Chapter 7

The evening after their first date Roy had to reschedule, due to a late running budget meeting. The evening after that, Ed had to cancel due to clean-up after a slight lab accident-no injuries, but some of the equipment was never going to be the same. Ed and Roy both had previous engagements for Friday-a family dinner and a work related social function, respectively.

Saturday evening, they finally both found themselves free for the proposed evening of take-out, chess, and possible making out.

That morning Roy slept in, as was his custom Saturdays. Then he made a pot of coffee and read the paper cover to cover. After finishing his morning, or technically afternoon, rituals, he began preparing his apartment for Ed's arrival. Twice weekly visits from his cleaning lady kept the place spotless, but a few recently acquired rare alchemy texts needed to be put up, preferably on a high shelf where Ed wouldn't see them. Spending an evening watching Ed read was not Roy's idea of fun.

Normally, with a date coming over, Roy would have gotten fresh flowers for the mantel and perhaps lit a few candles, but in view of Ed's nap at the ballet he decided to give the romantic atmosphere a pass.

Apartment ready, Roy retreated to the bathroom to see to his personal appearance. Two hours later-after a nap in the tub-he emerged from his bedroom neatly dressed in black slacks, crisp navy button down, and black loafers.

A few minutes later the distinctive sound of metal knuckles rapping on his front door sounded in Roy's apartment. Roy opened the door and Ed rushed past to deposit the three take-out bags he was carrying on the coffee table-before he dropped something.

Roy closed the door behind Ed and the two of them stood there just looking at each other for a few seconds. Roy in something other than a uniform was a rare sight. Ed's appearance-not so rare.

Ed was wearing baggy cargo pants of an indeterminate faded color, possibly something greenish, with frayed hems from where they dragged the ground, scuffed black boots, his favorite gray sweater with what looked like dirt smeared on one sleeve, and white gloves with even more stains. Even Ed's pony-tail looked a little worse for wear, more strands than usual having fallen out.

The silence having carried on too long to suit Ed, he said, "I brought Xingan," as if that weren't obvious from the appetizing smells wafting from the bags.

"I like Xingan," Roy replied, still staring at Ed.

Ed suffered Roy's scrutiny for a more few seconds, then said irritably, "What?"

"If this was a bad time for you, you could have rescheduled for another night," Roy offered tactfully.

"Huh?" Ed asked, absently pushing a few strands of hair behind his ear.

"If you were running late at your lab and called to postpone dinner for an hour or so to give you time to run home and change, I wouldn't have objected," Roy elaborated.

"Are you trying to say something about the way I'm dressed?" Ed demanded belligerently.

"No, never mind, forget I said anything," Roy began to drop the subject. Then giving in to temptation he added, "I momentarily forgot that I was dating an uncouth child, totally ignorant of the way civilized people dressed for social engagements."

"If I'm an uncouth child, doesn't that make you a pervy child fancier?" was Ed's snide rejoinder. Then motioning at the bags he'd just set down he added, "Wanna eat this here or in the kitchen?"

"Whichever," Roy replied. Neither choice was ideal. The kitchen was tiny and really too cramped for more than one person. The coffee table was at knee level if you didn't sit on the floor, and floor sitting was something Roy felt a few years too old to do. It was a question of dignity, not creaky joints-he wasn't that old. He'd once had a folding table specifically for the purpose of dinner dates at home, but it'd been left behind in the basement of his old building when he'd moved two years previous.

"Here's good," Ed said, unpacking the bags.

"I'll get you a fork," Roy offered.

"Don't bother," Ed stopped him, "I'll just use chopsticks."

"I thought you didn't like chopsticks?" asked Roy, remembering that Ed requested a fork the handful of times they had Xingan food for lunch.

Ed shrugged and said, "I just don't like using them in public."

"Afraid you're going to drop something and embarrass yourself?" Roy speculated.

"I don't drop stuff," Ed insisted. "The wood snags my gloves. When I take off my gloves in public, everyone stares at my hand," Ed explained matter of factly.

"Ice water?" Roy asked, before going to the kitchen to get drinks.

"Uh huh," Ed agreed, smiling in recognition of Roy's remembering that he preferred water over wine or any kind of flavored drink when eating spicy foods.

Roy briefly considered getting plates while he was there but decided against it. They'd eat their take-out from the cardboard cartons it came in-just as God intended. Many aspects of fine dining Roy whole-heartedly embraced. The female urge to put everything on a plate, however, never made any sense to him. It was just something more to wash.

A few seconds later they sat down to eat, Roy on the couch and Ed sprawled on the floor on the opposite side of the table. Despite his better judgment telling him not to stare, Roy found himself transfixed by the sight of Ed's metal hand skillfully manipulating chopsticks. The fact of Ed's automail was in no way a shock to him, but Ed always kept it covered. Roy had never actually seen such a marvel of automail engineering up close and personal. The movement of the joints allowed for near perfect replication of the movement of an actual human hand.

"You're staring," Ed pointed out.

"Sorry," Roy said, still staring.

"You've got an automail fetish?" Ed half asked and half accused.

"I do not," Roy insisted, finally tearing his gaze away from Ed's hand to level a glare at Ed's smirking face. "My interest is purely academic," he said defensively. Then, changing the subject, he added, "Do you have to keep implying that I'm some kind of pervert?"

"It depends," Ed replied. "Do you have to keep making cracks about my age and height?"

"I haven't said anything about your height in days," Roy protested.

"I think the gift wrapped step stool you had delivered to my lab three days ago spoke for itself," Ed grumbled, clearly still holding a grudge.

Roy wisely decided not to press the matter. He'd just had his walls painted and that spicy pork Ed liked tended to stain.

"So what's wrong with the way I'm dressed?" Ed asked curiously.

"Nothing at all," Roy said facetiously, "If we were planning an evening of yard work," he added motioning toward Ed's dirt stains with his chopsticks.

"Well excuse me if my experiments need tending everyday, not just Monday through Friday," Ed replied testily. "I don't know what the big deal is, it's just a little dirt. It's not like it's manure."

"Fullmetal," Roy began, then thinking better of his form of address he started again, "Edward, I know this is outside the realm of your personal experience, but, traditionally, when one is dating, even if the date itself is a casual affair, one is supposed to take a certain level of care with personal appearance. It demonstrates respect for your date and that you are at least making an effort to make a good impression."

"Do you practice sounding that pompous and condescending? Or does it come naturally?" Ed asked.

Despairing of Ed ever becoming civilized, Roy simply answered, "It's a gift."

They ate in silence for a few moments. Then Ed offered, "I still don't get it, but I guess it wouldn't kill me to iron a shirt," one side of his mouth quirking up into a slightly rueful grin.

"That would be greatly appreciated," Roy said, giving Ed a tentative smile. Edward making any kind of concession, even for a potential lover, was somewhat surprising. Great compromiser Ed was not. It was just another thing that served to illustrate how Ed had gone from boy to man in the years he was gone, and it made Roy wonder about the things that happened during that time to shape him into the man he'd become. "I'd also suggest ditching the sweater," Roy suggested.

"The dirt'll wash out," Ed protested.

"It's not so much the dirt as it is the sweater," Roy insisted. "Among other things, one arm's longer than the other."

"Really?" Ed asked, holding his arms straight out in front of him-chopsticks still clasped in his metal hand. Seeing that the left sleeve was in fact shorter than the right, he said without a hint of sarcasm, "I never noticed." Then putting the matter aside, Ed shrugged, said, "Not bad for a first try though," and ate another bite of spicy pork.

"First try at what?" Roy asked.

Ed finished chewing, swallowed, then answered, "Knitting. This was Al's first project. I found it in a trunk when I was helping them move. It used to be too big."

"Your brother knits?" Roy asked. Knitting just wasn't something Roy envisioned an alchemist of Alphonse Elric's caliber taking up-especially not a male alchemist. In Roy's opinion, knitting was both tedious and awfully girly. Why painstakingly knit a sweater when you could draw an array and alchemize one in seconds? Especially when doing it the hard way could call your manhood into question.

"We spent a lot of time on trains," Ed explained, expression clearly showing that his personal reaction to knitting was about what Roy's was. "And he used to not sleep," Ed added. "Al's always been big on keeping busy."

"I assume he's improved over time," Roy commented, mentally stumbling on the image of a giant suit of armor clicking away with a couple knitting needles.

"No one complained about the scarves he made at Christmas," Ed said, referring to the fluffy white mufflers Al made for all their military friends. The scarves were well within winter uniform regulation but were of much better quality than the standard issue. The entire office, including the General, sported Al's creations through most of the rest of that winter and they were once again making their appearance now that the cool fall weather had started to set in.

"I didn't realize those were handmade," Roy said, finding new appreciation for an already appreciated gift. "But, my point is, couldn't you persuade your brother to make you a halfway decent looking sweater, now that he has more experience?" Family loyalty and sentimental value were all very well and good-but that didn't mean Ed had to go around looking like a homeless person.

"He already has," Ed replied. "This one's more comfortable."

Changing the subject, Roy asked after Ed and Al's science project. He got detailed weekly reports, but the unofficial version was usually much more entertaining.

In response, Ed launched into a detailed explanation of how a small potting soil explosion could have happened to anyone, how it wasn't really his fault, and not to pay any attention to anything Al might have to say on the matter.

After they finished dinner, Roy cleared away the empty cardboard containers and fetched his chess set from its place on the top shelf of the bookcase. As they were setting up the board at one end of the coffee table, Ed suddenly reached across the board and picked up one of Roy's white pawns. "Are these teeth marks?" Ed asked, holding up the scarred pawn.

Roy nodded, then added, "Mine, according to my mother, although I have no recollection of ever doing such a thing."

"Yours?" Ed prompted, as he placed the pawn back on the board and they started the game.

"One of her favorite stories. Supposedly, as a small child I had a habit of gnawing on random inedible objects," Roy said with heavy skepticism in his tone, as if his mother must have been mistaken because he could have never had such a habit. "One day, when I was about three, my father found me trying to eat his chess set. Not being overly familiar with small children, he interpreted that as a sign of interest in the game rather than simple childish teething-so he decided to try to teach me chess."

"Did he succeed?" Ed asked.

"He must have, although probably not that afternoon," Roy replied. "We played a game every Sunday, right up until the week he died."

"You know," Ed said, eyebrows drawn together in thought, "I never really pictured you with parents. I mean, I know you didn't just hatch from an egg, but you never talk about family or anything like that."

"There's just not that much to say," Roy replied. "My father was an alchemy professor at a civilian university outside East City, taught basic alchemy theory and never really wanted to do anything else. He married late in life, was nearly sixty when I was born, and died from a stroke when I was ten."

"You were close," Ed observed based on Roy's slightly melancholy expression as he relayed the bare facts.

"After a fashion," Roy agreed, after some thought. "I think I was something of a shock to him-that he never planned on having children and found himself sort of at a loss when it came to dealing with a little boy. We didn't really spend much time together, except for our game every Sunday after lunch. But after he died, I missed that-even if it was just an hour or two each week."

"And your mom?" Ed asked.

"Alive and well. She remarried when I was fifteen, the same year I went away to the Academy, a farmer with eleven kids who seems to suit her better than my father ever did. I go visit occasionally, and she's perfectly happy, but after a few hours the pandemonium of all his children, along with their spouses and offspring, starts driving me up a wall," Roy replied.

They played in silence for a few minutes, each devoting full attention to their next move.

"If your mom married a farmer, does that mean you grew up out in a rural area? Or did she just move out there later?" Ed asked.

"Well, it wasn't exactly the boonies, but Marianna was a small town and a good hour's drive from East City," Roy admitted.

"Imagine that, Roy Mustang isn't quite the consummate urbanite he's led everyone to believe he is," Ed said teasingly.

"Although I'd been to East City enough times not to qualify as a slack-jawed country bumpkin when I first went off to school, I was certainly fortunate to have Maes to show me around Central," Roy smiling wistfully as he remembered his friend fondly. "He grew up here and knew all the best places for getting into and out of trouble."

"So you two met in school?" Ed asked.

"We were roommates for three years. I was the only one willing to room with him and his photo collection," Roy said self-depreciatingly.

At Ed's prompting Roy shared a few stories of the two of them sneaking out after curfew and getting into trouble as schoolboys-things Roy hadn't thought about in years. It was nice remembering Maes Hughes before the war and everything that came after.

"Checkmate," Ed said as he placed his knight back on the board.

Roy examined the pieces for a second, then asked, "How do you do that?"

"Genius," Ed replied smugly.

"But you suck at strategy. You're the dive in headlong type. I'm the one who thinks things through," Roy protested. Roy was good at chess. He rarely lost. But, Ed was now nine for twelve in their periodic games.

"That's people and this is chess. Chess pieces aren't deceitful and all sneaky," Ed pointed out.

"Are you implying that I'm just a better liar?" Roy asked, suspicious.

"You said it, not me," Ed replied. "So, another game? Or something else?"

"I think I've had enough chess for the evening," Roy said, leaving the 'something else' to Ed in order to see if he was brazen enough to carry through on his original offer.

Picking up on the challenge implicit in Roy's statement, what small amount of trepidation about the rest of the evening which Ed might have been feeling evaporated in the light of his reflex reaction to any type of thrown gauntlet. Ed grinned his best shark grin, got up from his place on the floor, and circled around the coffee table to the couch. He paused for a second to pull the elastic band from his hair and shove it in his pocket. Then he climbed onto the couch, one knee to each side of Roy, hands braced on Roy's shoulders. Ed smirked slightly at their position. With him kneeling like he was, Ed was a few inches taller than Roy-a unique position for the petite alchemist. Putting aside height concerns for the moment, Ed leaned down and pressed his lips to Roy's.

For a moment Roy simply reveled in the sensation of being thoroughly kissed by Edward Elric. He didn't think he'd ever been with someone who kissed with such a sense of total concentration before. It seemed Ed's, at times, extreme focus spilled over into other areas besides alchemy. Then, never one to sit passively by and let others take the lead, Roy twinned one hand in Ed's long blond locks and wrapped the other arm around Ed's waist. Then he turned slightly and laid back on the couch, taking Ed with him.

Ed squeaked in surprise at suddenly finding himself sprawled on top of Roy. He could feel Roy's lips curve up in a grin against his own. The bastard was amused. Ed pulled back slightly so that he could shift up a few inches and place his metal hand just above Roy's shoulder so he could brace his weight on his arm rather than Roy's chest-Ed knew he wasn't exactly a light-weight what with all the metal additions. After getting properly adjusted, he shot Roy an indignant look, then leaned down to nibble on Roy's ear.

Roy growled encouragingly as Ed lightly bit down on the outer edge of his ear. Meanwhile, the hand Roy'd had wrapped around Ed's waist started drifting upward, underneath Ed's sweater, and the other drifted downward from Ed's hair to his butt.

Ed reached up to remove Roy's eye-patch and felt a hand suddenly clamp around his wrist.

"Don't," Roy said, suddenly dead serious.

"It's kind of in my way," Ed pointed out, lightly touching the strap to illustrate how he couldn't even properly run his hand through Roy's hair with the eye-patch in place.

"Just leave it," Roy insisted.

Ed slid to one side so that he was laying on his side between Roy and the back of the couch, head propped on one hand and with his metal hand lightly resting on Roy's chest. "Why?" Ed questioned just as seriously as Roy issued his command. "You don't think I'm going to be scared off by a few scars, do you?" he asked almost gently.

Roy was silent for a few moments. Not looking at Ed, but rather at Ed's automail hand, Roy admitted, "No, I don't suppose you would be."

"But?" Ed prompted.

"You know, the injury didn't really curtail my romantic prospects, at least not to start with," Roy said, backhandedly admitting that he didn't stop dating just because he was busy. "A lot of women thought the patch made me look rakish, like a pirate. But, after they saw the truth... well, they were all very nice about it, but being pitied isn't exactly a welcome feeling," Roy explained.

"Don't be a jackass," Ed easily dismissed Roy's concern. "Like I'd ever pity you. Lost one eye, big deal. It's not like there's something wrong with the one you've still got," Ed added, flexing his metal hand.

"Maybe I am being a jackass," Roy admitted ruefully. "I know you're not someone's secretary. But... not yet?" he asked for more time before being forced to display his personal insecurities.

"We did say we were going to take it slow," Ed said with a shrug. Then looking over at the clock next to the fire place and noticing that it was nearly midnight, he added, "I've got to be in the lab to turn on the heat lamps at six tomorrow. I should probably go home and get some sleep."

"You probably should," Roy agreed reluctantly. On one hand, if he wasn't ready to take off his eye-patch he could understand Ed being reluctant to take things any further. On the other hand, it was an eye-patch, not a cod-piece, that he was refusing to remove, and teasing himself with a little necking and stopping there was something he hadn't made a regular practice of since he was a teenager.

Ed gave Roy a quick peck, slightly to one side of his mouth, in farewell. Climbed over Roy and made toward the door. Just past the coffee table, Ed stopped and turned back toward the couch. "Any plans for tomorrow?"

"My schedule is wide open," Roy answered quickly, thinking that perhaps with a few more hours to work on it Ed could be persuaded to work around the eye-patch.

"Good, you can help me and Al clean up. There's still potting soil all over everything. Come by around noon, bring lunch," Ed ordered, then quickly exited the apartment before Roy could come up with an excuse.

"Brat," Roy muttered to himself. Then he grinned at the prospect of Ed using his step-ladder to clean the high shelves tomorrow.