Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Rating: (a relatively light) PG-13
Word Count: 16,900
Warnings: language, FRIGGING SCHMOOP, more adult implications than last time, LITERALLY DIDN'T FINISH REREADING THIS; FORGIVE ME
Summary: A sequel to Flying Horses: Despite many threats involving coal and minor bodily injury, Christmas turns out almost impossibly well.
Author's Note: a.k.a. the post limit that finally killed me
Roy tries to sketch out a schedule that’s more or less educational for Elysia; and one that’s open-ended and free of obligations so that Ed and/or Al can jump in whenever they wish, without ever feeling compelled.
His grades are due perilously soon, so he gets Elysia to agree agree to coloring books at the coffee table while he occupies the armchair and wades through a few more desperate, half-coherent attempts to analyze and explain the tumultuous river of human politics.
Elysia talks to herself very softly as she makes up stories about all of the characters she’s coloring in. A child psychologist would probably be concerned about that, too—not the impulse for fiction, although presumably that’s a sign that she’s so lonely that she has to make up her own friends; but about the meticulousness with which she keeps the crayon pigment just inside the lines. Roy taught her that, didn’t he, intentionally or not? He taught her that if you play by the rules, everything will be all right.
It’s going to be a betrayal of everything she believes in when she finds out that the world is not that kind.
They go to the children’s science museum the next day, where they learn things Roy didn’t even know about bubbles and earthquakes, and a bit he did know about pulleys, and several other things besides; and where they watch an extremely poorly-acted play about the environment. Elysia does not launch into a critique of either the scripting or the most egregious performances immediately afterward, so evidently Roy has his work cut out for him turning her into a theater snob before she gets to college.
It is a remarkable and slightly frenetic challenge, however, to find enough activities to occupy a six-year-old from dawn until dusk for several days running without just resorting to the TV. They spend a long time collaborating on skyscrapers made from Legos, and then she very, very carefully cuts out some paper dolls from her birthday that she hadn’t opened until now while he blitzes some for-hire editing that made him a payment offer he couldn’t refuse. They wade through half a dozen easy-reader books with her in his lap and the damned glasses waiting atop his head for her to struggle with an unfamiliar word, and all of the stories are so excruciatingly banal that Roy feels the stirrings of artistic inspiration in his soul for the first time in more years than he can count. Just because the words are meant to be simple shouldn’t mean the stories have to suck.
Fancy that; even his interior monologue is starting to sound like Ed.
Perhaps it’s a sign, in general, this his imaginative powers have finally emerged from a lengthy hibernation. He finds himself hosting a hypothetical conversation with Maes that night when he lies down alone and stares up at the ceiling for the better part of an hour, willing the bed to warm up.
She’s turning out perfect, Roy. I mean, obviously that’s more a matter of her phenomenal combination of genetic material than anything you actually had to do—no, I’m kidding. She’s turning out perfect because you have busted your buns and done your homework and tried harder than you have ever tried at anything to do all of it right. You couldn’t give me a better gift than that. Not ever.
Roy can’t give him any gifts, because he is dead. And if he wasn’t, research or no, he would be doing a better job at this than Roy is. He was born for it.
Maybe. I mean, I am—well, was—a pretty epic dad. But that’s the kicker, isn’t it? I went and got myself buried, and you picked up all my torches, and now we can never know what it might’ve been like.
It was Roy’s fault.
You shut your whore mouth, Roy Mustang.
It was. And he isn’t speaking aloud, so he’s not even using his mouth, so—
I said shut it. You know that’s not true. And you know I wouldn’t hold it against you for a damn second even if it was. She’s more important than anything else I ever would’ve done, and you have made sure—you have built, from blood and sweat and tears, a life for her that makes sure—that she’s going to be happy, and healthy, and loved. That’s all that matters to me, Roy. You know that’s all that ever would’ve mattered to me.
But so much fucking more than that mattered to Roy.
I know. God, I know, you dumb, secretly squishy, melodramatic, fake-Casanova, feelings-suppressing little bugger.
Sorry, I… got… carried away. The point is—look at how much you’ve done, Roy. Look at how much you have. All of that is to your credit and yours alone. Yeah, it’s not flashy, or sexy, or super cool, but you have a life here, and it’s nice. Rest on those laurels for a while, would’ya? Just—enjoy it. Just this once. Just for freakin’ Christmas, Roy.
Ed’s going to leave when he graduates. Roy should probably break up with him gently between now and then, so that it’s easier for both of them when the time arrives. Hauling your bedraggled brain and body out of college is bad enough without having to worry about interpersonal entanglements, and Ed is the kind of person who will feel guilty about it forever if he thinks he’s wounded Roy in the process of spreading his wings to their full span. It’ll be better for everyone if he takes it upon himself t—
Roy Mustang, I swear to Christ, if you dump him out of some sort of self-sacrificing bullshit intention to do what’s ‘best’ for him without asking him what he thinks is ‘best’ for himself, I will haunt you for the rest of your stupid life.
Considering how much Roy misses him, that is a rather unintimidating—further, an eminently enticing—excuse for a threat, so—
I will Poltergeist that house so hard you will never see your toothbrush again. You’ll start to doubt that you ever had a toothbrush, and then you’ll ask somebody whether toothbrushes really even exist, and then you’ll be humiliated, and—goddamnit, Roy, can’t you just let yourself have one good thing? It’s enough. All of the miserable miscellaneous penance stuff you’ve put yourself through—it’s enough. Let it be enough. Let yourself have this. Let him have you. Has he ever once looked bored when he’s with you? Has he ever once looked like he wanted to be somewhere else? Being determined to believe that you are a blight on everyone around you doesn’t make you a better person, Roy. It just makes you sad.
Well, maybe he deserves to be s—
You. And your whore mouth. Shut it. Have you even let it cross your mind that maybe you’re good for him, too? That all the smarts you basically worship him for have probably taught him a thing or two about people as well as particle physics? Look at him. Look at this quest for validation that he’s on—just like any of us, really, but his is so intense it’s kinda scary, isn’t it? Don’t you think that maybe—just maybe—getting cooed over and cuddled and generally celebrated by an older, established, extremely attractive guy who makes him laugh all the time does a little something for him in return?
Roy is touched. He never knew Maes thought he was sufficiently good-looking to fulfill the role of an insecure young man’s sugar daddy slash silver fox; all kinds of doors are opening toni—
You know what I mean, you shit. Make that your Christmas gift to me—posthumously. Let go of your single-minded mission to hate yourself for just a couple of days. For just long enough to see things the way they really are, and feel all of the love in them. Because you are, you know. Loved. Not just by me; not just by Elysia—not just the people you think don’t have a choice. That’s all you’re really looking for, isn’t it? Let yourself wonder if maybe that’s all he’s really looking for, too.
Roy would note that he cannot believe that Maes has continued to ruin his life from beyond the grave, but it actually isn’t surprising in the least.
Hush your you-know-what. Go to sleep. Give my baby girl a kiss for me tomorrow morning. Live, Roy. Not for me. For yourself. That’s all I’m asking for.
How does it sound so easy when it’s laid out like that?
Roy rolls over, buries his face in the pillow, and tries to do what he’s told. It’ll set a good example for Elysia, after all.
“Oh, my God,” Ed says. “What the heck is all this?”
Roy glances up from getting his ass whipped at Candyland by none other than Alphonse Elric, who has a remarkable talent for cleaning up at board games based entirely on luck. “You said you wanted hot chocolate.”
“Yeah,” Ed says, rummaging through the bag. “But I figured you knew that meant, like, store-brand powder and some candy-cane-flavored Smirnoff or something.”
“No one drinks mediocre cocoa in my house,” Roy says. He draws a card. This is a disaster. Even his little token looks noticeably more distraught than when they started. “And good cocoa needs Bailey’s. I don’t make the rules.”
Al clears his throat in an extremely meaningful way, raises an even more meaningful eyebrow, and says, “Who does?”
“Santa,” Roy says. “It’s Christmas.”
“It’s December twenty-third,” Al says.
Then he draws the card that lets him skip ahead to the ice queen marker, circumventing almost half the board.
“Oh!” Elysia says. “That’s the best thing in the whole game!”
Roy opens his mouth with I am increasingly confident that this deck is rigged on the very tip of his tongue.
And then he closes it.
Because Elysia will need a snack break soon, and then Roy can pull out Boggle, and then he will wipe the floor with any Elric who dares to test him.
“Are we gonna get any snow here, Uncle Roy?” Elysia asks, gazing at the little card when Al passes it over to her for scrutiny.
“Probably not,” Roy says. “But if you’d like to, some year we can go up to Tahoe for a few days while you’re off school. They get a lot of snow up there.”
Elysia picks a reasonable card and carefully counts out the squares as she moves her piece. “How long of a drive is it?”
“I think it’s about four hours,” Roy says. “We can check later to find out. We don’t have to decide now.”
She nods sagely. Roy pulls yet another truly ridiculous card and manages to creep forward a grand total of three squares. Apparently Ed was right to sit this one out.
“Can Jack come?” Elysia asks.
“I’m not sure,” Roy says. “That might depend on where we were staying. I don’t think he likes being in the car.”
“Okay,” Elysia says. “Can Ed and Al come?”
Roy’s heart stumbles, and then his tongue does. Inconvenient, that.
“Well,” he manages, “I suppose if—if they want to, then—of course they can.”
Al is looking at him like he just passed a pop quiz with flying colors.
Ed is looking at him like he’s a clear sky picked out with unnumbered stars.
“Okay,” Elysia says contentedly. She pats Al’s arm. “It’s your turn.”
“So it is,” Al says. “Thank you.”
Ed doesn’t say anything at all, but he does come and sit down directly next to Roy on the carpet and rest his chin on Roy’s shoulder.
And that’s better, really.
“All right,” Roy says, reemerging into the living room once Elysia, after a few chapters of one of the Christmas-centric Magic Tree House books, has been tucked in and started dozing, “give me the keys.”
Ed and Al, who are sharing cat-petting real estate on the couch, blink at him in perfect unison.
“To the car,” Roy says. “You’re either sleeping here tonight, or you’re letting me drive you home.”
“I’m not planning to get that drunk,” Ed says.
“Yes, you are,” Al says calmly.
“Shut up,” Ed says. “You don’t know me. You don’t know my life.”
Al just looks at him, mercilessly deadpan, until Ed cracks a helpless grin, followed by an even more helpless giggle.
“Anyway,” Al says, “you already bought us all of our illicit cocoa supplies. It would be unfair to impose on your any further.”
“I can’t hear you,” Roy says, “over the sound of that couch having your name on it.” He crosses to them and holds his hand out. “Do we have a deal?”
Al fishes the car keys out of his pocket without ever breaking eye contact with Ed.
“Keep him,” he says.
Ed flushes. Roy flushes. The keys land in his palm.
“Eew,” Al says. “That’s adorable. And disgusting. Quick, somebody get me liquored up; if I’m going to vomit, I want it to be for a good reason.”
“Start the film,” Roy says. “My mother runs a bar. I can handle the drinks.”
“She what?” Ed says, twisting around to look at him over the back of the couch.
“Well,” Roy says. It’s not like this is exactly a cocktail competition; it’s just heating up some liquids and combining them in ideal proportions, and then putting RediWhip on top, but all the same, he’s uniquely qualified. “She used to run a bar. Then she retired. To Vegas. And then un-retired, so that she could run a bar with slot machines.”
“I feel like I should be more surprised than I actually am,” Al says.
“Al,” Ed says. “Have you ever been surprised in your life?”
“I was surprised Roy had a cat,” Al says.
“Were you surprised?” Ed asks. “Or were you, like, vaguely kind of bemused at a slightly unanticipated turn of events?”
There’s a long pause.
“What’s the difference?” Al asks.
“I rest my friggin’ case, Your Honor,” Ed says.
“Gosh,” Al says. “Whatever. Which setting is it for the DVD player?”
“The one that says DVD,” Ed says.
“You’re getting coal for Christmas,” Al says. “And you’re getting it in the face.”
“Whoa,” Roy says, hastening over with the first round of mugs. He inherited some terrible Christmassy ones with cats on them from Maes, who occasionally collected things he had no interest in simply because they were overwhelmingly kitschy. He hopes Al will appreciate them, at least while he can see straight. “Take it easy. It’s hard to get blood out of this couch.”
“Thank you,” Al says, taking the mug. Then he says “Oh, how darling!”; and then he says “Don’t worry, I never leave evidence.”
Ed takes one look at Roy’s face and starts laughing so hard he almost spills his cocoa all over the place.
“That,” Ed says as the credits roll, “is the best movie ever.”
There are an alarming number of empty mugs on the coffee table, some of which have Christmassy cats on them, many of which do not.
There is a less-alarming, though equally unusual, amount of Ed draped over Roy’s lap. Roy strokes his hair back. He’s not too proud to savor it. “It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it?”
Alcohol’s only effect on Al seems to be sharpening the sass to an even deadlier edge, though so far he hasn’t pointed it at either of them too much. “When Brother gets trashed,” he says to Roy, in a confidential tone not accompanied by a confidential volume, “he really likes superlatives.”
“Because they’re the best,” Ed says. “And this is the best cocoa I’ve ever had. And you’re the best brother ever; and you’re the best boyfriend; and this is the best Christmas—”
“Time for bed,” Al says. “Brother, you need to drink some water.”
Ed raises a slightly unsteady index finger. “Only,” he says, imperiously, “the best water.”
As gently as possible, Roy eases himself out from under Ed’s boneless sprawl and stands up from the couch. “Let me go get some bedding for you, Al.”
“The best beddi—”
“Brother, shut up.”
“You shut up.”
“I said shut up!”
“I said it first.”
“But I’m the big brother, and you have to listen to me.”
The peal of laughter that follows is, fortunately, probably not quite loud enough to disturb Elysia’s dreams. It is, unfortunately, the single most sarcastic laugh Roy has ever heard, including several of his own that he thought at the time were masterpieces.
By the time he returns with some spoils from the linen closet, however, the bickering has concluded, Al is gingerly arranging all of the cat mugs in the basin of the sink, and Ed is standing very close to the stereo, holding his phone and the AV cord and muttering intently. In the nick of time, Roy remembers that it would be somewhat uncouth to ask in front of Alphonse whether Ed needs some help getting it in the hole.
At least Al shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping, since it’s remarkably warm in here.
Roy sits down while he attempts to work a very ornery pillow into an equally ornery pillowcase. Evidently the reason that all of these are spares is because they hate him, and they hide on purpose.
“Yes,” Ed says, and then the music starts—not too loud—and by the time Roy recognizes it and looks up, it’s far too late.
He learns three things in immediate succession: firstly, that, at least when drunk on Bailey’s Irish Cream, Ed is an abysmal singer; secondly, that Ed makes up for it by being an incredible dancer; and thirdly, that the dulcet strains of an extremely overplayed Mariah Carey Christmas song can nonetheless prove inspirational in the right conditions.
These conditions are, without a doubt, the right ones.
Even if they weren’t, it would be far too late to run, because Ed skips ahead to the part where the music picks up, and the way he hitches his hips is positively unholy.
Roy would be delighted if he never, ever stopped.
“I just want you for my own—” This boy could not carry a tune in a lockbox. “More than you could ever know—” He could, however, dance to the phone book being read aloud and make it sexy enough to be outlawed in several states. “Make my wish come true—” Oh, God, he’s sashaying over, and the swing of his body is mesmerizing, and Roy realizes that he should cross his legs before this gets indecent, but his nerves don’t seem to be responding to any of the impulses from his brain. “Baby, all I want for Christmas—” Ed climbs up onto the couch, straddling Roy’s lap, still swaying, and plants his index finger against the center of Roy’s chest. What a beautiful way to die. “—is you—”
Roy would not be able to keep his hands from fastening themselves to Ed’s body on either side of his waist if there were several million dollars on the line, but he feels he deserves some credit for not immediately passing out.
“Your—” he chokes out. “Ah, Al—”
“Is used to it,” Ed says. He is gyrating.
“Tragically true,” Al says.
“Oh,” Roy says. He digs around in his brain for something else to say and comes up empty-handed.
Ed loops both arms around the back of his neck, fingers curling into his hair, bobbing against Roy’s lap in the most purgatorial way imaginable, and leans in to whisper into Roy’s ear, “Just wait for your birthday.”
Then he draws back, blinks, tilts his head, and makes a face.
“When is your birthday?” he asks.
Roy swallows. He swallows again. After the third iteration, a raspy sound that resembles his voice deigns to leave his throat.
“Monday,” he says.
Ed blinks a bit more. “What? No shit.”
Roy shakes his head.
Ed sits back. The finest ass Roy has ever been privileged enough to touch, settled near his knees, is not exactly cold-shower material, but this position is a mite less provocative than where it was before.
“Why the fuck didn’t you say something?” Ed asks, but it’s as yet a frown of puzzlement rather than of blame.
“Trust me, my dear,” Roy says, tucking a lock of hair behind Ed’s ear. “The more birthdays you have, the faster your life flashes before your eyes every time someone makes a point of them.”
Ed persists in pouting at him.
“Don’t give me that,” Roy says. All the same, it’s an excellent excuse to continue playing with Ed’s hair—he can’t complain about that part.
“But you’re special,” Ed says.
Roy’s hand sticks in the air with three of his fingers curved inward, half a dozen gold strands tangled in between.
He tries to smile. “I don’t th—”
Ed leans in to kiss him—too fast, and too energetically, such that their teeth knock together before their mouths find a way to fit.
“Too bad,” Ed mumbles into the midst of it. “You’re special anyway. Can’t opt out.”
“Brother,” Al says, approaching, “it’s time for you to stop grinding on your boyfriend and go to sleep.” A glass of water holds itself out just to the left side of Roy’s head. “Here.”
“But Al,” Ed says.
“No buts,” Al says. “Except the one you’re taking to bed.”
Ed’s eyes light up in a way that is not especially pure or wholesome. “Y’mean Roy is. Taking my ass to bed.” He gasps, and then he grins, and then he seizes Roy’s shoulders with both hands. “Can you carry me? Fuck, that’d be hot.”
“Whatever the two of you do,” Al says, “can you do it somewhere other than where I’m planning to sleep?”
Apparently having lost track of what he just said, Ed’s up like a shot and grabbing for Roy’s right hand. Roy gestures in the direction of the water glass as Ed starts hauling him towards the hall.
“You drink that one,” he says to Al. “I have one in the bedroom; I’ll fill it from the ta—”
Ed drags him around the corner. Distantly, he hears a very amused “Goodnight.”
Fascinatingly, despite the fact that a sober Ed can stay absorbed in a book for six hours at a stretch without moving a muscle except his eyes, drunk Ed seems to have the attention span of a ditzy gnat. He wanders out of the bathroom no less than three times while they’re brushing their teeth, and then he thinks of something funny in the middle of chugging the water Roy pours and ends up spraying half of it all over the sink. He looks guilt-stricken when Roy starts trying to mop up and makes an extremely snuggly attempt to beg for forgiveness, but before Roy can generate the words to grant it, he makes a break for the bed and flings himself down on the mattress.
“Sorry,” he says when Roy settles down next to him. “I’m obnoxious.”
“You’re wonderful,” Roy says. “You’re also going to be very hungover if you don’t have some water.”
“I live on the edge,” Ed says.
“I see,” Roy says.
The twinkle in Ed’s eyes dies suddenly and without warning, and he rolls over and gazes up at the ceiling.
“Al wanted to go to Yale,” he says. “He said he didn’t care, but I know he was lying. He really did. But he didn’t want me to be alone out here, and he knew that if he lived there, and I went and visited him in the winter, I’d prob’ly slip and fall on the ice ’cause of my leg, so he stayed here and signed up to go to the same school as me even though he didn’t want to.” He holds both hands over his eyes. “He’s been doin’ that his whole life. Just—letting me hold him back. Pretendin’ like it was his idea all along.”
“Ed,” Roy says. “We never get a pair of choices where one is perfect, and the other’s wrong. He loves you. He wanted to stay close for his own benefit as well as yours. Besides—I hardly think a degree from what’s usually acknowledged as the best public university in the world is going to slow him down.”
Ed rolls over and shoves his face into the front of Roy’s pajamas, leaving Roy to try to maneuver a hug around him. “Guess. I dunno.”
“I do,” Roy says, and—doesn’t think about it too much. “I’d bet anything he wanted to stay near you for himself just as much as you wanted him to.”
Ed sighs out a deep breath. He’s still wearing his jeans. “Why didn’t you tell me it was your fuckin’ birthday?”
Roy guides enough hair back to clear a section of Ed’s forehead, at which point he kisses it.
“I have everything I want,” he says.
“Gross,” Ed says. He pauses. “Why’m I still wearing my leg?”
“Because you threw yourself at the bed fully-clothed,” Roy says.
Ed snorts. “At least I landed on it this time.”
“Ah,” Roy says.
Ed rolls over onto his back and starts writhing around in a manner that is not doing any favors for Roy’s blood pressure or libido.
“Help me get my fucking pants off,” he says.
The next morning, Roy wakes up beside a dandelion-colored puff of hair. There might have been a face attached at some point, but it’s buried in the pillow, and the rest of the associated anatomy has disappeared under significantly more than fifty percent of the comforter.
Roy spends a very, very nice few seconds just watching the weak light through the window waver on the beautiful bright gold.
Then, experimentally, he pokes a part of the blanket-lump that looks like it conceals a shoulder.
“Mngh,” Ed says.
Roy pokes again.
“No,” Ed says.
Roy parts the mess of hair enough to identify an ear. He kisses it, and then he tries to slide out of bed without letting too much cold air in.
“Take your time,” he says. “There will be breakfast whenever you’re ready.”
The next noise, while indistinct, sounds slightly more positive.
Alphonse is already up—or, at least, awake; he’s sitting leaned against the couch arm with one of the blankets draped around him like a cloak—and scrolling through his phone by the time Roy forges out into the living room.
“Good morning,” Roy says. “Did you sleep all right?”
“I had a dream Brother went a little overboard with the hot chocolate,” Al says, “and started getting a bit unruly, and… oh, wait.”
Roy winces. “Can I make it up to you with waffles?”
“Is it real syrup?” Al asks. “Or the fake kind?”
“Drained from genuine Canadian maple trees,” Roy says. “The bottle is shaped like a leaf.”
“Done,” Al says. “Do you need help?”
When the coffee’s on, the waffle iron’s heating up, and the last few lumps in the batter have succumbed to the war with the whisk—there is a small chance Roy is feeling the sleep deprivation a bit himself—he goes to check on Elysia.
She’s almost as deeply interred in her blanket fortress as Ed was in his. Well—as Ed was in Roy’s.
“’Morning, Princess,” he says, very softly. There’s some rustling, and then an eye appears in a small gap in the pink and purple folds. “Are you ready to get up?”
The eye vanishes again, and the mound underneath the bedclothes curls a little tighter.
Chilly mornings can be a challenge.
“Do you need five more minutes?” he asks. There is some concentrated movement that it’s probably safe to interpret as a nod. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll put a waffle on for you, and then when you come out, it should be all ready. How’s that?”
The eye reemerges. “S’it a Mickey waffle?”
The Mickey Mouse-shaped waffle iron might, in other hands, promote crimes against humanity committed with strawberry jam and sound effects. So far, Roy’s been very restrained.
“As many Mickey waffles as you can eat,” he says.
The eye assesses him for another second, and then there is another nod-like motion.
“All right,” he says, pulling the door most of the way shut. “It’ll be ready for you.”
By the time he returns to the kitchen, Al is curled up in one of the chairs with both feet up on the edge, still with the blanket around his shoulders.
“I’m assuming you’d be noticeably upset if Brother hadn’t survived the night,” he says.
“He made it,” Roy says. “A bit worse for the wear, but more or less intact.”
He’s only just flipped Elysia’s waffle onto a plate when the princess herself pads out in her tiny fuzzy purple slippers, rubbing at her eyes with both fists. She lowers her hands, stares at Al sitting at the table, blinks a few times, and says, “Uncle Roy, can I wear a cape at breakfast?”
“If you’re very careful not to get syrup on it,” he says, “yes.”
“I’ll be careful!” she says, and then she’s off like a shot.
Al has the grace to look slightly chagrined. “Sorry,” he says.
“It’s all right,” Roy says. “The world needs a few more princess superheroes. Besides, it’s Christmas.”
“No,” Elysia says, bounding back with one of her pinkest blankets on her back, clutching the corners with one hand to hold them around her neck. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
Footsteps, trailing her, resolve themselves into Ed wearing Roy’s bathrobe. “She learns fast,” he says. “Somebody promised me breakfast.”
Roy would promise him the moon and the velvet night and all his favorite constellations.
He sets Elysia’s plate in front of her, pours her apple juice, hands the cup to Al to set down on the table, and then ladles another waffle’s worth of batter into Mickey’s face.
“Coming right up,” he says.
The true magic of Christmas is apparently all of the time left over to lie around alternately trying to entertain a first-grader with cabin fever and eating everything in the fridge. By the time a certain pair of impromptu elves—one of whom is much more suited to the position, size-wise, than the other, although Roy will be keeping that observation to himself in the interests of a non-homicidal holiday—is helping him hang the stockings with care, he dares to hope that the hangovers have long since retired.
“Y’know,” Ed says when they reach the bed—after they’ve dragged out the black trash bag tucked up on a high shelf in Roy’s closet which contains several small boxes and the special Santa wrapping paper; and once they’ve made a valiant effort to nibble at this year’s batch of mediocre cookies, “Christmas is never gonna be like it was when I was a kid, but… this is pretty good. Even though it’s different. I really like it.”
That’s convenient. It’s different when Ed’s hair rolls out like spilt honey across Roy’s otherwise pristine sheets and pillows, but he really likes that, too. He likes it even more when he’s in the middle of the leisurely process of untangling the impossibly voluminous swell of it with his fingers.
“I’m glad,” Roy says. “And I’m glad you’re here—and Al, too. It feels…”
“Better,” Ed says. “If I didn’t know for a fact you’d built this whole—place, thing, life—the hard way, I wouldn’t believe it. You make it feel like a home.”
Roy starts to think that that, too, is a higher compliment than Ed will ever know.
And then he remembers—how long, and how laboriously, Ed has searched for a place to belong.
At the very real risk of being arrested for schmoopiness, he shifts in closer, pins Ed by a handful of his hair, and grazes kisses down his temple and over the curve of his ear.
“The two of you being here makes it a lot easier,” he says. Ed may very well intuit that he’s talking about more than just the trappings of the holiday.
“Mmm,” Ed says. Roy made a bit of a tactical error; starting to play with his hair while having a semi-serious conversation presents something of a challenge for both of them in terms of focus. “Never figured I’d be into the sexy single dad aesthetic, but…”
Roy can’t help grinning. “‘Aesthetic’? What’s the ‘aesthetic’ composed of, exactly?”
“I dunno,” Ed says. “Button-down shirts. Sweaters. Practical shoes. There’s at least one piece of glitter on you somewhere, all the time, even when you just got out of the shower. Your pockets’re full of little pink hairbands. Your fucking glasses. Just—domestic, I guess. I dunno. You make it work.”
“Oh, no,” Roy says, because it’s less likely to end in him being shoved out of bed than his first instinct, which was to snuggle in and start crooning about how Ed is the best gift the universe has ever seen fit to bestow upon him. “Now I’m going to have to switch out all of your presents. You see, you did such a fine job catapulting yourself onto the naughty list that Santa and I agreed you should get nothing but coal, but what you just said was definitely a nice list thing to say, so we’re going to have to have a conference call to decide how to average this o—”
“Oh, my God,” Ed says, and apparently Roy miscalculated, because this is a shoving offense, too. “Shut up, or I’m stealing all the blankets.”
Roy nuzzles him. “As opposed to…?”
“Rude,” Ed says, but he’s laughing, and whether or not it’s particular to Christmas, there’s always a little bit of magic in that.
Elysia is giving Al the puppy eyes, but he’s far too experienced to succumb. He also tends to transcend human existence and rematerialize on a higher plane once he enters Cat Mode, and he’s been stroking Jack for at least fifteen minutes now, so he’s probably just about untouchable.
“You didn’t hear anything?” Elysia asks.
“I was pretty tired last night,” Al says. “I slept very well. Although…” He manages to gaze into the middle distance without missing a beat in his petting rhythm. “I did hear… a bit of rustling… and… maybe something on the roof, but…”
“Next year we can set a Santa trap,” Ed says. “Y’know, put a snare out by the fireplace, and bait it with cookies, and—”
Elysia’s eyes widen. “I don’t wanna catch him! I just wanna see him, that’s all! Just ’cause—’cause I ask for something every year, and I almost always get it, but—I never remember to write him another letter to say ‘thank you’.”
Ed and Al both stare at her.
Then they stare at Roy.
Roy sips his coffee and shrugs.
“Good genes,” he says. “Nothing to do with me.”
“I don’t believe that for a second,” Ed says.
“Think about it this way,” Al says. “If Santa knows you’ve been good, he must also know that you’re grateful, right?” At Elysia’s slow nod, he beams at her. “So you don’t have to worry about it! Wanting to thank him is just as good as thanking him in person.”
The ambitious machine of Child Logic grinds through that one for a few seconds, and then Elysia nods again. “’Kay.” Her eyes light up. “Is it time to open presents now, Uncle Roy?”
“Go for it, Princess,” he says.
Perhaps it’s another bad sign in bright neon that Roy doesn’t know what other children do, or are like, or think about. He wants to think that it’s abnormally empathetic that Elysia doesn’t tear into the first thing she sees with her name on it—instead, she struggles through Santa’s handwriting and Roy’s in order to distribute everything under the tree before she pulls at a single piece of ribbon.
Roy is lucky. He’s lucky to be alive. He’s lucky to have this. He’s lucky he can afford it, in every sense of the word. And he’s lucky that there is meaning in this holiday again when you see the sheer, sparkling joy of it reflected back in the eyes of a little girl who has forgotten, just for a moment, what she can’t have.
He’s also lucky that he managed to recruit two boys with extremely short names to be his co-elves, since it makes the parsing of the penmanship significantly less arduous.
He read somewhere that you should attribute one or perhaps two relatively modest but thoughtful gifts to Santa, and have the nice or expensive ones come from yourself, because children chat uncontrollably, and while they understand that some parents have more money than others, Santa should never be unfair.
So the light-up, sound-effect-ridden blue lightsaber is from Santa, and he tucked a few Rey-ready accessories into a certain princess’s stocking. And there’s an expansion set for her existing castle Legos, with some neat new pieces, which the elves found only after excursions to three separate Toys-’R-Us stores.
But the month of weekend riding lessons, the tiara-making kit, the glittery jewelry box, and the cushy lavender coat are all from Roy.
It takes a long time to get to them all individually, however, because Elysia insists that they take turns opening presents—as much as that’s mathematically possible, anyway, when most of the items have her name on them.
But that’s how, in between the squeaks and the undeniable Hughes-heritage evident in deeply sincere and slightly dramatic thank-yous, Roy ends up with a number of wrapped objects in his lap.
One is the obligatory, but no less appreciated, plastic globe ornament made for arts and crafts on one of the last giddy days before Elysia’s school break. It comes accompanied by an extremely soft black T-shirt with nothing but a navy blue silhouette of a horse on the front, which he suspects she ordered on the internet with some assistance from some conspirators who happen to be nearby.
The younger of the shameless cronies—who, to his credit, laughs significantly less than the elder when Roy puts the T-shirt on over his flannel pajamas—is every bit as pleased as Roy had hoped to receive a cashmere set consisting of a nice scarf and a beanie with little cat ears on top. He puts both of them on immediately. The tricky part will probably be trying to get him to take them off again in a couple of months when the weather turns.
Ed eyes Roy and shakes the box that Elysia ran over to him—not that that helps at all, since it just makes a faint sort of shifting noise.
“Is it clothes?” he asks. “You got everybody clothes, didn’t you? I mean, yeah, we’re poor, but we’re not that poor.”
“It’s coal,” Roy says. “Santa and I talked it over.”
Ed shakes harder. “It doesn’t sound like coal.”
Elysia is wearing her Rey goggles as a headband. Fortunately, Roy is already prepared for those to become a mandatory component of every outfit for several weeks at least.
“You have to open it,” she says, completely seriously, “to find out.”
Ed sighs and starts pulling at the ribbon. “I guess you’re right. If your Uncle Roy spent a bunch’a money on me, I reserve the right to smack him, though.”
“Not today,” Roy says. “It’s Christmas.”
Al appears to be lost in the haze of ecstasy that comes of lolling on the couch while Jack climbs all over him to sniff his new accessories. “No, it’s…” He blinks. “Oh. Never mind. He’s got you there, Brother; you have to be good.”
“Cra—” Ed pauses, freezes, and clears his throat. “Cr… ackers. Christmas crackers. Y’know.”
Al boops Jack on the nose with a fingertip. Jack looks first startled, and then betrayed, and then cautiously receptive to the possibility that nose boops are a prelude to more petting. “Just open it, Ed.”
“All right, all right,” Ed says.
At long last, he complies, and the way his face transitions from a certain amount of braced preparedness, to tentative hope, to slack-jawed awe as he lifts out a black leather motorcycle jacket that would be really very nice if it didn’t have about a dozen too many chains and rivets and studs and things tacked all over it.
“Oh,” he breathes, “my GodRoyyoufu—”
He claps the hand over his own mouth before either Roy or Al can get to him—which is fine, because the effect is the same. Then, with no small amount of reverence, he sets the jacket aside, stands up from the couch, and hurls himself at Roy.
The kiss is exquisite, but perhaps even better is the moment when he draws back and leans their foreheads together, panting just a little, and looks up through his lashes to meet Roy’s eyes.
“Thank you,” he says. He shifts away and leans in to add, in a whisper, in Roy’s ear: “You asshole.”
“Merry Christmas, dear heart,” Roy says.
Ed leaves Roy’s lap long enough to trade Roy’s bathrobe out for the new jacket, and then he comes back, fits himself under Roy’s right arm, and curls up close.
Roy knows that he is an enormous cliché incarnate just for thinking it, but that’s really the only Christmas gift he wanted.
Each of the Elric brothers, however, momentarily receives a very detailed and highly-decorated handmade picture frame from Elysia. The dust of a blush on Ed’s cheeks when he sees that the photo she chose for his was the selfie he tried to take on Roy’s phone of all three of them—which Roy sabotaged by kissing his cheek, which left all three of them laughing—is icing on the cake.
The one Al got is also obnoxiously cute, albeit in a slightly less nauseatingly romantic way: Roy snagged a few very good shots on Maes’s old DSLR when all three of them passed out piled all over each other on the couch after Thanksgiving.
And then Roy somehow ends up with two gifts in his hands at once, and Ed is making excuses about how gift bags are the future of presents, and everyone should just stop messing around with tape and scissors and papercuts, and Roy opens it partly just to get him to stop trying to talk it down.
Beneath a few wads of tissue paper, there are two things in the touted gift bag. One is a pair of extremely smooth, extremely soft leather gloves.
“They just seemed like the sort of thing you’d like,” Ed says. “And you were whining one time about how cold your hands get in the car in the mornings.”
“I don’t ‘whine’,” Roy says. He slips on the right one, tugs it tight, crooks his finger, and grazes the side of his knuckle very slowly and deliberately down along Ed’s cheekbone to his jaw. He leans in very, very close to whisper: “You may find out later, however, that with the right incentive, you do.”
Ed’s breath catches, and his eyes widen, and then he swallows, hard.
“Gosh,” Al says, loudly. “I’m sure that was very nice and sweet and innocent and probably platonic.”
“Of course it was,” Roy says, smoothing a lock of Ed’s hair behind his ear before settling back and removing the glove again.
“There’s—” Ed clears his throat. “There’s another thing in the—bag.”
Roy reaches in, bats some more crumpled tissue paper aside, and draws out—
A little porcelain ornament shaped like a carousel horse, with all its trappings painted to look like Elysia’s second-favorite.
“I couldn’t find one that looked like Cassie Nightshade,” Ed says, “but I figured customizing this one wasn’t too bad, so—”
“Edward,” Roy says, “this is wonderful. You’re wonderful. Thank you.”
Roy can’t even kiss him properly to thank him, because Elysia comes careening across the room and clambers up onto the couch to investigate it, too.
“That’s so pretty,” she says.
Ed nudges his shoulder against Roy’s, managing not to bury any spikes or rivets in Roy’s flesh in the process. “Merry Christmas,” he says.
“While you’re on a streak, Roy,” Al says, scratching under Jack’s chin, “open mine, too.”
Since the remaining participants in their gift exchange are currently crowding his elbows on either side, he supposes he might as well.
He’s not sure whether to expect a present or a veiled threat, and what he ends up finding in the narrow white box is…
A very lovely royal blue silk necktie.
“Thank you, Alphonse,” he says. There’s a chance that there was meant to be an open-ended implication of strangulation here if he does anything untoward to Ed. “This is a beautiful color.”
“It’s for you to wear at Ed’s graduation,” Al says, calmly, and Roy looks up so fast it’s a miracle he doesn’t give himself whiplash. “Winry decided we should all wear blue so that we’re showing school spirit, but we’re also really easy to find in the crowd.”
“If you want to come,” Ed says, pulling faux-idly at one of the embellishments on his jacket. “Obviously you don’t have to, or anything. It’s probably gonna be really long and really boring.”
“I would be honored,” Roy says, meaning it, “and delighted.”
“Great,” Al says. “Brother, I’ve been catted.” Roy didn’t realize that there was a specific verb for the state of being pinned down with a feline weight on one’s chest, but if anyone would know the terminology, it would be Al. “Can you get Elysia her…?”
“Yup!” Ed says. He jumps off the couch, darts around the carnage of crumpled paper all over the floor, and disappears into the hall. A door opens and closes, and then he returns, much more slowly, dragging a huge box along the carpet by using the bow as a tow-rope. “Merry Christmas, kiddo,” he says once he’s finally shoved it into the middle of the carpet. “Crack ’er open.”
Elysia has to sit silently for a moment just to appreciate the size of the box before she hops down from the couch and then crosses to it to oblige.
The ribbon gives way, and then the paper tears, and then she lifts off the lid, and…
“Uncle Roy!” she says. “It’s books! The whole thing! It’s books!”
“We made a list,” Ed says, looking more than a little pleased with himself, as Elysia starts digging through the treasure trove. “Of all the books that were a big deal to us when we were kids, and how old we were when we read ’em. The ones Winry’s granny held on to, we stuck in here, so a couple of ’em are falling apart, but if we couldn’t find it, we went and got a new one. There are a bunch that are a ways ahead of her right now, but I figure you can keep them for a while, or some of ’em could be for reading aloud at bedtime.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve you,” Roy says. He means that, too.
“Whatever,” Ed says, but he’s grinning broad and bright. “It’s flippin’ Christmas.”
Later, after the wrapping paper tornado has mostly been recycled, and more coffee has made its way into Roy’s mug, Ed joins him on the couch again. Al and Elysia are trying very hard to convince Jack that he likes the new sweater Santa brought for him, but Jack doesn’t seem to have come around on the subject just yet.
“So,” Ed says, tilting his head to lean against Roy’s shoulder. “Got any plans for New Year’s?”
Roy hesitates. He could make something up. Or he could, simply, omit the truth. Sometimes it’s kinder, when the truth’s uncomfortable.
But of all the things Ed has been with and to him so far, open has been perhaps the most precious, and he wants to be the sort of man who can meet Edward Elric halfway.
“Only for the morning,” he says, keeping his voice down. “The car accident that—killed her parents was on their way back from a New Year’s party.” Elysia rubs one tiny finger very gently behind Jack’s ear. “My New Year’s party.”
“Oh,” Ed says faintly. “Oh, shit. I’m—sorry. God. I’m sorry.”
Roy leans back against him a little bit. “I got you out of it, in the end, didn’t I?”
Ed snorts, and then he settles, and then he says, “If you want—I mean, if it’s sort of a… family thing, sort of private or whatever, I totally understand. But if having somebody else along might make it better, you just say the word, okay?”
There aren’t really words sufficient for the task of responding, but Roy catches Ed’s hand in his and squeezes tightly. For all of the occasional obliviousness, he’s fairly sure that Ed will understand.
“Winry and her grandma usually do a little thing for New Year’s Eve,” Ed says. “Mostly just board games and silly hats and stuff. I’m sure you guys’d be welcome to come if you want—and you don’t have to stay the whole time or anything. And Al’n I are taking you guys out to dinner tomorrow night for your birthday, Mister I’m-Too-Old-to-Celebrate-Anymore. You can’t get out of that one.”
“You may have to start abbreviating that nickname,” Roy says.
“You’re not the boss of me,” Ed says, but he’s grinning again, and he knits his fingers tight with Roy’s.
“I think he likes it, Uncle Roy,” Elysia says, and with an expression full of nothing but unbridled hope, she looks so much like Maes.
Maybe that’s why Roy can almost hear his voice again.
See? Jesus, Roy, that wasn’t so bad, was it? You let a little love in, and sometimes—not every time, but sometimes—everything goes all right.
Not every time. And no matter what some sanctimonious advice aficionados in the afterlife might like to think, it’s not worth the risk every time.
But this time—
“You might have to wait and see if he tries to take it off,” Ed says. “Maybe he’s already warm enough, y’know? You wouldn’t want to make him wear a sweater if he’s already too warm.”
This time it is.