Title: Of Mothers and Men

Author: Athena2693

Rating: Probably a soft R

Pairing: Elricest, Ed/OMC, hints at some Al/OFC but not much

Spoilers: Um, none, I don't think. Unless you don't know Izumi, I guess.

Length: A little long, came to about 17,000 words on Word

Warning: Crossdressing, some mental mindfuckage, and sorry…but even though this is an Elricest story, the actual Elricest doesn't show up until almost the end

Summary: Um…my mind went weird? Okay, let me put some background to this story. When I came up with the idea, I was watching too much Psycho, and I decided it might be fun to make Trisha an abusive mother. Therefore…cross-dressing angst-filled Ed!

A/N: I pushed Trisha's death back until the boys were 14 and 15 for convenience, but also just because, you gotta admit, their age abilities were a little over-estimated in the canon

Of Mothers and Men

The screaming that filled the tiny house earlier had faded until only an occasional whimper or sob came from the crowded, musty closet, almost inaudible two rooms away, if the rest of the house hadn't been so disturbingly silent. Six-year-old Alphonse Elric, trying to take his mind off the current situation, was playing in the middle of the living room, murmuring to himself as he moved his toy metal cars over the carpet.

Ed had been locked in there for over an hour now, at least.Al hadn't actually looked at the clock, but he knew it couldn't have been any less than an hour. Their mother was walking around somewhere in the kitchen, the clang of metal against glass occasionally ringing through the air. She was probably getting dinner ready.

She would enter the living room every so often, stopping to brush her fingers through Al's short locks, then stroll back into the kitchen to finish up whatever she was up to. Every time he heard those soft footsteps approaching he would feel his heart jump into his throat, almost panicking.

Finally, she entered the living room, walking right past Al, and opened the door to his father's study. Al scrambled to his feet quickly and followed after her as noiselessly as he could. He didn't enter the room though. He stayed at the doorway, hiding behind the wall as much as he could, peering through the dim, cool space to watch his mother unlock the door.

Ed was just a small shadow amongst all their father's coats and shoes and boxes. When their mother dragged the young boy from the closet with a fist gripping the front of his shirt, Al could see his brother's golden hair was mussed and his face red and raw from salty tears. He jumped back onto his spot on the floor. She was leading him with a tightly clasped hand around his wrist out of the room. The younger brother didn't look up as they passed. Waiting until he heard her bedroom door click shut. He pressed his ear against the solid wooden door, and was barely able to make out the soft, almost-caring words the woman was telling his brother.

"Do you have anything to say?"

"I'm, I'm sorry, Mother."

"What are you sorry about though? Are you just sorry because you had to be punished?"

"I'm sorry that I, that I held her hand. I know I shouldn't have. I wasn't thinking."

"It's alright, my baby, it's alright. You just had to be reminded. People will talk if they see you do that. Now let's get you dressed and you can come help me set the table for dinner."

Three minutes later, when the door swung back open, Al was already on the floor again, trying his hardest to look like he had lying on his stomach playing with his cars the whole time. He waited until their mother had passed, and just glanced up quickly to catch his brother's golden eyes, now lined with kohl, mascara, and eye shadow. His reddened skin paled by powders. His sleek red lips stood out against the paleness. He was attempting to keep up with their mother, who was holding his hand securely, while trying not to trip over their mother's flowered sundress that hung well past his feet.

"Would you like help, Mother?" Al offered quickly, jumping to his feet. "I have nothing to do."

"No, that's alright Al, go ahead and play, we'll call you when dinner's ready. Your father would be appalled to see his son cooking and cleaning. Always said it was woman's work, that man." There was a certain fondness in her voice as she spoke of their father.

Al plopped back down onto the floor, but this time nearer to the kitchen, where he could lay on his stomach and fake playing with his toys, but still keep an eye on what was going on through the doorway to the other room. Their mother had turned to begin the dishes, since Ed was still too short to reach the sink without a chair, while the young boy was setting the table for the three of them and taking food from the oven. He had to gather his dress off the floor when he went back and forth between any two places, which were slowing him down considerably. Their mother was almost finished with the dishes by the time Ed took a seat at his spot at the table.

"Go tell your brother to wash up for dinner, Edward."

"That's alright, I heard," Al called out, more than happy to escape into the bathroom for a few moments. He scrubbed the soap into his small palms hard enough to take the skin off if it had been a harsher substance. Ed and their mother were seated on one side of the table, waiting for him to take his spot on the opposite side of the table before beginning food intake.

As the man of the house, Al was always allowed first pick at dinner. He left the drumsticks on the serving plate, though they were his favorite part, because they were also Ed's.

> > > > > > >

The year Al turned eleven, he got his first job. Ed was terrible jealous, of course, when Al came home with the news that Old Uncle Richard (who actually didn't have any nieces or nephews) had hired him part time as help around the farmyard during the harried summer months. Ed had been receiving money for two years now, since he had taken up helping the old women at the church, but it wasn't the same. Al would be out in the sun all day, laughing and drinking lemonade, chasing after the cows and loading hay, just getting to hang around the other guys only a few years older than himself.

Meanwhile, Ed was stuck in the creepy, musty stone building, helping with the finance keeping and fundraisers sometimes; cleaning, cooking, and sewing at other time. There was always something the ladies needed him for. Oh, go sweep out the aisles son, the Sunday school children made a mess with their snacks. Why don't you finish rolling that peach cobbler for poor Widow Pearl for me dear, my arthritis is acting up something horrible? Ed, you have such perfect eyesight, and your stitching is always so neat, how about you just finish the sewing the legs on this sheep costume for me, the lighting is terrible in this building.

It wasn't the same as being able to play with friends his own age. He wished Richard would take him on for the summer as well, but Mother would never allow it. She said it would be improper for him to spend that much time with rough young men. His only other steady playmate, besides his dear brother, was that sweet Winry Rockbell who their mother had always approved of. Unlike most of the young girls around here their age, Winry appeared to have a slight crush on the younger of the two boys, and that was fine with Mother, because young boys and girls should have puppy crushes on each other.

Ed found himself in a precarious position. Though he might play some on Sundays after church with his peers while their mother talked with the townsfolk, or he might be allowed some carefully supervised interaction at picnics or fairs, for the most part, Ed wasn't allowed near other young people. He understood why his mother wouldn't allow this, but it was frustrating at times. He wasn't allowed near most girls; because for some perverse reason they always wanted to hold his hand, or even, as had occurred once or twice, try to kiss him. And he wasn't allowed near boys unsupervised since, as a general rule, Trisha Elric believed young men were only after one thing, except, of course, for Alphonse, who was the epitome of respectability. She was just looking after Ed's purity.

It was frustrating at times, yes, but he couldn't ask for a better place to live. His mother loved and cared for him. His brother adored him. All was good in the world.

"Mother, I'm home," Ed called upon arrival at the house.

"Is that you Edward," a voice came from the kitchen.

"Yes, Mother," the blond replied, a grin stretched across his face that almost reached from one ear to the other. Today was a special day, for him, anyway. Tomorrow was the annual Apple Day Harvest Dance. A few weeks ago, when he had gotten one of his monthly payments from the dear old women at the church, he had stopped by the fabric store before heading home, and purchased two items. One, a bolt of beautiful patterned cotton with a flurry of orange and yellow leaves scattered upon by large, lush apples. The other, a much more subdued, but still far too flamboyant for daily use, rusty orange ball of yarn. He had stored them in the church's basement over the last few weeks, finding as many excuses as he could to go into town, even on the days he wasn't expected there. Now he held in his hands two boxes wrapped in bright red paper, one containing a festive dress that would flatter any woman's figure, and the other a baby soft sweater the perfect size for a not quite teenage boy.

He laid these on the sofa, after carefully removing his dirty shoes, and went into the kitchen to see what was going on.

Al was already home, which was a bit surprising. The boy had been extremely busy, with barely a slowing between summer haying and autumn harvesting. The summer job had at some point turned into full time, much to Al's delight.

"Richard let me off early today," he answered the question before Ed had a chance to ask it. He held a flawless, shiny apple in his hand, already half eaten. Juice was smeared over his lips. A half empty bucket of apples sat before him on the kitchen table. "He has to set up the barn, so he figured we couldn't get much more done today."

Richard's barn, or more specifically, the barn he used to store hay and feed in, was the biggest in the town's district. As such, it had become the place for the annual Apple Day Harvest Dance to be held. On one side, the musicians played and the adults danced. On the other side, there was always an abundance of food and drink on the old, sturdy wooden tables, and the children played autumn games like dunking for apples, cornhusk crafts, and hay diving.

Ed and Al, at an undefined age, went between the two sides of the barn. For the past couple years, they would usually start on the adult's side, dancing with each other because both were too shy to ask anybody else to dance with them, and once they had raided the spiked punch, would enter the chicken matches.

"What're the apples for?"

"Richard asked me to bake some of my famous apple pies for the Dance," their mother replied from where she stood hovering over the counter, a rolling pin grasped tightly in her hands. But there was no dough hanging around. She appeared to be cleaning up, gathering the dirty dishes from around the kitchen. The faint smell of apple and cinnamon was coming from the oven.

"I got a surprise for you both," Ed announced, trying to tone down the grin still glued upon his face.

"Did you bring back doughnuts from the bakery," Al questioned, food always upon his mind. Ed would bring them back occasionally, after a morning at the church.

"No," he waved away the question, "Stay here."

He hopped into the living room for a moment, only long enough to gather the boxes, then handed Al his box first, then handed the other to his mother after she had dried the murky water from her hands.

"Oh Edward, it's beautiful!" Trisha was the first to pull her present from the wrapping. He had ironed the dress before wrapping it, and the cloth tumbled down in perfect formation. Trisha held it against her body, looking downward to see how she would look in it. "I had been wondering what I was going to wear to the Dance. You made this, didn't you? Your stitching is so wonderful. Could a mother ask for better children?"

"Thank you, Ed," Al smiled lovingly at his older brother. Al had lost weight over the summer, shedding some of his baby fat softness with the work on the farm. Not having made anything for Al since spring, Ed had overestimated the size needed for the boy. The younger boy pulled the sweater over his head anyway, putting his arm around himself so he could cuddle with the soft warmth. The bulky size just made the sweater more comfortable and squishy, like wearing a sheep around your middle.

"Don't get near the counters, Alphonse," Trisha lectured merrily, "That's a dress sweater, isn't it Edward?"

"He can wear it wherever he wants," Ed shrugged, "He's still growing, so it might be too small to wear this time next year. But don't get it dirty until after the Dance, Al."

"Come here boys," their mother held her arms out to them both, drawing the two into a tight, loving hug. "Alphonse, why don't you accompany your brother to the press and get us some cider for dinner? There's some money in the vase on my dresser."

"Alright," he agreed happily. "Come on, Ed. Can I wear my sweater there? Wait, no, I don't want anybody to see it until the Dance."

"It's still warm out anyway, Al," Ed laughed, glad to be appreciated.

> > > > > > >

"Edward isn't the only one who's been hiding away with a needle," Trisha announced after a dinner of sweet potatoes and venison Al had been given by Andrew Barley, a coworker on the farm. "I was going to wait until tomorrow, but since Edward already gave his, I guess I don't have to bother to wait. I didn't bother to wrap them, but go check your room, boys."

Al made it there first, and was already at his bed when Ed arrived. Trisha lingered in the doorway, watching her two boys with a gentle smile on her face.

Despite their increasing ages, Trisha wouldn't allow the two to sleep in separate rooms. She said it was for convenience sake, but Al knew the truth. She had discussed it with him once, in private, when she believed Ed had left to gather a few herbs for the night's dinner. Though she loved both her sons dearly, she wasn't quite so trusting of her oldest son, and feared what he would be up to if he had the secrecy of his own room.

"Look Ed, they're matching," Al grinned, holding a rusty scarf out in his hands, when Ed took up his own, allowing it to unroll so that it almost reached the floor. "We'll have to go together."

"So we will," Ed agreed with a nod. "What else did you get?"

"A hat and gloves, you?"

"I'm, I'm not sure," Ed frowned, reached for the cotton garment still neatly folded on his quilt. Al watched him, noticing the slight tremble of Ed's lips. When he unfolded the item, tension flooded the space between them. Al looked towards their mother.

"I figured it was time you stop playing with the children and stay with the adults, Edward," Trisha said, smiling as if nothing out of place was happening. "Pants and sweaters are fine for everyday wear, but a pretty thing like you should dress properly when going to social events. Do you like it?"

While Ed had become more and more used to wearing frocks around the house, that was where it stopped. He lived a double life that the three of them hardly even noticed at this point. Al was used to seeing Ed out fishing and playing tag during the day, then coming upon the sight of Ed in his nightgown, Trisha combing out his beautiful golden hair, at night. But she had never made him go out in public like that.

"Mother, I, I can't," Ed stuttered, swallowing nervously. "I've never, I, I-"

"Many of the old families present their daughters at the Dance," Trisha shrugged, "I figured it was time people see how pretty you are, my child."

"But people will talk," Al stood up for his brother, "What would Father say?"

"I'm sure your father would be very proud of both of you. I'm going to go make some tea, so you two try on your clothes, then go wash up for bed, alright?"

"All, all right," Ed agreed, still visibly shaken. "Come on, Al."

> > > > > > >

Ed was lying on his stomach upon the bed, leafing through a tattered alchemy book, when Al arrived early from the farm, smelling of crisp apples and hay. Richard had needed some help with a few finishing touches on the barn, but the other boys had a family they had to be with at the time, so Al had volunteered to stop by for a few minutes.

It would start getting dark soon. The Dance never started until the sun set. The spring dances were always during the day, but the autumn dances were nocturnal events.

"What're you looking for?"

"The chapter on changing grains to bread. I was thinking of transmuting some straw dolls to cookies for the little girls tonight. The dolls never last long anyway; I thought they might get a kick out of it."

Al nodded, flopping down into his own bed with a different book, his own specializing on healing. With all the scratches and cuts and strains that came with farm work, he was almost making as much performing quick healing alchemy as he was actually performing hard labor.



"Are you really going to wear that to the Dance?"

"Wear what?"

"The dress! Don't tell me you've not been worrying about that all day!"

Ed's golden eyes turned from the words to glance at Al across the space between their two beds. After a moment, he closed the book, setting it down on the quilt.

"I have to. It'll make Mother happy."

"The other boys will laugh at you."

"Boys are immature anyway, Al. They're all pampered and spoiled. They don't care about us. Mother's the one that cares about us. She knows what's best."

"But you're not a girl, Ed! You know you're not a girl!"

"Of course I know I'm not a girl!" Ed rolled his eyes dramatically, swatting the book away from him across the covers in annoyance. "Why would I think I am one?"

"Because Mother-"

"Leave Mother out of this."

"It's just, I think she's sick, Ed. I know she loves us, but she hasn't been right since, since Father left. I don't know why she does what she does."

"Because she obviously saw me for what I was at a young age," Ed replied, still not looking at his brother. "Not a boy, not a girl, just something different. But has she judged me for it? No. She loves me anyway, no matter how much of a freak I am." Ed tossed his book back on the bed and climbed to his feet. "Now stop throwing a fit. I'm going to go clean up for the Dance. Don't make Mother angry again. You might be taller than me, but I'm still your older brother, and I can still whip you."

Al waited until the bathroom was empty, then went to run his bath, wanting to soak a bit before getting dressed. Ed was already dressed, by the time he strolled out in the living room with a towel wrapped around his hips, in search of the pile of newly washed clothes sitting on the kitchen table. Trisha was fussing with Ed's beautiful hair; her own just pulled up into a knot on her head for the time being. Usually he would just braid it sloppily and leave it, but she must've thought it was inappropriate for a young person to go to the dance like that. Al had no idea his brother looked so good with curls.

"How's he look, honey," his mother called to him, flashing a sunny smile. "I couldn't think of what to do for him, then this morning when I was husking corn, it came to me. We're almost finished, we just need to finish his bangs."

"He looks very sweet," Al carefully chose his words. And it was true. He looked like some sort of angel, only enhanced by the glow of the fireplace nearby. "I'm thinking about heading over early, just to make sure everything is perfect."

"Alphonse Elric, don't you dare leave this house!" She might as well have been stamping her foot at him. "We three have always gone to the Dance together, and this year will not be any different."

"I was just-"

"Nope. Don't give me that. Go get dressed, and comb your hair. If we were going to spend almost an hour on Edward's hair, you could at least comb yours for once."

"Yes, Mother," he grumbled, gathering his pile of clothes into his arms and making his way back to his room, the towel starting to slip from his waist. Luckily, he made it into the room in time.

> > > > > > >

Ed's dress was actually quite flattering on his slim figure. Despite the onset of his teenage years looming close ahead, he wasn't developing the bulky muscles that boys his age were already showing, and though he didn't actually possess the child bearing hips of a young woman, he was tiny enough around the middle that it gave the appearance of them. The top didn't exactly have a brazier built into it, but it was just slightly padded on top. Still, if he had been a girl, he would look extremely flat-chested. It wasn't a very fancy dress, modestly cut like a deeply colored sundress, splashed with the colors of autumn but with no seemingly set pattern.

Alphonse carried the heavy jugs of cider with him, while Ed strolled beside him, balancing a couple of pies in shaky hands. Trisha stood on the other side of Ed, their usual picnic basket held tightly between both her hands, this time stuffed full of tiny shreds of cloth.

The barn up ahead on the side of the road was already bustling with partygoers, despite the fact the sun had barely set. They could hear the music coming from the building; screeching fiddles and soothing guitars.

The youngest of the three was worrying silently to himself. Nobody had noticed them yet. They would be looking at them if they had. He kept glancing over towards Ed and their mother. They didn't appear at all worried, both smiling and laughing as they talked about the night's activities. No different than any other year.

Except this was.

They didn't even enter the barn before the looks came. Of course, being extremely polite country folks, they tried to brush them away quickly. They looked away, hurried to start conversations with the nearest person, but still occasionally looked over to see what was happening. They were too polite to say anything to their faces, but that doesn't mean they were too polite to say anything behind their backs.

Alphonse caught slight snippets of conversations.

"That older brother always was queer."

"Is this a joke?"

"Do you think it's a dare?"

"He is a boy, right?"

Unconsciously, the crowd seemed to form a circle of space around the little family, as if being near them would rub off on the other boys in the crowd. With some not quite comprehensible words about being good, Trisha went off on her own to the punch bowl to greet some of the women from her sewing club.

"You don't have to stay with me Alphonse," Ed spoke loudly, trying to be heard over all the voices and music. The crowd was no longer staring at them, having been drawn back into their festivities. "Mother didn't say you had to stay away from the kid's side this year."

"Well, I wouldn't want to leave you alone over here," Alphonse shouted back, "Besides, I don't think the guys at work would let me hear the end of it if I went to weave cloth spirits with the children."

Ed chuckled a little at this fact, realizing it was true. There had been no question over such a thing last year. They had gladly gone to the children's side to play with those they towered over, but a lot could change in one year.

"Go ask a girl to dance, then. Genie is here."

"Really, where?" Alphonse's head almost spun around a hundred and eighty degrees, before snapping back to look at Ed. "How did you know I liked her?"

"You talk in your sleep," the older boy laughed, loving having superiority over his younger sibling. "And she's over there, near the edge of the band's platform."

Alphonse spotted her.

"I don't want to leave you alone though."

"Oh, go ahead! I'm just going to get in line with the expecting girls and wait for a partner. Winry's over there, we'll point at your bad dancing and laugh at your expense."

Alphonse was being shoved towards the directions of a particular redhead before he had a chance to say another word. One of the best things about getting at a dance early; you always got your pick of the best meat.

Winry had been lead out onto the dance floor less than twenty minutes after Ed went to stand next to her. They had been sipping the spiked punch, giggling at their peers their own age all attempting clumsily at their first year of playing adult at the Dance, and discussing whatever came to interest, when a shy, intellectual type had found the guts to ask Winry if she would give him a chance. Winry, as a dominant figure, had latched right onto the poor fellow and dragged him out there before he could get the words out of his mouth.

Except for the fact he hadn't been able to see Winry in awhile, Ed was fine with this. It was nice to see her finding somebody to share the night with, since Alphonse had never returned those looks Winry was always gracing him with. He stayed near the little row of girls all dressed up for the night, hurdled together like cattle under a tree on a hot day. But before long, Ed noticed their herd was getting smaller.

First, the prettier girls were lead away. Then, after they were gone, the not-quite-so-pretty girls but those who still had lovely personalities were swept up by the geekier, not-quite-as-charming boys. And then even the rather plain, rather sad young things were kicking up their heels with the sort of boys that scientists commonly used as proof of evolution from primates.

Ed found himself quite alone. A lost calf, so unappetizing even a wolf wouldn't go for him.

He took a seat in a chair by the snack table and gnawed on an apple, feeling somewhat sad but refusing to give into complete misery. Alphonse had his girl. Winry had her boy. Even Trisha, married as she was, had found a man to dance with. Mr. Ramon, an older man with six children, all female, who's wife was out of town visiting her sick mother. They danced to the fast songs, retreating to the sidelines during the slower tunes to watch all the happy couples.

Probably, the eighth cup of punch (which was being spiked repeatedly by young men hoping to get farther than their dates wished to) hadn't been such a good idea. Twelve-year-old boys weren't known for being able to hold their spirits.

Rather than dulling his senses, all the alcohol in his system seemed to make everything more obvious. How so many eyes were watching him, so alone and pathetic and bulky compared to all the waif-like young girls at the event. He stopped watching all the happy couples, preferring to keep his eyes to the floor, studying how his own shoes fit perpendicular to the creases in the wooden floor.

The delighted cries of the children on the other side of the barn called to his attention the hour it must've already reached. The biggest event for the children was always the annual cloth spirit tying, where dolls of roaming spirits were created using rags donated from local women. The dolls were never kept for the creator, but given to the other boys and girls they cared about. Ed had always made dolls for Alphonse and Winry, and he had a whole row of the awkward things in their room.

The doll presentation always came about eleven, an hour or so before the guests prepared to leave.

Suddenly, Ed wished badly he were still a child, able to just play and laugh and sing so innocently. Or at the very least, he wished he hadn't come here. Part of him had believed that at least, somebody, would've asked him for at least one dance. At least an adult, having pity on him.

He climbed to his feet, feeling dizzy from the alcohol and noise and heat in the badly aired barn.

He barely made it out the door, falling to his knees right beside the barn and painting the damp grass there a rather disgusting shade of pink.

"Aw, poor little Edwina Elric can't hold her liquor," a familiar voice taunted near him. He didn't have to look up to confirm the voice. He knew Aaron Sheener and his gang. They were from up farther in the hills, where the woods were thicker and so were the brains of those who inhabited them. People from that part of the area were known for being dirtier, foul-mouthed, and rude compared to the local townsfolk.

"Fuck off, Aaron."

"You know the rules, Edwina, if you leave the barn, you're fair game. Technically, you've left the barn. So what's with the dress? Were you hoping to end up with your feet in the air this evening?"

Ed had never had any particular trouble with Aaron, no worse than any other of the kids at these events, but, well, he had also never showed up wearing makeup and a dress before. He saw the taller boy standing beside him through the sheer curtain of curly locks blocking his view. He didn't look violent, like he might've if he had been drinking. He just looked like he was looking for some cruel fun.

"Why, couldn't do any better than Richard's pigs?" The blond shot back.

The smile on the dirty face didn't falter an ounce.

"So, Edwina, did your mother make your lovely little frock for you? Or did your brother buy it for you? Did you have to bribe him with something? Let him fucking your little ass in return for some cheap cloth and some little panties? You are wearing panties, aren't you?"

Aaron kneeled down, reaching for the hem of Ed's dress. Reacting automatically to the cool hand on his thigh, Ed jumped, slipping so his hand slid in his own foul vomit. He was just barely around the corner away from the barn, and just falling backwards off his knees landed him back in the building, if only halfway. His head echoed off the hard wooden floor, cutting through the quiet violins of the slow song that the inhabitants were currently swaying to.

He wasn't sure what they were laughing at. If they were laughing because he was drunk. If they were laughing because he had fallen. If they were laughing at him in his dress acting so ungracefully. Perhaps it was the drying vomit staining the front of his gown.

Or maybe, it was because he had been wearing panties, and Aaron had gotten hold of them. Jerking back as he had, had only resulted in them being pulled them down so his knees were caught in them. He must've looked like a drunken slut, with the dirtiest piece of trash in the area kneeling between his legs, grinning like a man who knew he was about to get lucky. He should've probably just been grateful that his dress had settled around his thighs rather than higher up. Feeling sick again, Ed did the first thing that came to his mind. He threw his hand over his eyes, just blocking the light and faces and laughter.

"Get off him," a much-appreciated voice cut through all the laughter. Aaron tumbled to one side. Ed noted with joy that the boy had fallen face-first into the ex-contents of his stomach.

Al pulled him a few feet from the door, propping him against the barn's cool wall. Gentle, though rather rough-skinned, hands touched him where Aaron's had been only moments ago, this time entwining around the bunched white silk and pulling the panties back up over Ed's hips, smoothing the cloth of his dress back over his curves.

"Are you alright?"

"He didn't do anything, I just fell," Ed mumbled, leaning into his dear brother's arms, more out of emotional exhaustion than drunkenness. He leaned his head on Al's shoulder, his arms going up around Al's neck. "I'm sorry, but let's go home. I know you were having fun, but I don't want to be here. You can see Genie later. Please, take me home."

"No, it's okay, I don't care about Genie. Of course, I'll take you home. Where is Mother? I'm sure she'll know where we went, how could she not have- Let's just go home."

"How could she have not heard what was going on, I know what you were going to say, it's alright. It was my own fault, for getting so drunk. Can I lean on you, I feel like I need to throw up again."

> > > > > > >

Edward's first love was a picture-perfect boy by the name of Stuart Manfred. This description was quite literal. Any mother would love to see a wedding photo of the young man holding her daughter's hand.

The younger brother knew Stuart before Ed did. Stuart was actually a workmate of Al's, an outsider from several towns away, looking for work while searching for land to start up his own farm. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, even if he was rather rough around the edges. Whenever Ed saw him around young woman though, he always spoke quite politely, usually removing his straw hat to bow to them, and complimenting them on their clothes, or hair, or work. For the time being, he was bunking in Richard's barn, and living on whatever food he could grow himself, or whatever food was offered to him by his workmates. Still, between working, and searching for his own place, and trying to scrape up enough sustenance to get by on, he found enough money to send back to his hometown to support his two sisters living in the old family home.

The blond would've loved to say this responsibility and caring was what first drew him to the young man, but it wasn't. Because he wasn't just polite and kind and hardworking and devoted; he was gorgeous. Ed was in love before he even knew the man's name.

He was quite a bit older than Ed, who was only thirteen-and-a-half when he met the man (Ed only started adding the half once he learned Stuart would be twenty before the end of the year). He wasn't like the other boys Ed had silently crushed on in the past. He wasn't soft and boyish, or even squeaky and a bit greasy. He was leanly muscled, like a man in his mid-twenties would be, and olive skinned with delightfully soft brown hair (though Ed didn't actually get to feel how soft it was for quite a while). He wasn't gangly or skinny, but somewhat hardened by years of hard work, and his face, which Ed considered the most attractive part of the man, was lean with a sharp, smooth jaw line that right away Ed wished to touch. When he first turned those chocolate eyes to the young blond, Ed swallowed and stuttered like the thirteen-year-old he was.

Al had invited Stuart over for dinner, with their mother's permission, because he felt somewhat guilty that he hadn't even introduced him to his family, while the others at work had been dining with him regularly for the past couple of months. Of course, nobody had bothered to tell Ed, until he arrived home, sweaty and wreaking of stagnant water, a bucketful of crayfish clenched firmly in one hand.

The best thing about Stuart was that he hadn't arrived until early spring, meaning he had missed the incident at the Dance that people still talked about when the Elrics weren't around. That didn't necessarily mean he wanted to see him stinking of fish, but at least his first impression of him was as a dress-wearing pansy.

He wasn't sure if he managed to eat a single bite of food that night without chewing for at least five minutes, staring at the man with probably a very blank expression on his face.

> > > > > > >

Al noticed his brother had been visiting him at work quite a bit lately. More than quite a bit. Obsessively, even. While in the past, he had been lucky if Ed visited him once a month, he was now visiting him every day, always showing up around lunchtime with a bucket full of fresh, hot food, expertly prepared, with always enough for three. At first, he hadn't noticed this because the bucket was always empty by the time he headed back to work.

Then one day, when Stuart had been sent to town during lunch to pick up some medicine for one of the cows that had been stuck in labor for the last three days, Al noticed sitting the in bucket was an extra sandwich, an extra bowl of chicken soup, and an extra canister of lemonade.

Thinking back on it, Al had figured he must've been pretty blank. Using all his fingers and toes, he still didn't have enough to count all the times Ed had volunteered to help Stuart with some last minute chores right before lunch. He wasn't sure he had seen Ed ever doing real physical chores before then. Now, he had seen Ed haul hay bails, water calves, lead stubborn sheep on leashes across the courtyard, slop pigs, and even shovel manure. On the other hand, he could count all the times Ed had helped him on one hand, and still have fingers leftover.

Al sipped from his lemonade, and looked back down into the bucket, still thinking to himself. He took another sip, then looked towards Ed, who was sitting on a hay bail, his own food only half finished, sewing a tear in Stuart's overalls that the man had been complaining about only the day before. He was smiling like an expectant mother.

Perhaps he was a bit blind?

He'd let Ed tell him about it when he wished.

> > > > > > >

"Full house," Ed announced joyfully, laying out his hand before him on the bed. "Pay up!"

Winry wrinkled her nose, but handed Ed the cash, now that he had officially won all her chips, and she had no chance of winning them back.

"What do you wanna do now? Your mother's not finished with the cake yet. Wanna play with just the chips?"

"Nah. Mother doesn't like it when I play cards; she says it's unwomanly, or something. I don't know. I know Miss Peabody plays with the guys all the time at The Jawbreaker, and she's one of the most popular women in town."

"Yeah, with the sort of guys that go to The Jawbreaker," Winry laughed at Ed's observation, "Gran says the same thing. 'Winry, no more poker, cigars, or whiskey, that's not proper behavior for a young lady!' Hasn't stopped her."

"You're evil." Ed turned to lean over his bed, pulling out an old, over-sized wicker basket from beneath his bed, heaped with colorful material Winry recognized as patches for a homemade quilt.

"Working on Al's birthday present?"

"No. It's for Stuart."

"Ohhhh. Stuart." She grinned in a not-so-innocent way.

"Oh, stop it. You promised you wouldn't tease if I told you who he was."

"I know…but it's expected. At least a little." She shrugged and climbed to her feet, stretching out the kinks in her back, going to Ed's and Al's bookshelf to see if there was anything besides books on alchemy on it.

Most days, they wouldn't be stuck in the house for hours at time. Most days, she and Ed, and Al, if he wasn't working, could be biking, or playing by the river, or catching frogs for bait, or playing on the old tire swing out back of the Elric household. But today was Ed's birthday, and his mother had bought him that one yellow dress with the delicate lace and ivory buttons he had wanted sooooo much at Burkley's, which he was wearing for the special occasion, and he wasn't allowed to get it dirty. And knowing Ed, if he took one step outside, it would be covered with mud.

"Edward, Winry, the cake is almost finished, would you like to help me finish hanging up the decorations," Trisha had appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on her pink-frosting stained apron. "I tried blowing up the balloons, but I don't know what's wrong with me. I found myself getting so light-headed after a few balloons…" She trailed off for a moment, as if she was thinking, then just shook her head. "Anyway, you know me, I couldn't balance on the couch arms if it was to save my life. Come make some hooks, Edward."

The pastel chalks wiped off easily, and were handy to use around the house whenever their mother needed to hang something on the wall, since it was easier to just make a hook out of the wall than to actually hammer one into it.

So Winry was in the hallway, hanging up decorative ribbons in some sort of attempt at a pattern, while Trisha just put the finishing touches on the cake. Ed, in charge of the balloons, was standing on his tippy toes, his new dress flattering his form, arms over his head, transmuting a new hook for a large, green balloon, when the door opened, and Al entered the house, followed closely be a brunette carrying a brightly wrapped package between his hands.

Hell, at least it was better than being caught with his panties around his knees.

"Happy Birthday Ed! Hope you don't mind me tagging- what are you wearing?"

Ed lowered his arms, leaving the balloon hanging in the air above his head, his mouth hanging open slightly. Those large brown eyes were just staring at him, shocked. At least he wasn't running for the hills.

"It's his new outfit, Mother got it for him for his birthday. Doesn't he look nice?" Al cut in quickly. He hadn't wanted to bring Stuart along, hadn't even meant to mention it was his brother's birthday, but the man had been so insistent. He even ran to his own pile of hay he called his bedroom to grab something he could use as a present for the boy.

"Um, yes, you look very…clean, Ed. Very neat and proper. Alphonse, do you have any wine?"

> > > > > > >

After the initial shock, and two glasses of wine with his cake, Stuart seemed fine with what he had witnessed upon arrival. He didn't say anything about the makeup, or about how smooth Ed's underarms were, or about the pale yellow ribbon Trisha had weaved in his golden braid. He even settled down enough to share some stories about his family, which had the entire household laughing.

The cake was delicious, which was expected, since Trisha had been baking birthday cakes for years now. Al had gotten him two new books. Trisha had knitted him a gorgeous, baby soft sweater, and bought him some new art supplies for the new church mural the old ladies had pawned off on him, and Winry had bought him some tickets for a show at the local theatre. Stuart had for some reason decided not to give Ed the present he had brought with him, and made up some story about it being all last minute and how he would bring him something tomorrow.

Ed didn't say anything about the package he had been carrying earlier, and just nodded, laughing at some joke Winry was in the middle of telling Al.

Before night came, Trisha was wrapping up a few pieces of cake on one of her more durable dishes and bundling up for the fifteen minute trek to the ancient Stan Retley's house that he shared with his sister Cynthia and her granddaughter Tabatha.

The four younger individuals retreated to the sitting room, where Winry stoked the fire as the other three sat around eating more cake.

"We should go camping next year," Al decided out of the blue, "We haven't gone camping in years." Though he was speaking specifically to Winry and Ed, he turned to Stuart to let him know that the offer was out there for him also. Though somebody his age probably wouldn't want to go out camping with beings he had so many years on. At the moment, for a few months anyway, the gap between him and Ed was reduced to five years.

"Where do you go camping at?"

"There's an island down river," Ed shrugged out his answer. "It's sandy and somebody built a lean-to on it years ago, we've been camping there since we were just kids."

"The first time we tried spending the night on it, Al heard a dog howling and was absolutely convinced wolves were on the island," Winry reminisced fondly. She climbed up off her knees, the fire burning steadily, and flung herself down in the overstuffed armchair next to Al. "Remember that, Al? You made us pack up in the middle of the night, must've been at least midnight, and go home because you were scared. Your tears could always make Ed do anything you wanted him to."

"Oh, shut up," Al blushed, though still grinning through the redness. He looked down at his cake, pressing the bottom of his fork against the plate in an attempt to pick up the last few crumbs on the china.

"And then our lantern's fuel died before we even got to the island's edge, and we had to keep lighting matches to get across the river," Ed added, his face also red, though from laughter rather than embarrassment. "And Al screamed because something touched his leg and he was convinced it was an eel!" He brushed a piece of hair off from over his eyes, ready for Al to take a hit at him. It certainly wouldn't be the first time Al had taken a slug at him, but the younger boy just stayed where he was, on the far side of the couch beside him, grumbling to himself.

"Hmm! I should've just kept your present for myself then," Al replied, holding his head high in mock-anger. "I wouldn't mind having a few more books, you know."

"And I'll go ahead and eat the rest of the cake by myself," Ed challenged.

"Oh fine. Winry, will you look at something for me? Richard gave me this old radio in my room; he said I could have it if I fixed it. Well, technically, I can have it if I fix it or not, but it doesn't do much good broken."

"Sure. I bet I could get the thing running," she nodded, pulling out a handful of screwdrivers from her pockets. Who in the world brought screwdrivers to a birthday party? "You don't mind us breaking up the party for a bit, do you Ed? If we get this right, we can dance to some music afterwards."

"No, go ahead," Ed waved his hand at them and climbed to his feed, gathering empty plates off the coffee table. "That old thing's been sitting around our room for weeks now, I'd love to see it being put to better use than a paperweight."

He headed one way, towards the kitchen, while the others went down the hall to check out the radio. Ed got himself a glass of water and went back into the sitting room to read a bit while he waited. Somehow, he had expected Stuart to join Al and Winry, but the man was sitting exactly where he had left him, on the opposite end of the couch Al had been sitting on, his right ankle crossed over his left knee. He stared at Ed when he reentered the room.

"Didn't want to join them?" He took a seat where Al had been, still feeling his brother's warmth on the cushions.

"I'm no good with electrics. I'm just lucky I know how to start up the tractor. That girl's a wonder, isn't she?"

"That's our Winry for you, as pretty as a princess, but with three times the testosterone."

He nodded at Ed's comment, but didn't laugh like Ed had hoped he would.

"So how's it feel to be fourteen? Full of testosterone? Remembered when I reached that age, I would wrestle any boy who would have me. My sisters on the other hand, they just went boy crazy. Had a craving for a different kind of wrestling with the boys, if you know what I mean. Mother wouldn't allow them to start dating until they were sixteen though. Give them some time to cool off, you know?"

"Sort of, I've only just turned fourteen, so I don't really know how the hormones thing go." Ed blushed, feeling awkward dressed up around the boy he had been crushing in for months, basically discussing sex. "Mother hasn't talked to us about those things though. At least, she hasn't said anything to me about it. She might've discussed it with Al, but he's a gentleman, I don't think we have to worry about him getting any girls pregnant."

"What about you?"

"What? What are you implying? Al would never- And even if he did, for some reason, I can't have a child!"

"I mean, what about you getting a girl pregnant? You are a, a male, right? I mean, you don't have a womb? I always, er, I'm sorry, that sounded really rude."

"No, it's okay," Ed replied quietly, sighing. "Others asked the same questions when, um, no, I don't want to talk about that. I don't know what I am. I'm not male, but I'm not female."

"But under, you know, under the dress, is it, a, um, innie or an outie, I guess? I'm not talking about your bellybutton though."

"An…outie, I guess."

"So you definitely can't get pregnant?"

"No," he shook his head. "I wouldn't make a good mother anyway, I don't think."

"What about a father?"

"Oh, no! That would never happen. I couldn't… With a girl, I mean, I could never. Even if I wanted to, I'm not allowed near women anyway." He looked away from the farmhand's eyes, not wanting to see the judgment in those brown depths.

"Women are too much trouble anyway. Mood swings, all the dangers with bastards and forced marriage. Most girl's aren't as lovely as you anyway, Ed. Not many girls are truly soft and feminine these days, like you are. Your skin looks so soft."

Ed didn't remember how it came to this, but ten minutes later Ed was sprawled out on his back on the couch, receiving his very first real kiss. Not counting the kisses from his parents and Al, or the little pecks from Winry, or the other girls when they were children. He knew this must've been a real kiss, because it was messy and very wet and even more embarrassing. He had no idea where his hands were supposed to be, and thought it would be too cheesy if he put them on Stuart's shoulders, so he left them lying at his side, fingers slightly curled over his palms. So, it didn't seem that Stuart minded Ed's makeup and lace after all.

Stuart helped him undo the zipper on the back of his dress (or rather, forcibly ripped it down when he could get Ed to sit up for long enough), and the beautiful pale yellow silk was hastily pushed down below Ed's ribs, so that the older boy could get to his sensitive nipples, which Ed had somehow went throughfourteen years of his life without knowing how sensitive they really were. Stuart burrowed his head against Ed's scrawny chest, his lips and teeth closing over a tight little bud, coarse stubble from a day or two without shaving scratching the soft skin, while one of his hands curled around the other, squeezing the boyish nub hard enough to hurt. It was surprising how much a little pain could turn the young blond on.

Ed almost jumped clear off the couch when the unoccupied hand went under the bottom of Ed's new frock, grabbing for what was inside. His lips left Ed's damp flesh. Until that moment, Ed hadn't even realized he had been softly keening, until he stopped and the silence cut through the warmth of the room.

"You're wearing panties,"Stuart whispered, more to himself that Ed. Ed looked back at him, eyes wide and mouth agape, a bit shocked about what was happening still. "Girl's panties, but you're hard inside them. That's so…hot." He kissed Ed on the mouth again sloppily, leaving Ed's lips wet and swollen. This time, Ed had a feeling he wouldn't mind if the silken garments ended up around his knees.

Two minutes later, Al and Winry walked back into the living room, holding the rusty piece of metal between the two of them, crowing something about wires and screws. Ed was lying on the couch beneath the man, all but exposed, with only the ring of fabric encircling his middle, and the tiny pink panties pulled back from his tan body, with the large, rough hand invading them.

"He, uh," Ed attempted an excuse unsuccessfully, pushing the man's head off his chest and trying to pull his dress back down at the same time, which just resulted in a squirming action that just made it look worse. Stuart looked up with guilty eyes, and chuckled something or the other, reaching for his own zipper that had gone undone in the process. He was out the door before Ed succeeded in pulling his own clothes down. "Er, don't tell Mother."

> > > > > > >

"No! I, no, please, don't!" Al winced to himself as he heard his brother's shouting from mercy from their mother, who was deaf to his pleas. "No! I don't, I can't, please, I won't-"

It wasn't his place to intervene though. He had discussed the situation with Ed, had warned him that he better cut it off with Stuart pretty much right after it had begun, but Ed had been so stubborn. Mother would never know, and if she did, what would she have to be upset about?

"Please, Mommy, don't, I can't! I've been a good little girl, you said so yourself!"

"You've been a filthy little girl, spreading your legs like a cat in heat for the first available tom! What were you trying to do to our family? Acting like you were brought up in a barn like the whores in the Heedle family? No child of mine is going to grow up to be a cheap slut!"

Al winced again, this time at the resounding slap of an open palm against soft skin.

He could hear the rattling of metal against wood from the other room. He used to hide, when this sort of thing was happening, but not anymore. Of course, Ed didn't get punished like this nearly as often as he once had either.

Trisha stormed out of the study, a rumpled bunch of cloth clenched in one hand. Upon spotting Al, she thrust it out towards him.

"Take it. Burn it. I don't want any of that man's filthy skin on Edward's clothes."

It was the dress Ed had been wearing, or rather, had not been wearing, when Trisha had stopped by at the barn less than an hour ago, catching her oldest son in the worst possible position he could've been found it. Not kissing the other man, or even on his knees in front of him. Actually on his back with his legs in the air. A sight that Al had fortunately never had to walk in on, but had heard going on plenty of times in the hayloft above where he would usually eat lunch.

"Yes, Mother."

She looked at her youngest son, as if she expected to go perform the action immediately, which she might've been hoping for, actually. But she didn't yell at him. She just put her arms around him for a moment, hugging his head against her breasts, brushing her fingers through his short, dirty brown locks.

"At least I have one good child," she murmured aloud when she let him go, then turned to go outside to do some work. Possibly taking down the laundry.

"Ed," Al whispered outside the closet door, knocking gently on the wooden door that separated them. "Ed? Are you okay in there?"

"I'm fine," the muffled voice traveled through the hard wood. Al could hear the tears on his cheeks. "My wrists hurt though; she clasped them too tightly. I'll be okay, go away before she comes back and we both get in trouble."

She had used the manacles. A bad sign. She hardly ever used the cuffs, and had only actually bought them a few years back when Ed learned how to transmute openings out of the confinement. Usually, she didn't plan on keeping him there long enough to make sure he stayed. Not a good sign at all.

"Maybe she'll only make you stay in there a couple hours."

"Al, she caught me with his dick up my ass. I have a feeling it'll be more than a couple hours."

> > > > > > >

It was three days before Trisha went to release Ed from his confines. More than double the amount of time she had ever confined him to the closet before, and it was having its affect on the young boy. Al snuck over to the door often, something Trisha would've even beaten her favorite son for if she caught him, but he needed to make sure Ed was all right. No food, no water. It must've been terrible cramped inside there. His arms must've been killing him. But Ed didn't complain about such a thing.

The second day he lost it. When he heard his younger brother's voice asking if he was okay, sometime between Trisha going to bed and Al retiring for the night, Ed broke down in tears, his sobs so loud it was like the blond was actually standing right next to Al, without the door and walls and old clothes between them. This was the first time in his life Ed actually believed his mother meant to kill him.

"You'll tell Stuart I love him, right? And that I still don't regret it. Make sure he knows it's not his fault."

"Shh, it'll be alright. Mother loves us, she wouldn't let you die."

"I did the unthinkable, Al. I let myself become a complete whore just because it felt good. I should've waited until I was married. You would never think of doing something like that!"

"I'm right here, Ed. Stop crying. You're probably already dehydrated; it'll only make you sicker."

"I can't! I don't want to die! There's so much I still want to do!"

"I know," Al sunk down on the floor, leaning his back against the door, ready for a long night ahead. "We'll get to do them all to, together. We'll travel and become famous alchemists and scholars, just like we always said. Mother loves us too much to let those dreams just die."

> > > > > > >

Trisha didn't let him out until almost twenty-fours hours later, right after dinner. Ed's arms shook from exhaustion, and his wrists were red and raw. Embarrassingly, he must've given up on his bladder at some point, and the little white panties he had been wearing, the only clothes he had been wearing, were yellow and smelled awful. Al was given these to burn also. Later, Ed admitted that between the cum that dried in his ass, and the piss that dried on his thighs, he felt like a colony of ants were square dancing on his lower regions.

This time, Trisha took them both to her bedroom, a rare occasion, and set them both on her bed. Usually, Al was excluded from these after punishment talks. Ed was completely naked, still reeking of urine and sweat and days old sex.

"Do you understand, Edward?"

"Y, yes. I was acting like a whore," he admitted, turning his golden eyes down in shame. "Thank you for correcting me. I should've waited until I was married."

"You don't understand Edward." She shook her head sadly. Ed looked back at her, while Al looked at Ed. "It's not even the waiting. Ed, you just don't need anybody. You have me, and you have Al, and someday you'll have your father back, and that's all you need. Right now, the only people you need in your life are your mother and your brother, do you understand?"

"But…why can't I? I mean, everybody else gets to fall in love and-"

"And everybody else is normal. They're all male, or female, and they can love and should be loved. The only ones who will ever be able to truly love you are Alphonse and I. Alphonse, you love your brother, don't you?"

"Yes. I love you dearly, Ed."

"I love you too, Al," the beaten boy sniffled, throwing himself into Al's arms. "Yes, I understand, Mother." He put his arm around the woman and drew her into their hug. "This is all I need. This is safe and warm, right here."

"I always do what is right for you. I love my children. Al, why don't you go draw a bath for Ed?"

"Yes, Mother," he agreed, more than happy to get out of the room. He might've just had the most fucked up family in the area.

> > > > > > >

"Ed! You're back! I was afraid your mother would never let you back here. It's wonderful to see you!"

The oldest Elric brother wouldn't let the lecherous farmhand even touch him, a month later, when he came home to escape his brother home.

"I can't let you do that. We can't do that anymore. I'm sorry. I know you wished we could continue, but it was wrong of me, I'm sorry I acted like such a whore."

The words were shocking, and disappointing to Stuart, but he accepted them rather well.

"Wasn't like this wasn't going to happen soon anyway. What did we think was going to happen, we were going to get married?"

When Al showed up, sweaty and smelling pleasantly of hay, he put his arms around his silently crying brother and led him away from the place. Men could be such pigs.

> > > > > > >

Their mother died on a warm, sunny day. Nobody had known she was sick, not even Ed or Al. Everybody else had taken over the funeral arrangements, allowing the now orphaned fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds to deal with the grief their own way. Al stayed at work hours later than usual, just standing by the horse fields and watching the mares and their colts play in the soft grass. Ed stayed inside, cleaning and cooking. Usually, when he arrived home, Al would find his brother wearing one of their mother's dresses, holding a plate of cookies, or lemon bars, or brownies. It was a sight that could send a shiver up his spine.

It was like, Ed had decided he wanted to play house. He stopped going to the church and devoted his time to trying to make their home as warm as possible.

This wasn't normal behavior for Ed. Yes, he would dress up for the holidays, or whenever Trisha wanted him to. But usually, he was a boy at least six days a week, only softening into the feminine confused being a few hours once a week. The rest of the time, he would still play outside with him and Winry. Before their mother had died, they had even gone camping as soon as the warmth of spring warmed the waters.

But now…it was strange. It was like he was punishing himself. Like Trisha had always done to him when they were younger; dressing him up and setting him to the women's work. He stopped reading by the fire after dinner, and sat down with the needles, sometimes asking Al to read a book out loud while he did his work. But when he requested this, he never requested a book on science. Usually, he asked for a fairy tale, or the newspaper, or even one of their mother's old classic novels.

It was like a burden was lifted off his shoulders when the woman showed up in their town, performing such alchemy the boys had never seen before. Ed put on some trousers and a relatively nice shirt when they went to request her help.

Of course, she hadn't wanted to take them, right away. But she gave in. Though they were already in their mid-early teenage years, they appeared younger, and this might've been what did it for her.

When they packed to go, it pleased Al immensely to see Ed only pack one dress (though he packed five pairs of panties, a bra, and some stockings, that was okay since they were all hidden). Maybe just getting out of the house would be enough to help Ed finally recover. Finally give him a chance at being a man. Al knew Ed was a perfectly normal human male, and was so confused Ed didn't see it himself. Certainly, having an excellent teacher in science would reveal to him the truth. There was no difference between Ed and his brother.

And then, Ed met Mason.

It wasn't that Mason was anything like Stuart. He wasn't exactly that attractive, and not once did he come on to Ed. But right away, Ed felt uncomfortable around him.

Especially when he had to be alone around the man.

He wanted to say he was scared of how strong the man appeared, or how utterly masculine he seemed. But he wasn't so tender footed around Sieg. So maybe it was simply the fact that Mason was single. Ed wasn't used to being around single men a lot. Even when he went to visit Al at the barn, he hadn't had to fear those his brother worked with, since all of them, except Stuart, were married.

But he was absolutely terrified of Mason.

One day, Ed found himself alone in the shop. Izumi and Sieg had taken Al out to get him some new clothes, and Ed was just reading up on his lessons, when he recognized Mason's footsteps outside the door. He was actually so terrified of the relatively kind man; he actually jumped out the window, rather than be caught alone with him. Al only knew of the incident since he had caught sight of Ed falling over the sill from down the street. If he hadn't actually seen the incident, Al wasn't sure if his brother would've actually shared this fear with him.

The issue didn't have to be dealt with right away, luckily. They had only been there for a few days before Izumi decided to dump the two boys on an island with only a knife to feed, clothe, and shelter them.

They both relaxed right away. This was somewhat familiar territory. They used to go out of their way to go camping in a place like this. Ed stretched out in the sand and spent the first hour just looking at the sky. Al opted to look around for a bit and try to figure out the size of the place.

Then they realized they had no tent. They had no prepackaged food. They had no warm clothes or fishing poles or sunscreen or blankets or books to keep them entertained.

"Mother was right," Ed mumbled to himself as they drifted off to sleep that first night, "All we need is each other now, isn't it?"

He probably should've felt a little frightened, even paranoid, but the words were comforting to Al. It warmed him, to know Ed depended on him so.

They realized they had a visitor on the island that same night. But they had managed to survive until the sun came up. It would be all right.

Between the bad weather, the starvation, and beatings, Al noticed Ed toughening up, finally losing some of the softness he had shed several years ago when he started up at the farm. He was the older brother, and he was responsible for Al's safety.

Ed set up the plans for a shelter that could resist the harsh rains, and was the first one to actually kill an animal for their dinner. They both cried afterwards, while they picked the rabbit meat from the tiny bones, but they ate the meat just the same.

If the island was just a normal island, they just might've been able to find some sort of contentment. But it wasn't. Because no matter what, Ed was still frightened of the man in the mask.

It wasn't just the normal sort of fright either. Who wouldn't be afraid of a man who kept trying to bash your brains in? It was the very fact it was a man that upset Ed so. Sometimes, Ed would freeze up just at the sight of the muscled torso. Some part of him was ingrained to fear the male form. It was just like it had been with Mason.

Al was the one in charge of getting them away from the masked man, since Ed went absolutely blank at the sight of him. It was his duty to get Ed on his feet, get him running, or hiding, or swimming, or whatever was required to get away from their abuser this particular time.

After a particularly long trial with the man, that had them separated for most of a rainy afternoon, Ed returned to Al in tears, soaking wet and with a growling in his tummy. Al held him as his brother fell onto all fours and threw up in the wet sand.

"He touched me, Al. He, he grabbed me, right on my, my thigh, like them." Ed shuddered, and later that night apologized to his brother, not understanding why such a thing would cause him to empty his stomach of the bile and tiny bits of sustenance contained in it.

After all, they slept together at night, legs entwined, heads and chests and shoulders all cushioned together, arms holding each other close, and never once did Ed feel sick or disgusted or dirty.

Because Al simply wasn't like anybody else out there. He was his brother. His dear, sweet, clean, pure, innocent little brother. The only important person in his world.

"You'll leave me, someday," Ed thought out loud that same evening, entwined in Al's arms in their tiny, wet shelter. "You realize that?"

"Where would I go," Al replied with a shrug. "Anywhere I could possibly go, you would just follow right after me anyway."

"You'll leave me some day," Ed said sadly, "Because you were born a normal boy. You'll find a girl who will have you, and you'll get married, and make me lots of nieces and nephews I'll hardly ever see because you'll be too busy with work and family."

"You are my family, you idiot," Al laughed, kissing Ed on the tip of his nose. "Besides, if I left you, Mother would be angry with me."

"Mother," Ed sighed, "We need to figure out what Teacher meant, or she won't teach us what we need to know, and we'll never get her back."

"We will, we will."

"Al! You need to take this seriously! Don't you want Mother back?"

"Of course I do," the younger boy replied, slightly hurt that Ed had yelled at him, and pulled away from his arms, when he was just trying to comfort him the best he could. "Of course I want Mother back! I just hope, that when she is back, she'll be normal."

"Of course she'll be normal," Ed replied with a tiny yawn, curling back up into his brother's warmth, "We have a great teacher. She'll be just like she had been before."

Al didn't have the nerve to tell Ed that was exactly what he was hoping wouldn't happen.

> > > > > > >

It was a sunny day, the second time Ed was touched by the masked man, in a way that wasn't necessarily entirely violent. Well, it was violent, but to some, it might not look so.

He had caught them both by surprise. Feeling sick from some sort of poisonous mushrooms, they had hoped for the best and fallen asleep right on the sunny beach, where it was warm and dry and hopefully safe. They just felt too awful to keep on their toes.

Ed was having a dream that he wasn't sure was good or bad. A hallucinogenic dream, you might call it. His stomach hurt in his dream, and somehow, his mind was reasoning that if he arranged a pile of carved logs up in the sand so they faced the stars at a certain angle, the pain in his stomach would lessen. The yarn he was using to tie them up kept turning into strands of golden hair and snapping, falling to the sand, that instantly turned to tiny gold pebbles when they were hit. The sticks were alchemic sticks, loaded with preset transmutations that could only be activated with a momentous fall. Every time one of the logs fell, Ed's stomach felt like it was turning in his gut.

In real life, he was in the too hot sun, squirming around, lying on his side, then turning to his stomach, which eventually began to hurt, then turning to his back, which soon began to hurt from the pressure of his stomach lying on top. Nearby, Al was found in a similar position.

Then in his dream, Ed felt a hand on his head, and when he looked, he saw Stuart, but it wasn't Stuart. The man had the body of Stuart, and the face of Stuart, but he knew it was his brother, having come to lead him away to find a healthy body not being pillaged by the pain. But then Stuart/Al was touching him in a way not at all appropriate, and Ed was too sick to resist.

Al awoke when he heard his brother shout. He turned onto his side, still trembling and drenched in sweat, and saw the masked man straddling his brother's hips, holding Ed's arms above his head, as he attempted to do something with his hands. Dizzy still from his own dreams, Al still managed to stumble to his feet, and threw himself at the man, falling right on top of him on the sand, but succeeding in dislodging him in his place on top of the blond boy. Ed grabbed Al's hands and pulled him to his feet so roughly, Al feared for a second that he had pulled his arm right from the joint. When you were that afraid, pain tended to not bother to show up for a few minutes.

They made it into the deeper part of the woods, and didn't hear the masked man crashing through the trees, so they slid back against a large tree, not caring at all about the cold, crumbly dirt pressed against the back of their legs.

"How do you feel," Ed questioned, his eyes closed and head thrown back against the tree. He was shivering, but there was a fine sheen of sweat coating his face.

"Like I just got back from a party in Hell. You?"

"Like I was the guest of honor at the party. Didn't help, waking up like that. I feel like I'm going to throw up again."

"Just do it the other way," Al replied, opening his eyes a little, just to see if Ed really was going to throw up. Ed was still leaning against the tree, not knowing he was being stared at. Last time, Ed had thrown up after just being touched by the man. This time, he was being forcibly held down, yet he managed to get a hard on? There were probably some unresolved issues there.

> > > > > > >

"I don't care if you get married," Ed decided a couple days later.

"Huh?" Al was attempting to pick the grains of meat from the crispy, black body of a grilled frog.

"You can get married, I don't mind sharing you. As long as you don't leave me. Don't worry, it doesn't mean I will get attached to anyone else. You'll be the only one for me, so you don't have to worry about me not being loyal. But you deserve a wife, and kids, and neighbors, and in-laws. I'll still be there for you though."

"You've been thinking about this a lot, haven't you?" He handed a piece of the charred meat across the fire. Ed leaned over to accept it, gnawing on it on one side of his mouth.

"Not that much. Just being around all these animals has got me thinking. Like the ants. The queen ant has many mates in her lifetime, but all her followers stay with her and take care of her and do her bidding. Workers never breed. They experience all the phases of life vicariously through their queen. You can be the queen, and I'll be a worker. I'm a good worker."

"Ed, we're not insects. We're human."

"I know. But you don't understand. I get the ants. I get what they're thinking."

"They don't think. They are directed by the queen's pheromones. They're just brainless slaves."

"I'll gladly be a brainless slave for my brother," Ed smiled in a bit of a creepy way, staring across the fire at Al. The younger brother shook his head and got to his feet, heading back towards the wood, still hungry. Maybe he could find some more frogs.

> > > > > > >

Al had been the first one to totally lose it. Surprising to both of them, the younger brother had cracked. It had been a rainy day that Alphonse Elric decided he would die on this island. For once, Ed was the one to hold the weeping mess, soothing and stroking and kissing until the boy fell into an uneasy silence, too frightened and depressed and desperate to risk falling asleep. It had been raining for three days and they hadn't been able to sleep more than an hour at a time. Worst of all, they seemed to be running out of easy food. The edible mushrooms were gone. The frogs and crickets they had either feasted on to extinction, or had grown smart to their intent. The fish weren't biting. All they had eaten in over twenty-four hours were a few horrible tasting, raw roots that left bits of dirt stuck between their teeth.

Ed had laid Al down in the sand inside the shelter, and Al watched with wet, silent eyes, as his brother grabbed one of their poorly made spears and snuck out only feet from the entrance of the cave, impaling a rather large snake on the tip.

"I got us some protein!" Al had attempted a shaky smile for Ed, but still didn't move as he watched his sibling skin the scaly hide from the creature and thread a spit through where it's mouth had once been.

The dinner was almost delicious. They had only just started; when that bastard decided to show up, but Al kept his dinner clenched between his hands, and tore chunks off the skinny body with his teeth as he hid behind a tall, coarse tree.

> > > > > > >

"You know, I saw it, after we ate the poisonous mushrooms," Al brought up the subject that night, feeling better now full of snake meat and his brother's love.

"Saw what?"

"That you were aroused."

Ed, who had been clearing the snake bones from their shelter, immediately ceased his movement, turning his head to look at the boy behind him.


"When the masked man held you down when you were asleep, and we ran away. Once we were safe, I looked down and saw it. I didn't say anything, and I know I probably shouldn't now, but I did. It's okay, you know. It's okay to become aroused. It happens to everyone."

"I don't want to talk about it, Al."

"I think we should. You haven't done anything since you cut it off with Stuart so long ago, did you? I've seen you getting up and washing yourself in the morning. It's fine to use your hands."

Ed just shook his head, refusing to discuss the situation. He turned back to the bones.

"It's depressing, isn't it? When we came here, this island was so pure. Now there's bones everywhere, and the animals are silent. It smells worse here too. Humans are such filthy creatures."

"Humans are beautiful," Al protested, "And it's okay if you find them beautiful. Is that why you were hard? Because the masked man has a muscular body? I mean, it's sort of weird and definitely not the best time to decide you wanna get off, but it's just natural." Al kept his eyes on Ed's behind. His shorts were covered in a fine layer of dust from spending so much time in sand. A few more weeks, and they might disintegrate totally.

"I don't care about muscles, Al. I only care about those who care about me. What do you expect me to do? You're the only person in the world I care about! What should I do? Just go have sex with any random person who looks at me with promise? Mother would disown me! I promised her, remember? After Stuart, I promised her, never again. I won't, can't, even think about doing such a thing with somebody, and that's that. You and Mother, you and Mother, that's it, that's all, that's my life, as it should be. Why don't you go jump in the water? You smell like snake scales. Or maybe it's me. I don't know. Just leave me alone for a moment, alright?"

"Alright," Al shrugged, climbing to his feet. He headed for the opening to their shelter, looking around to make sure the masked man was not in sight. "Just remember, I'm always here for you, for anything."

Ed was gone, when Al returned from bathing. The footsteps near the shelter in the sand were long and awkward looking, and sand had been kicked up in their ring of stones that made their fire pit. The masked man must've come while he was gone. He knew Ed would be fine, so he lay down, still damp, and closed his eyes. It was too dark to keep watch and the fire would only call attention to him.

Sometime, probably about an hour or so later, he caught sound of the tired, dragging feet of his older brother, and moved over, giving room for Ed to cuddle up behind him in the shelter.

> > > > > > >

"Do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"You know…it," Ed shrugged his shoulders, blushing as he lowered his eyes.

"It? Oh, it!" Al's eyes followed the same path. "Um, yeah. All guys do it, you know?"

"I've never heard you."

"Well…I don't do it with you lying in bed, er, sand, beside me."

"When do you do it," Ed lifted his gaze again, staring Al square in the eyes. "When you bathe? I still think I would hear you. I, I was always pretty loud," he admitted, with a little nervous laugh.

"Well, I don't lie around doing it for an hour!" Al exclaimed, exasperated. "I just go wherever, in the water, in the forest, in the bathroom, at home, and get it done with as quickly as I can, and that's it!"

"I can't do it."

Al rolled his eyes, and turned his head back to his current duty, which at the moment, was trying to catch a fish on the poor excuse of a fishing poll.

"Yes you can, Ed. Don't think about anybody, if you don't want to. Just concentrate on how it feels."

"No, you don't understand. I can't…touch it. It feels weird. I don't think it works right, because, you know, I'm not normal. I've never touched it, even before I promised Mother."

"Not even when you were with Stuart?"

"No," he shook his pretty blond head, "He touched it, some. I usually came just from having him inside of me. That was always enough. I watched him do it by himself sometimes though. When I was tired, and didn't want to bother to bathe before going home. He would just make me take off my shirt and sit there while he did it."

"Make you?"

"Ask me to," he corrected himself. "He was pretty loud about it too."

"Maybe he just wanted to please you."

"If he wanted to please me, he would've made sure not to get cum in my face," Ed replied pointedly, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "He was a jerk, wasn't he?"

"To you, yes."

"What did I like about him?"

"His butt?"

"No…I think that's what he liked about me."

> > > > > > >

"Is he back?" Al's voice was still thick was sleepiness, but he was sitting up in a moment's notice, ready to make a dash for it. It didn't take much to get him running. A brush of Ed's hand on his forehead, the feeling of his arms going taunt around him. This time, it was Ed leaning across him, glancing out the opening.

"No. Al, I had a dream."

"A nightmare? Is that all? Go back to sleep." Al turned to burrow back into the sand.

"No, not a nightmare. A dream. I've had this dream a few times now, and I think I finally get it."

"Does it have anything to do with Izumi's question," Al asked turning his head around to look at Ed's shadowy silhouette.

"No. It's a dream where I am an ant, and you are an ant, and Mother is an ant, and even Father is there as an ant, though he never stays long. In it, you're the queen ant, and you're there giving birth to all the little ant babies."

"…Okay." Al gave his brother a weird look. If his brother was getting prophecies from dreams where they were a family of ants, this probably wasn't a good sign.

"You have a mate there with you, and that ant isn't doing anything except hanging around watching everybody else working. But it's my job to bring you food. You don't have your head or anything, we're ants, but I know it's us, you know what I mean?"

Al nodded. He had had dreams like those before.

"So I go to feed you and you grab me with your little ant arms, well, they're bigger than mine are in the dream, but they look little because your body is so long. And you pull me into your lap and it feels really good."

"What? How does it feel good?"

"You know like, like it used to feel with Stuart. Al, I get it now."

"Then tell me what it means, because I don't."

Al didn't even see what he was doing in the darkness until Ed was on top of him, reaching for Al's hands and intertwining the fingers with his own. He pinned them down over Al's head, but not too forcible. Not strong enough so that Al couldn't push him away if he didn't want to.

"I'm not your only lover because you're the queen, but you're my only lover because you're the queen. Al, Mother meant us to become lovers."

"What!" Al sat up, pushing back against Ed's hands with his own, dumping the older boy onto his bum. Ed's eyes were wide and glowed with the white reflection of the moon.

"When she said I didn't need anybody else besides you. She meant that it was an arrangement. Like, an arranged marriage, except you don't have to be loyal to me, as long as I am to you. It's like one of those old harems. I'm meant to be your slave. Mother trained me to be your slave. Don't you understand? She was the queen who raised another queen to take over and I'm just a worker, here to serve."

"Ed!" Al was astonished, disgusted, and confused all at the same time. "Ed! Don't talk like that! You're not a slave! You're your own human being. You are here to live your own life and find your own mate."

"Oh, don't sound like that," Ed shook his head. His hair was loose from sleep and the bangs fell over his head, the longer locks brushing against the tan skin of his collarbone. "You make it sound like this is a bad thing! It's not. It means, I know what I am and what I am supposed to do! I don't have to be confused the rest of my life, because I know my place. With you inside me."

Before Al knew what was happening, he had an armful of warm skin and soft hair covering his throat and shoulders in soft little kisses. When he went to protest, Ed pressed his lips against Al's, taking advantage of his gaping surprise. Al had never been kissed like this, deep and sloppy and so adultish. On the other hand, he knew, Ed had been.

"It's okay," Ed soothed, gently prodding him to lie back down, "I don't expect you to be loyal. This is the only way I can have it, so do this for me, all right? You'll like it."

Do it for him. He wasn't taking advantage of his mentally shattered brother at all. Ed deserved to feel as much as he did, and for some reason, he simply couldn't.

He was hard before Ed's mouth even descended down there, licking him and suckling on him until he was dripping wet and ready for him. The blond sat up on his knees and lowered himself carefully onto his brother's penis, taking Al's deep inside him. The guys at work had been right. Being with somebody was nothing like being with your own hand. It was too tight and too rough. The younger boy gritted his teeth, but refused to close his eyes, keeping them centered on his brother's smiling face.

"I'm sorry it had to be like this," Ed whispered, leaning closer to kiss him quickly, "It's because we need something, lotion or soap or something. I don't think Teacher would put aside the alchemy rule even for this."

"It's okay," Al whispered back, hoping to that inexistent god that the masked man decided to take the night off. "It's for you anyway. Does it hurt?"

"No. It feels wonderful." A shiver shook Ed's skinny body. "Can I move now? Are you all right? I missed this so."

Al reached out, wanting to get hold of Ed's skinny little hips, helping to control him a bit. He just wanted to have some sort of control. This was so strange. Who could've invented such an action? An entire social obsession centered on taking one piece of your body and putting it into another person. I could've just as easily been sticking toes into somebody's ears or something as equally strange. Taking one urine device in sticking into somebody else's and somehow it was lovely.

The initial pain of the tightness and roughness and dryness eventually began to wear off, and Al decided, maybe Ed's dreams weren't that far off after all.

He reached for the little organ that proved Ed was male, and it was hard and proportionate and throbbing. Perfectly normal. Perfectly male. How could Ed not look down and know what he was?

> > > > > > >

Every night on the island, the two had sex. If for no other reason, it seemed to keep the masked man away, who must've known what they were doing and either didn't want to interrupt, or was too busy watching. It didn't matter if Al was tired or not, because Ed was always ready for it. He always grinned as he pounced him, not feeling at all guilty about this. That was Al's job; to feel guilty about the walls society had built around them. Brothers weren't supposed to do this sort of thing.

But in Ed's mind, it was fine, because he was Al's property, to be used as Al wished. Of course, as his servant, he could still suggest things to do quite strongly. Maybe he was just starved for physical intimacy. He had gone so long with regular visits with Stuart, then, bam, nothing for a year. It was amazing Ed hadn't blown up. He should've bloated with unreleased cum and splattered on the walls. He hadn't seen him cleaning the sheets that often.

Teacher came to the island to collect them. They had come to the revelation that saved them from being sent home, and their studying began in earnest.

The first few days back at the shop, Teacher watched them oddly, which made Al feel uncomfortable, but Ed didn't seem to notice it. Ed climbed into Al's bed the first three nights, going for the bulge in his pj pants right away, but Al refused to let it happen. Not in Teacher's house. Especially with her looking at them so oddly. Somehow, he had a feeling she knew.

Now, they had to deal with that problem they had been able to abandon for a month on their escape from reality. Or rather, their escape to reality.

Al had hoped that somehow, between being able to face the masked man on the island, and now sharing his bed with his brother, Ed wouldn't be so frightened of Mason this time around.

Truth was, in the first few days, Ed didn't react so violently to the rather large man. He didn't exactly cuddle up with him, and he made sure to keep the table between them, but he didn't run for it every time he came near him. Which was promising.

Then one day, Al came home with Izumi and Sieg from running errands, to find Mason pacing around the kitchen, quickly spitting out something about Ed locking himself in the bathroom and refusing to speak to him. Izumi gave Al a look, and the boy was at the bathroom door immediately, coaxing his brother out.

Fucking hell. All right, Ed needed some physical intimacy, and he needed it quickly.

He hadn't dressed up since they had left with Teacher. But Ed had been conditioned to deal with stress by their mother, who was usually the cause of stress. So basically, if Ed was stressed, he needed to be in a dress.

Which he was. It was the one dress he had brought with them, a soft pink lacy thing Mother had bought for him on his fifteenth birthday. He must've totally shut down. He had gone all the way. Eyeliner, eye shadow, lipstick, high heels, stockings. He had no doubt that if he were to undress him; he would be wearing one of the tiny training bras their mother had bought for him.

"What is going on here," Izumi questioned, actually speaking quietly for once in her life. Right when Al had expected her to explode and lose it.

"I just thought it would be nice to go out for dinner tonight, Teacher," Ed curtsied politely, "I hope you don't mind. I have the money to treat us all. A proper girl should dress up for such an occasion, that's what Mother always said, right Al?"

"A proper… Al, why don't you take your, er, brother, and lay him down. I think he needs some sleep."

"I'm not tired," Ed protested, "I just haven't been out in ages. I think it's just what we need. A proper night out dining, after so much time on that savage island. I heard about this café on Bell Street that serves homemade wine."

"Ed…come on," Al took hold of his arm, trying as gently as he could to lead him away.

For a long time, he had become used to this behavior. But it had been so long, it was almost a strange sight now. Maybe it was because everyday Ed had changed so much. It was like, it was like there were two Eds.

This Ed, not in a particularly argumentative state of mind, allowed himself to be led away, but complained rather loudly about getting dressed up for nothing. Al closed the door behind them, attempting to sooth him. He drew the lacey figure close to him, kissing Ed gently and softly like he was kissing a girl for the first time. Which he sort of was.

"I don't understand. Why can't we go out," Ed asked, accepting Al's kisses graciously.

"You're too beautiful to be seen like this. I want to keep you all to myself," Al lied between his teeth, reaching up to help undress his brother. He was right, Ed had strapped on one of the tiny, delicate bras. He reached around to undo it; tossing the skimpy silk to one side. He kissed his throat, his chest, his nipples, trailing them down his stomach as he slowly stripped him. When he made it so he was kneeling on his knees in front of him, it was a strange sight to behold. Something male, something female. Sharp bones and a flat chest. Curled hair and a painted face. High heels and silky panties. And in those panties, a little bulge that was beginning to grow.

Al pushed him back down on the bed. Was this it? Was this the only way to make Ed act normal? Let him be a girl at night so he would be a boy during the day?

He knew Teacher had to hear the bed hitting against the walls. Had to hear the squeaking of the mattress. The whimpering and keening from his brother. His own grunts and loud whispers. She knew what was going on. What did she think? This was some perverted little cross dressing sex game? Would she throw them out?

An hour later, with Ed asleep in his bed, curled up sated and tiny on the pillows and sheets; Al got dressed again and went to join Teacher for a drink of wine in the table. She didn't say anything about the dress or the noises. The only thing that came from her mouth were questions, about their mother.

> > > > > > >

Izumi hugged them both before they left. She hugged Al sweetly and sadly and it was brief but still memorable. Ed however. Al wasn't sure if she would actually let go of him. She clung to him for a long time. It had been months since she had taken them with her. But she had taught them all they wanted to know and it was time to go. Time for them to find their own destinies. She had never brought up the issue again. She never talked about their mother, or the panties that showed up in their laundry, or the noises that came at night. Like the mother Al wished he had had, she simply accepted.

It was wrong to think such a thing. She wasn't their mother, and their own mother had been sweet and gentle and kind and loved them dearly. That was why they were bringing her back.

Ed climbed into Al's bed the night before the plan. It was like their coupling always was. Soft and gentle at first, then violent later on, when Ed demanded that Al hurt him. Ed wasn't satisfied with only one round. He made Al stay up with him late into the night, cuddling and kissing him between the times. He would intertwine their fingers, looking down at how they fit together so well.

"Mother will be proud of us," he decided before the last time, the sweat still cooling on his skin. "I am what she wanted me to be. Yours and hers and nobody else's. Do you think she will want to join us? Let's pretend, why don't we? You can call me Trisha, or Mother. No, call me Mother; I don't want you to sound like Father. You can call me Mother when you enter me and I'll call you son and we'll see how it'll be, alright?"

That was a question Al didn't really want to answer. But Edward was right. Mother did get what she wanted, and she wanted him to be Ed's, and Ed to be his, so he would do as Ed said. Ed was wrong in that sense. He didn't understand the dream totally. Al hadn't been the queen. Al had been just a worker, or at most, the mate. Mother was the only queen ant.