Paper in Fire

chapter 3.

It was travelling by train when Ed found that he missed Alphonse the most. Sitting on the poorly padded bench seat watching the scenery ease by was lonely without his little brother to help pass the time. If they were together right now, Ed would have been venting all his frustrations regarding Roy to the younger Elric, and likely getting some really useful advice in return. Of course, Ed could easily predict what that advice would be. Mustang could shove his 'no one can know 'rule straight up his ass when it came to Al. Like Ed could keep something like this from the person who knew him almost better than he knew himself. Al knew. So did Ed's best friend, Winry. And neither approved. Both thought that Mustang was bad for Ed — too old, too promiscuous, too selfish, too sneaky — and Ed was beginning to think they might be right.

But as much as Ed missed his little brother, particularly at times like these, he was just as glad he was out of the line of fire. Ed was stuck in this stupid term contract with the military, but thankfully Al wasn't. They had gone through a lot to get him back into his natural body, and Ed wasn't about to risk seeing him hurt, mentally or physically.

Hard to believe that it was really just a little over only a year ago that they'd finally done what they had set out to do. And here Ed was, going back to the place that had been the beginning of the end, the place where they'd finally got hold of the Philosopher's Stone thanks to the mad Ishbalan's sacrifice. Scar had given his life to make Al into the Stone to prevent Zolf Kimblee's explosive transmutation from reaching completion. The Elrics had run, then, knowing the homunculi would be on their trail, and sure enough they had run into Sloth. Ed didn't like to think about what he'd had to do to the homunculus he had created, but it had been necessary — he was responsible for bringing that sin into the world, and so it was his responsibility to remove it. It was right then that the brothers realized that they didn't have much time. They had to use the Stone, and quickly, or run the risk of Al falling into the hands of the homunculi's master. They had long since worked out the array needed to restore Alphonse to his body in excruciatingly fine detail, and it was really just a matter of carefully drawing it out and using it. They caught a lucky break when Izumi Curtis showed up. Between the three of them, drawing the array, making sure they had it right, and guarding against any unwanted intrusions, they had gotten the job done.

Of course the unpredictable nature of the gate still managed to throw them a curve. Alphonse was back, and in perfect health — no problem there. That he was now a sixteen year old in an eleven year old body was really just a minor inconvenience. It certainly didn't seem to be slowing him down at the University of Amestris, Central Campus, where he was preparing his doctoral thesis on the uses of alchemy in medicine. It had also made it easy to hide Al in Resembool while he recovered his strength. The homunculi were looking for a seven foot tall suit of armour, not a scrawny, half starved ten year old. Meeting Hohenheim at Granny Pinako's turned out to be another lucky accident. It meant that Ed didn't have to face the remaining homunculi and their master alone.

The situation couldn't be left as it was. The Stone was spent, and when she found out, Dante would be after revenge. Ed and his father went to Central to stop her by whatever means necessary. Hohenheim lead his son to the abandoned city underneath Central, where they'd encountered the remaining homunculi, along with Rose and her baby, and Dante. Edward would always regret that he was unable to prevent his father from being flung through the gate, but was grateful that the old man had been able to drag Envy through with him. The last Ed had seen of Dante, she was being closely pursued by an out of control Gluttony, and the sin had been hot on her heels. When it was all over, only he, Rose and her child, and Wrath had been left. Wrath had since been befriended by Winry, and after being fitted with automail, had returned to Dublith to stay with Sig and Izumi. And Mustang and his command had taken care of Pride — though Ed had never inquired past the official version of the Bradley incident. Some things were better left to the imagination.

Right now Al was living with Winry in Central while he attended University, using her practice as raw data for his thesis, and helping her out in her thriving Automail shop. Edward was very grateful that his best friend was there to look after his little brother while Ed was stuck in the military. They often talked of what Ed would do once his contract ran out on his eighteenth birthday. Winry insisted that he should come live with her and Al, at least for a while, but Ed had always assumed that Roy figured into his post—military life, and in that case it would have been awkward. But was Mustang really part of his picture?

Here he was, sitting on a train, ass still sore from his last trip, lonely. He was going someplace he didn't want to go, to do a job he didn't want to do. When he was done, he'd go back to get another job he didn't want to do, with the slim possibility of spending time before hand with someone who didn't really give a shit about him.

Thinking about his confrontation with the bastard, Ed felt his anger surge all over again. He had always imagined that Roy had feelings for him beyond lust, but after this morning, he couldn't fool himself any longer. He was really only a mildly amusing fuck—toy for the older man, and just one among many. If he didn't like it, he could leave at any time, just like that, because the bastard obviously couldn't care less. Well, maybe Ed needed to be hit over the head with that kind of wrench to see the obvious. Sure, the rules said he should expect nothing more, but he had hoped . . .

. . . curled up in a nest of blankets by the fireplace on the living room floor, bodies sheened in cooling sweat, his lovers face a breath away, dark eyes reflecting the fire's dying embers, and deep inside a tenderness that warmed his heart . . .

No. What he sometimes thought he saw in Roy's eyes was really only in his imagination, just his own feelings in a cold mirror's reflection. Wishful thinking. Ed felt a familiar ache in his chest, and snarled. "Winry's right. I'm a moron to care about that bastard. Why am I doing this to myself? I deserve better." And just like that, his mind was made up.

It was past time for a change. He had to suck it up and shake Roy loose, because he was a dead end. There had to be someone out there who could see past the scars, the automail, the notoriety, and like him for himself. There had to be someone out there he could care about, who would care back. No one had ever accused him of being a coward, and as scary as the prospect was, it was time to get out there and start meeting other people. He needed to get his balls back.