A/N: Well, it's been far more than a week and I'm truly sorry about how long it's been to the update. Original stuff has been tempting me forth from my FMA hidey hole, and school has been eating my free time. I'm not going to say this WILL be a weekly update, but I am aiming for something like monthly at least. I'm going to really thank AmunRa and Astarte Katz, because between getting me up to the nice, pretty round number which is 40 reviews and favorite-izing me on everything (you sweet person you) you really made my day. I've had this chapter about a week now, but haven't updated because I couldn't get my hands on either of my two darling beta's. I descended upon Sapphy today, and decided to post this with a single go over because…well. It's been long enough.
Disclaimer: FMA does not belong to me. If it did, "Flame vs. Fullmetal" would have a whole other meaning.
Warnings: Slash, slash, and more slash. Roy/Ed-ness and so forth. Though not in this chapter. If you don't like it, run away now and spare yourself the horror that will be. That said, onward!
A Dedication: To Shuki Ai, because she has been my lovely, faithful reader and she is most deserving. Luffles. And to Gabby, because she gave me a Roy keychain, and eps 9-24. Adore you both.
Mortvi Non Mordant
It was almost cold and Ed couldn't breathe; the fire had burned away all the air around him and the smoldering absence of warmth on his skin prickled down to a bone-deep chill. He hurt as it crept pins and needles up his spine and into his fingertips, an unresisting drowning in dark silence. Then oxygen flooded back into the blackness and Ed was dizzy with it – a euphoria that had everything to do with the life that rushed into empty lungs and very little with anything else. Blind, he neither laughed nor cried, but instead reached out into the emptiness and screamed.
"Roy!" The word came out malformed and awkward – had he ever said it before? – angry, but far too relieved. He'd be teased for that. Glad to see me, Fullmetal? I've heard pigs are flying and you've grown several inches. ...But it appears the last is still untrue. Pity.// Mustang would smirk. Ed could already feel it, a brush against his soul that came with a kind of dry, scrabbling sensation, like bugs over skin and not pleasant at all. A tingling rash on an uncomfortable sunburn that managed to be a hair's breath better than nothing.
Ed was just ready to wake up from this dream and go home.
"Roy? ...Mustang?" The second time he spoke it was louder, more brash and less desperate than the first; the Colonel wouldn't have recognized politeness if it came out and beat him. Just like that. "Mustang?"
...And the strangest thing of all was that it took several minutes for it to even occur to Ed to be worried.
He broke stuff, and the Colonel took the credit for getting it fixed. If he seemed there he would be, sarcasm and all, claiming success for something Hawkeye had probably figured out. It was only after no sarcastic comments shot from the darkness, no barbs on height or maturity were spat forth to needle him, that the thought actually niggled its way into being. That perhaps he was simply seeing shapes in the shadows, that no answer didn't necessarily mean mind games and hope can be an entirely different thing from madness.
"Roy," Ed hissed out the first name again instead of the last because - short and tempered - it rang out like a curse. "Roy, goddamnit, Roy! Answer me! You sick fuck, what kind of joke are you playing?" It had been less than a week; the prospect of seeing things seemed an inconceivable one, and the weave of insane possibility in the silence's response was more frightening than anything. "Answer me!"
Nothing spoke back, and he laughed, tension surging out then back into himself with the uneasy churning of breaking waves.
"...Haha, Mustang. Very funny. Great joke. Now look here you bastard–" Ed swore again because it felt unnatural on his tongue; he rarely used epithets around his brother, had never been separated from Al long enough to pick up the habit. Unnatural, though, was what he was feeling, so he swore and he spoke, empty air eating his words faster then he could say them.
No one ever answered, and when he finally realized there was no one to do so, his mouth kept moving anyway. Went on for hours.
There is never company quite as lonely as your own.
The wise say anger is for the weak, but that's a lie. Anger feeds on the strong, and anger ate up the last of Ed's reserves; a smooth drug that emptied his mind for a time and then wore off to leave something ravaged and markedly worse. He was quiet, near the end.
"Colonel...?" Ed didn't cry. He'd cried his share already, and the rest of the tears he was keeping for Al. Instead, there was a soft, questioning, wrathful frustration. "Look. I'm...sorry, ok?" The words flowed with a dull, acidic taste from his mouth, halting and slow, to the beat of a funeral procession. "For this...this whole thing. And...and those reports I turned in late last week. I'm sorry for calling you a bastard, and the time I spilled that pot of coffee across your desk. For once...twice...when I..." A list of sins. "And....and....I'm sorry, already. Just.... Let me wake up."
No one was listening.
Ed talked himself back to sleep.
The footsteps came before the light and he had just enough time to tense then relax again - lie perfectly still - before the door swung forward, nearly blinding him. A single gold eye snapped open from behind a tangle of blond bangs and lashes, and swiftly shut itself against the sting of the brightness. Slower the second time, Ed made out the silhouette of a man. Then a second. A third. Only three and Ed nearly smiled, because three was a number that - even now - he was confidant in taking. They weren't in military uniform, but when the first man spoke - almost in range and with the smooth drawl that comes from the confidence of knowing you are the best - Ed was almost positive they couldn't be anything else.
"He doesn't look like much, does he?" This as an aside to the other two just a few steps behind him, before turning his attention to Edward.
"You needn't pretend you're asleep; it's obvious that you're not. For the man that took out Mustang, you are a child in subtleties."
Ed didn't move, forcing his breathing as even as possible.
Amusement floated from the leader figure, and it shrugged. "Be that way if you wish, it fools no one."
He took a measured pace, just out of attack's reach.
"Fullmetal," He said, all icy cool, "do you know why you are here?" A pause, and when Ed failed to answer, "Your crimes against the late General factor in, yes, but your transgressions against society stands as an even greater sin. The creation of an unsanctioned Philosopher's Stone is a menace to the general populace. Your use of it has already caused the loss of one life, and if you fail to inform us of its location, there may very well be more." There was a threat in his tone, even as it became obvious in his words. "I have heard that you are a good brother, Fullmetal."
Frozen, Ed's jaw locked, stealing the words he might have given.
At last, the other man spoke. "Well. The military understands if you need a while to think it over. Remember your priorities. I shall see you soon."
The leader-figure gestured and the others followed in silence. As the first pair of feet reached the top of the stairs, Ed managed to open his mouth just in time to bite back the questions he had about Al - was he safe, was he ok, would the bastards leave him alone? - and ask instead,
Smug satisfaction fell into his questioner's voice.
"Yes, a posthumous promotion."
The door closed. Someplace, somewhere, Ed figured, Mustang had to be happy.
That made one of them.
Ed wished he could have said that the next few days passed in a haze but they didn't. The mornings were cold and black and individual in their misery, failing to run together in the canvas wash of wretchedness that prisoners so often talk about. There was always food when he woke up, but no matter what hours he kept or how lightly he slept, he never saw anyone replenish it. He'd attempted fire alchemy several times after the initial success, shaken, but not enough to be long deterred. Each subsequent endeavor had ended in failure, and after the hundredth or so attempt he'd stopped putting any real effort into it. The door stayed fixed shut, and Ed took to counting the days with scribbled tallies on the hard dirt floor. He knew that the figures weren't accurate, but the rough little marks helped him feel in control of something. Time was an enemy that called visions of his brother to mind in cold sweats and screams of 'what if's' that left him numb and shaking. He was almost positive they'd put something in the water because it had a bitter, flat flavor that filled his sleep with pain and woke him with violent shivers. Unable to do without, he drank it anyway.
Ed got his color from the nightmares, and the leaving of them was almost worse than the having, going from the violent vividness of his subconscious back to the greedy black invention of his own too imaginative mind.
It could have been a week, it could have been more, when his dark-scarred eyes started seeing their dreams in oblivion.
Red was the first of the things that came to him in the dark. A vivid crimson that didn't really make sense, because there had been no blood in Mustang's death, and no blood yet on Al, but when he closed his eyes they gushed it. Bled out from fantasies into reality and lined his hands like paint or flowers. The people came next, and for a while Ed stopped drinking the water. The images had faded back to dusty vermilions, but he couldn't keep it up, and he ended up downing the slimy liquid despite misgivings. The hallucinations returned after that, almost generic at first: Al blamed him for his capture, his mother for her sickness, his father for his own desertion, Roy for his death, Winry for leaving her, Hawkeye for the Colonel, Hughes for taking his best friend and breaking his heart. It was a hell of sorts, and just as he began to expect it, it changed. Trisha was first, and she appeared crying.
The transition from surrealism back to reality was effortless, and he opened his blind eyes to her huddled form in the middle of the room. The mindless blame was gone when she looked up, young and beautiful, smiling through her tears.
"Come here, Edward," she said, and it was too sudden a change for him not to, a careful step forward that wanted to believe as it didn't. Life had never given him gifts like that. He hesitated in the last several inches from her, and she reached out a hand -soft and warm - to pull him down to her lap. Her hair had a bright burnish from a sun neither of them could see, but she felt like herself and if Ed hadn't been saving it he might have sobbed at the change. Instead, he simply sat stiff in her arms as she apologized and whispered soothing nonsense into his ear. He had almost drifted off, at peace with himself, when her nonsense changed and it registered.
"You took them from me," She murmured into his hair, "your brother, your father...you took them from me and you murdered them both. But I love you Ed. You have killed me, and still I love you." He pulled away from her, startled, and she smiled gently at him -perfectly- and asked, "Why?"
"I didn't!" He nearly couldn't say the words, and he realized then that he hadn't talked in days...perhaps a week. His count of time lay in some corner, forgotten and useless after his visions became little different from the physical world.
She merely stared at him in patient, wounded devotion, accepting his denial but hurting and loving anyway. For a moment, it made Ed wonder himself, doubting. If she looked that way...had he killed them? How could he have not? And he suddenly knew with a painful clarity that he wouldn't complain again; just give him back his lightless prison and take away this. He moved as far away from her as he could, ate a small hunk of bread, and waited in hope for the nightmares.
The new incarnations of his waking hours had the same flavor as his mother's visit, and each managed to maintain its own sense of unique cruelty. A silent Alphonse lent stoic comfort to reveal a tongue-less mouth and eyes full of forgiven accusations. Hughes offered escape in blinding brilliance, handing him his freedom before denying it with a closed door and even colder eyes. They were all new, individual slices of masterful torment, and when his mind was free to reflect, he had to compliment his own genius for knowing what he feared most.
Edward Elric needs no chains because he makes them all himself.
"You're up early." Ah, and Ed had almost forgotten the voice. For some blessed days Ed had almost forgotten the voice but now it was back and Ed wondered if that was the next torture in and of itself. Said so, even.
The Colonel - General - raised an eyebrow.
"And if it is?"
Ed gave him a long look before deciding to ignore the specter all together. He'd had his guilt trip over Mustang, filled the quotient and more; Ed had no spare sorrow. The man could quip he could banter, but unless he proved to be as good at the cancan as he was at his smirk Ed wasn't interested. Instead, he stretched, allowing routine to brush the apparition aside.
Not taking the snub seriously, it smirked. "Hardly torture, Fullmetal."
"Shut up." His response was flat, uncaring. He ate, did small exercises, counted his steps around the room. Mustang made a poor haunting; didn't suck him down like the others did, merely watching in disinterested amusement, giving comments Ed pretended not to hear.
When he was tired again, Ed found his way back to the corner he had made his unofficial bed. It was hard to relax with the fake General's eyes on him, but when he eventually slipped into unconsciousness, it was to a peaceful darkness devoid of dreams.
When Ed woke up and Roy was still there he was almost startled into words. The hallucinations had never had any consistency before and yet there Mustang stood, leaning up against a wall and looking as smug as a bored man can be. Ed ignored him again for the first couple hours. But he had had sleep - real sleep - for the first time in what felt like decades and his head was clear enough to wonder.
"Out of curiosity, Fullmetal, are you going to keep this up for the rest of your stay?"
For a moment, Ed didn't answer, and Mustang waited - smirking, superior. So close to the real Mustang that Ed almost fooled himself. Instead, he gritted his teeth and clamped his jaw tight shut, said nothing.
In the end, the day passed as the last but for a swift catnap, the middle of which was punctuated by a brief period of awareness as he watched Mustang pace. One, two, three; eyes drifting shut Ed drifted off once more. When he came to again the General was sitting a little ways down the wall from him, staring out into emptiness.
Ed got up and Mustang started talking.
"Alphonse is on the second floor."
Something pulled at his heart, almost opened his mouth, and with a stabbing incredulity Ed got the trick to the General's trial. Low, dirty, perhaps the worst one yet; information, hope.
"Little has happened yet. Hughes," And Ed congratulated his mind for the touch of emotion that it managed to install in the tone; one that he couldn't place as having heard from the Colonel - General - but managed to fit nonetheless. "Is keeping an eye on him. If things go well, they'll have to release him soon. Exempting accomplice charges, the military had no official reason to hold him." A touch of pride, almost lost amidst the usual smarminess. "Maes will see to that."
Ed's unbound fingers traced the wall as he walked in the blackness, humming a tune to himself. Almost exasperated - but most emphatically not - Mustang queried,
"What do you gain, Fullmetal, by feigning ignorance?"
Ed surprised himself by answering.
In the days that followed the Roy apparition failed to fade and Ed resigned himself to the fact. It was as bad as the actual man in most respects and seemed nearly worse in others - or perhaps absence had made memory more tolerable, and the figment was all it took to banish whatever reminiscent conjectures on the dead man's grandeur had grown up, like mushrooms, in the darkness. When the thing itself refused to leave he gave in to talking to it as well; in the long run -or so he decided - it merely amounted to speaking to himself. A marginally taller, smirking part of himself.
The thought of such a complex might have disturbed him under other circumstances, but at the moment, he had better things to worry about. He still had no answer to the question of the Stone, and Mustang's vague informing on the matter of Al had been discarded all but entirely. He had taken up marking time again - devoid of both sleeping and waking terrors in favor of the ever present General - and by his count a little more than three weeks had passed. The arm strapped to his pole was nearly a dead thing, limp and weak, itching with things he was glad he couldn't see. As a whole, both he and the cellar reeked. It had been a small embarrassment, additional insult, when no chamber pot had been included in his package of daily items. A corner of the room had been forced to serve instead, and he had a good enough sense of self that it mattered. A little, anyway.
Ed spent the majority of his day at the top of the stairs; ear pressed against it, listening to faraway sounds, feelings its edges for a fault. He was there when Mustang snuck up behind him, arms crossed, and delivered the message.
"They're coming tonight."
Ed didn't bother to look up. "They're not. They never come."
"You don't know everything, Edward."
He made a small harsh sound. Looking up, he tilted his head and twitched his lips wickedly. "And you know less than that. I made you up, you bastard, so be quiet and let me work."
Mustang composed expression nearly slipped, before collected calm swept his face and smoothed the corners of his smirk once more.
"And when they arrive, Fullmetal, and ask you their questions, what will you tell them?"
Ed hesitated, before remembering that it was only himself, and told the truth. Snapped it, out of habit, anyway.
"I don't know."
Never missing a beat, Mustang caught his duality. Of course he did. "Of the Stone or your answer?"
Ed didn't deign to reply, but his silence spoke volumes.
"I suggest you think, Fullmetal. If you're capable of it."
Ah, the wit. And Ed growled, dropping the conversation. Planned in silence.
Ed had not attempted alchemy since the nightmare of his mother, but now - anticipating the premonition of his own hallucinations - it seemed mad not to. Licking cracked lips, he gazed at the spot in the darkness where he could feel his hand to be. Shivered an odd tingle down his spine at the concept of being able to see Mustang and not himself. It was a disembodied sensation, and if he had been nervous before it made him bristle and snap.
"What are you looking at?"
"Wait." Mustang's eyes were slitted nearly closed and he had a look on his face of muted pleasure. He was leaned against a wall, just as elegant as you please, and as pristine and unruffled as if he had just walked into the office Monday morning. More so, even.
Ed's fingers snapped at that - angry and hard, in spite and on principle. Nothing happened and Mustang raised one eye to lazy half-mast, seeping a voiceless satisfaction.
Ed simply glared.
About to try again he halted, ears catching the distant sound of footsteps.
Mouth suddenly, inexplicably dry he glanced at Mustang, the other man abruptly fully alert and too professional for 'I told you so's." For now, at least. And he never would have asked him if he didn't already believe he was, "I'm going crazy, aren't I?" Voice almost light, tone almost joking, blunt and straightforward as he could make it.
For a moment, the look on Mustang's face was unreadable.
Then he smirked and gave Edward a fleeting, superior glance. "You're speaking to the dead, Fullmetal. What do you think?"
Ed managed a glower. "..Bastard." Not that he'd expected anything better.
The footfalls made rhythmic taps that slowed near a halt at the door.
Eyes shutting against the expected onslaught of light, Ed waited.
A/N: Heart shaped candies upon my fellow fangirls (bois?) XD Ah. Well. It HAS been awhile and I think the feel of this chapter is pretty different from the previous three. I find it rather crappy, and find some of Ed's bits OOC. He is a wee bit insane though, so I'm thinking that explains most of it, and he can't be utterly snarky to imaginary Mustangs all the time, can he? Shh don't answer that. I love you anyway. On another note, I am a fluffmonger at heart, and this (and perhaps chapter five) will probably be the last overloads of angst. I hope to be more physiological in the future.
PlatonicTeddys- When chapter three was written, I'd seen episodes 1, 3, 5, 9-14, and 17. Your review, by the way, made me sparkly inside.
Love you all. Again. Squared.
Hn. Plushies seem generic and lovable. Plushies to all my dear sweet reviewers.