Building Bridges of Magpies

The key was still in place when Roy got home, which both relieved and irritated him to some degree. If it hadn't been moved, it meant that nobody had gone in since he'd left for work this morning... including his itinerant boarder.

Roy sighed, hung up his hat and worked his leather outwear gloves off. The weather had been indecisive all day, alternating gloomy spits of rain with brief moments of brilliant sunshine, but he doubted it was the weather that had kept his ward inside. Most likely he had holed up in the study the entire day—again—and Roy just hoped he hadn't forgotten to feed himself in the kitchen—again. He tucked his coat under his arm momentarily, as he mounted the softly creaking stairs.

It was hard to tell whether the relief or the exasperation was stronger in that mix. Because on one hand no, he didn't particularly want the conspicuous blond man wandering out by himself in the city, consorting with God knew who and a prime target for God knew what mischief. On the other hand, a boy—young man—of his age needed social contact, needed friends, and he wasn't going to get that staying in Roy's apartment all the time...

Sure enough, golden light flowed out from under the study door; spilling in a waterfall down the open crack to puddle along the floor. The momentary flash of grief and longing took him by surprise, as it always did; he could look at Alphonse's eyes without flinching, he could watch a ladies' red coat make its way down the avenue without batting an eye, the hot metal smell coming out of a refinery didn't faze him... but he never knew, even to this day, when something would remind him of Edward.

He took a moment, leaning in the doorway, to watch the man bending carefully over the desk. Papers spread out about him like a fan, like the webs of a spider; sheets covered with lines and diagrams and notes in a tiny, crabbed script. Only part of the distinctive Elric profile was visible from here, the lips slightly pursed, the jaw intent in concentration, and Roy felt another pang in his stomach, this time from muzzy, unpinpointed guilt. I am using him, he thought.

Roy cleared his throat. "Hello, Alfons."

"Hello, Roy." The young man looked up and smiled, turning in his seat to let the light spill across the rest of his face, flicker in his light blue eyes. "I heard you come in. Work kept you at the office longer than you thought it would, yes?"

"Somewhat. Something came up at the last minute." Roy didn't go into the details of that, the carefully worded communiqué from the Drachmian embassy on the west edge of town... layers of insult and challenge encoded in every level of the document, from the blatantly derisive address at the beginning ("To whom it may concern, in the Amestrian government this week...") down to the calculated slight of delivering it just minutes before the end of the business day.

Roy's office had barely manage to intercept it before it had reached the open chaos of the command pool, and done what they could; but there was very little they could do, really, to either disguise or address the increasingly open contempt in which Drachma held them. There could be no guarantees, between nations, where there was not even respect; and there could be no stability, in the long term...

But he said none of this to Alfons, the blue-eyed stranger from another world; instead only, "I also stopped on the way home to order a meal. It should be arriving within the hour; I hope you'll join me when it does, as I spent more than one man can eat."

Alfons smiled sheepishly, reaching to scratch the fringe of hair at the back of his neck, then remove his glasses. "I'll have you know I did eat today, in case that's what you were thinking."

"You read my mind," Roy said. He'd learned early on that while Heiderich wasn't as self-neglectful (or had it been, unconsciously self-destructive?) as Edward had been, he still could not be counted on to take care of himself.

A few times Roy had left behind, not food, but a good amount of money; and invited Heiderich to take the money out to eat lunch at a restaurant, or buy what groceries pleased him. He'd come home to find the money still there, and Heiderich sheepish but hungry, and explaining that he still wasn't familiar with the money here, and didn't really know any restaurants or the way to the grocery, and it hadn't really seemed worth the trouble...

"All right," Heiderich said, sliding his glasses back onto his nose. "I'm almost finished with these diagrams—I'll be right down. Let me know when the food arrives, and I'll come right away."

"Certainly," Roy said, and turned as if to go. He paused for a moment, though, at the doorway to watch again; Heiderich bending industriously over the wide sheet of graphite, nose almost touching the paper, stylus flying over the surface. There were faint lines around his mouth, shadows under his eyes, but his expression was only intent, absorbed in his work.

Roy well knew the expression, knew that nothing less than an aerial attack on the city would disturb Heiderich now (if that;) so he left himself out, and went downstairs to await the food.

And when it came, he quietly brought a plate up to the door; and seeing Heiderich no less intent than before, he only left it by the door and went away again.

Roy spent his dinner browsing idly through the day's newspaper; more for entertainment than business, since he had long since known better than to find true or complete information in the country's print sources. Afterwards, he managed to kill some time doing those few domestic chores that Alfons hadn't already taken care of—mostly relating to the bills or to the neighborhood services. Only after the clock had struck did Roy, reluctantly, return to his valise and pull out the day's reports.

It wasn't the Drachma reports, this time; he'd left those at the office. Instead he pulled out a thick sheaf of border and internal report faxes from the Eastern border, and beyond; the Xing situation.

Roy was the only one in Central headquarters, he knew, who was focusing this much attention on Xing. Drachma, sharing a northern border with Amestris, was a much more real and present threat; and the increasingly belligerent messages that Drachma had been sending naturally drew everyone's attention. But if anything, the seeming quiet from Xing was even more worrying.

It was true, Xing hadn't made any overt gestures of threat. But it was the little things, adding up from sources all over the map, that set off his alarms. Xingian citizens being recalled. Trade interests being redistributed, quietly and subtly. Even more disturbing were some of the reports of Xingian internal affairs, dismissed as irrelevant by Amestrian authorities; mines reopened, citizens drafted, a shift in administrative power within the Emperor's court...

And then, of course, the stories of murders. Mass murders, whole farming villages wiped out in mysterious disasters. Even worse—the rumored connections with Xing-style pharmacy, experiments in alchemy. It was nothing Roy could share with anyone else, not in today's government, but if the bloody shadow of the Philosopher's Stone was gathering again in the East—

Roy got up, abruptly, and made his way over to the walnut cabinet in the corner. He found a bottle of scotch that was only slightly dusty; it seemed an appropriate nightcap. Glass clinked as he set out a tumbler and began to pour. He was just deciding whether to take the extra trouble of ice, or drink it neat, when the stairs creaked.

Alfons was coming down the stairs, holding the dinner dishes. He smiled, a bit sheepishly, when Roy looked up. "You should have said something, I didn't even realize you had come up," he said. His eyes moved to Roy's hands. "Having a drink? Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." Roy moved to set a second tumbler beside the first, and filled it up. Lacking three hands, he set both glasses and the bottle on a small tray and carried it over to the coffee table, as Heiderich took his dishes into the kitchen. "Bring some ice, if you would be so kind," Roy called, and Alfons made an affirming noise as something clinked.

Roy took the opportunity to tuck his papers away; he didn't really want Alfons seeing those. Not that the young man was likely to pry, but still... but still. Roy didn't want to risk, just yet, the fragile young man being exposed to the uglier aspects of this world. So concerned about his wellbeing? he thought bitterly. Or is it just that you don't want him thinking too hard about how his precious projects are going to be used?

"You looked busy, so I didn't want to disturb you," Roy said, answering Alfons' earlier comment as the young man rejoined him in the living room, carrying a glass of ice. "Did you run into a problem?"

"No, not really. I finally reached a good stopping place," Alfons said, tipping a few cubes of ice carefully into each glass. "I finally feel like I've got a diagram I can present. A little more cleaning up, and you can take it in tomorrow."

"That's good news!" Roy smiled, almost in spite of himself. "All the more reason for me not to have disturbed you, then." He picked up one of the glasses, his fingers leaving smudges in the beads of condensation forming on the outside, then handed the other to Alfons.

"Well, I felt bad that I didn't have it ready by Sunday," Alfons said, taking the glass, and frowned. "I know it would be better for the team to have all week to study it. I just didn't feel that the torsion equations were right. I never studied torque in depth, you see—"

"Nonsense, don't worry about it. You're the expert; take however long you need." Alfons seemed to constantly worry that he was being a burden, a heavy trouble on Roy's household, which laid a heavy guilt in Roy's stomach, knowing that it was the other way around. And he worked too hard and too long into the night, to try and make himself useful; and that only made the stone heavier, since Roy allowed it.

"Shall we toast?" Alfons said, breaking Roy from his thoughts. "What to?"

"How about to completion?" Roy suggested, and raised his glass to salute. "To the completion of old projects, and the beginning of new ones."

Alfons smiled, though the hint of a blush stained his pale cheeks and nose, and raised his glass in return. "To completion," he said. They both drank. Roy tossed his scotch back with the ease of practice, relishing the burn down his throat. Alfons, however, coughed sharply when the liquid hit the back of his throat; coughed again, placed his glass down on the table, and cleared his throat, holding his fist up to his mouth.

For a moment, the ragged sounds seemed to echo in Roy's ears with the hum of hospital noises, the hushed voices of doctors and nurses and the beeping of a heart monitor. He set down his glass, leaning forward, and examined the young man on his couch with concern. "Are you all right?"

Alfons straightened up with a small gasp, and waved Roy's concern away. "I'm fine, I'm fine." He managed a smile, then another small cough. "It's just the scotch. You worry too much."

But not without reason, Roy thought, as Alfons took a more cautious drink. Alfons was still pale, far paler than Edward had ever been, or young Alphonse. There were still too many lines on his face for a young man his age, and no matter how many clothes Roy provided for him, they always seemed to hang loose on his lanky frame. His pants sagged around the butt and the thighs, and without a belt to hold them up it would be hopeless.

Alfons had given up on wearing suspenders, partly on Roy's suggestion. It wasn't Amestris fashion, and it marked him conspicuously as an outsider; but Roy had to admit that the bright colors of Amestris fashion did not suit his coloration well.

Blood had not suited his coloration well, either, Roy remembered thinking, the first time he had seen him. It had been a very... off-putting, bizarre combination, something which had fixed part of his brain in wondering about it; in that way that the mind sometimes fixates on small details when the world is tumbling down around him.

Almost literally so, in this case; from a hole in the sky the black, thundering ships had come roaring through, and half of them fell through the air and crashed as soon as they appeared. Crawling black slime and burning debris had fallen like hail, so many people screaming through the streets of Central that it had been a wonder he had even seen Heiderich at all. But once he had, there was no mistaking that face; the shape of the bones, the cut of the hair... but the eyes, the eyes had been the wrong color, just the one he could see through the streaming blood.

The color of blood hadn't suited him, Roy had thought numbly, as fiery death screamed overhead and the crowd pushed and shoved its panicked way around him. He'd thought for one impossible moment that it was Alphonse himself, somehow; until he'd seen the younger Elric's small, familiar, red-clad form go rocketing past, screaming something about his brother.

Heiderich had turned towards that word, towards the name, and blundered forward with his arms held out like he was blind (and maybe he was, through all that blood.) Roy had grabbed his wrists, not sure what was going on, but recognizing with a strategist's instant insight that he would be the key to unraveling it, somehow.

"It's not a dream," Alfons had said, his off-color blue eyes wide and stark-staring. And then, "Edward, I'm sorry."


Roy blinked, and started a bit as he realized he'd fallen into a sort of glazed immobility. Alfons was staring at him, a concerned expression in those clear blue eyes. "Are you all right? You looked like you were miles away."

"Ah..." Roy fumbled slightly with his glass, discovered that the ice was already half-melted; then knocked it back, if only to have it emptied. "Maybe I was. My apologies, Alfons. I have a lot on my mind today."

He could see, in Heiderich's concerned eyes, that he was about to ask what was worrying Roy, maybe whether there was anything he could do to help. No Elric born could conceal his feelings worth a damn. Had to head that off at the pass. Change the subject. "You've been working hard too, lately. Don't think I haven't noticed. When do you plan to take a night off for yourself? There's a party coming up this Friday, I hear; I'm sure I could procure invitations..."

Alfons flushed, and clutched his scotch to him like a shield. "Ah, well, that's all right, sir, you don't need to go to so much trouble..."

"Nonsense, it's no trouble." Roy examined Alfons through narrow eyes, then leaned forward to pour himself another glass of brandy. He remembered being Heiderich's age, for God's sake; and how long had it been since he'd had a chance to get out and meet people? Have a normal life? Get laid? Certainly not since he'd come to this world. "I have it on good authority that Lieutenant Moyer's lovely daughter is going to be there again. You remember her, don't you? She seemed sweet on you, last time."

The last time had been a near-disaster of an occasion, all around; an evening of awkwardness ending with Alfons pleading sickness and coming home early. But maybe that had just been nerves, or an off evening. Or perhaps it had been the strain of the pretense that weighed on him; Roy knew how hard Alfons took it, trying to remember to be "Alphonse Elric." Perhaps what he needed was a partner who already knew the secret—or one who wouldn't need to know his name at all...

"Well, perhaps that would be a stuffy way to spend an evening," Roy conceded, and Alfons visibly brightened.

"Yes, I mean, after spending a week at work, who wants to see them on the weekends? Hahaha," Alfons laughed nervously.

Roy rolled a swallow around in his mouth, then swallowed as he smiled affably. "Instead, we could do something much more casual. You and I, perhaps some of the men from the office, could go down to that bar on Third Street—you've seen the advertisements, surely? The theme bar, where the host ladies dress as—"

"I'll... go and get some more ice, shall I?" Alfons said, rising abruptly from the couch.

Roy studied his back, his tight shoulders, as the young man hurried from the room. Tense and nervous, definitely; but if there was any hidden excitement at the idea, Roy couldn't detect it. This line wasn't working, perhaps he should try another. It couldn't be healthy for any man his age to just hide at home all the time.

Roy had seen culture shock before, in young recruits transplanted far from their homes; it usually cured itself on home leave, but would Alfons ever see his home again? Would Roy see the signs in time, or would his first warning be finding Alfons hanging from a rafter one morning? Roy couldn't afford to lose Alfons, all his knowledge and his theories and his designs and his blue eyes, not yet.

Alfons returned, somewhat more composed, with more ice. Roy graciously accepted a refill of his glass, and waited until Alfons was sitting down before remarking, "Alternatively, there's a club down by the docks which hires only male waiters. I hear they're quite accommodating to various requests. Perhaps if we..."

Roy never had a chance to finish his sentence, because Alfons had taken a lungful of scotch at the wrong time and had spewed most of it out over the couch, the coffee table and his lap, then fallen to desperate hacking. Alarmed, Roy leaned over in his seat and began to pound him on the back, while vainly looking around for a towel.

"I'm sorry, I..." Roy began, but Alfons interrupted him again; his face flushed so bright red that his eyes seemed doubly blue by contrast. "No, I'm sorry! I got a mess all over your couch—your—" He broke out coughing again, then pushed himself up with one hand, wobbling slightly. "I'll go get... something... sorry..."

Missing were the indignant howls of rage and denial that Roy had been half-expecting. In fact, notably missing was any kind of denial at all. Interesting. Roy considered that as he helped his young ward clean up the spilled scotch; though his cough faded, the flush in his face did not go down, and he was avoiding Roy's eyes.

Roy did run a hand over the spots in the couch upholstery, and sighed mournfully. But, "Don't worry about it, Alfons," he said, cutting off the half-spoken apology. "It won't be that difficult to have it cleaned. Come on, no point in wasting the rest."

He guided Alfons back to the couch, and this time waited until the tumbler was safely on the coffee table before saying in a mild tone, "Sometimes I forget that you aren't originally from this world, and that some things must still be strange to you. No offense was meant."

"Er... none taken," Alfons stuttered slightly.

"So what did you usually do for entertainment back home?" Roy settled back and threw this out as an opening line, half-conciliation, half-curiosity.

"Well, to be honest, I didn't go out all that often back in Munich, either," Alfons said, sitting up a little straighter. Not often, Roy noticed, was not the same as not at all. "Especially in the last few months, our team was so busy... first there was the exhibition to prepare for. It was at a state fair, you see, and we knew potential patrons would come from miles around to see our demonstration."

Alfons began to open up a little, talking about his past; Roy made encouraging noises. "It took up so much of our time and traveling, because everything had to be perfect, but we did not have the supplies or maintenance we needed. Gasoline was far too expensive, it wasn't available; we had to use a mixture of kerosene cut with corn oil... that was where I knew the formula we are using now, you see. Probably more of our parts were made in bicycle shops than plane factories, by the end!" He laughed.

Roy chuckled with him, but did not interrupt, instead letting Alfons ramble on about this or that innovation his team had made with spare materials. He didn't fully understand the details, although the overall structure made sense; he had to have that grasp of the big picture, in order to direct the research team, to filter Alfons' theories through to them while still keeping "Alphonse Elric" mostly hidden from the public view.

And more importantly—and simply—he had to appear to be the leader in this project, if the credit was to accumulate to his name. It was shameful, perhaps, to climb on Alfons' back to greater heights. Perhaps it had been shameful to ride Edward, once, the same way. But while Edward's accomplishments had furthered his aims, and sped his promotions, there could be no question that Alfons would be his ticket to the office of Fuhrer, once and for all. It was no longer a gamble, simply a guarantee—and a guarantee, he thought, that they desperately needed.

He came back to the present with a start, only then realizing that his mind had been wandering; took a drink to cover it, looking swiftly at Alfons from behind the cover of the glass. Had he offended? But Alfons wasn't staring at him this time; in fact, he didn't seem to have noticed Roy's lack of attention at all. Instead, he was staring at his hands; long, pale fingers turning the tumbler around and around between them.

"You know, Edward..." Alfons began slowly, eyes still on his hands. "Edward... Edward didn't often like to go out, either. At first he said it was a waste of time, but then..." He cut off what he was going to say, and took a deep drink.

Roy's attention pricked; if his ears could have stood up, they would have. First talking about gay bars, and now talking about Ed? Interesting. Very interesting. And not only because you want to hear about him, a voice inside him whispered. Not only.

"At first he always said it was a waste of time, that he needed to spend studying, working. He had to learn to get home, you see. He wanted to come back here. He talked about it all the time. I never quite... believed him, completely, when he would talk about that. Maybe if I'd... but it doesn't matter now." He drank again, eyes staring blindly past the bottom of the glass, not seeing it.

And now here you are, in the same position he was in, Roy thought. Adrift in a strange world. If you didn't have someone who believed in you—if you thought you were going crazy—would you have survived?

"But then after a year... maybe a year and a half... he stopped working so hard. Stopped trying. I thought maybe... maybe it was a good thing, he was adjusting. Learning to relax a little. But... but he just stopped trying, trying to do anything."

His eyes were desolate, now, remembering. Hardly daring to move, Roy leaned forward, and refilled his empty glass. "I know you did your best for him, Alfons," he said.

"I wanted him to go back," Alfons whispered, at length. The words fell like pins, pricking the heavy silence. "I wanted him to have his chance to go home... he wanted it so much..."

"I know," Roy said gently. Alfons didn't seem to hear him.

"I didn't mean for this... I was going to send him home. In the rocket that I built." He looked up at Roy, pleading in his eyes. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I wanted to send him home. I didn't mean to come in his place."

Roy cursed to himself, then moved abruptly from his place, settling down on the couch closer to Alfons. "I know that, Alfons," he said, putting as much certainty into his voice as he could. "I believe you. Why would I have any reason not to?"

Alfons' lips twisted in a ghostly laugh. "Al doesn't seem to."

"Al is not rational when it comes to his brother. Neither of them ever were."

This time Alfons did laugh, although it was half-sick. "Tell me about it. I thought Ed would do anything to get back to his little brother... he'd said so often enough. I don't understand... I don't understand why he did what he did."

"Edwards motivations were frequently a mystery to me," Roy muttered, remembering years of scrambled reports and badly-lied cover-ups. "But I think this time, they were quite straightforward."

"I tried to stop him," Alfons burst out suddenly, the pain evident in his voice. "I had a plan. I was going to put him in the rocket, before he knew what was going on... but he turned it around on me. I didn't... I didn't realize he was so damn strong. With one arm, one leg, how could he be? And he let me punch him, that one time!"

A bit of a smile twisted Roy's own lips, and he rubbed at them. "You never knew him during his career," he murmured; flexed his fingers in memory, of a gold-and-steel streak slashing a whirlwind around his hand, shredding his gloves. "Or you definitely would not have underestimated him."

"I did underestimate him, though" Alfons said, with a self-deprecating snort. "Or overestimated myself, I guess... but he said, then, that he had to stay. That he had to close the Gate, from this side. And he said... he said I should go, because the doctors in his country could help me, save my life." After a moment, he added, "And he was right, although I never believed him about that, either."

It hadn't been easy, Roy thought. By the time Roy had managed to install Alfons in a hospital, the doctors said his lungs had almost been beyond saving. But he'd ordered all the stops pulled out; no expense spared, no new medical/alchemy technique left untested. And the results were here before him; a healthy, if worn, fragile human being.

He'd guessed from the start that the startlingly familiar stranger might hold the key to the apocalyptic weapons that had come roaring down on their city, and he'd been right. It hadn't been for Edward's sake that he'd done it, spent money and favors like water to save this sickly boy. Or at least, whispered that incessant voice, not all for Edward.

"You know, I had it all planned out," Alfons was babbling; he could hear from the tone in his voice that the scotch was really starting to have an effect. "I was going to put him into the rocket, and it was going to take him to Shamballa. And before he left, before he had a chance to do anything about it, I would tell him good-bye. And would have told him... What would it matter, after all? I knew I wasn't going to live much longer. I was going to tell him, before he went home."

Alfons dropped the empty tumbler, thumping to the carpeted floor; he ground his hands into his face, clutching his hair. "But now I'm here, and he's not here, and I never told him at all."

It was obvious that Alfons was drunk, and on his way to maudlin. But Roy must have been more drunk than he realized, too, because before he understood what was happening he had knocked aside Alfons' hands with his own, still holding the half-full scotch glass, and was kissing him.

"Shhh," he whispered, as he moved away; not far, though, barely a matter of inches.

Maybe the sound was some kind of hypnosis, or maybe Alfons couldn't find the words. Whatever it was, Alfons didn't speak, his ragged breathing the only sound between them. "Edward's still alive, you know. We know he shut the gate off. He didn't die." Or at least, he hadn't died before accomplishing that. "Al is still looking for a way to open the Gate again and get him back. It's been done before, we know it can be done; it's just a question of learning how to do it again. And if anyone can find the answer, it's the Fullmetal Alchemist." He quirked his lips as he said that, thinking of spirited, stubborn Alphonse; let it show, hoping to gentle the air between them.

"He's doing that, but what am I doing?" Alfons said, the edges of his voice ragged with frustration, maybe more. "He gave up his chance to come home, for me, and how am I repaying him?"

By making sure he has a HOME to come back to, Roy thought, but instead he sighed, and slid down along the couch, folding Alfons in his arms. "Hush," he said again, and it actually seemed to work, bringing to Alfons a quivering stillness. "You know, Edward gave up his ticket home for you because he wanted to save you. Because he thought you were worth saving."

Roy kissed him again, more slowly this time, taking his time and enjoying the feel of Alfons' mouth. So warm, still sweet and bitter from the scotch; the face of an Elric, their bones, their genius, but his own eyes, his own colors, and a man full-grown, not a boy. "And I understand why he thought that, Alfons. Because you are. You are worth everything."

One more kiss, and then he stood, sliding cloth against cloth as he drew himself off the couch. Held his hand out to Alfons. "Let me show you that."

There was a long pause; five heartbeats, six. And then Alfons nodded, and took his hand.

They slid into his bedroom with the sort of grace that only came with copious amounts of alcohol; that was to say, awkwardly. Alfons's knees caught Roy's as they both attempted to fit through at the same time; stopped in the open doorway, where the sulfur-yellow light of the hall lamp spilled in over Alfons's back; turned to each other. Stared.

Alfons's gaze flicked briefly to the bed behind him, then down along Roy's body, and his hands twitched a couple times, nervously. He was taller than Roy, if not as muscular, but he was currently doing his damnedest to make himself look smaller, to shrink into himself and hide. Sinking in then, Roy thought with a faint smirk. Once upon a different life, he himself had been young and on the receiving end of a pity fuck, because he had been lonely and pretty and she had been the giving sort. It was hard to adjust to. He thought about asking what Alfons was currently thinking, but then, that was the last thing he really wanted the man to be doing anyway. Instead, he reached up with one hand and tipped Alfons's head down to where he could reach.

Alfons started a little this time but accepted him again, made a soft little rumbling sound against Roy's mouth. He wondered if Alfons had ever been kissed before. It seemed like he had, because he was receptive and quick with his tongue, but there was also a strange haze that came over his eyes every time that Roy did.

"Are you okay?" he asked when they finally pulled apart, noticing the other man's breathing had gotten a little off-kilter. Alfons had not had a fit for a long time, but too much stress sometimes brought back that hellish burble.

"Never better," Alfons said through the scotch, gave him a wan smile. He had his hands clapped down on either side of Roy's shoulders (just when had that happened?) and kneaded them slightly, though otherwise he remained silent.

"You seem distant," Roy observed.

"Just thinking," Alfons said.

Roy frowned a little; that was not what he was wanting to hear. He ran his own hands up and buried them in Alfons's shaggy mop of blond hair, petted him. The younger man was indeed fun to stroke, Roy realized as he filtered strands through his fingers; soft, silky blond that in the yellow-orange light bore a passing resemblance to gold. Alfons's eyes squeezed shut, like a cat, at nails against his scalp and the sight alone made Roy want to purr instead.

He pressed another kiss to the side of Alfons's neck, and Alfons's grip on his shoulders suddenly increased until it was almost painful.

"I'm sorry," Alfons said thickly, sounding as self-loathing as Edward (or Alphonse) ever had. "You must think I'm pathetic."

"Why?" Roy asked, concerned and also more than a little distracted. Now that they were started down this path, as with many other flings he'd had, he was starting to sincerely get into it. Beneath the scotch Heiderich smelled clean and enticing, had soft skin that felt good under his tongue and lips. He wanted to taste more of it. He wanted to fold Heiderich up into his arms and lick the tension right out of him.

"You already put up with so much from me," Alfons said, by way of explanation. "You take care of my housing, and food, and everything else, and—"

Roy resisted the urge to groan, and nipped at Alfons's throat to cut him off. Another similarity, once again rising to rear its ugly head, and Alphonse Elric might claim not to see them, but dammit, they were apparent to him.

In that world, just as in this one, apparently equivalency was a value that some people fixated on.

"Don't you dare claim you're a free-loader," Roy said sternly, looking up into Alfons's blue eyes. "Because you've worked long enough with our so-called scientists to know that is not true. Your designs are giving us more efficient train engines, and"—flying weapons that the Xingians cannot touch "flying machines. And we've been over this before, I thought one time was enough." Squeezed Alfons's back again, hoped like hell the gesture comforted.

"That wasn't what I was going to say, actually," Alfons said, somewhat tightly, but his stance softened a little. He sighed.

"You're very kind, General," Alfons said, pressing his nose down into Roy's hair a little, nuzzling ever so slightly. Roy rubbed the man's back and sides enthusiastically, encouraging the proactive behavior.

"I just don't know if I should take advantage of your kindness like this."

Alfons? Take advantage of him? The very thought made him laugh, a dry, soulless chuckle. Alfons gave him a startled, suspicious look and Roy kissed him hard again before he could say anything else. Before he could give in to the urge to just explain everything to him right then and there, that some people would pay a fortune to have access to the fuel formulae and mechanical advancements that Alfons had brought over with him in his head, that Alfons could have his own estate out in the country somewhere—perhaps a small chunk of a country. Not this claustrophobic old central town house. Not him for a companion, in his bedroom.

It was also true that there were equally as many people who would probably like to see the man shot, to prevent someone else from having his wealth of mechanical knowledge. Alchemists' groups. Xingian radicals. He slipped his tongue between Alfons's lips possessively, waged a brief but explosive war for control of the kiss, and just clung to him for a moment, eager simply to hold on. Alfons was quiet and foreign but polite and a good man, and Roy had already once seen his pale face covered with blood, and once was enough.

Above all else in his life, he thought he had grown entirely too accustomed to missing that gentle Elric smile—even if the eyes were a slightly different hue.

He drew back to see Alfons's cheeks once again flushed quite brilliantly, and that glaze to the man's eyes that dissipated as Alfons looked away a little. Embarrassed. He remembered Edward, young and fiery looking up at him in his office, and what it was like to want something so much and never be able to let go because of it.

"You're not taking advantage of me," he said truthfully, "because what I want is to give you what you want. And if there's anything you want to do to relax—or not do, if it bothers you—" if there is something you are saving for Edward, assuming he even exists out there yet, "—all you have to do is say the word."

And that did it; the strings were cut. Alfons's hands slid ever so slightly away from his shoulders, and the man leaned in, breathed deeply.

"Then I would like to do whatever it is that you would like to do," Alfons said simply, eyes clear and flashing. "I would just like to forget."

"All right," Roy murmured and rose up on his toes to kiss the man again. He wanted to, but did not say that the effort was futile. You did not just forget about Edward Elric. A lifetime would not be enough to forget.

Their clothes came off slowly as they circled back toward the bed; Alfons was still stand offish but he allowed Roy's fingers to dip beneath the waist of his pants. It did not take much effort; Alfons was so thin yet that even with a belt there was ample room for him to slide in several fingers at once. Once he'd worked the belt off, his whole hand.

Alfons hissed and bucked and made all the right noises as Roy fished around for the tail ends of his shirt, purposefully taking way too long. He slid a palm over the jut of Alfons's hip bone, the flat plane of his ass, and pulled the man in closer, closer, up against his body. Sweet heaven, he was warm. He lifted Alfons's shirt up and the man murmured something in that other-world language, harsh and throaty but the tone was encouraging.

Roy bit at a nipple and the words translated instead to a whine. He tugged Alfons's shirt the rest of the way off and chucked it into a corner.

"Bed," he said, and wrapped his arms around Alfons's now bared chest, started walking him backward toward it. Alfons's pale complexion flushed more with each step, and Roy wondered briefly if he should ask him exactly what his experience was, if any at all. Too much of a blow to a young man's pride though, and so he let it go, figuring he could always wait and see.

"Okay?" Alfons breathed, just as his legs bumped up against the edge of the bed and he sat down hard, reversing their positions. Now Alfons was the one to be looking up at Roy, and damn, if that wasn't a rush.

The way the man's legs were spread apart also gave him a rush, and a wicked, wicked thought. Roy slid down onto his knees between Alfons's and watched as he gasped, the flush spreading down from his face onto his chest now.

"Do they not do this, where you are from?" he couldn't resist asking at Alfons's startled expression. His face was absolutely priceless.

"Only in dreams," Alfons replied, and his voice was so earnest that the only proper response was indeed for Roy to start mouthing over Alfons's clothed crotch; the only downside being that he was unable to see when exactly the young man's eyes rolled back into his head.

He brought a hand into the picture and rubbed just below the area he was mouthing, got Alfons to start properly squirming before he relented and unbuttoned the man's fly. He looked up and Alfons was gazing back at him with an awed expression, one hand hovering just slightly above Roy's head, as if he weren't sure what to do with it.

Roy did. As he started rolling the baggy pants down off Alfons's hips, he tilted his head up and caught two of Alfons's fingertips in between his lips.

"Roy?" Alfons asked, sounding alarmed, when Roy suddenly pulled back and let his fingers go.

"Sorry," he said, and rose up to plant a brief kiss on the side of Alfons's neck. "It simply occurred to me that I have far too many clothes on."

He gave Alfons his most dashing smile and began to unbutton his shirt, his pants; slid one hand just a little suggestively into his waistband to peel his boxers down. It wasn't even a real strip tease; just a slight deviation from his usual daily routine, but Alfons's eyes were as wide as saucers.

"You're welcome to help, if you like," he encouraged, and leaned forward to make the edges of his clothing just that much more appealing.

"Yes, that's it," he said soothingly as Alfons stood up and reached around to tug at his shirt tails, a shy echo of what he had done to the man a few moments ago. Roy closed his eyes and tried to get used to the feeling of a partner so much bigger than him, someone who could envelop him, suck on his ear while wrapping his arms around. He was not used to not being physically dominant, but it was necessary considering how inexperienced Alfons seemed to be. Roy had taken a cock before and knew how to enjoy it, but Alfons would be too tense he was willing to bet. The man, in his seasoned opinion, needed a good night without stress, without worrying about Edward or Alphonse (hell, didn't they both) and he could not, would not risk making this painful for his charge.

Alfons's hands grew more confident the more skin was revealed, eagerness evident in his motions. Roy gasped as hands seized down on his ass and teeth savaged the edge of his shoulder, right down through the shirt cloth.

"Shirt!" Roy reminded, more to keep Alfons from devouring his neck whole. He was excited, and young, and his teeth were somewhat rough pressing into his skin.

"Sorry," Alfons said and pulled back, looking chastised. Roy shrugged his shirt the rest of the way off and then reached for Alfons's boxers, the one remaining bit of cloth between them now. Alfons followed his hands down with his eyes, then over to Roy's crotch, and stared. And stared.

It figured, Roy thought with a snort. Few were as sincere, as hungry, as those who had to spend most of their time denying what they wanted. He sat down on the bed and all right, so perhaps it was too much of a temptation to resist leaning back and stretching just so. Alfons's eyes practically bugged out of his head, and he was not at all surprised when the mattress dipped suddenly and there were hands running everywhere along his torso.

"I'm sorry..." Alfons said again, then something urgent in his harsh other-world language that sounded like praise. "I just don't get to do this..."

"It's a compliment," Roy said, and then arched as Alfons's fingers found their way down to where his cock wanted them to be, especially with Alfons talking the way he was. When he forgot himself, the man flipped in and out of his languages like water, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, and it was Roy's job to pick his way through the jumble and ask for clarifications, get Alfons to translate, the way he'd once had to make sense of incoherent expense reports and little Edward-faces sticking tongues out at him from the margins.

Right now, he didn't care what Alfons was saying, as long as he kept working his hand like that.

This was not helping Alfons, though, and so he gritted his teeth and somehow between the kissing and grinding, Roy managed to softly explain what it was that he wanted Alfons to do, to lie down on the bed and wait while he got a few things. Alfons's mouth flared into a round little 'o' of surprise when Roy abruptly got up and padded away (too much longer and he could have come; that wouldn't be fair, not just yet) and returned with the phial, a rubber; all the instruments of sex that were old hat to him but perhaps not nearly so much to Alfons.

"You recognize these?" he asked matter-of-factly as he joined Alfons on the mattress.

"Yes?" One word, so very anxious. He was honestly surprised the man wasn't drooling.

He uncorked the phial of lubricant and doled a liberal amount out over his fingers; smiled a little to himself and gave Alfons's cock a tug. The reaction was amazing; he could literally see Alfons's toes curl, and he was suddenly very glad he had been so selfish a few minutes ago. If he had been jerking him, Alfons probably would have gone off before Roy even work his way onto him.

"What are you doing?" Alfons asked suddenly, as Roy began to reach forward with rubber.

Roy blinked, confused, then snorted. Of all the times...

"It's called a rubber," he explained, poking a finger into the open end and waggling it a bit. "A prophylactic. It helps keep you clean. These don't exist on the other side of the Gate?"

Alfons scowled a little. "They do!  I'm not that dense," he laughed. "It's just, ah..." He seemed to run out of words in English, for the moment; he continued in his own.

"Translation, please?" Roy reminded gently, trying desperately not to think of how his own cock was throbbing.

" want to go—to the 'end' end, then?" Alfons said slowly, his mind no doubt side-stepping around some kind of euphemism.

"Only if you do," Roy said, giving the man his gentlest (hopefully most patient) smile. "Have you ever, before?"

"No," Alfons replied, licking his lips. He looked down at Roy's cock and the hunger in the man's eyes caused Roy to shiver. "I've always, always wanted to though."

Roy eased back, relieved, and tried to figure out the most concise way to explain. He slid a leg over Alfons's hips to straddle him and rocked up against his erection to grab the man's attention; soothed the resulting shuddering cries with kisses pressed along Alfons's throat.

"All you need is the rubber, I'll take care of the rest," he promised. "You don't have to do anything, I can ride you—"


Alfons's face shuttered, and Roy froze in place.

"I thought you said you wanted this," he said, confused.

Alfons's ears flamed red, and he muttered something so low Roy could not discern which language it was in.


"I don't want to do it like this," Alfons repeated, a little louder. His eyes darted everywhere, like trapped bits of sky searching for a way out. "Could you possibly ah...take me instead?"

He was caught between abject confusion and his brain melting out through his ears at the thought.

Still, this was not about him. Alfons might think he wanted this, but just as with Edward (just as with the other Alphonse), there were times when the younger generation had to be steered away from what they thought they needed, toward what it was they actually did.

"If you haven't done this before, Alfons," he started in his most placating voice, "it's probably not a good idea. It takes some getting used to."

"I-I've experimented," Alfons insisted, and Roy bent forward a little reflexively at how much that made his cock throb.

"It's not like a finger," he said, assuming (hopefully correctly; he personally had once tried a pen with a cap when he was younger and regretted it) that that was what Alfons meant. "You'll be sore. I've done it before, I don't mind, you don't have to worry about me—"

Alfons's eyes flashed suddenly, and wrong color or not, Roy couldn't help but envision them suddenly in a younger, tanner face.

"General. I appreciate the sentiment. But you said I don't have to do anything I don't want to do, and—" He bit his lip a bit. Cheeks flamed to a new definition of red.

"I promised myself that if I ever fucked anyone, my first would be Edward," he finished softly.

Roy choked on his spit.

"I-it's a little late for that now, isn't it?!" he asked, mouth suddenly dry. Oh, hell. All he could think was that he had started this—started this when they were both tipsy-on-the-verge-of-hard-drunk—and he had never intended to hurt Alfons with it, but hell, if the kid was seriously actually saving himself

Alfons's eyes flicked away. "No, I mean... I wouldn't mind—" a brief slip into the wrong language and then back out again—"I wouldn't mind taking it. I just don't want to give it to you. No offense, sir."

"None taken," Roy responded automatically, though in truth he was confused. What kind of person could consider stripping someone, kissing them, touching their cock and then taking it up the ass as somehow not fucking?

Only an Elric, or something like one.

Alfons smiled at him winningly, reached over and laid a hand across the stiff length of his cock. It jerked up toward the sudden pressure, an exclamation point punctuating his need. Roy groaned.

"I have always wanted to know," Alfons said softly (and since when did he get control of this situation, Roy wondered!?  that was another talent that Elrics always seemed to have, to continually get the drop on him). "What it is like. Would you mind showing me?" (Fuck, that had to be affected; nobody was that innocent on their own; even still Alfons put on a good show.)

Roy sucked in his next breath on a whistle.

"I can show you," he said, and ohhellthathandfeltgoodonhim, "if you really want. I can teach you, too, how to make it feel good, how to make him like it—Alfons—stop—!!" He was aware he was babbling, and the only way to stop it was to grab Alfons's wrist.

And the pale bastard was even smiling at him, a faint sparkle to his eyes; looked entirely proud of himself actually. He probably got just as much out of making Roy babble as Roy got out of making him switch into his incomprehensible mother tongue, and that smug little grin only served to make Roy want to topple him more. He flashed a devilish smile and attacked, nipping at lips, pinning him down against the mattress, brushing their groins periodically together until Alfons was straining to press back, but with Roy's weight on his hips it was damn near impossible. Before Roy could think much more about it, he'd flipped the man over.

A careful, slick finger got them started, then a second, skirting around the outside only while Roy rolled the rubber on with his other hand. Alfons groaned a little and made love to the mattress as Roy pressed down and just a slight bit inward.

"How does it feel?" he couldn't resist asking, and licked a bead of sweat running down the center of Alfons's back.

The response was in German.

Afterward, now washed up and in the dark, he lay still in the bed listening to the steady hiss of Alfons's breath, the man curled up against him like a big, tired puppy. He had fallen asleep first, and then Alfons, and now he was on the verge of dozing yet again, would probably be asleep already if he weren't busy stroking one hand down Alfons's side, again, like a puppy. He had no idea what time it was anymore, except that eventually it would be dawn; and with that would come work again, and a new presentation, and a new rush to build more of Alfons's flying machines, and see which ones might be viable. Parts created by alchemy; design created by engineers; and together the two came together, were the future...

Alfons shifted against him, and Roy pressed a kiss into the top of his silky head, noting (oh so briefly) that in the moonlight it was no longer golden.

"Mm, what time izzit?" Alfons muttered into Roy's chest, eyes still firmly closed.

"Night," Roy replied. It was all the he was sure of.

"Oh," Alfons said. Yawned. "Should pro'lly get up."

"What on earth for?" Roy asked, though he rather felt he knew the reason. Suddenly—slightly jealously—he squeezed the man closer.

"Work," Alfons sighed. "I know you don't like how I've been working so much," he muttered before Roy could protest, still sleepy-sounding, and nuzzled into his shoulder. "And I'm sorry. All I know is..."

Roy didn't say anything, just cradled him closer. Hoped perhaps if he made soothing enough sounds, Alfons would settle down. Instead, the man shifted away from him.

"Edward... when he was still with it... had these theories about rocketry," Alfons said as he slid away. "And you know, I've been thinking about it, and maybe there was truth to that. General, if you'll let me—if you could find me the parts, and a team, when the time comes—I've been working on my own design, for Edward's world-crossing rocket."

"I could go home to get him. I could still make his and Alphonse's dream come true."

Roy opened his mouth to protest, but looked up and saw true fire in those imitation eyes.

"All right," he said, defeated. "You do what you want with your time. You want to spend it building rockets, then build rockets. And speaking of Alphonse, he could be your alchemist—he's strong enough to be worth ten; he could make the parts in no time. I'll speak to him about it, all right?"

Alfons nodded, and then slowly, a beautiful smile bloomed across his face.

"Thank you," he whispered, and gave Roy's shoulder a squeeze before stepping gingerly out of the room. Roy knew without asking that the man's backside hurt, and that he was probably not going to want to do a lot of sitting these next couple days.

Not as if that particularly mattered, though. He stared up at the ceiling and sighed, closed his eyes, resisted the urge to pet the part of the bed Alfons had vacated. If Alfons could not sit down, he would design standing up; if that failed, he'd move to the floor. He was motivated, in love, and for the first time Roy was strangely aware that that hurt, just a little.

For while Roy did not understand all of what Alfons had said, when he had slipped unwittingly into calling out (and later screaming out) in his native tongue, there was one word he could not mistake no matter what the language—Edward.