Rating: PG for this chapter. NC-17 overall
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24252 / 50000 words. 49% done!
So... I was sort of more excited about the two upcoming chapters than I was this one. That's why this chapter took a little longer than it was meant to. On the bright side, the next couple should be up soon. :D
Ed followed Edward down the street, eyeing the buildings they passed. This version of Central was the same but not, as if the streets of his home had been set in a different time, with different shops on roads he’d walked a thousand times over. Some things were identical, the bank one corner they passed had been there in his world as well. Mostly, though, the differences were a bit startling, leaving him disoriented. He walked next to Edward, glad someone at least knew where they were going.
Finally, they reached a small café. It had been a bar, he was pretty sure, in his world. He tried to remember what he’d managed to catch of Edward’s flailing description of the place. The words had tumbled over each other in their haste to leave his mouth and Ed had only managed to decipher bits and pieces.
He did remember something about tables outside, though, and true to Edward’s words, there were a few. They were quaint, iron wrought affairs, each set along the tan stone walls of the building. Each was accompanied by two chairs and a vase full of daisies. They’d no sooner taken a seat when a waitress came out, offering them each a glass of water.
“I’ve not seen you in ages,” she chided, setting Edward’s glass down in front of him. He smiled awkwardly and scratched the back of his neck.
“It’s been kind of busy lately,” he offered up in explanation. She nodded before turning her attention to Ed.
“And who’s this?”
“Oh, uh, this is my cousin,” Edward paused, trying to come up with a name.
“Ian,” Ed finished, smiling awkwardly.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Lisa,” the waitress replied, dropping his glass down neatly in front of him. She took their order and promptly left them.
“What was that all about?” Ed asked after she’d walked away.
“Oh, I used to come here a couple times a week on my way to work. They have good food and I was usually in too much of a hurry to bother cooking,” Edward explained.
Ed wasn’t sure how he was meant to feel about that. On the one hand, Edward was letting him in on something he didn’t already know about his doppelganger, regardless of how mundane it was. On top of that, he’d changed his routine for Ed’s sake, it seemed like. He was jarred from his thoughts by Edward reaching across the table, tugging on his wig.
“It was slipping,” Edward murmured with a shrug. He seemed more relaxed now, no longer babbling so quickly that Ed couldn’t make out the words. To be honest, Ed hadn’t understood half of what Edward had said. The only thing that stuck out at all was his insistence that this ‘wasn’t a date’. Perhaps it shouldn’t have inspired so much speculation, but it wasn’t as if he’d suggested it was, so why would Edward have brought it up at all if he wasn’t thinking about the possibility. Then again, maybe he’d thought about it and decided Ed wasn’t what he wanted and was just letting him down easy. In the end it didn’t matter, he supposed. He shouldn’t be attracted to this other him in the first place.
Ed willed that line of thought away. After all, there were plenty of things that were more pleasant to think about. He glanced across the table to where Edward leaned back in his chair, staring idly at the cars that passed by them. He sighed softly, ruffling his bangs with his breath and Ed shook his head. Why was he even noticing things like that? This was ridiculous.
Ed tried to think of something to say, anything that would break the silence. Nothing came to mind that wasn’t boring or dangerous ground, and so he remained silent. He couldn’t help the relief he felt when Lisa came back with their breakfast. At least now he had an excuse not to be talking.
Two bites in and he had to admit, this place made pretty damn good pancakes. He looked up to tell Edward as much, but what he saw made him pause. Edward seemed to have forgotten his food, his eyes a little dazed. There was a hint of a smile etched across his lips, and Ed guessed his counterpart was daydreaming about something. He was sort of glad now, that Edward had dragged them to a table outside. The midmorning light bathed them both. It made Edward look like something soft and warm, as if he’d never seen the horrors the world had to offer, as if his smile wouldn’t dissolve into a tirade of angry curses at the slightest provocation. Ed watched, feeling a little guilty for taking advantage of Edward’s distraction, but he couldn’t help but stare. His breath caught in his throat when he realized that it was him Edward was staring at.
Edward flushed slightly, eyes darting off to the side, and for a moment Ed’s chest tightened painfully. Edward had noticed him staring, surely, and there was no excuse, nothing but the truth of the matter would make sense.
“S…sorry. I was just…thinking how funny it is that we got the same thing,” Edward stammered.
“Huh?” Ed asked, completely perplexed. Did that mean Edward hadn’t noticed? Then… that meant Edward hadn’t been staring at him because he was irritated that Ed was looking at him… Ed tried not to hope, mentally berated himself for wanting to hope at all. It wasn’t natural to be attracted to his doppelganger, wasn’t something he should want, even if the feeling was mutual…which it wasn’t, of course.
“I guess I wasn’t listening when you ordered. I didn’t even notice until just now,” Edward explained, motioning to their plates.
“Oh, yeah. Well, I guess it makes sense. I mean, we’re an awful lot alike.” Ed willed himself to relax again, now that he knew he hadn’t been discovered.
“It kinda makes me wonder, you know? Just how alike we are. I mean, we drink our coffee the same and stuff… but what about other things?” Edward stopped talking in favor of shoving a bite of pancakes into his mouth.
“Other things? Like what?” Ed’s heart hammered away in his chest. Maybe, maybe that meant Edward was having the same reaction. He didn’t dare ask, didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize Edward’s friendship towards him, but just the thought that he might not be alone in his miserable attraction was oddly comforting.
“Well, I don’t know… really. Doesn’t it make you wonder, though? I mean, like that. You’re holding your fork the same way I am,” Edward exclaimed, shaking his free hand at Ed.
“Everyone holds their fork like that,” Ed replied.
“Okay, maybe that’s a bad example. I just wonder… weird stuff, if we walk the same or sleep the same way… or…or…I don’t know,” Edward trailed off, looking agitated for a moment, but the expression faded quickly.
“Yeah, I understand. I kind of wondered that too, but it seemed like a strange thing to ask about.” Ed allowed himself to admit that much. After all, it was a far cry from telling Edward that just that morning he’d found himself wondering if they kissed the same, tasted the same. It was a bad line of thought, and he recoiled internally, afraid that something of his feelings would show on his face. He knew himself enough to at least realize he was terribly easy to read if one knew what they were looking for.
Edward didn’t seem to notice, though, and gradually he forgot to be worried. Their conversation strayed to Edward’s project and Al’s theoretical kitten that would probably be at the apartment before they got back. Eventually, a comfortable silence settled between them as they finished breakfast.
“Thank you,” Ed murmured, scraping the last of his pancakes through the syrup that had run together to form a puddle in the middle of his plate.
“For what?” Edward looked up, chewing absently on the empty tongs of his fork.
Ed shrugged, “Everything I guess. I mean, giving me a place to stay and stuff. Today, too. It’s nice to be out of the house for a change.”
“Yeah, sure, no problem. I guess I’d get pretty tired of being cooped up there too. There’s only so many times you can read Tolsen’s Guide to Biological Alchemy before it just gets annoying.”
Ed nodded, grinning in spite of himself. “So…what now?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess we could walk around and look for something that sounds fun,” Edward replied, glancing around, probably for Lisa.
“You know, I never really thought I’d have a day where I even let myself think about doing things just for fun,” Ed commented. He felt rather guilty, actually. Every moment he spent socializing with Edward, relaxing in the sun or wandering around this version of Central, or whatever they ended up doing, was a moment he wasn’t making progress towards getting home. Edward must have noticed his change in mood, and frowned slightly as he replied.
“You’re allowed to relax, you know. I know it isn’t an easy concept… I never got it when it was my Al I was trying to make things better for, but you can’t be working all the time. We’ll find a solution, okay? But, in the meantime, you’re going to be here for a while. You don’t have to make yourself miserable… Al wouldn’t want you to, and you know it.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Ed admitted. He might have said more, but Lisa came back then with the check. Edward paid her and got up, motioning for Ed to follow.
They walked quietly, side by side, and Ed allowed himself to take in the city. It was much like the roads they’d walked to get to the restaurant, eerily familiar but not. Often, it was the same buildings, hung with different signs, and it was all so disorienting, he couldn’t help but be glad to have company so at least someone knew where they were exactly. Their earlier conversation was almost completely forgotten until Edward spoke again.
“So, did you leave anyone else behind?” he asked, looking as if he felt bad for even posing the question.
“Like… like what? Like a girlfriend or something?” Ed panicked for a moment, that this topic might be a little too close for comfort.
“Yeah, I guess.” Edward was still walking forward, but his head was turned to look at Ed.
“No. I never really thought about people that way, I guess. I mean there was Al to think about, and there was never time, and it wasn’t like I ever stayed in one place that long, anyway.” Ed stopped abruptly, suddenly aware he was just rambling at that point.
“Oh.” The look on Edward’s face was indecipherable, something Ed wasn’t altogether familiar with. Whatever it was made him a bit uncomfortable.
“So, what about you? Did you ever have a girlfriend?” he asked, trying to direct the conversation away from himself.
“What?” Edward squeaked. “I… who the hell would I date?”
It was difficult not to laugh at the way Edward flailed about. Ed wondered if he got that animated when he was flustered, and immediately wrote it off as an impossibility.
Their walk eventually took them to the gates of Central Park. Here, at least, was familiar. They walked along a cobbled pathway Ed had traversed many times in another world. Even the trees were the same here, as if this one place was untouched by the invisible chasm between their worlds.
“It’s all the same,” he murmured, pausing to really look, searching for something different, out of place, anything to remind him that he wasn’t home.
“What’s the same?” Edward asked.
“All of it. This place looks just like home. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I never left.” Ed sighed, his mood a bit tainted, weary already of this place he did not belong in. He moved forward, again, trying to hide the pain he felt. He’d get home. He would no matter how long it took, no matter the price. In the meantime, he’d just have to find a way to cope.
As if the heavens themselves shared his mood, the first patters of rain sounded on the path ahead, not moments later. Ed had hardly noticed the clouds creep across the sky, drowning out the sun, until his face was damp. Despite the dreariness of it all, the water felt nice, and he managed something like a smile.
“I guess that’s our cue to head home,” Edward grumbled, glaring at the sky. For the briefest of moments, Ed allowed himself to fancy that Edward was angry at it for ruining their “not a date”, that it was just because they were out together. In the end, though, he decided it was probably more along the lines of home being a long walk from here, and the weather’s promise to have them soaked by the time they got there.
He followed Edward out of the park and down a sidewalk, vaguely aware of where they were headed. As they walked, the rain began to fall harder, pelting them in earnest. Ed was honestly a bit surprised when his double’s mood seemed to brighten.
“Hey… I’ll race you,” he challenged, grinning at Ed through rain sodden bangs. They both took off down the sidewalk, splashing through the beginnings of puddles as the concrete passed beneath their feet. Ed yanked his wig off as he ran, the water making it itch against his scalp. Everyone outside was too busy trying to stay dry to notice them, anyway.
Ed wished he could say he was surprised that they reached the building at the same time, both reaching out to press palms against the brick building, leaning hard as they gasped for breath. Edward laughed, then, and everything else was forgotten, save for them and the rain.
The trip up the stairs was far easier than Ed remembered. He colored a bit as he recalled the last time, weary and feeling half dead. Edward had been so rough and terse with him at the time, it was hard to imagine it would only take a month for them to be here. Now, it was as if that day had never happened, as if they’d always been something like friends. It was a pleasant feeling amidst all the bad things that had happened, as if this aspect of his life was a safe harbor in the middle of a storm.
“You gonna stand in the hallway all day?” Edward asked, looking expectantly at Ed. Ed shook his head briskly and followed Edward to the bathroom as quickly as he could, trying to keep from dripping too much through the rest of the house.
It was a strange thing, being in the bathroom with Edward. The close quarters made him uncomfortably warm, reminding him oddly of their fight the day before, and of his earlier curiosity about what it would be like to kiss his double. More than that, though, was the large mirror that stretched the length of the bathroom counter. It was more than wide enough for them to stand side by side, gazing into its glassy surface.
Ed looked from his own reflection to Edward’s, and back to his. He’d been aware of their resemblance, saw Edward every day, and himself every time he came in here. Until now, though, it hadn’t truly sunk in. Their features were all identical, save for the automail on opposite limbs. They were the same down to every last eyelash. He glanced desperately at the curve of Edward’s jaw, trying to find the difference that allowed him to see his double as something…pretty. He certainly didn’t think of himself that way, and looking at himself in the mirror didn’t elicit the strange, wanting responses that Edward did. It made no sense. He felt rather sick and narcissistic, because that was the only explanation he could come up with.
Edward appeared similarly entranced by their similarities, openly gazing at them both. That, at least, made Ed feel a little better. Maybe they really were going through the same thing. Still, he was afraid to ask. Pushing Edward into a corner like that would be a terrible way to repay his alter’s kindness.
“You know, I knew we looked the same, but it didn’t really completely register until now,” Edward murmured. He looked a bit pale, like there was something wrong with this particular realization, but Ed refrained from pressing the matter. Instead, he grabbed his towel from its rack. He pulled it to his head, roughly ruffling his hair with it so that at least he wasn’t dripping everywhere. When he looked up again, he nearly choked at the realization that Edward was pulling off his shirt.
“W…what are you doing?” he asked, trying desperately not to stare at the broad expanse of Edward’s chest, now that the shirt was gone, flung into the bathtub.
“Al will kill us if we get the floor all wet. At least water kind of belongs in here,” Edward shrugged, blushing now that Ed was actually looking at him.
“Oh…You have a point,” Ed admitted. He fingered his own shirt nervously for a moment. One by one, he worked the buttons loose, unsure why it was suddenly so embarrassing to be without it. They were the same after all. It wasn’t like he had anything Edward hadn’t already seen.
When he worked up the courage to look up again, Edward was working his automail foot out of his pants. He stood up, revealing a scar Ed had missed in the dim light the night before. It was faded, but still rather vicious looking, stretching diagonally across his belly from a few inches above his ribs downwards, disappearing below the waistband of his boxers.
“How’d you get that?” Ed asked, reaching out unthinkingly, his fingers barely brushing along part of the scar. Edward shivered, eyes widening for a moment. He jerked away as if burned.
“Chimera,” he said simply, not offering anything else in explanation. He looked obviously uncomfortable, and so Ed dropped the subject. Things were awkward enough as is, what with them both half naked and damp in the bathroom.
“I, uhh…think I’m going to go get some dry clothes,” Ed announced, finally. It was strange, how reluctant he was to leave. The more time he spent actually talking to Edward, the more he liked him, the more he wanted to reach out and touch him. It shouldn’t hurt that Edward still recoiled sometimes, didn’t divulge everything about himself, but for some reason it did.
“Yeah, okay.” Edward answered, his voice a bit hollow. Ed stepped around him to go through the door, trembling when his shoulder slid against Edward’s back. He didn’t look back to see his double’s reaction, didn’t dare risk it when he was barely holding himself in check.
He didn’t know how to explain what he felt. He certainly didn’t know what he was meant to do about it. Ed was sure, though, that it was something he needed to get sorted out before he started working with Edward.