Actions

Work Header

A Game for Two Players

Work Text:

Ed was just getting somewhere with his train of thought when Fallman showed up. Which was fucking typical, because Mustang had sent him, and Mustang had great powers of aggravation even secondhand.

"Yeah, what?" Ed asked, dropping the front two legs of his stool back onto the floor.

"Apologies for interrupting, Sir," Fallman said. "Colonel Mustang requests your presence tomorrow morning at eleven o'clock."

And that was the other thing – Mustang was going to see him tonight himself for a roll in the sheets and dinner. Typical Mustang power games to send poor Fallman all the way over here to tell Ed something he could tell him-fucking-self in just a few hours.

"What's he want me for?" Ed asked.

"He didn't specify," Fallman said. "But if I would hazard a guess, I would say your performance review."

"Oh God," Ed said, involuntarily explosive. "Already?" Because that was a good use of his time, sitting around for an hour while Mustang regurgitated everything brilliant Ed'd done in the past year and then came up with a largely spurious list of supposed faults – oh, sorry, "areas for future improvement."
"Tell him I'll be there, if I remember," Ed said.

"Thank you, sir," Fallman said with a pained expression, and about-faced, closing the door behind him.

Great. Now not only had he lost his train of thought, but he was cranky too, with tomorrow's clusterfuck to endure.

"You shouldn't take it out on the Colonel's staff when you're annoyed with him, brother," Al said, in his I am tolerant but I am also a little disappointed in you voice.

"His fault for sending them down here like I'm some . . . some errand," Ed said, surfing the wave of foul feeling. "And hold on, according to you, shouldn't he come down here himself with his burning need to look upon my beloved countenance or something?"

Al managed to portray disapproval with nothing more than a tilt of the helmet. "I think the Colonel is very respectful of you, and of your relationship," he said, which was so fucking absurd that Ed nearly fell right off his stool laughing. But at least that resettled him a bit, and he was able to refocus on work for the rest of the afternoon.

Mustang did manage to show up himself that night, though he was an irritating five minutes early for their scheduled fucking and food – or food and fucking, whatever – appointment. Ed made him wait ten minutes in retaliation while he and Al compared notes. It would have been longer, but Al nudged him and said pointedly that he shouldn't keep the Colonel waiting.

"Thank you, Alfonse," Mustang said cordially, leaning against the lab table. "But never mind me. I'm happy to wait while Edward tucks in his books and kisses them all good night."

"Oh my God, why do I occasionally find you minimally attractive?" Ed demanded, swamped all over again by the utter absurdity of this proposition.

Mustang smirked in that way that always pissed Ed off, because it looked like he was thinking seven different things that he wasn't going to bother saying. "When you figure it out, let me know," he said, and waved a careless hand. "But I'm interrupting. Carry on."

"We're done," Ed snapped, irritation doubling. "Al, what're you going to do?"

"I'm going with Gracia and Alicia to a night walk in the Botanical Gardens," Al said happily.

"Have fun with the plants," Ed said, and grabbed his jacket.

"Have fun with the Colonel," Al shot back, and Ed stomped out, face prickling. It was all well and good for Al to know about sex – knowledge was always good. Well. Almost always. But there was a difference between Al knowing about sex and Al knowing about Ed having sex.

Mustang caught up with him outside and touched his elbow to guide him to the car.

"Abusing your position again, I see," Ed said, rolling his eyes at the military plates.

Mustang shot him a quick, startled look, something tense moving across his face. Then it was gone and he was just annoying, smiling Mustang again. "Well, if you'd rather walk . . ."

"Walked across half this damn country, haven't I?" Ed said, but he got in anyway because the autumn wind was picking up and his flesh toes were already cold.

"And back again," Mustang agreed gravely. "Through deserts and blizzards – sometimes simultaneously, according to you – and uphill both ways."

"Like to see you do it," Ed said, crossing his arms.

Mustang glanced at him, lips curling ambiguously. "I probably could," he said, and it was weird because he didn't say it right, like he was returning Ed's serve. "But the difference between you and me, Edward, is that I've lived long enough to learn not to spend my endurance on anything that isn't vitally important."

Well, whatever the fuck that meant. "There're lots of differences between you and me," Ed said, catching his own scowl in the mirror. Mustang kept doing that lately, saying weird things that just disengaged from the push-shove of their conversations and brought the whole thing to a screeching halt. And when'd they started having fucking conversations, anyway?

"That's true," Mustang said, enragingly. "I imagine you have a list for me."

Ed didn't, exactly, but he could certainly put one together in a hurry. That took long enough that he forgot to ask where they were going until it was obvious that Mustang was taking him to his house again, which meant he wanted to cook. He kept doing a lot of that, too. Ed didn't get it. Food was excellent, but it was ultimately just fuel for the biological machine. So, logically, there was a threshold of effort over which it became inefficient to expend energy just to get energy back. Not when you could pay someone to do it. Or watch Mustang while he did it for you. That was kind of satisfying.

It was chicken tonight, with a fancy creamy sauce and these crumbly biscuity things. "S'good," Ed said in the middle of his second helping, because mom and Granny Pinako had both agreed on the importance of saying that sort of thing to the cook.

"Thank you," Mustang said, and he actually looked pleased.

"I'm pissed at you," Ed said, setting down his fork.

"It is Thursday," Mustang said. "But do tell what have I done now?"

"You—" Ed said, then stopped, because he had this boiling head of steam going behind his eyes, but for once he couldn't immediately point a finger and say why. Fucking Mustang. That was enough, wasn't it? Fucking Mustang making food and being early like a bastard and putting ideas in Ed's brother's head. And still having his clothes on, the fucker. "Let's just fill in every enraging thing you've ever done, and you can start making it up to me," Ed said.

"Oh?" Mustang leaned forward, interested. "And how do you suggest I do that?"

Ed eyed him and considered his options. "You could blow me, to start with."

Mustang didn't say anything, he just got up and came around the table and picked Ed up right out of his chair. That last part was annoying; Ed dug vengeful fingers into the vulnerable place under Mustang's ribs to make him twitch, then burrowed up under his jaw, into the wilting collar of his uniform and the skin beneath that still smelled like aftershave. Mustang twitched again when Ed licked him there, but that was different.

He set Ed on his feet instead of tossing him around the bed like he usually did when he wanted to feel all manly. They took their clothes off, watching each other, and then Mustang came and fitted his warm hands around Ed's waist and bent down and kissed him, slow and deep.

"My mouth, is that what you said you wanted?" he murmured, drawing back an inch.

"It'll do," Ed said, swallowing.

Mustang pulled him to the bed, hands around his wrists, then spent an annoyingly long time arranging him like he was about to take his photograph, not do extremely dirty things to him. Ed snapped when Mustang actually went for his hair, like he wanted to sit there for the ten minutes it would take to unbraid it all and smooth it out.

"Oh my God, will you just get on with it," Ed said, and stretched up to bite Mustang's nipple.

Mustang yelped, quivered, and laughed. Not even the really smirky laugh, either.

"Your wish . . ." he said, and slid down and put his mouth right where Ed wanted it, no more messing around. Ed wriggled and sighed and enjoyed it, because credit where credit was due, Mustang was damn good at this. He made it wet, and just the right amount of messy, and he vibrated these soft, hungry noises right into Ed's arteries, it felt like. And he swallowed, too, which was more than you could say for a lot of people.

"Come on come on come on," Ed muttered, moving restlessly. "Mustang you – ah, don't stop, you bastard." And he came on the word, in that sudden way where it was short and sharp and almost too intense after the first perfect second.

Mustang came up and leaned over him while Ed caught his breath, and it was a full minute before Ed realized the bastard had taken advantage of his distraction to come back to his hair. He had it half unraveled, hands buried to the wrists.

"Is this another of your weird fetishes?" Ed asked, exasperated.

"I do not have–" Mustang stopped and huffed. "Would you let me come in your hair, Edward?"

"Ug!" Ed said involuntarily. "You freak."

Weirdly, this made Mustang smile. "You're the only person I know who says exactly what he thinks at any given moment," he said.

Ed scowled at him. "Would've thought you'd hate that," he said. "You being such a cagey bastard an' all."

Mustang's smile just got bigger. "On the contrary," he said. "It means I can trust you."

And right there, he'd done it again. The fuck was wrong with him lately? "I didn't say I wouldn't do it," Ed said, getting back to the point, thank you. "I just said you're a freak."

"Granted." Mustang tugged gently on his hair. "So, would you? Allow me?"

There was something about the way he said that. Like it was important. Like that's what it was all about, the nights they spent together. All about what Ed would permit him. That twisted low in his belly, and Ed's breath rasped in his lungs.

"Maybe," he said, just to see Mustang's face. "Maybe I'll think about it, maybe I won't."

Mustang outright grinned at that, almost appreciative. "You do that," he said, voice low. "Or don't. But come here."

He stopped messing with Ed's hair and tugged him up the bed. He was going for the lubricant, but all he did with it was smooth it over his dick, and then swing a leg across Ed and push his slippery dick between Ed's thighs. "Just like this," he said, breath catching. "All right?"

"Yeah," Ed said. Lookit that, Mustang'd actually found something he'd never done before. It was nicer than Ed would have thought, with Mustang's weight on him and his dick rubbing and rubbing. But it was weird, too. Intimate, that's what it was, with the slow way Mustang moved and no sound but their breathing, and the bedside lamp full in Mustang's face. Funny thing to think, considering everything else they'd done, usually half a dozen times over with extra acrobatics.

Mustang leaned over and kissed him once, kind of sloppy. He stayed hunched over like that, propped on his elbows, his breath rushing against Ed's cheek. "Oh," he said quietly, and shut his eyes when he came in a hot rush between Ed's thighs.

*

Al ejected Ed from the lab the next morning at five to ten. Ed stopped for coffee on the way to headquarters, but it was only a few blocks and he still got there at eight after the hour. So he lingered in the outer office for another fifteen minutes, transmuting the graphite out of all of Havoc's pencils and, while Havoc was distracted by that, improvising a formula for invisible ink on the fly and quietly applying it to his inkwell. At last Hawkeye turned around, pretending she had just noticed him there, and asked if he'd like her to announce him.

"Naw, he knows I'm here," Ed said, and sauntered through the open door. "Morning, bastard."

"Good morning," the Colonel said, looking up. "Close the door, please. Is that for me?"

"This?" Ed tossed the lump of graphite from one hand to the other, then lobbed it at Mustang. "Sure. Have a paperweight."

Mustang plucked it out of the air. "And if need arises, I can use it as cannon shot," he said gravely. "Thank you, Fullmetal. Have a seat."

"You didn't bellow," Ed said, stretching out on the couch. And if Mustang didn't want people doing that, then why'd he have a couch in the first place?

"Beg pardon?"

Ed jabbed his metal thumb at the door. "Eighteen minutes," he said. "That's the longest you've ever gone without coming to the door and shouting at me that I'm late. Until today. That's my favorite part, Mustang – what gives?"

"Oh, that." Mustang shuffled papers and picked up his pen. "I'm testing a new theory with you, Fullmetal, that's all."

Ed snorted. "What, if you wait long enough with the door open, I'll come in when I want?"

Mustang smiled in that weird I'm not actually amused right now way. "Something like that," he said. "Now, Major Elric, your performance review."

"Hold on." Ed wriggled and dug into his coat pocket. He was sure he'd remembered this morning – ah-ha. He pulled out a Slinkie. "Okay, go ahead," he said, flopping back.

There was one of those minuscule pauses where Mustang was counting to ten really fast. Ed loved those. "Ahem," Mustang said. "Well, let's see what we have here."

His voice settled quickly into a background drone, with a few key words making it all the way to Ed's brain. That was nice of him, because Ed had always worked better with a bit of noise, though it was best when it was Al. Still, might as well get some use out of this and take another crack at that same transitive transmutation problem he'd been kicking at for three weeks now.

" . . . damage totaling over five thousand . . ." Mustang was saying. Ed hummed comfortable agreement. He dangled the Slinkie over his face and squinted up the gently bobbling end of it. The equations unfolded in his head again, for the thousandth time, neat and inevitable and right, damn it, up to the very last step when some invisible hammer came out of nowhere and knocked the whole thing sideways.

". . . received four complaints and five letters of thanks for your . . ."

Ed pushed his skull irritably into the cushions. This wasn't doing any good. He'd run the math so many times that, if there was an error, he wasn't going to be able to see it. If there was an error at all.

". . . accomplished the mission objectives, though in an entirely unorthodox . . ."

If there wasn't an error. Ed jiggled the Slinkie, imagining that he was jiggling his brain with it. If there wasn't an error . . . well, if there wasn't an error, then there was an error. An enormous, shattering one, right at the heart of the fundamental transmutative syllogisms. All right. Take out the static variables. Pretend a scrubbed down universe – no oxygen in the air, no gasses at all, no particle transfer from the work surface because no work surface. Nothing at all, just the elements. And start again. If—

" . . . paperwork for your promotion, if—"

"Gah!" Ed let go of the Slinkie, which thumped onto his face and sproinged off onto the floor. "Mustang, damn it, you made me lose it all. And what the hell do you mean, promotion?"

Mustang frowned over his desk. "You're due," he said slowly, like Ed was an idiot. "Six years of service and an . . . the word exemplary is supposed to go here, but let's just say that you have a record and leave it at that."

"I don't want a promotion," Ed snapped. "I don't need a biscuit and a pat on the head, not like some people I could name."

"There is a substantial raise," Mustang began.

Ed waved that away. "We get what we need," he said. "And for anything else, that's what expense reports are for." Mustang winced. "Not interested," Ed said, and retrieved his Slinkie.

"Ah," Mustang cleared is throat and set down his pen. "You realize," he said softly, and it was weird, because usually when Mustang spoke quietly it was because he was about to stick a knife into you, but this time he just sounded . . . careful. "You realize that this promotion is nearly automatic, just a question of time served? There's very little discretion – that is, you won't be subjected to any . . . insinuations."

"Huh?" Ed said.

Mustang pressed his fingertips to his temples. "Good God," he muttered. Then more loudly, "Any insinuations about your motives and our . . . relationship."

"Our what?" Ed said, scoffing. And then he figured out all Mustang's stupid elliptical hintings, and the top of his head nearly popped off. "Oh my God," he said, levitating straight up onto his feet. "Are you telling me that people think – people think I'm sleeping with you for promotions? For favor?"

Mustang sucked a slow breath between his teeth and gave a tiny nod.

"What people?" Ed demanded.

"Fullmetal, I don't think—"

"What people?" Ed stomped across the room and slammed his hands down onto Mustang's desk. "You tell me what people think that and I'm gonna go find them, and I'm gonna explain to them slowly, with visual aids just how fucking absurd it is that you could make me sleep with you for favors. That anything could make me sleep with you for anything."

Mustang had frozen up somewhere in there, disappearing behind one of the few faces Ed really couldn't read. "Except . . ." he said quietly.

"Except what?" Ed demanded, furious.

"Except for whatever is making you sleep with me," Mustang said, leaning forward.

"Periodic psychotic breaks!" Ed snapped. "Who—"

There was a knock at the door, and Hughes breezed in, waving a folder. "Sorry to interrupt," he said. "Roy, you asked for these intel summations earlier, and I figured it was urgent."

"Thank you," Mustang said, taking the folder and setting it aside unopened. "Your timing is impeccable, as always."

"Uh-huh," Hughes said, pushing his glasses down his nose and looking at them. "Everything all right in here, then?"

"He's trying to promote me," Ed said.

"Ah," Hughes said, nodding gravely. "Outrageous behavior." Then, switching gears, "we missed you at the botanical gardens last night. Gracia was complaining she hasn't seen you in weeks."

"S'true," Ed said, thinking longingly of Gracia's dinners. And desserts. He cast a dour look at the bastard, who had been inconsiderately eating up all of Ed's free time lately. "How is she, anyway?" Ed asked.

Mustang jolted like he'd been electrocuted. Ed hadn't been to military school, but he'd picked up enough to know that those quick, hands-down chops meant Abort! Abort!

"Funny you should ask!" Hughes said, going for his jacket pocket. "I took pictures last night. Here is my beautiful wife in the rose arbor." It was a pretty good picture, actually; Al was behind Gracia, with Alicia sitting on his shoulders and a daisy stuck in the plume of his helmet. "Doesn't she just glow?" Hughes said.

"Sure, yeah," Ed said, and then he stopped and blinked. "You're in love with her," he said.

Hughes lowered his stack of photos. "Yes, I am," he said, looking between them again. Mustang snatched up the graphite paper weight and gripped it, staring fixedly at Hughes. "Is there something—" Hughes began, then switched to, "why do you ask?"

"Huh," Ed said slowly. "How about that. You know, it really has been a while since I saw Gracia."

"We should have dinner," Hughes said instantly.

"Yes we should," Ed agreed heartily.

"Tomorrow," Hughes enthused. "And your brother, of course. And Roy."

"That's perfect," Ed said, satisfied. "Thanks!"

"Our pleasure." Hughes rubbed his hands together. "Now then, don't mind me, I've kept you long enough."

There was a brief pause. "Something else?" Mustang asked, when Hughes didn't move.

Hughes's face fell. "Nothing, I was just, er—"

"Out," Mustang said, glaring, and Hughes went, mugging disappointment for reasons Ed didn't really understand. "All right, what?" Mustang demanded as soon as he was gone.

"What, what?" Ed asked.

"You just thought of something that's going to give me a headache," Mustang said. "I can always tell – the pressure starts building slowly behind my right eye."

"It's just dinner," Ed said, blinking guilelessly at him. "Call it a social experiment. Are we done here?"

"No," Mustang said, recalling himself to his papers.

"Well I don't want a promotion, so you can cross out that whole bit," Ed said.

"Er . . ." Mustang actually looked uncomfortable. "You realize that if you don't get promoted on schedule . . ."

He let the sentence dangle, and it was a measure of Mustang's own damn poisonous influence that Ed could fill in the rest for himself. "People will think I'm a bad lay," he said sourly. "Yeah, I got it."

"That's not quite how I would put it," Mustang said, visibly pained.

"Whatever. I'm a great lay, and I don't want a promotion."

"All right, all right." Mustang made a notation. "Just one more thing. What is your five year career goal?"

"Is there a check box on there for 'discharged and never enlisting again at threat of hanging?'"

Mustang sighed. "Pursuing civilian employment," he said, writing. "In what, may I ask?"

"Alpaca farming," Ed said, rolling his eyes. "Alchemy, you twit."

"What kind?" Mustang had put his pen down; he sounded genuinely curious.

"Theoretical alchemathematics," Ed said, because it was what he'd just been doing. Like he could guess what he'd want, five years out. Getting Al's body back was the horizon of Ed's planning – everything beyond that was hazy at best.

Mustang was smiling. "You're going to spend your life thinking about the fundamental laws of the universe," he said. "And rewriting some of them for your convenience, no doubt."

"And why not?" Ed demanded, suddenly defensive.

Mustang lifted a hand. "No reason. And I have to say, I'm delighted by the idea of you spending your life quietly in the laboratory."

Ed scowled. Mustang had that damned sincere face on again, but there had to be an insult in there somewhere. He'd said 'quietly,' that had to be it.

"If nothing else," Mustang added, smile dropping, "you won't have to walk anywhere."

"Exactly," Ed said. "Now are we done?"

Mustang pushed a page across the desk. "Sign here." He watched Ed do it, then asked, "How are your experiments progressing?"

"Feh," Ed said, making an involuntary face. "Early days. Hard to tell."

Mustang nodded without comment. One thing to be said for the Bastard: he was scrupulously correct about never intruding on Ed's alchemy. Good call, because if he ever jogged Ed's elbow, this fucking army would be down one dog.

"Will I see you tonight?" he asked in a voice so neutral, Ed couldn't tell what he wanted the answer to be.

"Maybe," Ed said. "I'll drop by if I feel like it."

For some perverse reason, that made Mustang smile. "I look forward to it," he said. "Have a good afternoon, Edward."

*

Lots of idiots said that anyone could be an alchemist. That was a lie. It was a little truer to say that almost anyone could do alchemy, in the sense that saying anyone could open their mouths and make noise meant that anyone could sing. Actually being an alchemist, though, that was something else. Something like being born with perfect pitch, and a voice to go with it, and a lifetime to spend in study.

Alicia was going to be an alchemist. Ed had known that for over a year, and it had taken him nearly that long to realize that no one else seemed to have noticed. It wasn't that she scribbled nonsense arrays in her sandbox in the backyard. Lots of kids did that, and most of them went on to be smiths or accountants or dogs of the military. But Alicia was different. Ed didn't know how he knew, which was annoying as all fuck. She had it, whatever it was. And that was a problem, because thinking of her drafted into this fucking army at sixteen pissed Ed off so much, he wanted to scare her off arrays for the rest of her life.

He left her sitting in the sand with Al instead, and went up to the back porch where Hughes and the bastard were drinking beer out of dark glass bottles.

"—even if the political situation doesn't improve, which everyone on the ground says it will," Hughes was saying. "Ed, what do you think?"

"I think it's really weird that swapping bodily fluids with the Bastard turns me into a grownup all of a sudden," Ed said.

Hughes looked thoroughly entertained. He was always twice as hard to rattle as Ed thought he should be, and it was disconcerting every damn time. "About that," Hughes said.

Mustang set his bottle down. "Maes," he said, like it was a whole sentence of pissy right there.

"Yes?" Hughes asked, turning so the setting sun flashed off his glasses.

Gracia appeared at the back door, rubbing her hands together. "Oh, Roy?" she said, leaning out. "Would you mind coming in to reach the top shelf for me?"

Mustang inhaled, exhaled, and stood up. "Well-played," he said under his breath to Hughes, and it was that clipped neutral way Ed had heard him talk to his superior officers when they were being such assholes, even Mustang noticed.

"So!" Hughes said as soon as the two of them had disappeared into the house. "Something wrong, hmm?"

Ed pushed up onto the porch railing and hooked both feet around the post at the top of the steps. "Not really." He locked his ankles and leaned out far over empty space to swipe Mustang's beer bottle off the table for a sip. Blech. Ed spat it out into the grass. Why did people put that in their mouths voluntarily?

"No?" Hughes looked disappointed. "Nothing exciting happening lately?"

"Not really," Ed said. "You?"

"Always! Two days ago, my little girl is in school, did you know? Every morning she---" Hughes coughed and shook himself. "Never mind. Look, Ed, you know you can talk to me, right? Ask me any questions, that sort of thing?"

Perfect. This couldn't have gone better if Ed had arranged it himself. "Well, I was wondering, out of curiosity . . ."

"Yes?" Hughes sat forward eagerly.

Ed pointed the beer bottle at the back door. "You and Gracia," he said. "How did you know . . . y'know?"

"How did I – ah." Hughes took off his glasses, beaming. "Well, that's a great story, actually You see, I knew the moment I first saw her. It was spring, and I had—"

"No, no." Ed derailed him with two waving hands. "Not that. How'd you know that she was all . . . y'know over you?"

Hughes blinked. "Hmm. Fascinating. Why do you ask, Ed?"

"Scientific curiosity," Ed said.

"I see." Hughes put his glasses back on, then pushed them down his nose so he could squint over them. Ed was only half convinced at any given time that he needed corrective lenses at all. "Well," Hughes said slowly, "it's a complicated question, actually. I spent a lot of time thinking about it myself, in the beginning. Obsessing. Brooding sleeplessly, things like that."

"And?"

Hughes shook his head, frowning. "It just . . . accumulated, I guess," he said. "She kept showing up. Dinner, dancing, my mother's funeral. When I'd asked her and when I hadn't. She just kept – kept saying yes. And then one day she let me take a picture of her with corn stuck between her teeth and her hair in a bird's nest, because she said she always felt beautiful when I looked at her." His voice trailed off, and he smiled down at his beer bottle. Ed shifted on the rail. He'd wanted a glimpse into the happy romantic behavior of homo sapiens in love, but he hadn't expected the data to be so . . . idiosyncratic.

"Anyway," Hughes said, looking back up at him. "I'd had the ring in my pocket for three months by then, so I just proposed right there in the middle of the corn husks." He eyed Ed. "Was that helpful?"

Ed frowned over it, pondering. Idiosyncratic, but still a place to start. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "I think so. Say, where did you get your camera?"

"Do you want to borrow one?" Hughes offered immediately. "I have a dark room too, you know." Of course he did.

Mustang came back out, looking weirdly like he was rushing. "All right?" he asked, plucking his bottle of dreck away from Ed but staring hard at Hughes.

"Fantastic," Hughes said, clapping his hands. "Hold on, Ed, let me see what I can find for you." He went off into the house, and Al came tromping up the lawn with Alicia on his shoulders. He leaned on the rail, one gauntlet on either side of Ed.

Alicia was singing and accompanying herself with a hollow clang-thump rhythm on Al's chest. Al leaned over under cover of the noise and hissed at Ed. "Brother? What are you doing?"

"Science!" Ed hissed back. Al kept leaning in this dubious kind of way, so Ed added, "I'll tell you later."

"Here we go," Hughes said, bustling back out. "Ed, all you really have to do is point and click, just the button right – ah."

Mustang looked up, actually startled, blinking the flash away. Ed snapped him again with his face visible, and Mustang flung a hand up to shield his eyes, so Ed got one of those, too. "Fullmetal, you do know that's not an anti-personnel cannon, don't you?" he asked, glaring.

"There's a roll of twenty-four in there," Hughes cautioned. "I can always refill it, though."

"Naw, this should be good." Ed took a picture of Mustang sipping his beer and trying to look nonchalant. "I'm putting together a scrapbook of the Bastard. Bastard smirking, bastard annoyed, bastard glaring – ooh, there's a good one."

"Dinner's ready," Gracia said, appearing at the back door. "Alicia, come wash your hands."

"I'll help," Al said, trotting up the steps and ducking low to let Alicia's head clear the doorway. Hughes followed, and Gracia twirled on her toes and tucked herself under his arm without even looking.

"Bastard walking," Ed said, snapping another photo as Mustang stood up.

Mustang looked back over his shoulder. "You know," he said, "this would be a lot more fun if we had our clothes off."

"Why?" Ed asked, puzzled.

Mustang clapped a hand over his chest like Ed had just plugged him with an actual cannon. "My God," he said, laughing. "How soon they forget. Clearly you need a reminder of just how much you like my cock in you."

"Not that," Ed snapped, nettled to feel his face prickling hotly. "I meant what's the point of the camera?"

"Oh." Mustang frowned at him, expression losing its theatricality. "I don't quite know how to explain it," he said. "It's . . . erotic. It can change the way you look at each other."

"Sounds stupid," Ed said. "You've got your clothes off already – why would you want to take pictures instead of getting on to the good parts?"

Mustang did that thing again where he went to say something and then decided not to. Ed got a picture of that face, because it was one of his least favorite Mustang expressions. "May I know what it is you're doing, then?" Mustang asked.

"No," Ed said, and hopped off the railing. "Out of the way, Bastard, I'm hungry."

The annoying thing about the Bastard – one of the many – was that when Ed started watching, he couldn't seem to pin down a moment when he actually looked bad. They were sitting catty-corner to each other at dinner, so Ed could stare as much as he wanted, and snap pictures throughout. But Bastard Mustang, even when he was buttering a roll with one elbow sticking out and the other tucked in so he wouldn't clunk Alicia in the head, even then Ed's eye snagged on the bend of his wrist, the curve of his fingers, his tiny, precise movements. And even when he was eating he managed to look obnoxiously good, like he was doing the food a fucking favor or something.

Ed got to the end of the film before he knew it, so Hughes showed him to the dark room as soon as they were done eating. That part was actually pretty interesting, and Ed spent a few minutes reading the ingredients of everything, because Hughes's explanation was so non-technical, it was hard to actually understand.

Ed emerged eventually with a splayed stack of slightly damp, pungent-smelling prints, which he deposited on the living room table in front of the Bastard.

"Your neutral rinsing solution was a little off, but I fixed it," he told Hughes.

"Is that why you smell like . . ." Mustang leaned closer, inhaling, ". . . lilacs?"

"Oh, and I used that smelly lotion in the downstairs bathroom for its molybdenum content," Ed said to Gracia. "Hope that's okay. Well?" he added, prodding the Bastard with his metal forefinger. "What d'you think?"

"I think someone should be following you around and keeping track of your DIY alchemy, just in case you accidentally blow yourself up or cure influenza," Mustang said.

"I keep a notebook, Colonel," Al said, raising his hand.

"I meant these," Ed said, flipping over the top photo. It was Mustang on the back porch, and it seemed like the flash had caught him exactly the wrong way, because his eyes were kind of demonically red. Huh. Ed spread out the whole pack, frowning. These didn't look like the photos Hughes was always flashing around. Those were bright and crisp like – well, like they were little frozen snapshots of a moment. Ed's photos weren't like that, and not just the one where it looked like Mustang was three feet tall and had no legs.

Mustang was studying them too, a quizzical tilt to his mouth. "Thank you, Fullmetal. I am confirmed in my suspicion that you have absolutely no sense of esthetics for anything larger than a complex molecule," he said.

"Ha!" Ed said triumphantly. There, that settled that.

". . . Yes?" Mustang asked, deploying the eyebrow.

"Nothing," Ed said, gathering the pictures again and dumping them en masse into the waste basket. "Just wanted to prove something. Thanks, Bastard."

"Hmm," Mustang said. "I haven't decided whether you're welcome yet. It's best to be cautious of these things with you."

It was Alicia's bedtime then, and Al was drafted to do story duty. Ed went upstairs with them, because Al needed backup for doing all the voices sometimes.

Alicia dropped off pretty fast, but Al kept reading through the end of the book just to be sure. Ed tucked up on the floor at the foot of the bed, chin propped on his metal knee, and just listened. Al's voice was familiar like Ed's own face in the mirror, and through the cracked open door he could hear the quiet rumble of talk from downstairs, Gracia and Hughes cooing at each other like they did, and there, that was the Bastard laughing. The real one, not the nasty one or the this is not actually funny one, Ed could tell from all the way up here. It was. . . well it was pretty nice, actually. And weird, how sitting here all quiet made him notice things he hadn't before, like how the moon was full, and how Alicia's room smelled like the roses out her window, and how Ed's body was a contented biological machine tonight, well-fed and warm and humming happily through its circulations and digestions.

Al turned the last page and gently set the book down. Alicia breathed, deep and steady, and Al bent his helmet over her. Ed could feel his smile from here.

They padded out into the hall together and Al pulled the door quietly closed. Then he caught Ed by the wrist and toed him farther up the hall and into the little bathroom at the end.

"All right, what?" Al asked, crossing his arms.

Ed shook his braid back. "You started it," he said. "All that stuff about the Colonel being, y'know." He fluttered his fingers over his chest like the drippy heroines always did in the plays back home.

"I said he's in love with you," Al said cautiously.

Ed banged him in the arm. "The Bastard is not in love with me, and I can prove it. With science!"

"By . . . taking his picture?" Al asked.

"Exactly! Look, I talked to Hughes, and according to him, people in love like that sort of thing, okay?"

"Ye-es," Al said.

"And the Bastard didn't, so there." Ed rocked back on his heels, triumphant. It was good to lay that one to rest, like getting a sharp pebble out of his boot.

"Um," Al said. "Brother, I really don't think – maybe you ought to –" then he stopped and shook himself all over like a wet dog. "Your methodology was flawed, and I do not accept your results," he said.

"What?" Ed yelped.

"You know you're no good at naturalistic experimental design," Al said, which was just completely untrue. The problem wasn't Ed; the problem was that the world outside of the laboratory was so poorly fucking designed, not even the perfect, clean lens of science could make sense of it. "Besides," Al continued, "your sample size is way too small, don't you think?"

"Well yes," Ed said defiantly, "and it's all full of confounds, but who else do we know who's actually in love? I mean, who has the time?"

"That's not the point," Al said primly. "The point is it's bad science, and you know it."

"Fine!" Ed stomped his foot. The talking downstairs suddenly stopped. "Oh for fuck's sake – I'll come up with better methodology, you'll see."

"I honestly can't wait," Al said, and ducked through the low bathroom door.

They went home half an hour later. Mustang left too, though he had called for a car to meet him, lazy Bastard.

"Alfonse," he said, pausing at the base of the driveway. "A pleasure, as always." That was sincere Mustang face – he did at least like Al, which meant he wasn't a complete waste of carbon. "And Edward." Mustang touched his elbow, lightly, his head tipped down. "Will I see you again soon?"

"Maybe," Ed said. "I'll see if I feel like – okay, why are you smiling?"

"Because," Mustang said, breaking into the full Bastard grin, "whenever you say that it reminds me that when I see you again, it's because you do feel like it. Have a good night, both of you." And he turned down the street to meet his approaching car.

"Huh!" Ed said, nettled. "What?" he added to Al, who was laughing silently, without moving.

"Nothing," Al said. "Come on, Brother."

Ed thought about experimental design all the way home. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized what a fucking nightmare the whole thing was, with confounds and biases absolutely everywhere. This wasn't a chemical reaction that he could isolate and observe, and then control. This was romance, and romance was a scientific disaster.

The real problem was people. Shouldn't be that way, because elements were such nice, orderly things, and people were just big bags of elements. But somehow, in all that extraordinary organization of molecules, some flavor of disastrous disorganization was introduced and fucked the whole thing up.

Well, no, that couldn't be right, could it? Chaos did not truly exist in the order that alchemy applied to the universe. And since that was true, there must be some larger sense to the nonsensical ways of human behavior. All he had to do was find it.

The thing to do – and why hadn't he realized this before? – the thing to do was to think of people as biological reactants. Was what they were, after all. Because if they were just substrates bumping up against each other, well that was something he could make sense out of.

And from there it would be very easy to conclusively prove that the Ed substrate and the Bastard substrate did not combine to produce gooshy feelings. A blast radius and a lot of smoke, more likely.

Yes, he could definitely work with this. The first thing was to get more data, because Al was right about that much – he needed a much bigger sample.

*

So he waited two entire days, until Al had some errands to run in the morning. Ed went left for the labs when Al went right, then turned around after two blocks and sprinted back to the dormitory.

He stood in the middle of the floor, frowning at Al's side of the room, neat as a pin and without a clue in sight. That was all right -- this was Al, and Ed knew how he thought. He started under the mattress, then moved on to the wardrobe, then Al's half of the desk. He even got down on his knees and inspected the carpet for any spots where it had been pulled up and laid back down; they'd both liked that one when they were kids. But no joy, and there was hard concrete under there, anyway.

Ed flopped onto Al's bed, thwarted. Damn it, there was nowhere else Al would feel safe hiding anything. The only other space that was definitely theirs was the lab, and Ed had been over every square inch at one time or another when something misplaced itself.

He bounced up with a huff. All right, plan B.

*

The public library was noisier than the state library, and they actually let kids in with their sticky fingers, and even let them touch the books! There was no line at the reference desk, so Ed veered across the main room and started there.

"I need books about love," he said, planting his hands on the desk.

The librarian – the tall blond guy with the earrings who usually did shelving – blinked back at him like that had been hard to understand. "Any particular kind of books?" he asked. "And any particular kind of love?"

"Dunno yet," Ed said, irritated. "I need ethnographic data. Love, where do I start?"

The guy blew out a slow breath. "Well, there's love poetry—"

"Gah!" Ed said, rearing back. "What good would that do me?"

". . . or philosophy?"

"Maybe," Ed said distrustfully. Philosopher-alchemists were all right, but the rest of them seemed to think that all you had to do to prove something true was say it in fucking Latin. Unforgivably sloppy methods, that's what it was.

"There's always erotica," the librarian said.

"Where's that?" Ed asked, twisting around to follow a pointing finger. "Oh, you mean in those locked shelves in the back? I've read that already. What else you got?"

"Well," the librarian said, "you could always just, I don't know, go to the romance section."

Romance was upstairs and to the left. Ed had never been over there before. He didn't go into the fiction section much, and when he did he stuck to the section where everything had an exploding car on the cover.

Romance was big – bigger than the alchemy section, which was just weird. It couldn't be right that more people were interested in gooey feelings than alchemy. Sex, maybe, because everyone did it and most everyone liked it. But that was weird, too, because even though everyone did it no one seemed to want to shelve it somewhere sensibly accessible.

Ed wandered up and down the aisles for a while, reading titles and getting a sense for things. That didn't seem to get him anywhere like it usually did, so he sighed and plucked a half dozen books off the shelves at random, and went to work at a window table.

The Fuhrer's Secret Virgin Bride was a complete bust -- the girl in it only cried alone in her room, then screamed a lot all five times she was kidnapped. Flames of Passion was marginally better, because the girl in that one spent all her time saying extremely sarcastic things to the guy, but then she hauled off and married him just like that, without even trying him out in the bedroom first, and it kind of pissed Ed off because the guy was a total waste of space, anyway.

The Tycoon's Runaway Mistress was just awful. The girl was all right, as far as these things went, with a minimum of crying and stupidity. But she had one hand all twisted up by polio, and the guy loved it in this weird, creepy way where he always had to touch it and think about her fragility and basically perv all over it. The whole thing had Ed seething in his chair, because what was wrong with this girl? People'd tried that sort of bullshit on Ed before, all interested and rubbing along nicely, and then once their clothes came off making it clear all they were interested in was getting off on his automail. Pretty fucking stupid, too, since this always came out when they shoved their delicate genitals into his metal fingers. It'd made him feel bad at first, because here he'd found sex, this fabulous thing, and they came along and ruined it, and he didn't know how they did it, but they made him feel dirty and kind of small. And angry, obviously. But not even those people could ruin sex forever, because sex was almost as fantastic as alchemy.

Ed finished that one on sheer cussedness, then moved on. It turned out that he could skim one of the books in less than fifteen minutes, once he got the rhythm of the things. He went back and forth, picking things up and putting them back, and slowly developed a sense for what would be useful and what wouldn't. He figured out quickly that there were obvious cues in the book descriptions: anything with the word "lovelorn" could be chucked out of hand, and "childhood best friends" were also useless, but the word "fiery" was the sign of a keeper. Those were usually the ones where the guy and the girl shouted at each other the whole time, in between screwing like bunnies. Ed found it was taking him longer and longer to read those ones. They were really interesting, was the thing, full of great insults he could store up to use on the Bastard. And some of them were even kind of enjoyable, if you didn't think too much about the inevitable bits at the end where they got all gooshy at each other.

He made notes – first just a bunch of random observations, then slowly a stab at general categorizations, and at last some axioms. He took stock after a few hours, elbow propped on a stack of books while he condensed the essential points onto a fresh page. All right, this was more like it

Someone coughed quietly behind him. It was the reference librarian, standing two paces back with his hands in his pockets.

"Just wanted to check and make sure you're finding everything you need," he murmured.

"When someone's in love with you and you cry, they promise to kill the people who made you sad," Ed informed him, pleased with this truth, which appeared to be universal from today's studies.

The guy considered that, head to one side. "You always have the most fascinating research topics," he said. "Can I buy you a drink so you can tell me more?"

"Nah," Ed said, distracted as he gathered up all his notes. "I've got an experiment to run. Can you reshelve these? Thanks!"

It wasn't until he was three blocks away that he realized the guy had been coming on to him. God, what was wrong with people, always being so obscure about it? Like it'd kill them to just come out and say, hey, I want to fuck you. That'd always worked just fine for Ed. Well, at least until he'd realized that lots of people were nasty liars who wouldn't mention little details like how they were married, and how were you supposed to know? But it was okay, he was smarter now. And now he'd found the one thing the Bastard was actually good for – okay, honest, the Bastard was great for – so he was all set, nothing to worry about. All he had to do was prove Al wrong and everything would be fine again.

*

It turned out that crying on cue was actually kind of hard. Ed sat around in their dorm room for a while, rubbing at his eyes and trying to think about sad things. He started out with that time the Cyclone Alchemist had died in issue 170 of Storm on the Horizon, but they'd just resurrected him six months later, and that wasn't getting the job done. So he went straight for the big guns, the worst things, like Mom, and teacher's baby, and Al, Al, Al. Except then he just got really, really angry, and he had to go stomp up and down the hall breathing through his teeth for a while.

Okay. New plan.

*

He opened the door to the second floor lavatory after Private Langers stopped pounding and started threatening to call security.

"Fine, fine," Ed snapped, giving him room to come past. "Just make it quick."

Langers did, huffing, then came to the counter to wash his hands, staring at Ed in the mirror the whole time.

"All right, Fullmetal, I'll bite," he said. "What have you been doing in here for the past hour?"

Ed hunched over his knife and the dwindling stack of onions. The inside of his flesh arm was black-and-blue from all the places where he'd pinched himself for the conditioned stimulus. It was actually pretty hard to time it right for that second just as the tears started.

"Haven't you ever seen classical conditioning before?" he asked. "And do you mind, I'm working here."

*

Al was folding laundry when Ed got back to the room. That was perfect. He'd just drunk three glasses of water to hydrate, and he could use a practice run. He stood in the middle of the room, opened his eyes wide, inhaled, and pinched the skin at the inside of his elbow. And bam, tears just like that, the conditioned response was perfect without an onion in sight. When he was good, he was good.

"Oh, hello," Al was saying, his back turned. "I ran into Hughes, and he asked if –" he turned around with an armful of shirts and didn't even take a breath, "brother, what are you doing? Stop that."

"Damn it!" Ed swiped his sleeve across his face. "I thought I had it real convincing!"

"Oh geez," Al said, setting the stack of shirts on the dresser. "You're experimenting on the Colonel again, aren't you?"

"You started it," Ed said automatically. "And my design is way better this time!"

Al sighed, the big huge one that lifted his shoulders. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and opened both hands. "All right," he said, "tell me about your new design."

So Ed did, and Al listened, except when it got to the part at the library Al hunched up and put both gauntlets over his face.

"And you just – you picked at random?" he asked, muffled.

"Well yeah," Ed said, confused. "Do you know how much of that stuff there is?"

"Yes," Al said, peeking up over his fingers. "Yes, I really do. But Brother, that's exactly why you can't just read at random, who knows what you might end up with." He sort of shuddered.

"I looked for your stash," Ed said, crabby. "I know you have some, but I couldn't find them anywhere in here."

"Er well," Al said, and shuffled a bit where he sat. The bed creaked loudly.

"What?"

"Well," Al said again, then he sighed, reached up, and opened his chest plate. "Here," he said, extracting a stack of paperbacks. "These are the works of Ms. Georgette Heyer." His voice dropped with gentle reverence over the name. "You should read these. They don't have pirates or amnesia or – or love alchemy."

"Those were awful," Ed said explosively. "Al, it was like they'd never even seen a circle!"

"I know." Al put the books into his hands and patted his shoulder. "Look, these are better. Just – just don't go wandering off into the romance section on your own anymore, okay?"

"Thanks," Ed said, flipping through the stack. Well, at least none of these had pregnant in the title.

"So . . ." Al said. "Brother, why're you so set on proving the Colonel doesn't love you?"

Ed was so surprised, he dropped the books. Al eeped in outrage and lunged to collect them, smoothing a bent cover. "Sorry, sorry!" Ed said; Mom had accidentally ripped the cover of his third favorite alchemy primer once, and it had been awful.

"It's okay." Al deposited the books carefully on the desk. Ed watched him do it, still so blankly astonished that he didn't even know where to start. How could Al possibly not know? Al always knew these things – that was one thing that was so great about Al, he just knew things without Ed ever having to explain.

Except, apparently, this. Ed already knew he was a bad brother; he woke up every morning to Al's quiet humming, echoing metallically in his helmet, and he knew it fresh all over again. And here was another failure, because it was Ed's job to pick up the slack on those rare occasions Al missed the obvious.

"Because if he were in love with me, I'd have to stop fucking him," Ed explained. "And that would be annoying, because he's surprisingly . . ."

". . . Surprisingly . . .?" Al said.

Ed huffed. "Convenient," he snapped, which wasn't really the right word, but it didn't matter. He went over to Al and thump-banged him on the chest once with each hand. "Al--" he said, and did it again.

Al nodded, slowly, and the band of tension around Ed's chest eased. There, that was better, however Ed had failed to make it clear before, Al knew now that Ed would never ever be anyone else's, not until they got Al's body back.

"Okay," Ed said, and went to get his boots. "I'll read your books later, I gotta go perfect my technique."

"It'll probably work better on, um, anyone else," Al said.

Ed brightened. "I bet you're right. You wanna come watch? You can take notes for me."

"No thanks," Al said, sitting down at the desk. "I still haven't gotten through your last batch of alchemathematical theory. Would it kill you to write slower?"

"We need a better way of recording thought," Ed said. It was an old grumble. "Manual scriptography is just way too slow . . ." He slid into the old daydream of a machine that could transduce thought from alchemical reactions in the brain and store it for later retrieval. Maybe he'd do that after he was out of this damned military. Would have to be him, anyway – none of these other small-minded idiots would be willing to drill holes in their skulls for science.

"It would be okay with me," Al said quietly, interrupting Ed's thoughts.

"Eh?" Ed said, realizing that he was standing frozen with one arm in his coat and the other bent backwards.

"You and the Colonel," Al said. "The Colonel, in particular, I mean. That would be okay with me."

Ed twisted around to stare at him, but all he got was Al's back and his thoughtfully bent head. Al was . . . Al was giving permission. For something so absurd, it broke all Ed's notions of probabilistic possibility. And Al was saying it like it was important.

"Where are you getting these ideas," Ed said, helplessly confused. "I'll be back for dinner. Bye!"

*

Hawkeye was alone in the Bastard's office when Ed came in.

"Good afternoon, Major," she said, looking up. "The Colonel is out for a late lunch. Can I help you with anything?"

"Yeah," Ed said, leaning on the front of her desk. "Hold on a sec – just let me – ah-ha!" And there were the waterworks, right on schedule.

Hawkeye double-taked and said "oh!" on a breath. She set her pen down with a rattle and whisked around the desk with a bunch of tissues that had magically appeared from somewhere. Ed snatched them to mop his eyes, delighted. Damn he was good.

Hawkeye was standing next to him, still looking, when he lowered his hands. Then she leaned in and hugged him, which was just about the scariest thing that'd happened to Ed in the past year. He broke her grip and took a step back.

Hawkeye dropped her arms. "You know," she said, then hesitated. "He's – he's really a nice man, underneath it all."

". . . Who?" Ed asked.

"Colonel Mustang," Hawkeye said, looking at him funny. "I thought you – my apologies. I presumed incorrectly."

"You thought—" Ed said helplessly. Then all the circuits reconnected. "The Bastard did not make me cry," he said, outraged. "Okay, it's because of him, but he did not make me. Like he could!" He blew his nose with vigor. "And he is not nice," he added, jerking his head up. "He's sarcastic and sneaky and – and bastardly, and sometimes he might be good, but that isn't the same thing as nice."

"I . . . see," Hawkeye said. She was looking at him sort of weird now. "May I ask—"

Then the door banged open and Havoc hurried in with a deli bag over one arm. "Sorry, Captain, got held up by – oh, hi, Ed."

"Excellent!" Ed said, flinging up a hand to Hawkeye. "Hold on a second. Havoc, c'mere."

"Why?" Havoc asked, skidding to an abrupt stop halfway across the room.

"Because I said so," Ed barked, snapping his fingers. "Right here, come on."

Havoc did, dragging his feet, until they were nearly toe-to-toe.

"Now what?" he asked suspiciously

"Now," Ed said, and pinched himself with a flourish. The tears brimmed, and through the prismatic smears across his vision Ed saw Havoc drop the sandwich bag and levitate backwards about six feet.

"Gah!" Havoc said. "You – what – somebody help!"

"You require some assistance, lieutenant?" It was Mustang, because apparently they did dramatic timing training in Bastard school. But the test runs had been going pretty well, so it wasn't a total disaster to go on to the main event unplanned.

"Colonel!" Havoc yelped. "Colonel, do something!"

Ed pinched himself again, and welled up fresh. Mustang saw him and jolted like someone had electrocuted him. Then he snapped a look at Hawkeye and Havoc and came across the room in two strides.

"Get out," he said.

"Yessir!" Havoc gabbled. "Thankyousir!"

Mustang turned Ed with a hand on his elbow and propelled him through the inner door and to the couch. "All right," he said. "Sit down. Here." And he folded Ed's hand around an actual handkerchief, crisp and clean-smelling.

He left Ed there for a few minutes while he went and closed the door, and then did something at the other end of the room. Ed heard him snap his fingers and smelled the quick, clean Oxygen burn, and then something else . . . was that cinnamon?

Mustang wasn't shouting, or going down on his knees and making speeches, even though Ed was pretty sure his lashes were "tear-damp" at this point. Well! That should satisfy Al.

Ed dabbed at his eyes and inhaled. But something weird was happening. The tears weren't drying up like they usually did, they just kept coming. One made it all the way down his cheek and salted a little cut at the corner of his mouth. It was like a chemical reaction that, once started, couldn't be stopped. Or maybe like that time when he was nine, before everything went wrong, when he'd dressed up as a scarecrow to frighten Winrey and then laughed so hard he couldn't stop until everything hurt.

"Here." Mustang was back. He put a steaming mug in Ed's hands and sat down quietly, a few feet between them, with his eyes down at his own mug.

Ed blew a strand of damp hair away from his eyes. Another tear brimmed over and he swiped it away. "Stupid fucking useless physiological mechanism," he said, getting angrier by the minute.

Mustang made a small sound, maybe agreeing with him, and then just sat quietly again. That's exactly what Al would do, if Ed ever cried in front of him for real. Not that he would – not that he would cry, and if he did for some bizarre reason he certainly wouldn't let Al see it. Could Al cry now? He had all the internal pieces, but the biological half of the circuit was gone.

It was one of those obscure neurochemical connections, Ed was sure, one of the places where the soul was wired up to the flesh in sympathy. It was weird, whatever it was, because it seemed like crying made you think of all kinds of awful things, just because your tear ducts were overproducing. And what was the fucking point, anyway? There was no logical connection between ocular lubrication and – and this.

Ed swiped his eyes again, then held his breath. The exhale was kind of shaky, but breathing in was easier. He bent over the cup in his hands and inhaled, then slewed around to stare at Mustang.

"You drink girly tea!" he said, delighted by this revelation.

Mustang glanced over, like he was checking to be sure it was all right that he was looking. "I do," he said, and took a demonstrative sip.

Ed mirrored him. It was kind of nice, actually, wafting soothing vapors up into his head.

"Ug," Ed said, dropping the Bastard's handkerchief. "I'm never doing that again."

Mustang exhaled fast like he'd been holding his breath or something. "Your brother?" he said. "Edward, did something happen?"

"No," Ed said, shaking his head until his braid came over his shoulder and nearly into his tea. "He's fine. Everyone's fine."

He expected Mustang to keep at him with questions. He really should have prepared answers, an unforgivable lapse of planning. But Mustang didn't, he just looked at Ed and pressed his lips together and nodded like he'd just figured something out. Ed looked back, suspicious, because there was no telling what stupid thing Mustang was taking into his head now.

"I see," Mustang said. "Well. Is there anything I may do?" He leaned minutely closer, head tipped down, listening.

"Like what?" Ed asked, confused.

"Perhaps you would like a vacation?" Mustang said.

"A what?" Ed said, even more confused.

". . . Never mind." Mustang shook his head a little. "I had meant to send you – but perhaps not—"

Ed bolted up straight. "Send us where?" he demanded, because if Mustang was yanking him out of the lab, it would be because he'd heard a whisper of a rumor about the stone. Not that he would say so, but Ed could discern a pattern as well as the next alchemist.

Mustang winced faintly. "North," he said. "Far north, to the furthest base camp. There have been some unusual weather patterns in the area, I can show you the reports."

"Hmm!" Ed said. He didn't know much about weather alchemy – hell, who did – but he could find out. Powerful stuff, by all accounts, and there, that was a thought: storms were just enormous power discharges, plugged in to the cycle of flood and drought – of living things. Power, derived from life. Surely there must be a way to measure and accurately model—

"So you're going then," Mustang said dryly, and Ed snapped his head up.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Bet we can catch a train tonight, if we hurry."

"Maybe," Mustang said. He set his mug down and reached out to touch Ed for the first time in minutes. His fingers were warm as he cupped Ed's jaw and pressed the pad of his thumb to the cut on Ed's lip. "That must hurt," he said, and of course once he'd said it, Ed realized that it did.

"Don't know where it came from," Ed said, lips moving against Mustang's fingers.

"I do," Mustang murmured, thumb moving gently. "You bite down, right here, when the alchemy is doing exactly what you want it to." He inhaled. "And apparently when I'm doing exactly what you want me to. In anyone else, that would not be nearly so flattering."

"I don't—" Ed started, then he stopped on a quick flash of memory: Mustang under him, big wrists flexing in Ed's hands and nearly breaking his flesh grip, jerking every time Ed moved, the sting in his lip as he bit down and held. . . . All right, maybe he did remember.

Mustang set his mug down without looking away. "You'll be gone for a while," he said softly. "Three weeks, at least, with travel both ways."

"S'true," Ed said. One thing he'd say for Mustang: he made his come-ons clear, somehow, even when he was saying perfectly ordinary things. Came with being a sly bastard, surely.

Mustang ran his thumb down Ed's jaw to his throat, and let it rest right over his pulse. "We'd have to be very quiet," Mustang said, nearly whispering.

Ed nodded. They'd never done quiet before, but it couldn't be that hard, could it? He leaned in, and it was like Mustang had just been waiting for it, because suddenly he was all over Ed, hands under his coat, twisting to put one knee up on the couch between Ed's, pushing with his weight and riding him down flat with their hips snugged tight.

"Shh," he breathed, even though Ed wasn't making any noise. He opened his mouth to say so, but just then Mustang got his hand up inside Ed's shirt and scraped his nail over his nipple, and Ed yelped instead.

"Bastard!" he hissed, as Mustang shook over him with silent laughter.

"Edward," he whispered back, and there was something there in his voice, an unexpected richness in his laugh that made Ed break out in goosebumps. The Bastard's breath on his ear, that must be it, amazing how such tiny nerve clusters in the auditory canal could translate air vibrations into somatic—

Then Mustang bit him, and he cried out like someone who'd just gotten bitten. Bastard. It was a game, he realized after a minute, one of Mustang's stupid fucking power trips. Mustang liked making him get noisy just to slow down and hush him again. Ed tore at his uniform, infuriated.

"Stop that!" he hissed, traitorous body curving into Mustang's teasingly light hand on his dick. "Stop fucking around and get me off!"

"Your wish," Mustang said, still laughing, and he got them both there with his big warm hands and the dirty push of their hips together. And the whole time he kissed Ed and kissed him and kissed him, until Ed was gasping and letting out all his involuntary sounds into Mustang's mouth.

This was why people kept the same sexual partner for extended periods of time, because Mustang knew him now, Mustang knew his body, and Mustang could make him come so good, it almost made Ed cry again. If he'd known about this part, he would have stuck to one person before now.

It took a long time for them to catch their breath. Ed was comfortable and warm with Mustang heavy over him, riding the endorphins and thinking about alchemathematics again. Orgasms were the best thing to happen to his intellectual processes since he'd learned to read. Almost as much fun, too.

"Mmm," Mustang said, stirring at last. He propped up on one elbow, and surprise surprise, he was smirking. "You are terrible at being quiet," he said.

Ed blinked into the late afternoon sun. "I hate you," he observed offhandedly.

Mustang laughed and kissed Ed's forehead, which was really weird because the last person to do that had been Mom, but it wasn't at all like that, and it didn't even make Ed want to punch him, either. Mustang looked down at him, and the smirk slid off his face like water.

"I was having an awful day," he said, unsmiling. "Thank you."

"I'd say you're welcome, but mostly I really just wanted to get mine," Ed said.

Mustang laughed again, but there was something a bit off about his returning smirk. "Of course," he said. "But I'll thank you anyway for satisfying a long-running desire." He patted the couch fondly.

"Oh God," Ed said, horrified. "You're going to make people sit here during meetings so you can be smug Bastard at them, aren't you?"

"It's like you've met me," Mustang said lightly. Then he bent down without warning and kissed Ed again, slowly, as if he hadn't just gotten enough of that.

"Train," Ed said, spying the clock over his shoulder. "Gotta go get Al . . ."

"Mmm-hmm," the Bastard said, kissing him again and again, until Ed had to shove at him. "All right, all right, I'm moving."

He let Ed up, then just thumped back down onto the couch and watched Ed fix his clothes from under slitted lids.

"Folder on the corner of my desk," he murmured. Ed padded across to retrieve it. Meteorological reports, right, and a whole stack of maps showing nothing but snow. Oh goody.

"I'll wire if I need anything," Ed said, snapping the folder shut. "So never, then." He turned to go.

"Be careful," Mustang said to his back. And then after a tiny pause, "please."

Ed looked back; Mustang hadn't moved, but his eyes were wide open now. "Weather alchemy isn't careful," Ed said. "Later, Bastard."

The outer office was still empty, which meant all the quiet stuff had been pointless, though maybe it had been a little fun, too. And also Havoc's sandwich was still abandoned there, so there was that.

*

He kept thinking about it ten days later, for some bizarre reason, through the six hours he spent with his metal arm frozen solid to the elbow in a block of ice. Here he was a hundred miles from anywhere, with sunset coming and the cold transmitting through the metal up into his shoulder, and all he was thinking about was fucking Mustang telling him to be fucking careful. Which he had been, thank you very much, which just went to show how useless an idea it was.

All he needed was an elementary temperature transfer array, but he obviously couldn't clap his hands. It took an embarrassing minute and a half to remember that there was another way to do it, and then he had to improvise a stylus out of a pencil and the sharp metal tip of the hour hand off his watch. He hunched against the block of ice, shivering convulsively and puffing hot breath over one patch so he could carve into the frost that immediately formed. Fuck, this was annoying, how did other alchemists live like this?

He heard Al coming ten minutes out. Sound carried like crazy out here, and he'd know Al's footsteps anywhere. He didn't bother to shout, because Al wasn't calling for him, and if he was here at all he knew where Ed was.

Ed was on his fourth array when Al came into sight. The first three had deformed the block of ice and shrunk it noticeably, but the instant he got enough heat into it to effect a change of state, the water just froze again in spiky drip patterns.

"Brother!" Al called, tramping up. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," Ed said through a clenched jaw. At least he was still shivering, that was a good sign, right? "D'you have a heat source?"

He yanked free half an hour later. His finger and wrist joints were completely unresponsive, and the flesh of his shoulder all the way down his side was numb from transmitted cold. Fucking great.

"All right," Ed said, blowing on his metal fingers and feeling absolutely nothing. "Now I'm cranky. I am going to find that idiot alchemist and I am going to flash freeze his testicles!"

"Ah," Al said. "So it's a good thing we've got a long walk then, isn't it?"

"Stupid fucking Mustang," Ed said, stomping south. "Fucking jinxed me, that's what he did. When I get back to Central, I'll 'careful' him!"

"Oh, good," Al said, keeping pace. "You look warmer already."

*

Their last train got delayed for two hours in the middle of the countryside for track repair; it would have been a lot longer if Ed hadn't gone up front and showed that bumbling engineer the error of his errors. So they rolled into Central after ten, and found Hughes waiting on the platform for them.

"Boys!" he said, swiping Ed's duffle. "Good trip?"

"No," Ed said, heading for the stairs. "I will never be able to enjoy snow again in my life."

"Thanks for driving us," Al said. "We had a good trip, once brother's eyelashes stopped freezing to his face. How're Gracia and Alicia?"

Answering that got them into the car and halfway across town. Ed sat in the back, slumped against the door with his cheek on the glass, watching the city roll by. He was having trouble remembering what day of the week it was. Central Avenue seemed pretty quiet, so it must be a weekday. Tuesday, maybe? They'd left on a Tuesday, and yeah, that was probably four or five weeks they'd been gone. He thought dreamily of unrationed hot water. Mmm, gallons and gallons of it, with lots of steam.

"You can let me out here," he said, sitting up.

Hughes slowed as they approached the corner of Parade Way. "Right here?" he asked doubtfully.

"Yeah," Ed said, reaching for his bag. "Al—"

"Go on," Al said.

"Er," Hughes put in. "Roy's not at home tonight, Ed. He had to show his face at General Lloyd's dinner party. That's why he didn't pick you up himself."

That was a weird thing to say – Mustang'd never picked them up personally before, and Ed didn't see why he would suddenly start now. "S'all right," he said, yawning. "I have a key."

Hughes was already slowing, but he stomped on the brakes just then and twisted around to stare at Ed. "You have . . . Roy gave you a key?"

"Well yeah," Ed said, looking at him funny. "It's more convenient for sex, you know, if I can just come in."

"Er," said Hughes, making a series of really weird faces. "Right. Er, exactly."

"Thanks for the ride," Ed said. "Night."

"Have a good night, brother," Al said, and Ed hopped out onto the sidewalk, hitching up his bag with a familiar howl from his shoulder.

Mustang's house was just a block uphill, but it seemed to take an extra ten minutes tonight. All the lights were off, like Hughes had said, so Ed let himself in and dropped his bag under the hall table. He'd meant to go take a long bath, but his eyes fell on the bed when he went upstairs, and suddenly the whole thing seemed like way too much effort. So he stripped off instead and flopped down face first, starfishing with a groan of pleasure. God, he loved this bed. Decadent, indulgent bed, just the sort of thing he'd always thought Mustang liked.

Except it was funny about Mustang, that way. Ed hadn't really seen much around here except the kitchen and the bedroom, but Mustang didn't really live like he'd have thought. He had this big, ridiculous bed, sure, but everything else was pared down to the bare minimums. Ed had categorized it automatically as the habits of someone who expected to be shipped out at a moment's notice, and approved of the efficiency.

Mustang. Routing him out of this fucking army would be like digging up a tree with twenty years of root growth. He'd never thought about Mustang like that before – not Bastard Colonel Mustang, but just Bastard Mustang. With his big, wonderful bed, and all the dirty, wonderful things they'd done in it. Mmm . . .

He resurfaced, groggy, when the overhead light clicked on. He dimly heard Mustang say "oh," like he was really surprised, and then there was a warm hand on the back of his neck.

"Mrrph," Ed said, floundering over onto his side. "Mm, Bastard, sleepin'." Through slitted eyes he saw Mustang was wearing a dark civilian suit. He'd gotten his hair clipped short again while Ed was gone, and he smelled like pipe smoke as he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Sorry to wake you." Mustang scruffed his fingers against Ed's scalp under his braid. It made Ed's eyes roll back a little, it felt so good. "Just a minute, I'll turn the light off."

Ed slapped out a hand and grabbed his thigh. "Stay there," he said. "Keep doing that."

Mustang resettled without comment. His fingers kept moving, and he turned his hand and ran his fingers up the column of Ed's neck. Ed groaned from his toes, pushing back into it, and Mustang laughed.

"And Hughes keeps telling me I need a cat," he said. Ed was too contented to be offended. There was a space of quiet while Mustang rolled his strong thumbs over the base of Ed's skull. "I thought I wouldn't see you until tomorrow," he said, just as Ed was starting to drift off.

"You have a bathtub," Ed mumbled.

"I do," Mustang agreed, lifting Ed's dry braid and letting it thump back down in question.

"Tired," Ed said, burrowing his cheek deeper into the pillow.

"All right," Mustang said. "Am I allowed to get up now?"

"Spose so," Ed said, and Mustang took his warm hands away while he rustled around the room getting undressed. He turned off the overhead light but left one lamp burning, yellow behind Ed's eyelids. It seemed to Ed like his slow pulse was synchronizing to Mustang's quiet footsteps as he came around the far side of the bed and slid up next to him. But then Mustang inhaled, a startled sound, and Ed felt the disturbance of a not quite touch on his automail arm.

"Your shoulder," Mustang said. "Edward, have you had that looked at?"

"It's fine," Ed said, opening one eye. It looked bad, sure, with the skin around the attachment port cracked and swollen. It didn't feel all that great, either; he'd gotten back most of the motion control over the arm, but it ached deep into the joint still. "It's fine," he said again, because Mustang was looking like he was about to be a drama Bastard over it.

"Have you been applying heat to that?" Mustang said, ignoring him. "Or maybe ice would be better."

"No ice," Ed said sharply, and Mustang flicked him a quick glance.

"Just a minute," he said, and rolled off the bed again. He was gone for a while, and when he came back he laid something wonderfully warm and heavy over Ed's shoulder. "There's water in here," he said, tugging gently on Ed's braid. "And a heating array. Just wake me up if you want to reheat it and you can't reach." He was quiet for a minute while Ed slowly melted into the mattress. "Did you get him?" Mustang asked at last, weirdly tense, because of course he couldn't wait until tomorrow for a fucking report.

"Yeah, I got him," Ed said. "Still picking bits of idiot alchemist out of my teeth."

"All right," Mustang said. "Go to sleep."

And Ed did, with Mustang sitting quietly beside him, tapping the heating array every few minutes while he slowly unraveled Ed's braid and smoothed his hair out loose over his back.

*

He woke up with the late morning sun in his face and Mustang sitting up beside him reading the paper. Ed floundered over onto his back, feeling about as good as he could ever remember.

"Mmm," he said, stretching hugely. "Time's it?"

"After ten." Mustang put the paper aside. "You know, that's the first time I've seen you sleep more than four hours at a stretch."

"Sleep's for wimps," Ed said contentedly. "I have things to do."

Mustang lifted a handful of Ed's hair and let it sift through his fingers. "And you're getting right on that, I can see," he said.

"Any minute now," Ed agreed.

Mustang spread his hand out over Ed's chest, like he wanted to hold him down right here. Ed lay still for a while, because he was warm and he knew the minute he moved his shoulder would start up again. Thoughts wandered in and out of his head, disconnected.

"What day's it?" he asked.

"Friday," Mustang said. "The twenty-eighth."

Huh. So only three-and-a-half weeks gone. Funny, it had felt like more. "You skiving off work, lazy Bastard?" he asked.

"Something like that." Mustang moved his hand, and Ed eventually realized he was feeling for Ed's heartbeat. Weird.

"I should go," Ed said, yawning. "Make sure no one's touched my experiments."

"I can make breakfast," Mustang said, not moving.

"Ooh, breakfast. D'you have—" then Ed stopped, derailed from a fantasy feast by a thought so weird, he jolted right up, dislodging Mustang's hand. "We didn't have sex!" he said, shocked.

Mustang blinked at him. "Well, no," he said. "You were exhausted. And your shoulder—"

"Is fine, don't you listen?" Ed pushed up onto his knees. He'd never spent the night sleeping next to someone without sex, aside from Al, of course. That was . . . that was weird. "Take those off," Ed said, pointing at Mustang's sleep pants.

Mustang arched an eyebrow. "Well, if you insist." He kicked them off, and Ed scowled at his dick, which was way behind the program. "Don't worry," Mustang said dryly. He hooked his fingers through Ed's hair again, obsessive perv, and stretched it out straight until it gleamed in the sun. "I'll get there." He leaned in and kissed Ed, slow and dirty. Ed pushed into him, slinging his arms up round Mustang's neck. That hurt all the way through the joint; he didn't really care, but Mustang apparently did, because he pulled back.

"Didn't you say you wanted a bath?" he asked.

"Yeah, yeah, I smell like trains," Ed said, irritated. "Since when are you picky?"

Mustang laughed. "I," he said haughtily, "am extremely discriminating. And you—" he leaned in close and inhaled, running his nose up the side of Ed's neck to his ear "—mmm, you smell like sweat." He licked, and Ed shivered.

They started kissing, and it was just getting good when Ed pushed him back and went to climb over him, and unthinkingly put his hand down to take his weight.

"All right, that's it," Mustang said, catching him around the chest. "Hang on, let me up." He went into the bathroom and Ed heard the water starting to run. Mustang came back out after a few minutes and dragged Ed into the bathroom, even though Ed was pretty pissed at this point, because who opted for bathing over sex?

Except it turned out the two could be combined, which was a fabulous idea. Mustang got in the tub with him, and they both got all slippery with soap, and Mustang held him still on his lap while he pushed his fingers up into him slow and easy, and then rough and dirty until Ed came all over both of them, trying not to shake because Mustang had his arm propped up in exactly the right way. That was the nicest fucking thing to happen to Ed in nearly a month, thank you, and making sure Mustang got his was good, too.

So was breakfast, while Ed's hair dried in front of the heater and Mustang made him egg sandwiches until he couldn't eat anymore, and talked casually to him the whole time about the latest Central gossip. Handy guy, Mustang – orgasms and food, all in one package.

Which was why, Ed thought a few hours later, he really needed to lay this whole 'love' thing to rest. Mustang was just so . . . it would be really annoying to have to stop sleeping with him, was the thing.

Ed's dire keep out! warning signs on his lab door had done the trick on everybody except one mouse. That was annoying, but it also gave Ed a bit of time to think while he was running around after the little fucker. Al had been unwilling to accept Ed's evidence from the crying experiment, for reasons he hadn't adequately explained except to say that absence of evidence was not evidence of absence, which was both true and practically useless. And Ed had even read those books on the train up and back. Al had been right – they were way better than the stuff at the library, even though there had been a noticeable lack of pirates and Vikings. But those books had actually just tangled him up again, instead of providing clarification, because as a body they seemed to argue that romance was always different, depending on the people involved. Possibly true, but what was the good of that? Fucking people. This was exactly why he liked raw elements so much more.

Was it weird that they only knew one person who was happily in love? That thought had never occurred to him before. Way more people seemed to care about love than Ed had expected, if he'd thought about it at all, but most of their friends were unafflicted. Who did he know that might be helpful? Hmm!

*

Armstrong was just leaving the gym when Ed found him.

"The Fullmetal Alchemist!" he boomed, clapping Ed on the back. "Returned from the great white north, I hear."

"Well, white, at least," Ed said. "How have you been?"

"Tremendous, thank you for asking," Armstrong said.

"Great," Ed said. "That's great. Look, what do you know about love?"

Armstrong drew himself up, beaming. "I am a font of wisdom," he declared. "I am an oracle. Love courtly, love romantic, love—" he screwed up one eye and winked "—carnal."

Ed had that last one down just fine, and the first sounded completely pointless. "The second one," he said. "What d'you know about it?"

Armstrong swelled, quivering. "I know it is the sweet song of the beating heart, I know it is the soul's surcease."

"You don't say." Ed had been all ready to take notes, but he didn't think he needed to write either of those down. "Anything else?"

Armstrong inhaled. "Love is many-splendored, it blooms like the spring rose, but unlike the rose, if you tend it well, it never fades. Love is a glimpse of immortality."

His voice dropped to a low throb on that last, and tears glimmered in his eyes. "Nice technique," Ed said, gesturing admiringly at them.

"Eh?" Armstrong said, frowning at him.

"Never mind. Look, that's all well and good, but do you have anything more practical? Any axioms? Anything that could be the basis of solid experimental design, say?"

"Well," Armstrong said slowly. "It is said that if you love something, you should let it go, and if it comes back to you, it's yours forever."

"Oh really," Ed said, thinking fast. Yeah, that could work. "Thanks, Armstrong, that's perfect."

"Ah—" Armstrong looked suddenly alarmed. "Fullmetal, this isn't about you and the Colonel, is it?"

"Yeah?" Ed said, already three steps down the hall.

Armstrong flapped both hands. "Wait! Don't—love is misunderstood, Fullmetal! And Fragile! And really very sweet, and it also outranks me!"

"Uh, okay," Ed said, backing away. "Thanks again!"

*

He thought about it for the rest of the day, just to be sure, but the idea was sound. More than that – the idea was great. If Mustang loved him, he'd let him go, and it would kill two birds with one stone: Ed would know for sure, and he'd end it. And, by process of elimination, if Mustang didn't let him go, then he wasn't in love and they could keep having sex, and everything would be great.

He went over that night after dinner and let himself in. He closed the door hard so Mustang would know he was there and wouldn't fry him without looking. A light was on towards the back of the house, in a little study Ed had only glanced into once. Mustang was sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by stacks of paper, picking through a cardboard box.

"Ed," he said, smiling all the way up into his eyes. "This is a nice surprise. Any of my . . . amenities you'd care to avail yourself of this time?"

"Naw," Ed said, leaning in the doorway. "Maybe your dick later, I'll let you know."

"Your wish," Mustang murmured, and dug back into his box.

"Whatcha doing?" Ed padded across the room and plunked down beside him. Up close, he could see that all this stuff was really dusty.

"Old newspaper clippings," Mustang said, flicking through a crackling stack and discarding them. "I'm looking for a story I know I clipped and saved."

"The library has them all," Ed said. "Back to the very beginning." Mustang didn't say anything, he just gave Ed a quiet, interested look and waited. "Except," Ed said slowly, "except for the issues that are 'missing,' because they talk about things this stupid fucking military wants everyone to forget." He clenched his hand on his knee, just as infuriated as when he'd first found out about that. They came into the library, and they looked at a collection of information, complete and perfect, and they took things out forever.

"I keep a lot of clippings," Mustang said, dipping his chin. "I just need to find something to make a point to General Lloyd."

Ed sifted through the discards around him. It was a litany of misery and corruption: bombings, disappearances, disastrous military maneuvers. Mustang read all this stuff and he kept it in a box.

Ed shook himself. He was losing track of the point. The point was to give Mustang the old heave-ho to see what he did, not to sit around exploring his lack of a filing system.

"Huh!" Mustang said, pulling a ragged notebook out. "That's where that went. My alchemy notes," he explained, showing Ed the cover. "Back from when I worked out my arrays."

Ed reached for it on pure reflex, then yanked his hand back. You didn't mess with another alchemist's notes, particularly his proprietary arrays. The last time someone other than Al or Teacher had looked over Ed's shoulder, he'd nearly torn the fucker's head off.

"It's all right," Mustang said casually. "Go ahead. I know you'll have snide comments about my technique, might as well get it out of your system."

Ed jolted right down his spine. All that useless advice and hours of research, and no one'd had the brains to tell him how simple it really was. Idiots! "You—" he said, shocked.

"Me?" Mustang said, not looking up.

"You—" Ed inhaled hard, then grabbed the notebook and smacked Mustang solidly across the shoulders with it. "Al was right," he said, furious. "Mustang, you idiot, you are in love with me."

Mustang dropped a fluttering stack of clippings and turned slowly so they were knee to knee. He was breathing just a little too fast. "Your brother is very perceptive," he said. Then he made a sort of face at himself and stared Ed in the eye. "Yes," he said. "I am in love with you."

A wave of enormous disappointment crashed over Ed. Fucking Mustang, ruining everything, just when it was all perfect. The data rearranged itself in Ed's head. It was like one of those optical illusions where you could blink and change what you saw. A vase, two faces. Mustang and I have sex, Mustang is in love with me. Mustang asking him what he wanted to do with his life, all the dinners, his handkerchief, the cut at the corner of Ed's mouth.

Mustang coughed gently, and Ed looked up to find him calmly staring back, his hands open in his lap. "And what about you?" Mustang asked.

"What about me what?" Ed asked, confused.

The corner of Mustang's mouth tipped up. "Are you in love with me?" He observed Ed's expression, then dropped his head and laughed ruefully into his hand. "The thought never even occurred to you, did it?"

"Well no," Ed said. 'Of course not, why would it?"

"Of course," Mustang said softly, looking back up. He wasn't smiling anymore, not even that little grim, self-deprecating one from a minute ago. "Well, now I know," he said. "I had tried not to let myself believe I was seeing something that wasn't—"

"Shut up," Ed snapped, flinging a hand at him. "I'm trying to think here!" He squinched his eyes shut, because he just couldn't see that look on Mustang's face anymore without feeling nauseated. Fucking Mustang, what right did he have looking like that? What right did he have asking Ed that question out of nowhere? He couldn't really expect Ed to – to –

For the second time in less than a minute, Ed experienced a radical recategorization of data, complete with an entirely new set of corrected assumptions. Mustang, who kept gruesome newspaper clippings, who didn't try to look at him when he was crying, who'd sent him up north into the middle of a fucking alchemical winter nightmare on the chance it might be important for fixing Al, even though the Bastard was . . . the Bastard was. . .

Oh. So that's what that was.

"You son-of-a-bitch," Ed said, his eyes popping open. "Mustang! You—you—you Bastard! How did you do this to me, you prick? I don't even like you!"

Mustang's face froze up for a second, and then he took a quick breath. "Oh," he said, like he was shocked. "Edward, I—"

"You are a Bastard," Ed said, incandescently furious. "Making me feel – who said you could do that?"

"Oh," Mustang said again, and tackled Ed straight back onto the carpet. "I love you too," he said, kissing Ed's mouth, his cheeks, down his neck. "Edward, I adore you."

"No need to get all gooshy," Ed said, sidetracked.

Mustang wasn't listening. "It's crazy," he said, biting Ed's earlobe. "I want to strangle you half the time."

Well, that was more like it. "It's entirely mutual," Ed assured him, running both hands down Mustang's strong back.

"And I'm never letting you forget it," Mustang said, enragingly smug, and started pulling at their clothes.

They fucked right there on the rug, long and dirty, just how they both liked it. Mustang's old notes crackled under Ed's back while Mustang leaned close over him, telling him how good Ed felt on his dick, how Mustang would go days thinking only how much he wanted Ed to take it like he was right now. And then at the end Mustang just leaned into him, cheek-to-cheek, while they struggled and strained for it together. Ed dimly heard a rattling, and a lamp crashed off the table he was bracing against. It fell off the far side, but Ed wasn't sure they would have stopped regardless.

They curled up together afterwards to catch their breath, and stayed there long enough in silence that Ed was pretty sure they were stuck together. Mustang had tilted his head back enough to be able to look, and he kept rubbing his knuckles up and down Ed's cheek, his eyes dark and serious. Ed frowned back, outraged all over again by the unplumbable mysteries of psychology. It wasn't that he felt any different now, it was that now he knew about it, and he kept poking at it. Being in love, he decided, was like having an irrational new brain structure added on whose entire job was to look at Mustang and think things like mine and wonder where he'd gotten that scar on his shoulder. And really really want to read his alchemy notes. It all felt maddeningly, unempirically good.

"Ug," Ed said at last. "Al is going to be so smug." The corners of Mustang's mouth tugged up and Ed scowled at him. "Well don't you start."

"Too late," Mustang said, still bonelessly relaxed.

"Yeah yeah," Ed said, smiling helplessly at the ceiling. Even the smug just made him stupidly happy. Love was insane. "I'm hungry," he said. "D'you have ice-cream?