Auntie Chris had glanced down at him, followed his finger to the soldier, then looked back down at him. "His uniform? It's blue."
Roy had frowned and tilted his head, looking at the man who was sketched out in shades of grey, save for the brilliant spot of colour hanging down from his shoulder. "No, the other. The dangle." And he motioned to his shoulder to show what part he meant.
Auntie Chris had shot him a narrow-eyed look. "The braiding? It's gold."
"Gold," Roy repeated, and stared at the soldier until he was out of view.
By the time he'd turned six, he knew what it meant that he could see gold, but not any shades of brown: His soulmate's eyes were that colour.
Some of his aunt's friends laughed over it where they thought he wouldn't hear, joking about how no one had gold eyes. Others would say he was lucky that he'd be able to find the woman so easily, as improbable a colour as it was.
Auntie Chris never said anything, just shushed them when she thought he might be around, and got that little crease between her eyebrows that she always got while she was working on papers in her office.
Roy decided his aunt had the right of it, and kept the topic to himself from then on, even if he did always turn to look when that perfectly impossible colour caught his eyes.
Ed found out about soulmates – and the colour of their eyes being the only ones you saw until you met – when Winry asked them about it, not long after Mum died.
"I see brown," she'd told them, knocking a fist against the tree they were sitting under. "Always have."
Ed shrugged. "Just greys and black and white, for me," he admitted, because it was true.
"Me, too," Al admitted quietly, slumping a bit, like he thought that would get him in trouble.
Ed scoffed and reached over to shove his brother. "See, we're the same, then."
"But, Brother, what if we're...broken?" Al asked.
Ed scoffed again, but it was Winry who promised, "Granny says some people have black or grey eyes, so it's probably just that. You just gotta shake everyone's hand you meet, and when everything's in colour, you know you've found them."
"Sounds stupid," Ed muttered, even as Al perked up a bit.
"Really really," Winry promised. "Granny'll tell you."
Al jumped to his feet, so excited. "Come on, Brother! I wanna know more! I wanna see colours, too!"
Ed huffed a bit, didn't really get why seeing colours was so important to his brother, but got to his feet and followed him and Winry back to her place all the same.
When Al had finished asking all his questions – the only one Ed had been even vaguely interested in was what colour their eyes were; Winry's were blue, and his and Al's were gold, whatever those colours looked like – and had run off with Winry to plot out how to shake everyone in the world's hand, Ed turned to Granny and asked, "What if you're broken?"
Granny took a drag of her pipe, expression thoughtful. "Broken," she repeated, breathing out smoke, and Ed waved it away absently. "Everyone has a soulmate, but it is possible for one of them to die before they can meet, or to just never meet at all. Plenty of people marry people who aren't their soulmates."
Ed wrinkled his nose at the mention of marriage. "So you don't need a soulmate?"
"You have one, but you don't need to meet them," Granny corrected.
"Cool," Ed decided, because he hated being tied down by rules, then wandered off to find a book to read until Al and Winry were done being dumb.
One cold night in Ishval, when the fires were low and the gunshots had mostly stopped for the night, Maes nudged him and asked, "Do you see colours?"
Roy shot him a tired look, tried to ignore the sound of his former master's daughter shifting on the other side of the fire they'd all huddled around against the chill. "That's a stupid question," he muttered.
"Is it?" Maes returned, undeterred, and Roy realised this was probably just one of those topics his friend popped out with when he needed to think of anything but the bloodied sand around them. "I never told you, but I always saw green. And then I met Gracia, shook her hand, and now I see everything." He brought his own hands up, the golden light of the fire shading them. And Roy couldn't begin to guess what he saw in the shades of grey that still filled his own vision.
"Blue," Riza said from across the fire, shifting again, like she was trying to find a more comfortable position. (Roy wished her much luck; the sand was unforgiving to intruders.) "It wasn't a common colour in my hometown, but I guess it's easier to find in the rest of Amestris."
"Yeah," Maes agreed, dropping his hands back into his lap. "You see a lot of blue eyes, you stay in Central long enough."
And then they both looked at him, expectant, and Roy sighed.
"No colours at all?" Maes guessed, putting on a smile that was a little crooked. "Would serve you right, black as your eyes are."
Roy shook his head, barely resisted the urge to sigh again, and pushed his coat aside to reveal the hidden gold of his rank markings, tapping it as he said, "Gold."
"Brown?" Maes guessed, frowning a bit.
Roy shrugged, didn't really want to get into the truth of that mess. "Maybe."
"No," Riza insisted, completely ruining Roy's attempt to shrug off the oddity of his colour. "I have a few friends who saw brown, and they couldn't see that shade." She shifted again, as Roy and Maes both looked across at her, and her voice took on a slightly defensive tone as she explained, "There wasn't a lot else to do, where I grew up, but test the limits of our colours."
Maes smiled at her, edged in something teasing. "It's fine, Cadet, we all know women car–"
"Stop," Roy interrupted, before Riza could remind all of them what an excellent shot she was. "You don't have to remind me how improbable my soulmate existing is."
Maes and Riza were both quiet for a long moment, the crackle of the fire filling the silence that had fallen between them.
And then Maes said, "Maybe your soulmate's a cat?"
Roy shoved himself to his feet and flatly offered, "I'm going to bed," even though he knew he wouldn't sleep that night, the memories of human beings dancing in his gold and grey flames still far too fresh in his mind's eye.
As he stepped into their tent, he spared a brief regret for those people who saw red; if Bradley had his way, there wouldn't be any of them left by the new year.
The last place Roy had expected to find gold eyes, was in a backwater little town like Resembool. Even more, to find them lifeless and hollow, worn by a broken boy sitting in a wheelchair – a boy he knew had performed what looked to have been horrifying alchemy.
Roy was furious with fate, and he grabbed the front of the boy's shirt – taking care not to touch, because he wasn't sure which would be worse; finding out this child was his soulmate, or finding out he wasn't – and shouted at him. At whatever cruel being had designed this meeting.
It was for the best, he realised, once he'd calmed down a bit and was following the scowling old woman who'd first opened the door to what he assumed was the dining room table, that Riza was his companion, and not Maes, because she still hadn't found her other half, had no way of knowing the impossible colour of this boy's eyes.
He warred with himself for a long moment, because the military was no place for children, but this boy had already seen hell, and the chance to have his potential soulmate close to him, to keep an eye on him and try to keep him safe from himself...
Roy made the offer, gave as much carrot as he dared, and when he glanced again into those impossible eyes, he found them glowing like the gold of flames, so brilliant and alive, and nothing at all like the haunting memory of Ishval. If for no other reason than that, he knew he'd made the right choice.
"Do you think those boys will come?" Riza asked in the cart on the way back to the train station.
"They'll come," Roy promised, looking back toward the vanishing house his potential soulmate was in.
"You're very confident," Riza said, and he could hear the scepticism in her voice. "Judging by the look in that boy's eyes, I'd say he's beyond help."
"You think so?" Roy asked, looking back at her with a smirk. "I saw eyes that were burning like fire."
Riza eyed him a bit strangely, like she was trying to parse that sentence, before shrugging and looking away. "As you say, sir," she said, her tone gone flat.
'I hope you know what you're doing,' she was really saying.
Roy resisted the urge to push aside his coat and look at the gold hiding beneath it; he hoped the same thing.
Ed knew, from Granny, that the touch between soulmates couldn't transfer through automail. Which didn't matter to him, and a part of him was actually kind of glad to have a barrier against that 'shaking the world's hand' plan that Al and Winry had cooked up ages ago. But Al...
Al still cared, still wanted to find that someone that was meant just for him. And Ed was afraid – honestly and truly afraid – that the soulmate touch wouldn't work through the armour, just like it didn't work through automail. Which meant Al would never find his other half. He'd be alone forever, trapped in cold steel, and it was all Ed's fault.
He'd find a way to get Al's body – and his future – back, no matter what it took.
"Roy," Maes said when he picked up, a world of meaning crammed into that single word.
Roy was thrown for a moment, until he remembered his last intelligence report placed the Elrics in Central. "Shit," he heard himself say, and winced at his slip.
"Roy," Maes stressed. "His eyes–"
"Stop," Roy interrupted. "Think about what you're saying for a minute. His gender, his age."
"I have thought about it," Maes retorted, and Roy finally took note of the lack of glee in his voice, which was usually present when his idiotic best friend brought up marriage prospects. "Have you–?"
"No," Roy returned flatly. "I don't want to know."
Maes was quiet for a long moment, before he quietly said, "That's not just your choice."
"Yes, it is," Roy said, and hung up the phone.
He stood there for a moment, staring at his phone and trying to imagine Maes' expression the first time he caught sight of Edward's eyes, and again when he realised who he was and his military connection to Roy.
As he turned away to return to the kitchen and what was left of his dinner, he wondered if Maes was going to ring Riza next. He didn't usually tattle on Roy to her, but this was an odd situation, so far beyond what any of them could have imagined all those years ago around a fire.
When Riza made no comment the next day, or any of the days after it, even when the Elrics had returned, Roy assumed Maes hadn't called her after all.
That, or she was keeping her own counsel on what could never be between Roy and the only gold-eyed person he'd ever met.
Most of the time, Roy could trust Edward and Alphonse's safety to their own strength and the informants he had following them, but when Maes told him about Scar, and Riza said the boys were out there, alone–
Roy didn't have time to be embarrassed by his reaction until after, while Havoc and Riza helped with the Elrics, and Armstrong had left to direct the MPs, leaving Roy with just Maes.
Maes didn't say anything at first, just watched Roy for a long moment, while he resisted the urge to squirm – and when had Maes developed that power? This was his aunt's doing, he knew it – then looked back toward the brothers and murmured, "You still don't know."
Roy crossed his arms over his chest and did his best to keep his scowl from looking anything other than annoyed. "He's my subordinate; it's my job to keep him safe."
Maes frowned at him. "At the risk of your own life? If Hawkeye hadn't been there, Roy–"
"I would have done the same thing for you or her, so stop making this out to be more than it is," Roy shot back, tightening his arms.
If Maes had a response to that, he kept it to himself, and they filed back into the cars to return to Eastern Command in silence.
Even though he'd sworn almost four years ago to find a way to return his brother to his body so he could find his soulmate, the concept wasn't really real to Ed until Winry grabbed the arm of that obnoxious little thief in Rush Valley and they both froze, turning to each other with wide eyes.
"You're–" Winry started, her cheeks turning a slightly darker shade of grey.
The other girl snatched her arm away and cleared her throat. "I, uhm, hi." She glanced down at Ed's watch, then shoved that hand toward Winry, a clear attempt to return it. "I'm Paninya!"
Winry took Ed's watch and tossed it at him – he barely managed to catch it, still thrown by the suddenly and inexplicable mood change – then took Paninya's hand and said, "I'm Winry. I'm an automail mechanic."
"What the fuck, Winry!?" Ed demanded, shoving his returned watch away in his pocket.
"She's my soulmate!" Winry replied, sounding delighted.
"Why should–" Ed started before what she'd said registered, and he was left staring at the thief in disbelief.
"Oh," Al said, sounding about as thrown as Ed felt. And then, far more cheerfully, "That's awesome!"
"Right?" Winry agreed, before looking back at her...soulmate. "Can I see your legs? They look really cool!"
"I–I guess?" Paninya agreed, before Ed realised he should probably warn her not to.
Which was pretty much why they ended up climbing a mountain, taking part in a birth, and leaving Winry behind to start an apprenticeship.
Staring down at Maes' grave, Roy couldn't feel much more than grief and self-disgust. He didn't need to ask anyone to know this had something to do with Edward, with Maes doing his damnedest to keep Edward safe, for Roy. If it wasn't for Edward potentially being Roy's soulmate, Maes would still be alive.
He wondered, a bit, why he couldn't dredge up the anger he knew he should have felt.
As Riza stepped up beside him, Roy almost asked if she knew, if Maes had told her about Edward. But he couldn't; he'd already lost one of his best friends for the sake of a boy who might well just be a red herring, no way he could chance another.
If he could have his way, no one would ever know Edward might be something more than his subordinate again.
Ed didn't know why – maybe it was because they were trapped fuck-knew-where, and he knew from the smell that the liquid they were trudging through was supposed to have colour, but all he saw were shades of grey topped by an unending blackness – but at some point in their long walk through the endless blood, he asked, "Do they have soulmates in Xing?"
Ling was quiet for a few steps, before allowing, "Yes. But it often doesn't work out."
Ed frowned at that and glanced over. "What do you mean?"
Ling shrugged, his expression tight. "Clan politics, usually; if you and your soulmate aren't in the same clan, or if you're in a position where you have to marry for the good of the clan, and not for yourself, you may find your soulmate, but it won't mean anything."
It took Ed a moment, but he did realise, "You–"
"Lan Fan's my soulmate," Ling admitted quietly, "but I'm a prince, the highest positioned person in my clan. I can't marry a bodyguard."
"That's–" Ed swallowed and shook his head, didn't really know what to say. As much as he didn't care about his own soulmate, the idea that someone he could maybe, sort of, almost call a friend, could never be with their soulmate, was just... "Shit. That's shit."
"Fate doesn't care about politics, and politics don't care about fate's designs," Ling offered, shrugging again. "It is what it is, and Lan Fan found her own way to remain by my side."
His expression, though, was still tight. Like, maybe, he cared a lot more than he was saying he did. Like, maybe, he had times when he raged at the unfairness of it all. Like, maybe, Lan Fan cutting off her own arm had hurt him so much more than he'd pretended it had.
Ed looked down at the sea of grey spreading out in front of him, tried not to think about how that must feel, knowing who your soulmate was, but unable to ever do more than look at them from afar.
"What about you?"
Ed shrugged. "I don't know. Don't really care, honestly; I've got way more important shit to worry about than who some bullshit idea like 'fate' thinks I should spend my life with."
"Getting your bodies back," Ling said.
Ed snorted and shook his head. "Getting Al's body back," he corrected. "You can't find your soulmate by touching them through metal." He wiggled automail fingers at Ling, and the idiot prince grimaced and looked away. Ed sighed and dropped his hand back to his side. "Al cares. I want him to be able to take someone's hand and see colours one day."
"I can appreciate that," Ling admitted, glancing back over at Ed. "I hope it works out."
"It better, after all the shit he's gone through," Ed muttered, kicking a little too hard at the liquid they were walking through and grimacing when it sprayed out ahead of them.
Ling sighed. "Do you know what colour their eyes are?"
Ed shook his head. "Black or grey. Both of us."
"That's really common in Xing," Ling pointed out. "Black eyes are sort of a thing."
Ed shot him an unimpressed look. "Are you suggesting our soulmates are Xingan?"
Ling shrugged. "Maybe. Who knows. Once you get your bodies back, you're welcome to come back with me and try your luck."
Ed snorted. "Why the hell not," he decided. "There's not that much tying us to Amestris; I'm game."
Ling flashed him a bright, delighted smile, which only lasted a short moment before he glanced around at their surroundings again, and his shoulders slumped. "Assuming we can find a way out of here."
Ed clenched his jaw and stared ahead of them. They'd find a way home; he had to believe that. For Al, and for Lan Fan.
After his information gathering date with Madeline, Roy went home. It felt as cold and empty as his office, and he slumped back against the door he'd just closed and locked, debated going back out again, just to avoid the emptiness, the reminder that all of the people he trusted and depended on were out of action or stolen away by a hand he had no way to stop.
He shook his head to clear the grim thoughts and pushed himself away from the door, was a little surprised at the sound of coins jingling in his pocket; the change from dinner. He reached in to pull it out and stared down at the coins. Six hundred eighty cenz. Not a handful he'd usually look twice at, but there was a five hundred coin and two tens nestled together, like fate's reminder that he hadn't had everyone stolen away from him. Instead, perhaps, he'd gained his most valuable ally of all: Edward stood behind him.
He dropped the extra one hundred sixty cenz in the coin jar he kept on the worktop, then took the rest of the coins upstairs to sit on his dresser, next to the picture of himself and Maes. He felt a little stupid for it – these coins hadn't come from Edward, they were just the promised amount – but it helped, a little, having that reminder sitting there.
He remembered gold eyes that had once been hollow lighting with fire as Roy laid out a promise of a future, and thought, maybe, that it didn't matter if Edward was his soulmate or not; they'd find ways to keep each other going anyway.
Roy had suffered months of silence, going between his empty home and his office – no longer empty, but filled with unfamiliar, untrustworthy faces – and back to his empty home with a heavy heart. He saw Riza in the mess some days, and sat with her once or twice a month, to pass updates and warnings in code, and he'd got word from Breda, Fuery, Falman, and Alphonse, knew they were all still alive, for the moment. But the one person he tried hardest not to worry about was, of course, the one who had gone completely silent. Heck, not even the madam's long reach could find a hint of Edward, and Roy tried not to look at the five hundred twenty cenz sitting so innocently on his dresser any more.
Finding the guards outside laboratory three knocked out cold was inexplicably uplifting, and bursting through the alchemically sealed wall to find Edward in a sprawl, shooting him a tired (and maybe a little pleased? Or was Roy projecting?) scowl was, well.
He fell back on familiar mocking remarks, to hopefully hide the rush of relief that'd gone through him, and the way everyone sort of ignored him reassured him he'd put them all off the scent.
That, or there were far bigger fish to fry, which he did, once Edward yelled at him. Didn't even really think about the fact that he was following the boy's orders, just snapped and burned them all, then made a smart remark to hide how unnerved he was at his own thoughtless obedience.
He was grateful for Envy's distraction, if only because he could finally focus on one of the few things that he could admit was driving him: Finding Maes' killer.
But, in the end, he couldn't do it. Edward and Riza and Scar (of all people) banded together and stopped him. He wanted to be angry, as he turned and took the gun from Riza, but he just felt spent. Tired from all the energy he'd used against Envy, and maybe a little ashamed at what he'd fallen to, the burden he'd placed on Riza's shoulders.
And too, Edward... What must he think of him? Horror? Disgust? Perhaps it was for the best that Roy never intended to answer the question of whether or not the boy was actually his soulmate.
"Envy," Edward said, his voice quiet and a little sad, "you're just jealous of us. Humans are supposed to be so much weaker than you homunculi, but no matter how often we get beaten down, become discouraged, lose our way, come close to falling, and even if we know that it's for superficial reasons, we keep fighting on. We find strength in each other. That's why...you're jealous of humans."
Roy couldn't look up, couldn't breathe past the weight on his chest. Was that–? Had that–?
There was no judgement for Envy, or any suggestion of disgust in his voice as Edward spoke. He was hardly dispassionate, just...sad. Aware.
Envy got free and killed himself, and Roy covered his eyes, couldn't quite keep from peeking up at Edward. He looked as tired as Roy felt, but there was no sign of the boy who had once raged against every minor wrong done against him, or had sat slumped in the rain, crying for the fate of a child he'd never had the power to change.
When had Edward grown up?
Losing his sight was the single most disconcerting thing that had ever happened to Roy, even more so than discovering gold eyes on a boy fourteen years his junior. You had no idea how much you relied on your sight until it was gone, and Roy had never hated black more than that moment.
Strangely, he realised as he was caught around the waist and arms by some sort of rope he couldn't see and yanked along the ground toward the end of the world, his single regret was that he wouldn't get to see Edward's gold eyes and hair one last time.
When Al opened his eyes, it felt rather like a part of Ed had slotted back into place, warmth blooming in his chest.
And then May had jumped forward and thrown herself at Al, shouting, "Mr Alphonse!"
Al's eyes, if possible, went even wider. "May," he breathed.
She pulled away, rubbing at the tears streaming from her closed eyes, and Al cleared his throat before quietly offering, "I'm sorry. I know I put you through a lot."
May glanced up at him, then, opening her mouth to respond, before it fell open the rest of the way in surprise, and a shading of grey filled in her cheeks.
Ed looked back at Al, spotted the same shading on his cheeks, remembered Winry and Paninya meeting for the first time, and couldn't quite stop a victorious laugh, because he'd done it. He'd got Al his body back, and the first thing his little brother had done, was find his soulmate. It was perfect and wonderful and absolutely worth never being able to do alchemy again, and Ed leant forward and caught both of them around the shoulders, hugging them as hard as he could.
May let out a startled squeak, but Al just gave an embarrassed laugh and complained, "Brother."
"Congratulations," Ed whispered to both of them, before letting go and stepping back to let others greet Al, even their (still kinda useless) father.
If anyone else realised what had happened, they didn't mention it, and Al's clear embarrassment – Ed wondered if he'd ever get over the novelty of his brother having facial expressions – died down, leaving him smiling wide and happy as he greeted people. May, though, had shuffled after Ed, out of the way, and ducked her head forward, hiding behind her bangs.
Ed sighed and crouched down next to her, dropping a hand to the top of her head. "Hey."
She looked up at him, and there was still a dusting of grey across her cheeks and tears in her eyes, but her expression looked more heart-broken than happy, and something caught in Ed's throat. He cleared it as best he could and whispered, "May, what's wrong?"
(And he did like her okay, after everything, had learnt to tolerate her, but it was a little surprising how much more he cared when it turned out that she was Al's other half. He actually hadn't expected how he felt about whoever it turned out to be to change so much, so rapidly. But, then, he wanted Al happy, and fuck knew he was always complaining about how rude Ed was to everyone.)
May made an ineffectual swipe at her eyes, gave a quiet sniff, and whispered, "I'm the princess of Chang."
Something was sinking in Ed's chest, because he still remembered, all too well, Ling and Lan Fan's sorrows; soulmates that couldn't marry because of an obligation to their clan. And now May and Al were in the same boat.
He clenched his jaw against a furious snarl, because this wasn't fair. Fate couldn't do this to them, to Al. Not after everything else they'd gone through. Ed hadn't given up his alchemy just to watch his brother be forced to the sidelines while his soulmate got married to someone else.
"Hey, Chang girl," Ling interrupted, and Ed and May both looked up to watch as he and Lan Fan approached. Ling nodded to Ed as he crouched down next to them, then turned to May. "You sure are an idiot. You got caught up in another country's fight, and didn't even get a Philosopher's Stone for your troubles."
Ed scowled at his maybe, sorta friend, feeling protective of the princess.
And then Ling pulled out a glass vial filled with dark grey liquid, the same sort of vial as Dr Marcoh had kept his Stone in the first time Ed'd met him. "The throne belongs to the Yao clan, now," Ling stated flatly, and May's head ducked down, like she might start crying again.
But then Ling sighed and the corners of his mouth turned up just enough that Ed realised that he hadn't come over to be cruel. "But don't worry," he continued, and May looked up at him, liquid filling her eyes, "the Yao clan will take full responsibility for the safety of your clan."
May blinked, her eyes going wide as a few tears trailed down her cheeks, upset from their precarious position.
Ling shoved a thumb at himself and reminded them, "I accepted the homunculus Greed into my body, didn't I? Of course I'll accept the Chang clan, and all the other clans, too."
Which, inexplicably, made May start to cry again, her face screwed up like it was maybe a little painful.
"What's with that face?" Ling asked, while Ed just shook his head, because girls. "Don't worry, the people of Xing always keep their promises."
"All the other clans?!" May burst out with, sudden enough that Ling sort of rocked back a bit and quickly stood, while Ed blinked a few times in surprise. "Now you're being greedy, Ling Yao!"
Ling grimaced and rubbed at the back of his head. "What can I say? I guess he rubbed off on me."
Ed rolled his eyes; he was pretty sure Greed had just exacerbated the issues Ling'd already had.
Then Ling leant forward and grabbed May around the middle, hefting her up, off the ground. "Come on, let's go," he ordered.
May started to snarl a complaint, but Ed stood and said, "Ling."
Ling looked over at him, his brows drawing together a bit, and May shut up.
"You need to let her say goodbye to Al."
Ling blinked, and then his shoulders slumped a bit, something that might have been sorrow shadowing his expression. "Yeah," he agreed quietly, before holding out a fist toward Ed. "Take care of yourself."
Ed reached out and knocked his fist against Ling's. "You, too," he agreed, before looking down at May and trying a smile. "See you, May."
She gave him a pathetic little failure at a wave, and Ling turned away with her, moving toward where Al was watching them with what looked painfully like heartbreak written across his face.
Ed turned to Lan Fan, realising she was still standing next to him. "As soon as Al's strong enough," he said, "we'll come to Xing. I promised Ling months ago we would."
She offered him a faint, tired smile, the first one he could remember seeing from her. "I'll remind him," she promised with a bow, "and keep an eye out."
Ed swallowed and, as she started to turn to follow Ling, said, "Stay strong, Lan Fan."
She frowned at him, obviously confused, then shook her head and agreed, "I will," before keeping on to rejoin Ling and May.
Ed walked back over to Al, once the Xingans had cleared out, and knelt next to him, gently ruffling his hair. "Let's get you to hospital, so you can get better fast and we can follow them."
Al twisted and threw his arms around Ed, catching him in a weak hug. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice catching a little.
Ed just hugged him back as tightly as he could and made a silent promise to himself that he would find a way for Al and May to be together, no matter what he had to trade Ling to make it happen.
Someone knocked at the door – or the doorway? It sounded a little different from usual – and Riza called, "Edward?"
Roy started; Edward had come to see them?
"Hey, Lieutenant," said what was unmistakably Edward's voice. "Hey, Colonel Bastard."
Roy forced a smile on his face and deadpanned, "I'd say it's a pleasure to see you, however..."
Edward let out a startled laugh, the sound so much freer than Roy could remember ever having heard before, and he spared a brief moment for sorrow that he would never know what Edward looked like when he wasn't bowing under the weight of his own mission.
"You realise that being okay with blind jokes isn't going to stop me from using them," Edward threatened.
Riza just sighed, and Roy knew exactly how she'd be shaking her head, and the way her mouth would be quivering at one side, trying valiantly not to smile.
It was odd, how many little ticks of hers and the rest of his team he hadn't even realised he'd noticed, until he had to play them in his head because he could no longer see them. (He didn't know any of Alphonse's, though, and he had a feeling Edward was already losing some of his, without his automail arm and his mission weighing him down; Roy tried not to regret that too much.)
"I'm not concerned," Roy said, aiming for an airy tone, and fairly certain he'd managed it. "I suspect you'll be around a lot less often now, former Fullmetal Alchemist."
Edward grunted and clunked his way into the room. He must not have been wearing boots, as one footstep was noticeably louder than the other, but not as much as Roy would have expected if he'd been walking around barefoot; hospital sandals, most likely. "Yeah, actually, that's part of why I came. We're gonna be in Central for a while yet, waiting for Al to be strong enough to travel back to Resembool, but I figured I'd check and see if there was, I dunno, paperwork or some bullshit for my release from contract. Or whatever you call that."
"You're not far short–"
"You realise," Edward snarled, "that you can't duck what you can't see, blind man."
That was very true, Roy realised with some trepidation, and Edward no longer had an automail fist to lessen the chance of skin-on-skin contact. He cleared his throat. "Right, apologies. You're close enough; I know what you meant. Unfortunately–" he held his hands out to either side, the bandaging just tight enough he was aware of it every time he flexed them "–I'm currently incapable of signing off on anything, for a number of reasons. I'll have Breda or Falman collect what you'll need from Command next time they go, if they can locate a copy, and ask that they bring them by for you to sign, then return them to Führer Grumman."
"Cool, thanks," Edward responded, sounding a little...awkward? "Uhm, so, are you staying in the military? I mean, you know–"
"The idea of a blind officer will very likely cause some debate," Roy agreed, forcing his voice to remain level, to not show how depressing this still was; would likely always be, "but my name is in all the news broadcasts, so the Führer has agreed to work with me." He folded his hands in his lap and shrugged. "My first intention is to get Ishval returned to her people, and see to it that they have any help they require in rebuilding, which will only necessitate some limited paperwork and a guide, which the lieutenant has graciously offered to provide."
Edward let out a snort, the sound surprisingly fond. "Yeah, imagine that, the lieutenant being forced to babysit you. No offence, Hawkeye."
"None taken," Riza returned evenly.
Roy just sighed, resigned to the abuse. "In response to what you – unusually tactfully, for you – didn't ask: I'm unlikely to ever make Führer, so you may as well consider your debt unpayable."
Edward made no sounds loud enough for Roy to pick up, no matter how hard he strained to listen, for a long moment, before scoffing. "Fuck you, bastard, you're not getting off the hook that fucking easily," he said, his voice flat. "You say you're gonna sort Ishval, then you sort Ishval, and I'll pay you back then."
Roy swallowed around a block in his throat, wasn't sure how to thank Edward for so readily adapting to their change in circumstances. "And after?" he heard himself asking, hated how small his voice sounded.
"You'll need another pet project, won't you? Start planning now, 'cause I'll bleed your useless arse for all you're worth if you take too long to decide."
Roy didn't need to see to know what smile was on Edward's face: Sharp and ruthless and every inch the boy who had joined the military and spat in the face of their every rule. And above the slash of his mouth, his eyes would be gleaming, brilliant gold.
He cleared his throat and did his best to look unimpressed. "Are you intending to be strung up for robbery?"
Edward laughed and moved again, uneven footsteps sounding him out, even if Roy couldn't quite tell where he was in the room – yet; he'd heard plenty of stories of other senses adapting to make up for the loss of one – before saying, a little too close for Roy's comfort, "Please, you'd never report me."
Edward was so utterly still for a moment, and Roy could imagine his expression, shock and then understanding dawning. He'd seen both over the years, only rarely together, and he regretted, a little, that he wasn't able to see the flow of emotions this time.
Edward let out a breath that shuddered and the warmth of his knuckles vanished as quickly as they'd appeared.
"So," Roy said quietly, needing to fill the silence, since there was nothing to fill his view, "now you know."
Edward's uneven footsteps sounded again, moving far faster than they had done, until they'd faded into the white noise of the hospital.
The room remained quiet as Roy closed his useless eyes and turned toward where he assumed there was a window, based on the way his legs had warmed that afternoon.
"Sir?" Riza asked at last.
Roy swallowed, couldn't bring himself to look at her as he said, "Did you know, Lieutenant, that Fullmetal's eyes are gold?"
"Oh," she breathed, didn't need it explained any further than that.
Roy was glad, wasn't certain he could have brought his mouth to form any further words. It would just figure that Edward would only undo all of his careful avoidance of contact when Roy could no longer enjoy the world of colours that had opened up for him.
Edward running had been expected, if Roy was being honest. He'd been the boy's commanding officer for three years, and Edward had just got free of him. He had his whole life ahead of him, had fully earned his freedom, but Roy was fourteen years his elder, and settled in a career that Edward had made perfectly clear he wanted nothing to do with any more. And, too, while the antagonism between them had softened more recently, it was still there, and Roy couldn't see what sort of relationship they could form that wouldn't end with one of them destroying the other.
Edward was better off running and staying well away. And if he kept that five hundred twenty cenz, well.
Roy expected it was only equivalent.
Colours, Ed quickly realised, were extremely distracting. Like, he'd never realised skin was anything other than shades of grey, before, or that the hospital pyjamas weren't a really pale shade of grey, or that his hair and Lieutenant Hawkeye's hair were slightly different shades of the same colour. (Well, Ed assumed it was the same colour. He understood shades in reference to grey, but all these new colours could have rules all their own.)
He understood, now, why Al had kept twisting to look at everything while they'd made their way to hospital, and why he seemed almost more interested in staring at his food, than in eating it.
He was halfway to the nearest nurse station – to request the book of colours that a nurse had given Al a couple days ago, when she'd realised he'd only just met his soulmate – when he stopped, a new thought coming to surface, momentarily pushing away the distraction of colours: Mustang would never see these colours.
His chest felt too tight, and Ed stumbled over to lean against the wall, torn between a rush of anger that Mustang had clearly known, and regret for what he couldn't have.
Why hadn't he ever told Ed? Why keep it a secret for so many years? Why keep so careful a distance? (All those times Mustang had been careful about where to put his hand, had worn gloves that weren't his special ignition gloves, had smirked and stepped away from Ed's bare-knuckled punch to the face, or punched him first.)
And how had he known? Were Ed and Al's eyes a rare colour? (Gold, he remembered Granny had said. Like the metal, he assumed, which meant they were probably the same colour. Not that Ed actually knew what that colour was.)
Huffing to himself a bit, Ed looked around for a public toilet and, upon spotting one down the hall, past the nurse's station he'd originally been heading for, he hurried down to it and stepped inside, making a beeline for the mirrors over the sink.
His eyes were exactly the same colour as his hair, a slightly darker – deeper? – shade from Hawkeye's hair. He already knew, in greyscale, that his skin was darker than Mustang or Hawkeye's, but it looked like it was the same...shade? Colour? As Hawkeye's, but not Mustang's. More of one colour than another.
He didn't have words for any of this.
He pulled up his trouser leg and was relieved to find that his leg, at least, had remained the familiar steel-grey.
He sighed as he let go of the fabric and looked back up at the mirror, catching his own eyes and mouthing their colour, the only one he had a word for.
No, that wasn't quite true. Winry had said that trees were brown, and he'd heard somewhere, once, that the sky was blue and grass was green.
There was a small courtyard in the middle of the hospital, and he made his way there, stopping to squint through the bright gleam of the sun toward the sky. If that was blue, then his hospital pyjamas must be a lighter shade of blue. Winry's eyes were blue, he recalled, and was a little surprised to find a smile twisting his mouth; he'd never expected to know what that meant.
(It rolled through him again, the reminder that Mustang didn't have this. That he would never have any colours but gold.)
Ed shook his head, irritated; what the fuck did he care for Mustang's silence? He'd had ample opportunity to touch Ed and see whatever colours he'd wanted. It wasn't Ed's fucking fault that the bastard had squandered that.
He looked down, toward the grass, and marked that in his mind as green, then toward the trunk of a nearby tree, marking that as brown. (The colour of Paninya's eyes.)
He wandered a bit, noting different shades of green in the grass and the leaves of the trees. Too, the stalks and leaves of flowers were green, while the blossoms were so many more colours than Ed had words for. There were a couple that looked like shades of gold, and some that he thought were maybe darker shades of blue?
He wondered what red looked like. He'd picked it for his coat because it was the colour most often associated with the Philosopher's Stone in books. It was also, he recalled, the colour of blood, and he tried not to feel too ashamed as he looked around for something sharp to prick his finger with.
"Are you okay?" a gentle, female voice asked from behind him.
Ed jumped and whirled to face her, felt his hands automatically coming up into a defensive position, despite the right one being far too weak to be any real use, and the left being injured badly enough to make him wince at the sudden movement.
She blinked at him, her eyes a new shade of blue, her hair almost the same shade of brown as the trees, and her skin a little darker than his own. And then she took a polite step back, offering him a disarming smile, and asked again, "Are you okay?"
Ed swallowed and forced his arms back to his side. "Y-yeah, sorry. Just a little, uhm, jumpy. I guess."
"An unsurprisingly common occurrence in patients in military hospitals," she offered, her tone suggesting she half expected him to laugh at that.
Ed managed a tired chuckle, because she had a point, only to be distracted when a bird jumped out of one of the trees and took flight, its belly a similar colour to some of the flowers, one he didn't have a word for. "What's red?" he heard himself asked, and then flushed when he realised what he'd said.
The nurse just shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't know," she admitted.
Ed swallowed. "I-I'm sorry. I guess I just–"
Assumed. Like he'd once assumed that Mustang and the rest of the office all saw colours. Like he assumed anyone above twenty could see colours, even though he knew plenty of people never met their soulmate. (The statistics were something like three in five people would meet their soulmate before they died. He'd looked it up once, just to torment Winry. It hadn't seemed so funny after Al'd been trapped in armour, though.)
"It's fine," the nurse promised, even though it really kind of wasn't. "We have books inside that show which colours are which, if you wanted to take one back to your soulmate?"
Ed couldn't help the scowl that twisted his expression, or the way his shoulders tensed. There was still a little ball of sorrow in his chest, a reminder that a book wouldn't do Mustang any good, anyway, but mostly he had just settled into feeling angry at what he'd never been told. "He can get his own fucking book," he snarled.
"Oh dear," the nurse murmured, folding her hands together politely. "A rival, is it?"
Ed crossed his arms tight over his chest, tried not to wince when his wounds pulled. "No. Just a jerk. He knew and never said anything for years. The bastard."
"Ah." She nodded like she understood. "Do you want to look at the book by yourself, then? Find out what red is?"
Ed sighed and nodded, so she led the way back inside and to a little break room in a back hallway that Ed had never noticed before, despite the number of times he'd been trapped in that very hospital because he'd done something stupid while in Central.
"Help yourself to coffee or water," she suggested with a wink, "while I go get a copy of the book."
Ed decided she was actually pretty okay, as he went and got some water. (It was too late in the day for him to have coffee, especially since it had been over a week since his last cup; he'd never get to sleep if he had caffeine.)
When the nurse got back, she smiled in approval at his choice of beverage, then passed him the book before going to get something to drink herself.
The book in question was actually fairly basic, with a limited vocabulary and pictures that took up most of the page. Ed assumed it had been done that way to help people of all ages, because there had been stories of very young children having found their soulmate among their playmates, and asking after colours as soon as they had sufficient language for it. (Another fact he'd come across when he'd gone looking for things to torment Winry with when she wouldn't stop bringing the topic up.)
It turned out that some of the flowers he'd seen had been red, while others had been pink – which looked to be a very pale shade of red – some had been purple, and all of the ones he'd thought were shades of gold, were actually either yellow or orange.
"What about gold?" he asked the book, irritated.
"Gold?" the nurse asked, and Ed looked up, startled; he'd thought she'd left. "That's a metal, isn't it?"
Ed shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, but it's also a colour. Or, at least, that's the colour Granny said my eyes are."
The nurse blinked a few times, then tilted her head to one side. "Really? I've never heard of gold eyes before. Are you sure they're not brown?"
Ed shook his head. "My best friend could see brown, but my eyes were grey to her." He looked back down at the book, frowning. "What colours are eyes?"
The nurse let out a cough that sounded a little amused, and Ed shot her a scowl. "I'm sorry," she offered. "I've been told that brown and black are the most common eye colours in Amestris, followed by blue and grey, and then green. Ishvalans all have red eyes, of course, and there's a couple of towns in the north-east where brown-red eyes are common. But I've never heard of gold eyes."
Brown-red sounded like Hawkeye's eyes, Ed thought, based on his new vocabulary, but no gold eyes?
Well, at least that explained why Mustang had seemed aware that Ed was his soulmate.
Why hadn't he ever said anything?
Ed sighed and rubbed at his face. He'd never made any secret of his disinterest in finding his soulmate, so maybe that was it. Or Mustang hadn't wanted to be tied to a kid fourteen years his younger; with his aspirations, such a relationship would have been as likely to cause ruin as going head-to-head with Bradley.
No, if Ed was honest, he'd never have been able to stomach Mustang as his soulmate before he'd heard about Ishval and the bastard's aspirations, could still barely stand it. And, now, with his blindness and trying to adapt to everything he'd lost, the last thing Mustang needed was Ed getting in his way. Especially since Ed was trying to adapt to his own loss.
Maybe Mustang had been right never to tell him; he'd only ever caused trouble for the bastard, leaving destruction in his wake and laughing when he'd seen all the additional paperwork his misdeeds had created. He wouldn't want himself as a soulmate, either.
Ed straightened and slid the book back across the table to the nurse as he stood. "Thank you, for this."
She eyed him a bit uncertainly. "Are you okay?" she asked, the same thing she'd first said to him out in the courtyard.
Ed looked down at his hands, staring at the unfamiliar colours – tan, with shades of yellow and orange, like Mustang's skin, but darker – and shrugged. "I will be," he decided, because he would. He'd worry about Al, first, and getting used to not having alchemy. And maybe, once they'd managed to sort out Al and May so they could be together like they deserved, he'd think about what to do about Mustang.
Colours, as it turned out, were more distracting than useful.
"You're twitching again," Riza informed him quietly, not looking up from her paperwork. He'd never realised before that her hair was blonde, the same as Edward's, but a far lighter shade. Different enough that it hadn't registered as gold to his cursed sight.
"You're lucky you haven't found your soulmate yet, Captain," Roy returned flatly, trying not to look out the train window. "Colour blindness is a blessing."
Riza sighed and moved the paper she'd just signed into her 'done' pile. "I assume, sir, that spending time with your soulmate in the aftermath would mitigate the difficulty of adaptation some." Then she looked up, her stare flat and utterly unimpressed, as it had been since the celebration over his returned sight had been disbanded. "Führer Grumman did grant you another two months of recuperation."
"I don't need recuperation," Roy muttered, and made the mistake of looking out the window again. Green. Green fields and trees and bushes and–
It didn't matter that he'd never known the exact shade of Maes' eyes, he knew they'd been green; he could never have anticipated how much a single colour could hurt.
He cleared his throat and forced his gaze back toward her. "I need to be doing work."
"What you need is to speak with your soulmate," she returned, unmoved.
Roy barely managed to keep his expression from twisting with a scowl. "He has no interest in speaking to me," he said, keeping his tone bland. "Or have you forgotten who ran out?"
"Perhaps if you hadn't hidden your suspicions from him–" Riza pointed out, a hint of irritation in her voice.
Roy looked toward the window again as she spoke, only to have to bite back a curse when he found they were passing a field of golden-yellow flowers, green marking gaps between the blossoms.
Fate was mocking him, now.
"That," he interrupted, and Riza fell silent at his tone, "is enough, Captain."
Riza didn't speak for a moment, and then she replied, "I've overstepped, sir. I apologise." Distant. Cold.
Roy closed his eyes, missing Maes more now than ever; he'd never have let Roy tell him to shut up. But Riza wasn't Maes, could never be, and Roy knew he was only regretting that, now, because he knew she was right. He should have spoken to Edward before they'd left. But, just like how he'd refused to touch the boy and know for certain whether or not they were soulmates – equally afraid for both options – he hadn't been able to face Edward's reaction to knowing. Would he hate Roy? Tell him to get out? Or would he want Roy to stay? Both options were terrifying, would wreck his world either way, so he'd simply avoided finding out completely.
He was a coward.
He wrapped his coat a little tighter over his uniform and shifted until he could rest his head against the outer train wall. "I'm getting some sleep," he announced, in case she'd gone back to her paperwork.
"Pleasant dreams, sir," Riza replied blandly, and a piece of paper let out a quiet crinkling sound as she moved it.
Roy was just starting to drift off, when she quietly added, "You're not the only one you're hurting any more."
Perhaps, Roy thought in the privacy of his own mind, but that's just further proof that Edward's far better off without me.