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sol 1056

The Measure of Desire

epilogue complete
part 3 of The Contraries Arc

What is now proved was once only imagin'd.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Ed stood on the sidewalk and glared down at his borrowed coat. Hughes had been a tall man, with long arms, but Ed had never realized quite how long—he had been tempted to roll the cuffs back, but that would only point out just how short he was compared to Hughes.

He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and trudged up to the front door of the apartment building. Running down the list of names, he grinned at the designation. R. Mustang. Apt 403.

Gotcha, he thought, and stepped back, looking up at the fourth floor. Several lights were on, so hopefully that meant Mustang was home. It took only a simple clap and some judicious alchemical reactions, and the lock popped open on the front door. Ed let himself in, fixing the lock behind him, then trotted up the stairs to the fourth floor.

When he knocked on the door, there was no answer for several minutes. He was about to raise his hand to knock again when the door swung open, and Mustang stood there, utterly poleaxed. He looked about ready for bed, in an old sweater fraying at the shoulders, and a pair of rumpled khakis. To Ed's disappointment the shocked expression didn't last, but faded into one of displeasure.

"Fullmetal," Mustang growled, "do you know what time it is?"

"Sure do." Ed shoved past Mustang, trotting into a smallish apartment. He would've said 'tastefully decorated' but for the fact that the only decorations consisted of wall-to-wall bookshelves. "Oh, I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"Yes. My privacy."

"That's all? Good." Ed moved into the kitchen, and stripped off his coat to drape it over the back of a wooden chair. He flipped open cabinets until he found the whiskey glasses, bringing down two. They were dusty; he wiped them on a dishrag hanging by the sink, then turned and held them up.

"Fullmetal, that's enough," Mustang said. He held up a hand; despite his casual attire, he'd had gloves on him, somewhere. "Last warning..."

"Don't bother," Ed replied. "You're not going to torch your own place."

"Try me."

"One word, Mustang," Ed shot back. "Library." Mustang dropped his hand, looking almost sulky, but with concerted effort Ed managed to refrain from laughing. He rummaged in the coat pockets for the brown paper bags, then studied the kitchen table before heading back into the living room. "This is more comfortable. Have a seat."

"No." Mustang hadn't moved from by the door, simply turned in place.

"Fine." Ed unscrewed the top off the first bottle, pouring a drink for himself. Bringing out the second bottle, he took a second to make a silent wish that he wasn't making a fool of himself—how the hell would Alphonse have known what Mustang liked to drink, anyway? —and poured the golden-copper liquid into the second glass. "Would you rather drink standing up?"

"What the..." Mustang came around the sofa, to stare down at the two drinks. He frowned, looking away like he wasn't sure whether he should explode and throw Ed out...or perhaps like he wanted to smile and shrug and concede defeat.

Ed hoped for the second, but wasn't counting on it. He pushed the bottles out of the way, leaving the glasses untouched. Waiting.

Someone's gotta wipe that smirk off his face...

"One drink," Mustang barked, and sat down in the leather chair opposite Edward. He picked up the glass, then blinked at the bottle on the low table between them. "You got..."

"Twenty-year old," Ed agreed. He put on an innocent expression. "Not your style? I thought you were a whiskey drinker."

Doesn't look like too many are trying.

"Yeah, but..." Mustang frowned, and sipped the drink. He winced, but it was the good kind of reaction, the bared teeth that became a pleased smile: the sign of a man enjoying his alcohol. "One drink. Then you go. This isn't some dungeon..."

"Do you want it to be?" Ed kept his expression perfectly neutral. His hand didn't even shake, he was pleased to note.

"We've been over this already." Mustang set down the glass; the clink against the table had an oddly tentative ring.

"No, you went over it, but I never agreed." Edward threw back the rest of his scotch, and set the glass down opposite Mustang's. "And since I still don't agree, I'm here."

"It's late. You'll have to be on your way in the morning, for East City."

"I'm a grown man, Mustang. I can decide when to go to bed, these days, and it's not at your orders. I don't work for you any more."

"I still outrank you."

"You outranked Hughes, too."

Mustang froze, and for a long moment they stared at each other. Then, never breaking his gaze from Edward, Mustang reached forward and clasped the bottle of scotch by the neck. He refilled Ed's glass, putting the bottle back to the side. His gaze flickered away from Ed to check what he was doing, but only for a second and always returning to Ed's careful, patient stare—maybe even a little on the smug side, Ed admitted to himself, but only by a fraction. He tried to modulate it into something more magnanimous.

Mustang arched an eyebrow, and Ed knew he'd failed, but he didn't care. He was enjoying himself too much.

He picked up his glass, gaze traveling around the small living room while Mustang leaned back, whiskey in hand. They were both quiet until Ed saw the books stacked haphazardly on the shelf behind Mustang's head.

"You do have Jeziorski's Thesis," he burst out. "You've probably got it memorized!"

"It's an excellent text," Mustang parried.

"It's bullshit, Roy," Ed shot back, without thinking. He paused, slightly surprised, but gratified to see Mustang's eyes open wide, just as startled, before rallying.

"No, as a matter of fact, Ed, it's not," Mustang replied. "If you'd studied Jeziorski, you wouldn't have gotten that one question wrong on the Alchemists' exam."

Edward made a show of scoffing. "You're full of crap." He got a smirk for the comment, and Mustang twisted to grab the book from the shelf. Ed groaned. "Don't be reading that shit out loud. The guy's just jerking off with bad paraphrasing andó"

"Shut up, Ed." Mustang's grin grew wide, and a bit lazy. He leaned forward, and Ed immediately refilled the empty glass. Then Mustang sat back, paging through the book; it fell open to a point in the book that Ed suspected must be a well-loved page. He settled back, ready for a lecture...and a good, solid debate."Pay attention," Mustang instructed. He glanced over the lip of his glass at Ed, that smirk on his face again. "I know there's not a lot of room for brains in that tiny head of yours, but I'll see if I can squeeze in some new information."

"Crowbar's gotta come in handy, to pry your ego to the side long enough for you to fit in the same room with it," Ed retorted. Mustang laughed and began reading, while Ed prepared his counter-arguments.

Ed knew his brother wasn't going to leave the National Alchemists' service any time soon. And there was still the unanswered question of who'd tried to assassinate General Mustang. But for that time, there were no National Alchemists. And there was no General Mustang, just as there was no Lieutenant Colonel Elric. There was just Roy, with his glass of whiskey...and Ed, with his alchemical rebuttals.

It was a good place to be, after all.