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Title: Soaring Spirits (BoP-verse – A:2)
Author: c_b_syndrome/LJ Harris
Rating: PG13
Spoiler Warning: None for the Series and Anime… kinda-sorta for ‘Balance of Power’
A/N: This was started about a year ago, but I kept leaving it unfinished because I just couldn’t figure out how to end it. It goes along with the ‘Crackbunny Syndrome’ – group novel, ‘Balance of Power’ which is still actually in the first arc. This was an idea for a little side-story that came up while talking about the –possible- second arc where Ed, Al and Hughes (along with the Geek Squad) all cross to the Amestris side of the Gate. The story stands alone. You don’t even need to know much about BoP in order to enjoy it. It’s A/U though, and the technology involved reflects that.

Dedicated to all the CrackedBunnies, especially roaming_fool who begged me to get it finished. I hope you’re happy with the result, hon!

“Soaring Spirits”
A:2 BoP-verse

It was time for the monthly budget reports and Roy Mustang was not looking forward to dealing with them. He never did of course, but he was dreading them even more than usual this time. It’s the end of the week, the start of a holiday and the weather is…

He propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and his chin on his fist as he swiveled around and stared out of the window with a restive sigh. The trees along the main avenue in front of headquarters were in full-leaf, dappling the walk and the bare shoulders of the pretty girls strolling by in sundresses. He imagined himself down there, sitting on a bench and sipping lemonade. He could practically taste the tart-sweet bite of the drink, smell the flowers from the shop across the street, feel the warm sun caressing his face, and hear the lilting voices of the girls ambling along the boulevard.

A rather delightful view of a young woman bending over grabbed his attention. He couldn’t tell if she was petting a dog or tending a toddler because he was more interested in the way the dress pulled tight over a firm, round bottom and rode higher up a pair of long, shapely legs. It was one of the truly enjoyable aspects of warm weather; the women emphasized their more lovely attributes in such an alluring fashion. As he watched, he formulated the theory that the young lady in question would be just as attractive from the front and decided to take the time to test it. Such theories, after all, demanded careful observation or important facts could be missed.

He caught the muted voices of Falman and Breda at the far end of the bank of desks in front of his, as they discussed the latest rumor in that horrid scandal sheet they read every morning and rolled his eye. He tried to block it out, but it was a discordant noise that kept filtering in to prevent him from fully escaping into his musings.

He sighed again. Summer had officially arrived in Central and he was stuck inside an office that smelled stale and old even with the breezes coming through the open windows. The execrable coffee the commissary didn’t brew, so much as dredge --from where, he didn’t care to contemplate-- still coated his tongue bitterly. While it didn’t match his mood, it certainly did nothing to improve it any.

The commanding tone of a throat being cleared near his shoulder shattered his idyll and he reluctantly tore himself from the scene below to give his captain a right-eyed, gimlet stare. She dropped several thick folders into the center of his desk with a resounding thump and said, “The budget reports, sir.”

He cast a glance from the paperwork to the woman who’d dumped it on him; his gaze trailing slowly from her hips to her arm to her face, and he wondered –very briefly—if he could persuade her to skip out with him for the day. Maybe he might even talk her into one of those light dresses. He was certain it would be a sight to behold. Worthy of worship, in fact.

Hawkeye’s expression said she knew just exactly what was on his mind. The hand casually resting on the butt of her sidearm told him what she would do, if he dared to voice that thought. Damn.

He gave one last, wistful look out of the window and noticed that the vision who had so kindly bent over for him a moment ago was now gone. So much for testing a theory, he thought as he reluctantly turned to face the desk and the pile of work waiting for him. He stared down in dismay at the stack of files, not missing the fact that the thickest and topmost folder had Fullmetal’s name on it. Of course.

“Captain Hawkeye, just when are these reports due?” he asked, dreading the answer.

“By the end of the shift, sir,” she said as she strode toward her desk.

Roy shot a glare at her back. He could’ve sworn he heard a touch of malicious glee in her tone.

As he opened the first folder, he said, “I don’t suppose that it would do any good to suggest to the higher-ups of the logic in getting these things to me in a timely manner.”

She stopped with her hand on the back of her seat and barely turned her head. All he saw was the side of her face, with an arched brow and the hint of a wry smile. “Logic, sir? From a military bureaucracy?”

“One can always hope, Captain.”

“I would think you’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning on a clear day,” she said as she sat down.

He couldn’t argue that. And if Fullmetal is around, he thought as he scanned the first page of the report, all things loud, painful and destructive are possible.

The biggest indicator that the budget reports were going to be especially troublesome, was the fact that both Fullmetal and the recently certified Fieramente—

--The Prime Minister has an even stranger sense of humor than the previous Führer did, and apparently a love of alliteration as well. I would have given Alphonse a different second name, but it hadn’t been up to me--

--had remained in Central for more than a month and there were no reports of anything loud, painful or destructive. Fullmetal hadn’t barged into the office to demand an assignment, or even come around enough to irritate him for that matter. Because of that, Fieramente hadn’t been in his older brother’s shadow to play peace-keeper, so his presence was conspicuously absent as well. It was rather peculiar behavior for the two young men and made it strangely quiet around the office. Just what is it that has them so preoccupied?

Research, they claimed. Researching what, though? Both alchemists were being rather vague in their answers, frequently using misdirection and disinformation. They had been working on a side-project for the past several months and Roy let their desire to be close-lipped about it slide –as long as it didn’t interfere with their duties. Besides, he discovered (although he had suspected this all along), without a burning obsession to channel Fullmetal’s abundant energy and intense curiosity, things were destined to go… boom. That always ended up requiring more paperwork on Roy’s part, plus copious amounts of diplomacy to soothe wounded pride, property and people, not to mention explaining to the Brass why more money was going to pay for more damages. Simply put, it was self-preservation that allowed Brigadier General Roy Mustang to overlook the Elric’s not-so-minor breach in protocol. He should have been grateful… except that quiet and Fullmetal didn’t belong in the same universe together, let alone the same sentence and it was therefore disturbing.

And as much as Roy hated to admit it, he was also beginning feel a bit… neglected.

Of course, allowing the two young alchemists to remain uncommunicative didn’t mean he couldn’t do a little snooping. Or at least try. Unfortunately, it seemed he was blocked at every opportunity. If it wasn’t Hawkeye dumping more paperwork on him and the inevitable threats to get it done that followed, it was Havoc bringing him something else that required his attention immediately. And why, oh why did it seem like there was more of it all than usual?

“The responsibilities of rank,” Hawkeye had said when he’d complained about the ever-increasing amount of work he seemed to have recently.

Leave it to the slowly grinding wheels of military bureaucracy to take over a year for the paperwork to catch up with the promotion. Then when it does, it’s a blizzard. He could almost think there was a conspiracy hidden in there somewhere, if he didn’t know his two senior officers as well as he did.

A week ago he did manage to escape for an hour and he’d made an unscheduled stop at the Elric’s research facilities in an attempt to catch them unawares. The two alchemists had requisitioned a rather small lab in comparison to the others available, but it seemed cavernous by virtue of how empty it was. He’d assumed he’d see at least some evidence of actual practical research, but instead, he’d been greeted by a high-ceilinged room with nothing more than a table piled with books, about a dozen paper gliders, a small platform on scaffolding, and a few other –rather strange-- odds and ends that gave no clue as to their purpose…

…and no alchemists in sight.

Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to take a look around. It’s not like I’m actually snooping, but the Elrics are under my command and it’s my duty to know what they’re up to.

Some of the items hadn’t actually puzzled him with their uses so much as their association with other things in the lab and their connection to the alchemists in question. Such as the tanks, sticks and gear in one corner. His affinity was fire and air, and while welding wasn’t something he was an expert at, he did know that the gasses being used were not for fusing iron or steel, but for much lighter metals. The silver shavings on the floor near the grinding wheel had proved his suspicions.

Aluminum. Fullmetal is quite capable of melding things together without the aid of equipment, so why…

The incongruity of the welding equipment was only compounded by the industrial sewing machine set up on the opposite side of the lab. Unfortunately, it had been quite a bit cleaner than the welding area, so there wasn’t any indication of what had been stitched together. The only evidence Roy found were a few stray threads in a variety of colors that appeared to be silk. These machines are made for large, heavy items, like tents and canopies for personnel carriers. Something else Fullmetal and Fieramente can do quite easily with alchemy.

One of the unique features of this particular lab was the rolling door at one end. It was wide enough to allow access by a delivery truck --or perhaps a personnel or heavy equipment carrier. Roy had noticed the traces of recent tire marks on the floor and followed them to the end. Just far enough in to keep a casual observer from seeing what is being loaded or unloaded, he’d thought as he’d knelt down and examined the tracks closely. Something fairly large.

At least three times a week since the Elrics had decided to stay in Central, they’d conscripted Havoc to drive them around for the entire day and Roy added that to his list of strange and irritating occurrences. Yes, they were directly under his command, and yes, they outranked Havoc, but the lieutenant was his driver, dammit. And it had seemed odd at first that the only vehicles they’d requisitioned of late were off-road personnel carriers. Perhaps it isn’t so odd, after all, he’d thought, but it had only led him back to the glaring fact that there had been no evidence of said large object in the research lab.

He’d glanced through the stack of books on the table and only came up with more questions. Aside from the manuals on welding and for the sewing machine that he’d expected to find at that point, there had been books on weather patterns for Amestris in general and Central in particular. He’d also found elevation maps of the local area and several of nearby State Parks. None of them were directly associated with either of the brothers’ affinity. And really, there had been nothing in evidence of actual alchemy involved anyhow. It was information that farmers, miners and the National Parks Division used.

Then there were the paper gliders laying all about the lab as well. It appeared obvious those two had been spending quite a bit more time wasting time than actually researching. He’d known it would be too much to hope that perhaps there were some half-formed thoughts or theories written on the carefully folded and discarded papers that might give a hint of a clue on their research, but it hadn’t stopped him from looking anyway.

He hadn’t known whether to laugh or fume when he found the one piece of paper with anything written on it –in Fullmetal’s messy scrawl. You won’t get any answers here, Colonel Useless, so get your ass back to work before Hawkeye finds you and gives you a new hole to breathe out of.

Roy had started to wonder if perhaps these weren’t all parts of a several puzzles, rather than a single one –and the most important pieces were missing. He also wouldn’t put it past Fullmetal to litter the lab with equipment he had no use for, just to throw anyone poking around off the trail.

There are always alternative methods for getting information, though, he’d thought with a smirk as he’d carefully re-folded the glider and sent it soaring across the lab. At the precise moment it sailed over the table, he’d snapped and the paper burst into a flash-flame, then rained down ash all over the table. Neither Elric would have missed it when they returned and they would know who had been responsible. As he’d shut off the lights and strolled out of the lab, he’d calculated exactly how long it would take before Fullmetal barged into his office to rant and flail at him for daring to get nosey. While the young alchemist would be in mid-diatribe, Roy would employ the tactics --which had seldom failed him in the past when dealing with that particular Elric-- and he’d get some answers. And if not… well, he could at least count on a little entertainment to alleviate the current tedium.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. A week had passed and he’d seen Fullmetal as well as Fieramente several times, but the two young men acted as though nothing had been out of order. It was quite alarming, actually.

Roy tapped his pen on the folder filled with purchase orders and receipts, pondering. It hadn’t just been his two alchemists that had been acting oddly of late. His two closest friends and best officers were acting stranger than usual, now that he thought about it. Last week, he’d taken a stroll through a nearby park on his lunch break and found Hawkeye with field glasses watching a pair of falcons riding the thermals. Not that unusual of an activity. With the weather warmed up and approaching summer, the park was frequently populated by bird-watchers. But it was very out of the ordinary for his efficient, duty-conscious captain. A few days previous to that, he’d caught Havoc out on the parade grounds… flying a kite. A kite! When Roy asked why, the lieutenant shrugged and said some woman had told him to.

“Did you read this morning’s paper?” Breda said, breaking through Roy’s contemplation. “There was another giant bird sighting.”

Roy sighed and rolled his eye. He really wished his officers would stop buying those ridiculous scandal sheets, or at least stop believing everything they read in them. Things like that never boded well when they became wrapped up in some made-up tale meant to be told around a campfire.

“That’s what?” Breda continued. “Twelve times this month alone? The sightings are increasing in frequency.”

“I, for one, do not believe the story,” Falman said.

Roy felt a measure of relief. If the efficiency expert on the staff didn’t buy into the gossip, then chances were the interest would fade and he wouldn’t get roped into some hare-brained investigation that would end with a logical explanation and extreme embarrassment.

Besides, something was up with the Elrics and Roy was becoming convinced that they had roped two of his officers into helping with the conspiracy. That made him exceptionally nervous --and Roy Mustang was not a man to make nervous. He was going to get to the bottom of this.

Starting with the budget reports.

“The evidence would point to something far more insidious,” Falman finished. “Like an advance scout for an invasion from another planet.”

Roy groaned audibly and covered his face with his hand. “Gentlemen,” he said, tiredly.

“If that were the case,” Breda said, completely ignoring his commanding officer, “then why is it only spotted east of Central? Over the State Park? A giant bird of prey would stay around there. Hunting.”

“On the contrary,” Falman said. “An advance scout would be wise enough to keep away from the city proper to avoid being spotted. From that height, they would be able to recon quite efficiently.”

Roy glared at the two men incredulously, then cast a scowl at Hawkeye --who was sitting with her back to him, concentrating quietly on her own paperwork. He could feel his annoyance building at her seeming unconcerned attitude and silently added that to the list of odd occurrences from her of late.

So be it, he thought. He would deal with this on his own.

“Gentlemen!” he bellowed and finally managed to get their attention. “There is a logical explanation to this…” He waved his hands expansively in a series of confused gestures. “…’giant bird’ story.”

“So what is it, sir? A bird or a spacecraft?”

Roy froze in mid-flap and wished he hadn’t been forced to witness the puppy-like, overly hopeful look on Breda’s face. It just didn’t fit the man and he was convinced that it was going to give him nightmares for at least a week because of it. Is it a full moon? he wondered. Has the entire staff lost what little sanity they possessed? Come to think of it, when had any of them had time off?

“Neither,” Roy snapped when he realized he’d been silent for a little longer that he should have been and was staring open-mouthed at the man. “It’s nothing more than a ridiculous story made up by the paper to sell more copies and you two have been buying into it. Now I suggest you get back to your work and leave me to mine.”

There, that settles it, he thought as he returned to the mysteries of the budget report in relative quiet.

He dug in with enough gusto Falman was prompted to comment that perhaps the Brigadier General was ill. This then sent Breda to staring out of the window and claim that he intended to see the end of the world from the front row.

Roy sighed, then realized he was doing quite a bit of that today. It must be the weather, he thought. And anticipation of the long weekend. Everyone was a bit restive and it was understandable. No one had really had a chance to relax in nearly a year. Not since Maes and the Elrics had returned with four strangers in tow. Four very strange strangers.

There is no conspiracy, he thought with a soft chuff. Everyone is acting unusual because they desperately need a break and you are just being overly paranoid. Come to think of it, the only person on the staff who hasn’t been acting odd recently is Fuery. The man deserves a medal for keeping his composure under fire.

Roy toyed with the idea of suggesting a medal for ‘Valor Under Surreal Circumstances’, but knew that even if approved, Fuery would probably be long retired before it could be awarded to him. But I can at least give the man an ‘Atta Boy’, he decided as he glanced up from the purchase order he’d been staring at for the last few minutes without ever reading a word of it.

“Captain,” Roy said, looking around. “Where is Sergeant Fuery?”

“He’s out,” Hawkeye said, never lifting her head from her own paperwork. “Sir.”

“Odd. I didn’t know he was sick.”

“He’s not, sir. He’s assisting the Elrics.”

Roy felt his right eye begin to twitch as his earlier rationalizations scattered on the warm breeze. “And just what is he assisting them with?”

She continued with her work, which only irritated him all the more, since all he could see was the back of her head. Not that he would have been able to read anything on her face anyway if she didn’t want him to. Damn the woman for being so bloody professional.

“I can’t say, sir,” she said neutrally.

“Can’t? Or won’t?” he muttered as he went back to the budget report. At least here he could get some information. Purchase orders and receipts always told their stories. They never lied to him or misdirected him and he didn’t have to threaten them with flames to get them to talk. In fact, he was beginning to think the budget reports were more loyal to him than his officers. It was a sad, sad day when Brigadier General Roy Mustang’s paperwork was more reliable than his staff.

Twenty-five bolts of top-grade silk. What did they do? Clean out all of Central’s notions shops? That had to be at least 500 yards of fabric. Twelve thermometers. Various sizes of springs, gears and assorted clockworks. 250 military-issue equipment belts? None of the standard pouches that came with them, just the woven, extra sturdy belts. Enormous amounts of aluminum, rubber, silk ropes…more SILK?! Just what is wrong with good, old-fashioned twine or cotton ropes? Cotton batting…

He blinked at the final purchase order, hastily written in Fullmetal’s unintelligible scribble. He stared, certain he’d read it wrong the first time. But no. There it was, clear as day… or at least as clear as possible when Fullmetal was the one who wrote it out.

…and one used motorcycle engine, the receipt for which had been signed by First Lieutenant Jean Havoc.

“Lieutenant Hav-- Captain?”

“Lieutenant Havoc is out, sir.”

“I can see that,” Roy snapped. “Don’t tell me, he’s assisting the Elrics as well?”

He already knew the answer to that, and Hawkeye knew he knew, which was probably why she didn’t answer. He started rubbing his forehead. He could feel a whopper of a headache coming on. What had started out as a semi-pleasant morning of pondering the possibilities of escaping early had turned into a full-blown mystery that had to be resolved before he could even consider leaving this stale, dismal room. He was certain that he’d be trapped here for the entire three-day weekend.

This was worse than he thought. Not only were the Elric brothers conscripting his officers, but even the paperwork which he’d thought was so incorruptible, had decided to turn insubordinate. None of the purchase orders and receipts told him anything useful. He wondered for a very brief instant if he could court-martial his budget reports.

Unfortunately, his mildly pleasant fantasy was interrupted by the irritating jangle of the phone on Hawkeye’s desk.

“Hawkeye,” she said. “Yes, sir. Right away.” She hung up the phone, got out of her seat and stood at attention in front of Roy’s desk. “Sir, Brigadier General Hughes has requested an urgent meeting with you.”

Not good, Roy thought as he got up from his desk. Maes generally just barged in, jovially forcing the most recent pictures of his daughter on everyone who didn’t escape quickly enough and then got down to business while the rest of his staff was sitting around shell-shocked from the flash-bang attack. He never --well, almost never-- formally requested a meeting outside of Roy’s office. The situation, whatever it was, had to be dire.

The fact that this came from out of nowhere was even more disturbing. It meant that whatever had the Intelligence Officer wound up had come on suddenly. Roy slipped his gloves on as he followed Hawkeye out of the office.

His paranoia rose when she didn’t escort him to Maes’ office, but out the front door to a waiting car. Maes was next to it with a huge grin on his face, which didn’t bode well for the man. Especially if Roy found out this wasn’t as urgent as he’d led Hawkeye to believe.

“Heya Roy! Great day for a drive, don’cha think?” he said as he waved.

By the time Roy reached the other man’s side, his head was beginning to pound. “Maes, this had better be important.”

“Oh, absolutely!” he said as he dug a new picture out of his pocket. “Take a look at this! Elysia won first place at the Science Fair!”

Roy’s teeth ground together hard enough that Hawkeye cast a quick, concerned glance his way before she strode around the back of the car.

Maes, however, wasn’t paying the least bit of attention. He was too enamored with the picture of his daughter. He gave it a sloppy kiss and went on. “I’m tellin’ ya, Roy! She’s a genius--”

Roy growled low, then looked to his adjunct for rescue. Instead he saw her quietly dismiss the driver and climb in behind the wheel herself.

“—Why I’ll bet you she’ll break Fullmetal’s record for the youngest alchemist to be certified.”

Roy’s right hand started to twitch in time with his eye. “Hughes!”

He caught the darting of the Intelligence Officer’s green eyes in the direction of the dismissed driver, then his expression instantly went serious. A subtle nod toward the car, and the two men climbed into the back seat. They remained silent until Hawkeye had pulled away and merged into the light traffic.

At that moment, it occurred to Roy that Hawkeye hadn’t asked for directions or destination. “Et tu, Maes?”

He was graced with a look of badly feigned innocence. “Whatever do you mean, Roy?”

Roy’s legs were crossed and he was bouncing one foot. His arms were entwined over his chest and the hand closest to Maes was tapping an impatient rhythm on a tight bicep. For anyone else, that would have been a warning to dive for cover. Not, apparently, for the two people in the car with him. Damn them.

“Fullmetal and Fieramente have been conscripting my staff for some mysterious project,” Roy said. “And now I discover that you’re doing the same thing.” He cast a glare at Maes. “I assume you will be informing me of what is going on?”

Maes smiled and stretched, then laced his fingers behind his head. “Relax and enjoy the ride, Roy. You’ll have your answers soon enough.”

Roy caught a hint of a smile in Hawkeye’s reflection in the rearview before it disappeared and she was all duty once more. Relax? A snowball has a better chance of staying frozen in the middle of an Ishballan summer.

A stonily silent hour later, they were out of the city and climbing the mountain road deep within the parklands that had been reserved long ago. A road that Roy was almost embarrassed to admit he was quite familiar with from his youth. He could still say with conviction that it ended on a plateau that had a most spectacular view of the city in the distance. In fact, at night the lights from Central seemed to reflect the sparkling of the stars overhead, or in a young woman’s eyes.

How many dates had he brought up here when he was young?

“So, Roy,” Maes said, breaking through his pleasant memories. “You’ve had some experience in balloon flight. What would you say was the biggest disadvantage there?”

The question seemed rather out of the blue to Roy, but he considered it for a moment. “Aside from the need for a constant fuel source to heat the air? There’s the issue of control. You don’t steer a balloon.”

Hawkeye slowed and Roy saw a barrier across the narrow road. The officer guarding took one look inside, saluted stiffly, then went to move the road block.

“What the hell is this?”

Maes chuckled and gave him a devious grin as the car emerged from the thick, tree-covered road and onto the clear plateau. He nodded and Roy looked out ahead of them. There was the personnel carrier, along with Havoc, Fuery, Fullmetal and Fieramente. What they had set up and spread out all over the open space, however…

“And why are my alchemists playing with… giant kites?”

“Honestly, Roy,” Maes teased as the car rolled to a stop. “All the answers have been right under your nose the whole time. You’re really out of practice if you haven’t figured it out by now.”

Roy tensed his right hand. “The urge to turn you into charcoal is growing stronger.”

“It’s called hang gliding,” Maes said as he nearly leapt out of the car. “And you’re going to love it.”

“I’m going to what?” Roy opened his door and climbed out before Hawkeye could get it for him, causing him to nearly bowl her over. He gave her a narrow-eyed glare and said, “You knew about this all along, didn’t you?”

A fine brow rose, but there was no other change in expression. It had always amazed him how that woman could speak volumes with that one small gesture. He opened his mouth to say something, hopefully scathing enough to raise the other brow, thought better of it, and closed his mouth. She was armed after all.

That was fine. He was quite capable of speaking without saying a word as well, and he shot her an ‘I’ll-deal-with-you-later’ look as he started past her.

Her expression shifted only minimally, but it quite clearly said, ‘I’m-sure-you-will… sir’. The ‘sir’ was an after-thought; he was certain of it. And had that malicious glee returned?

Roy was seriously reconsidering the wisdom of keeping officers on his staff that had earned his trust. After all, that entailed knowing each other very well, and there were occasional serious disadvantages to having people around who were that familiar with you. It encouraged insubordination. He was a Brigadier General, dammit. And she was only a Captain. She should have been at least a little intimidated. Damn the woman.

He caught up with Maes, who had joined Havoc and Fuery at the back of the personnel carrier and were huddled over a detailed elevation map. While the sergeant was concentrating on making adjustments to several objects that appeared to be gauges, the other two were discussing notes in an open journal and pointing at the map.

“Yeah,” Havoc said as he tapped a spot on the map, “that’s a freshly tilled field. We should be able to catch some good thermals around there.”

“What about the lake?” Maes asked.

Off to the side, both Elrics were intent on stretching silk over an aluminum frame and hadn’t bothered to acknowledge him with even a glance. It sounded more like they were arguing over the proper placement of something called an altimeter. More silk was strewn about on the ground in what appeared to be a definite and deliberate arrangement. Connected to it was a profusion of the silk ropes and utility belts. Another frame –that rather reminded Roy of a giant dragonfly—sat nearby, also covered in bright silk. In the lower section was a seat and right behind it was—

The hell? A motorcycle engine? Havoc’s motorcycle engine?

It all started coming together. Roy had heard the theories of actual flight, as opposed to floating with a hot air balloon. He’d even seen rough plans of aeroplanes, but the development was nowhere near this point. For that matter, the information for those machines was for something much larger than the thing sitting before him. It also required material far more solid than silk.

“We’ll be going over it at just the right time, if Al’s calculations are right,” Havoc said. “With the target being North Beach, it should take about four hours.”

Roy started looking at the profusion of festive colored fabric scattered all about in a new way. It was easy enough to identify the contraption with a motorcycle engine as a small, single-person aeroplane, but the frame the two young alchemists were working on was of a completely different shape. Triangular, with nowhere to sit and no place for a motor. The very idea of manned flight hanging onto a giant kite was patently ridiculous. There were too many problems with weight and control for it to be viable. At least as far as theory went.

But practical application can prove even the most reasoned theories wrong, he thought. And the military benefits are astonishing --if these can actually fly.

He didn’t care to contemplate what the purpose the silk laid out in a neat arc near his feet was supposed to be for. With the ropes and the harness made from utility belts attached, he had his suspicions. He’d tied handkerchiefs to his toy soldiers and dropped them off the roof when he was young. He seemed to recall that they never did land well.

He followed the lines of the silk more closely. The over-all design is entirely different, though. More points of connection for control, the shape more closely resembles a bird’s wing.

Then he thought about the information Maes and the Elrics had brought back with them from the other side of the Gate. The possibilities in technology had sounded like something out of fevered dreams and Amestris was decades from even coming close to achieving levels anywhere near those. On the other hand, he thought, if anyone could make these things work, Fullmetal and Fieramente would be the ones to do it.

Fuery handed Havoc a gauge, and said, “With the ambient temperatures predicted for today, the clear weather and the southerly breezes, the deeper parts of the lake should be warm enough to keep you aloft long enough to hit the target.”

“Excuse me?” Roy said with what he thought was a clearly commanding tone.

Unfortunately, no one else did, because they continued to ignore him.

Hawkeye jumped into the back of the carrier and disappeared. A moment later she returned carrying box with four cylinders of the type Roy had seen in hospitals. Oxygen tanks. Portable.

“What about security,” she asked as she set the tanks down. “North Beach is very popular this time of year and it’s the start of a holiday weekend,”

“Covered,” Maes said. “The whole area is cordoned off.” The man grinned mischievously. “Investigations found more evidence of that giant bird.”

Hawkeye lifted a brow and there was a definite hint of a smile. “That was a stroke of brilliance to feed the media that story, sir. I’m impressed.”

This had gone far enough. Roy was in no mood to be completely ignored in this situation and he wanted answers. Now, dammit! He raised his hand, snapped and set off a fireball over everyone’s heads that made all but Hawkeye duck instinctively.

When the entire group finally looked his way, he said, “Now that I have your undivided attention, would someone care to explain to me just what is going on here?”

Maes laughed, came up to him and clapped him on the shoulder. “Jeeze Roy, I’d think it was pretty obvious by now.”

Ed snorted as he got to his feet and said, “He’s getting slower with age.”

Roy shot an acid glare at Fullmetal, but didn’t have a chance to counter the remark because Fieramente said, “Flying, sir.” From his spot next to the giant kite, he pointed at the small aeroplane. “That’s an ultralight.” He slapped a hand on the silk covering of the kite and said, “This is a hang glider.” Then he pointed at the silk spread out on the ground. “That’s a paraglider. It’s Lieutenant Havoc’s favorite.”

As Roy followed the boy’s gesture, he saw Havoc stripping down to reveal thin-soled shoes, pants of a more flexible fabric than the uniform’s and a long-sleeved, thermal shirt. Ed had joined him and it was then he realized the young man was dressed similarly to the Lieutenant. Unfortunately, the past few years had been kind to the diminutive alchemist, because even without the ubiquitous platform boots, he was still able to look Roy in the eye without craning his neck. Dammit.

It was obvious by the way Ed’s hands went to his hips and he tilted his head back the slightest bit, that he knew what Roy had been thinking, and he had every intention of gloating over it… later.

Roy merely responded with a raised brow.

Maes broke the silent stand-off between the two of them when he casually rested his arm on the Brigadier General’s shoulder. “Think of the military applications, Roy.”

That was the one thing he had been considering, even through the irritation of being kept in the dark for the entire time. There were a lot of variables. A lot of theories about flight that he suspected were not quite correct in light of the equipment spread out before him. If these worked…

His gaze centered on Ed and a smile tugged at his lips. “Show me.”

With a brilliant grin, Ed said, “I’ll use small words so you can keep up.”

“Hmmm. Don’t push your luck,” Roy purred. “I’m sure you don’t want the whole world to know the real story between you and Ducky.”

Ed stopped dead in his tracks and shot Roy a narrow-eyed glare. “You wouldn’t.”

The other man didn’t say a word.

Ed hissed and stomped in the direction of the ultralight. “Bastard.”

Roy followed, triumphant. It wasn’t quite the tantrum he’d hoped for, but he’d take his little victories where he could. “That would be Brigadier General Bastard to you, Fullmetal.”

He knelt down next to the small aeroplane with Ed and could see the slight crinkle around the younger man’s eyes that said he was nowhere near as pissed at the threat as he’d pretended to be.

“’Colonel Useless’ has a much better ring to it,” Ed said. Then he proceeded to give Roy a run-down of everything on the contraption, how it worked and what it was for. Then he plucked two small objects off the seat next to a helmet and a pair of goggles, and held them out to the other man.

Roy recognized the objects as one of the tiny receivers and palm-sized radios brought through the Gate. Walkie-talkies, they’d called them.

Behind him, he could hear the rest of the group had returned to their preparations. No one had noticed the sudden pause in the conversation between the commander and his flippant subordinate.

He gingerly took the receiver and gave Ed a questioning look. “I assume you have a reason for handing this to me?”

The younger man cast a surreptitious glance past him, then met his gaze again. In a conspirational voice, he said, “Yeah. You’re flying the ultralight.”

“You do realize that will require convincing Captain Hawkeye that I won’t die a horrible death by crashing this thing into the rocks. Right?”

“I’m sure you can handle that.” Challenge settled on Ed’s face and he added, “That is, unless you’re afraid to try it.”

“Have you flown one of these?” When Ed snorted derisively it was all Roy needed. “Well, then,” he said as he attached the ear-piece. “If you can do it, it can’t be too terribly complicated, can it?”

Once more, Roy was disappointed in the response he received from Fullmetal. There wasn’t even a scowl, let alone a remark from the younger man. Instead he concentrated on activating the radio and checking its charge, then handed it to Roy.

Al called and Ed stood in time to catch the quilted, one-piece cover-all/sleeping bag combination the younger brother tossed his way. It was an eye-searing yellow that was lanced with black in odd places rather than the usual red and black Roy was used to seeing on the alchemist.

Ed must have seen Roy’s confusion as he was slipping it on, because he stopped with his arm only about halfway through one sleeve and said, “What?”

“That was my question,” Roy said as he slipped the radio into the breast pocket of his shirt.

Ed slipped his arm the rest of the way through the sleeve, then grabbed at the front of the cover-all. “This? It’s a cocoon; it’s part of the harness. Besides it gets pretty damn cold up there.”

Roy glanced around and noticed that Al was donning a similar coverall as Ed’s and Havoc was jumping and wriggling into a pair of quilted pants. He faced Ed once more and cocked a brow. “Do you have an extra?”

Ed chuckled as he sealed the front of the cocoon down as far as his waist and left the bottom hanging behind him. Roy couldn’t help thinking how the young alchemist resembled a wasp. Right on the heels of that image, he thought, How appropriate.

You won’t be flying that high,” Ed said. He nodded at the ultralight. “We had to do some serious modifications to make that work with steam instead of petroleum. But even still, you need oxygen to keep the engine running.” Ed knelt down again and pointed at a gauge. With a tap at the green section where the needle was currently pointing, he said, “The altimeter tells you how high you are relative to mean sea level.” His finger slid along the gauge, over the yellow band, then stopped where it turned red. “The higher you go, the less oxygen there is.” He cast a quick glance back at Roy with a smirk that was more self-deprecating than arrogant. “Well, you know that. Just remember that if you red-line, you’ll stall and drop like a stone.”

“If you people plan to stand around bumping your gums all day, that’s your choice,” Havoc said and Roy twisted around to catch sight of the lieutenant stepping into the center of the paraglider harness. “I’m gonna catch some air.”

As Havoc slipped the complex configuration of utility belts into place, the engine on the ultralight roared to life right next to Roy, startling him. He shot a glare back at Ed, who merely shrugged. Then he caught sight of Hawkeye’s suspicious stare aimed at him and he offered her a sheepish smile.

“Gotta warm the motor up,” Ed shouted over the din, and Hawkeye nodded.

She moved behind Havoc and started tugging hard enough on the belts around his torso and over his shoulders to nearly pull him off balance. By Havoc’s reaction, Roy assumed this was SOP, but when the part of the harness nearest the lieutenant’s groin was yanked, the man’s eyes went wide and his head snapped around. Roy couldn’t hear what was said, but he had a pretty good idea, especially when Havoc suddenly did a damn fine job of looking completely innocent. Roy was even convinced… until Havoc glanced back his way and winked.

He felt a light tap on his shoulder and then Ed nodded at the ultralight. While Hawkeye was distracted, Roy jumped into the seat, donned the goggles and helmet, then quickly strapped himself in. Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, he thought and did his damndest to suppress a grin.

A crackle and hiss reminded him of the receiver in his ear, then Maes’ voice came through. “How ya doin’ there, Roy?”

He looked back over his shoulder, spotted his old friend near the truck and gave him the thumbs-up. That was the instant the conspiracy was revealed, because Hawkeye darted around Havoc just as Roy felt Ed slap him hard on the shoulder. “Go!” the alchemist shouted. “I’ll handle the captain.”

No longer even trying to hide his glee, Roy opened the throttle, popped the brake and rolled forward.

“General!” Hawkeye called as she headed his way. Havoc grasped her arm to stop her and she glared daggers at the lieutenant.

That was the last thing Roy saw behind him, because the edge was coming up fast in front and he didn’t want to miss this. He waved and said, “I’ll see you down on North Beach, Captain!” Then the ground disappeared from beneath him and the ultralight went into a stomach-lurching dive.

Roy wondered if his first manned flight was also going to be his last and he pulled back on the controls. The craft began to climb rather quickly…

…too quickly.

He scrambled to get the small aeroplane leveled out and was starting to have second thoughts, when Ed cackled in his ear. “Jeeze, Colonel! Try a lighter touch!” Roy ignored the taunting over the receiver and concentrated on controlling the craft, but just as it leveled out, he was hit with an updraft that sent the altimeter soaring into the yellow. He shoved forward on the controls and started to dive again, prompting Ed’s voice to blare through the receiver once more. “Dammit Mustang! Handle it like a lady! I thought you knew how to do that?”

Roy could hear the panic underneath the casual barb and completely empathized. “Light touch,” Roy muttered as he got the ultralight under control and his stomach back where it belonged. “Right.”

“What was that?” Ed said, much calmer now. “You said that the ‘Ladies Man’ reputation is just a big lie?”

With an exasperated sigh and a carefully modulated tone that belied the shaking he felt, Roy said, “It’s Brigadier General Fullmetal, and I’m in complete control of this craft.” He banked the ultralight lazily, just to prove his point. “And what would you know about handling a lady?” he baited just as the plateau came back into view and he could enjoy Ed’s embarrassed rant and flail completely.

The response he received instead was wholly unexpected. Ed didn’t so much as flinch, but a slow grin spread across his face that could be seen even from Roy’s distance and he heard a most devious chuckle.

Fuery shook out Havoc’s paraglider, and as it caught the air it bloomed like a giant, parti-colored chrysanthemum in front of his lieutenant. The sight was stunning and Roy banked the ultralight once more to watch the jump. He came around just in time to see the canopy fill and rise over Havoc as he trotted toward the cliff and rose into the air before he reached the edge.

An ear-splitting whoop burst through the receiver in Roy’s ear as the lieutenant caught the same updraft he had a moment ago and was yanked violently straight up about a hundred feet. Then as if an invisible hand released him, the ascent stopped and he dipped one end of the sail to gently turn. Rapid-fire comments were impossible to decipher through jargon which was completely alien to Roy, as Havoc rattled off numbers and observations, but the exuberance was clear and contagious.

Roy widened his circle and ascended; there was still one craft remaining on the plateau and he wasn’t about to miss that launch. He started to grow concerned when the cliff was in his sight again, but Ed hadn’t moved from his spot at the edge. With hands on his hips and a tapping foot, the alchemist didn’t appear to be waiting patiently, either. “Is there a problem, Fullmetal?”

“Yeah, you’re in my flight-path.”

“That didn’t seem to be a concern for Lieutenant Havoc.”

“And if we hit that ridge-lift wrong, we’ll be slammed back into the side of the cliff and turned into a greasy spot.”

“Ah! Well, Providence forbid that I be the cause of you defacing this lovely cliff-face by becoming a… ‘greasy spot’,” Roy said as he banked and flew out of the flight-path. “Besides, Fieramente doesn’t deserve to splatter with you.”

“Ha. Ha.”

“Head for North Beach, General,” Al said over the receiver. “We’ll catch up.”

“And don’t try anything fancy,” Ed added.

“I’m not an idiot, Fullmetal,” Roy said petulantly.

“No. You’re an ambitious bastard who likes to push his limits, but nobody can pull your nuts out of the fire if you fuck up in mid-air. For once, don’t argue with me and just do what I say.”

Roy clamped is mouth shut so hard his teeth clacked. He really wanted to spit out the scorching come-back that jumped into his thoughts at that moment, but the simple fact was Fullmetal was right –Roy was a neophyte compared to the Elrics. Damn that hurt to admit. Of course, that didn’t mean he couldn’t pay his insubordinate subordinate back later --after they landed.

Then all plans for eventual retribution became inconsequential as the Elrics took flight. The hang glider dipped then climbed as it rode the ridge lift along the cliff a short way, gained speed, then banked and soared out toward the lake. The patchwork pattern of red and orange and purple and gold reminded Roy of a phoenix rising from the ashes –graceful, majestic and breathtaking.

Maes’ voice broke through his reverie as he announced that the ground crew was headed to North Beach and would meet up with them in about four hours, then good-natured banter between the Elrics and Havoc –who was little more than a speck in the distance at this point-- bounced back and forth. And all of it faded into the background as Roy allowed the ecstasy of flight and the freedom he experienced to flow through him.

He followed the glider at a safe distance as the stunning sight rose, and Roy was once more awestruck as he saw the young men suspended side-by-side from the wing frame and worked as a single entity to control it. There were no levers or gears to adjust altitude and attitude; instead they used their bodies with precision and grace.

Roy was airborne and nothing could dampen the exhilaration he felt as the wind buffeted his body and the world beneath him receded further… but he was still using a machine to achieve this flight. The Elrics, on the other hand, had no engine roaring behind them; no comfortable seat under their asses --they were one with the glider. They succeeded in a dream humankind had since time immemorial.

Roy was suddenly proud --and humbled-- to be able to experience this with the two boys he’d seen grow from scared, wounded children into wonderful, confident young adults. I always knew that someday they would soar with eagles, he thought.

The brothers were climbing higher and moving further away and he couldn’t bear the idea of them leaving him behind. Adjusting the throttle, he accelerated and he pulled back on the controls to climb with them. So intent was he on keeping up with Ed and Al, he didn’t notice his gauge creeping dangerously close to the red-line until Ed’s voice crackled in his ear. “Watch your altitude, dammit!”

With a muttered curse and sinking disappointment, Roy brought the ultralight back down into the green. He wanted to see just how high they could climb. He wanted to climb with them.

“You can’t follow where we’re going, General,” Al’s gently apologetic voice said and the words hit him in the chest with the force of a wrecking ball.

He couldn’t follow them.

From the moment he’d laid eyes on the tiny, broken child that laid feverish and crying in that bed in Risembool so long ago; from the instant he heard the small voice coming from the suit of armor, he’d known that this day would eventually come. All the years of locking horns with the prickly alchemist called Edward Elric and his gentle brother named Alphonse --all the arguing, the tantrums, the careful manipulation, the terror, the fury, the tears, the laughter that there wasn’t nearly enough of—it had all led to this one moment.

I can’t follow them.

And it was then he understood why he’d felt so restive lately.

He couldn’t follow the Elrics. He had his own goals to reach for and they had theirs. All he could do now was watch from a distance as they ascended to heights that only they were capable of. It was time to let them fly.

The rest of the flight went without incident. Even his first landing was rather unremarkable. The only casualty was Havoc’s cigarette when he came in a bit too soon, and hit knee-deep water a few feet from shore.

There was a huge amount of food laid out and Roy was elected to light the fire for the grill. Maes inflicted more snapshots of Elysia on everyone while Alphonse and Havoc debated modifications to the equipment for different applications. At one point, someone took an emptied pie tin and several of his staff --correction, friends—started a rambunctious game of fetch with Black Hyate that resulted in the dog becoming drenched as he dove into the lake to retrieve it.

Maes took him aside as the sun started to set over the lake and said, “So? What do you think?”

Roy tilted his head and gazed at the hang glider, the ultralight and the parasail that were now broken down and being packed away. “I think that they’ll be useful in recon and surveillance.” A thought occurred to him then and he scowled. “But why would Fullmetal and Fieramente go through the trouble of building all this from scratch? Alchemy would have been so much easier.”

Maes chuckled. “Because if you commission a series of them, you won’t have alchemists putting them together.”

“I?!” Roy blurted as he tore his eyes form the bright silk and aluminum frames. “This is Ed and Al’s brilliant idea, I’m not about to stomp all over them to grab the limelight.”

Maes’ expression was cryptic; a mixture of warmth and amusement. “You’ll be the darling of the military again, Roy,” was all Maes said as he clapped Roy on the shoulder and strolled off --leaving Roy with the uncomfortable feeling he was still completely clueless about all of this.

Then it hit him and he had to lean against a nearby tree for fear that his knees wouldn’t hold him up anymore. The gliders and the aeroplane --and all the power that came with them—were astounding and whoever got credit for their development was going to gain an enormous amount of pull with the Brass and Parliament.

This… the power of flight and the technology that came with it, was Ed and Al’s gift to him. There was no amount of Equivalent Exchange that Roy could ever give in return.

He watched the sunset while he absorbed the overwhelming emotions that coursed through him, but soon felt a presence next to him. He turned to see quiet concern on Edward’s face as the young man said, “You okay? You’ve been awful quiet.”

Roy thought about that for a moment, then he smiled. “I am, Edward. I’m very much okay… Thank you.”

Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix.
Have so much love for so many parts, I can't pick. *_*
Thank you! :D
I think you are the only person able to write fic this sweet and still make me cry. Beautiful imagery and all the camaraderie and quirks that come with Roy's company.

On another note, thank you! I'm going to have to call up my dad now--I think your Roy finally made me understand what he's going through right now. ^^
Awwww! Thanks!

Poor Roy... blindsided by a bad case of 'Empty Nest Syndrome'.
I absolutely loved this. It's ingenious!

I can just picture Havoc as an "extreme sports freak". XD Cajun Havoc was bad enough, NOW he's a fly boy?? SHEESH! You CB people are going to KILL me DED.

The end was absolutely the best part after you showed Roy going NUTS having things out of his control.
Heehee. Getting Roy's paranoia up is always fun, though. And yeah... I figure a guy who is a sniper in the military has to be something of an adrenaline junkie, so it seemed perfectly natural that Havoc would get a kick out of paragliding.
*eyes tear up* You finished it! Yay!

I notice you didn't say a WORD about it to me, either.

Thank you, darling. You brightened up what was an absloutely horrible day for me.

I'm sorry you had a crappy day, Love! But I'm glad you liked the story.
This is great, I love the idea of the Elrics bringing flight to Amestris. But the best part? Having Hughes back at home. Awsome.
I blame extreme denial. I know that his murder in the story was necessary to be the catalyst... but dammit! I didn't -want- him dead!
Squee! You finished it! I loved the ending. I loved everything.

And I was going to say more, but the happy/fuzzy/content feeling that comes after reading a really good fic is totally clouding my brain. :D

Glad I could make you feel all fuzzy! ^^;;
fuzzy fics are the best reads, and you do such a good job writing them!
I feel teary and awed lovy-doviness all at the same time! Damn what you do to my fragile emotions!!! I have read the short-fic of the gods, and found it good! I could now get squished by a rampaging auto and die happy. GLEE!!!!!!

Yanno, you really aughta open up and share your emotions a little more, Love. It's sometimes difficult to tell how you -really- feel!

That's it, you're toast! *grabs cleaver* I hope you're wearing Nike's!
I was enjoying this story very much even before I got to the end. I read the passage where Roy realized that the brothers could fly on their own, and I got a little choked up. Then, when Hughes explained why Ed and Al had gone about this project the way they did, the tears started to well up. What a beautiful story.