Expect poison from the standing water.
                  ― William Blake, Proverbs of Hell


1: brittle          

     Roy signed the last transfer confirmation, and flipped the file closed. Setting it in his outbox, he stared for a second at the pile, and then glanced down at his desk calendar. The meeting at five had been cancelled; one of the Alchemists presenting had come down with the flu, or perhaps it was a child who had, or some other unforeseeable reason to move the meeting to yet another day filled with too many meetings.

     Seven o'clock: dinner with Beth.

     He fought the urge to groan, recognizing the sinking feeling in his stomach that told him he just wasn't up for it. Idly he doodled on the edge of the calendar, hatches and lines that meant nothing, intersected by a circle. A few triangles, off-center.

     Off-center, he told himself. Yeah, that about sums it up. Sighing, he picked up the phone and dialed, having to flip through his address book to find Beth's number. He stood, pushing the chair away behind him as he turned to stare out the window. The broad square at the front of the National Alchemists' Headquarters was mostly empty at this point in the day, with only a few lucky souls going home early. Roy pondered scowling, but was too tired to bother. The phone stopped ringing when someone picked up, and Roy was startled out of his reverie.

     "Masterson," the voice said.

     "Beth," Roy replied. "Roy."

     "Oh, Roy," Beth sighed, a frisson of joy evident in her voice. "What an unexpected pleasure."

     He found her voice irritated him for some reason. "Look, about tonight...something's come up―"

     "Work?" Her answer came too quickly for the innocent tone to be completely believable. She sounded a little hurt, and he winced, trying to put a reassuring tone back into his words.

     "No, something else, but I'll still have to take a rain check." He chuckled, as though he were thinking lascivious thoughts about their plans. "Perhaps..." Roy let the word drag out, building the anticipation. "Perhaps you're available sometime next week?"

     "Wednesday," she said. "But if you're busy then, I can―"

     "Ah, Tuesday would be better for me," Roy told her, testing. He didn't bother to look at his calendar. He realized he didn't really care. She murmured something, and he nodded, forgetting he was on the phone and she couldn't see him. He was watching two men stride across the courtyard, their voices not carrying but their body language clearly that of two good friends, laughing. It made his chest hurt. "Great," he said, when he realized Beth had paused and was waiting for an answer. "Sorry about tonight," he added, as an afterthought.

     She said something that was probably a platitude or assurance of some sort, and he hung up. Roy wasn't sure whether he'd just agreed to Tuesday night, or Wednesday, or what time, and with a sigh, he realized he didn't really care. Crossing his arms, he leaned against the desk, and let his head drop.

     He thought about calling Gracia, but just as quickly decided against it. She was probably busy, anyway, with Alicia, doing some sort of mother-daughter thing as they always were. He'd just be an imposition, he told himself. But maybe he could just call to say hello. He thought of uncrossing his arms, to reach for the phone, but found he hadn't moved. No, he told himself, I certainly can't just invite myself for dinner. That wouldn't be proper, and besides, they're probably busy, anyway―

     "Mm, now I know there's a new world order," a low tenor voice said behind him.

     Roy recognized that voice immediately, but couldn't find it in him to tense. He was just...so tired, his mind supplied. Instead, he grunted, almost shrugging. "What new world order, Fullmetal?"

     "The day the infamous Brigadier General of love―" Edward drawled the word out, twice as long as it needed to be. "―cancels a date." Papers flipped at Roy's side, but he didn't turn to look. It sounded like Edward was paging through the calendar. "Yeah. I was right." The smirk was clear in Edward's voice. "Meeting cancelled...and the evening open, and you back out."

     "Good to see you, too, Fullmetal." Roy squared his shoulders and stood up, certain his face was an impassive mask. Pulling his chair back, he sat down and pulled the next file open, scanning the page without looking up. "Colonel Kavanaugh is in West City, if you forgot. You're a few hundred miles to the East, if you've got a report."

     His only answer was silence, and then Edward settled into the couch opposite the desk, as he had for so many years. Roy fought the irrational urge to tell Edward to get out. To tell him, you don't work for me, haven't for two years. Don't...he bit back the thoughts, and stared at the paper in his hands.

     I am not up to this, he thought, and tried to focus on the page. He'd read it three times, and couldn't remember a damn word.

     "I don't have a report, General," Edward said quietly, then laughed. "Besides, you probably know everything I've done for the past three months, anyway. How about you tell me what I've been doing and we save time?"

     Roy looked up at that, and had to smirk, seeing Edward's mock-irritation. The wide eyes, the golden irises catching the late afternoon sun, and the long braid, nearly to Edward's elbows, a thick rope of gold and bronze. The clothes were still solidly black, the white gloves pristine; over it all, Edward wore the red coat, the indelible visual signature of the Fullmetal Alchemist.

     "You've been investigating mining options in the high forest," Roy finally said. "I heard there was a bit of destruction―"

     "But only a bit," Edward retorted. "I'm getting mellow in my old age." He cast a sideways glance at Roy, and sprawled across the couch, one arm thrown casually across the back.

     Old age, Roy thought, and refused to rise to the bait. He glanced down at the calendar again, and just nodded, bending his head to his work.

     "General," Edward said, then, softly.

     Roy didn't need to look up to see the puzzled frown on Edward's face; he'd heard it in Edward's voice enough over the past eight years. The voice was deeper now, a little; the face, more finely honed and sculpted by the move into adulthood, but the body was still lean and powerful, a weapon that seemed slight until the blade was revealed. Roy didn't look. He signed the first sheet, and moved to the next, automatically, and wondered how soon before he could go home. There was a good bottle of single-malt whiskey he'd been saving for a special occasion.

     Tonight should be special, he thought, and couldn't keep the bitterness from creeping in.

     "General," Edward repeated. He got up, then, moving about, but Roy paid him no heed. A second later, a white-gloved hand landed in the middle of the paper Roy was about to sign. "Brigadier General Mustang," Edward said, formally. "Let's get out of here."

     Roy froze, confused, and fell back into annoyance to cover. He dropped the pen, and lifted one hand, as though about to snap. "Fullmetal, I have work to do."

     "It's five o'clock, sir, you cancelled a date with someone, and have no plans for the evening," Edward replied calmly. His eyes were assessing, but there was a thin line between his brows. When Roy looked up, Edward's gaze didn't quite make contact, and Roy frowned, wondering what was going on.

     "And now you're my social secretary, Fullmetal?" Roy glanced pointedly at Edward's hand. Slowly Edward removed it, but remained standing in front of the desk, his hands on his hips.

     "You keep canceling dates, and I'd sign up," Edward shot back. "Gotta be easier than dealing with Kavanaugh."

     Roy snorted and signed the next sheet, setting it to the side.

     "Come on, General. I'm taking you out for a drink."

     Roy's pen suddenly seemed to jump sideways, and he frowned at his hand's unexpected maneuver. Raising his head, he arched one eyebrow at Edward. "You? Taking me for a drink?"

     "Yeah," Edward replied, bristling just a bit. "I'm old enough. Have been for two years."

     "Not what I meant," Roy said. Edward tensed, the eyes flashing, and Roy realized the young man was ready for a taunt at his height. A height, Roy added, that was now only two inches shorter than Roy's own five-eight. Just as quickly, though, Roy shrugged, and signed the paper as though his pen had never marred the pristine white. Edward was silent, and Roy nearly smirked, knowing his refusal to play their old game had just thrown Edward completely off-balance.

     My heart's not in it, Roy told the young man silently. Just go away. I want to finish this, and go home. Alone.

     "Come on, General," Edward said, very softly. He moved away from the desk, and returned a minute later. "Your coat, General. I'm sure we can get a car to the officer's club."

     "You're taking me to the officer's club, too?" Roy set down the pen and looked up at Edward, too tired to pretend surprise or derision. Doing his best to mask a sigh, he stood up, taking the coat and shrugging into it while Edward watched with a scowl. Roy flipped his calendar closed, and as he did every day, took a quick look at the lone picture on his desk, of he and his oldest friend when they'd first joined the military. Saying his silent nightly goodbye with a promise to see him again in the morning, Roy turned to Edward. "I warn you," he said, "I'm not the best of company right now."

     "You never are, General," Edward retorted, and waited for Roy to lead the way from the office.


     "The officer's club, First Lieutenant Havoc," Roy said, and waited as Havoc struggled into his jacket and went to bring a car around. Edward was silent at Roy's side, a bewildered, tense silence, and Roy realized that Havoc had merely saluted Edward, not greeting him with any jibes. Havoc hadn't even used the old nickname of Boss.

     "This isn't necessary," Roy mustered the energy to say, as the car pulled up in front of the building. He opened the door, but Edward stood behind him, arms crossed, chin down.

     "I think I'm beginning to see that it is," Edward replied, and waited. "No, General, after you."

     Roy sighed, and got in the car. They didn't speak on the five-minute trip to the club, although Roy could feel Havoc glancing at him in the rear-view mirror. He wondered for the first time if Hawkeye had pushed Edward into this, and decided against it. First, he doubted Edward was even aware until recently of Hawkeye's temporary assignment in the North. And Hawkeye, for all her perceptiveness, had seemed to be fooled for the few months before her departure, expressing only her own dissatisfaction at leaving the office, even in Havoc's capable hands. Roy had realized her assignment was the best application of her skills, and he needed her there; he needed eyes he could trust reporting back to him, even if she wasn't an Alchemist. Once he'd known that, he'd screwed the mask on tight and left it in place until she departed on the train.

     It hurt, somehow, to know that there was no one, now, who could see past the mask if he so chose.

     "We're here, General Mustang," Havoc said, and Roy realized the car had stopped.

     He set his jaw, and got out, not waiting to see if Edward was behind him. Inside, he headed straight for the end of the bar, against the wall, and it was only once he'd hung up his coat on the wall pegs that he realized where he'd chosen.

     Well, too late now to request a different location, he figured, and sat down. Edward was settling down next to him, also facing the bar, and Roy raised a finger at the bartender.

     "Whiskey on the rocks, double," Roy said. "And...put his drinks on―"

     "Stop that," Edward interrupted. "Gin and tonic," he told the waitress. "My tab, for both of us."

     "Gin?" Roy settled his elbows on the bar, and looked sideways at Edward.

     "Blame Farman," Edward said. There was a flash of something like his old smile, and then he seemed to visibly relax, a casual sinking of his spine. "Stopped by to see Gracia and Alicia," he added, altogether too nonchalantly to deceive Roy.

     "Ah." Roy accepted the drink and sipped it, setting it down and staring at the rows of bottles behind the bar. He tightened his fingers around the glass, and did his best to play along. "And how are they doing?"

     "Alicia has her father's―" Edward stopped, and there was the clink of ice as he took a drink, setting it down before he tried again. "Alicia is quite the photographer. I got to see all her pictures of flowers and puppies and the rest of her second-grade class. She's very good with the camera."

     "Yes, she is," Roy answered automatically. The whiskey burned at the back of his throat, and he was tempted to make a face. It wasn't nearly as good as what he had at home.

     "Gracia says you should come by sometime," Edward continued, in a soft tone. "Apparently you've been quite busy―"

     "Yes, I have," Roy murmured. He had another sip, and wondered how much longer until he could leave. He didn't want to think about Gracia, or Alicia, or Hawkeye, or Farman, or any of the other people he'd known who weren't there.

     "Too busy to keep your dates," Edward said, the jab cloaked with a light observation.

     Roy muttered something inaudible, and realized he'd almost finished his drink. He pondered the wisdom of ordering a second one, and decided to slow down. He wanted to get stinking drunk, but not in the officer's club. And definitely not with Edward sitting at his side, poking at him with unprecedented grace, seeking some unknown goal.

     "So, General, when are you getting married?"

     The question was unexpected enough that Roy blinked, and turned on the bar stool to frown at Edward. The young man's eyebrows were raised, his teeth bared in a parody of a smile. Roy frowned, and shook his head, turning back to his drink, and crossing his arms on the bar. He kept his spine ramrod straight, unwilling to let even a moment's weakness show through.

     "Who told you I was getting married?" He lifted his glass and swirled it, watching the ice cubes melt clear into the golden whiskey.

     "No one," Edward replied, leaning sideways against the bar. For a short man, he could sprawl anywhere, at will, and seem to take up nearly the entire room. "Just...isn't it about time you...y'know, get married and have kids or something?" He leaned back, taking a drink and letting an ice cube slide into his mouth. Edward chewed it noisily around a grin. "Wait too much longer and you'll be too old or something." He swallowed the ice, waiting expectantly for the sarcastic reply.

     "I almost got married," Roy said, and wasn't sure why he'd said that instead of something else, something sharp or dismissive.

     Edward was silent. In shock, probably, Roy thought. He didn't look. After a few minutes, Edward turned to face the back of the bar, a white gloved hand encircling his glass as he stared down into the liquid, mirroring Roy's position. "What stopped you?" His voice was soft, barely audible over the noise of the bar in the background.

     Roy smiled, a little sadly. "She said no." He finished off the last of his whiskey, and signaled the bartender for another.

     There was a sharp barking sound, like the beginning of a laugh, and then it cut off. "I'm sorry," Edward whispered.

     "Yeah, well." Roy shrugged. "It was a stupid idea, anyway." He watched the bartender pour another double, and pondered the fact that loneliness could be so overwhelming as to make him utter two simple words, that could wreck everything. He hadn't meant it like that, he thought, not for the first or the hundredth time. Or perhaps he did, and the idea of love was just something for people who had time, and lives, and weren't walking goals, reduced to purposes and edges. "It wouldn't have worked out," he said, and almost managed a shrug.

     "Maybe." Edward swirled his glass. "I broke up with Winly," he said.

     That startled Roy, and he looked over to see Edward frowning, the golden rope of braid lying across Edward's shoulder, framing the young man's face. "Hunh," Roy managed, not sure what to say. Congratulations? Better luck next time? Sucks?

     "She's still important to me, but I'm gone more than I'm there. We didn't really want the same things...It wasn't fair to her," Edward said, his lips twisted in a wry smile. "Or me, I suppose."

     "True," Roy murmured. He took a deep breath, and let the mask of the conversational professional drift down over his demeanor. "And Alphonse?"

     "Doing well," Edward said, brightening. "He's up to running several miles a day. Even learned how to swim."

     "Glad to hear it."

     "Hates the girls in Reisen Pool," Edward added with a smirk. Roy blinked, and gave Edward the best version of a surprised look that he could manage. Edward's smirk only grew wider. "They're all sixteen-year old nitwits." He rolled his eyes. "There's no way we were that bad."

     "No, you weren't, but you were busy." Roy snorted, and turned back to his drink. "And I can't imagine Alphonse hates them all." He cast a sly look at Edward. "Winly, though..."

     "Oh, yeah." Edward laughed, brightly. "She says she's got to beat them off with a wrench if she wants five minutes of Alphonse's time." He made a show of shuddering. "That's no idle threat, either. And I guess Alphonse does kinda likes the attention..."

     Even if he's really a nineteen year old who squeezed more living into five years than most grown men do in a lifetime...and now he's in a body that's only a few years older than the one he'd lost. Roy had often wondered whether Alphonse's appearance meant the Philosopher's Stone had limits. He suspected it didn't, but that Edward did. Between the guesses of his brother's height and appearance, and the memory of his eleven-year-old brother, Edward could only stray so far from what he knew to have once been reality. Roy realized Edward was still talking, and he let his attention drift back to the conversation.

     "...when I finished the assignment in Triex dealing with the flying pigs, I got word that Hawkeye's pregnant―"

     Roy choked, catching the last words. "Hawkeye's..." He coughed, feeling the whiskey heat up his throat from going down the wrong pipe. Edward didn't move, waiting, and Roy turned to look at him, somewhere between annoyed at his top staff member not telling him, and stunned to hear the news from Edward's mouth, of all people. Roy tried again. "P-pregnant?"

     "Yes." Edward's face was perfectly serious. "With my two-headed love child. Transmutation gone wrong, y'know," he added off-handedly.

     Roy glared.

     Edward smirked, then slowly relented, turning to face the back bar. His face was studiously neutral when he spoke again. "Gracia was right," he said.

     Figures she'd be behind this. Roy's glare faded, and he turned as well, staring down into the half-empty glass of whiskey.

     "She's worried about you," Edward whispered. "And...I don't mean to pry, General, but...are you okay? You seem..." Edward shrugged, and ducked his head.

     "I'm fine," Roy answered without thinking.

     "Yeah, real fuckin' fine, Mustang," Edward drawled. "Not what I hear...or see."

     Roy sighed. "So Gracia set you on me for the night." He lifted the glass to his lips, but paused before drinking. "I'll have to talk to her."

     "She'd like that," Edward said, tentatively.

     I doubt it, Roy thought. He didn't say it, though, only nodded absently.

     "She said she hasn't seen a great deal of you..."

     Her choice. Or maybe mine. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Roy finished off his drink, holding the glass up as he studied the wet ring it had left on the bar napkin. Carefully he set it back in place, perfectly in line with the circle. He was tempted to find a pen, draw crosshatches and marks across the circle, an idle transmutation circle that would make him able to snap and jab back at Edward. Then the young man would be relieved that their poniard wits were still sharp, and leave, probably in a huff while slamming the door behind him.

     That would be normal, Roy thought, and found he couldn't muster the will to play the game. It wasn't that he didn't want to jab at Edward, he realized, a little surprised. He poked hesitantly at the awareness, as though prodding a fresh wound. It was that he didn't want Edward storming off, no matter how amusing that had been for so many years.

     No, Roy told himself, it's a sign I need to get my head screwed on straight if I'm willing to put up with Edward rather than be alone. He could feel Edward, waiting, beside him, and pushed the glass a half-inch off the water ring, watching it smear.

     "I've been busy," he offered, knowing it was a lame excuse. He sat back, clasping his hands in his lap, and fought to get back the smirk he'd once worn so easily around Edward. "Flying pigs in Triex?"

     "Oh, yeah," Edward said, taking the hint and switching topics easily. "Some alchemist was using his neighbor's farm animals for experiments."

     "Sounds like a rather low-key investigation for the likes of you."

     "Not really. Kavanaugh's sources claimed there were indications of a rebel spy ring, that wanted to use the pigs to send messages." Edward snorted.

     "And birds weren't good enough," Roy observed.

     "I think the guy was just bored," Edward said, and his words carried more than one meaning. He pushed his glass forward and nodded to the bartender. The bar was filling up behind them, and Edward twisted on the seat to watch the groups of people filing in. "Cause...when people get bored, things tend to get crazy."

     "True." Roy arched an eyebrow at Edward. "And you would be Evidence A."

     Edward opened his eyes wide, in mock-innocence, then grinned lazily. "Maybe," he agreed. "But Kavanaugh keeps me busy."

     "Not busy enough, if the rumors are true about that town self-imploding in Karenstan," Roy mused.

     "It didn't self-implode," Edward retorted. "It just...fell in on itself. Once the illegal gold operations were removed from the caverns underneath―"

     "The support system caused a cascade reaction and the entire town became one big sinkhole," Roy finished. "Neatly covering most of the evidence, too, which means none of the townspeople could be convicted of any crimes."

     "I knew you knew everything I was doing, you cocky..." Edward's mutter faded, his lips twisting.

     "You don't work for me, Fullmetal," Roy said, motioning for another drink and starting to feel strangely better. It was good to flex his wit, sharpen it on Edward's steel. "You can speak your mind, now. I'm hardly going to court-martial you for it."

     "Try, and I'd kick your ass." Edward leaned his cheek on his fist, and grinned widely.

     "You wish." Roy watched the bartender fill his glass again, and decided to slow down. Getting royally drunk didn't seem like such a great plan, now that he had some form of entertainment. "One snap from me―"

     "Oh?" Edward raised an eyebrow. "You going for a rematch? My annual review is next month. Clear your calendar - oh, wait, not a problem, you're already doing that as a matter of course."

     "Rematch?" Roy allowed a small, cold smile to grace his features. "You'd be toast."

     "I've learned a great deal in the past seven years," Edward replied. "You'd be the one begging, this time."

     "I doubt it," Roy told him, a little stiffly. "Besides, I'm not going to waste my time fighting someone so―" He waited, allowing himself a private smile when Edward tensed, eyes narrowing. "―so busy."    

     Edward frowned, but the frown twisted, shifting into calculated smile. Score one for you, Edward's expression said, but it was cloaked as someone caught Edward's gaze. The young man was silent for a minute, then turned around to face the back of the bar, hunching his shoulders over his fresh drink.

     "There's troubles in the West," Edward said, in an undertone. "Rumors of a large fighting force. The alchemist with the flying pigs - for all his idiocy - had documents indicating arms have been smuggled through the Briggs Mountains. Drachma's influence has shown up in other regions, too."

     "Kavanaugh's response?" Roy sipped his whiskey, letting it settle on his tongue before swallowing.

     "Told me to lay low and watch for more." Edward shrugged, and grinned, and Roy answered it with one of his own. They both knew the likelihood of the Fullmetal Alchemist laying low was as good as the chances pigs would ever replace passenger pigeons. Edward leaned forward, his nose almost to the edge of his glass. "Fighting's broken out in small spots, here and there. Mostly people arguing over whether or not they'll support these rebel forces."

     Roy had heard the rumors, and seen the reports back from the field. There were hints that several National Alchemists had also disappeared in some of the hotspots, but they were ones - like Edward - who tended to be gone for long periods without checking in. It would be another month or two of waiting before the military would rouse itself to investigate. What Roy didn't get, though, was word on the people themselves, only on the outbreaks of rioting or fighting, scattered across the countryside.

     He watched an ice cube crack in his drink. "The people disagree?"

     "Most of them, actually," Edward muttered, his voice low. "They like the peace. Only the ones being ground under the heels of the military are actively seeking an upheaval." He shrugged. "Like Youswell, years ago―"

     "With the gold that came and went, overnight?" Roy gave Edward an amused glance.

     "Bizarre, hunh," Edward replied, not missing a beat. "Those folks were mad, but they had someone right there, who abused his rank. There are towns with decent military officials, and those towns see no reason to upset the apple cart."

     "Based on your travels, what's the percentage?" Roy swirled his glass. The ice clinked. "Rough estimate."

     "Maybe...three unhappy villages, for every happy one." Edward frowned, and shook his head. "Perhaps higher. Hard to say. Most of the places I get sent are places with problems." He cocked his head at Roy, his golden eyes glowing in the bar's low light. "Not like Kavanaugh's going to send me somewhere there's nothing going on." He looked pensive, suddenly. "Unless it's Reisen Pool."

     "Are you between assignments, now? Or on your way somewhere?" Roy recalled seeing some paperwork concerning Edward's upcoming tasks, but he wanted to hear Edward's version, first.

     "Between," Edward said. "Technically. Just got back from Reisen Pool...figured I'd take a side trip."

     Bet Kavanaugh has a shrine where he burns me in effigy every night, Roy thought, and smirked. Letting Edward spend six years doing what he pleased, for the most part. And now Edward thinks the train system is his own personal transportation to go back and forth as he pleases. Please, Roy thought, don't ever let him stumble over one of the Port Cities, or there's no place that'll be safe from his curiosity.

     "What?" Edward frowned. "What's so funny?"

     "Just thinking your current superior probably has issues with your lack of discipline," Roy observed.

     "To put it mildly." Edward spun on the seat, leaning his elbows against the bar. He looked over his shoulder at Roy. "Hungry? It's dinner time."

     "Not really." Roy finished off his last drink, and set the glass down. "You go on, if you are."

     "You can't live on whiskey alone, y'know."

     "Watch me." Roy pushed his jacket out of the way, and dug in his back pocket for his wallet.

     "Stop that, General. I do get paid―"

     "I know just how much, too. You push it, and I'll see the amount gets reduced substantially." Roy dug out several bills and put them on the bar. When the bartender looked over, Roy gestured to both empty glasses. "I'm going to head―"

     "I'll come with you." Edward stood up, and grabbed his coat.

     "Not necessary, Fullmetal."

     "Sure it is. And we're not on duty, right?" Edward didn't move, standing between Roy and the line of coat pegs. When Roy frowned, then shrugged, Edward looked pleased. "Fine. Name's Elric...Mustang."

     "Elric." Mustang rolled his eyes. "Get out of my way, Elric."

     "What, too short to reach? Need some help?" Edward needed only to tilt his head the barest amount to look Roy in the eyes. He leaned against the wall, pressing Roy's coat against the wood. "Dinner, Mustang. Did you even eat lunch?"

     Roy gritted his teeth. "What the hell is this? I want my coat. Move."

     "I'm moving," Edward said, and there was a flash of something across his face that went too fast for Roy to identify. Perhaps anger, perhaps hurt, or maybe he was just tired and finally showing it. "So..."

     "No dinner. I've got too much work to do." Roy pulled on his coat, and straightened it. Satisfied, he turned and headed for the door, aware Edward was trailing along behind. Outside, he waved for a cab, surprised when Edward clambered in as well. "Fullmetal―"


     Roy glowered. "Elric. I can get home fine on my own. Unlike you, I've been drinking for years―"

     "Decades, even." Edward settled back on the cab seat, and threw one arm over the back of the seat. "I'm bored, Gen...Mustang. Wouldn't want me to get into trouble, would you? So humor me."

     "Hmph." Roy gave the cab driver the address for his apartment, and sat back, staring out the window at the early evening twilight. When the cab pulled up in front of his apartment building, Roy handed several bills to the cab driver. Before Edward could protest, Roy told the cabbie, "And the rest is to take him where ever he wants to go, as long as it's not a strip club, a pool hall, or back to this address." He shut the door, smirking as Edward's scowl resolved into a smug grin.

     The cab started to pull away, then stopped, and Roy turned around with a frown to see Edward rolling down the window. The young man leaned out, his braid slapping against the door as it fell over his shoulder. Edward's expression was hesitant, almost shy.

     "Hey, Mustang," he called, softly, and smiled. "Happy birthday."

     The cab pulled away, and Roy was left on the sidewalk, a little stunned. After a moment, he shook himself, and headed up the steps to his apartment building. It wasn't until he was unlocking the door to his apartment that he realized he was smiling as well.

TBC, natch.

Characters and environment owned by Arakawa Hiromu and Square-Enix. Speculation about the post-series world is completely my own; I've seen only through episode 28 and read only up to chapter 16. But hey, I do own a nifty book on Japanese pictographs! Complete with little pictures explaining the history behind the kanji. Now, if only someone would do something like that for Mandarin...