Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Underneath it All ❯ Sempre Piu ( Chapter 17 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Ed's mind was in a much better place three weeks later, but it still wasn't back to normal. Yes, he and Havoc made up, and yes, they hadn't spoken of the incident again, but deletion hadn't happened, not speaking of it didn't mean this at all. It was not erased from Ed's mind and he didn't think Jean's mind had done away with the incident either. Pinako always said that there was a distinct difference that a person could feel between true forgiveness and anything masquerading in its place.

Ed was feeling that difference even if he kept that realization as well as those emotions and vocalizations to himself.

Shaking his head in a futile effort to clear his mind, Ed turned his attention back to lacing up his boots. He was going to grab his wallet and head for a walk through the city's market place. He needed to clear his head. With his wallet in hand, his keys in his pocket Ed kissed Jean on the forehead and told him to have a great evening and to sleep well.

Blue eyes went from soft to narrow in an instant and it made Ed pause.

"You're leaving?"

"Yeah, I haven't been home in days and I'm itching to see what's new at the market."

"No invite?"

Ed eyed Jean in his lounge wear, newspaper in hand and half a scotch on the end table and flashed his lover a lopsided grin, "I'm no expert but you look in for the evening to me."

Instead of the smile and chuckle Ed expected, blue eyes narrowed further followed by already thin lips pressing together and growing thinner as they disappeared into a grimace, "Regardless, an invite would've been nice."

Ed was not in the mood for company but the thought of creating another issue was even less appealing so Ed relented with a small sigh, "Would you like to come along?"

"Not if it's going to be a problem."

The flinch overtook Ed's person before his pride and sensibilities could stop it.

"It's not a problem," Ed answered even if it wasn't the cold sober truth. Did he mind in general? No. Was he in the mood to entertain anyone and Jean in particular? That was an even bigger no.

"Go on Ed, have fun I'll see you whenever."

"Whenever? I thought we were having dinner Wednesday night?"

"You say that now but it's Sunday, and I'm sure some sort of change in plans will happen before then and now," Jean said as he disappeared behind the newspaper once more.

Rubbed the wrong way by Jean's tone as well as his words Ed bristled and shot back, "If the world needs saving, I think dinner can wait but otherwise I will be at The Brigg with you at seven sharp on Wednesday."

"Like I said before Ed, go on," Jean mumbled never bothering to put his paper down.

It crossed Ed's mind to sit down and talk this out but the more he thought about it, the more he realized he just wasn't in the mindset for it.

"Rest well. I'll see you in the morning," Ed said as he turned and left. He didn't know how much more of this hot and cold flip-flop he could take. It's been three weeks since their trip to Bear Mountain and week one after burying the hatchet was great. Week two was confusing as fuck and week three needed a psychiatrist.

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As Ed tromped around town, he was walking in such a daze he almost plodded right past Al and Kain as he passed the bookstore.

"Brother! Snap out of it before you walk out in traffic again!"

The voice he'd know anywhere brought Ed back to the here and now and when he looked into the stunned faces of his Brother and coworker Ed wanted to scream. He really needed to get his shit together.

"I'm sorry guys I was lost in thought."

"Were you plotting someone's murder?" Al asked?


"Your face," Kain said. "You looked ready to kill."

Ed slid a tense hand over even more tense features in an attempt to relax his expression. A short series of deep breaths later he replied with, "No, no murder plots are afoot but if you guys aren't busy, I could definitely kill some scotch."

Al started to ask what was wrong, but everything from his Brother's expression to his words and posture said he wasn't in the mood to converse. Especially in the middle of the street.

Kain looked at his watch and said, "The Tavern is still doing the early bird special for about another hour or so. How about first round on me?"

"I'm game," Ed said as he looked at them both while never quite managing to make eye contact.

"Me too," Al replied as he suggested taking the alley behind the bookstore that lead to the fountain across from the Tavern to save time.

When they arrived, Ed put down shot one with no chaser without so much as a twitch. When he went after round two in the same fashion Al gave the bartender a look and the man had enough sense to go busy himself across the room for a bit.

"So, Brother, what brings you out at such an odd hour on a Sunday? I figured you and Havoc would be in for the night, out to eat or something."

Ed swiveled the empty glass in his hand a few times before saying, "Eh, just thought I'd go shop at the market."

"For scotch?"

"No, I… just have a lot buzzing through my head that's all. What has the two of you out?"

"I was trying to reserve a hard copy of the Madrona Quest at the bookstore in case I couldn't make it during the first few days after its release next week. I'm actually surprised you weren't doing the same," Kain said.

"Madrona Quest?"

"It's book six of the Blackstone Chronicles."

Wide golden eyes looked between the two men before Ed all but shouted, "That's coming out next week? How the hell did I not know this?"

"Maybe because you've been in a weird daze for a while that's only gotten weirder over the last few weeks." Al replied as he eyed his sibling in a worried fashion. Ed had been living and breathing by every word written by Janice Ripley for years and for him not to know this sent off warning bells in Al's world. Ed's odd demeanor and actions had been one of the topics of conversation between him and Kain as they ate and shopped.

Noting the tension between the brothers Kain cut in. "Well it's not too late to reserve a copy but I wouldn't wait much past tomorrow to do it. People were reserving multiple copies at a time."

Ed glared down into his glass for a moment before lifting his head and signaling the bartender for another one. Al and Kain hadn't finished exchanging the concerned look they were sharing when Maes and Roy walked in.

"I see everyone was up to enjoying the Sunday night special," Maes joked as he and Roy joined the other three men.

"Some of us more than others," Al mumbled and when Maes and Roy both arched an eyebrow at him Al picked up his shot glass, held up three fingers and pointed at Ed who was still looking impatiently at the bartender.

"What has you so quiet over here, Edo?" Roy asked.

"Nothing," Ed said as he tried once again to get the bartender's attention. "Just hate to see the weekend end that's all."

"Oh? Do you have plans that have you needing another day off?"

"Yeah, I guess Jean and I could really use one more day," was Ed's flat response as he held his empty glass up to the man behind the counter.

His tone mixed with his demeanor, made everyone else exchange a confused look. It wasn't like Ed to be quiet, it wasn't like Ed to over indulge, it also wasn't like him to be so blah about spending time with his beau. In other words, none of it made any sense and it was enough to raise concern. If Edward Elric had become anything over the last few years, it was laid back and easygoing. Yes, Ed was still as boisterous as ever, but it was now tempered with a calm he had nurtured and cultivated over time. If anything had occurred since Ed began his relationship with Jean, it was the emergence of more self-confidence. Whatever that was going on with Ed now, was sounding and feeling like option D, none of the above.

"Is something wrong?" Maes asked as he leaned forward to make eye contact with Ed.

"Nah, just mulling over a few things," Ed replied as he downed half of his latest drink before swirling the cup around and staring down into the clearish liquid.

"It's going to prove rather difficult to think if you have any more of those," Al said. Everyone except for Ed flinched at that response as silence fell over the makeshift gathering. If the people present knew anything, they all knew not to involve themselves in any serious discussion between the Elric brothers. The words out of Al's mouth weren't serious, but his tone more than made up for it.

"Is there a problem, Al?"

"You tell me, Ed."

In that instant, Kain Fuery regretted his seating choice like nothing else that day. Seated between them, is where Kain was and the tension around the two brothers hung thick like fog on a mountaintop. Al always, as in always, called Ed, Brother. For him to use Ed's name in that manner meant confrontation. Whether that may be for good or ill, was yet to be seen or decided but the tension hung heavy and it had Kain wanting to flee.

"Just enjoy your drink and conversation with our friends and don't worry about me, Alphonse," Ed shot back. "I can handle this."

"What exactly is the, this, that you are handling?"

Al's question made Ed realize he'd said too much. He had zero desire to air out his problems in front of their little group, yet he'd spoken before he'd thought and started that process all the same.

"I'm handling what is going on in my world the best that I can, yet I thank you for caring and asking about me, Aru."

That little concession and softening of speech smoothed down the raised hackles Alphonse was showing in response to the situation and shifted the tide.

"I… I didn't mean to offend you, Brother."

"You didn't," Ed said as he asked for a water to go along with his current scotch. "You just let me know where things were in your world and I love that about you as always."

"You sure you don't need to talk?"

"Yes I am. I just need to make all the puzzle pieces fit into place as best they can. I'm fine."

"Are you sure, Brother?"

"Indeed I am. Sorry if I came off too brisk."

As Roy watched the two, he saw Al smile at Ed and Ed smile back in return. Unfortunately, what he also saw was Ed's smile slipping from his face as soon as Al turned his focus away. It was not a comforting sight at all.

Everyone milled about the Tavern and talked for a while which gave the tension time to melt away, at least to a degree. The group was good. The brothers were stable but the personal tension around Ed remained. It lingered around and over him in a way Roy Mustang could not be at ease with.

After another round, when everyone started making motions to leave and Ed did not follow suit Roy announced that he was not ready to call it a night. Maes gave him a nod along with a knowing look even as Al and Kain asked Ed if he would be okay hanging out alone. Ed was as swift as Maes was and chimed in with the perfect answer. He always had a plan and this situation was no different.

"I won't be alone. I'm about to order some of their famous food a' la deep fried so Roy here can hang out with me as I stuff my face."

"Are you sure, Ed?" Kain asked as the expression on Al's face asked the same thing.

"I am," Ed said as he picked up the menu. "Either I'll get him home, he'll get me home or we are both over tipping some lucky cab driver more cenz than he's seen all month."

All present laughed at Ed's response as they settled their tabs and left the bar. Five minutes after they all left, Ed folded the menu in front of him in half and ordered a glass of red wine.

"Are you sure you want to order that, Edo?"

"Yes, and I'll have a second as well. You have a better idea for my evening?"

"Depends," Roy asked as he ordered a beer with a frosted mug. "What do you have in mind for the evening?"

"Forgetting my woes and picking your brain if you have time as well as the inclination."

"I have both in spades, Edo." Speak when you are ready. "Cab fare or a nice long walk is all fine by me."

Ed nodded before calling the bartender by name. Once the man came over, he pointed up to the goblet style glass hanging over the garnish box and said, "I want my next glass of red wine to come in that."

The bartender nodded in an uncertain manner that said he had reservations about that request, but the military blues and silver watches said he would concede to it regardless. As Roy looked over at his companion, he didn't know what to make of this over imbibing Ed. It wasn't his usual MO and it was upsetting Roy. Ed looked like a man that had the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. A man that was in the midst of using alcohol to lighten it. Heavy drinking at a house party was one thing. Heavy drinking on a random Sunday was another.

"What is weighing so heavy on your mind, Edo?"

"Nothing yet everything all at once."

"That's not vague at all."

"Yeah, I know but I think it's my own mind working against me so just forget it," Ed said as he tipped his current wine glass back. "Tell me what you've been into?"

Roy didn't want to change the subject but, if he knew anything about Ed, he knew he wasn't going to speak on anything he wasn't ready or willing to. Sure, Roy could pressure him, but it would never yield the intended results. "I went to the Blues by the Riverbank show yesterday in B'Lina. It was a great time. I wish you could have been there. They had a guy on saxophone with a sound that would flow well with your band. Did you guys ever decide on a name yet?"

"Saxophone huh? I hadn't given that serious thought but once I realized Preston played the instrument a few things have crossed my mind. I didn't realize there was an event like that going on. Sounds like pure fun."

"I found out about it sort of last minute myself and I don't think I'd seen you outside of work to really have it on my mind to mention it before this weekend."

Roy watched Ed's face contort as he swirled the last of the wine around in his glass in an endless loop. The silence stretched before them and Roy was more than willing to let it thin out and spread without interruption. Golden eyes appeared to be searching the bottom of the glass for the answers to the universe but from his visage Roy could tell that the glass had fallen short when it came to replies.

"My schedule has been a bit full," was the long-awaited response and Roy wanted to pull his hair out by the roots. He was generally the patient sort but seeing Ed like this had him wanting instant answers. Ed's current state had Roy's MO off too. He didn't care for that either.

"Oh? What have you been into," was the bait. He doubted Ed would bite it, but he threaded it on the hook all the same.

"Just my usual mass of everything and anything," Ed said as he finished off his wine before holding up his glass as he pointed a finger toward the goblet he had mentioned earlier.

The bartender sent a nervous glance in Roy's direction. Roy gave a slight nod and the man filled the glass nearly to the brim. When he sat it in front of Ed, melancholy eyes went wide in appreciation as they took in the beverage sitting on the counter. Roy saw too much relief promised in the liquid for his liking and his expression reflected his thoughts before he could prevent it.

"Why the long face," Ed asked.

"Nothing just dreading Monday as per usual," Roy lied.

"Same here," Ed said. "I could use another Saturday and Sunday to be honest. A weekend out of town doing something besides mulling around, Central. I wish we were closer to the coast. I could use some moonlight on water in my life right now."

Play it safe or push the envelope has always been Roy's instant conundrum. Safe was just that, safe. However, when you consider the pushed envelope, it held the possibility to yield a bit of what the earlier bait failed to show. Ed was shrewd but his mind was impaired. So as devious as it was, Roy would push for the latter. He wasn't one to play it safe. Safe kept you on a base. He wanted to round home plate.

"Well I'm available whenever. I think I could use a break from the norm myself. Name the time. Name the place and I can be there."



Caught off guard, Roy faltered. Feeling caught off guard was not something he was accustomed to at all and it had him teetering on an uncertain precipice for a moment, but he was back on his the soles of his feet before Ed's nectar addled brain could catch his pause. "We are the kings of our castles so let's do it. We can't make the coast at this hour, but I think we could make it to the lake at High Valley in just under an hour."

"I'm all in."

"Let's do it then. I'll empty my bladder and we'll get underway."

Ed nodded as he put the goblet up to his lips and Roy slid off his bar stool. As he made his way toward the bathroom, he locked eyes with the bartender and a silent message passed between them. He had Ed and the tab, but he needed a phone. The man pointed him toward a side hallway and Roy commended how observant his trade had made him. He was worth keeping as far as Roy was concerned and his tip would reflect that.

With the phone up to ear, he hoped Maes was awake and ready to work his magic. He needed his nearly lifelong assistant to pull this off without any hitches. He was too far up the ladder for hitches to matter to him if they happened, but Ed seemed like he had all the hitches he could stand and didn't need any more. If anyone looked like they could use a paved way, it was Edward Elric. Roy would do anything within his power to lay that asphalt if he could. A smooth road in the form of salvation was generally only one phone call away and he had the bell in his hand.

Two rings and an answer.

"Roy Boy what can I do you for?"

Maes always knew.

"An issue to cover a late arrival in the office?"

"One private meeting with the upper brass at your service."

"Give us until noon?"

"I'll do you a few better and say 2. The extra couple of hours are on the house. How is he?"

"Drinking his way out of and into his problems."

"Something is very wrong there, Roy Boy."

"I know it is, but I'll be damned if I can put my finger on it."

"I'm sure you could hit the general vicinity," Maes said.

Silence from Roy before, "I don't like Ed this way. I don't know this Ed."

"Go find your Edo underneath the liquid and we'll see you both tomorrow around two. Water, food, conversation and sleep, ring me in the morning before you move," was all Maes said before hanging up.

Maes was his rock. The world as Roy knew it, wouldn't rotate the same way without him. There was only so much Roy could manage. On his own, he was a force to many bowed down to and feared but having people in his corner made all the difference in the world. He wanted to change the face of his current world, but what would the success of that mean without the key players in top form? It would mean nothing, and it would ring hollow. It would be like the proverbial tree falling under your axe in the woods without anyone there to hear its noise or see its grand egress. It would be a huge ripple in a vacant ocean without a shore.

It would be nothing.

Roy's trip to the restroom was short placing him back by Ed's side in minutes. On his way back to the bar, he left a generous amount of cenz on the counter near the register. The bartender's eyebrows arched high as he looked at Roy in an, are your sure manner, and Roy nodded with a smile before moving on to his destination without further sound. He could see that Ed was trying his best to listen to another patron's tale of the day, but it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere. Sure, he nodded at all the right times but Roy doubted he could have repeated a fraction of what the man had said. Roy sat there, not intruding for several minutes. In truth, he could use the lull in his direction to gather his thoughts. Something told him that he was going to need all of his wits and then some to crack the shell Ed had built around himself. Once both of the men beside him broke into laughter that was hollow on Ed's end, he straightened his coat. Roy doubted that Ed's incidental companion could tell Ed was merely going through the motions.

He looked as far in if not further than Ed was.

When Ed spun around on his stool Roy asked, "Are you ready?"

"Willing and able," was the reply that sounded much more like the person Roy needed to find under the liquid.

"Shall we then?" Roy said as he stood.

Ed was on his feet ready to go in that instant. Like Roy's Edo. Like a soldier. Like the Fullmetal Alchemist was supposed to be. Human, feeling flux. The lake wasn't ready. Roy wasn't either but he was going to go regardless. He was an enlisted soldier too after all.

Once loaded into Roy's car the silence settled over them. It left a bad taste in Roy's mouth, but he was willing to endure it. It wouldn't last. Ed was a talkative creature by nature and if nothing else, the goblet of red wine would kick in soon. In vino veritas. Roy had many of his current eggs in that particular basket.