Ed stumbled out into the living room, his half-awake brain honing in on the incessant, obnoxious ringing that had woken him in the fuck-ass hours of the morning. His feet propelled him forward as he went through his options: he could ignore it and let Al deal with it; he could unplug the damn thing; or he could pick it up and see who it was like a responsible person.
He stared at the receiver that was now in his hand. Guess he was going for option three. Although now that the noise had stopped, the temptation to simply drop the phone and go back to sleep was strong. But curiosity and the fact that so few people called—and never at this hour—finally won out, and he put the phone to his ear. “H’lo?”
He blinked, startled awake another two notches. He knew the voice on the other end, but something didn’t sound right.
“I’m sorry. I know it’s late. I’m sorry for waking you—”
“Roy?” Ed broke in. “Something wrong?”
“I. . . .”
He grimaced and rubbed a hand over his face. “Stupid question. You wouldn’t be calling at ass-early in the morning if everything was peachy. What is it?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have disturbed you. I—it’s nothing. I’m sorry”
“Roy!” he snapped. “Don’t you dare hang up!” Ed was wide awake now and all of his alarm bells were going off.
The other end of the line was quiet, but he could hear ragged breathing. Ed closed his eyes, squeezing the phone cord.
“Roy?” he ventured. “Do . . . you need me to come over or something?”
He heard an intake of breath, and then a barely audible “Yes.”
* * *
Roy wouldn’t meet his eyes. After letting him in he simply leaned against the door, jaw tight and gaze on the floor. From the dark shadow under his eye Ed guessed this wasn’t the first night of poor sleep.
Ed touched his elbow. “Nightmare?”
He sighed heavily and shook his head. “Only the waking kind.”
Ed winced in sympathy.
With gentle tugs he guided the older man over to the bed and sat him down on the edge. “How much have you had to drink?” He seemed cognizant enough but Ed could smell the alcohol on him. If he’d already drunk himself past reasoning then there wouldn’t be much Ed could do besides make sure he didn’t choke on his own vomit.
But to his surprise Roy held up only two fingers, with a wry smile that said he understood perfectly why Ed had asked. “I made myself put it away when I realized what was happening.”
Ed couldn’t help but glance at the counter. There was a glass, but no bottle.
“Liquor cabinet’s locked,” Roy volunteered. “If you want the key, it’s behind the stove.” He crumpled forward, elbows against his knees and head in his hands. “Along with the key to the nightstand.”
The nightstand where he kept the service weapon he was required to own but hated using.
Ed sank down next to him on the bed. “Shit, Roy. That bad?”
Roy tunneled his fingers into his hair. “I haven’t had a night this bad in . . . in . . . a while. I can’t—I just can’t—” He let out a sour laugh. “I’m pathetic. I’ve been right on the edge of transmuting the liquor cabinet back open. Because if I don’t—if I don’t do that—”
It would be the nightstand, Ed silently finished.
“God I’m pathetic.”
Ed stroked his hair, letting his hand rest on the back of his neck. “But you didn’t go for either one. You went for the phone.”
Roy hunched in on himself.
For a long moment they sat there. Ed let his hand rest where it was, his thumb stroking the nape of his neck. Eventually Roy let out a shuttering sigh and dropped his hands. “That’s still pretty pathetic, though, isn’t it? Waking your boyfriend in the middle of the night because you can’t trust yourself to be rational.”
That startled a smile out of Ed; it was the first time either of them had used that label. “It’s not pathetic to ask for help.” He wrapped his free hand, the metal one, around Roy’s. “I guess it’s easier for me. I’ve got Al right there. But you wanna know something?” He laced their fingers together, waiting until the other man looked up before he continued. “The couple times Al’s been gone over night, since we got our place here? I . . . kinda freaked out.”
Ed smiled at the startled look he got. “Don’t let him know, okay? I don’t want Al thinking he has to stay home just because his big brother’s a freak who can’t handle being alone.”
Roy’s thumb caressed his. “What happened?”
“Nothing, at first. But as it got late I just—I freaked. I don’t know how else to put it. I got really nervous, and. . . .” He glanced away. “I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was still in Germany. That I’d never really made it home.” Ed raised his eyes, shaking his head. “I knew it was stupid. But I couldn’t shake it. I even transmuted something to prove to myself that I was here. But I still—still—couldn’t shake it.” He laughed. “I was up all night thinking I was crazy but never sure which was the delusion.” With a sigh, he added, “The second time I was braced for it and spent most of the evening trying to distract myself. But still. . . .”
Roy was watching him with the kind of understanding that only came from experience. Ed brushed his hair back, caressing his cheek. “So you see, you’re not the only one who has bad days.”
Roy cupped the back of his neck and pressed their foreheads together. “Next time—come over.”
“Next time gimme a call before you start tossing keys behind the stove.”
“It’s a deal.”