Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Skipping A Beat ( Chapter 15 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Skipping a beat

When Roy opened his door the last thing he expected was to see was a soaked and distraught looking Edward but there he was all the same. Shaking off his shock Roy stepped aside and let the man in. Ed stood in his entryway, teeth chattering, hair plastered to his face and shivering. Roy couldn’t think of anything that could have possibly happened to prompt the current situation. The one thing he did know was Ed looked absolutely miserable and he didn’t like that fact one damn bit.

Roy was about to ask him what happened when Ed blurted out, “I screwed up.”

“I’m sure whatever it is that happened between you and Alphonse is not as bad as…”

“Not with Al, with Jean.”

Well that declaration got Roy’s attention. He had been certain whatever it was, was between the Elric brothers.

“You need to get that wet clothing off. Follow me, and I’ll go find you a towel and something dry to put on.”

Once they reached Roy’s bedroom Roy gave Ed a towel and some new clothing to put on. As soon as Ed stepped into the man’s bathroom he peeled out of his shirt and began scrubbing at his wet hair with the towel. Once he got the dry shirt on he realized his pants were a lost cause as well. Hooking his thumbs in the waistband Ed angrily shoved them off as if they were the cause of his current dilemma. Tossing his wet clothing over the shower rod he pulled on Roy’s jogging pants, flung the door open and marched out into the hall.

Roy was seated in his favorite chair in the living room when Ed finally came tromping back down the steps. He looked furious. In Roy’s eyes his blonde companion was a perfect mix of sexy, cute and pissed as he came stomping down the staircase wearing Roy’s shirt, too long pants and a scowl.  He flopped down in the chair across from Roy and angrily shoved some of the wet strands plastered to his forehead to the side and sighed.

“Care to tell me what happened?” Roy said as he filled two glasses with wine.

“That’s the whole thing; I can’t because I don’t have the slightest clue,” Ed grumbled as he took the offered glass from Roy’s hand and downed it all in one go before holding it out to be refilled.

Roy gave him a puzzled look as Ed sat there scowling. Ed recounted what had happened between him and Jean all while staring up at the ceiling.  When Roy didn’t immediately chime in with something Ed added, “You know what really gets me, besides the fact the entire exchange made zero sense?”

“What Edo?”

“The last two things he said, because you can’t make me into something I’m not, and when I asked what that was supposed to mean and told him I was confused. His response of, I know you are and that hurts more than you could ever know, made my stomach knot. Even without knowing what the hell he meant everything in me thinks that phrase is bad news. So if you have any idea what that was all about please clue me in because I’m so lost I feel like I’m drowning.”

Roy didn’t know what to tell Ed because he couldn’t make sense of the situation himself. The one thing Roy did pick up was that Jean was apparently upset Ed hadn’t come to see him once he got back into town and that Ed had missed his thinly veiled sarcasm. When Roy mentioned this, Ed’s brows furrowed before he asked, “But I stopped by his house twice today after we got back into town and he wasn’t home.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“No,” Ed sighed.

“I suppose that would be a good place to start whenever you see him again. Other than that I’m not sure what advice to give other than trying to get him to talk to you.”

“But why be mad at me over something like that? What difference would it have made if I had been exhausted from the trip and just getting up from a nap when he stopped by?”

“Relationships and emotions are funny things Edo, they don’t always follow logic.”

“So I see. I just don’t think me strolling over there and asking to talk is going to pan out any differently than it did in my front yard,” Ed said as he looked off to the side.

Blonde hair darkened to the shade of fresh honey by the rain clung to the side of Ed’s face. Roy could tell that Ed’s teeth were clenched and more than anything he wanted to run his fingers across that perfect jaw line and watch that tension melt away. Anymore, Ed didn’t look right wearing a scowl even though it was something he’d worn more often than not when they first met. Yes, the overly driven man-child that was Edward Elric had evolved to become an almost entirely different being.

A mellow, carefree, even if somewhat confused, happy being that no longer looked right when upset. At least he didn’t to Roy. In Roy’s world, an upset Ed should not exist.  This meant that despite the fact it was going to kill off something in his soul to do so, Roy was going to do what he could to help Ed patch things up with Jean.

Steeling his nerves Roy said, “Well there are other ways to communicate.”

When puzzled golden eyes narrowed at him Roy ignored the high pitched screaming of his spirit and said, “Body language, Edo. I’m sure with the right smile, the right look and the right caress… the right words won’t matter.”

Ed’s face turned five shades of crimson but he swallowed hard and asked, “You think so?”

“I know so,” Roy replied and the words surely shaved five years off his life.

“Humph, easy for you to say, Oh Legendary Lover Boy of Central, but me, I’m still new at all of this stuff and to be honest I… I’m not even sure if I’m any good at it.”

“Has…” Roy faltered, took a large drink of wine and thought a bottle of the stuff would not be enough to get him through this conversation, “has he had any complaints before?”

“No but I know… well I just know I could be better at some things.”

“I’m sure your insecurities are unfounded, Edo.”

“I could prove it to you but I wouldn’t want to scar you for life.”

If this kept up Roy may die this very evening. You could only shave so many years off a man’s existence before the reaper immediately came looking for him. “You are worrying over nothing.”

Ed snorted and said, “You say this now but you’ve never been on the receiving end of the mockery I make a blow job into. Trust me, it could probably scar you for life.”  

Dead, that’s what Roy was going to be. The imagery that simple phrase alone sparked in Roy’s mind was going to be his undoing. It amazed Roy what a little bit of red wine did for Ed and his hang-ups. That shy person that avoided talk of intimate things took a back seat to this sensually sarcastic creature that didn’t bite his tongue.

Polishing off what wine remained in his glass, Roy swallowed hard and replied, “Practice makes perfect and there’s no better time than the present to go for it.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely,” Roy replied.

Hopping to his feet Ed shouted, “Fuck it! I’m going for it then. I don’t idle well anyway and I hate inaction, to me that’s worse than the problem.”

Roy stood up as well and when Ed marched toward the steps Roy sighed and resisted the urge to beat his head against the nearest wall. There was one lone flickering ember left alight in his soul and it was sure to die off due to his next action. Walking into the kitchen Roy went down into the basement then into his wine cellar. Selecting a well aged red wine he grabbed it off the shelf and swore under his breath. He didn’t know what felt worse, helping Ed into the arms of another or how selfish he felt for not really wanting to do it because he desired Ed for himself.

Cursing one more time he climbed the steps and was surprised to find a redressed Ed standing in the kitchen. Still damp clothing clinging to him like a second skin he had his hands shoved in his pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels.

“You ok Roy? What had you swearing down there?”

“Stubbed my toe, nothing to worry about Edo,” Roy lied as he handed Ed the bottle.

“What’s this for?”

“Everything’s better with wine.”

Ed smiled at him and said, “Thanks Roy,” before leaning forward and giving Roy a brief hug. “I don’t know what I would have done these past two weeks without you.”

“What are friends for Edo, what are friends for.”

Those nine words extinguished the flicker.

+++

Ed wasn’t one to interfere in his brother’s life but as the week trudged on he knew he had to say something. As a band, they couldn’t skip out on Fidel with such short notice. They’d made a commitment and they had to stick with it. That’s why when Wednesday night rolled around Ed was at home cooking a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes for him and his brother instead of over at Jean’s. If anyone could use a plate of comfort food it was his brother. Al eventually wandered in the kitchen and asked his brother if he needed any help. When Ed said he could peel the potatoes Al started his task immediately.

When the silence got too heavy, Ed finally spoke.

“You need to talk to her.”

“I know I do. I just don’t know how to begin,” Al admitted. “I could wave the white flag in the form of treating her to dinner. It would be a start.”

“You don’t really want to have this conversation in public. If her emotions are still running high that could get ugly,” Ed said as he added spices to the bowl of flour in front of him. “Take it from someone who sported a bruised cheek for several days. I’m just glad no one at that little Resembool eatery really realized who we were. Winry damn near knocked me out of my seat.”

“Yeah I guess you have a point there. I don’t think Lena’s that temperamental but I don’t’ want to risk it either.”

“You could invite her over here. I’ll make myself scare.”

“You don’t seem to have a problem doing that lately. This is the first night you’ve been home since you got back from your road trip.”

Ed tried to fight the flush but he knew he was crimson anyway. When he didn’t comment Al merely smiled at his Brother’s flushed face and said, “I just wish I knew where to begin.”

“Well how do you feel about, Lena?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“The kind that needs answering before you talk to her,” Ed replied sternly, giving Al a look.

“She’s like a little sister to me.”

“So you aren’t attracted to her at all?”

The silence hanging between them was confusing Ed. When the seconds drug on, he began to worry.

“Al?”

“I… well I hadn’t thought about it before she pointed it out but, well… she isn’t a kid anymore.”

“True and even if she was it’s not like you’re one of the ancients at your age.”

“True as well but the idea of dating her still seems… odd.”

“But I take it from your hesitation answering my question you’ve thought about it.”

“How could I not after what happened on Sunday?”

“Point taken, so is this something you actually want to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean are you actually interested in her in this manner or would going out with her at this point be a pity date.”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t want her to be upset any longer but I also don’t know much about her other than the fact she has a great voice and fabulous ass.”

“Ah, so you haven’t been totally blind.”

“Tell me you haven’t noticed.”

“Touché,” Ed said almost instantly. A person would have to be blind not to notice the hips and ass on little miss Lena. “So what are you going to do?”

“What men have been doing since the dawn of time, Brother. I’m going to go grovel. Then, if that works, I’ll ask her if we can work on being closer friends and go from there.”

“So a one day at a time plan, that sounds good to me.”

“Great now what are you going to do about, Winry?”

“I was actually going to call her a few days ago before I got distracted and time got away from me.”

“So I noticed,” Al replied with a smirk as he dumped the peeled and cubed potatoes in the pot of water on the stove. “Who was the distraction, Jean or Roy?”

“Why did you ask that and what’s so funny?” Ed asked as he began chopping the lower stems off some asparagus and placing the spears on a baking sheet. It’s not like it would magically make the chicken and potatoes health food but they had to have something green on their plate.

“Oh no reason, mister ten days on the road with one and then three nights at the house of the other.”

Ed hadn’t looked at it like that. “Roy and I are just friends, Al. There’s nothing going on there at all.”

“Okay fine if you insist,” Al said deciding not to push the issue. “But that leaves more than checkers and canasta going on between you and the Lieutenant then, am I correct?”

“You might be,” Ed said as he made it a point not to look at his brother.

“I’m just giving you a hard time, Brother. I won’t pry.”

“No, it’s okay Al. I’m happy to report that getting laid on a regular basis is much more fun than checkers and canasta combined.”

It was Al’s turn to blush and all was right in Ed’s world.

++++

Al and Lena made it through their rough spot which meant the band back together and back on track. Ed and Jean seemed to be getting closer and it was killing Roy. It was painful to watch so he made a decision. He was going to put some distance between him and the older Elric. He started with backing away from hanging out together after work. It was hard, but Roy knew it needed to be done. He skipped Fidel’s, he stopped walking home with Ed, he even backed away from going to lunch with everyone. After a few weeks of that Roy was ready to spend his first completely Ed free weekend in months. Ever since that fateful Saturday Ed appeared at his front door looking for Graeme’s Book on The Structure of Elements they saw each other at some point nearly every weekend.

That changed from nearly, to absolutely every weekend after their road trip and as much as Roy enjoyed it, it was also destroying him on some level.

With this looming overhead Roy chose to pass on grabbing a beer with everyone at the Tavern that Friday night. He decided to be up out and about, bright and early on Saturday morning so if Ed stopped by he wouldn’t be home, therefore avoiding the temptation to spend time with him. Things were going well until Roy wandered into the middle of downtown to grab an early dinner because the apple and sandwich he’d taken with him when he’d left that morning had worn off. He stepped into a hole in the wall diner and before he could take a seat he was greeted with, “Hey Roy, fancy seeing you here.”

Everything in him tensed when a voice that he knew all too well called out to him. Roy couldn’t help but think, what were the chances? He’d picked the no name greasy spoon because he figured he wouldn’t run into a soul he knew. But he’d run into two of them in the form of Al and Ed. They both waved Roy over and invited him to dine with them saying they’d just placed their orders.

Off kilter and totally unprepared for the turn of events Roy hesitated to the point where both the Elric’s gave him a funny look.

“Thanks but… thank you both for the offer but I was just going to order something to go.”

“Are you sure General?” Al asked.

“I’m positive Al, you boys enjoy your dinner,” was all Roy said as he purposefully ignored the golden eyes boring into him. He kept his attention focused on Al as he wished them pleasant dining and left the eatery.

Al was watching his sibling as Ed watched Roy’s retreating form. One of the reason’s they had gone out to dinner was because they had talked most of the day away and by the time their stomach’s were growling neither one of them were in the mood to cook. The biggest reason behind their less than cheerful mood just walked out of the diner without ordering the food he had proclaimed he wanted “to go.”

“See what I mean, Al.”

“I do,” Al replied wistfully. When he and Ed had been talking earlier Al had convinced his sibling that he was reading into things but now Al wasn’t so sure. Maybe Ed was right. Maybe Roy was avoiding him.

“I just can’t think of a single thing I’ve done to cause this.”

“Maybe it’s not as dire as you think.”

“The man would rather go hungry than eat in the same building I’m in.”

Al didn’t have anything to say to that. Even he had to admit Roy’s behavior was as strange as Ed had said it was.

The two sat in tense silence and when their dinner arrived Ed did little more than push his food around on his plate. Ed not in the mood to eat was always a depressing sight in Al’s book and after the fourth heavy sigh he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Talk to him.”

“How can I when he’s avoiding me like I have the plague?”

“When did you become the roll over and die type?”

“What?”

“You, you’re acting defeated. It’s not your usual style. Talking to Winry after the incident was no cake walk either but you survived it. If you lived through that, this should be easy.”

Ed gave Al a look but realized his brother was right. On top of that moping and guessing would get him nowhere. Tomorrow he was marching over to Roy’s bright and early and he wasn’t leaving until he got an answer.

+++

Roy hadn’t slept well at all. In fact he’d spent most of the night staring up at the ceiling trying to shake his incidental encounter with Ed. Finally giving up on sleep around six Roy got up, showered and ate. By a quarter after seven he was ready to walk out the door. His heart ended up in his throat when he opened it only to find Ed on the other side with his hand poised to knock.

“You scared the piss out of me, Roy.”

“Likewise,” Roy admitted as he tried to calm his racing heart. “Is there something I can do for you, Ed?”

“Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Not really, I was on my way out.”

“We could talk and walk, that wouldn’t bother me.”

Roy had to fight the urge to swallow loudly as those exquisite eyes he adored so much looked at him in a pleading manner. “I was really on a mission to get a few errands done so maybe another time?”

“Sure thing, no problem,” Ed replied even though his tone said otherwise. “Enjoy your day, Roy.”

“You do the same, Edo.”

With that, Ed started to walk away but when he got to the bottom of the steps leading off Roy’s porch Al’s words echoed in his head. He was rolling over again. Not in the mood to leave this unresolved for another day Ed turned around, fixed Roy with a pointed look and said, “No.”

“No?” Roy asked confused.

“That’s right, no. You don’t get to dismiss me like that. We’ve known each other for too long, been through too much together and over the past year you’ve become my best friend so no, you don’t get to just dismiss me after avoiding me for weeks.”

Stunned, that’s what Roy was and as Ed stood there before him with his arms folded over his chest he couldn’t think of a damn thing to say to the man.

“It’s complicated.”

“What with us isn’t? Do we know how to live any other way? You don’t have to avoid me, because of it.”

Roy sighed, “It’s not what you think.”

“Well if you aren’t avoiding me by all means please tell me what this is. I’m lost over here.”

“I… I have a lot on my mind.”

“And that makes me contagious how?”

“I’m sorry if you felt that way, Edo. That wasn’t my intent. I’ve been dodging everyone.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. I’m, just trying to clear my head.”

“You know you can talk to me about anything right?” Ed asked as he walked back up the steps to where Roy was standing.

“I know that, but there are no words for some things. Have you ever felt like that? Like whatever you had going on in your head couldn’t be expressed with words.”

Ed gave him an incredulous look.

“Sorry, forgot who I was talking to, of course you have.”

Ed smirked at Roy and said, “I’ve been told that I offer the most companionable silence this side of Xing.”

“Ed, nearly everything is this side of Xing.”

“I rest my case.”

The two of them laughed and Roy realized it felt good to let some of the tension he was carrying melt away. But then again he’d felt like part of his very being was missing for the past few weeks as he had tried to put some distance between him and Ed. It felt good to be standing beside him once again even if they weren’t immersed in their usual highbrow conversation.

The silence was indeed as companionable as Ed said it would be and that’s how they spent the day. In almost to complete silence just enjoying each other’s company. They moved from the porch to Roy’s den where they each picked a book off the shelf and settled down to read. Just past midday Ed’s growling stomach made Roy chuckle and the duo relocated to the kitchen where they fixed lunch together and ate in the same comfortable silence they’d enjoyed all day.  After that they cleaned the kitchen and settled in the living room to listen to a talk show on the radio. When it was over that program was followed by a live broadcast of the West City Orchestra.

They enjoyed two hours of excellent music and when that drew to a close Ed disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned he was carrying two cups of tea and passed one to Roy. When Ed turned to leave the room Roy followed and they ended their day where it began, out on Roy’s porch, this time watching the sun set.

The day had been perfect and Roy was happier than he’d been in weeks. He was just about to say so when a voice interrupted his musings.

+++

Jean had been waiting for his boyfriend to show up at his place all day. They hadn’t had any solid plans but Ed had told him Friday night that he’d drop by on Sunday and by the time the sun dipped low on the horizon Jean had given up on Ed appearing and decided to look for him. Once Al told him Ed had taken off that morning headed for Mustang’s place Jean had to bite his tongue not to curse.

The sad thing is part of him knew that’s where Ed would be and that fact was enough to make his teeth grind. Ed spent a lot of time with Roy. More time than he spent with Jean and some days that fact was hard to endure. He’d always hoped Ed would realize this and snap out of it but as time passed it seemed to be getting worse instead of better.  The moment the two of them were together everything and everyone else seemed to fade into the background. Jean had no doubt that Ed hadn’t even thought about the fact he’d told him he’d stop by.

“Hey guys, am I interrupting anything?”

“No not at all,” Ed said as a smile claimed his face. “Come on up.”

“No thanks, Love I was merely looking for you.”

Ed’s brows knitted for a moment before he said, “Oh shit, I was supposed to be at your place wasn’t I?”

“It’s ok,” Jean said as his eyes locked onto Roy’s. “I knew where to find you.”

Roy didn’t falter under the intense icy blue stare Jean was giving him, but he’d never forget it. No, forgetting that look want possible. Jean Havoc was pissed and Roy knew exactly why. If they weren’t friends and coworkers this would have dissolved into one ugly scene.

“I was hoping you had time to join me for dinner.”

“Of course I do,” Ed replied as he sat his cup on the railing. “Forgive me for not showing up before now.”

Once Ed was off the porch and standing beside him, blue eyes that hadn’t left Roy’s tense face grew cocky before Jean said, “No problem, Ed. I’m sure you can think of a way make it up to me later.”

Ed swatted Jean on the arm as his ears turned red before waving goodbye to Roy and turning to leave.

“Sleep well, Chief,” Jean said as he turned to follow Ed.

“You do the same, Lieutenant.”

Jean placed his hand on the small of Ed’s back, looked over his shoulder and with a wicked smirk painting his face he said, “I’m sure I will.”

Roy narrowed his eyes at the man but said nothing. If peace was to be kept he would have to remain quiet on the matter, and that’s exactly what he’d do. As he watched the two leave his yard then grow smaller in the distance Roy cursed under his breath. Once he looked down and saw Ed’s empty mug he swore loud enough to startle the squirrel that was sitting on the railing on the far end of his porch.

The gray and brown creature looked at him with his head tilted to the side as if to say, have you lost your mind. Roy answered yes to the unasked question and in what could only be called a showing of compassion the squirrel brought the nut it was trying to pry open as close to Roy as it dared and dropped it off. When Roy said thank you but didn’t pick it up the creature nudged the gift closer to Roy with its nose.

“I think you would get more use out of that than I.”

A little bit of chittering.

“No thank you, nuts aren’t really my thing.”

More chittering and head tilting.

“I really have lost it haven’t I? I’m out here talking to a squirrel… and the odd thing is I think you’re listening.”

As if to exemplify that point the animal sat down on its haunches and looked at Roy.

“What should I do? This is killing me.”

The squirrel flipped its bushy tail around a bit before turning toward the gate.

“Go after him? I can’t do that.”

An almost angry snip is the response.

“It’s not my place.”

The creature turned its back on Roy and bounced back to its original place on the railing at the edge of the porch. It was official. His love for Ed had robbed him of his sanity… Roy Mustang had just had a conversation with a squirrel.

++++

Time marched forward as it was apt to do and on this particular day found Edward Elric excited. Today was one of the Saturday’s he got to spend with one of the kids from the orphanage and today it was Taylor. Him and Al often took the time to take one of the kids at the orphanage out for the day and today was one of those days for Ed. Taylor was easily one of his favorites even though he’d never admit it.  She had dark brown hair and beautiful large green eyes. She was a year younger than Elysia and they could pass for sisters. Once the two got together they acted the parts as well.

Ed had always hoped Jean would warm up to this particular activity of his but so far no dice. He’d invited him out with them but Jean hadn’t seemed inclined at all to spend his Saturday in this manner. Ed knew volunteering wasn’t for everyone but this was something very personal for him and Al. They were orphans too and there wasn’t a day that they weren’t thankful for the people that had taken time to help them through life when all they had was each other.

Jean’s lack of interest shouldn’t bother him so much but it did. It bothered Ed a lot. The man seemed almost… annoyed by Ed’s need to volunteer. In fact, Jean didn’t seem interested in most of the things Ed did with his spare time. While not a big deal in and of itself it didn’t leave a whole lot of common ground for the pair to interact on. Shaking the morose thoughts Ed asked Taylor where she wanted to go first and in a heartbeat they were off to the nearest clothing store.

After taking her shopping, having lunch together and listening to how life was going for Taylor, Ed looked up from his drink and saw large green eyes focused on him all while looking extra innocent.

“Ok, what is it?”

“Nothing…”

“If that’s the case I guess we’ll head back.”

“ED!!”

“I’m just kidding Taylor we’re going to go see, Elysia.”

The smile on the girls face was as wide as it was contagious.

+++

When they arrived at the Hughes household Ed was immediately abandoned for the company of Elysia. Once Ed and Gracia made it into the den, Ed realized Roy was there and the three of them were playing gin.

“Would you care to join us Edo since your guest ran off with our fourth person?”

Ed nodded and said he’d be right back after he got himself something to drink. Once he was seated and caught up on how the game was progressing he partnered with Gracia since she and Elysia had been on a team together. Five hands later Roy and Maes were wishing Elysia had never left the table. Ed and Gracia were mopping the floor with them. When all was said and done, the guys were thoroughly defeated and pouting.

Gracia just laughed at the long faces and headed upstairs to check on the girls.

« So how’s your day been Ed? » Maes asked « Miss Taylor looks as lovely as ever. »

« It’s been fine, » Ed replied solemnly but neither man believed that claim.

« What’s weighing on your mind so heavily? »

« Nothing that should be I suppose. I just wish Jean had been interested in going out with us today. No biggie. »

« Maybe dress shops and toy stores aren’t his thing, » Maes offered hoping to lighten the mood.

« Well it doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing if I’ve got one of the kids he keeps his distance. »

« Kids aren’t for everyone, » Maes added.

« True, » Roy agreed before changing the subject. He didn’t like Ed looking so lost in thought.

« What are your plans for the rest of the day? »

« Not much really. After taking Taylor back I had planned on doing nothing more than finishing up that song for Jean’s birthday party. It feels like I’ve been working on it forever.”

« How is that coming? »

« Pretty good I think. But that means nothing coming from me since I wrote it. »

The men laughed at that and continued on in that manner until the women returned… and what an entrance they made. All of their arms were loaded down with stuff.  Apparently Elysia had gotten a new wardrobe and had passed a lot of her smaller belongings on to Taylor.

« And just how are we supposed to get all of that across town, little missy? » Ed asked. “We walked over here.”

« I’m sure Roy wouldn’t mind giving you a lift, he has to pass right by there, » Maes offered on Roy’s behalf.

Roy just sighed and agreed. He’d long since given up on making Hughes behave where he and Ed were concerned. Anymore he just went along for the ride.

+++

Once they got Taylor home and as unpacked as they could get her in the small shared space she had they were walking through the orphanage headed for Mrs. Drogan’s office when the sound of a baby crying split the air. Sure there were lots of kids there but the youngest was around six. Last time Ed and Roy checked there were no babies at the city orphanage. Following the sound of the noise they encountered an odd sight.

Mrs. Drogan was holding the crying infant in one arm as she read instructions off a sheet to Mrs. Haley who was trying and failing at putting a crib together. Both women looked haggard as they had the baby crying as well as several smaller children under foot. Ed and Roy looked at each other for a moment before Ed took the baby from Mrs. Drogan as Roy worked to calm the other kids. He convinced them to go outside by offering to show them some fire alchemy if they would go rake the leaves for their care takers. All of the kids rushed outside and peace took over the room.

« I know you two aren’t believers, » Mrs. Drogan began, « but from where I stand you two were heaven sent. »

Ed just smiled at the older lady as he bounced the infant in his arms. He had no real experience with babies but he’d watched enough women to know babies seemed to like gentle bouncing as long as they hadn’t just eaten.

« Where did this little guy come from? » Ed asked. « Was he here this morning when I came by? »

« Yes, she was here, » Mrs. Haley corrected. « She was thankfully sleeping when you picked up Taylor. »

« She arrived last night, » Mrs. Drogan said. “Most of the kids were not even aware she was here until her cries took over the quiet morning. It was some adventure last night trying to find supplies for her at that hour but we made due. »

« Let me and Ed have a crack at that crib, » Roy offered.

« Gladly, » Mrs. Drogan replied as she handed over the instruction sheet and reached for the infant. She was a lot of things but a carpenter wasn’t one of them.

Once the crib was together and the infant settled inside in a nest of blankets the four adults retreated to the office. Once they were behind closed doors both women were very much looking their age, those ages being in their late fifties and early sixties.

« I’m too old for this, » Mrs. Haley said. « Six and ten year olds are tiring enough but a baby, » she said as she shook her head.

« Especially one this young, » Mrs. Drogan said as she took her graying brown hair out of the sloppy bun it was in. « She’s only a few weeks old at most. »

« Wow, » Roy said as he looked at both women with wide eyes. « Who dropped her off? »

« No clue, » replied the completely gray haired Mrs. Haley. She was a short rotund woman that was nearly as wide as she was tall. « She was literally left on the door step with nothing more than an empty bottle and two blankets. No name was left with her. She didn’t even have clothes on, poor thing. »

« As it is she’s wearing one of the smallest shirts we could find but it still swallows her. »

« There wasn’t much money in the budget to begin with and now this. The crib alone nearly broke us. »

« If you ladies would give me a list I’ll get you everything on it, » Ed said without hesitation.

« I didn’t say that for that reason Edward. You and your brother give us an insanely generous amount of money as it is. It’s the City that needs to cough up more funding. »

« Well until that time give me a list, » Ed said sternly. « Kids going hungry and naked waiting on those pompous assholes to do what needs to be done is unacceptable. »

« EDWARD! » Mrs. Haley shouted but Mrs. Drogan merely laughed.

The truth is the truth, Fran, » Mrs. Drogan said. « I’ve written numerous proposals, appeals and I’ve spoken down at city hall during the meetings many times. They purposefully turn a blind eye to the situation here. »

« Well maybe someone a little more firm needs to speak with them, » Ed mumbled.

« What was that, Edo? »

« Nothing, » Ed said as he pushed the ladies to get moving on the list. No sooner than they picked up a pencil did cries ring out from across the hall just as children started knocking on the door.

« You take the baby and I’ll go entertain the others,” Roy suggested. »Deal? »

« Deal, » Ed agreed. The ladies told him where the diapers and milk were and he was on his way.

Back inside the bedroom Ed could see the blanket in the crib moving about but he couldn’t see the baby. One look over the rail told him what the issue was. Her tiny feet were tangled in one of the blankets and she was livid about that turn of events. Ed freed the impossibly small feet from their entanglement and tiny toes came into view as their owner tried to calm her frantic cries.

« Hey there little lady. I would call you by your name but no one knows what that is. Are you ok down there now?”

The baby was looking up at Ed with a tear stained face and she opened her mouth as if to answer but the only thing that came out was a small hiccup. She blinked a few times seemingly stunned at what had just happened to her body. Another hiccup hit and she quickly decided she wasn’t a fan of hiccups. Letting out a wail that could wake the dead Ed moved to pick up the pissed off child.

This seemed to calm her some but each time another hiccup hit she grew upset all over again. After several minutes of this Ed decided it was time to take action and headed for the kitchen. He was in the kitchen with the upset infant when two of the smaller children came in to see what Ed was doing.

“Ed why is the baby crying?” The young girl asked.

“Because it’s hungry,” the boy answered matter-of-factly. “Everyone knows that’s why babies cry.”

“Quit being a know it all, Ben.”

“I don’t have to, Greta. I know that…”

“Guys, guys settle down don’t you think she’s making enough noise?”

Both kids fell silent with guilty looks on their faces but they never quit watching Ed. In fact he could hardly move for them.

“I thought you guys were outside watching Roy?”

“We were and he made the coolest fire bird in the sky, it was great!”

“It was but he said he couldn’t let it go on for long because it was hard to control.”

“Let that be a lesson guys,” Ed said as he continued pulling things out of the cabinets. “Alchemy and the power it puts forth has to be respected or people could get hurt. It may all look like fun and games to you guys but it can be really dangerous if you are not careful.”

Roy had come in as Ed’s back was turned and the sight he saw brought a smile to his face. Watching Ed move around cradling a cranky infant in one arm as he rifled through cabinets was inspiring enough but once you added the other two kids underfoot as he gave a life lesson the entire scene was beyond charming. Seeing that Ed needed to cook something Roy spoke up.

“Would you like me to hold her so you could use both hands?”

Ed let out a sigh of relief and handed over the still hiccupping infant. She took one look at Roy, gave him a toothless smileand cooed at the General. Ed laughed and said, “I guess it knows no age range.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Your legendary charm, I guess all ladies do adore you,” Ed joked.

Roy let out a laugh even though he wasn’t truly feeling amused. He’d trade the admiration of every woman in Amestris to have the affections of the man in front of him. Roy sat down at the table and called the other two children over to look at the baby, an action that gave Ed some room to work.  As he spoke to the kids Roy looked at the ingredients on the counter: caraway, fennel, ginger, mint and honey but he couldn’t figure out what Ed was making.

“What are you cooking over there, Edo?”

“Happy Juice.”

“What?”

“Happy Juice. It was something mom use to make for Al when he was little because he often had stomach trouble and would become cranky or cry. The first time I paid attention to her making it I asked a dozen questions at least and it was then that she told me that she’d been making this since I was a baby and it always worked.”

“You remember the recipe from all that time ago?”

“All part of having my super brain I guess, but I’ve made it a few times since then.”

Roy watched as Ed made his little concoction that he only allowed to boil for a minute before turning the heat way down. He spooned out a couple of teaspoons of the liquid into a bowl as the rest of it was allowed to simmer. Finding her bottle in the fridge he poured the contents in a clean cup before washing the bottle and putting about a quarter cup of cold water in it then adding his hot concoction to it. He shook it up and tested it on his left wrist and it must have still been too warm for his liking because he added a splash more cold water.

With that done he handed it to Roy just as she was hit with another hiccup and was getting ready to wail. The instant the bottle touched her lips she was sucking away. As she drank Ed packaged up the rest of the happy juice after adding more water to it and put it in the fridge. The small amount of fluid was gone in no time and so were the hiccups apparently because she was nearly sleep again by the time they got up the steps.

Roy went to place her back in the crib but Ed shook his head no. He fussed around with blankets for a while and once he was happy with the arrangement he told Roy to lay her down. Once out in the hall Roy asked what that was all about.

“She was throwing a fit earlier because her feet were tangled. I figured she would sleep better if those little toes of hers stayed free.”

Both ladies were standing at the end of the hall looking at them in awe.

“For two men that have no children of your own you sure handled that like pros.”

“All in a day’s work,” Ed replied as he gave the ladies a mock salute. “Do you have that list ready?”

When the women handed him two pieces of paper Ed folded the papers and stuffed them in his back pocket without looking at them. After talking to the women for a bit longer, Roy and Ed left the orphanage with a lot on their minds. Once in the cabin of Roy’s car Roy said, “They have their hands full.”

“They do, too full to be honest. They are getting on in years. They need help. Lena and Ashley can only do so much. They have jobs too.”

“You’re going to stir the pot aren’t you?”

“The less you know the better,” Ed replied with a smirk. “But do you mind taking me home so I can grab the car and start shopping?”

“I could go with you if you don’t mind company.”

“I’d love it to be honest. I haven’t looked at the lists but I’m sure I’ll need help deciphering it.”

The shopping took longer than they thought. By the time they were done with that and delivering everything to the ladies at the orphanage the nearly full moon was high in the sky. When Roy went to drop Ed off at home Ed invited him in and Roy accepted. He might as well finish the day off right. It wasn’t as if he was ever ready to leave Ed’s presence anyway.

After making quick work of four sandwiches and a couple of glasses of juice two tired men flopped down in the Elric living room and damn near sighed in unison. They sat there talking about the day’s events for a bit before Roy asked where Al was. The smile that split Ed’s face was wicked indeed.

“Probably somewhere being happily molested by Lena.”

“So are they an official item now?”

« I don’t think they know what they’re doing yet, but they seem to be enjoying the process of figuring it out so I won’t say a thing. »

“Well at least they are on speaking terms now. It was rough going for a while.”

“It was. Remember that night I had to pull them from the show?”

Roy did remember. He probably would never forget it.

The band was at Fidel’s, the house was packed and Al and Lena were sounding like shit. He was out of tune and slow to start his solos. She was either coming in early, late or singing over the other back up vocalists. In other words it was a disaster. Three songs in Ed had, had enough and announced an early intermission for the band.

When everyone followed him backstage Ed looked at his brother and Lena and asked them if they wanted to sit out tonight. When both of them refused Zack said, « I think you two might want to reconsider that. »

« If I said I’m fine to play, I’m fine, » Al grumbled.

« I think I have to disagree with you on that Al. I think you two need to sit this one out. In fact I insist. »

« Since when did this become your band? » Al shouted and for the first time in a long time everyone got a glimpse at that infamous temper Ed kept a lid on most days.

« Since you started playing like a drunken sailor on shore leave, » Ed replied sternly.

« Sorry I’m not perfect all the time, Brother. »

« Don’t get pissy with me Al. I’m not the one you’ve got the damn problem with, » Ed hissed as he looked over at Lena. « I’m not usually one to interfere in someone else’s personal life but when it bleeds over into my world and starts causing me problems I can’t keep quiet. Go fix what’s bothering you. Your place isn’t on stage tonight. »

« Look I said I’m fine now let’s just … »

« Apparently you didn’t understand me Al, I said go. »

« But… »

« No buts, if either of you set foot back in that building before fixing this mess you’ve made between you I swear I’ll transmute you both bald. »

« Ed, » Lena said. « I think we can… »

« Lena I love you dearly but right now I don’t give a shit what either of you think. I know for a fact you were making the band, and not to mention Fidel, look like two bit amateurs tonight. He sold tickets to tonight’s show. People have paid to see us do our thing and we are going to give them their money’s worth. If that means we have to do it without you two then so be it. »

When Al and Lena fell silent Ed asked everyone else if they were ready to go back in. When they nodded, everyone minus the troubled singer and guitarist filed back inside. The band played the ‘sick Al » lineup of songs and the show went on at a much more reasonable tempo.

Yeah that was an interesting night to say the least.

After their stroll down memory lane Ed went into the kitchen to refill his drink only to have another memory hit him. He shook his head as he pulled the juice pitcher out of fridge but memories were still flooding his mind faster than he could filter through them. Taking a deep breath he sat the juice and his glass down and tried to reign in his emotions. When he realized it wasn’t working he slipped out of the side door and onto the porch to get some much needed air.

In the next room Roy heard the kitchen door creak shut and just assumed Ed was taking out the trash or something like that. When several minutes passed and Ed didn’t return Roy went looking for him. When Roy found him Ed was looking out over the railing of the porch into the yard in a daze. Roy would have been more than content to just let him stare off into space if he hadn’t noticed how his eyes were glassing over. At first he thought it was a trick of the moonlight but when Ed looked away from him a sniffed he realized there was a problem.

« Are you okay over there Edo? »

« Yeah, yeah I’m fine, » Ed replied but the hitch in his voice was not convincing.

« Want to talk about it? »

Ed bit his lip for a second before he said, « The first time I made Happy Juice was three nights after mom died. »

Roy was stunned silent. What could a person say to that?

« Al had cried himself into a mess, he hadn’t been eating and his stomach was in knots. Pinako had convinced him to eat some watermelon and even that light snack had his stomach protesting. I made it then and I remember crying the whole time I was cooking it. Not the loud sobbing crying but tears were streaming down my face the entire time. »

« That must have been hard. I can’t even imagine losing my only parent then having a little brother to take care of. »

« It was a little heavy that’s for damn sure. But I made the juice, it worked and for the first time in three days I felt like it was going to be okay. That even without mom or dad Al and I would survive. »

« You two amaze me. »

Ed merely shrugged at Roy’s comment before tilting his head skyward. He spent several moments blinking back tears then sighed. « That poor baby girl will have no memory of her parents. »

« It is something I would wish on no one. »

« I’m already wondering what will happen to her. »

« Me too, Edo me too. »

It was a somber thought to end the night on but that’s what they did. Life couldn’t always be rainbows and roses and today reminded them of this less than cheerful fact. They couldn’t save the world but part of them wanted to try anyway.

+++  

Before anyone knew it, fall was in full swing and it was time for Ed and Elysia’s birthday. Unlike his brother, Ed preferred something much more low-key so he always celebrated privately or via a joint gathering with Elysia, much to Al’s dismay. The younger Elric thought Ed was missing out on the true joy of his birthday by not having a big party.

In all honesty Ed had too much on his plate and on his mind to be concerned about a big party. There was the growing issue with the lack of funds at the orphanage and the baby girl they finally named Noraleen. Ed crinkled his nose at the name and consistently shortened it to Nora. There was his growing relationship with the lieutenant, and the fact that he had come to the happy conclusion that he was very much in love with Jean Havoc. There was the band and the fact that every time they looked up someone was trying to make them turn their hobby into career. There was that nasty issue the military discovered brewing on the outskirts of West City. It hadn’t been said flat out but Ed knew something was on the verge of happening because the Führer already had him and Maes working on a plan and putting together a team. The stress of that alone was heavy enough and he couldn’t share the burden either. Only five people knew what was potentially brewing in the sparsely populated area between West City and Creta. At least he could talk to Maes when they were alone. If not for that some days Ed thought he would go nuts.

In other words life was busy.

When it came time to relax and have fun for the party Ed was all for it being small and low-key. This year, since the occasion fell on a Saturday, Gracia had decided they would have the party with Elysia and her friends during the day at their house then have the second gathering out at their lakeside cabin. She thought it would be a nice change of pace from their usual backyard cookout.

When that evening came around Elysia was so excited she couldn’t hold still. Ed wasn’t bouncing around like she was but everyone could tell he was excited as well.  The day had gone by swimmingly and everyone was having a great time. Roy was watching the Elric brothers chase Elysia around when a voice behind him startled him out of his reverie.

“You alright there, Chief?”

“I’m fine, Jean.”

“You sure? You looked like you were in a daze.”

“Just thinking.”

“Really? I didn’t realize your thoughts were gold and blue,” Jean said before walking toward the grill where Breda was.

Roy was confused for a moment before Ed, Elysia and Al zipping by once more caught his attention. It was then that Jean’s odd comment made sense. Ed had his hair down, per the birthday girl’s request, and he was wearing a striking royal blue shirt that made that golden mane of his seem to glow. When Roy looked in Jean’s direction he noticed that the man was already looking at him. Roy knew the beginning of an issue when he saw one so he opted not rise to the obvious bait, ignored Jean’s comment as he pretended like nothing had transpired between them at all.

Taking a deep breath Roy shouted over to Breda and asked him if he needed anything. Thankfully the man answered yes then followed that by a list of items giving Roy the perfect excuse to go inside. Once in the kitchen Roy immediately started gathering the things Breda asked for. However, his tense movements were all too obvious to Maes the moment the man entered the room.

“Easy there Roy Boy, what’s wrong?”

Roy’s eyes scanned the room.

“We’re alone, no worries so spill it.”

“Apparently my Ed watching hasn’t escaped Jean’s notice. I hadn’t realized I was so obvious.”

“You’re not.”

“Apparently I am because… “

“No,” Maes cut in, “He watches you two like a hawk when you’re together. He has done so since the night you showed up at Fidel’s.”

“The night Ed and I… danced together?” Roy asked, it was so hard to call that incident a mere dance and he knew Maes loved pointing that out.

“No, I’m referring to the very first time you joined us all there. That vertical make out session set to music simply made it worse”

Roy rolled his eyes at Maes’ commentary and asked, “But why?” as he sat the last item on the counter.

Green eyes scanned the room before looking through the doorway and into the thankfully empty living room. When he deemed it safe Maes lowered his voice and replied, “You two are friends but you also have history. Bad history and that’s left Jean with issues where you are concerned. He’s so jealous of you at times he can’t see straight and your close-knit friendship with his boyfriend is unnerving him but his pride won’t let him admit it to you or to Edward.”

“What should I do?”

“I’ve noticed he has had you under more intense scrutiny for a few weeks now. I’d steer clear of him, give Ed some space and don’t do anything to set him off.”

“Easier said than done since I’m on his shit list.”

“Did something happen to inspire his latest bout of Roy-hating? I haven’t seen him this bad since the Susan incident.”

Roy cringed at the mere mention of that. That incident damn near tore the group apart. War, homunculus, corrupt government, and it was a waitress at some all night diner by the docks that was damn near their undoing… the whole situation was insane.

“Well he was upset enough with Ed when we came back from that road trip we took a while back to express it even if it was with thinly veiled sarcasm.”

Hughes rubbed his chin and narrowed those keen eyes at Roy before asking, “What are you not telling me?”

Roy sighed because he really didn’t want to go into it. It was a hard memory to think on or rehash. It was one of those moments that made him love the man just out of his reach that much more. Steeling his nerves Roy told Maes about everything that lead up to his Ed-less weekend and how it ended up being any and everything but. He told Maes how through a weird twist of fate they ended up spending the whole day together, not talking and just enjoying each other’s presence when Jean had found them on his porch watching the sun set.

“No wonder he’s got you on his radar.”

“I didn’t mean for it to happen Maes I was honestly trying to avoid him.”

“And you don’t think it’s odd that even when that’s your goal to avoid him fate manages to throw the two of you together anyway? I know you don’t believe in a higher power but even you have to think it’s more than coincidental. ”

“I… I just don’t know what to do or think anymore. Jean is ready to skin me alive and this time I don’t blame him.”

“Hey if I had my way I’d let you two fight it out gladiator style and to the winner goes the, Ed.”

“Can it Maes and help me carry this stuff outside. I’m going to grab some beer as a peace offering.”

Roy did just that and when they approached the grill, the supplies and beer were met with broad smiles all around and the four men stood by the grill drinking and laughing until Elysia announced it was time to play a game. Being used to the little girl’s homemade games everyone followed her lead.

Elysia and Ed were sitting in two chairs in front of everyone as Gracia and Al handed out sheets of paper and pencils. It was a list of questions, not just any questions but questions asking favorites from colors to food to songs for both her and Ed. The birthday girl said that she and Ed had already written down their answers and placed them in the Kitchen. The deal was that the two people that got the most answers right got the two mystery gifts. One Ed had made and one she had made. As the two people closest to the birthday duo Al and Gracia were barred from the game and relegated to tallying up the answers.

With the rules established Ed and Elysia basically sat in front of everyone and sang that maddening never ending song for three minutes. When time was up they gave a loud annoying sound that resembled a buzzer indicating that pencils had to go down. Everyone passed their papers to Al. Once he had them all him and Gracia headed for the kitchen with the answers to determine the winners.

Everyone was milling around and snacking on food as they awaited the big reveal. Everyone knew Maes would be the winner on Elysia’s side and figured it would be Jean on Ed’s. Imagine everyone’s surprise when Gracia announced Maes and Roy as the winners. Everyone cheered… well almost everyone cheered. Jean was giving Roy a look so heated it could have boiled water as Roy stepped beside Maes behind the two mystery gifts.

Ed’s brain was spinning at hundred miles an hour. He had been certain with Al taken out of the equation Jean was a shoe in as the other winner. He didn’t know how to feel about Roy winning the game on his side. It wasn’t that he really cared it just left him with an odd feeling. When he looked at Jean the man looked pissed but Ed merely shrugged his shoulders and winked at him. When Jean winked back Ed smiled before turning his attention to where everyone else was looking and that was at Maes and Roy.

As Roy and Maes started opening the boxes Roy’s heart was thudding in his chest and Maes snickering the way he was, wasn’t helping matters. He could feel the look Jean was giving him and more than anything he wished he’d given his actions over the last five minutes more thought. However, he hadn’t and had simply written down what came to mind given what he knew of Ed and Elysia.

This was not helping his situation with Jean at all.

Regardless, there was nothing he could do about it so he might as well open the box. It wasn’t like he had a choice in the matter anyway. Roy lifted the lid off the box and froze. He didn’t know what he was expecting but the crystal griffin reared up on its hind legs with its wings spread wide wasn’t it.  The statue was nearly a foot tall and the hooves, wingtips, talons and beak were painted gold. It was mounted to a stained and polished slab of wood and Roy’s mind went blank. All he could do was stare at it.

Ed hadn’t made this with alchemy he’d done it with his own two hands. Roy had seen him with paperbacks on the craft as well as various mythology art books over the past several weeks.  He couldn’t even imagine how much effort Ed had put into what he was seeing. Roy was grateful when Gracia shouted for them to holdup their prizes so she could take pictures. He needed the distraction. When Maes firmly suggested they take their prizes inside to keep them safe Roy followed.

Once inside and up the stairs Maes asked, “That’s your idea of not setting him off?”

“I wasn’t thinking, Maes. I swear I wasn’t.”

“I know, I know it just makes things more difficult and Ed’s gift being as elaborate as it is doesn’t help.”

“You think I should give it to him?”

“If you were Jean would you want it after the fact?”

“Good point I suppose I… oh shit.”

“Now what?” Maes asked as he placed the two delicate gifts on the dresser.

“I need to get my gift to Ed out of the pile.”

“Why?”

“It’s going to make things worse.”

“How?”

“It’s kind of extravagant.”

“Kind of as in, oh that’s a bit much but Ed’s a good friend or is it more along the lines of, I’m eating hot dogs for the next month?”

“Kind of as in, I really didn’t think how something like this would be perceived by everyone, it cost as much as a used automobile but I really wanted him to have it and you should have seen his face when we saw it and how much he enjoyed it and… and… just fuck me running.”

“You might end up running once Jean sees it,” Maes joked but one good look at his best friend had him sighing. Putting a comforting hand on one of Roy’s slumped shoulders he said, “Anything to do with Ed robs you of your sense of reason doesn’t it? You’re really that deeply in love with him aren’t you?”

When Roy looked down at his feet and nodded Maes patted him on the shoulder. He was in the midst of telling him he’d try and devise a plan to relocate his gift when the sound of rushed footsteps reached their ears moments before Kain appeared in the doorway.

« Come guys you’re holding up the cake cutting! » Fuery shouted as he appeared in the doorway.

« Ok we’ll be down in a few minutes. »

« Better hurry there’s an impatient birthday girl outside. »

« We will, » Maes answered cheerfully and once Fuery was gone he said, « Ok I’ll see what I can do Roy but I can make no promises. Elysia will want to dive into those gifts as soon as the cake hits her plate.”

“It’s ok Maes this is my own fault so don’t worry about it, I’ll just deal with it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Fuck no I’m not sure. Jean looked ready to skin me alive for winning that game.”  

“So I saw. You two need to find a way to dissolve the tension between you before it explodes. It’s been building for a while now.”

“I’m hoping no one really knows what this thing is so its cost won’t register in their minds.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you Roy Boy.”

“Thanks Maes. Let’s go so they can cut the cake.”   

When the duo reappeared outside both Ed and Elysia had cake cutters in hand and were ready to go. It was hard to decide which cake looked more delectable, Elysia’s Chocolate cake with caramel coconut icing or Ed’s red velvet cake with butter cream icing. Gracia had outdone herself this year and from bite one everyone was certain that there wasn’t going to be a slice of leftover cake from either one.

Jean was still giving Roy nasty looks but Roy was giving him a wide breadth so things were going as well as they could be. Maes was watching the two closely and he was ready to intervene at a moment’s notice if the situation called for it. Thankfully all was going well as Elysia began opening her gifts and by the time she was done and it was Ed’s turn things were fairly normal.

Ed was racking up and when he opened one of the gifts from Jean it was a new camera and two lenses to go with it. All could see Ed was more than a little pleased with that gift and the second one from Jean was an ornate set of calligraphy pens and that put a mile wide grin on Ed’s face that had Jean feeling rather smug. Unfortunately for Jean, that feeling was short lived. Kain and Breda brought over the last gift in Ed’s pile and when they sat it in front of him the size, shape and heft had Ed confused.

That feeling vanished the instant Ed opened the package in front of him. He gasped as golden eyes went impossibly wide right before his jaw dropped. He looked down in the box, up at Roy, back down in the box then up at Roy again, speechless.

“What is it Brother?” Al asked from his position at the end of the table.

Ed didn’t answer; he was still shaking his head in disbelief as he reached in the box with both hands and pulled out the gift that had him so awestruck. Once the item came into sight it grabbed everyone’s attention. Soon nearly all the guests were gathered around Ed and the odd looking device he’d received from Roy.

“I… I can’t believe you did this,” Ed finally stuttered out as he looked over at Roy.  The dark haired man said nothing and merely smiled at him in response.

“What’s this thing do, Ed?” Elysia asked as she walked up beside him. “It looks like a squished piano.”

Ed chuckled and answered, “If kind of is.”

“Does it function like a piano?” Riza asked as she peered down at the odd looking device.

“It does that and much more,” Ed said as his eyes drifted over to Roy for a split second before asking Kain to help him carry it over to the nearest power supply.

Ed sat there and thought for a moment before coming up with an idea. After a bit of tweaking and key pressing Ed had the keyboard tuned do it sounded like a trumpet. With that done he played a familiar riff from a popular jazz song. The melody had everyone in awe over how much it sounded like the intended instrument instead of the piano it seemed to be.

It wasn’t long before Ed’s fooling around drew in most of the band members. It didn’t take long for everyone to pick up their instruments and start making music. Once they started no one wanted to stop. Ed kept playing around with the sounds coming out of his gift and it had everyone singing and dancing. The lanterns were lit and the cake was gone before they all finally settled down around the small bonfire Maes and Breda had made.

The birthday girl was the first one to fall asleep but it was hours before any of the adults were ready to join her. The night ended on a high note despite the fact two men were doing a dangerous dance around each other. He’d never voice it but Maes knew there was no recovery from this for Roy and Jean and he hated it. Watching Ed float blissfully unaware between the two was only making it harder. The temptation to pull the young man aside and clue him was hard to deny. But Ed would ask a thousand questions that Maes couldn’t answer without either overstepping his boundaries, betraying someone’s trust or just plain sticking his nose in were it didn’t belong.

Interfering wasn’t an option for Maes, despite him knowing that the situation was as volatile as a stick of dynamite and tonight’s events had lit the fuse.

A Totally Different Cadence
Tone Deaf