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chapter 3. Can't Teach An Old Dog New Licks

It was food poisoning that had done Colonel Mustang in, Ed hears some time later, and he finds himself wishing that it was something more appropriate—like, say...tapeworms.

It has been two days since the awful incident over breakfast—breakfast, didn't that bastard know that Edward Elric didn't go around making breakfast for just anyone?!—and Ed hasn't come out of his dorm since then, moping disconsolately around his room, acutely aware of just how strange he looks in an oversized T-shirt and men's pajama bottoms. Al is there, of course, quietly concerned but respectful of his brother's privacy; occasionally he will suggest going to the library or bring up the fact that Ed needs to eat sometime, but he eventually gives up in the face of flat refusal. He remains, however, confused but sympathetic as his elder brother waxes furious about "that insufferable bastard colonel!" and wraps himself up even tighter in the clothes that he had come home wearing two mornings ago.

Ed knows he ought to shower—if not so much for Al as for himself; he really stinks—but he does not feel like stepping out of a clean shower into dirty clothes. And he most definitely does not feel like changing his clothes; they are grungy and old and too large, but when he breathes deeply of the worn fabric, the garments still smell like him, cologne and charcoal, as though someone has set fire to a perfume factory. Edward hates perfume—another bastard from another time used to wear the stuff, too—but he likes this smell. His nasty father wore too much—enough to gag a person, really—but this new bastard only wears a bit; enough to mask sweat from a thick military uniform but not enough to cover up the comfortingly human scent of soap and skin.

Ed surreptitiously takes another sniff of his borrowed clothes—damn, he stinks—and looks up to address the other occupant of the room.

"Hey, Al?" he prompts slowly. "When someone gives you something really nice, and you end up fighting about it, what should you do?"

Al jerks his head up—probably surprised that his brother has lifted his face from the front of his T-shirt long enough to speak—and takes a moment to consider the inquiry. "Did Colonel Mustang give you something?" he asks in return, tilting his head to the side. "Is that why you're mad at him? Well, madder than usual, at least," he amends.

"Hypothetically speaking, Al, hypothetically speaking!" Ed explodes, fixing his younger brother with a glare that answers the question without any words needed. Al shrugs.

"Hmmm...if someone gives you something and you get into a fight...? It's obvious, isn't it? Give it back," he replies solemnly.

Edward sputters and chokes, eyes bulging in disbelief. "AL!" he roars, floundering desperately for words. "I can't—! That'd be—! I don't even know how to—!"

I can't? Why can't I? he thinks then, slamming his jaw shut with an audible snap and puzzling the option together internally. Maybe Al's right; maybe that's what his problem is. That bastard sure seemed ready for another round until I opened my big mouth—I should've taken a drink or something beforehand, the taste of blood was probably what put him off—

Ed frowns, distantly aware of the fact that Al has somehow convinced him to get up and allow himself to be herded towards the shower. He is remembering blood now—sharp and bitter and metallic—and wonders at the almost animalistic urge that had overtaken him that morning. He hates blood—has seen too much of it, really, splattered on walls or seeped into the ground—and he has been punched in the face enough to know that he really doesn't like the way it tastes. And yet there Mustang had been, standing in front of him and bleeding freely from a cut on the leg, and Ed had drank deeply of the vile fluid—it was almost as bad as milk, almost—as though it were ambrosia.

(The frown deepens, and Ed is startled to find himself standing in the bathroom, nearly disrobed and holding a towel and a bar of soap.)

Did the Colonel, perhaps, think that he was weird? That he indulged in odd little fetishes like that whilst searching around Amestris for the Philosopher's Stone? That couldn't have been farther from the truth; Mustang knew everything that he and Al did about two weeks before they did it, so the man had to have known that Ed didn't have any odd kinks like that.

(When the hell had he gotten in the bathroom?)

Perhaps there just was something unsettling about the entire situation—Ed knows that he has issues with personal intimacy("you're in love, that's great, keep it to yourself"), so for him to do something so out of character would alarm any person who knew him remotely well—yet hadn't they, the night before that day, done something even more personal than simply gulping down assorted bodily fluids?

(Edward makes an odd squeaking noise and nearly falls to his death in the shower, crimsoning not only on his face, but everywhere else, as well. He definitely doesn't remember stepping into the shower.)

He remembers now, the fuzzy haze of memory taken right before a deep sleep, but the reminiscince is there—hands lifting weary limbs to rest on cool sheets, and his stubborn insistence that he ought to shower; there was a silent refusal, then a dark head lowering itself to lick at his stomach with a sandpaper tongue, bathing gently.

That was why, why he'd felt the urge to do something so distasteful the next day—it had already been done for him. The bastard could have rolled him naked out into the street for all he would have cared, he was too pleasantly far gone by then for it to have mattered, and yet he hadn't. It was so frivolous and unnecessary, but the intent was what made it special; he had wanted to return that gift in kind.

(Ed shuts off the water and towels himself dry. Al must have came and left spare clothes on the sink, but Ed doesn't remember him doing so.)

As he steps out of the steamy bathroom into the rest of his dorm, he notices that Al has cooked something for breakfast?—lunch?—dinner?—a meal, something that makes his stomach rumble with surprising fervor.

There was something definitely wrong with him. He should want to kick that bastard, not kiss him. Clearly Mustang felt the same way—it was as good an explanation as any for his hot and cold attitude—and even though Ed feels like he has solved a mystery, it does not make things less complicated.

A bad decision. The words ring in his ears as unpleasantly as religious scripture; his mouth twists in a sneer and he has to instantly apologize to Al, who looks upset and glances anxiously at his cooking. The words are foreign to him; how could something that felt so good be a bad thing? Was it never really for him? Did that bastard do it just to amuse himself? No...

Ed can honestly say that he doesn't know much about the whole sex thing—he'd read about it a few times, described clinically to the point of depression on the whole subject—and that he knows even less about the deed done between two men—because, well...duh—but he isn't an idiot. He knows that what he and that bastard colonel had done hadn't been sex, but rather, something milder—something that had made him feel like his brains were going to leak out his ears in the best way possible, yet something that had left Mustang with little more than aching knees, a stiff neck, and a tortured throat; Ed is suddenly aware that it wasn't fair to the man, that it most certainly was not equivalent exchange.

What do you do when someone gives you something really nice and you end up fighting over it?

...Give it back.

All right. Ed hastily finishes his food and thanks Al, finally throwing on a pair of clean clothes and stepping into his boots. "Are you going out, Nii-san?" Al asks, as curious and polite as always, but there is some sort of undercurrent that Ed can't catch.

"Yeah. Sorry Al, for eating and running, but there's some things I've got to do." Edward grins—he is suddenly in a better mood, because now he has a course of action, now he is no longer drifting aimlessly in the wind—and tugs on his spare coat. "You know, this and that. I'll probably be at the library all night again."

"Then don't forget your watch, Nii-san," Al reminds him quietly, and Ed freezes halfway out the door.

"You can have that, too." Shit! His watch! He'd left his fucking watch with Mustang; how stupid could he be, leaving something so important like that behind in a fit of anger?! He had thought, at the time, if I'm not his fucking dog anymore, then he won't have to feel like he's sleeping with the animals, and that bastard'll come 'round in time, but he had not considered the other half, the other consequences of his actions.

How the hell could I have even considered leaving the military for that guy?! Right now, the only hope I've got for finding the Stone is to play along with these scumbags' cheap tricks! If I left, I'd lose the library, the watch that amplifies my power, any hope of finding the Stone, and...Al, how could I even think of doing this to Al?!

And his brother had noticed, of course, the absence of his trademark silver pocketwatch; had been curious and concerned and afraid for him, but had chose to let the matter go out of respect. Now Ed wants to cry, just wants to let out all this hurt and frustration he is feeling in the form of salted water. He is being selfish, he wants to give back as good as he has gotten.

But the truth is, he cannot afford to waste any time. He has too many mistakes to correct. "Al...when I come back, I'll tell you what's going on, I promise." He looks at his brother solemnly, eyes grave. "I don't think you'll like it—don't think you'll approve—but I will tell you the truth. It's, er...somewhat of a long story. I don't suppose I can con you into making some coffee for when I get back?" He grins hopefully, but half-heartedly.

Al smiles in his own, nondescript way. "You'll probably have to reheat it—I doubt you'll be back soon. Come back even if it's late; I'll wait up for you, Nii-san."

"Thanks, Al." Ed shuts the door quietly behind him and heads for Mustang's house.

He had learned the man's address about two weeks ago; the Colonel had invited him over for some inane reason or another, something having to do with books, and Ed had accepted warily. The offer had been presented congenially enough, if not somewhat blandly, with no undercurrent of mirth or superiority. And the first night had been peaceful; the two of them snarked at each other from time to time but mostly kept to themselves, Ed burying himself in text—footnotes, there were footnotes in all of those books, and they were actually quite fascinating—and Mustang doing other things to amuse himself, such as plow through paperwork or indulge in one of the latest fiction novels(something that Ed had actually found somewhat...endearing, as opposed to humorous).

It had then become routine—Ed would wait, at five o'clock each day, for Mustang to put down his pen, rifle through some sort of planner or address book, announce his schedule clear, and invite him over for an evening of silent reading and coffee. And Ed would nearly always accept; sometimes he had this thing to do or he'd promised Al they'd spend time together on this day, but he would keep coming back, because the atmosphere was peaceful and the books would just keep calling to him if he did not.

But then Edward had started to lose interest in the books, and instead became more attached to the man who owned them.

He had found himself, at great length, actually prodding the Colonel into witty banter; tossing out careless jabs here and there and actually setting himself up on rare occasion, all just to see that face—dark hair brushing down onto a narrow nose, lips curving up into a lazy smirk, winged brows arching up onto an elegant forehead, and dark eyes lighting up from either challenge or mirth. He hated tasteless, bland, perfectly neutral Colonel Mustang; he preferred the man spicy, and seasoned to perfection.

Ironically, it had been that food train of thought that had first started the change. It had been on a routine evening some time ago—Mustang had suggested they play chess, and Ed had quickly abandoned his text for the more preferable pastime—and while it was true that Ed was hungry, it still hadn't given him the right to wonder what the Colonel would look like all trussed up like a goose on a silver platter; and it most certainly hadn't given him the right to imagine then his teeth sinking into the warm, tender flesh of a thigh.

Yeah, that was definitely when things had gotten a little awkward.

Before, in a strictly work setting, things had been easy. Mustang pissed him off. He wanted to beat him round the head. It was all still true, but now there were other things added to the mix, embarrassing things, things Ed couldn't really understand. He was always nervous now, always flushing or tripping over things whenever he saw the Colonel—hell, whenever anyone mentioned the Colonel. And he still had those thoughts, those really weird and totally inappropriate thoughts, thoughts that made his body itch and made him feel physically ill all at once. Yet he still played with fire, he still danced dangerously around that hypnotic flame, growing closer and closer to getting burned; he kept coming back for the chess and the coffee and the conversations.

It was on an overcast, windy day that Mustang had first kissed him—swiftly, as though on impulse—and he had stormed out the door, horrified at how much he had liked it; it was pouring down rain and thundering loudly when he had come back, making up some feeble excuse about books, and he had been rewarded for his tenacity with ecstasy.

It is sunny and warm, and Edward finds himself standing outside the familiar doors yet again, as equally unsure of what would happen if he went inside as when he had stood here two days ago. What was he planning to do? Beat the Colonel into submission, thrash him around until he took back his words and let Ed...let him...

Let him what? What did he want out of this? A date? Fuck, he couldn't even imagine going out on a date with Colonel Mustang. What the hell would they do? Where the fuck would they go? Ed couldn't even apply rationale to how he felt about the man, let alone what to do about it. It certainly wasn't love; lust was more like it, he was impossibly attracted to the older alchemist, but couldn't piece together how he felt about him yet. The name 'Mustang' was usually preceded or concluded with the words 'hurt', 'kill', or 'maim'; there was nothing else because there hadn't needed to be anything else, Ed was content with unleashing his frustration on the man then getting as far away from him as possible.

It is different, this time, and Ed doesn't understand why. He doesn't really care why. He likes what he likes, dammit, and that bastard was not going to tease him with a taste of something so divine then cruelly snatch it away from him. If it was food, he would have lost his fingers; with this, Ed can think of something much more appropriate for the bastard to lose.

He knocks, resolutely, on the apartment door.

Then, after a prolonged silence he...knocks again. And again. And again.

Edward twitches."Ignoring me, hunh?!" he roars, kicking violently at the doorframe, teeth bared in a snarl. "You can't hide from me, you know! Even if you vow never to see me again, I'll always be in your memories, you'll always see me like that, imprinted on the backs of your eyelids, you bastard!" He takes a deep breath, preparing for more. "So how was it, hunh?! Can you still taste me, taste my skin on your tongue?!" He drags his own tongue over the skin of his arm slowly and pointedly, eyes never leaving the door. "Do your hands itch; do you still imagine what it would be like to run your fingers through this luxuriant hair?!" He yanks harshly on his braid, ripping out the tie and ruffling his hair wildly, sending it flying in all directions. "Would you like to hear my voice again, you bastard colonel; should I call out your name this time instead of moaning?!" Ed takes a deep breath, face red with anger(and no small measure of embarrassment; a small part of him can't even believe he's saying these sorts of private things out loud and in broadcast for the entire public). "R—"

"You're looking as vivacious as ever, Edward-kun," comes a dry voice from behind him.

Ed turns around slowly to face Hawkeye, hand still raised in a fist, foot in mid-kick to the lower part of the door. "L-Lieutenant!" he gasps, nearly going to salute despite their rank difference—she was just that scary.

"If you're looking for the Colonel," she continues, as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on, "he came into the office not long ago, and left just as promptly...ignoring the piles of work he will eventually have to do," she adds on the end disgustedly.

"Is he...er, is he coming back here?" Ed fights to keep the hopeful impatience out of his voice, but Hawkeye notices anyway.

"Are you waiting for him?"

"Not...exactly."

"I see." Hawkeye's face is neutral, but her words are not. "Forget it, Edward-kun—forget it. Harsh words won't call him back—you should have learned by now that your insults just serve to amuse him."

Ed blinks, and swallows a disgusting lump that has built up in his throat. "Then what will call him back? Lieutenant Hawkeye, you'll help me, right? Nobody knows that ba—nobody knows the Colonel better than you do. He's not...he's not looking...at me."

The blonde-haired woman blinks once, startled and off-guard. "Edward-kun, that's... I mean..."

"Where did he go?"

The question seems to snap Hawkeye back to attention. "Out. He stopped by long enough to grab his address book, then headed out again immediately."

There is a small frame of time during which Edward sees red; the ground seems ready to open up beneath him and his heartbeat is roaring thunderously in his ears—hurt, kill, maim—but he takes a deep breath and forces a smile on his face. "Address book, hunh? So he's out on a date? Did he happen to say where?"

Silence greets him; Hawkeye looks at him flatly, no expression on her lovely face.

"Come on, I'm not really gonna kill him—"

"What will you do?"she interrupts, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm curious—if I were to tell you where the Colonel went, what would you do? Would it be something similar to this obscene display?" She is angry now, and not bothering to hide it. "What is your reasoning to this; why do you care so much what he does, where he goes?"

"F-First Lieutenant!" Ed groans in exasperation, "you know." He tosses his hands into the air desperately. "I picked up the phone when you called his house! We, ah... come on, you know, don't you?"

"Yes," Hawkeye replies levelly, "I know, but how would you plan on explaining it to someone who doesn't know? What would you say when someone were to ask you why it bothers you so much that the Colonel is out enjoying the evening with a lovely young lady?"

Ed freezes. It would be awfully odd if he were to go barging into a theater or cafe demanding that the somewhat rakish Colonel Mustang cease and desist his dating activities right this minute, lest there be hell to pay—

"Subtle," he gasps finally, a hand going to his forehead in exhaustion, "I'll be subtle about it."

Hawkeye cannot suppress a thin smile. "Forgive me for saying so, but subtlety isn't your area of expertise."

"I know, I know—that's why you'll help me, right?"

It is Hawkeye's turn to freeze. Ed stares at her for a moment—emotions flashing through amber eyes too quickly to recognize; she is weighing and calculating a great number of events faster than Ed can compute an alchemical equation—before letting out a sigh, shoulders drooping noticably.

"Ah, forget it Lieutenant," he mumbles, his brain catching up with him at last; he is blushing furiously at the things he said earlier—hell, at the entire situation, and the fact that he admitted it so freely. "All you people are nuts—fucking speaking in riddles like that. It seems like I'm to be kept out of the loop about this, too; it's about me, I was a fucking active participant in the whole thing, but I still don't know what's going on!" His temper is starting to mount now, that damnable temper that causes him to speak out when his brain is shouting ardently at him to shut up. "Is this part of some plot, too? Is that bastard colonel laughing to himself somewhere right now, thinking about how pissed off I must be?! Do you people—do you...?"

Ed chokes and coughs abruptly, eyes watering. "He's such a bastard," he pants, voice low and broken, "to factor me into the equation like this."

"Yes," Hawkeye agrees evenly, though her eyes are softer, "he is."

"And you're saying you won't help me?" Ed tries one last time, hopefully, but the other blonde shakes her head.

"No, I will not." She stiffens, back suddenly rigid; she has assumed her soldier's stance once again, looking down at him with hard eyes. "My advice is to forget this entire thing. I have no idea what caused the Colonel to act so irresponsibly, but I am taking thorough precautions to make sure that such an event will not happen again. Now your very existence has become a danger to him—there are those who would use that night's mistake to ruin him, and you are a very fine catalyst—and believe me, Major Elric, I take my duty very seriously."

Major Elric. Edward blinks once, scrubbing at his face and swallowing. It seemed as though the days of 'Edward-kun' were finally over. "And your duty is...?" he prompts, with growing dread. It had been stupid of him to assume that the First Lieutenant would be eager to come to his aid.

Hawkeye removes her gun from its holster and twirls it around expertly—not jauntily, but with the same rock-hard expression on her face, steeled to prove a potentially mortal point—and replaces it with lightning speed. "To protect the Colonel from any and all possible dangers," she replies bluntly, eyes boring into his own.

Ed lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and offers a shaky grin in return. "The only person who can decide what's dangerous to himself is Colonel Mustang," he points out with forced politeness. "First Lieutenant, please don't stand in my way."

He pushes past her and down the stairs, heading out onto the busy sidewalk. He will not let anger take over, he will remain calm and act on this situation in a mature manner. There were a lot of popular spots for a date, true, but he had time. He'd find that bastard, and make him own up for what he had done. He'd think of some way to explain this bizarre situation to Al, and avoid being shot full of holes by an overprotective Hawkeye all at once.

Edward Elric was tough. When properly determined, he would not get deterred, he would not let anything stand in his way. No matter how many times he was wounded, or downed, or spitting blood, he would force himself upright again. Things never got to him for very long, he was just strong like that.

But it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair. Sure, it wasn't love—it wasn't even admiration or respect or trust, it was just pure lust, and a hopefully mutual attraction—but it still wasn't fair of everyone to be so against him on this. Al about his watch, Hawkeye about the Colonel, and the Colonel about...well, about nothing at all, really; that bastard's problem seemed to stem from out of nowhere and stretch onward to infinity.

Two wet drops fall from the air and splatter on the ground. Ed stops for a moment and stares at them, fascinated. He was just going to find Mustang and get his watch back. It was simple, practical, and easily explained. He slashes an arm across his face and crosses the street stubbornly, ignoring honking horns and indignant yells as he nearly causes a four-car pileup. It must be raining or something, he thinks; my face is all wet.

It doesn't matter how he feels...this is just equivalent trade, after all.