Rating: PG-13 for this chapter. NC-17 overall
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27001 / 50000 words. 54% done!
Edit: So I'm lazy and just copy pasted this whole first section from my last chapter. Apparently, this induced fail because it meant I had the same little note here that was on the last chapter. >_<;; Anyway, this is the chapter I was all excited about. It's got some back story for Edward among other things.
The weekend flew by, the awkwardness of ending up half naked in the bathroom with his doppelganger eventually fading. Al brought home his kitten, which promptly decided it favored Ed. He was very vocal about his unhappiness about the fact, and so no one commented on the way he seemed perfectly happy to pet Mr. Snuggles when he thought no one was looking. He almost looked disappointed when the kitten followed Alphonse off to his room when bed time came around.
Monday morning, Edward stopped by Central. If anyone would be willing to help him get someone who shouldn’t even exist on his team, it’d be Roy.
“You sure about this?” Mustang asked once he was finished explaining the situation.
“Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?” Edward demanded.
“Oh, I don’t know, something about him being creepy and you not trusting him… Unless of course I’m mistaken,” Mustang smirked, the edges of a full blown smile threatening to take over.
“Oh can it, Mustang.” Edward growled good naturedly.
Roy snorted, “The things I do for you. You aren’t actually under my command anymore, you know.”
“How many times did I save your sorry ass? You owe me,” Edward retorted. “Besides, it’s not like I’m asking much.”
“No, not at all. You just want me to create a record for a person who didn’t even exist in this universe until a month ago, and then find a way to get him onto your research team.”
“Can you do it or not?” Edward asked.
Roy raised a brow in response. “Did I ever suggest I couldn’t?”
Edward grinned, turning to head out the door. “Thanks Mustang. I gotta head to the labs, but umm… I owe you one.”
Two days later, and there was mysteriously an added slot on Edward’s team. The manager he reported his progress to did nothing to keep him from filling said slot with his ‘cousin’, a Mr. Ian Woon from a small town not far from Rizembul. According to the file, Ian had lost his arm and leg in an unfortunate accident during the war just a couple of years before.
“The best place to hide is in plain sight,” Mustang had explained when Edward questioned the wisdom of divulging so much, even in half truths. “No one will think to ask questions you’ve already volunteered answers for.”
If any of his team were suspicious, they didn’t say. Only Jessy commented on their appearance at all, and only to mention that they looked like they were brothers.
The first day was a bit awkward, mostly spent showing Ed around, giving him piles of notes to catch up on. Within the first few days, though, they all fell into an easy rhythm, as if Edward’s ‘cousin’ had been a part of the team from the very beginning.
“That isn’t going to work, you know,” Edward commented as he looked over the circle Ed was doodling.
“Sure it will. You’re just looking at the problem wrong,” Ed retorted.
“I’ve been working on this project for three months. I don’t have the parameters wrong,” Edward hissed irritably.
“But you do! If you’d just look.” Ed shoved his notes across the table towards Edward.
“Maybe it works that way where you come from, but it doesn’t here,” Edward bit out. He wasn’t sure why Ed questioning his methods made him so irrationally angry. Perhaps because he knew they were evenly matched in intelligence, because Ed was the one person who might possibly be right in trying to correct him. In any case, he slammed his automail hand down in irritation, scattering notes across the floor in the process.
“Fine. If you’re so sure I’m not wrong, then do the transmutation yourself,” Ed growled. He turned on his heel, heading for the door.
“Do you think I want to have to ask for help?” Edward squawked.
Ed ignored him, stalking across the laboratory. Edward scowled, torn between just letting his double storm off and being done with it already, and desperation to keep him around.
“I…I can’t do it by myself,” he admitted finally, hoping it would be enough to get Ed’s attention. Ed did turn around, looking a bit confused, though some of the anger had ebbed from his features.
“What the hell do you mean?” he asked, lingering in the doorway.
“The rest of my team… They’re scientists. They aren’t alchemists, though. I need someone who can do the transmutations,” Edward muttered.
“Why don’t you do it?” Ed made his way back over, fury all but forgotten in the face of curiosity.
Edward chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, wondering how much he should say. In the end, though, Ed had told him everything. It was only equivalent to return the favor now that he’d established his double could be trusted. And so he did, picking up where their stories diverged.
“Like you, I ended up in the military under Mustang. In Al’s and my research, we came across a catalyst, a focus stone of sorts. See, alchemy seems to work differently here, taking energy from the alchemist and anything else the alchemist feeds the transmutation. All living things have energy, so… say you were to put a plant in the circle with you, it would suck the life out of that plant first, wither it to nothing, before it started on the alchemist. As long as you don’t kill someone, energy can be replenished. The way a focus stone works is that, over a long period of time, you channel energy into it. Theoretically, if you do it right, that will allow you to do a much more drastic transmutation without causing yourself harm. Only, the stone doesn’t work for everything. It really only works well with biological transmutation, but that was perfect for getting Al back.” Edward searched Ed’s face for any hint of a response, but his alter only waited for him to continue.
“War broke out, a civil war that tore up a lot of the south, almost made it here to Central, even. As part of the military, I was forced to participate. I was deployed to help stop an uprising, along with the rest of Mustang’s unit. I left Al in Central… It was supposed to have been the safest place for him.” Edward ground his teeth in anger. Even after all this time, the memories still infuriated him.
“Supposed to be?” Ed prodded, looking genuinely worried.
“Well, Al…fuck I never should have left him, I should have found some alternative… Al, being in a suit of armor, couldn’t perform alchemy. I mean, he was tough, but in the face of an alchemist? He was totally defenseless. I came home and he was gone. No one had even bothered to check on him or anything, so there was no way to know…anything. Mustang’s the one who helped me dig up leads when he wasn’t trying to clean up the country.” Edward’s lips quirked in a distant almost smile. That deployment, and what had come after had been what started his awkward friendship with the General.
“So, obviously you found him,” Ed murmured, waiting for the rest of the story.
“Well, sort of. I infiltrated a lab…a government lab,” Edward choked out, the betrayal hitting him hard all over again. “I got in, and… I was captured before I found Al. I woke up in a cell, chained with my arms too far apart to transmute. They told me I could go if I made them something they called the Alchemist’s Stone. It sounds like it’s very much like your Philosopher’s Stone, actually. I refused…I couldn’t kill people like that. It’s one thing when you’re on the battlefield, fighting for your own life. Even then, it’s awful and sick, and it still gives me nightmares. These people, though, they were completely defenseless. I couldn’t do it, and so they tortured me, trying to get me to change my mind.”
Edward trembled slightly, the story only getting more difficult to recount as he pressed forward. Ed reached out, as if to put a hand on his shoulder, but he batted it away. He couldn’t handle human contact right now, not when he had to keep his cool. Edward took a deep breath and continued. “The things they did there… Well, that scar you saw, it came from that place. They were experimenting with alchemy, to see just how much damage you could heal. I’m lucky, I guess, that that’s all that’s left. Anyway, when none of that worked, they told me they had Al, showed me…what was left. They were pulling his armor apart, cutting it to pieces to see how close they could get to the blood seal without killing him.”
Edward was shaking in earnest, face buried in his hands. All they’d been through, and so close to the end, he’d almost lost Al. It was too much. He didn’t push Ed away that that time, when his double scooted his chair closer, awkwardly rubbing at Edward’s back.
“There was nothing left for it. I…I don’t even know how I managed to keep a hold of that stone I’d made. I guess they just assumed I was harmless. I told them I’d do it, that I’d make the thing they wanted, and so they unchained me. It wasn’t ready, not by a long shot, but I used the focus stone to fix Al. The transmutation…it…it took everyone, the people who’d kidnapped us, the ones I was trying to save, everyone.”
“Fuck,” Ed muttered under his breath.
“It wasn’t enough. With the gate, you know, nothing ever is. It always wants something else.” Edward let out a shuddery sigh, leaning unconsciously against Ed.
“What’d it take?” Ed asked. He hesitated before sliding his arm around Edward’s shoulders, offering what comfort he could.
“It’s like it took part of my soul…if that makes sense. I can’t do much in the way of alchemy anymore. Even little stuff is exhausting. Something as big as this project? It’d probably kill me. Honestly, if Mustang hadn’t shown up not long after I did the transmutation to fix Al, I’d probably be dead already,” Edward admitted, his voice near a whisper.
“But I’ve seen you transmute things…” Ed murmured.
“Well, yeah, but didn’t you notice how tired it makes me? What I said about Mustang convincing the military I was too washed up to stay in… this is what I was talking about. The gate took the one thing aside from Al that I’d built my life around.”
There was silence between them, dismal and morose, and neither of them seemed to notice or care that Edward had leaned his head into Ed’s shoulder, the only thing really keeping him upright.
“The worst part is? For all the awful things that happened to you… you can blame the homunculi. This? This was people, human beings. All of it.” Edward muttered. This was why, he supposed, he’d lost faith in most of humanity. What was the point when humans were capable of so much evil?
“I…sorry for earlier,” Ed offered quietly, as if Edward’s story had somehow chastised him for disagreeing with his alter.
“Nah. Maybe you are right. I mean, anything’s worth a shot.” Edward swallowed hard, stunned at how easily making up came, nearly as effortless as it was with Al once all the hostility was out of the way.
It was then that he noticed Ed’s arm around him. Apparently, Ed also noticed what he’d done about the same time. The result was both of them jerking away from each other, losing their balance, and toppling to the floor. Ed’s chair tipped over on top of him, and Edward barely managed to keep his from falling over.
“Umm,” Edward started. He wondered if he should apologize or not. After all, it wasn’t his fault Ed had thought putting an arm around him was a good idea. Still, it had been sort of nice, and he’d gone and ruined it by freaking out. Ed had spazzed out too, though, so didn’t that make it both their faults.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Ed was laughing, head reclined against the cold tile floor. The mood was contagious, and by the rest of Edward’s team returned, he and Ed were only just barely picking themselves up off the floor, barely stifling another outbreak of laughter.
“Well, I suppose this is better than when they were fighting,” Jessy commented.
“I heard that,” Edward snapped, struggling to stifle a grin long enough to at least look angry.
All in all, the mood was considerably lighter after that.
Edward relaxed on the couch, enjoying a rare moment of quiet. With Al and Ed both around, he didn’t have time to himself much, and sometimes it was pretty nice. Another month had passed, and while they didn’t have a solution yet, even the manager had had to admit they’d made enough progress for his project to be worthwhile.
Another whole month. He shook his head, surprised at how quickly time seemed to pass. Edward had begun to resign himself to the strange emotions Ed wrought from him. He could almost, almost admit to himself that maybe, yes, he did actually like Ed. It was perhaps even a teensy bit beyond friendship. After all, you weren’t meant to wonder what it would be like to reach out and touch a friend, what they kissed like, tasted like, felt like. Just the thought made him a bit uncomfortably warm, and he squirmed a bit on the couch.
Edward was distracted by a sound he’d not heard since the first few weeks Ed had lived with him. It was a low, mournful wail, one he’d probably made himself countless times. It was the sort of thing that brought Al to his side, waking him with soft words and a cool washcloth to chase away the last tremors of fear.
He frowned a bit to himself, wondering if his help would even be wanted. The nightmares were bad, but it worse to be alone. Besides, if he didn’t go help, Ed would probably wake Al, and he couldn’t have that. Edward stood, hesitating only once on the way to Ed’s room.
Edward swung the door open. Ed moaned in what sounded like fear, trembling against the bed sheets he was caught in. Edward plopped down carefully at the edge of the bed, trying to remember what Al did for him in situations like this. It was hard, usually his mind was muddled with sleep when he was the one on the receiving end, after all.
“Hey, wake up.” Edward leaned over, carefully resting his human palm on Ed’s shoulder and shaking. Ed whimpered in his sleep, but showed no sign of waking.
“Please…no more,” Ed begged, his words muffled with sleep. Edward’s heart clenched in his chest and he shook a little harder, desperate to wake his alter.
“Come on. It’s okay… you’re safe,” he murmured, not really sure what else to do. Ed hadn’t woken, though he quieted a bit when Edward stiffly petted him. The motions were awkward and a bit inept as he stroked down his double’s back a bit, up to thread fingers through Ed’s hair.
He was just starting to relax himself when Ed struggled in earnest once more, thrashing against the mattress. His hands groped for each other in sleep as if he meant to transmute, and his lips bubbled broken, pleading words, sleep addled and barely decipherable.
Unsure of what else to do, Edward yanked his double’s body until Ed was sitting up, still lost in whatever nightmare had a hold on him. Edward tugged the shivering body against him, holding tight when Ed struggled, desperate to get free.
“It isn’t real. Wake up already,” Edward hissed. He was flustered, unsure what he was supposed to even do. Al never had nightmares like this, and he just wasn’t used to holding anyone. It was awkward and strange.
Ed jerked from his grasp, then, and Edward felt something catch. He realized with a sickening feeling that he’d forgot about the spike on his automail palm. Ed wailed in pain, eyes fluttering as he fought his way from his dreams. He regarded Edward with something like confusion, grimacing as he eased himself the rest of the way from his double’s grasp.
When Edward finally pulled his hand away, it dripped crimson, rivulets of blood dripping to the sheets.