A/N: ^^ Thank you for the warm 'welcome back' last chapter :D I wish you much fun reading^^
Co-Author&Beta: Ca11iope, who took care of this even sick ^^ Thank you!
Determination was such a wonderful thing. So was devotion. And making concrete plans for the future was right up there too.
The logical mind could come up with the most perfect of scenarios. It could map out an ideal, fairy tale happily ever after, and everything would naturally fall into place.
Until emotions screwed you over.
Leaning back from the kiss, Riza Hawkeye looked Roy Mustang square in the eye and prepared to hand down her verdict. Exactly one week after the debacle of Roy's blind mistake with Edward, the Colonel and his Lieutenant had finally recaptured the mood.
They had gone on an official date. He had asked, she had accepted. They had met that afternoon on his front steps because she didn´t want him to risk driving; his sight was newly restored, and his eyes became tired quickly. They had walked to a small café in his neighborhood. By mutual agreement, they had kept their conversation casual and avoided shop talk. Riza had to admit that she had enjoyed his company, not as her commanding officer, but as a man, and as her friend. The walk back to his home in the warm evening air had been pleasant, with an edge of growing anticipation for what was to come. They had come full circle, once again standing face to face on his front steps.
And they had kissed.
"God, that was awful." She summed up the experience as a matter of fact.
The kiss had done absolutely nothing for her. No butterflies. No fireworks. No spark. No nothing. She was actually even a bit grossed out. She had felt him falter as he kissed her, as if he was expecting something he did not find, so she knew what his own assessment of the experience would be before he spoke.
Instead of being insulted, the man in front of her chuckled. It was good to see his dark, intelligent eyes light up. She would be forever grateful to Tim Marcoh for that, if nothing else.
"I agree," Roy confirmed in a soft, amused voice. She couldn´t bring herself to feel insulted either.
"I feel like I just kissed my brother," Riza said thoughtfully, and Mustang nodded.
"Same here," he agreed, then added, "or my sister, actually."
Tilting her head to the side, Riza observed the man.
If that kiss proved anything to her – beside the fact that logic was only reliable until emotions got involved – it was that, romantically speaking, there was nothing between them, and there never would be. One thing she remained sure of however, was that she cared about him deeply. The feelings she had mistaken for romantic love were still there.
So, all in all, the truth of her relationship with Roy wasn't a total disaster. It would take time for her to get over this completely unexpected turn of events, but she was a strong and determined woman. She would accept the situation for what it was and move forward. It would do no good to dwell on how badly her plans for the future had been crushed, reality revealed in a single, disastrous kiss. It was almost ridiculous, but the very thing she had longed for and dreamed about for so long… it creeped her out to a level of provoking goose bumps.
No. If her feelings really were that of a sibling, she would work with that.
"Speaking about kissing brothers…" She slowly drew the words out and could see Mustang's eyebrow arch up. "…there is something I want to talk to you about."
Roy stared at her. Then he coughed. Avoiding her eyes, he appeared ready to run for his life despite the fact that they were standing at his front door. Unintentionally, her lips twitched. Maybe this whole sister-brother thing would be more fun than expected. She was sure to brood over the failed romance and make new plans for the future at a later date, but now? Now she would do something entirely else.
As an only child, she had never experienced the joys of having a sibling, and Roy's reaction just now was positively delightful. Again, she felt that warm affection for him, but now she knew it for what it was.
Quickly, she latched onto his arm, wrapping her hands around it. It was absolutely atypical of her, but after the complete shock of having the truth of her feelings revealed, she felt both relieved and almost giddy. Her superior looked at her as if she had grown another head when she dragged him towards his front door.
"I think this calls for a bottle of wine. Or two. Because we really do need to talk," she said softly.
She tightened her grip on his arm, to let him know that there was no escape.
And on any other night, Mustang might have objected. On any other night, the always-correct Riza Hawkeye wouldn´t have suggested it. But this was a night of new beginnings.
In the morning, two wasted soldiers would awake on the floor of Roy's living room to curse every tiny noise in the world. They would cringe at the light shining through the drapes. One of them would provide breakfast in the form of painkillers and a foul tasting hangover cure that Madam Christmas swore by.
However, neither of them would regret that night, because it hadn't been spent simply drinking. It had been spent getting over broken plans and shattered hopes. And it had been spent forming a new bond. A bond one of them had never had with anyone, and the other had never thought to have again after Maes Hughes' death. It might not have been romantic, but it felt damn good all the same.
Roy frowned at his team. They frowned back at him. He should have known that even though he had not broadcast the event, word of his date with Riza would likely get back to his staff. It was obvious that someone must have seen them share that single, eye-opening kiss on his doorstep. Perhaps someone had seen Riza leaving early the next morning. Under the circumstances it must have appeared that Roy and Riza had finally crossed the proverbial bridge and became a couple. Hell, if things had been different, the Colonel and his most trusted Lieutenant likely would have skipped happily across that bridge.
But they hadn't.
"We are not a couple," the Colonel stated with great conviction.
Their faces fell. Havoc in particular looked almost desperate in his disbelief.
"This office is no place for a discussion about the disposition of my private life, or the Colonel's," Hawkeye cut in, her voice cool and professional. "We are not a couple," She restated very firmly. "As far as this meeting is concerned, the agenda has been covered. I suggest you return to your desks." To emphasize her suggestion, Riza placed one hand on her belt, next to her weapon.
For a moment, there was silence as the men stared like rabbits caught in the headlights. Then they scrambled for the door, stumbling over each other in their haste to follow the Lieutenant's advice.
For the first time since he had known her, Roy was able to view this common situation the way Hawkeye might see it, and to recognize the hint of amusement in her eyes. Amused himself, Roy glanced to his First Lieutenant and saw her looking back. His understanding must have shown on his face, because for just a tiny moment, her professional mask cracked and the hint of a wicked smile crossed her lips.
"I'm not sure how I feel about my most trusted Lieutenant taking so much pleasure from torturing my men," the Colonel informed her dryly.
"Sir, it´s always a genuine pleasure to perform my duty," she replied, just as serious, "and I believe that encouraging the staff to adopt an efficient work ethic is one of my most rewarding tasks."
"Encouraging my ass. Scarring them for life is more like it," Roy murmured. It had taken quite the effort to not laugh out loud at the surprisingly acrobatic stunts the men had managed to perform in order for all off them to fit through the door at once.
"And may I remind you, Sir, that encouraging you to do your work is also in my job description?" she added. "These papers are not going to sign themselves."
Roy snorted. Obviously, the men were not the only ones she was paid to torment.
"Well, I'm pleased to know that you enjoy your job. I´m also glad to know that shooting the men was never your intention." Or him, for the matter. Picking up his pen, Mustang sent her a smile.
Hawkeye cocked her head and observed him in a manner that reminded him of the bird she partially shared her name with.
"Sir, I do admit their reactions are highly amusing, but I never said I wouldn´t shoot to discourage laziness."
Mustang´s smile faltered.
"Did you see that?!" Havoc whispered, trying to keep his voice both low and penetrating. His attempts didn´t really work, but since no bullets were fired in his direction from the inner office, that was fine.
"See what?" Breda huffed and took some files from his incoming mail box. "Hawkeye was about to put a few holes in us, that´s all I saw." The redhead threw the files on his desk before sitting down to scowl at them.
"She smiled at him. Just now! I saw it!" Havoc claimed.
"Sure." Breda said, then turned a little pale when he noticed that he had forgotten that his sandwich was on the desk. The paperwork was resting squarely on top of it. Carefully, he lifted the file and watched mayonnaise drip from the folder. His eyes grew large.
Ever the helpful companion, Havoc commented the scene. "Uh oh… Good luck when Hawkeye finds out."
"Damn," Breda cursed. Then he noticed mayonnaise was also sticking to his sleeve, and quickly lifted his arms so nothing else would get soiled. "Damn," the man said again, this time with much more fervor.
Fuery huffed and lifted the file out of his co-workers hands. He placed it on his own almost-neat desk and started to carefully pull out the papers.
"We´ll just replace the folder," the technician offered as a solution, and Breda sent him a grateful smile while Falman walked to the stationary cabinet to look out for a clean, but otherwise identical folder.
While Breda slipped out of his jacket so his mucky sleeves wouldn´t leave any more stains, he looked back to Havoc. "Give it up, man. There´s nothing going on there," he said.
Handing the clean folder to Fuery, Falman took the dirty one and frowned as he observed the stains. Breda opened his mouth to make a suggestion, but suddenly hesitated.
"Things are kind of different now," he said, and as the rest of the staff frowned at his statement, he sheepishly admitted, "I just thought… well, we could give the folder to Ed so he could transmute that stuff out."
The sentence was met with nostalgic silence. A moment given to not only a former comrade, but also someone they all knew as an alchemist, and who was one no longer.
"It´s weird, Ed without alchemy," Havoc said into the silence.
Breda hummed and Falman threw the folder into the trash with a sigh. Fuery placed the clean folder at the edge of his desk and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe bits of mayonnaise off the wooden surface.
"Going to miss him," Breda hummed quietly, almost as if he was ashamed to admit his feelings.
Nodding slightly, Havoc added. "Brat grows on you, doesn´t he?"
"So he´s not coming back?" The now youngest team-member sounded sad. "It´s just a leave of absence right now, isn't it?"
"He´s no longer an alchemist, so his State certification will be revoked," Falman pointed out.
"So… what about his rank? Will he still be a major?" Breda wondered.
"State alchemists are given a rank equal to major in recognition of their talent and special training," Falman said. "He no longer has that talent, and so can no longer utilize his special training."
Breda, now cleaning his desk of the squashed remains of his sandwich, threw a completely soiled handkerchief into his own trash can before he pulled out another one. "It doesn´t seem fair to demote him after everything he did," the redhead growled, upset.
"I can´t see him enlisting as a regular soldier either," Falman admitted. "He doesn't have the temperament."
The rest blinked at the strangeness of Falman demonstrating the creativity to imagine a future scenario. The man might appear as dry as bread left in the desert sun, but somewhere, hidden very deeply, was a bit of imagination not often seen.
"We will discuss Fullmetal's options when he returns to Central," Roy Mustang´s voice made Havoc jump in his seat.
Fuery 'eep'ed and Falman quickly turned towards his commanding officer as he entered the room. Breda's second soiled tissue fell on the chubby man's trousers and left another splash of former sandwich. His eyes grew wide, but he could hardly curse in front of his superior. The rest of the team barely managed not to snicker at his misfortune. Even though he was in no position to say anything, Heyman Breda was not below sending his commander a reproachful glance.
The Colonel continued. "Currently, he´s on paid leave, but Ful-" Roy just managed to catch his mistake. "- Major El-" for a second time, Mustang cut himself of. There was silence for a moment before the frowning Colonel continued, "Edward will have to report in after his leave is over."
Havoc thought something was funny about his commander's expression as he passed on that information. It almost seemed like he had something more to add, but stopped himself a third time. Maybe it was due to the fact that Ed and Al had dropped in to say goodbye personally to everyone on the team - except for Mustang and Hawkeye. That had to sting a bit.
Jean´s frown deepened as he suddenly wondered why the Elrics had snubbed the Colonel and Lieutenant that way. Sure, Edward and his Colonel had fought tooth and nail since the day they'd met, but the Second Lieutenant thought that they had at least respected each other enough for Ed to personally offer his farewell. It was also hard to imaging Alphonse doing something so ill mannered. The younger Elric was polite almost to a fault. And to top it off, the brothers had also left without a goodbye to Hawkeye, which was even stranger. Riza had always had a soft spot for both Elrics, and had gone out of her way to make sure the brothers were well treated at Headquarters and on base. They had always gotten along very well, or at least Havoc had thought so. It didn't make sense for the boys to leave without saying goodbye to the First Lieutenant.
Unless Ed and Al planned to return. But then why did they bid farewell to the rest of the team? Maybe they only planned a brief visit later so Ed could officially resign. Not a pleasant thought either.
However, none of the soldiers present were willing to talk about the inconsistencies in this situation. No one wanted to mention that Ed might ultimately return to resign and say his goodbyes for good, and they sure as hell didn´t want to think that he might not return and leave both Hawkeye and Mustang without a word. Just as disturbing was the thought that the blond might return to leave a letter of resignation with Führer-elect Grumman without seeing the Colonel and the Hawk at all. It was disheartening enough to imagine Ed stripped of his title and rank, forced to leave the military, his friends, and his comrades, all because of his selfless act of restitution.
There was always the possibility that Ed might return to stay in the military of course, but the more Havoc thought about it, the less likely it seemed. It was no secret in Roy's close-knit command that Amestris' youngest ever State Alchemist had only joined their ranks to find a way to free his brother from the armor in which his soul was imprisoned. He had achieved that goal. Al was back in his natural body. Was there any reason for Edward Elric to remain a military dog?
An annoyed growl broke Havoc's contemplation.
"If he doesn´t show up at the end of his leave, I´ll personally drag him back here and deduct the travelling costs from his last paycheck," Mustang growled.
And likely take the opportunity to leave his desk - and his neglected paperwork - behind. However, even Hawkeye seemed in favor of that plan, and when she nodded, the dark atmosphere in the room brightened.
Chuckling softly, Havoc couldn´t help but be more optimistic about the whole situation. Considering their history, most people probably thought Mustang would be glad to be rid of his annoying young subordinate, but that was obviously not the case. It appeared that the Colonel wasn't willing to let the short blond get away so easily.
Al had previously felt that his brother was suffocating him with his overprotective hovering, and that had not changed. Now, however, the younger Elric had the perfect device to counter that annoying habit. One simple sentence had Ed suddenly remembering some forgotten task and running from Al's presence. It worked every time. Six simple words, and Al had peace, quite, and most precious of all, privacy.
"Brother, let´s talk about the Colonel."
Ed startled, eyes darting to all corners of the room in search of escape. The former Fullmetal Alchemist had always been impulsive about running head first into danger. He was fearless in his pursuit of his goals. But the effort he put into avoiding this particular topic was truly astonishing.
Dreaded sentence met Al's demand. As usual. But this time Al wasn't trying to drive his brother away. This time he wanted answers. And this time, he wasn't going to let Edward get away before he got them. Alphonse had exhausted almost every possible approach to get Ed to open up about what had happened with the Colonel. That left Al only one alternative, and while it was a dirty tactic, it might also prove to be his only chance to get to the bottom of this.
So he shuffled his deck and pulled out the guilt card.
"I feel guilty..." Al started, knowing very well that this statement would make his brother feel responsible for Al's guilt.
And just as predicted, Ed winced slightly but gave his brother his undivided attention. That was progress. In the past he had fled rather quickly.
As much as Pinako might appreciate Ed´s sudden boundless eagerness regarding household chores, she had become suspicious as well. Still, she quickly took advantage of it, with the added bonus of giving Al some much needed time for himself. After two weeks though, the younger Elric felt that Ed had avoided this discussion for long enough. Al was on his feet again, and although he needed crutches for support, Ed couldn't run from him anymore. Since the house was spotlessly clean and in good repair thanks to Edward's current avoidance method, Al was quick to enlist Pinako's help. She had arranged for Edward's next task to keep him in one place for an extended period, making it impossible to flee when Al came in and demanded answers.
"I'm kind of busy Al," Ed said as he sorted through a huge bucket of nuts and bolts of various sizes.
"You can talk and sort hardware at the same time, brother," Al admonished him.
"There's nothing to talk about," Ed said, not meeting Al's steady gaze.
"Really brother?" Al's tone was pure disbelief. "I went along when you insisted we leave Central without saying goodbye to the Colonel and Lieutenant Hawkeye because you promised to explain later. Well, it's later. I want my explanation." Alphonse folded his arms across his chest.
"I really don't want to talk about this Al," Ed all but whined.
"The Colonel and the Lieutenant helped us so much; I think we should at least have thanked them for all their hard work," the younger Elric insisted. Edward squirmed in his seat, but didn´t protest. "We left without a word to either of them, and that´s not nice, brother," Al scolded
Ed perked up, and Al knew his brother had latched onto something he'd said. "We did let them know were leaving," the older sibling threw in. "I left my request for leave on the bastard's desk."
"But the Colonel wasn't there, and neither was Hawkeye." Alphonse was quick to point out.
"Not my fault, not my problem. We had a train to catch." Ed's stubborn reply was accompanied with eyes shifting to the side, avoiding his brother's.
"We had plenty of time to catch that train, brother," Al said, though he kindly didn't point out that he knew that Edward had chosen to go to headquarters at a time when he was sure Mustang and Hawkeye would not be in.
For a moment, Al almost felt guilty for forcing his brother to face this. It was not like Ed to avoid confronting a situation. The fact that he was said more than enough about Ed's ability to cope with what happened between him and Mustang. And that made Alphonse even more determined to find out just what happened so that he could help his brother through it.
Alphonse Elric was an understanding person; he really was. He could see his brother was overwhelmed with this sudden crush of physical attraction. More so since it was a man. And on top of that, it was Colonel Mustang.
It was a lot to accept, Al could see that. But in all probability Ed might still have been able to look Mustang in the face and deal with it, until the news of Hawkeye's and Mustang's status as an official couple entered the picture. Even Al had to admit that his brother might need some time to come to terms with this new development, and so he had agreed to leave Central without saying proper goodbyes.
But as time went on it became obvious that Edward was not coming to terms with anything. He wasn´t even attempting to sort out the mess his feelings were in. It must have been hard for Ed to cope with the major changes in his life: giving up his alchemy, leaving the military, and now discovering his sexual preference on top of all that. Al knew how he felt, because he was going through some major changes himself. He had spent five years in an unfeeling shell, and getting used to everything that a flesh and blood body had to offer was often overwhelming. But Al was dealing with it one day at a time, because he had to, so he could move on with his life.
Which was something Ed was not doing, but needed to.
"Fine, let´s not talk about Colonel Mustang," Alphonse said slowly, seeing how much it took for Ed resist shouting out in relief. "How about we talk about your physical attraction to men?" the younger Elric suggested.
Ed froze in the midst of scooping a handful of neatly sorted metal fasteners off the workbench, then very slowly he turned his head to Alphonse.
Clearly horrified, he choked out, "How is that not talking about Mustang?"
"I said men, brother; that doesn´t specify any man in particular. But if you feel you´re attracted to the Colonel alone -"
"I DIDN´T SAY THAT!" The elder jumped from his seat and screeched in a tone usually reserved for his I´m-not-short rants.
It was followed by silence, punctuated by the heavy panting of the red faced, elder sibling. Alphonse patiently waited for his brother to calm down, pointedly staring.
After a few moments, Edward sat down again and nervously bit his lip.
"I… just… I´m not… Uhm… sure what..." the older blond's words stumbled to a halt, and he looked at his younger brother in pure misery.
Alphonse was saddened by how absolutely incompetent Edward seemed to be with regard to matters of the heart. Sure, he hadn't had any time to experience much in that area, and it had to be quite a shock to find out your preferences tended toward persons of the same gender. Still, something had to be done about it.
Alphonse was no expert either of course. Both brothers knew the basics of adult relationships and sexual reproduction, but both of them were pathetically ill equipped to deal with this whole dating and meeting people romantically thing. What they could really use was some advice, but Al couldn't see either of them seeking it from Granny Pinako. Or Winry. Or worst of all, Teacher.
"I think you… we... might need to do some… research," Al said thoughtfully.
Maybe it helped to put it in scientific terms. Maybe it was the word 'we' that did the trick. But Edward's tense shoulders finally relaxed and he seemed to give his brother's suggestion some serious thought. Then he looked back to Alphonse, who sat down by the workbench, crutches next to him against the wall.
"I don´t think there's much room for research in Resembool," Ed said.
Al thought about their neighbors, most of them married, older, or elderly, and nodded his agreement. Added to that, neither Elric wanted to get caught in their small home town's gossip mill.
"Well..." Alphonse dragged out. "I´m sure Doctor Knox would like to see how my body is doing. And I've heard that Central´s night life is the best in Amestris, so we can assume that you would meet someone suitable for you."
"… you´re not suggesting Central because of the Colonel and Hawkeye, are you?" Ed demanded to know, instantly suspicious.
He received a glance of pure innocence back.
"Brother. If they are a couple, you aren´t likely to meet either of them in the kind of clubs we'll be going to. We'll be looking for places where single people get together. That would be the best way for you to find someone who might help you gain some experience." Al frowned. "But please, remember to be careful about what you let people do to you. And don't forget to put on-"
"Al!" The elder once again cut in sharply. Alphonse sent a reproachful glance back and Edward huffed, crossing his arms before his chest "I know," he scowled, then looked at his brother with a thoughtful expression. "What about you?" he asked hesitantly. "Are you planning to...?"
Alphonse smiled softly and shook his head. "I think I'll wait a few more months. My body is not exactly up to much… errr…. physical activity." Al pretended not to notice how relieved Ed appeared. "I'll probably get together with our old friends." Al sent his brother a huge grin. "I'm sure that when they hear we're moving back to Central, they'll be happy to help us get settled, don't you agree?"
He pretended not to hear his brother´s groan.
Even if Ed insisted on being pigheaded about the situation with Mustang, once they were in Central, it wouldn´t be quite so easy to avoid the Colonel and his Lieutenant.
In fact, Al would make sure of it.
Soo… I think I finally managed a chapter without a cliffhanger o.O Huh… feels strange… XD Let me know what you think ^^
PS: For everybody wondering: Al does know about the kiss and Roy being the one who kissed Ed, but Ed hadn´t really felt like going into detail and tell Al about how that happened XD I´ll get back to that ^.~
Guest: Not quite, but good guess ^.~ But I hope you still like the development :D