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sisyphean effort

The Denial Twist


It was a soft October Night...

Colonel Roy Mustang was walking home after a long day at the office. His right hand felt numb, cramped, after the seemingly never ending mountain of paperwork that Hawkeye had forced him to do; the subtle—oh yes, so very subtle—frown of disapproval etched on her face proving a far more motivating factor in his cooperation than the threat of her always-ready gun (though he would never let her know that). It was growing late, and dusk was coming up hard and fast, a revolving door that switched the light of the sky from bright yellow and orange hues to a deep, descending blue, soon to be bled into black. Fallen leaves, dead and brown and crackling with crisp notes of sound, scurried like playful school children under a cool, fall breeze. Mustang watched the leaves swirl in dance-like circles, clockwise, then counter clockwise, in a quadrille of their own making; his dark, almond-shaped eyes were tired, and though he would never let a moment of weariness—of weakness—ever show in front of his subordinates in his office, here, now, on this soft October night, before his own house, on his own walkway, he allowed himself to sag a little, to give way a little, and to simply. . . be.

He trudged, like a sleepwalker, up the front steps to his unadorned front door and turned the key in the lock. With a protesting squeak, the door swung inward, revealing an entryway that should have been left black, but—and Mustang's senses immediately became more alert as he noticed this—there was, instead, a flickering, wavering light, dim but noticeable, coming from the direction of his living room. Fire light. The colonel straightened and his right hand immediately reached for the ignition cloth gloves that he kept in his trench coat pocket. If there was an intruder here then they were going to be sorry—extremely sorry—for deciding to pick a fight with the Flame Alchemist.

Mustang stretched the rough cloth of his gloves over his hands as he stepped lightly—stealthily, silently—toward the entrance of his living room. More flickering light, along with accompanying crackling sounds. The sound of dying embers. Fire was Mustang's element—his—and it felt almost like an insult that someone else, some stranger, was here lighting fires in his home. Well then, they would soon regret it, wouldn't they. . .

Mustang glanced cautiously around the door jamb to his living room. As he thought, a fire crackled in the grate—a typically welcome sight, but now tinged with something more ominous. Amber light danced over the darkened surfaces of his furniture, creating a kaleidoscope of false sunlit color, flashes of illumination that came and went with the capriciousness of a failing flame. Coffee table, ottoman, couch, chair: all tiger-striped by the dying orange light as a log cracked and fell in the grate. Coffee table, ottoman, couch, chair—all these things dark brown, earth-toned, almost wholly without color, and then—

Red.

It was a color which did not belong. Not here, in the oh-so-tasteful blend of dark wood and unobtrusive shades that made up Mustang's living room. The color red was a distraction: a high, waving banner, a shout in the middle of a silent room. The color was him. Him—Mustang's own constant distraction, the waving banner amidst the dull color that painted his every day life. A life earth-toned, absent, silent, and wholly without—

Him.

A rustle of fabric, a shifting from the chair: a chair that had been pulled up close to the fire. A flash of more red, then a white glove. The colonel's own glove clutched the door frame at the sight, harder than necessary. He had to speak; he had to say something. Say something! his mind screamed at him. All that came out was:

"Fullmetal?"

It was a name, and probably the wrong one to use. It was the name the fuhrer had bequeathed him with, spelled out in black and white on the dotted line, but out of so many, why did Mustang always use that one? To broaden the distance, his inner voice told him, chuckling evilly in the back of his mind. He was "Fullmetal" at the office. "Big Brother" to Alphonse. "Major Elric" to various members of Mustang's crew and simply "Boss" to Havoc. Out of so many names, why couldn't Mustang just call him by his first, why did he never just say to him—

"Edward?"

A turn of the head, and Mustang found himself confronted with a different kind of flame. Fire danced in those gold eyes, a fire that had nothing to do with the element in the grate. Mustang was pinned. But why was he here—why now? An unbidden, obtrusive memory returned, and Mustang found himself drifting back to a stupid incident that had taken place in the office just two days ago. Something that a normal, sane person would have thought nothing of, but Mustang—in his obsessive, secretive way, a way that was too observant, too focused on small details—had taken to heart and he thought about it continuously, mulled it over and over again, with the perseverance of a dog chewing at a bone to get to the marrow. The heart of the matter. It was such a stupid thing, such a little thing, and yet, and yet. . .

"I'm not waiting for that bastard a second longer!"

Edward Elric burst out of Mustang's office like a human supernova: a swirl of color, noise, and steel. He stomped across the office, passing the desks of Mustang's lieutenants, an angry scowl covering his face. He ignored Havoc's intonation of, "Hey, boss—come on! It can't be much longer!" and he grabbed the outer office door and flung it open, only to be confronted with the imposing figure of the colonel himself.

"You were saying, Fullmetal?" The colonel wore his trademark smirk, blocking the boy's intended exit.

At that moment, Black Hayate (who had been heretofore hidden beneath Fuery's desk) saw his chance for an early escape to the outside world and bolted straight for the open door, knocking into Edward and tripping him up in the process. Ed fell forward and Mustang caught him, falling back with a loud clatter into the office door himself. It was stupid, but at that moment everything—everything, the whole world—for Mustang came to a screeching, striking halt. The realization that he had Ed against him, by both arms—Ed, whom he had never touched, not once, in all of the entire four years of their acquaintance. Edward, whom he wanted to touch, dreamed of touching, night and day—but never, ever dared to. He had Ed in both arms and it was as if he were being singed by the heat of his own flames; it was like holding onto a live wire. Mustang looked down, only to see Edward staring back at him, eyes wide with horror, horror along with the undercurrent of something else, something else besides. It lasted for only a moment and then the two of them sprung apart, like detracting, like ends of a magnet. Something unspoken passed between them as they both stood there staring at each other, saying nothing. The moment was completely broken when Hawkeye came rushing over, scolding the dog for his bad behavior. She turned to the colonel with an apologetic look on her face.

"I'm sorry, sir. Are you alright?'

Still flustered, it took a moment for Mustang to recover himself. There was a strange look on Hawkeye's face as her eyes swung back and forth between him and Edward. Something knowing. "I'm fine lieutenant—you may go back to your post." Mustang was pleased to hear nothing out of the ordinary in his voice as he said this. Nothing that would give him away. But give away what? It was a stupid accident, nothing more—stupid and irrelevant. So what was there to give away?

No one said anything as Edward quietly (which was unusual in of itself) slipped out of the office door, bailing on his and Mustang's meeting completely. . .

"It took you long enough, bastard," said Edward, yawning and stretching in the chair. "The fire's almost gone out."

A single snap of the fingers and it blazed back to life again. Edward snickered. "I bet you like showing off that trick to your various . . . visitors."

"What are you doing here?"

There was a defensive quality in his tone that Mustang couldn't quite suppress. He didn't intend for it to be there, but he couldn't help it. As much as he wanted Edward there—was glad to have him there—there was still the unignorable element of risk, of danger to consider. His job. His possible promotion. His reputation. Everything. The fact that he was alone in his house with a sixteen-year-old subordinate under his command was possibly enough to already compromise him. Ah, "compromising positions." It was more than just a phrase: in Mustang's mind it was a blinking red light, one that grew in intensity to become an all-blinding beacon the longer that Edward stayed there. The right thing, the logical thing, would be to send the boy away—that would be the correct and honorable thing to do. But—

Mustang didn't want to do the correct and honorable thing.

"Don't you want me here?" Edward got up out of the chair and walked toward Mustang, who (subconsciously) backed up and circled around to the fire. Like an animal avoiding a dangerous predator. . .

But which one of them was the predator?

Edward smirked. It was a look Mustang knew well, for he wore it on his own face often enough. Then Edward's face changed, grew serious. "What are you afraid of?" he whispered. "No one has to know . . ."

No one has to know. . .

Mustang's breath literally stuck in his throat at this acknowledgement. And more than an acknowledgement—an offer. Mustang couldn't believe his ears. He couldn't possibly mean what he thought he meant. Not at sixteen, not Edward. This was a dream; it had to be. God knows he had played out this same scenario in his head often enough. It was like his own fevered fantasy alchemized into solid, stone-cold reality. Only it wasn't cold. With the fire blazing with renewed life in the grate, the room suddenly seemed hot, overwhelmingly so. Too hot. It beat at his back with the persistent rhythm of a drum. Or his own heartbeat, which was now trip-hammering in his chest.

No one has to know. . .

"You've made it a little too hot in here, don't you think?" said Edward, his eyes darkening to a deep bronze. He turned away from Mustang then, shrugging out of the dense material of his ever-present red coat, dropping it to the floor like a red banner of surrender.

Like a blinking red light.

Edward walked away, backing through the entrance of Mustang's living room. And Mustang, like a fish caught on an invisible hook, could only follow helplessly behind him.

"Edward, what are you doing?"

In answer, one of Ed's white gloves hit the hallway floor. Mustang regarded it dumbly. Swallowing, Mustang said:

"Edward, we shouldn't do this. . ."

The other glove hit the floor, as Edward continued on down the hall. In the direction of Mustang's bedroom.

"Edward, we can't. . ."

The metallic snap of the collar on Ed's jacket was as loud as gunfire in the echoing silence of the darkened hallway. There was the soft, kitten-whisper of fabric as Edward shrugged off jacket number two and dumped it on the floor. And still Mustang followed. He stepped over the jacket, watching Edward, mesmerized, helpless, hopeless, as the younger alchemist paused, framed in his bedroom doorway.

Mustang's hands were shaking, but not with fear, or indecision, only. . . desire.

"You won't tell anyone?" he asked hoarsely.

Edward turned his head slightly, and Mustang could see the smile in his profile as he lifted his arms and pulled his shirt over his head, revealing the beauty of his bare flesh and scars and shining, steel automail. Perfection. To Mustang it couldn't be anything but. All thought fled his brain as his blood left his head and went straight south. There was no holding back now. The floodgates of restraint had been rammed opened with the loss of exactly five pieces of clothing.

Mustang lunged forward, seizing the boy with both hands, lips questing, almost cruel in their assault. The only light came from the street lamps and the high, round October moon shining through the darkened windows. Without pausing in his assault, Mustang backed Edward toward the bed, hooking a foot around the back of his legs, sprawling him across the dark, plush covers. Pausing only to tear himself out his trench coat which now seemed stifling, unbearable, Mustang crawled back over the boy—taking a moment to drink in the sight of him, all gold and muscled and ready and his, his, his—before dipping his head back down to taste, to devour, his mouth leaving a trail of saliva and encouraging groans in its wake.

Mustang's fingers—so sure, so perfectly adept in the presence of other lovers—turned clumsy as he fumbled with Edward's belt, taking several moments before finally prying it loose, along with the clasp of his fly. Mustang slid down the younger man's body and his fingers traced over the notch of muscle above his hipbone—god, how he loved that part on a man!—before lowering his head and biting, sucking at that indentation, a move that was meant to claim, to brand. All his! He kept at it, ignoring Edward's pleas from above and meaningful pelvic nudges, his hands roaming, everywhere, over his chest, his hair, his legs. It was as if his hands had forgotten what it was like to touch, and had to learn it all anew. He couldn't keep his fingers still, and Edward was mewling under their expert ministrations. And then Mustang granted him what he really wanted.

Edward gasped and bucked upward as Mustang's mouth closed over him. Mustang flung a tight arm over the boy's torso, keeping him still, bending him to his will, as his mouth engulfed, sucked, and worked its particular arcane magic on him. The head board creaked threateningly overhead as Edward grasped it with his automail, the sound a lulling background music to the swears and curses that came out of the boy's mouth as Mustang worked on him. The headboard creaked, Edward moaned, and with one last and final push forward—despite Mustang's efforts to hold him down—the boy was done.

And Mustang was enflamed.

He couldn't strip out of his own clothes fast enough, or grab the tube of lube out of the bedside table quick enough. He was on fire and nothing would calm him, relieve him, except having this—the body of the beautiful boy in front of him. He finished stripping Edward bare and watched the boy's golden eyes widen in alarm—alarm tinged with expectancy, with unexpected, unfulfilled shaking desire—and Mustang claimed his lips in another brutal kiss, a kiss that was meant to chase away any residual fear over what was about to happen next.

The cap popping off the tube sounded altogether too loud in the silence of the moonlit room. Mustang dipped his fingers and his preparations were rewarded with a low, tense moan from Edward as he worked one, two, then three fingers inside the boy. Mustang's own breath was ragged and he was shaking with a need so bad that if he didn't hurry this thing along to its proper conclusion soon— well, then, he would simply be spent and there would be no real denouement in the offing.

Edward groaned at the loss of Mustang's fingers as he pulled out and grasped the boy by both ankles—one metal and one flesh—and positioned his legs over his shoulders. Again, that look of fear and desire. Mustang watched Edward's face, mesmerized, as he lowered himself gently on top of the boy. Edward gasped and arched willingly into the first touch of Mustang's member. But Mustang held back. He continued to watch Edward's face greedily as the boy wriggled with obvious wanting against him.

"What are you waiting for?" Edward finally gasped.

"Beg me," said Mustang, the lush hoarseness of his voice betraying his own barely restrained need.

Edward arched against him. And again, Mustang held back. "Come on," whispered the boy plaintively.

"Beg me," Mustang repeated, the coarse darkness in his tone catching Edward off guard, causing the boy to crane his head in order to get a better look at him in the too dim, unreliable light. Mustang's eyes smoldered black, a window to the caged, lusty animal within which—given a darkened room and the right incentive for indiscretion—came swaggering, stalking out of the darkness: a creature on fire, burning bright.

"Beg me . . ."

Mustang could feel Edward's frustration (and, in fact, reveled in it), even as the boy managed a faint "Please. . ."

"Please, what?"

Edward tightened his automail leg around his shoulder, hard enough to bruise. The words came out through gritted teeth: "Please fu—"

Mustang didn't let him finish before he slammed it home, earning a deep, raspy groan from Edward: a satisfying sound that bespoke of the delicious, delicate mixture that was both pleasure and pain. Mustang leaned into the thrusts, and the guttural language issuing forth from Edward's throat could have been a choir of angels or a symphony of demons—either way, it was beautiful. It drove Mustang on to completion. It felt like absolution, like a benediction. It was like dropping into a icy pool after being lit on fire, like being fed cake after starving in the desert. It was like everything he ever wanted and everything, in the end, he was afraid to have.

Mustang dropped forward onto Edward, their bodies sticking together with the salt and sweat of the evening's activities. No witness to their crime except the glowing, fat, mother-of-pearl moon which hung just outside the darkened window. The winds of October rattled the window panes and sent dead, dirty leaves whispering across the glass. Mustang grasped the bed covers and wound himself into them, turning away, his face toward a wall that had become much more than a wall.

"Why do we do this?"

Not Edward's voice then, not anymore. That voice was sexless, soulless—the voice of a non-human. Mustang knew what he would see if he turned around now: Long, dark spindly hair and narrow violet eyes. Not Edward. Not anymore. The illusion was broken.

"Why do you?" Mustang retorted, his voice barely above a whisper. Still, the other heard him.

"Because . . . because I like the way you look at me when you think I'm him." And there was a hard, sharp edge to that confession. And a hint of anger. Of longing. And of. . .

Envy.

Mustang felt, rather than saw, the shapeshifter stretch its limbs, only to move and drop softly off the side of the bed. He was relieved to have it out of the bed. He didn't want to see it; didn't want to acknowledge it. To acknowledge such a creature would be to acknowledge the dark, sinful creature inside himself. And he didn't want to do that.

There was the soft padding of feet, which stopped just before the bedroom doorway. Just leave, thought Mustang. He still looked at the wall. Then the sin said:

"I still want to kill him you know. Your precious, pure little Edward. This makes me want to kill him even more, I think. The fact that he has so much of what should be mine already. . . and then . . .the fact that he could have this, too, if he'd just stop thinking about that stupid philosopher's stone long enough, just for one tiny little second—"

"—Shut up."

"It makes me want to hurt him—"

"—Just go!"

"—Even more."

The sin stopped then, saying nothing. Mustang could feel violet eyes boring into the back of his head. He willed the creature to go. A deep sigh issued from the doorway.

"We'll. . . do this again sometime," said the sin.

"No we won't," insisted Mustang.

"Ah—that's what you said the last time." And Mustang could hear the laughter in the other's voice: the accusation, the condescension. Darkness out there, darkness all around.

And what was worse, Mustang knew—absolutely knew—that he would do this again.

Note: The title comes from the a song by the White Stripes. The opening line is from "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.