Disclaimer: ++rolls eyes++ It goes without saying that I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist, nor any of the characters. If I did ++points at Edward++ then HE would be even more afraid of me, and I'd never get him to tell me a decent story so I could write it down.

Canon: Animeverse with CoS

Note: The dating system I am using here looks completely backwards to me as I do all my dating largest to smallest. That means year first, month second, date last. I do this because that way my dated files all fall into order by date very neatly. So a file like this one, would be named 20070225 – CT02 Listen to the Doctor . In Chasing the Trail, the date is FMA Canon. So in Amestris, it's 1919, December 5, even though the date reads .19.

Date: .19

Time: 21:52

Location: Central City – Capitol Square Convention Hall – Councilman Harmon Long's Annual Holiday Kickoff Ball

"You are really just a honey-tongued devil, aren't you young man?" Mrs. Long hung on the arm of the former General as he walked her back to her seat. "If I were just 10 years younger, Chairman," she said her voice taking on a coquettish undertone, "and not so attached to my dear Harmon here," she added as her escort transferred her back to her husband's arm.

"I wouldn't stand a chance." Roy Mustang raised a teasing eyebrow. "And I would not presume," he added with a deferential nod to the older man who chuckled and patted his wife's hand indulgently. "I do want to remind you both of my own little holiday soirée in two weeks. I believe you should have the invitations already. Nothing so grand as yours of course," he added gesturing expansively with one hand. "But I'd be honored if you could both attend."

"Absolutely," Long answered. He raised the glass in his hand as if in salute. "First one since you took on the oversight of the new State Alchemy program isn't it? We're looking forwards to it."

Mustang raised his own glass. As he sipped, his glance went over Long's shoulder to catch sight of a younger man walking by. The blond, the elder of the Elric brothers looked a little unsteady as he pushed open the ballroom doors and walked out of sight into the hall.

"Alyssa," Mustang said, kissing her hand lightly. "Councilman, if you'll excuse me." He bowed to the couple, and handing his empty glass off to a server, headed in the same direction he'd seen the younger alchemist go.

"Fullmetal?" Roy kept his voice down, and pushed the door closed behind him to block out the music and noise of the ballroom. The blond alchemist definitely looked like he'd had enough. Mustang allowed himself a smirk at the younger man's condition. He slouched on a bench balancing the glass of whiskey in his good hand as it rested on his knee. His head was leaned back against the wall, his right glove off, and the cold steel of his bare automail hand was pressed against his forehead. "Edward…" Roy's initial amusement faded when he didn't get an answer the second time he spoke. He crossed the distance between them in four steps. It took a hand on the boy's shoulder to get his attention. Even then, the boy looked a little unfocussed. "Are you all right, Ed?"

Edward lowered his hand and blinked at Roy, his gold eyes clearing after a minute. "General Mustang?" He pulled himself up straighter. "Yeah, sorry…" He glanced around for a moment and seemed relieved that no one else was in the hall. "Was I asleep?"

Roy smirked for a moment. "Probably for hours. Are you really that bored Fullmetal?" The sarcasm was clearly lost on the younger man who stared at him in honest chagrin.


Roy frowned at the younger man and interrupted before he could form what sounded suspiciously like an uncharacteristic apology. "I just saw you walk past, Fullmetal, not two minutes ago." He explained with a soft laugh. "If you dozed off, it couldn't have been for more than a few seconds."

"Oh." He blinked for a moment. "Eh… What time is it?"

Fullmetal didn't sound like himself at all. Granted, he was twenty now–almost twenty-one. The 14-year difference in their ages still caused the general to think of him as a boy at times, but the last three or four years that he'd been away had defined Edward. He'd grown up. The brash kid he had been was almost gone. He'd learned to govern his temper. It was still there, undoubtedly, just let Roy push the right button, and it would flare, but Edward had learned how to avoid having his buttons pushed and had graduated at some point to real verbal sparring rather than the tantrums for which he had once been known. He could keep his thoughts guarded and meet Mustang's jibes and sarcasm on more equal ground now, which usually made their conversations more enjoyable. Though young, he had understood alchemic theory on an adult level since Roy had known him. A child prodigy, he had long been recognized as a genius in his field, but now he could debate the finer points without losing his composure, even when he couldn't make someone understand things as he did–things that to him were simple and obvious. That was evidenced by the fact that Edward Elric had chosen to teach at Central University.

Even though he was more mature, Roy thought Edward would always have his quick grin and sharp wit, and woe to those who couldn't keep up. At the moment even these seemed to be gone, and now he was resting his face in the cool metal of his hand again. "It's about ten. Where's Al?" Roy asked taking the glass out of Edward's hand and setting it aside. The younger man didn't protest. He hadn't seemed inclined to finish it, and it didn't look like he needed any more of it anyway.

"He went home an hour ago," Edward lifted his head waving his hand absently. "He was starting to overload, you know. Too many people." then he shrugged slightly. "It doesn't happen too often now, but when it does, it's difficult for him." Alphonse Elric had not remembered his four years attached to a suit of armor at first. Three years living without memory of the complete deprivation had spared him some of the sensory overload that might have otherwise occurred. Regaining those memories though had come at a price. Now Edward's brother sometimes became overwhelmed by too much input. Mustang knew that Edward considered this yet another sin on his part, another burden that he would carry for what he felt he had done to his brother. Never mind what he had done to himself. Edward's pain was nothing. His brother was everything to him. "I saw it starting to get to him," He wrung his hands in brief imitation of his brother under stress, "so I told him to go back home before it got any worse."

"I think it might be best if you head home now too." Roy felt magnanimous enough to spare Edward his dignity about drinking too much. He'd pay for it in the morning anyway. "You look pretty tired."

Edward dropped his hand again, staring at the floor for a moment. "Yeah, I guess I am." He glanced up at his old commander. "I didn't sleep well, to tell you the truth, but I didn't want people asking where I was later." Now he straightened and flashed that grin. "The premier holiday kickoff party of the year and all. Chairman Long was legendary even when I was a kid. Al and I were excited to be invited this year," he added seriously, before widening his grin to display his almost perfect teeth in mock arrogance. "Yup, and you know how people would talk if Fullmetal didn't…Ugh–" he cut himself off, the smile fading with his posture. "Scheisse…" The oath had come back across the gate with him. Edward seemed to prefer it over the same word in his native language. Alphonse had once confided to Roy that it was because it allowed him two syllables to express his irritation rather than just one. The blond snorted softly. "Politics…" It seemed to Roy as if Edward were laughing at himself, his inner smart-ass not gone so much as suffering from too much drink induced laziness to complete the thought.

Mustang chuckled slightly. Well it happened. Edward might be an adult now, but to his knowledge he wasn't much of a drinker. It took time to learn limits, and this was no exception. "I'm sure everyone will be just devastated if you go at this point." Roy realized after he said it that his satire could be truth as well depending on how one looked at the situation. Fullmetal was pretty well liked by most of the people there. Though he was small, he'd always been a good-looking boy, and maturity had only enhanced that. His amber eyes, still capable of fire when he was provoked, now more often gave an impression of gentle concern to his features. There was a certain wistful quality now. Those who had known him as a teen knew where it came from. They had also seen his natural compassion, but now it was more obvious in his expressions. It amused Mustang to know that was what in large part the thing that drove the girls Edward's age crazy about him, even if Edward himself was completely oblivious of it.

Earlier he'd seen Edward dragged blushing and wide-eyed onto the dance floor by a group of tittering girls–one of them the daughter of a congressman. He grinned at the memory. Fullmetal had comported himself fairly well, though not expertly. He seemed to know most of the steps and the ones he didn't he learned quickly enough, but something had been off about his gait. It made him seem awkward, and after a while he had bowed out and headed towards the buffet table again. "Especially now that the band has finished with the dance sets," Mustang added lightly. "You know the background music is what everyone looks forward to all night."

Edward smiled slightly at the sarcasm, but didn't answer it.

"Even still, I'm sure the girls will be quite devastated to lose you," he added seriously.

That got a snort of derision. "Girls!" Edward rolled his eyes in a way that caused Roy to raise an eyebrow at him. His next statement raised the other one. "Yeah… Like I'm interested in those girls!"

"You're no fun," Roy snickered and stepped back a pace. "I'll have them bring your car around for you. I'll drive you home," he added pointedly.

"General," Edward reached out to stop him, but rather than catching the other man's arm, he only managed to brush his sleeve with his fingertips. "You don't have to do that. Al took the car anyway. I don't drive. I mean–" he corrected himself quickly, coloring slightly "I can, more or less…but he says I shouldn't." Edward shrugged, looking resigned. "He's probably right to say it," he mumbled under his breath. Roy had heard about Edward's driving. Not too long after the brothers had found their way home again, Edward had bought a second hand car–a slick little red roadster. Apparently though, he was easily distracted and as likely to drive off the road as on it. Edward had wrecked the car three times in two months before he had handed his keys to Alphonse saying the car deserved to be treated better. In a moment the younger man brightened again. "Ah! We're inside the capitol gates." He shrugged. "I'd rather walk anyway. It's not that cold, and I could stand the fresh air.

"Hmm," Mustang studied the other man for a moment and came to a decision" Well, I think I'll go with you then." He held up a hand when Edward opened his mouth to protest. "Never mind that." he said authoritatively, "I didn't drive either. I came with Caroline."

"You and Caroline came together?" Edward's raised an eyebrow. "I thought you two hated each other now?"

"No," Mustang corrected, drawing out the word for emphasis. "We don't hate each other. We just don't want to date each other."

"I see…" Edward thought about it a minute. "I think…" another moment of thought. "Maybe I don't."

Mustang chuckled. "We're still friends and it was easier to come together since we'd already planned to. But we're not seeing each other any more."

"I get it!" Edward's mocking grin returned "So basically you're free to womanize all you want again!"

"I'm wounded!" Mustang mocked, laying a hand over his heart. "I don't have the looks I had back then anyway," he added touching the scars around his left eye. He'd worn the patch for nearly four years. Then he had finally gone for a last surgery to reconstruct the damaged bones around the orbit of his eye, and had a replacement eye made. It wasn't a perfect match. It was too black. He could see in the mirror that the iris of the artificial one failed to capture the vague hint of midnight in his natural eye.

Fullmetal had had a hand in Mustang's choice to finally replace his eye, though he probably didn't know it. The damage to his face had in some way felt like a penance for his failure to protect the two boys. Edward and Alphonse had had understood that pretty quickly once they had returned to Amestris for good, and Edward had given him an earful about who had the right to carry such burdens. Apparently Edward was the only one. He had ended that discussion by sticking his automail hand in Mustangs face. "Quit sulking and get it fixed Mustang!" he had opened and closed his metal fist several times as he shouted his parting shot. "You might note that I can put you in touch with a very good mechanic!" Ultimately Roy had opted for a simple glass replacement rather than trying for a functional artificial eye. He could let go of the patch, but somehow, he still wanted the reminders that his unseeing eye gave him.

Edward snorted. "Looks better than that damn patch." He shrugged lopsidedly and pointed at him with his left hand. "The scars aren't as bad as you think they are anyway. Your surgeon did a good job."

He supposed it was true. Certainly from Edward's point of view it was true. The younger man carried far worse scars where his arm and leg had been torn from him. "I think I'm a little old for all that 'womanizing' as you so eloquently put it," Mustang laughed amicably. "But just for your information, I may have dated plenty, but I never gave a girl reason to think she was exclusive unless she was. Anyway, I know Caroline's not ready to go, and I don't want to drag her away from her fun. This way I can escape too." He picked up Edward's drink, poured it out in the drinking fountain a few steps away and refilled it with water before handing it back. "Here. You'd better drink this while I make our excuses. Just give me five minutes, hmm?" He arched an eyebrow meaningfully, received a sour look in return and strode back into the ballroom.

Edward, he was soon reminded, could still be contrary, and hadn't gotten any better at following orders either. When Roy slipped through the ballroom doors into the hallway again, he discovered the glass of water, sitting untouched on the arm of the empty bench. His erstwhile subordinate he found near the entrance, holding both their overcoats. He seemed to be contemplating the action of his fingers, opening them rapidly one after another as if counting on them, and then closing them the same way in reverse increasing the speed each time he repeated the process. Roy had seen Edward doing this before, usually when he thought no one was looking or when he was lost in thought himself. It seemed to be a habit he had picked up on the other side of the gate.

Roy knew that the prosthetics Edward and Hohenheim had built had been made from the materials available to them in London and Munich, wherever that was. It had been more than four years now, since Edward had been killed by the homunculus, Envy. Alphonse had sacrificed himself for Edward's life. Edward, ever insisting that their troubles were his fault and thus his burden alone to carry, had refused to accept that choice, and had transmuted himself to undo it. Edward had rebuilt most of the connections between his flesh and automail himself inside the ether when the limbs Alphonse had just restored to him along with his life were retaken. It was the compromise he'd made–though it was more instinct than choice–in order to bring Alphonse–body mind and soul–back out into the world.

Unfortunately Edward had been thrown out the other side of the gate with both limbs missing, and sockets that were put together wholly from his own memory of how they had felt, and very little practical understanding about how they were actually supposed to work. Apparently Hohenheim had been able to repair the rest using his own knowledge, and then they had built new prosthetics to fit them. The end result may have been decades ahead of their time on that side of the gate, but they had been in many ways vastly inferior to what Edward was used to.

When he had returned to Munich through the gateway with Alphonse, Edward had taken his new automail with him. It should have been an improvement even with the ports as they were, except that Edward, ever diminutive for his age before his brother's restoration, had finally started growing. That meant his prosthetics could be in need of adjustment or replacement at any given time. When he and Alphonse had returned from the other side, Edward was still in the automail rather than lesser limbs, but his arm had been significantly damaged. His leg, he and Alphonse had adjusted for length as far as it would go and finally jury-rigged it at the shin to make it long enough, destroying much of its function in the process. He had been badly in need of replacements. Roy thought the habit had probably formed during that time, as Edward watched the slow deterioration of the function of his artificial limbs.

Edward clenched his hand into a fist with a soft grunt before he noticed Mustang approaching and looked up. Wordlessly he handed the General his coat, pulling his gloves back on before shrugging into his own. A discordant clank in the shoulder joint gained a soft gasp of pain and another grunt from Edward as he clutched it for a moment with his eyes squeezed shut.

"All right?" Mustang asked, casually reaching across and pulling Edward's coat the rest of the way over that shoulder while the blond was too distracted by the pain to notice the assistance.

"Yeah." He straightened to meet Mustang's eyes for a bare second before they headed outside. "It's the weather. Well… Mostly… In the old days this didn't usually happen to me," he said by way of a better explanation. "I almost always tore my arm up before anything wore out. But now I think one of the guide bars in there is fried. It's not responding right. I can feel it when I–" he demonstrated by running his fingers rapidly open and closed in sequence again, and then closed them in the same rapid succession. "Sometimes it pings like that. Makes the socket a bit sore."

"Sounds like fun," Roy's smirk was meant to relay acceptance of the explanation. He had a feeling it was more than just 'a bit sore'.

"Sure." Fullmetal snorted softly. "I especially enjoy the headaches when it does nothing but rain all day." Despite that, he seemed better able to maintain the easy exchange of sarcasm than he had been earlier. At least that was progress, but then Edward shuddered and rubbed at the shoulder again, as if any amount of rubbing the hard steel could stop the ache.

"You're limping too?"

Another snort. "Did you know a man towards the end of his main growth cycle can gain as much as twelve centimeters in height a year?"

"You better get to it then," Mustang remarked dryly. He was not particularly tall himself. Most of his staff had height on him, but unlike Edward, Roy had never been self-conscious about it. Maybe it was because Roy had not spent most of his life significantly smaller than other boys his age as Edward had. He just hadn't gotten as tall as some of his peers and that was fine with him. He carried his command through the presence of his own will. Over the years, he had teased the boy incessantly about his height. For one thing Edward made such good sport because his usual overreactions to the taunts were always so colorful. But Roy had also been pushing Edward to realize that it wasn't his size that mattered. After all, when Edward had come to Central, he had barely stood to Mustang's chest and over the subsequent years, he never seemed to grow more than a few centimeters taller, and often obsessed about it. "You don't have much time left."

"Ha…" Edward stopped walking for a moment, and straightened completely, one hand resting lightly on Roy's shoulder as if for balance. He flashed his teeth in a strong echo of that superior feral grin he had so often displayed as a kid.

"I'll be damned." He couldn't remember Edward ever standing higher than his chin, but now he was almost eye to eye with Roy. A slightly metallic tapping turned his attention to Edward's feet. The two-tone wingtips seemed almost out of character for Edward. They were black, and the burgundy insteps were so dark as to almost be black, but the colors were different enough to meet the style requirements for the semi-formal attire of the party. Edward could hardly be called a slave to fashion, but yet he'd had the sense to know what was expected, and yet managed to meet those expectations without losing his sense of self. If nothing else, the shoes were one of the small things that demonstrated how much Edward had grown up in recent years. No way would he have worn the dramatically different colors that were more common. Roy wondered where he had managed to find them. For a moment he was too distracted by the shoes to realize the point Edward was trying to make. He knew that wasn't what he was supposed to be seeing. Then he realized what was. Standing perfectly straight like that, Edward couldn't reach the ground with his left heel. All he could do was tap his toe. Well he hadn't grown twelve centimeters, but he'd definitely grown taller.

"Growing pains are something I'd only heard about; something little kids got." His laugh sounded more like a grunt. "I thought it was a metaphor." He slouched again, rubbing his shoulder where the steel met flesh. "Everything hurts–bones, flesh, and steel. This weather doesn't help," he grumped.

"I don't suppose it's occurred to you to call your mechanic yet."

"Oh no," Edward let his husky tenor rise in sharp sarcasm. "I thought I'd just wait until it broke down completely. You know, like I always do." He grinned for a moment. "That's what Winry thinks anyway." He laughed shortly. "She's been down in Rush Valley for the last two months. There was some kind of convention, and then a course she wanted on some new gizmos. You know how she is. She was supposed to be here next week, and then she plans to open up the shop officially after the New Year, but…" He shrugged. "Eh… Al called her. Her train is due the day after tomorrow." He shivered at this last statement.

Roy laughed at that, glad to see that the fresh air and walking seemed to be helping the younger man. Their path took them past a small park. They were fairly close to Mustang's house now. The next intersection after the park was where Roy normally would turn to get there.

Edward seemed to recognize the place too. "You don't have to walk me all the way home, General," he assured him.



"I'm sure you know by now that my name is Roy." He smirked. They'd been through this before. Somehow, it struck his sense of humor that the first time Edward had ever called him, on his way to Central from Rezembool, Edward had accidentally called him by his first name on the phone, and now it was like pulling teeth. "You don't have to be so formal with me Edward. I'm not your direct superior any more, and we left the formal setting back there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "That rank is only honorary now. My friends don't use it."

"Friends…" Edward mulled over that for a while, then offered a grin that could have echoed one of Roy's. "Kind of weird though–you still call me Fullmetal, don't you?" Edward asked referring to his second name, the one given to each State Alchemist by the Fuehrer. Just as Roy had been named Flame, for his ability to create explosive flames by manipulating the composition of the air in a given area. All he needed was an ignition source, which was usually came from his special pyrotex gloves. A simple snap of his fingers and the ignition cloth would create the necessary spark.

"Did you forget that you liked your 'heavy name'?" Roy asked his tone mocking. They both knew that the name was a double entendre. It referred not only to the metal of Edward's automail limbs, and his expertise at manipulating the metals in materials, but also carried a connotation for being hardheaded. He suspected that was what Edward liked best about it. Even now, he was sometimes a bit prideful of his own stubbornness.

Edward snorted in acknowledgement. "Anyway you don't have to walk me home. I'm a big boy now."

Roy laughed, purposely raking a stare up and down Edward's slight frame. "Not very." He gibed.

Edward gave him a vicious snarl, but it was hardly worthy of his reputation given the bait offered.

"Besides," Roy added lightly, folding his arms over his chest, "you aren't the boss of me."

Edward snorted again. "As I recall, you're a public servant now, which technically means that everyone is the boss of you. Including me." He grinned broadly at that, but it only lasted a flash before his face went serious again. Roy thought he heard a quiet groan, and his companion's pace was definitely slowing, his expression tight.

"Seriously Edward," Roy said. "If you've had too much to drink, it's only right that I should make sure that you get home safely. Al wouldn't be happy with me if–"

"I haven't been drinking," Edward interrupted sullenly. "Is that what you thought, Roy?"


"You thought I was drunk?" Edward stopped walking and stared at him with some incredulity. "I thought you knew me better than that."

Roy's eyes widened. That stung. Maybe it was meant to. It surprised Roy to hear his own defensive response. "Every time I saw you, you had a drink in your hand, Ed."

"The same drink."

"Hm?" Roy arched an eyebrow.

"The same drink," Edward half growled staring at the ground. "Did you ever see me take a drink out of it? I told you, I didn't want to be rude. I didn't want to drink either, so I just picked up a glass of something, and carried it around with me all night. Some guy is probably wondering where his whiskey went. Trust me, I'm a lot more fun than this when I'm drunk."

"I see…" They walked on for another minute without talking, Edward's steps awkward, his arms crossed over his chest to keep out the cold. Another soft grunt caused Roy to glance over. "Fullmetal?"

"Eh…" The younger man didn't look up, but kept plodding along, hunched in his coat, his arms wrapped around himself as they approached the end of the park.

"You may not have been drinking, but you obviously aren't feeling well."

"No," Edward answered dully. "I'm not." He stopped again, "Sorry General, but my stomach is hurting."

Roy realized now that Edward wasn't clutching his coat so much as he was clutching at the discomfort. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, but…" Edward changed his mind, shaking his head. "No… I think I need to sit down for a minute. I don't feel too good."

"Hmm…" Roy glanced around and spotted a park bench a few steps away. "Come on," he tugged on the sleeve of Edward's coat and pointed. The other man followed, his pace unsteady enough that Roy took hold of his elbow halfway there.

"Scheisse! I'm freezing." Edward grumped as they sat down.

"I think it's gotten a little colder," Roy agreed, more concerned about Edward's pallor than the weather. "The rain has turned to snow."

"Mmm…" was all the acknowledgment he got. Edward had leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands.

Roy sat back to give him some space. He pulled his own coat a little closer around himself, though it still didn't feel all that cold to him. Still now that they weren't moving, he guessed it might seem colder, and with Edward feeling ill, it probably effected him more. Automail could be more susceptible too, he remembered. "Coffee shop's still open," he observed. The café was usually closed by now. Roy was a regular customer since it was only a couple blocks from his own house, and he was fond of coffee. He guessed they were open late because of the holidays.

"Yeah," Edward lifted his head and sat up a little. He left one arm across his knees while he dug in his pocket with the other to pull out a handkerchief.

"You doing any better?" Roy asked him as Edward patted at his face.

"Maybe." He looked pale, though his cheeks were a little flushed. "My head's clearing, but I'm still sweating. My stomach's been off all day I think."

Roy couldn't help a chuckle. "You wouldn't have known it by your appetite Fullmetal."

Edward half laughed in response. He closed his eyes, still blotting the moisture from his forehead. "Yeah… Bad habit I guess, ever since I was a kid. Sometimes when my stomach gets upset, I think I'm just hungry, so I just keep eating and eating, trying to settle it." He groaned softly. "I don't think it ever works." He rested his face in his hands again, and sighed. "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Maybe something hot would settle you down a bit," Roy suggested laying a hand on Edward's shoulder. He didn't want to invade his space if he was feeling that bad, but at the same time he wanted to offer some sort of comfort. "I could go over and get some coffee–"

"No!" Edward cut him off. "Sorry," he added, moderating his tone. "Not coffee."

"Tea then," Roy offered, "or maybe hot cocoa–" He interrupted himself, realizing too late that given Edward's intense dislike of milk, that cocoa was probably one of the last things he should have suggested.

There was no mistaking the sound that tore out of Edward's throat at that moment. He jerked his head up, the handkerchief pressed to his mouth, looking desperately for a more appropriate place to deal with the problem as he lurched to his feet.

Roy's slight push directed him towards a garbage can a few yards into the park behind their bench. Edward stumbled over to it, his metal hand clanging against the lid as he knocked it off. Roy caught up with him, and with one hand pulled the blond ponytail back out of the way just as Edward braced his hands either side of the can and heaved into it. "Sorry, Ed. I wasn't thinking…"

Thankfully the circle of illumination from the gaslight by the bench didn't reach quite that far. Edward was anything but quiet. There could be no mistaking that he was quite sick, but he most likely wouldn't have to worry about being seen in such a state. Given the number of holiday kickoff parties happening over the weekend, passers by on the street would most likely assume that it was just someone who had drunk too much. They wouldn't be able to identify either of them in the darkness. Given the noise Edward was making, they were likely to avoid looking anyway.

Roy didn't have much choice in the matter. The other alchemist was shaking so badly before long, that Roy had to help him support himself while he continued to exert himself mightily. "Damn, Ed," he joked, during a moment's respite while Edward gasped for breath. "You don't do anything half-assed, do you? Could you possibly have eaten that much today?"

Edward didn't take the levity well. "Shut up Roy!" He practically shouted, "Can't you see I'm sick? I don't need your smart-ass–" a fresh bout of sickness interrupted him. By the time he finished he was too exhausted to say anything about the joke Roy had made at his expense.

Roy was all but holding him up, but after a minute Edward wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, straightened a little and took more of his own weight. Roy stepped back a little since the boy seemed steadier now, and let go of the long tail of Edward's gold colored hair. "Roy…" Edward cleared his throat. He sighed heavily before continuing. He kept his back to the older man. His tone was subdued. Roy thought he sounded embarrassed. "You got a clean hanky? I think I dropped mine."

Even if he hadn't dropped it, Roy knew that he'd probably soiled it, so he had already pulled his own out. He handed it to him. "Do you feel any better?"

"Kinda. Still a little shaky." Edward answered absently. He wiped his hands, and blew his nose. "Give me a minute and I think I'll be all right now." He coughed, cleared his throat, spat and blew his nose again before he turned around. He started to give Roy's handkerchief back, and thought better of it. "Ah… Let me wash it first." He suggested with a weak grin and put it in his own pocket.

"Right." Roy chuckled. "I appreciate that, Fullmetal."

Edward snorted his acknowledgement, and rubbed his forehead with his cold steel hand. "Sorry for yelling at you." He shrugged slightly.

"It's nothing… A badly timed joke on my part."

Another self-deprecating snort. "No, you were just trying to help me keep perspective, and as usual I didn't want to hear it."

"Do you need to sit for a few more minutes, or are you feeling well enough to keep going now?"

"I'd rather get moving. My stomach feels a little better." he sighed tiredly and started back towards the sidewalk. "Walking should help me get rid of the shakes."

They walked along in silence for a while. The sound of Edward's step was always different from one foot to the next because of the automail leg on the left side. It was heavier than the flesh leg, and there was a slight metallic clack when he shifted his weight onto it. Normally Roy didn't notice it unless he was paying specific attention. Tonight though, perhaps because Edward was already off balance, and not feeling well either, the difference was marked. Roy could hear him bang his heel down awkwardly, the soft susurration of the hydraulics trying to counterbalance the harder than normal impact, and the creak of metal parts. Edward, for his part, was quiet, but it was clear from his posture that he still felt terrible, and he seemed almost out of breath. His step was becoming more and more uneven, even erratic. Roy finally took a hold of the other man's elbow to try to help him get his balance back.

"Sorry," Edward mumbled rubbing his shoulder as he had earlier. "I'm not compensating right… the actuators for my toes keep firing at the wrong time." He his gait evened out a little. "I'll try to pay more attention."


"I'm all right." He didn't sound convincing.

"Ed," Roy repeated. "We're much closer to my house than yours."

"No, it's ok General…" He stumbled slightly, his foot dragging.

Roy steadied him again but let go when Edward half yelped and pulled his arm free, rubbing at his shoulder. He reeled a few steps further and then straightened out again. "Ed, it might be better–"

"Maybe…" Every step looked like a terrible effort. Edward slammed his heel down too hard again, this time he grunted softly, rubbing his forehead with his metal hand, and his shoulder with the other as he dragged his natural foot forward another step. He was more winded now. The warm white mist visible evidence of every labored breath.

The younger man turned towards him. At first Roy thought he was about to say something else, but as Edward looked up at him, he continued to turn stumbling over his own feet. "I really need to lie down," Roy heard him mutter. His gaze continued skyward for a second before his eyes rolled back and his knees buckled, his legs twisting under him.

End Notes: Reviews are definitely welcome. Constructive critique is fine too. Thanks for reading.

Corrected: 2007/02/24 – Thanks to S J Smith for pointing out some typos for me.

Corrected: 2007/10/26 – You'd think I'd notice spelling Harmon Long's name one way in one graph and another in the next.

Revised 2008/09/22 – I've decided that the mixing of languages doesn't work for me. Even explained as words like Hagane and Honoo being proper names in an older language that is no longer used other than formally, It's just awkward, and not much better than writing in English where Alphonse calls his brother Nii-san. So since I think this only happens in the first two chapters, that I'll just eliminate it.