To Breed a War

Author– D M Evans

Disclaimer– not in any way mine

Rating - frt

Characters– ensemble, Roy/Riza, Ed/Winry

Spoilers/timeline– future fic so spoilers all the way up to 108

Summary All he wanted was a peaceful life but he's not likely to get it.

Author's Note #1 this is for Help_haiti (on livejournal) for Floranna who wanted blind!Roy. Five years in future, parings Riza/Roy and Ed/Win in the background. Angst in the way you do your angst but in the end somehow hopeful quality. Roy should have dealt with his blindness and won't angst about that. The angsting for what it is you can choose. And of course completely in mangaverse.

Author's Note #2 thanks to SJ Smith for the beta. There will be a bit of blindness angst but it won't be the main gut wrenching stuff. I have two blind friends, one who went blind from an accident and another who slowly went blind. Let's just say I didn't think I could do Roy realistically without him thinking on his limitations from time to time, based on what I see those two brave ladies going through.

Author's Note #3 This was started before eppy 108 rolled around so there are several AU elements. Obviously from the prompt, Roy didn't regain his sight. Also in this, Ed didn't get back his arm or lose his alchemy and Grumman isn't Fuhrer.

"It needs but one foe to breed a war, and those who have not swords can still die upon them."- J.R.R. Tolkien

XXX

A heart-rending shriek shattered the tranquility of the house. Roy set aside his tea cup, canting his head toward the secondary crib set up in the corner of his library to make it easier on him when Riza was away. "Alphonse, could you please check on Christopher for me?" He offered up a smile for the young alchemist. Together, they had been working on a book of healing alchemy; their time together based mainly around Alphonse's medical school class schedule. Roy knew he should feel guilty about taking advantage of Al's easygoing nature, but the boy honestly seemed entranced by the newborn. He wanted to help, unlike Edward, who avoided the baby as if pregnancy was contagious.

"Sure."

Roy heard Al pop up and head for the distressed infant. He might not be able to see what was wrong with his son but Roy could smell it. All the more reason to send Alphonse to tend to the baby's needs. Roy could change diapers. He'd learned to do most things in the handful of years since he was robbed of his sight. In his own house, Roy barely needed his cane, let alone Winter who dozed, half crushing Hayate, according to Alphonse. He had made his peace with his blindness. He still felt robbed but he had been given something in return: the ability to do alchemy without a circle. That said, Roy really didn't want to change dirty diapers and he knew that was awful of him.

Listening to Alphonse cooing to Chris, Roy turned back to his green tea, brewed perfectly this time. Alphonse was learning. While Alphonse bustled about, gathering up stuff to change the baby, Roy contemplated their current field of research. Maybe one day soon, Havoc would walk again and he would see. Spinal cords, optic nerves, surely they could be fixed somehow. Sipping tea and twisting the thorny problem around in his mind, Roy waited for the inevitable. Al had never faced a poopy diaper before.

A retching sound reached Roy's ears and he couldn't contain the smirk. Al gagged several times more. "You okay, Alphonse?"

"Oh god, it's everywhere!" Al cried. "It's on my fingers."

Roy clamped a hand over his mouth, trying not to snicker. He knew how fussy Al was. The boy helped him develop newer, neater habits – since both Roy and Riza were not naturally neat – to help Roy from falling over things he could no longer see. Roy sucked in a calming breath. "Yes, that happens. Thanks, Al. Just take the diaper to the toilet and flush a few times while you hold the corner then toss it in the diaper hamper."

Al gagged some more. Chris squealed like he did whenever his diaper came off. Roy's son liked to be free and natural as far as his father could tell. A soft whoosh sounded followed by the smell of talc.

"When you're done with the diaper, could you get Chris his bottle? It's about meal time."

"What? So he can turn milk into this?" Al snarled. "I don't think so."

When he heard Al stomp out of the room, taking the fragrant square of cotton with him, and the young alchemist hadn't handed him Christopher, Roy assumed he had put the baby back in his crib. Roy got up and headed for the kitchen. He carefully felt along the inside of the ice box until he came up with the slick, cool glass milk bottle. Roy knew where the pans were. The tricky part was heating up the milk and formula mixture without burning it. He couldn't see the little bubbles forming.

"Roy, I was kidding," Al said from the doorway. "I'll heat up the baby's bottle."

"You watch the milk. I'll get the bottle." Roy opened the cabinet that held the glass bottles. He got one and put it in a pan of water to warm. "Thanks. You're going to be a good father some day, Al, better than I am," Roy said, a wistful tone to his voice.

"You're a fine father, Roy. You just have a couple of limitations," Al countered.

"I can't see my child. I won't be able to keep track of him once Chris is mobile and it hurts to hold him sometimes." Roy flexed his hands. Marcoh had healed them, but his hands were plagued with residual pain and stiffness some days. "That's more than a few limitations."

"Still, it could be far worse."

Roy shrugged. That was true. He and Riza both had nearly died. "Tell me something funny before I get maudlin."

"Go get situated with your son and I'll bring the milk. I have a great story for you."

"I'm looking forward to it."

Heading into the living room this time, Roy scooped up his son and sat on the couch with him. It was easier to sit somewhere roomier for feeding time. Where the hell had he put the burp rag? He called to Al to fetch him one. Chris squirmed in his arms. Roy stroked his son's forehead, so soft, so new. He let Chris's little finger close over one of his. There was such surprising strength in them. He couldn't see his child, but Roy knew the boy was strong. Chris smelled of talcum powder and milk and he was getting heavier by the day. These were sensations not lost to Roy.

He shifted his hand to Chris's crown, smoothing out the baby's silky hair. The kid had been born with so much of it. His men joked Chris could sport Fullmetal's braid if the baby wanted to, an exaggeration, of course, but amusing. Roy knew his son had walnut-hue hair and had his mother's brown eyes. Riza told Roy every night how beautiful their boy was, but he had to wonder, if, in fact, Chris looked just like every other baby. Roy never knew how nursery nurses told newborns apart without looking at the tags on their wrists.

"Here you go, Roy." Al sat down next to Roy, handing him the bottle. "I already tested the milk. It's fine," he added, draping the burp rag over Roy's shoulder.

"Thanks, Al." Using the pinkie finger of the hand holding the bottle, Roy guided the rubber nipple into place. Chris was generally a huge help, latching on with greed hitherto unknown to mankind, unless in homunculus form.

"So, story, last weekend Ed tried to take Winry dancing," Al said.

"I do remember him being exceptionally grumpy. What did he do?" Roy smirked. "Fall on her?"

"Never even got the chance. You know my brother's sense of style."

"As abysmal as Maes's ever was but on the opposite end of the spectrum. Maes made you long for a black and white world."

"And Ed thinks black trousers and a black pull over shirt are the answer for everything. At least he put on his black jacket," Al said.

"So he looked like a badly dressed mortician."

Al snorted. "I tried to warn Ed. He informed me in no uncertain terms that Winry liked him no matter what he dressed in. I didn't bother to correct him after that."

"He didn't get past the bouncer, did he?" Roy laughed, making Chris lose his seal on the bottle. The infant wailed until Roy plugged his mouth with the nipple. Chris sucked noisily.

"Nope." Al snickered. "They wouldn't let him in without a proper hat and tie. He tried to transmute one of Winry's hair ribbons into a tie then got into an argument about the hat."

"He didn't want to squash his antenna," Roy said and Al howled.

"A moot point since Winry beat it into oblivion with her purse. She had to settle for going to the movies."

"Al, take that boy shopping. Make him see a tailor," Roy implored. "Assure him that suits come in black if that's what he wants."

"He won't go with me. He says I'm fussy. You take him." Al's tone left no doubt he was rolling his eyes at his brother.

"I can't see what he's buying."

"Blind, you'd do a better job than Ed does when left to his own devices."

"I'll have Riza talk to Winry about places Ed can go to shop and let Winry take him." Roy felt Chris push against his bottle. "How's Chris doing with his bottle, Al? He's starting to fight it."

"Almost done but I think he's losing interest," Al replied.

"Chris not interested in food? Who knew that could happen?"

"Here, I'll take care of the bottle while you burp him." Al took the glassware out of Roy's hands.

Roy put his son on his burp rag guarded shoulder, patting the baby's back. Chris let out a burp that could be heard all the way to Drachma. "Thanks, son. Now I'm deaf as well as blind."

"No wonder he was done eating. He was one giant gas balloon," Al said, coming back into the living room.

"Al, is it about time for me to head to The Fat Lady's Arms?" Roy had a grandfather clock but when he got engrossed in his studies, he never paid heed to the number of bongs.

"You have an hour."

"I wanted to walk if you were coming, that is."

"I'll walk with you. Ed wanted to get dinner tonight. We might as well eat there. Your mom makes some great browned chicken soup."

"Says it was Granny's recipes. Christmas is not much of an inventive cook. Heaven help her if she loses Granny's cook book."

"Let me give Ed and Winry a call. You don't mind us joining you and Riza for dinner, do you?"

"Not if you don't mind dinner with Chris the Cranky."

"Aw, he's a good baby."

"I meant my mom." Roy smirked.

"I'm telling her you said that."

Roy flinched. "Don't. She'll hit me and I can't see it coming."

"Like I tell Ed, if you keep asking for it, I can't feel sorry for you."

"You're a harsh master, Alphonse."

"I'll go hook up Winter's harness for you."

"I want to push the stroller," Roy protested.

"And how do you plan on guiding it? Tie your seeing eye dog to the front?"

Roy huffed. "You can help guide."

Al sighed. 'Fine, but I'm hooking up Winter anyhow."

Roy put Chris in his stroller, found a clean bottle and nipple and put them in the smaller bag. He sat that bag next to the diaper bag just in case Riza was late and the boy got hungry again. Babies needed so much junk just to travel. It amazed Roy. He hadn't any idea. Maes had glazed over those details and, by the time Roy was old enough to really understand all that was going on with his sisters' babies, he had already been shipped off to Hawkeye's for his apprenticeship.

"Are you sure you won't just take Winter's harness?" Al sounded worn out. "I won't be responsible if Riza sees you doing something foolhardy."

"I'm blind, Al, not helpless."

"You shouldn't even be that." The bitterness in Al's tone threatened to wake the sleeping dragon inside Roy's head, the one that made Roy parse through all his anger and regrets until he was in a fine frenzy.

"Even so. I'll let you get the stroller outside. Give me the dogs until we're out on the sidewalk."

Once they were on their way to the Arms, Roy could feel the setting sun on his face. Al had the front of the stroller acting as a guide and walking the dogs at the same time. Roy had to keep urging him to go just a little faster. He could walk at a normal speed so long as he had a guide outside of the house.

"Roy, are you really sure you want to push the stroller with me guiding?"

"Alphonse, I can use my flame alchemy with Riza guiding me. Pushing a stroller down the sidewalk is a hell of a lot easier," Roy protested and the younger alchemist snorted at him. "How are things going with Ed, his inability to go on a successful date aside? Last time I saw him, he was fighting with Winry over him not wanting to take her to Xing the next time he goes."

"She said, and I quote, 'Fine, then I'll ask Ling to let me come so I can work on Ran Fan's automail and then Ling can make me his wife'."

"Edward is his own worst enemy. I almost feel sorry for him."

"Fighting is like breathing to those two then they make up." Al hesitated and Roy could imagine the scowl. "Loudly. I'm getting my own apartment. I don't care what Ed says."

"Our place has a huge and unused third floor, Alphonse. You could stay there."

"I can't imagine you're any less loud."

Roy could imagine the annoyed look he was doubtless getting. "Well, no, but I'm not swinging from the chandeliers any more either."

"That was a most unwelcome mental imagine, Roy," Al replied and Roy snorted. "You just want a live-in babysitter and diaper changer."

"That apparent?"

"What do you think?" Al sighed then yanked the stroller away from some broken side walk. "I'm fairly sure Winry will be going to Xing. Eventually, Brother will yield to her."

"A smart man usually will. I'm hoping some more ambassadors from Xing will come here. I'm getting bored."

"Don't say that. You'll jinx yourself and we'll get overrun with Xingese with dire problems," Al scolded.

Roy snorted. "You don't really believe in jinxes, do you, Alphonse?"

"Not necessarily but I do believe in being careful of what you wish for."

Roy really couldn't argue that. Stumbling a little over some uneven sidewalk, he was thankful Al didn't call him on that. He could smell the booze and food the moment they turned onto Spanker Lane. His mother's new bar was the crown jewel of the row but there were a few other bars in the area, each and every one popular with both civilians and the military.

Roy had his mother describe the bar to him after she bought it with his money, the least he could do after blowing up her other place. He knew the façade curved around the corner and the imposing building was four stories of red brick, sandstone and granite. Inside the place was huge with intricately carved wood, stained and leaded glass and an immense fireplace that he was still in charge of lighting whenever the need arose.

He had familiarized himself with the bar area so he didn't really need his cane to get around. He could even tend bar since his sisters were draconian about keeping all the liquor bottles in order and he had that order memorized. Sometimes he helped out to alleviate the boredom.

He had lost the battle to go to Xing as the ambassador – for the time being, at any rate – so he had to wait on Xingese ambassadors to make their way west. His other duties included composing letters and propositions to send to Xing, slow work since the railroad wouldn't be fully reestablished for at least another year. It had taken months to both recall his mother's native alphabet and to learn to touch type in Xingese on the typewriter he'd been gifted from Auntie Yin, his mother's best friend from way back in the day when his mom was young. Yin read over his missives to be sure they were right and the old lady loved having a little governmental supplemental pay to add to her tea house earnings. The only other thing left to him in his job was keeping up a presence in the small Xing quarter in Central.

"Here, Al, you'd better give me Winter and take the stroller, just in case Riza's in there."

"Covering for you again, am I?"

"You're so good at it." Roy exchanged the handle of the stroller for that of his dog's harness. He could imagine the looks Al and Winter were giving him. His dog hesitated after a few steps so Roy put out a hand, fumbling for the door knob. He held the door open for Al and the baby. Roy didn't hear many voices in the bar.

"Slow afternoon?"

"We're between lunch and dinner," a feminine voice answered him.

"You're as beautiful as ever, Susan."

"Like you'd know, Roy Boy. I could be behind this bar naked for all you know."

"Nonsense. If you were naked, this place would be swarming and Al would be panting and shoving my son at me so he could get behind that bar."

She snorted at him. "Let's have a look at that baby."

Al pushed the stroller forward.

"Roy, are you making Alphonse do all your work for you again?"

Hearing Riza behind him, Roy turned. "No."

"Just the diaper changes and anything else he doesn't want to do," Al offered as Susan cooed at Chris.

"You're too nice, Alphonse," Riza said, slapping Roy's arm.

"I'm blind. I can't see if the baby is clean," Roy protested.

"You have fingers."

"I'm not using my fingers. Being blind needs some kind of benefit. Not having to clean a poopy bottom is it." Roy made his way to the bar. "I'm not too proud to admit I need help occasionally."

"Yes, and as Al observed, it's usually with things you don't want to do in the first place," Riza said wryly. She pressed her lips to his cheek.

"Nothing's changed," Chris said. Roy heard her heavy footfalls as she came into the room. "His father was the same way and had just enough charm to get away with it, too. I'm not sure Asher ever changed your diapers either, Roy." She sat next to him. "Poor Dai-Yue had to do all the dirty work. Men."

"Hey, I had no control over Dad." Roy waved a hand at her. "You should have scared him into shape."

"If his wife couldn't, what do you imagine I could have done, son?"

"You're far more terrifying than Mom." Roy shrugged. "We're not all lazy. Al makes a great babysitter."

"Riza, the little one is getting fussy," Susan said.

"I gave Chris a bottle just before we left. He ate most of it but got a little gassy," Roy said. "See, I do, do some things."

"Again, just what you want to do." Riza's tone was light. He could hear her taking their son from Susan. "But it's a help. This little boy is a handful."

"Just like his father and his father before him," Christmas said. "You can use my office, Riza, if you want to feed him."

"I'll put the dogs there, too," Roy said, trying to maneuver the stroller.

Riza took it from him, putting their son it. He let her lead the way while he handled the dogs. He wouldn't need Winter inside the bar and she'd appreciate being off her harness in his aunt's spacious office. He sat next to Riza on the couch, digging in the bag for the burp rag. Somehow he knew she was getting her shirt open one-handed, not entirely sure how women could balance a heavy baby, open their shirts and hold a conversation all at the same time.

"I hope you don't mind I invited Al, Ed and Winry to join us for dinner here." Roy put a hand on Riza's knee. "I didn't think you would."

"I don't mind. I only mind if you invite people to dinner at the house without asking me first."

"Are you kidding? I saw Maes make that mistake once. I thought Gracia was going to spit him on a skewer. I know better." Roy reached over, touching his son's hair. Chris nursed loudly as if he hadn't seen food in days. "I think we should have taken the young emperor's suggestion and given Chris the middle name of Ling."

"Because he's so greedy?" Riza laughed. "We probably should have, even if Ling no longer has Greed living inside him."

"Chris Ling might have had a better ring than Chris Feng but since that was Granddad's name." Roy shrugged. "Though I wonder if Dad would be disappointed we didn't name him Asher."

"I think he'd be pretty happy you chose your aunt's name for our son. She did raise you and it's far better than my father's name so, it's good."

"So the next boy is Asher Zebulon?" Roy grinned.

"You can leave my father's name entirely out of it. And just how many babies are you planning on?"

"Planning on fleeing if I say six?" Roy laughed.

"You're definitely on your own there."

"Let's get use to having one before we plan on siblings. I'm not much help to you as it is." Roy sighed. "I thought being an alchemist, and already being accustomed to not getting much sleep because I'm embroiled in research, would have helped out with the baby. But there's so little I can do to help at two in the morning when by the time I can get downstairs, get the milk warmed and a bottle ready, you'll have had him fed and both be back to sleep."

"You're a big help, Roy." Riza shifted Chris's weight, managing to get a hand free to rest it on Roy's. "For those middle of the night wake ups when Chris is just being a curious brat and is awake just to be awake. I fully intend to keep handing him off to you if he doesn't need fed or changed."

"I'm fine with that. We can explore together. I'll read from my alchemy books to him, well recite from memory."

"Are you planning on warping our child's brain from the get go?" Riza bumped his hip with hers. "This is why I never wanted to fall in love with an alchemist. You're all obsessed. Find something better to tell our child."

"I'll tell him how he doesn't want to be like his Uncle Ed and give him examples."

How she got a hand free to pinch his side, Roy had no clue. "Roy…"

"What can I do? I can't read children's stories to him, just the ones I can remember. I'm still learning to read Mizu's touch language and I don't think children's stories come in it. I know that alchemy books do not but I have mine memorized. So it's alchemy or stories about Ed."

"Hmm, running away sounds better all the time."

Roy pressed against her, kissing Riza's neck as he slid his arm around her waist. "You wouldn't want to go anywhere without me and you know it."

"Yes, I do." Riza shifted Chris up onto her shoulder to burp him. Roy tried to duck out quickly lest he be deafened or vomited on but Chris snared his hair. Roy eased away much to Chris' boisterous complaints.

"Why does he like my hair so much?"

"He likes what his dad smells like, I guess. Or your hair is a great touch sensation." Riza gently thumped Chris's back. He gave a little burp then quieted. "Let's see if you'll sleep and let Mommy and Daddy have dinner now that you've had yours."

"We could get lucky. If not, maybe I could alchemize the stroller to give it a little more bounce. We could rock it a little while he's at the table. Chris seems to like movement."

"Your daddy is going to spoil you from the start," Riza said, getting up. Roy heard her put Chris in the stroller.

"You and I had crappy childhoods. I want our son to have a better one."

"He could hardly have worse." Riza's breath hitched. "Forget I said that. Shouldn't tempt the universe."

"No, you should not."

Roy let Riza take the stroller back into the dining room. He shut the dogs in the office, grateful they were too well behaved to whine about it. From the loudness in the dining room, Edward had arrived. Roy followed Riza to a table, taking the one seat left.

"Hello Winry, Edward.

"Been bothering my brother all day again, b-a-s-t-a-r-d?"

"Ed, spelling it out is no better than actually saying it," Winry scolded.

"It's not like the baby can spell yet."

"Yes, Riza, those two in the morning 'I'm too curious to sleep' sessions will be filled with don't be like Edward tales of woe." Roy grinned.

Riza sighed. "Let's just order dinner before you two get started."

"Good idea. Susan, why don't you start us with the soup while everyone makes a choice," Chris said. "Roy, Riza, do you want some? Everyone else decided to try it."

"What is it?" Roy asked.

"Oxtail."

"Ooo, with red wine? Yeah, I want that," he replied eagerly. "What else is on the menu tonight?"

"We have lamb with currant and mint sauce," Susan replied. "Lamb's fresh from Resembool. And there's curried chicken as the other main dish. You can have either corn fritters or sugared beets and baked potato or potato marbles."

"Lamb, sugared beets and potato marbles," Roy replied.

"I hope you don't plan on doing what Ed plans on doing with those marbles," Al said.

"If anyone starts flinging food, I'm going for my gun," Riza warned.

"Noted." Roy pouted. "Madam, you're really branching out food-wise here."

"This is a respectable place. I've got a new place opening soon," Chris replied. "Bar only, no food."

Roy turned to his mother. "Since when?"

"I was going to surprise you with it. It's the Plastered Bastard over by the enlisted barracks. You know the strip of bars I mean. Always good to own one dive bar in my business." Chris said.

"Ha, she named it after you, Mustang." Ed snickered.

"Riza, seriously, I know how I'm spending my late nights," Roy grumbled. "Really, Christmas, Plastered Bastard?"

"It seemed to fit," his aunt replied as Susan returned with the fragrant soup.

"It was not named for me," Roy said. "Even if it was." He took a sip of the soup, letting the deep red wine and spices wake up his tongue.

"It definitely was," Ed said then grunted. Roy assumed Winry hit him.

"Winry, how are the last days of your apprenticeship going?" Roy asked.

"I had planned on going to Xing to celebrate and to see if we could make some inroads there. Some other apprentices show an interest in going to Xing and trading ideas," she replied. "But Ed's refusing to take me with him."

"Much like his fashion sense, Edward's sense of romance and adventure is as stunted as his height," Roy said sweetly. Riza kicked his ankle in warning or was that Christmas? Either way, it hurt.

"I'm not rising to the bait," Ed said far too self satisfied with himself, leaving Roy wondering what Winry had said, or more like did, to get Ed to behave.

"You should take Winry to Xing, Edward. I always wanted to see it, maybe meet some of Mom's kin." Roy felt the hand pass in front of him setting down a plate. "Now I can't even see it and appreciate that part of it if I were to go. It's a shame to miss something."

"Exactly. Thank you, Roy," Winry replied and Ed grumbled something. "I still have a few weeks left to go but it's a little scary trying to decide where to set up my practice and how hard it will be."

"I'm sure."

Roy listened to the young people debate back and forth where Winry should set up shop. Riza and Chris, both of them, were uncharacteristically quiet. Roy wondered if they were regretting choices they had made in life or longing for the freedom to make them. Lately fate seemed to be making his choices for him and Roy wasn't sure he was entirely content. He loved his wife and his son. He just wished he could do better by them.

The door to the pub slammed open. Even Roy turned instinctively though he couldn't see if the wind had caught it when a customer came in or if there was a danger. He hated this.

"There you are!" an oddly familiar, Xingese-accented voice said. "Do you know how hard it was to find you?"

"Ling!" Ed cried. "What the hell?"

"Someone is out to kill my entire clan," he said. "I could use your help."

Chapter Two

"What do you mean they're trying to kill you?" It wasn't the first time Roy had asked the question but Ling had claimed he hadn't eaten in days and seemed ready to pass out where he stood until Roy's sisters rescued him with food, lots of food. Roy's patience was fraying fast.

"Just that," Ling finally responded. "There is a faction, Ding Clan, I think, who want to wipe out the Yao Clan and take my throne."

"You have allies," Ed said.

"Some have deserted me. Others are rallying. My cousin, Nuo, is in charge while I'm here. She doesn't want the throne but she does like a good fight." Ling's voice dropped in volume as he added, "She's scary."

"Mei's clan was supporting you. Is she helping Nuo?" Al asked.

"Her clan has been wiped out to the last, including Mei," Ling paused, giving time for the round of surprised, unhappy outcries.

"Oh, no, poor Mei," Winry gasped.

Roy heard Al make a strangled sound then fell eerily silent.

"Her death, her head left in Master's chamber, was the final proof of the seriousness of this threat. Master didn't want to leave but the clan insisted," Ran Fan said, taking a break from eating.

"I know people here so they thought it best I came in person," Ling said. "You're the ambassador, Mr. Mustang, and even if you might be from an enemy clan, you're Amestrian. I doubt you care which clan gets the throne or maybe you do." Another pause before Ling added, "You are Xingese, after all."

"Half. My mother was Feng Clan, but I have no idea where they stand in the political arena."

"Nowhere when it comes to the throne," Ling replied, "Distant offshoots of the Yao Clan."

"Artists," Ran Fan added with a slight hint of distaste.

"We thought since this country is interested in reestablishing ties with mine that it might be possible to get some help." Ling made an angry sound. "I hate asking for help. I'm no longer Greed. Sometimes, I do miss being able to do what a homunculus can. There would be no danger to me then."

Roy remembered all too well the first homunculus – he refused to give it the title 'Father' – pulling the Philosopher Stone out of Ling in a liquidy mass. How the young man survived, no one knew.

"Until some smart enemy decided to find an alchemist capable of hurting a homunculus," Al reminded Ling. "We were able to destroy all the homunculi; even Ran Fan did it without alchemy."

"I've reminded my Master of that often on this trip," Ran Fan's tone was sharp.

"I should put in a call to the president," Riza said. "She'll have to be consulted."

"You can use the phone in my office," Chris said.

"We'll see what we can do," Roy told Ling. "Xing is so far away. We won't be able to move a lot of forces and the Ishbalans won't like it if we cut through their territory en masse. It would have to be a smaller force."

"I was thinking more of a few alchemists," Ling replied after a pause.

"Edward and Alphonse aren't killers, Ling," Roy tapped his fingers on the table. "And I'm not as helpful in a fight as I used to be. My targeting system is down." He smiled wryly.

"Both of them," Riza said. "I can't be there to guide you."

"The baby is yours?" Ling asked.

"His name is Chris," she replied.

"He's cute," Ran Fan said and even Roy turned toward her in surprise. He heard the soft rustle of silk and the movement of a metal shoulder, imagining her shrug. "I like babies."

"I could help," Ed said, "But Mustang's right. You already know that, Ling. I'm not even sure I could help you capture them, knowing you'll kill them afterwards."

"Nor could I," Al replied apologetically.

"Something could be arranged," Ling replied reluctantly.

"We'll need to find a safe house for you while you're here and the Fuhrer is deciding what to do," Roy said.

"Our house has the room," Riza said. Roy assumed she was waiting for the other shoe to drop before making her calls. "Until we find something better. Madam?"

"I'll arrange for appropriate lodgings for them," Chris replied. "Unless the Fuhrer has a better idea."

"For now, I need you to watch our son. I won't take him home with me if there's danger," Riza replied. "It will only be for tonight, just until we find the prince a place to go."

"Chris will be safe with me," Roy's aunt assured them. Roy knew that was true. Chris was well versed in firearms and guile. She hadn't gotten this old, not in her business, without being handy with weapons.

"I'll bring over what you need," Riza said.

"Maybe you should stay with Chris, Riza," Roy said.

"I'm not leaving you alone when assassins could come calling and I'm not putting that on Edward's shoulders, either," Riza snapped. "Chris can survive being bottle-fed for one night."

"I didn't mean to be a burden," Ling said. "Couldn't I stay with the Elrics?"

"Their cottage isn't big enough," Roy replied. "It's late already or we could have gotten you to the safe house tonight. As ambassador, I have a duty to you and I mean to uphold it."

"Why don't I go make that call?" Riza left the table.

Roy got up and felt his way to the stroller. He scooped his son up, holding him close.

"Madam, you'll be busy finding that safe house. I know you have your girls, but I'd like to help keep an eye on Chris while you're busy," Winry said.

"Winry," Ed murmured.

"It'll be safe, Ed," she replied. "The baby isn't a target. Ling is. His enemies wouldn't even know there is a baby."

"She's right about that. We didn't know the baby was born yet," Ling said. "And I hadn't shared the ambassador's news with anyone. There is no reason to assume my enemies would know. They probably don't even realize I'm in Amestris."

"It wouldn't be easy to track up across the desert," Ran Fan said. "Still…there were times."

"We never found evidence that we were being followed," Ling reminded her. His guardian grunted.

"When Riza is done, we'll get you to my home."

"Thank you," Ling murmured.

"It's what I'm here for," Roy said, trying to sound nonchalant but in the back of his mind, he was thinking about Maes and little Christopher. He finally understood some of Maes's worries. What the hell had he just gotten his family into?

X X X

Riza wrapped her arms around Roy, snuggling against his back. He twisted over in bed, facing her, trying to remember what she looked like. Sometimes he truly hated his useless eyes.

"You should have stayed with Chris. I'm fine by myself," he grumbled.

Her lips pressed against his. "Roy, I'm not leaving either of my boys unprotected. Your mother will keep our son safe as houses. How many children has that woman raised? It's only for one night."

Roy pointed to the ceiling. Above them in the empty third floor, the prince and his guardian had finally settled down. "Are you mad that they're here in our home?"

"Of course not, it's your duty," Riza said. "I want to help but I do hate being away from Chris more than I expected."

"Riza, you don't have to keep working. I saved more than enough from the state alchemist stipends. Neither of us would really ever have to work. I don't want you to feel like you have to keep doing this."

"I wouldn't survive not working. That's not my nature, Roy."

He brushed his hand over her arm. "I know but I wanted you to know it would be all right. You don't have to do anything dangerous."

"And what else would I do? I'm good with guns, Roy. I'm not sure I have other employable talents."

"If there is anything I'm sure of, it's that you have plenty of talents."

"Roy, do you want me to quit?" The coolness of her tone left him momentarily speechless.

"No," he said, not even managing to convince himself. "I know you will never be like Gracia. I'm just feeling out of the loop. I'm an ambassador who should be allowed to travel but I'm not and can't now, not until Chris is a little older. I feel like I'm contributing nothing."

"Roy, you know that isn't true. You're helping on how many different committees for Olivia in addition to being an ambassador. You would have served as ambassador to Ishbal because you wanted to help rebuild what we destroyed but they chose to have someone non-military. You do more than you seem to realize." Her lips grazed his. "Maybe we've slowed a step but that's understandable. You had a lot to relearn and, right now, our son can't fend for himself. Before you know it, he'll be racing all over and you'll be longing for these days where all he wants is to be cradled in your arms."

Roy wrapped his arms around her. "He's already the most curious of creatures."

"He'll be like his daddy, into the alchemy books before we know it."

"I won't be able to teach him to read."

"No, but I will and his Uncles Al and Ed can take over his training from there." Riza squeezed Roy hard.

"Riza…we've talked about this."

"Fine, fine, Al will teach him. Honestly, Roy, what do you think Edward is going to do to poor Chris?"

"If you were a man, you'd understand."

"Yes, I've noticed the warping and lowering of intellect that happens when you happen have two heads and have to divide the thinking."

Roy snorted. "Riza!"

"Made you smile." She kissed him again. "You don't do that nearly enough any more, Roy."

Roy thought about Maes for a moment. How he missed how that man could make him laugh. "I know. I'm sorry."

"It'll be all right. We should get some sleep. Tomorrow's a long day. Pleasant dreams, love…just not the one with me and Olivia and the lake."

"Damn, Al told." Roy chuckled.

"You just forgot to listen to hear if I were in the next room when you told him. You're just lucky your son isn't old enough to understand his father's perverted." The mirth in her voice made him laugh again.

"He's a boy. He'll understand."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Good night, Riza." Roy snuggled down. "I'm going to have that dream anyhow."

She pinched his side. "Brat."

Roy settled in. No dream beat out who he had lying next to him but still, it was a pretty good dream.

Chapter Three

"Do you think she'll have found us a place to stay?" Ling asked as Riza drove up to the Fat Lady's Arms.

"The Madam is quick," Roy replied, feeling Winter's warm breath curling around his ankle. The dog would rather be in his lap, looking out the window and didn't like Roy making her behave. "I'm more worried about what will happen with the Fuhrer later today."

Roy heard the prince make a soft sound then the young man said, "No more than I. It's not easy to ask for help. She could easily see this as a sign of weakness on my part. She might be just as happy to let one of my half brothers kill me and make an alliance with whoever wins."

"I can't promise you that won't happen. I can speak to your inventive, if foolhardy thinking. That might impress her," Roy said.

"Young Master isn't a fool," Ran Fan snapped.

Roy waved a hand. "He's a teenaged boy. We're all fools at that age."

Riza snorted. "He would know."

"Allowing yourself to become a homunculus, even if you thought there would be a positive gain, that's foolhardy," Roy continued.

"Some days I would agree with you. I wouldn't mind still having the ultimate shield right now."

"I'm sure it would be, at too high a cost however," Roy replied.

"Hard to argue." Ling sighed as the car slowed to a stop.

Roy felt Winter stir against his leg. They must be at the pub. The dog liked coming here. In spite of his warnings, his sisters always fed Winter tidbits. "Riza, does everything look all right?"

A pause. He heard her moving around on the seat and assumed Riza was checking the pub's surroundings for danger. "I see nothing out of the ordinary. What do you think is wrong?"

"I don't know. Somehow, I just feel like this day is going to go badly." He scrubbed a hand across his sightless eyes. "I know that sounds foolish, especially from an alchemist with no belief in fate or the supernatural."

"The Xingese are big believers in portents," Ling said.

"Don't get him started, prince," Riza said, parking the car.

Roy got out of the car and let Winter guide him to the door. Riza seemed to be sticking closer than necessary and the Xingese couple had gone oddly silently. Roy had learned to dislike silence. Inside the bar, that wasn't a problem. He could hear Ed and Al talking, Al giving tips to Winry on how to feed the baby. His mother's usual cloud of smoke was missing, but Roy assumed it was because she didn't want to smoke near the baby.

"Roy, Riza," Winry said brightly. "Chris just finished his bottle. He really didn't want to wait."

"I know that well. He's a greedy guts," Riza laughed. She took Roy's hand leading him behind the bar to their son whom she took from Winry.

"Ling, Ran Fan, are you two all right?" Al asked.

"We're fine," Ling replied.

"Did you find something for the prince, Madam?" Roy asked as he stroked his son's hair.

"As soon as it receives approval from the Fuhrer, I have three potential places," Chris replied." All of them distant enough to not put anyone else at risk, secluded enough that they'll be easy to guard."

"You'll have to give me the locations for when I meet with…" Roy's head came up sharply. "Did you hear that?"

Riza passed their son back to Winry, reaching for her gun. Roy could hear the creak of her leather holster. "What did you hear, Roy?"

"I'm not sure."

Glass exploded and wood splintered as the windows and doors ruptured. Intruders spilled into the bar. Roy heard Ed and Al shouting, heard their hands coming together and things rearranging themselves under the brothers' alchemy.

"What is going on?" Roy bellowed.

"Winry, get down. Keep Chris safe," Riza screamed. "Roy, half turn to the right and snap."

Roy shoved a hand into his pocket coming up with his glove, snapping. People screamed. He caught snatches of furious Xingese curses.

"Young Master, behind you," Ran Fan cried.

"Full turn to the left, Roy," his mother ordered, firing her gun at the same time.

"I'm trying." Roy snapped his fingers. Next to him, Winter growled.

"Damn, bastard, that was close," Ed growled immediately afterwards.

"Give me a break."

"Stop now or I kill," someone said in broken Amestrian.

The room suddenly went silent and Roy felt his stomach drop to his ankles.

"Let Winry and the baby go," Riza replied coldly.

"We'll kill you," Ed added and, for once, Roy believed him.

"I'm the one you want," Ling said. "Let them go."

"Take you," their enemy said. "And I kill them any how."

Roy's hand trembled. He was powerless. He couldn't snap. If he could see he'd be able to hit their attacker, sparing his son and Winry. "Riza, can you do it?" he asked.

"No worries."

"Worry," the man said.

"Don't use me as a shield," Winry said then a shot rang out. Someone screamed. The baby started to wail.

"Winry!" Ed cried out.

"Is she all right?" Roy's voice hitched.

"She shot the bastard. Winry, where did you get a gun?" Al asked.

"From Madam Christmas. I'm fine Roy, and the baby is, too," Winry said. "I only wounded the attacker. I shot him in the foot."

Roy heard the running feet and knew Riza and the brothers along with Ling would handle the wounded attacker. "Mom, call Armstrong for me. Winry, give me Chris. I can't help mop this mess up, but I can take care of him."

"Of course." She turned over his despairing son. Chris trembled in Roy's arms. Winter pressed against Roy's legs.

"Winry, I can't believe you shot someone. You're not supposed to handle guns," Ed said, anger and fear mixing in his voice.

"You decided that. I decided I wanted to protect myself so Riza taught me. Besides, I had to know guns for my clients." Winry took a deep breath in. "Still, I know why you don't want me to handle guns and I never wanted to shoot someone."

"Roy, the Fuhrer's office," Christmas broke in.

Roy fumbled for the phone, shifting Chris to one side. His heart thundered. Why was the world such a violent place? What had he done bringing a child into it? "Olivia? Yes, I know, Fuhrer Armstrong. We have a situation. Armed assassins just tried to kill Prince Yao and all of us with him. We're fine, but the assassins need medics and handcuffs. We'll keep them detained until then but we need to get the prince to the safe house until a decision is made. All right, we'll be waiting."

Roy hung up. "They're on their way. You can bind up the ones that are still breathing, right?"

"We'll handle it, Roy. Give Chris to one of your sisters so he doesn't keep seeing all of this," Riza said.

The wait for the soldiers to arrive was one of the longest in Roy's life, even though he knew it was relatively short. He wanted to get his wife and child and go home and that thought plagued him. It felt cowardly and he was anything but a coward. Give yourself a break. Someone just threatened to murder your baby. Of course you're frightened. In the end, he sat quietly next to Riza, letting dark thoughts swirl around him.

Roy was surprised that Fuhrer Armstrong accompanied her men. They whisked the would-be assassins away to a military hospital. Olivia's brother conducted the interviews with everyone while Olivia spoke to Ling before finally coming over to Roy.

"You're always trouble, Mustang. I thought being blind would keep you out of my hair but no such luck," Olivia said.

He smiled. Olivia's harsh banter was a welcome touch in its familiarity. "I make special efforts for you, Olivia. I have no doubt. We're going to move the prince to the safe house and I'll have my decision in a day or so."

"Thank you, Fuhrer," Ling said. "I'm sorry we brought this much trouble to everyone."

"Nothing to be done for it now," Olivia replied. "Let's move."

Roy gave his son back to his aunt, took up his dog's harness and followed the others outside. They moved in somber silence and Roy longed to hear the banter his friends were known for, even in the face of danger. He needed something to pull him back from the edge of the darkness gathering in his mind. Damn, times like this made him miss Maes all the more and the man's ability to lighten any mood.

"Tell the Madam, we're grateful for her help, Mustang," Olivia said.

"I will. It was no-"

"Young Master, move!" Ran Fan screamed suddenly.

Someone yanked Roy back as a gun thundered. A cry rang out. Damn it, which of them were hit? His hand came up reflexively to snap but he didn't. No one had given him directions. Another gun roared right next to him: Riza or Olivia.

"Got him," Riza said.

"How'd someone get this close?" Olivia bellowed. "Martin, report and get some of your men to the roof, damn it."

"Ling, are you all right?" Ed asked.

"I got shot," Ling's pain-filled reply came.

"Let me see," Winry said. "Someone get an ambulance for him."

"How bad is it?" Ran Fan's voice sounded strained.

"It looks like it traveled along his ribs without going in," Winry replied, her relief palpable.

Roy leaned against the building, useless to them other than to reiterate the demanded for a litter since he knew at least one of the ambulances was still there. Olivia had sent a fleet of them originally.

He was so unused to being unable to help. A couple years wasn't enough time to get used to it, maybe a life time wouldn't be. In the end, he went back inside with his son and his aunt while Olivia and the others took care of the injured prince, but the solace he took in holding Chris was absent.

Chapter Four

"What's wrong, Mustang?" Ed flopped down on the couch next to Roy. "Ling wasn't seriously injured and we'll all be okay."

Roy glanced up when Ed intruded on his quiet. He said nothing, turning his blind eyes back to his son cradled in his arms. Outside, he heard Hayate and Winter in the fenced in yard, barking at the wind. He had Ed check twice to be sure it wasn't anything important.

Ed reached over, brushing against Roy's hand as he rubbed Chris's belly. "Sorry, I guess I can't understand how terrified you must have been, knowing a killer had this little guy."

"No, you can't." Roy stroked his son's hair. "But I know you were just as frightened for Winry."

"She should never have had to shoot someone." Ed shifted away on the couch.

Roy lifted his son against his chest. "This is why I'm upset, Edward. We still have a world that is so filled with danger. I wanted my son to have a life free of this sort of violence and hate. Instead, he meets up with a man who wanted to kill him just for the hell of it. It kills me inside to know he'll grow up to the same hardships we did."

"Roy."

Roy startled at the sound of his wife's voice. He hadn't realized she had ghosted into the room. "I know, Riza. All parents feel this pain at some point. Hughes did. I remember your father saying exactly the same thing about wanting to protect you. I didn't understand how much it hurts and I have no one to talk to about this besides you, Riza. I won't burden you." Roy sighed. "This is when I really need Maes."

"You have your mom," she reminded him. "And your men. They might not have kids but they'd listen to you."

"That goes for me and Al, too," Ed said. "You know how much Al loves the baby and I might not understand entirely, any more than you did when your master talked to you, but I'd listen. This is something I wouldn't give you a hard time over."

"Thank you, Edward." Roy brushed his lips over the top of his son's head. "Maybe I'll tell Chris his Uncle Ed isn't entirely evil."

"Oh, shut up you bast…" Ed paused and Roy could imagine his scowl. "I'm going to have to come up with a whole code of swears for you now."

"Or you could just behave yourself." Riza laughed. "Impossible, I know."

"Custom swears it is," Ed replied.

Roy chuckled. "Give me a list so I know what you're saying. Maes and Gracia had their list. Maes always yelled at me for having a potty mouth but he was little better."

"You're smiling. You must be feeling better," Riza said.

"I just needed to work through my darkness. I always do but sometimes life just stinks."

As if on cue, a loud farting noise rumbled out of Chris.

"Oh, ew! People keep telling me milk isn't evil, but anything that turns into that smell has to be evil."

"I think it might be leaking through the diaper," Roy added in horror.

"Time to go work on that research." Ed bolted off and Roy assumed he was heading into the library.

"Come along, Roy. Let's get him changed."

"Um, me?" He lifted Chris up, hoping Riza would take him.

"You can help."

"We've had this discussion. I'm not feeling around to see if his butt's still sticky with poop.

"You can ready the fresh diaper and the powder and you're perfectly capable of holding a dirty diaper in the toilet while flushing," Riza replied, nudging his foot.

Roy followed glumly. He washed his hands and got the clean diaper while she undressed their son.

"Oh, this is everywhere. Goodness, Chris, were you saving it up just to make a mess of this magnitude?"

"If it looks like it smells, I'm glad I'm blind," Roy said and his wife snorted at him.

"Here."

Something plopped into the toilet and Riza shoved him next to it. She tucked a clean corner of the cotton diaper into his hand. "Start flushing."

Sighing, Roy complied. "Riza, I'm sorry."

"You didn't let go of the diaper, did you?"

"No, about earlier. I didn't mean to let the sadness catch me. I know I'm not pleasant to be around when I'm like that."

"Edward was right. You had every reason to be frightened, Roy. Our baby could have died yesterday."

"But he didn't," Roy said. "I just wish the world was a kinder place.

"We all do. It's natural.

"I know." Roy sighed, tossing the wet diaper into the pail. "It's just listening to Chris giggling, I want to transform the world. I want it to be a better place where he can grow up happy and safe."

"I do know that feeling," Riza said. He heard a swooshing sound and smelled talc.

"Is it time for Chris's nap?"

"Soon, why?"

Roy made his way back over to her and kissed her shoulder. "I could have lost you both. I need you now."

She kissed him soundly. "He'll be asleep soon enough. You just have to keep it quiet."

"I can do that," he assured her eagerly.

Yes, he still had to worry about Prince Ling and assassins, but that was Olivia's problem now. Roy wasn't proud of that selfish thought but it hung there in his mind. His role would be limited. He couldn't influence what Olivia would decide in regards to Ling. There was nothing more he could do to help the prince. Ling was resting from his wound in a house Christmas had provided. Roy wanted to do more but he couldn't. So, he shouldn't feel so guilty about divorcing himself from the whole mess and taking time to be with his wife. They deserved their happiness.

X X X

Roy snuggled close to Riza, both of them drifting in and out of sleep. He hadn't been exactly quiet, in spite of what he promised Riza. Chris seemed to sleep through it just fine. Ed, downstairs in the library, might be more traumatized. Eh, by now Ed was sleeping with his mechanic. Winry seemed the fiery type. Unless Ed was doing it really wrong, he had to have learned that sometimes sex was very healing.

Just as he was sinking deeper into his nap, Roy was jerked awake by Chris's cry. Riza burrowed her face into the pillow. He stroked her back. "I'll check on him."

She murmured something. Roy climbed out of bed but didn't call for his dog who was now with Hayate in front of the bedroom fireplace. He knew the path to his son's bedroom by rote. Chris's increasingly irate wail was easy to hone in on. "Shhh, little man," Roy cooed, feeling around the edge of his son's clothing. He eased a finger into the boy's diaper, which was thankfully dry. He scooped up his son, resting him against his shoulder. Chris did his best to deafen him.

Carefully making his way back to the bedroom, Roy sat on the edge of the bed. "He's not a happy boy. I think he's hungry. Want me to go down and feed him?" Roy knew she heard his hesitancy. He didn't like to carry the baby up and down the steps, fearing a fall.

"No, I want to feed him." Riza hauled herself up in the bed then took Chris.

Roy sat back against the headboard. He rested his chin on Riza's shoulder as he caressed his son's soft foot. The only sound was Chris's greedy sucking at his mother's breast. Roy could stay inside this moment forever. "I love you, Riza."

She leaned against him a little. "I've always known that."

"When this is all over, I want to take us somewhere nice, just the three of us."

"Oh? And where would that be?"

"Well, up until this week, it was going to be Xing. Now, I'm open for suggestions."

"That resort Armstrong is always talking about," Riza said. "You know the one."

"Ah yes, the one that costs my yearly salary for a week?" Roy sat back. "The thought of you clad in nothing but warm mud…"

"Your son is sitting right here, Roy."

"He won't always be." Roy kissed her shoulder. "Okay, that resort. That's better than Yock's Rest."

"That tacky tourist town? Really, Roy."

"Aw come on. There are fun shops, a little zoo, an amusement park and swimming in the lake and we know people in Dublith."

"You always have liked gaudy things."

"You know how I grew up. Why would you be surprised by that?" He chuckled. "We can go there in a few years when Chris is old enough to appreciate the amusement park."

Riza laughed and Chris protested. Roy assumed the boy lost the nipple as Riza's chest heaved.

"You think I'm funny?"

"Sorry, just picturing what it would have been like to see you and Maes running around with your kids in Yock's Rest. It would have been very funny. Gracia and I would have had to walk several paces back so no one would know we were with you two." She reached over and patted his leg. "I'm sorry you won't get to do that."

"Me, too. We should still invite Gracia along. At that point Elicia would be old enough to help with our kids."

"Did I hear a plural in there?"

"I am ruling out nothing," Roy assured her.

"That's because you didn't end up with stitches from a needle that looked like it was longer than my hand and have no idea what chafed nipples feel like," Riza replied, but her tone was light.

"I am very grateful to be a man, yes, I am."

Riza snorted at him. "Let's survive one child for a year before we start planning the next one."

"Fair enough."

The phone chose that moment to ring, startling them all. Chris's unrestrained irritated cry summed up Roy's feelings about it, too. He rolled over to the night stand. They had gone through the expense of having a second line since he couldn't run the steps if he had to and the ambassador was expected to be reachable. The phone stopped before he picked it up.

"Wrong number or Edward?" Roy muttered.

"Mustang!" Ed bellowed up from below. "Pick up. It's the Fuhrer."

Sighing Roy picked up the phone. "Yes, Fuhrer, what can I do for you?"

"I've made a decision," Olivia's voice crackled over the line. "I thought you and the Elrics might want to be there when I speak to the Xingese Prince. I think the brothers have come to a decision of their own."

"I'll be there. Tell me when and where." Roy listened then put the phone back. "I think I know why Ed was acting so concerned about me earlier."

"Because he actually likes you even though he loves to pretend he hates you?"

"No, well yes, that too, but Olivia said the brothers had made a decision."

"You think they're going to Xing."

"And maybe taking Winry or else Ed is a real ass for not spending today with her."

"That's Ed's problem, not yours. Resist the temptation to meddle, just like you used to tell Maes."

"I'm not meddling."

"You might, you have in the past. You two are like two old women…were." Riza sighed. "Sorry."

"It's all right, Riza. I don't mind talking about Maes. It keeps him alive just a little."

"I feel that way, too," she replied. "I'm coming with you today. I think Gracia should be free today to babysit or surely we can scare up one of your sisters."

"All right," Roy said. "There goes our blissful afternoon."

X X X

Roy drummed his fingers on his knee, waiting for Olivia to actually show up in her conference room. The brothers and Winry talked softly with Ling. He couldn't quite hear the conversation and wasn't part of it. Riza had been asked into Olivia's office, probably a final consultation on some matter of security. He thought he should have been consulted, too, being the ambassador, but he and Olivia did have certain issues that never quite got worked through.

Finally, the door opened and from the sudden hush, he figured Olivia had arrived. Her footfalls were heavy as they crossed the room. Softer ones padded after and Riza took a seat next to him.

"I've spoken to my advisors, considered your situation, Prince Yao, and decided we can ill afford sending troops that far," Olivia said.

Roy felt cold. He knew that was going to be the answer, but he also knew Winry, Ed and Al all liked the young man. They were going to be so upset. Still, from the continued hush, he suspected they had also anticipated this answer.

"I was afraid that would be your answer, but I was hoping that you'd commit to assisting me," Ling replied. "Especially now after the assassins followed me here."

"I'm not done," Olivia said. "I have, however, given leave for mercenaries to go with you. You might find that there are people willing to work for half pay now, which Amestris will fund, though it will look like it's coming from private donations, just in case you still lose. You'll be responsible for paying for the rest. They'll be answering to Major Miles…former major," she corrected herself. "He went native after the war, but he's still close to those he served with in Briggs and other places. Also, he has some bored Ishbalan warriors at his disposal who are spoiling for a fight."

This time there was a reaction. Chairs jostled, voices mixed before Ling spoke clearly, "Thank you, Fuhrer Armstrong. That will be a help. I appreciate it and once I'm emperor, I will never forget this."

"See that you don't. Mustang, anything to say?"

"It sounds like a fair deal to me," Roy said. "I can also put out the word; see who might want to join up with Miles. And I think the Elrics might have something to say to this as well."

"We're going with Ling. We talked it over and decided it was for the best," Ed said. "He might need our alchemy. It's different than what they use in Xing. People won't be expecting it. I don't want to go back into a war but Ling helped save our asses."

"He's our friend," Al put in. "Though none of us are too happy Winry insisted on coming."

"You might need someone who knows how to care for an injured body," Winry said. "And you're not leaving me behind again. I'm done with allowing that. I know how to protect myself now. Besides, once Ling claims the throne, he'll need someone to help start setting up automail clinics."

"Yes," Ran Fan said quietly.

"I'm very grateful," Ling said. "And you won't regret this, promise."

"Damn right I won't. You don't want to know what I'll do to you if you lose," Olivia replied and Roy could imagine that vicious cold smile of hers.

Roy didn't really like the brothers going, taking Winry with them. He understood the bonds of friendship and duty. He had known this would be their choice but he still didn't like it. However, Ed wasn't under his command any more. He couldn't shield the boy like he had while Ed was growing up. Still, Roy trusted all three of them. If anyone could help the prince avoid assassination and claim the throne, it was them. All he could do now was help get as much assistance for them as possible and quickly, too. There wouldn't be much time before Ling had to return home.

X X X

"Are you disappointed sir?" Alphonse asked.

Roy had invited the brothers and Winry out to dinner – the prince and his guardian being too high risk and still not feeling that recovered from his injury to go – then back to his place for after dinner drinks. He knew the conversation might get quickly awkward. "No, of course not, Alphonse. It's natural you'd want to help your friend. I'm a bit sorry that I can't help you and of course, Riza and I will worry."

"We've seen enough friends die," she said softly.

"We'll be fine," Ed said, far more subdued than his norm.

"Of course you will. I need my babysitter back." Roy grinned. He didn't want this to get maudlin.

"You should have married Al when you had the chance, sir." Winry giggled.

"Winry! It's bad enough Al's so whipped by that baby in the first place," Ed grumbled.

"I like helping out," Al protested. "I'm sorry we won't be around to help you continue your research into healing alchemy, Roy."

"It'll keep. Riza can read to me. I'm not letting this go. Besides, Xing has healers. You could learn things that will really help this project. Just…be careful," Roy said and Chris, sitting in his mother's lap, started crying. "See, he knows you're going away."

"Don't be ridiculous," Ed grumbled. "All he knows is how to eat and poop."

"Edward." Winry slapped him. "I'll miss little Chris, too. Maybe it won't take too long. Ling knows who the enemy is."

"Or it could be a civil war that lasts for generations," Riza said.

"I've had happier thoughts," Al said. "Obviously, if that happens, we'd have to give it up and come home."

"Way I see it, we kicked the ass of a homunculus who tried to become a god. We can handle a cranky loser brother of Ling's," Ed said. "And before you say it, we won't get cocky. We know this is dangerous."

"We just want you to try and keep in touch if we can," Riza said. "Christmas will walk you through her intel web. She does have contacts there."

"You just remember Chris wants you to come back fast. He needs Alphonse to do his diaper changes while Momma's at work and Ed's braid is his favorite chew toy. I might just have you leave that, Ed." Roy smirked.

"Bigmouth Bass," Ed said. "That's the best I can do for a non-swear swear for you right now. But I have the whole trip to Xing to think up better ones."

Roy laughed. "Of that, I have no doubt."

They talked long into the evening before their visitors finally left, promising to meet up with Roy and the madam tomorrow for instructions. Riza put Chris to bed while Roy washed up. He was already resting in bed, reading a book with his fingertips by the time she got back. He was trying to pretend he wasn't worried. Riza wasn't fooled.

She hugged him tight. "They're resilient and brilliant. They'll be fine. They're better prepared than we were going to Ishbal."

"I know. Doesn't mean I don't worry."

"You always did want some little brothers." Riza took the book out of his hand and put it on the nightstand. He heard the light on her night stand click out. She gathered him up in her arms. "You have the right to be afraid for them, too."

"If I were picking brothers, I could do better than Edward. He's a brat."

"He's you."

Roy snorted, knowing she was right. "I'll deny that to the grave. "I just wish there were more I could do to help and I know, we've already done our part."

"We have but I know how you feel. I wish I could do more, too. Even if you could still see, Chris needs you more than anyone," Riza said.

"I know that, too." Roy sighed. "Now I really understand those times Maes complained so bitterly about being torn between family and duty. But you're right. They're all very good at what they do. If anyone will come back unscathed, it'll be them. Mom is going to put them in touch with some of my cousins in Xing. They'll help them out…I hope. I know we're not Ding clan, but I'm not sure if we're friendly with Yao clan. We'll try to get word to them that being friendly won't be a bad idea."

"That's doing plenty to help," Riza said. He heard the weariness in her voice.

"It is. I can be happy with that." Roy put his arms around her. "Did I tell you today that I love you?"

"Yes."

"I'm telling you again. I love you, Riza. I am going to take you to that resort and we're going to put all this ugliness out of our minds for a week and we are going to enjoy ourselves."

"I like the sounds of that," she murmured, slowly sinking into slumber.

Roy kissed her and quieted. They probably couldn't truly put out of their minds the danger their friends would be in but they had done all they could for them. Roy didn't believe in God, but he thought maybe in this circumstance it wouldn't hurt to hope that fate would be kinder to them all than it usually was. Each and every one of them deserved that much.