- Chapter II -

It was an hour before he was due at Mustang's, and for some bizarre reason, Al was flipping out.

"No, no, you've got to go alone, brother. What're you taking me for?"

Ed shrugged. "You always come with me."

"But – but – " Al wrung his hands, the giant gloves unable to conceal an anxious creak of metal. "Ah! I have plans! With Elicia!"

"Elicia," Ed deadpanned. "The five-year-old."

"Y-yeah. I promised – to show her something today. Um. A book! A book I was reading. And Mrs. Hughes would be really mad if I didn't keep my promise, right?"

Ed couldn't imagine Gracia being mad at anyone, for anything, unless it was being mad at her husband for not taking out the trash on time. No one could be mad at Al, anyway; that would be like being mad at a tiny bunny rabbit. (In a massive suit of armor, but... details, details.)

"Your choice." Ed finished braiding his hair; it was still slightly straggly after his shower, but what the hell. It wasn't like he was going on a date. "Too bad you'll miss out on seeing Mustang being all freaky and stare-y."

"I... don't think I want to see the Colonel being that way, brother. Really." Al laughed nervously – but when he saw Ed reaching for his tanktop, he jumped like he'd been bitten by an armor-piercing scorpion. "AH!"

Ed blinked – frozen with his head halfway through the tanktop. "What?"

"You can't wear that!"

"Why not?" Okay, so it was a little ratty and didn't smell too good after all the running around he'd done in it today, but so what? He always wore his tanktops, even to bed, and he hadn't done yesterday's laundry yet, so no fresh tanktops.

"You... you just can't! What happened to that shirt?"

"What shirt?"

"The – the nice one! With the long sleeves. That Teacher gave you on your birthday last year."

"Sleeves are bloody annoying when you've got automail to catch on 'em, Al. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Then a T-shirt! At least a T-shirt. That dark blue one." Al was digging through their cupboard like a giant, over-excited gerbil. A T-shirt flew out from between the pillars of Al's legs and landed on Ed's head, followed promptly by a heavy smack of denim. "And these jeans! The black jeans."

Ed just stood there, gaping: a clothing-strewn totem pole.

Something was definitely wrong here.

"Al," said Ed, very slowly, "are you all right?"

"Me? Of course! Just shiny! Peachy. I mean. Put the T-shirt on! And here, the black jacket you got for functions and things. It'll match with the jeans. Too bad it's corduroy... No, wait, that could actually work..."

"Al," Ed repeated, because he had to make sure, "have you been smoking any of Havoc's 'special' cigarettes?" Not that they would have any affect Al's new body, but who knew for sure?

"What? No!"

"Then what the heck is going on? You're playing dress-up, Al. Either you've been reading those fashion magazines on Mrs. Hughes' coffee table – "

Al startled, just a little too guiltily. "I never!"

" – or Elicia's been brain-washing you. What, did she get you to play tea-time with her dolls again?"

Al breathed in; breathed quietly out. "Brother. I'd love to discuss sartorial psychology and gender stereotypes with you some other time, but right now, just. Get into your clothes. It's nearly quarter past. You've got to get going soon!"

"Since when have you cared about being on time to the Shitty Colonel's – whumpf!" Ed wheezed, because Al had just yanked the tanktop off of him and had forced the T-shirt on. "Ow!"

"Jeans," said Al, tersely, and while Ed was struggling into those and wondering why his brother had suddenly gone psychotic, with clothes, Al undid his braid and ran a comb through it.

"Hey!" Ed cried indignantly. "My hair was just fine!"

"Like a haystack, sure. A wet haystack." A snap of the plain black band and Ed's hair was in a ponytail, and looked more shiny than damp, somehow, now that it wasn't in a straggly plait. "There. All better."

"Al, what the fuck are you – "

"Jacket!" Al manhandled him into the corduroy monstrosity that they wouldn't even have bought if it weren't military protocol that Ed have something vaguely jacket-shaped for those stupid 'smart-casual' functions. At least, Ed thought it was a monstrosity, but maybe Mrs. Hughes' fashion magazines had other ideas, because Al looked him up and down and nodded in satisfaction. He whipped Ed around to look at the cracked full-length mirror on their cupboard door. "See?"

"See what?" demanded Ed, giving his crack-riddled reflection a dubious once-over. Sure, he looked almost-kind-of-maybe presentable and the jeans made him look... streamlined, or something, but he wasn't a dolphin, for fuck's sake. What did all this have to do with anything? "I'm not going to a freaking awards ceremony, Al, it's just dinner with a – okay, a superior officer, but – "

"Boots!" Al plonked Ed's usual pair of black boots in front of him, but hey, no mud-splatters.

"When did you – "

"Door!" announced Al, cheerfully, and began pushing him towards it.

"Al, you still haven't explained – "

But of course, his brother steamrolled right over him. "Oh, and one last bit of advice: don't call him 'Shitty Colonel'. It's rude when someone's being nice enough to invite you to dinner."

Ed's eyes bugged out. "Nice? Mustang? That scheming son of a – "

"No swearing, either," said Al, muttered something about 'second-last, actually,' and then shoved Ed, suddenly and unceremoniously, out into the dorm's hallway.

And slammed the door in his face.

Goddamn little brothers and their goddamn opaque and downright crazy fashion crusades

"I KNOW YOU TOLD MUSTANG ABOUT THE XINGIAN FOOD!" he yelled at door. "You... You... double-crossing DOUBLE AGENT!"

"Have a nice night, brother," came Al's voice from behind the door, oddly wavery, and a second later, Ed heard the brat laughing.

Stupid little brothers. Insane little brothers.

Ed was never going to let Al dress him again. That blue T-shirt (that he hardly ever wore, because hey, tanktops and ease of movement) had been something they'd only bought out of necessity last year, but apparently teenage bodies grew faster than Ed had ever thought they did (and who said he wasn't getting taller?), because the damn T-shirt was now too tight for comfort. It pinched his automail a little under his right armpit – automail just didn't give the way skin did – but even more discomfiting than that was how it stretched, drum-tight, across his chest and abdomen. It outlined every single lift and twitch of muscle, giving him the odd feeling that he might as well have stripped naked and painted himself blue, for all the cover the shirt gave him. Ed felt like a kid turning up for school in last year's uniform, or maybe even in no uniform, and that wasn't the sort of feeling he wanted to be having before he met Mustang for another I'm-not-a-runt showdown.

Well, at least the corduroy jacket had padded shoulders, and the fabric held itself the bare centimeter away from from his automail arm necessary to prevent it from catching, like most other sleeves did. He couldn't stand stray threads getting caught in his elbow.

54, 56, 58...

What an ordinary little street.

Mustang's house was – well, it was kind of all right, insofar as houses went. It stood in a row of identical townhouses, and somehow, Ed had expected something more... unique than that. More egotistical. More I-am-the-mighty-Colonel-and-you-must-bow-before-me-you-brainless-gnats, but this was just a regular old townhouse with a neat little mailbox and a vine creeping over the front porch. Truly, painfully ordinary. Mind-blowingly ordinary, even. It just struck Ed as strange for Mustang, that's all; the stuck-up bastard usually acted as if he'd prefer a palace to an actual home, but this place practically screamed 'home is where the heart is,' or some similarly corny line. Hughes and his family wouldn't have been out of place here, but Mustang...?

For a moment, Ed was seized by a peculiar anxiety – that Mustang was letting him in here, in his – secret base, or something. It was just so damn different from the image the Colonel projected at the office, all polished cufflinks and rich-boy swagger, and unless even his house was some obscure sort of cover, it was more likely that the persona he projected at the office was the cover, instead. And that just gave Ed the heebie-jeebies. Like he didn't even know who Mustang was.

Damn it, all of Al's prattle about psychology was getting to him. Well, it was total bullshit. Mustang was a smug, entitled son of a bitch, and that wasn't going to change.


Ed marched up to the lacquered door, lifted the gleaming door-knocker and rapped it to announce himself.

to be continued.

So, did everyone enjoy Al's little episode of Queer Eye for the Alchemist Guy?

I always did think Al was the gayest straight guy ever, just like Ed's the straightest gay guy ever.

And he doesn't even know it. That makes him a lot of fun to write about.

Up next: Mustang in courtship mode! Ed in what-the-hell-is-going-on mode!


Many thanks to Blackie and Koneko for their help with names and dates!


My apologies for skipping out on the actual date, this time, but it was either that or delay an update for another week.

Would you prefer:

a) faster updates with shorter chapters, or:

b) slower updates with longer chapters?

Please vote in your reviews!