Ed had insisted on coming along and Roy still wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t even full military anymore, hadn’t been since he’d come back. But he said he’d “never been up that way,” and even though Roy had told him there wasn’t much to see except snow and more snow, here he was. In the exact right place for his life to be in danger once again.
A sudden rockslide had struck their train. One moment they were rolling smoothly along, fighting boredom, and the next their car was tumbling down the side of the mountain. Ed had grabbed him and clamped his automail hand onto the frame of the bench, keeping them both from being thrown around with their luggage. That might have been the only reason they made it through the crash with only minor scrapes and contusions.
But now here they were, separated from the rest of the train with no way back up to the tracks, ill equipped for the snow and on a desperate search to find shelter before night fell.
“I think I see a hunting shack up ahead,” Roy said.
Ed didn’t answer. He was starting to lag behind. Roy grabbed his arm, hissing at the bite of the metal even through several layers of clothes.
“Come on! We can’t afford to stop.”
“M’not . . . stopping,” Ed mumbled. “So stop yer . . . nagging. Bastard.”
He wasn’t sure how long they’d been trudging through the snow like this, but Ed was getting hit by the cold much more severely than he was. Roy was worried on the edge of panic that if they didn’t find some shelter soon he might suffer permanent injury.
The hunting shack was half buried in the snow. Ed took one bleary look at it and started to bring his hands together.
Roy snatched his wrists. “Oh no. No alchemy until you’re warmed up and thinking straight.”
Ed frowned at him. “I’m thinkin’ . . . straight.”
“The hell you are.” He steered him toward the shack and leaned him up against the sloped roof. “We don’t want to clear all the snow, anyway. Just enough to get to the door. The rest will insulate the shack.”
“Yeah . . . funny. . . .” The younger man mused while Roy bent down and scooped snow. “How something so cold can keep you warm. . . .”
“Yeah. Funny.” He finally reached the latch and pulled it, setting his shoulder to the door to shove it open, giving them about half of a doorway. “There.” He stood, grinning. “And wouldn’t you know it. Just your size.”
“Hey, who’re you callin’ . . . so . . . that he could fit in a. . . .”
“Points for effort, Fullmetal.”
Roy hauled him up and manhandled him to the doorway. With a little prompting Ed slid in feet first, landing in a heap on the floor.
“Move unless you want my boots in your face!”
After another dazed moment Ed scooted to the side, allowing Roy to slide in after him.
Once they were safely inside he shoved the door closed. This effectively cut off their light, and he wasted precious seconds groping around for a stub of a candle he thought he’d seen.
As soon as that was lit Roy rushed to gather everything that might be burnable, whether firewood or furniture, and dumped it by the fire pit in the center of the shack. “You’re going to have to get out of those clothes. the melted snow is going to soak them through.”
Ed looked bemused. “Did you . . . just . . . tell me to strip?”
“You’ll need to remove your automail, too.”
That seemed to wake him up. He recoiled, putting a protective hand to his shoulder. “What?”
“Damn it, Ed, do you want to freeze?” Roy snapped as he shoved burnables into something roughly resembling a kindling pile and pulled one of his gloves out of their waterproof wrap. “The metal is pulling your body heat! The ports are going to be enough of a heat sink on their own. We have to minimize it!”
The fire finally caught. He built it up enough to be reasonably sure it wouldn’t burn out, then grabbed a couple of dusty horse blankets that were piled in one corner. One he spread one out on the packed dirt floor close to the fire.
“This isn’t negotiable.” Roy knelt in front of the stubborn young man and took it on himself to unfasten his clothing. It probably wasn’t a good sign that Ed only blinked up at him. “You’re about to get a lot colder for a moment. But I promise I’ll get you warm.”
He yanked the coat and shirt off of Ed’s right shoulder. The skin around the port was already painfully red. Roy braced himself and put his bare fingers onto the searingly cold metal to search for the catch.
“Ed—you have to help me here—I don’t know how this detaches—”
“I—it’s—here.” Ed fumbled under the shoulder with his left hand. “Under here. You have to push this—here—then slide—”
Roy followed his thumb. Finally something gave under his fingers.
The full weight of the prosthetic took him by surprise and the arm slipped from his half-numb hands, taking Ed’s sleeve with it. “Sorry.” He quickly freed him from the garments and grabbed his belt. “I’m really sorry, Ed.” This was no time for modesty. And if his face was red as he worked the trousers off his hips and down his thighs, he could blame it on the cold. “We have to get your leg off, too.”
“B’hind the knee.”
“Here?” He groped, fingers too numb to be much good. “I can’t find it, Ed. I don’t—”
Ed slid his hand around the knee. “’S right here. Just need to. . . .” He grunted and repositioned his hand. “Need to—slide this . . . here . . . just slide . . . huh.”
Roy put his finger on the catch, his own hands only slightly less clumbsy. But at least his mind was still clear.
He thought he was braced for the weight this time, but the leg slid from his hands all the same. He shoved both prosthetics aside and made quick work of the rest of Ed’s clothes, all but shoving him down on the blanket. “Just a moment,” he said as he drew the second blanket on top of him. “Just sit tight for one more moment.”
Roy dropped his coat on top of the blanket, then grit his teeth and threw off his own clothes as quickly as he could. “Brace yourself,” he warned. He slid beneath the blanket and moulded himself to Ed’s icy form.
For a moment, they just lay there. Roy tried to remember to breathe.
Ed started shivering. Violently. He curled in on himself, wedging back against Roy’s chest. “Sh-sh-sh-i-i-it. . . .”
“You hadn’t realized how cold you’d gotten, had you.” Roy got arms around him and started chafing his hand. He only had the one.
“W-w-wasn’t f-f-feel-ing it-t-t—”
“It’s when you stop feeling it that you’re in trouble.” He curled around him, trying to consolidate as much as possible. “We’ll be lucky if you don’t get frostbite.”
“Sh-sh-i-i-it. . . .”
The metal of the ports burned wherever it touched his skin. Roy could only imagine how much worse it must be hurting Ed. “Why are you even here?” he grumbled. “What could possibly have possessed you to come out to the frozen north?”
“W-wasn’t—s-sup-p-posed t-to be—out in the f-freeze—”
Roy sighed and shook his head, and tried to focus on getting them both warm.
* * *
“Yer letting the cold in,” his bed-mate (blanket-mate) grumbled.
Ed had warmed up to the point of sporadic, mild shivering. Neither of them was exactly comfortable, but they wouldn’t freeze.
Roy hadn’t even settled himself down before Ed snatched the edge of the blanket and yanked it down.
“Eew, you just sneezed in my hair.”
“I turned my head.”
“I’m gonna have frozen snot in my hair.”
Roy tried to shift the blanket away from his face without sacrificing any precious warmth. “It’s this damn blanket. God knows what’s on it.”
“You didn’t even shake it out or anything?”
“I was a little rushed!”
A moment later, he bumped the back of his head against Roy’s chin. “Oh and. Thanks. By the way.”
Roy—sighed. He wasn’t sure what else there was for him to say except, “You’re welcome.” But it seemed lacking somehow.
Ed bumped him again. “But are you sure this wasn’t just some elaborate ploy to get in my pants?—”
Roy jerked back.
“—Because there are easier ways—oh no. No you don’t.” Ed squirmed and re-plastered himself against Roy’s chest. “I’m still cold.”
“This is a fine time to be joking about—”
“Really?” Ed had a firm grip on his arm. “Seems like an ideal time to me. You can’t run away from me for once.”
“I don’t know what you’re—”
“The hell you don’t.” Ed’s grip tightened. “You’ve been brushing me off, getting ‘busy,’ and outright avoiding me ever since I got back. If I thought it was because you actually didn’t care that’d be one thing. But you—you’re—fuck.” He growled, and finished with, “Look, I’m not an idiot.”
No part of his body wanted to un-tense. He finally loosened his jaw enough to grit out, “This is entirely unfair.”
“Well, life isn’t fair,” Ed volleyed. “I learned that one a while ago.”
Roy—sighed. Again. How could he be expected to talk about this—to even think about this—with Ed’s hair in his face, Ed’s bare skin pressed against his? His arm was around his waist like a lover—and even if he had wanted to move it, Ed’s fingers dug into the skin of his wrist every time he shifted. “What do you want from me, Ed?” All of his usual glibness seemed to have evaporated. “You’re not . . . you. . . .” What could he say? That Ed deserved more than a broken soldier like him? That he didn’t want to be the cause of more heartache if—when?—this blew up in their faces?. “You’re . . . young, still. You have so much more ahead of you—”
“So, what, you’re afraid this is just some adolescent crush?” He snorted. “I went through that phase. It made me want to punch you in the face.”
Roy chortled in spite of himself. “That much was clear.”
“This is different. I’m not a kid anymore. You’re not some unobtainable idol of a CO anymore.” Roy raised an eyebrow at that but Ed went on. “It’s—we’re different. It’s—look.” He squirmed around, and drew back just enough that they could look at each other comfortably. “Isn’t this all kinda stupid?” He wormed his hand up and hooked a finger into the strap of Roy’s eye patch. Roy flinched. “We’ve both come too close to death too many times to be sitting on our asses doing nothing just because we might be a little uncertain.”
Ed seemed inclined to leave the patch where it was, so Roy turned his head, resting his cheek against’s Ed’s palm. “I . . . wish it were that simple.”
“Never said it was simple.”
How could it be? Nothing was ever simple for them. “Simple” would mean they wouldn’t be having this conversation nearly naked with all sense of personal space eradicated. “You’re an obstinate brat, you know that?”
Ed grinned. “So I’ve been told.” He gave the strap a light tug. “Which is it, Mustang. You gonna keep running and hiding? Or are you brave enough to give this—us—a shot?”
Roy looked at this bright, hopeful creature sharing his space. His first reflex was still to pull away, to play it “safe” and not risk hurting this young man he’d already thought lost once. But face to face with him like this—especially like this— “You planned this, didn’t you. This is why you insisted on coming.”
“Well, I didn’t plan on rock slides and hypothermia. But I’m flexible.” Ed stroked his cheekbone with his thumb. “Got tired of you avoiding me.”
“I—fine.” He should be feeling trapped. Ed had effectively cornered him, had out maneuvered him while Roy had been stubbornly refusing to even look in the right direction. And now here they were, face to face with everything laid bare—quite literally—and instead he was feeling . . . almost relieved. “Fine. I’m not sure you quite know what you’re asking for, but—mmm.”
The rest got lost as Ed kissed him. He hesitated for another heartbeat, then let himself relax into the kiss. He brought one hand up to smooth back his hair, marveling at how unreal it all seemed. As if at any moment the illusion would be shattered.
“Mnn. . . .” Ed broke the kiss enough to mutter, “Get the snot out while you’re at it. Before it freezes.”
Roy sputtered into a laugh, and then they were both laughing, and Ed’s face was buried in his neck and he was holding him close, as close as he possibly could.
“You’re incorrigible.” Roy kissed his forehead, smoothing his hair back again. “Just what have I gotten myself into?”
“We’ll find out.” Ed shivered, then snuggled in against him with a contented sigh. “That’s the best part. We get to find out.”
They lay there for a moment, trying to get as comfortable as they could on the hard ground with dusty, scratchy horse blankets. It felt like nothing had changed, and yet—everything had.
“Hey, look—” Ed said. “I showed you how to take my arm and leg off. Wouldn’t do that for just anyone, y’know.”
“I. . . .” Roy tried to think of an appropriate response to such an admission. “I’ll . . . try to be worthy of that.”
“Just stop being so distant and—cold.” He snorted, rubbing his nose into Roy’s shoulder. To get back at him for sneezing into his hair, no doubt. “It doesn’t suit you.”