And things began to start.
First off, Edward got a job in the city. Not with the military interestingly enough, but with a pharmaceutical firm that practically fell over themselves just to have him apply. It was good, he was happy. He was able to establish his own schedule and have lunch with the general every day.
Things were looking up. The weekends were now spent with the house, modifying in, adding onto it and rearranging it to accommodate the needs of both of the men in residence. Edward's inner artist, who liked gargoyles and crown molding turned his room addition into quite an interesting and eclectic place to be. Roy often visited and occupied a large stuffed chair, (secretly installed in the room to encourage his visits), and they talked and theorized, sometimes well into the night.
They kissed, and quite often. They kissed in the bath while they got ready for work, they kissed in the kitchen while eating toast and drinking coffee, they kissed before they went out the door, and they kissed quickly in the car before Roy dropped Ed off at his office.
All in all, this two men together thing was working out quite well.
For Edward, he came to realize slowly, as he spent his first two months in his new relationship that the feeling that he was missing something; that something better was waiting just around the corner; had slowly receded to be not a feeling at all. This, in itself, was a very amazing and calming influence. He no longer felt restless and edgy; he no longer sought out ways to maximize his distractions. He no longer searched for something to occupy him. Just going home at night, sharing a meal and conversation was all he seemed to want all along.
And there were times that he felt so grateful he should tell Roy; but that was embarrassing and he preferred to think that perhaps Roy knew, anyways. It was selfish, perhaps, but they were only two months in, and Roy kept insisting they needed to take it slow. So there would be time enough to tell him, when he didn't make his throat so dry or make his hands shake so much.
In the midst of discovering this bliss, a letter came to him by way of Roy's office. Alphonse always knew the best, and most assured way to contact his brother when they parted, was to write him at his former place of employment. It had always been inevitable Ed would turn up around Roy and the letter could be passed on. Deciding to share his newfound domesticity, Edward wrote to his brother, inviting him for a visit, (and to give his blessings, Ed just thought it appropriate Al did so), and perhaps stay a bit in Central so the brothers could have some time to reconnect.
And so, Alphonse appeared.
"I'm here to make it all better," Al assured, he picked up his suitcase and followed Ed into the living room. He put the case on the couch and opened it. There were several cylindrical objects in it, looking to be wrapped in Al's clothing. Al plucked one up and unwrapped it, brandishing it toward his brother. "Post break-up beer, all the way from Xing," Al grinned merrily. "Taken right off a cart heading for the royal court. See the lengths I go to to cheer you up?"
Ed took the bottle, clutched it to his chest eagerly and grinned himself. Xingian beer was a wonderful boon, how lucky he was to have such a considerate little brother!
"And what huckster told you that story?" he asked. "And why are you bringing it to me as a post break-up present? That's been over for months."
"Well I figured that was the reason you're still here," Al said, pulling out a few more bottles and setting them on the coffee table. "Not like you to stick with the General so long, I was getting worried, I thought maybe you know, this girl had really done you a number."
Ed made a snort and waved his hand, he came over to pick up a few more bottles.
"Not even worth half of one of these beers, come on, we'll stash them in the ice box." It occurred to Ed, as he and Al carried their prize to the kitchen, that maybe he hadn't been as clear in that letter as he'd thought he had. That maybe his brother had come to visit not knowing. Not knowing about the two men together thing.
"Well at any rate, I'm glad to hear it," Al said, standing by and passing off bottles to be stored. "It's not like you to mope. So the General is being really generous then, letting you stay on. What are you planning to do here? Pick up some contract work? Get some money together for another expedition?"
"Um, no," Ed said, "the truth of it is, Al, I live here now."
Al continued to pass over the bottles, his eyebrow quirked and his mouth pulled down on one side.
"You mean, here in Central? You've decided to settle down? Well I can't say I blame you, you would think with all the traveling we did as kids we'd be really sick of it. But I can say I'm not, at least not yet and I enjoy it not only for the sake of research, but just because I'm finally doing it for myself and not for some quest."
Ed nodded and finished storing the bottles and shut the icebox door. He leaned back on it and tried again.
"No Al, I mean I live here, with the General," Ed said.
"You mean, in the same house?" Al took a step forward, lowered his voice as if this was some sort of conspiracy in the kitchen. "At the same time?"
"Yes," Ed said. "And you don't have to whisper, he's not here right now, but he'll be home to join us for dinner. He's at work, he can't write his own ticket like I can, you see," Ed grinned. "I guess it's pretty surprising. I guess my letter didn't say what I wanted it to say."
"I guess not since I cut short my trip and rushed all the way back here to get drunk with you and bitch about women, but oh well, it's still good to see you," Al smiled and shrugged.
Ed folded his arms, still leaning on the icebox, he worked his jaw a moment.
"I know that look," Al said, " you want to tell me something but you're not sure where to start. What's going on? Is it something to do with living with the General now? You're not in any sort of trouble, are you?"
"No, not trouble, actually," Ed said slowly, "and quit being so damn perceptive, I'm working up to it. Let's go in the living room," he said and pushed off the ice box, headed that way, "I think it will be easier to tell you this sitting down."
Al made a questioning noise but followed Ed and found himself a good place to sit on the end of the couch. But Ed didn't sit right away, instead he paced a time or two around the coffee table before he sat on it, facing Al.
Ed put his elbows on his knees and templed his hands a moment in front of his mouth and then he dropped them and looked at Al frankly.
"I've decided to try a new spin on relationships," he said. "The way it was going for me before wasn't working out. I guess you knew that though, you've gone through every break-up with me and I'm grateful to have you. So, I decided to try something I'd been trying for a long time. And guess what, it's paid off, I think I have a real shot of making something that's going to last."
"That's great, brother!" Al grinned and scooted forward on the couch a little, their knees almost touched. "Tell me about it, I want to know! Do you have a new girlfriend already? What's her name?" he asked eagerly.
"We're taking it really slow, sort of feeling each other out, you know, like a probationary period," Ed said carefully, "but let me tell you, that so far? It's great. I've never been so... at ease before, you know? I've never felt so accepted and I don't feel the pressure to perform or be someone I'm not. It's really, really going well," Ed said.
Al was grinning ear to ear and he was jiggling one knee. He did this when he was excited or happy.
"Do I get to meet her, or am I part of the slow part? I swear I would be on my best behavior and you know that I know how to make a good impression. And I won't quiz her, I promise, the only reason I quizzed Roquelle was well, because, well you know why, I mean you lived it. I am SO happy to hear this coming out of your mouth, I'll be honest, I was starting to worry. I mean I'm not like you, I'm not looking for that deep and meaningful, soul fulfilling partner. I mean, not at this moment, I mean sure I want that, sure, but I'm not like you. You're looking to settle down, you have been for quite a while and this is incredible, this is wonderful. Do I get to meet her tonight? Is she having dinner with us and the General?"
Ed templed his hands together and rubbed his palms hard for a moment. If it hadn't been flesh on steel, Al mused, he probably would have seen sparks. Then Ed slapped his knees, took a deep breath and straightened his back.
"You could say that," Ed said, "in fact, you could say she is the General."
And Al cocked his head to the side and waited for the punchline.
"I thought you just said the General was a girl," Al prompted his brother with an uncertain grin.
"No, he's not a girl, but he is the relationship I was talking about," Ed said, lacing his fingers and resting his arms along his knees.
Al rubbed his own palms up and down his knees for a moment and turned his thoughts inward, trying to process what it was his brother was telling him. Ed fidgeted on the coffee table, when Ed's leg jiggled it mean uncertainty and nervousness. Ed's jiggle was not a happy jiggle, Al had the happy jiggle. They both kept glancing at one another and then away.
"Alright, to see if I'm understanding this correctly," Al said slowly, "you have moved in with the General in order to have a relationship with him in the manner a man has a relationship with a woman."
"OH there you go," Ed said, throwing his hands in the air, "whenever I do something you don't approve of you have to phrase it in the worst possible terms!"
"That is so not true," Al hissed, "and there you go again, reading into my sentences before they are even out of my mouth! How did stating the situation turn into my approval or disapproval?" Al flailed.
"Come on AL, it's the way you said it, you know what I'm talking about!" Ed flailed right back. "You said 'in the manner'," Ed mimicked with falsetto, "that is Al snotty talk for, What the fuck are you doing, Ed? What the fuck are you up to this time?"
"Quit being such a bone-head!" Al yelled. "You're imparting important, life changing information and you don't expect me to react? Oh wait, I know! You wanted me to jiggle up and down and tell you how happy I am that you are coming out of the closet, and when I didn't do just that you got defensive!"
"I didn't say you had to jump for joy or anything, but you didn't have to pull snotty, testy Al out on me either," Ed shrilled, "So yeah AL, I'm shacking up with the General, how's that for some apples?!"
"You know, I always expected something like this out of you, but why, for the love of Pete, did you have to drag the General in with you?" Al huffed. "I can deal with you liking boys, but the General? Dammit Ed, why didn't you keep your hands to yourself?!"
Ed sputtered and jump to his feet, gaping down at his younger brother.
"For your information, Alphonse, I haven't laid a finger on him! And he hasn't laid one of me, either! The way you're carrying on I almost think you're jealous! Well too bad, I've been working this angle for the last ten years and I got him first! There are just some things we aren't going to share," Ed blustered.
Alphonse seemed to seize up with a through so horrendous the very veins on his temples stood out and he gasped for air.
"I did so not need that image!" Al declared and rolled himself off the couch. "I like girls! I like girls, Ed! I like them a lot, I'm a lot more interested in doing things with girls that I would ever be..." and Al turned practically green. "GIRLS, ED! And it looks like I'll have to be extra straight to make up for the both of us!"
"What the hell does that mean?!" Ed shrieked, flapping his arms. Taking off in a lap around the coffee table.
"I don't know!" Al shrieked back, "It just seems like the thing to do!" Al said right on his heels.
"I don't know what your hang up is with my sexuality," Ed said, making another circuit, "seems a little strange for you to be obsessing on," Ed pointed out, shaking a finger as he made yet another lap.
"I'm not obsessing on your sexuality," Al snarled, right behind him and keeping up well. "I'm just wondering why the General thinks this is a good idea! I mean, he likes girls, he's always liked girls! I don't know why he'd switch teams so abruptly! What did you say to him? Do you have something on him?!"
"You know, I don't have to blackmail people to get them to like me," Ed growled, baring his teeth and speeding up, "I gave that up a long time ago! You know what's even more disturbing here, AL? The fact your obsessing over Roy's sexuality. You know, the man got around. I'm pretty sure he didn't limit himself to one sex or the other, I think he's a well rounded player!"
"That may be true," Al said, starting to pant a bit but keeping up gamely, "and I'm not saying it not! I just want to know what your intentions for him are!"
"Since when exactly did you become Roy's mother?!" Ed demanded. "My intentions for him? What about his intentions for me?! Just who's side are you on here?!"
"I'm on the side of what the hell is going on and how did I get here in the first place," Al said, picking up his pace to try and pull up along side Ed. "I'm really starting to think I'm the only sane member of this family!"
Ed made a sharp turn and his trajectory took him out of the living room and down the hall. Alphonse took the detour and well, staying in Ed's wake.
"Did the General add an addition onto the house?" he quizzed his brother's back, "The hallway seems a lot longer and I don't remember this door coming up at the end."
"I added the addition," Ed threw over his shoulder, "and this is my room." He slammed through the door and headed straight for a large boxy shape that might have been a desk but it looked more like a repository for books, old newspapers and dirty clothes.
Ed began to push the mess around, letting it spill over onto the floor and Al restrained himself mightily. He no longer picked up after Ed, he'd done his time. Ed grew more and more agitated and then began to yank open drawers. He pounced suddenly, pulling out a brown notebook, bound it what looked like leather and flipped it open and stabbed his finger onto a page. He then grinned at Al in triumph.
"Found it, look at this Al, it's my pros and cons list," he said.
"Pros and cons?" Al said, lifting an eyebrow and picking his way forward, trying to avoid stepping on objects strewn over the floor.
"Yeah," Ed said. "Here is all the proof you need as to why the General and I are the perfect match. You don't think I'd just dive into this without some research, do you?" he offered the notebook to his younger brother, and Al took it after a moments hesitation.
"Alright, I guess we should start with the pros," Al said. "Sort of like the good news before the bad news thinking." He peered at Ed's list.
"The General is a General," Al read aloud. "That's pretty obvious, but I can see that being a pro," Al said. "Steady job, position of power, good money?"
"I guess," Ed said, "I don't really ask about money. Should I? I don't guess I should. We'll come back to that," Ed waved his hand.
"The General is a gold mine of networking capabilities and can hook me the hell up," Al pursed his lips, nodded and tapped that line. "Good point."
"I didn't end up needing that," Ed said airily, "I hooked myself up," the grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. "They cleaned my shoes with their tongue AND give me bonuses."
"You're such a good negotiator," Al said, "I'm surprised you let them get away with only the shoe polishing."
Ed lifted his automail and hand and made as if to study automail nails.
"Well, you know how it is," he said causally, "being an Elric yourself."
Al shook his head, grinning and moved on down the list.
"The General has a car and can take me where I want to go," Al tapped his chin. "You know, you could learn to drive."
"And miss having Roy as my chauffeur, who are you kidding?" Ed asked.
"Shameless," Al sighed, but moved right along, "The General has a reputation." Al stopped there, bit his upper lip with his bottom teeth for a few moments. "That means what I think it means, doesn't it?" he questioned.
"Uh, yeah, just skip that one," Ed said.
"The General is a good man. He always thinks about what's good for his people first, and not just his subordinates in the military. He still thinks about what's best for me even though I don't want him to, and he's good to Al." Al stopped again and they both sat quietly for a moment.
"Yeah, yeah ok ok, go on, read the cons," Ed said, nudging shoulders with Al. Al nodded and cleared his throat.
"The cons," Al read aloud, "The General is a bastard."
"A huge one," Ed intoned grimly, crossing his legs now and kicking his foot.
"That's it," Al said, "that's the only thing on the con list."
"So, all of that before, when you said you weren't surprised I liked a guy...was that true?" Ed asked.
Al closed the notebook and kept it on his knees. He made a casual shrug and pursed out his lips.
"Well brother, you've never exactly been comfortable with girls," he said. "I don't know, maybe Winry damaged you, but even with the girls you were dating you were sort of stand offish. I mean you hardly even wanted to introduce them to me, and it wasn't like you were being possessive of them, but of me, like you didn't want to let them into your life. You hardly looked twice at that one girl I was dating, remember Diane?" Al gestured out in front of his chest with his hands. "How could any man who liked women not stare at her?"
"Diane, 'oh these clothes are so constricting let me get comfy', Diane? Geeze Al, you know, for such high standards in your working life you sure don't have any in your intimate life. Sometimes I think you'd do anything in a skirt if it was breathing," Ed grunted.
"For a while I think I would," Al said. "I mean, it was all so...feeling. I felt really alive and I just wanted everything, all over me. Girls were good for rubbing all over me," Al sighed. "But I've become a lot more discriminating since then," he assured his older brother.
"Like Ms. Bitch in Kershing?" Ed said, lifting his eyebrows.
"She was hot," Al sighed again, "really hot. It's not her fault you totally besmirched her aura. You do have that sort of abrasive personality. You know the women I screw don't have to like you, just the one I marry," Al grinned.
"Lucky me," Ed muttered.
"The General wears a skirt," Al said with a smirk and a wiggle of his eyebrows, then he took a moment to look horrified at himself. "I mean, not qualifying that for me, more of trying to bait you..." he stammered quickly.
"I got it," Ed said, flopping back onto the bed. "I'm not that slow, Al."
"I guess I can wrap my head around it," Al said, patting the notebook. "If it makes you happy, then it makes me happy. I think you've actually liked him for a long time."
"That goes without saying," Ed said, closing his eyes, "I'm just glad he finally got his head out of his ass and decided he liked me, too."
"He's always liked you, he's just a gentleman," Al said, but before his brother could respond they heard the front door open and the General call out a greeting that he was home.
The opening words were pleasant and spoke of many things Al had seen on his travels, Ed's new job, Roy's expanding influence at the office and the weather. Then there was a lull where everyone eyed the remaining food and everyone else's plates. Soon that gave way to speculative glances and shifting in seats, and that eventually led to what needed to be said.
"So, um, General, I hear you and...and brother are... having this thing," Al started, trying hard to sound causal and succeeding in a way warthogs succeeded in winning beauty pageants. "I, uh, well, congratulations? I mean, I'm not sure how you um, for a new couple I'm not sure... what the proper thing to say is, you being a couple with my brother...I'm going to stop now."
"Are you trying to give us your blessing?" Roy said, biting the inside of his lip and avoiding Ed's glare.
Both sets of Elric's at the table turned scarlet and Al tried to look at Ed but ended up studying something fascinating on the floor instead.
"I...I suppose if you need it? I mean, I'm the younger brother and... is it alright to give this blessings? I mean, blessings are traditional and this isn't...not that there is anything wrong with it! But should it have a different set of blessings? I mean should I be thinking a different sentiment when I give blessings other than the other blessings, because, you being not a girl and all...I'll stop now," Al said again.
"Oh for fuck's sake Roy, stop teasing him," Ed hissed. "It's ok Al, you don't got to bless nothing you don't want to bless, I understand. Just ignore Roy, he's being the bastard that's on the list."
"List?" Roy said, raising his eyebrow and tapping his fork on his plate. "What sort of list?"
"The sort that's none of your business. Now lay off Al, he's doing his best," Ed said, pointing with his fork.
"I'm really sorry," Al said, "I'm just...the idea...the images... I'll clean up the table!" Al jumped up and snatched up his plate.
"Oh GREAT, you got him guilt cleaning Roy," Ed snarled and jumped up as well.
Roy spread his hands and shrugged, watching Ed chase Al to the sink.
"What did I do, I didn't do anything," Roy said without much conviction. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Al. I have to say it's been wonderful seeing you, will you be in town long?"
"Tonight, tomorrow night, heading out for St. Marrin the next day, I have a client there I'm going to call on, see if she needs any house repairs," Al said.
"House repairs," Ed mumbled and cast a glance at Roy and then got elbowed in the side by Al. "What?" Ed snorted. "How is it you end up with a woman in every port so to speak? And, how do you keep up with them all? And, you're in a lot better shape than I thought," Ed finished.
"I'm so proud," Roy said from the table behind them. Al gave a little shudder and looked pointedly away from Ed and Ed shot a glare at Roy who merely shrugged again.
"I...I figure that one of us should take up the slack," Al said, attempting humor, but the attempt fell while trying to reach the plateau where lame attempts where suppose to be funny from. Al watched it teeter there on the brink of turning from nervous lame attempt to actual humor, but it lost it's grip and plummeted to the floor, Al even followed it's imaginary trajectory with his eyes and found himself staring at the floor. Ed looked down too, as if he could see the lame attempt corpse right there at Al's feet.
Roy put his elbows on the table and laced his fingers, looking for all the world like he was sitting at this desk at the office.
"Tell us what we can do to make this a better experience for you, Alphonse," Roy said sensibly. "You know that I will do everything in my power to make your brother happy, but that extends to you, as well. Is there something that we can do to make this easier to accept?"
"No, it's not like that!" Al cried. "It's not that I don't accept it, I would never do anything... I mean, it's not that I'm unhappy about it...at least I don't think I am. I just don't understand? I mean, I thought that maybe brother had a crush, you know, back then, but then I though he'd grow out of it. I did a lot of reading about the human mind as well as the body, and that sort of thing isn't as uncommon as society would like us to believe. I guess I thought it was just a phase and he'd move on, but, I mean, he didn't. I mean, you were there for us, so it was natural to have some feelings for you, and Ed feels things a lot more strongly than he'd like us to think, so I thought it was just gratitude or something. I'm babbling," Al said, glancing at Roy, his brother stayed quiet.
"No, it's alright Al, go on," Roy encouraged.
Al took a deep breath, licked his lips, risked a glance at his brother then continued.
"See, I thought Ed liked you like I like you; because you're a good role model. I mean, you're good at displaying the traits we'd all like to see in ourselves. Smart, charismatic, a good leader, ambitious without being corrupt, that sort of thing. I mean, I thought Ed admired you for the same reasons I did, because I'd like to be like you. I didn't expect it to go this far," Al said carefully. "Now I think maybe it was like this all along."
"Now I'm getting weirded out," Ed said, cheeks an amazing shade of crimson. "Because I knew it was like this all along? I'm starting to feel like I've been a certifiable freak my entire life, instead of just lately."
"No, that's not what I mean, either," Al patted the air with his hands. "I'm not saying anything right. I'm not unhappy about this! I'm not!"
"Don't get upset, Al, it's ok, we understand," Roy said, getting to his feet. "No one here will think any less of you for being confused about this situation. I just don't want you uncomfortable in your brother's house, alright? That's all. I know how much you mean to each other, I don't want to get in the way of that."
"Roy's right. We can understand where you're coming from, even if you don't think you're getting it across clearly," Ed said, eager to soothe his brother. "I know you love me, I know you're trying really hard to come to terms with this."
Al stood there between them, looking lost. Ed had never felt so helpless in his life. He looked at Roy and Roy wore a look of concern, but not overtly and finally Al shook his head and ran a hand over his head.
"You know, thank you for letting me a total ass about this," Al said. "I some illogical way, that makes it feel better. I just need to think about this is all; just need to find the perspective that fits me. I'm going to call it a night."
"I'll get the spare blanket and pillows for the couch," Ed volunteered, pushing away from the counter and heading for the kitchen door.
"No, brother, I mean, it's ok. I'm going to get a room. Perspective comes better with distance," Al glanced at Roy. "Some military man told me that, but he was right on the money, it always works."
Ed instantly looked to protest, but Roy crossed the floor then, put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's ok, Al just needs some space, we'll see him tomorrow," Roy said gently.
"Definitely," Al chimed in, going to get his jacket from the living room. Ed pulled away from Roy and trotted after his brother. "Only not for breakfast," Al said, "there is a cute waitress at that cafe not to far from the square if I remember correctly, and brother, you like to sleep in, so I'll see you tomorrow, early afternoon."
Ed walked Al to the door, fighting to swallow the lump in his throat. Al carried his suitcase and declined Roy's offer of a ride into town. Al sat the suitcase down at the door and threw his arms around Ed and Roy stood back and smiled as Al patted his brother's back.
"Stop looking so sad, stop worrying," Al told him. "It's just the usual, I don't know what to do with you," he teased gently, then he pushed back and held Ed at arms length by gripping Ed's upper shoulders. "Things have a habit of working out. Do us all a favor and don't stress yourself and the General out about this. Don't eat lunch, we'll go out, ok?"
Ed nodded hard, made himself speak even though it seemed a struggle.
"Right, don't worry, I'm good with it. I'll be ready tomorrow when you get here. We can hit that old books store, too," Ed said being normal, being casual, trying to hide his tremor.
Al slapped his brother's shoulder, picked up his suitcase and saluted Roy.
"Tomorrow then," he said, then opened the door and walked out. He headed down the walk and turned on the sidewalk, heading for the square.
"Do you want me to lay down with you until you go to sleep?" Roy offered softly.
Ed turned back to him quickly and held out his hand. "Yes," he said.
"Would you rather I just sit in my chair?" Roy asked, nodding toward the big chair in the corner where he usually sat while Ed held council from his desk.
Ed shook his head no and without a word started on his clothes. He took them off piece by piece and threw them at a hamper in only the merest vague suggestion of aim, all save for his boxers. He dragged the blanket and sheet on his bed down before climbing up into it, he then looked at Roy expectantly. Roy came over to the bed. He undid his collar and cuffs, the toed off his shoes and took off his belt. He then climbed up onto the bed, beside Ed and sat next to him. They both sat there for a few moments, neither saying anything, then Ed lay down and Roy turned and lay down facing him.
"I keep telling myself in my head this is going to be weird," Ed said softly, "but it's not."
It was then Roy raised his arm, put it over Ed's waist and used it to pull him close.
"It's really not," Ed whispered against Roy's throat and Roy stroked his back until he fell asleep.