pandora_culpa: (sexy Ed/Roy)
[personal profile] pandora_culpa
Title: Rusted Dawn

Pairing: Roy/Ed

Rating: NC-17 overall

Summary: It's too close; he's crumbling, and he can't stop the slide into this disaster.

A/N: My god, I can hardly believe it has taken me so very long to get this chapter together! I must beg apologies of you all. There were so many issues that I encountered with this particular installment and, quite frankly, I think I was more than a little burnt out when I hit that wall. The writing of this story takes its toll on me, and when I look back at my original draft of this chapter, it truly shows.

I have to extend heartfelt, groveling thanks to my dearest [livejournal.com profile] evil_whimsey for first of all, being wise enough and honest enough to tell me when I've made grievous errors, or simply not written up to my fullest potential. Without you, m'dear, this would be a far, far poorer tale, and I would not have learned nearly so much.

And to you, all my readers who have come this far, and still continue to read-- thank you, so much, from the deepest parts of my heart. Your interest in this dark little tale has meant the world to me, and I am so indebted to you for putting up with my erratic posting. I can't promise how quickly I will be able to have the next chapter ready, but please believe me when I promise that, no matter how long it takes, Rusted Dawn will be completed. I will not leave you hanging. Thank you forever.

...and I'll shut up now, and just get on with the story.


previous chapters




Wind and heat, and there is blood; blood everywhere, baked black into the stones and the gritty dirt, and the silence is worse than the screaming because he is left alone with the blood and the sand and the guilt that is slowly crushing him...

Mustang awakens with a cry, body jackknifing beneath tangled sheets that burn against his skin. For several minutes his breaths come in rasping gulps as he attempts to calm his racing pulse and drag his mind from the clutches of the dream. When he is finally able, he pushes himself up to sit against the headboard, casting an exhausted glance at his clock. It is just past four in the morning.

Rubbing his aching eyes, Mustang lets a sigh shudder out before rising and turning on a light. There's a half-empty bottle of scotch on the dresser- his second bottle in as many weeks- and he pours a couple fingers into the tumbler waiting beside it, knowing that there will be no more sleep for him tonight.

It has been this way since Edward left.

~*~*~


The days crawl past, prickling impatiently under his skin as he awaits any word of Edward or the mission. It gives Mustang time to think of every choice he could have made differently, every way in which this could go wrong. Fullmetal's ability to transmute without an array has always been the edge that provided him split-second adaptability in a fight; a tactical advantage over anyone he faced, but the Colonel has serious doubts whether Edward has ever fought an opponent possessing the same freedom.

When he thinks on it too long, his stomach tightens and heaves in painful fear that strains even his ability to hide. He clings to his equilibrium, holding onto it by the rationale that if Edward has never encountered such a challenge, it is highly unlikely that the Aerugan suspect has faced such a thing either. In that case there is little doubt that Fullmetal has far more experience in combative alchemy, though given what the Colonel knows about the power of array-less alchemy that's not entirely convincing. But if that alone isn't enough to tip the balance in Fullmetal's favor there is also Alphonse to be considered, and in no way would he be fool enough to underestimate the younger Elric.

But it remains difficult to keep his thoughts from turning dark. A thwarted or vindictive alchemist; a fall down a flight of stairs. A chimera; drinking from a tainted well. Edward is as mortal as anyone, and the young man knows it; hasn't Fullmetal tried to tell him this before? The risk is always there, inevitable when he's sent out like a trained dog to run on the military's orders; one critical misstep, and that furious, blazing life will disappear. And Edward would never know...

He tries the thought out, as if to see how it fits; Edward, dying, without ever knowing the emotions Mustang holds for him, and is unsurprised at the stab of pain that accompanies it. The idea of Fullmetal going to his grave, after everything he has endured already, believing that he is nothing more than a tool to the Colonel is simply intolerable. Mustang clenches his fists, knowing that if such a thing came to pass it would leave him a hollow man the rest of his days.

It had seemed so simple, to keep this unwanted secret from Edward. A safe compromise, giving him his indulgence and Edward his distance. But he remembers a dim room, a box filled with more than he could face. The smell of a body he knows so well, stale, in red fabric. Knowing how easy it would be to face that once again, Mustang realizes with grim acceptance that some secrets he dare not hold close.

Things have to change. Somehow he must change them, if he is to live with himself.

~*~*~


He dreams again that night. Ishval, always the desert; he no longer dreams of anything else. This time it is not the people he burned who haunt him, but the men he knew, the ones he couldn't save, killed or maimed in the sands. Faces he knows, names he can almost remember, hundreds of comrades lost in battle; they stare at him as they march past, beyond his ability to protect, and he awakens to the hot sting of tears on his cheeks.

~*~*~


Another week passes. Then two. Edward has been gone for over a month now, and it is eating him alive.

His stomach aches with waiting, clenching whenever the phone rings, or the post arrives. Waiting for news- any news- wears him down, threatening to expose how deeply his self-control has been shaken. He cannot afford to slip and allow his lack of objectivity to show, and he girds himself in the masquerade of indifference he's worked to attain. But it's hard to hold, when every phone call, every briefing from the south, has him biting his lip, waiting for one name, even a hint, a rumor...

But there is nothing.

He goes so far as to place a few calls, reaching out among his scattered network of contacts in the region for any kind of clue. Just a whisper of gold hair, an armored companion, and the garrote of fear might loosen enough for Mustang to be able to breathe again. But the borderlands are rural; miles of forest and pasture stretching between villages and townships and ample room for a killer to hide, or two young men to lose themselves- and there is simply no information to be had.

And the days continue passing without information, just the empty sameness of paperwork and decisions. Neither sightings of the brothers, nor word of any new destruction. The attacks have ceased, and while the Colonel is grateful for their cessation, it does not reassure. He does his work with as much attention as he can give it, tries to focus on conversations, but all the while his mind is elsewhere. Helpless to do anything but await communication from Fullmetal, he works with as much attention as he can manage, tries to focus on conversations, but his mind wanders far from the office.

By the ninth week of Edward's absence with still no word, Mustang is balanced on a knife-edge of panic and frustration. Iron control is all that keeps him from spilling his anxiety in the office, where speculation and occasional murmurings of Fullmetal's name gnaw daily at his composure. But he feels the corrosion at the heart of himself, and knows that if this goes on much longer, his mask will fail. It's too personal now; he tried to stay aloof, to treat Edward no differently, but he can't, he can't. No other loss in his command could even come close to destroying him the way Edward's would, and the admission shames him.

The Colonel stares out across his office, his eyes aching with lack of sleep, and watches his men work, intent, efficient even as they talk and joke amongst themselves. They deserve better than this from him; he runs a trembling hand across his face, wondering how the hell he can pull himself together for their sake, if not his own.

~*~*~


It's nearing the end of the eleventh week. A bad week, but then all of them have been bad since Fullmetal left. There had been a rumor... but it had amounted to nothing, just like all the rest. And Mustang is exhausted with helplessness; he knows nothing, and it is worse than when Ed was lost up that mountain, for at least there he'd had Breda to be his eyes. The waiting and lack of knowledge has treated him as unkindly this time as before, and the Colonel feels sapped and empty, dispirited. It is remarkable how dimmed his world seems, when Edward is not in it.

Returning home from the office, he stumbles over his mail in the foyer, scowling at the pile as he toes off his boots before scooping it up and tossing it on the kitchen table. Starts water for tea, and groans at the empty state of both icebox and pantry. He forgot to shop, again. Though it hardly matters; his appetite scarcely exists of late.

Sinking into a chair, he reaches for the stack of mail, flipping through it with dull disinterest. Nothing he cares about, each forgotten before he's moved on to the next- until his eye catches on one envelope, plain and unassuming, amidst the rest. Simple, forgettable, with no return address, only his surname and the destination printed in plain block letters. Curiosity awakened, he rises, carrying the envelope to his desk where he slits it open.

But there is nothing inside.

Or, almost nothing. A closer inspection reveals a sprinkling of fine white sand collected in the bottom crease, nearly invisible against the paper, and Mustang rubs the grains between his fingers, perplexed. What deliberate nonsense is this? But all at once, suffocating, desperate hope rises up like an epiphany and he gasps aloud, straightening in his seat. For who else but Fullmetal would send him such a cryptic message?

He pours the sand onto a saucer, and examines the envelope with painstaking thoroughness. The handwriting of his address is a study in generic style, and nothing he could claim to identify. The only other thing on the envelope's face is the stamp, and Mustang can't quite restrain the triumphant smirk when he brushes his fingertips over the tiny image of a train, frozen in mid-steam upon the postage. Such an easily overlooked detail, and yet it makes him all the more certain.

Turning it over, he reaches out for his letter opener once more and begins carefully splitting the envelope down its seams until he's able to unfold and examine it flat. Empty, unadorned, and the smile fades away as uncertainty twists like a worm in his gut. He'd expected some clue, some hint that he can work with, not a dusty envelope and a handful of sand. Somewhere, not too far from here, Edward is waiting for him, must be, and the urge to go, now!, is almost enough to make his legs buckle. He snatches the envelope up again, studying it from all angles, almost frantic to find his answer.

It's as much desperation as intuition that makes him snap his fingers behind the envelope, and the brief flash of something underneath the stamp draws an unconscious sound of relief from his throat. He scrambles for his desklamp; a blurred moment of adjusting both shade and paper, and there is the number 620, in stark silhouette and written in a familiar hand.

Trains. Edward.

A brief call to headquarters to arrange for his absence tomorrow, and he is throwing together a bag, rushing out the door. The train station isn't far, and yet it feels like years before he arrives, snatching a schedule from an attendant and poring over it with anxious eyes. There has to be something, there can't not be, not when Edward is reaching out to him, needing him...

To his surprise, he cannot find a train with that number. He takes the question to the stationmaster, who gives him a curious look, but answers that the line with that number is a cargo freight train carrying ore from Youswell, and scheduled to pass through the station in the dead hours of Sunday morning. Eyeing the Colonel's uniform and insignia with concern, the man inquires if there is any problem he ought to be aware of, and Mustang distractedly reassures him, mind racing. There has to be something he's missing.

He glances back down at the schedule, this time scanning departure times, and there it is. At twenty past six, a daily commuter train that travels to the town of Pane, some two hours to the west of Central. A small town, the right distance- he has never been so sure of a thing. Securing a ticket, he settles on a bench to wait, his heart repeating Edward's name like a prayer.

~*~*~


The sky is darkening as the train grinds to a halt at the Pane station, and a weight seems to lift from Mustang's chest as he steps out onto the platform. Only a few people disembark with him, and a glance around reveals even fewer waiting to board. The single bench by the stationmaster's office is empty, and it seems to the Colonel that the station is likely used more for freight than human cargo. A glance at his fellow passengers bolsters his theory; they have the look of laborers rather than merchants, curious of him because of his attire and bearing, but ultimately uninterested.

He keeps his eyes open for a familiar splash of red or gold, but sees nothing as he follows the meager crowd out of the station. No one to guide him, however there is only one place Edward would be and a few inquiries inform him of the location of the town's single inn; typical for an industrial town. Walking through the narrow streets, it quickly becomes apparent to Mustang that the local trade is in glassmaking, and the final shadow of doubt lifts from his heart. The sand- he'd missed the most obvious clue.

Soon enough he arrives at the inn, and is greeted by a bored-looking gentleman at its desk. He barely has time to begin his inquiry before the man's uninterested expression shifts to something akin to recognition.

“Would you be looking for a Mr. Elric, sir?” he asks before Mustang can continue, and the Colonel blinks at him in mild surprise.

“As a matter of fact, I am,” he answers slowly. “How did you know that?”

The clerk doesn't seem to notice his hesitance, prattling on as he hunts through a ring of keys. “He said someone might be coming after him, and asked that we hold a key for you. It's not often we get visitors here. Most of the time, people just pass right on through to Central. Ah, here we go!” He passes a room key over to the Colonel, who accepts it with murmured thanks. “End of the hallway, on the right.”

It's hardly circumspect, but then again, it's unlikely that anyone around here cares. And there is no question of backing away now, not even if he were able. Not with only a hallway between him and the man he's worried and ached for all this time. Key heavy in his hand, Mustang can scarcely refrain from racing down the short distance that remains between himself and Edward, and it is only when he is faced with the door that his nervousness returns. Swallowing it down, he unlocks the door, and steps inside.

The room is dark, curtains drawn against even the sinking sun's light. A battered valise lies a few feet into the room, as though dropped there without a thought, and the bed is still made. And there by the headboard, sitting between the pillows, is Edward; a knot of tension, knees drawn up to his chest and bare arms encircling them. He tilts his head as the door opens, eyes luminous in the dim room and blinks slowly into the light behind the Colonel before focusing on him in confusion.

Mustang's heart clenches at the sight, but even as it does it's singing alive, alive, alive. Edward is back, and safe, and he can't even bring himself to care at this moment how this is so, simply overcome with thankfulness for his return. Pale beneath his tan, bruised, scratched and scraped all over, but miraculously intact all the same.

Only his eyes... Gold and flat and utterly lifeless, as dead as he'd seen that first time, in Bisman; as dead as he's seen in the mirror more times than he can count.

He sets his bag down, never shifting his gaze from Edward. The young man's eyes follow his every move, bleak and resigned, as though he had watched all his hopes die and a cold foreboding slithers down the Colonel's back. He wants to cup that impassive face in his hands, kiss the fire back into it, but settles instead for sitting on the edge of the bed, close to Fullmetal's feet.

“I'm glad you're back,” he says gravely, knitting hands that want to reach out for Edward into a tight ball in his lap. “Was it very bad?”

The alchemist shrugs, his eyes dropping for the first time since Mustang entered the room. “Dunno,” he replies, voice dull and tarnished with exhaustion. “Not bad, I guess.”

The lie is too obvious to bother pointing out. Mustang shifts a little closer, trying to catch that golden gaze once more. “You wanted me here...?” He leaves the sentence hanging, suddenly unsure of what this strange reticence in Edward means. It is almost like the moments when Fullmetal pulls back in the office, a strange, premeditated withdrawal, totally at odds with the young man's usual behavior.

A sharp nod, and nothing more.

There's a long silence. Edward stares down at the bed, fingers clenching and unclenching in the covers, his face empty of himself. The silence is oppressive, the unspoken recent past lurking behind it, and guilt tightens its coils upon the Colonel. Remembering the broken young alchemist in his house, the dry, heaving sobs, Mustang hesitantly asks, “The other alchemist. Did you...?”

Golden bangs fly as Edward shakes his head violently. “I'm not even here, officially,” he snarls, flaring to belligerent life from his stupor. “Don't try and turn this into some fucking debriefing.”

There is pain in those aggressive eyes, hidden behind the defensive snarl and snap, and Mustang waits only a moment before leaning forward to brush a finger along the stubborn line of Edward's jaw, touching him as tenderly as he dares. “I'm not asking as your commanding officer,” he offers.

Bright eyes snap up to meet his, and it takes several seconds before the reflex to flinch back from the caress catches up. Lip curling faintly, Edward snaps, “I don't-”

The fire dies, as quickly as it flared. “I don't want to think about it,” the young man states, letting his eyes fall once more. “I don't want to think about anything.”

Silence rests between them, heavy and still, while Fullmetal stares vacantly at the coverlet and the Colonel's thoughts vacillate from relief to concern to an overwhelming need to touch the young man. This newly returned Edward is dimmed, the vital spark of his spirit guttering fitfully in whatever darkness he has seen this time, and despite returning relatively unharmed from the mission, Mustang can't help but think how easily he could have been lost. Compassion stirs within him, as well as his newfound resolution, and he wishes he knew the words to express his affections and wipe the emptiness from Edward's eyes.

Fullmetal's head slumps forward further until his forehead almost touches his knees, folding like a dying flower while Mustang watches him, waiting for a sign of what the younger man wants. Eventually Edward's shoulders shudder with a sigh; still hiding his face, he whispers in a voice that is far too old, “My head... it feels so heavy.”

The quiet dread imbuing the statement is not half so frightening as the utter acceptance in it as well. Unable to contain himself any longer, Mustang rests a hand upon Edward's knee, and this time the young man doesn't pull back. “What do you mean?” he asks gently, fingers moving in soothing caresses.

That lean body, huddling in on itself, trembles. “There's too much in it.” He raises a miserable expression to meet Mustang's eyes and there is no force in the world that could keep his hands from lifting then to cup that ravaged face. “All the shit I know, things I shouldn't know, that it put in there... It's too much, it's not natural, and I want to forget it but I can't.” A sharp intake of breath, painfully harsh. “I... I just want to get away from it. To not be me, to not carry that weight every goddamn day...”

“Edward,” he breathes, not understanding, but the young man seems not to hear him. He clutches his head, flesh and metal tangling in long hair, and makes a sound that's close to a sob.

“It's just too heavy, too much! I want it gone, want to be like everyone else again, ignorant... I don't want to know these things anymore!”

Bright strands tangle and catch in the joints of the automail, though Edward doesn't seem notice. They tear free as he moves, jerky and aimless, and he still doesn't react, but Mustang does. He catches the wayward hand in his, pulling it to his heart, and for a moment he thinks the old spark has been ignited. Fullmetal's head jerks up, eyes blazing, teeth bared...

But nothing follows. Staring at the Colonel with furious intensity, the young man breathes heavily, a melange of anger, despair and something else, something unknown, flickering across his face. Mustang watches the rapid play of emotions with concern until Edward finally sags, dropping his head, hiding amidst the thick fall of hair, and the gesture makes his chest ache with hopeless longing.

“Edward...” What can he say to that, what can he give, to relieve stress he can't even imagine? He would give it in a heartbeat, anything within his power, to ease this man's suffering. “What can I do?”

A cold hand twines with his own. “Drive it out of me. Drive me out of myself, make me forget, don't let me think. Make it so I can't think, drive it out...” The grip tightens almost painfully, and it's a plea he cannot resist.

He tugs Ed's hand closer, lifts it to his lips, kisses the metal fingertips. Edward watches him, looking desperately lost, and Mustang wants so badly to confess the love that has been growing without consent. But he dares not burden the young man further; love is a weighty knowledge, and Fullmetal is already straining under whatever terrible things he knows. And Mustang will not ask; today he will do what is requested, do what he can to remove the load instead of adding to it.

But soon, he promises himself, gently pressing the other man down against the rough blankets. Kisses the offered throat, parts willing legs with one knee. Edward moans, moves beneath him, and there is no way he can keep this burgeoning emotion to himself much longer. He must tell him soon.

~*~*~


Much later, lying tangled together on rumpled sheets, Mustang lifts his head with a sudden, frightening realization. “Where is your brother?”

Beside him, Edward stirs, his voice raspy and tired. “I sent him ahead, to the archive. There were things we learned... we needed more information.” He shifts again, before adding guiltily, “He didn't want to go. Not alone, not... not now. But I needed...”

He burrows back against the Colonel's body, not protesting the arm that draws around him. And Mustang thinks then that the young man must indeed have come back sorely wounded, only on the inside, where he can keep the injuries hidden. Edward isn't the broken, heartsick man who appeared in his house months ago, but this new sorrow clearly pains him no less, and Mustang thinks again, helpless, what can I do?

“It wasn't me,” Edward whispers, face pressed to Mustang's neck and sounding as though it is there is little comfort to be found in that truth. “The alchemist. I didn't kill him. It was a rebound.” Lifting his eyes, he looks up at Mustang with an expression of dread. “I couldn't stop him.”

“It's not your fault,” Mustang's voice is low, on the edge of breaking, and how he wishes he could stop Fullmetal from taking everything on himself. His palm cups the young man's cheek, heart afire as he stares into the strained, handsome face. Bleak golden eyes flutter, falling closed as if only now is he able to relax and Mustang wants to believe that he made the difference, but that way lies madness. Better to kiss velveted eyelids, stroke him hard again, and give the only solace he is allowed to offer; the only respite Edward will accept.

Something burns at the edge of his soul as he swallows the words he longs to profess; instead Mustang presses deep once more, scatters kisses across bruised and burnished skin, and lets his body sing the love he cannot speak.

~*~*~


It takes Edward another week to return to Central, and buffered by the knowledge that the other man is safe and alive, the Colonel is easily able to withstand the wait. Hawkeye watches his renewed vigor with a question in her eyes that remains unspoken, but his other officers simply seem to be grateful that their superior has returned to his usual self again. The dark dreams that haunted him while the young alchemist was on the mission have receded, and rest has restored what the sight of Edward alone did not.

When Fullmetal finally does appear at Central Command, he arrives like some harbinger of ill tidings, ominously silent, his face stormy. Alphonse trails at his heels, armor rattling, but otherwise as soundless as his brother. The usual enthusiastic reunion that typically follows their return is dampened by the cloud that seems to seep in after them, and the younger Elric immediately stations himself near the file cabinets, the place where he always goes when he's trying to disappear. But before Mustang can inquire as to the mood of the two, Edward stomps back to his desk and flings his report at it, a mulish set to his features.

“There,” he grunts, arms clasping across his chest. “That's it.”

The young man is twitching and on edge, and a mere glance tells the Colonel that whatever is written there is surely incomplete. With a sigh, he indicates the sofa. “Sit down, Fullmetal,” he says, picking up the scant two pages that constitute the report and surreptitiously watching as Edward drops down before starting to read.

As expected, only the barest of facts are mentioned; subject located, subsequently neutralized. No collateral damage. Region secured. No details as to precisely what happened, or why. In the room beyond, metal rings softly as Alphonse shifts on his feet, and the Colonel puts the report down to study Fullmetal over folded hands. “What happened there?” he asks quietly.

“It's in the report,” Edward snarls back, not looking at him.

“No, actually, it isn't. There's very little in here except your assertion that this man is no longer a threat.”

An angry scowl lifts to meet his gaze. “What, you don't believe me?”

Mustang pinches the bridge of his nose, resigning himself to what is sure to be a long and touchy session. “I didn't say that.”

It takes most of the afternoon to extract anything from Edward, although by the end of it the Colonel better understands Fullmetal's reluctance. Too many details closely resemble the young man's own past; human transmutation and the material of the Philosopher's Stone. But most of them would make little sense to anyone other than an alchemist, and he has to admit that some of Edward's cryptic statements baffle even him. Equivalent exchange he is familiar with, but the passage fees (which the other alchemist grudgingly mentions, then refuses to explain) are unknown in his experience. Nor does he understand the references to greater knowledge and the Truth- he can hear the capital letter on the word- and Fullmetal's seeming abhorrence of their pursuit. It seems counter to the young man's quest for information, and he says so.

“You don't understand,” Edward growls, kicking the base of the couch sullenly. “The cost is always too high. And it never plays fair.”

Which, he gathers, was the cause of the suspect's demise. All Edward will say on the subject is that the man reached too far, tried to take what he couldn't possibly hold. “I tried to tell him it was impossible,” he says, looking both angry and sickened. “You can't pay for that sort of thing. But he wouldn't listen.”

The Colonel takes down a few notes to expand upon the bare details Fullmetal has provided- the better to inform the generals without placing dangerous knowledge at their disposal- and finally dismisses Edward when the young man clamps down, refusing to elaborate any further. He has enough to satisfy his superiors, although it is plain that there is still more to the situation than Fullmetal is admitting. But it's just as easy to see that it would be an exercise in futility to continue.

Edward storms from the office in a foul mood, snapping at Breda and ignoring Fuery's attempts to speak to him. Alphonse trots after him, helm low, his entire bearing suggesting upset, and Mustang watches them go with deep concern. Without question, something has happened, and he can only hope that whatever it is will turn out to be less alarming than it appears.

~*~*~


Near the end of the day, Hawkeye informs the Colonel that someone has arrived to speak with him. The stare she shoots him is loaded, but before he can question it Alphonse sidles into the room, bobbing a nervous bow in his direction. “I'm sorry to disturb you, sir,” he says in his thin voice.

“Not at all.” Sitting up straighter, Mustang gives him a warm smile to mask his surprise. “What can I do for you, Alphonse?”

Gauntleted hands clasp together uneasily. “First of all, please don't tell my brother that I came here,” he replies after a pause, shifting from foot to foot. “I hate coming behind his back, but I'm not sure what else to do.”

“You're worried about him again.”

The fierce-looking helm dips in assent. “He's getting worse. Brother's always been driven, but this goes beyond any obsession he's had before. He doesn't talk about anything other than his research, and even then only to me. I don't think he's had a normal conversation in months. He won't even let Breda and Fuery come over to play cards with me like they used to.”

Edward has never denied his brother anything before. Mustang frowns, the anxiety he felt earlier flaring once more. “I assume you've spoken to him about this.”

Alphonse hangs his head. “He says he wants to stay focused on getting me back to normal. And he's working really hard, but I think maybe he's working too hard. Sometimes...” He pauses, his large hands trembling before balling into fists, and when he continues his voice is little more than a whisper. “Sometimes... he doesn't even seem like himself anymore. And after what we learned while on this mission-” The steel body flinches, the words cutting out so quickly that Mustang has no doubt they had come forth unintentionally.

Suspicions confirmed, he leans forward, his eyes avid on the glow in the younger Elric's helm. “What did you learn, Alphonse?”

“I-” Metal rattles, and even in armor Alphonse manages to look torn. “I'm sorry, sir,” he says finally. “If Brother hasn't told you, then I don't think that I should either.”

Then I will be in the dark forever, he thinks bitterly, closing his eyes and resting his forehead on his hands. Aloud, he asks, “Is this knowledge dangerous? To Edward, or anyone else?”

There is a pause as Alphonse considers, and the Colonel thanks heaven that at least one of the young men is reasonable. After a moment the younger Elric replies slowly, “I don't think so, sir.”

Mustang nods, having expected the answer. Looking up at the towering figure, he says, “Well, I will have to trust your judgment on that then. Although I hope if you do discover that this information could do harm, that you will tell someone.”

“Yes.” Alphonse is silent another moment, before rubbing the back of his armored neck in embarrassment; a remarkably human gesture that Mustang finds oddly touching every time the young man does it. “Sir, can I ask a favor of you?”

The Colonel makes an expansive gesture. “Of course.”

“Could you... talk to my brother? About shutting everyone out? It can't be good for him, and I don't think it helps him the way he thinks it does.”

Too many memories; Edward pushing him away, holding himself aloof. Denying any connection between them. It's difficult for Mustang to keep the ache from his face when he replies, “I agree that it's unhealthy, Alphonse, but I doubt I have any ability to influence your brother. You saw how he treated me today. Edward is unlikely to listen to anything I have to say on the matter.”

“Sir, other than myself, you're the only one he'll talk to at all. I know he can be rude, but he still goes to your house sometimes, so that's got to mean something... can't you please try and encourage him to open up again?” A note of pleading enters the young man's voice, and Mustang knows he can't refuse.

Shaking his head ruefully, he sighs, “I'll try, Alphonse. Don't expect anything to come of it, but I'll do what I can.”

“Thank you, sir!” Somehow Alphonse manages to fill his voice alone with all the emotion he cannot express otherwise as he bobs forward in a bow. “Please excuse me now- I need to get back to the library before he misses me.” He pauses, then adds, “Maybe if we finish up early, he'll come see you tonight. I hope so. Brother needs to realize that there are other people who care about him.”

Mustang freezes in the process of reaching for his pen. Alphonse is watching him, impassive gaze from an emotionless helm, and the Colonel wishes he could somehow read the thoughts going on behind that blank mask. Does he suspect?

But he is accustomed to deflecting suspicions, hiding his intentions. Recovering smoothly, he retrieves the pen and gives the younger Elric his most disarming smile. “Of course. My door is always open, to both of you.”

~*~*~


Alphonse's words are on his mind when the knock comes upon his door that evening. Rising to answer it, Mustang wonders if the younger Elric had any hand in sending Edward to him that night, or if his assessment of his brother's activities is simply that astute. He rather hopes it's the former, though such an arrangement leaves him unsettled by guilt. Would Alphonse still willingly send his beloved brother to Mustang's home if he knew what they did there?

Edward gives him his customary nod as he enters, shucking his coat and tossing it on the rack, but the familiar nature of the routine is belied by the young man swinging around with a furious snarl. “Nosy bastard. Asking me all those fucking questions today- if I'd wanted to tell you all that shit, I'd have just written it down in the first place! How many times do I have to say I don't wanna think about it!”

Ah, that. “As you told me once, we all have jobs to do,” he replies, straightening the red coat on the peg as he follows Ed to the den. “I imagine you'd rather deal with my questions than, say, General Malvern's.”

Edward pauses in the midst of slipping his black jacket off and draping it over the arm of the sofa. “Okay, I'll give you that,” he agrees, a fraction less angry, and Mustang reaches out to pull Edward into his arms, hold him. But his fractious lover darts back, catching the sleeve of the Colonel's uniform jacket as the older man moves close to him. “Take this shit off, Mustang.”

He starts to shrug the jacket off, until Fullmetal decides he's moving too slow and drags it from his shoulders. Tosses it aside, and all the while Ed's growling a string of unintelligible urgings at him to hurry, hurry. The casual haste hurts, and while the young man's hands are busy with the buttons of his white shirt he says, “Roy.”

Edward stops, squinting up at him. “What?”

“My name.”

“I know it's your name. What about it?”

He shrugs, cloth slipping loosely around his shoulders. “It seems strange, the way you always call me by my last name or my rank.”

Fullmetal hmphs, untucking the Colonel's shirttails with a decisive yank. “What's so strange about it? I've always called you that. Well, that and bastard, and whole lot of other names...” He gives a toothy grin that slowly dissolves as he studies Mustang's face. “Shit.. you're serious?”

One corner of the Colonel's mouth lifts in a self-conscious smile. “After all... this, it just feels impersonal.”

Gold eyes flash, wary, a warning moving in their depths. “It is impersonal. That's kind of the point.”

He leans in, attacking the sensitive place below Edward's ear with lips and teeth, sucking until he can feel the other man's moan vibrating up through his chest. Nibbling upwards, Mustang traces the shell of his ear with a delicate tongue before murmuring against his skin, “This is not impersonal.”

Hands strike his shoulders, hard, jolting him away. “Asshole,” Edward growls, showing teeth. “Stop fucking with me. It better not be fucking personal.”

Mustang sighs, hands stroking up Edward's arms to his shoulders, smooth steel and warm, tanned skin. “Why are you so adamant about distance?” he asks. “Is it really so terrible, that someone might care about you?”

“Shit. Not this again.” Edward steps back, glaring malice as he pulls away from Mustang's caress. His arms cross, clasping each other tight. “Can't you just take things as they are?”

Fullmetal is shutting down, closing himself off once more, and he can't let him do that. “Edward. Please, can't you just...”

“No!” The young man takes a sharp step back, bristling, defensive. His mouth pulls into a tight scowl, almost quivering. “Just drop it!”

Mustang reaches out for him again, but Fullmetal moves to put the sofa between them. “Why can't we even discuss this?” he asks.

“Why do you keep bringing it up!” Edward shouts back, white-knuckled grip on the furniture echoing a face gone pale with anger and pain. “Do you enjoy making me feel like shit?”

This wasn't supposed to happen. Everything is going wrong. “I'm not trying to make you feel like shit,” he explains, anxious to bring the conversation back under control. “I'm trying to...”

“I know what you're trying to do, and I don't want you to do it.” The words are spat out like venom, and the Colonel lets his hands drop to his sides.

“I've only ever wanted to help you,” he says quietly, and receives a sneer in return.

“This isn't the sort of thing that talking about helps, okay? Just-” He tosses his head, eyes wide and filled with something corrosive and ugly just like the Colonel's own eyes, reflected from his mirror in the cold hours of the night. “Just leave it, Mustang, leave it the fuck alone!”

“Not talking about it isn't an option that works either. People are concerned about you, your brother-”

A low growl, wolf-deep, dangerous. “You leave my brother out of this.”

“He's worried,” Mustang insists, “just like the rest of us. You can't possibly think you could hide from him the way you've cut contact with nearly everyone else? It hurts him to watch you isolate yourself. It hurts me, and-”

“Oh, poor you. You need me to spell it out for you? Will that make you feel better?” Edward interrupts, scathing, not waiting for a reply before exploding, “I don't want to feel anything, okay? I don't want it, and I don't need it!”

The young man spits the words violently into the air between them, a furious repudiation that leaves Mustang cold. “Nothing?” he says incredulously, treacherous concern creeping past his carefully cultivated neutrality. “Edward, you can't go through life that way.”

“Fuck off!” Eyes gleaming, the young man trembles as he glares fury into the Colonel's face. “Caring doesn't exactly work for me, alright? Shit, I cared about Benny, and Nina and Lieutenant Hughes, and my m-mom...” His voice strangles out on the last word; he is stark white except for two spots of high color in his cheeks, and Mustang wants so badly to touch him. “It fucking hurts, and it's tearing me apart, and I'm sick of letting it, I'm done, I'm fucking done.”

Silence reigns for a long moment, and then Mustang asks, very quietly, “What about Alphonse?”

He braces for another explosion, but Edward only stares at him, chest heaving. When he finally finds his voice, it's not the aggressive attack Mustang expected, but something soft and uneven. “You think caring about Al doesn't hurt?”

There's nothing he can say to that, and Mustang feels sick at the admission. Edward's face draws tight into a horrifying grimace that alarms the Colonel until he realizes the young man is fighting back furious tears “Every time I look at him,” Edward says in that same low voice, “I'm reminded of what I did. To my brother. My brother. And I every time I touch him... every time I look at him,” - wood cracks beneath his automail hand, arms shaking in their grip- “-I remember that it's my fucking fault!

A deep, shattering breath. “And it hurts. It hurts so much, Al never deserved to be like that, and I never meant-- So maybe... I probably deserve for it to hurt. But I'll always love Al.” He glares back up at the Colonel with glittering eyes, gone cold and forbidding. “But nobody else. I'm not gonna hurt like that for anyone else.”

“Edward, you can't... You can't cut yourself off like that.” Appalling; that's what it is, and he cannot stand by and listen without saying so. “It's not healthy.”

“It's my fucking choice! I can handle it.”

“You're not handling it! Edward, don't tell me to let it go- you came to me for help! So please, let me help you. Just let it out!”

An indrawn breath, eyes widening. “Let it out? Let it- fuck you.” The young man looks positively murderous, teeth bared and nearly spitting in his fury. “Where the hell do you get off telling me that? You piece of shit, fucking hypocrite.”

The sudden rage surprises him, and Mustang only has time to blink in surprise. “What?”

Edward springs around the couch, stalking toward him, and this time the Colonel is the one falling back. “You heard me,” the young alchemist growls, dangerous and low in his throat. “ Let it out? How about you, Mustang? That apply to you too? How the fuck you think you're gonna atone when you don't even know what you did?”

He's never heard this tone of voice from Edward before, and a shivering note of warning sounds through his bones. Very carefully, he says, “I know what I did.”

But Edward will not be placated. “No you don't, you don't know anything. You don't know who you killed. You don't remember, and you fucking well should!”

“How? I was nineteen years old, I didn't know any better.” Terror is building; he doesn't want to think about these things, he can't-

“Oh fuck you, that's bullshit and you know it! How long have you been running from this shit? What's the number, Mustang? How many?”

The Colonel takes another involuntary step back, Fullmetal following relentlessly and he's falling, slipping backwards off the crumbling lip of a precipice he never saw coming. Each question is a sure shot, a cruel blow striking straight for the heart of his disease and casting light into the shadows he'd wanted to leave hidden forever.

“How many people?” A flash of fang; Edward is going for his throat. “Can you tell me?”

I can't, he wants to answer, but his voice has been ripped away. Please, I couldn't...

Edward stalks in a circle around him, face gone feverish white. “You still don't know, do you?” he jeers, the taunt flaying the Colonel's old injury. “You owe them, and you haven't got any idea! Do you? Do you?

Some deeply buried survival sense awakens within him, and in desperation he cries, “They never told me!” and Edward lunges forward with burning eyes.

You never asked!

I'm sorry!, screams inside of his head, staring aghast at the furious young man and Mustang can feel Ishval's winds blowing once again. I'm sorry, I've always been sorry! Don't make me go back there... But Edward rants on, anger making him mindless of the horrific wound he's torn cruelly open.

“When you know,” he snarls, snatching his jacket up from the sofa, “When you can look me in the goddamn eye and tell me how many people you killed, then you'll have earned the right to talk to me like that. And until then,” he favors the Colonel with a scathing look, “I'm doin' it my way.”

He wants to follow, as Fullmetal whirls around to leave, wants to protest, or explain. But his feet are mired in desert sands, and his throat is too tight to speak. At the door to the room Edward pauses, throwing one last furious glare over his shoulder, and the Colonel thinks he glimpses a hint of remorse darkening those golden eyes before he's gone. But he cannot move; footsteps clatter in the hallway, a rustle of fabric as the coat is yanked from the rack; the front door slams and Edward is gone, and it's everything Mustang can do just to keep breathing.

Within his mind, the darkness stirs. The door to his nightmares swings wide and he stares inside, only to see Ishval staring back.

~*~*~


He goes to the office the next day and the days that follow, even though everything inside him feels broken, splintered like glass. He works steadily, and if he is more subdued than normal, it's not enough to warrant attention. But it's just another act, another mask, and when he catches his wan reflection in a mirror he wonders if he has ever been more than just that. A pretense, an excuse. A lie.

Painful days spin into agonizing weeks, and Mustang wonders how he hasn't gone insane already. He still goes through the motions of his job in a haze of exhaustion, and at home he drinks until late at night, when sleep finally chases him down. A few hours, wracked with nightmares, and he awakens to the pre-dawn darkness, waiting for his alarm to ring so that he can rise and begin pretending once more that he isn't falling apart.

Hawkeye has begun eyeing him askance, concern for his faltering productivity evident in her astute gaze, and not for the first time he finds himself idly questioning how much she knows, or suspects. However she says nothing, though he feels her quizzical gaze upon him as he moves through the days on automatic. If he were able, he would wish to reassure her, but he has been carved hollow and has nothing left to offer. It is hard enough to simply make it through each day.

Edward seldom comes to the office now. Nothing short of a direct order brings him in, and even then he is silent and tight with unspoken anger. He won't look at the Colonel, and Mustang is strangely relieved by this, for his shame before the younger man is immeasurable. Look your sins in the eye, unflinching, and never forget; the errors of Edward's past may pale next to Mustang's atrocities, but Fullmetal has never once let himself look away from them. Not like he has.

You spit in the face of your demons, he thinks with an ache in his chest, watching Edward stalk out of his office yet again, braid bristling, shoulders tense. You're nothing like me.

When Fullmetal isn't in the office, the young man and his brother seem to be living at the library. Breda has seen them carrying armloads of books to the dorms, and Havoc confirmed that the librarians have to shoo them from the study rooms every night. Edward has always been driven in his research, and ever since he stomped out of the Colonel's house he has thrown himself into his books and notes with renewed intensity. Perhaps, Mustang reasons, he has found a new way to sublimate his own horrors.

He could wish he was able to say the same.

Glancing down from his office window one evening as he prepares to go home, Mustang catches sight of the Elrics heading back to the dorms from the library. Edward's flesh hand clings to his brother's arm to guide him as he walks, completely absorbed in reading a sheaf of papers clutched in his other hand. Even from the distance, he knows the content of those papers- Mustang can recognize the coded notes he'd had made of Cradshaw's journal. He immediately stands, no thought in his mind other than to go out, try to speak to Edward... but the brothers are gone by the time he makes it outside, and no justification he can think of is sufficient to follow them.

He doesn't sleep at all that night.

The long hours of painful wakefulness give him more time to think than he cares for. He's been dishonest with himself for too long to feel comfortable in confronting these prevarications, but Fullmetal's example stands strong in his mind. It's time to face the things he has hidden from himself, all the truths he's buried. His actions in Ishval, his feelings for Edward- he cannot go forward without acknowledging both. No more lies, no more secrets. If one is to come out, then the other as well. Feverish-tired, he resolves to embrace them all.

But such decisions do not ease his dream-wracked nights. At last, feeling his control slipping and fatigue burning from his eyes, one morning Mustang braves Hawkeye's displeasure and calls in to the office. She is surprisingly accommodating, perhaps having seen through his charade with her usual acumen Hanging up the phone, he hopes he might be able to find some rest during the day, while the sunlight burns away all the shadows.

Returning to bed, he curls beneath the sheet, cheek pressed to his pillow as he watches the curtains billow gently from the morning breeze. Just a few hours, he muses drowsily. Just a little rest, unbroken by nightmares, and he will be able to think...

His eyelids sag, and sleep takes him.

~*~*~


He can feel them out there, men with guns, warrior priests. Thick, oily black smoke rolls along the street, obscuring his view, but even unseen he can still feel their hate. Hidden from his flames, watching him, waiting for an opening to strike... movement flashes in the corner of his vision, a flicker of sand-brown, glint of red eyes, and he falls back, one hand scrabbling desperately for his pocket. Just one moment, one mistake; if he can only get his glove on he'll be safe, but he can feel them bearing down on him through the smoke; gun raising, leveling to aim at his face and he screams his frustration and fear as he fights to work his hand into the rough cloth, and then-

Fire.

~*~*~


His hands shake so badly he can barely dial the phone. Thoughts jumble and collide in his brain, shattering as he tries to focus on keeping them whole, rational. But somehow he manages to recall the numbers, and clings to the receiver as he listens to it ring on the other end of the line.

A click as the line connects. “What?” grumbles a gruff voice, sounding distracted.

It takes a couple attempts before he can make the word take shape. “Edward,” he gasps.

There's a long pause, before Edward's voice sharpens. “Colonel?”

“Edward, I... please...”

“Where are you?”

“Home,” he whispers, broken. “I-”

“Stay there,” Edward commands. “I'll be over in ten minutes.”

The dial tone buzzes in his ear, and he clumsily places the receiver back in its cradle. Shuts his eyes tight to block out the room, but the reek of char and smoke never goes away.

~*~*~


Edward doesn't bother knocking; a brief sizzle of alchemy, and Mustang hears the door swing open. There's a moment of silence, then the clomp of heavy boots making their unerring way up the stairs and then Edward is framed in his doorway, hair windblown and loose about his shoulders.

Mustang watches him enter, sees how his eyes pass over the room, taking in the scene before him. The twisted knot of bedsheets; his gloves, flung far away upon the floor. The scorched bedroom wall, blackened streaks climbing up onto the ceiling, the burnt tatters that remain of the curtains. That bright gaze lingers on the damage for a moment before it settles back upon him, and the look on Edward's face is inscrutable as he toes off his boots, crawling onto the bed alongside the Colonel. “And you say I cause trouble,” he mutters, winding his arms around Mustang's shoulders and pulling him close.

Mustang simply presses his face against Edward's chest, breathing in his clean scent, untainted by fire and ash. He leans into the younger man's support as the tremors that have rattled him slowly abate, feeling safer than he has in weeks. For once Mustang isn't tempted to question the comfort he's offered, letting Edward hold him, appreciating that moment. When the frantic race of his heart has calmed he lifts his head, meets Fullmetal's searching look with a rueful grimace.

“I'm sorry,” he murmurs. “I don't know what...”

A metal hand reaches up, cool fingers gentle as they brush his bangs back. “Don't think about it.”

Mustang captures the automail hand in his. “That's the problem, isn't it?” he asks hoarsely. “Ignoring these things. It doesn't make them go away, they never go away, and I knew that but...”

“Mustang.” An intense gold stare. “You're okay.”

“Am I?” he wonders aloud, and closes his eyes against the pain that surges within him. The arms around him tighten, and Mustang is desperately, pathetically grateful for the warmth of Edward's presence, driving back the shadows and the nightmares once again. It had been so cold, so empty, without him.

The chill returns as the arms withdraw, and for a moment he wants to howl with desolation at their loss. But there's a hiss of a zipper, the susurration of fabric sliding, and then bare flesh pressing against his body. Insistent hands work at his own clothing, and he gives himself over to them, acquiescing to Edward's silent demands. Soon they are skin to skin, desperate and wild and Mustang tugs the young man down with a too-hard grip, lipping at an ear as he grinds against that firm body.

“You came here,” he groans, as nimble fingers stroke his length. “For me. You came.”

Above him, Edward makes an animal sound in his throat. “Don't think about that right now. Think about this...”

The world spins as the young man rolls them over, tugging him after until he's lying atop Edward, his fear bleeding away beneath the rising onslaught of desire. Mustang can barely think; hands and teeth, legs intertwined, and they are somehow locked in a savage kiss that he can't recall starting, but he is losing himself in it and it's the only thing that makes sense anymore.

Mad eyes glint up at him, twin suns. “This,” Edward purrs, wriggling wantonly and guiding the head of Mustang's cock toward the cleft in his cheeks. “This, right here.”

His senses are exploding, all he can feel, see, taste is Edward, all he wants, all he's ever wanted. “Yes. Oh, yes...”

~*~*~


“So... This time it was about you.” Edward tilts his head as he yanks the tight leather pants back up and searches for his belt. “Guess this,” and he nods back toward the bed, “ is helping you too then?”

Mustang watches him, admiring the ripple of muscle along Fullmetal's sculpted torso. “Yes,” he replies, warmth suffusing him as he thinks again, you came. I needed you, and you came. “It does.”

“Ah.” A grin flashes his direction. “Yeah. Kinda figured our monsters would be so busy fighting each other they'd give us both some peace.” Edward grunts as he snatches up the missing article and begins to fasten it about his waist. “So, it's equivalent then. Don't wanna be in your debt anyway.”

It seizes him suddenly then, in the offhand dismissal; it's time, it's so far past time, and this moment may never come again. “It's not just that, Edward.”

Silence. Hands still on his belt, Edward looks up at him, an immediate flood of tension holding him wary as a caged wolf. The brief sense of camaraderie has fled, but Mustang is sick of hiding this, exhausted with pretending. The younger man stares at him, glares from across the bed, and whispers in a thin rasp, “Don't say it.”

He should feel threatened, standing naked and exposed beneath that furious gaze. But all Mustang can feel is buoyant liberation. Almost giddy with this freedom and heedless of the warning in Edward's eyes, he shakes his head. “No. It needs to be said.”

“Don't say it! Don't fucking open your mouth!” Bristling fury; Edward is spitting with menace, advancing around the bed with fists clenched at his sides. “You know I don't want to hear it, don't fucking say it!”

“Edward, I have to. Because I lo-”

Pain explodes along his jaw, and Mustang crashes backwards, falling. One arm catches with a jarring snap on the edge of the bed, and he lands hard on his rump, dazed from the blow. Above him, Edward looms, fists clenched and arms tensed, the knuckles of his left hand reddened from the swift punch he'd thrown before Mustang ever saw him move. Instinct shrieks at the Colonel to duck, roll away, escape the danger radiating from those incandescent eyes, but searching Edward's face he can see past the shield of anger and contempt. Around all of the young man's walls, straight to the cold knot of terror hiding at the base of it all.

“Shut up!” Edward screams, very nearly shaking from the extremity of emotion. “I don't want to hear that shit from you! I don't want that from you! You're fucking everything up!

His jaw throbs. He rubs it, making sure it isn't broken before attempting to speak. “Calm down,” he mutters thickly, tasting blood on his words. “You don't need to shout.”

“The fuck I don't!” Still breathing heavily, face red, but no longer screaming. Fullmetal flexes his fingers, taking a step back, away from the Colonel. His face has a hunted look, and it stabs clear through Mustang's chest to see it there.

“You're fucking things up,” Edward repeats. “You know that can't happen. That was the deal.”

Pulling himself up, the Colonel takes a careful seat on the edge of the bed, watching Fullmetal pace with agitation. “But it did happen. It's not something I planned, and I can't control it, deal or no.”

“I don't want it! I don't want you to care about me, dammit! Can't you... can't you just stop?” Almost pleading, wrapped in desperate rage, but there is so much fear evident in Edward that a piece of Mustang wants to buckle, agree to anything just to make it go away. Instead he meets that furious gaze with silence, compassion and love for this man, just as damaged as himself, swelling within him until Edward whirls away with a curse.

“It's done then,” the young man declares, voice muffled and cracking. “I can't deal with this. I shoulda known... You're too attached, it's over...”

“The hell it is.” Edward spins back around to face the Colonel, who glares at him despite the pain in his face. “Who else is going to take your nightmares away?

Fullmetal's face pales, and goes still. “Fuck you,” he whispers.

“Edward...” A sigh hisses out as he hauls himself to his feet, jaw throbbing at the movement. “I just wanted... I needed you to know. I care about you. I can't keep pretending this means nothing to me. I'm not asking you to feel anything back.”

“That's good, 'cause I won't,” Fullmetal snaps. “Won't feel a damn thing. This doesn't mean anything.”

“Not to you, perhaps.”

Edward looks purely miserable, staring at the door as though longing for escape. “You're a fucking idiot, Mustang,” he finally growls. “You know this won't work. I've got to fix Al, and you've got to take over the world or something, and we could both die any goddamn day.” His head snaps up, hawk's gaze upon the Colonel's face. “I'm not gonna play your fucking game. And you're an asshole for pulling this shit on me.”

Mustang watches as Fullmetal snatches his coat from the floor, shoving his arms through the sleeves with more violence than is necessary. “It's no game,” he replies, and doesn't shrink from the sneer Edward throws at him. Stomping to the door, the young man tosses his unbound hair back over his shoulder and gives him a level, almost calm stare.

“Don't get attached to things you can lose, Colonel,” Edward states softly, his eyes intense and unreadable.

He turns to go, but stops again at Mustang's voice.

“I already lost you once,” he says, quiet, but the words ring with conviction through the room nonetheless. “Don't tell me what risks not to take. I'm not going to lose you again without saying these things.” He waits until Edward turns, meets the sunrise gaze with determination. “I love you.”

He's ready for the retort, for shrieks of anger and abuse. He's prepared to be hit again, and to receive those blows as an embrace. But Edward simply glares at him, mouth drawn into a tight, unhappy bow, eyes glittering. Devoid of wrath, face full of devastation and helplessness. He doesn't deny, or struggle against the Colonel's pronouncement, only stares it down with a horrible fatalism. Then abruptly Edward's expression folds, as though something is about to burst forth and he spins around, one hand clenching on the doorframe.

“Fuck you,” he repeats, but his voice is broken and thin. “Fuck you, Mustang.” And then he's gone.

Date: 2011-09-04 03:10 am (UTC)
ext_27323: (FMA-Roy and Ed kissing)
From: [identity profile] fritz42.livejournal.com
Oh Wow! Welcome back, Rusted Dawn. Strangely enough, I remembered quite a bit of the story before reading this wonderful chapter. Guess that is a mark of a great story, and this chapter fit right along with the rest of them.

The roller coaster ride of emotions that both Roy and Ed experienced was overwhelming. You really pulled us right along with them.

And Roy admitted his love for Ed to himself and Ed! Wow! Ed's reaction to that declaration was both startling in his intensity but not unexpected. I can't help but wonder what the hell happened out on that mission.

This was a fantastic chapter, and you have made my day now that you are back writing it again. And now it is my bedtime. I just had to stay up and read this chapter, knowing if I didn't, I'd just be thinking and wondering about it all night long.

Hugs,
"T"

Date: 2011-09-04 11:19 am (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
It was *so hard* picking up that voice again! This story isn't like most; you can't just wander and in and out of it, and retain focus. I'm having to re-immerse myself all over again.

But it's all worth it, when it works. And I'm glad to hear that it does! I had such a fight with this chapter (obviously, since it took so bloody long for me to update it!!), but if it resonates with the readers, then I have no complaints. Especially since this chapter contains one of my favorite scenes in the story!

Oh, and the mission. Yeah, I don't really know all the details of what happened out there either, only the barest essentials that Ed has deigned to share with me. But I know why it was important; you can kind of extrapolate some of that from what Roy manages to pry out of him. Ed has a lot of tools at his disposal at the moment, if you think about it. ;)

ANYWAY- babbling reply is babbling. XD Thank you so much for reading, m'dear- and thank you even more for hanging on this long, and not forgetting about this little beast. Means the world to me, it really does. <3

Date: 2011-09-04 11:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've just read all fourteen chapters in a row and I can't fully describe how bloody glad I am to have found this story, and how bloody much my heart is breaking for these two right now. I haven't felt this worn down after a fic in *ages* - thank you for the wonderful read although it came with quite a bit of sadface. This is going to be one of those fics that's gonna stay in my head for ages, I know it.

Poor boys ;_; the simultaneous feelings of helplessness and comfort I keep on getting from this fic and how you've kept my on the edge of my chair and biting my nails leaves me breathless. Looking forward to more of this :)

Date: 2011-09-04 11:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pandora-culpa.livejournal.com
Ah... heartbreak and sadface was always the name of the game with this story, I'm afraid. But I'm so glad you took the plunge anyway! And even moreso, that you are enjoying it despite the angst. Believe me, it isn't any more comfortable to write than it is to read, so I totally get the 'worn down' feeling!

And the boys... they are a mess, aren't they? And god help me, I love 'em that way.

Thank you so much for reading this epic monster of mine, and for leaving me such a nice comment. Now that I'm finally back to it (it's an immersion-style fic, and I'm slowly sinking under), I sincerely hope I'll be able to update it again within a reasonable time frame. Anyway, thanks again, and welcome to the crazy! ;)

Date: 2011-09-04 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jupistruck.livejournal.com
Oh wow, I am so stoked to see this again - I really had written it off as one of those amazing fics that would fall away incomplete. Actually going to start at the beginning before reading this chapter. I am just so tickled to see it. =D

Date: 2011-09-04 02:39 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
I feel so terrible that it has taken me this long to get the next chapter out. The scene that was flawed was, unfortunately, an absolutely essential one and at the time I got my initial beta comments back on it, I had *no* idea whatsoever how to fix it. I'm just thankful I finally found a way through it!

And no matter what, no matter how long, I absolutely will finish this. It would be entirely unfair not to. I don't hold with the notion that any writer is unconditionally obligated to their readers, but in this case, I feel as though I really am. There is too much heavy emotion tied up in this story, and to leave it unresolved would be to break an unspoken contract I have with everyone who has suffered along with the boys. And to myself as well, having conceived and executed this monster of a tale this far already.

So thank you, so very much!! And I truly hope this chapter lives up to your expectations!

Date: 2011-09-04 04:48 pm (UTC)
ext_7375: Tsuzuki, OMG yaaaay. (Default)
From: [identity profile] japanimecrazed.livejournal.com
I'm so happy to see this; I'd given up on this story ever being finished. This was an awesome chapter, even if Ed and Roy are breaking my heart. Also, Alphonse is fabulous.

Date: 2011-09-04 07:01 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Ah, I may take forever, but I *will* finish this story! I couldn't not, at this point. And we're so close to the end anyway.

Ed and Roy... *sigh. They're both so messed up, but so damned beautiful being a mess. But oh, Al- this is one of the few stories I've written where I felt like I have grasped Al's character. He's been a lot of fun to insert, and when he appears he regularly outfoxes both Roy and I! But he really is a joy.

Thank you so much for reading, and for hanging with me through the long hiatus. I'll try really hard not to make you wait so long for the next one!

Date: 2011-09-04 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dragonimp.livejournal.com
Ed is so afraid of being hurt again, it's just tragic to watch. But he can't stop himself from caring, even if he is in denial about it. This is tearing them both down, I can see how this might've been a trial to write! But it's beautifully raw and painful.

Date: 2011-09-04 07:13 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
There was a song I wanted to post along with this chapter, but my desktop has a blown power supply, and I'm running everything from my netbook at the moment, so I can't access it. It wasn't the inspiration for the last scene (which was written waaaaay early in the process, and has been patiently waiting in the wings), but it perfectly encapsulates my vision of Ed at that point. ("Rootless Tree", by Damien Rice, if you're interested) I swear, I must've cackled aloud for ten or fifteen minutes the first time I heard it, because it is exactly what is happening in my head there. Ed's 'love song', ha!

But that tangent aside, I am extremely happy that you enjoyed this chapter. Yes, it was difficult to write, but it's totally worth it when I see that it's working as I'd hoped. Even after the super-long hiatus (which I still feel bad about). Thanks so much for hanging with it!

Date: 2011-09-04 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] raceulfson.livejournal.com
I had to go back and reread some before I could make a coherent comment. I love this fic so much. It's painful and beautiful to read - and to watch - Roy slowly erode away. Yet whether he realizes it or not, he seems to be coming back stronger each time. I hope Ed can do the same.

The vibe I'm getting is Ed has determined to sacrifice himself completely in order to restore Al. Being obnoxious to everyone now is a way of making the upcoming loss easier. If I'm right, I sure hope you have a happier ending than the one Ed is planning.

You did a great job on showing the horrible grinding stress of that roller coaster between hope and fear. I also like how Ed brightens and dims with his mood and the situation, and how fragile Roy is. I always liked that Roy looks tough but is a mess inside, whereas Ed could be dismissed as a crippled kid if you didn't know he was solid steel inside. They compliment each other so well.

Poor, worried Al. He has to have an inkling.

Date: 2011-09-04 07:31 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
You have no idea how tempted I am to say something regarding your reading of the characters. But I can't- everything is about to come to a head very soon, and there are only a few chapters left in the story anyway, so anything I say would probably be a spoiler. So I will just chuckle wickedly and tell you that all things will come clear in time.

(that's really no help, is it?)

What an interesting comparison between Roy and Ed you make! I hadn't thought of it that way, but that is a perfect description of them. And explains a lot about why I find them so well matched (and can only reluctantly pair them with other characters). And Al... yeah, I bet he does have some idea. He's always known Ed better than Ed knows himself. (and damned if he doesn't outsmart Roy and I both on a regular basis!!)

But thank you for reading and for the kind words, and I am so glad that this story has a place in your heart. That is really the best compliment of all. <3

Date: 2011-09-04 09:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lynx212.livejournal.com
Wow... just wow the emotion in this was just amazing. I don't know who to feel worse for Ed or Roy but they are both a mess...

Damn well done my dear.

Date: 2011-09-04 11:03 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
They really are a mess, aren't they? And neither one of them is anything like equipped to deal with their problems in a healthy manner. It probably shouldn't be so fun to write these boys in such a trainwreck, but it really is.

I'm so glad you liked it. A lot of work went into this chapter, and it's hugely gratifying to see that it's paying off. Thank you for reading, and for commenting!

Date: 2011-09-05 02:23 am (UTC)
amethyst_koneko: kitty Ed is love! (Default)
From: [personal profile] amethyst_koneko
^_^ He said it! Roy actually said "I love you"! squeee! I was afraid that he wouldn't but he did. <3 Ed's response is as expected tho. :) You know, when I first read this, specifically the part about Ed pulling himself away from everyone, I was of the opinion that he was doing it because he feared that the price he'd have to pay to get Al back would be him losing himself and he didn't want those around him hurt by the loss but now I see that he's doing it so HE'S not the one being hurt. Ed is altruistic but only to a point I see. *wibbles* poor little soul. so much need, so much pain, and so afraid to accept even the tiniest bit of comfort (love?) for it. ;_;

I think Roy needs to do what Ed said - know the number of people he killed and look his demons in the eye. As horrible as it is, if he doesn't face down his demons now they will haunt him forever. :(

You would never know you'd been away from this story for as long as you have *glares* with the way you picked right up where you left off and never broke stride. :) Roy's angst was especially good! "I already lost you once. Don't tell me what risks not to take. I'm not going to lose you again without saying these things. I love you." *dreamy sigh* I'm so looking forward to more of this fic!!

Date: 2011-09-05 11:20 am (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
*hides head* Yeah, I know, it took far too long. I'm sorry. But believe it or not, over that time I pulled it out more than once to try and repair. It just took time and finally gaining traction on it. This story is so much more difficult than any others I've written!

And yup, Roy said it! For all the good it did him, poor fellow. But it really was a necessary thing, for all the reasons he's angsted and worried over. And maybe the important thing was Ed hearing it, rather than accepting it...?

As I told someone else, there is so much I *want* to say at this point, but to do so would be to spoil the upcoming chapters, and there really aren't many left at this point. Though I will say I agree about Roy needing to confront his demons, and I think he's realized that finally. Though his demons are already doing a damn good job on him already.

But thank you so much for reading, and for hanging with Rusted Dawn through the looooong haitus. *hangs head again* I really will try to get the next chapter up a bit quicker- but regardless of when, it will definitely come! Thanks so much!

Date: 2011-09-05 08:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taste-of-water.livejournal.com
*flails* a new chapter!

I was too shy to comment when you posted your last chapter, but I just wanna tell you that this is one of my favorite fics of all time (I re read the whole thing only a couple of days ago)

*goes to read*

Date: 2011-09-05 11:23 am (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Aw, I am like the last person in the world you need to be shy around, believe me! But thank you so much for commenting, and I am really honored that you like my little monster story so much. I hope this chapter will meet your expectations as well. Thank you for reading! :)

Date: 2011-09-05 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elfen.livejournal.com
<3333 This was well worth the wait, as I mentioned for the last chapter. I would much prefer waiting for however long it takes than for you to be unhappy with any chapter you write.

This installment was amazing. I love how the narrative has shifted, and how Ed is the one that came for Roy. I know it won't be an easy road, and I know nothing about their situation guarantees a happy ending, but what an incredible, brilliant journey it will be.

Congratulations on the posting!

Date: 2011-09-05 09:33 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Aw, thanks, though I sincerely hope I'm able to do much better than a two-year lapse for the next chapter! That's just silly!

Luckily, I'm getting my head back where it needs to be for this story, and I'm so relieved that this chapter resonated for you. These two poor, messed up boys... no, I'm afraid they don't have an easy road at all. But then again, it wouldn't have to be so bad if they could just get their heads straight. They are their own worst enemies, I think.

Thank you so very much for hanging with this story, despite my miserable posting times, and for letting me know what you think about it. I hope that as the story winds to its conclusion, you will continue to enjoy the ride. Thanks for reading!

Date: 2011-09-08 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hellbentllama.livejournal.com
wow. it's back!! i had forgotten all about this, it;s been so long, and have had a thoroughly heart-wrenching yet enjoyable time rereading this all in the past few days. so please update soon, and lets have some solace for the boys soon!! >.

Date: 2011-09-08 05:25 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd Mechano)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Yup, it's back! And hopefully I can keep it in motion, so that it won't take another two years to update, oofta!

Glad you enjoyed rereading, and as to solace... do you think they're ready for it? Or, more to the point, do you think they're capable of accepting it yet? *wicked grin*

I'll try to update as soon as I can. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

Date: 2011-09-12 01:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] color2theworld.livejournal.com
I just read this whole fic from the beginning to the end for the first time and I must say for my FIRST angsty Roy/Ed pairing fanfic ,EVER, I really couldn't have found a better one.
Seeing how many people enjoy your writing I hope that you won't let this stay unfinished.
Although This story's premise was the concept of Ed needing Roy for sex I didn't keep reading for that, but instead waited for the inevitable effects and changes of their relationship. Thank you for such a great story!

Date: 2011-12-11 08:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daphne-minor.livejournal.com
OMG YAY!! I am so excited that you're continuing this story. I had been running around reading Batman/Joker slash (don't ask), and I just randomly decided to reread this story and lo and behold, an update! I'm really abusing exclamation points here, but I am super excited that there's another chapter.

“Fuck you,” he repeats, but his voice is broken and thin. “Fuck you, Mustang.” And then he's gone.

The perfect ending to this chapter, in my opinion. Roy has been thinking about telling Ed that he loves him for ages, and I really can't imagine Ed reacting differently. Ed has been in denial about Roy's feelings for him (and his feelings for Roy) and as long as neither of them said anything, he could pretend they were just fuck buddies. But now Roy and gone and screwed everything up by being a sentimental moron, and I can't wait to see how Ed deals with that.

This story never disappoints. I can't wait to read your next chapter!
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