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The Beholders


"Two for East City." He says to the teller, shoves the requisite two thousand fifty down under the glass. Just dares her to say something, anything, but alas, she seems too bored for that. Her dark eyes flicker briefly over Alphonse's menacing (larger!) form, but she accepts the coins and says nothing. Nothing about adult tickets.

Two tickets are issued, stamped, sealed and delivered, and they are on their way to a platform so old, the tracks are covered in rust.

Alphonse settles in on a small bench and Edward perches next to him immediately, squats gingerly with his boots flat on the seat. This place is so country, there are pigeon droppings over everything. And the slats beneath are all wood, not brick like East.

"Good thing Mustang's not around." He can't resist saying. "Whole place is one giant tinderbox."

Alphonse snickers a little at that—a high, impossible noise—and he swivels his head instinctively, looks for the bastards who are staring in confusion. Nobody is. Only a thin, senile old janitor mumbling faintly to himself as he sweeps in the corner, and even he is staring fast in entirely the wrong direction.

Edward relaxes with a hiss, his lets shoulders drop finally. There is no one to notice them here, no one likely to come, and for the time he can relax and trust that their secret is safe. He spares one last brief glance for the old man in the corner and decides that, if comes to that, he could always direct his attention to the lavatory in the far corner.

He sighs and rubs his temples. Alphonse would kill him if he knew, but goddammit, he hates it when people stare at the armor.

<hr>

It changes immediately when they board the train at five-fifty.

There are eyes on them from the moment they board, and Edward notices as soon as they enter their cabin. Worried expressions, mixed with wonder...awed by their color and boldness and (combined) prominent stature. He'd expected as much. He turns on the charisma, soaks the attention up—Alphonse, he knows, will stay silent as a statue behind him. He fans his coat-tails out, like a shield, and makes idle small talk to the best of his ability.

None of the ladies know him, though, which is annoying for obscure reasons he can't completely explain. They take their seats awkwardly—damned coach benches—and he almost ends up sitting IN Alphonse's lap, but at least that's better than nothing. At this time of day, they are lucky to catch any train. His brother reaches into their suitcase and pulls out a cheap mystery novel, offers it silently toward Edward.

"No thanks." Edward says, puts a hand up. Reading on trains makes him nauseous.

Alphonse shrugs and opens the tome himself, settles in quite obviously to enjoy. Edward sticks his tongue out, leans grumpily into the unforgiving bench back. He would never, ever say it (feels like an asshole for even thinking it), but there are a few things he can envy his brother.

Alphonse cannot feel the stares either, though, and that has to be a blessing—it is never a comfortable thing. There is a prickling on the back of his neck right now, actually, that eerie heat that makes all the little hairs stand up. Someone is still staring. A blond girl toward the end of the car, it seems; she's rather direct about it. He turns his head and catches her eye, lets her know that HE knows, and she colors slightly but the solution is far from permanent. She averts her gaze only as long as he is looking straight at her. He drops the challenge and the eyes return almost immediately.

Edward schools his face into the appropriate frown. This is where it gets deadly.

He ignores her for a few moments, then rises up on his knees and hits her full bore with his angriest scowl, his chest just barely clearing the top of the bench. Wishes silently that he were tall enough that she could see the chain of his pocket watch protruding from his pocket.

Leave us alone. He says with his eyes. There's nothing more to see here.

The evil...person of questionable origins (he can't quite bring himself to call a girl a 'bastard', his mother would have had his ears for that) isn't phased, though. She lowers her gaze for the moment, again—then inexplicably giggles to her companion, a brunette barely visible over the lip of the seats in front of them. Edward exhales hotly through his nose, somehow even more annoyed.

Other people are staring now, too, but in a more reasonable way. He slinks back down and they give it up soon enough, like normal human beings. Well, most of them, anyways. There are a couple more hot lasers on the back of his skull now, and he gets the irritating feeling that his plan has backfired.

"Brother?" Alphonse asks suddenly, lowering his book.

"Yeah?"

"Are you getting up?"

"No." Edward answers. "Why?"

"I was wondering if you could get out volume two." Alphonse says. "I'm confused about something."

"Which series?"

"Chase Chaseum. I swear I missed something between this book and the last one."

He waves his hand in an apologetic way and the gauntlet makes a grating noise that quite obviously sets an older woman's teeth on edge. Edward can't quite blame her for sighing.

"I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have taken the window seat..."

"No, it's okay!" Edward reassures his sibling instantly. "I can get up easier anyways."

He slips off the bench and steps toward the overhead bin cautiously, careful to make sure that he doesn't misplace his automail onto someone's toes. The eyes are following him as hot as ever, and when he stretches up to tug down their suitcase he gets fully half the car following suit. They are staring at him, he realizes finally, unnerved. Not at Alphonse, at him.

What. The. Hell.

He looks across to an older woman (old enough to be his grandmother, sheesh) and gives her a pained look. He wonders if perhaps they have recognized him, if they're simply too embarrassed to just say as much. Idiots.

He extracts Alphonse's novel and slips back into his seat, dumps it unceremoniously into his brother's lap.

"This the one you wanted?"

"Yeah." Alphonse says, and snaps it up so fast it damn near gives Edward a paper cut. He flips through the novel expertly with a single hand, then holds it up and compares.

"Thought so. Chase says he's never met Daisy in his life, but in the LAST book they run into her at Malone's in chapter twenty."

"Is he lying for some reason?"

"Naw, this is internal monologue. I'm betting plot hole. This author is sketchy."

"Then why are you reading him?"

Alphonse shrugs slightly and hands the errant volume back. "I like the characters. Well, some of them. Melinda's pretty neat. And Chase isn't bad, but he's not a good hero."

Ah, there's his chance.

"Not like that People's Alchemist guy!" Edward says loudly, watches the rest of the car out of the corner of his eye. No one rises to the bait. Sad. Usually, just the mention of the name gets the fans tittering.

Or the detractors. He has never quite forgotten time he was thrown out of an inn just for being the Fullmetal Alchemist. It will never happen again, if he can avoid it.

Alphonse flips a page and groans.

"Yeah, yeah, brother, we all know you're special." He sighs, in that tone that makes it sound like he's rolling his eyes. "Your books suck, though."

"Hey!" Edward shrieks, offended in spite of himself. "The Reinhart didn't totally suck!"

"...You were fighting giant squids!?"

"...point."

"We really should get royalties, or something." Alphonse notes mildly. "At least then we'll make some money from that bunk."

Edward snickers. "If we do that, it would look too much like we're endorsing them. 'Sides, you honestly think Colonel Asshat would—"

"Excuse me?"

A soft, reedy voice cuts through the middle of his eardrums and ends his thought in mid-sentence. The Peeping Blond, and her seatmate, a mousy-brown haired Plain Jane. They look at each other nervously, and titter a little.

Ah. Fans. He preens slightly into his coat, sits up just a little taller on his haunches. Fans he knows how to deal with.

"Yes?" He says, in his most charming Deep Adult Voice. Alphonse watches him idly, but keeps silent.

"Hi!" The brunette blurts out, then smiles inexplicably. The blond plays with the edge of her hair, twists it nervously around and around her index finger. He remembers idly that their mother used to wear her hair like that, before she started tying it back all the time for the yard work.

Edward raises an eyebrow. They dissolve into a fit of giggling.

"Let me guess. You want an autograph?" He asks, offering a patient grin.

The girls turn to each other, puzzled.

"Autograph? I don't..."

"OH! Are you an actor or something?!" The brunette suddenly gasps. "Ohmygawd, that's so cool!"

"Huh?"

They cling to each other's elbows and gape, as if some strange wind is bowling them over in the middle of the aisle.

"Is that why you're dressed like that?"

"Where did you come from?"

"Where are you playing at?"

"Is that for your play?" Indicating Alphonse. Alphonse. That. Fuck.

"That," Edward grinds out, digging his hands into the seat bench, "is my little brother. We're traveling together."

"Hi..." Says Alphonse, shyly.

The girls look at him briefly, like small birds considering a rock or other immovable object. They lose interest as soon as they raise their heads.

Wide eyes are back on Edward. Edward is liking this less and less.

"So, um...what DO you do?" The brunette asks, spares a glance for her friend. The blond is just gaping, mouth slightly open as if her jaw is stuck there. She has nearly a perfect curl of hair twined around her fingertip.

Under normal circumstances, he would probably consider telling them. But this...this is just too damned strange. He stretches his arms out and prepares to bolt.

He pops to his feet and slips past as quickly as he can, trying not to come any closer than necessary.

"Sorry, um...if you'll excuse me..."

"Where are you going?" Alphonse asks.

"Bathroom." Edward replies curtly, though this is not true at all. He's going to step into the next cabin and give those weirdos to the count of twenty to get the hell away from his brother, and if not, he's going to come back in and be a damn sight more direct about it.

He turns and observes them when he reaches the front of the car. Plain Jane is talking to his brother, which sets his teeth on edge. The blond is looking crestfallen after him, but he turns his head and doesn't look back again.

More eyes on him as he picks his way into the crowded Unreserved Seating. Intense gazes even, running up and down the length of his body. He is aware of them like a tangible presence, hot and hungry across his skin—then pushes it away, wills himself to ignore it. Now he's just being paranoid.

He turns tail and flees back into his regular compartment, notices the girls are back to their assigned seating (excellent). The brunette is staring with a strange sort of reproach, a little frown on her face. The blond is just staring. He fiddles with the edge of his right coat sleeve unconsciously—

—and comes up slightly short. A tiny sliver of gray is peeking out between his gloves and the red, glints a little in the sunlight.

Oh shit. The automail. He's been flashing the automail.

He snatches his errant sleeve and tugs the cuff back down over the edge of his glove. Fuck. That would explain it. How many people have been wondering about that sliver of metal?! It must have pulled out when he reached up to get in their suitcase.

"Al, was my automail showing?!" He hisses angrily as he comes to their bench.

"Hm? I dunno, maybe?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" He flails. Stops. Pulls his sleeve down again.

"I didn't notice!" Alphonse retorts. "Brother, don't worry about it. It looks just like a watch. Trust me."

Edward turns his nose up, eyes the girls again distrustfully. He is stricken with the sudden, immediate urge to just tug his coats off and prove it, stand up and give them a REAL show. Bastards (Mother will forgive him for that one, surely).

Plain Jane notices him staring and whispers, suddenly amused, to her companion. They dissolve into red-faced giggling.

Edward seethes. They want to laugh at his automail? Fine. FINE. He will fucking show them, he will stand up and go OVER there and give them something to fucking LAUGH about, and—

The train lurches to a halt and he tips over before he even gets the chance.

"Brother!" Alphonse clanks and catches him by the coat tail, rights him.

Blondie rises from her seat and gives him a large and sickly smile, and he bolts from the train as soon as the doors are open.

Too. Fucking. Weird.

He rants to his brother all the way home about Some People and how incredibly rude they are, how they always patronize cripples, like we're put on the earth just for their personal amusement, on and on til his throat is hoarse. Alphonse simply listens and nods (possibly on auto-pilot), and Edward just keeps ranting until he's run out of steam. He has a great many theories on the whos and whats and whys of the world, but he never once touches on the right explanation.

It never occurs to him that he might actually be beautiful.