cryogenia (cryogenia) wrote in mafia_series,
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Cryo-AU, part 5

PG-13 again this chapter; still Hei/Ed-ish and increasing Al/Ed. Hints of Ed->Roy.

Roy! :D


They'd wanted to stay away longer, but the next day Pa had decided it wouldn't look good for them not to show in classes. Word from his contact was that most students were feeling skittish but attending anyway; this close to test time, apparently it didn't pay to stay away. Al had snorted and reached for a cigarette right there at the breakfast table, made some off-color comment about the whole school being geeks, not just Ed. Ed had given him a frosty look for that one; Alfons seconded it because Ed was upset, and all in all the morning had started off just lovely.

Ma rounded it off by rapping him on the knuckles with her serving spoon for smoking inside.

Ed was still pretty quiet by the time they got to campus, which was never a good sign. Al sort of missed him chattering, to be honest; it was kind of fun to have someone to talk to in the car. Alfons usually pulled his stone-cold point man routine, looked out the window too often to hold a real conversation. Ed didn't seem to be holding a grudge, though - he was just lost in his head for some reason, and if there was one thing Al had learned about the fella, it was that when Ed was somewhere else you could move heaven and earth to coax him back down, and it wouldn't make a lick of difference. If a three-headed fire-breathing dragon lit down in front of their car, Ed would probably just nod and say "that's nice", when you pointed it out to him.

"We're here," Al said, when they arrived at the chem building and Ed nodded.

"That's nice."

Al rolled his eyes and dragged the fella out of the car, bustled him toward the chem building. They were already five minutes late for class, and Dr. Hard-ass (on better days, known as Dr. Harding) was going to bitch, Al just knew it.

He then spent a brief, bemused moment wondering just when tests and test tubes had become more worrisome than getting shot at.

"Come on," he hissed at his "brother", and issued him up the main stairs. Alfons was watching from a different location today, since the English building vantage had failed them so solidly on Monday, and it was easiest for him to watch the main entrance. Al tried to hide it, but damn, he was still vaguely nervous at going back to the site of his former fuck-up. The entrance to the east wing was still closed off with police tape, and a tidy little sign directed "all first floor classes" up the stairs to level three. There was an actual police officer standing guard even. Al rubbed his face with his hands. Dammit, no matter how much experience he had spinning stories, the fuzz still made him nervous. If they learned who he really was, he could kiss his ass goodbye.

Ed didn't seem bothered at all, though, by the police presence - on the contrary, he perked up as the blonde-headed police guard glanced in their direction. A familiar blonde policeman, too. "Oh hey, Lieutenant Havoc!" Ed waved merrily, and it took all of Al's self control not to brain the idiot. What the hell did he think he was doing, inviting attention? It didn't help that Havoc apparently could leave his post long enough to socialize.

"Hey boss!" the cop waved and eased on over, chewing on the end of an unlit cig. "Where are you two off to?"

"Class," Ed said. "What are you here for?"

Havoc grinned and jerked his head toward the police tape. "'Routine investigation.' I got stuck babysitting the crime scene. SSDD."

"Same Shit, Different Day," Ed clarified for Al. "Mustang always sticks Havoc with the boring stuff."

"And the paperwork he doesn't turn in," Havoc grinned. "Though a little bird told me you're not too good with that, either."

Ed flushed for some reason, and Al shot him a sharp look. He wanted to ask, but...

"Aw, Hawkeye rides everybody's ass." Ed grumbled. "You know that."

"Well, I tell you, we could use you on this one," Havoc went on. His voice grew more gravelly, the smoker's equivalent of a whisper. "Man power got cut yesterday all of a sudden, for no particular reason. Enough that it's pretty much impossible to get anywhere real on this one. Somebody higher up doesn't want us to poke around too much, methinks. And you know what that means." He rubbed two fingers together, the universal sign for bribe.

Al nodded before he caught himself. Of course he knew why the fuzz were easing up. The don had arranged payments to the right people. But what the holy hell was Havoc going on about Ed helping?! Dammit, he hated being out of the loop...

He also thought he saw Havoc giving him a calculating look out of the corner of his eye, and it did nothing to calm his nerves any.

"Times like these, we could use an outside man again." Havoc told Ed.

Ed laughed then and Al was even more annoyed. "Sorry, no can do this time. Got my own deal to worry about." He offered Havoc a beatific smile, shrugged. "Late to class as it is."

"Yeah, I hear you," Havoc said. "Well, you two take care. Hell of mess in there," he said, pointing back toward the cordoned-off area. "You don't want to meet the guys that did it."

Ed blanched hard, and Al had the presence of mind to grab him by the elbow and haul him up the stairs before things got any more confusing.

"Care to tell me what the hell THAT was all about?!" Al hissed, once they were safely out of earshot.

"Havoc saw me!" Ed protested. "He would have thought it was weird if I didn't say hi."

"What the hell was he talking about, though!? Why did he think you could help him?"

Ed scowled, looked momentarily uncomfortable. "I used to do some work with them, all right? Mustang did some favors for me in East City, I paid him back by helping him out with some stuff. "

"'Helping him out'? What the fuck!" Al wasn't sure if he was more incensed that Ed was in with the police, or that Ed hadn't seen fit to tell them about it. Possibly both. "Were you planning on telling us this at any point, or were you saving it to drop on me out of nowhere, like oh, say, NOW?"

Ed's eyes flashed and he pulled his arm away.

"Look, it's ancient history, all right? It's got nothing to do with you. I got into shit sometimes, Mustang helped keep it off my record. So when he needed somebody off the record to look into stuff, I did that for him. A sma---younger guy doesn't attract much attention; I was good undercover." Ed shrugged. "Equivalent exchange."

Al was highly skeptical that Ed could ever work well undercover, but he held his tongue on that matter.

"Alright, so he helped you out with your rap sheet. Until he didn't." Al said. "You got busted for breaking into the 5th Lab and your dad reeled you in."

"What?! How'd you know about that?"

Al felt momentarily uncomfortable. Belatedly, he remembered what he'd told Winry about poking into the don's affairs.

"We checked up on you a bit," he said, hoping that Ed wouldn't realize that was out of the ordinary. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

The way Ed's face crumpled, Al knew it had been a mistake to admit that. "I thought you trusted me," he said, in a small voice.

"Well, I thought I could trust you, too," Al snapped back. "Glad to see you proved me wrong."

****

He had apologized to Ed almost immediately and the man accepted, though he put on a show of being miffed all through class. Al was starting to learn that Ed couldn't actually stay mad at him for more than ten seconds, which would have been sweet if it weren't for the fact that the effect seemed to run both ways. Heck, he STILL felt guilty for being unnecessarily hard on the guy, and it wasn't like that was the worst thing he'd ever said. He and Alfons had said far nastier things to each other in the heat of the moment, and he had never felt the urge to protect his twin's feelings so violently.

It was also, Al was starting to realize, impressively easy to feel protective of Ed in general.

"I'm going to kill him," Alfons growled from behind Al, in the alley, and Al was inclined to agree.

Detective Mustang had turned up like a bad penny at the end of their chem class, asked to speak to Ed in particular. Al, not sure what else to do, had begged off the experiment they were working on and followed them outside to the street, wrung his hands at a distance as Mustang made a point of pulling Ed over to a police car. At least they hadn't gotten inside it. Al understood that Ed trusted the guy, but that didn't stop HIM from climbing the walls.

"I'd like to speak to your brother in private," was all Mustang had said to him, period, and Al, required to behave like a good private citizen and wait dutifully until they were done.

Alfons was lingering just around the corner in the alley between the Chem and English buildings, smoking a cigarette and trying to look nonchalant. He had seen Ed being drawn away and had a shit-fit as well, climbed down off the rooftops to keep a closer eye on the scene. He had pulled on his dorky "emergency hat", an ugly brown knit number that hopefully distinguished them a little more, but still, Al was uncomfortable. This Mustang seemed observant. If he came over their way, Alfons better be prepared to beat a hasty retreat.

Al spared another look toward Ed and the police car, and then slunk further toward the alley mouth, bringing out his own cigarette as cover.

"What do you think?" he asked his brother lowly.

"I dunno. I heard he's asked around about us too, before." Alfons said darkly. "Soon as Ed gets free..."

Al risked an irritated shake of his head.

"No, Ed didn't want us to." He lowered his voice even more. "'Sides, we made contact with one of his guys this morning. If he turns up dead directly after...wouldn't look good."

"So? Nail 'em all, end of problem." Alfons said grumpily. Al chose to ignore him. Besides the obvious safety concern, there was a thinly veiled layer of jealousy to his twin's eagerness. Ed was remarkably animated in Detective Mustang's presence, and he was blustering in a way that Al only saw rarely from the fella, if ever. The man was both blessed and cursed in that he wore his heart on his sleeve - or rather, his face - and with Mustang around, that went into overdrive. Cheeks ruddy, eyes flashing...privately, Al thought he could see where Fonzy was coming from.

"Just hush up and let me handle this," he said instead, and ground his cig into the dirt, not even a quarter finished. Enough was, as they said, enough.

Al schooled his face into a properly obedient smile and sidled up to his 'brother', nodded to the officers and prepared to give them the old Good Boy routine. No one ever suspected him or Alfons of anything when they were always so patently agreeable. It was one of their strengths.

"Um, excuse me?" He interrupted, giving them all his brightest smile. "I don't mean to interrupt whatever it is you're doing here, but..."

Ed and Roy both froze up immediately, turned toward him as one. He had caught them in the middle of some kind of argument, and it took them both a moment to unlock the proverbial horns and back down. Al waited patiently as there was much throat clearing and embarrassed glances, an annoyed kick at the dirt from Ed's camp.

Mustang regained his composure first.

"Ah...Alphonse, was it?" Mustang said. An easy smile, kind of a smirk "Good, I was just wanting to speak with you."

Ed's murderous look told Al all he needed to know about that.

"So that's what the fight was about?" He chuckled, secretly a little touched. Dammit, it was cute that Ed was protecting him.

"We weren't fighting!" Ed protested. "We were having a discussion."

"Loud enough for half the campus to hear, yeah," Havoc snarked from the driver's seat of the police car. He winked at Al. "Lord help us if they ever have an argument."

Al laughed again, and dammit, he couldn't help but feel he had a kindred spirit in the man. The cop just came off as so annoyingly likeable.

Ed bristled like a cat but Mustang intervened, stepped between him and Havoc before any blood could be shed. "As I was saying, Alphonse," he said, and Ed's attention instantly snapped back to him, gold eyes wide and worried. "I had a couple questions for you. Though it seems your brother doesn't want me to talk to you."

"Well, you know Ed," Al forced a laugh.

"Indeed," the bastard said, an undecipherable smile on his face. "I do. That's why I'm a little concerned about something. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?"

"Sure, shoot," Al said, carefully keeping his hands flat at his sides. Everyone had a tell - a tic that came out when they were nervous, or lying - and he knew himself well enough to know that his was in his hands. They liked to fist themselves, and Al had the distinct impression he was about to lie like crazy.

"Have you ever heard of 'the People's Defender'?"

"Can't say as I have." Al hedged, as lightly as possible. "That a comic book?"

Ed bit down on his lip, hard, and Al realized immediately that was the wrong answer. Shit. Something from Edward's past then.

"Oh really. Interesting..." The eyebrow arched even higher, joined by its mate; the smile turned even more wicked than before. Al gritted his teeth and willed himself to keep smiling. The man was a showman. He was enjoying dragging this out, whatever it was he had on them. "Your close relation - your very own brother - and he never told you about all his public service? He received that title for it. Among others." Mustang's eyes dared him to come up with one.

"Well, we don't talk about every little detail." He said, privately cursing Winry and her records, wondering if she'd known. "My brother did tell me that he used to work for you, though!" Batted his eyelashes a little for good measure. "I would love to hear more about that. Undercover sounds so exciting."

"Certainly," Mustang said, though it seemed to throw him off his stride for a moment. It didn't look like he'd expected Al to know that. He recovered fairly quickly, however. "Tell me, though. How did you two come to be apart, all this time? I've certainly never met you." As if there was a reason he would have.

Ed stepped up to the plate then, which Mustang didn't seem to appreciate. "And like I told you, separate foster homes. You know about my...family issues," he said, making Al severely wish HE did. "Met up only when we turned legal, that's when we could make our own decisions. Now we're getting to know each other again. Is there a point to this, Detective Bastard? Don't you have criminals to catch or something?"

"Yes," Mustang said. "I do. But I'd also love to see you provide a record of this so-called family reunion." His voice hardened. "Because the only reports I've been able to dig up say that he just showed up at school with you, two months ago."

Ed's face froze. "What?"

"This case we're working on has us going through the class rosters," Mustang said to him, "and Fuery ran across something interesting where you two are concerned. The address you gave the university isn't real, nor is your phone number. Nor is Alphonse's. In fact, there doesn't seem to be anything on record for an 'Alphonse Elric' at all. No birth record, no school records, not even a goddamn library card ever filled out in your name. As far as the bureau is concerned, he doesn't exist."

The detective fixed Al with a searing glare.

"What are you to him, really?"

****

There were times in Al's line when it paid to think fast. Trapped in a situation where SOMEONE had obviously screwed up, he had to work quick with what he had. Ed looked back and forth between them, stricken, and Al did the only thing he could think of - he threw an arm around Ed's shoulders, and pulled him in close.

"Alright, you caught us," he growled, and pressed a rough kiss to Ed's forehead.

Ed reacted about as well as he'd expected, which was to say, he spazzed and flushed red, made a couple reflexive, angry noises. Mustang looked discomforted as well, and even Havoc, who Al had pegged as the easy-going type, looked embarrassed.

"We didn't want anybody to know," Al said, hoping Ed's reaction was backing him up sufficiently, and hoping also that Alfons wasn't emminently about to shoot him. "We were trying to be discrete." His fingers tightened on Ed's shoulders. Please, do not fuck this up! he pleaded silently.

Ed seemed to catch on, though. "Y-yeah!" He stuttered, and Al breathed an internal sigh of relief. "Fuck, you want the whole campus to see!?" He jerked away and Al let him, watched as Ed wheeled and redirected his ire toward Mustang. It was impressive; like watching a typhoon turn on a dime. "And YOU, Officer Bastard, to HELL with YOU - what the fuck were you on about, huh?! You said this had to do with your investigation! Huh? I see no investigation!"

"Edward, please," Mustang said, firmly, though he outwardly looked shaken. "It just came up, and I wondered--I thought--"

"Well, try thinking about your damn job!" Ed snarled. Al had to give it to him - when the fella got going, he was really on a roll. He almost pitied poor Mustang. He certainly wouldn't want to have that short-fused canon of a personality aimed at him right now. "What did you think, he was stalking me or some shit!? Grow a brain! Do you honestly think I'd let him hang around if he pissed me off?"

"I don't know WHAT I thought, okay!" Mustang growled. "I'm out here, investigating a shooting that happened two floors below you, and your 'brother' turns out not to be your brother at all - of course I was gonna ask around! I like to at least know what I'm going to be bailing you out for!"

"Nothing, alright?! So stop trying to ruin my life." Ed's eyes flicked briefly to the rooftops. His voice lowered. "I do a good enough job of that by existing."

Before Al could grab him again, Ed had broken away and was storming back toward the English building.

"Ed-" he called, fuck, this didn't need to get any more screwed up than it already was-

A hand landed heavily on his shoulder.

"Let him go," Mustang said softly. "Sometimes he just needs space." Al stiffened.

"With all due respect, sir," he ground out. "Whether or not he needs you around, he does need me. ED!"

Ed stopped, seemed to consider what exactly he was doing. He colored and trotted back double-time, looked stricken.

"Sorry," he said to Al, looked over his shoulder at the English building. "Sorry, didn't mean to, I-" Al grabbed him again before he could give away any more of his thinking, wheeled him into a half-assed hug.

"It's okay," he said, squeezing Ed's shoulders awkwardly, felt Ed shudder a little against him. Hell. Alfons was probably over there gnawing on his rifle.

Distractedly, he couldn't help but notice that Ed's hair smelled like sun.

Mustang sighed and rubbed his chin with a hand, looked very tired all of a sudden. Al took it as his cue to let Ed go, hoped he hadn't taken too many liberties as it was.

"Alright. Well." The detective sucked in a deep breath, didn't look anywhere near Ed. Ed wasn't looking at him either, face burning with shame. Al felt the urge to hold him again but somehow, he really didn't think that was going to make him feel better. He was beginning to get the sense that this tactic was a supremely bad idea. To close to home.

The detective breathed out heavily. Looked toward Al. "I trust you have documentation somewhere as to who you are, then?"

"Yes sir," Al lied, made sure not to let his hands twitch. He would once Winry's friend Sheska got on it.

"Okay." Finally deigned to catch Ed's eye again. Spoke plaintively. "Ed, why didn't you just tell me?"

Where Ed had been scarlet before, he now flushed purple. "Why the fuck did you think!? Idiot. I don't hassle you about your so-called SEX LIFE, do I?"

"Ed..."

Mustang seemed uncomfortable again, looked away. Ed gave a short, harsh little laugh that sounded strangely hopeless.

"Shit." He said, to no one in particular. "I could really use a smoke."

****

Havoc came to the rescue with a pack of Old Standards, and he and Ed slunk away to the side of the English building to worship the nicotine gods. Al had thought about going with them, but they were still in plain sight, and it was unlikely anyone would try something in front of a non-corrupt official. Besides, he wasn't sure he honestly wanted to be near either Edward or his real brother at the moment. Damn, he hoped Fonzy wasn't going to kill him.

Mustang also seemed to want to talk to him, and under the circumstances, it was reasonably advisable. He could control the story better without Ed interfering.

"You have to understand, we're just used to keeping an eye on him." He said, watching Ed from a distance. Al nodded. The man kept saying that. "You have to understand," like the world didn't work if it didn't follow Mustang-logic. "The whole office watched him grow up. People get protective."

'People' meaning YOU. Al thought. Though Lieutenant Havoc seemed remarkably caring for a cop, too. He was attempting to make conversation over by the wall, though Ed was ignoring him entirely for his cigarette. Good. It would keep the points of conflict down.

He felt vaguely sick, though, realizing that he was actually banking on Ed being sulky and pissed off at him.

"How did you two meet, anyway?"

Al gave Mustang a sharp look.

"I don't see how that's any of your business. You've upset Ed enough already with your prying."

He expected an argument, but Mustang simply nodded, leaned back against the car chassis.

"Right. That was poor of me." He seemed to be secretly pleased about something, though. Al got the sense he had passed some sort of test. "Could you at least tell me why?" He continued. "Why the brother thing?"

Al was ready for that one.

"Central's just not as enlightened as it could be." Al said. Shrugged. "Didn't want people to talk. It's easier to live together if your landlord thinks you're related. And well, you'd be surprised the weird stuff people can overlook, if you give them any kind of remotely plausible explanation."

Mustang gave him a calculating look, and Al immediately regretted that last statement. Damn, he needed to stop being cute. This guy was too sharp for that. He spun out another thread.

"The other thing is, Ed has had some...trouble, on occasion. If we make it too obvious when we're out. Not big stuff, though!" he was careful to disclaim. "Just some assholes give him shit about it, 'cause he's pretty. You didn't hear me say that, though." He forced a laugh. "He'd kick my ass for telling you, he thinks he's invincible. Heaven forbid we find the great Edward Elric need help." And THAT irritation was one hundred percent genuine. There were days when he thought he was going to bean his 'brother' over the head in lab, Ed was so convinced he could do everything by himself.

Some days, Ed acted like he didn't need Al to get him out of shit like this.

Mustang produced a tiny, knowing smile at that, looked over toward Ed, who was still doing his best impression of a brick wall at poor Havoc. "Yes. He is insufferable that way."

Al nodded, studying the officer's reaction and finding it favorable. Guess it was true what they said about a shot of truth with one's lie. He tried to think of more Ed-greivances, sound like a proper Complaining Lover.

"He never talks about himself, either. I ask, and it's like...did you know, until this morning, I'd never even known about his police work?" Was ready to tear his lungs out because of that, actually. "And then you show up and tell me he's some sort of hero out east, and...hell."

Mustang's eyes narrowed to slits. "I'd think you'd be proud."

"I am!" Al protested. And weirdly, he was a little. Kind of nice to know the fella had some grit to him. "It's just...why wouldn't he tell me?" Why DID it hurt that he hadn't?

The officer sighed, tugged at the ends of one of those fancy-pants white gloves he wore. Al had wondered why the hell a guy would wear useless things like that the first time they'd met, but he was starting to get a read on the guy's character, and now he figured it was some kind of control freak thing. Probably didn't want dust getting on his immaculate hands or something, didn't like mess unless it was HIS mess. He had certainly came running after ED fast enough, wanting to solve his problems, and he didn't even know for sure the kid was in trouble.

He should have my job, Al thought sardonically. He'd be a natural.

"You'll just have to give him time, on that one." The officer said suddenly, and it took Al a moment to remember what they were talking about. "Ed's been through some hard times." Dark eyes fixed on him - really dark, actually, made a fella think Xingian. Related to that butcher/martial arts teacher Ed had talked about?

"Like his mother?" Damn. As soon as the words were out, he regretted it. He hadn't really meant to ask about that - oh hell, who was he kidding, of course he did. That woman kept gnawing at him for some reason, and dammit, he was curious. Had to tread carefully, though. Couldn't have it get back to Ed.

Mustang started. "He told you about his mother." His tone clearly stated disbelief.

Al made a show of floundering. "Well, no, not as such - I mean, he didn't really say, I just inferred. Something happened to her, didn't it? Something bad."

"Yes. Assuming you call murder 'bad'." Mustang eyed him, and Al struggled with momentary panic. Shit, did the guy somehow know? Or was he just playing games? He exercised his acting skills again.

"Shit, yes! That's terrible!" Eyes wide, mouth round; the picture of surprise. "What happened!?"

"We don't know, exactly." Mustang replied. "It's been cold for a long time now. Happened out east, when I was new on the task force; I never did get anywhere." His voice said that he sincerely regretted it, too. "I was the one who found him, that night."

A flicker of dark eyes back to Ed again, a touch of fatherly affection creeping into his tone. "My people took him in, for while. Until someone more suitable could be found. It was still hard on him, though. There was a time right after when he didn't talk at all. Just sat in his wheelchair..." Mustang fell silent, as if providing his own example. Al just nodded. He wished he hadn't asked, now. He wasn't getting anything new, and shit...for a cop, Mustang was an awfully decent fella.

"...I'm glad." Al said finally. "That you were the one who found him," he added, when Mustang looked up sharply. "You seem alright."

The officer gave him a wry smile. "Glad to have your seal of approval, Mr. Sibling-Who-Wasn't. You got any other surprises I should know about? Like a sheet?" His face darkened.

"No!" Al said. Cause I'm too good to get caught.

"Seriously. We just want to be left alone. That's all."

Mustang nodded. "Alright, I hear you. I'll get out of your hair. You got a number I could reach you two at, in case I ever need to get in touch with you?"

Meaning, 'in case I want to pry some more'. Al was expecting that too, though. "Sure," he said, and rattled off the number to Paninya's garage. She had covered for him before. All he had to do was pay in car parts.

The detective scribbled it down on a little notepad he'd pulled from somewhere. "And whom do I ask for?"

"Al," Al said. "That's my nickname. The Alphonse part was real, at least." The truth again; probably too close, but shit, if Mustang called right away, he couldn't guarantee they could warn Paninya in time. As pushy as this bastard was, he was likely to call right off too.

"Right. Al." He capped the pen and slipped it and the notepad back into the folds of his overcoat. "Well, it was a pleasure to meet you."

"It was a pleasure to meet you too, Officer Mustang," he replied, and inclined his head politely.

The detective shook his head, stuck out a hand. Gave him a smile that finally seemed genuine.

"No, please. Call me Roy."

Al managed a half-hearted grin and accepted the shake, all the while feeling like an asshole. Meeting the parents now. Great.

Just great.

****

As he'd predicted, his twin was upset with him, but not for the canoodling. Alfons agreed it was a decent save, given what Al had to work with, but complained it still required too much unnecessary work. He was all for just going out and eliminating the competition, Ed, of course, disagreed hotly, and the resulting row threatened to blow all of their covers right there on the quad. Al put a stop to it and collared his twin into taking care of the situation "for the time being" - flat-out ordered him to get his lanky butt down to Sheska's place.

"I just need a crap identity in case he bothers to look into it," he said, knowing full well Mustang was indeed the type to look into it. "Maybe a little sheet or something to explain why I didn't give the school my real name. Nothing big time, or he won't let go of it - just a little baby skeleton in the closet. Tragic past works too, you know the drill."

"Yeah, yeah," Alfons complained, but as usual, once he had a task to do his mind went straight to schematics and planning. Al was better at thinking on his feet, but Alfons was better at planning ahead to make sure there were no holes in their story. He set off in a decidedly better mood than before.

Ed was still not talking to either of them.

In Alfons's absense, the two of them were holed up in a library study room - not much different from other lunch breaks. The quiet was new, though. Ed seemed unusually buried in his own thoughts; Al managed to pile several text books on his head before he noticed.

"What?" he blinked, as one of them slid off onto the floor, made a resonating slam. Al sat down beside him, removed the rest.

"Hey, man...you okay?" Al asked. Ed looked away.

"Yeah, I'm cool."

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry." Al said.

"Don't be. It's not your fault." Ed said all too quickly. Al knew better than to trust that.

"You sure you believe that?" He asked with a skeptical look.

"Yeah! Well, okay..." Ed, lying, was like a scarf knitted from one string, Al had learned. Keep pulling, and eventually the whole thing unraveled. "You could have picked something else." He ran one hand through his choppy bangs. "Fuck. Anything else."

Looked up with mournful eyes, the gold surprisingly clouded. "Is it really that obvious?"

"Is what obvious?" Al asked, face carefully neutral. He didn't really want to upset Ed more than he already was. He'd figured, based on how Ed had gone after Alfons, that he was cool with everything but maybe not.

Ed gave him an irritated look. "Oh, come on. Don't play dumb with me."

Al shrugged. "So you like guys, then. Who gives a shit?" He wondered himself why he was bothering to play counselor. Guilt was seriously a bitch.

Ed punched the arm of the couch he was sitting on. "I dunno, fuck...just, of all the people, fucking Mustang." He barked another one of those soulless laughs. "He's the last guy on earth I wanted to know."

"Why?" Al asked, suddenly concerned. "Would he hold it against you?"

"Huh? Well, I don't think so, but-"

"Cause if he's going to hold it against you, then you can tell me right now, and we'll go back to icing him. I'll put the son of a bitch six feet under, if you want."

"What!? Shit, what is WITH you two?!" Ed looked at him like he was growing maggots out his ears. "No, I don't want to kill anybody! I just had a thing for him when I was a kid for a while, okay? Before I learned he was a bastard." Asserted pointedly, as if that was important, that this was all past tense. "He's not a bad guy though, seriously. So stop talking about killing him."

"Not a bad guy, except that he's a bastard?" Al said, amused. "I'd hate to hear what you say about fellas you DON'T like."

"Oh, shut up," Ed said grumpily. "Anyway, it wouldn't have worked out. He's into the ladies. Really into. Bastard gets more pussy than is probably healthy. And he's seriously dorky. Wears those freaking gloves all the time." Ed made them sound like a personal insult. "So I never breathed a word."

Al just nodded, chose to say nothing. It was probably better not to mention that sometimes a fella could go both ways, like he did. Because reading between the lines, he saw that Ed still DID have a thing for the guy - and damn, if there was one relationship stupider than Ed and Alfons, it was Ed and a fucking police detective.

"Sorry," he said again, and he honestly was. Again, life sometimes sucked.

"It's okay," Ed sighed. "Just sucked."

"Would have sucked worse if he'd found out you were Family," Al felt it necessary to point out.

"True that." Ed said. He grinned suddenly then, and reached over to tossle Al's hair. "And hey, at least you did a halfway decent asshole boyfriend."

"Only halfway?" Al felt mildly insulted. "Hey, that was a four-fucking-star performance, I'll have you know!"

"Yeah, well," Ed smirked, eyes suddenly wicked. He rose up on his knees. "You wanna play the macho protective routine right, you gotta do it like THIS." A crushing grip descended around his shoulders, hot breath tickled at his ear, and Alphonse swallowed hard.

Correction. NOW Alfons was going to kill him.
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