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fortune presents gifts not according to the book

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Ed sleeps in the most absurd positions. First he's curled up like a cat, in a way that no one with an ordinary human spine should manage, then he stretches out into a sprawl, apparently trying to take up the entire bed by himself. Roy is glad he was already awake, so he could dodge and save himself a broken nose courtesy of the new automail.

He wouldn't mind going back to sleep, actually, but he's wide awake, body humming faintly with contentment in a way he hasn't felt in much too long. So he just lies there and watches, wondering how Ed's hair can be defiantly gold even in thin, grey pre-dawn light, wondering how the hell they ended up like this. It could be a dream. Roy's mouth twists a little. Or not. In his dreams, he still has two eyes.

This is probably real. Last night... Last night was probably real, as unlikely as it seems.

He'd been in the kitchen when someone knocked on the door, a hard and imperious knock. Roy had hesitated, feeling disinclined to deal with anyone now that he'd achieved solitude after a long day, but the knock repeated again, even sharper and more demanding. He sighed and went into the hall, flung the door open with one hand, and was ready to snap the fingers of the other--

But he just stood there, staring.

"Were you asleep or something?" A bright, sharp grin; a face he never thought he'd see again. Except that he wasn't seeing it now, because this was someone else, someone older. "Let me in, it's freezing out here."

Roy dragged in a breath and came very, very close to snapping his fingers. "Who are you?"

"Who the hell do you think?" Gold eyes nearly on a level with his own glared angrily. The young man who couldn't possibly be Edward Elric walked in without waiting to be asked, pushing Roy out of the way. "This was easier with Al and Winry," he said, kicking the door shut again and pulling off his heavy winter gloves with his teeth. He wore thin white cotton gloves underneath, an odd detail for a hallucination. "I could just tell them embarrassing childhood stories until they felt sure it was me." His eyes gleamed with sudden glee. "Hey, do you remember the time that girl on the switchboard came looking for Havoc and he hid under Fury's desk, and you tried to--"

"Ed." The name came out without thought. It wasn't just the story, either. Roy took a step back and turned his head slightly, trying to get a better, clearer view. "How did you get here, why are you in my house, and when did you cut your hair?"

Ed burst out laughing, and that sound was undeniably the same. "Do you have tea or something? I wasn't kidding about it being freezing. This'll take a while to tell."

Turning on the overhead light in the kitchen, Roy realized he hadn't done that in a while. There was dust in the corners, and while he couldn't imagine any version of Edward Elric giving a damn about dust in corners except as transmutation fuel, it suddenly bothered him after weeks of not noticing, or perhaps, more accurately, not caring. "There's a fire in there," he said, nodding towards the library.

"Of course there's a fire," Ed muttered. Roy ignored him. It was a cold night, after all.

"Make yourself comfortable and thaw out your automail a bit. I assume you still like those lemon wafers."

"Oh, yes," Ed said in a voice like praying. He walked past Roy, on his sightless side, and the sound of his footsteps, one foot a little lighter and the other a little heavier, was strange and familiar at the same time, like a ghost walking through Roy's kitchen, through his memories.

Roy made tea, his mind ticking over possibilities until he made himself stop and focus on nothing but leaves steeping, wafers on a small plate, mugs on a tray. The steam from the tea rose in the air, curling its smoked scent around his head. When he carried everything into the library, Ed stood by the fire, reading a book. Roy chuckled. "It does seem to be you," he said.

Ed looked up with a grin. "Told you." He waited until Roy sat on the couch, then came to settle on the couch arm on Roy's seeing side, swinging his socked feet up on the seat and tucking his toes unapologetically under Roy's leg. The left foot was, of course, cold as ice.

Roy handed him a mug without commenting on the sudden, unexpected closeness. That was a point against this really being Edward Elric, though. Ed had always been about as touch-friendly as a wet cat. "Start talking."

"I fell out of the sky a couple of weeks ago," Ed said. "Landed in the sand in the middle of nowhere in what used to be Ishbal, couple of kids looking for a lost goat found me before I cooked too badly." He shrugged. "They dragged me home, I think the goat helped but I wasn't really conscious, and their people, they didn't have two beans to rub together," he looked reproachfully at Roy, "but somehow they got a crappy old wheelchair from somewhere and managed to put me on a train to Riesenburgh and they gave me food for the trip, I think that was their lunch for a week. I thought you'd be running the country better by now."

"I'm not running the country," Roy said, "and your story is missing something. Several years, by the look of you."

"Yeah." Ed shrugged. "It's been longer for me than for everyone here, Al and Winry told me that."

Roy tilted his head back and looked at Ed over the rim of his tea mug. This certainly wasn't the teenaged Ed he'd last seen walking away in the light of the setting sun, on a day that had changed the whole country. This was a young man who seemed to have achieved his full growth, within an inch of Roy's height and with considerable breadth of shoulder. His hair was clipped short, only just starting to curl into untidiness over his forehead. "I never thought I'd see you without that braid," Roy drawled.

"That world," Ed said slowly, "didn't really appreciate long hair on men." Then he grinned. "But now I'm back here, I can grow it down to my knees if I want to!"

Roy sighed. "And here I thought your sense of style had just possibly improved."

"Hey!" Ed set his mug down with a thump. "Are you saying my hair didn't live up to some kind of weird standard you had? I hope you're prepared to wake up with pigtails one morning, Mustang."

"My hair is too short for pigtails." Roy shook his head. "Now tell me what you did in that other world and how you came back here." Then he froze, hearing what he'd just said. "Other world?"

"Yeah." Ed looked both rueful and annoyed. "I thought Al would have told you. Course, I realized when I met him, he doesn't remember anything. I tried to tell him back then, but we didn't really have much time, anyway. I think." Ed stared off into nothing, seeing something Roy couldn't even imagine. Perhaps he was uncertain, remembering something that was lost to Al. One thing seemed clear, though.

"Another world. Don't tell me there's an open portal to another world in Ishbal somewhere."

Ed looked even more incensed than when Roy had commented on his hair. "Of course not!" He flexed his metal toes hard enough to bruise Roy's thigh. "Al and I went back and closed it." Then he frowned. "There might be an open portal up in the Alps somewhere, in the other world. But I think it closed when we closed the one here."

"I certainly hope so." Roy sipped his tea. The taste was reassuringly everyday, though not quite enough to counter Ed's presence on the arm of his couch. "Now start again, please. You never could give a linear mission report."

"Linearity is overrated," Ed said. He picked up his mug again and cradled it in his hands. "I've just... I've had a few really long years, okay? There's another world through the gate, and it's not like this one, but in some ways it's really weirdly familiar."

Roy tried to remember the days when Edward Elric had worked for him and he'd cultivated endless patience. "Gate."

Ed flung his arms up, spilling tea on the floor behind him. "Don't you know anything? I mean, I guess I'm glad you haven't seen it, but didn't anybody tell you! This is ridiculous. I didn't travel through dimensions just so I could give basic lessons to--"

"Edward." Roy rediscovered a particular tone of voice that he hadn't needed in years. "Gate."

"Yeah, yeah." Ed sighed. "It's like," he waved his hand, with less tea spillage this time, "out there and inside everyone at the same time. It's where the power that fuels our alchemy comes from." His face darkened. "It's where you go when you try to do human transmutation. And on the other side of the gate, there's another world."

Roy frowned. "Our power to do alchemy comes from another world? But what about..."

"Equivalent exchange, yeah, that was never true," Ed said tiredly. "That first spark, that initial charge, it..."

"Comes from another world." Roy wondered if that would sound less surreal if he kept saying it.

"Yeah, it's really creepy. You know how the philosopher's stone is made, right?" Ed shot him a quick look, and Roy nodded; at least this wasn't a lecture he needed to hear. "All those people, when they die over there, like in wars, and you wouldn't believe the wars they've had... Anyway, their souls, all that energy, it's what we draw on here for alchemy."

Roy flinched. "So it's the same thing," he said. "So there is no clean alchemy."

"Don't think so." Ed looked bleak. "When I came back here, I thought I'd never use alchemy again. But it's so much a part of me, once Winry fixed me up with an arm that worked, I didn't even think until I'd used it half a dozen times. So I tried telling myself that those people are already dead anyway, that I didn't kill them and the energy is just there for the taking." He didn't look at Roy. "Not sure how this pragmatism is working out for me."

"What about there," Roy said. "In that world. Does alchemy there work because of people dying here?"

Ed shook his head. "Nope. They don't have alchemy there at all. They have machines, they have all this technique and science, but nothing at all happened when I clapped my hands." He smiled a crooked smile. "And don't think that wasn't weird."

"So what did you do?" Roy asked.

Ed shrugged. "Mostly I worked. I've lifted things and carried things and hauled things all over Europe, which I know doesn't mean a thing to you, but trust me, it's big when you're walking. I've had the crappiest prostheses. I can't tell you how good it feels to have automail that's actually made for me, again. That fits. That works." He flexed his right hand, and Roy half expected the mug to shatter. But no: Ed had always valued precision as well as strength.

Roy was well aware of whose hard work lay behind that capacity for precision. He nodded. "Miss Rockbell seems to have done her usual excellent job."

That made Ed grin. "She had stuff ready for me, but she thought I'd be shorter. Smaller. Younger. She had to start over from scratch, you wouldn't believe how pissed she was." He paused. "She thought I'd be someone else. And Al... I didn't expect that."

"Al has never expected you to be someone else," Roy said with absolute certainty.

"No!" Ed looked up. "No, no. We're fine. But I got older and he got younger. Time's not supposed to work like that, both ways at once, it's weird. I remember things that never happened to him. And I had to tell him about Dad."

Roy's brows snapped together. "What about Hohenheim?"

"He's dead," Ed said starkly. There was a shadow across his face that Roy would have sworn wasn't there before. "He... he got himself into some weird shit with this group that was trying to investigate magic. And it got him killed."

"I'm sorry," Roy said, aiming the words at that shadow. "I know you didn't like him much, but."

"He was a deadbeat bastard and an utter creep," Ed said, "but he tried to make up for it when we were there." The corner of his mouth turned down. "I never liked him. But I got used to him. He just didn't have any... It's like he thought he had lived long enough."

Roy looked at Ed, who looked uncomfortable and cranky and unhappy, and made a few deductions of his own, based not so much on knowledge of Hohenheim, a man he knew nothing of beyond his existence, but on knowledge of Edward Elric. "He tried to protect you."

"I didn't need protecting," Ed snapped. "I would've been fine. I've been taking care of myself since I was five years old." Roy frowned. "Don't tell me you're doing math in your head. This isn't about numbers. Your tea's getting cold."

"I like cold tea," Roy said.

"No, you don't."

Roy cocked his head to one side. "Did you come back from spending years in another world to tell me that you know my tea preferences better than I do?"

"No one likes cold tea. It's disgusting." Then Ed started laughing. "I used to think about this," he said. "In that other world. We'd have arguments in my head all the time."

Roy blinked. "So they don't have much in the way of entertainment, then."

"Screaming fights," Ed said, apparently ignoring him, "until I kissed you to shut you up." Roy had the distinct sensation of having been punched in the stomach. Ed grinned, all teeth. "Course, that was when I was still a kid. Then I started thinking about fucking you silly instead."

Roy didn't make a sound. He definitely didn't whimper; that must have been somebody else. "You must have been very bored," he said instead, trying to keep his voice level.

"More like frustrated," Ed said, "because you weren't there, so I couldn't do this."

Roy wasn't expecting anything, but he still didn't flinch when Ed swung off the arm of the couch and settled astride him, every movement lithe and precise, took his jaw in one hand and stared at him for a long, serious moment before kissing him.

Ed at sixteen, which was the last Roy had seen of him, had given every impression of not even knowing what a kiss was. Ed at twenty-whatever... definitely knew. And really, it was pretty much to be expected that once Ed put his mind to learning something, he'd be unnervingly good at it. Roy tilted his head and kissed back, because it was sink or swim, and Ed's mouth demanded nothing less than his complete attention. It came as a surprise to him, when he stole a breath before going back to biting gently at Ed's lower lip, that he had both hands on Ed's back, stroking gently up and down, trying to learn this new, solid reality through his palms. Ed was unexpectedly heavy. Roy had anticipated the automail weight, but the weight of Ed, that was something else. It made everything more real, feeling this body that had been built breath by breath and movement by movement.

Ed kissed like the sun blazing down at noon, and Roy basked in it, the heat sinking down into his bones. Roy could have spent all night like that, pinned against the back of the couch, kissing and being kissed, but Ed was a little more impatient. It was reassuring, in its way; Roy had just been starting to believe in this unexpected, adult Ed, but an Ed who didn't rush full tilt ahead into anything and everything might have strained his credulity.

There was, of course, a measure of unlikeliness in an Ed who kissed him.

Ed made three tries to unbutton Roy's shirt buttons without looking. Then he swore under his breath and clapped his hands together, pressed them down, and Roy's shirt fell from his body in tiny strips.

"That's cheating," Roy said.

All that got him in return was a cocked eyebrow and a challenging look. "Take the rest off yourself, then. Unless you want the same thing to happen to your trousers."

Roy leaned in to lick at Ed's throat. It was the weirdest feeling, but he almost thought he could taste sunshine and sand, from those Ishbal days that Ed had described. "You're sitting on my legs," he pointed out and began to unbutton Ed's shirt in turn, working with quick, precise movements.

"Bastard," Ed muttered as Roy finished the row of buttons without fumbling even one of them. "Smooth bastard."

He probably said something else as well, but he was gnawing at Roy's shoulder by then, biting and kissing and licking. Roy let his head fall back against the couch, grateful that it had a high backrest. He twisted his fingers into the back of Ed's shirt and began to pull it off, but Ed had his arms raised, metal hand braced against the couch and flesh hand stroking Roy's chest and teasing his nipples, so the sleeves got stuck in the crook of Ed's elbows.

"Not so smooth," Roy said on a note that was almost amused, because there was something reassuring about the mundanity of it, the everyday awkwardness. Then Ed's teeth grazed a spot just underneath Roy's ear, and he didn't protest when Ed moved back to strip them both so quickly Roy thought he might get friction burns on his skin. Better than having his off-duty clothes reduced to alchemical tatters.

Ed settled on top of him again, cool metal and warm flesh, and the contrast made Roy shiver as much as Ed's mouth, soft lips and slick tongue and sharp teeth, seemingly everywhere at once, because Ed was so gloriously impatient. Roy still had a sock on one foot, and he couldn't bring himself to do anything about it. Their cocks brushed against each other, and Roy grasped at Ed's hips and tried to pull him closer.

He wanted to touch every part of Ed with every part of himself. The boy he remembered had always been so very dressed, covered from the neck down in layers of black and red. This Ed was different in many ways, and being naked was only one of them. Roy traced the faint remnants of tan lines with his tongue. Ed had gone about in just his undershirt once, and he'd also spent quite a bit of time in short sleeves.

That would have exposed his body to view, but of course he hadn't cared about that in another world, one that didn't have any alchemy, one where missing body parts would never be thought to have anything to do with human transmutation. And he wouldn't care about it here and now, Roy thought, tipping his head back for another kiss, because Roy already knew, and while it would be wrong to say that he didn't care, it was certainly true that he'd never planned to make a fuss about it.

Roy was feeling quite pleased with himself for keeping part of his mind free for thought even when--

Ed's mouth was back under his ear again, and Roy felt his thoughts dissolve. Ed, back then, had been a promise. Ed now was an answer and a claim and a force of nature. And the way he used his tongue was downright obscene.

"I thought about this," Ed said. "I thought about this a lot, you have no idea." He twisted away, upper body turned and bent at some impossible angle, and Roy could see him draw a circle on the table in spilled tea, clap his hands together and slam them down. The scent of tea in the air intensified, and Ed turned back with the mug in his metal hand.

He pushed Roy down sideways on the couch and settled between his legs, and pulled the cotton glove off his flesh hand with his teeth so he could dip his fingers in the mug. Roy blinked as that hand settled between his legs and he felt a steady, slick, tea-scented pressure. "Tea," he said blankly. "You thought about tea."

"Don't tell me you really wanted your cold tea," Ed said. "I won't believe you." Ed's finger slid inside, and Roy hissed at the sudden stretch and the way Ed unerringly curled his finger up to stroke at just the right place. This was too fast. It felt too good. It couldn't be real. Roy looked up, and Ed's eyes were on his, unwavering gold. He opened his mouth to say something, but Ed worked another finger in and all he could do was moan.

Time was a constant, unaffected by personal wishes or alchemical processes. The next few moments, or minutes, did not pass in a blur. Roy knew that. He knew he was on his own old couch, legs spread, naked and undignified, arching up into Ed's too-knowing touch. He tried to ground himself in that knowledge, even as Ed's fingers opened him up and his body begged for more.

"This can't be real," Roy got out.

Ed snorted, and the sound was so prosaic and so familiar that Roy thought his mind would splinter from it. Thought and feeling warred inside him.

"How do you think I feel?" Ed twisted his hand, and Roy bit his lip to keep the moan in. "But when I thought about it, you made all those noises, you let them out. For me."

Ed pulled his fingers out, and Roy did make a noise then at the sudden emptiness. He reached up to grasp at Ed's shoulders and felt the muscles move under his hands as Ed scooped more lubricant out of the tea mug, releasing another wave of delicate scent. Roy realized his ass smelled like tea, and he didn't care. The mug clattered down on the floor, Ed leaned forward over him and pressed in, and Roy whined between his teeth as all thoughts of emptiness fled.

Braced on his metal arm, Ed used his flesh hand to touch Roy, stroking his chest and side and then gripping his hip to hitch it up higher, fitting them together. Roy hooked one leg over the back of the couch for balance and wrapped the other around Ed's waist. He was scrunched up like a badly-folded piece of laundry, and he didn't care about that, either, because Ed was moving against him and inside him, and the sensation made Roy's eye roll back in his head.

The thrusts were so regular, it made Roy wonder if Ed had a metronome inside his head, ticking out a steady beat. Even with time running differently to make him older, Ed was still too young to fuck like this.

Except that Roy could count those silent beats in exactly the same way, and he knew it was because they were both alchemists and aware of the value of precision. Sometimes timing was very important, and steadiness could be everything.

And Roy was the one whose thoughts were finally fading into a sensory, sensual haze of yes and more under those steady thrusts. The pleasure was building in him like water behind a dam. He struggled to keep his eye open, to keep watching Ed's face. Too calm, and coupled with those steady thrusts, it would have pushed Roy into disbelief yet again if Ed's hand hadn't grasped him, stroked him, pushed him into orgasm instead.

He cried out, spattering wet heat all over his own chest, and Ed's face changed then. The calm shattered into passion, the regular thrusts turned frenzied, and Ed hammered in deep, hips jerking. Then he slumped down on Roy in a heavy, messy, awkward heap, and Roy started laughing breathlessly. "There you are," he said. "I wasn't sure."

Ed thumped a loose fist against Roy's shoulder. "I hate you." They lay pressed together, warm and sticky, and Roy sucked in air and wondered if his hips would ever forgive him. Ed lifted his head, raised himself up a bit with a deeper breath. "Maybe I don't hate you," he said grudgingly. "That was good."

"I'm sure it couldn't live up to all the times you thought about it," Roy said, and Ed's eyes flickered between annoyance and laughter. "Did I have one sock on then, too?"

"Ugh." Ed pulled out slowly. "Come on, let's get cleaned up."

Roy shook his head, but not to disagree with the suggestion. "I should have known you didn't appreciate the afterglow."

"You want to lie around here being messy and smelling like someone spilled tea on you?" Ed hauled at Roy's arm without waiting for an answer. The Ed Roy remembered had been wiry and tough, pushing himself to the limits of what his body could do; now there was an effortless strength to him, and Roy could easily believe that he'd spent years in hard physical work.

No matter how much he appreciated the results, though, Roy couldn't help but feel that it had been a waste of a mind like Ed's. "I would have expected you to study," he said. "When you were there."

Ed stopped and looked at him. "This is what you call afterglow, is it."

"The bathroom is through there." Roy gestured, and Ed walked ahead of him. It was strange to see the nape of Ed's neck. Roy fought an impulse to kiss it. "They must have had universities."

"Oh, they did. And university libraries." Ed sounded a little dreamy. "Amazing places."

The bathroom was small with both of them in it. Ed splashed water everywhere; Roy brought out a pile of clean towels. To his immense surprise, Ed washed him, too, running a washcloth over surfaces and into crevices in a thorough way that just barely escaped being impersonal. It made Roy feel a little self-conscious about being naked, something he hadn't experienced with a partner since he was seventeen or so. He wrapped a towel around his hips. "You don't have to do that."

"I do have some manners," Ed grumbled, then immediately belied this statement by yanking the towel away from Roy and tossing it in a corner. "You have a bed in this place?"

"No, I sleep hanging upside down from the hat rack," Roy said. He walked into his bedroom, intensely aware of Ed behind him. "Listen. Fullmetal."

"No one's called me that in years," Ed said. When Roy turned to look at him, his left hand rose to his shoulder, apparently searching for a braid to tug on that hadn't been there in years, either. It probably was just a matter of time, Roy thought in resignation, before Ed grew his hair out again. "Can I sleep here tonight?"

"If you want to." Roy had left the bed unmade that morning, but the sheets were clean as of two days ago. "There are some questions I'd like answered first, though. I still don't know why you came here."

"I thought that was obvious." Ed stared at him with a trace of the old belligerence.

"You had important information," Roy said, nodding. "But you didn't have to come here in person at this time of night. I might not even have been here."

"You idiot," Ed said and thumped him in the back -- with his flesh hand, and quite gently, for Ed. "If it was just about the information, I could have called you. As many times as it took."

"It's true that a phone call might not have been as convincing," Roy said dryly.

"No," Ed agreed. "Also, it's kind of hard to do this over the phone." He grabbed Roy's shoulders and slammed him down on his back on the mattress and leaned over him, a look of intense satisfaction on his face. "I could kiss you for days. Weeks."

Roy's mouth twitched into a smile. He could get behind that. Still, "You'd get hungry. And--" Ed did kiss him then, and Roy lost track of what he'd meant to say. After a while he worked a hand up to brush over his eyepatch. "You weren't surprised by this."

"Al and Winry told me," Ed said. "And I don't-- No, that's not true. I do care." Roy felt strangely disoriented for a moment, hearing his own thoughts echoed back at him. "But it's still you, isn't it?"

"I suppose so," Roy said.

"And I'm not the right person to complain about people having bits missing," Ed added with a toothy grin. It was a joke, it wasn't a joke, and it sounded completely honest.

Roy hadn't known he had any concerns, either, until Ed stroked his face just underneath the patch. There was a great deal of tenderness in that gesture, and he thought Ed would probably stop if he pointed that out. "I want to know more about the other world," he managed. "And how you worked out how to come back, and why you're here now. And why you didn't go to university."

"Didn't have any papers," Ed said. "That one's easy." He dragged the sheets and blankets over them. "We can do the rest of this tomorrow. Sex makes me sleepy."

"I should have known that kiss was just for show," Roy said. Not that he could possibly have done anything more tonight; he was completely wrung out.

"Bastard," Ed muttered, eyes closed.

They went to sleep, and now it's morning and Roy is awake, staring at Ed's sleeping face and starting to realize that everything he remembers from last night is, in fact, real. Ed is here, impossible and different. Well, of course he's impossible, he's Ed. Roy has a lot of questions for him, and probably a lot to do, because it's just like Ed to turn up out of nowhere with news that casually changes everything Roy thought he knew.

But the bed is warm and comfortable with two people in it, and Roy doesn't want to move just yet. He tucks his face into Ed's shoulder. Real. Ed is back, this is real, and reality is once again much more interesting than any hallucination could ever be.