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: Sorry I'm not closing the gaps between these chapters the way I'd hoped. Still- plugging along, and we're very close to the ending now. Only a few more chapters to go now, and thank you to everyone who's been sticking with it. I really appreciate you putting up with how slow I am to update!

As always, gracious thanks go to [info] - personalevil_whimsey for her invaluable insights and assistance. My second set of eyes; I trust them more than my own. Thank you, dear!

previous chapters

“Fucking awful.”

Mustang has to agree. At his side, Fullmetal shuffles his feet, still glaring through the plate glass window at the bodies stretched on hospital beds. Silent and unmoving, staring with blank eyes up at the ceiling while men and women in lab coats scurry among them, examining, recording.

Human chimeras. The Colonel's stomach roils at the thought, though he forces himself to keep watching the examination going on in the lab. A doctor prods one of the chimeras with a small pin, evoking no response whatsoever, and jots a few notes onto the chart he carries; beside him, Edward looks away in disgust. The only reactions from the chimeras come from involuntary reflexes; a tap below the kneecap causes the leg to jump, pupils contract when a light is shined on them. Other than that, there is nothing.

The chimeras arrived with Havoc and Armstrong the previous Thursday afternoon, as well as a handful of former cultists who claimed to be kin. Mustang had met the Lieutenant at the station as he got off the train, watching along with him as nine chimeras were brought out, and one still form in a bag. Havoc had shrugged uncomfortably, chewing a much-abused cigarette. “Died on the way,” he explained. “Nothing we could do about it, she just slipped away.”

Mustang wonders if he is a bad person, to feel so grateful at the loss.

“What are they gonna do with them?”

He can see Edward from the corner of his eye, watching him with an intense gold stare. Mustang doesn't turn, but his mouth tightens. “Continue studying them,” he replies. “What Cradshaw did was repulsive, but biological alchemy of this magnitude is rare. Despite it being morally abhorrent, they still want to know how it was done. The notes on the process were incomplete.”

Edward snorts. “That's disgusting. I hope they don't ever figure out that fucker's array.”

The Colonel glances down at him, quirking an eyebrow, and the young alchemist shrugs. “Yeah, I could tell 'em how he did it,” he says, pitching his voice low. “But I'm not gonna. There are some things they don't need to know.”

Shaking his head slightly, Mustang looks back into the lab. “I could order you to tell them,” he comments, just as quietly. “It would make their job a lot easier.”

He can feel Edward's scrutiny. “But you won't.”

A thin smirk curls his lips, a self-mocking expression. “No,” he agrees. “I won't. I don't think those things are going to last long, anyway.”

Fullmetal makes a hmm sound that could be agreement or a stifled argument. He turns back to the window, and Mustang tilts his head just enough to surreptitiously study the young man. He looks much stronger than he did the previous week, when he was newly returned from the mountain, color brightening his face, the limp vanished from his stride. His compact body exudes strength once again, and the new automail gleams without so much as a scratch marring its surface. As usual, Miss Rockbell had done a remarkable job in a short amount of time, and Mustang is quietly pleased at Edward's rapid recovery.

As if sensing the Colonel's eyes upon him, Fullmetal looks back up at him with that piercing stare. “I want to see Cradshaw's journal,” he says, straightforward as ever.

The journal was something that Mustang had not anticipated seeing in Major Armstrong's hands when the big man joined the Colonel and Havoc on the platform. Just as he could have done without the human chimeras ever being brought into Central, he would much preferred that that ragged notebook had remained hidden forever in the caves. Although much of the writing was the expected ravings of a lunatic, a surprising amount of the commentary was fairly solid work, and likely of interest to the labs.

Mustang had spent several hours reading it, but biological alchemy was never one of his strengths. He dutifully passed the book along to the physicians and alchemists assigned to the chimeras, feeling somewhat tainted by the practices described within, and had been glad to be rid of it.

That Edward might want to see those notes had never occurred to him.

He sighs. “I can't do that.”

“Why not?” Edward demands. “I handled that situation, not any of these idiots. They weren't the ones who nearly got killed finding out what he was doing. Why shouldn't I see his notes? Fuck, I'm twice the alchemist any of them are.”

“It's not a question of your ability. I no longer have control over those documents. It's all in Research's hands now.”

Fullmetal swears under his breath, frustration clouding his face, and the Colonel shifts to face him. “Why are you so interested in Cradshaw's notes? We both know you're not interested in making chimeras of any sort.”

“He was manipulating souls,” the young man states slowly, as though Mustang is being exceptionally dense. “You don't think that might be of some interest to me?”

The Colonel's eyes widen before he catches himself and schools his expression. “I suppose I can see how it would,” he murmurs, turning back to the window. One of the chimeras has been propped upright, and several physicians gather round him as he is fed small bits of bread soaked in broth. The reanimate corpse swallows the morsels automatically, expressing no recognition of the meal, and Mustang's mouth twists bitterly. “With these results, it's easy to forget the theories behind them. In fact, I think I would prefer to.” He moves to leave.

But Fullmetal stays at the window, watching the activity in the lab. “We don't get the option of forgetting,” he replies, voice harsh.

The Colonel glances over his shoulder at the young alchemist, standing straight and still observing the chimeras. “Some things are better forgotten. Didn't you just say that yourself? This... you take too much upon yourself, Fullmetal.”

“And you overlook too much.” Edward finally turns around, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his leather pants, a belligerent tilt to his chin. “I want to see those notes.”

He wants to argue- surely reading the notes of the man he'd killed will aggravate wounds that haven't yet closed- but his tongue won't say the words. His traitorous heart agrees, with its selfish need for Edward, and it has never been easy to tell the young man 'no' anyway.

“I'll see what I can do,” Mustang tells him, and marches away before anything else can be said.


Edward comes to him again that night, and what was once occasional slowly begins to become routine.

The Colonel isn't sure if it's simply the presence of the chimeras nearby, or the fact that Edward goes nearly every day to observe them that drives the young man to his home so often. Alphonse's absence no doubt influences the frequency of the visits as well, creating a void where once a reassuring presence stood by to help his brother through his worries. With him gone, there is also no need for Edward to make excuses for slipping across town at odd hours. Mustang finds himself eagerly anticipating the knock at his door, and is crestfallen on the nights when it doesn't arrive.


“Don't think I'm one of your fucking women,“ Edward says to him, although the protest sounds more hollow and rote than it once did. “It's just sex.”

Good sex, I hope,” he purrs, lapping at the concavity of a hip.

The young man arches, making an appreciative sound in his throat. “Ain't complainin',” he replies in a husky voice.


He tries to tell himself that this is hardly what Alphonse intended when he asked him to watch over his brother; heated skin, hands desperate to push aside clothing. Sharp coupling in the hallway; slower, longer in his bed. Mornings where he wakes alone, others with his arms still full, and he hoards the memory of each of those instances greedily.

But things have changed, the Colonel thinks, some subtle shifting of the dynamic between them. Sometimes they sit in the den and talk; about simple matters like office gossip or local events, even alchemy once in a while. It's the kind of companionship- friendship- that Mustang has missed since Maes died, without ever realizing he had suffered from its lack.


Although he still spends most of his time at the library during his idle days in Central, Fullmetal still comes by the office regularly to berate the Colonel on his failure to produce Cradshaw's journal. He also chafes at the continued restriction, despite reassurances that his report is being reviewed. “These things take time,” Mustang tells him. “Please try to be patient.”

“I haven't got time,” Edward snaps, kicking his heels against the floor. “Al's been stuck like this for eight years already. Time's the one thing I don't have! I need those notes!”

Mustang spreads his hands helplessly. “What do you expect me to do, Fullmetal? Steal them for you? I'm doing everything I possibly can right now, more than I should.”

Edward rolls his eyes, frustrated. “I hate you,” he growls. “I fucking hate you.” A pause, then quieter. “I'm coming over at ten.”

Mustang gives an almost imperceptible nod. “I'll wait for you.”


Vibrant and alive in his arms. Passionate in his bed. And forever beyond his grasp, distant as the sun; he's already burnt himself reaching for this incandescent soul, but Mustang can't help himself anymore. He has found himself somehow within Edward's gravity, his life gradually orienting around his remote companion. Fullmetal has brought some intangible meaning to his existence- he's brought him to life, when Mustang hadn't even known he'd been dead.

But he can't likewise reach Edward.

You do care, he thinks to himself, watching Edward move beneath him, eyes closed, lips temptingly parted. Why else do you come to me? Why me, Edward? Why me?

He tells himself afterwards that it shouldn't matter. Edward comes to him, to him alone, and that should be enough. His own feelings aside, his golden-eyed lover's notwithstanding- Edward comes to him, and he should be grateful.

Why is he going to you now?


It doesn't matter; it shouldn't matter. But it won't go away.


Reclining on his bed, he watches Edward divest himself of clothing, golden and silver and beautiful in the lamplight. The young man moves comfortably, easy with this empty simulacrum of a real relationship, and without any forethought the words spill out.

“Why me, Edward?”

The young man gives him a funny look. “It's a little late to ask that again, don't you think” he replies, tossing his shirt aside and attacking his belt. “You think the answer has changed?”

“That never occurred to me,” the Colonel answers truthfully. “But I'm not certain I ever really understood it to begin with.”

Fullmetal mutters something that sounds like “fucking weird,” and shimmies his pants down his hips. “It's pretty simple, isn't it?” he grunts. “By the time I figured out why Hughes told me what he did, he was gone, and you were the only person I thought could understand.”

It's not much of an answer. “Why would I be the only one though? Havoc and Breda were both in Ishval as well. Why not them?” he persists.

Fullmetal stops, scowling, fingers hooked over the top of his boxers. “What, are you getting tired of this?”

“Definitely not. I just wondered...”

He blows his bangs out in frustration, drops the last bit of clothing on the floor. “Fuck, you're weird, Mustang. Does it really matter why? We're here, we're doing this- wait, are we doing this? 'Cause if you don't want to, just fucking say it already...”

The look on Edward's face is both stricken and defensive, and Mustang leans forward, reaching out to him. “I didn't say that,” he hurries to assure him, coaxing the young man to the bed. “I most certainly did not say that.”

“Okay.” The young man glares at him warily from beneath his hair, but crawls across the mattress, settling next to the Colonel. “And as for why, it was just something Hughes said about what the two of you went through out there.”

Mustang goes still, long fingers catching the sheet in a tight grip. “So you chose me because of what Hughes and I did in Ishval.”

“What-? What are you talking a-” Edward's mouth sags, and a dull reddish bloom spreads across his cheeks. “Oh. Oh.” He swallows and looks away.

Oh well done, Mustang. Very discreet.

Heat flares across Mustang's face as he realizes his error. Of all the stupid assumptions... What had occurred in Ishval had been a private matter, something that even he and Maes had never discussed, after. Things happened during a war that would never occur under normal circumstances, and while his friend had been many things, he had never been careless with secrets. For Mustang to make such a misjudgment of Maes, of all people, would be laughable in any other situation.

Maes had said nothing. And now Edward...

“I thought you knew.”

“No,” Edward says, very quietly. “I had no idea.”

“When you talked me into this, you said that Hughes...”

Fullmetal shifts beside him. “I said that he told me about those three things. Other than that... he said that you'd been through a lot there, just like him. And that I could do a lot worse than going to you, if I ever needed anything.” Edward turns, looks him in the eye. “He never said anything about the two of you.”

There's a long pause before Mustang is able to mutter, “I... see.”

“Hey, don't get freaked out.” It's strange how Edward can sound both reassuring and annoyed all at once. “So you and Hughes did this, it's no big deal. It's not like I care. Not my business if you were fucking Hughes anyway.”

“I didn't fuck Hughes, Edward.”

Edward stares at him in silence, and Mustang can't explain the flash of irritation and shame that cuts through him. It's not as though Fullmetal hasn't done the same thing that he did, but the admission leaves him exposed and he braces for the young man's usual biting ridicule to scathe him. Uncomfortable, embarrassed; feeling weak, and hating that feeling.

But Edward only gives him a shrewd look, seeing, Mustang thinks, far too much. “Fuck, don't worry about it,” he tells him, voice edged in exasperation. “You think I'm in any position to judge?” He leans over, planting a cold, metal hand against the Colonel's chest and pressing him back down onto the bed. Mustang tries to protest, to push him off, but the younger man simply swings a leg over his thighs and lets a little more of his weight rest on the hand planted above the Colonel's heart. “Just shut up, okay?”

Injured pride or not, his body is more than willing to submit to Edward's commands, and he closes his eyes as the other man leans over him to reach the nightstand. The quiet snick of a cap; a cool, wet touch that makes him shiver. He stiffens within that careful grasp, hands clenching in the bedding as he tries not to arch into the body seated atop him. A soft tsk; a gruff voice gone surprisingly gentle. “Relax, Mustang. I mean it.”

Relax, Roy. You're okay, just relax...


As still and passive as he'd been in the desert; he gives himself over to Edward, gives back a little bit of the trust the young man has put in his own hands. Lets Fullmetal move over him, sink down onto him (pressure and straining and then bliss), mismatched legs still tight at his hips, warm and cold hands splayed flat on his chest. Hot, heavy weight resting on his stomach, and then Edward begins to move.


Slow, careful. Edward has always liked sex rough and hard, but he rides the Colonel as if the man beneath him is something fragile. Hands that have always clutched and grasped with painful strength now stroke cautiously along his body; hesitant caresses that make him tremble. Cool metal fingers trace the thin path of black hair down his abdomen, almost to where they join, and he moans softly at their loss when they lift away.

Not since Ishval, since Maes, has he been able to allow someone else to take control like this. It had always felt like weakness, frightening, but with Edward... it's so easy. Almost natural, inviting more trust and promising no pain or judgment. Edward slides along him, pleasure so sharp he nearly cries out and his hands clasp at that firm, muscled waist, not for control, but simply needing more contact. Mustang feels the mattress dip slightly at his shoulders as Edward leans over him, and from behind his closed lids he imagines the heated gleam that will be in those gold eyes, the flush that will warm his bronzed skin...

The rough lap of a tongue across one nipple surprises him, and this time he cannot contain the sound that spills out into the quiet. Every nerve is aflame with sensation, a chorus of aching desire, and Edward has never touched him like this before. Gentle, tender; nearly affectionate, almost caring. That alone tilts him toward the edge, the ragged edges of his heart fluttering in the wake of emotions too great for his body to contain.

"Edward," he moans, eyes finally opening to take in the youth bent over him, encircling him. Bright eyes glance up, glazed with lust and something deeper- something both fierce and soft, quickly shuttered before he can identify it. A crooked grin bends itself across Edward's face and he rolls his hips over Mustang's lap, making the older man groan and thrust up, deeper, more.

“Like that, Mustang,” he breathes, back arching, meeting every pump of the Colonel's hips. “Like that."

He's falling once again, everything dizzyingly out of control, but Edward's legs are locked at his waist, holding him solid and real and so alive. Skin on fire, heart ready to burst from the pounding force of each contraction, and Edward's name spills from his lips again, a plea or a prayer, as the shuddering tremors of his orgasm finally overtake him. Pulsing, shaking, his mind awash in hazy blankness; he's barely aware of Edward's own completion, gasped curses that flutter across his chest on heated breaths. Something skates the edge of his jaw, a butterfly caress, and then Edward flops bonelessly over him, panting from exertion.

Vision and sense return after a few minutes, and Mustang gradually becomes aware of Edward watching him, eyes winking cat-clever in the dimming light. “No more worrying,” the young man states in a scratchy voice and slides off of him, pooling on the bed at his side. “You worry too damn much anyway.”

Mustang catches him by the wrist before he can roll away. “No more,” he agrees, tugging him back so that he can encircle that lithe body with his arms. “I won't.”

Edward wriggles and complains like usual, but finally submits to the embrace, letting his legs twine with the Colonel's as he shifts to get comfortable. “You're a fucking idiot,” he grumbles, and Mustang hums sleepily in response. “Just so you know,” Edward adds, a hint of irritation in his words, but a cool steel arm winds around Mustang's waist anyway. Filled with lazy contentment, Mustang buries his face in sweet-smelling gold hair and simply breathes until sleep ensnares him.


The sharp crack of gunfire jolts him into motion, his body convulsing as the echo rings through his mind. Instinct screams of imminent danger, and Mustang reacts through the fog of sleep to dodge, rolling away from death bearing down on him, air gasping painfully from his lungs. His gloves- where are his gloves?

A hand grasps his shoulders, and he draws his fist back in panic to swing, screaming as his attacker catches his bicep and forces him down, pinning him, his arm immobilized beneath their weight. Terrified, he struggles against the grip, fighting back with every ounce of strength he possesses, desperate...


His name cuts through him like a sword thrust, and Mustang goes rigid. Shadows slowly resolve before him; a ceiling, his bedroom. Edward crouched over him, wide open eyes filled with alarm. A flicker in the corner of his vision makes him glance around wildly, searching for the threat that had menaced him. “Where...?”

“Mustang,” Fullmetal repeats, squeezing his arm. “Snap out of it!”

He's fully awake now, and understanding settles on him, heavy and cold. “I...” he begins, then closes his eyes tight. “Oh fuck...” Adrenaline is racing through him, making his stomach clench and bile rise up in his throat, and it takes great effort to master the urge to fight or flee. But the trembling is beyond his ability to control, his entire body shaking from the flood of fear.

It's been weeks since he's had a nightmare as intense as this. He had hoped that perhaps, they were finally leaving him.

Edward says nothing, but the grip on his arm loosens, becoming more companionable. Possibly it's meant to be comforting; it's an anchor to here, to now, a magnet pulling him from the desert and the screams that still threaten to overwhelm him, and the Colonel concentrates on that touch. Tells himself that he's safe, alive, that Ishval is over...

It doesn't work.

When he dares to look up Edward is watching him, eyes wise in his young face, but still innocent enough that it makes Mustang's stomach wrench with misery. What am I doing, he thinks, heart thudding against his ribs. Is this what I have to offer? How can I claim to care if, in the end, this is what I give you?

And the voices, the fire, the guns are still strong in his memory.

Pulling away from Edward's hand, the Colonel lurches from the bed, unsteady on his feet as he staggers for the door. “I'm sorry,” he mutters, not turning to see the other man's face. “I could've hurt you, I'm sorry, I- that hasn't happened...” Unable to finish his thought, he flees the room, hurrying down the stairs and across the hall to the den.

It seems somewhat indecent to be wandering naked through even the privacy of his own home, but he doesn't care; the liquor cabinet is right there, and his shaking hands nearly fumble the brandy as he pulls the bottle out. He drinks it down; too quickly, but he doesn't want to appreciate it, only feel it burn away the edges of his dreams. The fire of the alcohol chases the memories down, but the drink doesn't erase the stink of battle, the taste of death in the air. Pouring another, he closes his eyes, bringing it to his lips and drinking only a little slower. By the time he fills his glass a third time the alcohol is beginning to take effect, the trembling in his limbs settling as tensed muscles relax.

“Does that really make it better?”

The brandy has slowed him sufficiently that, despite failing to hear Fullmetal's approach, Mustang doesn't startle. He weighs the question, swirling the amber liquid in the tumbler and watching it glint and slosh. “I don't know,” he replies slowly, never taking his eyes off the drink. “I wonder.”

Edward pads closer, his footsteps surprisingly soft. “I didn't know you... that yours were so bad.”

Mustang can't quite manage the grim smile pulling at his lips. “How could you? I don't exactly broadcast the fact.” He stops, setting the glass aside and rubbing his face with one hand. “I thought it was getting better.”

He picks the tumbler up again, draining it, and leans back, toying with the bottle as he considers the merits of another. It will mean going in to the office still feeling the effects of the alcohol, but there's probably no avoiding that now anyway. With a sigh, he tips the bottle, filling the glass yet again.

A hand settles on his shoulder, cold and hard. “Don't,” Edward tells him, the command quiet but strong. “If the others didn't fix it, one more isn't going to either.”

Mustang quells the impulse to laugh bitterly, knowing it's the alcohol and not wanting to alienate the young man offering him support. “Maybe not,” he concedes, taking a light sip all the same. “But it's not going to hurt.”

He can feel the sharp look on Edward's face, burning into his neck. “You've always faced these things alone, haven't you?”

The observation is all too perceptive, but Fullmetal has always been a genius. Mustang is suddenly very aware of the hand on his shoulder, the presence at his back. Aching, longing pangs in his chest, an emptiness that's never been filled, and the Colonel sets the tumbler down hard enough that some of the brandy slops out onto the table. Staring into the glass, with barely any voice at all he answers, “This isn't something I share.”

Fire and ashes, and death brought forth by his hand. How could he share this with anyone? Who could he possibly hate enough to bring into his nightmares?

You don't have to bear it alone, Roy. Maes frowns through cracked lenses, and Mustang shuts his eyes tight against the memory.

I do. I must.

Maes sighs, and Mustang realizes the sound is echoed behind him. The hand on his shoulder tightens.

“You should come back to bed,” Edward tells him. “You're gonna feel like shit tomorrow as it is.”

He opens his eyes, giving the tumbler another considering glance. “I won't sleep.”

“Still better than sitting down here, getting drunk by yourself.” The hand moves away, and Mustang would give almost anything at that moment to have it back again. “You don't have to talk about it, but you shouldn't be alone.”

“Why are you doing this?” The question slips out before he thinks to censor it, whispered painfully. “Since when do you care what I do?”

There's a moment of deep, ringing silence, and he curses himself in the back of his mind for voicing the question; he doesn't want to be left alone. But the thought of being given this compassion now, while he's weak, only to lose it again by morning is devastating.

“It's equivalent,” Edward finally answers, the rough edge of anger scraping the words raw. “You've helped me when things were bad. And I told you before, you need this too. Think I never knew you had monsters in your head, just like mine? I understand, Mustang. Now come the fuck to bed.”

The rush of alcohol in his veins is making him foolish. He wants to protest, demand impossible things; he wants to confess all his hidden feelings and lay them in his lover's lap. But turning, looking up into Fullmetal's fierce expression, is his undoing. Desire and love floods through his body, so strong that it hurts, as painful in its own way as the old wounds of war. He can't help but wonder if it is writ plainly across his face, the testament of every care that Edward has barred him from expressing.

The wrong words, and he risks losing even this inadequate offer.

His heart cries its pain, and Mustang bows his head before the sun-bright gaze. “Go ahead,” he tells the young man quietly. “I'll be up in a minute.”

Fullmetal levels a skeptical frown at him, and the Colonel gives back a glare of his own. “I just need a minute,” he growls and somehow his anger is the right reply, for Edward nods and leaves him, and something akin to despair wells in him that his antagonism is preferable to his affection.

You single me out, and you push me away. How the hell is that equivalent?

There is no equivalence. There is only their exchange of lies, meaningless motions they go through to keep from seeing what's before them. The realization is bleak enough to make the Colonel yearn for the bottle again, but he promised... and even now, he can deny Edward nothing. He closes his eyes, nearly wishing for the familiar horror of his nightmares to overrun the burning loss that fills him.

This isn't going to work.

But Edward is waiting upstairs, in his bed, and regardless of how doomed this arrangement may be in the long run, he is allowed reassurance tonight. Heartsick, Mustang rises to join him, the floor cold beneath his unsteady feet. I've broken my promises, he thinks, maudlin, emotions stripped bare. All for you, Edward, all for you- and you'll never forgive me for that.

I just want you...


Edward watches over him the rest of the night. Somehow, despite the nightmares, despite his own bitter disappointment, curled at his lover's side Mustang manages to find sleep again. When he wakes in the morning Fullmetal is gone, but a fresh mug of black coffee sits on the bedside table, steaming into the pale morning silence.


On the following day Alphonse arrives, with little more fanfare than a call from the dorms to let the Colonel know that Edward won't be in, as he is busy with the newly arrived books. Mustang can imagine Fullmetal quite clearly, so absorbed in his reading as to be completely aware of his surroundings, a thought that brings a twinge to his chest. Wishing them luck in their studies, the Colonel hangs up the phone and rubs his eyes, trying unsuccessfully to push down the nagging disappointment that hovers at the edge of his mind.

It's as though ever since he inadvertently opened himself to Edward, his world has slid just a few degrees out of kilter and Mustang cannot find his balance. Trying to immerse himself in his work only results in frustration, his thoughts straying wildly, and he finds himself wishing that Alphonse's absence had been prolonged.

But Edward needs his brother in ways that he's never needed the Colonel.

Irritated, he throws his pen down, leaving a dark blot of ink on the report he'd been trying to read. What is he thinking? Looking at Edward as though he were someone he could go to for companionship and affection. How perfectly ridiculous. For a moment the urge to leave work early stirs restlessly within him, but he dismisses it with a grimace. An early departure would only mean more hours to fill, empty hours, without Edward and when did he ever begin counting time by Fullmetal's presence?

Stop it! he snarls at himself, furious and helpless all at once. Stop looking for what's not there, what will never be there. You can't expect Edward to give any more than he already has.

But the desire doesn't yield.

Sharp, painful resentment fills him, and he glares down at the ruined report. Stupid- this is just stupid. Fullmetal has repeatedly made clear his disdain for anything more binding between them than their mutual release, but Central is full of people who would be more than willing to pass time in his company. An entire city of choices...

His mood already irreparably fouled, he's willing to risk Hawkeye's displeasure by snatching up his coat and storming from the office before an objection can be raised. Breda calls a question to his retreating back but he pretends not to hear, unwilling to conform to anyone else's expectations right now.

I could call Roxanna, he muses, savagely stalking through the corridors, junior officers darting from his path. She's always happy to see me. Roxanna, with her darkly exotic looks, or Sabine and her lascivious imagination, or Therese, always enthusiastic...

Even with such thoughts, at the junction of two halls his steps almost turn in the direction of the officers' dorms. But the Colonel stops himself short, fists clenching at his sides, and swings about to head toward the motor pool instead. Snags the first driver he sees, and fumes in the backseat as the car winds its way through Central's crowded streets until it drops him in front of his home.

Inside the house, he sinks into the chair at his desk, already rummaging through the drawer until he draws out the black address book, and he frowns at the light film of dust dimming its sleek cover. Has it really been so long since he used it?

Opening the book, he skims the list of names, recalling faces, bodies, as he reads. Memories of evenings on the town, nights spent in twisted, sweat-stained sheets. Hands and mouths sweeter than his most recent lover, full breasts, lush hips. Accommodating, unquestioning; an entire volume of beautiful, decadent women, enough to make Havoc cry with envy, and yet... he is near the end of the pages before he realizes that they hold no appeal to him now.

A frown tugs at his mouth, as he remembers invitations deferred, calls put off. First due to his preoccupation with Edward's disappearance, then because of the young man's presence. Any number of times when, in the past, he would have summoned one of that number but instead reached out to a man who'd as soon hit him as hold him.

Mustang stares blankly down at the telephone numbers, the names, the subtly coded notes in the margins. It's no good. It may never do him good again.

He lets the book drop to the desktop and rests his face in his hands. Falling so deeply for the one person who won't have him- it's such a joke. Nothing, no one else satisfies, and yet he's a fool if he thinks Edward would treat that need kindly. Oh, how Maes would laugh.

The thought rises in his mind, directed at his old friend; I should blame you. Telling him those things, putting ideas in his head. Sending him to me- what did you expect to come of that? Why did you tell him about Ishval?

He casts one last glance down at the book, and then tosses it back into the messy drawer, shoving it toward the back, but it binds against something further in. Frowning, Mustang pulls the book out and reaches back in with the intention of making space, but he stops when his fingers brush smooth wood and cool metal. Unease ripples through him, pushing away his thoughts of Edward, and Mustang cautiously wraps his hand around the object, withdrawing it from the drawer.

Gleaming dull blue, faint traces of oil pooling in the engraving of the Amestian seal, heavy in the palm of his hand. The Colonel stares down with his mouth curled in faint distaste at the service revolver, before his training makes him automatically check to ensure it is unloaded. He hasn't touched the weapon since Ishval. Revolvers were more reliable in the desert, their simpler mechanisms less likely to jam from the insidious sand than the semi-automatic pistol that he carries now. But in the desert he'd had his flames, and this gun had never seen use. Only the once...

He shoves the weapon back into the drawer, slamming it closed as though he could as easily shut the thoughts away. What could have happened, what this gun could have done, is something he hasn't allowed himself to remember since he first put it away upon his return. It is a reminder of a path he could have taken, one that so many other soldiers did- the coward's choice, the fourth way through the hell of war.

At least you didn't tell him about that, Mustang thinks bitterly, wishing for a drink to rinse the bad taste from his mouth. You spared him that.

But mentioning such a thing would be wasted breath; while Alphonse lives, Edward will always persist. Fullmetal has never looked for such an easy way out, and neither his strength nor his pride would ever bend to such a desperate gesture.

He wishes he could say the same for himself.

Alcohol hardly seems amiss now, and Edward is not here this time to scold, nor to offer another way through. The brandy is finished off in short order and Mustang gazes mournfully at the empty bottle, still feeling hollow and brittle, and not nearly drunk enough. His sins crowd him, almost suffocating, and he lets his head fall back against the cushion, eyes closing beneath their weight.

I should be grateful, Maes- you didn't tell him what I almost did.


A week since Alphonse returned, passing in solitude and by the end of it the dreams return as well- formless, the details unremembered; monsters moving beneath black water. They leave the Colonel worn and haggard upon waking, but he brushes them off without thought. There's too much to do to waste time worrying over dreams, and the violence of the nightmare he had when Edward last stayed with him has not resurfaced. He drinks cup after cup of coffee at the office, red-eyed, head aching, pressing on with his duties and refusing to examine the source of his weariness.

But when Major Armstrong arrives, bearing a well-stuffed, plain manila envelope, the Colonel cracks his first smile in days. He sends Fuery to the officers' dorms with a summons, and advises the young Sergeant not to let Fullmetal put him off. “It's in his interest to show up,” he says, “and you can tell him that if he gives you any problems.”

Still, it's a couple of hours before a familiar clanking in the hallways heralds the brothers' approach. The Colonel glances at the clock as he rises, moving to lounge in the doorway of his office to await their arrival. Eagerness has nothing to do with the calculated pose, but his insouciant mask wants to slip into a grin as Edward scowls his way through the door.

“Fuckin' bastard,” Fullmetal grumbles. “We were working. What the hell do you want?”

“The simple pleasure of your presence,” Mustang replies, and this time the smile escapes as the young man's expression sours further. Havoc snickers from his desk, and Edward extends his glare in that direction for good measure. “But as it happens, there's work to be done even for those on restriction. Come with me.”

The Colonel can hear Fullmetal cursing under his breath as he follows him into the office. Inside, the young alchemist doesn't bother with sitting, instead folding his arms across his chest, a portrait of inconvenienced annoyance. “What?” he spits again. “Is it really not enough to keep me tied down here, that you've got to pull me away from useful research to assign me busy work?”

“Idle hands, Fullmetal,” Mustang replies loosely, unlocking a drawer on his desk and pulling out a heavy packet. “Wouldn't want you wandering off where you might get into trouble.” He levels a knowing look at the other man- fishing, although he's had his suspicions- and has the satisfaction of watching Edward color beneath the scrutiny.

Oh, interesting. So it seems that Edward has been considering how to break into the chimera labs.

“Asshole,” the young man sighs, finally stepping over to the couch and flopping down. “So what waste of time do you have planned for me now?”

Mustang dangles the envelope from casual fingertips. “More research,” he replies. “I don't think you'll find the work too onerous.” With a flip of his wrist, he tosses the parcel to Fullmetal who snatches it neatly from the air.

“Oh, fucking great, like I don't have enough I'm trying to read now, gotta add to the damn pile...” Edward's complaints ramble on as he opens the flap and pulls a wad of papers out. But they trail off in a hiss, eyes widening as he takes in what he holds. The Colonel can see connections being made as Edward sifts through the words to the deeper meaning beneath. Lifting his head, a golden gaze pins Mustang where he sits. “Is this...?”

“The best I could do,” Mustang answers, keeping his voice low. “Coded, out of necessity, but I assumed that you'd be able to see through that with ease.”

Those bright eyes drop once again to the papers, where the Resurrectionist's research is disguised as architectural notes, before darting back up to meet the Colonel's. “Thank you,” he says quietly, and something in Mustang's chest squeezes in joyful pain.

A dismissive flick of his hand. “I told you I'd see what I could do,” he answers, letting his attention fall on the stack of paperwork he'd been working on before the Elrics' arrival. It wouldn't do to show too much to the perceptive mind behind those arresting eyes. “But make sure you remember to be suitably irritated at my excessive demands.”

Edward snorts, and despite himself he glances up to see the young man favor him with a thin smile. “Like I'd forget,” he says. “You're still a bastard, after all.”

“Of course.” He returns a dry smirk of his own, and Edward rolls his eyes. Standing, the young man stuffs the papers back into the envelope but pauses, eyes darkening thoughtfully.

“You gonna be around tonight?” he ventures.

His captive heart beats its wings against his chest, as the world seems to right itself. “I think I can manage to be,” Mustang tells him, keeping his voice casual with some effort. Fullmetal nods and slouches out the door, his entire body expressing reluctance and bad temper. He considers calling after him, a demand for a report on his reading, just to hear the young man rant. But he lets it go, a small smile curling the edge of his mouth, as he bends to his work. There's much to be finished before this evening.


Although not as often as before, Edward continues to visit the Colonel at his home. Habit or the sham of a relationship, Mustang isn't sure, but he slowly becomes aware that, except for Alphonse, he is the only person with whom the young alchemist interacts. On his infrequent visits to the office, Fullmetal holds himself aloof from casual conversation, only extending the tersest of responses to direct questions and never offering anything more personal than basic courtesies. Alphonse seems to have picked up on it as well; more than once the Colonel overhears him trying to engage his brother in conversation with the rest of the office staff, only to be quietly rebuffed. That restraint bothers Mustang most of all; for Edward, always alive with energy, such reserve speaks of forethought and some deeper intention.

But the opportunities to speak to Edward about his reticence are few. The time he spends in the office is brief, and while the young man still comes to his door at least once a week, the Colonel is selfishly unwilling to trade the little time he has with Edward for questions that will likely go unanswered. But they worry him, all the same.

Two months after Fullmetal returned from the mission in the mountains, Mustang finally receives approval of the young Major's report, freeing Edward to travel again. Not half an hour later a mission briefing is delivered to his desk and Mustang is too pragmatic to see it as coincidental. And after reading the documents, he knows that there never was a choice in the matter, for anyone.

The order is sent out, and the Colonel waits for Fullmetal's arrival.

When the young man stomps into his office, the Colonel is standing before the window, staring out over the city. He doesn't turn as Fullmetal kicks the door shut, listening to the uneven shuffle of feet heading unerringly toward the sofa. “So what is it this time?” comes the raspy grumble, accompanied by the sound of a body hitting overstuffed cushions.

The Colonel waits another moment, watching a group of young soldiers jogging a circuit of the parade ground outside. His mouth tenses, and he turns to face the alchemist sprawled across his furniture. Eyeing the elegant line of exposed neck, Edward's chin tilted back as he examines the ceiling tiles with a bored expression on his face, he feels his throat tighten momentarily, emotion overtaking him before he clears it with a cough.

“I received your report back today,” he says, seating himself behind the polished desk and folding his hands.

Edward rolls his head to stare at him. “Yeah?” he grunts, eyes brightening with interest. “What's the verdict?”

Nausea sweeps through the Colonel, but his face remains blank. “The generals passed it, and you are once again free from restriction.”

“That's great!” He's standing in one sinuous motion, muscles rippling beneath his tight shirt as he swings his arms wide. “Now me an' Al can finally-”

“Sit, Fullmetal. We're not done yet.”

Edward snarls at him, pointedly remaining on his feet although he ceases moving toward the door. “I'm not your fuckin' dog, Colonel Bastard. What the hell else is there?”

The Colonel's mouth twitches; he can't control the frown that plucks at his lips. “I have a mission for you.”

Gold eyes widen. “Already? Fuck, not wasting any time, are you?”

He meets the disdainful stare, his own gaze filled with ice. “Believe me, Fullmetal, I wish it wasn't my duty to send you into this.”

That sobers the young man; his defensive stance doesn't relax, but his voice softens just a bit. “What is it?”

The folder was already prepared before Mustang summoned the young alchemist, and without a word the Colonel pushes it across the desk. “There have been some disturbances along our southern border with Aerugo,” he says tonelessly. “Murders, disappearances. It had been left for local authorities to deal with until now, when word came that the town of Fareth has been obliterated. Completely wiped out. Not a single soul is left alive there.”

Edward frowns. “Sounds more like a job for regular military,” he comments, leaning a hip against the desk and taking up the folder.

“Soldiers couldn't handle this,” he answers, and Fullmetal glances up in surprise at his dark tone, brows drawing together. At the questioning look, the Colonel sighs and nods at the folder.

“There's only one person responsible for these acts,” he explains, trying to ignore the way his stomach leaps and shivers. “An alchemist, and an Aerugan, by all appearances. He seems to be slipping back and forth across the border while committing his crimes. We're still awaiting word through diplomatic channels to find out if he's attacking in Aerugo as well, but we can't wait any longer to send aid to our citizens. He has to be stopped.”

Trepidation fills him, fears that he cannot voice as either commander or lover. Of all times for such a thing to happen, why now? Why, after Edward was so recently returned to him, still healing from the mental wounds of his last mission? The words of the briefing had been sparse, but the few facts that it told were more than enough to chill Mustang to his core. Sending Fullmetal to the cult in the mountains had been bad, not having any idea what he was sending the rash young alchemist into. This time he knows, and it takes every shred of training and control to keep the emotion from his voice, and his eyes steady on Edward's.

The young man lounges with easy nonchalance against the desk, still frowning, but unperturbed. “So, another crazy alchemist?” he says, cocking his head, golden bangs covering half his face. “Doesn't sound all that bad.”

Mustang draws a deep breath, hands clasped tight once again on the desktop. “Bad doesn't begin to encompass this. Fullmetal... he doesn't use an array.”

The young man stiffens, his eyes going dark and distant as he stares into a past that the Colonel cannot see, but can imagine all too clearly. A darkened room, a twisted, dying form, blood everywhere...

It's a little too close to his own nightmares.

But Edward- always strong, always the brave one- shakes himself just a little, straightening from his slouch with a hard expression. “So he's seen it too...” he murmurs, then shrugs. “Whatever. Guess I'll grab Al and go get our shit together. I'm sure you'll want us on the first train available, so we'd better get moving...”

Tucking the folder beneath his arm, he turns away, but not before the Colonel catches a glimpse of the haunted distance that has opened in his bright eyes. It sears his heart and not for the first time, the Colonel hates the military and his duty that demands he once again throw Fullmetal headlong into horrors that would make any other man incapable with fear.

That there is no one else who can take this on only makes it worse.

And Edward doesn't shrink from this burden although the Colonel knows how very aware he is of his mortality; Al needs him, his goals pull at him, and yet he will not yield, never stops. Straight-backed and jaw set, Fullmetal will stare down hell and all its demons without flinching, and he is about to walk out of Mustang's office and into whatever awaits him at the border...

Last chance. Without thinking, Mustang calls after him. “Edward...” Voice barely a whisper, thready in the quiet of the room. “I'm sorry.”

The alchemist hesitates, looking back over his shoulder, and for a moment the chill in his eyes recedes.

“Don't worry about it,” he replies, quiet but serious. “We've all got a job to do, right? It's okay.”

Mustang holds his gaze, desperate to impart things he cannot say, not here, not to Edward. “Be careful.”

Fullmetal snorts, but a crooked smile cracks through his irritation. “Fuck, I told you before, stop worrying.” And then he's gone, out the door and out of reach once more, leaving Mustang with an echoing pain he'd hoped never to feel again. Gold and black; Edward's image burns on his retinas, and the Colonel mouths the words he can never utter to his lover's face to the shadow in his mind.

He could swear he feels the moment that Edward's train steams away from the station.

next chapter

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September 2011

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