Chapter 2 - Are we equals?
As she cried, sitting on his lap, Bradley felt his joints stirring with protest. Not moving for so long was hard. He felt angry at himself. Usually, it would take him much longer to feel pain. But Amelia had a way to reach him faster than all the rest. He got her to lie down next to him, keeping down all the words and questions growing in his mind. She wanted him by her side. Not all of him. Not the homunculus side of him. And that hurt. Because he felt so much more homunculus than human.
“You cry too much.” He whispered after sometimes. “You’re going to exhaust yourself.”
She shook her head and tried to dry off her tears. It was so hard to face him acting like that, just as his old self but still, as a stranger at the same time. He held her mechanically, still clumsily trying to get used to have someone this close to himself.
“Why do you care?” she asked, her voice frail, but still full of resentment.
“You’re the one I’m depending on, now.”
He didn’t say that he disliked the situation. He did, but he had been dependant to human for as long as he could remember. They had tried to break him and had been his masters for so many years. Even when he thought he remembered something from the past, he couldn’t say he had been free for even one day.
She snuggled closer to him, and he felt his body reacting to her. Her breathing on his chest was so warm. Her now soft weeping was torture. He wanted to hold her face in his hands, he wanted... God, he wanted so many things he’d never want before, it hurt. He almost wanted to push her away to get a chance to regain all the control he still had over himself. His arms were feeling numb after holding her for so long. But he couldn’t let go.
She had been his wife. And somehow, he still wanted her to be his, in every possible ways. He knew that demanding anything now would be wrong. He was slightly mad for it. Having her so close and knowing she was so far at the same was infuriating. Every part of this new situation was driving him mad. But after all, he was Wrath.
He’d almost wanted her to call him by this name, just to know it could be said on a gentle tone. But wouldn’t it be wrong to hear her say: “Oh Wrath...”
But still, it was so close to that Brad nickname.
Bradley didn’t know for how long they stood like this, unmoving, just waiting for her to calm down. At some point, he realized she had fallen asleep. And since the bed sheets and pillows were comfortable, he decided that sleeping in wouldn’t be that bad. Little did he know that nightmares would follow his decision.
“You’re the twelfth. Will you withstand my wrath?”
A blond, ominous man was standing over his operation table. He couldn’t see his eyes. He couldn’t see much. Wrath fought the leather’s bands tying him to the table. He hated the impression of being restrained and caged. He wanted to run away. He had no idea what he was doing in this room anymore. Had he willingly lied down on this operation table?
What were all those corpses doing there, in the next room?! He knew those guys. He was the twelfth... So, was he also going to die? A word rung in his head, over and over again. Führer, Führer, Führer. He should be able to become Führer if he lived through that. But what were they planning to do to him? What was a Führer already?
And moreover, what am I?
He felt the philosopher stone being injected under his skin. How it burned his blood... How it burned and destroyed and torn apart. He yelled until his lungs were pierced and as soon as they were reconstructed and that the blood in his mouth was spitted out, he yelled again. The pain was tremendous. It was beyond anything anyone had ever felt. And worst than anything else, it last for hours. Destroying and repairing. He felt his brain rotting and redeveloping itself. He could barely tell which part of his body could move and which part was broken. The stench of his own blood filled the room. He couldn’t even wonder over any of the worries he had as he had walked in the room and seen the corpses of his comrades.
Wrath wanted to die right away. And he could tell somehow, that at this point, he wasn’t Wrath or Bradley. All he knew was that he had to fight. And he fought to the bitter end. His right eye blew up at some point and as he flinched and twisted and yelped in pain, still, he was bound to the table, tied like a madman. Was it to protect himself or to protect the scientist around him? He couldn’t tell. Hadn’t time to wonder. Hadn’t wits to even make one whole sentence in his head. Red sparks ran around his body. His blood was like bolts of thunder running wild, tearing up his skin. Countless souls were pulling on his consciousness.
He felt his spirit trembling and screaming inside his skull. He was nothing but pain. He was on the verge of agony. But his untamed spirit roared, back to its most basic instincts. The many unknown souls lashed at him, driving him mad with their yells. And he lashed back, still fighting the stone, fighting to remain sane and moreover, to remain himself.
He had to win this. He couldn’t let things end just like that. And somehow, Wrath knew things were just beginning. Was this a memory? It felt far too wicked to come out of his own mind. So it had to be real. And it kind of fitted with Amelia’s story.
Amelia? How could he think about her now? He felt so young, so full of life, did he even know her at that time?
He writhed in pain, as the souls had one last surge of strength. The leather straps were still hurting his sides, almost biting him. He wanted to break free from the pain and suddenly...
... he woke up!
There was still something bounding him from moving and he slightly panicked at first. He was just on the verge of dying and...!
As he jerked up on the bed, he woke Amelia, who looked surprised at first. He tried to understand where he was and brought one hand to his face, to cover his tattooed eye. It burned. And to his own consternation, he was shaking from head to toes.
“It was a nightmare, right?” she asked him.
He looked away, ashamed. Where were all those fears coming from? Why couldn’t he stop to shake? He was a homunculus, how could he fear a simple nightmare?
He felt the hand of his wife on his shoulder and tensed for a few seconds.
“It was the nightmare with the scientists dressed in white, when you were tied to that operation table?” she whispered.
It was only half a question.
“You knew about that?”
She smiled to him. The room was dark, with the curtains closed and all. He felt vulnerable in front of her. But he could see no judgment in her eyes. No mockery on her wrinkled face. His heart which was still trembling in his chest steadied back to a normal rhythm, but his shoulders kept on shaking.
“You told me long ago about it Brad. You always had nightmares. Over the past. And the war...”
She wrapped one arm around his shoulders and gently forced him to lie back on his pillows. She could hardly tell it wasn’t really him now. This was the Bradley only she knew.
“There’s nothing shameful about being afraid you know.”
“I’m not...!” he bit his lips, refusing to lie about it. She was anything but dumb. He looked down, his right eye still aching from a ghost pain. “Dammit, woman, do you have x-rays behind your eyes or something?”
She giggled at that. Then, she softly stroked his face with the tips of her fingers, before to cover his tattooed eye with one hand. The touch of her skin soothed the pain and he sighed with relief.
“What are you, Amelia?” he asked her.
How could he have forgotten someone who made him feel so better? How could he...?
She ignored his question, replying with a truth that burned him to the bones.
“They almost broke you down, back in those days...”
He shivered. Somehow, this nightmare was almost as scary as the forsaken bones the gangsters used to control him. He wanted to close himself from the outside world, but showing his fear would be showing flaws. And he was still too proud for that. But Amelia didn’t care about flaws and weaknesses. She hugged him, guiding his head to rest on her chest, close to the hollow of her neck.
“Live the fear now. Let it out. It won’t come back as fast as it would if you just try to hide it.”
He slowly relaxed in that new kind of embrace. It didn’t take long for the shaking to stop. He knew Amelia would be no protection against any of those scientists or even the ominous blond man. He knew she was frail and weak, but her warmth and loving care were so good to taste. He needed that. And more, so more of it. He snuggled to her, feeling her soft breasts through her nightgown. Her skin was paradise and she laughed as his beard tickled her neck. He wanted to touch her, to hold her, to lose himself in all her warmth.
“Are we really married?” he asked her, once he felt completely relaxed and all he could wonder over was : how the heck had he forgotten something like that?!
“We never divorced,” she retorted. Her throat tied in a knot.
Wrong question, of course.
“I didn’t mean... One day ago, I was a rat in a cage and now...” he paused for a long time, not wanting to let her know how much he appreciated the situation. “How long have we been together? Did we have a house? Can a homunculus have a family with a human? What more surprise are you keeping from me?”
She could hear his strong voice resonating through her ribcage. As he used to talk to her after love, and when she would do nightmare. Or when he would cry... Suddenly, he was too close, because that wasn’t her Bradley anymore. She pushed him back, but he insisted.
“Why don’t you tell me?”
“Why don’t you try to remember? You remember being injected with that dreadful stone, you remember very well that you’re a homunculus, so why don’t you do some effort! I could not have come to get you back, you know. If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t even care about me!”
“And it was my fault that I forgot?”
She shook her head and tried to get up, but he grabbed her shoulders firmly.
“Maybe I lied in the past, but I don’t remember it, I swear. So be angry with me, but don’t... Don’t keep on playing with me like that. Getting all nice because I remind you of who I was and running away as soon as you recall I’m not...”
He stopped there, realizing he made no sense.
“Where do I stand here? What are my rights, what can I say? We’re equal, but you get mad whenever I ask questions. Don’t I have a right to know? You’re my wife, alright. If I was simply human and suffered amnesia, you’d try and help me remember, wouldn’t you? Why is it different, then?”
She shrugged his hands off and rolled on her back to stare at the ceiling, her arms tightly crossed over her chest.
“You said it yourself. We’re different.”
He blinked. Using his very own words against him, huh? By the beard of the emperor, that woman stirred him even when she was driving him mad! If he listened to himself, he would have her turning around and kissed her right there. He wanted to be held close once again. He hardly gulped down. All those desires he never had before, how he wished he could stop them from bursting in his head. But they were all coming, one after the other. It felt like a storm in his heart.
“Alright then, Mrs Bradley. From now on, you’re to call me Wrath.”
She looked upset and was about to say something against it, but he cut her off.
“And I don’t want to hear you say a thing like King or Bradley or Brad. Since I don’t remember it myself, you’ll name me as I will it.”
“You have no right to order me...!”
“I’ve taken your orders so far, Mrs Bradley. You could be nice enough to obey mine as well.”
He sounded so serious, it was scary. She bit her lips, wondering if she had made a mistake to have him in the same room than her. She didn’t want to doubt him. But he was a homunculus. He almost sounded proud of it. And it was hard to keep it in mind all the time, even with that eye looking at her.
“Wrath! As long as I can’t remember, it’s Wrath, alright!”
“How do you want to remember if...!”
“You don’t want to help me, so don’t!” He retorted.
He jumped out of the bed to pace around the room, clearly mad. She sat up, gathering the covers around her, to hide from him. He saw it and seemed even madder. And she remembered he’d rarely ever acted like that. Only when he had terrible news for her. And she remembered, even if he didn’t. That time when he told her he would never be able to give her a child. He had been so mad at himself. And she had tried so hard not to cry. And she realized, it was almost the same situation now. He wasn’t mad at her. He wanted to punish himself, by denying his human name, since she denied him all the memories they had shared. But how could she make it that easy for him, when he could be faking just to get her forgiveness? And how she wanted to forgive right away for the lies, but it was just too much to ask. She wouldn’t let it go unpunished. So she watched him pace back and forth, shivering. She felt hungry and angry at the same time.
“Why don’t you try it one time, huh?” he asked bitterly.
“I won’t call you Wrath in front of our son.” She replied.
That caught him unprepared. He stared at her, his mouth gaping open for a second. For one instant, she felt the glorious burn of revenge in her heart as she saw pain on his face and shock and consternation. Yes, that was all she felt as she learned the truth about her husband.
Bradley didn’t feel like ordering anyone around. He walked up to the bed and kneeled on the mattress, feeling confused.
“But I can’t... A human and a homunculus? You... we... a son?”
He sounded like the way he had reacted at first, when she had suggested they tried having kids for the first time. Except from the “a human and a homunculus” question... She sighed.
“We have a son, WRATH.”
He looked down as she emphasized his “name”.
“Forget about that order. Where is he? How old...? Why...?”
She knew he was trying not to care. Fighting the feelings, as he often did even when he was around her. She simply smiled at him.
“We’re not that different, you know.”
He scolded at that, perfectly aware that she was right... He didn’t want her to be different from him. But he was angry at himself for falling for her so fast. How could he make it that easy for her? How could he be so nice? Had it always been in him? He felt an urge for defiance. She was messing around with him, pulling every strings, controlling the situation. And if his name really was King Bradley, he had a right to have a little control too. So he walked up to her, still kneeling on the bed, and with a devious smirk on his pale face, he slowly got her to lie back down.
“I know just how different we are, Amelia, and just how we could still fit together, don’t think forgetting the past made me that naïve.”
His hands roamed over her body as he lied over her entirely, and he smelled her from up close, delighted by her warmth. He was also glad to feel her tensing up to their proximity, but not pushing him away either. So he had a power over her. That was reassuring. And how he wanted to use the power she gave him.
“I won’t do anything.” He cut her off, even if it really sounded the other way around. “It’s just... If we were... we are married, so I can guess we were lovers. But I know I can’t...”
Memories were hitting in flashes, violent picture under his eyes and his hands were almost clawing at her body to keep him in the real world. His tattooed eye was aching again. He could see her, years younger than now. He also saw the hated scientist from his earlier nightmare. Walking around him, running tests, shaking their heads. He felt his insides twisting at the memory of their unfriendly voice. At the words that only meant he was fake.
As a homunculus, you may never become a father. You’re infertile.
This was from the past, a piece of flaw, or maybe a benediction for humanity. Manmade humans couldn’t spawn themselves. His seed was fruitless. He couldn’t care less about that. But she made him care. Or maybe a part of him cared, because he was different to other men and lower than them in that way. It was maybe the only side of him lower, but it was already too much. Because the fact he had been human before raised the question, could he have been infertile from the start, or was it the transmutation imposed on him? Having kids meant burdening one’s self. But it wasn’t only that.
I’m a fake in every way. And my rights were also fakes.
“I can’t... A homunculus cannot have children, you do know that, don’t you?”
She finally understood why she saw pain under his anger. It was clear now as to why his arms were so tightly wrapped around her, and why he needed to touch her, everywhere. He could accept that they were a couple. He really seemed to like the idea in fact. He could accept that she ordered him around and that he depended on her. But that she would say they had a son, when he couldn’t...
“I always was loyal to you, Brad. We adopted him.”
He wasn’t sure if that was really what he was getting at. She was just confusing him. He leaned on her, with his head on her chest. She huffed and complained:
“I’m old and wasted.” He retorted angrily, before to shift till only his upper body was resting on her. “Tell me more about that kid.”
She sighed, and he thought he liked hearing the sound of her breathing through her ribcage. It felt so peaceful. It was calming down his wrath.
“He’s about six years old. He actually looks a bit like you. Dark hair. Dark eyes.”
“You know that doesn’t make sense.”
He felt her raising herself under his weight and somehow, he knew she was smiling. She started toying with his hair.
“You had parents once, before that those scientists took you in to do god knows what.”
He held back a shiver. How come she could have him feeling this vulnerable and this calm at the same time? There was so much bitterness and tenderness in her words. She loved him. She also hated him. And somehow, he was able to feel it all at the same time. He wasn’t sure if he owed any of the feelings. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore. The only thing he knew was that he couldn’t long for anything but her. He would have regarded it as a stupid thought only a few hours before. But did he care for the past with the chains? She had been there before those. She was still there now that the chains were gone. And for once, Bradley could wish for eternity.
She closed her eyes as he brushed his face to her chest. One of his arms was wrapped around her. His other hand was gently brushing the side of her arm, and the side of her body. Lingering to her breast. The touch was soft, like birds wings brushing against her skin. Even if his hands weren’t soft at all, she shivered under his caresses. He was doing it half-consciously, not meaning to awake her entirely. She could tell he needed her. Needed to remember all of her. And how she craved to have him entirely to her. But it felt as if it was the first time he touched her. Because that wasn’t him. So she forced herself to hide her reactions to his little game.
“Why aren’t you talking anymore?” he asked.
His voice sounded rough compared to the dance of his fingers, following an imaginary trail down her waist.
She blinked, trying to remember what she was talking about.
“Selim...” she started.
The caresses stopped and he tensed instantly, as if the name triggered a terrible memory in his mind. And it did. He curled around her, his breathing accelerating.
Under his eyelids, he could see a kid, or well, something resembling a kid. It was surrounded by shadows with eyes and fangs and creepy smiles. Hands like tentacles were waving, darker than the darkness itself. The kid had purple-red eyes, like poison and blood. He was talking to him. Giving him orders. The monstrous child was giving him orders!
He gasped, clutching to the woman, looking at the shadows as if they could smile and laugh at him suddenly. How could he forget about HIM?
“Pride. His name’s Pride.”
Since she knew that he was a homunculus, was there really a need to pretend Pride wasn’t a monster too? If something was to be said, Pride was far bigger the monstrosity. And as the memories ran and flashed, burning his brain, chilling him to the bones, he had to wonder. How was it he could remember everything related to homunculus, but nothing about Amelia? He knew she had been with him in the past for far longer than Pride. But... Had he really forced her to live under the same room as that demon?
He remembered talking with his elder brother about it.
“You’ll adopt me in a few weeks now. Think you’re ready to share your little wife with me, Wrath?”
He couldn’t remember his answer to that question. All he remembered were Pride’s eyes. And hell knew, that devil had thousand of eyes. Just remembering it, Wrath had to wonder how he ever got used to his real looks. How he’d been able to pretend he liked the kid as a son, how he’d get the nerve to pat him on the head and to put him on his shoulder, when he knew that behind the skin, in the very shadow of the child...
”Bradley, you’re hurting me!” Amelia warned him.
He eased his grasp on her, raising himself on the bed, to look at her in the eyes.
“You know about Pride, right? He’s dangerous, he’s got all those tentacles and...!”
Had she been alone with that thing? As long as he had been living with them, Bradley knew Pride would stay quiet and wouldn’t try anything funny on his fake mother. But as he remembered the kid, he remembered the constant fear he had about him.
“Don’t! Don’t start telling me what kind of monster he could have been before, WRATH!”
She punched him, tears gathering in her eyes once again.
“It was your idea to adopt him, remember? He’s not a homunculus, not anymore, he’s my little boy, my Selim! And you... how can you try to warn me now, after deciding all by yourself that you could let me care for him just to keep up your pretences, for your messed up plan!” she angrily snapped at him. She tried to push him away, to escape from his hug, but he used his strength against her.
He wasn’t going to let her win every fight. His heart was beating fast, so very fast. He wished he could remember everything, because he couldn’t believe he had been sane and made the decision to have her living in the same house as Pride. He had seen Pride killing people. He knew he could eat anyone to absorb their power. The shadowy first homunculus had centuries of experience. His child boy was but another vessel. He was certainly empty inside. And to think that thing had been with her.
“Did you leave him alone back home to come here looking for me? He must be plotting something in our back. He always liked to crept in the shadows, that’s just...”
“Shut up! Don’t you dare to say that! He’s not a monster. He’s just a kid. My kid! My son and all that I have left.”
Bradley wanted to shake her up, to talk some sense into her, but after all, she had ran back to him and even shared bed with him, while perfectly knowing that he was a monster himself.
“It was your idea, Wrath, your idea to adopt him, your pretending that we were a family! If he was really dangerous for me, why did you bring him to our home, huh? How could you lie about our own son!? How could you...”
Unable to stand one more words, he shut her off by the only way he could think off. With his lips on hers. He couldn’t remember kissing her, but he instinctively knew what to do. Just as he had relearn to hold her. And despite all her anger towards him, Amelia wasn’t able to push him away. She had missed him. Now that he was back, almost entirely back, she could tell just how she had missed him. The butterfly kiss turned to a rose and then to burning passion. Bradley’s hands were holding her, grabbing her, as if she could vanish from his grasp. It hurt, but her fingernails were digging in his back as payback. He kissed her till she moaned. How powerful that made him felt.
As they parted for air, he could tell she was still furious. But he was feeling a little less confused. Now that he’d tasted her, he could tell how he could be ready to risk her around Pride if that meant he could keep her.
Still, this is bad. I fell right into her trap, he thought to himself.
She stared at him, blinking back her tears, breathless. He felt his back asking for respite as she was whimpering for more. And how it stirred him, despite the fact he wanted to stay in control of himself.
Have mercy, darn woman, he thought.
She answered his prayers. She pushed him away, not too gently, getting up, not even minding that fact her nightgown was a mess. The skirt had rolled up and he could see her tights. The skin wasn’t entirely smooth, she wasn’t in her prime twenties, but bare skin was enough for him. He looked to the ceiling. What was going on with him?
“It’s about enough sleeping in, we’re going to miss our train.” She growled.
“You’re not my Bradley, and I won’t let you have your way with me just because you look like him!”
He frowned as she walked up to the bathroom. She had kissed him back, and held him down so that he would stay close to her. Had he misinterpret her reaction?
“I’ll never be my old self! I never was that man!” he retorted angrily.
She let the door of the bathroom bang shut and he slightly jumped in the bed. What did she want? To have him by her side? Right... But she wanted a fantasy that never really existed, since he had lied in the past. What was he supposed to do? Lying now would only be worse. And still, he was doing his best, being nice and all. He wanted to be by her side, for the emperor’s sake, how could she ask more? It was already a lot from him after all that he’d been through. Why could she comfort it when she felt like it and couldn’t he kiss her if he wanted?
He surely didn’t care about a train. His stomach growled after some time, reminding him he had barely eaten his supper yesterday night. He waited for a moment, staring at the ceiling angrily. His stomach insisted and Amelia showed no intention of coming back in the room.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, he decided that if she wasn’t willing to answer to his every wish, she could at least fill his empty belly with food.
He felt dumb for depending on her about that, but she was his master after all. He had been pretty dumb to think she would give him all the rights he thought he had.
“I’m hungry!” he yelled throughout the room, giving up on what was left of his pride.
“Then call some room service!” she responded from the bathroom.
And thus begin their trip back to Amestris, where they would rejoin with Selim, or well, Pride as Bradley kept on referring to him.
Amelia had vowed to herself that she wouldn’t let Wrath seducing her a second time and was keeping her distance, even if she missed his arms. Whenever he was remembering something from the past, she wondered if he was just pretending to get her to cooperate with him or if he was telling the truth. He didn’t argue anymore on which name she should call him. Whenever she called him Wrath, it was because she was angry. There was no more dear and darling, except when she was tired. He supposed she was taking a few steps back because he had been too rash.
They spent half a week in a train, eating together and sleeping in different bed. She discovered that he had lost his table’s manners and tried to educate him about that, even if he wasn’t too cooperative. He still had nightmares, about either Pride, the other homunculi or the experiences made on him when he was still human and sometimes, she would sit on the edge of his bed to shake him awake, when she saw him tossing and turning, mumbling and sweating his sleep for too long. Every night, he woke up to her face and he often try to get her to lie down with him. But she refused him the comfort. She recognized his pain, but he was talking about strangers and often looked at her with a stranger’s eyes.
She knew they were both rediscovering each other, but she’d prefer that it was already over. What she wanted was to feel recognized when she saw her reflection in his eyes. And she still had trouble to face that tattooed eye.
“Are we going to play chess, again?” he asked on the fourth morning.
Whenever she didn’t read one of her book, she would suggest a game of card or of chess. He sucked at card, but he was getting better at chess. He had to relearn the rules from scraps, holding no memory of it. And even if he was becoming better, she was often winning. After all, Amelia had gotten a lot of practice, playing with Mustang when he would come to visit. At first, Bradley had found it boring that she could wonder over her next step in the game for minutes and what looked like hours. His mind would often stray from the game and he would find himself staring at her, or staring at her reflection in their wagon’s window.
He wanted to run his hand through her hair. He wanted her to be angry at him instead of ignoring him as much as she could. How could she have taken him out of his prison just to play chess with him? He had won one game out of seven. Hard to believe he ever had been a Führer.
If he looked at himself in the mirror, he could tell a lot had changed. There were no more blood vessels in the white of his eyes thanks to all his recent sleep –despite the nightmares - and his beard had been trimmed, leaving him with only a moustache, which Amelia seemed to love a great deal.
“We won’t have enough time. We should be home for lunch,” she replied casually.
Home, he thought. He’d never say it out loud, but he was curious to see it.
The mansion he faced a few hours later wasn’t the one he remembered, but it was still tremendously huge!
“Is that really a house? It’s half as big as the emperor castle!”
“Come on, Brad... It’s been a long trip and I’m really worn out.”
“You sure Pride haven’t wrecked the place while you were gone?”
“It’s Selim, try to keep it in mind, King.”
She called him King when she was angry too. He nodded, pretending to ignore her indifference towards him. He didn’t say another way of reacting to it. When he was vindictive, she only kept silent. If he asked politely for attention, she would look to the ceiling. If he suggested a chess game, he would be in for hours of silence and contemplating chess pieces. And if she decided to bury her face in some book, all hope would be lost to get even a smile from her.
He couldn’t believe he was so low as to want any of her attention. But he was slowly starting to regain his memory. He remembered Father and the army, mostly. But he also remembered something, or well, someone, who had helped him go through all the greatest challenges. And it was her. Now she was the challenge. And he was aiming to win.
As they entered the house, though, Bradley discovered he had a rival in this challenge.
A little boy came running, yelling:
“Mommy, mommy, you’re finally back!”
The boy had dark hair and dark eyes. He had a strange circle in the middle of his head. He slightly looked like Pride, but something was gone from him. He looked younger than Pride. And since Pride’s human body was nothing but a container for his true form, he couldn’t age and even less regress in age.
“Oh, sweetheart, mom is so glad to see you.”
Amelia bent down to bring the child in a hug and she even raised him in her arms. Bradley jealously observed how the kid snuggled to her, tightly embraced by her frail arms. Selim looked up over his mother shoulders and met Wrath’s glare. Instead of cowering in fear, the boy glared back, wrapping his little arms around his mother’s neck.
“Who’s that, mama?” Selim asked.
Amelia smiled and shook her head. She hadn’t been sure if Selim was ready to meet with Bradley, or well, if Bradley was ready to meet with his adopted son. It was easy to guess just by looking at her husband that he still doubted that Selim could be something else than that “Pride”.
“He’s your father.” She answered simply.
Selim frowned, confused.
“But I already told you I don’t need a daddy mom. I got uncle Mustang, and uncle Havoc and ol’ Grumman.”
The names woke something deep in Bradley. Especially the Mustang’s mention. He knew that man. What was he doing around his house? And moreover, what was he doing around his wife when she was bound to be alone and in grief? Bradley remembered a dashing young man fitting the Mustang’s name. A man who liked to charm and seduce women, regardless of age. And he had heard weird sayings before, of how experienced women were far more interesting than younger ones. Oh, he felt his anger rise at the idea he could have any competition. Since Amelia had idealized him as a human man, he couldn’t compete with real humans. And there was no chance another homunculus shows up with interests in her.
“Hush, hush, I know you have lots of friends, Selim. But this man is really important to me.”
Selim wasn’t convinced by that. He could tell his mom wasn’t telling the entire truth. Bradley still envied the little guy just to have a right to stay that close to his Amelia. He knew the woman wanted him to get along with the kid, but he couldn’t, not with all the memories he had from Pride, his elder brother.
Funny to think of a kid as his elder, but he knew better than to care about looks. As Amelia put Selim back down and both guys found them facing each other for the first time, the moment turned pretty awkward. Selim was mostly unsure of what to think of this tall man. He looked like the guy on the photograph, but he could tell something was wrong about this man. A smell, or... He wasn’t sure how to put it, but something deep down in his child’s heart was telling him not to stare at those creepy eyes for too long.
“What’s up with that red-eye you got, sir?” he bluntly asked.
Amelia was stricken at this moment that if Bradley had just lost his memories from the past, maybe was it the same for her adopted son. Would meeting his old fake father would drive him back into being the homunculus he once was? And how could that be? She had done all she could to raise the child properly. She taught him what was right and wrong and more than all, she taught him love.
“Oh, it’s a scary story, boy.” Wrath retorted.
He smiled as Selim took a step back, his face whitening, but his smile turned upside down as he spotted Amelia’s disapproving stare. He had forgotten he was supposed to act nice with the kid, since she considered Pride as a mere child and moreover as her son.
Their son. If he forgot that it was Pride, he could almost feel an unbearable pressure on his shoulders. But he wouldn’t forget. Not anymore.
“I had this eye patch on the pictures, remember?” he asked, lowering his voice and forcing on a peaceful smile.
The boy nodded.
“My eye had been hurt during a war, and I went to get it fixed. It looks weird, but I can see again.” He quickly made up his story.
Selim seemed half convinced by it and suggested to show his mom the latest gift his uncle Mustang had brought for him.
“Go first, sweetheart, I’ll follow shortly. I just... have to get your father settled back in our home, alright?”
Selim smiled and ran away. As Amelia turned to look at her “husband”, she saw him frowning, lost in thought. Pride had never been such a good actor before, or did he remember it wrong?
“There was no need to lie to him.” She said, clearly angry.
“Well, am I supposed to explain that I’m a homunculus to that brat?”
“Take that back, Bradley!”
“He’s just pretending, I know he is!” he protested.
She slapped him, unable to hold back her anger any longer.
“Look at yourself before to talk! The three of us will be living all together now, so I don’t want you to scare Selim or to be hard with him. It’s not because you were in my life before that you have more rights than him. It’s the other way around, since he was there for me when you weren’t!”
“Oh yeah? It’s easy if he was just a baby at that time! I was sent to war and why did you do to stop it, huh?”
“Don’t yell, please, I don’t want to fret him.” She asked, fighting back the tears that were coming back.
It was the first time they were arguing since the morning in the hotel room. And Bradley was mad at her for crying and making him look like the bad guy once again. What was he supposed to do to please her?
“Alright then, but don’t tell me he’s an angel because he was there when I wasn’t. I don’t even remember what brought me to that war. He was a baby and he needed to be looked after when you were in no shape to look after someone, not even yourself. And I’m the bad guy?”
“I didn’t say that, Brad. It’s hard for all of us; won’t you try to understand me a little?”
“I’ve tried nothing else but that!”
“You’re yelling again!”
“Mommy, aren’t you coming? Mooooom?”
“I’m coming sweetheart!” she retorted.
“And how come he’s your sweetheart, huh?”
“Oh, so I get it now. You’re jealous.” She understood out loud.
Her tears had dried and a light smirk was on her lips. Discovered, he tried to defend himself.
“Me, jealous? From a little kid? You’re crazy!”
He could have slapped himself. Of course, he was jealous. He felt as if he was being tested and even if she went all the way out to Xin to get him, it didn’t mean she wouldn’t throw him away if she got bored of him. He felt like her dog, but after all, he still looked at him like his master. And he didn’t want to be punished and bound by chains another time, or to end up in a dark room where he would stay till he decayed and died.
“Why are you scared Brad?”
“Oh, I’ve let him wait long enough. We’ll talk again later, alright dear? You can leave our luggage in the entrance, just walk around the house and try to settle down.”
She walked away with that, without even looking back. For an instant, Bradley felt like an orphan. She was all he had now. And she preferred to spend time with a kid than with him. Darn Pride and his cute looks!
As he was about to consume his rage in mental loathing, the bell door rang. He looked around, surprised, and decided to open the door, since Amelia was acting as if he was her husband and thus, the owner of the place. He knew it barely made sense, but he needed to raise his self-esteem somehow. The man he met on the outside reminded him of many memories.
Roy stood very still as he recognized the old Führer. Bradley stood very straight, looking as strong and powerful as before. For a moment, the new general thought he had stepped back in time. And then he found his voice again.
“So you’re back, sir.”
For a short moment, Bradley thought he wouldn’t find anything to say. But a laugh came to his lips as an old habit awakening in front of the younger soldier. He had to handle this encounter. If he could, the rest was also possible.
“Oh oh, Mustang! It’s been years. That’s a nice moustache you got yourself. Where’s your loyal lieutenant?”
Roy shifted on his feet nervously. Was that a threat? It was weird to look at the old Führer and to see both of his eyes. The tattooed eye especially.
Wrath was amused to see him hesitate. Awww, another man weakness. It was almost comforting him.
“I won’t threaten anyone. I’m an old man, Mustang. I just wanted to know how Hawkeye’s doing.”
“She’s doing fine, sir.”
“That’s good, really good. You should bring her on your next visit, Mustang. Come in, come in, make yourself at home. We’ve just arrived to Central and I got some catching up to do, if you would be so kind.”
Mustang followed him inside, having the familiar and terrible feeling of stepping into the lion’s den. He sure hoped that wasn’t really it.