Ever – Chapter Three

Everyone starts to see the shape of the future. Drama, I-3

The Elrics had often been welcome guests at the Hughes residence, and since they had moved to Central their visits had come more frequently.

Often around dinner time.

It was not unusual for them to encounter Roy there, much to Gracia’s amusement. Their current visit was no exception on either of those counts. This particular weekend, though, Hughes and Gracia played host to a full-fledged party held for three reasons.

One, It was the middle of summer and the best time to cook and eat all kinds of messy foods outside.

Two, Fullmetal had returned from a three week trip to a small mountain town which had featured a nasty feud, the participants of which were now all hospitalized much to the merriment of their neighbors.

And three, Roy Mustang had been promoted.

He and Hughes leaned on the porch rail, taking a break from the activity out in the yard. Havok and Gracia were beside the firepit, probably debating whether the marinade needed another dash of vinegar to be perfect. Fury and Farman were cornered by Armstrong, and starting to look desperate. Hawkeye and Ross were leaning against an old maple tree comparing the merits of ale versus porter; the ice chest was sitting in the shade beside them to facilitate their discussion and no one had been fool enough to challenge them for possession of it yet. Elysia had teamed up with Black Hayate to chase the Elric brothers and their housemate in energetic circles.

Elysia squealed with glee as Fullmetal turned at bay to scoop her up and toss her in the air.

“Winry-neechan! Help, help!”

Winry Rockbell had a decidedly evil smile when she was bent on mischief, Roy thought. She and Fullmetal were a good match for each other.

She obviously knew where he was ticklish, for one thing.

The entire lot of them went down in a tangle of arms and legs, and barking as Black Hayate jumped in. Fullmetal eventually extracted himself and collapsed in the shadow of the porch to catch his breath while Elysia dragged his brother and the girl off to see her new slide.

“How do you keep up with her?” Roy asked his friend.

“Most of the time I don’t,” Hughes admitted, smiling.

Elysia came galloping back to try to reclaim her errant playmate. Fullmetal staged an elaborate mock death to convince her how much she’d worn him out.

“Give me a few minutes, and I’ll be along,” he promised when she pouted mightily at him.

“Ok. Hurry, though, Ed-niisan! We’re by the flowers; here, so you remember.” She deposited a sloppy circlet of flowers on Fullmetal’s head and ran off.

Slowly, Edward lifted the flowers down and held them in his hands. His eyes darkened, stilled. Roy had seen that look often enough to know that it meant he was thinking of Nina Tucker. Those particular flowers always seemed to do it, the same ones Roy remembered from the remarkable transmutation Fullmetal had performed at his exam.

Hughes apparently knew it too, which didn’t surprise Roy at all.

“Ed-kun,” Hughes called quietly. “It’s summer. And Elysia is my daughter. There’s no need to worry.”

A little of the tension left Edward’s shoulders as he turned, and he managed a small, self-deprecating smile. “Sorry. Am I that obvious?”

“Yes,” Roy answered him.

Fullmetal turned further to look at him, focusing. Roy nodded. “Be careful of that expression when you aren’t among friends.”

Fullmetal’s mouth tightened a fraction and he nodded back. When he stood, though, he paused, staring down at the flowers again. At last he turned back to bend a thoughtful eye on Roy.

“Jun… Shousho.” He was silent for a long moment, and Roy could see one question after another flickering behind his eyes. Then resolution sharpened them.

“If there were another war, a civil war, what would you do? Shousho.”

Roy didn’t know which memory of his own unguarded expressions had started Fullmetal’s train of thought, but he’d certainly hit on the source of just about all of them—that very first deployment in war. Impressive.

“I would stop it.”

Fullmetal met his even gaze with a searching one. Roy wasn’t sure how many of the answers inside that answer Edward found—I’ve killed innocents, Yes I know that guilt, I’m sorry, I hate it, Whatever I have to do—but he seemed to accept whatever he did find. He hesitated, and then tossed the flowers up to Roy before turning to go. An ambiguous gesture, Roy reflected.

“Roy,” Hughes hissed, “what are you doing?”

Roy raised a brow. Hughes frowned at him.

“For a second there he looked just like you!”

“Mm.” Roy pushed away from the rail. “I think it’s about time for another drink. What about you?”

Hazel eyes speared him before his friend agreed. Their path past the ice chest ended by the apple tree where no one would overhear them.

“So?”

Roy took a long drink and sighed. “This was his own choice, Maas, the exchange he asked for.”

“What was, Roy?”

“To learn how to play the game; to keep himself from being played.”

Maas looked sidelong at him. “To learn to be like you?” he asked softly.

“Not exactly, I wouldn’t think,” Roy smiled, but Maas shook his head.

“He’s always worked to meet you on even terms, and now he’s asked you to teach him how to do it and you agreed.” Maas took a long pull of his beer and looked out over the yard to where Winry was showing an entranced Elysia how to take apart the feet of her slide and reset them more securely. The brothers had been drafted as lifters for the effort and Edward, at least, was looking put-upon.

“You agreed,” Maas repeated, “so you must think this is the best thing for them. Why?”

Roy didn’t argue with his friend’s perception; it was invariably a lost cause. “Do you really think it would serve Edward to always rely on my protection? To not have the knowledge to protect himself? Do you think that would serve Alphonse?” He paused. “Or the Rockbell girl?”

“I wondered when she would come into this,” Maas muttered.

Roy reached up to hang the flowers on a low branch. “Edward’s guilt is for omission. Mine is somewhat more direct. I have a responsibility there.” Roy turned the bottle in his hands. “And while Fullmetal has always made his own choices, I accepted a certain responsibility there as well when I took a twelve year old child into my command.”

“He isn’t twelve any more,” Maas observed.

“Precisely.”

A slow and slightly crooked smile took over Maas’ mouth. He leaned against Roy’s shoulder for a second. “You’re too soft hearted for this business, Roy.”

“So are you,” Roy returned, allowing himself a brief, affectionate glance. “But that’s why we’re doing it, after all.”

As Hughes wandered off to distract Gracia from cooking Roy chose a path that took him past the group of youngsters now sitting by the flowerbeds and watching Elysia burn yet more of her infinite store of energy by pestering Hawkeye to show her the right way to climb trees.

“You should get out of the house more, Ed,” Winry was saying, “I know you want to spend as much time with Al as you can since you’re traveling so much, but you can be together without burying yourselves in your library.”

“I do go out,” Fullmetal pointed out carelessly, “Al and I went to the city library just yesterday.”

Roy’s mouth quirked at the fulminating look she gave him. In passing he wondered just how many books the Elrics had acquired in the half year or so since they had moved into a house with room to store them. Fullmetal had been drawing on his research fund more heavily than usual.

“You said you found a nice park the other day, Winry,” Alphonse broke in, ever the peacemaker, “we could take a walk to it tomorrow, since we don’t know when Nii-san will have to leave again.”

“Not for some time,” Roy put in, behind them.

Winry jumped, and both Fullmetal and Alphonse spun around.

“Why, because you’re going to give me a heart attack and make it all beside the point?” Fullmetal snapped.

Roy gave such an unsubtle rejoinder the faint smirk it deserved. “The most meaningful trouble spots have all been… stirred. Your tasks will be here in the city for a while.”

Fullmetal snorted. “I knew you had an itemized list.”

“I never claimed otherwise.”

“Yeah, yeah. When do you want me to come in?”

“The beginning of next week will do.”

Fullmetal nodded agreement and waved a hand as if to shoo his commander away. A corner of Roy’s mouth twitched. He offered a short bow to Winry who still looked a bit wide-eyed with surprise and turned to go.

“Shousho.”

Roy looked over his shoulder to find Fullmetal’s eyes fixed on him sharply.

“Would you really?”

Roy heard the rest of the question: would he really stop another civil war. Another Winry. And because it was important for Fullmetal to understand just how much the game he was learning demanded Roy let his smooth expression slip just a bit.

“I would.” Whatever it took, whatever was necessary, even if it cost whatever was left of his soul. And the deeper answer.

I can.

Fullmetal relaxed again and wiggled his fingers to hurry Roy off. Roy chuckled and obliged, though he stopped in the shadow of Gracia’s lilac hedge to make sure all his edges were tucked in again.

Thus, he heard Alphonse, faintly.

“Nii-san, what’s going on?”

“Hm? What do you mean, Al?”

“For a second he looked… he looked just like you do sometimes…”

Dire silence.

“Excuse me?”

While Alphonse hedged a bit at the flat tone in his brother’s voice, Winry chipped in.

“Yeah, actually the two of you are a pretty good match, the way you argue.”

Fullmetal’s outrage turned heads all over the yard. Roy slipped away, shaking his head.

Some things really never did change.

TBC