“You’re going to die,” Winry says, matter-of-factly.
If Ed rolls his eyes any harder, he might just. “Will you shut up?”
“No,” Winry says, “because you’re going to die, and it’s your own fault. What did I tell you about answering the first guy who messaged you? Do you ever listen to anything I say?”
“Sometimes,” Ed says. He tries to merge with the arm of the couch, to limited success. There’s no other way to escape with her standing over him like this. “When I can’t avoid it. Can you tone down the drama for, like, five seconds? Just five. It’s fine. He gave me his business card, and we stalked him online for so long that I wrecked my back from trying to look over Al’s shoulder at the screen, and he is who he says he is. He gives TED talks about medical device design. He’s harmless.”
“Better than harmless,” Al says, idly. “I’m ninety percent sure he’s a himbo.”
“He’s not buff enough to be a himbo,” Ed says. “And I think he’s smarter than he lets on.” He senses Winry opening her mouth. “Not in a bad way.”
“Ed,” she says, in the Patient Voice, “can you please explain to me why giving TED talks automatically disqualifies someone from being capable of murder?”
“I bet you have to sign a waiver,” Ed says, blinking up at her. “Aren’t they pretty protective of the brand?”
Winry scowls at him. “Fifty bucks says that his next TED talk will be on catfishing stupid sugar babies and then chloroforming them in the basement.”
“We internet-stalked his house, too,” Al says. It’s a good thing that Al’s staying so calm, because some of the things that Winy is saying have started to needle at Ed’s partially-smothered doubts. “It doesn’t have a basement. It does, however, have a wine cellar, and a personal movie theater with reclining leather seats.”
Winry stands very still with her arms folded and her mouth in a tight line for several seconds, tapping her toe against the carpet. Her eyes dart to Ed, and then to Al, and then back to Ed again.
“On the off-chance that he doesn’t kill you,” she says, slowly, “you have to promise that you’ll try to get him to invite us over sometime.”
“You’re the worst,” Ed says.
She throws her hands in the air. “At least I’m not dead!”
“Winry,” Al says, without ever interrupting his extremely efficient pet-photo-liking scrolling streak on Instagram, “I love you with every fiber of my being, but I do feel morally compelled to remind you that this was your idea.”
She turns on him, which at least gives Ed a break from the laser eyes. “It was not! My idea was to wait and assess the situation for a while, and feel some people out, and pick a really safe sugar daddy after a lot of careful consideration, and… I don’t know. Start some message threads about how Ed’s really well-connected with social services and has a bunch of friends who are bodybuilders, or something.” She pushes a hand back through her hair. “I can’t believe you’re suddenly supporting this. What happened?”
Ed unlocks his phone, swipes over to the PayPal app, and shows her the screen.
She frowns at it for a second and then arches an eyebrow at him. “So… he sent you eighty bucks for nudes or something? So what?”
“No,” Ed says. “This was for showing up to coffee.” He taps again to show her the note.
Spend this on groceries! Or don’t. That’s your business. But if you do spend it on groceries, the one requirement is that you have to buy some ice cream for your brother. Unless he’s lactose intolerant. Then… sorbet. Chocolate? You have to blow some of it on something that you wouldn’t normally buy for yourselves. <3
“Holy shit,” Winry says.
“I know,” Ed says.
“Holy shit,” Winry says.
“If he ever gets a cat,” Al says, wistfully, “I’m signing up, too.”
Ed knows that it’s the right house, firstly because the omniscient GPS on his phone has dutifully informed him that he’s arrived; and secondly because he and Al looked at a ton of pictures of the thing on Google satellite view, followed by an intensive Zillow study. This building is worth five times more than Ed’s entire doctorate will cost—more than four-and-a-bit-hopefully years of sky-high tuition, rent, food, transportation in the form of maintaining this crappy car—
This must be how Neil Armstrong felt setting foot on the moon. This isn’t just another place; this isn’t just another part of town; this is a different universe. This is some Doctor Who shit. This is a world that is normally separated from Ed’s by chain-link fences and concrete barriers and floodlights and armed guards, but Roy Mustang, erstwhile entrepreneur, just invited him into it for the price of a couple of saucy texts.
Not that Ed has sent him any saucy texts yet. They’re… the idea was sort of that they could strategize together, like the single strangest group project in the history of humankind.
Ed is shitty at group projects. Ed is shitty at groups. Ed is shitty at people.
But they need the money; and Roy is, at the very least, himbo-adjacent; and…
And hell. He’s already here. Winry, bless her heart and damn her to hell, would be the first to point out that rational objections have never stopped Ed from doing something stupid before; and that they usually have the opposite effect, because he’s made of spite and shortbread.
She got that on a T-shirt for him once, which was such a colossal waste of money that he started wearing it to sleep in, just so that it wouldn’t be a total loss. It still makes Al smile, too, which at least is… something. Ed’s not sure if he’d call it nice.
He takes one last deep breath, kills the car engine, and climbs out of the car. He can’t help looking around at the yard—there are pink tulips along the edges of the massively expansive driveway. It looks, from some halfway-terraced bits and mound of dirt beside them, like maybe Roy is in the process of replacing at least a portion of the grass lawn with some drought-friendlier plants. Ed is a cactus killer who is no longer even allowed to look at plants, so he honestly doesn’t have the slightest idea how that’s likely to go.
He locks the car door, even though that’s probably a hilarious thing to do in a neighborhood like this. He had to drive on a winding suburban avenue for over a mile, mostly uphill, before he even reached the place: sure, the houses are swanky as fuck, but anybody looking to lift a plasma screen TV or some Rolexes would probably do it at the bottom of the hill instead of risking one of the mega-rich motherfuckers up here having private security or something. He imagines that Roy’s neighbors might laugh if they saw him here, but since he can barely make out the property lines where the neighbors in question would be located—the house across the street is set so far back, with an honest-to-God fucking hedge maze in front of it, that they wouldn’t be able to spot him from there without a telescope—he figures that maybe it’s a non-issue just this once.
Roy’s place has sort of a majestic Italian villa thing going on. If Ed had been planning to drop several million dollars to own an edifice—which is such a ludicrous amount of money that it sounds like a Chance card that you can draw in Monopoly, not something that real people do in real life—he would’ve picked a medieval castle-style one with a turret and a moat or something. Crocodiles optional; mechanical drawbridge mandatory. He would want arrow slits. And a portcullis. Portcullises are sick.
Roy’s house doesn’t have a portcullis, but the door looks like it’s hand-carved, and there are twisting wrought-iron decorations all over it, and Ed feels tiny and filthy and poor as he slowly presses his thumb against the doorbell.
It makes a pretty little chiming noise. Ivy coils delicately upward around the white marble columns that Ed passed through on the way to the door. There’s a welcome mat, which he bravely set one grimy toe on—although instead of reading WELCOME, it says NO.
He’s so on-edge that he can hear, from within, a distinctly canine noise: a plaintive howl at half-volume, too smooth to be a bark but too quiet to sound much more than… attention-seeking.
“Awoo-woo to you, too,” Roy’s voice says as footsteps approach the door, and Ed instinctively steps back, because standing too close to the door when someone opens it is… weird. Welcome mats—or No mats, as the case may be—are deceptive that way. If you stand on one while you wait, you’re all kinds of invasive.
If he retreats too far, though, he risks looking like he doesn’t want to be here—which he doesn’t, in a personal way, because he has no fucking clue what he’s in for; but does, in a practical way, because cash.
One solid half-step back from the mat seems about right. Seems casual. The doorway is out of arm’s reach; there’s no chance of him trying to swipe for Roy’s wallet and then a making run for it. Perfect. Normal. Great.
Roy opens the door. He’s wearing jeans—Winry would know just by looking at them if they’re designer, because that’s one of her many useless superpowers, but Ed couldn’t hazard a guess to save his life—which at least means that, this time, Ed doesn’t have to try to avoid looking at his knees and deciding if that’s weird. Roy is also wearing a tighter T-shirt today, under an unbuttoned white shirt that’s fitted well enough not to help at all. He definitely has the shoulders to apply for a himbo certificate, but Ed’s still convinced that he’s wicked smart and just tired of acting like it.
“Um,” Ed says, shoving his hands in his pockets as he realizes far too late that he doesn’t know what else to do with them, “hi.”
What are you ever supposed to do with your hands? Ed’s personal copy of the social contract came with half of the pages ripped right out, leaving nothing but jagged edges poking from the margin and occasionally a portion of a word, but it seems to be a problem that occasionally plagues other people, too. Hands are useful and all, sure, but they have a way of being completely unhelpful during important conversations.
“Hey,” Roy says, looking weirdly sort of… something… to see him. Pleased, possibly. Definitely not begrudging. Ed can’t exactly have made a great impression last time; the only thing tied in tighter knots than his tongue was his stomach. Maybe Roy forgot what a total disaster he was because Sonja licked his face when he knelt down to pet her at the end—that was probably legitimately cute, and Roy’s entire universe seems to revolve around this dog. “Come on in.”
Winry is wrong. Ed’s not going to die. There are so few ways to do it that wouldn’t get blood in Sonja’s fur or run the risk of her nibbling on his corpse, and Roy would never let her eat something that wasn’t either recommended by forty-five highly-rated veterinarians or straight off of his own plate. Roy is like that.
“Thanks,” Ed says, trying to mask the deep breath with a big smile as he steps over the threshold. Sonja is sitting like a sphinx just a little ways back, tongue lolling as she watches him come in, and her tail whaps against the carpet. “Hey, girl. Didja miss me?”
The tail whaps faster, which is usually a yes.
Roy looks at her like she hung every single star in the night sky despite the distinct disadvantage of not having opposable thumbs. “You want to say hi to Ed, princess? Come on and say hi to Ed. C’mon.”
She waits until the instant that he beckons, and then she’s up and bounding over and sniffing intently at Ed’s hands—both hands, although she takes more interest in the left. Ed tries to remember what he ate today and how many times he’s washed his hands since then.
It is good, though, that she was so clearly waiting for a command: during that hellish lunch, especially with his brain whiting out with terror at irregular intervals, he hadn’t been able to tell if Roy trained Sonja well before spoiling her rotten, or just jumped right to the second part. The immensity of his devotion seemed like a positive sign, but that’s never a guarantee that someone actually takes care of their dog, which is a different thing altogether from enjoying the concept of a creature that will unconditionally love them back.
Ed keeps his right hand well clear of all of the gorgeous fluff and rubs behind Sonja’s ears with the left in the way that Den used to like. She bumps her head repeatedly against his hand and then twists around and starts licking his fingers.
“Hi, girl,” he says. “I guess you like soap.”
“She likes everything,” Roy says. Ed tries to keep watch from his peripheral vision without making it obvious; Roy tucks his thumbs into his jeans pockets—which should make him look like a shitty cowboy wannabe, but instead just emphasizes his hips in a way that is… dangerous. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Ed’s first thought is vodka, which is sounding like a better idea with every passing second.
“Um,” he says, focusing intently on the way that Sonja’s fur parts around his fingers as he goes in for some more scritchies. “No, thanks. I’m okay. Thanks.”
The length of the pause makes him badly want to wince, and he just barely manages to swallow it down.
“Ed,” Roy says, and Ed’s spine still prickles weirdly every time that voice says his name like it’s something casual—like they even fucking know each other; like it’s anything close to normal. “Are you sure that you want to do this? We don’t ha—”
“I said I would,” Ed says. His fingers disappear into the floof. “It’s no big deal.”
It’s not, or shouldn’t be. He’s done weirder and worse things to make some bank. They agreed on it, last night, in a long chain of texts, because the app’s messaging system was restricting Roy from using his full range of emoji expression.
Roy’s objective is to convince some extremely meddlesome friend named Maes that he has not, in fact, devoted his entire life to Sonja at the cost of any and all meaningful human contact. There is a pretty considerable body of evidence to indicate that that’s exactly what Roy has done, but that’s beside the point, because Ed has signed up as part of the conspiracy whether he agrees with the premise or not.
They need to make this Maes guy believe that Roy has a significant other, in some sense of the phrase. Roy’s parameters for ‘significance’ are a little hazy, but Ed gets the sense that he must have been a bit of a tart in the pre-Sonja days, because they determined that one of the pieces of ammunition that Roy needs in his back pocket is a modest collection of immodest photos.
Roy wrote, I don’t mean nudes, immediately followed by I hope you don’t think I meant nudes, immediately followed by Of course there’s nothing wrong with exchanging nudes between consenting and respectful adults, but I wasn’t trying to imply that that was necessary, is what I mean, and I don’t think that Maes would even believe that I would share someone else’s nudes, so we actually SHOULDN’T if we want this to be believable. And he wouldn’t appreciate them anyway because it turns out that he’s mostly straight, which is a separate but related pain in the ass.
Ed had stared at his phone for long enough that Roy had followed up with a rather uncertain-looking Are you still there? Sorry. That was a lot.
Ed had written Yeah, and then There’s smth I should probably tell you first before you get too invested in this whole thing and go buy a top of the line dslr.
I already have one, Roy wrote, but go ahead. Whenever you’re ready.
Ed had looked at the phone screen for what had felt like a solid minute, trying to find something snide or backhanded in that, before he realized that it didn’t matter. Either Roy would be put off, or he wouldn’t, and they weren’t in too deep to get out yet.
Ed typed out FYI my left leg is automail too, left it entirely devoid of punctuation, stared at it for a few more seconds, and then sent it.
Roy immediately sent back I know.
Ed attempted to stare blankly at that, too, but then Roy was typing again, and the messages moved upward on the screen.
I could tell by the way you moved it when you got out of your chair after lunch came in the first bubble. Roy kept going. Ed was starting to think that continuing to talk whether or not anybody responded was one of Roy’s specialties. And then when you knelt down to pet Sonja was the next bubble; followed by I worked in an automail shop for the better part of a year a long time ago. Mostly I was a gofer and I obviously didn’t do any surgeries or anything since I had no medical training, but I picked up a couple of things. Not that much has changed.
Ed had written Oh. He hadn’t been able to think of anything to add to that particular message, so he’d just sent it that way.
Roy had written back Anyway! Don’t worry about it. If the craftsmanship is anything like your arm, it’ll be an absolute joy to photograph.
Ed had stared at that one, too. Just for some variety.
We don’t have to take pictures of it, of course! Roy had added before he’d finished staring. If you’d rather not, that’s fine. We can wing it. I’m good at winging it.
And Ed had written back, Ok.
So now he’s here.
And he said that he’d do it, so he will.
Roy is watching him like he’s going to fling himself out of a window and make a run for it, which is incredibly stupid, because these windows almost definitely cost more than his monthly rent, and there’s no way he’d risk it. “You’re sure?” Roy says again.
“Yeah,” Ed says. He scratches under Sonja’s chin. She looks like she’s in heaven. He glances up at Roy, who currently looks much less beatific. “So are we gonna do this, or what?”
Roy takes a breath—subtly, but Ed’s watching him right back, close enough to notice—and then smiles. He gestures down the white-walled hallway off to the right. There’s a giant open living room area to their left, with a TV the size of a lecture hall chalkboard and a huge off-white leather couch set. Ed’s pretty sure that he would dirty that just by looking at it wrong, so he focuses in the direction that Roy indicated instead.
“I tried to make a bit of a studio,” Roy says, and Ed starts walking, and the fact that Sonja trots along beside him, then darts back to Roy, then darts back to him, makes him feel much less nervous about turning his back on someone who’s probably a himbo instead of a homicidal maniac. “It’s the third doorway on your right. We don’t have to use it, but I thought…”
Everything is so white that Ed wonders for a second or two if his eyes are malfunctioning. It kind of feels like getting your face slammed down into a very specific part of the paint swatch section at a hardware store.
Probably, anyway. He hasn’t actually experienced that before.
“Won’t that seem like a little much?” he says. “Like, you’re just trying to prove to this guy that you’ve got a boyfriend, right? You wouldn’t set up a whole studio and take glamor shots of a boyfriend just for fun.”
There is a silence. They’re about to reach the third doorway, but Ed glances back. Roy looks chagrined in a way that strongly suggests that he would absolutely do this under ordinary circumstances, either because he’s supremely extra on a regular basis, or because he’s just too damn rich to care.
Then Ed glances into the room.
This one is not white. This one has a four-poster bed with honest-to-God fucking velvet curtains and red silk sheets. It takes Ed several seconds to get over that part, at which point he notices three huge standing lights pointed at the bed, which looks just a touch too classy to film porn on, but not very much. There’s also a big arched window, and a giant antique-looking roll-top desk with a matching chair, and a hulking wingtip in the corner next to a bookcase overflowing with titles that he can’t read because the lights are too bright.
Draped over the back of the wingtip is what appears to be a black silk robe with fucking feathers around the neck and at the ends of the sleeves. If Ed is expected to wear that, he hopes that Roy wants a photo of him sliding right off of the bed like a greased fucking pig when silk meets silk.
There’s some other stuff, too, by the looks of it, in a paper bag settled on the seat. Ed can’t make out what’s in it. If there are handcuffs, he’s out the window after all—he’s kind of into that under normal circumstances, but it’s the sort of kink that you probably shouldn’t entertain in situations where the possibility of murder is still on the table next to the salt.
One for the money, skipping two and three because they’re just procrastination, and four to go.
“This is cool,” Ed says. He grabs two handholds on the back of his hoodie and hauls it off over his head; it drags most of his shirt with it, so he just pulls that off as soon as the sweatshirt has hit the floor. It’s a little weird that the dog is here, but Ed is starting to get the sense that the dog is always here, and he’s just going to have to learn to live with that. He pushes his clothes into a slightly neater pile with his foot, which reminds him to take off his shoes, so he kneels down to untie them next. He should’ve taken them off at the door; this is such a nice house. Sonja will probably enjoy sniffing them, though; they’ve been a lot of places. “You have something in mind to start with? Or should I just…”
“I had a few ideas,” Roy says, slowly, and he has produced a camera from somewhere and started fiddling assiduously with the dials. He glances up at Ed, who forcibly stills the impulse of his shoulders to hike up and hunch. He can’t help folding his arms across his chest, though; he just feels way too naked without them. “But feel free to improvise and get comfortable.”
That’s a good joke, but it’s a good joke that’s beside the point, so Ed makes an effort at something in the ballpark of a devil-may-care grin and sits down on the end of the bed.
It’s so soft. The sheets feel like they were hand-woven by angels. He doesn’t belong in a place like this.
He peels his jeans off more carefully. It’s part of the deal. It’s part of the deal; it’s just business; it’s just money; it’s just skin. Everybody has skin. This doesn’t have to be significant; this doesn’t have to be embarrassing; this doesn’t have to be salacious—it doesn’t have to be anything. It’s not supposed to be anything. They’re accomplishing a goal. They’re checking a box. It just happens to be a box where Ed has removed his pants in front of a total stranger who put out an ad on a sugar daddy app.
Ed feels searingly aware of every single last square centimeter of scar tissue right now—like they’re all branded in and lit up hot. Sonja has already buried her nose in his sweatshirt to appreciate all of its vastly foreign someone-else’s-living-space scents; she’s probably going to lose her mind when he takes off his socks. He folds his jeans up carefully so that his wallet won’t fall out of his pocket and then sets the bundle in his lap and looks up at Roy.
“Ah,” Roy says. He’s done something with his face—or, perhaps more accurately, he has somehow managed to make his face do absolutely nothing. He’s gotten it to go completely blank, and his tone of voice is totally neutral, and Ed doesn’t have a scrap of a clue to go on as far as what he’s thinking.
It’s weirdly impressive. Most people look a little bit like something else when they try not to show anything, whether it’s a little sad or a little annoyed or a little lost—resting bitch face or resting worried face or whatever. But Roy is just… empty. If you showed a photo of that expression to a panel of psychologists and asked them to assign an emotion to it, Ed’s willing to bet that each one of them would pick something different that reflected more on them individually than it did on Roy.
It’s also creepy as fuck.
Fortunately, Ed doesn’t have to stare at it in amazement for too long, because Roy goes over to grab the chair at the desk and drag it over, apparently to be used as a pants repository, if a new gesture towards the seat of it is anything to go by.
A part of Ed—probably his better judgment; the damn thing’s useless and incorrigible in equal parts—hauls back on him in his head. He doesn’t want to give up his jeans; they’re the last barrier between him and… whatever the fuck he committed himself to. Becoming a pin-up for the incomprehensible human being in front of him, hopefully, rather than anything more sinister, but damn if that ain’t enough.
But he said he would. And he will.
He sets his jeans down on the chair and peels his socks off, which is unsexy in the extreme, so at least he has that. He doesn’t figure that the automail is much to write home about, either, unless Roy is one of those people with a fetish—which is possible, given what he said about working in a shop. Most of the folks who actually work on automail seem to live and breathe and sleep and dream and worship it. Then again, most of those people seem to like it better when it’s not attached to a person.
Ed sort of gets that. People are inconvenient, and loud, and much less predictable than a mechanism, and they tend to mess up the aesthetics.
Gingerly, he lays his socks on top of the jeans. He takes one breath, and then another, and doesn’t let himself draw this out into a third.
“Okay,” he says. This would sell better if he wasn’t staring at his toes, but he’s not sure that he would be able to get words out if he tried to look Roy in the face right about now. His heart doesn’t really bang in his chest so much as rock back and forth so fast that he feels a little woozy. “So… do you want, like, coquettish, or… confident, or…?”
“Damn,” Roy says. He crouches down and points the camera at Ed’s left foot. “Who designed this? This is gorgeous. Well—they’re both gorgeous. Well—now I sound like a foot guy. Shit. Well. Tilt your foot down just a little? Yeah, just like—perfect.”
The shutter clicks. Roy just took a picture of Ed’s automail foot.
Roy lowers the camera and looks at the viewfinder. Then he turns it around and shows it to Ed.
Ed blinks at it, and then at him. “I… know what it looks like. I see it a lot.”
“Test shot,” Roy says, blinking back.
“Bullshit,” Ed says. The sharp edge of the panic is shaving through the ropes that he was using to rein in his real self. He has to do something; he needs to be someone else right now. Anyone else. Anybody but himself. “You’re supposed to use test shots to see if the lighting is right and all that stuff. And throw in some acronyms.”
“Low ISO,” Roy says, with a hint of a grin that makes Ed’s constricting chest bubble with some bonus confusion. “High frame-rate. Something about an aperture. How’s that?”
“Inspirational,” Ed says. Sitting here, practically naked, with Roy looking up at him with that flash of mischief is—
Ed pulls his knees up, scoots back on the bed, and grabs up one of the pillows.
Props. Props are good. He’s never done a full-on photoshoot—let alone with his clothes off—but he knows that much from posing for some of Winry’s Instagram adventures. It solves the seminal what-to-do-with-your-hands problem that he was rehashing at the door. Interacting with your surroundings never hurts.
He stretches out on his front and folds his arms around the pillow. Winry has a thing, too, about bending your elbows and knees and whatnot—creating angles. Visual interest. Her phone pictures always turn out better than his, which is part of the reason that he’s here right now, so he sort of has to defer to her input.
He sets his chin on the pillow and looks up at Roy, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh,” Roy says, and it sounds slightly faint. “Oh, yeah.” He steps back, then forward, then starts rotating the ring on the lens, and then the little focus thing beeps, and then the shutter clicks. “That’s gorgeous. That’s so nice.”
Ed finds that hard to believe: with any luck, his back still looks pretty good, and he tends to get a lot of borderline-creepy compliments about his ass, but there’s an awful lot of scarring from the automail, and its inelasticity pulls on the rest of his skin in weird ways sometimes. It kind of skeeves people out. He almost always looks more appealing from a distance.
At least having the pillow to hold on to makes him feel like he has a slightly tighter grasp on reality, oddly enough. He plants his left elbow on the mattress and rests his chin on his hand.
“Perfect,” Roy says again, and the shutter goes.
“Do you want me to take my hair down?” Ed says.
Roy goes very still for a second, which is… well, not any stranger than the rest of this shit, actually. He doesn’t lower the camera. He says, “That would…” in a sandpapery voice; and then clears his throat; and then says, much more smoothly, “Let’s give it a shot.”
Camera puns are too easy; Ed’s not even going to give him any points for that.
He pulls the tie out of his hair and then belatedly realizes that he can’t snap it around his wrist; and he doesn’t have any pockets to shove it in; and if he slingshots it off of this thumb and fires it off into a corner of the room, Sonja might try to eat it.
He shifts forward until he can lean off of the bed far enough to drop it on top of the clothes pile. That turns out to be less clever than it sounded at first, because changing the angle of his torso like that sends hair spilling everywhere as gravity gets a hold of it. As soon as he’s deposited the errant tie, he has his hands full shoving it out of his face and trying to fling it over his back again, and of course some of it gets stuck in the automail, and…
The shutter clicks.
He startles in spite of himself and stares over at the offending lens, since he still can’t see much beyond it. He needs to get a handle on himself; he probably looks like a cornered animal, or at best like a kid. This is what they arranged to do, isn’t it? He shouldn’t be surprised.
“Sorry,” Roy says, peeking over the top of the camera body, which just makes Ed more confused. He’s only been here ten minutes, and he’s fucking exhausted. “It was too perfect a shot to pass up. I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay,” Ed says, despite the fact that he has no idea how Roy was planning to finish that sentence. He supposes that it doesn’t matter much. “Lemme just…”
He shuffles back and settles with the pillow again, narrowly resisting the urge to give up and hide his entire face behind it. Is he turning red? Maybe Roy will think it’s a reflection off of the silk. Hopefully. It could happen.
“Uh,” he manages. Yet more of his hair escaped into his face, which is precisely why he doesn’t let it down like this very much. He pushes it back again. “So… where… were we?”
“Let me think,” Roy says. The self-deprecating turn of his smile makes Ed feel marginally less weird. “Ah, yes—we were awkwardly trying to figure out where we were.”
Ed allows himself a calculated grimace. “This is way fucking harder than it looks in magazines and shit.”
“Maybe we should bail and watch some ‘Project Runway’ instead,” Roy says. He twists one of the dials, frowns at it, and cautiously twists it back. Then he glances up, pauses, and starts to smile again, less self-deprecatingly this time. “Idea.”
The first one has worked out so fucking well so far. “Okay.”
“Roll on your back,” Roy says, and Ed’s skin tingles with how fundamentally uncomfortable that is, but he holds his breath and smothers his inhibition and does what he’s told. There is money on the line here—money for Al. It doesn’t matter how much his skin crawls; it doesn’t matter how much his natural contrariness writhes in agony. He’s going to pay those fucking bills or die trying. “Beautiful,” Roy is saying, presumably about the pose instead of the existential crisis. “Come towards me just a little—enough that you can tilt your head off of the edge of the mattress and look up at—yes. That’s it. Just like that.”
Ed has the automail arm hooked around the pillow, holding it against his chest, and the left arm braced on the bed to try to wriggle himself into the requested configuration, so he’s sort of puzzled by the approbation, but… whatever. If Roy’s getting the photos that he wants, then Ed will get the money, and everybody will go home happy.
Except Roy. Who’s already home. Obviously.
Ed tilts his head a little further back so that a little more of his hair will, theoretically, like, ripple off of the sheets or some shit. Even though it feels embarrassing as fuck, he tries at a smile—sort of a half-smirk, half-grin thing, attempting to look knowing or seductive or possibly both. It’s a little bit easier to aim it at the wide, unblinking surface of the lens than directly at a person; cameras don’t make eye contact.
The people behind them do occasionally say, “Holy shit,” though.
Ed’s mouth moves before his brain can catch the words that he knows he shouldn’t say: “Don’t bullshit me.”
Roy’s eyes emerge above the camera, eyebrows arched; he blinks twice and then lowers the camera enough for Ed to see him outright pouting.
“I’m not,” he says. “And I am deeply wounded that you would levy such a cruel accusation on a poor, innocent artist like me.”
Ed snickers in spite of himself, which is the right-wrong move, because Roy dives right back behind the camera and snaps at least two photos of him laughing before he gets a hold of himself, and—
“Hold on,” he says, rolling over again and bunching the pillow up in both arms this time. “Are you trying to convince him that you’ve got a boyfriend, or that somebody else on the planet laughs at your lousy jokes?”
Roy beams. “Can’t it be both?”
Ed looks at him. He may not be a himbo, but he is incontrovertibly a dweeb.
There are probably dweeby murderers out there—probably lots of them, actually, statistically speaking—but Ed’s internal panic sensors are extraordinarily well-tuned, and they aren’t sounding a thousand separate alarms.
He looks over at the chair. He takes a breath. He tilts his chin at the silky-looking black robe.
“Did you want me to wear that thing?”
Roy blinks repeatedly and glances over at it like he’s surprised that he, himself, personally put it there not too long ago. There may be some himbo points in that. “Well—”
“Great,” Ed says. He slings himself up off of the side of the bed, batting the incredibly luxurious curtain out of the way, and picks up the robe. All of the feathers flutter. The melodrama must be sewn in.
He pulls the right sleeve on very carefully so that the fabric won’t catch on the edges of any of the plates; he’s ripped enough shirts to have learned that one by now. It’s got a damn belt, which has damn rhinestones on it, and this is hilarious. It really is. He leaves the two sides gaping over his chest for maximum salaciousness and twirls the trailing end of the belt.
“This is top-notch,” he says. He tries swishing it around a little, which is fun. “It’s very… y’know, ‘I’m in mourning because my wealthy husband died under mysterious circumstances’.”
Roy grins. “You need some oversized sunglasses.”
“And a martini glass,” Ed says.
“Two seconds,” Roy says, and he sets the camera down on the bed and darts out of the room.
Sonja, who has settled down on the carpet, looks up, and then looks back and forth between Ed and the doorway. After a moment’s hesitation, she scrambles up and lopes off after Roy, which Ed really doesn’t blame her for.
It’s fine, anyway: it gives him a chance to move the other stuff off of the armchair and drape himself all over it and fling his hair back and all that nonsense. He still can’t tell for sure if Roy’s an automail fetish guy or not, so he adjusts the hem of the robe to show a sliver of his leg instead of sticking it all the way out.
He spends a few moments trying to think as much like an artist as possible—a lot of what he does scientifically involves angles and energy and lasers and the relative positioning of things. That’s kind of like photography, right? Except… replacing lasers with much less-concentrated forms of light.
He gets up and drags the chair a little closer to the window, since that should make a second light source and add some corners and background layers and all the stuff that Winry mutters to herself about when she’s planning some little Instagram coup. He settles down again. Demure amounts of steel leg. He’s got this.
A little bit of ruckus, some glass clinking, and then Sonja’s tags jingling herald Roy’s return. Roy offers out a pair of those giant, super-dark bug-eyed sunglasses, first; Ed sticks them on top of his head and fixes them in his hair. Next, Roy holds up one of those silver canisters that bartenders use to shake drinks in movies, because of course he does. He has two martini glasses hanging from between the fingers of his free hand, and he doesn’t look remotely worried about dropping them or breaking them.
“Is gin all right?” he asks. “And orange peel? I should have asked about allergies. I can start over; it doesn’t take long. Or I also brought—” A little bottle of Perrier, evidently. “—angry water. It’ll look the same.”
“Gin’s fine,” Ed says, which is more or less true, since pretty much all alcohol tastes equally like ass. “As long as you don’t mind me hangin’ around a little while, ’cause I’m a lightweight for, uh…” He gestures at the demure amount of steel leg. “…obvious reasons.”
“Stay as long as you like,” Roy says, sounding perfectly calm about the fact that he’s setting half of a bar down on the desktop. He put a tiny ziplock bag of little corkscrewed pieces of orange peel in his shirt pocket.
“Okay,” Ed says. “Cool. Thanks.”
“Sure,” Roy says. He shakes the canister, pours, and garnishes so smoothly that he has to have some major experience with this shit. He keeps one glass, offers Ed the other, and arches an eyebrow.
Ed raises his glass to tap the edge very carefully against Roy’s. They’re probably expensive. Everything here is expensive. “Cheers. To… whatever the fuck this is.”
“To whatever the fuck this is,” Roy says, and he sips.
Ed sips, too. As predicted, it tastes like ass, but at least it probably looks a bit James Bond-y. Carefully, Ed improves his sprawl; spilling gin and vermouth and whatever all over this nice chair would be a lousy thank-you.
exquisite fanart by the exquisite Rie, posted here
“To business,” Roy says. He’s drained half his glass, but he sets it aside on the desk and picks up the camera without hesitating. “That’s delightful. Just like that.”
Ed pushes the sunglasses a little higher with one hand and sips idly at the ass-drink, gazing into the middle distance. Hopefully that looks suitably conniving or whatever they’re going for this time. He glances at the bookshelf nearby, where there’s a National Geographic close enough to snag. It’s not, like, Cosmo, but at least the pages are glossy, and he can make a show of opening it on his knee while Roy hits the shutter some more.
In a moment of ungodly inspiration, he very slowly licks the pad of his thumb before he turns the next page.
Which brings him to an article about cheetahs, but that doesn’t stop Roy from laughing.
Ed kind of wants to read the article, but it’ll have to wait.
“Are you sure that you haven’t done this before?” Roy asks.
“What?” Ed says. He flips another page and then lowers the glasses onto his nose this time, so that he can look over the top of them. “Posed for the weirdest photoshoot ever? Or mourned my wealthy husband who died under mysterious circumstances?”
“Yes,” Roy says.
Ed nudges the sunglasses up, ensuring that he pointedly can’t see a damn thing, and attempts to toss his hair over his shoulder. Hopefully he won’t just drag it all into the martini glass. “Typical.”
Roy has not stopped snapping photos. “Is the drink all right?”
“Uh,” Ed says. “Honestly… I’ve… never had a martini before.”
He can just see through the glasses that Roy lowers the camera to stare at him.
“Never?” Roy says, like it’s some sort of crime. Maybe it is, when you’ve got this much money.
“I’m busy,” Ed says. “I’ve had lots of free stuff. And some bad tequila. Had that twice, actually, ’cause it came right back up.”
He taps the bridge of the glasses to lower them enough to watch Roy wince. “I… hope that this was slightly better than the bad tequila.”
“So far, so good,” Ed says, primarily to make him wince a little harder. “Hey, wait—” He slugs a little more of the martini to lower the meniscus in the glass. That ought to make it less likely to spill as he slaps the magazine back on top of the bookshelf and stands up. “I just thought of something. Do you want some photos of the real boyfriend experience? ’Cause that’s me drinking your liquor and then trying to raid your fridge.”
“Now that you mention it,” Roy says, “that would probably be more convincing than…” He gestures up and down. “…all of… this.”
Fuck it. Ed finishes the martini. He sets the glass very carefully down on the desk. “Especially if this guy ever sees how bad my spelling is in texts. Hey, lend me your shirt.”
Roy raises his eyebrows again, but he puts the camera down and starts shrugging it off—the fact that he’s already doing what Ed says without asking questions is great news for poor choices, and a bad sign on the not-a-himbo front.
Is there some middle ground in the himbo department? Can someone be mostly smart, but with a huge, extremely himbo-specific knowledge gap that lands them in himbotastic peril?
Ed will ask Winry later; she understands all this arcane shit.
In the meantime, Ed sheds the widower robe, and Roy holds out the button-down shirt. Ed brushes off a bit of feather dust, which is going to be real fun to explain to Al later if any of it clings to him, and then pulls Roy’s shirt on.
It’s still warm, and it smells like all the best parts of a Fancy Boyfriend fantasy—nice laundry detergent, nice soap, and a hint of an upscale deodorant that has a name like a Gatorade flavor. Arctic Fresh. Glacial Rush. Well-Scrubbed Lumberjack.
The way that Roy is watching him—that is, intently, with unwavering attention and a grand total of zero clever comments or funny facial expressions—makes Ed think that his instinct must have been correct. If someone is into what he’s offering enough to, say, match with him on a sugar daddy app and offer him real-ass money for artificial sexts, seeing him in nothing but his boxers and one’s own unbuttoned shirt is probably moderately appealing.
Ed hopes that there’s food in Roy’s fridge—recognizable food, that is, rather than just the sort of posh nonsense that rich people consume. Soylent Green, probably. He consoles himself with the inference that Roy must at least have oranges, if he was able to produce orange peel.
He thinks about trying to swing his hips or something as he starts out of the room towards the hallway, but he’d probably just look like a kid pretending to be a fashion model. He’ll have to let this one be organic. Maybe—just this once—the truth will be enough.
As he starts to pass Sonja, her tail thumps twice on the carpet, and then she scrabbles her way up and follows him.
He shouldn’t have been drinking on an empty stomach in a total stranger’s house, but at least he had just enough to feel slightly less self-incriminating about the whole idiotic thing. Alcohol is really its own reward that way sometimes.
He hears the camera shutter click before he’s even made it through the doorway.
As they saunter towards the kitchen together, he looks down at Sonja, who gazes back up at him very seriously for a few seconds before she unleashes the tongue.
“How about you, girl?” he asks, giving in to the urge to do the pets-and-babies voice. “Are you hungry? Did your wealthy husband die under mysterious circumstances? Awoo-woo?”
She makes a whuff noise back that sounds distinctly affirmative, so he nods sagely.
“I know,” he says. “It’s terribly trying. We’d better buy ourselves some nice things with his fortune to keep our spirits up.”
The kitchen is, unsurprisingly, a giant, gleaming, showroom-ready monstrosity of sparkly granite countertops and stainless steel. Fortunately, despite the dazzling shininess and the endless cabinet doors and the golden sunbeam pouring in through the skylight, the fridge is pretty immediately identifiable, so Ed starts with that.
He makes a point of pulling the door open slowly and bending over even slower to look at the shelves. The shutter obligingly clicks several times. Maybe he is good at this shit. Maybe he’s a natural. Maybe—
“Why don’t you have any Mountain Dew?” he asks.
“Because I would like to live to be forty-five,” Roy says.
There is a pause.
Ed looks over his shoulder.
Roy is looking back at him.
“Oh,” Roy says. “Oh, God. Please. Your mechanic lets you drink that? You—”
“What she doesn’t know doesn’t hurt her,” Ed says, “and those all-nighters in lab aren’t gonna pull themselves.”
“I’m going to leave her an anonymous tip,” Roy says, looking very pained now. “You’ll thank me someday.”
Ed closes the fridge and kneels down carefully, only putting his softer knee on the pretty hardwood floor. He doesn’t want to leave a dent. He delves his hands—the right extremely cautiously—into the fluff on each of Sonja’s cheeks and rubs gently.
“I’ve got bad news for you, beautiful,” he says. “Your dad over there is a filthy traitor.”
“Only to people,” Roy says. “Animals are completely safe from my nefariousness.”
Ed squooshes the fur a little more, which Sonja seems to like, although unfortunately he doesn’t think that she’s receiving the dire warning message. “Listen to that. He’s a backpedaler, too.”
“Only with people,” Roy says, and Ed can hear him grinning now. “Can I make you something to eat?”
Ed extracts his right hand from Sonja’s fur without any damage before he stands, so at least he did one thing right today. “Pretty sure I’m supposed to make you something. You want French toast? Breakfast food always kinda feels right after day-drinking.”
“That sounds excellent,” Roy says. He has his arms folded across his chest, which just makes it look broader. Fuck. “I’ll make mimosas next time.”
“I like that plan,” Ed says.