The gloves, Edward had decided, were worn as much out of habit as pure politeness. Because they were clean, pristine white, lending even more civility to the man's already elegant hands. But also because they pretended that, just like any other weapon, they would render Mustang harmless if ever you got him to take them off. It was a relief, to know that --however unlikely it was to actually happen-- the possibility was there.
It was less of a relief, to actually rid the colonel of his ever-present gloves, and discover the exact same array in the exact same place, not painted in clean, sharp black ink, but carved in his skin in ragged, ugly lines.
"I've never seen these before," he commented idly, as if he couldn't care less, as he traced the design with a fingertip. The flesh wasn't raised much; only the color was different, and in most places he could barely feel the half-healed cut in the middle. "Are you sure they were there?"
Mustang gave him a hooded look and a smirk that didn't mean anything, and declined to actually answer. It was, in itself, answer enough.
He wanted to tell Mustang he was one crazy bastard; there were other ways to make sure no one could truly disarm you. But neither Mustang nor him particularly liked stating the obvious.
"... what do you do when it heals over?" he continued, still in that tone that said he couldn't care less.
Mustang shrugged, still as elegantly as ever. "It doesn't heal over."
'I don't let it' was left unsaid. Ed shook his head, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
"It would be faster to just brand yourself, you know," he sniped. Wondering what sort of sharp object Mustang used on his own skin so he would be sure it scarred was not how he wanted to spend the rest of the evening, but it was a little late for that.
"I tried. It's not of any use."
Control. It was all about control, he reminded himself. He was proud when only a twitch of his eyelid betrayed his sudden desire to beat the hell out of that stupid bastard. Roy Mustang only shared when it was unimportant, because then it couldn't be used against him. If it was unimportant, if it was only idle chatter, then Ed could keep asking questions, and maybe Mustang would judge them --or him-- amusing enough to actually answer. If he made a big deal out of it, then that would be the end of it.
"Why is that?" he asked; his voice only radiated pure professional curiosity.
"Because either it heals too fast or the skin is dead, of course. And then I have to touch it with my other hand to transfer the alchemical charge, which severely limits the advantage of wearing the array on me in the first place."
Faint horror and professional interest fought; unsurprisingly, professional interest won. "I never thought that it could affect anything," Ed replied. "Aren't you charging the array through the glove already? If cloth isn't a deterrent, I wouldn't think a few millimeters of dead flesh would be enough to isolate it."
Roy shrugged, eyes trailing lazily over -- Ed realized -- the wisps of hair brushing against his collarbone. "For some reason it is."
"It's stupid," he scoffed, as much at the unconvincing reply as at Mustang's lack of willingness to debate their craft. "I can power my own transmutations through my arm and yet it's metal."
"Metal conducts electrical energy," Mustang replied. Ed was sure his earlier reluctance had just been teasing. Mustang was as eager, if not more, to talk strategies and theories than to have sex. But he was the same. It was a pretty convenient match.
"Alchemical surges are nothing like electricity," he replied heatedly. Electricity was far inferior as far as he was concerned. It couldn't create anything. He didn't see why anyone would lose their time trying to find uses to it.
Mustang smiled, and this time, while it still held amusement, it was nothing like a smirk. "If you say so."
He reached out and touched the back of his metal hand, over where the array was etched into his own flesh. Ed could only feel the pressure in the most clinical way, no warmth, no relative softness of the skin, and yet he had to repress a shiver.
"I wonder if you could activate an array placed there."
"I don't need arrays," Edward retorted, just because sometimes -- when he wasn't thinking about how exactly he'd gained the ability -- he enjoyed rubbing it in.
Mustang's hand drifted up, following the curve of what should have been his biceps. He didn't remember the name they used in automail talk. "But you need to clap. What if your other arm is broken? Caught under some rubble?"
Of course it was not worry hiding behind the idle curiosity, because the Flame Alchemist didn't worry for anything; worry over Ed's ability to defend himself would have indicated a fear of losing him. Fear of losing things or people only made them targets. Ergo, Roy Mustang didn't worry, be it for his friends, subordinates or lovers, and especially not for people who might fit more than one category, like Hawkeye or Hughes or the Fullmetal Alchemist, who was perfectly capable of defending himself. Even though he seemed to attract bad luck and psychos as if a playful god felt like testing just how much he could take.
Ed considered it. "Maybe it's not a problem that the arm isn't flesh because the clapping thing accumulates power differently than the arrays do. But frankly, it's more likely to be the other way around. Everyone goes after the automail first when they want to incapacitate me," he groused. How many times had it been broken, twisted or even plain torn out, really? But it was only to be expected; it was one of his most dangerous, most obvious weapons.
"Do you think clapping on the socket would do the same?"
Now that would have been mildly gross if they didn't both know that it was likely that this would end up happening. Ed grimaced, giving Mustang a dirty look for smirking as if he was having fun throwing all these fuck-up scenarios at him. "I'll take my arm out and check later."
It was purely scientific interest. Not any need to reassure anyone.
"Before that, you will test whether you can activate an array painted on your automail," the older man ordered lazily, as if he was still sitting behind his desk and wearing his uniform.
Ed wanted to glare. Wanted to growl, and punch, and maybe stomp off. He could defend himself.
Mustang's hands were scarred, and Ed wondered if anyone would ever dare to go so far as peeling his skin off to make sure he was truly disarmed.
"... And if it works, you will find a way to unscrew the plate on the back of my hand to paint it on the inside, and you better screw it back on right or I'll sic Winry on you."
Because it was good to have visible weapons, but it was always better to keep hidden ones, just in case.
Not that either of them ever worried.