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You Can't Hurry Love

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You Can't Hurry Love  Part 1

 

Ed was hot.

Not as hot as when crossing the desert on his unplanned journey to the Xersian ruins several years before, but he was still very uncomfortable.

He shifted the jacket slung over his shoulder so that the nearly non-existent breeze could cool his neck, but it was a wasted effort in such high temperatures. Even pulling his hair up into a messy ponytail did little to relieve his distress. A trickle of sweat fell from his brow and he absently wiped it away.

‘Guess I should have dressed light, like Al.’ Ed glanced down at his favored attire of dark clothing. ‘I just didn’t think the walk from the train station would be this miserable.’ A glance over his shoulder told him his brother wasn’t suffering as he was. Al was looking about Rush Valley’s nearly deserted streets like a curious tourist, seemingly very comfortable in his climate-appropriate attire; lightweight, light-colored clothing and a short-sleeved shirt. Ed knew if he complained about the heat, Al would take on their mother’s chastising tone to remind him that he had given due warning about the need for lighter clothing.

They continued down the dusty street in silence, with Ed ignoring his discomfort as he kept a wary eye out for any overzealous automail mechanics. In spite of how much he disliked Rush Valley, he was here because this was where Winry was, and he was in need of her care.

Or at the very least, in need of her.

“Ed, how mad do you think Winry will be this time?” Al asked. Ed glanced back again to find him nervously tapping the tips of his index fingers together. Ed recalled the same gesture being performed by a hulking suit of armor and a smile crossed his face. Al’s body language had changed very little from his time as a suit of armor.

“Hey, I didn’t break her precious automail this time.” His tone was flippant. “Why should she get mad just because I’m stopping by for routine maintenance?” Ed wiped away more sweat.

Al grinned. “You don’t seem too concerned, Brother. Are you sure you’re only stopping by for maintenance?”

Ed’s shoulders stiffened in reaction to Al’s stifled laugh. “Shut up,” he growled without turning around. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Then he shrugged, frowned. “Whatever. My leg is malfunctioning. I need Winry to check it out.”

“You sure your leg is the only thing you want her to ‘check out’? “ Al sounded calm and innocent, but with a note of mirth. “Or should I ask, which leg.”

Ed stopped short, nearly causing Al to collide with him. “Al.” His voice was low, threatening.

“Relax, Brother. What’s going on between you and Winry isn’t exactly a secret. I’m happy for both of you, really.”

Ed chose not rise to the bait. Instead, he picked up the pace, forcing Al into a trot in order to keep up. He had never discussed his and Winry’s new relationship with his brother and wasn’t about to start now. It was a private matter, details of which didn’t need to be known by anyone else. Maybe it was due to old habits from the time when his silence meant Winry’s safety, but those dangers were gone. If he were to be honest with himself, it was probably because he felt uncomfortable discussing such subjects with his younger brother, even though Ed suspected Al had already figured out some things on his own.

It just seemed…improper…to talk to others about his intimacy with Winry.

Ed suppressed a grin at the thought of that special and very exhilarating relationship. Ever since their first time, thoughts of her had occupied most of his waking hours, filling him with longing to be with her whenever he could. It was just a convenient coincidence his that leg really was in need of maintenance. Ed wasn’t about to pass up such a perfect opportunity; Al would likely go visit Paninya and leave him and Winry alone to participate in some mutual ‘stress relief’.

If Winry was still receptive, that was. The last few times she hadn’t been as willing of a partner.

“Well, here we are,” Al declared with false cheer. Al’s shoulders were hunched and there was a hint of fear in his eyes. Al always worried about him when there was a chance Winry would explode over damaged or malfunctioning automail.

He scowled up at the flashy façade indicating they had arrived at ‘Garfiel’s Atelier’, then squinted at the door as if it were made of barbed wire. “Well, let’s get it over with.”

Al hovered close. “How mad do you think she’ll be?” Al asked. “I mean, did you really break your leg or is it just malfunctioning?”

“Does it matter?” Ed grumbled. “Either way, it’s an excuse for her to beat me to a pulp.” ‘Especially lately…’

“Both you and Winry really do have short fuses, don’t you?”

“What did you say about being short?!” Ed growled, scowling over his shoulder.

“Geez, Ed. It’s just an expression.” Al’s sardonic reply was punctuated with a frown.

Ed faced the door again, slumping in resignation. “Whatever. The sooner I go in, the sooner it’ll be over with.”

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly and shuffled up to the sun-bleached door. A cheerful bell announced their entry.

Ed froze in his tracks when a familiar female voice called from the back of the shop.

“I’ll be right there!”

A collision from behind caused Ed to stumble a few steps further inside as Al walked into him. “Watch it!” Ed snarled under his breath, pinning him with a pointed glare. A glance around the waiting room told them there were no other patrons in the shop, and that the owner appeared to be absent. The brothers pressed further into the tastefully decorated waiting area and Al closed the door behind them, careful not to make too much noise. “It’s awfully quiet in here, today,” he whispered, carefully setting their suitcase down.

“Damn. No witnesses,” Ed muttered, only to have his heart rise into his throat when footsteps advanced from the back room. Thoughts of turning and running for his life entered his panicked mind, but Ed shored up his resolve and held his ground. Winry appeared through the door behind the counter, tugging her work gloves from her hands. She was dressed in tan coveralls and a black and white half top that zipped up the front. A pale peach bandana covered her head to keep the hair out of her eyes.

“How can I hel—” Winry’s cheerful greeting cut short when she saw them. A dark frown replaced her bright smile.

 

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Winry hummed as she delicately soldered the connections within an automail hand. The rhythm of touching the hot iron to the flux, then to the tinning to melt the metal onto the target area was relaxing, almost meditative, She reveled in this kind of detail. It gave her a sense of accomplishment and made her feel good about herself. It also allowed her to think.

What she didn’t want to think about was her ‘boyfriend’.

Whenever Ed came to mind, her altered state fractured and she would gnash her teeth painfully. It galled her that Ed had yet to voice his feelings. Their lovemaking had become less about love and more about scientifically perfected lust. He was taking their tenuous relationship entirely for granted, and the thought of this always caused her stomach to knot with anxiety.

Even when Ed was out of sight, he was not out of her mind.

At least her work helped to distract her, keeping Ed at the fringes of her mind. Right now, she was doing what she loved and thoroughly enjoying it.

The bell above the storefront door jangled, breaking her focus. She sat upright, hoping it would be a quick transaction so she could keep to her schedule.

“I’ll be right there!” Winry called over her shoulder. She turned off the soldering iron and set it down with care. Standing, she gave her coveralls a quick brush to remove any metal shavings, and started for the waiting room.

“How can I hel—” The sentence died on her tongue as soon as she stepped behind the counter and saw just whom it was that came to call. The source of her ire, the one she could no longer think about without provoking a headache. The very person she would really rather have not dealt with today.

Edward Elric.

Winry wanted to scream.

“Hey, Winry!” Al greeted with equal cheer, waggling his fingers at her.

Winry suppressed the surge of irritation that welled up and carefully kept her countenance and voice even. “What did you do, Edward?” She did offer a brief smile at Al, who was looking decidedly nervous, “Hey, Al.”

“What, no ‘Hi, Ed, it’s good to see you again’?” Ed groused. She could tell by his posture that he was anything but self-assured.

“Edward,” Winry intoned, jabbing her fists into her hips. She drilled him with a burning look and he wilted.

 

He’ll want sex. I really don’t have the time or energy for this right now’. Lately, her feelings of desire had turned into dread. Her body, which used to tingle at the prospect of having sex with Ed, now tensed with apprehension instead. Their lovemaking became more predictable; Ed had learned to do no more than necessary to bring her to her peak then hurry on to his own conclusion.

And he had even begun to neglect even that effort their last few times together, taking care of his own needs without giving another thought to her pleasure. There really had never been curious exploration or caring touches after their first time, and rarely offers of holding one another while falling asleep. It was truly pathetic, considering they had been intimate no more times than she could count on the fingers of both hands.

“I think there might be something wrong with my leg. But I bet a couple of small adjustments will fix it up, no problem,” he said with forced bravado and gave his automail leg a shake as if to prove it to her. The strained grin plastered on his face did nothing to bolster her confidence.

Winry sighed. ‘That’s not the only problem you have, Edward’, she wanted to say, but kept it to herself. Instead, she went with a more typical rant. “You think there might be something wrong? What did you do to my automail this time?!” she asked in a low, frustrated growl. She narrowed her eyes, as if catching him in a lie.

The building tension in the room was too much for Al. “Ahhh…I think I’ll go find Paninya.” Al searched behind himself for the doorknob. Finding it, he yanked the door open and made his exit, almost slamming the door in his haste to escape. The bell clattered wildly in protest as the door closed with a sharp ‘thump!’

 

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Coward!!’ Ed railed to the sudden silence. ‘You’re supposed to have my back, Al! Some brother you are!’ He instinctively backed up a pace as Winry moved toward him. “I didn’t do anything to it!” he barked in his own defense, feeling a lot less brave than he sounded. “It’s nothing major! All I probably need is some maintenance! You can’t be mad at me for coming in for maintenance like you always tell me to!”

“Yeah, right!” she snapped, pulling her wrench from a deep pocket of her coveralls and hefting it as if to test its weight and balance. “Like you’ve ever been good about that before!”

‘You’d better think of something to say to keep yourself alive, Elric.’ His larynx bobbed with a nervous swallow. “Honestly! I didn’t do anything to it! It’s not like I was in a fight or anything!” he shot back in desperation. Ed took another step backwards, prepared to dodge any metal missiles that might come flying his way. “Why is it always my fault!”

“Because it usually is!” she snarled as she wound up for her pitch.

Ed flinched and threw up his hands. There was one last thing that could save him: guilt. “Excuse me, but I seem to recall a time when SOMEONE forgot to replace a bolt in my shoulder when she installed my automail, and I was nearly killed because of it!” In a last-ditch attempt to ward off injury, he draped his arms over his head.

Tense seconds passed as he waited for a blow that never came.

“I never said it was my fault!” Winry pouted and lowered the wrench.

Ed found himself focusing on her plumped lip. ‘She can be so damned cute when she does that—wait a minute! She’s trying to kill me! Focus, dammit!’

“It took me a while, but I did figure it out. You put a new bolt in without taking one out, back when you did the repair in the hospital!” His eyes glowed with self-righteousness as he crossed his arms over his chest. “That means there was something missing after you fixed me up in Resembool, right? Despite appearances, I DO pay attention—upon occasion!” Ed punctuated his words by huffing and mirroring her pout.

Winry’s indignation collapsed into weary surrender. Returning the makeshift weapon to her pocket, she heaved a tired sigh. “Okay, okay!” She rubbed a fist over her forehead, leaving a dirty streak behind. “Then what is the problem?”

Ed relaxed but remained alert. He wasn’t about to take any chances by letting his guard down. “It’s acting weird, that’s all. The knee catches every now and then and I have a limp.” Considering her current mood, it might be best to not bring up the other reason for his visit: the chance to have a romp between the sheets with her. “Just look at it, okay?”

Winry tapped a finger against her chin, her brain switching into mechanic mode. “Hmmm…I wonder…is it possible you could’ve grown a little more? Sometimes a length difference between the legs can cause the ball joint to wear unevenly, especially if every step results in a hard impact because your body is compensating for the uneven gait.”

Ed fixated on the ‘growth’ part of her explanation. “Hey! And why wouldn’t that be possible?! And don’t say LITTLE!”

She scowled at him, clearly fed up with his childishness. “Honestly, Ed! You’re taller than me now and you still carry on like a little kid! Grow up, already! You’re nearly twenty years old!”

He made a strangled noise in the back of his throat that almost sounded inhuman, and clenched his hands at his sides. Now she was calling him immature? “YOU…YOU…” He bit back an invective laced retort and shook with helpless rage. Common sense prevailed only because Winry was still armed and dangerous.

Ed caught the fleeting smirk on Winry’s face. He could already guess what she was thinking: There! That’ll teach you to break my masterpieces! and it made him even angrier. Who was acting immature now?

 

Winry’s sigh of resignation cooled his anger. “Well, c’mon then.” She pointed to a stool at the end of the counter. “Strip down to your shorts and sit here.” She retrieved a tool kit stored on a shelf behind the counter. “I might as well look at your arm while I’m at it.” Her expression was a mix of annoyance touched with melancholy as she placed the cloth bundle on the countertop.

“Strip? Here?!” Ed protested, oblivious to Winry’s subdued mood. His face grew warm. “No way! I refuse to go on public display again, wearing just my skivvies! I can still remember being stripped down in public the first time I came to this backwater town!” ‘Besides, what if someone walks in, especially if we get ‘busy?’

“There’s no one here,” Winry countered impatiently, rolling out the canvas toolkit. A quick sweep of her arm around the room emphasized her point, “Garfiel’s on vacation and I have no other clients coming in! My schedule is clear for the rest of the day!” She slapped both palms on the countertop and challenged him with a steely glare. “Strip!”

“And what about walk-ins?! That’s what Al and I just did!” There was no way he was going to risk anyone he didn’t know seeing him in such a compromising position again.

“Oh, all right, you big baby!” Winry shot back, throwing her hands in the air. She turned and walked deeper into the studio. “Follow me and we’ll go to my work room!”

“I wasn’t a baby when I was a baby!” Ed growled, snatching up his suitcase and stomping after her. The little voice in the far corner of his mind cheered, ‘Yes! Back to her room where it’s more private!’

“Yeah, yeah,” Winry tossed back, not rising to the bait.

Even under the loose fabric of her coveralls Ed could see her soft contours as he followed her down the hall. He was so mesmerized by the way her hips shifted as she walked that he nearly tripped over a large wooden box of parts sitting on the floor behind the counter. He grumbled under his breath at the offending container and re-focused on Winry, the soft, tanned skin of her waist, her pony tail that gently twitched back and forth across her shoulders, the elegant sweep of the back of her neck as it dove under her top. He felt something drip under his nose and absently wiped at it.

Did he have a nosebleed coming on?

They reached the small workroom that was Winry’s personal workspace. It was situated near the patient recovery rooms, well away from the daily activity of the business. Within there was a workbench covered with tools and automail parts, a waist-high bench for clients to recline upon, and a wheeled work stool. In one corner stood a number of stacked crates, and along the far wall sat a drafting table with an old wooden chair parked before it. Above and to the side of the crates, a single window framed in yellow curtains lit the off-white walls with a warm, cheerful light.

“Strip and I’ll be back in a moment,” Winry told him without enthusiasm. “I need to borrow some of Mr. Garfiel’s tools. Just sit on the bench.” She pointed to something on the crates. “There’s a cushion you can use to sit on if you want. Hang your clothes over the chair in front of the drafting table.” She shuffled out of the room without further comment.

Ed glared after her: she wasn’t showing any signs of being ready for an afternoon’s entertainment, but she was still dead sexy.

He set his suitcase down and hung his jacket over the back of the chair. Winry’s anger should have dissipated by now. During previous visits she would greet him by taking him into her arms and kissing him. Today she seemed more distant and even appeared to be avoiding his touch. ‘Maybe she’s just tired. She’s probably been working long hours again.’

Ed shrugged and began to undress.

 

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Winry replaced the upper plate of Ed’s forearm and sat back to look at his leg. Few words had passed between the couple during the half hour of the examination. He knew Winry’s focus was absolute when working with automail, but it bothered Ed that she was avoiding conversation altogether.

It was okay. As much as he wanted to make the first move, he believed it would be best to wait until she was done. Winry tended to be more receptive after finishing maintenance, and he did need his leg looked at. As much as it tortured him to, he had to remain patient until the right moment.

‘Just don’t look at her, concentrate on something else in the room and I’ll be fine.’

Unfortunately, his eyes had a mind of their own. Winry’s attire was a source of great distraction, and Ed found himself stealing glimpses of her. He tried looking at the ceiling, the crates in the corner, the large toolbox on the bench at her side, anywhere other than at the woman sitting before him. Luckily, Winry hadn’t noticed or she would have surely made him suffer. He wished she’d strike up a conversation, or do something to take his mind off of how sexy she looked.

As the exam progressed, Winry still showed no signs of her usual affection, or even of wanting to talk like they were friends. Ed found her overly professional manner perplexing; just what the hell was her problem, anyway? He caught a whiff of her hair, the sweet scent of vanilla…andwas that…cherry blossoms? and he was caught up in a pleasant daydream. He envisioned her lips, swollen and pink from his kisses, the line of her bare arms, her exposed navel. He could even recall the tactile sensation of her long, graceful legs wrapped tightly around his hips, and her sighs of pleasure as he pushed into her. A thrill raced down his spine. He shook his head, tearing himself from his fantasies. When he looked down, Winry had finished the internal check of his leg and was already replacing the panel.

As she slipped the panel into place and straightened to check the alignment of the plate over the appropriate fastening holes, Ed caught sight of her cleavage. Above the low cut half top, her breasts were pressed together, making them look plumper and even more luscious than usual. This was the most beautiful sight he had seen in some time; oh, how he would love to dive into those mounds of soft, tempting flesh.

Winry looked up to reach for her screwdriver, and Ed quickly turned away.

“I didn’t find any problems with the wiring or the cylinder, and I really didn’t see a problem with the ball joint. I’ll measure your legs to see if there’s any difference in their lengths.” Her mouth set in a hard line, she pinned him with a scolding glare, “In other words, you may have grown more and that might have caused the problem!”

Ed recovered his composure with an exaggerated grin, “Yeah. That must be it.”

Winry’s expression immediately turned suspicious. After a tense moment, in which Ed could almost see the storm clouds gather over her head, she began to fasten the plate in place. She stood and reached for the tape measure on her workbench.

Ed jerked in surprise as she took his right thigh in a no-nonsense grip. Winry dug her thumb into his flesh, seeking the hip joint to use as an initial point of reference. Ed winced in discomfort. While not specifically touching him in a suggestive manner, Winry was very close to doing so. He swallowed hard as she ran fingers down the length of his thigh to his artificial knee, stretching the cloth tape in the process. He relaxed when she let up, only to tense again as she repeated the procedure on his other leg. Her proximity combined with her touch caused him to be very aware of just where her hands were. Now if she would only move her hand just a little more to the right…

And then things…started…to stir…

As she sat back to measure the bottom portion of his leg, Winry brushed the inside of his thigh, just above his knee. That was all it took. Try as he might, there was no way he could stop the tightening in his groin.

Was she doing this on purpose?

Warmth flushed through him and he squeezed his eyes shut, determined to not look at her and escalate the problem. Reciting the periodic table wasn’t as effective of an anti-arousal device as it used to be, and he had turned to solving differential equations in his head. He had to do something, anything, to get the situation and his body back under control.

 

To be continued in Part 2

Chapter Text

Winry didn’t notice the change in Ed’s physiology right away. Believing his fidgeting to be nothing out of the ordinary, she jotted down the last measurements on the form attached to a clipboard that sat alongside her toolbox. It was when she straightened to tell him he had grown by almost another inch she saw the notorious tent in Ed’s boxers.

‘I knew it. I just knew it,’ she railed silently. ‘Is this all he ever thinks about anymore?’

She clamped her hands onto her hips and frowned at him. “Edward.” His name came out in a low, warning tone.

He rolled his eyes to look at her. “What?” His voice sounded a bit too innocent.

“What are you thinking?”

“‘Bout what?”

Frustrated by his evasiveness, Winry fought the urge to reach for her wrench again. “You know very well, ‘what’! Sometimes you’re such a letch! Just for once, can’t we be close to one another without you reacting like an animal in heat?!”

Ed faced her directly, eyes flashing with indignation at her criticism. “Aw, c’mon, Winry! Gimme a break! It’s a normal reaction! I can’t control it!”

Winry had had enough of his juvenile reasoning. She chose to give as well as she got. “Pardon me, Edward Elric! I keep forgetting that control is an ability you lack!”

Ed stiffened, reared up, and Winry could almost hear his teeth gnash together as he bared them at her. “What the hell is wrong with you, Winry?! When the hell did you become such a bitch?!”

His words stung. This was the first time he’d ever called her by such a crude term; his words were thoughtless, mean-spirited, and just plain hurt. Tears threatened, but she was far too angry to let them come.

Winry retrieved her wrench from a pocket and flew to her feet. “How dare you--!”

Ed was on his feet in a flash, stopping her attack by catching and holding her wrist tightly. Winry fisted her free hand and swung at him, only to have him arrest its motion also. His face contorted with anger, and she experienced a moment of panic, although Ed had never raised a hand to her before. Her insides quivered, thinking what he might do next.

“Let go of me, Edward!” she demanded, her inner strength taking over. She fought against his hold but Ed maintained control.

Ed snorted derisively. “You call me a letch while you’re running around looking so…” There was a brief inner struggle in his eyes before he looked down at the cleavage visible above her top. His gaze returned to hers. “Gaaah! Why do you always dress like this? Are you intentionally trying to get me worked up, just so you can turn me down?!”

This made her even angrier; how dare he suggest she was a flirtatious tease!

They tussled, but Ed held her steady, even yielding a bit as Winry exerted her full strength. Apparently he hadn’t expected her to be quite this strong, although he should have known better, considering all the years she had worked with metal. Mustering all her strength, Winry pulled against Ed’s constraining hold, and nearly yanked him off balance. Ed reacted by backing her against the wall and using all his weight to secure her hands at either side of her head.

Ed grunted as he struggled to keep her pinned. “Would you stop trying to kill me every time you get mad at me! Besides, it’s been a long time since we…y’know. I can’t help it!”

“Edward, I really don’t have time for this right now! Maybe lat—” He stopped her mid-protest with a fervent kiss. A breathless moment later he drew back to meet her eyes.

“I thought your schedule was clear,” he taunted, staring her down. His warm breath washed over her face as he panted, stirring strands of her hair. The heat in his eyes was unmistakable. Winry’s stomach stirred again, this time with sexual self-awareness, and she silently cursed her body’s impending betrayal. Even though it was almost certain she wouldn’t receive equal satisfaction, she still found it difficult to resist his touch.

Eyes locked as they panted with a mixture of anger and excitement, both grappling with the enticing sensations building deep within. Ed hesitantly drew close, as if afraid of being rejected again. When she offered no resistance, he dove in for another heated kiss. Winry found herself responding without a second thought, answering the kiss in like until it became open-mouthed and animated. She became acutely aware of Ed’s hard, muscular body holding her captive against the wall, and the slight pinch at her wrists from his tight grip. She rapidly became lost in the overwhelming stimuli, barely noticing when the wrench fell from her nerveless fingers. Neither flinched at the sharp clatter of tempered steel contacting wood, too lost in each other to acknowledge it.

Ed trailed a wet path down the side of her neck with his mouth, gently nipping her the skin at the juncture of her shoulder, and teasing a soft gasp of approval from her. A shiver raced through her body as he moved his hands down her arms in a soft, sensual caress. When reaching the rise of her breasts, he trailed his fingers around their outer curves in a calculated move, flirting with her more sensitive zones without actually contacting them. Ed paused to glance down and watch as he gently squeezed her breasts together, plumping them and accentuating her cleavage.

Her eyes were dark with desire when he met them with his own. “I need this, Winry,” he breathed. “I need you.”

He pulled on the zipper that divided the front of her top in a smooth, decisive motion. The whine of the shuttle separating the teeth sounded loud in the quiet of the small room. Winry’s breath caught in her throat as her breasts were freed from the restrictive cloth. Her nipples peaked upon contact with the air, and she swallowed back another cry when Ed, one hand warm and soft, the other cold and hard, pressed her breasts together. Another shiver overtook her as he passed his thumbs over the sensitive tips.

“Need you,” Ed said in a sigh. His shuttered his eyes and placed a kiss at the top of the crease between her breasts, then crouched lower to suck a hypersensitive nipple into his mouth. He fluttered his tongue over the rosy point before drawing on it with enthusiasm.

Winry moaned at the thrill bolting through her. He could be so damned good, when he took his time to give her foreplay like this. But the sad truth was, it often started this way, with him being careful and attentive, only to have him switch into a more hurried mode. It usually ended with him finishing early and her settling for something decidedly less satisfying. She longed for him to try to hold out like he used to in the beginning, and bring her to her peak while he was still inside so she could experience a more fulfilling orgasm. She would always fall easily for his seduction, hoping against hope that things would end differently, only to usually have their lovemaking end with her wanting for more. If she could only make Ed understand the virtue and value of patience, and understand that women needed much more than to simply ‘get their rocks off.’

Ed’s automail hand had warmed with its contact against her skin, so it was less shocking when he cradled and lifted a breast. He continued to toy with the nipple using his metal digits, mirroring the action of his other hand while adding a gentle pinch. Winry gasped and sighed, cursing her reactions and wishing it were easier to resist Ed’s touch.

Winry scrubbed tense fingers through his hair as Ed continued to lavish attention on her voluptuous curves, wishing he would spend more time doing this to other parts of her anatomy. The surge of moist heat between her legs was unmistakable, as was the deep, intense tingling, which practically had her weeping with want.

Ed straightened and pressed his body against her again. Nuzzling at her ear, he rocked his hips along hers with purposeful intent, working his solid heat against her abdomen. His shaky breath in her ear caused another round of chills to race down her spine and another soft moan to slip from her throat.

“Please, Winry,” he said quietly, his tone all but wheedling, “I need you.”

“Ed,” she sighed, valiantly struggling against the desire that threatened to consume her, “I should be working.” Her hands ran the length of his back, stopping just short of his backside; she did not want to encourage him any further.

“Please.” This time his tone was not a plea. He emphasized his point by brusquely pulling her hand between them, pressing it against his erection. He was hot and hard to the touch through the thin cotton cloth and Winry’s amazement was renewed by how supple skin and flesh could change into something so rigid. Her fingers twitched and she tentatively closed them around his shaft, but made no move to stimulate him.

Ed touched his forehead to hers, and looked down into her eyes, his expression questioning, begging, yet determined. “Please,” he entreated. Winry answered him with a voracious kiss, giving in to both him and the demands of her own body.

The kiss was short-lived; Ed hooked his arms around her thighs and lifted her. Startled by this, Winry threw her arms around his neck to keep from falling back. “Ed?” she panted as he carried her back before the bench and set her down. Both of them frantically clawed to undo the closure of her coveralls. Once they succeeded, Ed removed both her coveralls and panties in one smooth motion, slipping his hands inside the cloth and smoothing them over her skin to push them free of her legs. Taking her by the waist, he lifted Winry onto the same cushion he’d occupied just moments ago.

Winry allowed Ed to strip her of the remainder of her clothing and sandals but wasn’t quite prepared for what he did next. Grasping her shoulders, he pushed her into a reclining position against the wall and seized her knees, lifting and parting them. He leaned in to kiss her stomach, meeting her eyes with a sly grin.

The muscles of her stomach tightened involuntarily as he bent to tattoo her abdomen with the softest of kisses.

Her breath hitched, catching in her throat at Ed’s delicate touch; she hardly dared to breathe, afraid of distracting him from the wonderful things he was doing to her. Winry watched in rapt fascination as he systematically moved lower, continuing his journey over her skin until he reached her navel. Another squeak escaped her when Ed swirled his tongue around the dainty recess, flicking it into the shallow recess before working his way back to her bust. There, he explored her shapely curves with his lips, this time with deliberate purpose.

A flash of optimism jolted through her; this wasn’t Ed’s usual style of foreplay. It crossed her mind that maybe, just maybe, Ed had finally ‘gotten it,’ had figured out that she needed more than cursory touches to become adequately aroused. Anticipation mounted when he moved his hands onto her body, carefully taking his time as he smoothed them higher. Upon reaching her hips, Ed raised Winry up so he could glide his hands over her abdomen. He teased the hairs of her mound with the lightest of touches; Winry shivered as gooseflesh prickled her skin.

A torturous moment later, Ed slipped his flesh thumb into her moist heat and closed his mouth over the sensitized point of a breast. Winry moaned and gently gathered Ed’s head in her arms, opening her legs farther to accommodate his touch.

Ed sought and found her center of pleasure, circling around it with careful, slow movements, tantalizing her, and drawing tortured sounds from her. She toyed with his hair, scrubbing her fingers through his thick golden locks as he drew on her hypersensitive flesh with enthusiasm. Ed redirected his attention, capturing her mouth with his, and drawing her into a fast, intense kiss before moving to her neck. His thumb teased her without urgency, meticulously moving about her intimate reaches, repeatedly coming close but never quite touching the nub hidden there.           

His touch felt wonderful, granting her temporary amnesia from his past self-serving tendencies. Ed’s mouth left her skin, and it took a long moment before Winry realized that he was studying her face. She opened her eyes to find him watching her with an almost clinical detachment, as if she were an experiment whose end result needed to be observed and recorded. His gaze wasn’t entirely cold; his pupils were dilated wide with arousal, but there were no hints of tenderness, nor did she feel any sense of connection from him. Her moment of insecurity was promptly displaced by a jolt of sensation as Ed offered her a leering grin and shifted his fingers to make direct contact with her clitoris. She shuddered as he tormented her with slow, deliberate strokes, and twitched when he began to stimulate her in earnest. His name spilled from her in a choked cry as Winry tipped her head back. Digging her fingers into Ed’s scalp, she squeezed her eyes shut, forcing tears to trace along her long eyelashes.

The next few seconds were a blur as Ed continued his erotic torture, manipulating her until she was repeatedly gasping his name and begging him not to stop. Just when she had utterly surrendered herself to the impending rapture, Ed suddenly broke contact and stood straight. He pushed his boxers from his hips in a hasty motion and let them fall about his ankles.

'Not again!’

Winry started to voice her frustrated protest, furious that he had stopped short yet again, and denied her release, but the smoldering lust in his eyes kept her silent. A quick glance told her he was more than ready to continue in another capacity, but it still galled her that he hadn’t sustained his contact until she had reached her peak.

“Why did you stop?!” she panted, finally finding her voice.

Edward’s response was not what she expected: “Turn over.” His tone was no-nonsense.

Now she was completely confused. He had to be kidding!

“Wha—?” Winry scolded angrily. “Damn it, Edward, why do you always stop just before—?!”

“Turn over!” he repeated with annoyance. “I can’t…you’re too high…I can’t –y’know, because I’m not tall...!” His expression flashed with horror; he had very nearly declared himself too short. Ed gnashed his teeth again. “Dammit, Winry, lean over onto your stomach!”

“Edward, what the hell are you—!”

He didn’t give her the chance to finish her sentence. With a dark glower, Ed roughly gripped her legs and jerked her from the bench. Winry barely had time to let out another yelp of protest before Ed spun her around. He shoved her sharply between her shoulder blades with his metal hand, causing her to tip forward. Winry caught the edge of the bench just in time to keep from landing face down on the cushion and bumping her chin.

"Hey!” she barked at him, indignant at his uncharacteristically rough behavior.

“I know, I know, I’m not wearing any protection!” he panted, clearly oblivious to the fact that Winry was actually angry about being manhandled, not about the lack of a contraceptive device. Luckily, she had taken the matter of birth control into her own hands some time ago, after tiring of the constant bickering over her ill-received reminders for Ed to wear a condom. She opened her mouth to inform him of the change in the situation, but Ed cut her off, his voice sharp with near desperation. “I will pull out in time! I promise!”

Not giving Winry a chance to retort, Ed opened her thighs further, then his strong hands firmly grasped her hips. Solid heat filled her in the next instant, driving deep until she felt his body press against her bottom and a sense of slight discomfort within. A surprised gasp filled her lungs, mingling with Ed’s emphatic groan. Why was he doing this? They could have just as easily moved to one of the patient’s beds in a recovery room at the back of the shop. Why was he choosing this over the chance make love to her, face to face? He leaned into her, pressing her down to rest on the bench. Winry complied without further protest as he began a leisurely pace, moving neither fast or slow within her.

 

 

Illustration by Len Barboza

 

Winry was in total disbelief even though having sex in this position did feel amazingly good. She was struck by just how impersonal it seemed, as if Ed wasn’t that interested in the emotional connection between them. The thought left her disillusioned; did their relationship mean so little to him? Had she misread the young alchemist’s intentions from the very beginning? If so, exactly how did Ed feel about her?

She was pulled away from her thoughts as Ed picked up his momentum. His labored breath flowed warm and soft across her neck. He slid his hands around her to caress her stomach, his automail hand creeping toward her breast. Winry shuddered at the chill against her sensitized skin.

“C’mon, Winry, hurry up!” she heard him croak, his voice strained, hoarse as if he were making a supreme effort to hold himself back. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hold out. This feels so fucking good without those stupid condoms…”

He clasped a breast with his prosthetic hand and gave it a slight squeeze; she shivered. This did feel great, but it still wasn’t quite what she needed, especially considering he was demanding she reach her pinnacle. Winry twisted her head around to glare at him over her shoulder, “Not...able…to perform…on command, Edward!” she panted in a growl.

“Damn it!” he cursed, expressing his impatience through gritted teeth, “I can’t wait any longer, can’t …”

In an unexpected move, his hands returned to her hips. Winry winced as at his tight hold, biting her lip to hold back a yelp of pain. His flesh hand felt merely uncomfortable, but his prosthetic fingers constricted until they dug into her tender flesh without mercy, causing tears of distress to gather at the corners of her eyes. She was certain there would be a mark left behind, one that would be visible for weeks above the top edge of her tied-off coveralls.

Ed worked in earnest toward his own release, repeatedly gasping her name as he took her without reservation. Winry braced herself against his driving thrusts, clutching at the cushion beneath her to keep from being driven across the bench. She gasped in distress as his grip tightened even more.

As suddenly as his grip had tightened, he released her and withdrew, breath hitching in his throat. Seconds later, something warm streaked across her lower back and Winry was appalled when she realized just how Ed had finished. Bile rose in the back of her throat. This felt so wrong, so detached. The entire situation left her with a feeling of shame and self-loathing.

 

%%%%%

 

Ed gasped Winry’s name over and over as the building pleasure overwhelmed his senses. As he reached the brink, he withdrew and finished off with his natural hand. Legs weak, he staggered back from her, finally allowing Winry to move. She looked over her shoulder at him with a mixture of sadness and annoyance.

Annoyance? What was there to be annoyed about?

“You idiot!” came her irritated scolding. “You didn’t have to finish that way!”

“What the hell!” he panted back at her, equally annoyed. “Last time I wanted to do it without protection you threatened to kill me! So I pulled out, just like I promised! Since when did all this change?!”

She straightened, throwing him a fierce glare. “Since the last time we were together!”

“Gee, thanks for telling me, Winry!” Ed’s breathing began to even out as he calmed himself. He leaned on the bench with his artificial arm, still not trusting his legs to hold him up.

Winry seemed unfazed by his frustration. “If you hadn’t been in such a hurry, I would have told you I’m taking something new—an oral contraceptive! Which means I won’t get pregnant if we don’t use a condom!” She snatched a clean shop rag from beside her toolbox and strained to wipe at the sticky splotch of thick fluid across the small of her back. “Damn it,” she muttered. “What a mess.” Her eyes flicked up to his as if judging his reaction to her next words. “But being you’re always so gung-ho and don’t give a damn about romancing me…” She threw her hands up, venting her own exasperation.

Ed frowned. “Shut up!” he intoned without venom. He was well aware that he and Winry had never officially gone on anything remotely resembling a date and, of the infrequent times they had been intimate, it had been rushed and rough. But she was Winry, the girl he had known all his life; why was the pretense of romance or taking her out on a date necessary, anyway?

Letting out a soft sigh, Ed watched Winry finish wiping away the mess on her back and drop the soiled rag to the floor. It occurred to him he should have helped her clean up, but the thought left him when he saw how tired and dispirited Winry looked.

It was as if she had given up something very important to her. The absence of her fiery spirit caused a sense of culpability to well up within; was he the cause of the change in her normally cheerful mood?

He refused to feel guilty; hadn’t she seemed just as eager as him only moments ago? “Hell, Winry, it’s not like you pushed me away, or anything,” he grumbled, keeping his gaze on his artificial hand. Too fearful to meet her gaze, he watched it as he picked at an unraveling thread on the cushion.

Oh, hell. His brave front wasn’t working. He still felt guilty, although he wasn’t sure why.

Winry sighed and Ed looked up to see her stepping back into her panties. In spite of the tension between them, he took a long moment to admire her graceful curves.

“What good would it do me,” she said, her voice soft, wistful. “Even when I tell you I have other things to do, or to slow down a little, you push ahead.” She pulled on her coveralls and adjusted her bust back into the bandeau top to zip it closed.

 Irrational anger welled up from deep in his gut; was she telling him she no longer enjoyed their encounters, that she would rather be doing something else? Plucking his own underwear from the floor, Ed stepped into them and jerked them back onto his hips. “Fine, Winry!” he growled. “I won’t bother you anymore! Maybe I’ll look elsewhere!” His chest heaved with the rage he barely kept in check. He used exaggerated movements to retrieve the rest of his clothes from the chair and pulled each article on with deliberate care. It hurt to think she no longer enjoyed their intimacy.

“Ed?” Winry beckoned softly. “Why are you so mad? Look elsewhere? For what?” The confusion was clear on her face.

Tugging on his jacket, Ed spun to throw a single, scathing glare her way. He felt humiliated—hadn’t she just said sex with him was unimportant, less than exciting? And she couldn’t understand why he was so pissed off?!

“I thought y—you enjoyed our little—” He sputtered for words that wouldn’t embarrass him to the point of further humiliation. “Our alone time together!” he finally spat out, discomfited by the words, but confident what he was trying to express was clear. “Apparently I was mistaken!” He rotated his shoulders to settle his jacket as well as relieve the tension building there.

Dark blonde brows furrowed upwards over wide, deep blue eyes. It took another second before the meaning of his words sunk in and her brows pinched together even tighter. Winry tied the sleeves of her coveralls about her waist and took a step toward him. “Ed, you’re being ridiculous!” she scolded, jamming her fists into her hips.

Ed halted mid-turn to whirl and glare at her again. “I’m being ridiculous?! You threw yourself at me our first time, in the shower no less, and now all of a sudden I’m…I’m BORING you?!”

 

 

To be continued in part 3

 

Chapter Text

Winry answered him with a sad smile. As usual, Ed had turned his lack of comprehension into anger, putting him on the defensive instead of actually listening to what she’d said. How could they ever communicate openly when he was oblivious, or at the very least resistant to suggestions? It also didn’t help that he avoided talking about sex, which made starting a dialogue even more difficult than it needed to be. Winry loved him with all her heart and soul, but wished she could get him to see that there was more to being a couple than just sex.

“Ed, believe me, you’re anything but boring,” Winry responded with warmth and a hint of humor. She caressed his inflamed cheek, her fingertips skimming over his hot skin. When he didn’t shrink away she embraced him, one hand smoothing around to the nape of his neck, the other about his waist. Ed tensed yet stood his ground.

“I do think about you.” She hugged him close to speak quietly into his ear. “And I do think about us being together like that.”

Ed’s response was immediate and completely over the top. He enclosed her in his arms and pulled her close, seeking her mouth with his. Winry dissuaded his intentions by pulling free and securing a hand against his chest to keep him at arm’s length. As usual he had misread her words and actions. If only she could make him understand what she was trying to say without being too obvious. It wouldn’t do any good to have Ed close off emotionally if he felt too threatened by talking about sex.

She shook a chastising finger at him. “However,” she started once his expression shifted back to annoyed, “women don’t like to be rushed all the time, Ed. We like to be romanced, not just jump right into sex.” Certainly, that was clear enough without being blunt. “We need more time to be connected with our partners, more contact with our bodies to be…satisfied.”

Ed’s gaze dropped and a stripe of red flushed across the bridge of his nose and cheeks. “Geez, Winry,” he sulked, “that seems like a helluva lotta work just to get laid.”

Winry went cold, the words piercing her heart like a dagger and leaving behind a dull, lingering ache. Had he just told her she was no more than a convenient sexual outlet to him? Had she misread his intent all this time, inadvertently allowing him to use her?

 

haga02

Illustration by Len Barboza

 

Her hands fell to her sides. “I see,” she said, barely above a whisper. “That’s all I am to you, a way to get laid.” Her voice almost caught in her throat. “That’s all I have ever been, haven’t I?” Ed’s eyes went wide and Winry looked away, afraid to learn the truth she might see in them.

“Winry?” Ed’s quiet voice trembled with either disbelief or agreement, Winry couldn’t tell, but his anger was evident when he snapped, “What the hell?! I didn’t say that!

Winry’s own temper flared white-hot. She whipped her head around to glare at him. “Then what did you mean to say, Ed?! I thought you were pretty clear when you told me I was merely a way for you to get laid!”

Ed’s face twisted as he inflated with fury, his brow furrowing and lips curling into a sneer. “That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

“That’s exactly what you meant!” she shouted back, her resentment suppressing her desire to run and hide so she could cleanse her frayed emotions with tears.

“Stop twisting my words around!” Ed all but shrieked, viciously slashing the air between them with a hand. “I didn’t make the first move, Winry! You were the one that threw yourself at me! I didn’t start this! Now you want me to take all the blame?!”

Winry choked on her own breath. He was right. She had brought the entire set of circumstances upon herself. She felt numb, distant, as she struggled to process this realization.

She was both sad and angry. Sad, because it was obvious Ed didn’t feel the same toward her as she did about him. Angry, because she had acted upon her own feelings and initiated their first intimate encounter without fully considering that Ed might not reciprocate those feelings. All this had left her open to be used as nothing more than a mere sexual plaything.

Tears blurred her vision. She had loved him from a distance for so long that it had clouded her judgment and created the false belief that Ed loved her in return. Now his words had shown her just how wrong she was, and how much of a fool she’d been.

Despite this, her past indiscretions still didn’t give Ed the right to treat her in such an inconsiderate fashion. There was no way she would allow him to continue to toy with either her heart or emotions.

“No,” she responded, her voice steady, stone cold despite her inner turmoil. “You’re right. This is as much my fault as it is yours.” She held his stormy eyes with an icy glare. “I can easily fix this, though. Leave.” A tear finally escaped and slipped down her cheek.

Ed twitched back as if struck. His brows canted up, pinching together in a mixture of irritation and confusion. He huffed an annoyed sigh. “Fine, Winry. I’ll come back later when you calm down and pull yourself together.”

Even after all the words they’d just exchanged, Ed still didn’t fully comprehend how she felt.

“No, Ed. This is goodbye. Find yourself another mechanic, and ‘go look elsewhere’ for another ‘outlet’. We’re through.” Winry stood straight and willed her knees to stop shaking. It struck her that she might never see Ed again, but refused to cave in to the panic she felt at the thought. She had to stay strong and preserve what was left of her self-respect.

 

haga03

Illustration by Len Barboza

 

At long last, Ed seemed to grasp her intent. A look of concern replaced his anger, and the rising panic on his face was unmistakable as he took a step toward her. Winry dodged his hand when he reached for her and backed away from his touch.

“W-Winry?”

“Get out, Ed. I’m not going to tell you again.” She crossed her arms over her chest, setting up an impenetrable wall between them.

Ed scowled as his temper returned. “I’m sorry, already!” He snorted and jammed his fists onto his hips. “I just don’t understand why you’ve been so bitchy, lately! Why do you have your panties in such a twist?!”

Winry had never felt the level of rage that was now surging through her. Not only had Ed called her by a highly offensive term a second time, he was still completely blind to the events that lead to this confrontation. Perhaps it was time to enlighten him in no uncertain terms.

“You’re telling me you have no idea why I’m so—“ She clenched her teeth in an effort to restrain the rising desire to strangle him. “Maybe I’m such a bitch,” she emphasized the word with extreme sarcasm, “because you’re a clueless, selfish, ass!”

“Selfish—” Ed started, but wisely fell silent when Winry continued her rant.

“Yes, Edward, selfish! You never take me anywhere, and you never spend time with me unless you need your automail worked on or you want sex!” She jabbed an accusing finger at him. “Then, when we do have sex, you don’t bother to take the time to please me! You’re incapable of giving me what I need, either emotionally or in bed!” Another thought came to her and she finally knew how to phrase what she was trying to say in terms Ed would understand. “You’re breaking your own code, Edward, the alchemist’s code of ‘Equivalent Exchange!’ You’re taking without giving back!” she finished, her tone sharp.

Visibly dumbstruck over her accusation, Ed gaped back at her in stunned silence. Then something seemed to break deep within and he sagged, casting a shamed look toward the floor. He drew in a deep breath. “Winry, I never meant to hurt you—.”

“Well, you did, Ed. I feel cheap and dirty. Like you’re ashamed of me. Like I’m good enough for you to have sex with, but not good enough to be your girlfriend.” Her voice was brittle. “I can’t live like that, knowing you don’t care enough about me to treat me right.”

“But Winry, I do—”

“No, you don’t!”

“Winry, why won’t you listen to what I have to say—?!”

“Because you’ve said enough already, Edward! Get out,” she repeated, not wanting to hear his excuses. “Just GET OUT!” She scooped up the first thing she could reach, the cushion, and flung it at him. Ed wasn’t able to duck the missile and just barely avoided the next as Winry hurled an oilcan. It struck the wall behind him, leaving a dark stain behind as it clattered to the floor.

GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!

Without argument, Ed gathered up his things and hurried to the door. He yanked it open, hesitating to cast a furious glare over his shoulder. When Winry snatched up another weapon from the bench, he slammed the door behind himself, just in time to avoid the socket wrench she launched at him. The wrench left a sizable mark in the wood before its journey ended next to the oilcan.

Winry stood rigid at first, panting as tears streamed down her face. She listened to Ed’s heavy tread retreat, then the bell on the front door clatter wildly just before the door slammed shut. The following silence was deafening and very final.

‘I won’t cry! I refuse to cry!’ The little voice in her head coached. She clenched her hands into tight fists. ‘He can’t treat me that way, I won’tallow him to! I deserve to be treated better than that!’

‘I won’t… '

Oh god, he’s…gone.’

Her resolve cracked, then crumbled as all the pain and fear broke through her tough exterior.

'He’s gone.’

She slumped to her knees, a low sound escaping her. The sound degraded into unequivocal grief as she voiced her despair in wracking sobs, her body shaking with every breath.

He’s really gone.’

 

haga04

Illustration by Len Barboza

 

She had never felt so alone as she did now; she hadn’t felt this alone, even after learning of her parent’s deaths in the Ishvallan war. Ed had always been there in one capacity or another, had always been part of her life, and she had never once doubted they would always be together. In an instant, her happy childhood illusions had been shattered. It looked as if she would be moving on with her life without the man she loved.

‘No!’ a voice shouted inside her head. ‘I won’t cry, I won’t! I won’t cry over someone who doesn’t love me back!’

It was some time before Winry reined in her emotions and stifled her tears. Setting her jaw with determination, she climbed to her feet and methodically put away her scattered tools. Lastly, she cleaned up the mess made by Ed’s hasty exit.

‘I’ve lived without him before. I can live without him now,’ Winry told herself as she retreated to the lavatory to cleanse all traces of Ed’s touch from her skin.

 %%%%%

 Deep gold eyes stared down dark ones, peering into them as if seeking the very depths of her soul. Deep, steady breaths were the only sound in the room, the rhythmic noise reflecting the profound concentration between them.

“Are you sure?” Al asked, leaning in closer, his gaze still locked with the young woman’s.

She responded to his challenge without flinching. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

Al picked up the card she’d just tossed down. “I’m out!” he declared and slapped his cards onto the table. He beamed in triumph as he deposited a final card onto the discard pile.

Paninya’s eyes went wide and she frowned with frustration. “Aww! Not again! That’s the fourth time in a row you’ve beat me!” She threw her losing hand onto the table where they scattered.

Al chuckled as he gathered the cards together. “I did ask you if you were sure about throwing away that last one.” He scraped them into a deck and began to shuffle. “You gave me the very one I needed to go out. Another game?”

The ex-pickpocket favored Al with a sour expression. “No way! You’ll just beat me again!” She sat back in her chair and stretched, causing several vertebrae to shift and pop.

Of course, Al couldn’t resist the chance to admire her tanned skin and lightly muscled physique, but shyly lowered his gaze when she sat forward again. In the five years since his release from his metal prison, girls had become quite an interesting subject to him, one that challenged his intellect and curiosity. While he had dated a bit here and there, women were still mysterious and Al loved nothing more than solving a mystery.

Paninya heaved a sigh of boredom. She plunked her elbows onto the tabletop, and propped her chin in her hands. “It’s been almost two hours. When do you think those two will come up for air?”

Al smiled, amused that Paninya was thinking the same thing as him. “Probably not too much longer. But Winry hasn’t seemed very happy with Ed lately. I don’t think she’ll want to do anything other than work on his automail.”

“I noticed. Nothing specific, but I can tell by the way she complains, like she’s cheesed off at him over something.” She raised a curious eyebrow. “You wouldn’t happen to know, would you?”

Al shrugged. “No, not really. They seem to fight a lot more than they used to, but sometimes I think they use arguments as a weird kind of foreplay.”

Paninya guffawed. “I think your right, Al!” She sat straight and slapped her knees. “I’m bored! Let’s walk back to Garfiel’s and see what trouble we can stir up!”

Al nodded in agreement. “Good idea. I think the bartender is ready to throw us out, anyway. We haven’t bought any soda in over an hour.”

As if he had heard Al’s remark, the huge, balding man polishing glasses behind the bar threw him a dirty look.

“Yup, time to go. Gino’s get’n antsy,” Paninya harrumphed. They stood and made their way to the door, Al pausing to let her go through first. They shielded their eyes against the harsh desert sunlight as they stepped out from the pub’s dim interior.

“Alphonse! I found you! Let’s go!”

Started, Al turned and squinted in the direction of his brother’s angry voice. Ed was pacing toward them, each heavy step stirring up dust from the unpaved street.

“Ed? Go where?” he asked, puzzled by his brother’s vague statement.

“Back to Central!” Ed declared in a snarl as he brushed past them and continued down the street.

“But why?” Al protested. He screwed his eyes tighter so he could see him better. “We just got here!”

“Yeah,” Paninya chimed in with a big grin. “Besides, the next train isn’t leaving for another four hours. Wouldn’t you rather wait back at Garfiel’s with Winry, Al, and me?”

Ed turned a deadly glare on her with bared teeth. “Mind your own business!” he snapped. “There’s no way I’m staying here that long, especially at Garfiel’s. You couldn’t make me stay anywhere near that bit—“

“Ed!” Al shot back. “Don’t be so rude! Paninya was only trying to—”

“Let’s GO, Al!” Ed cut him off. Quiet fury flashed in his eyes as he stared Al down. When Al didn’t immediately follow, he stomped away.

“What the— What’s eatin’ him?” Paninya drawled. She touched a thoughtful finger to her chin. “I wonder what happened between those two this time?”

Al watched his brother disappear around a corner before turning back to Paninya. “I don’t know, but whatever it was it’s pretty serious this time. You’d better go talk to Winry. I’ll bet she’s really upset, too.”

“I’m on it!” Paninya trotted off in the direction of Garfiel’s. “Catch up with you next time, Al!” She waved over her shoulder.

“Okay!”

Al ran to catch up with Ed, and was out of breath by the time he came level with him nearly a block later. He matched Ed’s pace, catching his breath to speak without straining. “Brother?” he ventured cautiously.

“WHAT?!”

“What happened between you and Winry?”

“We had a fight!”

“Go back and apologize. You know she never stays mad at you for long. I’m sure when—“

“I can’t!” Ed stepped up his pace, forcing Al to keep up.

“Yes you can!” Al scolded. “Stop being stubborn and just tell her you’re sorry!”

“I. CAN’T!” Ed snarled and came to an abrupt halt. Al stumbled to a stop to keep from walking past him. Ed spun around, and Al was struck by the odd look in his brother’s eyes. There was confusion and hurt besides the expected anger. Whatever had happened, this fight had been a doozy.

Because anger was still the predominate emotion, Al knew Ed would be even more obstinate than usual. Ed needed to talk things out with his girlfriend and make things right before they left.

Why can’t you?” Al persisted. He crossed his arms over his chest, mirroring Ed’s stubbornness.

Ed’s face tightened with emotion and he mumbled something unintelligible before stomping off again. Al caught up a few steps later.

“Ed—“

“I said…” Ed swallowed hard and hesitated before continuing. “She broke up with me. She told me to…to find another mechanic and never come back.”

The confession stupefied Al into silence; he simply couldn’t believe what Ed had just told him. Ed and Winry fighting was not an uncommon thing, but Winry telling Ed to look for another mechanic—that was cause for alarm. Typically Winry wouldn’t allow Ed to even so much as consider letting anyone else work on her masterpieces.

“Sh-she broke up with me,” Ed reiterated in a near whisper. Al recognized the subtle anguish beneath his mask of anger. There was even a faint sparkle of tears in his eyes.

This had been no ordinary fight.

They continued on, exchanging no words, not even after Ed had purchased their tickets and they had settled onto a bench outside the station. It was some time later before Al could formulate any kind of a response that wouldn’t trigger his brother’s temper or drive him away.

“Ed?”

“You know Winry loves you, right?”

Ed squirmed a bit then shrugged. “I thought she did. I guess I was wrong.”

“She’s just mad at you, Brother. I know she’ll get over it. She always does, because she loves you.”

A defeated sigh. “It’s different this time, Al. She meant what she said.”

“Then you have to find a way to change her mind. Right?”

Ed’s gazed distantly at the open expanse of mountainous, rocky landscape beyond the tracks. Finally, he nodded and turned to Al with renewed determination.

“Yeah. You’re right. But for now, I have to go back to Central. I need time to think and figure some stuff out.”

“Just don’t wait too long, Ed.”

“I won’t.” Ed looked up at the clear sky and yawned. “It’s awfully hot here, isn’t it?” This was Ed’s way of saying he didn’t want to talk about the situation anymore. Changing the subject had been Ed’s habit of diversion ever since Al could remember, yet it also signified he wasn’t going to give up so easily.

Content with this knowledge, Al smiled and tipped back to look up at the cloudless expanse of blue sky along with his brother.

“Yup. Sure is.”

 

To be continued in Part 4

Chapter Text

Welcoming warmth and the scent of cigarette smoke enveloped Mustang as he entered the bar. He closed the door against the winter chill and drank in the familiar sights and sounds as well as the sense of comfort that coming to this place always gave him.

As he slipped from his coat and hung it on the coat rack, it occurred to him that Vanessa hadn’t come running to hug him in greeting. In fact, none of the girls had, which mystified him. Although he had never demanded attention from his substitute family, he still enjoyed it.

His confusion was dispelled as a feminine squeal came from the other side of the room. There, several of the girls stood in a tight clutch around someone sitting at the end of the bar. Mustang grimaced; even though a bit envious, he could almost pity whoever was the center of the girls’ attention. They could be a bit overzealous when they found something or someone they really liked.

“Oh come on, now! You’re just so cute! All I want to do is kiss you on the cheek!” It was Barbara’s voice that carried to him, and it sounded as if she had targeted her next victim. The muttered response from the hidden patron was low, unintelligible, but Mustang swore it sounded familiar.

“Roy-boy! Good to see you!”

Roy smiled at his foster mother and removed his scarf to hang it with his coat. “Madame Christmas.” He nodded in respect. “I needed a little time to relax, so I thought I’d drop by and say hello.” He perched on a stool across the polished wooden counter from the corpulent woman.

The commotion continued to rage at the other end of the bar, the eager covey of women still badgering their unfortunate victim. Mustang frowned at them, annoyed by the racket. He found the elevated level of noise jarring after a long day of butting heads with other officials.

Christmas leaned forward on the bar as she flashed Mustang a smirk. “Are you sure ‘Elizabeth’ approves of you coming here?”

“C’mon now, she knows why I come here and besides, you’re the one that sent me a message asking me to stop in.”

“Have you popped the question, yet?” Christmas asked, her red painted lips curling into a wry smile. She straightened and added, “The usual?”

“Yes, the usual, and no, I haven’t asked her yet,” Roy shot back, tapping a forefinger on the bar. “Is that why you wanted me to come here tonight? Because if that’s so, you could have saved both of us the trouble by asking me over the phone.” Another round of giggles caused Roy to glance away from Christmas’ scolding but amused gaze, if only for a second.

“You’d best not wait too long, son,” Christmas said, taking a bottle from the shelf behind the bar and pouring a measure of amber liquid into a glass. “She’s a patient woman, but she won’t wait forever.” She dropped several ice cubes into the scotch and slid a coaster toward him before setting the glass on it. “You did buy the ring, didn’t you?” Christmas pried as she leaned on crossed arms.

Her line of questioning was making Mustang cross; he wasn’t interested in debating this particular subject at the moment and his foster mother’s persistence was only fueling his irritation. He took a healthy swig from his glass and set it down firmly.

“Let’s drop the subject for now. I’ll let you know when I’ve proposed—”

His words were cut off by a familiar voice barking ‘Stop it!’ and another round of boisterous giggles from the girls. Even as the liquor began its warming, calming effects on his senses, it finally clicked in Mustang’s head as to why the voice sounded so familiar. Certainly, he’d heard wrong.

“Get OFF me!! Don’t touch me likeTHAT!!” the voice spat vehemently, and there was no longer any doubt in his mind to whom it belonged.

“Fullmetal?!”

“He’s the reason I asked you to come by, Roy-boy,” Christmas said with an evil grin. “Your young friend here came in looking for you. He’s the one who wanted you to stop in tonight.”

Mustang blinked once, twice, as his brain attempted to process this information. Had he heard his foster mother correctly?

“But I think you’d better rescue him,” she chortled, “before the girls rob him of any innocence he might still have.”

Incredulous, Mustang snapped around and gaped at his ‘mother’ again. “You gotta be kidding me! Fullmetal? Here?!”

“See for yourself.” Christmas placed two fingers to her lips and let out a whistle almost shrill enough to shatter the mirror behind the bar. She clapped her hands twice when the girls turned to her, indicating she wanted their compliance. “Okay, ladies, you’ve had your fun. Let him up for air.”

With a round of disappointed ‘awww’s’, the young women backed away from their quarry and dispersed. Only one lingered long enough to run a hand across Ed’s chest and down his belly in a suggestive manner. He jerked away from her touch so violently that he nearly fell off the barstool.

Mustang sighed. So much for enjoying a quiet evening.

“Okay, Barbara. I think he’s had enough,” Mustang said, which was an understatement. Even at this distance he could see the deep flush on Ed’s face.

Barbara stuck her tongue out at Mustang and leaned in to whisper something into Ed’s ear before she retreated. The mortified expression on his face gave Mustang some idea of what the brunette’s parting words might have been.

Ed didn’t acknowledge his rescuer. Instead, he lifted his glass and drained the remaining contents in one gulp. Judging by the color and opacity of the liquid he had just consumed, Mustang knew that Ed wasn’t imbibing in his usual orange soda.

This odd behavior intrigued him. Why had Fullmetal come here looking for him, and why was he drinking booze? Both highly suspicious actions by themselves, but in combination…

Mustang stood, picked up his glass, and sauntered over to sit next to him.

“Fullmetal,” Mustang grunted in greeting. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the young man’s larynx bob in a nervous swallow. Whatever reason Ed had sought him out, it wasn’t something he was comfortable with.

“Vice Chancellor Mustang,” Ed finally croaked, still not making eye contact.

Mustang looked closer and stifled a chuckle. It seemed as if Ed had already been waiting for quite a while, considering the glazed look in his eyes. If he kept drinking like he was, the kid would have one hell of a hangover in the morning, especially since Ed wasn’t known to drink at all.

Mustang sighed mentally. Might as well find out why he was acting so out of character.

“I understand you wanted to see me, Fullmetal. So, what brings you to this part of town? And you can call me ‘Roy.’”

Ed didn’t immediately respond. When he did speak, he tapped the bar with an automail finger, beckoning Christmas for a refill.

“Another one, please,” Ed requested politely. He threw a baleful glance at Mustang. “Wan’ another? I’m buying.”

“What gives, Fullmetal? Since when did you start drinking? And since when did you learn to be polite?”

“Shuddup,” Ed shot back without his usual hostility. “Do you wan’ a drink or not, Roy?”

Mustang thought it over; should he indulge him or should he put his foot down now? Indulge, of course. It would be amusing to watch Ed’s cognitive faculties as they deteriorated. Besides, resulting conversation could be great fodder for future torment. He shrugged noncommittally. “Sure.”

Ed pointed at the empty glasses in front of them when Christmas approached. “N’other round.”

She cocked a skeptical eyebrow at Mustang, seeking his endorsement. When he answered with an almost imperceptible nod, she took Ed’s glass and walked away.

Mustang turned back to Ed. “How many drinks have you had, Fullmetal? You won’t be of any use to Barbara if you’ve had too much.”

“Fuck you. And none of yur business,” came the sharp reply.

“It is my business if I have to carry you out of here. Wait—I have no intention of tarnishing my image. I’ll just hand you over to Barbara and let her put you to bed. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to ‘accommodate’ you.” He took a long draw from his scotch, finally finishing it.

“Yur a real prick, ya know,” Ed muttered. The booze was already affecting him, slurring his speach. When Christmas returned with the drinks, Ed fished his wallet from his back pocket and pushed a handful of cenz toward her. He watched anxiously as she collected Mustang’s empty glass and the money. “Keep the change,” he rasped, returning the wallet to his pocket. Ed then focused on his natural hand, which was holding onto his full glass as if it were a lifeline.

The Madame shot him a surprised look. An odd grin stretched her lips when Mustang rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Thanks, kid,” she replied and retreated to the back room.

An uncomfortable silence settled between the two men. Ed seemed afraid to speak. As Mustang waited for an explanation to his bizarre behavior, he discreetly used the time to observed Ed, hoping he would find some clue as to what demons were haunting him.

It was evident that Ed had matured over the last few years, now only a shadow of the youth that had challenged Führer Bradley during his alchemy test to obtain his State Alchemist’s license. Gone was the youthful roundness to Ed’s face. He was taller, his frame squarer, and his physique better defined. Mustang could easily see why Barbara and the other girls were fighting for his attention; Ed was strikingly handsome and he felt a pang of envy jolt through him.

In spite of the fact that Ed was painfully shy, self-conscious, and sometimes downright rude, he was the center of female attention. The very same attention Mustang had once enjoyed. Women didn’t seem quite as drawn to him now that he had gotten to his early thirties, which left him feeling a bit nostalgic over the loss of his youth. But then he reminded himself that that lifestyle was no longer necessary; he had already won his perfect woman and was ready to settle down with her.

Well, eventually, anyway.

The two men sat in silence for a while longer before Ed made an attempt to speak by clearing his throat. “I—I need y—yur,” he paused long enough to take a deep breath, “advice,” he finished in a hoarse whisper. “I—I have ah problem th—that I’m not sure I c—can figure out on m’ own.” With that said, Ed took a deep swallow of his drink.

That must’ve hurt like hell. Normally Ed would rather die than ask him for help. When Ed didn’t immediately continue, Mustang gleefully jumped in. “Having trouble with an alchemic equation?”

“No.”

“With your brother?”

“Nah.”

“Your reassignment papers?”

“No.”

“Your pension? It’s not enough?”

“I’m good.”

“You figured out you’re a cross-dresser?”

“Hell, no!!”

“Found out Al’s actually your little sister?” Mustang grinned to himself. Toying with Ed was just too much fun.

“Jus…juss shut the fuck up and lissen!” Ed turned a glassy but very fiery glare on him.

“Tell me and I’ll stop guessing.” Mustang said, unimpressed with Ed’s drunken bluster. Then he smirked. “It can’t be women problems! You can’t even look one in the eye without blushing or running in the opposite direction!”

Ed stiffened and his lax expression turned sullen.

“Wait a minute…No way.” A light came on in Mustang’s head as he pondered the impossible. “Edward, you didn’t get some unfortunate young lady pregnant, did you?” He snorted derisively. “Oh, wait, that can’t be it. Look who I’m talking about, here.”

Ed’s temper flared white-hot. “Dammit, no! I dinnit get anyone pregnant!” He slumped, hiding his face behind his long blond bangs as if embarrassed. “We…we were careful ‘bout that…” In the next second, Ed looked as if he were going to be sick and Mustang sidled away.

So the kid wasn’t a virgin anymore. Couldn’t be anyone from Central. Mustang would’ve heard about it if she were. Wait…hadn’t Riza mentioned he was sweet on his mechanic, the Rockbell girl?

When Ed stayed quiet for too long, Mustang thought it best to say something and bring the kid out of his stupor, just in case he was either getting sick or ready to pass out. “Fullmetal, you’re looking rather ill. Are you okay?”

Ed idly waved him away, but his face was still an unhealthy color and covered with a thin sheen of sweat.

“Edward, if you didn’t get anyone pregnant, then what’s so serious that you had to talk to me? Is it that you want to propose but are afraid to?” Mustang grinned and shifted over a bit further, making the stool to scrape harshly across the floor. Ed wasn’t as green when he looked up, but still didn’t look well.

“She…she threw me out. She broke up wi’ me,” he whined piteously, his glazed eyes half-lidded as if in shame.

Stifling a laugh, Mustang hid his smile behind a hand. “Well, that’s no surprise. As crass as you are, it’s easy to understand why no woman would put up with your shit for very long.”

Ed’s crushed expression put the brakes on Mustang’s well-intended ribbing. The young man looked genuinely wounded by his words. Maybe it would be best to get to the heart of the problem before taunting him further.

“What did you do to her? If you some idea, you might be able to make up for it. Most women do appreciate real effort when it comes to apologies.” An inner conflict flickered across Ed’s face. Whatever it was, Ed obviously felt too timid to talk about it. “Again, Edward, I can’t help you unless I know what the problem is. She must be very important to you or you wouldn’t have sought my advice.”

“She wouldn’t lissen to me when ah tried to apa—apologize.”

“Good grief, Fullmetal just what the hell did you do?”

“It…it’s wha I din’t do.” His reply was so soft that Mustang found himself wishing he hadn’t retreated so far from Ed’s side.

“And? That was…?” Mustang prompted again, reminding himself to be patient with Ed’s reticence.

“I…I…” Ed swallowed again and a peculiar expression came over his face. “This was stupid. I nev’r should hev come here.” He took a gulp from his drink.

“But you are here, so you’d best start talking.”

Mustang tried a different tact when no answer came. “Okay, let’s start with who. Can you at least tell me who she is?” He took a judicious sip from his own glass. It would be best to keep his senses about him, even if it was obvious Edward would shortly be passed out on the floor. He needed to be sober enough to explain the subtleties of male-female relationships well enough so that this sometimes-clueless prodigy could understand, even while drunk senseless.

A moment of hesitation, then Ed spoke quietly, wistfully. “Winry. M’ chil’hood friend, Winry Rockbell.”

It made total sense; she was the only one who could keep him under some semblance of control. Mustang had to admit that Ed certainly had excellent taste in women.

Mustang waited long enough for a dramatic pause before replying. “Of course. If anyone could put up with you, it would be her. But then again, apparently not, considering she threw you out.”

Ed’s fire returned, albeit watered down by the liquor. It was almost as if Mustang had called him the ‘s’ word. It was gone the next instant, replaced with guilt.

“Sorry,” Mustang conceded with a quick wave. “That was in bad taste, I know.” He looked at the deep amber liquid in the bottom of his glass, acting as if the way it wound around the ice cubes was terribly fascinating. “From what little I know about her, she’s pretty tolerant of you, Edward. I’m at odds trying to figure out what you did that would set her off to the point she’d do something that drastic.”

“Ah…ah disappointed her,” came the simple reply, followed by, “Ah made her feel bad ‘bout herself when I sed’ and did some ‘thins I shouldn’t ‘ave.” Ed drained the glass and set it down with a thump.

Disappointed? The gears in Mustang’s head worked for a bit before even more impossible (okay, maybe not impossible, but certainly not as plausible) scenarios flitted through his mind. Certainly, the kid couldn’t be that clueless.

Then again…

“Cood we get ‘nother round, here?!” Ed nearly bellowed to Christmas, who had stepped into the back room. He flailed as he momentarily lost his balance on the barstool, but caught himself before slipping to the floor. He sat motionless for an extended moment before sinking down to rest his head atop crossed arms.

Christmas appeared and Mustang held up a hand as she approached. “No more for us, thanks,” he said, nodding toward the inebriated young man.

“I wan’ ‘nother!” came the slurred protest from the depths of Ed’s arms.

Mustang shook his head again and leaned over the bar to whisper in his stepmother’s ear as she tipped toward him. “What’s he been drinking?”

“Orange juice and Drachman vodka,” she replied in her own whisper and pointed to the empty glass in front of the mound of blond hair. “That was his fourth.”

Mustang winced. The kid would be very sick in the morning. “Can you switch him to straight orange juice? And maybe bring something to eat? We need to sober him up a little.”

“Sure, kiddo,” she whispered back. Patting his arm affectionately, she retreated to the other end of the bar.

Mustang turned back to the human puddle at his side and resumed the discussion without missing a beat. “You’re not the first man that’s said or done something to upset a woman to the point of banishment. Whatever you did, it must have been a real doozy. And disappointing our women is a matter of course; we can’t avoid doing it from time to time.”

“Buh…I di’nt mean to.” Ed issued a quiet hiccup.

“We never do.”

Another pause. At that moment, Christmas returned with a basket of pretzels and a glass of what Mustang assumed was straight orange juice. She refused when he went to pay. “It’s on the house, Hon,” she said before leaving them alone again.

“Ed.”

“Mmnff?”

“EDWARD!”

“Yesh!” He snapped upright and almost fell backwards off the stool. By sheer luck and determination, Ed righted himself and turned a bleary eye on Mustang.

“I’ve come all the way out here because you wanted to talk to me, so talk,” Mustang ordered. “Or I’m going home to my woman and my warm bed and you can deal with Barbara on your own.”

Ed looked defeated. Heaving a sigh, he reached for his ‘drink’. Mustang almost laughed at the peevish look on Ed’s face after he tasted the concoction, but managed to contain it. Ed flushed a brilliant red and squirmed as he screwed up the courage to speak. However, Mustang couldn’t have guessed or even expected the words Ed said next.

“You know ah lot ‘bout women? ‘Bout how to please them?” It was more of a statement than a question and Ed ploughed ahead without waiting for an answer. “Wha do women wan’, wha do they need fro’ a man?” He poked himself in the chest with an automail finger hard enough, Mustang was sure, to leave a bruise behind. “I thought ah knew after our firs’ time. Buh she told me it wasn’ enough.”

This left Mustang flabbergasted. Ed was asking him for sexual advice?! Unable to hold back his mirth any longer, Mustang barked out a laugh, which earned him another scathing look.

He cleared his throat. “My apologies. That was inappropriate.” Mustang turned to face a prickly Ed. “Let me get this straight; you’re having trouble in bed, correct?” When Ed curled his upper lip in a snarl, he knew he had hit the nail on the head. Given Ed’s rather direct, headstrong personality, Mustang could almost guess what the problem was.

When a metal digit snapped up to point at a spot between his eyes, Mustang nearly went cross-eyed to track it. “Don’ you DARE say en’thing to an’one ‘bout this!” Ed spat in his anger. Then he deflated, dropping his arm into his lap as the embarrassment and guilt returned.

A sense of pity overtook the older man; his first encounters with women hadn’t been easy either, but at least he had the sense to learn from his mistakes. It also helped that he’d grown up in an environment where he was taught about how to address a woman’s needs. Ed had basically raised both his younger brother and himself with little other influences in his life except for the beautiful young mechanic and her cantankerous grandmother. He really did need the advice of a more experienced male in order to aid his emotional growth into a man.

Mustang huffed a sigh. “Alright, Edward, it’s a secret, between us. I promise.” Ed relaxed and reached for his drink, only to stop mid-motion as if changing his mind. Mustang briefly wondered if Madame Christmas had added an herbal tonic to the drink that would help Ed with the process of sobering up and alleviate the worst symptoms of the impending hangover. It tasted bitter and was hard to mask beneath coffee, let alone orange juice.

Reminding himself they still hadn’t resolved the issue, Mustang considered the best approach to this particular subject without driving away the socially inept young man.

“Have you been a couple for some time?” Mustang asked, delicately trying to gather as much information as he could in order to find a point from which to start the conversation.

Ed gave a sloppy shrug. “Dunno…maybe six or seven months.”

“How many times have you…been together?”

The muscles in Ed’s jaw worked as he clenched his teeth together. His face glowed red. “Nah sure. Nah very many,” came the obscure answer. His eyes never moved from the glass in front of him.

Great. The kid was still pretty new to this game.

“What did she say when she told you she was ‘disappointed’?

“This is gettin’ kinda personal…” Ed muttered.

“Do you want my help or not?” Mustang said calmly.

Ed surrendered. “She ‘tol me I cud’nt give her wha she needed…in bed. Or wif the e-emotional stuff. Thah I didn’t obey the law of ‘Equivalen’ Eschange.” He swallowed hard again. “She sed she felt used.”

Mustang didn’t know whether he should be amused or mortified by Ed’s confession. Unable to come up with a response that wouldn’t sound facetious, he quietly cleared his throat and asked, “Um…anything else?”

Ed’s features grew pinched. “She tol’ me women don’ like to be rushed, thah they like ta be romanced.” He said the last word as if it were distasteful.

“There’s nothing wrong with romance, Edward. It’s beneficial to both you and your lady, if you let it be.”

“Buh…it’s ah girly thing!”

“No, it’s not. Are you really this immature?” Mustang said sharply, tiring of Ed’s adolescent point of view. “A real man knows that romance is important if they want to make things better between himself and his lover. Only a kid believes it’s ‘girly’. You’re well past the age of dipping a girl’s hair in an inkwell or slipping bugs down her dress! Act like it!”

“Damn you!” Ed hissed through clenched teeth. He fisted his prosthetic hand. “Ahm not ah kid! Ahm not!” His breath came in forced gasps and he trembled with barely contained fury.

Mustang tensed, his battle-honed reflexes kicking in. He had expected this reaction from Ed. Although he was secure in knowing it wouldn’t take much to knock Ed onto his ass, he’d rather not take any harsh action. He knew it wasn’t the young man’s intention to start a physical altercation, but Mustang also knew alcohol could cloud Ed’s judgment and cause him to do something stupid.

Mustang realized he knew Ed better than the young man knew himself. Now, if he could only get Ed to understand that he needed to re-examine his way of thinking…

He faced down Ed’s swelling rage and continued in a calm, non-judgmental tone. “Don’t tell me. Your approach to sex is like your approach to life in general: always in a hurry, always full force, and always moving forward without a plan. Or do you consider sex as something to study, something that has a fixed variable? Sex isn’t science, Ed. It’s about sharing something deep and meaningful with someone your care about. I’m thinking what Miss Rockbell wanted from you was more than simple recreational sex; she wanted to experience something profound with someone she cares about. If you haven’t made Miss Rockbell happy every time you two have been together, it’s no wonder she thinks you’re using her.”

He held steady against Ed’s vitriolic glare, waiting for him to take a swing, but the moment passed without incident. Ed slouched, a bleak, haunted light replacing the rage in his eyes as he stared at the floor. Mustang took this as his cue to continue.

”There comes a time in a young man’s life when he realizes that there’s more than one person in a relationship, more than just himself. That he has to think about someone outside himself.” Mustang met his eyes with purpose when Ed looked up at him like a scolded puppy. “That he must think beyond his own needs and address the needs of the woman. That’s what you must do for Miss Rockbell.”

“So…it…it was mah fault. Sh—she has ev’ry right ta be pissed at me.”

Mustang held his tongue, allowing Ed to process the epiphany he had just experienced. Maybe there was hope for him after all.

“Shit.” Ed’s spat in a near-whisper. He covered his face in shame.

Mustang reached for his drink and took a swallow, grimacing when the watered-down liquor filled his mouth. The ice had melted, which meant the conversation had gone on much longer than he thought. It was time to wrap things up and judging by Ed’s sloppy movements and slurred speech, he about done, too.

“Edward,” Mustang said firmly, capturing Ed’s attention once more. When Ed lowered his hands, he could easily see the depth of emotion in his eyes. This was something Ed rarely showed to anyone.

“She’ll forgive you. Take her out on a date and tell her how you feel.”

Ed’s fear returned, prompting Mustang to ask, “What now?”

“Ah’ve never…never taken Winry ohn a date…”

“You mean to tell me you’ve been boffing this poor girl and you’ve never even taken her out on a date?! Edward, that’s just plain…tacky! And disrespectful!”

Red faced, Ed gnashed his teeth. “She started it! I nev’r gottah chance ta ask her owt!”

“She start—!” Mustang let out an annoyed sound and pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off an impending headache. “While I really don’t want to know the details of that particular tale, I can understand why she had to make the first move. You’re so emotionally stunted that if she hadn’t done something drastic, she’d still be waiting for you to ask her out!” He snorted derisively. “Hell, she still is waiting!”

Ed curled his lip but remained silent.

“I’m also guessing that you’ve never told her how you feel about her, either.”

Ed’s hangdog expression said it all.

It seemed unbelievable that Ed really was that emotionally stunted.

“You do love her, don’t you?”

Ed absently stared at his abandoned drink. “…Yes. I do.” Ed’s words were quiet but clear.

“Then be a man and learn to treat her right. Am I on the right track, Fullmetal?”

“Yesh, sher.”

This was the first time Ed had willingly addressed Mustang as ‘sir’; he had to be drunk out of his mind.

“One last bit of advice; listen to what she has to say, really listen, and she’ll let you know what she wants. When you make love to her, you must take your time and let her know just how much she means to you. Savor her like you would a fine meal; enjoy every moment, every mouthful. Taste her, feel her, touch her, hear her, see her. Experience her and let her experience you. You’ll never regret it. And always, always respect her feelings. Respect her. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

A slight, yet thoughtful nod of acknowledgement was Ed’s answer.

Something else occurred to Mustang, one that might help drive his point home.

“And as much as I’d enjoy giving you misinformation just so I can sit back and watch you crash and burn, I couldn’t live with myself if I destroyed another man’s sex life.” Mustang retrieved a small notebook and fountain pen from his coat pocket and scrawled down several notes on a blank page. He tore it free with a swift motion and presented it to the wobbly young man, who had difficulty focusing on it.

“Tch!” Mustang clucked, more with sympathy than impatience. He stuffed the slip of paper into the breast pocket of Ed’s oversized black shirt. “Here. It’s a list of nice places here in Central where you can take Miss Rockbell on a date, and the address of a bookstore that specializes in more ‘adult’ subject matter. They carry the types of books that will help you learn about the finer nuances of ‘romance’. I’ve also given you the number to my private line in case you have any other questions.”

Ed looked down in delayed reaction to Mustang’s hand withdrawing from his pocket. He tipped his head up, still weaving a bit, and asked in a strangely curious tone, “Porn?”

“Yes, they have that, but they also carry books on relationships and ‘techniques’. I highly recommend that you look at them instead of the pornography.”

“Wha if…Winry woen’ go out wi’ me? She woen’ even talk to me.” Ed sounded downright wretched.

Mustang raised an eyebrow. A pathetic sounding Ed was something he was neither accustomed to, nor comfortable with.

Time for a pep talk.

“What are you, Fullmetal?! A man or a mouse?! If she refuses, don’t give up until she agrees to go out with you!” He was once again a commanding officer who could whip subordinates into action.

Ed snapped straight and attempted a salute, only to miss his forehead and nearly poke himself in the eye. “Shhir!”

Mustang wiped away the spittle on his face with a sleeve. “Good! Have you learned anything tonight?”

“Yesh!”

“What have you learned?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as Ed’s alcohol-soaked brain switched gears. “I hav’ ta be good to Whinry. I hav’ ta think ‘bout her, first.”

“Good boy.” Mustang grinned as Ed’s eyes went out of focus for a moment then fluttered as if weighted. Clearly he was exhausted and ready to pass out from the liquor.

Roy swiveled to beckon his foster mother over with a wave. “I think calling a taxi is in order, don’t you?”

Christmas scrutinized Ed for a moment and nodded. “I believe you’re right. Not unless he’d rather stay here for the night?”

Ed jolted alert at this, “No! Aye’ll go back ta the hotel!”

Both Mustang and Christmas laughed out loud.

“What’s wrong, Fullmetal? Barbara might be able to teach you a few things,” Mustang quipped. “Things that could be very useful to you.”

Ed’s anger returned but it was ineffectual in his deteriorated state of mind. “No! Aye ohnley whan Whinry! Don’ whan anybody else.”

Mustang smiled. “Good to hear. Now it’s time to get you home.”

Christmas threw an amused look at Ed, who had slouched to rest his head on the bar. “Too bad he didn’t drink more of the remedy I gave him. He would’ve felt a lot better in the morning.” She crossed over to the phone mounted on the wall behind the bar.

“Too bad he didn’t at least eat something,” Mustang mumbled. He reached out to keep Ed steady when he started to ooze forward off the stool. “Come on, Edward. Stay with me.” Ed’s head flopped at the sound of his name, nearly hitting it on the surface of the bar.

“Sure it wouldn’t be best if we put him in an unoccupied room for the night and let him sleep it off?” Christmas asked as she began to dial the phone.

“Do you trust Barbara to keep her hands to herself—hey!” Mustang lunged from his stool to catch Ed before he slid to the floor. He threw one of Ed’s arms around his shoulders and hauled him to his feet. Mustang frowned. “This kid has enough woman trouble already. His staying here would only make it worse.”

Christmas’ laugh was harsh but genuine. “Agreed, Roy-boy!” She turned and started speaking into the phone’s mouthpiece, asking for a taxi be sent to the bar’s address.

Mustang spent the next ten minutes trying to keep Ed sober enough so he wouldn’t need to be carried out to the curb. A short tussle ensued as Mustang helped Ed into his black long coat, then helped walk him about to keep him awake. It was a relief when the taxi finally arrived. After a final wrestling match, he managed to pour Ed into the back seat.

But Ed wasn’t willing to let go so easily. At first he clung to Mustang’s lapels, his mouth working, trying to form words. When Mustang finally pried him off, Ed became just lucid enough to mutter, “Thnks, Roy. I…I ahpreeshi-ate…yur help.”

“Let’s see how much you appreciate it in the morning, Fullmetal,” Mustang taunted. “Especially when you wake up with a hangover. And to your brother. I’m calling ahead to let him know you’re on your way.”

“No! Dnt’ tell Al!” There was genuine fear in Ed’s eyes and for a very brief instant, Mustang felt sorry for him.

His sympathy lasted for only that instant.

“Goodnight, Fullmetal.” Mustang shoved the car door closed and handed some cenz to the cabbie. “Military hotel. Keep the change.”

“Yes, sir! And thank you!” the driver responded before rolling up the window.

As the car pulled away Ed pressed his face against the rear windowpane, his mouth moving in what Mustang assumed was another round of thanks.

“Now you owe me for cab fare besides the 520 cenz, Fullmetal!” Mustang shouted and laughed when Ed held up the middle finger of his automail hand before sliding out of sight. When the taxi disappeared around the corner, Mustang returned to the bar.

Now he could enjoy spending some time with his foster mother in peace.