Ed: A loud repetitive clacking sound permeated my sleeping mind. I tried ignoring the sound, wincing and grinding my teeth against the way the rapid clack, clack, clack integrated into my dream. When my eyes slowly fluttered open, they quickly latched onto the scenery speeding past outside the window. Jerking upright, I stared at the passing fields and the fence posts that almost seemed to dance against the landscape like butterflies in the air. I'm dreaming, I told myself. Soon, I would be feeling that foreign sensation of automail ports in my right shoulder again and the echo of pain in a limb no longer there. I would look to my left, smile and the suit of armor my brother was bound to, and strike up a conversation with the only person I valued beyond all else. It was a dream of the past, one I'd been having more and more frequently as of late. I had been just a boy and like the child I had been, I had taken my aptitude and my abilities with alchemy for granted. It had been the given factor of every equation and every occasion to me. Yet each time I had the dreams of those times –of the bizarre missions, of the injuries and the people and the roads and the trains, of Maes and family and automail arms, of snow and Ishbal and Xerxes and the dwarf in the flask– I would cling closer and closer to them. Those days, with all their horrors and pain and purpose, became the very dreams that kept me alive. A warm hand ruffled my hair. "Are you awake now, Edward?" a smooth and familiar voice asked. Startled, I pulled closer toward the window, noticing suddenly that my arms we both still flesh. There beside me sat Mustang. It hit me like the curl of his flames: this was no dream of things long past. I'd never traveled with Mustang by train –let alone, without Hawkeye or Havoc or one of the others! "Where are we going?" I croaked out, my voice barely audible. He handed me a cool bottle of water. "East City." Clenching my hand about the bottle, I stared at him. "Why?" "Because we've missed you, Ed, and staying in Resembool, isn't helping you right now. I know East City might not have the best memories for you, but at least it doesn't hold the worst." I knew who the 'they' referred to: his subordinates. We'd forged some incredible bonds through the most impossible situations imaginable. When I'd given up my alchemy, I'd counted myself useless to them and walked away –from them and the military of Amestris. But now... well, Mustang was right: staying in my hometown was causing new wounds to surface and old ones to fester. He was right, but that didn't mean I'd tell him so –that part of the conversation remained unspoken as always. Mustang and I had a certain understanding between us, or we had, a long time ago. I would be reckless; he would rail at me. He'd have a point, so I'd argue something else. Every visit to his office tended to turn into a screaming match for a while there, but gradually, something other than the flash in the pan anger we'd started out with began to develop. I wasn't sure exactly how many years had passed while I was under his command before all of that anger turned into something a lot more like respect. It seemed odd, considering that as long as I had known him he'd been a methodical manipulative bastard, but Brigadier General Roy Mustang was an idealist. He dreamed of a better, stronger Amestris where no man would be forced to kill innocents or see the sort of things State Alchemists often had to see. So he'd put his strategic mind to work, looking at situations and doing the best to manipulate an advantage or a favorable outcome. Though I had been his strategic advantage often enough, I couldn't resent the man his dreams –especially when he only looked to improve instead of control. "How is everyone?" I inquired, twisting the lid off the bottle and taking a few deep swallows. "Elysia's getting so big," he told me with a smile. "Gracia doesn't know what she'll do when she finally gets the rebellion part of the teenage package. Jean and Riza just got a place together –right next door to Breda and Rebecca. They asked if there was anyway I could help them move in." I tried to smile. "That I can do." Physical labor had become a specialty over the last few years, because I could work and work and work until I tired myself enough that sleep was effortless, deep, and empty. He wore the smile that hadn't made it to my lips. "They'll be glad of that." "What about Fuery and Falman?" He rolled his eyes. "Fuery and Falman are sharing an apartment so they don't have to live in the dorms. Imagine Winry living with a neat-freak and you'll have the basic idea." "Well, that will be a reality soon enough," I admitted. "Al's finally getting the nerve to tell Winry he's crazy about her. They probably better talk to Fuery and Falman or Al will kill Winry with her wrench one of these days..." He arched a brow. "I thought she was rather enamored of you." "She was," I returned wryly, "but she can read the writing on the wall just as well as anyone else." Those dark eyes traced my expression slowly. It was as though the words washed over him and he came to a staggering realization. "You... you tried to be straight, didn't you? For her." Flinching, I tried to pretend that it didn't hurt me so much that I'd hurt her. "Not just for her –for me, too. She's my best friend and I have no wish to face the rest of my life alone." He scoffed. "Liar. You forget how well I know you. I'll give you the 'not wanting to spend your life alone' part, but it was a penance to you, wasn't it." I knew by the way he spoke that it was clearly beyond question and supposition –this was fact in his mind. And this was what I hated about the god-forsaken man: he could always read me so damn well!
Roy: "Who in the hell is he, Ed? Who is this man that makes you punish yourself?" I asked –no, I demanded of him. I knew without a doubt that I'd hit the nail on the head when I called it a 'penance'. The way he curled into himself and tried to hide from me was unmistakable, because I had rarely seen such behavior from him. His voice was somber and calm when he replied, "It's none of your business who he is. It only matters that I don't have the slightest chance with him, and that only matters because I'm not sure I can bring myself to forget him, let alone love someone else." Love. So Ed loved this unattainable figure of his? It was one thing if it was something as simple as lust. Lust was predictable and easy, and when it faded, it was easy to move on. Love meant vulnerability and risk and trouble. But it also meant that Ed had committed himself to this mystery man, bound himself to him in such a manner that defied the law he had always lived by. "To obtain, something of equal value must be lost" -the Law of Equivalent Exchange. It had been the guiding principle he lived by for his first two decades. But love... love was more fickle than that. One could love and not be loved in return. One could be loved, but not in the way they wished to be. What's more, love was an extension of trust, something Ed gave less freely than I did. This man... he had to be something absolutely incredible if Edward Elric loved him. He sighed heavily. "So what about you?" he asked, not even veiling his attempt to change the subject. "How have you been, Brigadier General?" He didn't trust me enough to give me the answer. It was painful to have the fact revealed to me so roughly, but I would never gain the trust I found myself craving if I continued interrogating him. He'd intended to create distance by using my rank instead of my name –though, now that I thought about it, he'd always referred to me that way in the early years. Had there always been so much distance between us? Which one of us was really responsible for that? I had been his superior, but I knew that at times, he felt incredibly used. I knew that he had emotional needs that weren't being met. I knew that being a State Alchemist was likely to be more of a burden to him than anything else. Shouldn't I have done more to reach out to the boy who'd been more man than anything at age twelve? I wasn't sure what mask to wear at this point, so I decided against donning one at all. "Pretty much the same as I've always been. I'm on vacation –that's why we're heading to East City. A friend of mine has a country house out there that they insisted I use to take a break." He laughed at that. "It sounds like you've been working hard... or has it been hardly working? Is Riza still your task-master?" I nodded. The office was pretty much the same as it had always been. The only thing that was missing was him. I tried to shake off the thought, but it stuck much too closely. Had I missed him so much more than I realized? Silence fell between us and several miles passed us by before one of us spoke up again. Surprisingly, it was Ed who spoke first. "So, do you have someone special? I mean, everyone else is all neatly paired off: Riza and Havoc, Breda and Rebecca, Fuery and Falman, Al and Winry..." He shrugged, as if it didn't matter, but I could almost hear him thinking, Am I defective or something? "No," I admitted, laughing slightly at my own chagrin. "I've yet to find someone who can overcome my reputation and be an asset at my side." He shook his head ruefully. "What a clinical approach to forever. Life isn't a chess game, Mustang. Aren't relationships meant to be based on more than strategic advantages?" Sighing, I met those golden eyes. "If you mean love... well, you know as well as I do that love is hardly equivalent exchange. And I'm not saying I intend to marry the first woman I meet who can do those things; just that they are the first things I really look for in a partner." He set his chin in his hand. "If a marriage isn't built on things that will last, it will quickly fall, just as a foundation of sand leads to a house's collapse. I hope you choose her based on more than just her face and her will-power. You need someone you can trust, Mustang. Someone who can be a support when you need it." I blinked at that, stunned to hear those words. Hadn't... hadn't Maes told me something similar, more years ago than I cared to recall? And hearing the words out of Edward's mouth –Edward, who was so heart-sick he couldn't even return to his home for fear of his brother's rejection because of his sexuality; Edward, who was so in love with a man that it was destroying him because he would never have him– struck a strange sort of note in my head. Having only spent around 22 hours with Ed, I could see how this love was tearing him apart. Yet it was strange to hear the normally jaded man express such idealistic notions about things like relationships –especially since he wasn't coping well with the darker side of his love. Closing his eyes, he leaned back against his seat. "I know you don't want to hear it, Roy, but you shouldn't run from love. Sometimes, it's the best damn thing that ever happens to you and sometimes it half-kills you, but love –love is what separates us from the beasts. Love is what keeps us from being surrounded by millions of people and still feeling alone. It's the most precious and most powerful thing on this planet."