Beta&Co-Author: Ca11iope. You are simply amazing *hugs* You really are :D
Chapter 32: Past and Present
Still Day 20
That wasn’t some messed up hallucination. It was an actual memory.
Roy Mustang had slept with Maes Hughes.
Okay, fine. It happened.
Having sex with ones best friend was not something Roy thought of as appropriate when one didn´t want to risk that friendship. Roy Mustang, while being popular, only counted a very select group of people as trusted friends. Bringing sex into it made things complicated in a way he did not appreciate. But as long as his sexual encounters were just about sex, and both partners were aware of that and could deal with it without hurt feelings, jealousy, or other such mood killers, it was... fine. Not optimal, but fine.
But this ...
He had slept with Hughes – and his alcohol wasted brain cells had blanked it out. Until now.
Well, that was…. unfortunate. At best. But hey, Maes had been drunk as well, and … it happened. Nothing much to say about that.
Hughes had not told him.
Roy could only speculate about this. Perhaps Maes had been too drunk to remember, just as Roy had been. Or maybe he remembered all too well.
Maes had said that he loved Roy.
Roy fervently hoped that Maes had said that because he had not been thinking straight, under the influence and in the heat of the moment.
Was this really such a big deal? It hadn’t affected their friendship, and Roy wasn’t about to let something that happened years ago mess up that close relationship. Was he?
Oh hell, who was he kidding? Did he really think he could lie to himself?
Roy was not the kind of person to run away from his problems or hide from the truth, though right now he wished he was. Fucked up didn´t even come close to describing this situation. This was going to prey on his already stressed out mind until he resolved it. He was going to have to hash this out with Maes, or it would color every future interaction he had with the man. Still, the last thing he wanted to do right now was to deal with this along with everything else. And to top it all off, Roy had no idea how he felt about it. Especially that ‘I love you’ he had heard. From his best friend. During sex.
God, this had to be a nightmare.
Roy greatly hoped that his friend had not meant those breathlessly whispered words. A tiny voice in his brain mocked him. Told him how unlikely that was. Roy knew how sensitive and emotional Hughes was. He knew how dearly the man held the people closest to him. He knew there was a very good possibility that his best friend had meant it.
And then had neglected to fill Roy in on the fact that they had slept with each other. The alchemist cursed mentally. Fucking coward. The man hadn´t even had the balls to tell that him that Maes himself was the one Roy had slept with. Roy shuddered to think about the details. Or rather, the roles. This was not a can of worms he planned to open anytime soon.
Then Roy remembered the way he had ranted to his closest friend about the unknown man he had blamed for his … difficulty walking. Damn, he remembered how sore he had been for days, and Roy had constantly and eloquently cursed that nameless stranger for inflicting such agony on him, thinking that it had been some anonymous one night stand. Now that he knew differently Roy had to admit he had acted like an asshole. His words had not been pretty. Mustang stared at the ceiling and wondered how much his behavior had hurt his friend. No wonder Maes hadn’t dared to tell Roy the truth. And what if that confession had been sincere?
…. This was just so screwed up.
Maes obviously had no desire to mention it ever again. So why should Roy?
It was the past, it was over. It did not have any influenced on their friendship… did it?
Instantly, Roy found himself reexamining his friend’s past actions, trying to see things from this new perspective.
Too much. Too many years.
He shouldn´t do this. They´d been through so much together, had been friends for so long. Even the thought of questioning Hughes about it caused Roy’s stomach flare up with guilt. He shouldn´t do this. He really shouldn´t do this. It would be a mistake to let this taint his entire friendship with Maes, past, present, and future, after all they had been through. Mustang trusted the man with his life.
And Hughes was married for god’s sake! It was clear the man loved his wife and daughter deeply. The past… was just that. Past.
Roy head spun, and he couldn´t tell if all these rationalizations were just his own mind betraying him, if he really thought he should let it slide because that was the right thing to do, or because that would be the easiest way out. Still, he couldn´t help but wonder about too many things. Most of all, about why had the man not told him.
Maybe Roy’s best friend didn´t deem it necessary to clear the air on the subject.
Roy did. They needed to talk. Even if it was just to assure himself that things were no different than before, he needed to clear this up.
Afterwards, Roy didn’t know how he managed to fall asleep again. Or maybe he did. Despite the huge load of trouble heading his way, the decision to talk to Maes somehow managed to calm him down. Setting a course for his actions was reassuring, and he felt a whole lot more like himself again instead of someone who was losing his head.
He was also determined not to let this get in the way. Fine, he and Maes had a few things to sort out, but both of them were adults, and friends, and they should be able to act that way. There was still a feeling of dread, accompanied by a small malicious voice in his head telling him that it wouldn´t be that easy. But Roy was hell bent not to let doubt get in his way either.
When he woke up again, it was midday.
Grocery shopping: skipped. He would order take out if necessary. For the evening, dinner was planned with Ed, so he should be fine.
A quick lunch consisted of coffee and some dry toast. After which Roy was still hungry. Oh hell, they could buy something on the way. Even if Ed had already eaten, his stomach was a bottomless pit, so he wouldn´t complain.
Roy had plenty of time to prepare for his date. Or so he thought. Then he discovered that looking into his wardrobe was … disturbing. Really, how the hell had his clothes managed to become unsuitable overnight? Somehow nothing he picked out satisfied him today. It definitely took him too long to decide what to wear. And he had to ignore the irritating feeling that he needed a second opinion to confirm that his choices had been right.
This was ridiculous. Roy wasn’t some prepubescent teenager. This was not his first date and it surely wouldn´t be his last. Why the hell was he acting like this? He realized that he was putting far more effort into this date than he usually did. Why? It had to be because he was determined to concentrate on the present, not the past. He did not want to screw up this date because he was dwelling on something that happened years ago, so he was being extra careful. Yes, that was it.
For some reason, Roy felt like an idiot when he convinced himself that this was indeed the reason for his behavior.
Roy didn´t ask anyone to advise him on his clothes and finally had managed to convince himself that he didn´t need to. Really, he had been on enough dates. He was sure that his fashion sense had not died overnight.
The moment he saw Edward however, Roy knew the younger man likely had been advised on his appearance. The older man felt almost flattered over the fact that the blond had wanted to look good for him, enough to consult someone else for their opinion. And they had done a good job of it. That person, whoever it was, had managed to get the blond out of the house in a deep red turtleneck sweater over black slacks, and best of all, without his hair tied back. Mustang could not remember when he had last seen the man with his hair down in public. Probably never. Roy wanted to run his finger through the gold strands, maybe give them a slight pull to get Ed to tilt his head back so he could properly greet him with a kiss.
And with a great deal of satisfaction, he noticed the hickeys peeking out of the turtleneck as Edward passed him to proceed down the stairs. The dark red cotton did not quite cover the marks completely and the hair was too loose to really hide them. Roy felt his lips form a smug grin. And who the hell said he couldn´t kiss Edward as a greeting?
His intentions must have been visible and Roy stopped himself when he saw the younger man tensing up. Small steps. Roy had to remind himself that slow progress was in order. He did not care for another fist in the face. Now, the challenge was to make the steps small enough not to awaken any violent reaction in Edward while still making progress.
Piece of cake.
A possibly bloody cake with a black eye, but still a cake. He was an expert at this… more or less. Public displays of affection were not exactly Roy’s forte, but flirting was, and so was hitting on someone. It was close enough. He was sure he would be able to adjust the details. He just had to expand on the flirting bit and tune down the obvious sexual intentions.
Instantly, the accusations he heard more than once came to his mind. That he was sending Ed the wrong signals, giving him the wrong impression – leading him on.
Sighing inwardly, Roy wondered just why everything he did, even the things that should be pure habit for him, now came with a hitch. Why he had to second guess everything, even the things that were usually routine for him.
“You coming?” The blond asked when he turned around to look for him, clearly oblivious to the brooding inside his date’s mind.
Waiting for him to catch up and without a clue as to where Roy would take him. But still willing to come along.
The Colonel smiled.
Somehow, things didn´t seem that bad anymore.
Ed looked positively flabbergasted.
“Art?” he asked, and took a second look at the banner handing over the museum’s entrance as if to confirm what he had read there. Then he looked back to his date, and the moment the blond eyebrows drew together, Roy knew it was time to interrupt the man’s thoughts.
“I´m not taking you to an art exhibition because of your lack of cultural sense,” he quickly assured his date.
Ed blinked before resuming his glare. The jab was not well hidden and Roy smirked. He could see the other alchemist deliberating whether he should get back at him for insulting his taste or ask why Roy had brought him here.
Placing his hand on Ed’s back, the Colonel urged the other alchemist forward and into the building.
“I brought you here because I think you will enjoy it,” the older man explained. “These exhibitions are quite special as I´m sure you will find out yourself. “
Ed didn´t look convinced as he took in the surroundings. Which, at the moment, were bare of the promised art. The exhibition was taking place in the West Wing of the old mansion, but the building was still impressive in itself.
The black haired man smiled when he was able to pinpoint the exact moment when Ed noticed that Roy had yet to take his hand from his back. And that it had slipped a few inches downwards, leaving the ‘a friend pushing you in the right direction’ position and moving to a place where it could arouse the question of whether they were more than just friends.
Considering the fact that Edward most likely didn´t want to attract attention to this, the blond did the smartest and most inconspicuous thing by simply picking up the pace. By now however, the younger man’s once surprising talent at keeping his reactions low-key was anticipated. So instead of letting his hand fall from Ed’s back like the younger alchemist probably hoped, Roy did the exact opposite and hurried to wrap his arm around the young man’s waist. Only to guide him in the right direction of course.
“This way.” Steering Ed to the left, Roy added a charming smile when he received a frown for his efforts. Instead of reacting to it, he tried to keep his expression as innocent as that of a baby. Really, Ed couldn´t possibly suspect him of taking advantage of the fact that the blond clearly didn´t know his way around the building, could he?
Ed could. And did. It took all of Roy’s willpower to not smirk at his companion’s half angry and half confused expression. The smile slipped when he felt Ed tensing up.
He noticed the stares just a moment later.
An elderly couple were trying and failing miserably not to be noticed as they gawked at the two alchemists. Another man openly stared at them. Roy also noticed a pair of women sending sneaking glances their way.
Most of them probably didn´t even disapprove, but that fact alone gave him pause. That he had to speculate about that… it was not something the Colonel was used to. And he was pretty sure that the middle aged couple by the grand staircase objected to Roy’s display judging from the way they were all but glaring.
Instead of showing his own disapproval at these reactions to something as miniscule as having his arm around Ed’s waist, the Colonel plastered a pleased and relaxed smile on his face, tightening his grip around the younger man before letting go. Not for the sake of the people around him, but to remain true to his plan. Small steps. He couldn´t care less about other people´s opinion of his private life. In fact, if it weren´t for Ed’s reaction to that kiss in the hall, he would have loved to show off a bit.
But as it was right now, he needed Ed relaxed … and distracted.
“What the -“ Edward stopped short beside him and took in his surroundings.
Well, the good news was, the distraction was working perfectly.
The bad news was, the distraction was working perfectly.
The moment Ed spotted the arrays, Roy saw that calculating glimmer lighting his eyes. The blond completely forgot that Roy Mustang was standing beside him, and leaned in to examine the artistically rendered transmutation circle on the large canvas before him.
The Colonel felt slightly piqued.
But he would not be who he was if he didn´t use it to his advantage. So his hand returned to Ed’s no longer rigid back, and just as Roy expected, the young man didn´t even notice.
While it was exactly what he had intended, Roy had the sudden urge to pout. Which of course he didn´t do.
“This wouldn’t work,” Ed stated quietly. It was more a mutter and most likely not even intended to slip past his lips. The Colonel glanced down at his date, then at the painting. Even an amateur would have seen it. After all, part of the array was covered with artistic smears of green and red and what appeared to be alchemic symbols. Appeared to be, but weren’t.
“It´s not intended to work,” Roy answered.
“Why would anyone ruin a transmutation circle this way?” Obviously Ed had no appreciation for the artistic part of the painting.
“I imagine selling a functional array on canvas could cause trouble,” Roy pointed out, amused over the fact that the genius beside him was struggling to pull the concepts of art and alchemy together without the second being used strictly to create the first. In fact, for this exhibition it was the other way around. “And before you argue about why anyone would put an array on a canvas in the first place without ever intending for it to work -“ Roy quickly interrupted the moment Ed opened his mouth to protest. “- have you ever wondered why a salamander represents fire? Or why runes, which basically are just a composition of lines, curves and dots, can even be activated? Why energy can be guided with something as simple as a few carefully crafted geometric drawings?”
Ed’s mouth shut and the calculating look was back.
“Of course I have,” he muttered, appearing almost insulted by the question.
Rightfully so. An alchemist who did not question the origins of the science and never tried to look behind the arrays and hermetic symbols shouldn’t even consider himself to be a true alchemist. There were of course a lot of people out there who simply used alchemy, and yes, they did understand the mechanics of it. They knew what symbols to put where to achieve specific results. But rarely did any of those alchemists let their minds wander to the real, most basic point of the science, the rudimentary foundations. Which was almost ridiculous considering the power being channeled. It was obvious if one looked at the most simple arrays. Curves and lines. That´s it. Somehow able to change a natural object’s essential structure.
“Huh.” Ed huffed and Roy could see the calculating look reappearing on that lovely face while he obviously tried to figure out what a dysfunctional piece of art had to do with that.
“I sure I don’t have to mention the regional and cultural influence on the historical development transmutation circles…” The Colonel trailed off. Both of them were very familiar with the literature. “It´s clear that at some point, the intentions of the designer exert influence on the power and potential of the array. Contrary to that stands the fact that transmutations don´t simply activate because the alchemist wishes it, or because he believes in the symbolism as a representative of a specific element.” Roy loved to discuss alchemical epistemology, and if there was one person in the world Roy wanted to talk about this topic with, it was Ed, and not only because the man had seen the truth. Even disregarding his unpleasant encounter with that otherworldly being, Ed was a prodigy. And Roy could already see the urge to discuss this within his golden eyes.
But if they did, they wouldn´t get through the exhibition today. And even though chances were slim that someone here would be able to follow their conversation, it was still better to discuss alchemy with this man in private.
“And while I’d love to talk theoretical alchemy and the underlying hermetic philosophy associated with its symbolism, we should probably save that conversation for dinner,” Roy said. “The point is, most of these artists are not alchemist. In fact, the majority probably only know the basics.”
The Colonel could not interpret the expression on Edward’s face, but he could feel the tension returning to the smaller body. Instantly, Roy’s hand followed the spine down and up again in a soothing gesture.
“They are aware of the risks,” the older man explained. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that none of the circles are closed. If by some chance the artist has used a functional configuration, they can’t be activated accidently.” The Colonel barely suppressed a chuckle. “This is actually the sixth exhibition of its kind. The Führer assembled a team of State Alchemists to act as advisors for the first exhibition, lecturing the artists and the gallery manager and pretty much everybody else involved on safety and other matters.” Roy sent an amused glance down to the slowly relaxing blond. “That´s how I originally found out about these exhibitions. Now, try for a moment to imagine a bunch of State Alchemist, men and women at the top of their field, speaking about their profession to a group of artists who knew next to nothing about alchemy.”
There! A tiny little smile was tugging at the corner of Ed’s lips. And the young man had finally relaxed again. Roy once again took advantage of the situation and leaned down, pretending a need to keep the conversation private. “I will never forget the face of the poor soul who was lectured by Basque Grand. I don´t think the man ever recovered. I heard later that the young man wasn´t even part of the project. The gallery’s manager was aware of Grand’s negative attitude towards the project and his reputation as a very ... difficult man to deal with. The main artist on the project had some kind of phobia about Grand’s moustache as well. The manager was terrified that his pet-project might die because his artist didn´t dare to draw a circle after talking to the man. So he set up some random scapegoat for Grand’s anger.”
“Can´t see why anyone would be scared of him, and that mustache just looked stupid.” Ed muttered. “Did Grand really think it looked good, or was he trying to grow another weapon to impale people with?”
It figured. Edward Elric never held any respect for people like Grand. Nonetheless, Roy couldn´t help but agree, so he nodded.
“No one would ever tell him that to his face.” One look down at the blond and Mustang corrected. “Except for you.” In fact, he was absolutely sure Ed would have no qualms about insulting Grand and his mustache up close and personal. Unlike most people, the Fullmetal Alchemist had never been impressed with the reasons why others feared Grand.
“A lot of people feared him for his alchemy,” Roy added almost reluctantly. Alchemy was not supposed to be something people should fear because it was an easy way to kill, but Roy had no right to judge Grand when his own alchemy had been used for just that purpose during the war. The title of Flame Alchemist could still easily evoke that same fear.
“It wasn´t that impressive,” Ed huffed, and the Colonel managed to shake off the disturbing thoughts while he lifted one eyebrow. Oh yes, one could say whatever they wanted about Basque Grand, but his alchemy had been brilliant in its own twisted way.
The blond must have seen his doubts, because he huffed again and turned towards the next picture.
“He was fixated.” The younger alchemist started to explain. “Sure, what he did was highly advanced alchemy, but it was… just that.” Ed shrugged and looked towards the Colonel, expecting the man to understand, and Roy found himself wondering over the fact that his companion’s vague statement actually was understood.
Because Ed was right. Despite all the talent Grand had to have in order to get where he had been, when it came to alchemy, all he could do was kill. Looking at it like that, every run of the mill alchemist could do much more.
“I wonder what you thought of me, then,” Roy wondered. After all, like Basque Grand, Mustang had been famous for his specialization in one particular brand of alchemy. How was the Flame Alchemist different from the Iron Blood Alchemist, if he was at all?
“Huh? You wanna know what I thought of you back then?” Ed turned from his scrutiny of the canvas in front of them and shifted to look Roy in the face.
Roy nodded. “That day. At the train station. The day we first met in Central.”
And Roy found that he couldn´t help but brace himself for the answer. If Ed had such a low opinion of Grand’s alchemy back then, what had the prodigy thought of him? He remembered the nervously stuttering boy on the phone, before the blond had seen the mighty Flame Alchemist in action. And to be honest, Roy always suspected that his teenage subordinate had found him to be badass, or cool, or something the like that. What teenager or child wouldn’t be impressed by someone who had given such a flashy display of superiority? The Colonel really wanted to know what Ed’s first impression had been. But at the same time Roy knew he would gladly forgo getting this answer if Ed would answer his question in regards to the present and not the past. If Ed would give Roy his honest opinion of what he thought of him now.
That, however, would have to wait for another day.
Ed tilted his head a bit to the side, observing him. Then he turned back to the picture, trying to suppress a smirk, knowing what he was about to say would be quite a jab to the Flame Alchemists ego.
“Actually… I wanted to see your gloves. I didn’t pay much attention to you at all,” he admitted sheepishly.
I know it´s short ;_; But at least, it´s also fast! (Now, just who does that remind me of? ;-P)