Vitamin C (tierfal) wrote in tierfallen,
Vitamin C

FMA -- Mistaken (Part IV)

Title: Mistaken
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: R
Word Count: 22,500 (5,800 this part)
Warnings: major spoilers for '03/CoS; language; a bit of violence (unimpressive next to canon); adults behaving irresponsibly (including alcohol use); naughty stuff to come
Summary: It is a telling and terrible reflection on Roy's life that the kidnapping is not the worst thing that's happened this week.
Author's Note: This chapter brought to you by Max's soul, which I have stolen. :D

[Part IV]

“Fuck,” Ed says, characteristically, as he enters.  “Okay.  I found—street signs, and—I got Hawkeye on the way, but—it’s gonna take her a couple minutes.  We’re a ways out.”

“Charming,” Roy says.

The doorway’s to his left, so he has to turn his head in order to see Ed standing in it, scuffing one foot against the concrete floor.  Even backlit, just enough of Ed’s face is visible for Roy to make out a truly frightening amount of an emotion he can’t qualify as anything short of anguish.

Short of—that’s funny.

…no.  No, it’s not.

“Are you all right?” Roy asks.

“The hell are you asking me for?” Ed says, coming around and pulling a stool up towards the bench to sit on.  He glances down at the blood on the floor.  His jaw tightens.  “How are you holding up?”

“About as well as can be expected,” Roy says, “given the fact that I got shot.”

Ed forces a smile.  “I thought it grazed you.”

“Ah,” Roy says.  “Yes.  Important distinction.”

Ed goes quiet for a worryingly long series of seconds.  Roy counts them out by the tiny droplets bursting when they hit the floor.

He’s reached eight before Ed clears his throat, looking at the concrete.

“I’m—sorry,” he says.  “It’s… it’s my fault.”

Roy stares at him.  Ed shifts, rolls his shoulders, glances up at Roy, and then fixes his gaze on the bloodied edge of the bench.

“It fucking is,” he says.  “If I hadn’t—bolted.  When I woke up.  If I hadn’t—done that, we wouldn’t’ve… had to have that conversation, and then you wouldn’t have ended up in that alley in the first place, and—”

“Ed,” Roy says, trying to keep his voice soft, which is a bit of a challenge when it feels like Ed just jammed a spearhead in between his ribs, “that doesn’t make it your fault.  It’s the kidnappers’ fault they kidnapped me, regardless of the… And besides, if they had their hearts set on doing it, they would have found me somewhere else if it hadn’t been tonight.”

Ed pauses in avoiding Roy’s eyes in order to glare at him.  “But it was tonight.  So—”

He looks away, into empty air this time, and his throat works as he swallows.

“About that,” he says.  “The—leaving before you woke up… thing.  I—it’s not—it wasn’t—you.  I mean—it wasn’t anything you—did, exactly.  Just—” He drags in a deep breath and rakes a hand back through his bangs, not seeming to notice the half-dried blood he’s smearing up the side of his forehead.  “I—okay.  Listen.  I—there are these doubles, in the other world.  Right?  I think Al said he’d told you about some of that, or… something.”

Doppelgängers was the word Alphonse used.  He seemed to think that was dryly funny for some reason.

“In Germany,” Ed says, “when I first moved out, there was—I ran into Al’s double.  Practically right away.  Like fucking destiny.  Only he wasn’t—he wasn’t Al; he was himself, but he was like Al in a lot of ways, and—and that’s what makes that shit so fucking complicated, and obviously none of them have any damn idea that they’re copies of people I already knew—”

He blows out a breath that makes his hair flutter—except the parts that are now matted with Roy’s blood and sticking to his temple.

“We could’ve had something,” Ed says.  “Me an’—Alfons.  We could’ve had something fucking amazing; I felt it, but—but we were both just… scared.  He was dying.  He knew it, and he wanted to make the rockets work so they’d immortalize him, at least in a historical sort of way.  And I was scared that I was fucking crazy.  I thought I was—some days I thought I’d made it all up; I thought—maybe it was just that I’d been in such a traumatic fucking accident that it’d rewritten everything in my brain, and I really thought I’d been some sort of magic-wielding hero in some other world, but it was all…”

He waves his left hand, helplessly.

“Anyway,” he says.  “We fucked a couple of times, but it was all just—fear.  It was just that we were both so fucking desperate not to be alone, and not to get forgotten, and… just… trying to be real.  Both of us trying to feel real for a couple of minutes at a stretch.”  His face closes up in the most remarkable way now—like a house where all the shutters slam at once, and every single light winks out.  “He’s dead.  That’s my fault, too.  But that’s not even the point.  That’s not the point of any of it; that’s just setup shit.”

“Ed,” Roy says, as gently as he dares.  “You don’t have to justify yourself to me.”

Ed’s eyes find his.  Dark gold, like wheat; like honey; like brandy.  A part of Roy has always wanted to drink himself to death.

“Of course I fucking do,” Ed says.

As though it’s just that simple.

Perhaps, for Ed, it is.

“Eventually we went back to Britain,” he says, like Roy has the slightest idea where that is.  “Me and Al, after we went through the portal.  We were doing physics there—big push for it after the big war they’d had, and we were trying to stay away from chemistry, ’cause we knew they were using that to make weapons.  At least this way, it was sort of—I mean, maybe the airplanes would be for something else, right?  Maybe it’d all go towards something good.  And we had to eat and live and stuff, and it was as good an idea as anything else we could come up with.  Or as not-bad an idea.  Whatever.  Anyway, I—there was this one time I was working in the library at this university that’d hired us to do all this math and physics stuff, and I was just buried in calculations, y’know, like, papers up to my elbows—”

He holds up a hand, apparently to indicate the height of the stacks.  Obviously, Roy has no experience whatsoever with piles of paperwork waiting to become useful, and he cannot relate in the least.

“And I sort of vaguely noticed somebody sit down next to me,” Ed says, “but I didn’t… really care.  Or do anything.  Or look up.  And then five minutes later, he put his finger on my diagram and said ‘You didn’t carry the six.’”

Roy is almost fool enough to ask, but the look Ed gives him requires silence.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Big fuckin’ surprise.  It was—the you, over there.  The other you.  American, of fucking course.”

“Well,” Roy says.  “There’s an insult I’ve never heard before.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Ed says.  “Any… anyway.  He—stuck around.  I kept trying to get rid of him, but you know how you are.”

“Tragically,” Roy says, “yes.”

Ed’s smile doesn’t brighten his eyes.  That alone is a terrible shame.

“Like a fucking mosquito,” Ed says.  “Won’t give up ’til you get what you want.”

“What did he want?” Roy asks, gingerly, knowing full well that they’re very near the precipice.

Ed looks out into the dimness past their little circle of yellow light.

“Me,” he says.

“Sensible,” Roy says.

The look Ed gives him this time is more than just tired—it’s ragged.

“He was so damn smart,” Ed says.  “You are, too, but—instead of alchemy, it’s all science over there, and he was so damn good.  He played it off like he was just kind of clever, but the government in England doesn’t handpick people who’re just clever and pay to keep ’em working there for months at a time.  He was fucking brilliant, and he knew it, and he had everybody running around in circles trying to keep up.”  He draws in a breath and lets it out slowly—like every exhalation hurts.  “Only he didn’t… lord it over people.  Or not too much.  And he was funny about it.  He thought the whole world was funny.  Used to scare me a little, how dark he’d get, but Jesus Christ could he make me laugh when he put his mind to it.  Guess he could do just about anything when he put his mind to it, with a mind like that.”

“Ah,” Roy says.  He can’t help wondering—

“Don’t even start,” Ed says.  “I’m not saying that to make you feel stupid.  I’d have to be an idiot to think you’re some kind of slouch, Mustang.  I read your file, y’know.  Not gonna tell you how I got it, by the way; that’s classified.  You’re really damn smart, too, but you use it differently.  That’s sort of how it is, with the… doubles.  Over there.  They have a lot of things in common with the people here, a lot of traits and sort of… fundamental parts of who they are, I guess, but then the world’s shaped all of the similar components into somebody completely different.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.  “I think you cushioned at least a portion of the enormous blow to my ego.”

Ed snorts.  “Maybe if your ego wasn’t bigger than that stupid, flashy hot air balloon you made that time, it wouldn’t bruise so bad.”

“Maybe,” Roy says.

And maybe if crystal and china weren’t so fragile, they wouldn’t crack.  But would they have any value if they weren’t so easy to break?

A series of emotions moves across Ed’s face, like sped-up sunlight past tattered curtains, and no two shadows are the same.

“It’s different over there,” Ed says.  “Guys who are… with guys.  I mean, you… basically can’t be.  It’s straight-up fucking illegal in a lot of places, and it’s stigmatized to hell and back just about everywhere else.  I know it ain’t exactly paradise around here, either, but—it’s really—bad—there.  And a lot of people… guys in that situation, and women who are dealing with the same thing—they get… desperate.  They hide.  They lie.  They fake it.  They have to.  You can get killed for it, if not by the cops, then by your neighbors, and they’d fucking swear up and down it was for everybody’s own good.  So it—so people—work around it.  Is all.  It’s not their… I mean, none of it’s their fault.  But… how they act, and who they hurt trying to do fucking backflips to get around it—that’s where it gets to be a gray area.  That’s the thing.”  He chews on his lip.  When he’s settled on the stool squarely, his feet don’t quite reach the ground, and he swings the left one back and forth just once before he lets it rest.  “I guess the point is that you have to be… careful.  You have to be really careful, and you have to take it slow.”

Roy smiles slightly so that he won’t just lie here and cringe.  “Did he?  Take it slow, I mean.”

“I wasn’t criticizing you,” Ed says.  His eyes flick over, assess Roy’s expression, and then dart away.  “It takes two to fuckin’ tango.  I signed up same as you.”  He breathes in slowly and out even slower.  “But—yeah.  He… I mean, for ages, he was just following me around the fucking library, making comments and suggestions and sweet-talking me on the side about how much he liked my derivations, and oh, by the way, your hair’s gorgeous, and do you wanna get a drink?”  He shakes his head, scowling again.  “Dunno what the fuck it is about the hair.”

“Exactly what you just said,” Roy says.  “It’s gorgeous.  You’re gorgeous.  Besides, it’s an evolutionary imperative; long, thick, shiny hair has been correlated t—”

“No,” Ed says.

Roy tries at a winsome grin.  “But i—”

No,” Ed says.  “Shut up.  Where the fuck was I?  Um—drinks.  He wanted to go for drinks.  Which—”

Was exactly what Roy suggested, last night, which was exactly what landed them here.

“He paced it the fuck out,” Ed says.  “The first three times we went out, that’s all it was.  Just—drinks.  Well, drinks and… physics.  Christ, that’s like—the summary of my coping mechanisms in three words.”

That is a terrifying prospect for several reasons, of which the storied history of physics abuse is not one, because to the best of Roy’s knowledge, no such history exists.  Roy opens his mouth to say so, or to say something a little bit too glib, but Ed waves the metal hand to preempt him.

“Later,” Ed says.  That’s a pleasant thought.  “Give me shit about my bad choices tomorrow or something.  I’m trying to get through this thing.”

“All right,” Roy says, mildly.  “I’ll write you a rain check.  Carry on.”

“Thanks,” Ed says, and if his voice wasn’t dripping with such a delightfully acidic wealth of sarcasm, the addition of “You’re a real pal, Roy” would probably make Roy laugh hard enough to exacerbate the wound.

As it is, he just sort of chokes on his own spit for a few moments of unparalleled grace and dignity.

“Right,” Ed says—but not until after he’s touched Roy’s shoulder, startlingly gently, and waited for the adorable hacking to stop.  “Drinks.  With… the other you.  The fourth time, he started touching my hair and dropping hints, and Al’d been saying all along that he was way too into me, so—so I was sort of—prepared, I guess.  ‘Marginally less oblivious than I would have been left to my own devices’, I think is what Al said.”

“That sounds like him,” Roy says.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “So—yeah.  He asked if I wanted to come back to his flat and have a whiskey or something, and I said, ‘Is that what they’re calling it these days?’, and he just looked at me for five whole seconds before he laughed.  And he said—‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ and… yeah.”

“Ah,” Roy says again.

“Yeah,” Ed says.

They sound like…

Well, Roy’s not sure what they sound like, but it’s not exactly his finest work, as conversations go.

“Anyfuckingway,” Ed says, “we went back to his place, and we didn’t even bother pretending that there needed to be whiskey involved, ’cause as soon as the door shut, and we didn’t have to act like… I mean, it was—”

“I know,” Roy says.  He does.  He knows the want, the need, the blinding urgency, the helplessness; he knows the feeling of possession by some lesser demon, ensconced inside your being, bathed in heat—

Ed gives him a weary sort of smile.  “Yeah.  Well.  He was—good.  He was really good.  I didn’t… I didn’t have any idea it could be like that.  Feel like that.  He knew what he was doing, and he was really fucking careful, and he really—I mean, in retrospect, there was something in it for him, because he wanted me to keep coming back, but at the time, it just…”

Roy casts back through his memory, and tiny weights keep falling into place on a scale he hadn’t even noticed with his fingers twisted in the tangles of Ed’s hair—

At the beginning of it, Ed had only seemed willing to touch him with the left hand; he held his right shoulder back, the automail lying limp and half-buried in the bedclothes, and tried to make one do the work of two.  Roy’s intellect had long since flung itself overboard and drowned among the whitecaps; he couldn’t find the words for an inquiry, so instead he leaned down and started kissing all along the pearl-pink line of scars where the port joined Ed’s flesh.  And Ed had said—just softly, almost swallowed, “But you don’t—normally you—” and then jettisoned the rest.

And somehow Ed had known to kiss hard with a hint of teeth at the juncture of Roy’s shoulder and his neck to make his knees go weak.

And somehow Ed had known that he’d be just a little ticklish right below his ribs.

And somehow—

“I think I was religious for a full thirty seconds somewhere in the middle,” Ed says.  “I think I forgot how to hate the universe, or at least how much it’s always hated me.  That good.”

“Hmm,” Roy says.  “Is the portal across still accessible?  The ethical implications—and the paradoxical implications—aside, I think I might like to tr—”

“Holy shit,” Ed says.  “Not funny.”

“Sorry,” Roy says.

Ed rubs at his face with his left hand, curling the right into his trouser leg.  “Whatever.  I mean—it would be… sorta funny, I guess, except—”

There is a peculiar heaviness to Ed’s voice, and then to his breath as he scrubs at his eyes with his knuckles and sighs.  Roy wishes it was an unfamiliar weight, but he’s heard it before.  He’s heard it far too many times.

“He was great,” Ed says.  “And he was great in bed, and I—ignored stuff I shouldn’t have because of that.  Signs.  I dunno if I’d call them red flags; he was too smart for that.  None of it was… obvious.  But he kept it all really nice, really clean—kept it all above water, and it all seemed like… And even after a couple of months, he would look at me like I was just so damn fascinating—I’d wake up in the morning, and he’d just be watching me, and he’d smile like the fucking sun coming out when my eyes opened, and he’d reach over and smooth my hair back and say ‘You are the most beautiful mistake I’ve ever made, and the best one I ever will.’”

It is truly extraordinary how many times, and how many ways, Roy’s heart has fractured today.  It makes the work he did on his wrist look like a hack job.

“Edward,” he says, “you are many thousands of things, but you are not—”

“I know,” Ed says.  “I mean—sure, hell, I’m a crime against nature and humanity in a bunch of different ways, but most of those he didn’t know about.  And even if he did, that’s not… that’s not something you say to somebody that you’re—with.  It’s just not.  And I should’ve taken that for the big flashing fucking warning sign it was, but…” He swallows; he shifts; he folds his hands, knitting together the metal and the flesh so that his fingers overlap.  “I was just too fucking in love with him to care back then.”

“I’m sorry,” Roy says, softly, instead of My dear, I know the feeling.

Ed holds his left hand over his eyes.  “Yeah.  Thanks.  Me too.”

Roy gives the silence a moment to settle as he calculates how best to cross it.  The pain in his side feels more like consistent stabbing than anything else at this point; he has a bit more experience to back that up than he would like.

Ed pushes his hair back again, and then he itches with one fingernail at the dried blood where it’s started flaking.  He draws his hand away and looks vaguely surprised to see it.

“‘So, then, Edward,’” Ed says, lowering his voice for what might just be a very poor imitation of Roy, “‘if it was so fine and dandy, why aren’t you still there, fucking on every flat surface and doodling physics equations all over each other with chocolate syrup?’”

“Did you do that?” Roy asks.  Interestingly, the pain and the leaching lightheadedness both have wrought some serious damage on his impulse control.

“No,” Ed says.  “Thought about it.  But—shut up.  The point is—” He works his jaw, and he looks off into the furthest corner of the room again.  “So we were… we were out at this café near his flat having coffee and breakfast and shit.  The breakfast was great, but all of the coffee over there is terrible, especially after years of rations and whatever, but that’s… yeah.  We were having breakfast, and the mailman had stopped in to give the owner of this little café her mail, and then he turned to Ray and handed him an envelope and said, ‘Something for you from Alice and the boys!’, and…” He takes a deep breath.  “And the mailman walked out, and I looked at Ray, and he was putting it in his pocket, and I said, ‘Who’s Alice?’, and he wiped all his emotions off the same fucking way that you do, and he said—‘My wife.’”

Roy hears his breath leave him involuntarily in something like a gasp.  “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Ed says, and if it’s not just the shock of the trauma to Roy’s systems, it looks like his shoulders are shaking—just a bit.  “And I said, ‘You have kids?’ and he said ‘It wasn’t precisely my choice, and don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,’ and I said, ‘I don’t give a fuck where you’re going,’ and I got up and walked out into the pouring fucking rain and just—kept walking until I hit a Tube station.”

Damn Roy’s memory.  Damn the way it makes connections over leaps and bounds when his brain’s muddled like this; damn how cruelly clearly he remembers Ed sitting at one of those tables in the same damn bar three months ago, running his fingertip around the rim of his glass—He tried really hard, I guess.  My dad did.  To make up for it.  And I guess he did all right.  But the thing is—the thing he didn’t know, the thing he couldn’t know, is—it never leaves you.  Knowing your whole life that you got thrown away like yesterday’s scraps the second something better came along.  Knowing you didn’t matter enough.  Knowing that somebody like that—somebody who’s supposed to give a fuck about you, no matter what—just up and walked away from you and never cared enough to look back… That never leaves you.  You live with that every single day of your stupid fucking life.

“I’m sorry,” Roy says, for the umpteenth time.  There’s not a damn thing else to say.

Ed shrugs with the left shoulder alone.  He kicks his heel off of one of the legs of the stool.  “He didn’t get it.  He came by me and Al’s place and did the whole routine with the begging and the flowers and the ‘I swear to you I’ll fix it,’ but that was the whole problem.  He didn’t understand that he couldn’t.  He never could.  As soon as… anyway.”  He looks down at his knees; the shadows of his eyelashes seem unreasonably long.  “When I—when I woke up this morning, you were… you were asleep on your left side, with your face all—” He mimes it by resting his cheek on his palm.  “And I couldn’t see the eyepatch, and you had your hand tucked under the pillow just—exactly the way he used to, and—and I didn’t—think.”  He swallows.  “So… I’m sorry.  For that.  I should’ve—I should’ve had the fucking guts to stick around long enough to tell you, at least.”  A wry smile twists his mouth up into a terrible shape.  “We wouldn’t’ve ended up here, at any rate.”

“Ed,” Roy says, softer still, “I’m not him.”

“I know,” Ed says.  This smile is, miraculously, even worse.  “It’s like—coins.  Same materials, different imprint.  He was a scholar; you’re a soldier.  He wouldn’t’ve had the instincts to take a bullet for me even if he’d wanted to.”

“They were shooting at me,” Roy says.

“They were shooting at both of us,” Ed says, “and you pushed me out of the way.”

“I nudged you,” Roy says.  “Gently.”

Ed almost, almost, flashes a hint of a grin.  “Like fuckin’ hell.”

“Barely even a tap,” Roy says.

“Well, yeah,” Ed says.  “You already tapped my ass once.”

The saliva very nearly strangles Roy again.  “Ah—I suppose that… is… technically true, according to the strictest definition of the word.”

Ed raises an eyebrow slowly, and the corner of his mouth turns up with it.  “Leavin’ you speechless is its own reward, you know that?”

“I can imagine,” Roy says.

They look at each other for the duration of at least six droplets of blood splashing in the little puddle on the floor.

“I’m not him,” Roy says.  “Ed—I’m not.”

Ed slips down from the stool, tugs it forward, climbs back up, and leans down to lay his left hand on top of Roy’s.  He squeezes just hard enough for Roy to feel it—not quite enough to aggravate the injury.  Apparently all of those extremely expensive hospital stays during Edward Elric’s brief tenure as a major eventually taught him something.

“I know you’re not,” Ed says.  “Which is why I’m going to kill you if you fucking die on me.”

“I’m not sure that’s logically sound,” Roy says.

“I’m not sure I give a shit,” Ed says.

Roy wants to wrangle his hand around enough to grip Ed’s as tightly as he dares, but—

Later, perhaps.  Later, perhaps, a lot of things.

“Last night,” Roy says, “was, in an admittedly rather tawdry way—and that is the part I regret; that is the only part—a long-since foregone conclusion as far as my feelings are concerned.”

“As a kid,” Ed says, gripping Roy’s hand just a little tighter, “I didn’t think you had feelings.  Because you were just so—calm all the fucking time.  Took me years to realize you’d been fighting back quietly the whole time, but back then it was my personal crusade to try to piss you off just so I could be sure you were still alive.”

“I noticed the tactic,” Roy says.  “I hadn’t realized it was based in such a magnanimous intention.”

“You know me,” Ed says.  “If you look up ‘noble’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me kickin’ somebody in the face.”

“Oh,” Roy says.  “Did they take my photo out?”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “It was distracting people because you look so damn good.  They kept calling up the dictionary company to ask for your phone number.”

“Oh, dear,” Roy says.  “Yet again I’m a menace to society.”

“Old editions are selling real high on the black market,” Ed says.

Roy’s head is very light—and his heart is.  For a long, long few moments, he gazes wordlessly at Ed.

“It weirds me out when you’re quiet,” Ed says.

“You complain when I talk,” Roy says.

“What’s your point?” Ed asks.

“What’s yours?” Roy asks.

“I have no idea,” Ed says.  “What the hell were you thinking about just now, giving me that look?”

“Was I giving you a look?” Roy asks.

“Only you,” Ed says.  “Only you would try to play dumb ten minutes after I told you that you’re fucking brilliant.”

“I am a contrary man,” Roy says.

“Same here,” Ed says.  “And I’ve got you beat on stubbornness ten to one.”

“Five at most,” Roy says.

“At least six,” Ed says.  “What were you thinking about?”

“My thoughts are top-secret,” Roy says.

“Now I’m assuming it was dirty,” Ed says.  “Is that what you want?”

“That depends,” Roy says.  “Does the prospect of my thoughts being dirty intrigue you?”

“You,” Ed says, “are the worst.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.

“You’re a weasel,” Ed says.

“Good,” Roy says.  “Weasels are adorable.”

“What the hell kind of weasels do you guys have around here?” Ed asks.

“Cute ones,” Roy says.  “Like me.”

Ed presses his lips together, and the corners of his mouth twitch, and then he clears his throat.

“You must’ve lost more blood than I thought,” he says.  He raises his right hand, curling it into a fist.  “And you’re gonna lose more of if you don’t cough it up, Mustang.”

Roy looks at him again, well-aware that this may invite further beleaguering.

Even in the harsh light of the naked bulb, with Roy’s blood smudged up the side of his face, lacking the commandeered waistcoat, having gained a brand-new ring to the concentric circles underneath his eyes, Ed is so beautiful he defies explanation, let alone description.

“I was thinking,” Roy says, because the world has offered Ed very few kindnesses over all these years, and Roy has offered him fewer still; “that I loved you before you left.”  At Ed’s expression, it occurs to him how that sounded, and the backpedaling duly commences.  “Not… oh, come on.  It was a pure thing, at that point—an unshakeable sense of kinship and an exasperated sort of affection, more than anything else.  I’d always felt protective, whether I liked it or not, but it was a terrible day when I realized how fond I was of you.”

“Right,” Ed mutters, but he’s ducked his head, which means he wants his hair to dangle in front of his face, which means he’s blushing.  “Okay.”

“When they told me you’d died,” Roy says, and he can feel Ed’s eyes snapping to him even with the curtain of tarnished gold hanging in the way, “it was like they’d torn away a fundament of the universe, and the vacuum that remained was dragging the entire rest of the world in towards it.  After enough time wondering why it was so hard—harder than it should have been based on the variables I was admitting that I could see—it struck me that I loved everything you had been, but also everything that you could have become.”

Ed swallows.

And then he says, so softly it borders on delicate, a solitary word:


“Still,” Roy says.  “There was something very pure about that grief.  And the denial, too, in its way.”

Ed smiles thinly, raising his head just enough for Roy to see it.  “You go through all the stages?”

“No,” Roy says.  “Once I heard that Alphonse didn’t believe it, either, I couldn’t make myself let go.”

“I’m gonna hit him for that later,” Ed says.

“No, you’re not,” Roy says.

The smile broadens.  “Nah.  I’m not.”  Ed clears his throat, slinging one leg up over the other at the knee and folding his arms across his chest—the picture of nonchalance, decorated all over with splashes of Roy’s blood.  “So—that’s—nice, I guess.  Your purity kick.”

“I’m not finished,” Roy says.

“You never are,” Ed says.

“When you came back,” Roy says, “in the heat of a battle, older and sharper, with your hair out behind you like a pennant, in that damned waistcoat—”

Ed drops his face into his left hand.

“Well,” Roy says.  “It was a lot less pure after that.”

Ed shakes his head for—by Roy’s reckoning, at least—approximately twice as long as is really necessary.

“Why the hell are you telling me all this shit?” he asks.  “I mean, it’s—it—”

“I spend an inordinate proportion of my life avoiding the truth at all costs,” Roy says.  “Besides which… I think you should hear it.  I don’t think you know how much you affect people—and how positively.  How much you matter, even when you’re not physically here.”

“Are you trying to get into my pants again?” Ed asks.

“No,” Roy says.  “I’m trying to get into your heart.”

Ed stares at him.

Roy musters a grin.  “My God, you must be the single most uncharmable human being in the entirety of Amestris.”

“‘Uncharmable’ isn’t a word,” Ed says.  “And you haven’t met every human being in the entirety of Amestris.”

“How do you know?” Roy asks.  “Maybe I was very busy while you were g—”

“Math,” Ed says.  “That’s how.”

“As if I would let a little thing like numbers interfere with my social life,” Roy says.

“What social life?” Ed says.  “All you ever do is work all the time, and then go to the bar on Friday nights so you can drink too much and complain about all the work you did.”

“I was under the impression that that’s what a social life is,” Roy says.  “What’s yours?”

Ed… glares.  Rather tellingly.  It’s a good look on him, come to think of it, but so is everything.

“It’s not just numbers, anyway,” Ed says, which is every bit as satisfying as an outright concession of Roy’s banter victory.  “It’s logistical feasibility.”

“I never let a little thing like logistical feasibility get in the way of  my social life either,” Roy says.

“Shut up,” Ed says.  “That’s cheap, and you know it.”

“As they say, my dear,” Roy says, “all’s fair.”

Ed goes quiet, looking first at his knees, and then at the place Roy’s cavalry skirt spills over the side of the workbench, before slowly raising his gaze to Roy’s face again.

“You can’t just call me that,” he says.

If nothing else, Ed has helped refine Roy’s habit for internalized wincing into a truly masterclass skill.

“I’m sorry,” he says.  Was it just a few hours ago that he was reflecting that he’d never said those words to Edward Elric’s face?  Now he can’t seem to stop.  “I di—”

“Unless you fucking mean it,” Ed says.

“You have always been dear to me,” Roy says.  “Whether or not I liked it, and whether or not I said it, I knew that you were something completely new and extremely special from day one.”

Ed scowls.  “Don’t fuckin’ flatter me.”

“I wasn’t,” Roy says.  “Although I intend to in the future—quite a lot.  Daily, if I can get away with it.”

The scowl melts into an expression that isn’t much more encouraging—something in between uncertainty and a cagey sort of concern.

“You’re serious about this,” Ed says, slowly.  “I—aren’t you?”

“Ed,” Roy says, “I have been yours for a long time.  Whether you’ll have me or not is completely up to you.”

Ed breathes in and out twice before he answers.

“Well,” he says, “the sex was pretty phenomenal.  What of it I remember, anyway.”

Roy gives no outward indication that his heart nearly just stopped.

“Was it?” he says.  “Not my best work, I’m afraid.”

Ed’s eyes widen—just a little, but Roy is a keen enough observer of his features to notice instantly.

“You’re serious about that, too, aren’t you?” he asks.

Roy offers his most deliberately enigmatic smile.  “I suppose you’ll just have to date me if you want to find out for sure.”

The grin starts before Ed can smother it, at which point he evidently decides that it’s wiser to give in.  “You are a goddamn politician straight through.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.  “I think.  Probably?”

“Probably,” Ed says.  He chews on his lip again, which might well be the most maddeningly inadvertently seductive thing any human being has ever done when Roy was not in a position to take advantage of it.  “All… right.  I—”

Both of them glance towards the nearest boarded-up window at the distant growl of an approaching engine, accompanied by the scraping sound of tires on the street.

[Part V]

Tags: [fic] chapter
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