A/N: Ah, sorry again for the delay, guys. Evidently laptops break when you drop them, who knew? But I am laptopped up again, thanks to my birthday, and I have a lo-ong chapter for you all. Also, I keep getting comments on the character's ages, and I appreciate the feedback, so I'd like to clarify the ages as much as possible. It's set 6 years after the end of the manga, which I estimate Roy's age to be approx. 31, Riza's to be 29, Ed to be 17, Winry 17, and Al 15. If that's wrong please let me know!! That makes them all currently 37, 35, 23 and 21 respectively. To clarify: Riza is obviously not twice Winry's age, it's hyperbole on both women's parts due to the decade of age difference. Also, as of 102 this story is officially an AU. I knew there was a risk writing a post-manga story so close to the end :P.
Sorry about the length, btw. Once again, this is a total work in progress, and while I know where I want the story to go I very much value any input, especially in regards to story flow, characterization, and (my big weakness) description. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Ed shifted uncomfortably in the caravan and glared at his traveling companion. The senator sat on a silk cushion in between two impeccably dressed women who giggled with one another as they kept him cool with exquisitely designed paper fans, and he couldn't look more pleased. When Ed had complained at the special treatment, the older man had smirked. "I'm a member of parliament, Ed. Naturally I need protection against the harsher elements."
"You couldn't fund a road?" Ed grumbled. It had only been two days since they'd begun their adventure, but Ed had never been a patient man, and Al's predicament did not improve his demeanor.
He tried not to think about the ransacked campsite they'd passed the day before.
Fortunately Roy Mustang did what he did best, and distracted him by being a complete asshole. "Because if we've learned anything from recent events," the man drawled as a girl loosened his tie, "it's that we should make it easier for a huge country with a vast army and land-hungry dictator to reach our soil…especially while we frantically rebuild diplomatic ties with such friendly nations as Drachma and Aerugo."
"Ling wouldn't invade us," Ed growled. "There's got to be something else going on."
"That may be," the senator murmured, eyes flickering softly to the Xingese girl's ample cleavage, "but it would probably be best to refer to him as Emperor Yao, especially once we reach the palace."
Ed ground his jaw. Ling had been snooty enough before he'd assumed the throne, but Ed had known him when he was nothing more than a mooching son of a bitch, and he'd be damned if he was going to refer to the former leech as anything else. "He'll be lucky if I don't punch him in the jaw – "
Before he could finish his sentence one of the girls with the fan had a knife at his throat. "I'd strongly recommend," her accented voice growled into his ear, "that you accept your friend's advice and refer to our His Excellency in a more respectful manner."
Roy sighed. "It's as if you're allergic to my advice, even after all these years."
Ed could alchemize the blade into something harmless in less than a fraction of a second, but the other girl eyed him balefully. He remembered his brutal fight with Ling's former body guard with a slight shudder. If these women were half as skilled as Ran Fan, then it would be one hell of a fight.
And Mustang didn't seem eager to help, either.
This left Ed with one other option. The words almost stuck in his throat, and he spat them out like milk. "Fine. Sorry."
These women were obviously only there to keep tabs on them, but instead of ditching them as Ed had first desired, Mustang seemed intent on keeping them as close as possible. The woman resumed her position next to the senator and blushed when he playfully reprimanded her.
"That wasn't very diplomatic of you," the jerk purred.
Ed muttered cursed the traitor under his breath, but when he turned to gaze out at the desert, he caught Roy covertly tucking a glove into his pocket as he tapped the girl's nose.
Sneaky bastard, Ed amended.
At high noon the caravan pulled over to allow the camels respite from the sun. The light screamed against Ed's tightly closed eyelids, and he hit the ground beneath him. He'd slept in many uncomfortable places over the years, but the desert was his arch-nemesis, even without the auto-mail baking his body.
The flap of his tent opened, and he made an inhuman groan. He needed sleep, damn it, and he was either facing another attack from Ling's royal guard or a lecture from Mustang on proper etiquette, and he wasn't really certain which he dreaded most.
"You are really testing my patience, Fullmetal," Roy hissed.
Ed tugged his unbraided hair in frustration. "Damn it, Roy, I haven't slept in two fucking days. Can we save this chat until – ah…"
Roy's mouth crashed violently against his own, but the kiss was soft, almost reverent, and before Ed could rationalize the oral assault he had already twined his arms around Roy's neck to pull him closer.
Their tongues entwined and every slight, playful ministration of Roy's tongue against his own sent shocks of pleasure dancing down his spine and pooling in his belly. When Roy finally pulled away Ed rubbed his lips absently, trying to ease the surprising sense of loss they felt.
"You sit there, across from me," Roy panted softly, "without a shirt on," Roy's lips began assaulting Ed's neck with soft, wet kisses, and Ed's fingers clenched the man's hair, "and it's all I can do not to lick the beads of sweat from your stomach."
"That's…." Ed gasped for breath, "…really gross."
"Mm." Roy's tongue swept across Ed's abdomen in a firm stroke and Ed pulled the man up for a deep, frantic kiss. Their teeth nearly clanged together as they pulled one another closer, and Ed made a shocked sound of delight as Roy's length pressed insistently against his own.
"Fuck," he muttered breathlessly. If he was honest with himself, which he usually was once he'd finally exhausted all modes of denial, he had been attracted to Mustang for quite some time, but even in his most shameful dreams he had never imagined giving in to his desires would feel this good. "Fuck," he whispered again, and Roy's breathy laughter tickled his neck.
"That's the general idea," the man whispered, "although your vocabulary, as usual, could use some refinement."
Ed opened his mouth to insult the man, but Roy slipped his soft hand under his boxers and all he could do was gape soundlessly for several moments. Roy kissed him as he rubbed his thumb across Ed's slick tip, and Ed hated himself for his strangled groan when the man smirked in satisfaction.
Ed retaliated, and Roy's confident façade faltered as quickly as he shed his pants.
The second most attractive (and the single most infuriating) thing about Roy, Ed mused as the man bit into his shoulder, was his complete sense of control. Ed realized this as he discovered that he could make Roy lose said control, make his dark eyes glaze over with desire and his breath hitch impatiently, and that it was the sexiest thing he had ever seen.
Ed twisted his hand on the down stroke and nearly came when he saw the lost, needy expression across Roy's face. He moved his hand faster, and Roy responded in kind, quicker and quicker, and as Ed's muscles tightened in anticipation he tried to stop himself, to make Roy lose control first, and it wasn't until the man muffled a shout of release against his shoulder that Ed finally let go.
Roy slumped against him in a sweaty, sticky heap, and despite the heat Ed couldn't find the energy to push him away.
"I, uh," Ed felt a blush enflame his cheeks as Roy studied the man beneath him as if he were a science project. "Huh."
Roy pushed away with a sigh and used one of Ed's shirts to wipe himself off. "You should be able to sleep a bit more soundly now. It's difficult to adjust to sleeping in the day, especially with the sun so hot."
Something in Ed's heart inexplicably twisted. "Well, thanks for the favor, Mustang. I'm glad you could make the sacrifice to keep me in optimal condition." He ripped his shirt from Roy's hands.
Roy didn't meet his eyes. "I…this wasn't a…damn it, Ed."
Ed frowned. He'd never heard Roy scramble for words before. Of course, he'd never had Roy come apart in his arms before, either, so perhaps today was just the day for new experiences.
The older man looked uncharacteristically vulnerable for a split second before his face schooled itself into the implacable mask Ed knew all too well.
It reminded Ed of another time, years before, when he'd sat in the passenger's seat of Roy's government issued car and realized as he'd held on to the man's petty change that his commanding officer, once so remote and perpetually in control, was just a man. He was just a fragile, flawed, determined man.
"I apologize," the man said quietly as he buckled his pants. "This was not my intention."
"There's nothing to apologize for." Ed shrugged with forced nonchalance. "We were horny. It happens. No big deal."
A smile flickered against Roy's lips. "I said that to someone, years ago, in the desert, too. It wasn't quite true then, and it's not quite true now."
"I never took you for the romantic type, Mustang."
Roy refused to take the bait. "Get some sleep."
He closed the flap behind him, and Ed scowled at his retreating figure for several minutes before unwillingly following his advice.
Evening approached, and Ed indulged in a brief sponge bath before sliding into the caravan, where Roy refused to meet his gaze and the two girls blushed violently.
He rubbed his face with a soft sigh. "How much longer?"
"Three more days," the guide called back from in front of the caravan, in a tight, embarrassed tone.
The girl who hadn't held a knife to his throat earlier looked as if she would like to do so. The perfect person to make jealous, he thought, a knife-wielding maniac. "Great," he showed his teeth in a feral grin. "Just fucking fantastic."
He could feel himself blushing as the camels began pulling them towards Xing, and he consoled himself with the fact that even Roy looked a bit embarrassed, although when the man had developed a sense of shame he would never know.
It didn't matter, he decided, that he was now officially on the most awkward road trip in the history of travel, because all that mattered was talking some sense into that damned Xingese emperor and bringing Al home. He would go through rings of fire and doors of truth for his brother, he would have his limbs ripped apart and he would fight to the death to save him.
He could handle a little embarrassment.
The girls whispered something in Xingese and snickered behind their fans, and the guide laughed heartily.
Roy kept his gaze pointedly towards the vast expanse of desert, and Ed sank into the bench.
"I hate all of you," he announced to no one in particular and one man in particular and really the entire world except for Al, and maybe a little bit towards Al, too.
The women just laughed.
"The first place they'll expect us to go," she explained as she sharpened her blade, "is to someone affiliated with you."
Al studied her profile in the cheap motel room. Her face, though strong, was pale, and he noticed her hand trembled a bit as she tightened her grip on the blade. Her shoulder, he knew, because he had used his limited knowledge of healing alchemy to keep it from falling off, was severely burned, and she faced possible infection. "You need a doctor," he repeated.
Her face remained impassive. "We can't risk such foolishness now."
"Pinako would never turn us in," he tried again, in the same tone of voice he used to lure stray, skittish kittens. "We're almost near her, now. I could call her from a pay-phone."
She shook her head. "I appreciate your concern. I will be fine."
Al played his trump card. "You can't fight effectively if your automail is damaged. We'll leave as soon as she fixes you."
She wavered. "We should wait at least another day…"
"No." Al pressed his lips into a firm line. "The baby…"
"The baby," she echoed softly. "Your Pinako is likely under surveillance."
I'm counting on that, he thought, as he asked, "Would you rather call on someone we don't know and can't trust?"
She remained silent, and he held his breath.
She was, if possible, more stubborn than his brother, but Al had nothing if not patience. She nodded, once, and returned to sharpening her blade.
Al released his breath in a rush. "Thank you," he said.
She frowned. "You are a strange man, to be thanking me after all this."
"I was a tin can for several years," he replied wryly. "I'm sure strangeness is just one of the many side effects."
She nodded seriously. "Perhaps that's it."
Al smiled despite himself. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Please don't pull any ninja moves and vanish on me, okay?"
"I don't suppose I would be able to go very far," she admitted quietly, and a small twitch of a smile flashed across her lips.
"I think you could probably do anything," he admitted. "Please stay?"
She nodded, and he started for the door.
Ran Fan looked him in the eyes. "Thank you."
Winry's wrist shook as she poured Riza another cup of tea. "You're not going to turn him in, are you? If you find him?"
"Officially," she admitted without hesitation. "Unofficially I am to relocate him until Mustang's negotiation is complete."
They sat together in her grandmother's kitchen, and Winry fiddled with the tablecloth. "I…trust you, General."
"Please." Riza's voice softened. "Call me Riza."
"Riza," Winry smiled slightly, before looking at the woman from beneath her lashes. "I trust you."
Riza held her gaze, and Winry smiled when she noticed the woman's cheeks tinge pink. "Thank you."
Winry hadn't seen her since she'd spent the night at her house and fled the next morning, and she was embarrassed how suddenly her heart had skipped a beat when she'd opened her grandmother's door to find Riza standing in full uniform.
It wasn't as if she hadn't expected her to show up. Since the boys had lost their mother, there had been only one place they called home. Winry had known in her bones that if Al was able, he would contact Pinako. Of course Riza would know that, too. She'd been entertwined in their lives for a long time.
"I remember," Winry said, "the first time I saw you. I brought you tea in the foyer."
"You were angry," Riza said.
"I was scared," she corrected, "but you put me at ease. I'm the same age you were, then, aren't I?"
Riza laughed, a short, rare sound. "A little older, actually."
Winry continued, softly. "I thought your earrings were so pretty. Isn't that such an odd thing to remember? But I did. I insisted Grandma Pinako take me to get them pierced days after you left."
Riza looked like she wanted to say something, but Pinako burst through the door with a handful of groceries. She shot the general a look and set the bag down on the counter. "Al isn't here."
"Granny," Winry admonished lightly. "The general is here to help."
"Yes," Pinako mused, "the military is always such a big help."
"Good afternoon," Riza greeted Winry's grandmother formally. "I am sorry to intrude, Mrs. Pinako. Please let me know if you contact Alphonse. I promise I will protect him."
Riza stood to leave, but Pinako waved for her to sit down. "That slop they serve at the hotel is no dinner. You'll eat here."
"Mrs. Pinako, I appreciate the offer, but…"
The short woman's gray eyes pierced the through the general's steel façade, and Winry watched in amazement as Riza appeared to back down. "My I help prepare dinner, ma'am?"
Pinako nodded, pleased. "That's more like it." She glared again. "And if you even think about turning our Alphonse in…"
She left the threat unfinished, and Winry smiled to herself. Riza looked like she was facing a drill sergeant. "Here, general," she nodded for Riza to join her at the counter. "You can peel the carrots."
Riza sent her a look of gratitude as she approached.
Ed nearly ripped the flap of Roy's tent as he entered the next day. "They know."
Roy studied the furious blond man with a silent sigh. He had known this rant was coming since their entourage had made it quite clear that they suspected that the men had been having more than a conversation together in their tents, but anticipating an event didn't make it any more enjoyable.
"Yes." Roy folded his arms behind his head and leaned back down. "Of course, now they think you can't get enough of me, since you rushed straight here."
"You. Bastard." Ed growled.
Roy valued his life, so he did not smile. He looked up at the snarling mess of rage before him and his breath caught in his throat at the thinly veiled desire contained in golden eyes.
Well. This is certainly inconvenient, he inwardly frowned.
A one-time, impulsive fling with Edward was one thing. He'd entertained the notion since he'd realized it was a possibility, but had rejected the notion just as quickly because he had a feeling Edward Elric did not do clean and casual.
He had a feeling, a strong feeling, that Edward Elric was a force of nature on par with tornadoes and earthquakes, and if just looking at the younger man was any indication, he might not survive the encounter.
"You don't have anything to say?" Ed asked, roughly, and Roy struggled to convince himself that his mouth felt dry due to the low humidity index, not because of those damned eyes focused on his lips.
"Ah, I…" Roy forced himself to look away and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Ed. I promise it won't happen again."
The fire faded a bit from Ed's eyes, and Roy hated himself for that, but if he had taken the man up on his unspoken offer…he sighed as Ed left.
It was all too reminiscent of another desert in another time with another man he couldn't have.
He draped his right arm across his eyes, and like every time he fell asleep he prayed he wouldn't dream.