Ever – Chapter Two

Ed makes the decision to continue protecting his brother. Drama, I-3

Ed looked with dislike at the innocent wooden door in front of him. On the other side of it waited the beginning of the rest of his life, for what he was glumly sure would be years.

At least he had managed to persuade Al to stay home and help Winry calibrate her drill-press.

Unable to find a reason to delay any longer, Ed pushed open the door.

“Good morning, Fullmetal,” the General said without looking up from his papers.

Ed kicked the door shut behind him and slumped into the couch. The General’s mouth quirked.

“Starting my new collection of scuff marks already?”

Ed sniffed. “So? Where do you want me to go rake things up? I’m sure you have an itemized list.”

The General tented his hands. “Loose ends first. An exercise for you. What are you going to do about Alphonse?”

Cryptic and obscure as always, Ed reflected with irritation. Sometimes he really thought Mustang had been reading alchemical manuscripts for too long.

The General waved as it to brush Ed’s annoyance aside. “If you really don’t understand I’ll explain, but I need to know how much you see on your own.”

What will I do about Al? I’ll keep him out of this! Ed voiced these sentiments. “As long as I’m being visible, everyone will pay less attention to Al. There was no reason for him to become the military’s dog then, and there’s less now.”

“And your shadow over him will be his protection.” The General nodded. “A good start. Now, what will you tell people about his appearance?”

Ed blinked.

“His appearance has changed rather drastically,” Mustang pointed out with exaggerated patience. “You will need to have a reason for those who ask, if you don’t want anyone to start putting pieces together and suspecting the real reason. If you become seriously suspected of having performed human transmutation and reversed it nothing will keep the two of you out of a locked room somewhere in this building for the rest of your lives.”

Ed, who had bridled at the sarcasm, stopped and thought. This was why he was here, to learn how to think of and prevent these things. And it was a familiar consideration, after all; just in a different form now. If Al really had been wearing armor why would he have stopped?

Well, there was always…

Ed started snickering. Before long he was leaning on the arm of the couch, clutching his stomach and chortling.

“Share the joke?” the General requested mildly.

“Oh, Al really would kill me,” Ed gasped.

The General waited.

“Winry!” Ed squeaked, and lost it again.

The General tapped his fingers on his desk and narrowed his eyes. Ed pulled himself together. “If Winry thought he looked better without the armor, and Al liked Winry…” Ed trailed off suggestively. He was positive that his brother did, in fact, like Winry, though he wasn’t sure Al had sorted that out for himself yet. And he really wasn’t sure that Winry, mechanical geek that she was, would have any objection at all to a well-crafted suit of armor. She could be so weird.

“The only problem,” he continued, “besides the killing-me part when Al found out I started the rumor, is that both of them would be utterly clueless if anyone mentioned it to them. Or else utterly embarrassed. And then we’re back to Al killing me.”

“That would actually be very much in character if it were true,” the General observed. “You have a natural talent for more than alchemy, I see.”

Ed stared. “You’re not serious.”

The General returned his look evenly. “Do you disagree with my evaluation?”

“No,” Ed said slowly, “it would be… in character. But…”

But to use their reactions like that, to look at something so sweet and see it as nothing but another bit of verisimilitude… He swallowed against a sudden bitterness in his throat. “Do you think like this all the time?” he asked, strangled.

“Very nearly,” Mustang replied, cool and matter-of-fact. When Ed shuddered he relented somewhat. “The path you’ve chosen this time isn’t an easy or bright one, Fullmetal, any more than the last one. It’s no shame if you refuse to walk it. Quite the reverse, much of the time.”

Ed shut his eyes and thought back on the last four years. Al had protected his heart, he knew that, knew it was the only reason the pettiness and greed and horror he had stumbled through hadn’t made him crazier than that mad Ishvarite they had crossed paths with. Could Al protect him from this? Could he protect Al?

How else could he protect Al, than this?

“I won’t be used,” he managed, finally. “And I will not let Al be used.”

“Then your first lesson is concluded, Fullmetal.”

Ed looked at the General, feeling sick. The man’s voice gentled a bit.

“Visit the library on your way home; there are some additions to the Main branch I think you’ll enjoy.”

Ed scrubbed a hand over his face, feeling a wry smile take hold. Mustang knew him very well, he had to admit. Few things soothed him more than a few hours in a library. And he needed some peace badly enough not to kick over the source of the suggestion.

“Yeah.”

Ed closed the door silently behind him as he left.


“I’m home,” Ed called as he closed the front door.

“Welcome back, Nii-san, you’re just in time for lunch,” Al called from the direction of the kitchen.

With luck, Ed reflected, that meant that Winry was still taken up with hanging her wrenches in the fourth bedroom that had quickly become her workshop, or re-wiring the lighting in the sitting room they had chosen as her new operating room. Anywhere but near the food.

Sure enough, Al was alone in the kitchen, putting the finishing touch on sandwiches and a plate of sliced fruit. Ed leaned in the doorway, smiling, relaxing. Even after a year to get used to it the sight of Al in his proper body was enough to wipe away his darkest thoughts.

“How was your meeting with Mustang-junsho?”

Ed’s mouth twisted for a moment. Almost enough. But he had done this once, and the results had justified every second of pain and effort as far as he was concerned. It would be worth it this time, too. He would make sure of it.

He started to set the table so that Al might not see his expression. “Pretty well, I suppose.”

“Will you tell me, now, why you’re doing this, Nii-san?” Al asked quietly, as he handed over the napkins.

Ed winced. So much for concealing things. Al always managed to know what he was thinking. He sighed and leaned on the counter. “Because I think he told me the truth.”

Al waited him out.

“He said we’re too well known and won’t be left alone if we don’t have a strong sponsor.”

“You think he can see to it we’re left alone?”

Ed saw the sharp edge of his expression reflected in Al’s concerned eyes. “Yes,” he answered, low and definite. “He can.”

I can.

Al looked at him silently for a long moment. “All right,” he said finally. He came to lay a hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Be careful, all right?”

Gratitude lightened Ed’s mood, that Al would let him have his not-a-secret. He grinned and grabbed his little brother in a bear hug. He was stronger, even if Al was two inches taller.

“Ack! Nii-san!” Al laughed, and hugged back.

“You two are so cute,” Winry commented from the doorway.

“Winry!” Ed exclaimed, fighting down a blush. “I am not cute!”

Al cut off whatever comment Winry’s evil grin had been about to transform into. “Lunch is ready.”

Distracted, Winry made for the table.

“Ah, this looks wonderful, Al, you’re such a good cook!” She bit into her sandwich and looked blissful.

Ed snorted. “You’re going to gain even more weight eating like that,” he prodded.

Winry’s eyes flashed.

“Nii-san,” Al sighed. “Stop teasing Winry and eat.”

Winry settled a bit and sniffed. “Yes, Ed, do what Al says; he’s the sensible one, after all. It’s really no wonder everyone takes him for the older brother.”

Ed growled around his sandwich, not appreciating the reminder that that still happened.

“So, is it only going to be your name up on the sign, Al?” Winry asked around a slice of apple.

Initially, of course, both brothers had planned to advertise for clients.

“Looks like it,” Al agreed. “Alphonse Elric, Alchemist, and Winry Rockbell, Automail Mechanic.”

Winry’s starry eyes made it clear that she was momentarily distracted from teasing by thoughts of the small nest-egg her grandmother had given her, and the vote of confidence implied by it when Winry had said she wanted to come to Central City with the Elric brothers. Happy memories contemplated, though, she turned back to Ed. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, Ed, I know for a fact the money doesn’t mean a thing to you.”

Ed heaved an extravagant sigh and ran through his reasoning for a second time. Fortunately, Winry didn’t know him quite as well as Al and didn’t question him, though her eyes darkened a bit when Mustang’s name came up.

“That bites,” she opined bluntly. “But if that’s the way it is, I suppose there’s no help for it. At least there are two of us to look after you, now.”

Al smiled at this declaration of alliance.

Ed groaned.

TBC