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“You know what they say,” Ed says, tightening his grip on a fistful of Roy’s tailored civvy coat; his steel fingers are getting slippery again.

“I regret to report that my telepathy is not at its finest this evening,” Roy says.  Ed can’t fathom how the fucker can still talk this way while staggering through the desert with a shard of shrapnel sticking out of his side.  “By all means, to which platitude are you hoping to segue?”

“You know what they say,” Ed says loudly, “if they don’t want to get dropped to the ground, kicked in the kidneys, and left for the vultures.”

Roy’s smile is strained but genuine; the moonlight makes the sweat shine on his forehead under the matted drape of dark hair.  “If you put it that way—my dear young man, whatever do they say?”

Ed grits his teeth into a grin.  “That it’s the thought that counts.”

“Ah,” Roy says.  Then he says “Ahh—”, which is not the same at all, and Ed pauses their stumbling progress while Roy hangs his head and breathes shallowly.  With an arm around him like this, Ed can feel his ribcage expanding and contracting with every single gasp—and it’s weird, it’s really weird, thinking about Roy as a machine that could just… stop working.  Does Winry think like this all the time?  It’s a wonder she’s not even crazier.

“Take it easy,” Ed says, because he should probably say something.

“Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be among my nearly innumerable talents,” Roy manages.  He straightens, resettles his left arm over Ed’s shoulders, raises his right to cough into his dusty sleeve, and wipes with the heel of his hand at the blood on his lips—which mostly just smears it all over his cheek.  He draws a breath, holds it, releases it carefully, and puts his right foot in front of his left, so Ed starts hobbling along with him again.  “As far as the aphorism, I think the thought is what counts when you send a well-meaning gift that the recipient ends up hating, or when a traffic accident causes you to miss your dinner reservation, or when she’s severely allergic to flowers and to chocolate.  I don’t believe that the excellent intentions of our thought will hold much sway against botching a reconnaissance mission that took months to plan.”

“The lieutenant’s gonna kill us,” Ed translates.

“No,” Roy says, “a quick death is better than we deserve.  Torture, I think.  Maiming, perhaps.  She hasn’t maimed anyone in a long while; she’s probably eager for a proper mauling.”

She wouldn’t really—not Lieutenant Hawkeye—stupid Mustang’s totally just fucking around.  Right?

“You’re full of shit,” Ed says.

“Frequently,” Roy says.

Ed has no idea what to do with this Roy—with a Roy who’s in such blinding pain that moving forward is sapping the energy that normally goes into holding up masks and building barriers.  This is a very real Roy, an unguarded Roy, a Roy who is too tired and hurt and terrified (and if Ed has been able to see that he’s scared, it must be even worse than it looks—) to play the customary games.  This is a different Roy than any that Ed’s been privy to before, and this Roy is weird, and weak, and vulnerable, and… funny.

What the hell is that about, anyway?  Ed’s really not sure how to handle a Mustang who’s in any mode other than full-throttle Conniving Bastard.  There’s a remote possibility that this stage could be an obscenely clever subset of Conniving Bastard Mode—that Mustang could be conniving on so many levels at once that he’s currently putting on a front of having abandoned all of the fronts.  Normally, Ed wouldn’t put it past him, but he actually saw the gleaming tip of the shard of iron that lodged in Roy’s abdomen when the apparently-not-foolproof-after-all plan went horribly awry, because the Drachman sleeper cell did have the balls to blow up their own cache of armaments.  Ed’s sure that has all kinds of distressing implications—first and foremost, that the Drachmans clearly aren’t worried about obtaining more and better guns, which means they’ve got some kind of supply line or something—but he’s not the one who gets paid to sketch out the bigger picture.

The guy who does is currently wheezing and dragging a pale hand across his forehead, which smudges a bit more blood and grime and gunpowder.

It’s even weirder that it looks kind of—good on him.  The filthy, torn-up, raw thing, that is.  If he wasn’t bleeding out of a serious and as-yet-unsanitized wound, the whole ensemble would be pretty… attractive, really.

Ed must’ve hit his head and damaged some critical neurons; what the hell is he thinking?

He clears his throat.  “You think we’re far enough away to stop and cauterize that shit?”

“God,” Roy says faintly, “I hope so.”

“Way I figure,” Ed says, “better that we get ambushed and have to kick some more ass than that you pass out from blood loss.”

He can see moonlight flashing off of a sliver of a grin.  “An excellent point.”

They find a nice rock—as much as any rock in the middle of the desert when your C.O. is bleeding and woozy and unsettlingly not-annoying can be ‘nice’—and sit Roy down on it.  Half of a cry of pain escapes through his clenched teeth before he swallows the rest, and Ed just wants to… well, do something.  Stroke his hair back or make up some shit about how it’s going to be okay—just something to demonstrate that he gives a fuck that it hurts.  Sometimes it helps a little bit just to know that someone cares.

“All right,” Roy says, voice tight and almost unrecognizably unsteady, as he fumbles in his breast pocket and retrieves a crumpled glove.  “You are going to remove the shrapnel, and then you are immediately going to step back so that I can close the wound as quickly as possible.  In the event that I am indisposed, you will put out any fires that spread to my clothing.  You will not ridicule me if I weep.  Are your orders clear, Fullmetal?”

“Clear,” Ed says.  “Not exactly sane, but—sure, clear.”

Roy smiles thinly.  “I don’t believe my enlistment contract mandated sanity.”

“That explains a hell of a lot,” Ed says.

“That’s insubordination,” Roy says.

Ed rustles up a grin for him.  “Why do you sound surprised?”

“Did that sound like surprise?” Roy asks.  “My apologies. That was, in fact, a caliber of sarcasm so intense that it crosses back into sincerity.”

Ed wrinkles his nose.  “If you’re trying to prove you’re not crazy, that’s a really bad start.”

“I have nothing to prove,” Roy says.  “I’ve made peace with my madness.”

Are they… flirting?

Holy shit.  Time to change the subject.  Time to get the subject to move to Drachma under a fake identity and hang out with the dickheads that started this sleeper cell and hopefully die in the snow somewhere.

“So,” Ed says, not so gracefully.  “Shrapnel.”

“Ah, yes,” Roy says.  He twists his injured side towards Ed, shifting his high-collared black coat out of the way with one of those deft, strong, long-fingered hands.  As he unbuttons his waistcoat, he starts to wince; Ed can’t stop staring at the well of sticky red that’s spreading like a wet crater.  “Shrapnel indeed.”

Ed reaches for the hem of the fabric and then hesitates.  With breath held and jaw set, Roy pulls to free the waistcoat from the stain; the sound of the fabric peeling away from the wound—sick, wet, slow—

“Can you take it from here?” Roy asks, and there’s a moment when Ed is actually going to blurt out ‘Oh, hell, no; I have enough nightmares’, but the ivory pallor of Roy’s face in the moonlight silences him. At least it isn’t needles. At least it’s not a bullet. At least the bastard isn’t dead.

Ed nods once, swallows three times, puts his palms together, and transmutes a section of his right arm into a much smaller, narrower blade than the one he favors most of the time. He thought about straight-up scissors, but that’d be unwieldy at the very end of his arm like that—maybe he could make the two blades from his fingers to have some measure of control, but if he fucked up transmuting them back, Winry would have his head on a pike in the Rush Valley town square as a warning to her other patrons.

“Party time,” he says, trying not to turn green as he leans in towards the red, and it seems like Roy’s grimace takes on a little hint of a grin.

Ed gets the stiff, stained hem of the shirt in his left hand to start drawing it away from the skin, and Roy’s breath catches so sharply he can’t help pausing. Colonel Sucks-So-Goddamn-Bad-at-Self-Defense-It’s-a-Miracle-He-Made-It-This-Far’s eyes are cold and intense and irresistible in the monochrome world of the desert night, and when they fix on Ed’s, the message is unmistakable: Get it over with.

So Ed lifts the edge of the bastard’s tormented shirt and starts slicing through it, which isn’t easy what with all the half-dried blood and the dim moonlight and the places where it’s sticking to Roy’s skin. Carefully, he saws his way through the cloth right around the fragment of iron buried in the flesh. Best to get it safely out of the way. Best to have a clear path for pulling the metal free. Best not to fuck around with any of this. Ed knows what it’s like to have one, two, a thousand too many scars.

He trims around the wound and then cuts high enough to part the rest of the shirt on either side, opening Roy’s thoroughly-streaked ribs and abdomen to the silver light. He ends up planting one foot on the rock and crouching down low as he tries to keep his head from blocking the moonlight, and Roy huffs a laugh that makes the little shreds of stained fabric slip out of Ed’s fingers before he can tug them free. He glares, and Roy smiles wryly, and then it’s back to the oozing puncture and the sliver of metal jutting from the center of it.

No chickening out now.  Ed eases the last few scraps and strings out of the perimeter of torn skin, trying not to pay attention to how soaked they are, or to how slick his fingertips are getting, or to how shallow Roy’s breaths are—and how close.  He can practically hear the stupid bastard colonel’s stupid bastard heartbeat as it pushes just a little more hot-dark blood out through his veins.

Ed clears the last of the clothing detritus—during which time a part of his brain that sounds suspiciously like Al says Pity about the shrapnel; it really was a very nice shirt—and takes the next woefully insufficient deep breath to try to fortify himself.  This one, more than any of its predecessors, tingles with the tang of salt and metal that’s begun to permeate the air.

“One for the money,” Ed says, wiping his wet left hand on his trouser leg, and his voice tries to tremble, but he won’t let it; “two for the show—”

“Three to resent the basic ludicrousness of my existence,” Roy says gamely, “and fo—”

Ed grips the shard and yanks.

Roy hisses through his teeth, eyes squeezed shut, fists clenching, shoulders so tense Ed expects his collarbones to snap.

“You are such a little shit,” the bastard gasps out.  “Get back—”

Ed scrambles; Roy snaps.

Then Roy screams.

That—that—shakes something in Ed’s core.  This is Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes all over again—someone he trusts, someone with power, someone with wisdom, suddenly so damn vulnerable.  This is someone who is nothing more or less than a human being when he’d dared to dream they might be unassailable; when he’d dared to hope they might be safe

The bright orange light flares out, and Ed can smell—well, he doesn’t want to think about it, except damn, now he is

And Roy makes a noise a bit like a sob, catches Ed’s shirtfront, drags him in waytooclose, and drops his head weakly onto Ed’s shoulder.

Up close, Roy smells like sweat and smoke and charred flesh and cologne and a little bit of danger.

He tilts his head, and his mouth brushes the side of Ed’s neck, and he smells like a lot of danger now.

“May I thank you properly?” he asks in a murmur that just ignites something in the pit of Ed’s stomach and the base of his spine.

“That’s good enough,” Ed says, curling his hands at his sides so that he won’t reach out and run them down the long black coat, through the smooth black hair— “I would’ve done the same for anybody, and you would’ve done it for me.”

“I suppose,” Roy says, breath moist on Ed’s skin; he can feel it sticking, coating, sinking in—

“No supposing about it,” he says.  “Jeez, Colonel, you could talk for hours and never say a thing.  I swear, you’re like a perpetual word machi—”

“Edward,” Roy says, and Ed has to steel himself so that he doesn’t shiver.

He shifts as much as he dares, trying to look Roy in the eyes, which is tough with the asshole lounging around on his shoulder like…

Like…

Well, like a fucking lover, for fuck’s sake.

Roy’s fingers twine into Ed’s disheveled hair, and he stretches up to seal their mouths together.

Roy tastes like blood and cinders.  He tastes like dust and arid desert heat.  Chapped lips; smooth teeth; commanding, compelling, velvety tongue—Ed’s drowning in him, in the warmth and the heady breathless press of him, in the implicit approval and the attention and the sheer skill of his mouth

Ed pushes at Roy’s chest and wriggles away, just barely resisting the urge to shove him back against the rock so hard his skull cracks and his twisted brain comes seeping out.

“No,” he says.  “No, no, no; not the place, not the time—”

Roy’s grin is positively scandalous, and it makes Ed’s ribcage tighten.  “What better time is there to kiss someone than when you’re grateful to be alive?”

“I can think of a few,” Ed says.

“Did you not enjoy it?” Roy asks serenely, steadying his perch on the edge of the rock.

“What?”  Ed’s stupid fucking traitor of a voice squeaks.  “Of course—not—I—you—you—”

“It was a bit muddy,” Roy says.  “Not my finest work.”

“Shut up, it was great,” Ed says.  He blinks.  He scowls.  “Oh, fuck you.”

It’s difficult to hate Roy when his grin is so darn delighted, but Ed’s always reveled in a challenge.

“That sounds amenable,” the bastard says.  “Perhaps not here; I’d hate to think of some of the places sand might end up.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Ed manages.

“Blood loss, I imagine,” Roy says.  “Traumatic shock.  Possibly the beginnings of an infection.”

“Utter and complete batshittery,” Ed supplies.  “With bastardly tendencies.  And a sickness in the head.”

“Do you think I’m going to argue with that?” Roy asks, looking about as insufferably smug as is humanly possible when you’re pale and blood-spattered with your shirt cut open and your wound rush-cauterized.  “I take pride in my batshittery.”

“At least that proves the point,” Ed says.

“Let me kiss you again,” Roy says.

“Fuck no,” Ed says.  “You’re my goddamn motherfucking C.O.”

“Such language,” Roy says.  “When, precisely, did you begin assigning so much value to the rules?”

“Don’t you dare start that mindgame shit with me,” Ed says. “You’re a dick.”

Roy’s long fingers reach out and find Ed’s chest and trail slowly… slowly… down, to seize his belt buckle and draw him closer.  “I thought I was ‘great’.”

Ed grits his teeth and hopes that the blood keeps rushing to his cheeks and stays away from… other places.  “You’re so fucking arrogant they should measure planets in comparison to your ego.”

Roy laughs softly.  “Was that another ‘no’?”

“Yeah,” Ed growls, “it was. Do I have to say it three times before it counts?”

“Certainly not,” Roy says.  “I acknowledge your rejection with tremendous regret.”

Ed thinks he can hear his blood boiling.  “Awesome.  Can you get your fucking hand off my belt?”

Roy obliges, the better to move it—lower.

Ed grabs a fistful of thick, dark hair to smash the bastardly head against the rock, but somehow he ends up leaning down to kiss the motherfucker instead.

Maybe he should have known from the first touch tonight that there would be no going back from this. Maybe he should have known from the electricity, from the lightning, from the sparks—from the way their skin met of necessity, and they both startled back, but then they slotted together, and they fit. Maybe he should have known that unvoiced words and smothered thoughts have a hundred different kinds of gravity. Maybe he should have known that this was bound to happen, because they’re bound together.

Maybe he should have known, from the way the kiss lit crystal chandeliers inside his chest, that no amount of reason can outweigh a desire based in fact instead of fantasy.

Maybe he should have remembered that his love is an avalanche.

Maybe he should have remembered that Roy Mustang, for all of the weirdness and all of the conceit, is really kind of hot.

But it’s way too late for foresight now, and it’s way too late to run. It’s too late to do anything but whimper into Roy’s mouth and curl both hands into his ruined shirt just to hold on.

Blood smears between their cheeks and pools in the no-longer-mysterious hollows of Roy’s perfect fucking mouth; Roy sucks hard on Ed’s lip and darts his tongue in deeper. It’s uncanny how the bastard knows exactly when to push, exactly when to soften, when to pull Ed’s hair, when to cup Ed’s dick in his free hand and squeeze, when to swallow Ed’s gasp like it’s liquid gold and then when to kiss so much more gently as Ed starts to tremble everywhere—

He has to lick Roy’s blood from the corner of his own lips as they separate, and he can feel a smudge on his jaw drying stickily. One of Roy’s hands is still tangled in his hair, and the other has settled on his hip now—which is a hell of a lot less controversial, and less disconcerting, and less… tantalizing. Less likely to make Ed go right out of his fucking mind and never come back and not miss it at all.

He realizes that he’s panting, and Roy’s smile is even stranger than usual—it’s partly triumphant and partly strained. If that’s another mask, what’s it meant to cover?

“Well,” Ed says, croaking just a bit.  “I.  Uh.  We…”

“We are better together even than I expected,” Roy says.

Ed wants to say You thought about this?  You considered the possibility—in detail, maybe?  You plotted it out in your head, like one more of those stupid little schemes you spin out every minute to carry you through the fucking day? You anticipated it?

It wasn’t just me wanting something I shouldn’t and couldn’t and would never, ever have?

You know my life better than most people.  You know it’s always just that. It’s always just dreaming, for me—dreaming when I don’t have the time.

Are you telling me this is for real?

Instead he clears what feels like half a dune’s worth of dust from his throat and says, “We should—get moving.”

Roy blinks those huge, dark eyes.  The corner of his lips (Ed’s learned that mouth, tested it, worked it open, and it’s wonderful) curls up, and his right eyebrow quirks.

“I figure you might drop dead after all that just to be contrary,” Ed says.  “I wanna make sure we get back in time for me to say goodbye to Al before Lieutenant Hawkeye kills us.”

“That’s a good point,” Roy says, levering himself carefully to his feet.  “I should hate to die before my execution.”

“Exactly,” Ed says.  He hesitates for a second, and then he holds out his arm.

Gratefully Roy latches on, and Ed slides it under his shoulders to support him.  Thus their awkward collaborative stagger recommences.

Ed can’t decide whether he’s enjoying the silence, or it’s making his skin crawl. It seems to be about fifty-fifty—he’s just waiting for stupid fucking Mustang to say something; but then again, the minute Mustang opens his mouth, he flips the world upside-down and twirls it until it barfs.

Especially when he opens his mouth for Ed’s tongue.

Aw, shit, like Ed wasn’t having enough trouble calming his dick down with Roy’s arm wrapped around him and Roy’s breath near his neck and Roy’s body heat so damned close

“I think perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself,” Roy says.

Crap.  Ed’s practically a rat in a cage like this; talk about a captive audience.  How the hell is this equivalent exchange for literally lending a hand when Roy went all surprise-invalid on his ass?

“How do you mean?” he asks slowly.  It’s like baiting a friggin’ tiger.  Roy can tear people into bite-sized pieces with nothing more than a few words and a smarmy fucking grin.

“Edward,” Roy says, and Ed has to brace himself again so that he doesn’t writhe at just the sound of his given name in that man’s voice, “may I take you out to dinner this weekend?”

It takes all of Ed’s concentration to keep walking without missing a step and sending them both to the dusty ground.  “Y’know, that’s really not funny.”

Roy blinks again.  Why do his eyes have to be so big and shiny and entrancing?  “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re my goddamn motherfucking C.O.,” Ed says—for the second time this evening; anybody who still thinks Roy’s not a total dumbass should take note.  “And why would you wanna be caught dead in one of your fancy-pants bistros with me, anyway?”

Roy is quiet for so long Ed starts to think he’s given up.  It’s weird and stupidly frustrating that that… hurts.

“In short,” Roy says—meaningfully, the bastard, but then he keeps going before Ed can interject: “I want to kiss you like that again.  I want to kiss you all kinds of ways, in all sorts of places, for a million and one reasons, and I don’t especially care who knows it.  I don’t want it to be a secret. I don’t want to hide it; I don’t want to lie.  Nothing that feels this good should be lied about.  So.”  He smiles, cocks an eyebrow, and makes Ed’s goddamn treacherous heart beat double-time.  “May I take you to dinner?”

“Fine,” Ed says, hapless, helpless, majorly fucked.  “Better be someplace awesome.”

“I owe you my life,” Roy says.  “The least I can do is feed you well.”

Ed swallows for what must be the billionth time.  “Fine,” he says.

Roy’s smile broadens into a warm grin.  “Fine indeed,” he says.

Hence they hobble off towards imminent Hawkeye-delivered doom, and possibly dinner this weekend at someplace awesome.

And maybe—just maybe—towards something too good to lie about.

Ed scrapes at the dried blood on his cheek, and rust-colored flakes spiral through the light of the undiluted desert moon, and he allows himself a grin.