Rating: Eventual NC-17. PG-13 maybe for this chapter
14449 / 50000 words. 29% done!
I don't actually have anything interesting to say about this chapter. XD I'm still quite a bit behind on my word count, but theoretically I'll be caught up soon, so I suppose expect another chapter soon. I'm actually really looking forward to finishing it so I can go back and edit it into something more polished.
Edward dug through the closet, for once glad that Alphonse was so over enthusiastic about making sure he had plenty of “presentable” clothing. It wasn’t like he wore half the stuff in here anyway. With an absent sigh, he yanked a few more things from their hangers, hauling the arm full of clothing back to the makeshift guest room.
“Sorry they don’t fit quite right. It’ll have to do until we can sort something else out,” Edward muttered, holding the clothing out, pushing garments into Ed’s arms.
He wondered if he should be hurt that Ed looked so surprised. Honestly, what kind of bastard did his alter think he was? Still, Ed was giving him a faint, lopsided smile and speaking again. “Thanks, you know… for everything. You didn’t have to.”
“I know I didn’t have to,” Edward sputtered, arms waving, mostly for effect. He couldn’t have Ed getting the wrong idea, thinking he liked him here or something. It was just… well, what if he was telling the truth? Besides, even if there was some other explanation, Ed was obviously lost and alone, he it wasn’t like he was heartless enough to just stand by and let him suffer. Besides, it was just clothes. It wasn’t like he was handing him the keys to the universe or something.
Ed was smiling though, weakly, but it was there. Edward’s first reaction was to throw a fit, because after all he’d done, his double was laughing at him. He didn’t, though, instead taking in the change a quirk of the lips brought over Ed. He actually looked a lot more pleasant now that he was smiling. His brow, that Edward had thought might be perpetually wrinkled as much time as Ed spent frowning, was smooth now, and he looked almost… soft. There was no way he looked like that. Such a strange thing, really, looking at this person who was and was not him.
“Well… thanks, anyway,” Ed spoke up, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
“Uh, yeah, sure. It’s fine, I guess,” Edward replied with a shrug. He turned to leave, pausing in the doorway. He wasn’t sure anymore if he truly disliked Ed, wasn’t sure that he wanted to. After all, maybe they weren’t so very different. He didn’t exactly trust Ed, but he supposed he could put up with his presence for a while. He could always kick his double’s ass later if it was a mistake.
“Just…don’t make me regret it, okay?” He left then, a little overloaded, fleeing for the quiet of his own room.
Edward flopped down on the unmade bed, staring idly at the ceiling. He’d thought maybe a little space would help him decide what to make of all this, but it really didn’t. All he could remember was the last time he’d even looked at this bed, there was someone else who looked like him in it.
Edward replayed their conversation, over and over, in his head. It sounded honest. Also, there were things he couldn’t discount, things Ed had said that didn’t sound like someone else’s story, things he remembered, as if they’d lived the same timeline up to a point. And what if Ed was telling the truth? At least if he was just telling stories, Edward could kick his ass and send him on his way, if he was telling the truth, it offered a whole new set of problems. This wasn’t meant to be a long term situation, but what if there was truly nowhere else for him to go?
He wanted to talk to someone, to affirm he wasn’t going entirely mad, wasn’t just over thinking it. He considered waiting for Al, but he didn’t even need to talk to his brother to know how the conversation would go. It had been Al who’d suggested they take Ed in, and some part of Edward that wasn’t troubled by all this wanted to joke that stray Eds were what he got for not wanting a cat.
In the end, he picked up the phone and dialed another ironically familiar number. It was strange, now that Mustang wasn’t his boss, he was far more inclined to voluntarily speak with the man. It helped that Roy was far less of a bastard when he wasn’t giving orders. It had nothing to do with Edward himself simmering down a bit. Nope, absolutely not.
The phone rang, once, twice, and then it was picked up.
“Uh, hi,” Edward replied.
“Edward?” Mustang sounded the tiniest bit surprised. “Is something wrong?”
“No…Well, not exactly.”
“I know this situation is stressful. If it’s too much trouble, I’m sure I can find another place for your… houseguest to stay,” Roy offered, and Edward couldn’t decide whether to be angry that the man seemed to see right through him even through the phone line.
“No, it’s not that, really. I just… I don’t really know what to make of him.” Edward relayed the conversation he’d had with Ed. Roy listened quietly until he was done.
“It’s just…creepy. It’s like he’s talking about my memories sometimes, like… for a while we lived the same life or something,” Edward finished.
“Well, there are a few possibilities. It’s conceivable, I suppose, that he somehow found out obscenely detailed things about your life.” The way he said it, Edward swore he could hear the man laughing at him, and scowled at the phone receiver.
“It isn’t funny, Mustang. Why am I the only one who isn’t all ready to just take him at his word? I mean, not that it’s an impossibility, but…”
“Edward, he’s exactly like you. Well, not exactly, but very close. I know this comes as a great surprise to you, but you’re not a very good liar,” Roy pointed out. Ed snorted but ignored the comment.
“Anyway, perhaps you’re just too close to the situation, him being you and all.”
“Yeah, I guess, maybe.” Edward sighed into the phone.
“If there’s nothing else, not that I don’t enjoy talking to you, but I have work to do,” Roy murmured.
“Oh, yeah… I guess it’d be a real shame of Hawkeye caught you screwing off talking to me.” Edward managed a smile at the stifled snort of laughter that crackled through the phone.
It changed nothing, but if Roy honestly thought he had nothing to worry about from this doppelganger of his, perhaps he truly didn’t. As much as he hated to admit it, he trusted Mustang, and Mustang read him like a book. Heck, Mustang seemed to read everyone like that, and if he believed Ed’s story, he guessed he couldn’t write it off.
Feeling marginally less troubled, Edward emerged from his room. He wandered to the living room to find Ed lost in a book he’d left on the coffee table. It was a few moments before his double even noticed his presence.
“Oh, umm… sorry. I was kinda bored, and it looked interesting.” Ed hastily put the book back, looking marginally apologetic.
“No big deal. It’s just a book,” Edward replied with a snort. He plopped down at the other end of the couch, and picked up some notes he’d worked on earlier. Some part of him noted with satisfaction, the way Ed eyed him, like he was every bit as weirded out by the situation as he was. Maybe, he conceded. Maybe Mustang was right.
Bit by bit, the tension that sang in the silence between them began to ebb. They relaxed at opposite ends of the couch, noses buried in their books for a long while before either of them spoke.
“So… what do you do now that…” Ed didn’t finish, only gesturing vaguely in an effort to get his point across. Still, Edward was pretty sure he understood. Ed had probably never considered what he’d do with himself once his quest was done. Edward knew he certainly hadn’t. His life had fallen into his lap almost a year ago now, and he still wasn’t always sure what to do with it.
“Al insisted I work on getting my limbs back,” Edward began. After all, it was no secret what he was doing. He supposed they could safely talk about this. Ed’s eyes flicked from the pages he’d been reading up to meet Edward’s, waiting for him to continue.
“So, I’m the head of a research team for this firm. We’re working on medical uses for alchemy.”
“You’re not in the military, anymore? Err… sorry, I guess I assumed because I was, and then Mustang showed up and… I don’t know anything about how much alike our lives have been. Were you ever in the military?”
Edward nodded. “I was. I’m not now. I guess after everything, Mustang managed to convince them I was too washed up for them to try to force me to stay. Hasn’t kept me from finding a decent job, though. Besides, this lets me work from home if I want, and focus on the research end.”
Ed was looking at him strangely, and he realized perhaps he’d said too much. “What do you mean, washed up? It’s not like you’re dying or anything… right?”
“No, no I’m not dying. It’s a long story. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.” Ed stared at him as if searching for something, gaze drifting over Edward from head to toe in a way that almost made Edward want to blush. In the end, his double just shrugged and went back to his book, not pressing the issue, and Edward sighed in relief.
Maybe someday he’d tell Ed what happened. Someday was not today.
“So, do you really have to use blood to transmute?” Edward glanced at the clock. They’d been here for hours, silently reading, occasionally passing notes back and forth. Ed was surprisingly helpful, a fresh set of eyes. They thought enough alike that he picked out the things Edward would have found important, and it was a bit of a relief to be getting through the stack of books he was using twice as quickly.
“Mostly. I mean, I can do a few little things without it, like transmuting my automail,” Edward replied, shrugging absently.
“Doesn’t it slow you down, though? I mean, sometimes it’s really important to be able to transmute quickly, and, fuck, what if you don’t have a knife or something?” Ed looked a little wide eyed, and Edward was fairly certain he was picturing trying to make a dainty cut with his automail blade. He couldn’t help the snort of laughter that bubbled at Ed’s expression.
“All I have to do is clap. I transmuted this so to kind of… streamline things,” Edward explained, holding out his automail hand. At the base of the middle finger was a small spike, designed to draw blood when he clapped. Ed’s eyes narrowed, and he reached out, grasping Edward’s hand in his own to examine it more closely. His tongue darted out, stuck between his lips, and Edward wondered if that was how he looked when he focused. Surely, he didn’t, because it was sort of cute, and he was not cute. It must be something unique to his double.
“What if you need to use your automail for something you don’t want to risk, uhh… killing with a spike?” Ed asked, fingers brushing Edward’s palm as if he could learn what he wanted to know by touch alone.
“I told you, I can manipulate my automail without drawing blood.” Ed pressed a human finger gingerly against the spike, human hand sliding against Ed’s. His double flinched at the contact for a second, but didn’t seem to consciously notice. He watched in amazement as the spike sank back into the metal, smoothing over as if it had never existed.
“Well, that’s convenient,” Ed conceded, only then seeming to notice their hands were still touching. He jerked back a bit, sheepishly rubbing at the back of his head, and pointedly buried himself back in the book he’d been reading.
“I guess so.” He watched Edward, debating how much was really a good idea to explain.
“So… how do you make it work? I couldn’t transmute my automail in the hospital,” Ed asked, looking up again in genuine interest.
“Blood acts as a catalyst, like…opening the door when someone is knocking. Alchemy draws energy from you body, using blood as a focus point, so unless you allow it to, nothing happens. It only works on automail because it’s like you’re just circulating energy, you don’t really lose much like you do with other transmutations. The thing is, though, you have to really be concentrating on it. Not everyone can do it. Plus, the human body has somewhat of a failsafe. Drawing blood bypasses it, but I’m told that there was a time people could transmute without it, and your body would force a transmutation not to work if it was something that would seriously harm you. Heck, you were in bad shape, even that little thing might have been enough to kill you.”
He’d almost forgotten how interesting basic theory could be, but there was Ed, listening intently, his eyes large and luminous, and it was starting all over again. Edward wasn’t entirely surprised when Ed looked to his own automail.
“If you can do it, I should be able to too, right?” He shut his eyes in concentration and clapped his hands together, biting at the inside of his lip as he tried. Light flashed weakly, as if the alchemy itself was lethargic, might rebel at any moment. The seconds drew out, longer than Edward ever took to pull this off, but finally, there was a blade.
Ed’s expression flickered somewhere between pride and embarrassment, and he looked to Edward, obviously waiting for some sort of response.
“That you managed it at all is pretty amazing. Like I said, most people can’t do that,” Edward said, hoping it was reassuring enough not to set Ed to sulking.
“I’m not most people,” Ed retorted cockily. He was practically beaming at Edward, though. Edward grinned back, wondering why he’d been worried in the first place.
He swore the clock had started ticking louder. Then again, it could have just been the fact that he was finally ready to admit defeat long enough to put his book down and make dinner.
“Where are you going?” Ed asked, not looking up from his book. The fact that he’d noticed at all sort of surprised Edward.
“Making dinner. Al and I trade off,” Edward replied, ready to scowl and flail at Ed if he so much as thought about implying there was anything girly or weird about him cooking. It was relaxing and he was good at it, damn it.
“You cook?” Ed looked surprised, but not terribly amused, and Edward relaxed a tiny bit.
“Yeah.” Edward shrugged, and he couldn’t say he hadn’t somewhat expected the footsteps that followed him to the kitchen.
“In fact, you can help, since you’re gonna be here for a while and all.” Edward suggested once Ed had joined him in the kitchen, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as if unsure what to do with himself.
“Uh, sure, I guess. I mean... I was so busy all the time, I never really learned how.” Ed flinched like the admission hurt, and it was all Edward could do not to laugh.
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you easy stuff to do,” Edward teased, grabbing a tomato from and tossing it to Ed, who looked at it as if it were completely foreign to him.
“There’s a knife in the drawer there.” Edward pointed to a counter beside Ed. “Just cut out the bit at the top and chop it up.”
Edward left Ed to that in favor of dicing an onion, sautéing it in a pan with ground beef. When he finally looked up, Ed was only halfway through the tomato, and it mostly looked as if it’d been brutally massacred by kitchen knife. Ed was glaring at it, scowling like he could scare it into doing what he wanted it to.
Edward snickered at the sight, but came over to help anyway. The scowl previously reserved for the wayward tomato was turned on him, but he ignored it.
“Here, like this.” He grabbed the remnants of it, gently pulling the knife from Ed’s fingers. Edward deftly sliced through it and a few more, tossing the pieces into the pot.
“I’ve never done it before,” Ed grumbled by way of explanation, as if there was something highly offensive about there being something in existence that he wasn’t good at.
“It takes practice,” Edward conceded. He pulled another pot from a cabinet, holding it out to Ed.
“Here, fill this with water.” That got another scowl as Ed tried to work out whether Edward was being insulting or not, but he did as he was told, setting it on the stove when he was finished.
In the end, they got dinner made without much trouble. They were talking, exchanging stories, at least so far as Edward deemed safe, when Al returned.
“So I got to the coordinates he gave me, and it was a farm,” Ed paused for emphasis , “It was a fucking dairy farm.”
“The bastard!” Edward replied, chalking Ed’s dislike of milk up to another similarity between them.
“See, I have no idea how you can possibly be friends with him. He’s such a bastard,” Ed muttered, though there was no malice in his words.
“Eh, he’s not so bad. Also, he’s ridiculously bad at cards. That helps, I think,” Edward replied, back to Ed as he stirred the spaghetti sauce.
“Are you sure it’s not just because you’re a terrible cheat?” Al asked, grinning when both Edward and his double jumped.
“I am not!” Edward argued.
“No, of course not. I’m sure that suspiciously good hand you keep up your sleeves is just for good luck.”
Ed looked a little awkward watching the siblings’ banter, and Ed felt a little guilty. It must be hard not having Al.
“Anyway, we finished making dinner, and it is theoretically edible,” Edward announced.
“And neither of you is dead or unconscious,” Al noted happily.
Dinner was an animated affair, and after a while, it stopped feeling strange to have a third person at the table he usually shared with only Al. Now that Ed seemed to have regained some measure of hope about his predicament, he was friendly and animated. It was hard for Edward to remember, in the midst of it all, why he felt the need to be so wary.
In the quiet afterwards, when Al had gone to bed, and they were sharing books back and forth, reading interspersed with conversation, Edward conceded that Roy was probably right. He wasn’t ready to trust Ed yet, not completely, but maybe in time. For now, Ed at least made an interesting study partner, and everything had to start somewhere.