Roy Mustang joined the military to save lives.
He wanted to protect the flame of his country, make sure no lives were snuffed out unjustly. He became the Flame Alchemist to do that, working hard under tutelage, and held on stubbornly to the Amestris in his dreams, clean and bright and hopeful.
Soon, that dream goes up in the smoke of his own flames. He is sent to Ishval, a land of endless heat, a living hell, to kill the demons that would destroy his country. It is there he learns that it is possible for a snap of his own fingers to fill him with dread; that fire works just as well as a machine gun; that no matter who you are, no matter your birthplace, your skin colour or your race — every human body bleeds, and every human body burns .
Roy is posted to East City. He’s twenty-two. Young, ambitious, a colonel. His future is clean and bright.
He is a hero of the Ishvalan War, and the sight of burning buildings is seared into the backs of his eyelids, haunting him to sleep.
For Ed, the dreams start early, coming and going a few times a month by the time he turns ten. His mother tells him that that means his soulmate is older than he is, and won’t have Ed’s dreams till Ed turns 16.
Most children would be disappointed at that. It’s one of the best things about having a soulmate — there’s never any ambiguity involved. Ed though, Ed’s thrilled. It’s a challenge, one more mystery to solve before anyone else — even his soulmate — does.
He documents his dreams, even the normal ones, just in case, and writes everything down in a notebook. He tries to parse out clues from what little he remembers of his dreams, but his subconscious swallows them all up minutes after he wakes, and he forgets most of it by the time he fumbles for a pen.
The only things he is sure of are red and yellow — liquid crimson on hard brass yellow, the golden sun accented in scarlet, a flickery orange-red on yellow ochre walls.
Roy comes to realise that the first time he meets Edward Elric isn't in the Rockbell house in Resembool.
Edward Elric, State Alchemist, dog of the military, title Fullmetal, is not a crippled doll with a vacant stare. Edward Elric, apparently, is a sprawl of arrogant limbs on the sofa of his office, boots up on his coffee table -- whether in East City or in Central.
"Fullmetal," he greets, smiling the smile he knows the boy hates.
"Bastard Colonel," comes the standard response. There is mud on his boots, shadows under his eyes. Alphonse greets him politely, but his armour creaks in a way Roy knows isn't normal.
Roy levels him his best impression of Riza's stern looks from behind his steepled hands. "Report." He holds out a hand. The boy huffs and tosses a thin file onto the table. Roy keeps his hand extended, because Fullmetal owes him (actually, Riza , because Roy would burn all his paperwork to ashes if not for her glare) at least two more mission reports than that one measly file.
"Well," he says, when nothing materialises, "Both of you are on leave till I see those reports." He smiles at Fullmetal's outraged huff.
" Bastard —“
Roy doesn't miss a beat. "In the meantime, get some rest. You're a growing boy, aren't you?" he says to Alphonse, who flaps his hands, armour creaking confusedly. He casts a glance towards the couch. "Oh, apologies, Fullmetal. Wasn't talking to you."
The reaction is instantaneous. "WHO'RE YOU CALLING SHORT, HUH, ASSHOLE? SO SHORT HE CAN'T REACH THE—“
Alphonse carries him out the door.
Roy passes a hand over his face, and calls Maes. "They're back? Okay, Gracia and I will give them a dose of cute Elicia!"
Roy clears his throat, but can't help the note of amusement in his voice. "And food and rest, Maes."
"Don't worry, I'll find them and have them stay for dinner." His friend's voice turns pointed. "And will you be coming?"
“Ah, I’m busy, sorry." His apology sounds flat even to his ears. He closes his eyes, but only sees a spark falling from his fingers, and has to shake his head before he remembers the roar of flames in his ears. He's slipping, paying for too many all-nighters with his peace of mind.
"Okay." Maes doesn't push. "Take care of yourself, Roy."
It becomes a regular thing, to visit Hughes and his family for dinner whenever they return from a long trip.
It’s at one of these dinners that Elicia tugs on Ed’s sleeve. “Big Brother Ed! Did you know! Mummy and Daddy are soulmates!” she gushes. Hughes makes a pathetic sound, and there’s a snap of a camera shutter.
Rolling his eyes at the man, Ed leans over and pats on her on the head, taking care to use his flesh arm. “Yeah, that’s great. Soulmates are great!” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Gracia lean a tiny bit closer to Hughes, who wraps one arm around her, all easy familiarity. He lets his gaze linger, despite himself, and would’ve slipped back into that old longing if Elicia hadn’t tugged at him again.
“Big Brother Ed! Do you have a soulmate?”
“Y-Yeah, I do.” Ed tugs at the end of his braid, hearing Al snicker.
“Do you know who they are?” comes the next question.
Everyone is looking at him. Ed ducks his head and grumbles, “Obviously not,” and then, louder, “Anyway I have other things to do, like get our bodies back! I don’t care about all this soulmate stuff.”
Al snickers again, and Ed shoots him a dirty look. It’s half-hearted though, because both of them know that no matter how much he pretends not to care, he practically parades around Central in his soulmate’s colours, golden hair and golden eyes with a red sweeping coat.
“Do you know who your soulmate is?” Maes touches the edge of the stack pictures he’d just shown him. Roy watches him smile at the woman who’d gotten him through a living desert hell ( she’s waiting for me. I don’t want to die. ) and tightens his hand around his beer.
“No,” he says. All he sees when he closes his eyes at night are his own, and they are all nightmares. He wonders if a soulmate would even be granted to a monster like him. It’s easier to think that they’re dead somewhere, buried too early to give him anything to hold onto.
Maes’ eyes are sharp, even after all the alcohol. “Most people say that you’d know for sure if your soulmate is dead.” Roy wonders, slightly hysterically (drunkenly, mostly), if Maes can read minds. His friend continues, “It’s not that rare, you know, for there to be an age difference. Maybe they’re not sixteen yet.” He claps Roy on the shoulder, makes him meet his gaze. “That just means you have a long way to go.”
“Maes,” he says. “You don’t know that for sure.”
His glasses glint in the low light. “Call it a hunch, Roy.”
Ed realises it in the Xerxes ruins.
He’s still winded from the almost-fight, all his excitement at finding Maria Ross alive and well converted into adrenaline. The last of the Ishvalans straggle off, and he finds blood on the sand, from when he’d landed a hit on one of their faces. He’s caught, for a moment, trying to pin down exactly why this sight is so— oh.
The constant repetition of red and yellow, red and yellow. It’s blood on desert sand. His dreams — his soulmate’s dreams — are about the Ishvalan War.
He wants to dwell on it — this is the first clue he’s had in ages — but he can’t. Not when Scar is the one who killed Winry’s parents, not when King Bradley is a homunculus, not when he needs to get Al’s body back before Al is sixteen. He cannot waste time running after someone else when his little brother is a soul bound to a metal body, unable to sleep, unable to dream . They’ll get their bodies back before Al turns sixteen, and then they will search for their soulmates together.
There’s another thing Roy learnt in Ishval: When you want to massacre a building full of people, it’s best to light up the ground floor first. Fire always spreads upwards, and in the end people will be jumping off the roofs before the flames even reach them.
Maes is dead, and Roy feels like he’s been thrown off the roof, only waiting for the flaming ground to welcome his bloody arrival.
Maes is dead, and Roy is cracked open at the heart, bloody.
Maes is dead, and Roy grits his teeth and pushes on into the fray, because he will do everything to protect those he has left. It’s the least he — less than a man, and more like a monster — can do.
They get back their bodies, and Ed spends his time getting his new limbs back into usable shape, and helping with the reconstruction in Central.
Ed also spends a lot of his time resolutely not thinking about how his sixteenth birthday is in two months.
The bastard raises an eyebrow. “Fullmetal. Wasn’t expecting you. Is there anything you need?” His voice is as honeyed as ever.
“Nothing.” Ed tosses himself onto the couch — still lumpy, even if Mustang’d switched offices when he’d been promoted. “Just dropping by.”
Mustang’s intrigued “ hmm ” makes it clear that both of them know Ed’s lying. In truth, Ed’s here because Mustang’s office still looks the same and feels the same, and he feels better here than he does at home. Al and Winry are trying, but he knows they can’t help the guilt and sadness in their eyes every time they’re reminded that he can’t use alchemy anymore. He’s made peace with it ( almost ), but if they look at him like that any longer he’ll probably end up shouting things he’d regret.
He burrows down into the couch in Mustang’s office, letting his legs sprawl, and wonders if his soulmate would still want him, when he can’t even use a basic circle array anymore.
Edward has grown, Roy notes. Maybe not so much in height, but the boy he’d known before wouldn’t have been able to reign himself in enough to prevent an outburst. And he knows Edward is reigning himself in. The curve of his spine on Roy’s couch is just as relaxed as usual, but he’s always been able to read him like a book.
He’s been visiting Roy’s office more frequently since that first time, each time more agitated than the last. He’s started calling him ‘Mustang’ too, instead of his rank or ‘Bastard’, and Roy counts that as a step in the right direction. For the most part, he leaves him on the couch to stew, because he knows Edward Elric, and he would say something once he’s ready.
Being patient, as always, was the right thing to do.
“Mustang.” Edward turns away when Roy looks up, hiding his face in the arm of the couch. The question that comes next is muffled. “Why do you still call me Fullmetal?” He doesn’t answer immediately, wants to pick the right words, but all the words Edward had seemed to keep pent up have decided to spill over: "Why do you still fucking call me— I’m not, I’m not a State Alchemist anymore, you know? Fuck, I’m not even an alchemist I can’t do anything I’m useless, and I’m turning sixteen in a week and I don’t even, I don’t even fucking know if—“ He presses his face into the couch and falls silent.
Roy is standing and moving over to him before he even thinks about it, because Edward Elric, his body whole and healthy, shouldn’t ever look like this, like things are falling apart at the seams.
He makes Edward meet his eyes with a hand on the nape of his neck. “Fullmetal,” he says. Edward’s eyes are wide, and gold. “I call you Fullmetal because that’s who you are, Edward, alchemist or not. You shouldn't doubt that, and neither will your soulmate.“ He can't stop himself from sweeping a thumb across Edward's jaw. Edward relaxes, eyes shutting, and they spend a moment like that, together.
A hitched breath is all the warning he gets before Edward pulls away with a grumbled "stupid fucking bastard colonel".
Roy sighs, but lets him go. He tries not to dwell on the feel of tawny skin under his bare hands.
His sixteenth birthday sees him seated at the head of a table in the Hughes house, close friends gathered all around. Al and Winry have apparently been planning this for a month, and the amount of effort they'd put in — they'd cooked all the food, with Gracia's help, and there are party games , for God's sake — warms his chest. Armstrong, with Elicia riding on his shoulder, chases him for hugs, and Breda and Havoc clap him on the back, and Riza gives him a warm smile.
It's raining outside, but he doesn't think anything can drown out all the laughter and happy noise around him. For the life of him he can't remember how long it's been, since he was last surrounded by smiles, and the warmth of it all almost distracts him from thoughts of his first shared dream tonight.
The doorbell rings half an hour in, and he yanks the door open without thinking. He's met with a faceful of flowers, a bouquet of red carnations and yellow lotuses. "What--" he starts.
The bouquet is neatly deposited into his arms, with it lowered he finds Mustang in a dress shirt and slacks, military jacket slung over one broad shoulder.
Mustang shakes his head slightly, and droplets of water fly out of his hair. "Sorry I'm late, Fullmetal," he says.
Ed stutters out something unintelligible and opens the door a little wider. Mustang slips in and, after Ed has put the bouquet down, presents him with a a folded piece of leather. Ed opens it to find that it is in fact a knife sheathe, and inside are all types of blades, gleaming sharp and deadly. “They were Maes’,” Mustang tells him. His smile is quick, and sincere. “He would want you to have it.”
Ed wraps his hands around the leather, and stares after the man as he walks into the dining room.
Roy drives Riza home.
When she opens her door she looks back at him, “It’s okay, you know. To chase after Edward,” she tells him. “Some people don't ever find their soulmates. Just make sure,” she gives him a glare then, “that you don’t hurt him.” Then she shuts the door, and disappears.
He’s left standing with his car, not as surprised as he should be. She probably knew long before he admitted it to himself. "Make sure that you don't hurt him," she'd said. That you give up, if he finds his rightful partner, and it isn't you , went unsaid, but Roy knows that, has already promised himself that. It can't be him anyway, not after Ishval.
It's just fact, that someone like him — a flaming monster in scarlet red — would never, ever be good enough to pair with Edward, with bright, beautiful Edward with his golden hair and golden eyes. He’d known that , but it still didn’t stop him from taking what he could, these few weeks. Either way, Edward would see his soulmate tonight, and tomorrow, he’d keep him at arms’ length once more. The flowers were less of a gift to Edward and more like a goodbye from Roy.
He’s asleep, it seems, the moment he hits the bed.
At first, it doesn’t seem any different from his usual dreams — his own dreams — apart from the fact that he’s conscious. He sees the bleeding stump of his own leg, and the gruesome things with cracked open ribs that is not his mother , he reminds himself. He sees Nina Tucker, hears her say “Let’s play!”, only to morph into that blank-eyed chimera, its voice layers of girl and dog.
Some part of him panics, but he reorientates himself, tells himself why he’s here, and forces himself to stay under. He’s waited sixteen years. He wants to know who his soulmate is.
He’s walking, suddenly, for some reason. Up ahead is a huge set of double doors, and he almost thinks that it’s Truth come back to torment him and almost turns back. But that can’t be, and either way he must press on. He pushes open the doors and hot air blasts him in the face.
Ed stands on packed desert ground, surrounded by sandstone buildings, their windows gaping like blind bloodless eyes. He’s in Ishval, he realises, and that fills him with a dawning sort of horror — he’d been right, but to go through the trauma of the Ishvallan War… He shakes himself. That only means that his partner is strong, and brave, and someone he can trust his life to.
He hears, suddenly, the roar of unbridled flame. The world around him explodes into colour, streaks of that familiar red and yellow. Ed strains his ears to hear because underneath the crackle of the fire is the screaming of the Ishvallan citizens, and (it kills him, to ignore the cries for help but) underneath that is something even more familiar, something like a click, like the snap of flintcloth on fingers. The smoke clears, and Ed is left staring at the Flame Alchemist, hero of the Ishval War, his tears the only water his fire hasn’t burned away.
Roy is shaken from his stupor by a banging on his door. It continues, coupled with “Mustang! Bastard, OPEN THE DOOR”, till he can’t ignore it for fear of his neighbours.
He cracks open the door and says, tiredly, “It’s the middle of the night, Fullmetal,” and tries not to stare at the way the streetlamp light turns his hair burnished gold.
Roy had told himself that he wouldn’t let him get any closer anymore, but nothing can stand up to Edward, once he’s decided on something. And so Edward elbows his way into Roy’s house. Roy shuts the door, leans his forehead against it to collect himself, only for Edward to call, “It’s the middle of the night, Mustang, but you’re pretty awake.” He enters the kitchen to find Edward drinking the tea he’d made after jerking awake an hour ago. He’d been having a nightmare, one that featured less fire and more Edward and human transmutation. Even his subconscious is telling him to get the hell away from Edward Elric.
“Mustang.” Roy blinks and suddenly Edward is too close , golden eyes right up in front of him. There’s something like hope in his gaze, and Roy doesn’t know why . “It’s you, right?” Edward says.
“No, what, what’s me?” Roy wants to get away, goddammit it’s too late and he’s too tired for Fullmetal’s bullshit and he must have said that out loud because suddenly Edward is snarling in his face, “This isn’t bullshit, bastard,” and clamps a hand round the back of Roy’s neck, forcing their gazes to lock. “Is. It. You.”
Suddenly it dawns on Roy that the only reason Edward would be storming in in the middle of the night of his sixteenth birthday is because he saw something in his dreams that led him here. He opens his mouth, and without thinking the first thing he says is “I. I don’t know.” Edward’s hand around his nape tightens and the words spill out of Roy: “I saw you in my dream, with your mother and Nina Tucker and the Truth doors, and I thought I dreamt you up because I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I know that’s wrong because you have a soulmate and—“
Edward is sinking into him, arms wrapping around Roy, head tucked below his jaw. “Yeah,” he breathes into Roy’s neck. “I have a soulmate .”
“Fullmetal,” Roy starts, something like relief and hope and disbelief all mixed up in his chest.
“Shut up, fucking bastard.” Edward’s growl against his jaw sends reverberations down Roy’s spine. “ You are going to call me Ed, and I am going to call you Roy, and we’re going to be soulmates , and you’re going to take me on a date when we wake up tomorrow.”
Roy, feeling truly warm after a lifetime of being surrounded by flames, can only huff out a laugh and drop his chin onto Ed’s head. He winds his arms around his soulmate, a man infinitely stronger than he is, and promises himself to never, ever let go.