setting the stage

Ed noticed the sound of footsteps echoing his own about halfway between the library and the dorms. He neither sped up nor slowed down, and kept his hands in his pockets.

When he found a series of lit streetlamps, he stopped in the halo of the first one. The person behind him stopped as well.

Irritated–who’s so small and puny that he looks like an easy target?!–he turned.

Roy Mustang raised an eyebrow at him, in a relaxed posture that mirrored Ed’s. “Fullmetal,” he said, “you’re out late.”

Ed relaxed fractionally and rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah, it’s just you.”

“‘Just’ me, Fullmetal?” Mustang strolled forward, something dark and intent in his gaze. “That’s cold.”

Ed set his feet more firmly and resisted the sudden urge to back up. “What do you want, Colonel?” Unease made his fingers curl, but he still kept his hands in his pockets.

Mustang continued his steady advance until they were less than a handspan apart. The sense of another body too close to his own made Ed twitch, but he refused to budge, especially away from Mustang’s smirk.

“What do you want?” he asked again.

Mustang did not answer verbally, but he raised a gloved hand and cupped Ed’s cheek. In spite of himself, Ed flinched from that direct contact–even long ago, when it didn’t matter so much, he’d preferred his personal space. The roughness of Mustang’s glove was shockingly real, one and the same with the warmth of his hand.

“I worry about you, Edward,” Mustang said, eyes narrowed and sleepy. “Is it such a crime, to be concerned for your well-being?” He began to lean forward and down, and the hand on Ed’s face slid around to tease at his hair.

The puff of warm air on his mouth, a split second before contact, galvanized Ed into action. He jerked back with a startled noise and swung with his automail fist. It missed Mustang’s cheek by a hair, and immediately Ed spun himself around into a high kick. The dodge carried Mustang right out of the glow of the streetlight, and there he stopped.

“What the fuck was that?!” Ed stabbed an accusatory finger at the man. His hand shook slightly, but he ignored it. “You asshole, what–”

“Aw, Ed,” said Winry, lifting her head. “That’s so mean, and we haven’t seen each other in so long…”

Ed’s throat closed. When Winry stepped back into the light, he stepped back. The automail leg held firm, but his other knee trembled, and threatened to buckle. Winry continued to smile at him, but the expression he remembered from childhood was perverted, changed into something wrong.

Winry should not look at him with those eyes, part of his mind gibbered. The knotted dark strip of cloth that bound her breasts should not hang so low, and it was too cold to be showing so much skin–

He brought his hands together, the sound of his clap ringing in the stillness. When the transmutation finished, he aimed the knife-point at the stranger, scowling. “Who the fuck are you, and what do you want?”

“It’s me, Ed,” Winry said, and placed a finger against her lips, pouting at him. “Just because I’ve grown up a little…” She shifted forward another step, and tilted her head to one side. One hand settled over her heart, toying with the edges of the tie. “Haven’t you missed me?”

He resisted the urge to gag. “Don’t fuck with me,” he snarled. “Especially not with that face–!” He launched himself forward, bladed arm drawn back. Winry recoiled slightly, her face surprised for a moment as lines shifted, blurred, and then–

–“Brother,” Al said. But it wasn’t Al as he remembered him, but Al as he imagined him, lean and strong and taller than him, damnit–

Ed stumbled, lost his footing, and stumbled directly into the imposter’s arms. He hung there for a moment, dazed, and then immediately tried to backpedal. Al’s arms closed tightly around him, though, one hand firm against the small of his back, and the other curving around the base of his skull.

“Oh, Brother, don’t be like that,” Al murmured into his hair. “Isn’t this what you wanted? To be able to touch me like this again?”

Ed shoved at the narrow chest against his own with his left hand. “Fuck you,” he wheezed. “Let me go–”

Al released his head only to catch his chin, jerking his face upwards. The eyes that looked down at him were glittering and cold, nothing like Al’s at all. Fingers splayed open wide against his back, pressing them tightly together.

“Hello, Brother,” Al said, and kissed him.

Ed went stiff for a moment, frozen to complete and utter rigidity, his automail arm dropping uselessly to his side. He stared, wide-eyed, and Al looked right back, tawny eyes daring as a tongue swept across his lips and a leg slid between his own to shift against him, knowing–

(Mustang’s hand on his face)

(Winry’s knowing smile)

(Al–Alphonse, right there–)

With a tremendous heave, Ed tore himself away, lashing out with the bladed arm as he did. For a moment, the edge connected and caught on something solid, and he thought he heard a gurgling cry of surprise. He jerked his arm back, and felt something warm and sticky splatter his face, the air suddenly filled with the smell of blood.

Al clutched at his side, eyes wide with shock and betrayal. A thin, dark line trickled from one corner of his mouth. “Brother,” he sighed.

Ed shook his head, backing up. He was almost to the far end of the light, and he thought he could feel the darkness all around him, ready to close in with hungry smiles.

“Brother,” Al said again, and this time there was a very distinct, liquid gurgle in his voice. He reached out, and even in the yellow sheen of the light, it was easy to see the color of the dark stains on his palm were red, not black.

“Fuck you,” Ed whispered, in a shaking voice. “Fuck you, fuck you, just–fuck you.” He pointed the automail at the stranger again, flinching when Al lurched a step forward. “If you ever–try that face on me again, I’ll–”

“Brother,” Al said, and then his face contorted. “Brother, it hurts.” He looked down at himself, at the blood staining his pale blue shirt, and then up again. Tears stood in his eyes, which was ridiculous because Al had stopped crying a year after their mother died–

“Brother, it hurts.”

Ed choked. One foot slid back, and then the other, carrying him out of the spotlight. Al reached for him again, only it wasn’t just Al, but every face he’d known in his life, people from Rizenbul and Central and East City, all bleeding and dying and begging him, it hurts, Edward Elric, it hurts

He bolted, almost stumbling in his haste; only sheer coincidence kept him on his feet.

In the morning, Al found him in the lobby of the dorms, curled up on a ratty old couch and looking as though he had not slept the entire night.

“Brother, what’s wrong?” he asked.

Ed looked up at him, and the sick relief that spread in his eyes pained Al, in the place where his heart should have been.

“It’s nothing,” Ed said, and when Al was about to protest, he held up a hand. “At least, it is now.”

And though Al asked for a full month afterwards, even as they began packing for the mission to Liore, his brother never explained.

***

“Enjoyed yourself?” Lust asked dryly, when he slunk in.

Envy twitched, then straightened, rubbing the back of his neck. “Heh. Got caught.”

Lust came away from the wall, and before Envy had time to blink, he found himself pinned to the far wall by the long, sharp spikes of her fingernails.

“That boy is vital to our goals,” she said, twisting her hand a little, so that one sharp edge pressed against his neck. “Neither Father nor myself want to see him broken, do you understand?”

Envy swallowed hard and nodded.

“Good.” Lust retracted her nails and stepped back. He sank to the ground with a feeble cough, rubbing his throat. “See that you remember that, Envy.” Without checking to see his response, she turned and sauntered off, her form quickly swallowed by the shadows.

Envy rubbed the side of his throat and scowled. “‘Remember that,'” he mimicked, a sneer twisting his lips. “Sure, you old bitch, I’ll remember that.”

He picked himself up and dusted himself off. Briefly, he thumbed his mouth, and then allowed himself a single, toothy smile.

“You remember me, too, you Fullmetal brat,” he said to the rising sun. “Sooner or later, you’re not going to be able to run away.”

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