Sidestory to Paper in Fire. I'm told it stands alone very well, but it contains spoilers for PiF, so you might want to read that first.


Worst Laid Plans

Sitting at the head table, sipping the excellent white wine provided for this party by the Alumni Association, Winry Rockbell was feeling no pain. She was, however, more than just a little annoyed. Eyes narrowed, she watched her best friend Edward Elric's significant other, General Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist, work the room, and the longer she watched, the more annoyed she became.

The party was for Alphonse Elric. Earlier that day he had been conferred his PhD in Theoretical Alchemy, which, at the ripe old age of twelve, made him the youngest person ever to earn a Doctorate degree in the history of Amestris University, or any other university for that matter. Of course twelve was only his physical age, thanks to the Gate's unpredictability. On the inside he was a mature sixteen years old, but still, that had to be some kind of record too. His achievement was really no surprise. He was an Elric, and brilliance ran in the family.

Alphonse' days as a University student weren't over yet however. His next step was medical school, once again at AU. The Dean had presented him a full scholarship with a lot of pomp and circumstance just before the banquet. Al deserved it, and really should have received that kind of incentive from the university right from the start, but taking Elrics for granted seemed to be a national pastime. Al's tuition had been costing the Elrics an arm and a leg, figuratively this time, until General Mustang had decided to weigh in.

Mustang had advised Alphonse to mention to one of his professors that he was looking at another bastion of higher education for his MD. The General made a very convincing argument concerning Al's value to the university, and how the Faculty would be loath to lose him to a rival college. Winry had watched, stunned, as the whole scene played out exactly as Mustang had predicted when the younger Elric had reluctantly taken his advice. First there had been some gentle cajoling about Al taking a step down to go to a less prestigious institution. Then there were more eloquent arguments against his move, all in his best interests of course. That was followed by appeals to his loyalty for the good old alma mater, culminating in some panic stricken flailing when Dean Lister found out that McMaster University was courting Al with a scholarship offer of their own. The full scholarship to AU, books, materials, lab access and a small monthly stipend included, had virtually flown into Al's hands after that. Thank you General Mustang. At least that creep was good for something. Winry still wasn't convinced he was good for Ed.

Winry noticed her glass was empty, and reached for the bottle once more only to find it empty as well. Rats. She scanned the room for an empty table attached to an unopened bottle, and her eyes once again fell on Mustang, schmoozing it up with the Dean and his cronies. Where Edward had disappeared to the young automail mechanic had no clue. He'd probably ducked out with Al to get some air. It was a well known fact that the former state alchemist wasn't particularly fond of this type of social function.

Winry watched her friend's dark haired, dark eyed beau carefully. His movements were smooth, almost choreographed, a smile here, a conspiratorial smirk there, a friendly wink in passing to Maes or Gracia Hughes, always in graceful motion around the room. Oh, he was good at his games, yes indeed. Hovering around him were the usual hangers on, beautiful young women and men, obviously smitten with the handsome young charmer, watching his every move. Mustang's eyes never betrayed more than casual interest, though many were vying to attract him, his reputation naturally preceding him. He had to be aware of the signals being sent his way. Could he really be immune to that sort of attention?

"If Ed found out he was up to his old tricks, it would just devastate him," Winry muttered to herself, scowling darkly.

"Winry, isn't it?" a vaguely familiar voice preceded a vaguely familiar young woman settling into a chair next to the blonde girl. "You're not getting loaded, are you? You're what, sixteen?"

"Seventeen and a half, and who wants to know?" Winry squinted at her sudden companion. The woman was definitely familiar, but Winry couldn't place her. A quick appraisal confirmed that she wasn't automail equipped, so she couldn't be a client. Dark brown eyes in a youthfully rounded face gazed at Winry over folded hands, a confident smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth. Curley dark brown hair coiled over one bare shoulder, the pale green strapless gown showing off a luscious figure. The woman appeared to be around Riza Hawkeye's age.

"You obviously don't remember me, but you might remember my dad," the brunette said. "He came to you about six months ago to get his automail upgraded. Royce Catalina."

Winry pulled a face. She wasn't the greatest with names. "How's he equipped?" she asked.

"Left hand, just above the wrist, lightweight duralloy, matte finish."

Ah yes. "Now I remember. Brigadier General, retired. Lost the hand to frostbite on duty in Briggs."

"Yup, that's dad. I'm Becca." The older woman reached out her hand, and Winry gave it a firm shake. "So, why's a sweet, young automail mechanic getting drunk in a stodgy university banquet hall, and talking to herself to boot?"

"I'm here with the guest of honour, Alphonse Elric. And I'm not drunk. I've only had a little bit of wine." Winry cast a disappointed squint into her empty glass. "Was I talking out loud?"

"Something about someone doing tricks." The older woman glanced around to the tables adjoining theirs and snagged a fresh bottle of wine. Popping it open she filled a glass for herself and then topped up Winry's as well, smirking the whole time.

"Gah, it's that Roy Mustang. He's going out with my best friend, and I just don't trust him," the blonde confided. "Just look at him! All that fresh meat hovering around, flaunting everything they've got. It's like that everywhere he goes. He'd have to be made of steel not to be affected. It's only a matter of time before he goes for it, don't you think?"

"Yeah, the man has a rep," Becca acknowledged. "But what can you do? Wait for the inevitable, and be there for your friend to help pick up the pieces." The dark haired woman knocked back her drink and refilled her glass.

"You know Mustang?" Winry asked suspiciously.

"Well, I know of him, being in the same military and all," another smirk. "Word gets around. I'm on Furher Grumman's personal staff, been part of his team for years. Mustang was under Grumman for a while at East Headquarters too, back when Bradley was King." The woman grinned at her own joke. "A friend of mine used to be pretty close to him. Word is he's quite the player."

"I'd love to catch him in the act, you know?" Winry said, then realized what it sounded like, and blushed. "Well, not that act, you know, but maybe taking someone out behind my friend's back or something. Then I could lay down the law; give him a good talking to, maybe a good enough scare to straighten him out. Save Ed some heartache."

"Hah! That'd be too ironic, catching the Flame Alchemist in flagrante delicto," the older woman snickered, and Winry blushed an even deeper red. "But to catch a sneaky guy like that you'd have to be just as sneaky," Becca continued, considering. "He's been playing this game for a long time, so he'd know how to cover his ass from all angles. It'd be almost impossible to catch him unless you had something prearranged."

Winry suddenly became thoughtful. There was an idea. She could set a trap. Set Mustang up and catch him cheating, then read him the riot act. Set him straight so he knew he wasn't going to get away with hurting Ed again. But who could she get to bait the trap? Through Edward, Mustang knew just about everyone she did. The young woman turned an appraising eye on her current companion. Becca was young, beautiful, and definitely not shy. Winry narrowed her eyes. "What a great idea! Are you up for the challenge? You don't actually have to, like, do him or anything. All I need is to catch him going out behind Ed's back."

Becca sat back, incredulous at first, but then a slow grin built on her face. "You're serious, aren't you. Well, you certainly have my attention. Lay it out for me. What do you have in mind?"

The object of the young automail mechanic's dark machinations was surreptitiously scanning the banquet hall for his absent partner. Al was missing as well, so they had likely gone off somewhere to take a break from the ostentatious atmosphere. Having had enough for one night, Mustang wanted to get out of there as well. He caught Winry looking his way and nodded a wry smile in her direction, but the blonde girl missed it as she turned away. Roy frowned. She still did not approve of his relationship with her best friend. Well, she had considerably more reason than most to dislike him. The General wished he could do something to earn her acceptance, but it was virtually impossible when the girl would barely even speak to him. He just had to keep trying. Winry wasn't just Ed's best friend. She was more like a sister, and gaining her approval was important to Roy because Ed was.

"Looking for someone?" The unfamiliar purr was entirely too close to his ear, and the General stepped away just in time to avoid the arm that was reaching for his.

"If you'll excuse me," he said, cold eyes aloof as he stepped past the presumptuous young hopeful. The wine had been flowing rather freely, and the attempts to attract his attention were getting bolder as the evening wore on. Three months ago he would have been watching the competition for his favour with detached amusement, making his selection, and finally moving in. Now it was just annoying. Where the hell was Ed?

He finally spotted both Elrics, along with Riza Hawkeye and Jean Havoc, stepping into the hall from the rear doors. They must have been quite desperate to escape the stuffy atmosphere to brave the mid winter chill of the university's terraced garden. Roy made his way towards the small party of friends, noting not for the first time that evening how good Edward looked in formalwear, especially with the loosened tie and open collar. The former Fullmetal Alchemist always looked particularly sexy when a bit unkempt. In fact, the young Lieutenant Colonel, retired, looked good enough to eat, and Roy planed to dine just as soon as he could get the blond alone. He slipped up behind his lover and slid a possessive arm around his trim waist.

"Ready to call it a night?" he asked, smirking at Edward's obvious relief.

"Hell yeah. Sorry Al," Ed looked apologetically at his younger brother. "Really, it was a nice party, apart from all the pompous assholes milling around."

"Thanks brother," Al said grinning. "I'm glad you came. I also really appreciate that you didn't slug Dean Lister when he suggested you get a degree to make your 'credentials legitimate'. And I'm sure it's not the first time that he's been called a fuckwad."

Edward rubbed the back of his neck, abashed. "Well, I'm going to go say good night to Winry and get out of here before I do anything else to embarrass you," he said. "I'm spending the night at Roy's, so don't wait up."

"You don't embarrass me brother!" Al called out as his older sibling rushed away. The youngster turned to grimace at his grinning military friends. "The Dean was out of line, but brother needs to get a handle on his temper. I mean, he's starting up a business and can't afford to blow up at people like that."

"I think we'll be going too, Alphonse," Riza said, smiling. "Congratulations once again. I really can't think of a better choice of career for you. I know you'll do well in your studies, and I sincerely believe that you'll be a wonderfully caring physician."

"Thank you Ms. Hawkeye," Al returned, blushing at the praise. "And thanks for coming Lieutenant Havoc. I guess the no smoking rule made it kind of uncomfortable for you."

"Not a problem, Al," Jean said, surreptitiously reaching for Riza's hand to entwine their fingers. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world."

Riza gave his hand a squeeze. "I'll go see if Kain or Heymans needs a lift back to the dorms. It's on our way, and I believe it's starting to snow again." The blonde woman walked away, all three men admiring the retreating view of her slim, athletic build clad in elegant black silk.

"I'm going to say goodnight to everyone as well," Alphonse said. "I want to get Winry home. I think she may have had a little too much wine. Thanks for coming, General."

"My pleasure Alphonse," Roy said, reaching to shake the younger man's hand. "Again, congratulations. I'll have Edward call you tomorrow."

The younger Elric moved away in the general direction of the head table, looking to say his goodbyes, leaving the two military men to fetch checked overcoats for themselves and their respective dates.

"I suppose I should be congratulating you too, Jean," Roy said as he tipped the coat check attendant. "Riza appears to be very happy. So do you, for that matter."

"Yeah," Havoc said with a small smile. "Funny that after getting my hands on that little black book of yours, I end up with someone who isn't in it."

"Ironic," the General agreed as the two men made their way towards the exit. "Well, the night is still young Lieutenant. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Havoc grinned, lighting up a smoke as he stepped into the winter chill. "There's something you wouldn't do, Chief?"

"There are a lot of somethings I wouldn't do, now," the dark haired man said quietly, watching Edward with great fondness as the younger man hurried back to him, his mission accomplished. Havoc clapped his commanding officer on the shoulder and continued out into the cold to enjoy his cigarette.

"Winry's completely out of it," Edward groused as he took his coat and slipped it on. "And she was looking at me with this weird gleam in her eye when I told her we were leaving."

"Alphonse will make sure she gets home safely," Roy said, taking Edward's arm and steering him towards the car. He could feel the heat of the younger man's body through the course cloth. The car was in a relatively isolated location, but sadly, Roy didn't think Edward would be agreeable to steaming up the windows here in the parking lot outside Alphonse' celebratory banquet.

"You should have come to say good night too. Avoiding her isn't going to solve anything." Ed said quietly.

"I'm not the one being evasive Edward, you know that. I'd like nothing better than to sit down and have a good, old fashioned heart to heart with her. On the other hand, Ms. Rockbell would like nothing better than to pretend that I don't exist. Or perhaps formally introduce her wrench to my skull."

Ed shivered from the cold and leaned against Roy's warmth as the older man started the car. "You have to keep trying, that's all," The blonde insisted. "She's stubborn, yeah, but not spiteful. Just don't try to bullshit her. Be straight with her. It's only a matter of time before she comes around."

"Thank you for your insightful advice. I find it particularly compelling coming from a man who thinks it prudent to take a swing at the Dean of the university that's giving his brother a full scholarship."

"Hey, if it wasn't for you, that fat fucker would never have coughed up Al's scholarship!" Ed spat, totally disgusted. "And I didn't take a swing at him! Give me a little credit! I knew it would totally ruin Al's party if the police had to be called."

"Once again, I admire your restraint. You have inspired me to bring my own level of self control into accord with your own."

"Yeah, whatever. Hey, what are you doing? Get your hand out of there!"

Alphonse ushered a tipsy Winry into the automail shop through the back door and kept one hand on her elbow as they navigated the stairs to the small apartment above. He'd tried to amuse himself by pretending that she was his date for the evening, but she kept ruining it by crabbing about Mustang every time Ed was out of hearing range. She was quiet now, though. Too quiet. The youngster manoeuvred the young woman to the kitchen and into a chair at the table, deciding that some hot chocolate would be just the thing to get them warmed up after the walk home.

"You're awfully quiet all of a sudden Win," Alphonse stood at the stove, slowly stirring the milk so it wouldn't curdle as he heated it. "And you've got that look again."

"What look?" the blonde glanced up, somewhat bleary eyed.

"Your patented something-needs-fixing-and-I'm-just-the-girl-to-do-it look."

"I have a look that says all that?"

Alphonse nodded. "Whatever you're up too, I hope it doesn't have anything to do with brother."

Winry reared up indignantly. "Why would you automatically assume I'm going to mess with Mustang?"

Alphonse sighed. He loved Winry, but sometimes, particularly when troubled about something, she was a bit hard to deal with. Though he had tentatively encouraged it, Al had been worried when Edward had decided to take another chance with Mustang as well. After the abysmal way the Flame Alchemist had treated his brother the first time, Al didn't hold much hope for their chances to make a go of it, but the older man actually appeared to have changed. Roy had given up his bed hopping ways, and was seriously committed to his relationship with Edward. And most importantly for Alphonse, Edward was really happy. Probably for the first time since they burned down their house in Resembool, the older Elric seemed to feel like he belonged somewhere. Al was willing to let bygones be bygones, basking in the light of that one simple truth.

"Who said anything about Mustang?" the youngster glanced accusingly at the blonde girl. "You are up to something, aren't you? Please Win, can't you just let it slide? They look really happy together."

"I'll let it slide when I know for sure that creep can be trusted," was the muttered response.

"If you keep harping on him, Ed's going to move out. I'm happy to have him back after being apart for so long, and I don't want him to leave so soon." Alphonse added cocoa, sugar and a touch of cinnamon to the warming milk and continued to stir.

"He's not home all that much these days anyway." Winry shot back, annoyed. "He's either out of town somewhere on a job, or over at Mustang's. He's off again tomorrow to do that renovation job in Borden and won't be back for a week."

"Oh, he got the library gig? He was really looking forward to that. It's a charity thing and you know brother when it comes to libraries." Al poured the hot drink and passed a steaming mug to the disgruntled girl.

Winry sipped at her cup and sighed contentedly, thanks enough for Al. Leaning against the counter sipping at his own mug, he hoped that whatever his friend was brooding over, it was only a product of her tipsy state and would pass with the hangover. He didn't want her to drive Edward out of their home by continually trashing his lover. Al mentally crossed his fingers as he turned to clean up the kitchen.

"Rockbell Automail."

"Winry, it's me," Becca's melodic voice on the phone was quietly conspiratorial, and Winry's heart rate ramped up a notch. It had been four days since the banquet, and Winry really hadn't expected to hear from the young officer. Was she calling about their little scheme?

The plan—a much too generous term for the vague course of action Winry had described that night at the banquet—was that Becca attempt to get Mustang to ask her to go out with him, and if she succeeded, she would let Winry know where and when. The brunette had assured the blonde that she could approach the General at headquarters in a way that wouldn't arouse his suspicions. Winry had never really expected to hear from the dark haired woman again, at least not about her scheme. Beccca had seemed interested in giving it a shot, but people said and did a lot of things while under the influence of alcohol that they didn't remember, or didn't want to remember, later. Apparently that wasn't the case this time.

"It's all set," the brunette whispered. "We're meeting at Marcello's for dinner tonight. Eight o'clock. I made a reservation for you there too."

Winry felt a prickly chill creep up her spine. So, she had been right all along. This wasn't just a couple of drinks after work, or a casual date. Mustang would be expecting more than just a dinner companion if he was taking Becca to a high class place like Marcello's. Was he planning to take her to a hotel afterward, or home, to the same bed he shared with Ed? Winry was glad her plan was turning out to be such a great success in terms of catching Mustang up to his old tricks, but at the same time, she felt sick. For Becca to get to Mustang so easily suggested that this was routine for him, the son of a bitch. Did it happen every time Ed went out of town? The prick knew his lover wasn't likely to turn up unexpectedly at a place like Marcello's, so Mustang might not even be bothering to wait for Edward to be on the road before he indulged himself. He could be getting a bit on the side any night he wasn't with Ed. Winry seethed, fist clenching on the handset. Initially, she had only planned to read Mustang the riot act when she caught him, but now? If it was as bad as this looked, Edward should know.

"Winry? You there? Is this a bad time?" The quiet voce brought the automail mechanic out of her musings.

"No. No, its fine. Why do I need a reservation?"

"Well, you can't just waltz into Marcello's and start spying on people. You need a reason to be there," the smirk was loud and clear in Becca's lowered voice. "Are you going to be there, or do I call Mustang and cancel?"

"Oh, I'll be there alright," Winry said quietly, absently jotting down the details on the notepad by the phone, lost in thought. Would she ever. And god help Mustang when she saw him.

Eight thirty, and Winry decided that it was time to get out of the cold and go into the restaurant. She wasn't trying to be fashionable late. She just hadn't wanted to run into Mustang and Becca on the way in. The blonde girl wanted to catch the General at the table with his latest conquest; otherwise the bastard would turn lingering doubts to his advantage, and likely end up convincing Ed that it had all been an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Feeling self-conscious in her fine black dress and her mother's pearls, the only person there dining alone, Winry approached the maitre d' and gave her name, apologizing for her lateness. The man checked for her reservation, then, giving her a dazzling smile, he took her coat and escorted her into the dining room, seating her at a table in a secluded corner. Perfect.

From her relatively private vantage point, Winry scanned the room, trying to catch a glimpse of either Becca or her unfaithful jerk of a date. Where could they be? She couldn't be too early, could she? Maybe something had happened, and the date was off. Wait a minute. Why was her table set for two?

"Ms. Rockbell, good evening." Roy Mustang slid into the seat opposite her, face carefully free of his trademark smirk.

"You bastard!" Winry quietly snarled, causing the older man to wince. "You set me up!"

"Well, turnabout is fair play as they say. Would you care for some wine?" Winry abruptly stood, fully intending to stalk out of the restaurant, humiliation burning on her face, but the General stood as well and gently took her arm. "Please Ms. Rockbell. I merely took the opportunity to manoeuvre us into a lovely setting where we could have a long overdue clearing of the air. Won't you humour me, just this once?"

Before Winry could free her arm and tell Mustang to blow it out his ass, a commotion at the reception desk interrupted. The pair looked over to see the commotion making his way towards them, a concerned maitre d' in his wake. Edward Elric stalked up, glowering at his lover and his best friend, royally pissed.

"What the hell is going on?" he growled, mercifully keeping his voice down.

"What are you doing here Ed?" Winry squeaked. "I thought you were in Borden renovating that library."

"I just got home. And when I went to give Roy a call, I found this by the phone." Edward pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket and tossed it on the table. Winry recognized it immediately. It was from the notepad by the phone in the automail shop.

Mustang read the short note aloud. "Operation catch M with pants down. Marcello's 8pm tonight. Bring wrench." The General looked up, and this time was unable to keep the smirk from his lips.

"Don't look so smug, bastard," Ed warned him. "It looks like you decided to turn the tables on her, am I right?" Mustang had the good sense to say nothing, dropping the smirk. "I know you were desperate to have a serious talk with her, but do you have to turn everything into some kind of covert operation? This isn't Central Command. This is my family for fuck's sake!

"And you!" the young alchemist turned to Winry, who winced and dropped her eyes. "I get that you think you were doing this for my benefit, but I don't need protection from Roy. Yeah, he's a bastard, but he's my bastard. I know he loves me. I know he won't hurt me. Don't you trust me?"

Edward scrubbed his hands over his face, then glared at the two sheepish people who meant so much to him. "I'm going home. Why don't the two of you just cut the crap and work it out?" Turning on his heel, the blond strode out of the dining room, much to the relief of the hovering maitre d' and wait staff.

The General watched his lover out of sight, then turned to the young automail mechanic. "Well Ms. Rockbell? Now that we have successfully managed to piss off the person we're both trying to shield, perhaps we should try to solve this in a more mature fashion," he said, looking apologetic. "I'm willing to cut the crap if you are."

Winry flopped down in her seat. "Yeah, fine. My original plans for the evening are a bust, so why not. How'd you find out about that, anyway?"

"First Lieutenant Rebecca Catalina is an old friend of Riza Hawkeye. I overheard her telling the Major about her conversation with you at the banquet, and approached her afterward to enlist her help with this little setup of my own," Roy said as he took his seat as well. "What Edward said is true. I am quite desperate to have a serious talk with you."

Winry sighed. "Okay, so talk. I don't think I have to outline how I feel about you, so you have the floor. I can't imagine why my approval is so important to you."

Roy plunged ahead in earnest. "I plan to be a big part of Edward's life for a very long time, and I don't want you to be so upset by it that you and he have a falling out. You are very important to Ed. And . . . I have already taken so much from you. I don't want to take your friend as well."

There. It was out in the open. Winry had to admire his balls for so candidly bringing up his role in her parents' death right off the bat. She ran her fingers over the pearls at her throat, keeping her breathing even and slow.

The General pressed on. "No apology would ever be enough, though I do offer one. Not a day goes by where I don't think about what I've done, and regret it deeply. Of all the terrible things I have done, I count that as the most terrible of all."

Winry swallowed around the lump in her throat and finally spoke, voice rough. "You have a lot of nerve, apologizing for something you had no control over. If it hadn't been you pulling the trigger, it would have been someone else, and you would have ended up in front of the gun as well for refusing to follow that order. And where would Ed and Al be right now if you hadn't been around to help them?"

Mustang looked somewhat taken aback. This was obviously not the reaction he's been expecting, and Winry took some small satisfaction from the man's surprise.

A waiter approached, but the General waved him away, eyes locked to his blonde companion's, urging her to continue. She did. "I didn't always think that way of course. It took a while before I realized you weren't some kind of bloodthirsty monster. Want to know what convinced me otherwise?" Mustang nodded. "It was how your subordinates look up to you. It was Mr. And Mrs. Hughes, and Edward too, how they love you. Knowing them, what kind of people they are, I knew they could never love the vicious killer I believed you to be. We had a lot of serious talks of our own, Granny and I, and I finally came to terms with what you were forced to do. I don't blame you for what happened to my parents. It would be just as pointless to blame the gun."

Mustangs face was grave as he cleared his throat. "I . . . appreciate that, thank you," he said quietly. "I'm not sure what I expected you to say, but it wasn't that."

"Yeah, well don't think that makes everything alright. I still don't think you're good for Ed," Winry said, teeth clenched. "The way you treated him before, that wasn't something you were forced to do. That was something you did by choice."

"I know. I won't give you a lot of empty excuses to justify why I treated him the way I did, except to say that I was a fool, and I regret my callous behaviour," Roy told her. "I took him for granted, and I won't make that mistake again. He makes me happy, and I believe I make him happy too."

"How happy do you think Ed would be if you started to fool around on him? There are people coming on to you constantly, because they find it just as hard to believe that you've changed as I do. How can you resist the temptation of all those people throwing themselves at you?"

"What those people are after is a purely physical relationship. It's easy for me to resist that kind of temptation when Edward is offering me so much more. I am in love with him, and he loves me, and I find it makes all the difference." The General's dark eyes were serious. "Edward is the best thing that ever happened to me. I'd be a fool to risk losing him over a fling with someone who could never possibly mean as much."

Winry gauged the sincerity in his eyes, and found that she believed him despite knowing the man's talent for manipulation. If this was just another game, he was playing it masterfully, but somehow, Winry didn't think that was the case.

"Alright. If you're after my blessing, you have it. But that doesn't mean Al and I won't come after you if you screw up," Winry said, picking up her napkin and unfolding it on her lap. "So, are we eating, or what?"

When Winry got home, Al was waiting up for her as she knew he would be, arms crossed over his too young chest, confrontation written all over his face.

"Where's Ed?" she asked, stalling.

"In our room, reading. Why he isn't pissed off about this I'll never know."

Winry shrugged. "He's probably happy that his idiot boyfriend and I had a talk."

Al waited for her to continue, but she wasn't going to make this easy for him. Winry moved into the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil. A cup of tea would be nice right about now. Al was tapping his foot impatiently, and the blonde turned away to hide her grin.

The young man gritted his teeth. "So, what happened?" he finally asked.

"We had dinner. Talked. He knows quite a bit about automail design, surprisingly enough. It was very nice. The guy sure knows how to pick a venue. I found Marcello's was the perfect setting for airing grievances. I'd highly recommend it. Must have cost him a fortune, too." Winry smiled a satisfied smile.

"Get to the airing of grievances part, please," Al huffed, not amused.

"Not much to say, really," Winry held up a second cup questioningly, and Al nodded. "I guess he's an okay guy, and Ed seems to like him. I'll let him live for now." The girl grinned a shark toothed grin.

"You're such an idiot," Al said, exasperated. "A loveable idiot, but still."

"I love you too, Al," she said fondly. And in a few more years, she could let him know exactly how much.