Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Kissing is like drinking salted water. You drink, and your thirst increases. Chinese Proverb

Ed had never seen so many people. Just how many people did the bastard know? The estate might never be the same. Somehow, the party arrived and Ed had yet to tell Winry how he felt or even make a move to kiss her. Every time he tried, his doubts swelled up and stopped him then Winry would give him looks that made him think this was all very one-sided. He would do it tonight. Ed took a look at her outfit. Winry's dress was short and simple but covered with aqua sequins and bead over pale blue cotton. While it had to be heavy, it moved like ocean waves, glittering brightly under all the lights and it took all his energy to not drool and to not publicly embarrass himself. He could see it now, some party picture of him staring at Winry's breast with a tent in his trousers. With his luck, it would end up on the cover of the Central Times.

Ed rested a hand in the small of her back. "You look so pretty," he said, realizing he should have said it earlier. Now, now was the time to kiss her.

"Oh, Ed, there you are," a feminine voice said.

Ed winced. So much for his kiss. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing Gracia Hughes heading their way. Ed had never seen her look so pretty. In a bronze tabard dress embroidered with blue and red flowers along one side, she looked very feminine.

"Oh, Gracia!" Winry bubbled. "I'm so glad to see you. Mr. Mustang said you were here but it's hard to find anyone."

"It's very good to see you both." Gracia hugged the girl. "We can talk later. Ed, Havoc is challenging Al to wheelchair races down the main corridor. I thought you'd want to know."

Ed sighed. Naturally. He tries to kiss Winry and has to give it up before his brother broke his fool neck. "Thanks. Better go stop him. It's not like he has Havoc's muscles yet."

Winry followed him as he forged a path through the partiers. Ed corralled his brother.

"Aww, come on, boss," Havoc said. "It'll be fun."

"If you don't kill yourselves, General Armstrong will slaughter you for getting black marks all over the marble," Ed scolded.

Havoc grimaced and dug for his cigarette pack. "Good point. Later Al, maybe outside."

"Sure," Al agreed enthusiastically.

Ed grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and rolled his brother away from temptation. "Al, you can't bear to be away from the fireplace for long yet. You're not going outside to try and race a wheelchair."

Al pouted. "Oh, yeah. Damn."

Ed just raised an eyebrow to his little brother saying a swear. Was there no one Mustang couldn't corrupt?

"Let's get you somewhere you can sit and talk with everyone," Winry said, shooting Ed a look over Al's head. He thought she might want to be somewhere with just him alone. Could that really be true? Ed grinned and wheeled Al faster.

"Ed, you're going to bounce me out," Al whined, gripping the arms like a vice.

"And you wanted to race," Ed grumbled.

The wheelchair came to a dead stop as Ed got lifted off his feet. Strong arms all but crushed his chest. "Gah, Armstrong don't…" Ed stopped, realizing the chest he was being squashed against wasn't broadly muscled. It gave softly.

"Look at you all dressed up," Izumi's voice rumbled in his ear. "You look like a little man."

"Don't flail, Ed. You'll kick Al in the head." Winry put a hand on his arm.

"Teacher…can't breathe," Ed rasped. He tried to smooth the wrinkles in his suit when she let him go. Ed spun around, facing her. She had a still-healing scar peeking out of her neckline, tracing her left collar bone. He knew she got that fighting to help him and his brother.

Al struggled, trying to stand. Winry helped him up. He held an arm out to Izumi. "Teacher."

Izumi crushed Al to her, his fragile body sagging into her to the point Ed feared she might break something. As he watched a few tears trickle down Al's hollow cheeks, Ed found he had to look away. He couldn't cry here and now. A big hand clamped on his shoulder and Ed looked up into Sig's furry face, smiling at that man. He chucked Sig's arm as a hello. Izumi sat Al back in his wheelchair gingerly.

"That bastard never said you were coming." Ed toed the thick rug, discontent.

"Actually a young lady named Miss Rockbell called us," Izumi replied, brushing Al's hair back.

Ed turned huge eyes on her. "Winry, why didn't you tell me?"

"Mr. Mustang wanted it to be a surprise. Hello, I'm Winry Rockbell." Winry held out her hand. "Al and Ed have told me a lot about you."

Ed hoped Winry had the sense not to mention how scary they made Izumi sound.

"I'm not as terrifying as they make me out to be." Izumi grinned.

"No, she's scarier," Ed muttered, since the subject had been broached. "That's Sig, her husband."

"Nice to meet you, sir." Winry grinned.

"We brought some of the finest meats for this party you've ever seen," Izumi proclaimed. "And we're staying here so we'll have time to catch up. But right now." She reached back, grabbing Sig's enormous paw. "We're heading to the ball room. How many chances do I get to dance to some of the best bands money can buy?"

It slowly sank in that Izumi was actually in a devore black velvet dress, covered with a leaf motif and heels. She looked like a woman and not like Teacher at all. Ed grinned as Al said, "Go enjoy yourselves."

Izumi left them so quickly, Ed was hard pressed to believe it. He started to wheel Al after them when he heard his name being called. Turning, he saw Pinako heading his way.

"I'll take Al with me for a while," Pinako said.

"I'm not sure Al wants to sit with a bunch of old ladies," Ed said, thinking back on the last time he had seen Pinako in the throng of party-goers. Still, he wouldn't mind Al being someplace other than at his side at this very moment.

She snorted. "Talk hell, we have a hot game of cards going. Want to play some poker, Al? Katherine Armstrong is on a winning streak. We need to distract her with some cute young thing."

"Sure." Al laughed then scowled. "She doesn't look like Major Armstrong, does she?"

"She's cute," Pinako assured him, taking over the handles from Ed.

Ed watched them go, then turned to Winry. "She's going to get him mauled by some bruiser who looks just like her brother, probably with a moustache."

Winry slapped his arm. "Now Ed, General Armstrong is pretty. Maybe this sister is, too."

Ed figured there were better chances of pigs flying out his lower orifice but knew now was the time to be more like a gentleman, more like – he shuddered – Mustang. "You could be right. Let's find someplace we can sit and talk." When her face fell, Ed quickly added, "Or we can dance now."

"I'd love that."

Ed could dance some. Izumi had taught him and Al, saying it helped with movement when fighting but he hadn't danced since. If he stepped on Winry, he would never hear the end of it. There was a tiny patch of floor not taken up by people. Roy couldn't know this many people, could he? No, Ed decided, many of these had to be Armstrong's friends, family and supporters. He wondered if this party was the last big fling and he and Al would get dumped out of the house, afterwards.

Mustang had given him the gloves he wore now, kid leather and black to match his suit. Ed figured that his metal hand would mar them but the older alchemist hadn't seemed concerned. Ed wasn't going to take them until he tried them on. They were like a caress on his living flesh. At least he could put his hand in the small of Winry's back without fear of popping off the sequins and beads. Ed smiled. Was he smiling like an idiot or was his smile warm and inviting? Ed wanted one but figured he was achieving the other.

Either way, Winry smiled back. He had never realized just how beautiful she was. He'd never seen Winry this dressed up, the short aquamarine-sequined dress was tantalizing. He let the waltz carry them. Just as the strains were coming to an end, Ed leaned in to kiss her.


Ed nearly clipped Winry's nose, when he startled. He couldn't swallow back a groan. Why hadn't they killed him? Just because Ling was in charge of his shared body now… Ed glared at him. "What?"

"I'd like to cut in." Ling smiled at him, all dressed up like a phoenix in some Xing silk outfit of brilliant red and gold and dragons that Ed coveted. He held out a hand to Winry. "May I have the next dance? A woman as beautiful as you is a fitting companion to the next Emperor."

Blushing, Winry took his hand, much to Ed's chagrin. He stood there, mouth flapping, unkissed and stunned as the bastard homunculus waltzed her away. He wanted to cut right back in but Winry would probably get mad. Just one dance and no more. He stomped off the floor, spotting Ran Fan. "Shouldn't you have him leashed? Who does he think he is?" She just looked at him placidly. Ed huffed, remembering her feelings for the homunculus. "How do you deal with it?"

"Because this is my place," she replied and Ed didn't miss the sadness in her.

"He can't have Winry," Ed glowered.

"No, he can not. It would never be allowed," Ran Fan whispered.

Ed didn't care he was overreacting. Not too far from Winry, the bastard was dancing, too. Everyone was having fun but him. Ed realized something was wrong. Roy was shorter than his partner.

"Edward, is there a problem?"

He didn't turn to face Riza as she asked the question. "I got cut in on."

"Well, cut back." She laughed.

"Next dance, don't you worry. I didn't want to look jealous." Ed knew that was impossible. He turned and almost ended up mouth-flapping again. Riza looked incredible. She was taller than him in her silver leather shoes but it was the daring dress that made it hard not to look at her. Covered in royal blue beads, the dress dipped low in front. Riza had really nice breasts. Blushing, Ed tore his eyes away. "Why aren't you dancing with the bastard?"

"Roy is dancing with our next president." Riza nodded toward the dance floor. "At least for a song or two. It is her house he commandeered for this party."

"Yeah, it's not a bad one, I guess." Ed smiled then perked up as the song ended. "I'd ask you to dance, Hawkeye but it's not good to leave Winry with Greed for long." He started out onto the floor. "But you look very pretty."

She beamed. "Thank you, Edward."

Edward pushed his way back over to Ling and Winry. Ling was touching her with his bare hands. If he got her back all sweaty, Ed would kick him. He tapped Ling's shoulder. "I'm cutting back in."


Ed's eyes widened and he saw Winry bracing for the fight. "You can come back later." When I'm old and dead. "Go dance with your hostess." He pointed to Hawkeye but Ling didn't seem ready to let Winry go. "Don't be greedy."

The homunculus scowled. "I can't help it," he whined, letting Winry go but not without kissing her cheek.

Perfect, Ling kissed her first. Ed sighed, pulling her against him a little too roughly. "Sorry," he muttered.

Winry hugged him. "It's okay. You're sort of cute when you're jealous." She rested her head on his metal shoulder. To Winry, Ed didn't doubt, metal equated to comfort. "Even if you have no reason to be. I mean, why would I ever leave all this to run away to exotic lands and be the consort to a dashing young emperor who'll drape me in silks and jewels?"

"Hmm, looking around this place, I can see the allure of wealth. You go chase after Ling. I'll steal Katherine Armstrong away from Al." Ed smirked broadly.

Winry yanked his ponytail playfully. Ed sighed as the music switched to a swing step. He wasn't that good at it, but for Winry, he would try. He felt like a flailing fool. How did the bastard make it look so easy? At least Mustang had reclaimed Hawkeye.

When the band switched to an even faster swing, Winry mercifully pulled him off the dance floor. "I'd like a drink," she said.

"I think there's a bar set up that way." Ed pointed. "What would you like?"

"To go with you." She grinned. "You might get lost." At his groan, she added. "Or get whisked off by Katherine."

Ed snorted, offering her his arm, thrilled that she wanted to be with him. "I'll leave her for Al and hope she's not as scary as her big sister."

"I'm not sure that's possible."

Laughing, Ed led her on a quest for the bar. He found it more easily than anticipated and got them both a glass of wine, a sweet harvest wine for her, something more masculine for him, a dry red – though he rather wished he had gone for the sweet one. His tasted like vinegar to his untried palate. He managed to find a spot to sit for a moment. The only way Winry could have sat closer to him was if she became one with him. Ed liked it.

"I'm in awe of this party. If Mr. Mustang plans any more parties, we're going," Winry said.

"Oh good, make me have to put up with him even more," Ed whimpered then covered her hand with his. "But so long as you're with me, it'll be fun."

A hint of rose colored her cheeks as a smile bloomed on her face. "Oh, Ed, that's very sweet."

Ed leaned in, knowing this was the perfect time to kiss her. A huge hand clamped on Ed's shoulder, scaring the hell out of him. Ed spilled his wine on himself.

"Edward Elric, it is so good to see you again!"

Ed sighed and set his glass down. Clapping, he cleaned away the wine even as Armstrong was lifting him up over the arm of the couch into a crushing embrace. He hadn't seen Armstrong since the final battle. The big man had abandoned his home to do clean up of Bradley loyalists around the country while Armstrong manor was used as a convalescent home. "You, too, sir," he tried to say.

Armstrong dropped him and more sedately took Winry's hand, kissing it. "And you, as well, Miss Rockbell. You're a shining example of feminine beauty tonight."

"Thank you, Mr. Armstrong. Your family's house is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Thank you for letting Al stay here while he gets his strength back. There's plenty of room for him to get his exercise in once he's stronger and he seems so comfortable."

"It's our pleasure. Alphonse deserves the best after his terrible trials." Armstrong's moustache twitched and Ed could have sworn the man's eyes misted up. Then again he did emote a bit much. "Have you seen our solarium yet? There is a rare flower from Xing with a blue hue the exact color of your eyes. Edward, have you shown her that yet? The comparison will be stunning."

"There's a solarium?" Ed asked without enthusiasm.

Before he knew it, he and Winry were touring the solarium, learning more about plants than he ever cared to know. Maybe if Armstrong had mentioned a green array or something, he'd have been more impressed. He was seeing more of the inside of his eyelids than he was of some blue flower. At least, Winry seemed to enjoy it and she managed to get Armstrong to take them back to the ball room in time for the band to be on break. Ed found a vacant spot near the drafty doors to the patio and put himself in the path of the cold breeze so he could block Winry from it as she sat.

"Tired yet?" he asked.

Winry laughed. "We haven't even had dinner yet, Edward. There's plenty of party to go."

Ed feared that. "But you are having fun, right?"

"Very much so."

"Good." Ed wished he knew what to say. He was never really good with the mushy sort of words. He tried to put himself in a Mustang frame of mind but he feared the carnal thoughts would override the romantic. His mind flashed back to that brief glimpse of Winry's bared belly he'd gotten in Resembol but that didn't help him find words.

"Something's on your mind, Edward."

He blushed. "No, um, well, yes. I missed you so much over the years, Winry. I never called or wrote like I should have and I'm sorry for that. I just thought…maybe it would make you miss me more and that wasn't fair."

"I still would have liked a letter or two, Ed," she replied. It wasn't a reprimand, just a bare fact.

"Sorry. I'll do better now. You might not be able to get rid of me this time."

Her expression drove rational thought from his mind. "I'm not sure I would want to get rid of you, Ed."

He had been granted one more chance to kiss her on a romantic note. Even as that thought was forming and his body moving to do it, he heard the clatter of a wheelchair.

"Brother, I need your help."

He might love his brother, but right now Ed had a nigh irresistible urge to roll him into a snow bank. "Yeah, Al?"

"Mr. Mustang is flirting with Teacher…" Al glanced back the way he'd come. "It's probably poor form if the host is murdered. Help me distract him."

"Oh, like I care if she kills him." Ed grinned predatorily. "I'd pay to watch."

Winry elbowed him. "Come on, Al. I'm sure if you just get in there and talk to Mrs. Curtis, she'll be distracted enough that Mr. Mustang will lose interest before Mr. Curtis or Miss Hawkeye kill him."

"I still say let them kill him." Ed grabbed the handles of the wheelchair. He didn't want to go at the slow pace Al was still laboring at. He rolled his brother back toward the debacle in process. To his surprise, Izumi hadn't killed the man. She almost looked flattered at the attention. Sig seemed less impressed. "Teacher," Ed called loudly, "Can you help Al out a little. He's been off in the corner by himself and he's sort of bored and thirsty, too. Host, why don't you fetch him something?"

Roy's eyes slotted. "I'll get a waiter. What would you like, Alphonse?"

"Some of that honey…" Al broke off, shooting Ed a sheepish look. "I mean, water would be fine, sir."

"Did you give my brother wine?" Ed growled.

"I gave nothing," Roy said with a dismissive wave. "Mrs. Curtis, I look forward to resuming our talk at a later date but I'm sure your young pupil would enjoy your company." Mustang turned to Winry as the band started up again. He held out his hand. "Miss Rockbell, this is one of my favorite waltzes. Will you dance with me?"

"Of course."

Ed slumped, watching her dance off with another man. The coy look in her eyes told him she expected him to come cut in soon. She was toying with him. He sighed gustily. Al tugged on his jacket and Ed leaned over.

"Kissed her yet, Ed?"

Ed's eyes widened. He hadn't realized Al knew how he felt. Well, in the back of his mind, he knew Al knew but he never expected Al to say anything. "No. I keep getting interrupted. I'm going to take it as a sign."

Al just laughed at him, brat. Ed left him there with Izumi and found Riza, dancing her out onto the dance floor. He could definitely see why Mustang loved this woman. Ed had already known how smart and capable she was but Hawkeye had hid her feminine side well under her uniform. Now, she was radiantly lovely and he was half tempted to dance a second waltz but he knew that they both belonged very strongly to someone else. He didn't even have to cut in on Mustang. The man waltzed Winry right over to Ed and swooped off with Riza before the young man even knew what he was doing.

They danced several more waltzes. The sweat trickling down his spine told Ed it was time to move off the dance floor but he didn't want to let Winry go. She tipped her chin a little, moving closer. She was going to kiss him.

And the band stopped suddenly.

Someone jostled into Ed and his forehead bumped hers. Their lips might have made contact but no way in hell was he counting that as their first kiss. His attention jerked up to the stage and saw Olivia Armstrong in front of the boom mike. His eyes widened, getting his first good look at her. She had hid her femininity even better than Riza. Not that she looked soft and cuddly by any means but she did look pretty. Her gown's bodice draped cape-like over her tall, strong form and it was completely see-through tulle. She had on a black top under it and the skirt was golden Xingese silk but Ed bet every man looking at her right now was pretending that black top didn't exist.

Ed didn't know what was wrong with him tonight. He was usually in better control of his teenaged lusts but he was noticing every one in the place tonight. It had to be the effect of Winry's proximity and the constant interruptions. He was grateful when Olivia started talking.

"When General Mustang asked permission to put this together, I had no idea he was so able at social events," Olivia said. "But it is a well deserved party. It has been a long, hard time for our country and we are coming out of the darkness with years worth of work and reparations ahead of us. To take a moment to relax and enjoy life is a very good thing indeed, so thank you all for coming and thank you for your part in making this come to pass. I suppose I have to especially thank my brother and General Mustang. You might be an upstart, Mustang, but you got to where you are on your merits. And also the Elric brothers. Most will never know everything you went through or the debt owed to you, but you do have our thanks."

Ed blushed as she led everyone in a round of applause. Obviously she was practicing her presidential speeches. Olivia invited them all to the dining hall, which had to be done in shifts to accommodate everyone. He and Winry ended up at a table with his brother, naturally, and Pinako along with Mustang and Hawkeye, Teacher and Sig and Ling and Ran Fan. Ed noted becoming Greed had only made Ling's appetite worse. He tried to keep up until Winry gave him a look.

They went back to dancing afterwards but Ed realized if he ever wanted to be alone with Winry and actually get in an uninterrupted kiss, he'd have to find someplace more solitary. He looked out into the gardens. Too snowy, even with his jacket, Winry's thin and short dress wouldn't be much protection against the cold. His room? Too suggestive. Ed grinned. He knew where.

He took her hand. "Let's go somewhere we can actually sit and talk."

"That would be nice." Ed could hear the relief in her voice.

Ed hoped he remembered how to get to the hot springs from where he was now. They wouldn't actually get in the water but there was a table, presumably for wine and cheese after a nice soak if he understood how the Armstrongs worked. Most guests wouldn't know about it and they'd be alone.

"Are we going where I think we are?" Winry gave him a wary look as if wondering he was somehow not the boy she knew all too well. Or maybe knowing him too well was why she was worried.

"I figured it would be a quiet place to talk…at the table, of course." Did she really think he'd try something? How much of an influence did she think Mustang had on him?

"Good because we're not really dressed for the springs." Winry eyed him. "And I worked too hard to look good tonight just to go skinny-dipping this time."

Ed groaned. Did she have to put the idea of her being naked in his head? And 'this time' implied that on another day, she would skinny-dip with him. The thought caused a bit of a stirring. Ed ignored it valiantly as they rounded the corner into the springs.

Both of them froze. Laugher echoed in the vast room. Winry squeezed his hand and Ed wheeled around, dragging her behind him. Images of dark tousled hair and pale skin haunted him, refused to be driven out by the clicking sounds of Winry's heels. They got half way up the corridor before Winry dragged him to a halt.

"Did you see that?"

"See it? I want to unsee it and I can't," Ed wailed. "Why didn't we ever get around to making that signal? I could go back and drown him for stealing my good idea, too."

"Ed, did you see two blonde heads? I could have sworn…" Winry glanced back down the hall.

"Don't think about it." Ed thought maybe she was right. Hell, he thought that laugh could have been General Armstrong's, even though he would have bet she didn't know how to laugh.

"Aren't you at all curious?" Winry took a few steps back the way they came.

"Winry!" Ed caught her. "If we saw what we saw, they're at some level way above our experience."

Her look suggested that was all the more reason to watch. "Was that the general?"

"I think. Damn, Hawkeye and Armstrong? How can he manage that, lucky bastard?"

Winry pinched him. "It might sound sexy now but imagine what would happen if they got into a cat fight."

The first images were incredibly sexy and Ed was jealous, then reality set in. He winced. "I almost want to rescue him but then I think, it's the bastard so let them tear him apart."

"Edward." Her wide grin told him she was pretty amused by that idea herself. "They were probably just talking and having some wine in the nice water."

Ed didn't think Winry believed that any more than he did but was willing to let it go. He slid an arm around her. He still wanted very much to tell her that he loved her or at the very least kiss her and this hallway was definitely not the place. "All right, the quest for a place to talk continues." Ed found another stairway and started climbing.

"Does this look familiar?" she asked went they stepped out onto a landing.

"Not really." Ed opened the door, leading her through. It shut behind them. They found themselves facing the opening of the gardens. The moon hung low, caught in the skeletal limbs of winter trees. A soft snow had begun to fall.

Winry tried the door. "It's locked."

"Good." At her strange look, Ed shucked his suit jacket off and helped her into it. If she wasn't wearing something as insubstantial as a dress of sequins and beads, Winry could withstand cold better than him. Already he could feel it creeping along his automail. He settled his arms around her hips, looking every so slightly – yes, I'm finally taller - down into her eyes. "Winry, I've been trying to do this all damn night."

Ed brushed his lips to hers, uncertainly. Insecurity burned away with the heat at which she returned the kiss. Clumsily, Ed finally figured out what to do with his nose in all of this. She smelled like a delicious blend of strawberries, caramel and somehow of cotton candy they used to share at the sheep shearing festivals when they were little. Arms tightened, lips warred and submitted. Ed felt her mouth open under his, ever so slightly and he slipped his tongue inside her mouth, probing and colliding with her tongue. Winry tasted a little of that sweet wine. Ed no longer noticed the cold. There was nothing but warmth between them…a little too much concentrated warmth in some areas.

Ed took a reluctant step back, hoping Winry hadn't noticed. Now to keep her from glancing down. Ed pointed up to the falling snow. "It's almost as beautiful as you."

Winry smiled, obligingly following his gaze. "That's one of the sweetest things you've ever said to me."

Ed pulled her against his hip. His hip was safe. He tried to look at her but felt a rising panic washing over all the other feelings so he went back to looking at the sky. "It only took me locking us out in the cold to finally get to this point. Winry, I think you probably already know this, because well, I probably don't hide it as well as I think I do but, I love you."

Her arm went around him. "I do know. I even know why you hid it. As weird as you are, I love you, too."

Ed pulled her into another kiss though eventually words other than 'I love you' registered in his fogged brain. He broke the kiss. "Wait a minute. I'm weird?"

"Very, my alchemic freak." She tapped his nose.

"If anyone's weird, it's you, automail junkie." Ed laughed, letting Winry back him against the stone of the house for another kiss.

When she finally let him go, Winry looked at all the snow then down at her heels. "How are we getting back inside?"

"I don't know about you but your weird alchemic freak is going this way." Ed clapped and opened a hole in the door. He helped Winry back in then put the door to rights.

"It does help that you're a little weird." Winry gave him back his coat.

"Yeah, well, it helps that you're an automail junkie so it all works out well, right?"

"Like all the different sounds of a symphony."

That wasn't the analogy Ed expected from her. Maybe Winry was the one listening to Mustang too much. Arm in arm, they went back to the main hall. The band was still going. "Before we dance again, I want to check on Al. I know he won't want to go up to bed yet but this is probably a little too much for him."

"He's not going to want you babying him, Ed," Winry said, even as she nodded in agreement. "But you're probably right."

It didn't take too long to find Al. He was with Havoc, Breda and Fuery. They seemed to be watching Falman dancing with a blonde Ed didn't know. At this point, Ed was shocked Mustang hadn't managed to summon Maria Ross back from Xing just for this party. When they got closer, it was obvious something was wrong with Al.

Al's head bobbed around when he heard Ed call his name. A face-splitting grin slashed across his face. "Brother! It's that lipstick on your mouth?"

"Yes, I think it is." Havoc laughed and Fuery blushed for Ed's sake.

Ed flushed, resisting the urge to wipe it just in case. "You're drunk, Al. He has the body weight of a feather. Which one of you gave him alcohol?"

Breda held up his hands. "He was like this when we found him."

"The bastard," Ed growled.

"Or Granny," Winry added sheepishly.

"I think he was snagging them off the waiter's trays," Fuery said helpfully.

Ed sighed, putting his hands on his brother's shoulders. "And they say I'm the bad one."

"I see Mr. Curtis. I'll go see if he can help us get Al upstairs." Winry said.

"But I'm having fun," Al protested even though his eyes were shutting.

"We could help you, Edward," Breda said.

Ed shook his head, figuring that when sober, that would embarrass Al. It would be different with Sig. "You guys enjoy the party. I'll deal with Mr. Steal Wine."

"Hey! I's thought you finally kissed Winry but I hasta be wrong. You're still grumpy," Al said, weaving in his chair.

Winry snorted. "Going to get Mr. Curtis now."

Winry came back with both Curtises and Al had already winked out, his head resting against Ed's arm. Sig gently picked Al up and Fuery volunteered to go put the wheelchair someplace out of the way. Ed took them upstairs. Izumi tugged down the pile of blankets so her husband could set Al down. Winry helped get his shoes off.

"I'll get his flannels. He gets too cold for anything else," Ed said.

Together, they stripped and redressed Al and tucked him away. Ed debated for a moment if he should start a fire. Izumi draped an arm around his shoulder and nodded over to Winry who was putting a garbage can next to the bed, just in case. "I like her," she said simply but it meant far more than those simple words.

Ed smiled. "Thanks. So do I."

They left Al to sleep it off. Ed watched his teacher and her husband descend the stairs together. Would he and Winry be that happy and easy in each other's company after they were married so long? Did he just think married? Swallowing hard, Ed hurried that thought away. He had enough to deal with just managing today.

"Want to go back to the dance?" he asked.

"I'd love to."


Ed scrounged around the ice chest for something to snack on. Al had woken up with a headache, whined a little and went back to sleep. Ed let him. Winry had gone out to let Hayate and Den run in the drifts so he felt safe in scoring something to eat before the official lunch, if there was one. The house felt muffled for all the humanity still inside it. The only suggestion someone was alive was the tea kettle on the stove, chugging toward whistling.

Someone yawned behind him then thumped around in the cabinets. Ed turned to see Mustang, hair sticking out all over and generally just rumpled. Ed had never seen him this bad, not even in the first few days of his convalescence.

Mustang pointed to the ice chest. "Can you grab me some tomato juice and eggs out of there and really, is your mouth a proper holding place for a chicken leg while you root around like a starving dog?"

Ed plucked the leg out of his mouth. "Kiss my ass." He gave over one egg from the bowl and the juice and watched in horror as Roy cracked it into a glass and covered it with juice. He tipped in something from a flask then downed it in a few smooth swallows. "I think I lost my appetite."

"Hair of the dog that bit you." Mustang set the glass in the sink then went to get a couple tea cups.

"Does it work?"

Mustang shrugged. "A little." He took a tea pot over and poured the kettle into it. Ed could smell the burst of tea scent. The older alchemist flopped down at the table. "Join me for tea."

"Yeah why not." Ed nodded to the ice chest. "Want something?"

Roy went green. "No."

Ed sat down. "You look like hell."

"Good. I'd hate to look better than I feel. Tell me, can I throw a party or what?" Mustang managed a grin.

"Winry was impressed."

"Speaking of the lovely Miss Rockbell, did you actually make some headway last night or did you crash and burn spectacularly? I was too busy to pay attention." Mustang pouted.

"I did not crash, not that it's your business."

"Good. I thought you were too busy peeking in on me in a certain decadent place." Roy smirked.

Ed flushed and chewed on the chicken leg. Luckily, Winry chose that time to reappear with two icy-pawed hounds.

"Winry, I was about pour the tea. Want some?" At least Mustang didn't seem like he was going to tease Winry, too.


Roy poured the tea, getting up to get two more cups. "I think I'll take some to Riza. It smells too good not to be shared." He briefly touched Winry's shoulder. "Enjoy." He sauntered off with the tea.

"I don't know why you don't like him. He's a very nice man, Edward, even if he did take you away," Winry said. "Though I know why he did it."

"That nice man was teasing me when you came in, big jerk. He saw us in the hot spring last night."

Winry blushed, shielded her eyes. "Oh, no."

"Let's just all pretend that never happened." Ed sipped the tea. It had to be one of Mustang's special ones since it was better than anything Ed had ever tasted in his travels. "The hot springs didn't happen but everything afterward was very real."

Smiling, she reached across the table and took his hand. "Yes, it was."

"I don't know what's going to happen next, Winry. Even if I can't get out of the military immediately and can't go home with you, I will someday soon. I am not going to leave you. This time, it won't be years."

She squeezed his hand. "It's all right, Ed, even if it takes awhile. I still have an apprenticeship to finish up and I just know how much you love Rush Valley."

Ed made a face. "If we're lucky, we'll finish at the same time. Until then, maybe you need a few more of these to hold you over." He knew it was corny but he didn't care. Ed leaned across the table and kissed her.

She stroked his cheek. "You're right, I'll need a lot more of those."

Ed was only too happy to oblige.