Inspired heavily by music from artists Vienna Teng, Rachael Yamagata, Josh Groban, and Beegie Adair. The original LJ version has the music embedded and available for listening while reading the corresponding parts. Also, it has full formatting support, without the little format style changes I made to accomodate FF's iffy system. I think it adds to the feel if you read the original version, so if you want to do that instead, you can go to my profile, where it there is a link that says "Fullmetal Alchemist" under the "On LiveJournal" section. It should lead you to the right place.
Expect spoilers from the first anime series and Shamballa. Post-movie AU, New England (Boston) setting, circa 1923. Ending poem by Costantine Cavafy; numerous quotes within the story also taken from various sources.
The Only Fault
Thursday afternoon, one of those grey spring days, when the sun is dappled and the sky is bright, you sit by a corner of the café.
You were sipping cooling coffee when he first came in, a shadow, a spectre, a figment of your imagination. His stride is unchanged by time and space, and for a moment it doesn't matter that he isn't real – because, as if sharing a contiguous consciousness with reality, you feel the very hitch of his breath and the very sputter of his heart. Right there, underneath your flesh fingertips.
He walks in, dignified, strong. He stoops his head for no one. His eyes, sharp and defined, are the very picture of the ruthless capitalist, the lord who walks the Land of the Free. Class and privilege ooze from every viable pore there is on his smooth, pale, unmarred skin – at least it's so, from what you can see.
And you can't see all that much. Your angle is nothing short of abysmal, and when he sits at his table, in the other far corner of the maddeningly curved room, your eyes lose sight.
You wish for more, and no more.
Seconds pass. Minutes. An hour, two hours.
When you see him finally making his way out of the now less congested café, you give an involuntary sigh of relief.
Today's challenge is done.
It's all a matter of love. The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
You've been seeing him a lot more these days. He haunts your waking dreams, flitting in between gaps of consciousness, a shadow in a milling crowd of people you somehow never manage to catch. At work, when you're buried beneath heaps of paper and piles of books, you hear his voice, reading aloud the words inked on each page. Into your ear, softly, silently.
You're not barking mad.
He's not the real man you knew. He's an illusion, this much you accept. Created by your mind's folly; nothing more, nothing less. Because for the past few weeks, you've been weak. You've been giving into the urge, into the want, into the sheer loneliness of being stranded in a land you can never righteously call your own.
Every time you see him, you feel a pull – it takes your entire will, and a tad bit more, to keep yourself glued tight to your chair, to keep yourself from blithering your heart in front of a man who's a mere and inaccurate shadow of memory. You remind yourself: it's just another businessman, just another person who has the same hair color, and the same facial structure, and the same slant of the eyes, so exotic and distinct it can't be of Western blood. It's just another person you're mistaking for the man you so desperately want to see.
Some of this desperation you understand. When something or someone is suddenly stripped away from you, it seems only natural that you would try to compensate. Minds do that; it's a fact of life and nature. That part, you grasp, for you've experienced it for yourself, whenever you saw real, moving limbs, and felt the ache of your own missing arm and leg. It's a phantom feeling, one that's not easy to shake. One that leaves a lasting imprint, its thumbprints stark and bruising and evident against the paleness that is your soul.
No one knows where phantom memories reside. Often, the phantom sensation is painful, and doctors have tried again and again to locate the source and seal it away. Spinal cords have been severed, nerves sheared and cut, brains lobotomized. Some of these caused the pain to go away, but only for a while – it comes back, a vicious, unforgiving thing, and the encore is always better than the first, in a way that it is more efficient in causing more pain.
So you know there's nothing to be done about your pain. It only comes back, again and again. This is the suffering you took upon your shoulders when you chose to stay behind in this world that is not yours – you have to accept it.
It is not easy – but no one said it would be.
When you saw his shadow once more – even if it was only aboard a dreamboat of your mind – you felt that phantom feeling, tugging at the edges, clawing at your throat. He hasn't changed, not one bit, and you want him now, even more. He was clipped away from you, and seeing him again you feel the emptiness of loss –
There's nothing to be done.
The pain of having a part of you literally and brutally torn away is beyond any words existing within any dictionary you can find. People have asked you, time and time again, and you can never adequately explain. Excruciating. Unimaginably so. Numbing, burning, knifing, ripping, torching, scorching, clawing, biting pain. It has an element of blank – it doesn't know where it ends, or if there ever was a time when it was not. Pain is like that. You don't really know when it begins, and you don't really know when it ends either. You don't even know for sure if it does have an end.
You don't think it does.
At the moment of separation, you don't immediately feel the difference. For a moment, for a tiny, fleeting instance, one long enough to last a century, it seems as if you still have the detached arm, even though you see it disintegrating into its base particles in front of your very eyes. The memories of having it, the sensations left ingrained within the flesh of the shoulder, where the ball of bone fits into its socket, substitutes. The memories are enough to substitute for the sensation of having an arm – so good at it, in fact, that the reality that you no longer have an arm stalls when it tries to register in your shock-addled brain.
And when this injurious reality hits you – when it hits you – there's nothing else to do but scream.
Pain, pain, endless pain. Ruthless, merciless, unbridled pain.
Regret comes much later, when you lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, numb in a sea of stagnant emotions.
Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood is a beautiful twilight that enhances everything.
You're not an idiot, so soon, you realize there's something strange. You see him almost everyday now – if not everyday – and he starts paying attention. He casts you looks – tentative, probing ones, the same look a curious nosy body would give a peculiar little animal at first sight.
You still see him at the café, on Thursdays and Sundays. But now you see him on the streets too. At times he's talking to the bookkeeper at the public library – a place within which your name is by now well-known. There was an instance when he was seen by one of your (very helpful) neighbors stopping by at the upper-middle class neighborhood where you live, in a quaint front-row house you and Al earned and pooled money for. And when you pass by his company's management building in downtown Boston on the way to the university, you see him – his silhouette – looking down from the fourth floor executive windows.
It's as if you're being stalked, you realize with a wry smile. You've stalked plenty enough in your deceptively short life, and you know how easily it can be done, if the one doing it has the proper skills. Lord knows, Roy Mustang has all the skills.
But why would a memory stalk you?
It doesn't make sense. He is your memory, a dislodged piece of your imagination. You have control over him – though admittedly at times it slips – so if he is indeed your memory, you should know his every move. You should feel it if he niggles at the back of your mind, if he chooses to appear before your eyes in the form of a ghost. You should know it.
Which would leave behind only one reasonable explanation: he isn't your memory.
—which consequently leads to one fact: that he is his own self.
The book you hold drops and meets your toes.
When Winry forgets and tries to hand you a glass from your right side, you instinctively move your arm to reach for it. Only, there isn't an arm, and all you're really moving is the stub that's left of it. Your shoulder aches again with the phantom pain, a remainder of the tearing apart and pulling away. You feel the phantom limbs, you see them, moving, grasping things, feeling the coarseness of the sheets against its skin.
And you hate it, because it's your own mind being a traitor to you – and of all things you hate, at the very top of the list is treacherousness, because it reminds you of your father.
It's painful, but you're helpless, and more of this agony will come when the surgery is done. Aunt Pinako insists on local anesthetics, weak and insignificant against the tide of neurotransmitters shrieking pain from nerve to nerve. She doesn't believe in general anesthesia, the strong kind that makes you sleep, the kind that modern automail equippers use nowadays.
You want to bitch and whine about this disparity in fairness, but you'll only get a well-aimed wrench to the head, so you desist.
During the surgery, you feel wave after wave of pain. The derelict corner of your mind that is barricaded from all senses seems too far to reach, and you limply suffer as the tidal waves crash over and against you. You mind your voice – Al is outside. He doesn't need to hear any of this. He doesn't need your pain; he already suffers enough.
If I love you, what business is it of yours?
So you resort to the solution you deem an astronomical genius: you avoid him.
Instead of going to the public libraries yourself, you send one of the junior students, the naïve ones haplessly eager to please Harvard's youngest and most controversial research professor. They like you at that institute, and you find that you rather like them too, for the mere fact that they don't discriminate against your age and ambiguous background, as is custom throughout the rest of the country. All they care about is your research results, and keeping your magnanimous genius within their campus.
You still drop by at the café – it would be a severe insult to the kind shopkeeper who kindly gives you generous discounts on their daily treats should you suddenly stop coming on your scheduled days. You stay out of sight, however – you choose the partially concealed alcoves at the back, where no one would be able to see you unless they actually dip their head past the partition and peek. This works both ways, because from there, you can't really see anyone coming in either, and the relative calm helps you concentrate, on your books, or on the papers you need to grade, or on your underdeveloped research notes.
If at home, you stay inside the house, unless you absolutely must set foot outside – to buy groceries, perhaps. (The lack of alchemical energy in this world is an extremely annoying setback to your activities.) At first being trapped inside the house seems incredibly constricting, but you have the garden, hidden away from the streets – from the rest of the world – and so you decide to take a chunk out of your to-read shelf and bring them to the back. You sit in a rickety old rocking chair and read the idle of days away. You never see him lurking around your neighborhood again.
And whenever you pass by his company's skyscraper downtown, you duck your head. You've taken to covering your hair – it stands out too much. Your neck is a traitorous bastard and it wants to crane up and look, but you resist it resolutely. You're not giving in, not anymore. You're done with all the self-torture. Though it might sound contradictory, you aren't a masochist – and there are times when it's better to run away from that which you wish to keep.
This grueling routine works, much to your delight – but only for about a week, much to your dismay. Because when Al comes back from his little trip to a research convention in New York, you realize you've forgotten to factor into your plans that (very annoying) inherent intuition Al was born with.
So Thursday afternoon, when he sits with you in the café's special hidden alcove and calmly sips his coffee, when he asks with an infuriatingly straight face, "Brother, who are you hiding from?" you splutter and spray your research notes with fragrant cinnamon tea.
Which, of course, forcefully reminds you of his presence – not that you ever forgot. Because from the moment he came in you've been trying your best not to fidget and squirm, not to give into the impulse to duck your head behind your research portfolio. Your fingers twitched with impatience as he chatted with the friendly shopkeeper, and when he finally went to his own side of the café, you heaved a sigh of relief.
You forgot that Al was with you.
And truthfully, Al didn't even need all of this, these overt clues. The sheer agitation with which you've been behaving for the past few days would have been enough for him to deduce a source of tension. Your eyes, too – Al's particularly good at reading them.
You curse against the table's polished beech. "I'm not hiding from anyone, Al."
"Of course you're not."
Heels clatter on cobbled stone sidewalks; birds chirp and tweet happily on their trees. You remain slumped against your table.
"…third table to the right, on the café's Thorpe Street side," you sigh. Your eyes close in surrender – contrary to popular belief, Al's always been the smarter one of the two of you. He certainly has far more common sense than you do.
Al gives you one raised eyebrow, before settling his half-done coffee on the table and standing up to scout. You watch his back as he walks away, tall and sweeping and elegant as ever, your heartbreaker of a little brother. Despite his needling omniscience with your personal concerns, you still love your brother more than you've ever loved anything or anyone else in your life. If it came down to a split decision between your life and his, there isn't a single doubt in your soul that you'd still give your own for his without hesitation, in the exact same way you've done in the past.
Not fifteen minutes later, however, you start cursing your own weakling little heart, for its undying brotherly love, for not letting you wrap tight fingers around your little brother's delicate throat, for not letting you wring and bloody strangle.
Al walks back to your shared table, positively chipper, with a visibly curious Mr. Mustang in tow.
Those born hypoesthetic – that is, with impaired or nonexistent tactile sensibility – are to live barren, empty lives. Forever they stay unable to gain anything, and there exists a gap that separates them from the rest of the tactile, solid, textured world. They feel no pain, no pleasure from touch. They sit under sun but they don't feel the warmth; they bathe in cool rivers but don't feel refreshed. Peeling fruits is a perilous chore, for they don't feel it when they cut their skin, and end up injuring themselves without even knowing it.
Within them where the usual emotions reside is a wide and gaping emptiness that can never be filled until they gain their sense of touch. They know no pain, and such know no sadness, or anger. They know no pleasure, so there is no concept of love. They cannot learn gentleness, because they do not feel it when given. Humans, after all, are creatures that learn from being shown.
Ergo, the hypoesthetic knows nothing but emptiness from the beginning, so they do not want. They cannot want. Humans cannot want for something they know nothing about. This is the one benefit for being robbed of humanity – effectively, the hypoesthetic is also robbed of wanting.
— unlike you.
You – you've known the pleasure of having a body. The versatility of having two arms. The freedom of having two legs. The cool water lapping against your skin when you sink your legs into a pond. The warmth of your mother's cheek against your palm whenever you reach up to touch her, and kiss her, and thank her. The solidness of your brother's body whenever you tumble in a tangle of playful fists and scuffle.
And most of all, you've known the pain of them being taken away. So you know you want for them back, even if having them returned is painful. You embrace this pain, the way the hypoesthetic would embrace their first sensation, because even if it is pain, it's something in the midst of nothing.
After the surgery, your shoulder numbly aches, and the stump that was your leg hurts like a million different hells. Pinpricks of pain crawl up and down your spine – you feel exhausted, and you find that all you can do is sink underneath the current and ride with the pain. You hold on tight and never let go, because this pain comes with your new limbs – the limbs that replace your lost ones. This pain replaces the emptiness, and it's not much, you know this – but it's all you have, and you're going to keep it.
Misery no longer loves company. Nowadays, it insists on it.
All your hard work in avoiding him, all of it gone down the drain – singlehandedly, by the hands of your own beloved brother. The world can never get enough of your misery.
He looks at you like you're a marvel, a novel thing he's never seen before. You preen – inwardly, of course – and rise to your feet. Pretenses and formality rise to the forefront without a single effort on your part; you've gotten used to this, the polite and educated society of Boston. Inside, though, you scramble for purchase: the entire chessboard is now upended. You don't know whether to run or to stay – your heart is begging you to stay. But your mind has always been stronger, always, so a contingency plan immediately forms in your head, and you waste no time in staging it.
"Brother, this is Mr. Mustang," says Al, the little bastard, with a positively gleeful smile on his face. "He was kind enough to help me when I spilled that second cup of coffee you ordered – he recognized me from the university's paper and was eager to meet with you."
You look at him, at Mr. Mustang – for a moment you have to catch yourself, because you reel, you feel faint, they look so much alike it couldn't possibly be real – and you manage a polite nod, offering your hand and introducing yourself.
"A pleasure, Mr. Mustang," you say, lies acid and burning through your teeth. "Edward Elric."
Your voice is quiet, your words clipped and simple – as if you're displeased with the conversation, as if you want to leave. And you do want to leave – at least, a part of you does. You refuse to think of the regret that you're sure will come later. What comes later, comes later, and you'll deal with it later.
Al doesn't catch the hint, though – or perhaps he does, but he chooses to go against you – and asks, "Would you like to sit with us, Mr. Mustang?"
"Don't trouble the man, Al," you interrupt, trying (and failing) to suppress the rising scowl on your face. "He must be busy."
"Rest assured I'm not." Your eyes snap up to meet his, and he smiles a smile so bright for a split-second you're sure your eyes are permanently blinded. Even here, a whole entire universe away, Roy Mustang is a lady killer. You're not a lady, though; he's going to have to try harder than that. (Or so you tell yourself.) "I would very much like to sit and talk a while." And then, as if an afterthought, he adds, "If Mr. Elric here isn't busy, that is."
There goes your contingency plan.
"Of course not," you mumble, frown of annoyance marring your face. Al gives you a sideways look; you ignore him, the bloody little bastard.
You sink back into your chair, in a gruff slouch – pretenses are forgotten as you sink into an internal turmoil. You can't possibly leave now. It would be downright rude, and you have no military standing here to protect yourself anymore. Al and Roy – Mr. Mustang, you correct yourself – easily fall into comfortable conversation, but his eyes remain on you, unsettling and deep. Again, you begin the mighty fight against the urge to shift and squirm in your seat. It's as if you've been time-slipped into the past, and you're back in the Colonel bastard's office again, a sullen and naïve eleven-year-old kid with but a suitcase of old memories and an arm of alchemy.
Forcing yourself back into the now, you give a quiet sigh. Impoliteness is something you used to ignore when you were younger, but no longer, not in this society. If you're going to make an acquaintance of this universe's Roy – Mustang, you tell yourself again – you're making sure it's one that's easy to manage. There are already plenty other complications; you don't need an uneasy relationship soured by impoliteness on top of all the rest.
The waitress comes with a fresh batch of brewed coffee and loaf cakes for a light afternoon snack. Al and Ro – Mustang talk about your work at the university, and interestingly enough, he's most informed of the gold transmutation research. You ground your attention and hang onto their words.
"…very impressed with your research on mercury," Mustang was saying as he sipped on his coffee. "The purification methods are unlike anything I've ever seen before. It makes me wonder what inspires your ideas."
"What makes me wonder," you can't help but step in, "is your interest in our research, Mr. Mustang."
He turns to you, and searches you with deep, dark eyes. The brush of a fringe of his hair against his cheek distracts you for a split-second – he notices, and gives a little smile. Your eyebrows draw together – you don't like being mocked, and you know he is mocking you with that smile. You've seen it many, many times before.
"You are a businessman," you continue, meeting his eyes and braving the discomfort of familiarity. "Surely you have other things to bother about. Your business endeavors, perhaps – I'm sure they're enough to keep you occupied."
His gaze remains on you, and the longer it stays, the more you feel its weight. It's as if he knows you – and at the same time, he doesn't. The back of your neck prickles. You decide you hate that look.
Turning your eyes away from him, you look out towards the busy afternoon street. Al is sensible enough not to barge into the conversation; your brother is content to let you take the wheel so long as you maintain propriety. (You just hate it when Al thinks of you as the volatile child you were in the past.)
"I was, in my younger years, greatly interested in research work myself," Mustang answers. His voice is soothing and velvet yet so solid against your ears – it reminds you of the commanding figure he struck as the fastest rising and most promising colonel in the military. You wonder if this Mustang ever had military experience at all. He continues, "However, circumstances pulled me away from that path. I do try to keep with current developments, though, and contribute wherever I can."
Brushing aside a strand of golden hair fallen into your eyes, you deepen your frown. He's a mystery to you, then and now. You never know what he's thinking, what he wants and what he does. You want to know, though. At first, it was just the simple need to know which way next to go. Soon, however, as you and Al managed to gain some semblance of independence from the military, you grew to wonder more and more about Roy Mustang as a person, and not just your commander. You grew to want to know him as a fellow alchemist, a comrade, and perhaps as a friend.
You don't even know if he even viewed you as a friend. The last you saw of him – it wasn't very helpful at all. The few words the two of you exchanged offered nothing much to work on – you just had to insult him and his silly new eye patch – and you could see that as you'd changed, he'd also changed. He wasn't the man you knew before – and this man, before you, across the table, also isn't the man you knew before, no matter how much they look alike, from the sweep of the jaw, to the lift of the cheeks, from the brush of hair and lashes, to the curve of the lips –
– and since when were you an expert at Roy Mustang's facial features?
You jolt out of your thoughts when Al discreetly coughed into his coffee cup. Suddenly you realize you've been staring, shamelessly so, into another man's eyes, in the middle of a conversation. The tension is thick and oppressing you can hardly breathe, but it's broken when Roy – Mustang breaks eye contact and returns to his coffee.
Ducking your head, you let your hair conceal your face; you feel the burning rush of blood underneath your skin. You have porcelain pale skin you inherited from your beloved mother – you just know the blush would show.
"Sorry," you say, in a quiet, subdued voice. "Our readership consists mostly of students, fellow researchers, professors, doctors – you know, the likes. We rarely get established businessmen interested in our works, busy people that you are."
Mustang nods. There's a hint of amusement on his face you don't fail to miss, as if he finds your embarrassment entertaining, the bastard. "I understand what you mean. My colleagues aren't exactly what you'd call scientific intellectuals. But is it really so unreasonable to have businessmen interested in your work, given you are researching the transmutation of mercury into gold?"
"Of course," you snort in disgust. "Money."
"Brother." Al's tone is warning.
"No matter where you go," you continue on, ignoring Al, "money remains the prime motive, the root of all evil."
You might be offending Mustang, but you don't care, because you've offended him – his other self – plenty times in the past, and you've survived, so surely this time, you'll survive too. Besides, maybe it's all for the better that you push away this Mustang altogether, instead of forging an easy, distant acquaintance with him. It would save you a whole lot of trouble, for sure.
On the edge of your seat as you wait for his retort; his lips twitch into a small smile of amusement. Your brows draw together in annoyance. You know he's going to say something to mock you, you just know it –
"Mustang!" boomed a voice from the café's entryway.
He turns, and you turn with him. There, in the threshold, stood a narrow-eyed man with a sallow face and a dark countenance about him.
Memory snaps into action: Archer.
Unable to pat down the aggression you feel welling up from inside you, you turn away and gather your books. "Al, we need to get going. We have an appointment with Sutcliffe."
"Eh – we do?" Al echoes, and under the table you kick his leg. He rises. "Oh. Yes. At half past three, was it?"
"Yeah." You rise and turn to Mustang, who's already on his feet. "It was a pleasure, Mr. Mustang."
Without waiting for any further reply, you turn on your heels and walk out of the café, your brother frantic and calling after you.
You left your portfolio behind.
Delay is the deadliest form of denial.
You then find yourself cursing your luck – quite eloquently, at that – early Saturday morning as you sat face to face with a pristine white envelope bearing The Most Hated Name of the Century on its front in horridly perfect and flowing script. You have no memory of giving him your address, and you're quite sure you gave explicit instructions to the university to never, in any circumstance, reveal your whereabouts to anyone who asked up-front – so he must have gotten it from that blasted little traitorous portfolio. (Or he could have charmed some lady at the university, who knows.)
"Open it already, brother. Nothing's going to happen if you sit and stare at it all day," Al coaxed from where he busied himself with breakfast in the kitchen. "I'm pretty sure it's not poisoned."
You throw an acid glare at him – you haven't forgiven him for last Thursday's little stunt yet, the little bastard – and rip the envelope open, taking pleasure in destroying its almost medical pristine whiteness. Take that, you childishly brandish into an imaginary Mustang's face.
"What is it?" your brother asks as you read.
"An invitation to a function," you frown, skimming through the details. "That upcoming big one hosted by the Rockefellers. Apparently for Wednesday evening."
"You should go," Al insists. "It's a good opportunity to get to know him."
"That's just it, Al, I don't want to get to know him," you sigh in exasperation. "Don't you get it? Getting any further involved with him would only complicate things! I can't – you can't ask me to always compartmentalize between him and the Mustang we knew! I might slip and say something about home!"
Al gives a similar sigh of exasperation – you suddenly wish for a satisfying all-out scuffle with him in the backyard. "You're just saying that now, brother. You're just saying that now."
You shake your head, drop the letter on the table, and storm up the stairs.
The thing is, as good as you are with scientific reasoning, strategy and contingency were never up your alley. That was always left behind for someone much more experienced and thus infinitely capable of such politics – Hughes, the Roy bastard, even Al is better at it than you – because you knew you'd only mess it up with your inherent brashness (blame the father) and your insatiable love for the thrill of thread-thin lifelines in the midst of a fight. Truly, you've never walked into a battle with a full and effective strategic plan to follow – because every time, you never really expected to be back alive. There were never any guarantees, the moment your palms touched that transmutation circle in your childhood house's dusty little basement study.
Now, when the situation calls for such, you find yourself at a loss.
Your ever-helpful and faithful brother, the bloody little bastard, would not be given the satisfaction of smug victory, so you desist from even considering his help on this matter. (Besides, he'll probably not help you out and instead only make the situation worse.)
…and he's just about the only choice you have, so.
You sit in your room, and sulk, for the rest of the day.
Monday, a letter asking for a response sits on the table before breakfast.
You come from work and avoid your usual route. You see none of his shadow or reflection.
Wednesday, you're at work, and your brother deems it healthy to dare and disturb your research's relative peace.
"Brother!" he hisses into your ear. "What are you doing?! There's barely two hours before the function – hurry and go home, get dressed!"
"I never said I was going, Al," and you're adamant about this. You've decided it's all for the better if you cut ties with Mustang, lest he pull you into something troublesome, like he – his counterpart – did back in the past, when he took you into the military's folds. And the memories – they're wounds too painful for you to pry open. So not right now, you convince yourself – and as always, your scientific mind rules over your weak and trifle heart.
"What do you mean, you're not going?" Al indignantly stomps his foot. He begins to tidy up your papers the exact way he knows you want it tidied. "Go! Go home! I'll take care of this."
"I'm not going, Al." You push his hands away and turn your chair, frown up and keeping steady. "First of all, you know I hate formal functions like that. I'd bore myself to tears. Second, I never sent a response confirming my arrival. Third, I feel no particular inclination towards this Mustang anyway."
"Liar." He crosses his arms and scowls down at you. It reminds you of when you were children, and you stole his toys – he would come up to you, and with crossed arms and a scowl he would demand for them back. You realize that this time, you are his entertainment, and he's determined to see it through.
Well, you're not.
"Call me what you want, Al, but I'm not going, and that's it."
You turn your back on him and refocus on your research; he remains a prickling presence for the next few minutes. And then he walks away, tall and still determined, and when you look over you shoulder and watch his back, you just know he's up to something.
Pause the tragic ending
Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road which he took to avoid it.
Something highly unpleasant it is.
You're not quite sure what to think when you find the very bane of your existence standing at your lab's door early Thursday afternoon, in a dashing suit with his cloak draped over his arm. Just about the only thing you can be sure of is your brother's treacherousness (blame the father) because he's the only one in this bloody universe who could have told Mustang of the lab, a place so sacred not even your best students are allowed.
"Professor Elric, Mr. Mustang is here to see you," the girl you conveniently failed to notice says, standing off to your visitor's side. She doesn't seem quite alert to you, her eyes wide, glazed, and glued upon Mustang's (admittedly quite captivating) visage.
You sigh. "I know. You brought him here – without asking me first – so obviously he's here to see me."
The girl stiffens, and you might have offended her (nonexistent) intelligence – you don't really care, because you don't like her anyway. You preferred the previous intern.
"Now, I don't believe there's a need to be so caustic, Mr. Elric," Mustang quickly amends, and suddenly the girl isn't so offended any longer. "The young lady here was kind enough to point me to the right direction despite her numerous duties—"
"—duties which will not be waiting for other hands to care for them, I'm sure," you drily inject, leveling eyes on your flirt of an intern. "I believe Dr. Napier wants those reports ready on his table before his teatime at three."
"Yes, sir." The girl inclines her head respectfully and scuttles off before you can make any more remarks on her procrastination. She darts several glances over her shoulder, though, and this annoys you beyond belief. You resolve to request for a new intern the soonest you can.
You almost forget your guest, and jolt back into awareness when he chuckles and says, "Are you always so ill-tempered towards your students?"
"Only to those who deserve it," you mumble. Heading back inside the laboratory, you grab two chairs from a nearby book-cluttered table and shove one towards his direction.
You sit, and motion for him to do the same. A scowl deepens itself upon your face, and you make it plain to his eyes that he is nowhere near welcome inside your sacred ground. In fact, you think to yourself, he should consider himself lucky to be even three feet in and still breathing. This precious research facility is what now sustains your soul in place of alchemy, granting your scientific mind release. It's extensive – though not as extensive as what you would have gotten back in Amestris under military service – and well-equipped. Highly funded as it is, however, the university has great expectations for it – and you.
Which suits you just fine. You are, after all, accustomed to the weight of expectations on your shoulder.
"You should be a little kinder to your students," Mustang says as he makes himself comfortable on the chair. "Else they'll all run away."
"They won't," you retort. "No one else uses the same laboratory methods I use."
He inclines his head in agreement, but contends, "Still, consider a little courtesy from time to time. It's rather counterproductive to scare them all off like that. They might have some ideas you have yet to think of—" you scoff at that, "—or suggestions regarding your research. If they aren't able to approach you openly, then they will not learn, and neither will you."
You cross your arms, as if to challenge him.
"Besides which, I was under the impression that you are younger, if not the same, as most of your students," he adds, and your forehead crumples in thought. You've never revealed to him your age before.
"What does age have to do with anything?" you shrug. "I'm here for my study, and they are too. It just so happens that I have the knowledge to impart, and they have the need to learn it. If they've time to bother with such trifle, I'd rather they read up and polish their papers. I'm getting tired of the yearly trash they give."
You suddenly realize he's been chuckling at you the past minute, and when he says, "You won't do for a politician at all," you bristle, for the very idea is loathsome to you.
"I am not one, and I've no intention of becoming one." Narrowing your eyes, you steer the conversation away towards another direction. Briskly, you ask him, "Instead of bothering with my students, why don't we discuss what you need from me today, so I can give you it and you can be off on your way?"
He meets your gaze, and a tingling begins in the lower of your spine. You stifle your squirming, but you have to shift minutely, when his eyes darken and the corner of his lips – his blasted lips – lift up into a small smile. Damn that charm.
"So eager to rid yourself of me, are we?" he reclines against his chair. "Tell me, Mr. Elric, what have I done to earn such intense dislike from you?"
His eyes are deep and fathomless, and as always you can never see where he plans to go with this. You purse your lips and answer him with silence. You've already decided to disassociate from him, and that decision is for you set in stone.
"We've only ever met once," he continues, "though I've seen you in town. I've read of you, Harvard's new resident chemist prodigy, and I'm quite sure you've read of me – however, stories can never offer as much as the real thing. Surely I haven't already offended you on our first meeting?"
You're tempted to quip that his very presence offends you, but by divine grace or self-control, you manage to hold your tongue. "It's a story of the past, one I'm not obliged to tell you."
You scowl. "I don't know you well enough." Another lie.
He then straightens and smiles, the very picture of the accomplished businessman who's just sealed an important deal. The smirk on his face has a tint of something you're not sure is appropriate for polite company – just like those smirks the other Roy, your Roy, used to give those nameless, faceless girls he charmed from Central's sidewalks and stole from his own subordinates.
"Fair enough," he nods, and then leans forward, "so let's get to know each other better."
—and it's then that you realize you just dug yourself in ten feet deeper.
You are first introduced to his voice. Only his voice. Strength, depth, and intensity, all velvet and solid against your ears. You're still in that sea of dull pain, but you hear him very clearly, as if amplified through still space. He promises you your first stepping stone, and worlds of knowledge underneath your very fingertips. No one can blame you, then, if in the beginning you glorify him in your mind. To you, he is powerful, honorable. Dependable – a pillar of strength.
And that's what you desperately need, because at the moment, you are weak, and you know this. You hatethis.
But he's offering you strength, at the price of something you've already given up – freedom. So you take it – it doesn't matter if you're a dog of the military – and take Al with you. And when you step foot in Central and see him for the first time, he doesn't disappoint.
He cuts the very figure of your imagination, and more. His power mesmerizes you – in fact, the first thing you do when you get to Tucker's library is to look up fire alchemy and figure out his technique. Charisma, his birth-given gift, pulls people to him, and you're no exception; his charm is sweet poison, and you're not immune.
From the very first moment you're captivated by him, and even when you bristle at his ego, you still admire him. It's not long before you set him as a standard, and compare all other colonels and generals to him – they all pale in comparison. Even Fuhrer Bradley – especially Fuhrer Bradley – and you swear to yourself that if the time comes for an overturning in power and Roy's dream nears fruition, you will lend a hand, and do what you can to help.
You never tell him this, of course, because it's a weakness, and it's from him you learn that weaknesses aren't meant to be shown.
But sometimes, you think. You think of all the things – the good and the bad – that have happened because he found you. Too many things spiraled out from that single moment under Rizembool's stormy night sky, too many that your mind whirls at the sheer effort of thinking. If not for him, you would never have had to smear so much blood on your hands. But if not for him, you would never have understood the true meaning of strength. You would've lived a much peaceful life, untouched by the military, untouched by the tangles of darkness and deceit – but you wouldn't have known the world, life, and what it had to offer.
On that night, he became your catalyst, your starting point. And from there, he would become your weakness, your attachment, your obsession, your heart.
So, perhaps, it would have been all the better for you – and him – in the long-run, if you two had never met at all.
The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last – the romantic person has a desperate confidence they won't.
The rest of the weekend is spent on high alert, with you on the very edge of your seat day after day, dreading the coming of post, or a telephone call, or worst of all, the devil himself on your doorstep. After days and days of nothing but silence, you're almost ready to let go of that bated breath you keep holding in – until Al comes home Sunday night, bright and chipper with another pristine white envelope in hand.
Wordlessly, he gives you it, and walks to the kitchen to deliver the groceries. Wordlessly, you take the envelope, and lay it upon the table. Your fingers caress it's expensive paper, and blankly you stare at the words on the front. It's his name again, and damn it all, you're getting tired of this.
A sigh of surrender is what it takes for your fingers to move and slit it open. Out comes a piece of folded paper, lonely and thin.
2 o'clock, Tuesday afternoon, 17th of April.
I shall pick you up from the east doors of University Hall.
Be on time, and dress formally.
Your first meets the table. "What the fuck?!"
"He hasn't even explained anything yet and he's already asking me out?!"
"He is?" Al is suddenly over your shoulder. "Brother, what did you do?"
"Nothing!" and you're saying the truth, only Al doesn't believe you, from the look he wears. Sudden inexplicable panic grips you, and you chide yourself – it's a completely irrational fear, one you should not be having. You try to convince yourself that there is nothing to be afraid of – you've faced greedy alchemical gates and undying monsters before, surely one man of your memory won't be that much – but you fail, and you fail miserably.
"Well, just be nice, brother," Al gives you a pat on the shoulder. "Things should work out fine," and the way he says it is as if he's sending you off to marry. Needless to say, this annoys you very, very much.
Mustang meets you at the steps of the Hall's east façade, prim and charming as he always is. The lingering smirk on his lips catches your eye even ten paces away, so to scorn him you stubbornly stay immobile, leaning against the balustrade, appearing by all accounts a scholarly prodigy lazing under sparse sun.
Yourself, alone, you attract a crowd of eyes. Students look at you, and those who recognize you defer to your presence. Fellow professors pass you by and nod greetings with curious tones in their voices. You give them your usual passivism, idling and relaxed despite the coils of anxiety slithering deep within your belly.
Mustang, though – his ego isn't satisfied with a mere crowd of eyes. His car – ostentatious and brand-new – parts a throng of students as they stream out from the Commons in their after-lunch leisure time. Several girls swoon as he briskly scales the steps and pass them by – the bastard of a heartbreaker and his flamboyant coquetry never fails to vex you beyond belief.
"You make too much of a spectacle, Mustang," you level him with a pointed glare.
He simply gives you his charmer smile. "I assume you're ready to go, then."
"I'll have you know that I despise formal functions with every fiber of my being." The only reason you're accompanying him today is to pay back your impoliteness for not replying the last time he invited you to a function, and he knows it – you've made that much clear last Thursday. You're just desperately hoping this isn't another one of those.
You follow after him, a scowl on your face. The two of you together begin to gather a rather awkward crowd – students craning their heads and leaning in, your fellow professors discreetly casting their own glances. Pointedly ignoring them is what you do, both of you.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy this one," he bylines explanation, and stops at the foot of the steps to greet a passing-by professor. "Master Meyer, it's been a while."
"Why, if it isn't one of my best students!" the old man takes Mustang's offered hand.
You step into the backdrop, listening to the conversation and at the same time not. Something about Mustang's batch – you never even knew he used to attend the same university, though a different school. But you're far more preoccupied with the brush of his hair against the nape of his neck. You're standing close enough to catch a faint whiff of aftershave, and the hug of his suit against his shoulders makes your hand twitch in wanting to –
"– and where are you off to with our young Professor Elric?"
Thrust back into reality by the pull of your name, you blink and turn gaze upon the old man. Master Meyer, you remember, is from the business school.
"Yes, where are we going?" you ask tartly.
"Off for some quality time," he says, again with that hateful charmer smile, and Master Meyer raises his brows. You scowl, indignant, and make to say something, but he beats you by bidding Master Meyer a polite goodbye and herding you to the car. Grunting in dissatisfaction, you shift restlessly in your seat as he slides in beside you and taps the partition window to signal to his chauffeur. The hasty exchange might have given old man Meyer some mistaken ideas, but the bastard doesn't look like he cares.
"Quality time," you drily echo, crossing your arms over your chest. The very phrase is ambiguously suggestive; you're quite sure that's intentional. This universe's Roy Mustang, you've figured out, is just as much a slimy bastard as the other one, probably even more so. Tomorrow, the rumors will have spread, and your female student population will have their probing questions ready at the beginning of class, so you decide to pull the level up a few notches on their next tests – your form of advance retaliation.
But instead of humoring you, he opts to reroute the conversation. It's like you're always playing chess with words whenever you're with this man; it gets annoying after a while. "Rather eye-catching today, aren't we," he smirks, and the smirk widens when he sees the tip of your ears redden.
Forgoing the usual messy braid you use for the laboratory, you've pulled your hair up to a high ponytail, leaving the fringes hanging to frame your face. You hate to remind yourself of your father's style, so you always use the low ponytail or the braid, but this time, the suit demanded a cleaner and more immaculate look. You really wouldn't have noticed the difference if it hadn't been for Al pointing it out – the meddling little imp.
"Blame my little brother," you mumble quietly. Your voice is almost inaudible under the rumble of the motor, and you avert your eyes outward the window, where people past minding their own business. You wish you were them, right now. "He's finicky about appearances, the little heartbreaker."
You turn to him and narrow your eyes. "I've no time for idle things," and with your words you hope to convey your meaning to him. Boundaries set early are boundaries much effective, this you know. He doesn't notice, though – or maybe he does, but he chooses to ignore your warning.
"What if it isn't an idle thing, then?" he voices, his eyes still on you, lingering, searching. It's that look again, that look that says he knows you and yet he doesn't, that look that probes into the very deepest of your soul and picks at the scabs forming there. You avoid him, you avoid his eyes, and avoid touching him. Shifting away is not easy, especially in such cramped space, and the void between the two of you aches and burns whenever you look at it – so you don't.
"I doubt I'll find such rarity a second time."
That appears to offset him; you don't know if you feel glad or not. He's pensive, gazing out the window, when you take sneaking glances. It's all those years ago, and you're studying Roy again, only this time it's more of a review, and you try not to read too deep. You convince yourself that you already know him, and there's nothing left to peruse – the first enchantment has passed, and the second one is never as lasting.
The rest of the ride is spent in silence, and it's all you can do not to scream.
Distance is what you find upon arrival. Distance from Mustang – finally, you're granted much-needed space. And distance from the university – not all that much, it seems. You didn't go too far; you face a familiar structure – one of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's halls.
A lively gathering mills around, and you find yourself curious despite your own reluctance to show any sort of regard for this merry little trip with Mustang. He steps ahead and leads you in, briskly confirming his registration against the list at the entrance. Inside is a wide lecture hall already half-populated with the best of Boston's scholars – thus effectively the best of the nation – with a number of reporters clumping together at the front podium.
You nudge Mustang. "Who's speaking?"
"Professor Niels Bohr," he says –
– and you stop.
Niels Bohr, the year's winner of the prestigious Nobel. Niels Bohr, who has proposed the much-controversial electron model of the atom. Niels Bohr, the father of the principle of complementarity.
You can't help but gaze at Mustang in incredulous wonder. However he managed to get hold of reservations for this once in a lifetime chance, you don't know – you've tried too, yourself, and tried again, all in vain. You had Al try; he also failed. Asking your fellow professors wouldn't have worked, because as far as you know, only a select few of them managed in anyway. It probably took Mustang a number of favors called in – this event was fully booked months ahead, but somehow, he's managed to pull it off.
And you're impressed, because now, he's really managed to capture you.
"Come on," he tugs you along, discreetly so, and the two of you find a comfortable seat. There's a tugging smile on the very edges of his lips – he has scored a clear victory, and he obviously knows it.
You shift away from him and resolve to maintain a little bit more distance for the rest of the lecture, but five minutes in, you fail to pay any further attention to him, taken as you are with the topic. You never notice that he's leaning his shoulder against yours until the end.
"How boring you must be, if you take your ladies to lectures for your… social engagements."
Your tone is light and conversational as the two of you sit in the back alcove of your café. Neither of you have said a word to each other since the end of the lecture, and for some reason, it's taking a truckload more of effort to restart the conversation. The atmosphere has changed.
When you found your shoulder leaning companionably against his back in the lecture hall, you jerked in surprise and shifted in your seat. The rumble of ovation and applause masked your little noise of surprise; Mustang's face was unreadable as he rose to his feet and brought his hands together for the speaker. You followed after his lead and heartily applauded, but only after you've rearranged yourself and mustered down the blood flush.
He gave no word to you during the short reception, and spoke not a single word in the car. You aren't sure what exactly had changed, but something had, and you felt it – still feel it, a tingle in the back of your neck whenever he levels his eyes on you.
Now you sit face to face once more, similar to your first meeting, only this time the two of you are alone. This time, there's no Al watching your words, and this time, there's no buffer standing before the two of you.
He sets down his coffee. "But you're not a lady," he says with a wry smile, "and this is not a mere social engagement."
You raise a brow. "Then what is this?" giving the vaguest of waves with your hand, motioning between the two of you. You long for the answer, you really do, because you can't be sure on your own, and the uncertainty scares you. If he can offer you it, then –
"An afternoon between friends," he smiles and reclines against his chair, "therefore this is far more than just a simple social engagement."
"Far more, huh." You shake your head lightly, taking a minute slice of your pound cake. The café is just as lively as it always is, but you only hear the indiscriminate static of talk. It's only you and him in this moment, and strangely enough, you're comfortable. "What did you think of the lecture?"
He surely senses your avoidance of the matter of being more than mere acquaintances, but he just smiles, and humors you. "Thought-provoking. I admit I went in not expecting much, but the professor's theories went above and beyond my imaginings. I've a friend who isn't quite wholly persuaded by Professor Bohr, you see, and this friend of mine's offered up quite an argument against the theories. Those arguments don't sound quite as convincing now that I have heard the other side as well."
A smidgen of silence stretches between the two of you as you idly stir your coffee with one hand and cup your chin with the other. Pensively, you gaze towards the ever-busy streets.
"What I don't get is why it took so long for them to realize this, really," you give a little sigh.
He pauses, and raises both brows in surprise. "You mean you've known of the theories before he published his work?"
You relinquish your teaspoon. "My theory works on different principles but essentially comes to the similar conclusion. My formula calculates a different way, but the same results are present. In fact, Bohr's theories are incomplete. His models do not explain how bonds occur, why bonds occur… it doesn't even explain why there are a certain number of neutrons and protons in one atom."
He casts you an incredulous look. "Then why did you not publish your own work? You could have advanced the science a few years ahead!"
Cringing minutely, you realize your slip. "I wasn't here at that time," you shrug, keeping your words vague and noncommittal. "Publishing was not a luxury I could afford."
"But researching was." He taps his fingers on the table, long and supple, just as you remember them. Roy used to do the same thing, too, on his polished and perfect military desk. "Surely the necessary facilities would have cost you?"
"You don't always need a laboratory for all your research." There's a touch of a smile on your lips, wry and somewhat melancholic, as you remember dusty days of traveling and your scribbles on a worn-down leather journal. "You just need to know how to observe."
"What about the rest of the time you needed the laboratory?" he insists. He's probably searching for some hint to your past; you have to hand it to him, for if anything he has persistence. But it won't work.
"I borrowed from my father, who's now nowhere to be found, probably dead," lies slip through your teeth. It's easier now that you've gotten over the discomfort of familiarity, but still quite hard, it's always been hard, to lie to that face he wears, even though you know it's not the Roy of your universe under that smooth and enticing skin. You level your eyes on him and pull on your hardest, most challenging glare. Give it up, Mustang, you try to push at him. You won't find anything.
He doesn't listen. He never does.
"How long have you been here, then?" he maneuvers expertly. He's a talker, that's for sure – no wonder his business is a success. "You're nineteen. Surely you formulated your theory past the age of fifteen, unless you're some sort of child genius."
But I am, you snort inwardly. In fact, you were the one who first officially recognized me as a genius, with a silver pocket watch.
"I won't ask how you found out about my age, nosy bastard," you glower, "but I'll tell you this: no matter how much you rummage in my past, you won't find anything." Because nothing's there, nothing but emptiness – I don't have a past you can see, because my past is a universe away, and it's not something you would want to see.
As if he hears you, he stops, and this is the last time he ever asks. The next time you talk, you talk of the present, and though you don't know it yet, this is the beginning of your descent. Because when the past fades into its place, the present seems bright, and he slowly makes you forget of the pain, and the loss, and of life.
In the beginning, you are hesitant to move.
Just as you were with your first encounter with alchemy, you are cautious, exceedingly so, because this is unknown territory, and anything might happen should you botch it up. You've had enough with failures that bring heavy consequences, so this time you carefully observe. The littlest things, the slightest information, you greedily take in, and make sure to remember.
He mesmerizes you, his every movement – he's power and grace and glory all in one. You're so young, and naïve – perhaps the first shadow of your maturity is the fact that you know this yourself, and you acknowledge it. So you suppress your observations, take it slowly, bit by bit, and pretend that you're not doing anything, when in fact you are.
See, you know that if they figure you out, they'll see you as a child even more, and you don't want any of that. You've had enough of that. If that happens, he will draw away. Who would want to deal with a clueless little child, anyway? You don't want to push your subject away, so you keep your distance, and patiently wait.
You continue watching for the duration of your stay. It becomes a habit, a steady one, that whenever he is in the vicinity, you pay attention – and you put on the pretense. And when Nina is killed, this is the one habit that does not break under the strain of your rediscovered frailty – because he becomes your strength, your model, your protector.
For the time that you are weak and learning, he shields you, or tries his best to, at least. He isn't as forthright as Hughes, who comes up to you and pats your back. He doesn't do such things. But you see his moves anyway – you've become very good at observing – and you're comforted when he shields you from the military, from faceless attempts to abuse your alchemy, from men who would take advantage of your past.
One could argue that he only took you in because he did not want your talent to go somewhere else, but you don't care, because it doesn't make a difference what his intentions were. What matters is that you're here, he's here, and you're offered someone you're sure will stay alive and survive, whole. You're sick and tired of losing people, losing bodies, losing souls – you need someone like him, strong and confident, an anchor.
All of this is unconscious, of course, and you only realize it much later, when you arrive at East Headquarters and see him again after an extended period of separation. From there, you're lost – because the anchor, your anchor, becomes the spiral that captures you and refuses to let you go.
Bending the pain
The heart is a nightingale, throbbing against the heart of its cage.
You meet him on Thursday at the café, and again on Saturday, and on Sunday. Before you know it, you fall into a habit, and the second chair of your back alcove table becomes a home for his presence. The world begins to whirl around him, and it takes you little time to notice this – it's happened before, with Roy, and you recognize it as the same fall in.
You spend two, three, five hours talking to each other – exchanging theories of science, philosophy, and poking fun at human nature. Sometimes Al drops by and stays for an hour or two, and when you get home, you know you can count on vigorous and thorough teasing over dinner. Resolutely, you ignore him, and when you can't, you tackle him to the ground in the backyard, and give him a refresher course on your still-superior strength.
The spiral quickens.
Tuesday afternoon, one of your freer days, you meet again at the café, and you realize that the two of you have exhausted the café menu. It's nearing dark, and the sun is setting, casting beams of red and yellow and coloring the clouds in the sky. The wind whips your hair into your face, and you grunt in annoyance, pushing it away. He's looking at you again – he does that, whenever some of your hair slips from your braid.
"We've nothing new to get for food," you complain. "I think you've bought out the entire store."
"You're the one who has the appetite," he parries.
"Well, you're the one who keeps on insisting on the next rendezvous."
He laughs – at your choice of words, no doubt – and finishes the last of his coffee. Black with little sugar, bitter and so him – you know this by now. He rests his elbow on the table and leans forward. "If you want something new, we can have dinner at this nice place I know."
"Dinner," you echo, staring back into his eyes. They're just as dark and shuttered as the first time you met him – it irritates you how rarely he shows his intentions to you, as if you're not trustworthy enough. You conflict. Dinner would give you the opportunity to peel back more layers of him, but it would allow him to peel back more layers of you as well. On top of that, you're quite sure your brother would never get over it, and neither would he let you.
To step forward or to step back? – you've never had a harder decision before. So you resort to the easier way out: excuses.
"My little brother would be waiting at home," you cast down your eyes and cup your chin. "And I have papers to grade."
Quick and firm, "You can call your brother, surely? And I was under the impression that you dislike grading your… ah, trash papers. Unless you're saying they're actually more entertaining than I am?"
You scowl at him, and he smiles. It's as if he knew you were going to make your excuses, and already had his move staged beforehand. It irks you, how he always seems to know how to play you right. Then again, the world is unfair to you, has always been unfair to you – it's your fault for having forgotten that.
You give a sigh. "So long as you're paying, Mustang."
And the spiral quickens some more.
Two weeks, three, a month, a month and one week. The second, third, and fourth dinners are at the same place, though with different meals and a different conversation. The lights are dim, the atmosphere intimate. The first time, you almost felt suffocated, until he began to entertain you again with those talker talents of his, and you started to relax. You had wine, and that probably only helped his case, because you're weak against alcohol, at least relative to him. He's used to the pleasant warmth, the faintly disorienting laziness that comes with the light sweetness of ardent grape – you're not.
This time he chooses a different kind of wine, one that suits the meal, he says. He's paying again – that's your set condition for whenever he tugs you along – and he doesn't seem to mind. You figure you wouldn't either if you were in his place; he, after all, had enough money to buy out the entire of industrial Boston if he wanted to.
At one time your conversation touches on business, and out of audacious curiosity you ask of his work. He begins to explain his position in the company, what he does for Ford, and his contribution for innovative research in the use of the right kind of oil for the right kind of production car. You sink further and deeper into his story, until you muse aloud: "I wonder if I could see your assemblies in person."
The wine, you blame the wine for this. You try to limit your drinking from then on.
Thursday afternoon, instead of sitting at the café and talking over books and coffee, he takes you to his work.
"You own this."
"All of it."
He nods again.
You shake your head in disbelief. "Who the bloody hell are you?"
He laughs, but it's no laughing matter. Behind you sprawls Boston's biggest Ford factory, and from where you stand on his office's balcony, the vastness of it is unmistakable. Situated on a seaside dock, the company even had its own ships delivering in imported raw materials from various places all over the Atlantic seaboard.
Now, his brand-new car, and his invitations to Rockefeller-hosted functions, and his ease with getting reservations at the most difficult of places is explained to you in full.
"My family own sizable stocks within the Ford company," he explains. "My mother was a friend of Mr. Ford's, back when she was still in Michigan. They met again when she was already married, and my father – a stockholder in the former Standard Oil, now Socony, as I've told you already – struck business with Mr. Ford."
You observe the hustle of the afternoon dock workers from afar. Tree branches drape across and partly conceal the office balcony from view, and the rest of the administrative building is hedged by tall rows of greenery to provide for some privacy. You absently notice that the workers have a different entry gate than the administrative workers.
"Do you have siblings?" you ask.
"No, I don't." You rather expected that.
"Who do you live with?"
"No one," he answers, and you look at him and see the truth.
You can't stop your questions; the spiral tightens around you. "Your parents?"
"In Philadelphia, whiling their happy times away," he shrugs, and leans beside you on the balustrade. He's taken off his jacket, and the white fabric of his long-sleeved shirt ripples lightly in against sea wind. It maps against his concealed skin – you ache to touch what you can't, mustn't. "I never was close to my father, and my mother understands that. Or at least, I'd like to think so. It's rather hard to understand."
"Oh, I do," you give a grim smile. "Understand, I mean. After all, my father's a right bastard."
"Hm." He tilts his head and looks down on you – damn that height – with that probing look again. "I thought you and your father were close?"
"Similar interests, that's all." He reaches out to push a strand of your hair aside; you surprise yourself when you don't flinch back. "He was a man of science, as well. My mother loved him, but he never came back. She was proud when we began to follow after him. It was me first – but Al was always close by. We were four, I think, when we first began to play with my father's books."
He's silent. You look at him. "What?"
"Four," he echoes in wonder. "You began reading chemistry books at four."
You give a noncommittal hum, but he takes it as an affirmative anyway. He can read you now, better than ever before – just as you can read him. It's been almost two months since you first met, and you can feel summer approaching. Summer beckons the readjustment of your automail. You don't look forward to that.
"Will you be having dinner with me tonight?" he asks you quietly.
You look up at him and raise a brow. "Already we eat dinner together three times a week, Mustang. Surely you have someone else to dine with?"
"As I've said," and he gives you his charmer smile, "I've no one to come home to anyway."
You feel a pang of pain when you're reminded of your Roy, in the other universe, with a cold and empty house to call home. But, you faintly consider, he might have already found someone else. Your pain bends into hesitation, into reluctant consideration, but the bite of it, the sting, it's still there.
"Or is Alphonse a jealous brother?"
Blinking, you grin. "He is, but he tries to hide it. Mind you, he's a terror when angered."
"I think I can handle a little challenge."
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
His smile widens, and the sun's rays dapple against his face. His hair gleams ebony black, and your fingers twitch again with the urge to run them through it, to skim fingers over his cheek and mouth. You're mesmerized, again. You can't help it. He's a flame, bright and burning, and you're the moth, dancing in his heat. You'll get burned the closer you hover, but you can't help it, you just can't – you love the warmth, his warmth, his light.
He straightens from the balustrade and leads you back inside. The jacket he left draped on his chair is faintly crinkled when he picks it up, but with a little bit of patting down, he looks the very definition of perfection again, all in the span of a few seconds. You inwardly scowl and right yourself; you haven't the faintest idea how to look the part of a posh businessman, but you think you can handle yourself fine, thank you very much.
You straighten your wind-tousled braid, but your fringe falls back down into your eye. He pushes it back up, and smiles. "I like the high ponytail better," he says.
You give him a grimace, but when you walk out the door, the ponytail is in its place.
Out here, he's far more relaxed than you've ever seen him. He openly jostles with his subordinates, something he dared not do out of his office in Central command. He cracks jokes with Breda and Havoc, skirts and flirts around Hawkeye, and bares his ambitions to the surface. It's a wealth of information for you, the observer, and you drink it all in.
He only clams back up when the Fuhrer arrives, and it's then that your frustration begins to burn, cursing all seven heavens for the rotten timing. You throw distrustful glances at the Fuhrer whenever you see him, and though he merely smiles, you figure out you can't really bring yourself to like him.
You pounce at the chance of battle – opportunity to get closer, closer than ever before. It doesn't matter if there's a healthy possibility of being fried to a crisp. You've always been willing to risk your life for what you wanted, and right now, what you want is to sidle up to him and see him up close and personal. Survival, after all, strips pretenses away from the human psyche – and you can punch him without getting punished, which would be very beneficial to your ego, and to his un-ego.
You've never seen a better deal in your entire life.
Losing is what you end up with, along with rubble to clean up. Of course, you could take care of it with alchemy, but you're a tad exhausted from your fight, and you've three bruised ribs. You hope you've at least given him a couple back.
You snipe at him when he sits idle and watches the sunset, but he doesn't get up and work. He gives you your information, though. Later that night, when the Fuhrer is away and you just finished washing up before dinner, he approaches you, and abruptly asks, "When will you be leaving?"
You scowl up at him, "Don't worry, I'll be out of your sight soon. I've to search for this Marco, anyway."
He remains behind you, watching you as you watch him. You dry your hair, brush your teeth, pull on a fresh shirt. He's still there.
"What do you want?" you ask. This is unusual of him, to approach you himself and stay.
He levels his eyes on you – that deep, searching look he likes giving people when he's trying to discomfort them – and says, "You've been watching me, Fullmetal."
You flinch. Minutely, but you still do. "So?"
He keeps his eyes on you – the look works, because soon you feel the desperate urge to squirm and fidget under the heavy gaze.
"I watch anyone who could pose a threat to our goal." In any case, lies are half-truths.
He remains still for a while, and then a slow, fathomless smile blooms on his face – handsome and charming, an evident mix of the East and the West. His eyes, narrower than the usual Amestrian feature, slightly crinkle when he does this.
"You've grown up, haven't you, Edward."
Instant: "I'm not a child."
"Of course," he chuckles, and reaches over to brush your fringe of hair aside. The motion is gentle and slow, but it still caught you off-guard – "Not a child anymore, I know. I've been watching, too."
His fingers brush your temple. The slightest skim of skin again skin sends sparks down your spine, and your eyes shutter. In a moment, though, the touch is gone, and you're left wanting. Wanting.
He walks past the door.
Wings to set me free, to lift me into unremembering, to waft me from the days of things…
It's dinner again, and you sit face to face. Candlelight accentuates the sharp cut of his jaw, and widens the depth of his gaze. The atmosphere is intimate, painfully sweet. Soft music filters through the light partition and permeates the night air, a young man singing of a wistful love in the Italian tongue. You sit on one of the concealed balconies, in yet another one of Boston's notoriously expensive places – whenever he takes you out, he never fails to take you to the best, and you can't seem to figure out if it's for his own standards or because he wishes to please you.
Only a while back you wouldn't even have dared to consider the notion of him wanting to please you, but now, after nearly three months – three months of a blur of sunsets and coffee, of stained paper and books, of laughter and gentle fingers against your temple, of hazy afternoons and late nights, with wine and fine dining and idle talks of life – you see his genuine care. He does want to please you. He does care of your opinion. He does desire your presence, and lately, he's been trying to coax more laughter out of you.
You would be lying if you say this doesn't flatter you, because it does, very much so. He's a charmer, and with each of his handsome smiles, you fall further in, further in, the spiral pulling –
"Who are you thinking of?"
He looks at you with those eyes again, looks through you and into you. A finger gently touches upon your brow and smoothes it out. You don't even bother asking him how he knew you were thinking of someone – he's a very good observer, would have made a very good researcher, too.
More and more now, you're opening up to him, despite your mind railing caution. Your heart is captured, and for once, for once, you want to fall – and you want this for yourself, not for anyone else. Not for your brother, or your mother – just for yourself. You want him for yourself. And would it really be so bad to want him…?
A slow, deliberate, warm smile tugs upon his lips, and his finger travels down the side of your face. The touch is soothing, electrifying, elicits a tensing at the base of your spine as it ends near the curve of your chin.
"What about me?"
How I want you, you burn to say. How I need you. Instead, you remain silent, and raise your flesh hand to take his. You take his hand, draw his fingers away from your face, and tangle them with yours upon the table. The balcony is concealed, and no one sees you – you're free to do as you wish, within a certain degree. This much isn't too much, surely. No one will see, no one will know, in this society that shuns intimacy between men, no one will see –
"You've very elegant fingers," you tell him, peering down at your entwined hands. In comparison, yours are coarse and calloused, from battle, from research work, from chores. You smile up at him cheekily. "The hands of a spoiled little master."
"I am not spoiled," he retorts quietly, indignantly, raising an offended brow. His smile lingers, though, and his eyes dance. "I'll have you know that these hands," he holds your flesh hand with both of his and gently tugs them up, "these are the hands of a very good pianist."
You raise a brow back. "Ah, I see. A very good pianist." Both his hands, as they envelop your one flesh hand, are very warm. Their heat and their softness, in your imagination, are misplaced, and suddenly you itch to feel them mapping your skin, just like they did back then in Central – "How do I know you say no lies?"
"How about you come to my house for dinner one time, and I'll play for you all night afterwards?"
Another step forward.
You look deep into his eyes and see nothing but pools of dark ebony, reflecting pure honesty. He really does want you to come – and if you do, it would be one more step forward in your relationship. It's already spiraled far beyond your expectations, far beyond what you'd been prepared to handle.
But it's far too late to step back now…
Your heart is weak, very weak. And this attraction – it's very strong. Too strong.
"Would you sing for me, too?" you give a faint smile. Behind the partitions, the accompanying violin veers off into a heart-wrenching solo, riding the tide of the crescendo.
Roy – Roy – gives a happy little laugh. Brings your twined hands closer, places a soft kiss on your knuckles. He cradles your hand carefully, almost worshipfully, as he gazes deep into your eyes.
"Anything you want," he says. "Anything you want."
And you believe him.
He picks you up from the café on the next Thursday afternoon, after picking up an order of your preferred chocolate cake. You playfully kick his leg when he cracks a joke about your addiction to chocolate and how it is much detrimental to your growth; he laughs and ushers you into the car. You – the two of you – might have been making a scene, but by now, most of Boston's society is well-aware that Roy Mustang has taken to Harvard's chemist prodigy, and though there are a few unseemly rumors floating around, most are under the impression that the two of you have formed an easy friendship over academia. You have, after all, been seen together at the Bohr convention, and Roy has visited your laboratories more than once. Some professors have even pitched into your regular café discussions once or twice.
Ever since the word began to fly about your involvement with Roy, you've been trying to use a little caution – but Roy ignores things as usual, and goes ahead with his customary flamboyance. It's as if he's not worried at all, you muse, of his reputation being ruined by rumors of a homosexual relationship with a young man a decade his junior.
You throw a glance at him as you sit inside the slightly stuffy car. He probably isn't worried in truth. You sigh. Of all the things to be careless about, he chooses this. You can't help but remark once more at the similarities this Roy has with Amestris' Roy.
Since when did you begin addressing him that way? You used to call him Roy, your Roy, the one real Roy. But now, someone else has taken that place in your heart, and your mind is on its way to fooling itself as well – you're falling, and falling quite hard. You know it.
You can't do anything about it.
And you don't really want to.
You slide your palm against his as it rests on the car seat, and twine your fingers together. Keeping your eyes resolutely peering through the window, you tighten your grip.
You want this, and you're nearly done denying it.
The townhouse – it's just a townhouse, you remind yourself – shines with luxury and wealth. The garden, though quite modest in comparison to others you've seen, is a spectacle to behold, with blooming roses and prim hedgerows and tasteful sculptures punctuating the landscape. The house itself has three floors, sprawling wide on either side, and branching into miniature wings, north and south. Stepping into the threshold is stepping into an entirely different dimension, as the world transforms from bleak Boston into the Mustang sense of elegance and beauty.
Walls are artfully decorated with paintings, and occasionally you'd see a statue at a corner. Servants bow as you pass, and a butler follows along Roy as the two of you make your way through the rich halls.
"What was it about not being a spoiled little master again?" you can't resist but poke fun at him.
He gives you a playful sideward frown. "I am not spoiled." The butler walking behind him gives a discreet cough; you snicker under your breath.
"Whatever you say, Roy," you smirk.
Resolutely ignoring you, he turns to his butler and imperiously says, "Tea in the study." The butler gives a low bow and heads off on his way to prepare for the two of you, taking with him the package of chocolate cake.
The two of you are left alone, finally; Roy takes your hand. Calmly leads you up a flight of stairs and down another hallway. You're quite sure you'll be lost later, because you aren't paying one mind to where he's taking you – his thumb, swiping up and down your wrist, is sending distracting ribbons of heat to the back of your neck, and the base of your spine. The warmth of his hand is suffocating you – your memories, faded and torn, remind you of that night in Central, when he'd drowned and you'd drowned and the two of you, struggling for purchase within the scorching heat – and you feel a trickle of sweat snake its way down the side of your neck.
You only notice you've stopped moving when he lets go of your hand. The sudden removal jolts you out of dreaming, and you quickly clamber to regain your ground. Finally paying attention to your surroundings, you realize you're standing in an ornate round chamber, the walls lined with old books and glass cases holding what looked like precious European artifacts. An archway opened into a wider, aired out rectangular room, where, at the very end, sat an immaculate desk, and at one corner an elegant black piano. Here, too, there were bookshelves, though the books were much less aged.
"Please, sit," he ushers you into a truly inviting hearthside armchair. Opposite you he sheds his jacket and drapes it over his own chair's armrest, and you move to do the same. It's warmer in this room, unlike downstairs – you don't know if that's the insulation, or his presence. It's probably the latter. "What do you think?"
"Of the house?" you relax against the armchair. It sinks under you, seemingly swallowing you whole. The comfort is absolute, though. "Filthy rich."
A chuckle. He expected that. "It's not my house, mind you. All of this is my parents' property."
"Yours, then. Eventually," you shrug with a bit of difficulty. The armchair really is swallowing you whole.
"No, not mine," he shakes his head. "Not truly mine." He looks around the ornate room, and gives a twisted little smile. "Not one thing in here I can call truly mine, born from my hands and my effort. All of it passed down: status, money, property, reputation. Pitiful, really. Despite all this, I own nothing."
He's quiet, and the house quiets with him. There's stillness in the air as he sits there, motionless, idly gazing around the room. Lost in his own reverie. He does this once in a while, more often now in your presence. He lets his guard down. He lets you see him, the real him – maybe hoping, in some semblance of equivalent exchange, that you'd return the favor too.
"You own yourself, don't you?" you offer. He turns his eyes upon you, towards you, and there they are, shrouded again. You hate that. You want his eyes open, dancing, bright. When he shutters them they're dull, but when they're alive, they take your breath away, pull you in deeper, push you off the edge, into the waiting arms of the fall. You want that back, never mind it can kill you. "They say a king may move a man, but the man is always his own man. No matter who presumes to take hold over you, your soul is in your keeping alone. Never give that up."
Another one of those little things you've learned over the years, while you struggled against the military, the gate, and whoever else's greedy machinations. You were but a pawn within the elaborate plot the homunculi were staging, but up until the end you held true to your soul, and you take pride in that. It'd been a long battle, but you'd kept your integrity until the very last.
"Words of wisdom garnered from experience, I take it?" a slow smile begins to pull at his lips once more, and you exchange it with a lopsided grin. He reclines against his seat. "One day I hope you will be able to find me trustworthy enough that you can confide in me about your past."
"It's not a worthy topic of conversation," almost an immediate rebuttal.
It's not that you don't trust him – you do, far too much for your own good. You ache to tell him this, to reassure him that yes, there is trust, and yes, you are willing to talk – only, there are certain things, certain wounds, you just aren't quite ready to pry open yet. Not now, when you're finally beginning to heal. Given ample opportunity he would dig under your skin and try to fix your shattered bones, but in the process his hands, his seeking, would only hurt you more. He'd scrape off the tough covering scabs and split your wounds open, again, letting blood well and flow.
Your past unsettles him, piques his interest, you understand this. You acknowledge this. He knows close to nothing about where you came from, who you really are, beyond this image of a chemist prodigy of a prestigious institution – and yet you know almost everything there is to know about him. He tells you of his past whenever you ask. He is open and unconditional, baring to you his very heart and asking you – practically begging you to take it.
It's unfair – but your wounds, they still hurt –
A knock on the door breaks the taut tension, and in comes your chocolate cake and tea. The butler, in your opinion, took long enough he has got to be mocking you.
The rest of the night you spend in companionable talk. There is no sign of the earlier tension, and you fall into the mold as words between the two of you begin to flow. He lets you sift through the rather impressive collection of books, and in exchange you agree to stay for dinner. With how he casually sidles up to you, and touches your shoulder, and takes hold of your hand, it seems he's grown fully comfortable of this tentative intimacy – you are, too, and you're beginning to want for more.
You dine with him in the gardens, under the spring-summer night sky, blissfully devoid of clouds. It isn't like you to be so dreadfully romantic, but the stars do shine quite brightly, and you're distracted by it. This attraction has addled your thinking far too much.
Much later, you retreat back into the study with more wine in hand. He seems to be turning you into some sort of alcoholic, but you're seriously far too gone to care by now. You settle back into the soft armchair – the chair you've now declared your personal property – as he begins to play the piano.
For you, he says, and you watch hazily as his fingers dance upon the keys. Soon you close your eyes, and it's only him and the music, soft against your ears. Notes cascade upon one another in an intimate dance of melody, and so beautiful is it that you can't bring yourself to poke fun at his romanticism any longer.
He finishes one piece, and you open your eyes once more to give him a low-lidded gaze. You're pleased to note his eyes darkening minutely; it's a small comfort to know that you're not alone in this game of bare restraint. "No wonder so many ladies are all over themselves and enamored of you. You're a hopeless romantic," you tease.
"Oh, I wouldn't say thoroughly hopeless," he smirks. He turns back to the keys and begins another slow ballad. "And contrary to that assumption, I've never played for anyone else." Effortlessly, his fingers bend and flit over black and white. He looks up at you, and your breath catches – "You're the first, Edward."
Blankly you stare at him for a mute moment, until a low chuckle escapes you, and a warm flush spreads throughout your body. "I'm honored." You lift the nearly-empty wineglass towards him, and he graces you with one more charmer smile, a smile so stunningly beautiful it brands white-hot and chafing into your memory –
Amongst the warm cascade of notes, it's the last thing you remember of the night.
The illusion of invincibility is something you never would have thought you carried, what with where you've been and what you've done – but apparently, you too are human, and you too are susceptible to its lure. You're young and gifted, proud and strong – this is your everyday reality. You struggle for your life, teeter at the brink of a knife-edge, and if in the process you hone your skills to killing perfection, well then, all the better for you. Widely considered a genius, you're one of a kind, the talent of a century, maybe even more –
So truly, it's no wonder you failed to notice the illusion banking its home deep within you. With your reality acting the perfect camouflage, it hid itself, and festered further, deeper, into your soul – until the day comes when it destroys you, and it does so magnificently.
Before that instant, before Scar crumbled your arm into thin spires of twisted metal and shattered alloy, you truly believed you wouldn't die. Because how could you? You'd faced the gate, twice, and lived to tell the tale. You'd survived your teacher, Izumi. You'd lived through endless fights and skirmishes with faceless bandits and nameless troublemakers. How could you die? You wouldn't die, surely, after all of that. And you can't allow yourself to die – not until you'd retrieved Al's body. Not until then. Maybe after.
But then Scar came. He crumbled your arm. Rendered you defenseless. Turned to Al, tried to kill Al –
Ultimately, you're human, and that's one thing you can no longer deny.
With all of that summed up, how do you cope after the breaking? They say nothing is sadder than the death of an illusion – and here the illusion has been shattered, leaving dull and utterly useless fragments in its wake. There no longer is a breakwater between you and the world's waves of uncertainty. Now that you know you're human, now that you're aware you can die, and that you might die, and that there is someone out there who wants you to die – how do you cope? Reality is not easily reoriented.
Your one lead, Marcoh, is gone. Scar has escaped again. Al is half-destroyed and crumbling. You can't even repair him, incompetent brother that you are, because your arm is now nonexistent. You dread facing Winry. You don't even have a face to show to Mustang.
You're nothing but helpless children.
You're back to square one.
You hate it.
He comes late at night, while you sit up at the rooftop, trying to reassure yourself that things will work out fine. And you do know that things will work out fine – your logical mind knows it. But convincing the heart with logic isn't the easiest of things to do – and he isn't helping.
"Surely you're not thinking of throwing yourself over the edge, are you, Fullmetal?" he drawls, and you all but gnash your teeth.
"Ladies first, bastard," you dangle your legs over the edge and make a sweeping motion with your one arm.
He raises a brow. "I was under the impression that you were the lady in this relationship."
"W-What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" you sputter indignantly, erupting from your seat and raising your voice to a shout. He shushes you with a sharp chopping motion of his hand, and in a lightning quick movement, gently tugs you away from the edge.
"Do be careful, Fullmetal," he sighs under his breath. "It would be a great inconvenience to lose one of the best alchemists under my command." He's still holding your arm, so near, so close, his breath skates over your shoulder. Damn that height.
Going against your own wayward desires, you rip your bare arm away from his grasp and step a fraction away to put some semblance of distance between the two of you. Even just an inch is fine – you need a little air, you need to breathe, to blow this treacherous heat away.
"I get it, fine," you bark. "I'm a dog of the military; I'm not allowed to die as I please."
He sighs again. "Sometimes I wonder if you really are a genius or not."
"What was that?!"
A tentative silence.
You stand, face to face – he has to look down, you have to look up, damn that height – the usual aggression thrums and wells underneath your skin, adrenaline surging through your veins. You don't know why you react to him this way; perhaps your body's been condition through the long three years you've served under him. By now the antagonism between the two of you is nothing short of legendary, and not a soul within the military remains unaware of the heated contest between Flame and Fullmetal.
However, he –
Your brow crumples in thought.
– he seems thoroughly devoid of his usual fire tonight; very, very strange. He stands, quiet and unmoving, simply staring, gazing, looking at you. As if he's observing you, the exact same way you've been observing him for the past three years. Your veins begins to thrum an uneven rhythm when you begin to understand – this night, tonight, is different.
"What?" you snap, unable to stand the tension for any longer.
He remains still for a heartbeat more, and then he moves, slow. Slow and gentle and sweeping, he reaches up a hand to cup around the back of your neck – your skin prickles as he weaves his fingers into your hair there – and stooping gracefully he presses his lips against yours.
And his tongue skates on the bottom of your lip. And your head tips back against his hand. And your hand clutches at his shirt, and underneath his chest heaves in a breath as he pushes – coaxes you into a dance – and it's nothing more than fingertips and the palm of a hand, but you can't help it, can't help yourself – he mesmerizes you, absorbs you, parts you open and explores you – the heat pools into your belly, and your fist tightens around the cloth of his shirt – he tilts his head, by instinct you tilt yours too, and you fall together, fit together, as if pieces of a long-lost puzzle finally finding each other –
"You need to learn integrity, Edward," he presses another soft one on your bottom lip, "and you need to find strength to hold yourself together through this all." He pulls you close, closer – "Because if you don't protect your soul –"
And as if a shadow under flashing light, he's gone.
The charm of being
Cependant qu'on est jeune et que le soir est beau…
Egyptian silk caress your cheeks come morning, and endless comfort barricade you on all corners. Groggy and disoriented you blink into half-wakefulness, luxuriously rested and all of reluctance to part with the bed. There is, however, a coaxing voice somewhere above you, luring you from your comfort with the promise of breakfast and a refreshing hot shower.
"…ward," the voice calls, "Edward. Wake up."
"Mm. Five more minutes," you mumble.
"I'm afraid you don't have five minutes if you're to eat properly, bathe properly, and still be on time for your first class," chuckles the voice. "Come, now. Up."
"Not a child," but grumbling, you rise anyhow.
Slowly detaching from the dream world, the first thing you recognize is the by-now familiar presence at the bedside. The mattress lifts as Roy removes himself from the bed and tugs you from the cocoon of heavenly pillows and blankets.
"Good morning," he smiles. His eyes dance, as if he's looking at something particularly amusing. He stands, walks over to the window drapes, and parts them with gentle hands. The light that was earlier barely a glow knifes through the dark of the room as rays of midmorning sunlight.
You've been removed from your vest, but still clad in your white shirt and pants. The jacket and vest are both draped over a chair beside the bed, along with your belt. A thoughtful somebody also removed your hair from the tie, letting you sleep with the least possible discomfort.
"This bed is heaven," you delightedly sigh, sinking back into the downy softness and spreading your arms. A big yawn cracks your face; you don't deem it embarrassing anymore to be this open with him. Perhaps it might still be considered improper, but you've never been one for propriety anyway, so it's a moot point. "If you're to let me sleep in it each time, I should have to spend more dinners here."
He laughs and moves back to your side. Already in his simple but uncannily elegant black suit vest, he looks just about ready to go. You wonder how early he's woken. A cursory glance to the bedside table informs you of the time: nine o'clock.
"Hot water has been prepared for you," he motions towards twin panel doors. "You're welcome to use whatever you should need. I've informed your brother of your whereabouts; he has said will meet you at your laboratories." Fleetingly, he brushes a tentative finger through the silken gold strands of your hair. "No headache?"
You shake your head. "I might be getting used to the alcohol."
"That's good, then," he quietly murmurs, fingers still playing with your hair. He seems quite taken with it. "Now up you get, and off my bed. Breakfast will be ready for us soon." He steps back as you swing your legs over the edge and stand. "I shall be in my study, but I will meet you in the gardens – beautiful weather for breakfast outside. A servant should come and lead you down."
With a small, fond smile for you, he walks out of the tall, grand door. It's only then you begin truly taking in the room you stand in – opulence is a word barely fit to describe it. The theme is a deep and calming blue, with heavy blue damask drapes, blue and white silk bedsheets, blue and gold rugs underneath your feet. The walls are an off-white color, contrasting against the rich dark wood of the furniture. And the bed – the bed is nothing short of grand, fit for three, maybe four people, overflowing with throws and blankets and pillows. Something one would expect to find in a palace, very fitting for Roy's bed.
All trains of thought reach a halt.
He let you in his bed. In his bed, where he sleeps at night, embraced by the blankets you were cocooned within, braced by the pillows that walled you while you slept.
And where did he sleep last night?
Your eyes slide back towards the grand bed. There is space plenty enough for the both of you, he could have lain beside you last night with you unknowing –
– and suddenly, things are falling too fast. In a heart-thudding, eye-shutting moment, the fear demons rear their ugly heads and crash over your head in a tidal wave, overwhelming you, submerging you in their depths. What if this fails, you ask yourself? What if, in the end, you end up hurt, torn apart, once again? What if this thing – whatever it is that lies between the two of you – breaks under the tension, the weight, the expectations? What if –
Your hind hits the bed – you don't even notice your thighs trembling – adrenalin?
Deep breaths, you take deep breaths in a massive effort to calm yourself. Your hands skim upon silk, fingers clutching gently, until the trembling stops. It takes a while. Panic attacks, for you, are rare, but when they do come, they come quite strongly. The last you remember having it was when you were in Berlin with your father – curse the man – one week after transmuting Al. In such worry and agitation, it was inevitable. You knew nothing of the outcome of your unwarranted experiment with the gate, nothing of what had happened to your little brother's precious soul, nothing of your comrades' battles on the other side –
But this time, this time, there's no such pressure – so why are you panicking?
Why am I panicking?
You open your eyes once more and look at the bed. It sits innocent beneath you, before you. Just a bed.
Just a bed.
So what if you slept in it, perhaps together with him? So what if you're falling further into this intimacy, not knowing where you're headed? So what if the future feels uncertain, foggy, obscured? Was it not obscured as well when you were looking for the Stone? You never had a solid future to look forward to in your short life, but you've always strived to make one. For Al, and for yourself. There should be no difference this time – you stab this determination into your wayward doubts' wicked little hearts.
You're done straggling aimlessly, living for someone else. This time, you're taking your life into your own hands. This intimacy, it feels right, it feels good – no matter that it doesn't have a certain future right now. If you're to have any say in it, it will, soon. You're going to make one for it –
– and suddenly, the world doesn't seem so constricting anymore.
With the hot water having worked its wonders to cleanse your mind and body of excess worry and negative energy, you step out of the bathrooms, a towel around your waist. Sometime while you were in the bath a servant took your worn clothes; presently a fresh and pressed grey suit lay at the foot of the rearranged bed. It's exactly your size; you faintly wonder why they would have extra suits your size in hand. Dressing is a quick and deft affair – undergarments first, then shirt, pants, belt, tie, vest, and the jacket is left behind, to wear for later.
Along with the suit, there is a ribbon of silky steel blue, and with this, your still mildly damp hair, vigorously dried with two towels and combed into a neat cascade of spun gold, goes up in a tie. Afterwards, you check yourself over in the grand mirror – serves to stroke Roy's ego, no doubt – and find yourself well beyond presentable. The good night's sleep has done its job well.
As promised, the servant comes to lead you to the gardens at the ring of the bell – you retrieve your jacket and follow. Soon, you're seated with Roy by the rosebushes, and in front of you lay possibly the most succulent breakfast you've ever had. Poached eggs, sliced ham, fluffy biscuits, warm and golden toast, a jar of quince jam, pats of butter, bowls of porridge, freshly picked strawberries with cream, sliced peaches, and a pot of tea –
"Are you feeding an army?" you chuckle incredulously as you slide into your seat. Such things shouldn't surprise you anymore, but they do, and you can't help but marvel. Roy is rich.
"Why, yes, I am," he smartly replies, and you (gently) kick his leg in retaliation. Your monstrous appetite is no longer lost on him these days. "We've about thirty minutes before your first class – ten-thirty, was it?" he checks his wrist watch. "The university isn't too far."
Naturally, you're in one of the richer parts of Boston – richest, even – a sprawling townhouse sitting at a prime location on the much-coveted Back Bay neighborhood. A mere ten minutes away from Cambridge and very accessible to the rest of downtown Boston, very convenient.
"Aren't you late for work?" you fork a piece of ham.
"There's no need for me to be at the offices this early," he shrugs as if it's everyday he walks in late. Considering the workplace habits of Amestris' Roy, it probably is everyday that he walks in late. "Besides, it's Friday. The weekends are usually lax."
"Mm," and your raised eyebrow is repaid with an easy smile.
Breakfast finishes quickly under idle talk and private laughter between the two of you. All too soon, you're rising from your seat, servants beginning to put away the dishes and cutlery, and he's leading you to the driveway, where the ever-ostentatious black car sits in wait.
He drops you at the university, him staying inside the car to prevent being seen by too many people – no use, you tell him, because the car totally gives him away. You feel it's too soon, and you still want to stay –
But right before you step out, he presses his lips to the knuckles of your left hand, and gives you eyes so beautiful it breaks your heart. "Lunch tomorrow?"
You give a wry smile, and shake your head. "Insatiable bastard."
He takes it as a yes, of course.
How many weekends you've spent at his place, you quickly lose count. The days pass you by, swift as a swallow, and soon it is nearing August, a good half a year since the two of you met in one quaint little café. The summer you spend with him, drowning in his presence. So many times you've slept in his bed that you carry his pine-and-cinnamon scent in your hair, and clothes, and skin. You've not yet slept together, despite what Al's dirty mind may be thinking – it seems both you and Roy are staunch believers of a slow but frighteningly efficient reaction process. There's no need to hurry, though. You've got all the time in the world.
You keep meeting at the café every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to talk and perhaps socialize with some of the intellectuals who gather there for coffee and a light snack. It's sandwiched between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University – a prime place for bright minds to have a tension-free, casual exchange. By now, the two of you are a common sight; almost nobody turns their head anymore in surprise. They still do turn their heads though, because Roy makes quite a sight (and according to him, so do you, but you ignore that).
Normally the two of you have dinner on Thursday evenings, so you might spend the night at his place. On the rare occasion that you don't, he visits you late Friday afternoon instead, at the university laboratories where he's not supposed to have access, but does anyway.
The entirety of Saturday and Sunday you spend almost exclusively with him and for him; Al gets jealous once in a while, so when he does you tug him along to the townhouse for tea. The instances are far and few in between, however; your brother seems to genuinely want your relationship with Roy to work, and you realize that Al, too, is growing up. Occasionally he lets you meet some of the women he dates; in exchange, you let him get to know Roy better by inviting him to some of your "social engagements."
This is a quickly established routine, one you're perfectly comfortable with – it's a slow, gradual attraction, and by the day the bond that ties you down tightens, holding you closer than ever.
"I sure do hope you're so deep in thought of me, or I'm rightly jealous," a murmur comes from behind your ear.
You feel a soft smile tugging at the edges of your mouth, just as he presses a lingering kiss on your temple. "Am I not allowed to think of my worldly affairs now?"
He rounds your armchair and steps toward the piano, comfortable in a silk shirt and grey trousers. The man had fashion, you have to admit. "So long as these worldly affairs don't take precedence over me, think as much as you like," he smirks.
You snort. "Egomaniac."
"Why, thank you."
Conversation lapses into a comforting, tender silence. Sea breeze coasts through the window and chases away the stifling heat of summer; you're thankful you're not too far inland, else it would be insufferable. You love afternoons like these the most, when you've nothing to do but sit with him in the study and read, or listen to him play. The tension floods out of your body as a tethered river would when the dam is loose; here, there's no need to put up pretenses of politeness and masks made for society.
He begins to play, and you immediately recognize Albéniz' España, a beautiful and terribly romantic piece he's very much fond of. You close your eyes and let yourself drift off into a half-sleep – one after the other, he goes through his pieces, graceful and delicate fingers caressing the keys. You idly wonder if you'd ever be able to do such beautiful work.
Rising from your seat, you go to him. He stops playing and makes room for you on the bench. "Would you like to learn?" he asks you, ever-eager to give you whatever it is you want.
"I doubt I'll be able to manage with my arm," but you sit anyway.
He walks you through the basic notes and finger positions. His left hand guides your left hand, and his right gently leads your right. His fingers are light on your automail – tentative, wondering, almost reverent – as he teaches you the C major scale. Your metal fingers obediently follow your orders, and you're glad that they don't hitch when his hands stop guiding yours and leave you on your own.
When you finish a repetition of the scale by yourself, he tightens his arm around your waist and rests his chin on your shoulder. "You're a fast learner, as always." He tilts his head. "Genius."
"Genius is overrated," you mutter, your left hand still flitting over the rise and dip of black and white.
He's quiet for a moment. You know he's going to ask you of something, though – and worse, you know what it is. You're still deliberating on how to phrase your answer when he voices his question.
"Your arm," he says, voice careful and low, "when did you lose it?"
He's known about your automail for a while now. Not its exact circumstances, but he's seen it plenty of times, when you sleep in his bed and he's free to fiddle with it as he wills. He's never asked questions, and you've never broached the topic – both because you don't want to, and you never had the chance to.
"I was ten," you let him hold your metal wrist and lift it as you try the correct position on the keyboard. "It was an accident. My left leg, too." You're not lying, not truly – it was an accident, and you truly didn't know.
You feel his jaw tighten against your shoulder, through your sheer white shirt. You've taken off your vest; it's far too hot to be wearing such constricting clothing inside.
"Must have been painful," he murmurs, and suddenly he's holding you close, pressing a soft kiss on your neck. You allow him these freedoms, this intimacy, now that you've come to accept this relationship – he savors it every chance he gets, though at times he can be a very greedy bastard.
"Much less painful than attaching the new limbs," you grimace.
He lifts your limp metal arm, pushes your sleeve up, inspects it with a critical eye. "It doesn't rust?"
"Made of a unique metal that lasts quite long while," you're proud of it, because altering its composition with your alchemy is about the last thing you did before the Gate closed behind you. "The main task is maintenance of the cables, inside. They're troublesome, and I don't understand them as well as Al does."
"An ingenious piece of work. I would very much like to meet its creator."
"Oh, no," you shake your head adamantly. "No, you wouldn't. In fact, you'd be better off staying here, three thousand miles away, comfortable and alive in your highfalutin townhouse, with your beloved shiny black cars."
"Nonsense!" he gives you an incredulous look. "This is a most wonderful mechanical invention. Of all people, you should be able to appreciate that!"
You roll your eyes. "The lady who made and attached my metal limbs is a very scary lady who can kill with her wrenches. You don't want to meet her."
"Yes, I do." He's not taking you seriously. "In fact, I would very much like her talents in my service. Imagine what genius she could do with the new model productions."
"I don't know where she is, now," and you begin to truly push him out of that avenue of thought. You know very well how Roy can be hell bent on getting whatever it is he wants; he might just jumpstart a search for Winry, and you know that the Winry he will find is the Winry of this world – not the Winry who made your automail. It would cause some massive confusion, for sure – though there is a hefty possibility that the Winry of this world is also into mechanics. You just can't imagine her otherwise.
When he doesn't speak – which means he's still considering such thought – you frantically search for a roadblock to throw in his path. And you find one – a brilliant one. (Thank whatever deities that watched over godless alchemists for perceptive little brothers.)
"Besides," you slowly entreat, "Al says she was quite into me. Who knows, she might still be." You grin up at him deviously. "Are you up for some serious competition, then?"
Instantaneously his eyes tighten around the corners, where they crinkle slightly when he laughs – you've won when you feel him tugging you closer, cramping the tiny space the piano bench has to offer.
He asks no more through dinner and the rest of the night, but in you there is unease. It feels awkward, wrong, to be denying him of his interest in your automail. It's an incredibly private matter for you, and inevitably it will raise some questions about your past. But it isn't fair, you conflict with yourself. It doesn't feel fair – doesn't feel right – to be in this relationship and yet still be hiding things about yourself that aren't exactly self-incriminating.
And perhaps the true reason behind your reluctance to reveal to Roy your limbs is because of the scars – the visible ones.
You curl a hand around the curve of your shoulder, feeling the ridge of metal meeting scarred flesh. No one else, apart from your own brother, and Roy – the other Roy – has seen your body, the entire thing, with its faults and brokenness. Apart from the occasional instance during battle when your jacket or shirt was torn or burned or left behind somewhere, no one's seen anything of you.
And you like it that way, because then no one knows you're only half-whole, and you can pretend – along with the rest of the world – that you're normal. That you, too, are like the rest of them, whole and unblemished. No one can judge you when no one knows, so you strived – still strive – to keep it that way.
Only, one day, if this should go on, you will have to bare yourself to Roy, and he, too, will see.
He, too, will see, sooner or later.
"Tomorrow," you whisper to him, as you lay in his arms in bed. "Tomorrow, come home with me. I'll show you the limbs, how to readjust it."
There's a faint hum behind you in the darkness – tomorrow will be the day when you bare your scars for him to see.
Strip for me as I have stripped for you; we've got nothing to hide, and I've got less to lose.
"He's coming here?" Al echoes, disbelieving. "Today?"
You nod. "He's coming here today, after he finishes some minor paperwork at the office."
"But – your automail, aren't we –" he stops, staring at you as you raise an eyebrow at him. You know your brother has quick mind; there's not even a need for you to say anything further. He watches you as you check the tools for readjusting the automail. "…are you sure you're okay with this, brother?"
"He's got to know about it sooner or later," a shrug. "No sense in delaying it. Besides, he's rather taken with the mechanics of it." You chuckle faintly as you recall the previous evening's conversation. "He said he wanted to meet Winry. I told him he doesn't."
Al chokes on a quiet laugh. "Did it scare him?"
"Well," you straighten and grin at Al, "the wrench part didn't, but when I told him of Winry's crush on me, he backed out, the jealous bastard."
"You know, I don't think he's doing much good for your ego," Al idly says as he prepares tea for their visitor. "He's only feeding it when it's already large enough. I really do think we need to make it smaller."
A crack of metal against metal.
"Did you just say small, Alphonse?"
"No, brother, nothing at all."
In truth, you were doubtful inside, despite your nonchalant outward countenance. Al can tell, you're quite sure, but he knows better than to talk of it. He understands you best, and it's to be expected, after having been together for so long. He quietly prepares afternoon tea and biscuits, and when there's a sharp rap on the front door, you try to pretend you don't feel nervous.
Al offers to take it, but you rise ahead of him. Roy stands on the steps, prim and dashing as always. Despite not being as grand as the Back Bay where Roy's townhouse sits, this neighborhood – Beacon Hill – is comfortable, private, and still upper-middle class. Even here, Roy doesn't look too out of place.
"I brought the whiskey," he grins lopsidedly; you return it.
"Come in," and he does. You usher him through the hallway and into the living room, where Al waits to greet him. "Our house isn't as ridiculously posh as your palace, but it works."
Laughing, he says, "It's cozy. I like it." He sheds his jacket and drapes it over one of the couches facing the fireplace. He accepts tea from Al, but instead of sitting in the living room, he eyes the tools laid out on the kitchen table.
"Brother says you were eager to see how the automail works," Al remarked, turning to Roy, and then to you. "Should we start, brother?"
"Yeah." You slip into the kitchen, divesting yourself of your shirt. You feel the intensity of his gaze on your back as you drape the garment on a separate chair and sink into one – you would have been looking at him with the same kind of eyes had he been the one removing his shirt in front of you, so you let him go.
"Automail. Is that what it's called?" Roy asks quietly – for some reason, the atmosphere is charged with something mild yet still quite palpable. He seems reluctant – just as reluctant as you are – to break it.
Al, however, seems completely unperturbed, so more than likely, it's only a tension between the two of you. "A childhood friend of ours made a living making artificial limbs for people who'd lost their original. We left her behind in Europe, but we – I spent enough time with her to learn how to adjust and maintain the limbs without her help."
Al straightens. "I'm detaching it now," he warns you. You nod and brace yourself.
Very carefully, as carefully as he can, Al removes the security screws and detaches the arm from its socket. He takes utmost care not to scrape the inside of the socket, but even then – even then, the pain is intense. You let out a sharp, sibilant hiss, your teeth grinding against each other, your jaw jumping, tightening in an effort not to cry out. You've gotten better at handling the aftershocks post-reattachment, but detachment is still as painful as the first time.
The white-hot knifing agony lasts for a minute – or maybe three – and then the edge is off, and all that's left is a gaping throb on your right side. You never noticed it when Roy moved to your side, only becoming aware of it as the pain subsided. You note the apparent worry on his face, and gently squeeze his hand that's holding yours. "I'm fine." You're quite sure you're not very believable. Your voice is far too hoarse to be fine.
Reclining against the chair and letting the wavelets of pain ripple past you into calmness, you listen to Al's methodical explanation of how the limb works. Roy makes an attentive and active student – Al revels in it, as you're sure you do when you're teaching Roy of science – but the man remains by your side, vigilantly holding your flesh hand, as if to offer the barest and most reassuring of comforts.
When Al begins to clean the inner socket – the most painful part of the entire process – you miraculously make it through without much ado about the pain. Perhaps because of the whiskey, or perhaps because of Roy – you don't know, and honestly, you don't care all that much. You're just glad the pain is weaker than you are today.
It takes the entire of the afternoon to finish recalibrating both the arm and the leg, since Al has the tendency to be frighteningly meticulous about them. He still feels responsible for returning your flesh limbs no matter how much you've tried to convince him otherwise; you just give him a grin that tells him you're okay, because there's not much you can do.
Seeing you still in pain and half-swimming in a bottle of whiskey, Roy tries to cancel the dinner you were supposed to have at his house. You tell him you're fine, but he insists, so in effect he leaves you no choice but to shove your way into the car, and anchor yourself into your seat. He turns to Al for help, but at your glare, Al reassures him you'll be fine once given some food and ample rest.
This is how you end up barricaded by pillows, bundled up in fur blankets, and tucked into bed immediately after a hasty dinner that night. He stays with you until you slip into a light and tired doze, and when you wake again, in the middle of the night, he's nowhere to be found.
The pain is gone – it's been hours – and both your leg and arm are working as smooth and flawless as ever. You're not entirely sure you're glad that you aren't growing any taller, but either way, the automail still fits fine, and you hope it stays that way for as long as possible. You don't look forward to going back to the prosthetics you and Hohenheim devised, and you refuse to live bound by a wheelchair.
Slipping out of bed, you make your way towards the window, disturbing the bluish square of moonlight cast through its undraped frame. You push the panes open, letting the midnight breeze ruffle your unbound hair. Your fingers clutch at the sill as you look out into the half-darkness, where everything is a monotone black and blue.
You can't go back to sleep; uncertainty tugs at the edges of your consciousness. There wasn't any good opportunity to talk to Roy after this afternoon – a sharp slice of doubt unsettles your usual calm. What if he found the scars unsightly? What if his opinion of you has changed? Would the two of you – would things remain the same?
Granted, he was perfectly sweet and as charming as always when he talked to Al back at your house. The worry in his eyes was genuine when he forced you into bed and cradled you until you fell into the arms of sleep. But what if he's just –
"Edward," you jump at his voice. "Why are you up?"
He comes up behind you, the heat of his skin through the fabric of your shirt so intense it nearly scalds you. Arms come around you, solid and reassuring, an anchor to reality.
"You aren't supposed to be up," he presses his lips beneath your ear, and his breath flutters your hair there. You utter a small, rough sound of pleasure. "It's only a little after midnight."
"Woke up, couldn't sleep," your voice only a murmur. As if afraid to break the heavy cloak of silence, you keep your words low and smooth. "Where were you?"
"Father called," and that's the end of that. He dislikes talking of his family; though he never withholds information from you should you ask. However, you understand his avoidance of the matter, so you take care never to breach the issue unless by absolute necessity.
You place your hand over his, where it clasps possessively around your hipbone, and sigh. "Well? What did you think of the automail? Al explained it better than I would have, I think."
"Al was very helpful." He lifts your right hand again, gently turning it over and pushing up the sleeve. "A work of genius, truly. The developer of this technology has to have had a keen understanding of the nervous system and how it works."
You make a small sound of assent. At first glance, this world seems to have further developments in science and technology; however, you're beginning to see otherwise. Amestris, though heavily reliant on alchemy, has automail technology, and a very dependable pool of medical researchers constantly pushing the limits of their practice. Perhaps it's the sheer number of wars that's seized the country through the years, or perhaps it's the huge number of people losing limbs over alchemy that's spurred such blindingly quick developments, you don't really know.
"You're very quiet," he observes, his lips moving against your skin. One of these days, you've got to let him know exactly how distracting that is. "What's wrong?"
"Tell me," he coaxes.
But I don't know how.
You can feel it, his unsettlement. It ripples through his words as he speaks. "If you think I am judging you for your limbs, banish such thought, Edward."
"I'm not –"
"They're a part of you, and I'm prepared to accept all of you," he presses forth, unrelenting, ruthless. He strikes your doubts from the roots, one by one. "I made that decision from the very day this began."
His words leave you speechless, bare. Defenseless against the undertow of his affection.
"They're ugly," you whisper, "the scars."
He stiffens, then turns you in his arms, lifting you chin and forcing you to look into his earnest eyes. "They're not ugly, Edward." Leans his forehead against yours. "You're not ugly." A wry smile, "Far from it."
When his lips touch yours, a fleeting and tentative brush of sensation, a flush of intensely tender warmth spreads under your skin, shaming the summer heat. Your lips, they still remember this, the movements, the sensation, the taste –
"Beautiful, you're beautiful."
He tilts his head, brushes your loose hair back, tangling his fingers and settling his hand at the nape of your neck – seals his lips over yours, capturing them, keeping them, claiming them – his arm around your waist strengthens, a band of steel holding you in place –
And your arms, they fall into place, around his neck and shoulders, draping and supportive. You open under him, blooming and pliant, a shudder coursing down your spine when his tongue slithers aside yours – a garbled moan escapes your throat, begging for more, pleading for more.
You push against him, though, an aggressive surrender – you don't lie down without a fight. The hand that is curved around your hipbone slides warm and reassuring at the small of your back and under your shirt – your grip at his shoulders tighten, fingers scrabbling for purchase against smooth silk –
It lasts only a while more until you're both forced to part – but that's alright, because you have the rest of the night to savor, there's no need for a frantic hurry.
And when your eyes meet his, in the dark, under moon and stars, it's as if you've been submerged for long and finally – finally – allowed glorious air to breathe.
And all the world
How helpless we are, like netted birds, when caught by the webs of desire…
The delicate hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as another mindless girl – whore – clings to Roy, batting coy eyes and fluttering her ugly hair. You've been keeping attentive count, since the evening began, and this is the fifteenth. The fifteenth – and you've had just about enough.
Relinquishing your empty flute of champagne to a nearby table, you slip out of the crowd, swift as a shadow, unnoticed except by one. The hall is stifling, thick with odor and perfume, and the sharp tang of alcohol in the air – but outside, the breeze whips freshness into your nostrils, and you feel free. What remains of your patience is salvaged by this brief respite.
You never did like functions and social gatherings of this nature. Fallacies are what fall from lips when these people – supposedly dignified people – talk to each other, with pretenses of politeness when all they really want to do is to tear each other down to the ground and wreck each others' reputations well beyond recognition. You do understand the necessity for politeness, as it is a tenet of politics, and politics is something you've had to live with since you were a young (and very rebellious) teen. Understanding it, however, does not ever mean liking it.
"That wasn't very polite, Edward, leaving behind the lady from earlier all by herself." The gravel crunches from behind you as Roy steps out into the driveway in front of the grand hall.
"Politeness. What good does it do?" you give a derisive snort. "Nothing but a tacit agreement that people's miserable defects – moral, intellectual, or otherwise – shall on both sides be ignored and not be made the subject of reproach."
There, on Roy's lips, is a small smirk, doubtlessly mocking your lack of toleration and patience. His eyes, though, they dance with amusement, so you know he isn't truly making fun of you. Just a little bit.
"Shouldn't you be inside?" you sigh. You sidle up close to him, close enough to touch, but you refrain from showing anyone any more than this degree of intimacy. Out here, it's not safe, and this world is a world that looks down upon homosexuality. Both of your names would forever be slandered should your relationship be made known to the world, and neither of you would have any escape. "Your ladies are waiting."
Roy's eyebrow raises, and his smirk widens. You scowl up at him, defiant.
"Are you, perchance, jealous, darling Edward?" he reaches out and brushes a fallen strand of your hair.
You hiss in indignation and jerk away from him, a bright body blush rising past the collar of your shirt. "Not out here!" and lowering your voice, you add, "Don't call me darling."
He gives a low chuckle, mirth now overflowing. He knows better than to push you, though; he's well-aware of your temperance – or lack thereof. "Come, let's go back inside. We'll go home, after we say goodbye for the night."
Grumping under your breath, you grudgingly walk after him. Deny as you might, you did enjoy the first few hours of the evening, when the people were still and quiet inside the theatre, watching the moving figures on stage, the women dabbing at the edges of their eyes. The play itself was enjoyable, and so was the after-show reception – food. It would be severe disrespect to not pay your thanks and simply leave.
You calm your face, erasing all traces of displeasure, and politely thank and shake hands with whoever Roy thanks and shakes hands with. You grit your teeth through a few more women, and try your best to not look at how they cling to his arm – his arm, the same arm that holds you close at night, the same arm that plays for you on the piano. Granted, Roy is downright drool-worthy tonight, but however that might justify their besotted gawping, it still does not ease the stinging frustration you feel, because they're clinging to him, shameless little whores they are, and you can't do anything about it.
It's not a half-second too early when you leave the hall and slip into the waiting car. You've no idea how the chauffeur knew when to drive up, but you can't bring yourself to care, not when you can finally relax, let the tension leave your shoulders, and loosen your choking tie.
"I told you this was a bad idea," you sigh at him.
He merely smiles at you fondly, taking your left hand and pressing the usual kiss of affection on your knuckles. "You enjoyed the show, did you not?"
"Yes, very tragic." You abandon propriety and remove your tie altogether. It's not as if you're going anywhere else anyway. "Shakespeare is in severe need of a different variety of writing prompts. Or alcohol. Or sexual encounters – the good kind."
This coaxes a delighted bout of laughter from Roy, and somehow, it eases your tension further. It always makes you glad when you make him glad, as you're sure it works the other way around. Suddenly, this world doesn't seem so bleak, cold, and unfamiliar any longer.
The ride home is quiet and comfortable, disturbed only by idle conversation and little quakes of silent laughter from Roy. Soon, you turn the last corner before the townhouse, and the chauffeur is pulling into the half-lit driveway.
"Have I told you how lovely you look tonight?" he asks you as you step out from the car and into the porch's light. Tender, his eyes as ever so tender, as he looks at you, takes your hand, leads you inside.
"About twenty times or so, yes," you remove your jacket and drape it over your arm. "And I've told you time and time again: I am not a lady, and you need not treat me as such."
"But were you not the jealous one?" and there's that infuriating smirk again. Your fist itches to be reacquainted with that achingly handsome face. Truly, you regret not having been able to land one solid fist on the other Roy during the evaluations at the East Headquarters.
"I was not jealous." You believe this to be an indisputable fact of nature.
He makes a rough sound of amusement and ushers you into his rooms, closing the doors behind him and gathering you into his arms. He doesn't utter a single word, only draws you close, leans forward, and places his lips over yours, a soft and undemanding pressure. Instinctively you open up under him, coax him further, your hands settling on his hips.
"You were incredibly jealous," he maintains that smug smirk. "So jealous, in fact, that it made dancing along with those little girls worth my while."
You step back.
"You – bastard!"
"I love you, too," he laughs gaily, and tugs you back into his arms.
He doesn't give you time enough to rail further obscenities, sealing your lips with his and ensuring your speechlessness by efficiently distracting you with his tongue. A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature, to stop words when words become unnecessary. He's a very good kisser, this you know for a fact – and he's not one to fear flaunting his skills at all. However, you pride yourself a very fast learner; you, by nature, hate to lose. So you press back against him, into him, lifting your hands and tangling them into his otherwise immaculate black hair. Tufts of it peek through your fingers as you pull him closer, melding together your two bodies as close as possible, as close to being one.
Many, many days and nights you spend like this, under languid and burgeoning heat. He isn't pushing you, you aren't pushing him – the pace sets itself. You haven't gone all the way yet, but you're getting there, soon. Desire and pleasure meld together whenever your lips meet in an ever-familiar dance – he likes touching you, and he likes to be touched, as you do. You revel in this, in taste and heat and sound and skin. There really is nothing else when the two of you are together, and you find it absolutely breathtaking. His mere presence excites the keenest pleasure to your senses – the utmost of aesthetic pleasure.
Al notices it, too, how smitten you are of him. You can't deny it any longer, not when everything is falling in, and you're far beyond neck-deep. He doesn't say anything though, just smiles and lets you bask. Your brother is kind and very considerate, and by nature, you aren't. You try, though – you keep asking him to spend time with you and Roy, and you make sure to sit with him and talk to him, at least once a week, about his dates, or about your mutual joy of research.
Otherwise, Roy monopolizes your time and attention, taking you to dinner no less than four times a week, spending whole weekends with you, visiting you at the laboratories. The same routine continues, and you feel the spiral tighten further around you, so much so that it's almost suffocating – and it only lets go whenever you're with him.
You never even realize it when summer ends, and only when the leaves turn their color do you see the coming of the fall. Only nine months since you first met – and already, how the world has changed.
Within you there is a new and certain peace of mind, calmness, stilling doubts and resting fears. The future is uncertain, but not unclear; decisions are still hard to make, but no longer as impossible as they once seemed. You grow a home, a comfortable niche in the university, as more and more students flock to your classes, eager to partake in your knowledge, eager to learn of your much-advanced and startlingly unique theories. You begin to think that perhaps, perhaps, it isn't entirely impossible for you to make a home in this foreign, disorienting world.
He surprises you one day when he comes to one of your lectures, walking into the room with his head held high and his eyes roving the hall with particularly critical interest. He seats himself in the back, his coat draped over the back of the chair, his posture completely at ease as he waited for the class to begin.
He only smiles back when you raise a questioning brow at him, the bastard, and soon the filling class began to come aware of the unusual presence. Roy, too, has a brilliant mind, capable of lightning-quick deductions and dead accurate impromptu scenario construction, enabling him to be a successful businessman and quasi-politician. You've no doubts about his capabilities; this class is well within his range, perhaps all too easy, even.
The clock strikes one-thirty; you tap on the desk with a wooden ruler. His smile widens, as if mocking you – he is to pay for this after class, you vow it.
"As you've all noticed, we've a visitor today," you begin, raising your voice over the eager heads. They all turn, and like wildfire, murmurs whip through the crowd. "Don't mind him; he's just here to sit and look pretty."
"I resent that, Edward," he injects, in a mild conversational tone. He is well-used to the atmosphere of a university; so long as no one gets hurt, anything goes. "I am here to learn and observe."
"Exactly," you nod. "To sit and look pretty."
Snickers and giggles erupt from your students. You're tempted to poke further fun at him, and you know your class wouldn't ever dream of complaining (especially the female population) – but you've already given him ample attention, and you are in the midst of a class. For now, he would have to suffer without your full presence; later, though…
Without further ado, you lapse into your lecture, beginning the day's discussion with a light grilling to refresh their minds of the previous lecture's topic, and a semi-quiz that had half the class groaning and sighing in disappointment. By now you're well aware of your reputation as an informative and brilliant teacher, but your classes are notoriously difficult. Your students knew what they were signing up for the moment they chose to take your class; you see no point in their whining.
Throughout the lesson, the subtle prickling feeling at the back of your neck never yields.
He does not speak to you, merely smiles an unusually deep and fathomless smile that reflects the alluring midnight blue of his eyes, as the class empties (quite slowly) through the doors. He remains by your desk, a quiet sentinel, while you gather your notes; he patiently waits as you make sure to clear the boards for the next class. He walks beside you, wordless, as you exit the hall.
It's a Thursday, and this is your last class of the day – an early rest for you, time you spend with Roy by routine. Which is why it doesn't make a difference when he motions outside; there, the car waits for you, the usual chauffeur idling beside it under a tree. You stuff your folders into your book bag and sling it over your shoulder; the crumpled jacket remains over your arm.
The ride to his townhouse is similarly quiet, and admittedly rather unsettling – but the usual intimacy is there: he holds your hand, kisses your fingers, brushes your hair back and tucks them behind your ear. His fingers skim the line of your neck, your eyes slide shut in delight –
And then he stops.
Heavily tempted to ask what's wrong, but knowing that it would be better to wait, you hold your tongue, with much effort and patience. Your hand remains in his, warm, almost stiflingly hot. For some unfathomable reason, today, something is different. He isn't regaling about his enterprise, nor is he remarking at all on your lecture – which, by now, he should already be full in thought of, unless you were really that uninteresting. He isn't even looking at you; it's as if keeping a minimal distance – not too far – still close enough to be considered real intimacy, but still far enough for you to feel bereft.
The townhouse is too far, in your humble opinion; when you get off, you all but hightail it into the threshold, straight up the stairs, a beeline to his – your – rooms. You're eager for a shower, the bed, cool satin on your skin. His house is the very definition of opulence, and he is not fearful to show it, or share it. He gives you access to whatever you should want in his household, and in return, you give him access to whatever he might want for yours. And your company.
He doesn't follow immediately after you; you pay it no heed – sometimes he doles out orders to his servants before coming to you to ensure you have undisturbed time. A hot shower washes grime and chalk dust off your skin; you indulge in his numerous scented soaps and shampoos. You take your time rinsing out your hair, and by the time you're robing and drying it off, it has retained its brilliant and fresh spun gold shine.
Sometimes, you feel as if you're a pampered lady living with your lord, but you ignore that feeling. It's nonsense, and though you might be vain about your hair, it's the only one thing in your appearance you're most proud of, so technically, you aren't being narcissistic. Much.
Silk robes from China are laid out for you to change into after drying up. It is mere late afternoon, not even into the evening yet, but you feel up to a catnap, and the bed sat there, tempting you into its folds. The room is cooled and comfortable; the satin sheer against your bare skin. Your automail is exposed, but it's nothing he has yet to see, and no one else here will be seeing it anyhow, so it's fine. The servants in this house are dependable, tight-lipped, and thorough; you trust them to care for you, simply because Roy trusts them, far enough to let them see this precarious blooming intimacy between the two of you, within the sealed and private walls of this house.
It's a good ten more minutes of a quiet half-doze until the door creaks open, and he comes in. He's divested himself of his coat and jacket, the vest coming unbuttoned and the tie loosened. You turn over and face him, the spread of your hair on the pillow a golden cascade.
"Far too early for sleeping, no?" he smiles, a slow, languid thing, and leans over, giving you a chaste kiss.
"Mm," you tug him closer. "The bed was incredibly inviting."
In silence you exchange a number of scorching, open-mouthed kisses, and though his lips barely stay on yours for more than ten seconds at a time, you are confident of the scars left behind by his searing heat. Almost entirely unbearable at times, this slow intimacy is quickly eating at your patience – and you haven't much to speak of from the beginning. You're running dangerously close to tipping point, and just one nudge –
His lips dip beneath your jaw, to the side of your neck, tongue flicking out to taste salt on skin. A shiver shoots down your spine.
Damn it, that's it.
You grab his shoulders, and with formidable strength hidden in your slighter frame, you turn him over. Straddle him, and take his face, your hands on either of his cheeks. The robe, sheer as it is, minutely slips off your shoulders, and the bottom rides up on your thighs. The palm of your steel hand must be cold on his skin, you reckon, but you pay it no heed. His high cheekbones are bestowed with your soft kisses, before you press your lips on his, open, an insistent and undeniable force of attraction.
It's almost unreal how much heat those twin pillows of flesh can generate – the heat itself as it surges forth brings with it a primal, bare need. His hands – both of them – reach up and slide into golden silk; the pads of his fingers rouse your awareness as they lovingly massage your scalp. And all the while, you're occupied with matched lips, sliding and slipping over the other, tongue snaking back and forth.
"I should have to visit the university more often if it entices you like this," he purrs, sotto voce. The very timbre of his voice crawls over your skin, seeping into your pores, digging into your flesh. Stays there, lodged in bone.
And you –
You're not going to be beaten like this.
In retaliation, you descend and take his lower lip in between yours, and suck, laving it with your tongue. He gives a rough little sound of pleasure, a half-groan almost – you've caught him off-guard, and he obviously liked it. And parries with you by sliding the hand that was tangled at your nape down your shoulder – the faintest rustle of fine silk, and the robe leaves you half-bare. His hand is large, slightly rough – warm against the cool air, a contrast of red and blue, vibrant on your skin.
Against his lips you moan an incoherent jumble of syllables, and he lets you go –
"—overdressed," you growl, your breathing heavy and your eyes bright. "You're overdressed."
Roughly you push open his vest, and this parts you momentarily from him as you divest him of his shirt as well – but the soonest he can he pulls you down, and you fall, a willing victim. Damp lips and wet tongue and hot breath press over your nerves, as he indulges himself in your taste. Your neck and shoulders soon litter with a litany of love, marks that will never leave your soul even if they fade from your flesh. Your skin tingles when his hair brushes against it, a diminutive feeling intensified tenfold against the canvas of your senses.
Your brain is wiped of all process of thought, as a carnal instinct took over. His essence, his spirit – it's what you breathe in, whenever you gasp for breath, and he gives you it. His left hand is slipping underneath the silk, up your thigh – your hands are preoccupied with his body, mapping, feeling them. Muscles flex and shift underneath your fingertips; your lips follow after them, eager to explore. In this very moment, you abandon caution, and wish for blindness in exchange for a deepening in sensation – you want to rely, on the heat and roughness and sweat – bring him closer to you, into you, all of him, everything –
And you've never quite felt anything as intense as this before, so when you part from him, painfully, and raise your head, your hair surely a halo of gold around your face – you look into his eyes, and try to see.
There's nothing there, nothing, but acceptance, and love.
It's safe, they say. I'll hold you close. You're safe with me – so fall.
No more words are needed. He reaches out to you, and you sink into him, a willing victim to his spiral.
You were separated from him after East, and for the longest while, your goal kept you preoccupied. Roaming Amestris in search for the Stone has its prices, and this separation is one of them, you know – but the knowledge does not dull the hurt one bit. And the hurt does not fester alone, for misery demands company. There alongside it sits a gale of confusion, whirling round and blurring reality into a mesh of convoluted colors.
All of this is entirely his fault – his fault that you suffer this ache, deep and profound, in your chest.
You can't truly comprehend it; it's its own kind, unique, extraordinary. You've never quite felt anything like it before. It's similar to what you feel for Al, just as strong and just as deep – but fundamentally, the substance is different. What you have with Winry fails to even come close; hers is dwarfed by the enormity of this – whatever this is – hers blots out into the whiteness as this thing for Roy consumes, brightly.
He's a constant hum in the back of your mind, but you never get to think of him properly anymore. Distractions are evil weeds, growing everywhere and refusing to let go. So you're left without wondering about him for a long while, which is probably good.
But when you're granted the respite, when time once more lands upon your palm and you close your fingers around it – you begin to think.
Of linen against skin. Of sweat against lips, and lips against tongue. Of tapered fingers through your hair, of callused hands stroking your thigh, of heat and swelling pressure –
You try to cease to think.
Really, it's a wasted effort. Puberty hits. And as if to make up for lost time, puberty hits hard. It refuses to leave you with your thoughts, in relative peace and lack of provoking images popping up at the most inopportune moments in your head. It insists upon you during the day, when you walk past crowds, and see a shadow of him in another man. And during the night, too, in your dreams – and before you dream – his smile, and his voice, and his scent.
Curse the mischief of nature; it has brought you naught but trouble.
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire; the other is to gain it.
The cold of frost on the tip of your nose, melting under his breath.
Your fingertips and his, against each other, warm.
Chocolate and coffee, café tables, books.
Distant memories of the same, at the edges of your consciousness.
His eyes, a midnight blue, shimmering underneath moonlit sky.
Your eyes, burning bright white, as pleasure sears up your spine.
Hands that are soft and warm against your nape when you fall asleep.
He cradles you, takes care of you, keeps you safe against the darkness, against the cold.
You do, too. Him.
The way he pulls your hair up in a tie, gentle and meticulous. As if you're the most precious thing in the world.
The way he holds his chin high, when he lets you meet his people, as if he's the luckiest man on earth.
The way your shoulders brush when you walk, side by side, on campus.
Alphonse, sidling up to you, all teasing and coy smiles.
Turtlenecks, and high collars.
Loose ties. Shoes, scattered. Shirts, torn.
Artful and delicate, the arch of your back, when he pushes into you, taking you, owning you.
The heat of his mouth, oh, the heat of his breath –
Fall approaching winter.
Leaves from their trees.
Scarves, and hot chocolate.
Fire, warmth, earth.
Peace of mind.
Peace of heart.
A voice in your dreams.
Wings, to set you free.
Clipped away, though – so you fall.
The city fast asleep, but the two of you far from. You sit on his lap as he sits on his sofa; you devour his lips, hands carding through his hair. His hands up and down your back, palming muscle and skin. By and by, your restraints fall – they don't amount to much these days. He's smug, and victorious – you've lost, but you've won. You're not disappointed, none in the least.
He is alluring, a drug, habit-forming, his own brand of laudanum. You – you're a hopeless victim, totally caught, and totally aware of it. No use in struggling – he's caught you, he won't let go.
Your shirt falls open, parted, curtains letting him a peek into sacred territory. Your scars to him are special, distinctive, characteristic of you and your volatility. He slips his hands in, unashamed – he knows his property well, though he never tires of it.
The lure of a new lover – you can never stop touching each other. A few hours of separation is hell on earth; it's a miracle your research is able to ground you at the university. By now, Boston society knows of your frequent "visits" to Roy's house – they all see what they want to see, assume that it is a blossoming friendship, a kinship over academia. And while this is truth, it is only a shred, and shreds oftentimes misleads.
But that's alright; no one needs to know. So long as the secret is kept safe, the two of you can continue this fugue, a delusion, a confabulation.
So long as the secret is safe.
– and when he slides into you, seating deep, just like that –
Your lips part in a silent cry, spine arching neatly off the bed – hips pushing against his, legs locking together around his waist, pulling him, coaxing him, closer –
He takes pleasure in prolonging the climb – a true believer of the slow reaction process – and while you can appreciate the precise nature of this science, you can't – you don't want to apply it in bed, where all you want is more, gods, please, more –
Heavy prickling settles on you, and you know he watches while you bask – in the heat, and the pressure, and the pleasure – riptides upon riptides of raw, tingling good –
Christmas – and your birthday, Elysia's birthday – is spent in blithe celebration, and despite the small gathering of three, you feel fulfillment, something you haven't had since you left Amestris. Memories of a similar celebration, all those years ago, when Gracia-san was pregnant, and Elysia was yet to be born – when Lieutenant Colonel Hughes was still alive and breathing and there: a pillar of his family, a good man who would die for his duty, did die for his duty…
This day was a day of life, but every day of life was tainted with blood and the stench of death. This is no exception.
You smile wistfully down at the cake Al has made, in the likeness of your mother's baking; your brother is acquiring a very interesting set of skills the longer you stay in this city. Roy looks duly impressed, and expresses his compliments to a mildly flustered Alphonse. A gentle, unguarded smile – the kind you rarely ever wear – is what you give your beloved brother in thanks, for everything that he has done for you; an apology, for everything he's had to endure.
He accepts it, and returns it, with a small smile of his own. Sincere and open, that's the way your brother has always been. That's the way he should stay. Though he might be grown now, your blood oath to protect him at the cost of your own life still stands. You've taken from him four precious years of his life – the least you can do, the very least, is to ensure he can compensate for them in full.
Al punctiliously sticks two candles into the cake, one a graceful pastel pink, and one an elegant gold.
"Two?" Roy voices. Of course; he wouldn't know.
"Today is also the birthday of one of our… well, close relatives, by all rights except blood," and Al gives that heartbreaker smile. He's got to be learning that from somewhere; Roy's not a good influence on him, either. "She's a darling girl – young lady now, no doubt. We like to celebrate hers as well even if we're not together."
"Mm, that was one hell of a night," you chuckle, dipping your finger into the frosting, and receiving a swat on the hand for it. You lick the frosting off, deliberately batting hooded eyes at Roy. The man's eyes darken, you note with pleasure – but you're forced to break eye contact when Al coughs into his hand. "We had to assist in Elysia's birth."
Roy's brows crawl to his hairline. "Assist in a birth?"
"It was the middle of December, and a blizzard was out," you shrug. "The doctor was being fetched, but the baby doesn't exactly wait until the doctor's there, so…"
"It was an educational experience," Al laughs quietly. "And very traumatizing."
"I'd reckon," Roy gave a cough.
"We didn't actually birth the baby, you know!" you huff as Al lights the candles; you watch them dance. Flames mesmerize you – this is no secret to both Al and Roy. The difference is that Al knows why, and Roy does not. "We just did what we could while we waited for the doctor. They say birthing is a natural process, after all."
Roy chuckles, brushing back your fringe. "I see. Well, let's not let the food wait. Make a wish and blow, Edward."
"A wish," you grin. "Any wish?"
"Any wish," he shrugs, then looks up to Al. "As far as I'm aware, there exists no boundaries."
They give you twin looks of expectancy.
You close your eyes, and wish.
Your wish is an impossible wish, but arguably, all wishes are impossible wishes, which is why they are called wishes in the first place. So you figure it doesn't matter.
You wish that this peace lasts.
You wish for a grounded center of mind and heart.
You wish for his safety, and your safety.
You wish for Al's future.
You wish for love, a small thing, a big thing, an all-encompassing magnificent thing.
You wish for truth. Blinding, scorching, painful truth.
You wish for your world, still, somewhere inside of you.
But most of all, you wish for this never-ending grace. You wish for this happiness in eternity. You wish for these feelings to last, for this comfort to keep, for this warmth to never fade away. You wish for the love to never fade away.
Your wish is an impossible wish, and this you know.
But Roy said any wish, and you believed him.
The heart is a foolish thing.
It gives too easily, this thing they call the heart.
It's a flimsy, frail little thing. Too arbitrary, too fickle. Unreliable, irreconcilable with logic and reason, the very foundations of your world.
After months of traveling, of endless skirmishes and fighting, of tailing people and chasing after something invisible – after lives and deaths, after entire armies of support and opposition, after souls and soullessness – you see him again –
– and your heart, the traitorous little bloody bastard, thuds deep in your chest.
You've been dreaming of him, still do dream of him, find him as delusions within wakefulness, webbing confabulations deep within your memories. Forming a network that is weighing you down. Weaving a web that sticks and stays, like glue, like gum. His voice is low, soft, warm. His eyes are sharp, and ever-watchful – his gaze heavy and intense, the flickering sway of a hunting predator hiding somewhere deep within them. He is as immaculate as ever, and you – you're as crass and disorganized as always.
The two of you are similar and yet not; you as a pair embody contradictions within contradictions.
And in the impressive likeness of polar charges, the two of you attract.
Attract and fall together, violently so.
You arrived in Central with a mission, but you find himself instead in front of his house. Your feet, they carry you forward to the door, and your hands act of their own accord. Before you can even think anything of it, you've already knocked, and from inside there is sound of movement.
The door opens a crack, and through the strip of light you can see Roy's gloved hand poised to strike – but he immediately lowers on sight of you. He shouldn't, you think; Envy is out there, somewhere, and he might be you. But he's not, not tonight, so you let it go.
"Fullmetal," he opens his door. At the look of distaste on your face, perhaps, he changes his tone. "Edward," he says gently. "It's late. What are you doing still out? You should rest."
Standing there, you look at him. Examine the sweep of his brow, the slope of his nose, the stern line of his jaw. Eastern beauty, no doubt – you're intrigued, because you know next to nothing of his past. And you find you want to know. Him, his likes, dislikes, his habits, inclinations, his person, his life, his past, his present, his future.
You want to know if you are in his future. Can be in his future.
"Do me a favor," you begin, eyes intense, "and don't talk at all tonight."
You reach up – damn that height – and draw him down into a kiss.
He stumbles backward – you kick the door shut – the lock clicks into place – he keeps moving backward. Into the house you go, a house of understated luxury and maximum comfort. His legs hit the side of the couch, and he collapses into it heavily – you follow by shirking out of your cloak and settling your knees on either of his sides.
Peppering him with quick and scorching – almost desperate – kisses, you try to communicate this befuddling conundrum in your head. Hoping he, who knows of this more than you do, will know what to do. Will guide you towards the right direction, as he's always done in the past.
"Edward – " a kiss, "Edward, we should – "
"Don't talk," you hush him with a finger, and unbutton his shirt.
He tries, tries to push against you, but when your lips and tongue, tyro as they are, land on the column of his neck, drag down the center of his chest, his breath hitches, and underneath your lips, you feel his heartbeat quicken. You know a victory when you see one.
Circled securely in warm arms, he takes you to the floor, pins you against flush carpet, by the crackling hearth, the only source of light in the darkness. The flames burst and dance as he looks down on you, him, who is your pillar of support – gently, achingly so, he pushes back your fringe, places a kiss on your temple. On your eyelids, your cheekbones, your nose, your mouth. He claims your mouth, plunders and owns, curling his fingers around the nape of your neck, tangling with the braid, arching you up and closer, up and closer –
And it's all you can do to hold on, hook a leg around one of his, curl your arms around his torso, cling to his fresh shirt. Your automail fingers must be hurting him – through the fabric they dig into his skin – but he pays it no mind, when he tugs his jacket off you, lift you so he can strip the shirt away and reveal all of you. He mouths the scars, of battle and loss and life, reverent and understanding – and this is alright, showing him is alright, because when you look at him, he's not flawless either, and in some odd collage, your scars match.
You give him a lazy grin when he undoes your braid, and pulls you up on his lap again. He sits back and offers you more freedom of movement. This dance is a dance for two, his eyes tell you, and I can't do it alone.
You fall together, into each other, and although the coupling is messy and uncomfortable at first – although it brings its own dash of pain, you don't shy away. You've had worse, and this – this is something you want to give to him. He promises you drowning pleasure – and when has he ever broken a promise?
All too soon, toe-curling, bone-crunching pleasure assaults you as he shifts angles – your fingers scrabble at his back, leaving monuments to your sheer desperation – closer, harder, more –
Sensation is paramount, and if this – this magnificent thing – isn't life, then you –
The following day is the day when you give yourself in exchange for your brother, and forever remove yourself from his love's reach.
Love is a word so small
A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road.
All too fast time flies, and the New Year has come and gone. As solitary and intimate an affair as Christmas was, you did nothing but while your vacation time away at Roy's house. These days it is Al who visits you, since you rarely ever come home anymore. It's almost a year since you met, on that gray March day – things have changed so drastically, you can hardly ever recognize yourself in the mirror anymore. Who is this standing in front of you, a confident scholar, a secure young man? Your eyes are bright and alive, Al has remarked, no longer the dull gold they were when you first set them on this city.
February is fast approaching, and Boston winter is showing signs of thaw. You are glad for this; you generally dislike extreme weather – hot or cold – for the ache it brings your shrinking and expanding metal automail ports. Transmuting their composition was, after all, an excellent idea – the new material changes less under temperature changes, reducing the ache you feel during the seasons.
"Here, love," a whisper from behind him comes, and a steaming mug of hot chocolate is set in front of him. Roy takes him from behind, into solid arms, and nuzzles into his freshly washed hair. "Keep warm. I don't want you sick."
"You should keep warm yourself, you know." Idly, you stir the chocolate. Roy has some secret recipe for it; you've to steal it sometime, ingeniously delicious as it is. "You're the spoiled brat here."
"I am not spoiled," he sniffs with delicate disdain, though his inflection is soft and affectionate. What people would deem insults now become endearments between the two of you. He's your bastard, and you're his little darling genius. A fine and proper equivalent exchange. (You love him so much you even let the 'little' part of that pass.)
"Of course you're not," you give your comforting assent. You pat his hands where they clasp around your waist, possessive and territorial. He's slipped behind you into the couch, cradling you against his body. The warmth is lulling, disarming. Roy.
A moment of comfortable silence.
He drinks from your mug of chocolate, though it's your hand holding it. Then, out of the blue, he asks, "Would you like to go to New York with me?"
You turn to him, and clarify, "You're going to New York."
"A trip intended solely for business," he nods, fiddling with your hand where the fingers intertwine with his, in a complex web of something they were both wary to name. "A week."
"Well, I wouldn't want to get in the way of your work," you hedge.
He chuckles, obviously having expected that. "You won't. You can look around at their public libraries and institutions – they'll surely let you in if you let slip your occupation." Captivated as usual, he tangles his fingers in your hair's cascade of silken gold. "Meanwhile, I shall do some business work. And then afterwards – "
"Oh, here comes the catch – don't tell me it's another function, please."
"Afterwards," he smirks, "we can attend a musical performance by Gershwin."
"Gershwin," you echo. "Oh, isn't he one of your favorites?"
Roy nods, an expectant look on his face. Something tugs at you, and curse them fickle heartstrings, you're very close to giving in. He knows it, from the way he softens his eyes like that. He only does that when he's asking something of you, after all. The bastard, no matter which dimension or universe it is, would always remain a devious and manipulative snake. "I just want to be with you, that's all. Would you humor my wish?"
And, by well-established routine, he follows it up with eyes that catch you completely off-guard, in their sheer sincerity and openness. How could someone bare themselves like that and not fear the hurt?
You sigh. "Oh, fine, fine. One week in New York it is, then."
It is just dreadfully horrendous how often you fall for this sleight of hand; he has to have used it on you more than fifty times by now and you still have yet to pull free of its grasps. (Well, at least now you can anticipate it. There is progress, never mind how minimal.)
But truly, when he smiles at you like that, says thank you like that, all else is erased from your consciousness. Love is all-consuming, blinding, felling.
You fail to care for anything else.
The train moves southward with a certainty you can only hope to emulate. You had a choice to back out of this, but your weakling little heart refused to let you; now you suffer in silence, urging the transport to go faster if only to get out of this stifling car.
On your lap sits a book on quantum physics theory; your eyes, however, are averted and far away from the words' grasp. The frost and snow beyond the window – turning thinner and frailer the further you move south – is bleak and pure, so utterly simple it was almost painful. If only your life could have been like them, you ponder. If only…
But would I have met Roy?
"Edward," Roy reenters the private compartment.
You look up at the man, disgruntlement showing through your normally shrouded expression. This is Roy, though; there would be no point in hiding.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes, taking your hand and placing soft, placating kisses on them. "I hadn't expected them to be on the same transit, on the same day. I'm sorry."
Giving a sigh, you wave it off. "It's not your fault," you tell him in a subdued voice even you yourself find odd. Your instinct, you realize, is warning you of something. As if by default, your eyes rove around the compartment, and outside the window, and out the door window. You see no signs of danger so far; by reflex, though, your senses are kept on high alert. "I just feel antsy, somehow."
"Sorry," he murmurs again, clasping your left hand in his as you close your book.
You lean against him, and spend the rest of the train ride that way. Thought of his business partners on the same train never crosses you again, though the unsettled tingling remained there.
The curve of his chin against pressed blue military uniform, immaculate and stern, the makings of a heartbreaker, the visage of a born and destined leader.
Your coat, brilliant red against your pale hair and skin, a trademark of your identity, the bookmark for your rebellion.
His eyes, deep and always unfathomable, but dancing with an amused fire, behind a sheer and thin shroud of something you can't name.
Your arm, an arm of sadness, of love, of loyalty in blood. An arm of oath, of weakness, of power, of strength. Of wisdom you can never be proud of, of a legacy you can never accept.
His gloves of spitfire, weapons of a murderer, in the hands of someone who is not one. You liked them.
Your blade, sometimes there, sometimes not. Appearing and disappearing upon command of alchemy, it protects you, defends you.
The crackle of red alchemy, passion and fury, a torrent of power, unstoppable and legendary. It was always dependable, a pillar for his subordinates, a beacon of hope. One flicker of candlelight for a country steeped in darkness.
The crackle of blue alchemy, electric fire, a whirlwind of possibility, limitless and the epitome of genius. You were the one who broke the rules of nature, and lived to tell the tale afterwards. Where he was the guiding light, you were the pushing hope.
And then the blood, on your hands, on the basement floor, over the chalked array, on the collar of the armor. Blood of you, and of your brother – both you spilled, and paid for. Blood you fight for. Blood you covet.
Blood on his hand, as well, for the lives he's taken, under discretion of an uncaring government. Of the people he's incinerated into ash, even those he incinerated with his specialized technique of hydrogen and oxygen – clean burning, no residue.
But blood is there, always there. Indelible, ever-present, a stain, a glory. A fear, a falling, a love.
The partings. Your father, your mother, Al –
The partings you promised you would never inflict on anybody.
The parting you inflicted on him.
New York imprints itself into your mind clearly as you step out of the black car, and into the Mustang townhouse's driveway. Far bigger and grander than the one in Boston, an obvious statement of wealth, power, and influence. You shake your head, eyeing the entire street, the imposing houses lining it front by side. The upstate neighborhood, the grandest house on the street, and the most expensive car on the market: a person would have to be blind to lose the message.
"You Mustangs never do anything by halves, do you?" you quip drily, ignoring the servants who bowed as they passed by.
"You should know," he drawls, giving you a look so sultry it shouldn't be legal. "You have a Mustang all to yourself, don't you?"
Deciding to swallow the bait, you lower your lashes and smolder your eyes in just the right way you know makes him want to take you to bed. "Mm. And here I was hoping you still had more in store – but if that's all you really have…"
"Are you, perchance, issuing a challenge, Mr. Elric?" he raised a brow.
A wide, feline smile crosses your lips. "Am I, Mr. Mustang?" you purr. "I'm not quite sure; but perhaps, you could clarify for me…?"
Roy never does need telling twice; perhaps a good habit ingrained from childhood, while being trained as a business tycoon. He pounces upon the blatant invitation, and such is how you spend your first evening, greeting New York and the newly made bed with breathless gasps and moans of the utmost pleasure known to mankind.
The public libraries are extensive and respectable, though not as much as Boston's own. You'd been right, after all, by choosing Boston as your home ground. Washington is the political capital, New York the business capital – however, you are for neither, and Boston suit your needs best, being the nation's center for education. Ultimately, it is Harvard leading the country's innovative force – exactly the kind of place you'd want to be.
Columbia University's collection does manage to impress you; however, Columbia is an Ivy, and you rather expected that. To be put on the same pedestal as the university you work for – well, they have to have quite demanding standards. You gain a small group of onlookers when you enter the public section of their library, but resolutely you turn away from such distractions and instead immerse yourself in reading.
Hours and hours you spend in their libraries, taking attentive notes and recording whatever new information you managed to come across. Some of their books are rare, but they probably are in Harvard as well; you just haven't searched yet. You really should, instead of imposing yourself on a competitor university like this.
When the time comes to leave, the librarian comes to rouse you from your reading stupor – but she makes the mistake of tapping you on the shoulder. Reflexively you grab her hand and squeeze, making her yelp in pain. Immediately, you let go, and apologize – you're still rather antsy from the train ride, and you're starting to miss Roy.
Returning the books to her possession, you take your notes, stuff them in your bag, and make towards the door. Your steps quicken when you are reminded of Roy's promise of dinner at the townhouse – it would be too late to have dinner outside at some fancy restaurant, but you're quite sure there will be other days for that.
After all, right now, you have all the time in the world.
Or so you think.
You return to an empty house, a stone-faced butler greeting you with a low bow. You give a minute frown; he thinks you don't notice, but he gives you – you and Roy – looks whenever you're together, looks that would fit perfectly on a bigot's face. He disapproves of your relationship – and seeing his effort to hide it is worse than watching an elephant duck behind a tree.
"Would you like some tea, Mr. Elric?" he asks you.
"No, thank you." If only to avoid plausible poisoning – your honed caution rings its warning bells.
Instead, you bypass him and head for the study, seeking his special mix of hot chocolate and a comfortable chair to sit in while reading. You never notice when you fall asleep, waiting for your heart's return.
You only wake the following morning in bed, cocooned in fur blankets, luxurious pillows, and the winter cold. Your vest is off, and so are your shoes and socks. Your loose hair brushes against your cheek, sleek and silky. In midmorning sunlight, you blink, bleary.
He's already left, of course.
And tomorrow, the same thing.
New York grows less friendly by the minute.
They say company enhances a place's beauty, and you never really understood it, until now. Because when you were children, you knew nothing but Risembool's rolling hills and beautiful plains – and back then, you had your brother with you, and your mother too, and she's never been taken away from you. Loneliness is a concept far beyond your grasp.
When you were traveling, you were far too preoccupied with clearing your tail, or making sure you're not cleared from your target's tail. Far too busy dodging bullets and soulless monsters, far too caught within a web of deception so firmly lodged it took your life to end it. Time to appreciate Lior's beauty was something you could not afford, not when it was erupting into a massacre before your eyes. And before you were returned to luxury to do such things, you were robbed from that place, clipped so painfully it threw you completely out of your solid axis.
Now, though –
Now, you long for a presence, the presence of the one you love.
And it's painful when you wake in the morning – the fourth morning, to find that yet again, he's not there.
Your only consolation lies within a small slip of paper he left for you, on the bedside table and tucked underneath a covered mug of piping hot chocolate.
Il Mulino's at twelve-thirty.
The chauffeur has been instructed to take you from the house.
Sorry for making you wait up again last night.
When you make your way to the table, he already sits there, perusing the menu with the intensity of a well-learned gourmet. It is but a humble place; however, the atmosphere is intimate and cozy, a trademark of Roy's choice. Privacy, for him, is just as much a priority as good food – you would have had the same standards, had you been the one choosing the place.
"They have good ravioli," he smiles as you seat yourself. Behind you a waiter comes and bows, bringing you expertly brewed Italian coffee.
"So long as you're paying, of course."
There are only a handful of customers, so the service is relaxed. You stay in your jacket until the coffee has warmed you up; by that time, the appetizers are arriving, and you're much eager to dig in. He seems to have other plans, however, because the moment the waiter leaves you be behind your secluded corner, he takes your hand and places a soft, almost hesitant kiss upon it.
"I'm sorry," and his eyes, so earnest, shine a vibrant blue. They're more precious than a million sapphires. "I've been busy. And I've been ignoring you."
Though you don't remove your hand from his grasp, you raise a brow and give a small mock frown. Your voice is soft, quiet, gentle. "At this rate, I'm going to begin suspecting another relationship behind my back, Mustang."
A moment of silence.
His jaw tenses, his eyes darken. The grip he has on your hand very slowly tightens, as the world peters out around you and all that's left is he. In the intensity of that gaze, you're lost – whatever has triggered such a deep reaction, you don't know.
And then the moment is over – "I'm sorry," he says. Another kiss on the back of your hand, with his eyes closed now, reverent. "I'm sorry; I'll try and make more time."
Pursing your lips, you decide to repeat, "This is a bad idea, Roy."
His hand jerks against yours. You take it, soothe it.
"I don't want to get in the way of your work," you frown. You lace your fingers with his, a web of confusion in dappled daylight streaming through the window. "You've enough on your hands as it is; I shouldn't have come with you here."
"Don't say that, Edward," he shakes his head – the fall of his hair, it mesmerizes you. If he keeps with that, you know you're going to end up forcing him to bed tonight. "You're not in the way. It's just incredibly busy during this season."
"Exactly," you chuckle. And, after a moment's hesitation in wonder if this is too much in public, you lean over and place a kiss on his cheek. "Anyway, just make sure you're getting yourself enough food and rest. It can't be good for you to overwork yourself like this." Then you add with a coy smile, "You'd be too tired for bed at this rate."
He rewards you with a quiet but genuine little laugh. "With you? I don't think so."
You find yourself laughing with him – it doesn't matter what you sacrifice for him, so long as he's happy, and healthy, alive.
So you suffer a day more of loneliness, and another, until it's Saturday night, and finally he's free. A scorching night of passion, and then a sleepy Sunday morning, then a languid afternoon – until it's time for the Gershwin performance, and he takes you to where you're supposed to go.
Nighttime New York is dashing, but that's probably because he's taking you to the right places. The theatre is packed by the time it starts, and the music – Rhapsody in Blue, if you're not mistaken – begins. Jazz – it sounds like jazz, with touches of classical elements. At some point, the rhythm and the brass almost sound like the call of the military in war – but then it dissolves into a happy tune. An innovative collision of old and new, very appropriate for the times. You know now that this tune will be characteristic of the age, popular and never quite forgotten.
The piano – well, it's pretty good, but in your not-so-humble opinion, Roy is still much better. You take note to tell him of this much later, after the show has ended.
You've never really taken time to appreciate music before, and you've never been well-educated in it, given you were six feet under alchemy during your childhood – but as Roy's said, it's never too late to start. You know good music when you hear it, and this right here is good music.
Him holding your hand at your side only made it all the sweeter.
"I still say you're much better than that pianist," you hotly declare, tempted to stomp your foot.
He has been discrediting himself against that Gershwin person for the last hour or two through dinner, and it's beginning to grate on your nerves. For one, it isn't like him to be so humble; you've grown quite accustomed – and yes, reluctant as you are to admit it, fond of his overly inflated ego. It unsettles you, this uncharacteristic humility. Perhaps because you're more and more reminded of the difference between this Roy and Amestris' Roy.
(…but such thoughts only serve to depress happy evenings, so you shy away from it.)
For another, the way he puts this Gershwin person on so high a pedestal that even he himself, the great Roy Mustang, is beneath it – you don't like it, because only you are supposed to top him.
He just laughs at your adamant denial of it, though. The bastard.
The car turns into the driveway of the house; it's well past the respectable hours of the night. You spent quite a bit of time staring at each other over rich French cuisine and champagne. He's done his part in getting you substantially warm, and if a little bit tipsy – yet again. So you don't immediately notice the lights on when you step out from the car – only that he holds you back before you can walk in.
"Ah, Roy, darling!"
Both your eyes snap – and you, by reflex, tense for action – towards the front door, flung open by a stately lady with Roy's hair and skin. His mother, your still slightly fuzzy brain notes. His mother is here, which should mean –
"We were told you would be out late tonight with a friend, so we waited." His father is here as well – a tall man, imposing, almost regal. His eyes are Roy's eyes, only lighter, and his cheekbones are the defined ones you so love. There is no mistaking the resemblance – this is what Roy would be like in a few decades.
Not half bad.
(Blame the alcohol.)
"Mother, father," Roy says. You turn to him, not knowing what to do. He's told you of his tenuous relationship with his parents; you wisely decide against the first move, and let him handle the moment. He seems tense, though, his lips struggling not to turn into a frown, not when his mother stands right beside him. "I was under the impression that there was business in Philadephia?"
"Why, you don't sound too eager to see your mother and father," the stately lady says. She pats his arm, the one she's holding. You itch to detach her fingers; that's how territorial you've become. "Your father has managed to get some free time for us, and we got news of your visit here – we rarely ever see you these days, our proud son, now a fine man."
She seems absorbed in her admiration of her son, so you remain at your post, itching to shuffle your feet and step back, but suppressing it. It's only after the father – Georg Mustang, if your memory isn't failing you – clears his throat that she detaches herself. Perhaps it's from her that Roy inherited his tendency to cling in bed. The father certainly doesn't look like it.
"Let's not be impolite, Clarisse," Georg says to his wife, eyes softening if a fraction only. "You are alienating our guest."
She starts, and turns; only now realizing your presence. "Oh, forgive me –"
"No, ma'am, it's quite alright," your eyes flicker to Roy's face. He's still as stone. "I understand."
She smiles at you, a gentle thing, but with a hidden sharpness underneath. "You must be Roy's friend. I am very pleased to meet you, Mr…?"
"Edward Elric, ma'am, and the pleasure is mine." The politeness spills from your lips, like water from a fountain – Boston has trained you well. You give your own version of the charmer smile, copied and well-practiced from Roy. "Roy is very fortunate to have such a radiant mother as yourself."
Her smile widens, and a flush climbs to her cheek – that smile works wonders, especially on Mustangs. "My, what a charming young man." She then begins to usher all of you back in. "Well, let's not tarry out here in the cold – introductions are best made over tea, no? I do hope you like pastries, Edward – may I call you Edward? – we have a good one from the best patisserie in Philadelphia, a treat for all time."
You merely nod as you make your way towards the downstairs drawing room, where a hearty fire was lit. It was almost suffocating in its warmth, with you in your vest and jacket.
Georg merely looks fondly upon his wife's fussing – "You've managed to charm my wife with the fewest words, Mr. Elric. You shall have to tell me the secret technique."
You're surprised you still have the nerve to give a roguish grin – you're rather disoriented, to tell the truth – but before you could answer, Roy steps in: "Professor. Edward is a prized professor of chemical and physical science at Harvard, father."
"Truly?" Clarisse exclaims. "An impressive achievement at such age! Why, you must be what they call a prodigy – unless of course Harvard's standards have gone down, which I highly doubt so, being a graduate of the university as well."
"Not so much of pedigree, but of hard work, ma'am," you softly reply.
Georg nods approvingly as you and Roy make to sit around the room. "It seems Roy has found fine company in Boston." You pat yourself on the back; oftentimes, deep insight hooks the great men more than niceties and charms. "I admit I was rather worried what kind of friend he was taking out to dinner, but it seems my doubts were unfounded."
"Now, darling, Roy wouldn't do such things," Clarisse lightly scolds – you inwardly scoff. He so would. "He's engaged. He knows better than dabbling in irresponsibility."
Your eyes – dawning in realization, they turn to Roy, by pure impulse. You aren't a prodigy for nothing, and reason is a solid spear as it strikes through confusion of emotion. You might be showing too much, too open an expression of surprise – but –
"Ah! Speaking of whom," his mother rises back up to her feet, "Lilian should be – ah, here she is, the young lady."
"Mother, father," the girl greets softly. No older than you, fair-skinned, with long dark hair, auburn. Amber eyes. They linger on Roy, and then rest upon you. "Oh, forgive me – I wasn't aware we had a guest – I was simply curious –"
"No, no, it's quite alright, dear," Clarisse hushes her. She then motions to Roy, who, as if automated, stiffly comes forth. "Now, Roy. It's your duty to introduce your fiancée to our most wonderful guest."
Silence, a heartbeat.
Roy is quiet for a moment, gazing upon the girl – Lilian – but with eyes unseeing. You wish – desperately wish for a denial, but –
He turns to you, face stony and blank. His voice is subdued, though his words never waver.
"Meet my fiancée, Miss Lilian Vanderbilt."
And the world – the cold, draining realization of truth – crashes down upon your head – for your wish has come true, but whatever deity watches over you has chosen the wrong one.
You do not want this truth.
And love is not a thing that fades away. It goes quietly or it goes up in flames.
There existed, before all of this:
Loneliness, in this cold and unforgiving world, where faces are familiar, but not souls.
Anger – why is it always you who suffers such things?
Desperation, for if there is a way in, then there must be a way out –
Despair. You can't fool facts.
But at least, in your solitary world where you were alone, with each fall and stumble, you were accountable. Each a self-inflicted injury, the suffering is less.
But at least, with the anger, you had energy, drawn from yourself, reliant on no one else, independent, free.
But at least, in your desperation, in you was focus sharper than the edge of the sharpest blade –
And at least, in your despair, everything was already torn away, so you're sure that there can no longer be a worse.
There existed, before all this:
Love that was your mother, precious for all time, her soul a shimmering beacon, her heart divine.
Love that was your brother, whole in body and soul, untainted and unbound, free to run towards his destiny.
Love that was yourself, with an arm and a leg, happy – unchained – free to love.
There exists now, after all of this:
She was a beautiful thing, lovely face and a lovely voice. She was smart, she knew her studies, though she was partial to the liberal arts. She knew when to open her mouth, what to say and how to say them. She knew society, knew the ways of the world, knew how to find her way within a crowd of people, work her way through their hearts, steal their affections, a perfect socialite.
A perfect match for Roy Mustang.
Facts are stubborn things; you cannot deny Clarisse's words.
Roy does not speak to you. You do not speak to him.
At least, you do not speak to each other within the context of anything personal. Georg and Clarisse keep you up for an hour more, before they let you off and you go to bed.
A different bed, not his bed. It's a cold bed, sparse compared to his luxury. You want the furs back, the silk and the downy pillows – but most of all, you want his warmth back. But you can't, not now, not when he's –
To be married off, to a Vanderbilt, a very prestigious family. Rich and privileged, indeed the perfect match for Roy. Not only would it bolster their name and status, it would also help the business as well. In fact, you wouldn't be surprised if this marriage had been arranged when they were children, to ensure the maintenance of a good lineage and the keeping of the money in the family.
Why has he never told you, then? Why has he gone behind your back? The entirety of eleven months – was it all a lie? Every word, every touch, every look – was it all only you?
Was it all only you?
You were a fool for believing in this.
You were a fool for succumbing to your heart.
You were a lonely, desperate, hopeless little fool. Nothing more.
The train moves northward with a certainty you can only hope to emulate. The journey home is a quiet one, devoid of conversation. You know not what to say, and you aren't up to sparking an exchange. He seems disinclined as well – you don't know why. Refusing to look at his face is a part of your defense against the heartache gnawing at your chest.
You said goodbye to his parents with a smile on your face, and they suspected nothing of the wistfulness about it, because people only see what they want to see, and they obviously were thinking you will be missing them. Which you will, no doubt – Clarisse is kind, and Georg is a good man, though proud. The girl – you can't say much about her, given you hadn't had the opportunity to get to know her.
One thing you know, though: she and Roy would make beautiful children.
And who are you to rob the world of them?
Sudden warmth – in your hand – startles you, and you jolt in tired surprise. He grips your hand, but you keep your eyes looking out the window, at the continuously thawing frost. Soon, it's March, and it'll be a year.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm sorry."
By reflex, your hand tightens around his, and you wake up in Boston leaning against his shoulder, with tears in your eyes.
On that last night – that night of goodbyes – you lay on the floor with him, basking in his warmth. The fire now is mere embers, glowing in the dark. Somewhere outside, a dog is barking; somewhere outside, a lamplight glows. Casting half-rays through the living room window, illuminating strips of his bare skin to your eyes.
You trail them with kisses, gentle and fleeting. As fleeting as this bond, this relationship you're forging. You're finally beginning to learn how life works. Meetings, bonds, feelings, they all pass. Even memories, they pass. What is constant is the self, and the knowledge that something was there. Something was there, and no one can deny it – because reality is only what you make of it, you and no one else.
On that last night – that night of goodbyes – he lays with you, quiet in contemplation. His fingers are idle against your skin, hand curling around your hipbone. The two of you are bare and naked, stripped to the core. This is you, this is him; no masks, no pretenses, just you and him. Your fingers splay against chest; his hand takes them and brings them to his mouth. Presses kisses against them, one by one.
In an intrinsic level, he probably understood that too. And yet he held you close, unafraid of the hurt that was sure to come. It's better to have had something, than to have had nothing at all – forever left wondering of what could have been, if only. Someday, this between you would be taken away too. But at least, you had it, though short-lived and much unexplored. At least you had it.
On that last night – that night of goodbyes – you exchange simple words, through touches, and glances, and kisses, and warmth. And he did not have to say them aloud, but he did, and it heartens you, it truly does.
"I love you," he said into the darkness, and you loved him for it.
He takes you home, the car ride silent. When you get there, Al is waiting – but the moment he sees your face, he freezes on step. The smile on his face disappears with you as you slip up the staircase, silent as a ghost, towards your room. The last thing you see is your brother facing Roy, fire in his eyes – he will dole out the harshness for you, because right now, you just don't have anything else to give.
Later – much later, in the dark, though you are unsure how much time has passed – silent padding comes up the stairs, your door opens with a creak. Your eyes are open, but shuttered – you don't see.
But you feel.
You feel arms, familiar and steady arms, surround you in a wordless hug. You feel his cheek – your brother's cheek – against your temple, a cold comfort. And there's wetness – he's already crying for you, even before you cry. He always cries first, because he knows that you won't shed the tears – you refuse to shed the tears.
You have to be strong.
"You need to learn integrity, Edward. You need to be strong on your own."
And even now, when you're hurting because of him – even when you're hurting because of him, he's the one who supports you, who guides you through, as if like old times, when you were still on the palm of his hand, safe and untouchable by anyone who dared. But he's no longer here – no longer holds your hand –
"I've to be strong," you whisper into the night, as Al gathers you in his arms, rocks you to an inaudible lullaby. "I've to be strong."
His shoulders shake with unbidden sobs, and his tears are warm as they drip onto your skin, into your hair.
"I've to be strong," you say again to yourself, and to him, "for the both of us."
"No," and Al's arms tighten around you. His voice is rough, unusually so, and his fingers tremble – you feel their cold through the fabric of your shirt. "No, brother, it's al –" his voice cracks, "It's alright. This time – this time, let me be strong, brother. This time, I'll take care of you."
Your vision – what you have of it in this brackish gradient of black – begins to blur.
"It's alright, brother, I'm here," he says, and you can feel his smile – a painful, painful smile – against your forehead. "No one else sees us. You can cry."
And you do.
Crying is far too light a word to describe what you did – you broke down and wept that night, into your brother's arms, staining his shirt, borrowing his shoulder. You wept for a love that was lost, for a possibility that was slashed, for a future that has now disappeared. Blotted out by the light – by the brightest sort of blinding light, truth.
You wept, because once more, you were robbed of happiness. You wept, because you were robbed of life. Of his warmth, of his smile, of his hands and his arms and his lips – and his bed, his house, his cars, his coffee – his company, his conversation, his music, his laughter –
– and all you would get to keep of him are memories, the one year of memories you made together, flimsy and fleeting things you can never really rely on. They are mere and inaccurate shadows of what once was, but can never be again, because in the likeness of an ever-flowing river, no two moments in life are exactly alike.
Where is the justice, you ask, in this disparity of favor? Why is truth so ruthless to you, even all these years? Whatever have you done to incur its disfavor on you? Was your arm and leg not enough? A Philosopher's Stone as well, countless souls compressed into a vile concoction of energy? Were all those things so invaluable that you had to be robbed of your heart as well?
Despair settles upon your empty shell of a heart, as a butterfly would flutter upon a flower. It does not leave you gentle, leaving its thumbprints on your soul.
The following morning, you wake in Al's arms. He strokes your loose hair, much like the way your mother would when you were little. She was fond of the flaxen color, reminding her of your father. The very reason you grew it out was for her favor, though she never really got to see it.
"Brother, good morning," he whispers, as if afraid to break the silence. Outside, the sun is ridiculously happy, bearing down on the earth full blast with a smile. The last thaw is near. "How do you feel?" he stops stroking. "Headache?"
You shake your head. "Hungry." Your voice rasps, not a wonder with what all the crying you've done.
"Alright." When he smiles, you can't help but give a small smile back. Your brother is precious, and he deserves to be happy; you aren't being much of a big brother if you're giving him all this grief. You need to be strong. "I'll get you breakfast, then. Go shower; you'll feel refreshed."
Faintly, you nod, and he rises from the bed. Both of you slept in full clothing, but although it feels a tad stuffy, it's not much of a discomfort still. The frost still lingers at the edges, and the extra layers helped.
He stops at the door, and turns back to you as you sit up.
You look up at him; he looks down at you.
He walks out the door.
Grief, its shadow in the room
Does not move with the sun
Does not become dusk
As dusk begins to fall.
Days are spent in a haze, inside the house, trapped within four walls. You immerse in books, in fiction and the like, in worlds and adventures far away from reality. They are easier to believe, easier on your heart – they do not sting, or scar, like the love that you so coveted, but shattered before your very eyes.
Shards of it are still lodged in your flesh, and it almost hurts physically to move around – despair weighs on your limbs, heavy, immovable. You remember feeling this way, after you'd failed your brother. After your mother had become that thing that was not human. After you were robbed of the comfort of your world, after you were thrown into the brunt of reality and truth.
You never really got the hang of it, this entire affair with grief. It robs you of peace of mind, but at the same time it enhances your thought – as if it wants you to think, to wallow, to sink. When a poet says, 'I need no light, for I see better in the dark,' she echoes a truth only known through experience. Darkness, despair, the loss of light, and misdirection – it allows you to see the reason behind emotion, the reason that you should have listened to all along.
And that makes it hurt even more, because not only does it make you heartbroken, it makes you a heartbroken fool. Which you are, no doubt about that.
You cease to go to the university; Alphonse has told them you are taking a sabbatical this semester. You abide by his excuses by dutifully staying inside the house – you aren't fit for much outside work anyway, not directly after an emotional breakdown.
The longer you stay inside and keep things unresolved, though, the more you scare Al. This detached yet knife-sharp reason you possess unsettles him profoundly as well. He's afraid for you, afraid for your stability. He has good reason for it, for both of you have lost a lot – a person can only lose so much and still live.
But what do you do now? Where do you go from here? How do you stand up again, after having beaten into the ground so hard? You were up there, way too high, and when you came down crashing, you came down hard. It's not easy to get up after such a fall.
And whenever you think of this fall, in an effort to try and figure out a way to get up from it, all you can think of – all you can see – are his eyes. His brilliant, dancing eyes. Enchanting in their dark depths, holding you captive. Still holding you captive. And his smile, his touch, his fingers in your hair –
You lie back in your bed, and drown in his essence, in your memories, of him.
And you dream.
Because, once upon a time, there existed a child who knew nothing but fields of freedom and the wind that carried happiness. Once upon a time, there was a child who had a father, and a mother, and a brother, a family whole. Once upon a time, there was peace, stability, the lack of wars and conspiracy. Once upon a time, there was no alchemy – there was no need for alchemy – it was just you and your mother and your brother, all together.
You see your mother's face, but it fades into the light – followed by your brother, you can't reach his hand, no, don't take him away – blood, blood, bloodbloodblood–
Light. A voice. Warmth. Cold.
Blood. Emptiness. An armor. A soul.
Metal, against your flesh, with your flesh, moving and fluid.
Your hands, they meet in a circle, that first time when you performed your alchemy in front of their eyes – your hands, a snake, meeting each other, eating its tail, one becomes all, and all becomes one –
You wake in an epiphany.
What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
Your eyes remain closed, but your lips part open, and in utmost love and respect, you say:
"Thank you, teacher."
When Al comes down and goes into the kitchen, he finds you preparing breakfast, in a new shirt and a new pair of pants. He stops at the entryway, in shock perhaps, or confusion.
"Brother – "
"Hey," you say, voice soft, lips in a gentle smile. You lay out the eggs on the table. "Good morning."
"…good morning," he mutters, a hesitant smile also pulling at his lips. "I – you – are you – ?"
Busying yourself with breakfast and bustling about in the kitchen earns you a few more minutes of silence. Al makes coffee while you finish the sausages and toast – and then you're seated at the table, where you have your small share of breakfast.
"I think," you begin, and immediately his eyes are on you, "I need to talk to him."
He keeps quiet.
"I need to talk to him, and put a proper end to this." You fork a piece of sausage into your mouth – it's only now that you realize this clawing hunger deep in your belly; you can't even remember the last time you ate a real meal. The morning is quiet, gray. The sun is bright, the sky, clouded.
Al wears a small frown. "Are you – are you sure about this, brother? Can't – isn't there anything else you can…?"
"It would be stupid to pursue anything beyond this." You keep your voice soft, low. So that he can't hear the uncertainty behind it, the doubt that lies in place of a supposedly solid foundation for your decision. "I can't take his life away from him."
"Brother, it's his choice if he gives that to you."
Your eyes slide to him, and gold meets gold – he gives his words with such conviction that it tugs at something deep within you. Something deep and buried in the murky black of grief.
Instead of confronting it, however, you choose to simply raise a brow at Al. "And since when did you become an expert in such matters, dear little brother of mine?"
He shrugs. "I was always the more perceptive of the two of us, brother. You were the one who always rushed head first into things."
You bow your head to that, and give a wry smile. Indeed, it was true – the exact thing you did, summarized in succinct words. You rushed head first into things, ignoring the consequences at the first tug of temptation. Weak, weak heart, frail and fickle, surrenders too fast, unlearned in the ways of withstanding.
But as they say, grow not wary of temptation – for as you grow older, it avoids you.
You shake your head, and guide your brother to the door when he leaves for his hellishly early morning classes. Before he leaves through the door, though, he turns back to you, and asks, with wide and shining eyes:
"Brother, you do know you're not alone, right?"
And those eyes – so much like your mother's, echoing her kindness and understanding, a wide and open and loving heart – they make you realize – that no, you haven't quite lost everything yet, because here, right here, is one precious treasure you managed to take back for yourself.
You give him your roguish grin. "Of course. I've a pesky little brother who sticks like glue, after all."
Whatever deity it is that watches over godless alchemists, you thank them, for the blessing that is your brother.
Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing.
A knock on the door, and you were there, opening for him, letting him in. You meet his eyes, but try your best to hold back. He doesn't look well – bags under his eyes, though nearly unnoticeable, but there. He seems a little pale as well. You begin to worry.
Offering the cup of steaming tea to him, you sit back on the couch. You knew he would be on time – he always is, if not early – so you went ahead and prepared his tea. He stands, a little bit awkward, to the left of the armchair, not sitting, just there. He looks at you, you look at him – and then down at the table, clenching your hands.
It takes you a while to gather your wits, and your voice.
"Why don't you sit down?" you hate how you sound frail. Weak. But you push on, nonetheless. You've had harder conversations before – you can get through this, too, hopefully with your soul, and your hope, still in tact. You've no choice now but to rely on the integrity Roy of the other world has told you to learn. "We… need to talk."
He remains standing. Looking down on you. His eyes show great conflict, juxtaposed against great resolve. He has decided on something, but does not know how to approach it. You know that look well by now.
Carefully, almost meticulously, he lays his jacket on the arm of the chair, walks forward, and kneels before you.
Close enough that you can feel his breath on your face.
"Edward," he takes your hands into his, takes them and brings them to his lips. Metal and flesh meet upon them, and he takes a soft, shuddering breath. "Edward, say the word, and I shall leave her – and everything else behind – for you."
"Just – just say the word," he whispers, low and sibilant, almost frantic. "Say the word, and I will leave it all behind. I – I hadn't meant to – I didn't betray you, this, us. Just – I didn't know how to approach the matter, and every time I tried it – didn't get through. I didn't want you to get hurt, but I didn't want to lie to you either."
He moves, forward, reaching out, taking you in his arms. Holding you close, hiding his face from the world as he presses against your neck.
"I don't want to lose you," he says, and it's full of nothing but desperate sincerity. "I love you, Edward. That was never a lie. Never a lie."
You stay there, in his arms, for the longest time that felt like eternity. He simply held you, kept you close. Failed to communicate anything else but his grief, and his wanting, and his loneliness, and desperation. Your heart echoes him – another fight between it and reason, another struggle as you try to decide.
And when you do, it's not a kind decision. Not a kind one, but probably the right one.
Placing either of your hands on either side of his face, as you're wont to do whenever you sit atop him, you draw his face up, and lean down for a kiss – one kiss, warm and open-mouthed, but frantic in its desperation. As if a starving man offered bread, he surges up and grabs you, takes you in his arms and refuses to let go.
In the span of a minute, he's relieved your tie, and loosened your hair – he's tangled it around his fingers, he's mouthing your skin – you're opening up to him again, for one last time, and though he doesn't know this, you haven't told him this, he probably realizes on his own – when tears gather in your eyes as he pushes open your shirt, when you begin to cry as you meet in a raw and heated kiss –
He takes you there, in the living room, right beside the hearth – but this time, the hearth is cold and devoid of flame. There is overflowing gentleness, and intimacy so deep, it aches your chest – love, so much of it you can't breathe – his lips on your scars, on your chest, on your hipbone -- his hands supporting your back, as you arch up in painful pleasure –
And somewhere along the line, he, too, begins to cry – as he surges deep within you, claiming you, giving to you himself – filling you to the brim, and more, offering you the world, and more – he brings you close with bruising force, afraid to let go, neither of you wants to let go – and the salt in your tears mingle with his in a kiss – for the last time –
– and then you'll let go.
The Only Fault
Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
For the best, you remind yourself – this is for the best.
Behind you, the city of Boston recedes, as the ship pulls away from the harbor, and heads towards the rising sun. Beside you, Alphonse leans against the railing, watching the city fade into the horizon. Before you, the Atlantic beckons, and ahead lies Europe, the land of your beginnings – at least, in this world.
You still remember those days, when you first came here, in a confused bundle of alchemy and death – your skin singed by the heat of exchange of energy and friction within the gate. Hohenheim was your anchor in this world – he was the only one who understood. Back then was when you began to comprehend Trisha's soft eyes whenever she looked at you and remarked on your likeness with your father – you truly were alike, in more ways than one.
And your likeness to him grounded you further, in this world where everything was seemingly the same. Because in the end, having kin who understood was what mattered – and though Hohenheim is no longer here, Alphonse still is.
You risk a glance at your wordless brother, and find him look up at you.
"What?" you raise a brow.
"You know, brother," he voices with a small smile. "If you so wanted, we could still jump off the ship right now and swim to shore."
Rolling your eyes, you sigh. "What's done is done, Al. We both know that well enough."
"There are things that can be undone," he turns and spreads his arms, as if to make a point with himself. "You undid me."
"You're different, Al," you chuckle. "And besides, I've no right to be selfish, and take him away from his world – his family. Ours was taken away from us; I won't have that happen to him as well."
"Brother, it's his choice," Al insists.
You simply shake your head, and sigh. The ends of your braid flutter in the sea breeze, little threads of spun gold. Even now, out here, under the wide sky and sun, you can feel his fingers running through them, tangling in them, weaving their way into your heart and grasping it by the root – the wind is a weak parody of how the pads of his fingers massage down your scalp in a deep, deep kiss.
"I wish," Alphonse says, to no one in particular. "I wish that one day, brother, you can find happiness, and give yourself the pleasure of keeping it."
Your eyes close, and you tip your head back, relishing the coolness of the sea.
"Yeah," you smile, "that would be nice."
In this world where everything was seemingly the same, he was perfect, down to every inch of skin. He was Roy – he was everything you would ever want for a future – he was Roy, and he was perfect. And perhaps the only fault he had was that he was too perfect – the only fault he had was that in that perfection, he was distinct from Roy, your Roy, Amestris' Roy.
The only fault he had was that he was not Roy.
~ epilogue ~
Love is so short, and forgetting is so long…
Thursday afternoon, one of those grey spring days, when the sun is dappled and the sky is bright, you sit by a corner of the café.
Boston is the same, and yet different – ten years of separation does a lot to change perspective. The coffee, however, hasn't changed one bit; it has that same tang you fell in love with ten years ago, when you were here, fresh and still relatively free.
He walks in, dignified, strong. He stoops his head for no one. His eyes, sharp and defined, are the very picture of the ruthless capitalist, the lord who walks the Land of the Free. And behind him follows a beautiful woman, the very definition of grace. Long, auburn hair, amber eyes that spark fire. She has with her a child, no more than ten – exquisite slant of the eyes, high cheekbones, no mistaking it.
Your lips twitch into a smile, as the child looks around curiously, and his eyes land upon the pastries on display. He gently tugs at his mother's hand, and they make their way to their table, the child regaling in his tale.
The father, though –
The father stops a few paces in, and looks towards your general direction. The panel should keep you hidden, from his angle, his point of view. However, you still tense, because his gaze is as intense as ever, a constantly burning flame.
Then at the call of his wife, he turns and walks forth to meet his family – the last you see of his face is a small, proud smile on his face. It shouldn't hurt you – this was your choice. But it does, and there's nothing to be done.
You take the last sips of your coffee, a delicious treat from the past. Boston is only a stopover; you've a train to catch to Pennsylvania, where you will be remaining, while this ridiculous war tides itself over.
Just as you're standing, however, you pause, and look back at your thought.
You correct it: there's nothing that should be done.
You smile, and nod to yourself.
There's nothing that should be done – because in the end, what is he, but a shadow, a spectre, a mere figment of your imagination?
Walking through the doors, you feel a weight come off your shoulders. Ten years, and you're free.
A brush of a breeze against the nape of your neck, when the café's door opens. You turn from your son and wife, chancing a backwards glance. A flash of blonde catches your eye.
"Is there something the matter, Roy?"
Your eyes search attentively – for another flash, another sign.
Was it your imagination again, deluding you? Your memories, coming to haunt you? You shake your head.
"Nothing, darling. I thought I saw someone I knew." You give her a small smile, and return to your meal – the same meal you were eating ten years ago, the day you first saw him. Giving a sigh, you turn to your coffee – the same coffee he drank with you ten years ago.
Reality is playing its tricks on you – confusing your consciousness with your wants. You've been weak this past few weeks; your heart giving under the loneliness and despair. You've got to stop – stop wanting, and hoping.
You see his shadow everywhere, reminders of his presence, his warmth, his smile. Spun gold hair, silk under your fingers, his eyes too beautiful and dynamic for any artist to paint. Smooth skin, and scars, of battle he wishes not to remember – of battles you would've given anything to hear about. This pain, it haunts you everywhere and truly –
– there's nothing to be done.
He's lost him utterly, and from now on he seeks
in the lips of every new lover that he takes
the lips of that one. His. He longs to be mistaken:
that it's the same young man, that he's giving himself to him.
He's lost him utterly, as if he'd never been.
Because he wished – he said – he wished to save himself
from that stigmatized pleasure – he wished to save himself
from that stigmatized pleasure, in it's shame.
There was still time, he said – time to save himself.
He's lost him utterly, as if he'd never been.
In his imagination, in his delusions,
in the lips of other youths, he seeks the lips of that one;
He wishes that he might feel his love again.