Beta Reader: The excellent and all-powerful Tayles. Any lingering mistakes are to be blamed on me for not listening to her.
Spoilers: None - I'm quite happily paying no attention to either the anime timeline or the manga
Pairings: Mainly Roy/Ed... eventually - nothing even approaching smut until part 22. Gracia/Hughes. Implied Al/Winry
Warnings: None. Unless you object to the pairing.
Author's Note: Will be updated more frequently here. Sorry for re-posting the first three parts but I got ticked off by my flatmate so this way should be more straightfoward. Sorry again. As I said before, I have no clue where this is going.
Monday morning. Three and a half weeks of blissful peace and quiet. Or at least, as quiet and peaceful as East City headquarters ever got. Ok so it hadn’t actually been that peaceful, life in the military rarely was, but anything seemed tranquil compared to Edward Elric, the Full Metal Alchemist, in a bad mood.
Especcially when he was standing right in front of you.
And especcially when he was blaming you for all of the problems he’d encountered on his last little ‘adventure’.
‘Why didn’t you warn me?!’ was the most recent complaint but Colonel Roy Mustang decided to ignore it just as he’d ignored everything else that Fullmetal had said so far. It was the standard, predictable way their conversations (or rather arguments) proceeded. Edward would shout, slam his hands on the table and threaten to transmute anything and everything within a three-mile radius. Roy would sit back in his chair, ignore the threats and wind Edward up until the Fullmetal one was on the verge of exploding or doing something equally destructive, and that was when Roy would pull the metaphorical rug out from under his feet.
If Roy Mustang were honest with himself, he actually rather enjoyed it.
Sometimes he found himself wondering if Edward enjoyed it too. But he never let himself think that for long, there was, after all, a very good reason why he enjoyed a reputation as a womaniser.
‘I take it that control…’ the Colonel began but Edward angrily cut him off.
‘Yes, yes, everything’s gone back to the way it should be, Al and I saved the day again and are even more famous than before.’
There was a hint of something unusual in Edward’s voice that Roy couldn’t help wondering about. Irritation? Exhaustion? Or was it something more complicated than that? Despite all of Edward’s powers, despite his strength and impressive track record in dealing with situations that few alchemists three times his age would be able to handle, the boy was still… well, just that – a boy. Not a man. Not an adult. But a child. An orphan with outstanding abilities. A boy with the responsibilities of several grown-ups. A child scarred, possibly forever, by his biggest mistake, a mistake he was constantly seeking a way to put right if not for his own sake, then for his brother’s.
Roy dragged his attention back to the pair of golden eyes boring into him from underneath dishevelled bangs, wondering if it was just his imagination or whether there really was a haunted look to them that he’d simply never noticed before.
Edward’s gaze faltered, his eyes dropped and he straightened up, hands behind his back now, every inch the perfect State Alchemist.
A warrior in the body of a child.
Had he done this? Was this his doing? This serious, burdened child… was he responsible for doing this to Edward?
‘Is there anything else, Colonel?’ and this time there was no mistaking the note of weariness in Edward’s voice.
‘No’ Roy heard himself say, ‘but you’d better get your automail checked out.’
‘I was going to do that anyway,’ groused Edward before stalking out of the room, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his coat, head bowed slightly.
For some reason, it was a sight that worried Roy more than he’d expected.
‘Hate it when he does that,’ muttered Edward to himself, kicking idly at a stone with his left foot and, because he’d misjudged his strength as usually happened when he was angry, sent it flying along the pavement and smack into the nearest wall. Where it stayed.
Alphonse ignored his brother’s mild vandalism and soothingly replied, ‘it’ll be all right, brother.’
Edward, too wrapped up in his own foul mood to notice, continued bitterly, ‘he just sits there, smirking away like everything I say is so damn funny. He never takes me seriously. Never treats me like an adult. I’ll show him, one of these days I’ll prove to him I’m not just some dumb kid.’
Being “some dumb kid” was the last thing anyone could accuse his brother of, as Al well knew. What’s more he was sure that the Colonel actually did respect Edward. In a way. Sort of. The pair had always had an odd relationship but Al couldn’t help wondering why this latest conflict had irritated his brother more than usual. Usually his brother walked out of the Colonel’s office in a furiously wonderful mood, it was a bizarre combination but Al knew his brother got a kick out of the confrontations no matter how much he complained about Mustang before, during or afterwards. It was something that made this peculiar depression even stranger.
‘Does he have another job for us?’
‘No he’ll leave us hanging around for a couple of days before telling us anything. As usual.’
‘Good because Winry’s coming to visit tomorrow.’
Both Al and Winry ignored the way the spanner and other assorted tools made a variety of jarring noises as the mechanic threw them angrily back into her toolbox. ‘What is the matter with him?’ Winry demanded for the fifth time in as many minutes.
Al would have shrugged his shoulders, if he had shoulders that worked like that, instead he settled for raising his hands in mild protest, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen him this miserable for a long time.’
‘It’s more than just being generally down in the dumps Al, Edward’s upset about something in particular.’
‘What makes you say that?’
Winry did shrug her shoulders and turned back to her tools, ‘call it female intuition if you like. I mean, I’m no mind reader but there is something,’ she emphasised the word with a bang as she struck the table with her wrench, ‘definitely something that he is not telling us.’
‘Maybe it has something to do with what the Colonel said yesterday?’ Al suggested.
‘The Colonel? That Mustang guy? What about him?’
‘Brother went to report to him yesterday when we got back from our mission and when he came out of the office…’ Al trailed off, not sure exactly what kind of mood Edward had been in after his meeting with Colonel Mustang. Depressed? Well yes, to some extent. But Al was sure there was more to it than that.
‘Does talking to Colonel Mustang usually affect Ed like this?’ Winry asked after a long, uncomfortable pause.
Al shook his head and would have winced at the way his armour creaked at the action if he’d been able to.
Winry’s expression softened and she gave him a sympathetic smile, ‘I think its time you had a check up too Al.’
‘Oh I’m fine, really, you don’t need to…’ he hurriedly began to assure her but there was no talking Winry out of something once she’d made her mind up.
‘Colonel?’ seeing as knocking four times on Mustang’s office door hadn’t prompted a response, Riza Hawkeye opened the door and stepped into the room beyond. Colonel Roy Mustang was sitting at his desk, just as she’d expected him to be, reading something intently.
A louder ‘Colonel?’ still didn’t make him look up.
Not even ‘Colonel!’ worked so Hawkeye reached for her gun, wondering if she would be court-martialled for putting a couple of bullets into the top of the Colonel’s desk.
Just as she was raising the weapon, Mustang looked up and only just managed to suppress a look of surprise. ‘Yes Lieutenant?’
Smoothly putting her gun back into its holster as though it was the most normal thing in the world to be brandishing a weapon in your superior’s office, Hawkeye strode over to the desk and saluted. ‘Urgent report from Major Hughes, sir.’
‘Thank you Lieutenant, just leave it here.’
Hawkeye dropped the report onto the Colonel’s desk and took a step backwards.
Without so much as a glance in her direction, Mustang asked ‘is there something else you wanted to say Lieutenant?’
‘With respect sir, you’ve been in an… odd mood all morning.’
‘Odd? Is me doing paperwork really that unusual, Lieutenant?’
‘Of course not sir,’ Hawkeye lied briskly. ‘But you do seem… not quite yourself,’ she persisted.
‘Will you please return to your post, Lieutenant. I assure you, there is nothing wrong with me.’
‘Yes sir,’ Hawkeye reluctantly saluted.
Ed blinked. The picture of Alicia was still in front of him. As much as he adored the little girl (which he privately admitted he did but only because he didn’t see how anyone couldn’t), being assaulted by photos of her was not what he needed when he was in a bad mood. Which he was. Definitely.
Ed blinked again.
The picture wasn’t moving, which meant that Hughes was attached to it somewhere. Despite feeling vaguely surprised that he hadn’t already heard the devoted father and supposed intelligence officer before the photo had been brandished under his nose, Ed turned his head and found himself nose to nose with Hughes.
‘You’re pissed off aren’t you,’ Hughes whispered.
Jumping out of his chair in order to put some space between him and the crouched officer, Ed glowered at the man, ‘what makes you say that?’
Hughes stood up straight and gave a shrug, ‘you didn’t say ‘ahh’ when you saw Alicia. People incapable of appreciating how cute she looks in her new dress must be in a bad mood. No sane person could resist the…’
‘I don’t need anyone trying to cheer me up or give me advice,’ Ed interrupted the flow of fatherly love before Hughes could get fully underway and sat back down at the table. Ed didn’t want this conversation to last three hours. He didn’t want it to even last three minutes. Hell, he didn’t want to have a conversation with anyone right now and certainly not Hughes, the man had a peculiar talent for wheedling information out of him. Maybe it was the pictures of Alicia that he used to lull his victims into a false sense of security, mused Ed.
‘Never said you did,’ Hughes replied just as swiftly, without looking up from Alicia’s picture. ‘So what’s upset you, Fullmetal?’
‘Nothing. No one. Go away old man.’
‘Ahh, it’s love isn’t it? That first stage when you can’t get your beloved out of your head. You see them wherever you look. Lose the power of speech when they’re around. Feel like you’ll explode if you can’t be with them, hold them, touch them, kiss…’
‘I am not in love!’ Ed bellowed a little more loudly than he meant to in the semi-full canteen. Jumping to his feet he marched out, leaving his lunch behind him.
Edward kept walking until he got out of the building and had found an almost empty park. Yes, this would be a much better place to sit and think.
Dropping himself down onto a bench, Ed leant back, hands lying idly in his lap, and stared up at the sky. Hughes, as always, didn’t know what he was talking about. Love? That was the least of his problems. If he were even capable of feeling such an emotion.
Ed knew that he loved Al, but that was the unconditional bond between two brothers who had been through hell and come out the other side with a single aim, a goal that they had to dedicate themselves to reaching. Edward was well aware that he didn’t understand how relationships between ordinary people worked; it wasn’t like he had a lot to go on after all. He didn’t remember anything about his father and hence nothing much of his parents’ relationship. Most of the people he knew in the military were single. Hughes was the obvious exception, but then how could behaviour such as his be even vaguely normal?
It was only when Ed forced his eyes open that he realised that they had drifted closed of their own accord.
There was a picture of Alicia hovering just a few inches above his face.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Edward begged silently that he was just dreaming, or hallucinating, or something…
He opened his eyes again.
‘No that’s definitely a picture of my beautiful little Alicia,’ the proud dad sitting beside him on the bench corrected him. ‘And you are definitely in a bad mood. Probably stage two, you’re in love but the object of your affection doesn’t return your feelings and so you’re in the deepest pits of despair and trying to decide how to prove your devotion to them.’
‘Why did you follow me?’ Edward asked, forcing himself not to transmute Hughes into something, anything, so long as it couldn’t talk. Or follow him.
‘You’re troubled by something Fullmetal,’ Hughes replied, returning the picture of Alicia reverently to the inside pocked of his jacket. ‘And as your friend I am concerned.’
Ed’s eyes drifted closed. ‘I am not in any stage of love,’ he insisted quietly, aware that, for some reason, his anger was draining away.
‘Of course,’ Hughes replied, adopting the same laid back position on the bench as Edward. ‘Stage three. Denial.’
‘I am not…’ began Ed.
‘My point exactly. Denial. A desperate attempt to convince the world, and yourself, that you don’t care how the other person feels about you. You tell yourself that you actually hate them. That their opinion is irrelevant to you. That you can easily live without them. That it’s their loss.’ Hughes sighed and took his glasses off to clean them. ‘But you don’t believe it. Do you Edward?’
‘I am not in love with anyone,’ Edward insisted.
Silence met his statement.
Ed frowned, ‘I mean it. I am not in love.’
Voice rising angrily, Ed bellowed ‘I don’t care what you think, Hughes, I am not in love!’
When the silence didn’t respond, Ed sat up properly and looked around.
He was sitting alone on the bench but an elderly couple walking along the nearby path were giving him very strange looks. Scowling Edward picked himself up and strode angrily off to find somewhere more private to think.
‘This had better be good Hughes,’ Mustang sighed as he stared down at the collection of photos that were now littering his desk.
The other officer didn’t reply immediately as he was too busy cooing over a photo of his daughter on her first day of school.
‘Is there a genuine reason for this interruption?’
‘You don’t want to see pictures of your goddaughter?’
‘Hughes, I’m having dinner at your house tonight so I’ll be seeing Alicia in person. The last time I saw her was two days ago. I doubt she’s changed much in that time.’
‘Suit yourself,’ Hughes shrugged and began gathering up the pictures. ‘So what’s the matter?’ he asked as he did so.
‘There’s something wrong with you, what is it?’
Mustang stared at his friend for a moment without blinking, then gave his head a little shake and returned his attention to his paperwork, which could now be seen again.
Hughes slipped the photos back into his pocket and sat on the edge of Mustang’s desk. ‘It’s Edward isn’t it?’
‘What!’ spluttered Mustang, leaping out of his chair so violently that it fell over with a crash.
Giving a sigh of almost theatrical proportions, Hughes shook his head and prepared to leave.
‘Hughes… what… how…’ gasped Mustang. ‘Stop right there! What the hell did you mean by that?’
Unable to hide the smirk on his face, Hughes didn’t turn round to face his irate, spluttering friend, although he did pause with his hand on the door.
The tone of Mustang’s voice was enough to tell Hughes that he had pushed the Flame Alchemist to the point where he would incinerate Hughes alive if he didn’t get a straight answer. Sometimes talking to Edward was so much easier. Smoothing his smile away, Hughes turned round, ‘yes?’ he asked innocently.
‘What were you implying?’
‘There is nothing wrong with me,’ Mustang assured him.
‘Whatever you say. I’m sure you don’t care about Fullmetal at all. But I’m not the only person who’s noticed, that’s all I was saying. You should be more careful, you know Mustang, people’ll start talking. And of course the ladies won’t be too happy that their champion is changing his allegiance…’ Hughes couldn’t hide the smirk any longer so he ducked out of the room.
Mustang didn’t notice for three minutes as he tried to work out whether Hughes had been saying what he thought he’d been saying.
Hughes wasn’t surprised when he later heard that a tree outside East City Headquarters had mysteriously caught fire that afternoon.
Ed ignored Al’s exclamation as he stomped into the room and threw himself onto his bed. Sprawled out on his front, his head buried in his arms, Ed gave a long sigh. ‘Why does Hughes always assume that everyone’s in love? Just cos he can’t think of anything but his daughter. And Gracia. I swear there’s something wrong with that man,’ he informed the room in general.
The only answer he got was a slight creak of Al’s armour and a sigh that sounded a bit like ‘oh brother.’
‘And did he have to humiliate me like that?’
Al’s armour creaked again and there was another sigh.
‘Don’t know who irritates me more – Hughes or Mustang.’ Ed thumped the pillow angrily and groaned ‘no I do know. Mustang. Can’t stand him.’
‘Can’t stand Mustang,’ Ed repeated, but his muffled voice sounded less certain. ‘Can’t stand that… arrogant… self-centred… smug… womanising… bastard… thinks I’m a kid… he thinks I’m still just a kid… he’ll never see me as anything else…’
‘Brother,’ it was no louder than a whisper but that wasn’t why Ed didn’t register the response.
Nose buried deep into the bedcovers, Ed suddenly gave an incoherent yell and sat up with a jerk. For a moment Ed stared blindly at the headboard of his bed before he gave a second yell, which did manage to find an appropriate curse. ‘Fuck!’
Jumping off the bed, Ed sprinted out of the room as though Hughes was chasing him with a new Alicia photo.
Once the door had slammed shut, a long second of silence passed before Winry sat up and said to Al, ‘he didn’t realise I was here did he?’
Al shook his head.
‘Well your knee-joints shouldn’t give you any more problems. Do you want me to have a look at your shoulders too?’
If Al had been able to, he would have blushed, as it was he managed to stutter ‘I’m fine. Really.’
Climbing off the bed Winry straightened her skirt. ‘If you’re sure Al,’ she said with a smile and dropped a kiss onto the top of his helmet.
Swinging his legs off the bed, Al was, for once, extremely grateful that he didn’t have a normal body.
That was the most coherent thought in Edward’s head as he strode through the damp, rain-drenched streets of East City.
No. No. And no. Hell no.
Hands balled into fists and shoved deep into his pockets. Head bowed. Walking aimlessly. He ploughed onwards through the rain.
Firstly, he told himself, there was absolutely no way on the face of the earth that Hughes could be right.
No. Not a chance.
Ed ignored the way the steady drizzling rain was slowly soaking through his coat just as he ignored the rest of the world around him, trusting his feet to take him somewhere he vaguely recognised.
Secondly… well second came the real problem. Second came the fact that, as implausible as it sounded, Hughes was right.
Ed wasn’t blind. He wasn’t stupid. He knew it was a hopeless situation. Knew that there was no chance of Mustang…
Hell, Hughes would burn all of his photos of Alicia before Mustang ever changed his habits and…
A car rounded the street corner slightly faster than it should have done and skidded a little on the wet, empty road. It wasn’t a major problem for the driver, who had the vehicle back under control in a second, but it brought it closer to Ed’s side of the street and one errant wheel cut through a puddle sending a veil of water sloshing all over the already pissed off alchemist.
Edward’s thoughts dissolved into sodden fury in the time it took for the water to drench him and hit the ground. A furious scream broke from his mouth, giving vent to all the pent up frustration and confusion that had been plaguing him, without him knowing it, for months.
But before he had time to clap his hands together and transmute something, anything, maybe even everything, Ed heard the sound of screeching brakes. Whirling round, wet coat slapping against the back of his legs, soaked hair plastered to his head, Ed saw that the car (a standard issue military vehicle) had come to a stop just a few metres away from him. The back door opened and out stepped the last person Ed wanted to see at that point in time.
Colonel Roy Mustang.
With his usual calm swagger, Mustang walked over towards Ed. For a moment the man paused, ignoring the rain, as he swept his gaze over Edward, taking in everything just as he always did.
And just as he always did, Ed wished he could punch his commanding officer for being a smug, all-knowing bastard.
But for once, the condescending smirk wasn’t forthcoming and when Mustang did speak it wasn’t to give some infuriatingly arrogant remark. ‘What’s the point in getting your automail checked out if you don’t take care of the rest of your body Fullmetal?’
Ok, maybe it was a little irritating, but Ed had been expecting far worse.
Suddenly placing one hand on Edward’s shoulder, Mustang steered the sopping wet alchemist back towards the car and gave him a little push towards the open door.
Ed stumbled slightly and shot Mustang a furious look over his shoulder.
Mustang didn’t say anything but he did give Edward another push, his hand resting a fraction of a second too long on the small of Ed’s back. ‘Do I have to make it an order, Fullmetal? Get into the car.’
So Ed did.
‘Uncle Roy! Daddy, Daddy, Uncle Roy’s here!’
‘Uncle’ Roy obligingly stepped inside Hughes’ house giving Alicia the usual charming smile he reserved for the female species as he did so.
‘Edward!’ Alicia squealed, her delight raising her voice a further octave higher. ‘Daddy, Edward’s come to dinner too!’
Ed couldn’t help noticing that he didn’t get an ‘uncle’ prefix attached to his name, but this only just registered because he was too preoccupied with the single thought – Mustang’s hand is still on my shoulder. It had been placed there, quite casually, when they’d climbed out of the car and was still there now as Mustang pushed him ever so gently inside.
It was all Ed could do not to calculate how many layers of wet cloth lay between Roy’s fingers and his own bare, human shoulder.
It was all Ed could do not to think about Roy in his damp uniform, hair still dripping slightly from the rain that had now increased to a torrential downpour.
It was all Ed could do not to turn bright red at any and all of the thoughts that were vying for his attention within the confines of his own head.
Once they were both safely inside and the door shut behind them, Roy removed his hand from Edward’s shoulder and gave Hughes a grin. ‘I found a drowned rat on my way here.’
Hughes’ grin was growing at an alarming rate and Ed turned away to take his coat off so that he didn’t have to watch Hughes’ eyes dancing between the two Alchemists. ‘The more the merrier,’ was all he said aloud, ‘I’m sure Gracia won’t mind. Alicia honey, run and tell Mummy that Edward’s staying for dinner too. I’ll take your coats, we’d better put them somewhere where they can dry. What happened, did a rain cloud empty itself on you two?’
Roy gave a shrug, ‘ask Edward; he was the one out walking in it. I just offered him a lift.’
Trying not to feel sulky, Ed handed his coat over to Hughes although he addressed his explanation to the Colonel behind him, ‘I just needed to get out for a bit, I didn’t ask for you to take me anywhere.’
‘Roy, Edward,’ Gracia appeared from the direction of the kitchen, Alicia hanging onto one hand and a rolling pin clasped in the other. ‘Make yourselves at home. Alicia, won’t don’t you go and find that picture you drew at school today, I’m sure Uncle Roy would like to see it.’
It was only as Ed followed Roy and Hughes into the living room, Hughes eagerly enthusing about his daughter’s artistic talents, that he noticed that the Colonel wasn’t in his usual blue uniform. Instead, Mustang was wearing a perfectly normal pair of trousers and an open-necked shirt, it was only when Hughes called his name for a third time that Ed realised he must have been staring.
‘So are you any less confused than you were earlier, Edward?’ Hughes asked with an incredibly irritating smirk on his face.
But Roy got there before Edward could, ‘confused? What could Fullmetal possibly be confused about?’
‘I wasn’t confused,’ muttered Ed, ‘not that you’d understand old man.’ He wasn’t sure whether he was addressing Hughes or Roy, but the pair both seemed on the verge of sniggering. ‘Look I’m just intruding here,’ Ed suddenly announced, ‘I don’t want to make life more difficult for Gracia. Enjoy your evening. I’m going home.’
As Ed marched out of the room he thought he heard someone’s voice say ‘Edward’. Snatching his coat out of the cupboard Hughes had hung it up in, he was out of the front door before he had a chance to really realise what had just happened.
Three streets away from Hughes’ house, Ed allowed himself to think. Why the hell had he just done that? Why? Because Roy Mustang had been there, that was why. That smug, arrogant, charming, handsome bastard. Giving a groan, Ed sunk down onto a convenient wall and buried his head in his hands. He had done exactly what he’d been afraid of, he’d behaved like a child, he’d been sulky and disagreeable… how the hell was he ever going to prove to Mustang that he was an adult if he kept behaving like a bad-tempered kid?
Of course, it hadn’t been all his fault. He hadn’t been prepared for the fact that Mustang would be wearing normal clothes. He never could deal with Hughes when he got into one of his funny, grinning, I’m-the-cat-who-got-all-the-cream moods. He disliked being wet through and he had felt like he was making a nuisance of himself by turning up to dinner at Hughes’ house without being invited.
The drive there hadn’t exactly been helpful. Mustang hadn’t said a word. Not one, other than to explain that he was on his way to Hughes’ house for dinner and that Ed looked like he could do with a decent meal.
Ed hadn’t had anything to say to that. He couldn’t argue with the fact that he was still small and a little skinny for his age. He had grown, not that anyone seemed to notice, much less care. He had put on some weight, well he’d gotten a little more muscle on him, but people still thought he was a child.
Ignoring the rain that was falling so thick and fast now that he was soaked through to the skin and automail, Ed pushed the palms of his hands against his eyes and tried to think about anything other than Roy Mustang.
With the sound of the angrily slammed door still echoing slightly in his ears, Hughes turned to Roy, his smirk fading quickly. ‘Well that was abrupt,’ he said, just in case the other man hadn’t noticed.
One look told him that he didn’t need to try and make Roy feel guilty for the way Edward had just marched out of the house. The changing expressions that were flitting across Roy’s face tracked the alchemist’s feelings without him realising it. Surprise. Disappointment. Worry. Guilt. And then that almost blank, carefully composed expression, which always told Hughes that his friend was locking his emotions away. Again. Unable to stop himself, Hughes sighed. When he’d seen Ed and Roy arrive together… well, he hadn’t been able to prevent himself from hoping that maybe the two most stubborn men he knew had finally…
But once again he’d been reading too much into it. And now what could have been a perfectly romantic dinner (ignoring the audience obviously) had been destroyed before it had even begun.
Alicia’s reappearance, a piece of paper clutched in her hands, was a welcome distraction. ‘Where’s Edward gone?’ she asked, innocently voicing the one thing that really didn’t need saying at that time.
‘Edward’s had to go home love, now why don’t you show Uncle Roy your beautiful picture?’
More to follow in the next few days I think