Arrested Development

There is another picture in the mail for him today, he knows even before he opens their box, and he automatically shuffles it into the back of his of hand, underneath the bills, and the probably-junk mail, and the latest piece of regime propaganda. Not regime, republic, he corrects himself automatically, then decides it doesn't matter which 'r' word it is today and discards it over the side of the balcony. At six-thirty in the morning, in his trousers, on the porch, he is not fit to be discussing politics with much of anything.

He shuffles back into the house and lays the bills on the left side of foyer table, the probably-useless stuff on the right. Water, heat, and electric lined up across the top; insurance and car repair down toward the bottom. Left to his own devices he would dump the whole lot in a pile, but his wife has an iron-clad organizational system that he dares not to deviate from, lest he face her nearly as iron-clad disciplinary frowning.

Which leaves him, as usual, with the picture. He frowns at the faded brown envelope and contemplates just leaving it on the table, but that would cover Riza's brazier catalogue (which he's placed over next to the 'junk' mail, because despite protests to the contrary, it rather obviously is); besides, she will just move to his desk with a frown and reminder to put things in their place. It's addressed to him, so logically it belongs on his desk, in his inbox; but that doesn't mean the thought is any less tiresome. He's getting so awfully, awfully tired of pictures, but they won't just stop coming. Like door-to-door evangelists, only he has less of a mind to just turn them away.

He bats the envelope against his wrist for a good several minutes before he musters up the energy to slink into his office for a letter opener. At least, he thinks, Riza isn't downstairs to ask what he's got. He slips the file under the flap, braces himself for the impending paper cut (which never comes, he just always thinks it will) and pulls hard. The blade slides through the cheap envelope like butter on rice, and the paper unfolds around it in an ori-gasmic display of Xing paper-art at it's finest: an elaborate letter that uncurls like a scroll, unleashed by the cut at the top of its creases. Alicia is taking lessons from some calligraphy master, Gracia said in her last note; apparently she's been studying. Next time, he thinks wryly, it'll probably turn into a crane and fly out the window.

Or a photo album. Could possibly turn into a photo album, and go perch on his desk. He is depressed to note that there is, indeed, a picture pasted firmly in the center of the elongated page; it is actually what provided the weight for the letter to unroll. Alicia, aged two weeks ago, celebrating her sixth birthday with style on a pony in West Amestria. Wish You were Here Uncle ROY! Her caption screams merrily at the bottom of it, big childish scrawl that's already beginning to take on the loopy insanity of young female writing. He snorts and takes mild offense at the absurdity of himself on a 'dude' ranch—the girl might think he walked on water and all that, but he certainly didn't ride. Well, he supposed that he would if he had to, but given the choice, this Mustang wasn't going anywhere near others of his kind. Even in the picture, the horse was gazing at him distrustfully, as if the animal had somehow foreseen his existence across time and space and distance, and purposefully laid its ears back for the camera. He sneers back at it haughtily and tosses the letter down onto the desktop, next to the letter opener he hasn't put away yet, and slips back out into the hallway. He'll read it later, when he can be bothered to find his monocle; right now, he is contemplating coffee and sunny side of egg-toast.

Riza still isn't out of the bathroom when he stumbles his way into the kitchen, and he has a brief moment of wondering if she's pregnant. This has happened a couple other times over the past week (though intellectually he knows it's still too early to tell) and that same mix of fear and excitement swirls around at the base of his belly, momentarily paralyzes him. God, would the little blighter even look like him? He can't picture anything mixing her hair with his own and not coming out muddy; let alone her complexion. It would be some weird sort of frog-child, with his wide mouth and her large eyes and then toad-colored hair, they'd sell it to the circus and make a bloody fortune. He cracks an egg on the side of the counter and very nearly misses getting it into the pan, lost in the headlines and spotlights and carnies of it all. Step right up and see the beast-boy, ladies and gentlemen! The strangest paradox of nature, a cross between a flaxen-haired beauty and a purebred Mustang!

He's probably thinking too egalitarian about genetics, though, because there are an awful lot of people who manage to have polar-opposite parents and not turn out completely horrible. Probably it would be something like Fury, whose mother was as fair as Riza but threw a son who was the spitting image of his father, a tall, miner-man with hair as black as the coal he hauled. And recently, as bald as coal-stone, too. He hopes for Fury's sake that THAT didn't run in the family, too, because if it did the poor kid was going to have an even harder time getting dates. He makes a frowny face at the second egg, then smashes its bald head against the counter as well, adds its contents to the frying pan. A pipe creaks upstairs and he can hear the shower turn on full-steam, putting an end to Riza's pregnancy; morning sick women were supposed to hole up in the bathroom and yell at their husbands, not take an eight minute shower and go running.

He's glad she's not having children, though, because he rather dislikes the idea of the pollution they would bring. Babies cause pictures, and he already gets enough of those anyways, from Gracia, from the Rockbells, from any number of well-meaning but bothersome individuals, and the last thing he needs is another subject for endless photography. Hughes caught the photo bug about the time his first (and only) offspring came into the world; almost as if he was trying to make up for not being there to welcome her by capturing the rest of her waking moments on film. And ambushing the rest of the world with them, he remembers with fondness, because that is one of those safe things he can think without having it hurt: Hughes would overjoyed to know that 'Uncle Roy' was still getting semi-weekly updates on his daughter's every breath. A curse from beyond the grave, perhaps. He briefly wishes he were going to heaven when he dies, because then he'd be sure to give the man a good ass-kicking in repayment.

He slaps the pan down on the burner and lights it in a literal snap, pokes the eggs with the edge of a turner to make sure they stay separate. They glare back at him like some kind of diseased, angry eyes, and he remembers uncomfortably when the last time he's seen yellow irises like that. They're all gray, in his pictures, and it makes it just that much more unsettling to think about the Elrics in the context of the kitchen, with a flame two inches away from him. There's a metaphor there, somewhere, in him putting a fire under an angry thing with yellow eyes, and he flips the eggs over to get away from figuring out what it was. Riza will just have to deal with regular Fried, and if she's really (but probably not) pregnant, she'll just go back in the bathroom and throw them all up anyways.

He'd like to imagine that his wife can freshen up and he can cook breakfast without interruption, but he knows the cliche: it's scarcely five minutes later when there's a knock on the door, demanding attention just when everyone's hands are tied. He flails around desperately to see if it is somehow being answered, but no dice. Riza is still not downstairs (only minute six in her eight-minute regimen) and there's no hope she's going to miraculously hear the foyer through six inches of wood and the roar of the shower. Not for lack of someone trying, though—from the sound of it the door is ready to come off its hinges. He makes an exasperated noise and just turns the gas down, doesn't bother to shut off the stove or find his good bathrobe. There's only one person who would knock like that on his door at six in the morning on a Saturday, and if he's mistaken and it's really the military police, well, at least they deserve what they're going to see. He sets down his turner, wipes his hands on the sides of his pants, and prepares to go greet the Fullmetal Alchemist.

Except something is wrong. He knows it the instant he turns the key in the deadbolt, and if it weren't for sheer habit he would have stopped before unlocking it. The pounding doesn't decrease; it gets louder, as if the person outside somehow doesn't notice he is opening it. No—as if they did notice, and were egging him on. He sneers and throws it open boldly, not afraid to answer the challenge that yes, he is awake, and yes, he is still in his boxers. Call on a Mustang at uncivilized hours and that's exactly what you get: primal man, raw and untamed, not yet ready to clean up and put a halter on. Fifteen cents a gander, ladies and gentlemen, have your wallets out and your payment ready.

But he finishes opening the door and finds that he is the one staring, because the world is entirely too broken for words at this particular instant, and Hughes must be tap-dancing in his grave and laughing like there's no tomorrow; the curse is complete. The pictures are visiting him in person now, and this day has suddenly taken a turn for the completely surreal.

"Fullmetal." He blinks stupidly, because it is indeed a Fullmetal, the one he has carefully enumerated in photographs, charted out and plotted from beginning to end. He shakes his head and looks again, just to make sure he isn't somehow mistaken. Alphonse is looking rather alarmingly like his brother these days, and he's been somewhat worried that the boy is going to take that transformation just a little too far, become something truly frightening. But Alphonse's hair has never been that pure, high of color, and his face is certainly not that round and delicate. He has seen it on film hundreds of times, thousands of times, and even though it's wider now it's still the same frame; sweetheart's brow with a lover's chin, Riza calls it.

"Yo." The kid says back at him (god, is he taller?!) and leans to one side in a cocky sort of manner. Just exactly the way he used to, as if he'd only gone yesterday. Roy looks at him numbly, trying to think of anything to say besides "when did you grow" and "how could you", and various other things that start with "how" and "why" and "where" and "when". God, he can't even remember the kid's goddamn name, and the way things are shaping up it's going to start raining any minute now right inside his goddamn house.

"Fullmetal." He croaks again, in his trousers, on the porch, and the kid beams back at him with a cheeky sort of grin that he remembers too well. That same cocky expression that always said "I know everything and you don't, and aren't you dying for me to prove it to you?" Only maybe this time, he could back that up.

"You gonna let me in, or are we gonna stand in the doorway all day?"

He stumbles backward into the foyer reluctantly, watching in silent amazement as the boy barges into his house. Edward's motions have always been captured on film like a hummingbird in flight, and suddenly confronted with them in person again, he can no longer keep up. His vision is full of motion blurs.


"Havoc told me where you moved to." Edward says, conveniently side-stepping the question. "Sorry, it's early."

"N-no, it's okay." He says shakily, not minding to ask what Havoc had thought about being confronted with this still-frame from nowhere. God, the kid has grown so much over the past two years—maybe he can't even call him a kid any more, maybe young man is more appropriate—his hair is amazing. It's almost down to his back. It makes him look like his father, Roy realizes with a start—another man that he wasn't supposed to have to think about anymore. And his clothes are bizarre (then, they were always bizarre), but this is even stranger than usual; funny browns knotted together in a sort of vest that is vaguely reminiscent of something he once saw in—

Edward is staring at him.

"Where'd you get...?" He trails off, tapping at his left brow. Roy blinks for a few moments before realizing he's talking about the eye patch. God, that makes it even worse. He's had the eye patch so long it's second nature, just another part of his face.

"The end of the regime." He says curtly. What else can he say, to a picture? "You weren't there."

"Well, you look like a pirate." The boy (man?) snorts, and Roy makes an exhausted, choking sort of noise. He really might as well have gone into his office and gotten drunk on glue thinner; that would just as easily have brought this caricature to life. How can Edward have been dead for so long and then have the audacity to just start living again? As if he'd just forgotten to send Christmas cards last year, so those pictures were missing.

It doesn't work that way, Roy wants to shout, but he's afraid that if he does he's going to realize that he's just looking at another picture—the gloss might start to show on Edward's theoretically 3-D edges.

"Where's my brother?" The boy questions quietly, and that too, is like nothing has changed: a sudden entrance, then an immediate demand. Sometimes Roy thinks Edward's whole life is made up of abruptness—sharp, decisive moments that can be pasted down like snapshots, with cute, individual captions. Failed transmutation of mother. Passed State Alchemy exam, age 12. Helped bring the entire regime down around the Fuhrer's ears.

Traded own life for brother's, beneath the secret city.

"They said you'd know where he was headed." Edward is asking him, and his low(er?) voice is all business now. He understands the meaning of it instantly. If there's anything he knows, it's the single-minded efficiency of an Elric on a mission: Fullmetal (number 2? Or The Original?) hasn't come here to chat.

"How do I find him?" Those eyes, staring at him. Honey-colored, really. Not at all like (burning! Burning and blackening!!) sunny-side eggs.

"East." He swallows, and blurts out before he's really thought about it. "I sent him East. He's in Ishval."

"Thanks." Edward smiles up at him, more genuine than any of his cheesy photograph-poses. He straightens up to his full height (still shorter than Roy, at least, thank god for small blessings) and spins about in another one of those impossibly energetic movements.

"I'll go pick him up."

And with that, before Roy can say anything else, before they can sit down and start laughing or crack open a bottle of celebratory whiskey (the boy's old enough now), the Fullmetal Alchemist is stepping out, and gone.

"Wait?" He chokes after him—damn the rain, always gets in his throat—but Edward is already bounding across the lawn and into the street, the tails of his strange shirt streaming out like the sails of ship. He is running toward the sunrise, running toward everything he's ever wanted, and if he took a picture at this very second that's what it would have to be captioned: Edward Elric, aged 18 (?) years. Went for everything he wanted, and got it.

Roy slides down to floor and watches him go, wonders how it is he can suddenly feel so suddenly old, and terribly helpless. There was supposed to be a tender reunion, or a heartfelt discussion, or something. Now it's gone. He wonders what he should tell his wife about the whole incident, or if he should even say anything at all. He's still not entirely sure it just happened. Maybe it didn't. Used and discarded like usual, Mustang the trick information pony; tap on his bridle and he does all your math for you.

Edward Elric, aged 18 (?) years. Maybe they will send him pictures too, once they've found each other—that way he can watch Alphonse grow up in still-frame too, just like Alicia does. A whole new legacy of envelopes with his address on the cover: pictures sent to him but never including him. He sits there and contemplates it as Riza continues making noises upstairs, what kind of album he should get for the images this time.

He sits there, listens to the crackle from his dying pan of eggs, and wonders if this is what fatherhood feels like, or if it is somehow even worse.