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Burning brightly in the night

Chapter Text

It was a pleasant evening, the late summer lingering and the early autumn just barely lingering in the distance. It had been a long, hot summer, and Ed was glad that it was finally beginning to cool a little. It made a cold beer enjoyable on a Friday night. He took another sip, setting the glass down, and let his eyes travel across the room.

He had a type, but often avoided it. Older, dark haired, dark eyed, pale, and exotic. It wasn’t common in Amestris, not even in Central, so he rarely ever saw anyone that matched it. But he also went out of his way to avoid those men. If anyone ever remembered who he was, who he had been, they would connect dots so fast the gossip rags wouldn’t be able to keep up.

No, Ed knew what he preferred, but he also knew he didn’t care too much if he strayed from that. He wasn’t looking for marriage, after all, just a fun tumble in the sack to relieve some stress. To help fill that gnawing, aching hole the Gate had left him with all those years ago when he had rescued Al. That reminder that he was still alive to enjoy a beer and a Friday night fuck.

A red headed man sitting at a table, alone, smiled at Ed and raised his glass. Ed let his eyes travel up and down the man’s body, nodding in approval, and raised his glass in return. He clearly wasn’t military, he didn’t have the posture or the build for it, but he wasn’t out of shape either. He’d probably be fun and energetic enough to make Ed simply forget for a few hours.

So Ed rose from his stool, and meandered leisurely over and sat down across from him with a smile. The man smiled back and took a drink.

“Come here often,” he asked, and Ed groaned internally.

Of course the cute one with dimples would be a moron with no skill. Hopefully he was better with his mouth at work.

“It’s a nice place,” Ed replied, letting his finger circle the lip of his glass and then bringing the finger up to his mouth to gently lick.

The man’s eyes never wavered, and Ed could almost feel his hands tightening around his own glass. Good. Ed didn’t feel like playing games and wasting an hour getting to the good part tonight. He had paperwork he needed to work on this weekend. All he really needed was a good lay to quiet the screaming darkness that he could feel scratching in his chest, throbbing with each beat of his heart. Maybe there were other methods to quiet it, but he had found that a good fuck worked instant wonders pretty well.

“Y-yes,” the man stuttered, “James, my name.”

“Ed,” Ed said with a smile, “You want to leave and maybe have a little fun?”

The man’s eyes went wide, and his grin nearly split his face in two as he nodded, “My place isn’t-”

“No,” Ed said.

Ed had solid rules. Rules that he had set in stone when he had started doing this a few years back. Rules that he never broke. No last names, no commitment, and, most importantly, never at anyone’s place. Hotels, the back alley, and one never to be repeated experience in a bush in a park, but never at anyone’s home. Homes brought a permanence to a situation that was only about a single night. They added complications, and emotions, where he wanted none.

No, for Ed it was the hotel around the block, or he would have to go on the hunt again.

“The Rose is nearby,” Ed said, leaning in and whispering into his ear with a rasp, “A bit quicker, wouldn’t you agree?”

James nodded, downing the remainder of his beer with a quick gulp, and stood up. Ed smiled, leaving his own beer unfinished, and stepped close into James’ side. The man was tall enough to wrap his arm around Ed’s shoulder with ease, and Ed had to bit his tongue to not roll his eyes at that. He had shot up a little after the Promise Day, but he still remained quite petite. He was just glad that people had stopped mistaking him for a child or a woman.

The walk was short and warm, although Ed was sure he could smell the first frost lingering on the breeze. Long summers made for hard winters, he remembered some of the farmers saying. It would be brutal this year for sure if that held true. He grinned, leaning into James’ side, and hummed as they approached the hotel.

“No string attached,” Ed asked, pausing before the lobby entrance. They could discuss fucking upstairs, but he needed James to know that that’s all it would be. No relationship, no dates, just a convenient, enjoyable one night stand.

“Wouldn’t dream of anything else,” James laughed, and they strolled into the hotel together.

Ed flopped on his back, panting, and looked over at a grinning James. He was impressed, for a man that had no game he was certainly talented in bed. He almost regretted his rule about one night only now.

“That thing,” James said, catching his breath, “With your tongue.”

“Traveled a lot,” Ed explained, “Learn things when you travel.”

James smiled, turning to stare at Edward, letting his hand trace across his chest. He began to caress a few scars on his shoulder, and then started dipping down toward the rather obvious one on Ed’s side. Ed winced, out of memory than actual pain, and his face tightened.

“Is that where you got these? Traveling?” James asked, his face full of questions.

“Yes,” Ed said, his mask beginning to slip back into place.

He didn’t like probing questions. His past, his injuries, could be recognized fairly easily if a person did a little bit of digging. How many blond, long haired men had an automail leg and a chest full of scars and metal after all? It had to be a vanishingly thin number. Especially for ones named Ed.

“You’re so young,” James said, not reading the sudden change of atmosphere in the room, “To have so many scars, you must have-”

“It’s no big deal,” Ed snapped sitting up suddenly and beginning to search for his clothes. His muscles were tensing, and he hurriedly began to start pulling on what he could find.

“Wait, we have all night,” James said, beginning to stand and reach out as Ed finished dressing and patting his pockets.

“I can’t, I’m busy tomorrow,” Ed said coldly, “Busy day.”

“But tomorrow’s-” the door slammed shut behind Ed as he angrily stomped out of the room.

He was seething inside as he came down the stairs and marched out into the night. He was used to questions about the scars. Of men’s obsession with tracing them, licking them, caressing them. Scars were something a lot of other viewed as something new and exciting. Comments about how they must have hurt, how great a fighter he must have been to earn them. Questions about if he got his automail because of a fight.

But when they started tying his youth to them they usually started asking more personal questions. Questions about identity, about pasts. He was no longer a nameless Ed that they picked up in a bar, he was becoming Ed, human being. And that’s not something that he could do, could let them do to him. They were nameless one night fucks to quiet the raging, angry, sorrowful beast that lived inside him and gnawed on him day in and day out.

The beast that was cooing quietly, asleep, nearly forgotten. That enjoyed a good anonymous fuck, no expectations on either side, that was blessedly nearly forgotten in the weeks that followed. As long as they didn’t try to dig. But now he could feel a scrape or two against his chest. He could feel it sigging into his heart and mind. He could feel it want to scream.

Ed bit back a sob as he turned the corner onto his street. That’s why he did things the way he did. He didn’t want them to know, he didn’t want them to feel sorry for him, to know him, to expect anything from him. He was just Ed. He wasn’t special, not anymore. He was just a science professor at the university. He taught ethics courses for the alchemy department. He graded papers, helped proofread research papers, and drank with his friends on the weekends. He wrote letters to his happy, human little brother that lived on the other side of the continent and taught alchemy all the way in Xing.

He wasn’t Edward Elric: Alchemist of the People. He wasn’t Fullmetal. He didn’t perform miracles by clapping his hands. He travel the country to save the world. He wasn’t a brash, outspoken, temperamental child that thought he knew best anymore. He had broken himself of that useless moron years ago and moved on.

So what if a clawing darkness beat in his chest, angry and miserable without his alchemy. So what if he could never teach alchemy because the dean of the alchemy department had, quite clearly, told him that those who couldn’t do couldn’t teach. So what if he still proofread and corrected nearly every alchemy research paper that was published by staff at the university.

So what if he was lonely.

So what if he knew that he couldn’t. Couldn’t do more, couldn’t expect more. He loathed the sympathy and the sad, caring looks in people’s eyes when they knew who he was and what he had done. They didn’t see the man that had survived, instead they see the little boy at the start of the journey. Every. Single. Time.

Ed didn’t want that, he growled to himself as he kicked off his shoes and locked the apartment door behind him, he didn’t want those looks of pity. He had been stupid, and he had paid for it. Had torn himself to pay for it time and time again. He woke with nightmares about still not being able to pay for it. He didn’t want to pay for a relationship by having eyes like that looking at him every day when he woke up, with every conversation, every time they noticed a new scar they hadn’t seen before.

No, Ed thought, getting in the shower and turning it as hot as it would go, he had already paid everything he had and more. He didn’t have enough left to throw into that fire, no matter what Al said in his letters or others told him. He had stood before the Gate more than they had, he was more familiar with equivalent exchange than any other alchemist in the damn country.

The darkness continued to purr, sated once more, and Ed crouched down in the shower, letting the hot water beat at him. It was going to be okay, he told himself. He’d find a better fuck in a few weeks, one that wouldn’t ask questions. One that wouldn’t dredge up old memories with thoughtless comments. He was an adult. He had survived so much, he could survive this too. It was just like Al wrote, everything was going to be all right.

Ed rocked himself under the spray of the shower until the water ran cold before he dragged himself to bed.

Chapter Text

Ed sighed and skimmed the first page of the essay he was grading. Oh good, he groaned, the student had only managed to find three different ways to spell ‘theorem’ instead of the standard six. He couldn’t understand how this was happening, or why. He had given his students two weeks to work on the essay. They had textbooks and dictionaries.

And yet here he was, wasting his Saturday afternoon and running low on red ink. He scowled as he crossed out yet another reference to ‘Vilandrik’s Fourth Law’. This was the seventh paper he had graded that referenced Vilandrik’s Fourth Law. He knew that he didn’t connect well with his students even though he was barely a few years older than them. But did they honestly believe that he didn’t know that Vilandrik’s was that shitty hole in the wall tavern near campus that served shitty, watery beer? Did they think he was so out of touch that he didn’t know that Vilandrik’s Fourth Law was ‘do it the night before’?

He marked the essay with a giant red zero and threw it on the growing pile on the floor, and groaned as he leaned back in his chair. He loved his job, he reminded himself. He loved teaching, he loved educating, he loved watching his students learning. But this wasn’t kindergarten, and his students normally understood that. They couldn’t sit there and passively learn, they needed to take what he taught and study it as well.

Apparently study and learn, to some of them, meant getting so drunk they forgot that this paper was worth a quarter of their grade, and they now might be royally fucked if they wanted to pass his class. He didn’t care, he wasn’t the one making poor decisions about his future in a shitty bar. There was always next semester to remind them if need be.

He glanced at the remaining stack of essays to grade and slumped back. A dozen or so, he couldn’t tell. More than he wanted to see. He glanced at the clock and sighed. It was only half past two, and he wasn’t supposed to meet the others until six. Drinks to celebrate something or other a that old bar near headquarters with the great onion rings.

He frowned, trying to remember what it was they were gathering to celebrate. Havoc was already married, was he having another kid? No, that wasn’t it. Had Falman finally grown out another terrible haircut? Or had that been Breda? It didn’t matter, really, it was just an excuse to bring the old team back together again for a few drinks on a Saturday night, and Ed was damned if he didn’t show up and make himself regret it on Sunday.

Of course, Ed sighed, staring up and the ceiling and letting his pen twirl between his fingers, the old bar with the great onion rings was also the old bar with the great onion rings that always got stingy with the ketchup. It never failed that they would short them on ketchup, claiming that they were almost out. It wouldn’t take much to make more, just some tomatoes, vinegar, water, and spices. A simple party trick. He could probably get Mustang to do it if there was a hot woman there to impress. Just a little bit of alchemy, it would be more funny to smuggle the ingredients in than anything. And he could already hear Teacher scolding him for using alchemy for stupid party tricks when he could just buy ketchup at the store.

The darkness beat once. Old alchemy party tricks. He missed those. He missed instant ketchup and quick little fixes.

He shook his head, trying to avoid where that would lead him. Was it Mustang’s engagement? Ed frowned, navigating his brain toward the more inane and what Havoc had said on the phone the week before. It couldn’t have been Mustang getting engaged, that he was sure he would remember. That, he was also sure, would be something that would have been printed in the papers: famous womanizer finally settles down. Ed snorted, and looked back at the stack of remaining papers, grabbing one with a sigh.

If he got these all done, he could pass them back and give one hell of a lecture about why you shouldn’t be a moron in his class on Monday. Bad pub puns should remain in their beer soaked wood and out of his classroom.

“Hey, you made it,” Havoc said with a smile, handing Ed a beer as he sat down, the others already laughing.

Ed just rolled his eyes, taking a deep gulp and relaxing back into the chair. This was comfortable. This was old friends and happy memories, and what he needed after a particularly disastrous week. Not to mention recovery from the essays he had been grading and growling at all day. Three red pens, and he could have easily used more.

“Where are the onion rings, I’m only here for the onion rings,” Ed laughed, grabbing the basket from in front of Fuery and glaring at the empty ketchup bowl.

They always shorted them the ketchup at this damn place.

“How have the classes been,” Hawkeye asked, and Ed shrugged through a mouthful of onion ring.

“Some are smart, some are stupid, I have to deal with it,” Ed sighed, finishing his beer with another few gulps and signaling for another.

Hawkeye rolled her eyes, leaning across the table and snagging an onion ring as the others were talking about some new paperwork policy that had come in effect and was doomed to destroy them all. Ed had no doubt that it was poorly written, but couldn’t summon the effort to care. University policies alone were insane at times, he didn’t want the military comparing notes. The two bureaucracies might learn something from each other.

“Those students are our nation’s future, Ed,” Hawkeye reminded him with a smile, tossing a glare over at something Fallman had said about filing and triplicates.

“One of them nearly burned down the building with a bunsen burner this week, and I nearly set myself on fire stopping him,” Ed sighed, groaning at the memory. He had lost the arm on his favorite shirt because of that particular stunt.

“Oh? Do tell,” Mustang said, sliding into the empty seat next to Ed with a grin.

“You would want to know, you pyro,” Ed rolled his eyes, accepting the beer he was holding with a nod.

It wasn’t hot in here, Ed reminded himself. And Mustang, who may have, indeed, been the hottest guy in the bar, but Ed didn’t need to think about that. Mustang had been his CO since he was 12 years old. He had watched him grow up, and helped him stop the destruction of the world. Ed could step away and admire him without letting his hormones run rampant like he was a fifteen year old with a schoolyard crush.

“Always looking for admirers,” Mustang laughed.

Ed cursed his hormones. If Al were here he would be giving him so much shit he was sure.

“The dumbass turned it all the way up, threw something on it, and there was fire,” Ed sighed, he had never actually gotten the story of how the student had managed that out of the student in the first place, the inferno he had created shouldn’t have been possible, “I had to pull the hose before it blew.”

Hawkeye frowned, her eyes glancing over his clothed arm, and Ed just pulled his sleeve up rather than arguing, “Scorched my shirt, I’m fine.”

“Depleting the oxygen-” Mustang began, and Ed could feel the darkness pulse.

Depleting the oxygen. Just a simple clap and no more fire. Controlling the inferno, building shields around the students. A simple clap. A simple clap that meant nothing to him anymore. He drained his glass and stood up, nodding toward the bar and ignoring what the others were saying. He couldn’t let the thoughts ring through his head. He ignored the glances Hawkeye and Havoc exchanged, and walked over to the bar and signaled for another beer. He didn’t drink heavily, but he had found that, sometimes, the numbness of alcohol helped. Mustang’s comments were going to make being numb very necessary this evening if he didn’t want to bail.

“Boss,” Havoc asked, approaching Ed as he waited for a refill and some more onion rings, “You alright?”

“Mmhmm,” Ed hummed, nodding and glancing at Havoc.

“You just drained two glass in five minutes, that’s a bit, well, heavy for you,” Havoc continued, noticing for the first time the empty shot glass in front of Ed.

“Sorry, it’s just been a long week,” Ed sighed, “Exams and whatnot, and the planning for the alchemy gathering is getting intense. You know, stuff.”

“Yeah,” Havoc said, watching Ed accept a second shot and swigging it back without a care, “Stuff. How did you get extra ketchup?”

Ed laughed, accepting the basked of onion rings with extra ketchup, “I asked.”

The night continued on, and Ed nursed his next two beers while catching up and laughing with the others. Hawkeye still remained vigilant, but Ed was pretty sure she couldn’t turn that off at this point. But he knew where the concern was coming from, he had seen plenty of Promised Day survivors drowning themselves in the bottom of bottles. He could easily slip into that too, if he wasn’t careful. And if he didn’t know that Al would have his head on a platter if he dared.

The waitress put a shot in front of him and Ed looked up, confused.

“From the gent at the bar,” she smiled and wandered back behind the counter.

Ed frowned, and looked over at the bar. A smiling blond man raised a shot and downed it quickly, and Ed turned away with a sigh. He recognized him in the distant way that meant they had met, and probably fucked, at some point. And the man clearly had not understood the meaning of one night stand if he was pulling this shit here and now.

“Friend of yours,” Mustang asked with a grin, and Ed just rolled his eyes and pushed the shot away.

“Acquaintance,” Ed replied crisply, keeping his back toward the bar.

“He’s coming over,” Breda said with a whistle, “Shit he’s wasted.”

Ed’s shoulders dropped and he closed his eyes. Of course this would happen here and now, that had always been Ed’s luck. But, he reminded himself, he was an adult now, not a child, and he could handle this situation. He just needed to drag the man off and tell him to fuck off, and that would be the end of it. Words, not actions. Actions would get him into trouble with words like ‘assault’, and Ed didn’t want that. He had never fucked anyone dangerous, or that seemed dangerous, so a few sharp barbs should do the trick.

Ed stood suddenly, and turned to drag the man away from the table. It was easy enough to lead him back to the bar, but trying to get his hands and arms off of him was irritatingly difficult.

“So,” the man crooned, “Got any plans tonight?”

“Fuck off,” Ed snapped, “Forget I exist, and forget we ever met.”

“Oh,” the man tried to lean in and grab a kiss, “You seemed to enjoy yourself the last time.”

“I believe my friend has, quite kindly, told you no,” Mustang’s voice came from behind Ed, and Ed sighed.

Fuck. He didn’t want Mustang involved with this. He didn’t want any of them involved with this. He just wanted an evening with friends, a few pints, and maybe a greasy dinner on the way home. He didn’t want a jilted asshole pawing at him while Mustang looked on, and he certainly didn’t want Mustang interfering.

“Fuck off, Mustang, I can handle this,” Ed said, not even bothering to turn around, “You can fuck off too, asshole,” Ed said, shoving the man in front of him.

“Hey now,” the man started, “This is between me and him!”

“No,” Ed said quietly, leaning in with a glare, “It’s between no one. You’re drunk. Go away.”

The man paused, and Ed watched him wilt. Good. The message had been clear, though it was still too little too late. He could almost feel Mustang’s gaze over his shoulder, and Ed knew it was more Mustang’s notoriety than his own that had browbeat this situation. Ed always made sure his dalliances didn’t know who he was, though it was always possible that someone had found him out later. But Mustang? The Flame Alchemist? He was well published, and Ed had no doubt he had his gloves on right now.

“Come on Ed, back to the table,” Mustang said quietly, his hand resting gently on Ed’s shoulder. Ed shrugged the hand off, but went back to the table, trying to ignore the awkward stares.

“You okay Boss?” Havoc asked, breaking silence.

“Yeah, I’m fine, just some asshole I used to fuck, no big deal,” Ed shrugged, picking up his beer and downing it.

The silence echoed.

“Ed,” Hawkeye said, pausing as Mustang shook his head.

“It’s getting late guys, so I’m calling it a night,” Ed sighed, standing up and giving a fake stretch, “It’s been good seeing you all.”

“You too, Ed,” Hawkeye smiled wanly, “Don’t be a stranger.”

Ed grit his teeth as he walked away, hearing the echo of Mustang’s boots behind him. Of course the man couldn’t leave it alone. He had been Ed’s CO for so long Ed was halfway surprised he didn’t get weekly checks at times.

“I know where I live, Mustang, I don’t need your help” Ed snapped, turning to glare at him, and then seeing the faces of the others at the table.

Concern. The asshole was still at the bar, and the others were concerned. He sighed. If he had been any of them, he would have sent Mustang after himself as well. It was hard to shake concern like that, Al had certainly spent a chunk of time trying once he had recovered. He had been twelve when they had met him, practically a baby. And while yes, they had fought with him on Promised Day, some things never changed.

“Just making sure you get there safely,” Mustang said, his face neutral.

“Fine, whatever,” Ed sighed, turning and walking out the door with Mustang following.

Chapter Text

The evening was cool, but the lingering summer still made it warm enough that Ed didn’t mind having not brought a jacket. But, what should have been a pleasant walk home was strained by Mustang at his side, turning the evening air awkward and stale.

“Just have out with it,” Ed stopped, running a hand over his hair and looking around.

They had been cutting through the park and there were open benches nearby hidden beneath the looming trees. Mustang remained standing while Ed slouched down onto the bench, wondering what sort of lecture he was going to get. Fucking men? Fucking strange men? Fucking anyone at all? Mustang didn’t seem the sort to give two shits, but he had taken a while to get used to Ed drinking alcohol as well.

“Ed,” Mustang sighed, and then he sat down next to Ed, staring off into the distance.

Ed waited while the man collected his thoughts. He could take this lecture. He’d probably hear some variation of it from Al the next time he was in Central, though more of the ‘be safe, brother’ variety. Probably coupled with another lecture on ‘it’s supposed to be an apartment, not a library, where’s your coffee!?’ as well.

“You’re an adult,” Mustang finally said.

“Have been for a while,” Ed pointed out, “Technically since the instant I became a State Alchemist.”

Mustang paled, his lips thinning as he shot him a glare.

“Has this been going on since-” Mustang demanded, by Ed waved his hand, cutting him off.

“Fuck no,” Ed snapped, how could Mustang think that of him?

Yes, he had heard plenty of rumors about himself when he had been younger, about climbing the ranks with ‘special talents’, but he had been busy striving to get Al back in once piece to honestly stop and care about anything but Al. He certainly hadn’t been taking his time to fuck his way through bars. It was Greed who had shown him how to relax, to quiet his anxieties, with a little physical pleasure. He had been young, but not twelve, that’s for damn sure.

“No, I was legal before I started fucking around, so you can put your damn gloves away.”

Mustang paused, biting his lip, “Did you even know his name?”

Ed snorted at that. Given Mustang’s reputation, that was just amusing. Yes, he knew that most of that reputation had been intelligence gathering, but he didn’t doubt Mustang had notched up a bed post or two in his time. Ed wasn’t competing, but he wasn’t about to shy away from his behavior from a man like Mustang.

“Probably that night,” Ed leaned back, turning his gaze upward. Just a shadowy canopy where the night stars should be gleaming; not that he would be able to see them with Central’s light pollution though, “We fucked, we had fun, that was it. Not any of your business. Pretty sure you’ve done it enough yourself.”

Mustang clenched his fists, turning toward Ed, “Ed, he practically attacked you in a bar when you said no, clearly he thought more of it. It’s not safe, you can’t defend-”

The darkness pulsed, and Ed felt his heart skip a beat. This was what it was about. This is what it was always about: he was useless without his alchemy. He couldn’t be trusted to make good decisions without his alchemy. He couldn’t be trusted to live his life without his alchemy. He couldn’t be trusted to keep himself safe without his alchemy. All Edward had ever really been in life was his alchemy after all. It was what had truly defined him.

“Fuck you,” Ed snapped, glaring at Mustang, “Fuck you with that shit. Just because I can’t do alchemy doesn’t mean I’m some toss away doll!”

“Ed, that’s not what I-” Mustang started, but Ed interrupted him.

“No, that’s exactly what you meant! If it had been Hawkeye dealing with a stray fuck, would you have interfered?” Ed demanded, “No, you would have stood back and watched her shoot him. If any of the others, your entire team of non alchemists had had an issue, you would have stood back. But poor little Ed has to deal with one little man and suddenly he’s a maiden in distress that needs to be coddled and locked away before the world hurts him! I was trained to be an expert in hand to hand combat, Mustang, the alchemy was never a part of that! So you can go-”

Ed froze as Mustang kissed him, the older man’s glove tangling in the back of Ed’s hair, and Ed was stunned. What the fuck was this!? Mustang wasn’t kissing him, Mustang didn’t want to kiss him. Mustang didn’t want to kiss him. Mustang fucked his way through every woman that would giggle and look in his direction. He didn’t kiss washed up young men that had burned their lives away before they were old enough to drink. No one wasted their time on people like Ed.

“You never shut up, do you,” Mustang smirked, “Must be that short temper of yours.”

“I’m nearly as tall as you, bastard,” Ed gasped, still not sure what, exactly, was going on.

He had had eyes for Mustang for years. Lingering little thoughts that had burned at the edges of his mind. But he had never played at them. He had been too young, in the beginning, always too busy, and then too tired in the end. By the time he knew enough about life to dare say anything, he knew he had never had a chance. He was withered and old and useless, and here Mustang was, still at the prime of life, fighting to become leader of the nation, and would likely achieve that dream soon. He didn’t need Ed wrapped around his neck and weighing him down.

He didn’t need Ed ruining that for him, just like Ed ruined everything for everyone around him. He couldn’t do that to Roy, his heart clenching even just thinking his name, couldn’t be the one that derailed his life. And yet here Mustang was, throwing everything away for no reason at all.

Ed couldn’t think of what to do next. He didn’t want Mustang to suffer for this, everyone suffered from him, but he didn’t want to walk away. He had wanted Mustang for years, since he was old enough to know what wanting was. But this was different than a quick wank in the shower. This was Mustang, his hand still on his arm, still staring at him, still having kissed him.

He shivered, and felt something coiling in his belly. It felt like fear. He was going to destroy Mustang, he was sure of it. And he was afraid of that.

“Ed,” Mustang finally said, snapping Ed back to the present.

“You can’t just do that to someone,” Ed said weakly, pulling away and being relieved when Mustang let him, “It’s not funny.”

“It wasn’t meant as a joke,” Mustang said, his voice calm and serious.

It was a joke, it had to be a joke. But Mustang, for all that he was a bastard, had never been downright cruel to him. He was still sitting there, staring at him.

“How does this work,” Mustang finally asked, “Your place or mine?”

“You’ve known me since I was twelve!” Ed balked.

“You aren’t twelve, Ed,” Mustang reminded him, “You were very insistent on that.”

Ed swallowed. He wanted this. Had wanted this for years. He could never have the man, not wholly, but he could have him for tonight. Could find pleasure in what he wanted, calm himself, and then move on. He was good at this. He had fun doing this. And Mustang was open for it.

“No one’s,” Ed said reaching up and tracing Mustang’s jaw, “It’s not personal. No strings attached, nothing after tonight. Just a hotel and a good fuck.”

Mustang hesitated, and then nodded, “Any hotel you have a preference for?”

“Not the Rose,” Ed leaned in, kissing him softly.

The Rose was a shitty hotel near the bars. The Rose is where he had his casual flings to calm himself, to keep from drowning as the darkness swallowed him. The Rose was for meaningless faces. He wanted something more for Mustang. He only had tonight, and he wanted to remember it.

Mustang nodded, rising and taking Ed’s hand, and led him from the park.

Ed smiled as he slipped back into bed, Mustang shifting his arm to pull Ed tightly against his side. He had known Mustang had a reputation as a good lover, but he had been pleasantly surprised at just how good. Certainly better than he had had in the past year or two. He almost missed the fact that he couldn’t stop to take notes.

Mustang rolled over, sinking his face into Ed’s hair and tangling their legs. Ed let out a huff, and then sighed, he hadn’t felt this content in ages, and it felt nice to just be warm and comfortable, and just enjoy relaxing. He wanted this to last forever, one moment stretching beyond what life would allow.

“Good?” Mustang asked, pulling his face away.

“Worth note,” Ed snarked with a smile, looking over at Mustang, “Classes at the academy or natural talent?”

“What can I say,” Mustang said with a grin, “I have a gift.”

Ed laughed at that, turning into Mustang, his eyes shining bright. It wasn’t just the sex, he realized, it was this, the afterglow. He wasn’t trying to hide who he was, Mustang already knew and didn’t care. There was no pity in his eyes, no questions on his tongue. They already knew each other. They already both knew and didn’t care about all the dirty little secrets they had kept in years past.

“Is Al coming down for the alchemy conference,” Mustang asked, gently tracing Ed’s cheek.

Ed sighed. And Mustang also knew how to land the hardest punch in a fight without ever even trying, and too stupid to realize it. The old him would be over the moon. The new him was just tired of clapping his hands together before remembering that it didn’t do anything anymore. Central University’s alchemy conference, an attempt to get the leading minds in alchemy talking to one another and working together instead of isolating each other and guarding against one another in some race to stay one step ahead, was a great thing. And it made Ed’s bones ache with desire.

“Yeah,” Ed sighed, pulling away slightly, “He’ll be in a few weeks early, he took the semester off to give himself time to visit and relax.”

“That’s good,” Mustang said, leaning in to nip against Ed’s jaw, “He helping you with your presentation?”

Ed froze. He knew Mustang was attending, but he didn’t realize that Mustang didn’t know. He may know everything about alchemetic theory, but he couldn’t teach alchemy. The dean was firm on that: those that can’t, can’t teach. So Ed was left helping others organize their presentations, helping check the math on their research papers, but his name was quickly becoming forgotten. He couldn’t perform, so he couldn’t teach. And Central University had made it quite clear that he wouldn’t be presenting. But Al would. And Ed would help him, too, because that’s what he was here to do: help.

“Yeah,” Ed nodded, closing his eyes.

He didn’t want to talk about this. He had been so comfortable, the moment had been so perfect, but the bastard had had to go and open his mouth and rip apart every bandage he had across that wound. It would never stop stinging, never stop aching deep in his chest, forever reminding him that he was merely the shadow that remained.

Mustang didn’t notice, his hand tracing across Ed’s chest to flick at a nipple, and Ed closed his eyes and gasped. The man may be a moron, but at least he also presented a way to forget about the longing ache he had uncovered. If he was willing, Ed was happy to partake.

Ed rolled on top of Mustang, a gleam in his eye, and leaned down to capture a kiss. They still hours yet until the darkness faded, and he intended to make use of every moment.

Chapter Text

Ed yawned and blinked, and then smiled as he stared at a sleeping Mustang. He was handsome, even with drool on his cheek, and Ed was glad he had simply thrown common sense out the window and enjoyed last night. It would be the only night, he promised himself, but it was worth it. It was worth the memories, it was worth the feeling of waking up, comfortable, and happily not alone.

He brushed hair from Mustang’s face gently, admiring the view, and then squawked as Mustang’s eyes opened and he pulled Ed in close, kissing along his jawline. Ed hummed, tilting his neck to give him access, and reached down between Mustang’s legs.

“Shower,” Ed asked, his breath quickening as Mustang worked his way down Ed’s chest and payed close attention to his nipple.

Mustang nodded, and the two men rolled out of bed, still touching and kissing, and managed to stumble into the shower. Mustang slammed the door solidly behind them.

Ed growled as he tried to finger comb his wet hair, but failed miserable. It was one of the more annoying issues that long hair always brought him, but he would still forever balk at the thought of cutting it short. But he couldn’t just leave it as it was, or it would take forever to untangle once it dried.

“Let me,” Mustang said, settling on the bed behind him and nipping at his ear.

“We don’t have time for that,” Ed sighed, swatting his face away, but letting the older man help with his hair.

“Just one night,” Mustang asked, gently untangling the blond locks and laying it smooth, “I thought it was rather more enjoyable than that.”

“I keep to my rules,” Ed sighed, “One night, nothing more. I don’t do attachments.”

“No,” Mustang agreed, “You don’t. But-”

“Rules, Mustang,” Ed said, his voice crisp, staring ahead at the wall, “I keep to my rules. Please.”

“Of course,” Mustang agreed, “If you ever change your mind, I’ll be here.”

With the snap of an elastic he tied off Ed’s braid, and Ed looked at it with a frown.

“I haven’t had my hair in a braid in years,” Ed finally said, turning to look at Mustang.

Mustang just shrugged, leaning over and kissing him. Ed rolled his eyes, they really needed to get going, check out was soon and he never over stayed on a hotel room, but he enjoyed this. He enjoyed Mustang, and he could spare a few minutes for a last farewell.

“You taste like shitty hotel toothpaste,” Ed said, finally pulling back with a grin.

“I could say the same of you,” Mustang smiled back, “Things to do today?”

“Professors don’t just summon lectures and assignments from midair,” Ed groaned.

Mustang nodded, getting off the bed and holding his hand out for Ed. Ed took it, raising himself to his feet, and wondered how this would play out in the future. Would they be awkward now? Would it be difficult to see him? Would it be difficult to see him and not be able to touch him? He would hate to lose friends over this, but most of them were more Mustang’s than his. He honestly had no clue how this would go, he had never fucked anyone he might have to deal with in life afterward, he went out of his way to avoid that.

“You coming next week,” Mustang asked as they left the room, walking down the hall together but not holding hands.

“Mustang,” Ed sighed, kneading his forehead, he would never have done this if he had thought Mustang would be like this.

“Not this,” Mustang said, his eyes downcast, “The bar. Fuery is trying to make it a regular thing, says we’re all drifting too far apart.”

Ed brightened at that. Meeting up with old friends, passing old jokes and bitching about new paperwork? He would happily do that. He would simply have to test the waters with Mustang, and hope it worked. And, even better, when Al visited it would be easy for him to just slip in with the rest, instead of making it a huge show about Al. Al would enjoy that, he hated being the center of attention.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Ed smiled, grabbing Mustang by the shirt front and pulling him down for one last kiss.

Mustang was stunned, but happily returned the favor before Ed finally pulled away.

“’Bye Mustang, see you next week,” Ed gave a wave, and turned and walked away.

“Goodbye Ed,” Mustang said, and Ed refused to turn and look back.

This was goodbye. Not a final goodbye, he would certainly see Mustang around, but this was the end of sex with Mustang. Their relationship would return to old friends who had served together during difficult times. Who were comfortable together. Not because they had fucked, but because they had fought together and knew they had each others backs. That’s all it could ever be, Ed promised himself, continuing to walk, looking forward and ignoring the world around him.

He hoped Mustang didn’t tell the others. He didn’t think he would, but he might tell Hawkeye. As far as Ed knew, Hawkeye always knew everything anyway, no matter what anyone did or didn’t say. He just hoped Hawkeye understood as well. It really was for the best this way. It kept Ed from dragging anyone down.

Come Monday morning Ed sighed as he saw Professor Porman waiting in front of his office door. He liked Professor Porman, he really did. The man was intelligent, interesting, and inventive. He was also incredibly nervous and had the self esteem of a three day old dead jellyfish. His very transmutation circles could come to life and reassure him that it was alright, he had done everything just right, and he still would think he had screwed up some how.

So, inevitably, he came to Ed for reassurance and help. Mainly because Ed was the only one that would put up with him anymore as the other professors in the alchemy department were either too busy, or made themselves too busy to avoid him. Ed simply felt bad for him, he really was a good guy when you got past the self esteem issues. And he never failed to leave little treats as a thank you, which Ed always appreciated.

“Ed, I’m sorry to be here so early,” Porman began, and Ed just smiled and nodded.

He had probably worked himself into a frenzy all weekend. But it couldn’t be helped, and it wasn’t like Ed had anything planned for his morning. His students would either be getting lectures or lectured, and he had already planned out both. An hour or two to help someone else was actually a pretty good way to start the week.

“Coffee first,” Ed said, “And then you can have me until 10.”

Porman smiled and nodded, handing Ed a stack of folders and then rushing off.

“Black,” Ed yelled down the hall after him. He would hate to have to glare at a cup of coffee that had been polluted by milk.

The door swung open, and Ed frowned as he glanced at the titles on the folders. Water alchemy. Not exactly his strong suit, but he knew a little about it. At least whatever Porman was writing about wasn’t weaponry alchemy, he would have to turn Porman away if that had been the case. He wanted nothing to do with weapons these days, he had seen enough of that, and dealt with enough of that, leading up to the Promised Day. He was quite glad that Amestris was moving on to using alchemy for more peaceful means, such as healing. And, it seemed, in Porman’s case, helping to create safe fresh water sources for small communities.

Ed sat down and began to read through the first folder, making notes on his notepad as he went. It was fascinating, he would never have thought to combine and create new arrays like Porman had. The man truly was a genius when left alone. To think that the country had gone from Father to this; from weapon based alchemy being nearly the only alchemy skill developed, to giant leaps forward in more passive talents. And, Ed hoped, soon healing alchemy would start seriously being developed. Al had promised to help by bringing a small library and his notes with him for the conference.

He hummed thoughtfully, finally looking up as he heard the quick flash of alchemy, and noticed the now steaming cup of coffee on his desk, and Porman smiling apologetically. Ed nodded, and grimaced as he took a sip. Hot coffee it may have been, but it was complete crap. The university seemed to get its supplies from whomever sold to the military.

“This is brilliant, Porman,” Ed said with a smile, putting the papers down, “Your arrays look perfect. Have you tried testing them?”

Ed glanced at the clock, and cursed. It was nearly ten, he would have to get going soon. The downside of being a professor is that you couldn’t skip class if you were teaching it. And discussing work with Porman wasn’t a good enough excuse to cancel class for the university.

“Yes, but given how readily available water is around here,” Porman sighed, trailing off, and Ed nodded.

His arrays were designed to help build fresh water water sources in a desert environment. Central had far too many readily available water sources to make for a good test. He would need to try somewhere more arid. And then there would be observation on how well the sources lasted, and if the array would need to be constantly maintained. It was a tricky thing, but Porman was clearly making steps in the right direction.

“If you tried it on one of the frequented caravan routes between here and Xing, they would appreciate it, and keep you up to date on how well it worked long term,” Ed pointed out.

“That’s exactly what I was going for,” Porman brightened, “To think, if we could reclaim Xerxes, it would be amazing! To breath fresh life into that ancient city once again!”

Ed bit his lip to keep from snapping in reply. Bringing life back to Xerxes, to Ed, was nearly blasphemous. It certainly tread too closely to his own past, let alone his own heritage. He would be happy to forever let that city be eaten, devoured by the desert and completely forgotten. But Porman was partially right, it would be a good place to test his array for long term use. Xerxes would have had to have had a stable agricultural climate to survive and grow as large as they did. It would be easier to maintain a water source where one had been before rather than elsewhere in the desert where it might not have been viable.

Of course, Ed also didn’t know just how large Xerxes had really been, just the main city where his father had come from. For all he knew, the entire desert was where Xerxes had been. To bring life to that much land would be amazing. Or disastrous, though Amestris and Xing were good allies, but he could see Ling wanting some piece of new farmland for his country as well.

“I think,” Ed said, collecting Porman’s papers and handing them back to the professor, “That I have class, and you need to seriously think about some long term experiments in the intended environment.”

Porman blinked, looking up at the clock, and then nodded, “Your brother is coming through the desert, isn’t he?”

“On the railroad, not by horse,” Ed explained, cutting off where Porman’s thoughts were going.

He knew Al. And he knew all would be equally as fascinated, and be more than happy to change his plans and setting up the arrays as a test. But this was something Porman needed to be able to do himself. And, especially, ask the university for funding to do rather than relying on others.

“I look forward to meeting him, his alchemy must be amazing after studying the Xing variation for so many years. Have you ever tried it,” Porman asked, standing at the door.

Ed tightened his fist around his mug, feeling his smile turn brittle.

“No, wasn’t really to my taste.”

“A shame,” Porman nodded, walking out the door.

Ed bit his lip, gulping down the coffee and ignoring the bitter burn, slammed the mug down on the edge of his desk, grabbing the stack of papers he had graded over the weekend. He watched helplessly as the coffee mug, unbalanced as it was on the edge, fell and shattered across the floor, and sighed. There was nothing he could do for it now, he thought, there was no bringing the coffee mug back together again.

He closed the door and stormed down the hallway, leaving his good mood lying on the floor with the broken mug.

Chapter Text

Ed’s teeth ached as he grit them and frowned. It was barely half past eight on Thursday morning, and there was already a student sitting in front of his office. He knew he had been harsh on them on Monday, demanding their attention and tearing them a new one in hopes of beating it into their heads that they were either there to learn or to get the fuck out of his classroom, but he didn’t expect immediate results. He expected studious students, and, hopefully, better essays and midterms. But, here one was, waiting for him. Hopefully with honest questions and not just to suck up.

He hated students that tried to use office hours for sucking up. He had seen enough ass kissing in the military, he certainly didn’t want to see it coming from his classroom.

“Office hours aren’t until nine,” Ed snapped, glaring down at the student as he hurriedly stood.

“I’m sorry,” the student said, pushing his glasses back up his nose and stepping out of Ed’s way, “But I-”

Ed raised his hand to cut him off, unlocking the door and motioning for him to enter his office. The boy, Ed snorted at the thought of someone who was barely a few years younger than himself being called a boy, hurried in and adjusted the folder he was carrying.

“Is this about Monday’s lecture,” Ed sighed, dropping his bag next to the desk and collapsing into his chair. It groaned, but held.

“Well, no, sir,” he said, “I’m Steve Jones, from over in the history department, and I wanted to ask you a few questions. If that’s alright, of course.”

Ed frowned, but motioned for Steve to continue. Of course the history department would eventually start sending students his way. He was Edward Elric, after all, he was sure there were a few professors that were biting at the bit for first hand accounts of what had happened on the Promised Day. Hell, he had told a few of them to fuck off more than once. Clearly they were now sending puppys into his lion den.

“I wanted to ask you about your brother,” he continued.

That got an eyebrow lift from Ed. He had been frequently asked questions, and had, on occasion, fielded questions about Mustang and the others, and, of course, Bradley, but never about Al. Al tended to slip through the cracks and get forgotten, especially as he really hadn’t shown up on many official records over the years. Ed had worked hard to keep it that way. Him being a seven foot tall suit of armor had certainly made things complicated.

“Sure, I’m happy to talk about him,” Ed smiled, “He can’t cook for shit, if you want to put that in your notes.”

Al was going to punch him so hard if some book came out and insulted his cooking. It was almost worth it, even though he knew Al would never see this essay. It would at least start rumors. And what were big brothers for if not annoying their younger brothers?

“I, uh, okay,” Steve obediently wrote the note down, but continued in a more serious line of thought, “But I was wondering more about everything leading up to the events in Central?”

Ed frowned. Yes, that would make more sense. Ed thought the world of Al. Brilliant Al, off in Xing helping to find a way to get alchemy and alkehestry to work together. Helping to bring medical alchemy to the world, instead of military applications. But, for the rest of the world, he was little more than a forgotten name that had helped participate in the events that had not only saved the country, but drastically changed the future of Amestris as well.

And Ed would love to harp on about what had happened leading up to that day. About how long this country had been designed just to sacrifice every last person within the borders. But he couldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t. He knew the mass panic it could still cause, even all these years later. And he also knew he couldn’t fully remember all the little intricate details of the cover stories that had been invented to help explain everything away. He had never really bothered, he had been too involved in enjoying having Al fully back, and no one had really questioned him while he had been in Resembool or after he had returned to Central.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, looking down at his nearly empty notepad, “I know this must be hard for you and all, being his brother. But there’s not a lot written about what the Fullmetal Alchemist did leading up to that day, and I thought that, you know, you traveled with him...”

Ed blinked and then leaned back in his chair with a groan. All these years later and people were still getting the two of them mixed up! He was more metal than Al now! If Al heard about this he would never let him live it down.

“And I think it would be great to have his full story told and all. A tribute to his memory!”

Ed frowned, “A tribute to his memory?”

“Yeah,” Steve said nervously, playing with his pen and avoiding looking at Ed, “I think it’s a shame. There’s all these great stories about him, but then he’s just forgotten after he gave his life to help save the country.”

No, Ed was sure that couldn’t be right. The military hadn’t declared him dead. He was retired, and happily so. He knew that Grumman had pulled strings to get the paperwork done for him quickly, while Al had still been in the hospital, so he hadn’t had to worry about a thing in Resembool. But he had been gone for over a year after the Promised Day, and he hadn’t paid attention to any politics. Had they declared him dead? Had that been easier than explaining that the People’s Alchemist had given his alchemy to save his brother?

He honestly had no idea. He had never asked; it would never had occurred for him to ask. He had retired, and that was the end of it as far as he was concerned. But maybe more had had to happen back then? Maybe there had been odd questions and a death had answered them better than the truth? That didn’t sound right, Ed walked around with his name with no issue, but he didn’t try to be the Ed Elric anymore.

It was certainly something he needed to ask questions about. Although, given where he was hearing any of this from, he doubted anyone but some of the more questionable rags had jotted down this particular history.

“Was there a parade?” Ed finally asked, curiosity getting the better of him. He wanted a huge parade, and a statue. Though, given he didn’t know of any statues of himself anywhere, there likely wasn’t one.

“No, your brother Edward just has a passing note about his death in hospital due to injuries. Nothing beyond that,” Steve said sadly, just staring at his paper now.

The kid was a moron. Ed just rolled his eyes. Some stupid newspaper had reported he was dead, and this idiot thought he was Al. How many other people thought he was Al, though? Is that why they thought he was good at alchemic theory but couldn’t actually do it? What the hell had the military done this time when they had gone and decided to screw with his life?

Only fucking Mustang could have caused mayhem like this without anyone noticing. And, knowing Mustang, he probably had done it as a joke. That asshole had always been a bastard.

“Kid, I’ve got shit to do, and I don’t want to talk about it. Out,” Ed ordered, pointing at the door.

If this had actually been about Al he would have happily skipped a class to help with his report. But not when he was walking a tightrope of mistaken identities, not knowing cover stories, and simply not wanting to deal with it. Let him write some fantasy piece, Ed could just roll his eyes and tell a history professor that the kid was bad at research later.

The kid scrambled from the room, not even bothering to put away his notepad or say goodbye. Students, Ed decided, were the bane of his existence at times.

Ed let his eyebrow rise as he stared at the house in front of him. He had known by the address that Mustang’s house was in the more affluent area of Central, also a rather more military heavy area as well, but he hadn’t really connected the two in his mind until now. Two stories, a well kept lawn, no large trees, and well kept juniper bushes below the front windows. Did it come with a wife, 2.5 kids, and a dog? Or did they charge extra for that these days?

And, given the number of patrols, both uniform and non, he had seen on the walk here, these area was heavily protected as well. A lot of brass was still nervous about dissidents deciding to come after their families, and it seemed that, just maybe, Mustang was as well.

Not that Ed blamed him. He had had more than a few issues with paranoia stemming from his military days as well. Metal bars, weapons in every room, more than one escape exit. If he had still had his alchemy, more wards than even a military bank would think sane too. He wondered, as he opened the squeaky cast iron fence, if Mustang would let him see his wards. For old times sake.

The door swung open before he even had a chance to see if Mustang had carved any arrays in any obvious places.

“Edward,” Mustang greeted warmly, already out of his uniform and in slacks and a button down.

Did the man own anything that did hang perfectly on him?

“Hey, sorry for the social call, but,” Ed glanced around, and motioned at the door.

Mustang just sighed, rolling his eyes, and held it open wider in invitation. Ed just grinned, toeing his shoes off at the door before sighing at the sight of the living room. Blue walls, blue curtains, blue prefabricated furniture. Did Mustang decorate with a color wheel?

The door closed softly behind him, and he just shrugged his shoulders and sat on the couch. It was hard, and the fabric felt like cheap cotton. Could he just not afford better, or did he not care?

“So, I had an interesting encounter with a dumbass undergrad this week,” Ed started, wondering how he was going to lead in to asking Mustang if he had declared him dead to anyone as a joke.

“I thought the entrance exam was to weed out dumbasses,” Mustang joked, going to a side cabinet and take out whiskey and two glasses.

He offered one to Ed and he nodded. It was Friday, it’s not like he cared anyone cared if he slept in late tomorrow. He eyed Mustang’s pour suspiciously. A three quarter glass was a bad sign, although for whom he wasn’t sure. Maybe the country was in worse disarray than the newspapers reported.

“There’s always that special few,” Ed sighed, sipping at his whiskey as Mustang sat in the chair opposite him, “But this one had a really interesting story. Did you know people are still getting me and Al mixed up?”

Mustang snorted, “That sounds about right. Older brothers are usually the taller ones after all.”

Ed just raised a one finger salute at Mustang, he had long since gotten over his height issues. He was never going to stop hearing the jokes though, it seemed. Especially not from old colleagues that enjoyed rubbing it back in his face. But he knew it was all in good fun, more to wind him up than painful. Even Al liked to wax poetic about never having a proper ‘big’ brother at times.

Mustang just smirked and continued drinking.

“He dug up an article that said that I had died after the Promised Day,” Ed paused as Mustang looked confused, “So that wasn’t you?”

“Ed, no one declared you dead. Not that I know of. But, with the chaos of the coup, and Father, some reporter probably just grabbed a headline and ran with it. Hell, it took Hawkeye nearly six months to get your paperwork straightened out in the first place,” Mustang took a heavy drink, “It would have been easier for everyone if you had been declared dead.”

“What took six months to straighten out?” Ed asked, “I retired, didn’t I?”

Mustang shrugged, finishing his glass and putting it on the cheap coffee table. Ed was halfway surprised it was able to support anything at all, it looked a heavy breeze away from falling apart.

“Not really,” Mustang frowned, “You were a deserter for a while before-”

“I was avoiding being captured!” Ed snapped.

“The military declared you a deserter after you disappeared in Briggs, and then the coup happened and so she sorted the paperwork to make you not a deserter. Technically you were granted early retirement due to injuries sustained in battle, but most of it wasn’t fully processed until around the time you returned to Central,” Mustang explained, “Hawkeye didn’t explain this to you?”

Ed just shrugged and leaned back, still nursing his glass, “Honestly? I just signed anything she told me to.”

“Wise decision,” Mustang agreed.

Ed snorted and took another sip, “She still threatening to shoot you?”

“She has her own office now, but I’m sure she would be happy to oblige if the situation presented itself.”

“Or you annoyed the fuck out of her,” Ed laughed.

“I’d like to think she’s better than that, but...” Mustang trailed off with a sigh, turning his gaze toward his empty glass.

“I’m honestly surprised that you two aren’t married with half a dozen little pyros running around,” Ed laughed, finishing his glass and placing it carefully on the table next to Mustang’s. The table wobbled slightly, and Ed gave it a dirty glare.

Mustang snorted, rolling his eyes, but shook his head.

“Me and her, we wouldn’t work out,” Mustang said.

“She’s too busy threatening to shoot you?” Ed chirped, leaning back on the couch and wondering if it would collapse as easily as the table looked about to do.

“I’d think she’s rather more interested in threatening to ‘shoot’ Fuery,” Mustang grinned.

Ed let out a whistle, “Makes sense though, he’s the only one Hayate really loves.”

Mustang nodded, standing to collect the glasses, “That, and I’m too busy looking at other blonds these days.”

Ed froze at that.

Mustang paused and sighed, filling his glass and quickly knocking it back, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Did you want to fuck me when you recruited me?” Ed snapped back, his anger rising to the forefront.

Mustang’s grip tightened on his glass, “I wanted to throw you out a window and snap when I recruited you,” Mustang rasped.

“You were an annoying bastard that needed to be taken down a peg or two,” Ed retorted, “Answer the damn question.”

“No,” Mustang said, sinking into the chair with another full glass, “I didn’t even notice you until you came back and started studying at the university.”

Ed snorted at that, “Probably for the best. I rubbed more than a few out to you when I was in the military though.”

Mustang’s eyes widened at that, but Ed ignored him, walking toward the door and wondering which bar would be best to hit that night. He liked to cycle through them so the regulars didn’t notice him too much, and to avoid a few awkward encounters. Thankfully, in a city as large as Central, he could probably go years before hitting the same bar twice if he did the calculations rights.

And, with no alchemy left to his name, he was certainly known for his math these days. When he wasn’t known for chewing out his students and roaring about poorly written essays.

“Ed, wait,” Mustang called out, catching the blond man before he managed to open the door, “I’m sorry, truly I am.”

“If you were really sorry you wouldn’t have said anything,” Ed said, looking back with the sigh.

Mustang really was gorgeous no matter what he did. Disheveled and apologetic, standing at the door with a half full glass of whiskey. He made Ed’s heart beat for him, but Ed knew he had to move on. He should never have slept with him in the first place, it was a stupid move. They saw each other so frequently that it was bound to have caused issues.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Mustang insisted.

Of course it did. They would fuck a few times, and then he would move on, like the few others Ed had let linger in his life and in his bed. They always did, escaping back up to the surface to breath fresh air and enjoy the sunlight. And Ed just lay there, watching them, glad they had left, and wishing that he could join them.

“You’re an idiot,” Ed said, walking out the door and closing it gently behind him.

Mustang could linger there if he wanted, but Ed had written his rules in stone. He couldn’t let himself weaken and turn back now. Mustang had a future ahead of him, he would become Fuhrer one day and help stabilize the country. Establish a democracy and let it escape its past, but he couldn’t do that if Ed clung to him. The rumors would destroy him, and any relationship would just end in tragedy.

He needed a drink to wash the whiskey out of his mouth.

Chapter Text

“Brother,” Ed sighed as he heard Al call out from the spare bedroom.

He had been in there for less than a minute, what had he found to be disappointed with? It had better not be some nonsense about furniture styles or color palettes. His quirky sense of style had certainly been toned down over the years, but even Al should know that it was always going to be his. Ed rolled his eyes, hanging up his winter coat and scarf, and was at least grateful that his apartment was always warm.

“What, Al,” Ed asked, standing at the doorway to the room.

There really wasn’t anywhere else he could have really stood, Al was occupying the ‘standing’ area, the bed, books, and small chest of drawers were occupying everything else. Ed was actually pretty sure there was a closet in the room somewhere as well, but he hadn’t stored anything important in there and it had probably gotten buried behind a bookcase or a stack of books.

“You said you cleaned!” Al turned to glare at Ed, motioning at the stacks of books that took up the floor space.

“I did, there’s no dust anywhere, and there’s nothing on the bed!” Ed replied, rolling his eyes.

Really, what was he supposed to do, rent a storage unit for the month that Al was going to be here? He didn’t trust storage units, people could break in and steal his books, or, more likely, the elements would seep in and destroy them. Al knew how precious books were to him, he certainly held them in high regard as well. There were even new sheets and blankets on the bed!

“There are libraries in Central, brother,” Al pointed out, picking up a book and scanning the title, “You don’t even speak Cretan, why do you have Cretan books?”

“I can read it pretty well,” Ed replied, craning his neck to look at the title. Ah, so that’s where his Cretan agricultural studies books had wandered off to.

“Nice neck,” Al said, poking at Ed’s neck as he looked away from the book, “What’s his name?”

Ed paused, his eyes going wide. He hadn’t quite forgotten about his neck, but he had hoped that the high collared shirt he had worn would hide the hickey he had gotten a few nights before. But he should have known it was useless with Al, his brother was far more perceptive than most others.

“His name,” Ed asked, trying to stall as his brain desperately looked for an escape from where the conversation was going.

“He certainly gave you a large enough hickey that I hope you got his name,” Al said, his voice frigid.

Ed knew he still remembered his name. It was something traditional, wasn’t it? Alex? No, he would have remembered that. Alfred? No, that wasn’t it. It was something a little odd, one he didn’t hear often.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a trick question Ed,” Al finally broke Ed’s concentration, glowering at him, “Riza said she was concerned in her last few letters, that you got manhandled in a bar. That you’ve been sleeping around.”

“I wasn’t manhandled,” Ed rolled his eyes, not believing that Riza had even mentioned it to Al. He was a grown man, he had been in the military since he was twelve! He didn’t need her protection, or her lectures.

“She’s worried about you brother,” Al snapped, “She doesn’t think you’ve been safe.”

“We’ve both been able to take care of ourselves since we were children,” Ed pointed out, turning to storm out of the room.

He refused to have an argument an inch from his brother’s face about his sexual habits! Hell, had he been in Al’s place he would have gone red, burned the letter, and never mentioned it again. A man had grabbed him in a bar, once, and now she was concerned that, what, he was going to get jumped in a back alley while walking home from work? That someone was going to fuck him and knife him?

Greater people had tried to kill him and failed.

He slammed the bottle of cheap brandy on the counter and stared at it, practically feeling Al’s glare on his back. No, what Al clearly wasn’t saying was right, drinking wasn’t going to solve this argument, just make them say things they would regret in the morning. Well, that he would regret, Al didn’t even like brandy.

Al started opening cabinets and glaring inside. At least he wasn’t still pissed about the books. Of course, he hadn’t seen the living room. Ed sighed, wondering what Al was looking for and wondering if he was going to be lectured about books and safe sex tonight.

“Where is it,” Al finally snapped, turning to glare at Ed.

“Where’s what,” Ed sighed, slouching down into a chair.

“The kettle. How am I supposed to yell at you without any damn tea!?” Al said, turning back to the cabinets.

Ed closed his eyes with a sigh. Al was still pissed, but at least he was calming down. He was transferring his anger. He couldn’t be mad at Ed about both his choices and his lack of a kettle. He was choosing between the two, and had chosen the kettle. Of course, now that also meant he was going to end up with a kettle whether he liked it or now, Al would see to that.

“I just use a pot, it’s easier,” Ed said, pointing at the cupboard to the left of the stove.

Al just shot him a dirty look, but put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Ed assumed he had brought his own tea from Xing, because all Ed had in his cabinets was coffee. It would be nice to try some Xingese tea, see if it had better flavor and a caffeine boost. Maybe save his stomach lining from his daily ritual of battery acid.

“I’m not angry at you about… your choices,” Al finally said, watching the pot rather than looking at Ed, “But Riza is right, the world is dangerous brother.”

“I know Al, I’ve been in it longer than you,” Ed snorted, watching his brother’s back tense, “I’m not going to say nothing happened, but it wasn’t the huge issue Riza thought it was. A guy I had… spent the night with was drunk and tried to kiss me. I could have kicked his ass halfway to Xing without spilling a drink. You know that.”

“Yes,” Al finally admitted, turning to face Ed, “But I still worry about you. You took everything after the Promised Day hard.”

“I didn’t,” Ed snapped back.

“Ed, even Granny didn’t know what to do,” Al’s took a deep breath, “You weren’t eating, you weren’t sleeping. You were falling apart, and you didn’t even-”

“I wasn’t falling apart,” Ed growled, “I was busy taking care of you. Your body was too weak, you needed me!”

“Yes, brother,” Al said, wiping at his eyes, “I needed you. Alive. And you fell to pieces obsessing about my health. It didn’t take that year for me to recover, it took a year for us both to recover. I don’t want to get a letter from someone weeks later telling me you died. That letter from Riza, it reminded me of just how… Ed, I don’t want anything to happen to you. I know you can take care of yourself, but sometimes you’re just so rash that you ignore the warning signs.”

Ed didn’t know what to say. He had made his younger brother cry, when their reunion was supposed to be a happy one. He didn’t want this, but he had done it. He always knew how to make a bad situation worse, it was a talent he had never lost.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said, accepting the mug of tea as Al sat across from him.

“I don’t want an apology,” Al said softly, staring down at his own mug of tea, “I trust you. I just want you to be safe.

“Now,” Al sipped at the tea, “Tell me about the conference.”

Ed sniffed at the tea and made a face at the potent scent. A sip later had him shoving the tea over to Al, who accepted it with a chuckle.

“They sent you all the paperwork, right?” Ed asked, “I can grab you a new copy of the schedule, but no one should have fucked anything too hard.”

Al looked around the room, eyeing the books, and then looking back at his brother. Ed bit his tongue. He knew what this was about. He had been hiding it from Al in the beginning, and then had hoped it would be overlooked in all the excitement. He never should have doubted his brother, Elrics were too smart for their own good at times.

“Ed, you’re not on any schedules,” Al finally said, “According to the university, you’re not involved in the alchemy department at all.”

Ed sighed, and nodded wearily.

“Those that can’t perform alchemy can’t teach alchemy,” Ed said, parroting the dean of the alchemy department, “I teach the physical sciences and mathematics.”

“That’s horse shit,” Al said, glaring at the tea, “You could easily teach theoretical alchemy. The foundations. Hell, any class they have outside of performing it!”

Ed smiled. His brother was right, but the dean was as well. It would be dangerous to have a professor that couldn’t step in and stop an out of control transmutation. Yes, he could have another professor in class on lab days, but it would be easier to cut Ed out of the equation entirely. It made more sense, no matter how much it broke his heart.

“It’s fine, Al,” Ed said, ignoring the steady thrumming in his chest, the ache that was burning through his blood, “You’re worth it, you’ll always be worth it.”

Al nodded, his hands tightening around the tea mug.

“So, I called in a few favors and got a ticket, so I’ll be able to attend your presentation,” Ed smiled, trying to reassure his brother.

“You weren’t even invited,” Al snapped, “I’m going to have words with people!”

“Please don’t tank my career,” Ed said, “I don’t want to have to move books.”

Al paused, but nodded.

“I would be a lot of books to move, wouldn’t it,” he chuckled, staring around the room, and through the doorway to the living room, “It’s worse in there?”

“Better in there,” Ed corrected him.

Al snorted at that, but nodded, “I’m going to clean up and get some sleep. Can we talk more, in the morning?”

“Of course,” Ed said, “For you, always. I might duck out for a little bit though, a few errands to run...”

“You mean books to look at,” Al smiled, “Go ahead, if Central didn’t kill me before, it certainly won’t now.”

Ed nodded, and grabbed his coat and scarf as Al cleaned mugs in the kitchen sink, With an icy blast of wind he was out the door and down the street, leaving the warmth of Al and his apartment behind him.

Ed pounded on the door a second time, shivering and glaring. He hadn’t meant for this to happen, but Al had always known how to accidentally wound him. Old wounds hurt worse than new ones when pressed hard enough. It was going to make living under the same roof as him for a month difficult, but he could cope.

The door opened and Ed brushed passed Mustang into the entry way, kicking off his boots.

“Ed, is something-” Mustang was quickly quieted as Ed began kissing him.

“Is this okay,” Ed asked, pulling away, “You offered, but you can say no.”

Mustang stared at him for a moment, watching as Ed stripped off his outer layers, “You said you had rules.”

“When have you known me not to break the fucking rules,” Ed said, grinning up at the older man.

“Fuck the rules indeed,” Mustang replied, his mouth on Ed’s once more.

Chapter Text

Mustang gently stroked the thick layer of scar tissue that still crossed across Ed’s shoulder. Ed just hummed, he could barely feel it at all, and wondered why the man bothered at all. They both knew it was hideous, Ed had had enough men tell him about it, that he still couldn’t wrap his head around why Mustang would go out of his way to touch that particular bit of flesh.

“You’re quiet,” Mustang said, his hand moving to the hickey on his throat, “Did he hurt you?”

“What,” Ed asked, confused for a moment, “No, I’m fine. I… Al noticed. Apparently he’s worried someone is going to stab me mid fuck or something.”

“It is a legitimate fear, Ed,” Mustang said, his hand pausing, “There have been serial killers in Central before. Probably a few now.”

Ed shifted, turning to look at Mustang, his eyes roving over the older man’s body. Scars, burns, flesh. All laid out to tell a timeline of a long life lived in front of him. He was almost jealous, Mustang had torn himself apart over and over again, and yet still managed to make himself look handsome. All Ed had ever managed was the appearance of a slightly worn chew toy.

“I know. But I am more careful than that,” Ed insisted.

“And you still ended up in my bed instead of out there,” Mustang sighed, brushing a few strands of golden hair from Ed’s face, “What’s going on Ed?”

“Al just poked a few old wounds, and I needed to blow off steam,” Ed replied flippantly, “It was easier to fuck you than to go out looking. He’s probably keeping himself awake with worry, I should get back.”

Mustang hummed, letting his hand continue to trace gentle paths across Ed’s skin, and Ed just watched. He felt the rough fingers drag on scar tissue, and glide across the patches of unmarred skin. He should sit up and find his clothes, should wrap himself back up in layers and venture back out into the cold. He should make sure Al knew he had gotten home safe, and there was nothing to worry about.

But he was so comfortable here, warm in bed, with Mustang’s hands on his body. There was no rush, the outside world could wait a few minutes longer. He could simply enjoy the present. Mustang leaned forward, kissing across a nameless scar, and Ed nearly closed his eyes and gave in.

He would have, if he Al hadn’t been at home waiting for him. He would have let himself enjoy this. Instead, he placed his hands on Mustang’s chest and gently pushed him away. He couldn’t do this, not right now. There were more important things in life than his pleasure.

“Ed, whatever it is, I can help,” Mustang said, watching as the golden haired man sat up with a sigh.

“No, you can’t,” Ed said, “It’s, it’s not like that.”

“Then tell me, please,” Mustang said, reaching out and caressing the back of Ed’s hand.

Ed paused, his shoulders slumped, and then looked back at Mustang. His face was so earnest that Ed wanted to pull him in close, reassure him that it wasn’t his fault. That none of this, whatever this was becoming, was. That he would still manage to keep some boundaries set, and not make anything worse. Mustang still aimed to become Fuhrer one day, and Ed knew the rumors of what never was still chased him.

“My gate,” Ed said, pausing, trying to wrestle the words into place in his mind, “When I gave my gate for Al’s return, Truth took it. But Truth is odd, he, it, they, when they took my gate they left a darkness inside.”

Ed raised Mustang’s hands in his, placing them gently on his chest, covering his sternum. He could the beating of his own heart, and the thrumming of the gaping hole that still lived within him.

“It hurts so much sometimes that I can nearly feel it bleeding into my body. I don’t regret it, never once,” Ed insisted, shaking his head and refusing to cry, “But nothing really stops it. The fucking, the fucking sates it for a while. Fills the void, quiets it so I can just be me and forget until the next time I’m reminded that I’m not any longer.”

“Ed, I’m sorry,” Mustang said, reaching out to pull him into his arms but Ed pulled away, standing up and leaving Mustang sitting in the middle of a messy bed.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Ed said quietly, “I bought the sins I payed for, it’s how Truth works.”

Ed dressed quickly, forgoing the search for socks he was sure he would never find, and closed the bedroom door behind him as he left, Mustang still staring from where he had left him. He shouldn’t have told him that, he knew, he had never told anyone. Not even Al, especially not Al. He wouldn’t be able to bear the heartbreak and pity that Al would carry, knowing how much Ed hurt inside. No matter how much he would reassure his younger brother, it would never quite be enough.

The bedroom door opened as Ed was slipping on his jacket, and he looked up to see Mustang, dressed only in boxers, coming down the stairs. He waited, not knowing what to say, not knowing what could be said. This is why he kept himself to one night stands with nearly nameless strangers; they never made things so awkward that Ed simply didn’t know how to continue afterwards.

“Ed,” Mustang started, pausing, his face clouded, “I’m here for you, when you need me.”

Ed nodded. He could live with that. It would ruin them both in the end, but he could live with that. It make things easier when Al was here, before he could return to just more nameless men in bars. It would hurt to break the habit, but he had broken stronger ones. He had learned to live without alchemy, after all.

“Thank you,” Ed said, and left into the cold winter night.

Al sighed and shook his head as he looked at the living room. Or, he corrected himself, the library. Not that the rest of the apartment couldn’t be considered a library as well. He kept quite the collection himself back in Xing, but May had made sure he knew that it wasn’t the entire house that the books were allowed to be sprawled across.

He picked up a book from a stack, another physics book, and nodded. At least they were organized. If it were random he would honestly have been worried, but organized showed that Ed’s thought process was just as organized, and just as all over the place as it had always been. He hadn’t been lying when he had said he had been worried, but he always worried about his older brother. He may not be in the military anymore, but trouble always seemed to seek him out.

He looked at the actual bookshelves, they seemed to be nothing but class textbooks and a few fiction novels, and noted the layer of dust. That made sense, Ed rarely read fiction for fun, and the textbooks he used he most likely memorized and had corrected into new editions. It was honestly amazing he hadn’t published new editions himself, knowing how stubborn he was when he was right.

But the one thing that stood out was the complete lack of alchemy texts. Not a single one. And that brought a tear to Al’s eye. His entire past was swept away and forgotten. Not a single shred to remind him of who he used to be. If he checked his closet, Al was sure that there would be nothing red there at all. Just the drab browns and whites and checks that seemed to mark him now.

“Oh brother,” Al said, looking at the pile of research papers on the desk.

Math and the physical sciences. When he could be doing so much more, helping so many more people with even just theoretical alchemy. He could draw the circles and find someone else to activate him. Al mused on that. His brother’s brilliance would always shine, no matter where he focused it, but Al was sure it would still burn brightest with alchemy. He could write a few letters, he had enough pull in Xing that they could make another opening in the department. And if Ed had already picked up Cretan just for reading, surely he could pick up Xingese by living there.

With a goal in mind, Al yawned, and turned out the light. He could wait until later to approach Ed about moving to Xing. It could be difficult, he seemed settled here in Central, something he never thought his train riding brother would ever be, but he could do it. Knowing the Emperor would certainly open doors for him, and his mind would open the rest for friendship at the university. He would love it, he was sure. He could find someone to settle down with, no more strange men in bars, and finally be happy.

Al fell asleep, happily dreaming of having his family whole and in Xing, and never heard Ed carefully slipping in during the early hours of the morning.

Chapter Text

Ed stared at the mug of tea Al set in front of him, and the blearily glared up at his brother. He stared back down at the eggs, and decided they were fine, though half blackened, but the mug was the true atrocity.

“This isn’t coffee,” Ed pointed out as Al sat down and happily took a sip and started eating burned scrambled eggs.

“Coffee isn’t good for you first thing in the morning,” Al said, far too cheerful for the early hours, “It’ll upset your stomach. Tea is healthier. And besides, all you have is the instant granules that taste like acid.”

Ed glared at his brother, and then glared back down at his mug. No, he decided, this wasn’t happening. Not this morning, not any morning, and most especially not in his apartment. Morning started with coffee, not grass tasting tea that did nothing to wake him up. He enjoyed his morning ritual of dark mugs of battery acid, he had adapted well to the drink during his time in the army, and not even his precious younger brother could stop that.

“No,” Ed grunted, picking up the mug and shuffling over to the sink to dump it out and rinse the mug. He did not want his coffee tasting like grass, though he doubt the tea could hold a flame in battle against his coffee.

“Brother,” Al rolled his eyes, continuing to sip at his own mug as he watched Ed put a bot on to boil, and grab the jar of coffee, “The tea really is healthier, everyone drinks it in Xing.”

“Good for Xing, leaves coffee for the rest of the world,” Ed said, measuring out a double dose, he would need it given how late he had been out the night before, and stared at the pot.

It was too early to deal with his tea drinking brother. No one sane drank tea first thing, he decided, coffee was for the normal people. For those that burned the midnight oil, and those that would go forth and wonder what sort of incompetence they would see presented by the world around them. The term may have finished, and he may have sent his students happily back into a world without his classes for a short while, but there were always several that lurked around campus demanding answers to mundane questions they never bothered to seek the answers to in books. He did not want to deal with idiots with the taste of grass water in his mouth.

The water boiled and Ed dumped it in the mug, watching the liquid go cloudy and black. Ah, the sweet ambrosia of life. A single sip and he could feel it eating away at his stomach lining. An early death for an early morning. Al just rolled his eyes and finished off the eggs.

Mustang tapped his fingers against the desk, staring down at the paperwork in front of him. It was important, anything that made it all the way up to his desk these days was always important, but he was having trouble concentrating. Government paperwork didn’t hold a candle for his concern for Edward. He had seen so broken when he had left, withered, compared to the fire that had burned through him when they had been in bed. He had looked like that himself, once upon a time, and he knew where that drove a man.

His head snapped up as the doors to his private office opened, and he sighed as Hawkeye entered. She would ride him for slacking off for sure, he doubted she would mind too much. She knew he always got his work done, even if he regretted having to give his evenings and weekends to finishing it. It would be worse if actually became Fuhrer, and given the documents he had been reviewing the past year, Grumman was counting on his continuing after him.

Hawkeye raised an eyebrow, and Mustang sighed, motioning for her to take a seat. They knew each other too well for him to even bothering to pretend nothing was wrong. She sat her face a mask, and waited.

“Al’s back in town,” he finally said.

“For Central University’s alchemy conference,” Hawkeye said, “He’ll be staying a few weeks after it’s finished. He misses Central a little, and traveling from Xing makes it difficult to visit often.”

“You keep in touch with him,” Mustang asked, slightly surprised.

Yes, Al had been a member of their team, but he never imagined that Hawkeye had kept in touch. She hadn’t when Falman had been stationed at Briggs, but given the situation keeping in touch with anyone had been dangerous. And given how happy Ed had always been to brag about his brother’s blossoming academic career, there most likely was no reason for her to mention it. He doubted they discussed anything Ed didn’t already comment on.

“He worries,” Hawkeye said in way of explanation, “Ed always managed to downplay or forgets to mention things.”

Mustang nodded in understanding. That was an understatement to be sure. He remembered reading the medical reports and sighing back when he had been Ed’s commanding officer. Where Ed had said he was fine, doctors had always been of the opinion that Ed was a moron that needed to be strapped to a bed and forced to rest before he tore himself to pieces. His age hadn’t helped, but neither had Ed’s ability to find trouble and taunt it.

“He’s staying with Ed,” Mustang, “So that should put his mind at ease. But they had a fight and...”

Mustang swallowed. Hawkeye knew that he and Ed had slept together. He had never really been able to keep secrets from her, even when they had been younger. She hadn’t approved, but, as she put it, it hadn’t been her place to get in the way of them making mistakes. Had it been anyone else no one would have cared, but Ed, specifically, could kill his chances at being Fuhrer. Everything he had been working toward, that Hawkeye had worked toward, could be dashed across the rocks all thanks to one night with a handsome blond man.

“You slept with him again,” Hawkeye deadpanned, glaring at Mustang.

Mustang just nodded, and sighed. There was no denying it.

“You can’t have him, sir,” Hawkeye said, “The controversy it would cause, it would ruin your political career.”

“I know, Hawkeye,” Mustang apologized, “But he was just there on my doorstep, and I couldn’t keep him out. No one saw us. It’s not even a relationship, it’s just what it is.”

“Which is even worse, really,” she pointed out, “Not to mention Al will probably skin you alive when he finds out.”

“What,” Mustang’s head snapped up, “Why?”

“He doesn’t think you’re good for Ed. He thinks you’re a bad influence.”

“Why would I be a bad influence on Ed,” Mustang asked.

Hawkeye raised an eyebrow, and he dropped his head. Yes, he could see that now. He had had a reputation in his younger days, though most of that had been his intelligence network. But he had never really explained that to either Elric, and given Ed’s past behavior, he could see where Al would get the wrong opinion. An angry Al was definitely not one that he wanted as an enemy. He may be the kinder of the two Elrics, but he was an Elric still the same.

“He’ll be coming with Ed to the bar on Saturday. I suggest being on your best behavior, sir,” Hawkeye said crisply, standing and smoothing out her jacket, “And, sir, please finish these three documents by the end of the day.”

“Yes Hawkeye,” Mustang sighed, looking at the paperwork on his desk.

One snap, and it could all go away. And then Hawkeye would shoot him and take over the government, and no one would ever be free of paperwork again. The door closed behind Hawkeye as she left, and he massaged his aching temples. Maybe he needed glasses? Surely he was too young for glasses, but given all that his eyes had been through, he should schedule an appointment.

Would Ed think glasses were attractive?

Al nodded appreciatively as the brothers approached the alchemy building, the famous words his teacher had pounded into their heads carved into the stone archway: Alchemist, be thou for the people. If only they had listened to her, they wouldn’t have made her mistake. But their blood was stubborn, and at least they had managed to set things right in the end.

“They’re using the classrooms for the conference,” Ed said, opening the door and scurrying into the heat, “The students are gone for the winter break, so no need to worry about any explosions.”

“Explosions,” Al asked, “I was unaware you were teaching here, is the building safe?”

“Very funny,” Ed said, elbowing his brother in the side, “Newer students have issues balancing their circles at times. More sound effect than building damage.”

Al nodded, and they continued through toward the deans office. He was impressed by the building, but noted the lack of outdoor work areas. He would have to ask the dean about that, surely there were outdoor areas set aside for larger tests. Places where, should there be a backfire, the building wouldn’t come down and kill everyone inside. He insisted on using outdoor areas for the newer students in Xing, as they had a tendency toward larger theatrics. Though half of that was because of their lack of familiarity with the less violent forms of Amestris alchemy. Most of them started classes simply because they wanted to watch things fall apart explosively.

It was a shame Ed wasn’t able to use alchemy anymore, Al mused, he would be wonderful at showing them how to properly make an explosion without anyone getting hurt. On the other hand, Al wouldn’t want to encourage some of his more enthusiastic students. He preferred them learning the more peaceful nature of his science, rather than the more outgoing form. He had had to brush away more than a few questions about fire alchemy, and was grateful that Mustang had kept his studies a secret.

Al snorted as Ed practically pounded on a set of wooden doors before barging in. His brother, despite how he had mellowed, was still his old self in so many ways. He wondered how many doors he would have left dents in if he still had his automail arm. He could certainly cause a mastery or two in a few unique forms of repair alchemy to blossom amongst the staff members if he tried. But the elderly gentleman sitting inside didn’t seem disturbed.

He stood with a smile, stepping around his desk, and held out his hand.

“Mister Elric and Professor Elric, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last,” the man said, taking his hand and shaking vigorously, “Please, have a seat, there’s so much I’d like to discuss.”

Ed stiffened beside him, and Al cast him a wary look. The feeling in the air was awkward, and Al was suspicious of the tension. He knew the two men didn’t get along, he had read plenty of rants in letters, and had even heard a few comments from Riza herself. But he had never imagined it was this bad. He assumed it was the more friendly anger, the way Ed still grouched about Mustang.

“I prefer Professor Elric as well, hopefully that won’t confused too many people,” Al said with a smile.

The man frowned, and Al could hear Ed’s fist tightening. It was beyond just a slight to refer to a fellow professor as any other title. Now he knew why Ed was so angry; this man hadn’t just dismissed Ed’s alchemic knowledge, he had dismissed Ed entirely. Al glanced at Ed and noted the stiff posture and the firm, cool gaze.

“Meet me back at my office when you’re done,” Ed said, breaking the lingering silence, and then he was out the door like a flash.

“Now,” the dean smiled, taking his seat behind his desk, “We have so much to discuss. Your presentation on the melding of alchemy and alkehestry is sure to be fascinating.”

Al nodded, sitting down in the overly plush chair and eyeing the man coolly. He had been sure that Ed was over exaggerating the incompetence of the head of the alchemy department, but he had never realized he was under exaggerating. The books that lined the walls were pristine and untouched, clearly more for show than use. The trappings were rich, the department had not suffered under Bradley’s reign and had certainly put the money to poor use, and Al could only imagine how incompetent the man was.

Politics existed even amongst academics, so the man must be better at playing a poor game than the knowledge the department was entrusted to depart on thirsty minds. He didn’t like Ed being near this man, this department, at all. It could only make his brother miserable to see what he could never do again, and have even what he could help with denied him all because a politician wanted to make an example. And example of what Al couldn’t even begin to process, but an example still the same.

“It’s less of a melding of the two and rather a focus on using the base skills to help develop medical alchemy,” Al corrected, fighting to keep his face pleasant.

The man wasn’t worth wasting his self control on, but he could make things difficult for his brother. And Al had made his brother’s life so difficult in the past that he wouldn’t dare accidentally make a move here that would injure him. Or, more likely, destroy his career. Though he had high hopes that he would be able to convince Ed to come to Xing and join him at the university there as soon as the school year was out.

“I’m sure my brother could explain it to you in detail,” Al smiled, “He really is a genius at theoretical alchemy. I’m surprised you didn’t snap him up for your department rather than letting him go to the physical sciences.”

“Well,” the older man smiled wanly, “It’s a matter of his being unable to… perform. We can’t have Mr Elric putting the students at risk in case anything should happen in class. You know how it is, I’m sure, bright young minds that just haven’t learned where to draw the line yet and having it all blow up in their faces.”

“Yes, I do,” Al said, his lips set in a grim line as he glared at the man in front of him.

He didn’t want Ed anywhere near these people.

Chapter Text

The door slammed open and Ed looked up, startled, at a seething Alphonse. He blinked as Al slammed the door shut behind him and roughly slumped down into the only free chair in the room, his head in his hands. Ed sighed, leaning back. He had warned his brother than the head of the alchemy department was an ass, and now he knew it for a fact. Other professors in the department were brilliant, but none had the political stamina to stand against dean Thersdrop.

“How can you stand that man,” Al finally said, his voice still quivering in anger, “How can you even stand to be in the same room as him!?”

“I don’t,” Ed reminded him, shrugging his shoulders, “I’m not in the alchemy department, remember?”

“The things he said,” Al snapped, beginning to pace a small circuit in the crowded office, “He practically called you impotent!”

Ed snorted at that, “He’s just jealous, my dick sees far more action than his ever will.”

“I meant educationally impotent,” Al snapped back, turning to glare at his brother, “I know you’re not impotent, you’ve practically fucked your way through Central! Please tell me you didn’t fuck his daughter too.”

“Hardly,” Ed said, “Even I’m not that desperate.”

A stillness lingered between the two, and Al stared at him. A bad choice of words, and now Ed regretted even joking about it. This is why he enjoyed simply teaching science; facts didn’t twist around on his tongue and make him regret what he had said.

“You didn’t go to the library last night, did you,” Al finally said, staring at his brother.

“You know I didn’t,” Ed sighed, his body tensing as he could practically hear the argument shifting from Thersdrop to himself.

“What, we get in an argument so you go off and fuck some stranger?” Al demanded.

“Not a stranger, okay,” Ed said, closing his eyes, “You drink tea, or whatever, and I don’t. Al, can we please not talk about this.”

Al slammed his hands down on the desk, furious at his brother, and Ed blinked and stared at him. He had never seen his brother so angry before, not in the flesh. They had had an argument or two this bad before the Promised Day, but nothing like this. He’d been snarky, but he never thought Al would be this angry with him. What else had Thersdrop said to set him off like this?

“That’s half the problem,” Al said cooly, and Ed felt a chill go down his spine, “You never want to talk about anything with anyone. You just crawl up inside your own head and it just festers until it tears you apart. Dean Thersdrop made it sound like your teaching position was a temporary hand out, and don’t tell me you didn’t notice. I saw how you ran out of that office with your tail between your legs.

“And now, even a few biting words with me and you run off into the night without a second thought about it. That’s not healthy Ed! What if the next time you do it, the person has a grudge? Plenty of people are still angry at us for what happened leading up to the Promised Day!”

“Mustang wouldn’t do that,” Ed shouted, “And fuck you for not liking my life! At least I didn’t run off to some foreign country rather than help stay and rebuild it! Sure my job sucks, but my students are going to make the world a better place!”

“Mustang,” Al asked, his eyes narrowing.

Ed swallowed. He shouldn’t have said that. It sounded terrible, even to his own ears. He made it sound like some sort of relationship, rather than the one night it was supposed to be. But he had been so angry, not used to being angry in his own home and it had just been convenient and had happened again.

“It’s not like that,” Ed said, trying to explain, “It was only twice, it’s not a relationship or anything.”

“I’m sure,” Al said, turning and heading toward the door.

“Al, wait,” Ed said jumping up to follow him, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“That’s my line,” Al snapped, grabbing his coat and slamming the office door behind him as he left.

A stack of books fell over, and Ed turned his glare to it. Fuck. He always managed to mess everything up without even trying.

He picked up the phone and hoped he would be able to get through. Mustang at least deserved a warning, or a reason to get out of the office for the afternoon.

The door opened and Mustang glanced up, relieved to have any excuse to put his work down, even if for a few minutes, and then paled. Alphonse Elric had always been a charming young man, even trapped in a suit of armor, but at this particular moment Mustang wondered if his blood was about to decorate the back wall behind him.

“Alphonse, please, have a seat,” Mustang managed a smile.

Hawkeye shut the door behind him, and Mustang swallowed. She had warned him that Al would be angry if he ever found out, but the look in his eyes promised death. Why on Earth had she left him alone with the younger man? He was half tempted to throw caution to the wind and simply jump out the window rather than face his wrath.

“How long,” Al demanded, not even looking at the offered chair.

“Al,” Mustang started, glancing away as Al’s eyes narrowed further.

He had thought Hawkeye had been half joking when she said Al would be angry. If he ever found out, Mustang expected a lecture and crossed arms. He didn’t expect one of the most powerful alchemists in the world to be standing in front of him, towering over him, and practically quivering with pent up wrath. He was honestly surprised he wasn’t setting of stray alchemic reactions given how livid he was.

Mustang knew that he had had be careful a time or two with his flames ever since he passed through the Gate. Had Edward?

“How long have you been fucking my brother,” Al asked, leaning in close, his hands firmly planted on the desk.

“Sit down,” Roy said, his voice crisp and clear.

“You’ve known us since we were children,” Al snapped, ignoring Roy, “You came and hauled him here when he was just eleven! And now you’re, you’re, what the fuck is wrong with you!?”

“Sit down,” Roy commanded, his voice furious and cold even as the fire roared on the grate.

Al hesitated a moment, and sat.

Roy sighed. He didn’t want to have a conversation about this with the younger man. But he had survived wars, had killed people, had helped take down a man made god, and he wasn’t going to be cowed in his own office for something that he had no fault in.

“I know you don’t like the fact that I have had sex with your brother,” Roy said, his voice still tight, “But I am tired of people assuming that I recruited him in the hopes he would fall into my bed. I never once even so much as thought of your brother as anything more than a brilliant alchemist under my command.

“And you have no right to barge in here and act like I raped him. We are adults, Alphonse, and you will stay the fuck out of our business unless the situation demands it. The situation,” Roy said, not letting Al speak, “Does not demand it. If you are angry, that is your right, but do something other than throwing yourself around like an out of control child with a lighter. No one wants to get burned.”

Silence echoed through the room as Al continued to stare at Roy, his eyes still blazing, but he simply nodded. Roy nodded in return, and watched the younger man leave. Ed would have his head if he ever so much as singed the younger man, but he had had to make himself clear. He was tired of people accusing him of disgusting deeds when all he was guilty of was sleeping with another adult.

He glared as the door opened again and Hawkeye entered the room.

“You knew he was coming,” he accused.

“I did,” she confirmed, standing at attention.

“Are you going to stab me in the back over this, or are you satisfied with the warning?”

“Quite frankly sir, I still don’t believe you know what the threat is,” she replied, her tone crisp and professional as she avoided his gaze.

He growled, resisting the urge to snap. An eternity of making poor decisions, and it still always ended with the seal he had carved onto the back of his own hands, he realized. He slumped back in the chair, weary. Damn Maes for dying so young, someone was supposed to be here to defend him. To help him make the right decision without threatening to feed him to the lions.

“I’ve made myself clear,” Roy said, “Dismissed.”

“Yes sir,” Hawkeye saluted and left the room.

The silence echoed after her. Fuck it, Roy sighed, unearthing a flask from the bowels of his desk. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. The worst part of all of this, he realized after the second pull, was that they were threatening him over something that didn’t even exist. For all he knew Ed would never sleep with him again. They could spend the rest of their lives chatting like friends and no one would be the wiser. The political suicide Hawkeye had accused him of could easily be waved away as the comradery of old war buddies.

He took another drag, and the hid the flask once more. He could at least trust the paperwork to lack judgment.

Ed looked up as the front door slammed shut, and shivered as the cold outside air hit him. Stomping and the solid thud of boots on the front mat made him ease back in the chair. Al had been gone for hours, and Ed had been ready to go out into the night looking for him if he hadn’t returned within the hour.

Al stomped into the kitchen, shivering and wiping snow from his hair. Ed sighed, motioning for him to sit down as he got up to boil water. It was freezing, and Al hadn’t been dressed for the storm that had blown in shortly after sunset.

“Here,” Al said, putting a box on the table.

“A kettle,” Ed asked, opening the box and looking back up at his brother.

“You didn’t have one,” Al said softly, sinking into the chair, still shivering.

Ed shrugged and filled the kettle with water instead and put it on the stove. He had gotten out mugs hours ago, though he wasn’t sure how Al made his tea in the first place. The packets he had found had all been loose leaf, and Ed had never tackled anything more complicated than a dusty tea bag or two in his life.

The silence stretched thin as Ed shifted things around in the cabinet as he put the pot away. Ed didn’t know what to say, really. Was he supposed to lecture Al about being an ass? Was he supposed to tear into him for scaring him half to death by storming off in weather like this? He had never truly been good at being an older brother, it was usually Al lecturing him about his own stupid stunts.

Which, really, was what had gotten them into this situation in the first place. It was probably better they ignored whatever had happened today in the first place, he finally decided.

The whistle on the kettle scream and he instinctively smashed at it with his right hand.

“Fuck,” Ed cursed, bringing his burned hand to his chest and the kettle smashed into the floor, sending boiling water splattering against his pants and the front of the stove.

“Cold water,” Al said, grabbing Ed’s hand and turning on the faucet.

He held Ed’s hand there as he inspected his fist, and sighed. Even Ed could see the reddening skin and knew there would be blisters there soon enough. Dammit, he was going to have to switch back to using his left hand again until this healed.

“I’m sorry,” Al finally said, the cold water still flowing over his brother’s hand, but Ed just shook his head, not looking at the other man.

“No, it’s my fault,” Ed said, wincing as Al turned off the water and started carefully prodding at his hand, “I shouldn’t have panicked because of a stupid kettle whistle.”

“Not that,” Al said, pausing for a moment, “The thing. With you and Mustang. It wasn’t any of my business.”

Al guided Ed to the kitchen chair, ignoring the now tepid water, and then closed his eyes and clapped. The blue light danced on Ed’s skin, and Ed stared in fascination as the skin began to cool, and a thin layer shed, leaving in shiny and new beneath. He pulled his hand away as Al opened his eyes again, and flexed it carefully. The skin still pulled, but it was no longer the stinging burn that had him fearing spending the next month unable to use it.

“That was amazing,” Ed said, grinning up at his brother, “You need to teach me that!”

Al nodded slowly, and sat down, looking at the empty mugs between the two of them. He could draw out circles and diagrams all day for the rest of his life, and that dead look would still echo in his brother’s eyes, no matter how happy he wanted to be.

“Plan on burning yourself a lot,” Al asked cheekily, and Ed just rolled his eyes, getting up to fish the kettle from the floor and refill it.

“None of your business,” Ed retorted, keeping a careful eye on the kettle this time.

“I know. Mustang made that… abundantly clear.”

“You should have known better than to try storming his castle,” Ed snorted, “He didn’t get where he is by sitting back and letting dumbass little brothers walk all over him.”

“You’re my brother, I’m allowed to storm castles to protect you,” Al pointed out, watching carefully as Ed jumped when the kettle whistled once again, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, the skin is good as new,” Ed said, holding the kettle carefully as he poured.

“Ed, you attacked a kettle,” Al pointed out, accepting his mug and staring curiously at the tea leaves as they floated around in the water.

“Sorry, I didn’t know what to do, so I figured you just put them in the mug,” Ed said, settling down with his own mug of coffee, “They’re leaves, they’re nutritious.”

Al just snorted and watched the leaves begin to sink. He’d have to tell Ed about the tea strainer later. Not that he thought that Ed would bother to drink tea often enough to know how to prepare it in the first place. He glanced back up at his brother, and Ed sighed.

“I was worried, that makes me jumpy, that’s all,” Ed said, his tone brittle and hard.

Al just nodded and sipped at the tea. He wasn’t without his own nightmares, but he never found himself hurting himself because of them. Especially not in the day, in the safety of a kitchen.

“I’m allowed to worry too,” Al finally said.

Ed nodded, and the two brothers continued to sip from their mugs in silence, lost in thought of having to deal with one another. Growing up, it seemed, led to more treacherous issues than all the swords of their youth.

Chapter Text

Ed grit his teeth and shivered under his coat, and looked over at his brother who just rolled his eyes at him. Between the two of them he didn’t know who was stupider, but they should have definitely called a cab rather than actually walking all the way to the bar to meet up with the others. But he had insisted it was a nice walk. And it was. When it wasn’t snowing and trying to freeze him to death.

“Your leg okay, brother,” Al asked sweetly, still glaring at him through his scarf.

“Fuck you,” Ed snapped back, grateful to finally see the door and the condensation coating the windows.

Warmth! Beer! An easy way to embarrass his brother!

The door came open easily as the two stomped in and easily spotted the group. Al groaned as Armstrong stood up, sparkles already dancing around his head, and Ed just snickered. He had warned Al in advance that he had invited everyone, but clearly Al had forgotten what that meant. Especially when a few seemed to already be too tipsy for polite company.

“Alphonse!” Armstrong called out, waving, and Al just waved back.

“Really, brother,” he asked, turning to Ed.

“They’ve missed you,” Ed smirked, giving his brother a small push before following behind.

It made him happy to see everyone there, in one piece, and happy. And happy they were, sitting in the warmth of the bar rather than testing the frozen wasteland that Central had become under the winter storm.

“You said lowkey,” Al hissed.

“Do you see table settings,” Ed asked, giving Al another friendly shove before frowning at the lack of spare beers.

“Here you go Eddy,” one of the waitresses smiled, handing Ed two beers before disappearing again, and Ed just rolled his eyes at the look on Al’s face and handed him a glass.

“Eddy,” Al asked with a grin, slurping at the foam.

“Hey Armstrong, ask him about May,” Ed called out, and then ducked into a seat between Mustang and Breda with a grin.

“You’re evil, Ed,” Breda laughed as Armstrong grabbed Al and began demanding to know how his courting of the Xingese princess was going.

“Eh, older brother’s job,” Ed shrugged, gulping down the beer.

Damn. He had promised himself he wouldn’t do that tonight. He’d have to slow down or switch to water unless he wanted Al hounding him about being an alcoholic too. And he would probably follow it up with another lecture on the importance of tea.

Mustang stayed noticeably tense, not even glancing toward Ed, and Breda raised an eyebrow in question. Ed just shrugged and signaled that he was going to grab another beer. He knew Mustang was probably angry at him, probably halfway on his way to setting him on fire given his body language, but it’s not like Ed could do anything about that. Al had never said what, exactly, it was that he had said to the man.

“Get me one too,” Breda said, handing him an empty glass, and Ed just smiled, glancing back toward Al and laughing at the look on his brother’s face.

He was getting interrogated by Hawkeye and Rebecca, and it served him right. He should save him. After another beer or two. Let him escape on his own and let him know what the hot seat felt like.

Mustang had disappeared by the time he returned, and a sleepy looking Fuery had taken his place. Hogging an entire basket of onion rings to himself as well. Ed laughed, handing a glass to Breda, and stole an onion ring as he sat down.

It was a comfortable evening, catching up with the old crew. Sure, he saw them all at least once a month, but not in a giant gathering like this. No, this was for Al, and he was just happy to ride the coat tails and relax, shooting the breeze with old friends. It was a lot more comfortable now that there was no imminent danger threatening the world. And he happily downed a few more beers, letting the buzz settle in his mind as Breda shifted and Havoc settled in next to him.

“So how’ve you been,” Havoc asked, taking a shallow drink.

“Eh, fine. It’s weird to have Al back in my apartment. He drinks tea all the time,” Ed said, taking a deep gulp, “He keeps lecturing me on how it’s healthier than coffee.”

“So he’s gone mad then,” Havoc laughed.

“No such thing as a sane Elric,” Ed pointed out, stealing another onion ring and watching as Fuery just put his head down instead of arguing, “How many has he had?”

“Probably just the one,” Havoc laughed, reaching over and taking the basket, “End of the year audit has Hawkeye busting their butts. He’s probably filing in his sleep.”

“I’m glad I got grades in before Al got here,” Ed said.

“You mean before the conference,” Al said, pulling up a chair and keeping his head low, “They’re trying to plan my wedding!”

“Congratulations!” Havoc beamed, raising his glass in toast.

“Does that make you prince or prince consort,” Ed asked, scratching at his chin, “Does that make me royalty too?”

“No, not you too,” Al moaned, “Is there no safety anywhere!?”

“I won’t tell Granny Pinako or Winry if you think that would help,” Ed shrugged, “Not like those two would know anything about weddings anyway. Wait, does this make Ling my brother in law?”

“Are you going to tell me why you’re not attending the conference,” Al asked, snarking back.

Ed froze, his heart hammering in his chest. It wasn’t a secret that he wasn’t presenting, though most of the others had just assumed he was presenting with Al and run with it, but he hadn’t breathed a word that he wasn’t going at all in the first place. There’s no way Al could know that, no one did.

“What are you talking about,” Havoc asked, “Ed’ll be there, he’s been talking about it for months. Right, boss?”

Ed drained his glass swiftly.

“Apparently Ed wasn’t granted an invitation to attend,” Al said, glaring at his brother and draining his own glass, “As Thersdrop was kind enough to inform me the other day.”

“It wasn’t important,” Ed said, waving his hand, “It’s not like they have security checking people at the gates.”

“Ed,” Al snapped, “You shouldn’t have to sneak into alchemy conferences! They should be begging you to present! Alchemy is your life!”

“Not anymore!” Ed yelled back, his chest heaving as he looked around the now silent room.

Everyone was staring at him, Armstrong had tears streaming down his face, and Ed could only swallow dryly. Why did his brother have to bring this up time and time again? That chapter of his life was over, and he was moving forward. He didn’t need to stay and wallow in what had been, there was more to life, more to science, than just alchemy.

“Fuck this,” Ed snapped, grabbing his coat and heading toward the door.

Al grabbed him by the arm, and Ed closed his eyes, stopping. He knew his brother hadn’t meant to be cruel. The stress of the conference, the stress of having others rooting into his life, hell, the stress of walking here in a damn snow storm, had made him slip. He never meant it. Al wasn’t cruel like that.

“Quit running away from this,” Al hissed, instead of the apology Ed had been expecting, “You’re acting just like him.”

“No,” Ed snapped, “I’m nothing like that asshole. There’s nothing to run away from, get that through your thick skull! I can’t go back because it’s not possible! I burned that bridge for you, Al.”

Please, Ed was begging silently, trying to blink away the tears that were burning his eyes, please Al stop. Stop making his heart tear because he had had to choose once, and he chose right, but that didn’t make the pain any less. Not when he was sitting in his office and reviewing papers of what could have been his work, from what could have been his department, if things hadn’t turned out the way they had.

Not when he was sitting in bars, looking at others, and feeling the darkness pulsing inside him, unquiet in its need to fill the hole he had carved out. Desperate in his need to silence it, if only for a few hours. To forget that he could never be whole, and there wasn’t enough automail in the world to fix himself any longer.

But Al’s eyes were wide, and Ed slapped his hand off and bolted into the storm. Maybe he was running away, but it was his life. He was allowed to fuck it up any way he liked. Even if it was freezing and he knew that he had nowhere to go because Mustang hated him now and his brother was living in his spare bedroom.

He heard footsteps running behind him and he growled, turning to yell at Al. Couldn’t he even storm off in peace without a damn lecture!?

Only it wasn’t Al, he realized a moment too late. Just another man with an angry scowl on his face and a knife in his hands. Ed took a step back, slipping on the ice, confused. Too many beers, he cursed himself, he should have switched to water after the first or second. Too many beers and his body was fuzzy.

He grunted and the man slammed into him, the knife sliding in painlessly, and he wondered if it would ever hurt at all. Injuries always hurt worse in the cold, he remembered that.

“For Bradley, you stupid whore,” the man grunted, ripping the knife out and running down the street.

Bradley, he thought, confused. He never did anything to that asshole. Didn’t touch him. Ed stared at his hands as his legs failed him, sending him crashing onto the ground, still clutching at the blood as it poured from his belly. It was so warm, he thought, dazed, how could he have thought it was cold outside when it was so warm.

He stared up at the lights, frowning and wondering where the stars had gone. There had been stars a moment ago, hadn’t there? The light was flashing, he realized, hanging so high above him. He could hear his name, and see the light. The light their mom always hung to tell them to come back inside.

“Al,” Ed hummed, trying to focus on the light, “Time to go home. Mom’s light.”

He could feel hands, heavy and forceful, prodding painfully at his chest, but he just stared at the light as he heard his name. He hoped Mom had made stew, he loved mom’s stew. The light was still there, and he sighed, wondering where Al was. They could race home, and maybe mom would let him have an extra bowl if he won.

Chapter Text

Al stared at the cold paper cup of coffee in his hands. The cup had been white when someone had given it to him, but the blood had soaked into the paper before it had dried on his hands. He hated coffee, the heavy, acid taste of it, the noxious feeling in his stomach after a single sip. But still he stared at it, trying to ignore the brown that coated the cup, his hands, and had soaked into his sleeves and chest.

His brother’s blood.

He tried to ignore the trembling in his hands, but it was impossible. He was the reason his brother was hidden behind doors, probably dying. He was the one that had yelled at him. He was the one that had chased him out into the storm.

“Hey, let me take that,” Havoc said, the chair squeaking as he took a seat next to him and took the cold cup of stale coffee from his hands, “Any news?”

Al just shook his head, not trusting his voice.

“No news is good news,” Havoc said, his grin weak and pained, and Al looked back down at his hands.

He felt his gorge rising at the sight of the blood. He was covered in it, an eternity of scrubbing would never free him from it. From the pounding fact that it was his fault. If he had just drunk less. If he hadn’t been so irritated by the others nosing into his private life. If he hadn’t been fed up with Ed keeping secrets from him. If he had just been a better brother.

“Al,” Havoc’s hand was heavy on his shoulder, and he looked up again, “Why don’t we get you cleaned up, and get you some new clothes, okay?”

“No,” Al rasped, his voice raw, “I can’t leave brother.”

Havoc just nodded, and Al glanced up at the nurses station. They had been sitting in the small room, waiting, for an eternity. How long had they been here? Everything had faded away from him as he had held his brother, had tried to hold the blood inside him as it had spilled over his hands, and screamed for help.

Was it even the same day?

“Ed wouldn’t want to see you like this,” Havoc said, his voice calm, “Just a quick shower and some new clothes, and we’ll come right back. I promise.”

“All of my clothes are in brother’s apartment,” Al finally said, tears beginning to stream down his face.

He couldn’t even face stepping in there again. Not without his brother. All the books, his studies. Everything that defined Ed was in there.

“It’s okay,” Havoc said, helping Al to his feet and nodding over at Hawkeye, “I’m sure we can find something at my place that’ll fit you.”

Al just kept wiping at his face as the tears fell, not even bothering to hold it in any longer.

Mustang watched through hooded eyes as Havoc finally managed to convince Alphonse to leave, if only long enough to clean up and get new clothes. He hoped Havoc would be able to get some food into him, but they would probably all suffer the fate of the hospital cafeteria in the end. At least the coffee was hot, even though it was a tasteless mud.

“Al finally leave,” Hawkeye asked, her eyes still closed as she leaned against his arm.

Most of the others had returned home, or been taken home, hours ago. But his command had stayed. Breda was spread out across two chairs, fitfully snoring, and Fuery was curled up on Hawkeye’s other side. He had honestly thought she was long asleep until she spoke.

“Havoc took him, he’ll be back soon,” Mustang promised, cracking a yawn and leaning back to stare at the ceiling.

Anywhere but the doors. He never wanted to look at doors and wait like this again. But there was no helping it, they could do nothing but wait and wonder and hope. He should return home, he knew, he wasn’t really welcome here. He had started the evening so angry at both brothers, and them just as angry at him.

He had driven a wedge between them, and now he was waiting to see if Ed could ever forgive him for that. Not if, he reminded himself, when. Ed was selfless, he would forgive him. He would wake up, he would be fine, and life would continue.

“You’re blaming yourself,” Hawkeye muttered, shifting and pulling her coat around herself.

“Of course,” he said, “It was my fault.”

“You didn’t put a knife in him, sir,” Hawkeye said, her eyes still closed but her body tense, “Your head was too far up your own ass sulking in the corner to follow him out the door.”

“But I was the reason they were fighting,” Mustang replied, “If they hadn’t been fighting about me Ed never would have gone out that door in the first place.”

Hawkeye sighed, sitting up carefully and stretching before turning to glare at him. Her face was drawn and pinched, and her makeup had smeared. But it was the angriest he had ever seen her, he was sure. He could already hear the lecture that was on the tip of her tongue.

Self loathing doesn’t help. They were adults, it was their decision. He couldn’t stop everything. He wasn’t to blame for everything. He should tell her to shut up, she didn’t know. But he didn’t want to get blood on the chair after she shot him, because she would. She was angry enough right now.

“Last I checked you weren’t the dean of the alchemy department at Central University,” she snapped, “You weren’t threatening to end Ed’s career over something Ed had no control over. You weren’t denying him a career in the first place.”

Mustang blinked slowly, processing the information.

“What has that old wind bag have to do with anything,” Mustang asked his mind turning things over.

He remembered the dean. The old man had contacted him several times trying to get him to present about alchemy, and then, after he had refused, to attend the conference. To advertise it even. Mustang had shut him down, he had no desire to share his knowledge or learn more. He was a settled military man, and he had sworn to take his alchemy to the grave with him.

“He hates Ed,” Hawkeye said simply, “His wife died on Promised Day, he blames Ed. So he’s done everything in his power to curtail Ed’s career. Al caught on and they’ve been fighting over it.”

Mustang paused, his brain freezing on him.

“It wasn’t me,” Mustang said, “I… I didn’t hear the argument, I just assumed...”

“The world doesn’t revolve around you, sir,” Hawkeye muttered.

Mustang slumped back in his chair, a tension he didn’t know he had been holding finally released. It hadn’t been his fault. Al may still be angry with him, but it was that idiotic old man that had caused this. He was relieved.

Hawkeye stood, stretching and then walked out of the room. Mustang continued to sit there, staring at the doors, and waiting for good news. Ed would be fine. He had survived Promised Day. He had survived everything leading up to it. When he woke up they could talk. They could talk with Al.

Everything would be fine.

He ignored the tears on his face. He denied the little part of his brain that reminded him that nothing was fine after a stab wound like Ed’s. That there could be nothing but heartbreak behind those doors.

Everything would be fine, he told himself. The world wouldn’t work if it wasn’t.

Al sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the white button up shirt in his hands. His shoulders were wider than Havoc’s. He should get up and ask if Havoc had anything bigger, but he couldn’t bring himself to stand. He just stared at the shirt in his hands, at the folds and twists of unending white, and tried not to sob.

The snow had been so white next to his brother, white until the red had frothed out, foaming and sliding across the snow. And Ed had just lay there, staring at the sky, muttering about their mom. Al shook his head, wiping tears from his face, he couldn’t do that now. He still needed to be strong. He needed to ask for a bigger shirt, and then return to the hospital to see if there was news.

He needed to be there for his brother.

He needed to stand up and be strong for him, to wait for good news. To offer his help. He couldn’t heal the initial wound, but his alkahestry could help with the healing. He just needed to know how bad it was, where to focus.

Al looked up as the door opened, and blinked as Havoc stepped in.

“It’s too small,” Al said, holding the shirt out to Havoc.

Havoc just snorted and nodded, and went to the closet, shuffling until he pulled out another shirt.

“This one might fit,” He smiled, handing it to Al, “Must drive Ed nuts that you managed to get so much bigger than him.”

Al paused mid button, and sighed.

“It’s because of me,” Al said, his voice soft.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Havoc said forcefully, “No one could have known-”

“Not that,” Al cut him off, “He’s small because of me. He had to support both our bodies before he got me back. And the automail, he always used the heavier combat versions. It’s stressful on the body.”

Al watched the tears splash on his pants, leaving little dark imprints on the slacks. Lighter than blood. Nothing would ever be as dark as his brother’s blood as it had washed over him, coating him with Ed’s life.

“He gave up everything because of me,” Al watched the darkness spread over his pants, his vision wavering, “All because I wanted to hug mom again. I- I never told him that I turned down getting my body back earlier that day. If I had taken my body back, he’d still have his alchemy.

“He wouldn’t be miserable like this,” Al sobbed, “I made the wrong choice, and it cost him everything! Again!”

Havoc’s hand rested calmly on Al’s shoulder, and Al looked up, his eyes red, his face pale, and Havoc just sighed.

“You’re his brother,” Havoc said, “He loves you. He’ll do anything for you. Never doubt that.”

“But what if he doesn’t-” Al said, his voice wavering.

“Ed’s the strongest man I know,” Havoc smiled, “This is just an excuse for him to lay in bed and obsess over books all day.”

“Yeah,” Al agreed, rubbing at his eyes, trying to clear them, “He’d be pissed if a little knife got him.”

“Come on, he’s waiting,” Havoc smiled, and Al took his hand and stood up.

His brother was the strongest man he knew. He had pulled his soul back from the Gate, had taken down a god, and saved the world. He could rest. He had earned it. Al was here to take care of him for once, now.

Everything would be okay, Al told himself.

It couldn’t not be.

Chapter Text

Al stared down at the page in front of him, the words blurring together, and finally gave up. He had been reading out loud for hours now, his throat was parched, and he couldn’t even remember what it was he was reading anymore. A textbook, Ed wasn’t a fan of fiction, but he hadn’t looked when he had picked it up. Something medical that was at the nurses station.

Not that Ed would have been interested in whatever form of medical text it was, but the doctor had told him that hearing familiar voices would help. It didn’t matter what Al was saying, just that he was saying something, and Ed could hear it. It would help him wake up, the doctor had reassured him, help him swim through to consciousness.

After two days of reading, though, Al was exhausted. He wasn’t in a coma, he had been assured, just sleeping. Massive trauma and near fatal blood loss were difficult on the body. It was letting his mind rest while he healed. He shouldn’t worry.

The nurses always told him he shouldn’t worry, and it took all of Al’s patience not to stand up and throw his chair at them. Of course he should worry! His brother had been unconscious for two days! It wasn’t normal.

Ed being still for that long wasn’t normal.

But he was still there every time Al paused and looked up. His skin washed out and tinged an unhealthy gray, his hair limp. His eyes closed. So unlike the brother he had grown up with, had survived the end of the world with. Had stopped the end of the world with.

But there he lay, a reminder to Al of everything he had done wrong. If it wasn’t for him, Ed wouldn’t be here, his chest showing barely a whisper of movement. His hand twitching.

Al stared as the fingers moved again, and he reached over and grabbed his brother’s hand.

“Ed,” he asked, his voice hoarse, “Is that you, are you awake?”

“Al,” Ed coughed weakly, his head turning toward his brother as his eyes blinked open.

“Oh Ed,” Al smiled, tears pricking at his eyes, “You’re awake!”

“Wha’ ha’ppn’d,” Ed mumbled, his eyes closing again.

“You were stabbed,” Al said softly, stroking his brother’s hand, holding it to protect against the chill in the room, “But you’re going to be okay. I promise.”

“On’in rings,” Ed muttered, his eyes still closed, and Al chuckled.

Of course the first thing his brother would ask about was food.

“When the doctor says it’s okay, you can have as many as you want,” Al promised.

And he would be okay, Al swore to himself again. When he was out of the hospital he would start writing letters. It was too dangerous to leave his brother here in Amestris, too many were still too angry. It wasn’t safe. But in Xing, he was friend to a popular emperor. He had connections. He could walk the street without having to worry about getting stabbed to death.

He had family.

“It’s going to be okay,” Al said, patting Ed’s hand, “I’ll take care of everything, I promise.”

Ed, eyes closed, slept once more. But he had woken up, and that was the best thing that had happened to Al all year. His brother wasn’t going to die.

Mustang gazed blearily at the page in front of him, rereading the first paragraph for the fifth time. He had given up any attempt to actually do paperwork that morning and Hawkeye had been kind enough to let him get away with the appearance of working. He wasn’t fooling anyone, he doubted anyone in the front office was any better at this point. None of them would be until they heard news, any news, from the hospital.

Mustang still didn’t know if he feared news or no news worse. Ed would be alive as long as he didn’t hear anything. But any phone call could come at any moment and break the stony silence with the worst. They could have lost yet another member of their team.

The quiet was broken by a cheer, and the doors burst opened to Breda’s smiling face.

“He woke up!” the red haired man shouted, and Mustang smiled.

He woke up. Mustang stood, shoving the chair back, and went to join the others in celebration Ed was awake. Ed was alive. Ed would live.

He stopped as Hawkeye stepped into his office, and closed the doors behind her, muffling the sounds of cheers and laughter from the front room. He was confused, she didn’t look angry, she was smiling, but he knew the strained look that tightened her lips and the wariness that painted her eyes. He wasn’t going to like this.

“How bad is it,” he asked, his hands dropping.

Gut wounds were bad. Awake meant alive, but it didn’t mean alright. Anything could be going on right now. Awake could change to asleep or dead in a flash.

“I don’t know, Al was just happy to tell everyone that Ed had woken up,” Hawkeye said, motioning toward his chair.

Mustang swallowed hard and slumped back into his chair. The happy laughter just outside his door struck him to the core; could they be celebrating while Ed was dying? The team had already lost one member, and though they had all recovered and moved on, it had been hard. He didn’t think any of them could weather losing another.

“Are there any leads on the man who stabbed him,” he asked, looking up at Hawkeye.

As much as he would have liked to find the man, to throw him in jail to rot, it wasn’t their jurisdiction. Ed was a civilian. As far as they knew, so was the attacker. So Mustang had stepped back, and heard an alarming amount of nothing since from the police force. Two days later and he was tempted to try hunting the man down himself.

“Nothing yet, sir,” Hawkeye said wearily before pulling a piece of paper out of her pocket, “I know you want to visit, but it would be-”

“Not good, I know,” Mustang cut her off, taking the paper from her hand and looking at it, “A shopping list?”

“Al barely leaves his side,” she smiled, “It’s your turn to bring him food and supplies.”

Mustang stared up at her in amazement. He knew she disapproved of his and Ed’s relationship, if it could even be called that, but he never thought she would find a way to cover for him.

“Thank you,” he said, looking over the list more closely.

Food from the Xingese restaurant a few blocks away. A few new books. A change of clothes. Nothing much, nothing complicated, but it would be worth its weight in gold to Al to keep him at his brother’s side, Mustang knew. They all knew how stupidly devoted to each other the Elric brothers were.

“It’s just your turn, sir,” Hawkeye said, “There’s a box in the front office with clothes and books, Al will eat anything.”

“Of course,” Mustang said, standing and tucking the paper away in a pocket, “I’ll give him some time to bathe and change.”

“He’ll appreciate that,” Hawkeye agreed, “But sir, please remember...”

“I know,” Mustang sighed, pulling on his heavy wool coat, “You don’t have to remind me.”

Hawkeye snorted at that, but said nothing. Mustang was grateful. He wasn’t old, but he was weary. He was tired of sidestepping around political traps and putting on an outward face. All to rise up in the ranks, to become the leader of the country. But it was his promise to so many, and he couldn’t abandon the path now.

Maes might forgive him if he did, but Ed never would. His team never would. He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself.

“I’ll tell him hello from everyone,” Mustang said as he opened the door.

“Tell them both hello from all of us,” Hawkeye smiled, and Mustang nodded, accepting the box and marching out the doors.

Food, and relief, for Al. He could do that. No one would question or think harder on that.

Mustang slumped forward in the uncomfortable hospital chair, staring at Ed’s pale face. He wasn’t sickly gray, as he had feared, but washed out and faded. His hair, loose around him, hung limp and tired on the pillow. Mustang knew the feeling.

He sighed, afraid to even reach out and touch Ed’s hand, afraid to break him. He had never seen the man this far gone, even after the worst the world had thrown at him.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, breaking the somber silence, “I, maybe there wasn’t anything I could have done, but I’m sorry. I was angry at you and I shouldn’t have been.”

Mustang took in a deep breath, blinking and looking back at the empty doorway. Al was off taking advantage of a shower. He still had a few minutes before he would need to leave again.

“I don’t know what to say,” he finally admitted, “I know how to stand at a funeral, how to bury a friend, but I don’t know what to do when they’re hurt. But I know you, Ed, and you’ll probably be driving the doctors nuts within a few days. Demanding to be released, and Al will be at his wits end on how to keep you from tearing everything open and falling over in a puddle of stubborn blood.”

Mustang’s chuckle was wet as he wiped at his eyes.

“But you need to listen to him, okay,” Mustang insisted, taking Ed’s hand and caressing it gently, “He’s just looking out for you. He’s cares about you.

“And so do I,” Mustang whispered, pulling Ed’s hand to his mouth to kiss gently.

A soft knock on the doorway made Mustang jump, dropping Ed’s hand as he leaned away from the bed. Al stepped through with a yawn, and Mustang sighed. It was time for him to go.

“Thank you, for the food and clothes,” Al smiled, taking Mustang’s seat as the general moved to leave, “You’re welcome to visit any time, you know.”

Mustang paused at the door, and nodded. Al had held out the olive branch, and he wouldn’t turn it away.

“Thank you. I’ll do that,” he said with a smile.

Al just hummed and then picked up the heavy medical tome that was balanced precariously on the small table, and started reading again. Mustang just shook his head as he left, his heart a little lighter. Leave it to the Elrics to comfort each other with more science.

Chapter Text

The tension in the room crackled, but neither man backed down. But the fight, silent though it was, could not be stopped. And both men knew it from hard experience. And neither, as stubborn as they both were, would budge. It didn’t take long for the dam to finally burst.

“Give me one damn good reason,” Ed, snapped, “Why I shouldn’t clock you and walk out of here myself!”

“Because you’ll pull your stitches and bleed to death,” Al snapped back, glaring at his brother.

“Use some alkahestry or something then,” Ed demanded.

Al’s fists tightened, and Ed continued to glare at him, but he knew his tells. He was finally getting through. Maybe. Possibly. He would win the fight eventually, he always did. He didn’t know why his stubborn idiot of a younger brother was even bothering at this point.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Al pointed out, “I don’t have the knowledge to make sure everything stays where it’s supposed to!”

“Then go ask someone,” Ed said, “I can lay in bed at home. So either get out of my way or help me up.”

Al just glared at his brother, his eyebrow twitching, before he finally just sighed. His shoulders slumped and Ed knew he had won.

“Let me get a wheelchair and call for a cab,” Al said, making a swift exit from the room, and Ed collapsed carefully backwards in relief.

He didn’t want to admit it, but his wound was throbbing painfully just from sitting up. He didn’t think he would have been able to walk out of the hospital even if he wanted to, though rolling out the window would be a fairly easy escape. And equally as easily caught and lectured.

No, Ed knew he was already pressing his limits, physically. He didn’t remember it being this painful, and recovery this hard, the last few times he had been stabbed. But he couldn’t heal himself by turning himself into a philosopher’s stone anymore. He had to do things the old fashioned way.

He also didn’t want to admit that the reason he was fighting so hard was because he was tired of hospitals. He had spent over half his life waking up in hospitals, ending up in hospitals, and escaping hospitals. He was tired of the itchy sheets and the nurses and the food. He just wanted to go home and lay in his own bed.

And, if he was going to pop a stitch and bleed out, then he wanted to do it at home. He wanted to be laying on his own sheets, with his own blankets, and die in peace. Because that would be preferable to laying here and having everyone fussing and asking questions and grating at his nerves. At least at home people would get out of his room and leave him alone.

Ed let a breath shutter out of his lungs, wincing as it pulled on his abdomen. He was tired. He was tired of hospitals, he was tired of getting hurt, and, though he tried to refuse to think about it, he was tired of waking up too. Waking up to feeling the emptiness in his chest trying to swallow him whole, from trying to fill it and knowing it was like pissing into a holey bucket. From trying to pretend to everyone that he was alright.

But he would be alright. He had to be. His brother was here, holding his hand and reading him books, and reminding him that he had to be alright for his family. To remind him that he always gave everything for his family.

And he had to bite his lip against how much he wanted to throw Al out the window and let him wallow in peace instead of being reminded of how much he always needed to give for his family, and how little he could ever have to himself. Himself and the darkness.

The door opened again and Ed just let his head turn.

“The way Al was talking I thought you’d be halfway out the window by now,” Mustang said, staring down at Ed.

Ed sighed and flipped him off. With a grunt he sitting up again, and was grateful when Mustang helped him up, repositioning the pillows behind him. The doctor had to be lying about just being stabbed, stab wounds never hurt this bad when he was younger.

“Is he still out there getting a cab,” Ed asked.

“No, just a doctor to sign you out, and getting your medications,” Mustang said with a snort, sitting down in the uncomfortable bedside chair, “I think half the nurses are helping him just to get you out of here faster.”

“I’m not that bad,” Ed defended.

And really, he wasn’t. He just didn’t like getting poked and prodded constantly. And injections. And having everyone unwrap, stare at his wound, make a few comments, and then wrap him back up again. He was shocked he had managed to stay unconscious as long as he had with all the assholes with white coats running around and bugging the shit out of him.

“Ed,” Mustang sighed, looking wearily over at the younger man, “You look like shit.”

“Thanks for the assessment,” Ed said, “What the fuck are you doing here anyway?”

“Believe it or not, but you’re not the only Elric that needs caring for from time to time,” Mustang said, nodding toward the bag on the floor, “Food for your brother.”

Ed just sighed and nodded, staring intently at the bag for a moment before letting himself sink into the pillows. It smelled delicious, spicy and savory and far too oily to be healthy, and on any normal day he would be after it in a second. But right now he didn’t think he could get more than water down his throat without it coming back. Damn the pain, and fuck the pain meds even more.

The door opened with a grinning Al, wheeling a wheelchair, and an overly enthusiastic nurse following behind.

“Fucking finally,” Ed smiled.

He really just wanted to put this shit behind him.

Ed turned his glare from the ceiling to the stack of books beside his bed. He had been so certain that he would at least be able to rest in peace at home that it had skipped his mind how boring books could be if you didn’t feel like reading them. And, with Al somewhere else in the apartment, he knew he didn’t want books on archaeology or agriculture or physics. He wanted alchemy.

He craved alchemy. He could feel it beating a staccato through his bones; alchemy, alchemy, alchemy. And it was driving him insane. He could taste the electric power on his tongue, the hunger burning through his soul, but he couldn’t give in and ask Al.

Ed wouldn’t do that. He wasn’t an alchemist. He would never be an alchemist again. He needed to put that part of his life behind him. He was a scientist now, he helped improve the world through other means. Even if that, the last few years, merely involved getting his hands covered in chalk trying to pound mathematical laws into his students’ minds instead of a more physical force through his enemies’ heads.

A gentle knock interrupted his brooding and he sighed and sat up, shifting carefully against the pillows as the door opened.

“Hey,” Al said with a small smile, “Do you need anything?”

“Different books,” Ed finally admitted with a sigh, letting the one he was pretending to read drop to the floor next to him.

Al frowned, looking back toward the living room.

“I’ve read all those too,” Ed saved him the question, “I just, I just need something new Al. I’m fine. Just bored.”

Al’s frown stayed rooted on his face, but he just nodded. He had been like that since he had gotten Ed home, worrying constantly, and it was driving Ed up the wall. He was recovering, slower than he liked, but gut wounds sucked like that. He wasn’t a glass figure that was about to shatter against the pavement, no matter what Al thought. He wasn’t going to bring up that he knew he brother had alchemically sealed his window shut either. Not unless he wanted to start another fight.

“I’ll get you some new ones when I’m out,” Al promised, “Any suggestions?”

Alchemy, Ed bit his tongue from snapping. Get him alchemy.

“Nothing stupid,” Ed sighed, “Science. Or something.”

“Okay, I’ll be back in a few hours. Have fun, don’t, umm,” Al blushed, and rushed out of the room, and Ed heard another voice seeing him off from the living room.

Oh, Mustang was here. That should be entertaining. They could crack a plan to make Al squeak and flee the apartment. Hell, he could maybe even convince him to actually have some fun, and take the edge off before he went insane.

Chapter Text

Porcelain clattered in the kitchen, and Ed could make out a few choice swear words, but just stared at the book in his lap instead of acknowledging it. Mustang had not been happy when he had hobbled down the hallway to greet him after Al had left, and it seemed he was now taking his temper out on the mugs in the kitchen. Personally Ed would have gone with something stronger, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to mix liquor with his medication.

He was just stupid enough to nearly rip open his stitches out of pure boredom.

“Tea,” Mustang said, his voice tight as he came back into the living room, carefully setting a mug down on the end table next to Ed’s chair.

Al had, in his boredom, cleaned the living room and found places for the towers of books that had used to make up most of the furniture. Ed was going to have to have words with him about it, he couldn’t figure out where anything was anymore.

Ed stared at the mug of tea and sighed. Of course Al would have left orders for him to have tea instead of coffee. Al was still harping on about the health benefits of his damn leaf water, and it left Ed struggling to down mugs that tasted like lawn clippings and soaked socks. And now matter how much Al insisted that it was an acquired taste he would come to love, he still despised it.

He hid a smirk as Mustang took a sip and his face puckered. It was good to know that he wasn’t the only one that hated the boiled crap. Maybe now he could get a decent cup of coffee without Al blowing his lid.

“It’s not going to taste any better,” Ed said, watching Mustang blow gently at his cup, “Coffee?”

“Your brother was quite clear-”

“Al isn’t here, and I’m not going to drink this shit. Coffee or nothing,” Ed said.

Mustang, thankfully, just shrugged his shoulders and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later he reemerged with two steaming mugs of coffee, and Ed accepted his happily. He brought it up to his nose and inhaled deeply, taking in the blessed scent of his old friend. It wasn’t good coffee, he had never bothered with the good stuff, but the taste of burned, acidic bean water was ambrosia to him after so long without.

“Fucking hell, this is worse than the cafeteria’s,” Mustang spat after taking a sip.

“It’s heaven,” Ed said, slurping happily away.

Al was going to kill the both of them when he found out, but it would be a good death. A happy death.

Mustang just snorted, but contended himself with sipping at the mug as well as he leafed through one of Ed’s spare physics textbooks. Ed had marked it up ages ago before deciding to go with a different author. He may have gotten easily fed up with students at times, but there was no need to bore them to death like that author did. They needed to see why they should take an interest in the subject with real world examples instead of the author ignoring applications altogether.

“Why are you here,” Ed finally asked, putting his book on the ground, something about historic and modern weather patterns, and pulled Mustang’s attention away from the amusing notes he was cocking an eyebrow at.

“You’ve called this man cockless five time in one chapter alone,” Mustang said, looking up but keeping the book open.

“He was so boring I was falling asleep and forgetting my own insults,” Ed shrugged, “I don’t teach with him.”

“I can see,” Mustang just shook his head, “Probably best that you weren’t at the conference. I can only just imagine the fights you would have started.”

“I wouldn’t have said anything that didn’t need saying,” Ed said, leaning back and rolling his left shoulder. The stuffing was getting too thin there. He would have to ask Al to adjust the filling with alchemy before he left, and fluff some much needed life back into the old thing. Maybe mend some of the balding spots as well.

“Al would have spent the entire time apologizing and dragging you away from arguments,” Mustang snorted, “Or helping cause them.”

“He would have been boringly professionally polite, like he always is,” Ed said, “And given I haven’t heard about any fights at the conference, I assume he was.”

Mustang frowned, setting his now empty mug to the side.

“Ed, Al didn’t go to the conference,” Mustang said, “He was with you.”

Ed frowned at that. That couldn’t be right. He knew he had missed the conference, but he had been unconscious. With a gut wound. There was nothing that should have kept Al from attending, it was his entire reason for visiting from Xing in the first place. And Resembool.

He swallowed hard. Al should be headed to Resembool by now, to visit Granny and Winry. He shouldn’t be stuck here playing nursemaid for his brother. Dammit, he had gone and fucked things up for his brother again. He had ruined his entire trip, and he knew how hard it was for Al to come over to Amestris these days. It would be harder once he got married, and had a family.

“Fuck,” Ed said staring down at the now empty mug in his hands.

Why did he have to keep going and fucking up Al’s life?

“Ed,” Mustang sighed, “It wasn’t your fault. You were injured and he didn’t want to leave you alone in the hospital.”

“I was fucking unconscious,” Ed snapped, “He was here for the conference, he should have gone! It wasn’t like it was the first time I’ve been stabbed or anything, I would have been fine!”

Silence echoed through the living room, and Ed watched as Mustang’s fists tightened. He was grateful he didn’t have a fireplace now, or else he could only imagine the snapping he would have been doing. Why the fuck was the bastard angry? Did he blame Ed for the too?

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mustang repeated again through grit teeth, “You were stabbed Ed, your brother cares for you. You’re more important to him, to your friends, than some stupid conference. If anything it saved him from having to deal with the blowhards up at the university.”

“I get he cares for me, but he didn’t need to put aside his plans just because of me,” he tried to sink even further into the chair and failed, “He just doesn’t need to, I can take care of myself.”

Mustang stood abruptly and stormed out of the room and into the kitchen. Ed could hear his shuffling through cupboards and sighed. He hadn’t meant to make Mustang angry, but he just didn’t get it. He was in a hospital, he could have survived a few hours, still unconscious, while Al went off and enjoyed the company of his fellow alchemists. His brother had come all the way to Amestris for the conference, and to miss it was just another line of the list of shit he had ruined for him.

“Top cupboard, top shelf, behind the sugar tin,” Ed finally calls out, taking pity on Mustang.

At least, the liquor should be there unless Al had moved it somewhere else. Not that he could see Al moving it. It was the coffee that Ed kept worrying his brother was going to hide, not the liquor.

Mustang returned with a full glass, and Ed was jealous. The pain medication dulled the throbbing darkness, but it didn’t numb it. He had hoped to convince Mustang for a roll in the sack, but it was quickly becoming clear that wasn’t going to happen. Not with the way Mustang had nearly carried him to the chair when he had heard him stumbling down the hall, and not after his sharp comments about stitches and bleeding to death.

No, for now he was going to just have to be content with a gaping hole swallowing him from the inside out while he waited for the gaping hole that had cut him from the outside in to heal.

“You don’t seem to fucking understand,” Mustang finally said, draining his glass and glaring at Ed, “He’s your brother, we’re your friends! We care about you, we’re there for you!”

“I’m ruining his life!” Ed snapped back, leaning forward and gritting his teeth against the pain as he jostled his wound once more, “Any time I do anything, any time anything happens, it turns out badly for him! I can’t even leave a bar without dashing everything he has against the wall. Again. And again. And again.”

Ed didn’t even notice when the tears started streaming down his face, the burning hitching in his throat when the words started bubbling out in sobs. He wiped at his face uselessly, trying to deny that the tears were there. He couldn’t even have a fight without turning into a mess, dammit. He didn’t want Mustang to see him like this. There was no reason he should be like this! But the pounding throb in his chest reminded him that it would always be like this. He would always be the weaker one now. He was always the broken one to everyone else.

“It’s okay, Ed,” Mustang’s voice was calm, his hand rubbing gentle circles on his back, “It’s going to be okay.”

No it wasn’t, Ed knew. It wasn’t going to be okay because it couldn’t okay. His life was fucked, and he just kept fucking up everyone around him. It was all his damn fault.

Chapter Text

Al didn’t bother calling out his hellos when he finally made his way quietly back into the apartment. It was late enough that he was sure Ed had fallen asleep, or, at least, he hopefully had, and he was sure Mustang had heard the door. Some old military instincts he was sure. What he wasn’t expecting, as he stepped into the lit kitchen, was to find Hawkeye cutting vegetables.

“Uh,” Al said, “Hello?”

Riza just turned and rolled her eyes, putting down the knife and wiping her hands on the dish towel.

Had Ed even owned a dish towel? Or a chopping board?

“Roy’s asleep in the living room, I’ll take him home when I’m done,” she explained with a smile, putting the kettle on.

There were already two mugs, waiting with leaves, on the table. Al swallowed, hard. This was not a good sign. There was no sense of urgency, no panic, so it couldn’t be that Ed was injured. But prepared mugs meant heavy discussions, and that was never good.

Fuck. What had those two morons done now? Riza didn’t show up at people’s apartments and cook for them for no reason.

“How many casseroles are you making,” Al asked, finally noticing the seven casserole dishes lining the kitchen, five of them filled already.

“Enough to keep you idiots from starving,” Riza just said, and Al winced at a rather hard chop from the knife.

He sat at the kitchen table and waited for the water as she finished with the carrots. In all fairness, he and Ed had been living off either food that he burned but was still edible, or take out. Cooking shouldn’t be so hard, it was just simple chemistry, but somehow it eluded him. He was sure Ed was better at it, he was a chemistry professor after all, but he was still mostly bed ridden and Al hadn’t felt like carrying him to the kitchen for directions.

The kettle whistles and Riza is quick to pour the tea and Al nods his head in thanks.

They sat there for a few moments, until Al finally broke the tension by taking a slurp from his mug.

“Roy’s drunk,” she finally admitted, “He called me after he put your brother to bed, and he was half gone by the time I got here.”

“I left them alone so they could work things out between each other,” Al said with a wince.

Apparently that hadn’t gone well at all. He should have seen it ending poorly, his brother had a way of snapping when he got defensive, but he had hoped that Mustang would be able to see past that. Apparently not.

“Al, has Ed had,” Riza paused, and Al could see her running through words in her head, “Has he ever gotten help for what you two went through?”

Al’s hands tightened around the mug.

“It’s complicated,” Al finally admitted, “He had a hard time after I got my body back, but we dealt with it. I know he still has nightmares, but you know brother. He’s stubborn enough to break the wall and stone if he’s stuck between the two.”

Riza nodded, and Al swallowed hard. Now he was in familiar territory, unfortunately. He should have seen this coming, should have prepared for it. Ed had accepted being stabbed by some stranger too quickly, and shrugged off the situation entirely the moment he had woken up. It wasn’t normal. Normal people didn’t deal well with getting stabbed and nearly dying.

But, then again, normal people didn’t try to bring their mother back from the dead when they were children, and help save the world before they were even adults. His gauge on normal was so completely broken that he had no clue where to even start at times. Their lives had been anything but normal for nearly as long as he could remember.

“He broke down this afternoon,” she said, her voice soft, “He was blaming himself for what happened-”

“That’s bullshit,” Al snapped, “The fuck it was his fault!”

“Al,” Riza said, her gaze hard, “He’s blaming himself for you missing the conference. For not visiting Resembool. For a lot of things.”

“He shouldn’t,” Al said, slurping angrily at his tea.

And fuck if it didn’t taste like weak grass and he wanted something stronger.

“You need to talk to him, Al,” Riza said, “I can send over some names of doctors that work with military veterans. But you need to be honest with him, he didn’t even know you had missed the conference until Roy told him.”

“Yes ma’am,” Al said, swallowing hard and nodding, feeling like a chastised child.

“Thaw the casseroles before you bake them. I’ve written instructions, so there shouldn’t be any risk of burning anything as long as you follow them,” Riza said, standing and walking toward the living room.

“Do you need any help,” Al offered, but remained seated, his finger carefully tracing the outside of the old mug.

“Talk to your brother Al,” Riza sighed, looking back sadly, “It’s time the both of you did for once.”

Al nodded, and stayed seated as Riza hauled a mumbling and slightly weepy Mustang out the front door.

What the hell was he going to do now? Ed needed help, and he needed to return to Xing soon. He’d have to go to the telegraph office in the morning, and send May a message. It would be easy enough to arrange to ship Ed’s things east, and they had enough spare room at home. But finding a doctor to help him would be the hard part. Very few people knew Amestrian, and it would take time for Ed to learn Xingese as well.

He drank the rest of the cooling tea and wondered how bad the fight would be tomorrow. Ed was dug in here, determined to prove himself. He knew his brother. His stubbornness had saved the world. He’d let his stubbornness kill himself just to prove a point.

Riza sighed as she slipped her shoes off at the front door in the dark. It was late, and she was grateful that there was no work in the morning. Hauling a drunk Roy around reminded her too much of Ishval, and the horrors that still haunted her.

The living room light came on and she blinked against the light with a sigh. She had tried to be quiet.

“Is everyone okay,” Fuery asked, wearing a blanket wrapped around himself against the chill.

Black Hayate was standing beneath the trailing edge of the blanket, leaning into his leg, and Riza smiled despite herself. It was adorable to be greeted by the sight. She almost wished she had a camera.

“Yeah, Ed was having a bad night, and I took Roy home once Al got back,” she smiled, hugging Fuery tightly against her chest and breathing in the scent of his hair.

“It was bad,” Fuery said, leaning in to the embrace.

“It was bad. Ed’s not doing well,” she explained, turning to hang up her jacket, “You should get back to bed.”

“I’ll draw you a bath,” he smiled, “And chamomile tea?”

“You just want a hot bath,” Riza smirked, pulling Fuery into a kiss.

Fuery just hummed in agreement, and let the blanket drop as the two continued toward the bathroom.

Black Hayate curled up under the blanket happily, and guarded the apartment.