It had taken a while for people to figure out how soul marks worked with telephones. Before then it was just the first words that your soulmate said to you. But after telephones, there was a bit of a panic, because people’s soul marks weren’t matching up. That’s when it was discovered that proximity was a requirement of the soul mark. So two soulmates could speak over the phone for months, but the marks would only be the words that they said to each other face to face.
During the sixteen month period between the invention of the phone and the announcement of this discovery, the suicide rate tripled nationwide.
Edward doesn’t really care about his soul mark. His mom tells him its in a beautiful place, and Ed’s supposes he’s glad its not scrawled sideways across his face like Mrs. Jordan’s. His mark is vertical, which he thinks is weird, one letter after another in a column down his back, from the top of his shoulder blades to his tailbone. It looks like you had an interesting trip. The letters are small and neat, and Mr. Rockbell jokes that they’re not a doctor.
Ed makes fun of Winry for her soul mark a lot, and his mom has told him not to, but it’s just so easy. You smell great! in precise angled writing. This is a sign that Ed should make fun of her for smelling gross, obviously.
Al’s are in a big loopy letters on his upper arm. I’m so happy you’re back. Ed doesn’t think that makes any sense, because that’s not really the first words you say to someone. Mom says that maybe Al will write to them, or talk to them over the telephone. Ed doesn’t really care beyond that sounds like this person cares about his brother, which is all that matters. Soulmate or not, Dad clearly doesn’t love Mom, otherwise he’d be here. People say that a soulmate is someone that will love you and fit with you forever, but all Ed needs to do is look at his mom to know that’s not the case.
If Dad cared for her, for him or for Al, he’d be with them. You don’t leave the people you love. Obviously.
Jean Havoc has been uncomfortable with his mark since puberty. Before puberty, he figured he’d grow into it, into liking boys even though the idea of kissing a boy is kind of gross. But the words stamped across the top of his hand are That’s Sir to you. So his soulmate is in a position of authority over him, or is an asshole (maybe both), possibly older, and they're male.
Except that he’s fifteen now and he’s trying, he really is, but he doesn’t like guys. His mom keeps on telling him that sexuality is fluid, or whatever, but he’s looked real hard at guys in the locker room, and he just doesn’t think he’s ever going to have the urge to get up on that.
He has sex with Cody Felling when he’s sixteen, and it’s not the worst thing ever. They both orgasm, and it’s only a little bit disgusting. But – and okay, his dad calls him a romantic, and he is a little. But he doesn’t want sex with his soulmate to fall under the category of ‘only a little bit disgusting’. His soulmate deserves better than that. He deserves better than that.
Do you want a piece? is a lot more of a common phrase than you’d think. Maes is nineteen and he’s already heard it a couple of times, although never as the first thing someone has said to him. It’s not as bad as people who have Hello, but it’s still not great. He’s honestly banking on the fact that whatever he ends up saying first will be unique enough that there won’t be any confusion.
Everyone knows someone with a soul mark that’s a greeting, and that’s terrible. After that the worst one is probably Sorry, because you can be almost certain you’re just going to hear that a thousand times in your life, people bumping into you, knocking your stuff over, any other small accidents that will cause a stranger’s first words to you to be Sorry.
Roy keeps on telling him his soulmate is a hooker who’s going to try to get Maes to buy her, and while Maes isn’t exactly ruling that out, and no disrespect to hookers, but he kind of doubts it. Not enough to bet money against it, because stranger of things have happened, but still. If anyone’s soulmate is going to be a prostitute, he’d put his money on Roy.
Not because of his soul mark. Maes actually isn’t sure what to make of Roy’s soul mark.
Roy has alternatively despised his mark and clung to it like a lifeline. Colonel. Just one word, right at the back of his foot. His literal Achilles’ heel. He’s thought of a thousand ways that could be the first words his soulmate says, but he still keeps coming back to it being a form of address.
It’s not the whole reason he joins the military, but he can’t say it doesn’t factor into the decision at all. He’s going to be a colonel, probably, when he meets his soulmate. That keeps him up some nights, because he knows colonels who are in their fifties, and he doesn’t want to wait that long. He’s selfish and demanding and he doesn’t want to be an old man by the time he meets the love of his life. So at eighteen he becomes a state alchemist, the youngest to date, and goes off to war.
He hates his nameless, faceless soulmate for a long time. It’s not fair, but as he’s fast learning, nothing in life is fair. So, filled with bitterness and shame and so utterly alone, he hates his soulmate who has put him here. He’s an army, a guillotine, and a crematorium all at once. He'll live with the smell of burning human flesh surrounding him for the rest of his life, however long that may be.
After Ishbal, with his jaw still throbbing from Maes’s fist, he uses it at his north star. The system is corrupt, he is corrupt. But he’ll change it, the word on the heel of his foot is proof that he will have the power to make change. He has to make change. How can he look his soulmate in the eyes when they’ll see nothing but death and fire in his own? He’s dirty and stained and broken. He's now grateful in a way he’s never before been about the guarantee of years stretching out between where he is and when he’ll meet the person with his words on their skin. Maybe by the time he’s a colonel he’ll be someone worth having.
When Riza’s hands shake and her bullet misses, when her father is too demanding, too loud, too angry, she clings to the words that sweep across her bottom rib. Lady, that’s some damn fine shooting. Her father is wrong, her mother is wrong, her friends are wrong. Men aren’t going to shy away from her, consider her unladylike, think her undesirable. Or maybe they are, Riza doesn’t much care. Because the first thing, the very first thing that her soulmate will know about her, is that she is competent and skilled.
She’s twenty one, gun held high and her stance even. Her bullets hit true, each one in the same spot. She’s gathered a crowd, she always gathers a crowd, even on military shooting grounds she’s the very best. Riza relaxes her shoulders and lowers her gun. She turns to the left, and her eyes get caught on a man roughly her height, dark hair and darker eyes and for a moment she can’t breathe. She looks to his insignia and gives a sharp salute. “Lieutenant-Colonel.”
He doesn’t smile at her, but it still feels like he is, and she holds her breath. “That was an excellent show of skill.”
She breathes out. It’s almost right, but not quite. “Thank you, sir.”
“Could I have a moment of your time?”
“Of course, sir.”
Roy Mustang isn’t her soulmate, but he does changes her life forever.
Maes is twenty one, and his best friend is in in the middle of war, and he’s here. He shouldn’t feel guilty about that, he knows that even if he found a way to be with Roy, he’d send Maes packing the second he got there. It’s hard though, to smile every day and do his goddamn job when he knows that his best friend is dying on the inside. It makes him stressed and tightly wound, causes him to snap at people. It’s making him into a person he doesn’t like, but he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do to stop it until Roy is safely back on Amestrian soil.
He’s walking down the street, head down and mind in Ishbal when he knocks into someone. She stumbles and drops the plate in her hands. He sees the destroyed apple pie before he sees her face, and he looks up and blurts, “Oh god, I’m so sorry about your pie!”
She’s got short hair and a round face, and she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen. She looks to the pie and back at him and grins, “Do you want a piece? I’m pretty sure I can still salvage it, it’s mostly still on the plate.”
Maes stares at her, mouth open, hoping and wishing desperately that she’s his, but he doesn’t know how to ask without being a huge asshole. He doesn’t have to though, because she grins even wider and pulls up the sleeve of her right arm. Right there, from her wrist to her elbow in his handwriting: Oh god, I’m so sorry about your pie!
“I’m Gracia,” she says, lovely and perfect and unconcerned that her soulmate can do nothing but stare at her and gape like a fish out of water.
He has to swallow twice before he can manage, “I’m Maes.”
She bends down, “Seriously, I think I can still work with this. My apple pie is great, so –“
He leans over, tries to help, and just slams their heads together. He flushes red all over, and this is the worst series of first impressions ever. “I’m so sorry, are you okay –“
Gracia looks up him, and she’s laughing big and loud and beautiful. Maes smiles, because apparently he isn’t ruining everything. “Are you always like this?”
He thinks about lying – he’s good at it – but that doesn’t seem like a solid foundation to build a relationship on. “Yes.”
“Good,” she winks and holds the plate up to him, “Pie?”
That night he clutches his pen too tight, the sheet of paper white and blank spread out before him, and thinks about not telling Roy. The tight ball of happiness in chest seems blasphemous when Roy is in literal hell, like a betrayal to his friend's suffering. Maybe it will bring Roy some sort of positive emotion to know that Maes has found his soulmate. Or it might just remind him of the chicken scratch Colonel on the back of his ankle. Either way, when Roy comes home and realized Maes didn't tell him the second it happened, he'll kill him. So Maes doesn't actually have a choice in this, and he sets his pen to paper.
(When Roy comes home.)
Al has the flamel tattoo on his armor where his soul mark used to be, and it makes Ed sick. The words down his spine taunt him now: It looks like you had an interesting trip. Yeah, interesting is one word for it. The Gate cracked him wide open and looked deep inside and asked 'What is your brother worth' and Ed said 'everything' and it took an arm. Not that Ed isn't satisfied with that, learning to maneuver his new automail arm and leg sucks, but it nags at him.
They weren't willing to give up themselves for their mother. That wasn't the point, that wasn't what they were trying to achieve, but that's what the Gate took. Ed would have given everything up for Al, would have leveled mountains and villages. He would start and end a war for his brother, and the Gate took his arm.
It is this moment that he understands equivalent exchange is not always scientific, that it can be subjective. Six of this does not always equal half a dozen of that. He doesn't dare tell Al that the very foundation of their lives is a lie.
Teacher had to have known. She looked into the Gate, and discovered numbers mean nothing to the dead.
He wishes that she'd told them. He thinks that she tried.
They're under fire, of course they're under fire, because Roy is a moron. A routine little tour in the South, what could go wrong, Hawkeye?
Everything, Riza thinks darkly as a spiral of flame takes out three of their assailants. Four more fall from her bullets, but the last one is taken out by a soldier jumping into the fray and slitting his throat in one clean motion. Roy and Riza blink at the blond man as he wipes his knife on his pants. He's a sergeant, and he has to talk around the cigarette in his mouth when he says, "It looked like you could use some help." His eyes settle on Riza. They're dark blue and his lips are chapped, and he looks like every halfway pretty boy who's chased her all her life until he opens his mouth and says, "Lady, that's some damn fine shooting."
Riza doesn't move, doesn't say anything, just stares until the sergeant's grin starts to fade. Finally she says, "That's Sir to you."
The sergeant's mouth opens and the cigarette falls out. He takes a step towards her, hand outstretched, and at first Riza thinks he's trying to touch her, but she catches the dark quick lines of her own writing at the top of his hand. She grabs it and pulls him closer to get a better look. His skin is rough and calloused and he's got nicotine stains at the end of his fingers. He's not what she thought she wanted, but she supposes he'll do.
Riza doesn't realize she's said this out loud until he starts laughing. "I'm just relieved you're not a man," he says cheerfully, "I tried really hard to like guys, but it wasn't working out."
"You tried really hard?" Roy asks, sardonic, and her soulmate's face flushes bright red, and Riza doesn't laugh, but she wants to, so it's almost the same thing.
"It looks like you had an interesting trip."
Al has gone utterly still beside him, and Edward blinks, heavy and dumb for a moment before he snaps a sloppy salute. He's smart, he's a genius, he is twelve years old and his life doesn't belong to him, it will not belong to him until his little brother is back in his own body. Now is not the time. So he says, "Colonel," stops himself, and waits.
Mustang doesn't react, keeps talking about who the hell cares, and Edward closes his eyes, because this hurts almost as much as losing his leg.
Later that night Ed lays out on the bed and stares up at the ceiling. He can feel Alphonse's heavy gaze on him, but he doesn't know what to say. "Brother..."
"Al, don't," he sighs, "It'll keep, okay? We have more important things to worry about." Alphonse has always been the romantic, the one that believed in soul marks in a way that Ed never has. The armor clanks and groans as Al shuffles around. Ed turns on his side and tries to sleep.
He's never put too much thought into who his soulmate might be, he didn't much care if it was a boy or a girl or what they looked like. But somehow he doesn't think that in a hundred years he would have thought up Colonel Roy Mustang.
Nina is dead, and Mustang is solid and stone where Ed could use just a little bit of softness. Edward glares, fists clenched, and thinks, full of fury and pain, This is my soulmate?
He'll think that a lot in the coming years. He thinks it in anger, in despair, in shame, and in hopelessness. He looks at Mustang and sees every uncomplimentary thing he's ever thought about soulmates come to life, sees Mustang as proof that soul marks are bullshit.
Maybe Mustang is his punishment. This is what the universe does when someone flies too close to the sun, they figure out the exact type of soulmate that would make that person happy and loved, and gives them the opposite.
He doesn't have to do anything about it - they've already exchanged their first words, and Mustang still doesn't know. Edward never has to tell him, once Ed gets his brother's body back and gets out of this fucking military, he never has to see Mustang again. Never has to look at his stupid face, or listen to another fucking god-awful speech, or his ridiculous god complex, or his shitty stupid flame alchemy -
He wraps his arms around himself and tries not to be sick. Mustang is his punishment, and this is what he fucking deserves for what he's done, that both having and not having his soulmate are equally terrible options.
Edward is fifteen, and Mustang is as fucking infuriating as ever. But standing over the torn and broken parade grounds, with the sun setting and Mustang's eyes dark and full of pain, Ed feels something inside him break.
Mustang knows sacrifice. He knows fear and regret and pain and debts so wide and terribly large that there's no way to repay them. He's shouldered his burdens and walks so tall, isn't crushed and gasping under the weight like Ed is. And it hurts him, it so clearly hurts him, but Mustang is telling him about Marco anyway.
Edward's heart is breaking and resetting, and this is so much worse than it was before.
Mustang doesn't date men. It's something Ed's noticed, but hasn't dwelled over. At first because he hadn't planned on ever claiming the older man as his, so it didn't matter, then because there's nothing Ed can do about it. Either Mustang is physically attracted men or he isn't, and he can't change that either way.
He's never been vain - how can he be, when he's barely two thirds of a person, cold metal stuck on thick angry scar tissue. He feels like he's more scars than skin some days, and he's in shape, but that has nothing to do with how he looks. His life is dangerous, and he has a little brother to care for, he can't go dying and leaving him behind. So he trains until he collapses, but it doesn't change the fact that he's some sort of half-formed, cripple-monster.
He makes one concession, although he does his best not to think about it. Mustang likes long hair. Granted, he likes long hair on women, but Ed only has himself to work with. At first he didn't cut it because it was annoying to have do maintenance on his fucking head every few weeks, but now there's another reason. So he keeps his hair to halfway down his back, but bundles it up in a tight braid because he's not a fucking girl. He gives himself a trim every few months with his automail to keep the ends from splitting, and that's about all the vanity he has to spare.
He's in Mustang's office giving his report - which mostly just consists of Ed glaring and Mustang telling him all the things that his written report has conveniently left out - when his elastic snaps.
"Ah shit," Ed says, interrupting Mustang's long list of property damage he's responsible for. He fixed it all, so he's pretty sure the old man is just talking to hear the sound of his own voice. Ed tugs the braid over his shoulder and picks out the hairband. Now his braid's all crooked though, so he sighs and shakes it out.
"Fullmetal?" There's an odd note that he can't place in the colonel's voice.
Ed blinks and looks up, his hair out and flowing over his shoulders and back. He holds up the elastic. "It broke. Do you have a spare?"
"Do I have spare?"
"Right," Ed shakes his head, "I'm an alchemist, good point. Fuck, I'm dumb. I need a nap." He claps his hands, and when he opens them the hairband is whole again. He reaches back to redo his hair, but it pulls at the rib that's hopefully just bruised, and he hisses between his teeth and lets his hand fall back down.
"Are you hurt?" Now Mustang is frowning at him.
He shakes his head, "Nah, not really."
"Not really," he repeats, and raises an eyebrow.
"Nothing bad, like a cracked rib maybe. Whatever. Continue your rant, I'm tired." Ed gestures for him to go on, but Mustang stands and walks over to him.
"Do you need help with your hair?"
Ed swallows, "No, it's fine. I can have Al fix it when I get back."
"It's odd to see you with it down," Mustang stands behind him and runs his fingers through his hair, "I feel like I'm seeing you naked."
"You're fucking weird, Colonel," Ed mutters, but he leans back into Mustang's hands; he can't help it. They're silent after that, while Mustang plaits his hair together, motions steady and sure. He's taking a lot longer than Ed thinks is reasonable for a simple braid, but Ed doesn't dare mention it in case he stops. The heat coming off Mustang's body is enough that Edward almost wants to fall back and curl up with him and just rest. But he can't, even this is an indulgence he probably doesn't deserve. So when Mustang ties the elastic securely around the end of his braid, he steps away. "Thanks."
Mustang's looking over him, not at him, and normally that would piss Ed off, but he feels - unsteady. Fragile in way he hasn't been in a long time, and he's afraid that if Mustang looks at him he might shatter.
"You're dismissed, Fullmetal. Get some rest."
He opens his mouth to question it, but - not today. Instead he offers his standard sloppy salute and turns on his heel. "Sir."
His head tingles for the rest of the night, and Ed thinks that maybe they can have something together, him and Roy. Maybe, if Ed is very, very lucky he can get Roy to at least try, with him, for a little while.
But Alphonse first. Always, always Alphonse first.
Roy spends his thirtieth birthday barefoot in front of his fire with a bottle of whiskey beside him. He's cross-legged with his ankle lying across his knee. The firelight flickers over his skin, almost makes his soul mark looks like it's moving. Colonel in tight, angled letters. He rubs his thumb over the letters, conflicted and alone and lost.
His best friend is dead, and it's not fair. He knows he should have learned this by now, but every once in a while how truly cruel and merciless the world can be just punches him in the face. Like when he's thirty and the only person who's ever known him inside and out is cold in the ground. He sighs and takes a swig of whiskey, find some comfort in the way it burns down his throat. He's still young, he knows he's still young, and if he's just patient he'll have his soulmate. Eventually.
Or he won't. One word, so ambiguous and said to him hundreds of times already. He'll never know who his soulmate is this way, it's all up to them, and the words he says to them. Maybe it's hopeless, and his first words are bland, like Sir or Ma'am, and he'll never know. Maybe that's better. Wanting his soulmate just because he's lonely is selfish, he knows it's selfish. Any partner of his is an automatic target, is in life threatening danger just by proximity. This is best. The person walking around with his words on their skin doesn't know how dangerous he is, what being with him would mean. What they would be sacrificing, and how little they'd get in return.
Roy takes another sip of whiskey. He turns the bottle in the light, and the golden amber reminds him of Edward's eyes. Edward. That would be a positive of having his soulmate, he could stop thinking of a sixteen year old boy in a way that would put him behind bars. Or maybe he couldn't, and wow, wouldn't that be a truly horrific way to drive his soulmate away: Sorry, it's not you, it's just that I'm in love with my underage subordinate.
He wonders what Ed's soul mark is, if it was on one of the limbs that he lost. He hopes not, that night already took so much away from him, he hopes that's not another thing Edward's lost. Edward, strong and gorgeous and so smart. The smartest person Roy's ever met, the pinnacle of alchemical genius.
Alchemy isn't all energy and symbols. It's - knowledge, and intent. The first arrays are always the most complicated, the symbols and equations written out so that the only thing a student must do is activate the array. But those don't last, it takes over an hour to draw a complete array for a just a change of state. The more control and more knowledge that exists, the simpler the array, and the more ways it can be used. Roy's array is only for the creation of fire, painfully simple. The difficulty is in how to direct that fire, it's temperature, its oxygen supply. Those are all things that he alters with each alchemical reaction, depending on the situation. For this, they rightly call him a genius.
Then there's Edward. He does it all in his head, all the equivalencies and equations and symbols, and in seconds he does what would take any sane person hours. Every use of Ed's alchemy is unique, so it's all different circles. That's insane. Most alchemists spend their entire lives learning how to perfect and control a single element, a single type of reaction. Then there's Ed. Give him five minutes and some scratch paper, and he can use alchemy do to anything.
Well. Almost anything.
Alphonse didn't say anything when they were kids, because they were kids and it's not like anything could happen anyway. But now his brother is sixteen, and Alphonse doesn't want Ed waiting for him. It's dumb. He knows his own words - I'm so happy you're back! - and his lack of a body might stop his soulmate from being with him, but not from finding him. He has a soul still, thanks to his brother, and that's the part that counts. So he wishes Ed would stop doing this to himself.
He's not the colonel's biggest fan, but he's his brother's soulmate, and that makes him family whether Ed wants to admit it or not. And his brother likes the colonel. Sometimes Al wishes his brother's soulmate was someone easy and simple, like Winry. Well, not Winry, because she'd kill his brother if they tried to love each other like that. But someone who doesn't make his brother furious and depressed in equal measure like the colonel seems to.
But that's not the case. Ed and the colonel are stuck together, and Alphonse thinks that they might even be able to be happy together if they just tried.
Roy holds out his hand for Ed to shake, terrified of letting the young man go and terrified of his own task that he's setting off to do but determined not to show it. Edward doesn't shake it, swallows, and asks, "What do you think of your soulmate?"
Roy lowers his hand slowly, and this is not a conversation he ever wanted to have with Ed, and certainly not now. But now might be all they have. "I think that whoever they are should continue to stay the hell away from me, because I'm going to get them killed. Or worse."
Ed's staring at him, big liquid gold eyes, and Roy has no idea where that came from or what he wants. But then Ed is pulling up his shirt and turning his back to Roy, and he's baffled until his eyes focus on the young man's spine. His handwriting, vertical down Ed's back, spelling out: It looks like you had an interesting trip. He remembers saying those words, looking at the child that had saved everyone, full of awe and disbelief and amused as hell. Edward had looked at him, small and afraid, before stuttering out Colonel.
"You did it on purpose," he says, and Ed drops his shirt and turns back to face him. "You made it something I wouldn't recognize on purpose." Then, "Is that why you never addressed me in your reports? So I wouldn't recognize it?"
Ed swallows, "Yeah. Yes."
Roy takes a deep breath and nods, reeling from shock but also from how fucking not fair his life is, where his soulmate is gorgeous and brilliant and Ed, but doesn't want him. He can't blame Edward, really, he's almost twice his age and his own soul is so covered in sin it's probably burnt black
"No!" Roy looks up and flushes, because he'd been talking out loud and he hadn't fucking meant to. Edward takes his hands, and Roy blinks. He squeezes Roy's fingers in his own, almost painfully tight, and says, "No, it wasn't you. Well, I mean it was sometimes you, because you can be such a fucking asshole, but it was always me, okay? It was always me. I had responsibilities - I still have responsibilities. I'm sorry. I didn't think, and now you know but I have to go, okay? I have to leave, it's important. You have your own important stuff to do and - and oh, shit, just -" Ed tugs him forward and down, and then they're kissing. Roy wraps his arms around him, and Ed's too much teeth and not enough tongue and it's still the best kiss he's ever had.
It's over too quick, with Ed wrenching away from him and running, running towards his brother. Roy is still standing there like an idiot when Ed calls over his shoulder, "I'll be back! I promise!"
Roy slowly gets back in the car. Riza looks at him out of the corner of her eye and asks carefully, "Are you okay?"
"I'll live," and he will, he will live, because if both him and Edward can just survive, then they'll have a chance. If the universe will just give him one more chance to hold his soulmate in his arms, he will face down anything it can throw at him.
Alphonse has never been so angry at his brother in his entire life. How dare he leave him? He would have rather lived his whole life in the armor than without his brother, and Ed must have known that. He had to have known that, except here Alphonse is, body whole and intact and no brother in sight. Well, if Ed thought he got the last say in the matter, he was wrong, because Al was getting his brother back if it killed him.
He's still angry when Winry bursts into his hospital room and throws her arms around him. He hugs her back, and is instantly assaulted with the smell of lavender and motor oil, and this whole five senses thing is still a bit new for him. "You smell great!"
She squeezes him once more before leaning back and beaming, "I'm so happy you're back!"
They both realize what they've said at the same time. "Holy shit," Al breathes.
"Oh my god," Winry blinks, grabbing for his arm twisting it so that she can see her words on his skin. And they are her words, that's her handwriting, her real handwriting, not the tragedy of a childish scrawl that she had the last time Al had a real body. "I don't think soul marks are supposed to work this way."
"Considering I'm the only known case of soul binding and resurrection, there's really no way to test that hypothesis," he says, and she rolls her eyes and smacks his shoulder. "Ed's going to laugh forever about this."
Their shared elation is dimmed, halved by the absence in the room. Edward should be here with them now, should be hovering over Al and hiding from Winry, but instead he's god-knows-where and Al has never been without his brother before, and he is not thrilled that he has to be now. "We're going to get him back," Winry says, fierce.
"Yeah," Al covers her hand with his, and he's got so many emotions that he's not sure if he wants to burst into tears or laughter. "We are."
Riza understands, but the others don't. They try to come by, talk him into coming home, into returning to Central as their commanding officer, but he can't. Riza never comes by, because even though she understands she doesn't approve. Everything she had to say to him she said before he left: "He wouldn't want you to do this. He would want you to move on, to live."
She's probably right, but Roy frankly doesn't give a fuck what Ed would want him to do. He's dead, and the dead don't get a say in how he lives his life. His best friend is dead, his soulmate is dead, and they'd both want more for him than wasting away in the freezing cold.
He doesn't care. He doesn't care about anything anymore. He stands in the cold and the snow and waits to go numb. He'd do anything to be numb, to not feel of the red hot pit of loneliness and anguish in the place where his heart used to be.
He has to live with this pain. This is his punishment for the things he's done, and he'll pay it.
They don't have soul marks in this world. Ed doesn't have clue what that means, he honestly can't say if that's better or worse. This mirror world has the same people living different lives, and the thing is he's seen not-Maes flirting with not-Gracia, and not-Havoc walking arm in arm with not-Hawkeye, so soulmates still exist. It's just that you don't know who they are, and sometimes Ed thinks that makes things just a little more genuine. There are some people who say that soul marks force people to fall in love, but Ed's pretty sure he's living surrounded by the evidence that they just nudge people in the right direction.
He thinks about Roy a lot, and Alphonse. Roy more than his brother, because he knows that Al is whole and safe. If there was just Al, maybe Ed would just stay here in this world. He misses alchemy far more than he missed either of his limbs, but the science here is interesting too. The mechanics are so advanced in some ways, and so far behind in others. Winry would have a field day here. There's even a not-Roy here. He's not in the military though, he's a poet who hates violence.
Ed's not sure how to get back, he doesn't know what the cost will be, what he'll have to sacrifice to return to Amestris. But he made Roy a promise, and he's never broken a promise before. He's not going to start now. So he researches rockets and engines and chemical compositions. When he's so tired that the diagrams all start to blur together he thinks of Roy's lips on his until he can focus again.
His soulmate is waiting for him, and the Gate has taken a lot from him, but it won't take this.
Roy is never going to doubt either of the Elric brothers ever again, because Edward is standing in front of him. He's taller and older, dressed in muted browns and with a sharper jaw line, but it is undeniably Edward.
The doorway to the other world and their strange bombs are gone, and Ed is here. Alphonse is beaming somewhere behind his brother with his arm around Winry's waist, but all Roy can focus on is that Ed's hair is still the same shade as it was four years ago. Roy clears his throat, "It looks like you had an interesting trip."
"Colonel," Ed says, head cocked to the side.
"It's Lieutenant-General now, actually." Roy can't move, he honestly can't bring himself to take another step forward in case this is all some horrifically cruel dream. If he wakes up in that freezing wasteland, Edward-less, he thinks he may have to actually kill himself.
Ed steps forward, grinning wide, and when he presses his hands against Roy's chest the older man can't breathe for a moment. He can feel Ed, he's warm and alive and here. "Is that so?" he asks, an amused glint in his gorgeous eyes.
Roy carefully, oh so carefully, places his hands atop Ed's and asks, "Are you staying? With me?"
Ed sobers, and nods. "Yeah," he breaths and leans up, "I'm not leaving you again. I promise."
Roy kisses him, because if doesn't kiss Ed he'll die. He can hear his team and Alphonse and Winry cheering, but all his senses are filled with Ed, with his soulmate in his arms and alive and his.
It was worth the wait.