"You shouldn't sleep outside."
Ed opened his eyes slowly, not remembering falling asleep. Of course, sleep was a major part of his life at the moment, so he supposed it wasn't too surprising. "Why not?"
A boy, probably about eight years old, stood in front of him, his hands on his hips and a serious expression on his face. "My dad says it's not good for you."
Ed thought of all the nights he spent sleeping outdoors, the month on Yock Island and the times when it seemed only open spaces could contain him, when being inside four walls kept him from breathing properly. "I guess you should listen to your dad. Mine wasn't much for handing out advice."
"I'm Kasch Grumman."
General Grumman lived down the street with his wife, who was absolutely too brilliant to be wasted on housework and his only son. "Edward Elric."
Kasch stuck out his hand and not for the first time Ed thought the military was a strange place for kids to grow up. "Nice to meet you." He paused after Ed released his hand and then came to sit next to him on the porch. "My dad says I shouldn't talk to you."
"Huh. Do you make a habit of ignoring your father?" It wasn't that he didn't know he had something of a reputation around the neighborhood, especially in the last year while Roy had been gone, but it was different to actually hear it vocalized.
"My mom says you're perfectly nice and my dad's just being ignorant."
Ed didn't know what to say to that, but thought he should make an effort to be nicer to the perceptive Mrs. Grumman.
"How come you're out here sleeping in the middle of the day? Don't you work?"
"I normally work." How he couldn't wait to get back to work. How he longed to see the inside of his office and deal with clients and spend an entire day awake. "I had an accident and I'm still recovering. My doctors won't let me leave the house." Nor would his own body, but mostly, Ed chose to blame the doctors. He wore so many bandages at this point they were like a second skin and he'd long ago forgotten what it was like to wake up without pain.
"What kind of accident?"
Ed considered for a moment how much to share with the boy. Kids could be weird with what upset them, and Ed didn't want to lose his single ally in the neighborhood. "I was helping with a building demolition and I stood where I shouldn't have. A lot of heavy, sharp things fell on me. How come you're not in school?"
Kasch shrugged. "I don't know. The teachers have some kind of teacher thing and we get the day off."
"Why aren't you with the other kids playing?" Ed remembered those lazy, early days when a day without school meant hours running around chasing Al and Winry through the empty fields. It seemed so long ago; did kids even do that kind of thing anymore?
Kasch's young face settled into a frown as he picked at loose splinters of wood on the bench. "The other kids aren't very nice."
Ed had seen and met most of the other kids and he had to agree. He didn't like to think of eight-year-olds as assholes, but if anyone ever fit the bill, it was these kids. "They can't all be bad."
"I have friends." Kasch went from offended to pathetic in a heartbeat. "But they live in other parts of the base and mom doesn't have time to take me there today."
Ed tilted his head back to rest against the wall, closing his eyes briefly. He wondered if it would be worth the effort it would take out of him to make the short trip to the mailbox to see if the mail had already come. With Roy back at work and Al back at full days at his practice, Ed had taken to stalking the mail carrier in his starved-for-human-contact state. Of course, he also had an almost captive audience at his side. "D'you want to play a game?"
Ed opened his eyes and peered at Kasch. "You look pretty strong. Go inside, down the hallway to the second door on the left. There's a little table with a chess set on it, bring out the set, the table and a chair for yourself."
"I've never played chess before." Kasch hopped up.
"Don't worry. I'm not very good. It'll be fun."
Three trips into the hallowed inner sanctum—"I've never been in another General's house before"—and Kasch had the table set up, looking eager to learn.
"Do you want anything? I can't get it for you, but the kitchen is inside to the right. I think we've got juice or something, if you want."
Kasch shook his head, his eyes intent on the board, as though just staring at the black and white checks would make the game's rules apparent. "No, thank you."
The cool wood of the pawn was smooth under his fingers; Ed had forgotten how much he loved this particular set. He didn't play unless Roy wanted a game and that had been over a year ago. "All right, let me tell you about the pieces and how they move, and then we'll play a round."
Throughout the afternoon, they ended up playing two practice rounds and a real game. Kasch wasn't much of a player, but he banged away at the board with an enthusiasm Ed couldn't deny and seemed to have a good time, even though he lost every round. Kasch was in the midst of resetting the pieces while Ed decided if he had the energy to play again when the sound of a car coming up the road caught his attention.
Roy looked dead sexy behind the wheel of the car, maneuvering it with quiet competence that made Ed ache for the days when he was well enough to have sex in the backseat. He got out of the car and waved as he came up the walk.
"General Mustang!" Kasch jumped up from his seat and executed a pretty decent salute for a kid his size.
"Mr. Grumman." Roy retuned the salute with a charming smile. "Mr. Elric." He moved forward until he was in the shade of the porch, but didn't climb the steps.
"You don't have to salute civilians, General."
Ed shared a glance with Roy, who seemed bemused by the comment. "He's got a clear view of regulations." Ed had been witness to all manner of observations about the proper order of life according to Kasch Grumman.
"I don't have to, but I can as a courtesy. And Ed might be a civilian now, but he wasn't always."
Kasch turned to peer at Ed, his face twisted in disbelief. "Really?"
"He was a State Alchemist and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel."
"My dad didn't tell me that."
Ed shrugged, feeling the pull of stitches beneath his bandages. "Maybe he forgot."
"I think I saw your dad headed out the same time I was," Roy said, very smoothly.
Kasch looked at his watch and gasped. "I have to go home." He ran down the steps but stopped at the end of the drive and waved. "Thanks for the game, Mr. Elric. I'll come back to visit again, soon."
Ed let Roy help him to his feet and guide him inside. "That kid has better manners than even Al did." Inside, he let Roy kiss him and run his hands over his shoulders and chest as though reminding himself that Ed was actually there. To be honest, after being apart so long, Ed caught himself forgetting that Roy was home. It was nice to be appreciated.
"Do you want me to change your bandages now or after dinner? I brought home take out."
The warm spicy smells called to him from their containers on the table. "After." He slid carefully into his seat, wondering when a simple walk wouldn't leave him exhausted. He let Roy dish up the food and they ate in silence for a while before a thought occurred to Ed. "Do you think Grumman will try to make trouble? I mean, I know you don't really have much to do with each other, but he told Kasch to stay away from us."
Roy shook his head. "Grumman's in a bit of tenuous situation at the moment. He's not going to do anything to catch anyone's attention." A slow, mocking smile spread across Roy's face. "You can keep your new friend."
"I wasn't asking for your permission, asshole."
"Of course you weren't," Roy cooed.
"You're such a pain in the ass."
Roy's warm laugher filled the kitchen and he reached across the table, catching Ed's hand and pressing a kiss to his fingers. "I missed you so much."