Summary: Edward meets up with something (and someone) he never expected.
Author Notes: This is sort of a weird combination of Bluebird's Illusion and the Anime (moreso the former,) and also very much of an AU. Alphonse has been restored to his body (this time without the effects of rejection... maybe.) Our little Lieutenant Colonel Edward is alive, and so is General Mustang, but the homunculus, Wrath, has been taken out of the picture.
I'm also not sure if this is going to be continued, for the one and only reason that my muses have subsequently died. But I think it could possibly stand as an open-ended fic, for anyone who wanted to poke at it. :P
X-Posted to blubrdsillusion
It was cold and wet, and Edward hated it because he was cold and wet, and his automail didn't help that fact in the least. Shrugging his red coat closer and pulling the hood down over his eyes, he hunched against the rain and slogged through the washes of water that rushed from the gutters, across the sidewalk and into the street drains.
"Stupid, lousy bastard," he grumbled, kicking a stone; it skittered across the rain-slicked concrete and plunked into a puddle. "Calls me in for that stupid report in a goddamn hurricane... Guess I couldn't expect a freakin' car."
It wasn't as if the report was late, anyway. He'd only just returned that morning, stiff and sore from the long train ride between Lindton and Central. Mustang had insisted on the written report when he'd summoned Ed, too, which left the sheaf of papers to be bundled up under Ed's coat, their only protection against the rain.
That was, until they slipped from under his arm and fluttered gracefully into streams of water. A curse followed them, the blonde scrabbling to pick the ruined report from the tops of slick puddles. His hood fell, and in the five minutes that it took for the wet mass of paper to clump back together, his bangs were plastered to his forehead and cheeks; he shoved them irritably out of the way, squelching closer to the gates of Central Headquarters.
Naught but a block from the depressing cinder block building, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He almost shrugged it off, until he realized that it wasn't exactly an alley cat, and no one besides him was out in the horrid weather (damn Mustang for that.) He curled flesh toes in a damp sock, hesitating. Hand in a ruined report to the Bastard and get taunted, or figure out what the hell that thing was.
Ed looked over his shoulder at the coldly glowing fluorescent light of Headquarters, then dropped the slimy mess of sticking-together papers three feet from the gate, shoving his heavy braid back into his hood and dragging the fabric over his head; he slunk across the road, arms tense and waiting to transmute as he followed in the apparent tracks of whatever it was that had... had it been following him?
One street, two streets, a turn, and then the shadow he'd been following was gone, instantly, as if he'd never even imagined it. He growled, dashing around the corner as a dim alchemical reaction pulled the blade from the casing of his arm, but sure as he'd been that he'd seen it, whatever- whoever he'd been following wasn't up to being followed anymore.
Not that Ed was about to give up. Slinking forward, vision impeded by the slanting rain even around the taller buildings, he tensed, wary and not about to call out and give his slightly vulnerable-feeling self away.
Something colder than the rain touched his cheek, and he stood stock-still.
Another feeling, like a soft breath, passed by his lips.
Again, a chill against his forehead, and this one moved lower, feeling like a sliding cube of ice. That tore it; Ed's eyes widened and he slashed once across the empty air before doing a very un-Elric thing: he turned tail and ran.
I don't believe in ghosts. It wasn't a ghost, it was... atmospheric conditions. Ed raced through puddles, soaked boots sloshing and coat heavy with water. Ghosts don't come out at goddamn four in the afternoon.
He hadn't even thought to change his arm back until he stopped in front of the gates he'd left behind, panting. The gloppy papers still lay, just at his feet, and he kicked them once before pushing one creaking gate side open and slipping through. It slammed behind him like it would keep away the shadows, and only a few moments later, after nearly running down two soldiers on their way out, the thicker doors of Central HQ closed at his back, and he leaned against them.
Havoc, who just happened to be passing by, blinked, grinned, and gave a blasé salute. "Hey, Boss. Mustang was wondering if you'd show up-... What, didja see a ghost or somethin'?"
Ed's eyes opened, stared, and closed again as he shoved past the Lieutenant, growling, "Noshutup," under his breath as he turned and made his way down the hall.
A whisper of cold air across his cheek made him jump, and he whipped around to stare again; a window was open slightly, rain-cooled air seeping through. He glared and quickly shut it, only taking a cursory glance back when he realized Havoc had still been watching. His glance flickered to the window again, and he smirked, almost sheepish, and fled with a hasty, "S'cold."
Havoc shrugged, and Ed stumped his way down the hall again, shoulders hunched against the darkened, cold coat on his back.
Mustang's office was at least warmer; Hawkeye greeted him and nodded to the doors; for once, Ed didn't kick them open, but turned the knob and slipped through, wooden barrier closing softly behind him. The Colonel was sitting at his desk, head bent over his paperwork, pen rapidly scribbling. It was a change from the way Ed normally saw him, leaned back and idly twiddling his thumbs or... whatever he did to get out of signing his name.
Ed stood and watched, silent, expecting Roy to have heard him, but he finally had to clear his throat rather loudly before the man looked up. "Ah, Fullmetal. I didn't see you-"
Ed just waved his hand and stepped further in, shrugging off his water-laden coat and flopping it against the nice couch just to spite the Colonel. The rest of him, with a clap, was gently steaming in moments. Roy, however, seemed unimpressed, and as Ed, too, flopped on the couch and propped his feet up on the table with a glance back at the closed door.
"Something the matter, Fullmetal?"
"Huh? Oh, uh. No." Ed scowled. "So I'm here, Bastard, whaddaya want?"
"I thought I had requested a written report on your... misadventures in Lindton?"
"Yeah, well." Ed glanced away and made a vague motion to the outside. "So I dropped it. Y'want it, it's out front by the gates."
Roy followed the line of his arm to look outside, where the rain was now just spitting out of the gray sky. "I see," he returned blandly. "Well, you are lucky, then, Fullmetal. I happen to have some extra paper and a pen; you'll have to re-copy it."
"What?! But I told you everything! You already knew, anyway!" The scowl creased Ed's face further; he crossed his arms and huffed, curling himself closer so his heels hit the lower edge of the couch.
"Yes, but I'm not the one who's going to read the report." Ed wanted to smack him, and almost did, but just got up and leaned, seething, over the desk where his hands were planted for a brief moment and glared. Roy held up the sheaf of blank paper and a pen, almost innocently. A snort preceded Ed grabbing them and stomping back to the couch. "You almost gave me a papercut," Roy added.
"Should have been your face," Ed grumped in return, scribbling a few quick words in shorthand. But still, he knew Roy wouldn't let him leave- and knew that the man could stop him from leaving. Or Hawkeye would. So he snorted again, glanced at the door, then the window, and went back to his papers.
In the time that Ed sat, scribbling furious sentences onto the paper, as if to rip it, Roy glanced up occasionally, noticing the Ed's own glances at the door and even the window. Once, Roy caught him, and the blonde bangs masked his face as he hurriedly returned to the several pages he'd filled.
The report had only lasted about fifteen minutes before it became rapid speculation on the occurrence of ghosts or ghouls or... something, and ponderings of what, exactly, they could do, for being incorporeal, that is. He'd even sketched a couple of arrays, almost sidling his way into the realm of some sort of protection via alchemy. When several of the sheets met a crumpled, smashed end to roll across the floor in a ball, Roy finally looked up speculatively. "Surely it's easier to write a report on something other than the back of a train schedule with a crayon."
Ed's pen fell to its side on the paper and he shoved himself up from the couch, throwing on his still-damp coat. "Yeah, well not with you breathin' down my neck." He turned to leave, intent on ignoring whatever Roy had to say.
Except that he couldn't really bring himself to put his hand on the doorknob. Even after running all the way back, he still had... a feeling. Ed didn't like getting feelings. They usually- well, almost always- ended badly.
He clenched his fist and spread his fingers again, reaching the few more inches closer to the knob, but stopped.
"Something wrong, Fullmetal?" Roy asked, raising an eyebrow. Usually, Ed would have kicked down the door or alchemized it or something to escape Roy's teasing, but staring at his back, the man's eyes narrowed, and he asked again. "Edward?"
"I, uh..." Ed hesitated, awfully tempted to, for some reason, offer his paranoia up for examination to the Colonel. "...Nothin'. Leave me alone."
Roy didn't follow when Ed left and shut the door only slightly harder than necessary. His gaze stayed aligned where Ed's black flamel would have been before dropping once more to the papers he needed to finish by the end of the day.
As Ed scuffed his way down the hall, his feeling grew, and his glance trailed to the windows lining the wall to outside; the rain had almost completely stopped by then, and the doors only opened to a chill leftover from the torrent. He hesitated again, then clomped down the steps, shivering as the cold of his coat soaked through his clothes again. He'd dry them when he got back.
But some of the anxiety he felt fled as he went through the courtyard and to the gate; his papers were gone, so someone had obviously picked them up and probably thrown them away. And that fear he'd felt in the alley, and even in the Colonel's office had dissipated, however minutely, and so there was a slight hop-skip in his step as he made his way home, where he could confide in Alphonse.
Down the street, a block, then two, and across the street to the temporary 'dorms,' where the soldiers were being housed while headquarters underwent a repair of something-or-other that Ed didn't really pay attention to. The small apartments were an improvement over the shoddy dorms any day.
Ed could see the main door that led into the hallways of separate rooms, but his steps slowed, and he finally stopped, eyes widening. That feeling was back, and he shivered- actually shivered- as he stood in the street.
"What are you doing?" he whispered, feeling like a paranoid idiot for talking to a ghost, but he couldn't help trying to avoid it doing... whatever it could do to him.
Ice slid down the back of his neck and he yelped, turning with a crackle of alchemy, but-
He looked into dead eyes, impossibly gold and almost a match to the soft bangs that fell in front of them. There was no emotion in them, and Ed couldn't help but skid to a stop, blade bare hairs from the neck- that was his neck it couldn't be his neck but it was there and-...
The other said nothing. Hadn't even moved, and just stared like a statue as Ed's breath quickened and his heart pounded itself into panic.
"...Who are you?" Ed whispered, awe and fear softening his voice.
The copy- exactly like him but Envy and not and red and those tattoos- stared. Its head moved, glancing down the blade and meeting Ed's eyes again. The voice was so dead, so lifeless, not like the others. "Edward," it said, just as softly as Ed himself had, like it was considering.
"No. No, no. No, I'm Edward. You, you're... you're." The copy tilted its head- was... was it confused? Didn't it understand? "Don't move!" Edward demanded, clenching his automail fist tighter. "I- I know how to kill you."
Not-Edward seemed to consider that. Its head tilted further, and it obeyed. But its answer to Edward's first question finally came, one simple word.