Ed can see it in his eyes that Roy—no—Mustang, Mustang—
Ed can tell that Mustang has something to say.
Doesn’t he always?
It’s probably Ed’s fault. He should’ve learned by now—that Mustang can’t let dogs lie when they look like they’re sleeping. That he’s pathologically incapable of leaving well enough alone. That he’s a scab-picker and a suture-puller; that he’s a career fucking meddler even still, even now—and the worst part is, he thinks he’s being nice.
Ed ought to know better. He ought to know to make a break for the fucking door the instant he’s done with his report, before Mustang can start straightening his pens on the blotter and lining up his thoughts. Words like bullets; mind like a machine gun; and Mustang’s aim is legendary.
He should’ve booked it. Should’ve done his damnedest to escape. Shouldn’t have waited for Dismissed, but the old habits haven’t died; just curdled in his stomach, tangled in the memories like blood crusted up on spiderwebs—like blood in the dirt, in the fabric, in his hair, on his tongue.
He should’ve left the moment he was finished, but it’s so much fucking effort, getting off this couch. It’s so fucking hard to make his heavy body move. He thought—maybe just a moment’s fucking peace. He thought maybe just a minute, sixty seconds with his eyes closed; maybe he could get some rest. He thought…
Wrong. He thought wrong.
“Edward,” Mustang says, “I really think that you should talk to someone.”
It would be an insult to the pair of them, and to the countless nameless dead, to ask About what?
“To anyone,” Mustang says. “If not to Alphonse, possibly—to me.”
Ed slants a gaze towards him—towards his right ear. That one’s safe.
He’s too tired to convey vague curiosity, so probably it seems sardonic. Oh fucking well.
Mustang’s voice stays low and smooth and level. “I might understand it better than you think,” he says. “I’ve been to war.”
Ed looks at the sliver of his throat that shows in the narrow V where the uniform jacket and the open collar of his shirt part a touch. “Not like this.”
Mustang doesn’t swallow—barely breathes. He doesn’t flinch, or fidget, or even narrow his eyes—Ed dares a glance, a sharp one, a quick one; it’s like throwing knives; if you second-guess yourself, if you linger, that’s when the blood starts to run.
But then, Mustang’s a poker player—always has been. A connoisseur. A maestro. Decent at the core; dishonest all the way outward, if it suits him, if it helps. Cloaked in layers on layers of chiffon deception so nobody knows.
Mustang folds his hands on his desk, knitting up his fingers, and then lifts them, elbows planted on either side of an abandoned report. He lets his chin sink down behind them, and his hands hide his mouth, and then his eyebrows arch, just slightly.
“No?” he says.
Ed kind of wants to smile, but it’s just so fucking tiring. All those straining muscles in your face. Makes you look like some kind of monster, grimacing from the shadows in a cramped iron cage, rattling the bars with claw-tipped fingers, faking real expressions so the humans set you free.
“You went into Ishval with power,” he says. “And even if you hadn’t, that was a battlefield—not a fucking charnel house.” Not a bloodbath. Not the Apocalypse come early, mortars screaming to the Earth like falling stars. Not the whole fucking universe collapsing to a stretch of filth and corpses and barbed wire and shrapnel shreds and the twining scents of mustard gas and the wet decomposition of a pile of meat that was a person once.
Roy—no, Mustang—lowers his hands.
The smile creeps up anyway, on one side of Ed’s mouth, like a tug on the string of a marionette.
“Everyone I knew is dead,” he says. “All of them.”
Roy stands, and Ed’s instinct is to bolt for the fucking door, but he holds his ground—squeezes it, strangles it, chokes down the urge to run run go for fuck’s sake get out—
“Tell me about them,” Roy says. “Please.”
Has he ever—
In his life—
Said that to Ed before?
Of all the words in this old-new language, it’s the strangest, most times.
Right now it’s a whole fucking supernova of unasked questions in a single syllable, and Ed’s head fucking aches.
“Sometimes that helps,” Roy says. He’s—moving. Walking. Coming closer. Fuck. Ed’s muscles seize; his heart skitters; don’t—don’t— “Just… articulating it can make it feel more real. More valid.” He crouches down in front of the couch, and his eyes are so fucking earnest that if you really try to squint, the left one doesn’t look like a hacked-up pit of brain and blood and splatter. “I want to help you. I do, I mean that; you’re—you’ve always been an extraordinary young man, and for all that we’ve tussled over the years, I respect you enormously, and I hope you can… I hope that outside of this office, you consider me at least something like a friend. I hope that you trust me. I hope you know that you can, always—with anything, and with this.”
His hand is rising, so slowly it’s like it’s blurring at the sides—ivory-white skin, and you can barely see the caked rust flaking off and fluttering down, like ash; ash and snow and dirt in everything, in clothes and boots and fingernails and eyelashes—
They’re the same hands. They’re the same fucking hands; two worlds, and he knows how they feel on his face, his mouth, his ribs, his hips; how they circle around the ports of the prosthetics like they’re wondrous; like he’s something greater than a man, something better than a freak—
Mustang’s throat moves as he swallows, as his lips part slowly. “I hope—” he says.
And the words tear out of his throat so fast they scrape it raw— “Don’t touch me—” And he’s on his feet and backing towards the door; the heavy steel hand he’s raised between them shakes so hard the finger joints keep clacking. “Don’t fucking touch me—”
So surprised—Roy’s always so surprised; always slack-jawed and startled when the impact comes. “Edw—”
He fumbles for the door handle at his back; gains purchase; shoves. “L-leave it. Just—leave it alone, Roy. Just—don’t.”
Don’t look at him; don’t look; don’t let your eyes focus; don’t let the hazy image of him crystallize into the thing you know it is—let the illusion waver for another second, just one more—
“Ed—” Roy says.
“Don’t,” Ed bites out, and the handle gives, and the hinges squeal, and then he’s out in open air.
Clear air, clean air, different air; and yet the stench of death engulfs him every single step.