Ah, nothing like pouring out your problems with a fic. *sigh*
Rating: PG for mild language
The red petals fell like droplets of blood from a wounded sky. Edward Elric sighed in discontentment as he leaned against the window sill, peering outward over the smaller buildings that squandered the Eastern city compared to the vast capital of Amestris. It had been a week. A week now, and no word. What was going on? What was happening?
Where are you?
“Brother?” Al inquired, as steel flashed in the sunlight streaming from the window due to a shiny metal helmet poking itself around the doorway. “Brother, are you okay? You’ve been moping around in here for the past five days.”
Ed glanced at his younger brother in surprise and Al caught glimpses of leftover tears. He knew better than to not pretend he didn’t see them; besides he was already well aware of what pained his brother so.
“The dogwoods certainly are pretty this time of year,” Al commented, stepping into the room and gazing out the window to a world filled with falling crimson petals like spring snow; soft to the touch, but not cold, and unmelting.
“Yeah…” Ed murmured absentmindedly, returning to his previous occupation of watching these very petals dance across the wind.
“It’s been really quiet around here lately,” Al continued.
“It’s because he’s gone to that conference trip in Central, right?” Al pressed on, his voice as gentle as he could make it. “He’s been gone a long time. He should be back by now.”
No doubt about it. Al definitely saw Ed’s fist clench at his side.
“You were thinking of him, weren’t you?”
A snort. “Puh-leeze. Why would I want to think of that obnoxious bastard with his pompous know-it-all grin and smart-ass lectures and”--he choked--“short jokes? I’m glad he’s gone! I hope he never comes back!”
It was not Al’s imagination that made Ed’s voice crack slightly during those last two sentences. Or his fists shake violently.
“It’s okay to be worried about him, Brother,” Al stated calmly. “I’m worried about him, too. He was supposed to be back three days ago.”
“And I say good riddance to an arrogant asshole!” Ed snarled savagely. “The only thing I worry about is that he doesn’t get hit by a train!”
“You don’t mean that, Ed.”
“Shut up! Yes, I do!” Ed was screaming now. As much as his older brother struggled to hold them back, Al could see fresh tears gather in those twin gold irises. “I hate him! I HATE him! I hope he likes it in Central so much he goes AWOL! Or gets ripped to shreds by a chimera! Or--!”
“What’s going on?” someone intervened and Jean Havoc stuck his head in the doorway, the smoke from his cigarette curling upward in front of confused blue eyes. Ed’s rant encountered an instant death as he returned to miserable silence. “Uh…my brother is just not feeling well,” Al answered, hoping Havoc wouldn’t ask for details.
“I see,” was, thankfully, Havoc’s only reply to that. “Anyway, I came here to tell you that I’ve got some good news which should cheer Ed up a little. The Colonel just now returned from Central.”
Al saw Ed’s entire body freeze stiff, his eyes wide with what looked to be disbelief. “He…he’s back?” Ed whispered. “…he’s…”
Ed marched out of the room without a word, shoving Havoc to the side without so much as looking at the officer. He didn’t even notice Ross walking towards him at a quick pace, having heard all the yelling from down the hall. “Edward, are you all right?” she exclaimed, but Ed ignored her, just continued forward persistently. “What’s wrong with him?” Ross asked the other two.
“I dunno,” Havoc replied with a shrug. “I just told him that Colonel Mustang came back and he stormed off.”
Ross’s eyes lit with understanding. “I see.”
“He’s been acting so strange,” Al added. “He barely touches his food. And he spends most of his days sulking by the window. Hearing the Colonel’s return jolted some actual feeling in Ed since--”
He was cut off by Ross’s soft laughter. “Of course,” she chuckled. “It all makes perfect sense, now.”
“You okay, Lieutenant?” Havoc inquired, slightly scared at her sudden enthusiasm.
“You really don’t get it do you?” Ross replied with a soft smile at the ignorance of both of them. Considering how even someone as close to Edward as Al could not understand what was really going on here.
“Get what, Lieutenant Ross?” Al asked, voice tense with near-panic. “What’s wrong with my brother?”
“The only thing wrong with your brother…is a severe case of misplaced identity due to hormonal adolescence and lack of paternal guidance.”
“Huh?” Al glanced at Havoc for elaboration, but the officer looked just as lost as he felt. Deciding to give them a break, Ross shook her head with a sigh and gazed in the direction where Ed had run off to.
“It seems our little alchemist has a crush on the Colonel.”
Crush. They say to have a crush on someone means to like them. But to what extent does a crush reach? When does a crush no longer become a crush? What makes it so in the first place?
I hate you. The way you use me. The way you are so willing to rip me apart inside without a care. I could bleed and bleed and you would just grin down at me like nothing was wrong.
And yet, just as you use me, so I use you. After all, without you, I can’t get what I want. I can’t accomplish my goals. I cannot sedate my desires. That is the essence of equivalent exchange, isn’t it? Needing to sacrifice one thing to gain another? Isn’t it the same? So, if I hold these feelings, this crush, do you feel the same? Do you feel at all?
I cannot stand you.
And I cannot stand being away from you.
He was running.
He didn’t mean to run. He didn’t even know where he was going. But now, his feet were slamming against the floor as his arms pumped their hardest for acceleration, his breath in short, desperate gasps. He knew now where he was going. He was going to him. He burst through the door without an announcement, seeing him standing there with Riza Hawkeye and General Hakuro, no doubt discussing the events at Central. They all looked up at him, surprised to see him appear so suddenly.
Ed could see Roy Mustang’s eyes but he couldn’t tell what the man was thinking. It didn’t matter. He was here, now, meaning he can now feel angry.
He no longer had to feel like a piece of him was dying inside.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the Fullmetal Runt,” Mustang spoke up smugly. “Miss me, eh?”
Ed saw crimson cover his vision, and next thing he knew his metal fist was making an attempt to connect to the Colonel’s face, an act that would have been successful had Mustang’s reflexes not developed as sharply as they had. “Now, there’s no need to get violent, little one.”
“Shut up!” Ed yelled. “Just shut up! I’m not little! I’m not short! Asshole, you’re always saying crap like that!”
“Fullmetal, you are out of line,” Hakuro intervened firmly, and probably would’ve said more if Mustang hadn’t held up his hand.
“It’s all right, General, if you don’t mind me saying so,” Mustang said reassuringly. “I’ll deal with him.” Hawkeye just watched the whole scene with an amused, knowing smile. Like Ross and several more of the intuitive officers working with the Fullmetal Alchemist, she knew of Ed’s secret feelings for the upstart Colonel.
Hakuro excused himself, muttering something under his breath about the Colonel being too lenient and how if ever any of his lower officers treated him that way…by this time his mutterings were too distant to make out.
Sighing, Mustang turned back to Ed, only this time there was no amused or arrogant expression in his eyes. In fact, he was downright furious and there was no mistaking the emotion when he dug his fingers into Ed’s left shoulder and began dragging him back down the hall. “Let go of me!” Ed growled, struggling to get out of Mustang’s grasp. Apparently the Colonel had either been taking some muscle enhancers during his absence or he was a lot stronger than the temperamental teenager had originally given him credit for.
“We’re having a talk in my office, now.”
The viciousness of Mustang’s tone kept Ed’s mouth shut until they reached the Colonel’s office, Roy shutting the door sharply behind them. Hawkeye had not followed as she sensed accurately that this was a time for them to talk privately.
Soon as the door was closed, Mustang turned on Ed, snapping, “Don’t you ever do that again!”
“Do what?” Ed shot back, never one for taking lightly the act of someone getting all up in his face, especially Mustang.
“What you did back there! And in front of the General, too! I have never been so damn embarrassed!”
“Stop talking to me like I’m a child!”
“Act like a child and expect to be treated like a child!” Roy yelled. “Your uncontrollable temper is going to get me demoted one of these days!”
Ed narrowed his eyes, not understanding. “What are you talking about?” he demanded, though his tone was not as harsh as it had been.
Looking as though he were suddenly tired, Mustang circled to his desk and plopped down on his chair. “Do you realize that your behavior is a reflection of my discipline?”
There was something in that statement that stabbed into him, and he felt his fists ball up again. “You’re not my father,” he spat out.
“Of course not,” Mustang snapped. “But as your leader, I am responsible for shaping you to be a soldier. And your abhorred display back there is not how a soldier acts! Normally, I am tolerant enough to allow you to say whatever you feel like in whatever tone to me; but when we are around those higher up than I am, you will address me with the respect as your superior officer, is that understood, Fullmetal?”
The ferocity of this diatribe prevented Ed from making any protest, and, dare he admit it, made him feel a little ashamed of himself for being so reckless. He didn’t mean to embarrass the Colonel, his anger had just gotten away with him.
What had he been so angry about, anyway?
And since when did he care if he embarrassed the Colonel or not!? Mustang deserved it, right? For all the times that bastard embarrassed him, degraded him, humiliated him…so what if he nearly punched Roy’s lights out in front of the General and said a few bad words?
It was merely equivalent exchange, right?
So, then, why did he feel downright sick?
“Ed, are you okay? You are unusually silent,” Mustang observed in a rare expression of sincere concern replacing his earlier anger, for Ed had carried on this strange characteristic for the past few minutes now.
“I’m fine,” Ed shot back, not quite as ugly as it normally would’ve been whenever Mustang stuck his pompous nose where it most certainly didn’t belong. “What’s it to you?”
The Colonel decided to make no reply. If the runt wanted to behave like a spoiled brat, then it was best to let him be. Shrimpy was right; what did it matter to him anyway? So, instead, he sighed in disgust, running his hands through his raven-hued bangs as a gesture of aggravation. “You’re dismissed,” he announced and Ed wasted no time departing the office without so much as a glance over his shoulder or a pause in his step.
Ed didn’t stop until he reached his room. Neither Al nor Havoc were anywhere to be seen, but that was okay because he wanted nothing more than to be alone right now.
You are here…now…at last…
Yet, I’m still miserable. And you still don’t care.
I’m so confused.
I have all these feelings for you, feelings I cannot name because I‘m not sure what they are. I don’t understand. You are everything I despise, but when you come near me, my face burns as though I have been hit by your alchemy.
Sometimes, I wonder what would it be like if you were to hug me. To hold me. To be embraced by the pillar of strength that you are. You are strong, in spite of your immaturity. Nothing phases you. Nothing shakes your foundation. You can take any kind of pain because you have long ago given up your ability to feel it.
I want to be a part of that. I want that strength. I want to stop it all from hurting so much.
And…and I’m scared…
For the next few days, Ed stayed clear away from Mustang. If truth be told, Ed stayed clear of everyone that week, sometimes locking himself in his dorm room for hours at a time. Only Alphonse came remotely close to the young alchemist, and even he could not break Ed out of his silent agony. “It’s like he’s punishing himself for something,” he would report to the other curious officers. “Like he always does. Only…it’s deeper than that.”
“Or he’s suffering from a broken heart,” Hawkeye pointed out.
“Really?” Havoc spoke up in surprise, not recalling Ed expressing a romantic interest in a particular female lately. In fact, Havoc was on the verge of believing he was the only one around here able to experience heartache. “So, who’s done cracked little Fullmetal’s heart to pieces?”
Riza smiled due to the irony of it all. “The same culprit who is always the source of your own romantic failures.”
Havoc took in such a sharp breath, he almost choked on his cigarette and coughed it out before it could entangle itself in his windpipe. “Wha-wha-WHAT!?!” he cried. “The person breaking his heart is…the COLONEL!?!”
Al stood there, completely stunned. As amazing as this piece of news sounded, what was more fascinating was that it made perfect sense!
“You got it,” Riza replied. “It’s kinda cute, actually.”
“Cute!?” Havoc exclaimed. “Are you joking, Hawkeye!? I always figured that Mustang had a sort of irresistible charm around the women…but Edward Elric, too!?!”
The first lieutenant rolled her eyes, resisting the tempting urge to pull out her trusty pistol and beat Havoc silly with it. “It’s perfectly natural,” Riza continued instead, ignoring the shocked reaction of the wonderfully ignorant pair before her. “After all, Edward’s a teenager, he is going through probably the most critical time period in his life that he will ever have.” When Havoc and Al continued to stare at her somewhat stupidly, Riza took a deep breath and explained.
“Are you sure you can handle it?” the Fuehrer asked, a kind smile on his face.
Roy shrugged with an amused snort. “They’re just children. How much trouble can they be?”
“The younger one might not be much of a problem. But the older one on the other hand, you might want to be careful.”
He cocked a brow. “Careful?”
“You are taking in a child approaching a very critical age in his life,” Bradley explained delicately. “And one that has no father to look up to. And here you are taking direct responsibility for his wellbeing, providing him with all his needs and comforts. Basically, Lieutenant Colonel, you are his sole provider and nurturer. In his eyes, you are the dominant authortive figure. Don’t you find that a little…risky?”
Roy thought it over. There was a sense of truth to the Fuehrer King’s words. Yes, indeed. It was a little risky. He had too many responsibilities as it was without having to play Daddy, too.
“Don’t worry,” he assured the king. “I don’t plan on becoming emotionally attached to the child. And I will make sure that he understands this plainly.”
Needless to say, things did not go according to plan. In spite of his carefully constructed mask of contempt and disgust, Roy could still see through Ed’s farce. The small glances, slight reddening of the face, the absolute misery he read in those gold eyes when he harshly reproached him for what happened with General Hakuro. He had to admit that he felt a little bad for treating Edward like that…but only just a little. After all, the boy should know better than to act like that in front of his elders.
He knew Ed felt something for him. Whatever it was. However, shocking at it sounded even to himself, Roy never approached Ed on the subject. In fact, he never even acknowledged its existence. There was no point to embarrassing the kid, after all.
There was a knock. A sound that normally wouldn’t really capture Roy’s interest had it not been the timid taps of steel upon wood. “Come in,” Roy called, once again acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary.
The door creaked open as a blonde head with one strand sticking stubbornly from a mess of parted bangs poked shyly in. “Are you busy?” Ed inquired.
If one considered playing tic-tac-toe with oneself productive. Then again, Roy was becoming bored with the game always turning out to be a draw. Defeating oneself was difficult. “No,” he simply replied.
Ed took this as an invitation to step into the room, closing the door behind him. He was glad nobody else was in the office today. The things he wanted to say to the Colonel…he really didn’t want anybody to overhear. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he could bring himself to say it.
“Um…” he began, feeling the blush steadily growing on his face and the Colonel was observing him a sharp way that made him want to just fall down and die. He quickly licked his lips, mouth suddenly gone as dry as Lior’s desert. “I…I just wanted to apologize…for earlier this week.”
There. He said it. As much as his pride screamed at him not to, he knew it had to be done. He was sick of feeling so depressed over something so stupid. And something that had been his fault to begin with.
Besides, he couldn’t handle allowing the Colonel to have this kind of leverage over him. He couldn’t stand knowing that Mustang had the ability to make him as happy or as miserable as he wanted. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that a few simple words and gestures by Roy Mustang could make his life a joy or a living hell.
“Apology accepted,” Mustang answered in a voice that didn’t show whether or not he actually did. Actually, his tone all but said that it really didn’t matter to him whether Ed apologized or not.
I really don’t matter to you at all, do I?
He was about to take this opportune moment to make himself scarce when Roy spoke up, halting Ed’s steps toward the door. “Edward, is there something you want to talk to me about?”
Ed froze over, suddenly overcome with the urge to race out of their as fast as his legs could carry him; far away from this place, far away from him. And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to move.
“No, sir. I already apologized for my rash behavior earlier.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Mustang explained coolly. “I think there is something else that troubles you.”
He could see his gloved hand shaking with a violent anxiety. His stomach lurched and he thought he was going to be sick. He knew this confrontation was inevitable, yet he had never been able to prepare himself for it. The soon-to-come conversation played over and over again in his mind, taking every twist he thought possible, and it wasn’t enough.
Mustang knew! Of course, with all the rumors spreading about the officers’ quarters like a fire in a forest made of newspapers, it was little wonder that Roy would find out sooner or later. Not to mention that, for all his moments of idiocy, the man had an intuition that was something to be admired. Was there really a point in hiding it any longer?
“Come sit down, Edward.”
Feeling uncomfortably rigid, he approached the couch next to Mustang’s desk and sat down in it; straight-back, completely unable to relax in spite of the soft cushioned seat beneath him. And the way Mustang was staring at him with such dark intensity did nothing to placate his rigidness.
“You know you can always talk to me, Ed,” Roy pointed out gently. “You can talk to me about anything.”
No. Not this. I can’t talk to you about this.
Ed felt like his face was about to burst with heat and he looked away with embarrassment and shame. “It’s nothing,” he forced himself to say.
“It’s a lie, as well.”
His body jolted from tiny invisible lightning bolts emitted by the truth of that statement. How he hated that Mustang could read him as clearly as if he had spoken his thoughts out loud. Still, Ed refused to speak. This was not the way to handle any confrontation, he knew, but all his courage had vanished the moment he entered this office.
Roy sighed deeply. He really wanted Ed to just come out and say it as he was sure the kid knew he was well aware of the situation here. However, the way things were working here, they were going to get nowhere this way. He had no choice but to be the one to address the problem directly.
“Ed,” he began as gently, as softly as he could. This was probably going to be the hardest thing he could ever say but it had to be said.
“Edward…I cannot replace your father. Do you understand? I cannot fill in that gap. I might be able to provide for you, take over his duties to oversee your growth and care, but I cannot give you that kind of love.”
The small one hung his head, bangs falling over his eyes, yet Roy could see a distinct tear roll down the side of his face. “I…I know…” came the whisper with the agony equivalence of one being stabbed repeated with a dull knife and unable to release the pain with a sound.
I don’t matter to you. I never did.
Equivalent Exchange…I believed so strongly in it all my life. I believed that it was the One Truth in the world. The only definite in this planet of continuously shifting chaos. And yet, here, I sacrificed all my heart. I knew you wouldn’t care and thus I hated you for it. I loathed you and still I was willing to sacrifice everything if it meant that you would always be with me, that you could give me the one thing I’ve wanted all my life.
In spite of all my sacrifice…
…I gained pain. And heartache. And those aren’t even gains; they are more sacrifices of my being. So, really, I gained nothing.
And you still don’t care.
So what’s the point in Equivalent Exchange, really? All I wanted was for you to share your strength, to be my foothold when I fall, to be there whenever I need you most. I just wanted you to love me. Was that honestly too much to ask?
As I said. Kinda difficult for me to write.
X-posted to fm_alchemist and hated_guardian