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Pavlov


Al did not come home last night.

Al did not come home, and Ed did not sleep.

He feels it now, sitting at his desk outside Mustang's office, his blue uniform unnaturally uncomfortable and his eyes begging to be shut. He is waiting for the phone to ring, but doesn't want to admit it. He is waiting for Al to call and tell him he is alive, safe, and waiting for him to come home.

When the phone finally does speak up, he's snatched it up before it completes the first ring, shouting "AL?!" into the receiver as if no one else—certainly not the Fuhrer—might be trying to reach him.

"Where the fuck have you been?!"

Al is alive, of course.

"Are you all right? Are you injured? Can you walk?!"

Al is safe, just as he'd hoped.

"Where were you last night? Where are you now?"

Al is at home...

"...is someone there with you?"

...but as for waiting for him...

It's not lost on everyone else in the room that Ed has had the metaphorical bucket of cold water dumped down his spine. He hangs up the phone with a sharp, bitter click, and then three things happen in short succession.

Edward Elric stands up, puts his hands under his desk, and throws it—literally, a desk that must weight twice as much as he does—halfway across the room, papers and pens and ink and envelopes flying everywhere.

The Fullmetal Alchemist stalks down the hall to the bathroom and leans over a sink, looking down into it, taking heavy, short breaths, unable to look in the mirror.

And Al's older brother suddenly whirls around, crashing into a stall and falling back against the wall, folding his arms on his knees, and sobbing until it makes him very, very sick.


"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's stupid."

"Why is it stupid?"

"Well why do you want to do it?"

"I don't know," Al shrugged, "It sounded like fun. Maybe...we could do it together?"

"No fucking way." Ed's face was a sneer of disapproval. "I don't dance." A pause. "Why do you want to take dance lessons? You're a guy."

"So? It would give me something to do during the day."

"I thought you liked dusting."

"There's only so many times one can dust the same shelf before it loses its thrill, brother." The younger Elric's voice had grown cold.

"So pick another hobby! Like...gardening or...I dunno, baking!"

"I'm not a housewife."

"I didn't say you were!"

"I just thought...it would be nice to go out, and to make some friends."

"You have friends!"

"They either work all day or live a very long train ride away!"

"You have ME."

"YOU also work all day."

Ed folded his arms across his chest and scowled.

"Fine, go take stupid dance lessons, see if I care."

Al doesn't meet his eyes, but speaks softly.

"I really would like it if you'd think about maybe coming with me someti—"

"No. End of discussion. We're done talking about this." Ed dared to slide his eyes over to his brother.

"Okay?"

His only answer was a sigh.


Ed is pulled off the bathroom floor by Havoc, who wonders loudly if maybe Ed is hungover. Ed briefly considers tearing out his liver and feeding it to him, but his hands feel weak and shaky. They are met outside by Hawkeye, whose concern is evident, and who gently takes the boy's arm from Havoc's loose hold and guides him to a chair, brings him a cup of tea, and knows better than to ask what's wrong.

The youngest of the three gathered blonds stares at the floor until a disgustingly familiar pair of boots clicks to a stop in front of him.

"I hope you're planning on paying for that desk."

"Take it out of my research grant, sir." His mouth tastes terrible around the words, devoid of their usual flavor of impetuousness.

"I'd like to speak to you in my office."

"I'd like to see you dead."

"Well then, I guess we both have things we'd like. Why don't we try to address the more plausible one first?"

"With all due respect, fuck you up the ass, sir."

"Thank you for the offer. Perhaps we'll talk about that as well."

And Ed is unexpectedly hauled up by the collar and dragged into Fuhrer Mustang's office, the door slamming behind them ominously as Roy tosses him onto the couch and stands in front of him with brutal stare that demands answers.

"What is the matter with you?"

"I don't see anything different about today than any other day, Mustang." He lets the second vowel draw out, leaning into his metal hand and refusing to look him in the face. "You piss me off."

"Normally you don't throw desks across the room, even when I'm involved."

Ed shrugs.

"And I was not involved until this moment."

"I liked it better that way."

"I understand Alphonse called. Did you two have a fight?"

"None of your business. I'm not talking to you." The boy stands up and reaches for the door—

"Sit. Back. Down."

His hand pauses at the tone, but he says nothing, nor does he sit.

"I don't care if Alphonse calls you at work, but if you're going to have marital spats, take it elsewhere, and throw your desks away from the heads of my soldiers."

Ed can't help but give a sick giggle at the word "marital." If only he knew...

"And the next time you're sick in a restroom that other people use, please aim better."

The giggling continues, sounding more and more ill, making Ed's stomach twist even as he can't stop it.

"Next time, I'll aim for you."

Roy is silent for a moment, then walks to his desk and picks up the phone.

"I'm calling a car. You are taking the rest of today off."

Ed turns sharply at that, the word "NO!" sounding as nauseous as he feels.

The Fuhrer's hand stops midway through a number.

"No?"

"I..." Ed swallows hard. "I'm fine. I don't...I don't want to go home. I can work."

A brief moment, and then Roy's hand finishes that number, and moves on to the next.

"You are clearly unwell. You are taking the rest of today off, and that is final."

"NO!" Ed slams his hand on the cradle of the phone, efficiently destroying it. "I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME!"

Roy raises an eyebrow, more than concerned now.

"Fullmetal...what on earth did Alphonse say to you?"

What did he say?

What did he say, indeed.

Roy has to grab for his wastebasket very quickly as Ed is sick again.


That night was not the first, but it was the one that showed him he was too far gone to ever even look back.

Not that Ed liked to look back at anything.

He didn't care much for social drinking, and certainly not with his fellow military dogs, but Al had promised to meet them at the bar when they got off work, and who was Ed to resist seeing his brother a few minutes earlier than scheduled?

It had bothered him, then, that Al was not immediately forthcoming. In fact, as he sat down and waved away a menu, he couldn't see Al anywhere, and he worried for a moment that perhaps the younger boy had gotten lost, or had stopped to pick up a lost kitten that had subsequently given him rabies.

Havoc's elbow in his side had interrupted his attempts to remember what the symptoms of rabies were.

"Isn't that Al?"

"Huh?"

Ed looked up, and around, seeing a crowd of people gathered at the side of the room by the Friday night band. Grumbling, he stood on his chair to see over their heads, and—

The whole room went dim, and—

Every voice was silenced, and—

Al.

He'd seen Al move similarly to that many times, in many childhood fights, in many grown-up sparring matches, but it had never seemed so...blatantly lovely before. It was effortless, smooth, succinct and perfect, and he swung his partner out and around so she returned to him with her back to his chest, their movements synchronized even at the speed they were dancing.

And the smile on Alphonse Elric's face was the smile that broke a thousand hearts.

Ed stopped breathing, his hand on his chest, gripping the lapel of his uniform as he watched one bead of sweat trace down Al's cheek and fall to his shoulder...

He wasn't sure if he'd fallen as well or sat down too quickly, but the wooden seat was suddenly hard against his behind, and he was reaching for someone else's drink, tossing it back in one long go as if it would quench the unbearable, burning ache that had abruptly taken over his body.

It wasn't fair for this to happen to him in public. In private, where he could be alone with his dirty, awful, terrible, wonderful thoughts...that was different. But here? How dare Al be such a good dancer! How dare he sweat and grin like that for a stupid girl! How dare he be sexy beyond all fairness and reason and how dare he let anyone else see because he was...he belonged to—

"Brother!"

Ed nearly choked on the glass as Al plopped down in the empty chair beside him.

"I didn't see you come in, I'm sorry! I guess I got here before you, and there was a band and—"

"Uh-huh."

"Will you come meet my friend?"

"What friend?" Ed had decided the best course of action was to not look at his brother at all, but to rather stare at anything else in the room.

"My friend Sarah. I was dancing with her. She's from my class. She's very good, won't you—"

"Yeah yeah, fine, will you sit still? Jeez, I've been working all day and I don't—"

"Brother—"

"—some random girl who'll probably fawn all over me once she realizes who—"

"Brother—"

"—plus you stink, Al, do you mind—"

"BROTHER!"

Ed fell quiet, turning the glass around and around in his hands.

"What?"

"Will you look at me?"

It hurt.

It hurt to look.

It hurt to raise his eyes and look at Al's face—flushed and hot and practically begging to be kissed, and then more than kissed—but he did, and the earnestness and eagerness in the bronze eyes that met him grabbed his heart like a bitter vice.

"Will you come dance with me? Please? I can teach you how."

It would have felt too good to say yes, too easy, too...something. But it felt just as nice to say,

"No."

"Just a little? Please, I—"

"No." Repeating it gave it power, made him think that perhaps he could master the ache, that by hurting Al he could hurt himself enough to focus on a different pain.

"Oh. I...sorry. Sorry, brother."

And after Al slowly got up and turned away, Ed grabbed his coat and walked swiftly out the door, his steady gait carrying him home, up the stairs and into the bedroom with two beds, two hateful beds that he wanted to be one and before he could help himself he was lying on Al's bed, legs spread wide, hips working up and down as his hand worked up and down, thinking about nothing but and everything that was Al.

And it wasn't the first time for that either, nor was it the last.


No one questions why Fullmetal spends the rest of the day lying on Fuhrer Mustang's couch, pale and curled into a ball next to a bucket.

It's probably better not to know, anyway.

The day slowly fades, amber light tracing across the room until it reaches the ceiling, gives a gasp, and vanishes into night. The Fuhrer turns on a lamp and continues working, and as ghastly as he is feeling, Ed can't help but finally doze off, only to be woken by a hand on his shoulder what seems like seconds later.

"Fullmetal."

"G'way."

"Fullmetal, you have to go home now."

"I told you before."Ed rolls over, facing the back of the couch. "I don't want to go home."

"You don't have a choice. I'm going home now, and I'm not leaving you alone in my office."

"Then I'll sleep in the hall."

"Go home, Fullmetal. You are stubborn and sick, and if you died during the night, it would be hell to clean up."

Ed wants to fire off another sassy retort, but there are new footsteps in the room, and he can hear the distinctive voice of Hawkeye whispering quietly to Roy.

"Fullmetal."

"Sir?"

"Alphonse is here to pick you up. You now have even less of a choice. Go home."

Ed turns so quickly that he falls off the couch, knocking over the bucket—which is thankfully empty.

"You bastard! Did you fucking call him?!"

Roy's patience has obviously been tried to the limit, and reaches down to grab Ed's collar for the second time that day and push him towards the door.

"Contrary to what you may think, I don't actually spend every minute thinking of ways to thwart you." They are outside the office now, and Ed can see an all too painful silhouette down the hall. "He came of his own accord. Go HOME."

Roy turns, locking his office, then follows Hawkeye in the opposite direction, leaving the hallway devoid of any life but Elrics.

Ed stands exactly where Roy put him, staring firmly at the floor, trying not to let the tremors of tiredness, sickness and hurt show.

"Brother!" Al's voice is scolding once he gets close enough. "You look terrible!"

His brother does not respond.

"You should have come home if you were sick."

Silence.

"Why didn't you come home?"

Again.

"Why didn't you tell me on the phone?"

"Would..." They are both surprised to hear him speaking. "Would that have changed anything you said to me?"

Al blinks.

"I..."

"Don't answer." Ed is sweeping past him, suddenly eager to get home and bury himself in sheets and pillows, smothering out everything but misery. "Don't say anything."

Al follows, silent and obedient.


There was music dripping out the window when he came home, which was odd, Ed thought, because he didn't remember them owning a record player.

Pushing into the house, he draped his military coat on the rack, looking around the living room and finding a record spinning alone.

"Al? You here?"

"I'm here!" The younger boy leaned out of the kitchen, smiles and aprons and a streak of some something red-ish across his cheek. "How was your day?"

"Fine, where did the record player come from?"

"Sarah lent it to me."

"That's dandy, why?"

"Why do you think" He darted back into the kitchen, calling over his shoulder. "I'm going to get you to dance with me whether you like it or not."

"No fucking way."

"We'll have dinner first, and then you'll see."

"How many goddamn times do I have to say ´┐Żno,' Al?"

"I'm going to wear you down eventually."

"Nn." Ed dragged the needle off the record with a nasty "WRRP!" and sat down at his place at the table.

Al, who had been bouncing around the kitchen, stopped quite suddenly and turned.

"Brother...why do you hate dancing so much?"

"I don't hate it when other people do it."

"Just when I do it?"

"Just when you don't fucking listen me when I say I don't want to! What the hell's your problem? Leave me alone about it."

The younger boy nodded, his shoulders slumping at he turned to the stove.

"I promise I won't ever ask you again."

"Good."

Dinner was a quiet affair, both brothers only picking at their meals before Al stood up.

"I'm going to go return Sarah's record player. She's probably missing it, and there's no sense in borrowing it if...anyway."

"Fine, fine." Ed had gotten up from the table and gone to the book shelf, flipping through a random book so as not to have to recognize that he'd hurt Al's feelings.

"I might...I might stay and practice some things with her. Is that all right?"

"Sure, fine, whatever."

Al left a few moments later, and neither of them said good bye.


The walk home is already ten versions of miserable before it starts to rain, slow and cold and expertly dripping down Ed's collar. Al maintains a minimum distance of three feet behind Ed who is hunched over, trying to keep from shivering in cold, anger, and at least three other emotions that he doesn't really want to consider.

It's obvious that Al knows he's done something wrong. His steps are timid and wary, like a kitten afraid his master might turn and shout at him. But, Ed snorts to himself, he hasn't bothered to attempt any kind of apology or explanation, and he's not sure if that makes him more upset or more hurt.

How easy would it be to turn around and slap him hard across his beautiful face?

How good would it feel to watch his bright eyes light up in surprise and fill with tears?

How awful a person, a brother, a lover would he be to hit the thing most precious in the world to him?

Ed has always conditioned himself to take all the pain in their relationship, every burning, acidic drop, and how could he ever give it back? How could that ever be fair?

But by the time he has thought this, his hand is already stinging, and in that instant the rain freezes in mid air and it is easy, and it does feel good, and everything is exactly as he imagined.

Until that instant is over, and a tear spills down a quickly bruising cheek, followed by a thin line of blood running from Al's nose. He is standing, staring, shocked but not entirely stunned, and his hand moves like old lead toward his face.

"Bro...brother..."

And at this moment, Ed realizes that a broken heart won't hold any more pain. He can't take it anymore. He has to give some of it back if he wants to keep from falling over dead right here.

"How COULD you?!" His shout echoes across the wet street. "How could you?" The repetition is laced with venom and spite and pieces of something that used to be love.

"Brother, what did I DO?!" Al wails, trying vainly to wipe away the blood that the rain is dragging down his chin.

"Did you even stop to think before you did it? Did you stop to care?!"

"I don't know what you're—"

"Yes you DO! Yes you do, you fucking idiot, yes you do!" Ed's whole body is heavy, automail and wet clothes and the knots in his stomach dragging him down, but forward, leaning towards Al with the force of yelling, hands clenched into tight fists. "I waited for you all night! I waited for you and waited and waited and I didn't sleep at all, and then when you finally DID call—"

"I should have called sooner!" Al is clearly confused to the point of sheer wretchedness, too lost in his brother's fury to do anything but shake a little and try to make his voice sound free of tears—it doesn't work. "I should have called sooner, I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd be waiting!"

"You didn't think."

"I didn't thi—"

"Do you EVER think about me Al? Do you know how fucking much I think about YOU? My every other goddamn thought is of you!"

"Brother, stop!"

"Do you think about me Al? Do you think about me the way I think about you?"

"I don't understand what you mean! Of course I think about you! I—"

"Then did you think about me while you FUCKED HER?!"

And the words are suspended between them, even as everything else comes crashing down.


"AL?!"

"Ah, brother, don't shout!"

"Where the fuck have you been?!"

"I'm sorry, I should have called..."

"Are you all right? Are you injured? Can you walk?"

Al gave a soft laugh.

"Yes, brother, I'm fine. I'm not injured, and I can walk. Nothing happened to me."

"Where were you last night? Where are you now?"

"I'm at home, I..." The younger boy trailed off suddenly, and there was the faint suggestion of another voice, one Ed didn't recognize.

"...is someone there with you?"

"Er, yes, Sarah is. I spent the night with her, and she came back with me this morning and we're making lunch."

"...."

"Brother?"

Ed hung up the phone.


He has finally run out of ways to be sick, but Ed is considering that perhaps he should just stay in this bathroom for the rest of his life. He's been making a habit of ending up in little heaps on cold tile floors anyway, so why not just make it a way of life as well? At least this time he's in his own home and no one can make him get up if he doesn't want to.

It's funny, he thinks, how a person can condition themselves to react to something so strongly, so severely without even realizing it, and he wonders when it started.

Was it the first time he lay on his stomach between piles of book in their house in Resembool and looked at his little brother, feeling his insides twist with some kind of need?

Was it when he learned what that need was and sought out moments alone in forgotten inns by the side of the road, both hands down his pants and his heart in his mouth?

Has it happened more recently, during the nights when Ed lies in his own bed, watching his sibling breathe and touching himself, burning, biting into his pillow to keep from calling out?

Maybe it's always been there, that necessity coupled with the certainty that Al was so completely his that when he tried testing out thoughts of his brother being with someone else, he learned to react with horror and revulsion. And maybe since the betrayal of his heart was so brutal and unexpected his body had no choice but to up the ante by attempting to turn itself inside out.

The boy huddles in on himself, his automail arm and soaked sleeve bitterly cold under his cheek, strands of soggy hair stuck near his eyes.

But that wasn't all he taught himself to do.

Al never realized that Ed's aversion to the idea of them dancing has nothing to do with distaste for Al's new hobby, but exists because the idea of pressing close together, having arms around each other, is too dangerous and tempting, and Ed has taken great pains to make it so that "no" is an automatic reflex. The harder he says it, the easier it is to keep that delicious touch at bay. The more it hurts his brother will condition Al not to ask anymore, and Ed will not have to risk slipping up and finding himself in the only place he truly wants to be.

It takes a few minutes before Ed realizes that he's shaking, again, that a puddle is spreading out beneath him, and that as much as he'd like, he really shouldn't stay on this floor if he wants to feel anything but horrid until the day dies. A lot of effort is involved in sitting up and using the sink to lever himself to his feet, but soon he is stumbling out of the bathroom, stripping off his ruined uniform and letting it stay where it falls in a path to the dresser. He drags on his pajamas, then turns around weakly, eyeing the four—wait...he shakes his head—two beds and...

He can't help himself.

If he sleeps in his own bed, he will remember being sick before and hope that every sound is his brother coming to take care of him, to wipe his forehead, to feed him broth. If he sleeps there, he will feel the Al-shaped hole in this room, in this house, in this life.

So he strips back the covers of Al's bed, climbing in and winding the sheets thick and tight around him and burying his face in the pillow, reaching for Al's scent.

It's not fair, he thinks, as his wet hair—it's not tears, he's not crying anymore, he isn't—dampens the pillow, that Al has found someone else, when he was supposed to be Ed's, when Ed has loved him from the first time he looked into his eyes and felt the bottom drop out of his soul.

And it's not fair, he thinks, listening to the wet sounds from outside—it's not sobs, he's over sobbing, dammit—that he is and always will be totally and completely Al's, when Al doesn't want him.


Edward Elric always had bad dreams. They ranged from the gruesome to the miserable, the sickening to the hopeless, and for all he could remember not once had he ever had a dream that he wasn't happy to wake from, although half the time reality had proved to be just as bad.

But somehow, nothing had ever seemed worse, more brutal, more torturous than the phantom feeling of his little brother's body wrapped around him, his words and hands and tongue touching him, swallowing him in every way allowed but knowing that all Al thought of was a girl whose face Ed couldn't even remember, whose voice he had never heard, but whose eyes were all Al seemed to see.

It wasn't fair that he was unable to wake up from the nightmare of his greatest fantasy.


The phone rings.

It rings thirty-seven times before Ed is finally roused and reaches for the receiver, only to find that the caller has given up and left him to speak with a dial tone.

Perhaps he should never attempt to answer a phone again, he thinks, and dropping it to the floor, Ed rolls over and pulls the sheets tight once more.

Al did not come home again last night, but he is hardly surprised. In fact he is beginning to wonder if Al will ever come home, and with a dull ache, Ed tries to suppress the thought that maybe it would be better if he didn't.

He can hear that it is still raining outside, and wonders what time it is, how late he is to work, if it even matters, and he reaches for his watch, only to realize that he never removed it from his uniform, that it may have been ruined by spending the night in a pile of soggy clothes.

Ed sighs and throws an arm over his face, reminding himself that he cannot possibly do anything right before sliding out of bed and slumping heavily to the dresser, pulling out his old black pants and shirt. He drags his hand through his hair and winces as the tangles get snagged on his automail fingers, makes a face as he gathers it up to put it into a loose ponytail and feels how dirty and greasy it is. It reminds him how physically lousy he feels—queasy and unsteady and brittle—and he tries to think of something he could consume that won't come right back up.

He makes his way downstairs to the kitchen of their little house and turns on the stove, thinking that some version of either coffee or tea might be enough to get him through the day if he does decide to go to work. It is possible, however, and more than likely that the Fuhrer will send him straight home the moment he arrives.

"Why are your eyes so red, Fullmetal?" he'll ask, tongue clicking in disapproval, "You didn't spend the whole night crying over your little brother, did you? Really now, that's just—"

The kettle whistles, and Mustang disappears for the moment as Ed reaches for a mug...and then stares into it blankly.

Is he making coffee or tea?

Do they even have either?

Where would they be? Al does all the cooking; without him the kitchen is downright foreign, and Ed cannot fathom where his little brother might keep a tea bag or a coffee filter.

But in a moment he is not thinking about any kind of drink, he is thinking about how Al looks as he stands over the stove, or washes dishes in the sink, one leg crossed behind the other, the toe of his shoe bouncing lightly against the floor as he hums. He is thinking about how on his last birthday Al made him a cake and wiped his bangs back with his wrist, leaving a trail of chocolate across his forehead and how much he wanted to lick it off.

He is thinking about how often he's wanted to push Al against the cupboards in an unruly kiss that would end in clothes covering the floor and he is thinking of how he has conditioned himself to never, ever act on it, and now he has lost any chance he might ever have had.

But there is one thing he is not thinking about, that he has not realized, and it is that his left hand has been caressing the front of his pants as he loses himself to his reverie, that it has pulled down his fly and reached inside, so that now, as much as he is thinking, without thinking Ed is touching himself with one hand, holding an empty mug in the other, and it is right then—as it only could be—that the front door slams open and Al has come home.

Ed freezes, hand tight around himself, and listens to see if he can gauge where his younger brother is moving. There are squelching footsteps and a tired sigh, the sound of a water-logged coat being hung up, and the faint sprinkle of droplets against the floor—Al has probably run his hand through his short hair in an attempt to dry it, and Ed can't help but shudder at the thought of how beautiful a wet Al is—

Which doesn't make the situation in his hand any better, and that is really what needs the most attention. If Al comes into the kitchen and finds him seemingly jerking off to a mug, he is certain he will die on the spot, and reprieve or not, it is the most ignominious end he could possibly imagine.

If Al goes straight upstairs, Ed thinks, quietly tucking himself back into his boxers, he will have a clear path to the door, and could be outside in seconds, running and running and not looking back.

But if Al goes upstairs, he will see the mess that has been made of his bed and—

He'll know, if he doesn't know already, and all that work will be for nothing, all that conditioning, all that effort, and then it is for nothing because Ed only has his fly half-way done as he raises his head and sees Al in the doorway.

Alphonse Elric appears to have been in the rain for hours. He looks for all the world like a drowned kitten, his clothes completely fused to his body like a wet, rumpled skin, his hair plastered to his head except where his hands have stuck it up, and a bright bruise across his cheek. Ed looks at every part of him except his eyes, he can't possibly meet those eyes, he is choking on yesterday's words and last night's bile and it is in many ways a blessing when Al takes three steps, rips the mug out of his hands, throws it to the floor where it shatters at the same moment his right fist plows into Ed's face.

"How could I? How could YOU?!"

Al's voice has a hoarse catch in it, like sore muscles and being cold for too long, and so Ed takes the punch and keeps his head turned away.

"Al," he says, and the name is thick and heavy.

"Answer me!" shrieks his younger brother in return, grabbing his shirt and shaking him until something else—something else on top of all these shattered things—is going to break.

And when it does, they are both on the floor in an ugly mess of unfair punches and knees that shames the skills Izumi taught them, no attention paid to the shards of ceramic that litter the floor or the fact that every time one of them hits the stove the kettle slides another inch closer to drenching them both with boiling water.

It's almost laughable, Ed thinks as his fingers jab into Al's stomach and reward him with a sharp hiss, because he's not entirely sure what they're fighting about. He's the one with every right to be angry, isn't he? His is the exploded heart, and Al is the one who should be on the floor picking up the bits of that and the mug he broke.

But even so, it's all too clear who has the upper hand in this battle, and Al's hands grip his shoulders and slam his head into the floor, missing the table leg by fractions of fractions, and while Ed is still trying to blink gray haze from his eyes, he feels his hips being straddled—a desire gone a little bit haywire.

"I said answer me!" A shaking voice, like a little boy who doesn't know how to claim his victory.

"I'm not sure..." Ed pauses to lick a bleeding lip and pointedly not look him in the eye, "What you think I owe you."

Al breathes in sharply, lowering his head so it's close to his brother's ear.

"Do you want me to tell you what it was like?"

"What—"

"Do you want me to tell you how easy it was? How warm and wet and willing?"

Stop, Al, stop, please, don't—Ed can no longer breathe and wriggles desperately to free himself. Not this, anything but this, getting hit with accurate fists and bruised by inconvenient counters was far more preferable, but he is held fast between strong thighs.

"I can do that for you, brother, if you want to hear. I could make it into a story for you. Wouldn't you like that? Or have you already decided that you know how it goes?"

"Fuck you, Al, get OFF!"

"No, fuck YOU this time, brother!" Al's knee presses into his groin, not too hard but with an obvious threat. "Because you're the one who made this mess and now you have to face it! You're stupid and horrible and you don't care at all about other people's feelings! You jump to every conclusion and never give anyone else a chance to defend themselves! You're selfish and mean and you think you can carry the whole world's guilt but you won't carry your own for something that really is YOUR fault!"

How dare he? How dare Al turn this around and pretend as if—

Ed's snarl is wiped off his face in a moment when he finally moves his head to look at his brother and is hit with a large tear.

He blinks in surprise at the sudden contact, as gentle as anything, but somehow as sharp as any of the horrible words Al is saying.

"You stood there and asked me if I thought about you while I slept with Sarah, when I NEVER slept with Sarah and I ALWAYS think about you and what on earth ever gave you the idea that I didn't? YOU'RE the one who pushes me away, YOU'RE the one who acts as if anything else would be preferable to thinking about me, and then you get mad at me for something I never even thought of doing!" He pauses, sniffling and swallowing back tears and mucus and crying is such a terribly unattractive thing, why can't Ed look away? "And even if I had slept with her, and believe me I had the option, of course I would have thought of you, because you're the reason I was there, sitting on her couch mooning over you, even though you are the most awful, selfish FUCK I've ever known, and I love you so much and I wish I didn't."

And Al leans down and gives him the single worst kiss ever known to humanity.


Once, when Ed was six, he'd been digging an array in the dirt with a stick, only to look up at the sound of running feet and see his little brother dashing for him in tears. He stood up immediately, taking the younger boy's arms and trying to steady him.

"Al, what's wrong?"

"Winry...Winry kissed me!"

Ed paused and looked at Al a bit strangely; a kiss seemed a funny thing to cry about.

"So what? She's a girl, they do weird things like that. It's not a big deal."

"Yes it is!"Al wrenched his arm free to wipe a dirty wrist across his eyes. "Just the other day she said you had to save your first kiss for someone very special and then she went and stole mine!"

"Al, really..." Ed couldn't help but chuckle softly and pat the soft blond hair in front of him. "It...it doesn't count if you didn't mean to give it away, so you still have yours."

"I do?"

"Yeah, you do."

Al heaved a huge sigh of relief.

"Thank you, brother!"

Years later, when Ed would think back on that moment, he remembered wondering at the back of his mind whether or not Al would cry if he kissed him.

And then Al was the one initiating the kiss, and crying anyway, even if he wanted it, Ed could taste every sob, and then he was crying too, crying into an poor, unpretty, imperfect kiss—his first kiss—and somehow it just seemed fitting.


On a list of romantic encounters, it isn't even there.

It begins as a series of increasingly less awkward—but still a bit messy—kisses, the occasional tongue drawing away a stray tear, and progresses to fumbling hands tugging at clothes that they can no longer seem to undo. Curses are mumbled and several squeaks of pain pass between Al's lips as his brother grabs more of his flesh than his pants.

But Ed takes his mouth back and swallows that pain, because this will be the glue that pulls his broken heart back together; he has always conditioned himself to take all the pain in their relationship, of course, and this tidal wave of hurt, of years of denial, of insecurity, of guilt and love and desire, so much restrained and smothered and so much conditioned away...all of this will cement them back together. He wants to devour it and devour Al, be utterly consumed by both as much as he wants to pause and relive every moment twice before moving to the next.

When they have succeeded in removing some measure of each other's clothing, however, they find themselves at a loss, because fantasy is one thing, but they have never truly thought this far ahead: Ed because he has shied away from it, and Al because he is by nature somewhat naive. As a result, fingers are put in places that release unhappy yelps, and hands brush too hard on things that are too sensitive. It does not help that bruises are quickly revealing themselves on the bared skin, or that Ed is dizzy from lack of food and that slam into the floor. When Al bangs his forehead on the edge of the table and the recoil leads him to put his hand down on a forgotten ceramic shard, it becomes abundantly clear that the kitchen is not the place for an initial exploration.

Al wants to go to the bedroom, because "That's where these things are normally done, right?" but Ed tugs him back, hanging his head. It scares him, and he doesn't want to say it, but going to the bedroom would be... it would be...

"Can't we just...on the couch?"

"There's not enough room on the couch."

"How much room do you need?"

"I don't know, it's not like I planned what we were going to do, did you?"

"No," he lies truthfully, "Not...not really."

Going to the bedroom would probably reduce him to tears again, and how is he supposed to make love to his brother in the sinful bed that will remind him he has failed at his self-training and given in, he has failed at trusting his brother, he has failed at everything in the past day, and yet all this time, all this time a simple word, a fleeting touch... a thousand beautiful mental pictures pushed aside because he just couldn't...he failed to believe...

"Brother?"

"Couch." Ed swallows roughly. "Please."

Al nods and they sit down, pulling off what fabric still lingers before tangling themselves together in an effort to convince one another that they have some idea of what they're doing. After a few abortive efforts—one of which sends Ed flailing onto the floor—they find that wrapping one leg around an opposing hip does wonders for balance and for feeling.

And it's about feeling, all feeling, burning through every nerve and every cell, so much and too many, and it's nothing like all those nights with his hand, nothing like he imagined, worse and better and it is all Al, this time it's real and it belongs to him, no one but him, he knew it, he always knew it, always.

But as Al tightens his fingers in his hair and comes with a soft gasp, he finds a lump his in throat.

He didn't know it or anything.

He's thought terrible things.

He's been sick to his stomach, sicker to his mind, and sickest in his heart.

He has been mean, careless, a fool and a selfish fuck, just like Al said. When the younger boy moves just slightly in a particular way, he is trapped in his release, locked in those beautiful, Al-colored eyes and all he can say is "I'm sorry," over and over and over.


"Hey." Ed said.

"Hmmm?"

Alphonse had pushed the beds together by the time Ed got out of the shower, and was waiting for him with a cup of soup and a towel, handing them both off before sprawling across the covers in a laze of contentment.

"You never explained...what you actually were...doing at Sarah's."

"Yes I did. I said I spent the night with her and you interpreted that as wrong as you possibly could."

"Yes, no, I mean...what did you...that is..."

"If I wasn't having sex with her, what was I doing?"Al gave him a cross look. "I SPENT the NIGHT. Sleeping. We danced for a while so I could take my mind off you, and then I fell asleep on her couch. I promised her lunch in return, and so we came back."

"...were you with her last night too?" Ed turned away before dropping the towel around his waist and pulling on his underwear, never mind that his brother had not only seen but felt everything that was there.

"For a while, just wailing about how awful you were. And then I left and I just...walked for half the night. I went to headquarters this morning and I tried to call but you didn't answer, and then...I came home. That's all."

Ed stood staring at the floor for a moment, then shook his head and looked back over his shoulder.

"And the dancing?"

"I like dancing, you know that. It's fun."

"No, I meant...why were you always trying to dance...with me?"

"Brother."Al's voice and expression had suddenly turned sultry. "You are unbelievably stupid."

"I am not!"

"I was trying to hold you. That's all I wanted. And you wouldn't even let me. I should ask what you were doing with that."

"I was trying to...condition myself, and you, so that this wouldn't...so that we..."

"Why?"

"Aside from the obvious?" The older boy scowled. "Now who's unbelievably stupid."

"But it was already there, brother. You can't make that go away, especially when it's mutual. It doesn't work like that."

"It's not fair though, that it's so easy for you to just accept it and be okay with it. It's more than a little bit strange and even if, I mean...you and I...I can't believe you never even considered trying to..." Ed froze as warm arms wrapped around him; he hadn't even heard Al approach, but now that the dam was broken he didn't hesitate from melting backwards into the touch. "Al..."

"You can't condition the unconditional, brother. And I never wanted to try."


Al is waiting for him at home.

Edward Elric sits at his desk, signing things, leaning back in his chair, twirling his pen around his fingers as he tries not to watch the clock—which he swears is broken, because time has not ever moved this slowly.

It is not lost on the rest of the staff that something has changed in the Fullmetal Alchemist's manner. Granted, anything would be divergent from his manner several days before, but even so... He is clearly not thrilled to be at work, but he is not angry or murderous or even snide. It is terribly worrying, and Havoc and Breda trade covert suggestions that he's either gotten himself laid (which certainly isn't fair if Havoc can't even get a date), has lost his mind (which wouldn't be surprising at all), or in a clever combination of both, has contracted a very swiftly-moving case of syphilis (whores are dirty). Hawkeye gives them both disapproving looks and they fall silent until she is out of earshot.

For her part, she is very happy to see Ed close to his old self. If she were one for physical affection, she would be tempted to stroke his hair, but she isn't, and so she settles for handing him a stack of papers and just barely quirking up the ends of her lips.

"I need these by the end of the day."

"Huh?" Ed looks up from where he has been playing with the dial of his phone, tracing a number over and over and smiles. "Oh, sure."

Hawkeye gives him a smile in return, but only when she's sure no one else can see.

When much of the day has passed without any incident, Ed is called into the Fuhrer's office, and Roy leans over and stares at him, nose to nose, before feeling his forehead momentarily; Ed quickly slaps the hand away.

"What's your problem?"

"You're entirely too...personable today, Fullmetal. Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine."

"No surprise attacks of emesis directed at my person?"

"No."

"No death threats?"

Ed rolls his eyes.

"What the hell do you want from me?"

"Fullmetal." Roy looks at him evenly. "Have you contracted a mental illness?"

"For fuck's sake, I'm fine, okay!" The look makes him uncomfortable and he starts to blush. "I just don't feeling like feeding you your balls today, is that all right?"

Roy taps his fingers on a his desk for a moment, then folds his arms and nods.

"I suppose it is. But if you continue to act in this unnervingly normal manner, I will have you sent to the hospital for examination."

"Whatever." The boy scowls, turns on his heel, and walks out.

Roy shakes his head and returns to not doing his work.

When Ed's phone rings, he picks it up smoothly, cradling it between his head and shoulder.

"Hello?"

The room strains to listen in on the conversation without alerting Ed or Hawkeye.

"Yeah, it has, hasn't it? Longest day of the year."

Havoc nods at Breda, who scratches his head with a pen.

"I'll be home soon, though, and then we'll have dinner. Do you want me to pick something up?"

Dinner at his house already? Fury blinks and pushes his glasses up. Havoc should take lessons from the boy.

"Huh?" A short, clear, thrilled laugh. "Al, you sap. Sure."

The sigh of disappointment from his coworkers is audible, and Ed puts his hand over the mouthpiece, glowering at them.

"'S a fucking private conversation, assholes, go back to work or something!" Removing his hand, he returns to the call. "Yeah, people are jerks. I'll see you soon, then." Before he gets off the phone, something comes from the other end and Ed blushes. "Yeah...me too."

When it is finally five o'clock—days later, maybe even weeks—Ed is the first out the door, handing his paperwork off to Hawkeye as he flies down the hall, nearly bowling over the Fuhrer and only shouting a few weak epithets over his shoulder.

Ed does not have time for his conditioned insults or banters or actions.

Al is waiting for him, and Ed cannot wait to get home.