Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Word Count: 30,000 (8,900 in this piece)
Warnings: something like a post-BH AU; language; blood and drama at turns and also at once; it wouldn't be a Tierfal fic without some bad innuendo; S O U L M A T E S!!
Prompt: "soulmarks on the wrist/arm that Ed lost" for Roy/Ed Week
Summary: Ed's mark is long, long gone, but it's not like he has time to care.
Author's Note: The good news is that I finally actually finished this thing. The bad news is that I think a number of you are going to be disappointed with the direction of it given the things you've very kindly mentioned that you were looking forward to in the comments… Sorry! ;__; Also, bit of a blood/gore CW for this chapter (nothing any worse than canon) – stay safe, guys. ♥
Roy’s early. Of course he is. The bastard.
Ed pointedly ignores the little Al voice in the back of his head saying You would be saying the same thing if he was late, or on-time, or really anything in between—what do you think that means, Brother?
Whatever. It doesn’t mean anything, because back-of-his-head Al is full of shit.
He forces his achy leg—and the less-achy one—to carry him over to the shiny black car, and then he convinces both of them to drop the rest of him into the passenger seat.
“Are you all right?” Roy asks, sounding—startled, or something. Concerned. Like he means it. Like he cares.
“Yeah,” Ed says. He has to relinquish his death grip on Asclepius in order to put his seatbelt on. You don’t take chances with that shit when Roy’s driving. “It’s just this—” He gestures upward. “—crap weather.”
“Are you sure you want to do this now?” Roy asks. “I could drive you home. We could go tomorrow.”
“Nah,” Ed says. “Better do it now. Fuck knows what’ll get covered up in a day.”
Roy smiles thinly. “About that ‘free country’ I mentioned…”
“Yeah,” Ed says. “Exactly. The paramedic said it’s right around Calverson.”
“Ah,” Roy says. He left the car idling this whole time; he pulls away from the curb and starts for the road. “I heard there were some fights about that development in the city planning office. It had been an orchard for as long as anyone could remember.”
“Maybe it should’ve stayed that way,” Ed says, folding his arms across Asclepius. “At this rate.”
“Maybe it should have,” Roy says softly.
Part of the reason Ed doesn’t spend much time around here is that the shops and shit are all targeted towards people who have the kind of money he can’t even really understand.
Another part of the reason is that Calverson Avenue is a fucking nightmare channeled into a road.
“Can you park somewhere over here?” Ed asks. “I guess we’re gonna be stupid-obvious either way—” At least Roy’s not wearing his uniform. Must’ve been fun trying to get clearance into HQ without the blues, but it’d be a touch hypocritical of Ed to blame him for ditching the stiff, stuffy wool at every opportunity. “—but I figure we should walk in.”
“That sounds good to me,” Roy says. “Especially since—I think it’s the result of all of the city-planning altercations—they did something very odd here. I believe you can cut through behind the tailor’s on foot, but if you’re driving, you have to go half a mile around, so…”
So, he whips them into an open stretch of curb so fast and so recklessly that Ed’s head spins, and his heart leaps, and only the bizarrely bright focused intensity of Roy’s eyes on the road can ground him again.
“Holy hell,” Ed chokes out around the lump of cardiac muscle blocking his throat. He can’t believe the book hasn’t split down the spine from the way he’s clinging to it.
“Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Roy asks, killing the engine.
“Yeah,” Ed says. “And I’m a regular fucking moron for getting in a car with your dumb ass when I know what’s gonna happen.”
Fucking laughs. Not too loud, and not too hard, but genuinely, and that’s… weird. He’s weird. It’s all weird. This whole fucking country is going to the dogs, pun about the military totally intended or whatever.
Ed leaves Asclepius on his seat, hops out, and slams the door before the rest of the universe can collapse. He eyes the sky, which is also still plotting against him. What a stupid fucking day this is all around.
“You ready?” he asks, glancing back at Roy as he starts to step out to cross the road. He’s pretty sure he can see the tailor shop Roy was talking about; at least the bastard parked close, so Ed won’t have to walk too far on this bum fucking le—
Roy’s hand clenches in the back of his coat and jerks him backwards hard—he stumbles back against the hood of the car, and the fingers seizing the fabric of his coat curl a little tighter, and—
A truck rockets by so fast and so fucking close that the exhaust makes his eyes water, and the wind hauls on his hair.
He forces himself to take a deep breath. The skittering of his pulse is fucking distracting, and he’s not sure he dares to look over at Roy; probably the bastard’s going to rub his face in that for the rest of his damn life.
He sort of has to, though. Because Roy just saved his sorry ass, no two ways about it.
Funny enough, there’s really no gloating at all in Roy’s expression—just a strange sort of tension softened at the edges by relief.
“Careful,” Roy says.
“Shit,” Ed says. “I—” Ptatptatptatptat. Can’t be healthy to send his heartrate ricocheting to the furthest reaches of the spectrum of anatomical possibility every five minutes, can it? “Thanks.” He clears his throat. Roy finally lets go of his fucking coat, and sort of smoothes it down, and that’s awkward as fuck, so probably Ed should say something else. “Fuck’s sake, isn’t this supposed to be the ‘nice’ part of your stupid city, Mustang?”
Roy smiles, and steps up onto the sidewalk, and leads the way down towards the stoplight, where maybe it’s possible to cross this fucking death trap without getting ground into bloody pulp under the tires of a speeding vehicle.
“You call it ‘my’ city rather regularly for someone who’s resided here nearly as long as I have,” Roy says.
“Well, it is your city,” Ed says, looking both fucking ways more than once this time—he’s proud, sure, and that sometimes makes him stupid; but he’s not an idiot. “Your region. Your country. Your whole planet, if you get that far. I thought that was the deal.”
“I don’t believe we discussed world domination in the conditions of your loan,” Roy says. His hand does a strange little thing where it sort of starts to jump up like he’s about to put it in front of Ed, then hesitates in the air like he’s about to put it behind Ed’s back instead, and then drops to his side. He also looks back and forth a couple times before he starts out into the street. “I can’t make any guarantees, but…”
“‘Roy Mustang for World Dictator’,” Ed says. “Nice ring to that.”
Roy smiles at him. Again. What the fuck is with this day? “You think so?”
Ed shrugs with the left shoulder only, because the right one is a big, fat, swelling well of agony right this second. “You might want to tone it down on the campaign posters, but it’s a good place to start.”
“If you’re tired of the hospital,” Roy says, “I’ll hire you as my PR campaign manager.”
They’re across the street.
They look at each other.
They both make seriously dumb fucking faces trying not to laugh.
“That’d be a canny political decision if I ever saw one,” Ed says.
“A stroke of genius,” Roy says.
“Yeah,” Ed says. But that’s not what they’re here for; that’s not what this whole trip is about. He squares his shoulders as much as he can without exacerbating the right one, looks at the shopfronts ahead of them, and nods towards the green-and-white awning not far down the street. “Is that the right tailor?”
“I believe it is,” Roy says. “Shall we?”
It is the right one—taking right to mean equipped with a little backalley stuffed with dumpsters they have to sidle past so that it’ll let them out into a ditch thick with grabby thistles with some brackish water at the bottom, which leads up onto an unreasonably steep slope that brings them onto a street packed with a dozen crisply-painted new homes.
Just three houses down, there’s a burnt-out fucking shell on one of the lots.
Ed’s stomach just—
Goes. Twists up, tightens, lurches, whirls—and his vision glazes; everything goes out of focus, and hazy shadows creep in at the corners—
He knows this smell; he knows this feeling—spiraling, endless, meaningless abjection—blackened beams like spars of driftwood jutting from a shipwreck on a shoal—
“Edward,” Roy’s voice says, gently, in the distance, and his hand settles on Ed’s left shoulder and starts to squeeze. “Are you—”
Ed drags in a deep breath. That was a long time ago. He’s different now; the whole fucking world is different now; he’s fixed everything he’d broken. This is Liandra’s hell, not his. And he’s going to help her, if he can.
“Yeah,” he says. “Fine. Sorry. All good. So what’s your plan?”
His damn eyes are working again, thank fuck. Roy’s blinking at him. His nerves are also working: Roy’s hand lingers on his shoulder for a second before it gets withdrawn.
“What do you mean, my plan?” Roy asks. “This was your idea.”
“I know,” Ed says. He jerks his chin towards the remains of the house. “But my plan is to skulk around and trespass a little and ask people rude-ass questions, so I figured I’d give you a chance to come up with something less likely to end in jail time and tears.”
Roy’s smile is vaguely enigmatic and not-so-vaguely obnoxious. “Unsurprisingly, you have even managed to stamp your personal seal on the process of growing up.” Ed opens his mouth to ask what the fuck that’s supposed to mean, but—typically—Roy doesn’t give him time. “In that case, my plan is to investigate as legally as possible, and if we can find a relatively conclusive indication of foul play, I’ll get some good people put on it.”
There’s something wrong with him these days—he can’t doubt Roy anymore. The only person in his whole stupid life that he’s ever trusted to do something as well as or better than he’d do it himself is Al, but when Roy says something like that—makes an offhanded promise to take care of something Ed intended to handle personally—Ed… trusts him. Ed trusts him to do it, and do it fucking right. These days, when Roy makes promises, they feel like fact.
“You get ten minutes,” Ed says. “Then I’m knockin’ down some doors.”
Roy grins, and Ed starts striding for the house as fast as he can bear it on the automail, because that expression on Roy is just—uncanny. It makes his guts do weird, squiggly, warm shit that he doesn’t like, and he’s endured enough fucking gastrointestinal distress for one day.
It only takes nine minutes to turn up the scorched, crumpled remnants of a couple of cans of gasoline. They’re all nestled close in by a few fragments of a piece of wall, like someone tossed them in against the house just in case they’d bolster the fire a little more with whatever was left dripping down the insides. In one of the side-yard spaces of the lot, there’s a battered, sooty, empty fire extinguisher. There are traces of foam on the adjacent wall of the nearest house—which sustained such minimal damage that it barely even needs new paint.
Roy stands there looking up at it with both hands in his pockets for a long couple of seconds. He always looks so damn different without the uniform on—different lines; different shapes.
But the eyes always remind you that it’s him in there—Roy fucking Mustang, sharper than the edge of any blade Ed’s ever tested.
“I was trying very hard to hope,” Roy says. “I thought there might just be a possibility that people were better than that.” His shoulders rise and fall with a sigh too soft for Ed to hear. “Well—I’ll get someone here today, before these nice little bits of evidence decide to wander off.”
Ed wants to kick the extinguisher, but that sounds like a colossally shitty idea in the circumstances. “Thanks.”
Roy glances at him and smiles wearily. “For doing what little I can to counterbalance the unimaginable weight of human cruelty?”
“Fuck,” Ed says. His stomach just keeps flipping; what a lousy fucking traitorous excuse for an organ. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. And let’s talk about something else.”
“Fair enough,” Roy says, following him as he stomps back out towards the sidewalk again. The clouds are still curdling to ever-darker shades of gray, and he can smell the gathering humidity in the air now, but it still hasn’t let loose a single fucking drop. “What would you like to talk about?”
Ed probably shouldn’t say this while they’re moving, so he stops.
“You,” he says.
Roy blinks repeatedly at him, which is really stupid-looking, and also a tiny bit cute. There’s something—kittenish—to it.
“What about me?” Roy asks.
Ed eyes him. “I’m trying to figure out your fucking game lately.”
Roy blinks again, but this time with a fake innocence that’s half patently ridiculous and half kind of funny. “Heaven forbid,” he says, “that after all these years, you should try asking.”
Ed folds both arms and raises one eyebrow. One of the arms protests, though neither of the eyebrows do. “And get a twisty-bullshit answer?”
Roy pauses. “That’s… fair.” He raises an eyebrow right back. They probably look fucking hilarious. “All right,” he says. “I swear that I will answer you one question—and only one question—absolutely honestly. How’s that for a peace offering?”
“Oh, good,” Ed says through a grimace. “I’m your diplomatic guinea pig. How’d you know that’s what I always wanted?” He waves both hands, which the right arm also hates, because the right arm hates everything today. “Wait—don’t you dare fuckin’ answer that as my one question. I—” This is the hard part. That’s sort of equivalent, though, in a way. He looks down at the sidewalk, which is a much easier target than Roy’s eyes. “Well—shit. Why’ve you been going so far out of your way to, like, keep in touch and whatever shit? I mean—it’s more than just… ex-coworker shit. It’s more than just ‘We’ve got history, so I kind of care about making sure Al turns out okay.’ You work at it. And you’re busy; I know you are. It’s not easy for you to fit us in, but you always do. It always seems like you want to.” He looks up. He can manage that much. “Why?”
Roy’s eyes go wide, and then they flick away, and it’s hard to fault him for that. This is a stupid conversation on a stupid day full of stupid shit, and Ed shouldn’t have asked.
But he has to know.
He has to know if he’s making it the fuck up; if his instincts are wrong; if the flit of his pulse in his throat, like a dozen half-formed words every fucking second, really means something, or if it’s just…
If Roy’s just trying to be… nice.
The tip of Roy’s tongue slips out between his parted lips and runs across the upper one.
Ed can really taste that fucking humidity now.
Roy draws a breath, and then he speaks. “I… found,” he says, “in that first two-month stretch where you and your brother went home to rest—we all missed you more than we bargained for, I believe. And I felt—I don’t know; it all sounds so… melodramatic… spelled out. I felt… lost—bereft, adrift, deprived—in a way I’m not sure I can explain.” He clears his throat, and shuffles his feet, and puts his hands into his pockets again. Ed’s mesmerized. His heart keeps on fucking banging. Roy, discomfited like this, is practically unheard of. “Once you moved back here,” the bastard says, “I realized that it would be a matter of only a little bit of effort—comparatively speaking, anyway—to keep you in all of our lives. I just had to put the time in, and we’d all be the better for it.”
Pretty fucking realistic, actually.
But Roy’s still not looking at him, which means the fucker has something to hide.
“That’s not the whole fuckin’ story, though,” Ed says. “Is it?”
Roy smiles faintly. “You have gotten to be too dangerous by half.” Ed’s not sure precisely what that’s supposed to mean, but he has to admit he likes the sound of it. Roy, meanwhile, looks out across the street and takes a deep breath. “There is… I think there’s something… else… in it. It’s difficult to be sure; I’m not trying to be deliberately evasive. It’s only… I’ve been wondering about this for a while now—don’t you think—doesn’t it seem to you like we’ve always been drawn together, one way or another? More than just two ordinary people whose lives happened to coincide; more than just acquaintance. Like we’re more similar than that, and at the same time, there’s this—symmetry to it; an opposition, like poles of a magnet, and—there’s a pull.” He glances over, swallows hard— “Isn’t there? Or is it just—” His mouth quirks, but it’d be stupid to call that a smile. “Is it just… me?”
Ed’s breath scrapes into his mouth, wriggles down his throat, dissipates in his lungs, exchanges a couple of atoms, bubbles back up, and rasps back out of him.
“Exactly what the fuck are you trying to say?” he gets out. “That we’re—that there’s something—what, fucking—cosmic? Like—”
He won’t say it; he won’t say the word destiny; that is never, ever gonna happen, no matter what kind of bizarre and inexplicable tingling takes up underneath his skin.
Roy’s chest fills, and Ed can’t help that his eyes dart to where the bastard left his first two shirt buttons undone, putting the hollow of his collarbones on tantalizing fucking display.
“I don’t know,” Roy says. “I’ve just had this sense for a very long time that we’re—connected. In some capacity that matters a great d—”
A shriek of rusted brakes mingled with an ear-splitting squeal of tires makes Ed jump almost out of his fucking skin—and then the terrified human scream that follows instantaneously freezes all the blood in his body.
Is off at a run—off running towards it.
No second thought; no questions—just someone who needs help, and Roy Mustang answering the call.
And Ed… loves him for that. For that unswayed, unqualified, undeniable compulsion to do right. Roy’s a long way from fucking perfect, sure, but at the core, he’s so goddamn decent that it gets overwhelming to think about on nights when the mattress won’t yield a soft spot, and there’s too much light through the window, and the clock’s counting out the agonizingly slow fucking hours towards dawn.
Not that Ed would know anything about that.
Despite the howling misery of the automail port, he books it after Roy, right towards the source of the sound.
He knows what they’re going to find before they get there—just not the details.
The details are shit.
Based solely on the blood splattered up the hood of the car and pooling underneath the crumpled body, Ed knows that the guy isn’t going to make it.
But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if everything inside him feels like cold granite; it doesn’t matter if the grind of his organs against each other hurts his own damn ears. He’s kneeling next to the guy—the kid, who’s one, maybe two years younger than he is—and very gently touching the shoulder that’s still erratically rising and falling for however long is left.
Turns out corduroy soaks up blood like a fucking sponge. Ed’s right knee’s wet—and warm; the liquid is still fucking hot when it seeps through.
“Hey,” Ed says softly. The guy’s curled up around himself. There’s a fucking dent in his fucking skull; there’s a fucking dent in his fucking ribcage; there’s blood dribbling out the corner of his mouth. He opens his eyes—panicked, wild, glassy at first; they fix on Ed’s face, and he tries to suck in a deep breath, and it sticks wetly, and he coughs up so much fucking red—
Ed can’t make this worse. There’s nothing to make worse. This was over before they got here. A part of him wonders where Roy ended up—distantly he hears the comforting familiarity of that stupid-gorgeous too-low voice, dealing out what sounds like instructions, or maybe commands. Marshaling the fucking troops, only they’re civilians, today, and he’s keeping them away from this. Probably he’s already shoved someone towards a phone booth or into a store to call an ambulance. Probably he doesn’t know for sure—not like Ed knows it; not carved-marble-certain—that it isn’t going to matter.
“I’m a doctor,” Ed says, carefully sliding his right arm underneath the kid’s shoulders. He gets a damp whimper for that; everything must hurt so fucking much; it’s remarkable that any of it fucking registers. He reaches across the guy’s body and touches his left palm to his right. “What’s your name?”
He sets his jaw to suppress the instinct to wince at the way the blood drowns the kid’s first attempt at a response—just sick, wet burbling; no identifiable sounds. The kid manages another wracking cough, and his whole body shudders against Ed’s arm—there has to be fucking something Ed can do; there has to—
The alchemic energy is still running through the circle he made with his arms, humming in the core of him, sizzling in his chest—he lays his left palm gently down over the blood-slicked ridges of the kid’s throat and closes his eyes for a second, envisioning the damage, trying to predict—
There’s only so much he can guess at without having seen what happened—where the impacts were, what the trauma was. He could fix a lot more if this kid was on an operating table; if they sedated him and cut him open, and all the specifics of the brokenness were laid bare.
But he wouldn’t make it that far.
Ed figures there must be some major bruising in the windpipe; the whole esophagus seems flooded, by the constant, choking ooze of blood out of the kid’s mouth—he tries to clear it up, tries to get it open, tries to reinforce the walls or… something. He can hear his own heartbeat starting to hammer too fast, and the bright-frantic feeling cresting in him can only mean another fucking rush of adrenaline, which is the harbinger of panic, which—
He knows it’s too late. He knows there’s nothing he can do.
And it’s shit. It’s all shit; everything about this—
The pale blue crackling ceases, and he withdraws his hand. The guy’s eyes are a tiny bit clearer. He wheezes softly—wet, still, but then—
“Erik,” he says. “M-my name—you’re a—?”
“Doctor,” Ed says. “Well, alchemist-doctor, I guess. Sorta-kinda.” He reaches over the caved-in part of Erik’s chest to tap his left palm on the right one again. Bone. He’s going to start with the bone. It’s probably halfway through this kid’s lungs; that’s got to be where most of the blood came from. “I’m going to take care of you, okay?”
He should lie. He should lie and say You’re going to be all right.
He can hear somebody crying. A voice that sounds like Roy’s is shushing them. Maybe the bystanders are getting seriously freaked; or maybe Erik’s got a friend or a family member who had to watch this happen; or maybe the reality of this just hit the person who was driving the car.
“Okay,” Erik says. “I—it hurts, it—”
“I know,” Ed says. He flattens his hand on Erik’s sternum. He can fix this much. “I’ve got you. Just hold on for me, okay?”
“It h-hurts,” Erik says. The alchemy sears outward under Ed’s hand; a tendril of light shimmers along each rib, tiny streams of lightning coursing through the bloodied fabric of what used to be a yellow shirt. “I—I’m so—cold. It’s so c-cold.”
His eyes dart right, and left, and up, and then start filming over—slowly, glassy like marbles. Like a light, light, drifting curl of mist.
This is it.
Ed’s throat tightens. He shoves the words up through it. “I’m sorry. Hey. Stay with me, Erik. Come on.”
“I’m s-so cold,” Erik says. His hand twitches—fingers moving upward, like he’s pointing, or reaching. “Can you—I’m so cold—”
“Yeah,” Ed says. He shifts his knees back, leans down, and wraps both arms around Erik’s torso, drawing him as carefully as possible into a hug. He presses his cheek against the intact side of Erik’s forehead and closes his eyes and tries to keep fucking breathing. Everything is soaked—his shirt, the corduroy; he can hear it dripping from the automail to the pavement; he can feel it trickling between the fingers of his other hand. “I got you.”
“So cold,” Erik whispers. He shivers hard, once, in against Ed’s chest. “It’s so…”
Ed waits. He waits until he’s sure—until all the motion stops. Until there’s no breathing, and no trembling, and no pulse beating feebly back against his skin.
Then he lays the body gently on the ground and sits back.
He extends his arm to try to close Erik’s eyelids, but his left hand’s shaking so hard he doesn’t trust it to do the job.
When the first droplet splashes on the back, his brain completely fails to process the phenomenon for a long second. A second follows, and a third, and the fourth lands right on his knuckles and splits like a forking river around them.
About time it quit equivocating and finally started to rain.
Movement to his right makes him turn. It’s Roy, crouching down beside him, looking at the corpse.
Roy’s left arm wraps itself around his shoulders. Roy’s right hand is steadier than his was, and it reaches out and coaxes Erik’s eyes shut and then draws back.
“I’m sorry,” Roy says softly. “Do you need a minute?”
Ed swallows all the things he wants to say about the world, about people, about himself.
“Nah,” he says instead. It grates against the dust of the possibilities. “I’m fine.”
Roy’s right arm fits itself under Ed’s automail elbow. He’s ensconced, enclosed, enveloped—words like that. En-words. It’s nice, kind of. The raindrops are fucking cold against his scalp; they roll slow and ineluctable down his temples and his forehead and his neck.
That’s probably supposed to be a sign that he should get up.
He tries to shift back and put some weight on his feet—this ain’t exactly his first rodeo as far as that goes, and he makes it most of the way upright before his right knee buckles, and Roy’s grip on him is the only thing that keeps him off the pavement.
“Easy,” Roy says. “They should be here any—”
Everything gets—blurry—after that. Headlights flare all over; the rain comes down in sheets. The same girl from before who was smoking outside the ER is the first one who climbs down out of the ambulance. She looks at him, and he looks back, and all she says is “Shit.”
Somebody puts a blanket around his shoulders, which poses a bit of a challenge because he’s still got Roy around them, too.
Roy doesn’t once ask him if he’s okay. Roy doesn’t once ask him if he’s ready to go. Roy just stands there, and stays there, and holds on.
And it rains.
Ed waits until they’ve put the body in one of the big black bags and zipped it up and lifted it onto a stretcher to pack it into the back of the ambulance. Then he moves to wrangle the blanket off—Roy lets go and takes one step back to give him space to maneuver—and balls it up. He’s not sure why they’d want it back now that it’s covered in rain-diluted blood and looks like shit, but when he offers it to one of the paramedics, they take it.
Roy maintains a two-step distance while Ed hands it over and crosses the street back to Roy’s car. They’ll be taking down the roadblock any minute, probably; better to go now. He looks down at the passenger window, and he can just see the cover of Asclepius through the streaks of rain along the glass.
“I’m gonna get blood all over your seat,” he says.
“I don’t mind,” Roy says.
Ed’s focus wobbles, and he stops seeing the book and starts seeing his own reflection.
“Al can’t see me like this,” he says. “He’ll fucking freak.” The rain’s made it impossible for the blood to dry, so the corduroy just feels… thick. Sloshy and heavy and wet. “These are his pants.”
Roy’s just—standing there still. Standing next to him in the pouring fucking rain, not even fucking rushing him while he makes up his mind.
“You could clean up at my place if you like,” Roy says. “I imagine I could find some clothes that would fit you if we roll up the cuffs a couple dozen times.”
Ed summons up a glare for him.
Roy smiles weakly.
“All right,” Ed says. “If you’re sure you want me in your inner sanctum or whatever.”
“I’m sure,” Roy says.
Roy unlocks the car, and Ed gingerly moves his book out of the way before dropping his soaking wet ass into the seat.
It could’ve been him.
It could’ve been him; it could’ve been Al—
And it should’ve been him—shouldn’t it?
He’s done everything he meant to—been everything he should have; accomplished pretty much the fucking pinnacle of what he’s capable of. It wouldn’t be so bad if he just… silently went away. There wouldn’t be anything undone, or anything unanswered, or anything to miss. Not really.
Roy settles into the driver’s seat next to him—but not until after very cautiously relocating Asclepius to the backseat so that neither of them will drip rainwater on the pages.
He doesn’t start the car. Instead he says, so quietly that Ed could almost pretend he didn’t hear, “Do you want to talk about it?”
The bastard. The fucking bastard; how dare he fucking care so much in all the right fucking ways—
“No,” Ed says. He wets his lips, which seems stupid; his face has been wet this whole time, and all of a sudden his mouth feels dry. “Thanks. But—not yet.”
“All right,” Roy says, still so fucking softly he sounds like a different version of himself. “No obligation at all.”
“It’s just—” He knows better; he knows well enough by now to shut his fucking mouth instead of dumping all his bullshit on somebody else; he knows— “What’s the point, right? What’s the fucking point of coming all this way and doing all this shit and being a medic if I can’t even—if I can’t fucking do anything when somebody needs it the most?”
“No one could have done anything,” Roy says. “It was too late by the time—”
“I know,” Ed says, trying to push a hand through his hair—too wet, too tangled; at least he used the left hand, so it’s not so fucking stuck he’d need scissors to extract it. “But that’s—that’s all I’ve been fucking trying to do for—since—if I can’t do anything, it’s just like Nina all over again. I just have to sit there and watch somebody die because I’m not fucking good enough to make a fucking difference.”
“Ed,” Roy says—still quietly, still in a low register, but with so much steel underneath that Ed has no choice but to look over at him. His eyes are pure fucking starlight. The rain beats on the windshield, and Ed’s heart beats in his throat, and this is fucking cosmic, isn’t it? Somehow, some way— “You are, past a shadow of a doubt, one of the best men I have ever known. If anyone could have saved him, it would have been you. And you knew you couldn’t—from the first second, you knew he was dead. And instead of walking away from that, you made his last few minutes on this wretched planet as warm and as pleasant as you could.”
Ed trains his eyes on the ceiling of the car so he doesn’t have to face the earnest fucking intensity of Roy’s expression right now. “But it wasn’t enough.”
“But you are,” Roy says. “You’re enough, Ed—you are. And so, so much more.”
Ed risks a glance.
He still looks so fucking sincere it’s like…
It’s like the stars are falling—every single last fucking constellation. Like the whole damn sky is coming down.
“We should get going,” Ed says. “I told Al I’d be home by dinner.”
Roy swallows. His shirt’s soaked; it’s clinging to his collarbones. His hair’s draggling in his face.
He’s gorgeous. He’s always been gorgeous.
And Ed’s a mess.
There’s nothing mystical about anything that has to do with him.
Al’s wrong. And Roy’s wrong. And he was wrong, in that second there where he believed it.
It’s still raining fucking buckets when Roy parks the car in front of a nice little townhouse and promptly lets them into it. Ed figures he’ll come back for the book later when it’s not as likely to get instantaneously waterlogged.
Roy toes his shoes off in the entryway, so Ed figures it’s polite to follow suit or whatever.
He even goes to the trouble of gesturing to one of the hooks on the wall and tugging on the lapel of his coat. “You want me to…?”
“Hardly matters,” Roy says, “but if you’d like, then…”
How fucking cute; they’re being all noncommittal and civilized at each other. Nothing’s ever going to get said or done again, at this rate.
Ed tries to shrug his coat off—forgetting, of course, that his shoulder’s jacked up to hell with the recent barometric acrobatics, and he ends up hissing aloud at the swell of pain.
“Oh, hell,” Roy says, and his hands are moving around Ed’s back yet again. To his credit, though, he peels the coat off so deftly it somehow doesn’t tweak the miserable muscles around the automail port even once. “There.” He hangs it on the hook at the end, safely away from all of the dry and not-bloodied clothes dangling off the other ones, and then they’re just… standing there, dripping in Roy Mustang’s foyer. Goosebumps prickle down Ed’s left arm. “Right this way,” Roy says before the awkwardness has a chance to set in. “I think you’ve more than earned a stint in the master bath.”
“I’m gonna leave a blood-ring in your tub,” Ed says as they tromp on up the stairs.
That sounded darkly funny in his head, but it just sounds shitty spoken out.
“Nothing bleach and elbow grease can’t fix,” Roy says. “Or, failing that, a new bathtub. Although…” He opens the door to a bedroom; Ed glimpses rumpled white sheets strewn across a wide mattress before his attention is diverted to a borderline-opulent little lavatory. “I must admit that I’m rather attached to this one.”
Ed doesn’t fucking blame him—the tub he’s got is a giant, gleaming-white, griffon-claw-footed monstrosity straight out one of Ed’s rare but unfortunately real domestic-themed daydreams.
“You’re of course welcome to the shower if you’d prefer,” Roy says, and it’s nearly tempting; the damn granite-tiled cube number he’s got is almost as good.
“Bath is better,” Ed says. He curls his left hand around the border of the port and tries to circle his shoulder, which is… not the best idea he’s ever had. “For this, anyway.”
“Fair enough,” Roy says. “Make yourself at home. Let me see if I can find you…”
He wanders back out into the bedroom without finishing that sentence, and Ed stands stranded in the middle of the bright, clean tile for a long second.
He’s never had nice things. He’s never really wanted them. And it feels fucking weird to be in a nice room, in a nice house, surrounded by fucking nice bathroom fixtures. He is going to leave a goddamn ring in this tub. And even if he somehow miraculously doesn’t, his wet footprints are a stain on this floor, and his breath is a blight on this air, and the point is—he doesn’t belong here. Not in Roy’s space. Not in Roy’s fucking life. Everything Roy’s built is deliberate, and delicate, and calculated, and secure. He’s worked his occasionally distractingly-appealing ass off for it—to make this structure, and hold it, and stabilize it every way he can.
Ed is a fucking natural disaster in motion at the best of times. He knows that. Mostly it works for him—mostly he’s getting by despite his tendencies to turn into a cataclysm at the slightest fucking notice, even though he’s trying to keep himself on the straight and narrow now. He’d bring all this shit down around Roy’s ears inside of a fucking week just by existing.
“Here,” Roy says as he sidles back in.
It’s way too late to pretend to have been doing anything all this time. Ed’s instinct is to try to lean casually against the bathtub, but the Al voice in his head cordially reminds him that that is a stupid idea that will probably end with wet socks slipping on the tiles, automail cracking the porcelain, and his head splitting open when it hits the side. He settles on shifting his feet extremely awkwardly and attempting at a tentative smile.
Roy smiles back, like nothing about this is weird. The fucker. He then holds out a small stack of folded clothing, like there’s nothing weird about that, either.
“I believe there should be several clean towels under the sink,” he says as Ed cautiously reaches out to accept it. “Feel free to shout if you need anything—but you might want to make it quick, since momentarily I’ll be using the other shower, and I probably won’t hear you.”
“Typical politician,” Ed says, snatching the clothes away for emphasis. “Make me promises that don’t mean anything. I see how it is.”
Whatever the fuck else Ed was going to say, ever, fucking perishes halfway up his throat and blocks it so fully that he can’t even hope to breathe.
“Really, though,” Roy says. “Make yourself at home.”
He sweeps out after that, shutting the door behind him—which is good, because the knot prickling upward towards the back of Ed’s mouth might’ve just come out as Don’t fucking tempt me if he couldn’t hold it back.
If nothing else, though, Roy’s bathtub is every bit as fucking incredible in practice as it looked just sitting there being all majestic and shit. The water heats up in the blink of an eye, so after Ed’s shepherded the sopping weight of his discarded clothing into a mound-pile-thing in the bottom of the shower stall—so that it won’t leave a diluted blood-puddle on the floor—he climbs in and just lets the tap run on top of his shoulder for a little while. He’s been thinking the best strategy here is to rinse as much of the blood from his skin as he can first, and then put the plug in and soak off the rest.
When he’s accomplished that—with the water as hot as he can fucking bear it—he settles in and slides down until he’s submerged up to the neck. The ends of his hair saturate and float a little, twirling around in a fascinating fluid-dynamics kind of way. The water’s gone rosy. There’s probably a fuckton of blood crusted into the workings of the automail; even if he tries to wash it out daily, Winry’ll find some next time she does maintenance and menace him with the wrench.
That’s all right.
He looks at his knees where just a bit of each protrudes from the surface—one silver, one pale.
It’s not like he hasn’t thought about it.
When he had time to think, that is—at home, mostly, after all of the important shit was abruptly over.
He hadn’t really figured on surviving. Not exactly, anyway. He’d sort of assumed he’d have to give his life for Al’s—that was the only equivalency that made sense, and the only one he’d dared to think was guaranteed. And he’d been ready for it. He hadn’t wasted any of the time he had back then thinking about futures he wasn’t sure he was going to get.
After, though… afterwards, he had nothing but fucking time. No drive, no direction, no purpose, no meaning—just the endless rolling hills of Resembool and the rabbit warrens in his brain.
And he’d wondered, sometimes, what the mark on his arm had looked like. What it had signified. Who had the other one.
And he’d wondered, more than once, if it was Roy.
He didn’t think it was—life’s never been about getting what you want, or think you want, or vaguely hope for when it’s just this side of too late to try to go back to sleep. He just sort of… let himself speculate a little, every now and then, about what might happen if that was the case.
Because they did have something. They’d always had something; for a long time, there, it was mostly mistrust and animosity and snarking and shouting and bizarre flashes of grudging respect. And then there were a lot more of the flashes—so many, after a while, that they stopped being flashes and just started being a constant source of light.
And he’d heard the fucking rumors. The stories. The legends; the probable-lies. He’d heard about how good Roy was at the whole dating gig. And he knew that Roy was probably fanning those flames deliberately from deep in his silent, lonely little dork den; he knew it was part of the game, and part of the front, and part of the image. He knew Roy had turned smokescreens into an art form.
What if it was Roy, and somehow, some way, they found out that it was? He ended up spending a frankly pretty fucking embarrassing quantity of time trying to determine the most plausible course of events that would follow that revelation.
It had occurred to him that Roy might just—reject it. Refuse it outright. That Roy might deny the very fucking possibility—and he’d be able to; the Gate had taken all the proof, and he’d be well within his rights to feel sho… shaf… let down. Ripped off. Disappointed. Something like that. Who the hell would want to soulmate-settle for the likes of Ed?
Maybe it says a lot about him that that’d been the first train of thought he hopped on the instant that he gave himself permission to contemplate the thing at all. It was an obvious enough conclusion, though: some soulmate bullshit can’t make another person want him. He sold all the things that could have made him wantable for little wisps and slivers of different kinds of power a long time ago. He doesn’t have much left. And anybody who got stuck with the other half of his mark would very rationally feel like they’d been dealt a shitty hand, and they’d ask if somebody could shuffle the deck again.
There was a night in Resembool when the gnawing questions and the inability to force his brain to shut down around them sent him creeping down to the living room and paging through all of Pinako’s photograph albums one by one. He wanted to know—to have a place to start, if not a full fucking reference; the only thing he’s good at is science, and evidence, and logic, and proof.
But there isn’t a single picture of him that survives where you can see more than just the edges of the mark that used to sit on his wrist.
Makes sense, really. A lot of people—especially a lot of people in the East, in the countryside—treat it as sort of a private thing. Not really a secret, but… special. Mom was pretty old-fashioned about it, too; when they were kids, she’d encourage them to—not hide the marks, exactly, but she had a tendency to imply that they should keep them under wraps. It was easy enough for Al not to flash the skin on his shoulder at everybody and their uncle, but she gave Ed a cool leather bracelet with silver studs on it and always innocently asked him where it was when the weather was too hot for longer sleeves.
Point is—given the cultural traditions back home, it’s really no surprise that there isn’t any visual evidence left of what it looked like. And given the trajectory of his stupid fucking life, it’s really no surprise that every time he searched for something, he came up empty-handed.
So there’s no way to know, and there was nothing to do but… guess.
He’d always tried to quash that stupid fucking thought with the rational likelihood that Roy probably had his somewhere else completely—just some spot Ed hadn’t happened to have seen, like his ankle, or the back of his neck, or somewhere down along his spine. Hell, some people who get them in annoying places like their face or whatever just cover them with makeup so they’re not constantly on display; whether or not he and Roy had scraped though some shit together over the years, he’d always firmly reminded himself that there were about a thousand places it could be.
But the thing is—
It’s still not fucking guaranteed.
Mathematically speaking, there have to be a statistically significant number of people whose marks ended up on their wrists. Within the sample size of the entire fucking human race, there will necessarily be a metric shit-ton of individuals whose marks turn up on that particular two-inch span of skin. It’s inevitable. That much is a foregone conclusion. Certainty is out of the fucking question unless Pinako’s got a stash of photos buried somewhere Ed couldn’t find—or maybe if he dances slow and sultry with death another time or twelve, and he winds up at the Gate again, and he asks real fucking nicely if he can look at the limb the Truth’s still hanging onto, just for reference, y’know—
The point is, he had a lot of good fucking reasons for trying not to let himself wonder too much.
But some nights they weren’t enough.
Some nights he couldn’t stop himself from thinking—
What would Roy do if it was?
What would he be like? What the hell are you even supposed to do with a… what? Destiny-boyfriend? Ed’s never seen it from the start before; he’s only glimpsed it well-established a couple times, and it’s a totally different fucking thing to have to figure out a way to be with someone. Is there some kind of immortal-soul lifetime guarantee that things won’t just explode in your fucking face? Does the magic of the marks somehow compel you to be compatible?
Or is it in you all along, and you’re tasked with digging it out without slamming your shovel into a landmine buried somewhere nearby?
It all just seems so fucking—fraught, and fake, and complicated. Exaggerated. Like maybe none of them really do match; like maybe it’s all fucking invented by the first person who realized they could sell matchmaking services at an unbelievable profit; like maybe there’s just no such goddamn thing, and they’ve all been running around straining to see other people’s ink for no damn reason.
But if… If.
What would Roy be like? How would he approach the role of destiny-boyfriend if he was fated for it after all?
Would he—just sort of—treat it like a normal-boyfriend thing? Just… suggest a place to have a first date, go for the wine and dine, spew some clichéd compliments, drag them out on a long walk through the city in places cold enough to lend a jacket and clear enough to see the stars?
All Ed has to go on for how he acts in those situations is the rumor consensus that he’s pretty great in the sack—which makes sense, when you think about it, because he’s extremely responsive to other people’s emotional cues, and he’s intuitive as fuck even when that fails.
So logically—logic is the principle at work here for this whole thing, after all; logic is the basic set of rules on which the rest of Ed’s conclusions are predicated—it’d be pretty safe to assume that Roy would be… wonderful. Actually. Fucking miraculous, even. It’d be pretty safe to assume that, if Roy lets you inside the chain-link fences and the battlement walls and the moat and the alligators and whatever decorative-looking traps he’s got set up past there—if he decides you’re worth risking safety for; if he isn’t scared of showing you the real shit underneath the showmanship—he’d be an incredible… soulmate. Lover. Destiny-boyfriend. Whatthefuckever. All or any of the above.
But logic is still in charge here. And logically, Ed’s not entitled to jackshit yet—or ever. Entitlement’s what’ll kill you. Thinking the universe owes you a damn thing instantly ensures that it’s going to pull the rug out from under you when you least expect it, then kick you in the kidneys while you’re lying on the hardwood clutching at whatever hurts the most.
All he’s got to go on is a slight statistical possibility. All he’s got is a white mark on Roy’s wrist that he’s relatively sure shares some spatial features with the one he used to have—the one that’s gone, long gone, and never coming back.
Does it even count anymore?
If you don’t have the thing on your skin, does the phenomenon persist somewhere in you? It’s not a skinmate, after all; it’s a soulmate, so presumably it’s tied to something much more nebulous than a wrist or a hand or an arm or Jean Havoc’s butt cheek, and damage to the physical manifestation doesn’t negate the metaphysical part of it. The connective element of… whatever it is… should persist regardless of the condition of…
He tilts his head back and slides carefully along the tub until most his hair and both of his ears are submerged, and all he can hear is the deadened sloshing of the water against the sides. None of this really matters. None of this is what he’s here for. He’s just taking a break here so he can get back to Al, and then they can both get back to helping people and making their little corner of the world a tiny bit better for everyone they can. That’s it. That’s the point. His feelings—his daydreams, and night dreams, and yearnings—don’t factor in. They don’t matter. That’s not what any of it is about.
And imagining how Roy’s hands would feel on his shoulder and his throat and his collarbones—
Considering how well Roy must fucking kiss if all the secretaries want so damn badly to get with him—
That doesn’t help. That’s a waste of time. That’s a distraction from all the shit he’s supposed to focus on and do.
It’s pretty simple laid out like that, right?
He’ll just… finish washing up and get the fuck out of here. Easy. He’ll think intently about Asclepius while he does, because Asclepius is distinctly un-sexy in pretty much every capacity except if you’re really into intellect—and even Ed’s penchant for a good brain doesn’t go that far.
Using Roy’s fucking soap and shampoo doesn’t exactly help, though—some part of Ed’s instinctual person-memory has retained the fact that it’s part of how Roy smells. Putting his fucking clothes on is even worse, and rolling up the cuffs on the sleeves and the legs grinds a nice little heap of salt into that particular wound, on top of which Roy Mustang elected to offer him, as part of this sartorial loan, a pair of Roy Mustang’s own underwear, and Ed’s head is so woozy and weird right now that he honestly doesn’t know how to deal with any of this fucking shit. Today has been long and horrible and fucking surreal, and the exhaustion’s crept up on him like fucking Pride with the shadows and the murder, and…
And he’s just going to lie down on the foot of Roy’s bed for thirty seconds or so while he tries to figure out whether he should reassess his decision that wearing Roy’s boxers, which are intended to cradle all of the awkward bits, would prove less awkward in the long run than going commando and dangling the bits all over the inside of Roy’s trousers, which are not intended for that purpose.
Just thirty seconds—half a minute with his eyes closed. That’s all. That can’t possibly be too much to ask.