Spoilers: Still none
Warnings/Pairings: Roy/Ed. Implied past Roy/Hughes. The angst is finally over and from part 20 onwards we have kissing. About time too.
Author’s Notes: As usual all parts can be found on my website as well as here - Parts 1 to 5, Parts 6 to 9, Parts 10 to 13 and Parts 14 to 17. This is all I’ve written of this fic so far so it’ll be a while until anything more gets posted.
It is a basic fact of life that news always travels fast within large groups of people. But nothing spreads faster than gossip. The revelation that the famous Fullmetal Alchemist, the great Edward Elric had quit the military managed to spread throughout East City in just over a few hours.
A certain Lieutenant Colonel Hughes had just stopped for his late morning coffee break (the third of the day) when he was informed of the surprising development. Without even pausing to apologise to the poor underling he’d sprayed coffee all over, Hughes set off at an alarmingly brisk pace for Mustang’s office. When he reached the outer office his unusually quiet and sober entrance startled those on duty to the extent that Breda fell of his chair and Havoc’s cigarette fell from his mouth and singed his newspaper without him even noticing.
Blindly ignoring the commotion he’d caused, Hughes strode purposefully through towards the inner door only to be stopped at the last moment. Blinking for a moment, Hughes paused to consider why he was suddenly staring down the barrel of a gun.
When at last he pulled his gaze from the unfamiliar weapon, Hughes found himself being glared vehemently at by a certain Lieutenant Hawkeye. ‘Lieutenant, are you aware that I could have you court-martialled for this?’ he asked in a clipped voice.
To her credit, Hawkeye merely blinked once at the unusual tone with which Hughes addressed her. But the gun remained levelled at Hughes’ head and her answer was politely defiant, ‘Colonel Mustang is not to be disturbed by anyone, sir.’
‘Stand aside, Lieutenant.’
‘You don’t outrank my commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, so I shall not.’
‘I said...’ began Hughes again, wondering how normal officers ever got their subordinates to do anything without the incentive of pictures of Alicia to ease the process.
‘Step aside, Lieutenant Hawkeye.’
‘I...’ began Hawkeye before the direction from which the command had come from was registered properly. In one smooth movement, she replaced her gun in its holster, turned and saluted before Breda and the others could stagger to their feet.
Mustang gave her an answering nod but directed most of his attention towards Hughes, who did not like what he was seeing. While Mustang looked almost normal at first glance, there were tell tale signs that all was not, in fact, well. Far from it.
‘Mustang...’ he began but at the sound of his own name, Mustang retreated, backing away from his subordinates into his office.
Hughes didn’t hesitate to follow him, shutting the door firmly and shadowing his friend to the couch where the other officer now sat. Perching on the edge of the coffee table, Hughes watched Mustang over the top of his glasses. After a silence of several minutes, he asked ‘do you want to start this conversation or shall I?’
Mustang didn’t reply but instead reached for the half full coffee cup that stood beside Hughes on the table.
‘Or,’ continued Hughes, ‘we could not have the conversation we’re not having at this precise moment and I could tell you all about what my beautiful Alicia did at school yesterday?’
‘Not now Maes.’ It was a quiet reply but was more than enough to wipe the grin off Hughes’s face.
‘How bad was it?’ he asked in a more sober tone.
‘On a scale of one to ten?’ there was a brief flash of a grin on the down-turned face. ‘He’s quit, Maes, and he won’t be coming back. He quit because of me.’
‘You don’t know that,’ Hughes chided his friend gently.
‘He said that I patronise him, hold him back and act like I know everything… which I do. It was me, Maes, all the reasons he gave for leaving... he hates me.’ It was a simple end to the sentence, delivered with another wry grin before the coffee cup was raised to hide it, but Hughes wasn’t fooled.
‘He doesn’t. He can’t. Not after the way he’s been behaving.’
‘Well the evidence suggests otherwise.’
‘And since when does Colonel Roy Mustang take evidence at face value?’
Roy shook his head, smiling at his friend’s attempt to cheer him up. ‘It’s no good Maes… this is one problem of mine that you can’t sort out for me.’
‘Bull shit.’ And for the second time that day, Mustang watched someone he cared about walk away from him.
Al was worried. It was a state of mind he was familiar with, living with his brother would do that to anyone, but this morning was different. This morning Edward had been in, if not the worst mood Al had ever seen him in, then something close to it. And now he’d disappeared.
The meeting with Colonel Mustang should have lasted no more than twenty minutes but with midday having been and gone it was clear that Ed wasn’t coming back to the dormitory anytime soon.
Parting the crowds with minimal efforts, Al strode towards the imposing military headquarters. Absorbed as he was in his own thoughts and concerns he didn’t see Hughes marching in the other direction until it was too late. Man and armour collided, Hughes’ head bouncing off Al’s metallic chest and both lay sprawled on the ground for a moment, inconveniencing those around them, until Al got back up and helped Hughes to his feet.
Without bothering to dust his uniform off properly, Hughes immediately cried ‘Al! Wonderful, just the man I was looking for!’
‘Err… I… I… I’m sorry Lieutenant Colonel but I…’
‘I need to have a word with you. In private.’
‘I… I’m looking for my brother…’ Al vainly persisted as Hughes took hold of him by the arm and proceeded to drag him away from the military headquarters.
If Al had had hair he would have run his hand through it. As it was he couldn’t even let his jaw drop or stare or display to Hughes just how unexpected his tale was. That Edward had… unusually strong feelings for Colonel Mustang didn’t really shock him. Not that much at least. After the events of the past week, especcially all Hughes had previously said and all Winry had implied… Al knew his brother felt something for the Colonel.
What had been slightly more unexpected was that those feelings were reciprocated.
‘You’re sure?’ Al couldn’t help asking Hughes with more than a hint of doubt in his voice.
Hughes nodded gravely, ‘no question about it. You saw how Edward was after their dinner date and as for Mustang…’
‘He really, truly cares about brother?’
With a smirk Hughes nodded, ‘does it surprise you that the reputed lady-killer can be attracted to another man?’
Al tried to stutter out an answer but quickly gave up. His brother’s love life was not a topic he enjoyed discussing and certainly not with Lieutenant Colonel Hughes of all people.
‘Mustang’s not the flirt that his reputation suggests. He’s charming, there’s no denying that, but he doesn’t chase everything in a skirt.’
Trying to ignore the unpleasant mental images of his brother wearing a skirt that had bizarrely popped into his mind, Al insisted ‘but if they both enjoyed their meal the other night, why was brother in such an awful mood the next day?’
‘Eh?’ Hughes gave Al a look of surprise. ‘When did that start?’
‘Brother rushed off to the library first thing because Winry asked him about the meal. When he got back he was… he was really upset about something but he wouldn’t tell me what.’
‘Didn’t he say anything? Anything at all?’
Al shook his head, ‘not when he was awake but when he was asleep I heard him muttering something.’
‘It sounded like ‘skeletons in the closet’.’
After marching out of that bastard’s office, Edward had found his feet taking him in the direction of the park. He had stayed there all morning and throughout the busy lunch hour during which the number of people in the park had trebled. None had decided to share his bench while they ate their lunch or read their newspapers, but that was probably due to the glare that Ed knew was painted over his face. That and the fact that he kept absentmindedly transmuting his automail arm into a succession of ever more lethal looking knives.
Part of him wished that the weather would mirror his mood. It felt wrong, somehow, sulking in a park in blazing sunshine and with a light breeze fanning the back of his neck and ruffling his hair. There should be thunder, lightening, sheets of rain or maybe great lumps of hail the size of his fist. People should be scurrying for cover, not playing Frisbee. They should be huddled beneath umbrellas, wrapped in long coats, placing as many defences between themselves and the outside world as they could, just as Ed was doing in the privacy of his own head. Everyone who passed him was happy and smiling, and here he was with his world collapsing around him.
He was, he had always been, a dog of the military. The missions, the reports and the rules had shaped his life for so long regardless of whether he liked them or not. Before he’d been a State Alchemist, he’d been training to become one. Before that… he’d made a mistake and taking the military path had been the only way to gain access to the resources he needed to rectify it.
And now… now he might as well have set fire to all the libraries and laboratories, it was irrelevant if they continued to exist, he couldn’t enter them now.
But that didn’t make him wrong. Every word he’d said to that bastard, and he’d replayed the speech a hundred times since he’d stalked out of the office, was true. He didn’t regret a single syllable of it, only the outcome.
Returning his arm to its more natural state rather than a many bladed weapon, Ed buried his head in his hands, palms pressed firmly against his closed eyelids as he tried to force the darkness he could see to swallow his mind and all his worries.
Another gentle gust of wind whipped over the top of his head and Ed instinctively reached up to push the errant strands of hair back behind his ears. As his eyes opened he noticed something very, very odd.
There was a picture of Alicia dressed up in something very green lying on his lap.
Turning his head very slowly to his left, Ed glared at Hughes who was calmly tucking into an extensive lunch.
‘It should be illegal to sneak up on someone like that,’ Ed growled.
‘Now, now, that’s not very friendly. Come on, I’ve got cheese and marmite or ham and cream cheese. Which do you want? My darling Gracia always makes me too much, I think she worries that I’ll starve at work. Bless her,’ Hughes sniffed and smiled adoringly at the sandwich in his hand.
Rolling his eyes, Ed turned away, but this meant finding himself eye to chest plate with his brother.
Jumping to his feet Ed darted a few feet away from the bench and stared at its two remaining occupants.
Al and Hughes silently stared back.
‘W… wh… what are…’ he incoherently stuttered.
‘What are we doing here?’ suggested Hughes, smirking slightly. ‘Well really, Fullmetal, we’re concerned about you. Surely you can understand that? I mean, what do you expect from us, from your friends and relatives, when we hear that you’ve quit the military? Talk about a shot out of the blue,’ Hughes finished his sentence with a chuckle but Ed’s gaze was fixed on Al who so far hadn’t moved or spoken a word.
Which was when Ed’s conscience decided to smack him squarely between the eyes. ‘Al, I haven’t given up, I know I said that… I know it looks like I’m giving in but I’m not… I never will, not till we get your body back. I won’t give in, I promise, it’s just… it’s just that…’
‘Mustang’s holding you back?’ suggested Hughes casually, eyes very carefully remaining fixed on his sandwich.
‘Yes!’ Ed pounced on the words, on that name like a cat chasing a ball of wool. ‘It’s that bastard Mustang’s fault. He’s holding us back, he keeps distracting us with missions and things and stopping me from doing the research I need to do! He treats me like a kid cos he thinks he knows everything, but he doesn’t understand! I have to… I can’t concentrate on anything else, I have to focus on getting your body back cos it’s… it’s all my fault.’ Suddenly running out of steam to fuel the rush of words, Ed stuttered to a stop, his head dropping forward, the epitome of a repentant child.
‘Brother, you’re being an idiot.’
‘Why are you punishing yourself like this? I know you’ll achieve our goal in the end. You said it yourself, the best way to get our bodies back is for you to be in the military.’
‘And don’t take Mustang’s attitude at face value either,’ added Hughes who had finally dragged his attention away from his sandwiches. ‘He treats everyone with disdain and diffidence.’
‘I don’t care about Mustang!’ Ed yelled abruptly, glaring at Hughes.
‘Could have fooled me,’ Hughes replied, his mouth full of sandwich.
‘What happened in the library, brother?’ Al asked before Edward could explode again. ‘You were fine before you went there, but when you came back…’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Let me make a wild guess here, Fullmetal, you heard some women, two or three maybe, talking about a certain Roy Mustang. Now whatever it was that they said, it obviously convinced you that Roy would never be interested in you. Am I right?’
Ed’s wide eyes and gaping mouth provided Hughes with the answer he needed. Putting his lunch away, the intelligence officer got to his feet and patted Ed reassuringly on the shoulder. ‘Well then I think I can sort this out. You’re convinced that Roy’s only ever interested in something in a skirt, am I right?’ Ed barely had time to nod before Hughes continued, ‘well you couldn’t be more wrong, Fullmetal. Roy’s as interested in you as you are in him and… well… put it this way, it isn’t your gender that’s going to cause problems.’
‘What do you mean?’
Hughes smirked before answering, ‘I may be a married man now, Fullmetal, but I wasn’t above a bit of… experimentation when I was younger. Mustang’s always been my best friend and…’ the smirk widened, ‘he is a pretty good kisser.’
It was hard to be sure how long the three of them stood there. Al perched gingerly on the bench, glad that his metallic body didn’t reveal his concern, his anxiety and his shock at the last sentence uttered aloud by the brothers’ companion. Edward stared up at Hughes with a look of blatant, unshielded surprise on his face while the older man calmly stood in front of him, hand resting casually on the teenager’s shoulder, head tilted slightly to one side, smiling at nothing, at Ed’s surprise or maybe at a memory suddenly called forth.
‘You…’ Ed eventually stuttered, ‘you and… and Mustang?’
Hughes let go of Ed now it was clear he wasn’t about to pass out in shock and gave an absentminded shrug of his shoulders, ‘does it surprise you that much?’ he asked despite the evidence in front of him.
‘But you… you and Mustang…’
‘Are both male, yes Fullmetal. As I said, I may be married to my dearest, darling Gracia now but back then… choosing the military as a profession often leads to loneliness, as you may have noticed none of Mustang’s personal staff are married. When you’re at the age when…’ Hughes trailed off and gave another shrug before changing tack. ‘Mustang is one of those rare people who can appreciate beauty no matter what gender it comes wrapped up in. Accept it, Fullmetal, he’d never reject you because you’re male.’
‘But… but he’s still my commanding officer!’ Ed protested although he had no idea why he was putting up such a fight.
Hughes had returned to the bench while Ed was trying to pull his thoughts back together again. Now he took a bite out of his sandwich and smirked as he chomped. Swallowing he grinned wider, ‘aren’t you forgetting something?’ he asked pointedly, his gaze travelling to the waistband of Ed’s trousers and the belt-loop to which his alchemical watch was usually attached.
Instinct made Ed reach for the nonexistent watch and he started when he found it missing. ‘I quit.’
‘A State Alchemist can only be discharged if he or she fails their annual exam. They can choose to quit but it is extremely rare and the Alchemist must turn in a written letter of resignation three months before leaving the army. That’s what the rules say, Fullmetal, the rules that you and Mustang are both bound by. Even if you wanted to,’ Hughes smirk grew still wider, ‘you can’t quit. Not with this much drama. Now why don’t you go back to Mustang’s office and retrieve your watch before the dear Colonel incinerates it?’
Having heard the words ‘I QUIT!’ echo throughout the room, it came as something of a surprise to Hawkeye, Havoc, Breda, Farman and Fury to see Edward Elric, the former Fullmetal Alchemist, march back in through the door just a few hours after he’d left.
He stomped past without a word and was just about to reach for the handle to Mustang’s office door when Hawkeye found her voice, ‘Fullmetal? Colonel Mustang’s gone home early today.’
Edward paused for a moment, then turned and stomped back out of the office without a word.
Once the angry footsteps had died away Havoc gingerly removed his cigarette from his mouth and asked, ‘has the Colonel written his will?’
Mustang’s house was large and imposing due to his rank rather than out of necessity. The interior was the epitome of the same military precision that ruled Roy’s career and though not Spartan, it was lacking in the comforts and homely touches that another might have added to turn the house into a home. For him it was vital to have somewhere to retreat to, a refuge as it were. And yet there was little of his personality stamped on the rooms within, at least so it appeared on the surface.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Roy ran his hands through his hair for the eighth time since he’d returned home. Hawkeye had sensibly dismissed him from the office and he was privately grateful for the space it gave him though he was unsure how to use it. Just as he was unsure as to what he wanted.
No. That wasn’t exactly true. He did know what he wanted but for once it was out of his grasp entirely. No amount of hard work would bring it any closer to him. Edward was as distant and remote now as the watch that lay in front of him was cool and solid.
When the doorbell rang, Roy was sorely tempted to ignore it. He disliked dealing with people enough at the best of times and he didn’t fancy entertaining anyone, no matter how briefly, at the moment. But when the uninvited guest pushed the bell again, holding their finger on the button to keep the bell sounding repeatedly, Roy forced himself to his feet and marched to the front door.
Throwing it back without bothering to look through the spy-hole to see who the irritant was, Roy only just kept his surprise in check.
Edward dropped his hand back to his side and the bell stopped ringing. Glaring up at Roy through his hair he snapped, ‘I think you have something of mine?’ but there was something vital lacking in Ed’s tone that prompted Roy to stand aside, inviting the other in rather than slamming the door in the teenager’s face.
Ed accepted the silent invitation and refrained from commenting as he followed Roy through the house to the kitchen where the silver watch lay innocently on the wooden tabletop. Picking it up, Ed re-attached the chain to his signature black outfit and tucked the clock into his pocket.
Even though it was a stupid question, Roy couldn’t help asking ‘what are you doing Fullmetal?’
‘Retrieving my property,’ Ed replied, meeting the officer’s gaze properly for the first time since he’d arrived. ‘A State Alchemist has to give three months notice in writing if he wants to quit the military.’
‘So can I expect a letter to be waiting for me tomorrow morning?’
‘Not a chance old man, I’m going to be cramping your style for a long time yet.’
Roy could feel the corners of his mouth tugging towards the familiar smirk but the action was cut off by Ed’s hand suddenly grabbing hold of his shirt.
The abrupt movement seemed to startle them both and Roy only just stopped himself from asking Edward, again, what he was doing. Instead the words that passed his mouth were ‘if you’re going to hit me Fullmetal I won’t have you court-martialled.’
‘Why would I hit you?’
‘Those things you said earlier…’
‘It was a misunderstanding,’ Ed interrupted, tightening his hold on Roy’s shirt.
With a brief shake of his head Roy corrected him, ‘were completely justified. And will be taken into consideration in the future. Commanding officers have to listen to complaints from their subordinates after all. No matter how… informally they’re presented.’
Ed yanked Roy closer with a familiar snarl ‘who’s so short they’ll never get promoted?’
This time Roy let the smirk out of its box, ‘are you going to hold onto me like this all night, Fullmetal? Because if you do my back will start aching soon from bending over like this.’
There was another growl from Ed at the even more obvious jibe about his height and he dragged the unresisting Colonel closer still. But this time the movement was steadied by Roy himself as he mimicked Ed’s hold and grabbed the blond alchemist by his coat lapel, neatly silencing Ed’s follow-up remark with his mouth before it could even surface.
Ed’s instinctive reaction to pull away from the forceful mouth pressing against his was quickly checked by the rest of him screaming that this was what he’d been wanting for a near ridiculous length of time. With common sense prevailing, Ed tightened his grip on Mustang’s shirt, daring the Colonel to think twice about the action as he kissed back.
Only when the oxygen in their lungs began to run out did the pair separate, both flushed, both more than a little surprised, both smirking. Edward, momentarily at a loss as to what to say, stared up at Mustang, half expecting a comment about how far the man had had to bend down to find his mouth. When no comment, sarcastic or otherwise, was forthcoming from the Colonel, Ed decided to try again.
The second kiss was moderately calmer than the first, smoother too and just as Ed was beginning to get used to the sensation of Mustang’s tongue moving against his, it stopped. Pulling back for a second time Ed wondered if it were physically possible for Mustang’s smirk to get any wider. ‘What?’ he growled at last.
Mustang somehow managed to stretch the smirk wider still, eyes glinting, as he replied. ‘My theory seems to be standing up well in the experiment so far.’
‘Hughes was right.’
Ed, in capable of thinking of anything to say and acutely conscious of the unwelcome blush spreading over his cheeks, yanked Mustang down again for another kiss.
The incessant drumming of fingers on steering wheel wasn’t helping Al’s mental state as he sat in the passenger seat next to Hughes outside Colonel Mustang’s house. Both were staring up at the building Ed had disappeared into. At long last he asked, ‘do you think he’s all right?’
His question was met with a chuckle from his companion. ‘Course they are. No flames or transmutation… glow… things. They’re probably snogging each other senseless.’
Al wanted to cringe at the thought of his brother kissing anyone but settled for asking another question. ‘When do you suppose brother will come out?’
Hughes turned the key in the ignition. ‘Not any time this side of dawn, trust me,’ he grinned before driving away.
After kiss five or six (Ed had soon lost count) he pushed his partner away for long enough to gasp out a single sentence that had been bothering him for some time. ‘Al and Hughes are outside you know.’
‘I did guess that you didn’t walk here.’
‘They’re waiting for me.’ Ed wasn’t sure whether he was protesting or not or merely stating a fact. He hadn’t exactly left the intelligence officer and his brother with any instructions, or even of any idea as to what he was going to do. For all they knew he’d murdered Mustang.
Staring into Roy’s face, which was now on a level with his (albeit a vertical one as he was sprawled on his back on the Colonel’s kitchen table) Ed wondered why he hadn’t simply done this before. It seemed to easy now, so straightforward but he hadn’t forgotten the rather glaringly obvious complications. The most prominent of them was digging into his hip – his silver pocket watch that marked him out as a State Alchemist.
The balance of power, their duties and responsibilities, none of it had changed and yet… something had and Ed was finding himself at a loss to explain it. Of course the insistent kissing they’d been engaging in up until then had rendered most higher thought processes pretty impossible but now Ed found himself meeting Roy’s gaze for what felt like the first time and wondering above all else, why?
Roy gave a half sigh in response to Ed’s statement and stood back, hauling the other alchemist off the table as he did so. ‘If that’s what’s bothering you, then let’s just explain the situation to them. And it’ll also give us a chance to prove that we’re both still alive.’ The smirk was there again as Roy led the way through the half-lit house, his hand resting on the small of Ed’s back, to the front door. But when it was thrown open it revealed no parked car waiting at the foot of the steps leading up to the door.
‘Good.’ The door slammed shut again and Ed pushed Roy up against the wall, demanding (and taking) another kiss.
Once released, Roy smirked down at Ed. ‘Is this really where you want me Edward?’
‘It’ll do for the moment.’
‘Even a promotion-seeking bastard like you’s gotta sleep sometime, right?’
TBC at some point in the future…