Flowers of Antimony

by Lady Norbert

A/N: Dear Roy Mustang, please stop suggesting that I write fanfic about you when I'm at work. No, really, stop it. You're dead sexy in a miniskirt but that doesn't mean work is the appropriate place for you to assault my brain.

Moving on. The title of this fic, and the titles of all the chapters, are actual alchemical terms taken from "An Alchemist's Glossary of Terms, Definitions, Formulas, and Concoctions." (I can't post the url because of FFN's rules about such things, but if you search for that title, you should find the right site.) Whenever possible, I'll use terms that at least vaguely correspond to the events of the chapter in question, but sometimes I'm just going to use a term because I think it's pretty. The title of the fic itself is a good example of that.

Flowers of antimony: Antimony trioxide, a product of the sublimation of antimony.

My primary knowledge of the series is Brotherhood, although I'm working on acquiring the manga. Consider this chock full of spoilers for both/either, as it takes place after a certain awkward conversation at the Resembool train station (but before the updated Elric family photo was taken in the end credits). Also, I normally really dislike writing in the present tense...but for some reason, all my FMA fic comes out that way. It just seems to fit.

The standard disclaimers apply; Arakawa owns all, etc.

Chapter One: Torrefaction

Torrefaction: The roasting of ores in the hope of removing impurities.

Two years have passed since the Promised Day. Two. For the Elric brothers, they have slid past in an almost-completely happy blur of apple pies and mountain mornings, courtesy calls and train whistles, hellos and goodbyes and hellos again.

Al has gone east, to Xing. Ed has gone west. They are apart for the first time in their lives, but the promise of that future hello again can sustain them both.

Al chose to go east, the farther path, because his ties to home, though strong and permanent, are more malleable than Ed's endless bond to Winry. The connection between Al and Resembool bends, but does not break, and he has less to tie him there than Ed does. Not much less, but just enough to make his leaving a bit more allowable.

He travels to Xing, accompanied by the chimera Jerso and Zampano . He expects that, once he arrives, he will devote a period of some weeks to studying and training with May Chang, learning secrets of alkahestry, and that he will then move on to the exploration of other countries. He forgets, until he gets there, how much two years may do to a person, and the young princess who welcomes him into her half-brother's royal court as an honored guest is rather altered from the little girl he once concealed inside his armor. His stay in Xing goes on much longer than he planned, to the amusement of his traveling companions.

Jerso and Zampano do not mind. Xing is full of pretty women and exotic scenery. There is plenty to do and see, even while they quest to regain their natural forms, and Al's tenancy in the palace (and therefore, their own) is really rather convenient for these purposes. There are foods to sample, sights to see, and a young friend to tease about his growing attachment to the country.

Ling, of course, is now Emperor. Ed, in his letters, can hardly resist the chance to mock him, and Al has the phrase "Ling the King of Xing" stuck in his mind for days. Ling welcomes Al like a brother, however, and seems perfectly willing to house him indefinitely.

Lan Fan also greets Al with an old sort of cordiality. Conspiratorially, May tells Al that the lady warrior has thus far turned down Ling's offer of marriage no less than three times. It is her duty to guard the Emperor, she says, and that is something that she cannot do as Empress. Duty before love.

Al is reminded strongly of Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye.

Lan Fan has, however, consented to a different sort of proposal, and allowed Ling to use his Philosopher's Stone to restore her flesh arm. Instead of automail, she has learned a few tricks from Ling's time with Greed, and beneath her robes she is clad in a lightweight suit of carbon armor. She spends some time with Al discussing this, allowing him to examine the mail and suggest modifications that he is, of course, well equipped to make. He recognizes the trust she is placing in him with this, and he is appreciative.

Al (as May can hardly help noticing, though he himself is cheerfully oblivious) has matured most attractively. He hasn't quite the same sort of arresting beauty that Ed possesses; Ed is Hohenheim to the core, while Al has something more of Trisha to him. He is gentler by far than his brash older brother, a fact which displays itself in a sort of earnest puppyishness in his features. His smile is sweeter than Ed's, less confident, more eager to please. He is a good-looking young man, tall and handsome, and his Xerxesian coloring earns him more than his fair share of curiosity.

So he studies with May, and dines with Ling, and ventures out into the strange and exciting new country that beckons to him. He reads the Xingese legend of the Western Sage with a secret kind of smile. He makes his own alchemic code; while Ed documents his findings as a travelogue, and it takes Al three days to decipher even a paragraph of his heavily encrypted letters, Al returns the favor by sending messages disguised as children's nursery rhymes.

There are other letters too, of course. Al is a far more diligent correspondent than Ed ever was, now that he's restored to a body that's capable of holding a pencil, and he writes enthusiastic letters to Winry and Granny Pinako. He buys a supply of Xingese post-cards, bits of artistry rendered onto shimmering sheets of metallic paper and specially prepared to be mailed, and these he doles out among his distant friends. There is one for Major Armstrong, and one for Paninya; Denny Brosh, and Maria Ross, and Sheska, and Gracia Hughes, and another for Elysia, and of course Izumi and Sig can't be forgotten. He gets down to the last card when he realizes that he hasn't sent one to either General Mustang or Colonel Hawkeye, and it's with a very Edwardian surge of mischief that he decides they'll just have to share.

The months melt away.

Then comes the letter he's expected for a long time. No codes, no clues, no puzzles. He reads it, and reads it again, and there's such a burst of joy in his heart that he isn't sure if he should laugh or cry to best express it. So he does both, clutching the paper to his chest and tipping his head back and laughing until the tears roll down his cheeks. He dries them quickly, and reads the letter one more time just for the sheer delight of doing so. He has wanted this, waited for it, known it was coming; and yet now that it finally has, now that the event he has anticipated for at least eight years is coming to pass, there is something strange and wonderful about it. He is surprised, and the fact that he is surprised is a surprise in itself because he knows he should not be.

Al runs to the throne room, and by now the guards are so accustomed to the golden-haired foreigner that his boisterous arrival barely makes them blink. He bows to Ling, breathlessly, even though Ling has told him a dozen times that it isn't necessary. When he straightens, his eyes are dancing.

"I have to go home soon," he declares.

"So suddenly? Out with it, Al, you look like the cat that ate the canary." Ling's expression is the tiniest bit reminiscent of Greed, but not in a bad way. "What's so urgent?"

Al's face splits into the widest grin Ling's ever seen. "Brother and Winry are getting married!"