A/N: Now, some people surely might not be interested in reading what´s going on with the lack of updates (nothing life-threatening or worth abandoning fics), so I ´ll keep this simple.
If you want to know about status, fics or what´s going on these days, I´ll keep my ffnet profile up to date (I really need to do a LJ version of that thing ._. ). Including the current status of the fics.
To make up for that huge wait, this chapter is longer than usually ^^° I know it´s not much, but enjoy!
Beta&Co-Author: Ca11iope, you are an amazing woman :D Seriously, you are ^^
Chapter 33: Backstabbing
Still Day 20
Roy didn´t know whether he should be amused or insulted. He settled on mildly annoyed.
Ed turned around and looked at him. “Oh, stop pouting,” the blond told him.
Once again for the record: he was Roy Mustang, and therefore he did not pout. It just didn´t fit his image. Roy Mustang was not capable of that particular expression, and the mere suggestion that he was tipped his annoyance a wee bit over to the insulted end of the scale. The younger alchemist noticed, sighed, then bit his lip. He looked as if he desperately wanted to keep to himself what was about to spill from his lips, but in the end he was unable to.
“Well… I wasn´t paying much attention to anything but your alchemy,” Edward finally admitted before he turned briskly around.
Roy blinked. The statement wasn´t phrased that differently, but… slowly a smirk formed on his lips.
“That impressed, huh?” he asked in a teasing manner.
“Shut up, Bastard,” the other alchemist grumbled. “I wouldn´t have mentioned it if you didn´t look so much like a damn puppy without a treat.” Ed did a pretty impressive version of that puppy-pout himself when Roy wrapped an arm around his shoulders and leaned in.
“You were impressed. Not that I blame you; it´s perfectly understandable,” Roy purred.
And maybe it was childish to tease Ed over his admission this way, but all of a sudden Roy felt almost giddy. If Ed had admitted to being impressed just to stop Roy from what the younger man considered to be pouting – not that it really was pouting - then the other alchemist had definitely developed a soft spot for him. That just screamed for advantage to be taken.
“And you are acting stupid,” Ed muttered, shoulder’s twitching uncomfortably under Roy’s arm, obviously regretting his statement.
“I can assure you, alchemy isn’t the only area where I excel. I have other talents, equally impressive.” Roy just couldn´t help it. Not that he was trying to.
A faint but noticeable blush appeared on Ed´s face.
“Yeah, you´re pretty impressive at acting like an idiot right now,” the blond argued back. Then he hesitated for a moment. “Actually, that seems to be a skill you’re always practicing, so it´s no wonder you´re so good at it.”
“Would you care to personally experience my other skills?” Roy was overdoing it, but it was fun. Even his tone was way over the top, and Roy could see the younger man’s lips twitch slightly.
Beside them, a rather conservatively dressed woman shot them a disturbed glare, but Ed didn’t notice as he shook his head, amused.
“What´s gotten into you, Mustang?” the man questioned, then his eyes widened as he caught the innuendo.
Roy couldn´t remember the last time he had felt this playful … hold on, he could. It had resulted in a thrown coffee cup putting a dent in his living room wall. “Whatever it is, it wouldn´t mind some company,” the Colonel practically purred.
And he was delighted to have Ed’s undivided attention when the blond turned again to face him. He was sure Ed wouldn´t kiss him, but Roy he could see the waggishness flicker in those unusual eyes. This was going to be fun.
A scandalized and hatefully whispered ‘perverts’ interrupted the playful flirting. Immediately the blond was tense again and turned back towards the picture he had been examining. The woman sent them a glare, stuck her nose into the air, and swept away, heels clacking angrily on the tiles.
Oh, damn it! Ed was all uptight again.
Still, it was only a minor setback. Roy decided that for this to work, he might have to resort to plan B: getting some alcohol into his date. True, he had originally planned to order wine at the restaurant, but Edward Elric was far too aware of his surroundings for Roy’s liking. Far too conscious of any behavior that might give the impression that there was more than just friendship between the two men. Roy had to drop Ed’s inhibition threshold a good bit.
He was sure he would be able to get a beer or two at the exhibition’s café during their snack break.
When Maes stepped through his front door, he was greeted by his beautiful wife, his wonderful daughter, the mouthwatering smell of dinner – and a guest.
“Alphonse!” He greeted the surprise guest with an enthusiastic hug complete with manly backslapping. It had been a while since the young alchemist’s last visit, and the blond had obviously been missed.
And judging by the way Elycia couldn´t keep her eyes off him, Al had been more than just missed by her. Mrs. Hughes sent knowing glances towards her husband and tried to carefully give him a hint. Unfortunately, he failed to recognize the major crush his daughter had on their guest, and still thought the affection to be sisterly. The older woman’s smile turned slightly pained at her husband’s obliviousness over the fact that it wouldn´t be long before they might have to explain the birds and the bees to their daughter. Or rather, Gracia would have to do it, as Maes most likely wouldn’t be able to bear the thought that his sweet, innocent, adorable offspring was experiencing her first serious crush. Hopefully it would be a few years more before Gracia had to have ‘the talk’ with Elycia. And hopefully that would give her time to prepare her dear husband for his daughter’s impending adolescence.
Gracia sighed, watching as Elycia tried to impress Alphonse with her recently acquired knowledge of alchemy. The girl had been pouring over every alchemy textbook she could find in a frustrating attempt to understand the basics, just so she could keep up in a conversation with him. But unlike Alphonse and his brother, Elycia was no child prodigy, and therefore was still far too young to understand such a complicated science. It was even more difficult considering that she had no real interest in the subject, beyond the possible teacher. Alphonse was kindly indulging the girl, gently correcting her misconceptions, and Gracia wondered if he realized where Elycia’s true interests lay.
Maes certainly didn’t. All the while he listened to the conversation, overwhelmed by his daughter’s determination, her possible future as alchemist, her intelligence, and whatever else he read into her sudden decision to learn alchemy.
Not for the first time, Gracia wondered how such a seasoned investigator could so completely miss the obvious.
After the negative public reaction to the – in his opinion, really harmless – flirting, Roy had not been able to get past Ed’s walls like that again. For quite some time after the encounter the blond seemed edgy and far from relaxed. Mustang did his best to unobtrusively maneuver slowly toward the little café in the mansions courtyard, where he was pretty sure they at least sold beer and wine.
And thankfully, Ed began to enjoy himself again when quite by accident they struck up a conversation with one of the resident artists. The young brunette, by Roy’s practiced estimation a woman of average attractiveness, was anxiously observing the exhibition’s visitors, staying nervously in the background.
At least until Edward Elric, passionate alchemist that he was, and never one to hold back his opinion, started to question and criticized her work. The expected catastrophe did not occur. Instead, thanks to god for insane people, the woman appeared delighted to debate Edward’s points. No introductions were made so she had no idea just who she was talking to, but she was perfectly happy to defend her creations from an artistic standpoint. The bright eyed, widely smiling artist, while far from being a great beauty, was transformed by passionate discussion into quite an attractive female. And boy, the girl could argue.
And they managed it without major insults or foul language.
Roy should have been pleased. Ed was enjoying himself again, which was what Roy wanted. And Roy loved seeing Ed in one of his passionate rants. The problem was that Roy didn´t enjoy seeing Edward talking so keenly with a strange female when Roy himself couldn´t even give the man a damn kiss.
It shouldn’t bother him. Roy was fairly certain that Ed had absolutely no interest in that woman. He was also pretty sure that the woman had no interest in Edward, beyond his professional opinion.
And Roy really should be pleased, since Ed was finally enjoying the exhibition.
After all, it was Roy’s intention to make some progress with Ed in the public displays of affection department, and that’s what he would do. If it earned him a smack on the fingers, fine. Roy Mustang was known for his ability to smooth-talk his way out of trouble. Still, he had to be careful. He would stake his claim on the blond, but his actions couldn´t be too heavy handed. The Colonel did not care if he got a little smack on his fingers, but a hit with an automail fist was definitely to be avoided. He needed to be subtle… or to make sure Ed didn’t have the maneuvering room to lash out.
He stepped closer to the blond from behind and wrapped his arms around the man’s waist. Placing his head on Ed´s shoulder required way too much stooping, so he leaned in a bit instead.
“Enjoying yourself…?” There was a strange pause hanging in the air and Roy had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from adding an endearment to the sentence. It felt strange. The urge to do it. It was nothing he usually did, yet the sentence felt suddenly incomplete. Roy blinked, wondering why such a thing would occur to him, or even matter.
Then he noticed the way the body in his arms had tensed up, and he knew that this was going to hurt.
The blond alchemist didn´t have time to do him any harm however, because the lady artist didn´t even so much as blink an eye at the possessive display. Instead, she appeared almost sheepish as she turned towards Roy.
“I´m sorry, your boyfriend and I have gotten into an argument. I didn´t mean to hold him up so long,” she apologized.
Oh, if his standards were a bit lower, Roy could have kissed her. He had finally found a tolerant someone with a few functioning brain cells who made absolutely no big deal about this. Finally. Someone who treated the possessive display of affection from one man towards another like it was an everyday occurrence. Nothing to gripe about, stare at, curse, or be offended about. No rejection, and no overenthusiastic support that would probably draw more attention to them than Edward cared for.
Instead of kissing the woman, he sent a charming smile her way and quickly assured the artist that his comment was not meant as a reprimand. He didn´t correct her wrong assumption about the ‘boyfriend’ part, wanting to make sure she knew that he and Ed were not a just two friends hanging out together.
“No need to apologize,” Roy said. “I glad he´s enjoying himself. I was afraid he might not like my plans for our date.“ Which was not complete bullshit. He did want Ed to enjoy the exhibition, but he hadn´t been afraid that Edward wouldn’t like it. Even if the former Fullmetal considered the paintings crap, the exhibition would at least provid them with a suitable topic for conversation.
The slight snort coming from Ed proved one of his suspicions true. The blond obviously knew that Roy Mustang didn´t date without a plan, and likely with second and third backup plans. The Colonel was sure that the younger man would soon enough join the discussion, and would probably question him later about why Roy didn´t deny that Ed was his boyfriend, as he had to Alphonse. For the moment it appeared that Edward was content to remain silent however, and when the artist in front of them started to ramble again, Roy looked down to his date.
And found Ed staring across the room with a strange expression on his face.
Roy followed Ed’s gaze to a pair of dark brown eyes staring back that quickly looked away. The Colonel was sure that the man had been in every other part of the exhibition with them, but so far had done his best to appear interested only in the art. Looking more closely Roy immediately recognized a soldier in civilian clothes, and he was sure Ed did as well. The man could be one of Maes’ spies, but it was equally possible that he was just an off duty soldier spending his spare time at the museum.
Roy tightened his grip around Ed to get the other alchemist’s attention, then set about distracting the blond from the possible surveillance. It wasn’t difficult. All it took was for Roy to challenge Edward’s opinion of the painting the oblivious artist in front of them was talking about.
“Would you like another piece of cake, Al?” Gracia asked, her pleasant voice warm with motherly affection.
For a moment Alphonse was reminded of his own mother, and was surprised at how that memory didn´t hurt as much as it used to. Maybe it was true what people said, that time actually did heal all wounds. And maybe it was just the scotch Mister Hughes had poured for them both. Either way, feeling comfortable and warm, but also stuffed like a Christmas goose, he smiled back at the woman and shook his head.
“It’s delicious, but I don´t think I can eat one more piece.” And honestly, even before his last piece, he had felt stuffed. That was when Mr. Hughes had suggested a little drink, claiming that it would help them to digest all the food.
And Al had accepted. Pride was part of the reason he had done so. First Mustang, now Hughes. Al remembered two years ago when they had thought him to be too young to drink with them. Now he was obviously deemed to be of an acceptable drinking age. It felt good to be treated as an equal.
That was also why Al didn´t protest the refill, even though the strong alcohol felt like liquid fire running down his throat. He’d had time to get used to it though, and now it felt more like a rather pleasant tingle. Al felt slightly lightheaded, and really comfortable and relaxed.
“So.” Mr. Hughes said and eyed him affectionately. “I´ve heard that you´re staying at your brother’s place.”
Al nodded. Roy must have mentioned that. At the thought of the Colonel Al felt himself turn beet red, thinking about what he had accidentally witnessed the previous evening. Then he downed his freshly poured drink in one go.
Gracia, who had been placing a piece of cake in front of her husband, paused. Hughes stared.
Al coughed, not noticing the bloodhound-like expression that appeared on his host’s face, nor the glare it earned from the hostess.
Al was also beyond noticing the silent ‘no’ Gracia mouthed to her husband, or her long suffering sigh when that special, rather maniacal gleam made its appearance in Hughes’ green eyes.
But even if he had, it was too late. Nothing could save Al now.
“If he is wasted tomorrow, you will regret it,” Gracia whispered to Mr. Hughes, who only sent an innocent smile her way.
Mr. Hughes was smiling a smile that appeared utterly and absolutely honest. Mrs. Hughes didn’t appear to trust it one bit. Alphonse smiled too, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Then he looked around for Elycia, but didn’t see her.
Then Al remembered that Elycia had been sent to her friend’s place right after supper. The girl had been bitterly disappointed to leave, but the sleep-over had been arranged for quite some time and it would have been rude to cancel. Mrs. Hughes had seemed relieved that her daughter was leaving for the evening, saying something about Elycia being his daughter, and Gracia was not so sure the girl wouldn´t try to take advantage of Alphonse. Al was puzzled by that comment, but his thoughts were spinning around in his head, and it was hard to hold on to them. He let go of his confusion and it disappeared.
Gracia sighed and gave Al an affectionate pat on the shoulder, bidding him good night. He thought he heard her say something about this being painful and not wanting to stay and witness it, but he couldn’t be sure.
Soon enough the young alchemist forgot her words, and was once again lost in his alcoholic haze.
Completely unaware that the same underhanded tactic Roy Mustang intended to use on him was being practiced on his brother, Ed appeared to be lost in thought as he picked on the beer bottle’s label with his flesh hand. The little café they were sitting in was placed in the garden of the mansion, and having gone through half of the exhibition, Ed had not complained when Roy had announced his desire for a snack. The rather spare amount of food Roy had consumed that day had left him a bit hungry, but his first objective still remained: getting alcohol into Ed with the hope that it would loosen him up.
However, while that part of the plan had worked perfectly fine, it seemed the younger man’s mood had taken on an almost nostalgic turn. Instead of sitting down across from Roy, he had taken a seat beside him, and now as the blond alchemist was staring at one of the paintings across the yard with an expression Roy couldn`t really place.
When Edward had been silent for too long, Roy decided that it was time to pry. While he wasn´t sure if the young man’s mood was good or bad, the older knew the painting was responsible for it.
“What does it remind you of?” the Colonel wanted to know.
No reaction. Roy allowed himself to spare a few moments watching the unusually quiet blond. The sky was cloudy and Roy realized that he missed the sunlight. He was sure the view would be simply stunning – Edward in bright daylight would likely outshine the sun - and quickly made plans to take Ed to the park for a picnic one day while it was still warm enough.
“Ed?” he tried again, this time louder. Then a thought came to his mind and he smirked.
And snapped right in front of Ed’s face the way people usually did when they wanted to get the attention of someone lost in thought.
“Fuck.” The quiet curse was barely acknowledged when Ed almost fell off the bench at the sudden noise and the sharp smell of flint.
The culprit generously leaned in and caught the man’s arm before the younger alchemist could completely lose his balance. Instead of gratitude for saving Edward from an ungraceful collision with the tiled patio, all the Colonel earned was a glare.
“What the fuck was that for?” Ed grumbled and shoved the hand on his arm away.
Instantly, Roy’s face took on an expression of surprise and complete innocence. “I´m sorry, I didn´t know you wanted to sit on the floor.” He smirked at the impatient and sour look Edward sent his way, and before the man could answer with a few surely colorful words, he quickly continued. “But since you seem to like sitting on the ground, I´m sure you wouldn´t mind a little picnic sometimes soon?”
Edward looked torn between staying mad about being startled and accepting the invitation, and Roy immediately began to make picnic plans. He´d love to do it tomorrow, but his currently chaotic life was making it difficult. In form of an empty fridge. Damn. Shopping just got more urgent.
It was quite disturbing to discover that Edward was not the only Elric who had gained some interrogation skills. But unlike his older brother, who seemed to have gained a sudden, very excessive overdose of paranoia, Alphonse clearly was a natural when it came to reading body language and getting information. He had a long way to go before he became a master in this art, but seemed to be doing quite well at reading between the lines of Roy’s behavior, for an amateur. Al did miss the more subtle hints and cues that a seasoned investigator like Maes would pick up on, but seemed to realize when he had missed something, which was the key to gaining those skills. He lacked life experience too however, and that was probably the reason why he read motivations into Mustang’s behavior that clearly were not there. He was not naïve enough to believe Roy wasn’t ultimately out to get into his brother’s pants though. That particular part of the discussion had been a very successful path toward getting Al drunk.
Alphonse still had a lot to learn about dealing with an experienced interrogator. The boy was too obviously trusting and open. Maes thought he should feel a bit ashamed about using such an underhanded tactic, but on the other hand, the boy really needed to be introduced to the real world. That glassy eyed stare by the end of his first drink and the tipsy grin by the end of the second left no doubt that boy had absolutely no resistance to alcohol. Who knew what might happen if the younger Elric ever managed to get drunk in an environment less safe than the house of a friend?
And honestly, Maes – and a lot of other people he could name, Roy included - had participated in more than just one party where someone had been deliberately liquored up enough to guarantee the rest of the drunken revelers plenty of fun. The someone usually ended up being the person for whom the party was being held, but not necessarily. And even without a specific reason to celebrate, drinking games were often part of a friendly after hours get together at the local bar. Sooner or later the drinking became less important than whatever game the drinkers became engaged in. And boy, Maes could remember some really fun games, usually at the expense of the poor and unfortunate wasted soul who managed to get really drunk first. Everybody had finally agreed that they would never, absolutely never ever mention Falman’s attempted striptease on top of the table, but there had been few situations that took longer to be forgotten or lived down. Thankfully Falman’s alcohol damaged balance had prevented the attending people from getting an eyeful of what was underneath the trousers he had stumbled over.
But in the end, it was rare for the drunkard to not be embarrassed the day after, as Maes was sure would be the case tomorrow when Al remembered how open he had been this evening. Still, this experience might help Al to hold his liquor better. It actually might benefit the boy.
At the moment, Alphonse’ inebriated state was certainly benefitting Maes.
The scotch had been far too heavy for Al, and since Maes didn’t want the boy passing out before he got the information he was after, they had switched to beer. Al was ridiculously talkative when he was drunk. Should the younger Elric ever attempt to join the military he definitely would need to build up a resistance to alcohol, or all an enemy interrogator would have to do was get him wasted and Al would spill any classified information he knew.
In this case however, this evaluation was not exactly fair. Al was clearly suffering from an ‘I did not want to see that ever’ trauma. When Al admitted to having seen far more of the Colonel than he ever wanted to see, Hughes felt a measure of pity for the blond. After all, one of the men he had been talking about was this brother, and the other... Hughes always wondered if the Elrics saw Roy as some kind of father figure. Clearly, at least Ed did not.
However, as the amount of alcohol in Al’s blood grew, the descriptions became rather … graphic. And while he did not offer Alphonse any more scotch, Hughes felt no reluctance to help himself to more of the stronger liquor. Good lord, who would have thought Al might witness … that?
Sadly, Roy did not get an answer out of Ed regarding a possible picnic. When the first raindrops started to fall, the conversation shifted to the less-than-picnic-suitable weather as both he and the blond hurried back into the building. Thankfully, the artists had taken the weather into consideration, and the few paintings that had been on display outside were water resistant oil paintings which were quickly brought inside to safety.
And while Roy didn´t get an answer to his picnic question, the blond answered another as a man passed by, carrying the painting Ed had been looking at.
“It looks like something Al and I did as children,” he said.
Mustang just looked at him. The knowledge that the Elric boys took to alchemy very early was nothing new. Roy looked closer at the painting as it was placed on an easel inside the exhibition hall. It was one of the more abstractly artistic pieces.
“We made a mess out of the living room wall when Al was still a toddler.” Ed continued, amusement in his tone.
Roy moved closer to the piece as he examined it, working to figure out what the artist might have had in mind, not immediately recognizing any alchemical content. For a moment he wondered how that painting made it into this exhibition, until he began to recognize not only runes, but also something of a defining circle disguised by slashes of darker color obscuring large areas of the canvas. Roy had to agree that the comparison to a child’s mess did kind of fit this particular painting. I looked as if an array had been painted first and young children had been turned loose to embellish it.
“Huh,” Roy said noncommittally, not really sure what he thought about Edward’s explanation. He couldn´t quite imagine Hohenheim drawing a circle on his living room wall, but surely Ed could not have drawn an array at that age. Or could he? Looking back to the blond, Roy couldn´t help but ask.
“Just what did you use as paint?”
He instantly regretted the questioned when Ed’s fond look of nostalgia faded.
“Al’s baby food of course,” Ed told him. “We did it when Mom went to answer the door. It didn´t take us long.” Then he paused at the relieved look on Roy’s face. “What did you think we used?“ Then the younger man caught on to the Colonel’s line of thought and grimaced . “Eww. Don´t even think about that!”
Grinning slightly, Roy only shrugged. “Well, you said Al was a toddler, and I know for a fact that some children do messy experiments with their diaper contents.” When he noticed the way Ed was eyeing him, he quickly added, “Not me of course.” The Colonel cleared his throat and continued. “But I’m pretty sure I can name at least one occasion when Hughes was not so proud of his daughter’s accomplishments … or maybe not.” Shaking his head, Roy pointed back to the picture. “You like it?”
There were probably not enough alchemic elements in there for Ed to theorize about, but seeing as the blond seemed to have been pleased by the particular memory it brought to mind, Roy took a chance.
Quite relieved over the change of topic, Edward turned back towards the painting. “I guess I do. Kind of,” he answered, drawing the words out.
“Why don´t you buy it?” The Colonel suggested, having already decided to address his next objective – keeping Ed in Central. “I think it would fit the décor of you apartment very nicely. The place definitely needs some more decoration if you’re going to stay in town. And with the amount of work the military has for alchemist, you won´t run out of work anytime soon. You should make yourself comfortable in your home.”
The younger man blinked in surprise, then started to bite his lower lip. Was he still contemplating Cameron? He´d better not.
“Having something you ‘kind of like’ there would be a good first step. And having someone you kind of like there might be a very good second step,” Roy argued, deliberately putting a good bit of amusement into the quote. And yes, that ‘someone’-part was a low blow, using Edward’s friends – and himself- as bribery, but the man definitely needed to get it into Ed’s thick skull that he shouldn’t consider leaving Central except for some vacation time in between jobs.
Ed raised one eyebrow and stared at him. Perhaps in response to the over-obvious tactic Roy was using to encourage him to stay in town, a very slight curling had appeared at the corner of the young man’s mouth. The Colonel decided that he liked it.