Edward had never cared much about the soulmate tattoos. It’s not that he had something against them—he just didn’t really think about them. He had his brother to think about, trapped in a steel suit of armor. The only time that Ed gave so much as a thought to the tattoos was when he remembered that Al couldn’t get one and it was his fault. All it did was add on to the guilt of what he’d done to his brother, and it’s not like Ed needed any more of it.
And then Winry called up one day from Rush Valley, which was immediately strange. Winry never called them. Even stranger was her tone of voice, soft and quiet and a bit shy. Ed had never known Winry to be shy a day in her life.
“I…uh…well…” she stammered over the line and Ed raised an eyebrow. If it weren’t for the fact that Winry never flustered like this, he’d be annoyed that she wasn’t just getting to the point already. “I got my tattoo last night,” she said finally and Ed’s other eyebrow joined its partner to fly up into his hairline. “I woke up this morning and it was just—there.”
The fingers of Ed’s left hand twitched where they gripped the phone. His eyes shot down to his right, the automail suddenly feeling very heavy. He cleared his throat. “Who—uh—who’s name?”
Suddenly the teasing calls from classmates—(‘Hey, Elric, is Winry your girlfriend? Are you two in looooove? Edward and Winry! Sittin’ in a tree! K-I-S-S-‘) and that one off-handed comment from his mother that one time (‘Gosh, Ed and Winry, you two argue so much you might as well be married.’) and the elbow jabs from some of the older guys (‘That Winry girl is pretty tough; gonna make an honest man out of her husband one day. Bet she’d be one hell of a wife, eh, Ed?’) –it all just suddenly hit Ed in the gut at that moment and what was he going to do if it said—?
“Alphonse E,” came the soft reply and for one brief millisecond, Ed felt every muscle in his body go lax with relief until he realized—
“Oh,” he breathed, glanced up at his brother standing across from him. There was a creak of metal on metal when Al tilted his helmet to the side, questioning. Ed gave him a reassuring smile. “That’s…that’s actually great, Win,” and it wasn’t a lie. “That’s amazing.”
There was a soft chuckle on the other end. “Yeah…I—I’m happy. It’s good. I think I…I think it’s gonna be just great. Al’s…wonderful.”
Damn right he is. “It’s gonna be great, Winry, I promise.”
“Don’t tell him yet!” she said in a rush. “He’s there with you, isn’t he? Just…don’t…not yet. I wanna tell him. Next time I see you guys. Okay?”
Ed laughed a little bit, knocked the toe of his boot against the wall. “Yeah, okay. I won’t.”
Winry made him promise to oil his automail, Ed complained about her nagging him, they shouted at each other a little bit, and then hung up with promises to keep in touch.
“What’s amazing, brother? What happened to Winry?” Al asked.
Ed walked over to him, knocked his knuckles against his brother’s chest plate and smiled. “It’s a surprise. But I promise, it’s great.”
You have a soulmate, Ed thought. You have a soulmate and you can’t be with her, not really, and it’s my fault.
“Fullmetal, are you even listening to me?” Mustang asked, exasperated and severe.
“Not really,” Ed mumbled back, looking down at his metal fingers, stretching them out, turning his palm over and over. He knew every inch of this hand, his wrist, his arm. Knew every angle of it. Ed had never hated it more than he did just now.
Hawkeye came in, put a folder on Mustang’s desk and Mustang looked down at it, irritation ever increasing. “Fullmetal, you could at least pretend—”
“Hey, Hawkeye,” Ed chirped and she paused on her way back out of the office to turn to him. “It’s…kinda a personal question…but…” He bit his lip, looked away, looked back at her. “Do you have a tattoo?”
Hawkeye cocked her eyebrow. “A tattoo? Why do you want to know? Are you thinking of getting one?”
Ed backtracked. “No, no, not like…not like a tattoo…not an ink tattoo. Like a…a soulmate tattoo.”
“Oh.” She pulled up the right sleeve of her uniform. “I got it when I was about your age.” She extended her arm to show him and Edward craned his neck, expecting—
What the hell? “Who’s James B.?”
Hawkeye pulled her sleeve down again. “I don’t know. Haven’t met him yet.”
“Oh.” Edward blushed, eyes flashed to Mustang, who was watching the exchange with mild curiosity. “I was expecting…”
She looked at Ed, looked at Mustang, smiled a bit, looked back at Ed. “People usually do. But I like to think that the universe is too smart to let that happen.”
Ed’s grin was slow and malicious. “You’d end up killing him.”
“Painfully,” Hawkeye conceded, then turned to their dumbstruck boss. “I’ll come back for that finished paperwork in an hour, sir. Please have it done by then.” Then she walked out, closed the door.
Mustang cleared his throat, slightly awkwardly, and opened the folder to leaf through the paperwork he’d just been handed. “Now, if we could focus back on the debriefing of your next assignment—”
“If you don’t got Hawkeye on your wrist,” Ed interrupted and Mustang made an irritated snorting sound through his nose, “then who do you have?”
Mustang pinched the bridge of his nose. “That’s none of your concern, now is it? Why this sudden interest in soulmate tattoos anyway?”
Ed flumped back against the couch cushions, shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “Winry got hers yesterday.”
Mustang quirked an eyebrow. “Is it you?”
“No.” The tips of Ed’s ears were red, he could feel them. “It’s Al. But don’t tell him. She wants to tell him.”
Leaning back in his chair, Mustang said, “Do you wish it was you? Is that why you’re so concerned with the tattoos?”
Now Ed was red up to his hairline. “That’s not it! Winry’s like my sister and…and she and Al are gonna be great together. I mean, they’re both great separately. Together they’re gonna be fucking amazing. They’re gonna be the kind of couple that other couples wish they could be.”
“I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about this,” Mustang said dryly and Ed glared. “If this is such a happy thing for you, then why do you seem so bothered by it?”
Ed shrugged again, the fabric of his jacket making a shhhshhnn sound against the leather of the sofa as it moved. “I dunno. Just been…thinkin’ about it lately.”
“Soulmate tattoos generally appear on the right wrist, don’t they?” Mustang mused and Ed tensed. “And usually around your age…maybe that’s what’s got you all wound up?”
“Everybody else gets to know,” Ed ground out. “At my age, everyone else knows who they’re gonna end up with. Or…who they’re supposed to end up with, anyways. Some people don’t get them, did you know that? It’s rare—about one in a million or something, I guess. My mom was one of them. So I thought—if my mom doesn’t have one, what good are they for? But now Winry’s got one, and if Al—if Al had a normal body, he’d have one with Winry’s name. So they would both know. And I don’t get to know. It’s not like I care about relationships and dating and marriage and all that crap, not now when I’ve got Al to worry about. But it just—“
“It just reminds you of how utterly different you are to other people your age,” Mustang finished for him and Ed’s eyes flashed to him, angry. They weren’t angry at Mustang, for the first time. Just angry in general. “It’s just one more thing you don’t get to have that other people do, one more thing you’ve lost because of your mistakes.”
Ed swallowed, looked down at his knees.
“You could just wait until the person with your name on their wrist shows up,” Mustang said airily, picking up the folder he’d been reading before, the one with Ed’s assignment. “Or you could hurry up and find a way to get your arm back, so you can find out for yourself. And get Alphonse his body back so he can be with Miss Rockbell properly. So, are we going to discuss your assignment or not?”
For a second, Ed glared, simply out of principle. But then he grinned, bright and wide. “Give me your worst, Mustang.”
It hadn’t appeared while Al’s body was waiting in the Gate, for some reason. Maybe it was because there was no soul in the body, the body itself couldn’t have a soulmate. It made sense, in a way.
But now Al’s soul was back in his body, recuperating in the Central hospital, all skin and bones and ragged hair, limp and weak and so, so beautiful that Ed wanted to cry. He’d done it. He’d done it. He’d actually gotten his brother’s body back, got it back for him after losing it to a stupid, stupid mistake.
Ed didn’t want to take his eyes off him, wanted to drink in every second of his restored brother. Al called him weird, but Ed could see he was just as happy to be back in flesh and blood.
Al was sleeping now—he did that a lot, whether making up for almost four years of lack of it or just his body healing itself, Ed didn’t care. He was sleeping, which was a little miracle all in itself. And Ed was watching him. He felt kind of creepy doing it but Al had watched him sleep for four years so he had every right to be as creepy as he wanted to be.
The bones of Al’s right wrist were protruding so much, thin skin stretched dangerously over them, the letters appeared slightly distorted. They would look less wonky once Al had fattened up, but Ed knew what they said. Winry R.
Ed flexed the fingers of his new right hand, thinner and weaker than his muscled left, stared down at his blank, pale wrist, and sighed.
Roy was still blind when Ed went to see him in his hospital room, just a floor above Al’s. He needed to resign from the military now. Had to take his brother home, supervise his rehabilitation, start his own life. He’d done what he needed to do. He needed to get out now.
“Dozens of people witnessed you punching a god in the face and saving the entire country—if not the world. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t one of them. I would have enjoyed seeing that.” He smirked and Ed chuckled. “I don’t think anyone would stop you from doing whatever you wanted to do. And with the military being in the disarray it is currently, the proper paperwork for your resignation will be impossible to procure.”
“You could just kick me out,” Ed shrugged. “I’m enlisted as a State Alchemist. Can’t do alchemy anymore, so…kind of useless to the military now.”
Roy’s lips quirked sadly at that, brows furrowed and milky eyes unfocused on the bedsheets where he lay. “It’s—odd. It feels so strange to think of you without alchemy. I can’t imagine how it must feel for you.”
Like I regained one limb but lost another, and this one can’t be replaced with automail.
Ed shrugged again, but it’s not like Roy could see it. “It’s fine. Alchemy isn’t everything. I’ve got Al back. So…what do I do about the paperwork or whatever?”
Roy paused, thought for a bit. “Take your brother home, Edward. When the military is back up and running, I’ll call you. You can come by, sign a few papers, and be rid of us for good.”
“Aw, come on.” Ed punched him in the shoulder, lightly, but Roy jumped slightly, not having expected the touch. “I know you mean that you’ll be rid of me for good, and we both know that’s a damn lie. Still owe you that money, don’t I?”
Roy’s eyes tried to find him, turned to the general direction where Ed’s voice was coming from, stopped at a spot on Ed’s chest and Ed bristled. My eyes are up here, asshole, I’m not that short. Do you really remember me being that short, you bastard?
“Yes, I suppose you do owe me,” Roy said, voice smooth and a slight smile on his lips. “So I suppose I haven’t rid myself of you just yet.” There was a joke there, a tease, a little friendliness that made Edward smile because there was no one in the room to see him do it. “Once you’re officially out of my hair, we could go out for a drink.”
“You askin’ me out, Mustang?” Ed joked, but something inside him sparked.
Roy chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it. I can’t see your punches now to dodge them in time. But you’d no longer be my subordinate, and I no longer your C.O., and we could be…friends, maybe.”
“Friends,” Ed said with a snort. “We’ve never gotten along with you as my boss, I don’t see why we would as anything else. But if you’re payin’, I’ll take that drink.”
“I’m glad.” His voice was soft and his smile was kind and Edward was really thrown for a loop just then. “I hear you got your arm back along with Al’s body.”
Ed’s fingers twitched. “Yeah. It’s bony and weak and useless, but a little exercise and lotsa food oughta get it in proper condition.”
“And your wrist? Do you finally know? I remember you being upset about that, once.”
Ed swallowed, looked down at his pale, unblemished arm. He considered lying, making something up. It’s not like Roy could see it.
“It’s…blank.” Roy’s expression was unreadable. “Al’s showed up last night. It took it a while. Maybe…maybe I just need to wait? I don’t know. Maybe I’m like my mom.”
“Does that bother you? You’ve never expressed desire for a relationship before.”
Ed glared at the crisp, too-white tiles of the hospital floor. “It’s not like I’ve gone out of my way to look for one but…I asked my mom about it once, why she didn’t have one when other people did. She told me it was because my dad was special and the world just didn’t know what to make of him, so they hadn’t paired him up. And since Hohenheim was mom’s soulmate and he didn’t get a tattoo, then she didn’t either.”
“It makes sense,” Roy said. “Your father being an immortal being, thousands of years old, and also a Philosopher’s Stone. That must have really confused the universe.”
Ed snorted. “I guess. But before I knew that, when I thought he’d just walked out on us ‘cause he was an asshole, I thought…maybe that’s why my mom didn’t get a tattoo. Because she wasn’t meant to have a soulmate. She loved my dad so much, but he just left like he didn’t give a crap, and broke her heart and she died alone.”
“Edward,” Roy breathed. “Are you saying—?”
“Now I know the real reason that she didn’t have a tattoo, but it doesn’t explain why I don’t have one.”
Roy swallowed, turned his face away. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to die alone, Edward. Maybe you’re right, and it’s just taking a little longer for yours to show up.” A smirk. “After all, we’ve always known you were kind of a late bloomer.”
Ed seethed. “Was that a thinly veiled short joke, you dick?”
“So thin the veil was practically invisible.” Ed weighed the moral repercussions of punching a blind man against his rage. “But even if it never comes, Ed,” suddenly back on topic and an uncharacteristic use of his nickname and Ed was so surprised he forgot his anger, “that does not mean you’re going to die alone.”
“Then what does it mean?” Ed muttered miserably.
“That you get to do what you’re so good at doing, what you’ve been doing all these years.” Ed frowned. “Making your own path. Deciding your life for yourself. You’ve always been presented with options, and you’ve always chosen the one that was never offered, the one you made yourself. You’ve faced down destiny and fate with rage and sheer stubbornness and never let it decide for you. Of course you’re not going to get a tattoo, Ed. Like your father, the universe just doesn’t know what the hell to make of you.”
It was a cruel thought, but Edward was glad for a moment that Roy was blind. No one could see him blushing like a schoolgirl.
He leaned forward, punched Roy again, harder this time, enough to make him wince. “That was for comparing me to that douchebag.”
Roy rolled his dead eyes. At least they were still good for something.
Reminded of the tattoos, Ed glanced down at Roy’s arms, see if he could catch a glimpse of Roy’s tattoo. But both hands were bandaged up, all the way up the wrist.
“Are you gonna tell me who your tattoo says?”
An enigmatic smile. “It’s still none of your concern, Fullmetal.”
“One day, you’re not gonna be able to call me that anymore.”
“And—” Ed added a little flourish at the end of his signature, the most beautiful signature he’d ever written— “done.” He picked up the paper, handed it to Mustang, whose dark eyes were filled with amusement.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you this happy since Alphonse was restored.”
“You haven’t seen me at all since Alphonse was restored.”
Roy chuckled, taking the paper and putting it in the file. “Right, I’d forgotten. This is my first time actually seeing you since then, isn’t it?”
Ed grinned. “I’m probably one hell of a sight, ain’t I?”
“Indeed.” There was that smooth, layered tone to Mustang’s voice now that meant he was saying like five different things, even though it had only been one word, and Ed flushed a little.
“I haven’t seen your arm yet. May I?”
Trying to will the blood from rushing to his face, Ed pushed his sleeve up to the elbow. “It’s just an arm,” he mumbled.
Roy’s eyes traced down the limb, noting every vein and muscle and curve of it. “It’s not as developed as your left, I see.”
“It was a stick when I got it back. I’ve been exercising it, getting some muscle in it. Work in progress.”
Roy’s gaze fixed on Ed’s wrist, veined and naked. Ed couldn’t fight the blush anymore. “I see you still haven’t gotten your tattoo. It’s been months.”
Shoving the sleeve back down, Ed shrugged. “Who cares? Like you said, I get to choose what I want now.”
“Have you chosen?” Roy’s eyes smoldered. “Will you choose? If you could choose anyone, who would it be?”
They held each other’s gaze for a moment and Ed shifted uncomfortably on his seat. Then, he smirked and Roy’s eyes sparked with curiosity at it.
“Equivalent exchange, Mustang.” He leaned his forearms on the desk. “I tell you who I’d choose if I could, and you tell me who you’ve got on your wrist.”
“Hm.” Roy leaned back in his chair, steepled his gloved fingers. “All right. You did promise me a drink the last time we spoke, do you remember? We can go out tonight and you can tell me then.”
“I only agreed on the condition that you were paying.”
They agreed to meet up at a bar and Ed had just turned 18 but he hadn’t gone out drinking yet—not with Al’s rehabilitation to focus on. And who the hell was he going to go drinking with in the middle of the countryside? This was a whole new experience for him. And he was having it with Mustang, of all people. Mustang, who made Ed angry and irritated and frustrated and flustered and awkward and maybe even a little weak at the knees, if he was being honest with himself. Which he usually wasn’t.
Ed leaned against the wall of the bar, kicking the dust at his feet, waiting. It was just starting to get dark, so the bar was starting to fill up, people going past him to the doors and every time they opened, Ed could smell the cigarettes and alcohol.
“Sorry I’m late,” Roy said, coming up to him, still in his uniform with his long black coat over his shoulders.
“Hawkeye and paperwork?” Ed guessed and Roy smiled.
“You didn’t have to wait out here for me, you know. You could have gone inside.”
“I’ve never—the bar scene isn’t really my thing.”
Roy clapped his shoulder, his hand heavy and warm through the gloves he wore and Ed’s clothes and Ed’s breath hitched a little. “I’m sure you’ll feel better once you’ve had a drink. Come, I want to catch up with you, hear what you’ve been up to. I’m curious about Alphonse’s rehabilitation, and of course that little inquiry I made you earlier.”
His dark eyes sparkled with the dim lights around them and his own amusement, and his lips were quirked in that strange almost-smile that Ed wasn’t quite used to just yet because Mustang had never looked at him like this, not like a friend or an equal. He’d always been Mustang’s subordinate, and usually a pain in the ass of one. Now that he wasn’t under Mustang’s command, the man was looking at him differently, like he was allowed to really look at him now.
And Ed just couldn’t—
“It’s you,” he blurted out and Roy faltered a bit, frowned, let his hand fall off Ed’s shoulder and cocked his head.
Taking a deep breath that made his ribs hurt, Ed said, “You asked me who I’d choose if I could choose anyone. If I could choose, it’d be you.”
Roy’s eyes widened just slightly and Ed tried to shy away from him, take a step back, but he was against a wall with nowhere to run and he realized what he’d just said, realized that Mustang probably thought he was a freak, thought he was weird, was probably asking himself Why would he even think I’d be interested in him—?
Then Roy grabbed his arm and Ed had expected him to rebuff him with some snarky, sarcastic comment, he expected him to be smug about it, maybe even reject him gently, or maybe even get offended and storm off, leaving Edward on his own, but never expected Mustang to get physical with his rejection—
There was something pressing against Ed’s lips suddenly and it took him a full five seconds to realize that it was Mustang’s lips on him, kissing him firmly.
They didn’t make it inside the bar. Roy pulled Edward into the alley, pressed him against the wall there and kissed him again, leaned down to claim Ed’s mouth and Ed let him. He was inexperienced and surprised and shocked, and Roy seemed to know what he was doing, so Ed just went along with it, responded how he could.
And it was a good kiss, a wonderful kiss, Roy’s lips just slightly cold from the chilly air but quickly warming up with blood and friction, the slight hint of tongue running along Ed’s bottom lip, the tentative touch, asking for permission and when Edward parted his lips in response, the tongue slipped inside and God, Edward felt a little dizzy. His hands found Roy’s collar, tugged him in harder, and Roy’s hands were settled on Ed’s hips.
“I’m sorry,” Roy breathed against Ed’s mouth. “I’m so sorry, this isn’t a terribly romantic first kiss, I’m sorry. It’s just…I couldn’t go on without kissing you for another second, it was killing me.”
“Fuck romance,” Edward murmured back, pulling Roy back down, feeling Roy’s laugh against his lips as he kissed him again, feeling a bit more confident this time. He took over the kiss as much as he could, pressed his own tongue against Roy’s now, responded to every push with one of his own. His knees sagged and he was grateful for the wall behind him, grateful for Roy’s hands on him, grateful for Roy’s mouth on his.
“Wait,” Ed hissed suddenly, pushing Roy away—not too far, can’t let those lips fall out of reach. “You still haven’t—” His breathing was a little ragged, a little heavy; he could taste Roy on his tongue. “You didn’t tell me. Who’s on your wrist?”
Roy smirked, brought a hand up to stroke his gloved thumb over Ed’s cheekbone. “Edward,” more a breath than a word. “Are you sure you want to know?”
Ed frowned. It was impossible that his own name was on there. Roy’s would have showed up on his if it were. And whoever it was—there was someone else out there who’s soul was destined to be with Roy’s, there was someone else with Roy’s name on their body, but it was Edward who Roy was pressing up against a wall right now, it was Edward who Roy had decided to kiss stupid, it was Edward who Roy was looking at right now with dark eyes full of amusement and affection, so warm that Ed felt like melting into them.
Did it really matter whose name was on Roy’s wrist? People choosing partners that weren’t the ones they were destined to be with was not unheard of; it wasn’t the norm, but it was definitely a possibility.
“Yeah,” Ed said, fingers twitching on Roy’s collar. “I wanna know.”
Roy cocked his shoulder in a half-shrug. “All right. If you insist.” He pulled his hand away from Ed’s face, put his middle finger between his lips and tugged his glove off with his teeth. It was probably the most erotic thing that had ever happened three inches from Ed’s face.
There was a faint white scar on the back of his hand, and a matching one on his palm, from where he’d been stabbed. With his other hand, he tugged down his sleeve just enough to expose his wrist to the night air and Ed’s anxious eyes.
“Shit,” Edward breathed. His hands released Roy’s collar to grab his arm, push the sleeve down farther, examine the forearm, turn it over, make sure it was his right arm. Then he grabbed Roy’s left arm, practically ripped the glove off and pushed the sleeve up. Roy just watched on, smiling amusedly. “It’s not—? You don’t—?” Ed grabbed his right arm again, examined it closely.
“If you wish, you could examine every inch of me in search for it.”
Ed blushed. “You never got it?”
“I always assumed it meant my destiny was to live as a bachelor forever, which I was grateful for. I was never envious of my friends with their tattoos and their soulmates. Settling down just didn’t seem to be an option for me, and that’s what I thought my lack of tattoo meant…until…”
“Until?” Ed prompted.
Roy’s hands returned to Ed’s hips and he leaned in, lowered his head over Ed’s, foreheads almost touching and gazes locked. “You. You broke down every obstacle, fought tooth and nail when the world kept knocking you down, you beat your own path—literally—and you were so goddamn beautiful while you did it that I…I’d never before wanted to get a tattoo. And for the first time, I looked down at my wrist with disdain because it was so blank and it didn’t have your name.”
“Dammit, Mustang,” Ed groaned, and pressed his lips to the inside of Roy’s right wrist. Kissed the spot again and again and again and then reached up and pulled Roy down to kiss him again.