I was daddy's little girl and sadly, I barely remember it. Luckily, I can't remember him being lowered into the ground even though I know I was there. All I have of him are precious fragments of memory but all of them filled with love. Some of my strongest memories of childhood revolve around my front door. Painfully, I can recall how it felt every time someone knocked on the door and I'd run to it, hoping Daddy was finally coming home. It was worst when Uncle Roy was standing at the door. Surely Daddy would be right behind him, like he usually was. Only Daddy never came home.
I forgot when I stopped looking for him but I never forgot how he had made me feel whenever he did come through that door. I don't think Mom ever forgot either but she always did her best to make sure I had a happy life. Alex Louis was as good a stepfather as one could ask for, once I forgave him for 'taking Daddy's place.' My half brother, Daiman, is a lot like his father, all scary demonstrative with big blue eyes and long blond curls that Winry can't resist playing with when she comes to visit. I've always been grateful to have her in my life, like a big sister I didn't get to have.
Still, none of this helped fix the hole left in me when Daddy died but I felt like I know him well. So many people tell me stories about him. I know that I was his perfect little angel. He apparently loved telling people that, probably a little too much so. He was something of a pest. Uncle Roy has a different perspective on it. He believed that Daddy talked about me so much because, in addition to loving me to death, it was a shield. All anyone remembered of my father was what he wanted them to remember, a big dork who could talk about nothing but the beauty that was me. They never noticed his keen intellect and ability to find out things no one wanted him to. Of course, that's what got him killed.
I appreciated that Uncle Roy never lied to me about that. He puts too much of the blame on his own shoulders, even Mother says so. I suspect deep down he thinks I hate him but I don't, I couldn't. He was Daddy's best friend and my 'uncle' since I could remember. I love him and I've never blamed him. The Fuhrer, the homunculi and their damned 'Father,' yes, but never Roy. I'm just glad that he's finally getting a chance to be happy, to rest a little. His term as president in our new democracy has been over for a couple of years now but that just means he has more time to enact his 'reign of terror'—as Ed so colorfully puts it—as head master of the school of alchemy he, Ed, Al and Alex Louis started to train more State Alchemists and to improve their image in the community.
At first, Uncle Roy was against me learning alchemy and I have to admit Mom wasn't thrilled either. I promised I'd find someone like Ed and Al's Mrs. Curtis if they didn't let me do it. Uncle Roy said Daddy would haunt him for letting his little girl become a 'freak.' I didn't believe Daddy had ever used that term, let alone in front of Uncle Roy but Mom and Aunt Riza said he had. It didn't matter. Alchemy indirectly took Daddy from me so I wanted to understand it. Finally, Uncle Roy started teaching me because I wouldn't learn from Alex Louis. I resented him back then. After the ugliness was all over and the Fuhrer destroyed, after everyone healed as much as they would, the school opened and I entered it.
And I loved it. Ed wasn't a bad teacher and he seemed so much happier now that he had his brother back. His arm and leg were a loss but all things considered, it wasn't so bad. It's not like he's the only person with automail in the world. Uncle Roy did have a flare for making lessons exciting but he was a slacker when it came to grading stuff. My favorite teacher had been Al, so patient and wryly amusing. I had no delusions I'd be some great alchemist like Uncle Roy or Ed but I had things to prove to myself. Besides, my class already had its stand out student, Xiang Mustang.
I'm five years older than Xiang and her twin, Mark, but sometimes I feel younger than them. Mark can act so adult, you forget he's sixteen, which I did for one fun but now rather awkward week a few months back. Xiang is the kind of girl that you'd hate in school if she didn't have her mother's personality. If she had Uncle Roy's personality to go with her good looks and talent, God help us all. Mark's like Uncle Roy, all dark good looks and that deep voice that doesn't belong to such a slender body. He only had a minor interest in alchemy. He liked to perform his transmutations on himself in the form of taking up roles. He wanted to be in movies and Mark is just talented enough and adorable enough to do it in my opinion. Still, I think he's the child Uncle Roy understands the least.
Not to say Uncle Roy and Xiang get along peacefully at all times. She wants to learn Flame alchemy and her father forbids it. Sometimes Uncle Roy confides in me. I think that's because I remind him so much of Daddy. He says I'm one of the few who can make him laugh. I told him that he should take what he told me and just tell his daughter that he promised Aunt Riza to never teach anyone that secret. I think it's more than a promise. I've seen Aunt Riza's back but Uncle Roy won't talk to me about that. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Xiang realized why her dad wouldn't teach her.
I shook my head. Dads and their little girls. Xiang and I are both our father's daughters. I just wish I were as lucky as her to have my father around to argue with. I'm so much like him, I'm sure we would have fought, at least a little. I'll never know. Daddy was certainly uppermost in my thoughts today but there was good reason for it.
I walked through town, carrying my burden. I wanted to be alone with it. Mother understood. She had long since stopped asking me to go with her on this day. She knew I needed solitude. I was surprised, when I arrived at my destination, that I wasn't the only one there. Someone stood next to my father's grave, looking down at the flowers that had been left. Tall and lanky, I'd recognize him anywhere, even if I hadn't spotted his honey-brown ponytail. "Alphonse," I said softly.
His head jerked up and he seemed surprised to see me. He clutched a single rose in his hand and I knew he wasn't here just to pay his respects for the anniversary of my Dad's passing. He was here for himself as well. "Oh, sorry, Elicia. I didn't expect you so soon. I didn't mean to intrude."
"You're not, Al." After calling him Professor Elric for so long, using his name like I always had growing up felt odd. "Mom always told me about how much Dad cared about you and Ed. He'd be glad you paid him a visit." I put a hand on his arm.
Al smiled at me, a hint of relief in his sad hazel eyes. I rarely saw him smile anymore, not since the tragedy. "Thanks. He was good to us, like a dad we didn't get to have. I don't really even remember my father before he left us."
"Nothing was ever the same again, not just for me. Mom, you and your brother, Uncle Roy and Aunt Riza. I don't think Uncle Roy ever really recovered from losing his best friend. He doesn't make friends easily, not when people are so afraid of what he can do." I looked down at my father's simple headstone, smothered in flowers from other visitors. "It says a lot about a man that he touched so many so profoundly."
Al looked at me strangely as if he was realizing for the first time I was no longer a little girl but rather an intelligent young woman, a good heir to my father's name. He slipped an arm around me. "So true," he murmured.
I leaned against him for a moment, my spray of flowers brushing up under my chin. He felt nice. His ponytail puddled on my shoulder. "I still miss him."
Al reached down and squeezed my hand. "I don't think that's a bad thing."
I sighed. "No, no it's not."
Al slipped away from me. "I'll give you some time alone." He smiled sadly then headed off through the cemetery. I knew where he was going.
I knelt down and made room for my spray of multi-colored daisies. I remembered Daddy holding my hand as I picked them in the yard. They were our flower, those and dandelions but I could just imagine the reaction if I brought those. I just encouraged dandelions to grow on his grave. "Hi, Daddy. I don't have much to say since last week. Mark's making his first real movie. You'd think his name is up in lights on the marquee already. It's so cute. At least he's as fickle as Uncle Roy was rumored to be so no harm no foul there and no, I still haven't told Uncle Roy about that little moment of insanity...okay a wonderful week of insanity. You know how that goes."
I traced the weatherworn lettering on the stone. "Other than that, things at home are good. Mom was a little mad when Daiman cracked a wall practicing his alchemy. Alex Louis fixed it so all is well. My garden is amazing. That's the kind of alchemy I'm best at and I'm working hard with Song Yun, the healing alchemist from Xing I told you about." I looked back over the path Al had taken; yes I had good reasons to want to learn healing alchemy. "I have a new guy in mind that you can go threaten, Daddy," I said, surprising myself. The new guy hadn't been in my thoughts at all, not even a suggestion of him until just this second but hearing it out loud made me like the idea. "But I think you might like him, well at least more than you would have liked the idea of me and a Mustang."
Slipping a bright purple daisy from the spray I got up. "I'll talk to you later, Daddy. I miss you so much." I wiped a tear from my cheek then cut through the cemetery.
Al was where I expected him to be, the flower laying at his feet in front of a stone. He turned slightly hearing my approach but said nothing as I leaned over and put my flower against Sciezka and Dove Elric's marker. "Thanks," he finally said.
"Life needs to treat us a little better," I said, thinking that was so terribly true. I was still in school when Al lost his wife. She had been our head librarian and was one of the reasons I decided to study under Song Yun to add healing alchemy to my best subject, green alchemy. Sciezka's baby had died inside her but by the time anyone realized it, not even Yun's alchemy could save her. I remembered all too well the devastation her death had left behind. The student body's mourning had been horrible but being close friends with the Elrics practically since birth, I had been taken into the inner circle of grief. I put my hand between Al's shoulder blades, feeling him trembling.
Al melted into my touch just a little. "Yes, it does." His voice was rough. He dragged in a deep breath and looked at the sky. "It's too nice a day to be in a cemetery."
I nodded then did something impulsive. "Come to dinner tomorrow, Al. I have a garden full of peppers, tomatoes and beans. I can whip up something fresh."
He scrubbed a hand over his eyes, composing himself. "That actually sounds good. I'll pick up a dessert. Is Alex Louis in town or is he still out recruiting new students?"
"He's back and getting ready for the fall classes," I replied.
"Better make it two desserts then." Al smirked.
"Three. Have you seen the size of my baby brother?" I laughed and it sounded so strange in this place.
Al grinned. "Good point."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Al." I turned to head back to Dad's grave for one last goodbye. Al called his goodbye to me and went back to his private time with his wife's grave.
Had I just hit on Alphonse Elric in the middle of the cemetery? What was wrong with me? And had he noticed it wasn't just a casual dinner invite with the family? Okay, it was but I really didn't mean it that way. Well, it was better if that's what he thought it was. What was I getting myself into?
"You should have seen it," Al laughed, barely able to tell his story. "Ed had convinced Winry that it was safe to leave him alone with the kids."
"His first mistake," Armstrong rumbled, sipping at his wine, a robust vintage produced by some member of his vast family whose name I couldn't recall.
"God, yes. But Winry really needed a break so when she went out with you two and Riza." Al gestured at Mom and me. "She figured what was the worst that could happen?"
"Mistake number two," Mom added ruefully. I knew Winry had called Mom on a tear about what had happened after our shopping trip but I had been at my store and had missed out on the tale. Mom wouldn't tell me since she was sure Al would want to relate the tale to everyone at dinner.
"I don't know what it is about Ed making cranky sons but he seems to be good at it. Zachary is just as colicky as Aaron was at that age. So while Ed was trying to get Zach down for a nap, he calls me for help because he really isn't safe alone with the kids," Al said, chuckling some more. "I get there and in the time it was taking Ed to get Zach down, Aaron had found the house paint Ed was supposed to be using to redo Tresa's bedroom. There he was, a buck naked three and half year old covered in green paint. He had paint on the floor, on the windows, all over the couch, all over ever piece of bare skin he could find and Tresa's there giving him marching orders as to what to paint next. The first thing she says to me is, 'I didn't do it, Uncle Al'."
I couldn't help laughing at the images he painted for us. Mom and Alex Louis were laughing pretty hard, too.
"I thought Ed was going to faint." Al snickered. "He was still begging me to help him alchemize it away when Winry came home. I'm still not sure how Ed survived."
"I almost came home with her," I said, pulling down the hem of my dress which all the laughing had jiggled up precariously high on my thigh. I was almost regretting my choice to show so much leg. "I'm so sorry I missed that." It was good to hear Al laughing. He did it so little ever since Sciezka died three years ago and when Winry got pregnant for the third time last year, Al had gotten skittish and short-tempered. No one really blamed him since being pregnant had killed Sciezka and Al just couldn't deal.
"It was the most amusing thing I've seen in ages," Al admitted, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
"Poor Edward." Mom shook her head. "Well, at least is wasn't as bad as the time he grew bars out of the flooring and penned Aaron in. I thought Winry was going to take Riza's gun."
"Little Aaron seemed to enjoy his time behind bars," Alex Louis pointed out, quickly rising to poor Ed's defense.
"That was about the only thing that saved Ed that time," Al said, shaking his head.
"Having had two of them, I'm not so sure Ed was wrong about two year olds belonging behind bars," Mom said. "The things I could tell you about that one." She pointed a finger at me.
"Don't you even dare!" My face burned as I gave her the look of death. "I haven't been that little girl in a long time, Mother."
Mom looked at me sadly and sighed. "I know. I miss having little ones around the house." She made the 'when am I going to be a grandmother' face at me.
"Baby-sit the Elrics. That'll cure you," I replied, blithely. I didn't even want to think about babies. All I wanted was to snag Al for a date.
Al fidgeted a bit at that and I could kick myself for bringing up bad memories of the child he lost. "This has been a lovely evening," Al said, scooting to the edge of the couch. "Thanks for inviting me to dinner. I should be going."
"So soon?" I asked, disappointed. I hardly had any time to talk to Al alone.
"I don't want to impose," Al said hesitantly.
"Alphonse, you're never an imposition. We love having you over," Mom said, setting aside her wine glass.
"You should visit more often," Alex Louis added. Sometimes I think people never knew what to make of the Armstrong estate and that it overwhelmed them a bit. It certainly overwhelmed me when we moved from our home on Mayflower to this palace. It was bigger than the president's home or even the Fuhrer's old mansion, which was now a home for veterans too injured to live on their own.
"Thanks, Armstrong," Al said, looking grateful.
"Before you go, Al, I'd like you to see my gardens," I interjected. I couldn't let him get away so soon, not before I have some time to talk to him alone. "I've done a lot of work since the last time you were here. Not only did I get in the herb garden Yun and I talked about for the store but I planted a moon garden. It will be very nice now." I had gotten lucky when I had impulsively asked Al here. It was a full moon night and my garden would be gorgeous.
Al smiled. "I'd like that."
Mom shot me a look that said she and Alex Louis wouldn't be following us and that she'd make sure my bratty little brother didn't sneak out to pester us. How had Mom figured out I liked Al? She always could read my mind, darn it.
He followed me out into the sprawling gardens. On top of the hill were the green houses that I used to keep more exotic plants from Xing or even cacti from Rush Valley since Central was too cold for them in the winter. The walkways amidst the gardens were crushed white marble so they almost seemed to glow with reflected moonlight. I had gone out earlier and lit the lamps around the rose gazebo, hoping I could cajole Al out here.
"It does look nice," he said, looking out over the garden. "How is your business doing?"
"Good, better than I expected." I had opened a little florist and herbal shop, trading on my green alchemy. Uncle Roy was my first customer, of course. He never grew tired of giving flowers to Aunt Riza. "You should come see the shop some time, too."
"I will. I think I see your moon garden." Alphonse pointed to the showy moonflowers that were the centerpiece of the knot pattern I had planted for this piece of garden. Almost half a foot across, the white flowers looked like ethereal, otherworldly creatures as their vines went up the wrought iron supports. The edges were trimmed in Showy Evening Primrose and tall Nicotiana took their fragrant place in the garden. The Four O'Clocks and Datura did their best to help perfume the air. It was heavenly here. I stood next to Al, letting him take it all in. I wanted to take his hand so badly but it was too early. "This is beautiful, Elicia."
"Thanks. I like to come out here and think," I said, happy that he liked it.
"I can see why. I wish I had more room in my yard for you to do something like this for me," Al said. After Sciezka had died, Al couldn't bear to live in their house. He had moved into a tiny cottage with his two cats.
"I can come look and see what I can do," I offered then winced. Why don't you just fling yourself at him, Elicia Hughes? "Can you sit for a while in the gazebo?" I hoped I didn't sound too needy. I didn't really know how to flirt all that well. Snagging boys my own age and younger like Mark didn't take skill. Frankly, the mere suggestion you liked them was more than enough to overstimulate them. I knew it wouldn't be that easy with Al.
He nodded. "Sure. Thanks."
There were benches all around the edges of the gazebo and I sat next to him, close but not too close. I draped my arm over the gazebo wall's lip so I could look at him and at the bourbon rose next to me. The old rose bush—older than me by far—was weighted down with double pink roses. "Listen to the crickets. It's just so peaceful here. I think Alex Louis would escape here whenever things got so hard way back when, after Ishbal, after Dad died. He never talks much about it but I know it weighed on him."
"I'm sure," Al said, following my gaze.
"In the daylight, you can watch the hummingbirds getting their fill of nectar. I love them. They're so cute, like gems with wings," I said, not really sure what I was babbling about really. I just hoped I was painting a romantic picture.
"I'll have to come by in the day and really see what you've done with the gardens, Elicia," Al said.
I grinned happily. "I'd love that. Just no asking Mom about embarrassing stories of my youth."
"I think I remember a lot of them." Al smirked, tapping my arm.
I winced. That was the bad part about him being older than me. "I'm sure Dad never failed to tell you when he got the chance."
Al laughed. "No. I'm sure I saw every picture he ever took. He loved you."
"I know." I sighed. I didn't want this to get maudlin and if I thought about Dad too much it might. "I never had any delusions about not being daddy's girl. Poor Mom, neither me nor Daiman are much like her."
"Oh, I think you're more like your mother than you know, Elicia. She's patient and kind and even when you were in school, I could see that in you," Al replied in that sweet way he had.
I hoped he couldn't see my blush. "Thanks, Al. Now, if I could only move her off the 'when am I going to be a grandmother' thing I'd be happy. First, I need to get a boyfriend."
"Any lucky candidates?" From how casually he asked it, I knew Al had no idea I was interested in him.
"Yes, but he doesn't know it yet." I gazed at him then shifted my stare up at the moon. I didn't want to look too intense.
"Not that anyone would ever have been good enough for you, but would your dad have approved of him?" Al reached over to pull a bloom close so he could sniff the rose.
"He's an alchemist, so...." I shrugged.
"Probably not. Alchemist? I thought you might like Mark," Al said, letting the rose go. He grinned when he mentioned Mark's name.
"Oh, Mark's nice and all but he's too young. Besides, he's convinced of his own beauty and I'm not sure there's room in his mirror for anyone but him," I replied.
Al laughed. "True. He does have his father's ego."
"I can do without that much ego. I had in mind someone a little more selfless and older," I said softly, trying to figure out how to tell Al how I felt. This was hard. My stomach ached just a little.
"Older?" In the flickering lamplight, I could see his brow furrow. "Is it Yun? You two seem close."
I shook my head. "No, not Yun."
"Do I know him?" Al turned on the bench, studying me curiously.
I reached out and ran a finger over the back of his hand. "You know him well."
Al's hand jerked away as if I had used Uncle Roy's alchemy on him. His eyes were round, his lips parting slightly. He shook his head, his ponytail swinging viciously. "Elicia."
"What's wrong, Al? You have always been one of the sweetest men I've ever known. I'm not a little girl any more and I've liked you for a very long time," I said, letting it pour out of me. In an instant, from the look on his face, I knew it was the wrong thing to do.
Al got to his feet. "I'm sorry, Elicia."
He all but ran out of the garden. I couldn't go after him. I couldn't move. I just sat and stared at the roses, my heart too heavy. I couldn't lift it. I hadn't even heard Mom approach. She sat down and put her arms around me. She rested her chin on top of my head as she pulled me to her.
"I saw him run out, baby."
"I scared him," I muttered, my lips trembling.
"Al's been through a lot, Elicia. Maybe he's just not ready," Mom said, stroking my hair.
I leaned into her touch. "Guess that's better than he doesn't like me."
"You know it's not that. He might still remember you as the little girl with skinned knees and pigtails, baby. Give him a little time to get used to the idea that you're a woman now," Mom said.
I squeezed her hand. "Thanks Mom, you're the best."
"Coming back inside?"
"In a little. I need to sit and think," I replied. Mom gave my cheek a kiss and left me to it. I wasn't ready to give up yet.
I loved early mornings in my shop. The first burst of air as the door opened was always so sweet with flowers and herbs. I had planted a small herb garden out back along with a few common flowers so customers could get the idea of how to lay them out. I was thinking of hiring out to plan gardens for people, but for now, I was carving a niche in the florist market, which wasn't easy to do but I needed something that said 'I am Elicia Hughes, more than just Daddy's girl.' No military intrigue for me.
Working in the back room, I was delicately pushing bright purple lisianthus into the bouquet of sunflowers when Donna, one of the young girls who helped me, caught my attention. "Elicia, there's a man here to see you."
"We're not open yet," I reminded her. "Who is it?"
The girl shrugged. "Some guy with a ponytail."
Ed? Yun? Or the one who owed me an apology for running out? "Bring him back, Donna."
Al peered into my workshop as if he were afraid a vase would come hurtling at his head. Well, growing up with Winry, that might be a justified fear. For a moment Al looked at a loss for words. Finally, he gestured at the arrangement I was making. "That's very pretty."
"Our summer collection," I said, determined to be all business and let him make the first real move. I tucked some trails of ivy into the bouquet. "It's for Uncle Roy. He buys flowers at least twice a month."
"He's always been a romantic," Al said and I made a non-committal sound. He wasn't getting off that easy. Al waited as if he thought I might say something more then said, "Elicia, about the other night...I'm sorry for running out. You took me by complete surprise."
"So, naturally that's cause for flight," I said sardonically and he stiffened. I set the bouquet aside so I could look at him squarely. "Sorry, Al, that was uncalled for."
"No...I hurt your feelings. I know that." Al tugged on his ponytail. "I didn't mean to. It's just...it's been a long time since I even thought about dating."
"I thought as much." I looked him square in the eye. "I was sort of half expecting it, Al. After what happened with Sciezka...well, I don't think you've dated since, have you?"
He shook his head. "No, but that's not...I mean, I used to baby-sit you, Elicia. You're a lot younger than me."
"Eleven years, which is hardly unheard of. Not all that long ago, parents specifically sought older men for their daughters," I reminded him, drumming my fingers on my work bench. "And I haven't been the little girl you babysat for years, Al. I haven't even been your student for a couple of years." I folded my arms over my chest.
"Still..." He looked away.
"So...you can't even think of me as a woman." I couldn't help but let my disappointment show.
Al glanced back over at me. "What would your mother think?"
"Oh, Al, she already knows. Why do you think Alex Louis didn't help show the gardens off? He's so proud of everything about his family estate, even if it's stuff I do," I said somewhat harshly.
Al looked at me as if trying to see me with new eyes. "I've always cared about you, Elicia....but it's hard not to see the little girl that used to sit in my lap."
"I'd still like to sit in your lap," I said bluntly.
The only spot of non-red in Al's face were his huge hazel eyes. "Elicia!"
I grabbed hold of him and kissed him hard. I had to make him see me as something other than a little girl. He seemed too shocked to respond at first so I ended that kiss to drag him in closer by his ponytail. I gave him the best kiss of my life. His mouth yielded to me as he put his arms around me. My tongue explored him until I was breathless and I leaned my forehead against his shoulder. He smelled so good.
"I'm not expecting all hearts and flowers, hot and heavy right away, Al. I just want a chance," I interrupted.
He smoothed my hair back. "Guess you really aren't a little girl any more."
"Glad you noticed." I smirked. Mom said that's when I looked most like my dad.
"Would you like to go to dinner and a movie, Elicia?" He smiled at me.
I patted his arm. "Thought you'd never ask." I moved in for another kiss but the door's bells jangled. "That will be Uncle Roy."
"I should go and let you work." Al backed off.
I picked up the bouquet. "Al, when shall we try this dinner and a movie?"
"Is this weekend good?" Now that he was used to the idea he seemed to like it.
I grinned. "Perfect." I swooped in for a light kiss of his cheek then buried my face in the flowers as I walked into the main part of the store. A date with Al, it was what I wanted. Now to make it through the day without looking likes a giddy fool.
As expected Uncle Roy was waiting for his bouquet, shamelessly flirting with Donna. I don't know how Aunt Riza doesn't just shoot him some days. I handed him the bouquet and, just like always, he took a deep sniff. Donna bustled off once she didn't need to entertain him any more. "It's beautiful, Elicia."
"I'm sure Aunt Riza will love it," I said, proud of my creation.
"I know she will." Uncle Roy glanced back at the door. "Did I just see Alphonse leaving?"
"Yes, we had some left over business from the other night," I said, hoping I wasn't grinning like an idiot.
Uncle Roy raised his eyebrows. "Ah, well, whatever it was you certainly seem happy this morning. You're practically glowing."
I scowled at him. "I think the flowers are getting to you, Uncle Roy. You're over romanticizing."
"I think you have a new boyfriend." Uncle Roy smiled over the flowers. His eyebrows arched as he tried to look serious and failed miserably, the silly tease.
"Which is none of your business." I turned him around and marched him to the door, laughing.
"Of course it is. Your daddy would haunt me if I didn't keep an eye on you," he replied, digging in his heels, damn stubborn, irritating man.
"Daddy would tell you to mind your own business, Uncle Roy." I slapped his shoulder gently. "Or Aunt Riza might just wave that gun at you if you don't behave. Shouldn't you be getting those flowers to her?"
"I'm going, I'm going." Uncle Roy opened the door then turned around. "But honestly, Elicia, Alphonse Elric is a much better choice for you than Mark. I love my son but he's such a teenaged idiot. He's so hard to handle that he makes Edward at that age look tame...and there was nothing easy or tame about Fullmetal." Uncle Roy just smirked then whisked out the door while I stood there open-mouthed and red-faced.
He knew! How could he have known about me and Mark? How could he even have guessed at my interest in Al? I ducked out into the herb garden so no one could see how embarrassed I was. Uncle Roy knew I slept with his kid. Oh hell. I concentrated on his apparent approval of my new romantic interests. At least that wasn't mortifying.
I couldn't believe myself. Palms sweating, heart thundering like a summer storm, legs weak as a newborn calf. One would think I was facing a reborn Sin rather than a man I had known all my life. There was very little frightening about Al unless his temper was finally roused. There was absolutely no reason to be so damn nervous.
"You look beautiful."
I startled, whipping around to see my mother watching me from the door. I smoothed a hand down my dress, dark blue with little white daises. "It's not too girlie, is it, Mom?"
Gracia came over and pushed back some of my curls off my face. "You look fine. Al won't know what hit him."
"Think he'll be disappointed that I chose something other than a movie for today?" I fretted. Maybe I shouldn't have gotten so creative but I wanted more than a movie. Either you watched and didn't talk or you made out. I'm sure Al's not ready for huge sessions of exploring bodies. I wanted to just talk with him, remind him I'm not a little girl.
"Al put the date in your hands, Elicia. He trusts you. I'm sure he'll love whatever you have planned," Mom said with one of her peaceful smiles.
I blew at a streamer of hair. "I hope so."
She gave my cheek a peck. "But being late just won't do so you'd better scoot."
"Thanks, Mom." I left her beaming at me. I'm sure in her eyes, I was already Mrs. Elric with two kids and a house filled with cats. Well, at least she approved. That was a good thing.
I was meeting Al at the fountain in the town square. He was waiting for me and the look in his eyes said he liked my dress; sexy yet innocent seemed to be working for me. That gave me some confidence. "You look lovely, Elicia."
I couldn't help grinning like a school girl. "Thank you, Al." He reached out and took my hand. His hands were smoother than mine, which were all nicked and chewed from gardening, so unfair. "Al, I had a different idea for today instead of a movie. I hope that's okay," I said nervously.
Al's eyebrows rose. "Oh?"
I hesitated for a moment. I t was too late to change my mind now. "It's a secret."
He smiled broadly. "Well, you have me intrigued. I guess you'll have to lead the way if it's a secret."
I felt feather-light. He seemed interest in my diversion and I couldn't be happier. "My pleasure."
We made awkward small talk as we walked along as if we didn't have anything else to say. I guess talking about our families was safe. It wasn't really what I wanted to discuss but I knew I had all but trapped Al into this date. Maybe that's why it felt so damn awkward. I could only hope it would get better once we got there.
There was a little farm on the edge of town that kept animals expressly for city kids who had never seen them. It was cheaper and easier than trucking out to places like Resembool to see a cow. Over the years it had expanded to house more exotic creatures like deer and things from Xing. The animals weren't the reason I wanted to bring Al here since he grew up in the country. It was the charity show to raise money for the farm that I thought he'd enjoy.
Al gave me a curious look when he saw the farm. "This is unusual."
"You'll see. I'm not nuts, promise." I grinned. He paid the fee and we went inside. The look on Al's face when he saw the First Annual Central City Cat Show was exactly what I was hoping for. The hazel of his eyes deepened with delight. "They always have dog shows to raise charity money for the farm," I explained, my tongue all but stumbling over itself, "but when I heard they were trying a cat show this year I immediately thought of you."
Al smiled broadly. "I love it. Thanks, Elicia, this is perfect."
I practically bounced as I grabbed Al's arm. Knowing him for years was about to pay off, I was sure of it. . "I'm so glad."
I know we talked as we went from cage to cage looking at all the cute kitties. I know it was a good talk but I was so excited it didn't stick in my head at all. It was relaxing and sweet, exactly what I expected a date with Al to be like. It was over far too soon, both the cat show and the dinner that followed. We went back to the show and made a pick up. It never even occurred to me that a 'good girl' wouldn't have gone back to Al's place on a first date until we were there. I was being ridiculous. I had been at Al's dozens of times before. He shooed his cats into the bedroom and shut the door.
"Take him out." Al gestured at the box I carried.
I lifted out the black and white kitten, well mostly black. He had white paws and a white chest. I sat down on the couch with him. "Mom's going to die when I bring him home," I said as the kitten squirmed in my hands.
Al sat next to me, letting the kitten attack his finger. "Well, if the dogs don't like him, I'll take him."
"How is it I take you on a date and end up with a cat?" I smirked at Al.
"Cats are good for you. I keep trying to convince Ed of that. The kids would love one," Al said as my new kitten locked onto his wrist and started gnawing on his hand.
"Winry has trouble enough with the kids and especially Ed. An evil kitten isn't needed," I replied with a smirk at the newest addition to my family.
"How can you call this sweet face, evil?" Al laughed, hoisting his hand, four sets of claws and teeth embedded into his flesh.
"I think all the biting is a dead giveaway." I giggled as the kitten playfully back-pawed him.
"You need to name him," Al said, dislodging the kitten gently.
I scooped it up from him. "Hmm, black hair, white gloves, irascible temperament....think Uncle Roy will be angry if I call the cat 'Mustang'?"
Al howled. "Yes," he choked out between guffaws. "How about 'Flame'?"
"Worse. I'll work on it...it's going to end up Roy Boy, you know that, right?" I asked and Al laughed harder.
I set the kitten down. As it went off exploring, I caught hold of Al's ponytail, pulling him closer. I kissed those laughing lips. Al folded his arms around me, pulling me close. He felt so good against me. His tongue gently prodded against my lips until I opened to him. Our tongues met and teased until we were both breathless. His eyes said what I was feeling. "Spark," I panted.
He laughed, his hand rubbing my back. "That's a word for it." Al scooped me into another warm, wonderful kiss.
I leaned against him, burying my face against his neck. One of Al's hands rested on my shoulder as I interlaced my fingers with his. This felt so good, so right. "I like being with you, Al."
Al pressed his lips against my forehead. "I was afraid to come with you today, Elicia," he admitted softly. "I wasn't sure I'd see past daddy's little girl and I didn't want to disappoint you."
I swallowed hard. I hadn't even considered he'd be afraid of me. "You didn't."
He brushed back my hair. "I was very afraid that I'd be so nervous that I'd mess this up. Spent the night sitting up and worrying, all for nothing. I never saw you as anything but the woman you are now."
I didn't know what to say so I said nothing and instead kissed him softly. "I want to do this again, Al," I whispered.
"I would like that very much." Al's smile was like summer sunshine.
I tapped his chin. "Next date is your choice."
"Now I can spend all night sitting up trying to think of something good." He grinned as he held me.
"Or just a movie next time," I replied, knowing he'd never take the easy way out, not after my grand gesture.
More talking, more kissing then a nice walk home in the moonlight for me and kitty rounded out the evening. I let Roy Boy explore his new home—and hopefully do something to suggest a better name for himself—while I unwound from my wonderful date. I went to bed knowing that Al could take me to a hog farm for our next date and I'd be happy as hell. I was head over heels. Damn if it didn't feel fantastic. Hear that, Daddy? I think I'm finally truly happy!