Chapter 26: Summer Skin

(Winry)

Summer was winding down and Winry was being summoned back to the city. Tony had called at least three times to confirm her return to the shop once the fall semester started. There was no doubt that Winry was their best mechanic and since her replacement for the summer had left, they were desperate for her return. The thought made Winry smile; it was nice to be missed and acknowledged for her hard work. In reality, working as a part time mechanic was not her dream, but college was far from cheap. The young girl did have scholarships but they certainly didn't cover living expenses. Then there was Sam, her fellow coworker at the garage, with his tattoos and piercings that masked the actual softie on the inside. Winry knew he was happy to have her back and found it amusing that he had fretted over losing her for the summer, especially when he had denied he would miss her.

It felt strange to think of herself as a sophomore, a college sophomore. Of course this year was sure to be the most challenging, but she could not afford to take easy classes just to compensate for her tough sorority and work schedule. Winry would be living in the Kappa Delta house, working at Tony's garage, taking on the position of philanthropy as well as entering into some major classes. It was going to be a demanding year but considering the previous year's escapades, Winry was optimistic she could handle whatever came her way.

Inhaling the fresh country air the youngest Rockbell sighed in relaxation because the summer sun was still high in the sky. As much as she was looking forward there was much to appreciate in the present. There was something different about this time around. It was time to leave Resembool but there was a pull here, a distinct feeling that she should stay. A year ago Winry had been itching to leave her small town, practically running all the way to Central in pursuit of her dreams. Since then her perspective had been warped so much it was hard to tell exactly what to feel. Winry knew Resembool was safe, it was home and maybe the idea of going back to Central City was what made her uneasy. There was a hesitation and whether it was born from the events of the past or an inhibition of the future she wasn't sure, possibly a combination of the two. Either way, the young woman had her bags packed and needed to say farewell to summer.

Placing a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers atop her parents graves Winry kneeled in thought. It might have been foolish to talk to a granite block of stone but there was something peaceful about the whole ritual. Blowing the air out of her nose Winry stared down the grave markers for some guidance. "I'm doing the right thing, going back to school, right? Gran will be just fine out here."

The stone just sat there and the youngest Rockbell frowned. "How do you just pack up and leave without looking back?"

"Oh now don't you start, you make it sound like I'm some poor old woman." Pinako Rockbell griped loudly.

Winry turned around with her mouth opening and shutting once, twice, three times. "Oh Gran, I didn't mean-"

The aged woman chuckled, letting her wrinkled hand linger on Winry's arm. "I know perfectly well what you meant. Now, if I might speak for myself in this matter."

Pinako stood proudly, her hands resting on the cane in front of her. "My son and daughter in law did not give their lives so that their daughter might someday play babysitter to an old woman like me." She held her gaze and pursed her lips when Winry started to protest. "I'm not finished. You are a smart girl Winry Rockbell and you are going to go back to school and finish what you started; you hear me? No granddaughter of mine is going to linger around these parts until she's so old she has no choice but to stay." Pinako cleared her throat, a clever grin pulling up the corners of her worn skin. "Besides, that Elric boy needs a babysitter more than I do." With a wink and a chuckle her grandmother stood her ground. "Now let's get you to that train station. I might not be the rebel of my youth but these old bones can still get around."

Winry frowned; she really ought to fight her Grandmother for the right to stay. It felt so wrong to leave her only living relative behind, but the look on Pinako's face was a clear one. There would be no talking her out of this. "Try not to smoke so much, and make sure you get enough to eat, don't work too hard and-"

Pinako narrowed her eyes, "Don't preach to the choir young lady. Now you take care of yourself in that big city."

They walked to the train station in comfortable silence, the occasional neighbor waving at the two. There was an awkward moment in which Pitt caught them passing through town and hugged her for a little longer than necessary but it wasn't as awful as Winry thought. A part of her belonged in Resembool but the other part knew she was born for a bigger adventure.

The station loomed into sight and it looked like Winry would be a part of a very small departing group. Swallowing back tears, Winry kept her eyes ahead while she waited for the conductor to call for the boarding of the train.

"Please take care of yourself Gran." Winry asked making sure her Gran took that as an order.

Pinako chuckled shaking her head, "Such a stubborn girl."

"I get my stubbornness from you, you know." Winry commented wryly.

"I haven't the slightest idea where you would get that notion." Pinako Rockbell replied with a straight face ruined by a quick wink.

The whistle blew while the call rang out and Winry parted ways with heavy heart. Eager to find her seat overlooking the platform so she could wave one last time she nearly tripped over her own feet in the process. Sure enough as the locomotive began to move she heard her Grans last words.

"Study hard and remember to be safe; use condoms with that Elric boy!"

Winry felt her face burn with embarrassment; that was her Gran alright.

(Edward)

Not that he had consciously started a count down, but the buildup had made him tense and fidgety. Today was the day Edward Elric had been looking forward to; today was the day Winry finally moved back to Central for school. His girlfriend of almost a year had taken the train from Resembool and the metal beast moved too damn slow for his liking. The pretty blond that had been monopolizing his dreams wouldn't be arriving for a few hours so that left him to his own devices and every moment seemed to pass with excruciating longevity.

"Coffee?"

Ed shrugged his shoulders, "Why, you making some?"

Van Hohenheim continued on his walk towards the kitchen, "Don't need the whole pot to myself; thought I'd ask."

"Oh." Edward stretched his limbs, fighting off a yawn. "Yeah, I'll take mine black."

His father laughed, "I'm not a servant Edward."

Edward rolled his eyes as he took the mug now being extended towards him.

"But I make an exception every now and then." His father offered with a genuine smile that made Ed a little uneasy.

The fact that peace existed between them was rather extraordinary. Then again time has a way of wearing you down and as Edward was learning; it had a way of easing things into a natural order that just didn't really bother him that much anymore. Sure his Dad wasn't his favorite person, but with Al gone, Ed found he didn't exactly mind the presence of another in the apartment.

They sat at opposite ends of the couch, each with their nose buried in a book and a mug of coffee in their hands. No man's land had been crossed and now neither of them really felt like hunkering back down in the trenches. Peace was at hand, even if Edward would be the last to admit it.

Of course the silence would be breached, but Ed was actually glad for the distraction, he wasn't sure how much longer he could pretend to read.

"I never thought it would be Al going off to some exotic place while you stayed here in Central with me." Hohenheim offered up.

Edward was finding it harder and harder to accept that his younger brother was already off to school. The trip to Xing had not eased Edward's anxiety over his brother going to Xing University, but his argument was growing weaker and it was clear he had lost the battle. In all fairness, after how hard his brother had worked the past year, he deserved to be going off to such a unique school. Ed remembered those pale hospital walls and the years his brother had spent stuck behind them. Some days it truly felt like he was dreaming when he thought of all he had gained that year despite his previous losses. He should be celebrating the fact that he had not only recovered from a state of comatose but that he was now even ready for college. Anyone who knew Alphonse was extremely proud and encouraging of the young prodigy. But sometimes Edward felt feelings of uncertainly bubble up, how could his little brother leave him alone with their father? Ed couldn't help but wonder if this all wasn't the perfect recipe for disaster, that even with the subtle improvements in their relationship, should be a cause for concern. But here he was, too busy worrying about other things; things that had taken the place of that silly childish whine that reeked of self-pity.

"Yeah…well Central isn't half bad." There wasn't much to complain about these days, though he would definitely try.

"I talked to Pinako today."

Ed set his book down. "You can't find friends your own age?"

Hohenheim ignored him. "I told her I would keep a careful eye on her Granddaughter." He paused, his head tilting down to look over the rim of his glasses right at Edward. "And you of course. You two are having sex aren't you?"

As much as he had matured in the past year, Ed still could not bring himself to talk about this rationally. Practically gagging at the idea of his Dad thinking about his love life, Ed shook his head in disgust. "Thanks for ruining that for me."

"Yes, well I suppose this conversation is a little late." Hohenheim rose to the bait, a serious expression on his face. "Nevertheless, is it safe to assume you use protection?"

Ed blanched; there was no need to have this sort of discussion with his father. "Assume away."

"Do I need to remind you of the consequences of your actions?" Hohenheim had a stern set to his jaw; one Ed was told he had unfortunately inherited. "Do you really want to be the one to make Winry give up her dreams? You're both a little young to be facing those kinds of decisions."

Ed flushed, "You act like we're little kids. I'm 20 years old. Back in Resembool most kids our age are married. If they don't already have kids, they're well on the way and let's face it those farms out there breed big families."

His father stretched backwards slouching into the couch and folding his hands over his stomach. "And that's something you want?"

"A whole litter of Elric kids to take care of?" He shuddered at the thought. "I'm not that excited to procreate."

Hohenheim patted him on the shoulder. "Then I know you'll take great caution, correct?" He raised his eyebrows when Ed stayed silent.

"Correct." The oldest brother pronounced feeling chastised.

"Listen Edward, do me a favor and be smart. I know the girls on campus keep getting younger and enticing, but girls like Winry are one in a million. Don't go rushing through your relationship to the point where you just start going through the motions."

Ed wasn't so sure he understood where his father had taken their conversation. "I know she's special." Ed muttered still a little badgered that his father thought he didn't understand all this. "I get it. Not like I plan on fucking this up on purpose."

"Language son." Hohenheim gently reminded.

And then the father son moment was gone and Edward decided he was glad they didn't talk while he was a teenager. He could only imagine the horror of having these types of conversations on a daily basis. Not that he had ever been involved with girls as a teenager but still the idea of it all was frightening. Edward concluded his younger brother needed to find a girlfriend so that his father might spread his wisdom instead of concentrating solely on him.

Not able to sit still any longer Ed said something about being annoyed and left his finished mug of coffee on the side table. It was a pet peeve of Hohenheim and Edward knew it.

Taking a long shower Ed took his time, pulling his hair back into a ponytail and putting on some nice clothes. He needed to kill some time before picking up Winry and talking to his Dad was now out of the question. Heading for the door with keys in his hand he decided last minute to shout a goodbye before slamming the door behind him. No need to make his Dad think they were pals. Driving around Central Ed parked at the train station and paced the loading platform with the vigor of caffeinated coffee still in his system. Winry should really get herself a car, this whole train business was running at a snail pace.

When Ed finally spotted his girlfriend emerging from the train and pushing through the crowd he swallowed hard and appreciated how lucky he was that she was walking towards him. Obviously tired from the journey she still looked gorgeous, her long legs bared by the short black skirt and that blond hair flowing out behind her. Winry looked flushed with happiness, the dimples in her cheeks deep as she closed the distance between them. There were clearly a few bystanders following her every move but his jealously was cooled by the arms that wrapped around him and the lips that pressed into his. Smirking into the kiss Edward let his hands slide low and pull in tight. If Winry disliked the public display of affection she didn't vocalize it and Ed could care less what other people thought.

Urges he had held at bay were now coursing through his veins, pulsing in time with the beating of his heart. And then with one point of her finger Ed was hauling Winry's luggage without complaint because he had a feeling he was about to be rewarded handsomely.

(Havoc)

The number stared back at him, the sheer frustration of three months of work whittled down to an insignificant monetary sum. Jean took his cap off as a matter of formality before approaching his father. "Three months, this is what you're paying me for three months of work?"

His father looked up from his desk, the reading spectacles on his face a new addition to an aging man. "Don't you start with me boy, that sum is more than generous."

'Don't start with me boy' had that phrase ever, in the history of mankind, actually deterred an argument between a father and son? Jean seriously doubted it had because for him it only acted as a catalyst to an ongoing war between them. "Maybe back in the old days, but unfortunately slave labor is against the law."

Old man Havoc let out an unimpressed wave of laughter. "You know if you put half as much effort into this family and our business as you do your shenanigans you'd be a son I could be proud of."

Jean swallowed slowly, purposely, because no matter how many times his father repeated that same sentiment it still unnerved him. It was disappointing to hear that his father was still the same man who didn't cry at his daughters funeral and still the same man that kept himself so cut off from emotion that the very notion of it in other people made him sick. Annie had once told him that she thought their father felt things more than anyone else and that was why he chose to close himself off. Jean held up his hands in defeat because he wasn't born with the same optimism. "Got it. Thanks for always making leaving this place so damn easy for me."

His father grunted in response his gaze switching back to the papers on his desk.

Turning his back on the older man Jean didn't stop moving until his bags were in his hands and his feet were out the door.

Becca was answering before he registered that's who he had picked to call.

"Havoc? If this is another butt dial from you I'm going to-"

"Just keep talking."

He heard her make a noise of discontent across the line. "What? I am talking you idiot!"

"No." He put her on speaker while he walked to the station. "I need you to keep talking so I don't go back there and beat the shit out of my old man…can you do that for me?"

Now he had her full attention. "That bad huh?"

Rebecca knew a little bit about his history even though their history together was quite brief. Jean wasn't exactly sure why he had drunkenly decided to tell her a lot of the shit he didn't even tell some of his closest friends. Alright, a few times he had decided it wasn't likely she would remember these conversations come the next day and it had felt good to spill his guts. Come to think of it they didn't actually have those sort of talks anymore; they didn't really talk much at all. So why did he call her?

"Bad enough." Havoc replied as he kept his stride long and his head up.

"My Mom got a new boyfriend, his name is Toby and he smells like an old folks home. You know that kind of mothball, sterile scent that just doesn't go away? I mean he's at least fifteen years older than her which would put him around fifty something. So I'm thinking what is Jan doing with this Grandpa? Then I notice he drives a pickup truck and wears cowboy boots. I swear to God my Mom thinks a cowboy is going to take her riding off into the sunset. And you know I can't help myself so I tell her this Toby is more likely to ride off in an ambulance and she gets mad at me. Like I'm some kind of horrible daughter for telling my Mom her boyfriend is closer to a nursing home than any kind of fantasy dream home she's got pictured in that head of hers…"

Havoc was surprised when the train station was in sight and then when he was boarded and heading back to Central. "…and go figure he has a Grandson who is our age, our age!"

At that Jean found himself laughing and once he started it felt so good he decided he didn't care that the other passengers stared. "I hope I'm a Toby." He announced.

Rebecca didn't seem the least exhausted from her hour long rant. "What? Jeeze Havoc were you even listening to me?"

"Yes." He replied wondering why Rebecca tolerated him. "And I hope that when I'm all pruney I can bag a pretty little thing like your Mom."

There was a groan. "I'm hanging up now Jean."

"Yeah." His laughter simmered down. "I know you are darling." When she didn't follow through he grinned. "I owe you one."

"I take gifts or cash." She announced before making good on her promise and hanging up on him.

Jean leaned back in his seat feeling very grateful to be on his way back to Central. He may have been born a cowboy but Havoc thoroughly enjoyed what the city had to offer.

(Riza)

It was time to plan the sorority retreat that preluded fall and her least favorite sorority event, formal recruitment. Not that she didn't enjoy recruiting new members but the politics going into recruitment were far too intense for something of this nature. There were strict recruitment rules and while most sororities manage to sort of sidestep the rules Riza had a feeling Kappa Delta would have all eyes on them. Since she had joined Kappa Delta had managed to stay below the radar but now with the Greek Week title they were on the chopping block. Alpha Zeta's had never played fair before and Riza knew with Suzie as President that wasn't likely to change. Noa had been hard enough to handle but at least she was narrow minded, Riza got the feeling that Suzie could be a tougher character to beat.

"You're welcome."

Riza looked up to see Rebecca standing in her doorway a box in her arms. Smiling Riza raised an eyebrow in her friend's direction. "What do I need to be thanking you for?"

"Not only will we be the best sorority at recruitment, but we will now also be the best dressed!" She opened the box and pulled out three different shirts. "Like I said, you're welcome." Rebecca threw the shirts at Riza's bed, "Try them on and I swear they will change your life."

"Life changing huh?" Well she had had enough bad life changing events in the past year, maybe a fashion one would be a nice reprieve.

This was why Rebecca was their Vice President of Membership; there was no one else who could combine good taste with the actual desire to tackle the beast called recruitment. Riza held up the first shirt, it was a fitted, white shirt with a low V-neck and teal Kappa Delta letters at the bottom right. Not bad really, in fact these were a great way of showcasing their style without overshadowing what they were all about. Trying to muster up some enthusiasm to appease her sorority sister, Riza held it up to herself. "What were you thinking of matching it with?"

"As if you even need to ask, these are going to go great with black shorts and black heels. Everyone looks great in black."

It took about an hour of listening to Rebecca gush over recruitment before Riza found herself the center of the conversation. How they had gone from discussing decorations to discussion relationship problems was annoying.

"So I noticed you and Roy were a little more than friendly at Gracia's wedding." Rebecca grabbed a pillow and settled down on Riza's floor, alert and waiting.

Relationships were complicated, that had always been apparent; Riza just never thought that she would find so much drama in hers. Somehow she had dismissed the notion that her love life would ever amount to something that could cause her so much frustration and pain. It was much harder to forgive and forget when the person that you loved was also your best friend. Didn't almost every magazine promote falling in love with your best friend? They were obviously misinformed on the topic. Roy Mustang was such an enigma in her life that it was nearly impossible to think rationally when it came to him. "Glad to hear my love life is your favorite soap opera."

Rebecca flapped her hand in front of her face. "Oh Riza you know I dig into everyone's love lives. I need to live vicariously through other people." The curly haired beauty pouted. "Seriously, my love life has been flat lining. Come on, tell me you two are back to sneaking behind closed doors?"

The memory tugged at something Riza so rarely thought of. Had it really been that long ago that they decided to keep things quiet in an attempt to hide it from her father? Sometimes Riza imagined that her college years were a bubble and once it popped all of those things she'd been protected from might come raining down. The absence of a family had always been filled by Kappa Delta, what would become of her once she went alum this year?

Becca touched her shoulder gently looking apologetic. "I was just trying to be funny Riza, I'm sorry."

"Oh." Faking a smile she shrugged her shoulders, "It wasn't you, I just was thinking about something else."

"You know you can talk to me right?"

She did, Riza knew that blocking out the bad memories was never a good idea but the idea of putting them out in the open was intimidating. There were some things that would always sit at the surface and she was thankful that they managed to keep the others eclipsed. Right then Roy was a pretty good block for all those suppressed childhood memories. Sometimes Riza wondered if that's why she loved him, if the memory of those things made her indebted to him. "Mustang is an idiot, does that help?"

Rebecca snorted with laughter, "I was hoping for some intimate scenario but admitting that he's an idiot is probably a good enough start. Jean's an idiot too if that helps."

Jean Havoc was a southern boy who had a way with the ladies that often left much to be desired from those wishing for commitment. Riza was happy for the opportunity to talk about something other than her own unsolved mysteries. "So do I need to know about anything behind closed doors between you and Jean?"

Rebecca and Jean had been stuck together because of mutual friends since the beginning so it wasn't unreasonable to wonder if something would ever come of the two. Riza got the feeling that as nonchalant as her friend acted Jean's southern charm had affected her on some level.

"I'm not sure, you would think there was something going on, but honestly it's never been like that between us. It always feels like there's some reason why things wouldn't work out between us. But lately Jean's been different. Do you think that all of that shit he's been through finally grounded him?" Becca nibbled on her lower lip in, "Is it weird to think that maybe there is something there that wasn't before?"

"You and Jean Havoc? I guess I never really thought of either of you wanting to settle into a serious relationship."

There was a slow smirk building on her friends face. "I know, I just feel like we're on that tight rope and for once I think that maybe we owe it to ourselves to try this whole relationship thing." Rebecca flopped over on her back with a huff. "I just need to get laid and I'm not a slut so that's a problem. But seriously seeing Gracia all married and happy made me all mushy."

That was the truth, no one at Maes and Gracia Hughes wedding could deny the feeling of love that seemed to penetrate the very air they breathed. "Lucky for us we'll be too busy to be mushy for much longer. Between the retreat, recruitment and even homecoming our social lives are booked."

Looking up from her mess of curly hair Rebecca shrugged her shoulders. "You might be right. I suppose by the time I even have a few minutes to think about Jean I'm sure I'll have squashed this love bug."

Riza picked up a few of the recruitment garments and held them up to herself. It was time to squash her love for Roy and maybe in the process she might be able to find her best friend in him again.

(Roy)

As the president of IFC Roy was well aware that he now reported directly to Marc Williams the Greek Adviser. Not that the guy was really lacking in any one area it was just a difference of opinion that set them apart. Marc was a progressive man that believed the Greek system should be a very squeaky clean environment. Roy was much more realistic. Hazing was the biggest issue on the agenda and while he understood the need to eradicate some of the more barbaric traditions he also believed that there was something about tradition. Some things needed to be assessed and reviewed but taking away everything all at once would be a mistake.

Marc pulled him aside, the look on his face actually one of admiration. "I'm proud of you Roy."

Feeling rather childlike, he soaked up the praise. "I must not be doing a good job then."

The older man laughed, "I know you've been dragging your feet through all this but you really stepped it up this weekend."

Over the weekend he had begrudgingly gotten everyone on the IFC board as well as the Panhellenic board to attend a leadership camp. It was going to look great on a resume and if it got some of his board working together it would also be a miracle.

Aaron James was his favorite by far and he was actually happy to have gained a better friendship with the underclassman. Aaron had a little more humor to him that his older brother Tyrone and while that had seemed to dim Roy was happy to see the kid laughing again.

"It wasn't as bad as I thought, but all the same, you owe me Williams." He grinned cheekily. "You know alum aren't going to happy if Homecoming is a dry event, so what do you say?"

Smacking his lips together Marc shook his head, "Every chapter needs to attend a substance abuse clinic at the health center or else my decision stands."

There, that was the push over guy Roy wanted to see. A compromise, but honestly one meeting in exchange for Homecoming shenanigans? "Deal. Now let's talk about those annoying party rules-"

"Don't push your luck Mustang. Get this meeting over and then we'll talk."

Walking into the meeting room he felt rather powerful as he spread out his notes and took the seat at the head of the table. He just might have to call up Olivia and challenge her; maybe he was next in line to be president of the country. Weirder things had happened.

Aaron seemed fired up as he looked down the table at him. "Hey, I Mustang you a question."

Roy raised his eyebrows, "Not your best joke Mr. James, keep trying though."

The kid laughed, kicking his feet up on the table as he pulled out his own notes. "With that kind of encouragement who could resist?"

"Enough with the bromance boys." Chelsea chided from her seat between the two of them. "Let's get this meeting going I've only stored up enough patience to handle our Panhellenic meeting tonight."

Roy leaned over the table resting his elbows on the surface. "I don't understand why you girls put all that time and money into recruitment. It seems a little old fashioned and outdated."

"Because unlike you gentleman we don't like to pick up girls by throwing keggers." Chelsea intoned with an irritated growl. "Not that we could, unlike you we have to have dry houses."

Bitter much? Not that he really blamed her; the girls had drawn the short straw when it came to overbearing Greek rules and advisers. The Panhellenic Council was a rigid beast that even Roy was a bit leery of. All of the Sororities had Nationals to answer to and those women were not fucking around. Mess with how recruitment runs and you better be prepared for the wrath that follows. Chelsea was competitive by nature which probably helped create her tough skin but having every sorority's Nationals breathing down her neck was visibly taxing on the girl.

Eric Smith snorted behind his hand and tried to mask it as a cough when Chelsea turned her dagger glare in his direction.

"All right this meeting will now begin at 4:10pm. It looks like we got Homecoming back, under the condition we have all our members attend a substance abuse meeting at the health center on campus, but its back."

"We have a health center?" Eric asked looking confused.

Roy appreciated that while Eric was great at planning events he also seemed to lack a certain amount of common sense. He attributed it to the size of the guy's muscles; they had to be using more blood thus taking away higher brain function. Mustang had once told Buccaneer and Miles of his suspicion about their fraternity brother. Miles had laughed and Buccaneer had looked confused which explained a lot about the true nature of an Alpha Chi.

"It's located right across from the first year center." Matt interjected because being a know it all was a way of life for Tau Kappa Deltas.

"Right, so Matt I'll put you in charge of collecting the sign in sheets and rosters from every chapter." Roy watched as the TKD smiled like he was being bestowed with a prestigious duty when in reality he was doing bitch work. "The only other thing I wanted to address was welcome week. I'll have Aaron follow through with Marc to get specifics for the new party rules and sanctions. Chelsea, Marc will probably want to speak to your girls too but other than that I've got nothing. Great job at leadership this weekend, go Lions, and don't do anything stupid. Any questions? Well then, I guess that sums up this meeting for us. IFC we'll break for fifteen and then we'll meet with the heads of each chapter. Ladies, anything to add?"

Of course there would be a lone hand at the end of the table. Suzie Kilpatrick the ultimate Alpha Zeta gone so wrong. Roy had slept with a few women before Riza but the only one he was regretting at the moment was Suzie. Her smile radiated around the room as she charmed them all with her silky voice and long lashes. Seriously this woman was the devil and he was tired of listening to it speak.

"I think we should discuss the Mr. and Miss Greek pageant." Her eyes narrowed. "In fact I insist."

To hell with it all, that damn pageant was a nightmare. "We stopped doing it three years ago. It doesn't promote Greek unity." Roy put his own charming voice into the mix.

Chelsea snorted through her nose, "It was rigged every year. No offense Suzie but no one misses it."

Eric seriously pondered the idea. "Wait, you mean both guys and girls in a pageant?"

"Yes." Matt answered methodically like he was Eric's own personal translator.

Roy smirked as an image of Fullmetal trying to be Mr. Greek ran through his head or even Heymans. It was almost funny enough to promote the idea.

"Sounds like a lot of work. It would fall under your position." He nodded towards Suzie. "So don't propose what you can't do."

"Oh, I make it a point to get what I want." Suzie added with a dangerous smile that left him wondering how such a pretty girl ended up so hateful.

Well it was a productive meeting so Roy figured it was perfectly acceptable to end it before he said something snarky to Suzie. One of his best accomplishments thus far as IFC president was to keep their meetings short and sweet. It was easier to gather a report, email it out and come to the meeting with projects not updates. So per schedule he held up his hand, "Alright, we'll table it for today. Take back the idea to your chapter vote yes or no and then we'll move on from there."

Tinkering around in the Greek office, Roy finished emailing chapter presidents and advisers about their boring little meeting.

"Ah, Mr. Mustang, just the man I was looking for."

Looking up from his work Roy knew before he even looked who was addressing him. Figuring it was better to get it over with Roy stood up to meet him head on. They would touch gloves and then it was time to fight. "You're here awfully late, to be considered in your busy schedule? I'm honored Dean Bradley, what can I do for you?"

The man was as unreadable as ever. "I believe we have a common interest."

Dean Bradley was a little too old to be playing games. "I assumed we did."

The older man smiled letting the points of his teeth show. "That grant you received has brought us quite some good publicity, almost enough that I feel compelled to ignore this monumental error on your account." The Dean placed a sheet of paper squarely in front of him. "I'm a busy man, but even I cannot ignore a pebble in my shoe."

Roy knew what the paper was; he knew it was the forged document giving him an override to be IFC president. With his poor academic performance last winter he had needed it to run for the position.

Still smiling Bradley made himself at home in the chair across from the desk. "Take a seat Mustang. I have my theories on how you obtained this and certainly most if not all involve accomplices. That being said you understand why this puts me in a peculiar circumstance. On one hand I could have you expelled on the other I could invest on a man who is going to make this University some big money. So tell me Mr. Mustang, what can you do for me?"

It wasn't until he was staring across the bar at his Aunt that it started to sink in that he wanted so badly to talk to Riza. She had become his conscious and with the Dean breathing down his neck he could really use a friend. They might as well be strangers with as little as they talked the past few months. Of course they were talking again but it was brief nothing like the old days when they had been inseparable. Riza needed her space and hell he was glad to give it to her but enough was enough.

"What can I get you?"

Roy was about to request a shot of whiskey to put thoughts of Bradley far from his mind when a pretty blonde leaned against the counter next to him, "Two root beers, one for me and one for our friend over here."

"Didn't think I'd find you here." Roy asked Riza Hawkeye wondering if his imagination was lending a helping hand or if she really was there next to him as if those months were erased.

"Yeah, I don't remember the last time I came here just to check up on you. Must have been before we broke up huh."

Always honest, that's how he liked her best. "Sure, still doesn't answer why you're here now."

Holding out her hand, face serious she baited him for the greeting. "I'm Riza Hawkeye; it's nice to meet you."

He recognized the peace treaty and was happy to sign. "Roy Mustang." He brought her hand up quickly to his lips. "And might I add that the pleasures all mine."

She rolled her eyes but didn't wince at his touch and for a brief moment Roy forgot about his troubles and believed that he was right in this path. If he was lucky enough maybe he'd find a soldier to fight right along beside him again.

(Winry)

The beautiful summer cottage certainly did not resemble any cottage she had ever stayed at. Then again Olivia Armstrong's definition of 'small cabin' was bound to be entirely different than hers. The Armstrong summer cabin boasted ten bedrooms, five full baths, a recreation room, a huge kitchen, dining room, a great sitting room and four different balconies. With the Armstrong family willing to give up one weekend before closing up their summer residence for the fall, both Beta Tau Alpha and Kappa Delta had been invited to hold their executive board retreats there. It wasn't surprising that the Armstrong family had been so generous with their offer; they were the type that shared their wealth in all the right ways.

Even with two groups inhabiting the grounds, the cabin still managed to feel spacious. The problem came in, not with the accommodations, but with the idea of male and female college students alone up in the woods for a weekend. With so many relationships between them and the subtle promise of a fully stocked bar Winry had a feeling this was going to turn into an end of the summer blow out party versus an actual business style bonding experience. Not that she really minded but she was definitely surprised Riza had agreed to all of it.

The weekend was everything Olivia had promised and more. Between going out on the water and relaxing in the sun it was a lot better than just hanging out in Central City. Not to mention Winry was pleasantly surprised to find that the boys were actually taking the business side to all of it seriously. When they split up to meet about sorority matters she found them also in deep conversations about their fraternity. Snooping once or twice she had watched, with a touch of pride, as Edward took his own leadership role as Vice President in stride. It was hot to see him take charge and be in command…and thank goodness the cabin had so many rooms to choose from.

On the final night the girls were not surprised to find the boys were geared up for a wild night. Winry threw on pale yellow dress that clung to every curve in all the right ways. She wasn't ready to let go of her summer wardrobe and any excuse to make her boyfriend drool was all she needed. Edward met her downstairs a beer already emptied by his feet, of course the boys had started early while they all got ready. As expected his mouth dropped open a little his eyes wide. Looking around he glared at the few single boys who had whistled lowly at her arrival.
"That's my girlfriend you're whistling at." He threatened dangerously at his fraternity brothers.

Roy winked at her as he threw Ed another beer. "Everyone can appreciate fine art Fullmetal calm down."

"Oh yeah? How about I cat call at Riza huh? What then?" Ed retorted in his hot headed glory.

"Care to find out?" Riza remarked darkly her eyes flashing as she entered the room.

Edward scowled, "You two were made for each other."

Winry thought she caught something flicker between Roy and her sorority sister but then it was gone as if it had never happened.

"All right folks let's not bicker, save your energy for the best part of the night." Havoc began pouring shots behind the bar as Fuery hooked his mp3 player to the surround sound.

Rebecca smirked at Jean while she took two shot glasses off the bar and downed them each in two quick swigs. Shoving the empty glasses back across the bar she threw strands of her long, unruly hair behind her shoulders, "Game on Havoc."

The sound of voices coming in the main door made Winry do a double take. Olivia Armstrong strode into the room with a whole posse in her wake. "Miss us already?"

Winry was engulfed in a hug as Gracia and Maes greeted her in unison followed by a quick embrace as Miles smiled at her. "You really need to come and visit us up at Briggs; the automail engineers up there are desperate to meet this girl mechanic I keep telling them about."

Winry thought she heard her boyfriend grumble something that sounded an awful lot like jealousy but it was muffled by Maes as he began to bombard her with wedding photos. Even though they had all been present at the wedding it was sort of endearing to have him want to share it over and over again. Somehow Winry couldn't imagine Edward being that thrilled to showcase any part of their relationship.

Olivia opened a bottle of Jack and stood atop the bar, looking dangerously beautiful, something Winry so wished she could master. "Alright you freeloading college kids now the party can start."

Ed handed her a shot, ready for a cheers. "Bottoms up."

Rationally this was the last time any of them could really let loose. Party ban went in place as soon as welcome week commenced and while Winry was sure there would be numerous underground parties she had a feeling her nose would be stuck in a book somewhere. Scheiska would definitely have a study buddy when she started her premed courses. But right now she was young and carefree and while she sometimes felt like she had lived through a lifetime now was a time to let loose. Winry clinked his shot and together they tossed a few more back before they lost count and the world faded into the background.

The morning light was painful and every part of her body screamed hangover as she struggled to stay asleep. Sitting up, Winry groped for the covers as she felt the warm air touch her skin. Looking over at the naked man next to her the blonde sighed in relief as her boyfriend's snores brought her a little more comfort. Looking around Winry felt at least a little amused at the sight of their clothes scattered haphazardly across the room. Subtle, let's hope they had locked the door. With cotton mouth Winry was not about to stay in bed for much longer. Throwing on her clothes and pulling her hair back into a messy bun Winry made sure to pile Edwards's clothes by his side of the bed and tuck the covers to his chin before sneaking quietly from the room.

Checking into her original room to grab her shower stuff she froze. There naked as the day he was born was Jean Havoc and oh boy this was not going to end well. Feeling a little unsure Winry backed slowly out of the room and tried to fathom what she had just witnessed. Rebecca Catalina and Jean Havoc? Oh that was asking for fireworks the moment those two woke up sober. While Winry had no doubt Jean would approve, she strongly believed Becca would not be pleased. Being a good sister she woke Becca and handed her clothes without saying a word. Looking over at Jean Rebecca rolled her eyes, "Come on Winry let's get out of here before he wakes up and lets his ego get the better of him."

(Breda)

He had been drinking and on the verge of forging the kitchen when he had first noticed Jean and Rebecca leaving the group. But it wasn't the leaving part that started to sober him up, it was their intertwined hands and the way they moved that alerted him. So like any good brother he created a diversion by trying a keg stand. Rebecca could be a cunning little minx which is exactly why he figured she was perfect for their irresponsible, but good hearted brother.

Eventually most of the girls had gone to sleep leaving him and a few of his fraternity brothers as the last men standing. Now that Riza had gone up Roy was recounting some of his early conquests back when they were freshman. Breda listened in amusement but as each of his brothers recounted their tales he found himself questioning how long it had been since he had really hit it off with a girl. Wow, it had been entirely too long, especially when Alex began telling about his conquests female and male.

(Rebecca)

It was a crazy drunken night, which was exactly what they had all aspired towards. The whole cabin hooking up in one way or another was an unfortunate side effect. There was the obvious Edward and Winry because Jesus those two were loud, then the not so subtle Olivia and her subservient Miles from the sounds of it and then there were the speculations. Maria Ross and Denny had disappeared at some point in the night however no one had any real evidence. As for her, she had known exactly what happened the previous night and while it didn't bother her Rebecca was still feeling a little weird about it. Initially she was all for hooking up with him since they were both single and a little Jack went a long way towards persuasion. It was the aftermath that left her sort of confused.

Drinking a cup of coffee after munching on some toast Becca sat outside on the back deck looking out at the water.

"Morning."

Looking over her shoulder she tensed a little, "Morning."

Taking the seat next to her Jean began to drink his own cup of coffee. "How ya feel'n?

Rolling her eyes Becca held up her cup of coffee in a salute. "Surviving."

Chuckling, Jean nodded in understanding. "Should have added a little kick to your morning brew."

Making a face she turned back to the view in front of them. "No thanks. I think I'll stay away from alcohol, at least until I forget last night."

He was quiet then and Becca sighed, "Not what I meant Havoc."

"No, maybe we should cut to the chase doll."

Setting down her mug she looked over her shoulder but no one else seemed to be really up and about yet. "I didn't say I regret it, last night was fun."

The southern boy kicked his feet up onto another patio chair. "Just fun?"

"Yes, would you like a play by play?" She found her irritation was growing.

But Jean wasn't really joking and it occurred to her that maybe for once in their lives he was trying to dig a little deeper. "Come on Becca, you know where I'm going with this."

"The answer is no Havoc." She wasn't sure why it hurt to say no to him.

"So I'm just a drunken one night stand huh?" Jean looked like he was trying to make a joke but the slight crease in his forehead gave him away.

Rebecca knew what he had said last night and she also knew that she had repeated his words. A part of her, the selfish part, thought if she ignored it maybe they could still salvage their friendship out of this. And yet maybe there had been lines crossed last night that they just couldn't come back from. There was no going back with Jean, he was all or nothing.

"I meant what I said." He used his hand to turn her face in his direction. His touch was warm and the look in his eyes was burning.

Almost leaning into his touch Rebecca took a deep breath and backed away. "We were drunk; don't make it anything more than what it was."

Rebecca saw his demeanor slip briefly before returning back to its usual extroverted nonsense. "Alright love, don't get your panties in a bunch. Or better yet, mind if I have the honors? I'd say we still have a few minutes before everyone comes to. What do you say?"

Even with the friendly humor Rebecca still saw something breaking but it was too late to go back now. "I'd rather not."

Her face must have betrayed the unsteady rhythm in her chest because he took one last look at her before heading back inside. Jean refused to make eye contact with her the rest of the day and Rebecca wondered why she just couldn't have acknowledged the truth. The weekend retreat was over and while they packed their belongings and began the drive back to campus Rebecca wondered if coming back to reality would help drive any thought of being with Jean far from her brain.

(Alex)

After having been gone for the weekend retreat Alex was happy to be back in Central with such delightful company. He was rather excited to test out a new recipe he had been drooling over. His love of culinary arts had spurred him to go out and buy the unnecessarily long list of items he would need. The best part about cooking was cooking for two. Putting his key into the apartment door Alex strolled in, kicking his shoes off on his way to the kitchen. He passed the living room but Garfield looked like he was about to get up so Alex hummed his way into the kitchen and awaited his hello.

Spreading out the goods along the counter he grinned in anticipation. About to rave about his plans for the night he noticed Atelier had not spoken a word and yet he had been standing in the kitchen doorway for a few. Smiling, he took in the man before him. "Well hello there handsome."

Garfiel didn't smile, nor did he appear to exude his usual glory. He just stood there with an expression that sat uneasy with his features.

"Something wrong love?"

If there was, Alex wouldn't have been able to see it as his boyfriends eyes remained just out of line.

When the man finally let their gazes meet Garfiel felt the dread in the shadow he had cast on the room.

"We need to talk." Garfiel expressed with a heavy accent on the last word.

Alex's heart hammered, all future plans put on the back burner. Those four, small, little words suddenly seemed lifetimes away from where he was. "You can always talk to me." He boasted with a hopeful smile.

Atelier held his gaze, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. Turning he led him out of the kitchen into the small living room space and sank into the couch cushions.

"I've been thinking and I just, I can't do this."

It was cruel the way his voice seemed so detached, so heartless.

Grabbing his partner's hand Alex fought down the lump in his throat, surely he was misinterpreting all this. "Do what?"

Garfiel put a comforting hand atop of theirs and finally stared him down. "I can't be together with you."

There must have been a reason, but when Garfiel failed to explain Alex was lost. Nothing but wicked words and a hollowed man.

How could this happen? Wasn't this the man he loved, the man who had given him dreams he never knew he could have? Alex sputtered through tears, dragged his words and repeated every loving sentiment he possessed. But time dragged on and the man who he had trusted had betrayed him. At some point Alex knew he had begun to beg his partner to reconsider, to reprieve him of this pain, erase and rewind, whatever it took to take back what had been done.

Every memory flickered and died each ready on his lips but Atelier wasn't listening or if he was, he simply didn't care.

It struck the only Armstrong male heir that he was unwanted in more ways that he could fathom. Feeling the pressure he stood on shaky legs, wiping his face, "I'll…I'll grab my things and then I'll be gone."

Garfiel nodded but made no move to get up.

Robotic motions led him to the kitchen where the spread of ingredients sat lifetimes away. This was some sort of nightmare right? He had spent all day planning a fine supper, had Atelier spent the same time pondering how to dump him? Was that what had just happened?

No. God no. He couldn't think about it, he couldn't register the pain.

The quiet sobs wracked his heartbroken body as he stuffed his belongings haphazardly into bags. Why wasn't Garfiel stopping him? Why wasn't he running in begging him to wait, to come back? Why? What had he done so wrong? Catching a glimpse of himself in the bedroom mirror he shook his head and packed the rest of his dignity into a duffle bag, he'd come back for the rest…later.

He paused at the front door, turning over his shoulder. "Garfiel."

The man still hadn't moved from his place on the couch. "Summers over Alex, its time you went home."

"Please-what have I done?"

Garfiel looked sympathetic, "I'm sorry I've hurt you but this is as far as it goes."

It was so abrupt so unexpected that he actually let it happen and then it was all too late. He was walking through the front door the BTA house with a bag full of pain and a head hung in shame.

"Alex? You okay?" Havoc asked his eyes wide.

"No." He answered as if it really were that simple.

Going to his room felt foreign, he'd spent almost every night at Garfiel's place, it had suddenly become home. Sitting on his bed Alex let the strap slide off his shoulder, the duffle bag thumping loudly onto the floor. Then it fell into silence as his head screamed on the inside. It felt like something had died inside but he was so damn alive. It was a beautiful kind of pain that regurgitated every happy memory and toyed with his broken heart.

A soft knock came at the door. "Alex?"

Wiping at his face Alex swallowed. "Yeah."

"Can I come in?"

When he stayed quiet Denny finally took the hint. "Alright man, just, well you know I'm here."

Armstrong lay back on his bed and closed his eyes. Yeah, he knew his brothers were there for him but they couldn't heal this pain. And the idea of rehashing his night was nauseating. For now he would stay silent and maybe then, all this would disappear or better, maybe he would.

(Rose)

It was the end of summer and what should have been her sophomore year at Central University. She had already weaseled out of Winry what an amazing retreat her sorority had which made her ooze with jealousy. Her friend would never brag but she didn't have to, not when she was living the dream and Rose…well she was definitely not. Rose would have been moving into the Alpha Zeta sorority house that day, but she was nowhere close. Living at home had not been her first choice, but what other choice did Rose have? Her parents remained tight lipped on their opinion in all of it. Getting married so quickly and having a child and being widowed was not what she imagined they had dreamed for her. To be honest she had never dreamed of it either.

The reality of her world had shifted in such a way that even Rose caught herself sometimes forgetting how she had gotten there. As if having to drop out of school and become a slave to her parents bidding wasn't horrible enough Rose now had the added bonus of being pregnant. Anyone who said bringing a child into the world was a gift was seriously disturbed. Nothing fit anymore, her body felt swollen and there was a sadness that weighed heavy on her heart.

At the moment the only thing she could rely on was her faith. It felt like coming home and for once she was happy to do it. Lighting a candle for both Kain and their baby, Rose slowly kneeled down, careful in her movement. With only two months left to go even things like bending over had become quite the ordeal. Twining her fingers together, Rose leaned her lips into their embrace. The young widow prayed for strength, health and courage to do the right thing.

There had been a disconnect; a time when she had traded her faith for sin. Now it was clear what path she needed to take and Rose was determined to find the light through it all. She was being tested and this time Rose would be steadfast in her beliefs. Sitting on the park bench about a block from the church the young woman ate her lunch while observing the people out to enjoy the last moments of summer.

"Ouch." Looking down Rose placed her hand upon her stomach. From the way her baby kicked Rose imagined a tough little guy, much like her late husband.

"Rose?"

Looking up Rose frowned at the man standing in front of her. "Oh, hello Sam."

He took the empty spot along the bench beside her. "Looks like you and the babe are doing just fine."

She smiled thinking that he looked way too roughish to be so sweet. "Only two months left to go before I get to meet my little miracle."

Rose watched as his expression changed a little, his mouth quirking as if formulating a question.

"You seem a lot happier, it suits you."

The young woman felt her cheeks burn at the compliment. "Pregnancy, the whole glowing thing and all."

"Nah." He shrugged his shoulders, "I think you've always had that about you." Sam scratched at his facial hair as he stared off into the distance.

Pushing a strand of pink hair behind her ear Rose stared off in the opposite direction her smile growing.


Chapter 27: Welcome Week

It's welcome week at Central University as a whole load of freshman move onto campus. Can the gang abide by the laws of party ban or will they find themselves at the mercy of Dean Bradley?