[identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tierfallen
Title: Heartbeat
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 47,200 (11,580 this part)
Warnings: language; post-BH AU; emetophobic parties beware; depictions of anxiety and depression (including dark intrusive thoughts); very much unwanted touches
Summary: Ed makes the mistake of waiting on goddamn tenterhooks for something to change – and then, naturally, something does.
Author's Note: This is only the BEGINNING of the Fluffball Date of Doom. Enjoy. :'D ♥


HEARTBEAT
PART 3 (1/2)

Weekends are the fucking best.  By the time Ed cracks an eye open, the light in the room is warm and angled from up high—he probably slept for fucking ever, and he feels so much less shitty it’s like hugging a warm balloon.

He rolls over onto his back—tweaking his automail shoulder a little in the process, which impinges on the bubble of contentment a bit—and then gazes up at the ceiling trying to decide whether or not he should go back to sleep.  He doesn’t have a goddamn thing he has to do today, does he?  He can just lie here for six fucking hours if he wants; he can reach around on the floor and probably find a book or two and just glaze the fuck over for as long as he feels like it, and—

The phone rings: once, twice…

“Elric residence,” Al’s voice says.  There’s a pause.  “Oh, General.  Hello.”  There’s another pause.  “I’m usually very good at compartmentalizing, but in this particular case, you’re still his boss, so—”

Fucking figures.

Ed rolls off of the bed—which makes his damn shoulder twinge harder; he really needs to talk to Winry about that—and levers himself upright.  He looks down to confirm that he has pants on, because you never fucking know sometimes, and then goes out into the hall, where Al’s lounging against the end table and twirling the phone cord around his finger.  That must be a habit he picked up chatting with Win, and then it just sort of stuck with the muscle memory of the phone or something.

“Anyway,” Al says.  He smiles at Ed and… does not give up the receiver.  “Oh—yes, that’s exactly what I told him.  He said it’s not a matter of obligation; if he felt obligated, he’d tell you what orifice to insert it in.”

Ed introduces the heel of his left hand to his face, not especially gently.

Al’s grinning.  “He’s here now.  He wants the phone, but I’m not going to give it to him.  Based on what he told me, I think he considers it… I mean, it’s his end of the bargain.  You held up yours.  Even if he has reservations, he’s sure he wants to give it a try.”

“If he doesn’t want to go,” Ed says, “he can just fucking say so instead of trying to talk me out of it.”

“Did you hear that?” Al asks.  He blinks as he waits.  “Well—yes, but I don’t think it was you.  Or this.  Or at least not specifically.”  He scowls.  “Should I think it was you?  Did you do someth—gosh, okay, okay.  I was joking.  Mostly.  Well, test-joking.  You passed.”

For a second, Ed swears his hearing’s gone incredibly good—he’s so fucking sure of the exact tone in which Roy must be saying “Thank… you?” that he might as well be listening to the words.

“You’re welcome,” Al says calmly.  “Should he meet you at the restaurant, or are you going to pick him up?”  He turns to Ed.  “You are going to a restaurant, right?”  He speaks into the phone again.  “If you take him to the theater, don’t go to the Swan; they don’t like it when you analyze the physics of their stage effects—even though we weren’t that loud.”

“I don’t want to go to the theater,” Ed says.  “Tell him I don’t—”

“The Cretan place just off of Main,” Al says; “reservation at seven thirty, and you’ll pick him up.  Lovely.”

“Stop arranging my date,” Ed says.

“I’m almost done,” Al says.  “No theater.  Did you get that?”  He grins.  “Good.  Oh, and—General?”  The grin goes evil.  “Don’t get handsy.  Or you won’t have hands for much longer.”

And Ed’s stomach plummets at the same instant that his heart jumps—the latter goes right up into the back of his mouth, blocking his breath, and his brain’s woken up enough now to call up crystallized fucking memories with gleaming jagged edges—

You’re so adamant to get back on your knees for him—

And it was his own fucking fault, wasn’t it?  The hair thing, partly—that was stupid; that was so fucking dumb—but more than that, more directly, it’s his own fucking fault for shielding himself all this time.  For withdrawing, for withholding, for running from even the abstractions, for hiding from the very prospect of the pain—because it wouldn’t have been so fucking bad if he’d been more prepared for it.  He wouldn’t have frozen stiller than a slab of fucking stone if he’d let himself get acclimated to the little splashes of the terror instead of waiting for the flood to overwhelm him—

It’s his own fucking fault.

And there’s a smeared line on his throat throbbing, and his mind keeps fixing on scissor blades, and Al’s looking at him in genuine alarm, and—

“I’m kidding,” Al says, reaching towards him, and he steels himself and doesn’t pull away— “Brother—”

Al doesn’t hang up the phone; he just lets go of it—the jerk of the cord as the receiver swings heedlessly like a hanged man almost topples the whole thing off of the table, but Al doesn’t even glance backwards.  He reaches out, and it’s Al, and his eyes are so fucking gentle, but Ed still—

Flinches.

And in the first split-second, with his hand outstretched, Al blinks, and there’s a well of hurt there so fucking deep that Ed can’t even fathom how far it goes.

But he knows why it’s there.  That might be the worst part.  He knows it’s because he won’t let Al in—not into this, not into any of the dark spaces that keep yawning wider every fucking day.

And it’s not a trust thing; it’s not because he thinks Al would take advantage or make it worse—

It’s because this is what he worked all those fucking years to avoid.

All he wants is for Al to be fucking happy—happy and normal; flesh and blood and sunshine smiles.

Like fucking hell is he going to be the reason Al’s not.

“I’m fine,” he says quickly.  “I just—”

“You’re pale,” Al says.  His arm hovers in between them for another second before he lowers it, and—having plentiful experience with both—Ed would prefer getting socked in the fucking gut to feeling like this.

“I’m just hungry,” Ed says.  “Just like Mustang to call first thing in the morning and fuck up my breakfast plans.”

A very distant voice calls faintly from the telephone, and it may very well be saying “I resent that.”

“To be fair,” Al says slowly, “it’s half past ten.”

Shit, Ed really did sleep for an eon after all.  At least he knows he didn’t lose a day, or Roy wouldn’t be calling about the… date.

The date.

That he is going to go on.

With Roy.

Alone.

With Roy and Roy’s searing-hot eyes and Roy’s powerful, delicate, scar-riddled hands.

And Roy’s mouth—and his own damn filthy, tainted throat.

Is Roy going to fucking scent Verso’s mark on him and just—not?  Just not even want to anymore?  Can you tell that sort of thing when you know this shit backwards and forwards, from the inside out?

What if Roy wants—

What if—

“Brother,” Al says, and his voice trembles just a bit, “you are scaring the heck out of me right now.”

“Sorry,” Ed says.  Funny how easy that word comes out—knee-jerk, automatic, rapid-fire.  He used to hate apologizing; now it feels like a reflex.  “I’m probably dehydrated.  Damn, I slept forever.  Don’t try that, Al.”

Al gives him a look and then goes and picks up the phone.  “Isn’t seven thirty a little late?” he asks.  “At this rate, he might have wasted away by then.”  A pause, and Al gazes at the wall.  “Then it must also be sophisticated to starve.”  He smiles slightly.  “If Ed takes a bite out of your arm in the car, I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so.’”  He prods at the cord with a fingertip.  “Glad we’re in agreement.  See you then.”  The smile twists a little bit.  “I will.  Take care.”

He hangs up the phone and looks over at Ed, who has to resist the powerful urge to quail and duck away.

“Breakfast,” Al says—impressively menacingly, all things considered.

“There you go with the food threats again,” Ed says.

“The food threats will continue,” Al says, stomping overstatedly in the direction of the kitchen, “until you feel better.  Understood?”

“Jeez,” Ed says.  He drags himself upright and staggers after his slave-driver/savior.  “What’ve we got?”

“Just about everything,” Al says.  “I went shopping after class yesterday.  But you can’t eat it all at once, or you won’t have room for dinner.”

A part of Ed wants bacon, but a larger part can’t stand the thought of waiting; he opens the cabinet and assesses the cereal.  Fuck yes; Al got him the good one with the ‘questionable and possibly slightly poisonous’ colored marshmallows in it.  “At this rate,” he says, batting the box down from the shelf, “you should go out with him.”

“If I was into men,” Al says calmly, “I would.  Although it’d be awkward that he’s your boss.”  He pretends to mull it over—which at least is better than commenting on the fact that Ed has to stretch to reach one of their bigger bowls.  “I’m glad you don’t think it’s awkward that he’s your boss.”

“It’s not like it’s ever been normal,” Ed says.

Al’s mouth curls up at the corners.  “That is an extremely good point.”

Ed goes to get the demon-juice.  Tragically that shit’s sort of non-negotiable in the cereal process—part of the reason he likes this kind of cereal is because the milk ends up tasting more like colored marshmallows than like itself.  “You think the Cretan place has garlic fries?”

“You’re the only person I know who can anticipate one meal while in the middle of another,” Al says.  “I don’t think they do.”

“S’probably a good thing,” Ed says.  “If I got more of those, I might end up religious.”

He sits down at the table with his huge fucking bowl.  Al sits down across from him and manages not to give the marshmallows a distasteful look.

“Brother,” Al says—and shit, that tone is way worse than marshmallow judgment.  “Can we talk about it?”

Ed is a lot of things.  He’s a lot of things he didn’t used to be; and he’s no longer a lot of things he was.

But he’s still not chickenshit.

So there’s that.

“If you want to,” he says, and he jams a spoonful of cereal into his mouth and braces himself as much as he can.

Al takes a deep breath and sighs.  “I don’t want to force you, and I don’t want to guilt-trip you, but I really…”

“Am sick and tired of my bullshit,” Ed says.

No,” Al says, and the nose-wrinkle looks involuntary, so he must… mean it.  Right?  He leans forward and tries to meet Ed’s eyes.  “Can I tell you something?”

Ed tries to swallow to dispel the swollen feeling on his tongue.  “As long as it’s not something I didn’t want to know about Win.”

“Sort of,” Al says, but before Ed can freak out, he keeps going.  “The first time I went out with her, I was so nervous I thought I was going to pass out.”

Ed’s stomach clenches.  Maybe the marshmallows were a bad idea, but he didn’t know he was about to get the third fucking degree for the umpteenth time.

“It’s not nerves,” he says.  He waves a hand towards his chest and then his head, not that that probably fucking helps to illuminate the situation at all.  “It’s—pathological.  It’s deep; it’s like…”

Al pats the tabletop, which is adorable—he’s just too well-fucking-mannered to talk over Ed like he wants to, and it’s coming out in physical urgency instead.

“I know,” he says.  “I mean—no, I don’t, or not really; but—that wasn’t my point.  My point was that I was just so overwhelmed, but then… it was fine.  It was great.  It was really fun, and really nice, and there wasn’t anything to be nervous about.  And I know you trust Roy—I trust him, too, or I would’ve had a lot more words with him on the phone just for starters.  He’s not going to try to make you do anything you don’t want.  That man has twice as much emotional intelligence as just about anyone else that I’ve ever met.  He’ll understand if there’s stuff you’re not comfortable with.  And that’s great, Ed.  That’s great, and I want that for you—but only if you want it, too.”

Looking at Al is sort of too hard right now, so Ed stirs his cereal around with the spoon and mashes one of the marshmallows against the side of the bowl.

“You know,” Al says in a different tone—a quieter, more thoughtful one—after a few seconds of silence broken only by the clink of Ed’s spoon against the ceramic.  “Not a whole lot usually happens on the first date.”

Ed risks glancing up at him to see if he’s just fucking around or what.  Why would he even…?

“I mean it,” Al says.  “I think Winry and I… barely even touched hands.  There was some blushing.  We linked arms on the way out after dinner, and we kissed right at the end, but it wasn’t even… it was pretty innocent, really.”

Ed eyes him.  This is edging perilously close to the guarded borders of shit-he-doesn’t-ever-want-to-think-regarding-either-Winry-or-his-baby-brother land.  “That’s… nice.”

Al eyes him right back.  “I’m trying to tell you that I really doubt he’s going to ask for anything you don’t know how to give.  So you don’t have to worry about it, okay?”

Ed probably shouldn’t hurl any processed sugar into his body right now; all of his organs are already rocketing around each other like drunk-ass fucking fireflies as it is.  “Wh—first off, I don’t—worry; I’m not worried; I just—it’s—reasonable caution, and—”

Al’s face is a terrible combination of smug and sad.  “Right.  ‘Reasonable caution’.”

Ed frowns at him.  “It is.  And—anyway—”  Fuck.  This is the hard part.  Every part’s the hard part, but he owes it to Al to be honest.  So often that’s just fucking beyond him, but right now he’s still too groggy from the weird sleep and too emptied-out from the clusterfuck that was yesterday to be clever enough to lie.  “And anyway—it’s not—it’s just that he… will.  Eventually.  Want stuff I can’t… or I wouldn’t… have.  Or know.  Or whatever.”  He jabs at a marshmallow that is really just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  “So—it’s kind of—pointless.  Actually.  But I promised him, so—yeah.”

“Promise me something,” Al says.  “Promise me you’ll trust your instincts.  You like spending time with him—and don’t say you don’t; you’ve gone and had dinner with him before.  This doesn’t have to be anything other than that.  That’s my point, Ed.  Just be you.  That’s all he’s really asking for.  He’s smart, Brother, and he cares about you—so many people do, even if you can’t see it and refuse to believe it.  He’s not going to try to hurt you.”

Ed obliterates a very unlucky marshmallow.  It’s purple.  Or it was, once; now it’s sort of a smear.  “He doesn’t have to try.  That’s the—it’s the whole fucking world, Al.  It’s institutional; it’s everywhere.  It’s just—isn’t it a hell of a lot fucking easier for one person to adapt than it is to change the entire fucking system of society?”

“Yes,” Al says.  “But screw ‘easier’.  You’ve spent most of your life sacrificing what you felt and what you wanted in favor of doing the right thing.  Aren’t you tired of it by now?”

Ed stuffs his mouth with cereal and then forces himself to swallow.  It sort of sticks all the way down.

“I’m just tired,” he says.  “The reasons blend together after a while.”

He can feel Al watching him, so he feigns immense interest in chasing a pink marshmallow around his bowl.

“I’m going to make you some of the good coffee,” Al says.  He pushes his chair back and stands.

“It’s not that kind of tired,” Ed says.

“I know,” Al says, crossing to the counter.  “But it can’t hurt.”

Damn kid’s got him there.










He tries really hard to spend the whole afternoon determinedly not thinking about it, which is—unsurprisingly—about the worst possible way to go about avoiding the thoughts.  Eventually getting engrossed in the translated book about qi that Ling sent him ages ago helps—he’s been procrastinating on reading it because Ling’s so fucking hard to get ahold of, and he doesn’t want to burn through the damn thing and then not have it anymore.  It’s shit logic, and he knows it, but he’s been ignoring that part.

“Brother,” Al says, and he reluctantly drags himself to the surface world again—this qi thing goes back forever, and so much of it’s documented only in myth and super fucking vague philosophy, but there’s hints everywhere, and parts of it sound like Hohenheim fucking spat them out himself— “You should take a shower.”

“Ouch,” Ed says.  “Jeez, Al.  After everything I’ve done for you—my own brother, telling me I stink.”

“That is not even remotely what I said,” Al says.  “So you’re a liar as well as stinky.  It’s just that you were running late yesterday, and you’re going to be wearing the nice clothes, and…”

Aw, fuck.  “Do I have to wear the nice clothes?”

“If he’s taking you to the restaurant I think he is,” Al says, “yes.”

“We should call him and check,” Ed says.

“No, we shouldn’t,” Al says.

“That red tie you made me wear tried to kill me at the theater,” Ed says.

“The tie is an inanimate object,” Al says.  “It can’t have designs on your life.”

“Shows what you know,” Ed says.

“You probably put it on wrong,” Al says.

“You put it on for me,” Ed says.  “Are you trying to kill me?  Fuck’s sake, Al; at least have the decency to let me write a will so I can give everything to Winry instead of y—”

“That isn’t funny at all,” Al says, but he’s only scowling to fight down a smile.  “But if you’re going to be such a pill about it, you can skip the tie.”

“I aspire to pilldom,” Ed says.  “I’m getting pretty good at it, right?”

“Go take a shower,” Al says.  “Before I throw you in there, you brat.  You little brat.”

“You’re dead to me,” Ed says, slinging himself up off the couch before his reservations morph into inertia and pin him down forever.  “So at least if you kill me at this point, we’ll both be dead.”

“You are the worst,” Al says.

Ed breezes past him.  “Whatever, Al.  You’re the one plotting fratricide with fancy clothes as the murder weapon.”

“Go get clean before I kick your sorry butt,” Al says.

Hard to argue with that.










Al’s right.  Ed’s spent years upon fucking years getting used to the fact that that’s usually the case, but—

But there’s a reason he didn’t get in the shower this morning even though he feels kind of sticky-gross from yesterday.

If he doesn’t think about it—

If he just doesn’t think about it—

The human brain’s obscenely powerful, and his has more horsepower than most—if anyone can slam an iron vault door shut on a specific room of specific thoughts—

It’s fucked up.  It’s fucked up that someone could treat him in a crappy way like that, and then he’s the one who feels bad about it—

It’s fucked up that when someone treats you like shit, that’s how you feel.  It’s fucked up that someone can change an essential facet of how you see yourself by imposing some stupid fucking idea—

He doesn’t want Verso to have that over him.

He doesn’t want the fucked up things that Verso thinks of him to have any traction in his own stupid head—

He turns his back on the mirror and strips off his clothes and balls them up and sets them on the top of the toilet tank.  If he just doesn’t—look, doesn’t focus on anything; if he just doesn’t let his brain conjure what Verso would’ve done if he’d stayed there any fucking longer—

He can totally take a shower without devoting any attention to the fact of his own nakedness.  That’s easy shit.  No problem.  He’ll just… not… notice.  Yeah.

He’s such a fucking mess.

He holds his left hand under the faucet until the water warms up.  At least it’s not the miserable, sweaty height of lousy fucking summer anymore, so a hot shower actually sounds appealing.

The water heats up; he pulls the little knob to divert it up to the showerhead and then adjusts the curtain, because it drives Al crazy when water spills onto the floor; and then he kicks their fuzzy mat into place; and then he steps in under the stream.

He deals with his hair first—it’s a multiple-family rat’s-nest and a five-alarm disaster from sleeping, so there’s some finger-detangling that has to happen before he can even dump shampoo in it and start scrubbing with his left hand.  There’s something sort of soothing about running your nails back and forth across your scalp.  Maybe that’s… maybe that’s something that—someone else could do; maybe that’s something… date-y.  Al plays with Winry’s hair all the time; maybe…

But after yesterday—

He’s not thinking about that—or, more specifically, not-thinking about it, on purpose, specifically, for all the fucking good that usually does.  He’s not thinking about Verso’s hand winding its way into his hair and fucking trapping him there, because pulling away would have hurt so much fucking more—because he probably wouldn’t even have had the leverage to try if Verso’s grip had been any fucking good; from the interminable stretch of time that that hand had spent lingering on that lunchroom bench between them, Ed’d had plenty of time to assess the damn thing, and it looked reasonably strong, and—

And he really doesn’t want to run his hand down his own fucking chest to spread the suds around.  He really doesn’t want to think about the concept of pressure on his skin; he really doesn’t want to have to sweep the soap over his stomach, down his thighs—

And he’s avoiding the worst of it; he’s pretending like a kid that if he just shoves his head under the covers, the monsters don’t exist.

Fuck that.  Fuck that; bodies are just—bodies; they’re just a conglomeration of individual fucking cells; the individual pieces are just anatomical necessities, and fuck people who impose all this meaning and significance and judgment and bullshit on what you do or don’t choose to do with yours.

He’s not going to think about it.  He’s not going to think about what Verso thinks of him—he’s not going to think of what Verso thinks he does; who Verso thinks he is; what Verso has imagined him doing with, to, or for frigging Roy—

Would it have been different, if Roy had been the one fucking looming over him, holding him against the wall?  If it’d been Roy’s hands—Roy’s mouth, Roy’s breath, Roy’s meaningfully-gleaming fucking eyes—

Would he have let Roy tear his clothes off and slide those hands all fucking over him—everywhere the shower water runs; everywhere that searing gaze might wander; anywhere he wanted

But every time he starts to think it, Roy blurs into Verso at the fucking edges, and then it’s like—

A branding iron.  Like a jolt of fucking electricity straight from the socket.  Like the rusted tip of an old nail instead of the pad of a fucking finger—

Fuck.

He squeezes his eyes shut and holds his breath and washes all the anatomical necessities that are getting dragged into this whole sordid fucking business as fast as he can—which is slower when he has to keep his right hand well fucking away so it won’t snag any hairs or sensitive skin or anything.  What a fucking pain in the fucking ass, and he probably shouldn’t think about his ass too much right now—definitely shouldn’t think about Roy’s, not that he’s started to notice it lately or anything; not like he cares; not like it matters; not like—

Adamant to get back on your knees—

He bats some of the water at his hair and then shuts off the faucet and steps out and grabs blindly for his towel.  Fuck this.  Fuck all of this; fuck everything

He wrings the worst of the water out of his hair, slings the towel around his waist, and directs his stumble out into the hall.  On the upside, he probably just emerged from the dark doorway wreathed in a billowing cloud of steam, so at least that’s nice and dramatic and shit.

Al’s head appears out of the doorway to Ed’s room, although fortunately it looks like it’s still attached to Al’s neck, and presumably to the rest of him past that.

“That was fast,” he says.  “Did you scrub behind your ears?”

“Is he going to look behind my ears?” Ed asks.  His hair’s dripping everywhere; he crosses past his room to raid their little linen closet for another towel.  “You said this first date shit isn’t serious.”

“You might want to tell him ears are off-limits,” Al says.  “Just in case.”

Ed gives him a look over the left shoulder.

“I’m joking,” Al says.

“Jokes are funny,” Ed says.

“Your face is funny,” Al says.

“Good,” Ed says.  “I can cancel this whole fucking thing.”

Al’s eyes do the flicker-of-concern thing.  It was uncanny the first time Ed saw the armor’s eyes do that; it still fucking makes his heart soar to see it in the right ones—which is distracting as hell when Ed’s trying to be annoyed at his stupid brother.

“Do you want to cancel the whole thing?” Al asks.

“No,” Ed says, and most of him means it—there’s a little pocket of pure acid in his stomach that keeps flipping like a beached fish, but other than that, it’s true.  He tries to pat some of the physically improbable but nonetheless present quantity of water out of his hair.  “I just don’t want him all over my ears.”

“I would bet money you don’t have to worry about it,” Al says.

“What money?” Ed asks.  Reluctant would be a gentle word to describe his journey down the hall to join his brother.  “You don’t have any money.”

“I’ll bet your money,” Al says.  “It’s for your own good.  Come in here and put this shirt on with these slacks.”

“I think you’re missing a step there,” Ed says.

“If you can’t remember to put on underwear before your pants,” Al says, “I’m not going to let you out in public, so it’s a moot point.”

“You’re brutal today,” Ed says.

“Sorry,” Al says.  “I’m worried about you.”

Ed frowns at him.

Al frowns back.

Then he points at the clothes that he laid out on the bed—the bed that he made while Ed was in the shower.  Who even does that?  You’re just going to sleep in it again.

“Clothes first,” Al says.  “Argument later.”

Ed makes sure to sigh really loud before he goes to the bureau and grabs a pair of boxers off of the top of the pile of wrinkled cotton in the uppermost drawer.

Even now it’s hard not to hesitate—even when it’s just Al.  Al doesn’t care; Al’s never cared; Al’s seen every last centimeter of him a hundred-thousand times.  Al’s not just his brother; Al’s his other half.  Hiding from a part of yourself would be stupid even if it could be done.

Sometimes, late at night, when his guard’s down, he catches himself wishing—just for a second—that Al was back in the armor again.  He didn’t feel the same things back then.  He didn’t have any guts to twist and fire up with these stupid sensual urges; he didn’t have the biological makeup to foster physical desire.

They were more alike.

It made it so much fucking easier to cope with, so much easier to ignore, because it was both of them; they were both like that; he wasn’t alone.

Ed doesn’t really mean it—not ever; not even for the instant where it flashes through his mind.  He doesn’t.

But sometimes it’s just so fucking hard to make his peace with being the only freak in the whole fucking family, or whatever’s left of it.

He drapes the towel over the footboard of his bed, climbs into his boxers, and then goes over and wriggles his way into the clothes Al picked.  They’re all slithery and shit, like nice fabric usually is.  It always sort of makes him feel like it’s trying to slide off of his skin to escape him, because it knows he’s not fancy enough to fit.

“Oh, good,” Al says.  “I thought I’d sized right, but I wasn’t sure.  You look great, Brother.”  Bullshit, but it’s enough trouble buttoning things with a metal hand when you’re not trying to talk at the same time.  “Tuck your shirt in.”

“You know who tucks their shirts in?” Ed asks as he finishes.

“People,” Al says.

“Nerds,” Ed says.

“Let me rephrase that,” Al says.  “People who want to look nice.”

“You mean nerds who want to look nice,” Ed says.

“And people who just don’t want to sit on their shirttails,” Al says.  “And people who have nice belts on that they want other people to see.  And all of that is beside the point, because you are a nerd.”

“But I don’t want to look nice,” Ed says.

Al gives him the Brother, what the actual flipping heck look, trademark pending.

“He’ll start expecting it,” Ed says.  “He’ll think I’m going to show up to work looking presentable or some shit.”

“To the best of my knowledge,” Al says, “General Mustang does not believe in miracles.”

Ed scowls at him.

Al blinks innocently.

“Tuck in your shirt, Brother,” he says.

“You should enlist,” Ed says as he gets into his socks by way of some extremely ungainly hopping, “so you can be Führer someday and order everybody around instead of just me.”

“You’re more fun,” Al says.  “And the populace would probably revolt if I made them all tuck in their shirts.”

“As well they fucking should,” Ed says.  “Where’s my good belt?”

Al holds out an extremely boring one with only a couple of disappointingly subtle silver studs on it.  “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

Ed snatches the offering out of Al’s hand.  “You fucking liar.  You hid it.”

Al’s sunny smile is the mark of a fucking demon.  “I can’t believe you would accuse me of such a heinous act of—”

“Just for that,” Ed says, “I’m tucking in half the fucking shirt.”

Judging by Al’s aghast expression, he just won this round.


[Part 3, 2/2]

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