The Icon Alchemist (sky_dark) wrote,
The Icon Alchemist
sky_dark

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Hereafter - Part 2

Title: Hereafter - Part 2 (Candor, Part 6, 5 Years Later)
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: PG-13, Ed's potty mouth
Spoilers: None
Notes: Spell checked, unbeta'd. I signed up for the Sweet Charity Auction and was won by the lovely and charming brinylon. brinylon requested that I write a 5 year later follow up to my fic: Candor. Briny, here is Part Two of your fic. There will be a Part Three for sure. <3





[Hereafter Part 1] [Hereafter - Part 3]



"What am I suppose to bring?" Ed asked the receiver, standing in the tiny square that served as his kitchen in his home. "I can't really cook anything, it would be cold before I got there and the bastard has tastes in wine I can't begin to figure out. If I try to bring candy well we know where that leads and flowers are, well ok I don't want to say girly, but I'm on a bike, how long do you think they'd last?"

"Just bring yourself," Al said, voice scratchy over the phone lines. "If you really feel the need to bring something for the table, stop when you get in Central and get some cheese or something munchy like that. We always need food after the food when we're sitting around digesting."

"But I never bring anything," Ed whined, "and I really want to contribute this time. After all, this is family and I want to do something nice for the family." He sighed and opened his small ice box again as if something edible had magically appeared in the last five minutes or so he had checked it. "I don't like being the one everyone tells 'no it's ok, we'll take care of it'. I want to be one of the dependable family members, like you."

"I just told you, bring cheese," Al said. "Look, get some good cheese, some crackers and some of that tomato relish, we all love that."

"I guess," Ed sighed and scratched at his butt. "I don't know, I just feel like you always give me the easy crap. You're bringing like a standing rib roast or something, aren't you? You and Roy always have the good stuff and I just bring the crap."

"I'm bringing Sally," Al said suddenly. "I know I've mentioned her a few times, but we've started to date a lot more and well, I want you to meet her."

Sally had been the person Al had mentioned quite a few times the last time Ed visited. Ed didn't know what to make of this 'Sally', and he didn't meet her, so eventually he'd dismissed her from his mind, but not so it seemed with Alphonse.

"Oh, oh yeah?" Ed said, sucking on his bottom lip, "so you think she wants to come here and meet us? I mean you know, I do remember you saying her name a few times when I was there but I didn't meet her or nothing, so why now? I mean, you know I mean this is a holiday, it's like the family, I mean it's not that I care if she comes, maybe you should ask the General."

"The General seemed delighted at the idea," Al said, sounding wry. "Just don't stress out over the food or the company and bring whatever you feel is best. I have to go now, I'll see you in two weeks."

"Okok," Ed sighed. "See you then."

And he hung up.

**

Skeeter stood back, looking at a large hand draw schematic; Lambchop stood beside him, tilting his head back and forth. Beyond them Ed stood grinning; an array tapped to the side of what use to be a rusted old car.

"Well," Ed said, "what do you think? I think it has the intimidation factor all wrapped up. Plus, look at this added measure of defense, it will keep the foot troops away. I like to think of it as not just body armor but a rolling arsenal." Ed put his hands on his hips, looking very pleased with himself. "I think any soldier driving this would be proud to be a representative of the Amesterian army. I think this is what they should have their pictures taken with to send home to mom. Genius boys, we are sheer genius," Ed then took his hands from his hips, clapped and rubbed them together. "I think they aren't making these challenges hard enough."

"As provocative and innovative and dynamic as this is...," Lambchop started.

"It looks nothing like the drawing," Skeeter finished.

Lambchop held his hands up, 'framed' the car between them and squinted one eye.

"Still, there is something to be said for the ambient vibrations I'm feeling off the piece; almost like some form of spike-period metal impressionism," Lambchop said.

"It looks like a demented metal porcupine that is going to jump out of the photo and eat your mama after you send it to her," Skeeter snorted.

"First off," Ed said, baring his teeth, "a porcupine was not my inspiration; it was more suppose to resemble a dragon," he finished on a mumble. "But never mind that, we want the enemy to know we mean business! We're here to kick some ass! We're riders at the gates of dawn and we take no prisoners," Ed waved his hand around. "Go on, tell me one design flaw, I dare you!"

"Well," Lambchop said, clasping his hands behind his back, "I think the wheel basin isn't wide enough and one good ding to any of those delicious spikes might make them bend in on the wheel itself."

"Then flat tire, you're out of the ballgame," Skeeter said, "and headlights, where did the headlights go, instead we got these eyeball/shield/heavy lidded things here that are obstructing the headlights. So those got to go."

"It looks back heavy, like the dragon has been eating to many knights and hasn't been out getting his exercise. Like he's been lying around the den just expanding," Lambchop said, spreading his hands in front of his stomach. "I think it needs more abs than bottom."

"I vote we make it look like the drawing, what do you say? Lamby, let's have one of those democratic things where everyone has a say. I know Dictator Elric doesn't like them, but unless we start our own revolution, nothing is gonna happen. So a show of hands; who thinks it should look like the drawing we made that it's suppose to look like?"

Two hands went into the air, and neither of them were metal.

Ed marched around the car, snatched the drawing out of Skeeter's hand and looked at it. Then he marched over to the drafting table to one side, picked up a pencil, slapped the drawing down on it and went to work. About five minutes later he picked the drawing up, brought it back to Skeeter and bared his bottom teeth like a bulldog.

"Ok, so you have proven you can draw in the spikes," Skeeter said, taking the schematic back, "but in the long run you have to ask yourself, are spikes really the way to go on big rolling things? I mean you could accidentally stick you own guys."

"I know how much you want the spikes," Lambchop said soothingly, "and if it were up to me, there would be spikes and spikes on top of spikes all to make you happy. But we can't just make you happy boss, as much as we'd love to, we have to make a bunch of fuddy duddy, practical military guys happy so they will give us money and we can use it to go out and drink beer together. So think of this as one for the team, what do you say?"

"I don't see how I can work like this," Ed huffed, "where is the challenge in all of this? So you think they just want a big, metal box?"

Skeeter and Lambchop nodded.

"Heavy, but light, able to take a large gun round at close range?" Skeeter ventured. "I mean that has got to mean we have to rearrange some molecules inside the metal, that's a challenge, isn't it?"

"I suppose," Ed sighed, folding his arms.

"No one appreciates your genius...," Lambchop started.

"Like you do," Skeeter added, then shut up at Lambchop's look.

"Like we do. How many other firms can claim alchemic refinement of such a high standard? I will tell you, none. I think it's the battles we choose, let them have their box, I'm sure there will be something you can really non-conform on further down the line."

"Ok then," Ed grumped, "but when it comes time to non-conform you better be ready to non-conform right along with me; and I don't do things by halves."

Lambchop saluted and elbowed Skeeter until he saluted to; when Ed turned away Skeeter dropped his salute and wrinkled his nose at Lambchop.

"You've got him spoiled rotten," the red-head said.

**

He sat at the check-out counter of the hardware store he lived above on a barstool with a plate of dinner in front of him. Next to his sat Mr. Galloway and together they watched the tiny flickering screen of the equally tiny black and white television that rested on the third barstool. Ed's barstool was kind of rickety and Mr. Galloway's barstool had a crack in it that almost split it in half. The TV got the good barstool, because neither of them wanted the TV to topple off and hit the floor.

Ed stirred his peas in to his potatoes and contemplated gnawing on the already gnawed pork chop bone resting to the side of his plate. The Galloway's had a grown son, living with his wife off in some city that was not here and in order to avoid the 'empty nest syndrome' while they awaited grandchildren, they had taken to feeding Ed at least one hot, home cooked meal a week. In payment for this kindness, Ed would sit and watch the evening news or some similarly boring monotoned television show with Mr. Galloway while Mrs. Galloway puttered around in the kitchen attached to the back of the shop.

"How's that fancy science job treating you?" Mr. Galloway said. "Are they paying you enough? You let me know if that heater doesn't work up there right in the winter. You going to visit you brother soon? I noticed your motorcycle is leaking oil, you can get a bottle off the shelf and pay me when you get paid. You still going out with your friends? You met a girl yet?"

"Job is fine, pay is decent," Ed said between bites. "Heater worked fine last winter, going to Central to see Al in two weeks. Motorcycle needs a tune up, I can pay when I get the oil. Going out with them on Saturday, nope ain't met a girl yet," Ed said, almost leaning down to lick the plate clean.

"When you met a girl you can bring her by and Cleo will make pie; you hear that Cleo?" Mr. Galloway called toward the back loudly, "When Ed brings over his girl you gonna make pie?"

"Ed's got a girl now?" Mrs. Galloway called louder from the back, "You thinks she's an apple or cherry girl, Ed?"

"I don't have one yet," Ed half yelled back to her, "He's getting ahead of himself."

"Well when you get one, you bring her by, I'll make pie," Mrs. Galloway assured him, half drowning out the television in the process.

"OK," Ed bellowed back.

Not that it would be easy. It seemed every single, eligible female had been in the bar on the night he'd spit beer all over some pretty young thing, (not like she didn't have it coming after the 'midget' remark), and he seemed to be on the singles dating black list. Not that Skeeter and Lambchop didn't give it their all. For each girl they dated, there was a sister or a cousin or a hard up friend who just might date Ed, beer spraying and all, but it never went any further than the next bar stool over. His companions were constantly confounded in his continual 'aloneness' and didn't get it when he jokingly referred to himself as having Havocitis.

It did sort of irritate him though. How Skeeter, 'man with the charisma of a light switch', and Lambchop, 'the man every girl wanted to be', seemed to have a steady stream of never ending prior engagements that had feminine sounding names. Sure, it didn't seem to ever go anywhere, but they did go somewhere, usually in the company of a girl and Ed would wind up alone (and sometimes stuck with the tab). He did sort of wonder what was wrong with him. He did sort of wonder why no one kept his attention any longer than it took to drink a couple of fruity drinks with umbrella, retire to the bathroom to freshen their make-up, then suddenly remember a pressing appointment.

"You going to Central for the holiday then," Mr. Galloway said, cutting through his musings. "Staying with that General again? Is he one of your relatives?"

"Uh, yeah," Ed said, gathering up Mr. Galloway and his own dirty dishes to carry back to Mrs. Galloway in the kitchen, "you could say that, but really, he's more like my keeper."

"Everybody needs somebody," Mr. Galloway said behind him as he headed off to the back of the shop.

Ed didn't dispute the saying, he just didn't know how to put it into practical use.

Mrs. Galloway kissed his cheek as he set the dishes in the sink and he had to remember to tell this to Skeeter and Lambchop just to prove he was getting some action on his own.

**

The 'research project' was underneath a tarp. It had not been transmuted into the promised armored box of the schematics. Ed argued, and perhaps rightfully so, that they should have a later model car to try the arrays on, perhaps one similar to a car someone in the military would be driving. It was hard to argue with that logic, and until the requisition request was approved or denied, the 'demented porcupine dragon' was save beneath a tarp. To fill in the time while the wheels of financial bureaucracy turned, they sat around doing crosswords, playing cards or fiddling with things they shouldn't out in the bay area, (with the door up). Skeeter had found an old break room table from somewhere, complete with it's chairs and they'd set themselves up a nice little corner of the warehouse. They discussed, briefly, transmuting some old packing crates into a bar, but what would be the point of a bar without alcohol, so the crates sat unmolested where they'd been left.

Lambchop had just won the pot again in a free-for-all style poker game, (they made Ed roll his sleeves up and keep his hands on the tables at all times so no transmuted cards mysteriously made it into the deck again) when the door at the other end of the warehouse opened up and John Collins, the boss of their boss, (Ed), came through followed by a couple of other men all decked out in blue.

"We're here to see the progress, boys," Collins barked as they started across the warehouse floor and the three poker players at the table shoved the cards under the altered, erased and much argued about schematic. When the got closer the side of Ed's mouth went up into a half smirk and Collins stopped a few feet away.

"It's the inspection team from Central," Collins supplied needlessly, gesturing back to the army uniforms behind him, "they're here to take a look at the light armament project."

"General Mustang, good to see you," Ed said smoothly and the man he addressed returned his smirk.

"Edward," General Mustang said back, silkier than any smooth Ed could manage, "this is General Tenhouse and Brigadier General Langendonk, we were in the area and though we'd drop by. You'll remember Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist?"

The other two officers nodded, came forward to shake Ed's hand. Ed, not to be outdone, turned and looked at his own crew and decided to go with Lambchop first, because at least he did know part of Lambchop's real name.

"This is Lambert...uh...," Ed started, but Lambchop jumped to his rescue.

"Lambert Hastings, and it's an honor gentlemen, a true honor to be doing our part for the betterment of men in cars that are likely to be shot at for this great country of ours," and he bounced forward and did a round of hand shaking himself.

"This is Skeeter," Ed started again, sort of slurring over the name, just in case he got it right somehow.

"Skeeter," Skeeter nodded. "Just Skeeter, or the Skeedman, sometimes I get that, or I think the ladies up in the secretarial pool call me Skeeter-motion, but whatever Lamby just said, double goes for me," and he moved forward to shake a bunch of hands, including Ed's when he moved back in line.

"These are my assistants," Ed said wryly. He would have to speak to Skeeter about his introduction speech. About dropping the Skeeter-motion part. It just didn't seem to lend itself to the whole flow of the speech and Ed kept casting nervous glances at General Tenhouse, who was female and wondering if civilians could be court-marshaled.

"General, I leave them in your capable hands," Collins said to Roy, then saluted as of old and marched stiff back from the warehouse, closing the door behind him.

"Well Edward," General Mustang said, "Do you have something to show us?"

"I do," Ed said, "but you're not going to like it. I was trying to be creative and you know, think outside the box, but no one here appreciates my efforts." Ed looked at Skeeter and Lambchop then.

"It's it large and did you make it look like a dragon or a gargoyle?" Roy said, clasping his hands behind his back and glancing at the other two officers with him.

"We're waiting for a more appropriate vehicle to do our tests on, you know, one you might actually happen to be riding in when the insurgents come bursting out of the hovels along the street of your newly decimated but claimed territory with guns ablazing. That is, you know, if you're actually in the vehicle and not hanging out the side waving to all the newly subjugated, I mean liberated civilians." Ed drawled.

"The rumors weren't unfounded," General Tenhouse said to General Mustang and Brigadier General Langedonk nodded agreement. There was a brief General pity-party for General Mustang having to put with Ed all those years and Ed's nostrils flared and Lambchop announced loudly and nervously how he'd just love to go hand-squeeze everyone some fresh lemonade and Skeeter knew how to tap dance, wasn't that amazing? But no one was more amazed than Skeeter who immediately tried out the new talent thrust upon him and then while everyone was gawking at him in amazement General Mustang accidentally backed into the tarp covered research project, got stuck and they all escorted him down to the infirmary.

"I told you that thing would take out our own guys," Skeeter said in the hallway while they hovered by the infirmary door and Ed stomped Skeeter's left instep with his own left foot and then Skeeter had to go into the infirmary, too.

**

He felt like he was twelve again. Roy was escorted back to the hotel he was staying at by the two officers with him, but Ed was summoned with a terse note and look from John Collins and now he stood there in the hotel room twisting his fingers.

Hell of a way to show off his new job, huh?

"It's alright Ed, calm down," Roy said sitting on the edge of the bed in his shirt and pants. "It was only three stitches."

Ed groaned and lay his head back, staggered across the hotel room and flopped into one of the chairs by the window.

"Hi Roy, nice to see you! It's been a while, here let me put a HOLE IN YOUR BACK," Ed scrubbed at his face with his hands.

"That was an accident," Roy said waving it off, "and it's good to see you, too. I have you here under the pretense of you giving me a more detailed accounting of your progress, but see how good I am to you? You can just hang around here and talk to me and slack," Roy smiled. "John Collins has nothing but great things to say about you. He's very impressed with your work. He thinks you have some potential to climb the corporate ladder there as it where."

"How, but putting holes in everyone's back if they get in my way?" Ed grumbled from his slouch in the chair. "I can't believe this, I finally get you all the way out here and injure you. Al's going to yell at me, he is. He tells me all the time to be careful with my artistic expressions, but do I ever listen? No. Al knows me, he knows I'm into spikes, I bet he knew this would happen one day."

"How will Al ever know if you don't tell him? This could be our little secret. Now quit obsessing over it so much. I'd like to see your place and I'd like to visit your bar, are you free tonight?" Roy asked.

"Yeah!" Ed said, brightening up immediately, sitting forward in his chair. "Sure, anytime is good, you just tell me. It's all on me, too. I think you'll like the bar, and my place is small but it's in a really neat part of town. So you know, you rest up here a bit and then we can go out. Did you bring civvies? That's great," Ed was smiling.

Roy liked it best when Ed smiled.

**

Roy met Ed later, outside of the hotel. Ed pulled up and got out of a car so tiny it didn't really seem to need four wheels.

"You got a car?" Roy gaped in astonishment. "You didn't tell me you had a car."

"I don't," Ed said, shrugging, "I borrowed this one. I mean, you got stitches in your back and I figured that maybe you shouldn't ride the bike. So Lambchop loaned me his car," Ed turned and looked at it, rubbed the back of his neck, then looked at Roy. "Just remember, this isn't my car, ok? The interior is some sort of neon green and it smells really...floral inside. Never mind, let's go," Ed opened the passenger side door for him.

The first stop was the curb outside a small hardware store that was the bottom level of a three story building. It was quaint, tiny, cheerful and obviously family run. Rows of fresh herb plants dotted two window boxes hanging right under the big window that had Galloway Hardware painted on it in gold edged black letters. Ed got out and stepped up onto the curb and Roy got out, too.

"Ok, this is where I live. There is a walk up on the side of the building or we can go in and through the back to the stairs back there. I like going in when they are open and using the interior stairs," Ed led the way, pushing into the shop and making the small bells on the door chime.

Roy paused a moment in the doorway, surveying the street. It seemed to be full of similar buildings. A tiny, peaceful place sitting at the edge of a larger urban area. Quite, trendy, not very much how he imagined a neighborhood that contained Ed, but he was glad, he was very glad. Because it might not be what he imagined for Ed, but it was everything he had hoped for Ed. It seemed very nice. He turned to go in and Ed beckoned to him from the front counter, standing with an older man.

"Mr. Galloway, this is General Mustang," Ed said, and the way he said it made Roy feel many things at once. He came over, extending his hand.

The two men shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and Ed stood by just smiling the way Roy liked to see him smile. It was a real smile, something he didn't see often on Ed's face when he was a child or in those turbulent years of young adulthood. It was a smile that said Ed was finding his existence enjoyable now and not a confusing and terrible place to be. It was the smile that said things were finally working out.

"It's very nice to meet you," Mr. Galloway was saying, "Ed says good things about you, I know he's happy you're here."

"I am very happy to be here," Roy returned and tried to catch Ed's eye but Ed was to busy blushing and finding packets of seeds interesting. "I'm only in town for a very short stay, but I am glad to know he's living in such a nice neighborhood and has a good landlord."

"Well the missus misses our boy, you know. Ed is very good to put up with the mothering," Mr. Galloway said. "He's a good kid to eat dinner with us some nights so the missus still has someone other than me to cook for."

"I am very sure that it's not any better of Ed than it is Ed loves home cooked foods," the general said with a bow of his head, "he's like a cat in that fashion, you might never be rid of him."

"He's always welcome here," the old man said, then they said their goodbyes and Ed hurried up the stairs in front of Roy to the second floor and keyed into an apartment that was the front half of the building. It wasn't very wide, but it was full of light from the windows. It was laid out almost galley style. They walked into a small living room area that had a couch and a coffee table of sorts. To the right was a tiny kitchen, with only a stove and an icebox and a bit of counter space with a stool pushed under it. The the left was small room that might be the bathroom and further down was a closed door that Roy guessed was Ed's bedroom. There also seemed to be one small closet and a bookshelf that held both books and a radio. It wasn't neat but it wasn't as scattered and cluttered as Roy thought it might be. Ed stood surveying his kingdom, then glanced at Roy.

"Yeah, it's really small, but you know? I like it. There isn't a lot of space to have to clean up and that suits me just fine and it's just me you know and a lot of times I'm downstairs in the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Galloway or I'm out with Skeeter and Lambchop, so I'm not here a lot, so it works out," Ed turned and nodded at the windows. "Besides I have a killer view. Sometimes I just lay over there on the couch and watch the outside. I really like it here," he finished on a softer note. "It's funny, because I never even thought about it until I moved here, I mean where I would live, what I would want to live around."

The general walked over, knelled on the couch and folded his arms along the back. Peering out of the window and down to the street, after a moment Ed took up a similar position beside him. For long moments they both just watched the pedestrian traffic on the street below. Ed rested his chin on his folded arms.

"It's nice here," Roy said finally. "I think this area has a lot of potential, so it's probably good you got in when you did."

"You think so?" Ed said, "I sorta thought maybe I'd buy a house around here. See? I'm a real estate genius without even trying hard."

"I'm sure the market trembles when you say those words," Roy said, pushing up. "Let's go eat."

**

Ed had never stood at the hostess stand to sit in the restaurant area of the bar before. He kept glancing around, afraid some regular he knew from the bar part was going to see him and start making fun of him. It seemed there were two groups who came here. The Drinkers and The Eaters, and never the twain did they meet. The Drinkers often made fun of the asses of The Eaters, and The Eaters made fun of The Drinkers lack of brain cells.

It was never a good mix when The Drinkers encountered The Eaters after having drank to much of said drink and The Eaters had eaten to much of said eats. Never, never pretty.

"So what do you recommend here?" Roy said as they waited, not noticing Ed's predicament. "Do they have good steaks?"

"To be honest," Ed said, trying to use Roy as a buffer between the hostess stand and the bar, "I've only eaten to bar food. You know, chili cheese fries, mini hamburgers, nachos...I've never been in this side before." Ed folded his arms and scooted a little to the left.

Roy glanced over his shoulder, then back at Ed who seemed to be doing a subtle dance that involved scooting back and forth whenever someone came in the door and headed for the bar.

"Do you see someone in the bar you don't want to see you?" Roy asked, folding his own arms.

"Well, no," Ed admitted, "I just don't want any of them to see me eating here," he confided.

"Why?" Roy said, "What the problem with eating here? The food isn't any good?"

"No, I'm sure it's fine," Ed said, ducking his head a little and peering around Roy's arm, "it's just like heresy or something to drink and eat here, and no, I've never figured it out myself. I wish they'd seat us already, this is getting nerve wracking," Ed complained.

Dear god, Edward caring about what other people thought. Even if it was just bar buddies, he was still thinking, considering his actions and the consequences of them. He was interacting with other people, and for that, Roy found he was more grateful than anything he could possibly imagine. Ed was alright, Ed was whole. He allowed himself to be used as a shield until they were shown to a booth in the back.

**

"Is that the same General you'll be going up to see next week when we got time off?" Skeeter said, standing beside Ed in front of the 'General Slaying Dragon' whom Ed had decided to transmute back into a regular car. They had tried to get the tarp off, but the dragon's spikes held it first and it was decided to just add it into the transmutation.

"Maybe you can make it like the upholstery," Lambchop said. "Only it's that ugly shade of 'hole in the roof' blue."

"Like you have any taste in upholstery," Ed snorted. "It was great you lent me the car, but it was like riding around in a pickle barrel. What is with the neon green?"

"Why should my car look like everyone else's car? Besides, if I have an accident when the use the jaws of life to get me out I will be very visible in the interior of my car. They won't have to dig around for me," Lambchop said.

Ed and Skeeter made some affirmative grunting noises because they supposed they couldn't dispute that.

"So where are you going on holiday?" Ed asked Skeeter, stalling to give the General Slaying Dragon car a bit more time in existence. "Going to see your family?"

"Like I got a choice, tell him Lambchop, tell him of my personal hell," Skeeter said.

"He has a darling mother and two sisters and if he doesn't show up they'll come get him," Lambchop said and nodded.

"Well, then what about you, what are you doing for the holiday?" Ed asked, "You got a darling mother and two sisters at home, too?"

"Actually," Skeeter said, "he's got a mother that would make a drill sergeant proud and five sisters, and oh, he's the baby."

"We know all your plans, though, boss," Lambchop said. "You get to see your little brother, you get to meet his girl and really, you shouldn't mope or curl up your lip like you do when you talk to us about her. And you get to see the General again, although he was just here. You must really like him, you get all puffy when he's around."

"Yeah, and you know, Lambchop said I could tap dance, I never said I could tap dance, and you didn't have to get all embarrassed and slap me on the back all those times," Skeeter said, then turned his best hang dog expression on Lambchop. "My spine still hurts and at night, if you're really, really quiet? You can hear it rattling."

"Puffy? What the fuck are you talking about? What is 'puffy' anyways?" Ed walked slowly around his artistic masterpiece, pre-mourning it's passing. "Puffy sounds like something a girl names a cat."

"My kitty's name is Montombo," Lambchop said, grinning and gazing off at nothing apparently. "He's so big and forceful. He keeps the roaches living in pantry in sheer terror. What I mean by puffy, boss," he explained patiently, "is that you...puff up when he is around. You hold your head up, you stick your chest out, you shove us around and show him that you're the alpha male! I think it's cute."

"I don't! You pounded my back with automail and made me make coffee like I know how to make coffee. It's like you didn't want the Skeeter-miser to talk to the big-wigs or something. Especially that chick General, she was hot."

Ed and Lambchop shared a look, then Lambchop made a few shooing motions at the General Slaying Dragon and Ed sighed and went over to give his creation one last, careful pat.

Skeeter and Lambchop stood beside him, heads bowed in respect, hands clasped before them in placation.

"It was...a wonderful piece of equipment, years before it's time," Ed said.

"Amen," Skeeter and Lambchop said as one.

"I don't think we got to explore it's full potential, even though it punctured a General, I feel it could have been so much more," Ed intoned gravely.

"It's going off to the great car lot in the sky," Lambchop commiserated.

"I don't know about that, it drew blood, maybe it's the car lot in the other place," Skeeter said and Lambchop shushed him.

"At any rate," Ed said loudly, "there will never be another war machine like it," and he clapped his hands in that dramatic pause, then carefully tucked them between the spikes and touched the hood and transmuted the General Slaying Dragon back into the box it originally was.

**

Nothing broke up the monotony of work like a good mid-week holiday. With 4 days off Ed took the road on his bike and made his way to the city of Central, (where he'd once resided), to visit the General, (with whom he'd resided), and eat and drink and other sort of debauchery that came with several days off in a row, (and in the presence of his younger brother).

The road was a good place to think, and true, it didn't take long to get from where he was to where he had been, but it gave a man time to think.

He'd come to the general's house some years ago now in shambles. It really wasn't Roy's place or duty to try to reconstruct the detestation he has made of himself, but he had, and in the reclamation project fixed himself a place forever in Ed's life.

Ed wondered when it just became accepted between Al and himself that Roy fit into their family. That Roy was actually considered family, because he was, without doubt. Holidays and outings, decisions and confidences were all made now with this new addition in mind. It had become natural to include Roy in thoughts of Al and Winry and Pinako; and Roy reciprocated as if they'd been family all along, without missing a beat; without acknowledging that the beginnings of what made this a family were shady at best, manipulative at worst.

They had all survived, forgotten and forgiven.

And now it was what it was, and it was comfortable and familiar and just that much more of not being alone. Ed had eventually become use to the feeling this gave him and been able to banish the uncomfortable feelings it left him.

It would be good to be with his family for the holiday.

**

Ed managed to park the bike and then got off and stood there hacking. How many fucking bugs had he swallowed? It was a wonder he'd be hungry for any kind of dinner at all. He reminded himself that well, bugs were protein and therefore harmless. He sure hoped he didn't have any legs sticking out from between his teeth when Al and his girlfriend showed up. Nice first impression; this is my brother Ed, he eats bugs. He spit a few times on the general's lawn and flipped the outer lens of his goggles up and looked around.

He took a few moments to unbuckle his bag from the back of his bike and decided to wheel the bike closer to the house. As he was pushing it up the walk, the front door opened and the general looked out at him.

"You look like a gangster," the man said as a way of greeting.

Ed took a moment to look down at himself. Was there any creative statement he made in his life that wouldn't get some sort of derisive comment? So he had on his big boots that came up to his knee, that was for safety. So was the long, black, oiled duster. If he fell off the bike on his right shoulder, well what would it matter? But what if he fell off the bike in his left shoulder? The duster could help him keep what little skin he had left. The goggles kept the bugs that found a home in his teeth out of his eyes and the helmet was law.

He set his bike over on it's kickstand beside the front steps and gave a good snort, in case a bug had gotten up there too, and scowled.

"Yeah, damn glad to see you, too," Ed grumped.

"You should really get a car," Roy said, stepping back to let Ed in, "that would really be the safest thing by far."

"Fuck, will you lay off, I just go here," Ed said, yanking on the chin strap to get his helmet off. "You're like a fucking mother hen. I'll get a car when I decide I look cooler in a car than on a bike, ok?" And Ed almost bared his teeth.

Roy grinned, then held up his hands. "Truce," he said and then clapped Ed on the back as he walked by, "I'm glad you're here. Al's train will be in around 6 tonight, you can borrow my car to go pick him up. You want to take a shower before hand? Want something to drink?"

"Yes and yes," Ed said, shrugging off the duster and heading for the closet. "You're going to let me drive your car? You're trying to get me hooked on cars, I know you. But you took away my really cool car with all the spikes, I think I'm traumatized. See? All your car pushing ways have backfired on you. But that's ok, I promise not to scare you this time. Is Al and his girlfriend staying in that hotel down on the square? I have dibs on the couch you know."

"Yes, I booked them in myself. You can shuttle them back and forth as well," Roy said, appearing with a couple of bottles of beer and nodding toward the living room. "Come tell me what's been going on in the entire week I haven't seen you."

**

Roy sat on a bench in the train station at five past six and watched Ed pace the platform in front of him.

Ed has brushed his teeth three times and had Roy inspect them for bug parts. He'd borrowed cologne, he's messed with his hair, he'd straightened his collar and made Roy help him with his cuffs.

Ed was making a sincere effort to impress his brother's girlfriend. It was another step, no hell it was a leap, in the right direction. It was another brick in the foundation that Ed had laid for his new life. Roy was aware where others were not of what an advancement this was in the psyche of Edward Elric.

Ed turned on him suddenly.

"Do you think she'll like me?" he said, tugging at his cuffs again. "I really owe this to Al not to fuck it up, FUCK, help me remember not to say fuck so much, ok? I don't know why I didn't meet her the last time I was down at Al's place. GAH, this is fucking nerve wrecking, it's like I'm waiting to meet the grim reaper or something. That is fucked up, I shouldn't' feel like that, I mean it's just a girl, no wait, it's a girl that Al likes and you know, I know how I use to act and maybe that is why Al didn't' let me meet her that last time, he thinks I'll be a fuck-up again. But I won't, I'm past that. I mean if Al likes this girl, then there must be something about her to like, because Al is an excellent judge of character and you know, I'm not anything like Al and I don't know a nice girl from a swamp witch; but you do, so you have to let me know if I'm really suppose to like this girl or try to break the spell. NO FUCK, listen to me, this isn't about me, it's about Al, why the fuck am I so nervous, I mean it's just a girl, not the forefather of alchemy or anything," Ed scrubbed at his face. "Don't let me fuck this up," he hissed at Roy, "I'll beat your ass if you do."

Roy just felt himself smile and be happy that Ed, no matter how hard he tried, was a sane adult now.

**

She looked like a china doll with strawberry curls. Ed found it hard to believe a girl could look so pretty and so breakable at the same time.

"I'm afraid to shake her hand, I might hurt her," Ed squeaked at Roy nudged him forward. Al saw them then, broke into a grin and waved, the china-doll girl beside him took his arm and smiled.

No one on the planet could be this simply lovely and breath.

"Brother," Al said happily, reaching with his free hand, and Ed didn't need prompting to take it. "I'm so glad you came down to meet us," Al's grin was infectious and Roy, standing just behind Ed couldn't help but answer it with his own. "You too, General," Al quickly added. Then he turned his head to smile at the girl beside him. "This is Sally Creel," he said meeting her eyes briefly, then he turned to look at Ed and Roy. "Sally, this is my brother, Edward, and that gentleman there is General Roy Mustang."

"I've heard so much about you," she said, then she too, held a hand out to Ed. Ed hesitated, Roy saw him shake the automail, but then he raised it and took her and in his gloved one, barely moving his fingers to formulate a handshake.

"I'm really glad to meet you," Ed said, "Al has told us all about you." Then he released her hand and stepped aside to let her shake Roy's. Roy smiled and took her hand, but he didn't fail to notice the look Al was giving Ed while Ed watched the girl and the general shake hands.

It had all been worth it.

**

After they got Al and Sally checked into the hotel, and Al and Sally freshened up a bit while Roy and Ed milled about in the lobby, they went to dinner.

Sally Creel was a school teacher. Sally Creel was active in the women's charitable organization in South City and volunteered her time with under privileged children. Sally Creel was a national champion archer, (!), Sally Creel liked fish and shrimp. Sally Creel liked cats.

It was a fucking match made in fucking heaven and Ed could say that because he only said it in his head.

Al seemed to think so, too. But after they learned about Sally Creel, Alphonse Edward began to brag about Edward Elric. His big brother was a state alchemist at twelve. His big brother was know as the 'Alchemist for the People'. His big brother did many heroic things before the age of sixteen. His big brother worked for a prestigious firm that was given many secret military contracts.

Oh, and by the way, this is the General, he's a General in the army.

Al's big brother sat working a napkin in his lap and looking like he wanted to crawl under the table.

Roy was terribly, terribly amused.

Sally Creel was terribly, terribly impressed. She asked all manner of questions, marked and intelligent and Ed found himself answering in thoughtful ways. Ed could see the attraction Al had, he could feel the attraction himself. There were girls out there that deserved Al and vice versa. It looked like Al had found one of them.

After dinner, Roy and Ed dropped Al and Sally off at their hotel and headed back to Roy's place. They came in, got ready for bed and Roy came in to sit with Ed a bit before they actually retired.

"You were quiet all the way back here," Roy said, "what's on your mind?"

"Not a lot, really," Ed said, flopping over on the couch, "just thinking about Al and Sally. She's a nice girl isn't she? I can tell Al really likes her. I can't imagine her pulling a compound bow though, she must be stronger than she looks," Ed sighed. "I wasn't sure how I'd feel? I mean, I remember what it was like before, with Al and his girlfriends. But this doesn't feel like that," Ed covered his eyes for a moment, then gave a short laugh. "I guess I'm happier about that than anything else. I think I feel...hopeful? Maybe that's it, hopeful for Al and what this might be for him. You know, that happily ever after crap. Yeah, that's what I feel, hopeful."

Roy got up then, laid his hand on top of Ed's head for a moment in passing.

"Goodnight, Edward," he said, then withdrew his hand and went down the hall to his bedroom and Ed sat up to watch him go.
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