Roy opened his eyes. If there was any time in the untold vastness of infinity as utterly, viscerally, bone-warningly satisfying as relatively late morning on a widely-acknowledged work holiday, he didn’t have the slightest idea what it was.
He didn’t even move for a few long seconds—just… breathed. Let his eyes slide halfway shut, let his lungs pick the pace, let the sunlight seeping in between the curtains play over the pale sheets.
Then he looked, because looking was the greatest privilege he’d been able to count among his blessings in a very, very long time.
Ed was adorable sleeping, even when he was also drooling—perhaps especially then. Roy didn’t have much evidence one way or the other, and he’d never gotten around to conducting any surveys, but he suspected that the average beautiful young sun god didn’t bury his face in and subsequently drool upon just any pillowcase. That was a sign of comfort—of acceptance; of safety; of belonging.
They’d built this, between the two of them. They’d built a bed, a home, a life in which Roy could sleep through the night, most nights, and Ed could drool on the covers with reckless abandon. The past was full of knives and shadows, and it never died—not quite. You couldn’t kill it; it threaded through you tighter than your capillaries; it wasn’t something that you could extract. It lingered. It waited. It knew.
But most of the time, it couldn’t find them here. And that—more even than the food that Gracia had tried, very systematically, to destroy them with last night—was something to be grateful for.
Every time that Ed was lying facedown like this, Roy had to fight a fierce compulsion to trace the lines of the tattoo with his fingertip, slowly and intently. There was something enthralling about it—something about the shape. It didn’t hurt that Ed’s shoulders earned his adulation on a regular basis, of course, but the ink was so remarkable that he always wanted to run his fingers across it, nice and slow.
But Ed had a way of assuming that a fascination with any part of him had to have a negative cause—no one could possibly find him staggeringly attractive for his own sake; his skin could not possibly be magnetic of its own merit, ergo unnecessary touches or unwarranted attention had to mean that he was doing something wrong.
There were a lot of things Roy still had left to prove to him—and a lot of them better demonstrated with a wordless mouth than by one brimming with reassurances. Ed’s life had taught him many times that talk was cheap. Roy had long ago set out to show him that Ed himself was not.
He split the difference: rarely had he executed such a beautiful compromise as raising himself on one arm, leaning forward, and kissing softly over the curve of Ed’s shoulder, murmuring “Good morning, gorgeous” when its owner began to stir.
“Nnghh,” Ed said, which was exactly the sort of poetry that Roy had become a terrible sucker for over the last several years. “Time ’s’it?”
“No idea,” Roy said. The words scratched at the sides of his throat on their way up; he cleared it. “Which is absolutely delightful.”
“Shit,” Ed said, wriggling sideways and lifting a hand to prod with his finger at the little saliva puddle he’d left on the pillowcase. “I was dreamin’ Gracia was trying to drown us all in gravy.”
“Is that not what happened last night?” Roy said.
“Close enough, I guess,” Ed said. He rolled onto his back, closed his eyes, and smiled at the ceiling, and Roy’s heart…
Filled. Flooded. Overflowed.
“So,” Ed said. “Whadd’you want to do today?”
“I was thinking,” Roy said, “we could go buy a new couch.”
Ed stared at him. Roy stared back. It was the only real option when Ed started it like that.
“It’s Black Friday,” Ed said.
“Exactly,” Roy said. “There should be sales on.”
“There are,” Ed said. He squinted. His hair was in his face. He was precious and so terribly, terribly real that Roy had to bite back the impulse to lean in and kiss the tip of his nose, just because it was there, and he was permitted. “Are you… you’re serious. You wanna go out and buy a couch. On Black Friday.”
“…yes?” Roy hazarded. As far as he could remember, that was what he’d said.
Ed squinted a little harder, and his mouth twitched—ever so slightly—in the way that indicated that something had just fallen into place. “You ever worked retail on Black Friday?” he asked.
“Not as such,” Roy said, hesitantly until he caught up with whatever it was that Ed had figured out. “It wasn’t quite as much of a… phenomenon… at that time.”
Ed stretched, luxuriously, and no human skeleton had ever stretched skin the way his did—no bones had ever begged so avidly for Roy’s fingertips, his tongue, his breath, his worship—
“In the Analog Era, you mean?” he said.
“Yes,” Roy said. “Thank you for resisting ‘The Dark Ages.’”
“Tall, Dark, Handsome Ages, maybe,” Ed said, and then realized what he’d said, and then scowled overstatedly as his face went scarlet. “Don’t smirk. Doesn’t look good on you.”
Roy had what Ed would have called substantial datasets of empirical evidence to the contrary—first, foremost, and fondest, the number of times that Ed had gasped out loud when Roy turned some variation of that expression on him while they were drawing back the bedsheets.
But he’d save that particular death wish for another time.
First he had to coax his all-time favorite sunspot out of bed. Sitting up, smoothing some of the unruly hair back, and offering bribes sounded like a good start. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“Dun’ need any,” Ed mumbled, succumbing instantly to Roy’s fingernails against his scalp. “I’m like an anaconda right after a gazelle.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” Roy said. “Coffee?”
“Anaconda post-gazelle who doesn’t wanna die,” Ed said.
“Was that a ‘yes’?”
“You know what it was,” Ed said.
Roy leaned in and kissed the top-back of his head, which was the closest thing to face that was currently available. “I do so love tormenting you.”
“Noticed,” Ed said.
“Ed,” he said, a few spare minutes later, when the vision joined him in the kitchen, swathed in one of Roy’s sweatshirts with the hood up over the puff of his hair, “my dear, my darling, the light of my life, the frosting on my cupcake—”
Ed closed his eyes, grimacing, and hunched his shoulders. His hands disappeared into the pocket of the hoodie. Roy honestly felt that he should have received a medal for besting the urge to squeal. At least a congratulatory bouquet and a printed certificate to frame on the wall. “Are we out of coffee?”
“Very nearly,” Roy said. “I think there’s about enough for a cup each, but…”
But that was woefully insufficient, obviously, and the last thing he wanted to do was to drag Ed out on a foolish errand of his own making undercaffeinated. That was the sort of recipe for disaster that opened with the words Don’t try this at home. Or anywhere. Oh, dear God.
Ed breathed deeply. “Okay. Well. We can… go to Has Beans. Tip ’em a million dollars.”
“Are they open?” Roy asked.
The way Ed laughed—more than a bit darkly, and more than a bit dry—answered that question rather succinctly.
“We should take my car,” Ed said as Roy fished for his keys in the driveway. They looked marginally more presentable by that point—while Roy would have fistfought the entire population of a moderately-sized nation to ensure that no one told Ed he couldn’t wear Roy’s hoodies everywhere on Earth, Ed had replaced it with a red-and-black-checked flannel shirt. It did such mouth-watering things to his already unreasonable shoulder-to-waist ratio that Roy was not about to complain about this advent, now or ever or… ever.
“Should we?” he said.
“Yeah,” Ed said, unlocking his faithful Accord. “Damage’ll cost less if some shopper’s driving with the red mist of rage on and rams us trying to steal our parking space.”
Roy paused with the passenger side door open as Ed dropped into the driver’s seat.
“Is it really that bad?” he asked. “Perhaps we shouldn’t g—”
“We’re out of coffee, remember?” Ed said. “We don’t have a choice.”
Roy lowered himself, a touch cautiously, into the seat and pulled the door shut. Apparently there could be demonic deal-mongers lurking around every turn, so he put his seatbelt on immediately, just in case one tracked them here. “You… sound like you’re speaking from experience. About the shopping, I mean; I know you’re right about the coffee.”
Ed had a tiny little almost-shy sort of grin for every time Roy said something like that—I understand; I wholeheartedly agree; you’re right; sometimes I’m scatter-brained enough to forget just how impossibly intelligent you are, and I love it when you remind me. Roy would have said just about anything to ease it out of him, so it was really quite convenient—albeit bittersweet, in a way that lingered in the back of his mouth and the back of his mind—that it didn’t take much.
This time, however, the expression succumbed to a grimace almost instantly, which was a terrible shame.
“Yeah,” Ed said, starting the car. “Right when he was starting college, Al had this crappy old refurbished laptop, and it’d started shutting down on him all the time. I got him an external hard-drive for his birthday, so he could just plug it in and leave it there to back up all the time, and he wouldn’t lose his work or anything, but it was still a pain in the ass, so… I saved up for a while, and I figured it’d be easier to get away with if I snuck out early anyway, and I had to be at Has Beans by six, so it all worked out. In theory, anyway.” He always glanced in his mirrors constantly. Roy could never help wondering whether Ed drove as uncharacteristically meticulously when he was alone, or if it only applied when he had someone that he cared about in the car. “In practice, I almost got trampled to death in a Best Buy, which would’ve been a stupid way to die, and I survived by climbing up a big headphones display and staying on top of it for a couple minutes until some of the worst of it dissipated through the store.”
“Oh, my God,” Roy said.
“No gods on Black Friday,” Ed said. “Or none but Capitalism and Death. But I got him a really nice laptop for half-price, and I didn’t even have to elbow anybody in the face, so it worked out. I just never, ever, ever wanna do that again.”
Ed probably didn’t even think it was extraordinary that he had risked annihilation in a shopping crowd to buy something for his brother—not even for himself. Not even for profit; purely out of love.
“Good Lord,” Roy said. “Should we—we can just get the coffee and come straight back, if you—”
“Nope,” Ed said, grimly, fingers curled tight around the steering wheel. “If you want a couch, Roy, we’re gonna get you a couch. Or die trying.”
“Oh, dear,” Roy said.
Has Beans was remarkably populous despite the relatively early hour and the fact that anyone with sense should have been at home, sleeping off a tryptophan coma.
Instead of reflecting on the fact that that should have included them, Roy savored the warm buzz of sweet nostalgia that shimmered through him every time he set foot in this beautiful little place. It would have been enough—more than enough—if this store had simply brought Ed to him and left it at that. The fact that their lattes were so delectable was an indescribably delightful bonus.
“But it’s Black Friday,” the man at the register ahead of them was saying.
“You’re darn right it is,” Marta said through her clenched-teethed smile.
“Shouldn’t there be a sale?” the man said.
Roy could almost hear the grind of Marta’s molars against one another from several feet away, which was… disconcerting, to say the least. “This is a coffee shop.”
“Obviously,” the man said. “But it’s Black Friday.”
Marta folded her hands on top of the register. Her fingers were knitted together so tightly that her knuckles had gone white. “Yup. All day.”
“You should have a Black Friday sale,” the man said.
“Well, we don’t,” Marta said. “But you can have your coffee black. Does that count?”
“I’m going to Starbucks,” the man said.
He was certainly going to the door, rather swiftly, in what polite company would have called a huff.
“Happy holidays!” Marta called after him. She muttered, in a significantly lower tone, towards the register, “Hope you get crushed in a mob at Macy’s, you fucking pri—oh, hey, guys.”
The last three words—hopefully just the last three words—were directed at Roy and Ed. Maybe they would be better off avoiding Macy’s just in case.
“Hey,” Ed said, rapping his knuckles on the counter. “How you holding up?”
“Nine thirty and no homicides,” Marta said. “I’m calling that a win. But if you feel the urge to jump behind the counter, here, feel free.”
Ed winced. “Uh… thanks. I’ll… let you know.”
When Marta gave them their total, Ed wrangled his wallet out first, so Roy put a twenty in the tip jar while he paid. Marta’s eyes flicked to it, and she smirked as she handed Ed back his credit card.
“You can keep him,” she said.
“Thanks,” Ed said, giving Roy a raised eyebrow and a cautious little smile. “I was planning on it.”
Pure bliss. But Ed would probably scowl at him if he said as much, so he contented himself with winking back.
As they waited, Roy said “Do you miss it at all?”
“Making coffee and shit?” Ed said. “I guess I kind of miss doing it, ’cause there’s something weirdly sort of satisfying about really nailing it when you make a drink. But I don’t miss the…” He gestured in a way that probably indicated the clientele at large, and likely the concept of extremely early mornings. “…job.”
Roy imagined that Ed didn’t have the slightest idea how mesmerizing he’d been, back in those days—in the grind, so to speak, of the barista gig. How could he? He couldn’t have watched himself flitting back and forth between the espresso machine and the syrups and the register and the pastry counter, with the incredible intensity of his attention fixing on one task, and then the next, and the next.
The first time Roy had seen him there—the fateful day after the office coffee maker had given up the ghost—he’d thought it had to be impossible that anyone so beautiful could be unhappy. He’d felt, immediately, strongly, that someone as staggeringly, bafflingly, remarkably, uniquely attractive as that young man must have necessarily drawn in comparable sources of wonder from every side. Surely anyone that stunning had to be surrounded by admirers; surely anything he breathed a word of wanting had to be handed to him on the spot. Roy would have given it to him, after all. Roy wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Discovering that he could distract the likes of Edward Elric and that laser focus from any given task was rather like heroin. Not that he’d tried heroin, but—what he suspected heroin was like. What it sounded like. Giddy, wild, enormous, desperate, overpoweringly addictive, shiveringly unreal.
Over time, he’d amended that analogy, because no drug that humanity had ever conjured could hold a candle to the high he got from falling for Ed—over and over and over again. Chemicals in the bloodstream couldn’t possibly compare.
He’d known that Ed was looking back at him, but looking wasn’t a promise, and lots of people who were perfectly content where they were looked for the fun of it—for sport. Roy’s most recent burn wounds hadn’t quite pearled over yet; a number of them were still pink and scabbing-edged and tender to the touch, but he’d just—known. He’d known that he had to gamble on this one. He’d known that it could be so much more than worth the risk.
And when it had worked—
He wasn’t about to close the practice and start reading palms and interpreting cards, but—well. He’d had to congratulate himself a little on a truly magnificent exhibition of clairvoyance, just the once.
Even with another frazzled-looking person prowling up to the register as they retreated around to the side of the counter to wait, the significance of this place in Roy’s life suffused him with a soft new swell of gratitude. ’Twas the season, obviously, but that didn’t always mean it sunk in. To his understanding, Black Friday usually tended to implicate the opposite.
Ed filled his moderately-sized—by their standards, at least—cup from the light roast carafe, and Roy reached across the condiment bar to catch up half a dozen sugar packets for him, handing them over so that he wouldn’t have to go around. Long arms offered many advantages. Chief among them was the ability to sling one around Ed’s shoulders after he’d fixed a lid on his cup and leaning in, cheek resting against the top of Ed’s head, while they waited for Roy’s latte and their several bags of coffee beans.
Life was good. Sometimes Roy still felt the flit of fear behind his sternum; some nights old explosions still cast afterimages on the backs of his eyelids, so brightly that they cut like lightning through the real world when he opened his eyes—
But so much of the time was like this.
Ed elbowed, oh-so gently, at Roy’s ribs, and then snaked his arm around Roy’s waist and settled into it, balancing the coffee in his other hand.
There had been a great deal of slow, subtle, careful offerings of physicality in order before Ed had started to relax into the concept that they could be affectionate in public. At the very beginning, it had come as a surprise—the way he glanced around them, hesitated, shied back from anything too outright—when he was so unbothered by any of it behind closed doors.
But the further Roy found his way into Ed’s psyche, the more all of it made sense. No one had ever been proud of him before. No one had ever let him know that he was so damn gorgeous that they wanted their hands on him every minute of the day; no one had ever made it clear to him that the only thing sexier than the fall of his hair and the gleam of his eyes and the curve of his grin was the ferocity of the intellect behind them. No one had ever demonstrated, past a shadow of a doubt, that they’d take on the whole world barehanded for another hour with him, let alone some theoretical spiteful homophobe out on the street.
Roy was a patient man—at least when he knew that the rewards were directly proportionate to the difficulty of the trial and the length of the wait.
Ed was worth it. Ed was worth all of it, a thousand times over, and being granted the time to teach him just how true that was—
Roy had rarely considered himself lucky before all of this. Now he had a habit of looking in the mirror in the mornings, running a fingertip down along the line of his jaw, assessing the gray-to-black ratio of the hair at his temples, and thinking, loudly, You absolute cad—how in the hell did you manage it?
Meanwhile, Ed was nodding at the purple-haired girl behind the counter as she foamed the diabolical dairy product required for Roy’s drink. “You think I’m gonna kiss you after you pour all that milk into your mouth?”
“Yes,” Roy said.
“Damn it,” Ed said.
Roy grinned. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Bet you will,” Ed muttered.
Roy nuzzled at his temple, and Ed said “Eugh” but didn’t even pretend to pull away.
“Here you go!” the girl with the purple hair said, setting a cup down on the countertop. “I think Marta’s got y—”
“I’m only giving these to you,” Marta said, coming up around the girl’s elbow and holding up a large paper bag full of smaller paper bags filled with bean-shaped capsules of godliness, “on the condition that you promise to bail me out if I kill someone.”
“Why is that even a question?” Ed asked. “’Course I will.”
“All right,” Marta said, reaching the bag across the counter. “You’re my one phone call.”
“I’m honored,” Ed said, and it was a terrible tragedy that in order to acquire additional coffee, one of them had to let go of the other, because they only had the four hands between them.
Some sacrifices were justified in the long run, though, and lugging three pounds of the best coffee in town back to the parking lot to take home was one of them.
Having someone to share it with, once it made it to the home in question—
“This is the best,” Ed said, passing the precious cargo to Roy to carry as they settled back into their seats. “My car’s gonna smell like coffee for days.”
“I’m going to have to talk to management,” Roy said, “about manufacturing one of those little air-fresheners that you can hang from the rearview mirror. They could make it shaped like an espresso cup, or a bean, or the logo, and then I could buy you five hundred of them for Christmas and never get laid again.”
Memories of the moments where Ed laughed with his whole body like this—like he had nothing to fear and nothing to lose; like he’d forgotten, for an instant, every instance in his life that someone had tried to carve out a piece of his soul to keep it—were the ones Roy clung to when the world went cold.
“I’m gonna tell Marta to do that,” Ed said when he’d gathered himself, and caught his breath—but his grin was still blinding, and his eyes were alight. “Were you gonna wrap ’em all separately? Five hundred little espresso cups? You better buy the value pack of bows.”
“For you, my dear,” Roy said, “anything.”
He’d meant it. He would even have ventured into the teeming mass of humanity that they could see from where they stood outside the entrance of his favorite classy furniture store.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh, dear.”
Ed had his coffee cup in one hand and Roy’s hand in the other. Roy would have scaled the Great Wall without a net, or a harness, or a grappling hook.
“Yeah,” Ed said.
Roy watched a very harangued-looking salesperson attempt to steer a man towards the registers. “Is everywhere going to be like this?”
“Probably,” Ed said. “What’s wrong with the couch we have?”
“Nothing,” Roy said. “I just thought it might be nice to get a new one.”
“I like the one we’ve got,” Ed said, thoughtfully. “Plus we’ve… y’know. Road-tested it. For… the important stuff.”
Roy tried, and failed, to suppress a slowly-burgeoning smirk. Ed had an excellent point. There was no guarantee that his hair would look quite so breathtakingly wonderful spilt out across the cushions of another couch; there was no guarantee his back would arch quite so beautifully off of it; there was no guarantee it would cradle both of them quite so luxuriously when they collapsed, afterward, into a panting, sweat-stung tangle of intertwining limbs.
There was no guarantee it’d be as conducive to cuddling, either, and that was every bit as important on a day-to-day basis as whether it was good for sex.
“That’s true,” Roy said. “I do very much appreciate the current model.”
“How about this,” Ed said, glancing up at him sideways, and the mischief in his expression made Roy’s heart stumble on the next three beats. “Why don’t we go home and—y’know—make sure the old one’s still up to snuff, and if you decide there’s something missing, we can come back here and get a new one? There might be less people by then anyway.”
It was a good thing that Roy’s heart had faltered, because it stopped his throat for an extra second and trapped the words he wanted to speak:
Please, please let me give you my forever, even though a thousand lives could never be enough.
The momentary pause gave him time to say “That is a spectacular idea” instead.
There was a peculiar softness in Ed’s grin sometimes that let him hope Ed might have heard the rest of it anyway.