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Burning brightly in the night

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It was a pleasant evening, the late summer lingering and the early autumn just barely lingering in the distance. It had been a long, hot summer, and Ed was glad that it was finally beginning to cool a little. It made a cold beer enjoyable on a Friday night. He took another sip, setting the glass down, and let his eyes travel across the room.

He had a type, but often avoided it. Older, dark haired, dark eyed, pale, and exotic. It wasn’t common in Amestris, not even in Central, so he rarely ever saw anyone that matched it. But he also went out of his way to avoid those men. If anyone ever remembered who he was, who he had been, they would connect dots so fast the gossip rags wouldn’t be able to keep up.

No, Ed knew what he preferred, but he also knew he didn’t care too much if he strayed from that. He wasn’t looking for marriage, after all, just a fun tumble in the sack to relieve some stress. To help fill that gnawing, aching hole the Gate had left him with all those years ago when he had rescued Al. That reminder that he was still alive to enjoy a beer and a Friday night fuck.

A red headed man sitting at a table, alone, smiled at Ed and raised his glass. Ed let his eyes travel up and down the man’s body, nodding in approval, and raised his glass in return. He clearly wasn’t military, he didn’t have the posture or the build for it, but he wasn’t out of shape either. He’d probably be fun and energetic enough to make Ed simply forget for a few hours.

So Ed rose from his stool, and meandered leisurely over and sat down across from him with a smile. The man smiled back and took a drink.

“Come here often,” he asked, and Ed groaned internally.

Of course the cute one with dimples would be a moron with no skill. Hopefully he was better with his mouth at work.

“It’s a nice place,” Ed replied, letting his finger circle the lip of his glass and then bringing the finger up to his mouth to gently lick.

The man’s eyes never wavered, and Ed could almost feel his hands tightening around his own glass. Good. Ed didn’t feel like playing games and wasting an hour getting to the good part tonight. He had paperwork he needed to work on this weekend. All he really needed was a good lay to quiet the screaming darkness that he could feel scratching in his chest, throbbing with each beat of his heart. Maybe there were other methods to quiet it, but he had found that a good fuck worked instant wonders pretty well.

“Y-yes,” the man stuttered, “James, my name.”

“Ed,” Ed said with a smile, “You want to leave and maybe have a little fun?”

The man’s eyes went wide, and his grin nearly split his face in two as he nodded, “My place isn’t-”

“No,” Ed said.

Ed had solid rules. Rules that he had set in stone when he had started doing this a few years back. Rules that he never broke. No last names, no commitment, and, most importantly, never at anyone’s place. Hotels, the back alley, and one never to be repeated experience in a bush in a park, but never at anyone’s home. Homes brought a permanence to a situation that was only about a single night. They added complications, and emotions, where he wanted none.

No, for Ed it was the hotel around the block, or he would have to go on the hunt again.

“The Rose is nearby,” Ed said, leaning in and whispering into his ear with a rasp, “A bit quicker, wouldn’t you agree?”

James nodded, downing the remainder of his beer with a quick gulp, and stood up. Ed smiled, leaving his own beer unfinished, and stepped close into James’ side. The man was tall enough to wrap his arm around Ed’s shoulder with ease, and Ed had to bit his tongue to not roll his eyes at that. He had shot up a little after the Promise Day, but he still remained quite petite. He was just glad that people had stopped mistaking him for a child or a woman.

The walk was short and warm, although Ed was sure he could smell the first frost lingering on the breeze. Long summers made for hard winters, he remembered some of the farmers saying. It would be brutal this year for sure if that held true. He grinned, leaning into James’ side, and hummed as they approached the hotel.

“No string attached,” Ed asked, pausing before the lobby entrance. They could discuss fucking upstairs, but he needed James to know that that’s all it would be. No relationship, no dates, just a convenient, enjoyable one night stand.

“Wouldn’t dream of anything else,” James laughed, and they strolled into the hotel together.

Ed flopped on his back, panting, and looked over at a grinning James. He was impressed, for a man that had no game he was certainly talented in bed. He almost regretted his rule about one night only now.

“That thing,” James said, catching his breath, “With your tongue.”

“Traveled a lot,” Ed explained, “Learn things when you travel.”

James smiled, turning to stare at Edward, letting his hand trace across his chest. He began to caress a few scars on his shoulder, and then started dipping down toward the rather obvious one on Ed’s side. Ed winced, out of memory than actual pain, and his face tightened.

“Is that where you got these? Traveling?” James asked, his face full of questions.

“Yes,” Ed said, his mask beginning to slip back into place.

He didn’t like probing questions. His past, his injuries, could be recognized fairly easily if a person did a little bit of digging. How many blond, long haired men had an automail leg and a chest full of scars and metal after all? It had to be a vanishingly thin number. Especially for ones named Ed.

“You’re so young,” James said, not reading the sudden change of atmosphere in the room, “To have so many scars, you must have-”

“It’s no big deal,” Ed snapped sitting up suddenly and beginning to search for his clothes. His muscles were tensing, and he hurriedly began to start pulling on what he could find.

“Wait, we have all night,” James said, beginning to stand and reach out as Ed finished dressing and patting his pockets.

“I can’t, I’m busy tomorrow,” Ed said coldly, “Busy day.”

“But tomorrow’s-” the door slammed shut behind Ed as he angrily stomped out of the room.

He was seething inside as he came down the stairs and marched out into the night. He was used to questions about the scars. Of men’s obsession with tracing them, licking them, caressing them. Scars were something a lot of other viewed as something new and exciting. Comments about how they must have hurt, how great a fighter he must have been to earn them. Questions about if he got his automail because of a fight.

But when they started tying his youth to them they usually started asking more personal questions. Questions about identity, about pasts. He was no longer a nameless Ed that they picked up in a bar, he was becoming Ed, human being. And that’s not something that he could do, could let them do to him. They were nameless one night fucks to quiet the raging, angry, sorrowful beast that lived inside him and gnawed on him day in and day out.

The beast that was cooing quietly, asleep, nearly forgotten. That enjoyed a good anonymous fuck, no expectations on either side, that was blessedly nearly forgotten in the weeks that followed. As long as they didn’t try to dig. But now he could feel a scrape or two against his chest. He could feel it sigging into his heart and mind. He could feel it want to scream.

Ed bit back a sob as he turned the corner onto his street. That’s why he did things the way he did. He didn’t want them to know, he didn’t want them to feel sorry for him, to know him, to expect anything from him. He was just Ed. He wasn’t special, not anymore. He was just a science professor at the university. He taught ethics courses for the alchemy department. He graded papers, helped proofread research papers, and drank with his friends on the weekends. He wrote letters to his happy, human little brother that lived on the other side of the continent and taught alchemy all the way in Xing.

He wasn’t Edward Elric: Alchemist of the People. He wasn’t Fullmetal. He didn’t perform miracles by clapping his hands. He travel the country to save the world. He wasn’t a brash, outspoken, temperamental child that thought he knew best anymore. He had broken himself of that useless moron years ago and moved on.

So what if a clawing darkness beat in his chest, angry and miserable without his alchemy. So what if he could never teach alchemy because the dean of the alchemy department had, quite clearly, told him that those who couldn’t do couldn’t teach. So what if he still proofread and corrected nearly every alchemy research paper that was published by staff at the university.

So what if he was lonely.

So what if he knew that he couldn’t. Couldn’t do more, couldn’t expect more. He loathed the sympathy and the sad, caring looks in people’s eyes when they knew who he was and what he had done. They didn’t see the man that had survived, instead they see the little boy at the start of the journey. Every. Single. Time.

Ed didn’t want that, he growled to himself as he kicked off his shoes and locked the apartment door behind him, he didn’t want those looks of pity. He had been stupid, and he had paid for it. Had torn himself to pay for it time and time again. He woke with nightmares about still not being able to pay for it. He didn’t want to pay for a relationship by having eyes like that looking at him every day when he woke up, with every conversation, every time they noticed a new scar they hadn’t seen before.

No, Ed thought, getting in the shower and turning it as hot as it would go, he had already paid everything he had and more. He didn’t have enough left to throw into that fire, no matter what Al said in his letters or others told him. He had stood before the Gate more than they had, he was more familiar with equivalent exchange than any other alchemist in the damn country.

The darkness continued to purr, sated once more, and Ed crouched down in the shower, letting the hot water beat at him. It was going to be okay, he told himself. He’d find a better fuck in a few weeks, one that wouldn’t ask questions. One that wouldn’t dredge up old memories with thoughtless comments. He was an adult. He had survived so much, he could survive this too. It was just like Al wrote, everything was going to be all right.

Ed rocked himself under the spray of the shower until the water ran cold before he dragged himself to bed.