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Son of the Desert

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He won't call her by her name, and it infuriates her.

She's been shouting her name at him since she was a child, every time he passes through their village she follows him and screams and he smiles at her like she is súrah, the first ray of warm sunlight after a cold night.

"You are too young to be giving your name away," Levana tuts at her, while she watches him walk away from her, tall and broad and hair the same color as gold.

Trisha ignores her and stomps away. She is batsheva, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and her name has always been her own to do with what she pleases.

~

"Brother, we can't," Alphonse says, and Edward laughs and buries his head in his hands, clenches his fingers over his eyes until he's sure he won't cry. "Not him, anyone but him."

"Relax," he scrubs his arm over his face, "He doesn't know what we are, we're still alive aren't we?"

"That's not the point," Al hisses, "He is a rotze'akh, he has the blood of our people-"

"All people are our people," Ed thumps his head against Al's armor, and does not say that he is a rotze'akh now too, with his mother and brother's blood on his hands. "The military took everything. It's only fair that they give something back."

"Kol hamerachem al achzarim sofo litachzer al rachmanim," Al recites, but there is a weary acceptance behind his words.

Ed laughs, "Harsh," but doesn't protest his brother's assessment.

He who is merciful to the cruel eventually will be cruel to the merciful.

~

Edward has two names, but one is a secret. One is a gift from his parents, and it's what they call him and what Winry calls him and what everyone calls him. The second is a gift from Ishvala, and he must use is sparingly, it is the name stamped on his soul, and he must be careful with who he gives his soul to.

Alphonse has a secret name too, but he doesn't know it, which he doesn't think is fair.

"It is a gift," his mother says, holding him in her arms when he's exhausted himself from crying, "He must choose to share it. It is not my name to give."

Edward creeps over to his brother's crib that night, peers down at the baby that looks just like him, just like Dad, and whispers, "I'll give you mine. You don't have to give me yours if you don't want, but I want you to have mine."

He repeats his secret name to his baby brother until his throat is hoarse, until he's leaning half over the crib and his eyelids droop in exhaustion.

~

"Older Sister!" Trisha turns and smiles at the little girl running towards her. They share no blood, and Trisha thinks she must not know what she is if she calls her Sister. Even her own siblings won't call her that. They roll her name around their mouths like hard bread, and sometimes there is pity in their eyes when everyone in their village names her, and sometimes there is envy.

She finds that she rarely has the energy for either.

"Yes, Little Sister?" She crouches down to be eye level with her.

The girl beams, pleased, and says, "Grandmother Levana sent me with a message. She says your sinner is here."

Trisha's breath gets caught in her throat, and she is running, running until she is at the village entrance, until she sees sun glinting off golden hair and broad shoulders under a shabby coat. "You're late," she gasps, cutting off his conversation with kohen and she would be punished for the disrespect if she was anyone else, but she is batsheva and priests have no hold over her. Her name is on everyone's lips, and they have nothing to damn her with.

He usually looks sad when he sees her every passing year, looks more and more bereft at the changes age brings her. "Sister," he says, and this time there is something hot like sand at midday in his eyes, and it will burn her if she touches it, will scald the skin from the soles of her feet.

"Brother," she says. Even though he is not Ishvalan she has never used his name, and even though she is batsheva he has never used hers. He swallows when he looks at her, and Trisha feels something like hope bloom in her chest. Maybe fifteen is old enough, finally. If she were a boy she would not yet have had her liberallia, would not yet be able to build her own household. But she has had her bleeding for many moons, and she wants him. There is no point in having the power to choose if she does not use it.

~

Every time Edward sees the circle on the back Mustang's hand, he wants to scream, wants to reach across the desk and shake him, wants to wrap his hands around the older man's throat and ask if it was worth it, if this desk and his rank is worth the screaming, crying, writhing, burning bodies of his people -

"Something to say, Fullmetal?" Mustang drawls.

Edward snaps the file shut, "Nope."

He could kill him. Edward is very certain of this, he could burn Mustang to death before the other man could stop him, could slit his throat with the automail, could drag the oxygen from his blood, explode his heart in his chest, could burn him like he burned Ishval-

"Fullmetal," Mustang leans forward, and that crease between his eyebrow means he's actually worried, and concern from this man makes bile rise in his throat, "Are you sure you're all right? Did something happen on the last assignment?"

"I'm fine," he glares, "Is this all?"

"That's all," Mustang says, and Ed turns to stomp out. "Edward," he hates when Mustang calls him by his first name, so he pauses but doesn't turn around. "This is a dangerous mission. Be careful."

He hates that tone worst of all, the one that said that if Ed wasn't careful and something happened to him, Mustang would be sad. Asshole. Who is he to mourn Edward's death if he doesn't mourn any of the Ishvalans he's killed?

"Whatever," he snorts, and makes sure to slam the door on the way out.

~

The first time Edward and Alphonse come home with bruises on their faces, she kisses them and says, "You must not give in to the anger, my loves, my neshamot, you cannot."

Al pouts and glares, "Rob made fun of us for speaking Ishvalan! He made fun of you, Mama!"

"Ignorant people will not learn through your fists," she says sternly.

Edward looks at his mother, at her dark skin and white hair and her eyes like rubies, and says, "You are our gift from Ishvala, and we will not allow people mishandles you," he says, fierce, eyes with the heat of the desert in them.

She goes to her knees in front of them, and she knows what anger leads to, what it becomes, so she takes each of their hands. "We are all gifts of Ishvala, and we must not mishandle each other," she wants her husband here for this, but she does not think he knows this lesson well enough to teach it, "Hate only leads to more hate, you must not allow that to become your circle of influence. Spread kindness like a disease to all those who surround you, and you will infect the world."

Edward, her precious son, the eldest son of a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is not convinced. She wishes she could show him morality in minerals and math, but words are all she has.

"I understand," Alphonse says, golden eyed like his father and brother.

Before they had Edward and understood that the full force of Xerxes would manifest instead, they entertained the idea of golden haired, ruby eyed children, children made of fine, glittering things.

But gold is cold and gemstones are sharp, and her boys are warm and soft in her arms.

~

Sakeen is a curved blade used to kill animals and to cook them. Every man and women carries a sakeen.

Trisha fingers the handle of her own blade, but decides now is not the time, and puts it back in her sash. She walks over to Hohenheim, hunched over his papers, and says, "What are you doing?"

He doesn't twitch, but she knows she's startled him. "There is an Ishvalan in a village north of here, and he is studying Xingese and Amestrian alchemy. His notes are fascinating."

"Oh," she says, because she knows nothing of alchemy that she did not learn from holy scripture, and she doesn't think that's the best source. "Can you tell me about it?"

He swallows, "Your god does not like you knowing such things."

"My god has turned a blind eye to me," she says confidently, "Besides. I do not think alchemy is such a terrible thing - it is used to create, isn't it? You are an artisan."

"I'm not," he says, but before she can question the terrible note in his voice he begins explaining his science-magic. Trisha doesn't understand a word, but she would listen to him forever if only he would let her.

~

Scar is not the first Ishvalan they've met in the city. It is an open secret, well known in the East and becoming even better known in Central, that the Elric Brothers always have time to help anyone with white hair and red eyes. They know of the golden boys who speak their language and know their culture, the Ishvalan state alchemist, the sheep in the lion's den.

But they protect their golden boys, and no Ishvalan has ever breathed the name Elric. So when Scar attacks them, he is stunned when the teenage machine of war screams at him, "What are you doing? I am your people! You would dare spill the blood of Ishvala's children? Doesn't enough of it stain the sands?"

He takes a step back, looks at his hair and eyes, "You are not Ishvalan."

The suit of armor steps in front of the boy, says, "Our mother was Ishvalan, our father Amestrian."

"You are alchemists," he continues, and he thinks of his brother and wants to die.

Edward steps from around the armor, "The two are not mutually exclusive," he spits, and Scar knows this better than most, but they don't know that. "You need to stop. This is not the will of Ishvala."

"Ishvala has already condemned me," he says, and he does not want to talk to this golden child of his people, "The least I can do is remove those who eradicated our people."

Ed snarls, but it's Alphonse who says, "Al d'ateft atfu'kh, v'sof m'tifaikh ytufun." Scar goes pale at this phrase, wavers.

"Fire!" a man shouts, and Scar darts the hail of bullets, tries not think, and when he catches sight of who gave the orders, he grins.

"Flame Alchemist," he says, "It is time for you to meet my god." Red alchemical energy runs up his arm, and Mustang raises a hand to snap, arrogant idiot, it's raining -

"NO!" Edward shouts, finds himself between Scar and Mustang with his arms raised, and he's lost his mind, he should stand aside, let Scar do what Edward fantasizes about but can never bring himself to do, "LO! Sheli!"

"Hold fire!" Mustang screams, "Fullmetal, get out of the way!"

Scar's eyes are so wide that he can nearly see the red around the glasses. "Boged," he hisses, and standing in between Mustang and Scar he can't say the other man is wrong, but he feels something break in his chest anyway. Scar shoots him one more poisonous look before he runs away, and Edward wonders clinically how long it will take for the news to spread among their people that he protected the Flame Alchemist.

"Are you hurt?" Mustang asks, running up to him and grabbing him by the shoulders, pale and afraid that he is, and that's so unfair. When Edward sold his soul to the devil he wasn't meant to end up being the fallen angel who'd had his wings torn from him. Mustang shakes him, fingers digging into metal and flesh, "EDWARD! Did he hurt you?" If he doesn't answer the older man soon he might have a heart attack.

Edward shoves the colonel away to glare at him, "What did you do that for? I was handling it!"

Mustang sighs, visibly relieved at Ed's temper, and that just makes him feel even worse. "I didn't know you spoke Ishvalan," he continues, clearing his throat, and Ed pales. "What did he say to you, at the end?"

"I don't know," blood traitor, "I only speak a little," he shrugs, swallows, "Do you speak it?"

Mustang shakes his head, "No, I - no."

"Guess there wasn't a lot of time for talking during the war," Edward spits, trying to find the familiar hatred. Al places a hand on his shoulder, and he can't do this, not now, they've made it nearly four years without spilling their secret. "Thanks," he says, instead of asking Mustang if he ever got close enough to hear them screaming. Just because the bastard cares about them doesn't excuse shit.

Besides. If he found out Ed was Ishvalan, he probably wouldn't be so considerate.

Edward tries not to think too much on why that makes his chest hurt.

~

"We're going to tell Winry our names," Al says at dinner, face turned down.

Trisha pauses, swallows, and puts her fork back on her plate, "Why?"

Al looks to Ed, and the older boy picks at his broccoli and says, "She's our best friend, she is - she is mishpakha, family. She can have our names, she'll take care of them."

"She cries all the time now," Al whispers, "Ever since Mr. and Mrs. Rockbell-" he scrubs his arm over his eyes. "She should know she's not alone."

"They're your names," she says, "you can do with them whatever you'd like."

~

It would be enough if she was only batsheva, no matter what men think of her status they want her for the children she will have, for the new line she will create. But she is beautiful too, and smart, and men would consider her a prize even without the power of her birth.

Her first proposal comes when she's twelve. She doesn't know which of her sisters told of her bleeding, but they better pray she never finds out. He's only sixteen, fresh from his manhood ceremony when he folds her hand around his sakeen and jerks her to him so that he can place the blade to his throat.

That first time she merely throws his blade into the ground and flees, cheeks flushed and heart pounding. There is only one man for her, and she doesn't care that he's the same age as her father, that he's not of her people, that he's a sinner. She will belong to him, or no one.

The proposals don't stop, boys and men who force her to press knives to their throat. She leaves scars on them now, every man foolish enough to ask for her as if she still belongs to herself. In olden times she would have slit their throats, and now she only makes them bleed.

Sometimes, only sometimes, she still wished that refusing a proposal meant slitting a throat. Maybe then at least she wouldn't have to deal with so many.

This one happens while she walks with her sinner, and he allows Trisha to place her hand in the crook of his elbow. Even with two layers of cloth between them it's the most they've ever touched, and she's nearly giddy with it.

"Trisha!" She pauses, turns to Jonah with a smile, and is completely unprepared when the knife is shoved into her hand and then pressed to his neck. Hohenheim steps away from her, and she wants to go after him, but Jonah's hand on her arm is firm. "I had my liberallia yesterday, you weren't there, but that's okay!"

This is supposed to be a silent affair, he is not supposed to speak once cold metal hits his skin, and Trisha feels betrayed that big eared, kind Jonah is asking this of her. She snarls, cuts the knife too hard across his skin, and lets it fall bloody into the sand. Jonah's hands come to his throat to stem the bleeding, but they're instantly soaked in red. His breath gurgles in his throat, and she spits at his feet before she turns and runs.

He knows her, he was her friend, how dare he ask - oh god, he was her friend, and she's killed him -

"Sister!" She's crying by the time Hohenheim catches up to her, collapsed in the sand by the well with her head buried in her knees. He falls down beside her, reaches out to touch but does not, "Sister, please, it's all right. I took care of it. He's fine, I promise."

"I've killed him!" she wails, "He's dead!"

"He is not," Hohenheim says softly, "I healed him, he's all right, please don't cry." He hesitates, but continues, "Killing him is your right. That's what they're supposed to mean, isn't it? That if you do not love them, you must kill them, because life is not worth living without you." She's mostly stopped crying, only harsh stuttering breaths when he lays a gently hand on her back and says, "They shouldn't put you in that position if they don't mean it."

She feels in her sash, because she honestly can't do this anymore, and in one quick move she's pressing her sakeen into Hohenheim's hand and pressing it to her throat. He tries to tug it away, but she's too strong for that, holds it in place with both hands and says, "I mean it, I do, you can't just throw it aside, if you do not want me you must kill me."

"Don't," he whispers, eyes wide and terrified, "don't do this."

"Don't you love me?" she demands, "You want me, I know you want me, you are a man and I am beautiful. I will have strong children, I will keep your house, I will do anything if only you will let me."

"You are sixteen, you don't know what you want, you don't know what I am-" he's nearly hysterical, voice high, but he doesn't pull away and he doesn't say he doesn't love her.

"They call you my sinner," she tells him, and he makes a sound that might be a laugh, "They call you my sinner, and they all call me by my name, and I don't care what you are as long as what I am is yours." She presses the blade into her skin, feels it cut and warm blood drip down her neck. Hohenheim makes a wounded noise and tries to pull away, "Do you love me?"

He looks like he's dying, but Trisha has been drowning her whole life waiting for him. "Yes," he says finally, like the words are being torn from his lips, "I love you."

She releases him and he throws the sakeen aside like it's burned him. He buries his face in his hands, shoulders shaking, but Trisha feels like light, she is the sun in this moment, because for the first time since she was born she doesn't belong to everyone, she only belongs to him. She tugs him into her, and he only hesitates a moment before wrapping his arms around her and burying his face into her shoulder, her old lonely sinner. "My name is Trisha," she whispers.

She's told him this a hundred times, but this time he squeezes her almost too tight, says, "Trisha," and Ishvala could take her now and she would die happy, "my name is Van Hohenheim."

"Van Hohenheim," she says, reverent like a prayer, and when he looks up at her his eyes are red rimmed, his face is splotchy and swollen with his tears, and he's the most beautiful he's ever been.

~

Edward doesn't properly understand what they're talking about until he's already entered the office, and when he does he wants to grab Al and leave.

"It is to a sensible way to predict behavior," Breda scoffs, "I'd put money on Scar being all hung up on religion, they all are."

"That's a bit of a generalization," Edward says, and he feels like he's outside of his body looking in, because he knows what he's going to do, and it's not smart, it's not right, but damn him if he's going to stand here silent while they spew vitriol about what they don't understand, "Ishvalans were once five percent of Amestris's total population, I doubt millions of people are all religious fanatics."

Mustang is watching him now, and Edward hadn't heard him offer anything to the conversation. "I've never met an Ishvalan who isn't religious," Havoc says.

"Our mother was an atheist," Alphonse blurts, and Edward grins, because he does love when he and his brother have the same terrible idea.

"Yeah, but your mother wasn't Ishvalan," Furey says, and Edward doesn't know what the look on his face is but suddenly the office is dead quiet.

Edward sighs, looks up at the ceiling so he doesn't have to look at any of them, "She was from Eshkolit, near the southern corner of Ishval. She met my father there, he passed through a lot, apparently. I suppose we're lucky she followed him to Resembool. By the time the war reached her village, she was long gone." He looks back down, looks at Mustang who's so pale Ed's almost worried he's going to pass out, and asks, "Are you going to kill me now? According to the extermination orders, half Ishvalan is Ishvalan enough to execute."

"I would never-" Mustang says, voice harsh in the quiet, and Edward laughs.

"That act was repealed years ago," Falman says.

Hawkeye clears her throat, "Why didn't you tell us?"

Alphonse scoffs. Ed knocks an open hand against his brother's armor and says, "Are you seriously asking me why I didn't tell the Flame Alchemist and the Hawk's Eye that we're Ishvalan?"

"Only half though," Furey offers, like it's something to be ashamed of, like it's okay that their mother was Ishvalan because their father was not, and that's not how it works.

Edward's hands clench into fists and Alphonse straightens to his full height, "I am Ishvalan in every way that matters. I am the eldest son of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, I am the first male of the line Elric, and Ishvala is as much mine to claim as any of my red eyed brothers and sisters."

"Edward," Mustang says. Ed looks back at him, and he has hated this man with an intensity for four years, but he's never seen him on the edge of breaking before. "Mitztaer."

I'm sorry.

Mustang's hand is clenched around a pen he can't seem to put down, and it makes the array that he'd used to decimate Edward's people stand out in sharp relief. He can tear Mustang down now, and the man would let him, he could vault over that desk and do what he wouldn't allow Scar to do, and take down the man that has killed so many of their brothers and sisters.

Hatred has never done him much good. The best and worst things he's done, he's done for love, and he clings too hard to his name to toss it aside like Scar has.

He walks over to him and places a hand over Mustang's, covers the array and looks up into his eyes. Ed's always thought they were black, but this close he can see they're a dark blue. "Al d'ateft atfu'kh, v'sof m'tifaikh ytufun," he says, and Alphonse breathes in sharply behind him.

Mustang blinks, licks his lips, "I - I'm sorry, I don't - I don't understand."

Because you have drowned others, you were drowned — and in the end, those who drowned you will be drowned.Edward doesn't think it translates well in Amestrian, so he plucks the pen from Mustang's fingers and slides off the other man's glove. Mustang let's him, confused, and Ed raises the colonel's arm and presses his lips to the back of his hand, kisses the hand that had caused the death of thousands.

"Don't worry about it," he says, soft as he's ever been talking to Mustang, who is wide eyed and has yet to move his hand from stretched out in the air. He tosses his report on his desk, then turns on his heel, "Come on, Al."

It's not until they're outside that Alphonse goes, "Brother?"

"Yeah, Al?" he says, and tries not to think about how soft Mustang's skin was on his lips.

"I think you did the right thing."

Ed grins at his brother before smacking his hand against Al's chest plate, "Come on, I'll race you back to the dorms!"

~

Trisha knows that Edward wishes he looked more like her. Alphonse is glad to carry their father's coloring, but Edward spends hours touching her hair, looking at her eyes, comparing their skin, and continuously finds himself lacking.

She's so, so grateful for it though, when the searches start. They're safe, mostly, because Resembool is a small sleepy town and it's easy enough to hide. But soldiers looking for wayward Ishvalans come through, and even as she spends weeks living under her own floorboards, her children do not.

Her sons could hail straight from Xerxes, and no one will look twice at them, could not imagine they are Ishvalan at all, never mind the one third Ishvalan it would take to kill her children.

Not that they really quibble over percentages before they spill blood. White hair and red eyes are a death sentence these days. Harsh military boots stomp over her floor. She huddles into the crawl space her house wasn't built with but her sons made, and wishes now more than ever that Hohenheim was here. They may spill her blood any day, and then where will their sons be? They are children of the desert born in green pastures, and she is afraid she and Hohenheim may have damned them.

~

Edward wouldn't say that wandering around Central in the dead of the night is a habit, but lots of times he can't sleep and walking helps. Besides, sometimes he'll run into another Ishvalan hiding in a dark corner, and he can speak in his favorite language, and try not to think about what two people who should have been raised on the desert sun are doing in the shadows.

He walks past a bar just as someone is thrown out of it. He staggers under the weight of the man and is instantly assaulted with the smell of whiskey and sour vomit. "You all right?" he asks, throwing the guy's arm over his shoulder and tucking his automail arm around his waist.

The man's head lolls in his direction, and Edward stares into blue-black eyes for a moment before he realizes who the drunken moron in his arms is. "Edward," Mustang murmurs, "Edward, what're you doing here, not s'posed t'be here."

"What are you doing?" he demands hotly, finally getting them out of the main road and into the closest alleyway. He considers dumping Mustang here and leaving him.

"Trying to forget," he breathes, and he must be drunk off his ass if he's actually talking, "I was doing - doing so good. But then - they were roasting something in the kitchen, and it smelled like -"

Ed doesn't have any warning before Mustang flings himself on the ground and tries to vomit, only apparently he's already emptied his stomach so all he manages is really painful sounding dry heaving. "Hey," Edward goes on his knees beside him, rubs a careful hand in small circles against Mustang's back, "Hey, breathe for me, okay, can you do that, Colonel?" He tries, Edward can hear him try, but now tears are getting mixed in with the awful stomach spasms, and Ed can't just sit by and watch this. He curls himself over the older man's back, whispers in his ear, "Roy, come on it's okay, breathe with me, everything's okay, no one is burning."

Edward was a fool to think Mustang didn't mourn his people.

"They're always burning," he moans, but he's almost breathing normally again, "There's so much fire, Edward, I didn't want, I didn't want," and he's crying again, full body sobs.

Edward sits on his heels and tugs Roy to him like he's a child, lets the older man cry into his neck and runs his hand through his hair like Mom used to do for him. "Roy, Roy, ze be'seder, it's okay, the war is over."

Roy shakes his head, "I didn't want to do it, Edward, I didn't want to, I didn't want to, but I did, and I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I - Eshkolit was so beautiful before we get there, it was -"

"Roy, don't," Ed closes his eyes, and he knows that his cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents died in fire, but he doesn't want to think about it. He's already decided he forgives Mustang, and that's all there is to it. "Just - stop crying, okay, you can't change anything, you don't need to cry about it anymore." Edward once wanted him to bleed over it, but with Roy a broken thing in his arms he finds it hard to believe he could ever hate the man as much Roy hates himself.

"Edward, Edward, Edward," the man chants into his collarbone, and Ed just does his best to hold Mustang together as he continues to weep against him.

At some point they fall asleep, curled together in a dirty alleyway. Edward wakes up to the morning sunlight against his eyelids and Mustang groaning as he tries to pull himself off of Edward.

"Wait," Ed cups the back of Roy's head and holds the older man in place. Mustang is either too hung over or not awake enough to feel embarrassed over last night, so he slumps back on top of Ed. He rubs his hand up and down Roy's back, and it takes a moment to get his mouth wet enough to speak. "I know - that yesterday marked another year, since Eshkolit, and - I don't think your liver can handle it if your drink like this every time an anniversary passes of you - of the war."

Mustang is stiff in his arms now, but Edward just keeps his hands soft on his head and back, "So I'm going to say something. And you don't have to say anything back, but I've been thinking about it, and I think you should hear it. So. If - if I was to kill someone, with a gun, or whatever. If I was to shoot them, and they were to die, and I wanted them to die, if that's why I shot them. I, uh, I would be the one in trouble, right? Like I'd be the one in jail, because I'm the one who wanted them dead and I'm the one killed them. You - it's not the gun who killed them. Well, I mean, the gun is just this tool, this thing that's used to - to do what you want. This person died because of the gun - or like, the bullet, if you want to get technical, and the gun is what made them bleed and it's the cause of the death, right. But, the gun doesn't go to jail, obviously, I go to jail, because I was the person holding the gun. So the gun killed them, but I'm the one who gets in trouble, right? Because you can't - you can't put a gun a trial, Roy. It's not - the gun's fault, or whatever."

Roy doesn't say anything, but his breaths are coming too fast, and it sounds like might be crying again. Ed sighs, because he doesn't know if that made any sense, and thumps his head back against the wall. "Okay, that - that was all I had to say. So I'm going to close my eyes and let you walk away with your dignity, or whatever, and I promise not to open them again until I can't hear your footsteps."

Edward puts his arms down at his sides and screws his eyes shut. Roy carefully gets to his feet, but instead of walking away he crouches down and frames Ed's face in his hands. Ed inhales too fast, but doesn't say anything and doesn't open his eyes. Roy leans down and kisses his forehead, a careful press of lips against his skin. "Thank you," he breathes, and those two words are full of such heartfelt emotion that Edward has to clench his hands to keep them at his sides, because he's suddenly realized that it's not his forehead that he want Roy to kiss (although he has to admit that was pretty nice).

Roy walks away, and each of his footsteps match a beat of Ed's heart.

~

"I am not a man," Hohenheim tells her the night before their wedding, their naked bodies curled together (what is the point in having the power to choose if she does not use it). She quirks an eyebrow and reaches down to grab her evidence against this claim, and he jerks, then laughs. "That is not what I mean." He cups her face with calloused hands and asks, "How old do you think I am?"

Trisha traces the line of his face, says, "Forty five?"

"My darling," he murmurs, "my love, have I aged, since you've known me, all ten of those years have I changed at all?"

"Yes," she says, confident, "When you first came to our village you did not love me. Now you do."

He smiles, and it changes his whole face, and she will spend the rest of her life coaxing out that smile, "I do believe I have spent all five hundred years of my life waiting to meet you."

She blinks. His smile becomes small, but does not leave, and she hits him the flat of her palm and demands, "Five hundred years?"

~

It's Winry that brings it up at his next tune up.

"I figure you're having it in Central," she says cheerfully while Ed looks on in horror, "Granny and I will come up for it, of course. I don't know if you want anyone else from back home to go, but if so just let me know and I'll pass it along."

"Winry," he says firmly, because she's got that glint in her eyes, "I'm not having one."

"Yes, you are," she argues instantly, "You're turning sixteen, it's tradition!"

"Because I've been living like a good Ishvalan boy so far," he drawls, and only winces a little when Winry smacks him.

"You've honored your family and kept true to your promises," she says firmly, and then grins and tugs on his braid, "Besides, you can officially take your role as head of the family if you do it. Won't that be nice? If you ever see your dad again you can disown him."

"Winry!" Al squawks, "Don't tell Brother that! He will!"

Edward grins, before twisting to look his brother, "Al, what do you think?"

Alphonse rubs the back of his head, "I think that you should do it. It would be a lot of fun, we went to our cousin's one once, when we were kids, right? That was fun."

"I can wait," his eyes are intent on his little brother, "I can wait until you have your body back, and we can do ours together. I'd be okay with that."

"Brother," Alphonse says, warm, "You're the eldest child of the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. You should have your liberallia on time. That's what I want, that's what would make me happy."

Ed blinks his eyes a few times, because he has the best brother ever, and Winry says cheerfully, "Good, that's all settled! I'll help you plan it, god knows you're crap at that kind of thing."

The guest list was supposed to be small, like five people, but word gets out that Edward Elric is having his liberallia, and Ed endures almost twenty minutes of old woman Naama chattering on about her son's liberallia, and how much she likes Ed, and how it's so sad that she has no other men in her family, she so would like to attend another, but alas there is no one who values her enough to invite her -

"Okay!" he throws up his arms, and Naama raises her eyebrow like she has no idea what he's talking about, "You can come! I'll see you there, oh my god, please stop."

"Oh I wouldn't want to intrude," she simpers, and Ed glares because she's a dirty liar who lies. "I'm not the only one who's feeling left out."

"What?" he snaps, "Am I just supposed to invite every Ishvalan I've ever met?"

"Well," Naama taps her chin, and the glint in her eyes underneath all the wrinkles almost makes her look young, "That would be a start, yes."

Alphonse is the one who calls Teacher and Sig, and personally Edward thinks that his little brother is up to something, but it means he doesn't get yelled at by Teacher so it's probably worth it.

"Brother," Alphonse says, and he's scuffing his foot against the ground like he does when he's nervous, "Should we invite - ah, well-"

"Anyone from the military?" Edward asks.

"Yeah."

He tugs on the end of his braid, irritable, and says, "We should, I spend a lot of time with them, they're - well, yeah we should." Every time he and Roy are in the same room together it's like there's electricity in the air, and he can't stop looking at the older man's lips and remembering how they felt on his skin. He wants Roy to be there so much it's a physical ache.

"They've been nice to us ever since they found out," Alphonse says optimistically.

Edward snorts, "There's a big difference between knowing what we are and coming to a party with a couple hundred Ishvalans."

"We should invite them," Alphonse says firmly.

"I guess," he says, but they should. He's just not sure what he's going to do if they say no. He has no idea what he's going to do if they say yes.

He wonders, if Roy shows up, if he'll let Ed dance with him.

~

She's dying. Her family is dead, her husband is gone, her children are young, and she is dying.

Trisha cries for a long time on Pinako's shoulder, and the older woman says, "I'll take care of them, you know I will, they will never be alone."

She nods, clutches the older woman to her. She almost wants to pray, but since the day she was born Ishvala has been blind to her, and besides she doesn't believe in that stuff anyway.

Her husband made sure that she knew there are far stranger things on this earth than gods.

~

Trisha supposes she should probably put up a bigger fight about leaving her desert, but the truth is she can't stay here anymore, in this place where they all call her by her name, call her husband a sinner, and more than a dozen men walk with scars on their throats that she gave them. Eshkolit is her home, but it is stifling and confining and she wants to see the place of rolling green her husband describes, this fiery mechanic he knew as a girl.

"Do you want to see my home?" he murmurs to her, and she looks up at him, "It's a rather large detour, but the ruins of Xerxes are still a sight to see."

"Yes," she says, and cups his face, her husband, her sinner, her poor nameless lover.

A name given to him by the devil is just as bad as having no name at all, and Trisha will give him a name, will name their family Elric and he can carry that in his heart alongside a number and a name given by the devil.

He kisses her, and he always kisses her like a gift, like she is something he doesn't deserve but he will hold onto for as long as he can.

~

Edward walks into the office, looking unusually small, and Roy feels something clench in his chest. "Fullmetal," he greets, "I wasn't expecting you today."

Roy wants Edward to come into the office every day, wants any chance to look at him that he can grab, even though Ed makes his chest hurt and his throat tight.

"Yeah," he won't look at them, "Uh, do you - what do you know about liberallia?"

Edward hasn't mentioned his heritage since that terrifying conversation in an alleyway months ago, and Roy's momentarily struck speechless. It's Breda who says, "It's a party, isn't it?"

"Kind of," Ed tugs at the end of his braid, "It's a coming of age ceremony, but it's mostly a party. It's, I'm - I'm turning sixteen next month. I wasn't going to have one, it's kind of dumb, and it's not like I have a lot of family left, but - I'm the eldest son of a batsheva, and that's sort of a big deal. So lots of people are coming, I don't really know how many, Naama and Al and Winry have been planning it and whispering a lot, and I think at this point it's less about me, and more about an excuse to throw a giant party, but - but." Edward reaches into his coat, and removes half a dozen red envelopes, "You guys are - you've known me, for a long time, longer than most of the people coming. You don't have to come, of course, it's just a dumb party, but you can. If you want. You wouldn't be the only Amestrians there, Teacher and Winry and people are going to be there too. So."

Edward taps the envelopes in his hands a couple of times, and finally just sticks them on the closest desk - Havoc's - and flees the office.

Havoc silently gets up and hands each of them their invitation. Roy's has his full name in Ed's chicken scratch scrawl, and the Flame Alchemist, 'hero' of the Ishvalan war, has a handwritten invitation to an Ishvalan ceremony.

That night he calls Hughes, asks, "Did you get one?"

"Yeah," he says, not pretending to not understand, "Winry dropped them off this morning. Are you going to go?"

"I don't know," he holds the phone too tight, "I shouldn't. It'll make people uncomfortable."

"It'll make you uncomfortable, you mean," Maes says, and Roy winces, "We're not the only ones who got one you know. Sciezka, Armstrong, Brosh and Ross all got invitations."

Roy closes his eyes, "I - Maes, I can barely look at him some days, you know - you know," he ends on finally, because he'd walked straight from that dirty alley way, from Edward's arms, to Maes's house and told him everything. "Bringing me to party full of Ishvalans is like - waving a red flag in front of a bull."

"Roy," Maes sighs, "Edward knows, okay? He knows what you've done, and he invited you because he wanted you to be there. He won't let anyone hurt you, he didn't invite you there to be hurt. He's not Scar, he protected you from Scar, if I remember correctly."

"Why?" Roy moans, "I wouldn't have, I would - if I was Edward, I'd have killed me years ago-"

But Edward didn't kill him, he held him in his arms while he cried, he slept against a hard alley wall instead of leaving Roy alone, he whispered words of - hope, forgiveness, absolution in his ear, and Roy covers his eyes with his hand to keep from crying all over again.

"Well, Edward's a better man than both of us," Maes says, "and he wants us to be there, so I don't know about you Roy, but that's where I'm going to be."

~

"I've lived too long," Hohenheim says, shoulders slumped, "I can't - I can't live without you, I can't. I want to die with you Trisha, there has to be a way, I know there does, I just - have to find it. Please understand."

She gets on her knees in front of him, and he looks at his beautiful wife, thinks of their beautiful sons sleeping inside, and he can't watch them die, he can't be forced to live beyond them. "Okay, I understand," she says softly, "I'll wait for you."

He looks down at her, surprised, "You do?"

She lays her head on his knees and says, "Ten years ago I made you hold a knife to my throat and said that if you did not love me you must kill me. Of course I understand. If you promise to come back, I promise to wait."

"Of course I'll come back," he pulls her up into his lap and rests his head against her chest, hears the strength of her heart beat, and says, "Ani ohev otkha."

I love you.

~

In the end, everyone who gets an invitation ends up going, if only for curiosity's sake. They decide to stagger their arrivals, just in case, and Roy ends up being the first to arrive with Maes and his family, and he doesn't think it's a mistake at all that the most threatening is paired with the least threatening.

It's being held in a large back alley between two crumbling buildings, and Roy can hear it before he sees it. When he walks he get there, what he knows to be a crumbling, dirty back road has been transformed by lights and large Ishvalan tapestries, tables laden with food and drink, a large circle in the middle cleared for dancing. It's also the most Ishvalans Roy's seen since the war, and he wants to run, because he doesn't belong here.

"Mr. Hughes!" Winry runs up to them, smiling. She's dressed in traditional Ishvalan wear, and he feels even more out of place, in slacks and a dress shirt. "Mrs. Hughes, Elysia, Mr. Mustang, hi! We're so glad you can make it!" Before they can say anything, she turns her head and yells, "EDWARD!"

"WHAT?" and the boy squeezes out from the crowd and heads toward them. Roy can't breath for a moment, because Ed's dressed in tight tan pants that bunch around his ankle, and a dark blue tank top under a diagonal tunic, so his flesh arm is completely visible while his automail is hidden under a large billowing sleeve. The red and black striped sash is wrapped around his trim waist and over his shoulder, keeping it all in place. Finally, his hair is out of its traditional braid and in a high tail, the gold shimmering in the weak lights.

He's never looked more beautiful, and Roy is going to hell.

"Your guests are here!" she glares.

He rolls his eyes, "They're all my guests, Winry, that's the point," but when his eyes catch on them he smiles, "I'm glad you're here."

Roy looks for the lie in those eyes, can't find it, and says, "We're glad to be here."

Edward smiles just at him, and there's that familiar heat in the air.

"Cool," he bounces on the balls of his feet, "So food and drink are over there, the music will start after the whole bear thing, and uh, have fun, I guess? Hey, can you guys dance, I never asked. It's okay if you can't, it's not a hard dance, I'll show you."

"I can dance," Roy says blankly, really wishing Maes or Gracia would say something.

"Cool," Ed repeats, and he's just looking at Roy again, like he can't bear to look away, "Well, I gotta go mingle, and stuff, see you later!"

He disappears back into the crowd, and it's only then that Maes asks, "Bear thing?"

"Ah," Winry says, "Well, you see, Ed and Al's teacher insisted."

"... on a bear?" Gracia blinks.

"Well," Winry twirls her hair around her finger, "See, the point of this is to prove that Ed's capable of supporting his own household, and in the old days that meant a fight to the death with a wild coyote, that would then be cooked and served to the guests. That practice has fallen out of style, obviously, so now it's just expected for the man to cook for his guests to show that he can provide for a family."

"Ed cooked all this?" Maes gestures to the tables.

Winry bit her lip, "Well, kind of. Al and I helped, but only because there's like, a hundred people here, and most liberallias have about thirty."

"Bear thing?" Roy repeats, because he's actually heard of Izumi Curtis, and he hope he's wrong, but he's pretty sure he knows where this is going.

"Their teacher is insane," Winry continues cheerfully, "and has decided that Ed is more than capable of taking down an animal to show his strength, and since when she was his age she fought a bear, that's what he's going to do."

"....Where did she get the bear?" Maes asks, afraid of the answer.

"She brought it down from up north," she says, "Near Fort Briggs, I think."

"Those bears are eight feet tall," Gracia says numbly.

Winry nods, "Yeah, it should be a good show. And I haven't eaten bear before, so that's cool." She looks over their shoulder to more arriving Ishvalans, and smiles at them before saying, "Okay, I have to go, but have fun!"

They stand there a moment, and it's Elysia who says, "Mommy, I'm hungry, can we go eat?"

"Of course sweetie," she says, walking over to the table in a daze.

It's Maes who asks, "You know, do you think Ed attracts crazy people, or they just become crazy due to exposure?"

"He's going to fight a bear," Roy's still stuck on that bit, which is at least easier to think about than how Ed has always been attractive, but tonight he's simply gorgeous.

When the rest arrive they clump together, afraid to wander in among the Ishvalans. This lasts until a gaggle of Ishvalan children edge closer, and one darts close enough speak to Elysia, who's trying to hide behind her father's legs. The other child is not impressed, and speaks in quick, smooth Ishvalan to Elysia.

"Dummy," an older boy says, elbowing the other kid out of the way, "She's Amestrian, she doesn't speak our language." He peers at her, "Do you want to play? Standing around is boring."

She peeks out, "What are you playing?"

"Tag," he says, clearly making it up on the spot, "You're it!" he smack her shoulder and runs away.

"No fair!" Elysia shouts before darting after the running children, each of them yelling in delight.

There's still a small girl standing in front of them, red eyes wide. Maes clears his throat and crouches, "Hello there."

"Hi," she says, and then looks up and up at Armstrong, "You are very large."

"Indeed I am!" he booms, and he's been on the hair's edge of bursting into tears or running away since he got here, but he smiles for the small child.

She shuffles close to tug on his pant leg, "Can I have a piggy back ride?"

Armstrong's eyes get very shiny, but he doesn't cry, "But of course!"

Soon, he's got children surrounding him and climbing him like a jungle gym, each more delighted than the last, and they discover if he stands tall with his arms stretched out he can fit four children on each arm, and that's how nearly a dozen military officers end up chasing and playing with Ishvalan children for the better part of an hour.

"It's time!" Alphonse says to them, and he's got a sash across his armor, "Come on!"

Roy and the others get pushed to the front of a large circle, and there's a truck backed up at the edge of it. Edward is in the middle of the circle, and he's lost his tunic and sash, is standing there shirtless.

"Are you ready, useless apprentice?" Izumi asks, grin a hair's breathe from a snarl.

"If I die, you're going to be feel bad," he says, and it's then that Roy notices the six inch curved blade in his fist, and oh god, Ed's going to try to kill a bear with what basically amounts to his hands.

"Don't die then," she says, then opens the back of the truck.

Roy stares. All rational thought has left him.

"Holy shit," Havoc whispers.

Four minutes into the fight Roy begins to relax. It's easy to forget, because he mostly just reads the report about the end result, but Edward is a scarily competent hand to hand fighter. The bear is closer to ten feet than eight, but around the point that Edward does what should be an impossible flip onto the beast's shoulders and balances on its head with his automail hand, it becomes clear that Edward is playing.

He's not landing any hits on the bear, just keeping it in the middle of the circle and dodging its own attacks. He's all grace in a fight, twisting and turning with ease, and it's gorgeous. Broad shouldered, lithe, and muscled - he's less compact than Roy, and his muscles bulge and shift with his ever movement.

They're all cheering him on, Alphonse loudest of all, and it's with a smirk and wink that Roy is sure Ed learned from him that the young man says, "Toda raba," almost too quite to hear, and with a smooth, clean motion, slits the bear's throat.

There's a sudden hush of quiet, as everyone repeats "Toda raba," thanking the bear for its sacrifice, for its meat, and then everyone's cheering again, and Izumi steps into the circle. Edward looks panicked for a moment, but she just grins at him and helps drag the beast to the back.

It's later, with Ed slumped at the table, once again fully clothed, and the smell of sizzling meat in the air that Roy hesitantly sits down beside him. "What are you going to do with the rest of the meat? There's no way we can eat all of it tonight."

"Give it away," he murmurs, cheeks flushed, and Roy has to swallow twice, "Was it good? Sig and Teacher are butchers, so I figure it's good."

"You didn't have any?" he asks.

Ed shakes his head, "I'm not allowed to eat."

"Oh," Roy blinks, "Why?"

"I'm supposed to prove I can provide for others," he grins, "Not myself. It's okay though," he raises his glass, and Roy hadn't been paying attention before but it contains a dark amber liquid, "I can drink."

"That seems like a dangerous combination," he mutters, but he doesn't think he's talking to Ed, since Roy has found himself with a tipsy, gorgeous, legal Edward. Every god forgive him, but he's going to burn in hell.

Ed snorts, "Whatever. Have you danced yet?"

Roy shakes his head, looking towards the dancing couples and groups. All his men have somehow been roped into it, even Riza is being gently guided by an old Ishvalan man.

"Well, come on then," Ed stands and holds out his flesh hand, "I said I'd teach you."

Roy's mouth is dry, and he shouldn't, he really shouldn't, but he finds himself reaching for Edward anyway. He's led to the center of the dancing circle, and people part for Ed. The younger man grins, and this close together Roy realized that they're almost the same height now, Ed only about two inches below him.

"Just follow my lead," he says, and it's a simple dance, and they barely touch, hooking elbows and lightly touching the other's backs. People have formed a circle around them, and Roy should stop, should walk away, because he can't have this. But as the music swells Edward tugs Roy's wrist and he follows, but Edward doesn't step out of his path this time. Instead he braces his hands under each of Roy's thighs and hoists him up.

Roy automatically wraps his legs around Ed's waist and grabs his shoulders. "Fall," Ed breathes, and he does what Ed asks without question, lets his head and spine curve backward, and Edward is supporting him entirely, hands strong and firm on Roy's waist as his back makes a smooth arch to the ground.

The music stops, and the crowd cheers. Edward smoothes his hands up Roy's back, tugging him up enough that he can remove himself from Edward and stands on his own two feet. "What," he says, and doesn't know how to finish that question, and wishes he had the excuse of too much drink to explain his blush.

Ed smiles at him, lopsided and real, and Roy's heart skips a beat, "Being a man is about being able to support others," he says, golden eyes soft. He bows to Roy, "Thank you for dancing with me," before lightly stepping away.

Roy watches him go, and he will not cry, he has nothing to cry about.

Every bit of him that Edward touched is red hot, his skin burning. He feels branded.

~

There's a whole weekend stretching between his liberallia and when he has to report in to the office. He has lunch with Granny and endures five minutes of side eyeing before snapping, "What?" and she and Naama are never allowed to meet.

"Oh, nothing," she says airily, "Just thinking about how liking older men clearly runs in the family."

Ed buries his face in his hands, "Can we please not talk about this?"

"Are you going to do anything about it?" Granny continues as if he hasn't said anything.

"Like what?" he says, "I think I made myself pretty clear last night, oh my god," because whenever he thinks about Roy letting him lift him up like that, trusting Ed to keep him from falling without needing any sort of reassurance, his heart feels so big that it'll explode out of his chest.

She doesn't say anything, but when Ed peeks out between his fingers, she's smiling, "You're a man now, Ed. You know your mother was your age when she asked your father to marry her?"

"Look how that turned out," he scoffs, cheeks red.

Granny shakes her head, "Oh, Ed. Sometimes you remind me so much of Trisha it's uncanny."

Edward eyes widen, "Really?" Because his whole life he's heard how he's like his father, how he looks like his father, but as a child all he wanted was to be like his mom.

Pinako pats his hand, "Really."

~

When Monday rolls around he makes it all the way through the mission assignment without saying anything, but - but he has to say something, and right before he's going to the other side of Amestris seems like a good time to do it, just in case it all blows up in his face. "Is there anything else, Edward?" Roy asks, and tension between them is hot and thick, almost familiar at this point,

"Natan," he says, pulse loud in his ears, because the last person he told this to was Winry.

Roy blinks, "Excuse me?"

"My name, not the name my mother gave me, but the one that Ishvala gave me. I mean, Mom picked both of them, obviously, but - it's, it's my name. My other name. Only Winry and Al know, so - so, don't go spreading it around, okay?" Edward licks his lips, and Roy doesn't know anything about Ishvalans, not really, what if he doesn't understand -

But Roy's mouth is parted, his eyebrows nearly to his hairline, and when he speaks it comes out more as a croak than anything else, "Edward."

"Natan," he repeats desperately, because whether or not Roy wants Ed's soul he has it, "I - my - my love for you is," astounding, overwhelming, I fall asleep in love with you, and wake up in love with you, and I once wanted to kill you. I dreamed about burning you to ashes and I thought that hatred was all encompassing, I thought it was powerful, but my hatred for you has nothing on my love for you; it sings in every drop of my blood, because now everything my heart touches you touch because you are my heart. I could use the love I have for you to change the world, my love for you could power all of Central, all of Amestris, the whole world, it is unchanging, immutable, unending, there is a well of love inside of me that will never run dry, if I could transmute my love for you to water there would be no deserts, it's "a philosopher's stone."

Something comes loose inside Ed, because this is right, this is good, these are the words he needs, "My love for you is a philosopher's stone."

Roy takes something out of his drawer and gets up from behind his desk. Edward is confused until the older man presses something into Ed's hand, and then jerks it to his throat. Roy Mustang pulls Ed's hand closer so the knife presses into his skin, and Ed can't breathe, he wants to pull away, he is strong enough to pull away, but Roy's gorgeous, dark blue eyes are holding him still. "Please," the older man says, "Edward, Natan, please."

Edward shudders at his names on Roy's tongue, but tears are welling his eyes, "I - I can't, not now, not with Al still-"

"I will wait," Roy swears, hand tightening around Ed's wrist, "If you promise to be mine, I will wait."

Edward licks his lips, and even if he were to die a hundred years from now, he would die still in love with Roy Mustang. "Yes."

Roy lets go, Edward lets the knife drop, and Roy is kissing him, hard and fast, and Edward whimpers in his mouth and clutches at Roy's shoulders. Roy hugs him around the waist, pulling their bodies as close together as he can, and the older man separates their mouths only so he can trail kisses along Ed's jaw and breathe, "Ani ohev otkha, Ani ohev otkha, Ani ohev otkha."

I love you, I love you, I love you.