A/N: So here's at least the first half of the Ginormous Nearly-Every-Pairing-in-the-Canon missing scene fic that really set off my FMA bunnies for one big Last Huzzah. I'm marking it as complete, because I've got enough other things I'm working on, including the Scar-centric double-feature that ties into this, "Red Eyed Brother." I know I own nothing, fortunately, since Al's second-to-last line applies to me, too, except one should really substitute "him" with "the entire cast" to be entirely accurate... As you wish.
"Remind me again how you convinced us to follow you out into this sandy hellhole, Al." Ed shook his automail leg. It was burning hot, and it felt like he'd gotten sand in the motor again. Winry would probably kill them both if she weren't wilting under the desert sun, too.
Alphonse, of course, was barely breaking a sweat, his sun-bleached hair and devilish grin shining as brightly as his armor once had. "Quit whining, Brother. You'll love it, once we get there. And it was interesting to see how far along the Ishval train station is coming, too."
"Scar looked well," Winry murmured softly with an expressionless face, twirling her parasol. It produced a little breeze that way, but not nearly enough to cool the burning metal attached to Edward's thigh. All this heat couldn't be good for her and the baby, and she was under enough stress without adding any other worries.
The elder brother simply grunted in acknowledgment. Ed had hoped that this vacation would be a calming change of pace, but seeing her parents' killer didn't exactly seem like the most soothing way for Winry Rockbell-Elric to spend some time away from her automail shop. She acted as if she'd more or less forgiven the man (well, not really - there was too much distance and a chill that reminded Ed of Briggs in their interactions to count as true forgiveness, but there wasn't that empty burn in her eyes behind the sadness anymore,) and moved on, but Ed's wife had been entirely too deep in thought for his liking.
"Yeah..." Al, too, sounded a little worried. "Are you sure you don't want me to try to transmute a fan or something for you, Winry? You look a little tired." Sure, now Al would offer. Of course, it was hard to make something large enough to be useful and small enough to be carried. They only had to walk a little way from the end of the line to meet the camels to Xing, but the unofficial train station had been bad enough, only a temporary shelter for the workers expanding the eastbound track into the featureless desert. This hardly seemed worth it.
Winry shook her head, unconsciously putting her free hand to her womb under her brother-in-law's gaze. "I'll be okay, Al." She was barely beginning to show, but Ed's heart beat a little faster whenever she did that. Whatever percentage of their lives they had promised one another, - fifty, a hundred, eighty, five hundred and three percent - another great chunk of his life was going to be dedicated to this little one growing within her. Already Edward Elric was beginning to understand the worry that had driven his father to offer his life in exchange for Al's - hell, Ed was almost beginning to understand Hughes. Well, there was nothing really wrong with another way to annoy Mustang... He might yet make Brigadier Bastard wish he'd stayed blind.
Roy Mustang could probably fix that if he came out here for a while longer. If the heat didn't set Edward's leg afire, the glare rising from the closer dunes would probably blind him as well as the worst of the Flame Alchemist's fireballs. Ed tried to keep pace with Winry, but the damn nerve endings in his automail were shot to hell and his balance was off and Al threatened to leave them in the blasted wasteland with that pace and "Why the hell are the camels so far from the station?" Ed grumbled.
"The construction scares them, especially when they use alchemy," Al explained patiently, as he had the last five times his brother had brought it up.
"There have got to be some better-trained camels. You're buddies with the emperor; you'd think Ling could send somebody to meet us." There had to be an inch of sand in both boots now. Ed could feel it grinding into the cracks in his feet, rubbing living toes to burnt blisters and automail ones to unbending scrap-metal. Much more of the abrasive microscopic rock in there and he'd be taller than Al.
The younger, tanned (Ed's skin peeled and itched just looking at him) brother gave his best forbearing smile. "He's got a lot of people attending this anniversary, and we didn't know when we'd get there, much less them."
"You'd think that Mei would try to meet us, at least," Winry added, cracking a little smile of her own. Al blushed beneath his tan.
"Well, um, she is Ling's favorite sister," Alphonse replied in a much less serene rush, rubbing at his short hair. "She's got princessly duties to attend."
Ed smirked at his brother's improvised word. "If she's going to be so damn busy with her princess stuff, why are we even bothering to show up?"
"All the food we can eat. On Ling's bill." Now Al was speaking his language.
"Sounds like a plan." He felt grit between his palms as his rubbed them together, but that only added to the pleasure of the anticipation. Although he was no longer eating for his little brother's body as well, Ed could still put away a very respectable amount of food, and Al was no slouch, either, as the younger Elric slowly regained his atrophied muscle mass to transmute himself into a bruiser nearly as big as he was tall. Alphonse was no Alex Armstrong, but he'd be the equal of their father, at least. And then there was Winry and the baby, too...
Al laughed and shook his head. "You're going to be his least favorite brother-in-law, you know."
"What?" Suddenly, the beating sun and grinding sand didn't matter so much.
"Alphonse!" Winry hugged her brother-in-law, dropping the parasol as she threw her arms around his neck.
"Look, I know that these crazy emperors have a history of taking more than one wife, but I've got enough with just Winry and the baby and, -"
"Edward," his wife cut him off, whacking him lightly with her retrieved light cloth umbrella. At least it wasn't a wrench. Part of him worried about how much longer she'd be able to bend over without trouble to retrieve things like that, though the old dent in his forehead looked forward to it.
"Oh," Ed said, lowering his arm and adding up Al's bashful cheeks, beatific grin, and proud posture.
"So did you ask her yet?" Winry pulled an Elric brother under each arm, bringing them under the shade of her rapidly twirling parasol and into what would otherwise be uncomfortably sweaty togetherness.
Al shook his head, his eyes focused on the hazy mirage of the camels awaiting them at the next oasis. Ed thought the animals were actually there this time, but the smell might just be him and his brother. "It's going to be a big celebration. Her whole clan's going to be there, as well as the emperor and Ran Fan. I was kinda hoping that the whole family could be there."
"Just a hint from someone who knows: don't factor equivalent exchange into the conversation," Ed warned him, clasping a hand to his brother's nearest shoulder and pulling Winry a little closer into the crook of his arm.
The younger Elric laughed, turning golden eyes to his siblings, at last. "I don't think anyone can outdo you for awkward proposals, from what Winry's told us."
"It was memorable," the woman between them playfully defended her husband.
While this was no real blow to his pride, Ed couldn't let them get away that easily. "Memorable?" he huffed.
Winry kissed his cheek. "It was the second most romantic thing an alchemy nerd has ever said to me. You even got to include your obsession, so I know how much you meant it."
It was the elder brother's turn to examine his sandy boots. "I'm not obsessed," Ed mumbled. Yes, he still missed his abilities, especially when it was this hot, but he had learned to appreciate other things. Like traveling... in Creta and Aerugo, where there was at least some shade and cool water to escape to when it got this hot. And Alphonse, always Alphonse - if he had to do it again, he'd sacrifice so much more than his alchemy in the desert to see his little brother blushing and laughing in the heat, gripping his shoulder with a sweat-scented soft palm, his open grin and crinkled golden eyes gleaming as he compared past pleasures to those yet to come. And then there was Winry. She went with him on more trips, these days, whenever she could get away from the clinic. Between word of mouth from Resembool and Rush Valley, she had gotten to the point where she could almost find customers wherever they traveled now, too.
"What was the most romantic thing you ever heard from an alchemist, gearhead dork?" he asked her, releasing Al's shoulder to ruffle her hair. Just because he was going to be a father soon didn't mean that he couldn't sink to the occasional bout of childishness.
"Well, it came in two parts, actually, but the second part was 'We're home.'" Ed pulled her closer for a kiss. Her hair smelled like sunshine, and in its light, he could bask all day.
"So I guess all that's left are the generals now, huh, Al?" Winry elbowed her brother-in-law suggestively, her arm wrapped firmly around her husband.
"Provided that Mei and Ling and the Chan clan agree." Al tried to circumscribe her enthusiasm quickly.
Ed tapped his brother's warning palm with a supportive fist. "You don't have anything to worry about. They've been expecting you to propose to her since you first visited Xing. However, if you really intend to set up Roy Mustang and Olivia Armstrong, Winry, I won't survive the first date."
"Not with each other!" Winry laughed. "Furher Grumman is Hawkeye's grandfather and would surely support her happiness, and Scar seemed interested in visiting the north again with Major Miles's family once the train station is fully operational..."
"No," her husband breathed in awe. "You don't think... Mustang will flip." Ed couldn't entirely repress an evil laugh.
"You take entirely too much joy in torturing him." Al rolled his eyes, though he was grinning, too, and Edward didn't think it was just because of the rather underfed-looking camels awaiting them just ahead.
"You heard nothing incriminating from me," Winry said innocently, waving her parasol in greeting at the camel drivers. "Scar and the major are good friends now, and there are surely other reasons to visit the north..." If one was going for extremes in temperature, for instance, rapid transit between Briggs and Ishval would be a sadist's dream come true.
"Yes, we do have to worry that Armstrong will pull him out of Mustang's territory, completely..." Ed pretended not to have heard them. The former State Alchemist clasped his hands before his mouth, furrowing his brow as he plotted.
"Or maybe she'll come down to Ishval," Alphonse suggested sarcastically as he waved them off, giving up on the pair and leaving to haggle with the drivers, instead. Al could practically guide them across the whole desert himself these days, but it was just common sense to hire a man who knew the camels as well as the route. Besides, the drivers would want to protect their investment in the spitting, scrawny, ill-smelling beasts.
Ed took him half-seriously. "She probably would like to expand her territory, and if Mustang marries the Fuhrer's granddaughter, she'll need a leg up, too..."
"Well, it's not like we have an empire like Xing's. There's no telling which of the generals will end up as Fuhrer Grumman's eventual heir, even if General Mustang is related." Winry picked up her husband's mischievous streak and ran with it as they waited for Al to select his choice of camels. Ed knew there was a reason he loved this woman so much. "The two of them do seem to enjoy getting in their little digs at one another as they prove themselves worthy, though."
"Can anyone really resist taking a shot at Mustang, though? He's just such an easy target." Ed was tempted to shake some of the sand out of his boots, but he didn't dare risk revealing his grimy automail until they got to a decent resting point - Winry would probably be tempted to work on it on camel-back if she witnessed the sandy abuse that had been inflicted upon her precious creation.
"For you, at least," Winry informed him with a playful grin shining through those eyes as blue as the cloudless sky.
"What's that supposed to mean?" It took some effort to keep from informing her that Ed was in fact taller than his former superior these days. It had been a balm to the blond's touchy temper to see that even if his baby brother had outgrown him as a man as well as a suit of armor, the colonel who had loved to tease him about his lack of height was now the super-short-midget-runty-little-microscopic-water-flea-grain-of-rice-baby-bean-fleck-of-sand-shrimp when compared to the Elric brothers. Well, maybe Ed exaggerated. It was time for him to be the bigger man, if not always the more mature one. Still, three inches meant that Brigadier Bastard would have to stand on his tiptoes to smirk eye-to-eye at the younger man, now, and damn if Ed didn't enjoy that fact.
"He shows his back to you, Ed. You know all his blind spots." Well, not all of them, but Roy had revealed many of his weaknesses to his onetime protégé. He trusted "Fullmetal," even as they sniped at each other with words and the occasional wild punch or carefully controlled flame. Edward Elric might have surrendered the official title along with his alchemy abilities, but Mustang continued to use it with the same mix of scorn and affection that Ed had applied "Colonel" and now "Brigadier Bastard." It was fitting after all, as close as it was to Ed's usual label for his father.
"Eh." He shrugged Winry's assessment off, not looking her in the eye. He'd just have to watch what he said around his own child. If he were honest, the only man Ed respected more than his two "bastards" was his brother, and it could set his poor kid up for some unfortunate misunderstandings if the young one grew up hearing Daddy's names for dear ol' departed Granddad Hohenhiem or Brigadier-General Mustang and assumed they were universal expressions of regard instead of the strange personal honor that they truly were.
Ed enjoyed needling Mustang. He always would. He still thought the man would make a damn good Fuhrer, when the time came.
"Of course, you think that Mustang and Hawkeye would have done something by now. They've been serving together practically forever, yet they keep acting as if they're waiting for an excuse." Not unlike another general and subordinate Ed had once known…
Until that time for Roy Mustang came, Ed would be quite happy to help Major-General Armstrong with her own bid for candidacy. The Ice Queen of Briggs was ruthlessly efficient, ruthlessly fair, ruthlessly looking out for her people - not a woman that Ed could ever feel close enough with to purposely annoy, but certainly one he felt he could trust to keep Mustang honest, and even give Roy a good run for the title and overall leadership of the country, as well. Still, just because he saw a few reassuring similarities in both of the Fuhrer's hand-picked successors didn't meant that Ed hadn't noticed a couple worrying trends, as well.
It was his duty as Fullmetal to exasperate the ever-burning crap out of Mustang, and Ed didn't appreciate competition for whittling away at the Brigadier's sanity from the man himself. As a young alchemist, he had been completely blind about his mechanic for years and yet even he had noticed when certain couples lied to themselves in an effort to avoid breaking the fraternization laws. Were all the higher-ups prone to all-but-publicly-acknowledged but maddeningly unfulfilled romances or was it just the ones Edward had been around?
"From what I know about marrying an alchemist, you can't just push these things on them, Ed. You know how much Mr. Hughes and Mrs. Gracia tried, and I wouldn't be surprised if others had mentioned it, too." Yes, if Maes Hughes had lived to see how infuriatingly correct he'd been on any number of subjects, he'd probably keel over from pure self-congratulatory satisfaction. Colonel Hawkeye herself had been wearing a very inscrutable smile as she served them tea the first time Ed and Winry had visited her as an engaged couple. She'd also been very careful to keep the puppies out from underfoot the whole visit, even though she knew they both loved dogs. "He'll have to find his own way to say it, and she'll probably have to read between the lines to know what he's asking."
"Follow me." All of Mustang's dogs, even the retired, broken Lieutenant Havoc and stray, rebellious Major Elric had gotten that message.
"To hell and back, sir." All of them had agreed to continue working towards that silly dream, after their own fashion, but there was one response that had gotten back to Mustang the quickest, one that been the firmest, one that brought the speaker back to Eastern Command and on the occasional road trip to Ishval and even Xing to supervise that expanding dream directly.
"Hell, she's got her own indoctrinated response, from what I've seen," Ed muttered, making his wife smile wider. Or maybe that was just Al coming back with the camels. Even if it meant a swaying, bumpy ride all the way to Xing, it would be nice to get off their feet.
Winry took his hand, running metalwork-strengthened fingers across his wedding band. "You and I, and Mei and Al, we're the lucky ones, Ed." In this respect Ed couldn't agree more.
"I'm sorry, I can't wait for you anymore. I have to go first." Even with an unconditional promise to follow, there had to be something better than that. Yes, Ed, Winry, Al and Mei were lucky indeed.