"No, I suppose that's a bad choice of words—you were always more dear to me than just a dog of the military, so..."
"...I'm starting to think that our roles have been reversed, because you're the one who seems to have collared me... You're... You're...tempting..."
"...I don't want anything in return, save your devotion..."
The Colonel's words mock Ed the entire walk home, almost as smoothly and as arrogantly as if the man had been making a jab about his height, as opposed to his heart.
They were words uttered in the utmost of seriousness, but Ed cannot help but find a sort of triviality to their existence—this was that bastard colonel, after all, and he was known for smooth-talking in the most innocent of ways—and it annoys Ed, because he doesn't want to be taken in with oily words and unctuous praise, and yet...
"...more dear to me than..."
"S...Son of a bitch," he mumbles, leaning against a lamppost for support, feeling his stomach flip-flop miserably. "You're an evil son of a bitch, trying to play that card that you care about me now..."
The blonde pushes away from the ornate iron, nearly careening out into the street, and plods his way towards home slowly, enjoying the damp feel of the air after a spring rain, ignoring the fact that his hair is frizzing up like a dandelion. He'd left his hair tie at that bastard colonel's house—it was probably still ringed around the lamp.
He still couldn't quite understand it. More problems, Mustang had said, they were still going to have more problems. Ed couldn't see what the problem was. Even if they fought all the time, they were still undoubtedly hot for each other—the teen stops in front of his dorm door then, frowning—at least, he considered himself suitably attracted to the Colonel, but he didn't know if the same could be said for the other; could it be, then, that the attraction just wasn't there at all?
Ed catches a glimpse of himself in his automail—hair spanning out like a satellite due to the humidity, eyes watery and yellow like piss, too much color in his cheeks and a sour expression on his face—and he smiles in an attempt to glorify his face; his teeth are small and pointy, like a demon's. Greeeeat. Yet another problem thrown in there to complicate his already fucked-up mentality; now he wasn't good-looking enough.
Edward honestly can't remember a time when something like appearance had been important to him—for years he travelled obliviously with Al, and most people on the trains or in the towns kept a wide berth as it were thanks to that; when people saw his automail, it had a tendency to discourage even the most stubborn of observers—but now it is important, because for the first time ever, he has somebody to look at him that way—
—hungry and heated and hunting, soft and lazy and wryly understanding, possessive to a hideous fault and always laughing infinitely at some unknown joke—
- as though he wasn't the military loyalist, or an alchemical genius, but just what he was—a teenage boy. An ugly teenage boy; alright, so he's seen ugly and he's not that, but the fact that his hair has swelled to mane-sized proportions certainly doesn't help one bit.
No, he won't let it get him down. Ed digs in his coat pocket for his keys, thinks for a moment that he might've left them at the Colonel's apartment, that they might have met the same fate as his hair tie, which was still probably around that goddamned lamp; he was thinking about the circumstances that had led to the removal of his hair tie—a gentle mouth in contrast to an uncommonly annoyed expression—when he barges in through the door, barely remembering to kick it shut behind him.
"Hormones, Al!" he announces as though bearing news of a great revelation, "hormones are the reason why I'm finding myself in possession of this understandably unsettling urge to have sex with that bastard colonel until his fucking ears bleed! Hormones; it's all so fucking simple!"
...Well. When he'd said this morning that he was going to go home and tell Al, he certainly hadn't anticipated that he would end up telling his younger brother like this.
Al, bless his heart, does his best to cover up his bewilderment with humor. "M-Maybe you ought to be telling him that, instead of me...?" he jokes feebly; if he had a heart, it most certainly would have come under attack by now.
"No, no, he probably knows—" Ed freezes comically, a leg still in the air from the process of stepping out of his boots. Shit. "A-Ah, um...Al..." He is blushing now, so hard it's almost painful. "Y-You know, Al..."
His younger brother takes pity on him and leads him towards the kitchen table. "Sit down, Nii-san," he instructs patiently, still slightly shocked. Ed couldn't really blame him—he was having trouble believing it, and he was an active participant. "Should I heat up last night's coffee for you?"
Ed blanches. "A-Al, I'm sorry," he apologizes, slumping on the table with his head on his arms. "I hadn't meant to be gone so long, but I got... I got...distracted."
"Don't be so hard on yourself; it's just coffee."
"It's just coffee, coffee and books with footnotes—"
"You were always more dear to me than just a dog of the military, so..."
"...I don't want anything in return, save your devotion..."
Ed snaps out of his reverie, aware that he has just missed the last thing his brother has said. "Sorry; could you repeat that?"
"I asked you if you wanted coffee, Nii-san," Al repeats, not at all put-off, and Ed grins weakly—his younger brother is the best, after all, and if anyone deserved to know the truth, it was him.
"No coffee," he refuses, lowly, "I just had some this morning when I was at...at..."
"...When you were at Colonel Mustang's apartment," Al finishes encouragingly, pouring Ed a glass of water instead. "You don't have to tell me anything, Nii-san, but if you'd like to, then why don't you start at the beginning, and tell me how you got there...?"
"The beginning," Ed echoes; it seems like such a long time ago, but is has only been the span of days—time must flow differently in this alternate universe he has stepped into. He takes a deep breath. "Right. The beginning."
It takes him nearly an hour to tell his story, an hour probably because Al is curious, and keeps interjecting with questions, and it takes Ed a long time to gather the courage to speak again; he feels bad about having to give his brother such a crash course on sex ed—hell, even he didn't understand what the hell was happening to him; he really needed to scoot the fuck over to the library and read some books on this shit—especially because Al couldn't feel these things; he tried hard to understand them, though; only sighed once, dejectedly, before sitting upright again and growing more focused on the matters at hand. He laughs a bit at Ed's description of their nearly domestic arguments, at their usual snarking and sniping, and grows mortally silent as his elder brother describes, in detail, his exact relationship with the Colonel, and the repercussions it was bound to bring.
When Ed finally finishes, he can nearly swear that his brother's eyes are glowing. "A-Al," he ventures nervously, "are you mad?"
"...Why would I be mad at you, Nii-san?" Al inquires politely, but there is a stiffness to his carriage that probably only Ed can recognize.
"Because... Because... Well, I could lose my certification over this," Ed admits, shrinking under that myriad gaze. "And without my certification, it'd be harder to..." He groans, yanking fingers through disheveled hair. "Getting our bodies back always comes first, Al, you know that! But... But...!"
"But you have this body, and you can't go around ignoring what it needs," Al finishes slowly, voice carefully neutral.
"Al—don't misunderstand! I'd give anything to take it back, give anything to see you in a flesh and blood body, even if it meant losing my own! You're still my brother; I'm not trying to remind you of anything, to point out that you're...that you're...! Ah, fuck, Al—I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Ed crashes back down on the table, shoulders shaking. "Just tell me, just tell me that it bothers you, and I'll stop seeing that bastard, I swear! I wouldn't even do it for Colonel Mustang when he asked, but I'll do it for you! So don't—Please—!"
Al is silent for a long time. Then—"...He asked you to stop seeing him?"
There is a dangerous thread to his brother's tone, and Ed replies hastily. "W-Well, sure... He understands that it's dangerous, y'see—not just to him, but us, too, and he's always looking out for us!—and he just doesn't want to see us have to give up our quest because he and I can't keep our hands off each other..."
The more things like this he says, the more he's starting to believe them.
"So it's okay if I try to stop you," Al summarizes slowly, somewhat ominously, "but you won't even try to stop yourself? If I don't say no, then you'll keep doing these reckless, foolhardy, dangerous things...?" His voice is rising in pitch by the second; Ed is about to cover his ears from the sheer intensity of it when a knock sounds on the door.
"S-Sorry, Al, I've gotta get that!" he apologizes over the din, beating a hasty retreat.
And just as his luck would have it, the person at his door is none other than Riza Hawkeye. The day just seemed to be calling for it. She hands him a manilla envelope briskly, and waits with guarded eyes as he tears into it curiously.
Two pieces of paper inside; a large stationary piece, and some smaller posterboard. Ed reads the larger one first.
It has escaped my attention up until now that we made arrangements for an engagement this Thursday involving the theater(you remember, don't you? Come on, your head is by no means small, Fullmetal). I found the tickets this morning, when I was retrieving a certain...accessory...of yours from the shade of my lamp. You'd like to accompany me, wouldn't you? If you're curious, your official guise will be that of my bodyguard, so as not to arouse suspicion and/or unwanted focus on our...relationship, so to speak. We'll eat beforehand, since I'm certain you'll absolutely die if I don't feed you properly. Oh, and for God's sake, dress nicely—and leave your hair down, too, I like it better that way—and I'll be around sometime in the 17:00 hour vicinity.
- Colonel Mustang.
The world gives a mighty turn—hallucinating, he must be hallucinating, because there is no way that bastard colonel expects him to go out on a date?—and Ed smashes into the threshold of the door hard; Al gives a cry of alarm from inside the dorm, and even Hawkeye looks startled as he sinks onto the floor, legs unable to support his weight.
"Nii-san, what happened?" Al is asking; there is a hand at his shoulder, and Ed is surprised to see that it is Hawkeye's—she looks concerned, then just as quickly looks disgruntled at looking concerned. "Was it bad news? Is everything all right?"
"Fine," Ed manages to gasp, pulling himself to his feet, "everything's fine, Al." He looks to Hawkeye for something—support, sympathy, bullet wounds—and receives a pointedly flat inquisitive brow. Ed recalls himself—he is cool and collected, and he doesn't give a shit whether that bastard colonel wants to take him somewhere or not—and straightens, smoothing out his coat. "First Lieutenant, tell that bastard colonel that he'd better not be late," he replies formally, even taking the effort to smirk.
The taller blonde's face contracts suddenly in a mixture of anger and pain. "God, you really are like him," she mutters in disbelief, collects herself in time to deliver a salute, and very nearly dashes away; at least, it is the fastest Edward has ever seen her move in his life.
Weird...very fucking weird. The world around him was insane, and he no least of all.
Ed stares down at the magic tickets in his hand—one is a ticket to the theater, some inane play involving love and death; in the other is a ticket to something dangerously akin to Pandora's box—and runs a hand through his hair (and leave your hair down, too, I like it better that way), grimacing as he accidentally uses his right hand, and snags strands in his automail.
"Nii-san...?" Al prompts quietly, bending over to peer into his brother's face. "Did the Colonel ask to see you again...?"
Thursday, Thursday... Holy hell, that was tomorrow. Tomorrow, and here Thursday had seemed so far off when they'd first come to terms on their little playdate—
"Hunh? Oh, yeah. It's fine, Al, everything's fine."
"Is it?" Al challenges, not raising his voice. He was disarming in that sense, in the way that he could drag a confession out of a person through patience alone. "You're always arguing with him, Nii-san, and from the way you describe it, it seems like all he's doing is dragging you around on a string. You shouldn't have to put up with something like that—if you were thinking clearly, you wouldn't put up with something like that—"
Ed stops moving, stops breathing. Al—not Al, too—fuck, even his brother was going to be against him on something like this, even his brother was going to try and take this away from him?!
"Al, listen to me," he says threateningly, sharp and with deadly accuracy. "You're right, you're absolutely right; but it's also up to me to decide what I should and shouldn't put up with, what's dangerous to me and what isn't—"
"But what if this isn't any different from how he treats girls—?"
"And what if this is nothing but a phase, what if I outgrow it in some way or another?" Ed counters, tilting his face up with his hands on his hips. "We're both taking a chance here, and it's a chance we're willing to take, so—"
"Kill him," Al growls then, with feeling; it sends shivers down his elder brother's spine, and he throws out a restraining arm.
"Don't—Don't kill him, shit!" Ed panics, eyes growing wide. Al usually wasn't so violent, that was his department, and it was odd to—for once—be on the restraining end of someone else's rage. "I—I was hoping to settle somewhere between 'cripple' and 'maim', but don't you think killing's just...a little...over the top...?" he suggests hopefully.
"I'm not settling for anything less than bludgeon," Al swears venomously, trying yet again to push his way out the door—Ed transmutes the doorframe into a cage; Al freezes—and the two brothers stare at each other for a moment.
Then burst out laughing.
"You'll... You'll have to get in line," Ed gasps, bending over nearly double, clutching at his side. "I'm not even sure I'm first in line; that bastard's got a punch line as long as the Youswell coal mines—"
"Then we'll just have to clear a spot in line," Al says definitively, but his laughter, light and concordant, dulls the severity of his words.
Eventually their laughter fades away into pleasant silence, and the two of them eat lunch companionably—rather, Ed eats, and Al observes patiently, looking out of place on the narrow, spindly kitchen chair—until Ed pushes his chair back and sighs contentedly.
The situation catches up with him then.
"Al," he says gravely, as though someone has died—somebody has died, and it was probably him, "I've just been asked out on a date with Colonel Mustang."
His brother understands the seriousness of the situation as well. "Yes, Nii-san."
"Wha... What the hell should I do?"
"Well..." Al shrugs, seemingly nonchalant—of course he could afford to be nonchalant, he wasn't the one who had to suffer through an entire evening with the most insufferable asshole ever to be born from a woman's womb—and fetches his brother another glass of water. "Do you like him, Nii-san?"
Ed chokes. "Of course I don't like him, what kind of a question is that?! He's big-headed, and a blackmailing bastard, and he's always getting on me about my height and my budget and... Ah, hell!" He tugs at a section of hair irritably. "I guess I do like him...but only a little bit," he insists at the end, glaring at his brother, just daring him to challenge that.
"Of course," Al agrees, after only a moment of hesitation. He hesitates a moment more. "...Hormones?"
"Argh!!!" Ed grips his glass too hard and it breaks everywhere—his left hand, he notes somewhat dismally, so that bastard colonel was right after all—cutting into his skin and soaking his pants. "You're not funny, Al!"
He suffers through having his hand cleaned and bandaged—laughing, Al was laughing at him—before skulking off into the living room to find a book to read. Al follows him, an occasional snort echoing through his cavernous armor.
"Hey, Al," Ed prods casually, keeping his eyes firmly glued to the pages of an alchemical textbook, "what do you...? I mean, are you...?" He sighs, and raises his eyes cautiously over the top of the hardbound cover. "Will you be all right with this? Or will you try and stop us, too?"
There is an uncomfortable silence, and Ed wishes it would break like that glass did in his hand.
"Nii-san," Al says evasively, picking up an item from the coffee table and bringing it over, "how many times do I have to tell you to stop reading without your glasses? It's bad for your health."
...Bad for your health.
"Sorry, Al," Ed says, forcing a grin, and puts them on. "Seems like I just don't know what's good for me, eh?"
Yes. That simple word, the most powerful symbol of concord and affirmation. Yes, Ed was doing something dangerous, yes, he couldn't consider himself completely trusting of Colonel Mustang's intentions either, but no, only he had the right to decide that for himself, not the Colonel, Al, or anyone else. It was what he made of it, and the fact that he was willing was enough. He wasn't a smooth talker, but...
Ed flexes his automail arm experimentally; it was still a bit stiff from where he had forced that bastard's hand into the wires.
...But Edward Elric was uncommonly skilled at getting people to see things his way.
"A date, Al," he says aloud, still in shock from the very prospect of it. "Can you believe that? What the hell does he think we are, schoolkids or something?"
"I think he thinks," Al replies somberly, "that this is one way for the two of you to bond over something other than hormones."
There is an admirable length of time during which Ed can only stare.
"I don't understand hormones," Al continues, "and I don't understand Colonel Mustang. But I do understand you, Nii-san, better than anyone does, and so I understand that you forming some sort of unprofessional relationship with the Colonel shouldn't come as a surprise to me at all. You were always...considerably more emotional in matters pertaining to him."
"'Considerably more emotional', hunh?" Ed grits out through clenched teeth. "If you counted boiling rage to be 'considerably more emotional', then I suppose you're right."
"Rage, frustration, awkwardness, comraderie, and maybe even a little bit afraid," Al corrects, ticking off the emotions on his fingers, ignoring the fact that as he ticked them off, his elder brother was 'ticking' himself, ticking like a time bomb. "Admiration. You respected him, and his ambition. And you even sort of rely on him, Nii-san, the way you always just assume that the Colonel can fix whatever blunders you happen to make while on a mission."
"I—THAT'S—I DO NOT—!" Ed starts and stops again, thinking each time that he has a valid point, and each time being proved wrong. It was all true, and he hates the fact that it's all true, because it was all true even before he and the bastard had started acting on their hormonal instincts. "Agh, forget it," he grumbles, and picks up the book again. He'd rather be reading a fiction novel like the ones over at Colonel Mustang's apartment, and his glasses are too large and uncomfortable, sliding down the bridge of his nose.
But he supposes he can live with them.
Hormones, hormones and a date. A date tomorrow. Fuck. He didn't have time for this, he ought to be out finding the Philosopher's Stone right now and saying damn the man. And what Al said was true—he does have this body and he does have to service it from time to time; it was almost like automail—but he would never claim that it was better to be without one, because his pain was nothing compared to Al's pain, and sometimes his tenacity was rewarded with ecstasy...the kind that was very nearly worth begging for, no matter how despicable it would seem.
"Nii-san," Al says then, quietly and suddenly, "I won't like it, but I can deal with it...but only if it makes you happy."
"Al..." is all Ed can say in return, face crumbling into a miserable sort of smile; he crosses the room and sits on the floor next to his brother's chair, leaning his face against a cool metallic leg—it feels good on his burning face.
"...And I'm still going to kill him."
They sit like that for a while; after some time Al moves his hand to rub lightly atop his brother's head—he is used to the metal, and applies just the right amount of pressure—and Ed sighs; not scratchies, but good enough. That was devotion, he was starting to understand, and it bothers him slightly that Colonel Mustang is not devoted to him in everything he does, not like Al.
He doesn't have any right to ask me for something he won't give himself, Ed thinks scornfully, leaning up into his brother's palm. This is devotion; what that bastard and I have got is little more than emotionally-attached hormones.
That was it, and he doesn't want to understand hormones—he won't tell it to Al, but sometimes he really does feel like it would be better to be without a body in this case—
"—you were always more dear to me than just a dog the military, so—"
"Shut up," he mumbles aloud, and remembers just in time to apologize to Al, who is snatching his hand away as though burned.
They had a lot of problems, and that was the problem. Ed frowns, but half-heartedly, as Al decides to scratch at his head this time. Damn everyone; knowing that the impregnable Edward Elric had such a fatal flaw...if they ever stopped scratching long enough, he'd kill them.
A date. Did he even want to go out on a date with that bastard colonel? Ugh, and to the theater. Ed hates the theater. At least he'd get dinner out of it beforehand; good food was always a plus when you were threatened with the option of boring yourself to death. And what would they talk about? Ugh, ugh—they didn't talk, they just argued, then had really great sex—the whole concept is confusing, confounded, and just plain mind-boggling.
Ed sits bolt upright then, pushing scraggly hairs out of his eyes. "Al, Al," he repeats then in a sort of infantile panic—
"...What am I gonna wear?"