Roy once told him that you can hear a thousand stories in the way somebody shuts a door. Ed told him he was full of shit (which Ed has told him much more than once); and Roy made that exasperated-offended-beleaguered face for a fraction of a second before explaining that what he’d meant, if Ed had had a single subtle bone in his entire body, which admittedly had less capacity for them than the average—was that if you pay enough attention to people’s habits, every action that they take becomes indicative. Deviations from the norm of any kind begin to mean something, and if you’re very perceptive, and very clever, and very dashingly handsome, and very—don’t laugh, you cretin—you can assemble the clues and anticipate their next moves.
Despite still thinking he was full of shit, Ed is and always has been of a mind to test dubious claims with scientific observation whenever possible, so for the sake of argument, he tried to start paying attention. He used Roy as his test subject, since that seemed like fitting revenge.
Unfortunately, Roy was right.
Even though he probably knew exactly what Ed was thinking, and very likely was doing his admirable damnedest to minimize what he was giving away, there were tiny changes in the way he walked and spoke and picked up the phone and turned doorhandles that correlated with alterations in his moods.
Ed later made the mistake of telling Al about it in a tone of awe that he thought it merited. On the one hand, he hadn’t seen Al laugh that hard in a very long time; on the other, it would’ve been nice if the explosive mirth hadn’t been directly at his expense.
It’s a double-edged sword, though, as he’s been learning the way that involves bandaged fingertips. He’s got twice as many fingers to cut now. He forgets that sometimes. His muscle memory still makes him reach out towards things that he should be wary of.
For instance: the extremely loaded knowledge that when Roy closes a door as gingerly as he just did the front door of the house, it’s because he’s overcompensating for the fact that he wants to slam it hard enough to twist the hinges into scrap.
It’s a good thing the sound somehow reached Ed through the mountain of notes he was interring himself in, but it’s going to take a hefty helping of the brilliance he used to be famed for to haul the both of them out of this with minimal injuries. Sometimes—most times—they’re both too damn sharp for their own good. Or each other’s good. Or anybody else’s, really.
Al always reminds him that trying counts—that even just caring helps a little. And nobody cares like Ed. Nobody cares as much or as intensely as he does. He’s always got that going for him, no matter what he’s up against.
He levers himself up out of the chair that used to be Roy’s before he moved in and ‘bodily repossessed all of the good furniture’, massages at the juncture of the automail on his thigh, and directs more of a stumping progress than a walk out into the hall. Rain sucks for both of them, but since the heat’s worse, and the cold’s worse than that, it’s difficult to complain.
Roy has one hand on his back while he bends to pry his boots off with the other. Ed mentioned once that the artful slouch-sprawl thing he does in the office all the time is probably bad for his spine, and Roy said it was an irreplaceable part of his Image, and Ed asked him how he’d just said that with what was clearly a capital letter, and Roy had said Talent, and Ed had started leaving pamphlets about posture all over the house.
“Hey,” he says.
Despite the fact that Roy will have heard him walking over, Amestris’s favorite pretty-boy general looks up and manages a fairly good impression of surprise. He tries to smile, but it doesn’t budge the corners of his eyes. “Hey yourself.”
Ed swallows the wince, and it goes down like a porcupine. “That bad, huh?”
Roy draws a deep breath and lets it out slow. He straightens, but he doesn’t square his shoulders, which is another ill omen of considerable proportions. He shepherds his boots out of the walkway with his toes as he starts unfastening his jacket.
“I suppose it would be disingenuous of me to claim otherwise,” he says.
When the jacket hangs from the coatrack like an old flag, Ed moves in and wraps his arms around Roy’s waist. At least his arms are warm now—both of them. He has that much to offer these days. “And we can’t have that.”
“Certainly not,” Roy says. “It would impose on their monopoly on dishonesty.”
This wince cinches down Ed’s throat like a sea urchin, which at least is nice for some variety. “Ah.”
“I shouldn’t let it get to me,” Roy says. “I always see it coming, and I know they’re doing it on purpose, and I just… I shouldn’t let it register. Shouldn’t let it hurt.”
“Yeah, you should,” Ed says.
He curls both hands into Roy’s sleeves as he steps back so that the slippery bastard can’t escape. He looks right into Roy’s eyes—hard-won, those were, but they’re tired, these days—to make sure he’s listening.
“That’s what makes you different from them,” Ed says. “The fact that it matters to you. The fact that it still hurts. That’s what makes you human—that pain. And that’s what life is, Roy. You think you know where the hits are gonna come from, and you try to block them, and some days you do all right, but some days you can’t. Some days you’re on the ground with a mouthful of your own blood, and all you can do is cling to consciousness and wait out the worst of it until you can get back up again.” He prods the center of Roy’s chest with the first finger of his right hand. “Some days the waiting takes a while. Some days you’re not sure you’re ever gonna get your balance back. But you take your time, if you have to, and then you get up anyway. And you give it your best damn shot.” He flattens his hand out over Roy’s heart. “That’s the other thing that separates you from those shitty fucks.”
This attempt at a smile touches his eyes just slightly. “To put it delicately.”
Ed pushes him, but not very hard. “Damn right.”
Roy hooks an arm around his shoulders to draw him in again, resting his head on top of Ed’s for a few long seconds before he pulls away.
“You are, though,” Roy says. “Damn right, I mean.” He looks at the wall—or, really, though it, at a lot of things Ed can’t guess at much more than the shapes of. “It’s… well. Never mind.” He focuses again, raises his eyebrows, trots out another quasi-convincing smile— “What’s the world coming to when you’re giving me sage life advice?”
“Oh,” Ed says. “Yeah. It is kind of weird for me to be helping you when you’re so old.”
The smile vanishes. “You—that isn’t what I said at all, y—”
“It basically is,” Ed says.
“It’s not even close,” Roy says, “by any contorting stretch of the imagination, and I resent the mere implication that I am—or look—a day over twenty-nine and nine-tenths, and you are an insolent brat for even suggesting such a thing, and—”
Ed smiles at him. “Better?”
Roy takes another deep breath, but this one leaves him much more gently.
“A little,” he says. A sliver of a grin is Ed’s only warning. “And sometimes—” He taps a fingertip under Ed’s chin. “—a little is the best thing one can hope for.”
He sweeps into the kitchen before Ed’s done sputtering. “You weaselly bastard—”
“Mm,” Roy says. “What would you like for dinner?”
The feigned anger would probably be more convincing if the sheer magnetism that’s always hummed between them wasn’t dragging Ed through the doorway and back towards Roy, but he can’t help that. He’s tried. “I’d like to kick your ass to Creta, is what I’d like.”
“You should come by train to meet me once I’ve landed,” Roy says. “We can make a lovely vacation of it.”
“Deal,” Ed says.
Roy Mustang—leaning on the kitchen counter, hair still damp from the rain, in his shirtsleeves and that faint, funny, genuine little smile he saves for when they’re all alone—is, past a shadow of a doubt, the single most gorgeous motherfucking asshole Ed has ever seen.
“Wonderful,” Roy says.
“Whatever,” Ed says, but Roy will know exactly what it means.