Disclaimer: I don't own any of them. Not making any money from this. Love the idea of Ed and Roy. Please leave me a review if you like the story.

Author's Note:

Sorry to be so long in updating, but it was unavoidable owing to various other commitments (exams being a large part!) and then the last section of this chapter wouldn't quite come together. It was always on my mind though! Thanks to all the lovely people who reviewed. As for a few of the more common questions I got on the last chapter, a few answers: the qilin is an actual creature of mythology, found in Chinese, Japanese and Korean lore. However, the finer points of the relationship between a ruler and qilin were the product of an overactive imagination. I've been told by a couple of people that a similar concept is used in an anime series called Twelve Kingdoms in case anyone's interested. Within the context of Full Circle though, the reference is more symbolic of who and what Ed is to Roy and to Amestris, so don't worry, I don't think Ed's going to turn into a unicorn-like creature any time soon. He has his hands full enough with who he is right now!

And, um…sincerest apologies, but we're not going to get to the ball in this chapter. Next chapter, I think! Happy reading –NF.


Chapter 34: Words And Actions

Maes Hughes thought he was going to cry. No, strike that, he knew he was going to cry. This was all just so…just so…beautiful. Not as beautiful as Alicia, of course, but still…really quite nice. He puffed up his chest and pushed his glasses up on his nose firmly as he looked about him with pride.

All the damaged buildings had been efficiently restored by rebuilding teams under the command of one Major Alphonse Elric, working day and night to ensure that the area would be in good shape in time for the inauguration, the white stone facades smooth and pristine under the afternoon sun. He hadn't missed the impressed looks on the faces of the foreign dignitaries – he did have his roots in Intelligence, after all – which was exactly the effect he had been aiming for: Amestris was not to be trifled with, the State was still strong despite the recent bloody conflict and it would rebuild itself upon its own ashes if necessary; any attempts to take advantage of the State's current weakness would fail. Like Roy, he understood the power of appearances. Except that he applied himself on a fair greater scale than his old friend did, which was only right and proper after all: Roy's job was to maintain his image in the eyes of the people – and an outstanding job the man did, too - while Maes's was to maintain the image of the State. An approving eye swept over the men massed in perfectly straight ranks before him. Shiny medals pinned perfectly straight on dark formal uniforms winked brightly in the sunlight as their wearers breathed evenly, not a muscle moving otherwise as they lined the massive flight of stairs that rose up to meet the sweeping columns of the Great Hall where the inauguration was to be held.

The culmination of all their efforts since Ishbal. Everything would change after today. It was imposing. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was…

"…tacky," snorted the blonde man at his shoulder as he shifted uncomfortably in his uniform, running a finger around the high collar in a futile attempt to loosen it. The stiffness of the material was making him itch. "What is it with you military men and all this…this…." A white-gloved hand waved irritably at the scene before them as words failed the young Lieutenant Colonel.

"Hmm?"

"Pomp and Circumstance," Ed finally managed, making the clearly capitalized words sound like swearing. "Why not a smaller ceremony? Something dignified? Just a few important dignitaries…." The Fullmetal Alchemist seemed to be glaring at the ambassador of Xing who stood a little ways away with the other ambassadors, and the dark-haired man grinned and waved back discreetly. Ed's eyes narrowed further, and Maes's brows went up as His Excellency Ling Yao blew a kiss at the blonde, the Brigadier making a mental note to get the story on that later. "Or not. Maybe a private ceremony at City Hall so everyone could get back to work a little quicker. And definitely no ambassadors."

Maes snickered. "Careful, Ed, you sound like you're talking about a wedding. You and Roy reached some kind of understanding over dinner that I should know about? Should I start drafting a press release? You know it's always best to take the bull by the horns when it comes to managing the press. Oh, and if you need the name of a good jeweller…although if I were you, I'd let Roy handle it, he's got impeccable taste in that sort of thing…."

The fulminating glare he got was priceless. Oh, for a camera when you needed one! "Why is my private life suddenly everyone's favourite topic of conversation?"

"It's not private if it's on the cover of every major newspaper," Maes pointed out smugly. "Fetching photograph in the Central Times, by the way, they really got your good side, and Roy looks so earnest as he's holding your hand. As to your question…if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it would be because the two most eligible bachelors have decided to finally get serious – with each other. Ah, the sound of shattering hearts all over Amestris!" He clasped his hands dramatically over his heart, peeking at Ed out of the corner of his eye to make sure the alchemist wasn't about to blow anything up.

No sound yet. Rigid posture, but hands not moving anywhere near each other. Of course, the fact that one of them was occupied with holding on to a massive leatherbound copy of the Constitution might have something to do with it. Definite tic under the left eye though. "Um, Ed…."

"Don't. Say. Anything. Else."

Brigadier General Maes Hughes turned back to his inspection, biting the inside of his cheek to keep a stupid grin from spreading over his face. They could see the official car bringing Roy Mustang turning a corner in the distance – it would be here in a minute or so – and even if they hadn't had a good view from their vantage point, the roars of approval and joy coming from the crowd would have let them know of the approach. For security purposes, Ed had insisted that the parade route be kept a little shorter than usual, and Roy had acquiesced with surprising readiness. Perhaps his little lecture about their respective responsibilities in his living room had had some lasting effects after all? He snuck a glance at the alchemist again, who appeared to be relaxing a little as his golden eyes followed the car's excrutiatingly slow progress towards them, hesitated, then spoke up again, the teasing note gone from his voice. "Roy loves you, you know - he wouldn't be so willing to put himself on public display like that otherwise. He's always been a masterful manipulator of the press…they see what he wants them to see. But this is his – and your – private life, so for him to do that says something about how he feels – it's his way of showing instead of telling. Roy's not always good at saying things…um…in the most direct manner."

A sardonic snort.

Maes pouted. "Well, you're a State Alchemist too, you shouldn't talk!" That earned him a growl – how Ed was able to communicate without actually having to verbalize, Maes would never understand – and he sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to interfere or anything, but Roy's my closest friend, and you know I've always felt, um, paternal about you and Al…he hurt a lot while you were gone…I guess, I'm just trying to say that I just want you two to be happy…oh hell…." Maes trailed off. Roy's car pulled up to the foot of the stairs and a wave of cheers greeted the Fuhrer-elect as he stepped out of the car and graciously acknowledged the crowd, before slowly putting his foot on the first stair and beginning the slow climb. Flashes were going off left and right as the honour guard lining Roy's path snapped to attention with a thumping of boots and the sharp slap of gloved hands on rifles. The Brigadier straightened up, lifting his chin proudly as he watched his old friend's progress towards them.

He jumped when Ed's husky baritone spoke softly beside him. "I know. And we are. And I love him too. Don't worry about us, Maes." The Fullmetal Alchemist stood braced into the sudden wind that ruffled his bangs and made the flags and banners about them snap sharply, his hair glittering in the sunlight. He looked rather like some kind of angel, Maes thought dazedly, not the fluffy cherubic pink sort that Alicia was, undoubtedly, but perhaps one of those ones with swords and flames – what were they, seraphim? Archangels? Something like that. And then all notion of angelic behaviour was dispelled as the blonde turned towards him with a malicious glint in his eyes. "Although…if Roy's coming to me, does that make him the bride? And does this mean I get a long honeymoon alone with him afterwards? Because I do have some leave coming…."

Maes spluttered as Roy came to stand before them, giving his closest friend and his lover a very odd look. Ed met it innocently for a moment before his eyes flicked over to a point past Roy's shoulder as Maes raised a shaking arm in salute, his lips pressed tightly together to keep from bursting into a fit of giggles. One corner of Roy's mouth twitched as he returned the gesture. "Brigadier. Colonel."

"Sir?"

"Is there something amusing you wish to share with me?"

"No sir. This way." Maes gestured grandly. Ed abruptly cocked his head in a very unmilitary-like fashion and Maes sighed internally. They had been doing so well with getting Ed to cooperate with military protocol up to this point!

"Hey, bastard Colonel?"

A momentary look of surprise at the sudden…intimate…form of address. "Yes, Fullmetal?"

"Duck." And then Ed was pushing Roy's head down and aside with one hand, body twisting gracefully as his other arm reached back, came forward and up in a neat arc…and hurled the heavy copy of the Constitution at a photographer who had suddenly pushed past the press line. The book's ornate clasp kept it shut as it flew through the air like an oblong discus, knocking the man backwards. The camera he had been holding flew out of his hands and shattered on the steps amidst gasps of shock and horror, the casing breaking apart to reveal a hidden gun mechanism within, and a scuffle promptly ensued as the honour guard broke ranks and converged on the hapless would-be assassin.

As Roy straightened up, tugging on his rumpled jacket and trying to discreetly neaten his hair, he caught sight of a delighted Ling Yao mouthing words at a disgruntled looking Fullmetal Alchemist as he jabbed a finger towards the melee on the steps. Something about punishing evil…loyalty…king…and what on earth was a qilin?

"Trust me, you don't want to know," Ed muttered, and Roy realized he must have said that last bit out loud.

Maes was running his fingers through his hair. "I cannot believe this is happening. And it was going so…so…perfe…."

"Will you please stop saying that?" Ed griped. "Besides, there's always a nut at this sort of public spectacle who either wants to kill someone or make some pathetically soppy statement of their affections in front of thousands of people. Which is why that private ceremony I was talking about would have been so much better. Remind me to tell you about the time Alp and I had to take care of some idiot who decided that a coronation would be the right time to proclaim her undying love for the prince of some stupid kingdom…stark naked."

Roy looked like he was considering the merits of such an event occurring, but quickly wiped his face clean of all but the faintest of smirks as Ed glared at him meaningfully. In the awkward silence that followed, one of the soldiers ran up hesitantly with the book Ed had hurled, and the alchemist accepted it absently, dusting it off carelessly against the leg of his pants. There was a rip in the smooth leather of its binding, but it appeared otherwise unharmed.

"Whatever happened to the boy who couldn't treat books with enough respect?" Maes sighed.

Ed shrugged in a show of elaborate indifference. "He grew up and realized there were other things that mattered too. Besides, it's not it's an alchemy text – those are at least useful. And forgive me for trying to save our Fuhrer's life, but I couldn't exactly reach any of my weapons while hanging on to this thing, could I? Now can we please get on with it? Some of us actually have places to be, you know."

"Of course," Roy said with suspicious calm for a man who had just escaped being shot in the back. Again. "Just one thing though, Fullmetal."

Ed rolled his eyes. "Yes?"

"Given your spotty history when it comes to following regulations…I cannot believe you just threw the book at someone."

"Shut up, bastard."


Yes, this day was definitely deteriorating ever more rapidly, in the Fullmetal Alchemist's opinion.

"I cannot believe you're coming to me with this," Ed muttered, rubbing his forehead tiredly. His hair was a mess of flaxen tangles that were clearly the product of having agitated fingers run through it one too many times. "You do realize I'm more than a decade your junior, right?"

"Yes."

"And was orphaned at a very young age, performed human transmutation, spent most of my youth running around searching for a way to reverse its effects, never really had time to delve into the arcana of social norms and niceties."

"Yes."

"And have no experience with the happy state you hope to enter into eventually, nor its attendant familial obligations. That's Al's thing."

"Yes."

"And am currently involved in a relationship that is unlikely to ever reach said happy state, despite an abundance of commitment."

"Yes."

"And have never, in anyone's wildest dreams, been heralded as the epitome of grace, tact and subtlety?"

"Yes."

Ed sighed with exaggerated patience. "Then let me put it very bluntly: why are you asking me for advice on how to proceed with your love life again?"

Jean Havoc shuffled his feet awkwardly, wishing he could sink into the floor. "Well…you're my commanding officer…and I trust you…and you've known the both of us for years…and you were really the one who brought us together…I don't want to ask Hughes, he gushes too much…and I can't ask the Fuhrer!" He glared at the corner of the desk, not wanting to meet the disbelieving tawny stare. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, coming to Ed with his concerns about the way Riza was behaving after her parents had arrived for the inauguration, given that Auric had been a somewhat sympathetic and surprisingly helpful ear before, but Havoc was just now realizing that the combination of Auric's sarcasm and coolly watchful restraint, and Ed's frighteningly keen mind and mercurial temperament, was every bit as terrifying as the Fuhrer in one of his more acidulous moods.

"Roy isn't going to stop being your friend because he's now Fuhrer, Jean," Ed reasoned as calmly as his pounding headache would let him. All he wanted right now was to finish going over the evening's security protocols, hopefully in time to catch a quick catnap back in the BOQ before the inauguration ball. His mess dress hung behind his office door in a canvas suitbag that Maes had gleefully dropped it off earlier. At least he didn't have to worry about the uniform not fitting – the man was too much of a perfectionist to allow that to happen. "And he's far more familiar with the ins and outs of polite society – he's even met Hawkeye's parents before, he'll know how to bring them around. This is Roy Mustang, Master of Manipulation that we're talking about, remember?"

"It's not that," scoffed the lanky Captain. His fingers twitched hopefully towards the crumpled cigarette pack in his pocket, but the glower from the petite blonde whose desk he stood before immediately put paid to that idea. "He'll…he's…he…."

"…has much more experience in these matters than I do," Ed said firmly, as if that put an end to it. His subordinate fidgeted miserably.

"He's the man who stole every girlfriend I ever had! And laughed about it!"

Ed rolled his eyes. "Had you gone on more than one date with any of these women, Jean? And did he actually woo them away or did they simply drop you for him?"

"No, but…oh, come on, Chief, have a heart! You understand, don't you? Riza's just been…distant, since we picked the old Baron up at the station last night. She won't even look at me, like she's ashamed of herself…of us…" and he trailed off, his legs starting to wobble. "Oh lord, she's…she's ashamed of me. She's nobility and I'm noth…."

"Sit!" came the barked order, and Havoc sat, or fell, rather, into the chair that Ed shoved his way. "And if you're going to waste my time with this stuff, Captain, at least have the decency to look at me." Havoc looked up mutely into golden eyes that managed to be simultaneously irritated and compassionate. The Fullmetal Alchemist sat forward in his chair, stabbing an index finger pointedly at his nominal subordinate. "Listen very closely, because I'm only going to say this one more time. Hawkeye. Chose. You. Because she sees something in you. Because you see something in her. Because by being near each other, you make each other better people. You just have to be there for her and show a little faith in her ability to make her own decisions. And frankly Jean, the only person you can make you feel like you're nothing is yourself. Did it ever occur to you that she might be picking up on your own ambivalence about meeting her parents?"

"Easy for you to say," mumbled Havoc, although he felt a little better. The Boss radiated conviction, and anyone who had ever been on the receiving end of one of Ed's forceful diatribes knew it was useless to resist the blonde when he got that set to his jaw. Was this really the cocky little kid who had turned up on the steps of Central all those years ago? Back then he had thought the kid merely another pawn in Mustang's games, a little toy to be shown off, but he had very quickly learned who Edward Elric was – they all had. And then a teenager had disappeared – and a man had been returned to them.

"Yes, it is," agreed Ed testily, jutting his jaw out in a manner that confirmed all of Havoc's musings. "But very tiresome to have to repeat over and over - I'm not as patient as Auric. So if you come to me mooning about like a lovesick cow one more time, I'll transmute you inside out and into next week. Are we clear on that? Now grow a spine, get your mess dress on and go win your girl. But you will remember to get your butt over to the inauguration pavilion and supervise the final security sweep, won't you, Captain?" and just like that, Ed had gone from friend back to superior officer. Havoc jumped as the young Lieutenant Colonel abruptly turned back to his paperwork muttering something under his breath about idiot older people who clearly needed their heads knocked together, and how he didn't have time for this right now, and it would just figure that the bastard Colonel would find some way of ensuring that Havoc wouldn't think to approach him with such petty problems, go get himself made Fuhrer just to escape this sort of….

"Well, technically you made him Fuhrer, Boss," Havoc offered incautiously, immediately regretting it as Ed looked up and fixed him with a baleful glare. "You know, with the swearing-in and all." Damn, the Boss was starting to turn red. "Great ceremony, by the way, you look really good in uniform – um, don't tell Roy I said that – and that thing with the book, great aim…."

He winced as a sharp slap echoed around Ed's office, cracked open an eye and sighed in relief as he realized the sound had come from Ed slamming his open palm on the table. "Out." The feral glint in Ed's eyes promised that the next time the sound was heard, impressive feats of alchemy on Havoc's person would be involved.

"Yes, sir! Going, sir!" and Havoc fled before the blonde alchemist finally snapped and decided to transmute him into a turnip or something equally horrible. Riza's father would not be impressed to have his daughter being courted by a literal hayseed.


Oh for the love of Flamel…would he ever get out of this office and to that damned ball? Not that he enjoyed that sort of thing, but Roy would be there and he had gotten to spend time with the man at all today, apart from their brief interactions in purely official capacities. Ed groaned at the irony of it all – he'd spent weeks running from Roy, and then when he finally had things figured out, the universe appeared to be conspiring to keep them apart!

"Come on, Ed. Blue, or pink? The blue goes well with Al's uniform, but I do like pink…" Winry Rockbell Elric wheedled as she held up two dresses that appeared utterly identical in Ed's eyes. They were both long, with sleeves that fluttered and draped, fitted and pastel. Pastel. He briefly considered claiming colorblindness.

"Winry. Where are we right now?" Ed put his pen down very, very slowly, because if he didn't, he would probably fling it at his childhood friend, and that would result in flying metal objects, bruising, and general mayhem, and he didn't think a black eye would go well with mess dress at all.

His unannounced guest glared. "Your office, obviously. Stop being facetious and answer me!"

"Exactly. My office. Why are you here?" Ed implored tiredly as he rubbed his temples. Did he have a sign on the door saying 'Edward Elric: Therapist, Consultant and All-Around Problem-Solver'? It was the only viable explanation for why all and sundry appeared to think he was the right person to approach with their issues. Fury earlier this morning, Havoc, a couple of young Lieutenants who had wanted advice on how to behave at the ball – and why on earth they would think that Ed of all people would know was beyond his own understanding – and now his sister-in-law. If this was what becoming a Colonel did to you, Roy could keep his damn promotions to himself, thank you very much. He wondered briefly if Mustang had had to cope with similar issues back in the day, and a corner of his mouth twitched up as he realized that Roy had had the additional complication of coping with a certain youngest-ever-State-Alchemist with a famously bad temper.

Ah, the good old days. When all he had to worry about was fixing Al's body. No petty squabbles, no sappy lovesick subordinates, no pesky reporters…if he got one more request for a public statement on his relationship with the Flame Alchemist, he would scream. His phone was currently off the hook for that very reason.

"Because I need help with my dress! Which one should I wear?" Winry's pleas broke into his musings and he sighed, striving to remain patient. He'd spared even Jean Havoc a few minutes after all, he supposed she was entitled to the same.

"Winry. Why are you asking me about your dress, and why aren't you asking Al given that he was the one idiotic…I mean, lucky enough to marry you in the first place? Why are you delaying me from getting to a ball that takes place in," Ed pulled out his pocket watch, "less than an hour, and for which I'm not even ready?"

"Because it's supposed to be a surprise, you jerk," Winry huffed. "You know I'm meeting Al at the door since he's already there. And besides, if you're really…um…with General Mustang – which I still cannot believe you didn't tell me about sooner, by the way – surely some of his taste must have rubbed off?" She blushed at Ed's look of mingled horror and incredulity. "What? He does have a good eye for this sort of thing. Then again," and she eyed Ed's unbuttoned and rumpled uniform jacket, a pair of ink-stained gloves peeking out of one of the pockets, the carelessly rolled up sleeves and hair sticking up every which way, "if he has rubbed off, it's certainly not showing."

Golden eyes flicked up to meet hers and she sucked in a breath at the keen hint of amusement that sparkled in them, the expression simultaneously that of a stranger's and yet somehow Ed's. "Of course not. I did shower this morning at Roy's before leaving, you know."

"Ick. Ick! Edward Elric, you get your mind out of the gutter right now!" Winry all but shrieked as the insinuation sank in. "Al may be okay with you and the General, and I guess I am too, but I do not need to know the details! Oh, he's obviously a bad influence on you!" She was flaming red, her eyes darting nervously around as she waved a hand vigorously before her face as if trying to erase an image from the slate of her mind. "You're never babysitting Winnie again!"

"You started it." Again that strange swing from extreme to extreme, from adult to petulant child, all in an instant. Ed buried his face in his hands. He was so very tired. "Winry, please. I don't want to be here any longer than I have to be. My head hurts. It's been a long day. And I'm expected at a ball I don't want to attend wearing clothes I don't want to wear, where I'll have to talk to people I don't want to talk to just to see the one person I do want to see. Not that I don't want to see you and Al, of course," he tacked on hurriedly – you never knew where Winry might be hiding her wrenches. He knew he sounded whiny and forlorn, but this was Winry – she'd seen him at his worst - and frankly, right now…he didn't really care. He felt beleaguered, bothered and bewildered, all at once, and for the first time in a very long time, he wished he had a mother to turn to. This being an adult thing was hard, especially when part of you still thought it was only sixteen instead of twenty. But then again, he thought wryly as he scrubbed his face wearily with the heels of his hands, had he ever really been a child?

Winry looked at her brother-in-law in surprise. While she was familiar with Ed's occasional bouts of melodrama, this was different. This was Edward Elric, the boy who had cut off his own arm to bind his brother's soul, who had been fitted for automail at eleven without making a sound despite the fact that the procedure generally reduced grown men to cursing, crying lumps of quivering agony, the teenager who had sacrificed himself without thinking to bring his brother back, the man who had, by all accounts, died and essentially risen from his own dust and ashes. He was one of the strongest and most stoic people she knew, even if she'd always found it incredibly frustrating when he would refuse to tell her what was going on in that pretty head of his, and to have him admit to feeling less than completely up to snuff was…well…frightening. She wondered briefly why he hadn't chosen to do this in front of Al instead, before realizing that Ed would always insist on being strong in front of Al because he was the older brother. Winry, on the other hand, was a friend who'd seen him at his weakest – and she felt a strange secret pride in the knowledge that there was something she could do for him that Al could not. The awkward barrier that had existed between them began to crumble as she hesitantly reached out to her friend for the first time since his miraculous return.

"Ed…talk to me. Please." In the light of the setting sun streaming in through the window, and in spite of the elaborate chignon and carefully made-up face, Winry suddenly looked fourteen again, just his old playmate and friend, her blue eyes softening as she carefully set aside the dresses over a nearby chair and reached for his hands, coming around the desk and taking them in hers as she knelt by his chair. "What's really bothering you? Did you fight with Roy? Or Al?"

Ed pressed his lips together, and for an instant Winry thought he was going to snatch his hands back and snap at her. But then he seemed to sag a little as he shook his head. She reached out tentatively and smoothed down his cowlick as she thought about what else could be bothering her friend. "If you're not feeling well, Ed, I'm sure Roy would understand if you didn't attend, or left early. You could use my room at the inn, it's got to be nicer than sleeping in the BOQ."

"No, I can't do that - I promised I would be there," was the quiet reply. "I'm all right, Winry…it's just…everything seems to be moving so quickly, you know? So much to do…and I try to be on top of it all, but sometimes it's just so fucking hard," and for once the blonde woman didn't say anything about his language, just nodded wisely and continued to listen. "It's funny, I can deal with…with death, and war and pain, but it's just the little things that wear at you, you know? All these people coming to me with petty little problems, the constant harassment by the press – how the hell does Roy deal with it? And this is just one day, and I'm already tired…and all I want to do is curl up and rest in Roy's arms and not be the one always watching out for things, always on the alert, always the strong one people turn to for help…but I can't do that, he doesn't need one more thing to worry about." He made a faintly disgruntled noise and wrinkled his nose at himself. "This is stupid. I'm the Fullmetal Alchemist, and here I am whining like a child."

"Everyone does from time to time. And I think he probably worries about you regardless, Ed," Winry pointed out pragmatically. "So you might as well take advantage of it and let yourself lean on him."

"I don't want to be weak in front of him, WInry," Ed shrugged. "Forget it, I'm just being stupid. It's just…last night was the first time we'd been able to spend time together since my…um…return. And then we've been so busy all of today, and even when we're in the same room, he's so careful and proper and distant somehow, and I know we have to be for propriety's sake, but…." He sighed, his brow darkening. "I know I told him to quit with the blatant innuendos, but a little reassurance in public wouldn't hurt either, and it would keep some of the creeps away." A sheepish look crossed his face as he shook his head despairingly at himself. "Fuck, I sound like such a girl."

Winry narrowed her eyes, thought about that for all of half a second, then let of Ed's hands, brought one small fist back and punched him on the arm. Hard.

"What the hell was that for?" snarled Ed as he jerked away. "For crying out loud, Winry…."

"No, you listen to me, you…you…moron," Winry snapped, and the tone in her voice was sharp as the crack of a whip. She looks almost like Teacher Izumi right now, Ed thought dazedly. "That's what's bothering you? For a genius, Edward Elric, you really can be incredibly stupid sometimes. Isn't it obvious what he's doing for you? You know he's one who would rather let actions speak for him."

Ed blinked. "Winry…." For someone who hadn't seemed entirely convinced about the appropriateness of Roy and Ed's relationship, she was a little…too much on Roy's side.

"I'm not done yet!" and Ed promptly shut his mouth again – he had the feeling that anything else would only prolong the pain. Well, he'd wished for a mother…perhaps he should have been more specific, he thought, as a finger waggled itself in his line of vision. "You're the one who's been making a fuss about your private life being splashed across the front page of every newspaper from here to Xing! Don't you think he knows how much you hate it? He's being discreet because he thinks that's what you want from him."

"That is what I want from him!" Ed muttered defensively. Well, it was. Wasn't it?

"Right," Winry drawled, managing to raise a skeptical brow that would have given Mustang a run for his money. "That's why you're sitting here in a state of self-pitying martydom sulking. For goodness sakes, Ed, if you love him and he loves you, there's nothing wrong in letting others around you share in the joy. The papers only fuss because you make it seem like it is a big deal to see the two of you together – they'll get sick of it soon enough. You've always been good at going out and getting what you want, so if you want him to pay attention to you in public, show him that you don't mind it! Get out of that chair, get dressed and let's go to the damn ball, where you are going to knock his socks off and make him remember that you're the Fullmetal Alchemist and the love that he waited four years for, and that you deserve to be adored by him and to have everyone know that you are. If I know our Fuhrer, he's only waiting for a signal to sweep you off your feet, so give it to him!" and her scowl as she ranted was positively Elric, if only by marriage. "Men! You may have brains, but when it comes to matters of the heart, you're all a bunch of numbskulls."

Stunned aureate eyes met blazing blue ones. "I…um…." Ed ran his hand though his hair again, suddenly at a loss for words, and Winry rolled her eyes.

"Stop doing that! Here, let me," and she fished a comb out from somewhere on her person, standing up and moving behind him. Ed tensed warily, but allowed her to undo the ribbon that held his hair back. He could hear the wistful smile in Winry's voice as she began to pick out the tangles in his mane, the care with which she worked a soothing balm to his weary soul. They had always expressed their affection for each other in deeds rather than in words, from the birthday toys he and Al had transmuted for her as children to the obsessive attention she had devoted to his automail limbs when he had needed them. She seemed to be lost in similar reminiscences, because the next thing she said was, "Do you remember how I used to braid your hair for you when you were first fitted with automail?"

"Yes…you said you couldn't stand looking at the bird's nest on my head any longer," came the soft laugh. "I refused at first, said it was too girly. But then I got used to it, and Al said he liked it better long, so I never got around to cutting it off. And then whenever we were staying with you and Granny Pinako, you'd braid my hair before we left. I used to wait for as long as possible before taking it down, you know?"

A small sound of amusement. "That's sweet. Unfortunately, I suppose it'll have to be a ponytail now," she sighed regretfully. "It'll look really good with your mess dress though," and deft fingers used to picking through the minute delicate components of automail swiftly gathered his shining locks into a neat handful and tied it off. "There, you'll be the envy of every man – and woman – at this thing. Now go wash your face and get dressed. Since you've kept me here this long, you can escort me to the pavilion." She made to move away, but Ed reached up and caught her arm gently.

"Thanks, Winry. For always being there. For keeping my head on straight," and the emotion in Ed's voice made the blonde woman tear up and punch him furiously on the shoulder again.

"Look what you did, you idiot, you're making me cry and ruining my makeup!" She dabbed at her eyes carefully with her fingertips. "Now come on, you never did give me an answer. Pink, or blue?"

Ed groaned.