Rating: Teen (for concepts)

Word count: ~ 2,750

Warnings: Romance. Slight fluff. Slash. You know, my usual.

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: This has been on the back burner for quite some time. Today the thought of finishing it finally appealed to me, so here 'tis. Mostly canon, but there are definite deviations, the most obvious being that Ed and Al still have their alchemy, despite being fully human. (Reviews are loved, if you'd care to leave them.)

The Alchemist

I burned my life, that I may find
A passion wholly of the mind,
Thought divorced from eye and bone
Ecstasy come to breath alone.
I broke my life, to seek relief
From the flawed light of love and grief.
With mounting beat the utter fire
Charred existence and desire.
It died low, ceased its sudden thresh.
I had found unmysterious flesh—
Not the mind's avid substance—still
Passionate beyond the will.

Louise Bogan

From Body of this Death: Poems (1923)

To Edward, love was many things.

It was unbearably intense.





Love was many things.

Easy was not one of them.

He had loved his father, but his father had abandoned him.

He had loved his mother, but his mother had died.

He had loved Al, but Al had disappeared into the East, leaving him alone.

He had loved Winry, but Winry had left him for another.

He swore to himself that he would not love again.

But it was not so easy, even though he never fell victim to the power of "love at first sight" (or so that was what Winry claimed it was) like his once-fiancée. She had seen someone else, and loved them, and left him with nothing, and Edward taken further steps to make sure something similar never happened to him.

When he became fully aware of the phenomenon, he found that such feelings could often be dissuaded with something as simple as a second look.

Still, when love did come again, it was as cunning and insidious as he had always feared. It did not attempt to woo him with pretty words, or gallant gestures, or delightful charm. No. When it came, it was an firestorm, a wildfire in a human body, with sardonic, mocking eyes like jet at midnight, and hair darker than a raven's wing. It was a man who burned with violence only just contained beneath a façade of cool control, whose tongue was acidic and razor-edged, and who crashed down on Edward's once-quiet life like a storm breaking.

And Edward fell in love with the fierce, focused, unstoppable man named Roy Mustang.

His love did not start with one glance, nor two, nor even three. Indeed, he had been seeing the man since he was twelve, and had felt nothing but irritation and a grudging respect before. Now, at twenty-four, he could never say what had changed.

It was simple, and yet as complicated as everything was when they were both involved. Ed had retreated to the very farthest corner of Amestris and established himself as the alchemist of a tiny town, where no one knew him or knew of him, and the only contact with Central was the monthly postman, who more often than not had nothing to deliver, and simply came for the company and a good meal. The people there were ridiculously ungrateful in the face of Ed's help, and ridiculously under-awed in the face of his alchemy. Most of them, to his everlasting amusement, were of the same mind as his sensei, and far happier to fix things with their own two hands than rely on the strange, mystical art that they could not understand.

Ed liked the small town, though, for all of its oddities. And it had the added advantage of being very, very far from anywhere. He had not heard from Central, or the military, or the government, or even the Fuehrer—one Riza Hawkeye, which had been both a shock and at the same time wholly expected—since he had left, and it was peaceful. He spent most of his time on his own plot of land, using the large garden and orchard to experiment, and contemplating writing a book on agricultural alchemy. It was, he thought, a form of alchemy that had been pushed aside for far too long in favor of the arts of war.

It was a lonely life, and a boring life, but he could not bring himself to change it.

And it was there, in that lonely, boring world he had created for himself, that Roy Mustang found him.

It was a hot day, the sun bearing down on the countryside like some fierce conqueror. Once, Ed might have retreated inside, waited out the heat until the cool of the evening, but after three years of living in such conditions, he was well used to it, and used the time to inspect the fruit trees he was attempting to grow. They were alchemically combined hybrids of two or three different varieties, each with a certain desirable factor, such as hardiness or a heavy crop, and he was hoping that the combination—if successful—would be adopted by the other farmers nearby, for a longer trial run.

Of course, the Bastard would not come when he was clean and washed, documenting his results on the shaded porch. No, it had to be when Ed was on his knees in the dirt of the orchard, mud-splattered sleeves rolled up to his elbows, grime smeared across his nose, and leaves and twigs in his aggravatingly long hair, cursing and swearing at the gophers that persisted in trying to eat his trees, and no one else's.

Unbeknownst to him, a dark figure in civilian clothes stood beneath the shade of a larger tree, watching. Eight years, and Edward was still the same as ever—hot-tempered, foulmouthed, and so incredibly, uniquely beautiful that it was odd to think of him as human and not some strange, fey creature from an old legend. His golden hair was longer and pulled back in a loose tail, the ribbon slipping down and half-untied, and he had grown taller and leaner. Roy knew that if he turned around, those golden eyes would still be the same, still so full of fire and fury that they rivaled any blaze he could create, the sparks of life and Edward's incredible passion for life searing through skin and bone whenever they happened to fall on him.

It had been a long time, far too long since he had felt that burning gaze, and he cleared his throat with a harsh bark. "It's good to see you're keeping busy, Fullmetal."

Ed froze, hands buried to the wrists in rich mulch. There was only one man alive who could make those eight words sound so wholly condescending, and though he hadn't heard that particular tone in the better part of a decade, Ed couldn't have mistaken it for anything else—or anyone else's. Slowly, he sat back on his heels, then turned to look over his shoulder.

"Colonel Mustang. Aren't you a bit far from Central?"

Mustang smiled, that near-smirk that had always driven Ed just as near to homicide. "I'm no longer a colonel, Fullmetal. If you came back to Central once in a while, or even checked your mail at Southern, you'd know about the Fuhrer restructuring the state alchemists. We're no longer part of the military. Aren't you the one who always insisted that 'Alchemists be thou for the people,' should be more than just a hackneyed saying?"

Ed rose and faced him, one eyebrow rising in a look of disbelief. "You gave up your position in the army? But I thought Hawkeye made you her successor!"

Mustang raised a brow in return. He would never have thought that someone with a face like Ed's—sharp, delicate, and at the same time fiercely strong—could be cute, but at the moment, sporting a smear of dirt over the bridge of his nose and down one cheek, Ed came perilously close. But Roy shook himself out of those thoughts and returned the look twofold. "Are we really going to have this discussion out here? It's usually polite to invite a guest inside, Fullmetal."

Ed sighed in defeat. The Bastard was in a mood, and Ed wasn't going to get any information until he'd fed and watered his "company." With a mocking sweep of his arm, he indicated the house. "Please, then. Be my guest." The emphasis left little doubt that, had he been the same boy from eight years ago, the word unwelcome most certainly would have preceded that word.

But he was not the boy from eight years ago, and Mustang was no longer his cold, smirking superior, so they went in with a minimum of biting comments between them, and an uneasy peace in the air.

Mustang ran his fingers along the spines of the books on the shelf closest to the door, looking around in mute wonder. Every inch of the walls was covered in books, some of them copies of famous alchemical texts, others incredibly rare, obscure volumes, and a majority of them handwritten, neatly labeled journals that Edward had obviously written himself. He pulled one of the latter off the shelf and opened it, eyes flickering over pages of coded, shorthand notes on the reactions of the different varieties of wheat to alchemic manipulation. From the little he could decipher, there was enough information here to make the head of the Agricultural Bureau cry in envy—and this was only one volume out of the many, many more that he could see.

"A lot of crops have a bad reaction to alchemy, even just using it for something simple like moving water or adding nutrients to the soil." Ed's even voice almost made him jump, might have actually made him if he hadn't been thinking of the blonde alchemist already. Roy looked up to see Edward leaning against the doorway, a tray with two glasses balanced easily on one hand. The younger man smiled slightly, his golden eyes flickering over the neatly organized shelves. "I've been looking for a way to make them resistant to that, so I could start experimenting more, and I've found some interesting stuff. Maybe someday I'll write a book."

Roy chuckled softly and slid the book back into its spot. "I never thought I'd hear you say that, Fullmetal. You never struck me as someone who would enjoy such a tame act."

Ed looked at the rows of books, then out the window, where the sun was finally starting to set. Long, bloody-crimson rays turned his fruit trees to flames, and made the neat beds of the garden look drenched in blood. "Me, neither. But people change. I don't think I could go back to how I was before, even if I wanted to. I'm miles away from that person now."

Roy took one last look at the neatly ordered books, then joined Edward at the table by the window. Ed served the tea with simple grace, the sight of two flesh hands nearly jarring when Roy was so used to seeing one as metal. It seemed that the younger man had fully adjusted to the return of his normal limbs. His sudden ease of movement made Roy abruptly realize that he had never really seen Ed move without his automail, had never seen him without the burden of his past weighing heavily on his young shoulders.

He smiled slightly. Miles away from that person, indeed.

"I'm surprised Hawkeye let you leave Central without a keeper," Ed remarked, taking a seat across from his former commander. He sipped the tea with odd poise, watching Mustang over the rim of the glass.

Roy shrugged, taking his own cup. Condensation beaded the glass, running like cold sweat down the outside. It was a relief from the dry, oppressive heat outside, which he was half-surprised had not burnt the countryside like a wildfire from his fingertips. Lifting his gaze back to Edward, he let his mouth quirk. "Hawkeye doesn't know I left, but with the end of the alchemists' presence in the army, I'm unnecessary. She won't miss me. And if she does, I left a letter with Armstrong."

Ed felt his brows creep higher. "You left Fuehrer Hawkeye a letter. With Armstrong. And you're expecting that she won't hunt you down and kill you?"

"I never said that." Roy took a sip, letting to cool liquid spread through his throat as he tried not to contemplate what Hawkeye would do to him when he returned. Maybe he would avoid Central for a while.

Noting the expression he wore, Edward chuckled, then put his glass down. "So? Why risk her wrath and haul yourself all the way out here? Is there another dictator that needs to be overthrown? Ancient enemies to be defeated? What can a humble agricultural alchemist do for the Fuehrer's successor?" The sarcasm in the words was thick enough to choke, with a trace of bitterness that stung the mouth and weighed heavily on the tongue. Even eight years later, Ed was still carrying the weight of mistakes and decisions a fifteen-year-old shouldn't have had to bear.

Roy contemplated that for a moment, then set his own glass down with a sharp click. "You left," he said simply, and his voice was nearly sharp. "You left without a word, and you haven't contacted anyone." His dark eyes were sharp and burning, fixed on Ed's face with unwavering intensity.

Suddenly restless, Ed bolted to his feet and feigned pressing interest in his journals on the shelf. When he spoke again, his voice was rough—embarrassingly so. "There wasn't anything left for me, really. With Al, and Winry…" He trailed off, not quite sure how to finish that sentence. With Al, and Winry…what? Both married? Happy? Abandoning him? Gone? They weren't, truly, but it had still felt that way.

Shaking off the lingering unease, Ed turned and forced a smile. "Well! I have work to do, so if you're not going to get out, entertain yourself and try not to break anything before I get back, all right, bastard?" He didn't wait for a response, but spun on his heel and fled the house before Mustang could comment—or, worse, offer to accompany him.

Only when he was safely distant, hidden from the house by a row of fruit trees, did Ed let himself breathe again. He leaned back against the trunk of a larger apple tree and closed his eyes.

Love was still not easy, but he'd broken his vow.

He'd fallen in love again.

Inside the house, Roy carefully turned another page of the journal he was reading, but he couldn't really see the neat diagrams and meticulously sketched alchemical circles. He had seen that brief flare of emotion—not panic, not love, not desire, but a mixture of all three in varying amounts—in golden eyes a moment before Ed left.

It gave him hope, just a little bit, but that was really all he'd ever needed.

He'd been waiting years for this already, watching Ed since he was just fifteen. It had made him feel wrong at the time, stalkerish and rather like a cradle robber, but he'd waited. Now Ed was here, so incredibly beautiful and old enough for Roy to actually look at, and it was hard to look away.

Just a tiny ounce of hope, from the barest flicker of want and care on that expressive face, and Roy could feel his dreams rebuilding themselves.

He'd feared the worst when Ed had abandoned them all after the changes started.

Now, he glanced up through the window to watch a flash of golden hair disappearing into the orchard, and smiled quietly.

"One step at a time," he murmured, "and we'll walk right into the future."