Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Word Count: 14,300
Warnings: intermittent language; post-BH AU; some dark content/gore (though nothing significantly worse than canon)
Summary: It's a well-deserved shame and a cordially-invited tragedy that anything Roy tries to treasure goes down in flames.
Author's Note: ……post limits
Two minutes after eight, the phone rings.
“Mustang,” he says, although he already knows—
“Hi,” Ed says. “Reporting in.”
“That isn’t really necessary at this point,” Roy says. “I’m assuming I’ll get the full story when you arrive.”
“Never assume anything,” Ed says. “Assumptions are the origin of fucking up. Besides, I have to prove that I can follow instructions—when they’re not stupid, anyway. When they’re stupid, I ignore them.”
“I’d noticed,” Roy says.
“Are you calling your own orders stupid?” Ed asks.
“I’ve noticed it regarding other people’s orders,” Roy says. “Mine are a statistical anomaly.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” Ed says.
“Speaking of which,” Roy says, “where are you?”
“Kissel,” Ed says. It’s always been a wretched name for an otherwise innocuous little town, but it’s never been more wretched than it is tonight. “Transfer, of fucking course. Should be about another hour if we leave on time. I already called Al and told him not to wait up.”
Roy’s approaching doom sounds uncannily like the ticking of the hall clock. “Would you like me to pick you up?”
“I don’t wanna put you out,” Ed says. “I can get a taxi.”
“That reminds me,” Roy says. “Did you find your watch?”
Ed’s laugh sounds ever so slightly strangled. “Put it this way—somebody’s gonna have some real historic black market jewelry pretty soon.” He draws a deep breath and lets it out slowly as a sigh, and the phone line hisses with static for a second. “It’s… I’m kinda bummed to lose it, but it’s also like… I think it was time. I think it was time to let it go. I don’t need that one anymore. I can just… have a regular one, now. Like anybody else.” He pauses. “Or—can I? Didn’t you say one time that they were practically fucking impossible to replace?”
“Yes,” Roy says. “But I may have been stretching the truth considerably in an attempt to discourage you from destroying yours every other week.”
“Asshole,” Ed says. “Well—good. I guess. I guess that’s good.”
“Do you have enough money for a cab?” Roy asks.
“I think so,” Ed says. “Hang on, let me…”
“I’ll pick you up,” Roy says.
“You don’t have t—”
“I really don’t mind.”
“Okay, okay,” Ed says. “If you’re determined to waste time and gasoline, I guess I can’t friggin’ stop you.”
“You can’t,” Roy says, brightly. “No point trying. Shall I expect you to get in around nine?”
“I think so,” Ed says. “As far as probability goes, this is the point where something almost has to go according to plan.” He makes a heart-stoppingly adorable discontented noise in his throat. “Shit. Shouldn’t’ve said that. Now the train’ll be late.”
“I’ve got time,” Roy says.
“Like hell you do,” Ed says.
“I’ll bring some reports,” Roy says, “and read them in the car while I wait.”
Ed laughs, and that sound—
The list of what Roy wouldn’t do to hear it is so brief that it terrifies him most days.
“Now we’re talkin’,” Ed says. “All right, I’ll—see you soon.”
“Travel safe,” Roy says.
“Drive safe,” Ed says. “I wanna make it home, after all this.”
“At your service,” Roy says, and the truth of that terrifies him, too.
As promised, he parks the car across the street from the station just before nine—in a spot where the nearest streetlamp streams through the window, such that he can lean a sheaf of papers against the steering wheel and just make out the letters of the text. Given the price that was paid to restore his eyes, he should probably take better care of them, but some situations call for extreme measures. He’s so damned calculated and cautious and responsible most of the time these days that it can’t be tempting fate too much to ask for this one wild thing—can it? In daylight he usually feels entitled, but somehow in the shroud of night it’s so much more difficult to tell.
Maybe he deserves to be the reason that it fails. Maybe he deserves to have this whole spindly little house of cards fall down around him; maybe it was always doomed to end like this. Maybe this is his equivalent exchange, finally come to fruition after so many years of getting away with murder. Maybe he’s overdue for a taste of this particular sort of pain.
Hughes was a monument to agony, yes—but it wasn’t, isn’t, can’t be enough. That wasn’t personal. That was something that was done; not something that was done to him.
Perhaps Ed will ensure that here, at least, in this tiny way, he gets his due.
He turns a page and squints anew. It’s going to be a long night.
A flicker of movement and the fall of a shadow snare his attention. Roy looks up just before Ed raps on the window with the softer set of knuckles, offering up a weary little smile.
Roy doesn’t think. Roy is too damn tired, too damn broken, too damn cold—stretched too far and worn too thin to spare a second thought or muster an inhibition or balance some better judgment and tip the latest bout of sheer stupidity off the other side of the scale.
Ed steps back as he opens the door, then steps towards him, arms open, as he stands.
It’s late. There probably aren’t enough people around for anyone to notice, anyone to know them, anyone to care.
Odds are it wouldn’t matter to him anyway. He’s no stranger to justifying his own impulses after the fact.
Ed reaches slightly upward, expecting to be held—but Roy’s body knows that this is their last chance. Roy’s body knows that this death knell of his dignity is the last sound before the silence, and he has to make the most of it.
He sinks to his knees on the street and wraps his arms around Ed’s waist.
Ed hesitates—but only for the duration of a single, sharply-indrawn breath. He lets it out slowly, and then his whole body curls in around Roy, right hand smoothing up Roy’s arm while the left tangles itself into his hair—
“I thought you were dead,” Roy hears his rat bastard traitor of a voice whisper. “I thought you were dead, and I sent you to it, and I didn’t even deserve to hurt for it, because you’d be so far from the first.”
“Shut it,” Ed says. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
Surely he’s been thinking it too. Surely he knows—surely he feels it closing in.
But that’s not a conversation for the middle of the street at any hour, let alone well into the night.
Roy gets to his feet, and his knees and his back both protest more than he’d like to admit. He brushes Ed’s hair back gently with one hand—whether it was the chaos, the police station, or the train that disheveled it, he couldn’t begin to guess—and settles the other on Ed’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all that,” he says.
“Eh,” Ed says, with a slice of a grin and a halfhearted portion of a shrug. “It’s not the first time I’ve been wrongfully imprisoned, and I seriously doubt it’ll be the last.”
“I’d be disappointed,” Roy says.
“Me, too,” Ed says.
Roy holds himself together and sweeps a hand towards the car. “Shall we?”
“Hell, yeah,” Ed says, grabbing up his suitcase and striding past the hood of the car so fast that his coat actually flutters behind him.
Roy turns the key in the ignition, guides them out into the street, and keeps his voice completely level. “Back to your apartment?”
Perhaps it’s cowardly to omit the or.
“Nah,” Ed says, which circumvents the careful diction in a fraction of a second—typical, for Ed. Roy doubts he even recognizes the second conversation underneath the one they’re having audibly. “Al’ll be in bed, and I’m way too wired to sleep right now, and I don’t…” He looks out the window. Streetlamps flicker by like so many distant candles. “I don’t really want to be alone.”
Maybe it can wait. Maybe it can wait until another time, another day, another life where Roy Mustang is whole and stable and has enough to give.
“I don’t blame you,” he says softly, instead of No one ever does; that’s precisely how I got you into this mess. “Do you think coffee would hurt or help? Or we could run you a bath.”
“Jeez,” Ed says. “I’ve been in Central for five minutes, and you’re already scheming to get me naked and touch my hair?”
“I am only a man, Edward,” Roy says.
“You’e a friggin’ menace, is what you are,” Ed says.
It’s difficult to argue with that.
He manages to keep his menacing hands to himself while Ed cleans up by occupying them with the coffee as the shower runs. He makes a little more than Ed is likely to want. He needs some for himself, if he’s going to get through this.
It has to happen now—doesn’t it? It has to happen tonight.
He leans back against the counter once he’s half-filled a mug, leaving two cups for Ed still in the carafe. He’ll have to play it delicately enough that Ed will wait for him to call a taxi instead of just storming out into the dark. He’ll have to be very, very careful to make the causes of this completely unmistakable without going so far as to spell them out—Ed needs to know precisely who’s to blame, needs to understand this right, needs to bypass any notion that this is the result of his own inferiority in some ridiculous way; but nothing riles him faster than condescension, real or perceived. Roy will have to choose his words one at a time. And that’s harder, with Ed. It’s harder to be anything less than genuine in the face of someone so unrelentingly honest.
He swills the coffee and then sips it. It’s strong but smooth, so at least that turned out right. At least he has that to offer. As consolation prizes go, it isn’t much, but…
The water shuts off. Some unidentifiable banging noises follow. Momentarily, the door creaks, and then ever-so-slightly uneven footfalls proceed down the stairs.
Ed saunters into the kitchen wearing Roy’s white bathrobe, with his soaked hair streaming down around his shoulders, and Roy’s heart squeezes so tight it’s a miracle that the rest of his circulatory system keeps functioning around it.
This is going to be even worse than he thought.
“Oh, hell, yeah,” Ed says, making such a swift beeline for the coffee that Roy has to sidestep out of the way. He’s wearing Roy’s slippers; they’re far too big, and it’s far too cute and far too intimate, and Roy had almost hoped it might ache less than this. “Today just got a little better.”
Roy lets him fill his mug, dump in half a dozen sugar cubes, sip, cringe, cast a rippling breath across the surface, and sip again. It’s only fair. He promised coffee; he should at least give Ed time to enjoy some of it before he tears all of this to pieces.
“How is it?” he asks, despite the fact that it’s the sort of platitudinous courtesy he’d normally despise. He knows it’s good; he just had some.
Ed sips again, vigorously enough to slurp a bit this time. There is something terribly charming about the disarmingly earnest way in which Ed tends to be rude. “S’nice,” he says, blinking. His bangs draggle in his eyes; the circles underneath are deep and wide and gray-purple-brown like a healing bruise. Roy wants to kiss them; want to kiss him; wants to wrap him up in fleecy blankets and never let him leave. Ed smiles, tired and lopsided but still starlight-bright over the rim of the mug. “Thanks. And thanks for picking me up. It’s a hell of a lot nicer this way.”
Roy makes the corners of his mouth turn up. “You’re very welcome.”
Ed drinks just a little more than half of the cup—not exactly slowly, but with enough reverence and visible gratitude for the smell and the warmth and the power of the caffeine that it makes up for the speed.
Then he puts it down on the counter, uses his left hand to tuck his damp hair back behind one ear at at time, takes a deep breath, and lets it out as a sigh.
“Okay,” he says. “I feel about a million times more like a person now.” His eyes narrow. “So what’s with this weird, meaningful silence thing you’re doing?”
If only there were better words—warmer, softer, subtler words; new ones, clever ones; anything to dull the edge of the implications.
“I think we need to talk,” Roy says, hating every single syllable. “About… this.” He gestures uselessly between them. “About us.”
Ed’s eyes widen, and he lifts his right hand to point, needlessly, at the center of Roy’s chest.
“I was thinking the same thing,” he says. “I was thinking about… this half the damn night over there, actually.” He folds his arms, plants his feet, and raises his eyebrows. “So what’re you thinking?”
Better to hear him out. Better to let him say whatever he needs to, and carve an exit route from wherever they wind up.
“You first,” Roy says.
Ed opens his mouth.
He shuts it.
“That’s part of what I was thinking about,” he says.
Roy attempts to sort through the rather limited quantity of sentences spoken so far. “About… common courtesy?”
“No,” Ed says. “About you putting me first.”
Roy’s heart stumbles. It must show on his face for a moment before he schools his features back into place, because Ed seizes on it and drives forward without a shred of mercy.
“You do,” he says. “You know you do. And I kept pushing you, at the start, to see if you would—I set up all these damn tests; I kept blowing you off for Al, and talking about myself for fucking hours without ever asking how you were, and turning up out of the blue demanding that you feed me or fuck me or whatever it was on any given day—”
Roy is reminded of the Gate. There is a rushing flood of white and howling silence in his head.
He is a career manipulator, and he somehow didn’t notice that Ed was playing him on purpose.
“But you just kept letting me,” Ed says. “I kept setting up these stupid tests, and you kept passing them, and you never ask for anything, and—and I don’t… that’s not fair. That’s not how I want it to go. I want it to—” He falters, swallows, looks at the floor, gives an approximation of a shrug. “I want it to—matter to you. I want it to be… good, and… important. I want to give you something back.”
His eyes flick up to Roy’s—molten amber; a shine like brandy under bright light.
“So—what were you gonna say?”
Roy’s voice almost fails him, but—for once—his courage does not.
“I don’t think we should do this anymore,” he says.
The silence falls. It breaks open, and catches, and burns.
The naked agony in Ed’s eyes might kill a kinder man.
“Well—” Ed’s voice wobbles; he clears his throat, squares his shoulders, and sets his jaw. “Well—fuck you, I just—I just told you we could—we can fix it, I—”
“Not because of that,” Roy says, and it seems very strange that this distant image of him—this disconnected vessel speaking on behalf of his wounded soul—sounds so effortlessly collected. “Because I thought I could keep my being with you and my being your employer separate, but after what happened this week, I don’t believe I can. And I think it’s better for Amestris if you stay in th—”
“Fuck Amestris,” Ed says, stronger now, fists curled at his sides. “What’s better for you?”
“For you to be safe,” Roy says. “Wherever that’s possible; whatever that means.”
“I am,” Ed says, and the harder he scowls, the brighter his eyes seem to get. “I’m safe with you.”
“That’s not the point,” Roy says.
“It’s exactly the goddamn point,” Ed says. “You think this—” He waves his hand down at Roy’s robe, Roy’s slippers, the bare skin and the gleaming automail. “—is fucking trivial? I feel at home with you, Roy. That’s not—shit, you’re probably picking my hairs off your pillow every other morning—”
Roy usually leaves them for a day, sometimes two. They’re just so staggeringly beautiful when the sunlight hits.
“You could have that with anyone,” he says. “And you could have anyone you wanted.”
“Bullshit,” Ed says. “And anyway, I want you.” He scrubs a hand back through his hair, grimacing, and barrels straight on— “But I only want to want you if you want me to want you, or else what the fuck’s the point?” He glances up, and his eyes are always extra sharp when he’s trying not to be vulnerable. “You with me?”
“Yes,” Roy says. “Of course it has to be two-sided, but—”
“But nothing,” Ed says, gesturing fervently between them, the mirror of Roy’s movement from before. “Do you know how rare that is?”
Roy takes a breath. “Someone following your thought process, do you mean?”
“Yeah,” Ed says. “Mostly people just—I mean, they know I’ll go back and rephrase it if they can’t keep up, so they just don’t bother. But you—it’s not just that you’re smart, although that’s part of it. It’s that you really fucking listen, because you really fucking care. How can you not get—that’s important, okay? That’s fucking important to me, all of the other shit aside.”
“Ed,” Roy says, “I am not saying this to flatter you, but if you don’t believe me, believe the additional years of experience—anyone you graced with your attention with would fall all over themselves trying to do right by you. It’s not something specific to me; it’s not something mystical that I have that no one else—”
“Damn it, Roy,” Ed says, throwing his head back for a little extra emphasis as he grits his teeth, and just the way his throat moves is so delectable that Roy’s feted willpower quails. “You were so much easier when I thought you were an arrogant piece of shit.”
“Pun intended?” Roy asks. Distraction hasn’t failed him once ye—
“Shut up,” Ed says. “I just—” He plants his left hand on the countertop and leans on it, heavily, and it takes everything Roy’s got in him not to dive forward and wrap him into both arms, stroke his hair until that heart-rending weariness seeps out of him and dissipates into the ether where it belongs. “I don’t… get it, Roy. I don’t get it. Why are we having this fucking conversation? No, not even—why are we having it this way? I get that there’s shit I should do differently. I was trying to be scientific, but I guess I ended up being an asshole instead, but—but that’s not what you’re saying. That’s the part… Why are you trying to convince me to get rid of you when that’s not what either of us wants?”
Roy draws a deep breath and releases it gingerly. He has to stay on top of this; he has to stay in control of himself, or all of this will have been for absolutely nothing, and the status quo is just too damn dangerous now.
“I want,” he says, “what’s best for both of us, and what’s best for Ames—”
“Like I said,” Ed says. “Fuck Amestris. Fuck that excuse.”
Roy pushes his tongue against the back of his teeth and swallows the sharp things he wants to say. They rankle all the way down. “That’s not what it’s about,” he says. “The fraternization laws exist for a reason—for your protection and mine, and for the protection of the military as a whole. I can’t make unbiased decisions about you as a soldier anymore. That’s what it’s come to. Do you understand the implications of that? It doesn’t matter that you have no intention of rising through the ranks; it doesn’t matter if I know that my people will keep their mouths shut to keep us out of a court martial. I cannot do my job. I cannot do my duty. And if I fail at those things, I cannot pay my debts. I know you know what that means.”
Ed looks at him. Ed’s eyes are too old for his face; they are too deep and too dark and too knowing, and some nights just the thought of it keeps Roy awake.
“Okay,” he says. “Then I’ll quit.”
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Roy says. “I don’t want you to sacrifice. You’ve spent your whole life giving things up; the last thing I want you to do is compromi—”
“I don’t give a shit about the military except as a vehicle for what you need to do,” Ed says. “You’ve known that since day one—except back then, it was a vehicle for what I needed to do, and then eventually I did it. I don’t need it anymore. I’ll find something else. I don’t care.”
Roy feels that he is a wince personified, rather than a person performing the action. “You’re an extremely critical part of my operation,” he says. “You’re incredibly valuable to the military on the whole, and I need you more on my team than I need you in my personal life.”
“Bullshit,” Ed says again. “If that was the problem, you would’ve talked me into signing on as a contractor instead. Which I could do, if you want. I told you. I don’t care.”
Roy takes another breath, focusing on the way his lungs fill. If he panics—if he succumbs now to the swell of desperation rising in him—he is lost.
“That wouldn’t solve the problem,” he says. “I can’t be your commander. I can’t knowingly put you in situations where your life is on the line. It isn’t in me to do that anymore.”
“Then I’ll quit for good,” Ed says—calmly, matter-of-factly, like he isn’t turning the whole sprawling tapestry of potential futures inside-out. “Al used to tell me—he used to say you and I were too alike in a lot of ways. And I didn’t fucking believe him; I told him to stop making fun of me, but—he’s right. What a freakin’ surprise, obviously, but—you and I are both always trying to fucking sabotage ourselves before good things can get the better of us. Or before they can slip out of our grip and start to be less good than they were before. Or before we even have the chance to fuck ’em up.”
Roy slams steel vault doors shut on the parts of his brain stirring with recognition of the uncomfortable truths in every one of those sentences. He will not get diverted. He will not change course.
“A lot of times,” Ed says, “when there was some kind of food that he talked about wanting, I wouldn’t touch it, no matter how much I wanted it, because it didn’t seem fair if he couldn’t have it, too. And he’d tell me—he’d say ‘Depriving yourself of something nice doesn’t make the penance go any faster.’ And he’d say ‘You don’t have to suffer to be good.’”
Ed’s always had a singular talent for making Roy’s blood boil—and it’s almost always been because Ed is so good at poking holes in the carefully-woven veils that Roy drapes around his vulnerabilities, and steel fingers have a tendency to bruise.
But if either the frustration or the despair takes hold of him, this is over, and he has to forge through. He’s endured worse. He’s forced a smile for fools of an indescribable caliber, with more power balanced on their star-speckled shoulders than anyone has any right to have, and he’s listened to them coo over the heroic patriotism of the country’s most prolific murderers. This is not as difficult as that.
If he breathes deep enough, Ed can’t drown him—not even in the truth.
“That’s not the same,” he says. “This isn’t about small-scale gratification; this is about what’s best for this countr—”
“Again with the fucking military martyr thing,” Ed says, planting both hands on his hips, tilting his weight forward—not realizing it makes him look smaller instead of more intimidating when his body’s angled like that. “Stop playing that stupid card.”
There’s blood-steam building in Roy’s ears. It’s all he can do to keep tamping the fires down—dividing his attention makes it harder to shuffle up his hand.
“I went into this,” he says, “with the intention of having as little impact on your life as possible. You have fought tooth and nail for years to build something stable that you can be proud of, where you’ve set everything to rights, and I refuse to jeopard—”
“You’re not my babysitter,” Ed says.
“I am your boss,” Roy says.
“So what?” Ed says. “This is still my life—just like you just said. It’s my choice if I wanna quit. It’s my choice if I wanna stay here with you. It’s my choice if I wanna drink right out of that coffee pot until I vibrate out of the visible spectrum, although I guess you’d be within your rights to smash it out of my hand at that point.”
Roy holds his breath and counts down from ten. Backwards. Slowly.
This is Ed. And this is molten, moving, essential Ed—not the older, maturer, more calculated Ed he usually sees in the office. This is the avenging spirit of alchemy incarnate, fluid and frenetic and blindingly bright—channeled lightning; hissing ozone and a flaring burst of unadulterated power.
Maybe he should have started counting at fifteen.
“Listen to me,” he says. “I can’t be unbiased anymore. I can’t let you do your job. I am unable to let you make the choices that you want—I can’t do that anymore, not when they’re dangerous to you. I thought I was prepared for this, and I thought I was up to the task of keeping my distance, but I overestimated myself. I overestimated my ability to stay impartial and to separate the two halves of myself well enough to treat you properly in both.”
Ed’s whole face crinkles up. “You treat me fine. You treat me great. You treat me like—well. Nice. Like—”
Roy’s heart tries to melt, and he shores it up with scraps and splinters of his ribcage. “I’m—glad to hear that, but the issue is that on occasions like yesterday—”
“We were fine!” Ed says. “It all turned out fine! Nobody even got hurt! Except the shitbag taking hostages; I roughed him up a little bit. And that building was ugly anyway.”
“I can’t do my job when it involves putting you in danger,” Roy says. “I can’t stay neutral enough on the question of your safety to command you anymore. And you and I are both far too proficient in our positions to give them up.”
“You listen to me,” Ed says, stepping towards him now to look right up into his eyes. “If you want me to go, I’ll go. If you want me to leave, I will walk right out that door, and it’s done. But if you think for a second that we can go back to work like nothing’s changed, you’re lying to yourself. If you think for a second that the fucking emotions are going to go away if we change the name we put on them—”
“That isn’t the point either,” Roy says. “Professionalism is an entirely separate issue.”
That sounds a hell of a lot better than I loved you from across the chasm of unspokenness before, and I could do it again. It’s just the chance to have you that makes it so damn hard.
“You just said,” Ed says, “that all of it’s mixed up together, and that’s the fucking problem.” He throws his hands up and then shoves both of them back into his hair, pinning it back from his face—he’s beautiful; he’s so beautiful; he’s beautiful and anguished and searingly raw and toweringly perilous at the best of times. “I get it, okay? I’m—scared too. I’m scared it’ll… well, shit, I’m scared it won’t work; I’m scared it will; I’m scared you’ll get bored; I’m scared one of us’ll get too wrapped up in our own special kinds of stupid and just capsize the whole thing, but—” He meets Roy’s eyes again, and his just… smolder. “If you want it over, it’s over. I’m gone. But only if that’s what you want for you. Not what you want for fucking Amestris. Not what you want for the office. Not what you want for some theoretical future you think I’m gonna have if I don’t stick around here. Only it’s what you want for you, and what you want for me.”
Roy takes a breath and gazes into Edward Elric’s mesmerizing eyes.
Roy Mustang is strong enough to do this. He is.
“I mean,” Ed says, and his voice wavers, and his helpless smile does, too, as it tilts crookedly upward on one side, and his eyes dart away. “It’s the only thing I’ve wanted for me in a long damn time.”
No, he’s not.
Maybe a better man could bear it, but he is not a better man; he’s only this, and—
And right this moment, perhaps that’s not so bad.
He tries to fight it. If there is anything up there remotely like a God; if there is any omniscient sentience in the universe, benevolent or no; if there is anything other than the white face with the wide grin wearing his eyes—let it witness that he tries. Surely there’s something to be said for that.
Sometimes the right thing, the smart thing, and the brave thing diverge so early there’s nothing you can do to twine them back together. Sometimes the definition of courage is speaking from the heart when it’s an open invitation for future pain. Sometimes people matter more than principles.
Roy breathes, deeply, and then he says, “All right.”
Ed’s watching him closely. “‘All right’?”
“Stay,” Roy says. “I’ll figure something out.”
Ed’s smile starts slow and fragile, and then it blooms across his whole face and lights his eyes up with it.
“No,” he says, and he deliberately waits for Roy’s heart to skip several beats—perhaps a whole measure. “We’ll figure something out together.”
Roy’s had enough enough ricocheting back and forth between extremes of feeling for one over-long day.
“That,” he says, reaching across the small remaining space between them to tuck a straggling section of Ed’s hair behind his ear, “sounds wonderful.”
Ed grins. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” Roy says.
“No, you have to say ‘yeah’,” Ed says, managing to wrangle his face back into a solemn expression. “You have to return it the way I gave it.”
“Linguistic equivalent exchange,” Roy says. “What is this world coming to?”
“Just say it,” Ed says.
Roy feels himself starting to frown and is unable to contain it. “I don’t th—”
“Say it,” Ed says.
Roy grimaces. He clears his throat. He steels himself, and he takes the plunge, because this is for Ed—and he is powerless in the face of anything Ed asks.
“Y… eah,” he manages.
“Close enough,” Ed says. He darts forward—he always moves like a single burst of energy; like there’s no transition between the thought and the action; like instinct alive—and slings both arms around Roy’s chest. “Thanks.”
“For defying my own vocabulary?” Roy asks, though not before wrapping both arms around the most exquisite wriggling conglomeration of terrycloth and damp hair and flushed skin and steel that anyone could ever imagine.
“For doing something just ’cause you knew it’d make me happy,” Ed says, which is breathtakingly sweet; “dumbass,” which is less so. Ed squeezes gently before releasing his grip enough to step back and look up into Roy’s face again. “I told you—stuff’s gonna… change. I guess. The way I treat you is, anyway. ’Cause I was trying to push you so that I could find your limits before, but you just kept… well, I couldn’t find ’em, so—obviously they’re far enough out there that my life can fit inside. Which is all I really needed to know.”
Roy smiles at him as gently and blithely and innocently as possible.
“Are you implying,” he asks, delightedly, “that my limits don’t have to be especially large because you’re comparatively sm—”
“Oh, that’s it,” Ed says, shoving him—but not too hard—with both hands, before snatching up the abandoned coffee cup, and stamping off towards the living room, offering Roy a choice metal finger over his shoulder. “Come hang out on the couch with me when you’re ready to grovel for fucking forgiveness.”
“Give me a moment to revel,” Roy calls after him. “I’ll be there soon.”
Ed spares him a two-second glare. Either those used to be a lot sharper, or Roy’s just started to enjoy the edge.
“Whatever,” Ed says, and then a flash of terrycloth whips around the doorway, and his footsteps fade off down the hall.
Roy grants himself a few deep breaths, letting his body sag against the counter. That was the best choice he could have made in the circumstances. That was the best choice he could have made when Ed had put so much on the line—for him, of all people; when Ed was offering up such pure and unwarranted trust for the likes of Roy Mustang, celebrated murderer and washed-up paperwork-pusher extraordinaire. That was the best choice he could have made without wounding either of them any worse.
He’s tempted to have a little more of the coffee, but that will probably end in jitters, insomnia, and tears. He has to work tomorrow. He has to get up tomorrow morning and pretend like the planet is still turning at an ordinary rate, and reasonable things are still happening upon it, despite the fact that this sequence of events will go down in history as a firm example to the contrary. In a just world—in a rational world—
Then again, he’s known better than that for many, many years.
He heaves himself upright, stands up straight, and dumps the last of the coffee down the drain in the sink.
He’s not sure how long this is going to hold together with the whole hellish wrath of the universe tearing at it from every side, but he is sure that he’s damn well going to try to enjoy it for as long as it does.
Ed does not relinquish the stolen bathrobe even when they climb into bed, which leaves Roy no choice but to snuggle up with a very warm mound of terrycloth tipped in places with steel. He has had, he will admit, much worse and much stranger bedfellows than this.
Besides, Ed’s hair has dried with fantastically random little crimps and kinks in it, and the effect is overpoweringly adorable in addition to making Roy’s finger-combing explorations a bit more eventful than usual.
“I meant it,” Ed mumbles, and Roy knows he has to leave off scalp-scratching for a moment if he wants to hear the rest. Ed makes a faint disapproving growl-noise in the back of his throat, of which he may or may not even be conscious. “That I’ll quit,” he says next. “If that’s what you… if that’s what’s… best. Easiest. Most practical or whatever.”
Roy has to choose his words very carefully. “But—”
Or perhaps he doesn’t, if Ed’s going to pin the gentler hand over his mouth the instant he tries to speak them.
“No buts,” Ed says. Roy wants to make an innuendo out of that, of course—and would, if he wasn’t being stymied. “I really don’t give a crap. Ever since we got Al back, it was like—it was just something to do. It was nice to be able to give something back for you after all those years you’d snuck in all that shit for us. That’s it. That’s the only commitment I’ve got to the stupid military. I never wanted to be here. I didn’t pick it because it mattered to me; I picked it because I needed a little bit of power, and this was a quick way to get enough to build up some more. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to you. I don’t have anything to gain from it, honestly—and I don’t have to prove to myself that it can be good and decent and idealistic again someday. I don’t have any scores to settle here. I just needed something to make money at, and since I was still enlisted, and you were still there, it was like—sure, why not? I don’t even like it. You probably know that by now.”
Roy clears his throat. Ed finally lowers his hand—too swiftly for Roy to kiss the palm before it goes.
“I know it’s far from your calling,” he says, and Ed snorts, which is precious; “but the issue is… broader than that. I don’t want this—” He nudges his knuckles at Ed’s cheek again, and Ed’s eyelids flutter shut, and he rises into the touch like a kitten, and Roy was really trying to end this a few hours ago, wasn’t he? “—to force you to alter any other aspect of your life.”
Ed winches an eye partway open to look at him.
“What’s so bad about change?” he asks.
Roy opens his mouth to answer.
No words are forthcoming.
He shuts it again.
“Really,” Ed says. “I mean—shit, it’s good that things are different now. It’s good that Al’s back to corporeal form, and I don’t need the connections that you’ve got anymore. It’s good that everybody’s settling down again, but you’re working the inside angles to make stuff right in the government and shit. It’s good that you’n I have got something that’s… y’know. Nice. Warm. Weird. Complicated. All my favorite fuckin’ things.”
“Are those your favorite things?” Roy asks.
“Pretty much,” Ed says. He reaches up and tugs on a lock of Roy’s hair. “You’re even one of my favorite colors in a couple places.” He smirks, wickedly. “Though I dunno how long that’s gonna last.”
“If you’re going to imply that I’m old,” Roy says, “I reserve the right to make references to the fact that you’re small enough to use a tea cosy as a tent and set up thimble chairs for little chats with doormice.”
Ed’s mouth falls open, and his eyes go very, very round. Rarely has Roy seen a more pronounced expression of pure betrayal—which is really saying something, given that he led a fairly major coup.
“You know what they say,” Roy says, kissing the tip of Ed’s nose; “about playing with fire.”
Ed makes a soft wheezing noise. “See if you ever get laid again, you goddamn motherfucking—”
Roy kisses his mouth this time to smother the rest of that unprintable tirade; he knows the gist of it anyway.
“Goodnight, my dear,” he says when they surface.
“Kill you,” Ed manages, batting his left fist rather weakly at Roy’s chest.
“You’re going to have to try a bit harder than that,” Roy says.
Ed buries his face in the pillow and intones just one more word:
Difficult to argue with that, too.