AN: Another huge break o.O I´m sorry it took so long again. However, I don’t expect RL to get this demanding again anytime soon so hopefully, the situation will improve ^^ There's a ´note I´d like to make beside the big fat THANK YOU to Ca11iope who once again did an amazing job :D
I´ve been asked about Ed´s age. Now, this has not been mentioned specifically before because I wanted to have some room for planning. But for those who want to know now: at the end of CoS, Ed is 18 years old. I´ve mentioned before that this has been ‘a few years’ ago in this fic. Meaning, roughly three or four years. This makes Ed 21 now. We´re getting closer to the end of the year in this fic (the weather is getting colder). Meaning, it´s roughly autumn so Ed´s 22nd birthday is not that far away ^^ hope that clears things up a bit.
Finally, enjoy the chapter :D
Chapter 36: Standstill and Motion
Still Day 21
Hughes stared at his best friend, and Roy could literally see the wheels turning inside his head. Then Maes reached some conclusion, because his gaze hardened and his lips thinned. It was not an expression Roy ever remembered seeing on the man’s face, at least not directed towards him. At that moment Roy knew this was going to get nasty.
Maes got straight to the point. “So. You finally remembered. I wondered if you ever would.”
Roy didn’t try to play dumb, or in any way deny his recollection of the romantic encounter with his best friend, and Maes expression darkened even further. Roy opened his mouth, hoping to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further, to keep Hughes’ verbal attack from taking this to a place neither of them wanted to go, but the other man interrupted before Roy could speak.
“Stop right there, Mustang.”
Maes may have been the lower ranking officer, but his words were clearly an order, and Roy knew better than to pull rank on his friend now. He bit back his own angry words, his only consolation the hope that he might finally get some honest answers from the man.
They likely would not be polite answers, however.
Hughes observed him another few seconds, and when he was sure Roy was listening, he took a few breaths to calm himself.
“You’ve remembered what happened at the academy, and probably what I confessed, and now you think I’m objecting to this thing you have going with Ed because you think I’m either still hurt, or I’m jealous. Well, before you get all tangled up in any more ridiculous theories, I will lay out a few simple facts for you.”
Maes’ attempt at becoming calmer had obviously not been very successful and the Colonel had to bite his lip not to react to the ‘ridiculous theories’ statement. He was a damn good judge of character, and one hell of a politician and tactician. His conclusions were logical, otherwise he would not have come to them.
Maes ticked his facts off on his fingers. “Number one: You are an idiot,” Hughes stated with great conviction. Roy was about to ask why he should sit here listening to insults, but Maes continued. “And number two: you couldn´t hold a candle to my lovely wife and daughter.”
Roy blinked, but the other man kept talking.
“Seriously, Roy. My beautiful Gracia is way out of your league. She’s just amazing. Beautiful, caring, loving, and the perfect mother for my little angel Elicia. My two girls are the light of my life. I would be nothing without them.”
Mustang blinked again and took a deep breath. This conversation was familiar and surreal at the same time. He was not sure if he felt insulted or relieved. Part of him expected Maes to haul out a stack of pictures as evidence for his claim.
“And just to make it clear,” Hughes added with a hard edge to his voice. “Against that ‘boring little housewife’…” Maes shot Roy’s earlier words right back at him, “… you can´t even compete. Whatever was between us back then, that I thought was mutual, it was nothing compared to the love I feel for my wife. You might be the eminently charming Flame Alchemist, Roy,” now heavy sarcasm was added to the tone, “but next to the love I feel for her, what I felt for you back then was nothing more than… a crush.”
For a few moments, there was silence.
Maes was defending his family, but it still stank to be verbally downplayed like that. Roy felt that he had a right to feel a good bit of indignation over the way Maes compared him to his wife, and how completely he was dismissed in this comparison. Yes, Gracia was a lovely woman and a good mother; Roy really liked her. She was no genius, but she was intelligent – nowhere near his own or Edward’s league of course, but she was not stupid.
But she was also … boring. No ambition, no challenge, no fire.
Beauty – and it seems a lot of other qualities- lay in the eye of the beholder. Hughes clearly valued different qualities than Roy did. Roy was not questioning Maes’ choice of partner. Quite the contrary in fact. Maes was doing all the questioning of that nature here. But telling Maes that aside from being a pretty woman, a nurturing mother, and an excellent housewife, that Gracia sucked badly most likely wouldn´t help the situation, and there was no gain in hurting the man by insulting his precious soulmate.
So Roy stayed quiet, keeping his nasty opinions to himself. However, if Hughes continued the discussion this way, he would leave. The man had made his point, and Roy would not sit there and listen to further insults.
“Believe it or not, Roy Mustang, the whole world does not revolve around you,” Hughes said, sourly. “You might be an egocentric narcissist at times, but when it really matters you’re usually able to accurately judge a situation. You know I´m married. You know I love my wife.” Hughes huffed. “You´re the one who’s always telling me I´m obsessed with my family! How you could have lost yourself in such a crazy theory is beyond me. You´re usually smarter than that, and this just proves my point. You’re not yourself. You´re acting out, Roy. You need to, I don’t know, maybe take a few days off work and distance yourself from all of this. You need to step back and put everything into the proper perspective,” the bespectacled man suggested solemnly.
Despite the undoubtedly well meant advice coming from his best friend, Mustang immediately tensed up. Hughes saw it and frowned, knowing that this wasn’t over yet.
“Some distance…proper perspective...” The Colonel repeated the words slowly, but the contemplative tone to his voice was not genuine. It was a hidden challenge and he knew Maes had picked it up. Both men were masters at reading between the lines, particularly when it came to each other.
Maes’ believed that Roy’s actions and accusations were all a result of the bet’s terms, this damnable forced abstention. Remembering their close encounter and what Maes had confessed, Roy’s current ‘thing’ with Edward - it was all just a blip in an otherwise stable personality, easily solved by a little bit of distance. From everything. Including Ed.
Fuck the man for not letting this topic rest.
The Colonel didn´t need to voice his thoughts. He knew his posture gave away his position. Hughes sighed.
“Roy…” he started, but this time, it was Mustang who beat him to it.
“Save it, you´re repeating yourself, and it’s getting old,” the alchemist interrupted. “You may have a point regarding your wife and the past, but that doesn’t mean you’re right when it comes to Edward,” he insisted stubbornly. “I´m not going to end this just because you think I might be leading Ed on. I know I´m not, so this argument holds no value, Hughes. You think I need some perspective? Take your own advice.” Other than telling his friend to shut the fuck up, this was the most direct way Roy could find to advise Maes that this discussion was over.
Maes did not take that advice. “Roy, just think about this,” he almost pleaded. “Unless you’re will to admit you are madly in love with him, there is no way this is going to end well. And even if you are, it would still be like playing tennis with a nitroglycerine ball and not expecting it to blow up.”
Roy stared at the other man, mouth opened to respond, but nothing came out. Not because of Maes’ rude simile for what he perceived as a toxic relationship, but for … the other part. Roy’s thoughts had collided with a solid wall. The wall was painted with all his recent mistakes and misjudgments, including the accusation he just leveled at Maes, which suddenly appeared ridiculously farfetched. He felt like an idiot. An idiot who was not able to trust his own judgment right now.
As much as he hated to admit it, it appeared that Maes was right. For all the wrong reasons, but still right. Roy realized that he actually did need to reassess this situation. Rethink it, analyze it from different perspectives. Find possible flaws in his current mind-set and behavior. He should be able to do this logically; it was something he was good at. And it needed to be done. He couldn´t argue a case without being sure of his own position, particularly to himself.
So he let his jaw snap shut without saying a word, and beside him Hughes grimaced.
“Yeah, that´s what I thought,” the man said, clearly disturbed by what he saw as proof Roy agreed that he was heading for disaster, but determined to go there anyway.
“I-“ Mustang cut himself off. Arguing was getting them nowhere. “You´re right,” he finally said, and Hughes looked up in surprise.
“I do need to think this through,” Mustang continued before the man could get over his sudden agreement. The alchemist felt no desire to stay in this car with his meddling friend any longer, thrashing in the circular confines of this unsolvable difference of opinion. Opening his seatbelt, Roy continued to talk, not giving his friend a chance to interrupt. “I think a walk home would be a good start. Get some fresh air, sort my thoughts.”
Opening the door, he stepped out into the cool air, leaving a speechless Maes Hughes behind.
In the Hughes family kitchen, Alphonse sat at the table, clutching a cup of chamomile tea. Gracia had suggested it to sooth his still rebelling stomach, but so far it hadn’t helped. Dinner was simmering on the stove, and Gracia was moving gracefully about, preparing a sumptuous dessert. Al wished he could appreciate it.
Both looked up when the front door opened, and both instantly frowned when they noticed two things. Hughes had not brought Mustang with him, as he had said he would. And the Investigations officer looked irritated and very disturbed.
“Maes?” The fact that Gracia Hughes did not call her husband by one of their many, adoring nicknames was very telling.
Slowly, Alphonse placed the still half filled teacup back on the table. Clearly, something was going on, but he had the feeling that whatever it was, the married couple would need some time on their own to sort it out. Right now Alphonse felt the urge to check on his brother and make sure the older Elric was alright. The moment he noticed that Mustang was not here as expected, sudden worry hit him. He was pretty sure the Colonel had been with Edward yesterday, and even though he did not care for the details - in fact, he would do his best to never see any details of that again – there was a possibility that the man had spent the night with Ed. Considering the amount of unresolved tension between the two…
However, from what Alphonse remembered of yesterday, Mister Hughes had been very curious about the couple, if one dared to call them that. Even drunk the young man had had the distinct impression that he was being gently cross-examined. Today the older man had been in a hurry to bring Mustang home for dinner, and the Colonel had most likely had been found at his brother´s place. Al was almost positive Mr. Hughes’ odd behavior had something to do with yesterday’s discussion about Ed’s and Mustang’s not quite relationship. Now he had returned alone and in a foul mood. While Alphonse knew his brother was more than capable of achieving that level of irritation in Mr. Hughes all on his own, Al was fairly confident that that was not the case this time. Whatever had happened – if not a direct confrontation with Ed – had to be related to the ‘not-relationship’ his brother and the Colonel had going.
“Oh my goodness! I´m sorry, but I forgot I promised to call Winry,” he said, interrupting the worried woman who was torn between her duties as a wife and hostess. Standing up, Alphonse smiled innocently at the pair. “I need to talk with brother before I call her.” He gave a quick bow to the married couple. “I´m sorry to leave so suddenly, but it wouldn´t be nice to let Winry wait any longer and –“ Not able to think of anymore polite excuses, Al decided to just go for it and blow. Quickly moving towards the door, he shouted out a, “Thank you for the tea!” added by a quick “Goodbye!” which was half swallowed by the front door.
There, the minimal amount of manners had been provided. Now he could hurry to his brother and try to find out what the hell was going on with this relationship of his. And that’s what it was, whether the Colonel and his brother wanted to admit it or not. Al was not going to dance around it any longer, and his brother and Mustang should just grow up and call things by their proper names.
Then he almost stumbled over his own feet when realization hit him.
Mentally, Alphonse winced as he remembered that he really had promised to call Winry.
And should have done so yesterday.
“I am never touching alcohol again,” he groaned.
Roy silently closed his front door behind him and leaned against it. He had expected to feel better after a quiet walk to his own home, but that wasn’t the case. Ironically, the Flame Alchemist felt completely burned out.
The conversation in the car kept replaying over and over again in his mind, and Roy knew he needed to straighten out his thoughts. And he needed to do it fast. He was making mistakes based on faulty assumptions, and that just wasn’t his style. The only thing he could safely say for sure at this point was that the current situation had become one big, fucked up mess.
Pushing off the door, Roy wandered into the living room. He couldn’t think clearly with the discussion he’d had with Maes in the car stuck on replay in his head. He had to settle down. There were about a million questions he had to answer, all of which impacted on his personal and professional state of affairs, many of which rendered consequences he did not want to face right now. Tomorrow’s schedule promised to be challenging. In fact, the least tiring period would likely prove to be his scheduled gym session.
Theoretically, taking a nice bath and catching up on some sleep would be Roy’s best course of action for the evening. Practically however, he knew that plan would be doomed to failure. There was too much on his mind to give him any chance of falling asleep, and it was still too early even attempt it. Instead, he made a beeline towards the bar and poured himself a glass of scotch. Drinking himself into oblivion sadly wasn´t an option either, because for one, killer headaches and contemplating Edward Elric did not mix in a good way; and two, he couldn’t afford to lower his inhibitions while the bet was running its course. Who knew what he might do in a tipsy, reckless state of mind?
Shooting himself was a strangely appealing option right now.
On the other hand, Roy had somehow managed to get this far, and to shoot himself now without enjoying the one thing he kept denying himself would be unproductive, stupid, and just plain unmanly. A man who pointed a gun at himself was not a man; he was an idiot. An idiot who gave up just because he couldn´t handle the stress of being unable to get laid like he desperately wanted to. There. That sounded stupid enough in his head without being carved into a tomb stone. And why he was even thinking about this was stupid too.
But to be fair, not getting laid was really just part of his problem. It was the combination of current events that was starting to wear him down, and that damn bet was playing well into it. Sitting down on the couch with his drink, Roy leaned back and closed his eyes. He would give himself half an hour of rest before he attempted to work on his alchemical research again. He hoped that would help to get his mind on another track before he could start to look at things more objectively.
The moment Al entered the apartment, he felt the urge to vomit increase exponentially.
“Brother… your apartment stinks of eggs and bacon.” It was enough to turn his already churning stomach upside down, and his already pale coloring to a sickly green.
And that was the only thing he managed to say, because Edward came out of the kitchen with a cup of freshly made, highly aromatic coffee. The bitter-sweet aroma hit Alphonse like a punch in the gut.
The older Elric only had time to blink at the sudden greenish tint to his brother’s face before Alphonse almost ran him over in his sprint to the bathroom.
While heaving up the contents of his stomach, Al noted that Ed’s toilet appeared to be surprisingly clean, which Al certainly appreciated considering how close it was to his face. He marveled that his brother might do such a mundane chore so thoroughly.
He also appreciated the fact that Edward held his hair back, and even made him some herbal tea once Alphonse had finished decorating the toilet.
What came next however, was not appreciated at all, because this was his brother, not his mother, and he shouldn´t feel like such a child under the heavy weight of Edward’s disapproving glare.
“So... why the fuck are you hungover?” Ed demanded to know. “Didn´t you spend yesterday at the Hughes´?”
Alphonse could have denied having a hangover and simply claimed to have eaten something bad. It would have been a lame attempt to avoid the inevitable however, since both brothers knew that Gracia Hughes would never serve anything inedible. And well… the smell itself was a dead giveaway.
“I did.” Al fidgeted. Usually, he was able to weasel his way out of trouble very well, particularly with Edward, but he still felt queasy, his headache had returned, and his brother’s empathy regarding his condition had ended the moment it was clear that Al would be able to keep the tea down.
It was not going to be a fair discussion, but Alphonse still refused to let himself be treated like a troublesome child.
“It´s not a big deal, brother. I just had a bit too much to drink. Happens to all of us.” Closing his eyes, he sighed and leaned back. Not the best start, but not the worst either. When he opened his eyes again, he barely caught Ed’s strange, almost unnoticeable frown, before it vanished.
Al felt like cursing. He knew if he were in better shape, he would be able to chase down what caused that frown. Perhaps Ed had remembered a similar experience, caught in the act of having drunk a bit too much. Maybe it had been last night on his date with Mustang, or maybe at another time. It seemed to imply something deeper though. Unfortunately, Ed was rather tight lipped about the time he had been away from this world. Al found Edward’s lack of trust in him frustrating, because there was definitely something bothering the older brother, and all Alphonse really wanted to do was help.
Hmm. So Ed wanted to know how Al got drunk, did he? This hangover might just be a blessing in disguise.
It was worth a shot.
“Equivalent exchange, brother. I will tell you everything that happened last night if you do the same.” Al sat back in his chair and folded his hands over his rumbling stomach. “How was your date with the Colonel?”
“What exactly did you expect?” Gracia demanded to know.
Mr. Hughes looked up and stared at his wife. He had told her everything. About the bet, the various attempts to influence it, about the sudden unsettling development and his subsequent surprise when he found out Roy was dating Edward. Gracia knew he could see her disapproval and even a rare hint of anger in his wife’s lovely eyes, and probably realized that he would not get out of this easily.
Being a patient woman, Gracia Hughes had listened to her husband as he told her about his opinions and fears. She noticed how he tried to analyze her frown, not able to judge the source of it. It was so very rare for the woman to be upset with him; he likely couldn´t tell if her disapproval was meant for him, Roy, or her unspoken opinion regarding the whole sordid situation.
Either way, Maes would be confidant knowing that even though she might not approve of all of his actions, she would stay at his side. For better or worse. How could Roy not see the value of that?
Unlike Roy’s reaction to Maes’ opinion of his behavior, Gracia’s question did not rile him. She knew he wondered about her question however, as he was sure that his beloved wife understood him very well and was able to gauge his intentions. He hadn´t held back on reporting his own words when he related his confrontation with Roy in the car.
Mrs. Hughes sighed at her husband’s questioning glance. Really, for such an intelligent and sensitive man, her husband could be quite clueless at times.
“You’ve known Roy for years,” she elaborated. “What did you expect him to say when you asked him to admit to being ‘madly in love’,” the woman quoted. “It hardly sounds like something Roy would admit, whether it was true or not.”
A faint flicker of guilt appeared in Maes green eyes before they sharpened with suspicion. “It sounds like you think he really is serious about Ed.”
Oh, the things she could tell him right now… but even though she trusted Riza´s opinion, Gracia was not a woman who spread gossip or betray confidences, not even to her doting husband. And besides, it would be in vain. Most men just didn´t believe in a woman´s intuition. While she was sure Maes wouldn´t dismiss Hawkeye’s observation outright, he, like most men, would want observable proof to justify it, and if he hadn’t seen the obvious after confronting his friend in the car, then he’d just have to wait and watch the relationship develop.
And of course, why meddle with things that already progressing in a pleasant direction? It was a shame her husband, the Investigation Officer, failed to recognize that.
“I´m just saying that I can´t remember him ever talking about anything romantic,” Gracia hedged. “To be completely fair, as long as Roy isn’t prodded into sharing, the man even keeps his dating practices to himself.” Honestly, she had heard Havoc brag about far worse, whenever he’d been fortunate enough to have someone share his bed. “You’ve been friends with him for years, honey. Don’t you find it strange that someone as articulate as Roy can´t find the words to describe this ‘thing’ he has going with Ed?” As an attentive wife, Gracia couldn’t resist giving him this tiny hint. “No matter what, there is clearly something going on between them. Something unusual enough for Roy to not know what to call it. Don´t you agree?”
With a satisfied smile, she took note of the intense, thoughtful look in her husband’s eyes. There. The considerate and intelligent man she had married was back. And once he figured out what was really going on, she would praise him for the conclusions he had reached – all by himself, of course – and things would return to normal. And if not, she would have to drop a few more hints to guide him until he finally caught on to what she and Hawkeye – and any other woman with eyes to see - already knew.
Sighing softly, the woman shook her head, but smiled contently as she prepared the cucumbers she wanted to pickle. Really, they managed to build strategies and plan years ahead. They conquered countries, fought wars, invented wonders. But when it came to matters of the heart, men - even sensitive and emotional ones like her husband - could sometimes act like their IQs were somewhere around the Neanderthal level.
If Al were to guess, he would say that right now he knew more about his brother than anyone else, even considering the few missing years. True, the Colonel probably knew a good bit about Ed’s life on the other side of the Gate, but Al was content to say that the man definitely knew less about Edward’s romantic life, even though – or maybe because – he was part of it. It felt nice to know that there was still something his brother trusted him with that no one else knew about. Al was even more pleased that Ed so clearly valued his opinion as well, despite Alphonse lack of experience regarding relationships.
After the trip to the underground city Al had taken with Roy and the confrontation with Edward that followed, the brothers had finally talked. A lot. They had talked the whole night away, about the past, their journey, and all the many things Al no longer remembered. But the simple facts weren’t all Alphonse wanted. No, Al wanted more. He wanted to become part of his brother’s life again. He didn´t want a simple travelogue of their search for the philosopher’s stone alone. He wanted to know how his brother felt about their journey, what he thought about the people he had met, who he felt close to and why. Al wanted to talk about the things he knew close siblings talked about.
He asked about Ed’s plans for the future, about friends he had made, and about his research. Al even asked about drinking, which he had just been introduced to.
And at some point, he had asked about Ed’s love life. It was reasonable to assume that his brother would be experienced in such matters, since Edward was the older brother and Alphonse had lost a few years to the Gate. He had expected Ed to mention one or two men and perhaps a girl or two. Judging from what Al had unwillingly witnessed in the kitchen that day, it was pretty clear that his brother was by no means a blushing virgin, and Al was curious about how and when – and with whom - this had happened. But the moment he approached the subject of the man – or at least Al thought it had been a man – who introduced Ed to sex, his brother became tense and closed off. Not wanting to scare off his brother when they were finally beginning to speak openly with each other again, Alphonse resigned himself to remaining in the dark about that for the moment. So instead of prying into Edward’s first relationship, he carefully asked about his brother’s last relationship, and finally his patience (and his status as brother) was rewarded.
Although Ed was not aware of it, Alphonse had actually spoken with, or rather argued with, that particular former boyfriend. According to Edward, he had met Howard Feigling, an alchemist from the east, not long after he had returned to Amestris. They had worked together on a number of projects in the eastern townships. One thing had led to another, and eventually they had ended up not just sharing accommodations on the road, but sharing a bed as well. As things progressed, they also started getting together sporadically between projects; a neat, tidy friendship with benefits. But Ed being Ed, life never stayed neat and tidy, and things got complicated as their bond had deepened. He hadn’t given Alphonse any details, but Ed admitted that the relationship had not being an easy one. Sometimes it was due to the nature of their careers, when a project took one or the other away for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes a new shared project forced them together when they needed time apart due to an argument. And they argued a lot. Even so, there was a certain fondness in Ed´s voice that betrayed deeper feelings when he talked about the other man, affection that could have become something more, given the chance. And it appeared to have been mutual.
Edward had finally decided to break it off. Though a very private person himself, Ed was uncomfortable that his lover flatly refused to acknowledge that their friendship had crossed the line into full fledged relationship territory. Not only did his former lover vehemently deny to his closest friends and relatives that he and Ed were anything more than colleagues, he had even dated a few girls to throw them off the scent.
Al knew his brother had been hurt by his former boyfriend’s behavior, but he also knew that Edward could sympathize with him to some degree. Alphonse understood the reasoning behind the other alchemist’s actions as well, though he did not agree with the other man´s behavior. Al would never agree with something that caused Edward pain.
Feigling had realized his mistake when Edward told him it was over, and had apologized. He still refused to changes his ways however, and had tried to reason with Ed, hoping to change his mind.
And when that didn’t work, Alphonse had received a very strange phone call in Resembool one evening. His brother never suspected that Al was already aware of Ed´s taste for men, and that was just the way Alphonse wanted it. He never told Ed about his telephone conversation with Howard Feigling, and had no intention of ever doing so.
Involving Edward’s little brother had been a big mistake on Feigling‘s part. Alphonse Elric was probably one of the most compassionate and understanding human beings in existence, but the moment that moron claimed there was nothing bad about hiding his relationship with Ed, as if Edward were someone he should be ashamed of - Al had snapped. His brother was not some kind of… mistress, useful in the bedroom and ignored otherwise. He could easily understand that the other alchemist was worried about how his friends and family might react to his relationship with another man. But if he wanted to keep things secret and stay in that damn closet, he shouldn’t do it in such a way as to hurt and belittle his lover. Alphonse Elric’s big brother was not a dirty little secret.
At first, Alphonse had been appalled to discover that his brother hadn´t objected to keeping his relationship hidden, that he had not protested when his lover downplayed or outright denied his relationship with Ed the moment so much as a whisper about the two alchemists sleeping arrangements was heard. Edward was so passionate and vivid; it was hard to imagine he might agree to such secrecy and treatment.
It was at that moment, standing in the parlor in Granny Pinako’s house listening to Edward’s ex-lover plead for Al’s help to get Edward back, when Al started to notice just how much his now grown up brother had changed; how secretive he had become and how easily he accepted the fact that there were things one needed to keep hidden. Even talking about it now, in Edward’s cozy kitchen in the middle of the night, Ed did not seem to see that it was alright to be open about such a relationship.
Thoughts of what might have caused such changes in his brother had stayed on Alphonse’ mind for a long time.
Since that phone call never happen as far as Ed was concerned, Alphonse had bided his time. When Ed finally told him about his past relationship with the other alchemist, Al couldn´t help but feel relieved and delighted that he was once again his brother’s chief confidant. Finding out that Ed had been offered a very lucrative position of employment in the small, out of the way town of Cameron, with a large, successful alchemy research and development firm, and that Feigling was also involved, Alphonse had advised Edward not to take it, mainly because that ex-boyfriend appeared to have something to do with it. Yes, the job offer appeared to be strictly career based, but Alphonse was sure that rekindling the relationship was on the ex’s mind, and Al knew Edward had contemplated both the job offer and the reconciliation.
Al couldn’t help but compare the actions of Edward´s previous boyfriend to the way the Colonel acted towards his brother. Mustang made no secret of his interest in Ed; to Al, it was blatantly obvious. If he hadn´t already known about his brother’s sexual preferences, he would have easily guessed from the way Edward and Mustang responded to each other. Maybe Al should have acted more surprised over ‘finding out’ his brother was gay and had a thing for his former superior, but Edward hadn’t seemed suspicions of Al’s reaction to the ‘discovery’. Alphonse had been somewhat taken aback that his brother and the Colonel were already beyond the ogling each other and flirting stage, but shocked as he had been by that display, he was happy he hadn´t given himself away. As a result, Al had been quick to advise Ed to stay in Central.
Still, if it were not for Mustang, he was sure his brother would have taken the offer and moved to Cameron. And maybe he would have taken both offers, the job and the personal one, which Alphonse thought would be a mistake, and a shame.
So far, Al had been content that his advice to stay in Central had been good. Having to hide your relationship and your love. Never able to let people see how you felt, and always be on alert. Never able to meet your lover´s family and expect to be welcomed on good terms. That was not the life Alphonse wished for his brother. He knew his sibling deserved better than secrets and lies. And although Mustang didn´t seem to have any shame being affectionate with Edward no matter where they were – even when it was the kitchen floor - it was becoming clear, thanks to Maes Hughes’ suspicious behavior, that the Colonel had to be harboring his share of secrets and lies as well.
For a moment Al wondered what was better: a lover who was absolutely honest to his partner but kept the whole relationship a big secret, or a lover who would be open about public displays of affection, but kept his thoughts and plans closed away from his partner.
Roy was a military man, so there were bound to be some secrets. But even so, Mustang had to be well practiced in keeping his private and professional lives separate. Now, after hearing about the morning´s events from Edward, things seemed mixed up. It bothered Alphonse as well that so far, the Colonel had barely hinted at how the relationship might progress in the future. The man could not even manage to call it a relationship.
Sorely tempted to question Mustang about his intentions, Al was determined to give the man a piece of his mind if nothing else. What stopped him was – of course – his brother. Alphonse had no idea why Edward had allowed the Colonel to leave with Mr. Hughes that morning without getting some answers out of him. It told Al that his brother placed an inordinate amount of trust in his former commanding officer, but he also wondered if whatever made Ed keep the details of his first and recent relationship a secret was influencing his brother´s decision now.
However, Al realized that as much as he wanted to protect his brother, he had to respect Edward´s privacy and wishes, especially when his brother softly, but firmly pointed out that this situation was his to deal with, and therefore didn´t concern anyone but him and Mustang.
The statement was not a warning per se, and obviously not meant to shut Al completely out of his private life. However, it was a clearly stated request to respect some boundaries. Sighing in defeat, Alphonse had promised his brother he would not interfere. Too much.
And as long as Mustang himself also respected some boundaries and did not hurt his brother, Al intended to keep that promise. But if the Colonel did hurt Ed, Ed could use all the powers of persuasion in the world, and it would not save Roy Mustang from finally getting himself fried.
Sunday had to be the worst of all days to be haunted by his concerns. On a weekday Roy could immerse himself in mind numbing paperwork as a distraction. On a Saturday he could go to the market and distract himself in the colorful bustle of busy shoppers. But on a Sunday?
After three unproductive hours, Roy gave up attempts to further his research. Alchemy made him think of Ed, and that was not the way to gain the distance he needed to start analyzing this logically.
He turned to housework to keep himself busy.
Two hours later, his stomach protested the lack of food and Roy prepared himself a light meal. Time crawled by at a slow pace, stretching into dreaded and senseless hours. Somehow, he managed to keep himself busy, although nothing helped to ease his mind. He couldn´t concentrate on any sophisticated literature and he refused to read some sappy fiction or romance novel, which he didn’t own anyway. His usual weekend activity, namely dating, didn´t even cross his mind. He didn´t have much laundry to do, but it did provide at least a bit of work, as did the alchemic repair of his bent shower equipment. He even tried to take a bath, but ten minutes was the most he managed to stay in the tub. Roy found himself unable to relax in the water, so instead, he took a quick shower.
When it was finally late enough to go to bed, Mustang was unbelievably relieved. The relief was short lived however. Three hours of rolling around in bed proved that sleep would not come easy. The burned out feeling had not faded, but at the same time he felt restless.
It was going to be a long night.
When his alarm clock rang, Roy had managed a total of two hours and thirty-eight minutes of sleep. Beyond exhausted, he forced himself out of bed. His morning routine was done in a mind numbed state of tiredness. On a positive note, even the general was too exhausted to demand anything from him except more sleep.
Roy was grateful for the cold air at the walk to work; it helped to wake him up a bit. The effect was ruined by the paperwork. Even just glancing at the stacks made his eyelids droop. The alchemist chided himself. It had only been one night, but he felt as if he hadn´t slept for a week. In the past, it would have taken far more than lack of sleep, lack of sex, and a fight with his best friend to get him to this state. Granted, he was also dealing with a potential lover who would surely demand explanations from him, and the risk of pissing off that almost lover with his explanation, resulting in a possible fist to the face, or Ed refusing to let this whatever-it-was go on. Ah yes, and the undefined state of whatever was going on was also starting to wear on his nerves, along with the uncharacteristic fear of not being able to trust his own judgment. It would be easier if he could just step back and look at it objectively, but getting some sleep first would be preferable. Which brought him back to the reason why he couldn’t sleep. It was a vicious circle and Roy was so very tired of it.
Ignoring the tiny voice in the back of his head that sounded suspiciously like a twelve year old Fullmetal telling him that he was getting old, the Colonel forced some attention to his paperwork, and an equal amount to the clock on the wall. Slowly ticking.
Slowly. Slowly. Ticking.
It was mesmerizing, hypnotic, and he almost fell asleep on top of his paperwork. It had happened before, but Riza´s reaction was not something he ever wanted to live through again – if he did manage to live through it. The First Lieutenant was already disapproving of her commanding officer’s sluggish progress.
When it finally was time to leave for the gym session he had booked, Roy was desperate to get there. Since the walk this morning had managed to wake him up a bit, the Colonel held high hopes that the physical workout would do the same. Perhaps it would also help him distract his mind and release some of his restless tension.
He had already planned to take advantage of the gym more often. Aside from getting away from his desk and getting back in shape, there were some benefits Dr. Streng had claimed would take immediate effect which would reflect on his mood and physical state. Besides the rush of endorphins that would take the edge off his abstinence, regular exercise would give him a sense of accomplishment and lighten his mood. Roy hoped that concentrating on a fitness routine might finally get his mind out of this maddening deadlock.
It was a good bit before Mustang´s lunch break officially started, and their commanding officer was already missing.
“It´s actually brilliant,” Havoc whispered. “You get to spend your working hours on improving your appearance.” He was making an effort to observe Hawkeye for any signs of flaring temper, so he would know if he should shut up about this. Of course she could always shoot without a warning. Considering her mood, it was always a possibility. But Havoc just couldn´t keep quiet about it. “Getting paid for something that will help you get laid. Who would have guessed?” The blond Second Lieutenant’s amazement was quickly damped when Hawkeye glanced up.
Fortunately, all the woman did was give him a scrutinizing look before her eyes returned to the paper in front of her. Nonetheless, Havoc hunched down in his chair and returned his attention to his own paperwork.
“He´s already slacking off with his paperwork. Now he´s got less time to do it. You wanna pick up the extra work?” Breda asked, clearly not impressed with his boss´s new excuse to get out of work.
Huffing slightly, Havoc held himself back before making a statement about how Heymans quite obviously did not see the benefits. Prolonging this discussion wouldn´t earn him any points in Hawkeye’s book, but he couldn’t resist a bit of good natured teasing.
“Guess we have to get to the gym ourselves, then, huh? What do you say, Breda?” Havoc teased, knowing that the chub around Heyman´s middle and cheekbones was not just due to the fact that the man absolutely adored sweets. He also absolutely hated having to do sit ups as well. Breda certainly wouldn´t complain about weightlifting or swimming, and was actually quite the runner despite his appearance. But he absolutely despised crunches, sit-ups and pushups. “It would be just like being back in academy,” Havoc added.
That earned Havoc a disgruntled glance, this time not from Hawkeye, and Havoc chuckled.
The bantering was interrupted by a knock on the door and without waiting for the call in, Edward entered the room. Instantly, he had the attention of all the officers present. It had to be uncomfortable to be stared at like that, but all Ed did was place the basket he was carrying on the nearest table, which happened to be Fuery’s. The dark haired technician stretched his neck a bit to peek inside, but since he tried to not make his curiosity too obvious, he wasn’t able to see much, particularly since something that appeared to be a blanket successfully covered the contents.
All of that was insignificant in light of two important facts. One, Ed was here well before Mustangs break officially started. Considering the way they had parted the last time, none of Roy’s team expected him to stop by again anytime soon, at least not without Roy being present. There was a good possibility that Ed simply didn’t know that Mustang was out, but instead of heading directly to the inner office, the young man took a determined posture. Havoc was painfully reminded of their previous mistreatment of the young alchemist when there was no cheerful greeting, and he could see the rest of the team was aware of it as well.
The second thing Havoc noticed was the look on the alchemist´s face. It reminded him of the one he saw on the Colonels face whenever he’d had to meet with the higher ups, determined, as only an audacious Roy Mustang could be, to justify an increased budget to cover repairs resulting from numerous disasters caused by a certain subordinate with a short temper and stature to match. The expression said more than anything that Ed was ready for a confrontation and would not back down.
Carefully, Hawkeye set down her pen.
“There is still some time until the Colonel’s lunch break begins,” she said mildly, eyeing the man whose attention she now had earned. Taking on an official tone, she added. “He’s out of the office, and likely won´t be in until just before his break.”
Ed shifted a quick glance to the door leading to the inner office, then to the clock on the wall before he nodded.
“Perfect. Because before he shows up, I´d like to have a word with all of you.”
Roy was not alone in the gym, but the other two men kept to themselves.
As far as he could tell, they didn´t even work out much. Mustang had the impression he recognized one of them as the man who had tailed him and Ed during the art exhibition, but he was not sure. It could just be his imagination. He knew two men had booked hours at the gym the same time he did, but he couldn´t remember their ranks, not that it mattered. Rank wasn’t an issue in this environment of tee shirts and sweatpants. Since only two men were present and one of Maes’ spies would have to write himself in after the fact, Roy didn´t worry much. Hell, even if these guys were Arschloch’s men, they were wasting their time. Did they expect him to rub one off in the common shower area after his work out? It was ridiculous. So he didn´t pay much attention to them and ignored them when they left about half an hour before his own time was up.
The physical workout felt good. Finally Roy’s mind managed to pull away from his current dilemma as he concentrated on his routine. His body was tired from the lack of sleep, but he forced it through the regimen, first reviving the exhausted muscles, then fatiguing them again in a different way. When they started to ache he knew he was overdoing it, but it was such an unbelievable relief to lose himself in the activity that he pressed on. Roy took no breaks, only changing the type of exercise when a particular group of muscles became too tired or sore.
By the time he had to head for the showers, he was bone tired, but at the same time felt infinitely better. If he thought he felt exhausted this morning, he now needed to find a new word to define this extreme state. He should have been thinking about what he was going to say to Ed, and he should have been worried about falling asleep on top of his desk with a irritated Hawkeye nearby, but right now he was simply too tired to care.
Even though he had become used to them in the academy, a shared shower area was anything but comfortable. The white tiles and chrome were clinical and uninviting, but the other two men had left, so at least he had some privacy. Roy would have happily chosen warmer water than he had lately been forced to endure, but despite the fact that his body was not clamoring for sexual release right now, he once again went for freezing cold. Warmth would have lulled him into sleepiness, something he didn’t need; the coldness woke him up a bit. Roy wrapped a towel around his hips and returned to the changing area where he once again saw the other two men. Both wore military pants and shirts, and were currently in the process of putting on their boots. They were chatting, and it was taking far longer than it should for these soldiers to tie their shoes. So much for being here to get into shape. Turning to his own locker, Roy took off the towel and put on his underwear. After he pulled on his pants, Roy noticed the quiet voice of one of the men becoming somewhat… muffled. Instinct told him there was something wrong, even without looking.
His first impulse to reach his gloves when his inner alarms went off, but his attackers didn’t give him time. He could feel a body stepping up from behind and quickly sidestepped the arms reaching for him, but his other opponent was moving in, face now hidden behind the type of mask that the military used for raids.
The punch came fast and precise and Roy threw himself back to dodge it. The fist missed him by a hair, his sore muscles protesting, his movements just a tad slow. Strong arms encircled him from behind, pinning his arms to his sides. His bare feet had no effect on the man as Roy automatically stomped down on his heavily booted instep. Before Roy’s elbow could jab the vulnerable solar plexus, the man in front of moved in. Roy´s kick to the man’s groin missed when the arms around him tightened further, forcing his elbows painfully against his sides, and then the fist hit his face. He could feel the skin of his cheekbone split, and for a moment the hit left him dazed. Long enough for the men to get him into a more secure hold, and pull him away from the locker and his gloves.
Okaaaayyy ^^ This chapter is pretty improvised ^^° Hughes’s whole lecture about his wife was planned to take place at a later point and so was his discussion with his wife, but I changed that because of the feedback I received and I´ll have to say, I like it much better like this ^^ The inside into Al’s mind was not planned at all, but after the long wait, I wanted to give you a bit of candy and reward the patience. Originally, someone else was to take the part of Howard Feigling but since I avoided the name and the whole writing became a bit awkward, my beta went ahead and introduced Howard. I think she did a wonderful job here and I kind of like him now. So, he stays where he is :D
And of course, I just couldn´t resist the cliffhanger(s) ^^°
I´d be happy to know what you think and hope you liked the chapter ^^