Edward dangled the chain through his fingers, sitting slouched on the battered couch. "This is stupid," he said. "Isn't the watch leash enough for them?"
"You don't get to complain about that anymore," Roy murmured, shuffling through papers and trying to avoid looking at Edward sprawled on the couch. "You re-enlisted voluntarily."
"I can bitch if I want to," Edward snorted, twirling the ball chain idly. "They want to put a friggin' collar on me now, too."
"Dog tags are hardly a collar," Roy said with a sigh. "And it's a precaution, Fullmetal - everyone wears them, it's not you they're singling out -"
"You've got me wearing the damn skirt, too." Edward tugged at the blue half-skirt that was the earmark of the Amestrian military uniform. He had lost his jacket at some point during the day - Edward seemed to make a point to "forget" it more often than not in the summer. Somewhere along the line he'd stopped being ashamed of the automail arm because it was clearly on display with the black tee shirt he'd taken to wearing under the starch blue jacket. Amusingly enough, he still occasionally wore gloves with that combo, as if he'd just simply grown so comfortable wearing them that he had forgotten they looked out of place with short sleeves.
Edward was wearing a particularly tight black tee shirt today. Roy found himself distracted as Edward yawned and stretched his arms over his head, the chain that the dog tags hung from clenched tight in one fist. Edward opened his eyes and caught Roy staring and grinned a sultry grin. Roy's eyes snapped down to the papers on his desk and tried not to think about where Edward learned to grin like that.
"I still think it's stupid," Edward grumbled. Roy glanced back up carefully, but Edward was inspecting the dog tags thoughtfully. He was reacting more or less how Roy had expected him to when he had discovered that not only did Edward not wear his dog tags, he had no idea that he had any to begin with.
"You may think it's stupid all you like, but there's an important reason for you to wear them," Roy said. "Besides the fact that if you're not you're technically out of uniform-"
"Because I pay attention to THAT policy oh-so-strictly."
Roy gave Edward an exasperated look. "The only reason you were allowed to get away with it before was because you were a minor, and you weren't a full part of the unit, just a liaison as a State Alchemist." Edward rolled his eyes. "Also, I'm rather sure they just couldn't tailor a uniform small enough in the first place."
"Eat shit and *die*, Mustang."
"You fill it out quite adequately now," Roy pointed out, resting his chin in his hand and smirking. Edward pissed was something he could deal with. Edward with that strange balance of maturity and levelheadedness was just something he hadn't gotten a handle on. Not yet.
Despite Edward's words, he slipped the dog tags over his head and growled. "Look, I'm wearing your collar for you."
The tags clattered to a rest outside of his tee shirt. Roy had to very consciously make sure not to wet his lips lest Edward catch on to the fact that he wouldn't be able to stand up for a while. "Thank you, Ed," Roy said instead.
"Completely pointless," Edward muttered sullenly. "I mean, if they need to identify my body, how many people in this military have two automail limbs?"
"It doesn't matter, the tags remove all doubt," Roy said. "And please, Fullmetal, could you be any more morbid?"
"Well, that's what they're FOR, to make sure the right bits and pieces get shipped back to the right people." Edward stood up and scratched the back of his neck, and Roy knew he'd be caught looking but now he really didn't care. Edward was nice enough to look at, and while he rarely seemed to want to admit it he clearly enjoyed the attention.
Suddenly Roy really didn't want him to leave. "Where are you going?"
"Gotta help Falman with filing a shit-ton of your finished reports," Edward said. At Roy's puzzled look, he scowled, slightly. "Lost a bet to Havoc," he clarified.
"Ah," Roy said. "You know, Fullmetal, you're not supposed to take them off."
Edward's fingers touched the dangling tags. "Ever? I ain't showing with this shit on, Roy, I swear-"
"I'll see you tonight, then?" Roy murmured. Edward's train of thought stopped cold, and Roy noted, pleased, the flush that spread across Edward's face. "It's a date."
"Yeah," Edward said thoughtfully. "I'll see you tonight."
Roy watched Edward kick the door open, hands jammed in his pockets. Once the door slammed shut behind him, Roy sat back in his desk chair. After a moment, he placed one hand over his breastbone, feeling the metal of his own dog tags against his bare skin.
Then he smiled - not a smirk, a rare actual smile - and turned back to the work on his desk. He had a lot to get done if he wanted to be home at a reasonable time tonight, after all.
He'd seen the column of fire. They'd all seen it, everyone in the camp and even if they didn't know what it meant he did. He didn't want to believe it, he couldn't believe it - he'd staggered out of the medic's tent because in the chaos no one could give a shit if some idiot soldier with a broken leg and damaged automail wanted to try to limp off.
It had reached into the sky for a mile at least, unnatural light throwing everything into stark relief. Edward had collapsed in the sand outside the tent, unable to do anything, think anything at all but to stare at that column of fire until it disappeared.
His heart had stopped. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't exist, his hands curled into fists in the coarse sand. He didn't know how long he sat, staring at a now-dark sky, a column of light forever burned into his memory. The medics found him, eventually, and restored him to the cot he'd been restricted to.
There was no telling how long it was before he had a visitor. Edward stared at Hawkeye numbly as she pushed aside the tent flap. "Roy-?" Edward croaked, his throat raw.
She looked horrible. The ends of her bangs were singed, sand and blood streaked on her face, and she limped when she walked. Hawkeye took Edward's hand - his flesh hand - and put something in it, closing Edward's fingers around it.
"I'm sorry, Ed," Hawkeye said, her voice breaking. "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him, I'm so sorry-"
Edward's fingers tightened around what was left of Roy's dog tags, the metal jagged and cutting into his palm. He couldn't make sense of it. Why would Hawkeye be giving him Roy's dog tags, Roy needed to be wearing these.
Roy never took his dog tags off.