Ed was on a quest.
Well, more of a side quest on his seemingly never-ending quest to restore Al's body and incidental quest to collect degrees (that might be less of a quest and more of an amusing and accidental consequence of his quest: turns out people threw scholarships at people studying medical alchemy and chasing legends and sometimes that resulted in degrees). Take that, exasperated second grade teacher who swore Ed was so unfocused and disruptive he'd never amount to anything; he very nearly had two degrees and a decent research grant. Once Al was back to normal Ed might actually have something to show for himself.
The point was: Ed had goals and right now, he needed an original copy of A. Dumbledore's to achieve them and he knew just the place to find one.
"Al!" Ed hollered, jogging down the tiny hall of the apartment they shared with Winry. "I'm visiting Sheska, you want me to pick you up anything?"
"You didn't need to yell, brother," Al said from the couch. "I'm like two feet away and my hearing's just fine."
"Oh hey, I thought you were still in bed. How are you feeling?" Ed asked, leaning over the back of the couch to get a better look at his brother. Al had both throw pillows and at least one of Ed's pillows wedged against the armrest and he was bundled up in one of Winry's blankets, looking slightly pathetic but better than the day before. Al had come home from class with a sniffle on Monday and by Thursday, it'd been a nasty cold they'd all predicted would turn into bronchitis by the weekend. Winry called it for late Saturday night. She'd been right, but hopefully she was going to be wrong about how long Al was going to be sick this time. He was looking a lot better, but that meant nothing; Al's lungs had been compromised by the Gate and years into their research they still had no idea what, exactly, it'd done to Al's immune system. Al might be a good night's sleep away from his version of relatively perfect health or he could be a few hours out from another trip to the emergency room.
"Okay," Al said and he sounded pretty good, not as exhausted and like he was breathing a little clearer. "I haven't been coughing as hard and I'm not really running a fever now, so I'm cautiously optimistic. Can you look for the current issue of ? Fletcher said he has a piece coming out in it and I can't remember if it's out now or in next month's. I don't want to shell out for the digital copy or look for scans if he's not in it. Oh, and that green tea with the plum from that natural food store Winry likes; we're basically out of it."
"Sure," Ed said. For Al, he'd buy a stupid pop alchemy magazine and something a Tringham got paid for (well, actually, Fletcher was okay and he did good work; Ed could get behind financially rewarding Fletcher's work).
"You want real food for dinner or soup again?"
"Real food please," Al said a little desperately. Winry'd spent an afternoon making chicken soup, which was nice and all but Pinako had taught her how to make soup for an army. Even with the infamous Elric appetite they were never going to finish it all.
"Maybe something from the noodle place, but not spicy so I don't irritate my throat anymore."
"Works for me," Ed said, happy about the prospect of a dinner he didn't have to cook that wasn't soup. "See ya later, call me if you need me."
"Yes brother," Al said with an eye roll. "Go leave and get my dinner."
Ed lovingly flipped his little brother off as he pulled his jacket on and left.
Ed had met Sheska by chance when he was fifteen and she'd just transferred to the Second Library. They'd hit it off immediately and her casual interest in alchemy, eidetic memory, and inability to do the job she'd been hired for had indirectly given him access to part of the First Library. It was probably the luckiest break Ed had ever got in his search; Sheska had actually read Dr. Marcoh's book and had no problems writing out a copy for them. She had no idea why they'd wanted an old cookbook that badly and, more importantly, still had no idea what she'd actually read. Sheska had saved them from chasing down more rumors about the Philosopher's Stone and reconstructing Marcoh's early work in hope of getting somewhere close to his final results. Ed and Al had both thought Marcoh was a melodramatic Victorian when his published letters described his work as as the devil's research, but Sheska's brilliance had proven him right. Ed had felt terribly indebted to her for years until he introduced her to her one true love: Tuckson's Books.
Tuckson's wasn't strictly an alchemical bookshop: they had a good selection of books in most genres and even some of those puzzles and games every bookstore seemed to have now, and Ed heard good things about their fiction section from Al. There were a couple other stores in Central that had stronger alchemy and natural science sections or catered specifically to alchemists, but Tuckson's had two things over all those other stores: excellent contacts with rare book dealers and Sheska.
The rare books were what had initially drawn Ed and his brother to the shop and were enough to keep them coming back, but Mr. Tuckson's decision to hire Sheska had turned them into regulars. It wasn't just that Sheska was a good friend; she read broadly and remembered all of it, and that made her a excellent person to bounce ideas off and seek suggestions from. Ed joked that she was like a living database of weird topics and obscure academic fields, which made Al punch him, but didn't change the fact that he was right. Sheska happily helped track down books the Elrics requested, called them about interesting things the store received or she'd just read, and had actually pointed them in the direction of Xingese alchemy the last time she'd come over for dinner and Real Housewives of West City.
Hmmm, he should probably invite her over; they hadn't had a good movie night in a while. Ed was in a pretty good mood when he walked through Tuckson's door: Al was ok, he had a copy of Dumbledore's waiting for him, the sun was out, Sheska would let him kill a few hours browsing and reading whatever caught his eye and might know if any alkahestry books had been translated into Amestrian or how to go about learning Xingese and importing them, and she'd probably vote for a zombie movie marathon next movie night.
"Hi Ed!" Sheska called out. Surprised, he looked and found her leaning against the counter and the closest book was closed. Well, that was strange, there wasn't a customer in sight and she wasn't reading? Ed waved and, curious, headed over.
"Hey," he said. "Everything okay?"
"Yep!" she said brightly. "The store's been pretty quiet; I finally finished this novel that started strong and then went to a really weird place that was dragging on forever but I'd read so much of it I couldn't give up, you know?"
"Yeah, I know how that goes," Ed said ruefully, thinking of half a dozen alchemical foundational texts that were boring as hell but necessary evils if you wanted to understand mid-century unified theory or anything coming from Drachma's university-trained alchemists. Or even worse, early modern Amestrian alchemy. "Yeah, the earliest alchemy books are weird as hell, it's all allegorical stories and poems. And there are a couple modern schools that I wouldn't wish on anyone but you can't just ignore them. So, you finished your book, how come you're not buried in a new one?"
Sheska—was she blushing? Sheska was definitely a little red and smiling. "There's a customer," she said quietly, not looking at Ed. Actually, she hadn't looked at him once yet, had she? She was looking out into the shelves for some reason.
"Yeah, but you never pay attention to customers until they're in front of you," Ed pointed out.
She shuffled a little closer and lowered her voice, "He's really attractive Ed, I don't want to miss a chance to admire him because I'm reading something."
Ed opened his mouth to say something, then realized he really didn't know what to say. As far as Ed knew, Sheska loved books, loved working at a bookstore with such a laid back owner and liked people based almost entirely on how much they read. To be fair, she didn't discriminate based on what they read, just whether they loved books and reading or not and she seemed to distinguish between friends and acquaintances by some correlation of pages read (possibly from the six months prior to meeting or the two months after meeting); opinions on Jane Austen (Ed was unsure if positive or negative feelings were better); preferences for paperback, hardcover, or digital (she thought they were all valid but indicating a preference for one over another was Significant); and willingness to buy novelty bookmarks (though, that was a more recent rubric). It's totally possible Ed was just that oblivious, but he was pretty sure she'd never expressed interest in anyone in the four years he'd known her.
"Wow, he must be hot then." Ed wondered what it took to distract Sheska from one of her beloved books.
"He's looking for a gift and then he asked me where the alchemy section was," Sheska half-whispered. "I think he might be a State Alchemist? He had a pocket watch. You have the perfect excuse, you're totally State Alchemist level, you have to go back there and talk to him."
"Why do I have to talk him?" Ed demanded. "I'm here for the alchemy books, not your allegedly hot customers."
"For me Ed," Sheska said earnestly, grabbing his hand. "You have to talk to him for me, he's so...Ed, trust me. You just have to."
"Wait, am I...am I asking him out for you?" Sheska was a good friend; Ed would do a lot of things for her (not as many as he'd do for Winry, though), but asking a total stranger out for her wasn't one of them.
"No!" Sheska said loudly, shaking her head frantically. "Well, I mean, if you can find a way to work it into conversation and you want to, sure! He's really pretty, I wouldn't say no to dinner, but. He just. His voice Ed. Just, go look at him for me and talk alchemy and tell me about it so I can vicariously enjoy it."
Ed looked at Sheska for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, whatever. Hey, Mr. Tuckson called and said my book came in. Can you grab it for me?"
"It's behind the counter," Sheska said. "Now go, alchemy section. Really hot guy." She shooed him off and Ed rolled his eyes but went without complaint.
Ed didn't see anyone in the first row of alchemy books and stopped looking almost immediately, distracted by the shelf of secondhand new arrivals. An intriguingly thick book with a purple and teal binding caught his eye and Ed started looking for a table of contents; no luck but he held on to it for later perusal anyway.
It was relatively common to bind alchemic texts in the colors associated with their contents, especially with older books, and shades of blue usually meant water or healing. Purple was a royal color and was potentially a subtle nod to the Philosopher's Stone; the combination of the two suggested the book could have something to do with alchemic healing. Ed would take a closer look at it later. He moved on, skimming the shelves for anything that looked relevant to helping Al out or too interesting to pass up. If he was very lucky, Tuckson's would have a copy of Morgana LeFeyette's collected works with her research notes in an appendix.
Ed knew it existed; it was cited in a journal article he'd read a few months ago. It was just turning out to be almost impossible to find. Al thought they could make do with a copy of a copy of those notes and Ed reluctantly had to agree, but he was really hoping for a first or second edition with LeFeyette's original addendum intact, maybe even a copy with her lecture notes. The research journals would be ideal, but LeFeyette's original copies were locked up tight in the First Library, accessible only to State Alchemists. Sheska hadn't read any of her work, so Ed's only hope was to stumble across an early published edition the State hadn't censored.
Ed turned the corner to start looking through the next aisle of books. This aisle was a mix of alchemy and hard sciences, so Ed was able to skim through the titles at eye level quickly. He took a step back to get a better look at the upper shelves' offerings and bumped into something a lot less hard than the opposite bookshelf. Ed looked back and realized he'd walked into Sheska's hot customer. The guy was a few inches taller than Ed, with tousled black hair and distractingly attractive features just over the masculine side of androgynous. Sheska thought he might be a State Alchemist—Ed gave himself permission to check the rest of the guy out and see if he had a tell-tale watch chain. He did, and Ed let his eyes rest on his belt a little longer just to be sure the chain was connected to something watch-shaped and not a wallet.
The guy caught Ed looking and raised one perfect brow and smirked. That smirk was completely unfair, it just made the bastard look deeply amused and arrogant and that was a really good look for him—it also drew attention to his lips and Ed's hormones informed him that they already had a few thoughts about what those lips could do. Ed shot his mouth off without thinking again.
"You wanna move? I need to stand there. I don't need a squishy wall."
Well, that was probably better than telling him Ed wanted to watch him take his shirt off.
"You could watch where you're going," the guy suggested and Ed immediately understood why Sheska had specifically mentioned his voice. Ed would have been pretty happy to listen to him read a phone book and he was so distracted he almost missed the guy's next comment. "I certainly couldn't see you over your stack of books."
Ed's eyes narrowed and he glared at the bastard. "Yeah well, at least I know what a book store's for." Ed pointedly looked down at the guy's empty hands. "I'm not standing in the way wondering what all these brightly colored rectangles are for. Some of us have books to find; fuck off and get out of my way."
The guy was still smirking as he held his hands up in mock surrender. "Well I certainly know better than to get between someone and the object of their desire, though it's not a very common problem for me."
Ed turned bright red and felt a strong urge to punch the smug bastard right in his stupidly attractive face. If anything, he smirked harder at Ed's reaction and Ed turned sharply and stomped halfway down the aisle to get away from him. Ed needed books, not cocky assholes messing with him, so he did his best to ignore any jerks who might still be sharing an aisle with him and focused on the well-chosen selection of books surrounding him. Ed couldn't really read the titles of the top shelf books, but authors and keywords stood out enough that he didn't need to borrow Sheska's step stool just yet. Nothing was jumping out at him in alchemy, so he drifted towards the hard sciences.
Ed lost track of time somewhere between physics and biology and found a slim treatise on wormholes and alternate worlds he and Al would have fun with. Something metallic caught his eye and he craned his head to make out the title. Something something cybernetics; Ed took half a step forward and went up on his tiptoes. Something about the book seemed familiar, maybe it was in Winry's bookcase? Ed didn't really pay attention to Winry's engineering books, but some of her medical books were interesting and cybernetics...he knew those were a weird automail fork Winry liked to play around with, why did he know—
Yeah, Ed knew that book.
He knew what it looked like covered in orange juice and eggs and thrown at his head, with Winry shrieking about how Ed was the worst roommate ever and never mind that Al was the one who dropped the egg carton or that Winry had left her stuff all over the kitchen counter again. Granted, the orange juice was his fault, but he hadn't been the one who heartlessly destroyed Winry's precious book. She blamed him, of course, but it would probably earn him some roommate karma if he got her another copy of it. Ed reached up and almost got it. He tried again, stepping closer and straining to get a decent grip. The shelf was pretty packed and it was wedged in tight, he'd probably need to pull down from the top of the spine to free it. Maybe if he jumped a little? Nah, it wasn't that much out of reach; he'd just try again and grab with the automail, that should give him a strong enough grip to snag it.
"Need a hand?" a horribly familiar voice asked. Ed closed his eyes and tried to pretend this wasn't happening. There's no way a really hot guy who was a total jerk was back and watching Ed fail so completely at getting a stupid book down. The universe wasn't that cruel—who was he trying to kid, the universe was that awful and the guy had probably seen all of Ed's attempts to grab the book.
"No," Ed said loudly. "Go away."
"You sure? It seems like you really want that book," the guy said, and Ed was sure he was smirking again.
"I really want you to leave me alone," Ed muttered, "but obviously I'm not getting what I want this afternoon."
"I'm not trying to make fun of you." The guy sounded like he meant it. Winry really would be happy with a new copy of her cybernetics book and it might result in literal brownie points, especially if he picked up the fancy cocoa powder she liked to use.
"Yeah, okay, it'd be kind of awesome if you could grab me that white book with the silver." He pointed at the book he wanted. "There."
Mr. Unfairly Attractive came close and hesitated for a moment before he found the right book and pulled it down. Ed spent those precious seconds admiring the guy's back under his button down shirt. It was a nice back. Ed wouldn't mind getting a chance to admire it some more.
"Thanks." Ed reached for the book. The guy didn't let go at first and Ed had to tug it away.
"You're collecting the strangest assortment of books," the guy said. "Alchemy, engineering and what, is that string theory? What on earth are you doing, trying to crack teleportation?"
"Hey, you don't see me judging your taste in books!" Ed snapped indignantly. "Oh wait, you don't have any books, do you? So what does that say about you, huh?"
"That I'm a discriminating customer," the guy said coolly, looking down at Ed, "And really, my lack of books doesn't say a single thing about my intelligence and I don't appreciate the implication that it does. I recognized that that one's about string theory; I can't be as stupid as you seem to think."
"Whatever." Ed "accidentally" bumped into the guy, knocking him into a nearby display. "I'm not the one making fun of people to their face, am I?"
"And I'm not the one picking fights with a stranger and shoving them around!" The guy was almost yelling as he shoved himself off the table and glared at Ed. Ed was about to retort when Sheska stomped over and pulled Ed back, getting between the two of them.
"Enough!" she said sternly. "I don't want to kick either of you out, but you're distracting me from my book and messing up displays. Ed, relax. Go make fun of the pop alchemy books or the New Age section for a while. And you." She pointed to Ed's new least favorite person. "Please just ignore Ed, he's being a jerk but he usually means well. Is there anything I can help you find or do you want to keep exploring?"
"I'm fine," the guy said, theatrically dusting himself off. "Can you point me towards your photography books? I have a birthday present to find."
Ed made a note to avoid the front of the store and wandered off towards the New Age books and magazines. He could see if Fletcher's article was in and text Al about the stupid stuff he found in the astrology books. He'd give the science and alchemy shelves another pass later.
Ed would never admit it, but he did like the little natural food store Winry had found in some historic building that'd been converted into a bunch of little boutiques like some kind of weird rich person fake mall. They couldn't really afford to shop there, but Al and Winry always found something interesting that didn't totally kill their budget and Ed absolutely agreed that fancy fair trade organic shit tasted awesome even if he pretended to hate the store. It was more that he hated its location; the shop was great and the marketplace concept was pretty cool, but most of the shops and restaurants that had moved in and the people who shopped there left him cold.
One of the things Cornucopia had in its favor was its tea selection. Ed wasn't really a tea person, but Al was, and they carried a green tea with plum that was the bomb. Ed wouldn't forgo coffee for it, but he'd pass over store brand hot cocoa for that tea. Well, sometimes he would. If they were out of soy milk, at least.
One of the things that sucked about Cornucopia was that it was in the basement of a weirdly designed turn of the century building. There was an elevator somewhere in the building, but it wasn't anywhere near either of the entrances Ed was familiar with. He came in through the ice cream parlor, which was easier to find coming from Tuckson's Books but also put him in a no man's land mid-century addition to the original building and somewhere between the first and second floors. He was going to have to find one of the staircases that actually led to the basement. Ed took the first set of stairs he found; down was the right direction at least, and he'd either come out on the main floor or get lucky and hit the basement.
Two flights of stairs, a wrong turn and one helpless shrug in response to a question about where the chocolatier was later, and Ed made it to his destination. It was a tiny shop, but they crammed a ton of stuff in there. Ed wandered the perimeter, seeing if there was anything interesting and on sale before searching out the tiny baking section. Somewhere on one of the shelves was a brand of cocoa powder that Winry made the best brownies with, and he knew they'd been out of it for at least a month. Presenting her with that stupid cybernetics book, take out, and the holy grail of brownie ingredients ought to put her in a good mood and score the apartment homemade dessert.
It was an almost foolproof plan and now all he needed to do was find Al's tea. As Ed turned into the tea aisle, a flash of white caught his attention. Ed followed it with his eyes without thinking and swore when he realized what it was.
"You!" Ed shouted, pointing at the asshole from the bookstore. The guy turned quickly, obviously startled by Ed's shout, but he still managed to look all cool and in control in spite of it.
"Wonderful," he said sarcastically. "Just who I wanted to run into."
"Not like I ever wanted to see you again either," Ed said. That was a blatant lie; Ed was pretty happy to see that guy again, but would have preferred if they didn't have to interact. Really, a photo would have been ideal.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Well, this is a grocery store," the bastard said. "Generally, people buy food at them. But since you like to get into fights at bookstores, who knows what you'll do here."
Ed glared at him. "You started it. Bastard. And you're in my way again."
"You're acting like I knew you were going to be here and deliberately got in your way. You realize how ridiculous that is, right?" the guy asked and sure, Ed could admit it sounded stupid like that, but it didn't change the fact that he was kind of an asshole and definitely in Ed's way.
"Whatever," Ed said. "You have your stuff, now please." Ed gestured towards the rest of the empty aisle. "Get out of the way."
"Actually, I find myself in need of a new tea blend," the guy said. "Just now. So you can stay out of the way." The asshole then pretended to focus on the shelves in front of him. Ed's jaw didn't drop because if he'd thought about it for two seconds, he probably could have predicted this. What Ed had predicted was that he'd want to punch the bookstore guy if he ever ran into them again and oh look, he was right. Ed stared at the ceiling and tried to count to ten.
He made it to seven.
"Look, I just need one thing for my brother," Ed said irritably. "Two seconds, then we can pretend we never met."
"That'll be a little difficult," the guy replied. He turned to face Ed, pointedly meeting Ed's eyes. "Since I'm fairly certain I got a bruise when you shoved me into that table. It was a memorable experience though generally, when I'm half bent over a table and collecting bruises, we've gotten to know each other a little better and I have a safeword."
Ed could feel all of his blood rushing to his face. The bastard was a shameless bastard. And intriguingly kinky, but Ed killed that thought as soon as it occurred to him. This really wasn't the time to think about that and this guy was going out of his way to fuck with Ed, which put him right around the bottom of the list of acceptable people to fantasize over. Ed had a strict no jackasses policy and it didn't matter how hot Ed thought he was, the guy was the biggest jerk he'd met since Russell Tringham.
"You are such a fucking...I don't even know," Ed informed the guy. "You're such an asshole and I know way too much about your sex life, what the hell?"
"You seemed pretty interested in it, or at least in me," the guy drawled, amused. "Or did I misconstrue why you spent a while checking me out at the bookstore?"
"I was trying to figure out if you were a State Alchemist!" Ed protested loudly and somehow, his body managed to produce more blood to flood his cheeks. Ed hadn't blushed this much in years. Fucking attractive bastard. "This is a pointless conversation, just let me grab my tea," he half-asked, a little desperately.
"Fine," the guy said. "Which tea?"
"Green canister with flowers, it's something with plum," Ed said. "It's usually near the bottom shelf."
The guy scanned the shelves and it wasn't quite deja vu; he had to bend down a little instead of stretching up. Ed wasn't able to admire his back as much, but the view was still pretty fantastic. Ed wasn't going to complain about it, but he made no promises about not complaining later about how much of a jerk this guy was.
"Republic of Tea?" The guy asked.
"Maybe?" Ed said. "What's it look like?" The guy wordlessly held a canister out and Ed walked closer to get a look. It looked about right, so Ed reached out for it.
"Yeah, that's it. Thanks."
The guy smirked at him and Ed had a horrible feeling.
"Looks like they need to restock," the guy said. "This is the last one." And then he stood smoothly and quickly. He tossed the canister in the air and Ed instinctively tried to grab it but he wasn't quite fast enough; the guy had it up over his head in seconds and all Ed could do was glare at him and the out-of-reach tea.
"You're an asshole," Ed said venomously. "My little brother asked me to get that for him, what the hell do you want for it?"
"An apology would be nice," the guy said with a small, smug smile.
Ed fumed. "Fine," he snapped. "I'm sorry you're such a bastard."
"My parents were married, actually," the guy said and god, he seemed even more amused the longer this dragged out. Ed really wanted to punch him. "And hmmm, I'd say...another apology for that? So that's two apologies you owe me. Or your number."
Ed turned sharply and stormed out of the aisle.
Five minutes later, he sheepishly returned to grab a different kind of tea for Al.
Ed stomped his way towards his apartment door. Stupid smug bastard had ruined his afternoon and taken the one thing Al had asked for. That guy was the worst and Ed was the worst brother for letting him get away with the last of the tea. At least he hadn't been at the noodle place; that would have completely ruined Ed's day. Of course, he could have called him a stalker and for a second Ed let himself imagine the asshole's expression when Ed threatened to call the police on him. That might have been worth it, but whatever sarcastic response the guy made probably wouldn't have. Ed banged his automail elbow on the door, unwilling to put his bags of takeout down to fish around for his keys. He banged the door a few more times when it didn't open immediately and heard Winry shout something. The door opened, revealing an annoyed Winry.
"I swear to god if you lost your keys again Ed I will transmute you with my wrench."
"I brought you dinner," Ed informed her. "And I could just open the door with alchemy if I lost my keys again, no big deal."
"Not all of us are alchemists and some of us like being able to get in and out of the apartment by themselves," Winry snapped, but she moved out of the way and wordlessly offered to take one of Ed's bags. He thrust the one from Cornucopia at her.
"Got something for you," he told her, brushing past to find a flat surface to place their dinner on. "Hey Al, they were out of the tea you wanted, so I got you a berry thing instead. It's the same company, at least."
"Thanks!" Al said, and Ed noted that he'd moved from the couch at least. "I was wondering what was taking you so long, did you find something interesting at the bookstore?"
"Coupla things," Ed said, rummaging around the drawer for forks. "Here, I got you a mild curry thing and the peanut noodle thing if that's going to be too spicy for you."
Al snagged the styrofoam container of peanut noodles out of Ed's hand. "You're the best, brother," Al informed him through a mouthful of noodles and greens.
Ed beamed, "Of course I am. I even found the magazine with Fletcher's article for you, that's how awesome I am." Ed settled into one of the chairs of their tiny kitchen table with his dinner, watching Al inhale his food and Winry putter around looking for something.
"Either of you seen the soy sauce?" she asked. "I swear we had some left."
"Check the fridge," Al suggested. "Label said we had to refrigerate this kind and I'm not taking any chances again." Winry made a triumphant sound and Al must have been right. She joined them almost immediately.
"Did you see Sheska?" Winry asked after a few bites. "How's she doing?"
"She's fine," Ed said. "Though actually, this was really strange. When I walked into Tuckson's, she wasn't reading anything. Some asshole customer had distracted her."
"Wow," Al said sympathetically. "He must have been a real jerk to have upset her that much. Poor Sheska."
"Nah—well, okay he was a total asshole, but not to her. She just thought he was hot.”
Winry started to say something, then stopped, looking confused and then a little pissed off. She tried again and managed to shrug and wave her fork in a way that conveyed her questions. Ed made a face, but dutifully filled Winry and his brother in on his bookstore misadventures.
"Wait." Winry interrupted Ed's masterful diatribe about Jackasses Who Don't Read Taking Up Space In Bookstores. "Did you actually get me a new copy of or not, because that's more interesting than listening to you tell us about the hot guy you spent the afternoon flirting with."
"I wasn't flirting with him!" Ed said loudly. "He came on to me! And implied things at Cornucopia but—"
"Wait," Al said, sounding fascinated. "You ran into him again?"
"Unfortunately," Ed said, scowling. "Bastard stole the last canister of the tea you wanted. Fucker."
"When you say stole," Winry asked slowly. "Do you mean he had it before you ran into each other and you're just being overdramatic again, or do you mean after you got into a fight he deliberately took it because you wanted it?"
"Bastard stole it from right in front of me and held it over his head before walking off," Ed said angrily. "Giant jerk, I mean literally." Winry and Al exchanged a look and Ed ignored them in favor of slurping the last of his noodles.
"Brother," Al said. "I think you might have finally met someone as ridiculous as you are."
"You should ask him out the next time you run into him," Winry said. "But back to the important things, did you get my book or not?"
"It's in my messenger bag," Ed said. "And I'm not asking that bastard out. I hope I never run into him again; he's a fucking asshole and I wanna punch him in the face."
"Remind me Ed," Winry said sweetly. "How dark were his eyes again? Really dark or was that really dark and intense?"
"Shut up Winry," Ed said petulantly. "I said he was hot enough to distract Sheska, not that I wanted to shove my tongue down his throat."
"But do you, brother?" Al asked with an innocent expression and an evil gleam in his eyes. "Because you seem awfully fixated on his mouth, you keep mentioning his, and I quote, stupid sexy smirk—"
"Alphonse, I will disown you—" Ed threatened weakly. Al and Winry laughed at him and Ed slumped down in his chair. He was completely outnumbered and he lived with horrible people. "Shut the fuck up," he said pathetically. Winry patted his hand mock consolingly.
"It's okay Ed, you had to have a crush on a hot stranger someday. It's a rite of passage."
"I don't have a crush," Ed pointed out. "I want to punch a bastard in his stupidly perfect mouth."
"Sure," Al said. "I believe you brother. It's totally not a crush."
"Thank you!" Ed said, vindicated.
Al and Winry just laughed at him again.
Ed more or less forgot about the hot asshole from the bookstore within a day or so. Dumbledore's book was interesting; he had a unique take on alchemy that was more philosophical than anything. Fascinating, but not particularly helpful. It took a few days for Ed to come to that conclusion and then he had to pass the book over the Al to get a second opinion. They were discussing it before their history class when disaster struck.
"Students!" Professor Armstrong boomed. 'I have wonderful news! Today, a very good friend of mine will be joining us as we discuss alchemy's influence on Amestrian politics!"
Armstrong was simultaneously Ed's favorite professor and the one he dreaded running into the most. He was a former State Alchemist, so he actually knew what the hell he was talking about and his lectures were always entertaining. His enthusiasm was undeniable and he was very supportive of Ed and Al's independent research. A little too supportive, sometimes. And a little too enthusiastic.
At least he was still wearing his shirt, though class had barely started so that was probably going to change.
Professor Armstrong had brought in a few guest speakers this semester, and they were usually pretty interesting. Ed didn't have high hopes for this one, though. Politics was boring and needed to stay the hell out of the alchemy in his opinion (he was still bitter about the First Library being locked up and the State's policy of censoring what seemed like every other book). Ed shared a look with Al and Al made a great face and shrugged. He obviously didn't have a lot of faith in Armstrong's friend, which didn't surprise Ed; whoever it was, they were already late and wasting their time. Ed jerked his head towards the window and raised his eyebrows at Al. They really should have skipped class; Al narrowed his eyes and Ed got the message. Fine, they wouldn't sneak out of the lecture hall.
Ed settled in and was debating between doodling arrays or working on his gargoyle designs when the door to the lecture hall opened.
"Sorry I'm late, the traffic around Central Command was awful," a vaguely familiar voice called out.
"Students!" Armstrong proclaimed joyfully. "I would like to introduce Colonel Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist! He too is a student of history and politics and well-versed in the period of Amestris' transition from our traditional military government to a modern parliamentary system, which, as you know, had as much to do with alchemical innovation and our rapid industrialization as it had to do with newer ideas of representative government! Truly, a fascinating time, and one which is still impacting us now! Colonel Mustang will have many insights for you. Pay close attention now!"
"You have to to be fucking kidding me," Ed muttered. "This is not happening."
"Brother?" Al asked quietly.
"That's the bastard from the bookstore last week," Ed whispered. "At least Sheska was right that he's a State Alchemist."
Al seemed to be considering Mustang, who was standing in front of the whiteboard, already pontificating on something no one cared about. It was a good thing he had such a great voice, since they were going to have to listen to him for another hour.
"I can't fault your taste this time, brother," Al whispered. "He really is very good looking; you're almost pretty enough for him."
"Shut up Al," Ed hissed. "He's almost pretty enough for me, but he's a total jerk. I told you he stole your tea, remember?"
"Well, you hadn't actually bought it yet so it wasn't stealing," Al pointed out. "If he's a State Alchemist, you should definitely give him your number. He might also consider reading journal articles in the same room a date."
"I don't like him," Ed whispered and jabbed Al with his pen. "We went over that already—"
"Is there something you'd like to contribute to the discussion Mr.—" Mustang called out.
Ed froze, he wasn't the only one talking, right? Mustang wasn't—Mustang was looking right at Ed.
"Elric," Ed said defiantly. "Edward Elric. And nope, carry on telling us about ancient history."
"It's not that ancient," Mustang said. "And it's relevant; you can't talk about the history of Amestris and many of our current policies without talking about the history of alchemy and how it's been regulated."
"Obviously," Ed said with a derisive huff. "There's a fascinating correlation between how much State "oversight" alchemists have to deal with and regime changes, wars, and alchemists being able to do their jobs and help people or come up with new, non-combat transmutations."
"I'm not disagreeing with you Mr. Elric," Mustang said. He looked surprised, like he thought Ed hadn't been paying attention because he didn't understand the topic. He also seemed a little pleased about something, which was weird. Most of the military types Ed ran into couldn't handle criticism of their precious murder machine bureaucracy. "It's exactly that tension between innovation, control, and political agendas that shape Amestris and there are multiple valid perspectives on the topic. You're an alchemist, right?"
"Yeah," Ed said. "We've," he gestured to Al, "been approached by recruiters a couple times."
"Ah," Mustang said, nodding with understanding. "So you've got a personal stake in this and a different perspective than a lot of your classmates. If you don't mind, I'd like to table our discussion for now because I think we might get a little off-topic and too technical for a general classroom discussion."
"Sure," Ed said with a shrug. "Whatever." He wasn't too interested in talking politics with Mustang, but Ed had to admit the guy might not have completely stupid stances on everything. Ed went back to his doodling as Mustang started his lecture again. Ed zoned out shading his gargoyle and Al had to poke him before he noticed the note Al was trying to pass him.
He's hot and he's smart you said he was hitting on you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT ok this could be a good thing
Ed crumpled the note up, but slipped it into his messenger bag when Al wasn't looking.
“Well, fancy seeing you here," someone drawled behind Ed. He held a hand up, silently demanding whoever it was wait. Ed was in Tuckson's again and had found something interesting. He wanted to get to his book's next section break before dealing with whoever it was. Maybe finish this chunk on mapping arrays to the body's meridians. Ed lost himself in the dense theory, part of his mind already running through ways to balance the conflicting elements in three dimensions. The geometry of an array like this might be exactly what Al needed…
"And people say I'm obsessive," the same voice chuckled. Ed made an annoyed noise; he didn't need a distraction.
"Not obsessive," Ed said absently, turning the page. "Might be having a breakthrough here. Go away unless you can read Xingese."
"Not well," and Ed had been interrupted enough that he finally recognized Roy Mustang's voice. "But I'm good enough for government work."
Ed marked his place in the book and gave Mustang his full attention. "Does that mean you could translate something for me or that you can read your fortune cookie?"
"Ah, yes, that was a rather ambiguous claim, wasn't it?" Mustang said with a sheepish smile. "I meant that literally. I occasionally get drafted to help our Xingese ambassador's staff with some of the paperwork translation, but I'm not fluent."
Ed considered this; he had an introductory textbook and the internet and was now fairly confident in his ability to ask for directions in Xingese but probably wouldn't be able to follow them. Mustang could probably follow directions but alkahestry theory was probably beyond him.
"You're useless to me then," Ed said decisively and opened his book back up.
"What on Earth are you reading in Xingese that you can't just read in Amestrian?" Mustang asked. "Poetry? Crime novels?"
"Alkahestry,” Ed told him when it was obvious that Mustang was waiting for an answer. Ed didn't know why the man was insisting on talking to him while Ed was clearly reading. Scratch that, why Mustang went out of his way to talk to Ed in the first place; Ed thought he'd been pretty clear about how much he didn't like Mustang and it seemed to be pretty mutual.
"I honestly should have guessed that first," Mustang said. "I know you're an alchemist, of course you'd be interested in other styles of alchemy. Have you had any luck finding books?" Mustang sounded genuinely curious and Ed couldn't come up with any ways Mustang could turn that around into a sarcastic comment. Mustang was a State Alchemist, he had to know how few books on foreign alchemy ever made it into Amestris. Legally, at least.
"Not as much as I'd like," Ed said cautiously. He wasn't about to announce the discreet inquiries Mr. Tuckson and Sheska were making on Ed's behalf. "It seems like I'm going to have to learn Xingese and go through all the red tape to try and import books. Annoying, but not impossible."
"Your university connections should help you there," Mustang said. "it's a pity that the last Fuhrer had such an anti-Xing stance."
Ed rolled his eyes. "Mustang, he had an anti everything except lining his pockets stance. It's amazing the country managed to function under his regime."
"I neither agree nor disagree with you about our former Fuhrer's actions," Mustang said somewhat mockingly, and Ed knew enough ex-military to recognize the signs of when they were toeing the official line but didn't agree with something. "But it was certainly the dawn of a new era when Hakuro took over and I'm sure our next esteemed leader will usher in another bright era for Amestris."
Ed started laughing; the sheer amount of disdain Mustang managed to express while nominally praising Fuhrer Hakuro was incredible. Mustang even managed to look serious, respectful almost, but Ed could see the sardonic amusement in his eyes and the barely restrained smirk. He kind of looked like he was about three seconds from insulting Ed again but all...perfectly respectable soldier-y about it. Ed was impressed.
"Enough politics," Ed declared. "Either give me some brilliant insight into importing alkahestry books, find me something translated into Amestrian or fuck off and let me read, there's some cool stuff here that I want to experiment with and I can't do that with you breathing down my neck."
"Are you going to experiment here in the bookstore?" Mustang asked and there was that slightly mocking note Ed had been looking for. "I'm not sure the clerk will appreciate it."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Ed said with a grin. "Sheska's used to it. Me 'n Al can get a little enthusiastic when we find something interesting."
"Al?" Mustang inquired.
"My little brother," Ed said proudly. "You know, the one you stole tea from. Bastard. He was sitting next to me when you took over Armstrong's class."
"I didn't steal tea from him." Mustang seemed to be losing his composure slightly. Ed mentally awarded himself points for that. "I was stopping you from buying something because you were being an asshole—"
"I was being an asshole?" Ed interrupted. "You called me short the first time we met, then—"
"Wait, was that what that was about?" Mustang asked. "I wasn't calling you short, you had a huge stack of books and you know what? No, we're not going to argue about an argument we already had. We're both awful, let's leave it at that and talk about alchemy."
Ed waved his book at Mustang. "I was reading about alchemy before some jerk showed up and started distracting me."
"Fine, fine," Mustang said, more amused than annoyed. "I can see that I'm not wanted. Read your book. I hope it'll console you when you realize that you're deprived of my excellent company and any alkahestry books I spot."
"What books?" Ed demanded. "There aren't any, I've looked! And what is with you and stealing things I want?"
"It's not stealing if I'm the one who buys it first," Mustang said. "And I saw a couple in the philosophy section last time I was here."
"I looked there too!" Ed said furiously. "What books, Mustang? You have to show me. I need to learn alkahestry, it's really fucking important." Ed was a little desperate: Al was holding steady, he hadn't gotten sick since Ed first met Mustang but there were no guarantees. Al's health and life hadn't been normal in years, and Ed had to fix Al's body; they both knew how quickly things could turn. Izumi was the closest thing they had to a guide to what the Gate might have done to Al, and she'd adapted and held on for years until very suddenly she'd gotten sick and they had to travel to Dublith for the funeral. Ed wasn't going to let that happen to Al, and alkahestry was part of the answer. Ed knew it.
Mustang, for once, didn't seem to want to fuck with Ed. He just led him to Tuckson's philosophy section and pointed out a row of books.
"Xing associates gold with alchemy, because of their legendary golden sage. Golds and yellows are also royal colors, which can sometimes be used like purple is in our symbolism," Roy said quietly. "Chances are, if a translated Xingese book is bound with a lot of yellow or gold, it's going to touch on alkahestry. Most of the books we have came in during the turn on the century—"
"—So original copies have the symbolic bindings, and reprints carried the tradition on," Ed finished. "And it's a totally different way of manipulating energy and looking at transmutations; of course they were considered philosophical texts. It's just a big stupid misunderstanding," Ed said a little bitterly. He'd been looking for months, and between them, Ed, Al and Sheska, they had been stumped and thwarted at every turn by Amestris' stupid mistrust of neighboring countries and the State's historical micromanagement of alchemists.
"You're still going to have a hard time finding much," Mustang said. "The First Library probably has one of the more complete collections of books on alkahestry, but it's still a small section. You might have some luck stumbling across some things here or at another good shop that deals in older books, but your plan to learn Xingese and find someone to import books for you is probably going to be your best bet."
Ed waved Mustang off, already paging through one of the books he'd pointed out. "That's still the plan, this is just a huge fucking breakthrough. I could kiss you right now, Mustang, this is amazing."
"Well," Mustang said, and something about his voice drew Ed away from his book. Mustang tilted his head invitingly, smirking at Ed. "You do owe me a couple apologies at this point. And it seems I just did you a big favor. A kiss wouldn't be out of the question, now would it?"
"And now you've ruined it," Ed told him flatly. Mustang started laughing and Ed restrained himself from throwing something at him. The books didn't deserve that kind of treatment.
It was Al's turn to cook dinner and he'd taken one look at their fridge and the piles of library books, half-drawn blueprints, and roughly sketched out array designs covering almost every flat surface in their combined living room and kitchen and announced that they were going out for dinner tonight.
"Tomorrow we're all sleeping in and then cleaning up the apartment at least a little bit. And then we're going grocery shopping, this is ridiculous," Al told them.
"Finals," Winry pointed out. She was collapsed on the couch with a pillow over her head and a giant textbook resting on her stomach.
"I know," Al said. "Believe me I know. But I can't find either of our copies of Calid's and we're down to ramen and clementines. We have to do something now, while there's still time."
Ed was staring blankly at an empty page in his current research binder. He could use a break and really needed to eat something; lunch had been spent in a lab patiently drawing an array that promptly blew up a pile of sand when he activated it.
"Burritos?" he suggested to Al and Winry.
"Only if I can get a decent drink with them," Winry said. "This week sucks. I deserve something nice."
"So, no burritos then," Ed said. Pinako had instilled in them all excellent taste in alcohol. Shitty beer wouldn't cut it and Winry didn't seem to be in the mood for cocktails, which ruled out most of their usual dinner options.
"There's that new place by the post office," Al suggested. "I wanted to check it out before I got sick last time and I hear good things."
Winry hauled herself up off the couch. "All right, let's check it out."
A light bulb dimly went off in Ed's head. "Hey, let's invite Sheska. We haven't hung out in a while, and it's not like we're going to get anything done tonight. Might as well make a night of it."
"Do it," Winry said, surprisingly happily considering what her mood had been two minutes ago. "And see if she'll pick us up. She can crash here if she doesn't want to drive home later."
Occasionally Winry had good ideas; Ed would do just about anything to avoid going out at night in the middle of a cold snap like this, and Sheska liked Al too much to make him suffer so she shouldn't be too hard to convince.
Ed was pretty impressed with The Roost's burgers. Their onion rings were even better, the appetizer plate Al and Winry split had some good stuff, and Sheska swore her fancy-ass salad and sweet potato fries were amazing. The deciding verdict was the bar; it had Sheska's favorite local beer on tap and Winry wasn't complaining about their bourbon. Al ordered some ridiculous drink because he was a little shit sometimes and seemed pretty happy with it. They'd definitely be back, but right now they were picking over an extra order of fries and catching Sheska up on their latest projects.
"So I really think that if I can figure out the wiring, I can make less bulky automail," Winry was saying. "At lot of what's keeping it disproportionate for people like Ed or kids and young teenagers is the wiring; there's so much and you can only make it so small, you know? And you've gotta leave space for heat displacement, but I think I can make it work."
"Alchemy might be able to help you," Al was musing. "Better metal blends, maybe throw in something else to help with conductivity and if it's transmuted, we might be able to play with the thickness a lot more. What do you think Ed?"
"Sounds like an interesting challenge," Ed said. "The stuff I'm looking into might help a body adjust to the ports and speed up surgery recovery time—"
"So your alchemy might be useful for once," Winry teased.
"Hey!" Ed said indignantly. "My alchemy is always useful. You never say Al's is useless, see if I fix your laptop the next time you break it."
"Wouldn't Al just fix it for her?" Sheska asked sweetly. "It sounds like no matter what, Winry's got it covered, especially since you're so busy learning another language and trying to make different alchemy styles work together."
"You know what," Ed mock threatened. Sheska laughed and stole a fry from him.
"What, you're redundant?" Winry said. "I've got an alchemist already, I don't need you. Go get us more alcohol. You're too sober."
Ed made a disparaging noise and insulted Winry just loudly enough for her to hear but got up to do her bidding. Ed double checked what Al was drinking and smiled to himself. Winry was using his absence as an excuse to slide opposite Sheska. He hoped they were both reading the situation right; Winry was annoying, but she deserved some happiness and it was hilarious to watch her around Sheska. If they got together, Ed was going to have blackmail material forever.
Ed meandered his way towards the bar and ordered, settling in to people watch for a few minutes while Al's stupid drink was being made. Someone's laughter caught Ed's attention and he looked over at a nearby table where a handsome man with glasses and a pretty woman with short brown hair were laughing at a story their blonde friend was telling. She suddenly gestured dramatically, miming making a speech and Ed guessed she was doing an impression of some dramatic coworker or mutual friend from the way her friends started laughing harder.
"Is it even legal for you to be up here?" a guy on Ed's right asked. He turned and of fucking course, it was Roy Mustang.
"Fuck you, Mustang," Ed said lazily. He was full of good food, bourbon and knew Winry would be doing something ridiculous to try and gauge Sheska's interest when he got back to their booth. Roy Mustang wasn't going to ruin his evening.
"Later," Mustang said, leaning against the bar. "I'm here with friends. Though, they're probably mocking me behind my back again."
It took Ed a second to realize what Mustang said. He just looked at Mustang and the other man raised a brow. "What the hell," Ed said. "You! Erugh." Mustang was never going to make any fucking sense.
Mustang was close enough that Ed could see his eyelashes and he swallowed; up close like this Mustang was almost overwhelming. He wasn't an imposing man, just one with a lot of presence and the kind of looks that hadn't failed to catch Ed's eye yet. Unconsciously, Ed angled towards Mustang. The hip tilt was intentional; Ed knew how good he looked in his jeans.
Their staring contest was interrupted by Winry's dulcet voice.
"Ed, did you get distracted by math again?"
"Oh like you haven't, engineering nerd," Ed snapped, annoyed that she'd pulled him away from whatever he'd been doing with Mustang. It was definitely some kind of contest; Ed wasn't sure of the stakes but he'd definitely been winning something. Mustang was still studying Ed; when he saw he had Ed's attention again he smirked and flicked his bangs out of his eyes.
"I'll see you around, Edward," he said and sauntered off, heading towards the table of laughing people Ed had been watching earlier. Ed took a moment to appreciate Mustang's back again in that tight t-shirt.
"Who was that?" Winry demanded. "Were you flirting with him? Did I interrupt? I swear I didn't mean to, you were just taking forever but I can understand why now."
"I wasn't flirting," Ed insisted. "He's just some guy. Come on, let's head back to the others."
"Finally!" Al said. "I didn't think they were that busy brother!" He grabbed his electric blue concoction from Ed and it was only because Ed loved his little brother and knew he had better taste than this and could outdrink Ed almost any day of the week that he didn't make fun of Al's ridiculous drink.
Winry slipped in next to Sheska, handing her the beer. Well, that explained why she'd gone after Ed: she wanted to actually sit next to Sheska instead of leaning over and staring longingly.
"There was a guy at the bar," Winry informed them delightedly. "Ed was distracted by his ass."
"Really not," Ed told them. "That was Mustang. He's a dick. I want to punch him."
"Wait," Al asked. "Mustang as in Roy Mustang?"
"He's the only Mustang we know."
"So you were distracted by his ass then," Al said. "Or were you flirting with him?"
"They were definitely flirting," Winry told the table. "You could cut the tension with a knife. Everything makes so much sense now. You need to do something about that, he's really hot."
"I told him that when Mustang showed up in Armstrong's class," Al said. "Brother isn't listening to me, though. As usual."
"Who's this Mustang guy?" Sheska asked. "And why does everything make sense now? Is there some kind of story here no one's bothered to share?"
"Mustang," Winry said with evil delight, "is the guy from the bookstore Ed picked a fight with. And they keep running into each other and Ed has a giant crush on him and won't admit it, it's hilarious."
"Oh," Sheska said. "Ohhhhhh. Yeah, that does explain a lot. I told you to talk to him weeks ago, Ed!"
"I did!" Ed exclaimed. "And he was a dick and now he's slightly less of a dick because he told me about the alkahestry binding thing, but he's still a jerk I want to punch. I don't like him, so why do you keep bugging me about it?"
"Ed," Sheska said slowly. "Ed, he's a ridiculously hot guy with dark hair who's really smart."
"You keep arguing with him and he keeps coming back for more," Al said. "It sounds like he gives as good as he gets. You have a type, brother. And this guy seems to fit it really well."
"I don't care what you say, I saw you with him, you're into him," Winry added. "And he's definitely interested. No." She cut him off before he could start protesting. "You listen to us, Edward Elric. You like this guy, trust us, we know you. You like him and it's mutual so you should figure out if you want to do something about that or not."
Ed wasn't picky about his coffee; ease of access and affordability were his main criteria when it came to buying it. He had preferences, though, contrary to what Al claimed. He wasn't Winry, who would drink anything with caffeine and didn't differentiate between shitty lab coffee, mediocre gas station coffee, the halfway decent stuff Al bought, or something from a coffee shop. Ed could taste the difference and sometimes he enjoyed drinking something made by a professional.
He probably should have walked farther and dealt with Haymarket's line, shitty lighting, and asshole baristas instead of Starbucks' insanity. Ed probably wouldn't have found a table at Haymarket with enough light, but the asshole baristas were good at moving people through the line and he wouldn't have been too far from one of the campus libraries. Right now, he was stuck in the longest line ever and Ed had been waiting for five minutes already and moved up two spots. He had too much invested now to give up. At least, not while it was snowing and he was this far from campus. Fucking winter and finals; everyone was here and they had all the tables. If he managed to get a table, it would be some kind of holiday miracle.
Ed was playing with the strap of his messenger bag and thinking about the half-written history paper he needed to finish and decoding one of the alkahestry books Mustang found for him. They weren't mutually exclusive topics. Ed's paper was on alchemical encryption, but that wasn't as interesting as his newest books. Even the paper he was writing within his final paper (which was going to be a masterwork of a rant about stupid departmental research policies and how annoying it was to TA freshmen once he finished it) wasn't enough to keep Ed's attention. Eventually he'd finish it, but he had practically a week left and as amusing as it was to come up with a test for his professor, Ed had better things to do with his time. Half lost in thought, Ed wasn't paying attention, and someone hurrying out bumped into him as the line shuffled forward and Ed felt himself start to slip on the wet floor. Ed swore and flailed, trying to catch his balance. Arms steadied him and Ed rebalanced his bag once he had solid footing again.
"Fucking snow," Ed muttered, turning to thank whoever caught him. "Hey, tha—oh, it's you."
Roy Mustang was standing in line behind Ed. His cheeks were a little flushed from the cold and his hair was damp from the melting snow, and there were even a few snowflakes still dotting his black great coat. He looked incredible, and Ed wasn't sure if he wanted to pull Mustang in close or strangle him with his stupid cream scarf.
"Of course it's you," Ed said with a sigh. "Mustang, are you stalking me?"
"I could ask the same, Edward," Roy said with a small smile. "I can't seem to escape you. You're like a bad penny; you're everywhere." Mustang tilted his head slightly, ostensibly to meet Ed's eyes, but Ed knew his tricks. Yeah, he was glancing at Ed through his lashes and smirking and probably knew that Ed knew that he was flirting and Ed wasn't entirely sure what to do with any of this information but Mustang certainly seemed to be amused by the whole situation. At least one of them was.
"I really hadn't pegged you for a Starbucks person; this all seems a little too...mainstream for you."
Ed snorted and moved up in line. "You have no idea what I like and anyway, coffee is coffee. I just want caffeine and someplace to work on shit far away from my gearhead roommate. She's in the middle of finals and there's metal all over the apartment right now and she's even more likely to throw wrenches at us."
"Every time I run into you I get more fascinating insights to your life," Roy said with a chuckle. "You know the most interesting women."
"The most terrifying women, you mean," Ed said with a proud grin. "Don't get me wrong, Winry's my best friend and awesome but she's completely terrifying even when you get to know her. Probably more terrifying, actually."
"So," Roy said as they continued to wind their way through displays of instant coffee and travel mugs. "You're friends with fascinating women, you're interested in alkahestry and medical alchemy, you're a regular at a local independent bookstore, a natural foods grocery store, and you visit restaurants that advertise their microbrews and local foods. Forgive me for thinking you're more Haymarket and less Starbucks."
"Did you just call me a hipster?" Ed asked, insulted.
"Implied it, would be more accurate," Mustang said with an enigmatic smile. He shook his bangs out of his eyes and Ed wasn't quite sure what his expression was, but Ed could see something that looked playful, or mischievous maybe. Warm, certainly. Ed flushed.
"You look stupid fucking around with your hair all the time," Ed said. "We get it, you have perfect hair, no need to keep drawing attention to it. And I am not a hipster. You go to the same places I do; that makes you as much of a hipster as me."
Mustang actually laughed at that. "Touche. The argument certainly has been made before. I can't refute every point. The evidence is pretty damning for both of us and yet here we are, waiting in an endless Starbucks line for seasonally flavored coffee. Obviously we're much more complicated men than we first appear."
"You're so full of bullshit," Ed said admirably. "You just argued that what, your pumpkin spice?"
"Peppermint mocha," Roy admitted, embarrassed.
"Shit, I can't make fun of you for that, that's actually good," Ed said. "Fine, so, you're arguing that your peppermint mocha addiction actually makes you more interesting and shit than a stereotypical hipster. Man, you must kick ass at grant proposals."
"Half of my job is useless paperwork and research proposals, so I suppose I am," Roy said. "You're next, by the way."
Ed started paying attention to his surroundings again. Roy was right; they'd made it through all the displays and snow melt soaked tiles to the front of the line. Ed ordered quickly, rattling his usual off without thinking, already looking for an empty seat somewhere. A gloved hand settled on his shoulder and Roy's voice was in his ear.
"Looks like there's a table opening up by the armchairs, do you want to grab it or our orders?"
Ed swallowed, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks. Roy was incredibly close and Ed really hadn't been prepared for his low voice to be so close and intimate. He wasn't sure if he actually wanted to spend more time with the older man, at least not until he figured out if he wanted to do anything with Roy other than punch him. But Ed also really wanted a table to work at and it wasn't actually possible to be in two places at once.
"Grab me a couple napkins as well," Ed said and he darted around a small group of teenagers blocking the way. Ed practically had to sprint to the table (okay, it was more of a moderately fast walk around the occupied seats and backpacks cluttering up the floor) but he slammed his bag down on top and glared the family eyeing it away. Sixty points to Edward Elric, none to dads with bluetooth headsets and bored looking children.
Ed awarded himself another hundred points when Roy sauntered over with their coffee and Ed's cookie. Roy looked good every time Ed ran into him, but Roy coming over with Ed's coffee order? This is not a date, Ed told himself firmly as he watched Roy unwind his scarf and settle in. Not a date. Mustang is a bastard and you have work to do. Roy's blissful expression as his took his first sip of his latte stalled Ed's internal admonition.
The thing was, Roy was undeniably a jerk. He was also interesting to talk to when he wasn't being an asshole and he made Ed laugh. And, Ed looked up at Roy through his bangs, he was ridiculously hot. Al...wasn't entirely wrong about Ed having a type. And Roy Mustang fit it really well. Fuck, Ed wanted this to be a date.
"Why did you want a table so badly?" Ed demanded. "I have work to do, you're, what?"
Roy pointedly met Ed's eyes and slowly lowered his, lingering on Ed's lips or neck. "I'm continuing our conversation," he said, wrapping his hands around his coffee. Ed tried not to fixate on Roy's hands, but it was difficult. He had elegant hands and fingers Ed had a few thoughts about.
"Oh yeah, our scintillating discussion about flavor shots and hipsters," Ed said with an eye roll. "You're a better bullshitter than that."
"Well," Roy started again, with a smirk. "The weather out there's frightful and your company's—"
"Oh my god, stop," Ed said, balling up a napkin and throwing it at Roy. "No, I refuse. You're not allowed to mangle Christmas songs to fake flirt with me. No."
Roy raised a brow and his smirk softened to a genuine smile. "Who said it was fake?"
Ed could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks and quickly looked down, focusing on his drink. There's no way Roy wouldn't miss his blush, but maybe he'd be nice for a change and ignore it. "I—" Ed started, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to tell Roy. "Shut the fuck up Mustang," he muttered.
"Why?" Roy asked. "You were right earlier. I don't know really know you or what you like. But I do know you're an interesting guy to talk to and you seem to like me. That could be an interesting topic to discuss, perhaps over coffee or dinner some time?"
"Are—" Ed's throat was dry, he swallowed hard before trying again. "Are you asking me out?"
"Are you saying yes?" Roy didn't actually sound that confident, but as Ed bravely met his eye, he could see the playfulness in Roy's expression. The contradiction fascinated Ed; Roy always seemed pretty cocky and in control whenever they ran into each other, but maybe it was a front. Ed knew he was a sure bet, but apparently Roy didn't seem to think so. And yet, Roy was willing to try his luck—but he was only going so far. Interesting. Ed realized rather suddenly that Roy was waiting for him, not just a yes or no about dinner, but to quip back and challenge him like usual. Roy wasn't sure about getting a date, but he was sure that Ed would play off him.
"I'm saying we have coffee right now," Ed said with a smirk. "And I paid for mine. So you're going to have to impress me with dinner, Mustang."
"And our discussion topic?" Roy said quietly, leaning in. "Don't tell me you're going to hold back on a subject you're an expert on."
"Well," Ed said slowly. "I'm an expert on a lot of topics. Alchemy, for starters. Right now I'm working on a complicated transmutation with u and i as variables. You're a State Alchemist, maybe you can help me figure out the array—"
"—in bed?" Roy asked with a laugh.
"Well, I was actually hoping to end that with a line about the Grand Union of the elements since your alchemy's all about air and fire and I tend to work through metal and stone," Ed replied. "But sure, we can keep it classy with an in bed joke."
Roy was laughing helplessly and Ed grinned. Apparently Roy was enough of an alchemy geek to appreciate shitty science jokes and come ons. Maybe dinner wouldn't be a disaster.
"So, dinner," Ed prompted.
"What are you doing tonight?" Roy asked.
"You," Ed said without thinking. Roy's expression was priceless, probably worth Ed's embarrassment. Maybe. He kind of wanted to the ground to open up below him but Roy's heated look—well. Maybe the ground could open up below both of them and deposit them someplace with a bed?
"And uh, dinner. I guess. With you, I mean. Because I'm sure as fuck not going to finish bullshiting my history paper tonight."
"Well," Roy said, catching Ed's eye again and smiling a little wickedly. "You should drink your coffee so we can figure out where we want to go to dinner. And maybe you can elaborate on your variation of the Grand Union theory. I'm sure you've got some fascinating ideas I'd love to hear about. In detail."
"Fuck, Mustang, you're such a pervert," Ed said, teeth flashing as his grin widened. "I've got a few ideas you might be interested in. Trade secret, though. You need to come a little closer before I'll share 'em."
Roy looked surprised, but that quickly changed to delight when Ed pulled him close across the table. Ed glanced up at Roy quickly, just to be sure he was okay with this, and then closed the distance between them, kissing Roy soundly. Roy tasted like peppermint, and Ed deepened the kiss, absently wishing the table wasn't between them. Roy tilted his head slightly and brought a warm hand up to Ed's face, cupping his cheek and briefly taking control before reluctantly breaking away. Ed made a disappointed noise.
"Later," Roy said promisingly. "When there isn't a table and an audience."
"I thought you liked tables," Ed shot back and watched Roy flush for once. Ed smirked and leaned in for another kiss. Maybe shutting Roy up wasn't as difficult as he thought.