Chapter 7: Business or Romance
It's dark. There is no better word to describe the world around Edward. Everything in this place is simply dark. His vision can barely take in the shapes and figures of a wooden chair. There also appears to be a cot pushed off in the corner. There's nothing quite like being thrown in a cell, arms bound and unable to move. He couldn't fight the imprisonment if he wanted to. Blood was still running down his head after being struck.
A creek came from the rusted metal keeping him within this darkness. Footsteps approached in a delicate rhythm. He wondered briefly what it would be like to be captured in a world without alchemy to save him. This was the powerlessness of an ordinary human.
"Sir, this is the soldier who was carrying the message." A common grunt, no more and no less. That voice was meant to be forgotten along with the many others who could see only death in this war. He would suffer as any human would. 'No that's not right, there's one person who would never let this happen.' He didn't want to, but his mind drifted to the world left behind. To a woman with a soul ice cold on the battlefield and the most active trigger finger. Capturing her would take an entire army. She had never once had the grace of alchemy to protect her.
"So boy, if your carrying messages around like a dog then surely you must have information." Calling him a dog...guess not everything changes between the gate. He just turned his head away from the eyes shining in the darkness. "Oh don't be that way, we can treat you much better. Those who help us are aptly rewarded. Even if you've killed our men that's only showing your own strength. By helping us, you help yourself."
"The only think talking to you would do is ensure a higher body count. I'm surprised a vampire like you even knows what's going on out there. Have you even seen the outside world from your expensive little mansion?" The man's hand collided with Ed's face, throwing his head left from the impact. Still, he gave no reaction to the hard slap. 'Seems I guessed right, it's not even a general.' This world was no different then his own, filled with those who work behind the scenes. Nobles, politicians, and leaders. Never matters what you call them. They are the very same thing hiding behind titles.
"I don't want to have to hurt you. Don't test my patience if you feel like even getting food. I'll happily provide for you and give a nice comfy room. Should you refuse my generosity I can't promise your safely." Ed smirked through the darkness, could he even say something like that with a straight face? He wasn't desperate enough to believe such blatant lies. The only safe people down here were dead.
"Are you sure there's any food left to offer? From the looks of you it's all been long gone." His head twisted the other way uncomfortably, the stinging sensation in both of his cheeks now. Ed wasn't even sure if the man was fat, he couldn't see a damn thing. The man clicked his tongue lightly, pushing him backwards with his foot and sighing. "Oh well, if that's how it's going to be..."
Footsteps grew farther away but only a single pair. He was leaving him with the others...then...
"Rough him up until he feels like saying something, or dies...doesn't really matter. We have 10 more to interrogate today anyway, one of them will break." Shit this was going to be bad, his vision was blurred from the blow to the head earlier...he wasn't sure how much of this he could take. Two people approached him with light snickers. "Hey guys, if you could do be a favor and like...avoid below the belt..."
"Shut it kid, your in no position to make requests!" His body was thrown backwards from a powerful hit to the chest, light coughs coming out through a sigh. 'Yeah this is going to suck...'
With a start Ed threw the covers off him, panting heavily and trying to gain his composure. 'Where...am I?' Glancing around the simple room he recalled being escorted here by a few soldiers. 'Oh right, I'm in Central...' Wiping away the sweat on his forehead was the only thing he could do, calming down his nerves.
"Man, I thought those dreams had finally stopped..." it wasn't his worst experience on the other side of the gate, but it wasn't a vacation either. If he was forced to relive the worst of them in such vivid details then he would surely go insane. He didn't even know which were worse, the gruesome secrets of alchemy on this side...or the disgusting actions of humans on the other...
Sliding out of bed Ed groaned from the sticky feeling of the sweat running down his body, a common side effect of nightmares. 'Good excuse to get a shower out of the way, I guess.' These guest rooms were so much smaller than the ones given to alchemists. If nothing else they really gave you a nice place when that high up.
Dragging his feet to the bathroom, he flicked the light casually. The bathroom was a fairly decent size, though anything you could fit in was probably big enough. Pulling the curtains back gave a nice view of the relic they called a 'shower'. Do they ever replace these things? Grumbling his complaints Ed turned the knob slowly, making sure to only turn the hot water on. You were lucky to have mildly warm water in Rainfall, the constant chilly downpours keeping the indoor heaters from reacting properly. It could just have been improper maintenance, but he would finally get some nice hot water.
With the water easily heating up, Ed retreated in to it. 'Gah, maybe it's a little bit too hot.' Cringing from the burning heat but still not turning it out, he allowed it to run down his body. It was a rather soothing difference from the cold sweat of his nightmares, more so from the cold rain of Rainfall.
"What the hell am I doing back here...?" light grumbles and deep sighs continually slipped through his lips, staring at the swirling water heading down the bottom drain. It could hardly be called a shower, all he did was allow it to wash over him...burning the grime off him. 'This is idiotic, I shouldn't have come back!' His inner thoughts mirrored the questions coming out in whispers. While it was too late to just turn around, Ed needed to decide what happened from here on.
"I don't want to rejoin the military...but I can't do anything like this...and..." his skin was beat red from the overwhelming heat of the water, easily hiding the sudden blush. 'Riza had to go and do that...!' With cheeks puffed out in a stubborn pout, he touched his lips lightly. That was so random, so strange, so 'Warm.' A far different warmth from the water but still with a similar tingling sensation.
The doorbell chimed from outside, barely catching his ear. 'Ugh who the hell could it be, can't they see I'm thinking!' Well duh, of course they couldn't see him thinking. If they could see his thoughts it would result in more teasing than he could handle. Slightly grumpy he turned the water off forcefully "I'm coming!"
Grabbing the only towel in the place Ed promptly dried off, yanking on his boxers as another chime of the bell. Growling out another 'one minute', pants and a shirt soon joined the hasty dress job. A third ring of the bell really got his blood boiling. "I said one minute!! Can't you people hear!?"
"What the hell do you-" he yanked the door open, entire body being thrown backwards as someone threw themselves on top of him. It happened so fast he couldn't stop himself from falling to the ground, the smaller body landing on top. "Brother! It's me brother, it's Al!"
"Brother? Hey Brother are you ok?" Standing up he looked down on the silent Ed, trying to understand why not a word was uttered.
"A-Al! Who the hell taught you to go around tackling people out of no where, couldn't a simple hello work!?" If only for a moment, the old Edward shown through upon the confusion surrounding the meeting. Jumping up from the ground, his teeth grounding in to each other painfully. He was already upset about the doorbell, adding to that such an entrance was...infuriating.
"I-I'm sorry brother, I was excited and...wanted to see you so...' he hung his head, giving Ed a chance to examine the still rather young brother of his. Despite the extremely young age, he was dressed up in an outfit similar to his old one. A pair of gloves reminded him of Mustang, transmutation circles carved on the back hand. "It's...it's fine..."
"Look at you, I take it you've used that tackle on a girl or two." To break the ice he teased his brother slightly, smirking at the quickly waving hands trying to defend himself. "Th, that's not true! I don't have time for things like that!"
So young and already on the battlefield. He really didn't like thinking of his own brother doing the very same things he had done, it really...
"When did you get back!? I just heard about it now...and..." looking a bit upset Al closed the door after seeing a few people look inside curiously.
"Ah well...just a few days ago actually." There was no need to tell him he came back to this side almost a year ago, there was no need to tell him how, and definitely no need for him to explain why he didn't go see him. "Oh no wonder I didn't hear anything, I came back as soon as I did."
"It's nothing spectacular, you didn't need to rush yourself. I'd have found my way over to you eventually anyway." Ed could still see the youthful innocence that was his brother. It was a bit comforting to see him still so energetic. 'I'm guessing there's an apartment full of cats somewhere in this city.'
"I didn't want to wait brother...besides this way I can go back to the front with you." Al smiled slightly until noticing the distant and sad look of his brother. "Wait, brother...aren't you rejoining the military?"
"Ah, well...I wasn't really planning on it. I've already done that once you know." As Al looked down a bit, he realized it might not have been a good idea to say that. "I see, but...I thought we'd be able to...spend more then just a day. I have to go back tomorrow..."
"Don't worry about it, I can go where I want remember? I could always go see you when I felt like it you know." His brother brightened up a bit at that, nodding quickly. Before long they got caught up in casual conversations. If nothing else Ed enjoyed hearing about how Al got his training with Izumi and deployment stories.
"Oh right! I...forgot to go see Mustang..." Al put on a slightly upset face upon realizing that. "I'm sorry brother, if I don't go give my report he'll yell at me. I'll try to come back later!"
Ed let him go without a fuss, as great as it was to see him again...he really didn't like thinking of him as an alchemist. It was just a dangerous thing. At least when they were together, he could always back out. While he hated to think about it, the armor body at least guaranteed a good amount of safety.
It was still early and he really had nothing to do. If Al was going to be busy for awhile then...
Another knock sounded and interrupted his small internal debate.
"Did you forget some-" He stopped in mid sentence, unable to fully form the word 'something' at the sight before him. Al hadn't returned but instead was replaced by a very different Riza. It was very odd to see her in casual clothing after such a long period of time.
A long pair of tan pants were joined by a slightly darker shirt, the zipper drawn down enough to see part of a blue shirt underneath. Really it was a guys outfit, or appeared to be...but it really did look good on her. The major difference was the hair, free flowing and without restraint. He had seen in once before, he could recall it...but seeing her like this was...
"Um...hi..." she called out lightly, drawing him from the spaced out look. A slight tilt of her head showed her confusion at his silence. "O-oh, uh...hi. Did you need something?"
"Well no, not exactly." She frowned a bit at the accusation. 'Damn, I shouldn't have said something so stupid. Careful Ed, careful.' He briefly recalled the kiss, throwing his thoughts around even further.
"I was wondering if you wanted to do something...ah, I mean I have the day off and..." looking away a bit she spoke lightly, unlike the usual quick and blunt statements he was used to. Was there something about her uniform that kept her from acting like this? Or was it just a choice to soften up a bit without it?
"Al's busy, so yeah sounds good..." speaking quietly they both avoided looking at each other, this awkwardness would have to be dealt with eventually. His voice betrayed exactly how excited he was to get out in to town, even better if with Riza.
"Oh, so Al came by here already? I thought it might take a little longer to get back." She broke the quiet voices by pouncing on a simple thing like that, drawing him in to an easier topic.
"Yeah he stopped by, tackled me to the ground even. Not the best way to meet someone in the morning." She chuckled a bit, another thing he didn't get to see that often. 'I have a feeling saying she actually looks like a woman would make her very very mad at me.' He would mean it in a good way, but even he could tell it would result in pain.
"Well uh...shall we go...?" His only response was stepping out in to the hall and closing the door behind him. Good thing he threw on decent clothes when Al showed up. His hair was still a bit damp, but it was alright...hopefully.
It had been quite a long time since he had visited Central, the high quantity of people walking around was almost intimidating. With almost a year living in that tiny town, something this large was a sight to behold. The constant noises buzzing all around made it hard to find silence. They walked together with Riza pointing out several of the bigger changes in town.
"Oh, and over there is where they replaced a small shop with a huge new restaurant. I haven't tried it myself but it's supposed to be good." She spoke in unbroken sentences with a much more friendly and perky tone then he was used to. Riza seemed a bit happy to just show him what changed in the time he left, which in turn made him happy.
"See that building? It used to be some sort of warehouse but they turned it in to a new automail shop." Examining it over, it seemed to be overly big. He didn't like the giant shops, the smaller ones were more passionate about their work. Reminded him of Winry at times. 'Oh right, it's been awhile since I've seen her too.'
"Say Ed, how did you get your automail worked on?" Turning to him with a smile, he became somewhat entranced by the simple beauty of it. "Ah, well this old man named Francis used to be a mechanic and worked on it for me."
"Francis? I met him...he's the one who told me where to find you actually." She could recall the friendly air around him, old age easily recognizable in the sluggish movements. Despite that there was a certain life to him, a spark age could not put out. "Yeah, he was a nice guy. I originally planned to go city to city, but after talking to Francis for a few days...I just...decided to stay."
Ed couldn't recall what that old man said but something just talked him in to remaining in that small town. He introduced him to Charlie and helped him out plenty of times. Francis had actually been more of a father than his own. 'Ah, it doesn't matter...'
"Are you alright..." Riza called out softly, brushing a strand of hair back with a slight frown. 'He's getting worked up about something, I can tell.' Despite him brushing off her concern, she could see a strange irritation in his movements.
"Hey Ed, come on let's grab something to eat." Her request was followed by a light grab of his arm, dragging him towards a small restaurant across the street. 'Maybe this will keep his mind off whats bothering him.'
"H, huh? Wait, Riza you mean together!?" He blinked several times, unable to keep his feet still as she gently pulled him along. 'This Riza is pushy!' Well, she was pushy in a military outfit too.
"Of course together, we are out on the town...so why would we split up to eat?" With a chuckle she stopped in front of the doors, staring at the unusually flustered Edward.
"Well you know, like...two people going in to a restaurant kinda looks like...you know...a..." his flustered cheeks grew hotter and hotter.
"A...date?" Inquiring only baited him in to turning around, crossing his arms and sulking under such embarrassment. 'If he keeps acting so cute I'll be tempted to tease him some more.' It was unlike her to enjoy teasing others, but this was just too good.
"Well yeah! It could look like that to...some people..." he continued to refuse turning around, avoiding looking directly at her. 'Looking right now would only remind me of that kiss!'
"Wouldn't just walking around together look like that too? To some people." He jumped a bit, realizing that the entire walk around the city could be viewed as just that.
"It could but...not really, it's just..." chuckling more she simply shook her head, dragging him the rest of the way in. He gave up fighting pretty quickly and they found a table to share. The place was rather comfortable, simple wooden chairs with a sturdy and elegant design. Tables ranged in sizes but held the same simplistic design. It was more of a cafe then an actual restaurant. Together they sat across from each other in front of the window.
They ordered one after the other, waiter leaving them to relative silence as he went to put in the order. Riza felt a bit strange watching Ed staring out the window, a similar idle look to the one she met with several times before. 'I wish he'd just say something, I don't really know what to do...'
"Would it be alright if I asked you how you got back...? I heard you were pretty much...gone..." she frowned at herself, realizing how stupid of a question that was. Of course he wouldn't want to recall it. 'If those memories are any indication...'
"I'd rather not, it's a bit complicated...a bit gruesome...and all horrifying." Riza cringed a bit as his voice lowered near the end. His life seemed to be covered in moments like those. 'He said it about his memories here too, the last night I saw him.' That might have been the moment when she wanted to learn more about him. If he had to deal with so much practically on his own, only Al by his side...then she wanted to be there to comfort him. 'Ah, there's no much I can do to comfort him though.'
"What about what you did when you got back then?" Seeming a bit more comfortable, he turned his head back. Slightly more interested and eyes shifting, he spoke lightly. "I simply tried to get a candle on things, caught up on some current events, and went city to city. When I got to Rainfall I planned to do the same, but like I said before Francis talked me in to staying."
"You didn't even once have the thought to come back and...just tell people you were ok? Or even just to say hi?" There was only a shake of the head for a response before he renewed his complaints. "I couldn't exactly send a postcard and coming back would be...well just like this. I would have seen Al as an alchemist going into trouble, an arrogant Mustang at the top, and all the changes...just not for me."
"Still, you could have said something at least. People worry about you..." he groaned a bit without responding, uninterested or unable to accept such a simple fact. 'He's so stubborn sometimes. If he was going to change it might as well have been that.' She couldn't say it was exactly bad, it had it's moments.
"Ed, can you really say just sitting alone in some border town is really better...?" Sighing lightly, he turned his gaze away slowly. The interest of the subject already having faded from his mind, his response came in a dry and dull tone. "What was the use? All that would happen is people hounding me to rejoin the military."
"Would it really be that bad to just come ba-" She squeaked a bit at his quick glare, lightly slamming his hand on the table. Usually she would just stare right on back with the same cold glance but it just wouldn't come this time.
They still ate lunch together, wordlessly so. Right afterwards Ed left without a word, heading back to the small apartment most likely. 'Dammit...I shouldn't have...said anything. What was I thinking...?'
It didn't take long for Ed to get back to the small temporary apartment. Staying there would have only gotten him angry enough to say something he'd regret. He was sick of thinking about the military, having gone through it in two different worlds already. That whole life had sucked away his childhood. Even worse was he put Al through it. In a full body he still went through it yet again. How could he enjoy to see that?
He was fine rejecting the idea of him rejoining, Al's place in it was the real reason behind the irritation. Taking it out on Riza wasn't the best idea...but he could apologize for it later. Only thing on his mind now was calming down and getting it out. The building frustration was offsetting only by his attempted indifference to the old life.
A soft knock on the door.
Growling he realized it was probably his brother coming back. He did mention coming back later.
"I'm not really in the mood, can't you just-" He opened the door quickly and in an instant the frustration was melted away. This was the second time he had mistaken the person at the door, the second time Riza had surprised him with her visit. Also, it was the second time she had kissed him.
The soft lips, again brushing over his in a gentle touch. Quivering lightly they only pressed harder against his own, which instinctively returned such a gesture. It was a simple thing, no different than the last...except...they didn't part.
A/N: Yup I'm stopping there :3 will there be a lemon next chapter? Who knows, it depends on if I'm in the mood or not. Hope you enjoyed nonetheless!