Jean Havoc sat in the chair Alphonse had thoughtfully provided, assault rifle resting across his knees. Sentry duty again. The blond sighed. He could map his entire career as a series of short, frantic events linked together by long stretches of standing guard over someone or something. Not that he minded of course. It was just that he got to do a lot of thinking while he was keeping watch, and unfortunately he usually ended up thinking himself into a corner.
Take right now for example. He kept his attention on the matter at hand, but his mind was replaying everything Alphonse had said about Hawkeye, over and over again. The young alchemist had presented some very good evidence to support his claim that she was interested in Jean, and when he really thought about it, Havoc wondered why it had never occurred to him before.
There was the coffee thing of course, but that could be explained away by the friendship thing. And sure she never got coffee for the other guys, but the other guys never got coffee for her either. The way he and Hawkeye worked so well together professionally was easy to explain in other ways too. For one thing, they had been teamed up for a long time, since Ishbal in fact, so naturally they understood each other almost intuitively. It all came down to trust in the end, and that left Havoc with what was distressing him the most about this. It had never occurred to him that Hawkeye might see him as more than a friend, and more than anything he wanted to know if he had a chance with her, but the Hawk trusted him, just as he trusted her. If he tried to carry their relationship beyond friendship and she rejected him, well, he was used to rejection, but she might be offended by his advances. He had to decide if making a move on this close friend was worth the risk of doing irreparable damage to their friendship if he was wrong.
The entire premise was a series of tantalizing ifs. If Jean took the chance that Alphonse' revelation presented, and he didn't screw up what could possibly be the best thing that might ever happen to him, his whole life would change. He would no longer be the lonesome loser, dismal dates and lonely evenings a thing of the past. Instead he would suddenly have someone in his life who thought he was worth having in theirs. He would belong with someone. If Hawkeye was attracted to Havoc it wasn't just a fleeting interest. As the young alchemist had so astutely pointed out, propriety was the blonde sharpshooter's middle name, so she likely wasn't in the market for a one night stand or casual fling. She would be looking for someone she could spend her life with. All Havoc had to do was convince her that he was that someone. And interested or not, with his track record it certainly wouldn't be easy. The woman never did things without considering all the angles and calculating the risks. And she always made sure all bases were covered.
Which was why Havoc was sitting behind the false wall that hid the open gateway, armed and ready in case it wasn't just the home team that arrived through it from the other world. Hohenheim had naturally made sure that the opening would be too small to permit another flying machine through of course. In fact, the old man had made it so small that people had to pass through it one at a time, hoping to ensure that an armed force couldn't emerge en mass to overwhelm the Amestrian side's guards. Good thinking on the alchemist's part, since the Furher's arrival had resulted in the gateway having to be hidden, guarded by Havoc alone. Hakuro might not notice that one of Mustang's men was missing in his frenzy to capture Hohenheim, but certainly not more, so Jean was on his own. At least Alphonse had thought to make him comfortable.
A strange crackling sound called the blond man from his thoughts, and he left the chair to crouch down behind the small, waist high barrier Alphonse had also provided in case Havoc needed cover. He shouldered his rifle, but left it pointed at the floor, not wanting to shoot a comrade by mistake. Looking at the gateway from the side, about five meters away, nothing seemed different about it, except for the weird noise it was making.
The crackling sound stopped and suddenly Edward was there, stumbling backwards out of the array, nearly crashing into the false wall erected to hide the open gateway. The young alchemist glanced back to the wall behind him, taking note of the warning painted there in big, red letters, then turned his attention once again to the Gate.
"Boss!" Havoc hissed out. "Come over here and get behind me!"
Keeping his eye on the gateway, the younger blond did as he was told, surprising the hell out of Havoc. This had to be the first time the kid had ever actually listened to him.
"There was something waiting for us in there," Edward whispered, crouching down behind the older blond. "I might have to go back in if Roy and my old man don't show up pretty soon. If a big snake pops out, shoot it."
"I'm pretty sure I would have, even if you hadn't told me to," Havoc whispered back, tightening his grip on the rifle.
The gateway was crackling again, and Havoc could feel Edward's tension, saw the younger man's hands raised to clap. The snapping built to a higher cadence, then Mustang was there, crouched low, looking over his shoulder, teeth gritted.
"Over here Roy!" Ed called, voice low.
Mustang moved quickly past Havoc, giving the older blond a shoulder clap greeting, typically all cool confidence as if he were returning from a walk in the park instead of a trip to another world. The Flame settled by Edward's side, pressed close in the narrow space behind Havoc's small barrier. "Was that the same giant snake that was at the Thule villa when we first got there?" he asked quietly.
Edward nodded, face grim. "If Hohenheim isn't through in about five more seconds, I'm going back in."
"If you are, then so am I," Roy told him.
"Hawkeye told me that if anyone made a move to go back through that gateway, I should shoot them in the leg," Havoc whispered apologetically. She hadn't of course, but if she had guessed something like that might happen Havoc was sure she would have, and he fully intended to follow her hypothetical order.
The gateway was making that sound again, a cross between a briskly burning campfire and rapid gunfire in the distance. Someone, or something, was coming. All three men crouched lower, and Havoc would have crossed his fingers if they weren't tight around the rifle's trigger. Edward's hands were again poised to clap. Mustang's gloved right hand was raised, ready to snap.
Then Hohenheim was through, moving at high speed. He crashed into the false wall and bounced, almost far enough to fall back into the gateway. The old man scrambled to his feet and lunged at the array's edge just as a massive, scaly snout plunged out of the golden shimmer of the gate. Havoc took aim, waiting for Hohenheim to be out of his line of fire, but Mustang was faster. Flames arced through the air, well over Hohenheim's head, then angled down to explode against the serpent's snout. The false wall attacked as well, Edward's contribution, stabbing a flurry of spikes into the creatures face. The muzzle flinched backward, then started to push out once again, but it was too late.
Hohenheim slapped his hands to the array's edge, and the hermetic symbols flared brilliantly to life. Something black, like thin eddies of smoke, swirled around the serpent's face and clung. Havoc blinked and the creature was gone, a shimmering golden afterimage outlining where it had been. Then the glow of the gateway bulged out, dissolving the spikes protruding from the false wall, reaching nearly to the limits of the wall itself. Suddenly the iridescent lump popped soundlessly, like a soap bubble, leaving a sparkle of silver mist hanging in the air.
The four men stood, looking at the now pristine wall where the otherworldly gate had been. No sign of the array or the Gate itself remained.
Havoc sighed in relief, shouldering his rifle. "Welcome home, gentlemen." He said with a grin.
Directing Rudolph Hess was taxing Alphonse to the limit. After the initial shock of having his body act without his consent, the German was now making a concerted effort to wrestle Alphonse for control. The hand gun was swinging erratically back and forth between Alfons and Haushofer, occasionally firing off a round as Hess and Alphonse struggled, and the young alchemist was frankly amazed that no one had been shot yet. Sir Phillip and the Curtises watched the bizarre battle from the dubious cover of various pieces of furniture, tensed and ready to act at the first sign of opportunity. Unfortunately, none had as yet presented itself.
That wasn't going to stop Karl Haushofer however. Confused and frightened by his comrade's behaviour, the professor still seemed determined to turn the situation to his advantage. Instead of seeking cover, he was edging closer to Hess each time the gun was not pointed in his direction, and flinching each time it swung back his way. The Thule scientist finally got to within two meters of the German officer and braced himself. The next time the pistol began to swing away towards Alfons, the man leaped towards his colleague, making a grab of his own for the weapon. Wrong move. The gun jerked back towards him when he grabbed for it, and fired as he tried to wrest it from Hess's hand. The bullet passed straight through his chest to bury itself in the wall by Sir Phillip's head. Haushofer fell backward to the floor, glazing eyes wide with surprise, staring up at the ceiling.
The shock broke Alphonse' control of Hess but fortunately not his hypnotic trance, though it was a near thing. The youngster could hear Alex Armstrong calling his name, felt big hands shaking his shoulders, trying to bring him back. The stress of the situation must have been showing quite clearly on the body he had left behind, but this wasn't over yet. There was no way in hell he would leave without closing the Gate. Already Alphonse could feel his connection with Alfons growing weaker, and it was a pretty safe bet that once he left this time, he would not be able to return. Hohenheim had been right. Although his link wasn't with Edward directly, their strong bond did have something to do with it, and now that Edward was no longer in this world, Alphonse no longer had anything to anchor himself here either.
By all appearances, Hess was not greatly affected by the accidental killing of his colleague, except as a strategic disadvantage. Teeth gritted, he was slowly backing away from the carefully advancing Curtises, trying to cover them all with the pistol, but with his back to the Gate there was nowhere he could go. The library's exits were behind the German's foes, and he had no hope of shooting them all before he was overpowered.
"I say again, sir! Give up!" Sir Phillip shouted, voice raised over the ragged breathing of their adversary. "Lay down your weapon and we will be lenient!"
Without hesitation, a cold smile on his face, Hess turned the pistol on Alfons and fired.
The sound of the firing pin snapping against the gun's empty chamber was deafening. Hess snarled, and tried once more before throwing the empty weapon at a charging Sig and running towards the open Gate. Tristan sprinted past his father, but only managed to skim his fingers along the retreating German's jacket before the desperate man dived through the shimmering interface. Tristan only just managed to slam on his brakes before he could fall through himself, and Izumi's relieved gasp exploded through the room.
Alfons was already staggering up out of the wheelchair, intent on making his way to the array, when Izumi pushed him back down into it and steered him to its edge. Without any input from Alphonse, the young German gently placed his hands on the array.
"What are you waiting for Alphonse," he said urgently. "It's time to lock this door and throw away the key."
The Amestrian nodded once, and clapped his own hands, left idle in Central, to cycle the alchemic energy. Adjusting Alfons' hands to the correct position, the alchemist poured that energy through his double to activate the all important outer ring Hohenheim had designed into the gateway arrays. The symbols flared to life, and the inner circle's capping symbol was now topped with an outer qualifier: Hades. Hermes Messenger became Hermes, Guide to the Underworld, where everyone's journey must eventually end. The golden gateway bulged outward, then simply dissipated in a haze of silver mist, the entire transmutation circle erased from the wall as if it had never existed.
Alphonse dropped his doubles hands into his lap, barely feeling them. He looked around at his gathered friends, suddenly very aware that he was slipping away, and would likely never see them again. He could feel himself becoming unfastened from Alfons, a feeling of being set adrift.
"Is that it?" Tristan asked, voice echoing oddly. "It's over?"
"It's over," Alphonse said with a nod. "And I'm going home. Something is pulling me away, and I don't think I will be able to come back."
"Ah, then goodbye Alphonse," Alfons said. "I am glad you have your brother back."
"Goodbye," he whispered. "Thank you for helping us. We will never forget you." Alphonse closed his eyes.
And opened them again. But this time he was not in the comfortable armchair back in Central. He was moving through a world of white, the shimmering strand of spidersilk in his hand reeling him along. And though he couldn't see them, Alphonse could feel others around him, moving in the same direction, much like grains of sand sinking through an hourglass. There was nothing to gauge how fast he was going against the background of unremarkable ivory, just the peaceful sensation of movement.
The young alchemist knew he must be on the plain of the Gate, but glancing around, the youngster found that the ominous black doors were nowhere to be seen. There was something out there though, off in the distance. It looked like a cracked, narrow strip of side walk, and someone appeared to be on it, but they wouldn't be for long. Not only was the walkway slowly dissolving from both ends, but a really big flying snake was attacking that someone, who Alphonse was unsurprised to identify as Rudolph Hess. The young alchemist winced as the giant reptile snapped up the German and shook him like a rag doll before swallowing him in a single gulp, and the youngster hoped that Edward, Hohenheim and the General had not met a similar fate.
The creature then looked Alphonse' way with ice cold hatred. "Think you're getting your happy ending, do you?" it sneered, flapping its wings lazily to drift up close. "Well don't get too comfortable, little brother. You haven't seen the last of me." The snake beamed a menacing grin at the boy, and then with a flick of its scaly tail, it sped away. Alphonse sagged with relief as the monster dwindled in the distance . . .
. . . and suddenly found himself lying on the floor of the Armstrong's Central estate, Alex gripping his shoulders almost painfully. The big man look relieved enough to cry when Alphonse blinked and reached to loosen the hands clutching him so tightly.
"Did they make it?" the boy asked, struggling upright with Alex' assistance. "There was a monster in there!"
The big man frowned. "I don't know, Alphonse. Rest for a moment, and we will go and see."
"I'm fine," the youngster said vehemently, jumping to his feet to prove it. "Come on Alex!"
Armstrong shot the boy a reassuring grin. "Ah, the resilience of youth!" he said. "Very well, but remember that we must be cautious. The Furher is still on the premises."
Alphonse already had the door open and was halfway down the hall towards the stairway leading to the basement. Alex had a hard time keeping up with the younger alchemist as he followed. The pair entered the lab—turned—sculpting studio, finding it empty, Alex's sisters helping to entertain their distinguished guest and his entourage. The colossal statue loomed over the two alchemists as they hurried behind it to the phony wall, the room dead quiet except for their hushed footsteps scuffing over the dusty floor.
Alex swept the dropsheet aside to let Alphonse clap and touch his hands to the wall, transmuting an elongated oval gap in the false panel. Both alchemists leaned in.
"Al!" The young man was pulled into the narrow hiding space and crushed into a hug. "Are you alright? What happened?"
"I'm okay brother," the youngster said, relief flooding him. "Everyone back in Cambridge is okay too. I. . . I accidentally shot Professor Haushofer while fighting to control Hess, and then Hess jumped through the Gate."
Hohenheim was closing the oval hole Alphonse had transmuted. "I wonder if he'll come through somewhere on this side." The old man said, almost to himself. "If he actually managed to survive the passage, it could be a problem to have him lurking around."
"He didn't," Alphonse told them, the revulsion in his tone obvious. "There was a monster in there. A giant snake. I saw it swallow him up." The young man turned to his father, who appeared distinctly uncomfortable. "It talked to me. It called me 'little brother', and said we hadn't seen the last of it."
The silence that met this revelation was uneasy.
Mustang broke it. "We've got more pressing concerns at the moment," he said. "The Furher is on the estate, and I would prefer that Edward, Von Hohenheim and I aren't discovered right now. Edward and I need time to come up with a plausible explanation for our reappearance that doesn't include knowing how to establish a stable link to the other world."
"We have made arrangements with those concerns in mind, General," Alex said. "For now, please come with me. There is a room in this manor house that appears on no blueprint, and is so artfully constructed as to be undetectable. Phineas Armstrong, my esteemed ancestor, was the master architect responsible for this beautiful estate. His clever design has ensured a secure refuge within these wall that has never been discovered by outsiders."
Hohenheim held up his hand, a thoughtful expression on his face. "You all go ahead," he said, then turned to Havoc. "The lieutenant and I have a meeting to attend."
"We do?" Havoc asked warily. "With who?"
"The Furher. You captured me, and I'm giving up without a fight."
Havoc looked nervous. "What? Why me?" he asked, then indicated the bald giant standing nearby. "Alex is more the heroic type." Armstrong struck a suitable pose to prove it, almost sparkling in the dimly lit space.
"Don't fight it, Lieutenant," Mustang smirked. "Really, I'd have thought you would jump at the chance to play the hero. The hero gets all the girls after all."
Havoc shot his commander a withering glare. "Maybe I don't want all the girls," he groused.
"I don't get why you want to turn yourself in, dad," Alphonse put in, worry written all over his face.
"He's doing it because he's a big ol' attention whore," Edward explained. "The bastard's over four hundred years old. He knows what he's doing. Let him have his fun."
Hohenheim gave his older son a fond smile. "I believe that is the nicest thing you have ever said about me, Edward."
"Yeah, well don't get used to it," the younger man returned, though not without fondness. "I still think you're an asshole. But . . ."
Hohenheim waited for it.
Edward cleared his throat. "Thanks dad, for coming back for me," he said quietly.
"You're welcome, son." Hohenheim's voice was content. "I'm glad I could do this for you, and for Alphonse too. The two of you deserve to be happy."
The old man then locked eyes with a cringing Havoc. "Now come on, Lieutenant! Let's get this show on the road."
Furher Gruman was just finishing his tea when Von Hohenheim walked into the sitting room with a smile, stunning everyone to silence. First Lieutenant Jean Havoc followed close behind with a deer in the headlights look on his face and a rifle held tight across his chest almost like a shield.
Hakuro was up out his chair so fast he nearly overturned the small table onto his leader. "Aha! So I was right after all!" he crowed gleefully.
Gruman was on his feet as well, staring at the alchemist. Never taking his eyes off the old man, the Furher addressed the soldier with him. "Lieutenant Havoc, what is the meaning of this?"
Hohenheim answered for him. "I heard that my son was here, and wanted to see him. This officer arrested me as I transmuted my way through the perimeter wall."
Hakuro glared at Havoc for a moment, then turned to one of his own men. Pointing at Hohenheim, the General snapped, "Take that man into custody. I will be interrogating him myself."
"Well you could," Hohenheim said slowly, scratching his bearded chin thoughtfully. "But I wouldn't be inclined to cooperate with you. I have a strict policy of sharing my extensive knowledge, particularly concerning the world on the other side of the Gate, only with those who I am allied with."
Gruman silenced Hakuro with a slash of his hand, preventing the man from snarling out his inevitable threats. "You would be willing to share that information?" he asked, eyes fixed on the older man's startling gold.
"Yes," Hohenheim said, eyes never wavering from the Furher's. "But I will not be coerced. I want to cooperate, but I will simply disappear at the first threatening gesture."
"Leaving your son behind to suffer the consequences?" Hakuro smirked his implied threat.
Phillip Armstrong was appalled. "You would stoop so low as to threaten a child?" he growled at the General, lip curled with disgust.
The Furher once again held up his hand, glaring at Hakuro. "As I must so often remind you, General, the days of Furher King Bradley are over." Gruman turned his attention back to the alchemist. "Rest assured that your son will come to no harm."
The old man raised an eyebrow, unconcerned. "Thank you for that, though Alphonse is more than capable of protecting himself."
"What is it you want from us, exactly?" Gruman asked, cutting to the chase.
Hohenheim shrugged. "A job," he said, and cracked an easy smile. "I've been on the run for a long time, and I want to settle down. My reputation precedes me I'm sure, but if you like, I can try to scrape up a few references."
Gruman thought this over for a few moments, carefully considering the old man in front of him. He could see that the master alchemist looked tired, and not just physically. Hohenheim appeared weary right down to his soul, and his statement rang true. On the other hand, the Furher had heard many things about this man, most of which were not flattering. Hohenheim was an incredibly talented alchemist yes, but he also had his own agenda, and it was virtually impossible to tell just what he might actually be up to. Could they really trust this man to share what he knew? And did they truly have a say in the matter? Hohenheim was here at the moment by choice, regardless of his transparent tale of capture by Lieutenant Havoc. Gruman was convinced that the old man could easily disappear if he chose to, taking his incredible talent and wealth of knowledge with him.
"You're hired," the Furher finally said, cracking an easy smile of his own. "Now, would someone get a cup for our new civilian consultant? He looks like he might enjoy some of this excellent tea while we hammer out the details of his contract."
The Furher sat back down, noting how Lieutenant Havoc nearly melted with relief. "Strangest job interview I've ever seen," the young officer muttered.
Roy had been expecting the Armstrong's safe room to be a small, underground chamber, and was pleasantly surprised to instead find himself in a bright, tastefully decorated room concealed in the sprawling layout of the manor's third floor. The building's design hid this spacious refuge among the other rooms with architectural sleight of hand; angles not quite what they seemed and walls not quite where they should be, both inside and out. The way in was through a sliding door disguised as a working fireplace, the latch a complicated manipulation of the mantle's ornamentation.
Alphonse had reluctantly slid out of the room moments earlier, after Alex Armstrong had come to inform him that the Furher and Hohenhiem were asking for him. The Elric brothers had spent the last two hours happily in each other's company, talking quietly about the past, the present, and the future, although initially Alphonse had had some harsh words for his big brother about a certain promise made and then broken. Edward had gritted his teeth and taken the reprimand, but Roy knew that there was no way Alphonse could make Ed regret his decision, any more that Ed could make Alphonse accept it.
The dark haired man glanced at Edward, now standing beside the window, gazing out at the estate's extensive rear grounds. The sun was low on the horizon, near setting, and the ruddy daylight slanting in burnished the young man's golden hair to brass. Behind the boy was a canopied bed. King size, from the look of it. Knowing the Armstrong's preference for quality, it was likely very comfortable. The only thing that could make it more inviting was if Edward were sprawled across it.
"You're perving over there," Edward said, gaze still on the world outside. "I can feel it."
Roy closed the distance between them, slipping up behind the blond to slide his hands around the younger man's waist. "Guilty as charged," he leaned down to purr by the young man's ear. "I really can't help myself Edward."
The young man leaned back against him, calm and relaxed. "We should probably get some rest," he said apologetically. "We never got any sleep last night, for all the wrong reasons unfortunately."
"If you lie down on that bed, and I can't touch you, I think I might go insane," Roy warned him.
"Who said anything about not touching?" Ed whispered, turning in the older man's arms and tilting his face up, brushing his lips against the other's.
A sharp click signalled the unlatching of the fireplace entrance. The pair stepped away from each other as Phillip Armstrong strode into the room, closely followed by his son, and his youngest daughter carrying a tray of sandwiches.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't take you to Furher Gruman right now," the elder Armstrong demanded without preamble. "I dislike having to lie to my leader, who also happens to be a venerable old friend."
Mustang gave his former superior a salute, which the older man returned, Armstrong's stern demeanour never wavering. "I could give you several, Sir, but my main concern stems from accepted Balance of Power theory."
Armstrong frowned, intrigued by a defence he had not anticipated. "Go on," he said, crossing his arms.
"If Edward and I are found now, it will be quite obvious that we have returned through the Gate. Even if we don't reveal how we managed it, the possibility of safe passage to the other world, and access to its superior technology, will be established."
Understanding dawned in the elder Armstrong's eyes. "Yes. And our people would begin to research ways to travel there to secure that technology for themselves."
"It would only be a matter of time before someone else discovered how to breach the Gate," Roy agreed. "Then, provided the other world's military didn't overrun us, their knowledge would be in our hands, and the international balance of power we now enjoy would be broken."
"But what would be so bad about that?" Catherine piped up, confused. "Surely having more advanced weapons than our neighbours would mean our nation would be safer."
"Quite the opposite, dear sister," Alex quietly explained. "The Balance of Power Theory as proposed by Charles Davenant has been proven correct throughout history. Their fear of our superior weapons would likely cause the countries around us to band together in the interest of self preservation, and to eventually mount a pre—emptive strike."
"And with the other world's superior weapons in hand, power hungry men like Hakuro would be bound to make use of them." Phillip pointed out. "The balance of power between states is what keeps us all in check. When that fails, there is nothing to stop a more powerful nation from attempting to exert its will on its neighbours, and the neighbours from resisting, until balance is finally restored, one way or the other."
Mustang nodded his agreement. "Can we afford to start down that path, knowing where it must eventually lead?"
The retired General raised a tired hand to his forehead. "Alright young Mustang, your point is made. You say there are other reasons to avoid this as well?"
"Yes Sir," Mustang confirmed. "For one thing, the political situation on the other side of the Gate is highly unstable. They are using their technology to wage wars that span much of their world, and appear to be bent on destroying themselves and their planet. From what I observed, the otherworlders are really no different from us, which leads me to believe that the same thing would happen here if we decided to pursue their technology."
"Alright Mustang, you've made your case. I look forward to discussing your experiences at length, after you have had a chance to rest," Philip said, intrigued, and Alex nodded to include himself as well.
"That would be my pleasure, Sir," the Flame said with a grin and a short bow.
"So what do we do now?" Edward asked. "We can't stay cooped up in this room forever."
"Obviously not," Alex said with a sparkling smile. "Have no fear, Edward Elric. We Armstrongs are very resourceful, and will surely come up with a solution to your problem."
Phillip Armstrong finally smiled as well. "Indeed. But for now, do get some rest," he said. "You both look exhausted. Come Catherine, Alex. The two of you look as though you could use a good night's sleep as well."
The Armstrongs filed out of the room, leaving Roy and Edward alone. The fireplace slid back into position. The latched clicked home. The pair looked at each other. Edward grinned, and then moved to the window, pulling the drapes closed.
"You heard the man," the blond said, eyes sparking with heat once again. "Time for bed."
"Far be it from me to argue with a superior officer," Roy said, moving to take Edward into his arms. "In fact, I'm more than willing to execute that kind of an order."
The blond man flicked at the button under Roy's collar, then unfastened it. "Then let me help you. You won't get a very restful sleep with this shirt on." Edward slowly moved down to the next button, then the next, until the shirt was completely unfastened and the blond could sweep it from the older man's shoulders to the floor.
Standing there in his undershirt, Roy cupped his hands around Edward's face, tilting it up and drawing it in close. He could feel hot breath through parted lips against his own, could see himself reflected in amber, caught that uniquely Edward scent, just as the loud click of the latch once again warned that now was not the time.
Hawkeye stepped into the room, a delighted grin gracing her features. "Welcome back Edward, General," she said. "I'm very glad you both made it back safely."
"Thank you Riza," Roy said, pleased to see his old friend in spite of what she had just interrupted. "I should have known you would do everything in your power to fetch me back, for which I am very grateful."
The woman raised an eyebrow, noting how close the two men were standing, along with Mustang's white shirt discarded on the floor like a deflated ego. Her grin widened. "I didn't mean to disturb your . . . rest, gentlemen, but I have a message from Phillip Armstrong. The Furher has left the grounds, but the General suggests that you stay in the safe room for the time being, as a safety precaution. He is also arranging transportation to Creta for you both. Apparently the family has a villa in one of the border towns there, and he believes it would be a good place for you to lie low for a while."
"Ah, very good Lieutenant," Roy said, eyes twinkling. "I'm sure you can fill in the details of this plan for us later. Once we've had a chance to rest."
Edward's face was flame red, but he held his ground as Riza saluted and left the room, sliding the fireplace back into position.
"This isn't a safe room," the young man said as the latch clicked closed once more. "It's Grand Central Station."
Roy moved to examine the latching mechanism. "There doesn't seem to be any way to lock this thing," he muttered.
Ed grabbed one of the large, heavy armchairs and manhandled it onto the space between the fireplace and the wall, jamming it in tight to prevent the hearth from sliding open. Roy inspected the fit and nodded his approval.
"Now," the older man said, pulling the blond back in close. "I believe we were making ourselves comfortable." He brushed his hands up Edward's chest and eased the boy's jacket from his shoulders, eyes fastened on the young man's vest. "I like this; it's a good look for you."
"Take it off," Edward whispered.
How could Roy refuse? He slipped his fingers inside the snug waistcoat, easing the three buttons through their holes. The vest slid from Edward's arms to join his jacket on the floor as Roy reached up to release the young man's hair from its tie. Gold fell loose around Edward's up tilted face, sending a shiver of want along the dark haired man's nerves.
The latch clicked loudly, and both men turned to watch as the fireplace slid open, the armchair spit out of the corner like a watermelon seed.
"Brother!" Alphonse rushed in, clearly upset. "Mr. Armstrong just told me that you and the General will be leaving for Creta in the morning, and I can't come with you!"
"Calm down Al," Edward said, laying a comforting hand on his brother's shoulder. "What's going on?"
Al's explanation gushed out. "We're trying to come up with a plan so you and the General can come out of hiding, and the Armstrongs think it would be a good idea to send you away for a while, and I think so too, but they say that if I suddenly disappear then come back with you, it will look like I went to the otherworld too and that's exactly what we don't want, but you just got back and I don't want you to leave again so soon!" Alphonse gasped in a breath, looking miserable.
Edward looked just as miserable. "I don't want to leave either, Al, but this time it's different. At least we're on the same planet." Ed looked to Roy.
"That's right Alphonse," the older man said. "This is a minor inconvenience that will only last for a short while, and the two of you can still keep in touch. I'm sure General Armstrong wouldn't object to forwarding some mail for the duration."
"Where have you been staying since I left?" Edward asked his brother.
"With Granny and Winry," Al told him.
"That's perfect," Edward smiled. "You won't be lonely, I'll know where to find you, and you can tell them what's going on, too."
The youngster calmed somewhat, but still looked doubtful. "I guess that's true," he said. "But it might be months before I see you again."
Edward snugged an arm around his little brother's shoulders, pulling him into a one armed hug. "What's a couple of months? We've got our whole lives ahead of us now," he said quietly.
The younger Elric sighed, and returned the hug. "I guess you're right," he said. Then his eyes landed on the clothing littering the floor, and then jerked back to his brother, taking in his hair hanging loose around his shoulders. "Oh hell, I'm interrupting something, aren't I?" he said, blushing a bright crimson.
"No Al, its fine!" Ed said, embarrassed.
Al started to back away towards the doorway, still blushing, but with a mischievous grin on his face. "I heard that General Mustang worked fast, but wow!" the youngster said, and Edward slapped his flesh hand over his face. The General, naturally, smirked shamelessly. "I guess I'll see you later, brother," Alphonse called over his shoulder as he fled through the door.
Again the latch clicked into place.
"Well, the last part of that exchange was rather uncomfortable, but it could have been worse," Roy observed. "This alleged 'safe room' is much too unsafe for what I was planning this evening."
"Visiting hour are over," Edward growled as he transmuted the fireplace securely to the floor so it wouldn't slide. "Should have done this in the first place," he muttered, annoyed.
Roy took the young man's hand and led him to the bed with a smile. "I think we're safe now," he said.
And much later, his hands cupping the young man's face as he kissed him long and deep, Edward wild with passion beneath him as he finally sank into the boys warmth, his hips cradled by Edward's so perfectly as they began to move as one, the young man gasping his name like a familiar old song, golden hair spread behind a head thrown gloriously back, amber eyes locked to jet black, Roy knew in his heart that he was finally home.
Afterward, drifting towards sleep, Roy pulled Edward to him, brushing his lips against the younger man's ear. "I love you Edward," he whispered.
"I know, bastard," Edward whispered back, eyes closed and already halfway to sleep as well. "I love you too.
The futile clicking of the latch went unheard.
Hohenheim tried once more to operate the hidden latch on the mantelpiece, then gave up, deciding that he must have heard the directions wrong. He briefly considered transmuting his way into the room, but immediately decided against it. He just wanted to fill Edward and Roy in on the outcome of his visit with the Furher, and to reassure Mustang that he had no intention of handing the Gate array over to the military, regardless of how his little proposition might sound. Quite the opposite in fact. He had just placed himself in an excellent position to misdirect anyone else contemplating research in that area. All in all, the old man was proud of his accomplishments to date. He had set out to reunite his sons in the world they were born to, and had succeeded without sacrificing himself in the process, thus earning the privilege of perhaps becoming more involved in their lives. It just didn't get any better than this.
Hohenheim sighed, giving the stubborn latch a disappointed pat. Oh well, Edward and Mustang had probably gone to sleep by now. They had certainly been through a lot, and were likely exhausted. Tomorrow was another day. There would be plenty of time to talk before the two left for Creta. In fact, there was plenty of time for many things now, for all of them.
They were home.