Disclaimer: Rowan can only draw Edward's left eye. And that's on a good day.
AC (Author's Claim): The OCs in this chapter belong to me, got it? Kenneth Morgan, Julie Hakuro, Maes Hughes Mustang, Nina Alexandra Elric, Trisha Anne Morgan, Kenneth Rockbell Morgan, Elizabeth Winifred Mustang, and Bentley Wilmont are all my characters! Yay, some things here are totally and completely mine!
Note: And now, the epilogue! I know this took way longer than I expected (nearly two months- I'm sorry!) but to compensate you all for the wait, this is twice as long as all the other chapters, so hopefully you can all forgive me. Anyway, this is the official end of Darling. Babies shall be born. As always, enjoy!
Chapter Ten- Epilogue
A telephone call...going unanswered.
"Edward, I think we should get that."
Ed sat up and scowled, then shook his head. "Nah, that's okay," he said dismissively, then leaned back into Alphonse's neck. Al squirmed as warm lips kissed up his neck, then down to his shoulder, Ed tugging Al's shirt so better to expose the skin he wished to worship. Crossing his eyes and clenching his fists, Al willed himself to resist, but was failing miserably until the phone rang out impatiently once more.
"Ed, I'm serious, cut it out and answer the phone," Al demanded, trying as he did so to move away from his brother.
Ed rocked back on his heels and sighed in frustration. "It's just Mustang," he snorted. "And all he'll want to talk about is his precious baby boy. And no matter how fascinating a one month old baby may be, I've already heard everything fifty million times. That's about fifty million times too many, in my opinion."
"And yet, despite the lavish amount of attention you've paid my neck these past few months, that never seems to bore you."
"Well that, my dear brother, is because I have a lot of catching up to do. I haven't kissed your neck half as many times as I've dreamt of kissing it, so you understand, it make take years before I get tired of it." Ed smirked.
Al shook his head and grinned. "Brother, you are too much sometimes," he said, pushing Ed off his lap even as he kissed his lips lightly. "Well, if you won't get it, then I will." Al stood and finally answered the phone's insistent plea to be heard. "Hello? Oh, hi Haw-, er, Riza." Ed sat up, eyes curious. The golden vividness of his irises made Al smile, because the expression reminded him of a cat, ears up and alert. "How are you? We're good, uh huh. How's the baby?" Al looked blankly interested, but then his eyes grew slowly wide, making Ed wish he knew what the heck they were talking about. Maybe Mustang dropped the baby on its head as he cavorted about with it and now Hawkeye feared that the child would grow up to be as big of a bastard as his father. Ed chuckled, knowing of course that that had not happened.
"Oh…are you sure? Thank you for the heads up." Al hung up and Ed stood to pull his brother back into an embrace. Absently, Al swatted him away. "No, Ed, we can't," he muttered.
Ed pouted and slung his arms around Al's waist. "Why not? You had me all worked up before; how're you going to let me down now?"
"Well," Al said with a smirk, "if you don't mind explaining to Roy when he gets here, then fine with me!" Al began to tug Ed's shirt off, but Ed pulled back and shook Al's hands off him.
"Did you just say that Mustang's coming over here?"
"Yeah, with the baby, apparently." Al grinned. "But what does that matter, right Edward? After all, it would be mean of me to ignore your needs like that…" Al stepped towards Ed, who shook his head and backed away.
"And have Mustang come in and see us! Are you crazy!" Ed scrambled back to the couch and picked up a book lying on the table nearby. "No, no…we'll just act like nothing was happening and try…try to get him to leave as soon as possible."
Al nodded. "Right," he said, scrambling to the other side of the couch and looking nonchalantly…asleep.
"You call that casual?" Ed hissed.
Al lifted his head. "I can't find a book anywhere."
Edward blinked. He blinked twice. Then, calmly, he pointed to the walls around him and said, "Al, my love, what are those, then?"
Bookshelves. Books upon books in those bookshelves. Al grinned sheepishly, stood to get one, and then the front door opened.
Al squeaked and, not looking casual at but very, very frantic- the thought just occurring to him that in all likelihood Ed had given him a hickey- he ran down the hall to their bedroom, shutting the door behind him as softly as he could.
Ed stared at the space Al had occupied until five seconds ago, wondering what it was that could have caused Al's panic, when the silence was broken by a voice. A cooing voice that reminded Edward to remain calm and act as though he had not been making out with his brother two minutes before. And a short moment later, Mustang walked into the room, a baby balanced in his arms.
"Afternoon, Edward!" Roy said, walking towards the couch and taking a seat next to him. He thrust the baby under Ed's nose and grinned. "I thought it was unfair of me to tell you all about him without once letting you see him. So, here he is! Maes, meet Edward Elric, the FullMetal Alchemist!" Roy turned his gaze towards his child. "And Ed, meet Maes Hughes Mustang."
Ed glanced down at the fat rosy cheeks of the month-old child. His eyes were dark, like his father's, and were wide awake, though the feeling Ed got from looking into Maes's eyes was like Hawkeye's gaze when she knows something. The child's hair was light, though not quite blonde; a tawny brown that swept into his wide-open eyes. He looked nothing like his namesake, save his clear innocence that only babies and Hughes could display.
And Alphonse, Ed thought with a wry grin. They had been officially "together" for three months now, though really, they had always been together in a sense. Not like that though, and Ed had to fight a chuckle as he recalled that first night. Al's eyes that night had displayed such a complete purity that it nearly made Edward change his mind. But there had been trust in that gaze too, complete trust that Edward held onto throughout the ordeal (which it was more than anything else. Al could be a real prude, too.)
"...and make sure you don't look at him in the wrong way, Maes, or he might think you're calling him short," Ed heard Roy instruct his son as he drifted from his thoughts back to the room.
Ed's eye twitched. "Hey, I'm not that bad!" he exclaimed.
Roy looked up at Ed's red face, stared into his angry eyes for a second, then glanced back down at his son cradled in his arm. "As I was saying, be careful around FullMetal. He's...dangerous."
"Hello, Roy!" Al burst in just as Ed began to rise, a slightly maniacal glint in his eyes. "How are you?"
Both men turned their heads toward the door where Al stood, a large, slightly frantic, grin on his face. Edward frowned at his brother. "Alphonse?" he asked, wonder in his voice as to why his brother was wearing a long sleeved turtleneck when they'd been having such warm weather lately. "Indian summer" they called it, and it was. Nobody was crazy enough to wear anything longer than shorts, so for a moment Ed had to wonder if, poor Al, the heat had done him in.
Roy, too, was giving Alphonse a puzzled look. Something was up, for Al was far too sensible to wear a turtleneck in hot weather without a reason. But luckily for Al, Roy's prying eyes were easily drawn back to the child he cradled in his arms. "Hello Alphonse. Come see Maes!"
Al laughed, then glared at Ed once Mustang was looking the other way, pulling his collar down and revealing a reddish mark on his neck. Ed bit his lips to keep from laughing. Very Funny, Al mouthed back, scrunching his nose and giving Ed a wry grin. He then stepped up to the couch and leaned toward the baby in Roy's arms.
"Hi Maes!" he said, his face giving way to a gentle smile and eyes that shone with wonder.
"Yeah, amazing, isn't he?" Ed remarked from over Al's shoulder, his tone sarcastic, yet not. "You'd never guess that Mustang's his father." Roy lifted his head and glared at Edward.
Al ignored his brother, instead tilting his head to the side and touching Roy's arm gently to get his attention. "Say, Roy, may I...um," Al blushed. "May I hold him?"
Edward felt his insides slush together like wet snow as Roy passed the baby to Al. Roy eased the baby into Al's arms, who received the well-wrapped bundle with care. Ed watched with a tinkling fascination how Alphonse pulled the tiny body to his, cradling Maes against his chest. Maes blinked wide, trusting eyes up at Al, and broke into a sleepy, content smile. Al smiled back and laughed uncertainly. In minutes, the infant was fast asleep.
Al, his brother decided, was made for fatherhood. His gentle arms were for embracing tiny bodies, his warm smile to soothe small fears, his kind eyes to calm eager spirits. It was obvious how meant for children Alphonse was, and painfully so. Who was Edward to keep him from that?
Roy broke into Ed's thoughts before he could commence his oncoming guilt trip. "Hey, Julie is due anytime now. Are you excited, Alphonse?"
Al glanced up from the child in his arms. "Huh? Oh, yeah." He nodded absently.
Edward frowned at Roy then, a thought coming to him. "Say, Mustang, why did you and Hawkeye take Julie in anyway?"
Roy blinked for a second, unsure. "...well, she's carrying Al's baby, isn't she? That makes her family. Right?"
Ed and Al exchanged a look and Ed coughed into his hand. "Oh."
"Was I wrong?" Roy asked, looking to Al. "Aren't you going to marry her, Alphonse?"
Al's eyes grew large and, sensing the tension in his arms, Maes woke then, beginning to cry loudly, much to Al's relief. He placed Maes back in Mustang's arms, where the baby once more calmed and returned to his slumber. Roy walked once around the room, cooing and rocking Maes gently, while Ed and Al remained frozen by the couch.
Finally, Roy returned to the sofa in the center of the room and turned back to Al, the question still in his eyes. "Alphonse?"
And then, the phone rang again.
"I got it," Ed muttered, lifting the phone from its cradle. "Hello?"
"Edward? It's Riza again. Where's Alphonse?"
"Right here," Ed replied, handing the appliance to his brother. "It's Hawkeye."
"Al? Julie just went into labor."
"Wha-? What should I do?" Al felt a strange gripping anxiety in his gut.
"Get the doctor. I'm not supposed to get out of bed yet, or I would do it myself and I couldn't get through on the telephone. Also, send Roy back here to take care of things until you get here."
Al nodded to himself. "Uh, yeah. Be right there." He hung up and found two pairs of intense eyes on him. "Julie's in labor. I'm going to get the doctor." Trance-like, he walked to the door, then remembered the rest of Riza's message and turned back to Roy. "Oh, Mustang, Riza told me to send you back home." And then Al vanished, much to Edward's jealousy.
For a moment, the two men stared at the empty doorway, comprehension sitting on the threshold but not ready to open the door. Then the knob was turned, and in that moment Roy leapt forward, his steps uncertain, without purpose, but something. "Uh...I should go."
Edward, feeling sullen by the stricken look on his brother's face, fell on the couch and stretched. "Yeah, guess you should. Have fun."
Roy glared, then rolled his eyes. "Whatever. I'm leaving. Riza needs my help, so... You could offer your help, you know."
Ed shook his head. "Not my problem. Besides, Al didn't say Hawkeye wanted me to help, so I think I'll just stay here." Ed closed his eyes and smirked at the Colonel.
Suddenly, he was lifted from the couch and dumped on the floor. Opening his eyes and his mouth to glare and complain loudly, Ed didn't get a chance to do either as Roy shoved the baby into his arms. "Oof! Hey, what the he-"
"Someone needs to watch the baby. Now let's go." And Edward found himself kidnapped again, this time Maes cradled in his arms, thinking that this was something that had happened way too many times to be healthy.
Minutes later, they were at Mustang's house and Edward, resigned to babysitting the rather calm infant in his arms, was not so subdued as to let Roy drag him out of the car as he had pulled him in, instead stepping out of the car and following Mustang into the house.
The first thing that met them was a loud, pain-pulsating screech that came from the end of the hall. Ed winced and curled his lip at the thought of Julie. He remember back to his twelve birthday and Gracia Hughes going into labor. She wasn't so loud as that bitch down the hall, he thought.
"Hey Ed, could you take Maes to his room? Everything you need is in there- diapers, wipes, clothes, and the like. He probably shouldn't get hungry for another hour or two, but I'm sure you won't have to take care of him that long." Roy showed Ed to the baby's room, kissed his son on the top of his soft head, then left to assist Hawkeye and that wailing woman at the back of the house.
There was a sofa chair next to the crib in the middle of the room and, though Maes was starting to drift back to sleep in his arms, despite the noise throughout the rest of the house, Ed kind of liked the warmth of that tiny body against his chest. He settled into the chair by the crib, but held Maes in his arms still, awkwardly rocking the slumbering baby side to side.
Studying the gentle, innocent face of the child he held, Edward for the first time in months remembered back to what Al had told him on that train. He smiled sadly at the thought, that Julie could possibly give her baby up to his and Alphonse's care. And though Ed hadn't dreamt of the thought, for him and Al to raise a child, any child, together, for the first time he let his mind entertain the idea and it made him smile all the more. He would like to have a little girl, Ed thought to himself, one like Nina, all cheerfulness and acceptance and love.
But would Julie give the child up to Al? he wondered. She might just keep the child to be spiteful, because he knew how much she hated him. But then again, she might just give them the child so that she could be a part of their lives forever, because who could deny her rights as a mother?
Then again, what if she kept the child just to lure Alphonse back into her life, to steal Al away from him again? Edward shuddered at the mere thought.
Meanwhile, Alphonse and the doctor arrived only minutes after Roy and Ed and, must to Mustang's relief, the doctor immediately took over helping Julie, only ordering Roy and Al to fetch hot water and towels. And with the frequent reheating of the water, the time slipped by quickly and, after what seemed only a few minutes of the doctor instructing Julie to breathe and to push, the baby arrived. After a thorough bath, the doctor wrapped the infant in a blanket and proclaimed the birth of a beautiful baby girl.
Alphonse approached the Julie's bedside, cautious but very curious to see the face of his baby girl. Julie glanced up at him and smiled, motioning him to sit on the bed beside her. "Look Alphonse, it is our daughter. She is-"
"Beautiful," Al whispered in wonder, reaching out and stroking the sparse hair on her delicately soft and squishy head. They were bright gold curls, silken to the touch. Sleepy amber eyes examined him with a wary nonchalance, before closing in secure contentment.
"Well, I was going to say, 'all yours', but 'beautiful' works too, I suppose," Julie said with a smile, holding the infant out at arms' length to Al.
"You mean- Julie, does this mean you forfeit custody to me?"
She nodded, her sweaty red hair falling over her shoulders and veiling the edges of her face. "Yes Alphonse, she's yours. Yours and...Edward's too. So go ahead. Take her. Love her as you can never love me, and I'll make do." She placed the child in Al's arms. "Somehow."
Alphonse stood and grinned down at her. "Thank you, Julie."
Maes stirred as he stood to pace, but the baby only turned his chin closer to his tiny chest, his forehead bumping against Edward. The screams outside the room had lessened and Ed wondered if the baby was born yet.
Pausing at the window at the opposite side of the door, Ed glanced outside to the rain, and the sun beginning to creep through the clouds. Say, he thought, Julie did give them the baby, no strings attached? What then? Would he be able to stand living in the same town as Julie while raising her child without a mother?
Edward shook his head. If he had a family- a wife, children, probably a dog or two- the only place he could ever imagine living would be Resembool. Suddenly Ed could imagine him and Al raising a child out there, with the open rolling hills, the untainted blue sky, the fresh air...the privacy. Smiling at the corner of his mouth, the thought of Resembool became very, very tempting. He turned his eyes to the chain looped in his belt buckle and disappearing into his pocket.
Oh yes, there was that. Well, he could always-
But then, the door opened and Alphonse came in, carrying a blanketed bundle and wearing a ridiculously happy grin that fueled Ed with irrational jealousy. Only he was allowed to make his brother that happy, he thought.
"Edward! Brother, Julie says we can raise her! My daughter, she's ours!"
"What?" Alphonse came up to Ed, holding the baby up for Ed to see. Her face looked soft and the gold curls on the top of her head looked like a halo. "What's her name?" he asked.
"...Nina. Nina Alexandra Elric." Ed's eyes lit up and Al grinned even more brilliantly.
The door creaked open again and Roy walked in then. "Thanks for watching Maes for me, Edward," he said, lifting the infant up and placing him in the crib, where he slept on. He then turned to the baby in Al's arms. "Alphonse, is that-"
"My daughter," he said, nodding. "Her name is Nina."
Roy frowned at the young man. "Alphonse, you still haven't-"
"The answer is no, Roy. I'm not marrying Julie, and I never will."
"But don't you think-" he protested, but was once again cut off by Alphonse.
"I don't love her, end of story." His eyes were grey as stone.
"Fair enough. But the baby, how will that work?"
Alphonse burst into a surprising grin. "Oh, well you guys in the military pay Edward so well, Julie and I decided it was best if I kept her."
"Oh." And then Roy began to laugh, the sudden image of Edward acting the role of mother creating an interesting combination of incompetence, alchemy, and a frilly pink apron in his head. Ed, who never found out the source for Mustang's sudden laughter, still glared at him with suspicion, knowing by instinct that somehow, the joke was on him. Turning to Al, he said, "Let's go home. We have a lot of shopping to do." Looking around Maes's room, Ed's eyes widened at the sheer amount of diapers they would need to buy...He winced. "Let's go."
Roy saw them to the door but, just as Edward was about to leave, he slipped back inside, Mustang outside with Al to hail a taxi. Pulling his watch out of his pocket, he held it firmly in his hand for a moment then, with a small amount of hesitation in his movements, he placed it on the table by the door, then left just as a car pulled up to the curb. He climbed into the back seat with Al and smiled.
"Ready?" he asked his brother, his eyes on the child he held, on Nina in his arms.
"Yes, brother, I am."
That day, and most of the following week saw the Elric brothers learning all they could on taking care of a child. In Edward's now empty bedroom, they placed the crib, though Alphonse was so worried about Nina during the night, and she cried so often that in the end neither of them got much sleep at all. As for feeding her, every day Al and Nina would go visit Julie, and they would only come back very late in the evening, not pleasing Edward one little bit. Meanwhile, Ed had managed to get all the books he could on the matter from Sheska, who was more than willing to help them with the baby. In one of the books, Ed was pleased to find a formula that would substitute for mother's natural milk (though why they should force something so vile down the poor baby's throat, Ed wasn't sure), which he eagerly tested on Nina that evening, much to Al's skepticism. But Nina seemed to like the milk and, surprisingly, she slept through the night, giving Ed and Al much needed rest.
It was the eighth night with Nina when Edward finally brought up something he had been thinking on for the past week. As they settled in for the night, Ed curled around Alphonse, his chin resting on his brother's shoulder, he spoke. "Alphonse, I've been thinking...What if we were to leave Central? Would you be up to that?"
Al turned over to look Ed in the face. "Edward, does this have anything to do with Julie?"
Though it was dark in the room, the faint amount of moonlight shining in through the shades turned Al's eyes to mercury. Ed looked down at the sheets under them. "Yes, I guess it does. I mean, I hate having her so close, and with you and Nina over there every day...sure, it makes me uncomfortable. I thought she said you were keeping the baby, but it seems more to me that she's keeping the both of you from me."
"Edward," Al chuckled, kissing him softly. "There's nothing to worry about, trust me."
"It's not that I don't trust you, Al, it's just...I don't trust her. She hates me, you know that." Ed laced their fingers together under the covers. "You know she'd do almost anything to take you away from me."
Al sighed and snuggled up against Ed's bare chest. "All right, where do you want to go?"
Ed bent his head down and placed his nose against Al's neck. "...I was thinking Resembool..."
"Oh!" Al sat up. "Oh, Ed, really? We could really go back home?"
Ed grinned. "If that would make you happy, Al, then of course."
"Yes!" Alphonse pounced on Ed, hugging him fiercely. "Yes, brother, let's go back!" Al pulled back to reveal a radiant smile all the more beautiful in the moon's silver glow. "We can buy a house near Winry and Granny, and it'll be big and there'll be plenty of open area for Nina to play, and we could adopt cats, tons of them, and...and...and no one out there will know us who'd care about us, Brother, and...and...but..." Al's face grew grave. "But what about the military? Would you still have to leave whenever they call you? Would you have to remain in Central for long periods of time, to be ready to leave at a moment's notice? Would you-"
But Edward kissed him into silence, then pulled back and stroked Al's hair out of his face. "Don't worry, Brother. I'll take care of everything."
Alphonse nodded. "Okay, brother. I believe you."
Ed rested his head on Al's chest and closed his eyes. "That's right, now get some sleep. I think later in the week I'll send you and Nina out to pick out a house. I'll take care of things here and join you." Ed looked up at Al. "You can stay with Granny until then. Does that sound good, Al?"
"Sure." Al wrapped an arm around Ed's chest, just below his collarbone. " We can work it all out in the morning. G'night, brother. Love you."
"Love you too." In minutes they were asleep, nestled against each other.
Roy backed away from the crack in the door, his eyes wide, his face pale. The hand clutching the pocket watch to his chest felt sweaty against the silver. He crept back down the hallway, stopping in the kitchen to collect his thoughts.
There was no arguing what Mustang had witnessed: a moment between the two young men that was anything but brotherly. The way they held each other, and the way they kissed, reminded Roy of him and Riza. Clearly, they were in love with each other and, as most things go, that was not normal. Roy didn't want to say natural, because the way they loved seemed the most natural scene he had yet witnessed lately between them. His mind rebelled at the thought, though.
Would he tell? Roy shook his head. What an idiotic thought. This was Ed and Al he was thinking about, the two boys whom Roy had come to look upon as almost-sons, though he would never dare suggest that to Edward. What should they care for conventions? They went against it before, when they tried to bring their mother back to life, and then again when they pursued the mythical Philosopher's Stone. Why should this new revelation surprise him? Roy wondered. And if he thought about it long enough, he could come up with enough instances that hinted at the relationship.
Roy opened his hand, the one holding Ed's watch. He must have left it at his home on purpose, Roy supposed, but he had come all the way here to give the watch back to Ed, not willing to give up on his young alchemist yet. And incest or no, Mustang wasn't going to let Ed leave that easily. He placed the watch in the middle of the kitchen table and left, a smirk on his face.
And as for Ed and Al? None of his business.
Mustang had expected to see Edward sooner, so he was caught a little off-guard when Ed came into his office a few days later, quiet and for once, not scowling at him. "Excuse me, Colonel?" Roy looked up to find Edward standing over him, his head turned down sheepishly. He held his hand out, the watch gleaming in his metal palm. "I left this with you for a reason."
"Edward, if you mean you wish to resign, I can honestly tell you that I wish you wouldn't." Roy put his pen down and motioned for Ed to sit, refusing to take the watch. "You are a very gifted alchemist and the military could use your talents. Please reconsider."
Ed remained standing. "I'm sorry, Mustang, but I made a promise to Al. You know I only joined the military to get Alphonse his body back. I remained here four years longer than necessary, only because I was still unsure of my future, what I wanted to do with it. But I've realized that I don't need the military's money to support me anymore. And I told Al that once we were financially secure, I would leave." Edward put the watch on the desk in front of Roy. "I promised him I would. Besides, we're moving to Resembool soon. It's where we belong."
Roy glanced at the watch in front of him, then at Edward. He smiled. "I know how stubborn you are. I guess it's no use trying to argue with you, threatening you to stay in the military. You'd only resent me, and though you do some of your best work when you're trying to prove me wrong, still, I won't do that to you." Edward nodded and turned to leave, when Roy spoke again. "Though," he whispered, "I know about you and Alphonse."
Edward stiffened, and turned slowly back to him. "What about us?" he asked softly.
"You know what I mean, FullMe- well, I guess I can't call you that anymore, can I? But you know what I mean, Ed."
His eyes narrowed. "And…what are you going to do about it, Colonel? What do you want from me?"
Roy leaned back and smirked. "Don't be a stranger, okay? You and your brother can come visit anytime. You'll always be welcome back here."
Ed nodded. "Okay."
The door closed quietly behind him a moment later, and Roy sighed.
And that was when the FullMetal Alchemist ceased to be.
It was Nina's birthday in a week. Her third birthday, Edward thought as he slipped into bed, Al already there, seemingly asleep. Ed pulled the blankets over his shoulders, then spooned Al's warm body, his head resting on his brother's shoulder. He could see a vastness of stars in the patch of sky framed by the window. Amazing that three years had passed so quickly. Three years ago, Ed had only just gotten Al's complete love; now, they were still as much in love as then. Of course, they had their arguments, for they were brothers and all siblings have their squabbles every so often.
Ed buried his nose in Alphonse's neck, breathing in deeply. Their latest quarrel, and one that had come up often in the past years, was whether to tell Winry and the others about their relationship. Edward was always adamantly against the idea, though he knew how Al felt about lying to the ones he cared about. Only a few weeks ago they were discussing what to tell Nina about their relationship; she was bound to figure it out eventually, Al argued, so better for her to hear it from them first, from her fathers. Al wanted to tell her now, but Ed felt she was too young to understand.
"Brother, she already knows we share a bed at night," Al pointed out dryly. "We might as well explain that to her before someone else does. Don't you think?"
But the truth was, Ed was afraid. Sure, Mustang had accepted them, but who knew what was running through Roy's head. Any normal person would have rejected them. Even Winry would, if she learned. Certainly anyone in the military: Breda, Falman, Havoc, Fury, Ross, Bloch. And if Izumi were around, what would she say if she knew what her students had done? The only one Ed could see "accepting" them was Armstrong, and Ed imagined the major growing very sparkly-eyed and praising their brotherly love and devotion, and not getting the point at all.
And what about their daughter, their Nina? What would she do if she knew her two daddies were brothers too? Though she had little concept of what it meant to have siblings, she was quickly learning. Just the other day she had proudly announced that she and Trisha were sisters. Of course, they had smiled indulgently at their beyond darling daughter, then glanced at each other with worry in their eyes. Soon, would someone mention to her that her daddies were brothers, and would she, being the precocious angel she was, let something slip she didn't know was secret? So maybe Al had a point; they had to tell her, and soon.
On Saturday, they were holding a party for Nina.
The previous years she was too young to understand the idea of presents and the passing of another year; she was the center of attention, sure, but so she was every day. Usually her birthday was a small affair with Granny Pinako, Winry, Kenneth, and Trisha, their daughter. Mainly it was seen as an excuse for Alphonse to spoil her even more than he already did.
But this year they were holding a grand party in comparison to the small gatherings from previous years. Roy and Riza had been looking for an excuse to go out and visit them in Resembool, and Nina's birthday seemed the perfect reason. The others heard about the plan and so Ed and Al were forced into having the party for Nina who, hearing of all the visitors put two and two together and came up with the party idea, much to the dismay and pride of her fathers. So they had to prepare for Roy, Riza, Maes, Armstrong, Havoc, Fury, Sheska, Gracia, Elycia, Greda, Falman, Ross, and Bloch, as well as Pinako, Winry, Kenneth, and Trisha as usual. It was going to be a large affair.
Which was why, with some regret and hesitation, that Ed had to admit Alphonse was right. They had to tell Nina before one of their guests mentioned it unwittingly. The real question was should Ed and Al tell the others the truth as well.
Ed's arms slipped down Al's body to wrap around his waist, his hands- one metal and one flesh- linked loosely against his brother's belly. He hadn't told Alphonse about his conversation with Roy the day he left, hadn't told him that Mustang knew, somehow. He had never thought it necessary. Nor did Edward tell Al how Riza suspected their mutual love for each other. He wondered, as he waited for sleep to creep in, if that had been wise. Though Al would just use their acceptance as proof for why they ought to come clean with the rest. But would all of them be as crazy as Mustang or as broad-minded as Riza?
Suddenly, Alphonse stirred against him and Ed scooted over a little to give his brother room. "Edward?" Al called softly, blinking over his shoulder to his lover.
Al smiled. "Oh, you're here. Nina asleep now?"
"Yes, finally. She made me go searching for Snowpuff for nearly an hour though. I had to move a bookshelf to get it, too."
Al chuckled. "It's Snowball, Brother. Why did Nina want her?"
Edward shrugged, his shoulders brushing Al's back as he did so. "I don't know. She wouldn't go to sleep without saying goodnight to her though, so I had to find the dumb cat. By the way, Al, how many white cats do we have?"
"Huh? Well, there's Snowball, Cupcake, Frosty, Precious, Vanilla, and...Angel. Why?"
Ed mock-frowned, then snickered in Al's ear. "I think I found all of them twice before find Snowpuff-"
Al turned in Edward's embrace so they were facing each other, nose nearly touching nose. Ed grinned and kissed Al quickly. Alphonse slid his hands up Ed's back, pulling him closer and engaging Ed in a long, drawn-out, thoughtful kiss.
"Brother," Al said once he released Ed from the kiss. "We should tell her tomorrow."
Ed turned away. "Yeah, I guess..."
"I mean it, Ed. And...I want to tell Winry about...us."
"Because she's our sister and if anyone should know, it's her." Al nudged Ed's face to turn back to him. "And...we've kept this secret from her for far too long, brother. She'd want to know and I'm sure she won't...despise us. Please."
With those eyes staring at him, how could Ed refuse? "...Fine."
The next day came too fast, in Edward's opinion, and before he knew it Alphonse had already begun to speak with Nina.
"Nina, sweetie," Al said as they sat down to breakfast, "what...what do you know about mommies and daddies?"
Nina frowned up at her father in the way that little children do, wide eyes even wider and chubby cheeks separated by the distinctly downwards line of their mouth. "Well, I know Trisha has a mommy and a daddy and that her mommy and daddy are married. I have two daddies and no mommy and...Daddy, what is married?"
Al looked to Edward, who shook his head. "Um, " Al said. "Married is, uh...it's when a girl and a boy love each other and they want to have a family..."
"So married is making a family?"
Al smiled indulgently. "Sort of, honey. What I mean is, when a girl and a boy want to become a mommy and daddy, they have to get married to do that."
"Oh! So the stork only comes when a mommy and daddy are married? Is that how the stork knows where to go?" Nina turned her face eagerly between Ed and Al. "So...are you and Dad married too, Daddy?"
"No Nina, we're not. Dad and I are..." Al took Ed's hand in his to stop his own from shaking. "...we're brothers."
Nina blinked. "So...being brothers makes two daddies, like being married but you don't need a mommy?" she asked.
"Um, well, no. Brothers are...they're people who have the same mommy and daddy. They are already a family, so they don't have to get married...?" Al turned to Edward, his face flushed and his speech flustered. Maybe Ed was right and this was too early for Nina to understand. "Um..."
Nina nodded vaguely. "Oh, okay." She slipped down from her seat and walked over to Ed's seat. "Dad, I'm done."
Ed nodded and patted her golden head. "It's okay Nina. Why don't you go find Snowflake or something?"
Nina stared at Edward for a moment, her expression blank, then she brightened, nodded, and ran off into another room. Ed looked over at Al and smirked. "Well, brother, you tried. We'll try again when she's older, okay?"
Al nodded. "Yeah." He sighed, though Ed seemed content that Nina was still too young to understand the complications of her fathers' relationship.
It was Winry he was worried about.
"How do we tell her?" Ed asked nervously a few hours later. "Do we just say, 'Winry! Guess what? The two of us are involved in an incestuous relationship, and have been for three years. Suprise!'? Or what? How are we supposed to tell her?"
Al shrugged. "I don't know. We could always just kiss, and let her figure it out."
"Oh right. Just kiss. Brilliant."
They didn't discuss the matter further as neither really knew how do go about it, therefore no need to worry about that bridge yet.
That afternoon, as Ed sat down to his research, he glanced out the second story window. Though her mother was not yet in sight, Ed immediately recognized the dark-haired demon charging up the path toward the house. It was Trisha Anne Morgan, only two years and some months old, who came running down the hill, her little feet kicking up dirt as she went. Descending to the kitchen where Alphonse was cleaning the stove, Ed held Al's waist in his arm for a moment, pressing a kiss on the back of his neck, then went off to find Nina. He found her in the living room, where she lay on the couch with a cat on her stomach, flipping through a brightly colored book. Ed leaned over her, placing his mouth by her ear, and whispered, "Nina dearest, your sister's here."
The little girl sat up, dropping the book and the cat (Dustball? Ed wondered briefly before it scurried under a table) onto the floor.
"Trisha?" she asked but did not wait for the answer, running out the front door and down the path to greet the younger girl as she approached. Ed stood in the doorway and watched as the fair-haired child crashed with the darker girl, knocking each other to the ground. He made a move towards them, to help them up, but then Nina leapt up and pulled Trisha to her feet, then dragged her little "sister" to the back of the house, where Ed had transmuted a sandbox for her a while back. Ed watched their tiny hands grasp onto the other's and he remembered a time when he and Al and Winry were little, and how they would all clasp hands and drag each other around Resembool.
He looked back towards the road just in time to see Winry coming towards the house, her son in her arms. She smiled and waved at Edward with one hand, balancing the baby on her hip with the other. Kenneth Rockbell Morgan, affectionately nicknamed "Rocky", was born fifteen months ago and was declared by his father when he was born to be "the spitting image of his old man," even though Rocky showed no signs yet of growing out of his shockingly blond locks. He even had eyes like his mother. And though the child was the namesake of Winry's darling "Kenny," Rocky had a special place in his uncles' hearts; the son neither of them would ever have. Though Trisha, whose eyes held such a surprising amount of warmth and selflessness for a girl her age, was very special to them as well, and not only because she reminded them both of the mother they lost so many years ago.
Ed shook his head and glanced back up again; Winry was nearly at the house now, just within hearing range. She was singing something to Rocky, a lively little tune that made the child giggle. When she heard Edward laugh gently at her, Winry glanced up and grinned. "Afternoon Ed. How are things? I suppose you and Al are pretty busy with getting ready for Nina's party, huh?"
Edward nodded, but before he could confirm it with a verbal response, Rocky interrupted with a gurgle of glee, reaching his arms out to Ed. They laughed and Ed cautiously took Rocky into his arms, careful not to hurt the infant with his metal arm.
"Let's go inside," he said solemnly, feeling a little safer and braver with Rocky in his arms. "There's something Al and I...we have to tell you."
"What is it Edward?" the young woman asked as she followed Ed into the kitchen. She was wearing a modest sun dress that shone like a bright, ripe orange, a white apron tied around her waist. She looked more mother than mechanic now, though despite her change in wardrobe, Winry was twice the automail mechanic she was before, and even more dedicated than ever. Now not only a passion, the Rockbell Automail Shop was run mostly by Winry herself, as Pinako was growing older and felt less inclined to do such detailed labor, though she helped when it was absolutely necessary. Kenneth was a willing and able assistant with his wife's work, but it was truly Winry who was the bread winner in the Morgan-Rockbell household (though Ed could attest that Kenneth was the better bread maker.)
"Edward, tell me," Winry said now, grabbing his elbow. Ed paused in the hallway and turned reluctantly to his strong-willed friend whom he both trusted and feared, though the fear was more that Winry would forsake him, and so, perhaps he didn't trust her so much after all. Ed blamed it all on the butterflies in his stomach, an oh-so-familiar feeling when it came to Alphonse.
"It...it's nothing. Never mind." Ed tried to pull away, but Winry was less than convinced.
"Ed, tell me, what is it? What's bothering you?"
Ed glanced down at Rocky, who returned the gaze with bright blue eyes, as piercing as his mother's. A shriek from outside drew Ed's attention to the window just as Nina ran past, chasing after Trisha. Both girls were grinning, so Ed turned his gaze away from the window and settled it back on Winry.
"Nothing, Winry. It's nothing."
Winry walked over to the window and watched the little girls outside playing. Her face was calm, serene, pensive. "Ed, why don't you get married?" she asked suddenly, her voice a murmur. "Remember, you once mentioned to me that you loved someone. Why haven't you married her?" She glanced at Ed, a slight smile playing in the corners of her mouth. "I see the way you look at Nina, at Trisha and Rocky. I know you long for children of your own. Why don't you start a family with the woman you love?"
"..." Edward frowned. "It's not a woman, Winry. We can't have children together, he and I."
Winry turned back to the window, her clear cerulean eyes which often matched Hawkeye's in perceptiveness, mirrored in the glass now, were wide with surprise. Both had their backs turned to the kitchen door- Ed staring at Winry, waiting; Winry staring at nothing and thinking everything- so neither saw Alphonse walk in, leaning against the doorframe and watching them intently.
"Oh..." Winry whispered, for a moment rendered speechless. "...Edward, who is he, then? Please, tell me."
"I...can't. Does it really matter, anyway? Society says we shouldn't be together, so what's the point in telling you who he is? What would it change?"
"But...It might not change anything Ed, but I'm your sister, and I worry about you, and...and I might be able to help, you, I guess. I don't know..." Winry's eyes narrowed in the window. "What's the harm, anyway, if I know who he is or not? You're right Edward, it's not going to change anything, so you might as well tell me. What more do you have to hide from me?"
Ed froze as the words caught in her throat. Everything, he thought in reply, but couldn't bring himself to hurt her. Edward found himself staring at Winry's curves, not half so slim and girlish as they once were, but firm and round and womanly. Of course, Ed knew she was grown-up; he didn't need to look at her children to see that, but for once Ed realized that she had matured mentally too. Winry might not have a secret as horrible as his, but if she had, Ed realized that Winry would tell them, would be wise enough to go to them for support, comfort, wisdom, solace. Perhaps it was better to share his burden with those he trusted the most, and though it was Al's burden too, it had always felt like the world sat on Ed's shoulders. Perhaps Winry would understand; perhaps Winry's shoulders were strong enough to share the load with them. Perhaps...
"It's Al. I...I'm in love with him, with my brother. Winry..."
She spun around, shock evident in her eyes and the shock doubled when she turned to see Edward, and Alphonse behind him. She stumbled against the windowsill, her mouth agape at Ed. Had Alphonse heard that, she wondered, and what was he thinking? Did Al still love Edward too? Did Al know? she asked herself. Her eyes stared up at Al to see what there was to see in his eyes. What she found, what she had not expected, was the reassuring smile Al flashed her then.
"What Edward meant to say, Winry, is that the two of us love each other; that we're lovers." Ed jumped at his brother's voice, then again when an arm wrapped around his waist. But, though his gaze longed to escape to the grey sanctuary of Alphonse's eyes, it stayed fixed on Winry's paling face.
"How long?" she asked at last.
"...three years..." Ed mumbled, then ducked his head as though expecting a wrench to fly out of nowhere to hit him.
What he got was rain. (1)
Winry collapsed to her knees, crying softly into her hands. Ed and Al came rushing to her side, each at a shoulder, bending close to hear her muffled words.
"I...I've been so worried about the...the pair of you...Idiots...Al in love with Ed and...and...and here I thought he had to hold his love back...thought Ed was in love with someone else, dammit...If I had known you were happily together, I wouldn't have worried so damn much!"
Al wrapped his arms around Winry and held her tear-stained face to his chest. "Thank you for worrying about us," he whispered. "Thank you, big sister."
She pushed Alphonse back playfully, a smile already on her lips. "You're both a pair of idiots, you know that? You deserve each other." She stubbornly brushed her remaining tears away. "I hope you're happy together."
"We are," Al grinned.
Winry smiled back at them, then her eyes fell to Ed, a frown creasing her brow. "But, Edward, were you in love with Al all this time? Even...even when you asked me to marry you?"
Ed bowed his head and caught Rocky looking up at him, puzzled. "Yes, I loved Al even then."
"Wait a second," Al said, waving his hand to catch their attention. "Ed, you told me the reason you didn't marry Winry was because she didn't love you!"
Ed blinked. "Yeah? She doesn't."
"But...but...but you never said you weren't in love with her either!" Al sputtered.
"Well, you never asked, Al."
Al scowled, Winry and Ed laughed, and all was well again between them.
The Mustangs arrived a day later, and after that, a few more arrived each day. Armstrong, Breda, and Falman came the following day, then Havoc and Fury, then Gracia, Elycia, Sheska, Ross, and Bloch the day after that. The inn at Resembool had good business then.
Ed and Al, both required to stay home on account of their research, hadn't been to Central for several months, so each day as more and more of their old friends arrived, it was amazing to see just how much they had changed. Though Alphonse made a point of writing to Roy and Riza as often as he could, it was still a shock to see their seventh month old daughter, Elizabeth Winifred, and to see how much Maes had grown. Not to mention Roy's promotion to General and Riza, though on leave on account of the two children, was made Colonel. It seemed the military could never be without at least one Colonel Mustang, Ed observed drily. The first day the Mustangs arrived, Roy, Riza, Ed, and Al stayed up long hours catching up with each other, while Nina and Maes were sent outside to play where Ed could keep an eye on them. Riza held onto her daughter, who slept most of the time anyway.
Throughout the conversation, however, was the annoying little voice in the back of Ed's head that told him to come clean with the others. To tell Al that Roy knew about them, and to put Riza's obvious suspicions to rest. Anyway, the fact that the two brothers had been living alone, except for Nina, these past three years ought to have been enough of an indicator for her. But Ed feared how to broach the subject, until Roy did it for him.
"So, Edward," he said when Al went into the kitchen, where they were boiling water for tea and coffee, "how are you both?"
"You mean..." Ed trailed, frowning, his eyes darting not-too-subtly over to Riza.
She smiled at his suspicious glance. "Don't worry, Ed, I've known for a while now."
"Known what?" Al asked, coming into the room with a tray, which he placed onto the table before sitting back down next to Edward.
"About the both of you," she replied.
Al's face took on a wide expression of shock and surprise, but when he turned to Edward for his reaction, he was surprised to see none at all. He glanced back to Roy and Riza and found them both smiling at him. "How...how long have you known? About us, I mean?"
"Three years," Roy replied, then frowned. "You mean...Ed never told you?"
"Told me what?" But this was tersely addressed to his brother.
"Erm...Mustang...saw us together, before we moved here. He told me when I went to resign from the military."
"And you never told me this because?"
"I...didn't think it was that important." But Ed ducked his head down in shame.
Al snorted in disbelief. "I know what it is, brother," he said, smirking. "You just didn't want to tell anyone else, and you knew that I would use Roy's acceptance of us as an argument for why we should."
Roy choked on his coffee and stared incredulously at Ed. "You mean to say that you haven't told anyone?"
"We...we told Winry yesterday," Ed whispered.
Roy rolled his eyes and Riza scowled with annoyance at him. "We were all accepting of Havoc and Fury when they came out to us two years ago. Why shouldn't we accept the pair of you too?" she reasoned.
"Hello!" Edward cried, jumping out of his seat. "We're brothers! We shouldn't be in love with each other! You shouldn't be accepting us so easily! It's not right!"
Roy and Riza gaped up at Edward, speechless, but it was Al who spoke.
"Is that how it is, brother? Are you ashamed of us, even now? Is that it, Edward?" Al was standing as well, now, his body turned to face Ed, who looked away from his brother's accusing voice. "Dammit, Ed, answer me! Why don't you want anyone to know about us? Is it me? Is it because we're not right?"
"No, I..." But Ed shook his head and began to walk away.
"Don't you dare turn away from me, Edward! You know, I'm not afraid to tell the others; I'm not afraid of our love. I'm not afraid of what they'll think, because your love is enough. What about you, Ed? Are you afraid?"
Edward whipped around. "Are you calling me a coward?" he said.
"Well, are you Edward? Are you afraid? Or am I just not enough? That's it, isn't it? You're willing to be with me, just as long nobody knows about it. What, are you afraid people will think you're a pervert? Do you think they'll call you sick for fucking your little brother?"
"Of course that's what they'll say, Alphonse! You can't live in a bubble where everyone is accepting. The truth is, we shouldn't be together and if people found out about us, they'd try to break us apart. You think I want to lose you because of what they say is right and proper?"
"Do you think that little of me, brother? I'm not going to leave you, no matter what they say! And besides, they're our friends. If we matter at all to them, they're not going to care!"
"But that's the thing! They should care. It wouldn't be right if they just shrug their shoulders and say nothing. They at least know incest isn't right, even if it is us."
"Oh, you are so dense sometimes! They won't care about the incest part half so much as they'll simply be happy for us. That's what friends do; and if they don't, they weren't ever our friends."
Edward shook his head, then placed his hands on his brother's shoulders and shook him too. "Don't you get it, Al? I'm not going to take the risk of letting our secret get out. Don't you remember Julie? She was planning to expose me, just for a little money, only she didn't because she 'loved' you. What if we tell them ,these so-called friends, and one of them proves less than what we expected? You think they'll hold back, just because we ask them to? No, Al; they'll expose us to the whole world. Everyone will know about us then; is that what you want?"
"I'd rather that then to keep lying to our friends. I'd rather risk that then have to keep our love a secret forever. Because then at least, I could kiss you in public; then at least I could show the world that you're mine, and mine alone." Al smiled. "I want to shout my love out to the whole world anyway; why should it matter then if someone else does it instead?"
"As tempting as that all may sound, I...I just can't. I don't want to have to face the world's disgust, and I don't want you to have to suffer that either. I'm sorry, Alphonse, but I just can't tell them."
Al stepped away from Edward, shaking all over with a cold rage. "Then I guess I'm really not enough for you. I don't care what the rest of the world thinks, so long as you still love me, but I see...I see now that my love is just not enough, is it?" Before Ed could reply, Al ran out of the house, and down the path towards the Rockbells.
"Edward?" But the young man did not hear them, his eyes still fixed on the open door, his hand on wiping away the hint of a teardrop that had hit his cheek as Alphonse turned away from him.
The next few days were quiet ones in the Elric household, mainly because Alphonse had yet to return, despite all the many times Ed trekked out to the Rockbell house, where Al was staying, to beg him to come back. And though on the third day Al finally took pity on his brother enough to actually talk with him, he still refused to return until Edward apologized, and agreed that they ought to tell the others about their relationship. So it was only Edward there to greet Armstrong, Breda, and Falman the next day, and Havoc and Fury the day after that, and finally Gracia, Elycia, Sheska, Ross, and Bloch on the last day. And while he tried to be at least slightly welcoming, there was no mistaking the enormously obvious black rain cloud over his head. While Armstrong tried to cheer him up with the usual display of his "magnificent, glorious, and pure" physique, Havoc and Fury tried to get Ed to talk about his problems (making Ed quite suspicious that Riza had been training them all to be his psychiatrists), it wasn't until the women (and Bloch) arrived that the sky began to clear at last. Half of it was watching Elycia (now 13 years old) playing with Nina, helping the little girl in her sandbox; the girls' blonde and golden heads made them seem like sisters.
The other was a slap in the face.
While Gracia, Bloch, and Ross sat outside, watching the girls at play, Sheska pulled Edward into the house, her eyes alight.
"Ed! I've been meaning to tell you something for a long time," she said as soon as they were alone in the kitchen.
"Oh? What's that Sheska?" But Ed was only half paying attention.
"Well, you remember that time you called my house and Ma-Lieutenant Ross answered the phone?"
Of course Edward remembered that; only minutes later Alphonse had asked if Ed was in love with him. Ed nodded. "Yeah, she said you were visiting your parents at the time."
"I...she lied. I was right there, but Maria had gotten to the phone first and...basically, the point is, Maria and I are lovers, and we've been together for almost four years now."
Edward blinked, suddenly engaged in the conversation taking place. "That long?" he asked. "How come-?"
Sheska blushed. "I hadn't wanted to tell any of you for a long time, and I almost lost Maria because of that. She was afraid that I didn't love her, but the truth is I...I liked the secrecy. It made everything more...romantic and...dangerous."
He couldn't help but laugh at her words, even as his heart tugged in thought.
"Don't laugh! I know, I know, Maria tells me that I've read just about too many books." But there was a smile on Sheska's face as well. "Anyway, she won that argument, especially after she rescued me from an, ehem, avalanche. I had to begin to agree with her at that point, on the book front."
Ed frowned in thought. What if he lost Al because of this? And yet Edward's pride would not let him simply concede the battle to his brother. However, perhaps he could try to assure Alphonse that it wasn't that he didn't love him enough... "Excuse me, Sheska, but I, um...I've got to go."
"Ed?" she called, but he was already out the door.
Running the whole way there, Ed got to the Rockbell's house ten minutes later, loudly banging on the door without a thought. Smoothly, Pinako opened the door and shot the young man a quizzical look. "Can I help you, Edward?" she asked around her pipe.
"Uh..." Ed dropped his hands by his sides and glanced down sheepishly. "Sorry to disturb you, Granny, but I'm here to see Al."
"He's out back," Pinako said. Ed dashed to the other side of the house and fell to his knees beside Al, who was busy chopping wood.
"Alphonse, please don't leave me!" he cried, his eyes closed and his hands pressed desperately into the grass.
"I love you, brother; I can't live without you!"
Al put his ax down and bent down beside Ed. "It's so easy for you to say that to me; why's it so hard to tell everyone else? Brother?"
Ed, sensing Al beside him, opened his eyes and looked up. "I...it's not that I'm afraid to tell them, nor is it that hard, I just...I-I like the secrecy. It gives our relationship excitement, and, um, danger."
Al half-smiled, then giggled into his hand. "Oh, Ed, get up." Ed obeyed and followed his brother in standing. Once both of them were on their feet again, their eyes met, Al's twinkling merrily. "Edward, that was pathetic, but I don't feel inclined to stay mad at you anymore. If you don't want to tell them- for whatever reason- then I guess we won't, for now at least." Al then embraced Ed, hugging him tightly and pressing his lips on Ed's neck. "Now, shall we go home?"
Edward smiled into Al's hair. "Yeah."
The day of the part dawned early; the rest of the day Al and Ed had spent in getting the preparations together. Alphonse wanted to bake a cake for Nina which took him most of the day, while Ed was busy shopping in Resembool for her presents. But when they finally turned in for the night, they had anticipated sleeping well into the morning (which would explain why their nighttime activities were exceptionally vigorous that night). However, sleep was not meant to be; Edward was woken by a knocking on the front door just as the sun began to peek over the edge of the world. Groggily, he poked Al awake, then slipped his bathrobe on and hurried to answer the door.
He did not expect to see Julie standing on the doorstep and so he initially shut the door on her, muttering to himself about overactive imaginations and how, dammit, there was nobody there, save for a trick of the light. But then Julie knocked on the door again and, groaning, Ed opened the door again.
"Good morning Edward," a feminine voice, very familiar, greeted politely. Blinking, Ed cursed under his breath. Julie wasn't a trick of the light after all.
"Uh...hey," Ed replied unintelligibly. Luckily Alphonse descended then, and being more of a morning person than his grumpy brother, he immediately invited Julie to come in. Minutes later, the three of them were seated in the living room around a pot of tea.
"So, Julie, what brings you here so, erm, early in the morning? And in Resembool, no less?"
"It's...it is Nina's birthday, yes?" she asked politely, her green eyes staring at Al over her tea cup, through the steam.
"Indeed, her third. You came for her party this afternoon?"
"Oh! No, I just came to wish her a happy birthday and give her my present, that's all." Julie held out a small pink bag, her eyes wide and earnest. Edward just scowled, but Al took the bag graciously.
"Erm...so, how are things with you, Julie? What's new?" Al gazed into her face, her bright green eyes and amber-colored hair, her face rounder than he remembered, and the small hint of a mountain around her middle.
Seeing his eyes there, Julie smiled. "Well, I've been married for almost a year now, and yes, I'm pregnant."
"Oh, married!" Al exclaimed. "And you...you love him very much?"
"Yes. I love him very, very much. His name is Bentley Wilmont and he's a very important business man in Central." Julie beamed as she stroked the thin gold band around her finger. It was no surprise; she married money. But she appeared genuinely happy now, and for that Al was glad. Still, the fact that she had come all this way just to wish Nina a happy birthday boded ill in Ed's suspicious mind. There was no doubt that they would have to deal with Julie throughout their lives, but at least there was no threat of her coming between them again and for that, Ed supposed he could suffer her company.
Julie only stayed for another half hour, but by that time the sun had already begun to rise and Ed and Al had things to do in preparation for the day. First, Al set about cooking breakfast, while Ed woke Nina up, gave her a bath, and dressed her in a simple pink dress with lace around the edges. Smiling up at her Dad, Edward felt a surge of affection for the girl who resembled him so much, from her dark golden tresses, to her deep amber eyes, and the easy way a smirk would find itself across her face. "Happy birthday, Nina!" he said as they flew downstairs.
Breakfast was short and soon the afternoon had rolled around the guests began to trickle in. Winry, with Kenneth, Rocky, Trisha, and Granny Pinako arrived first, and Trisha and Nina ran outside to play. They were joined shortly afterward by Maes, his parents and baby sister remaining in the living room and catching up with the Morgan-Rockbells. Then a sea of blue washed in, along with Gracia and Elycia Hughes. And then the party kicked off.
First, came the cake, which puzzled Nina a little, because her past two birthdays she was too young to be told, "Make a wish, and blow out the candles." But, being a good-natured little girl, she only frowned at the candles on her cake before puckering her lips and blowing out the tiny flames. Everyone clapped and Nina watched them, clapping her hands too.
Then, the presents, which consisted mostly of new clothes, new toys, and new picture books. Nina did not yet understand the concept of "gifts", though she had a quite enjoyable time ripping the paper. During the unwrapping of gifts, Edward could be heard muttering, "Spoiled, absolutely spoiled," though the proud, loving smile he couldn't help but show gave him away.
And then Nina, tired out by all the attention and excitement, fell asleep in Ed's lap. Ed hadn't the heart to move her, so he scowled everyone into silence. The party then moved outside, where everyone, save for Ed and Nina, socialized. Al set about making dinner, which, by the time it was finished, found Trisha, Maes, Rocky, and Elizabeth sleeping in the living room with Nina, though the biggest baby of them all was Edward, who slept right along with them. Roy, Riza, Havoc, Fury, and Armstrong peered in on the grown man and chuckled, exchanging whispers on how touch the FullMetal Alchemist looked now, surrounded by slumbering children, but all had good-natured smiles on their faces.
The night stretched long, with long conversations and many laughs among friends. And while Al wished Edward could be there, well, they all agreed he looked too sweet and happy for any of them to want to wake him, and Al only woke him many hours later, once everyone else was gone. During dinner, though, they wondered just what could have made Edward so sleepy, and Alphonse knew what the answer was, but he'd promised his brother they wouldn't tell anyone yet, so he didn't mention that it was all his fault. Which it was, in a way.
Finally, though, everyone had left and it was time to wake Ed and Nina. First, Al lifted his daughter up and carried her upstairs, and she only woke as he pulled the covers up to her chin. "Daddy?" she muttered, but then yawned, and her eyes fluttered shut again. Al returned downstairs and contemplated his brother for a moment, finally deciding to carry him upstairs as well (after all, Ed was smaller than him.) And halfway up the stairs, Ed remained asleep. Which means, halfway up the stairs, Ed woke up. He blinked, then realized that neither of his feet were on the ground, which meant he was either flying up the stairs, or... "Al! What the hell!"
Alphonse nearly dropped Ed at that, but luckily Ed wrapped his arms around Al's neck in a panic. He chuckled. "Oh, I was carrying you to bed, brother."
Ed's face was white, as the blood drained out of his face from the shock. "W-what about...what about everyone else?"
"Oh, they left a while ago."
Ed thought for a moment, then settled more comfortably in Al's arms. "Oh. Okay then."
"I don't think so, Ed! Since you're awake now, you can take yourself upstairs! You're heavy, brother!"
Ed's eyes narrowed. "Are you calling me fat?" he challenged, the same way he used to when people called him short.
"No! It's your arm, that's all."
Ed flexed his right arm, then grinned cockily. "Yeah, well, it's worth its weight."
"It certainly is." Al's tone was serious and Ed caught the sad look in his brother's eyes.
"Hey," he murmured, before kissing him tenderly. "I don't mind it, Alphonse. I'm used to it now."
Al bent his head. "I...know. It's just...I still can't believe you gave your arm up for my soul. It still...astounds me."
"But I love you, Alphonse. I always have, and I'd give my life up for you if I had to."
Al nodded, then buried his nose against Ed's neck. "Yeah, I know. I would do the same for you."
"Well, let's just hope we never have to."
"Yeah." Alphonse stared at Ed's face, a distant expression there. Then he smiled again and said, "I just realized. It really doesn't matter who knows about us, or even if anyone does. All that matters is that I'm yours and you're mine, and...and that's all. That's all that truly matters, right brother?"
Ed kissed the tip of Al's nose. "Right."
Chapter Ten- Darling
(1)- "What he got was rain." This is a reference to Maes Hughes's funeral, when Roy tells Riza that it looks like rain and she remarks that it looks like a clear sky to her. Then you see that Roy is crying and he says, "Yes it is. This is rain." I...couldn't resist the allusion.
Oh man. It is officially over now, isn't it? That's so...weird. I've been working on this story for six months now and I know that I could never have finished it without everyone's support, so thank you. All of you, for reading and loving this story. I cannot thank you all enough; I've never finished a story of this size before, and certainly in the time that I've finished this one, so thank you all so, so much.
Now before I completely let this one go, I must apologize for one thing. I think I messed up on the name "Hakuro." According to this site and the name is "Hakuro", but I saw in Newtype a while ago that the name is actually "Haruko", and then in a story I've read here, it's "Halcrow." Since I like the "Halcrow" version, I think I'll go through this one day and change it, but for now, it's staying "Hakuro". I can only say I'm eternally thankful that nobody noticed that. I just thought I ought to mention that, though.
And now, "Darling" is officially over! Strangely enough, something else just ended for me the other day. I graduated from high school! So many things are ending now...it's enough to make me cry. However, I am proud to say that, while this story is now over, I am already starting on a brand new Elricest story! Well, at least, I finished the prologue. The title (right now) is "Beyond That Dream" and will contain end of series spoilers. Anyway, I hope to see you all there when I post it up! Thank you again for staying with this story: 27 favorites and 25 story alerts! Amazing! Well, until the next story- Rowan