Huh, another 'last' chapter coming late ._. I hope that this will not develop into a routine. For everyone still here: I hope you will enjoy the chapter and I´ll see you next fic ^^

Co-Author&Beta: Ca11iope ^^ Thank you once again for your great work *hugs* :D


Chapter 4

The cold air outside helped to clear Ed's head and he took a deep breath. The burned remnants of firecrackers lay abandoned in the streets and he could still smell the faint scent of gunpowder and ashes. It wouldn´t be long before Central's public works staff started their cleanup, and Edward did not envy them their monotonous task.

Beside him Mustang started to walk, and with one last glance towards the Pearl Liang Ed followed him. The pace was slow and lazy, but the movement helped to distract him from the frosty night air. Both men had left their jackets inside, but despite the cold, Edward felt no desire to return to the restaurant. The atmosphere had reminded him of the tavern at the Christmas market Winry had dragged him into, when he had also preferred to freeze over returning. For a moment, he wondered if Al would be alright, but then he remembered how his brother had deviously left him behind in that tavern with a tipsy Winry, Paninya, and Garfield. At least at the Pearl Liang Al´s company was much more bearable, and Hawkeye would no doubt monitor the group's alcohol intake to keep things from getting out of control.

"It has been almost five months," Roy started, and Ed decided to hold his tongue on the many questions running through his mind and let the other man talk, although he would have liked to get answers immediately. "Since my sister… passed away."

Whatever Ed had expected Roy to say, it wasn't that. Unsure if he should offer some sort of comfort, since he knew exactly how it felt to lose someone, Ed shifted closer. He opened his mouth, but Roy beat it to him.

"Don´t tell me you´re sorry," the man said. "I´m going to burn the next person who tells me they're sorry for my loss, even though they didn´t know her, or anything about her death."

"Well, deal with it. Condolences suck." Ed grumbled back and hesitated for a moment. Now that he thought about it, Mustang had never offered his own condolences in regards to Trisha Elric's death, and now Ed had a slight inkling why. Looking back, Ed almost felt grateful for the lack, as strange as it might sound. He had never cared to accept sympathy from anyone, but accepted it more easily from the people who had known and loved his mother instead of strangers spouting a line simply because it was what manners dictated. "They're going to beat it in your face for as long as they can."

Surprisingly, Mustang chuckled, even though there was a slight edge to it. Of what, Ed couldn´t quite pin down, but he suspected that even though Mustang never mentioned his sister, he must have loved her. When the Colonel became quiet again, a thoughtful expression became visible on his face.

"I can´t stand pity," the older man stated frankly, and Ed found himself huffing slightly as he nodded.

Well, they had finally found something they had in common. Was it screwed up to agree on something like this? Maybe. But neither of them had ever claimed to be normal.

"It took almost three weeks for the official letter of notification to be delivered to me," Mustang continued.

"Three weeks?" Mentally, Ed did a quick estimate of how long it might take a messenger to deliver a letter. From the most eastern end of Xing, even crossing the Eastern Desert during the hottest time of year – which this wasn't – three weeks was about a week more than necessary. So he carefully added: "That´s long."

Mustang only nodded. "Too long for me to attend the funeral."

Again there was that slight edge to Mustang's usually impassive voice. Edward felt the sudden urge to comfort the man, but he had absolutely no idea how. If it were Al or Winry… he still would probably have fucked it up; he knew he sucked at stuff like this. But at least he would have had an idea what to do, no matter how clumsily he went about it. As far a Mustang was concerned, Ed didn't have a clue. Thankfully, the Colonel didn´t seem to expect anything, and Ed should have been grateful. Instead he felt a bit insulted.

Which was stupid.

"What about Lan and Ren? Who was looking after them?" the blond asked, empathy making a connection between the children´s situation and his own past with Al.

The Flame Alchemist was quiet for a moment, but then he answered. "They were staying with their family."

Their family. That meant not Mustang's.

"… with their father….?" Ed drew out, remembering that Roy had never spoken of his brother-in-law.

"He died a few weeks before Ze Ren was born," the other man explained, probably having guessed Ed's line of thought. After a few seconds, he carefully corrected himself. "He was executed."

The younger alchemist stopped short. "Huh?" So much for Mustang answering questions. Just like his paperwork, the stack only got bigger instead of decreasing.

Roy stopped as well, turning around to face Ed, and suddenly the blond found himself the object of a very intense stare. Then Mustang sighed.

"Explaining everything will take too much time." A smirk crossed his lips when he saw the glare Ed sent his way for that. "Don´t worry, I won´t leave you unsatisfied," the older man said with a slight purr, and for a moment Edward felt like this was some kind of twilight zone. What the fuck?!

He knew he was staring at Mustang as if the man had lost his mind, and actually he didn't doubt Roy's insanity for a single second, but… seriously?

"Uhm…" Ed said, not sure what to answer to that. The sudden … flirtation … threw him off a bit; it was not exactly a natural shift of topic.

Mustang chuckled. It sounded just a tiny bit strained but that didn´t hinder its effect.

Edward stared.

The smirk slipped from Mustang's lips faster than it appeared, and suddenly the man looked very uncomfortable.

"Ed…"

Uh oh, that tone and first name… this was bound to be bad. Bracing himself for what he expected to come, he didn´t know if he was grateful or not when Mustang instead led him back to the topic at hand.

"I´m not the only one who filed papers for adoption. They did as well."

"I hate you." Ed said out of the blue, simply to make a point. Really, he felt like it needed to be said. Fucking mind games. Just what the hell was that for? "But go on, I can hit you after you´re finished."

Instead of the smirk, he received an almost nostalgic smile.

"Currently, their chances are better than mine," Mustang admitted.

And here he thought the prick was known for his diplomatic skills. The idiot was dropping one bomb after another and Ed really, really wanted to just hit him. Instead, he took a deep breath and waited for the other man to continue. His silence earned him a nod of approval, and Ed got the impression that the older man was judging his reactions and filing them away.

Oh damn. The bastard was scheming again.

Ed almost groaned.

It wouldn't do him any good, however, to voice his displeasure. Best to just ride this out and ignore it. He had no idea what Mustang was looking for and what criteria he was being judged by. And he also had no desire to play mind games with Mustang, now or ever.

"There are a few things that work in my favor." And obviously, Roy was not going to explain what those things might be. Ed had so not missed dealing with Mustang and his need-to-know bullshit. "But there are also a few things that count against me. However, no matter the reasons, if it´s decided that Jiao Lan and ZeRen have to return to Xing, I´m going to fight that verdict. And I know the other party-"

"Their aunt and grandma, right?" Ed questioned, and Roy sighed in defeat and nodded.

"Yes, they are the official representatives for their family," the man explained. "The other party will appeal the decision should I become the children's legal guardian, which will result in forcing a court to decide what would be best for the children," Mustang explained, and since that was pretty much a given, Ed nodded. That didn´t sound so bad.

Until Roy continued.

"And it will be a Xingese court."

Fuck.

It didn't take a genius to understand that this sucked.

"You´re Amestrian." Ed pointed out. "Shouldn´t that court include someone official from Amestris, some diplomat or ambassador or something?" he protested, because they both knew that Roy's Amestrian nationality wouldn´t earn him any points in a Xingese court. Most likely, that court would be less than impressed with the famous Flame Alchemist's status as a celebrated soldier.

The raven-haired man offered him a smile but there was no humor in it.

"Jiao Lan and Ze Ren are both Xingese citizen, just as their parents were. But of course, using a few contacts, I might be able to tip the scales and get an Amestrian consultant into the court," Mustang explained, then quickly added, "but I won´t do that."

Ed frowned, thinking about what the man had said. If he pulled a few strings that would mean influence had been exerted to get the man in.

"Bet they´d be thrilled to have that consultant forced onto them," he muttered.

This time, the smile the older man sent his way was more honest but also included a certain smugness that made Ed want to snarl at the man. He was considered a damn prodigy; one would assume he might have learned a few things over the years, including a bit of political savvy slash social awareness.

"I'd lose face by maneuvering a counselor into court - who would be practically useless to me. The costs would out-weigh the benefits, and make things worse. The special concession would draw unwanted attention to the proceedings, and Xing would feel obliged to make an example of an Amestrian meddling in Xingan legal affairs. That means they'd make a concerted effort to dig up all the dirt on me that they could find."

And what they would dig up, Ed knew, was Roy's military service record from the Ishval extermination. What the military celebrated in a soldier, a civil court would not consider suitable in a parent.

"I have no doubt that the court would be pleased to show the world what Amestrian dogs are capable of," Mustang said, his words increasingly sarcastic, "and what children should be protected from."

Neither of them bothered to mention the years that had passed, or that Mustang had been very young, and following his superiors' orders. Neither of them mentioned the heavy burden of following such horrendous orders and having to live with the knowledge of what you have done.

Because right now, it didn´t matter.

Closing his eyes for a few seconds, Ed forced himself to not curse, loudly and at length, at politics and politicians, at the unfairness of this, and how equivalent exchange should count for something, but did not. He was no longer a child, and he had learned the hard way that life was not fair, and no one gave a shit whether he liked it or not.

"So, what can we do?" he finally asked, realizing that he had automatically included himself. This was not actually his battle, and Ed looked at the other alchemist, curious to see if Mustang would correct him.

He didn´t.

"The same thing they are doing. Keep a low profile, don´t give them anything to use against us, and gather information." A slight hint of bitter amusement became noticeable.

"Politics." Edward almost groaned. As far as he was concerned, there were a few things the world could definitely do without. Politics was one of them. "Seriously though, that´s not really all we can do, is it?" Surely Mustang had some clever scheme up his sleeves, some grand plan, because if there was one thing Ed knew for sure, it was that Roy Mustang was a master in the art of manipulation.

"That´s all," Roy said, and this time the humor didn´t sound so false anymore. Looking into the dark eyes, Ed skeptically tilted his head to the side. "For now," Roy added with a smirk.

The blond hummed, feeling both wary and relieved that Mustang was scheming again. He wondered when relief had become a reaction to Roy's machinations. Usually, it was only suspicion … as well as annoyance.

A good bit of annoyance.

After a few seconds of silence, Edward urged Roy to continue with a slightly impatient, "And then?"

His impatience earned him an amused chuckle. The sound was almost out of place and didn´t seem to fit the situation… or the man. But it sounded rather… pleasant. Fighting down the heat creeping into his cheeks, Ed once again noticed how deep and smooth the other man's voice was. Funny that after years of not giving a shit, of never even noticing much about the man beyond his ability to rile Ed up, that now, after such a short time, Ed should become aware of so many personal details. Roy's smirk was back. Ed should have kept his mouth shut. And of course, Mustang offered no explanations. Just silence and that infuriating smirk.

Grumbling, Ed stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked on, this time Mustang following. The blond was tempted to ask the man if he was still refusing to date Gracia. After all, if Roy wanted to demonstrate his ability to provide a child friendly environment, what could be better than an established relationship with a capable house wife who had a child of her own? The tragic back story of her lost husband, who incidentally had been Roy's best friend, might also gain sympathy with the court. The road Ed's thoughts were careening down made him groan out loud again. He was almost as bad as a fucking politician himself.

To quiet his traitorous thoughts, he spent a few moments watching his breath condense in front of his face, turning Roy's words over in his mind.

'Keep a low profile, don´t give them anything to use against us, and gather information.'

Ed shouldn't doubt that Colonel Bastard would be well prepared for the coming battle. Mustang was a meticulous planer, particularly when the stakes were high. The little bits he had revealed to Ed spoke volumes about the amount of time the other alchemist had spent thinking this through. Ed couldn´t help himself. He had grown rather fond of the little terror and the little not-quite-terror Roy called his relatives. But he would also be the first to admit that he was much too impatient and impulsive for such games. Ed would have to rely on Mustang to do the mindfucking and scheming, and offer his support in any way he could.

"Currently, there is not much information about who might preside over that court, but there is a high possibility that it will be a very strict and traditional judge. A trip to Xing will be in order, and it will have to take place before the trial is held. Good impressions must be made, respectability proven, intelligence on my opponents gathered…" Mustang trailed off and made a waving gesture with his hand that told Ed the list of required preparations was extensive. Mentally, the blond added political ass kissing, bribes, and even threats to that list, and felt like slamming his head against the nearest wall.

"Until then, we need to keep a low profile and…" Roy's voice faded out and he hesitated.

Ed stopped and turned towards the older man. A slight sense of dread started to grow in his guts and he shifted uncomfortably. He had a distinct feeling that he knew where this was heading, and for a moment wondered why Mustang was suddenly so inept at objectively outlining the situation and setting a course of action.

"…cover all bases that could potentially cause problems, at least until we know if problems will result, and how we might deal with them." Mustang finally finished, standing still and tense in front of the blond.

Tilting his head to the side, Ed stared up to the other man. It was easy to put together what 'cover all bases' combined with a 'very strict and traditional' Xingese court meant. He understood completely what this included. What he didn't understand was why Roy didn´t just outright tell him that nothing would come of that midnight kiss.

"I would put family first as well," Ed simply stated.

Maybe he should be mad at the man, but he wasn´t. Because it was true. If the situation were reversed, he would choose Al's wellbeing over anything else, just as he had done in the past. In Mustang's place, he would do anything to keep the children away from that other, in Ed's opinion rather dubious, part of the family. Because of this, he understood the man's actions and didn´t feel an ounce of anger. That, however, did not prevent his stomach from becoming a rather cold and uncomfortable lump.

It was illogical. They had only shared a single kiss. Ed had avoided thinking about it, and it wasn't like he expected something. He shouldn´t be disappointed. And he wasn´t. Not really. Not much. There was no reason to be disappointed.

He. Was. Not. Disappointed.

Damn it.

Ed bit his lip and swallowed hard. The knot that had taken residence where his guts should be was still there.

He should stop thinking about this. He should concentrate on more important things.

In front of him, Mustang put obvious effort into appearing impassive, but he still reminded Edward of someone who had accidentally swallowed a pincushion full of needles.

"Ed-" Roy started, clearly uncomfortable with the situation, but the younger alchemist quickly interrupted him.

"It`s fine," the blond said, the words coming out more briskly than he had intended. He had no desire to talk about this situation when it was clear that nothing would come of it. Walking along a low brick wall, he absentmindedly let his gloved automail fingers run through the snow lying on top. The thought hit him immediately, and he carefully gathered some in his hand while he kept walking.

"It just won´t do us any good to consider this right now, since-"Mustang said behind him.

Edward wondered why the man was still trying to explain himself. Ed clearly understood his reasons. And 'right now'? Ed wasn't sure what he meant by that. Was it a simple observation that a few weeks ago it would have been different? Did the man perhaps expect things to be different at a later date? Ed did not want to dwell on it any more than Mustang did. It was pointless, and surprisingly painful.

Forming a snowball with gloved automail was way harder than it looked, particularly without the Bastard noticing. Still, Ed had had a lot of practice hiding things from Mustang over the years.

"Bad timing; I get it," Ed said, packing the frozen water firmly in his hand. He knew his casual tone would rile Mustang up and prompt the man to keep on talking instead of shutting him up.

So the moment Roy opened his mouth to respond, Ed quickly turned around and threw the ball of snow. It hit the bastard right in the face. Mustang stopped short, sputtering through the snow in his face, and stared disbelieving at the younger man.

And then he was forced to quickly dodge another snowball. Without success.

Feeling mischievous joy at his successful target practice, Ed snickered. And almost got hit in return. The snowball aimed at his face hit his shoulder as he quickly darted towards a parked car in search of cover. Along the way, he gathered up more snow, but that short pause to reload was rewarded with a snowball to the back of his neck. Using the slippery ground to slide behind the car, the blond shuddered at the melting snow running down his back and soaking into his clothes.

The blond alchemist peeked over the car's front fender, but couldn´t see his opponent. A trail of steps in the snow led to a corner, and told him where his target had fled. Knowing Mustang, the man was unlikely to stay put, so Ed needed to act fast.

Quickly, he used his teeth to pull the glove off his flesh hand while his automail kept hold of the half formed snowball. It was cold, but the warmth of his flesh hand made it easier to melt the snow and press it into form. Ed produced three additional snowballs. Observing the environment, he knew it would be foolish to stay where he was. The car would block an attack from the direction of the sidewalk, but that was no longer Roy's location.

His instincts and Izumi Curtis combat trained reflexes were all that saved him when a snowball shot towards him from the left. He dodged, but the cold bomb hit his arm, and to top it off, he lost one of his own precious projectiles. Without even looking, he sent one flying, but even while doing so was hit by another one of Mustang's. Unfortunately, this time the man's aim was much better and Ed let out a curse while he jumped behind the low wall he had previously gathered snow from. He blinked rapidly to get some of the frigid water out of his eyes and roughly brushed snow out of his hair.

Mustang was probably planning his next attack, but Edward felt no desire to waste time plotting when he had his brain, instincts, and reflexes. Now, let´s see… quickly, he calculated the force with which the ball had hit him, along with the direction from which it had come, and compared that to what he remembered of the street. Then the blond began to quickly but silently sneak in the direction he guessed his opponent to be.

He never expected to run into the man once he turned the corner.

Literally.

Instinctively he raised his arms in defense and his two remaining snowballs were crushed between the two men on impact. Edward felt a pang of justified irritation that his own weapons got mashed right into his face while the taller Colonel only got a few chunks of snow stuck to his pullover, nowhere near any exposed skin. Damn him.

Snarling in anger, Edward blocked the next handful of snow heading for his face and took advantage of his training by hooking his automail foot behind Mustang's ankle to efficiently rid of Roy of his balance. Unfortunately for Ed, pivoting on the slippery pavement while supporting Mustang's weight resulted in losing his own balance as well. He only just managed to land on his hands and knees instead of his back - like the bastard did.

A bastard who still held a large snowball in his hand. Leaning towards Ed, the older man grabbed Ed's collar and with visible delight, shoved the frozen water straight into Ed's shirt.

Edward Elric did not shriek. He shouted, loudly, at feeling that fricking cold snow against his warm skin. Should anyone ever suggest that he did anything other than shout, or imply that he had let out anything resembling a shriek, they would be sadly mistaken. And dead. Thankfully, no one else was around except for that annoying, chuckling bastard who didn´t seem to mind lying there in the snow, even though the back of his clothes were soaking through. He looked way too comfortable on that snowy ground, enjoying the opportunity for another jab at Edward.

"Maybe I shouldn´t have corrected Jiao Lan about that Christmas fairy title," Mustang said, deep voice loaded with mischief. "Very manly, Fullmetal."

It took under a second for the blond to pounce on the bastard. Since it didn´t feel the cold, he used his automail arm to gather as much snow as he could and simply shoveled it all on top of Mustang. The Colonel instantly tried to get up.

"Oh no, you don't!" Ed hissed, and he lunged to pin the man down. The leather prevented his knees from getting soaked as he straddled the bastard to keep him on the ground.

Looking down at Mustang, he grinned. Perfect. The ideal opportunity to gleefully shovel another load of snow onto the man, who was still in the process of brushing away the previous attack. A very colorful curse was muffled by that second load, and Ed let out a breathless shout of victory over crumbling the bastard's self control. He didn´t have the opportunity to enjoy it for long, however. The older man started to fight much harder, and Ed struggled to keep the other alchemist on the ground. He had to use his full weight to keep the taller man pinned below him.

It was becoming more and more difficult to hold the upper hand, but Ed was confident that his hand to hand combat skills exceeded those of the man lying beneath him. Years of wrestling battles with Al gave him an advantage as well, though Alphonse usually came out on top. Still, Ed knew a lot of strategies to get out of this kind of hold, and how to thwart those strategies and well.

"So, who's the girl now?" Ed barely managed grit to out, attempting to get his revenge by shoving snow underneath the other alchemist' clothing while keeping him at bay.

He glanced at the other man – and was suddenly struck by the sight of him.

The usually composed and controlling Bastard looked… alive. Heated and vivid and flushed because of the struggle he'd put up, pale skin glowing, a stunning contrast to dark eyes and hair.

And he was wet.

Ed chuckled.

Mustang looked like a drowned rat.

And gorgeous.

Both comparisons shouldn´t fit well with each other, though both of them were true. But reacting to the first one was…safer. He didn´t know what he would do if he reacted to the latter.

The blond almost let out another shriek when Mustang took advantage of his distraction, and he found himself being pushed backwards into the snow. He knew Mustang had to have some kind of military hand-to-hand combat training, but now he was absolutely sure that at some point the man had gained some wrestling experience, perhaps with a sibling just as Edward had. He had no time to muse over that domestic mental image as he now struggled to twist out of the other man's grip before he could find himself on his back, pinned just as Mustang had been moments ago. With the vision of snow being shoveled on him, Ed felt dread rising when his stomach muscles protested the added weight and his balance shifted backwards. So instead of fighting, he let himself fall back. Taking advantage his perfectly normal, not-in-the-least-bit-small size, the young man slipped out from underneath the other alchemist.

However, when Edward tried to roll to the side, a strong arm wrapped around his waist to pull him back before he managed to get to his feet.

He let himself be pulled back while he gathered as much snow into his palms as he could. The taller man attempted to wrestle him to the side and into the snow again, and Ed felt his shirt being tugged up. Goose bumps spread over his skin when the cold air hit his exposed stomach. Never too shy to use colorful language, Ed growled out a few selected curse words. He was faring far worse than Mustang in the freezing department, and he definitely needed to change that.

It took some skill to turn around without crushing the snow in his hands, but conveniently, Mustang's attempts to get him on his back helped. Ed went along with the motion, suddenly finding himself face to face with the Colonel as he wrapped his arms around Roy's neck. For a moment, he could feel warm breathe on his lips and a cold nose touching his. He shivered, this time not from the cold. The sudden rush of another kind of excitement didn´t stop Ed from taking advantage of the unexpected pause in Mustang's movement. With a satisfying rush of triumph, Ed used one hand to pull the soft fabric of the pullover away from Mustang's neck and the other to slip the improvised and rather deformed snowball underneath the woven material to the warm skin beneath.

Against his own body Ed could feel the other man shuddering, but the thrill of victory was muted against the prickling sensation of anticipation, a sudden excitement that shouldn´t be there but was.

Until now Ed hadn´t really thought about how close Mustang was, but suddenly it was all he could think about. Instead of playful wrestling in a tangle of limbs … it was an entirely different situation. Ed could feel Roy´s arms around his waist drawing him closer, but it didn´t feel like roughhousing anymore. It felt much more intimate.

Ed looked into dark eyes and involuntary tightened his own hold around Mustang. So close. Warm breathe against his lips. The younger alchemist could feel fingers moving down to his exposed midsection and cool hands slipping underneath the slightly lifted shirt. Mustang´s hands were warming up as they moved over heated skin. It sent goose bumps up Ed's spine, and the blond's breath stuttered against Roy's lips. Just as when the fight became something else, Ed could not tell when that simple almost-touching of lips became a kiss.

This kiss felt different than the one before. Roy´s lips were cold, but the kiss was anything but. Ed didn´t think about the snow or the fight. He didn´t think about the fact that this behavior was exactly opposite to what they had agreed was necessary not half an hour ago. He eagerly kissed back. Lost himself to the feeling of cool lips against his. Closed his eyes, but drew in the feel and taste of the other man´s mouth. Ed hadn´t noticed the Colonel drinking back at the restaurant, but as the kisses became more heated he could taste the faint flavor of sake, and found that he liked the tang on Roy's lips. Curious, he licked the other man´s bottom lip and almost broke away when another tongue met his.

Definitely different than the other kiss. That innocent kiss shortly after midnight had left Ed shaken, this ... this felt like drowning, but was at the same time thrilling. He should have felt cold, wearing no jacket. Lying still after their energetic battle, the temperature should have been hitting him full force. Instead there was the warmth of another body, distracting him from the cold. Strong hands stroked his skin, heat slowly building up inside of him, burning away rational thought with the need for more. Ed buried his hands in the other man's soft pullover as he moved his tongue against Mustang's, eager for the feel, the taste, the shiver it send down his spine. Roy's teeth teased Ed's lower lip with a gentle nip, and Ed felt Roy's hands slide upwards. Light touches moved over scars, and Edward broke the kiss when he felt his body reacting in a way that would soon become very uncomfortable. Resting most of his weight on Mustang´s shoulders, he shifted his legs a bit until he straddled Mustang´s lap, a position more comfortable than the twisted tangle their fight had led to. Roy's lips, now warm, pressed against his neck and Ed bit his own lip when he felt the man sucking on his skin.

This was moving very quickly in a direction it should not be moving at all. He should stop it. Ed opened his mouth to say something, not sure exactly what, but Roy's tongue licked over the skin he had likely just bruised, and cool air hit the wet spot. Then that warm mouth was back and the Colonel was gently biting down. A hint of sharp pain accompanied the sudden flare of arousal, and whatever Edward might have said turned into a trembling pant.

Ed's hand moved up from Roy's back, over his shoulder and down the front of his cardigan. What he could feel under the thick wool was definitely not what one would expect from a desk jockey, and the blond had to hold back a teasing remark about how Mustang's work ethic did not extend to his free time, mainly because he was sure the resulting bite would be a bit more painful than the previous one, forcing him to wear a turtleneck for the rest of the month to hide the mark. His flesh hand followed Mustang's example, underneath the man's woven pullover, feeling muscles twitch when cold fingers met warm skin. His automail hand joined his flesh one, and Mustang broke away from his neck with a surprised and painful groan. The man´s hands suddenly gripped him much harder, digging into Ed's shoulders.

Edward reacted instinctively. He bit down on his lip hard to prevent a pain-filled groan and pushed away from Mustang in an attempt to escape the hand that was gripping the skin around his prosthesis far too harshly. No longer distracted, Edward became aware of the throbbing of his ports, a sure sign that his metal arm and leg had cooled down well below his body temperature. For someone accustomed to automail it wasn't really that painful, but it was bothersome, and a warning that he had to warm up before the prosthesis caused him some real problems. The cold was irritating the skin around the ports, and when Roy's grip tightened, the sudden pain hit him unexpectedly. Thankfully, Mustang didn´t hold onto him, and let him slip out of his grasp without complaint.

For a few seconds there was silence as Ed struggled to push back the ache and let his body calm down.

"Your automail is freezing." There was no accusation in Mustang´s voice, although the ice cold metal pressed to his skin must have hurt. The Colonel was impassively stating a fact. Still, the younger alchemist felt annoyed, although he couldn´t say exactly why. Maybe it was just the fact that his handicap was suddenly on display.

"It´s fine." Ed spat and just a moment later, he could hear the other man sigh.

"We should return to the car. I´m taking you home." It was not a suggestion.

Instantly, Edward eyed Roy suspiciously. "And if I prefer to return to the restaurant?" he challenged. The man better not think to pamper him.

Mustang only shrugged. "Then feel free to do so. Personally, I don´t want to go back there. The atmosphere was becoming quite… animated when we left."

Apparently the man was not up for observing mindless drunken groping either. Funny, Ed would have thought Mustang might enjoy the drinking, partying, and lowered inhibitions. Somehow Ed had always pictured the Colonel to be the easygoing type that fit into such a scene, but thinking over the last few weeks, Ed had to admit that his original impression of Mustang had gained a few cracks.

Edward stood up and nodded. Grateful the conversation was turning away from his metal limbs, he reminded Mustang of the bill he had promised to settle. A snort was the answer, while the older man also got back to his feet.

"I´m sure my team will take full advantage of the offer, and Havoc will likely send drinks to a few women at the bar as well. He´s very generous when he's spending my money." Roy´s lips curved in amusement, a clear sign that the man did not mind advantage being taken of his wallet. "At any rate, when I made the reservation I also made arrangements with the owner to send me the bill after the holiday, and he agreed."

Dark eyes observed Ed for a few seconds, and although the shoulder still hurt, he had smoothed away any sign of pain from his face. Edward stoically observed his companion for a moment before he turned back toward the restaurant and Mustang's car.

With a mental sigh the young alchemist noticed that not only his arm, but his leg had started to throb from the cold as well. How could he not have noticed? He could have prevented this if he had paid closer attention. Leaving his jacked behind had been a mistake. Rolling around in the snow had been another. And letting Roy push up his sweater ...

A hot blush spread on Edward's cheeks and he looked back to Mustang, who had yet to follow him. The man stared back, obviously contemplating something, and finally Ed became fully aware of the situation. Uncomfortable, he huffed and bit his lip.

A month ago he and Mustang had more or less gotten along, usually less than more, their relationship purely professional. Then, beginning with their meeting at the Christmas market, their professional relationship became something more like a friendship, peppered with good-natured teasing. A few hours ago everything suddenly gained a completely different edge, that damn kiss at midnight to blame. A few minutes ago, whatever could have come out of that kiss was crushed under the weight of Mustang's familial obligations. And now, out of the blue, yet another complicated ingredient was added to the mix, a strong physical attraction that was difficult to ignore.

Neither man spoke as they walked; not a single word passed between them on the way back to Roy's car. Words were not necessary. The circumstances around the adoption hadn´t changed because an unexpected attraction had developed. Ed wouldn´t let it ruin Mustang´s chances at becoming the guardian of the two children, and he knew that Roy wouldn´t either. So how the hell had ... this ... just ... happened? Ed knew he was impetuous and often acted on impulse, but Mustang was not. The older man was a meticulous planner, never acting without considering every conceivable option. This shouldn't have happened.

Still, when Ed licked his lips, he was sure he could still taste the lingering flavor of sake and Roy.

When they reached the car, he stood at the passenger side door while Roy went around to unlock the vehicle. The blond cast a glance up to the clear night sky, catching sight of a few constellations.

"It´s going to be an interesting year." Roy´s voice brought him back to earth.

Ed looked over to the older alchemist, but his dark eyes were also looking up to the dark, star-filled sky, dominated by a slim crescent moon.

Ed hummed in agreement, before he forced himself to shake off his strange sense of wistfulness and opened the door of the car. A moment later, Mustang sat down in the driver´s seat, and Ed noted that his dark hair and clothing were still damp with melted snow. The image of Roy lying beneath him flashed thought his mind. Ed shifted a bit at the tingling sensation in his stomach and ignored the urge to run his fingers through the dark strands. Instead, he forced his gaze away and stared at the street as Roy pulled away from the restaurant.

While he observed the changing scenery outside the window of the car, Ed wondered what else this new year would bring. He had a feeling that 'interesting' was probably not a strong enough description to cover what was awaiting them.


Another temporary ending. New year is done and next comes… ^^ Want to make a guess?

Two fics into the story and the plot just starts to get into motion. (Sometimes, I want to strange my plot bunnies ._. ) Let me know what you think about the development?

I´m really looking forward to writing the next part and I hope you do to reading it and I`ll see you again next fic :D


Review answers:

Guest: Yes, there is ^^° But I think seven days after your review can be considered relatively soon? I hope you liked the chapter :D