Author's Note: Yeah, I know, this was supposed to be complete. Crystal Malfoy-Potter, aka Moon01234 on AO3, asked me if I had an omake from Al's POV, and suddenly this was born. Hopefully my severe case of writers block is now on the mend. Thanks Crystal! Enjoy!
With a slight wince, Alphonse accepted the frosted mug from his wife. The cold glass against his palm was soothing as he sipped the soda, keeping his head contritely down. Not that his act was fooling anybody. Winry was trying to keep her stern frown in place, but more than once Al caught the fond smile that kept leaking through when she thought he wasn't looking. It was pretty obvious that she didn't approve of the way he had handled the situation, but knew that under the circumstances he wouldn't hesitate to do it again. She was his wife and best friend all rolled into one, and no one knew him better.
Okay, one person probably did, but Al would never admit that to his spouse. It went without saying anyway. And that one person was ultimately the reason why Al had reacted to the recent turn of events with such uncharacteristic hostility.
Edward. His brother. Whose sole purpose in life, it sometimes seemed, was to keep Alphonse from getting too comfortable.
Though to be fair, Al's current discomfort was not Edward's fault.
Winry had awoken him two evenings before, lightly shaking his arm, breathing an uneasy whisper of, "Al, someone's at the door," into his ear.
He had already been aware of the knocking, but it had seemed a part of the bizarre dream he was navigating, the details already fading as he made the transition from sleep to consciousness. Disoriented, it had seemed to Al that the quick, insistent pace of the taps had a desperate edge, and that, coupled with the lateness of the hour, added to Alphonse' feeling of foreboding. Winry was already slipping on her husband's house robe, tugging it successfully over the swell of her pregnancy, as Al swung his legs out of bed, feet automatically searching for his slippers.
Reaching into the bathroom for his other robe on the way past, Al hurried ahead of his wife to the small apartment's front door, head swirling with a wide range of half formed explanations for this late night intrusion. Most of them involved his brother, and devastating news Al couldn't help but expect but fervently hoped never to receive. Ed was out of town on his current assignment. A knock at the door this late at night couldn't be good news. Not for the first time Al wished he had been able to convince Ed to leave the military, the dangerous job he knew his brother hated, and the foundation for most of Alphonse' bad dreams.
Opening the door, Alphonse was confronted with his worst nightmare come true: a devastated Roy Mustang, eyes haunted with grief, visibly searching for a way to say what he so obviously didn't want to. The unspoken words charged the air like an impending alchemical rebound.
When the older man finally did speak, Al was flooded with a relief so great that for a moment he thought he might faint.
"Is Edward here?" Roy asked, the slight tremor in his voice evidence of his distress.
"No," Al said, relief rapidly replaced by uneasy confusion. "I thought he was in Riften. He called me two nights ago to say he probably wasn't going to be back by Winry's due date."
Roy would not meet his eyes. "He's . . . back." Not 'home'? "I . . . if you hear from him . . . I . . . tell him . . ."
Winry's mind was three giant steps ahead of her husband's. "Roy. What did you do?" she asked, eyes narrowed.
Alphonse looked closer, and was surprised to note shame and guilt shading Roy's distress.
There was something going on here beyond the typical sort of argument that erupted between the two headstrong lovers. Edward and Roy argued all the time, about everything from their personal goals to whose turn it was to take out the garbage, and neither ever made apologies for speaking his mind. They had a mutual respect for each other that made it unnecessary. As a matter of fact, Alphonse suspected that the pair secretly enjoyed their arguments. The verbal sparring certainly never got boring, regardless of the trigger - personal, professional, or domestic – and win or lose, Alphonse had never seen anything other than a self-satisfied smirk on Roy's face as a consequence.
He wasn't smirking now. The man was a mess. Alphonse couldn't recall ever seeing the supremely self-confident Colonel in such a state. He'd certainly never seen Roy struggle to say what he had to, as he was doing now, or avoid the eyes of those he was speaking to, as he was now avoiding Al's and Winry's.
Running a hand nervously through damp, dishevelled hair, the older man gritted his teeth and with great reluctance said, "Ed . . . came home unexpectedly, and . . . I . . . wasn't alone." His shame was almost tangible, hanging in the doorway like an unpleasant odour.
It took a moment for what Roy had admitted to sink in, but when it did, it ignited a rage inside Alphonse so intense that he'd had to turn away, fist clenched, to prevent himself from actually striking his brother's lover. He likely would have immediately turned back to do so anyway if Winry hadn't placed a steadying hand on his shoulder, giving him a slight push toward their bedroom.
Al was dressed and standing by the door moments later, suddenly torn between staying with his very pregnant wife, due to deliver their first child sometime in next week or so, and rushing out into the night in search of his missing brother. Winry gave him a kiss on the cheek, and with a reassuring smile nudged him forward. Decision made, Al brushed roughly past the Colonel without a word.
Where to look?
It was far too late for the library to be open, so Alphonse rejected that destination out of hand. As an alchemist, locked doors wouldn't deter Edward from getting in if he really wanted to, but the potential wrath of the librarians would. Libraries had always been Ed's solace and sanctuary in times of high stress, and the risk of having his access suspended for any length of time as a disciplinary measure would likely be more than enough to keep Edward from trespassing after hours.
Al made his way instead to the little all night cafe he and Edward frequented. Close to the University that Al attended, it had a genial atmosphere that even his generally people wary - and sometimes downright unsociable – older brother found comfortable. The pair had spent many a late evening arguing theory over numerous cups of uncommonly good coffee, making the acquaintance of several affable Central U students in the process.
Stepping inside, Al was disappointed to discover that Edward was not there, and the cute blond waitress that often flirted with them assured the young man that she had not seen Ed that evening. Forcing a convincing smile to dispel her concern, Alphonse asked that she please let Edward know he was looking for him if he happened by later on.
From there Alphonse went to the tavern where Mustang and his team usually met on Fridays, arriving as the bartender was announcing last call to lingering regulars. Not being a regular weekend celebrant himself, Alphonse didn't know him, but the barman knew Edward quite well. Unfortunately however, he had not seen the elder Elric that evening either.
Al's next stop was the barracks, though he didn't think Edward was likely to be there. As a soul in armour Al had never physically slept there himself, but he knew from his brother's frequent complaints throughout their years in search of the Stone that the sleeping accommodations provided by the military for its enlisted personnel were beyond uncomfortable. Alphonse just couldn't picture his brother lying sleepless on a lumpy cot, staring at a cracked, water stained ceiling all night, but he had to check.
As predicted, Edward was not there.
The problem was that Edward had so few options when it came to weathering personal storms. Back in the day, Edward and Alphonse had had no one but each other to rely on for comfort when the going got rough. Winry and Granny Pinako had been there for them on the sidelines of course, but too far removed from the brothers' trials to effectively offer much more than a brief interlude of calm now and then. Edward began seeing Roy shortly after Alphonse regained his natural body, and had moved in with his lover just before Al's marriage to their childhood friend. The brothers still spent a lot of time together, and were still very close – nothing could ever change that – but Roy had gradually come to replace Alphonse as Edward's safe haven, the person he went to first when his shit hit the proverbial fan, and Alphonse had not felt even the slightest of qualms at this transition, never wavering in his belief that the Flame Colonel could be trusted with the responsibility.
The young man's rage flared white-hot. What the hell had Roy been up to? For Edward to unexpectedly show up and catch his lover with someone else seemed to indicate that Roy did this often. It was too much of a coincidence for Al to believe that Ed should discover Roy's betrayal the one and only time Roy strayed. How many times had the smug bastard cheated on his unsuspecting lover? Yes, the older man had appeared to be overcome with regret, but was the regret for his actions, or for getting caught? The younger alchemist's fists clenched as he wrestled with his self control, shocked at his uncharacteristic urge to go find the older man and simply beat the living shit out of him.
Alphonse found himself in front of Central Headquarters' main gate. Looking up at the imposing white tower bleached in moonlight, he was greatly relieved to see a familiar figure slip from the shadows of the columned entryway and walk slowly down the steps. Alphonse waited quietly as his brother made his way to the main gate, looking pale and tired. Al's anger surged again, seeing the dazed, confused, defeated look in his brother's eyes.
Without a word, he led Edward home, where Winry waited with warm camomile tea and a comforting hug. Then she took Alphonse firmly by the hand and pulled him to their bedroom. Tugging off his clothes, she gently pushed him onto the bed, then lay down as well to wrap her angry husband in her arms.
It took him a long time to fall asleep.
The next morning found Edward sitting at the kitchen table in much the same position that Alphonse had left him the night before, and he wondered if Ed had slept at all. The breakfast Winry had set in front of him was largely untouched, and Alphonse didn't really feel much like eating either, but he forced himself to eat anyway. Winry manoeuvred quietly around the small kitchen, keeping an unobtrusive eye on both brothers as she went about her business.
The telephone rang and Alphonse went to answer it. It was an automail client who didn't seem to understand that Winry was in no condition to do heavy repairs at the moment. It took Al a few minutes to politely but firmly make that clear, and by the time he returned to the table, Edward had left the apartment.
Al didn't have classes on Sundays, so he spent the day with Winry, putting the finishing touches on the nursery, and waiting for Edward to return. As the day wore on and that became less likely, Alphonse' anger became a constant slow simmered just below the surface. Had Edward gone home to get some of his stuff? Had Mustang been there waiting for him? Had the smug, arrogant Colonel turned on the charm and convinced Ed to overlook his transgression?
Day turned into evening, and then into night, and finally the telephone rang.
"Hey Al," Ed said quietly.
"Brother," Al said back, just as quietly. "Where are you?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Al kept his sigh internal. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Yes," Edward said without hesitation.
"Alright," Al said, not believing that it was alright in the least. "Call me tomorrow, will you?"
"I will," Edward said, and the quiet sound of Mustang's voice in the background grated on Alphonse' nerves like chalk squealing on a blackboard. "Goodnight, Al."
Alphonse carefully hung up the phone, scowling.
So. Mustang had managed to talk Edward into taking him back. No surprise there. The conniving Colonel had a tongue so glib he could probably talk a Drachman into buying ice.
But Al wasn't Ed. It would take a lot more than a few sweet words to convince him that Edward wasn't making a mistake by giving the older man a second chance. Roy had an appointment with his lover's younger brother tomorrow, whether he liked it or not.
Al rather looked forward to making sure that Roy did not like it. At all.
Alphonse was in front of the door to Mustang's outer office at 2:15 sharp, right after he'd checked with the librarians to make sure that Edward was inside the First Branch and thoroughly absorbed in his research. Al did not want his brother on hand to interfere when he had it out with Roy. Stepping inside he was met by a chorus of happy greetings from the Colonel's team, and a guarded hello from the commander himself. The young alchemist took a small measure of satisfaction from Mustang's wariness, and from the fact that the man did not look at all surprised to see him.
"We need to talk," Al told him evenly. "I'm sure you know why."
The room was suddenly, uncomfortably silent, Alphonse' veiled enmity somehow telegraphing to the others. Havoc shot Breda a small frown, receiving a quirked eyebrow in return. Furey nervously stepped a little closer to Falman. Hawkeye, always the Flame's most vigilant protector, was immediately on guard, her hand unconsciously twitching towards her holstered weapon, sensing that something was not quite right.
Mustang calmly waved off their concern. "Of course," he said with a slight bow of his head. "Would you like to step into my office?"
"I really don't care where this discussion takes place," Al told him. "I guess you might though. Wouldn't want your staff to find out that you're just a lying, cheating asshole, would you."
Every jaw in the room hit the floor. Every eye went wide. Al wasn't sure if it was because of what he had just revealed, or because of how he had revealed it. He might have been amused if he weren't so angry.
The lying, cheating asshole in question appeared unaffected by Al's assessment of his character. "I prefer not to keep secrets from my staff," Roy said. "As for what happened Saturday night, I am ashamed of myself, and wish I could turn back the clock and undo what I did to your brother, but I can't. I consider myself very fortunate that he has decided to forgive me, and that we can put my mistake behind us and move on."
"That's a very pretty speech," Alphonse observed. "Did you come up with it just now, or have you been rehearsing it all morning?"
Mustang did not take the bait. "I realise you're upset with me Alphonse," he said, eyes very firmly on the younger alchemist's. "And you have every right to be. I'm truly sorry. Beyond apologizing, I can't think of any other way to make amends. If you can, please tell me."
"I can, as a matter of fact," Alphonse said, examining his fingernails, and then clasping his hands together to crack his knuckles. "Perhaps it would be better to discuss this in your office after all."
"That's fine, as long as talking is all you have in mind," the older man said, very deliberately taking off his array stitched pyrotex gloves and laying them on Hawkeye's desk. "I'm certainly not going to fight you Alphonse."
"Really? That's a shame," Al said calmly. "It would be a lot more satisfying for me to kick the shit out of you in mutual combat." The younger alchemist took a menacing step forward, more to intimidate than to actually take a swing at the older man at that point, but the response was dramatic.
Mustang was quick. In one smooth motion he dodged through the door to his inner office, bulldozing Havoc, who was standing in his path, through with him. The door swung closed behind them, locking with a sharp clack. It all happened so fast that no one even had time to blink.
Alphonse stared at the blank panel in front of him incredulously, as did the rest of Roy's staff. Furey leaned out from his position behind a horrified Falman to gape at Alphonse. Breda stood tensely behind his desk, eyes darting from the door to Alphonse, then to Hawkeye, frozen with indecision. The Hawk's stricken gaze was locked on the enraged young alchemist, clearly conflicted about drawing her weapon on the young man she and her comrades had looked out for since he was no more than a child bound to hollow steel.
Stepping up to the locked door, Alphonse hammered it once with his fist. "I never took you for a coward," he growled. "But then again, I never took you for a cheat and a liar either. Live and learn I guess."
The Colonel's response was clear through the sturdy oak. "I'll be happy to open the door and talk to you, man to man, once you calm down," he said. "I'm not going to fight you Alphonse, but I have no intention of sitting still and allowing myself to be beaten to a bloody pulp."
Al didn't dignify that declaration with an answer. He merely reached into his jacket pocket for a stick of chalk and sketched an all-purpose array on the door. The transmutation flared blue-white and the door slammed open, just in time for Al to see Roy's head and shoulders drop out of sight below the windowsill behind his desk. The bastard had jumped out the window! Al charged past a stunned Jean Havoc and leaned out of the third story window to watch Mustang's speedy decent down a hastily transmuted ladder.
With an evil grin Al quickly sketched an array onto the bricks supporting Roy's ladder, pleased to see the older man's eyes widen with understanding as the younger slapped down his hands to activate it. The ladder disintegrated, dropping the older man fifteen feet to land unceremoniously in some handy, decorative shrubbery.
Alphonse wasted no time in transmuting a smooth pipe from the wall, which he promptly used to slide down to the ground. Mustang was still struggling to free himself from the bushes that had cushioned his fall when the younger alchemist grabbed him by the collar of his military jacket and jerked him to his feet.
A moment later, blue jacket dangling empty in his clenched fist, Al watch the Colonel make a somewhat erratic run for it toward the parade ground.
"I'm not fighting you, Alphonse!" the older man shouted over his shoulder.
"We'll see about that," Al muttered under his breath as he dropped the jacket and pulled a stylus from his shirt pocket.
With the ease of someone who had spent his formative years doing combat alchemy for the military, Alphonse used the sharp metal spike to quickly draw a transmutation circle in the muddy soil. If the Colonel thought the parade ground's surface would prevent the younger alchemist from drawing an effective array, he had another thought coming. In fact, he was about to discover the tactical error he had made by running into an open field. Al touched the edge of his array and watched as the directed energy flashed past the fleeing officer.
Roy slammed on his breaks just in time to avoid crashing face first into the solid earthen wall that leaped up in front of him, extending some distance to each side, cutting off his escape. The older man pivoted on a heel and raced off along the transmuted barrier, only to encounter another towering construct suddenly blocking his way. With a graceful agility Alphonse would have admired under different circumstances, Mustang used the angle between the two walls and the assortment of exposed roots to scramble to the top and over, dropping out of sight.
Alphonse trotted over to the transmuted barrier and quickly levelled it, sighing at the sight of the Colonel's diminishing figure. Cornering Mustang was turning into a much bigger challenge than Al had initially anticipated. Who could have guessed that beneath that lazy, desk bound, procrastinating exterior there lurked an escape artist as slippery as an eel? Such an impressive skill set had to be the result of all those years spent dodging Hawkeye's unique brand of high calibre motivation.
Mustang was heading into the rabbit warren of enlisted barracks. The collection of small, crackerbox buildings was a nightmare of crisscrossing walkways and sudden dead ends. Doubtless Mustang was familiar with the many ways in to and out of that section of the base, otherwise the cunning Colonel would not have chanced running in there.
Alphonse considered his options. The north exits were all quite a distance from the base's main gates, close enough together for convenient surveillance, and were confined by the perimeter wall, so Mustang probably wouldn't make for any of those. The eastern approach was closest to the library annex, but Alphonse was reasonably certain that the older man would not want to involve Edward in this, so the Colonel would probably avoid that area as well. The older man might choose to hide just inside the southern sector in hopes that Alphonse would leave, but the young man didn't think he would. The Colonel was a man of action, and cowering in the shadows just wasn't his style. That left the western quarter, with multiple exits into the large assortment of military warehouses just beyond. If the Flame managed to make his escape into that subdivision, Alphonse would have to give up the chase. There was far too much cover in there to make running the man down feasible. Alphonse had to make sure he caught the man before he left the barracks area.
The young alchemist headed west at a fast trot. Mustang had to maneuver through a lot of twisting lanes and alleys to get where he was going, which actually made taking the long way around faster. Fortunately it was quiet in the barracks this early in the afternoon, so Al had no trouble setting his trap. The phoney trip arrays he placed to block four of the five western access ways were non-functional but convincing, and while they would be an inconsequential oddity to any randomly passing soldier, they would put Mustang on his guard. He would likely err on the side of caution and choose to avoid them, which would unobtrusively steer him directly to Alphonse.
Hidden in the shadows between two closely positioned barracks, Alphonse kept watch on the narrow alley and counted the minutes. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, then twenty. Nearly twenty-five minutes after losing sight of the man, and just as the blond alchemist was beginning to fear that he had misjudged his prey, Mustang suddenly came into view. He was moving quickly, but carefully scanning the ground in front of him and the shadows around him, no doubt searching for alchemical trips and traps. The crackle of Al's transmutation startled the older man and he wheeled around to run back the way he had come, but it was too late. A freshly transmuted wall blocked his path. Alphonse stepped out of the shadows behind him.
Mustang turned, unsurprised to find Alphonse walking toward him. His back to the wall, the older man's shoulders slumped, then squared. His chin came up, and though his fists clenched, they remained firmly at his sides. Teeth gritted, the Colonel prepared to face the inevitable.
Alphonse strolled up, removing his watch and slipping it into his pants pocket. He took off his jacket and draped it over a railing. Then he rolled up his shirtsleeves, cracked his knuckles, and advanced purposefully on his brother's cheating lover.
When the fist flew out to connect with the wall a hair's breadth away from his face, Mustang neither cringed nor flinched.
"He loves you." Al glowered, eyes locked on the older man's.
"I know." Roy faced that glare, unwavering.
"You hurt him."
"I don't know if this was the first time you cheated on him or not, but it had better be the last. Because if it happens again, I will not hesitate to kick your ass. Whether you fight back or not."
"I understand. You have nothing to worry about on that score."
"That's what I used to think. I don't anymore. I trusted you. Now I no longer believe you can be trusted. Prove me wrong."
Alphonse turned, picked up his jacket, and walked away.
Sitting in the kitchen, examining his bruised and bloodied knuckles, Alphonse quietly waited for his wife to speak her mind. He knew she would eventually. Her disapproval was quite evident despite her fond glances. Reaching into the freezer she pulled out the ice tray and brought it to the table.
"Ed's an adult you know," Winry said as she wrapped cracked ice in a towel. "He doesn't need you rushing in to defend his honour."
"I know." Al accepted the icepack and laid it gingerly over the back of his swollen hand. "But I just couldn't let Mustang get away with what he did."
"He didn't get away with anything. Ed forgave him. He gave him the benefit of the doubt." Winry filled the ice cube tray with water and placed it back in the icebox.
Al snorted. "Yeah, well it's the doubt that worries me. Ed let him off too easily. I just wanted to let the bastard know that. And to make it clear that it had better not happen again, or he'd be sorry."
"He's already sorry," Winry said softly, giving he husband's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I knew you wouldn't be able to beat him up."
"How could I? He wasn't lifting a finger to defend himself!" Al snapped, clearly outraged. "He took off his gloves! He jumped out a third floor window! He did everything he could to avoid fighting me, and then when I had him cornered, he just stood there, ready to take it!"
Winry smiled her most superior, infuriating smile. "That's how I know he's really sorry. I knew he wouldn't fight you. He couldn't."
Alphonse gritted his teeth and adjusted the ice pack on his aching knuckles as his wife moved around the small kitchen. Supper was simmering on the stove, the wholesome aroma of the stew easing Al's lingering irritation by slow degrees. Finally he was able to relax with a sigh.
"Okay, Mrs. Know It All," he said grudgingly. "I'll take your word for it."
"Wise decision," she replied with a chuckle.
"But that bastard had better watch his step from now on!" Al growled, suddenly angry again. "Or I'll hunt him down and make him wish . . ."
Winry burst out laughing. "Holy smokes Al! Who's the pregnant one around here? I swear you're more hormonal than I am!"
Al rolled his eyes, and took a few calming breaths. He was not being hormonal!
Winry carefully settled into the chair across from her husband, patting her bulging abdomen affectionately. "Just wait until this little one makes their grand entrance. I have a feeling you're going to make Maes Hughes' obsessive, overprotective father routine look positively apathetic by comparison."
Alphonse snorted. Now his wife's teasing was bordering on the ridiculous. He was not the overprotective type. And obsessive? He was nothing like Maes Hughes! He didn't even own a camera!
. . . but now that he thought about it, getting one sounded like a great idea.