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chapter 9. It Is Better to Have Loved Than to Have Learned

Edward awakes to an inexplicable chill, and is afraid for a moment that it is due to solitude. He flounders somewhat ungracefully from the depths of sleep, arms and legs shifting; he props himself up, shivering, and takes note of his bedmate, and only gives the bastard a second thought: Hunh.

It disconcerts him, because he shouldn't be so familiar with the man snoozing soundly beside him, but he is. He's not comfortable—cold and his limbs are a little stiff from sleeping in the same position all night; he is also suddenly awkward, gazing down at the sleeping Colonel Mustang, and also a little unsure of himself—but he is not surprised, as he should be.

The curtains across the room fwap in the breeze, and he rouses himself from his nest of blankets to stride over to the window and draw it shut, the clack too loud in the (comfortable) silence of sunrise; he moves resolutely to bury himself back into the warmth of soft blankets, and freezes with one hand on the sheets, and a knee on the bed.

In his head, for a brief moment, he remembers clinging desperately to a cherry tree as though it were a lifeline, seeing through a sort of numb disbelief two vipers coiling passionately around each other, shedding their clothes like skin and hissing not from animosity but from ardor; the more wily serpent of the two is curled soundly in front of him now, more than likely devouring his own tail and somehow more dangerous when sleeping than when awake.

The trick is—and quite an admirable trick it is, he admits darkly—that the viper has shed his skin again, sprawled out carelessly across wrinkled sheets that ride dangerously low on angular hips, long legs crisscrossed neatly under the spread of fabric, hidden from view; out in plain view, Ed can see the rythmic rise and fall of a shapely torso, note the casual way one lean arm bends underneath the pillows, the other flung haphazardly over the side of those hips, arrogantly inviting. Curiously compelled, and still on one knee, the blonde leans forward, putting his palms down for balance.

Mustang is a very lengthy creature, Ed notes, a faint wrinkle starting to appear in his brow. The man sometimes seems to be nothing but arms and legs, yet his shoulders and chest are broad enough to dispel the illusion of gangly malnourishment; he seems to have a number of scars in those places, too, the largest of which starts from his collarbone and stretches glaringly to the meeting point of his shoulder and arm. Edward stares at it blankly for a moment, almost uncomprehendingly, before hesitantly continuing his inspection.

The older alchemist doesn't have much hair on his chest, which is a little strange, given the man's seemingly irrevocable necessity to shave; Ed keeps his gaze moving downward, seeing the faint outlines of a six-pack—the bastard was lazy, when the hell did he get enough exercise to maintain that kind of build?—and sees an almost conical carpet of pitch-dark hair almost directly below that; the line starts out narrow and spreads like an ink stain, sinking underneath the sheets, and the blonde stops abruptly, instantly and painfully aware of how far he's leaning over on the bed.

For a moment he remains trapped between idolatry and uncertainty, eyes wide; after a few seconds pass he puts out his hand shakingly, and brushes the pads of his flesh fingers against that unfamiliar chest.

There are no astoundingly dramatic repercussions to his actions; for a fact, there is nothing at all, and, emboldened by his success, Ed repeats the caress, fingers wandering even further: slipping across Mustang's ribcage to drift delicately down his back, then climbing the rise of his hips to falter to a stop at the blade of his pelvis. The teen blinks for a second, the press of those low-riding sheets suddenly feeling ominous against the side of his palm, and swallows hard; for a second, an agonizing second, his fingers venture beneath those sheets—the barest of touches, the slightest of fractions—and he just as quickly yanks them back out. The movement causes the man on the bed to shift onto his back, letting out a sigh that sounds suspiciously like a woman's name, and Ed feels his face snap rigidly into a glare, sees the omnipresent red start to filter his vision into one his uncontrollable rants. Hurt, kill, maim—

- obliterate—

- and suddenly he's kissing the bastard, instead of killing him; Ed thinks almost hysterically that he could understand what Mustang meant that time when the man confessed he was 'tempting'... Never in his life has he wanted nor expected one person's attention to be solely dedicated to him, and only him—not even his brother, who he was fairly certain he loved more than anyone in the world—yet suddenly, inexplicably, he has taken it upon himself to beat back the faces of those tantalizing tramps with attentions of his own: he'd be tempting, dammit, just like the bastard said, and with that thought in mind, he crawls the rest of the way onto the bed.

Mustang comes awake slowly, face spreading in a smile as he kisses back with gentle lips, eyes still closed and murmuring contented nonsense; eventually his eyes flutter and slit open, looking sleepily scrumptious, and Edward breaks the kiss to look away, already feeling his face growing hot. Damn it.

Before he can even begin to think of an explanation for his actions, there is a strangled, panicked noise beneath him, and his shoulders are being flung back suddenly, sending his legs flying over his head as he is flipped wildly onto his spine, and his wrists are pinned above his head. For a minute he stays still, dazed, then narrows his eyes indignantly as a pale face dotted with dark stubble looms over him, eyes slightly wide, breathing slightly harsh. "F-Fullmetal, what are you...?"

Ed twists his wrists in a bid for freedom, scowling unpleasantly. "Why the hell do you always ask me what the fuck I'm doing, when you're the asshole who's not making any sense?!" he retorts, glowering through his bruised pride. Surely it couldn't have been a bad kiss, could it? The bastard had seemed to like it all right enough before he'd woken up all the way—

"I'd... I'd prefer it if you wouldn't assault me in my sleep, that's all," Mustang replies carefully, taking pains to appear calm, but his grip is still iron around the blonde's wrists. "There's nothing quite like waking up in the morning to a ferocious lion breathing down your throat."

"...I see," Edward says slowly, after a moment's thought. He knows the man is lying, but he can't figure out why the man is lying; in the end he reins in his temper with some effort, and decides to play the role of the subdued for a moment so he can think. "Sorry, then... I'm sorry? I'll wait until you're awake next time."

Tired of all this shit—shouldn't have to explain myself to this pretentious asshole, he should let me do as I please. He said the two of us would start over, and I intend to start over—intend to participate this time, dammit, if he'd quit fucking around and let me—

"L-Let me up," Ed demands, coloring at the directions his thoughts have taken, and his body's natural reaction to those thoughts; he fights to keep from squirming as Mustang leans over him, dark eyes intent on studying his face.

"...Let me ask you a question, first." The older alchemist takes a breath, and looks pained. "Fullmetal, do you...do you find me...attractive?"

"Attractive? What the hell kinda question is that?" Ed questions loudly, and without thinking; his eyes bug out slightly at the sheer surreality of it, and his eyebrows threaten to climb right off of his scalp. "It's not obvious to you by now?"

He remembers the embarrassing fiasco at dinner last night, admitting under the nonexistent pressure of a fluid foot that the sight of the man looming over him having sex was enough to get him riled up, even though the man hadn't even been having sex with him; the blonde curses and jerks his wrists, trying to free himself, but still remains effectively pinned to the bed.

"There's more to attraction than stimulative arousal," Mustang is saying, and the absurdity of it is enough to make Ed still in his bids for freedom momentarily.

"What? That doesn't make any fucking sense," he insists, glad for the diversion. He is not going to admit that sort of embarrassing shit again, not under any sort of pressure. Not even. "Isn't that what the hell arousal is? It's an involuntary reaction to something that attracts you, nitwit." He glowers. "Unless you're trying to tell me that I've been wrong this entire time?"

That earns him a snort of laughter, and the barest ghost of a smirk, but the two are gone before they were ever really there; the dark-haired man leans back a bit, easing up the pressure on Ed's wrists, but remains stolidly in place, caging the blonde's legs with his own thighs and seemingly contemplative.

"Demonstratively, then," he says, and moves one of his hands. "I do this—" And here he slides his fingers underneath the waistband of Ed's boxer shorts to stroke once, maddeningly, at the bulge that lies there, "—and you do—" Instantly, instinctively, the younger alchemist arches up into that touch, hissing. "—that." Mustang shrugs. "And that's arousal. Attraction," he punctuates, frowning as though his mouth has a bad taste, "is the desire to repeat those actions unto someone else, and of your own free will."

"F-Free will, eh?" Ed stutters, grinning shakily and trying to ignore the pounding in both his head and his groin. "Well, I've c-certainly got enough of th-that." Desperately, he casts around for another diversion; his brain hits a roadblock suddenly, and he blinks. "Wait a second... Are you saying that...i-if I wanted to...wanted to...do all that same stuff to you that you've been doing to me...that you'll let me?"

Mustang is silent for a long time; his grip tightens and relaxes reflexively, as though he is attempting to knead his way into control, and a variety of things swim in his midnight eyes, but nothing that Ed can understand. The man finally wrests his face back into a semblance of control, and he speaks with a tight voice: "And may I ask as to why you would want to do a thing like that?"

There is an insult there, and Ed nearly gapes in amazement at the fact that it's not directed at him—it seems to be directed at the bastard himself, and that was just plain fucking odd—but he speaks without thinking, a plausible excuse besides an insatiable desire to touch leaping to his lips. "E-Equivalent exchange, isn't it? A-After all, you've done the same thing f-for...for me—"

Mustang flinches, once, and Ed blanches, as well; wrong answer, dumbass. He wasn't sure what the 'right' answer had been, but he had been certain of one thing—he couldn't let the bastard know, because it was embarrassing to admit it, that he wanted desperately to see the man's composure crack, to do what those tramps couldn't and force his jaw open wide in a moan—

"Don't ever—" Mustang starts, seems to reconsider saying it, then trudges on ahead—"...Don't ever apply equivalent exchange to this act, Fullmetal," he says lowly, half in plea, half in warning, and it's goddamned confusing. "Taking or giving something in return out of an obligation, when it comes to this, makes you...makes you little more than a prostitute."

Ed glares and bares his teeth, arms and legs flailing almost of their own volition. "What the fuck?! What the hell are you trying to imply, hunh?!" Where the hell had this conversation gone wrong? All he'd been trying to do was kiss the infuriating bastard—bastard who didn't even deserve it, really—and now he was being accused of crazy shit like this!

"I'm not—I'm not trying to imply...anything!" the dark-haired man pants, trying to keep the youth's limbs from wrenching free. "I'm just telling you—oh, for God's sake, calm down!—Fullmetal, that you don't owe me anything, e-especially if you—" A grunt as he is kicked in the back of the shin. "—don't want to!"

The blonde doesn't stop fighting, but he does take the time to form a reply. "And that's the part that's obvious—I want to! Pretty fucking badly, at that!" Time slows to normal, and he and the colonel slow to a stop, staring at each other in a blatant impasse. Edward fights the urge to look away. "Maybe...maybe equivalent exchange wasn't the best way to phrase it..." He clears his throat. "Ah...how can I say it...? It's, ah...not fair. To you and everything." Fight seeping out of him, his resolve wavers, and he tears his eyes away from those pitch-dark orbs. He concentrates instead on the ceiling above and a bit behind his head, eyes rolling upwards. "You... You do some p-pretty fucking amazing things w-with your h-hands...and...and th-that mouth of yours... S-Shouldn't, ah—Shouldn't I b-be...doing something like that...f-for you...?" He chews on his lower lip out of habit, and wills his goddamned blush to go away. You're not a baby. Get over it already.

Silence reigns supreme for the mediocrity of a minute; Mustang shifts above him, after a while, and finally lets his wrists go, but Ed makes no move to sit up. He hears something strange for a moment—"worse than I thought", in a sort of miserable mutter—and then the man gets up entirely, disentangling his limbs from the bed and padding across the room. Ed lifts his head for a moment and sees the colonel rifling through his dresser drawers, obviously searching for clothes, and he drops his head back into the pillows with a thump, exhaling his breath in a despondent sigh.

Foiled again. Bloody fucking foiled again. What the hell am I always doing wrong? I shouldn't have to—won't, for that matter, if it comes down to it—beg like a dog for the right to touch him. We're... Well, we're whatever the hell this is, now, and I really don't want to have to tie him down just for the chance to assault his body. I'm this close, really, but—

His thoughts are cut off as weight is put on the bed again; he jerks and half-sits upright to see Mustang sitting on the edge of the bed, buttoning his pants, with something white and unidentifiable hanging from his teeth. The younger alchemist ponders etiquette for a moment, but sees the opportunity as a sort of last chance, and sits up the rest of the way.

That bastard isn't the only one who can lay traps.

Seemingly disinterested, he closes the gap between the two of them in a sort of wiggling crawl; snakelike, he coils his limbs around the older man and licks a still-bare shoulderblade, slowly and unevenly.

Mustang stiffens and seems too stunned to move; Ed presses his advantage, growing confident in his almost-success, and turns the lick into a kiss, one that's higher and closer to the shoulder, tracing over an apparent burn scar that is there; open-mouthed and slightly panting. His stomach is twisted into knots with something that is a confused jumble of anxiety, arousal, and—bizarrely enough—hunger; he ignores the fact that it's time for breakfast and acts hesitantly on his instinct, his traitorous instinct that more often than not seems to get him into trouble. He tightens his left arm around the colonel's chest and strokes the man's abdomen with his right; for a second he stops and has a moment of doubt about the automail, but he ignores it—if the bastard's got a problem with it, he'll say so, he tells himself—and he continues his awkward, stumbling exploration.

Ed uses Mustang's scars as a sort of guide; he traces them, marks his place with them, follows some of the higher ones with his mouth instead of his fingertips. There aren't that many scars—too much for a lazy lout with a desk job, and he wonders—but there are enough for him to content himself with, and he caresses them with varying degrees of pressure; Mustang seems to have finally finished some sort of internal battle with himself and sighs, unstiffening and leaning his head back. "Ah, Fullmetal," he exhales, and though there is a slight furrow to his brow, his eyes are closed and there is a hesitant grin on his face; "just what are the odds that I can convince you to give me a massage while you're back there...?"

"None," Edward grumbles in return, not at all liking how pleased he's getting by making the bastard happy. He still feels as though he is jumping through hoops, invisible ellipses that only the colonel can see; he wants to wipe that smug look off of that arrogantly handsome face, now, but there's a difference from before—before, he wanted that ego to be shattered with pain, and now he wants it to be overwhelmed by pleasure—though admittedly, he probably would've ended up using his fists either way. He takes a deep breath and decides to go for it—I'll try, and if the bastard doesn't like it, then he can fucking teach me—and moves his left hand.

It takes a lot of willpower to go slow, and even more to resist the urge to rub furiously up against something as he does so, because touching that cool, pale skin is doing nothing for his own arousal. Ed ignores his insignificant shaking and trails his hand lower, zigzaggingly lower, unbuttoning pants that were only recently buttoned and slipping his fingers inside. For a moment he waits in agonizing anxiety, waits for inevitable rebuttal and the sub-standard "go home, Fullmetal, and come back in a year or so when you're better", but it doesn't happen; very little seems to happen, and it is fucking profound. He grits his teeth, presses closer and buries his burning face into Mustang's neck, and moves.

There is a sudden, rushing intake of breath that is not his own, and the low, almost mournful groan that follows is enough to make Ed squirm; he gnashes his teeth accidentally against the tendons of a taut neck, and comes to a sudden epiphany then about attraction—it wasn't just wanting that bastard to put his hands all over him, it was also about wanting to put his hands all over that bastard...

"C-Colonel," he admits then, in a sheepish sort of mumble, fingers moving in light, sort of invitative circles, and Mustang clenches his jaw against it, sweating in earnest, "I, uh...think you're...think you're attractive."

It is, again, apparently the the wrong thing to say. The man in front of him stiffens, groans again—one that clearly has nothing to do with desire—and grips Edward's hands with slim fingers that feel like bands of steel; his head whips around fast and he clonks foreheads with the younger alchemist, but neither of them notice.

"S...Stop," Mustang says then, breathless yet clear, and Ed can swear that in that moment, he hears his heart land with a dull thump into his stomach. His brain fails him, all logical thought patterns fail him, but his ever-so vigilant mouth needs none of those things in order to function.

"W-Why the hell should I do a thing like that?" he exclaims, eyes wide in an attempt to keep his expression under control—fear, shame, and apology dance like devils through the dredges of his mind—and he falters, half-hearted smile wilting at the edges, teasing tone cracking a bit on the word "I". Without thinking, he adds to his soliloquy of scourge, cursing himself for his pathetic inability to keep the pleading tone out of his voice, yet pragmatically not giving a damn—so long as it worked—

"Y-You know, i-if you don't want me to be...t-to be...forward, and all, then all y-you've got to do is say so... I...I d-don't mind it i-if...if you don't l-like what I'm doing—I c-can go faster, or slower...or harder or s-softer or wh-whatever you'd like—but... C-Come on, throw a guy a b-bone here, why d-don't ya? Just tell m-me what I'm doin' wrong, a-and—ah, hell! You're attractive; I-I've said it, s-so why don't you let me show—"

"Just...just shut up, Fullmetal," Mustang interrupts him then, quickly and almost desperately; he twists around and slams his mouth over Ed's with a force that's almost painful, and the blonde chokes, willing but unable. He could not just let this go; he tears his lips free and attempts to break the hold that the older man has on his wrists, but to no avail.

"B-Bastard!" he spits, mouth open wide and ready to deliver a series of scathing retorts—"h-how dare you..."—and lets his voice trail off as he sees an odd expression on Mustang's face.

The man is hurting, and not in that conventional fist-to-the-face sort of way, either; his brows are furrowed anxiously, and there are lines around his mouth, teeth showing in a minor grimace, but by far, the most expressive item on his face are his eyes—they cower and cringe and wait in expectation for a blow, a sort of wounded concern flashes through their dark depths, as well as a nearly paternal pity that would have, any other day, make Ed froth with outrage—and he feels the fight go out of him, relaxing, but not breaking his gaze.

The look is suddenly gone with a blink, and Edward blinks too—had he imagined it? No...—straightening up almost reflexively as the dark-haired man clears his throat and attempts to speak calmly; there is still that demoralizing desperation mirrored in his eyes.

"Sorry... I'm sorry, Fullmetal." A sharp inhalation. The look starts to grow more flat, more blank, as time goes on, and Ed knows the man is going back into Superior Shithead mode—he also knows that, more than likely, whatever the colonel is going to say next is a flat-out lie. "It's not your fault, it's just...I got distracted." A thin, almost hysertical-looking smile is offered. "I'd—I'd come back to bed with the intent of giving you...giving you...a little surprise, and you were really...really throwing me off-track."

The look in his eyes screams "please, please, just take it, take it and believe me, no matter how half-assed we both know it is", and the smile is starting to look like a severe case of teeth-gritting more than anything else; Ed closes his eyes and scowls, not entirely forced. He is pretty annoyed at the proverbial back-tracking they're taking—if I had my way, we'd have skipped past this shit and probably be ready for round two by now—but he's worried, too, and—despite the current moodbreakers—still horny as high hell; it doesn't take him long to come to his decision.

For whatever fucked-up reasons I might have, I want that bastard. And for whatever fucked-up reasons he might have, he doesn't want me to have him. And that's fine. I learned something today, slipping my hand down his pants—he's aroused by me. It might not be attraction, not yet...but damned if it isn't a good start.

Ed snorts, a brief wrinkle of his nose, and opens his eyes. "What sort of surprise, bastard? It'd better be a good one."

He can't hold out forever. I'll be tempting.

A smile that is supposed to be cocky, but is mostly tempered by relief. "Oh, I imagine you'll enjoy it." A pause, and the relief is gone; Mustang appears to be back to his normal, dastardly self, and Ed ignores the fact that it makes him feel relieved, as well. "So quit pouting, Fullmetal, and lie back."

"What the fuck for?" Ed grumbles, wondering if the dread he was feeling should be considered normal. He does lie back, however, turning ninety degrees so that his head is close to the headboard of the bed, and lets out a sigh. He didn't trust the man's tone...the bastard was probably up to something, since he always was. Always had been. Always...always would be.

He grins, stretches his arms over his head in an epitaph of ease—he was so going to regret this later—and closes his eyes. "Take your best shot," he challenges, and scowls at his inevitable blush that is spawned from the throaty "certainly" that follows.

Ed feels arms brace themselves just above his shoulders, feels the hard line of a discomfitingly familiar body press up against his own. The left arm moves, and Ed hisses as cool fingers brush silkily down his side; it is not hard to keep his eyes screwed closed, not at all. "H-Hey, bastard...this isn't much of a surprise."

"Ah, is that so?" The left arm returns to it's original position, and the right arm is the one that is moved this time. "I imagine this is, though."

The first touch from that right hand is to his nipple, and it is electrically different—like sandpaper, but just a tad finer; oh, only a tad—and it hurts so good; Ed arches and moans, and for a moment hates himself for it.

He has, every time that something like this has happened over the past week, hated himself for it; it was an instinct as natural as breathing, and like breathing, like living, there were many inquisitive "whys" to it all—he should be worrying about his brother instead of himself, he hates surrendering his prized logic for possessive lust, he isn't sure he even likes guys, and he really isn't sure he likes Colonel Mustang—but the motions come to him like clockwork, the sounds and struggles for control flow primordially from his lips, and he is fairly certain that, every time, that bastard is laughing at him on the inside.

It doesn't, however, take him very long to fall into that syntax of pleading and pleasure, nor does it take very long for his attempts at coherent thought to be ravaged rampant by the root of all feeling. What a shitty bastard, trying to get me to believe that—oh, shit, that feels good—that he wouldn't want—lower, asshole, lower!—wouldn't want someone to do this to him, too—ohhh...fuck...—

That hand is still tracing circles around his nipple, toying and teasing and even twisting a bit, left and right; when the hand migrates south for the winter, it is quickly replaced by the mouth, and when Ed opens his mouth in a frenzied attempt to breathe, a gasp comes out instead. Annoyed at himself, he forces his eyes open and sees, now, what is causing the figurative sparks—Mustang is wearing his gloves, those gloves with that rough and snagging texture that cause literal sparks, as well, and Ed nearly laughs aloud at it. That was his fucking surprise; what a surprise it was. He closes his eyes again.

He doesn't remember how it progresses from there. All he can remember was a strange sort-of game of tag—wherever the hand went, the mouth followed, and from there it was anyone's guess—but he couldn't remember what had happened in what order; had the hands moved to his hips first, then trailed in a trampish tease up his ribs, or had he taken those gloved fingers in his teeth, tasted ash and charcoal, and been rewarded for his advances with the feel of those hands tracing that v-shaped line where his hips had met his thighs? Did the ticklish tongue in his navel come before the fervent fingernails to the small of his back? And he could definitely remember some teeth being used somewhere in there, but he most certainly couldn't recall when.

It could have been hours, it could have been an instant—those gloves were hell, he decided, hell on heaven—but either way, it was too damned long; Ed, like he had three nights ago, swung his hand downward to finish the job himself, but his wrist is snared and pinned behind his head. He tries with the automail, and Mustang has to use his other hand to pin that one, too—and now there are no hands anywhere on his body, and Edward is pissed.

"Let go, fucker!" he howls, twisting this way and that, but all he receives for his efforts is an amused chuckle, one that is too velvety and too rich for the dull of the day; it belongs in the bedroom, and Ed is so fucking hot right now he could cry. "C-Come on!" he pants loudly, trying to arch, trying to rub, trying to break free—"Sh-Show some mercy, bastard...!"

"Oh, I will, most assuredly," Mustang replies, his face nearly being split in two with his smirk—hurt, kill, maim—"but you need to calm down, first. Keep your hands still—hook them somewhere, if you must, but keep them still—and kindly stop trying to clock me with your automail, or else I will tie you up." His look turns dangerously contemplative. "On that note, perhaps I'll tie you up anyway..."

"Don't even!" Ed snarls, but ceases movement as best as he can—the bastard probably didn't even count pelvic squirming as resistance, anyway—because he doesn't want to be tied up, and subject to this asshole's whims.

Mustang still looks amused, but his amusement has turned softer around the edges; wry, almost affectionate, or fond, and it hits a chord within Ed that is somehow more arousing than physical touch—attractive. The man lets go of his wrists, and tugs the blonde's boxers down, but when his head is lowered, Ed makes a noise of protest.

"Not your mouth—use your gloves," he barks, realizes that it comes out sounding sort of rude, and attempts to moderate his tone; in his position, an order probably wouldn't produce any sort of positive effect, so he stamps down his ego and attempts to play nice. "...Please...sir?" He decides against batting his eyelashes during the second line, and his act is bought; Mustang swallows, looks at him for a second, then moves his hand down and his head up, clearly trying to pretend the entire thing was his idea.

...It seems almost like a victory to Edward.

It is a victory, he realizes, as that sandpaper-skin caresses his groin, and warm lips gently nudge his own in a kiss; he groans and mewls and whimpers as he wrestles with his hormones, and probably the biggest one of my lifetime. We're getting somewhere, in that strange way of ours, and in time we'll get over ourselves, and we can finally be on a footing of equals.

His body is responsive; shaking and high-strung, he pants something that sounds suspiciously like an endearment, which he chooses pointedly to ignore—Mustang whispers something in return that sounds almost like an apology, and Ed chooses to ignore that, as well—and that hand is stroking so sweetly down there, right there, and that inexplicable coastal surge of pleasure is starting to swell, to crest, to fucking break; Edward looks up, discovers suddenly that in that moment, he cannot meet the colonel's eyes, and turns his head away.

He'll see, soon enough. When something feels like this—

As always, he cannot help the hyper-sensitive, high-pitched shout that explodes from his mouth at about the same time that that ecstatically egegrious white explodes across his vision—for a moment, he feels strangely like he is back in the Gate, the be-all and end-all of existence, secular and alchemical—but for the first time, he does not mind that he cannot help his cries, either. Time is stretched out to something almost visible—"Bite me," Mustang is saying lowly, hoarsely, "—and hard enough to leave a mark—" and Ed does, whipping his head upwards and cutting off his moan with a snap, teeth cutting canyons into the man's shoulder—and after the inundation of sensation fades, a pleased sort of satiation is radiating off of his skin like waves; he closes his eyes to let the feeling linger, and feels the sweat on his skin start to cool as he falls back onto the bed.

- everyone wins.

He had wondered, a time not long ago that had felt eerily like forever, if each time was going to be as hard-earned and as memorable and as rewarding as the first time, but now it seems like the answer would be no—each time would steadily grow better, and for the first time since this (relationship) farce began, he is starting to see their interaction as cause for optimism. He had bitten hard enough to draw blood, and it is smearing the inside of his mouth right now.

Sleepily, as though he is in a dream, Ed reaches out to try one last time for equality; his fingers can't quite seem to get the button on Mustang's pants undone, and he tries, groggily and half-hearted, to stroke through the fabric of navy pants, but the man pries his fingers away and flips his hand palm-side up to deliver a soft kiss to the underside of his wrist.

"Forget it," Mustang whispers softly, though his smile seems strained. "Go to sleep."

"When... When I...wake up..." Ed threatens, narrowing his eyes until they sink closed; his head hits the pillow and there is the brush of fabric around him before he sinks into sleep.

When he wakes up, the inexplicable chill is due to solitude. He cannot believe it.

He tears through the house in a frenzy, searching every room and hallway, and even some of the larger closets in the hopes of producing a certain bastardly, dark-haired alchemist, but there is no one in the apartment with him; instead, there is breakfast on the table, still warm, and a brief note:

Fullmetal—

Take a shower, enjoy your breakfast, and get dressed. I'll expect you at my office no later than three—I have the basic specs outlined for your newest mission. Details at the office.

- Colonel Mustang.

P.S. The world does not stop moving around us. Remember that.

In an instant, his world becomes centered around that short, stupid letter. Thoughts scramble and piece themselves together again like a jigsaw puzzle: it's probably nothing, he needs to go back to work anyway, that bastard is trying to get rid of me.

In a fit of emotion even he cannot explain, Ed sweeps the dishes off of the table to shatter on the floor. He takes a shower—doesn't remember doing so—and sits on the couch for a long time, elbows on his knees and face in his hands; he scrubs glumly at his cheeks after a while, reaches over to the table next to the lamp, and telephones Al.

"...Hey, Al. Can you do me a favor...? Can you bring me some clothes from the dorm? Yeah, I'm at that bastard's apartment. No, I can't just borrow something from him—all I've got is that stupid suit. Thanks."

He hangs up and waits for a while. He doesn't move, he doesn't think. He stares blankly at the mess on the floor, switches his gaze to various mundane objects around the room, and suddenly sees something painfully ironic—his hair tie, abandoned so tempestuously two nights ago, is still hanging around the lampshade. He crosses the room, snatches it up, and begins to braid his hair; he considers destroying the lamp in an attempt to make himself feel better, but he knows it probably won't work.

After a time Al comes, and says nothing at first, merely opens the front of his armor and allows his brother to take his bundle of clothes to the bathroom. Ed changes slowly, taking the time to glare hatefully around the now-familiar bathroom with it's whitewashed walls and expensive shampoo; his own clothes are starting to feel weighty and strange on his back, because quite frankly, he's used to a gargantuan T-shirt and loose pajama pants—

He scowls, kicks the sink, and returns to the living room to find Al bent over the dishes his elder brother has broken, taking the chalk from the inside of his armor and sketching an array on the floor. The blonde stomps his way across the room and smudges out the circle with his foot; kicks the chalk from his brother's hand and snaps it in two with a booted heel. "Leave it," he orders, face hard, then blinks as he hears himself, and puts a hand on Al's shoulder, a bit resentful of the fact that he doesn't even have to bend down to do so. "Sorry... Sorry, Al. Didn't mean to yell at you." He face twists in a parody of a smile. "Thanks for stopping by—let's go."

"Nii-san, where's the Colonel?" Al asks, peering throughout the room and somehow managing to make his gaze look anxious. "I'd at least like to say hello to him..."

"You can tell him at the office," Ed grumbles, taking ahold of his brother's loincloth and veritably dragging him towards the door, "and, apparently, you can tell him goodbye there, too, since that's what I'll be doing."

"What? Why? What happened?" Al follows without any resistance, only taking the time to sweep his gaze one last time through the empty apartment—he also shuts and locks the door like any good citizen, and Ed's scowl is omnipresent.

"Don't bother with all of that," he mutters, clomping down the stairs, "it'd serve that bastard right if he got robbed."

"Nii-san, what did you—I mean, what did he do?" Al inquires worriedly, actually having to hurry a bit in order to keep up with his irate brother.

Ed walks in silence for a while, considering. His anger was apparent, but why he was angry seemed to be eluding him for a while. It's just a mission. A week or two at most—he can't be trying to get me out of the way, can he? Why would he? Especially since I know for sure he wants me, now... Am I just pissed off because he left all of a sudden, without saying anything? What the hell did I expect, for us to have breakfast like a fucking happy family—he reads the newspaper, I wash the dishes? ...Not that I'd ever wash dishes for his smarmy ass or anything...

He grumbles under his breath about his outward blush, and remembers in time to address Al. "Hunh? Oh—nothing, really. Same old, same old. He just pisses me off...you know?"

Al laughs then, and the sound is relaxing. Ed even manages a smile that isn't entirely forced. "I guess it's safe to say that everything's working out between the two of you just fine, eh, Nii-san?"

Ed laughs—Al, if only you knew—and starts climbing the entrance steps to East City Headquarters, trying to stay calm. The guards let him pass without question, though the two of them share a look and rueful snickers; Ed's...altercations with Colonel Mustang are nothing if not legend in the area. They also let Al pass, nodding their heads to him politely, and the armor bows back, exchanging a few words of greeting before dashing ahead to catch up with his older brother, who is already starting up the stairs to the third floor.

He bursts into the colonel's outer office with nothing short of melodramaticism, and comes face-to-face with Hawkeye, who is carrying a stack of papers and looks to be in a...not a bad mood, but a different sort of mood than usual. Al steps foward to help her with the wavering stack.

"Let me help you with those, Lieutenant!" he insists, lifting a generous portion of the stack with ease, and the blonde woman smiles at him in thanks.

"You're so considerate, Alphonse-kun," she throws appreciatively over her shoulder towards the other two occupants of the room—Havoc and Breda—and Havoc coughs discreetly around his cigarette, whereas Breda grins good-naturedly and resumes his very difficult work of cleaning out his ear with a pencil. Edward doesn't quite understand what to do; he knows Hawkeye is probably still angry at him, but he steps forward anyway.

"Can, uh... Can I help you with any of those, Lieutenant?" he offers, glancing up at the woman through his bangs; she blinks once, startled, then shakes her head, expression apathetically unreadable.

"I think Alphonse-kun and I will manage alright, Major," she says blandly, then stiffens and looks sympathetic at the injured expression that appears on the shorter blonde's face. "T...Thank you for your help...Edward...but..." The sympathy on her face is unmistakable now, as well as an almost miniscule inkling of concern. "But...I do believe you have an appointment with Colonel Mustang, correct?"

At the bastard's name, Ed scowls and scuffs at the floor with a booted heel. "Don't remind me," he grumbles, letting out a long-suffering sigh. "I wonder what the hell he wants this time... Bossy bastard."

Havoc coughs again, and Hawkeye shoots him a sharp glare. Breda ignores them both.

"You go in and see the colonel, Nii-san," Al suggests, "and I'll stay out here and help Lieutenant Hawkeye with the files—that is, if she doesn't mind..."

"Oh, certainly not," the First Lieutenant replies, small smile still on her face. "You're always a fantastic help." She bends down low, whispers in Ed's ear—"You are going to see the colonel for a briefing about your mission, nothing more"—and straightens up, walking away with Al inquiring eagerly about Black Hayate in her wake. Havoc seems suddenly intent on studying his desk, but Breda leans back with an "ahhhh" and puts his feet up, taking the invitation to slack now that his strict superior was gone. Ed looks at the two of them for a moment before striding up to the door to the inner office resolutely and banging his way inside.

Mustang has never looked surprised at his sudden entrances, and today is no exception; he merely lifts his head from where it had been propped up on his fist and leans back in his chair, attempting a congenial smile that falls just short of being that. "...Good afternoon, Fullmetal." He considers his next words carefully. "Did you sleep well?"

The blonde's face reddens again, and he fights to keep his temper under control. "Quite," he says tersely, and takes a seat on the couch, hands fisting at his sides.

"Mmmm." The older alchemist picks up his pen from the desktop and taps it along the flat of his jaw—the second time he's done something like that, and Ed wonders almost crazily if it's a habit. "And how was your breakfast?"

Those eyes are inquisitive intensity burning into his own, but the teen doesn't look away. "Didn't eat it," he replies, voice still tight; "didn't want it."

Mustang sits up straighter and blinks for a moment, perhaps in surprise, but he shrugs it off with infuriatingly characteristic ease and taps a pile of papers on his desk into a symetrical stack. He then lies them flat and pushes them across the desk towards Edward. "Your latest assignment. Look it over carefully, and ask me any questions you might have before you leave."

The blonde stalks the three feet from the couch to the desk in three stomps; snatches up the papers as though his hand was a bird of prey, and skims the outline disdainfully. Eventually his eyes slow their rapid crisscrossing across the pages, and his mouth slowly starts to fall open into an O; by the time he is done, he is blinking repeatedly and his face feels strangely drained of color.

"You can't do this," he says immediately.

Mustang, who ordinarily would have smirked and pulled rank until he was blue in the face, nods once, solemnly. "Yes, I can. Can, and do."

"We're not... Soldiers aren't... Fuck, the military isn't the fucking goon squad! We're not available for hire, you know!"

"I'm not," the dark-haired man corrects quietly, face blank. "Lieutenant Hawkeye is not. Lieutenant Havoc and Major Armstrong and Sergeant Fury are not. You, Fullmetal, are. You're a civilian consultant, and the military can deem it fit to assign you to any sort of task where military interference would be...frowned upon."

"I don't want this," Ed says suddenly, and hurls the stack of papers back on Mustang's desk. "This mission doesn't net me a damned thing in return; I have Al to worry about, and I don't fucking want it."

"...I think you would want it," the man counters, tone mild. He says his next words slowly: "She claims her father brought her back from the dead."

The blonde gapes, struggling to find words, struggling to put it all together; he sways a bit on his feet and leans forward on the broad oak desk to get his balance. "Liar... You're a liar. I-If that were true...the military would be all over it by now."

"They would," Mustang agrees, still neutral. "They would...if she didn't live across the border, in Drachma."

Drachma and Amestris have never been on good terms, and the younger alchemist is aware of this—he takes a few deep breaths and convinces himself back into calm; the world didn't stop moving around them, after all, and the pending war between those two countries is proof enough of it. "Right. So you want me to head all the way up north to Drachma, play bodyguard to some flightly little twit of a girl, and escort her safely back here to Amestris?" His eyes turn hard. "There's a word for that, Colonel. It's called kidnapping. And why the hell are we taking the girl? It'd make more sense to take her father—he's the one who's got all the research, after all."

He looks down at the file and catches the name—Creswell, Katarina—and a generic summary of her appearance, but nothing else. "And how the hell am I supposed to find this girl? It's not like I can just waltz in there and ask the Drachmans."

"Fullmetal, you are escorting the young Creswell girl at her father's behest, not our own," Mustang answers, and for a moment his expression sours; Ed knows then that this mission isn't entirely a farce, that perhaps there is some validity to it, after all, and his interest starts to grow, albeit grudgingly. "He has agreed to relinquish his research and his daughter into our custody, so long as we sign a mutual contract promising not to use Miss Creswell, for any intents or purposes, as an alchemical research subject. She is also to be given Amestrian citizenship, which will keep her out of the brutal hands of the Drachman government..." His mouth quirks upward in a shadowy smile. "You see? She and her father are being kept prisoner in their own country, and he wants to ensure that she, at least, has a foreseeable future ahead of her."

"So we get his research, and his daughter...won't Drachma be pretty pissed? I know I would be."

A pause. "There...may be some resulting conflict over her escape, however—"

Edward stands. "Then no. Hell no. I'm not doing a damned thing that will put people's lives in danger."

The older alchemist also stands, and his stance is authoritative. "Fullmetal, I'd hate to pull rank on you now—especially now—but in circumstances such as this, I am not above doing it, either." The man's voice is strict, but there is an almost melancholy sort of understanding in his eyes. "Go to Drachma, and rescue this poor girl. Her father's research is valuable...too damned valuable. And it can help you...you and your brother. So go. I...I will do my best to ensure that no blood is spilled over this, but..." A half of a shrug. "There's a limit to even my miracles, Fullmetal." A curiously awkward pause. "I'll...look forward to hearing your report when you return."

But the blonde isn't willing to back down so easily, and he lets the bastard know it. "Al," he says then, definitively. "It says here that because this is a covert operation, I'm supposed to go alone, but what about Al?" He actually starts to feel a trifle nauseated at the thought of leaving his brother alone in East City; what if someone found out the truth, and Al was taken away? He swallows down certain sickness. "You know that I'm not going to let him stay here at the dorms by himself, and there's no one we know who really understands the deal with us..."

He freezes under Mustang's flat stare, and bristles considerably. "No. Hell no! If you think for one second that I'd let my brother stay with a pompous bastard like you, you've got another thing coming, Colonel!"

The older alchemist says nothing, simply looks at him. The silence needs to be filled, Ed decides, and fills it. "You don't even know Al, all right? To you, he's always just been "Fullmetal's little brother", and I won't stand for you ignoring him while I'm away! And you're a treacherous bastard, what if you try to...try to..." He blushes as the realization of what he's saying has just hit him, but keeps on anyway, "—hell, I don't know, try to do something to him, since I won't be there?"

This time, he supposes, he deserves the obvious, if not slightly dubious stare that he receives, but before he can attempt to dig himself out of his hole, the colonel shrugs.

"Those are your options," he says neutrally, lifting and dropping his hands as though they are weights on a scale. "Take them or leave them." He considers a moment before saying anything more, and his tone is moderated, just that little bit gentler. "Fullmetal, I like your brother. Alphonse is a very pleasant and mild-mannered boy. I hardly think it would kill either of us to spend some time in each other's company."

Ed feels light-headed for a moment; strange, as though he's happy to hear those words fall from that bastard's lips, but then again, he supposed, he is. It's almost...nice, that Mustang and his staff know the truth about he and Al, and that they don't have to hide anything in order to find their way back home...not with these people. He almost smiles, but remembers belatedly that he was being charged with a mission, and a potentially violent one at that; he instead grins a wicked grin and tries his best to act normal.

"If I'm lucky, maybe Al'll kill you while I'm gone," he says sweetly, "and I'll burn your body—fitting end for a firebug like you."

"I don't doubt it, Fullmetal," Mustang says, taking a seat and picking up his pen again. His gaze is lowered to crisp white paper as he begins to scritch away with the pen, black ink on snow white. "Oh, and you'll be wanting to leave soon." A quick look upward, and the pearly flash of a smirk. "Your train's scheduled to leave in an hour."

And Ed knows he has no choice—both his fate and his brother's lie in the hand of that brutally blank bastard standing in front of him—and he yanks up the papers again, crumpling them in his hand and offering a sharp salute, just to let Mustang know that he is extra pissed about how the situation is turning out. "I imagine all my other questions will be answered when I read over the rest of the official orders, sir?" he asks stiffly, posture rigid and damned near vibrating from the tension.

The colonel notes his pointedly professional salute, and the undoubtedly obvious tic in his brow, but he waves them off with an elegant hand—Edward's salute wavers and his expression cracks a bit as he notes that the bastard is wearing his gloves, just like he had before; he remembers then his hand pressed tightly between long legs, a flash of heat, and a questionably mutual desire. "I would imagine so," is Mustang's equally as elegant reply, "however, do feel free to phone if you have any other concerns." An afterthought: "Ah, and Fullmetal? Please don't call the office for anything other than official business. You know how much I despise using military telecommunications for...somewhat trivial affairs."

Trivial affairs, and Ed can barely contain the urge to strangle the man, until he realizes the hidden meaning that the phrase entails: The lines are being tapped now—speak no evil, and they will hear no evil—and he nods, jerkily, making his way towards the door, accidentally stumbling over the couch and cursing his damnable weakness. Hand on the knob, a particularly poisonous train of thought occurs to him—he wouldn't, some small part of him wants to scream, but deep in his heart, he knew the bastard would, and so he asks.

"Colonel..." he says, looking slowly, solemnly, and resignedly at the man, "...just how long until the legal termination of this contract?"

Mustang's face doesn't change. "Indefinitely."

"...Thought as much," Ed laughs in response, brokenly, and walks out the door.