone. A multitude of snapping black ribbons and slight displacement of air and she was no longer there. Gluttony jumped and looked around, turned himself in a circle.

Ed suddenly tensed all over and Roy could hear it then, buzzing in his brain, bees and voices all mixed together. He would try to focus on one, than another, idea after idea pouring into his brain. The possibilities of what he could do, if only he could have this or that and there it was ripe for the picking, all he had to do was ask. But Ed beat him to it, like just about everything else.

"I DON'T WANT ANYTHING," he screamed to those droning, incessant voices. "NOTHING, I WANT NOTHING. I GIVE NOTHING, I TAKE NOTHING."

"Lu...Lust?" Gluttony said pitifully somewhere near them.

Roy shook hard. Ed could hear his teeth clicking together, grinding together and his arms around Ed tightened to the point of almost pain.

"Give me back my Lust," Gluttony said to the air around him. "Where is she? Where is Lust?"

The Gate swung open a little wider.

"Lust? Is she there? Do you have her? You have her, give her to me!" and the sin rushed the Gate, arms outstretched and fingers grasping.

And the Gate, promising many things, slammed in Gluttony's face, just as he reached it, proving it was the faster of the two, all said and done.

And the light faded and the room went back to it's glow and the Gate was gone.

That is when Ed finally noticed that Roy was slumped against him, unmoving. He looked around for Gluttony and saw him wandering the far end of the ballroom.

"Lust...Lust...LUST," the sin wailed, stopping to stare up at the balconies. "Lust, come down, I'm down here, LUST!"

Ed got up, then taking Roy by the hand in Ed's only remaining hand, he began to drag him toward the door. He had to get as much distance between them and Gluttony as he could before Gluttony came to his senses. Across the old wooden floor, through the foyer, to the street side just beyond.

"Roy, wake up, Roy, wake up," Ed stage whispered urgently, glancing back at the opening to the building again. "Roy, you can't fucking lie here, I can't fucking carry you, now get your fucking ass up! ROY!"

The General would wake up. He would wake up and they would go home. Ed forced Roy into a sitting position, leaned him back against his knees and looked around. If there was something he could use as an impromptu sled of sorts? Anything he could lie Roy on and pull?

It was then Gluttony came stumbling out of the doors and Ed tensed. The sin swung his lumbersome form back and forth, his nose tilted to the air, sniffing.

Ed eased Roy over onto his side. He had to distract Gluttony, draw him away and hopefully lose him, come back, find Roy awake, slug him for worrying him and then go the hell home.

"WHERE'S LUST?!" the sin bellowed into the air, then he seemed to notice Ed there, fixing him with his tiny eyes and clenching his massive fists.

"The...the Gate took her," Ed said, clearing his throat and backing away. "You were there, you saw it," he didn't even glance at Roy, he had to keep all of Gluttony's attentions focused on him.

"You took her, didn't you? You did that, you told the Gate to take her," the fat man sobbed, jiggling up and down in place.

"No," Ed said, "No I..." but then he turned and ran. He ran the way a deer runs from a wolf, he ran the way a rabbit runs from a fox. He ran for his fucking life.

He could hear the grave thundering behind him.

They ran without words, they both ran to a different kind of desperation. Ed, being smaller, ducked and weaved, squeezed through passageways where the sin couldn't possibly follow. But sins, like bumbelbees, are impossibly possible, and Gluttony merely bulldozed his way through these spaces, knocking them aside or slithering through as if boneless.

Ed glanced once toward the overhead bridge, gaged where the stairs might be. The stairs leading up, away, toward the others, but instantly dismissed it. The military had provided Gluttony with enough nourishment as it was, and Ed wasn't one to take his troubles to others.

But he was mortal, so sickeningly human and frail. His lungs burned, his sides ached and his pace became uneven. He felt the brush of fingers on his back, then the grip on his remaining arm.

I'm sorry! I tried, I tried so hard. Please let them find you, take you out, get you someplace safe. Please don't tell Al how it happened.

He was dragged off kilter, whirled and thrown into the side of a building. He gasped and slid down the rough brick wall, instantly getting back on his knees, trying to get back on his feet. But just as he did, the sin would pounce again, grabbing and slinging him like a child with a doll. So effortless it was, to hurl him into the air, and so hard the ground was when he hit it.

Don't let this... don't let this be the end of all of you. Don't let me drag you down to nothing. Be who you were meant to be, who you should have been, despite me. Please Roy, please. I love you.

He tried to get to his knees again, because his body never listened to his head. He could hear the sin's footsteps on the ruin of a street.

"I didn't..." he tried again, "no one can tell the Gate what to do, you know that! I didn't tell it, it just took what it thought it needed."


You'll take care of us, right? You won't let him sell us.

"I never asked, no one ever asked me, but still, this is all that it is," Gluttony said in a strange and woeful voice. Ed managed to get to his feet and look at the sin.

Where can we hide, you won't tell on us, will you?

"All I ever wanted was to be...," and Gluttony came to a lumbering halt, not more than five feet away. Ed shook with exhaustion and anxiety, but he knew to run would be to invite chase again.

"I only did, what I was told to," Gluttony said, clenching and unclenching his fists. "It's better when no one depends on you."

You're the only one who cares.

"It's better when you just do, what you are told and you don't try to do anything more, there is no good. You can't change it. I don't know why it was me, I was the worthless one, why was it me? I wish these things would go out of my head."

"I'm sorry," Ed said quietly. "I'm sorry you didn't have the choice."

I'm sorry, I never gave you the choice. I missed you so much, but that's no excuse.

Gluttony looked up at him then, he held out one large hand, palm up.

"Why? Why do they do it? Don't they see what they've done? Was I so bad that this is my punishment? I never wanted this, but here it is, and this is what it is made of it. I just wanted her to tell me what to do. Tell me why, at least. You're an alchemist, you know."

Ed wet his lips, reached up to hold his aching arm socket.

"I did it because I am selfish," Ed said quietly. "I fool myself into thinking it was for love; but I'm not so sure, anymore."

The sin nodded in a way that suggested sagely.

"When I can think about it and it let's me have the thoughts, I think that, too. They were selfish and they loved me. Selfish love is still love and any love is better than no love, don't you think so?"

Ed had never heard this thing speak more than perhaps a half dozen words strung together at any one time. The surreality of the situation was catching up to him. Maybe they were all inside the Gate.

"Well, don't you?" Gluttony prompted.

"Sometimes I think the line between love and hate is blurred," Ed said, because why not? He was dead any way you looked at it, why hold anything back? "It takes a long time to get to that. But it can be done."

"You're wrong," the sin said. "You're wrong."

"Am I? No, I don't think so. I think they stem, ultimately, from the same feeling inside," Ed nodded. "And if they become blurred enough, then you can lose sight of what is good and evil. You can't tell anymore."

Gluttony did the funniest thing. He did one of Roy's little circles of confusion. Just like that, that one simple spin. Ed almost felt himself smile and then he remembered where he'd left his lover, unmoving, unresponsive, lying on rubble.

"But am I good or am I evil?" the sin asked. "Does it matter?"

"Not always," Ed said softly.

"If it doesn't matter, then it doesn't matter," the sin sighed, he stuck his finger into his mouth, "I'm hungry," he said around it.

Ed staggered back a few steps, that damn sense of self preservation just wouldn't let him do anything gracefully. At least he could ask Gluttony to make sure nothing was left, so there would be nothing to find. Wouldn't that be a mercy in and of itself?

The street around them began to ping and the building across the street began bursting out puffs of dust from the walls. Both Ed and Gluttony watched this curiously for a second, then Gluttony flinched and snarled and Ed noticed bullets lying on the ground all around the sin. They were bouncing off his head and back.

"GET A FUCKING MOVE ON, ED," Havoc shouted from the cover of a nearby building, "THIS WON'T DISTRACT HIM FOR LONG!"

No, it wouldn't distract him at all. He wanted to shout to Havoc, tell the man to run, to get Roy, to take him home. There was no point in running.

Then the wall of flame struck, it came like a tidal wave right down the street. Funny thing that while it hit Gluttony square in the back, it managed to split and leave Ed only in the wake of it's passing heat.

Gluttony howled in anger or pain, Ed wasn't sure which and he turned away. He actually turned away from the easiest meal, to look down the street.

"It was YOU, YOU told the Gate to take her. It was YOU wasn't it?" Gluttony howled at his new attacker and shook, clenching his fists, baring his teeth.

The General said nothing from where he knelt, array scratched into the paving stone at his feet.

And Ed found the will to fight again.

Roy pressed his hands to the array a second time and the fire came again, wrapping and snaking it's way along and the sin opened his mouth and gave a mighty inhale, and this time the flame disappeared into his maw.

More gunfire and Ed's found he could run again, but he didn't run away, he tried to circle around the sin and the gunfire stopped and he heard Havoc's angry shout about hitting him, and to stop being a bonehead.

Gluttony noticed him then, shrieked incoherent rage, but before he could lunge the fire came again, and he couldn't swallow it all this time and he turned from it.

Roy, Roy, Roy

"ED, GET DOWN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" the General shouted above the noise of more gunfire.

"WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE YOU STUPID FUCK, COMING TO SAVE YOUR STUPID ASS," Ed shouted back, pelting down the street toward him.

Then he was there and the General grabbed him and for a moment it was just the two of them, Ed pressed to Roy's chest. And then Ed was behind him and Roy was kneeling again to touch is array.

This time, as the flames came, the sin raised both of his arms and slammed his fists into the street below them. A slab of the stone there rose up in response, effectively blocked most of the flame before slamming down again. But the damage stone didn't stop there, huge cracks began to zig zag crazily away from the weakened area. One of them came toward them.

Ed pushed around Roy, put his fingertips on the array there. Everything around them was weak and trembling.

"I can use this, I can drop the street out from under him," Ed said. "With all the shit going around though, it might drop us as well."

The General gave a short nod, then he shouted.

"Lieutenant Colonel, get to the surface, THAT'S AN ORDER," he bellowed in the direction of the spotty gunfire. "Tell them to close it!"

"THEN LET'S GO, SIR!" Havoc yelled back.

"How do we do this?" Roy asked, turning to look at Ed.

"You push, I'll drive," Ed replied with a lop sided grin.

The General placed his palms on the array just as the sin hurled himself in their direction. Ed pressed his fingers as it to embed them in the stone and the alchemic reaction lit up the street, a dazzling dancing combination of red and blue, winding around each other.

The street below them seemed to sigh, groan, pop and then heave upwards, splitting neatly along the cracks already made.

The reaction abruptly died as Roy and Ed were thrown off balance, all of their hands leaving the array, but the destruction had already begun and chaos only grudgingly gave up what was offered into it's clutches. The sin pitched back and forth like a small ship in high seas and Ed hit the pavement and rolled downwards. He felt a grab on his sleeve, fingers there and gone. He came up against another stone, surging up from below like a mountain being raised and then the General's body hit him.

There was scrabbling, no words, the General managed to roll over, grab Ed's remaining arm as the world disintegrated below them. No time for words, only time for actions.

Roy kissed him as the bottom opened up and they fell.

His mother smiled down at him. He felt the warmth of her hand on top of his head. She stood back up and wiped her hands on her apron.

"When you're bigger, you're going to be an alchemist, just like your father," she said.

No, not like his father.

She turned to the wash hanging on the line, straightened the sheet there before clothes pinning it to keep the spring breeze from snatching it away.

Do you forgive me for robbing you of your choice?

Now she was there in a gown that hung to the ground, and gloves that masked her arms to the elbows.

"You really are just like your father," she said, picking up another sheet to hang on the line. Doing it in an absurdly formal manner. She smiled over her shoulder at him.

Do you forgive me?

"Is it really my place?" she asked.

And he stood there in his younger self and twisted his fingers as she continued to hang washing on the line.

If you won't, then who will?

"The man you will become," she said, the smile never leaving her face.

The breeze lifted his bangs, bringing with it the smell of sunshine and linen.

But will he?

Ed opened his eyes slowly. For a few moments he just lay, surrounded by all white. It took several moments for him to realize that all this white wasn't the nothingness he presumed it was and, in fact, he was not dead. Even if every little twitch of muscle sent painfully shocking messages of disbelief of his undeadness directly into his brain. And would he stop trying to fucking move, please?

"He's awake!" Al appeared from nowhere, from nothing, right into his line of vision, as if by magic. He made a small inquisitive sound and his brother smiled down at him.

Then there was Riza, comforting in her uniform, she stood beside Al and gave Ed a look of scrutiny.

Ed licked his lips, but couldn't quite form words yet. Al's hand touched his forehead, lay softly there and stroked back once, over his head.

"Professor Elric, you're going to give me a full report why you were in a restricted military zone," Colonel Hawkeye said. "I will grant you recovery time, however, before you are debriefed."

She was being so generous. Maybe he wasn't dead but he was dying. Yeah, that's why she was being so nice.

Al leaned over, kissed his brother's forehead and then stood back up.

Ed had a thought, maybe... maybe there was another reason they were being so nice. Maybe it was because he wasn't dead or dying... maybe it was because...

"He's fine! He's fine, he's right over there," his brother, his beautiful, perceptive to the point of frightening brother said. "He's asleep, but he was awake earlier, he's very worried about you."

He let everything go then, all the tension, all his breath and felt like he flatted out, like road kill after a particularly large truck had passed by. Like Al, that one time, in the armor. He gave a small, half laugh.

"It's late, and you need more rest," Al said gently. "We'll be back in the morning, I'll bring you breakfast."

Al really did love him; he wouldn't have to eat hospital food.

When they left they dimmed the lights to a blissful level and Ed could just float. He turned his head slowly, but the curtain between him and the next bed was half way drawn, and all he could see were some blanket covered legs.

So he studied the pattern of the ceiling tiles for a while. Then he wondered how pissed off at him Winry was going to be; and then he wished the General was awake.

And that too happened, as if by magic, because he was just suddenly there.

The General's hand smoothed over his face, his fingers threaded through his bangs and Ed smiled in a dopey, dreamlike way. Because even if this wasn't really the General? This was one hell of a kick ass dream.

Roy leaned over him then and he eagerly parted his lips. The kiss was warm and salty, and the General pushed himself back to sitting and just kept smiling.

He looked different somehow, and Ed couldn't quite place it. There was something about him, niggling there in the back of his brain. Something was off and the more he tried to focus on it, the more it slipped away.

"Tired?" Roy asked and Ed shook his head a tiny, tiny bit. The General made himself more comfortable there on the bedside.

Dammit, what was so different about him?

"We made it," the General said. "I think I'm the one to thank for it, a really wise man always told me I was one lucky bastard." He grinned.

Ed found his voice, it was a scratchy barely audible thing.

"He got the bastard part right," Ed croaked out.

The General laughed a little, and then leaned over to kiss him again. Ed preferred the kissing to words. He preferred feeling Roy warm and alive against his lips.

When he let Ed breathe again, he reached up to toy with his bangs, keeping his face close.

"I'm amazed they got us out, Havoc's doing, we owe him," the General said softly.

Ed nodded, moved his flesh hand in slow, agonizing inches to press it to the General's hip, where it rested on the bed.

The General kept touching his face, his forehead and his hair.

"When I woke up, I couldn't find you right away. And when I did, you wouldn't... you didn't wake up and I couldn't make you," the General touched his forehead to Ed's.

" Sorry," Ed grunted, " you know... I make things difficult."

"You can't leave me behind, never again," the General said in a way that made Ed really move, turn his body toward the man, reach up and rest his hand on the General's chest.

Roy covered Ed's hand there, held it against him.

"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you, keep that thing from hurting you," the General said.

"Don't be an idiot," Ed grated out.

"But I promised, don't you remember? Before you left that first time," Roy said.

"Yeah, and I promised first, or have you forgotten? Back when I was still jail bait and you were a raging pervert?" Ed grumbled.

Roy gently rubbed up and down his hand, keeping it where it was, he nodded once.

"See? Equivalent, even though we know that's a load of shit," Ed sighed.

"I don't know," the General said. "I don't know about that. Because I would have given anything. I thought... I thought you had left me." The General tensed up all over. "I thought you had gone ahead again and were going to leave me behind. I can't do that again, Ed, I can't. I can't do this alone. I can't even conceive of being alone."

"But you aren't..." Ed started.

"No, you don't get it. There is no one else. You are everything inside of me. You aren't just my lover, you are everything everyone has ever meant to me. Ed, all there is for me is you. I can never be what I was before you, and I don't ever want to be like that again. Because now? You have made me so much more than what I was, and I will die before I give that up, before I give you up. Never again."

Ed, for once, was at a loss for words. His throat was thick and all these things he wanted to tell the General, they just wouldn't come. He made a helpless sound, curling the fingers of the hand Roy was holding into the man's hospital gown.

"All that I am, you have given me, and it's all I could ever want. So, no dying without me, alright? Promise," the General insisted.

"That's fucking absurd, how can I promise something like that," Ed said, trying to moderate the ragged edge to his voice.

They were interrupted by the room door swinging open and a young nurse who was coming in halted a bit in confusion in the doorway.

"General Mustang, you shouldn't be out of bed," she said in a mildly scolding tone.

"Ah, sorry," the General said. He smiled down at Ed, lifted the hand that was previously held to his chest and kissed Ed's fingers. "I'm keeping him awake."

"Don't care," Ed said, looking up into the General's face.

Roy eased Ed's hand back down, and slid off the side of the bed and stood up. And Ed, lying there so sore it hurt even to breathe suddenly lunged. He grabbed a fist full of Roy's hospital gown and yanked it savagely.

"Look at me!" he ordered his lover.

The General turned to smile down at Ed.

He had two eyes.